My Year By Design

The journey to living by design.

Archive for the month “February, 2016”

Winter-Warmer Beef Stew


Nothing is better after an afternoon of snow shoveling than warm, rich beef stew. This is my go-to recipe but you can substitute and add things as much as you like. There really is no right way to make stew.


  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) pepper
  • 1.5 kg well-marbled stewing beef cut in 1-inch (2.5 cm cubes)
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) butter
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 10 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) dry red wine or some kind of juice (I used cranberry as that’s what I had.)
  • 450 g mini white potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
  • 3 large carrots, cut in 1 1/2-inch thick (4 cm) chunks (halve bigger pieces)
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 6 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cups (750 mL) sodium-reduced beef broth
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) frozen peas


I started by washing and chopping up my veggies for quick cooking later on.


In large bowl, I whisked the flour, salt and pepper together and then tossed it with beef to coat.


In my Dutch oven, I heated 2 tbsp of the butter and the oil over medium heat. I worked in small batches, cooking the beef until it was browned, about 20 minutes total. Using slotted spoon, I remove ed the beef to bowl and set it aside.


Using slotted spoon, I removed the beef to bowl and set it aside.


I added the remaining butter to Dutch oven and cooked the celery, mushrooms and onion over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.


I added the tomato paste and cooked it, stirring, for 2 minutes. Doing this removes the tinned flavour from the paste.


The I added the cranberry juice, stirring and scraping up browned bits, for about 2 minutes.


At this point I had to move my stew from the Dutch oven to a larger pot as I ran out of room. The moral of the story is to use a large Dutch oven or stew pot! I returned the beef and the juices in the bowl to the pot. I added the potatoes, carrots, thyme, parsley and bay leaves.


I stirred in the broth and the Worcestershire sauce. I brought it to a boil, stirring occasionally to loosen any remaining browned bits from bottom.


I covered and braised the stew in a 350 F (180 C) oven for 45 minutes. Then I uncovered it and continued to cook it until the vegetables were tender and the beef offered no resistance when pierced with tip of knife, about 30 to 40 minutes. I stirred in the frozen peas and cooked for 5 more  minutes.


There was a little fat on the surface so I skimmed it off and let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Nick and I had been smelling delicious stew for hours so we dove right in and I didn’t even take a picture of our finished bowls! Ah well, I can assure you it was delicious.



Where Can You Get Help?

I’m writing this post in response to some questions I’ve received. People are nervous about talking to their doctor or their family members about how they’re feeling. It is not easy to start these conversations. I’m going to share my experiences getting diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and suggest some places you may be able to find help. I’m going to give Canadian resources in this post because that’s where I live, but I’ll try to keep it general enough so that you can research similar resources, whatever the country.

I decided to do something about my anxiety when I realized that I had been feeling really down and unwell for a number of months. I was living healthily but I was getting worse bit by bit too. I was worried especially because I was having such a difficult time feeling happy, even when really great things were happening. You’ll know when it’s time to get some help. You’ll get tired of not feeling like yourself. I know I sure did.

Tell your trusted person – I started by talking to my mom and then my boyfriend (now husband) Nick. Try to choose a good listener who will reserve judgement. Not only will this relieve some of the stress you’re feeling, it’s also a good opportunity to practice what you want to say if you choose to see your doctor.


Talk to your doctor – I admit, this is probably the hardest one to do. The prospect of receiving a diagnosis can be paralyzing. I told Nick I wanted help and thought that going to the doctor would help, but that I was scared. He encouraged me to make the appointment. He even drove me and made me dinner afterwards. His support helped me feel strong enough to talk to my doctor. You can invite someone to go with you if that makes you feel stronger. Nick didn’t go into the appointment with me, but knowing he was in the waiting room helped a lot.

The first thing my doctor did was run me though a questionnaire about my physical health, (e.g. diet, sleep, drugs or alcohol,) and my emotional health, (e.g. ranking symptoms like sadness out of 10.) My doctor told me I had a number of the symptoms of anxiety but that she wanted to do some blood work. This ruled out possible physical causes such as thyroid problems, diabetes, low iron and so forth. It all came back clear so I saw my doctor again, but this time to discuss the new diagnosis of anxiety.

We made a plan for my treatment. We chose counseling and a low-dose antidepressant. She wrote me a prescription and she gave me a chart like this to record my symptoms. However, you don’t have to wait for the doctor to start your own chart. Information like this can be really helpful for diagnosis.

If you receive a diagnosis of anxiety or depression, be vocal about what you want and don’t want in terms of treatment. Your doctor will listen. I recommend that if you do decide to take medication, that you combine it with some sort of counseling, therapy or support group that will help you learn coping skills. Set a clear plan with your doctor and schedule regular check up visits. This is where you’ll need to be flexible with your plan. I tried a number of antidepressants at a variety of doses before we found what works for me. I also had a number of counselors before I found my current practitioner, (more on that in a moment.) Be ready to readjust and don’t give up just because the first thing you tried didn’t work. If you keep trying, you will create a treatment plan that is best for you.

