Author Archives: Cara

About Cara

My life's work is to search out truth and to discover beauty. I am guided by music, literature, film, friends, nature, travel, and texture. I like to paint, I love to read, I live to write, I need to question and learn, and my pets make me feel glad to be alive. I believe that our time on this spinning sphere is about celebrating everything that occupies the minutes that we wish we could stretch on and on.

My Most Beautiful Thing

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When my friend Francesca issued me the challenge to write something for a Blogsplash in celebration of Fiona Robyn’s new novel, The Most Beautiful Thing, I wondered right off: How does one isolate a single most beautiful thing? Nature itself is one big, amazing, interwoven, impossibly beautiful thing. And then, there is the whole of the human experience, and there are relationships, and there is art. There is the power of the mind to create, to understand, and to continually push for higher heights. And those are only the things on a macro level. On a micro, one could isolate the most beautiful thing to a certain species of butterfly, or to the stage of dandelion life that consists of downy fuzz, or to the flutter of an infant’s eyelashes, or to a specific shade of blue.

And as I thought of all these things, I came to an awareness of my most beautiful thing. I’ve already showed you. I’ve already used it to bring you this far. It is language. It is words. It is the power to paint a picture inside the mind of someone else. With it, I can give you my thoughts, my emotions, and all my other beautiful things. With words, I can use alliteration to create chords by controlling a cadence. I can sharpen words, if I take the time, by matching them deliberately in rhyme. I can employ comparisons to elucidate meaning, as polishing a mirror enhances its clarity.

By simply writing the words, I can be your window. I can show you the tangy spring erupting in the streets. I can reveal to you the reluctant dawn, the cool noon, the heavy dusk, long night’s duality of shadows and stars. I can paint silvery eyes for you to gaze into, and which will gaze back at you.

With words, I can bring you a song. I can remind you of the melodies of the wind, as it sighs and whistles and howls. I can compose lullabies, requiems, and odes woven from the words I use to tell you about the soft roar of a purring cat, the swishing of a skirt in dance, the requited exhale of breath from your lover’s lips.

I will anoint you with my words as I describe the perfume of the musty wood. I will light an incense, so that though you never have before, you may smell burning peat, sour illness, and ocean brine. I will waft sandalwood, cinnamon, and the spiced desert air to you in these lines.

These words can be your teacher. They can be the enlightened ones. They can show you a different path. If you let me, I will capture and elevate you with these elemental words. I will be the warrior and your defender. I will use my words to protect you. I will use them to inspire you.

My words may anger or endanger you, but they may also be your ointment. They can soothe you. With them, I can carress your hair and skin. I can heal you. I may have to burn you; I may need to cauterize your wound. Then, with these words, I will bind you up.

If you give me a pen, I will feed you. I will serve you mulled wine and roasted meats. I will harvest autumn’s earth and bring her bounty to your table. I will have to, at times, give you instead bitter herbs and hard, stale bread. I will choke you with vomit, but then reawaken your palette with the paste of mint and apples.

If you are patient, with words I will give you a brother, a friend, a child, a priest. I can show you things about myself, and about yourself too. Words can bring us together, as you realize that what they say of me, they say also of you; as you realize that we are one. I can give you examples of how people love, and how they labour on and on, lost in the solitude of what it means to be an individual.

And so you see why words are my most beautiful thing. Without them, their artistry, their meaning, the passion we can pack into them, this blog project would not be possible. The colors with which we live our lives would fade if we couldn’t paint a representation of our worlds into existence with words. With words, we can find each other and teach each other. We can tell our stories. We can eliminate the distance between us. We can create the framework which is the loom upon where we weave the understanding of all the most beautiful things.

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For more information Fiona Robyn’s new book, or on writing your own Most Beautiful Thing, go to: http://www.writingourwayhome.com/2012/04/my-most-beautiful-thing-blogsplash.html

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Learning to Eat Well

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I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine last week regarding my health journey. She is a very beautiful, slender woman, but she admitted to me that she doesn’t eat well because she just doesn’t know how to eat in a healthful way. I think, like many people, she wants to eat a more balanced and nutritional diet, but doesn’t have the information to do that. And eating healthily is a deliberate task. It doesn’t come easily in our culture; fast food is the norm too often, and as a result, we miss out on food that tastes great and is good for our bodies just out of simple ignorance. I lived that way for a long time- I wanted to eat well, but I didn’t know how, nor did I feel like I had the time. As a single person, I don’t usually feel like making elaborate or balanced meals just for myself, so I resorted to quick, unbalanced meals of cereal or toast or microwaveable burritos or pizza delivery.

