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Friday, January 27, 2012

Hibernating brain cells

Too much work and not enough play... call for a little break today as the week is about to finish and blend into an equally busy weekend... most working parents' reality, right? Add to it an unusually big workload in the past few weeks (apparently, the whole world has decided to translate itself to French!) and an upcoming Girl Guide camp I have insanely volunteered to be in charge of... again... (some people just never learn!)... I need to relax a little bit.

I'm not really complaining, though. Nothing beats watching your self-started business, built from scratch, bloom and become successful! As for the girl guide camp, we always have such good times I honestly can't wait to be on my way, backpack and all!

But still, the brain needs a break, which is probably why I took tremendous pleasure in reading one of my recently-turned-eight daughter's new pre-teen books. You probably know the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. In addition to the conventional novels, they've also published a do-it-yourself diary, filled with silly questions and pages to scribble on. I was leisurely flicking through it when I landed on this title: Things to do Before you get Old. Interesting, I thought. Let's see which ones I've already done.

Turns out I've done each and every single one of them. Ouch. Never knew old age would come so fast!

For your benefit, reader, here's the list. I recommend you answer it too, and, why not, add a few more items that appeal to you!

1) Staying up all night

Yep, done that a few times. There was this house party I stayed at until the sun rose, among other examples. Reminds me that before your kids are of age to attend parties where alcohol will be served, please do what my parents did: tell them to never accept a drink from a stranger. There was a guy at this party who was pouring tall glasses of bluish stuff and passing them around. When I had the presence of mind to ask him what it was, he answered "You don't wanna know". I politely refused the drink. He was slightly offended, but I didn't flinch. Later, I learned he had been using 90-something percent alcohol in that thing. Enough to make you go blind. Not to frighten anybody out there, but one of my friends once had a drink (just one!) that came close to put her in a coma. Most likely, someone had put something in it while she was dancing. Lesson number two: never leave your drink unattended.

One additional thing I've learned from all-nighters is that you will feel fine except for around the time you usually go to bed (then as that time passes, your energy comes back) and around 3 in the morning (when the human body is programmed to be in its deepest sleep). It's not that hard staying up all night. The problem is: how will you feel the next day.

2) Try a roller coaster that has at least one full loop

I did, at La Ronde (in Montreal). Fun fact about roller coasters: they bring up your level of arousal (from fear and excitement), but the human neurochemestry does not distinguish between excitement-induced arousal and attraction-induced arousal. So, next time you want to make someone fall in love with you, take him/her on a roller coaster ride (literally) with you! They'll attribute the butterflies in their stomach to your presence and boom! done deal. (If they're particularly scared, they might even find comfort in your arms... an obvious bonus!)

3) Take part in a food fight

We had a few in high school. The most memorable one involved throwing chocolate pudding into a friend's mouth, using a spoon and trying to aim accurately. One smart friend, not quite in the mood for a chocolate facial mask, took a paper bag, cut 2 wholes for the eyes and one whole for the mouth, and put it on her head, to limit the mess. Quite a sight!

4) Ask an autograph from a celebrity

I'm not a big groupie, but I do have a few autographed books from Quebecois and French novelists.

5) Get a hole in one at mini putt

It happens once in a while. Funny how throwing a ball in a hole can induce such feelings of elation! The human mind truly is amazing.

6) Cut your own hair

Only once. Turned out better than you'd imagine given my complete lack of talent when it comes to doing anything manual. The hair did get much shorter than I had envisioned, though (from trying over and over again to make it all equal). I don't recommend it.

7) Find an idea for an invention

Don't know if that counts, but in grade 7 or 8, we had to write a paper on a futuristic invention. I came up with that air cushion super fast train. (Admitted, I wasn't the first one to think about this.) Obsession with traveling faster was on my mind early!

8) Spend three nights in a row away from home

All the time while travelling, and I love it.

9) Send a real letter in a real envelope with a real stamp

Many, many times in my youth as I had multiple pen pals all over the globe. I highly recommend this activity for kids. What a great way to practice reading and writing skills, and to learn about other cultures! I found most of my pen-pals through a Finland-based organization called International Youth Service, which has closed recently due to the lack of interest from kids nowadays. How sad. They were great, except maybe for the time they paired me up with a Peruvian girl who only spoke Spanish (which I didn't), and this other time they paired me with a Moroccan boy who rather quickly asked me to marry him (!!!)

