Covered Bridge in Hunter River



Work has been pretty scarce these past several months, but I didn’t really know how scarce until my boss asked if I would be willing to go to Prince Edward Island for work.  I was being sent to the Atlantic Provinces – an area known for high unemployment – because there was no work at home.  So, here I  am.  In Prince Edward Island.  Anne Shirley’s back yard (I’m not kidding – my room is in Cavendish, directly across the road from Lucy Maude Montgomery’s grave.  And her grandparent’s graves, too.)  The Green  Gables golf course, which encloses the Green Gables National park, is less than a three minute walk from my room and, while I doubt very much that the lady who checked me into my room was Marilla Cuthbert, I’ll bet they went to school together.



The road leading from Hunter River to Charlottetown.


One of several farms along the way


Hunter River


Farmy landscape on the way back to the cottage


Small house, giant yard

My drive to work takes me down a narrow road, hemmed in on both sides by potaoto fields or the quaintest homes you ever did see.

The accommodations for my stay – a motel/cottage combo – are not as picturesque and charming as you may expect, given that every other tourism-reliant place around here is seemingly trying to out-quaint everyone else.  In a way it’s a bit of a nice change.  It’s a pretty matter-of-fact set up: “here’s your bed, here’s your kitchenette” Here’s my money.  We have been told that we are paying the non-tourist rate, that the real money making rate will be rolled out in earnest once the tourists start to trickle in, in mid-June. I am assuming that is when all the restaurants, stores and just about everything else will spring to life, too.  We may be paying a reduced rate but,  despite forcing our Cape Bretoner group member to do all the talking, we weren’t able to get the ‘local’ rate.

Apart from my drive to and from work, I have not yet been able to get out and explore the island so that means I have, sadly, missed the Rhubarb Social and the New Dominion Ceileigh but I will be sure to make it to the next ones.

The photos here are taken with my phone from a moving truck, so please, don’t expect any Ansel Adams landscapes.  Also, I used my phone to post this, and the formatting has me just about crazy.  Apologies for the difficult layout.  I’ll hopefully get it sorted out for my next post.


Sugar, you ain’t so sweet.

Ugh! I’m in the grocery store, still, trying to find food.  You wouldn’t think that to be a difficult task, given that I am surrounded by it, but if you have ever tried to exclude anything from your diet then you know it can be hard to shop.  And right now, it is taking for-ev-ver.  My family has decided to go without refined and processed sugar for a year because we recognised that we consumed a lot of candy and sweets and because we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into.

When I agreed to do this no-sugar thing, I figured “okay – I’ll give up gummi worms and jujubes for a year.  Chocolate and pop too.  I can do this.” but when we started to clean out our fridge and cupboards, I was shocked to see what we had to give up.  Suddenly, this didn’t seem as do-able.  Gone went our breads, our cereals and our condiments.  Reluctantly, I watched my authentic Jamaican Jerk seasoning rub get placed on the pile.  Even our powdered chicken stock was not spared.  We were left with some meat, some vegetables and some fruit and to be honest, I don’t really like fruit. Or vegetables.

With something as essential as food there ought to be easy ways to find stuff that won’t kill you.  Food companies are jerks though; even the so-called ‘healthy’ choices are full of junk – very delicious junk and if one doesn’t know how to read the labels, it is very easy to be fooled.  The producers of our foods have been made to list their ingredients from most to least and since most of us know that if an ingredient ends in “-ose” it’s going to be a sugar, the food makers have come up with a surprisingly long list of names and ways to say “sugar”:  Agave nectar, cane crystals, corn sweetener, corn syrup, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, organic evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, syrup.  By splitting the sugars up the food manufacturers are able to spread the sugars and sweeteners throughout the ingredients list, instead of having them consistently show up in the top five.  In most cases the food doesn’t even need the sugars.  Mayonnaise? It has sugar.  I’ve made mayonnaise and it was really good.  I didn’t use sugar.  Tomato sauce? Sugar.  Cereals, like Rice Krispies and Shreddies? Sugar.  Salad dressing? If you guessed “Sugar” you’d be wrong.  I’m just kidding – it’s full of sugar too.  So why all this sugar?  Aside from making the food taste sweeter (a North American preference, it seems) sugar is added to increase bulk, shelf life and to aid in fermentation.   It used to be fats that added the flavour to food but as doctors started to complain about the amount of fats in foods, these fats were eliminated and sugar was added to keep the food appealing.  If you stop to think about it, that is a pretty bad First World Problem: “The thing that I need most to stay alive doesn’t taste good enough.  I mean, I can eat it and everything, but I think I want more flavour.”

