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Archive for March, 2011

Dearest Cancer: Prepare to be Defeated

March 26, 2011 25 comments

Cancer, you miserable beast, you have sunk your dirty talons into the wrong person. You don’t know who you’re messing with.

You think you are clever by showing up in first his knee, and now his lung and spine, but my brother will outwit you yet, you have not seen the likes of him.

He is smarter than you. Not only book smart, but street smart. He will read you under the table, and find a method of beating you at your own game. He will lull you into submission and have you eating out of the palm of his hand in no time. He will win this battle. Stand down.

He is an endurance athlete, did you know? You have been at him for a while, but he hasn’t even begun to fight back. He hasn’t shown you his A game, it kicks in right about now. He has just been warming up for this battle, playing you. You haven’t seen anything yet.

He is a fierce competitor, if there is a win at stake he will pinch hit, get the overtime goal, dig deep to save the day. He has had lots of practice at this, and I can tell you he is a winner. This is another game he will win, prepare to be defeated.

You are not his worthy opponent.

Were you thinking, here’s a nice guy to pick on? A champion teacher, fantastic father, loving husband, all around hero in his community, I’ll take him down? That was your first mistake, because he’s often mistaken for a nice guy, but what you don’t know is he is a chameleon; a wonderful person but a terrifying rival. He will wear YOU down, and it won’t be pretty.

His resolve will blow you away, but then again he is not a regular person.

My brother has the determination of a gladiator, the strength of a leviathan, the wit of Adam Sandler and Tina Fey combined, and the heart of Sidney Crosby, and also like Sid, a team of enormous depth cheering him on from all corners of the earth. He will play the game, like the sportsman he is, but make no mistake that he will beat you in the end. He will send you home with your tail between your legs.

His spirit will outmatch your cruelty.

We will soon be celebrating his victory

Oh To Be Young and on Spring Break

March 24, 2011 9 comments
A crowd of college students at the 2007 Pittsb...

Image via Wikipedia

As crowds of college kids congregate around the pool, my daughter asks me, “Why do boys wear underwear underneath their swimsuits?” That is an excellent question, I reply, as I notice every one of the boys has the waistband of their underwear showing above their swimsuits. We ponder their decision to prioritize coolness over comfort, surely having a bunch of wet cotton between your legs can’t feel great.

They look like babies, these kids, yet surely they must be in university, I don’t see any parents hovering around. It looks like they all grew a foot overnight, and are getting acquainted with their new height, stooping to accommodate themselves. If I squint, the large group morphs into versions of each other, the same person save for different coloured swim trunks. They carry blue plastic cups around the pool, likely filled with more alcohol than mix, liquid courage.

Families are interspersed amongst the kids, as invisible to them here as we would be if we stumbled into one of their frat parties. As we keep a watchful eye on our children, guarding against the recurring nightmare of drowning, we keep one eye on the partying college kids, remembering what it was like to be on spring break. What it was like to be totally self-absorbed, before responsibility descended.

While in university, people were always telling you, “Enjoy it while it lasts,” and we would laugh and agree, but inwardly think that life would always be this good. We could control our destiny and make it wonderful. Youthfulness is a state of mind. Pass the baby oil, please, our skin is as invincible as we are.

Life will inevitably deal these kids hands of worries and cares, they will one day be more concerned about things like interest rates and health care, but they are oblivious at this point. They laugh, cavort, and play-fight like puppies, as they discuss which bar they will try to get into tonight.

I bite my tongue to refrain from telling them what we are all thinking, it is futile. No matter what their GPA’s, they cannot fathom what the weight of the world might feel like on their shoulders, when not a single burden is on their horizon.

Our experienced eyes know that it will happen to them just the same, as sure as we are sitting here.

Tips for Twittering the Time Away

March 21, 2011 5 comments

When major events happen while I sleep, Twitter informs me first thing in the morning as I wipe the sleep out of my eyes, hovering over my keyboard. I found out about Japan’s horrifying earthquake by watching a moving target of text decrying the devastation; learned of Egypt’s social unrest by a Twitter feed figuratively fist pumping the revolution.

It’s the de facto answer for late breaking news, the final stake in the heart of the printed newspaper.

So when people ask me why they should be on Twitter, I answer it’s where the world is. Are you in or out?

