My Month-Long Fitness Challenge

It’s June 1st. Today is Day One of my month-long fitness challenge. This post is my way of being accountable. It forces me to stay honest. There is no goal. No planned outcome. No guaranteed result. It is simply my way of maintaining some semblance of fitness each day. It doesn’t have to be a marathon. It doesn’t have to mean exercising to the point of exhaustion. Nor does it have to mean depriving myself of my diet. If anything, it’s about managing my expectations. I told my husband I looked at the photos from the race I was in this past Sunday and was unhappy with what I saw. Here’s what I saw:

Looking like a hot, sweaty mess!
Looking like a hot, sweaty mess!

He said, “then you have to decide what you want to do about it and make sure your expectations are realistic. And if you want a different result, you have to do something different. But remember–make sure your expectations are realistic with what you are prepared to do.”

So I’m going to be realistic. This is not about getting on some wagon that I am inevitably going to fall off. This isn’t a diet or exercise regimen that I am setting myself up to fail at. It’s about mindfulness.

So this is how my morning began: I laced up my sneakers…

Sneakers on. Time to run.
Sneakers on. Time to run.

I did about 3.5km. Did a bunch of sit ups–say, 80. Got on the scale. Here’s what it said:

139

I know it’s just a number. It’s not a bad number. I’m just keeping it real. Keeping it honest. It may not change when the month is up. It may go up. It may go down. But it’s MY number and I’m going to own it.

I made my requisite smoothie this morning (banana, strawberries, pineapple, chia seeds and a splash of OJ). Ate a whole wheat bagel with tuna and chopped egg.

It’s lunch time now and I’m having a garden salad with a hunk of salami.

Garden salad
Garden salad

I’ve got my calendar all planned out, but as my neighbour once said to me, “Man plans and God laughs.” So this is by no means the gospel (no pun intended!), but it’s a guide. (Today is a perfect example: I ran this morning instead of doing the Body Fit class at the Y).

Here is the challenge....
Here is the challenge….

So let’s see how it goes!!! Let me know if you have ever done a month-long challenge. How did it go? What was the best part? What was the hardest part? Would you do it again? What would you do differently?

Gearing up for 21km

I haven’t bothered to write about my plans to run a half marathon this Spring because…well just because. Other people write about that stuff all the time. I don’t like attracting attention to myself. And I tend not to talk about my fitness goals. But I’m going to now.

These shoes have logged a lot of miles--in fact, they are retired now.
These shoes have logged a lot of miles–in fact, they are retired now.

I’m on week 10 of my 12-week training program using the Nike+ Running App. I have been very religious about following the instructions on the app–running the prescribed distances, intervals and so on as laid out by the Nike Gods. But then my 40-year-old back and knees started to scream in protest. So in the last two weeks I’ve dialed it back. Instead of running upwards of 40 to 50 kilometers a week, I’m keeping it at about 30-ish.

There are plenty of people who ask the rhetorical question, “why do you even do that?” or “how do you find the time?” And to be honest, I think of the answers my dad used to give me when I was a teenager and complained about having to balance the demands of high school with the demands of my gymnastics training. He simply said, “make time or quit.” Quitting gymnastics was out of the question and the same is true for running. So that’s what I do. I make time. I believe that if it’s enough of a priority you will find the time.

Running is not only inexpensive–just strap on a pair of runners and go–but it is also the ideal tonic for stress and decompression. Focusing on an achievable goal that requires very little skill and a lot of mental strength has been invaluable to me. It has saved me from the peaks of anxiety and the valleys of what I call “professional soul-searching.” If ever I find myself in a rut, or a bad mood or anxious, my medicine has been running.

I am usually satisfied with running about 5 kilometres or a half hour run to rid myself of the hee-bee gee-bees, but I’m a sucker for goals and the Toronto Women’s Half Marathon became my goal  when I signed up back in November. Since then I’ve been focused on my training.

I am now less than 2 weeks away and just completed 21 kilometres in my training.

