Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Blog break

It has been a long semester. Two deaths in the family this year (albeit people far away from me) and one diagnosis of re-curring cancer have nevertheless taken their toll. My course this semester just about did me in. (In fact, it still may...) My knee is better, but my spirit feels broken.

I need a break from blogging, but I didn't want to just disappear, so I thought I'd put up a post letting you know that you may not see me around for a while.

In case I haven't mentioned it lately, I'm grateful for the new "blogger buddies" this medium has allowed me to connect with. Wonderful, inspirational people you are!

For my friends and family who check in (and never leave comments - you lurkers! ;-), I'll try to call over the holidays.

Happy holidays to you and yours. Peace and joy for 2007.

- Sarah

Friday, December 15, 2006

Just past meltdown

I'm marginally past the meltdown point, it seems. It's funny how these things take time to pass when really, you just want it to be over.

The final exam for the course I'm teaching happened this week. Now I just have to correct them and submit the final grades. There were a few issues with students, but they sorted themselves out. In one case, a student went to see the Department Head. He, bless his tough little heart, thought the student was a lunatic and sided with me 100%. There are times when I truly appreciate my superiors. That was one of them.

Speaking of which, my Ph.D. supervisor has also been a fountain of support for me this week. We met on Thursday and I handed in the outline for my thesis proposal that was due. When I got to his office, there were two small cups set out with a bottle of my favorite beverage on the table (a gift from a visiting Mexican professor, which my supervisor felt it was appropriate to crack open, given my meltdown.) I sat there thinking, "I am truly lucky. At this particular moment, I do believe I have the coolest supervisor on campus."

We had a good meeting. He told me not to worry and that whatever happens, we'll deal with it. But still... not to worry.

I will not rest until I know if I have passed the Stats class. At this point though, there's not much I can do about it, so I try to think of other things.

I actually got a few Christmas cards written and presents bought this week, which felt great, too. Most of the cards are off in the mail, though the parcels may be a bit late. Oh well... They'll get there eventually.

What has been keeping me more or less sane is getting regular activity. Running three times a week and doing weights on the off days has kept me from going completely over the edge. I am happy to report that my knees are happy and I'm adding a few minutes of time each week to my runs.

Last Saturday I got outside for the first time in a few weeks. I did a total of 6.5 km. I know that for some of you ultra runners, that is a mere warm-up, but for me, it's pretty much a personal record (well, except for the running I did in high school, but that was 20 years ago - literally!) I'm so very glad to be back running. It has been my salvation and my sanity. God bless my chiropractor!

All in all, I'm still fairly overwhelmed, but in general, life is better this week. Amen to that.

Friday, December 08, 2006


Hey folks, sorry I've been away from Blogland for a while. I had sort of a meltdown this week.

The Stats course nearly got the better of me. It came to the final paper and I thought, " I can't. I just... can't. I don't have it in me. I don't know what I'm doing. I'm going to fail..."

Asked for an extension. Didn't get it.

And the meltdown began.

I was going to withdraw from the course. Take it next semester again. (Next semester is the last semester I am allowed to take classes, according to my program's timeline. And this is a required course for me.) All sections of Stats for next semester are full.

I thought about my options:

  1. Withdraw from both the course and the Ph.D. program.
  2. Try to pass Stats.
  3. Avoid failure and shame by ending my life.
The last of these options was considered at length and ultimately discarded, leaving the other two.

I consulted with my Ph.D. supervisor who basically forbid me to withdraw from the course. "Do the paper... You'll likely end up more or less intact."

I thought about withdrawing the whole time I was writing the paper, trying to turn the endless internal recording of "I'm too stupid for this!" to happier, positive thoughts.

Didn't really work. But I tried anyway.

After 3 nights of not sleeping and not being able to turn my brain off all night (punctuated only by tears, and waking up crying after I did get to sleep), last night I downed four shots of tequila and finally got some sleep.

Oh yeah, and it just makes matters so much better when people you know look at you and say, "Gosh, you look like hell!"

Thanks. Now, bugger off!

The time limit to withdraw from courses was today at 4:00 p.m. I e-mailed my paper (31 pages) to the prof at 3:55, a few minutes before the deadline to hand that in, too.

So, the paper is in. I am not hopeful about passing.

But at least it is out of my hands.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hello, goodbye ... and life in between

Life is moving at lightening pace around here.

Gord moved in on Thursday. I've seen him twice since he moved in... and only to pass by to say hello and wave. I've dubbed him the "Stealth Roommate". I come in. I see boots at the door and a closed bedroom door. I get up in the morning. I see a bedroom door that is slightly ajar and no boots at the door. Nary a sound or sight in between.

Today, Leah told me she's moving out at the end of the month. She knows I'm thinking of selling and became pro-active in finding a new home. So, it'll be hello to one new (temporary) roommate this month, and good-bye to another.

So in the meantime, the house is a bit chaotic, but we'll survive. I will continue with my own downsizing and sprucing up of the place once school is over for the semester. Can't wait to get rid of more stuff! (Hey, I was serious when I said that all I wanted for Christmas was my two front teeth! Really, don't need more than that...)

The next two weeks are Hell on Wheels. I have oral exams to give, compositions and projects to mark, a test to give on Wednesday and the final exam to give the following Tuesday. I so wish Those in Power wouldn't require us to do so much correcting at the end of the semester. I hate correcting. Most teachers hate correcting... Uggghhh...

If I take off my teacher hat and put on my student hat, the next two weeks are still Hell on Wheels... My final paper for my Statistics course, and another smaller assignment are also due in the next ten days. I believe I will pass the course, but I am not hopeful about getting a good mark. Sometimes, passing is the best you can do.

And coming from a Type-A, goal-driven, pathological perfectionist, that should tell you how desperately I have struggled with this course over these past four months. One word: gruelling.

I just keep telling myself, "This is your last course EVER. Just get through it... Last course EVER!"

A week after I've handed in my final paper for the class, I have to submit my thesis proposal outline so my committee can read it over the holidays. (Yeah, like they have nothing better to do...!) Anyway... that is the idea.

On a happy note, my thesis committee is officially "signed on". The paperwork is done and so, that's one less hoop to jump through. One of my committee members is someone I regularly see at the gym. At this time of the semester, neither of us likes to miss our work outs as they function mostly as stress relief, more than anything else. (But he's much smarter than me. He doesn't try to stand on squishy balls. No wonder I admire him...)

Another happy note... Three (count 'em: 1, 2, 3!) successful 30-minute runs last week! Yaayy! Now if it would just warm up a wee bit, I'd get outside with my handy dandy Garmin and get some REAL statistics!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth

Part of my lower body training days involve standing on a physio ball. The one I use is pretty big: 65cm in diameter (don't ask me what that is in inches. My brain can't convert it.)

After taking a few weeks to actually learn how the devil to stand on the thing, my objective was to get up on the ball, stand up straight, and then slowly lower myself down and get off the ball. Five times.

So far, I've been doing OK with this.

Until today.

Before I go any further in this story, let me just say that when A. heard I was standing on a big ball as part of my program she made a funny face and said, "That's nuts! My trainer won't LET me stand on a ball. There's a guy in our gym who does it... and does squats on the ball... I kneel on the ball, but no standing. She says it's just too risky. If you fall, you totally wipe out. "

Today, I proved that to be the case, as I nearly undid thousands of dollars of dental work when I got up on the ball, only to have it lurch out from under me, as I landed on my face, with arms and legs splayed in all directions.

Imagine a cat on its belly, with limbs outstretched, sliding wildly down a hill of ice, yowling.

If you can get that picture in your head, you may have a pretty good idea of what I looked like.

I was Not Entirely Happy, as the ball in question (IMHO) felt a bit flat, but it was better than the other one of the same size, which felt even squisher. So, I took the Lesser of Two Evils and proceeded to try my "Ball Get Ups", as my trainer calls them.

Did I mention that at the precise moment I landed on my face, an absolutely stunning specimen of a male human form running on the track just happened to cross my path? Of course, he saw the entire wipe out.

Naturally, I would have to go "SPLAT!" right in front of a G.Q. cover candidate. I hadn't even noticed him until I saw him glide by, demonstrating a gracefulness that was galaxies removed from my world at that particular moment.

Mind you, I later decided that while he may have been nearly an Adonis, he was most certainly Not A Gentleman. A Gentleman would have, at the very least, hollered from the track to see if I was OK.

