Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Book Review - Wild, Wicked and Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.

It's been a while since I wrote a book review! I suppose this has mainly to do with the fact that I haven't really been reading many books except for textbooks, so that put a huge damper on my reviewing status. But, I have completed 3 books in the past couple of months, which is a pretty decent haul for me at the moment considering my schedule these days.

 1) Don't Sweat the Small Stuff --- and it's all small stuff. Written by Richard Carlson, PH.DThis book came onto the scene 15 years ago and I came across it while organizing some boxes of Jaime's which were in my closet. This book is a guide of things that everyone can do to de-stress, unwind, reevaluate and appreciate the life we are given, and the life that we create for ourselves. The changes that Dr. Carlson suggests to make to put things into perspective, slow down the stressful lives we live and establish a more calming effect on the every day events which occur, are really not all that complicated in the least.

Some examples of the suggestions he makes are:
- Make Peace with Imperfection
- Become a Better Listener
- Allow Yourself to be Bored
- Let Others be "Right" Most of the Time
- Practice Random Acts of Kindness
- See the Innocence
- Become a Less Aggressive Driver
- Get Comfortable Not Knowing
- Give Up the Idea That "More Is Better"
- Look Beyond the Behaviour... and there are dozens and dozens more.

My personal favourites are:
- Don't Interrupt Others or Finish Their Sentences. I challenge everyone who reads this to take a step back from any conversation that they have in the near future and take a full breath before answering or commenting on what the person opposite you just said. We interrupt the people we speak with SO MUCH! It's unbelievable. We are so anxious to say what we want to say about the topic that we cut off the other person's sentence just to get the words in. Why do we do this? I am definitely guilty of this and I know that most of the population is as well. I have become very aware of this and am working so hard to slow down my side of the conversation by stopping my brain, listening to what the other person is saying and waiting my turn to speak. Sometimes it is really difficult when I'm excited to share my side, but I am truly trying my best.

- Do Something Nice for Someone Else - And Don't Tell Anyone About It. I love this one because I do it quite frequently and it is a really great feeling that overcomes me when I do it. Feeling the need to share with others just how awesome we are is really not necessary and it releases the positive feelings that we get from doing the good deed. We don't need to prove that we are good people by telling others of the nice things that we do.

- Read Articles and Books with Entirely Different Points of View from Your Own and Try to Learn Something. Basically, find a book that goes against your beliefs, read it and try to see the information through the eyes of the writer. Look at a different perspective than the one that is in your own head. If you're a Christian, read about Atheism. If you're Pro-Choice, read about Pro-Life. If you think that Elvis is dead, read books about the conspiracy of his fake death. Open your mind. Be less rigid. Consider new ideas. He's not telling you to change your ideals or points-of-view; just be willing to learn more about the opposite side of things.

I really enjoyed this book and I recommend it to anyone who is on the verge of having a mental breakdown due to stress (Gill??). The ideas and concepts that Dr. Carlson speaks about are simple and do not create drastic life changes. Even by just doing one at a time, your world can become a bit less stressful and a bit more fulfilling. I promise.

2) Wicked. The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Written by Gregory Maguire. It's hard to believe that this book first came onto the scene in 1996 because the story is so very much a part of our current society (meaning the huge and ongoing Broadway success). This book was created to give the readers the chance to see the perspective of the land of Oz (Wizard of Oz) through the eyes of the "Wicked Witch of the West" also known as Elphaba Thropp. She is the misunderstood, unsocial, green-skinned girl who is terrified of water, loves biology, knowledge, and wants to protect Animals from being sent back to the farms.

I did not expect this book to be what it was. I know the story of the Wizard of Oz very well and truly knew nothing about this book when I borrowed it from a friend. In no time I learned that this book was nothing like the Wizard of Oz. The Wizard of Oz is so bright, cheery and innocent. Yes it some dark and somewhat scary parts, but overall the impression it gives off is NOTHING like this book. This book is dark and twisted, full of sex, drinking, drugs and swearing, plus it has a crazy huge vocabulary to get used to. I had to look up the meaning of words on many occasions while reading this book and sometimes I would read certain parts and just have no idea what I had just read.

Overall the book is...alright. Definitely not for everyone. I am glad I read it because it was entertaining, if not slightly confusing as well, but it was interesting to read about the life of this person in a way that we never get to see through the original story. There were many parts of the book that were not well explained and I would have appreciated some insight into some rather important topics (such as, why is she green? Why did the water kill her? What is with that strange sex club that all of the boys at the school went to and what actually happened there?) So many questions. Not enough information. But the concept of the book is great and I wish that it could be re-written in a way that made a bit more sense. At least to me.

3) Wild. Written by Cheryl Strayed. This is a memoir about a woman who, after dealing with some harsh realities of the brutal world we live in (death of her mother, family falling apart, adultery, divorce, drugs), at the age of 26 she decided to take a 3 month long hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from California to Washington State, all by herself. She had no experience with any kind of hike such as this, apart from what she learned in her manual about the PCT, but set off on this adventure anyway in hopes of finding something to make her feel human again.

