Friday, December 30, 2005

Dating... sizing it up (part one)

So... I just have to share this one...

I was chatting with a friend recently and the conversation rolled around to dating. He told me that he has always dated "bigger women". (We did not define what "bigger" meant.)

I asked him, "So... you've never dated "smaller" women?" (Again, we did not define what "smaller" meant. Either we both understood or it was just too awkward to go there...)

He replied, "Well... yes... more or less." He then went on to tell me that he'd had one very active year during which he dated about 60 women he'd met on line - most of them for one coffee date only. (60 women in one year -- Studly, huh?) Anyway, he said, "I came to the conclusion that there's a direct relationship between a woman's size and how interesting she is."

"Excuse me?!" I demanded, forgetting all manners and rules of decorum and diplomacy...

"Well, yeah... I mean... In my experience, the bigger women are more... well... interesting... The ones with perfect bodies, perfect hair and perfect make up are... well... boring."

I can honestly say that I've never heard such a thing from a man before.

Any man.


And being a woman who has been both "bigger" (Canadian size 22) and "smaller" (Canadian size 4) -- and continued to date / have relationships throughout my ... er... "ups and downs", shall we say... these particular comments did leave me thinking about the whole issue of size and attraction.

And at the moment, I'm not sure I have any conclusions... so I'm putting this out there for feedback. Lemme know your thoughts on this one, OK?

"What's boxing day?"

So, in answer to a comment on the last post, "Boxing Day" is what we call December 26. I'm not sure of the origin of it, so if anyone knows, feel free to post a comment about it.

Nowadays it is also a huge shopping day. It used to be a great day to get Christmas cards and wrap that were marked down to half price or less. now, some stores have mega-sales-blitzes on just about everything.

For those who receive gift certificates as gifts, Boxing Day is a wonderful day to spend them, because often you can get much more for your money, so to speak.

Certain electronics and furniture stores are famous for their Boxing Day sales. People start lining up at 4:00 a.m. or some other ungodly hour.

Alia and I arrived to the mall at 8:00 a.m. (when it opened) and later heard that some people had been lined up since 6:00 a.m. Being the pragmatic types we are, that seemed ludicrous to us... so we arrived on time and still got all the wrap, cards and whatnot that we hoped to pick up.

I used to work in retail when I was doing my B.A. and Boxing Day was a hideous day to work. All the Christmas spirit seemed to melt away, as people fought and pushed to get what they want. So, I am conscious of this now that I'm wearing "shopper's shoes" instead of "clerk's shoes"... and try to save a little holiday spirit for Boxing Day, too.

For those of you living in the States.... you mean to say... this doesn't happen south of the northern border?!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

So, this is what it feels like to relax

Last Friday most people who work at the university got to go home around lunch time. That morning at work, I was fantasizing about napping, perhaps indulging in a bubble bath or kicking back with a non-school book.

Alas, my fantasy was never realized... at least not that day...

Couldn't chill out. Instead, I felt like a chipmunk on speed (not that I'd know what one of those looks like, but we can imagine...) I zipped from one end of the house to the other, not knowing that to do. So, I sorted a semester's worth of recycling in the basement (scary stuff!) and took it to the depot. I did a b'zillion loads of laundry. Cleaned both bathrooms. Cleaned the kitchen. Put together some Christmas parcels (now known as "New Year's gifts"). Finally, about 5:00 p.m. or so, sat down and turned on the T.V. for an hour, which is just another way of saying I fidgeted, while pretending I was relaxing.

Christmas Eve was spent with friends and Christmas Day was with family. While I was at Aaron and Nicole's on the 25th, Aaron kept apologizing, saying he hoped the day wasn't too boring.

"Are you kidding?" I asked. "I'm delighted just to have the chance to kick back and do nothing!" Well, we did go for that Christmas Day walk, but that was just fun time, really... Followed quickly by some rum and egg nog and naps all around before digging into turkey. Mmmm.... turkey....

Needless to say, Christmas Day was wonderful and the blissfully warm weather we've been having made for excellent driving conditions for the trip to Red Deer and back.

Yesterday involved some serious Boxing Day Power Shopping with Alia and then, when I got home, I finally started a non-school book I've been dying to get into... Watching the English, a book about the customs and traditions of the English, sent to me by Adrian, one of my many English cousins. So far, I must say that it is an excellent read and I'd definitely recommend it.

And so, here it is... December 27... and I finally feel like I'm starting to wind down...

Now with any luck, I'll get those parcels and cards mailed off tomorrow!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Holiday tidbits (including knee update)

Well, today was my last day at work until January 2. The university is closed until then. (Happy sigh...)

Naturally, I have a big pile of reading to do, most of which is dense, thick stuff that no one in their right mind would spend their Christmas holidays trying to digest. But everyone knows that academic types are rarely in their right minds, so I at least have to try to look like a proper grad student. (Hee hee!)

And of course, I will be going to the gym. I was there today and it was deliciously dead. There were a few warm bodies around, but no one had to wait for anything. I enjoyed every second of it, knowing that the place will be a zoo in the New Year.

How do I know this, you ask? I only started going to the gym at the beginning of June, after all... I know, because I have been warned my just about anyone I chat with who has witnessed (in other words, survived) JiG (January in the Gym). Apparently it goes back to normal by February...

I slogged it out in the warmest months of our ever-so-short summer, when every one in their right mind was outside enjoying the sunshine. My ulterior motive was to ensure I was in the habit of going regularly and consistently. It worked. I go.

Though that does seem to show evidence that I am indeed not in my right mind. Hhhmmmm.... Must ponder that one...

With any luck, by next summer I will not be in the gym every day... perhaps only every second day. I will (like any sane person) be outside some days... enjoying the sunshine

... running.

Yes, you read that right.


I am happy to report that there is much progress on the knee front. General swelling has subsided and my twice daily routine of "new exercises for leg muscles" seems to be paying off.

My physiotherapist gave me a beautiful Christmas gift - hope. (He also jabbed me with three needles, but let's not focus on that, shall we?)

I am allowed to walk over the holidays - on a treadmill, outside, wherever I damn well please! Of course, I have to change how I walk and retrain my muscles so my knees don't roll around. But he dangled a carrot in front of me... "If you can manage that OK and you take it easy... focus on your technique... In the New Year we can get you back running again."

Merry Christmas to me! I shall strap on my heart rate monitor and go do some neighbourhood hills tomorrow, I think... Just because I can!

Christmas day I'll zip up to Red Deer (a mere two-hour drive from where I live on the west side of Calgary) to spend the day with my big brother, Aaron, and sister-in-law, Nicole. Oh yeah... and Hogan the dog... and the four cats... Must remember not to wear black! (Maybe we can even take the dog for a walk after turkey... Yay!)

Anyway, I may be away from the blog-o-sphere for a few days, as I partake in holiday cheer, but I will check in again soon...

Until then, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah and general Warm Holiday Greetings (for whatever you and yours celebrate.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I've got that Christmas feelin'... ooh, that Christmas feelin'....

A quick update:

Students' final exams - corrected!

Students' final marks - submitted!

My final essay (submitted with me wearing my student hat, not my teacher hat) - returned! (I really have officially survived the first semester.)

Christmas shopping - done!

Flat tire acquired while Christmas shopping - being repaired as I write!

Christmas spirit - finally filling my soul and oozing deliciously through my veins from head to foot (and no, I don't mean liquid Christmas spirit - though my crystal ball says there may be some of that in my future - ho ho ho!)

With any luck, parcels will be wrapped and a few cards ready by the time my head hits the pillow tonight.

Sigh... contented, blissful sigh, that is...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Shriek! It's Christmas week already! And I'm not ready!!

How did this happen, I ask you? How???

Christmas is less than a week away and I'm not ready! No lights up outside... Tree still in the box... Half the gifts still need to be bought... No cards sent to England (or anywhere else, for that matter...)

Haven't even started my annual Christmas letter yet! And usually I'm done by the middle of November, with envelopes dutifully addressed and cards written...


I still have to finish marking exams... Thankfully, they're almost done... (The exam was 12-pages, in case you are wondering why it's taking me so long! It's a common exam for all Spanish sections, so I didn't have any choice in the matter....)

Santa, can I please have an extra 5 hours in each day from now until the end of the year?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Back to having a puffy knee

Sigh... so, after a few weeks of diligently… religiously… even obsessively… following Tim (a.k.a The Physiotherapist)’s instructions of stretching, leg lifts, icing and anti-inflammatory cream… staying off the track, off the bike, off the leg press and doing my only cardio in the pool… I was delighted when he told me I could go back on the bike.

