Quite the Adventure: My Bags are Packed and I’m Ready to Go.

I have been planning this trip for quite sometime now and it has just come to fruition. The dream was a winter out of the snow and somewhere near salt water, sand and sunshine.  I am only semi-retired and not independently wealthy so there was a financial challenge to overcome.  Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…..how to have it all????

I questioned my friends and acquaintances, scoured websites, and sent my prayers out to the Universe.  I’ve been very intrigued with the concept of Workaway. Take a look at  their website – so many opportunities around the world.  In the end, I found an opportunity through a good friend of my mine with her sister in Mexico.  For the next 4 months, I will be volunteering in Rocky Point, Mexico helping with their AirBnb business.  Check it out here.

The first hurdle was to get there without spending a lot of money.  Travelling across the USA for free.  There had to be a way.  I found it with Toronto Drive-Away Service.  I applied online in September and heard back from them promptly.  Early in October they gave me my assignment.  I drove a brand new Honda CRV to Fort Myers, Florida for a couple of elderly snow birds.

Honda CRV

It was a great adventure – driving across country on my own with the radio cranked high singing to the Beatles and a variety of 60’s music and other pop era’s.  Yowza!!!  This is not for the faint of heart.  I hit every type of weather – lots of rain on and off, snow in West Virginia for a few kilometers, bright and blinding sunshine and then absolutely torrential rain on I-75 just a half hour from my hotel.  It was terrifying as traffic slowed to nothing and no one could see.  I quickly exited the highway and waited it out in a parking lot.

I drove 12 hours on day one and spent the night at the Holiday Inn Suites in Beckley, West Virginia that I easily booked on Hotwire and left a 5 star review on Yelp.    I slept well and was up and on my way to Athens, Georgia very early the next morning.  I arrived there 6 hours later.  I spent a lovely day with my friend and mentor, left my luggage and drove another 12 hours to Fort Myers the next morning. Spent the night at the Hyatt Suites, met the couple (whose car I was) delivering at an airport shuttle office, took the shuttle over to Southwest’s Terminal and flew to Athens an hour and half later.  Read my reviews of the Hyatt Suites and Southwest Airlines on Yelp.

Choosing what to pack and how to limit my luggage took lots of my brain power.  I need warm clothes for the drive down and for my stay in March in Connecticut, boots and water shoes, clothes for being around the stables and clothes for fun, clothes for meeting clients………….I love my clothes.  I had to limit myself to luggage I could manage solo and also the limitations of the airlines.

Bags are packed

I know this is the time for me – time to get healthier, face my fears head on, ramp up the adventure meter and experience something new everyday.  There’s no stopping me now.

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Embracing February

February is never an easy month for me.  I am ready for spring………. well quite honestly, ready for summer.  I am a summer woman.  I love the heat, love the sun and really don’t mind humidity.  Winter takes more work to stay balanced and positive.  I intend to do it, though.  Every year I stop wearing socks in February, bring sandals to the office, ignore my sweaters, and wear my spring clothes with my big red coat over them. Big shawls and furry winter boots help because the older I get, the more I feel the cold.

Red Coat
An outing with my awesome daughters

Yesterday was one of those challenging February days – the morning started out well – waking up without an alarm clock, writing in my gratitude journal, yoga stretches for my lower back, and a walk to work that includes a challenging incline that leaves me exhilarated.  My office is now only 500 metres from home eliminating public transit but also my 40 minute walk.  I decided that I need that walk so I am taking advantage of my awesome neighbourhood.

Lee Street
Feels like walking a mountain

A little pampering goes a long way.  If you have a health insurance plan that allows for massage therapy, acupuncture or any other healing therapy, I strongly urge you to take advantage.  For those who don’t, I recommend schools for Registered Massage Therapists, Chiropractors, Estheticians, Hair Stylists and more.   The prices are extremely low in comparison and the treatments usually take longer therefore giving you a little extra pampering time. I have been taking advantage of our beauty schools for almost a decade.  Colour, cut and blow dry for around $30.  A simple wash and blow dry is only $10. Pampering on a budget for sure.