That all happened on my fourth Ball Get Up. I have to do five.

So of course, I got up and dusted myself off, checking my neck and head. (Thank God I see the chiropractor tomorrow...) Then, I proceeded to do the last one.

On the last one, I always try to stand on the ball as long as I can before I get down. I'm lucky if I get 30 seconds on it. Nevertheless, the goal is always to have a nice, smooth dismount, which I managed for that last one, at least.

It happened that Mr. G.Q. made another lap around the track one more time as I was busy standing on the ball. That time, he looked at me as if to say, "What the hell kind of freak are you, anyway?" (Definitely Not a Gentleman!)

I think I should make a point to "Live Close To the Earth" for the remainder of this year's training season, or I may not have my two front teeth for Christmas after all. (Mind you, you don't necessarily need teeth to run, do you?)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Today I ran

I’ve been holding back blogging about the walk/run program. In fact, I’ve been holding back even talking about it, unless someone asks about it directly. After re-injuring twice, and being told by the physiotherapist (whom I later fired) that I would likely not run again, I was scared.

Terrified, actually.

So, for the most part I just tried to keep my terror to myself, occasionally sharing bits with the chiropractor, the trainer or a select few people who would ask me how things were progressing.

It's time for an update. A big one!

Today I ran. 30 minutes, without stopping. I warmed up for 15-minutes by walking and cooled down with another 5 minute walk.

But the important part is the middle bit.

I ran.

It’s been a year and 17 days since I first noted in my training log that my knee hurt. Not that I’m counting. Well, I was, actually… to the extent that A. rolled her eyes at me and said, “Now, Sarah, you wouldn’t want to obsess about keeping track of things, would you?”

What? Who? Me? Never!

That conversation happened a few weeks back when she was asking how things were going. “Good,” I said. “With any luck, three weeks from Monday, I’ll do a full 30-minute run.”

I could see the wheels turning in her head and then she looked at me and said, “That’s your birthday!”

“Yup,” I said.

“Did you plan it that way?” She said with that half-chiding, half-twinkly look in her eye that only a good friend can give you.

“No,” I replied, honestly. “I set up the training program, decreasing the walking by 30 seconds and replacing it with 30 seconds of running every week. Had it checked by the chiropractor and the trainer, both of whom said it looked OK. It just happened that the first full 30-minute run would fall on my birthday. So no… I did not plan it that way… But I did take it as a sign,” I said, returning the twinkly look.

It’s hideously cold here today… about -25 Celcius (which is about -11 F, I think?), so I was inside. I warmed up on the indoor track and then did the run and cool down on the treadmill, so I don’t really know how far I went, to be honest. (I’ve figured out that the machines at the gym are not always reliable for the info they give, so I try not to pay much attention.) I’ll post real stats once it warms up again and I get outside with my Garmin.

What I can say for certain was that it was a full 30-minute run. And I felt fantastic!

It was not a perfect run. The plantar fasciitis threatens to come back. I spend a good deal of time every day stretching and icing my right heel. The knee is not 100%, but I have accepted that it may always be a Slightly Grumpy Knee. I’ve learned to work with it, and the pain, if it comes, is only minimal… and it seems to come and go. I’ve noticed that if I focus on my posture and alignment, it seems to lessen, so I spend most of my time trying to listen to my body, make adjustments along the way and gently nudge it forward.

I am trying not to get too excited about this. I know that there are no guarantees… Injury could happen again at any time. And the validity of an experiment is in its repeatability. So, I have two other 30 minute runs scheduled this week. Let’s see if we can get the same (or better!) results more than once. If I can do it, I'm a going to have a lot of people to thank for helping me get there and sticking by me, but that's a post for another day.

On this day when I turn 36 years old and am officially now closer to 40 than 30 (sigh), I take heart in the fact that while I may not have a young, buff body, I'm in better shape and healthier than I've ever been. And today, I am a runner.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Heathen girl hits gym (uhhh... that would be me)

There I was in the gym today, doing my workout... 45 minutes of cardio, followed by an upper body workout.

It was later in the day than I usually work out and I found myself a bit tuckered out, with a tummy rumbling because it was supper time, not exercise time.

I climbed up onto the assisted pull up machine for my last set, psyching myself up because I was seriously bonking... low blood sugar levels and the whole bit.

"You are GOING to do this!" said my Inside Voice, as I hoisted myself up.

One. Two. Three. Four.


There it was. My first (and I do mean first EVER) audible (make that, really loud) gym grunt. Well, to be fair, it was more like a cross between a grunt and a gasp.

I couldn't believe the sound that escaped my mouth. I even heard it over my iPod, which was blasting Eminem so loud I couldn't hear anything else... except my screeching grunt.

I think I was more surprised than anything. It was completely involuntary... I daresay I've never made a sound anything like that before in my entire life.

Well, at least.... not in public! (Details are not going to follow. Use your imagination if you must.)

I looked around to see if anyone was staring. They weren't. Or at least, they were keeping their eyes averted and muttering discreetly amongst themselves.

But they must have heard it. Gawd! It was brutal. Raw. Primal. Like some kind of animal.

I have a British background you know. I was raised to be stoic and at all costs, dignified. One doesn't wallow in one's pain or effort. One keeps a stiff upper lip and does not embarrass oneself.

How did that noise make its way out of my body?

I swear I could see my mother roll her eyes from the grave and hear her say, "REALLY, child! Have you NO sense of decorum? You were not raised to be a heathen!!!"

I have this feeling Mum just wouldn't understand her daughter's almost daily pilrimage to the weight room, especially considering that said daughter does not "glow", but rather sweats; isn't graceful, but rather flails around at times and is totally uncoordinated; she almost certainly smells disgusting after working out and now, apparently... she grunts, too.


And with that, I really need to go make myself a cup of Earl Grey.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I have this bad habit, you see...

When I started in my current job (almost 3 years ago now – my how time flies!) I started nudging for an assistant.

Naturally, there was no money... I had to get creative.

A year later, I made a petition to work with a non-profit program that has a placement program for under-employed immigrant youth. The government pays most of the salary for a year and you can top up if you want. We got an intern (I’ll call her “O.” for short) and at my urging, we were able to top up her salary so it was above minimum wage (though only slightly so). So, we got our assistant, and it didn't cost us very much. Life was good.

After a year, her internship was up. I made a plea to keep O. part time. The plea was heard. I negotiated to have her part-time salary match what her full-time salary had been before, so she wouldn’t be short on money. That worked out, too.

This year, after further negotiations, we got O. hired on a one-year full-time contract. It’s been a win-win situation all the way along.

Prior to working with us, O. had been working as a junior janitor at an office tower downtown, cleaning toilets during the night shift. She’s fluent in 3 languages and was 6 months away from having a degree in Education when she left her native Russia to immigrate to Canada with her husband. She’s a bright and capable young lady.

The two main things I noticed right away when she came to us were that her English needed improvement and her confidence levels were pitifully low, despite being capable and an absolute wizard with office computer applications.

So, we got her into an English class and covered the costs for her. The confidence levels were slow to develop and she’s still not always entirely sure of herself, but she’s come a long way in two years.

At one point she started talking about how she was sorry to have left Russia before she finished her degree. She was almost done, and to start a degree in Canada again would take forever… even if she could pass the necessary English tests.

So, go finish it, I told her.

What? Go back to Moscow? For six months? Give up job? Was I crazy? What about husband?

Your marriage is strong, I told her. It will be hard, but you can do it. If you go, I promise we’ll keep your job for you. It will be here waiting for you when you’ve graduated. Besides, I told her, we are working at a university here. We would be hypocrites if we held you back from pursuing your education!

She hummed and hawed. She talked to her husband about it. She talked to her family back in Moscow, and her supervisor at the university there. Finally, she went.

She returned six months later (in July of this year), showing us her completed diploma in what we would call Early Childhood Education. She has a secondary specialization in working with hearing impaired children. (One of her 3 languages is Russian sign language.) We were so very proud of her! And I kept my promise to her. She came back to her job – and a small raise.

I can’t believe how much she’s grown. She started talking a few weeks ago about maybe taking a course or two at the university here. She finally believes she can do it. (She’s still taking advanced English classes, even though her English is excellent now.)

Today, I walked with her over to the Education faculty, where I’m studying as a Ph.D. student. We took her original degree, and the certified translation, to see about getting her into a course or a program here. She thinks she might want to teach one day… but she is not sure.

