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Meditation – A Beginner How-To Guide

Meditation – A Beginner How-To Guide

One of the biggest trends out there right now is meditation and mindfulness!

These words get thrown around like confetti, and you may wonder what the big deal is. Perhaps you want to try meditation but don’t know where to start!

“Did I do the laundry?” “Are those papers filled out at work?” “I wonder what he’s doing right

now…”

These thoughts are totally normal and happen to everyone!

A common misconception about meditation is that it must be free of thought and done in silence, in a so-called comfortable seated position.

For many people, the seated position just isn’t comfortable-and I speak from experience! When I

first started meditating my back would throb as I forced myself to sit with proper posture and

attempt to quiet my mind.

I always left my meditation sessions feeling frustrated, like a failure, and nowhere near calmer!

So, what changed? My perspective. As a yoga teacher, meditation and mindfulness coach, I have learned and tried many ways of meditating!

What I have learned is that it is a different process for every single person. You may need to do a workout before being able to meditate as you have a lot of energy moving in your body. You may need to lie down comfortably and have silence, only listening to the sound of your breathing. You may even need to listen to a repetitive mantra and sit in a chair…

The HOW TO of meditation is really HOW TO relax your body, mind and soul-and this all depends on what works best for YOU.

Thoughts are going to come through the mind because humans are designed to think!

A thoughtless mind is not a human mind…therefore, when in meditation, one practices the witnessing of thoughts. This means that you allow the thoughts to come in, witness them, and release them with no attachment.

For instance, “I can’t believe I forgot to bring that container today” could be looked at with nonjudgement, a smile and an invitation to bring the focus back on your breath.

The goal of meditation is to pause the stream of thought and continually bring awareness back to the present moment. Focusing on the breath or a sound can help you come back to the moment of NOW.

There are many other meditation techniques and tricks that you can learn by participating in yoga classes, exercise regiments and even dancing! The mindfulness that you bring to any focused activity is the same mindfulness that you bring to your meditation!

Here’s an exercise you can try today for your own simple 5 minute meditation

Body Scan Meditation

Sit, lie down, stand, curl up, whatever feels best!

Begin to focus on your breath and notice the inhale and exhale flowing through the body. As you focus on your breath, start to notice your feet, beginning with each toe. Then travel up the leg, noticing how that feels, and continuing up through your stomach, back, arms, hands…and finally coming to your chest and head, making sure to relax all your neck and facial muscles as you breathe.

Allowing yourself the space to notice any thoughts that come through and simply watch them continue on, focusing back on your body and the parts that you are bringing awareness to.

Don’t feel bad if you fall asleep…that means you did something right!

 

Cream of pumpkin soup perfect for autumn

Cream of pumpkin soup is an easy and great soup all year round, but is especially a nice and warm addition now that we’re in the colder months. Pumpkin soup is a crowd pleaser which is filled with beneficial vitamins and minerals,that helps to improve skin, hair, prevents heart disease and helps to maintain healthy vision.

Ingredients

1tsp Salt

1tsp Black Pepper

1tsp of Crushed Garlic

2 Tablespoons of Margarine/ 2 pats of Butter

1 1/2 lb. Pumpkin

1 Large onion

2 Ribs of Celery

3 cups of vegetable stock

½ cup of milk or cream

Instructions

Cube the pumpkin and place in a bowl. Dice the remaining vegetables. Add margarine and the garlic to the pot, and Sautee for a minute. Then add the pumpkin and other vegetables and continue to Sautee. Next add vegetable stock to the pot and let soup boil for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it cool. Add the soup to the blender and blend until smooth. Return soup to the pot and stir in the milk. Reheat for 5 minutes. Serve.

Bonus:

I love making my own vegetable stock and it’s so simple, I added it to this recipe!

Homemade Vegetable Stock

4 cups of Water

1tablespoon of Butter

1 Celery Rib

1 small onion

1 tablespoon of salt

1 tablespoon of pepper

1 Bay Leaf

Instructions

Dice celery and onion then add them to the pot with remaining ingredients. Let the contents simmer for 20 mins. Remove the Bay leaf and then the contents can be added to a soup.