If you don’t have a doctor – Most communities offer some sort of walk-in medical clinics. They are listed in the phone book or you can find them by Googling ‘walk in medical clinic’ and the name of your city or town. This is a good start and sometimes a walk in clinic can offer resources for finding a doctor. There may also be government programs such as Health Care Connect in your area to help you locate a doctor. If you are dealing with a mood disorder like anxiety and depression you need a family doctor to oversee your care, even if you’re not on any medication.

Stay off the internet – Do not Google your symptoms or seek out online advice on your mental health. The Internet is just too unreliable for health care. If you insist on taking an online quiz to see if you have depression, take a reputable one like this one from I like this quiz because it doesn’t tell you if you do or do not have depression. Instead, it examines various symptoms of depression and ranks how much they are affecting your life. You can even save a PDF of your results to show your doctor.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – My school board has a program where they provide me with counseling and my copay is $20 per visit. This is how I afford counseling as it can be really expensive. Explore the counseling services offered at your place of employment. If you are part of a union, talk to your union rep to see if you have an EPA. If you are non-unionized, talk to human resources. If you are self-employed, talk to your health insurance provider or the health care branch of your government about what affordable cost counseling is available.

I also had to try a number of different counselors before I found one whose personality and methodologies made me feel comfortable. When you do get a counselor, make sure they are right for you. If they’re not, it won’t hurt their feelings to ask to be referred to someone else.

Crisis helplines – I’ve never called a crisis helpline but I have recommended them for students in need outside school hours. In Ontario, kids and teens can call Kids Help Phone and adults can call the Mental Health Helpline. Diagnosis and treatment can take a long time and be very frustrating. If at any point you are in crisis, please access these services.

So that’s my experience. I’m not an expert in mental health but I hope that my stories and suggestions help you take care of yourself too. Be well.




Depression is Different

So as I’ve discussed before, I have generalized anxiety disorder. With the help of my doctors and my support system, I am now medication free and doing well. However, my treatment isn’t over. People with anxiety often suffer from depression at some point, (and vice versa.)

I am experiencing my first battle with a major depressive disorder. I’ve felt depressed before (who hasn’t?) but this is something I’ve been dealing with for over a month. According to my doctor, the diagnosis of depression is usually at least two sustained weeks of depression or more. Health Canada lists the possible symptoms of depression as:

  • Feelings of despair and hopelessness (check.)
  • Detachment from life and the people around you (check.)
  • Always feeling tired or having no energy (check.)
  • Crying for no apparent reason (check, one day I cried brushing my teeth; that doesn’t even make sense. I love good oral hygiene!)
  • Not being able to concentrate or make decisions (check.)
  • A loss of appetite or a change in sleep patterns (check.)
  • Headaches or stomach upsets that occur frequently (occasionally.)
  • Thoughts of suicide (no to this one, thanks to visits to my doctors and talking with my support system. If you or someone you love is experiencing thoughts of self-harm, get help. Tell a doctor, a family member or a trusted friend, failing that call a crisis center. Know that you are not alone and there are people who want to help you.)

So what caused my depression? Like most mood disorders, the answer to that is complicated. My family has a history of depression so I am at higher risk. I’ve also had a lot of stress at work and a substantial amount at home. These stresses build up and make everything else difficult to manage. For example, my RMT, (registered massage therapist,) is no longer practicing. That may seem like a small change but he was my RMT for almost five years and his care helped me through some of my worst bouts of anxiety. Finding a new RMT is daunting and no one I’ve tried so far has really been able to provide the care I need. I suppose I’d have to label the cause as ‘stress’, despite how complicated the situation really is.

Regardless of all this, it is important to remember that depression doesn’t care how good or bad your life is. Depression can happen to anyone, anywhere and sometimes there is no reason we can attach to it. That’s because depression is an imbalance in the chemicals in the brain. Although it can be triggered by tragedy, (e.g. the death of a loved one,) or stress, it can also occur for no other reason than the brain is imbalanced.

I have been working so hard to overcome my anxiety but depression feels so different and a lot of my coping mechanisms aren’t really transferable. If anxiety is fight or flight, depression is lay in a hole and try not to exist. I am scared by the fact that sometimes I feel like I can’t access any of my positive feelings. I feel like I’m forgetting what it’s like to be happy. I’m going to keep working on it. I’m reluctant to go back on antidepressants because I worked so hard to be healthy enough to not need them. However, if at any point I feel like I can’t control my mental health or that it’s having a negative effect on my personal and work life, I’ll make an appointment with my doctor to discuss medication. It’s important for me to be able to admit when I need help. I’ll keep you updated on how I’m doing as I go.

Art Assignment 45: Copy a Copy a Copy

For this assignment, I chose the novel JPod by Douglas Coupland.