Turns out that her qualifications need to be assessed by the provincial teachers’ union here, before she can take any courses. They determine which courses, if any, she would need to take in order to teach in Canada. So, we got information on how to do that.

She hesitates to dream… but I nudge (even push) her forward.

I have this bad habit you see… I can’t help but look at a person and often, I see almost unlimited potential. I have told O. that I’d be thrilled for her if she outgrew her job as a front desk assistant and realized her dream of becoming a teacher… that so many people come to this country and never use their education, because they can’t due to circumstances or language barriers… that she’s working in the ideal situation (at a university) and has people around to support her every step of the way.

This is a very bad habit I have… of seeing the potential in others. I do it with my students, too. I feel compelled to say, “Go on! Be better than you are right now! Show me! Get so good that you surpass your wildest dreams and my expectations.”

A very few of my Spanish students have gone on to teach the language themselves. When I find this out, I am quietly smug. I think, “Yeah! That’s the ticket! I was YOUR teacher and now look at you! YOU are the one teaching now. Good on ya!”

I have this feeling that I’m going to be losing my very capable assistant not so long from now… and at least some of that will be my own fault! Though my life might suffer because she’s so darned good at her job (and really, she bends over backwards to help me... where do you find that these days?) I suspect she’ll be touching the lives of a great many more people.

Really, I need a new bad habit… If I keep this one, I’ll never be able to keep future staff pinned down under my thumb, will I??

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Damsel or Dynamo?

Well congratulations to Robb (who knows his Maritime women too well!) and others who also guessed right.

I did not bat my eyelashes and look all helpless. I imagine that if I had done that, it would have come across as so fake that the gentelmen offering their help would have seen right through it, snorted and walked away.

Instead, I did what many of you expected. When I was (repeatedly) offered help, I looked up from my position crouched in my LBD (little black dress) over the bin of cupboard handles, then smiled and gently said, "I found what I need. Thanks, though!"

After all, the attire did require at least an attempt at being gracious. :-)

I do like Ginger's idea of dressing opposite of what might be expected in a certain situation, just to see what the reaction would be. That could provide some interesting blog fodder for a while, eh? But then again, it doesn't surprise me that Ginger would say that... given the photos I've seen of some interesting race attire that cookie has been known to wear! ;-)

Thanks for your guesses! I'll be around to visit some blogs over the next few days...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A funny thing happened on the way to the opera...

I went to the opera tonight. It was Rossini's "Cinderella".

On the way there, I stopped at the Home Depot that is close to the Jubilee Auditorium, where I was headed. You see, I'm changing the hardware on my cupboards to update their look a bit. (Part of the preparations to get the house ready to sell...)

Anyway, I picked out these new handles last weekend. They're nice, sleek, and look like brushed steel. Much more modern than what was on there before.

Turns out, when I got them home, some fit, but some were longer than the rest. Exact same style and look, just longer. It wasn't by much, maybe half an inch or so. But it was enough that they wouldn't fit my cupboard doors. And naturally, they were all in the same bin together at the store... and their codes were one number off (a fact I did not notice until later).

So, I took the wrong ones back tonight, to exchange them for the correct size.

Me being the pragmatic type I am thought it was perfectly natural to stop by the hardware store on the way to the opera.

But, it's funny the things that happen when you get a person "out of context".

I've been to that hardware store many times. Often, I have to hunt someone down to help me.

But not tonight!

Did I need help with anything? Was I finding everything OK? Did I need a hand?

Offers of help seemed to come from nowhere... and everywhere!

I was a bit flabbergasted, actually.

Then I figured it out... There didn't appear to be anyone else in the store in a fitted black dress, a pair of heels and lipstick.

At the opera, I simply blended in with everyone else. At the hardware store, I was "out of context". Same person in both places of course... That's the irony of it!

Anyway, the opera was delightful, with very clever staging and sets.

I came home a bit too tuckered to change the rest of the cupboard handles out, but I'll get to it on the weekend, I'm sure.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

General update on a Sunday night

I continue to clean, purge and organize things around the house. I feel like it's just time to let go of stuff.

They say things go in seven year cycles, don't they? This year marks seven years since my Mum died. At this time seven years ago, she was in hospital with the cancer that had been diagnosed in late October. Five weeks later she died.

Her passing has become a marker in time of sorts. I am finding things around the house and thinking to myself, "Gosh, I've had this since before Mum died... And I never use it!" And so, many things are being sorted, donated and ditched. It is mentally and emotionally draining work -- and it feels great!

I'm especially happy becausemy basement is now neater and more organized than it has been since I moved in! I still have a ways to go on it, but I'm thrilled to go down there and see it looking so spacious.

I am realizing how very little one actually needs.

And I am becoming more comfortable with scaling down in a major way. The less, the better.

I'm still thinking about selling the house. Still not sure... But am leaning towards it at this point. Will keep you updated.

At school, everything is ticking along. The class I am teaching is going OK, but they are not the most stellar group I've ever had. They are not the worst, but I've also had better.

As for school work, I'm currently drafting my final paper for my stats class and getting together an outline for my thesis proposal. My thesis committee (comprised of my supervisor, and two other professors) has officially been set, so the next step is to get the outline for the proposal done and hand it in to them. With any luck, that will be in January.

And stay tuned for an update on the walk/run program. So far, it is progressing as planned. Now, if I can just keep this plantar fasciitis at bay...

Only 4 more weeks until the end of term!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Dispassionate Non-Attachment - Part Two

Dispassionate Non-Attachment has taken a new twist.

I'm thinking of selling my townhouse.

Now, before you think I've gone totally nuts, let me just say that when I bought it 2.5 years ago, I was in a relationship and the place was for "us".

The boy is long since gone (and a horrible mistake was narrowly missed -- she says, wiping sweat off brow, as she remembers taking off the ring that graced her finger...) In fact, we'd been here only a few months when things ended.

I haven't had much attachment to the place I call "home" in a long time. I do, however, resist change. And I hate moving.

But maybe it is time to downsize as I move into thesis-writing mode...

Hhhmmm... must think on it more... Dispassionately, of course.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Dispassionate Non-Attachment

That's what my yoga teacher calls it. This week, he started class by reading from a little book he brings sometimes that gives tidbits about yogic philosophy.

No doubt that various events of late (and I've only blogged about some of them.. I can't find the energy to blog about all of them) and the fact that as usual, I have taken on too much and find myself teetering on the brink of exhaustion, have left me wondering about the meaning of life...and death. Mind you, I'm a Sagittarius and by nature we're supposed to feel an incessant need to know "Why?!" All the time. About everything.

After a while, your brain starts to hurt. Even mine.

So, this week, I listened to Michael talk about "Dispassionate Non-Attachment". It goes along with earlier blog posts (and heck, a life mission!) to "Do Less" and "Be More".

I've felt an insatiable desire to become less "attached" this week... to things, to people, to just about everything.

The irony of that last sentence should not be lost on you... Dispassionate Non-Attachment is about not having any kind of Insatiable Desire at all.

Oh boy. Do I have a long way to go! So, I have even tried to let go of wanting that too much...

I have been busying myself (as if I don't already have enough to do!) doing things like going through old clothes, sorting what fits and what doesn't. What doesn't has gone into bags, ready to be donated.

I've been cleaning out drawers, organizing the contents inside them, tossing things I was keeping for no good reason.

I've been making trips to the recycling depot, ridding the house of excess paper, cardboard and whatever else I can get my hands on to recycle.

I've been re-organizing the kitchen cupboards and pantry, too. This re-organizing is part of the preparations on the home front to welcome Roommate #2 in a few weeks. Gord moves in December 1. We need to make room for him.

Part of my mission to Have Less By Choice and be Dispassionately Non-attached, has included letting the food supply run a bit low. (Mind you, that's relative. There's enough food in this house to feed a small village, though not all of it is mine.) Lunches this past week included several small containers of "mystery food" that I tucked away in the freezer ages ago, before I got smart enough to label and date what I put in there. Thank God I am a good cook. Even though I had no idea what it was when it was frozen, it all made for good lunches.

Heck, I've even been working on cleaning out my e-mail accounts. I'm proud to say that I got one Inbox (I have several e-mail accounts) down from over 600 messages to 45. Some messages dated as far back as 2002.

I shake my head. I'm a horrible pack rat. Less than I used to be, but still...

I remember that in 1997 my friend M. (with whom I have since lost contact... I should look her up) gave me some beautiful writing paper with explicit instructions, "You musn't hoard! Use it! You write lots of letters... Don't keep this paper, no matter how much you want to save it!"

