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Friday, September 28, 2018

Forest Bathing Among the Trees


Photographed by: Jessica Hodgson
     
     When I ventured into the woods on my first forest bathing walk, I didn’t know what to expect. Little did I know, I would experience the healing powers of nature that would change my life path. As the Director of the non-profit Wild Roots Nature and Forest School in Cumberland, Ontario, I am outside every week exploring and learning in the forest with children. When I stumbled across an article about forest bathing that was being offered in Kingston, Ontario, I knew going on a walk would be a great learning opportunity for the Wild Roots team. One Saturday morning, we piled into my car and drove two hours to the Little Cataraqui Creek conservation area. Our Forest Therapy Guide, Stana Luxford-Oddie, guided us on a three hour walk that deepened our connection to the natural world. 
Forest bathing was developed in Japan in the 1980s and today, shinrin-yoku, which translates to “forest bathing”, has become a pillar of preventative medicine in Japanese culture. According to shinrin-yoku.org, spending time under a canopy of trees is beneficial to your health. Forty years of research proves that forest bathing will boost your immune system, lower blood pressure, improve your mood, reduce stress, improve sleep and increase your energy level. The founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, M. Amos Clifford, says the forest is the therapist. The guide opens the doors.



With Stana leading the way, I found solace in the woods and deepened my authentic relationship with nature. Unlike hiking a difficult trail or adventuring through the woods with children, forest bathing allowed me to slow down my pace and breathe deeply. Throughout our leisurely walk, Stana offered a series of invitations to help us open all our senses. She explained her invitations were not assignments or exercises to complete, adding there was no right or wrong way. We were assured that it was ok to pass on an invitation.
My favourite invitation of the day was when Stana invited us to go off on our own and find a “room” in the forest. We were invited to sit in that spot for twenty minutes. I discovered my “room” between four ancient pine trees. Instead of sitting, I decided to lay down on a bed of pine needles and for twenty minutes, I watched nature’s mobiles overhead. I have never felt more present or relaxed. My mind was clear and my body felt as if I had had a full body massage. After every invitation, we would gather together in a sharing circle and discuss what we were noticing.



Outdoor Educator with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board, Kate Ballantyne, was also on our Forest Bathing walk and says she was grateful that nothing was rushed and that we had the opportunity to move slowly through nature.
            “Working full time this year and being a mom, it has felt like time has been slipping. I felt soothed by the quiet solitude and the small, intimate and respectful group. I am in nature almost every day with 20-30 students and although I am grateful for that time, it is often noisy and the pace more frantic.”
Ballantyne, who is also a yoga instructor, says she would definitely recommend forest bathing.
            “The forest heals me every day. Its beauty, the smells, the sounds, the feels, the natural colours and textures, the complexities and richness- it all soothes and lifts the soul.”
To end our forest bathing experience, Stana set up a beautiful tea ceremony in the woods that was decorated with pine cones, acorns and birch bark from the forest. She made a light infusion tea with plants she harvested herself and offered the first cup of tea to the land. As we savoured our warm tea and snacked on delicious local apples, Stana sang a song of gratitude in her beautiful soprano voice. It was in that moment that my inner forest guide told me I needed to bring this enchanting practice among the trees back to the Ottawa area.

     
     When I heard the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs was offering a training course at the Carp Ecowellness Centre, I took the opportunity and applied to become a student. I embarked on an intensive eight-day training course at the Ecowellness Centre this past spring with people from all over the world, followed by a six-month-long practicum. Stana, my first forest bathing guide, was one of my educators and became my mentor for my practicum. My journey to become a Forest Therapy Guide has come full circle.


Today, I offer forest bathing walks for all ages at Macskimming Outdoor Education Centre in Cumberland, Ontario, just east of Ottawa. The 425 acre site is diverse and includes red maple swamps, mixed mature forests, agricultural fields and wetland. If you’re interested in delving into your own connection to the trees, you can join one of my public walks or organize a private walk. For more information visit www.wildrootsnatureandforestschool.com


Friday, April 27, 2018

Forest Bathing

























  After forest bathing in the woods for the past eight days, I have emerged!

