I did a YouTube video a while ago about sleeping with someone who snores. Basically my husband snores pretty loudly and I was getting to the end of my rope not being able to sleep. On top of that I also suffer from pretty severe bouts insomnia so the two together are just not a winning combo and if you've gone days without sleep you know exactly how desperate you can get to find some rest.

Now, sometimes I post videos not having the answers but looking for them or because I know other people out there are probably going through the same thing and it’s nice to know you’re not the only one. So I posted this video really looking for answers, advice and tips on how to sleep with someone who snores (and still actually get sleep). I’ve also posted to Facebook and Twitter looking for answers to both snoring and insomnia and wanted to share some of the answers and solutions that people have given me and how they've worked.

Counting Sheep Coffee:

Counting Sheep Coffee was the first thing I tried. It came recommended (and was featured on Dragon's Den), so my husband went out in search of where we could buy it locally. Counting Sheep is essentially a decaf coffee (I do love my coffee) with Valerian that you drink prior to bedtime (Note: I’ve also tried Valerian on its own separately). It's packaged for a Keurig-type coffee maker in single serve capsules and the recommended serving is one capsule before bed. When I tried it over a number of days I found it did literally nothing, so I upped the serving.

Magnesium and Melatonin:

A magnesium/melatonin combo from Natural Calm was also recommended. The magnesium comes in a powder that you dissolve into warm water, taken in concert with the melatonin which comes in a liquid dropper that you add to a glass of water. Magnesium and melatonin had both come so highly recommended that I tried this for the better part of a month.
No cigar.

Rescue Remedy:

Rescue Remedy is trusted by friends to help with a number of things including anxiety and depression, but they also have a sleep aid called Rescue Sleep. You can find liquid and spray forms of this but I took the liquid dissolve capsules. 1-2 capsules are recommended shortly before bedtime, but I found I had to increase to 3 capsules. Taking 3 capsules prior to bed I did find that I could fall asleep faster than before (not fast, but faster) and when I would wake up it didn't take quite as long to fall back asleep. I was still left with the problem of not being able to fall asleep very quickly and waking numerous, numerous times every night, BUT I did notice a slight and positive impact.

I’ve also tried exercise, meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises.


But by far the MOST popular thing people have recommended to me time and time again is alcohol. And guys, I’ve tried that- believe me- but that one’s problematic for me because 1) you don’t actually get very good restful sleep when you drink, and 2) I really don’t want to be dependent on alcohol to sleep. For a lot of reasons. If you have a mind that just doesn’t want to shut down (which is largely where my insomnia stems from) it’s easier or it can feel better to just have a few drinks/shots/whatever and be able to think less and fall into sleep. But it doesn’t feel like a good solution to me.
SO, that kind of brings to me to where I’m at now.

On the snoring side we got to a point where I was more or less threatening divorce if my husband didn’t go and have a sleep study done to assess his sleep apnea. He had tried a bunch of different things that didn’t work so eventually he went and did a sleep study. His sleep apnea turned out to be pretty severe so now he sleeps with a CPAP machine at night and doesn’t snore. The machine does make a bit of noise but it is waaaaay better than the snoring.

On my end for insomnia- I’ve actually ditched all the sleep aids (including alcohol) for now and decided to try and figure it out without taking anything. Here's what's working:

  • One of the significant things for me was that I wouldn’t sleep well at night so I would have to get my sleep in the morning or I would feel like I would have to sleep in just to get any sleep at all. So I was getting up later in the morning. I’ve pushed that back now so I’m getting up earlier whether or not I’m tired or got any sleep. What I’ve found so far is it makes me more tired at night which means it is a bit easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • I also used to be sort of a night owl, so I didn’t really want to go to bed at night, even if I was tired. Now, if I feel tired I actually stop what I’m doing and try to go to bed instead.
  • This one’s going to sound weird, but I also usually sleep with a below below my head but then one on top of my head too. So, when I’m lying on my side, I have a pillow below my head and then I lay a pillow on top of my head. This actually does a few things for me: it blocks out any light that might be coming in, it mutes any little sounds, and it also enhances the sound of my breathing, so it makes me focus more on my breathing and slowing it down- breathing more deeply which helps a lot to fall asleep.

If I've learned anything from both sleeping with someone who snores AND dealing with insomnia it's that living in a constant state of exhaustion has a massive impact on your life and we all have different things that work (and don't) to get a good night's rest. If this is something you're dealing with or you have any solution please head on over to those YouTube vids and leave a comment! I'd love to hear from you and you could help someone else get a better night's rest!

