Sunday, 29 November 2015

New Thing November

In my continued New Year's resolution from 2014 - (at what point does something stop being a resolution and is just a habit?)  I had mentioned last month that I might try to get published beyond this little blog of mine as part of my new thing for November.  I will report that I have submitted - very bravely -  two pieces; fiction and non-fiction for external publication but I will not hear back for 2-3 months.  I will try to remember to report if anything comes of it.

So technically I tried two new things.  The submission of my work for other's eyes to decide if it was worth distributing was pretty scary.  To prepare, I read my work repeatedly out loud and had someone else read it.  My writing obviously sounded interesting to me and the people I shared it with but unconditional love is a blind type of love.

I had wanted to report on an outcome one way or another and since I won't hear back this month, (and to get my mind off potential rejection) I thought I'd try something else new.  So I took a new fitness class.  

I know not as exciting as some of my other challenges.  But trying a new class where I teach was intimidating.  I'm fortunate enough to teach at two amazing studios and as an instructor, I have the opportunity to take free classes at each place.  I don't usually take advantage of this opportunity because there are conflicts with my schedule or the class is too full or really I'm not always sure I will be able to do the work out.

The fear of not being physically fit is my own hang up.  If I was taking a workshop somewhere else with people I don't know, I wouldn't think twice about it.  But at the studio I'm around my peers and my students.  I don't want to appear weak - I am a fitness instructor!  I need to be in shape.  

Here's the thing though - I don't know everything.  I'm not sure about you, but I always have something to learn.  Taking other instructor's classes does give me ideas about things I can incorporate into my classes - its not stealing, its borrowing. (And almost every instructor I know does it).  

Exposure to other people's teaching also helps me learn more about my body.  When I work out, I can't always see my form.  Having another professional watch what I'm doing helps me workout more efficiently.  

So that's why I went. Here's the class I took - a Reformer Class.  On this piece of equipment.  It is not a modern day version of the rack or any other torture device.

This is a pilates class.  And it was fun, but really hard.  I had a great instructor. So learning how to use the equipment was easy but the work I did on it was challenging.  For the most part, my form was good.  What was humbling about this class was that my core wasn't as strong as I thought it was.  

Through TRX, my core is constantly engaged all of the time.  I can hold a plank for over 2 minutes if I wanted to, so I assumed I had ample core strength.  What this workout showed me was that when you throw in a few moves that cause instability in my balance, my core engagement goes out the window.  

Learning that I needed to work on core strength was beneficial to improving my overall fitness.  Now I can tweak my workouts to be more efficient in my weaker areas.  I'm not sure if I'll take this class again due to schedules and class size.  But if the opportunity to try something else presented itself, I would try it out.    In the meantime, I'll be working on strengthening my core with moves that challenge my stability and balance and be thankful that I don't have to try doing it on a piece of equipment that moves constantly.

I think the biggest lesson to come out of trying someone else's class is that I benefit most from keeping an open mind about trying something new.  And I can always learn something new if I'm willing to.  That being said, my new something for December is HUGE!  I will be beyond outside of my comfort zone.... but that is a whole month away.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Fun Food Friday - Naan Bread

I love Indian food.  It is one of those meals that my entire family can agree on which makes it an easy choice for us.  What I don't like is trying to cook it.  There are so many spices and layering of flavours that I find it difficult to get the flavour combinations correct.  However, eating dinner out isn't always the healthiest or economical option so I have been playing around with various recipes and have a few that are ready to be posted or close to it.

The first is naan bread.  This is easy for me thanks to my bread maker and the fact that I have been baking yeast breads or a variation of them most of my cooking life.  The other recipe that I have made and I feel taste pretty authentic is channa masala.  I will share that recipe in a bit, but today it is naan.

This recipe is easy and has turned out every time I've tried it.  As I said earlier, I make it in my bread maker which makes the preparation effortless.  It also makes a large batch so I typically divide it and freeze half.  Aside from naan, this also makes a really great pizza crust.

Bread Machine Naan

by Denise Boyd Dunlop
Prep Time: 3 hours
Cook Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients (Serves 8-10)
  • 1 cup of warm water
  • 1/4 cup warm milk
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter or ghee plus 2 tablespoons melted butter or ghee for finished naan
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 4 cups flour (I typically use spelt) plus extra flour for rolling dough
Add ingredients in order listed into bread machine reserving extra melted butter or ghee for finished naan and extra flour. Set bread machine to 'Dough' cycle.
Once dough is finished divide into golf ball sized pieces rolling to form round balls. Set aside and place a tea towel over dough in a warm place for 30 minutes allowing dough to rest.
Heat cast iron pan or heavy bottomed skillet. On flour dusted surface, roll dough into oblong shapes. Grill one side of naan flipping when dough bubbles on the uncooked side. Heat on the flip side for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and brush with melted butter or ghee. Repeat for remaining dough.
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Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Workout Wednesday - TRX Push Ups

Number five of my top ten TRX exercises is the TRX push up.  There are a couple variations  out there.  The first is a standing push up, hands in the straps and the other is a push up with the feet in the straps hands on the ground. 

