2012 Tune-Up

It’s that time of year again.  Time for making resolutions and taking stock before turning over the calendar page and having another go at it.  What will you make of 2012?  How will you put your best foot forward?  What will you leave behind?

Somewhere deep within my dreams, I have often found myself circling the numbers 2012, as if this would be the year for something great.  I don’t want to jinx it but I do feel electrified and ready for adventure.  I plan to start this year in the same way I have started all the rest: with passion, drive, and optimism.

I went for a tarot card reading last week.  The mystic identified 2012 as a year relatively free from planetary obstacles, and said that I would get everything I deserved (and almost everything I wanted) this year.  He also said that I had some hard work to do.  Again?

The same card kept re-appearing in my spread: “The Hermit.”  This card, I was told, means that it’s time for some serious introspection and to determine my true purpose in life.  The tarot card reader also suggested that I look closely at what I was carrying with me in my “pack sack”; to review all of my relationships, habits and belongings, and to determine whether they helped or hindered me in relation to my deeper purpose.

I decided to take this suggestion quite literally, and took a good, long look inside my laptop bag. Even with the “bare essentials”, this bag somehow manages to weigh about fifteen pounds.  I dug deep, asking myself, “What can I strip away?  What do I really need?  How can I do this better?”

Not easy questions to answer when your laptop, iPod, Blackberry, Kindle, digital camera, (along with their cables and accoutrements), are all vying for their rightful place in your purse.  Hopefully someone at the Apple store can help me with this problem.

I really liked this idea of taking a complete “life inventory”, and I found myself thinking about it for a number of days.  I decided to explore the metaphorical “pack sack” as well.

First, I wrote down my top priorities, and what I see as my main purpose or raison d’être.  Then I wrote down the names of all of the important people, habits and things in my life on small squares of paper.  When I was done that, I laid out a scarf and divided it into the following sections:

– That Which I Hold Most Dear

– That Which Helps Me Achieve My Aim Practically

– That Which Helps Me Achieve My Aim Spiritually

– Good Things To Keep Close By

– Friends To Cherish

– That Which Holds Me Back Of Which I Must Let Go

Keeping in mind (and referring frequently to) my list of priorities for guidance, I placed each square of paper in the appropriate category.  “Do crackers help or hinder me in my goal to stay fit and healthy?”   Finally, I chose one or two items to put at the very top of each section, signifying that they were the most important items to focus on for the coming year.

This exercise proved to be hugely helpful and enlightening, much more so than I ever would have expected. With everything laid out in front of me, I could see how the pieces fit together, what I value most, and which items were on the chopping block (sorry, Grey’s Anatomy.)

As I moved through the exercise, I found myself shuffling some of the paper squares from one category to another, and as my focus became sharper, a few of them ended up being removed altogether.  As de Saint-Exupéry once said, “he who would travel happily must travel light.”

I found myself undecided on a couple of items, and that in itself was revealing.  I’ll be thinking about those…

Keeping your priorities in plain view at all times is critical if you want to keep the plethora of daily distractions at bay.  I want to share a couple of tools that I have found along the way that have really helped me to stay focused on what matters most.

1. The Quadrant To Do List – From Last Lecture, Randy Pausch

As Randy Pausch said, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and being given 3-6 months to live, he was uniquely qualified to talk about the importance of time management. He suggests making a quadrant to do list and breaking tasks into 4 categories:

-Important, Due Soon

-Important, Not Due Soon

-Not Important, Due Soon

-Not Important, Not Due Soon

His core message is that we must carve out time to work on the important items, even if they are not due soon.  If you find yourself doing something that falls in the “not important, not due soon” category, stop doing it.  You can watch the complete lecture here.

2. The Weekly Planner – From The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey

Covey’s weekly planner template was built on a very simple premise – “put first things first” – and this unassuming philosophy has completely changed the way I schedule my time.  Each week, I list any confirmed appointments under the appropriate time and day, and then in the spaces at the top of each day I list a maximum of 3 other important items that I want to complete.  That’s right, only three things.

