Archives for December 2013

Enjoy the Choir

For those of you who were not able to make it out to a Christmas choir, you are in for a treat. Now that Chantalyne is at an arts high school, she has the chance to sing for us in a fairly professional choir.

I did not record the whole two hours of all seven choirs for you, but here are the three songs that her choir sang.

I should also prepare you that these are not all Christmas songs. Wenceslas / Yankee Doodle, an amusing mash-up by Steve Kupferschmid, can only partly be considered “Christmas”. The Holly and the Ivy is certainly a Christmas carol. Sim Shalom is a Herbrew song. The other choirs also sang in French, English, Latin, Arabic and a couple other languages I can’t identify right now.

Enjoy the show.

  • Share on Tumblr

Merry Christmas 2013

Wherever you are, however you celebrate – and even if you don’t! – a very merry Christmas to you.

Merry Christmas 2013

As a new year approaches, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on who you are and who you want to be.  On where you are in life right now, and where you want to be a year form now.  On what really matters in your life and on who really matters.

May all the love in the world be yours.


  • Share on Tumblr

Guilt-Free Eating over Christmas

Christmas dinner and Christmas snacking and…oh, how we put on the pounds. Here are some tips to have a lighter Christmas, without missing out on all the fun.

Christmas is a time for celebrating.  For most of us, celebrating means eating with family and friends – usually eating way too much. It is a special time of year, and restricting yourself while everyone else is eating only makes you feel as if you are missing out and means that you are more likely to break later on and binge on foods that are much worse.

Too Many Christmas Dinners

It is fine to eat, so treat yourself with that extra slice of Christmas cake. However, be aware that just because it is Christmas, that does not give you the green flag to gluttony.  I did say “slice”, not “slices”.

The Christmas meal itself can weigh in easily at 1,000 calories or even up to a shocking 3,500 calories, just for the one meal. That is not taking into consideration breakfast, snacks throughout the day and any chocolate or cakes that get raided towards the evening.  Most people have themselves in the mind-set that during Christmas it is acceptable to over-eat, but this is not the best attitude to have.

It takes a long time to burn off that many calories and that should be considered before you embark on tackling that epic Christmas Dinner.

Whilst some people take Christmas eating to the extreme, the average person eats half a pack of lard in saturated fat and thirty two tea spoons of sugar. Consuming that amount is not good for your body, even if it is only once a year, and you could end up suffering for it in 2014.

READ ALSO: Easy, fun Christmas treats.

Everyone loves Christmas. It is an excuse to get everyone around to the house to have some drinks and good food. However, there are other ways to enjoy the holiday season, too. If you really want to get into the Christmassy mood, put in your headphones in and workout to a Christmas playlist from Spotify, or this one from iTunes.

You might ask for a fitness gadget for Christmas. These little tools are perfect for giving you motivation when it comes to getting out there and burning off some calories. Alternatively you could ask for a gym membership to help keep you physically active all year round. And even if the gadget or gym membership get lost in the back of a drawer over time, they are most likely to be used in the weeks when you most need them after overindulging at Christmas.

Enjoy Christmas treats in moderationFoods to Eat for Under 50 Calories

  • 50g of cooked prawns – 40 calories
  • 2 florets of broccoli – 26 calories
  • A slice of ham – 46 calories
  • ½ a cup of sprouts – 33 calories
  • 10 strawberries – 40 calories
  • A carrot – 30 calories
  • Two crab sticks – 44 calories
  • 5 green olives – 20 calories
  • 28g smoked salmon – 48 calories
  • A slice of chicken breast – 27 calories
  • A pot of sugar-free jelly – 15 calories
  • A slice of pineapple – 28 calories
  • 75g Christmas pudding – 200 calories

Exercises to Try

  • A 90 minute hatha yoga class – 200 calories
  • 30 minutes of power walking – 100 calories
  • 15 minutes of breast stroke – 100 calories
  • 1 minute of sit-ups – 5 calories
  • 15 minutes of skipping – 130 calories
  • 3 minutes of bicep curls – 10 calories
  • 15 minute run – 275 calories
  • 5 minutes of lunges and counter push-ups – 160 calories

Make sure that you fit in even a half hour’s exercise daily during the busy Christmas season and you will have achieved something that many (most?) people do not do. Adapting your Christmas Day to include some exercise (Snowball fight, anyone?) is a great way to counterbalance your calories intake – and means you can have those little extras without feeling like you have ruined your diet altogether.

