Coconut Cranberry Slice


This is a non- bake bar that is fast, looks great and so pretty for Christmas!img_1878This is an incredible rich candy-like dessert. A small piece goes a long, delicious way. For a more intricate icing, drizzle melted red currant jelly in straight lines over the icing and with the point of a knife draw straight through the lines to make a pretty design.

Place about 8 oz (250 g) of shortbread cookies in food processor to make the crumbs.

1/2 cup (125 mL) unsalted butter

1/4 cup (50 mL) whipping cream

3/4 cup (175 mL) chopped white chocolate

1-1/2 cups (375 mL) shortbread cookie crumbs ( I use PC shortbread cookies)

1 cup (250 mL) dried cranberries

1 cup (250 mL) desiccated coconut


2 tbsp (25 mL) unsalted butter

1-1/2 tbsp (22 mL) warm water

1/2 tsp (2 mL) lemon juice

1-1/2 cups (375 mL) icing sugar

  1. Combine butter and whipping cream in pot. Bring to boil, remove from heat and stir in chocolate. Cool slightly, then stir in crumbs, cranberries and coconut.
  1. Line an 8 x 8 inch (20 x 20 cm) square mould with parchment paper. Spoon in chocolate, cookie mixture. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.
  1. To make icing, melt butter and mix with water and lemon juice. Beat in icing sugar until consistency is smooth. Spread over top of dessert with at warm palette knife.


Chef Janet Craig’s recipes are simple, healthy, delicious and ABI friendly. You can find out more about her HERE.

Saba’s tips for holiday survival


The holidays are a tough time for everyone, and this is especially true for brain injury survivors who are often dealing with issues such as chronic fatigue, pain and cognitive fatigue.

Here are some tips I’ve come up since acquiring my brain injury a few years ago on how to get through two of the more challenging parts of the season: holiday dinner and shopping.

Saba Rizvi


Surviving the Holiday Dinner

Please let your host, or a trusted family member know about any concerns you may have, such as if you require a break during the event. Do not let the idea of being a ‘burden’ take over, as family and friends should be more than happy to help out.

Find grounding techniques that help you deal with your anxiety or pain levels, such as drinking lots of water and deep breathing when necessary. These little activities can make a big difference and help you sort your thoughts when things get overwhelming.

Don’t forget to take your medications with you in case you need them.

Holiday Shopping

Santas in a mall
photo credit: shaggy359 Which one’s him? via photopin (license)

Malls tend to get very overcrowded, and the increase in light displays and music does not help!

In order to deal with the crowd, you can take a friend with you and have a list of the stores you want to visit, along with where they are located in the mall. That way, you have both support and direction during this process. Having direction while shopping helps you navigate through the crowd and noise by putting it in the back of your mind.

You’re essentially making it secondary to your goal. You can also wear sunglasses or a brimmed hat to help with the light, and earphones or earplugs to reduce noise. If you would prefer to skip the mall altogether, you can shop for your gifts online, but time’s running out for that option quickly.

Again, have a list of the things you need and where you can buy them, and have a friend help you shop online. Happy shopping!

Saba Rizvi was in her second year of medical school when she sustained her Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). She has navigated her way through her TBI with the support of her family and friends, as well as from her knowledge of psychology and medicine. Saba has previously written blog posts for BIST and is currently a peer-mentor at the Brain Injury Association of Peel-Halton (BIAPH). She also promotes positive mental health via her artwork, and curated posts & articles. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Mistletoe madness


I spent most of my childhood and young adult years feeling out of place; I didn’t think of myself as a normal kid. I could not understand why I had such a difficult time with things that seemed to come so easy to the others.


I was six-years-old when the viral infection made its way into my brain, and it was many, many years later that I was diagnosed with a brain injury. Living within the unknown made things that much more challenging. Bottling up my emotions and refraining from telling anyone about these difficulties didn’t help much either.

There were many things I thought of that might give me some of that ‘normalcy’ in life, but I could never figure out just how to go about getting them.