10) Sleep out in the open

Did that at camp. First time when I was about 12. We unrolled our sleeping bags on the grass next to a cute pond. The - summer - night was warm and peaceful. The sky was full of stars. I experienced a moment of bliss... that is, until the girl next to me started screaming about a frog making its way into her sleeping bag!

11) Read a complete book with no pictures

Well, obviously this is frequent. Don't forget this list targets a pre-teen audience!

12) Beat someone who's older than you at a race

Beating an elderly person doesn't count, I'm afraid, but I did beat a few older kids at the 100 m sprint in high school. I actually made it into the track and field team, but quickly got frustrated as I discovered I was irrevocably javelin-challenged: the f-ing thing kept falling on the wrong end!

13) Eat a whole lollipop without biting into it

That's tough, but if I try hard, yes, I can do it.

14) Use a port-a-potty or latrine

Anybody with a minute bladder has to, at least once in a while. Plus, that's what they have at races. And at some Girl Guide camps. So.

15) Score at least once in a team sport

It's still a complete mystery to me why my 6th grade gym teacher decided to put me on the basketball team, since I'm terrible at dribbling, but it must have been because of my ability to throw the ball in the hoop. Might also have to do with the fact that I grew about 10 cm that year, making me - temporarily - one of the tallest kids of the school. Other than that, team sports have always been a disaster: my memories of soccer mostly involve nose bleeds; water-polo was fun until people began trying to make each other drown and made it a habit to rip each other's bathing suits (common things in water-polo, I hear... if it wasn't for the helmet, they'd also rip your ears from you); and nobody will ever want to play volleyball with me, I'm afraid (because, to put it bluntly... I s*** at it). The only team sport I really liked was badminton doubles... until my partner, F, smashed the shuttle on the back of my head. When I reminded him of it, last summer, he said "Yes, and that must have hurt, 'cause I was quite a strong player". Awww. Great times.

Wait, there's one team sport I do love: floor hockey. Anybody wants to start a league?

16) Apply to a casting (e.g. for a play)

Twice, in high school. Got a small part both times. Don't think I'm very talented, but I loved it anyways.

There are so many more things one should do before getting old... Why don't you send me your suggestions?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Winter fun... among other things

Note: all photos in this post by me... except for the one I'm on. :-)

I've been wanting to write a post about winter. After all, January brings the coldest temperatures of the year!

But this winter has been weird, to say the least. We probably haven't kept snow on the ground for more than 8-10 days since the winter solstice, or more precisely one month ago. If this doesn't make you flinch, let me remind you that I'm writing this blog from the cold latitudes of Canada, a country that was described by the French writer Voltaire (whom I otherwise adore) as "a few acres of snow".


Nova Scotian backyard in the winter I


Unfortunately, this year, our acres of snow keep melting in between snowfalls. The big forts and the cute snowmen we had built have all turned into a lump of white slush within 48 hours.

I was quick enough to capture this picture in my backyard. Pretty, hey? But it didn't stay.


Nova Scotian backyard in the winter II


(If this weather anarchy is caused by global warming, please, everybody, let's take action for the safeguard of winter fun: for !"/$%?*'s sake, turn off your car engine when you stop somewhere! I still can't believe how many idling cars I see, all the time, everywhere. I'll agree it's sometimes necessary in temperatures below zero - and still, a few minutes of cooling down won't kill you. It's winter! Dress appropriately! Whether you do it for the snowmen or for the planet in general... shut off the engine!!! Rant over.)


Nova Scotian backyard in the winter III


I was planning, in order to cheer everybody up, to list a few advantages of the cold season. Examples included

- there's no bugs (between the black flies, the horse flies and the mosquitoes, we don't get much respite here during the nicer months)
- there's no need to cover yourself with sunscreen every 2 hours
- the bears are hibernating
- you don't suffer from the heat
- ice cream is suddenly less tempting
- the compost doesn't stink
- nobody notices you've gained 10 pounds in the last month
- etc.