This week I visited my favourite manicurist for the best pedicure EVER.  I have been going to Mary for Manicures and Pedicures for about 9 years.  She changed locations in the Beaches3 times and I along with many others have followed her.  A pedicure with Mary compares favourably to any high end treatment.  She puts her all into her work and has a thriving clientele.  She knows I am having trouble with my knee and really spends extra time on the massage.  You can ask for extra massage and pay only $1 per minute at many salons in Toronto.  I really recommend finding someone you like and becoming a regular customer rather than just dropping in.   A mani/pedi at the many salons in Toronto are usually on $35.  It is just one of the luxuries that I give myself every 4-6 weeks when possible – for me, it is definitely living life abundantly.  You can find Mary at Professional Nail and Spa, 2221 Queen Street East, Toronto, Ontario, 416-694-4111.  Tell her Sandra sent you. (this is not a paid commercial just friends sharing great ideas)

Admittedly I am not a person who loves exercise and I really cannot motivate myself to join a class or go to a gym.  I really do enjoy getting out to a pool and I am fortunate to have one only a few kilometres away.  We are so blessed in Toronto to have community pools in every neighbourhood.  Lane swims are very reasonably priced and leisure swims are free across the city. Spending 30 – 60 minutes moving about in the pool really is a great attitude adjustment.

Stiff joints always feel worse in the winter (at least for me) and I have been faithfully doing yoga stretches for the past 2 weeks every morning.  What a difference it makes! I am concentrating on the lower back, sciatic area, hips as well as neck and shoulders.  I really appreciate the videos by Psyche Truth on YouTube.  I am really blown away by the difference I am feeling this week after being consistent.

Here are a few youtube videos that I really like but I find I need to try a variety to keep it interesting.

How To Yoga Stretches for Low Back Pain & Sciatica Relief by Jen Hilman

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9f1Y4OV3QlA&list=PLdMcHk9t7WxMgmmIFj-0Won6m8uSjrExk&index=3

Neck Stretch Exercises For Pain, Tension & Stress Relief, Jen Hilman

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CaPRFm3EZWY&index=5&list=PLdMcHk9t7WxMgmmIFj-0Won6m8uSjrExk

Stretches for Back Pain Relief, How to Stretch Routine, Beginners Home Yoga

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CaPRFm3EZWY&index=5&list=PLdMcHk9t7WxMgmmIFj-0Won6m8uSjrExk

Yoga Workout | Low Back Pain Stretches Routine, How To for Beginners, Total Wellness Austin

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ue_vHLkMgzg

For years I went to tanning salons in the winter for the tan and for the warmth and the light.  It really worked for me but I don’t recommend this.  The dangers’ of tanning beds outweighs the benefits, in my opinion.  I have never tried sun lamps to help with the lack of sunshine but it might be a great idea.  I take my Vitamin D every day, get outside for a walk and dream of summer sun.

Tulips on the table

Spring tulips on a table, visits to a garden conservatory, green house, butterfly conservatory, art gallery, museum or even a night in a local hotel ( look for great deals online).  Take a drive on a bright sunny day to a neighbouring town – visit a Farmer’s Market, Antique Shops and more.  Don’t have a car?  Rent one for the day, hop on the Go Train but get a change of scene this month.   I once spent an adventurous day at Ikea during a blizzard.  Travelled there by subway (had to change trains 3 times) and we were among the very, very, very few shoppers.  We ate in their restaurant and the staff were offering us samples of different foods since there were only 2 other customers.  It was a full day outing and I think all I bought were some bright yellow candles to go with my February tulips.

What are your secrets for a great February?

Smile, breathe and laugh a little

Finally I am ready and able to return to my blog.  What are the expressions?  The best laid plans of mice and women….. or God is laughing at our plans.  Yup, how true!!  I just could not find that energy to write about myself during the massacre on Gaza this summer although my intention had been to write every week.

Sandra and fellow activist Nadine
World Pride 2014, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid

The healing journey is just that – a journey with all the ups and downs of climbing a mountain, swimming across an ocean or that journey of love.  Wow!!!  My practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the wonderful Emily Babaris, told me it would be hard. I scoffed.  Ha!!  Joke was on me.  It is hard and it is a lot of work and it is so darn worth it!!!

I have to say that I am discovering a side of my personality I wasn’t really aware of.  At my last treatment, Emily mentioned that my tongue was a bit swollen indicating that I am over –thinking.  Oh yeah, my name is Sandra and I am an over-thinker!!!  I have definitely been more than a bit obsessive/compulsive.  I take my blood pressure over and over, I test my blood sugar way toooooo much and I weigh myself ten times more than I promised myself.    Need a sign to carry…BEWARE – OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE OVER-THINKER.  Actually if you know me, you probably know I don’t need the sign.  Yikes!!

Now let me tell me you a little bit about the work.  I am no longer taking any medications.  I have stopped all four – nothing for blood pressure and nothing for my type 2 Diabetes.  I am taking Chinese herbs that have been prescribed and drinking a special tea every day. I am eating healthier and less food.  I am exercising at least 30 minutes every day and I am trying to meditate regularly as well.  I see my TCM practitioner at least once a month for acupuncture and this month I went to a registered massage therapist for a full body massage.

