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Monday, April 23, 2018

Nuts or Seeds: Protein Bar Review

I don't have much time to eat during the day when I am at the office and busy seeing therapy clients. I've discovered that even doing 3 hour long sessions in a row without a snack can leave me hangry.

Since I need something satisfying, portable and quick, I frequently reach for protein bars. As such, I've been trying some different ones lately just to mix things up.

On a whim (and because they were on sale on Amazon.ca), I bought some Pegan bars.

This was an unusual choice for me because I am neither paleo nor vegan and that's the whole 'thing' with these bars. Also, the only flavour available was sunflower butter which is kind of weird. They have other yummy sounding flavours though, like Ginger Snap Cookie, Cinnamon Vanilla, Cinnamon Raisin Roll and Chocolate Lava.

In any case, I have to say I like them. They taste exactly like eating sunflower butter (surprise, surprise). So if you like it, you will like these. It isn't sweet or candy bar tasting, so I didn't even bother offering one to Adam or the girls because I know they won't like them.

The ingredients are pretty impressive, as are the macros, if you are looking for a relatively healthy bar:


I also found a clearance sale on Quest Peanut Butter Supreme bars and decided to give them a shot. They are similarly less sweet and candy tasting compared to other flavours, but definitely yummy if you are a peanut butter lover. They are pretty firm and chewy but I prefer that to a bar that's too soft.


The macros and ingredients are typical for Quest bars. This particular flavour does have sucralose so if you are one of those people who gets hysterical over artificial sweeteners, than these are not for you.

So, will I buy either of them again? Nope. They still don't compare to Quest Double Chocolate Chunk, or the Costco protein bars, which are also the cheapest of any I've found. But hey, its nice to have some variety.

Monday, April 16, 2018

DermaWand: Product Review


I despise the fact that once women look over 35, they are no longer considered beautiful. Okay, sure, there are exceptions for the genetically gifted, such as Christie Brinkley, but for the rest of us, normal aging is just not acceptable.

The expectations for women to 'age gracefully' are ridiculous, especially considering the double standards we have for men. Men can be fat, balding, bags of wrinkles and no one says boo. Health-wise, women tend to age better since men generally do such a poor job of looking after themselves.

Given the ridiculousness of all this, I hate that I let this pressure affect how I feel about my own appearance. I have never felt physically better or fitter. I think its the wisdom that comes along with aging that has helped me learn what works best in terms of diet and exercise for feeling my best, unfortunately, I believe my outside doesn't match the way I feel on the inside. I feel  like I am 25, but I definitely look my age thanks to lines on my face.

I know many women, some younger than I am, who have done Botox, and believe me, it is very tempting! But I have resisted for a few reasons. One, the cost. If it was a one and done thing, maybe, but the effects only last a few months, so you have to keep it up, and that adds up real fast! Two, it kind of scares the crap out of me. The potential negative side effects are a bit creepy.

I've tried all sorts of creams and serums promising wrinkle reducing miracles but never seen much difference no matter how much they cost.

So when DermaWand offered me an opportunity to try out their product, something non-invasive, I figured, why the heck not?

The DermaWand uses radio technology to reduce wrinkles and fine lines. The supposed benefits are:

THERMAL ENERGY
The gentle microcurrent delivers thermal energy to the dermal areas under your skin's surface and increasing dermal skin temperature may help support your skin's natural healthy look.

INSTANT STIMULATION
DermaWand® delivers gentle microcurrent at 100,000 cycles per second, producing a massage effect. Massage helps improve circulation and bring fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients to the skin's surface.

ENRICHED OXYGEN
DermaWand® gives off enriched oxygen which bathes your skin while you're using it. You'll recognize the smell; it's that fresh, clean "after a rainstorm" fragrance. Enriched oxygen will help breathe new life into your skin’s surface and with DermaWand®, you will see a reduction in pore size.

So I have been using it on my "Number 11" (my friend's term for the 2 vertical lines we get between the eye brows) because I had them the most, since January 2018 (with a 3 week break while we were in Israel and during my 2 weeks of flu). At first I was using it twice a day, up until our trip, but afterwards, and after recovering from the flu, my motivation to make it happen twice daily waned, so since then I have being doing it once  daily. In case you're wondering, no, it does not hurt at all. You just massage the area using the motion directed in the instruction booklet (it depends which area you are focusing on). You apply a moisturizer first, though they sent me the gel the company makes to use with it so that's what I have been using.

Has it worked? I think so.

Before



After



I think my 11s are not quite as deep now, though they are still there. But hey, I will take any degree of improvement!

