Friday, December 31, 2010

I Don't Believe in Resolutions


I don’t believe in resolutions, especially New Year’s resolutions. It seems like you’re just setting yourself up for failure, since no one ever seems to keep them. Goals, ‘to do’ lists or plans? I’m totally in favour of those.

So this year I decided to write a ‘to do’ list of the goals I’d like to achieve in 2011. And I decided to make them both big and small. 2010 was an amazing year for achievements. I cut down on my sugar intake (a goal I set in July 2009 and was steadfast in until September 2010), I worked out more often, I tried yoga, I tried krav maga, I took a PhotoShop class and I read more than 50 books. I feel like I achieved a lot, but still not as much as I would have liked. In 2011 I want to focus my momentum and continue to move forward.

The list I wrote is a long one – more than two single-spaced pages – but here are a few highlights. Perhaps by making it public I will feel more inspired to achieve these.

  1. Find a new job that I love. 2010 was a bittersweet year career-wise. I achieved many things, but I also suffered a huge loss when Invest in Kids closed. I am ready for a new beginning in 2011.
  1. Re-commit to my clean eating program. With the job loss and the holidays I’ve wavered in my commitment to avoiding refined sugar and processed foods. I feel better when I eat clean and I need to get back on track.
  1. Continue my dedication to exercise. I love working out. I try to work out at least three times a week and I often succeed. In 2011, I want to work out even more.
  1. Take a yoga class. I did a yoga seminar in the fall and I loved it. The instructor was surprised I had never taken a class, as it was an intermediate seminar and I did pretty well! I would love to add that to my exercise plan on a regular basis.
  1. Continue to save money. This one will be easier once I have a new job, but it’s an important one. I read Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s fantastic book, Debt Free Forever, in 2010 and, while I’m not using the jars she advocates, it has helped to solidify how important it is to remain debt-free. Shawn and I have worked hard to ensure that even with me not working we are not sliding into an unmanageable money mess and I want to make 2011 the year that I really take control of our finances and save, save, save.
  1. Finally pitch my novel. I wrote the draft and then, well, life happened. And then I wasn’t sure it was good enough. This is the year I really need to start making pitches and seeing what actual professionals think. You never know what will happen until you try.
  1. Keep working to live a greener life. In 2010 we made huge leaps towards being more environmentally aware in our day-to-day life. In 2011 I want to continue that progress – I want to phase out all the parfum in my cosmetic products, to eat more organic and local food and to make green choices wherever possible.
  1. Spend more time exploring the city. When I left the music industry in 2007 I did it to have more time to write. And it also opened up the opportunity to spend more time just enjoying the city I live in. I made an effort to see and do so many things – from free festivals to tourist attractions. And it was amazing. But there is still so much I haven’t done yet. In 2011, I want to see and do even more in this incredible city I call home.
  1. Write, write and then write some more. It is my passion and I always feel like I don’t do enough.
  1. Read at least 60 books. I got through 54 in 2010. Some were guilty pleasure reads and some were really important. I want to experience even more in 2011 and, hopefully, get caught up on the backlog of books lining my shelves.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Back at the Sugar Shack

A few of you have been kind enough to ask about my clean eating/sugar fast recently. For those who don’t know, a year ago last July I decided to mend my sugar addict ways and go cold turkey on the white stuff and the artificial stuff too. I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams and dropped my sugar intake substantially.

That was the start of my clean eating and exercise kick and has led to the green living that you’ve been reading about recently. Having a healthy body inevitably leads to wanting a healthy home and planet too. It’s something I’ve become incredibly passionate about, but I won’t lie and say that it’s been easy or that I haven’t fallen off the wagon a time or ten.

Recently, I’ve found the sugar creeping back into my life. I always made allowances for special occasions or moments that I didn’t want to miss, but with the loss of my job I found that I was making more excuses to eat sweets. As with any addictive behaviour, it can be easy to slide back into it, especially during stressful times. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that sugar can be a wonderful thing – I’m just one of those people that tends to go a bit crazy with it, so I need to be more mindful. I also didn’t realize until I started my sugar purge just how much sugar was in the food I was eating. These days sugar is in far more than candy and baked goods – it’s in just about all processed food items, so even giving up desserts isn’t enough to get sugar out of your system.

So I haven’t been great lately and that’s something I’m determined to change. I’ve been working out more than ever, making green changes, eating lots of fresh produce, eating more locally-sourced food and doing so many of the positive things that I know are good for my body and my mind. It’s just made me realize that I need to increase my resolve and try harder to say no to the sugar that I don’t really want or need – it makes the occasional treats that much sweeter and I know that I’ll feel a million times better when I get back on track.

Thanks to everyone for all the support I’ve received on this journey. I realize now that you can’t make these kind of sweeping life changes without a few cheerleaders and I’ve been lucky to have far more than a few!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Sins of Greenwashing

Green-wash (green’wash’, -wôsh’) – verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service. – The Greenwashing Report

When I made the connection between eating clean and living green I quickly realized that both would take a considerable amount of effort to achieve. While eating clean has taught me the value of reading labels, it’s much harder to make that leap with the living green part. Typically, I don’t purchase a food item if I don’t recognize or understand what is listed on the label. The more ingredients an item has the less likely I am to purchase it – especially if there are chemicals, processed food additives or refined sugars. That’s pretty easy to figure out.

With other household items it’s a whole lot harder. As I mentioned in my Parfum and Gloom post, the ingredient lists on beauty products are almost impossible to decipher without a degree in chemistry. Household cleaning products and other items are even more complicated. That’s why I was so irritated when I read The Greenwashing Report 2010, which outlines just how many corporations are misleading consumers about the environmental impact of their products. The report found that, “more than 95% of consumer products claiming to be green were found to commit at least one of the ‘sins of Greenwashing.’” It was a startling number.

I learned with cosmetic products that often those labeled as natural or organic still contain potentially toxic chemicals. If you aren’t able to pick out the toxins from the ingredient list you are left with only the marketer’s claims about how green the product is. And those are wholly suggestive. With Greenwashing you also have to consider things like ‘The Sin of No Proof’ or “The Sin or Irrelevance.” You realize that you really need to look beyond marketing to figure out what is truly safe and truly green.

