Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

Hello All!

It looks as though fall is well underway (at least here in Calgary, where some day’s it’s apparently even winter), and when the cool weather hits I can’t help but want to make delicious, homemade soups! There’s just something about a nice, hot bowl of healthy soup on a cold day that brings my spirits up. Can anyone relate?

Last weekend was Thanksgiving here in Canada, and it was also the first time in 30 years that I have not been home for the holidays. It was admittedly a little tough to be away from my friends and family back home. However, some new friends here in Calgary were kind enough to invite me to my first Friendsgiving, which was wonderful! The food was absolutely delicious, and the company a true delight as well!

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All of my favorite things: Muskoka Howling Wolf coffee, a Butternut Squash from Mom’s Garden, and pumpkin spice cookies 😉

My family was sweet enough to send me a care package though with some of my favorite things, and of course my winter coat and mittens for the colder days. My mom decided to grow butternut squash – a favorite of mine – in her garden this year, and I was surprised to receive one of her beautiful squash’s, all the way from Ontario, included in my care package.

Although I occasionally mix it up, there is one thing that I truly love to make with butternut squash: SOUP! My Creamy Butternut Squash Soup recipe is one of my all time favorites, and I feel a little bad for not sharing this delicious, healthy recipe with all of you sooner. Oops! Alas, the time has come for me to divulge the secrets of my infamous butternut squash soup! I hope you enjoy it 🙂

Butternut Squash Soup
Creamy Butternut Squash Soup drizzled with real maple syrup and garnished with pecans!

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled cut into approx.1” cubes
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 4 large carrots, peeled & diced
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled & diced
  • 2 apples, peeled and diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
  • 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
  • ½ tsp. Himalayan pink salt or sea salt
  • ¼ cup olive or coconut oil
  • 2 cups unsweetened coconut (or cashew) milk
  • 3 Tbsp. raw honey or real maple syrup (optional)

Method:

  • Heat olive or coconut oil in a large soup pan over medium high heat. Add in onions and sauté about 5 minutes or until starting to soften. Reduce heat to medium, add in minced garlic and ginger; continue to sauté about 3 minutes more, stirring often.
  • Add carrots, sweet potato, cinnamon, and nutmeg into pot, stirring to combine and sauté about 2 more minutes. Add in butternut squash, apple, and vegetable broth so that vegetables are covered to the top with liquid (add a little water if need be) and season with salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium high.
  • Once boiling, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until all veggies are soft. Turn off stove. Using an immersion blender, puree soup in pot until thick and smooth in consistency.
  • Gently stir in coconut milk, and honey or maple syrup, if desired, for a little more sweetness. Season with extra salt, pepper, and cinnamon to taste and if needed.

Notes:

  • Special equipment: Immersion blender. Alternatively, soup can also be transferred to a regular blender to puree and then poured back into pot. However, allow soup to cool a bit first if doing this for safety as it will be very hot.
  • This recipe is gluten and dairy free, and vegan.

 

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I’m Back!

Hello wonderful people!

After taking some (okay a lot) of time off from my blog, I’m back! I find it difficult to believe that it has been nearly a year since I last published a post on here, and yet, it has been. My, how time flies! I am going to attempt to give a quick recap of what I’ve been up to since I last connected with you on here, as so much has happened and changed!

Last fall, 2016, I finished my Master of Science degree in Psychology at Western University. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next, and after poking around in different areas of interest I stumbled onto the field of psychosocial oncology (PSO). Essentially, PSO addresses the psychological, social, and emotional aspects of cancer throughout the continuum from diagnosis, to treatment, and so on. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard about this field before!

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Harbor View in Vancouver during the CAPO Conference, 2017

I quickly dove in and immersed myself in the literature, getting involved with key organizations such as the Canadian Association for Psychosocial Oncology (CAPO). After learning of an upcoming CAPO conference in Vancouver in May 2017, I decided to register and go! This turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. It was at the CAPO conference that I met Dr. Fiona Schulte, a brilliant researcher and clinical psychologist at the University of Calgary who specializes in pediatric and adolescent and young adult (AYA) PSO. After chatting more we found that our research interests aligned closely and that we would make an extraordinary team with her as my supervisor. In June 2017 I applied to the doctoral (PhD.) program in Medical Science at the University of Calgary. By July  2017 I was driving half-way across Canada with my Calvin (my kitty) and my life packed into my car, headed for Calgary and ready to start a new and exciting adventure in!

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Calgary has many attractions, including this delicious oatmeal cookie dough ice cream from Made by Marcus!

And so, in an almost surreal way, it seems I have come full circle. First a cancer patient, then a survivor navigating my own cancer journey, and now a psychosocial oncology researcher. It has been over a decade since my diagnosis, treatment, and the challenges that followed. I feel a sense of pride for overcoming many obstacles, and gratitude for having had the opportunity to do so. But, I am acutely aware of the need to continue to grow and to achieve my goals!

For many years I wondered why I had survived cancer and what my purpose in life was; now I understand. I firmly believe that the reason I survived and endured such challenges was to prepare me for the opportunity to help others through the cancer journey. So here I am, living in Calgary, Canada, and completing my PhD. in psychosocial oncology at the Cumming School of Medicine. The focus of my research is on AYA cancer patients and survivors, as this group is often under-represented within research and also one with whom I am intimately familiar, being an AYA cancer survivor myself.

Aside from my new and exciting academic adventures, I have also taken up pole fitness. Last fall, 2016, I was looking for a fun and challenging form of fitness, as I am not particularly fond of the gym. One of my dearest friends had been doing pole fitness (or “pole” as we say) for the past two years and encouraged me to try. I almost quit twice!

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Doing one of my favorite moves, the Crescent, during Pole Fitness beach day with my Studio Chic London pole family at Port Stanley Beach!

