Friday, April 29, 2016

Higher: Book Review

Its Friday and I will end the week with some deep thoughts in this book review.

I did not have high hopes for this book, ha ha! A book about living a more fulfilling life by a millionaire CEO? Was this going to be about which champagne goes with what type of caviar?

Okay, I'm kidding sort of, but I did wonder what this guy, a Canadian named Charles Hanna, would have to say in his new book, Higher, which describes his spiritual epiphany.

But I agreed to read it because I am all about figuring how to live a more fulfilling life.  It perplexes and frustrates me to no end that so many of us, living extremely privileged lives are so miserable and full of existential angst.  The more I read and research, the longer I work as a therapist and the older I get in is all starting to make more sense, but still, there is always more to learn.

Hanna starts by explaining his origins - he is a Christian Egyptian who emigrated to Canada with his parents when he was young.  Two of his 3 sisters died in childhood, losses that forever affected his family and their relationships.  Despite the hardships, he was ambitious and successful and eventually founded a tech company that has grown and flourished.  He has achieved great financial success.  Nevertheless, just a few years after he started his company he fell into habitual drug use, which led to an addiction that almost killed him.  He got clean but relapsed and he explains what led to his "lightbulb" moment that enabled him to fully recover.

The beginning of the book includes a lot of biographical information about Hanna, including stuff about his wife and first child.  Then, following the part about his recovery, the middle focuses more on his spiritual transformation.  In a nutshell, its about how searching for personal fulfillment through wealth, material items and professional success is fruitless.  If you find it hard to believe that a life of luxury will not magically make you feel happy, Hanna does a good job of explaining why this is the case.  I believe this is an incredibly important thing for most North Americans to understand, because most of us have bought into that myth, hook, line and sinker.  I know I have to keep reminding myself that this is not the case, but we are surrounded by media promising us joy if we own/buy/eat/drink x, y, or z.  Its hard not to get brainwashed by our culture of consumption.

Essentially, he explains, whatever you have, whether its a beat up Honda or a brand new Bentley, you get used to it and it no longer seems special.  You end up always wanting more, no matter how much you have.

What's the secret to true fulfillment and happiness?  Hanna says surrendering to the idea of a Higher Power.  He refers to this as God, but is careful to explain that this can mean whatever you want to and is a non-denominational concept. Its really about recognizing that we are just a small part of an infinite universe, and one that we have no control over.  The other key is connecting with others.  Being less narcissistic and instead of focusing on our own suffering, which we tend to assume is unique, recognizing that we are far more alike than not and that suffering in its various forms, is what actually unites us all.

I agree with all of this but there is one area where we see things differently.  Hanna sees the universe and everything that happens within it as being perfect.  In other words, everything happens for a reason.  I do not believe this.  I believe the universe, like everything, is imperfect.  Frankly, I believe perfection, like unicorns, does not exist.  In addition, as I have stated before, I do not believe everything happens for a reason. I think lots of things happen randomly.  Or, if there is a reason, we will never find it.

In my practice I see how fatalism can be harmful.  So many of my clients who subscribe to the belief that everything happens for a reason spend months or years agonizing about why misfortune struck them.  This almost always leads to self-blame, where they conclude it must be because they are cursed, defective, evil, bad, damaged goods, etc. and are being punished for it.  The only time I see fatalism be protective is when clients who are religious, believe that what happened is God's Will, but: (1) can accept that they will never know the reason, (2) continue to see this Higher Power as benevolent and, therefore, do not turn to self-blame.  I do suspect this is Hanna's philosophy, in which case I can appreciate this perspective.  But I still don't think I would ever call the universe perfect nor would I dare to tell someone who just lost a child or faced some other unspeakable loss that this is the case.

Probably the most significant thing I learned from the book was about the state of mind of addicts.  I don't work in the area of addiction and have never had an addiction issue (except maybe to exercise?). I always assumed that addicts become addicts and relapse because of a sense of hopelessness.  Perhaps this is sometimes the case.  But Hanna explained that, actually, for him, it was just the opposite. He refused to believe everyone - loved ones and health professionals - that he was in crisis and kept convincing himself that he could trust his own judgement.  The epiphany he had was that he had to accept that he could not trust his own perception and must give up complete control in order to recover.  This makes complete sense to me and I think it is a concept that can be used for recovery from things like anxiety, depression, and eating disorders too!

I didn't find the latter part of the book, where he talks more about applying his spiritual approach into everyday life as useful or interesting, but I was also disappointing that he didn't continue with his own personal story with as much detail.  There seem to be some major omissions, namely, he apparently has 3 children but only 2 are mentioned in the book, his oldest and his youngest, and his wife is never mentioned again after he gets to the point of his crisis-state.  I think its important for readers to know how all this turned out given that his family features so prominently in the first part of the book.

