Shredding

So I started out with the best of intentions last week – with the hubby away for work, I had free evenings galore and planned to make good use of the time by exercising.

Tuesday evening I knocked out Level 1 of the 30 Day Shred. I first attempted these videos almost a year ago, and while I found them easy to follow and challenging enough, I just didn’t stick with it. Gearing up to exercise at home is not my forte. Running and walking seemed a better way to get in shape (and it has been), but now with the onset of winter AND some new exercise equipment, I think workout videos will be an important component of my routine.

If you’re interested in checking out the 30 Day Shred (or various other Jillian Michaels videos), there are lots of options on YouTube before you invest in the full DVD.

I was intrigued to see how a years worth of exercise (and about 35 fewer pounds) would affect the overall workout experience, and I was pleasantly surprised to notice a major improvement. Not only was I able to (easily) finish the workout, I didn’t need to take any breaks (last year I needed to break multiple times during the workout), I was able to complete the harder variation for every move (except on pushups because I just can’t seem to do those suckers), and still felt great when it was all finished.

The next morning I happened to jump on the scale and saw the lowest number in 4 years! It was a wonderful feeling…and I vowed to do the next level of the Shred the following day.

And then life happened. I was in a (minor) car accident; while I wasn’t hurt, the stress of dealing with the fallout and insurance and rental cars…and the overall exhaustion from the ordeal…well, understandably I didn’t touch the 30 Day Shred again. My plan is to do level 2 tonight, though…barring any catastrophe.

I did also do one short video by Tracy Anderson – it’s a bit odd, but surprisingly effective, and I’m thinking of mixing up videos from Jillian Michaels (I’ve heard 6 Week Abs is pretty good) and Tracy Anderson to give me some variation.

A friend stopped by last evening and spoke of attending fitness classes 4-5 times a week; I’ll admit I got very nostalgic, since I LOVED my experience with group fitness classes. But aside from the monetary consideration, I just don’t think I’d be able to fit it into my schedule frequently enough to make it worth while. Arranging for child-care (there is no space on site for kids), and working around lunch and supper times…I think I’ll have to keep doing it from home on my own.

This week:

Level 1 – 30 Day Shred (x1)

Tracy Anderson Arms Video

7 K walk (x2)

3 K walk (x2)

4 K walk (x1)

Total 14 K (pretty sad considering all summer, I typically walked 14 K EACH DAY!)

Linking up with The Domestic Wannabe for Move It Mondays

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The Jolt

This is one of those moments where I wish I’d more actively pursued the Arts in university; devoted more time to articulating thoughts in a descriptive, eloquent manner. Engrained habits of  the science-centric “less is more” mantra creep in to my everyday life. I like to think in black and white, fact and fiction; although these traits are often advantageous, sometimes I downplay certain events and relegate any emotional response to a dusty corner in my mind. Emotionally stunted I’ve been dubbed on more than one occasion.

So bear with my as this post takes on various twists and turns as my mind weaves together the thoughts that I just can’t seem to arrange into a coherent thesis. I want to process this before surrendering to a much-anticipated nights sleep.

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I’ve had a unmistakable feeling of dread lately. Even as a fundamentally pessimistic person, I could identify this was something out of the ordinary. It started in October, when I learned late one night of a tragic accident that had claimed the life of a young father in the States. I had read some of his wife’s blog posts as she struggled with postpartum “baby blues,” and having recently escaped from that fog myself, sympathetically related to her struggles. Although I had no personal connection to this family, news of the loss hit me hard. I remember sobbing on the couch, clutching John and just crying out to God wondering why He would take someone so young…with an infant daughter who had just learned to speak her fathers name. Of course, I couldn’t help but think of my own situation – blessed with a healthy, vivacious, wildly intelligent daughter and the undeserving partner to the most loving, forgiving, compassionate, and just plain perfect helpmeet of a husband. Far from “wealthy”, we were richly blessed with a lovely apartment, a very comfortable life, work opportunities, and the safety of our glorious and free Canada. While in true form, I struggle to remember the attitude of gratitude, that evening in October, I couldn’t help but worry about the proverbial dropping shoe. Something in this seemingly perfect (though in reality, humanly flawed I can assure you) life was bound to go wrong.

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I’ve never had someone close to me die. That’s strange, I think, even at my young age. My grandmother, with whom I had a limited relationship, passed away two days before I left for university, but this elicited a limited emotional response as we had never been close. No friends or colleagues with whom I’d established lasting ties, no close immediate family. The most heart wrenching losses in my life were actually the stillborn babies my sister bore almost a decade ago; even then, my grief was really displaced agony for my sister.

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These feels of dread and anxiety have mounted the last few months. At every turn I seemed to encounter stories of infants diagnosed with leukemia, husbands taken too soon, and families torn apart by war, or famine, or other unspeakable horrors….I wondered when would my turn come? Life’s been too easy, too steady and comfortable, too blessed. It’s as if I imagined God, happening to chance upon my tally sheet,  and thinking: “Well, I see from my records Elisabeth has 50 blessings to 10 curses, so it’s time to even the score.” Though the Bible speaks of God sending trials to teach and mold us, there is no foundation to believe He tries to maintain a level playing field between blessing and curse when in fact, all is just grace. Marvelous grace.

