Sunday, March 1, 2015

Check-in Sunday

Since writing 'Less than Impressed,' I've been doing better at managing my eating habits. While I probably haven't been eating as many plant foods as I'd like, I have cut back on the carbs and sweets, and I haven't been enjoying those bedtime snacks. And so...drum roll, please...
I'm down 1.6 pounds in nine days, with 60 days left to 5 more pounds. That's one pound every twelve days, which certainly within the realm of possibility.

If you decided to join me, I hope you've been doing as well - let me know in the comments. If you hadn't joined, but would like to, it's never too late!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Live on Less to Have More

I heard about the 52 week money challenge last year when a friend posted it on Facebook. It sounded like a great idea - who can't use some 'extra' money? - so I decided to participate. As you can see from the chart below, if you follow the plan faithfully, you end up with $1,378 saved.

DISCLAIMER: I didn’t create this chart, it was the image that was in my news feed, so thank you to whoever drafted this because it serves as a great visual to see how the money accumulates over the year.

I wanted to do something more than stash money in a sock, however; I had a plan. The money I saved would go toward writing expenses for 2015. To attend workshops and conferences, to buy books on writing, etc. Just about half of the money is going to fund plane tickets for a research trip I'm taking later this year. I feel it's not enough to just read about the place in which part of my novel is set; I need to go there and experience it with all of my senses. I need to know what it feels like to stand before such grandeur.

I'm doing the challenge again this year, but with a modification. Instead of changing the amount saved each week, I've divided the $1,378 into 52 weeks and have been saving $26.50 every seven days. I've found it gets a bit awkward with the 50 cents, so from now on I'm saving $26 one week and $27 the next.

I thought I'd share this even though it's already the end of February. It's never too late to scramble aboard. Living on less each week can enable you to do things you otherwise might not be able to afford, like take a special trip. Or you can save it for a house project you've been putting off. Or for your retirement. Or anything else you like. The idea here is 'less means more.'

If you had an extra $1,378, what would you do with it?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


After our girls' summer trip with my mom and aunt, my daughter and I thought we'd like to do something on our own. It's not often we get the chance to get away, just the two of us. 

When I first started planning, I asked her if she wanted to be involved in the decisions or if she preferred to be surprised. She chose the latter. "I love surprises!" she said. Later she mentioned "Vancouver might be nice." She'd read that asthma sufferers do better in our west coast climate. For the record, Vancouver is about a five hour plane ride away from us, and we were only going away overnight - a weekend at most. I told her we wouldn't have time.

As the planning went on, I said I hoped she'd be happy with the surprise, even if it didn't involve Hawaii or the Cayman Islands ;)

Clearly not taken this weekend
At last the day arrived. We left home Friday after lunch. A doesn't have her full license yet and needs the highway experience, so I let her drive. Our first stop was Square One Shopping Centre. What girl doesn't love to shop? I know it might not sound exciting to some, but A had never been there and Square One has over 360 shops - quite a difference from the much smaller malls in our area. The mall wasn't busy on a Friday afternoon, which was nice. A bought a couple of CDs at the going-out-of-business Target store, but our most significant purchase was chocolate. A girls' weekend without chocolate is nothing more than an oxymoron.

(As an aside, I know, just a few days ago I talked about cutting back on the sweets. I promise  I consumed the bare minimum and my daughter ate what she wanted. We still have the leftovers to prove it).

I hadn't decided where we'd eat supper and didn't know the area that well, so we GPSed (or SatNaved) our way to  the Glenerin Inn, where we were spending the night, and I kept my eyes open for restaurants en route. We wouldn't normally stay at one of Ontario's Finest Inns, so this was a special treat. A laughs at my appearance at reception (clearly I hadn't thought this through), wearing my big green down coat (which could seriously use dry-cleaning), paired with my clunky but warm, burgundy winter boots. I admit I felt somewhat out of place in that grand resort environment, especially when the couple checking in behind us said that they'd just flown in from Victoria (British Columbia), la-di-da. Probably for a weekend.

