Thursday, 17 January 2019

Life Is NOT Instagram: Why This Unflattering Photo Is My Favourite

Life Is NOT Instagram: Why This Unflattering Photo Is My Favourite

June of last year was the twentieth anniversary of probably the biggest achievement of my life—certainly in terms of physical challenges—hiking the West Coast Trail. I wanted to write a blog post at the time, commemorating the anniversary, as I feel it relates to a lot of what I’m still going through at midlife; striving to achieve new goals and accept greater challenges while undergoing profound change.

However, the sheer scope of the trail, and my experience as I hiked it overwhelmed me. I started several posts, only to find myself lost in the details. That is, until a writing exercise I did for a course last Fall focused me in on one particular photograph, taken at the end of the hike. It’s a favourite, and this explains why.

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like having my picture taken. Photographs always seem to catch me at an odd angle or pulling a strange face. I am quite critical of most of them, which leads me to the conclusion that I am also quite vain. So most would be surprised to know that one of my favourite photos of myself, is also one of the least flattering.

In this picture, I am dirty. It has been nine days since I last showered. I have managed to wash my face and clean my teeth each day. My only other ablutions are a glorious, hot sponge bath, on day five, for which I begged precious food-cooking fuel to heat the water, as well as a frigid dip in the ocean. I smell rancid, my nails are dirty and broken and my hair is sticky.

In this picture, I am in pain. A blister on the ball of my left foot, formed on day two and tended to fanatically each night, is throbbing. My right knee is swollen and braced, having borne the brunt of forty extra pounds of backpack. I am covered in bruises, most of which I cannot see because I am so filthy, and most of which I cannot recall getting. I am exhausted from days filled with physical activity and nights sleeping on the ground.

In this picture, I am hungry. I have subsisted on reconstituted mush for eight straight days--mush that acquired the noxious taste of emergency fire-starters around day four, after nestling together in our packs. I fantasize about fresh, cool lettuce, crisp cucumbers and apples, or a juicy tomato. We dine at Chez Monique, not a fancy French restaurant, rather a collection of tarps and a tent, set up on First Nations land. The enterprising proprietor barbeques burgers, served with potato chips and a Coke, for an outrageous price to those starved for ‘real’ food. It still ranks as one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

In this picture, I am victorious. I lean against a sign that says ‘km 75’. I started at ‘km 1’ eight days prior, and through that time and distance, I become permanently changed. I am thirty-six years old, overweight, a mere five feet tall, I have Multiple Sclerosis, and I have just completed my greatest physical challenge—hiking the West Coast Trail. My face shows the gamut of emotions, from relief to joy, to an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and pride. I am laughing and I am crying, a twisted combination of grin and grimace. And therein lies the reason I love this photo. Because even now, twenty years later that expression transports me back, I feel those same emotions, and I laugh and cry again.

I will only add that, although I had a personal sense of victory and accomplishment, I would not have been able to complete the hike without the help of my husband, Dan or the friends with whom I hiked—Tom, Linda, Julie and Bob. Many thanks go to them for their understanding, patience and sometimes just hauling me over the giant boulders!

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Menopause Moi Book Review – Design Your Next Chapter by Debbie Travis

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Menopause Moi Book Review: Design Your Next Chapter by Debbie Travis

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On a more positive note than last week, I’m still tackling the subjects of change and reinvention that inevitably come up at the start of a new year. This week, I am reviewing the book Design Your Next Chapter by Debbie Travis. It came out in November and seemed like a good choice, not only to kick off 2019 but also to help me get back into a regular weekly blog post.

I’ve been a fan of Debbie’s TV shows and design books for years. She has a relatable, engaging style, though maybe some of that, for me, comes from being of a similar age and background (born in northern England and immigrated to Canada). Regardless, it always translated well on TV, and does so again, in the pages of this book.

Design Your Next Chapter seems born of a question we all ask ourselves at some point—though especially so at midlife—‘Am I happy?’ (Or some variation thereof). The book starts with Debbie describing this moment for her. It’s easy to forget that those who ‘seem to have it all’ face the same human questions and doubts as everyone, so her confession may well give you a flash of recognition.

