Okay, so I didn’t actually bike to work today…

Bike to WorkThough I have not ridden since high school, this spring I decided to do some research and get myself a bike.  The good folks at Bay Cycle and Sports in Ajax did all the heavy lifting for me (literally and figuratively) and I am now the proud owner of a brand new bike.  I could not be more excited to get some exercise while enjoying the sun and cannot wait to start exploring the city’s bike paths.  I can even bike along the Waterfront Trails that trace the edge of Lake Ontario!

Today is Bike to Work Day in Toronto, kicking off Bike Month 2013.  Though several of my colleagues bike to work regularly, I haven’t yet gotten up the courage to do so.  I did however spend some time getting to know the bike maps in Toronto, and the wealth of resources available to Toronto cyclists.  Okay, so maybe I didn’t actually bike to work today, but I’m working towards it!

One of the most exciting resources I found was I Bike TO, which features a Google Map type search engine which allows you to type “where from” and “where to” to find yourself a bike route.  (Side note: I mapped out my proposed route to work and it will apparently take me 45-59 minutes!)  Quite a handy tool for a cycling novice like myself.  There’s also tons of info on incorporating cycling into your daily commute using the city’s transit systems on Bikes and Transit.  I especially love the bike lockers I have seen appearing at Go Train Stations!

The city really is making an effort to go green and get people cycling and I for one am excited!  Now only if I could talk myself out of my fear of arriving to work sweaty after a lengthy bike ride…

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Lip Colour Love

Sephora Lip StainI have recently become a lip colour fiend.  I used to just go with a clear gloss, but when the rest of my face is totally put together (read: foundation, blush, eyeliner, mascara) my lips just started to feel naked.  I have long since been a fan of the red lip but have never felt bold enough to wear it myself.  Recently a friend remarked, “You have dark hair and olive skin, if you can’t wear a red lip then who can?”  So I decided to be bold and just go for it one day, and haven’t looked back.

I embarked on a quest for an easy and foolproof red lip because after all, I am a newbie.  I am happy to report I have some across two excellent products, Sephora Cream Lip Stain and Revlon Colour Stay Ultimate Suede Lipstick.  The Sephora lip stain has vibrant colour that lasts for hours even through eating.  It doesn’t smudge and you don’t even need a lip liner!  You can read my full review here.  The Revlon one provides the satisfaction one would expect from a drugstore brand.  The colour is slightly more sheer than I had expected but it lasts all day.  My only problem with this lipstick is that it is slightly drying and does not always go on smooth, depending on what you have on your lips before you put it on (i.e. chapstick for example).  It really does wear better and stay on longer if you apply it directly to your lips.

The colour I always crave for summer is coral, so this year I am going to try out the coral lip.  The product I am currently coveting is Becca Ultimate Matte Lip Colour in Aurora.  I can’t wait to sport the pretty coral shade in the hot summer months!

I Hate Avocadoes: Avocado and Tuna Salad

Have you ever had a food that you have willed yourself to love?  You know, something you really wanted to like but didn’t  so you hate it until you finally loved it?  No?  It is just me?  I did it with shrimp (the texture is SO weird, it’s what I would imagine biting an ear would feel like) and now I love them.  As a new vegetarian I have two new items on my ‘I-will-love-them-one-day’ list: avocados and chickpeas.  I can’t stand either.  Hummus? Yuck.  But chickpeas are such a lovely source of protein for vegetarians, and there is no denying the health benefits of good-fat-filled avocados.  Thus, I must love them both.

While I might not be a fan of hummus, I am a huge fan of another dip: guacamole.  I decided to mimic traditional guac flavours in my salad to make it more appealing for my palette.  I chopped the avocados and tossed them with some fresh lime juice, sea salt and coriander before adding the rest of the salad ingredients.  Win!