Dear Hilary,

You don't know me. I don't really know you. Yet, I feel compelled to tell you this morning I woke up numb. Then I started crying, and for a long while couldn't stop.

I don't know exactly what kind of president you would be; I don't know what kind he will be either, and in some regards why speculate? I'm Canadian and kind of removed, yet I don't feel removed from the message sent by this election.

I am a woman. I have daughters. And we've been sent a message so loud and so clear that I can't just go on with my day. I can't act like everything is business as usual.

It's true the message isn't new. It's so incredibly normal. The sentiments held by Mr. Trump run long and deep and apparently still much wider than many would like to believe. But I suppose I've been wanting to believe I brought my daughters into a world that was... better. I've been wanting to believe I brought my daughters into a world where leaders didn't see them as something to objectify and violate. I've been wanting to convince myself what I've been told and taught my entire life might actually be true; because I was told from a very young age I could be anything I set my mind to. To reach for the stars! There were no limits on what I could be and do. I find myself perpetuating this, telling my daughters they can do and be anything (even when the world is telling them just to be pretty and nice). But right now it feels like a more shameful lie than it ever was before.

How can I tell my daughters they can be anything?

Even before this election I knew it wasn't true. I knew I was lied to by my well-meaning parents, teachers and mentors. They taught me to believe the world was mine if I chose to rise up and take it, that my mind was equal to anyone else's and my future as assured: the sum of fairy tale 'progressive' ideals, but not reality.

My body and my gender has taught me better. I've been sexually abused, raped and by the time I was 17 I was pregnant and in an abusive relationship. Each and every day there's a signal to me that my body diminishes my value as a human being, an unseen force I have to be aware of and fight. And I'm one of the lucky ones. I was raised in an upper middle class family. I finished highschool on honour roll with a scholarship, being scouted by a modelling agency and invited to New York. Not that a pregnant 17 year old could do much with that, but I at least had a little privilege cushion for the blow of being born female, and I spend part of everyday being grateful for my little cushion, busily building cushions for my daughters.

I did struggle with my brother's reality. He had dance lessons, traveled and his stint with post secondary education was paid for. To be sure he had struggles of his own, but I always wondered... why did the world at large seem to believe he was so much more valuable than me? Why did I have to work so hard to be seen and valued when his value was just assumed? (And why, if I bring it up am I imagining things?)

I've often listened to my mother regale the scene in which my grandmother plainly told her my father's education was more important than hers. To this day I can't bring myself to juxtapose that to her with the different realities my brother and I have lived. I have smiled and been empathetic and inwardly choked on the irony. Isn't that what we're supposed to do?  Is that what you're doing right now?

I should tell you I did eventually go to university. The cost was more than I can articulate, well beyond the minimum wage I was making at the time. I fought to extricate myself from that horrible relationship, fought to be educated, fought to build the reality I was sold when I was young. I am sometimes commended, praised or called 'resilient', but every now and then I wonder why I have to be, IF I would have to be so resilient if I was John instead of Jane. The only way I can make sense of my reality is to believe it is building me for my greater purpose or even that it's just part of life's random, haphazard way instead of something incredibly intentional.

Maybe that's the way you make sense of this reality too.  

I started this letter, to a person I will likely never meet, because when the world doesn't make sense to me writing does. Part of me wants you to see me, wants to know my existence matters - beyond being born to be violated - when so many people have just collectively said it doesn't.

But more importantly: what now do we tell our daughters? That they can be anything they want to be if they 'suck it up', 'take it on the chin', 'lean in', fight harder, and be more resilient? Because in this moment we know it's not true and I don't want to lie to each other, or to them.

Photo Credit: flickr Canadian Film Centre

Today we heard that Jian Ghomeshi has been acquitted of sexual assault.

I don't know where you fall on the spectrum of belief, disbelief, relief, or disgust. However, whatever you believe about this trial, there are many, many people who have been assaulted and what happened today cannot be a message to them- to us- that our voices, our experiences and our pain doesn't matter.

