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Friday, May 31, 2013

Leading a healthy lifestyle... science can help

Beloved magnolia looks (and smells) awfully good these days

(Note to the reader: today was our first real Canadian summer day of the year (27 degrees Celsius), and I'm in a trance. All the pictures adorning this post were taken today and are part of my personal tribute to "Thank goodness, warmer weather is finally back!")

Despite our best intentions, we're not always very good at managing our health intuitively. To put it as it is, most of us, when left to our own devices, make wrong choices in a disturbing majority of occasions. Add to it the plethora of tips, tricks and diets we are constantly bombarded with... knowing what to do to remain fit, slim and healthy becomes a real headache. But fear no more, my friends! Science is here to help us! In this post I will take a few scientific findings about our relationship with food and try and make them digestible.

(This being an informal blog, I have not quoted my sources precisely, but rest assured that they do exist. I encourage you to Google anything you're particularly interested in.)

Theories of hunger and eating: set point vs positive incentive

When thinking about the system that controls hunger and eating, a lot of us still hold the "set point assumption". The set point theory emphasizes energy reserves as motivators to eating: we would eat when we need energy (fuel/calories), then stop when we are satiated, in a similar way that thermostat-regulated heating systems work.

However, for many reasons, this set point theory doesn't hold. One example: after eating a filling meal and feeling satiated, you might still want to go for dessert. How do you explain that? Especially when considering the consequence of this kind of behavior, which is weight gain and all that ensues? The ups and downs of our energy reserves do not suffice to explain our food intake. Rather, a complex combination of factors determines when and how much we eat.

What seems to explain our eating habits better, rather than the need for fuel, is the positive-incentive theory. According to that theory, a lot of the time, the reason we eat is not because our energy reserves are depleted, but rather because we anticipate the pleasure of eating. This can originate from taste, learning and social influences. In simple words: we don't eat because we need to, but because it feels good.

This theory is very important in that it does a great job at explaining why we eat more than what we really need (and thus become overweight). Does it resonate with you? It sure does with me.

Theories of body weight regulation: set point vs settling point

Another area in which we are mislead: we think that our body weight has a set point, to which it tends to go back: we would naturally eat less when our body fat exceeds that set point, and eat more when our body fat goes under. However, this theory does not account for all the various factors that influence body weight (and body fat), and it implies that a significant change in body weight and composition is almost impossible to attain. Changing your body is hard, but it is doable, and the way to go about it is to consider that our body can reach a new settling point... if we permanently modify one or more of the factors that influence body weight and composition. They are:
  • amount of available food
  • incentive value of available food
  • amount of consumed energy 
  • level of body fat
  • amount of energy being expended (e.g. through exercise)
  • strength of the satiety signal

I find this theory encouraging because it puts the power back in our hands. No one is doomed to be at a certain weight. The trick is, you need to act on the factors above (at least one of them), and it has to be significant.

Which factor(s) do you try to act on? (I personally like a multi-factorial approach.)

You do have some control over the kind of available food
you surround yourself with - here, our lettuce off to a good start

Eating well... why it's more important than you think

I get to spend a lot of time with children in all kinds of different settings, and what strikes me is how poor the food habits of the next generation are. And it worries me.

For one thing, a lot of kids do not stay seated during the meal and do not participate in either prep or cleanup. They also seem to think it's okay to take a bite of something and then discard it if it does not instantly please your taste buds.

This is not a frustrated old lady's rant, but rather the expression of a genuine, compassionate concern: how can you grow to give food (and the mealtime ritual) all the attention and respect it deserves when you don't learn it in childhood, I wonder. Studies have shown that eating sit-down meals at a slow pace with your family members on a daily basis has innumerable benefits, especially for kids (and well into teenage years).

Most disturbing is how picky children are with food, and how they seem to crave junk in their youngest years. I don't want to extrapolate on the causes of that; is it innate or acquired, does it have its roots in the individual or the society... I'm no expert. I don't want to judge families either; we each have our own battles and struggles and my kids are certainly far from perfect. But I do worry about the impact of getting so little nutritive value from food while your body is being built. I can only picture a house with very weak foundations. Those bones and muscles and brain connections being fueled with crap... how sturdy are they gonna be? Not to mention that an acquired taste has its roots in childhood.Waiting for adulthood to introduce certain foods (especially the healthy ones) is sure to backfire.