Alcohol caloriesRemember, alcohol is full of calories even if there is no nutrition label to inform you, and that is a big part of Christmas for most people. Using smaller glasses can help you feel like you are not missing out, whilst cutting down on up to half your liquid calorie intake. Here is a great guide to calories in alcohol.

In a similar way, smaller food portions for people trying to lose weight is a fantastic way to accommodate the emotional attachments to certain dishes without putting on too many pounds. That way you are eating and drinking what you usually would, just a smaller portion. This works especially well for deserts. Also consider switching to low-fat dairy products and wholemeal, even if only for the Holidays.  Both of these are lower in calories then their mainstream counterparts.

People typically gain from one to five pounds (two kilograms) at Christmas time, and most never lose it.  Consider this from the New York Times:

Most people don’t ever lose the pound of weight they put on during the holidays, according to a report in The New England Journal of Medicine. Since the average weight gain during adulthood is about one to two pounds a year, that means much of midlife weight gain can be explained by holiday eating.

Make sure you enjoy your Christmas meal, just don’t spend the rest of the year fighting to lose the weight you put on for that one day. If you need some extra support during the festive season, log on to Curves at any time. They are scientifically proven to help people lose weight, no matter the time of year.  I have known many ladies to use their services and the ones that stick with it (ah, yes, there is that catch) have always been successful.

So don’t give up and don’t give in.  Enjoy the Holidays in moderation, and keep up – indeed, step up – the fitness program.  Otherwise it looks like you could be carrying an extra pound or two for the rest of your life.

READ ALSO: Why you should take fat seriously.

  • Share on Tumblr

Frugal and fabulous DIY Christmas treats

Here are two yummy DIY Christmas treats that will wow your guests: Cupcake Rudolfs and Rice Kristmastreesicles. You can make them yourself at home with almost no effort and almost no cost.

So you want to really Wow your guests at Christmas this year, but a chocolate fountain and a dozen French maid server girls can’t be squeezed into your budget? No problem. Here are two tried and tested (by Mrs. Happy Guy and our girls) do-it-yourself Christmas treats.

What these two treats have in common:

  • They are each incredibly simple to make.
  • They look adorable…and pretty fancy.
  • They taste great.
  • Among several dozen items at the dance school bake sale, these were both among the first to sell out.

High-in-demand reindeer cupckaes!

Cupcake Rudolfs

Cupcakes!You start with a cupcake. You can bake these yourself, as Mrs. Happy Guy did in Christmas-themed cupcake paper (here are some cupcake recipes), or you can buy them from the store. Any flavour will do; pick a flavour that your guests will like, or make several flavours to lend an air of surprise.  Chocolate, vanilla, red velvet – any will do.

Frosting!Ice them in brown frosting. Reindeer are not dark-furred, so mixing chocolate and vanilla icing might be best, or you can do what Mrs. Happy Guy did and just add brown food coloring to white frosting.

Snout and Nose!For the snout, add miniature cookie. We used ginger snaps. I say “we” because I very helpfully taste-tested several of them (for quality control purposes).

For the nose, any red candy will do – Skittles, M&Ms, gum drops. Just use a touch of brown frosting for “glue”.

Candy eyes!For the eyes, we bought them read-made at the bulk food store. Tip: put the eyes close together, or they start to look uncannily like brown bears.

For the antlers, just add mini pretzels, tucking them gently into the frosting deep enough that they stay.

That’s it. Ta-da!

Rudolf the red-nosed cupcake!

Rice Kristmastree Squares.

You start with a large tray or two of regular Rice Krispy Squares about an inch deep. Here is the recipe.

Then you cut them into triangles, shaped like Christmas trees. If you want them to look like they came off an assembly line, measure them carefully to make sure they are all the same size and shape. If you want them to look home-made and like real trees – various sizes and shapes – go wild and cut with abandon.