But… only for 10 minutes at a time.

I groaned.

That is not my idea of cardio. That is a warm up.

“How long have you been going on the bike?” He asked.

“An hour.” I replied.

I was shot a very stern look accompanied by, “That’s too much. Twenty minutes of cardio should do it…. but you have to work up to it. Start with 10 minutes and increase it ... gradually!”

I promised.

I was also told I could go back to the leg press, which has now been modified to strengthen only certain muscles (whose name I have yet to learn... the ones just above your knee on the inside of your leg. Feel free to enlighten me...)

And those damned squats. Have I mentioned how much I hate squats?

I loathe squats!

I had a training session yesterday. Showed Chris the new modified exercises and he was positively delighted that I’m doing squats. No kidding… His face lit up like a Christmas tree he was beaming so brightly .

He tried to get me to do them a few months ago and I did try… alone… in my kitchen… simply lacked the leg strength… and balance. My legs do feel a bit stronger now… but I still hate them. He showed me a variation to try… great… endless ways of squatting!

So… yesterday I did all the usual exercises, ten minutes on the bike and the modified leg press.

Today my right knee is puffed up like a basket ball. It doesn’t hurt, but I am more aware of it than I have been since I started physio. Ice has definitely been my friend today.

I was scheduled to do cardio today, but the open time for the pool just didn’t work with my schedule, so I didn't do any cardio today.

I feel restless, but I’m sure my students will thank me… I planted my ass in a chair and spent most of the day correcting their exams, with my leg up on another chair and the knee crowned with a bag of frozen peas. Oh the exciting life of a Spanish teacher with a puffy knee!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Being jabbed with needles makes me laugh

Had my third physio session today. Tim found another tight muscle and asked, "Can I put just one needle in that?"

Of course, I found myself saying yes again. (Still can't believe I trust someone I barely know enough to stick me with accupuncture needles -- or any kind needle, for that matter -- but there you go...)

Well, one needle ended up being two. I mentioned that I can't even watch needles on TV and he said, "Good... We're helping you deal with your fears then."

Yeah... that's it....

We have figured out something, Tim and I... when he says, "Tell me when you feel it..."

Of course... I'm so out of touch with my body that there's nothing.... nothing... nothing... then I go from zero to ... (
well... let's not put a number on it...) in a fraction of a second.

What happens is that I involuntarily break out into spasms ... of laughter.

It's totally bizarre... embarrassing, almost.

Today, Tim smiled when this happened and said, "OK.... we know that when you laugh you feel it... That's good... That's our goal then... make you laugh."

Me... gasping... giggling... "Yeah... Sure... Whatever... Now -- Stop!"

Elections in Canada

Did you know we're having elections in Canada in January?

I don't often to x-blog links, but Mac put in a whole lot of hard work getting up to speed on our politics, so I'm inviting you to check out his blog:

It's good stuff, eh!

I have officially survived first semester!

I passed in my last paper of my first semester yesterday. Woo hoo!

It's worth (the other) 50% of the final grade and me being me, I'm stressing a bit about it. But... not as much as last time.

I think I spent most of the first semester stressing, actually, which, as my older brother pointed out to me, is totally out of character for me -- at least when it comes to school. I think that having been out of school for seven ... no... make that eight... years, changing disciplines (again!) and working at the doctoral level all took their toll on my confidence. But I have survived!

Not only survived, but I got through the first semester without ballooning (and actually "dropping some tonnage", as the same dear older brother put it so delicately). That's another first for me.

Going to the gym has definitely helped to keep me sane, as has the wonderful support network of friends and family I am so lucky to have– and yes, even blogging has helped!

I just have to correct my students’ final exams and then I’ll be done wearing my teacher hat for the semester, too.

Is that a light I see at the end of the tunnel?

Oh yeah, and by the way... I still haven't really started my Christmas shopping or sent any cards, so you might be getting New Year's greetings from me! Don't take it personally.... everyone will be treated equally... meaning... late -- but not forgotten! ;-)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

On giving up

So, before I get to the story of this post, let me give you a quick snapshot of my day:

  • Woke up late.
  • Zoomed to the airport (generously driven part of the way there by T.G.)
  • Flew to Edmonton (our province's capital city, about 300 km north of here, or a 1 hour flight) with a colleague.
  • Met with officials from our ministry of education about some research projects we’re involved in.
  • Got the 2:00 p.m. flight back to Calgary.
  • Went into the office; checked e-mail; put out a few proverbial fires.
  • Zipped over to the fitness centre for a quick swim.

Went to invigilate my students’ final exam, which happened to be in one of the big gyms at the fitness centre. (All the gyms get turned into big exam rooms at this time of year.) So… it was a busy day. Go go go… not much breathing room.

I dunno about you, but when I go on overdrive like that, I can be stopped dead in my tracks by something unexpected... Well, emotionally at least… Though I would rarely show such a thing in public and especially not at work! That's exactly what happened tonight.

All the students registered in Spanish wrote their final exams in the same big gym, along with all the students registered in some other course (an engineering course, I think).

The gym flooded with a few hundred students who all found their pre-assigned seat. The final exam began and each instructor surveyed their row of students to do a quick head count.

I saw one empty desk in my row. My heart sank. Some of you may remember the student I had who was struggling. If you don’t, you can check out the post here: Revelation. That student never showed up for the final exam. He gave up.

Of course, this played on my mind during the two-hour exam, but again, I’m not one to openly show such things.

A few of the students has asked me to join them at the campus bar for a drink after the exam. Whenever students invite me to join them in an after-exam beverage, I always accept. Not only is it a nice way to round out the semester, but I know that not every instructor gets invited out by their students and I’m lucky to have students who, after writing a brutal 2-hour exam, still want to see my face!

Anyway, I went to the bar, as I’d promised. The girl who sat next to this struggling student in class said, “So it looks like G. dropped out.”

“Yeah,” I replied. “I figured, since he wasn’t at the final.”

She said, “He mentioned to me in our last class that he was thinking about it. He’s got straight A’s in all his other courses. He was just having a hard time with this one.”

I know. I spent a good deal of time giving him extra help, finding and photocopying extra practice activities and generally trying to help him get through.

Our last Spanish class was last Thursday. G. was there. Said something on the way out about thanks for everything. I didn't clue in that it was his way of saying, “Adiós”.

The last day to drop classes was the next day – Friday. We figured he must have waited until the very last minute and then dropped the course.

I have learned in my 12-year teaching career that you can’t read minds. Usually, we teachers have no idea what’s going on in our students’ lives or their heads unless they tell us.

Most first-year university classes are big and impersonal. Language classes are typically not. My class this year had about 30 students in it. By the end of the course, I know all their names, they know each other’s names and there’s been a fair amount of group bonding that’s happened.

So, if students drop out, it’s not all that unusual for them to let me know. Though sometimes it makes me sad, I always appreciate them telling me. But G. didn’t… for reasons I’ll never know.

Sometimes, students don’t know that their teachers care … or even notice, when they’re not there. But I do. In fact, I think most teachers who actually get to know their students do notice when things are out of the ordinary.

G. doesn’t know that I had his last assignment to hand back to him tonight and that his grade had gone up. The way he was going, he would have certainly passed the exam.

I’ve also learned that you can’t take professional things personally. Generally, I don’t. I certainly don’t blame myself for G. dropping out. Like I said, I have no idea what was going on in his head. But it does leave me feeling sad.

OK, here’s me being real… I’m sitting here blogging about it, fairly choked up…. to see someone so smart and so “together”, who had put in so much time and effort, and money (tuition and books) and just sheer determination… throw it all away at the very end.

In general, I love teaching. Just not at the moment.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Accupuncture - a first for me

So, I had my second physio appointment today. During the session, Tim (a.k.a. The Physiotherapist) said, "You're afraid of needles, right?"

I replied, "I never actually told you that..."

He said, "Yeah... but you are."

(Intuitive fellow!)

I said, "Well, kinda... but it doesn't matter. I just deal with it. Why?"

"You could use some accupuncture on this leg. It's pretty tight." He replied.

I found myself saying, "OK, yeah... sure... I'd trust you to do that."

Now, tell me... How can you trust a man, whom you've met only once before, to jab small pieces of metal into your body? (Multiple small pieces of metal!) Especially when those small pieces of metal are probably in your list of "Top 3 things I hate / fear most in the whole entire world"?