So do I plan to keep using it? Hell yes! Maybe my wrinkles and lines will continue to diminish so that if I am consistent, by the time I'm 80, I will look 30!

Disclosure: I was sent this product to review, but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Game On: Board Game Reviews

I have always adored board games. As a kid I played Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Clue and Scrabble regularly with my family.

As I got older I became hooked on games like Pictionary, Scattergories, Taboo, Cranium, etc. In fact, as often as possible I would invite friends over for game nights and Adam and I once hosted a board game New Year's Eve party (long before kids!).

The girls love them too and we've amassed a good collection. Unfortunately, I work a lot on weekends, so its usually Adam and the girls who play them. We always prefer getting the girls playing a board game instead of doing anything on a device! Board games are a great way to hang out as a family.

Recently we were sent 2 new ones to try out, and that's just what Adam and the kids did over March break.

The first, Rubik's Race, was new to Adam and I but the girls had played it before and already were fans.



Essentially, you shake the Scrambler to create a Rubik's pattern and then slide the tiles to match the pattern on your board to the pattern in the Scrambler. The first player to complete the match and slam down the center frame wins!

Its a simple concept and easy to set up and Adam and the girls really enjoy playing it together.

The other, Bob Ross: The Art of Chill, was new to us all. This one, unfortunately, bombed. Now we knew it was a gamble to play as a family because it is recommended for people over age 12, but ironically, it was Adam who got frustrated with it first and threw in the towel, feeling it is much too complicated and not at all enjoyable.


Since it was so complicated they couldn't even figure it out completely, I found a link that describes the game accordingly:

For The Art of Chill, each player starts with three art supplies cards, with each card showing one of seven paints and one of four tools. You take one of the large double-sided painting cards, place it on the easel, and place Bob on the first space on the painting track.

Each player takes a turn to roll the die and either draws an art supplies card, plays a paint to their palette, receives an extra action for the turn, or both draws a "Chill" card and advances Bob on the painting track.

The player then takes three actions. Actions include drawing an art supplies cards, discarding two matching cards to claim the matching technique card (which is worth 2 points and 1 bonus point when used), sweep the art supplies card row, place a paint on their palette, wash half their palette, or complete a section of a painting. To take this latter action, the player needs to have all of the paint needed for one of the painting's three sections on their palette with no unneeded colors mixed in! The player scores points equal to the number of paints used, bonus points if they're the first or second to paint this, and additional points if they've painted this feature before Bob (i.e., did you paint this before the Bob figure reaches this space on the painting track.

When someone has completed all three features on a painting or Bob has reached the end of the painting track, this work is complete! Remove it from the easel, and start a new painting. Players continue to take turns until someone reaches a maximum chill of 30 points, at which point they win the game instantly.

So, do I recommend these games? Well, Rubik's Race I recommend for sure, especially for kids. The Art of Chill might appeal to people who have a lot of patience, but it was not a good fit for our family. Nevertheless, board games are a great way to spend time with your kids, especially when relegated indoors due to weather conditions. There are also games out there that will appeal to people of all ages. Personally, I have always favored word games. Get your Scrabble on!

Disclosure: We were sent these games to review but all the opinions on this blog are our own.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Israel: Part 3 (FOOD)

The first thing anyone said to me who had been to Israel before about the country is, "You will love the food"!

I can't argue with that.

The traditional cuisine is all things I love: lots of fresh fruits and veggies, grilled meat and fish, hummus, tahini galore (and you know I am the tahini Queen!), dates and other dried fruits and nuts.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the breakfast buffets at the hotels (we were at Dan Panoramas in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv) were spectacular. Here is a, probably incomplete list of what was on offer:

Breads, bagels, croissants
Fresh vegetables and fruits and locally grown Medjool dates
Yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir
Oatmeal, granola and cold cereals
Smoothies and juices
Eggs hard boiled, scrambled and custom-made omelettes
Pancakes and waffles
Hummus, tatziki, tahini and falafel
Rotating offerings of dim sum, stir fried veggies or other Asian foods
Pastries and desserts including halva and baklava

It was seriously amazing!

I was also impressed with the coffee at the hotel, and at the few cafes where I grabbed one. And you know how picky I am about coffee!

The best dish I had was at a restaurant in the Carmel market in Tel Aviv. It was roasted cauliflower with beet tahini sauce, raisins and pumpkin seeds (dish on the right). I definitely have to recreate this, it was fantastic!



Unfortunately, the other dish I ordered, chicken and roasted veggies, was bland and dry. We had wanted a fish special they had, but they were out of it.