Pole fitness requires strength, flexibility, endurance, and grace, and when it came to strength, my struggle was real! But I stuck with it, attending several classes a week, and within a few months I started to notice some serious improvements in my strength. Not only that, I found that pole fitness was helping me to address and overcome some longstanding issues I have had with body-image and self-esteem, related to late-effects of my cancer treatments (e.g. my permanent tracheotomy).

I quickly became passionate about the sport, and I feel that it has had such a tremendously positive impact on my life! I am so passionate about it, in fact, that I am hoping to develop a pole fitness based program specifically for AYA cancer survivors, and to share this amazing sport and experience with others.

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Pulling a pole trick on a sign, mid hike, atop Whistler Mountain! (I felt so bad a$$!)

Finally, this past summer I visited Whistler, B.C. with my mom, sister, and aunt. It was a wonderful trip and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend more time with them before starting school in September. I have never lived far from home until now, and moving to Calgary really pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone and to embrace chance. Was it intimidating? Heck ya! But it has also been so worth it and I am so incredibly grateful for this new journey I’ve embarked on, the amazing people I have met over the past year, and the exciting opportunities to come!

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Hiking with my amazing mom and little sis, Robin, in Whistler, BC!

I am going to stop here, as I’ve already written far longer a post than I had intended to. But I hope that you have enjoyed this update and I truly appreciate you joining me through my blog on this adventure of mine!

Stay tuned for a Thanksgiving themed recipe post, coming soon!

xo Julie

Expanding One’s Comfort Zone

Hello beautiful people! And hello… September?

Wow, summer certainly did go by fast! It was a whirlwind for me, with big adventures and tons of exciting changes and amazing new opportunities. These last few weeks have been consumed with finishing up writing my Masters thesis so that I can soon complete my degree. I’ve been itching to write this blog post because I’ll be discussing something that I feel is so important to talk about. However, I think that perhaps a part of me also wasn’t quite ready to write this yet, as I was still reflecting on the events of this summer. So, what have I been up to and what’s prompted me to write a post about expanding one’s comfort zones?

I look back to three years ago and I would have been afraid to drive a mere two hours on my own to go to Toronto. It’s not a difficult drive, nor am I a new or inexperience driver. However, taking such a journey on my own was outside of my comfort zone. The thought of making that drive alone seemed quite intimidating. It wasn’t until I did it that I realized, it really wasn’t so scary after all. Voila! In making the drive alone I had unknowingly expanded my comfort zone just a bit.

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Beautiful BC, Canada

Fast forward to last September, 2015, and I find myself boarding a plane all alone to go out to British Columbia to visit friends. This was the trip that really pushed the limits of my comfort zone. It was spontaneous and exciting! I’d never really traveled alone and the though of doing so was intimidating. So many “what if’s” ran through my mind; a dozen reasons not to go. But I felt it was something I had to do and even though I was afraid to, I was determined that despite feeling the fear, I’d do this anyways. And in those moments, my comfort zone was again expanded as I set off to travel in BC.

Fast forward again to this summer, July 2016. I’m once again getting on a plane alone, this time from Toronto Pearson International Airport, heading off for Europe. My biggest solo adventure yet! As this would be my first solo trip to another continent, I opted to go with a tour group so that I could get a feel for solo travel. It was a whirlwind of a trip! In fifteen days we visited several countries, big cities, and cute little towns. I saw and experienced incredible sights and moments, and met some of the most wonderful, beautiful people.

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Lovely canals in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We started in London, England, and from there went to Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Amsterdam was beautiful and charming, with it’s pretty canals and plenty of fun night life. The next day before we left I wandered around the city, stopping in several cheese shops along the way, taking it all in.

From there we went to Germany, and what a beautiful country it is! Stunning scenery and friendly people. Our first stop was the little town of St. Goar on the Rhine River, where I saw the worlds largest free hanging cuckoo clock. The town was was so quaint, and I couldn’t help but feel like I’d traveled back in time as I walked along it’s old streets and colourful buildings.

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The Rhine River in St.Goar, Germany

The next day we visited Munich, which is a wonderful city with beautiful old streets and buildings. That evening we visited a traditional beer hall, taking in the sights, sounds, and lively atmosphere. I am not a beer drinker, however on this occasion I did enjoy a ‘rattler’ at Hofbrauhaus. I will certainly be returning to Munich in the coming years, next time for Oktoberfest!

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Charming Munich, Germany

Austria was our next stop. In truth, I hadn’t really expected much from Austria as I didn’t know all that much about it. However, this turned out to be one of my most favourite stops along our way. The countryside was incredibly gorgeous, with mountains and rivers and green fields. As a nature lover, these are the sorts of features of a place that I am often drawn to. We made a few stops along the way, one of which was in the Austrian Tyrol mountain range. Most of the group was going for a white water rafting excursion, however given my health limitation with respect to water, I sat that particular event out. Instead, I decided to go for a hike on my own and found a path leading up to the base of a mountain. I found a quiet, private spot and decided to do a bit of yoga, as I hadn’t had the opportunity to practice yoga in days and being a daily yogi, I was starting to miss it. The experience was such a memorable and beautiful one for me. Alone with nature and at the base of a mountain in Austria, doing yoga. It felt surreal really, that I was here in this place and on my own, feeling perfectly comfortable and content alone with myself.

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Beautiful mountains in Tyrol, Austria

I had started to learn from my trip to BC that by traveling alone and challenging my fears and hesitations, I was subtly expanding my comfort zone with each experience and moment. And so, as I practiced yoga in the Austrian mountain range surrounded by beautiful scenery and nature, I felt the most tremendous gratitude for this opportunity to travel alone, for this perfect moment, and for the personal growth I was experiencing on my journey.