How do I feel?  I feel amazing!!!  On average I am losing a half pound to a pound every week.  My skin is clear, my eyes are bright and my energy level is beyond anything I have experienced in the past several years.  I feel younger and lighter and healthy and happy.  It is the best feeling ever.  For the past 3 years I have been plagued with body pain – hip, knees, joints – stiffness and creakiness.  It’s gone!!!  Gone!!  I am walking up and down stairs now without leaning on the handrails and without taking one step and bringing the other foot up but walking up and down stairs like a normal healthy person.  I am walking faster and further and I don’t arrive so stiff and sore and exhausted.  I feel myself breathing deeply and easily.

Well that is the physical side to it.  The struggle of the journey is not giving up desserts especially ice-cream or cutting up piles of vegetables for every meal and not eating after dinner or 7:30pm.  The struggle is the ongoing conversation inside my head.  I worry about what I am eating, I worry that the numbers are not as low as they should be and I worry that it is not possible to meet my goals and be healthy.  I write to Emily at least once a week.  Today she reminded me that healing is a journery and healing takes time and that for now I am fairly stable.  For me I hear her saying calm down….you are on the right path.

This is the right path for me.  I spent my life since I was 30 talking about alternative healing and avoiding western style medicine.  I then jumped right in with both feet and followed the plan of my general practitioner – every few months increasing the medicines and feeling sicker and sicker – truly becoming a patient.  I hurt all over, my stomach burned, reoccurring diarrhea, lack of energy and every time I took my pills I felt like I was poisoning myself.   I tried smudging my pill bottles and blessing them…..nothing really worked.

So what is it I am eating? Typical breakfast these days is a bowl of steel cut oatmeal with almond milk, some berries, and a generous sprinkling  of cinnamon.  Lunch is a big salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, peppers, onions, avocado, olives and feta.  Dinner varies but I try to have a few vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, brussel sprouts, zucchini), brown rice and some type of protein.  I am limiting my meat and fish to 3 to 4 times a week.  I love chicken – broiled, baked or grilled.  Sometimes I sprinkle  Panko crumbs over them (lowest sodium of all crumbs).  I actually made my sausage using ground lean turkey.  I mixed it with ground fennel seeds, cumin, thyme, oregano, red pepper flakes, and then rolled each into a little weiner shape and wrapped individually in tin foil.  Omgawsh, they are delicious without added sodium or nitrates.  Guilt free eating!

 

Brown rice noodles with grated Parmesan cheese and chopped vegetables
Photo
Brown rice with zucchini, yellow peppers, onions, garlic, spinach and more

I am most proud of my exercise routines.  I am the one who hates exercise the most, fears the gym and just hates to sweat.  I know that I have always loved dancing and that there are certain songs that made me start moving even in my chair….soooooooooooooooo…..I made a playlist of workout songs on youtube.  I have songs from the 50’s to today.  Kt Tunstall and Chubby Checker and everything in between.  Remember YMCA, Pop Goes the World, the Macarena, the Chicken Dance???

 

I have several hours of music and don’t have to play the same ones over and over which keeps my routine fresh and interesting. Here is my playlist.  It includes a few yoga workouts that I really like as well.

At home I  lay out my yoga mat, put on the tunes and dance.  I stretch, do some yoga moves and work up a sweat for a half hour.  Most important – I smile, I breathe and I laugh a little.

I invite everyone do just that – smile, breathe and laugh a little

 

Peace and love

I Married Myself

 

In the summer of 2012 I got married, on the beach at sunset.  I had only one guest with me– a woman I cared very much for.   I did not marry her, I married me.  I was ready to commit for life to myself.  I was ready to promise to Love, Honour and Cherish me.  Forever.  It was time.  I was 56 years old. It was one of the pivotal moments of my life and I loved every second.

It is not that I have never been married.  In fact I have been married a few times before and who knows?  I might do it again but this one is forever.  This is a commitment to love, honour and cherish myself.  In all future relationships, I will put myself in a place of importance and of value.