I prefer the standing variation.  Most people of my clients don't have the upper body strength to properly complete a full push up in from the hands on the floor position without jeopardizing their shoulders. The standing push up is a perfect option until the upper body strength is developed.  

While you are building that strength, you can add all kinds of variations to this exercise to make it more challenging.  Feet closer together, on one foot, closer to the anchor point, under the anchor point, elbows tucked in closer to your body - endless options.

Again like all TRX moves, it is critical that the core and upper back remain engaged to support the chest and shoulders through this move.

How to do a TRX push up

  1. Adjust the TRX straps to the fully extended position.
  2. Face away from the anchor point walking out until the straps are taunt.
  3. Walk the feet back to a challenging but 'doable' position for your push up.  i.e. the closer your feet are to the anchor point the more challenging the exerise.
  4. Remain on the balls of your feet.
  5. Lower your upper body bending at the elbows and raise yourself be straightening your arms.
  6. Keep your hands roughly in line with your mat through the duration of the exercise.
  7. Repeat 8-12 reps completing 1-3 sets.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Little Miracles

Our lives are filled with blessings and little miracles everyday sometimes we're aware of them and other times not so much.  I've been working to try to slow down and be aware of all of the wonderful people and things I have in my life.  

As I've posted here, I begin my day with meditation and often journaling.  I've talked about how much I love motivational quotes.  All of those habits are wonderful for injecting that feel good vibe into the start of my day... but sometimes things happen when I leave the comfort of my office space.

My daughters will suddenly remember that they need something important for school - like balloons for a random act of kindness day.  I'm scrambling to find a package of balloons and less than patient.  Or I get cut off or impatient with a slow driver on my way to work.  Suddenly that ‘chilled out life doesn't get me stressed out’ buzz I had post meditation is gone and I'm a cortisol driven lunatic... well maybe not quite a lunatic.

There are so many times when the little things, and they are little things distract us from what is really important.  Today two things happened to remind me of the beauty I am surrounded by.  

We had our first major snowfall last night.  My world looked like this when I woke up. 

My daughter built this fun lady....

I also was able to visit my niece.  She is just 5 months old.  I have 6 nieces and nephews and they are so much fun.  But this baby is the first niece or nephew that has come into my life since my kids were born.  The amount of time that has passed since my kids were babies until my sister had her daughter has made me realize how amazing babies really are.

My niece was born five weeks early and made a rather dramatic entrance into the world for both my sister and herself.  Fortunately, everyone is healthy.  But each time I see and hold this baby I am reminded of what a miracle she is. But if we really stop and think about it each of us are miracles.

There is a specific set of circumstances that allowed us to be here.  Not to get overly explicit into the details of mating and genetics but the chance meetings between our parents, grandparents, great grandparents that provided the ability for us to be here are pretty amazing.  

Combine those situations which allow us to be here and consider the close calls during our childhood, while driving or any other situation where we may not have survived and our existence can seem quite precarious.  

If we chose to, we can view each day as the miracle it is or we can allow ourselves to get caught up in the small irritations that don't really matter.  

My goal for the next week is to focus on perspective.  When I feel that irritation kick in, I'm going to try to remember to ask myself - Is this frustration worth it?  Hopefully the rational side of me will kick in and I will remember the joy I feel holding my niece or watching my own daughters with her. Even just the minute it takes to step back may stop the negative thoughts from taking seed and hopefully they diminish.

Life is how we chose to view it.  Let’s see it as a miracle.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Fun Food Friday - French Onion Soup

When I was a kid, this soup was one of my Dad's recipes.  We had these special bowls that were our French Onion Soup bowls.  We didn't use them for anything besides this particular soup.  Some how, I have ended up with these bowls.  So I decided to make French Onion Soup for my family.

To make this soup really taste authentic, you need to caramelize the onions.  The flavour that develops through the caramelization process gives the base for a really good soup.  I happened to have a variety of onions from my farm share.  But you want to make sure you use sweet onions.  They will caramelize easier than standard cooking onions.

To avoid time in the kitchen stirring the onions, I decided to use my slow cooker.  It took about 4 hours for the onions to caramelize on high and around 8 hours on low.  Just a word of warning, if you do use your slow cooker for this, your house will smell like cooked onions.  

My kids didn't mind this recipe even though they aren't big onion fans.  I think they were more impressed with the bowls and the melted cheese on top which if memory serves me correctly was what I loved best about this soup as a kid too.