Enter the mistletoe, a small leafy object that got its recognition during the Christmas holidays. I had witnessed its use in movies, on television, and even in person. I had read and heard stories about its magical aura. As per

The tradition of hanging it in the house goes back to the times of the ancient Druids. It is supposed to possess mystical powers which bring good luck to the household and wards off evil spirits. It was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology and that’s where the custom of kissing under Mistletoe comes from.

So getting kissed under this cheery decoration, I thought, would signify my ‘normalcy’. Well, at least it was a step toward becoming one of the guys, right? I mean getting a kiss, a girlfriend, that’s what being one of the guys means, right?

The idea of some amazingly cute girl kissing me with her lovely lips was a beautiful thing. It was also scary – very scary in fact! So why did I become obsessed with making sure we had this small plant in our house every year?  To this day, I’m not exactly sure I know the answer.

pexels-photo-170383See, I would make sure this delicate Christmas object of affection was put up in just the right spot, and then, I would do everything I could to avoid that spot. I’ve said nothing about this to anyone until now, despite I repeating this ritual for several years.

It was somewhat counter-productive when I look back on it all. It was as if something in me was saying, ‘This is how you become normal,’ while another voice inside said ‘That’s a load of crap!’

These days I no longer bother with the mystical object meant to garner a kiss. I know a kiss won’t make me ‘normal.’ I don’t need anything to make me normal, because  I am normal already.

A kiss is not going to turn me into a prince

A kiss is not going to make me a better person.

But, that doesn’t mean I would refuse a lovely lady.


Mark’s passion to lend a helping hand, offer advice and give back has developed into a moral and social responsibility with the goal of sharing, inspiring and growing – for others as well as himself. His experience as a survivor, caregiver, mentor and writer has led to his credibility as an ABI Advocate and author of his life’s story, Challenging Barriers & Walking the Path. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Koning or go to

Warm up with Caribbean Pumpkin Soup


By all accounts it’s going to a cold winter. So what better than to  cook up some delicious, vegetarian, milk and gluten free Caribbean pumpkin soup? If you can’t find Caribbean pumpkin at your local store, sweet potatoes work too, either way it’s delicious!

photo credit: di.wineanddine pumpkin soup with black bean blomp via photopin (license)
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced
  • 2 onions chopped
  • 1 jalapeño chopped
  • 2 celery stalks chopped
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 pound pumpkin or squash (sweet potato) peeled & cubed
  • 3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  1. Sauté vegetables in oil until translucent. Then put in large pot with broth, milk & pumpkin or squash.
  2. Simmer for 1 -2 hours or place in crock- pot for 4 hours on low.
  3. Puree after removing bay leaf. Taste & adjust seasonings.

Satisfied Soul Personal Chef Service logo

Chef Janet Craig’s recipes are simple, healthy, delicious and ABI friendly.

You can find out more about her HERE.

Having Trouble Focusing? Here are some tips that can help


One of the struggles I faced after sustaining my Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) was difficulty focusing. Apparently this isn’t a problem only those who have sustained a TBI face, but also impacts many non-TBI survivors.


The world around us is not helping with this struggle. I observe people bouncing around between the apps on their phones, checking their emails, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook, texting, all while working or socializing with friends and families. These are not just annoying habits – it’s a little more insidious than that – these habits are denigrating our ability to focus.

Georgetown professor Cal Newport explains that too much bouncing around doing different tasks degrades our ability to concentrate when we need to.

People who do a lot of attention switching, they believe they can focus when they need to, but the reality is they have lost that ability. When you give them a task that requires focus, they perform worse than people that don’t spend a lot of time fragmenting their attention.

According to Professor Newport, focus is a skill that has to be trained. You can’t just decide, “Now I’m going to go focus intensely for the next three hours on something.” If you haven’t built up your capability to do that, you’re going to have a very hard time. Bouncing around on your apps, checking your email, texting all at the same time has an impact on your ability to focus when dedicated focus is needed. Much like lifting weights at the gym, the more time you spend doing it, the stronger you’ll become. And if you haven’t been spending much time focusing, it can take a little while to get that skill back up to speed.

So to be more focused you need to spend more time focusing. But how do we build up our focus muscle?