Since I have reformed my eating habits, I realize that in the past, when I thought I was eating good tasting food, I was actually just eating to stop being hungry. The food tasted ok, but not great, and I always felt bad after eating it- if not physically, then mentally (because I felt guilty for putting crap into my body). Now, I make intentional food choices based on how many vegetables I need to eat for the day or how much fibre or how much protein. The Canada Food Guide was helpful in giving me a target of how many servings of each to consume each day, as well as some suggestions for different foods to fill those requirements. And I feel great after I eat now, both physically and mentally. It’s such a revelation to have food not only fill the hunger gap, but make me feel good too!

One of the first things I added into my diet as I moved into this new life was V8 vegetable juice. I don’t like tomato juice, as I find it too thin and acidic, but veg juice contains a ton of other stuff like beets, spinach, carrots, kale, etc. I found, to my surprise, that I really enjoy it, and when I drink it, I feel like I am imbibing pure health. I feel like I am getting physically stronger, more energetic as I drink it. It may be purely psychological, but that’s ok. I sometimes find it challenging to get the recommended daily servings of fruit & vegetables (8-10 per day for a woman), so having one glass of V8 (which is 2 servings of veg) is a great supplement for me.

Another key was finding healthy food I enjoy. I thought this would be more difficult, but I’ve also found I don’t require a whole lot of dietary diversity. What tastes good will be different for everyone, so I hope no one feels like they HAVE to copy my food choices to get similar results. I really feel like the key is discovering what works for your body. For example, every morning for breakfast, I have a meal replacement shake, and sometimes I have a hard-boiled egg too if I am going straight to the gym. My older sis likes a low-fat granola bar with a probiotic yogurt drink, and she also likes to add in a hard-boiled egg if she needs a little extra energy. My friend, Erin, prefers to start her day with a bowl of cereal and skim milk. My choice works for me, because I am not a morning person. I don’t like eating first thing, so a shake gives me nutrients and wakes up my metabolism without me having to eat solid food. The only time I really change this is if I am going out for breakfast. Then I get two poached eggs, one piece of dry toast, and a pot of unsweetened tea. Gosh, that sounds boring, but it’s what I enjoy. If I liked melon, I might get a fruit cup with plain yogurt. The point is, you have to find what you enjoy, because you’ll never be able to change your eating habits if you don’t enjoy what you’re eating.

I also had to figure out how to build healthy snacks into my day. I never have liked eating three larger meals a day. I am more of a grazer, and I prefer to eat smaller meals with several snacks in between. I found out that this is actually a healthier way of eating too, because it keeps one’s metabolism moving at a more stable rate, rather than having three meals that tend to make it spike and crash. Google was my friend on the quest for good snacks. I just typed in “low calories snacks” and got a good list of ideas off of a few different sites. (I’ll write a separate blog listing those ideas to make it easier to reference for both myself and my readers.) I hate the idea of counting calories, but once I found a range of snacks to choose from (all that are between 50 and 100 calories), it made it easy to snack without guilt and without completely submarining my weight loss goal.

Something else that has been a life-saver is portion control. Yes, it is very important to plan portions at mealtimes, but here I am referring to crap foods. Just because I am eating healthier doesn’t mean I don’t still crave chocolate or chips. My first line of defense is that I don’t buy these foods to have in the house. If they are in my cupboards, I will eat them, so I just don’t buy them. However, there are times when I am in social situations and these foods are present. If they are, and I can’t resist (you tempting devils), I have ONE cookie, or ONE handful of chips. I would definitely feel deprived if I never got to eat these things at all, so by controlling my portion, I get to have the occasional treat but not go overboard like I used to in the past.

Probably the single most helpful tool in my weight loss journey is water. We hear it all the time, but most of us just don’t drink enough water. In fact, when we are thirsty, our brains often send the signal to our bodies that we are hungry. Dietitians recommend drinking water for 15 minutes (fairly steadily, but not non-stop) when you get a hunger pang. If the hunger pang goes away, you were just thirsty. If not, it might be time for a low cal snack. Drinking water (at least 2 liters a day), can get boring, but there are lots of ways to dress it up. I use Crystal Light flavor crystals to make it into juice or iced tea. Caffeine-free tea also helps me reach my quota. And I’ve found that I enjoy sparkling water. Perrier has different flavors (lemon, lime, pomegranate) that are all 0 calories. Walking around all day with a water bottle does help me control food cravings, especially when I just have the munchies, and staying hydrated actually helps with drink cravings too. I don’t get so thirsty that I “need” a soda, or even juice (which also contains lots of sugar). I actually like drinking water. The only downside is having to pee every ten minutes, but we flush fat cells through our urine, so I’ve come to terms with frequent trips to the loo by reminding myself that I am peeing the weight away.