From Austria we made our way into Italy. The landscape was different but equally beautiful in its uniqueness, as the places before had been. Our first stop was Venice. With its narrow streets, tall buildings, bridges, and waterways, there was no shortage of beautiful things to see. While wandering through the streets I again felt as though I’d been transported back in time.

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St.Mark’s Square, Venice, Italy

The weather was hot and I enjoyed delicious pistachio gelato in St. Mark’s square. Sometimes I felt as though I was in a dream, that I couldn’t really be here in such a remarkable place. And yet, here I was. So many times during my trip I had little “pinch me” moments like this, where I had to remind myself that my experiences were genuine and that through them I was evolving into another person, expanding my comfort zone little by little.

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Getting ready for our gondola ride through the canals in Venice, Italy

The next stop was Rome, and boy was it hot! Walking around the city center and seeing the ancient buildings and ruins was such a surreal experience. I’m a bit of a history fan and have always had a deep interest in ancient civilizations. There’s something fascinating and authentic about the way people once lived and interacted with their surrounding that draws me in. Perhaps it’s because I feel there’s so much one can learn from examining history, both the good and the bad aspects of it.

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Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy

We spent two days in Rome, touring the city, eating more gelato, and visited the Trevi Fountain, Vatican City and the Colosseum, among others. It was an incredible experience to walk through structures that had been constructed centuries ago, and to learn more about the city and culture.

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The Colosseum in Rome, Italy

From Rome we traveled to Florence, my favourite of our three Italian destinations. It really is a beautiful city full of history, beautiful architecture, and lovely people. Ahh, and let us not forget… more gelato! We did a walking tour in the city that day and visited well known historical sites. The atmosphere of Florence was what really completed the experience for me though, between the laid back vibe, fantastic food, and the stunning buildings, it’s definitely on my list of places to return to.

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Enjoying the beautiful views in Florence, Italy

Given my love of nature (and cheese and chocolate!), I was quite excited to leave the hot city scene behind as we headed for Lucerne, Switzerland. The views as we drove through the mountains were absolutely breath taking. Beautiful lakes below, mountains engulfed in fluffy clouds, and crisp, fresh mountain air. So much natural beauty in one place. In Lucerne we were fortunate enough to go on a guided boat tour around the lake, which afforded us incredible views of the charming city and picturesque mountains.

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View of the mountains from the boat on Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

That evening a few of us decided to try traditional Swiss cheese fondue. Now I’ve eaten fondue a decent number of times, but never before had I tasted such delicious cheese fondue! Unfortunately, our time in Lucerne was short, however the experience was no less memorable and I certainly plan to return there one day to spend some time exploring the mountains and all that Switzerland has to offer.

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Spectacular view at dinner of Lucerne, Switzerland, by night

Our last and final stop was in Paris, France; such an old and historically rich city. When I arrived I was amazed by how lovely the city was, with incredible monuments and beautiful big buildings. That evening we went to see the Eiffel Tower. In truth, I hadn’t really expected much but when we got to the tower and as we traveled higher and higher up, I was in awe. The views from atop the tower were spectacular and you could see the entire city sprawled out for miles around.

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Paris, France, at dusk from atop the Eiffel Tower

Back on the ground, the view of the tower at night – all lit up and standing huge against the black night sky – was truly incredible. I felt so grateful to be there in Paris, in that moment, with the beautiful new friends that I had made on this journey. I remember thinking to myself: this is living. I’m not the same as I was when I started this adventure, and I won’t be the same after.

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The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, by night

The next day was spent wandering around Champs-Elysees, a famous street in Paris, and basically eating all things delicious and pastry-like, such as custard tarts and pistachio macaroons. That evening, and our groups final evening together, we went to a Cabaret show. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but was so thankful that I had decided to attend the show because it was a truly magical experience. Not only was the dinner delicious, but the show was so much fun with tons of dancing and singing! Should you ever find yourself in Paris I highly recommend checking out a Cabaret show.

After the show we made our way to one of the local pubs for a few cocktails and to say our goodbyes. After spending almost two weeks with such incredible people, and making so many new friends, it was really difficult to say goodbye knowing that I may never see some of them again. However, they and the experiences we shared together will always hold a special place in my heart.

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Final days in Paris, France, exploring the city…

Once back home, I finally had time to stop and reflect on my adventure and experiences, and about how I’ve changed and grown. A few years ago I never would have expected that I’d hop on a flight to Europe alone, to go on an adventure with strangers. However, looking back over the past two years or so, this now made sense to me as it was a logical progression in the continuous expansion of my comfort zone. Once afraid to travel anywhere alone for various reasons, I now really enjoy the experience and embrace it wholeheartedly!

Often when I tell others about my travels and upcoming travel plans they say “aren’t you afraid to go alone?” And it’s true, at one time I absolutely would have been afraid to travel alone, but as I’ve challenged my own perception of my comfort zone I’ve unintentionally expanded it. Now, I intentionally seek out experiences and opportunities to expand my comfort zone, as I believe this is integral to personal growth. This is not to say that I am not afraid (because sometimes I am!), or that I am devoid of feeling doubtful in my success. However, I choose not to focus on this fear as I feel it serves little purpose. Instead, I choose to challenge these fears and doubts because from my perspective, there are only two outcomes: I will either succeed, or I will fail and learn from the experience. Either way, the end result is personal growth and an expansion of my comfort zone which, as far as I’m concerned, is a wonderful opportunity that I am continuously grateful for.

