Theme Week: A History of Our Families, Through Objects

One of my abiding delights of late is to listen to podcasts while I take my long walks.  Beth-Anne has mentioned our obsession with NPR’s wildly popular and record-breaking Serial, and her love of the comic Grownups Read Stuff They Wrote as Kids.  I get my science fix with the Quirks and Quarks podcast from the CBC, and I am so enamoured of interviews with authors that I have exhausted the archives of Eleanor Wachtel’s Writers and Company, as well as all of the archived episodes of the Guardian’s books podcasts and the BBC’s World Book Club.

A-History-of-the-World-in-100-ObjectsWhat I love about all of these podcasts is their standard of excellence, and you really cannot do better than Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects for podcast excellence.  (You can download it here.)  In this series, MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, tells a history of the world through 100 of the objects housed there.  I have not only listened to all 100 episodes, I have read the book that accompanies the podcast and gone back to listen to some episodes for a second time.  In each episode, he considers one object, and that object becomes a prism through which to explore past worlds and the men and women who lived in them.  The stories are, truly, mind-bending; I was so often startled by what I learned.  It is so difficult to choose an illustrative example, because I really did love them all, but in the episode on the Gold Cape found in Mold, in north Wales, for instance, my sense of the isolation of the British Isles was thoroughly upturned.  The cape, made in 1900-1600 BC, is a beautifully intricate object made of gold, extremely sophisticated in its execution, and it was buried with amber and bronze objects that point to a web of trade and exchange that reached not only from Wales to Scandinavia, but even as far as the Mediterranean.  Nearly 2000 years before the common era, artisans were making and trading at levels of sophistication I knew nothing about.

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MacGregor’s approach is decidedly not that of the Guns, Germs and Steel variety, in which history is told as a series of conflicts and conquests.  Rather, his approach is to examine the globe’s common history, to look at synchronicity in the history of the world, to examine our commonalities.  In his introduction to the series, MacGregor describes the “necessary poetry of things”:

It is, as we know, the victors who write the history, especially when only the victors know how to write.  Those who are on the losing side, those whose societies are conquered or destroyed, often have only their things to tell their stories.  The Caribbean Taino, the Australian Aboriginals, the African people of Benin and the Incas, all of whom appear in this book, can speak to us now of their past achievements most powerfully through the objects they made: a history told through things gives them back a voice.

Taking in our cue from MacGregor’s poetry of things, this week at 4Mothers, we will be telling a piece of our family history through a single object.  We hope you will enjoy them.

In the mean time, be a podcast addict’s enabler!  What are your favourite podcasts? 

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A Week of New and Unusual Spa Treatments

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Okay, it’s mid-February, Toronto is in the middle of a deep freeze, and I don’t want to leave the house.  Can’t we channel some wisdom from the animal kingdom – there’s a reason why they hibernate!

But February comes every year, and must be faced when the time comes, and we all must do the best we can with it.  This week, 4Mothers tries to cope with a bit of pampering, also known as the spa.  Most of us like a good spa treatment, but to shake things up a bit, we’ve decided to try some unusual and new spa treatments and report on our experiences.  Stay tuned and see what each of us turn up with.

Also, tell us – what are your favourite spa treatments?  Do you stick with the tried and true, or do you venture into novel territory?  We’d love to hear your thoughts, and we’ll get through February together!

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Tried it: Barre3 By Guest Blogger Leigh from Me & Meg

Our guests this week are Leigh and Meg from the popular motherhood blog, Me and Meg. Leigh and Meg blog about ups and downs of motherhood with just the right amount of snark. They are witty, humble and kick-ass at Cross Fit. Think you’ve heard of them? I wouldn’t be surprised because they are contributors to Global Morning Show, Parentdish.ca and “What She Said” Canada Talks on SiriusXM Radio.

Thank you ladies for sharing your experience at Barre3.

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Meg and I have always loved exercising; that’s not to say that there hasn’t been times when we have totally lacked motivation or taken time off, we have. Our philosophy has always been simple: we were designed to move and we owe it to ourselves to do just that. It’s hard not get out of bed and workout when you think about what Rick Hansen and Terry Fox accomplished. Find someone who is doing a lot more with a lot less and suddenly your excuses melt away.

