30 Dec

Top Posts of 2013

Here is a list of my favourite posts from 2013 and readers’ favourite posts from 2013. I tend to favour reading over my body image or fitness posts as a reminder to be good to my body and to find happiness in it. I prefer writing about things I’ve cooked or baked and places I’ve travelled, which makes up more of my content.

My Favourites

These posts didn’t make it in the top 10 number of hits, but I loved writing and re-reading them.

Fitness

Lifepower Yoga Teacher Training
Work Out ‘Like a Man’
Waist Goals Update – One Year Later 

Body Image

Stop Telling Your Daughter She’s Fat
‘You Look Like You’re Lost Weight!’

Life

On 90 Years and Being Happy
New York City Cookies
Tips for Visiting Zion

Food

Lemon Orzo Soup
Finnish Oat and Rye Rieska

Most Hits Overall

10. All About Chiffon Cake

9. How Heavy Lifting Works for Me

8. Torta Margherita

7. 5/3/1 For Women

6. Martin Picard Tourtiere

5. Chiizukeiki

4. Coconut Cardamom Macarons

3. Celebrity Look Alike

2. This Body Wasn’t built for Asana

1. Super Soft White Bread

Super Soft White Bread

27 Dec

Christmas with Samantha

Typically my sister and I host an appetizer party on Christmas Eve at my dad’s house for all of our aunts and uncles and cousins. It’s a lot of work– a few days of cooking at least– and always exhausting but I love it. It gives me something to do (I feel incomplete when I’m not busy) and it makes me happy to cook for people.

It was quite a change this year when my uncle and aunt decided to host the Christmas Eve festivities. A welcome change, since my sister is currently pre-occupied with a 6 week old baby and not entirely willing to simultaneously nurse her child and roll sushi for 25 people. And, of course, it would have been a lot of work for me to take on myself.

Christmas Eve

So I find myself with nothing to do on Christmas Eve day. It is actually pretty nice to spend the morning lifting weights and shopping for things I plan to buy on Boxing Day and spending the afternoon drinking coffee and watching British television until it is time to get dressed and leave.

Christmas Eve is my favourite celebration because all 20 of us dress to the nines, drink, shout, and nosh informally on enough appetizers to feed 100 people. This year is like every other until shit gets extraordinarily depressing as we learn of an unexpected death in my cousin’s family that puts a dark cloud over all of us. So there’s that.

Christmas Morning

Christmas morning is perfectly relaxing for Matt and I. With no children or family to speak of we wake up late and exchange presents (more on those later) while watching Muppets Christmas Carol, my favourite Christmas movie. Later we get dressed and stop by my dad’s house for coffee and a rum cake that’s more rum than cake (Merry Christmas indeed!). He gives us our presents (which is dad-speak for “envelope of money”).

Christmas Night

Later in the day we head to Matt’s aunt’s house for Christmas dinner. Here I’m required to drink half a bottle of prosecco and/or practice my meditation skills as the conversation trails from the ‘damn socialist government’ to the ‘damn gays’ to <insert controversial, socially conservative opinion here> while Matt does his best to try and steer us toward lighter yet equally upsetting topics like the Detroit Lions.

We leave relatively early, partly to avoid being roped into watching The Trailer Park Boys Christmas Special but mostly to open presents at my in-laws’ house. I use the term “open” loosely since Matt’s mother is overly generous and there are far too many gifts for her to bother wrapping any of them. Our presents are put on display like raffle prizes at a church bazaar, and you’re never quite sure which is yours. We take all of our loot home in garbage bags (we really have that much stuff) and hide the chocolate and cookies from our voracious sweettooths in the deep recesses of our kitchen cupboards.

Boxing Day

I head to the mall just after it opens so I can pick up the clothes that I had already scoped out for myself on the 24th. I impulse buy a pair of skinny pants from The Gap even though I still don’t know how I feel about the “skinny” style on myself. It might look weird. Of course I buy a cardigan too. I spend most of my time at SportChek picking out a spring/fall coat and then trying to decide which of the funky workout tights to buy (they’re one of the things on my wishlist). I leave the crowds after an hour of shopping with my purchases.

After returning home Matt and I take down the Christmas tree and box away the decorations. That’s why it’s called ‘boxing day’ amiright?

And then the rest of Boxing Day becomes a repeat of Christmas Eve– hot beverages and British television. Matt asks me if I want to watch Star Wars and I’m so bored that I oblige, but only agreeing to watch it in one hour intervals.

How was your Christmas?

20 Dec

Moab in November

This is part of my series on Visiting Utah in November including Zion National Park and Arches National Park.

Arches National Park

Driving

Moab seems like one of those places that would please everyone. Even if you’re not the hemp-wearing, granola-eating, tree-hugging outdoorsy type you can just pile into your gas-guzzling vehicle and drive around to see some pretty world-class vistas.