There is homework to do. Debbie offers us the tools she used to make her own change—questions, exercises, lists and notes—and encourages us to write down in the book the ideas that spark us as we go along (though not if you borrowed it from the library, ‘kay?). Starter questions, such as the ‘what’—what is the dream, what stirs our soul and generates passion? Also, the ‘what if…’ of what life might look like if we followed that dream; what risks, what payoffs would we face?

I know what my next chapter will be. I want to be a writer. It’s not the most original dream, but I am working on it. This is why the ‘Do It’ section of the book was my favourite and the most pertinent for me. The commandments to ‘lose the fear’ and ‘dump the excuses’ are two that I’ve already gone back to, as these are my biggest obstacles. Also in this section, the commandment to ‘keep a sense of humour’ is hilarious—almost worth the price of the book by itself—in a lovely, self-deprecating, endearing way.

Menopause Moi Book Review: Design Your Next Chapter!

Then there are the practical tips, the nitty-gritty of working toward change. There’s groundwork to do, to assess, plan, research and budget (blech!) for our dreams. Often, this is the first time cherished dreams will touch reality, and the advice here will help avoid things that many of us don’t think about until we’re hit in the face, things that might stop us in our tracks.

This book is an enjoyable, readable, useful common-sense guide. The advice it contains has all been given before in a variety of ways. But, Debbie’s charm, passion for life, determination to succeed and her real-life experiences all shine through. She is pragmatic, funny, honest, and genuine. Even if you’ve already read other books about change and reinvention, I would recommend adding this one!

Finally, I will say this; after reading about Debbie’s new life in Italy (and seeing the gorgeous photos—seriously, check out her Instagram!) I am putting a stay at Villa Reniella on my travel bucket-list… perhaps to celebrate turning the page on my own new chapter!

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Menopause Moi Movie Review: Second Act

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Menopause Moi Movie Review: Second Act
Photo by MasterTux via

Given some of the themes on this blog—of reinvention and change—the movie Second Act seemed like it would be a good fit, fun to watch and review here.

So… let me start by saying that I didn’t hate the movie, which stars Jennifer Lopez as Maya, a loyal assistant store manager. This isn’t a resounding endorsement and obviously implies that I didn’t love it either! There were bits to love, some funny, some poignant, in what is, essentially, a formulaic romantic comedy.

The story starts out with Maya being passed over for a promotion, which she has obviously earned, for someone with more qualifications. Cut to her birthday party—a glimpse at the rest of her life (which doesn’t seem so bad), and an opportunity for some reflection and soul-searching (life isn’t fair, oh poor me!). We learn that she has a great guy, from whom she is keeping an important secret.

From here the plot stretches its credibility, with Maya’s godson creating a phony resume, complete with fabricated social media presence, which he sends out, to get her the job she ‘deserves’. True to what we would expect, she lands an interview for a high-powered consultancy and using her quick thinking and street smarts goes on to get the gig. Great! You go, girl!

But, just when the movie is shaping up to be a Working Girl for the 21st Century, it changes gear with a major twist, not just of the plot, but of the whole vibe of the film. I won’t give anything away; suffice to say that I doubt it will come as a surprise (I saw it coming), though there might be an element of disbelief that the writers actually went down that road.

Of the many problems with this film, the biggest is that it can’t make up its mind what it wants to be. There are too many plot lines, none of which are covered well. Perhaps because of this, the writers resorted to ‘easy’—clichéd characters and devices, low-hanging laughs and schmaltzy sentimentality. Even when it does hit the right notes, whether comedic or dramatic, these are often lost among the more unsubtle elements.

Jennifer Lopez brings the luminous star quality that we’ve come to expect. Seriously… the woman is gorgeous. Though I would prefer that, instead of having her play younger, they would have ditched one of the stupid plot lines and have her play what she is—a woman on the cusp of fifty. (Just sayin’…)

As for the supporting cast, Leah Remini has a few funny moments, and the chemistry of her and JLo’s real-life friendship comes through in the film. Too often though, it seems as if she is trying too hard for the easy laughs.

Charlene Yi, Annaleigh Ashford, and Alan Aisenberg play the misfit team assigned to help Maya meet her objectives, a quirky bunch who could have added so much more to the comedic elements of this movie. Vanessa Hudgens, who plays Zoe, the boss’s daughter and Maya’s ersatz nemesis, equally could have added more drama or sensitivity.