Roni, our guide, took us to an Arab falafel/shwarma restaurant that I thought was just okay. My favorite part about it was that you eat outside on a patio, and there were a million cats everywhere offering snuggles in exchange for food scraps (I don't care if that's not hygienic, I will take any excuse to snuggle cats!). It wasn't bad, but I found the falafel and hummus underseasoned compared to how I like it.


While out and about on our own, Adam and I ate at Aroma Cafes several times. It was just easier than trying to figure out restaurants with no English menu. We both got variations of this chicken salad each time.



In Jerusalem, we discovered The First Station, a funky area near our hotel with shops and restaurants. We had a good meal at an Italian place, and met a lovely couple in their 80s visiting from British Columbia. We had a nice chat with them about touring Israel and life in Canada.



The last 2 days we had in Jerusalem were tougher because of so many things being closed for Shabbat, but we managed to find a great restaurant open called Focaccia on the Friday. On the Saturday, we found a sushi restaurant right near Focaccia and got take out to eat at the hotel before the cab came to get us to take us to the airport. It was decent, though they didn't have the meal on the menu I had originally wanted, so, in fact, I got a Thai chicken curry.

The markets in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were also amazing. Huge varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables were on offer, as well as vendors selling candy and chocolate (our kids would have gone nuts!), halva (in like 50 different flavours!), baklava, falafel, fresh pita/breads, dried fruits and nuts. I didn't end up buying anything there for us, but brought home chocolate, halva, and Turkish delight for relatives.

Now I do have to admit that you can definitely have too much of a good thing. By the end of the trip I was kinda sick of olives and marinated vegetables because I was eating so much (even at breakfast!). One thing I didn't get sick of is the dates. In fact, Roni was telling us about how the Israeli Medjool dates are so large and sweet, that Israelis can't eat more than one at a time. Nevermind that I was stuffing my 4th into my mouth as he said this, that I'd snatched off the hotel's breakfast buffet 😆😆

Also, a visit to Israel is not a ticket to weightloss, even though the cuisine is healthy. Its definitely not low-cal. There is a ton of olive oil and tahini used in the cooking, as well as nuts and seeds. So, yes, nutritious, but also easy to overdo.

Vegans can definitely find stuff to eat pretty easily, as long as you don't mind most of your protein coming from beans, nuts and seeds. We didn't see much tofu at restaurants or cafes, though health food stores carried lots of it, as well as a good array of tempeh and soy or wheat-gluten meat alternatives.

My one complaint, that would probably not be a concern for most people, is that it was hard to get a COLD drink. Maybe its because we were there in winter so Israelis aren't so concerned with drinking things iced cold, but that's how I like my beverages always. I found whether it was beer, water, or Diet Coke, nothing came chilled enough for my taste, and our hotels didn't have ice or water machines, which I found frustrating. Tepid tap water does not quench my thirst!

Also, tons of people smoke, and smoking is allowed on restaurant patios, so Adam and I often had to strategically seat ourselves where smoke wouldn't waft in our direction.

As for the food on El Al, the Israeli airline, it was...airplane food, maybe a bit better than average. You definitely got more food than other airlines, but I would not say it was stellar. We bought dinners to take on the plane at the airports, so it was mostly the breakfasts we ate on board. Both times we got vegetarian omelettes and they were accompanied by some sort of fruit, a bit of coleslaw, a (white) bagel and cream cheese.

Well that's all folks! The only destination I've had on my (non-existent) bucket list was Israel, and now I can cross it off. It is definitely a wonderful place to visit with lots of interesting things to do regardless of what your preferences are.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Israel: Part 2

Probably the most interesting thing for me about visiting Israel is not being a minority for the first time in my life. That being said, I don't necessarily feel I've got a lot in common with ALL Jews. Not being religious, and being extremely socially liberal, I can't say I understand the Hasidic Jews beliefs or way of life at all. But according to our guide, Roni (roni_tours@walla.com), who was fantastic, by the way, most Israelis don't understand them much either. Nevertheless, they have a lot of power in Israel, which is why they don't fight in the Israeli army, and insist on businesses shutting down for Sabbath in Jerusalem.

Of course, the other amazing thing for me was just the ancient history of the place. Coming from a new country like Canada, where any structure over 100 years old is considering 'historical', it was mind boggling to see so many buildings over 2000 years old still standing. If the history interests you, then definitely visit places like Ceasarea, Acco and Old Jerusalem.