I still have most of that paper.


Now is a good time to find it. And use it.

Some of you may be getting letters soon! ;-) And if you do... enjoy the paper, OK?

And if you don't... Not to worry... I'm probably still just as attached to you as I have always been. ;-)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sudden death

I only wish the title were referring to hockey.

But it's not.

A few months back I posted about my cousin, Gary, on my Dad's side, who took his life earlier this year.

Today, on my Mum's side, there was another unexpected passing. My cousin (by marriage), Alan, fell ill and went into cardiac arrest at home. Paramedics revived him and took him to hospital, where he stabilized, only to go downhill again rather quickly and then arrested again for a second and final time.

Alan's wife (or I guess I should say "widow" now, though it feels odd to say that...) was diagnosed with cancer again just a few weeks ago. She's a 14-year survivor of breast cancer. Except that now it's back. And it's in her bones.

That news hit us all fairly hard. The cousin in question is one of my favorite people in the whole world. In fact, pretty much everyone in the family thinks she's pretty amazing.

As she recovers from her first round of cancer treatment, which she said was "horrible", she finds herself a widow rather suddenly. It's a bit shocking, really.

I was grateful that one of my other cousins phoned me as soon as possible to tell me, though I was as surprised as all of them to hear the news. It fell to me to tell everyone on the Canadian side, which was OK with me. I understand this is my role and I take it as both a privilege and a duty. I lived in England for a year as a child, and have been back to visit many times. Though we all try to maintain family connections, I think because of the time I've spent with them personally and through written correspondence (which, if you totalled it all up over the years, would come to thousands of pages, I could say with some certainty), I would be the primary contact in situations like this.

So, I spent the day on the phone to family members across the country and "across the pond", as we like to say, so the Atlantic doesn't seem quite so big.

It's been six years since I've been over to see any of them. Last time was in 2000, when my sister and I went over to see that our Mum's ashes were scattered in her homeland, thus ensuring that her final wishes were honoured.

Too long... far too long, indeed.

I was thinking of going over next spring. Even started saving for it a while back, actually. Now, there's no question... Ph.D. program (and the corresponding student budget!) or not, a visit next year is definitely in order.

Won't write any more for the moment, or I'll likely just get upset...

May take a few days away from Blog Land, as my head is full of many thoughts at the moment and truth be told, my heart is a bit heavy. I'll be back soon though... promise.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Yesterday I looked at the sky, searching for the telltale signs of a chinook: the arch of cloud to the west that covers the sky. I didn't see it, but today the secretary of our department told me that I didn't look far enough. She saw it over the Rocky Mountains, but it was far away. This morning the clouds were undeniable. Today, we definitely had chinook conditions.

I should have known.

I did know, in fact. My head told me so.

No, it's not that I heard voices telling there were warm westerly winds coming over the Rockies. It's the incredible
headaches I get which precede the chinook. It's not just me. Lots of people here get them.

When I first moved to Alberta, I wondered what the hell was wrong with me. I remember it well. It was in January sometime... the first semester I'd ever taught. My class was from 4:00 p.m. By noon, I was holding on to the wall as I walked down the hallway of Craigie Hall, the building that houses the foreign language departments. Holding on to the wall was the only way I could stand up. My head felt like it was going to explode and I was seeing black blotches everywhere.

I don't remember how I got through teaching that day, or how I made it home, which was about a 20 minute walk at the time. I remember waking up the next day wondering what had happened.

A few weeks later, the whole thing repeated itself. I couldn't figure it out... Probably the stress of my first year of grad school, I told myself. But it didn't make sense. I'd never felt anything like it before.

I told a few people about it and someone said, "Chinook headache."

"What?" I asked. I thought the person was out of his mind.
Weather can cause a headache? You're nuts, I thought.

I was told, "Not just a headache. A chinook headache. It's a kind of migraine."

That was even more unbelievable. I don't get migraines. Ever.

But I do get chinook headaches. And they wipe me out like nobody's business.

Different people get them in different ways. For me, the headache usually comes before the chinook itself. By the time the chinook arrives in Calgary, my headache has subsided, as mine did by today.

Since I don't consider myself a migraine sufferer, I don't have meds for it. Tylenol is useless. Once I took about 15 Tylenol over the course of the day when I had a chinook headache. Nothing.

A friend who suffers with them told me that he swears by aspirin... something about the physical effect it has on blood vessels... Opens them up, I think? Anyway, he was right. They help. Somewhat. They get me to a point where I can stand up and function, without nausea or blacking out, which is good. But you have to catch it early. Otherwise, they don't do anything.

I hate that. I refuse to lose time at work or allow a headache to get the better of me. On days like that, I force myself forward... doing whatever was scheduled in my daytimer, regardless of how I feel.

Lemme tell ya... yestday's "walk/run" was not exactly enjoyable. Pounding feet. Pounding head. Not fun.

It's no wonder that I was home and in bed by about 8:30 p.m. last night. Sleep also helps... mostly because you wake up the next day and the weather has gone from "pre-chinook conditions" to full on "chinook", which for me, spells relief.

Today the chinook is here. Thank the gods and winds and whatever else is out there that it has finally arrived!!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Do you know where your popliteus is?


That's my new word for today. My chiropractor taught it to me.

Actually, he poked and prodded my popliteus as part of my treatment today. First time anyone ever has, as far as I can recall.

I laughed. He got a puzzled look on his face and asked, "That doesn't tickle, does it?"

"No," I said. "It hurts!"

After six months, he is still sometimes unsure when I break out laughing whether it is due to tickling or pain. He should know by now... It's pain. He's never tickled me, not even unintentionally. It's always pain. It's a reflex reaction ... one I have grown accustomed to over these months of physical treatments of various sorts on my knee.

"What is that?" I asked, immediately following it up with, "I mean, what's it called?"

"It's your popliteus."

"Sounds Greek," I mused, trying to distract my brain from the pain it was registering by partaking in one of my favorite sports: guessing the origins of new words.

"It may be... I took a Latin and Greek medical terminology course as part of my degree. I think you might be right. I don't think it's Latin." He replied back, as he actively released the popliteus itself.

He noticed that the distraction was useful though and continued, "In the U.S. they say it 'pop-lit-EE-us'. But in England, they would say 'pop-LIT-ee-us'. I guess in Canada, we would go either way."

As my brain was focussing on the placement of the word stress, he quickly finished up.

So let me ask you this: Do you know where YOUR popliteus is today?

I for one, am well aware exactly where mine is...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

In awe

A few posts ago I wrote about a challenging situation I was in with regards to a translation I was asked to do. I said, "For those of you who have not studied languages before, the nature of such a request may be lost on you. It would be like saying to someone, 'Oh, would you mind doing an Ironman while wearing snowshoes, oven mitts and a blindfold? Oh, and just for fun… can you tie yourself to a Hummer and pull it behind you through each of the 3 sports?'"

I was reminded of that today when my massage therapist sent me this as an inspiration:

I almost did not believe the story. Then I saw the video at the end of the page. And got kind of choked up.

But still... the skeptic in me wondered. (The writing on that web page was so bad it really made me wonder if the story was true!) So, I Googled them. Apparently, they are for real:

CNN even picked up the story:

Just goes to show how sometimes, the impossible isn't really that way at all.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

That'll teach 'em!

I admit it. Sometimes, I am a bad person.

Remember those three young men who cheated on their first homework assignment? I promised them after our little episode that the next two assignments (and there are only a total of 3 in the course) would be designed to promote individual work and it would be difficult to cheat.

It took me a couple of weeks, but I came up with an assignment.

Usually, first year language classes involve assignments with lots of fill in the blank, short answer and some multiple choice.

But not this time.

This time, they got a "critical thinking assignment": Construct a portfolio on your experiences with the Spanish language and culture outside this classroom. Include written journal entries that show a critical reflection of how your experiences of this class have impacted your life. Show me how you have grown as a human being through taking this course.

I gave them a full list of instructions, but that is the basic gist of the project.

It is true that this assignment does not review basic language skills. They have a practice workbook for that, so they have lots of chances to do "drills", so to speak.

In fact, I told them, "This assignment can be done in English. Part of the point of taking a Humanities course is to develop your critical thinking skills. Activities that focus on filling in the blank don't do that. The purpose of this assignment is to show me you can think and express yourself eloquently. It is an individual assignment. Originality and creativity count. If you expect an A, you need to show me that you have paid attention to detail, thought it through in depth and dedicated yourself to the task of creating an original project. The results should speak for themselves."