However, it’s Milo Ventimiglia who comes off worst of all. I don’t watch This Is Us, but I loved him in Gilmore Girls. However, in Second Act, he’s left with the dubious honour of delivering such lines as “the only thing stopping you is you” and “you were always good enough. You were the only one who doubted it” to the ballsy (but apparently incredibly insecure) Maya. There was a third such pearl of wisdom toward the end, but at that point, my brain screamed WTF and I didn’t write it down. After a promising, shirtless first scene, he doesn’t even get to be the eye candy that might have helped!

This movie is predictable and un-nuanced—whether in the comedy, plot or themes—but as I said, I didn’t hate it. I was more disappointed than anything because as someone (hopefully) in the throes of living their own second act, I think it could have been so much more. So don’t waste your money seeing it at the theatre, wait until it comes to Netflix or W Network. It’d be perfect with a glass of wine after a crappy week at work when you don’t want to have to think too hard.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Health Reboot: Nordic Pole Walking

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Nordic Pole Walking could be the perfect exercise for midlife and beyond!

It was my birthday a few weeks ago, and I wanted to give myself a little treat, but nothing too expensive. I also wanted to make sure it was in line with my new health goals (so no cake or cocktails!!). I’d been thinking about it for a while, so decided to try a Nordic pole walking lesson.

Nordic pole walking is walking using poles that resemble those used in cross-country (Nordic) skiing. It originated in Finland where it was designed as an off-season exercise for those skiers to maintain their training.

By all accounts, it has several benefits over regular walking. Nordic walking uses 90% of the body’s muscles, as opposed to 40% walking without poles. This makes for a better cardio exercise and helps to burn up to 46% more calories. It is lower impact, so puts less stress on leg joints, and by engaging upper body muscles, helps to develop core strength.

I decided to give it a try because I am walking most days anyway. However, now that the weather is nice and I’m back to walking outside, I have lost the advantage to add in some strength training that the gym afforded me. This seemed like a good option to add ‘oomph’ to my walks.

For all of the above reasons, and more, Nordic pole walking is an excellent exercise for midlife and beyond (for any age, really). At a point in life where we are being told to protect our joints and our hearts, as well as watch out for weight creep and rising cholesterol and blood sugar, it may be one of the best solutions. And, although I can find little research on this, from a personal perspective, the poles also help my balance, and keep me walking a straight line.

There is little equipment needed—only the poles and some comfy shoes, making it relatively inexpensive to get into. I would however, also recommend at least one lesson. Nordic walking is not difficult, but it is not completely intuitive either. I even purchased extra lessons to get some practice under an instructor’s eye.

In my area, another bonus to Nordic walking is a social one. Many clubs in different locations, walking at different times, give people to option to join a group. Although I am not going this route at present, preferring to continue my walks as personal reflection time, it is a great way to meet people and stay motivated. A quick search of Google shows that most areas and major centres across the country have groups and lessons easily accessible.

(A note about my own instructor:
If you are in the Victoria, BC area and are thinking about trying this out, I would highly recommend Linda Schaumleffel as an instructor. She is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about all things Nordic walking-related.

In addition, she is an accomplished public speaker. As an Olympic rower, car accident (brain injury) survivor and now advocate for Nordic walking, she brings a wealth of experience and humour to her presentations. If you have an event planned that needs someone to motivate or inspire, consider contacting Linda at or through her website)

Have you tried Nordic pole walking? Would you recommend it to others? If you haven’t tried it, would you consider giving it a go, at midlife (or anytime)? It could be fun!

Sunday, 22 April 2018

A Back-to-Basics Health Reboot

A 'Back-to-Basics' Health Reboot

Multiple Sclerosis. Diverticular disease. Hypothyroidism. Potential high cholesterol and pre-diabetes. These are the health conditions I am currently dealing with. All are manageable, most could become serious if not treated, and all are little more than an inconvenience to me most of the time.

However, I have been feeling like crap for most of the past year - tired, unmotivated, possibly depressed. As yet, there have been no answers, only more problems. As usual, MS seemed the most likely culprit, given the symptoms. In the past, I have turned things around in days or weeks, with careful life husbandry. But this time around, months and months in, my frustration level was getting the better of me.

