Friday, February 26, 2010

Gratitude part deux

I think it's probably just the time of year but I've noticed a few blog posts from people who really want to take control of their body weight. It's keep them from feeling good about themselves, or it's keeping them from being as physically active at a level that had hoped to achieve, and finally, because their body weight is going to shorten their life expectancy.

That got me thinking about the loss of any sense of sacredness in food. Nothing is sacred about deep frozen cheese stuffed pizza crusts that need a ridiculous amount of sugars and salt to make them palatable to us after sitting in boxes for so long. But fresh pizza dough, the yeast living inside, adding flavour to the wheat, the physical act of stretching the dough to develop the gluten and add texture to the whole... and then baked fresh with vegetables you cut yourself and cheese (oh the glories of cheese)...That is sacred, that is living food giving its life to you.

What would happen if, instead of counting calories and watching portions we just stopped to ponder whether that which we were about to put into our bodies was indeed, sacred. What would happen if we paused and asked ourselves if we could be truly grateful for those calories.

The cheese I drooled over above is a perfect example. Last year, in the midst of the economic system seemingly falling down around me, I got into a project trying to get Alex and I more self sufficient in terms of what we ate. It was aided by the books on food politics that I was reading, Michael Pollan, The End of Food, Mark Bittman, etc. Having read Barbara Kingsolver's book about her family eating local food for a year I decided I could move us more towards that in our own lives. Enter the the cheese making kit. Enter much frustration and very little actual cheese. But, the cheese I produced was sacred. I made it. I was grateful for it. There was no way I was going be glutinous with that cheese. Cheese stuffed pizza crusts - gluttony pure and simple and there is no way that any sacred cheese, your own homemade or a small dairy's handmade product, would ever end up stuffed in such an almost undignified manner.

You see what I mean?

Diet coke is for me another example of a food that is not sacred. Now, I used to drink a lot of diet coke. I lived on it when I was a waitress, when I studied and wrote papers, and when I, in my early thirties, was on Weight Watchers. It was perfect, zero calories, zero points, fizzy sweetness. The fact that it tasted like battery acid was not apparent as yet. So, what made me quit the habit. Plain and simple I just began to be aware how obscene it was to have to continue to consume food long past the point when my body needed those calories - to have a product that was created solely for the purpose of consumption that was not required. No benefit whatsoever. Children are starving in the world and I was so overfed I had to have a calorie free beverage to "treat" myself. I'm pretty sure not starving would be a great treat for those children.

Stopped it cold.

You see what I mean?

In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan talks about visiting corn silos where the corn was spilling out onto the road only to be crushed under the tires of trucks. He contrasted that with the pre-Columbian Meso-Americans for whom corn was sacred. It was life itself and gave life itself to those people. Now, we take it, industrialize it and make corn syrup for frozen, cheese stuffed pizzas that we eat without really tasting and without really requiring.

You see what I mean

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I don't know about you but sometimes at the end of a full day of work and then workout sometimes I just don't get the chance to actually just sit and think about how lucky I am to be able to live my life the way I do. I am financially stable enough to afford races, training equipment and, well, time to train. I have a job that challenges me intellectually and in the good old days was pretty lucrative. More filthy lucre should be coming my way as the stock market and our accounts regain equity. I truly believe that we can do anything we put our mind, time and body too and our culture too often promotes an idea that exercise is boring and our bodies are fail. I don't think fail people walked the circumfrance of the globe to settle every continent but Antartica so I'm not sure why we think we'll expire if we try to run but, well, perhaps we've just forgotten how to use our bodies in the pursuit of a living, and therefore, forgotten the power in us.

So, sitting here at the kitchen table having a solo dinner, Alex not home until later, I got that moment to pause and be grateful.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Blast from the past.

I'm setting up a vegetable garden blog and thought I'd check to see if my original blog was still around - below you find race reports from the early days. Full of adventure and anxiety. But, they show the road I had to take to Ironman - no experiences are unimportant.

I Taper with Pie

Chugging Along

Since everyone around me is probably sick and tired about hearing how tired I am I thought I'd share with all of you. The good news is I'm no longer sick, but, well, it's hard to tell myself that when I'm dragging my butt here, there, and yonder. I've got a draft of the next part of our cruise but can't seem to summon up the energy I felt while on the trip, so, that makes it tough to sell it to my large internet audience.

I know that when I'm off training, for injury or illness, I always feel like I'm losing fitness on a minute by minute basis. Respiratory infections, not surprisingly, leave me winded when I try to head upstairs and that reminds me too too much of being fat and unfit, getting winded bending down to tie my shoes. The difference for me now, between feeling ill and being well, is so profound that I just don't deal with it very well. When I was fat and unfit I suspect that the difference between sickness and wellness was too small to really notice.