Proof that I actually ran 21 kilometres
Proof that I actually ran 21 kilometres

The last time I ran a Half Marathon was the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon about six years ago. It was excruciating and during the last 500 metres running up Bay Street I kept telling myself, “don’t puke and don’t pass out in front of all these people.” I crossed the finish line in 2 hours 29 minutes. My goal had simply been to finish. And that was after much needed bathroom breaks and stopping to stretch the illiotibial band that was causing unbearable pain in my right knee. Running might be simple, but easy it is not.

This time I feel like I’ve already achieved my goal. I’ve done the training. I have proved to myself that I can run 21 kilometres. And I even improved my time! My biggest fear is injury and I know I could be doing more “preventative” training and therapy in preparation.

So there it is: in less than two weeks I will join scores of women, many like me, who have nothing to prove to themselves or anyone else. They simply need to run–for whatever reason. It can be incredibly empowering to stand cheek by jowl with your fellow runner not as a competitor but as a comrade who can tell you with a quick glance and a comforting grin, “I know, you just have to dig deep and get it done. No judgement. No accolades. Just get it done.”

Wish me luck!

Blossoms in Winter

Fresh cut flowers are one of the simplest ways to remind yourself there’s life after winter. But if they aren’t in the budget, what about a flowering plant? It’s the gift that keeps on giving–if you have a green thumb.

I can’t say I’ve ever had much luck growing flowering plants at home. I never know how much water to give them, if they should or shouldn’t be in direct sunlight. Plant food, what’s that?

Call it beginner’s luck, but I’m pleased to say I brought my wee Christmas Cactus back from the brink.

I bought it at Ikea months ago. It was blossoming then, but within a week or two of bringing it home it stopped thriving. Kind of reminds me of the beta fish my son got for his birthday a couple of years ago. Apparently more fish food does not make for a healthier fish.

The cactus looked like it was on death’s doorstep when I moved it to the window sill in my laundry room. It found company with my three phalaenopsis orchids (which I also brought back from the brink, but that’s another story). Maybe it was the company, maybe it was the window sill, I really don’t know. But it began to grow new buds and that alone made me giddy.

This plant reminds me of my paternal grandmother, Lily. She adored these plants and the colour pink. I don’t think I ever saw her without pink lipstick on except at her sickest. She died far too young at the age of 69. I was 18. She was a stylish lady who loved to doll herself up. She could cook a wicked Hungarian meal and that included sinfully delicious desserts. And her home always had flowering plants. African violets and Christmas cacti come to mind.

So on this snowy, wintry day–less than a month away from what would have been my grandmother’s 92nd birthday–enjoy the colourful blooms of my Christmas cactus to brighten up your day. Who knows? You might be inspired to nurture a flowering plant too!

Christmas cactus in full bloom
Christmas cactus in full bloom

This is 41

Last year my birthday fell on a Monday. It was the first day of a new job and I felt I couldn’t ask for the day off and really celebrate it the way I wanted to. I didn’t feel like telling my new colleagues, who were complete strangers to me. But I do remember buying myself a below average slice of red velvet cake at the coffee shop in the lobby of my building on my lunch break to mark the occasion.

I couldn’t even celebrate that night with my family because we were busy taking the kids to hockey games. It shouldn’t have bothered me because I was planning on celebrating that milestone birthday when the weather improved. Nevertheless the day was a bit of a disappointment and I vowed then that I would not let another birthday pass without marking the day in a special way.

Today began with breakfast in bed from my wonderful husband. Check out the apple swan he carved up! What he didn’t know was that I already had plans for breakfast with my Mom so the kids tucked into the cinnamon toast and scrambled eggs.

Breakfast in Bed
Breakfast in Bed

We headed over to Scratch Kitchen for breaky. I had this amazing dish called Soft Scrambled, which was full of sweet caramelized onions, pulled pork and other stuff I can’t remember on top of homemade rustic bread. Yum!

Soft Scrambled from Scratch Kitchen
Soft Scrambled from Scratch Kitchen

After breakfast we headed over to Costco (yeah, I know, not exactly the most exciting birthday destination) to do some shopping for food and other essentials. $325 later we bounced and hit the mall for a bit of retail therapy. The post-holiday sales were great, but most stuff was picked over so the choices were limited. I ended up getting a cute unstructured blazer from Maison Scotch for 70% off! Score!