Just one part of Arches' Scenic Drive

Arches National Park has an extensive scenic drive that can take you 4 hours if you stop at each scenic viewpoint. And why wouldn’t you? The views here are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Matt and I had to do the drive a few times to make sure we hit all the overlooks.

Canyonlands National Park has its own scenic drive which looks gorgeous in photos but unfortunately we never made it there because we were so wrapped up in seeing Arches! In the late fall and winter when the days are shorter it can be hard to fit in all that you want to see during daylight hours. Something I sort of forgot about when planning the vacation.

If you’re slightly more adventurous you can take your vehicle off-road which is also pretty popular, especially among the Jeep crowd, but you don’t even need an off-road vehicle (not that I would ever attempt such a thing without one).

If you are the hemp-wearing, granola-eating, tree-hugging outdoorsy type like me, then there’s even more to do. Unfortunately, we hardly put a dent in the long list of things to do in and around Moab.

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking is huge here. Huge. Apparently Moab has some of the best mountain biking in the world, or so I was told by the locals, and hosts lots of races like this endurance race which looks like it could be fun if you’re not terrified of falling off your bike.

Popular area for mountain bikers

I’m barely stable on a bicycle (I blame my parents’ prohibition from letting my bike leave the driveway as a child) let alone on this kind of terrain, so we skipped out on any sort of mountain biking.

Hit the Rocks

Rock climbing and rappelling are both popular activities as well, and you can even climb up some of the towers and hoodoos.

I'm a naturalGeared up to drop down

Matt and I opted for a 1/2 day canyoneering trip with the outfitter ‘Moab Cliffs & Canyons’ at Ephedra’s Grotto.

It was fun and gorgeous, but it was basically just 2 rappels and a bit of hiking– not nearly as exciting as canyoning in Switzerland (but that’t a whole different story for a whole different day).

Boating

The town of Moab is located on the Colorado River so there are plenty of boat tours to be had.

But I hate boats, so I have nothing to suggest to you here. You’ll have to google it yourself if you want to take a boat tour. I’m sure it’s nice, but I still have yet to grow a pair of sea legs.

Hiking

Hiking here is pretty good too; at least it is in the nearby national parks, particularly Canyonlands which has some remarkable backcountry hiking, especially in the Needles area of the park (which, like I mentioned, we didn’t get to)

A rock fin can be a slightly scary place

We did do some hiking in Arches which was great. I love hiking here at this time of year because (in spite of the shortened days) the weather is perfect for spending an entire day hitting different trails (or one big one). Because of the desert environment– the low vegetation, lack of shade, and dry heat– I can imagine it being torturous to hike here during summer. Late autumn however was perfect.

Fins of rock on our hike in arches

We did run into a snag when we tried to hike the Devil’s Garden. Because of the cold temperatures and the (unseasonal) snow that the area experienced before we got there, the rock was icy and frost covered in some areas and we had to turn back. It’s called slickrock for a reason and in spite of my awesome hiking boots I was still too chicken shit to venture out onto steep, icy rock.

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…stay tuned for my next installment in the Utah vacation series where I point out all my favourite places in Arches National Park.

14 Dec

Links for a Snowy Afternoon

A Psychologist’s Guide to Online Dating – The Atlantic

Men tend to act like single-issue voters: If a prospect is not attractive enough, he or she usually doesn’t qualify for a first date, period. For women, however, it’s a more complex choice. . . What tends to matter for females is that the overall package is good.

As low-paying jobs grow, minimum-wage battle ripples across U.S. – Globe & Mail

Adjusted for inflation, the U.S. minimum wage peaked in 1968, when it stood at the equivalent of $10.60 in today’s dollars.

Canada Post phasing out home mail delivery, raising rates – Globe & Mail

The changes include the phase-out of home delivery. . . and hiking the cost of stamps by more than one-third to 85 cents from 63 cents.

Yoga: Why Men Don’t Get It – Sydney Morning Herald

When men say they are bored with yoga, [Denver Broncos Yoga teacher Danny] Poole thinks there may be something else going on. “Our egos are deflated because we can’t do some of the poses,” he said.

Bad Eating Habits Start in the Womb – NY Times

Researchers believe that the taste preferences that develop at crucial periods in infancy have lasting effects for life. In fact, changing food preferences beyond toddlerhood appears to be extremely difficult.

Good Body Image Goes Hand in Hand With Happier Relationships – Medline

Women who had previously dieted or were currently on a diet were more likely to be unhappy with their weight and more self-conscious regarding their bodies, the study found. . . The women most critical of their bodies were less happy in their relationships.

Study Reveals Gene Expression Changes With Meditation – Science Daily

Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs.