Clear Your Head

You want to focus but you’re worried about all the other things you have to do. So we often decide to work on multiple tasks at the same time. While writing this article, I’m also thinking about the bills I have to pay, getting my income taxes done, what I’m going to make for dinner, etc. I am tempted to go online to pay some of those bills, look up some recipes, and plan my shopping list. I may feel like I’m getting a lot accomplished, but focusing on these other tasks is taking me away from the task at hand and making it harder to complete. Research suggests that when I switch from writing this post to going online to pay my bills, and back to writing, my attention doesn’t immediately follow—a residue of my attention remains stuck thinking about the bills I just paid – did I pay them from the right account, did I get the date right?


When I am thinking about these other tasks it reduces the amount of mental firepower I have to devote to writing this article.

One approach to combating “residual attention” is to get the concerns about all the other tasks out of my head by writing them down. Neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin explains that writing things down deactivates “rehearsal loops” in my brain.

When we have something on our minds that is important, such as a to-do item, we’re afraid we’ll forget it. Our brain rehearses it, tossing it around and around in circles in what cognitive psychologists actually refer to as the rehearsal loop, a network of brain regions that ties together the frontal cortex just behind your eyeballs and the hippocampus in the center of your brain.

The problem is that it works too well, keeping items in rehearsal until we attend to them. Writing them down gives both implicit and explicit permission to the rehearsal loop to let them go, to relax its neural circuits so that we can focus on something else.

Having a plan for how I’ll take care of these other tasks also helps. Apparently, committing to a plan to complete my incomplete tasks can help me to complete the task of finishing this article. Another neat strategy that I learned from my occupational therapist is to set aside a specific chunk of time to work on the task at hand. My limit for focused attention is an hour. So, I set the timer on my phone for an hour. When the time is up, I will stop working on this post, and consult my recipe collection to plan dinner.

Location, Location, Location

We’ve all heard this adage when it comes to real estate – but it is also important when it comes to focusing.

A number of experts agree that the biggest part of focus is merely removing distractions. Productivity guru and author of The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss explains:

Focus is a function, first and foremost, of limiting the number of options you give yourself for procrastinating… I think that focus is thought of as this magical ability. It’s not a magical ability. It’s putting yourself in a padded room, with the problem that you need to work on, and shut the door. That’s it. The degree to which you can replicate that, and systematize it, is the extent to which you will have focus.

photo credit: Eustaquio Santimano Study via photopin (license)

What does research show the most productive computer programmers have in common? They had employers who created an environment free from distraction. In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain notes that:

…top performers overwhelmingly worked for companies that gave their workers the most privacy, personal space, control over their physical environments, and freedom from interruption.

One of the most powerful ways to improve your ability to focus is to pick the right environment. After my daughter moved out, I converted her bedroom into a den. I painted the room a beautiful grey-green, bought a lovely glass desk, brought in a comfy chair from another part of the house, and hung some of my favourite art work. This is where I go when I want to focus.

Stop Being Reactive

Turn smartphone notifications off. Your computer should not be chiming when you get a new email. You need to stop being in a mode where you are reacting to things. This leads to attention residue, as discussed above; anytime you are reacting to new stimuli it pulls you out of focus. The new stimulus can linger in your head, draining your ability to concentrate on what’s important.

It might seem harmless to take a quick glance at your inbox every ten minutes or so. But that quick check introduces a new target for your attention. Even worse, by seeing messages that you cannot deal with at the moment (which is almost always the case), you’ll be forced to turn back to the primary task with a secondary task left unfinished. The state that almost every knowledge worker spends their day in is a terrible state if your goal is to actually focus with any intensity. I think it’s the equivalent of having a professional athlete who’s coming to most games hungover.

So maybe you try all this and you still can’t focus today. It might not be due to anything going on right now. It might all be the result of what you didn’t do last night …

Get Your Sleep!


photo: nomao saeki via UNSPLASH.COM

What’s one of the main reasons we spend so much time aimlessly surfing the Internet? Studies say it’s lack of sleep. Not getting enough reduces willpower and depletes the self-control you need to avoid bad habits like watching cat videos.

