How Do I Stay Motivated?

As we close in on the third week of March, I wonder how many of us are still going strong on those New Year’s resolutions.  I am not saying this as a “tisk-tisk” but as a fact of my life.  It is so often that I have seen the gym become packed with new and ambitious members the first week after New Year.  It is as often that I have seen it thin out in March.  I am not immune to this same tapering off of motivation and focus on my goals.  I have gone from running about four times per week and spinning once a week to running two times per week and spinning once per week (and some weeks not at all!).  Sure, winter weather had something to do with it as I can’t stand running on a treadmill. But let’s be honest, we didn’t have much of a winter here in Toronto.

With two 10 km runs booked for April and May, I need to use the motivation techniques that work for me in order to stay focused.

When I am feeling lazy or even the opposite – completely swamped – I find myself making excuses to get out of running. When I find this happening, I visualize myself running. That’s what I’ve found works for me. You see, I actually really enjoy running, which is key for me being able to stick to an exercise program.  I am so lucky that I live close to a running route that is filled with beautiful scenery.  Why, during this week’s runs I saw swans, ducks, ponds, the lake and the Toronto skyline. 

Picturing myself running alongside the rocky beach often gives me the push I need to get out the door.  If this doesn’t work, then visualizing how great I will feel at the end of the run is another motivation trick I have up my sleeve.

I also find that just getting into my running gear is a great way to overcome a case of “The Lazies”.  If I can just get into the dorky pants, hat, and runners, the rest seems to take care of itself. Of course, a motivating playlist is also part of my running gear.

Another technique I use is to think about all the ideas I have come up with while running.  This is a great way to give myself permission to take time away from other priorities, and to get out for some exercise.  During a run, I have been able to brainstorm solutions to problems and come up with creative ideas! Ideas that just weren’t flowing for me while staring at my computer screen trying to will the brilliance out of the recesses of my mind.  It’s often when I am jogging along a beautiful path with a free mind that an “ah-ha!” moment happens for me.  I come back to my work or personal project with inspiration and a renewed sense of excitement.

For me, having a system to track my progress is another big motivator.  I personally use Nike + iPod to monitor my distance, speed and progress.  I need to know how each run stacks up against the last.  I also find that thinking about being able to share a new milestone reached or a nice photo from a run over Twitter or Facebook can give me the kick I need to run an extra kilometre or two.

It can be hard to stay positive when I’ve fallen off track.  I start to think about how behind I have become on achieving my goals and fall into a further funk.  When this happens, I have to remind myself that it only takes one session of exercise to “get back on track”.  That first session back usually provides the motivation I need to keep going.

Exercise is such an important contributor to my physical and mental health.  A good run is as soothing as a great conversation with a close friend (or therapist!).  I am happier and find the ups and downs of life that much easier to handle after a spin around the lake.

What techniques do you use to stay motivated to work toward your goals?

Cocktail Hour

What is it about drinking a Manhattan that makes me feel like I am adding glamour to my life?  Perhaps it is the romantic notions?  The nostalgia I have for certain periods in history? For the times when people dressed to the nines to head out on the town: cocktail dresses, red lipstick and hair done, just right. 

I think mostly it has to do with the idea of taking time to put myself together. To spend an evening with friends. To live life away from a computer screen.

A few weeks ago, in order to celebrate a good friend’s entry into her thirties I put on my new cocktail dress and pulled out my curlers and red lipstick.  Once dolled up, I felt ready to hit the town with my husband.  We headed to The Comrade near Queen and Broadview in Toronto for a night of great conversation and classic cocktails.  Served in crystal glasses and garnished with sour cherries, the cocktails at The Comrade are reminiscent of glamorous times past.  The drink menu is quite extensive and includes classics like the Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Sidecar.


In an attempt to recreate this experience at home I have also been mixing up classic cocktails using my cocktail bible Shaken: 250 Very Sexy Cocktails.  The great recipes and photography in this book are enough to inspire some great party ideas.

Manhattan Dry

  • Ice cubes
  • 60 ml (2 oz) rye whiskey
  • 15 ml (1/2 oz) dry vermouth
  • Dash of Angostura bitters
  • Sour or Maraschino Cherries

Half-fill a cocktail shaker with ice.  Add the whiskey, vermouth and bitters and then shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with cherries.

Sidecar

  • Ice cubes
  • 30 ml (1 oz) brandy or cognac
  • 15 ml (1/2 oz) Cointreau
  • 30 ml (1 oz) lemon juice
  • Lemon twist

Half-fill a cocktail shaker with ice.  Add the brand, Cointreau and lemon juice and then shake well.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

Old Fashioned

  • 1 sugar cube
  • Dash of Angostura bitters
  • Soda water
  • Ice cube
  • 60 ml (2 oz) bourbon
  • Orange twist (optional)

Place the sugar cube in an old-fashioned glass.  Add the bitters and let it soak into the sugar. Add a splash of soda water and enough ice to half-fill the glass.  Pour the bourbon and stir to dissolve the sugar. Garnish with a twist of orange if you wish.