Generally my formula for a good dinner salad is protein + variety of colour and texture + matching flavours.  I matched flavours in this salad using guacamole ingredients to match the avocados  and celery to match the tuna*.  I ensured a variety of colour by using peppers and carrots in addition to my greens, and variety of texture was achieved with pecans (crunch) and cubes of cheddar cheese (softness).  I dressed the whole thing in Italian dressing, but those truly health conscious folks among us might make do with a little olive oil in addition to that lime juice.  Whatever you choose, you are sure to have a hearty and protein rich salad.  Here is my recipe:

2 avocados

1 each, red and yellow peppers

1 tomato

2 carrots

2 stalks celery

1 can flaked tuna

½ cup chickpeas

1 small handful coriander (cilantro)

½ cup pecan halves

1 lime, juiced

Sea salt, to taste

Italian Dressing, to taste

Chop the avocados and coriander, placing in a large bowl.  Juice the lime, sprinkling the juice and sea salt over the avocadoes; toss.  Continue to chop the remainder of the ingredients, placing them in the bowl.  Add the flaked tuna, chickpeas and pecans.  Top with dressing of your choice, toss.  Enjoy!

*Yes, my salad does include tuna.  Technically I am a pescatarian which means that I do not eat any animals or animal products, with the exception of fish.  Many view being a pescatarian as a stepping stone to being truly vegetarian but for me it is just a personal choice.

You Can Break Any Rules You Want

Last night I went to an art class at the Art Gallery of Ontario with a couple teacher friends.  We wanted to get ideas for teaching art, and how to infuse art into our classrooms. It is a five-week course and I am so excited!

We started yesterday with printmaking.  We were instructed to use found objects to create a sculpture of sorts, one that would be used to create prints on various media, including tin foil, wet paper, dry paper, and paper with ink.  It was so much fun!  Here is my “sculpture”.  My tin foil print came out the best, though it didn’t photograph well so I can’t share it with you here.

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At the end of class the teacher explained the project we would be working on for the remainder of the course.  She said we would be recreating a photograph of our choosing with mixed media.  During her explanation she said that she wanted to push us outside of our comfort zones (the course is called “Introduction to Everything” so presumably none of us are coming with any experience in art, and many had the “I-can’t-do-art” attitude) but not so much so that we get discouraged.  I thought this was a great philosophy to have in your classroom because it encourages students to grow but (hopefully) discourages frustration and giving up.

Our teacher also told us that she is going to give us some ground rules in terms of the work, but we are allowed to break them if we really don’t feel like we will benefit from them because ultimately this is our art work and our experience in art.  I LOVE this.  I am going to try an employ this attitude in my teaching.  I’m hoping that it encourages students to make their work and in turn their learning meaningful.

Meditation: Isn’t Focusing on Nothing, Actually Focusing on Something?

Last night my yoga class focused on mediation as part of Moksha Yoga’s “Grow Your Yoga” which is centered on “Be Peace” this week.  I have tried to meditate before but as my teacher pointed out this class, it’s sort of an oxymoron to tell you to focus on nothing.  How can you focus your mind on nothing?  Isn’t telling your mind to focus on something, even if that something is nothing, inherently thinking about something?  If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is.

I am really interested in this aspect of yoga because perhaps my favourite thing about going to class is the rare opportunity focus on just one thing: you.  How much of your day is spent rushing from one thing to another, and every time you get to one thing, your mind is already thinking about the next thing?  You know what I’m talking about; you rush to work only to have your mind wander to your grocery list, and fitting in yoga before you have to go home and make dinner.  It’s stressful!

I have come to learn that the very best thing about yoga is you can spend that time focusing on yourself, and shutting out all of that stress.  It sounds selfish, but it’s entirely necessary for your sanity.  That 60 or 75 minutes of class is only dedicated to your breathing, your relaxation, and in turn, your mind.  This is incredibly freeing because so much of our time is spend thinking about other things, we often neglect ourselves.

The interesting thing that I realized yesterday was when my teacher pointed out that perhaps all those times you have come to class and thought about nothing but your breathing and your body, you actually were meditating, or at least working towards it.  This means I have been practicing mediation since I started yoga!  Perhaps this is the key to focusing your mind on nothing.

I like to enhance this selfishness of focusing on nothing but myself by ignoring my cell phone before and after class and stopping my mind from thinking about my to-do list during.  Focusing on just one thing and staying in the moment brings you peace, and I am going to work on mediation so that peace can permeate other aspects of my life too, not just my yoga practice.