That’s the greatest thing about this template:  it prevents you from having a “To Do” list with too many items on it.  After identifying what has to be done, you only have “room” for 2 or 3 other things each day.  This forces you to be both realistic and discerning, putting only the most important things first.  It’s also helpful to see the week as a whole, so you can see where you have blocks of time available, and which activities could be grouped together.

Another wonderful tool that Covey has made available online is the Mission Statement Builder, which guides you through a series of questions to help identify your priorities and core values.

3. Typical Day vs. Ideal Day – From Secrets of Simplicity, Mary Carlomagno

First of all, bless Chronicle Books for releasing what is definitely the best- looking self-help book on the market.

Illustration by Andrea CobbIn Secrets Of Simplicity, Carlomagno suggests completing the following exercise to help identify exactly where your life might be in need of an upgrade.

Step one: list the activities you would typically be doing on an average day at each hour from 6:00 AM to midnight.

Step two: list the activities you would like to be doing each day from 6:00 AM to midnight.

Step three: compare the two lists, determine what is missing from your current schedule, and brainstorm ways to incorporate those items into your daily routine.  Of course, the “no pain, no gain” rule applies here, and you may find that you need to let go of something in order to clear the path for what you really want in your life.  As the Japanese master Nansen once said, “how can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

I’m ready to let go of 2011.  There are some things I will definitely leave behind me, and a few I will take along on my journey.  I will be sure to completely empty my cup of wine this New Year’s Eve so that I am ready and free to receive whatever goodness 2012 has in store.


Kissable Lips In 5 Minutes

The skin of the lips is five times thinner than the skin anywhere else on the face, so it’s no wonder that after months of exposure to harsh winter winds, that rosy pout can start to feel more like sandpaper than a silky kissing machine.

With only fourteen days of winter left, it’s time to get your smackers ready for a spring fling.

Exfoliating your lips naturally is as easy as 1-2-3:

1. Dip the tip of your finger in a jar of honey, and then in some granulated sugar.

2. Rub your finger over your lips in small circles, removing dead skin, until honey is absorbed.

3. Rinse with luke warm water to reveal soft, supple lips.

Full, healthy lips are a sign of fertility in both women and men, and psychological studies have shown that the shape and size of lips plays a strong role in sexual attraction. All the more reason to give yours a little TLC before the next time you pucker up.

Beauty From The Inside Out: 7 Days Meat-Free

It’s February, time to revisit those New Year’s resolutions and see if they need to be adjusted for reality. What about you?  Lose ten pounds yet?  Quit smoking?

Number one on my list of resolutions for 2011 was “healthier eating” which I defined as eating less meat, more green stuff, and using low fat and organic food products whenever possible.

When January rolled by and I still found myself resorting to cheese on toast and Goldfish crackers, I decided to commit to one week of meat-free, vegetable packed meals to see if I noticed any improvements in how I felt.  Baby steps, right?

My main problem is that I always seem to be eating (and loving) some variation of cheese and carbs: grilled cheese, cheese on toast, quesadillas, pizza, macaroni and cheese… Although I toss in the occasional tomato or cucumber, this diet isn’t exactly packed with the nutrients needed for optimal health.

The good news is that I don’t drink coffee or eat sweets, and I’m not eating Big Macs every day so my diet isn’t that unhealthy.  In fact, almost half of my meals are vegetarian, but I still seem to find the thought of never again enjoying a perfect burger or a tuna sandwich too extreme somehow.  If I could find a vegetarian substitute that tasted as good as slow cooked roast beef, I would definitely go all veg for good.

I was happy to stumble upon environmentalist Graham Hill’s brilliant Ted Talk about being a weekday vegetarian. I can definitely subscribe to the idea of eating high quality meat occasionally and truly appreciating it as a balanced starting point on a path towards more conscious eating.