If by different, you mean awesome
If by different, you mean awesome

We started the afternoon with a little shopping and then an early wedding supper at one of my favourite “all you can eat sushi” restaurants located in Toronto’s annex.  We were meeting another close friend and would share my wedding plans with her.  Dinner was delicious and we laughed and enjoyed the whole idea that soon I would be marrying myself on the shore of Lake Ontario.

not actually buying a wedding dress....but having some shopping fun
not actually buying a wedding dress….but having some shopping fun
and of course, a wedding bouquet
and of course, a wedding bouquet

My companion and now wedding planner and wedding photographer guided me in building a circle of stones drawing on Indigenous practice.  I chose 16 large stones for my circle.  Each stone represented something in the tradition of the medicine wheel.  She explained the meaning of each stone.

Feeling powerful and committed
Feeling powerful and committed

After I built my wedding circle, I chose to use the lake as my Mikvah ( a ritual cleansing bath from my Jewish practice).    In Judaism, our tradition teaches that impurity can be relieved by immersion into any body of natural flowing water.  I completely immersed myself 3 times as the sun set and the sky darkened.  I sang the Shekianu – Boruch ata, Adonai, Elohanu Melach Ha’olam. Shehekianu, vikimanu, vihigianu, lazman ha ze, Amen – a blessing for a special or new occasion.  My companion had placed burning incense upon the stones at each of the directions – north, east, south and west. I changed into an off white gauzy dress that I had bought in Aghios Nikolas, Crete the summer before.

 

 

When I came out of the lake, I entered the circle.  With tears streaming down my cheeks, I said my vows.  I promised to always love me, to be good to Me, to hold Me, to realize that I am never alone because I have Me.  I promised to protect Me and care for Me.

That night I committed to wearing a ring that I had bought  in Eilat on the Red Sea.  I had gone away that weekend on a getaway – yes, alone. A much needed getaway from activism and a few unhealthy relationships.  I traveled on an overnight bus from Haifa across the desert.  I bought myself this beautiful silver ring with crystals, delicious perfume, and ate great food and drank lots of wine.  I swam in the sea and walked along the shore.  This ring – 6 years later, became my wedding ring.

We finished my wedding night drinking gin and lemonade on the beach under the stars and honouring this momentous occasion of independence and self loving.

On this Summer Solstice…do you want to dance?

Mmmmm, that type of morning where you wake up refreshed after a great night’s sleep (7-8 hours) excited to start your day with anticipation.  I had a delicious breakfast of steel cut oatmeal made with lavender flowers and cinnamon and topped with fresh blueberries and strawberries with almond milk.  I had my one cup of coffee (cutting back from 2) and then danced for 30 minutes.

oatmeal and coffee
Steel cut oatmeal and coffee. Wow!!

 

 

Today is the Summer Solstice and it is my favorite day of the year.  A day I always celebrate with family and friends.  Today is extra special because my darling grandson Oscar is coming to visit and we are having our first sleepover!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Yowza!!!!

I love to celebrate the summer solstice beside the water
I love to celebrate the summer solstice beside the water

Just as I suspected, this healing journey I began, is not going to be an easy one.  I remain committed to it.  I have stopped taking my diabetic medication but I am still taking the ones for high blood pressure.  I am going to concentrate on one problem at a time.  My blood sugar remained stable for the first 2 weeks but has crept up a bit for the past 4 days.  We have added a tea to drink daily along with my Chinese herbs and monthly acupuncture treatment. I don’t love exercise.  I would much rather read a book or even watch a marathon on Netflix –Orange is the New Black, anyone? I know that I have to get moving, keep moving, move faster and make it a life habit.  I am totally committed to this.

Emily Babaris, my Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner recommends that I exercise in some way every day for at least 30 minutes.  She said walking, swimming, dancing, yoga – something every day.  These are my choices but you might enjoy something else and that is good too.  I do walk everyday for at least a few kilometres – just part of not having a car and using public transit.  I really love not having a car (healthy, carefree choice for me and environmentally friendly) and using the Toronto transit system (TTC).  I have a monthly pass that is delivered to my home by Canada Post.  My payment is withdrawn monthly from my bank account.  Easy, unlimited travel in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA)…..perfect!

Emily Babaris, R.TCMP, R.Ac, BES, received her Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) certificate in Victoria, BC.

