5 WAYS TO UNPLUG AND RECONNECT

I always envy people who live in small towns or rural areas. We are blessed to own a cottage in Hastings, Ontario, and every time we visit I am always struck how our neighbours seem so much more relaxed than us city folk. While their lives can be just as busy, or stressful, they take in all in stride. They take the time unplug and reconnect with one another, nature and themselves.
This past weekend, I took a day off from work, invited my parents and siblings to join my husband and me to enjoy a beautiful weekend at the cottage. We kept the TV off, made yummy meals and did something we hadn’t for a long time – we had long conversations about anything and everything.  Why can’t it be like this all the time?!

No matter where we live or what we do, as human beings it is important to nourish your soul and your body. Here are 5 ways to unplug from technology and everything related to it, connect to the world and people around you in a different way. You can easily do this – and once you do, the feel good vibes you feel will keep you running back for more!

1. Pick a day (or evening if it suits you better) to put the phone/laptop/tablet etc down and free yourself. It is liberating and once you do it a few times you will realize the world will not burn down around you if you don’t respond to a text asap. Life will continue, especially yours. Start small, an hour, maybe two and work your way up. Once you have an entire morning or evening of freedom you will see the value and never look back.

2. Put your phone away during meals. My husband was always on his phone, even when we were out for dinner. I eventually became so fed up, we now have a rule to put phones away during meals so that we can focus on one another and actually have a conversation. What a difference it has made in how we communicate! I now do the same thing when I am with any family or friends. We all have little time we can spend with loved ones, so it should truly be quality time.

Unplugged

3. Challenge yourself to a day free of social media. No Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat etc etc etc. Again – the world will not burn down around you. Just try it and be thankful that you did.

4. Take 5 minutes everyday to be thankful. Whether it be first thing in the morning or the last thing before bed, make a mental list of all the amazing things you have in your life to be thankful for. Its astounding what a little gratitude can do for you and your view on life. Its truly humbling.

5. Share a cup to tea or coffee (or whatever drink you fancy) with yourself. The time it takes to enjoy a yummy cup or glass of whatever is enough time for you to sit quietly with yourself and your thoughts. I love to reminisce about my travels or a special event in my life at these times. I smile, laugh, get teary eyed. Its so special to me and keeps my memories alive and clear, especially they become older.

be here now
My company shares this mantra and I love!  Be, here, now.

What are some ways you like to unplug? How do you take time for yourself?

I Miss the Rains Down in Africa…

In December 2011 I was going through a personal crisis. My husband and I were recently separated and I was still hoping for a reconciliation.  But it seemed that this was not what was in store for me – not yet anyway.

At the same time, my best friend was planning a trip to Africa and extended an invite which I promptly turned down. A week on safari in Kenya, a trek up Kilimanjaro and a week of rest on the island of Zanzibar sounded like a trip of a lifetime but I felt like I had to be home.

A week later I was in my parents kitchen, making a cup of tea when it dawned on me that although it wasn’t my dream to go to Africa, I had to go.  What was stopping me?  What was the point of staying home?

There were many moments on the trip that confirmed to me that I had made the right decision in coming but none more than summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro. After spending a week on Safari with a group of strangers who became friends, Martha and I departed for Moshi, Tanzania where part 2 of our African adventure was awaiting us.

First Date Nerves

The city of Moshi sits at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro and is where most Trekkers will stay before they begin their ascent. The mountain looms above the city, making it hard to ignore.  There were minutes where the clouds completely hid the peak and then suddenly, it was there again, in all it’s glory. I was so excited but also equally nervous.  I know I hadn’t trained as Martha had but I was confident in my physical strength. Mental – not so much.

On the afternoon of our arrival, a meeting with our mountain guides was scheduled. Both of us were very curious to see the men who would be our safe guarders on the climb.  We would essentially be trusting them with our lives.  We were both also nervous, it was like a blind date.

Enter Frank and Nairobeci (I gave him a nickname on the trek and have totally forgotten his real name! So awful I know! the moniker comes from his birth in Nairobi and his wish to become an R&B singer, plus his striking resemblance to a member of Jodeci, A 90’s R&B group).

nairobici

Devante, A member of Jodeci as well as a dead ringer for Nairobici

At first glance I would trust them as far as I could throw them, which was far because they both weighed probably a combined 150 lbs. We sat down and they reviewed the itinerary.  The promise of macaroni was made multiple times by Nairobeci.  They left and we felt even more scared and nervous than before.  And questioning if macaroni was an African superfood…

Wrong Guy Route

There are several routes which reach Uhuru peak, the highest summit on the mountain; Marangu, Lemosho, Shira, Umbwe and Rongai.

