Friday, January 17, 2014

Bookworm: Sarah's Key

 If you were to come to my house and look at my book shelves you would see that I don't tend to read books that are about serious topics, like WWII. On my own, I would have never read Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay but a good friend of mine recommended it to me. And boy am I glad she did.

Sarah's Key is a novel with two main characters, Sarah and Julia. Sarah is a 10 year old girl in 1942 living in Paris who is arrested with her family in the Vel d'Hiv roundup in Paris. Thinking that she would be home the next day from the arrest, Sarah locks her little brother in a hidden cupboard in her home telling him they will be back to free him soon. We then follow Sarah through the heartbreaking experiences of Vel d'Hiv, being separaed from her parents and then sent to concentration camps.

Julia on the other hand, is a woman living in Paris in 2002 who is told by her editor to write about the Vel d'Hiv round up as it is the 60th anniversary of the horrifying event. Taking the story with the seriousness and respect that it deserves, she investigates what actually happened and eventually learns of Sarah. She becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Sarah and ends up finding out that Sarah's story links up to hers.

As you can tell, this is a pretty heavy book. It took me the entire summer to read this book because I could only handle it in small doses. I found it subject matter so depressing and heart wrenching at times that I had to take breaks from it. That being said, the closer I got to the end of the book the more the story hooked me and I could read more of it in one sitting. You really start to feel the pain that both Sarah and Julia experience throughout the story because of Tatiana's impeccable writing. Whenever I was done reading the book for the day I would just go and hug Matt for as long as he would let me.

Would I recommend it to you? Yes, yes and yes. I had never heard of the Vel d'Hiv round ups and what happened to the Jewish children during WWII and although it is heart breaking, I feel that their story deserves to be heard. I feel like the best way to show respect to those men, women, boys and girls is to never forget what happened to them.

I always find books about our history fascinating. Have you read any similar to this? Would you recommend them? If so, leave a comment below, I'd love to read them.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Stress And How I Deal With It

Stress. Pretty much everyone experiences it at some point in their lives. But do you know what it actually is and how to deal with it?
During a stressful or challenging event our body activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is the fight or flight response. In your body, what is actually happening, is that different organs and glands are secreting hormones that are designed in some way to deal with the stressful event. The most well known hormone that is secreted to deal with stress is called cortisol. The purpose of cortisol in our system is to redistribute energy to the parts of our body that need it during a fight or flight response, ie muscles and brain. While doing this it also suppresses the immune system.
Chronic stress, which is just your body being under stress and having the appropriate responses for a long period of time, can cause serious health implications. It has been known to increase blood pressure, weaken the immune system, increase anxiety and depression, speed the aging process and cause fatigue, headaches, IBS and back pain. 

Obviously, no one wants to have to deal with any of these above symptoms, so how do we deal with stress effectively? The best way is to get out of the stressful situation or build coping mechanisms if you can't remove yourself from the situation. Which is usually easier said than done on both accounts. The following are some of the ways I have found I can reduce the symptoms of stress in my body and let go of anything I'm holding onto after a long day or week.
1. Exercise. I bet you knew I was going to say this. Tons and tons of people say that the best thing to do when they're under stress is to have a good work out. Break a sweat, maybe have a fitness instructor kick your butt in a bootcamp or spin class. When you exercise your body releases a hormone called endorphins. Simply put, endorphins reduce our body's perception of pain, similar to morphine or codeine. Therefore, these endorphins can reduce the side effects of stress in our body. Endorphins are also responsible for the "runner's high", the sense of euphoria we can experience after working out. And last but not least, endorphins help to improve our immune system.
2. Nature. I wasn't able to find any studies on this one so this is just coming from personal experience. After a particularly stressful week I find one of the best ways of making me feel better again is to spend time in nature. Go for a walk, sit at the beach, bike along the coast or even lay out in the sun. Although I do know that the negative ions found close to the ocean have a positive effect in our body, I'm not sure why just being in nature seems to help too. Sometimes it feels as though the fresh air clears my head or the pulse of the world around me reminds me that for the most part, my problems are small on the grand scheme of things. Interacting with other creatures (playing with pets, feeding ducks at the park or going to a zoo/petting zoo) always seems to bring a smile to my face too.
3. Laugh. Even though I feel like sometimes we take ourselves a little to seriously and it can be healthy and humbling to just laugh at ourselves, laughter is also good for us in other ways. Laughing actually signals to the body that in that particular moment, we are happy. Happiness can help to fight depression and anxiety which are prominent symptoms of stress. A good hearty laugh also helps to release tension in our body by relaxing our muscles, increases blood flow, boosts our immune system and actually decreases stress hormones in our body.
4. Deep breathing. I find this particularly helpful if I'm having a very stressful day. I'll take a few minutes to myself in a quiet space, close my eyes and just breath. When my mind, since it always does, starts to wander I refocus it back on my breath. It can be very helpful to count to 4 during your inhale, 5 during your exhale. Slowing your breath down helps to release tension in your body, refocus your mind and bring you back down to earth if you're like me and going a million miles a minute. Deep breathing or meditation helps to reduce negative emotions and stress, build self awareness and teaches us to focus on the present. 
What to do with all of this information? Take your family, friends, partner or even dog for a walk at a local park this weekend. Watch that great comedy movie people keep recommending. Or finally go to that fitness class with the instructor you think is scary. You'll probably find one of these methods works better for you than the others and that's ok. It's about figuring out what works best for you and adding it to your daily or weekly routine. 
What do you do to de-stress?