Sleepiness slows down your thought processes. Scientists measuring sleepiness have found that sleep deprivation leads to lower alertness and concentration. It’s more difficult to focus and pay attention, so you’re more easily confused. This hampers your ability to perform tasks that require logical reasoning or complex thought. In his book The Brain’s Way of Healing, Norman Doidge explains that during sleep our sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight reaction) is turned off, allowing for our parasympathetic system to turn on. When our parasympathetic system is turned on, a number of chemical reactions that promote growth and reenergize our neurons occur, leading to relaxation and preparing for the growth of new neural pathways and connections.

Sleepiness also impairs judgment. Making decisions is more difficult because you can’t assess situations as well and pick the right behavior.

To Sum Up



Post completed! Now off to deal with all those other ‘to-dos!’

Since acquiring her traumatic brain injury in 2011, Sophia has educated herself about TBI. She is interested in making research accessible to other survivors.


Barker, E. (2014) How To Focus: 5 Research-Backed Secrets to Concentration. Retrieved from

Cain, S. (2012) Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Danvers, MA: Crown Publishing Group.

Doidge, N. M.D. (2015) The Brain’s Way of Healing. New York, N.Y.:Viking.

17 activities you can do when you’re recovering from a concussion


When I was in the acute phase of my concussion, I couldn’t do anything. I thought the boredom would kill me if my symptoms didn’t (new research suggests I was somewhat right).

I felt even more frustrated when my partner’s online search for fun activities for concussed people turned up countless suggestions that weren’t possible for me. All forms of stimuli were excruciatingly painful. I couldn’t do anything that involved electronic devices, lights, eye strain, sound, or physical activity.

Here is a list of activities that I gradually worked my way up to doing.

Please feel free to write a comment below and share what you did while recovering from your brain injury.


BIST Review: CBC Doc on The Brain’s Way of Healing



On October 27, CBC The Nature of Things aired a documentary about Dr. Norman Doidge’s book The Brain’s Way of Healing. You can stream it (in Canada only), here.


For anyone who has experienced a brain trauma, Dr. Doidge provides hope and has changed the verbiage surrounding brain trauma such as:

  • “this is as good as it gets” or
  • “the brain does not heal” or
  • “no, we don’t have a treatment for autism that works”


  1. Let’s try Bioflex Laser Therapy or
  2. The PoNS™ Device or
  3. The LED light helmet for PTSD

I was initially introduced to Dr. Doidge’s book The Brain That Changes Itself almost eight years ago, which was the first time I could really read about my brain injury. When I read the case studies presented in the book, I was able to piece together my brain injury and put the practice of neuroplasticity into my daily recovery.

Dr. Doidge’s new book, The Brain’s Way of Healing, provides a scientific view of all types of brain trauma based on the neurons in the brain miss-firing.

While watching The Nature of Things segment it became apparent that technology has caught up with brain trauma, and is providing a new and exciting avenue for recovery for all types of brain trauma.

  • For anyone who has experienced a brain trauma in the past, it is not too late.
  • For the caregiver who is looking for answers for recovery, kudos for all the research you have done so far for the person you care about.
  • For all physicians who are involved from diagnosis to recovery you can now provide hope and a better way.

If people are being diagnosed today with any type of brain trauma here are the links that will be important during their recovery, as featured in the CBC documentary:

Dr. Doidge‘s Books The Brain’s Way of Healing and The Brain That Changes Itself.

Dr. Kahn with Bioflex Laser Therapy

Paul Bach-y-Rita, M.D founder of the The PoNS™ Device

Dr. Margaret Naeser in Boston uses a LED light helmet to treat PTSD victims.

Paul Madaule from the Listening Centre in Toronto in the treatment of Autism

Our work is just beginning but thank you to Dr. Doidge and other professionals for not giving up on us.


Jean Oostrom is the creator of New Brain Living as a place where people with brain injuries and the people who care for them can find answers.  New Brain Living started out as a project to make some sense of her own brain injury in 1997, and now is making a difference for many brain injured people and the people who care for them.

Jean has coined herself “the voice for the brain injured person” and provides information “from the brain injured point of view” so people can find answers as they “learn to live with their new brains” after all types of brain trauma.

The following recovery options are available at the New Brain Living website

5 Answers to New Brain Living – The First Step to Learning to Live With Your New Brain

New Brain  Living Book

New Brain Living Blog

Twitter @NewBrainLiving