Category Archives: Health and Wellness

The Moving Diet and Exercise Plan

Upon opening a box marked “OFF65” containing items for the home office, I discovered my bathroom scale that was slightly misfiled in my last minute haste.

I laid the scale on the floor and hopped on to confirm what I had suspected for the last few weeks, as I noticed that my jeans were getting progressively looser.

From the moment we put the offer in on the house, I secretly hoped that the stress of the legal paperwork, the preparation, the packing and the move itself would help me shed a couple of pounds (as it did the last time I moved, 19 years ago).

Well, it worked… almost ten pounds dropped!

In some ways I was happy as it meant that I will likely fit into some summer clothes that have been at the back of the closet for a while… as soon as I locate the box in which they are stored. But in other ways, it was also a reminder of the ways that stress impacts my body.

Even though the home purchase, the home sale and the move were indeed joyful, positive events, the trajectory did present moments of late nights, early mornings, not-so-restful sleep and sometimes uncomfortable adrenaline rushes through my midsection, like a case of feral butterflies in the tummy.

The sensation of knots in the stomach in stressful times is normal for me and, not surprisingly, acts as an appetite suppressant. It has been that way since I was very young. Every major life event whether it involved school exams, job interviews, important work presentations, or just rites of passage in general, usually meant a few pounds dropped along the way.

I think it is just my body’s way of dealing with the “fight or flight” response to what life throws at me. By not ingesting more food than necessary, I don’t turn into the “Stan” character from the “South Park” cartoon series and throw up when stress gets the best of me. Continue reading

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Filed under Health and Wellness, home, Humour, mental health

What I Surprisingly Missed During Covid-19

With the recent announcements about gradually reopening the economy, I look forward to seeing how the new normal will unfold, even though we have already been adapting to progressive new normals like mice working their way through a maze.

By necessity, for the health and safety of employees and customers alike, businesses that were able to remain open have had to make significant adjustments.

This was also true for citizens being told to only go out for groceries and pharmacy items, and to only step out once per week to accomplish that if possible.

For me, cutting back on shopping trips wasn’t so challenging in itself because as I get older and more practical, the urge to shop seems to be on a downward slope. Similarly, with the finish line to retirement clearly within sight, it’s not like I need to stock up on collared shirts, pants or dress shoes. For those reasons, shopping only for the essentials wasn’t a huge adjustment.

The big adjustment was in HOW I shopped for the essentials.

The first thing to go was my ability to casually and spontaneously do errands. In the old normal, after my work day, if there was a traffic tie-up on the highway (which, due to a major construction project, was becoming most nights), I would make the best of it and use the time constructively to do errands in the neighbourhoods around the office, picking up a few items here and there. By the time I hit the highway later, with less traffic, I could actually be home in less time.

Also, with only a few items in hand, I could swiftly pay for my purchases through the stores’ express lanes.

The other benefit to my approach was that with the help of sales flyers, I could plan an itinerary to pick up items on sale at different stores on my way home, which helped to stretch my shopping dollars.

And for someone with recurring back issues, running smaller errands was ideal because I would be walking out with only one bag.

The experts’ advice to try to buy everything at one store was a bit of a struggle for me. Let’s be honest, no matter how many acres a single store may occupy, walking out with absolutely everything on one’s list is not a guarantee. When compounded by people grabbing enough staples for a six month isolation, the resulting shortages had me editing the week’s menu plans and rejigging grocery lists on the fly.

And when heeding the advice to buy from only one place, my treasure hunt for picking up sale items at different stores was no longer possible.

My small errands at multiple stores at short internals usually yielded individual totals in the 20 to 40 dollar range. The first time I had a grocery order that crossed over the three digits, I could feel the beads of sweat popping out of my forehead. The last time I had a total that high was Easter 2014, when I was preparing a dinner for 15 guests.

One week, I had an 8 day interval between shopping trips in which I had used up many staples. When the cashier announced my total was over $170, I asked her to repeat it… twice! Admittedly, if I took the time to add up my receipts from my old method with the multiple stops, it probably would have added up to something close to that, but I never really saw it.

