February Navel Gazing

February has always been a reflective month for me. The new year is less shiney and as it gets broken in often feeling very similar to the one before. Any seasonal affective sadness is usually well entrenched as I try to keep my head down trudging through to spring. Add in my birthday marking another full trip around the much missed sun and it is easy to see why I’m plumbing the depths of my belly button this time of year.

Last February (like so many before) I was determined to make this month a pivot point. Work and family life were going really well. We were settled into the new house. Simon and I were married on a beach in Costa Rica the day after groundhog day and for the first time in years I felt like I had some extra energy to direct. By Valentines we were back home and I started tracking my diet and exercise habits via fitbit and the myfitnesspal app. It felt a little cheesy at the time, but for my birthday I committed to thinking of 42 as my year of life, the universe and everything. The crazy part is that all my self-motivational rah rah actually worked. I’m down 30lbs, in the best physical shape of my adult life, and even though day to day life can get stressfull I feel mentally confident that I can handle it.

This February my personal goals are to stay the course. Family, work, volunteering, physical and mental fitness are all in a good place. I’m sure that life has a few curve balls coming as it usually does, but right now I’m really happy.

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Cirque du Old Lady – 8 months and 2 days

After all those words about how awesome circus classes are going and the desire to push myself, the days immediately following brutally reminded me that shoving my butt off from the plateau will not come without a price. Two nights spent tossing from one side to the other with restless dreams about aching muscles and matching days made cranky from lack of sleep, going back to work and feeling incredibly old. Not sure if it was the workout, the stretching or both, but my hips ached in a way that made me flinch after sitting for more than a few minutes.

It’s easy to write about the good things that come with this, but I also want to remember the parts where I struggle. Thankfully, today is a bit better. Time and foam roller massage have helped and I surprised myself by sticking with the plan and getting a decent run on the treadmill. My mood is lifting and will hopefully stay that way as I get back to work.

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Cirque du Old Lady – 8 month update

Christmas break marked the end of my third training semester and I am very happily signed up for another round. In the last 8 months on the aerial hoop I’ve progressed from beginner to solid intermediate. I wish I’d written more during the early part of the process, but my newbie excitement kept me too busy devouring every other blog I could find. One thing I learned from all that research/surfing is that I’m an anomaly. Recreational circus training is pretty new in general and like most gymnastic type activities is primarily a young person’s game. I’m certainly not the only 40 something doing this sort of thing, but I generally have about 15-20 years on most of the others taking class.

The first three months of circus classes were a wild ride. I was learning new skills and getting noticeably stronger every week. I would wake up the next day covered in bruises and aching from head to toe. The bruises continue to this day, but I’ve mostly lost the need to pop advil after every class. If it sounds like I was torturing myself, the answer is yes, but I was also having buckets of fun – still am! It takes about 12 weeks for the body to build new muscle and the vascularization to support it and that was true for me. As mentioned in the last post: I have stronger hands, established callouses and seriously improved arm definition.

I believe that circus is suitable for anyone of any skill level. However, it is also a physically demanding activity that can easily lead to injury without good instruction which I definitely have had. The aerial classes at Cirque-Ability are structured in a way that allows you to work at any ability level. This takes away any pressure to ‘keep up with the class’ which I really like. They have enough equipment stations (silks, trapeze and hoop) for each person (maximum 6) to mostly have one to themselves. For each apparatus, there is a skill book to progress through at your own rate while the instructor demonstrates new skills, answers questions and keeps an eye out for everyone’s safety. I have a background in gymnastics/trampoline and am a naturally flexible person and therefore had an advantage over a true beginner. Prior to starting I was at the higher end of normal weight for my height and had an established exercise routine of running 5k 2-3x a week and strength training or some other activity 1-2x a week. I was fit, but not unusually so.

I’ve accomplished quite a lot, but am now at a fork in the road with my training. The next set of advanced skills require more strength and flexibility than I currently have. My options are to either plateau where I am or try to see if I can take it to the next level. Plateauing is pretty attractive. Work and family commitments don’t allow for more than my once a week circus class and the 6 day break seems to help prevent any tweaks from progressing into injury. I’m in the best shape of my adult life and could happily focus on perfecting the skills I know without risking additional injury, extra workouts or changing my eating habits during the week.

Instead, my plan is to go with Door #2. Of course I am – why else would I be writing about it? First step is to maintain fitness and flexibility over the holiday break. One week in and I’ve stuck to my plan so far. Apart from time off for Christmas eve and day, I’ve managed some sort of workout each day. It’s been a mish-mash of running with the dog, trampolining with the kiddo, stretching and video workout. Next week will be more challenging when I’m back at work with less free time. Trying to improve my eating habits over Christmas seemed futile so I’m saving that for later in January when life gets back to a more normal routine.

