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Mistaken Identity

February 24, 2014 6 comments

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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.

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Facing Fears

February 3, 2014 5 comments

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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.

We Remember

November 11, 2013 1 comment

Powerful. Moving. Emotional. As usual, I required a box of elusive tissues, and sniffed for an hour instead.

It’s not Hollywood’s latest blockbuster, but rather, the annual Remembrance Day assembly at my kids elementary school.

Imagine a world that knows no hunger, my daughter sang.

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Because watching children on bleachers recite In Flanders Fields will never grow old. Seeing veterans sitting tall and stoic in front of the children is remarkable. Listening to children tell stories of heroes in their family is amazing. Poppies made of tissue paper, and pop-art peace doves adorn the gymnasium walls.

Imagine a world where children are free.

The children sit still. Chins rest on hands. They are listening. They are learning about sacrifice, bravery, and loss. Learning things it almost hurts to tell them.

Imagine a world of infinite beauty, given for all to share.

We remember our past, and dream of a future where war is only a memory.

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Iron Will

August 27, 2013 2 comments
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The beginning of a long day, at Alta Lake.

Love, respect, and determination intermingled with the Whistler mountain air Sunday.

Joining a long string of bikes making their way to Rainbow Park post dawn – fellow spectators – there was an ominous mix of expectation, hope and worry. A knowledge that there would be achievement tinged with pain. There would be victors and at the same time carnage. Dreams realized, but at significant cost.

I had butterflies in my stomach. And I was only watching.

Someone had told me spectating an Ironman was hard work, which I found slightly ridiculous. But they were right. It’s not the jockeying for prime position around the transitions that is hard, it’s the wide range of emotions you experience. From incredulity to disbelief. Whether you are watching the pros streamlining down the highway or willing someone to take another step just by clapping hard.

It was, in its own way, grueling.

I wondered, as I watched an older man in incredible pain limping along the run course at the fourteen hour mark, what was possibly motivating him to set out for the second thirteen mile lap. What could inspire someone to strap on a headlight once darkness fell, knowing they had entered the water before the sun had risen. Behind every athlete, their unique story. Because even the ones who looked fresh on race day had suffered at some point of their arduous training.

A day of dichotomy. At times I watched perfectly sculpted super humans gliding past, while at others I watched softer forms in various stages of struggle. At the finish line some athletes sat on picnic benches and chatted with family, while 20 meters away the medical tent overflowed with salty casualties awaiting IV’s or wheelchairs.

Some athletes bounced away from the finish line, while others were carried.

One thing they all shared was the courage to try. Every face etched with resolve. Evey face.

On top of all that, this.

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Don’t blink or you’ll miss her.

Euphoria at watching my friend rocking a race that I will never attempt. Chrissy, who I try to persuade to have another glass of wine, stay out later, come hang at the beach for a while. She quietly sacrifices these leisurely moments in order to train, making various excuses but never complaining. She chose her dedicated path, and on Sunday, was rewarded.

Tenacious despite fatigue. Focused and unwavering, she was the fourth superwoman to cross the line. I went to cheer her on, but every time I saw her on the course, getting it done, my throat closed up and I couldn’t squeak out a word of encouragement. A spectating fail. Amazed, I could only gawk at her strength.

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Christine Fletcher proving her iron will

Incredibly proud of Chrissy, and my other friends who not only finished Ironman, but achieved new milestones. In fact, props to everyone who attempted this test of mettle. Not only are you an Ironman, you are proof positive that we are capable of incredible things.

How Hard Can A Triathlon Be, Said No One, Ever

July 9, 2013 7 comments

Taken in isolation, a 1500 meter swim isn’t hard. A 37 km bike ride is certainly not daunting. And a 10 km run? Please, I could do that in my sleep. Backwards.

So entering my first Olympic distance triathlon, I told myself, was nothing to write home about. (Sorry about that, mom.) It would be an interesting experiment, a way to celebrate my year of finally learning how to swim, Phelps style. (Because in my mind’s eye I swim just like him.) It would be – and I really thought this – easy.

