Monday, November 25, 2019

Winter 2019 Favorites

It seems like winter has come early this year. Though I don't mind winter nearly as much as most people - since I hate summer and hot weather - it's still been disappointing because it means that autumn, my absolute favorite season, was cut short.

No matter what the season, its important to fill your life with little pleasures, so here are ones I am enjoying right now.

Once it gets dark before I leave the office, its very important for me to be visible on my bicycle while going home in the evenings. I was sent Runlites mittens to review a few years back, and I have to tell you, I adore them! The lights are extremely bright, and I love that they are rechargeable. They came with thin glove inserts but I lost one last winter, and, besides, they weren't warm enough for Canadian winters. So when it is super cold, I wear another pair of gloves or mittens underneath.

I am often stopped by other cyclists or pedestrians who comment on how awesome they are.

I am also taking advantage of root vegetable season given my obsession with these yummies. My newest discovery is honeynut squash.

They are like butternut squash only smaller, sweeter and with a thinner edible skin (i.e. extra fiber!).

Though I always read tons and listen to podcasts (when doing meal prep or cooking), in the cold weather, there is definitely nothing I love more than hanging out at home and getting cozy with something great to listen to or read.

Recently, I discovered a new, awesome podcast called "Science VS" which is right up my alley.

It provides all the latest empirical evidence on a wide variety of medical, environmental and mental health issues. And it's clever and witty.

Finally, I have been reading novels by author, Alice Hoffman for the last 5 years. Every book I read by her absolutely blows my mind. They are fantastic. Lucky for all of us, she is quite prolific and has a long list of books she has written.

I cannot recommend her work enough!! The Museum or Extraordinary Things was the first of hers I read, but so far, I have adored every single one since.

If you dread the winter months, try to make the most of it by finding little pleasures to enjoy 😊

Monday, November 18, 2019

Top Students Top Parents: Book Review

I had an interest in counselling from an early age and looking to explore it a bit in high school, I got requested from my school permission to get a credit for tutoring other students.

The experience for me was wonderful and I learned a lot of important lessons. One lesson was that a child's home environment has a massive impact on a child's academic potential. I remember one student, a girl several years younger than me, who I assisted, who was struggling with her classes. During our sessions together she admitted to me that she experienced physical and emotional abuse at home at the hands of her mother and step-father. This was so horrific to me. I remember coming home and asking my parents, "How can anyone in that situation be expected to succeed in school?" This poor girl had to think about how not to get the crap beaten out of her, so homework is not going to be a top priority.

Of course, it takes more than just an emotionally and physically safe environment to provide a child with the ideal encouragement to flourish in school.  But many parents lack the knowledge of exactly what they can do to set their children on the right path. This is why former teacher, Kathleen Burns, wrote Top Students Top Parents. As an educator, Burns recognized how important is the home environment and a child's relationship with caregivers to a child's performance at school.

The book is divided into several sections:

Part I: Laying the Foundation for Success - Infancy and Above

This section contains research findings on child development, dangers of electronics, language, motor skills, home environment, responsibility, self-esteem, social skills, rewards, etc.

Part II: Reading and Writing

The second section is all about how to encourage learning to read and reading comprehension and provides strategies for helping your child to learn to read and write at home.

Part III: School Success

Included in this part of the book is lifestyle and habits to promote learning (sleep, organization, etc.), communication with school/teachers, dealing with homework, and handling social problems.

Burns bases much of her advice on recommendations from experts. There is a full bibliography in the book. I would have been more impressed if she had also included peer reviewed literature that is more recent than some of the dated books she lists. But the book is still full of useful and thoughtful tips for parents.

Now as parents who have a combined total of 2 Bachelor's degrees, 3 Masters degrees and 2 PhDs, there was not too much that was new for me in the book. I think most of what Burns recommends came naturally to Adam and I, especially since Adam is a published expert in the field of pedagogy. But for anyone who, as a parent, is unsure how to set your child up for academic success, this book will be extremely helpful and I definitely recommend it.

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

Monday, November 11, 2019

EFF This! Meditation: Book Review

Meditation is totally trendy right now.

