Monday, September 28, 2015

What I Know Now, at 29

When I first started this blog, its purpose was to catalogue ideas and memories to look at when I’ve lived long enough to let them slip my mind.  Now, as I turn 29, this little page has really started to look like me: a collection of at times misshapen, though endlessly genuine pieces that don’t quite have a label or a calling.  And so, today I’d like to share the most important things I’ve learned not only in this past year of course, but throughout the most emotionally monumental moments of my life. The last thing I would want is to tell anyone how to live their life, what things they “should” know by the time they’re a certain age, or any variation on those sorts of lists. This is only a little offering – my contribution to the potluck of life, and what I believe is true.  I’ve interspersed little segments from my birthday weekend into the mix, because I’m a grown-ass 29 year old woman now, so why the hell not. 

1. Life is right now, and not the way you hope or imagine it will be in the future.  Pretend you’re on vacation someplace really incredible and you know you only have a week there. Maybe today you’ll try bungee jumping, just to live it up. Maybe tonight you’ll walk on hot coals, just to know you did it, and because it’s your one opportunity before you leave. You make the most of your vacation because you know it’ll end soon.  Imagine if we truly envisioned life that way as well-as a tangible, finite bit of time-and did something special every day, and made the most of today before the vacation ends. 

It's nice to have co-workers support my donut addiction. pictured: box of (what used to be) 6 honey crullers, gift card, and ridiculously adorable birthday card signed by my team.

2. Forgive. Forgive the people who don't know any better and the people who do, not to be the better person, but because it just feels so much better to let go.  And while you're at it, forgive yourself, whether or not you knew any better.

3. Recognize when fear is controlling you and stop giving it so much power. I held on to a really awful friend for over a decade because I was afraid of what losing her support would do to my life. I let this fear keep me in a place where I constantly put myself down just to keep her around, until I it backed me into a corner and I had no other choice but to say bye Felicia because I had finally had enough.  And you know what, it’s been awesome. (Note: her name is not Felicia)

It's also nice to have friends who help you build your "sugar stamina" with venti lattes...I'm getting better at plowing through these 20oz. bad boys!

4. If you’ve got a funny joke, just say it. Never, ever worry about whether someone will get it, or that no one will laugh. Did you ROFL when you thought of it? You’re golden, baby.

5. Don’t be afraid to be alone. The thought of coming home to an apartment where nobody asks how your day was would make anyone want to cry onto a Sarah McLachlan CD and take up smoking.  But you know what's great about coming home to silence? The opportunity to at least attempt to read a book that you can then talk about at parties (“Yes, well you see, I’m currently working on the novel by the great…[some German buzzed-about author]…I find it’s so much more meditative than anything, almost like a commentary on commentary itself…quite..”), to do an entire stand-up routine (that's what she said jokes included) without anyone asking you what your damage is, to wear your Spongebob Squarepants pyjamas without having to flex your core muscles when your significant other is looking. Don’t be afraid to be alone: there are so many things you can do now by yourself, before you meet that really great person who will politely ask you to stop burping MC Hammer lyrics. 

And if you really, really don't wanna be alone, I can lend you my birthday gift from Amy: a book of very useful pickups and come-ons the likes of this grocery store specific gem: "Wanna come home with me? Cause this meat's about to expire" (and equal thank you to Nancy for the delicious Okonomiyaki brunch!)
6. Stop freaking out if you aren’t carpe-ing that diem, if you aren’t being everything you’ve ever dreamt you would be, if you’re not continuously sipping a green smoothie through a striped artisanal straw, or if your job isn’t reaching into the pit of your soul and shaking every ounce of passion out of you.  We are bombarded with supposed opportunities which, in the end, just make us feel like losers for not having accomplished everything we ‘could’ be doing. Life isn’t easy, and sometimes just getting through the day warrants a glass of wine, so don’t you dare hurt your own feelings judging yourself because you haven’t opened your vegan food truck in Hawaii.  Every night, try to ask yourself: were you as kind as you could be and do you stand behind your actions? If it's a yes, you’ve officially seized the day, and that’s all there is to it. 