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Visiting the Louvre while in Paris

So, now that I’ve tackled some of Europe and expanded my comfort zone in the process, what’s my next move? After spending a few quiet weeks back home, I already began to feel restless knowing that soon I would be finishing my Masters degree, and felt I needed a new and bigger challenge. I’ve wanted to go to Australia for years now, and after meeting so many awesome Aussie’s during my trip, I decided that once I completed my degree, now would be the perfect time to go on a big adventure! I applied for an Australian working visa on a whim and was approved within a few days. Following this, I have started planning my trip down under and applying to jobs there. My hope is to have something set up before I go, and I will of course be blogging about my travel experiences while I’m there as well!

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My next adventure: Australia! (PC: Google Images)

I’m sure some people may think I’m a bit mad, taking off to Australia to potentially start a new life there. It may not seem like a very ‘safe’ or stable thing to do, but I firmly believe it is the right choice for me. Am I nervous to travel to the other side of the Earth alone to go on an adventure and start a new chapter in my life? Heck ya I am! But that’s another reason I am determined to do this.

I am confident that this is the next step for me on my journey of personal growth by continuing to challenge and expand my comfort zone, and cultivate true happiness…

So, after this rather lengthy blog post which I hope you’ve made it to the end of (hehe), I want to leave you with a challenge to expand your personal comfort zone. This doesn’t mean that you must take off and travel the world if that’s not something that interests you. Expanding your comfort zone can start with something as simple as trying to cook a new dish or meal that interests you, or taking a day trip to somewhere you’ve never been, but have wanted to go.

It’s okay to start small, but it’s simply getting started that’s the key

In the words of Albert Einstein: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving” – So, wonderful people, I challenge you to keep moving, keep challenging yourself, and to keep expanding into new spaces, ideas, and places; to continue to cultivate personal growth and happiness by expanding your own comfort zone.

Until next time, wishing you infinite health and happiness!

XO Julie

 

 

 

 

 

Banana PB Chia Pops

Hello beautiful people!

Here in Ontario, Canada, summer has arrived! The kids are out of school and the weather is hot! When the warm weather rolls in I seem to find that my craving for delicious, cool treats revs right up too, and I don’t think I’m the only one with this dilemma. Who doesn’t want a tasty, cold treat in the midst of a hot summers day?!

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, the problem with a lot of these tasty cold summer treats is that they’re packed in processed sugars. Sure, they taste great, but the effect of all that processed sugar on your brain and body isn’t quite so lovely. Fortunately, there are still tons of great ways to make fresh, nutritious summer treats while avoiding the processed sugars and other unhealthy compounds (eg. preservatives) found in many frozen treats.

The recipe I’m sharing with you today is a great one for kids and adults alike. It’s gluten and dairy free, plus oh so rich, creamy, delicious, and nutritious! These pops are easy to make and the kids can certainly help out with making them too, or even give it a try on their own with adult supervision.

Chia PB popsicle 2

Getting kids involved in the kitchen and teaching them how to prepare food is an important step in establishing healthy eating patterns throughout life. The more experience and confidence kids can build about how to choose and prepare their food, the more prepared and able they’ll be to make healthy eating choices as they grow. After all, as research suggests, we’re more likely to give something a try if we feel we have the skills and knowledge to succeed.

To make these treats you’ll need a blender and popsicle molds. Preparing them takes about 10 minutes, plus at least 5 hours to freeze, so it’s best to let them sit overnight. This recipe makes approximately 6 medium sized pops.

Chia PB popsicle 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 large ripe banana
  • 3 Tbsp natural peanut butter, smooth or crunchy (or other nut butter if you prefer)
  • 2 Tbsp raw, unpasteurized honey
  • 1/2 tsp real vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk (I prefer cashew or coconut)
  • 2 Tbsp chia seeds

Method:

  • Place banana, peanut butter, honey, vanilla and milk into a blender. Mix until thoroughly combined and pureed.
  • Gently fold in the chia seeds.
  • Pour the mixture into popsicle molds. Place in the freezer and allow to sit for at least 5 hours, or overnight is best.
  • When ready to serve, remove pops from the mold; close your eyes, take a deep breath, think of one thing for which you’re grateful, then ENJOY!

I hope you enjoy this tasty and nutritious summer treat. It’s the perfect guilt-free way to indulge in something yummy this summer! 🙂

Wishing you much health and happiness,

XO Julie

 

Strawberry Ginger Mint Lassi

Hello wonderful people!

Here in Ontario the weather has been heating up and this weekend is about to be no exception! I don’t know about you, but when the warm weather rolls in my craving for yummy, cold treats seems to roll in with it. Unfortunately, most ice creams and frozen treats are full of processed sugar, among other not-so-nutritious additives, which of course gives them their classic yummy taste. However, these tasty treats are also accompanied by the many downfalls of processed sugar consumption, such as “sugar crashes” and increased inflammation.

Fortunately, I have some great news: It’s absolutely possible to have a delicious, sweet, and nutritious frozen treat without all of that processed sugar! As some of you may know I do love my sweets, but I am particularly sensitive to sugar and especially it’s effects on emotional and mental health. As such I put considerable effort into exploring alternative options for treats that will be both nutritious and tasty!

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Strawberry Ginger Mint Lassi

One such creation is based on the “Lassi”, which is not dissimilar to a milkshake. Lassi’s are easy to make and adaptable based on the ingredients you have. The one I’ll be sharing with you here features strawberries, ginger, and fresh mint, but you could easily substitute in a different type of fruit, or leave out the ginger and/or mint if they’re not your cup of tea.

What really helps improve the nutritional value of this particular recipe is that rather than using ice cream, I used plain non-fat Greek yogurt, which gives the Lassi a creamy texture plus lots of protein, without all of the fat and sugar found in ice cream.It’s important to use plain Greek yogurt, as flavoured ones are again full of added sugar.