Although reading Skinny Bitch made me feel extremely guilty about eating meat for a few days, it failed to acknowledge that meat actually tastes good, or that it sometimes makes you feel energized and sensual in a way that is hard to duplicate with a rubbery breaded tofu mock chicken finger.  I can’t help but think that our senses are here to guide us.

For me, a gradual reduction of meat consumption is a much more realistic (and perhaps even healthier) approach to experimenting with vegetarianism, and learning how eating meat affects the body, for better or worse.

We often fail to pay attention to how the food we eat makes us feel.  For the past seven days, I have made a concerted effort to record the findings of my meat-free experiment.  Here are the results:


1. Having fruit, juice or fruit smoothies for breakfast instead of toast.  This was easy and felt natural, it gave me lots of energy and started the day off on a good foot.

2. Black bean and portobello veggie burgers with roasted red peppers and pesto mayonnaise.  These were amazing and just as satisfying as a beef burger.  This recipe is a keeper.

3. Soft tacos with mexican flavoured ground round.  These tasted almost as good as beef tacos and in general, Mexican dishes were wonderful with beans substituted for beef.


1. Faux tuna sandwich.  I tried this recipe twice, and while the sandwich filling itself wasn’t bad, it didn’t taste anything like tuna and so it felt like a let down.  I would suggest using less sunflower seeds than the recipe calls for, they overpowered the other flavours significantly.

2. Faux chicken fingers (tofu.)  I had a craving for chicken and these did not come close to satisfying the urge.  They were flavourless and impossible to cut (some of mine actually ended up on the floor after an unsuccessful run in with my knife.)


I survived seven days of tofu, beans, chick peas, vegetables, and more beans, and I felt so good about myself that I went out and ate a massive plate of spaghetti and (real) meat balls.

I am convinced that it’s possible for meals to be extremely healthy, environmentally conscious, and wildly delicious at the same time.  While I search for more vegetarian recipes that meet all three of those criteria, I’ll probably eat the odd piece of salmon or maybe even a T-bone steak.  I have a copy of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals here for when I’m ready.

“My private measure of success is daily.  If this were to be the last day of my life would I be content with it?  To live in harmonious balance of commitments and pleasures is what I strive for.” – Jane Rule


Diamonds are a girl’s BFF: Microdermabrasion at Clinique Modica

For those who are looking for a serious facelift without the cosmetic surgery, microdermabrasion may be an interesting option to consider. Due to the profound restorative effect that the procedure can have on aging or damaged skin, dermabrasion has been steadily gaining momentum since the mid-90s as a safe and effective facial treatment. Particularly effective at abolishing fine lines and acne scars, it was listed as one of the top five treatments for women and men in 2010 by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

Diamond dermabrasion is a form of exfoliation that uses a mechanical wand to remove and vacuum dead skin cells from the face, cleaning out clogged pores, and increasing circulation to reveal a more youthful complexion. While there are different types of wand tips available (crystal, diamond, and nylon/bristle) it’s no surprise that diamond wands are often seen as the most effective.  After all, who wants the cheap stuff when it comes to your face?

Diamond dermabrasion machines come with an assortment of tips of varying sizes, allowing the treatment to be customized to the patient’s individual skin condition. The more traditional crystal tips, while still commonly used, have been shown over time to pose potential health hazards, with shards occasionally remaining in the pores or being inhaled. Side effects are rare, although people with sensitive skin may experience some redness and or soreness for an hour or two after the session.

Treatments should be painless, and with a good skin care professional they should even be relaxing. It is important to go to a reputable spa or clinic to ensure that top quality equipment is being used.

Clinique Modica in Westmount offers a luxurious diamond dermabrasion and Champagne facial package, which takes about 90 minutes and treats the face, neck and chest areas. After exfoliation, the skin receives an application of high quality oxygen cream that penetrates deep into the skin’s cells and works to revitalize the dermis and cleanse the pores.