I can't even watch needles on TV.

And here I was... telling Tim he could do accupuncture on me.

Was I out of my mind?

I said, "I've never done this before, so you're gonna have to walk me through it."

He replied, "OK, no problem. You're not going to faint on me, are you?"

"Oh, no. Takes a lot more than that to get me to pass out."

And a few moments later the first needle went in my leg...

One thing I can say for sure: That is a hell of a way to learn body awareness! I think I was more aware of my body today than I have been, oh... possibly ever!

And I'm still alive to blog about it.

PS: Still barred from running and all lower body exercies (cardio, weights, etc.) until further notice... Apparently, my right knee is messed up but good.

Thoughts on "Christmas spirit"

I've seen some interesting posts on other people's blogs lately about the spirit of Christmas (one of which was apparently inspired by me!)

So, to join in the conversation... Here's an anecdote to ponder:

I was once touched by a story I heard about Mother Teresa. Apparently, she was being interviewed by a radio program in the States. The announcer said they'd like to give her a gift, but didn't know what she'd like. She said something to the effect of:

"Yes, there is something I would like. I would like for you to get up at 4:00 a.m. Go downtown. Look around. Find a homeless person who is completely and utterly alone. And convince him that he is not.”

Who knows if the story is true or not, but it does leave us with much to think about.

And the interesting thing is that… you could do this at any time of year.

About 5 years ago I started to do volunteer work. I don’t always have a lot of time for it, but since I started, I’ve never quit.

I know that at this time of year, some agency directors actually get frustrated because they are positively inundated with calls from people wanting to come and help serve Christmas dinner. They say, “Why don’t these people come and volunteer in the bitter cold of February or when it's the middle of summer and our volunteer pools are down because people are on holidays? Don’t they know that people are homeless all year ’round?”

I hope I don’t sound like too much of a Scrooge if I say that I think sometimes the Christmas spirit is a bit like an infection… It festers and grows, and then you get it out of your system and next thing you know it’s gone. That sounds a bit harsh, I know... and I don't mean for it to be. I actually love the holiday season, but the fact "Christmas spirit" is just that... only around at Christmas... makes me sad.

They say, “Kindness counts for a lot”. There is, however, no time restriction put on that. We could choose to be kind to one another all the time… but we forget.

Sometimes when I go to the gym, the fellow who gives me my towel will say, “Happy Tuesday!” or “Happy Thursday!” In a way that says, “Isn’t it great to be alive today?! Let’s celebrate it.” I think maybe he’s on to something.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Snippits from Christmas party conversations…

snippit #1 – On running to relieve stress

Other guest 1 – Yeah, I run to relieve my stress.

Me – Oh, really?

Other guest 1 – Yeah… every other day or so… 7 or 8 km during the week and 18-20 km every weekend.

Me – 20 km? That’s, like, half a marathon! Every weekend?

Other guest 1 - It’s pretty much the only way I can keep myself sane.

Me – Wow.

snippit #2 – Awkward moment with a tipsy colleague

Other guest 2 (had a few too many drinks, I think…) – Sarah, you’re looking good these days. You’ve lost a lot of weight, haven’t you?

Me – Yes… some.

Other guest 2 – Well, you’re looking fabulous.

Me – Thank you.

Other guest 2 – No, really… I mean… You’re… like… wow… I mean… You’re just… adorable… I’ve always thought you were adorable, but I … wow… I … just can’t stop looking at you… I mean…

Me – [nervous laugh… surprised (because he’s so professional with me he’s almost cold and definitely hard to get to know) and also feeling embarrassed (because ... well... just because...) and mortified… (because his poor wife was within earshot and Attached Men are not my thing. Poor woman...) Finally said…] I … er… think I need a refill on my drink… excuse me…

snippit #3 – On making connections

Other guest 3 – Yeah, so my Dad’s learning Spanish.

Me – Oh yeah? Cool. Must be pretty easy, considering he’s Italian and all.

Other guest 3 – You’d think so, eh? But it’s the weirdest thing. He speaks Spanish with an English accent, not an Italian one. And he struggles with basic vocabulary words that are so similar to Italian it’s just… obvious. It’s like… he hasn’t figured out that he can transfer from Italian to Spanish… even though they’re so close…. Weird, eh?

Me – Yeah, kind of… You’d think he’d be able to make the connection.

Other guest 3 – You’d think so… but it’s like he’s never learned another Romance language at all… completely bizarre this inability to make the link.

Me – [Thinking of my own inability to make connections between things that seem obvious to others] – Well, he’ll probably get it eventually… The light bulb will just turn on one day, you know?

Other guest 3 – Sure hope so… It’s kinda freaky though…

All in all, a very good party indeed... even with a few interesting and unexpected moments, as any good party should have... and at least one awkward one, as most parties have, even though it would be nicer if they didn't.

And with that, I’m off to sleepy land. Another full day of holiday socializing tomorrow. I'm so happy/delighted/relieved to be able to go out, hang out and just visit with people. Been buried under work for far too long...

So glad the first draft of the paper is done!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Final paper is done!

Well, at least a draft of it is.

Considering that I promised myself that I wasn't going to the Christmas party that I have very much been looking forward to that starts... ooh... about now... until a draft was finished, I'm happy.

Needs to be proofread and tweaked, but nevertheless, it's done.

Off to par-TAY!

Epiphany #1 - Making the connection

You know those times when you're lying in bed on your way to being asleep and your mind is either wandering or working on a problem and suddenly there's this light bulb that goes off in your head? I had one of those moments last night.

I was mentally reviewing some new vocabulary I’d learned this week in my training session. I’ve told my trainer that he must explain the “how” and “why” of everything we do, including what muscle groups we’re working on.

I felt I needed to understand what we’re doing in order to “get it”. So, this week, we learned about the back, the chest, the shoulders and the back of the arms. I was mentally reviewing… “The latissimus dorsi… starts in the lower back and sweeps upwards… The pectoralis major goes across the front and attaches in the upper arm… The deltoids (anterior, posterior and middle) fit like a shoulder pad…”

Then Epiphany #1 happened.

“OH MY GOD! The deltoids! That’s where you make the V!”

When I was learning ballroom and Latin dance a few years back, they talk a lot about two things: “frame” and “connection”.

“Frame” is basically how you hold your upper body. You need to hold it in such a way that it makes it easy for your partner to lead or follow what you’re doing. Both men and women struggle to learn proper frame. “Connection” is based on push/pull principles and it is what you build in order to lead, follow and ultimately share the dance.

When you’re first learning to “have frame” as it is called, women are taught (among other things) to place their left hand on their partner’s upper arm and “find the V” with their thumb and forefinger. From there, you connect the rest of your hand to your partner’s arm and, providing your partner also “has frame”, then that is all you should need to be able to lead and follow.

Not sure what I mean? Try it with your own left hand on your right arm. You should be able to find a “V”. Naturally, some people have a more defined “V” than others, and typically, it’s relatively easy to find on most men, but not always so on women. (Many of us have weaker shoulders!) But nevertheless, I bet you can find your own “V”.

This “V”, as I discovered yesterday, is the deltoid muscle. The “V”-shape is created by the muscle tapering off at the bottom.

Why was this an epiphany? Because it was the first time I’d “made a connection” between what shoulders do in dance and what they do in a gym.

Sounds simple, I know… but some of us are slow!

The major point of wonder here is that I was able to transfer one concept or skill from one physical activity, and apply it to another! Without the "intellectual" connection of learning the muscle groups, I'm not sure I would have been able to figure it out. But they're all connected... these muscles... and physical activities. Imagine that!

By the way, here’s a cool website that is helping me to learn the names of the muscle groups:

Epiphany #2 – From “frame” to “form”

I was so thrilled with the realization that I made a “mental transfer” from the dance world to the gym world, I started thinking about it in more depth.

And another light bulb went off, resulting in... Epiphany #2.

In an earlier post, I talked about moving into the world of free weights and how I was struggling to learn the proper form for one or two basic exercises. Well, I continue to struggle… I do weight training three days a week, all of it on machines. When I’m done with machines, I grab a short broom stick and practice the form and movement for the flat bench press, and chase that with a meek attempt at practicing the form for the bent over row.

I’ve been practicing for a month... Over a month.... And I still haven’t quite gotten it. We’re getting closer, but … not quite there yet.

Last night, as I was thinking about dance frame, I realized there is a connection between this bench press thing I’ve been trying to learn, and basic dance frame.