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Get. This. Wetsuit. Off. Where is that cord?!

And what better place to spend a few hours splashing around than Squamish? Fresh from the running Whistler Half Marathon in early June, I put the Squamish Triathlon on my race calendar for early July, enabling me to wallow away the remainder of summer nights reliving my triumph over copious glasses of Pinot Grigio, until it was time to cheer on my (crazy dedicated) friend Chrissy and her (crazy dedicated) buddy Steph in the #Ironman late August. You know, a real triathlon. The big show. At which point the celebration would kick up a notch.

Typical me, I under-trained and paid the price. But you just never know until you try. So. Now I know.

Still, a very cool and gratifying experience, if heavy on set up time (and supposedly training time, who knew?). I balked when the website requested athletes be on site at 7 am despite a 9:30 am start, to set up transitions. My sleep requirements go way past the beauty, and verge on the sanity, so this threw me off. Unlike running races, there is no fall-out-of-bed-get-yo-ass-to-the-start.

And transitions remained a rather murky concept to me – what did I really need for each one? Towels, food, iPhone to text for help? I hated the thought of needing something I hadn’t thought to leave myself. What if I was bored out of my mind and craved music for my run? What if I needed a cheeseburger after the bike? Or a bed to rest in? What then?

I managed to figure it out by simply attaching myself to a couple that seriously looked the triathlete part (sculpted cheekbones and Oakley’s) and were so in love with each other that they didn’t notice me skulking around them the entire time. And beside them at each transition. Stalking has its advantages. I watched them hawk-eyed as they hung their bikes and carefully laid out a tiny towel on which to put their accessories. (Me: folded my beach towel to look tiny and placed socks and gels inside my shoes, just like the beautiful couple, then stealthily put my sandwich I’d prepared to the bottom of my bag before anyone noticed.)

There seemed to be a discrepancy as to wear a wetsuit or not, but when the charming ones donned theirs, I donned mine. I could use this duo in my everyday life. Decisions have never been so easy.

A fellow swimmer didn’t crack a smile when I asked him if he’d mind zipping me up – hard on my ego, but then those swim caps aren’t for everyone – but redeemed himself my giving me a few tips. And then I realized he was gay, so redemption all around! He encouraged me to get in that water and warm up so the start will be less biting, and to swim wide of the buoy markers to avoid the traffic jam. Noted.

My game plan was to hang back and swim wide of the chaos, in my own little world. And so I did, zigzagging myself towards buoys (sighting still not my strong point), and by the time I’d reached the second of the three turns, I started to get into my groove. Basically, just in time to get out of the water. Which would be the theme for the day.

So I made some mistakes. People flew out of transitions like they were on fire while I debated eating my Cliff bar. I had to stop and ask the crowd for directions on the bike, and asked a competitor, how many laps are we doing again? By the time I started the run (what were my words, in my sleep, backwards?), the relief I expected to feel (finally, my sport, this one I can do!) never came. Instead, just point me to the finish line please, I want this to be over.

That mouth is full of Cliff bar. Again.

That mouth is full of Cliff bar. Again.

And so with 1 km to go, and my legs finally beneath me and my stride lengthened at long last, I missed a pesky rock on the trail and took one on the chin. Literally. Sailed through the air and landed on my chin in front of two volunteers, shocking them out of their engaging conversation, in my best Jack Tripper imitation.

So there was that.

But also, there was this: Accomplishment. Pride. Sweat. Happiness. Triumph.

And the best part was that my two biggest cheerleaders, my girls (my oldest away with friends so MIA), were there every step of the way, and were more excited than myself when I finished.

Success, and love.

Still eating.

(Still eating.)

Father’s Day Reflection

June 13, 2013 16 comments

Dad at work

It’s been twenty years since I’ve seen my Dad, so Father’s Day can be difficult. All those ads for barbecues and razors fill me with sadness because I’m not part of the marketing frenzy this holiday presents. Instead, Father’s Day is simply a time to reflect, a time to remember my Dad and who he was and what he meant to me.

