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Walk this Way

English: The end of dinner

English: The end of dinner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was walking Cadie through a darkened park yesterday thinking about how sluggish, over-fed and tired I feel. Let’s be honest, this over-fed, bloated feeling as I flit from one celebration to another is the epitome of a “first world problem” so I don’t want to complain, or sound ungrateful. I know I’m very blessed, and this is my favourite time of year. Still, I miss the warmer weather, the longer days, and my solitary walks along the trails with my little girl. I miss them so much that I thought I would dedicate today’s blog post to some of our favourite places, as I dream about how the days will be a little longer starting Saturday.

1) Cherry Beach. We don’t get there often, but it is the perfect place to watch the sun rise over the city. Especially in the winter: the wind is cold and brisk and gets the blood pumping. Cherry Beach has some of the city’s best views; whether you’re looking out over the lake, or back towards the city.

The view back towards the city from Cherry Beach

The view back towards the city from Cherry Beach

2) Sherwood Park. Sherwood Park is a great place. It’s a huge park, with a long, off-leash walking trail. It’s only a thirty minute walk from our apartment, so Cadie and I tend to go a lot. Less in the winter because of the shorter days, and the sidewalks are pretty mucky with salt, but we always have a great time once we get there.

Hello old friend, nice to see you again

Hello old friend, nice to see you again

3) The Brickworks. This is one of those places that I would hear everyone talk about, but I had never been there myself. This last fall I went with my friend A. The two dogs had a great time, and I was shocked to discover that it was within 20 minutes walking distance of our apartment. Guess what our new favourite place is? That’s right, Cadie and I were there almost every night from September until the time change at the end of October. I’m hoping we can get back out there for some weekend walks in the winter.

Some places deserve to be remembered

Some places deserve to be remembered

4) Mount Pleasant Cemetery. On our way home from a walk along the Brickworks trail we would always cut through Mount Pleasant Cemetery. This fall they changed their policy, and now dogs are allowed to walk through, provided they follow certain rules. I  know it sounds macabre, but I love the cemetery, and I’m thrilled that dogs are now permitted to walk through. Every where I look I see something old and beautiful. Trees that have been there for years, and people who have done amazing things.

In Mount Pleasant you’ll pass Sir Frederick Banting, Alexander Muir and William Lyon Mackenzie King, to name only a few. I’m also told that the cemetery is the resting place for some of Canada’s top generals from WWII. But I don’t just go to gawk; Mount Pleasant is a lush “living cemetery,” full of people  jogging, reading, strolling, and looking at the same things I’m looking at. It’s also one of the few places in midtown where you cannot hear the traffic. It’s might be a cemetery, but it’s a magical place.

5) Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens. When I first came on this small park it was dark, and I was walking quickly up Yonge Street. The front gate was so imposing and stately, I was sure I’d fallen in the book The Secret Garden, except for the fact that the garden isn’t secret. So I recommend that you take in this garden, if only to see the gateway in all its splendor. It’s a highly manicured park, often with tennis players in their whites moving around the back part of the park. It is definitely a place that you should see.

Garden escape

Garden escape (Photo credit: AshtonPal)

6) Sunnybrook Park. This is a huge park, connected to Toronto’s parks and ravine system. It’s not close (it takes nearly an hour to walk there), but it’s full of nature trails, an off-leash area and even some stables. Cadie and I have been known to spend a whole morning taking various trails, just to see where they would take us. This is the park where Cadie first overcame her fear of going into the water. We usually drive, park, and walk through the park to the off-leash area. But sometimes we walk up Bayview, and get the best of an urban walk, and a nature hike.

Cadie, grabbing a quick drink.

Cadie, grabbing a quick drink.

When I find myself feeling locked in I just try to remember that soon the days will start to get longer, and Cadie and I will be back on the trails. Are there any other trails that we should get to know this winter?

