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Mild temperatures and an empty house mean that regardless what the calendar says, Christmas spirit arrives more slowly than it once did.

Two weekends ago we turned on the exterior lights and Laura started putting out some of the decorations, which added a less of a Christmas flair than, for me anyway, a sense of anticipation. And not for Santa but for when the boys come home from school.

And on Sunday afternoon, Chris – having finished his final exam on the ridiculously early date of Dec 12 – came home Sunday armed with laundry. And now it is starting to feel festive.

Chris wasn’t home 10 minutes on Sunday and he was eating homemade minestrone. And then he started helping with the decorations – he put together the Christmas village which has been as standard as stockings hung with care.

Chris being home means I have someone with to watch old Christmas movies we’ve seen a hundred time. It’s what we do.

He eventually retired to the basement family room with the fireplace and TV both blazing and just knowing he was there made the house better and me happier. Granted, on the eastern seaboard the other son was grinding over the books – his exam schedule gets intense this week – but he will be home next weekend.

Laura started baking yesterday, which is also a sign of Christmas. Cape Breton pork pies – which are neither pies nor pork – went into high production. Basically they are a shortbread pastry stuffed with dates and topped with vanilla icing. Laura learned them from her mom, who learned from her mom . . . you get the idea. Pork pies are the surest sign of Christmas we have, and in addition to making them for herself to enjoy she also gives them as presents.

One of the happiest sights of the holidays is Laura at the kitchen table with a stack of unread newspapers, a large mug of hot tea and a couple pork pies. Or three.

She and Chris will hunt down a tree today and sometime over the next few days it will be put up and decorated with all the attending furniture rearranging and fuss and fun. Pad will somehow manage to miss both the putting up and taking down. Hmmm.

Fitness doesn’t celebrate Christmas. At least, not the way we do. And this holiday season, being the first since my commitment to getting fitter, eating smarter, and putting more priority on “me” is going to be, maybe, a bit of a test.

At ATC where I train, we are constantly – and I mean, we hear about it daily – told that the biggest influencer on personal fitness success — how we look, feel and change our fitness — is diet. Eat less dairy. Eat less meat, especially red meat. Eat more plants. Avoid processed food. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, do not eat it. Drink in moderation. Avoid simple carbs and white sugar and all junk food from fast food to candy.

For us, there are no absolutes. I won’t say I’m never having cake or never having ice cream. But I have them so seldom that they are actual treats. And I work off what I have eaten, and more. Laura does an amazing job of making sure our main meals are healthy, and she always has. It’s the stuff I did in between that got me in the mess I was in a year ago.

But the amount of home-made, jaw-droppingly good food in our house over the holidays is staggering. Luckily we have two human shop vacs to handle most of it. As is my habit, I’ll just nibble (cough).

But there’s also truth that – aside from the stunning baked goods – almost all of what we eat for meals and snacks is pretty healthy. Yes, there will be mashed potatoes with turkey on Christmas day (one of two times a year for mashed potatoes.) But there will also be carrots and cucumbers and salads.

There are fruit bowls with bananas and oranges and apples. There will be fruit salad and fresh-squeezed orange juice (a Christmas morning tradition). And in the cupboard are my (as Laura calls them) sawdust bars – the nutritional bars I munch sometimes.

Moderation, right?

The overriding message from Richard is that we can’t outwork, and he cannot out train, a poor diet. If we want to get fit, one hour a day at the gym is about a quarter of the equation. The rest happens during the other 23 hours of the day. Proper nutrition, hydration, and eating whole, natural foods.

When I first started at ATC, Coach Dave told me that equation and I didn’t quite believe it. I do now.

Do the work, eat smart, and the inches and pounds look after themselves. It’s dead simple math and it works.

The house league peewee Packers made their first tournament appearance of the year on the weekend, playing in a select-level tournament in Kingston where their 3-1 record was excellent but the home-town draw left them out of the final.

No matter. These things are about fun, memories and learning to compete. If the pictures from Coach Dave’s Instagram account are any indication, it was a home run on all fronts for the boys.