Archive for November, 2010

Om – Podcasts

November 17, 2010 11 comments
Yoga Class at a Gym

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been a devotee of yoga for seven years now.  It’s a required pastime for West Coasters, a stamp you need on your passport should you decide to live here.  You need to know the difference between Ashtanga and Hatha, know whether you like Bikram’s or not, and have a favorite studio, as baseline requirements.

But there are drawbacks.  It can be expensive – $2o a class equals my entire coffee budget for the week; time consuming – getting to my favorite studio is a 30 minute journey, making an hour long class takes a minimum of two hours, and I worry about the strain on the environment since I need to drive there.

Once there, it is a crap shoot whether I have a plum spot by a window, or am wedged into a corner next to smelly guy who clearly does not believe in deodorant, or bathing, making the entire experience unpleasant no matter how fantastic the instructor.

Yet the benefits are huge – unless I happened to be wedged in the corner next to smelly guy, I inevitably float out of class, my whole being feeling relaxed yet stronger then when I entered the room, my mind quieted (I don’t reach a meditative state necessarily, but as close as I can come, definitely a stiller state).  My posture has improved immeasurably, now when I am mad or stressed I feel my shoulders creep up next to my ears, so I breathe and bring them down – tiny yoga postures used in everyday life.  Opening my hips has drastically reduced my running injuries. Even the mantras take their toll eventually, although that took a long time for me: take the best pose you can for this day, recognizing that each day is different.

Hands down, I would prefer to do a yoga class than receive a massage, so that’s saying something.

But pressed for time and money, as we all are, it’s hard to justify doing as much yoga as I would like.   So I’ve taken to unfurling my mat at home and doing free yoga podcasts on iTunes.  I get the benefits of a fantastic class in a fraction of the time and at a greatly reduced cost (free is the right price for me).

I’ve found an instructor I love – Elsie Escobar – she is quirky yet incredibly knowledgeable.  I tend to gravitate towards people who don’t take themselves too seriously, and Elsie is exactly that.  She often has a great life message in the beginning, but if I’m really in a hurry I fast forward to the beginning of the practice.  And (sorry Yogi’s, you may not want to read my next sentence) if in a really big rush, I don’t do savasana.  There is nothing worse than lying in savasana and making lists of all the things you could be doing if you could just get off this mat.

There are hundreds of podcasts listed, so you can easily do a different one each time, although I certainly have my favorites that I return to on a regular basis.

And best of all: no smelly guy to worry about.  Long live yoga podcasts.


November: a new year begins

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment
A 30 kHz bright light therapy lamp (Innosol Ro...

Image via Wikipedia

That’s right.

It is November, not January, or September for other non-conformists, that marks the beginning of the year in my house.

November can be a tough month.  Some grow mustaches for a great cause, and select lucky ones fly off to sunnier destinations, since it’s too early for skiers to ski, too rainy for bikers to bike.  The rest of us grin and bear November and the rain it inevitably brings.  Or go out and buy a sun lamp to lessen their Seasonal Affective Disorder.

I nominate November to become National House Purging month.  A month to declutter, reorganize, become the minimalists we all want to be.  (In an unbelievable quirk of fate, my friend has set the date for her clothing swap for Nov. 30 – in preparation I have already sorted out my closet:

By November, the craziness of September is out of the way – ironing out multiple routines for children, figuring out how to be in three places at once, dealing with new teachers and coaches and expectations of advancing education.  October provides last glimpses of decent weather and a brief breather before the Halloween onslaught begins, the indecision about what to be and how to find it culminating, of course, in a sugar crazed fit of hysteria and exhaustion by 9 pm Halloween night.

We wake up with sugar hangovers, and welcome November.

The costumes are put away, the candy stash dwindles, and we settle in for a long winter season.  Like clockwork, a desire to purge and organize my house overtakes me.

On Saturday, I innocently started organizing the Barbie bin, and before I knew it had two bags of trash (headless Barbie’s, dolls missing limbs, pieces to toys long since broken), one bag of recycling (workbooks completed, books missing key pages) and three bags for the Salvation Army (naked dolls with only slightly matted hair, toddler toys reluctantly outgrown.)

My children were a vital part of this process.  At first they voiced their discontent with shrill screams and tears, but once they understood I was trying to create a better, organized (if not bucolic) setting for them to play in, they were a great help.  I would ask them if they still played with an item, and if it was in good working order and they assured me it would be used, we found a bin or basket for it.  If the toy in question was broken or of no value to them, they gamely put it in the proper pile to give away or recycle.