The report is not all doom and gloom – it also shows that consumer awareness and interest is helping to change things for the better. And that’s a great thing! The more we know about what we’re purchasing, the more likely we are to make good decisions and to steer corporations towards making greener products. I encourage everyone to read the report and to look at the ‘green’ products in your home. If you find any that are Greenwashing, be sure to complain to the company and post your findings on Facebook and Twitter to let others know. Leave a comment here too, as I would love to hear about your findings!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gourmet Food & Wine Expo


Yesterday Shawn and I decided to venture out to the Metro Convention Centre for my very first Gourmet Food and Wine Expo. I’d heard good things and was looking forward to checking it out. We had a 2 For 1 coupon from my Toronto Life coupon book and at $16 per person ($13 if you purchase online with a coupon) it was really the only way to go for a reasonable price. Once we arrived we realized that you also have to buy sample tickets to try anything (all samples are priced from $1 up, depending on their value). That meant another $20 added to the $16 for us to get in. We ended up buying another $20 sheet of tickets in the show, so it’s not cheap entertainment, but we agreed that it was worth it overall. If we had both paid the full price to get in it wouldn’t have been as reasonable, so make sure you look at deals and options if you’re planning to attend.

When you enter the event you’re given a real wine glass to use, which really impressed me. Each time you purchase a sample the vender washes out your glass first, so you don’t have to deal with a million little plastic cups. The green girl in me was super impressed with that. They also had waste receptacles throughout the event for organics, plastics and paper, which I thought was fantastic. I noticed several people were using them incorrectly, but the event was definitely trying hard to be green.

There are tons of venders at the show, including many of the best brands of wine, liquor and spirits. Shawn and I grabbed our first sample ($1 for about a quarter glass of regular white wine). It was good. Then we had some excellent sushi and decided to walk through and see what else was available before choosing our next samples. There is definitely a lot to see and it can be hard to choose, especially if you aren’t yet a wine expert!

On our walk-through I discovered the Muskoka Lakes Winery’s cranberry wine and spoke to the owner about Twitter. I thought he was the cranberry wine guy that I was following and we had a great chat. His Cranberry Blueberry wine was to die for and turned out to be my favourite of the day. I like a sweet wine and this is very much so, but not in that artificial way that so many sweet wines are. It was a very natural, clean taste. Like pure, slightly tart juice almost, but with a definite kick. I loved it and we picked up a bottle when we left the show.

When I got home I realized that it was a different cranberry wine guy that I had been following (what are the chances?), but I ended up making a new Twitter friend and discovering a great wine, so all good. Twitter was a huge help with this show because it allowed me to see what others thought and which venders they were recommending before we arrived. That was helpful when trying to determine what to try out of a huge number of options.

Once we got the feel for what was there, we had a lot of fun trying different brands. The samples are fairly small, so I wasn’t too concerned with mixing. Shawn tried several different beers and I was even talked into trying an apple beer by one vendor. I have a severe beer aversion and had heard many times that flavoured beers would change my mind, but this was actually the first one that did. I might even consider trying one again.

We both sampled several vodkas and Shawn’s favourite was Still Waters, followed by Three Olives Espresso flavour. I liked the pomegranate one by Pearl that we tried. Again, it was sweet, but not in an artificial way. We picked up a bottle of that as we were leaving too. One thing about the Expo is that you definitely end up spending on new finds too – so that adds to your total.

I was happy to see that Flourish was there. I discovered that Ontario wine at the LCBO and have been buying it recently, especially for parties. It’s a nice, lower-priced wine. I had a sample and chatted with the lovely ladies working there who were so sweet. They even gave me a flowered Flourish bag, which is so cute. I will definitely be using that.

In terms of food, there wasn’t as much as we expected, but there were good options. Besides the sushi, we had an excellent chocolate-covered strawberry, a pretty good peppermint macaroon (I think I would have preferred a different flavour) and some not so great seafood paella. There were several things we would have liked to try, but it gets pretty expensive when most food is $5 and up. We did sample quite a bit of cheese and Shawn purchased some of that.

Overall, it was a great time. We tried several new brands and learned a lot, especially about local venders. We had some fun things like an ice cream cone shot and a tiny little martini and we left feeling like we’d want to visit again, especially at a time when we weren’t watching our pennies so much. Neither of us felt drunk after all our samples, just slightly tipsy, but it’s definitely not an event you would want to drive to, so keep that in mind.  


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hot Buttered Chemical Cocktail


When I was a kid we had one of those old-school popcorn poppers where you poured in the kernels and watched them pop out fully-formed from the mouth of the machine a few minutes later. It even had one of those neat warmers on the top to melt the butter. Sure, it wasn’t the most efficient process in the world, but it was effective and even kind of entertaining.

Then microwave popcorn became all the rage and my mom dutifully filled our cupboard with family-size boxes from Costco. It was simple, quick and seemed like an awesome way to get my popcorn fix. I must have downed a million of those bags over the years. When I moved out on my own I continued the popcorn tradition, even buying those adorable single-serve bags sometimes. What could be better?

When Shawn and I moved in together I schlepped my over-sized Costco box of microwave popcorn goodness along with all my stuff and was shocked when he told me that he never ate it. “Those bags are full of toxic chemicals,” he explained patiently, as I hid them in our top cupboard. Really? Would Orville do that to me? But we were such good friends, Orville and I; we’d been through so much over the years – how could microwave popcorn, of all things, be toxic?

Because my husband is the king of our half-kitchen, microwave popcorn bags hit the road in our house and were replaced by a neat contraption that pops kernels in the microwave, but without the chemical stew that the bags contain. It’s not the giant, red, air popper that he put on our wedding registry, but he’s content with it.