If you are looking for a quick fix and instant results, this is not it. 3-6 treatments are normally required to fully remove scars and to achieve optimum “healthy glow” results. Even so, for many this process beats surgeries or chemical peels hands down in terms of cost and safety.  If you think of all of the years of stress, sun tanning, dirt, and the makeup you’ve put your skin through, a couple of hours seems like a small price to pay for radiant skin.

For more information visit www.modica.ca

Price: $215 (Diamond Dermabrasion & Champagne Facial)

Holiday Gift Ideas #3: Ovarium, Flotation Bath

For the workaholic on your holiday shopping list, why not invite them to take a load off, literally?  All they need to do is slip into one of Ovarium’s personal flotation baths and their body will instantly become weightless (thanks to the help of 2000 cups epsom salts.)   These soothing baths allow the body to completely relax and float free without the trip to outer space.

Being in a weightless environment frees up 90% of the central nervous system, allowing it to function at optimum levels.  The proven results: harmonious communication between the two hemispheres of the brain, improved sleep patterns, balancing of emotions and increased concentration and creativity.

Ovarium offers a half day package called “The Essential” which includes a one hour flotation bath followed by a one hour massage.  After floating isolated in a silent, womb-like tub for sixty minutes, the body achieves a heightened sense of perception, making the massage feel all the more enjoyable.

Ovarium offers another interesting treatment called Pulsar which will supposedly trick even the chronically busy mind into a state of submissive relaxation, similar to the alpha or “dreaming” state.  In this state of mind, one is able to solve complex problems and visualize clearly, while adrenaline levels are reduced and positive endorphins are increased.  A session is likened to meditation, with all of the benefits and freshness of mind, but none of the effort.

For more information visit www.ovarium.com

Price: $122 (Essential)


Top 5 Ways To Cure The Winter Blahs

With limited sunlight and sub-zero temperatures, the long months of winter can be taxing on the body and mind.  Try these all-natural remedies to lift your spirits and make the winter season a little warmer.

1. Get cooking.  

Make a big pot of healthy soup and invite some friends to come over for a bowl.  In winter, we tend to eat heavy comfort foods that leave us feeling sluggish. Making a lighter meal with plenty of vegetables will boost energy and help the immune system fight off those seasonal colds.  There’s no shortage of soup recipes to inspire you.

If you know others who enjoy baking, set up a cookie exchange group.  Each person makes a large batch of their favourite cookie dough and gives one roll to every member of the group. Open the freezer and voilà: a variety of fresh homemade cookies ready to pop in the oven any time.  Try festive recipes like cranberry pistachio biscotti or chai biscuits and enjoy with a cup of mulled apple cider or chili and spice hot chocolate.

2. Light up your life.

Ever have a hard time getting out of bed in the winter?  This problem is often caused by a lack of light. Our bodies’ natural response to darkness is to slow down, so one simple way to wake yourself up is to turn on bright lights in the morning.  For those who need a serious jumpstart to the day, you can even simulate dawn using full spectrum light bulbs.

In the evening, light up the room with scented candles, and warm up in a bubble bath with spicy essential oils like cinnamon, ylang ylang, vanilla and sandalwood.  If you have a fireplace, this is a great way to save on heating costs and create a cozy atmosphere.  No fireplace?  Try the next best thing, a free screensaver of a crackling fire.


3. Go outside and play.

Scraping ice from the windshield, shoveling, and driving in slow road conditions…it’s easy to let the mountains of snow get you down. Skip the car or bus, bundle up, and go out on foot.  Getting some fresh air and exercise will help invigorate you and increase circulation.  Go for a brisk walk, snowshoe, go skiing, or try figure skating in the beautiful Old Port.

For those who enjoy the spa experience, going to a Scandinavian spa is one of the boldest and most satisfying ways to face the winter head on.  Dare your friends to dunk in an icy river at Polar Bear Club.