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tin

Festive containers for festive cookies

Last Sunday I was lucky enough to be able to share some holiday love with some girl friends. We had a holiday bake-off. The idea was that rather than getting together for some gossip and goodies we would spend an afternoon together, baking, gossiping, and eating. I know it sounds like almost the same thing, but it was really nice to work together.

sandwiches

Cres-sandwiches, the perfect light lunch

We’re bakers of all shapes and varieties: my friend W, who wasn’t able to make it, is an excellent creator of traditional treats. My friend A  is an excellent creator of vegan treats. I’m more of a free-form baker, and I am often disappointed that creations don’t work out. Then we also had a couple of girls who don’t bake at all.

Lemon scone with strawberry jam and coconut whipped cream

Lemon scone with strawberry jam and coconut whipped cream

I remember the character of Marilla Cuthbert telling Anne Shirley that she and Rachel Lind could live together, provided they didn’t have to share a kitchen. While I agree that sharing a kitchen day in and day out is too great a trial for even the best and most adaptable cook or baker, I see the value in sharing a day in the kitchen. You get to see how other people manage their time while their baking, how they complete different tasks, and how they manage to keep their counter-tops clean so that they can keep working. We shared kitchen wisdom, recipes, tips and tricks, as well as new products.

Butter tarts with tons of taste, and no butter

Butter tarts with tons of taste, and no butter

We had all of this knowledge sharing, a nice visit, and some of the most delicious treats. We started our afternoon with cres-sandwhiches, vegan chocolate cupcakes, and vegan butter tarts—no Christmas would  be complete without butter tarts. We ate this while my free-form peanut butter cups cooled in the fridge.

Candy cane cupcakes--yum!

Candy cane cupcakes–yum!

After lunch we helped J make one of Martha Stewart’s recipes: Lime Melt-aways. These ultimately became the hit of the party. J isn’t much for baking, but she’s a good sport, and she’s a hoot so it was fun to watch her bake. So with a little help from A she was able to get the dough prepared, and into the fridge to chill, before finally slicing the rolls and putting them in the oven.

Lime Melt-aways, I'll bet you can't eat just one...

Lime Melt-aways, I’ll bet you can’t eat just one…

While we were waiting to move on to the oven stage of J’s cookies Penelope, J and I started assembling the empire cookies. She had pre-baked the sugar cookies, so that all we had to do on the day of was combine two together with jam in the middle, and top with icing and a chocolate square.

Can you resist the Empire (cookies)

Can you resist the Empire (cookies)

We all had a great day, and we each walked away with a tin full of delicious, vegan, holiday treats. Now I just need to learn how to stagger out these goodies.

I’m out!

English: Rest. Mural in lunette from the Famil...

So I’m out this week nursing a very sore back, I hope to be up and running again next week.

English: Meditation

I got to work a couple of weeks ago, completely flustered. It was a totally Murphy’s Law day, where almost everything that could go wrong had gone wrong. Don’t misunderstand me, nothing was huge, but I was caught in a traffic jam—in my own parking garage, no less. This made me late for a dentist appointment, which in turn made me late for the office. Once at the office I had to scramble so that I wouldn’t be late for my flu shot appointment. But between the traffic jam before ever even leaving home, the slow pace of traffic up Yonge St. and having to deal with the computer from the movie Office Space, I was completely flustered and haggard by 10:30 in the morning. In fact, I didn’t start to relax until after my flu shot, when I said to one coworker that what I needed was to be forced to sit quietly with a cookie for 15 minutes. We laughed, because isn’t that something we could all use: 15 minutes when we’re not being pulled in every conceivable direction. Fifteen minutes to do nothing but think about breathing in and breathing out, while waiting of course to make sure the vaccine doesn’t make us sick.

In talking to another coworker I came to understand that I do this a lot. I’m chronically over-extended. In fact, this second woman went as far as to characterize me as being over-extended. This was a real shock to me. I’ve always described myself as being laid back. How could I have missed such a crucial personality flaw? All I  can figure is that people who are over-extended have very little time for introspection. Even the time I’ve set aside for meditation is tightly planned. I have a 6-minute guided meditation with a row boat, then I do 2:30 minutes of thankful prayer, then another 6 minutes of meditation—it’s not really free-form, but it’s supposed to help me sleep, so it’s not really guided either. So then, I started to wonder, do I really have time when I can let my mind be still? When I just let myself be, and enjoy that time?