So far, not back to training except for Pilates last night where I felt my legs tremble under the lightest of pressure. It did get the body moving, however, which is all I need to be doing at this point.

It's funny, training now for Around the Bay I was thinking that I'd be happy with a 3:15 finish - given already planned easy training. Well, it's good to check out one's previous times before setting goals. I actually shocked myself to find out my best time so far has been 3:20, so, maybe 3:15 on an off year is stretching it a bit.

I've been a bit burnt out, which, I suppose is not surprising the year afer Ironman. In a way, no training we do this year is going to compare with last year's, physically or mentally, and I hope that training for IMAZ again next year gives the same joy and sense of accomplishment as 2009. I'm lacking that joy right now.

In the meantime, I'm going devote some mental and physical energy to vegetable gardening. I really should tell the tale of last year to make you understand the leap of faith this is going to require but short story - 24 Amish Paste tomato plants, nurtured from seed, yielding approx. ZERO tomatoes. But, you see, I've just read the most incredible idea about
growing potatoes in laundry bins and I JUST CAN'T WAIT.

And now, since Big Clyde so enjoyed the cute bear - here's another one. He's so adorable in that year or two before he starts hunting you.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Day 5 Tortola - Challenge the Mountain

This is the mountain.

This is the view.

I remember last time the mountain smelling of wild thyme. I thought it was the most unbelievable experience to be in this wild country side looking down on the beautiful Caribbean, smelling thyme. This time wild sage was growing in massive bushes. I have never grown sage in a bush that size. I just love the top of Tortola.

It was the usual (well after 2 times, usual) slow determined run up, for about 10 minutes. When people are walking past you it quickly becomes apparent that "running" really isn't the best plan.

Then, of course there is only one way down - quickly. I ran the whole way down, laughing the whole time and thinking about how much that was going to hurt. It was so much fun, and truthfully, I wasn't sure I could stop. Then, at the port, there was an impromptu sprint run off that I won, mostly because I surprised the other athlete. Must figure out how to use the element of surprise in Ironman. Maybe lots of "hey, look over there, what's that". Should work.

So, having had a fantastic walk up and run down, we heard the plan was to head to Virgin Gorda, via the ferry. A quick breakfast was had and Alex and I packed up and headed out for the 10:30 ferry. It was pretty tight and we actually had a movie worthy moment of jumping from the dock to the departing ferry.

Last time we were on the cruise I decided that we should move to St. Lucia but I'm pretty sure now the winner is the Virgin Islands. The ride over to Virgin Gorda was spectacular. Sailboats swooshed between islands, the water was that almost unbearable blue and every piece of coastline was picture worthy. There are no pictures however as I just let the wind blow and the scene unfold.

No one told me that the route to the beach involved a tunnel worthy of Hogan's Heroes. Honestly. There as some who were in attendance who would say that one simply had to duck under some boulders and take a few ladders. They weren't the one muttering, "it's all right, it's all right" over and over again and a belly-down crawl, battling fearsome sea animals all the while, was undertaken.

It had to be at least an hour of said crawling, battling and muttering but, admitably, it was worth it. This had to be the most beautiful beach in my own, admitably limited, history of beaches.

And there were freaking chickens. (picture blurred, sorry). I love chickens.

After a suitable ocean frolic we headed back. I had heard a rumour of a trail that circumvented the whole tunnel thing but, there really wasn't any time to try and find it. Returning on the somehow suddenly greatly shortened tunnel I was able to actually get a few shots.

After a nap we went to see the first of our three speakers for the cruise. Dick Beardsley's story wasn't really known to me except that I knew that he was a fantastic marathoner with a history of substance abuse. That's the Coles notes.
Dick's story of seemingly endless accidents and a resulting addition to pain killers is the kind of thing that shows just how the human spirit can truly triumph over anything. What got to me the most however, was his description of the podium after his 1.6 second lose to Alberto Salazar at the 1982 Boston Marathon. Salazar, upon having his arm raised in victory, took Beardsley's arm and raised it as well. Truly an example of the greatness that sport can bring out in people.

Friday, February 12, 2010

And now a message from our sponsor

I'm not doing justice to our cruise and have run out of energy to get the rest of the days up right now. I've been laid low by a cold, an Iron cold I think. Please bear with me.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Day 4 St. Thomas USVI

We blew off the prediction run because we really wanted to do a kayak, snorkel hike in a red mangrove preserve on the island. No regrets on that at all - the excursion was really great. This is the kind of thing I really wanted to spend our money on. We've come into these islands, changing the geography of them with the necessity of ports for the new monster ships, and we've also, I imagine changed the culture of the towns. So, if someone wants to set up a business telling me about the natural topography of their island, put me down for the tour. Beats a t-shirt.