I figured words like "creativity", "critical thinking skills" and "reflective journal writing" would make a few jaws drop. And it did. There are numerous students from other faculties in the course who are taking this as an option (including the 3 who cheated). Most of them will be unaccustomed to doing projects where they are marked on their critical thinking skills. But developing such skills is, after all, part of a complete university undergraduate experience.

They even have to pass in a first draft (part one) and then a final version (part two). Each part is worth marks. This will help ensure that they don't just slap something together at the very last minute.

As we say in Spanish, "No hay nada mas dulce que la venganza"... Revenge is sweet.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tofu or not tofu?

So, the Wild Rose De-tox cleanse is over. I feel great! Would highly recommend it, if you're into that sort of thing.

I did discover something new in the process. My body doesn't like soy. Since there's no dairy allowed on the cleanse, I was using soy milk. Then, around the middle of the cleanse, for the first time in years I bought some tofu.

At first, I thought my stuffiness was just the cleanse doing its thing. I did not correlate it with the soy milk I was drinking every day. Then I ate the tofu. Not only did I get stuffy, but also it got hard to breathe (but just a wee bit). I thought nothing of it... Maybe my resistance was down and I was getting a cold.

Everything cleared up after a few hours. The next day, I had the same tofu dish for lunch. Within a few minutes, I was stuffy and it was hard to breathe again. I thought to myself, "Ah! It's not a cold. My throat is partially closing. Interesting... This has never happened before."

Sure enough, it took about 3 hours, but it cleared itself up.

Just to test the theory, I tried again the next day. Same thing.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad enough that I felt I was in any danger. It was rather curious actually, since as far as I know, I'm not allergic to anything... The closest thing is probably anaesthetic... My experiences with that have led to me to choose not to have it whenever possible.

Anyway, after three tries with the tofu which resulted in same reaction each time, I stopped eating it. Ditched the soy milk too, and got some rice milk instead. The cold-like symptoms did not reappear after that. (And I also discovered that I quite like rice milk!)

My roommate is deathly allergic to shrimp and told me her allergy started in much the same way as my recent experience with tofu / soy, and progressively got worse until one day, she actually could not breathe after eating something that had touched shrimp.

Someone else told me that soy products can affect your hormone levels. I don't know much about that, but for whatever reason, my body seems happier when I don't feed it soy. I won't go so far as to call this an allergy, but I will say that it was an unexpected discovery about a food that I've only ever been ambivalent about, at best.

And so once again, I'm back onto my normal diet... Enjoying bananas and yogurt more than ever!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Tale of Translation Torture...

A couple of days ago a colleague came and asked me to help him at a special event on campus that is part of a larger literary festival in town. They brought in a couple of Mexican writers to do readings from their work… He needed to introduce one of them. Would I be willing to interpret from Spanish into English for him? He’d give me a written text of the introduction to translate before hand… Only 2 or 3 minutes… for those in the audience who don’t speak Spanish.

Considering that the event was held in the building where I work, and it was short, I said, "Sure." I have done some oral interpretation, but not much… Nevertheless, I felt I could handle a simple introduction. And besides it would not be simultaneous interpretation, but rather, he’d say a sentence and then I’d translate it from the prepared written text. Easy!

Umm… yeah... not so much.

He’s a bit of a poet this one… the Introduction was 3 double-spaced typed pages and had some of the most poetic and florid language I’ve seen in a long time. I actually had to look words up in my bilingual dictionary!

So, I spent almost an hour translating the introduction… but that was OK. I did agree to it after all.

Then we get there and the author whose work is being featured decides that she’s going to read her poetry in Spanish.

Would I mind interpreting into English?

I thought, "You want me to do simultaneous interpretation – in front of an audience of about 50 people – of poetry?!... In fact, a poem I have never read before in my entire life?"

For those of you who have not studied languages before, the nature of such a request may be lost on you. It would be like saying to someone, “Oh, would you mind doing an Ironman while wearing snowshoes, oven mitts and a blindfold? Oh, and just for fun… can you tie yourself to a Hummer and pull it behind you through each of the 3 sports?”

In other words… pretty much humanly impossible except for some kind of genetically gifted linguistic freak – which I am not.

I did not admit to the author that I had not read her poem, but I’m sure the look on my face said it all.

She quickly said (and I translate), “No, no, the book of poetry is bilingual… See? There’s a page in English and a page in Spanish. I’ll read it in Spanish and then you read the English.”


OK, that I could do… Reading a text that you have never seen before aloud in front of an audience is not particularly easy, but thanks to training in public speaking and those 2 years I spent at the student radio station in my undergrad, I was able to manage. The years I spent as an English major and closet poet myself helped with pacing the reading (yes… poetry must be paced as you read it aloud), the cadence and general flow. But it was a heck of a lot better than having to do a simeltaneous interpretation of it!

Needless to say, the “2 or 3 minutes” turned into a full 2 hours because there was a question and answer period afterwards and lots of discussion. It was a full-blown bilingual literary event… and some kind of warped translation torture that I’m sure Stephen King could write a good short story about….

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Thanksgiving update

It's a long weekend here and boy, am I thankful for that!

Here's an overall update:

School - Overall, I can't complain. We are 1/3 of the way through the semester. The stats class is going better than expected, though I have no delusions about ever being a statistician. My program partner, Steamer, and I end up spending a lot of time on the phone figuring out the material together. We are both glad we took the class together!

I am very happy this is my last mandatory class. I'm still trying to figure out if I will take an option in the winter or get started on my thesis proposal... I'll have to make a decision in the next couple of months, but there's lots of time yet...

Teaching - My class this semester is OK. I've had classes with worse group dynamics and those with a better dynamic. The boys who cheated on their homework came back to re-negotiate. I invited them to take the matter up with the department head, who was my M.A. thesis supervisor and I speak from experience when I say that he makes me look like a pussy cat. He'd chew them up and then spit them out with a vengeance in about 30 seconds flat. They declined my invitation and it ended there.

The deaf student struggles along, but will make it through, I think. He shows up every week religiously for extra help during office hours. (Way to impress the teacher!) We go over grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. He's not the best speller in the world, so we work on that too.

The pronunciation tutoring is a bit challenging for me, as I've never had training as a speech pathologist. Among the intstructors in our department I am among the more technical of them and can often explain where in the mouth the sounds are made and how to modify what someone is doing in order to make a vowel or consontant sound correctly. Having said that, this way of teaching comes somewhat naturally to me and drives the majority of students nuts as they "just want to talk". To have a student that soaks it all up and then wants more leaves me thinking, "Holy crap, man! I wasn't actually trained in this aspect of language! None of us were!" So, I am enjoying the challenge in that regard, as it makes me think about my teaching practice in new ways, as I have to find new techniques that will work successfully with this (and therefore, probably other) students.

Life on the homefront - We may have another addition to the household later in the semester.

No, I'm not pregnant. No, I am not getting another cat. We already know that 2 cats is the most a single girl should have before people start calling her "cat lady"... and that just wouldn't be good.

A colleague of mine needs a place to stay for about 6 months while his wife goes and hunts for a retirement property for them down east and he wraps things up at his job. It's a good fit, I think... He needs a furnished place and doesn't have much stuff and I have a furnished bedroom that sits empty most of the time. I think his personality will fit in well with the rest of the household (2 cats included) so... We'll see how it all shakes down, but at this point, it is looking like it will happen.

Fitness / health - Run / walk program continues -- very slowly, mind you, but that is OK. As usual, I don't want to jinx anything, so that is all I will say for now. But I will add that I am thoroughly enjoying the Garmin 305!

Still working out at the gym (which keeps me sane), taking yoga (which I adore) and going to the ice skating lessons (which I am positively useless at).

The cleanse continues, too. I went to a wedding in Banff yesterday and lunch was a divine buffet at the Banff Springs Hotel. I decided to have a "cheat meal" and enjoy the celebration. Lunch was indeed scrumptious. But a cheat meal in the middle of a cleanse? Bad idea -- especially considering that I'd still taken the herbal supplements that are part of the cleanse. Bad, bad idea. Needless to say, I'm back to being strict today. Cleanse finishes up on Thursday. So, next Friday, I have dinner plans! Oh yeah!