Part of the reason I chose it is because it’s Canadian and I like to bring a little Can-Con (Canadian Content,) to my work. However, the main reason I chose this novel is because Coupland is both a writer and a visual artist and I love the visual ways he plays with text within his novels. See the gallery below for some examples from JPod.

I used a page of random letters and this photocopier to create my art.


I kept making the copies darker and smaller, until the page of the book disappeared. I think I’ll call it Evaporated.

The blurriness in the last few shots is not because of the camera work; the photocopier could not long focus on such small text. I took a few close up to show just how distorted the image became. #theartassignment

IMG_2255     IMG_2260



Art Assignment 44: Caption Contest

So I watched this video on my lunch at work and I thought I’d download the image to print it later. However, for some reason when I tried to open the file, my work computer defaulted to Word. It opened the file but converted it to a series of symbols and text, most of which I’ve never seen before. The entire document was 39 pages long. I find it interesting that a one page image broken down so a computer can understand it takes up so much room! You can view the Word doc by clicking on the link below if you’re so inclined. I’ve also included a photo of one page of the document.



I decided to transfer some of this random text onto the image. I like the idea of the image becoming bits of text and then superimposing itself back onto the art. Rathman’s original is the image as we see it and the text is how a computer reads the image. Word also automatically titled the file ‘unspecified’ so I am going to call my final piece Unspecified. #theartassignment



Psst…cancel some plans

So in an earlier post I talked about how giving into my more introverted side helps me control my anxiety. Most of the time I am a go, go, go kind of person. I do yoga every morning. I have an incredibly busy job teaching students with special needs. I attend a lot of meeting on my lunch hour or after school. I hit the gym, make plans with my husband or go out to see friends most nights. However, I cannot (and should not) maintain this pace when I am feeling anxious. I’ve done this in the past and I have made myself sick. So now, I watch my moods more closely and sometimes I preemptively cancel some plans.

There’s nothing more satisfying than doing nothing when you were supposed to be doing something. Once I’m through the awkwardness of actually cancelling plans, I feel a real rush that’s equal parts relief and  self-indulgent joy. Luckily for me, my friends and family all know I have generalized anxiety disorder, so if I need to cancel plans because of anxiety, I can just be honest and they understand.

The dos and donts of gracefully canceling plans

So I want to set a challenge for all the over-worked, burnt out extroverts and introverts. Take a look at your calendar for this month and consciously decide to cancel something. Don’t pick a major event, (please don’t skip your sister’s wedding or refuse to pick up grandma at the airport.) Pick something you don’t really need to attend and call or email to cancel. Want some help gracefully cancelling some plans? Check out this article from The Frisky. Most importantly, once you’ve cancelled that plan, DO NOT schedule something else. Leave that time free for yourself. Do something by yourself. Do nothing by yourself and enjoy.


Time Limits

Right now I feel like there is a time limit on how long I can be around other people. When I’m done work, I’m ready to go home, put on some comfy pants and relax. Let me explain; usually I describe myself as an extrovert. I am very comfortable around groups and I love the company of others. However, I have learned that one of the ways to overcome my anxiety is to become introverted when I am especially anxious. Confused? Check out the comic below for an explanation of how extroverts and introverts recharge differently:

Image courtesy of

So extroverts generally get their energy from spending time with people and introverts get their energy by spending time alone. One of the quirks of my anxiety is that I switch from extrovert to introvert. Actually, one of the ways I can tell if I’m becoming too anxious is when my time with people saps my energy. If I come out of a meeting or a social engagement feeling sluggish and cranky, I know I’m struggling with my anxiety. When I can’t wait to get home after a long day and enjoy the quiet of my house, I know I’ve had a high-stress day or week… or month. In these situations recharging alone is exactly what I need. I need that time to rest and reflect.

I used to see this need to be alone as a weakness. I tied any introverted tendencies I had to my anxiety and made it part of my illness. I thought I had to be extroverted to be happy. I’m starting to discover that this just isn’t true. I actually kind of like being alone. I can do whatever I want. No one is putting demands on me. My time by myself feels like a decadent treat. Plus I’m married to an introvert, so he really digs this time where we can enjoy our time without constantly having to “do something” together.

Image courtesy of

This approach may not be for everyone but it’s working for me. Hey extroverts, we get tired too! Maybe try letting your brain do its own thing for a little while. Try not being “on” for a change. You might just like it.

Art Assignment 43: Constructed Landscape

Pet Fish


My constructed landscape contains:

  • Black craft stones from Michael’s,
  • 4 larger stones from the river near my house,
  • One trimmed branch from my bonsai tree,
  • 3 fish made of craft paper,
  • 3 bamboo skewers and 3 pieces of thread to elevate the fish.

I like the juxtaposition of items from nature with items I purchased and made. I chose my favourite photo to display but I’ve included all the shots I took below so you can see this landscape from all angles.




Post Navigation