When you’re a brand new baby ballroom dancer, one of the ways they teach you about frame is to teach you hold an “invisible beach ball” out is front of you. You “hug the beach ball”. Shoulder blades are together and down and ribs and the whole thing is supposed to be light and strong. (If it’s too strong, they’ll tell you that your beach ball is made of glass, and you mustn’t be too forceful, or you’ll break it.) Again, both men and women learn to “hug the beach ball”.

From there, you can move your arms up and down or side to side, as necessary, but “hugging the beach ball” is the basic starting position. I believe this is known as “first position” for arms in ballet (but I could be wrong...)

Men are typically taught to “create angles” with their bodies. Square this, or make a triangle out of that. Women are taught to “create curves”. Round this out, or soften that…

In the last training session, Chris kept talking about having everything at 90-degree angles.


Light bulb!

I found myself lying in bed, hugging an invisible beach ball, and drawing my arms down into 90-degree angles.

Ah ha!

This is just like having frame in dance, but I need to “move like a man”, not a woman!

My dance teacher of days long ago, David, spent all those lessons trying to get me to “move like a woman” and now in the gym Chris is trying to teach me to put everything into 90-degree angles. No wonder I didn’t get any of it. There is transfer – but I had to cross some wires (and constructed gender lines!) to do it.

As I was lying in bed, beaming silently to the ceiling, I thought “OF COURSE! What we call “frame” in dance is similar to “form” in the gym! I get it!! And … I can feel this frame… form… whatever. Of course I can feel it! How could I NOT feel this? It’s so… obvious!”

I stopped Chris today at the gym and asked him to check and see if what I thought was an epiphany actually was one (as opposed to a delusion). He seemed to think the form was better…. Maybe not perfect, but better.

I tried to explain to him how I made the connection, but he didn’t seem to really clue in. He understood that a light bulb had seemed to go off... but didn't seem to get why or how. I asked if he’d ever taken dance and the answer was as I expected… no. (I had guessed that… good trainer, though a bit of a jock, bless his heart.)

Anyway, as soon as I had it confirmed that I was not, in fact, insane, I rushed back to the office and phoned a. who not only goes to the gym now, but also has 12 years of ballet training, several years of ballroom, jazz, and African dance training behind her (so… much more of a dance background than I have.)

I explained the revelations to her and of course… she understood.

In fact… she giggled.

“What are you laughing at?” I demanded.

“Well… it’s just kind of funny… It’s all about… body movement. I mean… you’re just moving your body.”

I said, “Yeah, I know… but I didn’t make the connection before… you know… between the dance studio and the gym… Didn’t know how to connect the two… You know… gyms are full of jocks and dance studios are … well… usually not. They’re like two different worlds…”

a. said, “I know… and I’m glad you’re figuring out that you can transfer stuff from one place to the other.”

And indeed… it would appear to be so. Or perhaps I should say… I do believe… I feel it is so.

Woo hoo!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Deep water running

Some of you have commented on deep water running or fitness classes, so I thought I'd do a quickie post, since I went to my first deep water running class today.

Let me start by saying that it's nothing like land running.

Nothing at all.

But, it isn't quite as hideous as swimming.

Except that you have this flotation belt that you have to wear. And you tether yourself (yes.... tether... with a long elastic) to the buoy line.

And lemme tell ya… you have to get that flotation belt good and tight. I thought I had it on pretty well... but no...

Damn thing came sliding up... and the front of my bathing suit went sliding down (pulled downwards by all the floatation stuff pulling upwards in the back.)

Not good.

So, there was a lot of ... adjusting... going on all class. Those flotation thingys are hard to tighten when they're wet.

As for the actual moves, it wasn't bad... except that I wanted to actually run.

Despite not having done much in the way of distance, we can safely say that I'm in all out withdrawal at the moment... Not having run a step so far this month... (I can't believe it's me writing that! Good grief. Who is that at the keyboard and what have they done with Sarah?!)

Anyway, if you try to run normally in a pool, it doesn't really work out so well... The technique is different.

As it happens, this was the last class of the semester, so I'm not going to have a chance to practice again until January.

Anyway… I guess it’s back to “swimming like a rock”, as Z. puts it.

(BTW, thanks to CM for the tip on hair and swimming caps. Smearing conditioner all over your hair from roots to end before putting on the swimming cap totally worked. Good tip.)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Sucking it up... in the pool

OK, so most of my correcting is done and the entire class got an extension on that final paper. Whew! A bit of breathing room!

My new friend, The Physiotherapist, not only barred me from running, but from all lower body exercises. No running. No biking. No elliptical. No leg presses. No… nothing! (Except the exercises he prescribed for me, which I’ve been doing diligently, twice a day… though probably not doing them right, but whatever… been trying…)

He said, “You can go in the pool. That’s it!” And looked at me sternly in a way that said, “And if you do anything else, I’m gonna know… and you’ll know that I know… and that won’t be good.”

So, after a few days of being grumpy about it, and working through some fairly stressful confidence issues related to stuffing my lumpy body into a bathing suit, and being seen in public in one… tonight I headed over to the fitness centre for the open swimming time.

Ooooohhhh dear!

It was bad


Correction: It was sad… really and truly pitiable.

a. tells me that her heart rate shoots up when she swims. I am assuming that this is because she actually knows how to swim. Well… so do I… sort of.

Don’t get me wrong… I like the water. Love it, actually… Spent many of my growing up years in Halifax, living quite close to the harbour and have always found water peaceful and tranquil.

In fact, I could probably survive for days in it, if I had to.

But that doesn’t mean that I swim well.

I can do it… but it ain’t pretty. My heart rate didn't get anywhere close to today's target zone. Oh well! I did what I could....

I got out there for an hour today – yup, a solid hour – in the pool… and just sucked it up.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005


OK, so after the high of yesterday, knowing it was the last week of classes, I've now been buried in an AVALANCHE of work, including some new stuff that landed on me today... Of course, it's major and needs to be dealt with before Christmas break.

Oh yeah... and I had a physio appointment today for my knees. Yes... both of them.

Apparently, I won't be taking my stress out on the track any time soon.

Here's hoping I don't turn back to eating as a stress reliever. (God help me!) Whatever happens, don't let me do that, OK? I've worked too hard this semester to be healthy and balanced to give it all up now!!

I may be out of the blogosphere for a couple of days, as I crawl out from under this pile of work, but I'll be back again... as soon as I can!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Any ideas on how to stay warm?

So, I've been feeding my news addiction today...

(Yes, I should be focussing on my paper... and I'm still on a high that it's the last week of classes!)

I've just finished the last of my students' oral exams this afternoon! Yaay! Poor kids... they find it nerve-wracking... I just find it painful to listen to, mostly... but they gotta do it!

Anyway, look I found in Canada's national newspaper, the Globe and Mail:

Brutal winter ahead, climatologist predicts

So... that would be .... more brutal than any normal Canadian winter?!

(And by the way, the question in the title of this post was a bit rhetorical. We Canucks generally know how to stay warm in the winter!)

It's the last week of fall semester classes!

Woo hoo!

Zippity do dah!

One composition left to give to students.

One paper left to hand in (well, OK, write and then hand in -- and yes, it is the other one worth 50% of the final grade... ouch!)

But who cares?! We're almost there!


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Personal training seems to be catching on...

My friend Z. just had her first personal training session on Thursday. You can check out her post “Slave drivers aren’t all bad” for the details. It’s gut-splittingly funny, in my opinion. (Even if the gut that is splitting -- as in, mine - is all jiggly...)

Anyway, I must say, I’m very proud of her. She’s much fitter than I am and yet, she’s doing this to get motivated. Oh yeah… and she’s five months pregnant.

As I read her post, I realized that we seem a bit different in our needs. She hired a trainer to get motivated and seemed to start whining after the first minute of a warm up.

Me, I’m different. I told my trainer I’d be sort-of-kind-of-interested in running and when he said, “OK… why don’t we start with 25 laps around the track?”

I did them and almost threw up afterwards.

Someone later said that maybe he said that thinking that I wouldn’t actually do it and would quit after 5 or maybe 10 laps, and so perhaps he said to do more than any sane person might start with. After reading Z’s post, I can see why someone might think that.

I need someone to train me sensibly and NOT let me go overboard. I think Z’s the normal one and I’m just wacko.

Anyway, when I’m not at the verge of making myself vomit, I kind of stand/sit/lay there, look at my trainer show me something and say, "How the ^&%$ do you do that again?!" I try, mess it up, have to try again… and on it goes.