Until this moment almost nobody has known about me that I've been repeatedly sexually abused and assaulted. First, as a small child at the hands of neighbourhood teens; later as a teenager by someone I found out later had done it before; and finally again in my 20s. Although it no longer pains me to think about, or even to write, the spectacle around Jian Ghomeshi has certainly brought me pain. Not for me and my memories, but a searing pain accompanies the reality that few who commit rape, abuse, and assault will see any consequence or get the help they need to stop. That my daughters were born to this reality. That the power imbalance that ensures rape, abuse and assault can occur in the first place will be upheld at the highest levels without empathy, and without remorse.

Whether or not you believe in rape culture, see our judicial system's handling of sexual assault as problematic or feel something is going wrong here what we collectively cannot ignore is that the massive reaction to this case coupled with our unprecedented connectedness through social media has the power to at once do both great harm and create tremendous support.

A note on the harm...

As someone who works in social media I'll give you a bit of insight into my job: I'm always connected. I have to know what's current, what's trending. It's exhilarating, educational and sometimes exhausting. It also comes with an emotional cost, especially when you're absorbing a constant stream of tragedy, death, injustice and vitriol. That's just part of my job.

But we're all connected all the time. It's not just me. Granted I spend an inordinate amount of time online, but even the average person checks their phone 85 times a day. Imagine, as someone who's experienced assault, checking your phone 85 times a day to face, over and over and over again this case and all of the shitty commentary that comes with it.

Trolls or not, the way we talk about this matters. It has the potential to re-traumatize, shame, and take power away from people who have already had that taken away... and then some. As much as I have come to terms with my own experiences, throughout this case I found myself calling our local sexual assault support centre trying to find a source of strength to face this day after day.

What we say about this case sends a message way beyond it and to people who have faced a special kind of torture you will hopefully never know.

Which is why it's also amazing to see so many voices rising up to show support for not necessarily only the women in the Ghomeshi case, but any and all people who have been assaulted who are seeing these comments and struggling.

And to all of those people thank you.

To anyone who may be reading this who has also experienced any form of abuse, or assault- you are not alone and your experience matters.

A couple of other worthwhile reads:
9 Myths About Sexual Assault That Still Cast A Shadow Over Canada’s Courts
How politeness conditioning can lead to confusion about sexual assaults
Today I received an email from someone about a video of mine called I'm Afraid to Die.

If you happen go to the video comments on YouTube you can see that I'm not alone in this fear (and if you're here because you share this fear neither are you). In fact, beyond the people commenting I've been contacted by people all over the world and of absolutely every age telling me they too fear dying. I once had a 15 year old boy find me on Facebook and, as he wrote to me and described his sometimes completely debilitating fear, I could almost feel the pain that brought him to reach out to a complete stranger and share such a dark and deep emotion.

I don't have any more answers now than I did when I made the video. I'm still afraid to die. Not afraid at all of HOW I will die mind you (although some ways could certainly be said to be preferable over others), or even really of when, but afraid of no longer existing. I can tell myself (and perhaps you do) I can't help it- we all meet the same end and so there's no use worrying about it. I can tell myself that when I end I won't care much anymore anyway so I really shouldn't waste obsessing about it now. I can tell myself that no one truly knows what's beyond- no matter how strong our beliefs are- and so I all can do really is hope for the best.

But if you fear death like I do you've probably tried all these things to little or no success.

Although a great number of religious and spiritual comments and conversations have come out of sharing this video I no more believe in God now than I did then. And if you do, that's great. But my heart doesn't sense, feel and believe the same thing and I am no more capable now than I have ever been of guessing at the wonder of this universe. All I really know is that I'm here.

And you're here.

And if you share a fear of dying I will offer you all I can honestly say and the best thing I have learned to do: find other things to apply your thinking to so you don't get overwhelmed by that feeling of fear and helplessness. Recognize the fear when it approaches and tries to take over and tell it that at some point before it happens you will reconcile and make peace with the idea of not being here anymore. Even if it's not today.

If you want or need to talk about it further you can always reach to me via social media (some of my profiles are over there on the right), or visit my About Me page to get in touch.

Ending a Relationship

A while ago I ended a friendship. We had our differences from the beginning, but over the course of a few years a number of things evolved into issues that couldn't be ignored. 

Wait, scratch that. 

The easier thing to say is that problems 'arose', and then couldn't be resolved but that lets me off the hook a bit. The same issues that ultimately ended our relationship were there in the beginning. I became less willing to expend my energy on them as time went on.

While many were not surprised when the relationship ended, a few people have said 'oh, that's sad'. Which intrigues me. Why do we assume it's sad to end a relationship? Don't some relationships have to end? Isn't is possible that some relationships are more harmful than healthy?

