Craig: While many Canadian families gather snugly around the television for the traditional holiday screening of Miracle on 34th Street – with the same child-eyed wonder every time – our family would gather around our grandmother for her ritual retelling of "Mr. Williams and the Refrigerator." As with other holiday classics, we've memorized every line of Mimi's autobiographical tale.
It's about a young widow who walks to the grocery store every evening after work, as she has no fridge to keep food for her four children's supper. When her boss, Mr. Williams, learns why Mimi is so tired, he insists on having a new refrigerator delivered to her house that very day – on his own line of credit. All he asks is that Mimi repay him $5 a week for six months. This act of kindness gave Mimi the precious gift of more time with her children, and provided her grandchildren with an annual dose of inspiration and a holiday tradition that we deeply cherish.
Marc: Every year was the same: We'd go to Mimi's modest bungalow next to the post office in Windsor, Ont., sit on fold-out chairs around a long dining table in the basement – each of us wearing a paper hat from a popped Christmas cracker – and take turns sharing what we were grateful for. We always said thanks to Mimi, who invariably prepared a giant turkey, a scrumptious tourtière to link us to our French-Canadian roots and abundantly buttered mashed potatoes.
Often, Mimi's neighbour from across the street would join us. Dorothy was a kindergarten teacher who loved kids but had no family, so Mimi extended our family to embrace her. After dinner, Mimi would sit in her plush armchair and tell us the story of Mr. Williams' kind deed. As we got older, no matter how far we travelled or how hard it got to coordinate our schedules, we always came together for Christmas at Mimi's.
Craig: Last Christmas was our second with Marc's daughter, Lily-Rose, but our first without Mimi, who passed away the previous March at the age of 97. Her absence weighed heavily on our spirits, and without our beloved matriarch to anchor us, the holidays were different. We didn't travel to Windsor; instead, Marc and Roxanne hosted the family in Toronto.
Not every member of our extended family could make the trip, nor could Dorothy. We still feasted on turkey, tourtière and buttery potatoes, and we each included Mimi when giving our thanks, but we forgot the paper hats. Our mom accepted the mantle of matriarch, telling some of Mimi's stories and, to our great delight, some of her own. But for the first time in anyone's memory, we didn't hear "Mr. Williams and the Refrigerator." It prompted some soul-searching about our holiday traditions, how they link us to the past and remind us of the values that bring us together as family. We realized that if we don't remain conscious of the traditions that bind us, we risk losing those connections.
Marc: So this year, we're adapting our treasured traditions for a new generation. Our development work will keep us in Kenya over the holidays, but as most other parents with a two-year-old can attest, grandparents are seldom deterred by time or space from seeing their grandchildren.
So while my mom and mother-in-law (who is also French-Canadian) attempt to export the ingredients for tourtière to Kenya, we'll be inviting our Kenyan friends and staff members who can't make it home for the holidays to our extended-family Christmas dinner – in keeping with our tradition and in loving memory of Mimi. We may not have paper hats, but we will make sure we share the story of Mr. Williams, to remind us of the lesson Mimi taught us every year: that treating others like family is what the holidays are all about.
Arianna Huffington says the key to health, happiness, success and even economic prosperity is simple: everyone needs to sleep more. Sounds great, but how do we actually make it happen? Here are her best tips.
Self-described "sleep evangelist" Arianna Huffington comes by her obsession with rest honestly: in April 2007, after an exhausting trip spent touring prospective colleges with her daughter, Christina, during the day and frantically catching up on emails at night, she collapsed in her office. When she woke up hours later, she had a broken cheekbone and no idea what was wrong with her. After trekking from doctor to doctor trying to find out, the answer was both reassuring (she wasn't suffering from a scary disease) and not (she was burnt out, sleep deprived—essentially, making herself ill). Unsurprisingly, she quickly began taking sleep seriously. So seriously, in fact, that she threw herself into research—which turned into a book, The Sleep Revolution, released earlier this year—and started telling everyone what she learned. (We weren't joking about the "sleep evangelist" thing.) We chatted with Huffington about why women should carve out time for rest, how to get high-quality sleep and what to do when you fall back into old habits. Here's what she said.