Becoming a list keeper is not new to me. I’m usually pretty good about keeping a grocery list and to note items as they are close to running out. But in the first few weeks, I was tormented repeatedly when discovering that I forgot a key ingredient within minutes after returning home. With practice, I got pretty good at taking quick inventory of all staples and anticipating what might need replenishing.

The security briefings before stepping into stores were appreciated but so unlike our usual way of doing things. I remember one clerk advising I should “shop with your eyes, not with your hands.” I thought that was wise advice and hoped everyone else did the same. But trying to pick firm oranges with your eyes is not easy. When the first three I picked up with my freshly sanitized hand deflated on contact, I stepped away from the display and concluded that risking scurvy was the lesser evil when compared to risking Covid-19.

With grocery aisles not quite allowing two metres for social distancing, I appreciated the arrows on the ground that turned each row into a one-way street. But they didn’t come without their own share of issues like the dude parked in the middle of the aisle calling “Honey” to find out which flavour to buy. There was no way to get around him safely to respect social distancing rules and I feared the dire repercussions of doing a three point turn and going down a one-way aisle illegally. Who knew that my new normal would become this kind of traffic tie up?

With a full cartload of groceries, the express lane was out of the question, as I stood semi-patiently on my red dot, two metres behind another frowning shopper with a full cartload of groceries, grunting as he threw his items on the conveyor belt.

And then it was the production of hauling multiple grocery bags back to the car and then into the house. Every step felt infinitely more cumbersome and time consuming. Oh, and I found out the hard way that paper bags are crap on a rainy day.

And then when I got home it was the decontamination process of the items, of me, of the car, of the front door, of the entry hall, of the doorknobs, of the light switch, of the railings, etc. That, in itself, was enough reason to reduce the number of shopping trips.

Between the sanitizing, the social distancing, the bombardment of signage and the multitude of lines, arrows, dots and crosses on the ground, doing groceries wasn’t a heck of a lot of fun. But each time, I recognized the need for all of these precautions, to remain safe, healthy and to not become a community transmitter.

Through the first two months of the outbreak, I didn’t realize how much I would miss something as simple as breezing in and out of stores to run quick errands. Getting into the habit of less frequent trips to acquire more items was indeed a significant adjustment, but given the risks to staff and my fellow shoppers, the adjustment was worth it in the long run to do my part to help flatten the curve.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Filed under Health and Wellness, Misc blogs

The Housing Market Roller Coaster (Episode 8)

When my house sold, I no longer had to live within the boundaries of a home staged for showings. I could finally spread out, enjoy my space and not obsessively pick up crumbs before they hit the floor.

It was finally time to go back to “normal” life and to start preparing for the move to our home in the country.

The drive to my cat’s hotel was an opportunity to reflect on the emotional ups and downs of the process and the huge milestones that were behind us.

It was also an opportunity to “high-5” myself, psychologically speaking. The nervousness and the anxiety I felt before we put in the offer on our future home was off the charts, and rightfully so. It’s not like we buy or sell houses every day. The last time I did this was 19 years ago, and much has changed in the industry in that time.

For someone who likes to be organized and whose pride wanted his home to show as well as possible, there was indeed a lot of work required to be prepared and to do it right.

But the reassurance from my real estate agent that this could all be accomplished within reasonable time frames was the antidote to my nervousness and the encouragement to face my fears.

Just the same, I was guarded as I knew that once the train left the station, there wouldn’t be much opportunity to slow down until we were comfortably seated in our new home with the cat purring contentedly in my lap… in about 3 months. This period also came with Julie Chen’s Big Brother voice permanently in my subconscious saying “Expect the unexpected” at least a few times per day, just to keep me on my toes.

That was when I put into practice what I know works best for me: I made a list… several lists, actually. I broke down the large tasks of buying and selling into smaller sub-steps, laid out in chronological order, and scratched items off the list as I completed them.

This method works for me because I am not looking at a mountain of activity as one large unmanageable obstacle. I seem better able to wrap my head around many small tasks and to accomplish a few each day with steady and consistent action. If I don’t, that is when the racing thoughts can take over and rob me of valuable sleep.