To sweeten my Lassi, I’ve used local raw unpasteurized honey. Why is using unpasteurized honey important? When honey is pasteurized the process removes the nutritional benefits of the honey, such as antioxidants and vitamins. Thus it’s best to use unpasteurized honey in order to gain the most nutritional benefit from it.

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Strawberry Ginger Mint Lassi

Ready to make this tasty and nutritious dessert? It only takes about 5 minutes to prepare. For 1 serving you will need…

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 2/3 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup milk of choice (I prefer cashew or coconut)
  • 5 or 6 fresh mint leaves
  • 1″ ginger, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 Tbsp raw, unpasteurized honey (or real maple syrup)

Method:

  • Place all ingredients into the blender and combine until thoroughly mixed. Garnish with mint if desired.
  • Close your eyes, inhale, think of one thing for which you’re grateful, and ENJOY! 🙂
Strawberry Ginger Mint Lassie
Calvy enjoying some lounge time + my nutritious, yummy, Strawberry Ginger Mint Lassi!

I hope you’ll enjoy this sweet treat as much as I have!

Until next time, wishing you much health and happiness 🙂

XO Julie

Mango Chai Overnight Oats + Trip to BC

Hello wonderful people!

I’m back! 🙂 In the midst of travelling, a move, planning a trip to Europe for the summer, and finishing my masters degree, things have been a bit hectic to say the least. Things are coming along well though and just about finished up.

A month ago I visited beautiful British Columbia again – this time I was mainly in the Vancouver area and it was lovely. We took the Ferry over to Vancouver Island and checked out Victoria for a few days before returning to Vancouver. The Ferry ride was fun and the view from the observation deck on the ship was stunning.

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Taking the Ferry to Vancouver Island

In Victoria was visited the Victoria Butterfly Gardens, Butchart Gardens, and the Fisherman’s Wharf. While it was all spectacular, visiting the wharf was my favourite part as we enjoyed fresh fish and chips, and most excitingly of all came face to face with wild sea lions, which I adore!

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Victoria Butterfly Gardens
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Beautiful Butchart Gardens
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Adorable sea lion at the Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria

My final day in Vancouver was spent hiking at Deep Cove in the rain – what a wonderful experience!

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Hiking in the rain at Deep Cove in Vancouver

Back in Ontario now, the weather here has been quite variable. Warm during some weeks and rather rainy and cool during others. Lately temperatures have been more on the cool side, however it looks as though beginning next week the warmer weather will be coming and hopefully sticking around – come on summer!

With my busy schedule it’s be ever more challenging to eat well consistently and to choose healthy, nutritious options that taste great as well. Fortunately, from the literature as well as my own experiences I understand the importance of maintaining a healthy diet for optimal physical and mental health.

One of my favourite recipes to prepare for breakfast or lunch is overnight oats. There are tons of variations one can explore and these can be prepared quickly and easily. Oats can be purchased gluten-free, and I prefer to use almond, cashew or coconut milk to avoid dairy. Oats are high in fiber, low in sugar, and filling. When combined with protein powder (as I have done here using Vega Vanilla Chai Protein Powder), overnight oats will help you maintain energy levels and fullness throughout the day and to avoid the sugar crash that accompanies many processed cereals.

Mango Chai Overnight Oats 1
Mango Chai Overnight Oats

For 1 serving of Mango Chai Overnight Oats you will need a 250 mL mason jar (or other glass container); it takes 5 minutes to prepare.

Mango Chai Overnight Oats

Ingredients:

  • 6 Tbsp quick or large flake oats
  • 1 Tbsp Vega Vanilla Chai Protein Powder
  • 8 Tbsp cashew milk (or other nut milk)
  • 2 Tbsp mango, fresh or frozen 1/2″ chunks
  • 1 tsp pecans or walnuts
  • 1 tsp unsweetened coconut, shredded

Method:

  • Place oats and protein powder into jar and mix with a spoon. Add in half of the milk, mixing to combine. Add in mango and stir in gently, then add in remaining milk and stir gently.
  • Top with nuts and shredded coconut. Place lid on jar, then put mixture into the fridge to sit for at least 4 to 5 hours, or over night. Enjoy! 🙂
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Delicious Mango Chai Overnight Oats

I hope you’ll enjoy this tasty and nutritious treat 🙂

Until next time, wishing you health and happiness!

XO Julie

 

 

 

 

Butternut Squash, Kale and Caramelized Onion Lasagna

Hello wonderful people!

Here in Ontario it appears that winter was not quite ready to move on, as we got one more cold spell and even some snow over the weekend. The forecast is calling for a few more days of cold, and then the temperatures are expected to start to rise again, thankfully! Spring and summer – you’re welcome to make an appearance any time now!

Although I tend to hide inside on these these chilly, snowy days and don’t get to enjoy much of the outdoors, one perk is that I do find myself spending a little extra time in the kitchen trying to come up with fun new recipes. I love running my culinary “experiments” on days like these, and it’s even more exciting when the result of the experiment is actually a tasty one haha!

Take for example the recipe I’m sharing with you today: my Butternut Squash, Kale, and Caramelized Onion Lasagna – a delicious and healthy vegetarian dinner option. I wasn’t sure how this would go and whether the ingredients would come together to compliment one another, but fortunately they did. This lasagna is packed with fresh and nutritious veggies, and black beans for some extra fiber which aids digestion and helps you to feel full for longer. I used Blue Menu brand whole wheat lasagna noodles (more fiber – yay!), along with low sodium pasta sauce, and finished it off with a bit of herbs, spices, walnuts, and cheese.

BN squash kale onion veg lasagna 1
Butternut Squash, Kale, & Caramelized Onion Veggie Lasagna

This recipe is relatively easy to prepare, delicious and filling (with all that fiber!), and will keep well for about 4 to 5 days if stored in an air tight container in the fridge. It does take a little more time to prepare – about 1.5 hours – but I assure you, it’s totally worth it! As always do try to use fresh, local, and organic ingredients when possible to get the greatest nutritional benefits from your food.