Things picked up in the afternoon with a visit from my massage therapist who pummelled my leg muscles into submission. I thought I was going to barf it hurt so much. I have since learned there is a term for this sensation–it’s called an “autonomic response.” Apparently this is a good thing and means I am more in tune with my body. Not sure I need to feel everything to the point of being nauseated.

I whipped up a chocolate cake really quickly. I know what you’re thinking: “You mean you baked your own birthday cake? How depressing.” Not at all! I love to bake and it was cake in a box with homemade icing. Super easy. Super quick. Always a crowd pleaser. And pretty!

Chocolate Birthday Cake
Chocolate Birthday Cake

Dinner with the fam came next. It was perfect: Chinese buffet so the kids didn’t have to wait and order off a menu and they could pick what they wanted.

The night ended with a soak in the bath tub and the Downton Abbey Christmas Special.

It really was a great day. And that’s the point–it was great for me. I still think celebrating any birthday, milestone or not, is about more than the day itself. It’s about looking back and reflecting on how I grew and changed as a person over the last twelve months and what I managed to accomplish. It’s also an opportunity to look ahead to the next twelve months and set some goals. I’ve signed up for a half marathon. I want to take courses on photography and Photoshop and I’m chomping at the bit for another design project.

If this is what they call middle age, it feels pretty good to me.

This is 41
This is 41

New Year, Old Me

I can’t make New Year’s resolutions. I won’t keep them. I know myself well enough that it just won’t happen. I, like all humans, am a creature of habit. And breaking old habits, or creating new ones is tough. So rather than set myself up for failure (or success for that matter), I’m simply going to document myself–habits, good or bad–as a bit of a social experiment.

I’m starting with breakfast. I have a new habit that started back in 2013 after our trip to Costa Rica where my girlfriend made smoothies for us every single morning. So I now make myself smoothies almost every morning for breakfast. I recently purchased a Vitamix, which is the self-proclaimed king of blenders, because I’m convinced the quality of my smoothies will improve (ha!), although the real reason I purchased it was because it can blend frozen chunks of fruit, which my previous blender could not.

Today’s blend, however, is a bit of a departure for me. That, my friends, is where I am a creature of habit: banana, pineapple, spinach, almond milk. Done. Today’s blend: apple, kale, ginger, pineapple, almond milk. It’s definitely not as easy going down, but I could get used to it. And I think my body could use the nutrients.

Accompanying this lovely smoothie is a homemade granola bar care of Angela Liddon’s cook book, Oh She Glows. It’s the highlight of my morning with crispy bites of peanut butter and sea salt-laced oats intermingling with chia seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and other good for you stuff. I’m trying really hard not to gobble it up.

This is not a breakfast of denial. I enjoy this and my tummy thanks me for it. But I think I will have to expand my morning meal horizon and try and get some eggs or meat in there once in a while to boost the protein quotient.

I’m open to suggestions too–any good protein-packed lactose-free meals you can suggest would be helpful!

Green smoothie and a glo bar
Green smoothie and a glo bar

 

New Theme, New Year (almost)

I decided to give this little pet project of mine a bit of a facelift with a new look. It’s cute, dontcha think? Very girly, which isn’t really me, but it’s easy on the eyes.

I don’t actually have much to tell you about right now so I thought I’d show off the planter at the front of my house. I’m proud to say that I’ve managed to use the same birch logs, some branches and the white berries in the arrangement for the last three or four years. I wish I could do the same with the evergreen boughs, but they just don’t last. Yes, very frugal of me.

New this year are the little battery operated LEDs, which I love, but seem to be rather unreliable. But you must agree, they really do complete the look, don’t they?

Winter evergreen planter arrangement with LED lights
Winter evergreen planter arrangement with LED lights

Happy Holidays to you all during this unseasonably warm winter evening!

The Annual Hanukkah Party

Tonight we had all of our friends from the neighbourhood over to celebrate the eighth night of Hanukkah with us. I think we’re on Year 5 of our annual Hanukkah Party. What started off as a one-time shindig to celebrate the Festival of Lights with all of our gentile friends has turned into a bit of a tradition. And from what I hear, the neighbours look forward to the invitation! 