At the end of the day (literally – it took all day) they were so pleased that they had helped create this newly organized world, still slightly cluttered but yet new, fresh ground, ready for them to unleash their limitless imaginations.

Next step: their closets.  Deep breath.

My ultimate playlist

November 15, 2010 2 comments
iPod nano 5G

Image via Wikipedia

My friend was cataplectic.

“You do NOT run with an iPod!”

Oh yes, I do, I assured her. “Even in races?” she asked dubiously.  Especially in races, I told her.  In fact, I credit my fantastic playlist for getting me to the finish line in a personal best time in a recent marathon.

It’s my way of multitasking.  I love listening to music, but rarely get a chance to blare my favorite tunes in our house, since it just adds to the noise level, which is already at a considerable decibel.  And Eminem‘s lyrics are not family friendly.

I know what arguments those opposed to running with iPods use: music distracts you from concentrating on the task at hand – which is precisely why I listen to it; music detracts people from conversing with you – again, precisely, although I hasten to add I don’t play it too loudly, so I can easily hear my fellow runners coming up behind me and have brief conversations, and listening to music takes away the serenity of the running experience –  in my case, I’d argue it enhances the serenity.

When Walkman‘s were popular, I did a few trial runs with my jaunty yellow device, but it was cumbersome and heavy, and the cassette tapes weren’t long enough.  I wasn’t a fan.

But the invention of the iPod (or other MP3 players, but who’s kidding who? I’m a Mac fan.) changed my running career.  I had become bored with running, finding it harder and harder to motivate myself to get out there, particularly on cold, wet days when I probably most needed the endorphins.

Equipped with my little green Nano, however, I loaded  all sorts of playlists – different ones for speed work, long runs, rainy days, reflective days, blue days, hyper days, races – and away I go.  I’m always particularly keen to get out there if I’ve worked on a new, killer playlist.

The key to a great playlist is to intersperse different genres of music with different tempos.  I know some people like a steady, driving beat the entire time, but that becomes white noise to me.  I prefer to mix in some slower tunes at various points, so as to better appreciate the upbeat songs when they land.

Here is my current favorite playlist, ideal for an hour and half trail run.

Ready to Start – Arcade Fire
Just A Dream – Nelly
Radioactive – Kings of Leon
Gimme Sympathy – Metric
Feel it in my bones    4:53    Tiestro feat. Tegan and Sara
Airplanes  – B.o.B  (Feat. Hayley Williams)
Moves – The New Pornographers
Kids – MGMT
Stereo Love – Edward Maya ft. Alicia
Back In Your Head – Tegan and Sara
Take a Minute – Knaan
Dead Disco –  Metric
Poster Of A Girl  – Metric
Cocaine Cowgirl – Matt Mays & El Torpedo

Rebellion – Arcade fire
Love The Way You Lie  – Eminem  (feat Rihanna)
Pyro  – Kings of Leon
Hell  –  Tegan And Sara
Suburban War  – Arcade Fire
Shine 4U   –  Carmen and Camille
Electric Feel – MGMT
The Suburbs – Arcade Fire
Soft Rock Star –  Metric
Standing on the Shore – Empire of the Sun

How can you not love running with such amazing tunes in your ears?

Fun, green, and free: clothing swaps

November 11, 2010 4 comments
Toritama produces 15% of the Brazilian jeans

Image via Wikipedia

My favorite place to get new clothes in Vancouver?

Hands down, my friends house, at her bi-annual clothing swap.  If you are a doubter, read on: there is more at stake than acquiring cool clothes.

Wine is involved, which should play a role in every retail situation – it makes everything look better, and sets the mood for a fun evening with the girls.  After attending a swap, you won’t ever want to shop sober again.

In the weeks preceding the swap, we clean out our closets, putting aside our best ten gently used but never worn items for the swap.  I’ve always wanted my closet to look like the racks at Holt Renfrew: coordinating colors, seasons, shirts with shirts, sweaters with sweaters.  Thanks to these regular swaps, I’m actually getting there.

The doors open and there is one hour to preview the wares.  My friend’s funky house is turned into a cool, hip vintage shop, with racks of great jeans in the hallway, fabulous tops, sweaters and coats in the den, shoes and jewelery in the living room, and my favorite – gorgeous dresses practically smack you in the face when you walk in the door.

As you walk around, surveying the racks, it doesn’t take long to hear the buzz about certain items: the Chloe dress or Prada boots that everyone wants a piece of.  Women are trying clothes on everywhere (tip: wear something easy to change out of: save your wrap dress or romper for another time, and wear your best underwear, you’ll thank me later.)