Meg and I both agree the key to keeping motivated is changing it up-and we don’t mean swapping the elliptical for the bike. We mean really shaking it up. We are both Crossfit and Olympic lifting coaches and that is something we consistently do. We love the variety of movements, and contrary to popular belief, it really is for everybody; our sixty year old mother does it!

We decided to start 2015 off by adding some new exercise disciplines into our repertoire. Enter Barre3. We are totally addicted. It’s like Yoga started dating a ballet dancer who also does Pilates. What do love most about it? First, the variety of workouts; by both the amount of time you have, and the part of the body you want to focus on. Meg and I love the Ballet Body Blast-who doesn’t want the long lines of a dancer? Second? You can do the workouts ANYWHERE. Between the mobile app and the on-line workouts you just can’t find an excuse not to do it.

imgres-1We also appreciate the instructor’s pace and focus on integrity of movement, often times with at-home dvd’s there is not real instruction and you feel sort of lost, that’s not the case with the Barre3 on-line and mobile app workouts. If you live in the Toronto area, we recommend checking out the new Barre3 studio that opened. Aimee the owner, is a delight.

Our advice, cut some old t-shirts off, knot’em and rock some leg warmers. That’s what ballet dancers do right?

Tried it: Paddle Board Fitness

I don’t really love the actual act of exercising. I don’t loathe it but it’s also not something that tops my list. I would rather read a good book, play with the boys, eat cookie dough . . . things I consider nourishment for my soul. But if I am to be honest, I do love the feeling that I have post-exercise. There is something to be said for the endorphin rush, in fact, a therapist told me that exercise is one of the best ways to fight the blahs.

But my interest wanes. I like to keep things fresh by trying out new classes. I have sampled my fair share and some, like Barre, hold a position in the rotation and others like the Tracy Anderson Method are collecting dust. (An aside: What beginner can actually keep up with her dancing?)

When I learned that Paddle Fitness was being added to the line-up of offerings at my club, I was keen to try. Many boxes were ticked: I like water, I like the warm sea air, I like relaxation, finding my inner calm . . .this sounded perfect for me. Forgetting for a minute that:

A) I am actually petrified of becoming shark bait whilst paddling in the Caribbean.

B) I would actually be paddling to nowhere within the confines of 4 walls blinded by the overhead fluorescent lighting.

I handed over my money.

I arrived at the class to find 6 other women, all of us clad in our finest stretchy pants and racer-backed tanks.

We prepped the boards by adding stabilizers at the front and back ends. There are three different levels of stability, this being moderately challenging. One stabilizer in the middle of the board provides the least support, better mimicking open-water paddling. Our instructor, a woman in her 40s with the body of a 20-year-old athlete, took her position facing us.

I mounted the board with ease and together we worked through a series of stretches. The mood was calm and almost relaxing thanks to a spotty WiFi connection disabling the thumping playlist. (Another aside: remember when instructors brought ghetto blasters? Mrs. Healy’s used to blare techno beats while my high school friends and I stepped up, down and to the side for an hour in her basement studio.)

Yes, I thought, this is exactly what I need. I need to zone out and imagine myself floating in the warm sea, with the sun beating down on me, defrosting my frozen fingers courtesy of the -27 degree weather outside.

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What happened next, I am not too sure. It was an assault on my body. Burpees, mountain climbers, squats, push-ups, jumping up and over the board, squats, push-ups, plank, leg raises, squats, side-plank with one leg raised, push-ups, squats, squats, SQUATS!

ALL ON AN UNSTABLE BOARD.

With 8 minutes of the class remaining, the instructor sat in the middle of the board, with her knees bent and feet flat.

Oh, thank God! We’re almost done. Just a few stretches to go. Deep breath. Easy now, you sound like a congested pug.

And then she raised her feet into table-top and proceeded with the abdominal portion of the class. Five grueling minutes of V-sits, starfish-to-crabs (think full body extension, then pulling yourself up into a tuck), triceps dips with opposite leg to elbow crunches (I know, impossible right?).

ALL ON AN UNSTABLE BOARD.

images-1Paddle Fitness is an all-encompassing work out. It works the core, challenges balance and stability, improves flexibility while being both a cardio and strength training exercise.

Wrists, shoulders and knees definitely have their moment in the spotlight, so if you have any injury or weakness with these joints be sure to let your instructor know so the program can be modified.