Good news! Great Customer Service Story

I love a great customer service experience!  It’s a wonderful feeling to know a company hears your issues and actually cares enough about your satisfaction to help you.  I have been lucky enough to have two such experiences recently.TOMS Logo

Did you know that TOMS has a warranty program to ensure that you are satisfied with your shoes?  I actually had super bad luck and had to return my TOMS not once, but twice.  I had two separate pairs with two different problems; the first time upon contacting their warranty department they sent a replacement pair immediately.  The second time they credited my account for the exact amount of one pair so I could repurchase the same or a similar pair to the ones that were defective.  Amazing!

The next experience was at David’s Tea.  I cannot explain to you how much I love the people at David’s Tea, they are just delightful.  Without fail, at any location they are extremely knowledgeable  happy to help, and willing to go the extra mile to ensure you leave with something that will make you smile.

Timolino Travel MugLike TOMS, they replaced not one but two items with no questions asked.  I had two Double Wall Stainless Tumblers that leaked.  The first one was given to me as a gift so I didn’t have the receipt but I brought it into the store, explained my issue and they replaced it for me.  Unfortunately, the replacement tumbler did the same thing so I took it back and replaced it with their Timolino Travel Mug, just having to pay the difference.

Like I said, I love a great customer service experience.  It is just lovely to have your needs met by a company and to feel like your hard-earned dollars are being well spent.  Not only that, but it’s great to focus your energy on positive experiences for a chance, instead of dwelling on the negative by complaining.  With this kind of customer satisfaction I feel it is my duty to pass on the good news and the good feeling.  Have you had a good customer service experience?  What happened?

3 Questions (New) Vegetarians Hate Answering

Justin Timberlake defends the vegan lifestyle in SNL’s “Bring It On Down to Veganville” sketch, March 9, 2013

A few months ago I decided to become a vegetarian.  It was a long time coming actually – much of my extended family is vegetarian, though my immediate family has always eaten meat.  Chicken has been disgusting to me recently; I think maybe I’ve just hit my lifetime chicken quota.  I have also been reading a lot about factory farming and how horrible the production of meat and meat related products are for not only animals but also for our environment.  The tipping point for me was the movie Vegucated.  If you have not seen it, you simply must.  Basically it is a Supersize Me type challenge in reverse – instead of an all McDonald’s diet 3 meat-eaters are challenged to become vegans for 6 weeks.  The results are eye-opening, moving, and even sometimes funny.

I have not taken a bite of meat since the day I watched Vegucated and I am thrilled with my decision.  I have more energy, I feel better and the nausea I was constantly plagued with before has all but disappeared.  I am not one to push my new veggie lifestyle upon people (it’s a personal choice and yes I am happy with it, but I don’t care if I change the minds of steak lovers everywhere) but as a new vegetarian I do find myself constantly defending my choices.  Here is a list of the top 3 most annoying questions I have been receiving:

1.  So you’re like, a hipster now?

Just because someone makes the choice to be a vegetarian does not mean they need to be slapped with some stereotypical cultural label.  Calling someone a hipster evokes images of artsy tree-huggers with excessive front bangs, who spend their days instagramming all their meals not that there’s anything wrong with that.  People can choose to be vegetarian for any number of reasons including health, spiritual or religious.  I am not choosing to eat vegetarian because I want to be trendy, I am choosing it because it is healthy for me, and it upholds the ethics that I believe in.  I learned in university that you should vote with your dollars; in other words instead of feeling like one person who is helpless to make change in this vast society, look at it as though you can effect change by what you choose to buy and where you choose to buy it.

2.  What are you going to eat, salad?

There is much more to being vegetarian than just salad.  Many people think that you won’t be getting enough protein if you are not eating meat, but there is a huge variety of ingredients that provide just as much, if not more protein than animal products.  Beans, lentils and tofu for example provide a great alternative (I recently made tacos with refried beans instead of ground beef) and even certain grains can be replaced to be higher in protein, for example using quinoa in place of pasta or rice can provide more protein.  So no, I will not just be eating salad my dear friend, don’t worry about me!

3.  How long are you going to be vegetarian for?

Being a vegetarian is not a fad diet.  It is not some juice cleanse that you start and stop when it is convenient for you.  I am not just “doing it” for a short period to detox or something, as has become oh-so-fashionable.  It is a lifestyle choice, one that I would love to stop having to defend to everyone I dine with.