In fairness, I've had my fair share of people in relationships causing me harm- not just hurt feelings mind you- maliciously, real harm. I don't tell you this because I want, or need sympathy. Some people have failed me, hurt me, or harmed me. It is not rare or exceptional. Some of those people are still in my life in some way that mitigates potential harm, some of them had to go completely and I will not allow them to return. 

But all of those experiences trained me. They taught me how to guard my good and get better and faster at cutting BS out of my life.
When I was going through one of the more challenging periods of my life- during one of two court cases to resolve custody of my son- my father told me 'you can't afford to fall apart'. During the case I was pushed to my limits: sending my son into an environment I couldn't predict, trying to communicate with someone who had historically been abusive, having malicious attacks months on end. It's not like I wanted to fall apart, but it was hard sometimes to hold it all together. I struggled with how unfair the situation was to my son and what to do. I can handle confrontation but I don't prefer it, and I was constantly in fight or flight mode. Being hated by anyone was... an adjustment. 

And it was also a tremendous gift.

I learned in order to be what some people want from me, I have to be and do things that are unacceptable; and being someone you're not to maintain a relationship can be a form of imprisonment. 

When my father told me I couldn't afford to fall apart he didn't mean I couldn't have moments when I didn't know what to do, but that ultimately I would be the protector of all the good in my life. No one else can be expected to do this job for me- even if I fall apart. My emotional well being, my children, my family, my career, my relationships, all the things I have created and done and am need to be kept safe. By me. Sometimes that means making choices about what I accept, knowing- as I well do- the cost of not protecting the good.


Most of us have been brought up with some sort of belief system that teaches us everyone deserves forgiveness (whether or not they've asked for it); that we should forgive even those we don't think deserve forgiveness in order to give ourselves peace; that those who show no mercy will be shown none in the end, but forgiveness and reconciliation are a little more complex than that. And boiling down complexity into quotable phrases, as inspirational as that is on Instagram isn't all that helpful in making good and just decisions. So what does reconciliation mean and look like? How is it different from forgiveness? 

Growing up a non-Catholic in Catholic school, I struggled with the idea that forgiveness meant constantly turning people your other cheek so they could smite you some more. That felt too literal and if you think about it in the context of, say, domestic violence, torture, human trafficking, slavery or any other social injustice, there are some pretty obvious problems to such a literal, isolated interpretation.

Letting go of hatred or resentment for those who have done us wrong is undoubtedly the healthy thing to do; but condoning unacceptable behaviour or subjecting anyone- continually, indefinitely- to bad behaviour hardly seems like a reasonable way to define forgiveness.

Historical, religious texts in the greater context of our lives today may not hold everything we need to know about what forgiveness and reconciliation looks like to us now. And I think there's also an argument to be made that there's a difference between forgiving someone in our own hearts- so we don't carry the corrosive albatross of acrimony round our necks- and offering forgiveness to someone who has not asked for and does not want it. One is a healing act carried out alone, nurturing ourselves with the fruit of forgiveness; the latter involves offering that fruit to someone who may just say 'screw you'. 


For ... reconciliation [to be] achieved, there must be mutual respect and agreement on what is acceptable behaviour and what is not - Omar Cherif, from To Forgive Is Not To Reconcile

Reconciliation is more than forgiveness and requires some accountability on both ends. Speaking from personal experience, that doesn't always exist.   

I try to accept people not for just the good, nice, palatable stuff, but for all the quirks, differences and challenging personality traits that make them... them. But there's a line in there somewhere between that and unacceptable behaviour. And that line is probably different for me than it is for you.
I hate gossip, particularly gossip used to manipulate what people think or feel about others (which gossip almost always does). I don't want to be in relationships with people who cut others down when their back is turned, but pretend at friends to their faces. Duplicity in friendship is not acceptable to me. It's a deal breaker. 

Maybe that's not a deal breaker for you, but something else is-  jealousy, threats, lies, immaturity, superficiality, drama.

If you're unwilling to be accountable for your behaviours and how they impact others, reconciliation is probably unrealistic. 

When is enough enough?

Sometimes we tolerate behaviours if the good outweighs the bad. For me, one of the ways I mark when 'enough is enough' is when it becomes obvious the negative is outweighing the positive and no amount of my effort will help it balance out again. If there isn't accountability on both sides, it's a black hole that will suck in as much as I allow it.