We checked into our junior suite in the Carriage House, then backtracked to the Red Lobster I'd spotted on the way. A had never been to a Red Lobster either and it had been years since I'd been. The lighting was much darker than I expected, but our server was friendly, informative and attentive, and the food was good. We both ordered the fish and chips (there are no "seafood" fans in our family), which came with a side of coleslaw. To our surprise, it also came with a starter of salad and delicious warm scones. 

When we returned to the inn, A was eager to go on the free Netflix so we could watch a chick flick. The Netflix wasn't working in our room, and the woman at guest services said it was no problem to move us to the empty room next door where we'd be able to access it. We were glad when we saw our new room - it was more spacious than the one we'd had (an upgrade?) and the views from the windows were better too.

A had never seen When Harry Met Sally (I'm noticing a theme in the weekend - lots of new experiences!) so we watched that under the covers in our pj's. Getting to sleep afterward was a bit of a challenge - I don't know if it was the bed, the pillow, or the noisy guests opening and closing doors - but eventually we succeeded.

In the morning we showered and dressed and went down to the breakfast room (thank you, Trip Advisor, for the free breakfast coupon!) through an underground passage (no coat required and I hid my boots under my pant-legs). A buffet of scrambled eggs, seasoned potato chunks, sausage, bacon, croissants, muffins, toast, fresh fruit, coffee, tea, juice, water, you name it, awaited. Most of you know by now that we eat plant-strong, so we did avoid the meat. Breakfast was delicious.

The big event of the 'retreat' was a writing workshop with Brian Henry. I'd heard very good things about Brian over the years, but had never taken a course with him. Since A also enjoys writing, I thought she'd like the class as well. The theme was 'How to Make Your Stories Sizzle' and there were 16 of us in attendance. Brian spent the first part of the day sharing some basic 'rules', then gave us an exercise involving dialogue. After lunch, he talked more about pacing and the three parts of action scenes - the set-up, the action, and the wind-up. Again we were given a prompt and time to write. A was volunteered to share her piece with the group and received positive feedback, which made her feel good. We both enjoyed the day and I definitely would take another workshop with Brian in future.

Earlier in the week as I'd been surfing the net looking for places to eat, I'd stumbled across some information on sources of Swedish food in the GTA. I'm a big fan of all things Swedish (see this post and this one), so when I noticed that on Shrove Tuesday (or Fettisdagen, as the Swedes call 'Fat Tuesday') they serve Semlor (see here for more on how the Swedes celebrate the holiday), I was all in for trying some. The closest place for us to try for it was at the Danish Pastry House in Oakville. There was no guarantee they'd carry Semlor, or still have it now that Shrove Tuesday was over and we were in the Lenten season, but it was worth a try.

The Danish Pastry House is a beautiful bakery and definitely worth a visit if you live in the area or are passing through. The staff were friendly and informative. Everything was labelled in Danish, but they took the time to explain what things were and pointed out the gluten-free things A could eat (no gluten-free breads, but several pastry choices). No semlor, unfortunately. They did mention that they'd had some kind of treat for Fettisdagen, but I didn't catch what they called it (I'm guessing fastelavnsbolle after doing a Google search). We ended up buying three pastries and two loaves of bread, with a promise to return in future. 

One last stop in Burlington (perhaps the subject of a separate post?) and we were on our way home. We had really enjoyed our time together and had some good conversations besides. Hopefully we won't wait so long to do this again!

What activities do you suggest for girl-times? To top this last one, I may need to start planning now! 

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Today I am over at Inscribe, where this month we are talking about the Artist's Date. This idea is based on Julia Cameron's theory that "the way to fill our artistic well is to [do something] weekly...which will stimulate our senses and feed the artist in us..."