Below is a photo of Old Jerusalem I took:


Though Israel is a Jewish country, it is a place considered sacred to many religions including Muslims, Christians and Baha'i. Roni took us to see many of the Christian holy sites in Old Jerusalem, which was fascinating. There were many, many Christians visiting and praying all over the place! He also took us for a brief visit to Haifa, which is the holiest site for the Baha'i.
We also went to the wailing wall, which is where the Jews pray. I stuck a little prayer on a folded up piece of paper into a crevice in the wall, as is tradition, even though I don't pray.

We also went museum mad during our visit. You definitely have to visit some museums if you are in Israel!

The Herzl Museum was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. Its interactive, so I think even kids age 12+ might enjoy it.  In fact, it had a profound impact on me, especially when Roni told us some personal information about Theodor Herzl. He was the first one to propose the idea of a Jewish state, after witnessing the ongoing anti-semitism in Europe in the 19th century. Sadly, he died in his 40s, long before Israel became a state. Even more tragic, is that none of his 3 children or his grandchild (murdered in the Holocaust) lived to see it. But his remains were eventually moved from Europe to Israel and you can visit his tomb on the grounds of the museum.

If you are interested in archaeology or ancient and/or biblical history, than you definitely have to visit the Israel Museum. As an added bonus, its one of the few places open Fridays and Saturdays in Jerusalem!

If you can stomach it, a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum is also a must. It is the best Holocaust museum of have seen yet, even better than the one in Washington, D.C. We were trying to fit in a lot the day we went, so our time there was limited. I think its one of those places you could go many times and still feel like you learn a lot more each time.

Below is a monument honoring Janusz Korczak, a Polish teacher at an orphanage, who refused refuge and went to the gas chambers with his Jewish students.


Below is a shot of the Dead Sea. We didn't actually go in it. First of all, it was a bit too cool for outdoor swimming while we were there, but also, we didn't bring bathing suits.


To be honest, though Israel has a lot of natural beauty, that's not what I was really there to see. I wanted to focus on the history and culture.

If you are interested in doing outdoorsy stuff, there is a lot of that too: swimming in the Dead Sea, beautiful beaches, hikes in the desert, etc.

Our guide, Roni, told us he has led tours focusing on the plants and trees in Israel, and bird watching ones too. There are lots of birds!!


Monday, March 19, 2018

Israel: Part 1


I am finally getting around to writing about our trip to Israel!

As you might expect, many Jews from around the world visit Israel. Many go as children or youth because there are programs like Birthright that facilitate this. I never took advantage of anything like this, nor was I in the least bit interested until a few years ago.

After my Bat Mitzvah at age 13, I threw in the towel on having anything much to do with Judaism. One reason was that I just wasn't religious or interested in being observant of traditions, but in hindsight it probably had more to do with being Jewish in a small, relatively homogeneous town. I was eager to rid myself of any traits that made me 'different'.

It was only a few years ago, after reading The Lemon Tree, that I realized how little I knew about Israel's history and I felt an interest and connection to it. Adam had been as a teen on the March of the Living, and wasn't eager to go back, but after I talked about my desire to visit for a long time, he offered to go with me. It was a belated 15th anniversary gift.

This trip was a huge leap out of my comfort zone as I hate flying and hadn't done such a long flight since I was 3-years-old. As I have said before, I am very happy to read about places around the world from the comfort of my home, rather than visit them in person. Especially if they are really, really far, dangerous, hot, and/or have huge, scary insects). Israel is definitely far...and potentially dangerous.

It took months of research for me to figure out what kind of trip we would do. Lots of people I know who have spent lots of time in Israel, told me its really easy to travel and explore there, and recommended renting a car or just devising our own itinerary. Um, wrong! I am very glad I did not listen to this! Maybe for someone already extremely familiar with the country, otherwise, I definitely recommend a tour!

I struggled to find an organized tour, however, that really appealed to me, so finally after a long chat with the Israel experts at Aufgang Travel, we booked a private, custom tour. Yep. Just me, Adam and our own tour guide. I specifically asked for a focus on culture and history. I was not particularly interested in seas or deserts. So sue me, but that's just not all that interesting to me. Water is water (even if the Dead Sea is somewhat unique) and sand is sand.

So our tour included the following:

  • Caesarea
  • Acco
  • Old Jerusalem
  • Hertzl Museum
  • Israel Museum
  • Yad Vashem (Holocaust museum)
  • Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found
  • Mahane Yehuda Market
  • Masada (but we never made it due to road there being flooded out)
I was very nervous about the flights even though my doctor gave me some Ativan to help me sleep. The flight there ended up being alright. Getting through security at Pearson Airport in Toronto was horrid though, as the wait and lines were very long. We flew with El Al airlines and they have their own, lengthy security check system. Of course, its good to feel secure when flying to Israel 😐😐

I did manage to sleep, but even with our upgraded (but not first class) seats, I found it ridiculously uncomfortable. Given how small a person I am, I can't imagine what it was like for anyone bigger. 