Break ups in the era of social media

And then there's social media. There's nothing in the book of Matthew or Luke to help us with that.

When I ended my friendship, I made a complete break and conscious choice not to say anything about it on social media. But I could have. I could have shouted from the digital mountaintops, tried to make sure everyone who would listen heard my story first, controlled the conversation. I could have tried to elicit support, or trash talk or make accusations. Like plenty of people do, I could have tried to make myself look so good, so happy and so successful (#lovinglife!) it would be clear just how great I was doing out of that relationship.

But it's not my job to tell people what to think. I trust the people I choose to keep in my life, the people whose opinions matter to me, are intelligent enough to think for themselves. Maybe it's just a natural extension of my distaste for drama and cattiness, but winning a social media breakup doesn't make my priority list. 

We're instinctively wary of people pretending to be something they're not, as a matter of survival. No One Wins the Breakup on Social Media

But it is important to some people. Even if you have no desire to bring your relationship status onto social media, the person on the other end of your relationship might have a different agenda, or just be a whole lot pettier.

I don't have all the answers, I can only offer what I have learned in the hopes it helps with decisions you may have to make in forgiveness and reconciliation, knowing too that sometimes we attach guilt to the inability to forgive or reconcile. It isn't a failing. Perhaps not everything is forgivable, or reconcilable. Not everyone can or should be in your life. Whether they are (and how they are) are decisions and boundaries you get to make knowing you are the guardian of your good. 

Have you ever had to make that call and say enough is enough? 

I recently had the good fortune of hearing Samantha Nutt, Founder and Executive Director of War Child, speak about her role and experiences at the frontline of many of the world’s major crises – from Iraq to Afghanistan, Somalia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone to Darfur, Sudan (samanthanutt.com). 

(Sidenote: If you ever have the opportunity to hear Samantha speak- grab it.)

When she finished speaking there were a few wet cheeks. The crowd of 600 (me included) was moved by one story in particular of a girl who, walking to a town near her home in the Congo to purchase medicine, was raped by 3 boys who cut off the soles of her feet when she attempted to run away. Nutt tried to help us understand why later the girl did not tell her mother because it would come at the risk to her chance of being married. Samantha also told us about the next time she met with the young girl and learned she had been raped a second time on that very same stretch of road. 

When we hear stories like this, inhabiting our fortunate existences- perhaps glancing across the room at our own daughters- we are horrified and upset and angry and compelled. And we should be.

It's unsurprising then, that when the room opened up to Q&A a woman got up and asked Ms Nutt about travelling to Africa to build a school.


There have been numerous articles over the past few years taking a critical stance on 'voluntourism' and what can happen when privileged first-worlders don their hero capes to swoop in and save the third world. There's even a group based out of Vancouver trying to end 'humanitarian douchery' once and for all (yup, that's a thing).

Having worked with nonprofits in a number of capacities over the past 20 or so years, it's a relief to see the issue being brought into broad daylight, because there's a problematic and widely held assumption that volunteers are just inherently super-wonderful people doing unquestionably good things. BE THE CHANGE! We can't question (or worse criticize) volunteers and volunteering because it's a sort of blasphemy against humanitarianism and all things Mother Theresa.

But a closer look at the voluntourism phenomenon shows that volunteering overseas isn't always what it's cracked up to be:

We are generally even more loath to admit that voluntourism isn't strictly happening overseas: there are plenty of volunteers who don't stray nearly so far from home to use cause work as a recreational way to travel into another environment: the land of the underprivileged, the realm of the downtrodden, the dominion of the stricken. 

A place where the privileged save the lesser. 

This novel environment just happens to be a heck of a lot closer to home. Not to mention more convenient to exploit. In these environments, some volunteers steal up to millions of dollars, while others- like The Boys Scouts of America- have a subterrainean cohort sexually molesting and abusing countless children in their care and resulting in some of the largest punitive damages ever awarded over sexual molestation

But wait, there's more.