Our popcorn maker isn’t perfect. It takes a little longer than the bag stuff and it can be tricky to get the timing right, but it tastes just as good and it’s comforting to know that my snack isn’t coming with something called polyfluoroalkyl phosphate esters. Not eating that seems to make the extra effort all the more worthwhile. Still, I found myself being kind of nostalgic for my childhood popper while reading the news today – how can you not miss something with its own butter warming dish?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What Portia De Rossi Taught Me


One of the great luxuries of being unemployed is that I can tune into daytime TV when the mood strikes. This is a surprisingly rare occurrence, but when I saw that Portia De Rossi was on Oprah this week I decided to tune in. I like De Rossi. She seems funny and interesting and I’m sure there are reasons other than her stunning good looks that she snagged the ever awesome Ellen DeGeneres.

I was also interested because she was talking about her struggles with anorexia and bulimia, which she chronicles in her new book, Unbearable Lightness. I had no idea how powerful that hour of television would be for me. I don’t have an eating disorder, but I am always concerned about how easily women can fall into that trap. Watching someone as smart and beautiful as De Rossi talking about her own struggles with self-esteem and self-loathing, I found myself wishing that every young girl was watching the show.

When I made the choice to start living a cleaner lifestyle many of the decisions that I made involved my nutrition and fitness goals. I started working out, cut down on refined sugars and processed foods and began paying attention to the chemicals that surround me. It has felt like a good shift in my life and in my health, but it has also meant that my weight has changed drastically. That’s something I’ve blogged about often – it’s hard not to feel good about going from a size 10 to a size 4, especially when you are feeling stronger and healthier. It’s the sort of goal that we are conditioned to applaud.

But I can see how easily the weight loss could become addictive. I haven’t paid much attention to the pounds I’ve lost. I’ve never been one to weigh myself and I wasn’t particularly unhappy as a size 10, so my transformation was never about losing weight. But every time my pants got looser it seemed like cause for celebration. And, even though I never worried much about my weight before, I now find myself scrutinizing my body and analyzing it in a way that I might not have in the past – I look at my stomach and still see a flabby little paunch instead of seeing a waist that has slimmed down considerably after all those crunches.

This warped body image that women seem unable to shake disturbs me, especially when I see how easily anorexia and bulimia can take hold of even the smartest, savviest of women. I think that the choices I have made have been smart ones in terms of improving my life and my health, but De Rossi’s interview made me more aware of the need to also nourish the soul and remind yourself that it’s not about that little belly bulge, but about the feeling of strength and happiness that I get whenever I work out.

After watching her interview, I really want to read her book. I want to know more about how she overcame her issues and how she keeps from slipping back into them. I think that I could learn a lot from her. I’ve already realized that I need to work harder at being happy about who I am and embracing this healthy body that I’ve worked so hard to create.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Yes, I Like Sparkles Too


I have a thing for pretty, pink, self-help books. It’s one of those inexplicable genres that calls to me in a way that I can’t totally explain. It’s resulted in an all-pink corner of my bookshelf, full of books with pretty pink covers and titles like The Modern Girl’s Guide to Life, The Bombshell Manuel of Style and Three Black Skirts. They’re full of helpful tips and pointers to guide a girl’s life towards that stylish, fun, domestic and work bliss that, of course, all modern girls aspire to reaching.

Except that I don’t really want to be that girl. At least not consciously. I’ve always been a bit more on the quirky, less-than-perfectly-put-together side and I’m OK with that. Yet, whenever I see a pink book cover with a pretty, perfect girl in high heels sipping a martini I feel compelled to own it. Especially if it’s full of useful (or useless) tips on how to be that sassy, modern girl (always displayed in illustrated form because I’m fairly certain she doesn’t actually exist).

Since I’m currently trying to read through my backlog of books (so that I won’t feel so guilty about buying any more), I decided to actually read one of the pink mainstays on the shelf and see whether I was as drawn to the book’s content as I was to its cover. I had actually read Three Black Skirts and The Bombshell Manual of Style ages ago (and remember nothing from either), so I grabbed How to Walk in High Heels. The cover is a light shade of rose with a slender, illustrated girl on the cover – she’s wearing just her undies and high heels as she teeters on a stool changing a light bulb, clearly illustrating the books premise that you can be a domestic goddess AND a style goddess too. Of course you can!

The book itself is pretty cheeky and fun. It’s British, so there are all those wonderful Brit-isms and, while Morton is herself a bit of a style goddess, she takes the piss out of the genre a little bit throughout the book. There’s actually quite a bit of useful info throughout, as well as essays by Stella McCartney and other fashion mavens. It’s a few years old, so the tech section is woefully out of date and, being British, there are elements that don’t really relate to my life at all (I now know how to order a Pay-Per-View movie in Sky TV, for example), but it was a decent read. One of my friends on Twitter pointed out that the info on how to change a tire was actually really useful. Being a non-driver, I skimmed that section, but I can see her point.

While I’m pretty sure that reading the book didn’t change my thoughts on fashion (interesting, but not really my thing) or make me over into a glamourous, light bulb changing domestic diva, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. I think that these pink books speak to a part of my subconscious that is fascinated by women who manage to be bombshells in the same way shows like Sex and the City make you sort of wish you could swap places with Carrie Bradshaw, but only for an hour or two.

I’m happily moving on to a book that’s neither pink nor helpful now, but I will remember my time with How to Walk in High Heels fondly. And, who knows, maybe someday I’ll find myself pulling it out again, because there are times when being a domestic diva comes in pretty handy – especially if you’re trying to manage it in stilettos.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Waste Not, Want Not

One of the ongoing challenges that I face in trying to live a healthy lifestyle and lessen my ecological imprint on the Earth is avoiding wasted food. It’s harder than you might think, but it’s something that I’ve become increasingly determined to do. Every time I read about the amount of food wasted in North America while people in third world countries (not to mention our own country) starve, I feel guilty.