Now, science has been telling us time and again how important nutrition is; your body needs the right fuel to function optimally, and to remain healthy. The link between obesity and diseases of all sorts is also well-established.

Even more powerful, some results would indicate that eating numerous portions of fruit and vegetables, regardless of what else you do or don't do, will diminish your risks for certain diseases drastically, particularly for cancer. Maybe our quest to eradicate the main "modern world killers" (cancer, heart disease and diabetes) lies in stuffing ourselves with fresh produce!

You might also have heard of the study that showed that children who eat more than 12 hot dogs per month have nine times more risk of developing leukemia. If hot dogs can do that, I bet you other kinds of junk food have adverse effects that are as bad! Scary!

Now did you know that eating well not only affects your health here and now and in the years to come, but also the future generations? The science of epigenetics studies how what we are exposed to, including food, can modify our genes in a long-lasting way:  "What we eat, how much stress we undergo, and what toxins we're exposed to can all alter the genetic legacy we pass on to our children and even grandchildren." 

For more on this, Google epigenetics and see this website: http://theweek.com/article/index/238907/epigenetics-how-our-experiences-affect-our-offspring

This epigenetic phenomenon does not only apply to nutrition. Affection would be involved too. A study has shown that the way a rat pup is nurtured in the early moments has an impact not only on his "adult personality", but also on his genetic makeup. Turns out having an affectionate or not so much affectionate mother could talk to your DNA! 

For further explanation:  http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/epigenetics/rats/

We've treated this pine tree well...
When we planted it 5 years ago it was up to my knees!

(And another Sears catalogue pose... 
I might have missed my calling.)

Back to the basics

Notwithstanding all that's been said above, sometimes, a healthy lifestyle is so simple it eludes us. We look for complicated solutions when in fact, being in touch with our inner feelings and sensations goes a really long way.

Did you ever stop to pay attention to how each and every muscle of your body feel? Do you notice when your jaws are clenched and your shoulders tense or your belly uncomfortably full? Do you do something about it? When you feel sad or frustrated, do you attend to it? When you're tired, do you go to bed instead of wasting time in front of a screen until you doze off?

Another one of my go-to solution for putting my priorities back in place is spending time with children. Children are spontaneous, enthusiastic, and usually pretty active. Today, for example, apart from a bike ride around the lake with the kids, we also played 3 games of basketball!

Earlier this week I spent a day looking after a friend's little girl, C, who just turned 4 years old. Do you know how good that is for your health? I sure do. Having that cute little thing ask me if I could hold her hand, explode with enthusiasm when we discovered salamanders under a pile of wood, and make all kinds of adorable comments on the course of the day and the course of life was sure to put a long-lasting smile on my face. When I served her lunch, she said "Oh, J, this is a very healthy lunch!" (there was lots of veggies). I also love how C keeps calling my cat Mudpie (her real name is Mudslide); those mixups must be a family thing, because her older sister once told me in her most excited voice: "J, I want to show you my diarrhea!" (I was very perplexed until she produced her diary.)

All this "cutitude" totally made my day. Apparently, C did not find her day too unpleasant either, based on what she told me while we were gathering wood for the evening's campfire: "J, I really like coming to your house. I can't wait for next time you babysit me."

How could your heart not melt?

Another way to find inner happiness...
Putting clothes to dry on this "clothesline with a view".

I wish this picture conveyed the wonderful 
sounds and smells of the forest.

And now to finish, some soothing nature sounds from my backyard... to yours!

Next time you feel down, all you will need to do is watch this video... better yet, go in nature for real and let your senses rejoice. I know it helped me with one frustration today. To make a long story short:

Today I received an invitation for a dinner organized by the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, held in a ballroom and involving cocktail attire... that I had to decline... because that evening is already booked: I will be visiting a farm (wagon ride and mechanical rodeo included - no cocktail dress there!) with 30 little Girl Guides (including my kids). Ah... guess you have to pick your priorities in life. The cocktail dress will have to wait. But still. Grrr. For those who were wondering what parental sacrifice implies... this is it I think.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The health and wellness equation: a microcosm

Friendship first!
(Featuring L, C, A, J and K!)