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a bit of a go big or go home approach to throwing a party so it should come as no surprise when I tell you I spend days preparing for the two or three hours of crazy that we host. It begins with copious amounts of baking, a Bar Mitzvah-worthy dessert-slash-candy table with a blue, white and silver theme and some delicious homemade latkes and hot corned beef sandwiches (full disclosure: this year I ordered the corned beef from Center Street Deli and it was well worth it).

I have a lot of fun baking and decorating the table and putting out a big spread for everyone. But man, I’m exhausted! So here are some of my photos of the dessert table, which seemed to garner most of the attention.

 

Hanukkah Sugar Cookies

Call me a glutton for punishment, but every year for the last–oh, I don’t know–four years, my husband and I have hosted a Hanukkah party for our closest neighbourhood friends. You see, we are the token Hebrews in the ‘hood, so most of our friends have never been to a Hanukkah party, let alone tasted a latke. So, we felt it would be a Mitzvah (aka: good deed) on our part if we threw a little shindig to enlighten our friends.

Well that little shindig turned into a big shindig and has become something of a tradition. It has also given me licence to go a bit meshugenah (crazy) with the event planning, decor and yes, a dessert table!

Today I’m giving you a preview of some of my *crazy* ideas. I made a big batch of sugar cookies a la Martha Stewart and decorated them with royal icing and some confectioners’ decorative sugar. You will notice a theme of blue, white and silver. 

I made the dough, chilled it, rolled it out, cut it into the shapes of dreidels, menorahs and stars of David before baking. Then I went to town on the icing. The icing was a piping consistency and I could have piped all the cookies and then flooded them, but I got lazy. So the icing is a little thicker (the kids will love me for it–not the parents) than usual and maybe not as pretty. But I’ll let you be the judge!

IMG_2993
Fresh baked star of David sugar cookies
IMG_3001
Star of David sugar cookies with royal icing, blue confectioner’s sugar and a silver dragee.
Dreidel sugar cookies with blue royal icing and white snowflakes
Dreidel sugar cookies with blue royal icing and white snowflakes

 

Wine and Cheese Party

It was my Dad’s 70th birthday this past week and to mark this amazing milestone my siblings and I planned a late afternoon wine and cheese party for him. 

The offerings were meant to reflect my father in the foods that we chose. We did this by visiting The Cheese Boutique. It was my first time there and I can’t believe that in all the years I’ve lived in this city I have never been there! Better late than never. This place was like a wet dream for foodies. The first thing I saw when I walked in was a wall of mustards, followed by a wall of balsamic vinegars and a wall of oils. It was like walking through a maze  of rooms, each dedicated to foodstuff. Jams. Teas and Coffees. Pastas and grains. A cold meat “locker.” Fruit and Veg. A cheese fridge–the ceilings were hanging with cheese and legs of prosciutto. And then the maze opens up to a room with a large cheese counter, the perimeter of which is surrounded by yet more culinary delights. The wall of chocolate. Pastry and breads. Oh! My! Heaven!

The Cheese Boutique
The Cheese Boutique
The Cheese Refrigerator
The Cheese Refrigerator

We got to sample some amazing cheeses and some charcuterie. These would be the centerpieces of our party. I started out by putting slabs of wood on the table that my brother-in-law had made. I decorated around these slabs with succulents and branches with berries and a few tea light candles to add some light. It was very Autumn-ish. Then came the food: cheese, meat, crackers, nuts, dried fruit, clementines, smoked fish, foie gras, fig jam, olives, gherkins, goat cheese, fresh figs, grapes. It was a veritable cornucopia of deliciousness. And it all got gobbled up! If you are looking for some inspiration, here are a few shots of the table.

 

Candles and plants interspersed with the food
Candles and plants interspersed with the food
Cheese and crackers
Cheese and crackers
Charcuterie
Charcuterie
The Whole Spread
The Whole Spread

 

 

 

Cookies! Cookies! Cookies!

So I went on a cookie making bender last night. And there was a legitimate reason. We are in the midst of a United Way fundraiser at the office, so I thought I’d do my part. We decided to encourage people to make a pledge or donation by enticing them with homemade baking when the munchies hit around 3 in the afternoon. It worked like a charm and here are the results!

I feel like this was my warm up act to the big baking contest next week…the meringues were incredibly popular so maybe I’ll try those again. What do you think???