As far as meals, I try very hard to limit fats and carbs. A general rule is that half of one’s dinner plate should be filled with vegetables, one quarter with meat, and the last quarter with starch (pasta, rice, potato, etc). I follow this pretty closely with my lunches (either flatbread with tuna and tons of raw celery, carrots, and broccoli or a generous serving of vegetable salad with tofu). For supper, I usually eat a Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choices steamer meal, for several reasons: 1) I hate cooking for just one. It doesn’t seem worth the effort. 2) They have a great variety of meals that I could not and would not make for myself. 3) They are very balanced, with lots of veg, some starch, and a little meat. 4) It is so easy to keep track of my calories- I just look on the back of the box. If I made a meal with separate dishes, it would be much harder to count calories per portion. 5) They are relatively cheap. Priced between $3 and $5 each (and they often go on sale), I find them very affordable. If you are cooking for a couple or a family, this might not be an option for you, but it works for me. 6) My meal can be ready very quickly. I go from zero to starving in minutes, so I need something fast to be available if I want to stick to a healthy food regime. Otherwise, I panic and start eating crap. 7) Portion control. Recipes that feed one are difficult to find, make, and buy groceries for, so making food that feeds more than one means more food is now ready for me to eat. Bad. Much harder to stick to one portion. This way, I eat the meal, and if I am still hungry, I eat a spinach salad and drink more water. (I find raw baby spinach delicious and filling, and it is only 5 calories per cup. Pair that will a low cal dressing, and it makes a great side dish or snack.)

One final idea I found has come in very handy is something my dad said to me when I was first starting. I had already eaten my three meals and two snacks for that day, but I was ravenously hungry. When I told him I was struggling with wanting to pig out, he told me “If you are hungry, you have to eat. This will never work for you if you are starving yourself. You’ll eventually lose willpower and quit.” He was right. Since I was twelve years old, I have had stomach problems (ulcers, hiatus hernia, and gastritis). Part of my weight problem has been my fear of stomach pain. I have often eaten just to make sure I am not hungry, because hungry means acid eating away at the lining of an empty stomach, and that hurts. I can’t deprive myself of food (not like I’ve ever wanted to), but I can make healthy food choices (like having an extra meal replacement shake, as I did that day I was overly hungry). Using all the guidelines above, I have found a way of eating well that I enjoy and that doesn’t feel like work.

I hope this blog has given some of you ideas or at least a launching point to discover your own healthy food formulas. Given that we need food to live, I think sometimes we take it a little too casually. I know I sure did. But the difference in how I feel, in how my body operates, and ultimately how I look, is powerful incentive for me to stick to healthful foods. Again, I am so grateful for the mental transformation that allowed me to see food in a new way. If I had tried to force myself into a regime, it would never have stuck. Getting the mental piece in place has served as a foundation for all the rest, and I am so happy to have the privilege of building my new lifestyle upon it. Thanks again to all of you for sharing in this with me. I look forward to any questions or suggestions you might have about eating well. Love!

*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or dietitian; just a regular Jane using the resources at my disposal. Please don’t do any crazy stuff and then blame it on me. Be smart, and feel free to research and/or confirm any information offered above with health professionals. And I guess you’re going to have to get used to me being long-winded.

Where Credit Is Due

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The response to my first ever blog, “Awakening”, was overwhelming and so incredibly positive. Thanks to all of you who read it and especially to those who took the time to respond. I’ve been posting snippets about this journey on Facebook as well, and the support there has also been huge. To repeat something I wrote on F/b in response to the encouragement, your support piles strength onto my strength. It’s really true. I feel so completely empowered by having all of you stand with me. I was doing cardio on Monday and toward the end I was getting really fatigued. I started listing mentally all the people who are standing with me on my quest: “Erin is fighting with me for my health. Tasha is fighting with me for my health. Megan is fighting with me for my health. Steve is fighting with me. Sam is fighting with me. Colin is fighting with me. Ethan is fighting with me. My dad is fighting with me. Ashli H. is fighting with me. Ashley B. is fighting with me. Mark is too. And Chloe. And Sylvia.” And that helped me to push through to finish my workout. All of you are helping me fight for my goals, and I’m serious when I say, I feel it. Your support literally gives me physical strength. So ‘thank you’ is not nearly enough gratitude, but I have to say it anyway. Thank you, my friends.