I have made lots of mistakes on Twitter. I have unknowingly used bad etiquette and snubbed those trying to be helpful. I followed all the wrong people. I didn’t know what to talk about, so stood, like a wallflower, on the sidelines. When I did start tweeting, I only talked about myself. Come to think of it, I made a lot of the same mistakes I did in Junior High School.

In an effort to save you from the same pitfalls, here is a list of dos and don’ts to make a smoother entry into the world of microblogging.

Do not set up a direct message reply to your new followers along the lines of “Thanks for the follow! Come check out my blog, http://www.spammer.com.” I was perplexed by these: was I supposed to thank every person who decided to follow me? The easy answer is no, you don’t. In fact, mostly spammers send these out, and the word on the street is to unfollow anyone who has sent you one of these. If you didn’t know any better and set one up, now would be the time to cancel. Very uncool.

Do thank people who Retweet your tweets, at least once. If someone is paying attention to what you’re saying, and likes it enough to retweet it, then show a little love by thanking them, it’s the least you can do. At first I didn’t get this, what was a RT? To those people who I didn’t initially thank, thank you. I get it now.

Do not just talk, be a listener. Nobody likes having those conversations where you are waiting for the other person to take a breath so that you can get a word in. Take time to answer random questions in your feed, or respond to something that moves you. It’s not just a one-way conversation; social indicates a two-way street.

Do add value with your tweets. Again unknowingly (I really could have used some tips before I started, thus my present mission to help people…) all I did until very recently was post links to my own blog posts, hoping to gain a few new visitors. My mandate was completely selfish, never looking at other people’s tweets. Embarrassing. I didn’t understand that Twitter is actually one big love fest, a forum for highlighting good works and deeds.  Now I tweet other blogs I find useful, YouTube videos that are inspirational, quotes I like. Follow Fridays (#FF), where you shout out to people who have been helpful to you, highlights that the mission of Twitter is actually goodness. I apologize to my followers for inundating them with my posts. Disclaimer: since this is particularly Twitterable, I will share this one, but nothing else for at least a week.

Don’t be all flash and dash. Pretending everything is perfect in your life doesn’t fly in microblogging, so leave your corporate mandate in the boardroom. Twitter is a more informal platform, a place to let your hair down a little, while not letting it all hang out. If you happen to have a personality, this can work to your advantage.

Do follow the right people for you. Someone once told me to follow who ‘good’ people were following. So I brought up a ‘good’ person’s list – an influencer, who had lots of followers and was in my target area of women who blogged, and simply clicked on people like a madwoman tasting jellybeans for the first time. This is so easy, I thought, as I watched my list of followings balloon to one thousand. But then I couldn’t add anyone anymore – Twitter had shut down my ability to add followers because my numbers were so out of whack – I had 1000 people I followed, but only 200 people following me. And thankfully, I might add. I had amassed a very random group of people, some of whom were of interest to me but many who were not. Painfully and over weeks, I looked at each person I had recklessly followed and weeded out people (and places, and objects) I had no business following. Not good form. As in so many areas of my life, it was the wrong approach.

Do join the conversation. Standing on the sidelines will only get you cold feet. Like the day I published my first blog post, I was nervous about publishing my first tweet. Everyone else seemed so smug with their @’s and #’s and clever short form, like they’d been tweeting their whole lives. It was like starting french immersion all over again; say what? It all starts making sense eventually.

Don’t expect a revolution overnight. Like anything that is worthwhile, developing your Twitter profile will take some time and energy. Keep things in perspective by setting small goals for yourself – maybe adding ten followers a week.

The day I started high school, I wore a neon pink shirt, only to realize pastels were the new thing. I walked around all day with my cheeks as bright as my shirt. Hopefully, my Twitter mistakes will be more quickly forgotten.


Did You Say Honey and Nuts?

March 17, 2011 6 comments

I live a somewhat healthy lifestyle.  Kale smoothies, whole grains, vegetables and lean proteins make up the bulk of my diet. But lurking in that qualifier, “somewhat,” amongst chocolate, wine, and coffee, is my guilty pleasure that I start the day with, and have ever since I was a child: I’m addicted to Honey Nut Cheerios. High in sugar and sodium and low in protein and fiber, I doubt Jillian Michaels would be enthusiastic.

It’s all my mother’s fault.