Hoop

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Circus report – 12 weeks

Finished my 12th circus class last night and I’m still having fun. For both better and worse, my body is showing the effects of regular training.

Better:

Muscles – Yes indeed. Especially arms.

Abs – No one’s more surprised than me to see abdominal definition on my forty-something post c-section torso. I’m still miles away from a six-pack, but it ain’t a keg either.

Taller – Not really, but stretching has lowered my shoulder position making my neck look longer.

Energy – Feels like my body is defying the first law of thermodynamics some days.

Mood – Have I mentioned how damn happy I am?

Worse:

Bruises – I’m flailing around on a steel hoop once a week, identifying bruises in weird locations is how I spend the other 6 days.

Man hands – Callouses and veins are part of being able to hang on.

Wear – I will have to pay close attention to twinges if I want to prevent them from turning into actual injuries. I tweaked my shoulder in class last week and am now learning to focus on correctly engaging my muscles to keep it from becoming a problem. I suspect this is only the first of many.

Nauseating – Hanging upside down on the hoop while it is spinning: internet wisdom says I’m just going to have to suck it up and get used to feeling a little queasy.

Both better and worse is the drive I have to improve. My enthusiasm makes me want to plunge into the deep end, but the grown up side of me knows that pushing too hard will only lead to injury and take away all my fun. Instead of signing up for more classes, I’m sticking with training once a week and continuing with running, stretching and conditioning between classes. I can always drop in at Skyzone for some trampolining if I need an extra circus hit during the week.

 

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Me, myself and more me.

I’m sure everyone has times in life of feeling ‘not like yourself’. I’ve had several phases like that. Most of 1997 (when I lived in Pennsylvania and had almost no friends) and the years preceding my divorce certainly come to mind. I look back and don’t fully recognize the person I was.

These days I’m experiencing the exact opposite. At 42 I feel so completely comfortable and happy with the my current place in life the universe and everything that it is a little concerning. Any more of this and my state of stupidly happy runs the risk of annoying everyone around me. In many ways, the birth of my daughter and death of my marriage allowed for a complete overhaul of what I wanted my life to be. It has taken many steps and a long while to get here, but most every step/choice over the last 5 years or so has let in the right direction.  I’m not saying that life is perfect. Talking about real life here where there are plenty of things to cause stress, worry and discomfort. I think the difference is that I feel so very much myself that I feeling like I’m enjoying the ride of day to day life to its full extent.

The very last part of the process has been bringing my physical body to the same state where I feel comfortable in it. For me this means being strong enough to do the gymnastic type activities I’ve loved my entire life. I let excuses like work, traffic, depression and general life get in way for the last decade, but I’m now rediscovering something that makes me incredibly happy.

I started a running/strengthening program last year. Took a few months off for foot surgery, built back up for our surf trip this winter and tweaked my eating habits in the spring. Three months ago I started aerial circus classes and I’m still brimming with new convert enthusiasm. Full steam ahead!

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Squirrel!

If I manage to stick with blogging long enough for anyone to read it it will easily become apparent that I am a dilettante when it comes to hobbies. Sewing, knitting, rock climbing, writing, running drawing, origami, circus, skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding and trampoline are just a portion of my hobby list. Often with crafty type activities I will complete one big impressive project and then move onto the next shiny sparkle that catches my interest. At this stage of my life I’m mostly unapologetic of my jack of all trades approach. It was a concern in my first 2 years of university when I registered in 4 different majors (psychology, drama, english, and engineering) but I’ve successfully stuck with the last one since 1992 without waffling. I’m committed to my husband and my child, but see no reason why I should pick a lane where my spare time is concerned.

If I sound defensive, it’s because this has been held out as a character flaw. The older I get though, the more I’ve come to see it as a strength. Maybe it doesn’t show exceptional dedication, but it does show range, flexibility and a willingness to try new things. Or maybe I’m just refusing to admit my own flakiness. Whichever it may be, I’ve now got a freshly sharpened pencil and the urge to do some hand lettering right now.

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Coming Soon (sadly, not tomorrow though)

Coming June 28th

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Tomorrow Wendell by R. M. Ridley, available June 28, 2014

Tomorrow Wendell by R. M. Ridley, available June 28, 2014

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Tomorrow Wendell by R. M. Ridley, available June 28, 2014

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Tomorrow Wendell by R. M. Ridley, available June 28, 2014

 

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Internet Diet – Conclusion

My internet diet finished last friday. Having reached my goal I’ve spent the week since gaining back most of the virtual weight.

Time now to find a balance. Like any part of being healthy the all or nothing approach won’t work long term. There is a time for guilty pleasures that rot my mental teeth, but they shouldn’t be the bulk of what I’m consuming.