Recipes from Shaken: 250 Very Sexy Cocktails (You can find reasonably priced used copies of this book on Amazon.ca or a preview of the book on Google Books by searching ISBN 1740453603).

The music you play during your cocktail party is as important for setting the tone as the cocktails themselves. I personally choose to relax to the music of jazz masters like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington or, the classic crooners like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, or Fred Astaire.

Sometimes I think there is nothing more perfect than bourbon paired with the soul penetrating voices of Etta James or Billy Holiday.

Other times, I prefer a modern twist to my lounge music from such series as The Verve Remixed or Mushroom Jazz (DJ Mark Farina). To me,  a well-curated playlist is almost as good as a time-machine.

What are some of your favourite classic cocktail and music combinations?

DJ Skate Night at Harbourfront

If you’ve been following my posts since January, you’ll know that I am trying hard to have it all.  I am working to stay healthy and social, while making room for indulgences.

One of my goals as stated in my Strength in Numbers post is to make more of an effort to suggest active and healthy social outings.  I know that I tend to suggest events that mostly revolve around food, drinks and merriment.  While these types of events are not off the table, I want create more balance in what I do when I get together with friends and family.

So, this past Saturday evening a group of us put on our brave faces, dusted of our skating skills and headed to Harbourfront Center for DJ Skate Night. 

Use of the outdoor rink on the edge of Lake Ontario is free during the event.  Skates can be rented for $8. Be sure to arrive early while skates and lockers are still available.

Once laced up, I tentatively stepped onto the rink and after some stressful first steps I was skating again after at least ten years off the ice.  After a few times around the rink, I was able to bust some careful moves to the tunes played our host DJs for the night (this may be the closest I come to “clubbing” these days).

I  have to say that I felt very nostalgic for my younger years as I watched the Zamboni clear the ice.

With a licensed patio and word burning stoves, there are plenty of ways to stay warm while taking in great views of the lake and Toronto’s skyline.

This weekend’s DJ Skate night will feature Electro Swing with DJ Medicineman.

What types of active social events do you partake in?

Spreading the Love

Another Valentine’s Day came and went this week and there’s something I want you to know: I love you – I love you for reading my blog.  Maybe this is your first visit, maybe you come by once in a while, or maybe you’re one of my avid supporters. Whoever you are, I want you to know how much I appreciate you.  

The truth is, I love to show gratitude and appreciation. And perhaps it’s a fault of mine, but I also like to get it.  The whole giving selflessly thing, well, I am working on that.

Perhaps this need for give-and-take of gratitude and appreciation is what has sparked my newfound love of baking. And like I said last week, I just can’t stop!

So, I have been looking to Martha Stewart for what I consider to be no-fail recipes that result in the perfect treats to help me spread love and appreciation to those in my life.  And in return I get bask in the icing smeared smiles and yummy noises being made as my creations are devoured.

Photo credit: Mojgan Fay

In order to make Valentine’s Day special this week, I made and shared these lovely one-bowl chocolate cupcakes with pink butter cream icing.  These recipes are both easy (shhh, don’t tell) and so delicious (healthy they are not).  I dressed these lovelies up with fancy schmancy liners purchased at Loblaws and edible glitter hearts from Bulk Barn (the glitter hearts are nice for any occasion, just change up your icing colour for a non-valentiney look.)

The Martha recipes don’t stop there; I have also found what I consider to be the best oatmeal cookie recipe ever (please pronounce “ev-ah”).  I have made it with raisins and again with chocolate chips and they were both amazing, but my personal preference was for the raisins.  I will warn you that the yield seems a bit off to me.  The recipe states it makes 32 small or 13 large cookies, I wound up with 32  “medium” (I consider large) cookies.  But hey, if you want a cookie that’s bigger than your head, try for 13 cookies.  These cookies are crispy, chewy and delicious!


As 2012 progresses, my goal is to continue to improve my baking skills to include more elaborate creations as well as continue to add more healthy recipes to my repertoire.

Blueberries and Bossa Nova

 I don’t know what has happened to me.  Somehow, in the last month I’ve become hooked on baking.  I have to say that this new hobby doesn’t necessarily mix well with my focus on health and fitness but I am trying to make them work together. 

I am working on a three-step system to allow me to bake to my heart’s content while staying fit:

First, I try to find healthy recipes to bake.

Second, I give most of my baked goods away.

Third, I don my fancy headphones and dance while I bake!

This week, it was Blueberry-Oatmeal Muffins and Ultra-Lounge/Cha-Cha De Amour

The following recipe is built from an oatmeal muffin recipe that I have made a few times but changed quite a bit to meet the request of my biggest fan – my husband.

Blueberry-Buttermilk-Oatmeal Muffins

Ingredients

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup buttermilk
¾ cup Nutri flour blend
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¾ tsp baking soda
½ tsp nutmeg
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
6 tbsp melted unsalted butter
1 cup frozen organic wild blueberries
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Combine oats and buttermilk; let stand for 30 minutes.
  3. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg together.  Set aside.
  4. Stir in eggs.  Add brown sugar, butter and flour mixture. Stir until just combined. Batter will be lumpy.  Fold in blueberries and walnuts.
  5. Spoon into prepared muffins tins, filling about 2/3 full.
  6. Sprinkle with oats and sugar if desired.
  7. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

Makes about 12 muffins.