The shame I felt eating my candies was horrible.  Especially after I began to attend Kettlebell and Jiujitsu classes.  I felt like I was doing all this good work for nothing.  Shame and guilt.   It was curtain-drawing shame (curtains are made to hide shame, it’s a fact).   I thought I was doing horrible things to myself, eating gummi worms or Swedish berries, but as it turned out, I was consuming more sugar in my dinner: Caesar salad and penne with homemade Marinara sauce.  I wasn’t just fighting candy to stay in shape, I was fighting with everything I ate.  When a person eats sugar, their body does two things with it; the sugar is burned for energy or stored as fat.  Generally speaking, the more refined (processed) a food is, the more quickly our body will convert it to sugar and the more likely it will get stored as fat.  Our bodies process sugars differently according to what kind of sugar it is.  Here is a quick look at the major sugars found in foods, how we process them and what affects they have on us:

Glucose is a product of photosynthesis and our bodies make it when carbohydrates are broken down.  Specifically, glucose is food for cells, especially the cells in our brains and nervous system.  In the liver and kidneys however, glucose is converted into glycogen which is used to fuel our muscles.  Without enough glucose in our blood we tend to get light-headed and dizzy; too much glucose though, and we feel tired.

Fructose (fruit sugar) is most commonly found in plants and honey. Commercially, fructose is usually derived from fruits, sugar cane and honey.  It is favoured in food production because it is very sweet; it is the sweetest naturally occurring carbohydrate. Organically, fructose will sometimes be found bonded to glucose where they form sucrose.  Free (unbonded) fructose is absorbed directly by our small intestine and delivered to the bloodstream.  Sucrose needs to be broken down into its simple sugar forms before fructose can be absorbed.  When fructose is added to our food, it becomes all kinds of bad: too much fructose in our bloodstream has been shown to increase insulin resistance, obesity and a rise in  LDL cholesterol levels.  Some studies have concluded that excessive fructose consumption can cause accelerated aging.  More importantly, however, is the consumption of fructose, in the form of High Fructose Corn Syrup, in beverages with meals.  Fructose has been shown to decrease the amount of circulating insulin levels while increasing the levels of the ‘hunger hormone’ after a meal.  Since insulin decreases our appetite, having soft drinks, which are a source of High Fructose Corn Syrup, with our meals increases our appetite and can lead to overeating.

Lactose is milk sugar.  It is a disaccharide, meaning it is comprised of two sugars: glucose and galactose.  The enzyme lactase breaks apart these two sugars so that we can digest lactose as two simple sugars.  Commercially, lactose is normally extracted from whey.  From a dietary standpoint, lactose’s biggest drawback is that many people are intolerant to it.  As we age, our bodies stop producing lactase due to a decrease in consumption of breast milk.  However, people with ancestry from Europe, West and South Asia and East Africa are normally able to digest lactose because they continue to produce lactase into adulthood as a result of their ancestors using milk from cattle, goats and sheep as a food source.  This allowed genes for constant lactase production to evolve, but for those people from regions not included in the above list, lactose is not broken down and becomes food for gut flora, which can cause all sorts of discomfort, from bloating to diarrhea.

If it were a movie, sugar just might be the “feel-good movie of the year.”  Eating it excites the pleasure and reward centers of our brains and, because of this, it is possible to become physiologically addicted to sugar.  The video below, “How Sugar Affects the Brain” by Nicole Avena, explains this so much better than I could hope to.  It is well worth the six minutes – or, if your connection is as slow as mine, fifteen minutes.  When a person who craves sugar (me, for lack of a better example) decides to quit eating it, it is important to identify why they crave it in the first place.  Bored? Hungry? Depressed?  All of these feelings can be fixed by sugar.  In my case it was largely boredom.  I want candy the most when I can absentmindedly eat it: watching a movie, driving or reading.  Since none of these things have changed, I have had to change my habits and ignore my cravings when I am, say, writing a blog post.  Cravings or not, I would never cheat on this no-sugar challenge, especially since I better understand sugar and its effects.  I am doing my best to stay away from sweets but it is not really necessary to keep my distance because I am not the cheating type.  Well, I say that now.  I can’t predict the future – I am not so naive as to think there isn’t a river long enough that doesn’t have a bend in it.  For now though, I can honestly say I won’t cheat.