I just spent a weekend immersed in a healthy lifestyle microcosm.

Once a year, a couple of friends and I attend this "Fun and Fitness retreat". It's a breath of fresh air away from home and our families and an opportunity to spend some "girlfriend time", but we kill two birds with one stone by filling it with health-promoting activities.

My "ordinary life" is already pretty healthy thank you, but this concentrated amount of exercise, relaxation and clean eating spread over the course of 2 days provides a quick snapshot of what a healthy, balanced lifestyle entails.

Health: a multicolored salad with homemade vinaigrette 
is a good start.

The activities involved in this healthy retreat include aerobics, strength training, zumba and yoga/relaxation. Those who wish so can also go for a round of golf or a swim in the pool or a nice run along a beautiful lake lined with fragrant, blooming trees.

No one is expected to do it all, but by trying different kinds of exercises, I think we give ourselves a chance to

1) improve our fitness on many different levels
2) eventually discover a passion that can become a habit (one of the women who attends this retreat every year lost 100 pounds through zumba after trying it and falling in love with it!)

As for me, I skipped zumba to go for a run instead. I don't have anything against zumba, but I'm definitely "complex movements to the sound of music challenged", and the idea of running in such a lovely setting was just way more appealing.

Other, more "passive" activities included a couple of talks about health and wellness, and watching a documentary about food.

Our meals were fresh, light and healthy.

This retreat, however, does not take place in a cloister. We were in a resort that has a pub on the premises, and our evening activities were a wine and cheese and a costumed party. Dancing is good for you... drinking not so good of course. But I think everyone found a balance that suited them individually, and I think it's important to acknowledge and learn how to deal with temptation, because leading an ascetic lifestyle 24/7 simply is not an option for most of us. There's no point (and no fun) in trying to be perfect. I embrace the "make the right choices MOST of the time" philosophy instead.

Flapper girls...
don't always make the right choices!

I learned a few interesting things during this weekend, that I would like to share with you.

Lessons from yoga

During yoga, our instructor, T, told us about one of the meanings of the warrior pose (Virabhadrasana). The  warrior pose would illustrate our relationship with the past, present and future. We were instructed to 

- leave the past behind and let go of it (the hand that's behind you and that you turn away from)
- look ahead at the future (the hand that's in front of you and that you are looking at), but without trying to step into it
- stay grounded in the present (by making sure your weight is evenly split between your two feet, which are firmly planted on the ground), and being in a state of relaxed vigilance (head held high, shoulders relaxed)

This was a great reminder as some of us were probably self-loathing about the previous night's excesses, or looking forward to another night of partying! The real wisdom, of course, was to truly focus on the yoga session instead.

During guided meditation, T gave us the following mantra: "I embrace the fact that I am good, and that I am enough" (or something along those lines). It came with perfect timing as I was having a lot of negative self-talk that morning (it may or may not have been related to having a little bit too much fun the night before!!!)

Just before we said "Namaste", T reminded us that "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience". 

I will let you meditate on that. :-)

I left the yoga session relaxed, serene and accepting of my flaws and weaknesses. Doesn't it take a huge weight off our shoulders when we - temporarily - stop criticizing ourselves? I encourage you to do the same.

Lessons about food

I was actually pretty reasonable with the food during the whole weekend, but as we all know, there is always room for improvement. For example, T (who is one of the weekend's organizers) does not buy any pre-packaged food that has an ingredient list of more than 4 elements!!! That's pretty hardcore if you want my opinion!

The documentary we watched was entitled "Hungry for change". Here's the trailer (I think you can watch the whole thing online):

There is a LOT of important information in this documentary, to begin with the ravages of sugar and artificial sweeteners and appealing food that's not really food anymore. There are also tricks to get the 6-8 portions of fruit and vegetables you need each day and making sure your organism stays "clean". 

Mmm... strawberries.
As much as possible, eat fresh, local and in season!