Volunteer Arsen, like this volunteer firefighter who, although not 'on the job', ironically started a fire and burnt down someone's home. Volunteer Theft, by volunteers stealing things like cash to historical items from venerable institutions like the Buffalo History Museum. Volunteer Luring, as was the case with Victor Overfield, a Cadets volunteer, who was arrested and charged with one count of luring a child and one count of invitation to sexual touching. Then there's Christopher Whitte, a former church volunteer, who covered a whole bunch of bases, being charged with Sexual Assault, Sexual Interference, Invitation to Sexual Touching, and finally Sexual Exploitation. And it's hard to count and document the number of volunteer paramedics, basketball coaches, firefighters, and teachers accused of inappropriate contact. Some volunteers have even (while volunteering) committed manslaughter

On a lighter note, some volunteers just like the perks: a larger network, padded resume, recognition and awards or that warm and fuzzy feeling you get by 'helping' others.

Surely that's a minority! Surely the greater good outweighs less noble intentions!

I hear you. 

But if some volunteers and voluntourists are not only NOT doing good, but causing real and sometimes tragic harm why should we be so reluctant to look critically at what's going on beneath the surface?

I was at a cause event a few months ago where the organizer waved vaguely at a stack of brochures (which no one actually picked up), spending time in front of cameras, socializing, gushing about the effort and well... using a serious human rights issue as a blatant PR opportunity. If you've witnessed this before you know it's not pretty and you can't unsee it. What made the event even more cringe-worthy was a distinct 'bibles to Africa' theme: a project that produced plenty of warm fuzzies, but came nowhere close to addressing the issue. And not a slag to bibles, but when someone's basic human needs, rights and freedoms are being violated it feels... inadequate to hand them a bible. 

Or, to use another example, a pair of TOMS. 

'You don't have proper sanitation? Here are some flimsy shoes' *brushes hands*. 

Using a cause for good PR under the pretense that you are trying to help someone- handing them a pair of shoes when what they could have used was an investment in public healthis not a benign act, and it comes at a cost.

I'll be the first to admit that sometimes the 'right thing' needs to be done by any means necessary. Cause work needs to engage people whether their hearts are in the exactly right place or not. Because 
A) Who's going to be the Monitor of Intentions anyway? and 
B) if nonprofits and charities narrow their resources to only those obtained from the most well-intentioned resources would be even more scant, and the vulnerable would pay the price. 

Consider an event or campaign that's fun and frivolous, let's say the Ice Bucket Challenge. People join for the cause, sure, but how many participate solely because it became a fun viral stunt? At the end of the day, if a real issue is being addressed because a bunch of people who didn't entirely care drove millions in donations, are we going to shut it down? Probably not, but that doesn't exempt it from critical analysis either.
... there is a world of difference between ill-considered decisions taken for the purpose of stroking a traveler's ego, and subjective decisions to volunteer after properly considering as much of the moral and practical detail of your engagement as possible. (Richard Stupart, from CNNs  Does 'voluntourism' do more harm than good?)

To the woman wanting to build a school in Africa, Samatha Nutt counselled (and I'm paraphrasing):

Voluntourist projects like that can actually take jobs away from locals. 
The projects are often completed by unskilled labourers and the work later has to be redone properly anyway
The community may have no other infrastructure or resources to support the project after voluntourists leave, so it disintegrates, gets looted and sits empty.

Instead, if you want to support and experience Africa, go there. Purchase things from local merchants, support the economy and listen to the stories people have to share. Better yet, take time to learn how our buying habits directly impact violence, instability and war in other countries and make the change that matters.

Feel good 'busy work' is not about supporting the people and development of Africa, it's about feeling good.


Feel Good Projects are intended to do exactly that: make us feel good; however, some side effects may occur:

  • It is possible to hurt the intended aid recipients. 
  • Ill conceived projects may lead to mediocre results, causing more work.
  • Any short term benefits may disintegrate without long term sustainability plans and engaging aid recipients as equals
  • Resources such as attention, time, energy and money may be drained away from real problems and solutions.
  • Handing someone a bandaid for a bullet hole may lead to contempt in intended save-ees.  

Look critically, beyond doing what feels good
Strive to understand the impact and implication of actions (positive and negative) 
Recognize that development is complex
Try examining how habits may be contributing to the problem
Treat people as equals who are capable of engaging and finding their own solutions

Have an opinion on volunteering or voluntourism? TWEET ME
skinny labelled for reuse

When I was a teenager I was obsessed with being skinny. It was definitely a prominent look (heroin chic is a term I remember from that time) and no matter how low my weight went it was never enough. I exercised and starved myself and took diet pills. School counselors told me I was anorexic. My friends eventually guided me away from that by helping me feel my worth. But there's residual traces of it even now in the way I judge my body.

Time to forget skinny.