1. Forget work-life balance. There's no such thing, according to Huffington. "Realistically, life is never balanced; we have a sick toddler one night, a big deadline the other night. For me, it's all about work-life integration, and bringing joy as well as productivity to everything we do," she says. "And I feel women need to realize that what they tell us on airplanes is the truth: put your own oxygen mask on first." Meaning: you can't take care of anyone else if you don't take care of yourself, first.
2. Do less binge-watching. Huffington doesn't buy the idea that there just aren't enough hours in the day to work, parent, exercise, socialize and sleep, too. "We all have more discretionary time than we acknowledge," she says. "You know, somebody's watching House of Cards [right now]. I've only seen one episode. I love the show; I would love to see the rest of it. But you know what? If something has to give, it's going to be House of Cards."
3. Ditch the tech. Speaking of binge-watching… You've probably heard this before, but chances are you didn't listen, so it bears repeating: ban devices from your bedroom. "Before I go to sleep, I power down all my devices and gently escort them out of my bedroom," Huffington says. "Once I get into bed, I only read physical books. And always books that have nothing to do with work—poetry, novels. I don't read anything on-screen, and I never watch TV just before I'm going to sleep."
4. Develop a bedtime routine. "The most important thing is to have a transition to sleep," Huffington says. "I think the biggest mistake we make in modern life is we have no transition. We can be on our smartphones, answering emails, texting until the last moment, and then turn off the light and go to sleep. That doesn't work." Huffington's ritual starts 30 minutes before she wants to go to sleep. That's when she powers down her phone, tablet and laptop, turns off all the lights and has a hot bath. If 30 minutes feels like too much time, start with five minutes, she advises.
5. Be consistent—even when you're travelling. Whether you're going out of town for work or play, it's important to keep up your bedtime routine. To make it easier, Huffington always packs an eye mask, noise-cancelling headphones, a candle (to give the space a homey vibe) and masking tape (to cover up all those annoying blinking lights). "You have to get organized," she says. "But once you do, and you realize what a benefit it brings you, it's not difficult. It only takes five minutes to cover the lights and put the temperature down; it's not like these things are time consuming."
6. Buy new PJs. Huffington says whatever you wear to bed should only be worn to bed. "After my bath, I get in my nice PJs. But it could even be a special t-shirt, as long as it's something I only wear to sleep," she says. "I used to sleep in my gym clothes, but that sends your brain confusing, conflicting messages: are we going to the gym or are lying down?"
7. Say no sometimes. We're all busy, but Huffington says it's important not to give into the temptation to over-schedule. "I so dislike the person I become when I'm sleep deprived: more irritable, more reactive, less and less present with less joy in my life," she says. But acknowledging the consequences of skimping on sleep makes it easier for her to prioritize. Take, for example, a recent evening when she unexpectedly ran into close friends: "I would have loved to go to dinner with them, but I had a very early start this morning, so I didn't. And when I say that to you, you may think it sounds like a sacrifice, but it doesn't to me anymore."
8. Don't worry about falling off the sleep bandwagon. Everyone slips up sometimes, even Huffington. "I'm a work in progress. But you know, I don't think anyone, even somebody who talks about this as much as I do, would do this perfectly. For me, the most important thing is to course correct quickly."
9. Have a plan of attack for insomnia.The Sleep Revolution has an entire chapter devoted to sleep best practices: make sure your room is dark and cool, get enough physical activity, don't drink coffee or alcohol too close to bedtime… but even the most dedicated sleeper will sometimes have a sleepless night. Instead of getting stressed about it, though, Huffington's advice is to meditate. In the book, she writes, "Since we find it harder and harder to retreat into ourselves in the middle of our busy days, the retreat in the middle of the night—whether through sleep or meditation—can be reframed as a precious luxury. This certainly didn't come easily to me. But I was able to train myself to see the time spent meditating in the middle of the night as productive and enriching instead of lying awake in bed resenting the fact that I was wasting my time lying awake in bed."