4. Entertain yourself.

Make some popcorn, curl up on the couch with your partner, your pet, or a fluffy blanket and watch an old classic or a comedy film.  Studies have shown that people who read are generally happier than people who watch TV, so skip the reality shows and pick up a good book.  Music can provide you with an instant pick-me-up – try putting on snappy jazz, or something that gets you moving like hip hop, or salsa.

Here are a few ideas to help you combat boredom and cabin fever:  call an old friend and ask them how they’re doing, work on a new skill like knitting, or learning a language, trim and water the house plants, give yourself a manicure, clean out a drawer, research a topic that interests you, plan your next vacation.  The possibilities are endless.  Winter weekends are perfect for hibernating and starting on those new hobbies or finishing projects that you’ve been putting off.

5. Give.

The holiday season is a great time to reflect on the year, and make a list of the things you are grateful for.  Taking a few minutes to appreciate the positive things in your life will significantly improve your mood.  Take an emotional inventory and make a list of the important things you would like to do in the new year.

The holidays are also a perfect time of year to give to those less fortunate.  Donate old mittens and sweaters, help organize a food drive, volunteer your time for a cause you care about.  Even the smallest acts of kindness can warm many hearts so take the time to write a thank you note, or shovel the neighbour’s walk.  All you have to do is hang a bird feeder outside your window and you’ll soon be reminded how giving brings even more beauty back into your life.

Holiday Gift Ideas #2: Spa Ginza, Chocolate Body Wrap

Chocolate lovers can indulge in the good stuff without counting any calories this Christmas.  Spa Ginza offers a luxurious Chocolate Therapy Wrap that is suitable for all skin types.  The sixty-minute treatment will boost the spirits of even the most stubborn, saggy cellulite.

The treatment begins with an exfoliating sea salt scrub and gentle massage, after which warm, dark chocolate is spread over the body and left on the skin for twenty minutes to work its magic while you drift into sweet dreams of candy land.

While chocolate was once thought of as a junk food and blamed for skin problems such as acne, beauty and health professionals worldwide have started acknowledging its positive attributes, and a wide range of chocolate skin products have started appearing on the market.

The caffeine found in chocolate works as a powerful anti-oxidant, fighting wrinkles and firming the skin.  The cocoa butter softens and moisturizes skin, leaving it supple and smooth, not to mention sweet smelling.  Imagine basking in the scent of chocolate brownies, truffles, and hot cocoa all the while tightening and toning your butt.  Who needs a treadmill when you’ve got chocolate?

Price: $95

Holiday Gift Ideas #1: Balnea Spa, A Winter Wonderland

Marc Couture, 2007

After all of the last minute shopping, family gatherings, and holiday parties, most of us are in desperate need of a real holiday.

If Santa was wise, he would be buying up every last gift certificate for Balnea spa in Bromont, Québec.  Balnea has created a near-perfect oasis away from the bustle, with so many pleasures in store you will need to spend the whole day.

The indoor spa area includes a Turkish eucalyptus bath, dry sauna, relaxing room with reclining chairs and a fireplace, a chill out room with a fish tank wall, and a nap room which is covered in comfy floor cushions. There is also a lounge serving slow food, smoothies, and select wines, with a massive bay window overlooking the serene lake and forest landscape.

You can get up close and personal with nature in the outdoor thermal spa, which includes snowy walking trails, a dipping pond, hot tubs, a waterfall, cold pools, and heated terraces.  Balnea’s “soul chamber”, a sweat lodge nestled into the hillside, is reputed as one of the quietest places on earth.

The therapeutic benefits of exposing the body to warm water followed by cold water (sometimes called “Kniepp” or “hydro” therapy) are well documented.  With a list of perks like: improved sense of well-being, regulation of blood pressure, boosted immune system, and increased circulation, a trip to Balnea may just be the best Christmas gift you could give yourself this year.

For more information and special Christmas promotions visit: www.balnea.ca

Price: $55