Easy going on most issues, my mother was staunchly opposed to sugar cereals. When Lucky Charm and Honeycomb commercials came on during the Saturday cartoons, making breakfast look as fun as a trip an amusement park complete with leprechauns and Flintstones, I salivated over my Shreddies (which added a little flavor).

But for some reason – likely fatigue – when General Mills introduced Honey Nut Cheerios, they made the grade for my mother. I took to that buzzing bee on their box like a fish to water, and have not looked back since. They have seen me through grade school, university, and now adulthood. My faithful companion. The ideal complement for my simple palate, the perfect combination of honey sweetness and crunch.

They are the low-water mark for groceries: I can substitute canned pears for fresh fruit, and whip up vegetarian concoctions when there is no meat to be found in my fridge, but when we’re low on Honey Nut Cheerios, I give in and hit the grocery store. I get panicky when the last cheerio and all of that dust falls into my bowl.

I have avoided studying the nutrition chart on its brown and yellow box for years; ignorance is bliss. But a friend recently pointed out that there was almost as much sugar and sodium in this cereal as Cocoa Puffs, forcing me to reconsider my favorite breakfast choice.

In search of better nutrition for my morning meal, I have gone through stints with various healthier options like steel cut oats and Kashi Go Lean Crunch. The steel-cut oats take too long to make and the Kashi Go Lean necessitates so much chewing it hurts my jaw. After a week I invariably retreat back to my old standby.

I’m trying another cereal this week. My health-freak dentist sold me on Nature’s Path version of Cheerios made with quinoa flour. He enthusiastically bade me to try it last time I was in for a cleaning. “Not bad,” I told him. “Revolting!” I thought. Yet every morning this week, I have reluctantly reached past my super-sized Honey Nut Cheerio box for an eco-packaged, nutritional version of my favorite cereal.

They have a much better nutritional score: no sugar, low sodium, higher fiber, more protein, all organic ingredients. Paired with skim milk, they are not quite as revolting, but still taste more like cardboard than food. I tell myself I’m doing my body a favor, but my heart is not in this change.

I console myself with the thought that when life gives me lemons, I will pour myself a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and let their sweetness override any of life’s sour taste. In an effort to eat healthier I have replaced white rice with brown, plain pasta with whole wheat, mashed potatoes with quinoa. I need to draw the line somewhere.

Day One of Spring Break and Boredom has Descended

March 15, 2011 5 comments

My children started their two-week spring break today. They watched television, played on the computer, played Wii, and then told me they were bored at 10 am. I knew that dreaded adjective would get some air play this week, but even the seasoned mother I am had hoped it would not emerge until day two.

Last week I was looking forward to some time doing nothing, but now I am panicking. My calendar has never looked so daunting in its bareness.

I had been bullish with optimism: at school age, my children are now adept at entertaining themselves (I thought), they are so busy during the school week between education and sports, I thought they’d enjoy some time to chill. They could frolick, hang, perhaps even simply play.

Isn’t this what we did in days gone past? Wander around the neighbourhood, popping back home when our stomaches growled louder than our friends could yell? We played in brooks, chased each other through forests, hung out in our basements. I don’t recall parents getting involved.

Times have changed.

Some gentle intervention was needed, lest they tear each other’s heads off. We went for an adventure walk, to the extreme chagrin of my oldest. We did yoga – my child’s suggestion, they are doing it in school – but she only lasted one downward dog. We baked a cake.

By the end of the day, they were getting the hang of hanging. Tonight I reshuffled my to-do list for the week, and replaced it with one word: play.

Wings of Paper Mache

March 14, 2011 4 comments

Whenever I’m in a book store discreetly trying to find a self-help book on how to make my life perfect, incognito in hoodie and sunglasses, I inevitably bump into another woman I know.

We exchange weak smiles and tell each other we’re looking for a gift for a down and out friend.

When I was growing up there was a copy of Dale Carnegie’s bestseller, How to Win Friends and Influence People, floating around my house. My brother was a disciple of this book, and quoted it often. I once thumbed through it, but quickly determined it would not help me in any way break into the cool crowd in high school. That was a different chapter altogether.

Since then I have read many self-help books that have been as unhelpful.

My inclusive but not exhaustive list includes: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, The Happiness Project, The Four Agreements, and The Secret. I draw the line at anything with Dummie or Chicken Soup in the title.