The verdict? Less than 24-hours later, I couldn’t put my bra on without wincing and my quads burned when I walked up the stairs, but I have been back. What can I say? I am hooked on that feelin’!

Fitbit Fever

fitbitI love, love, love my Fitbit.

What does my Fitbit do?  Well, I wear it on my wrist and it counts my steps (minimum 15,000 a day).  But that’s not all it does.  It gets me out and active every day.  It takes me on super-long walks several times a week (10-15k).  During those walks, I listen to podcasts of everything from NPR’s Serial (addictive!!) to The Guardian’s books podcast to A History of the World in 100 Objects from the BBC to Quirks and Quarks form the CBC.  So, my fitbit keeps me up to date and learning about books, history, science and culture.  It takes me on new routes to keep things fresh, so I’m discovering new areas of the city.  My walks have spurred a love of making photographs, and I aim to get one good shot from each good walk.  (I post them to our Instagram account or you can see the current one from the sidebar of the blog’s website.)  My Fitbit makes me stretch, because after walking 10k, you just have to stretch.  It has helped me lose 15 lbs since the end of the summer.  Not a rapid rate of weight loss, but steady and, oh so importantly, enjoyable.  There is no overcoming resistance to go out for long walks, not even in winter weather.  It has taught me that I need extrinsic motivation to succeed, and being accountable for my daily 15,000 steps has been a fun and inspiring goal.  I just love, love, love my Fitbit.

My Fitbit was a gift from my husband from way back last spring (Mother’s Day).  I was so excited to get it because I’d been grilling a friend about hers and how it has helped her get strong and fit.  Ted heard how animated I was and surprised me with one.  Then, sadly, I let it sit in its box because I could not find the energy to figure out how to hook it up to the computer.  Oh, what wasted months!  When I finally set it up in September (my new year), it took all of 30 seconds.  Seriously.  So if you are a technophobe, fear no more.  It really could not be simpler.

The Fitbit bracelet counts steps, but the dashboard to which it connects on on your phone and/or computer can also help you track what you eat and how much you sleep.  (My fitbit thinks I sleep a lot more than I do because I read in bed for a few hours most nights.  My Fitbit probably thinks I’m a very big cat, actually.)  I have found tracking what I eat to be really helpful, mostly because it makes me realize that snacks and after-dinner nibbles really do add up.  Again, it drives home how much I rely on extrinsic motivation to succeed.  Seeing a list out there and up on my computer screen of what I put into my body helps me pay closer attention to that body.  Some people are good at just listening to their bodies; I’m not one of them.

If you are media social, your Fitbit can talk to Facebook and to friends.  My Fitbit and I keep to ourselves, pretty much, and that’s how I like it.

I think that’s the magic of this thing: it’s customizable and personal.  When we sat down in September to plan our themes for the upcoming months, we each decided to try a new fitness class or activity.  I hemmed and hawed about trying lots of new-to-me things, but I really could not get excited about any of them.  Walking fits for me; it’s what I love, and I am so grateful to have such a simple and effective tool to remind me to do what I love each and every day.

Buy a Fitbit from Indigo here.

 

Fitness Trends: The Tried, The Tested and The True

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Working out isn’t everyone’s favourite thing to do but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that while maybe the actual “work out” isn’t the highlight of their day, the endorphins and overall good feeling that come post sweat, definitely usurps the drudgery of the actual work.

Nathalie, Carol and I are a bit of an eclectic trio and the fitness trends that we’ve chosen to test out depict that quite accurately. Nathalie is an avid walker (and she takes the MOST STUNNING photos on her daily walks around the city – you can view them by clicking here), Carol is a yogi at heart and I like to switch it up every few months.

However, this week Nathalie tracks her progress with FitBit, Carol tests her agility by rock climbing and I take on paddle board fitness. You’re definitely going to want to follow along this week, if for nothing else, the sheer entertainment!

Our guests this week are Leigh and Meg from the popular motherhood blog, Me and Meg. Leigh and Meg blog about ups and downs of motherhood with just the right amount of snark. They are witty, humble and kick-ass at Cross Fit. This Friday we find out how they did when they traded their barbells for a barre.

Don’t forget to join in the conversation by leaving us a comment on the blog or Instagram. At the very least, send us some encouragement!