It was cancer, an explanation used too often, but there it is. He died the day before Father’s Day, when the lilacs were in full bloom and the the dichotomy of that has never left me, lilacs being my favorite flower. He’d had cancer and a heart attack before, so it was somewhat of a shock to my naive twenty-two year old self that this happened, that he could actually die.

He was a character, my father.

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At times he drove me crazy, as parents are likely to do. There were moments when I wished he were different from who he was. Perspective is a funny thing, because looking back, it’s these same differences that made him wonderful.

Ah, there’s the rub, that’s what he would say.

He wasn’t perfect, but as a parent myself, I have a better appreciation for him now, knowing what the constant pressure of raising a family feels like.

And I only have three children. He had nine. It puts his fatherhood into its own category, right alongside the crazy category, but I’m thankful my parents persisted, being the ninth. Sacrifice was not fleeting, it was a way of life when you have nine children. I could not have done it.

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But he was indefatigable. He thrived in the chaos of our family, he was our wise and fearless leader, larger than life and full of stories. When he laughed, he threw his head back and it could be heard for miles around. The man loved to laugh.

Looking back, he seemed to be involved with anything that came his way – the church, the cancer society, the Kinsmen, whatever that is. On top of supporting us, he made time for positions on boards and volunteered heartily – yet frequently when I was walking home in the pouring rain, his car would appear and the door would fling open. He drove around until he found me.

He appeared in unlikely places at unlikelier times, and when no one else was thinking of me, he thought of me.

I once read that when you lose someone you love, it’s like a crater landing in the middle of your life that is never again filled; you simply learn how to navigate around it. And so it is. I miss him, but I’ve learned to live life without him, as you do. The world keeps turning. Last week I was in a used book store in Washington and I took a picture of a set of books he would have appreciated, maybe I would have given them to him for Father’s Day. In that moment, I felt the hole of his absence. Grief does that, creeps up on you, and you feel the loss and the shock, all over again.

He’s gone but not forgotten. I have his blue eyes and skinny ankles. His impatience and stubbornness, his passion for words, his love of sports. I see myself reflected in him, both his good traits and his bad.

He wasn’t perfect, but he was mine.

Happy Father’s Day to all dads, and especially to the fathers who are still with us in spirit, wherever we go.

Dad and I

June Bugs and Strawberry Shortcake

June 10, 2013 4 comments

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It’s June, and I’m tired.

Tired of making lunches and putting grapes into plastic containers that are returned at the end of the day unopened, or worse, at the end of the week as a mold experiment. Tired of washing an endless cycle of water bottles. Tired of cleaning out knapsacks with crumpled bits of paper I was supposed to read last week. Tired of nagging my kids to do their homework, put away their rain boots, and for the love of Miss Carroll, hang up their school bags.

The routines and good intentions of September melt into puddles of torment by June, and I need school to end already so I can fantasize about summer.

But aside from the rivulets of hell that June represents to parents nationwide, June also means local strawberries, and local strawberries, for me, can mean only one thing. Strawberry shortcake. Because what’s life if you can’t take something perfectly healthy and make it into something naughty?

Aha. Stop right there. Strawberry shortcake need not be naughty. Nope, nada, nien. Substitute the whip cream or ice cream for vanilla flavoured Greek yogurt and voila, a healthy dessert is born. I discovered this when I opened the empty ice cream container that was in our freezer, and was determined that my strawberry hulling would not be in vain. Who does that? Who among you puts an empty container back in the freezer?

I’m not known for my culinary genius, so when I make a rare discovery in the kitchen, I need to get out the megaphone. And it fits within my criteria of five minute turn-around, leaving me time to dream about swinging in a hammock this summer. Like that’s going to happen.

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Whole Lot of Protein Strawberry Shortcake: Feeds 4 and takes 4 minutes, unless you mistake your thumb for a strawberry, which I may or may not have done.

1 pint of local strawberries

1 packet of tea biscuits (Whole Foods makes them better than me)

500 ml 0% vanilla flavoured Greek yogurt

Clean and chop strawberries avoiding thumbs, spoon over halved biscuits, top with yogurt, and thank me tomorrow. Off to buy my hammock.