Butternut Squash, Kale, & Caramelized Onion Lasagna

Ingredients:

  • 12 whole wheat lasagna noodles (I use blue menu)
  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 4 to 5 cups), peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1 large red onion, sliced vertically
  • 4 cups fresh kale, washed and chopped (use spinach if preferred)
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 (19 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed (I like the PC Blue Menu kind)
  • 1 (650 mL) jar low sodium pasta sauce
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1.5 cups Asiago or mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 3 Tbsp chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp olive oil

Method:

  • Drizzle a rectangular (13 x 9 x 2 inch) baking dish with about 1/2 tbsp olive oil and set aside. Preheat oven to 375*F.
  • Soak lasagna noodles in cold water for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl gently stir to combine black beans and ricotta cheese, set aside.
  • In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and add in onions. Saute for approximately 10 minutes, or until beginning to soften. Add in butternut squash and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium, cover and continue cooking for about 10 to 15 minutes stirring occasionally, or until the squash begins to soften and is slightly brown.
  • Add in kale and garlic, sage, oregano, and parsley, stirring gently to combine. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook about 5 minutes more or until kale is slightly wilted. Remove from heat.
  • Layer 1: Pour 3/4 cup (about 1/3 of jar) of pasta sauce into baking dish, smoothing out to cover bottom of dish. Arrange 4 lasagna noodles over the sauce, then top with 1/2 of the veggie mixture, then 1/2 of the ricotta cheese black bean mixture.
  • Layer 2: Cover with 4 more noodles, 3/4 cup pasta sauce, then remaining 1/2 veggie mixture, and 1/2 cheese black bean mixture.
  • Layer 3: Cover with 4 more noodles, then remainder of pasta sauce. Sprinkle Asiago or mozzarella cheese over top, then walnuts, some fresh ground black pepper and a sprinkle of parsley.
  • Bake covered for about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and uncover. Bake for about 5 to 10 minutes more, or until top is slightly brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.
  • Smile, think of one thing for which you’re grateful, and ENJOY! 🙂
BN squash kale onion veg lasagna 2
Slice of delicious & healthy Butternut Squash, Kale, & Caramelized Onion veggie lasagna with a side of greens + simple olive oil & balsamic vinegar dressing from The Pristine Olive

I hope you’ll enjoy this hearty and healthy veggie lasagna as much as my family and I did; It’s the perfect meal for a chilly day, and is sure to warm and fill up your bellies and hearts, too!

Wishing you health and happiness,

XO Julie

Apple Walnut Olive Oil Cake

Hello everyone – I’m back!

Does it ever feel great to be back at writing here on my blog. I wish I could tell you that I was off on some exciting adventure during my absence the past few weeks, however I was instead merely sucked into the oblivion that is marking and writing up my masters thesis. Fortunately, that’s nearly all done now so I can get back to doing what I love – sharing healthy recipes and wellness tips with all of you!

As it’s the holiday weekend and sweets are a mainstay for times such as these, I was looking for a healthier option for dessert. The original recipe for the one I’ll be sharing with you today came from the February 2016 issue of “alive” – Canada’s natural health and wellness magazine. My version is slightly different from the original with respect to the ingredients I’ve used, but it’s nonetheless absolutely delicious!

I always get excited when I give a recipe “experiment” a try for the first time and am pleasantly surprised to find that it’s turned out wonderfully. This was the case for my Apple Walnut Olive Oil Cake. For this recipe, olive oil replaces traditional butter to give you a boost of healthy fats. I get my olive oil from the Pristine Olive Tasting Bar in London and the one I used for this particular recipe was their “Picholine” olive oil.

Apple Walnut EVOO cake 2
Healthy Apple Walnut Olive Oil Cake

I used apples for this recipe as I had some on hand, but you can sub in pears or other seasonal fruits you enjoy as well. I replaced regular flour with a combination of gluten free brown rice and coconut flours, sugar with raw local honey from Clovermead Apiaries, and dairy milk with Silks original unsweetened coconut milk. The top is garnished with apple slices, walnuts, and a pinch of granulated maple syrup sugar (I didn’t even know that was a thing until recently) that my wonderfully thoughtful mom brought home for me the other week. The result: a healthy gluten and dairy free cake that’s both savory and sweet.

maple syrup sugar
Granulated Maple Syrup Sugar

Here you’ll find ingredient measurements for both a smaller sized cake (6 x 2″), which serves about 2 people, as well as a large cake (13 x 9 x 2″). As always, do try to use fresh, local, organic ingredients when possible to obtain optimal health benefits.

Apple Walnut Olive Oil Cake

Ingredients (small cake):

  • 1 apple (1/4 sliced to garnish top; 3/4 peeled and chopped)
  • 3 Tbsp brown rice flour
  • 3 Tbsp coconut flour
  • 1/8 tsp dried thyme (or 1/2 tsp fresh thyme)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil (high quality)
  • 2 Tbsp unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 Tbsp raw honey
  • 1 Tbsp walnuts (or pecans)
  • pinch of granulated maple syrup sugar (optional)

Method:

  • Set the oven to 350*F. Grease baking dish with olive oil and set aside.
  • In a bowl combine flours, thyme, cinnamon, and baking powder, stirring gently to combine. Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl combine olive oil and coconut milk, using a whisk to mix thoroughly. Add in egg, then honey, whisking thoroughly to combine.
  • Slowly pour the dry mixture into the wet mixture, whisking to combine, until batter is smooth with no chunks. Gently fold in apple chunks and walnuts.
  • Pour the mixture into your baking dish, gently smoothing out the top. Garnish with apple slices and walnuts, and a pinch of the granulated maple syrup sugar if desired.
  • Bake for approximately 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.
  • Smile, think of one thing for which you are grateful, and enjoy! 🙂
Apple Walnut EVOO cake
Delicious and Healthy Apple Walnut Olive Oil Cake

Ingredients (large cake):

  • 2 apples (1 cut into slices for top; 1 peeled and cubed)
  • 1 1/4 cups brown rice flour
  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 1 Tbsp fresh thyme)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup high quality olive oil
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup raw honey
  • 1/4 cup walnuts (or pecans)
  • 1 tsp granulated maple syrup sugar (optional)

Method: Same as above

I hope that you’ll enjoy this delicious and healthy treat as much as we did!