A classmate at school has also signed up for personal training… with my trainer! In class last week, we had group presentations and the group brought snacks. His plate was loaded up with chips and dip, and I had some veggies and hummus. I said with a wink, “I see you’re getting ready to start training soon.” He replied that he was enjoying himself as much as possible before he started training.

I just thought, “Indeed… I feel an ass whooping coming on!”

Anyway, Z., I’m very proud of you! Now all you have to do is buy a 10-pack of sessions with L. just to make sure you continue!

Personal trainer recommends chocolate milk

Had another personal training session on Friday.

Yes, I went back.

I wasn’t 100% sure about it, but when you buy a pack of 10 sessions, there is strong motivation to use them up!

Chris was a complete sweetie about it and we did exactly what I asked for in the session: reviewed my training log and spent time re-grouping, re-focusing and strategizing. He answered all my questions, including some I had on what to eat before and after I work out.

The recommendation for after the work out was: get something into your system as soon as possible, within a half an hour, if possible.

What to have? Get this: chocolate milk.

When he said that, I said, “What? Are you out of your mind? I can’t believe you’re a personal trainer and you’re telling me to drink chocolate milk!”

Chris responded, “Yup. That’s what I have. It has four things that you need after a work out: simple sugars, complex sugars, protein and fat.”

Though the idea of consuming fat directly after exercise doesn’t seem to make much sense to me, I took his word for it. After my work out, I stopped by the store and got some chocolate milk.

First time in ages I’ve had chocolate milk.

And it was divine.

I think I like this new training program already.

(Note to self: Because we had a strategy session this time and not an actual workout, I’m guessing that I’ll have to be prepared work like a demon next time…)

from "plodding" to "running" to... stop

A while ago I made a decision to change how I talk about running; that is... to stop saying "plodding" and call it "running".

This was not due to a change in pace. In fact, with the revised running program I had in November, my pace got slower, as I was targeting lower heart rate ranges.

It was a change in thinking.

I figured that if I changed the word, then I might start to think and act like a runner. I might even "feel" like one. (And wouldn't that impress the trainer, if I actually felt something?)

Well, sadly, I did start to feel something. My knee. At first, I don't think it registered. Then it registered and I kind of ignored it.

Then I figured that now's as good a time as any to try to start to pay attention to my body and what it tells me through signals of pain... So I did my best to tune in.

Three weeks later I was able to identify where exactly it hurt.

And I made an appointment with the doctor.

During our visit, I learned a new term: medial collateral ligament.

"Could you write that down for me?" I asked her.

She did. Then she left the office and came back with a model of a knee and showed me where this ligament is. The model was very cool and I "got it" immediately.

Turns out my "medial collateral ligament" (or "MCL", as it's shortened to by people who know what they're talking about) on both knees is injured.

So, I'm barred from running for the next little while. Must ice and use anti-inflammatory cream. And go to physio.

How did this happen? We're not sure. Is it bad? Not really... I'm sure there's much worse... There were days when climbing stairs was a bit nasty, but no days where I couldn't actually walk.

I've been told it is a good thing I was actually able to pay attention to my body and get treatment while it's still in the early stages. That made me feel good... Trying to be gentle with this body as a I learn to push it to its limits... which means... not that far at this point!

So for now... no more running for Sarah.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Fruitcake arrived!

Wow! I can't believe it!

I just walked by the front counter at work and there was this box... for me... from Yorkshire! The fruitcake arrived!

And not just fruitcake.... an ENTIRE fruitcase! (Geez, girl, hope there's some left for that family of yours!)

And there was Yorkshire tea, too! (That does sound interesting, I must say.)

Thank you soooooo much!

Our office assistant, Olga, just went to Tim Horton's for coffee (it's a Canadian thing... Tim Horton's coffee... ) when I saw the box, so we shared a slice when she got back.

Sorry... I just couldn't wait for Christmas. There's snow on the ground today and it's cold... so, it feels like Christmas!

We'll have to try the tea later.... (with another slice!)

OH - MY - GOD!

This is DI-vine!

People either love fruitcake or they hate it. I love it. (Probably because of my British blood?) But whatever... who cares...

I'm in ECSTASY (and not the kind that you buy off the street, either).

Good thing I just spent an hour on the bike at the gym. If I don't put this cake away, I'll have to spend an entire DAY over there... and I'm too busy for that! I had to get up at 6:00 a.m. just to make time to work out today... ughh!

Anyway... I'm thrilled... This is too cool... You meet people blogging and next thing you know, you're getting spoiled with goodies in the mail. (I'll have to see if I can find something appropriate to send over your way...)

This is my first off-line exchange with a blogger who wasn't someone I already knew. And I'm delighted. (Can you tell????)

People often ask me, "Who are all those people who leave comments on your blog?" Heaven knows, most of my "real time" friends and family don't leave comments (that is... unless they're bloggers, too!)

So, I usually respond, "Other bloggers."

Now I can say that sometimes, "other bloggers" are not just anonymous far away people who share comments.... but every now and then there's a special one who shares something from the heart.

Thanks again, ipodmomma! You rock!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Love and marriage (and babies and ...)

Over the past week I’ve done more socializing and had more contact with friends and family than I have for most of the semester. Felt great!

During the course of these interactions, there’s always good conversation to be had. The topic inevitably rolls around to relationships. I have been curious to see the number of different types of relationships people do – or do not – have. Here’s a sampling:

Case 1 – Had drinks with a fellow grad student after class one day last week. She told me that she had her husband have been happily married for five years. One of their ‘understandings’ is that a ‘physical indiscretion’ for either of them would not end their marriage. For them, it’s OK to share the occasional romp with someone else, providing there’s no emotions or love involved.

Case 2 – I have another friend who is celibate by choice. I recently found out that she hasn’t been on a date since 1993. – 1993!!! – She’s smart, funny, beautiful, worldly, socially charming… and has no interest in men (or women, for that matter.) She’s perfectly happy without a partner… or even a date.

Case 3 – Another friend, whose birthday is the day before mine, told me that his best gift this year was that his partner of 2.5 years (with whom he lives) finally ‘told the parents’.

Case 4 – A friend in her early 40s who’s been married twice, and now seems to enjoy the company of lovers over long-term partners, decided earlier this year that it was time for a baby. She is currently quite ‘pregnant by design’, having visited a fertility clinic. For her, not having a husband was no reason not to have a baby. (I admit, I thought about this too, but ultimately decided it wasn’t for me…at least not now.)

Then there’s me – I seem to routinely attract men who want to marry me. I’ve done this since my very first boyfriend in high school. All modesty aside, I’ve had more marriage proposals than I care to count.

And I was married. Once. To be honest, I’m not sure I have it in me again. I’m at the point now where I’ll say to a man (even one I care about sincerely), “If you say the ‘L-word’ or the ‘M-word’, I’m outta here.” (‘L’ being for ‘love’ and ‘M’ being for ‘marriage’ of course.)

So… Here are my questions… Would a ‘physical indiscretion’ end a relationship for you? Ever been celibate by choice? (This topic may get a post of its own soon…) How long would you wait for someone to tell their family about you? Would you ever have or adopt a baby without a partner? Is marriage your end goal to being in a relationship?

I’m interested to know what others have to say about this topic. As MCM would say, “Kettle’s on… Let’s chat about this one over tea….”

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Birthday fun

We took numerous pictures on Friday night, but most of them didn't turn out. (Hhhmmm.... considering Gabriel was taking the pics AND he was the only sober one, maybe we should have let him drink something after all?)

Anyway, here's one of Alia and me (while we were still standing).

Friday night was spent at home with Leah, Alia and Gabriel, with a surprise visit from Meike, the neighbour a few doors down. We ate, drank and then... drank some more. I had a nice bottle of good quality tequila to crack open and share...

Although I enjoy tequila, I don't actually indulge in it much. So for Alia and I to consume enough that we both ended up asleep (some would call it 'passed out', but we are calling it 'asleep') is ... unusual... at least these days. I figured, "Hey, I've been working my ass off these past few months. One night of drinking won't kill me..."

And indeed, it wasn't the drinking, but the hangover...


In our inebriated state, Alia and I promised we'd meet at the gym the next day to clear our heads. Gabriel, being the only sober one in the house, was our witness... and of course, was going to join us.

There was a moment on Saturday when I wasn't quite sure they'd make it, as I stood at the entrance of the gym wondering what the hell we'd been thinking!

But they showed up.

And we worked out.

As best we could anyway...

