What’s app?

Three years ago, I never would have believed I’d be one of those people tethered to a smart phone.

At that time, I swore by my original BlackBerry. You remember the one with the little roller ball mouse, right? That was my favourite version. It didn’t even have wifi or internet access. I remember being so disappointed when the ball finally fell out and MTS forced me to upgrade.

One day, my husband came home with a brand new iPhone 5. It was his first smart phone and we both were mesmerized. You could watch videos. You could read books! Suddenly, I realized there was a whole world of technology out there I’d been missing out on for years.

Now, I use my iPhone for pretty much everything. It logs my daily steps, along with everything I eat and the amount of exercise I get. It’s tracked every single outdoor run I’ve gone on in the last year, and recently let me know I’ve technically run a quarter of the way across Canada.

Yes, I sometimes long for the “good old days” when I could leave my phone at home and not care about what I might be missing. But the apps I use every day have really changed my life for the better.

Below is a list of my favourites. These are the tools that help me keep on track with health & fitness, keep informed about world news and keep me entertained…

Health & fitness

MyFitnessPal – With millions of users currently signed up and a vast food database, it’s no wonder this is the #1 free calorie counter. I initially used the app to learn about portion control, but now it’s a way to remain accountable for my food choices – even if my choice is to splurge on that extra glass of wine!

RunKeeper – This definitely is my favourite app. As a runner, I love knowing how far I’ve gone and how many calories I’ve burned after each run. I can also synch RunKeeper to MyFitnessPal, and the two together automatically keep track of my activity level and calorie burn throughout the day.

I should note that you can connect both RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal to social media – but I choose not to. My fitness journey is exactly that – my journey, and mine alone. I love sharing details about the process with friends and family, but I don’t feel the need to share every run I go on with the world.

Breeze – This app is super simple and really quite fun. It tracks your steps throughout the day. That’s it. You can synch it to RunKeeper, or share on social media. It’s neat!

Note: It’s important to keep in mind that calories, distance and steps recorded by fitness apps are estimates.

Entertainment

Songza – There are a few popular free music apps out there, but Songza has always been my favourite. Check out the “acoustic versions of rock songs” playlist. It’s a good one.

iBooks – Just like music apps, there are lots of options when it comes to books. My go to is iBooks, because it’s easy and can be synched with my Macbook and iPad. I do also have KOBO on my phone, and toggle back and forth between the two occasionally.

The Huffington Post – I absolutely love the Huffington Post, and the app is exceptional. You can customize it to include the daily news sections that interest you, and the whole this is updated regularly with new articles throughout the day.

Social media – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Need I say more?

Life

The Weather Network – There are lots of weather apps out there, but I’ve found that The Weather Network never lets me down.

RBC – Not all people choose to bank online, but my Royal Bank of Canada app has saved my butt on more than one occasion when I’ve remembered last minute that a mortgage payment was due.

If you do choose to use a banking app, however, my advice would be to NOT save your account information within the app. Just log in fresh each time and log out again when you’re done.

And that’s it! What are your favourite apps?

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Big Rock Brewery advertisement

Here’s another short video my husband put together for school. It was an adversitement for Big Rock Beer, and I personally think it’s awesome.

I’m in it, so I’m biased of course. Enjoy!

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Whole wheat pumpkin chocolate chip muffins

I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect pumpkin muffin recipe – and now I’ve found it. If you’re a pumpkin lover, a chocolate enthusiast and an avid snacker, this is for you…

As always, I must give credit where credit is due. This is the first recipe I’ve tried from the blog Ambitious Kitchen, but I followed her directions and the results were fantastic. I’m definitely going to be heading back to her recipe list for future inspiration.

I’ve done a little bit of modifying, but not much. This recipe was basically faultless. I did leave out the ginger, nutmeg and cloves – mostly because I didn’t have them! I added extra cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice and allspice instead.

Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour (I used regular whole wheat flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch of cloves
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tablespoon olive or coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • ½ cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (I used regular milk)
  • ½ cup chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 12 cup muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

Add pumpkin, honey, egg, oil, vanilla, yogurt and milk to a blender. Blend on high for one minute or until well combined, smooth and creamy. (I just mixed the wet ingredients together in a large bowl.) Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Gently fold in chocolate chips.

Divide batter evenly into muffin tin and bake for 20-25 minutes or until tooth pick comes out clean or with just a few crumbs attached. Cool muffins for 5 minutes then remove and transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

pumpkin muffins

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Simple cinnamon muffins

I seem to be going through a cinnamon phase lately!