 

 

 

Am I missing the bride gene?

 I’m getting married. It feels strange to be engaged. Don’t get me wrong, I love my fiancé and am over the moon that he put a ring on my finger. I just never thought this time would arrive for me. When growing up friends would share excitedly about what kind of wedding they wanted and the style of dress they liked best — but when asked, I would shrug my shoulders and simply say, “Hadn’t really thought about it.”

What I have always known is that one day I would like to marry my best friend and build a life with him. I thought when the time came, it would be like that wedding planning bug that seemingly every one of my friends had, would come out of its dormant state in me.  It’s not the case.  I’m excited for the day I put on my wedding dress, but I’ve always had the mindset that it’s just ONE day and it’s the adventure that follows which I’m most excited about.  I also hate being the centre of attention, so, of course, I am not one who has ever wanted a massive traditional wedding.

From day 1, Cody and I both admitted we wanted a stress-free, fun, destination wedding with our nearest and dearest. I’m an unconventional girl and despite the expectation to plan a massive wedding at a ornate church and a reception at a lavish ballroom, it’s just not my style. I woke up at 5 am for coverage of the Royal Wedding and loved every moment, but fascinators and Cinderella carriage rides, just aren’t me.

I have to admit it’s enjoyable witnessing my mother’s excitement since I told her Cody and I are engaged. She has waited decades for this time to arrive and as soon as I announced the engagement, she began busily planning as if it is her own wedding on the horizon. She set us up with a destination wedding coordinator, took me to find the perfect dress (which I did. it’s straight off the rack, without a need for alterations. Thank goodness. I hate extra spending on alterations.) and spread the word like wildfire to friends and family, all within 48 hours of the ring being on my finger.

Mom clearly has the wedding planning bug. Why is it missing in me? I can’t pretend to feel it when I don’t. I wear my feelings on my sleeve and my opinions on my face, so feigning excitement is not something I can do. Whenever I worry that my interest in wedding planning isn’t what it should be, I realize that my excitement triples when I think about the future Cody and I have planned after the wedding.  I think all too often we put too much emphasis on the immediate. On the one day , the one dress and the first dance. I understand that maybe I’m a bit different in many ways, but I’m not strange or missing the bride gene. I’m just looking with more excitement at the journey and the future.

Reflection: A birthday abroad

Earlier this spring, I turned 27 and for the first time in my life, I celebrated my birthday outside of Canada’s borders and thousands of kilometres away from the place I call home. My birthday came just weeks after I left Toronto to pursue a year of working and travelling in South America.

They say when it comes to birthdays, there are two types of people: those who love it and those who hate it. I’m the latter. Not dissimilar to New Year’s, birthdays, I feel, are a time for reflection and goal setting. A marker of another year past and a new age just starting, birthdays can be anxiety filled and stressful. For some, it’s a dreaded time of year when worries about getting old are at their strongest. Aging, for me, is not of a particular concern. Rather, I’m faced with asking myself the tough questions. Am I where I want to be in life at this moment? Did I make the most of the year that just passed? Is there anything I’d like to change going forward? Am I wiser or just older now? As the questions continue to pop into my mind, it’s no wonder that my anxiety levels rise.

This year though, that changed. Having set foot in Colombia in the last days of February with a teeny wardrobe squeezed into a pack and an even smaller Spanish vocabulary, I set out to live my day-to-day quite differently. Turning up in a new country where little was familiar, I set a precedent to go with the flow as much as possible because, well, given the circumstances, there just didn’t seem to be another option. Plus, having put myself far outside of my comfort zone, little seemed in my control. Worrying wasn’t going to change that. As such, when my birthday neared, I learned to give up my panic routine. I ended up booking a stay in a hostel high in the mountains an hour outside of the city where strong rays of sunshine made for the perfect day of poolside lounging next to a yard of mango trees and avocados.  