Remember how I was grumbling about a knee hurting? Yeah... well... now they both hurt when I run. Crap! (No comments about getting old, please!) Anyway, aspirin for the head and ice for the knees and all was well.

Saturday night was spent with another friend, having dinner and more drinks.... with ice pack on the knees, and a cat on my lap. It was delightfully relaxing... Since I drank, there was no driving involved and next thing I knew, there was a hot cup of coffee in front of me to start the day.

(I mean, heck, if you're going to celebrate, it might as well get stretched out over a few days, right?)

And today I had lunch with Leah, and then with dinner with Zoe, Lee and Judy, with phone calls from family and friends sprinkled throughout the day.

And so, it has been a weekend of total and utter indulgence.


I probably should have studied more this weekend... and done more chores... and gone to the grocery store...

But ... Oh well! Life goes on! And I have to say... this self-indulged break has been just what I needed. Now I am definitely motivated to get through these last two weeks of classes with full on energy!

Only two weeks left to the semester! Woo hoo!!!!!

Friday, November 25, 2005

New pet peeve #2 - "Surprise! I brought you a treat!"

The amount of unsolicited food that has shown up in my office over the past month is staggering.

The list includes (but is not limited to): chocolate bars, candy, a large gourmet box of chocolates, pastry, cinnamon buns and home-baked goodies.

The treats come from different sources, some of whom don’t even know each other -- mostly colleagues and friends.

I recognize that I am very, very lucky to be surrounded by people who think about me enough to want to treat me. Wow…

I appreciate and am truly grateful for your friendship, love and generosity. But lately I’ve been positively overwhelmed with little gifts of high-calorie food here and there. I try to share it around, but still… there’s just been too much lately.

Please… enough with the junk food already. Although it hasn’t come to it yet, I’m starting to feel that ‘unsolicited junk food’ may have to go the way of ‘unsolicited junk mail’… in the garbage. Not because I don’t appreciate it… but because I’m overwhelmed by it.

In fact, I’m going to go one step further and ask you for your help in my quest to have a healthier lifestyle. I know your intentions are good… and you think I’ve earned it, I can afford it now or you just want to share… But please… stop.

Instead of food, you can bring other stuff… an interesting or funny news article, for example. I’m a news junkie and lately, I just haven’t had the time to enjoy much news. A thought-provoking article would be a super treat!

So would a funny cartoon. Anything that makes me laugh (especially at this time of the semester) would be delightful.

Hell, just stopping by the office with a smile and a warm hello is a treat in and of itself. After all… it’s your friendship and support that is what I value most.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Time with the salsa king, David (aka 'Davey J')

This morning I spent the most delightful hour with my friend, mentor, student and teacher, David J.

David was my favorite dance teacher back in my salsa dancing days. In fact, David was hugely responsible for my learning to dance salsa at all. (I had trouble with the salsa beat, among many other things...)

Not surprising is that David is strongly artistically and musically inclined, and also has an intense interest in and affinity for, languages. Ultimately, we ended up having a bit of an exchange - dance lessons for Spanish lessons.

Naturally, these are inter-connected... Spanish language and salsa dancing... One wouldn't exist without the other, pretty much. So, it was a good match.

Now, I don't tend to do these types of exchanges very much because usually one person ends up feeling like they're giving more than they're getting, but somehow David and I were able to work things out fairly and we both ended up learning quite a bit.

We became hugely empathetic to each other as learners, as we saw one another both struggle and progress (often with those two activities being simultaneous) in our quest to learn the new activity.

I haven't seen David in a few years now, but when he called me to say that he's going to Mexico for an international salsa competition next month and asked if I would be interested in a few hours of professional exchange so he could brush up on his Spanish, I accepted immediately.

I reminded him that it is impossible to become fluent in a short period of time, but that we could definitely brush up his language skills.

We had our Spanish lesson this morning. I was impressed with how much he'd remembered and had learned on his own and with other teachers all this time. (We always had an open understanding that other teachers enrich one's learning, not detract from it.)

Like me, David is an armchair philosopher. We ended up talking about things we need and want to learn while we are in 'Earth school', as in "While I'm on earth, my quest is to learn..."

The interesting thing was... even though we haven't seen each other for a few years, what we need and want to learn as human beings still remains the same... we're just a little older now… and a little further down the path.

Anyway, it was a positively delightful hour and I was happy to catch up with a teacher... who became a student... who became a friend. Next Spanish lesson… next week… the day before the plane leaves for Mexico. Olé!

New pet peeve #1 - "How much weight have you lost?!"

So, I'll apologize in advance for this post, but I just have to...

I have two new pet peeves on related (and sensitive) issues. I'll write about them in separate posts. Today's post is about numbers. In short, I don't want to talk about them.

Most of you know that I've been diligently going to the gym for about six months now. It’s part of a lifestyle-change process that has been going on for much longer than that. It includes – but is by no means centered around – shedding excess weight.

My weight has swung wildly up and down over the years, usually tending towards the “up” side of the scale. My goal now is to get to a healthy size and stay there… over the long term.

Notice that this goal does not include a number on the scale.

The goal is actually much harder to define because it includes lifestyle choices, like getting regular exercise, eating properly, getting enough sleep, etc. Even though any of those can be quantified, it’s really all about the “quality” of one’s life. Or that’s my take on it, anyway.

I’m guessing that just about anyone who starts out heavy, and then incorporates regular exercise into their life will shed pounds. So, the fact that I’ve lost some weight is not surprising. I should, considering where I started at.

My new pet peeve is when otherwise well-meaning people feel compelled to ask about the numbers. For example, “You’re looking great. How much weight have you lost?”

Forget it.

I won’t discuss the numbers with most people (and especially not if you ask.)

In case you’re wondering why, here are the reasons:

  • I don’t want to obsess about the number on the scale. As I am learning, having a healthy body involves more than weight. At one point my trainer warned me that I might actually gain weight due to increased muscle mass. That hasn’t happened (yet!) but hopefully, if it ever does, I’ll be at a point where it won’t freak me out.
  • In my experience, a discussion centred around numbers will often lead to comparisons. I don’t want to compare myself to anyone else, and I won’t facilitate others’ comparison of themselves to me in this regard, either. Every body is different. (And yes, I wrote "every body" as two words for a reason.)

This “obsession with not being obsessed” by numbers is relatively new for me… But it is a conscious choice on my part to be discreet about it.

Don’t worry, I know exactly what the numbers are. I weigh myself twice a week.... But probably not for the reason that you think.

I know what is a reasonable about of weight to lose in a week and I get on the scale mid-week to see how I’m doing. Sometimes I’ve lost too much weight by mid-week I have to actually increase my calories so I don’t lose too much too fast. (I’ve done this in the past too…) It’s part of the process to stop the wild yo-yo effect. I try to keep the process balanced... and consistent.

This is a huge learning curve for me… learning what, when, how much and how often to eat… balance it with exercise, getting enough sleep, and making sure I incorporate some fun into most (if not every!) day. Oh yeah... and be a full-time student and work while I'm at it.... It’s not a perfect process, but rather ... a life’s work.

So about my new pet peeve….

You would never say to someone, “You’re looking horrible. How much weight have you gained?”

That question is not socially acceptable, so why should the reverse question be?

If you feel the need to say something, then a simple positive or encouraging comment – without a follow up question -- would be delightful. But even that’s not necessary. :-)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Fun with anagrams

Someone just sent me one of those funny Power Point Presentations.

I'll spare you the details, but there was one gem in there that I just had to share:


spelled backwards:


Now how's that for quirky?!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Beer with the boys


After class tonight, Steamer, Gary and I made our weekly pilgrimage over to the Grad Lounge, where we typically enjoy a beverage and break bread together after our philosophy class.

The two of them tower over me and I’m sure we’re quite the sight trooping across campus together, but who cares? None of us certainly do!

Sometimes others join us and once, I bowed out to focus writing on that paper that was worth 50% of my grade in the other course, but generally, it’s the three of us hanging out after class.

We debrief on the class, toss around some ideas, talk about our papers… We enjoy this “student” time. None of us lead typical “student” lives, so these moments when we can kick back and exchange ideas in a relaxed way are precious.

We are all first-year doctoral students and tonight we realized that we are in the home stretch of this first fall semester. There is a light that we can faintly see at the end of the tunnel and boy, does it look good!

Oh yeah, baby! Almost there...

Revelation (or... How Spanish class is like going to the gym...)

So, I've just had a meeting with a student. He's a good kid; comes to class every single day with his homework done, asks intelligent questions and pays attention, participates in class activities and is both respectful and polite.