This morning, I was on the hunt for something sweet for breakfast. A peek through the cupboards resulted in nothing promising, so I did a quick Google search. I was able to find a recipe for cinnamon muffins, and it looked like I had most of the ingredients on hand.

The recipe below was adapted from Eat Yourself Skinny (who adapted it from someone else, who got it from a friend and, well, you know how these things go…). I’ve modified it slightly because I didn’t have quite everything in the kitchen, but I think this one is a keeper…

cinnamon muffins

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • ¾ cup fat-free milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 tbsp. sugar or sweetener
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly coat muffin pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, beat together the sugar and egg until creamy. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon and salt. Pour dry mixture into the egg mixture and stir to combine. Add vegetable oil, milk and vanilla, stirring until just combined.

Divide batter evenly into muffin pan, filling each cup about 2/3 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes clean, about 18 minutes. Let cool for 3-5 minutes, then remove muffins from pan.

In a small bowl, combine remaining sugar and cinnamon. While the muffins are still warm, roll each one in mixture, coating all sides with the cinnamon sugar. Let the cinnamon and sugar coated muffins cool on a wire rack before serving.

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Beatlemania: Part two

This is the second part of a two-part story. To read the first part, click here.

“We used to date,” she replied matter-of-factly. My jaw dropped. He was easily 200 pounds heavier than my five-foot blonde friend. He also looked about twenty years older, but Sheryl always did have a different taste in men.

“I’m going to stay here with him,” Sheryl continued. “You don’t need me around anyway. Burt said to go straight through that door and you’ll walk down a long hallway to the green room. If anyone gives you trouble, tell them he sent you.”

I nodded nervously. It was up to me now.

Surprisingly, I faced very little opposition as I attempted to gain access to the green room. A few security guards gave me a once-over, but no one asked who I was or where I was going. Before I had a chance to process what was happening, I had turned a doorknob, opened a door, and found myself in the Beatles green room. And, it appeared that the Beatles had already arrived.

I couldn’t find Ringo, but Paul and John were telling a group of girls a story. There were about fifteen of them, and they were – of course – giggling uncontrollably. A number of other girls milled around the room, obviously waiting for their turn to attempt to capture the band members’ attention. Their presence didn’t matter to me, however, because sitting across the room, on a chair by himself, was George.

It was game time. I only had one chance to make a fantastic first impression, and it was imperative that George find me beautiful, charming and impossible to ignore immediately. If I made one wrong move, my chance could be lost and my entire life would be ruined.

Smoothing my hair, I slowly floated across the room. Butterflies were flying around in my stomach, and my legs felt like rubber. If I stopped walking, I knew I’d abandon my task. Despite the wave of fear slowly rising through my body, I forced myself to keep moving.

George had a beer in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. He was slouched carelessly on the armchair. His head was back, his eyes closed. He looked relaxed. And gorgeous. There was another chair directly across from him, and I slowly lowered myself onto it.

He didn’t say anything or open his eyes as I arranged myself carefully on the chair. He also didn’t move when I gently said his name. It took three tries, two sighs and one throat clearing for him to finally look at me. His hazel eyes were slightly cloudy and unfocussed, and I realized immediately that George Harrison was quite drunk.

He squinted at me, took a sip of his beer and a drag of his cigarette. “Who are you luv?” he said with a slight slur. His Liverpool accent was heavy and almost impossible to understand. “I don’t know you.”

“Hello George,” I replied promptly. I had been rehearsing exactly what I would say for the last three days, and I had the script completely memorized in my mind.

“I’ve wanted to meet you for such a long time,” I continued, careful that I didn’t sound overly needy or obsessed. “You’re my favourite Beatle, and I absolutely love your music. You’re great. You’re better than great! You’re fantastic. Really. I wish I could play the guitar.”

“U huh. Thanks luv. ” George smiled politely at me and casually looked around the room. He took another sip of his beer and flicked ashes from his cigarette onto the floor.

I smiled brightly – just as I had practiced in the mirror at home – and leaned forward, giving him a perfect view down the front of my dress. I also crossed my legs, but ensured I lifted my skirt slightly in the process, exposing my legs. George raised his eyebrow, but said nothing.

“So…” I began slowly. “Do you want to go somewhere and… talk?”

George laughed. “We’re talking now.”

“I know, I know.” I giggled, a high-pitched, practiced giggle. “But I mean… really talk. You know?”

“I’m good here luv. Thanks though.”

“Are you sure? We could… go somewhere…. Now.”

“I don’t think so. Not today.”