After the viewing hour, we sit in the living room (where we can stare at the eye candy – the shoes, and mentally try on any you didn’t get a chance to earlier) and draw numbers.  Good karma plays a key role here: if you draw number one, you will be the first to get to go and grab your first two favorite picks.  Hello, Chloe dress and Prada shoes!  If you’re last, the silver lining is you get your two picks should they be available – (another tip is to have a longer list of favorites because your Chloe dress will be long gone), and then get another two items because once everyone has had their first pick we reverse the order.

The thrill of the kill is a huge component of clothing swaps.  An element of excitement is present in the air, as everyone has their secret ideas about what they want, and try not to show too much interest in these items lest they generate a following.  I can very likely discard a beautiful sweater, saying, “it’s just not me,” but all the while my heart is thumping and it is NUMBER ONE on my list, and I’m hoping nobody saw how actually fabulous it was.  Bring your poker face in the event you don’t draw number one.

And be prepared for heartbreak.  Where there are highs, there are lows.  Say, for instance, you eye a pair of jeans, your size, great make, and try them on only to find that they are the missing link in your life: they fit like a glove, feel softer than a baby’s bottom and make your ass look better than its ever looked (or maybe that’s the wine talking, not sure).  You surreptitiously take them off before anyone sees and stash them in the middle of all the jeans, hoping they will blend in.  Your number is finally called, and you bolt to the jeans rack, but they’re gone – a woman you don’t know roughly your size proudly strutting around with YOUR jeans on her shoulder.  Yes, this happened to me, and the defeat still smarts as though it were yesterday.  As hard as it is, still, to revisit this scene, I put it out there to forewarn you: don’t get too attached to anything during the viewing hour.  I’m just saying.

When it’s all said and done, you always walk away from a fun evening with something cool that you can’t wait to break out, and no money ever changes hands.  It totally satisfies cravings for retail therapy, it’s fun, environmentally friendly, and it’s a win-win because the remaining clothes at the end of the night are donated to a local women’s shelter.

Prepare for battle.

Categories: Life

Long live trail running

November 6, 2010 Leave a comment

The New York City Marathon and the Boston Marathon have serious street cred.  You can easily impress, say, a potential suitor by dropping the fact that you have run in such storied events.  Or run in any marathon, for that matter.  Yet the names of most trail races, even those requiring Herculean effort, would meet with blank stares.

I have been a runner most of my life, and after thirty  years, running is my religion.  The first thing I think when I wake is how am I going to squeeze my run into this day?  But my favorite pastime has had to take a backseat to injury with increasing frequency – I’m not the spring chicken I once was, so these breaks from running are inevitable, but so frustrating.  It can take a couple of weeks to recover from a half marathon, a full 6 weeks to recover from my last marathon since I insisted on running through an injury.  Who are these people who run a marathon every day or week?  They must be made of kryptonite; I, clearly, am not.

Last June, as I continued to nurse injured IT bands, in lieu of my beloved Scotiabank Half Marathon (it is a net downhill course, after all) I decided to run the  Seek the Peak trail race instead.  The race starts at the beach and ends on top of a local mountain, 16 km later.  I thought the mostly uphill course would be a welcome respite to my IT bands, which particularly howl with pain on downhill slopes.

In training I had no trouble with these injuries on the trails – the different foot strikes over roots, rocks and gravel recruits several different muscles and tendons, not the same ones over and over again.  Yet a few miles on the road – and the consistent pounding of the pavement – would have my knees complaining loudly.  Recovering from hard trail runs was quick and easy,  no problem walking the next day, nary a sore muscle to complain of.  What was this absence of pain? Was I not running hard enough?

Onward and upwards I trudged; mostly upwards, in preparation for the race.  When it finally rolled around I felt rested and prepared for my first trail race.

Race day was surreal in its simpleness.  The field was about 500 strong, so it was easy to show up half hour before the race, find a parking spot within a stone’s throw of the starting line, and even have time to hit the bathroom where only a few others were waiting –  too easy to be true.  I was used to thousands of runners milling about, jostling for parking spaces and half hour line ups for port-a-potties.  The gear check was open until 10 minutes before the race, so we were able to keep our sweats on until warm up time, when we simply walked up to the truck and threw in our bag – no line ups there, either.  I could get used to this.

After a strange start – in the distance, a horn sounded, and someone in the back yelled “Let’s go already!”, a few of us shrugged our shoulders and started to run.  A folksy start to a folksy race.  I quickly learned why a field of 500 is considered large for a trail race: single track trail had us crashing in to each other as we jostled to keep our desired pace.