So, we learned that the mangrove preserve functions on St. Thomas as a hurricane hole for the protection of ships, that it functioned as a fishery and protection for small fish and a habitat for birds. A pretty good point of the economic value of preserving ecology was made when it was explained that during the last hurricane the very important sailing industry sheltered their boats in the preserve and lost only one or two boats - contrasted with a hurricane prior to that when all but a couple boats were lost. Below is my visual representation of the mangrove.

There was a hermit crab race, hermit crab represented below, picture fuzzy due to my inability to stop laughing as it travelled over me.

I took a lot of pictures while snorkeling that really don't show anything but, at the time, while snorkeling, seemed like they might be cool. There were a lot of fish feeding which thrilled Alex. If you look closely you can see a school below.

Th first questions about Ironman popped up as the group had mini snickers before the kayak back to the home base. In retrospect, I have to quit telling people that "anyone" can do it - it's hard enough to get into a race right now.

That night's evening programing was a cocktail party. We had a wonderful dinner out with two couples and went to bed early to prepare to challenge the mountain in Tortola, the next day.

Day 3 San Juan and Caribbean Princess

The next day, Sunday we were to board the ship and I have to say that Alex and I were sad to leave San Juan. I love my country, I love Toronto, I love our place up north, I love the changing of the season, blah, blah, blah, etc, etc, etc, but, truth be told I really am hankering some desire to live in a warm climate and just visit snow. I really think Canada should start some sort of annexation to get us a Caribbean island, I mean, other than Cuba.

What a life, we spent the morning on the public beach, our fabulous cheap hotel having stored our bags, and then had the most incredible pizza at a little restaurant right at the beach. About champagne sangria, I will say this - I LIKE.

We started on the vacation sun burn/tan, having cast aside all Canadian pragmatism by neglecting to apply sunblock. Those tan lines haunted us all week but happily it didn't put a damper on the holiday.

We were sad to have to board at 3 but had the runner's meet up party at 5. It was fun to gather with everyone and get our race kit and t shirts. Kudos to Cruise to Run for really great women's shirts. The week was off and running .

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Cruise to Run - Days 1 and 2

Before I begin let me be clear. I love San Juan. I hate the Coral Princess boutique hotel. In fact, I'd like all of you to hate the Coral Princess boutique hotel with me, indeed I wish to talk about how much I hate the Coral Princess boutique hotel lots and lots so that anyone thinking of staying at the Coral Princess boutique hotel will google the Coral Princess boutique hotel and find this blog. But, we'll get back to that in a bit.

Vacations and races all start the same way. Days of frantic packing followed by worrying about the alarm going off, which it does, after a crappy night sleep. We set two alarms for races and vacation, the regular household one purchased over 10 years ago for less than 10 dollars, and Alex's Blackberry. The last time I had heard Alex's Blackberry was 4:30 in the morning in Scottsdale on or about November 22nd of last year. Yup, Iron morning. I confess that the sound makes me a little nauseous.

Up we got and started the layering required to go from winter in Toronto to sun and fun in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It's a little bit like being a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis - generally the emergence happens in the washroom at the first stop - Miami in this case.

We fly about 6:30 and get to San Juan mid afternoon, get a cab and set out for the Coral Princess boutique hotel, which, I may have mentioned, I hate. The Coral Princess boutique hotel was good from far but far from good, it was the sizzle without the steak, it was mutton dressed up as lamb. Our room, or cell as I think of it, was barely large enough for the double bed. There was really no room for the suitcases but, inexplicably, there was a clothing steamer taking up very precious, and expensive, floor space. That was all good, however. Alex expressed reservations but I was still taken in by the pretty veneer of the hotel. Alex spends a lot of time in hotels, Alex knows what is up.

Now, I am a little jaded I admit by my stay at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, in a suite no less. I may actually never get over that. Alex flies business class and I know that our flights on points have been hard on him. He doesn't let it show, except for muttering something about "steerage" the whole time. Actually the muttering starts as soon as we book the flights. We booked the flights months in advance so you have an idea of what my life is like.

Having checked into the hotel from hell, the Coral Princess boutique hotel, we asked for a recommendation for dinner. About dinner, I shall say this. Mofongo is an acquired taste, but then again, the Coral Princess boutique hotel recommended the restaurant.

We had an early dinner and then walked the beach and checked out the neighbourhood. The area of San Juan that we were staying in, Conado district, affectionately known as zone 3 in the taxicabs, reminded us so much of the neighbourhood we live in in Toronto, except of course, that is really warm. We are about a kilometre from the lake front in Toronto but there is no way that Sunnyside beach comes anywhere close to the lovely public beach in San Juan.