Another element to trying to remain composed through it all was laying appropriate boundaries around my worry, and not letting a 5 minute task occupy an hour’s worth of head space. It sounds obvious, but sometimes the “what ifs” can get the best of me. It’s just part of my professional programming and a reflex to be prepared for any eventuality. Shutting it off can be a challenge sometimes.

This major life event was the ultimate test of my “list method”, and it seemed to work, even though it wasn’t without its share of smaller-scale freaking out moments anyway.

I was pleased that the humour in some of the situations encountered along the way was not lost on me, even when I accidentally locked myself in my own powder room while changing the doorknob.

Of course, I couldn’t have made it through without the moral support of family, friends and colleagues, the expertise of the professionals we hired at critical decision points, and of course, the best partner in the world.

It really was cause for celebration to be on the other side of the mountain, to resume a new normal and to start the countdown to the big move.

When I brought Ivy the Wonder Cat home, her standard operating procedure for rediscovering her surroundings was pretty much the same as any other time I brought her home from her cat hotel. She walked around the entire house a few times, sniffing every step of the way. She located her food, her litter box and her sleeping quarters, which all seemed to meet with her approval. Before I knew it, she was pretty much back on track and in her usual routine.

However with the dawn of COVID-19, it appeared that the rest of the process of preparing for the big move would be anything but normal. With stay-at-home advisories, social distancing and lockdown procedures, was it going to be business as usual for the big move? How long would these measures be in place?

Fortunately many of the services required to prepare were deemed essential by the province, much to my relief, including booking movers for our closing date.

I was also able to purchase a huge stack of boxes and packing supplies with the intention of using free time constructively, and to get as much packing completed in the time that we were told to stay home.

Nevertheless, the realization that the biggest steps, the buying and selling, were well behind us brought huge pride and gratitude. Unfortunately, under this new normal, the celebration of these milestones would have to wait a little.

To return to Episode 7 of the Housing Market Roller Coaster, click here.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Filed under Health and Wellness, home, mental health

A Dose of Guilt from the Medicine Cabinet

As I was starting this year’s installment of spring cleaning, I found myself in the medicine cabinet again checking expiry dates
Even though I could have sworn I had just done this last year, the evidence seemed to tell another story, as I pulled out bottle after bottle that expired in 2014, 2015 or 2016. How did that happen?

My surprise yielded to delight when I read between the lines that I must be doing something right from a health and wellness perspective if these bottles and tubes have been sitting here, unused and some, unopened.

But my healthy delight gave way to good old-fashioned Catholic guilt, instilled by my elders of the “waste not, want not” generation. How silly of me to not have used up all of this valuable product.

True enough, despite my occasional klutzy ways and resulting need for bandages, gauze, ointment and the once-in-a-blue-moon pain pill, I seem to have a very well-stocked medicine cabinet for someone who rarely needs its contents.

I started rummaging through and asked myself why I have been buying these enormous bottles and then discarding so many unused pills when they expire. Similarly, why do I buy large size tubes of ointment when a little one would probably do?

And should I ever see the bottom of one of the smaller packages, how hard is it to go get more, especially there’s a pharmacy right across the street, and at least 22 other branches of pharmacies on my way to and from work.

Even though I was never actually a boy scout, you’d think that I was, given that “be prepared” was the family motto for as long as I can remember. I am living for the day I discover our family coat of arms and find “be prepared” or something along those lines written on the bottom. It would be perfectly fitting for a family of planners.

Little domestic accidents can happen so quickly. On those rare occasions when I might have blood gushing out of an appendage, that’s not the ideal time to walk, run or drive to the nearest pharmacy, especially if light-headedness and dizziness could result.

Just knowing that I can open a cabinet and have 3 sizes of gauze pads, assorted rolls of surgical tape and 10 sizes of bandages seems to satisfy my yearning for emergency preparedness. It may be excessive, but it brings piece of mind to know that I have on hand the perfect bandage for any wound and the ability to make it look like a perfectly wrapped gift package! I call it “first aid with style”!