There were some things I learned during that weekend when I finally learned to just chill out and take things as they come. Below, are just a few.

Expectation management is key.

Manage expectations and everything becomes easier. In years past, my birthday bash often had to be just so. I needed every one of my friends to show up and have a great time. I wanted a new outfit and freshly done hair. The night couldn’t end too early and oftentimes, my party had at least two locations. This year though, I couldn’t have any of that. I was without my cluster of friends for one, and secondly, I wasn’t even familiar with my new home. So, I booked the mini getaway determined to have fun during my lowest key birthday yet. I went with one close friend and fussed about none of the details. We enjoyed wine, homemade tacos and a tuk-tuk ride up the mountain. I had a great time. I guess simple is better and giving up control makes for a more enjoyable experience.

Sometimes, you just can’t plan for all the details.

I went with the flow and enjoyed a low-key weekend in a tranquil spot and met a lovely group of people also exploring the area. I chose not to fuss over every single detail and things turned out for the best. You can’t plan every single thing to a tee so it’s best not to try and just enjoy things as they happen. That goes for things like a birthday party but it also applies to travel, work or entering a new phase in life.

You heard it before… don’t take yourself too seriously.

I’m not the best Spanish speaker or salsa dancer but on the night when I turned 27, I did both. I joined the party going on a the pool soon after midnight again, determined just to have a good time and be in the moment. I doubt anyone noticed my amateur dance steps and as for the Spanish, I managed to get my points across through broken phrases. Others were encouraging, not judgmental and it was certainly better than hanging back and being a wallflower all night. I didn’t take myself seriously and it was for the best. Duly noted for my year of travels ahead…

Worrying just makes the problem bigger.

As mentioned, with so much out of my control this year, I just gave up the stressing altogether. I did myself a major favour. Instead of entertaining that birag of self-reflection questions, I opted not to bother. In doing so, the pressure came off and I had a surprisingly awesome time. The lead-up to my birthday was a much less stressful event than it had been in years past. I realized that worrying is a problem in and of itself and I had the power to quash that all along.  

On not being a mother

“Do you have any kids?” The question was barked at me one summer a few years ago. I was at a busy city intersection when I was trying to rush from one job to another and was blocked by a woman ostensibly handing out fast food coupons. It was a pretty insensitive and a loaded thing to ask a stranger. The streetlight couldn’t change fast enough.

“Well, I feel sorry for you,” she finally literally sneered at me.

Um, what?

From mothers vocalizing regret about having children, to articles scolding women and warning them that their life will be empty and lonely if they don’t embrace parenthood, there is a lot of focus on motherhood and those who opt out.

This past Mother’s Day a meme circulated with a message I found very touching, unexpected, and meaningful. Under cartoon bouquets of flowers there were captions describing different aspects of motherhood, and one bouquet was dedicated to women who have chosen not to be mothers.

I have never wanted children. Like at all. Not ever with absolute certainty. In my 30s I questioned this for the first time. It was the sudden loud and very real biological clock that started ticking when I met my niece Grace that caused the questioning to start.

I watched awed as she examined her tiny little feet and hands. I felt fulfilled and needed in a way I’ve never felt before when I gently patted her little back, helping her to burp.

I was suddenly putting myself through agony trying to get my life ready, trying to figure out if parenthood was something I truly wanted.

I was happy babysitting my niece. I’m happy being an aunt to my other nieces and nephews. Grace was born at a difficult time in my life and being happy about her birth didn’t have to translate into me being a mother.

People are well-meaning. They ask me to picture how sad my life will be in the future without children to visit me when I’m old.  They remind me it’s a life altering experience, and that  I’m missing out on so much, that I can’t even imagine what I’m giving up. They remind me gently that it’s not too late.

There is still time for me, technically, but the window is rapidly closing.

I don’t want to have to second guess a decision that I and my partner finally made together. If we ever change our minds in the future, there’s always adoption, or foster parenting.

Privately or publicly it seems women are expected to justify their decisions for not having children.

Am I doomed to be an incomplete person?  Am I selfish? Am I letting down the human race in some way?