Among the other topics and pieces of information that caught my interest were the following:

- Obesity is not a problem. Obesity is a solution. For a lot of people obesity is the solution to high amounts of stress, to lack of sleep, to being in an abusive relationship or simply one in which they don't feel loved and appreciated, to a difficult childhood, etc. Obesity thus is not the source of the problem but the result of it. We have to look at the situation in its entirety before obesity can disappear.

- Obesity also comes from an ever-increasing access to food that most often is not really food anymore. We were not meant to live in an environment that offers so many food options, so many of them being nutritionally poor.

- When you eat foods that have no nutritional value, your body does not feel satisfied, and can fail to send a signal of satiety despite the fat that you're providing it with a high (too high) amount of calories (some people can eat up to 10,000 calories a day!!! I exercise vigorously and still live very well on about 1800!) Start eating wholesome food and all of a sudden you feel full and content with small portions.

- We spend incredible amounts of money on all kinds of creams, lotions, hair products, cosmetics, in an effort to have a glowing skin, a healthy, uniform complexion, smooth and shiny hair, strong nails, sparkling eyes and what not... but most of those products contain ingredients that are potentially carcinogenic (and often don't even work that well). We could achieve those healthy-looking results simply by putting healthy stuff in our stomach. Eat healthy, look healthy. Simple!

- (I have a similar outlook on cleaning products - I've talked about it before - we are willing to use potentially carcinogenic products to protect ourselves from germs such as the common cold... and we kill good bacteria in the process. What the hell are we thinking?!? Personally I clean with vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda, and I've noticed that our family is much less sick than the vast majority of other families with children. Coincidence?)

- (I also have noticed that when I was dissatisfied with my body, I spent more money on haircuts and clothes and accessories, probably in the hope that I would eventually find something that would really be flattering. That was until I realized that when you are healthily slim, EVERYTHING looks good on you!)

When T asked what had been our "aha!" moment of the documentary, I quoted the following precept: "Never eat when you're upset". 

What will you be doing TODAY that will be good for your health? Start with one small step!

Children, puppies, apples and workout clothes:
all ingredients to a healthy lifestyle!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

When all else fails... meditate

Paris, 2012.

When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence - that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This is always exhilarating and sublime. Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

A little bit over seven years ago, baby A was born, a beautiful, healthy little girl who would add even more joy to our family, already blessed by the arrival of R, two years earlier. I was the happiest woman on earth.

Rewind. Erase.

I was not the happiest woman on earth. In fact, as much as it pains me to say, I was probably experiencing one of the lowest times of my life.

It had nothing to do with sweet A and even sweeter R, of course. They were doing their best (which is not much when you're respectively a few weeks old and two and a half years old). To be honest, they were adorable. 

It did, however, have to do with the constant pressures of early motherhood.

For one thing, I was sleep-deprived and exhausted. "They" make me laugh when "they" blame postpartum depression on some hormonal imbalance. Try sleeping 4 hours a night and spending the other 20 hours a day listening to strident screams, dealing with diaper overflows, and enduring sore, engorged breasts (when it's not cracked and bleeding nipples! Just the thought of it makes my toes curl!) Not to mention a mirror reflection that is a pale (and usually fat and discheveled) picture of the woman you used to be. Who wouldn't feel depressed at some point?

Add to the "newborn package" another "sweet" child, this one at the height of her "terrible-twos", and what you get is a 5-letter word: chaos.

A rare moment of respite for mommy:
A is sleeping, R is "reading", both under the vigilant eye of our friend F.

I am not writing this to whine about motherhood, which is the best present I was ever offered, but rather to - hopefully - help other mothers feel less guilty and overwhelmed. Early motherhood is not glamorous, and it's incredibly demanding! I certainly did not make it any easier on myself by being a perfectionist freak, either.

In any case, the place I was seven years ago was not a good one, despite all my blessings. I could feel I was making my way down a dangerous spiral, both physically and psychologically. I had to do something about it.

My friend K had told me about her incredible yoga instructor, L. I figured I had nothing to lose, and registered for a series of classes.

Getting out of the house by myself for the first time in ages was not easy, but once I was sitting in the car, crazy fantasies invaded my thoughts: the little devil on my shoulder was telling me to hop on the highway and drive, and drive, and drive, all night long, then all day long... never to come back!