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I felt anxious today. A stomach-in-knots, restless uneasy feeling, that permeated every action. On the surface, there was no reason for this aura. I enjoyed a good sleep, awoke at a leisurely hour, and delivered Abby to her childcare arrangements on time, so I was free to finish up some Christmas shopping and work/cook/clean in peace. When I ate lunch, I could barely keep the food down, and I even suspected I might be catching a bug of some sort.

When I left to collect Abby, and run some additional errands, I still couldn’t shake this feeling of concern. At this point, I had a spotless house, a delicious stew in the oven, and had completed a good chunk of my work assignments.

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Earlier in the week, I prayed to the Lord for a jolt. Something to break me out of the spiritual funk I’ve been in lately – honestly, for my whole life. I prayed for fervor and strength and direction to actually LIVE my faith – not just speak it. If we’re really being honest, I was scared of the response. See, 95% of the time, I’m blessed to work side-by-side from home with my husband. But the other portion, he travels to Northern (really northern – like sometimes above the Arctic Circle) Canada for work. When he left on an airplane days ago, I worried (though didn’t voice my fear) the jolt that I’d prayed for…would come in the form of some horrible tragedy. My imagination is vivid, and how can I not think of tangled fuselage and anxious rescue searches. No planes crashed, no tragedy ensued. I put thoughts of the “jolt” out of my mind.

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I’m dependent on our desktop computer for work. The wife of an IT-consultant, I am spoiled by the ever-present availability of a state-of-the-art-three-monitor-looks-like-something-from-NASA tailored computer setup. I heard a bang the first night John was away. I thought it was a fridge magnet crashing to the ground. Instead it was the computer – a lifeline for work. Of all weeks – with John away, with monthly reports due…This, I questioned, could this be the jolt? It was a jolt, because I realized how tied and dependent I had become to one “thing.” I was brought to my knees (literally, I spent hours getting things working) by the loss of a computer.

Still, this didn’t seem like the awakening I was sensing.

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Cue the sweaty palms, churning stomach and general uneasiness I felt all day long. And then it happened. A jolt – I won’t say “the” jolt, because surely, providentially, I will be jolted all the way to Heaven. But I felt this jolt – when I was involved in a car accident this afternoon. My first reaction was less than favourable; disbelief, frustration, a sense of calm (that was adrenaline), and then finally complete and utter breakdown (thankfully into the loving arms of a church member). My emotions were on overdrive all evening as I contemplated monetary costs, and replayed the days events (I made a last minute run from my place in line to visit the refrigerators at SuperStore to get ice cream, which ended up melting in the back seat – if I hadn’t gone to get the ice cream, I would have checked out seconds sooner and wouldn’t have been in the accident; I tried to fit in one last – unimportant – errand before picking up Abby…if I hadn’t made the decision, I wouldn’t have had the accident). Other worries jostled for my fear and attention  – what about premiums and adjusters and our trip to see family at Christmas.

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And then I read this article. Distractedly at first, while my mind flitted between replaying the days events and wishing for alternative scenarios. Thankfully, her words always bless my soul. This time they seemed to make things perfectly clear. This was, at least in part, the “jolt” I had prayed for. How did I not see it? This twisted metal and busted glass and churning gut – these were from the Lord? Gifts even?

Her words – so true: And the good things in life are not health but holiness, not the riches of this world but relationship with God, not our plans but His presence — and He withholds no good thing from us because good things aren’t ever things.

I walked, even drove away from this accident. This is unspeakable grace. My dear, sweet, precious child was safely playing unaware minutes drive away. What if she’d been in the backseat? What if I hadn’t purchased that $5.79 tub of ice cream, and instead of a broken mirror and dented hood, it has been blood and sorrow – a different accident?

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Each week in church our pastor opens the floor for “sharing and prayer.” Members bring petitions and blessing before the congregation and the Lord. I’m ashamed as I listen to others; their faith, secure and unwavering, and their reliance on their Saviour is truly humbling. A few weeks back a member spoke of a recent heart attack he had suffered and how he wished he hadn’t woken up on Earth. Far better to be with the Lord in Paradise he mused. I watched his wife, and noted the twinge of her lips as they formed a smile. Contentment over his safety, or her own fleeting joy in imaging a world with no more suffering? That’s where that man wished he had ended up…not because he doesn’t cherish each day on Earth, but because he doesn’t love this life. He’s holding out for something better. Something lasting.

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This was no near-death experience I faced today. Let’s call a spade a spade – it was a minor fender bender. But it was, most definitely, a jolt. In the midst of the chaos of deadlines and baking and decorating – the things – I was stopped. Literally.

And then thankfulness came; I almost felt giddy. And while reading this, I heard this “He appeared, and the Soul felt its worth; a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…Fall on your knees.