Wishing you health and happiness!

xo Julie

Strawberry Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

Hello Everyone!

I hope you’ve all been having a lovely week so far. Commitments with work have been keeping me quite busy, thus why I haven’t been posting as often, unfortunately. During hectic times like these maintaining a healthy routine can be especially challenging. However, it’s also times such as these when eating well and making healthy choices becomes most critical in staying balanced both mentally and physically.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but when I start to feel a little stressed I tend to crave a sweet treat, but I know all that extra sugar and processed stuff isn’t good for me and will only serve to exacerbate my stress levels. Luckily, this is perfect motivation for me to have a little fun and try to develop healthier dessert alternatives that I’ll still be able to enjoy.

One of my favourite desserts is my moms “upside-down cake”. It can be made with almost any fruit you like, however my personal favourite is strawberry-rhubarb. I remember as a kid I’d get so excited and look so forward to occasions when my mom would make this cake. The original recipe is of course your traditional dessert situation – that is, loaded with butter, sugar, and refined white flour. Don’t get me wrong, it’s delicious as all-get-out, but obviously not especially healthy.

So, while doing some work last night I found myself really craving this delicious upside-down cake, and I thought to myself: “self, can you make this delicious treat into a healthier more nutritious version?” Turns out I can! See…

upside-down cake 2
Strawberry-Rhubarb Upside-Down cake topped with pecans, raw honey, and shredded coconut!

By following my moms original recipe and subbing in coconut oil for the butter, maple syrup for sugar, coconut and brown rice flour for regular flour, and coconut milk for regular milk, I was able to come up with a recipe for my favourite cake that is a significantly healthier version than the original, as well as being gluten and dairy free!

I seriously debated sharing this one with you, I guess because the little girl in me wanted to selfishly hoard my moms delicious upside-down cake recipe all to myself haha. Fortunately, the adult Julie reasoned that it would be quite inconsiderate to withhold such a delectable and reasonably healthy dessert recipe from you.

And so, I will now share with you my healthy version of my moms upside-down cake! I’ve provided measurements for both a small serving (6 x 2 inch round) for about 2 people, and a full sized (13 x 9 x 2 inch) cake. This recipe works great too with apples, peaches, blueberries, or raspberries. I meant to take a photo of it looking all pretty in it’s dish after it came out of the oven, but it looked so yummy that I started eating it and forgot, so these photos of it already on the plate will have to do heh.

For the small (6 x 2 inch) cake…

Ingredients:

For the Bottom…

  • 1 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
  • 1 tsp real maple syrup, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup strawberries & rhubarb (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice

For the Top…

  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil, softened
  • 3 Tbsp real maple syrup, room temperature
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp real vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp coconut flour
  • 3 Tbsp brown rice flour (gluten free)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 Tbsp coconut milk

Method:

  • Oven at 350*F
  • Bottom: whisk coconut oil and maple syrup together, then spread over bottom of baking dish. Arrange fruit on top and sprinkle over with lemon juice. Set aside.
  • Top: in a bowl, whisk together coconut oil and maple syrup until a smooth paste forms. Add in egg and vanilla, mix well until combined.
  • In a separate bowl, combine flours, cinnamon, and baking powder. Add to the wet mixture, whisking to combine.
  • Add coconut milk 1 Tbsp at a time, mixing it in gently. If the batter is a little too thick and sticky, add a bit more milk. It should be a thick, smooth texture when finished.
  • Pour the cake mixture over top of the fruit. Bake for approximately 40 to 50 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
  • Allow to cool in baking dish for about 15 minutes before serving.
  • To serve, top with more fruit, nuts, or whatever else you like, or enjoy as is! 🙂
Upside-down cake 1
A lightened up version of my mama’s Upside-Down Cake – made here with strawberries and rhubarb and topped with raw honey, pecans, and shredded coconut!

For a full (13 x 9 x 2 inch) cake…

Ingredients:

For the bottom…

  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/4 cup real maple syrup, room temperature
  • 2 cups strawberries & rhubarb (or fruit of choice, fresh or frozen)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice

For the top…

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, softened
  • 1/2 cup real maple syrup, room temperature
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup coconut flour
  • 1 cup brown rice flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk

Method: same as described above. Cooking time may be slightly longer.

I hope you’ll love this lightened up version of my mom’s delicious Upside-Down cake as much as I do! 🙂

Wishing you health and happiness,

xo Julie

10 Year Cancer Free Anniversary

Hello Lovely People!

Today is a pretty special day for me – it’s the 10 year anniversary of my surgery! On this day one decade ago I was at Victoria Hospital getting a stage IV malignant tumor removed from my throat, along with my thyroid and voice box. Apparently, after the 10 year mark it’s unlikely that the cancer will return, so it looks like I’m in the clear! 🙂

I find myself filled with mixed emotions on this day. Happiness and gratitude to still be alive and not just well, but flourishing. But also feel some sadness for having lost such an intimate part of me – my voice; it’s a strange feeling knowing that a part of you, part of what makes you who you are, is missing. I feel hope as well, for my future and the possibility of achieving my dreams, and for having the opportunity to help others to learn how to grow and thrive.