Scotland, 2005.

Of course I wouldn't have lasted more than a few hours. Sooner or later I would have started to miss the kids. Either that or my boobs would have started to leak with milk (I've always had enough to feed triplets).

So instead I went to my first yoga class.

This was a real yoga class. Not the kind you get in gyms, yoga that "flows" so fast between one pose to the next you feel like you're white water rafting more than listening to a peaceful stream. 

L's yoga class was the kind where you are asked to first ground yourself, and where you are reminded of staying grounded during the whole practice. You just cannot ignore your internal state. 

L had us stand up straight but relaxed, head up but shoulders down, and feet well planted on the floor. She brought to our attention the earth beneath us and the sky over us (despite the fact that we were indoors). She had us focus on every nut and bolt of our body, in a compassionate, nonjudgemental way. We were only there to notice, not to evaluate, she said. 

Then we started focusing on our breathing. Did you ever really focus on your breathing? It's incredibly powerful.

Five minutes into the class we were still standing still with our eyes closed, and from the outside it would have seemed like nothing was going on, but inside of me was a cascade of sensations and emotions that had been ignored for too long. Everything I had been successful at repressing came to the surface. Physical discomforts, of course, but mostly psychological discomforts. The ugly truth splashed all around like a giant beach ball held under water for too long: I was a complete mess. The dam I had built for myself was dismantled: I started crying. (Silently, so as not to distract fellow yogis.) I felt overwhelmed and relieved at the same time.

The rest of the hour is blurry in my memory. I only remember the last pose, which is fine based on what L always told us: the corpse pose (savasana) is the most important one in yoga. In fact, according to L, the yoga practice in its entirety serves the purpose of preparing you for a good  savasana. Or meditation. With L our yoga practice ended with either one or the other.

When I drove back home, that night, I felt both exhausted and rejuvenated.

Fleuve St-Laurent, Quebec.

Within a few weeks, I realized that L was right when she said: "Without making any conscious modifications to your life, if you practice yoga and meditate regularly, changes are going to happen for the better. You will naturally start making good, healthy choices."

It was true. Yoga and meditation have a way of bringing everything to our awareness, but in a serene, accepting way. It helps us make the right decisions, whether they pertain to the physical or psychological sphere.

In fact, research has shown time and again that meditation in particular will help in the many following ways:

  • Less information overload, stress and fear
  • More serenity, peace of mind and happiness
  • Better decision making
  • More harmonious relationships
  • Improved well-being and overall health

Meditation has been shown to have benefits in many common (and sometimes serious) health problems when used as a complement to traditional medical treatment. (Of course, a traditional approach, be it medical treatment or psychotherapy, according to your specific concern, should remain a priority.)

The greatest news about meditation is that the benefits persist after the meditation session is over. (Some even go all the way to say that if a critical percentage of the population meditates, the whole population will benefit! I'll let you do your own research on this.)

It truly is a panacea!

Yoga and meditation, however, elude many people. I've had at least two friends tell me that the pace of yoga was too slow, that it was too silent, and that they only felt like giggling and running around in circles. I understand that feeling. I've been there. The mindful practice of yoga and meditation forces us to slow down to a point where it feels uncomfortable to most of us "rat-racers". It also demands/creates an awareness that we might not be used to deal with. The reason why meditation is not the same as watching TV or napping is that it puts you in a state of relaxed vigilance. Even the brain "behaves" differently during meditation, with an increase of slow alpha or theta wave EEG activity.

Fleuve Saint-Laurent, Quebec.

Of course, meditation, like any other new "activity", has to be practiced for a while before you get the full benefits. One has to first get used to this increased awareness, and one must learn to accept what comes out of it with detachment. At first, it's not the best feeling. We're not used to hearing the sound of our own soul (and, according to some, the sound of the whole cosmos!)

According to Roger Thomson, the reason so many people do not meditate is "because it puts us in the middle of ourselves, which is not always where we want to be. Often, we want to fix things rather than accept them the way they are. Many of us feel as though we can't afford the time and energy to meditate, when in fact we can't afford not to."