Living with Shawn has also helped to adjust my attitude. In the past I would buy fruits and veggies that I knew I should eat and then I wouldn’t have the time or energy to use them all up – so I tossed them. This drives Shawn crazy. If I buy a mango and don’t eat it before it goes bad, I can see the look of disappointment on my husband’s face. And I know he’s right. His waste not, want not attitude comes from growing up in a single parent household where they simply couldn’t afford to be wasteful. That it’s also an ecologically sound way if living his life is a happy coincidence, but it’s not lost on him.

Now that I’m not working it seems even more important that we avoid food waste, especially as we want to try and continue to eat local and organic as much as possible. If we’re going to spend the extra money to avoid chemicals, we should make sure to eat what we bring home.

That’s meant learning to shop with a list, which is easier said then done. I love lists, but when you get to the store it can be hard not to be swayed by something on sale or looking delicious. We balance things by trying to stick to a budget and by only buying what we know we can eat. And if the bananas go off before we finish them? They go into the freezer to be added to smoothies. I’m proud to say that over the last year the amount of wasted food in our house has gone way down and it continues to decline. Yes, there are times when something we buy spoils sooner than expected or is rotten on the inside when we get it home (don’t you just hate that???), but we’re doing the best that we can.

If more people tried to waste less, just think of the difference we could make! Do you have any food saving tips that might help? I’m always looking for ways to make things go further in our house!

This video, The Waster, was just too funny not to share - Thanks to Stacie for pointing it out!


Friday, October 8, 2010

Giving Thanks

With Thanksgiving so close (for us Canucks anyway), I wanted to take a moment and give thanks. I’ll fully acknowledge that I got this idea from Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s blog (which I read every day and which you should too), but I’m sure she won’t mind me using yet another one of her brilliant ideas.

My Thanks List 2010

  • That I married a wonderful man who loves me to the moon and back. Plus, he cooks us yummy healthy meals three times a day, there’s not enough gratitude in the world to say how thankful I am for that.
  • That I learned all about real, unconditional love when I adopted my sweet, sweet Gomez from Toronto Cat Rescue. He was living in a wood pile in someone’s backyard when he was rescued by friends of ours who volunteer with TCR. The moment I saw his sweet little eyes I knew he was meant to be with me. He’s my first kitten and my heart still bursts with love whenever he comes near.
  • That I have an amazing support system of friends who are always there to help me through whatever life throws my way.
  • The gift of time that unemployment brings. I’d much rather be working, but sometimes life throws you a curve and I’m grateful to have the opportunity and the means to push the pause button for a little while.
  • The knowledge about what’s really in the food I eat and the products I use. I am learning every day and putting that knowledge to work trying to live a cleaner life and spread the word to others so that they can too.
  • The gift of exercise, because when you really give in to it, it’s such a gift. My body feels strong, my soul feels nourished and it really has helped to keep me calm and balanced.
I think it’s so important to always remember all that we have, even when we’re going through difficult times. Positive energy is so much more productive than negative!

What are you feeling thankful for this year?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Parfum and Gloom


One of the many things that I learned when reading Slow Death by Rubber Duck was that parfum, as pretty as it sounds, is a nasty chemical mix with all sorts of potential health ramifications. Often listed on ingredient lists as fragrance (parfum), it’s one of those things that the authors made a good argument for avoiding.

So I dutifully went through my medicine cabinet pulling out my collection of lotions and potions to see if any contained parfum. They did. All of them. From my soap to my shower gel to my lotion, they all listed parfum on the ingredient list. Even the products that seemed the most ‘natural,’ be they from The Body Shop or Aveeno, held the same dirty little word.

What this means is that every morning since I’ve been a little kid, I’ve been dousing myself head to toe in chemicals that have the potential to make me sick, not to mention what they do to the environment when I wash it down the drain. Ick.   

As I’ve said before, I’m finishing off much of what I have already, because tossing it into a landfill isn’t going to help either, but I am committed to buying safe products now. It’s proven harder than I anticipated. One of the first things I did away with was the chapstick I use every night. It was almost finished anyway and the thought of covering my lips with chemicals was particularly unsettling, so I started looking for an alternative.

Have you read the ingredients in most cosmetic products? No? It’s a daunting task and unless you have a chemistry degree it’s also pretty impossible. I started off just trying to find one without parfum and settled on a peach Kiss My Face product. It smells nice and doesn’t include the offending ingredient, so I’m working with that for now.

But while looking through the natural beauty products at the grocery store, I was shocked to see that many of them still contained parfum. I picked up lotions, shampoos, soaps and found it there again and again. Surely, there must be scented options that don’t involve parfum, right? Suggestions would be happily welcomed, as this is proving to be a much more difficult task than I’d anticipated!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Home Remedies

I woke up this morning feeling like I had started my cold all over again. All the progress I had made seemed to have evaporated overnight and I was a stuffy, sneezing coughing mess. This totally went against all that I knew about battling a cold. I had stayed home and rested instead of visiting friends or hitting Nuit Blanche (which I hated to miss). I had been drinking fluids, avoiding dairy and refined sugar, getting lots of sleep and using HydraSense to clear out my sinuses. I should not still be sick, let alone sicker.

So I did what any modern girl does – I posted my dilemma on my Facebook page and asked my wonderful group of far-flung friends what to do. Chef Dez, who is an amazingly talented chef, suggested the Neti pot, which he swears by. I’d already seen that Dr. Oz, who I unrepentantly think is awesome, was a fan, so I was sold. Then the lovely Jennie Vicious, of the equally amazing Vicious Guns, chimed in with her remedy – a clove of minced garlic with a chaser of fresh lemon juice and water.

Shawn and I dutifully set out to find the needed implements and returned home laden with our home remedies. The Neti pot was definitely a unique experience. I do believe that Shawn will regret offering to read the instructions while I attempted to use it for the rest of his life.  His marriage vows definitely didn’t include a clause to stay with me even when I’m draining my sinuses in the bathroom sink, but I’m glad that he seems willing to nonetheless.

Then he very sweetly minced up some garlic for me and squeezed out a lemon. I think he expected the actual eating of these items to be needed comic relief following the whole Neti pot incident, but it all went down rather easily. Of course, now I’m all paranoid that I smell like garlic. You just know that I’ll get called for a job interview tomorrow – moments after I’ve swallowed another clove.