DSC_0060
Achieving one of my many dreams – Graduating with an Honours Degree in Psychology!

I believe it’s no mistake that I survived. I think that certain things happen for a reason, just as certain people come into our lives for a reason. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my experiences over the last 10 years. Contemplating what I’ve learned and how much I’ve grown. I can say with surety that I am proud of who I am today.

 

This evening I’ll be celebrating dinner with my family, as we always do on this day. However, in celebration of this milestone I would also like to share with you 10 things that I’ve learned in my 10 years since my whole world changed:

1) While anger can be useful to help you get through certain experiences, it does no good to hold on to it longer than is necessary. Holding on to anger is like consuming poison that, day by day, will drain your energy, happiness, and life. For many years I allowed anger to consume me. Learning when and how to leave anger in the past, to let go, and move forward is a key step towards actualizing one’s potential and flourishing.

2) Happiness comes more easily when you focus not on the things that are out of your control and that which you don’t have, but rather on those things over which you do have control, such as your attitude. There are many things that will inevitably happen in life which are out of our control. However, we always have the ability to decide how we choose to react to our given circumstances, and the extent to which we allow them affect us. Remember, as said by psychologist Carl Jung – “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become” 

Emrald Lake Alberta 2
Cultivating happiness and personal growth through adventure! (Emerald Lake, Alberta)

3) As the years go by and I get older, I’ve come to realize and appreciate that the most important things in life are not material, but rather experiences and memories made. Relationships with others, opportunities to learn and grow, adventures, helping others – including those those who can never repay you – is what makes life worth living. Being grateful for each day we have, as we never know when it will be our last.

4) I used to be so insecure and hate the things about me that made me different from others – namely, my whisper voice. But now that I’m older (and arguably wiser hah) I’ve grown to appreciate those things that make me unique; to embrace them. Now for me personally, I can think of little worse than to spend my one life being perfectly ordinary and unexceptional. This is not to say that I don’t still experience insecurity, as we all do. However, as I discussed in this post on insecurity and personal growth, the key is learning how to challenge ones insecurities when they arise, so that you may overcome them, grow, and thrive.

5) Our experience in this world is greatly a matter of perspective. For the longest time all I wanted was to be “normal”, but what is normal? It’s so subjective. What’s normal for some may be bizarre for others. My point here is that learning to live with an open mind and an open heart, and to consider a multitude of perspectives, fosters personal acceptance and growth. “Normal” is a fallacy we create to feel comfortable, but it doesn’t really exist as it’s entirely dependent on our perception and perspective of things, events, people, etc.

Me and theo 2015
Challenge your perceptions of normalcy, accept and love yourself – learn and grow

 

6) In these 10 years I’ve realized that, with respect to dating and love, I needed to learn to love myself first, and to be content with being on my own, rather than looking for someone to love me. I’ve come to appreciate that I need not wait to meet the “right” person to start living my dreams. Sure, this may seems obvious but learning how to embrace and practice self-love and acceptance was one of the greatest, and most rewarding, challenges I’ve overcome. Learning how to accept and love oneself is paramount to personal growth and happiness.

7) As I’ve discussed in a previous post on the Value of Vulnerability, I’ve learned that not only is it okay, but also necessary, to be vulnerable. Embracing vulnerability helps one to be more open to others and to life. Many of us have been conditioned to perceive vulnerability as a weakness, but is it really? I think not. In fact, I’ve come to appreciate that having the capacity to accept and embrace ones vulnerability is instead a strength. It was only through allowing myself to be vulnerable and embracing it, that I was able to let go of my anger, move forward with my life, and cultivate happiness.

Ukee sunset 2015
Embrace vulnerability and open yourself up to life! (Adventures in Ucluelet, BC, 2015)

8) One of the most exhausting and toughest lessons I’ve had to learn is that depression is not a black hole from which there is no escape, though I appreciate that it can sometimes feel this way. As I discussed in my post on my personal journey with depression, it CAN be over come. However, this requires that you truly want to heal; recovery and healing are a choice. You must both want it and be open to it. It was not until I decided to take accountability for my circumstances and an active role in healing myself that my life began to change positively. No one could make me do that, except for me. The same is true for each of us.

9) Life gets busy, and it’s easy to push relationships with loved ones to the back burner, because we tend to (falsely) assume that they will always be there. My close call with death and the struggles I endured afterwards have taught me that life is indeed short, and the relationships we have with those we care about are essential; we should strive to appreciate and nurture them, as we never know when that person could disappear from our lives. Make time for loved ones, whoever they may be, while you can – family, friends, significant others, pets, yourself – as you never know when their (or your own) time will expire.

My Birthday 2015
Appreciate those you love and care for – celebrating my birthday with baby Calvy!

10) Our time here in life is finite – it will not last forever. Having come close to death, I no longer fear it. What I fear most instead is failing to live while I have the opportunity to do so. By stepping outside of my comfort zone, I’ve grown tremendously, and I encourage you to do the same. Travel, explore, try new things, meet new people! Be vulnerable, uncomfortable even, because this is how you learn and grow. Challenge yourself constantly, even (and especially) if it’s something the scares you! I’ve never lived far from home, but in June I’ll be moving to Vancouver Island in BC, and let me tell ya – I’m nervous as all get out about it! haha. But I feel this is the next step in my journey and I’m excited to see what the future has in store for me 🙂

Well, here are 10 of the most important lessons that I’ve learned in the past decade. I hope you’ll find some meaning in these, perhaps some inspiration, or hope. Please, do not allow life to pass you by. Embrace it, live it, and savour every last precious moment you have!

Wishing you health, happiness, and love!

xo Julie