Speaking of carpe diem, I definitely did when I dragged my mom, sister, and her boyfriend to the Carp Fair on Friday.
7.  In order to be happy, you have to accept the non-linearity of life and let life do what it wants. Or I had to do that, anyway. Strictly planning your next ten years will inevitably lead to a handful of disappointments because your future is not a static continuation of your present.  Things change. People will come and go, you might get sick, you might get fit, you might get a dog, your hamster might die, you might get promoted, you might get hit by a helicopter, people will give you some wonderful news and people will hurt you, and you have to let things happen as they do.  Take each day as it comes and be happy you can watch the sunset once more. 

And sometimes the little things can make you very, very happy. Did you know Sephora and Godiva both treat you to birthday gifts on your special day? This month, I received two gorgeous Nars lipsticks, and the dark red one has a rich matte finish which I love. Will this be the year that I start looking like a real aforementioned grown-ass woman?
8.  Keep it real. Regardless of where you are or who you’re surrounded by, the more you act like yourself, the more you’ll attract like-minded people and the more positivity you’ll project. At work, I’m surrounded by middle aged suits who now turn to me before a meeting, waiting for a joke from me to break the ice. I used to worry that I didn’t wear enough blazers or heels, but now I throw in a pun here and there, and I’ve made what I’m pretty sure is a good impression, just by being myself, bypassing the need for office jargon. 

I love homemade gifts, and this year, my girlfriend spoiled me with a homemade blanket and a card with little jumping hearts!
9.  When you’re feeling shitty, remember that your future is not a static continuation of the way your life is now.  Think of yourself a few years ago. You were so different, life was so different. Inevitably, everything will change and there’s no way you’ll continue feeling this way forever so put down the jar of Nutella. Okay, one more spoon. Make it a big one. Are you serious? That’s not big enough.*

*That's what she said

10.  Life is just too short to settle for anything less than kaleidoscopic, explosive, confetti-covered, incredible, ridiculous, maddening love, whether it’s love for the perfect donut, for your best friend, or simply for the way it feels to make somebody laugh. 


And on that note, this year I told my sister I wanted an idea for my birthday. Knowing that the Barenaked Ladies are one of my favourite bands of all time, she wrote me a song to the tune of their 'One Week'. I had to get her to start over three times because I couldn't get through it without bursting out laughing. This is one of the best gifts I've ever received in my life.

And my mom, being endlessly thoughtful and creative, decorated the house with ribbons and signs, found my favourite caramel cake, and took us to a late night haunted walk of Mackenzie King's estate, which is like super haunted, and also super ugly. I'm just saying if I was a baller political leader, I'd decorate my estate a little better than some black and white pics. I'm surprised those ghosts even wanted to chill there. But anyway, it was adorable, as everything my mom does tends to be.  My dad, true to form, stressed out about exactly the sorts of Russian delicacies I required to properly celebrate the advent of my last year in my twenties. Altogether, I was once again reminded that I wouldn't have learned half of those things I mentioned above without the kindness, selflessness, and love of the people I am so lucky to share my life with. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

September Bloggers Meetup at Equator Coffee Roasters Westboro

I usually like to celebrate the first day of fall with a Pumpkin Spice Latte and a Roseanne Thanksgiving episode. Nothing beats Dan gettin’ a dang turkey stuck on his stupid ol’ head and Roseanne taking the opportunity to remind us that this wouldn’t be an issue if Dan’s head wasn’t so dang stupid.  This year, however, I had the pleasure of adding something a little more momentous to my autumn celebration repertoire: I attended an Ottawa Bloggers meetup at Equator Coffee Roasters in Westboro, where I had the opportunity to not only chat with some of the most inspiring and hilarious girls in the city, but to learn about what makes Equator Coffee a little different.