This is a smart kid and a good student.

And he's doing horribly.

His marks just keep going down. A few times in class he's indicated that he just doesn't get certain concepts and will turn to a classmate for help.

I've been teaching long enough to know that this could either mean that I am not explaining things effectively or that he'll simply understand it better if it's explained by a peer, rather than someone "above" him.

When this happens, I usually do a quick survey of the class and if everyone else seems to get it, I let G. ask the fellow next to him and then check up on him later, while the students are involved in an activity and I can circulate around and answer questions.

Today G. came up to me after class and asked for help.

On his last test I wrote something to the effect of, “You can do this! Come and see me and we’ll go over this together.” But I heard nothing... until today.

It happened that I had nothing specifically scheduled after class (except my own work), so we spent an hour going over his previous tests, reviewing his mistakes and talking about study strategies. He explained to me that not only does he do all his homework, but he also has a tutor now, who helps him twice a week.

He told me that his entire apartment is covered in Post-it notes filled with verb conjugations. He even went into his wallet and pulled out a sample of one that he carries with him to study. He told me that Spanish takes more of his time than the rest of his courses combined and he’s frustrated because he’s not seeing results.

He’s also never taken a language before (except once, in grade eight, when it was mandatory) and he loves math… says he’s getting straight A’s in calculus, which impressed me all to hell, being someone who stinks at math herself.

And he was quite open about the fact that his confidence in this course has plummeted. He’s at his wit’s end and doesn’t know what to do… but he really doesn’t want to drop the course at this point in the semester.

He comes across as a bright, strong, confident young man with a good head on his shoulders. Through the conversation it came out that not only does he have a full course load, he also works part time and this is his first semester living away from his family and on his own. In addition to school life, he’s learning to cook and manage how to live on his own. All kinds of changes for this kid at this point in his young life!

It dawned on me that there are some parallels between young G. and me… struggling to learn something new…. Overcome negative perceptions from previous mandatory classes in a subject… diligence and determination that are diminished by low self-confidence and escalating frustration levels. Hhhmm… sounded a lot like me with exercise!

So, I said, “Do you feel like you’re getting to the point where you’re so frustrated you want to just walk away?”

G - “Oh yeah!”

Me - “And like everything you do is wrong and you don’t know how to get it right?”

G - “Yup! I mean… I come to class. I study. I conjugate. I do all my homework. … And I bomb on the tests. I put in so much time … and you’d never know it… My test results are crappy.”

Me – “Mmm…. Yeah… I understand.” (And I did, really I did – just in the context of exercise, not Spanish!) So I said, “If it makes you feel any better, I can see that you’re working hard. I've been at this long enough that it is obvious to me when someone works hard or just doesn't give a damn. You're definitely putting in the effort... Let’s see if we can make sense of this for you…”

We met for over an hour, going over his tests in detail. We also talked a little bit about study strategies and what kind of learner he might be. Ultimately, I recommended that he clean up his apartment, taking down all the sticky notes, instead organizing his notes into clear, systematic and ordered charts, tables and lists. We figured out that he likes it when things are organized and orderly and when there is a clear system or formula to follow. So, I said, “OK, let’s just take that and apply it to Spanish. You need to find a way for this to make sense to you personally and if order and organization is what you like, then use that.”

By the end of the meeting, G. left armed with some new study strategies and seemed to feel a bit better. His confidence is still low, but at least he knows that his teacher has no intention of letting an otherwise good student slip through the cracks. We have an agreement that he can come by for help whether it is official office hours or not.

After the meeting, I spent time going through my stash of workbooks photocopying extra practice activities for him… stuff other students got weeks ago, and he still needs to grasp it. The main difference between him with his Spanish and me with my exercise is that he’s got a final exam to write in three weeks’ time. Ouch!

I told him that he'd put in a lot of time already today and to take tonight off from studying Spanish... that his verbs would still be there in the morning. He liked that idea and left with a smile.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

More thoughts on exercise (Part two)

A friend of mine is having money troubles. (I know, I know, you're thinking, "What does this have to do with exercise?" Well, just work with me here for a minute...)

I told him that I know of very few people who haven’t had money troubles, at some point in their lives, so he’s not alone. I told him I’d been there myself. And then... about five years ago, I started on a journey to learn about money – how to manage it, how to save it and invest it and how to “make friends with it”. We never had much money growing up, so this was a new thing for me.

Me being me, I started to read everything I could get my hands on. And… me being me… I didn’t understand most of the books with a strong focus on numbers and math. (Go figure… money… math!)

But there were two books that totally spoke to me. One was Robert Kiyosaki’s,
Rich Dad, Poor Dad. The other was Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicky Robin. Both of these books talked about aligning your values as a human being with money, challenging the reader to re-think old beliefs and develop new ways of thinking. I’d recommend either of those books to anyone interested in learning about how to manage their money better.

I learned to be happy with my choices because I learned to line up my values as a human being with how I made, saved and spent my money. It took a few years and I had to completely “re-wire” my brain in the process, but I got there.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m hardly rolling in it. I’m a student and I live lean. That’s a choice I made when I decided to go back to school. The difference is that now I see it as a choice, rather than a hardship. Hence, I’m quite OK with “living lean”.

It occurred to me that I have not been able to align exercise with my values yet. I have only ever seen exercise as a means to lose weight. Now, I’m trying desperately not to focus on the number on the scale and to see exercise as something else.

But what?

Health? Balance? What do those mean, really?

I know that in the big scheme of things, I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a relatively normal, healthy body that can perform most movements (however awkwardly) and while it is far (very far indeed!) from being perfect, it generally works well.

But in talking to my friend with money woes it occurred to me that the only long-term way to change our relationship to anything requires replacing old ways of thinking with new ways of thinking. You challenge what you’ve always thought and done and create new ways of thinking, living …essentially... a new way of being.

Part of the process is asking, “What’s important to me?... And why is it important?”

There are no right answers, but there are answers.

I’ve just had a light bulb go off in my head this week… I need to figure out what it is about exercise and fitness that is important to me… and why. (If I don't, I'm sure I will throw in the towel soon!)

I’m not there yet… but watch this space for developments!

Feel free to share your comments, by the way. Hearing what others think helps the reflection process greatly, so feedback is most welcome.

Friday, November 18, 2005

More thoughts on exercise (Part one)

I have been doing a good deal of soul-searching this week about what being healthy (and fit) means to me… I don’t have any definitive answers. And you may have to indulge me with a few more postings as I work this out in my head…

Here’s Part One – Reflections on childhood and youth experiences with exercise…

  • I always hated gym class… mostly because it was my weakest subject (no pun intended). Like most people, I typically gravitate towards what I’m good at. I was never good at sports and so naturally, I stayed away from them.
  • In those obligatory annual fitness tests in school, I usually came in dead last in everything – making me hate gym class (and fitness tests) even more. I dropped gym class from my schedule the first chance I got.

In high school I did some long distance running… I decided I wanted to run a marathon. I mustered up the courage to go talk to the track coach about it, he just looked at me and said, “I don’t think that’s a very good idea.” And he refused to have any part of it.

So, I asked my English teacher (also a long distance runner) instead. She gave me some tips and then I just went and ran my little heart out… blindly. Most of the time, I had no freaking idea what I was doing and it's a wonder to God that I didn't seriously hurt myself.

After the marathon the English teacher, Coach and I curiously ended up in the same hallway at the same time one day after school. Mrs. Williams said, “The marathon was on the weekend. I saw Sarah there. She did O.K.”

Well... she lied a little bit. I was the second last person to finish the race. The guy behind me was howling at the paramedics, “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!” Knowing he’d be disqualified if he was assisted. Me, I was just slow.

My time was about 4:44, I think. I’d have to look it up to be exact. Anyway, the course closed at 5 hours, so I was cutting it close. That was almost 20 years ago and it was a small marathon in Halifax. There weren’t as many people running or walking marathons then and it wasn’t so unusual for a course to close after 5 hours back then… Supposedly, you didn’t even think of doing a marathon unless you were a “real” runner.

Anyway, Coach’s reaction in the hallway was, “Didn’t think you’d do it, kid. You’ve got pluck. I’ll give ya that.” And he walked away.

So, when I look back at these experiences with exercise as a young person, I can see that there’s not a lot of positives to look back on.

No wonder I was happier with my nose in the books!

Now, in my 30’s, I’m trying to create a balanced, healthy life (and lifestyle), that includes regular exercise. I realize that I am still very much affected by these early gym class experiences.