Silence. Oh crap. What should I say next? I hadn’t thought this far ahead, so I said the first thing that popped into my head.

“I love you.”

George forced a smile. “Thank you. I love my fans.”

I sensed that I might be losing control of the conversation. Both my common sense and my female intuition were telling me to stop talking, but I simply couldn’t force my lips to stop moving. This was my chance. My one chance. I had to convince him to love me.

“I’m not just a fan. I really, really love you. I came here for you, George.”

“That’s great luv. I’m glad to meet you. Excuse me.” Without warning, George stood up and started to walk away. I jumped up frantically.

“Wait!” I shouted shrilly. George stopped, and turned to look at me. “Don’t leave! Let’s go somewhere, talk more, something… But you can’t just leave! I’ve been waiting for months to meet you.”

George sighed impatiently. “Well, we’ve met now. I’ll see you around.”

“Stop!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. “Stop!” A number of people in the room were looking at me, and I could see two security guards walking in my direction. I didn’t care.

“Stop, George.” I was pleading now. My dignity was gone. The security guards reached me, and one grabbed my arm. Gently, yet forcefully, they started to lead me towards the door. George was watching me, a look of disappointment on his face. I couldn’t understand it. Why didn’t he love me?

“Geoooorrrgggeeee……” I bellowed. We reached the door. It was opened, I was unceremoniously thrown out, and it was closed loudly behind me. I was left in the hallway, humiliated and alone.

I couldn’t stop the tears that began to form in my eyes and fall down my cheeks. A part of me half expected George to rush out of the green room and console me. He didn’t. Blindly, I started to run down the hallway. I needed to get away, and anywhere was better than where I was.

Pushing open a heavy, metal door, I found myself in the parking lot. I sat down on the pavement. My heart was broken. It had only taken a moment, but my life was over. There was no way I would ever recover.

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Beatlemania: Part one

The following is the first half of a story I wrote for a creative writing class a few years ago…

“Sheryl, move your ass!” I screamed as I threw myself into the back of the waiting taxi. “If we miss this I’ll kill you!”

With an unattractive scowl on her face and an equally unattractive sloth-like saunter, Sheryl slowly progressed towards the waiting vehicle. She’d just finished telling me for the millionth time how stupid she thought my mission was. I had taken offence to her criticism – especially when she called me a ‘British Invasion-addicted harlot’ – and beyond my angry prodding for her to walk faster, we were currently not speaking.

Sheryl lowered herself into the taxi and smiled demurely at the driver. He started the engine and took off down the narrow street. It was a 45-minute drive to downtown Toronto, and I was becoming increasingly agitated with every passing moment. For the past three months – ever since I purchased two tickets to the concert – I had thought of nothing but this day. If I missed the most important opportunity of my life, I probably would kill Sheryl.

Her high-pitched voice broke into my thoughts. Despite her protests earlier, she still wanted to accompany me and participate in my quest.

“Ok, so explain to me again why this is such a big deal,” Sheryl said. “I mean, they’re just musicians, right? And they aren’t even that good. And seriously, they’re from Europe. Like, don’t people listen to them in Europe? Why do they have to come all the way here?”

I groaned. Apparently we were speaking again. “Don’t be an idiot, Sheryl. They are the biggest band of all time, and they are here to get even more famous. God, don’t you listen to anything?”

“Fine,” she replied sourly. “So what’s your plan when we get there?”

I pondered her question. I’d been running through the step-by-step actions I’d take once I arrived at the arena where the concert was being held, but had yet to voice my plan aloud. Reaching a conclusion, I turned in my seat.

“Our number one priority is to get backstage after the concert,” I explained. “Then, I’ll find him and you will disappear.”

Sheryl rolled her eyes. “Fine, I can do that.”

“Good. This is very, very important Sheryl. My entire life is riding on this. Please don’t ruin this chance for me.”

“I won’t,” Sheryl said. “I just don’t get it. Why is seducing a musician so important to you?”

“Because,” I replied. “Once he sleeps with me he’ll fall in love with me. And then we’ll get married and I’ll move to Liverpool and we’ll live happily ever after.”

The taxi slowed down and I looked out the window to see the imposing structure of the Maple Leaf Gardens Arena. I opened the door and jumped onto the sidewalk, smoothing my favourite green dress. Sheryl said it was the only outfit that made my dark brown hair look ‘marginally attractive,’ and for some reason, I always listened to her opinion. She hopped out of the taxi after me and winked at the driver. Together, we walked up the stairs to the main entrance, handed our tickets to a sullen teenage boy, and entered the arena.