Candy-coated!To turn them green, we coated one surface generously with melted green “chocolate” melting wafers. Melt them slowly, stirring occasionally over low heat. Feel free to use a knife to ensure that they form a smooth surface for the trees.

Now stash them in your covered porch to cool. If you aren’t blessed with an unheated covered porch, a fridge will do.

Once the green coating is hard, you can decorate. How you decorate is up to you. We used piping icing for the garlands. We used Skittles (my younger daughter’s favourite) for the ornaments. Use some green piping icing for the “glue”.

Fondant stars!And we used fondant for the stars. We added a yellowish coloring, but it turned out more orangish. But that’s OK, because stars are actually balls of flaming gas, and orange is good for that, right? Besides, it didn’t stop people from grabbing them up.

For an added dash of festivity, carefully stick a popsicle stick through the bottom, and Presto! – your Rice Kristmastree Squares become Rice Kristmastreesicles.

Rice Kristmastree Squares!

With that, you are all ready to receive your guests and make their eyes pop and their mouths salivate. And you didn’t even have to hire 12 drummers drumming.

  • Share on Tumblr

You are a lot more creative than you think

Wish you could be more creative? Well, you can. You can teach yourself how, and that is what this article is all about.

Creativity is about finding the expression that is original, aesthetic, and distinct which you can call your own. No matter how creative you are at this point, you can always become a lot more creative. Whether you get bored at your creative efforts or you’re excited about them, you can continue to improve in so many ways. Below are some helpful tips that can help you bring out the best – the most creative side – in you.

Don’t Believe the Myth That Creative People Are Geniuses

It is very easy to look at others and associate their creativity with their natural gifts. It’s true that some people are born with the propensity to be creative. But creativity can be learned, cultured, improved upon, and transformed into one’s distinct style. Penn State University professor of chemical engineering Darrell Velegol says:

“It’s a myth that only some people are born creative. In fact, all of us are born with creative ability. This ability can then be radically enhanced by learning a process for creativity, which we lay out in this course. Creativity can be learned – that’s the key.”

If others can be very creative, you can also be as creative as they are. You do not need to be a genius to be more creative. You only need to find your own unique language.

Be Courageous Enough to Try New Ideas

This has to do with your self-confidence. It’s easy to feel like you’re not going to do it well, just because you haven’t done it before. If you admire people who are creative in organizing events like parties and weddings, it can be a sign that you can do well at it also. Instead of thinking that you’ll not succeed, just take the plunge and give it a try.

READ ALSO: Give Yourself a Gold Star

Take the time to study what others are doing.  You can find ideas at places like and and other websites dedicated to creativity. I even have a Pinterest Board dedicated to creativity:, which you can follow for ideas.

Pay attention to how they do what they do.  Compare different styles to see what they all have in common and what variations there are.  Don’t be shy to copy those things that are common to many, and to adapt aspects that vary from one person’s style to another’s.  And give some thought to what brand-new variations you might bring to the table.

Creativity - find new ways to look at old things
If you can find new ways to look at old things, you’ve discovered creativity.

You could very well unlock a geiser of creativity from inside, that you did not even know was lurking just below the surface.  You’ll never know until you try.

Get Close to People You Admire for Their Creativity

Creative people can help you get out the best in you. If you hang around people who seem bored, tired of life, and always complaining, you end up feeling like your energy level diminishes. But if you hang with people who are confident about their creativity, they communicate positive vibes that make you want to discover more of who you are and what you can do.

Yes, it’s true – you can tell a lot about somebody by the company he keeps, because that company shapes who you are.

Creative people can have a great influence on your creativity. Famous writers, singers, guitarists, painters, and others always experience the influence of a successful artist whose work they love.  Find yourself a muse or two, or at least some creative people to hang out with.

Work with What You Already Have

You do not need to invent something new or come up with a new style of doing things. Everyone is capable of doing something. You can be a single mom who can successfully juggle an online job, taking care of the kids and doing home chores, or you could be a writer with limited imagination and a huge wish list. The truth is that you have something to work on. You can discover new ways of honing your creative skills by rethinking your style or looking at those with similar skills.