But I have my fingers crossed that between Jennie’s twice a day garlic and lemon trick and my new Neti pot, I’m on my way to wellness. I do love the whole ability to breathe through my nose part a whole lot, so there’s definite progress.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Wellesley Street Fire


Shawn and I live just a few minutes away from St. Jamestown in Toronto, so it definitely hit home when we heard about the terrible fire there on Friday. While our apartment is just a two minute walk from the one where the fire hit, we actually have very little contact with St. Jamestown at all. It’s like a community unto itself, one of the most densely-populated areas in North America and housing many lower income families and people in need of public housing. While our comfy co-op is just blocks away, we rarely have any reason to go into that neighbourhood.

When the fire hit, I was on my way home, but I didn’t even realize it was happening. It’s not uncommon to see emergency vehicles in St. Jamestown and I didn’t smell smoke or see anything in the distance. When my best friend called to see if we were OK – she had heard the cross-streets on the news – I was sitting down to watch some TV after a busy workday. I looked out the window and still didn’t see any smoke coming from the white buildings clearly visible from my front door, so I thought maybe it was just a small fire.

It wasn’t until hours later when I saw the masses of emergency vehicles still blocking our street that the reality really sunk in. This was a major incident. When we learned that 1200-1700 people were forced to leave their homes because of the fire we were shocked. These are the most vulnerable people in our city – the poor, the disabled, new immigrants. They live in public housing and many left their apartments with just the clothes on their backs.

A friend posted on Facebook that there was a need for toothpaste and other personal hygiene products and that really struck me. I can’t imagine being left without even a toothbrush! We went through the house and collected all the spare toiletries that we had – anything unopened went into a bag. We took the bag, along with a bag of food donations, and went over to the Community Centre across the street, where the victims of the fire were living.

It was such an eye-opener. People were everywhere. Many were huddled together smoking out front, others were lined up for medical attention. We took our donations to one area and were thanked so much for the toiletries, which were badly needed. We had to take our food donations into the gym. Usually, the gym is full of kids playing ball or adults doing fitness classes, on Saturday it was full of people laying on tiny cots or lining up for pizza. There were children playing, but it was heartbreaking to know that they had nowhere else to go that night – for now, this gym was home.

We went home and I sent out requests on my Facebook page and to friends at work, asking them to please consider donating. I called our friends downstairs and asked them to see what they had on hand. I wanted to do anything I could to help these people. Now, knowing that many of them will not be able to go home for days and possible weeks, I am even more determined to help.


And I hope you will consider doing so. These are people with no where else to go – no family to take them in, no money for a hotel… they are our neighbours and they need our help. These are the times when even the smallest things can make a huge difference.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cha-Ching

Living a clean lifestyle isn’t cheap. That was one of the first things that Shawn and I realized when we decided to give it a try. You might think that when you decide to eat fresh produce, lean proteins and a less-processed diet overall that you would be able to spend less on groceries. You would be totally wrong. We try to eat organic when we can, but often the difference in price is just too astronomical to justify. So we wash things well and hope for the best. We do buy organic when we can and we try to always eat free-range eggs, but it can be tough to stomach the added cost of not poisoning yourself with chemicals!

Even feeding our cats a natural diet, a choice that we made, is costly. The healthy all-natural food we buy them is double the cost of the name brand stuff from the grocery store. But at least we know what every ingredient on the label actually is. We recently switched them to a corn-based litter too, which is more expensive, but doesn’t involve a whole lot of potentially toxic dust getting into their lungs and ours. Is it worth the cost? I think so, but as I move towards potential unemployment at the end of the month we may find ourselves letting them kick up the old, cheap dust again. We’ll see.

When we decided to start greening up our lifestyle as a whole, we found that it was equally as pricey. This weekend I bought a spiffy glass sandwich container with a BPA-free lid to replace my current plastic ones. It cost a cool $8.99 + HST. I could buy a whole box of the plastic ones for that price! We also switched our plastic water jug in the fridge for a glass one at the same time and, while it was a bit more affordable, we couldn’t find a glass one in the size we wanted for the price we were willing to pay, so 1L it is.

It isn’t lost on me that Shawn and I are in the enviable place of being able to afford these things. We can decide to get rid of our plastics and replace them with glass. Sure, it’s a slower process as we do things bit by bit, but we have the means to make that happen. We are also able to make the decision to buy organic bananas and all-natural cat food. We can choose to pay extra for organic pasta sauce in a glass jar and for organic milk. But what if we couldn’t? How unfair is it that so many people can’t afford to make healthy food and lifestyle decisions?  

There is something so wrong with the fact that heavily processed and unhealthy convenience foods are often cheaper than fresh, healthy food. Why is organic fruit so expensive with Fruit Roll Ups aren’t? The more I learn about this stuff the more I know that I need to do something to help bring about change on this issue. I’m not quite sure what just yet, but I’m working on it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Costco is Killing Me

O.K., not really, but it's a catchy title!
Since I started reading Slow Death by Rubber Duck I’ve been more aware of the chemicals in things around me. I just finished reading the chapter on antibacterial overload. The germophobe in me recoiled at first, but then I was slowly won over as I realized that, while my beloved Purell might not be totally without merit in some instances, the overload of antibacterial everything really is.

Triclosan is a chemical that we shouldn’t be finding in such large quantities in people. But we are. After reading the chapter, I took a look around our house to see what antibacterial things we have around. Other than Purell (which actually doesn’t even list Tricolsan as an ingredient – I just checked), I don’t actively look to buy antibacterial products, so I wondered if we had much. We do.

We buy a lot of our bathroom products at Costco. It’s cheaper to buy things like toothpaste and liquid hand soap in bulk. It just makes sense. But I’d never really noticed that the liquid hand soap we get is antibacterial. And the huge package of family-size tubes of Colgate Total that I just bought on sale there? Antibacterial! Why do I need antibacterial toothpaste? Why does anybody? I know that we have antibacterial dish soap at the office (thankfully, not at home), but the lovely scented hand soap I love from Bath & Bodyworks? Full of triclosan and for good measure some phalates too. Yuck.