Once again, I knew nothing about this book when I picked it up at Chapters. I read the back, thought it looked interesting and decided to take it home (paying first of course). Apparently this book is a pretty big deal? I haven't been paying much attention to the Best Seller's List these days.

I love this book. I was sad to finish it last night because I didn't want the journey to end. She struggled from everything to boots that were too tight (many toenails were lost), filtering water, an enormously heavy back pack, weather, animals, hikers, plus all of the emotional baggage that she carried along the entire trek as well. The book is humourous, sad, exciting, adventurous and brutally honest. She is a great writer and while I read her words, I could picture the mountains around her, appreciate how amazing a shower would have felt and taste just how sensational that Snapple Lemonade must have tasted after those hundreds of miles she hiked.

I think my favourite part is second to last page in which she is talking to the attorney outside of the drive-in where she ordered an ice cream cone. I don't want to say what happened but I just loved it. It's such a simple couple of lines that really struck me and made me think about the lives we live, the luxuries we take for granted and the appreciation that is lost until we have found it once again.

Great book. I will definitely be reading this one again.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

My Newest Love

MacQueen's Bike Shop, Charlottetown PEI
I lived on PEI for just shy of 5 years without owning a car but was fortunate enough to have amazing friends who would lend me their cars when I needed to make a large purchase or travel somewhere that look longer than a couple of hours on foot. My bike was my freedom and I loved it dearly (it's name was Roy). I walked into MacQueen’s bike shop one afternoon and browsed around the shiny new bikes and felt no love towards them. I asked the man working the desk if there were any trade-ins that needed a home. He pointed out one to me, a KHS Town & Country 150 which I could tell was well used in its former life. After a quick ride around the block, I bought the bike and a shiny new helmet without a regret in the world.

Bikes are like dogs. The used ones need homes too and should never be overlooked because of a little rust.

When I left the island I sold my beloved bike knowing that the cost to ship it across the country would be about 3x what the bike was worth, plus if someone was willing to buy it and enjoy it as much as I did, then I was fine with that.

After 9 months of being bikeless, I finally bought myself a new bike on the weekend! I went to a handful of bike shops around town and inquired about the second-hand ones that they had, but none of them jumped out at me saying “Take me home!”

If they had then I should probably lay off the caffeine a bit eh?

I ended up at P.M. Bikes in Langford and talked for a while with a lovely woman who is the owner of the store. After testing out a couple second hand bikes, a shiny new LHS Alite 150 caught my eye. The last time I owned a new bike was when I was 11 years old and they idea of owning something so pretty was getting more and more appealing by the minute. After riding it around a bit, playing with the shocks and getting trigger happy with the snappy gears, I knew it had to be mine.

It’s nothing really fancy and it basically the base model of these bikes, but I certainly do not need fancy so this is why I opted for something not hugely expensive. But it gets me from point A to point B with enthusiasm and I’ve been enjoying my bike’s company the past week. It doesn’t have a name yet though. Is it normal to name a bike?

I’ve been exploring The Galloping Goose mostly which is a 60 km trail running along the southern end of the island, and luckily I can meet up on it less than a kilometer from the house. Nothing more awesome than conveniently located trails! But the Goose is awesome, especially with you go up island rather than down since going down means you are mostly on paved trail which sucks.  I want dirt and mud and trees and lakes on my rides! Plus going up the trail means that you get to ride past gorgeous country side with sheep and free-range chicken farms to gaze upon and you get to snoop into some pretty awesome pieces of property.

Now I just need some nice weather to get out there again! 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The New Sexy

Today I read a blog post called This Trendy "Strong is the New Skinny" Thing (and what it could mean for the next generation of girls) and now I want to talk about it. Unfortunately it means I have to talk about some personal issues, but it's worth it considering the importance of the topic.

First of all, if you are a female from the age of 10-100, please read the blog post that I am referring to here because it is great. There is the link again --> CLICK ME FOR ARTICLE!

I have never been one of those girls who did the extreme dieting or starved myself or anything of the sort. I loved food too much to do something like that. But, like every female who hits the age of puberty (what a nightmare) I had body issues and was never happy with what I saw in the mirror. My weight fluctuated a bit here and here and especially increased  when I was working as a baker. Considering how much cookie dough and fruit cake I ate there, I deserved to weigh quite a bit more. However, once I moved to PEI and got involved with working out regularly, lots of hot yoga and learning how much I loved to lift weights, my weight went back down a bit and plateaued at an agreeable place. I even began to get muscles and definition! It was pretty awesome to feel like I was actually beginning to look semi-alright-decent.

Then about a year ago I started to lose weight. It happened fairly gradual at first; a few pounds here and a few pounds there. But then around August it just started to come off me at an exponential rate; but I blamed it on the stress of moving and leaving my friends in PEI and starting a new life back on the west coast. I got thinner and thinner without even trying. It was kind of cool actually. My weight was the lowest it had ever been and I was easily zipping up jeans of sizes that I never dreamed of ever fitting into.