I don’t think so.

Some people just know they want children. Maybe they’ve always known, but can’t explain why, and no one must expect them to. So likewise, no one must expect women who don’t want children to explain themselves either.

 

 

 

 

Sidewalk Labs to improve Toronto living

Toronto is a great city and I am happy to have called it my home for over a decade. But there are flaws that have me thinking about moving to the suburbs and even to the Hamilton region. Mainly this has to do with the astronomical cost of living , and the unavoidable congestion on roadways and delays experienced on transit.  But even a move to the suburbs would mean a more expensive and time-consuming commute to central Toronto for work.

I dwell on the thought of moving for a moment, and I remind myself why I love Toronto so much- the culture, the activity and the people.

Organizations are stepping in to attempt to better our great city. Sidewalk Labs is a Google-affiliated high-tech company, which is pushing to develop a technological hub on Queen’s Quay. The Manhattan-based firm that specializes in urban innovation, seeks to use its technology to include sensors that will collect and analyze data. This will then be used to  assist with solving problems in Toronto — such as high housing costs, road safety and safety of citizens as well as other issues that go along with urban living.

This all sounds beneficial, but worries have arisen over how the data collected will be used. On the heels of the Cambridge Analytica case, which saw a privacy breach on 600,000 Canadians and over 80 million Facebook users, this is a growing concern. Questions as to whether the U.S. government will have access to private data were also posed.

Sidewalk Labs won a Waterfront Toronto contest last October to develop a live-and-work neighbourhood on 12 acres of land that stretches from Queens Quay to Parliament Street. The firm released a “summery report” on Wednesday.

In the report, residents said their wish is for any data collected to be “transparent and consensual.”

If the Sidewalk Toronto project is fully approved, it will be partially paid for by Canadian taxpayers through a public-private partnership. Any councillors who know insider details about the project have signed a non-disclosure agreement.

The pitch made by Sidewalk Labs last fall was quite attractive- proposing the neighbourhood would serve as “a hub for innovation-related companies and entrepreneurs,” while offering residents more opportunities to “live, work, learn and play.”

While some developers are concerned the benefits that may result if the plan is executed in a transparent  and effective way could be massive for the city.

Introvert by nature, ambivert by experience

As a child I was painfully shy. All through elementary school it was clear as day that I was an introvert. My teachers would call on me to respond and I would squeak out an answer at times. But once in a while, I would be so caught off guard by being put on the spot that I would just sit in silence, growing redder and redder in hopes she or he would move along to another student and all eyes would be shifted to a new focus.

As I’ve matured, the introverted nature is still a part of me, but I have learned to be more charismatic and prepared to be put on the spot. I’m now working in a field that involves a mix of working quietly on my keyboard at a distance from the world around me, and one of schmoozing at events, interviewing notable figures and overseeing the work of other writers.

We live in a world of the extrovert, always impacted most by those who are happy to shine in the spotlight. It seems that to succeed in the world of business and entrepreneurship, the introvert has to adapt.

 What I’ve learned is that personalities can complement each other.  People can flourish in any situation when they embrace who they are innately and determine their passions. Spending time alongside others often causes those with opposing personality types to naturally adapt and bring their own strengths to the table. What is now clear to me is that all have value and a bit of extro/intovert in them because of connections they make and through experience.  Just as I have been coaxed to be more extroverted, I’m sure extroverts are inspired to observe and step out of the spotlight because of their own personal and professional experiences.

My lovely co-worker and I were both chatting about our innate introverted natures and she shared that there is now a new term for those of us who are forced daily to put on the extroverted appearance.  Behold, today I am an ambivert.

 

 

 

My house was sucking my money down the drain; here’s what I did

I’m a saver. I only spend money on things that are necessary. When my husband and I became first-time homeowners, I was shocked at how much money it took to keep my home functional and comfortable. We were spending way more than I wanted to, but it was necessary. The money spent on electric bills went to powering our home. We had to pay the gas bill to avoid freezing during the winter. It felt like our house was sucking every penny out of our budget. To avoid breaking the bank, we started doing a few simple things around the house to save some money.

