This is not a foodie blog, because I’m not a foodie, which is not to say I don’t like food.
I like it alright.
My taste buds simply haven’t evolved much since my university days, when my roommates mocked me for my iceberg lettuce salads, which consisted of one part lettuce, and three parts Kraft Creamy Dill Cucumber Dressing.
Flash forward a few years, let’s leave it at nine, teenage daughters notwithstanding, and I’m frequently disappointed in restaurant meals, often prepared like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or else a fish in Mardi Gras beads. Salmon in a cajun spice, for instance. I could be eating halibut, sole or marshmallows, it’s hard to tell with the cajun spice hollering at me.
What’s the point?
So when Chef Ned Bell sent our dinner club an array of appetizers at Yew, which consisted of food that tastes like it looks like it should, except better, I felt I was home at last. But in a nicer, newer, home, with sous chefs and parades of cute waiters, who presented our courses with a flourish.
The meal started with a lobster and smoked sable fish salad, suspiciously void of greens and large on orange and avocado. Salad greens are more more trouble than they’re worth, so I was pleasantly surprised – salads, you’ll recall, not being my thing.
Then came albacore tuna with ginger and apple. I’m pretty sure it was albacore – Jana was in the midst of discussing invariable moments of nudity that occur at her parties, the first of which I’m attending this Saturday night, so I was understandably distracted. Sorry, Ned.
Mussels, in the most delicate, lemon-infused broth imaginable, and baskets of salty french fries. These weren’t just any mussels. The secret to happiness itself was embodied in those little white bowls.
Oh. My. Waistband.
When we collectively declared that we couldn’t possibly eat another morsel, plates of stollen arrived, with a sidekick of rice ice cream (If I have that wrong, it’s the Chardonnay talking), drizzled with caramel sauce. It’s amazing how, given a ten minute interval, my stomach can reinvent itself as hungry.
All this to say, there’s talk of our dinner club becoming the Yew Club. We’re ready to commit.
(Did you like my surreptitious mention of dinner club? It involves women of tremendous athletic achievement and brains, and me.)
It was a dark and stormy Monday morning, and I was not at all inclined to get out of bed.
But I knew what was waiting for me at Ride78 was far more inspiring than my soft pillow. Harder than rolling over to my other side. More interesting than my recurring dreams of James Franco. Well, more productive.
Christine Fletcher knows how to inspire a spin class, and can transport the most dedicated armchair athletes into Ironmen. So I made my way to La Bicicletta, her new home for sweating out toxins, and breathing in life.
I’m not going to lie: you’re not listening to the most dedicated spinner. I won’t be the last girl who fakes it when I’m told to add a few gears (hint: you can touch the lever but not move it, so to speak). But Chrissy’s calm demeanour packs just the right amount of Kool-Aid for me to pedal harder.
She eases into warm up and I’m convinced momentarily that hey, I’m in pretty good shape. I got this. Then the sweat that initially dotted the floor under my bike like a light drizzle turns into a dangerous and slippery river, and I’m not so sure anymore. At this point Chrissy notes most people are still in bed, which fills me with such smug self-righteousness that when she next tells me to add three gears, I actually do.
Spin class is a lot like life, easy to begin with, but then you’re pedalling for your life and crying for a merciful fifteen second rest. And in those fifteen seconds, there is an appreciation for the work. It’s a continual ebb and flow, where desire and dedication reap rewards. In the end, the ultimate achievement is in the doing.
Yeah, I did that. Probably before your alarm went off.
The hills were high, the flats were fast, and as for the time, it flew.
The cozy cocoon-like bed and waterfall music are almost enough to lull me into believing this facial will be different.
Maybe my skin care regiment is finally working. While not onerous, it still costs me money I would prefer to spend on things I care about, like chocolate sea salt gelato, and the ten minutes I spend cleansing, toning and exfoliating cuts into time that could be better spent with Orange is the New Black. Surely, these sacrifices are producing glowing results.
You can convince yourself of anything in that dark room of serenity.
The esthetician bounces in, looking like she went to cosmetology school fresh out of kindergarten. My hopes sag like the skin around my eyes, because the only thing that’s worse than getting lectured about your skin is getting lectured by someone half your age.
She places a cloth over my eyes that does nothing to block the blinding glare of the spotlight she switches on to study her canvas. She audibly gasps, sucking in her breath like she has just revealed a lizard on her table instead of a human.