A very, very dear soul sister of mine has spoken to me now and again over the eleven years of our friendship about the day she decided she had had enough of being overweight and out of shape. For eleven years, I have waited for the strength to find a day like that of my own. I didn’t know how to get there. I honestly didn’t think it was possible. Now that I have found it, I keep trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together to see what people, what things contributed to that epiphanal day. This is what I have come up with so far (in no particular order):

Erin– There are more than a few people in my life who are healthy and fit, but until I met Erin, I don’t think I have ever spent time, day-in and day-out, with someone who is so excited about and dedicated to fitness. She talks about it all the time; not in an obnoxious gym-rat way, but in a contagiously enthusiastic way. I mean, she LOVES working out. Yoga, belly dancing, aerobics, you name it. There is something about the way she attacks fitness that made it, for the first time for me, seem NORMAL to work out. I belong to a cerebral family. We read, we write, we discuss, we do puzzles, we play games, and we do all of this SITTING DOWN. That was normal for me all my years growing up. Yes, I played sports in high school, but as an adult, it was normal for me to go weeks, even months without any kind of strenuous physical activity. Being around Erin all of a sudden made that seem abnormal. Erin also introduced me to a lot of food that was delicious in spite of the fact that it was nutritious and healthy. And over the course of our friendship, she began to nudge me toward working on my own fitness. Casual invites to a new workout class she was starting. Calling me to ask if I wanted to go for a walk. She was completely non-judgemental, totally low-pressure, but she made exercise accessible to me. That was really huge. After less than two years of gentle pushing, I have now bought a membership to the gym she uses, and in fact, we worked out together just a few hours ago. There is no doubt in mind that without Erin, I would not be on the path I now tread.

Natasha– Tash is the friend that I share the deepest spiritual connection with in my life. We know each other, all the way down and all the way through. Everything I have ever heard about love is true about her love. It is whole, pure, unconditional and unreserved. She loves with her entire being, and how can I help but respond in kind? Having her as a friend has taught me who I want to be in life, and it is not an understatement to admit that she is my hero. Her absolute and unwavering support over the years has been a rock, has shown me how to find an answering strength, has inspired me to fly. She is so connected to people and to nature and to God that she had to write a book about it. The Story of Q (find it at Chapters online or instore, or at Amazon.ca) helped me to realize what I already knew but was afraid to admit- that I am strong and beautiful and that I can be completely realized as a human being if I will allow myself to accept that and to live it. Natasha, what a miracle you are. You breathed form and strength into my broken, phantom wings, and then kicked me off a cliff so I could prove to myself that I can soar. I can never love you enough for who you are to me.

Megan Joy– We’ve come full circle, haven’t we Megs? It’s hard for me to believe you were once someone I once thought I had to help. From day 1, you have fought to be a part of my life, and I am so grateful that you have always believed that I am worthy of that. Your faithfulness to our friendship is unlike any I have ever known, and I am deeply moved by your loyalty. You are my loudest cheerleader, and your uncompromising commitment to speak (or scream) the truth no matter what the cost has challenged me to reject the lies I accepted about the permanence of my weight problem, and my helplessness to do anything about it. You are my tough love friend, but I also know that you are there with the biggest hug and the most steadfast encouragement at any time of the day or night. You hold me up when I doubt my ability to do it myself. I not only love you, Megan, I need you, and I thank God for you every day.

Dad– My dad, who has been overweight for most of my life, had a minor health scare just before Christmas last year. He has made attempts at losing weight in the past, but it has been a discouraging rollercoaster ride of more ups than downs. When his doctor told him six months ago to lose weight or else, he decided to change his life. He began eating what amounts to a diabetic-type diet and walking on his treadmill for an hour every day. In the last six months, he has lost over sixty pounds, and is still going strong. I have admired and looked up to my dad my entire life, but I have never been more inspired by him or more proud of him. For four and half months, I watched him decide to live life in a healthful and sustainable way, and then I decided to join him. Now that we are walking this path together, I love being able to compare with him what I eat and what exercises I do, and I love when we get to check in with each other about how much weight we’ve lost. In a way, I feel like I am once again a little girl leaping into the footprints he leaves as he walks before me. Now, as then, the road is easier for being able to follow in his steps. Thank you, Dad; first for giving me life and now for helping to save it. I love you more than I can say.