Our lead guide, Frank, had selected Rongai for us as it was easier to acclimatize, success rate for summiting was very high due to said acclimatization  and it was less travelled.  It would take us 6 days to reach Uhuru peak – the highest point on the mountain at 5,895m (19 341′). Martha called it the Wrong Guy route because we had the wrong guys taking us up.

Once we arrived at the very base of the mountain, a few hundred climbers were also there waiting for their crews to have food, supplies, camping equipment weighed. Along with Frank and Nairobeci, we were to have a group of 5 men who would carry everything for us, as well as cook our meals and set up our camping equipment.  They would travel at mall walker pace from camp to camp and us four would take our time.

As we waited we saw our fellow Trekkers had guides that were really tall and strong looking, with impressive hats and hiking boots. They were textbook guides.  Our guys looked like mall rats in comparison. As the crowd thinned out, we were talking ourselves off a cliff (pun intended). Once they came to collect us, we were relieved to see they had changed their Lacoste trainers for boots. And off we went.

routes

All the roads to the to the top

Westlife 4 Life

We quickly discovered Frank was the talker and Nairobici was the silent type.  We also discovered Frank loved to sing songs, was a lover not a fighter, and couldn’t carry a tune.  But neither can Martha and I.  We sang, harmonized and forgot the words of many a Shania Twain and Celine Dion song. And I can’t forget to mention the all request hours. As I mentioned earlier, Africa was full of signs telling me I was in the right place. And I knew I was meant to be on the mountain with Martha, Frank and N when Frank was telling us about his absolute favourite song by a UK boy band named Westlife.  I knew it as I have dabbled in boyband-dom in my day.  As we enjoyed Franks off key version, a cyclist was seen coming towards us.  I heard a familiar tune and God as my witness, that same Westlife song was playing.  I felt overjoyed – how had the stars aligned to have this song playing at that particular time.  It was absolute Kismet.

Listen to the song here!

 

Pole Pole

The biggest element you can go against when climbing a mountain is acclimatization.  Even athletes like tennis great Martina Navratilova had to turn back from summiting as they couldn’t acclimatize.

As we began to ascent higher I was beginning to experience nausea and shortness of breath.  The nectar of life on the mountain was popcorn and Horlicks, the only thing I could keep down.

In Swaheli, Pole Pole means slowly, slowly.  Everything is pole, pole.  As we climbed higher towards our goal, we took our time.  But the peak was always there, teasing us.

IMG_0176

A view of the peak while hiking to our next campsite on Day 2 of our journey.

We finally reached Kibo, base camp for the final ascent.  It was barren, and cold.  We felt like we were on the edge of the world.  No vegetation, gray skies, and of course, the Kili looming above us. That evening it was hailing, we hardly slept due to nerves and the howling wind.

4am we were woken up and prepared ourselves for a very long day – anywhere from 14 – 18 hours of hiking.

As we began walking, pole, pole, the mountain was black and the flashlights of the other climbers looked like twinkling stars. It was beautiful.

An hour in, a stretcher whizzed past us, with a man lying lifeless.  My heart stopped and yet we carried on, pole pole.

Summiting would be a two part process. The first, the most difficult, was zig zagging up the mountain in a series of switchbacks at a steep incline to Gilmans Point (5 681m). Then pole pole on to Uhuru peak (5895m) along the edge of the crater combating the environment and ourselves.

Hour after hour we climbed, stopping frequently because I thought my heart would explode.  The altitude was playing its game with me and was winning. I gave up about 5 times before reaching Gillmans Pt. but my friend and Boy Band members did not let me turn around.  Onwards and upwards, pole pole, we went. Past Gillmans point, along the crater, I had a meltdown and tried to convince my group I would “wait right here, and they could pick me up on the way back.”

This is where Martha pulled me aside.  Fierce determination on her face, she said she believed in me, that she wasn’t going to leave me, this was something we were meant to do together and it was one of her dreams to fulfill.

A couple of hours later, we could see the peak within our reach, and as we staggered to the top, our breath laboured, our legs fighting against themselves, we cried, and hugging each other summitted Mount Kilimanjaro.  Legends like Hemingway had written about it, Toto had sung about it, and here we were, standing on it.

With minimal time to spend at Uhuru due to poor oxygen level, we first took a few pictures of Frank as he had never been (I hope you are picking up on the sarcasm, guides usually make a weekly trek to the top), and then began our photoshoot.

IMG_0187

Me at the top, squinty eyed and so proud!

I walked the length of the peak, I could see Kenya to my right, ancient icebergs to my left. I wished my husband was there to see what I saw, I missed sharing the moment with him, my parents and siblings.  I thought about one day be able to tell my kids about the time I did the Kili shuffle up the mountain. I was grateful for making it, and thankful to my friend for including me in this adventure, because it truly was a dream I never knew I wanted to fulfill.