The good news is that there is. Every night after dog park I bring Cadie home, and I put her in the bath tub. She really doesn’t like the tub, but she accepts that dirty little paws have to be cleaned, so she gets in the tub, and hands me her paws one after the other until all 4 are clean.

Lounging on my impossibly formal couch–or chesterfield

Then I lift her out of the tub, sit her on my lap with her little feet sticking straight out, and I rub them dry. Then I pet her back. Cadie will lay her head against my chest, and exhale deeply, making a little sound of satisfaction. Then she snuggles the crown of her head under my chin. This is where we stay…for about 2 minutes. 120 seconds. I try to take my time saying it—One-hundred and twenty seconds. Normally this amount of time would pass in the blink of an eye, but this is when I am happiest, so I try to drag it out. This is the moment that we’ve both waited for all day, and we both do our best to make this moment last.

So there, with her little head under my big chin, her little ears twitching as my breath grazes them, we both relax, reclining into the formal chesterfield, her wrapped in a towel, me sometimes under a blanket. My mind becomes still, and I focus on how much I love her, and how grateful I am to have this happy little soul in my life. It’s the cosiest moment of my day, and like meditation I’ve been known to fall asleep like this–especially if the weather is particularly cold.

But all good things must end, and I’ll do something stupid like reach for her paw, or adjust my hold of her back slightly. Cadie will push herself up, give her head a shake, and just like that the moment has passed; now we’re back to reality. The pace picks up again as I go about getting her dinner, and of course the treat she has earned by enduring the indignity of having to go in the bathtub. I also have to clean the bathtub, get my own shower, and then make my own meal and get started on whatever chore I need to tackle after dinner.

It might not be long, but I carry that stillness with me until I can recharge myself again, until I can sit and care for Cadie. It’s nice to know that in an imperfect world we can always have at least one-hundred and twenty perfect seconds to sustain us.

The Eternal Struggle

The Rhone at Avignon.

My mother and I are planning a trip to Provence. I know, I’m so excited! I haven’t been on a trip since 2006, when mum and I went on a cruise of the Adriatic. This time we will cruise down the Rhone for something like 12 days, then we’ll send 3 days in Paris, then we’ll fly back to Toronto and collapse exhaustedly into our beds. Mum will rest, and I’ll have to get up and go to work, but there are worse fates.

The point is, when we booked this trip my mother made me promise that I would try to lose some weight. Our experience on the European cruise ship in 2006 told us that we were heavier than we should be, and, in fact, we were heavier than just about everyone else around us. Mum wants to make sure that we fit in. Maybe “fit in” is the wrong way of putting it, but she doesn’t want us to stand out either.

So I wish I could stand here today and tell you that I have been trying really hard, and then show you some fabulous before and after pictures of me and my fabulous new body. Unfortunately that just isn’t the case. Not because I’m not trying. I dutifully log onto my fitness pal every day: in fact it tells me that I’ve been logged on for 100 days in a row. I watch my food intake and try to balance it out with my energy output, but in spite of that I haven’t lost a pound. Not 1 pound in a 100 days. Not a goodwill pound, not an atta-girl pound. Nothing!

I have to stop giving into temptation and making these types of treats.

Don’t misunderstand me; this isn’t a mystery. I know why I’m not losing weight. For all the tracking and balancing that I’m doing, I’m still eating yummy things like cakes, cookies and homemade peanut butter cups, and that’s just my snacks. For lunch and dinner, I’m eating my greens, and my corn, as well as squash and tomato, but I’m doing it in veggie burgers and on pizzas.

Controlling my food intake has always been a challenge for me. When I was 16 my grandmother told me that I had the appetite of a man, and went on to say that she had never seen anything like it. Still, I was young, and healthy, and active, so it seemed to me that it was only normal that I should eat like a horse.

At 12 I lost a ton of weight, maybe as much as 30 or 50 pounds. I’m not sure, I didn’t have a scale. I just worked out in secret until all of the weight was gone. My eating habits were once again the topic of conversation, as my family, some friends, and their mothers all remarked that I had lost a ton of weight; they added that they hoped that I had the good sense to know when to stop.

What was I thinking when I made these?