What we need to remember when we talk about yoga and meditation is that mindful does not mean explicited or verbalized or intellectualized. Mindful means being present in the moment, a sort of detached vigilance. You pause and notice. The physical feelings. The mental thoughts.You don't judge. You simply notice. Then you let it drift away, like a cloud in the sky.

If you do that often enough, the rewards are endless. You might even experience bliss!

Tall Ship in Halifax.

Have you ever tried yoga and/or meditation? How does it make you feel? What's your favorite way and your favorite place to meditate? Sitting? Walking? Indoors? Outdoors? Do you have any issue in your life right now that could be helped by some mindful practice and increased awareness? Anything you want to add that I might have forgotten?

For more on the benefits of meditation

Psychology Today (various articles):


Mayo Clinic: Meditation: A Simple, Fast Way to Reduce Stress:


Huffington Post: Meditation Health Benefits: What the Practice does to Your Body:


Science Daily: Brain Waves and Meditation:


Wikipedia: Research on Meditation:


And this nice blog, on yoga and meditation:


Paklenica, Croatia, 2002.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The road to Marathon is paved with race shirts and bibs

Bluenose Marathon!

I really didn't want to use a sexual analogy for this, but it's just too tempting: today, I lost my half-marathon virginity. It hurt a little bit, but for the most part, I enjoyed it.

While I was running it I came up with the perfect race equation:

Good time + Good times = Good race

The line between pushing yourself (to get a finish time you're proud of) and enjoying yourself (isn't it one of the reasons we do this?) is a fine line, but when you find that sweet spot, you get a good race, both challenging AND pleasant. This is the kind of race I had today.

I appreciated it even more because of all the obstacles I've met during that journey to my first half-marathon.

It took me a long time to get to a half. On my way to that distance I accumulated numerous race shirts and bibs.

It started with a 5 K, 4 years ago. My first race ever. I had used the Couch to 5 K running program, which is perfect for a non-runner. It builds very gradually, and very conservatively. At first, you walk more than you run... and that's perfect!

When I ran that 5 K during the Bluenose weekend, I discovered a whole new world, the world of races! The energy of the crowd, the music, the supporters on the side of the road holding motivational signs and shouting words of encouragement... I loved it!

First 5 K

Slowly, I moved on to 10 K races. I was confident that I would make my way to half-marathons and eventually marathons, but that's when problems started arising: as soon as I ran more than 12 or 13 km, injuries of all sorts would appear. They confined me to a frustrating plateau. I shaved 5 minutes from my 10 K PB, then another 5 minutes, which put me under the 1-hour mark (not bad for an asthmatic!), but the mythical half still eluded me! I was growing more and more frustrated.

In the meantime, I had gotten in shape, and lost the remainder of my pregnancy weight, so it wasn't a failure per se, but I really wanted to run at least a half-marathon, at least once in my life!

It was only when I met the best physio in town (sorry! He's now moved out west!) and the best trainer in town (I can refer you to her if you want!) that I finally got out of the vicious circle of running injuries. With them, I worked hard, but the payoff was invaluable: I could now run distances that had always put my hips and knees out of order. The half-marathon was shining at the end of the tunnel!

A few months ago, a group of women from my neighborhood, all thirty-ish or forty-ish mothers of young children, decided to train for a half; I happily joined in! We created a group on Facebook (The Road Runners), and we shared a common training plan. Week after week we encouraged each other and shared our pains and successes.

Never underestimate support from your kids; they can be the best coach!
R talking to me before a 10 K

It's not easy to fit running into the busy schedule of a working mom, but we Road Runners did! We got up early, we faced the harsh Canadian weather, but we did not lose focus.

Not a small feat. It takes forever to get ready for a 5 am run in the Canadian winter:

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

My aunt M, who is not a runner, asked me, upon seeing this picture:
Are you on your way to rob a bank? 

I have to mention that most of the women in our group benefited for the unswerving support of a partner who never complained about their repeated absences, dedicatedly looking after the household so that we, the runners, could train with complete peace of mind!