And then it was time to go.  How do you say goodbye knowing you may never be in that exact spot again?

We walked away, hearts full, breathing heavy and prepared for the journey down the mountain.

A week later, enroute to Nairobi from Zanzibar, our plane was flying by the mountain, and there I was, eye level with the giant I had conquered.  It dawned on me right there how high I can gone, and how much I was capable of.  

Your Guide To Tea Time!!!

has it that tea was first discovered accidentally by Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in 2737 BCE. He was sitting beneath a tree as his servant brought him a cup of boiling water. Leaves from the tree blew into his cup. Coincidentally, Shen Nung was also a renowned herbalist and he decided to try the concoction his servant had accidentally created. And tea was born.

teacup

It’s hard to imagine that a simple breeze, couple of falling leaves and the timely arrival of a cup of boiling water could have led to the multi billion dollar industry of Tea! (Too bad the servant remained un named)

regardless of the truth behind this tale, the fact of the matter is that evidence of tea has been found in tombs in China dating back as early as the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). And while in Asia,tea has been rooted firmly in their culture for centuries- does anyone remember the Japanese tea ceremony from Karate Kid 2, so beautiful and romantic to 6 year old me – it did not gain popularity in Britain until Catherine Braganza, a Portuguese Princess who married Charles II, made it fashionable to drink at court.

karatekid

if only all tea ceremonies included Ralph Macchio circa 1986.. sigh…

Fast forward past the heavy taxation of tea, the smuggling and illegal selling of counterfeit tea, the Boston Tea Party and stop at your local David’s Tea or the Starbucks owned Teavana. These shops are the Catherine Braganza’s of today. Drinking tea has moved past milk and sugar to a vast array of choices that can make your head spin. Tea Sommelier is a certification offered out there in the world for those who are passionate about, well, tea. And if that isn’t something that interests you, here is your crash course to get through ordering a “cuppa.”

All tea, which is called “true tea” comes from the same plant – Camellia sinensis. Teas which are made from flowers, herbs, other plants are considered herbal teas, for example Chamomile.

True tea is divided into four categories, based on level of oxidization.

White Tea – un oxidized

  • has high amount of antioxidant content (higher than green tea)
  • Stress relieving

white tea

Green Tea

  • boosts metabolism
  • Promotes weight loss
  • High in antioxidant content

greentea

Oolong Tea – semi oxidized

  • said to reduce plaque in arteries
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Boost metabolism
  • Promote weight loss

oolong

Black Tea – oxidized

  • “western” teas such as English Breakfast and Earl Grey fall into this category
  • Highest caffeine content
  • Rich in theoflavins and thearubigens which have been shown to lower cholesterol and improve cardiovascular conditions

black tea

While there are so many teas which fall into these categories, company specific blends that are both gratifyingly yummy as well as good for you, always remember to follow specific brewing instructions. For example, contrary to what most of us do, using boiling water actually can burn the tea! Better to boil the water and then let it cool to 160 – 180 degrees farenheit.

Visit these sites to learn more about the perfect brew:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/scottybryan/9-essential-rules-for-making-the-perfect-cup-of-tea#.towZP1l1kD

http://www.thefragrantleaf.com/basic-tea-brewing-and-storage

Regardless of oxidization levels, benefits or even flavour, the best thing about tea is the chance to take a moment by yourself or with a favourite person and just relax – that perhaps is the most beneficial property of all.

What’s your flavour or preferred way to drink a cup of tea?  I love mine with milk and a spoon of sugar (I am a Tetley girl at the core)

Party Like a 5 Year Old?

Gone are the simple days of birthday parties in your basement, in a park for a BBQ or at the local McDonalds (the 80’s equivalent of Kobi beef sliders).

Here to stay are parties that are increasingly extravagant and expensive.  And even those parents who truly do not want throw a lavish bash are joining the masses, in an effort to keep up with their friends and family. I have a lot of friends with kids of various ages.  They have attended Carnival themed parties, fully outfitted with pony rides and a dunk tank (what the what ?!!), parties with food and ice cream trucks, a spa theme, a “make your own action movie” theme and the list goes on.