My goal in life has never been about being stick thin, rather it was about reaching a healthy weight and then being able to maintain it. That way, I told myself, I wouldn’t have to have these humiliating and debasing conversations with well-intentioned people. Unfortunately, I once again find myself needing to lose weight, but this time I’m struggling to find exercise that won’t hurt my back, while also struggling to get the binge eating under control. As delicious as it all is, these treats are interfering with my life, and my goals. I’d like to go to France lighter and with more energy so that I can make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Little Acts of Greatness

Couple des arts

Saturday night was a bad night for me. It came out of nowhere, but there I was sitting alone on the couch watching some dreadful movie, sewing my Christmas presents, when all of sudden it hit me. A wave of bitterness and aggression washed over me, pulled me down, and then my needle started to go through the fabric and batting with so much more force  than was necessary. As I say, it took me by surprise, because I wasn’t able to fixate on a single thing that was upsetting me. Semi-formed sentences tumbled around in my head, and died as I started to think about writing them down. I wanted so much to write them down, and send them to the people who had upset me, but my issues with two or three different men jumbled on top of each other, and I was having trouble keeping everything straight.

So instead I developed a coping mechanism. I call it the Bitter box. It’s a box that sits beside the couch, where I can write down my issues with different people and throw them in. I needed to get this negativity out of my head, out of my body, and as far away from me as possible. Within an hour I had thrown two handfuls of thoughts and feelings. The plan is to write these horrible things down and throw them in the box. Once these thoughts and feelings are away from me, I can meditate for peace, for better control of my anger, and to heal. Finally, I will destroy these thoughts. I don’t know when, and I don’t know how (being afraid of fire means that a bonfire is out of the question). But I digress…the point is that what I am doing to handle the emotions that my past raises isn’t working, so I need to try something different. This is different.

Get out of my head!

My deep, dark secret is that I hate men. I know, it’s totally irrational, it will lead me nowhere good, and most importantly, it’s totally unfair. I try, I’ve tried, I want to put myself out there, to believe that this next guy will be the exception, if not “Mister Right,” then at least “Mister-I-Won’t-Steal-From-You-or-Ignore-You.” I haven’t dared to think that “Mister I-Respect-What-You’ve-Accomplished-and-Enjoy-Spending-Time-With-You” could be waiting for me.

But, as I’ve said before, blogging is supposed to be a positive space; a place where I can focus on the things that are really good, while simultaneously pushing the bad out of my mind and spirit. Which means that I can’t bitch and complain about the less than stellar men I’ve known here. Instead I’m going to take some advice a friend once gave me, and focus on the good relationships I see around me. So today, instead of trying to dissect my insecurities I am going to take the time to build up and praise all of the great men in my connection, and talk about a smattering of the things that make them truly wonderful.

These men, my friends’ husbands, haven’t ever done anything that would be worthy of a feature film—by which I mean that they may not always say the perfect thing, or engage in dramatic, over-the-top exhibitions of love and devotion, but rather they demonstrate their love every day by their respect for their families. The first man I want to highlight is my friend’s husband Dave. Dave is the kind of rock that we should all be looking for. He is steady, even-tempered, and often able to see the humour in life. I met Dave when I worked for and started my friendship with Fiona. I remember that I was out of the office to serve in a disastrous wedding. After the bride left and I helped the hosts clean up I limped up the gigantic hill to my home, where I sat down and wrote a lengthy email to Fiona. It was peppered with the inappropriate, and frankly shocking moments from this wedding party I had witnessed, and I’m sorry to say, participated in. Fiona later confided to me that Dave got so much enjoyment from my email that she caught him sneaking back to the computer to read it a couple more times. It’s not just Dave’s appreciation for good anecdotes that sets him apart. He brings the same good-natured approach to most of life’s hiccups. Not to say that he doesn’t get angry, but he is more likely to see the humour in any given situation. If nothing else, he knows how to direct his anger so that you never feel that you are the cause of it. Hats off to a man who doesn’t sweat the small stuff!