13 Dec

All I Want for Christmas 2013

All I Want for Christmas 2013

My 2013 Christmas Wish List:

1) BooksHarvest by Jim Crace, The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, and The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond are topping my list right now, but I’m open reading to others.

2) Flannel – I like this flannel shirt from L.L. Bean. Actually, anything from L.L. Bean is acceptable.

3) Minnetonka Moccasins – again, I will put some variation of moccasins on my Christmas list every year until I get them.

4) A Kitchen Scale – I just can’t bake properly without an accurate scale.

5) The Iron Islands – I can wear this necklace as I anticipate the next book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Plus it’ll look awesome with my direwolf t-shirt.

6) An Agenda – it’s suddenly becoming necessary in my life to keep track of what I’m doing and when. These agendas are super cute, plus my friend’s girlfriend makes them.

7) Yoga Pants – I like the long, fitted variety and I certainly would not be opposed to these awesome samurai yoga pants.

8) Yoga – Some passes to local yoga studios would be awesome. I love to practice in the community.

My Christmas Wish List looks a lot like last year’s and I’d still accept anything from my 2012 list. I guess my tastes change little from year to year and I rarely buy things that I want.

What do YOU want for Christmas this year? Maybe I’ll buy it for you!*

*Under no circumstances am I obliged to buy you anything for Christmas.

11 Dec

Zion in November – Other Hikes

This is part of my series on visiting Zion National Park in November.

I have already mentioned the grand hike that is The Narrows but here are a couple of other hikes that we did while we were in Zion.

Weeping Rock

Weeping Rock

I wouldn’t really call it a hike, per se. It’s an extremely short trail (it may take you 30 minutes round trip, tops) to the Weeping Rock lookout. Getting there is entirely uphill, but since it’s an out-and-back that means it’s as easy going down as it is strenuous going up.
The Weeping Rock is probably more fun to check out on a dry day because you’ll be able to see how the porous rock is seeping water. On a dreary, rainy day like the one we had when all the rocks in the canyon are weeping, well, it’s not so impressive. Another cool part of this hike is the ability to see ‘hanging gardens’ as ferns and other plants grow right out of the moist rock.

Angel’s Landing

Angel's Landing

Ahh…Angel’s Landing. Everyone wants to do this one to prove themselves. Everyone except people afraid of heights.
The first 2 mile portion of the hike is almost entirely uphill, beginning with a series of steep switchbacks. . .

Switchbacks on Trail to Angel's Landing

then a more gradual climb. . .

Trail to Scout's Lookout

. . . followed by even more switchbacks called “Walter’s Wiggles”.

Walter's Wiggles

This takes you to Scout’s Lookout which offers gorgeous views of the canyon and marks the beginning of the challenge.

Scout's Lookout

The last portion 1/2 mile of the trail is made up of narrow paths along the steep cliffs of a rock fin. There are anchored chains available to hold onto to keep yourself from falling off the rock face to your death, nearly 6000 feet below you.

Angels' Landing Hike
Note the chains in the background

I’d like to say that I did it, because I really wanted to, but alas I did not. With the harsh rain we experienced the combination of the cold, wet chains and the very slippery rock held me back. I began the trail and then reconsidered.

Oh well, maybe next time.

Emerald Pools

Emerald Pools Trail

Aside from The Narrows this 3 mile hike was my favourite because it is one of the most scenic.

In this case the rain worked in our favour as we were able to see waterfalls that aren’t flowing most times of the year.

Emerald Pools Trail 2

There are three parts to this trail: Lower, Middle, and Upper Emerald pools. The trail to Lower pools is paved and not overly challenging. Beyond that the trail is unpaved and more rugged but never gets too strenuous. I usually prefer a really tough climb, but the views on this trail definitely make it worthwhile.

Who doesn’t love waterfalls?

04 Dec

Zion in November – Hike The Narrows

This is part of my series on visiting Zion National Park in November.

Hike The Narrows

DSCF4959

In Zion National Park, The Narrows is less of a hike and more of a wade up the running waters of the Virgin River that meander through the canyon. At some points it is narrow enough for you to touch both canyon walls as they reach skyward, perpendicular to the river.

Due to all the rain that was happening while we were visiting, there was a moderate risk of flash flooding in the canyon. This means hikers need to be aware of signs of flash flooding (like changing skies and increased sediment and debris in the water) and there is only a 15 minute window to either get washed away with the river or find yourself some higher ground.

Matt was apprehensive of the possibility of waiting 24 hours perched on the side of a cliff for a flood to subside but, knowing that hiking the Narrows was the thing I wanted to do the most in Zion, he acceded.

Good thing too, because this ended up being an awesome hike and probably our favourite part of the vacation.