How can I not fall on my knees? If each day is grace, then isn’t this day full of extra grace. Yes, I say – I see the grace. Everywhere. In the friends provided to offer comfort, in the snuggles from my flesh-and-blood…all superfluous things, like cars and computers, are just that – things. What’s real, what’s important, is the presence of God. When does this more ring true than Christmas, as we celebrate this gift of life and grace and forgiveness?

When I realize it is not God who is in my debt, but I…all becomes a gift. ~ Ann Voskamp

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And tonight, when I look at the crumbled, rain-stained pad of paper in my purse – the pad on which just hours ago trembling hands copied down license plate numbers and insurance codes – I notice the top sheet of that pad. And my breath catches, and how can I not smile at my scribbles from a recent benefit concert where I noted two songs: Don’t Let Me Miss the Glory and one line from another song (which I can’t seem to track down online) “Grace from above with unfailing love – grace, marvelous grace.”

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*No energy to proofread so any lack of typos is also grace!

Holiday Favourites

Christmas has the ability to extrude every last ounce of sentimentality out of my veins. And let me tell you – that’s a whole lot of sentiment. I’m a nostalgic at heart and nothing elicits warm fuzzies like reminiscing about Christmas past. The best part – I get to relive certain aspects of the holiday season each and every year in the form of tried and true favourites.

Here’s a quick run-down of things that set my sentimental heart aflutter – without fail!

Film:

How could I not start with the epitome of classic holiday viewing pleasure: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

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I look forward to watching this every year. The pitiful dog, the adorable Cindy Lou, and the ornery old grinch and that eventual, wonderful, miraculous conversion from miserable to generous.  Don’t get me started on the movie version though, I’m passionately opposed.

My next favourite: White Christmas

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I can’t get enough of this 1954 classic. I love everything about the movie. Awkward 50’s acting (check), great music (check), wonderful costuming (check), Bing Crosby (check), feel-good ending (check, check, mate). I may (or may not) have watched this movie three times last Christmas. It’s that good.

Music:

I grew up immersed in music; my mother loved to play the piano and we all sang regularly as a family (minus Dad, who can’t hold a tune to save his life). It’s not surprising, then, that at Christmas time our music-loving genes kicked in to overdrive. Aside from one particular Christmas smell (I’ll write about this later; smell is the sense believed to trigger the most vivid memories, and it’s definitely the case at Christmas for me), music is what brings back childhood Christmases most clearly.

First off: The Sounds of Christmas by Julie Andrews. Some of the songs are unconventional, and I likely wouldn’t enjoy this album if I hadn’t heard it every year at Christmas (on repeat) in my house growing up, but this signals “Christmas is here” whenever I listen to it for the first time each year.

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Another family favourite: The Living Strings and Living Voices White Christmas (link to full album on YouTube). My favourite song from this album is Buon Natale (Merry Christmas to You) – I’ve never heard it anywhere else.

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As a quick aside – my new favourite album (much to my husband’s chagrin): Michael Buble Christmas (link to full album on YouTube)

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The White Christmas duet with Shania Twain – I cannot get this out of my head.

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And just have to throw this one in to the mix too (also a “newer” favourite): Sarah McLachlan Wintersong

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Food:

And finally, what Christmas celebration is complete without “eat, drink, and be merry?” So many dishes stand out as classic family recipes (I’ll write about a few food traditions another day), but two it-just-wouldn’t-be-Christmas-without-them:

Homemade Nuts and Bolts

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My recipe:

2 cups Cheerios

2 cups Life

2 cups Shreddies

1 cup peanuts

1 cup pretzels

1/3 cup margarine or butter (melted)

2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce

1 teaspoon seasoning salt

3 teaspoons garlic powder

Mix (melted) margarine with W. Sauce and powdered ingredients. Pour over cereal, nuts, and pretzels and stir until coated. Bake at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes. Be careful it doesn’t burn. I usually add some extra seasoning because I love garlic.

This freezes really well, and actually tastes better after it’s had a chance to sit for a while.

Cinnamon Coffee Cake

We have this every Christmas morning for breakfast. So. good. In our house, it’s called Cinnamon Coffee Cake, but I think most people recognize this as monkey bread. Whatever you call it…if you haven’t tried this before…what are you still doing reading this. Make it!

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My recipe:

Biscuit dough:

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup shortening

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 egg

3/4 cup milk

Mix shortening with dry ingredients using a pastry cutter. Whisk an egg in a measuring cup, and fill with milk to the 1 cup mark (so about 3/4 cup milk). Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until moist.

Coating:

3 teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup white sugar

Take tablespoon-sized globs of biscuit dough and roll in sugar. Drop into a greased bundt pan (don’t pack these in tightly; just drop in so they’re spaced relatively evenly).

This can be refrigerated overnight.

Melt:

1/2 cup margarine  or butter

1 cup brown sugar

Over medium-high heat melt margarine and sugar. When bubbling and sugar is fully dissolved, pour over the biscuits in bundt pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. This is best served fresh!

What are your “Christmas-is-here” triggers? Any favourite holiday movies, albums, or deletable treats?