Thanksgiving celebrations - The wedding yesterday in Banff was beautiful. Only about 20 people and it is nice to see a couple so happy and right for each other. I suspect they'll make it into old age together, which always warms the heart. I must say though, it was the first time I'd attended an outdoor wedding in October! The bride got her wish and there were just a few flakes of snow that fell. There we all were in dress clothes and outdoor jackets (though I was the only one who had gloves for some reason...), seeing our breath in the chilly fall air as we walked to the place where the ceremony was held. The bride is a true Canadian - sleeveless dress and a white fur stole... beautiful!

Tomorrow I'll head up to Red Deer to spend the day with my brother. He is a terrific cook and makes a mean turkey. We'll be be joined his girlfriend, Lisa, and I'm looking forward to relaxing and enjoying the day with them. (And just in case you're wondering, most of a traditional Thanksgiving Day dinner is "cleanse friendly"... I'll pass on dessert this time around, but otherwise, I'm all for turkey and veggies!)

And with that, I need to get back to correcting this big pile of Spanish tests in front of me... Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Cleanse - Day 5 of 12

OK, since some of you have asked, the Wild Rose De-Tox cleanse is going well. Today's menu included:

Breakfast - "Sunny boy" hot cereal with fresh blueberries, chopped almonds and soy milk.

First lunch - Brown rice pasta with sardines, cooked fresh tomatoes, artichoke hearts, onions and garlic. (I ate the sardines by choice, in case you are wondering. Ever since I spent that summer in Spain, I love sardines...)

Second lunch (after workout) - fresh apple slices with almond butter (Thanks to CM for the suggestion!) -- Oh yeah, and my Starbucks soy latte - a bit late in the day, but still, caffeine is good!

First supper - BBQ'ed chicken and beef, roasted squash, cooked veggies (carrots, green and red peppers, mostly.)

Second supper - Soy milk and some fresh strawberries.

Don't mind the Hobbit-like ways of eating several small meals in one day. This is not anything to do with the cleanse. I regularly eat 5-6 times a day. I just like the idea of "second lunch" or "second supper" better than "snack".

The brown rice pasta is a bit of a no-no, since all the grains are supposed to be whole and not processed, but I figure some brown rice pasta won't kill me.

To answer TG's question, the way your body reacts is very individual. I prefer not to post too many details, but let's just say that the program is working in the way it is supposed to...

What I will say is that one definite benefit is that I have lots of energy and generally feel great.

One definite drawback is that it puts a heck of a cramp in any social activities that involve food or beverages... Had lunch with a friend yesterday and he looked at me a bit funny when I ordered water, and a garden salad with chicken breast and vehemently refused any dressing at all.

I had to explain. He got more and more curious... We spent half the time talking about the cleanse and I ended up talking about the very details that I prefer not to post here... and certainly had no intentions of talking about over lunch!

He took great pleasure in asking me if I wanted a French fry... or a bite of his club sandwich with mayo... and cheese. I told him to go fly a kite and made yummy noises while crunching on my lettuce. Ah well... that's what long-time friends are for, I guess!

I must say though... I am starting to have dreams about lemon merengue pie... Mmm... And a Timmy's coffee with cream... real, 18% fat dairy cream...

Only 7 more days to go.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

It's Garmin time!

It arrived.

Yee haw!

(Finally, something to distract me from the sugar cravings brought on by this de-tox!)

Zippity do dah!

Monday, October 02, 2006

De-tox time

I've had a Wild Rose De-Tox Cleansing Kit in my pantry for months now. It doesn't expire until 2008 or something like that, so there's lots of time to use it. But I decided on Saturday it was time.

It is a 12-day program combining all natural supplements and a cleansing diet. Now, for those of you who are rolling your eyes, let me just say that it is basically just "super clean" eating for 12 days - no sugar (including tropical fruits that are super sugary like pineapples and bananas), no dairy, no yeast and there are a few other things off the list, too. And there's a few supplements to clean out your system, but I don't find them harsh at all.

This is not a low-protein program by any means. (If it were, you would not find me anywhere near it!) I still eat a fair amount of protein with every meal, and that keeps me happy. There are also no restrictions on the quantities of the recommended foods, so you can certainly meet your daily caloric needs.

As for the diet, I try to "eat clean" most of the time, so this isn't much of a change for me. The first time I did the Wild Rose cleanse about 4 years ago though... Different story. (I'll spare you the details... ) As things stand now, I avoid processed sugars and yeast anyway. I do eat a lot of fruit and dairy, so that's a change... No banana at breaksfast... No yogurt after my work out. (Whimper, whimper...)

If anyone has any suggestions as to what to eat after working out that does not contain processed sugar or dairy, I'm all ears! I've brought a hard boiled egg and an apple today... Not the same as the yogurt, granola nut bar or (sometimes!) chocolate milk I have normally though... Even chocolate soy milk is out because of the processed sugars.

BUT! One thing that IS on the list of allowed foods is coffee (max 2 cups a day), so I am on my way over to Starbucks for a grande soy latte. Oh yeah...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Teacher rant

Today my students had their first assignment due. It was a relatively easy assignment, worth only 4% of their grade. (I didn't decide this, the coordinator for our department decides how many assignments there are and what they are worth.)

At the end of class, I asked for the assignments. After most of them were handed in and the students had left, I saw these three guys huddled at the back of the room - two of them blocking the desk of one student who was sitting down, madly writing.

I recognized the scenario. I've seen it before.

I walked back, picked up the paper the student was scribbling on, and the one he was copying from.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Just checking my answers." He stammered.

"Looks like you're copying to me." I could feel the colour in my face rising.

"No... look. I filled in the answer, but it was wrong. I was just checking it against his."

I looked. It was true. The assignment was done, crossed out and written over.

"It's still copying. I'm not marking that section."

"Aw, c'mon!" He said.

"You're copying. I'll mark the rest of the assignment, but not that section.... not for either of you."

"What?! Don't blame it on him! He didn't do anything wrong!"

"He lent you his paper. You didn't forcibly take it from him, did you?"

"No, but... It's still not his fault. Why d'ya have to do that?"

"You're copying... Right in front of me -- blatantly! What do you expect me to say? I'm academically duty-bound to do something about it. Sorry, fellas."

He looked at his friend and said, "Sorry, man."

The friend just shrugged it off, trying to be cool about it.

The two in question, along with the third who was helping to try and block my view, left together.


I hate this part of my job. I've had to deal with it before. Anyone who teaches long enough has to deal with it.

For some reason, I have only ever seen young men attempt this. I'm sure the girls have done it, but they never seem to be quite so conspicuous as to do it right in front of me.

What gets me is that they seem to think they can get away with it. They don't seem to understand that if I actually witness it with my own eyes and do nothing about it, I am the one at fault. Not only would I be a push-over, but I can be severely reprimanded by my own department head -- and rightly so -- if anyone else reported it. (It has happened -- but not to me.)

As I told these guys today, "I get paid to answer your questions. If you are not sure of an answer, ask me." In fact, I told that one fella today that his "wrong" answer was in fact, not entirely wrong, and he would have gotten part marks for it. Instead, he'll get a zero on the entire section.


Do they think I don't have eyes?

Do they think I'm just too "nice" to do anything about it?

Do they think that their 6-foot-plus frames -- in a pack of 3 -- will intimidate me?


Oh well... if it was going happen, I guess I'd rather it happen on a small assignment at the beginning of term, rather than on a big test later on. That's always ugly.

At least now we know where we stand with each other.

Still though... it's not a part of the job that I enjoy.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

First ice skating lesson

As this is my “Year to try new physical activities”, I signed up for an ice skating class. Tonight was the first class and as you can tell from the fact that I am writing this blog, I am still alive.

I remember when I took swimming in the early spring, I was the only Canadian-born student in the class. It was much the same with the beginner’s skating class. People from far away lands were there to indulge in this favorite northern past-time, eager and raring to go.

I, on the other hand, thought to myself, “What the hell have I gotten myself into? Really, if I die without knowing how to ice skate, will my life have been any less worthwhile? No. So… What am I doing here?”

I wanted to leave. But as usual, sheer stubbornness kept me there.

I have been on skates before... which is quite different from actually "skating", I would say. I was always quite happy to get OFF skates too, I might add.

However, I seem to be addicted to making sure that I find new ways to rip myself out of my comfort zone and get into all kinds of trouble.... So, I threw on the mandatory hockey helmet, laced up my skates and hobbled towards the ice. I got on the ice and promptly attached myself to the big soft blue padding that surrounded the inside of the rink.