But somehow in the process of writing about winter, I got distracted by another topic that I discovered on another blog. I've been working at reusing it in my own blog. It's a meme about traveling. How could I resist?

(If you really want to read more about the cold Canadian winters, though, I am going to redirect you to my friend S's blog at this address. S and her family moved to Yellowknife a few months ago, and from what I gather, the weather right now is pretty mild for the season: a mere MINUS 35 CELSIUS with the wind chill. You know. Cozy.)

Now with the traveling meme. It has been filled by fellow bloggers (and translators) Jill Sommers and Corinne McKay. Feel free to add your own answers!


Senegal and our unbeatable tennis instructor, Mamadou


Age you went on your first international trip: We travelled to the States when I was 5, but I don't really consider this international travelling. When I was 7, though, my father got a one-year contract with CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) in Senegal (Western Africa). We ended up renewing twice, and lived there for 3 years. In the summer, we would fly back to Canada to visit family and friends, and stop over in Europe for at least a few days each time, sometimes up to 2 weeks; we got to visit France, Belgium and Austria.

Best beer: Croatian beer has to be discovered! Which reminds me I have to go get some more; I have long used all the cans I had brought back from this beautiful country!

Cuisine (favorite): Tough one. Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Lebanese, French, Italian, Spanish, Mexican... even Swiss (cheese, potatoes, bread and chocolate! Sounds like a great diet, don't you think?). I've had great meals in both Afghan and Peruvian restaurants, too. And Senegalese dishes are excellent. I guess I'll have to write a separate post about food. Bottom line is, when it's the real thing, made with fresh ingredients by a dedicated chef, even the simplest dishes will be hard to beat. Ex.: tomato and cucumber salad in Greece is to die for.

Destinations-favorite, least favorite and why: Favorite would be Paris and Italy in general. I don't have any least favorite because every place has something unique to offer.


Amalfi Coast, Italy


Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”: Discovering a restaurant way up high in the Swiss Alps, after an everlasting and exhausting hike! But seriously, entering a museum room (at The Uffizi in Florence, at The Louvre in Paris or at the Kunthistorische in Vienna, among others) and finding yourself right in front of one of the paintings you've been admiring in reproductions for years... that's a big wow. Other wows include music (listening to an impromptu organ concert in Glasgow Cathedral or suddenly hearing Never on Sunday at the foot of the Acropolis are two examples) and, of course, all kinds of panoramas and scenery, especially at sunrise or sunset.


Allegoria della Primavera, by Botticelli


Favorite mode of transportation: my feet. I love to get lost walking in a foreign city (and it's happened a lot, thanks to my still unexplained and recurrent refusal to use good maps! I once relied on the position of the sun in the sky and my own shadow on the ground to find my way in Rome - no joke!). Walking is the best way to make memorable discoveries, and to feel the pulse of the place. I also like the train, because you can admire the countryside, and stand up and walk around as much as you want. I love walking and transportation so much I am convinced I was a nomad in my previous life.

Greatest feeling while traveling: As I've mentioned in a previous post, my favourite feelings when I travel are feelings of freedom and discovery. Or adventure, if you will.

Hottest place you’ve ever been: Senegal. It could go up to the forties (Celsius) in the shade.

Incredible service you’ve experienced and where: I've had the whole prosciutto piece brought to the table and cut for me under my eyes in a Belgian restaurant. I was 8 or 9 years old. Around the same age, I was addressed as "Mademoiselle" and "Vous" (formal way of saying you in French) by a waiter in Monaco.

Journey that took the longest: Flight Halifax-New-York-Beijing.

Keepsake from your travels: My journal. I don't buy much, but I always write a journal, to keep all my memories and reread them later. I usually start scribbling about my impressions while waiting in the airport terminal or as soon as I am settled on the plane.

Let-down sight-why and where: I tend to be slightly disappointed by the places everybody raves about, like Venice, Pisa or Dubrovnik. They are beautiful, but so packed with tourists that it steals half of the charm from them.

Moment when you fell in love with travel: In utero. I think my parents transmitted the traveling gene to me before I was born. My paternal grandmother is a globetrotter herself, having visited close to 40 different countries in her life.