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Internet Diet – Status Report

Keeping with the spirit of my internet diet, I spent last weekend fasting. Two days without an email, status update or cat video. Not even a single solitary tweet. We get the Saturday Globe and Mail delivered so I wasn’t forced to go entirely without my outside information hit, but I tried to put some real effort into spending a measurable chunk of time unplugged.

Overall the weekend’s accomplishments were more or less the same amount I manage normally. I brought the kid out to her grandparents, worked out, walked the dogs, watched movies, folded laundry and spent some quality time at the local brew pub. The difference was that none of it was broken up with the little facebook/newspaper/email checks. These internet hits have become such a regular habit of my everyday life that I barely noticed how much I was doing it until I stopped. The moment I did, however, I couldn’t help but notice how much more relaxed I felt.

I’ve never been a good multi-tasker. I don’t listen to music when I work or study for the exact reason that I have trouble concentrating, so I don’t know why I’m surprised that random internet notifications, checks and updates make me stressed. Taking away the temptation to interrupt the day with small distractions really allowed me to be more present in whatever I was doing and it felt really great. I did one thing at a time, got the exact same amount of stuff accomplished, and came out of the weekend feeling genuinely refreshed.

When I found myself standing in line or waiting for my date to return from the washroom I looked up and paid attention to my surroundings instead of checking my phone. What I saw was a whole lot of other people looking down at their own phones.

It would be stupid for me to even consider parting with my smartphone, I need it for work. Ironically, I did in fact, upgrade it this week. From a personal standpoint, I enjoy social media and generally find my friends are informative, interesting, and hilarious (frequently all three). Besides, how else would I learn about all the beautiful, fun and amazing things going on out in the world? I need to challenge myself to find a way to ensure I am using it as a tool to improve my life instead of letting it invade like crab grass.

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Rolling with the Cabbage

The internet diet continues. Two weeks down, about a month to go.

My cynical gen-X self finds hipsters with their huge beards, tight pants and chevron everything an easy target for mockery, but where food is involved the truth is that I’m right in there with them. Both Simon and I like to cook and we usually eat pretty well. Organic vegetables get delivered once a week. Meat comes from the butcher down the street. I regularly make stock from vegetable peelings and roast chicken remains while drinking from our stock of craft beer. The whole lorganic shebang.

Since I work from home, one of the benefits to my reduced slothing is more time to putter in the kitchen. I’ve always been intimidated by cabbage rolls. Love eating them, but I generally don’t like cooking dishes with lots of steps. An abundance of cabbage in the vegetable delivery this winter and a short-cut courtesy of the butcher finally convinced me to give them a try and wow were they yummy. I really didn’t like boiling the cabbage and handling the hot wet leaves, but thankfully the internet provided a much easier freezing method. It requires planning ahead, but is so very simple. And with that, I present today’s project:

Hipster Cabbage Rolls

Makes about 10 (3 roll) servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 small/med (or 1 large) heads green cabbage
  • 6 cups tomato sauce (I make my own because tomato sauce is crazy easy)
  • 2 cups uncooked brown rice
  • 4 cups stock or water
  • 1kg package uncooked smoked beef brisket meatloaf (Butcher By Nature partners with a barbeque place to make a loaf with smoked brisket ends. The smokiness makes these cabbage rolls incredible, but I suspect that any yummy meatloaf should do the trick.)
My secret ingredient.

The secret ingredient

Pre-Preparation:

Place the cabbages in a plastic bag and stick them in the freezer. The night before you want to make cabbage rolls, take them out of the freezer and leave them on the counter overnight to defrost. This makes the cabbage leaves easy to peel off and roll-up without having to ever boil an entire head of cabbage.

Make tomato sauce:

  • 2 12oz cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2tsp each oregano, thyme, and basil.

Stick it all in a crockpot for the day or simmer in a pot for an hour or two.

Actual Preparation:

  1.  Cook the rice and stock/water in a rice cooker.
  2.  Mix the cooked rice with the meatloaf in a big bowl. This will be the filling.
  3.  Core the cabbage with a small knife.
  4.  Oil up 2 – 12cup baking trays (I use cooking spray). I like to make two 4-serving casseroles and freeze one, but the size of the container doesn’t really matter. Use a big dutch oven and stack the rolls up, or go with smaller trays and make a bunch; it’s all good.
  5.  Spread 1/2 cup tomato sauce in the bottom of each casserole dish.
  6.  Begin rolling: For each roll, peel off a cabbage leaf or two and spoon 1/2 cup or so of filling onto the centre. Fold up the sides, roll up the leaf, and place it seam side down in the casserole dish.
  7.  Pour the remaining tomato sauce over top of the cabbage rolls.
  8.  Cover and bake at 350F for 2 hours.
Assembled cabbage rolls

Assembled cabbage rolls

Ready to bake.

Ready to bake

 

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