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...