Time to get serious! As the cliché goes, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

As I set out to improve my health and my life, I realized (was reminded!) that getting healthier doesn’t have to be complicated. I already knew what I needed to do (and which the doctor had been telling me all along!). Unfortunately simple doesn’t mean easy, otherwise we’d all be healthy already!

With that being said, here are four straight-forward steps I’m taking now, based on advice we hear every day. Plus one extra that I came up with for myself.

1. Eat better

This is the biggest change I have made so far, and the one that seems to have helped the most. I started out by researching which foods or eating regimens were best for all of the health challenges I’m facing. Not a good idea! The Interwebs are awash in dietary guidelines, the specifics of which often contradict each other.

Eat more veggies and fruit. Cut back on the saturated and trans fats. Reduce or eliminate processed foods and sugar. Most things in moderation. For many people, a simple tweak to their diet can be enough to effect change, but if, like me, you have specific health concerns, talk to your doctor.

My doctor initially suggested the Mediterranean diet, which is great, but involved me ‘relearning the wheel’ (of cooking), so became a challenge to maintain.

In the end, I picked a condition-specific diet—the Direct-MS diet (, which is similar to a paleo diet--no dairy, gluten, legumes or foods with a high sugar content—any food, in fact, which might be an allergen. I chose this regimen because I could fit a lot of my existing eating pattern into its framework, and also I had done it in the past with some success.

I have been following this protocol now for nine weeks, have lost five pounds and feel better in every sense of the word.

2. Exercise

Following the doc’s advice to the letter on this one was easy. Go for a walk!

No gym membership required. No expensive equipment to buy. And no classes to attend or regimented schedule to stick to. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those things. I know that they are what help some folks stick with their exercise habit. And, I do have a gym membership, for walking on the treadmill through the dark, wintery months.

For me though, thoughts of adding in a yoga session or two, perhaps even getting back to going for a run (either of which I would love) overwhelm me at the moment, and make me less likely to do anything! So walking it is!

3. Sleep

This one should be easy too, at least in theory. If you’re tired, you rest, right?

A regular sleep routine is one way to help get a good night’s sleep. But, for me, being fatigued has meant sneaking in a nap some afternoons. Which leads to later nights and restless sleep. Which becomes a circular insanity that is hard to break out of. Even at the best of times, I am inconsistent with bedtime and tend to stay up later than I should. Still some work to do here!

Other good sleep hygiene habits involve keeping a cool, dark, quiet bedroom. And, reduce all screen time before bed—brownie points for me on this as I don’t watch TV in bed, and rarely do I have my phone there.

Reduce or eliminate(!) caffeine and alcohol. It’s true; a glass or two of wine is now a sleep killer for me, a fact that I do ignore occasionally, and always to my detriment!

There are also many sleep aids available over the counter, to help with occasional sleeplessness. Although they do make me sleep, personally I find they always leave me feeling ‘hung over’, so use them as little as possible. Definitely discuss this with your doctor!

4. Consistency

Although it is obvious that doing good things consistently over time will produce the best results and form new, good habits, to me it has always been easier said than done. I wanted the quick fix. I tried every fad diet going, becoming queen of the yo-yo dieters in the process. I would go to a full-on aerobics class, wake up the next day unable to move, get discouraged, and quit. Rinse and repeat every one to six months, depending on my motivation!

I didn’t get into this situation overnight; I am not going to fix it overnight either. I am fifty-five years old, the least I can do is give myself fifty-five weeks (maybe even fifty-five months) to slowly improve my health. Ditching the all-or-nothing thinking, and despite slip-ups that normally would send me to the couch with a bag of chips, I am nine weeks in and still going.

5. Open-mindedness

In my quest to feel better, I have to ask what I haven’t yet tried, that might prove beneficial. Acupuncture through Zen, there are options that might be considered ‘alternative’ but that may help. I will probably draw the line at bee-stings and snake venom (a personal choice, and no reflection on those who have tried them), but most other things would be up for consideration, again with the consultation and support of my doctor.

There may not be a cure for what ails me, and some of what happens is out of my control. But I believe there is still a lot I can do to help myself feel better. As well as the simple steps outlined, I have already gone back to massage therapy, treatment that was beneficial in the past. I’ve also started using health affirmations based on a series of cards I bought from A Healing Spirit. Small steps so far, but each is important on my new journey.