Spent the night tossing and turning? Here's how to recover from a bad sleep.
We needed help demystifying the seemingly endless list of milk alternatives, so we went to the experts for real talk on dairy-free drinks.
Whether you're lactose intolerant, vegan, or just like the taste, there are plenty of reasons to experiment with adding milk alternatives to your diet. But with more varieties than ever before, how do you know which option is best for you? We asked two registered dietitians, Carol Harrison and Crystal MacGregor, for the skinny on dairy-free drinks.
Why does cow's milk get a bad rap?
Carol Harrison: Some people are worried about hormones or antibiotics in milk. But the truth is, growth hormones are not approved for use in dairy cattle in Canada. As well, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency reports compliance for veterinary product residues in milk is greater than 99 per cent.
Crystal MacGregor: Cow’s milk is a nutritious and safe choice. Non-dairy beverages are actually not suitable for children under the age of two because they do not contain enough calories, protein and fat to support children’s needs.
Which beverage is closest to cow’s milk in terms of nutritional profile?
CM: Soy is the closest to dairy in protein per serving at 7 grams of protein per cup. When possible, choose organic versions, as many conventional soy milks can come from genetically modified soybeans, which may contain higher levels of pesticides and fertilizers.
CH: The only beverages I consider nutritional substitutes for cow's milk are goat’s milk fortified with vitamin D and soy beverages fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
What are some things a person should consider when choosing a dairy-free beverage?
CM: If choosing a non-dairy alternative for a source of protein it is important to note that not all are created equal—most nut milks such as almond, coconut and cashew milk contain less than 1 g of protein per cup.
CH: Aim for 30 per cent daily value calcium and 45 per cent daily value vitamin D. Also choose unsweetened options to curb unwanted added sugars.
Check out our slideshow of popular dairy-free drinks, with pros and cons from our experts.
Heart disease and stroke are one of the leading causes of death for Canadian women—and risk factors, symptoms and even treatment might vary by age. Here's what you need to know.
It was Dec. 13, 2014. I was getting ready to go out for dinner when suddenly everything went wrong. I lost coordination, almost like I was drunk. I went numb, as if the local anesthetic that dentists use had been applied to half of my body. My arm went limp, I could barely walk and, out of the blue, I got a raging migraine. At 31 years old, I was in the midst of a transient ischemic attack, often called a ministroke, but I had no idea.
It wasn't until the next day, when I was feeling only slightly better, that I realized something was really wrong. I didn't want to wait for an appointment with my family doctor, so I called Telehealth Ontario, the provincial service that connects callers to a registered nurse via telephone. In the very back of my mind, I wondered if I'd had a stroke—but I was too young, or so I thought. But when I described my symptoms, it became clear that I wasn't too young. In fact, the nurse who took my call was worried enough to send paramedics to my house. Soon, I was in the back of an ambulance, rushing through Toronto's busy streets on the way to the hospital.
The statistics Luckily, my stroke was mild, and, in July 2015, I underwent surgery to have a patent foramen ovale closure device inserted to close the hole in my heart. But, to this day, I'm still shocked at how little I knew about the risks associated with stroke and heart disease, or just how common they are. As I soon learned, about 1.6 million Canadians—557,000 of them women over the age of 24—report having cardiovascular disease. And, according to a study looking at factors and behaviours affecting cardiovascular health published in 2013 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, fewer than one in 10 adult Canadians were in ideal cardiovascular health from 2003 to 2011, which means 90 percent of us are making choices that are increasing our risk for a cardiovascular event. In fact, heart disease and stroke is one of the leading causes of death for Canadian women, and most of us have at least one risk factor.
It's a club that I didn't particularly want to be a part of, but having joined, I began wondering what other women's experiences had been like.