Obsession-what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling? Architecture and landscapes. I took the following picture, for example:


Isle of Skye, Scotland


Nicest hotel you've stayed in: Probably the Royal Windsor in Brussels, and there was another one (can't remember the name) in Paris. But those high-end hotels are not necessarily the ones that leave the most memorable trace. I have fallen in love with very basic and simple ones: a youth hostel in Florence because of the beautiful setting in the countryside. A 1-star hotel in Paris because our - small and unassuming - room had a desk in front of a window overlooking the Hotel de ville; I loved to sit there to write in the evening.

Passport stamps- how many and from where? Lots; I don’t keep track. In Europe I sometimes insist they put one when crossing the border between countries, because most of the time they won't.

Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: A Chinese hospital where they analyse your health by looking at your face only (skin, eyes) and then go on to prescribe all kinds of "herbal" remedies.

Recommended sight, event or experience: Sooo many! A tea-tasting session in China is a must-try experience, blissful for all 5 senses. Walking on the Great Wall was also a little surreal. Other examples include wine-tasting in France and hiking in Scotland. But really, anything that appeals to you in particular will "do the job".

Splurge-something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling: I don't buy much stuff, and I don't usually travel luxuriously, but I do travel often. I guess that's how I splurge.

Touristy thing you’ve done: Buy an unlimited train pass and visit 6 different countries in as many days (taking night trains). This was at the beginning of my 3-month Europe Grand Tour. I guess we got ourselves a little too excited about the fact that we could hop on any train to any of the 17 countries listed on the pass, any time we wanted. We basically would close our eyes and put our finger on the map of Europe to decide on the next destination... and we did that every day for almost a week. Needless to say, we only got a glance of the cities we picked: Nice, Barcelona, Milan, Venice, Munich, Hamburg. (Un)fortunately, this exhausted us, and we went back to a more reasonable pace (3 nights in each city at least).


Edinburgh, Scotland


Unforgettable travel memory: Birthdays spent abroad, like seeing the Phantom of the Opera in Her Majesty's Theater in London, or sailing the Kornati Island National Park in Croatia. Impromptu discoveries, a little off the beaten track, are nice too. I like going on a nowhere in the countryside and discovering beautiful spots away from the hordes of tourists. In Maiori (Amalfi Coast of Italy), D and I spotted a castle on top of the mountain and with no idea how to get there, began a hike through narrow alleys. When we finally got to the castle, the sights were incredible above the sea and the terrace cultivated citrus. There was nobody but an elderly guide, who took us on a private tour (in Italian).

Visas-how many and for where? 1, for China.

Wine-best glass of wine while traveling and where? That's a tough one too, so I'll say Gevrey-Chambertin because it was one of my first encounters with great wine.

eXcellent view and from where? From the wall of China. From any high point in Amalfi Coast. From the top of a mountain in Scotland. From a cliff side in Cape Breton. Anywhere the mountain meets the sea.

Years spent traveling: Every year I go some place or another!

Zealous sports fans and where: Watching a football (soccer) game on TV in a small Italian restaurant in is quite exciting. To be honest, hockey games are even better, but that's in my own country.

Nova Scotian beach and greenery


This meme is missing on something very important: the people you meet while traveling. We'll have to come back to that in another post.

Another point that would have been fun to include in this meme is The craziest thing you've done while traveling. One of those, in my case, would be taking my 2 daughters, then aged barely 3 and 5, up a narrow winding staircase all the way up a church's bell tower in Zurich. A few hundred slippery steps. Very minimal handrail, with huge gaps between the steps and the posts (not up to Code, that's for sure!) I don't fear heights, and yet I was trembling from looking down below. I'm a runner, and yet my legs were shaking from the effort. Needless to say, the kids were complaining. But up there, the view was quite something (if windy), and this is an adventure we've been excitedly retelling each other since then!

Zurich, Switzerland

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Travel tale: no place to p... urinate

Life has its own unique way of playing tricks on us. It's as if it makes sure we never settle and relax. You think you've found a comfort zone, and boom! Something happens that throws you completely off balance.

One of those cruel ironies of life, in my case, is the fact that I suddenly became allergic (in my thirties!) to two of my favourite foods: tree nuts (almonds and peanuts are fine) and fresh cherries (cooked or preserved cherries are fine. Go figure).