No matter how much I ate (and I felt ravenous all of the time), the numbers on the scale kept dropping. Yeah it seems like every girls dream to have this happen, but in exchange for having a body weight that was within a range that I approved of, I felt like complete and utter shit all of the time. My energy levels plummeted and I wasn't sleeping. I stopped going to the gym because I didn't have the strength to lift the weights. And if I did manage to sum up the strength to lift weights, the prominence of my ribs in my chest would gross me out and I would stop immediately. My exercising consisted only of walking the dog twice a day (which would exhaust me) and the walking that I did at work serving tables. I gave up the things that made me feel good about myself and it really felt awful having to do so. But hey, I fit into those skinny jeans like nothing else!

Like Sophie said in her post, I missed getting compliments of how well I was looking and got sick of the concerns from the people in my life. Eventually I did go to the doctor because I felt like I was dying. Truly. Weight loss despite enormous appetite, heart palpitations, weakness, exhausted but couldn't sleep, and couldn't concentrate or enjoy the things that used to make me happy. Turns out I have hyperthyroidism! I was diagnosed back in January and have been slowly dealing with it since then. Every problem that I was having is a direct symptom of this condition which is when the thyroid gland is overactive and wreaks havoc on the body. Basically, my metabolism was in overdrive.

The whole point of this post is to get to the message behind Sophie's story which I attached above. Even though, for the first time in my life I was actually skinny, it didn't make me happy. I lost a huge amount of muscle in my upper body and upper legs which left me feeling spindly and unattractive. Why do we all think that being skinny will make us happy? I felt the sexiest right before I started to really lose the weight, when I was a bit muscly and feeling strong. It felt awesome to lift heavy weights and see the definition growing in my traps and deltoids. I liked not having to ask for help to lift a piece of furniture or a heavy suitcase into my car.

Now it is May and I am feeling so much better then I was a few months ago. I am back at the gym regularly and even though I don't fill in my gym clothes as well as I used to, I've put some weight back on and am working hard to build up my muscles again. It's so incredibly true that there should be women screaming in the streets telling all of these young skinny girls that skinny will not make them happy. Strong, capable and energetic will increase their endorphins a hell of a lot faster then squeezing into a size 0 jean will. For a short while I took this for granted and learned that skinny is not what I want or need to make me feel good about myself. Skinny might feel good for a day or so, but trying to live with it forever is just impossible to imagine.

My favourite part of Sophie's story is when she talks about how now when she walks by a mirror, she flexes instead of sucking in and feels her abs instead of her fat when she touches her mid section. She says it's embarrassing but I applaud her for sharing her story and for spreading the word. Oh, and I'm not gonna lie. When I'm at the gym, I'm checking out the girls with defined shoulders and round butts - not the breathless skinny flat girls on the elliptical. That just ain't sexy.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Essential Empathy

In my sincere option, empathy is a very important attribute for each of us to possess. It doesn't matter if you’re a banker, construction worker, mechanic or nurse, empathy is what gives us the outward trait of being human to the rest of the population.

The topic of empathy was discussed today at work after the death of a patient in the hospital and all of us in the office easily agreed about the strength of the value of empathy in the human race, especially in the setting we work in. So many people have slowly lost their sense of empathy as they age and become jaded by their jobs or of the society that has been growing and changing around us. We watch the news and constantly see people shooting one another or setting off bombs in the streets. We shake our heads and think, “What a terrible shame. I’m so glad that’s not happening in my neighbourhood.” Or when you drive by a terrible accident on the highway, there is a personal sense of relief that you were not involved in that accident and you’re thankful for not ducking out of work 10 minutes early that day.

Instead of being content that these terrible things aren't happening to us, why aren't we thinking about the people they are directly affecting? Instead of being “glad it isn't me,” stop and think about the people that are being affected by these tragedies and put yourself in their place for just a minute. Just 60 seconds. Someone in this city today lost their husband/father/brother/uncle/friend and a family is mourning him at this very moment. That’s an important person that was lost.

The night was uncle died in a car accident, I drove through the scene of the accident not knowing that I was looking at his mangled truck. I clearly remember feeling sadness and thinking how someone’s family was about to be changed forever that night. Then less than 10 minutes later I learned that it was my family and it was my own life that I had been empathizing with.

Now as you read this, I bet that some of you are wondering why a person should willingly make themselves feel sad or understand the sadness of other people, when ignoring or brushing off the feeling is easier in the long run. I believe that doing this will give you a personal emotional relationship with the situation which in turn will make you think about the people you know and love, and help you to appreciate your own life that much more. Empathy is a way we can connect to the people around us, increase personal compassion and make us more understanding about numerous life experiences, especially the unexpected ones that are going to happen one day.

Yes it’s great that these things aren't happening to you, but when and if they ever do, isn't it nice knowing that other people are sharing the emotions with you and empathizing with you at that time? Sometimes just knowing that other people are thinking about you can create a great sense of support. Hopefully your sense of compassion will rub off on the people around you and build a stronger support system for everyone to live within.