Turn off the A/C

I like to keep my home at comfortable temperatures, especially during the summer. I can’t stand the feeling of a hot, stuffy house. But the cost of cooling our house was getting out of control. I hated seeing money fly out the window every time we turned on the central air. But there are plenty of ways to combat energy loss during the summer, other than roasting in a hot home. First, I bought some heavy drapes to keep out the sun and turned the A/C way down at night. We found that once the temps get low enough, the thick drapes helped block the sun from making it too hot during the day. We also started using our ceiling fan a lot more when we were home. These simple tricks helped to keep our electric bill at a price that wasn’t breaking our budget.

It’s all about insulation

When we first bought our house, the insulation wasn’t that great. We could feel cold air seeping through the windows and doors during the frigid winter months. We were turning up the heater way more than we should, which drove up our gas bill. After doing some research, we found a few, easy ways to insulate our house. Spraying some insulation in the attic; adding weather strips to the windows; and replacing the older, weather-beaten front and back doors with newer ones helped to keep the house better insulated. Remember the heavy drapes I bought over the summer? It turns out they’re great for winter too. On the coldest of days, we would close them, throw on a sweater and some woolly socks, and become totally warm. We rarely found ourselves turning the heater up past 60, which dramatically reduced our gas bill during the winter months.

Install CFL and LED lights wherever it makes sense

If you’re still using incandescent bulbs, you need to stop. They’re expensive, don’t last long, and use six times more energy than an LED light. I made the switch to LED lights as soon as we moved into our new home, almost three years ago. To this day, we haven’t had to replace a single bulb. And we’re using a lot less energy than we did in our previous apartment where all we used was incandescent lights. Replacing a few bulbs in our house was fast,  easy, and helped us to keep our electricity costs down.

Doing these few, simple things around our house helped us to save so much money on our gas and electric bills. But it didn’t stop there. Once I discovered how much money we were saving, I wanted to find even more energy-saving hacks. Here are a few of my personal favorites.

  • Turn off all lights when you leave a room; also, take advantage of the natural light whenever you can.
  • Invest in power strips and turn them off when you’re not watching  TV, using the computer, or playing gaming consoles.
  • Perform a weekly maintenance check on your appliances; make sure they are clean and working properly.
  • De-clutter every room. We actually made some fast cash by selling all the stuff we didn’t need—plus it made my house feel so much cleaner.
  • Making more crockpot meals helped us to save time and money, since most meals involve three ingredients and almost no prep time. Plus, they’re delicious and make me seem like an even more talented chef than I am.

What are some ways that you’ve saved money on your home? Let us know in the comments below.

 

       

 

Disconnected: What I learned from 24 hours without my smartphone

How often do you find yourself scrolling through your news feeds instead of observing the world around you? It’s a common scenario, you walk into a room and everyone is looking at their phones, so you get yours out as well. There is time to kill so why not take care of a few emails, catch up with family and friends, or simply keep yourself entertained while waiting for whatever it is you are waiting for. Smart phones give us the freedom to take care of business and socialize (digitally at least) wherever we are.

It has the guise of multi-tasking, however I’ve recently realized what it really is: habit. A habit that keeps us attached to our phones, and just might be causing us more stress than it takes away.

The other day my phone stopped working. It didn’t completely black out, but I couldn’t view any news feeds, it wouldn’t let me read my emails, and the screen saver kept flashing on and off. It was no longer useable.

I remember the panic creeping up; this is how I communicate with clients, my kids’ teachers, it is the device I use to do a significant amount of my work. Luckily, my photos, files and contacts are all backed up so that wasn’t an issue. But being disconnected was. There was a fear of being needed, notifications piling up and not being able to respond.

And there it was. The fear of missing out.

Isn’t that why so many of us are guilty of checking our phones as often as we do? It is the reason our phones are kept within reach; so that we are ready to take photos of the kids, respond to work emails, get in on the group chat, and keep on top of appointments, school reminders, and family schedules as they are happening.