So do I recommend this book?

I do. I don't think its for everyone, but I think there are some really fascinating and valuable lessons in it. I think men may relate to it even better than women, and I think it may be very helpful for those struggling with addiction issues or other mental health challenges.

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Plyo HiiT I & II: DVD Review

Happy Hump Day! Its a gorgeous one here, thankfully, after several days of rain.  Perfect for Workout Wednesday.

Here is my review of the second Cathe DVD I purchased, and am so happy with!  This one also kicks my butt and I love, love, love it!!

It consists of 2-27 minute workouts (about 22 minutes without the cool down/stretch sections).  It also has 2 bonus ab routines, giving you a total of 24 minutes of abs.

The first one requires only a mat, which is used as a simple place keeper on the floor that you run and jump over and around.  I actually have been using my step bench instead, which makes it easier in some ways (a step is smaller than a standard mat) and harder in others (adds height). I've been doing this because mats move around on our carpeted floor, so I thought it would annoy me to have to keep adjusting it.  Also, the shorter you are, the harder the dimensions of a standard mat will be for you, and, hey, I'm just barely 5'2!

Rather than specific time intervals, these workouts involve specific numbers of reps of each exercise, with brief rest periods.  But believe me, you'll covet those few seconds of rest!!  The must is pretty generic, mostly instrumental, upbeat stuff, however, I don't even notice it much as I'm just focused on doing the physical work. 

The second workout requires a step and there are also a few moves that use 1 10lb weight, but you can do without if necessary.  Honestly, if you don't have a step, its worth the investment.  A step can be used as a weight bench too.  This workout starts with a standard cardio warm-up using the step, which reminds me of when I used to teach step classes.  It also reminds me how awesome a workout you get with the step and how much I miss it.  I love this!  If you have no experience with the step, you'll have a bit of a learning curve, but if you have done it before, you'll catch on quick as the moves are athletic, not dancey...which is exactly how I used to teach step!

Both workouts involve a ton of jumping, so if you can't do impact exercise, there really isn't any point for you as there aren't really many modifications.  If you are okay with high impact and want quick, intense workouts, I highly recommend this DVD!!

I have one more Cathe DVD to review, but I am honestly loving these workouts so much, I'm already thinking about which of her others I may try.

If you ever doubt that you can get a great workout at home, give these a try and I guarantee you'll let go of any reservations you have about home workouts.  Time, space and money are not valid excuses to be sedentary, where there is a will, there is a way.  Just find your will by trying different forms of activity until you find the one that is right for you!

Monday, April 25, 2016

High Protein Spiced Apricot Granola

Here's another recipe I've created for Passover, but is also perfect for anyone looking for a yummy, healthy breakfast or snack idea.  Its also great for restricted diets because it is vegan, sugar-free, nut-free and gluten-free.

One of the best things you can do for weight management and to boost energy is to eat a protein-rich breakfast, unfortunately, a lot of people crave sweet, carby foods in the morning.  This granola is super high in protein and good fats and will keep you fueled for hours.  Combine with some yogurt and fresh fruit and you've got an amazing power breakfast.

If you aren't a big fan of apricots, you can sub in any other unsweetened dried fruit of your choosing and/or add nuts if allergies aren't an issue.

The hemp protein gives it a dark colour, so make sure you keep an eye on it while baking to make sure its not burning, because it may be hard to tell by just peering through your oven door.

High Protein Spiced Apricot Granola

180g bag puffed quinoa
1/4 cup whole flax seeds
1/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup hemp hearts
1/4 cup vanilla hemp protein powder

2 cups unsweetened pear sauce (or apple sauce)
1/3 cup coconut oil
1 cup granulated erythritol (or xylitol or coconut sugar)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

1 cup chopped, unsweetened dried apricots

Toss dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Combine fruit sauce, oil, sweetener, vanilla, cinnamon and salt in a pot over medium heat.  Stir until oil is melted and mixture is smooth.  Let cool a few minutes and then pour over dry ingredients.  Toss well until dry ingredients are evenly coated. Spread mixture onto baking sheet and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.  Stir, and bake for another 15 minutes.  Repeat twice more, baking for a total of 1 hour baking time.  Turn off heat and leave oven door closed.  Leave granola for about 2 hours.  Remove from oven and let cool completely.  Toss with apricots and transfer to air tight container.  Store in a cool, dry place.  Keeps for about 6 weeks.

I have shared this recipe with Urban Naturale's Plant-based Pot-luck Party Link-up and Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day-Birthday-Passover


Its Friday!