Sources used writing this post: 1, 2, 3

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Merry Mail Ornament Exchange

{This post is a little late but better late than never :)}

This year was the first year that I have actually been in the Christmasy spirit in at least the last 3 years. A few years ago I lost someone very close to me close to Christmas which has made this festive season hard to deal with since then. For some reason though, this year it felt like I was finally healed and I could enjoy the joy of Christmas. So much so, that I actually decorated our apartment in November!! Yes, crazy person here *waves*

I digress. It was this Christmasy spirit that had me sign up for the Merry Mail Ornament Exchange when I stumbled upon it on Amber's awesome blog And Yes to Joy. Pretty much, anyone who wanted to sign up got paired with other bloggers from around the world. We then had to make our own DIY Christmas ornaments and send them to each other. Talk about a fun and super festive way to spread the love!! I think this will become a regular thing for me if it happens again because I got to meet (virtually) 3 amazing women that are literally, all over the world.

The first ornament that showed up at my home was from Annabel over at Annabel and Alice. And let me tell you, this girl is a craft super hero. The ornaments she sent I immediately fell in love with. Could be because they were full of glitter or could be because she included some candy canes, not sure ;) Here are some photos of the ones she sent. Oh and PS, she's from Australia! How cool is that?!

Glitter glitter glitter!!!!!

These two were SO cute. I especially love the one on the left!

Which is why I had to feature it by itself!!
Annabel, these are absolutely beautiful and I can't wait to unpack them and put them on my Christmas tree for years to come :)

The second ornament to show up at my home was from Molly over at Sundrops and Rainflowers. When I opened this package I literally started tearing up. As you all know, I love yoga. And Molly made her ornament specific for my love of yoga. The below quote is from her blog talking about what she made:
I’ve always admired the benefits of yoga. I have fond memories of watching my mother do yoga poses on her mat in the morning light, doing her controlled breathing, trying her best not to let our cat crawl all over her and disrupt things.I attended a couple classes with my mom a few times once. At the end of the class, we followed the instructor’s lead by putting our hands together and repeating “namaste”. I love the peaceful and spiritual feeling the word gives me, so when I found this tutorial, I wanted to give it a try.
 This girl seriously did her homework and obviously put a lot of thought and love into what she made. The thing I think I like most about this ornament is that I can hang it in my home all year round!! Check it out:
Speechless :)
Molly, this is so beautiful. I can't put into words how much I love this ornament. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And last but not least, the final ornament was from Abby over at Little City Adventures. Abby, not knowingly, made me an ornament that reminds me of my second favorite part of Christmas, snow. I'm not sure how she did it but in person, this ornament looks like a snow storm inside a sphere. I'm assuming it was different kinds of paints or powders/textures, but whatever it is, it's brilliant. It even matched this Christmas since it was the first year in the last 5 years that Halifax had a white Christmas. It was even snowing Christmas morning!!!

It's hard to see the detail in photo but trust me, it's beautiful :)
Abby, thank you so much for this mini snow storm looking ornament. I have always found that snow has a magical element to it and now I can add that magic to my tree every year!!

As for what I sent to the girls..
Salt dough
 I don't think I'm the most crafty of persons. Especially when that craftyness involves baking too. I made a batch of these salt dough ornaments and only a handful of them turned out. So I painted them and bundled them up to go to Abby and Molly. Salt dough is pretty simple to make (go here for a tutorial) but I had the oven too hot (figured that out a few days later) and that's what made some of them come out poorly. If you try this out, make sure to follow the instructions directly!

Instead of trying again on another batch I decided I would make something different for Annabel. Her blog focuses on reviewing books. I found out that she (like myself) is a fan of Harry Potter and I had just saw a pin on pinterest showing how to make a quidditch snitch ornament. Obviously, I had to try making it myself.