Do you have a favourite muffin recipe? And do you dance along while baking too? What are you favourite baking tunes?

Check back next week to find out which Martha Stewart recipes have been helping me make new friends.

The Rex on Queen

I was an avid supporter of the indie rock scene throughout my twenties.  I attended concerts all over Toronto.  I frequented The Horseshoe Tavern, The Mod Club, The Phoenix, The Rivoli, Lee’s Palace and so on…

It wasn’t uncommon for me to meet up with friends for drinks at home, before we headed out to listen to our favorite bands rock into the wee hours of the morning. Even if we had to work the next day.

My love for music continues to grow, and my tastes have expanded to many different genres from many different time periods (check out my latest RDIO playlist).  I still love the idea of spending an evening seeing a favorite band do their thing.

But then I see that the band doesn’t even start playing until 10:00 on a Wednesday night, and I know that if I go, the next day at work will be impossible and I will wind up wanting to nap under my desk at lunchtime.

This past weekend, after a day of shopping and healthy dinner at Fresh on Spadina, my friend and I headed to The Rex on Queen Street West to listen to a set from The Justin Bacchus Group.  We were treated to a set that included the music of Bob Marley, Lenny Kravitz, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson.  Without pressure, we ordered cocktails and settled into our booth to enjoy the show.  My advice would be to arrive about 30-45 minutes before the next set in order to find a place to sit.  When the band goes on, it can be standing room only. 

What I love about The Rex is that you can catch a great set of great music several times a day, often without a cover charge and starting as early as noon on Saturdays or 6:30pm during the week.  What a great way to end a workday or a Saturday shopping with friends.

I know what you’re wondering…

Is this Urban Thirty Something or Urban Eighty Something?

Don’t worry; I am still up for a late night on the weekend! But, during the week give me a cup of tea and a fuzzy blanket by 9:00 at night and I am happy.

While it is true that you’ll often find an older audience at The Rex, you’ll also find patrons that really appreciate and visibly enjoy great music. 

And all before you turn into a pumpkin.

Making New Habits: Adventures in Kale

After a busy day at the office, followed by a good workout at the gym, I always find myself to be absolutely famished, usually exhausted and lacking the patience and creativity to plan and make a healthy dinner.

Some might even call me “Hangry”.

So, what happens? 

My husband and I end up getting take-out on the way home and I spend the evening feeling guilty for spending too much money and calories on dinner.

Starting last week, I began trying to create a new habit and spend time on a less hectic evening or on the weekend to make healthy meals in advance that can be heated up and served quickly.

                                

Armed with my new cookbook, Fresh & Healthy Cooking for Two: Easy Meals for Everyday Life: I’ve been making up batches of healthy soup that include a new star in our kitchen, Kale.

Before I move on to my kale adventures, I have to say that this cookbook is a great addition to my library.  I have made a number of recipes from this book in the 3 weeks since I purchased it.  I love that each recipe is well balanced and includes the nutritional information, making it easy to track what I am eating.

Strength in Numbers

While shifting to a healthier lifestyle, I am finding it difficult to balance my ability to be social, eat healthier and be more active all at the same time!  I have been known to turn down a drink with a friend in order to go to my spinning class.  Or, I’ll throw my hard work toward weight loss down the drain for a night of dining on delicious food with friends. 

I do realize though, that in order to stick to any kind of health benefiting plan, I need to be able to indulge from time to time. But this doesn’t mean I want to drastically cut back on the amount of time I spend with my friends. 

Does this mean I should ditch my current friends and hang out only with health nuts? 

No.

Instead, I have started trying to take the lead and make suggestions for different kinds of activities that don’t always include food. Or if they do, for plans to revolve around healthier dining experiences.  It’s quality time I want with my friends and family and I think that’s what they’re after as well.

In 2012 I’m starting a challenge: to continue to see friends and be social while at the same time maintaining my healthy habits.

To kick of this challenge, this weekend will mark the first healthy eating lunch with my girlfriends.  Since we’re all using Weight Watchers as our healthy eating plan, we’ve put a maximum PointsPlus value (Weight Watcher’s system for making good food choices) for each portion of the meal and the challenge will be to create a healthy, delicious meal while staying within the points allotment.  I’ll be bringing dessert and already have some great ideas (check back soon to see what we made for this lunch).  We’ll share recipes and tips for healthy food choices and make time for exercise, chat about life and best of all, spend some quality girl time catching up.

Putting health first in my life has required many changes in my mindset and activities.  Making these changes is much easier when I can do them with the people that are important to me.

I still want to enjoy cocktails, cupcakes or a fancy lunch at Canoe with friends from time to time, but the idea is to moderate the potentially unhealthy activities, not my social interactions.

I have been brainstorming ideas for other social, fun and healthy activities and will share more as they happen.

What ideas do you have for making social activities both fun and healthier?

Photo credit