I swear I almost cried about the cherry allergy.

But you know what they say: people can adapt to pretty much anything. Resiliency, they call it. Get over it, and bounce back. And so I adapted. Admittedly, I still find it hard to watch other people eat cherries, but if I slowly and deeply breath in and out, talk to myself out loud in a comforting voice ("It's OK, J, it's OK"), run around the block a couple times, punch a few pillows, roll myself in the snow - wearing only a bikini - I can pretty much deal with the fact that no more fresh cherry is gonna enter my mouth for the rest of my long and terribly cruel life. You know. Not a big deal.

The other great irony life has granted me with is that it gave me, yes, me, the born-traveller, the one who'd spend each and every day of her life exploring the world carrying a backpack (if only it was possible), the one who sleeps better on a airplane than in her own bed...

... what was I saying? Ah! yes, life gave me THE SMALLEST BLADDER THAT WAS EVER CREATED!

I am not kidding! On road trips, with two young children in tow, who constantly asks for pit-stops? Who? Not the kids, I am telling you! It is a pity, really.

After giving birth to my second child (a quick labour of about 2 hours total, from the first contraction to the end), my first thought was to (pick an answer):

1) nurse the baby
2) call my mom to tell her her second grandchild was born
3) just relax
4) PEE!!!

(If you picked number 4, you're very smart. Wanna be my friend?)

So pee I did. First I gave baby to daddy, then I got up, walked to the washroom... and almost immediately got scolded very firmly by the nurse, who had suddenly reentered the room: "You're not supposed to be on your feet! It's two hours of rest after baby's out! Go back to bed!"

- But I need to pee real bad, I replied

- Well, then, I'll have to stay here and keep an eye on you, in case you faint. You just gave birth, you know! You're exhausted!

- (to myself: not after a 2-hour labour and about 5 minutes of pushing! This was no marathon!)

...

...

... (pee's not coming out)

- Well, here, I know a good trick to help you urinate, I'll let some water drip in the sink.

- (to myself again: I know a better trick: how about you LEAVE THE ROOM AND LET ME PEE IN PEACE!)

Anyways.

Usually, people do not try to stop you from using the washroom. The presence of a washroom itself, however, is another issue.

As long as you're home or close by, a small bladder is not much of an inconvenience. And we're very lucky that here, in Canada, public washrooms are widespread (and usually clean, although, when your bladder's about to explode, you couldn't care less. I've always thought that people who complain about dirty washrooms didn't really need to use them in the first place.)

Unfortunately, easy access to public washrooms is not granted in every country. It seems that the right to urinate when you need to should have been written on the Declaration of Human Rights.




Anyone who's been to France, for example, knows this: to pee, you have to pay. Forget about getting into any fast-food and quickly using the washroom. No way. You have to order first! How logical is that. I'm not hungry! I need to pee! In self-defence, now, whenever I travel to Europe, I always ration the amount of liquids I ingest. Just in case. Half a coffee is gonna have to do it in the morning. More and I'd end up regretting it.

My own mother told me this anecdote from traveling through France with my father some 37 years ago. After a picnic on the beach near Coutances (Normandy), she had a full bladder, so they stopped by an inn.

She walks in. Sees no one. She calls. No answer. Calls again. Nothing. She spots a restroom right by the hall, and decides to use it anyways. But when she tries to open the door to get out after, she finds out she's locked in. By an unhappy inn owner. Who is standing on the other side of the door, fulminating. After unlocking the door for her, he bawls out. She shouldn't have been using the inn's washroom, apparently. (What's with all those people screaming at us for simply wanting to empty our bladder when we need to? I wonder how Freud would explain their exaggerated reaction!) Relieved from the full bladder, my mom doesn't flinch at his anger, and quickly leaves the inn.