I would also like to celebrate Steve. Steve is the first instance I know of where a girl married her highschool sweetheart. And Steve is a nice man. I live a couple of hours away from Terri Anne and Steve, and when I come for a visit I have to stay over. Steve has never made me feel that I was intruding; he’s gone out of his way to include me in conversation and special events. I lost some friends in my mid-twenties, when their husbands couldn’t accept their wives’ friends. Hats off to a man who can feel comfortable meeting new people, and welcoming everyone into the fold!

My friend Whitney has gone  through a pretty tough year. I don’t want to be overly personal, but her husband Ian helped her get through it as best they could. Ian manned command central while Whitney attended to all the other things that needed to be looked after. I don’t mean to be vague, but I do want to respect their family’s privacy. The point is really that Ian and Whitney were a team; they prioritized getting their family back on track, and ensuring that they kept their relationship healthy and were able to lean on each other. Hats off to a man who knows what needs to be done, and just does it!

Finally, we get to B, Penelope’s husband. I have saved B to the end because I owe him an apology. I was not a big fan of B’s when Penelope first introduced us. He spent the better part of the night talking about a variety of practical jokes that he had played at no less than 3 universities. I didn’t really get why Penelope was attracted to him; he just seemed kind of goofy, a big joker. But jokers are wild, B is still goofy, but now I see that under all of that goofiness is a very nice man, who is totally practical, sensitive and reliable. B’s impressive collection of Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, comic books and video games is second only to his impressive love and devotion for Penelope, Momo, and their little dog Toby. Hats off to the man who has his priorities straight.

Thank you for bearing with me, I know we usually save our praise for wonderful men and hold onto it for June–right before Father’s day–but I needed to go through it tonight. I needed to remind myself that it isn’t all bad, that there are men out there who love and respect their wives, girlfriends and families, all we have to do is know how to recognize the good ones. I would love it if you could share some of the things that the wonderful men in your life do for you.

Things Fall Apart

Ottawa Ontario Canada  March 2011 — Rideau Can...

I used to run a lot when I was in my 20s, at least 3 times a week, and sometimes more if I need a breather from school, or if I felt that I had over-indulged. Running gave me such a nice, weightless feeling. It was a place where I could escape and just feel free. I remember my hair streaming out behind my head while my breath came in regular puffs of white mist. These were the days when I loved running, when I pitied anyone who couldn’t run. I felt strong, and independent and healthy, and I loved those feelings.

Those were the good runs, but there were also bad runs: runs that were fuelled by a broken heart, or crushing disappointments. These runs always seemed to end in hyperventilating, extra-stiff muscles and lengthy delays as I tried to regulate my breathing so that I could continue on my way.

My coach

Still, when I think back to my running days all I remember is the good: the runs where I felt invincible, where I knew I was young, healthy and strong, and there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. There was the time in Ottawa when my run was fuelled by a broken heart and had been delayed by crying fits and hyperventilating. But I managed to get myself going again, and when I reached the end of my route and set my first foot on Laurier bridge the sky exploded into bright greens, reds and blues as we started the annual Winterlude celebration. There was also the Christmas morning when I decided to head out for a run before the festivities began. The sky was so blue, the trees so bare, and the earth covered by a thin layer of crystallized frost. The memory of that run is so idyllic to me that I sometimes forget that I was running down service roads, past empty factories and warehouses. I can’t remember anything else from that Christmas day, but I relive that run regularly.

Me, out for a rare run.

My running days are well and truly behind me now. A back injury and worsening asthma make if difficult for me to commit to a running routine, though that hasn’t stopped me from going on the occasional run. These days the bulk of my exercise has to happen in the pool. I don’t love swimming, not yet; I haven’t created the kinds of memories and the emotional bond that I had with running. In the pool I feel weak and uncoordinated, and I hate these feelings. I routinely find myself clinging to  the side of the pool gasping for air,  or clutching my side, waiting for the cramps to pass. So I find myself looking for more and more opportunities to skip out, to tell myself that I’m too busy, that I can’t get in the pool because it’s too cold outside, etc. But I know that this isn’t who I am, I know that I am a fighter at heart, and that I just need to commit myself to improving my skill, to becoming a stronger swimmer, so that I can find my stride, and feel strong after each workout. Then, maybe I could love it as much as I loved running.