Unfortunately, that's the problem. Though the relaxation technique is scientifically proven to have both physical and mental health benefits, for many people, it just feels like another 'thing' they believe they 'should' do.  Recently I have seen a lot of articles slamming the pressure women get to perform 'self-care', which really just makes them more anxious and self-critical when they fail to be able to make it happen.

Typically, we think of meditation as sitting in lotus position, with our eyes closed and not moving for an extended period of time, our minds blissfully free of any thoughts at all. Though this traditional form of Buddhist meditation works brilliantly for many people, for the rest of us, myself included, it's a no go.

I detailed here what happened to me a few years ago when I did an intensive mindfulness meditation course. It didn't work for me at all. I hated the meditation exercises and felt I got absolutely nothing from them except wasting time I would never get back. I have many counselling clients who have had the same experience.

Subsequently, I have learned that I get the same benefits some people get from traditional meditation, from reading, especially the reading I do each night before falling asleep, and from the exercise I do each morning. I even get similar benefits from humour (I am part of a private pun group on Facebook where we share puns that make everyone else - lacking a decent sense of humour - cringe). There is nothing more therapeutic than a laugh or giggle! Also, looking at videos of kittens on Instagram are just as helpful for me. Nothing soothes me more than a purring kitten!

I have shared with many of my clients that mindfulness/the benefits of meditation can come from all sorts of activities if, like me, they are not fans of traditional meditation.

Given my own experiences, I was immediately excited to review the book, EFF This! Meditation and suspected that author, Liza Kindred, and I are kindred spirits. Ha ha pun intended.

Surprisingly, Kindred is actually a Buddhist meditation teacher, but works in rather unconventional views and practices. I love her already! Check out her website and you will too!

This is a brief description of her approach:

Our specific focus is on meditation as a physical, felt experience. Many mindfulness practices begin and end in the head–observing how the mind works, opening our eyes and ears, focusing on the way our breath feels on our nose or lips. We expand this awareness to include the whole body–which also includes our energetic field and the way that our emotions are manifesting in our body. While our thoughts don’t always tell us the truth, our bodies always do.

In the book, Kindred explains that she believes most of us think we are broken and must find a way to fix ourselves when really, the problem is the world we currently live in. I could not agree more! Several years ago, Kindred developed a new style of meditation better suited to the reality of most people's lives.

The exercises in the book that are meant to promote wellness incorporate meditation, nature, movement, breaking, balancing creation with consumption, creating space and employing more mindful use of technology.

The book is divided into sections based on the time required for the exercises, which range from 1 minute to 1 hour plus, commitments.

Pouring over the pages, I realized I do many of the things Kindred suggests, or recommend the practices to my clients. It's everything from positive affirmations, breathing exercises, time spent in nature, to connecting with loved ones, using technology to nurture ourselves, enjoying music or a preferred artistic endeavor, to mindfully drinking a hot cup of tea or savouring a favorite dessert.

The book is very straightforward and approachable and appealing to even the biggest mindfulness skeptic.

Monday, November 4, 2019

15 Minute Healthier Cinnamon Rolls

This recipe came about to use up 'party sandwich' bread (flat and crustless) Little A made me buy her. I should have known she wouldn't eat much of it. This has happened before with this bread (and a million other things). She says she wants to make party sandwiches but then we get home and she remembers she hates egg salad, tuna salad, etc., she makes a regular sandwich using it, remembers it's not ideal for that because the fillings tend to fall out, and then she leaves the rest over.

Hence 15 minute cinnamon rolls.

Since I abhor throwing away food, I decided I had to find another use for them and this was a total winner. And it really takes just 15 minutes! You don't need to measure anything. We made them in the toaster oven so you don't even need a real oven to make them.

15 Minute Healthier Cinnamon Rolls

4 slices 100% whole wheat party sandwich bread
Butter or whatever facsimile you prefer
Golden granulated monk fruit or coconut sugar
Ground cinnamon

Spread bread with butter or whatever. Sprinkle liberally with sweetener and cinnamon and roll up tightly and pinching ends so they don't unroll. Cut each one in half or into 3 pieces and place in greased baking dish. Place in oven or toaster oven at 375F for about 7-10 minutes making sure they do not burn. Remove from oven.

Optional icing: Powdered erythritol (or powdered sugar), a few drops vanilla extract, water or milk. Drizzle over top.