Having been up far too long we headed back to the hotel, the Coral Princess boutique hotel, for an early night. It very soon became clear that, with one window that overlooked the 24 hour lit up lobby, with a locked lobby door that guests had to be buzzed into, and with the whole floor being one big piece of terrazzo with no soft surfaces to absorb any noise, well, the Coral Princess boutique hotel was not set up for the actual act of sleeping. At 10, when I got up to see what could possibly be making all that noise I also discovered that the room kitty-corner from us also substituted as a storage room and office for the front desk clerk. When she wasn't buzzing guests in she seemed to spend her time going in and out of this room wearing stilleto flip flops, slamming the door.

Not surprising a very bad sleep ensued. This is where my complaint with the Coral Princess boutique hotel comes in. Having asked for a quieter and darker room that night and being shown a room just down the hall with light from the garden area pouring in, I asked the clerk if we could check out in the morning, not owing any money. She assured me we could but I'm still waiting for the Coral Princess boutique hotel to give us our money back. Actually, I'm still waiting for the Coral Princess boutique hotel to acknowledge my emails to them. I'm also waiting for to earn their money for the booking by helping me out in this situation. But, I'm an endurance athlete so, as soon as I can, I'm starting the phone call campaign.

Trusting the evening desk clerk, however, we got up very early, had breakfast and set out to find another room. Saturday in San Juan is booked solid but we lucked upon

The, albeit somewhat dated hotel personified the idea of hospitality however. We were offered a room on the top floor with immediate occupancy, the booker of the room having not shown up the night before. It was $100. We were more than ready to give anyone anywhere $100 to get some sleep and finding this hotel gave us a morning AND afternoon nap for the cash. It was furnished in early thrift shop but we were very pleased by the comfortable beds and quiet corridor.

Nap, lunch, nap and off we went to walk to old San Juan. The old part of the city is really beautiful although pretty touristy with a general feeling of a fool being parted from his money.

We cabbed back and hit the public beach.

After dinner, we headed back to our wonderful $100 room but a few cracks where appearing in the quiet facade. We were treated to very loud Spanish TV and inexplicable furniture draggin. But, alcohol, and our favourite over the counter drug Gravol, left us coasting the dream waves. Alex said it was 3:30 when the furniture started moving again. But I was just fine with that.

A Kodak Moment

I was kicking myself today for forgetting to take the camera down to the dog beach. We arrived to see that the bay had started to freeze up and there were these wonderful ice floes gathering topped with big water dogs patiently waiting for spring.

But that was nothing compared to the scene awaiting us when we popped into the Shopper's Drug Mart store. It's situated in the bottom of a condo building and supplies a number of the building's parking spaces for customers. Having parked we took the stairs down one level to the store marvelling at the story behind the personal lubricant box disgarded on the staircase.

Wished I could have immortalized for you all. You'll have to be satisfied with this.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What was I going to do?

So, yeah, the blog post outlining our most fabulous recent holiday is forthcoming but we are having technical difficulties. We have this nifty new Acer mini computer box thingy. Well it has a slot for camera memory cards. It, however, has no button to eject said camera memory card. So, the husband informs me that the pictures didn't actually get downloaded in the panic of how to get the card back out. Tweezers in case you want to know - girls can be handy to have around sometimes.

So, yeah, where was I? Oh, right, cruise blog posting waiting until the husband returns from the frozen prairie to tell me where the camera cord is so the pictures can get posted. Facebook is waiting too. Everyday I see more fellow cruisers uploading pictures while I twiddle my thumbs. What is twiddle of thumbs anyway. Must google.

So, yeah, where was I? No pictures right now. Actually having just gone downstairs to get something for dinner and having then spend a minute or so just staring at the laundry room I'm probably lucky I'm back upstairs at the computer. So much stuff crammed into my 45 year old brain it just all gets lost.

So, yeah, where was I? Right, when I was downstairs looking at the washer and the freezer and the bikes and the out of season clothes I had a brilliant idea for a blog post. I seem to have left it downstairs but if I go down to retrieve it then I'll just leave something else down there, like my car keys.

My car keys have been missing for months. We just use Alex's set and living and working downtown, if he goes out west for work and takes them with him, well, I really don't miss the car. I generally walk or transit to work.

Ah, the TTC, Toronto Transit Commission. Here's my theory. Everyday they take half the employees and put them in a room with donuts and give them hugs. The other half go into a room where they are beaten. So, board that streetcar and play the game of which driver you get.

Right now my satellite radio is playing the Clash and I'm lost in the memory of being an exchange student in West Berlin in 1982, where I alternated between listening to The Clash and Pink Floyd's The Wall. It's been an interesting life even if I can't find my car keys.

And now I"ll have to explain to that younger husband of mine who The Clash was.

Monday, February 1, 2010

I'm Baaaacccckkk

Wow, what a blast. Got a write up and pictures coming. Too much to catch up on right now but watch this space.