Have you ever heard of sunscreen, she asks. I try not to grit my teeth because the microscope picks up on those things, and answer that yes, I use SPF 50 every day. Yes, I reapply, and yes, I use it in the winter and in thunderstorms.
She continues to batter me with the onslaught of questions that every esthetician uses, like a script, to get to the bottom of how my skin can be so dry, dull and dehydrated. I answer dutifully, hoping that maybe this time, together, we will determine the magical solution to my flakey woes.
She asks about the products I use (professional, hawked on me by my last esthetician), whether I exfoliate (three times a week, naturally), if I use hydration masks (honey, I could write the book), whether I drink coffee (is nothing sacred?), how much water I drink (buckets, on account of my coffee habit), if my diet is healthy (Gwyneth has nothing on me), how often I get facials (I enjoy this inquisition so much I should come weekly instead of once a decade), and whether I exercise (I’m known to do the odd marathon or triathlon).
She was stymied – and in fact, getting a little panicky – until she hit on the exercise thing, saying all of that salt is very drying, and perhaps I should think twice about that, or else carry a toner with me to spritz on my face mid-run. When I went to pay my bill, there it was, the toner she recommended I carry in my running belt, alongside my bear spray and water bottle. I demurred, and in that moment learned the concept of being comfortable in your own skin, parched though it may be.
Cosmetology schools should offer courses in diplomacy. Jesus, some people have dry skin, it’s not a crime against humanity.
I run because it’s who I am; I do triathlons to find out who else I can be. In the course of six hours you have time to figure these things out.
You also, I learned, have time for some very random thoughts. Here is a sampling of things that went through my mind during the Oliver Half Ironman on the weekend. (Note: the more I suffer, the more I curse, profanity has a magical band-aid effect. Ella, that means stop reading here.)
- It’s a nice day for a little swim, a bike ride, and a run. What the hell was I thinking?
- I should have tried on this wetsuit before today, not breathing could be a liability.
- Hopefully these swimmers are sighting because I can’t see a thing.
- Pool swimming prepares you for triathlon like knitting prepares you for the WWF.
- First, you swim on top of me, and then you kick me in the face? Karma says there’s a flat tire in your future.
- Mother of God, where is that beach?
- Why is everyone in such a hurry in transition? People aren’t very chatty. I thought we’d bond after swimming through a dishwasher together.
- Drafting is illegal – of course I won’t draft. One thing about me is I follow rules to the letter. I don’t jaywalk, nor spit into the wind.
- Drink. Eat. Drink. Eat. Someone once told me you can’t over-fuel. Hopefully not the same person who suggested I do this race, because they are clearly trying to kill me.
- Where is everybody? I desperately need to draft.
- If I rode off this cliff, would I die or just be maimed for life? And if maimed, how long would I lay there before anyone came looking? I wouldn’t be one of those people who cuts off their arm and crawls to safety; I’d just cry.
- Wait, wait, wait. I’m totally going to ride your ass as long as I can.
- Speaking of ass, if mine didn’t feel like I was sitting on an inverted kitchen faucet, I wouldn’t mind biking.
- I should have biked 93 kilometers before today. Fuck, it’s far.
- Still, childbirth is harder. All that pain without an inch of forward movement.
- Was I supposed to practice transitions? Because I didn’t get the memo. And again, I don’t see why we can’t share a few words about that heinous bike ride we just endured.
- To the 24 year-old girl who passed me on the run: why aren’t you hungover in bed right now? Surely there are better ways to spend your youth.
- Is motherfucker redundant?
- Jesus Christ, who am I Princess and the Pea – how is it possible that I felt that pebble through my insulated runner? And that one? Ow. Ow. Ow.
- A six mile run would be sufficient given the circumstances. Whoever came up with thirteen is a sadist, and I hope they spend an eternity in hell running over hot coals, like we are doing today.
- What’s that stomach, you’re cramping? I can’t hear you, and by the way my legs are the boss of you.
- Never. Give. Up.
- I think I just found my inner ninja.
So, a lot of negative thoughts, subsequently erased by going the distance. That, for me, is the beauty of triathlon, and the reason I’ll be stupid enough to do more in the future.
I’m at a fundraiser, which is another way of saying I’ve had a glass of wine. I’m not slurring words, but my tongue is loose. You know.
So I come clean. Sometimes, I just cannot get a name right. Even though I have swam in her lane for a year and change beside her twice a week, and people have corrected me seventy times. My brain has decided her name should be Dawn, and not Sean, and there is nothing that can be done to alter its hellbent Dawn course.