We’re planning another trip to Costco this week and I will definitely be paying attention to any products that we purchase. Now that I’m aware that Triclosan can be in anything from socks to garden hoses and all things in between, I want to be a more conscious consumer. Chances are I’ll finish up the products that I do have, because I think that waste is pretty evil too and just adding them to a landfill seems wrong, but that will be the end after that. I’ve realized that clean eating and non-toxic living go hand in hand and I feel good about making those choices.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Slow Death by Rubber Duck

At the recent Vegetarian Food Fair I was talking to one of the vendors about how when you start to think about how you eat it becomes inevitable that you become more aware of the rest of your environment. That’s been the case with me recently for sure.

I’m reading Slow Death by Rubber Duck, which is a fantastic book about the toxic chemical stew that we all currently live in. Shockingly, the book isn’t a total downer. It’s well-written, funny and informative. I’m flying right through it and learning so much.

It’s made me really re-think how I live my life. I had already started making changes over the years as I became aware of the potential problems that chemicals could bring, but I don’t think I ever had a real idea of how many dangerous chemicals touched my life every single day.

From my morning shower with scented soap, shampoo and lotion; to my kitchen full of products encased in plastic packaging; to my non-stick, Teflon-spewing cookware and stain-guarded and flame-resistant couch, my life is full of chemicals that can cause all sorts of health issues. And, like so many others, I had no idea about how many places these chemicals are hiding.

In Canada, BPA has been banned from baby bottles, but it’s still cropping up all over the place in the plastics that we use every day. And it seems like every time I turn around there is another toy recall because of lead or other contaminants. It’s scary.

But the book is also uplifting. It talks about the successful campaigns that have sprung up over the years and how they have done so much to reverse the hazards in our lives and to help our bodies clear out so many of the horrible things that have snuck in. It is wonderful and inspiring to know that as more people become educated about the products that we are using, the more likely that manufacturers will be forced to stop using toxic chemicals and to re-think how they do business. We are already seeing that with BPA and perhaps it’s only a matter of time before others are outlawed.

Until then, I’m choosing to voice my displeasure with my wallet. We already traded in our Swiffer for a steam mop and we are slowly phasing out all the chemical cleaners in our home. We’re also phasing out any non-stick cookware we own and going Teflon-free. And once my current crop of scented lotions and potions run out, there will be no more coming in. Unless I know that it’s safe, I am not slathering it on.

It may be impossible to go completely chemical-free – as the book points out, it can be a dizzying prospect. But by paying more attention, I can start to at least improve things. I pay attention to labels on the food that I eat, so now I know that I need to really look at everything that I bring into my home. Clean eating can certainly transition into clean living if I put my mind to it!  

The book's video trailer:

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Jancee Dunn is My Hero

I’ve been reading “Why is my Mother Getting A Tattoo?” by Jancee Dunn this week. It’s a great book and I’m really enjoying it, but it’s also making me feel, well, a little old. Jancee’s last book, But Enough About Me, was about her job as a celebrity interviewer for Rolling Stone, MTV2 and a host of other publications. Her new book is about her quirky family and her life at 40. It’s full of funny, slice-of-life stories and its been a blast to read, other then the whole making me feel ancient thing.

I guess partly it’s because Jancee has always been a role model for me. When I was working as a music writer it was on a much smaller scale than her, but I dreamed about one day reaching her level. When she wrote her first book it made me remember that time in my life and it made me realize how much of what I wanted to achieve I actually had. But now, as I creep through my 30s and closer to 40, I realize that my life and Jancee’s are sort of similar.

She may have my dream job writing for O Magazine now (that girl really is living my fantasy life), but she is also caught up in all sorts of funny family drama. My family is dysfunctional on a much different level, but reading her stories has made me realize that suddenly my dream isn’t to be the next Nick Kent (or Jancee Dunn) anymore. I still want to publish my novel, write a health book and travel the world, but my youthful dreams are just that – youthful.

These days I’m starting to look through life with a mid-life lens. I’m still hoping not to become my mother, but I’m not fighting it tooth and black-laquered nail the way I used to. And I’m going through that same struggle Jancee talks about in her book as she tries to decide if she really wants to completely transform her life by having a baby. I have had those exact same thoughts and arguments myself – they seem to be part and parcel with making it to your 30s and not having procreated. But it still makes me a little sad to think that I’m getting older. I don’t feel especially old (well, except when the youngins at my office look at me blankly when I name-check the things I loved as a kid), but it’s hard not to feel older.

Maybe I need to cleanse my pallet with a little Twilight after this book or something. Of course, the goth in me still dies inside a little every time I see a vampire glitter in the sun, so maybe not.

Jancee's MTV2 blooper reel - so cute:



Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My Toxic Bathroom

Living a healthy lifestyle is hard. This should be obvious simply by comparing the number who manage with the number who fail miserably. I think I do OK. I try harder than most people I know and I’ve stuck with it longer than many do. But each time I make a positive change in my life I realize that I’ve only made a minimal amount of progress in the drive to live my best life.

Sure, I eat mostly clean, I work out three days a week, I turn off the TV more often and I read and write more than ever, but there’s still so much more to do. We’re working on cutting down our sodium levels, increasing our protein levels and, for me, eating more vegetables (fruit is easy, veggies more challenging).
And recently I’ve started learning more about the chemicals that are invading all our lives. I was aware of those things before, but never really paid as much attention to that as I should have. We try to buy organic when we can afford it, I look at food labels and I don’t buy things with ingredients that I don’t understand. But then I read this amazing web post on Strocel.com It’s about The Story of Cosmetics, a powerful video that you should really watch: 


Now, I confess, I am a princess when it comes to my products. I like my skin soft and polished, I love pretty make-up and I adore sweet-smelling lotions and body washes. But I thought I made good choices overall. The companies I purchased from seemed to be more ‘natural’ ones. So imagine my horror when I went into The Cosmetics Safety Database and discovered that so many of the products I slather on all the time are full of scary chemicals. The Vaseline Cocoa Butter lotion that I love was a very scary 8 out of ten!!