Its also Earth Day, Little A's 7th birthday, and the first night of Passover for 2016.  Whew, that's one big day!

Poor girl will forever be plagued by the possibility of having her birthday fall within the parameters of this cake-less holiday.  That being said, she's voluntarily choosing to follow the Pesach dietary rules, along with Big A and her dad this year...though she wants an exception for next Friday, which is pizza day at school.

Today I am busy cooking and baking for our big sedar tonight at my in-laws, that my family is also attending (my parents coming in today from Kingston, but are staying with my brother and his family).

So I have the night off from work, but will be seeing a few clients tomorrow.  The girls have some of their activities (Hebrew school is cancelled for the holiday), and we've got errands to do.  Now that the weather has abruptly warmed up, the girls are bugging me to buy them sandals.

Have a wonderful, healthy weekend!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Cross Fire Fitness DVD Review

Okay, drumroll please...and the winner of the workout DVDs that finally manage to kick my butt are:

Cathe Friedrich!!

I will answer to questions you probably have before I share the details.  First, the reason why I don't just put myself through my own self-designed workout every day (since I've been a fitness instructor for 24 years) is that at 5am, I don't want to do that much work.  Also, after I do my cardio or self-defence workouts, I do my weights, which is me training me always. So my brain has to be on for all of that.  Second, many folks have suggested various Beach Body programs.  The problem is, these programs are intended to be complete workout programs, but I am just looking for one specific thing.  I don't want weight training - I do that on my own - and I don't want yoga/stretching - I do Essentrics for that. Furthermore, the programs I have (Insanity, Asylum, etc.), I barely use because they aren't my favorites.

So finally I just asked myself what it is that actually does the best job of kicking my ass.  The answer: Plyo and HIIT training.  A Google search led me to Cathe.  Imagine how surprised I was to find this woman and her extensive fitness empire.  In all my years in the fitness industry I had never heard of her.  Never seen her nor her products at a fitness conference nor read about her anywhere.  Weird!  I decided she was worth a try and ordered several of her DVDs.  She also orders On Demand and streaming services too!

Today I will review Cross Fire:

The first thing I noticed that is unique about this workout is there is real music playing, well, remakes of pop songs.  Most fitness DVDs just have rather generic instrumental music, but this music has words.  Some people won't like that but others will appreciate it.  I like that there is a Canadian song in it (Hello, by Dragonette!).

Cathe's got a no-nonsense teaching style.  There isn't a lot of detailed instruction nor many variations because its obviously geared at advanced level participants.  Its Tabata (a particular type of HIIT training) and lots of Plyo.  If you can't do high impact stuff, this workout isn't for you (although there is a very short bonus low impact Tabata workout at the end). She has no attitude and doesn't trash talk the other participants nor is she at all condescending.  When I looked her up, I couldn't believe she's over 50.  She's in tremendous shape and looks much younger!

This workout does require quite a bit of equipment, including weights, gliding disks, a leg band and mat, but all these things are worthwhile investments if you workout at home.  Also, you can do without the mat if necessary, and just use paper plates for the disks.

I love this workout, its 55 minutes total, including the stretch, but then has a 9 minute core training bonus section, which is really good, and then the very short (4 min, 40 sec) low impact Tabata routine.  This workout definitely kicks my butt but is fun too. I definitely recommend this DVD if you want a great, tough workout to take your fitness to the next level.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Chocolate Chip Hempalicious Protein Balls

For the first time in a long time I can say good morning on a gorgeous Monday! In fact the weather has been pretty spectacular since last Thursday.  Yay!

The weekend was a bit of a blur with Little A's birthday party and all, but everything went perfectly smoothly.  Oh wait, that's bullshit, I must be thinking of an Instagram account I saw.  No, in my real life that's not what happens.  What really happens is my child turns into a birthdayzilla and has a tantrum every time she doesn't get what she wants and then melts down half way through the afternoon and declares that she hates her own birthday party.  Apparently laser tag and bowling wasn't all she'd hoped it would be.  Fortunately, after some atrocious, bratty behaviour, she redeemed herself by generously bringing the remaining of her cookies and cream ice cream cake to the neighbours.  When I suggested it, I fully expected her to shriek at the idea since she only got one little piece at the party.  But she happily and graciously agreed and brought it right over to their house as soon as we got home.  Hurray for small miracles!


Our freezer is already stuffed with Passover treats I've been preparing.  But it's critical this year as Little A is joining Adam and Big A in trying to observe the dietary rules for the holiday.  Me? I'm going to eat whatever I damn well please, as usual. 