DSCF4946

We rented a drysuit package for $50 from Zion Adventure Company which included walking sticks, boots, and what I would describe as the equivalent of a waterproof snowsuit that made me look like Lieutenant Worf of the Starship Enterprise. Luckily we were also able to rent extra fleece tops and bottoms for $2 a piece (it was unseasonably cold) and a waterproof bag so my camera wouldn’t get wet when I inevitably fell into the canyon waters.

Everything worked like a charm.

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I loved having to navigate through the water to find the shallowest, sandiest path of least resistance through the river. I loved walking against the current and feeling it pushing back on me as I tried to hike against the rushing waters. I loved walking back with the current and feeling how easily it propelled me forward.

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In the end we did hike into what is known as ‘Wall Street’, a narrow area with no opportunity for reaching higher ground in case of emergency. We hiked for about 10 minutes (being cautious of potential flash flooding) before turning around. So we didn’t quite make it into the narrowest areas of the canyon but the sights were beautiful nonetheless.

I was warm and dry for the whole hike in spite of wading in thigh-high rapids and having fallen into the water after tripping on some rocks. While I think the hike would be a bit more refreshing in the summer time when the temperatures are hot and drysuits are unnecessary, I appreciated the quietness of the canyon at this time of year. We only encountered 8 other hikers on our entire excursion.

This hike is a Must Do in Zion National Park.

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04 Dec

Tips for Visiting Zion National Park in November

Last weekend Matt and I returned from our annual BIG vacation which, this year, took us to Las Vegas Nevada and the National Parks of Southern Utah.

After 3 days of festivities that, in keeping with the first rule of Las Vegas, can’t be mentioned, our friends Kyle and Heather got married in a beautiful ceremony at Caesar’s Palace followed by probably one of the best meals of my life at Scarpetta.
The day after the wedding, Matt and I rented a Jeep leaving behind the city of lights in favour of the quiet outdoor recreation of Zion National Park.

When putting together an itinerary for our trip I found little information online with tips for visiting Zion National Park in November, near American Thanksgiving 2013. Not that many people come to the park at this time of year, so you can avoid crowds quite easily and manage to find a sense of serenity and humility here among the impressive canyon vistas.

Here are some tips that I gleaned from our 3 days in the National Park in late November 2013.

The Weather

Zion National Park - Utah

We experienced weather in the 40s and very rainy. We were told this kind of weather is unseasonable for November; it’s usually cold but dry.

The wet conditions were shitty for hiking on slickrock, but they were good for keeping the tourists at bay and giving us the chance to see some pretty wicked waterfalls.

We noticed that the park was much busier on the single day we actually saw sunlight, especially among young families.

The Shuttle

Most of the year, personal vehicles are not allowed in the park. A shuttle system takes tourists to all the trailheads and vistas which facilitates traffic. During November however the shuttle system only runs on the weekends.

The good thing about the shuttle is that it is very informative. A recording plays providing riders with information about the various points of interest in the park as you drive by them. It’s something you’d miss out on if you took your personal vehicle. It is possible, however, to miss out on the information if the shuttle is full of noisy people. This happened while we were there so I am sure it’s much worse during the peak travel season.

The Hiking

Zion National Park - Utah

The hiking in Zion varies greatly in terms of difficulty making it good for all skill levels. Many of the trails are paved, a few are wheelchair accessible, and all of them are very clearly marked. ‘Easy’ trails will be very easy for fit people and ‘Difficult’ seems to infer a rapid gain in elevation moreso than unsure footing.

Note that at this time of year the sun set just after 5pm so you have much less time than you would in the summer to fit all your hikes in before dark. Choose wisely and be aware of how much time it takes to hike a trail prior to going out.

I’ll be posting about a couple of hikes that we did end up doing, so stay tuned!
Edited to add: Hike the Narrows and Other Exciting Zion Hikes

Springdale

Springdale, UtahSource

The town of Springdale is at the main entrance to Zion National Park and primarily consists of hotels, inns, restaurants, and shops providing services for park tourists. So, of course, in the off season many shops and cafes are closed or operating on shorter hours. It was nearly impossible to find an open coffee shop after 3pm and only a handful of shops were open, leaving us with very little to do when we weren’t in the park.

The combination of short daylight hours and limited store operating hours meant that we packed it in early most nights. Very early.

Overall

There are a few drawbacks to coming this time of year like the shorter days, cooler weather, and limited services in town but the benefits of visiting during the off season outweigh the drawbacks, in my opinion.
I can deal with the cooler temperatures, in fact I think I prefer it to the heat of summer. While the heavy rain was a but off-putting, it’s not typical for November and it did provide us the opportunity to see waterfalls we otherwise would have missed. I liked that the park was quiet, especially on weekdays, making the experience with nature much more personal and peaceful.
I would definitely go back this time of year.