While we are busy doing all these things, it is easy to lose track of the world around us.

I was stressed without my phone, particularly with regards to work (there also happened to be a power outage that day so I didn’t have my computer either). I was trying everything I could to get my phone to function just enough to ease my mind. Were there any new emails or missed phone calls? Those were my main priorities.

Later that evening, once the power was restored and I was able to get on the computer, I realized I hadn’t missed anything urgent. There were emails and notifications, but nothing that would cost me work or that couldn’t be dealt with later.

The realization hit hard. I spent the entire day stressing over a situation I had no control over, and honestly didn’t really matter. I could have enjoyed time playing board games, doing puzzles and reading with the kids. Instead, I was frantically trying to fix a phone. That was my focus.

Admittedly, I spend too much time on my phone, I think most of us probably do. But the twenty-four hours I spent without one provided a necessary reminder; that it’s important to disconnect every so often and allow yourself to be one-hundred percent present in the moment.

Capturing strength, confidence and beauty: Why every woman deserves to step in front of the camera

Taking photographs has become a customary part of daily life – from selfies to photos of the kids, day trips and vacations, interesting architecture, fancy meals, the list goes on. But how often do we go back and look at these through our phone, computer or social media channels? How many photos of ourselves do we print off and place on display?

My family has a photo shoot done every couple of years where we have family portraits done as well as various staged and candid shots of the kids, the pup, and my husband and I together. These photos are always printed and put out on display, then dated and put away in an album when the new ones are ready to be framed.

We have fun as a family doing these shoots, coming up with ideas and spending time together. These photos reflect where we are in life, our interests and show how we are growing.

I have thousands of photos of my family on my phone and computer, they aren’t organized in folders; there are hundreds of duplicates to sort through, some are complete duds, and only a handful include me or my husband.

That is why we have a photographer – so we can be with our children in photos that we love and are proud to display around our home.

It was these family photos that led me to a personal photo shoot. This isn’t an idea I would have come up with on my own, however the opportunity arose to have my hair and makeup done, wardrobe styled and photos taken. I jumped at the chance.

I’ll admit, at first I felt a little awkward about getting dressed up and being in front of the camera. After all, there was no special occasion and no exact purpose for these photos. But, my goodness, it was a breath of fresh air. As a mother I have no issue setting up elaborate newborn shoots and cake smashes, arranging portraits of our children to hang on the wall. The kids get all the glory, and you know what? I deserve a bit of the same.

Participating in this photo shoot was lively, fun, and honestly, empowering. I felt beautiful, confident and successful as the photos were being taken. Those feelings stayed with me for days afterwards, and came back even stronger when I received the images.

That shoot was a wonderful reminder of who I was prior to becoming a mother, and who I could still be outside of motherhood, my career, and other responsibilities.

Every woman deserves to feel the way I felt and continue to feel whenever I look at those photos. It isn’t just about the cosmetic or outward beauty that is captured. With the right photographer your personality shines through; you will see strength, perseverance, confidence, and the beauty within.

These photos can extend to your professional life as well, be it on your LinkedIn profile, business website or blog. Having quality pictures that reflect who you are and what you do will set you apart. They show that you’ve invested in yourself and that others should too.

When hiring a photographer their price and portfolio are often the main considerations. However, if you don’t jive with the photographer, the photos will reflect that. You want to work with someone you feel comfortable with and can even be vulnerable with. Ensure they are good with kids and pets if they will be in the photos as well.

Have a plan in place for what you want to accomplish, and ask if they can honestly offer what you are looking for. Are they available to come to your home? Can you have multiple set-ups? What kind of packages can they offer?

With any profession there are varying degrees of experience and price points. This is not something that should break the bank, however it isn’t something to skimp on either. Once you decide how much you want to spend, take time to speak with different photographers and get an idea of who will be the best fit.

Finding a photographer and having professional photos taken of yourself and your family is worth the investment. Even if you only do it once, you have the images forever.