The concern I had about the original design is that it is quite long and I figured it would be hard to ship at that length. So instead of having the wings spread like the one below (this one I made for myself afterwards) I had the wings folded in/back. If you're curious about that set up, check out the photo Annabel posted on her blog here.
If you try this one yourself and use glitter, try spraying the wings with hairspray to make sure it doesn't get glitter everywhere!
This was such an awesome experience and I'm so happy to have made some new friends in the blog-o-sphere. I can't wait to do it again next year!!

Did you make any crafts over the holidays?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bookworm: Orange Is The New Black

My all time fav place to curl up and read!! 
Like a lot of other books lately, Orange Is The New Black by Piper Kerman was turned into a TV show. This is how I was first introduced to the world of female prisons. After watching season one of the show (available on Netflix) I immediately went out to buy the book. Most readers say they hate it when a book is turned into a movie or a tv series. Me on the other hand? I love it (most of the time). It gives me another way of enjoying a story I like.

Orange Is The New Black is a memoir about a woman who lived a scandalous life in her early 20s and paid for it in her 30s. Piper was with a woman in her early 20s who happened to be a drug dealer. She didn't get too far into the world of drugs and money smuggling but she did smuggle money cross border one time. It was this incident that put her in jail years later. This book focuses on the events that lead her to her stint in prison and what she actually experienced in prison. Although I imagine the prison system is different in Canada, there are probably some close similarities. It's because of that, I found her prison life to be so interesting. Most of the media that has focused on people in prison has been about the experience that men go through, not women.

If I could go back in time I think I would have read the book before watching the TV show. Although the book was good, the TV show outshines it due to the changes they made from the original story.

I have heard that the second season will be coming out this year and I do plan on watching it, even though I'm sure at this point it will be nothing like the book. If you haven't seen the TV show, GO READ THE BOOK FIRST!! And then come back here and let me know what you thought :)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Benefits of Drinking Lemon Water

Did you know that the very first thing you eat or drink in the morning can make a huge impact on your digestive system for the rest of the day?

When we sleep during the evening our body goes into a fasting state. Once we wake up it is essential that we eat or drink something high in vitamins that will jump start our digestive system. The ideal substance is actually a warm glass of lemon water. It's super simple but has major benefits.

Isn't this nesting teapot and cup the cutest ever?! 'Twas a Christmas present from the hubby :)

1. Hydration - A glass of warm lemon water is full of vitamins that aid in hydration. When our bodies are dehydrated we can feel tired or sluggish, experience constipation, lack of energy and high/low blood pressure, and it decreases our immune system just to name a few side effects.

2. Morning detox - Lemon juice is a diuretic so it helps to flush unwanted toxins out of our system. When you drink it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach it pretty much goes through and cleans your digestive system for you. Lemon juice is high in citric acid which actually helps stimulate enzyme function in the body and will in turn stimulate your liver which also helps with detoxification.

3.  Energy - Warm lemon water is nature's energy drink. Lemon juice is full of negatively charged ions and when these ions react with the positively charged ions in your digestive tract it provides a boost of energy.

4. Immunity boost - The vitamin C found in lemon juice aids in healing wounds, and is an anti-inflammatory, helping to maintain your bones, cartilage and connective tissues. Vitamin C also aids in the absorption of iron in our body which has an important role in immune function. Lemon juice is high in potassium as well which helps stimulate brain function, nerve function and control blood pressure. And to top it all off, lemon juice is known for reducing phlegm production in the body.

So, how do you make this magical elixir you ask? Easy! Just squeeze the juice from half a lemon in a glass of warm water (or cold if you can't stand warm water) and drink the whole glass about 30 minutes prior to eating breakfast. If you want to add an extra detox punch just shake in a little cayenne pepper. That's it! Something I sometimes do later in the day is drink another glass using the other half of the lemon. I find it helps to fight the afternoon slumps.

Try it out! Let me know what you think in the comments section below :)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Reflection: 30 Days of Yoga + Your Tea

Back in November I took on a 30 day challenge. For the entire month I aimed to practice yoga every day and drink a cup of Your Tea's Tiny Tea Teatox before every meal. Although life happens and I wasn't 100% consistent, I do still have some thoughts to share about both of these activities.

30 Days of Yoga

As I mentioned in the original post, I did my 30 days of yoga with a local studio, Shanti Hot Yoga. This studio has pretty much felt like a second family over the years. Everyone is so friendly there, including other students. I have a tendency to find a teacher I like and always try to go to their classes. But that is nearly impossible to do when you are practicing every single day. So this challenge got me exposed to different teachers and some of whom I have fallen in love with their teaching style and now move my schedule around to go to their classes.