Pure joy!

I know it's blurry, but I treasure this photo because it truly shows what a week in the woods can do for your soul. It was a privilege to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and study to become a Forest Therapy Guide at the Eco-Wellness Centre in Carp, Ontario. 


During the course, I was completely immersed in nature and invited to wander, with no destination in mind, and allow my senses to guide me. As I slowly moved my way through the woods, the ancient trees waved hello. I noticed the smell of the rain, the cool breeze moving across my face and a symphony of birds.

Tea Ceremony

One evening, we gathered around a campfire and shared nature connection stories. I laughed until tears rolled down my cheeks.


The most powerful experience from the program was when my mentor, Carolynne, who is of Mi'kmaq ancestry, sent me on my first medicine walk. A threshold was made with sticks we found in the woods and once I crossed the door to transformation, I was able to reconnect with my inner wisdom. Meanwhile, Carolynne waited at the threshold, held space for me and awaited my return. I'm going to keep what "medicine" was revealed to me close to my heart, but I will say that nature reflected back what my soul needed and wanted to see.


The founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, Amos Clifford, says to be a guide is more than a job. It is a calling. Over the next six months, as I continue to strengthen the threads of connection I have with nature and complete my field practicum, I look forward to the opportunity of opening the door and supporting my community through immersive experiences in the forest.










Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Fairy Party for my Forest Pixie

My lively little sprite is three!



"Show the children every winged thing. The bees, dragonflies, queen ants, bluebirds and swallowtails. Creatures that inspire them to defy gravity."

-Author Unknown


Over the weekend, we invited our family to an "enchanted forest" to celebrate Rosie's third birthday.




I loved watching Rosie take it all in. The feeling of a birthday is truly magical.


The kids received fairy wings and wands when they arrived at the party and instead of a party hat, Rosie wore a real flower crown made with baby pink roses and baby's breath.


We feasted on homemade tea sandwiches, fruit kabobs, veggies and dip, potato salad, Cheesies, various meats and cheeses and a very pink cake (as per Rosie's request).


The old fashioned party game, clothespin drop, was a huge hit. Mike won.


Rosie was showered with love and thoughtful gifts from her family. My heart is overwhelmed with so much love for my beautiful girl and the celebration of her life.


Happy 3rd Birthday, Rosemary June. We love you so much!

Friday, December 29, 2017

A Meaningful Christmas


I began the Christmas season reflecting and seeking out quiet time. This year, I wanted my family to focus on living Advent in our hearts and in our home. We decided to invite our Kindness Elves, Hazel and Arthur, back into our home this year and we spent Advent performing little acts of kindness. Our friendly elves would leave Henry and Rosie instructions each day that included activities like; make a donation to your local food bank, bake cookies for a neighbour, hide positive notes in your library books and hold the door open for someone.

Photographed by Vivian Bertrand

Photographed by Vivian Bertrand

I decided not to RSVP "yes" to every invitation this season and stuck to the activities that are important to me and my family. Last year, we had a great time cutting down our own Christmas tree, but this year we decided to pick one up at the farmer's lot down the street from us. We went out for breakfast, picked out our tree and spent the rest of the day listening to our favourite Christmas carols and trimming our tree. It was cozy and wonderful.


We lit the candles on our Advent wreath, attended mass on Sundays and spent the month of December preparing, baking and creating homemade gifts for our family. We focused on family time and enjoyed playing and hiking in nature. My heart is so full and as there are twelve days of Christmas, the feasting and joy continues in our home.

Photographed by Vivian Bertrand

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, friends. I hope your 2018 is full of hope, love, laughter and adventure!






Tuesday, December 12, 2017

5




Henry has transformed into a five-year-old!


As a baby, Henry never had a favourite blanket or stuffie, but over the past year, he has treated his Ultra Bee Transformer toy like a baby doll. Henry tucks it in at night and brings Ultra Bee with him everywhere he goes. So, to celebrate this milestone birthday, we went with a Transformers themed party at our Forest School.