Go here to read my thoughts, then scroll through the posts of other Inscribe writers to glean some great ideas.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Less Than Impressed

Okay - those are not my feet, nor is that my weight, but... in my striving for less this year, I have neglected the "five pounds less on the scale" bit. Now it is more like six and half pounds that have to go.

My husband is six feet tall, and does the word 'beanpole' conjure up images for anyone? Yep, he's it, right there beside 'beanpole' in the dictionary. He also has a tendency to make people sick because he's one of those who can eat anything and not gain weight. He'd argue this and 'pinch an inch' for examination, but really, we are not impressed. And I was less than impressed when this morning, knowing that I want to lose a few pounds, he gleefully announced that he now registers 149 on the imperial (or avoirdupois) scale.

Seriously, don't you think that's sickening? Six feet tall and only 149 pounds?! I know he didn't say it to enrage make my blood boil aggravate me. Lest you think he's a complete jerk, let me assure you he only shared it because he's been trying to get more fit in recent months, and for him this is proof he's succeeding. He was probably hoping I'd share in his excitement.

Well, it's hard. I was overweight from ages nine to nineteen (and you know what that does to a school-age child - how the other kids treat you and how you end up feeling about yourself), then had trouble dropping the weight again after my second child was born. I finally did it a few years ago when said child was in his early teens; I lost 17 pounds. And I did pretty well in keeping it off until last summer when my daughter and I took a girls' trip to Nova Scotia with my mother and aunt and I put on five pounds. They've been hard to shake, but maybe I haven't been trying enough. Then again, I think it is harder to lose weight after you hit - cough- 40.

But, thanks to hubby's morning revelation - it had to be good for something, other than his own, or our mutual, satisfaction - I am seriously motivated to lose 6.5 pounds.  The gauntlet has been cast down! 

I could be really tough on myself and say the weight has to go within the next two weeks, but I know that wouldn't be a realistic goal for me. Besides, it would probably be mostly a water loss and not long-lasting. No, my target is to lose this by April 30, which gives me 10 weeks (or 71 days).

I'm going to start by eating fewer carbohydrates and sugars - I know I've been overdoing it, especially enjoying Allyson Kramer's Sweet Eats for All. Just because something is gluten-free, vegan and tastes delicious doesn't mean it can't pack on the pounds.

Anyway, here's the immediate plan: fewer starches and sweets, more plant-based foods (salads, soups, raw and cooked veggies and fruit) and no bed-time snacks. I don't necessarily have to eat less overall, just less of the stuff that's not good for me. I will allow myself the occasional treat (we have someone who brings baked goodies to work on Thursdays, for example), or the whole thing is almost doomed to failure before I get started. But they will be occasional. I will also strive to get more exercise. Since my daughter needs to exercise for her asthma, this shouldn't be a problem if she'd get out of bed before ten.

Anyone want to join me? We can be accountability partners and share our successes as well as our setbacks. Check in Sundays? (But not this one; too soon).

Ready, set, go!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Toodleoo, Toodledo?

Just over a month ago, I was talking about how setting priorities could reduce stress. I told you about a new tool I'd found - Toodledo - that could  help you "turn good behaviors into permanent habits[, t]rack your progress towards self improvement, stay motivated and achieve your goals." 

So you're probably wondering how it's been working for me. And now you can tell, both from my subject line and the photo of the girl waving good-bye, that it hasn't worked out. At least, not so far.

Things went swimmingly for about the first week. Then everything "went to hell in a hand-basket" when I experienced one of those life burps. No, not a burp - more of a gigantic belch. 

My daughter had been going through a lot of health issues over the fall and early winter. She'd been diagnosed with a wheat intolerance early in the academic year and was trying to figure out how to make it work in residence. Gluten-free options were available, but sometimes nutritionally inadequate, and she didn't want to be eating salads all the time. Then, when the cold weather hit, she started having severe breathing problems. She would text me from school saying she couldn't breathe and her throat was swelling, which sounded like anaphylactic symptoms to us. Worse, being a night owl, she'd send these texts when I had my phone off and was sleeping. In the morning, I wouldn't realize the messages had come through the night before and, when I had a hard time tracking her down, I'd wonder whether I'd find her alive and well... or not. I didn't know how to get hold of the dorm parents or dons. We were a mess. Trusting God with her life and His good plans for her, but under that human uncertainty and stress.