As for what I learned this month, the overall theme seemed to be ahimsa. Ahimsa is the practice of non-injury or non-harm to yourself and to everyone around you. I tend to let my ego get the best of me during my yoga practice but this month I really had to back down a bit due to an injury. I have yet to get an official diagnosis but my right wrist has been bothering me immensely. Therefore, for the first two weeks of November I didn't do anything that would strain my wrist too much. This included poses like chaturanga from my toes, arm balances, side plank (modified to my forearm) and handstand.

Practicing ahimsa every day in my yoga practice has probably been the best way for me to release my ego. When you listen to your body while practicing yoga you let go of all preconceptions, all competitive tendencies and just do what feels good for you because it feels good in your body. And at the end of the day, that is all that matters.

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Tiny Teatox

This was the first cleanse I have tried from Your Tea and it will not be the last.

I have always been hesitant about trends in the dieting world. Things like green coffee bean pills and the atkins diet. I have always felt there is no substitute for hard work and a smart eating plan. I have also felt like more traditional style medicines like chinese herbal medicine and naturopathic practices are the way to go. When I heard about this tea using chinese herbal medicine to help your body, it really peaked my curiosity. I would love love love to take a course in chinese herbal medicine because for me, it goes back to using the earth to heal our body.

After reading some reviews, ingredient lists and finding out that there are no laxatives in Your Tea, unlike many "diet teas", I decided to give it a go. It did take me a while to get used to the taste but now it doesn't bother me at all. The hardest part for me about drinking this tea before eating a meal was the timing. I work full time during the day and don't always get the opportunity to go get my tea an hour before my lunch hour (I have to let it cool for half an hour before drinking it). Therefore, there were times throughout the month that I may have missed the tea with a particular meal or I didn't drink it at the recommended time (half hour before).

That being said, I did feel amazing after the first couple of days. The first couple of days your body is going through a pretty extreme detox, getting rid of nastyness in your body. Because of that people have gotten headaches, body aches and acne during the first week. My initial reaction wasn't too negative, just a bit of a sore head and more acne than the norm. But it did clear up after the first 4-5 days. And after that I felt like I was floating for the rest of the month! The biggest benefit I experienced was pretty much no more bloating or gas at the end of the day. Like none at all! I didn't see a ton of weight loss (I don't own a scale so this is based on how my clothes fit) but boy did I feel better. My abdomen felt a little tighter than normal too.

The only thing I don't like about this tea is that it isn't cheap. With shipping it cost me almost $70 for 28 days worth of tea (3 cups/day). They say on the website that you could do back to back cleanses but my wallet just can't swing that. I think I will try to do it 3-4 times a year. Sort of as a digestive reboot. I might even try some of the other teas too. They have a couple that look interesting.

All in all, it was a great month! I learned a lot about myself and have made some positive changes in my life since then because of what I learned.

If you are interested in learning more about Shanti Hot Yoga or about Your Tea teatox please check out their websites HERE and HERE respectively.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Habits + January Desktop Calendar

I can't believe it's 2014 already. It feels like just yesterday I was cranky because I had to dig out my winter coat. And now it's a brand new year! Damn...

For the past few days I have been thinking about the whole New Year's resolution thing and I have decided to do things differently this year. Instead of making a couple of big resolutions that become difficult to maintain for the entire year, I've decided to break up my resolutions by month. On the first day of each month I will have a new resolution or goal that I want to focus on. That way as the seasons change and as life happens, I can refocus myself in the direction of what is important to me.

Think it's a good idea? I just hope it works!

Taken at the Bluff Wilderness Trail
 For January I have a couple of resolutions for myself. First off, I need to get back into a regular workout routine. I have been avoiding yoga for the last month as I've been experiencing pain in my wrist. Honestly, I've been using that and the busyness of Christmas as an excuse not to be physically active. So, for this month I am aiming to work out at least 3 times a week. Either doing yoga, working out at home or at the gym in my office. Doesn't matter which, as long as I do it 3 times a week.

Secondly, I want to eat out only once a week. Matt and I want to be more smart with our money and one of our biggest downfalls is eating out. Therefore, I will be making meal plans, going for groceries and budgeting myself to one meal out a week (under $20).

Last but not least, I am vamping up this blog. I have created a schedule for myself to stick to for this month so that I post at least 3 times per week. I obviously can post more than that but I want to hold myself to something consistent. The blogs I enjoy reading the most are the ones that reliably post frequently. Therefore, I will be holding myself to those standards as well.

What are your resolutions for 2014/January?