Katrina Turnbull of Oui C’est Chic hosted this month’s event and made sure the night went smoothly – not that you can really have anything go wrong in a deliciously smelling coffee shop where the lovely Equator host Shannon Hoops-Ripley graciously lays out an assortment of baked goods which we all (I) pretend to not care very much about, but find ourselves (myself) staring at with every passing minute.  Anyway, thank you Katrina!

And a thank you to Shannon for the presentation on why the work Equator Coffee Roasters do is so important.  Having originally started in Almonte, Ontario, their Westboro location is fairly new, which also explains their fresh vibe:

One time, I rollerbladed down Almonte’s Main Street and into a pole. As my eyelids dropped from an imminent concussion, I remember taking in the letters of a nearby coffee shop. I wonder if Equator Coffee Roasters is anywhere near there. Only one way to find out:  Almonte happens to be the original place where Equator Coffee roasts their beans, and where, if you happen to find yourself in town, you can stop in for a public tour of the place.

A very cool thing about Equator Coffee is that they don’t just stop at fair trade. They go direct.  Whether it’s for Sumatran, Mexican, Peruvian or any other coffee on their menu, Equator teams up with community based roasters and purchase their beans without a middle man or broker.  “Simple, direct, and respectful” was how Shannon described it, and I really liked those words. Equator also pays their farmers higher prices as their coffee minimum than those set for fair trade coffee, and truly values the concept of longterm partnership: in some communities, they’ve been buying their coffee since 1999, and they will not drop a deal with a farmer if their crop happens to be less tasty than usual. “Fair trade just isn’t gonna cut it,” Shannon said.

Oh, you know what else? They’re also building schools in Nicaragua with a portion of the revenue from each pound sold, so if you’re in the Westboro area, there’s really no reason for you to go anywhere but 412 Churchill Avenue, where you’ll find Equator Coffee Roasters, and could maybe even get a little coffee sipping (“cupping”) demonstration..

It was great to see some bloggers whom I already knew from past events. As always, they had a million tips from the professional, creative, technical, and social perspective, and as always, I said something that will leave my head firmly covered by a paper bag for the next thirty six years:

Laura(of The Fashion Kidd): “I have a twin sister.”

Me: “Oh, right! I think I saw her picture. It was her birthday just a few weeks ago, wasn’ it?”

Laura: “Well…it was my birthday too….”

Big thanks to Symone (of The Polished Pretties) for telling everyone that she will never forget I said that. 

There's obviously a lot going on here..

It was also great to meet new bloggers and to be reminded, once again, of just how lovely and sweet the Ottawa blogging community is.

Thanks again to Equator Coffee Roasters for having us, and for the awesome little swag bag of beans!  This fall blend will go perfectly with tonight’s Roseanne…

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Marathon Training, and What Has Become of Me

There (probably) comes a time in every runner's life where they get cocky and decide that, having done a handful of half-marathons, they might as well run a full one because really, how much worse can it be?  Okay, so maybe that only happened to me, and it happened right around the time I was putting together my list of 30 things to accomplish by the time I'm 30 - a list that I plan to modify based on a new idea I've had.  So, with the ambition and confidence of a person who has never run longer than 21 kilometres, I signed up for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, and will be running it (if I survive the remaining weeks of training) on October 18th, 2015!

At about this time last year, I went to Val’s high school graduation and accidentally spent three hours talking to her friend’s dad about running. It was the sort of thing where everyone leaves, and these two incongruous people (“Hey, isn’t that your dad, with…your friend's sister?”) are yelling things like “But have you felt the inclines of the Toronto terrain?!” and “I thought I’d never beat my PB but it’s all about dedication!” while waiters delicately rolled up the tablecloth around us. What I remember most about that conversation was Mr.Dad’s warning: “You think you’re ready for a marathon, but even running ten extra kilometres is insane for your body.”  I think it was at that point that I really knew I had to try, and while he suggested I start with a 30k race, I decided to go big or go home. That’s what she said.