When I visited China, 2 years ago, I was a little apprehensive about the toilets. Would I have a hard time finding them? Especially in a country where I'd probably be drinking a lot of tea? Good news: Beijing is the small bladder's paradise. There are public (and free) toilets every 500 m or so on the main streets. Awesome! I even found myself doing something very daring (it made me very nervous at first, but I got used to it): I would pass a public toilet and NOT EVEN USE IT! Any small-bladdered traveller will tell you this is a major no-no: you see a public toilet, you use it. Period. Well, in Beijing, there are so many of them, you can afford to skip a few. How wonderful is that? Of course, to be completely honest, I have to mention, at this point, that most of those public toilets consist of a whole in the ground behind a thin curtain. But who cares! As long as you can relieve yourself!

I have to mention that the Chinese also have a very practical way of dealing with potty training: the split pants. Toddlers there do not wear a pull-up. They don't need to. There's an opening in their pants (no buttons, no nothing), so that whenever they need to go, they only need to squat, and everything's taken care of. Wise.

My worst bladder experience, though, happened in Crete (a lovely Greek island which I've mentioned before). We all know the number one tip in hot weather: drink a lot. Which is what I did in Crete. One morning, though, I might have overdone it. I downed my whole water bottle... right before getting on an intercity bus. I had imagined the trip would last about an hour (you know, 100 km or so). Um, think again. Have you ever seen Cretan roads? Narrow, serpentine laces swirling around the mountains, passing close - very close - deep precipices. You don't drive fast. True tale, once on one of those buses, I saw another bus way down in the precipice. Very reassuring. So, anyways. What was supposed to take an hour probably took three, and my bladder, filled by the contents of the water bottle, was crying for mercy (doesn't help that fear is a powerful diuretic: looking into the precipice = need to pee even more!) Luckily, at some point the driver decided to make an impromptu stop at a bus station where nobody needed to get out, probably just because he wanted to smoke. His cigarette was barely lit that I was already sprinting out of the bus and in the bus station to find the washroom. On that day I couldn't help but be thankful for that poor man's bad habit!

What's the irony in your life?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The non-resolution

What are your resolutions for the new year, is the question I like to annoy my friends with as January 1st approaches.

Most of the time, my friends are rather interesting people, but when it comes to resolutions, they get very boring (sorry guys! hahaha!): "Oh, I'm not taking any resolution", "I don't like resolutions" and "I never respect them anyways" are common answers I receive.

Why? I wonder. First of all, isn't reaching a goal you've set for yourself, especially when it involves some hard work, one of the best feelings of all? What satisfaction do we get from statu quo? Not much. Plus, common wisdom says that we always end up regretting the things we didn't do much more than the things we did do. To me, that's good enough reason to kick myself in the rear-end!

Isn't the beginning of a new year the perfect moment to make fresh new changes to your life? I know it's perfectly arbitrary, but the switch to a new calendar seems to me like a great psychological transition to a new period in one's life. A five-year plan seems too blurry, and a shorter time span would put too much pressure. Twelve months seem ideal to implement a change. When the year comes to an end, I like to reflect on the past 12 months, and by the same token, plan for the next 12. Sometimes, what I'll do is set one goal, and whenever I feel it is achieved or mastered, I'll add a second one. For example, on January 1 you could start meditating/jogging/writing/reading every day for 20 minutes. Then, a few weeks/months later, once it's become a habit, you could add another goal that suits you.

The main problem with resolutions (or goal-setting) is that they need a few characteristics to work out. Think of the acronym SMART. A goal has to be

Specific
Measurable
Achievable
Realistic
Time-targeted

Omit one of those factors, and you have very little chance of reaching the goal. This is why goals such as "I will eat better", "I will exercise more" and "I will be more careful with my finances" sound great, but lead nowhere. Take a piece of paper, write down the general goal, and then add the details for each letter of the SMART acronym. Be precise. Be imaginative. Use anything that could help. For example, I have a picture of a runner on my fridge. I see it every time I pass by. Her incredible abs and quads are a reminder that I, too, want to be top shape!

Please don't forget to be gentle and indulgent with yourself. It is very hard to change. There are gonna be setbacks and difficulties. Do you know about the physical law of inertia? This is the tendency for objects to resist any change in their motion. It might explain why it's so hard to become active when you've been sedentary. I consider myself physically active, yet I still find it hard to get my b*** off the couch sometimes!