Also, raised by the waste-not-want-not generation, how can I resist a bargain? When a larger size is on sale and only a dollar more than the smaller size, why wouldn’t I go for the larger one?… until the expiry date passes and I realize that I didn’t use 99% of the product.

But I think with that goes a sense of not knowing what the future may hold. Sometimes, an injury that needs daily attention for a few days or a few weeks could have a patient running through the supply in no time. And if the patient is not in a position to make multiple trips to the pharmacy, having a little more on hand is a good thing, until the patient is feeling better.

So while having larger economy sizes does have merit, I still feel guilt for returning stacks of unused expired meds to the pharmacy for safe disposal.

The lesson learned from this year’s spring cleaning is a resolution to stick to smaller packages. Unless my medical needs suddenly change, I’ll try to ignore the sale prices for larger economy-sized packages especially when I never seem to see the bottom of those containers.

Buying a size that is more in line with my actual needs will be less wasteful, I’ll save a few dollars in the long run, and it will keep away the healthy dose of guilt caused by my medicine cabinet.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Filed under 50+, Health and Wellness, home, Humour

My Thunderous Rumbling Stomach

It seems like just yesterday, I had a stomach made of steel. When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I had a pretty fast metabolism and could eat anything and everything, any day, any time.

Where I used to be able to pack away large quantities of food and still remain technically underweight, today, a handful of potato chips is enough to have me retaining water like a sponge.

But the tide can turn from time to time. For me, all it takes is the return to a regular exercise regimen, like the one I have successfully incorporated into my routine last year.

When that happens, not only does my metabolic rate go up, but it’s like revisiting my teens and 20s all over again as I seem to be hungry… ALL THE TIME!

While logically, it should just be a case of finding an extra snack or two to tide me over until the next meal, it’s a little more complicated than that.

As much as you would think I could take advantage of the situation to indulge myself in the goodies I only consume in moderation (since I’m not technically underweight anymore), in reality, I don’t crave them when I work out regularly. The empty calories leave me hungry and wanting something else soon thereafter.

I tend to crave healthier snacks that sustain me better. If I don’t, I get so hungry that my arrival home is like a scene from “Animal Planet”, as I demolish leftover roast chicken like a lion devouring its prey. Continue reading

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The Bad Back and the Broken Movie Seat

I have found it quite fascinating how movie theatre chains have been stepping up their game to try to enhance the movie experience.

Not only do we have VIP experiences where we can enjoy a yummy meal during a movie, but in certain theatres, even the non-VIPs can watch a movie from comfy recliner seating.

I also appreciate the option of buying tickets ahead of time, and to not have to worry about last-minute availability, back-up plans or getting booted out of my seat by some self-entitled Mr. Bossy Pants who arrives ten minutes after the movie started and insists on disrupting an entire row of people to be seated with his friends.

But for me, the comfy recliner seating alone has been the incentive to return to the theatre more often, to the point of nudging me to get a cozy recliner at home to level the playing field.

That was until a few weeks ago when these wonderful enhancements to the movie theatre experience backfired on me.

On the day in question, the moment I sat in the movie theatre recliner, my sensitive back could feel it right away. The recliner was broken. The seat was leaning to the left.

Anybody who has ever experienced back issues can tell you that sitting in a chair that is leaning just a few degrees the wrong way is a recipe for disaster. Continue reading

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What the 2010s Meant To Me

New Year's festivitiesIn recent weeks, not only have we been bombarded with retrospectives from the last year, but as with any year ending with a “9”, we’ve seen our lives flashing before our eyes with scenes from the last decade as well.

One evening, as I was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic (again!), just for fun, I asked myself what were my own favourite moments of the last decade.

It was a fun activity that completely took me out of the drudgery of traffic. My spirits were lifted as I rattled off a list of great memories. When I got home, I took out the iPad and started noting them, one-by-one. In the days that followed, more ideas kept coming to mind and the list continued to grow.

Just like everybody else, I experienced personal and professional highs and lows. But it was because these experiences that I will remember this decade fondly as the one where I experienced the greatest and most significant personal growth.