Choose the Right Time to Test Your Creativity

The best time to test your creativity should be when your energy levels are high. You’ll find it very challenging thinking new ideas or trying new things when you’re bored or tired. Creativity takes mental energy. You should be able to identify the time of the day when your energy level is high. It is that time that you should try new things.

Capture your ideas. Make your own Idea Journal

Make your own repository for all of the things that interest and inspire you. It can also provides a safe environment to experiment and grow creatively. Ideas are fleeting. Be prepare when they arrive at your doorway. Unless you write them down, you will likely lose most of them.

Creativity has no limits. It can grow everyday with the right motivation and the desire to do things better. This means that you can discover own creativity each passing day as you immerse yourself in the reality of your life.

Feel like getting more creative? Eat, Pray, Love Author Elizabeth Gilbert speaks about her own fear of both failure and success, and how to overcome both to keep honing one’s creativity.

  • Share on Tumblr

Why Use Protein Shakes?

Protein comes in many forms, but sometimes it is the most accessible form that’s best.  Let’s look at protein shakes, which are the quick-and-easy form of protein.

There are many great reasons why protein shakes, as part of a balanced and healthy diet, can be very beneficial to the body, especially when it comes to gaining muscle mass. It’s all about drinking the right type of shake at the right time. However there’s a lot of unhelpful advice floating around the Internet these days.

Protein shakes add muscle and lose weightIt’s only fair to warn you that some people have even become ill from taking in too much protein, or simply living off it in order to lose weight. No, no, no. Protein shakes are not there to do all the work for you; they are there to improve on the work you’ve already done.  So without the foundations of muscle and cardio training,overdoing protein can sometimes do more harm than good. Let’s take a look at how to safely incorporate protein shakes into a balanced and fitness-orientated diet.

READ ALSO: Protein Powder – not just for shakes!

The Benefits of Protein Shakes

Not only do protein shakes help to repair muscles, but the body also uses the protein to create enzymes, hormones and nucleic acids, which in turn help to increase weight loss. From organs to cells, tissues to skin, protein is used to create and replenish a variety of elements in our body, so without sufficient levels of protein as children, growth can even be stunted. In later life, injuries can become more frequent due to a lack of protein too.

So don’t skimp on the protein.

Pre Workout Shakes

These type of protein shakes should be combined with fruit, as they’ll provide you with energy to get the most out of your workout. Consuming the shake around half an hour before you begin exercising will ensure your muscles get to use the protein straight away, but make sure that you’re pre workout shake contains carbs as well a protein, otherwise you’ll find yourself running out of energy very quickly. Carbs also contribute to muscle repair, so don’t expect the protein to do all the work!

Post Workout Shakes

Although carbs are important for rebuilding muscle, you should limit carbs and fat after your workout. If your workout has been intense enough, then your body will continue to burn fat and carbs up to two hours after you’ve left the gym, so the last thing you’ll want to do is pile more on!

Whey protein shakes for bodybuilders are the fastest type of digesting protein there is, and it will get straight to work on repairing your muscles. If you’re exercising every day, and combining your workouts with a balanced and healthy diet, then you should be looking to take in around 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight every day, to ensure your muscles are sufficiently repairing.

Before Bed Protein Shakes

To help your body with overnight repairs, you’ll need a protein shake that works through your body slowly. Milk and bananas are great alternatives, however if you want to stick to protein shakes, then consuming one around an hour before bed should do the trick. In most cases, you’ll usually wake up full, so you won’t be temped to eat a lot for breakfast.

Between workouts

As I said earlier, protein shakes are not there to do all the work for you; they are there to improve on the work you’ve already done. That means that you need to be getting adequate protein from a variety of sources in between workouts and on off-days.  Meat, seafood, nuts, grains and legumes, eggs and dairy products are all healthy sources of protein.  Even some vegetables, such as mushrooms provide protein.

READ ALSO: The frugal shopper’s guide to protein

Of course, no article on protein is complete without a reminder that protein alone does not make a person healthy.  Make sure you are getting all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need by consuming a large quantity and variety of fruits and vegetables, and you might also consider taking other nutritional supplements.

If you prefer your protein in a bar for easier transport when on the road, then you should read my shopping guide: In Praise of Power Bars. Both are great ways to supplement the protein you eat at meal time.