Ironically, it was recently announced that the Conservative Rabbi (I guess THE head rabbi of the North American Conservative movement?) has declared that its okay for Ashkenazi Jews to eat legumes on Passover now.  Oh man, finally!  But since I wasn't sure Adam would want to change his own practice, everything I've made follow the more traditional rules.  In fact, Adam said he's fine to incorporate legumes now.  Man, does that ever make life easier!

Anyways, given the past prohibition on legumes, I've always wondered what a vegan Orthodox Jew would do on Passover.  Is there such thing as a vegan Orthodox Jew? Are any Orthodox Jews even vegetarian? Apparently there are!  So perhaps there are some vegan Orthodox Jews out there that will appreciate this recipe, which provides a vegan and Passover friendly hit of protein.  I mean basically nuts and seeds are the only source of protein they can eat over the holiday.  Man, they must get hungry...but not with these balls...unless the other ingredients are verboten...that probably includes quinoa...I have no idea, I'm about as far from Orthodox as it gets. don't even have to be Jewish to appreciate these. They taste incredibly decadent but are full of superfoods that provide a huge hit of fibre, protein and nutrition.  They are also nut-free, gluten-free, and vegan, of course. The dark colour is from the sunflower seed butter, coconut sugar, so if you want them to be lighter in colour, maybe use cashew butter and xylitol or eryithritol as sweetener instead. They'll end up pretty green though, from the hemp protein powder.  Oh well, if that scares away the kids, more for you!

I figure they are perfect for Adam as a replacement for the granola/protein bars he usually keeps stashed at work, and I know the girls will love them too.

I baked these balls but I think you could keep them raw and refrigerate them if you want them to have more of a cookie dough texture.

Chocolate Chip Hempalicious Protein Balls

1 cup sunflower seed butter
2 flax eggs (2 tbsp. flax meal + 6 tbsp. hot water)
1/4 cup coconut sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1/4 cup hemp hearts
1/4 whole flax seeds
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup vanilla hemp protein powder
1/4 cup dairy-free, dark chocolate chips

Stir together sunflower seed butter, flax eggs, sugar, syrup and vanilla in a medium bowl.  Mix in remaining ingredients and roll into balls.  Place on parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 350F for 16-20 minutes, until firm.  Let cool and keep in airtight container up to 1 week, refrigerate for up to 3 weeks, or freeze. Makes 14-16 balls.

Shared with Urban Naturale's Plant-Based Party Link Up and Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Bye Bye Baby

Welcome to Friday! You made it!!

We've got big plans this weekend, its Little A's birthday party!  Her actual birthday isn't until the 22nd, but that also happens to be the first night of Passover, so we're doing her party tomorrow.  Basically the next few weekends are going to be nuts because of Little A's party, the Passover holiday, and then Big A's birthday. We're doing her party a bit early too as her birthday is the 10th, which is a Tuesday, so we're having it on the 7th, a few days in advance.

Little A asked for a party at Rinx, so she and her friends can play laser tag and go bowling.  After, there is, of course, the usual pizza and snacks, and a cake from Menchies.

I can't believe my baby is turning 7...and my big girl is going to be in the double digits!! How is it I've been a mom for a decade now??

Although both of them can make me feel like I'm losing my mind, I am so proud of both of them.  I think they have many wonderful attributes that I've never had.  They are also both such confident, strong-willed individuals, I think they both have the capacity to do great things...or get themselves in heaps of trouble.  Hard to know which way it will go at this point ;)

Life has definitely gotten easier in many ways since they've gotten older, but I still get a lump in my throat when I think about them growing up.  Especially Little A.  Big A has always - in some ways - seemed older than her years.  She looks older and she often acts older (more so outside the home than with Adam and I!).  Little A is still tiny (actually on the taller side for her age, but skinny), I can easily pick her up (whereas Big A can now lift me off the ground), she still speaks in her funny way (like she is from Boston), and still has a baby-like innocence (thinks boys and kissing are yucky, sleeps with her stuffies, etc.).  Once she sheds these things, it will really, truly seem like everyone's grown up.  Of course, there is lots more growing up they have to do, but I won't even be able to say we have little kids in our home.  Nope, we're heading towards tween territory and the dreaded puberty.  Ugh! I am sure we have a whole other set of challenges that lie ahead!
I won't lie, I am always a bit stressed for these events, especially since we have a lot of other stuff going on too.  This weekend Big A has to go to a birthday party that ends just before Little A's starts, the girls have most of their weekend activities (Little A has to miss gymnastics so she doesn't miss her own party!), and Adam has his book club. Oy!

The good news is the spring weather is finally here and we have a weekend of sunshine and warm temperatures predicted.  Enjoy your weekend and stay well!