We arrived in Tel Aviv, settled in to our hotel (The Dan Panorama), and went exploring. We found the wonderful Carmel Market nearby, and got dinner at an Aroma Cafe. Though we have them in Toronto, we never go, and it was nice at this point to find something familiar and with menus in English. We went back to our hotel and slept about 11 hours. 

Our next day in Tel Aviv was free before our tour guide picked us up the next day. After sleeping in, we had an amazing breakfast at the hotel (they are known for their buffet breakfasts!), and then went for a run along the waterfront (our hotel was right on the Mediterranean Sea). After showering, we went exploring, and ended up at an upscale fashion mall. Though we didn't buy any clothes, we had lunch there and met some lovely locals who offered advice on sites to see.

We ended up wandering rather aimlessly, just getting a sense of the city, and then had an amazing dinner at a restaurant in Carmel Market.

Part 2 of my posts will describe the tour, and 3 I will devote the entire discussion to the FOOD.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Nutritional Healing with Chinese Medicine: Book Review


The topic of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) comes up a lot with my counselling clients because many folks dealing with infertility are drawn to it as a way to try to boost their fertility naturally. A few of the fertility doctors I work with even support clients in their decision to incorporate it into their treatment.

For this reason, I was eager to check out Nutritional Healing with Chinese Medicine to learn more about TCM and how nutrition can be used therapeutically.

What is TCM? It is an ancient holistic healing approach. The basic principles are balance, connectedness and wholeness. The focus is on yin and yang, qi (energy/vital force), blood and other body fluids, and jing and shen (internal interactions with external environmental influences).

Dietary therapy is an integral part of TCM, and is based on the thermal nature or qi of foods. Foods are categorized as hot, warming, neutral, cooling or cold. It is believed that different flavours (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, etc.) have different thermal properties. TCM food groups include:

Whole grains/legumes/nuts/seeds
Animal foods
Vegetables
Fruits
Condiments

Parts 1 and 2 of Nutritional Healing with Chinese Medicine gives detailed information about TCM and nutritional therapy. Though the information is extensive, it is provided in a very accessible way so even if you have no background, it will give you a fairly solid understanding of the basics.

There is even a chapter in part 2 that provides food recommendations for various common health concerns from coughs, to diabetes, to insomnia. Perusing through this section my impression is that the advice is all pretty sound, though I think you need to avoid looking at these things as 'cures'. Like for stress and tension you are advised to avoid late night eating, overeating, spicy foods, excess alcohol and coffee. It is recommended that you focus on eating leafy greens, nuts and seeds, bitter greens and seaweed. Of course, that all makes sense, but if you work a super high stress job, have major personal problems contributing to your anxiety, and a sedentary lifestyle, then just making these dietary changes will not completely eliminate the stress in your life.

Part 3 of the book contains instructions for stocking your kitchen for TCM nutritional therapy and a chart classifying foods by their nature, flavor, and therapeutic value in TCM.

And then there are the recipes, which are divided by seasons, along with blood tonic and condiment recipe sections.

Now nutritionally, I have no issue with these recipes. They are generally very nutritious. Diabetics may have to alter them, however, because the sweetener used most often is honey.

If you have stocked your kitchen ahead of time with the necessary spices, herbs and condiments, you will find most of them very simple and straightforward. There are meat and seafood recipes, but also a lot of vegan recipes. Each recipe has a tip section and health information about the ingredients. There are no photos, however, so you have to use your imagination about what the final product will look like.

Though many of the recipes are infused with Asian flavours like fresh ginger and tamari, many others are not at all, so there is a lot of variety. They mostly sound very tasty too, so this is not about gagging down various substances in order to cure what ails you.

There are lots of yummy sounding and nourishing soup recipes which would be perfect for anyone suffering from a cold or flu and even some fruit based desserts that sound delicious.

So do I recommend this book? I certainly do for anyone looking for some sort of framework to improving the quality of their diet, or experimenting with different ways of eating to see how it makes you feel. Following the TCM nutritional philosopy could just help you feel less bloated, get rid of your stubborn cough, or make your PMS less severe. Just don't think that you can cure cancer by preparing these recipes. We have chemotherapy for that!

Disclosure: I was sent this book to review, but all opinions are my own.