Mom’s Banana Bread, Only Healthier

Banana Flax Muffins

This past week has been crazy between rushing to work, running errands and working out.  I needed a quick breakfast and muffins are always my go to for a grab-and-go type morning.  The only problem is that with muffins I can never quite escape the feeling that I am eating cake for breakfast.  I was really craving my mom’s delicious banana bread, so I decided to take her classic recipe and health it up a little bit.

I swapped the all-purpose flour for a combination of whole wheat and flax meal, the sour cream for Balkan style yogurt and I reduced the sugar by half.  If you wanted to make it even healthier you could also take out the oil and substitute it for apple sauce, but I didn’t have any on hand.  I also added some walnuts and raisins, because who doesn’t love a little extra something in their morning muffin?

Flaxseed meal adds a rich nutty flavour, plus fibre and omega-3s, but I didn’t want it to make my muffins too dense.  I did a little research and found that the Livestrong website provides good substitution information for adding flax meal to your recipes.  I used Bob’s Red Mill Flaxseed Meal and their website also provides a wealth of information.  I also swapped the sour cream for Balkan style yogurt which is more protein and a whole lot less fat, without changing the texture.

Here’s my recipe:

1 cup ripe bananas, mashed

½ cup sugar

¼ cup canola oil

½ cup plain yogurt

2 eggs

½ cup each, all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, flaxseed meal (total of 1 ½ cups)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

½ cup raisins

¼ chopped walnuts

In a small bowl mix the wet ingredients until well combined.  In a separate medium bowl mix the dry ingredients.   Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until just combined (do not overmix!)  Line 12 muffin tins with paper liners, and spoon two tablespoons of batter into each.  Bake at 325 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes (or until muffins spring back when you press on the tops lightly with your finger, and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean).  Enjoy!

Happy Friday everyone!

You Have Fewer Friends Than You Think: Wisdom for 14-year-olds (Part 2)

The other day I talked about a speech given to my Grade 8 students by Toronto spoken word poet and motivational speaker Dwayne Morgan.  Here is another little tidbit of wisdom he had to share with the students:

You have fewer friends than you think.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s simply a way of discerning real friends from fake ones.  This is a lesson we could all learn from, I know I certainly can.  He asked the students to think about the last time their friends ever said anything positive to them.  ‘Right now many of you in this room are realizing they don’t have any real friends, right?’ he laughed.  He encouraged them to compliment their friends, to help their self-esteem and to give them confidence.  If you have people who celebrate your failures, or are constantly negative, ‘these are not your friends’ he told them.

How many people do you know like this?  How many “friends” do you have that seem to exist only to bring you down, highlight your shortcomings, and make you feel bad about yourself?  We do not need these spirit-suckers in our lives, because they bring nothing to the table and bring us no happiness.  It’s important to surround yourself with people who will make you feel good about yourself, and help you when you fall instead of kicking you when you’re down.   No one needs “friends” who harbour resentment for your success, we need people who will be there to celebrate with us.

This is certainly a bitter pill to swallow because it makes you realize how few true friends you actually have; but whether you are entering high school, leaving it, or your school-aged years are far behind you, this is a valuable lesson to learn.  As you get older your circle of friends shrinks, but as Morgan mentioned the people who are going to have the greatest impact on your life are probably already in it.  My advice – make sure the people that are in it are the people that count.

All Veggie School in NYC

Shortly after deciding to become vegetarian, I went on a trip to San Francisco with two girlfriends.  I thought it would be easy to eat vegetarian but quickly found that eating only veggies when you’re eating exclusively at restaurants is actually quite challenging for the new vegetarian.  I was often limited to the salad section of the menu (obviously I anticipated eating a certain amount of salad, but somehow I thought there would be more progressive vegetarian options as well).  I often found myself eating a lot of pasta, and as pictured below, a whole lot of cheese (cheese plate for dinner = heaven by the way!)

My delicious cheese plate at a restaurant in Big Sur

My delicious cheese plate at a restaurant in Big Sur

My challenges have led me to wonder about how easy it actually is to eat all vegetarian all the time.  Growing up a meat eater I suppose I never really looked too closely at the vegetarian options on menus, overlooking the little things like bacon bits on every salad.  That’s why I was surprised to hear this morning about New York City’s first vegetarian school, likely in the entire country.  I am impressed by their dedication to an all vegetarian menu.  This is certainly a step forward in the quest to have junk foods removed from our schools.  Well done NYC, let’s hope this is a sign of things to come!