God– I hestitate to include this section, even though it is the biggest piece of the puzzle, simply because I don’t know how to write it in concrete terms. I don’t really know how to define who God is, or who I am to him, or what he wants from me. But I know that this is where my biggest debt of gratitude lies. I know I would not be where I am on this health journey without him. I know that two months ago, I was a broken creature who fell to my knees and sobbed that I was sick of myself and that I needed something to change because I could not keep churning forward through the same filth I had packed into my life. Nothing happened that day, but within two weeks, I had awoken to my new life with a strength and determination I could not have generated alone. This is not the kind of miracle I expected. I thought it would be more… spiritual. I would not have idenitified the root of my existential disease as physical. This change, however, has been a complete transformation. Not only do I feel better in my body, but I am healthier in my mind, my emotions, and my relationships, as well. I know that I am doing 100% of the work to eat well and exercise, but the strength and will to do it come from somewhere outside myself. I have to credit God, because there is no other explanation. I have named other people who have helped to fill in pieces of the puzzle, and although I am bursting with thankfulness to and for them, I also have to admit that those pieces were there before. There is something else, this X factor I can only name as God, that is knitting the parts together to make a new thing, a new me. I don’t understand it, but I am compelled by virtue of the new strength within me to give credit where credit is due. So God, although I don’t know how to say it, I thank you.

To all of these people, and to all of you who have read this, my most heartfelt and deepest thanks. The journey (-25 lbs and counting!) is eased by your companionship. And I promise to try to keep forthcoming blogs shorter.

Awakening

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On 21 March 2011, I woke up, and not just in the literal sense. There was a different strength in me that I have never known, and whose origins I still ponder. After weeks of struggling to name this change, I finally stumbled onto a definition. Transformation.

I have struggled with food and my weight for as long as I can remember. ‘Struggled’ probably isn’t the right word, though, because I had totally given in to both. I hated vegetables, loved junk food, and didn’t think it was possible to fight either. This caused me no end of mental anguish, not to mention physical, but the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that I did not have the strength to live what others would term ‘a healthy life.’ I knew I could not give up chocolate or bread or cheese or fast food, knew I could not stop snacking, knew I could not commit to a workout regime, knew I could not live the rest of my days continually sacrificing, sacrificing, sacrificing.

And then, March 21st happened. I woke up craving vegetables. But it was more than that, too. I somehow had this sense that this day was the first day of the new me. I had conviction that I not only wanted to change my eating habits for the better, but that I could do it. For the first time in my life, I knew (I know!) that I have the power to change my own life.

I immediately went to my parents’ house to use their medical grade scale. Okay, scary, but I had my starting point. Then I went grocery shopping, and instead of buying candy, I bought vegetables and frozen fruit. Instead of pizza pops and burritos, I bought vegan burgers and flavoured tuna. Instead of chips, I bought rye crisps and brown rice crackers.

I went cold turkey off all the crap I had been consuming, and it felt great. I lost 8 lbs in the first week. My family and friends couldn’t believe the drastic change in my eating habits. A couple of days after I started, I was telling my mom about this great snack I had eaten of a dill pickle and 1/4 cup of dry cottage cheese topped with fresh cracked pepper, and she started laughing at me! I asked her why she was laughing, and she told me that she just couldn’t believe that this was the same Cara.

I myself have really been amazed at this change, and how my thought process has simultaneously changed. I think about what a privilege it is to have the opportunity to mold myself into who I want myself to be, instead of being demoralized by the amount of work I have to do to get there. I rejoice in the ability and desire to choose nutritious food, instead of worrying about how I can possibly sustain the effort to keep making good choices. While I used to wish for a magic genie to wave all this extra weight away, it is now a source of joy and pride that I get to fight for the health and physique I have denied myself for so long.  The most unbelievable thing to me is that I do not feel like I am sacrificing. I don’ t feel like I am missing out on tasty food- for the first time ever I feel like I am enjoying what good food really tastes like. And saying ‘yes’ to more vegetables, whole grains, soy and water, and ‘no’ to more sugars, fats, and simple carbs makes me feel stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally. I recognize that I am powerful enough to say no, and that gives me more strength to keep saying no.

It’s been just over a month since the first day of my transformation. The last time I weighed myself (April 20), I had lost 21 lbs. I have so much energy from all this great food, I had to join a gym so I have someplace productive to get rid of it. The gym, that I’m not loving so much (more on that later), but I am determined to keep going as part of this new life.

This blog is also part of the new life. I want to chronicle my successes so that if/when I get discouraged, I have somewhere to come to remind myself what it feels like to be strong and motivated. I also want to invite certain supportive people to be part of this journey with me, because I know they will encourage and spur me on, and more importantly, celebrate the positive steps along the way. I also desire to inspire others to the realization that you don’t have to be a victim to your body. I lived there for a long time, and I hope that refusing to stay there any longer will  urge others to do the same. Finally, I look forward to contributing and receiving helpful tips, recipes, and exercises, and hearing about other peoples’ stories of transformation as we travel together.

Thanks for joining me as I explore this world of what it means to be healthy and sharing the experiences of my quest!