This morning, I woke up naturally around 5:30 (the time K and I usually run), ready to get up and go, with this ubiquitous running song on my mind:

I knew I still had an hour before my planned wake up time, so I managed to get back to sleep. When I woke up again at 6:30, this other song was playing in my head:

I took it as good omen! I got dressed, had my oatmeal with raisins and pumpkin seeds (perfect pre-race meal in my experience!), packed everything I needed, and took a few minutes to roll my piriformis and IT band. Then K arrived to pick me up.

Interestingly enough, I wasn't even nervous (unusual to say the least!), and as the starting time approached, that did not change. I felt pretty calm and serene about my upcoming first half-marathon. Maybe the fact that I was slowly succumbing to hypothermia contributed to that apathy (it was really cold in Halifax this morning!) Just before we started running, K and I hugged each other, said "Good luck" (and "I love you" for good measure; after training together for months, I think we can safely say we love each other!)

The sun slowly came up and became warmer as we ran; the weather was almost perfect (there was a little bit of an annoying wind, but what do you expect when you run so close to the ocean!) I saw most of my friends from the Road Runners group at one point or another, which was very encouraging. (In the end most of us finished within 2 minutes of each other! Talk about group homogeneity!)

On such a long run you truly need some support. Especially toward the end, when your legs start to give, and the saying "Mind over matter" takes all its meaning. At one point I was literally talking to my feet! When there's no matter left, the mind has to take over completely. A few high-fives (especially when given by children) and inspiring signs definitely made a difference!

My favorite signs were obviously the ones D had made with the kids, and that they held at kilometer 10, then 20:

"No cape, still a superhero" and "My arms are tired"

I saw other daddies and kiddies that I know (my running friend's), and I got a little emotional over the fact that those wonderful supporters have enabled us, the women, to give ourselves the gift of fitness and pride, and to become by the same token an example for the children.

(I also had my emotional moment witnessing a grandfather and his grandson running the kid's race - 4.2 km - together yesterday; the boy had a t-shirt that said: "You're never too young to exercise. Look! My grandpa is running with me")

I can only reiterate: running is NOT a lonely activity!

The other signs I particularly liked, and that came with perfect timing, toward the end of the race when I basically wanted to sit down and cry (okay, it wasn't that bad) were the following:

"You can do it! Trust your training"

"In 4 km the water changes into wine"

And of course the 3 most beautiful words in the world:

"No more hills"

Speaking of good timing, the song that started playing on my iPod about 500 m from the finish line was this one:

The first person I saw after crossing the finish line was my dear friend K. We hugged again, and said "I love you" again. (This time I blame the runners' high!)

I think this running tale goes to show that even if you're out of shape, busy, and/or a mother, there's always hope. You can become fit and strong. You can get your body to work for you instead of against you. Your body can do things you never dreamed possible! I hope this post inspires you to challenge yourself and become healthy. I hope you feel that you are worth embracing the Olympics spirit: citius, altius, fortius: faster, higher, stronger.

The feeling is indescribable!

Any athletic challenges and successes and goals you want to share with us today?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

There's no such thing as too much blue

Blue skies of Halifax.

It was so much fun writing a post about green that I decided to go on to the next best color in nature... blue.

Plus, blue being a soothing color, I'm hoping it will calm my nerves from the excitement of tomorrow's race!

I will not even bother you, readers, with long text today. Rather, I will simply share some photos I have taken over the years that have blue as the main protagonist. Read the caption for more info on the where, when and why.

First job, as a lifeguard. It does not get much better than spending your days watching a lake from the vantage point of a lifeguard chair.
We also took turns at patrolling in a kayak.
Ah! those were the good times! Quebec, 1993-1994.

The love of water has now been transmitted to my progeny.
Crete, Greece, 2012.

Water can indeed be playful. Here, Theodore II. Halifax.

More of Halifax harbor. Taken from aboard tall ship Silva.

The Tall Ship event might be one of my favorite
"interesting picture taking" opportunity! Here's one.

And another one.

All those ships shouldn't make us forget another means of transportation that's closely related to blue, namely, the airplane!

Again, Peggy's Cove. This place never fails to take my breath away. And it's only about 30 minutes from home!

The quintessential place to take "blue pictures" is Greece,
of course. Here, Santorini.

Santorini again! The caldera. 

The island of Crete (Greece also) is not bad either!

Another view of the fortress. Crete, Greece.