The highlight of the party was the scavenger hunt through the woods. Henry and his Autobot friends were sent on a mission to save our planet from the evil forces of the Decepticons. Once they found the Energon crystals, the Autobots were also rewarded with an Optimus Prime pinata.


Big, fat snowflakes began to fall as we were gathered around the campfire, roasting hot dogs for our lunch. It was incredibly beautiful.



The hot chocolate station I had set up inside our cozy cabin was a hit with the kids. Mix-ins included sprinkles, whip cream and mini marshmallows. Later, we sang Happy Birthday and enjoyed a piece of cake. I baked the cake, but I have to give Mike credit for creating the Autobot symbol out of red fondant. He did a great job!

It was really cute to watch Henry open his presents and homemade cards from his friends. He was so excited about each gift he received and he complimented all his friends on their beautiful drawings. He was spoiled with thoughtful presents and I was so proud that he enthusiastically thanked everyone for his gifts.



Thank you for transforming me into a mother, Henry. Happy 5th Birthday, sweetheart!


Autobots, roll out!







Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Hygge Halloween


With all the candles lit, plenty of warm jack-o-lantern soup in our bowls and my family carving the pumpkin we picked up at our local farm together, Halloween has truly been a hyggelig event this year. I enjoy making the change of seasons a happy time in our home.


In honour of the spooky season, we hosted a spooktacular and served Halloween-inspired food including; Franken guac, a creepy charcuterie board, mummy dogs, a skeleton veggie tray and spider cupcakes for dessert.


As for decor, the dollar store was on point this year-pumpkin lanterns, a black lace spider web table runner and witches' brew potion bottles. Meanwhile, Henry and Rosie were busy getting crafty at our kitchen table and made potato stamp ghosts, toilet paper roll bats and mummy mason jar luminaries. Holiday magic always sparks a childlike spirit in my heart.


Henry and Rosie are excited to go trick-or-treating tonight in their handmade costumes. We go green for Halloween by creating DIY masterpieces out of things we have around the house and by making old costumes new again (e.g a dance costume I wore twenty-five years ago!)

Presenting my little Transformer "Optimus Prime"...


And her Majesty, the Queen.


Happy Halloween, friends!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Fall Family Time


Childhood is fleeting and I don't want to miss a moment with Henry and Rosie.


One of the benefits of teaching them at home is that we don't have to cram family time into weekends. Homeschooling is a lifestyle choice and I love that it affords us the freedom to spend so much time with our kids.


We're not just giving them an education, we're making memories! We are learning in the forest, at the kitchen table, at the cottage and even in a fort we built in our living room. I love that I get to make learning fun and that I can say YES to building a real robot.


As Henry and Rosie are learning, so am I. Homeschooling is an educational journey for the whole family. When I joined a local homeschool activity co-op, I thought I'd find a group of moms who dressed like they lived in the early 1900s, but instead, I found parents who are educated professionals including teachers and doctors.


Henry and Rosie have no shortage of time with friends-each week they attend Forest School, homeschool co-op, math playgroup, hockey and run club. Sometimes, we actually have to decline invitations so that we can get our homeschooling done.


I can't predict how long our homeschooling journey will continue, but for now, our family has found an amazing opportunity to learn and grow together.


Meanwhile, Fall festivities are in full swing at our house and we've been busy checking activities off of our bucket list; apple picking, bake Grandma June's famous apple pie, have a traditional turkey dinner, visit Pumpkin Inferno at Upper Canada Village...check! check! check! check!


This week, we're looking forward to hosting our cousins and taking them to our local pumpkin patch.


Meanwhile, Halloween costumes are being made, I'm finalizing the menu for a soup SPOOKtacular that I'm hosting and we're exploring our way through a list of family friendly hiking trails in our area.


The fall issue of Ottawa Family Living Magazine was recently delivered with the Ottawa Citizen and my article How Modern Moms Meet Other Moms was published on pages 32-33. You can read the article online here.


Happy Fall, friends!