Despite what I thought was a pretty good tool kit for handling stress, this past decade offered a pressure cooker of situations that tested my tool kit to its limits when anxiety took over. With the help of a psychotherapist, I was able to establish better boundaries which not only contributed to enhancing that tool kit, but also helped to prevent some situations from festering into anxiety in the first place. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, books, Cats, food, Health and Wellness, Inspiring, Lists, mental health, Running, Theatre, Travel

My Struggles with Sunscreen

After an Ottawa winter that seemingly never ended, there is no greater pleasure than the feeling of the sun’s warmth against our skin. But as some experts tell us, we can enjoy that feeling but we should be protecting that skin from the sun’s harmful rays.

I am no stranger to sunscreen. I have been wearing it pretty faithfully over the years, and stepping up the SPF number at the urging of my dermatologist. Because I am pretty fair-skinned and can burn pretty easily, it makes sense.

But much like I have described in other blog posts, shopping for a sunscreen is another never ending episode of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”.

A few years ago, I was introduced to a brand of sunscreen that I considered “just right”. It had a nice light fragrance, it didn’t feel sticky, and it held up well when I was out running. Basically, it felt like I wasn’t wearing sunscreen when I had it on. I could even reapply it throughout the day and not feel like an oil slick. To me, that was the gold standard.

But I wonder if they changed the recipe because it doesn’t feel “just right” anymore. By my schnoz, the pleasant scent now seems to present notes of chemicals (which makes me a little apprehensive about meetings in small boardrooms) and the texture seems stickier than before.

Even if I wrote to the company with my questions, would it change anything? Probably not. And there is a chance that it could be my body chemistry changing, as opposed to the product. Some colognes I wore a decade or two ago smell very differently on me now, so I wouldn’t rule out that a sunscreen that was once perfect, might not behave the same on my approaching-geriatric skin.

And so began the auditions for a new sunscreen. Continue reading

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Running: The Slow Road to Recovery

NOTE: This blog post is not intended as medical advice, nor do I represent myself as a medical professional. Please consult your doctor or health care professional if you feel pain, fatigue or discomfort when practicing any sport.

It is a blow to the ego to know that in 2014 I was able to run 21 kilometres as I prepared for a half-marathon, yet in the years that followed my distances kept getting shorter and shorter.

In those years, I was frustrated with myself when instead of shaving seconds from my personal bests, the durations of my runs were steadily getting longer. I often asked myself if this was what it meant to be over 50.

For someone who isn’t a jealous person by nature, I admit I felt envy in seeing my Facebook friends sharing their athletic accomplishments and their new personal bests.

For someone who was an active participant in a running club, I felt like I was letting down the team when I just couldn’t keep up… or even to make it out to a get together because I was too embarrassed to admit I had slowed down so much, compared to what I was able to do.

When someone would ask “How is the running going?” after years of saying I was sidelined due to injury, it felt like I was making excuses when my body just wouldn’t cooperate, no matter how many times I tried. Continue reading

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Which Book to Read Next?

Over the last couple of years, I have been making time to enjoy one of life’s sweet yet simple pleasures: I have reconnected with my love for books.

Where I used to reserve books for bedtime reading, I have since rejigged my schedule to allow time in the morning to slowly sip my coffee, to listen to some relaxing music, to read for a bit and to gently ease into my day.

After decades of going from 0 to 60, hitting the ground running as soon as my feet swung out of bed and hit the floor, this new routine has become a welcome and preferred approach to start the day off right.

It offers me the time to slowly wake up, to breathe and to reconnect with my positive energy. It seems to gently nudge the brainwaves into action rather than a speedy immersion into worrying about what the day ahead holds.

In making reading part of my morning routine, rather than taking six months to finish a book, I have been averaging one book per month, although I have impressed myself by finishing some in a matter of days when I just couldn’t put them down.

In the last couple of years, I have filled my mind, my heart and my soul with fascinating biographies, I have read some classics that I missed, I have explored some books on personal growth and new ways of thinking, and I have devoured books that will help me grow as a writer and as an artist. Continue reading

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