I am consciously trying to create a life that balances mind, body, soul, emotions and whatever else one can balance. My question is… How do I balance those early negative experiences with current good experiences so I can maintain this over the long term??

The irony of all this, of course, is that as I'm thinking about this, I realize that I am of course... thinking (inside my head again!) Mind you, at least I'm trying to think while maintaining good posture...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

One of those "get to know you" e-mails...

I just got this for the ump-teenth time on e-mail. I rarely fill them out, but because this one came from Ana, I'll do it... Here goes....

1. First name? Sarah

2. Were you named after anyone? Middle name (Elaine), after my cousin.

3. Do you wish on stars? Not really…

4. When did you last cry? Last week (and I hated every second of it!)

5. Do you like your handwriting? Not really…

6. Chocolate or vanilla? Usually chocolate, but a really good quality vanilla is hard to resist

7. What is your birth date? As IF I’m going to share that here! (I'll give you a hint though... my birthday is coming up!)

8. What is your most embarrassing CD? Depends who you ask… I’m not embarrassed by any of them. :-)

9. If you were another person, would YOU be friends with you? Oh yeah, baby!

10. Do you have a journal? This blog.

11. Do you use sarcasm a lot? Often enough.

12. What is your nickname? Depends who you ask.

13. Would you bungee jump? Not a chance.

14. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off? Always.

15. Do you think you are strong? Yes.

16. What is your favourite ice cream flavour? Hazelnut gelato.

17. What is your least favourite thing about yourself? Don’t get me started!

18. Who do you miss most? Mum.

19. Do you want everyone you send this to, to send it back? Considering that I’m not sending it out, it’s a bit of a moot point, isn’t it?

20. Sleeping arrangements? In a bed, usually…

21. What colour pants and shoes are you wearing? Dark blue jeans, burgundy boots.

22. What are you listening to right now? The sounds of the class going on down the hall.

23. Last thing you ate? One of my housemate’s cookies.

24. If you were a crayon, what colour would you be? Dunno really… It’d be hard to choose! There are so many nice colours… but probably periwinkle.

25. What is the weather like right now? Cold.

26. Last person you talked to on the phone? Dave.

27. Do you like the person who sent this to you? For sure!

28. Favourite Drink? Tequila

29. Favourite Sport? --Me? Sports? Have you not been following this blog? I do like Latin dance though...

30. Hair Colour? Brown (with grey - ack!)

31. Eye Colour? Brown(ish) - lots of green(ish) in there, too, though.

32. Do you wear contacts? Nope, thanks to laser eye surgery.

33. Favourite Food? Again - don’t get me started! There’s not much I don’t like.

34. Favourite Day Of The Year? How about -- today! (We shouldn't really discriminate now, should we?... I am thinking of that Great Big Sea song, "Just an ordinary day."... Way, hey, hey!)

35. Scary Movies Or Happy Endings? Neither – I prefer movies that make me think – or laugh – or both.

36. Summer or Winter? Summer

37. Hugs or Kisses? Both (Duh!)

38. What Is your Favourite Dessert? Lemon meringue pie.

39. Who Is Most Likely To Respond? Moot point (though if anyone wanted to pick it up and post it on their own blog, that’d be cool… and I was inspired by someone else’s blog to post this… Was it Mollie?)

40. Who Is Least Likely To Respond? Moot point again!

41. Living Arrangements? With a house mate and 2 cats.

42. What Books Are You Reading right now? I have about 5 on the go… all for school, except one on running.

43. What's On Your Mouse Pad? My mouse.

44. What Did You Watch Last night on TV? CSI Miami.

45. Favourite Smells? certain colognes, toast, popcorn.

46. Favourite Sounds? Laughter... with Latin music coming in a close second.

47. Rolling Stones or Beatles? Depends how I’m feeling... but usually the Beatles.

48. What's the furthest you've been from home? Which is further away from Calgary – Switzerland or Venezuela?

49. Do you have a special talent? Lots! But if I had to pick just one… I’m a damned fine cook... not much time for it these days though...

50. What is your cell ring tone? ‘Clocks’ by Coldplay (which I'm sure will thrill "CM" to bits...)

OK, now it' s your turn....

Monday, November 14, 2005

What's your learning style?

The last post got me thinking about learning styles. Having been a teacher for more than 12 years, I have done various workshops on learning styles. The first step is always to figure out what kind of learner you are, and then to have a look at what you’re not. The end goal, of course, is to try to figure out way to reach those students whose learning styles don’t mesh with yours, and to try to incorporate a variety of teaching styles into your methods.

I’ve always been aware that one of my weaknesses as a teacher is appealing to the kinesthetic/tactile learners in my classes. I have to make a conscious effort to include activities that will help them learn best… and it is always a challenge!

Anyway, for your own enjoyment, here are a few sites complete with learning style tests, so you can figure out your own learning style preferences (if you don’t already know them!)

I tested all these sites just to see what the differences were. They all seemed reasonable. - This site wants your name and e-mail addy. I just put in bogus info and it still gave me the results. - same as above, except that they’ll also ask you for a password. Just enter whatever and then click to see your results. (I was almost off-the-scale verbal on that one! Interesting!)

Here’s another one here: and this page has the learning styles test:


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Struggles with exercise... (not "feeling" the moves...)

So, if you've been following this blog, you know that I started trying to get some regular exercise, starting about the time I knew I'd be going back to school in the fall. I struggled with feeling completely overwhelmed and intimidated about even going into the gym and it constantly felt like I was taking one step forward and two steps backward.

I hired a trainer, who showed me some machines, stretches and designed a program I could work through.

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that the last training session left me a little frustrated. That was an understatement, actually.

That last session has been playing on my mind ever since it happened last Tuesday. There's something that I can't put my finger on, but I'm very close to throwing in the towel, so to speak, and just saying, "Screw it! I'm quite happy living in my head. To hell with trying to have a fit body, too!"

The problem arose when we were going through the workout and I was attempting to do the one free weight exercise I'd been shown.

I don't do it right.

Worse yet... I don't know what is "right" (as in, correct form or position) and what is not. I struggled with it. Chris struggled to get me to understand. And it didn't work.

He asked something to the effect of, "Can't you feel whether it's right or not?" ("It" being either the weight or my body or both.)

In any case, the answer was, "Er... no!"

I made the mistake of telling him that I simply try to mimic what I see and memorize what's written down on my sheets of notes. The thought of trying to "feel" anything never really crossed my mind before.

My trainer seemed flabbergasted. He took it for granted that I "felt" when things were either "right" or "wrong". I took it for granted that I memorized my sheets of notes and perhaps "heard" (as in, replayed in my head) the verbal tips he'd given me for corrections in our sessions. We simply took different things for granted and realized that we had completely different understandings of "training".

I asked, "What's wrong with just memorizing what is written down on my sheets?"

He didn't really seem to know what to say, other than, "That's not where I want to go with this. You should feel it." He did say that was something that came so naturally to him that it was hard for him to understand that it wasn't that way for me... kind of looking at me in a way that said, "How can you not get this?"

Those words were never said... but...

I felt about two inches tall. I felt like saying, "I'm not stupid, you know!" But I didn't... I did, however, "feel" embarrassed... even ashamed. I suddenly felt as if I'd let out some deep, dark secret... that I didn't even know was something bad!

Don't get me wrong... Chris is very professional and is a good trainer. I am quite sure he had no bad intentions. He just seemed genuinely puzzled.

This has been playing on my mind a good deal. I have come to the following conclusions:

1) I always knew that my "learning preferences" or "learning styles" were primarily visual and then auditory. I prefer to gather information by reading, then by hearing it. (This is probably one of the reasons I like having my iPod with me when I exercise... the auditory input of the music helps me to focus and enjoy the activity more...) Kinesthetic learning is not something that comes easily to me. I simply do not process kinesthetic information very well -- and apparently, I'm worse at it than I thought!

2) I really have no idea what it means to "feel" whether I'm doing an exercise right or wrong. (Do any of you? Am I really a freak?!)

3) I am completely frustrated and I feel even more incompetent now than when I started training. No one told me about this part of "training"! I thought training was just that -- training -- as in, train the muscles to do certain things. No one said anything about "feeling" it. I don't get that -- and I feel nauseatingly stupid that I don't get it.

The fact that I have a new throbbing pain in my left knee has got me thinking that this "feeling" in my knee might be a sign from above that maybe getting fit is not for me after all...