For my training, frequent marathon-runner and general life enthusiast Anais suggested that I try the Hansons Marathon Method, (that's a link to a sassy article written in Runner's World) and over wine and fancy charcuterie, we discussed its benefits:

The idea behind this method is that you run more often, but shorter distances.  In fact, the longest distance you run is 16 miles or about 26km, and train your body to not just run a long distance, but to run when it's tired. You run 6 days, with one of them being your long distance day, and one day devoted to speed running where you basically sprint for specific periods of time, each week extending the speed runs. On the 7th day, you lie down in your refrigerator and sob into a sock. Then you start over.

Before starting the training, I pictured what life would be like running almost every day, and I figured I would just get used to waking up early and getting 'er done. I flipped through the Hansons book and, carefully considering my potential, chose my goal finish time.

"Okay, so 42k  is like one half marathon, then like...ten kilometres, then another ten, then just two more, and that's it. I should be able to finish in just under four hours. Let's say...3:55. Perfect." -Alisa, May 2015

"Okay, is it? sleep? Are these your hands around me, satan?"  -Alisa, September 2015

The book warned me that I would eventually be extremely tired, that it's just as much of a mental challenge as it is physical, and that I would likely have to work hard at fitting the schedule into my week. Now, on week 13 of 18, I know what they mean.  This summer has been so hot that, often, even waking up at 5:30 to run, I'd still struggle against the 26 degree heat. It's been humid, which makes it very hard to breathe, and my eyes burn every day from the stinging of the sweat pouring down my face. In short, these days, I am very attractive.  Other things that have happened on my training journey:
  • Ordering a celebratory coffee post long run and watching the cashier’s eyes widen, only to later discover that the sweat that had been pouring and pouring and pouring had dried up and crystallized into abstract designs all over my face until I inadvertently looked like Rorschach from Watchmen.

  • Running down the ever-busy Rideau street, clutching a bag of groceries because when your running takes up so much of your time you have no choice but to multi-task.  Here: an actual day of grocery running. Pictured: raggedy t-shirt, dish detergent, pack of 2 contact solution bottles, bar of dark chocolate, 9 kilometre run.  Not pictured: various heckling.

  • Attempting to run 16 kilometres on the most humid day of the century without hydration, staggering into a Tim Horton’s casually asking for a glass of tap water please, and hearing “You okay? Yo lips look  green, or white or somethin'” from the very sweet cashier who immediately helped bring me back to life. Side note: another reason to love Tim’s…they will not let you die!
  • Deciding that I had to have a spaghetti squash for dinner. Running to buy squash. Running back home clutching squash.  This was okay while I was on the running path, but when I had to take the main pedestrian roads I looked like a squash shoplifter. Cool.
Some of the less pleasant additions to my training ‘scrapbook’ have included a broken toe (actually a lot more painful than I thought it would be), a pulled thigh muscle which feels like basically one leg is shorter than the other and makes it very hard to fall asleep at night, a torn tendon in my pinky (pinkie?)  on account of holding my enormous phone in my hand while running for extended periods of time (like, HOW is that even a thing??), and generally, my feet being a complete mess. Almost every toenail is purple, almost every toe is a weird shade of greyish-blue, and, my heel was so cracked at one point that it bled all day, every day. Here is a picture of a squirrel eating a napkin. 

My dad calls me almost every evening now to tell me that I am doing a bad, bad thing and need to stop immediately and get into weight-training and take up boxing and drink raw eggs.  It’s getting to the point where I might take him up on the suggestion. But despite whining about it as I just did, I really have to say it’s been an incredible experience. I’ve never pushed myself this hard before, and didn’t know how persistent and stubborn my brain can be while my entire body is crying.

keep drinking dat haterade

an actual statue of Rocky that we saw in Philadelphia!