Gazing further away. Crete, Greece.

Really, a blue backdrop never hurts. Athens, Greece.

Back to colder climates...
If it wasn't for blue, what color would we have in the winter?
Nova Scotia.

I must have had a premonition that R's eyes would stay blue, because when she was a newborn, and hospitalized for prematurity, the song I sang to her over and over again was all about blue eyes (and the strength of my love):

If you like French songs, try those other ones, all about the ocean:

Charles Trenet - La Mer

Jacques Brel - Une Île

Serge Lama - Les Vagues de la mer

Michel Rivard - Je voudrais voir la mer

What's your favorite hue of blue? Have you ever lied down on the grass and watched the clouds drift away? Do you feel hypnotized by the ocean, just like I do?

There's no such thing as too much green (with pics and videos!)

Halifax Public Gardens

I don't know for you, but one of my favorite things about spring is the RETURN OF GREEN!

The budding leaves, the growing grass, and the great smells that now abound.

We are lucky enough to live in the middle of a forest, so the sights and smells and sounds of nature are omnipresent on a daily basis.

One of the things I noticed when I was in New York, last summer, was the lack of those natural sights, smells and sounds. There's Central Park, of course, but it's a minority who can afford to live close by, and it's still a human-made green area!

When I lived in Montreal (until 2007), that's one of the things I missed the most, having access to the wild on a daily basis. From a cultural (and multicultural) point of view, Montreal is a wonderful city, and it does have a few oasis of greenery (e.g. Mont Royal, Jardin Botanique, Parc Maisonneuve). Those are beautiful spots I visited on a regular basis, but I still had to take the car (or public transport, or a long walk), and it just wasn't the same as having the woods in your backyard.

The downside of living in the woods is the absolute lack of " civilized amenities" (like stores and restaurants) within walking distance, and the occasional threatening wildlife, but if I had to choose again I would pick the woods in a heartbeat. I can always go to town whenever I feel like it, but when night comes I retreat to my peaceful (and silent) home in the forest, where the skies are truly dark at night (perfect for star gazing!)

I used to think greenery was boring. My mom is a nature-lover and she certainly tried to share that passion with us. It eventually worked, but it took time. I remember complaining, as we were crossing Vermont on our way to South Carolina: "Trees, trees, and more trees! So much green! I'm booooored!"

I don't feel this way anymore. There is something magic about being surrounded by nature. Where I live now, if I step out in only a few steps I'm in the woods. I have my secret place where I go when I feel overwhelmed. I sit on a fallen tree and everywhere I look it's all green. I forget about my troubles, making one with Gaia for a moment.

We also have a trail and a lake and a brook within walking distance, soothing places we go as often as we can.

The trail

The lake

The brook

Those are our local green oasis, but even when away from home, I'm always on the lookout for some green.

Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia

Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens, Nova Scotia

Mont Megantic, Quebec

Overseas travelling is no different. Whether we're visiting the countryside or residing in the capitals, we always manage to find "the green spot". Some examples (photos all mine):

Austria - Alps, 2009.

China - Beijing, 2010.

Croatia - Plitvice Lakes National Park, 2002.

England - Bath, 1999.

Greece - Acropolis, 1999.

Greece - Lykavittos Hill, 2012.

Greece - Knossos, 1999.

Closer view of an olive tree - Greece, 2012.

Italy - Positano, 1999.

Scotland - Isle of Skye, 2005.

It's green too! Scotland, 2005.

Switzerland - Alps, 1999.

Really, one must admit that greenery makes beautiful pictures! Especially if you add a lovely subject:

Quebec, 2010.

Greece, 2012.

Apart from the green, there are so many wonderful sounds in the woods these days, I couldn't refrain from sharing some with you!

1) In this one you can hear the thrush. Walks in the woods don't go without a certain level of adventure (or misadventure): I ate some spiderweb in the making of this video, and if you listen well, you'll hear a faint laugh after the camera vibrates... I had just fallen in a mud hole!

2) Another piece of woods in our backyard... and again, the thrush.

Do you have a green place you like to retreat to? What are your fondest memories of communion with nature? What's your favorite picture in this post?

And don't forget to eat your greens!!!