Change of life.

So.  Here it is.  My return to writing this blog.  I’ve been meaning to put up a post for some time, I even had one half-written in my head.  It started out comparing the arrival of my birthday to a cloud of dust on the horizon of an Old West town: was it a mounted gang of bandits coming to settle a score or pillage the townsfolk? Or maybe it was an approaching storm.  Either way, it wasn’t looking good.  I chose the time around my birthday to restart writing again because I was turning forty-two and it seemed like such a late start to shift focus from dogsledding to something else, but that is just what our family did.

The funny thing about dogsledding is that it is easy to fool yourself into thinking you are being active.  After all, there is the carrying of two, 5 gallon buckets full of meaty water and kibble during the twice daily feedings, the scooping poop, the loading and unloading of dogs (and tons of food, every three months), as well as the harnessing and hooking up.  But that’s it, really.  If the dogs are any good at all, you don’t do much else.  You just stand on the runners for four hours at a time with the occasional push of the sled up a hill.  I stepped on a scale one day, just out of curiosity, and found that I was thirty pounds over my ‘ideal’, medically endorsed (and likely unattainable) weight.  I was going to have to load a lot of dogs and scoop a lot of crap if I wanted to bring my weight down.  I could no longer convince myself that it was muscle weight, either.  Face cheeks don’t build muscle and muscle probably doesn’t roll over the top of your jeans.  Nope, I was out of shape and eating poorly. Shortly after confessing my thoughts to Jenn and saying how I wanted to join a gym to get healthier, my employer sent me on an out-of-town job for the summer.  The schedule was two weeks out, five days back.  During one of my two weeks out, I came back to my trailer room, checked my phone and saw a video text.  It was Hunter in what I recognised as a karate outfit.  She solemnly stared at the camera for a moment then bowed and said “reeee-spect!  That’s what we say at jiujitsu, daddy!”  The camera swings wildly around and there is Jenn’s face – “I signed us up at the club!” she beamed.

“It figures she would wait until I was out of town.” I thought to myself, not really sharing the same excitement.  “The Club” was a local Brazilian Jiujitsu and Muay Thai place.  They also offered fitness classes and yoga.  Jenn’s friend and one-time coworker IMG_3628owned the place with his wife and although Jenn had wanted to join for some time now – and had tried to convince me to do the same – we hadn’t because I was resistant.  I’m not a fight-y sort of person. I didn’t think my daughter needed to be a fight-y sort of person, either.  And, to top it off, all I could picture was a room full of kids with an instructor barking at them: “Hai!” [the class punches], “Osh!” [the class kicks].  If you’ve ever seen the Karate Kid, then you know what I mean (and I’m not referring to the wax-on, wax-off parts).  By the time I got back for my time off, they had been there almost two weeks.  Hunter was in love with the classes and Jenn was raving about how hard but fun the Kettlebell classes were.  And now, I’m expected to go.  So, the next day, Jenn and I show up at Sudbury Brazilian Jiujitsu and Muay Thai Acadamy  for class.  I am registered due to the family membership that Jenn bought, but I don’t have my club gear yet: shirt, shorts and skipping rope.  I’m helped at the front desk by one of the employees, who also turned out to be the instructor for our class.  I go upstairs and change and come back down skeptical about the ‘workout’ I was going to get from swinging a weighted ball around.

We start with skipping, which, although rusty at, I am managing to do okay with. For the first minute.  The second is a bit tougher and by the time the third minute is over and we can get a drink of water, my legs are voting to see whether or not to keep me standing and my lungs have left me completely.  Next, it was burpees.  Then push ups.  Then crunches, then… I don’t even remember because I was in the bathroom trying to not throw up.  And we hadn’t even swung a kettlebell yet.  I had to leave the class.  The room was getting all faint and I was apparently alternating between green and pale and man! was it, like, a million degrees in that place?  I finished class humbled.  I admit it.  A half-hour fitness class nearly killed me.  By the time Hunter’s jiujitsu class rolled around at six that day, I was barely able to walk, let alone sit cross legged on the mat to watch her class.  My legs were sore, my arms were limp and my core refused to move.