My body has changed a lot over the years. I've had 3 children. I lost all my pregnancy weight after my first 2 pretty fast, but then came Eadie. Eadie's our youngest and was born in the middle of a hard winter. Having a winter baby can be tough at the best of times, Eadie was a hard baby, in a harsh season. My body didn't recover so quickly.

Time to forget skinny.

Winter can wreck your body. If you live in a place that's always warm that may be hard to appreciate. Having to spend more time indoors (a lot more if you don't have a winter activity)/less time being active can mean weight gain (#OhCanada). I tend to gain about 5-10lbs over the winter. If we have a short or really busy summer I may not lose all of those pounds, so you can see how that becomes a bit of a problem.

Time to forget skinny.

I come from a family that is largely tall, thin and athletic. I got the genes, but I'm not an athlete. I don't go to the gym. BUT I do love being active, especially outdoors.

I ran Rugged Maniac (obstacle race/mud run) recently and a spark went off. I've marveled at people who workout and train and have never felt anything close to desire to be that kind of person. For a long time it felt like a personal failing- like I was too lazy to become an obsessive gym rat.

When I ran Rugged I felt so completely engaged, driven and capable (FYI it shredded every muscle in my entire body) and I kind of had a realization. I do love having a physical challenge, but it has to be engaging in a different way for me than going to a gym and running through a series of workouts.

I want to be outdoors. I want a finish line. I want to feel strong.

So I'm setting out to get more rugged. I'm going to share as much as I possibly can with you because seeing real people tackle real challenges is something I love and appreciate so maybe you can find something in all of this that's helpful to you too. I'll warn you in advance that I generally dislike glossy images that romanticize how hard this kind of journey can be, so don't expect pretty. Expect something more like this...

If you have any advice, workouts, meal plans, or things that have helped you feel strong please PLEASE share them. I live online and you find me in lots of spaces!


We started a community garden at a school and get asked so often how we got started I thought I would share our journey with you. So here it is, no frills, just easy to follow steps from the start.

How to Start a Community Garden at a School at no cost
(or, at least, how we did)


First, we needed approval. I sit on the school council and first brought the idea to them to see if it was even possible. Sitting on council helped by showing an investment beyond the idea and in our school community.

From there we had to get approval from the school board- a process that took nearly 8 months (start early!). The school board was reluctant to give approval, not because they didn't want to see a garden in the space, but because if anything happened to the garden it would become their responsibility (and cost) to step in and fix it. Eventually, someone with the board came and spoke with us and gave us the OK.

During the wait, I compiled as much information as I could about what the garden would look like, who would be responsible for it year over year and the potential impact it could have on our school community. I built a plan I felt removed any potential resistance, barrier or cost. In short, I tried to construct a plan it would be impossible to say no to.

What I didn't anticipate was what I would learn along the way about the school. I learned that a large number of students come to school without adequate nutrition- many with no food at all. I learned that the amount of vandalism at the school is astronomical. We are a through-way between a junior high and highschool as well as being a very popular community space. Despite all efforts to deter vandalism we had 25 windows broken over the course of about 3 months.

Being an active participant in these conversations and asking questions taught me some very important things about our school, and helped to shape our project is some critical ways.


The Crestview Community Garden is essentially a hybrid project: a community garden combined with a school program. 

For a downloadable version of our garden plan 
may it serve you and your garden well!


It's important to identify what you're trying to do with the garden and have guiding principles that keep the project moving towards beneficial outcomes. Having goals outlined can also be the start of an important conversation around what will work, and what's realistic for your community. Our goals shift as more people get involved and we grow together, but this is what we outlined initially:

The goals of our garden:·         
  • Show kids where food comes from, and develop a stronger relationship with food.
  • Reduce amount of processed and unhealthy foods in school lunches
  • Cultivate an interest in farming/growing things
  • Encourage entrepreneurship from a young age. 
  • Foster ownership of our health.
  • Create greater access to healthy food
  • Encourage stewardship for our environment, and community spaces
  • Reduce carbon footprint of food by growing some of it ourselves!
  • Reduce vandalism
  • Connect with other community garden initiatives
  • Overall connect the garden with broader education, nutrition, and environmental themes
  • Create more fundraising potential    