And speaking of the brain, an amazing thing happened on one of my long runs. As I often whine about in running posts, I am usually really sick after a half-marathon.  Like, almost dying, borderline puking, unable to walk, wanting to never run ever, ever again. The other day, however, I had a 26k run and after finishing it, I felt completely fine.  I stretched a bit, watched a couple of shows, then went out dancing with the girls.  The next day, I ran another 11 kilometres, and went on with my life.  It’s incredible how much of your physical perception of an experience is really just your mental perception.  When a 21k run is part of a race with a set beginning and end, my body let itself fall apart.  But, throw in a casual 26k run in the middle of training for a much greater goal, and my body was too busy with bigger ambitions to worry about feeling sick. I still can’t believe it. Super casual, no big deal, 26k, just like that.

On that note, I’m running the Army Run Half Marathon again this year, and just realized that it’s coming up next week, on September 20th! Last year, I was absolutely moved by my wonderful ex-boss who, seeing in what bad shape I was, ran beside me for nearly the entire race. This year, I won't be dehydrated and will run the race in his honour.

I still have a few weeks of training before the big race, but so far, I've learned a few things that I just have to share:

  • If you are training for a marathon and you are seriously committed to the training, be prepared for spending a lot of nights in, just sleeping. See you later, Mr.Vodka. You will be legit exhausted...often.

  • It's really, really important that you not only have the right running attire, but that it fits you properly as well.  After wearing an old top that had some threading come out, I ended up with a piece of skin missing from my body.  Not realizing that my long distance running shoes should be at least a half size bigger than my regular size, I injured two toes and turned my toenails purple (as I've already described, for your imagining pleasure).
  • If you have a group of people in your life who support your running, never take that for granted. Thank them at every chance you get, because whether you realize it or not, they're a huge part of every single one of your runs.

  • It's really, really important that you eat properly for energy and recovery from your running. There's nothing quite like that jittery, hollow feeling when you realize your brain is pushing your body but your body can no longer move (a sign that you haven't taken in enough calories to create that essential energy). I crave peanut butter 24/7 and while I give into this ridiculous craving, there also needs to be a ton of focus on complex carbs - don't just drink raw eggs please. Eat a really long banana, okay?

  • It's really, really important to have good music to run to.  One time, on a really long run on a really hot day, I got really moody and hated every song on my playlist.  I had no other music but an old Enya album. It was a dark, dark rest of the run.  Always have backup playlists, ugh.
  • Don't be afraid to instil a little competitive edge, if you're running with a group of friends. A little sass never hurt nobody, I always say.

  • If you see something funny along your run, take a picture. Eventually, you'll have an album of hilarious things that will make your running memories that much more rewarding.

(By the way, I'll post another piece on things I recommend for training and running, in the coming weeks!! )

I still remember the day, many years ago, when I told a guy I was dating that I wanted to try running. His response: "No you don't. Running sucks."  Shortly after, he was out of my life, and running was in.  I remember when I would leave the gym glowing because I was able to run non-stop for four minutes. I remember when I couldn't sleep the night before my first race, shaking from the nervousness I felt at running a 10k. I remember clutching my first medal and thinking, wow, I'm proud of myself.  Of course, the feeling of pride isn't something I experience often or for very long, so it faded in like seven minutes, but I think the pursuit of its elusive nature is a huge part of what drives me to try for longer and longer distances.  For most of my life, the idea of running a marathon was tucked away in my wildest dreams, like riding a dragon, or playing saxophone for the Swedish delegation. I never imagined myself training for a race like this, and now, here I am.

Will I even be able to finish the race? If my longest run during training is 26k, I really have no way to ever know how capable I am of running that remaining 16. My new goal is just to get to the finish line before they send out the slow-moving ambulance to escort the very ill/ill-prepared. I'd love to have a great finish time, but I really have no idea how I'm gonna do, and amazingly enough, I'm okay with that. See you soon Toronto!