Unlike me, when Victoria resident Carolyn Thomas started having a range of symptoms— crushing chest pain, nausea, weakness, sweating and a persistent ache down her left arm—on her 58th birthday, she immediately thought it could be a heart attack and went straight to the ER. But when she got there and told the doctor on duty about her symptoms, he said it was just acid reflux. "I remember exactly what he said," she recalls. " 'You're in the right demographic for acid reflux. Go home and call your family doctor for a prescription for antacids.' " Embarrassed and apologetic, she did just that. But her symptoms persisted for two more weeks. She eventually went back to the hospital, and this time, she was told she was suffering from what was actually one of the most serious types of heart attacks—a complete blockage of her left anterior descending artery, which is often referred to as the widow-maker.
Since then, she has recovered, but it's far from full—she had to retire early and continues to see a specialist at her regional pain clinic.
Irmine MacKenzie also went to the hospital immediately. It's been 35 years since the New Waterford, N.S., resident lost the use of her left arm and leg after suffering a stroke caused by carotid artery stenosis, narrowing of the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the brain. She was 61 years old and, having just finished eating breakfast with her husband, John, she headed to the kitchen to tackle the dishes. Suddenly, plates started dropping from her hands, shattering as they hit the floor.
After a six-week hospital stay and a three-month stint in a rehabilitation program in Halifax, she eventually learned to walk again. Her ability to manage quite well over the past three decades is clearly a testament to her grit— and maybe some kind words from a stranger. "I won't ever forget the ambulance driver who took me to the rehabilitation centre," she says. "He told me, 'We're taking you by stretcher now, but you'll be walking out of there with a cane.' " Sure enough, that's exactly what she did.
A better understanding It has now been two years since I suffered my transient ischemic attack, and I feel like I'm still learning about heart health. I now understand the importance of cardiac rehabilitation, for one thing. When I had my stroke, I didn't know this kind of program existed—my cardiologist didn't refer me to one, but having access to dedicated professionals in a safe, encouraging environment could have helped me navigate the health-care system and guided me toward healthier choices.
One thing I found myself, Carolyn and Irmine echoing is how, as women, we must advocate for ourselves in the health-care system, ensuring that our voices are heard and our health is looked after. We need to put ourselves first, without shame or guilt. As Dr. Paula Harvey, director of the cardiovascular research program at Women's College Hospital in Toronto, says, "It comes back to education and partnership with your health provider. Don't be afraid to ask questions and be informed."
Heart health by the decade Nearly two-thirds of all heart attacks and strokes occur in Canadians 65 or older, but younger Canadians are increasingly at risk. Here's what you need to know at every age.
In your 20s and 30s: Young people with heart-health issues are part of a growing minority. A study published in 2012 out of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine found that, over a period of 12 years, strokes among people aged 20 to 54 made up an increasingly greater proportion of strokes across all age groups, growing from about 13 percent in 1993–94 to 19 percent in 2005.
Closer to home, the Heart and Stroke Foundation says several studies predict that the rate of strokes among younger adults will double in the next 15 years. The main reason? According to Dr. Tara Sedlak, a cardiologist at Vancouver General Hospital and clinical assistant professor at The University of British Columbia, it comes down to lifestyle—high stress levels, poor eating habits, lack of exercise and smoking. Research bears this out: The University of Cincinnati study suggested that a rise in lifestyle-related risk factors (such as diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol) may contribute to a higher incidence of stroke.
But there is a way to turn the tide: As with other age groups, simple changes such as exercising regularly, quitting smoking and eating healthily could see the rates of cardiovascular disease—and, more specifically, stroke—decrease, says Dr. Paula Harvey, director of the cardiovascular research program at Women's College Hospital in Toronto.
In your 40s and 50s: Cardiovascular disease is less common among younger women, in part because of their higher estrogen levels; the hormone offers some protection to the arteries. But as women approach menopause and their estrogen levels drop, the incidence of stroke and heart attack increases.