I will skip all the gory details of the psychological thriller that the first class was, and just say that I was proud to make it around the inside perimeter of the rink twice in the 45 minutes of the class. For those of you who know the
Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary - note that this is not twice around the Oval ice itself, but rather twice around the inside perimeter of one of the hockey rinks that sits in the middle of the Oval.

By the end, I had even let go of the rubber padding and was clutching on to Michelle, one of the instructors who came over and took pity on me, talking me through every movement – and getting me to respond to her so I would stop hyperventilating. (OK, so that last bit is an exaggeration – but only slightly.) Michelle and I skated for all of about 10 feet together before it was time to get off the ice. Gotta love the teachers who make time for the remedial students!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Gadget girl strikes again...

Those of you who have been following this blog know that about this time last year, I was tickled pink with a new gadget - my Polar F4 Heart Rate Monitor.

We are gadget people in our family. And this is one thing I definitely have in common with the men in the family. If it can make us say, "Oh, cool!" then it's all good.

My Polar F4 is now what I wear as my everyday watch and the HR monitor has been with me through many a workout.

Today, I graduated.

Or, you could say I "pulled a Z." (Z. is my friend who "accidentally" buys things like art, cars, houses and pianos... Well, OK, there was only one piano...)

But this wasn't accidental... I've been tossing it around in my head for months... It was calculated... saved for... coveted. I have been quietly waiting for exactly the right moment.

Today that arrived when A. e-mailed me to say, "On sale...".

I went. I looked. I drooled.

I ordered:

For those non-runner types out there, it's a Garmin Forerunner 305... measures distance, time, pace and even heart rate.

I've been comparison shopping for months... Waiting for sales. Even checking e-Bay (which for this particular item seems surprisingly useless, once you factor in shipping and duty.)

And the 305 models never seem to go on sale in Canada.

Until now.

Thus (finally) my tax refund for this year is officially exhausted! (She says... anxiously sitting by her mailbox praying for happy knees so she can actually use the new gadget when it arrives...)

PS: Furnace is working great now. I think the heat went to my head and made me dizzy, forcing me into impulse shopping. Yeah... that's it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

People change...

So, I'm chatting on the phone with A. tonight. We had a fantastic chat, got caught up on all our news, had several good belly laughs and at the end I said, "Well, it's getting late and I still have homework to do... Time to go snuggle up with my Stats book..."

She replied, "I can honestly say, I never dreamed that I'd ever hear you say the words, 'Time to go snuggle up with my Stats book'. Not in all the years I've known you would those have been words I would have expected to come out of your mouth. Wow..."

I had to admit... I could never have imagined myself saying those words either... Oy vey.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Quick update

Life in a nutshell:

First week of school - Completely mental. Nuff said.

First stats class - Cancelled due to server problems. (It is an online course.) Apart from that, I am almost enjoying the class. It is my first online course and I quite like the format.

Things at the house - %^&# cold! It was 13 Celcius INSIDE the house today. I went to work doing one of the things I do best in order to warm it up - cook. (Get your head out of the gutter!) Anyway... one sirloin roast, pans and pans of roasted veggies (potatoes, parsnips, carrots and zucchini), one large pot of gravy, and an even larger pot of split pea soup later... I managed to get the thermostat up to 16 Celcius. I can live with that...

My brother is coming tomorrow to fix the furnace. Bless him!

The silver lining in all this is that I now have a snuggly new electric blanket. Mmmmmm.... warm!

Training - Progress continues with the walking program. In addition, yoga starts next week. Can't wait for that! I have taken 2 courses with the same instructor in the spring and summer and am looking forward to this one, too.

Blogging - Haven't been blogging this much this week. Still getting adjusted to the new school year. Will try to post and comment more regularly this week coming up...

Have a great week!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Bbrrrr !!!!

It is currently 7 degrees Celcius in Calgary. (That's about 44 degrees Farenheit for those folks across the border.) And it's raining. I just got in from my walk.

I didn't really want to go... Today I was at an all-day meeting at the other end of town and I just didn't feel like driving all the way back to the University in rush hour traffic so I could walk inside at the gym. I contemplated postponing it until tomorrow... But with the all-day meeting came gourmet food. Delicious... Pretty darn near close to divine actually, but far richer than what I am accustomed to these days. I felt lethargic and over-stuffed at the end of the day. Needed to move...

I went home, shivered for a while and thought about going out walking... Procrastinated.

I shivered some more... Called my brother. He's a plumbing and heating specialist. During the summer he came over and gave my furnace a complete servicing. In the process he discovered that a few bits were on the brink of failing... And he couldn't get the pilot light going again after he was done servicing it. Thermal coupler and some kind of switch, I think he said. Anyway, he promised to fix it for me. Bless his heart. By having him do it, I pay for parts... and save a bundle on labour.

He told me today that he's put his back out at work -- again. Except this time, he's off for at least a week, maybe two. He's having a hard time moving around. We bonded over chiropractor stories and chuckled over silly things. Then, I nudged a bit...

"It's... um... kinda cold in here."

"Oh? Well, turn up the heat."

"I can't."

"You can't?"

"My furnance isn't working. Don't you remember?"


"When you came to service it... You said something was broken... The thermal coupler, maybe?"

"Oh yeah! Right! I forgot!"


"Oh well... Put on a sweater. I'll see if I can get it fixed for you soon... once my back is in working order and I can move around."

"OK, well... No worries... Take care of your back first. It's no big deal. We'll get it figured out."

We chatted for a bit longer and said we'd stay in touch. I'm a bit worried about him because he's quite the "tough guy"... For him to admit that he can't really move around and it hurts like a son of a... gun.... is pretty extreme for him.

I was reminded that being able to move freely and without pain is something most people take for granted. I was on the verge of doing just that... thinking about how I wasn't thrilled with the idea of doing my training walk today...

I told myself that this is what I have been moaning about all summer... Wanting to be outside... walking... using my legs. "Well, you've got the opportunity now. Besides, you grew up on the East Coast... A bit of rain never killed anyone! Go!" I told myself.

I rooted around in my dresser and found a pair of leggings from back in my dancing days that would fit now and cobbled together a few layers... But it wasn't pretty. I don't have much in the way of outdoor training clothes for cold weather... much less rainy weather. I was rather a pathetic sight, with capri wind breaker pants on and leggings sticking out underneath... and a light shell of a jacket that didn't match the pants. But oh well... Whatever... I train to stay healthy... not to look pretty. (Note to self: buy some long outdoor training pants for winter, preferrably before the snow flies. And maybe a hat... and gloves...)

Went for the training walk. Felt great afterwards!

At the end of every walk, I get a treat. Sometimes it's a nice warm bath. Sometimes it's half an hour in front of the TV. Sometimes it's a bag of frozen peas on my knee.

Today's treat? My flannel p.j.'s!

They're white with different coloured snow flakes on them - mostly blue, pink and green. I love them. (They're way cuter than what I wore to go walking tonight, I'll tell ya that!)

To my utter delight, they are noticeably looser (hence, comfier!) than when I bought them last winter. Bonus treat!

And now I think I'll go make a nice hot cup of tea, too... That's always a good way to warm the body and soul, don't you find?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What is the sign of being an expert?

I am teaching one course in beginners' Spanish this semester at the university. It is my 13th year of teaching. (Lucky students!)

How can 13 years fly by so quickly??

Anyway... as of today, I have a deaf student in my class.

It's not the first time. A few years ago when I was teaching at the college, I had a deaf girl in my class. It was definitely a challenge having a student with hearing loss in a foreign language class, but I also found it hugely rewarding. She was dedicated and really, really wanted to learn it. I had to adjust my teaching style significantly and in the end, I ended up learning a great deal from her.

Before this term started we were having a Spanish teachers' meeting and one of my colleagues was moaning about having a deaf student this year. I piped up and said, "I've had one before. It's not that bad." Next thing you know, we were talking about him transferring into my class. My colleague just couldn't deal with it...She basically said, "Here... Take him! Please!"

She brought the student to my office today to meet with me and he's seems great. Unlike the girl I had at the college who took Spanish as an option, this fella needs the course for his degree in international business. He doesn't seem thrilled about having to take the class, but seemed hugely relieved when I was open to having him there.