  • Share on Tumblr

Time, energy and money – phases of life

Time, money and energy. You want it all, but you can’t have it all. At each stage of life, the balance changes. So enjoy what you have right now.

Remember when you were a kid, how you had all the time and all the energy in the world? Yes, the world was yours. You could do anything you want. Except that you didn’t have the money.

Well, as an adult, you finally have the money. And you still have the energy. But with the kids and the home and the business, there never seems to be any time to do anything.

No problem. When you retire, you will have all the time in the world. And you should have the money. But oops – where did that energy go?

READ ALSO: No, Really, You Are Never Too Old

You can’t have it all. If you did, you would be Superman. But it is amazing at what you can accomplish and what you can enjoy if you make use of what you do have.

I recall my childhood and how much fun I had. Without the money. Playing in the park and in the forest behind our house. Drawing maps. Reading books. Playing dodgeball. It was a blast.

As an adult, I am having just as much of a blast raising my girls and I really do enjoy most things about my business. I never seem to have much time, but that’s because I am spending – investing! – my time in my daughters and in my business. Sure, I would love to be off hiking and kayaking every weekend. But if I was, I would then wonder when I would ever find the time for the things I am doing now.

And I know that my batteries will start slowing down someday (like when I’m 150 years old, hopefully), but that doesn’t mean that I won’t enjoy doing things at a slower pace.

Each phase of life is special

Each phase of life has something missing. But each phase of life has some wonderful opportunities, too.

So enjoy them all. You really have every reason to celebrate…unless, of course, the venn diagram below describes your situation.

Time, Money, Energy

Past Expiry Cartoons (Johnny Ancich) / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • Share on Tumblr

Will One Direction defy the history of boy bands?

What is it with “boy bands” that make them so ephemeral? Will One Direction follow the same direction as so many boy bands?

You know the song “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth“? Well all my ten-year-old daughter wants for Christmas are tickets to a One Direction (1D) concert. “It doesn’t matter if the concert is in 40 years, ” she told me without a hint of irony.

Well, the odds are stacked against her that there will be a One Direction concert in 40 years. Or in twenty years. Or maybe even in ten years. Such is the nature of “boy bands” – here today gone tomorrow. No, wait. Hold on just a minute… ah…here yesterday, gone today. Yes, they seem to last just about that long.

So if you’re a fan, or your daughter or niece or granddaughter is a fan, you might want to heed Elvis Presley’s advice: It’s now or never.

Tickets for the One Direction 2014 tour
are on sale now:

One Direction - pre-teen fans love themIf you don’t have a pre-teen daughter or niece, you might be wondering what the fuss is all about. My ten-year-old has been their “biggest fan” for a couple years. She has the posters, the magazines (yes, something she actually enjoys reading!) and the t-shirts. My twelve-year-old saw the movie with a friend, and now she’s also their “biggest fan”.

The thing about pre-teen girls, is that very soon they become teenagers, then young ladies, then…well we all grow up. Some will still like the boy bands of their youth, but they mostly move on to other things, and the magazines get recycled and the posters are replaced by framed paintings.

A very short history of boy bands

And the band members grow up and disperse. Some members go on to launch solo careers. Or they keep on going with albums successful enough, but outshone by their glory days. Could the direction One Direction takes be foretold by the history of some other famous boy bands?

New Kids on the Block: They hit the scene in 1986, but flopped. In 1988, however, their second album was a chart-topper, one of two Number One selling albums. They actually stayed together for a long time after their fan base had thinned out to just the hard-core followers. They reunited in 2007 with enough of their old fans remembering them to go on a reasonably successful tour with The Backstreet Boys.

Backstreet Boys: This band hit the charts in 1996 and enjoyed five years of fame, selling more records than any other “boy band”, including two Number One selling albums. Let’s just keep those quotation marks on that monicker for now. The Backstreet Boys have never really disappeared; they just stopped being the object of pre-teen obsession.

‘N Sync: This band hit the charts in 1998 and also enjoyed five years of fame, sort of like a Backstreet Boys echo. They did lay claim to two Number One selling albums, but Justin Timberlake went on to do his own solo career, so that was pretty much that.