I truly believe in psychological inertia as well. After all, one of the best predictors of future behavior is past behavior. If you've gotten used to eating junk (or any other unhealthy habit), making the first step is gonna be hard. In fact, it's probably gonna be painful as well. They say that when you become member of a gym, for example, the first weeks/months are critical: during that period, exercising is not pleasant yet, and you dread it. If you keep it up in spite on the unpleasantness, you'll eventually feel great and discover exercising actually gives you energy. You'll even crave going to the gym... but only after your body and mind have gotten used to it.

As a perfectionist, I used to drop a goal as soon as I experienced one little setback. I know better now. Skipping a workout or eating junk once in a while is no big deal. "Forget about it, get back on track, and look forward" is my new motto. Humans are imperfect by nature; life itself is imperfect! Better go with the flow than try to fight it.

Another factor we too often overlook when we set goals is the WHY. Why do I want to reach that goal? Is it really something I want, or am I just trying to please/impress someone else? Is this an end or the means? Is the goal actually just a way to get to something else? And why do I want that something else? Answering those questions is crucial. I used to work at helping people who are trying to quit smoking, and the first thing they'll tell you is that you have to do it for yourself. Not for anybody else.

A goal does not need to be totally unpleasant either. Quite the contrary, in fact. If it is too unpleasant, you won't make it. From what I've heard, to quit smoking is very hard, but if you give yourself rewards, it helps. Treat yourself like a child, and give yourself something when you do good: a bubble bath, new clothes, a book, music, a movie... find your carrot, put it at the end of a stick, and hold it in front of you. Many ex-smokers collect all the money they would have spent on cigarettes to pay themselves a trip to a warm and sunny destination.

The goal itself can be a treat. My friend A, who recently became a mom, decided to take a bath once a week (we sure hope she's going to shower the other days!), just because. Because she enjoys taking baths, and because she wants to do it more often. Simple as that. Talk about a cool goal! I bet you she will have a more balanced life as a consequence anyways, since bath = relaxed state = healthier life choices. Like my yoga instructor, L, likes to say, you don't need to plan to improve your whole life at the same time. Make just one change (begin to exercise, to do yoga, to meditate), and oftentimes, the rest will just follow naturally. You will find yourself slacking on junk food, alcohol and other things that are not so good for you. (Be careful, though, as to not replacing one "vice" with another: last year, my resolution was "less sugar, more wine". Didn't work out so well. hahaha!)

A much better resolution I took many many years ago (when I was in grade 8) was to get rid of my shyness. Anyone who's experienced severe shyness knows how much a pain in the "/$%?&* it can be. I wouldn't hesitate to call it a handicap. And by age 14, I was getting very tired of it. Tired of avoiding social situations just because they generated so much anxiety. Tired of not being able to speak for myself. Tired of the physical symptoms (tied knot in the stomach, wet palms, fast heartbeat). My plan: to do one thing that I dreaded every single day. Just one. The rest of the day I could resort to avoidance. But at least once I had to step on my shyness and go forward: make that phone call, wave ostentatiously to my friends at the other end of the cafeteria, raise my hand and ask a question, etc. At first, it was very stressful. Then it became kind of a game. And six months later, I had conquered 95% of my shyness. In grade 9, I presented a poem (that I had written) in front of about 500 people. The year after, I was in the school theater troupe. I also sang on stage (same size of audience) twice during high school. I have never considered myself shy since then. In fact, I am perfectly comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. That plan to eradicate shyness in myself was one of the best resolutions I ever took! I was so happy about it that a year or so after I began the "No more shyness project", I wrote an article about the process, and it was published in a teens magazine. That, for a 15-year old girl, was a great boost to self-esteem. And I sure hope other kids benefited from my modest input.

I still regularly thank my teenage self for making that life-changing decision!

(By the way, resolutions and goals do not only apply to physical and psychological health. Financial health, marital health, family relations, social circle, intellectual life, spiritual life, are all areas that could use some improvement - even if very small - for most of us!)

The one last thing I'd like to say is, don't overdo it. Embrace change and go for it, but remember that finding balance is probably the best goal of all. Here is a little video entitled "How healthy living nearly killed me", by a man who decided to live healthy by following all of the experts' advice for a year. The results? You'll see in this video!

http://www.ted.com/talks/aj_jacobs_how_healthy_living_nearly_killed_me.html