Here is a two-paragraph crash course of our shared history:
Deanna, this is Sean. (I hear Dawn, and think, oh, she even looks like a Dawn, she is bright like the sunrise. I love it when this happens. She is so not an Elizabeth.)
Thereafter, I congratulate Dawn (Sean) at the end of each practice. Refer to Dawn (Sean) frequently as my friend. Introduce myself at the said fundraiser to her husband as, Hi, I’m Deanna, I swim with Dawn.
He looks at me oddly, which is not the first time I’ve been looked at oddly on this night.
Your wife? I prompt.
Oh, you mean Sean. I thought I had another wife for a second.
Fed up with my brain, I take my flawed self and my glass of wine and make a beeline for SEAN. Sean Sean Sean Sean. Banning Dawn forever from my memory.
I interrupt her bid on a silent auction item to blurt out I have a confession. I have called you Dawn for a year and a half. For some reason, I can’t get your name right. It’s not that I don’t value you as a person, but rather a lobe of my brain has ADD where your name is concerned.
She looks at me, laughter pushing up the corners of her mouth. I have a confession for you, she says. You mentioned your partner was Kim, so for the past year and a half I thought you were gay.
We both laugh heartily at our Three’s Company moment, and I wonder if she’s as secretly pleased that I likened her to a sunrise, as I am pleased that she mistook me for gay.
I’m sitting in a classroom, trying to slink underneath my desk so that the teacher won’t call on me. I sit amongst my clique, my fiction group. The poets are in the front of the room, young adult genre and non-fiction groups occupy the left side of the room. Three weeks into our year-long course and alliances have formed, we gravitate quickly to our own kind. A familiar feeling from twenty-five years hence. It’s high school all over again.
Actually, it’s the Writer’s Studio at a downtown university, my year to study creative writing. The crucial word here is creative, also known as my personal nemesis. By throwing tuition into this course, I’m banking on acquiring some. Or at least chiseling away cliched layers of assumption and habit to reveal whatever lies at my core. I’m hoping to find a garden planted with seedlings of inspiration, but fear a black hole.
The people that surround me are so brimming with creativity that I’m terrified into submission. A girl, wearing a hand-knitted toque, reads her reaction to a homeless woman she encountered during our break with such emotion in her voice that we fall over her words, and into stunned respect for her gifted prose. Sweet Caroline, I think, don’t make me read my vacant observation next.
We are each handed a blank piece of paper and asked to create a three dimensional sculpture to illustrate our currently writing. My heart sinks because in a pinch, I can pull an unusual adjective out of my pocket, but this requires imagination and craft. I fold and rip my piece of paper so that it opens inwards, like my protagonist, while other students produce works of origami, sculptures of mountains, vessels with twirling rudders attached, and a chess board. With dread and reluctance, I stand to show the room my crude structure.
This course not only inspires me, it terrifies me. And it’s the terror that tells me it’s the right thing.
I’m walking a tightrope, stretched between two Christmas trees, taut with the pressure of time, money, and expectation.
On the one side is the me that loves Christmas. Loves! The hype, the decorating, the giving, the madness, the merrymaking. The stories, the movies, the traditions, the magic. Did I mention merrymaking? I buy in. I believe.
On the other side is the me that loathes the tremendous hassle involved in making it all happen. And by all, I mean all. Food, decorations, charity, presents for the world at large. It’s a lot for one sister’s shoulders.
As I teeter on this thin wire, below me is the pit of despair, experienced in Christmas’s past, that I can fall into if things go awry. Trust me, it’s not fun down there. Life does not imitate art. If the Grinch steals all of our gifts, or Santa or I fail to deliver the coveted items on their list, my children will not hold hands in a circle and sing.
Yet I somehow magically order things the day after they can guarantee delivery to Canada by Christmas. Never the day before or, say, weeks in advance. Who thinks of this shit in November? It’s much more exciting this way. Will it arrive, or won’t it. My legs quiver with anticipation, and that pit is looking uncomfortably close. Back ups are stashed. And then I forget what I’ve stashed. And where. This is life on the edge, right here.
Come December, I could use thirty-hour days. Because while Christmas must be extraordinary, still, life goes on. Which is why I lost it when my children remarked on the cleanliness lacking in my car yesterday. Something’s got to give – a trashed car over myself, ideally.
Obviously, there is room for improvement in the process. In my world, best case scenario means Christmas Eve is purely for stocking stuffers. And a rum and eggnog-infused search for that thing I know I bought, but likely won’t find until Easter.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without that special feeling – that I’m losing it.