Jonas Brothers: It took three years for them to make it big, mostly on the strength of the movie Camp Rock in 2008. Here we are, five years later, and where are the Jonas Brothers?

Boyz II Men: A more traditional group, these boys were singing together several years before their 1990’s fame, and continue to sing long after their fame subsided. They were not formed by a record label, so they don’t fit the mold of what one typically thinks of as a “boy band”. They don’t lay claim to two Number One selling albums, but they did break many records for their singles, placing them in the record books beside Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

Is there hope for One Direction?

I left the term “boy band” in quotation marks because their is one boy band that never makes the list of boy bands: The Beatles. Yes, when they first hit the airwaves, they were four boys creating perhaps the most famous teenage girl frenzy in recorded history. Parents worried that Beatlemania was the end of the world. And The Beatles enjoyed almost a full decade of popularity until they broke up, along the way becoming the best selling band in history. All four members of the band enjoyed successful solo careers afterwards.

But if you had waited ten years to see a Beatles concert, you would have been out of luck. Even The Beatles had dispersed in less than ten years.

READ ALSO: The Eagles and Hotel California.

Whether they will be together ten years from now or not, One Direction looks destined to have at least a little more time in the spotlight. Just a couple days ago, their third album debuted on The Billboard 200 at Number One, giving them their third album at that position. That is the first time a boy band reaches that milestone…if you ignore The Beatles.

One Direction will grow up, and so will their fans. They might become more obscure or not, but either way, they already have success. None of the examples of boy bands that we reviewed here is a failure. Any budding artist would be thrilled to have one tenth of the success any of them has had.

If you want to read more about the top ten boys bands, here is Billboard’s official take, up to 1012.

READ ALSO: Ten songs that blast the music industry.


  • Share on Tumblr

Sunscreen your youth

New research out of Australia concludes that the Fountain of Youth might not be filled with water after all. It turns out that it is filled with sunscreen.

The Fountain of Youth. It was Juan Ponce de León‘s quest to find the legendary fountain that first lead him to Florida – the fountain that would supposedly restore the youth of any person who drinks or bathes in its mystic waters.

The legend dates back before history was written, so it is hard to say where they come from. But since those, times people have been searching for the fountain.

Even in modern days, through modern chemistry and technology, people continue to search for that magical solution to anti-aging.

If you have been around the Internet a while, and especially if you get your share of spam emails, you have surely come across dozens of announcements for some miraculous anti-aging cream. They even show up on mainstream television.

Sunscreen to the rescue

Fountain Of Youth SunscreenNow it turns out that you’ve been carrying just such a cream in your pocket all along: sunscreen.

Much of the sag and wrinkles in your skin are due to ultraviolet rays. If you spend a lot of time outside, you are a very lucky person. But your skin might not be so lucky. However, it turns out that a generous application of sunscreen daily can slow down the aging process. This is the chief finding of a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Lead scientist Dr. Adele Green of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research calls this “meaningful cosmetic benefits”. The video below explains the results of the research a in a little more detail.

That sunscreen protects the skin is nothing new. That’s why we use it. But we use sunscreen specifically to reduce the risk of skin cancer. Finding that sunscreen also reduces the pace of aging is a major revelation, making it useful not only to those at risk of skin cancer, but to others who spend lots of time in the sun.

This is great news for sunscreen manufacturers, but not so great news for those who peddle anti-aging creams (except those that already contain sunscreen).


What can you do to slow the rate of aging of your skin?

  • Cover up. Ultraviolat rays can’t eat away at what they can’t reach.
  • In the car, bus or train (or even in your kitchen!), sit on the side away from the sun, if you can.
  • Stay in the shade most of the time.
  • Use  sunscreen, when and where other options are not available.

Remember that the sun is our friend. There is no vitamin D supplement that will ever give us the raw, natural vitamin D like the sun – and vitamin D is important. So a little sun is a good thing. But a little goes a long way. After a short exposure, you might as well cover up, get into the shade or smack on some Fountain Of Youth Sunscreen. Ooooh….did I just give someone a great branding idea?

  • Share on Tumblr