French Onion Soup

by Denise Boyd Dunlop
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1-8 hours depending on cooking method
Ingredients (serves 6-8)
  • 3 onions finely sliced horizontally
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 spring thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon ground)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 8 cups beef soup stock
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 6-8 slices of day old bread
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups shredder gruyere cheese
To caramelize the onions - I used my slow cooker. I placed the onions, butter, thyme, bay leaf and salt and pepper in my slow cooker and allowed onions to cook for 4 hours on low. Alternately you could use the stove top method. Melt butter in a sauce pan over low heat, add onions and spices. Cook until onions become soft and caramel in colour.

Once onions have caramelized, remove bay leaf and thyme sprig. Add stock and Worcestershire sauce. Increase heat and bring soup to a simmer.

Meanwhile, break the bread into bite sized pieces toss in olive oil. Lay in single layer on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Toast in over preheated to 375 until light brown and toasted throughout. Remove from oven.

Ladle soup into oven safe bowls. Top with toasted bread and sprinkle with cheese. Set bowls on cookie sheet and broil until cheese has melted.
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Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Workout Wednesday - TRX Jump Squats

Number 6 on my top 10 favourite TRX moves are jump squats.  I love this move because you work through a really deep squat position which activates your glutes in a much deeper engagement when compared to regular squats.  Also you bring a cardio aspect into this move through the jump.  It doesn't take very many of these to begin to 'feel the burn' of lactic acid building in your quads.

Typically I do this move in two ways.  If I'm looking to really work my quads, I will try to jump and land in the same place.  If I'm targeting cardio I will jump forward from my squat position and immediately jump back to the starting point.

How to do jump squats:

  1. Start with your TRX straps in a fully extended position.
  2. Turn to face away from your anchor point.
  3. Tuck the straps underneath your arms and hug the handles in toward you.  Your thumbs should be touching your shoulders.
  4. Leaning into the straps, walk your feet toward your anchor point.
  5. Remain on the balls of your feet and bend your knees until you are in a deep squat position.
  6. Jump to a full standing position bending your knees to cushion your landing.  As mentioned at the start, you can choose to land in the same spot or hop forward and then back.
  7. Repeat for 8-12 reps.  Completing 1-3 sets.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

True Riches

I make no excuses for the fact that I love motivational quotes.  On Pinterest I have a board dedicated to quotes, I favourite and retweet them on twitter and like them on Facebook.  I love the inspiration and the momentary feel-good buzz you get from reading someone else's inspiring words and I really try to remember moving words during difficult situations.

One of my favourites is by Steve Prefontaine -

To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.

These words are so simple and obvious but I often forget their power.  We all carry gifts with us.  Our true talents, and yet without the proper attention they go wasted.  It is so easy to become distracted by what we deem as 'real life'.  If our focus is on getting through the day without checking in and deciding how to create or do something with ourselves that allows us to truly use our gifts are we living our lives to its fullest potential?

Over the past year and a bit, I quit my full time job and am now working part time.  I am fully acknowledging that this decision is not for everyone and was certainly not something I had envisioned myself doing three years ago.  But sometimes, life presents itself in a way that we have no choice but to wake up and make a change.  

These changes are often not easy to make, however, for me, my health and my family life were suffering.  I made a decision between choosing to continue on a path that really wasn't working for one that was completely unknown.  And it was the scariest thing I have ever done.  The fear that I have made a decision that could be wrong is still very present today.

My biggest fear, like for most of us out there is financial.  If I don't have the stability to support my family and provide the comforts for my children that I had growing up, then I must be a failure as a parent.  Or at least that is what a small part of me thinks when I allow the 'money fear' to sink in.  

But my kids aren't suffering if I look at the bigger picture.  When I stopped working full time, I cut back on expenses and I didn't feel deprived doing so.  The things I cut back on were dinners out, I now have the time to shop for groceries and cook.  I don't have to pay someone to clean my house because I am home to do it and the whole family pitches in.  I also stopped shopping for entertainment.  I don’t need a lot of the unless things I was purchasing and have a less cluttered house for it.

But the biggest difference from these changes is that we are ALL more relaxed.  Our mornings before and after school aren't rushed.  The kids have their homework done because we've been able to establish and stick with a routine.  We prepare and eat our meals together.  When my daughter wants to show me something even as trivial as a hula hope routine, I have time to actually pay attention and watch her because my mind isn't thinking of all of the other things I feel pressured to do.

We still have money for things we consider important such as travel and sports but as a family we choose to make those activities a priority. While my bank account may not see the influx of cash it has in the past, I have something I consider far more valuable.  First I am regaining my health.  But secondly and more importantly I have the gift of time.  I have gained the freedom to choose where I focus my attention.  

My family is the most important part of my life and I am able to spend my time there.  I am not sacrificing the gift, because all of my attention is focused on it.

I have the space to create a new start for myself.  Each day I remind myself of how blessed I am to have this opportunity to start again.  I am learning that the stability from money is nothing in comparison to the riches you experience when you have the space to follow the passion that truly ignites you and has the ability to touch others.

We have been given one life to live.  This is not our practice life and for me I am living it to its fullest.