One by one, the kids start to fill the mat.  Most have white belts, some have yellow, some are yellow and white striped and still others are orange.  The instructor walks to the front of the room, where I had not too long ago nearly died, and asks the kids to line up.  They do.  All in rows.  Neatly and quickly.  He looks them over and says “…we begin our class with?” to which they all say in unison, “reeee-spect!”  The class begins with a jog around the mat and some warm ups: jumping jacks, rolls (front, side and back) and ‘shrimps’, a move, as it turns out, that is pretty key to the whole jiujitsu game.  For much of the class, kids pair off and roll around on the mat.  They are supposed to be practicing the move taught to them by the instructor but they are also having fun, giggling and falling down.  At the end of the class, the instructor sits down with them in a circle and spends a few minutes on character development.  They talk about what it means to have empathy; to be a good citizen; to be a leader.  They talk a lot about bullying and how to deal with bullies.  Talk to them.  Tell a teacher or parent or adult, verbally stand up for yourself.  He stresses time and again that fighting is an absolute last resort and if he hears of any of his students – children or adults – starting fights or being bullies, he will kick them out of the Academy.  They end each class on a fun, non-serious note: dodgeball played with two giant exercise balls.  The kids love it.  And so do I.  Like, right away.  After several months of watching Hunter’s classes, I decide that I might like to try Brazilian jiujitsu, too.

This is Hunter (white gi) and her training partner doing a Bubble Sweep.

It’s now January, 2013, and I’m standing on the mats in a borrowed gi, the white karate outfit that most of us are familiar with.  Except it’s heavier and thicker because all the grips, grabbing and pulling would shred a lightweight karate gi in no time.   I’m not really sure about this decision now.  There are at least eight other guys all looking at me like I’m the newest doggie chew toy.  Class starts and, after the warm ups, I am more or less used to wipe the mats: everything I do — absolutely everything — is countered and defended with ease.  I leave the mats soaked with sweat while my opponents have not even started to breathe heavy.  My first few classes go pretty much as you might expect. I wonder what I am even doing. Even worse, I do jiujitsu like I wonder what I am doing.  But there is something about this sport, something really hard to explain, that draws you in.  Jiujitsu’s fans liken the sport to a game of chess: for every move there is a counter and for every counter there is another counter and so on.  It is a complex game, this martial art.  But it’s not that.  Not really.  I never really felt as though I needed empowering, but there it is — that feeling.  Once you get the hang of jiujitsu (and I am not at all trying to say that I am some master.  I’m just a white belt, after all) you really feel different.  In control.  Confident.  Coupled with this new confidence was my drop in weight and an increase in my cardio and strength from both the Kettlebell classes and Jiujitsu classes.  It all added together to create this really strong feeling of being in control of our lives.  Jenn began jiujitsu shortly after I did and immediately took to the sport, although it took her a while to be comfortable with being choked.

All of this exercise and focus on our health has led to us re-examine how we eat.  We have always eaten well: mostly healthy with a lot of home made food and home prepared foods, but we snacked a lot.  Chips, pop, candy and sweets and it

Our kitchen was mid renovation here, but these are all the sugar containing items from our fridge.  We donated it or gave it to family.

Our kitchen was mid renovation here, but these are all the sugar containing items from our fridge. We donated it or gave it to family.

was not doing us much good.  Recently, some people at the club have challenged themselves to go sugar-free for a year and although I admired their resolve, I thought to myself that I would never be able to do that.  Give up sugar?  Not likely.  That is an entire food group for me.  Jenn, too, was skeptical in her ability to cut it out of her diet altogether.  But then we saw Hunter put away a giant Mars bar in one sitting and we knew we’d have to do something, so we agreed to join the challenge.  We would be going sugar free for a year.  We have removed all refined sugars from our diet, keeping only honey and maple syrup for cooking and baking.  We also have not cut out the sugars found in fruits and vegetables, as long as they are still in the fruit and vegetable and not added to something.  As per the deal with the challenge, we are allowed one cheat a month.  We are two weeks in to the challenge now and I plan to write a post soon about how our first month has been and what effects, if any, we have seen.  So, stay tuned.