My nephew recently had a 7th birthday party at a entertainment complex where kids could enjoy laser tag, bowling, basketball and roller skating. I couldn’t help but ask my sister in law, however crass it might sound, how much it all cost (we are cool like that). She paid $45 per person and there were 15 kids invited.  I would be remiss to not include the loot bags, although the title hardly applies anymore.  They were cellophane wrapped kiddie swag bags filled with candy, toys, and books.  Add another $20 per kid and you have a birthday party that cost about $1000.  This is the average.

castle kids party swan

Being first generation Canadian, our social circle included families who had immigrated to Canada and whose children were also first generation.  My sister and I attended a birthday party when I was 6. When it was time to go, I was so excited to get my loot bag.  As the birthday girl was hanging them out, I realized she had made a terrible mistake, she had given me an empty bag.  Looking up and seeing the look of horror on my sisters face it dawned on me it wasn’t a mistake.  Years later I realized that her parents didn’t know any better (at least that’s what I tell myself).  Oh how times have changed…

A friend of mine is a Toronto based Event Planner.  I asked Mel about the largest budget she has a ever worked it. “15,000. And that doesn’t include the $20,000 of extensive renovations and landscaping completed in the backyard to accommodate swans and the $8000 kids play area specially constructed for the event.  There was also a valet and two nannies on hand.”

I am flabbergasted. And scared.  We don’t have children, but are planning to start a family.  Will I need to start a BPF (birthday party fund) along with an RESP? Will I also succumb to the pressure and have a huge carnival themed party at an entertainment complex filled with laser tag, pony rides, ice cream trucks and swans?

What is the craziest kids party you have ever attended? I am so curious to know!

A Whole New You

Whole30-official-header1

I have always been one to jump on board new diet and fitness trends. These “lifestyle” changes are always interesting and decidedly short lived. But on a positive, I do have my key takeaways from all the lives I have lived. For example, my 6 weeks of vegan life brought to light that chickpeas and me could never be friends. We are fated to be frenemies.  I also discovered dairy makes me break out on another diet.  So when my sister started a cleanse called the Whole 30, I was intrigued.

The Whole 30 is a cleanse for, you guessed it, 30 days which focuses on resetting your body. You eat pure whole food, nothing which contains chemicals or ingredients you wouldn’t find in nature. it’s getting back to those foods that give us nourishment and sustenance.  The idea is to change your habits, your cravings, and rid yourself of inflammatory foods.  Its based on a New York Times bestselling book It Starts With Food written by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig.

So basically I was committing to no grains, starches, legumes, sugar, dairy, gluten for 30 days.

Easy right? It was for the first week because I was excited and motivated.  I kept it light and easy in terms of food, sticking to mainly protein with a side of veggies. Week 2, my husband starting asking for “nacks”, also known as snacks to most of the English speaking population. Did I mention my hubby was joining me on the cleanse? This is where things got complicated because where I might be happy with a boiled egg and three pieces of asparagus, he wouldn’t be. So my google searches started to include “nacks for whole 30” and that’s where the fun began. By the end of week two I was the proud owner of my own nut bag, milking almonds for almond milk, made pizza crust with cauliflower (recipe here), and I even made cashew cheese, tastes better than it sounds (recipe here).  It was amazing to me how many people had embraced this lifestyle and the number of resources I had available to keep things interesting.  Once I got the hang of it, prepping food didnt take any longer than pre-Whole 30, and tasted just as good.

Pictured below: Almond Milk, Cauliflower Pizza Crust and Cashew Cream.  Recipes to follow!

alomndmilkcauliflowercrustcashewcream

If you want to try any of these recipes, whether you are on the Whole 30 or not, here they are:

ALMOND MILK:

http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-almond-milk-at-home-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-189996

CAULIFLOWER PIZZA CRUST:

http://paleotable.com/2013/05/cauliflower-crust-pizza/

CASHEW CREAM:

http://vegetarian.about.com/od/beverage1/r/cashewcream1.htm

I started losing weight, my co workers said I was glowing, I looked and felt younger. All this while eating chicken wings and sweet potato fries? It was freeing to not count calories, or pay attention to portions. I ate when I was hungry, felt full on smaller portions because I was being nourished with real food, not “fillers” and even felt happier.  Hubby was happy with his nacks and his results also!

As the cleanse came to an end, right around the 22nd of December, we decided to enjoy our holidays and indulge.  A few glasses of wine and a bowl of pasta led to a slice of cake which led to turkey with all the trimmings and another slice of cake.  Which led to bloating, cramping and even nausea.  I felt pretty crappy and it didnt take long to adjust my intake of food choices.

Fast forward 2 months later to present time.  Hubby and I are enjoying a life where we eat Whole 30, 70% of the time.  As I write this, I am planning to complete another 30 days.  Because I just felt so darn good.  Have you ever tried something new and found it made you feel amazing?  Or maybe the other way around?  Either way, I believe its fun to shake things up a bit in the kitchen. And if its good for you, well then, even better.

Here are a few websites I used frequently while on the cleanse including the official Whole 30 website so you can learn more about the cleanse:

http://www.whole30.com

http://www.nomnompaleo.com

http://www.lifemadefull.com