Fast-forward to early December. We finally get her to the Emergency Department of our local hospital. There, the doctor tells us she is not likely having an allergic reaction, but has asthma. He requisitions a pulmonary function test. She has the test less than two weeks later and soon the diagnosis is confirmed. Asthma. She now has Ventolin for times when something triggers an asthma attack. Still, her attacks continue with some severity. After school resumes in January, we see her family doctor. A is put on a daily inhaler and begins to use it. It helps, but the stress and uncertainty of dealing with her health have made it impossible to focus on school. Pushing her isn't going to help. We talk to her academic advisor, student services director, and the Registrar's office. She is able to withdraw for the term without academic or (much) financial penalty. We have to provide a doctor's note, our own and supporting letters to the residence committee, praying for them to show grace and allow A to break her contact without holding her to the monetary obligation. 

A also bows out of her on-campus job, feeling it too awkward and sad to work in the place she lived for three terms, seeing all of her friends and knowing she can't live with them anymore because of the uncontrollable aeroallergens that can trigger her asthma.

It's a stressful time for all of us. Tracking things on Toodledo falls by the wayside. I log in once in a while, but feel like I'm falling farther and farther behind on my tasks and in tracking my habits. Today I finally went in and deleted a number of the daily chores. I would have to put check-marks in many times in order to "catch up" on dishes, laundry, dusting, etc. I feel discouraged.

So, toodleoo to Toodledo...for now. I still think it's a good site with much to offer and I hope to get back to it when my daughter is more settled. In the meantime, I lift myself up with these encouragements: 
Failure doesn't mean you are a failure... it just means you haven't succeeded yet. ~Robert Schuller
Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat. ~F. Scott Fitzgerald
Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. ~Henry Ford
I hope these thoughts strengthen you too.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Flag Day

Today is Flag Day in Canada. It is not a public holiday, for Canadians celebrate our flag with little fanfare. I think we take pride in our banner, but as is typical for us, it is a humble pride. Understated. Most of us would say we're patriotic, but it's a less zealous nationalism than that displayed by some other countries.

We adopted our first and only official flag in 1965 (fifty years ago today!), after years of discussion, hundreds of designs, and plenty of controversy.  Apparently, Lester B. Pearson, who was Prime Minister at that time, asked a veteran to oversee the project and this person's first act was to ask a British heraldry expert what the official colours of Canada were.The answer came back that King George V - an old, deceased king of Great Britain - had determined Canada's colours to be red and white. Ironic to seek assistance from across the pond, no? We were, after all, trying to symbolically distance ourselves from the "old country." Not only did the vet consult with the UK heraldry expert, but (to add insult to injury?) our flag was proclaimed as official by Queen Elizabeth II. Do you notice that it makes no reference to the French contribution to this country, nor to the original inhabitants? You can read more about the parliamentary debate here

Okay. I take that back. There is reference to the French; it's just not obvious. It's in the maple leaf, which was first documented as a Francophone symbol in 1806. While some argue that it's not a distinctively Canadian article (maple trees also grow in the New England states), I think we'd be hard pressed to find a symbol we don't also share with our cousins to the south. Unless... well, I suppose there are seals, polar bears, icebergs and igloos... Perhaps none of those would show up well on the white background. Without something there, though, we'd be waving the Peruvian flag.

You can read more about Canadian emblems here. While we are not a country of flag-wavers, I'll speak for myself and say that I'm proud of our flag. I can display it almost anywhere in the world without fear or shame. Most people respond favourably when they see it: "Oh, you're Canadian? Can we talk?"

Let's talk indeed.