We spent a lot of time looking at the space. Considering the vandalism (which occurs at the back of the school, out of sight) we decided to put the garden at the front of our school where there's a lot of traffic and neighbours to watch over it.
  • We played with different layouts for the area it would go.
  • We talked with the school about potential water sources

community garden plan

  • 5 square 10’ X 10’ beds with wooden frames
  • evenly spaced with mulch framing all beds
  • 3 student beds: Front garden beds facing street
  • 2 community beds (quartered, for a total of 8 plots)


Sourcing what you need to build the garden is a major part of the process. My personal goal for the garden was for it cost absolutely 0 dollars to our school. I wanted to show that it was possible to start a garden- from scratch- for nothing. That way, any school, no matter their resources, would feel empowered to try. This is what our resources looked like in theory:

  • soil-plants/seeds
  • rototiller
  • tools
  • rainbarrels
  • wood to enclose raised beds
  • mulch
  • chicken wire 
  • (potentially) bamboo and jute for teepee (potentially)
  • Soil and mulch are free from the Region of Waterloo, and will be transported by Jane Barkley & Darrick Hahn. Currently have stock of seeds and further seed will be sought as sponsorship via OSC seeds
  • All other materials are being sought via sponsorship/community partnership

And this is what it looked like in reality:
  • seedlings donated by local grower with surplus (found through Kijiji)
  • 'tomatonaut' tomato seeds from space! Through school program
  • seed potatoes donated by family
  • general tools inherited
  • tilling tools loaned by local growers Two Crow Growery (also donated mulch)
  • wood for raised beds sourced free from Kijiji
  • compost free from the region

In our first year, because all seedlings were donated we didn't have to do much planning about what we were going to plant. We just had to coordinate where we planted and then work with the school to get kids out planting it (but you can read our full garden plan to see how we were going to tackle what to plant).

community garden planting

As another little point of interest, we intentionally constructed the garden right when the kids were getting out of school so they would walk right by and be able to see what we were doing, get intrigued/excited and ask questions.

It's pretty important to be real about the potential cost and consider how those costs will be dealt with ongoing. We knew our plan to keep it free would work in the first year, but anticipated having to source funding if we wanted to grow the project in the future. This is how we tackled funding in our initial plan:

  • All costs of the garden must be covered via sponsorship/partnership, community grants, donations, and revenue.
  • Permission to submit applications for grants from Libro, Foodland and any other relevant fund is being sought from council.
  • Other fund development to be coordinated with the Garden Club

Potential revenue sources:
Garden plots (8 spaces X $20/year = $160.00/year)

Now we're looking into crowdfunding and products we can sell.

From the beginning we wanted to consider who in the community might want to support our garden. Not all of these relationships came to fruition:

Crestview students
The Crestview Garden Club << this means working closely with the school!
Crestview School Council
Stanley Park area residents

The Local Food Fund

Pat Rittinger (green program KCI)
Region of Waterloo
Fresh Endeavours
Foodlink Waterloo Region
Nutrition 4 Learning
KW Urban Harvester (KWUH)

but we've established other completely unanticipated relationships and support.

To truly understand the impact of our garden, we want to track changes we see in the school environment. For instance, a great deal of time has been spent at our school looking at what we, as a school community, are eating. Having an overview of the typical school lunch, we can track any trend towards healthier lunches connected to our nutrition efforts and the growth of the garden.

Looking at our goals as important metrics of success, we're working towards showing the impact a community garden can have in a school.

Green Program at KCI
Oliver’s Garden
Gardens for good
Hope Blooms

I'm a bit of a geek for research, so I come by this pretty naturally. I wanted to see different gardens in schools and if there was data that actually showed what happens when you put a garden in a school community. Here's a bit of what I found:

“North Carolina researchers followed 95 school-aged children who participated in weekly gardening sessions for two years. The pilot study found that kids started eating more fruits and vegetables after they began gardening. A few of the kids who were overweight improved their BMI by the end of the study.” (School gardens plant seeds for healthy eating. Students learn more than horticulture when they get their hands dirty.- By Lee Marshall, CBC News Posted: May 17, 2013)

There is mounting evidence that gardens in schools improve eating habits and overall health, reduce obesity and vandalism, and create a strong focus on the environment.

We strongly believe it can also:
-significantly increase community investment in the space.
-help to grow some of tomorrow’s farmers
-teach entrepreneurship

So there you have it! PHEW. I can't say enough about what gardens do. They educate, they bring people together, they nourish us in absolutely every way.

If you want to talk community gardens TWEET ME @janieeden

Happy Gardening!