Unfortunately, broad knowledge of their increased risk may not protect perimenopausal women from misdiagnosis. According to research by the Canadian Medical Protective Association, which provides advice, legal assistance and risk-management education to 95,000 Canadian physicians, doctors are missing the signs of stroke in patients nearly 10 percent of the time, largely because symptoms are often nonspecific—patients often complained of headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting.
And women, who have historically been less inclined to advocate for themselves, are particularly at risk. Research out of the University of Leeds in England showed that, between April 2004 and March 2013, 198,534 heart attack patients at National Health Service hospitals in England and Wales were initially misdiagnosed—and most of them were women. During that time, women suffering a heart attack were 50 percent more likely to be misdiagnosed compared to men.
It might be difficult to challenge doctors who tell you nothing's wrong, but Dr. Sedlak encourages women to listen to their bodies and to be firm with health-care providers about what they're experiencing. "If you feel there is a real problem, be persistent," she says.
In your 60s and beyond: Women over 65 have the most strokes of all age groups, but they still have fewer strokes than men the same age. However, a Danish study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2015 found that, after 60, women tend to have more serious strokes than men—and they're more likely to survive, which can have serious repercussions on quality of life.
John Sawdon, the public education and special projects director of the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada, explains that cardiac rehabilitation programs, which are free with a referral from your doctor, are the perfect next step for recovering cardiac patients of all ages, but they're particularly important for older Canadians, who tend to live more sedentary lives. These programs are supervised by a cardiologist and, after an assessment, are tailored by your cardiac rehab team, which usually includes nurses, physical therapists, kinesiologists and social workers. They can provide exercise training, education on heart-healthy living and stress counselling—all of which can contribute to the health and well-being of people who have heart problems. And they're effective, too: "Research has shown that those completing cardiac rehab live seven years longer than control groups," says Sawdon. It also "reduces incidence of another heart attack by 50 percent."
What's your risk? Ninety percent of adult Canadians have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But while factors such as obesity, hypertension, alcohol abuse, family history and ethnicity increase everyone's risk, regardless of gender, the following three are particularly relevant to women.
Smoking: While we all know that smoking is seriously unhealthy, it can be especially damaging to women's cardiovascular health. Smoking when taking the oral contraceptive pill can drastically increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. But quitting can cut your risk within a year.
Diabetes: According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, people with diabetes are at a very high risk of developing cardiovascular disease. In fact, "they may develop heart disease 10 to 15 years earlier than individuals without diabetes."
Mental illness and stress: "Women have a higher frequency of stress-induced heart disease, and women's hearts are affected by stress and depression more than men's," says Dr. David Fitchett, a cardiologist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
Heart health dictionary
Atherosclerosis: When arteries narrow and harden due to plaque buildup.
Cardiomyopathhy: Diseases of the heart muscle, which cause it to become enlarged, thick or rigid.
Cardiovascular disease: A broad term for problems with the heart and blood vessels, often due to atherosclerosis. These conditions can lead to heart attack, angina or stroke.
Heart attack: Also known as a myocardial infarction, these attacks happen when the flow of blood to a section of the heart is blocked, preventing the muscle from getting oxygen.
High blood pressure: Also called hypertension, this is when the long-term force of blood against artery walls is elevated, requiring the heart to work harder, which may eventually lead to heart disease.
Microvascular angina: A disease of the small coronary artery blood vessels. Many angiograms do not view the small blood vessels, so this can be difficult to diagnose.
Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: A tear in the coronary artery wall. Physical or emotional stress appears to play a role. Most cases (around 70 percent) occur in women under 50—and a third of those are pregnant or postpartum women.
Stroke: When the blood supply to a portion of the brain is interrupted. This can happen when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain either bursts or is blocked.
Wayfair, the largest U.S. online retailer of furniture and home decor, launched their
Canadian website this week, not only making shopping easier and less expensive, but offering free shipping on all orders over $75. With a selection of over 7 million items at a variety of price points, there is literally something for everyone. Here's the 6 items we are most excited about.