It was worth a shot, I thought, if the key to the perfect life was written in black and white, it would be silly of me not to to read it. Like buying a lottery ticket, they were a harmless gamble. But the only thing any of them did was instill in me a desire to write a legitimate self-help book, one that would actually give practical tips on living a better life.

I’m slowly getting it. The secret is there is no secret.

None of these books seemed to speak to me, personally. Of course they didn’t, they were written for the masses. They were written for the world at large, as though our brains function similarly. As though we are all wired the same.

We are so not.

I once saw Sia, a folksy Australian singer, in concert. She came out on stage wearing massive seven-feet high paper mache wings. It was quite a spectacle. She told us they were made out of every self-help book she had ever read. Ironically these heavy wings caused her to suffer from heat exhaustion and she left the stage after only four songs.

All those self-help books did was weigh her down.

And so it goes. Last week I went to the Momcafe in Vancouver, where the speaker implored us to stop looking for that last self-help book. The room erupted in laughter, we all knew what she was referring to. The answers can’t be found on a book shelf. Yet we can’t stop ourselves from looking, which is why The Power, the sequel to The Secret, has become a bestseller. Obviously, The Secret didn’t quite get it done.

Like Dr. Seuss summed up so eloquently in Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, so many of us are in the waiting room. Waiting for the phone to ring, or the snow to snow, or waiting around for a Yes or a No… Everyone is just waiting.

I was waiting to read the perfect self-help book.

The answer is in each of us, if we care to listen. What’s important to me might not be important to you. What I love you may despise. Listen to yourself, and don’t let a book tell you how to live. Instead, write your own personal version.

When terrible things happen to other people, it’s a wake up call to live your best life now. There can be no silver lining from Japan’s tragic earthquake, simply a reminder to all those more fortunate to not take any day for granted, squeeze whatever you can out of today because tomorrow holds no promises.

In creating its famous advertising campaign, Nike inadvertently gave us all the perfect slogan: Just Do It.

Between Nike and Dr. Seuss, I have all the self-help I need. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some wings to build.

SnowShoe Running: Try, Try Again

March 11, 2011 2 comments

There’s a new trend in town, and it involves running and mountains, a Vancouverite’s dream. As it happens, I love running and mountains. How could this go wrong?

Well, it sort of did. But if at first you don’t succeed, they say to try, try again. So I will try again, but first, a little tale of woe.

Grouse Mountain hosts Snowshoe drop ins every Monday and Wednesday night, so after hearing several people tell me how amazing it is, you will absolutely love it I believe were the exact words, I took the tram up the mountain to check it out. They had just received a dump of great snow, so despite poor visibility and low temperatures it held the promise of a snowy adventure.

I wedged into the dark tram alongside snowboarders and skiers, amazed at people’s stamina after 6 pm, when I’m usually thinking about going to bed. Stifling my yawns at the thought of curling up with a good book, I tried to draw from their energy and enthusiasm as we ascended to the base of my favorite local mountain.

After signing in with about seventy other night owls, they split up into groups of varying abilities. Because of high avalanche risk, the back country was closed, which meant the runners would be sticking to Paper Trail. I heard some groans, but it sounded innocent enough.

From the word go, the runners were off at a break neck speed down a steep pitch, powder flying up the back of my jacket as I frantically tried to keep pace with fading voices and fainter headlamps. The last time I sprinted downhill was never, so I tried to go as fast as I could without breaking my ankle, or worse, neck, as I navigated between dark forms that I hoped were trees.

I managed to barely keep them in sight, when suddenly, several beams of light were coming towards me. The sound of labored breathing – other than my own – was approaching me.  Having come to the bottom of the steep pitch, they had abruptly turned and were now trudging back up. Obediently I turned and brought up the tail end of the group as they made their way back up.

Someone has to be last, I told myself, as I again tried to keep pace with these jackrabbits. After fifteen minutes of a heart pounding, calf searing climb, I was relieved to see they were taking a breather. I joined their circle as someone yelled “Let’s go!”. I bent over to take a full breath into my lungs, but they were off, screaming down the hill that I had just labored up.

Surely, this is a joke.

Wondering what was going on, I trailed these inhumane people. Once again, I just caught up to them at the bottom of the hill when they turned and headed up. “How many times do you do this?” I managed to ask between breaths, meaning it took a long time to get out that sentence. “Four or five,” a snowshoer called over his shoulder.

I never did see any of their faces, just clouds of snow as they ran downhill.