He wears hearing aids in both ears and reads lips. Apparently, he was not born deaf, but lost his hearing at an early age and so, when he speaks it flows naturally... as it would with a hearing person. He says it is deceiving because he actually can not hear very much at all, but people think he can because he doesn't "talk like a deaf person".

As we were chatting he said, "I'm so lucky that you have experience teaching deaf students!"

I quickly countered with, "One! Only one. I am relying on you to help me figure out what will work best for you."

Anyway, we had a good chat and I think he'll be fine in the class.

Apparently, I have now gained a reputation as an expert in teaching deaf students Spanish. God help me. Experience with one student does not an expert teacher make!! Neither does two, as far as I am concerned.

However... I do feel more comfortable having done it once before. And hey, I still remember how to spell "Hola" ("Hello") in American Sign Language!

I wonder how you'd sign "Good luck!"? I may need it...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Anyone ever heard of "guarding"?

So, the other day Dr. Mike (chiropractor) gave me an adjustment on my knee... after which it felt great. He also said to go see Susan (my massage therapist) and get my quads and hams worked on.

So, I booked a massage for hams, quads and ITBs. Susan says there is some minor ham strain, but nothing serious. She pokes and prods and digs into my quads and then says, "You're expecting it to hurt, aren't you?"

"I guess so," I say... "It has for so long."

She says, "The quads feel great. There's no swelling in the knee... no scar tissue left... and no adhesions. All signs of injury are gone."

I am surprised. Why does it still hurt sometimes... especially when walking (but never in the gym)?

She said she suspects I might be "guarding"... Some kind of reflex to pain (or anticipated pain). In this case, the quad tenses up, pulling the patella off centre, literally causing everything to pull in the wrong direction... creating pain... but it is due to "guarding", not injury.

I kind of get this... but not really. Sounds a bit airy fairy, "it's all in your head" type of stuff... Which could be valid... it seems logical... and yet... a bit "out there".

Just wondering... Have you ever heard of this? Or a better question... If you have heard of it, how can I overcome it? I Googled it and checked it on Wiki, but didn't find much. I also asked my chiropractor, who had heard of it, and my trainer, who had not. Neither of them had concrete suggestions on how to move past it, so I thought I'd throw the question out to Blog-land and see what, if anything, comes of it.

If this is what is still causing me problems, then the next step is to figure out a solution. The sooner, the better!

Having said all that, the walking program continues to progress well. No running yet though...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What are the chances I'll get through this?

Campus is a-buzz with students again. This is their orientation week and already it feels like the campus is packed.

There are line-ups in the food court (and everywhere) and you can feel the energy zipping and surging around as you walk through swarms of bodies.

Luckily, the gym isn't horrifically packed yet, though I'm sure by next week it will be. I may be back to 6:30 a.m. workouts, just to avoid the crowds.

As for me, I am down to my last required course: Quantitative Research Methods - otherwise known as -- statistics.

I have to be completely honest and say that I'm shaking in my boots about this course. I haven't taken math since grade 12... and even then, I did the non-university math... So... I haven't had much to do with math (in any formal sense, that is) in almost 20 years. Did a Master's in Spanish and have dedicated my career to language teaching.

Now, in the Ph.D. program, I must take this course as a required part of my program. Rather than thinking of it in terms of "Oh no, I am forced to do this. I hate math. Math hates me... It's just not good." I have decided that for the next 12 or so weeks, I will tackle it head on... I am prepared to live, breathe, sleep and eat statistics.... whatever it takes not just to get through the course, but to overcome my fears and get as close as I can to mastering this. (I have no illusions about this... I use the term "mastery" loosely... perhaps even with a language teacher's tongue in cheek.)

Wish me luck; pray for me; send me good energy... whatever it is you do when you wish someone well as they are about to embark on a gruelling journey... mine is about to start.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Brooks (and no... not the running shoes)

I've just come home from Brooks, a town about 190 km east of Calgary. I spent a couple of days out there with my friends, Steamer and Lauren.

Steamer is my "program partner" in the Ph.D program. We both started last September, being the only two accepted into our specialization for that year. We took our time getting to know one another last fall, as we ploughed through classes and adjustments of various types.

By the time we were about halfway through the winter semester Steam had dubbed me his "school wife", but I told him that "real wife" (Lauren) might not take too kindly to that (especially considering that he was living away from her at the time, since he was doing classes with me in Calgary!) And besides... I wasn't exactly comfortable with the term and so we settled on "program partner". I can live with that.

Anyway, Steam has been begging me to go out and visit them since school ended in April. I promised I would... Somehow though, I always had something else to do... But seeing as how it is the last weekend before school started, I was reminded about my promise... and I had to make good on it.

So, I drove 2.5 hours out to Brooks, not sure quite what to expect. Well, we had a fabulous time! I got a tour of the town (about 12,000 people live there), as well as a few neighboring communities. And we mustn't forget the tour of the two trailer parks, either.

After that, we went back home, and visited, chatted, drank, and made a scrumptous paella for dinner (see photo).

For dessert we had my famous Chocolate Cabbage Cupcakes. Yes, they are delicious and no, do not ask me for the recipe. It is a secret. And anyway... you have to know where the chocolate cabbages grow in order to make it...

Steam and I had illusions of doing some school work after dinner, but somehow, that just didn't seem as appealing as visiting (and... um... enjoying some beverages). It wasn't long before we were in no shape to do work of any kind, I must say!

We did get some school work done today after breakfast, which was good. We are both working on manucripts of articles to be
submitted to academic journals for publication. We reviewed and critiqued each other's work, offering suggestions for improvement and other feedback. It is good to collaborate like this as we both learn in the process. We have agreed to give each other second authorship on the articles when (if?) they are ever published. This means we will each get two articles out of the deal, which will look good on our resumes.

After working, the three of us took off in the car again for another tour. This time, we went to man-made Lake Newall, which we saw from two different points, including this one on the beach in a provincial park.

The highight of the tour was seeing the Brooks aqueduct, constructed almost 100 years ago. It is not used any more, as it has been replaced with a more modern water system, but it remains as a historical site.

Don't believe there's an aqueduct on the Western Canadian prairie? Somehow, I didn't think you would... so
I got a picture:

Now do you believe me?

Anyway, I must say, it was a great weekend... I was thankful that we didn't extend the tour to the other thing Brooks is famous for... a big meat-packing plant. I drove past it on my way out of town and that was enough.

This was a part of Alberta I had not discovered before. When A. was visiting from England last year, try as I might, I just could not convince him that he needed to see the Brooks aqueduct, so we stuck to the mountains and other touristy spots. (He also decided that he could die having lived a complete life if we didn't go to Vulcan, either... So, I guess I still have at least one place in Alberta left to explore at some point!)

You don't believe there's a place called Vulcan in Alberta? Go Google it!

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this little adventure outside the city... Good times, good friends... and hey... my first ever trip to a Canadian aqueduct!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Knees, neck and holding back

Last week was a big week for me… Test (as in X-ray) results from the chiropractor show marked improvement in my neck, since I started in May. Now, we know that most of the problems are in my hips and lower back, but apparently, the smaller bones in the neck are less “stubborn” and therefore, more likely to show improvement sooner.

The improvement was not as much as suspected, but still, we are moving in the right direction; enough that I was told I could start a walking program again. This, of course, is in preparation for a walk/run program and ultimately, running.

I won’t post too much about the walking program for now… other than to say that I have started it. Unlike the previous two times I have started on a walking program, this time, I am much more tentative than hopeful. If the knee pain returns on a walking program, it will mean going back to the drawing board – again. I’ve spent almost 10 months in an injured state. To say that I’m sick of it is the understatement of the year!

After assessing the X-rays, Dr. Mike said it is time to start on some exercises to help my spine along. We start with the neck and if all goes well, in October, we'll move on to lower back exercises. He started by giving me a small foam neck cradle. I am to lie on the floor and rest my neck in it for 2 minutes a day, and increase it by one minute per week until I get to 10 minutes.

Today he said to me, “Now, I know you’re a keener… and you can overdo it… so don’t think you have to go longer each time, OK?”

This, from a man who sees me for a total of about 6 minutes a week - tops. I looked at him a bit hurt as if to say, “What? Who? Me? A keener? But… but…!”

Instead I just said, “No, no… This is the 2-minute week.”

And heard in reply, “That’s good. We don’t want you to overdo it.”

Good thing I have professionals in my life to keep me in line... But damn them for being able to see that I'm a hopeless keener.

Excuse me .... I think I need a chocolate martini...