Ok back to exercise (see how easily I get off topic on that one– I knew I wouldn’t stay committed to a class or even going to a gym or a pool.  Pooh! I am just lazy and hate to leave home soooooooooooo…….I know that I love music and that there have been many songs over the years that made me smile and made me just want to dance.  I decided to make a workout playlist on Youtube.  I added songs that inspire me to move.  I am sure everyone has songs like this.  My latest is Happy by Pharrell Williams – it makes me smile, makes me happy and inspires me to dance.  I love Cyndi Lauper, The Divinyls, KT Tunstall, Men Without Hats, The Beach Boys and on and on.  I add music to my list all the time. I always do lots of sun salutations and smile on each one.  This is the way to start to the day.  When I was in Provence last month, I found myself outside dancing and kept going for an hour!!!  I also have a couple of yoga workouts that I have been using (also on youtube).  I discovered “Yoga with Adrienne”.  I like her routines especially the one for beginners and another one for weight loss.  I also intend to add swimming this summer (once it really warms up) at the outdoor pool on the Beach near Woodbine.  I am told these pools are free….what a bonus that is and I am excited to get started a few days a week. The pool opened last weekend.  Check out a pool near you on the Toronto Parks and Recreation website or call 311 for information.

 

I love swimming in the lake near Leuty Lighthouse on a very hot summer day

My Healing Journey

This is my healing story.  For many, many years I have been uncomfortable with the model of Western medicine.  Each year for the past five years, my doctor has added another medication and increased the doses as well.  I am now stiff in all my joints, my knees hurt, and my digestive system is often upset.  I have high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.  Since the diagnosis of diabetes last August, I have lost over 20 pounds.  For the past few months I have been exercising regularly.  I walk a few kilometres each day because I do not have car.  I have just returned from a 22 vacation which was key in reducing stress.  I arrived in Greece on Day 10 almost completely pain free.  Was it the hot and sunny weather or the pleasant and relaxing days in France? I am going to explore it all in my journey for health.

best of chinese medicine

A few months ago I started seeing Emily Babaris, a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine.   She is located on the Danforth near Chester Subway Station in Toronto.  For the first 6 weeks I had an acupuncture treatment every week and I have been taking herbs twice a day as well.  My intention is to stop taking the medications prescribed by my doctor and rely solely on the Chinese medicine.  This will mean continuing to lose weight through health eating, exercising at least a half hour every day, and reducing my caffeine intact to one cup of coffee from the two I have been enjoying each morning.

I love the Weight Watcher model for weight loss.  It has always been successful for me.  In 2003, I lost 35 pounds following their plan.  I have to admit I have never attended a meeting or paid a cent in fees.  I obtained their books and calculators from friends and family.  The point is I ate a healthy well balanced diet and I counted my points.  I maintained that lower weight until now.  Once in a while, I find that eating out a lot will cause a weight gain of as much as 10 pounds but returning to my own cooking and reduction of salt will reduce that within 14 days.  My goal is to lose another 50 pounds.

On Tuesday next week, I will meet with my family doctor to ask for her support in reducing my medications.  I hope she will agree and continue to monitor my health through regular blood tests.

I have read about the side effects of the medications I am taking – one is said to cause diabetes and another leads to high cholesterol.  That is the next medication she is expecting to add to my arsenal very soon.  All of them cause joint and body stiffness.

I became a Reflexologist in 1995 when I was in my thirties.  I became a Doula assisting women while birthing.   I was committed to alternative medicine and had my own practise in London, Ontario.  I worked in many modalities with Reflexology including flower essence remedies such as Bach Flower, Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Touch for Health, Healing Touch and Reiki.

I started on this path when my oldest daughter was 12 years old in 1993.  She was catching one virus after another and missing 5 to 10 days of school each month.  It was a stressful year for her with her Bat Mitzfah scheduled in the spring and her personal commitment to school work, family and friends.  Every time she was sick, I called the doctor who prescribed cough syrups and decongestants, Tylenol and often antibiotics.  One day I just said this is enough!  I took a course in healing foods.  The next time she was ill I made a healing broth and had her drink it.  NO medications.  She got well and was not sick the next month.  From then on, she and her sister caught a cold once year at the most.  The cycle was broken. I shared this recipe with many others and always had very positive feedback from those who took it for colds and viruses, digestive problems and other mild illnesses.

Healing Broth Recipe

 

 

3 cloves of garlic

1 medium onion

Half a head of broccoli

½ medium size cabbage

2 carrots

1 potato

4 stalks of celery

Season with a little soy or tamari sauce

Ground black pepper

12 cups of water

 

  1. Bring the water and all the ingredients to a boil and simmer for 90 -120 minutes.  During simmering check the water level and add more if it looks low.

 

  1.  Drain the broth and keep the vegetables for adding to stews, soups or casseroles.  I often puree them and add a little broth for a yummy cream of vegetable soup.

 

  1. Serve immediately.  Drink a cup of broth 3 -4 times a day for healing and cleansing.

 

I don’t believe the broth is the answer to my current health issues but I am committed to a new regiment of healthy eating, exercise, and Traditional Chinese medicine.  I invite you to follow my journey.