“Alright genius, so what’s your plan?” Sheryl asked as we took in the thousands of teenage girls before us. The interior of the arena was literally a sea of patterned dresses, teased hair and too much makeup. I was beginning to feel claustrophobic. I was also starting to second-guess the effectiveness of my seduction strategy. Every girl in the place would sleep with any one of the band members if the opportunity arose. I was one of 10,000 eager groupies.

“I don’t know what to do…” I said uncertainly. “Should we find our seats?”

“Don’t you want to go backstage?”

“Of course. But he’ll be mad at me if he found out I didn’t watch him play.”

We found our seats – in one of the furthest sections from the stage – and settled in to watch the concert. Suddenly, the announcer shouted, “Introducing… the Beatles” over the loudspeaker. I felt my heartbeat quicken. Ringo emerged from backstage first, and took his place behind the drums. John and Paul came onstage together, and the crowd erupted with cheers. Most girls were either Team Paul or Team John, which was just fine with me.

Finally, when everyone else was situated, George appeared. He wore his guitar over his shoulder and had his usual thoughtful-yet-mischievous look on his face. I reminded myself to breathe. There he was. My future husband and the future father of my children. Right in front of me. We were even breathing the same air.

Sheryl nudged me in the ribs with her elbow. “There he is,” she whispered loudly. “Why don’t you go get him now?”

“Shhhhhh!” I hissed back. “They’re about to start.”

I barely paid attention to the concert. As girls screamed, cried and belted out the lyrics to each song, I simply stared at him. I became so lost in my own little George Harrison trance that I didn’t even notice the concert was over until Sheryl started frantically shaking my arm.

“Gail, we’ve got to go now!” she shouted above the mass of screaming fans begging for an encore. “It’s almost over and you’ve got to get backstage.”

I nodded my head violently and we quickly made our way across the aisle and down the stairs. When we reached the main level, we took off running.

Hours earlier, as we struggled through the crowd to find our seats, I’d located the entrance to the backstage area. It was through a nondescript fence in a corner of the stadium. I only found it because about a hundred girls clung to the chain link like flies. As Sheryl and I approached, I noticed that a very large, refrigerator-shaped man stood guard inside the fence at the gate. I could see a number of girls milling around inside, and they all had a backstage passes around their necks.

“Sheryl,” I said quietly. “We have to get that man to let us in.” I pointed at refrigerator man and Sheryl looked at who I was motioning at. At first, a look of confusion registered on her face. Then, she started to smile and walked purposefully towards the gate. I was left with no choice but to follow.

“Burt!” Sheryl hollered above the sea of screaming fans. “Burt! It’s Sheryl.”

Refrigerator man scanned the crowd. His eyes fell on Sheryl and he too smiled. Moving the gate to the side – while forcing back the sea of fans – he beckoned us both behind the gated wall. The two exchanged a few words, a hug, and a very friendly kiss. A backstage pass was slipped around each of our necks, and just like that, we were in.

I grabbed Sheryl’s arm and pulled her aside. “Who the hell is Burt?” I whispered in her ear. Sheryl just smiled.

To be continued…

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Healthy 30 minute cinnamon buns

I can’t take the credit for this fantastic recipe, but I was able to substitute many of the ingredients for items I already had on hand – and, they still turned out great!

To see the full, original post – along with a few other great recipes – head over to Foodie Fiasco.

Ingredients

  • 2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 2½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons applesauce
  • ¾ cup unsweetened almond milk (I used regular milk)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (I added more)
  • 6 tablespoons cane sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 Fahrenheit. Grease an 8-inch pie pan and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut the applesauce into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Chill for ten minutes.

Combine 3 tablespoons cane sugar and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.

After the ten minutes, fetch the bowl from the fridge and add in the unsweetened almond milk, vanilla, and 3 tablespoons cane sugar or erythritol and stir until combined, making sure not to overwork the dough. If the dough is too dry to incorporate all the flour, add in one more tablespoon of almond milk. Turn out the dough on a clean, lightly floured surface and knead 4 times. Again, make sure not to overwork the dough.

Using a rolling pin (or your hands if you’re feeling all rustic like), roll out the dough to a large rectangle of ¼ inch thickness.

Brush the dough with 1 tablespoon melted butter. Evenly sprinkle the cinnamon mixture over the dough. Starting with the long side, gently roll the dough up into a log.

Using a sharp knife, cut the log into 12 equal rolls.

Place the rolls into the prepared pie pan and bake in the oven at 400 Fahrenheit for 12 minutes, or until golden. Let cool and devour.

Cinnamon bun photo

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