Shawn and I have been slowly switching from plastic containers to glass, we recycle and we use environmentally friendly cleaning products (including a whole lot of vinegar and baking soda) to keep the chemical count in our home lower, so this was particularly scary for us and it was a reminder that trying to live healthy is hard. Really hard. I applaud this group’s fight to get the government to regulate what is allowed to be put into our personal products. Looks like I will be cleaning out my bathroom cupboards this weekend!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Truth is Out There

Recently, Shawn and I started watching season one of The X-Files. We have tons of stuff on DVD, but for some reason that one caught my attention. It had been an impulse purchase at HMV when I saw it on sale and remembered how much I loved that show as a kid. Now, when I had that thought I could also have flashed back to how disappointing some of my childhood favourites are when viewed through a 2010 lens. The Facts of Life? Thundercats? Um, yeah, not so awesome with age.

But The X-Files has held up surprisingly well. Sure, the advanced FBI computers are the size of a smart car and the cel phones are laughably large, but the stories? They’re still really compelling. We watched an episode recently about Mulder and Scully being stranded in the icy wilderness with a team of scientists and a deadly worm that makes the infected person homicidal. It sounds weird, but it was a great hour of television. Sure, the graphics are laughable and the special effects aren’t all that special, but it’s a great reminder that good TV is really all about the writing.



Monday, August 30, 2010

Updates

Life has been getting away from me lately. It’s a common lament on my blog, often the one I make when I realize that I haven’t updated in a month or more. Yikes. Usually the summer months are calmer, leaving me lots of time to write and reflect, but this summer has been the exception.

There have been weddings and funerals, birthdays and new babies – not to mention work stress, volunteer projects, new business ventures and a whack of stuff in between. So life is busy, but good.

We’ve continued to cut down on our T.V. watching, as per my previous posts. We’re sticking with the plan to watch only shows that we really love and we’re hoping to stay the course on that one. With True Blood ending and Dexter starting, we know that we’ll have at least a few more weeks of amazing TV to look forward to. I’ve also decided to keep up with Glee and The Good Wife in the fall (OK, I admit it, SVU will sneak in there too), but beyond that, we’ll see. I’ve become addicted to HBO documentaries on The Movie Network and Shawn still lives and dies by The Food Network, so that will likely be our go-to on night’s when we’d just like to veg on the couch.

But mostly it will be reading and writing, talking and thinking. I’ve been devouring books this summer – I just finished Ann Rule’s excellent book about Ted Bundy, The Stranger Beside Me, and Shawn convinced me that I should read Chuck Liddell’s bio, which isn’t too bad at all. I’m not sure what’s up next, but I’m thinking that Jancee Dunn looks mighty good.

Our clean eating has slipped a bit over the summer – cottage vacations will do that – but we’re still doing the best we can. Shawn has been cooking amazing, healthy food and I’ve been eating it! We’ve cut way down on our sodium and, save for a few cheat days, we have kept out refined sugar consumption under control. The CNE did us both in, as we had to try the fancy mac and cheese (worth it) and we split a fried Mars bar just to see what the hype was about (so not worth it – yuck). Food has become something we are both really passionate about and I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m putting in my mouth these days and why. Stress = bad choices, so cutting stress is key.

And I’m working out more than ever. I had a two-week break when we went away and then had a work-from-home week, but I’ve been back with a vengeance. Shawn also bought a medicine ball at the recent Can-Fit-Pro conference, so I see a few new workouts with that in my future. I also want to take more Krav Maga classes. I love how powerful and strong I feel these days!

So life is good and busy and fun. And when I slipped into that size 2 Ann Taylor dress for a wedding this weekend, I felt pretty darn fantastic. Sure, it was a big size 2, but after years and years as a 10 there is nothing better than being able to slip on something you couldn’t squeeze over your thighs a year ago. If my motivation is hot pink and orange with matching pink shoes, so be it!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Love Struck

This week I had the opportunity to attend the book launch for Chantel Simmon’s new novel, Love Struck. Chantel and I were both journalism students at Ryerson together. She went on to be a successful magazine editor and now a bestselling author. It could not have happened to a nicer person.

Chantel’s first book, Life in Downward Dog, was a huge success and last night her editor announced that there were already tons of pre-sales for her newest book. That doesn’t surprise me. Chantel writes the kind of books that women love to read – fun, sassy, a little silly and with wonderfully funny and flawed characters. Her blog, which never fails to make me smile, is another great read.
 
She also knows how to throw one heck of a party. With teeny tiny cupcakes (I’ll admit to having one), heart-shaped ginger cookies (I’ll have to take my friend’s word that they were awesome), Barefoot wine and make-up filled pink goody bags, it was a suitably fabulous shindig. And, most importantly, it was totally representative of Chantel – sweet, fabulous, fun and brimming with pink, sparkly goodness.
 
The night was also a mini-reunion for me, as several other Ryerson alumni made it out. We had a great time catching up and sharing stories – it turns out several of us now work in the parenting world, though I was the only one not still working as a journalist.
 
The launch was a great time and a wonderfully inspiring evening. My novel is currently being read by a friend in publishing and I am even more excited about the possibility of pitching publishers and agents this year. I may not end up being as successful at it as Chantel has been, but she’s a great example of someone who did what she dreamed of doing because, well, she tried!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wellness Overload

I may be overdoing it. I came to that realization last night when I got home at 8pm after a doctor’s appointment, a full day of working, and an acupuncture appointment. I rushed in the door and then had to navigate a few details for the get-together I’m helping plan for the Social Committee at our co-op (I’m the chair), send some emails about a baby shower that I’m helping organize and print out a few more chapters of my friend’s novel. I volunteered to read her draft awhile ago, but keep getting caught up in other things. It’s actually really good, so I should be more proactive, but it keeps slipping off my radar.  Now she’s coming into Toronto this weekend, so I have to finish up in the next few days, but…

I also have to finish re-reading Emma for my book club, which is meeting on Tuesday. I’ve been doing my best, but with acupuncture and chiropractic twice a week (and the requisite stretching and icing for days after that follows), meditation class on Saturdays (and the twice a day 5-minute practice sessions that I need to do to keep up), working out three days a week (but not my upper body because weight training and chiropractic treatments don’t mix) and everything else in between, it’s not really going so well.