By the 3 km mark things had settled down and we all seemed to find our rightful spot in the pecking order, just in time to start our ascent.  I had the curious sensation of not having googled trail running for dummies, as the same bunch of people would fly past me on any downhill slope, as though they were on a road bike.  Or sail through roots and rocks as though they were running on pavement, while I picked my way carefully through mud puddles, not wanting to risk breaking my ankle.  They would thunder across logs and streams as though they weren’t there, as I tiptoed my way across, arms horizontally outstretched as though walking a tight rope.  What, in god’s name, was on the bottom of their shoes that they could run like this?

In the final descent (at long last, the last kilometer is down the steep slope that we had just climbed), these seasoned trail runners sprinted down the loose gravel pitch, as sure footed as though they had grown hooves.  I gingerly made my way down, resisting my urge to crab walk to avoid a fall.

Throughout the unbelievably beautiful trail, across streams and under moss laden tree branches, there were understandably few spectators.  Every now and then a race volunteer would point you in the right direction, and the odd Red Cross person decked out in red hovered in the mist.  No throngs of people calling the name you had taped onto your shirt – motivation had to come from a different place on this course.

The glory of the finish line is always a welcome sight.  On this day, about 50 people and one photographer stood in the heavy fog, cheering for the finishers.  Not as sexy as finishing a big road race, but somehow fitting given we were on the top of a mountain.  Shame to disturb the bears.

Afterward my lungs felt taxed, and my legs were tired but noticeably not sore.  I took the day after the race off but was back running two days later.  An incredibly different sensation from recovering from the incessant pounding you endure on the road.

Although more elusive in general than road races, and perhaps missing a bit of street cred, trail runs and races are my answer to a longer and healthier running career.  I can tell you my IT bands are greatly relieved.

Categories: Health

Motherhood: my unlikely career

November 5, 2010 Leave a comment
The corner of Wall Street and Broadway, showin...

Image via Wikipedia

It is the understatement of my life to say I dreamed of being a stay-at-home mother. Never in my wildest dreams.

Not that it isn’t a privilege or an unworthy accomplishment, and no disrespect to my many peeps who are likewise employed. But it struck me as hilarious the other day – as I logged my third hour in front of the sink, cutting oranges and doling out crackers in colourful bowls (rinse, repeat, fill with cereal, rinse repeat, replace with trail mix) – all to a soundtrack of I want the red bowl/I want the matching cup/She got more/Chloe’s mom makes her gluten-free crackers, why don’t you? – that this is my life.  Three hours today – how many thousands of hours over the past ten years? Spent on minutia, and not, as I had envisioned while daydreaming in high school, changing the world.

When will they leave home so I can resume what I was supposed to be doing?

And how did minutia bully its way into a prominent position in my life?

As I rinse the peanut butter off the blue bowl (no nut allergies, there’s that), I think of my high school friends. When we talked late into the night at sleepovers about what we wanted to be, this scene never entered the picture. Author, advertising executive, something on Wall Street, yes; stay-at-home mother, no.

Nor did it come up in university, as I sat around our kitchen table drinking beers with my roommates, dreaming of life after school. It was unanimously decided I would be the last of us to settle down and have children, if my successful career even allowed for that. I had bigger fish to fry.

I’m a feminist. My book shelves are stocked with authors like Germaine Greer, Gloria Steinem, and Naomi Wolf – I know about the cause. The suffragettes. The pay inequality. The portrayal of women in media. I took courses in women’s studies, attended the occasional pro-choice rally. You know.

I would scoff at anyone who suggested I sacrifice my career to raise children. Please.

Yet I was the first of any of my friends to have a child, the first to quit my job and hang up my suits when the second one arrived, and when the third child came along I was so sleep deprived and lost in the confusion of diapers, play dates and doctors appointments that going back to work seemed insurmountable. Not to mention unaffordable. One child in daycare made financial sense, two not so much. While in daycare, my child was sick every other week. Every. Other. Week. With no nearby family support to call on, it was up to me to call in sick. Repeatedly.

Can you guess what happened to my then-husband’s career while I raised our children? Spoiler alert: it skyrocketed. Mine? Not so much. As his success (and responsibility) mounted, the case for my return to work became more than unlikely. It became unreasonable. And then impossible.

I never planned on being a stay-at-home mother. I’m an unlikely candidate for this unlikely career, and still dream about what I’m going to be one day, but tell that to a hiring manager.

Categories: Parenting