Somehow, in my quest to live a healthy, balanced life I have managed to over-program myself substantially. This has become increasingly apparent as Shawn and I try to navigate the loss of our beloved kitty on top of everything else. Grieving the loss of yet another member of our family, we need time together more than ever. But I am home less and less and when I am home I’m busy reading, stretching, planning…

It’s not an unfamiliar story, I know. Most of my friends are doing the over-programmed dance. We get up early, we work full days, we try to participate, we manage our healthcare, we try to get to the gym, we try to do it all. But is doing it all helpful?

This week I need to cook a meal as part of one of my ongoing life-skills challenges. But I keep forgetting to tell Shawn the groceries I need to get for that because I haven’t had time to pick them up myself. I need to take a boxing lesson, because my chiropractor thinks that’s my best bet for an upper body workout without further damaging my shoulders, but even though MY HUSBAND IS A BOXING INSTRUCTOR I haven’t been able to fit that in just yet. So the plan is to do that tonight. After I get home from the gym and before we eat dinner, which we hope to do before nine…

And then I will read more Emma and more of my friend’s novel (if Shawn has been kind enough to change the printer cartridge I didn’t get a chance to replace) and I will ice my shoulders and I will practice my meditation and I will write in my gratitude journal and then I will drink my hot milk to combat my insomnia and then, hopefully, I will sleep. But who knows?

The blog has suffered because of my insane schedule, I know. So has all of my writing. And I’m exhausted. Thankfully, my chiropractic treatments are scheduled to end within a few weeks and then, mercifully, I should have a chance to breathe again. Knowing me, I will find a way to fill that time.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

This is Not a Resolution

I decided over my Christmas break that I needed to make 2010 the year that I got my health in order. It wasn't so much a New Year's Resolution, as I always end up breaking those, as it was a re-commitment to something I've been working on to various degrees for years. Shawn and I are thinking we might like to start a family in the next few years and I am realizing that, as I get older, I need to put more effort into keeping my body healthy both for carrying a baby and for the stress that comes with raising one.

So I've committed to continuing to eat better. I've successfully kept my refined sugar intake much lower since July and I think that's a lifestyle change that I can keep up. I have been eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, more lean proteins and way less processed food. Now cutting down my sodium intake has become a new part of the plan. I know that I have lowered my intake by eating less processed foods, but there are still many things that I eat that contain more sodium than they should. Shawn has been great about finding new recipes and foods that include minimal or no sodium at all, but when I am home alone it is hard for me not to turn to a can of this or something frozen. That needs to change.

I also decided to see an acupuncturist and my first appointment was yesterday. I'm not sure what I thought of that. I was recommended to them by someone I trust very much and the doctor I saw was very interested in my health issues and looking at ways that he could help. I did not realize, however, that his treatments included chiropractic elements. I knew that he was also a chiropractor, but thought that we could just do acupuncture. Nope. It was a bit jarring as I've always found the whole idea of cracking and adjusting a bit weird, but I think it went OK. And I enjoyed the acupuncture part. I wasn't expecting to be so tired afterwards, but I did sleep very well for a change. I have to go back for 8-12 more sessions and take some Chinese herbs, so we'll see how this progresses. I will try to have regular updates on the blog.

I'm still going to the gym three days a week too. And walking to work every day. I want to keep up the momentum and continue to see positive changes in my body. My trainer has me doing an exercise called Jackknife currently that tests my terrible balance more than any other previously. Our goal of improving my balance has been very successful thus far and this one is an even tougher test - one that I'm determined to master.

Beyond those changes I've also started setting aside time in the evenings to read and write. I've made a list of the shows I really love and have committed to only watching those and using the other time I have available to write in my journal, work on the novel or read a good book. No more sitting on the couch watching Iron Chef because Shawn likes it and I'm too lazy to bother leaving the room. I've already finished The Year of Magical Thinking and have been feeling so much better about the amount of writing I've accomplished.

Hopefully 2010 will be a better year. One where I am truly able to live my best life.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stolen Sleep

My insomnia is back. Even writing that sentence makes me quiver. Insomnia is something I dealt with extensively a few years back as I made the leap and left the music industry. It wasn’t fun. If my experience this week is any indication it still isn’t the life of the party.

Over the last few years I have spent a lot of time thinking, reading and writing about sleep and all of its awesome, occasionally elusive, properties. I have worked hard to get to a place where I am able to sleep well most of the time. I try to keep a steady bedtime, although I give myself a little leeway on the weekend. It’s the same principle as with children – if you’re on a schedule you’ll just sleep so much better.

I also keep a gratitude journal, which I try to update each night before bed. I got the idea from O Magazine and it’s one of the many from that source that has served me well. It reminds me of all that was good about the day, lets the worries seep away and be replaced by the small pleasures, the little triumphs and the moments of happiness. It’s such a positive note to end the day on and usually it leaves me feeling much calmer. The journal has helped me so much to keep the niggling worries at bay and get to sleep.

And I’ve discovered the power of hot milk. I always thought it was an old wives tale, but it turns out that hot milk before bedtime really does have the power to help you sleep. I use skim, to keep the calorie count reasonable, but it helps me feel full and warm and it really does have an enzyme that helps you sleep.

Add to that my better eating habits, which mean my body isn’t full of refined sugars all the time, as well as regular exercise and I have had a decent recipe for combating insomnia for the last little while. Until now.

I blame my holiday break, where I was bad about keeping on schedule on top of all the rest. My body will need a little time to get back on track. Until then, I will suffer from my sleep deprivation. Fingers crossed that it won’t last long this time!