Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mrs. Grinch does Christmas

As my relationship with material goods grows ever more tenuous and fraught, I find getting Christmas right with young children challenging. I have reached the point in my life where due to extremely good fortune and 38 years of life experience, very little of what I want, comes from a store anymore. What do I want? More sleep. To be a better mom. To be a better wife. To be a better person. A healthy left knee so I can run again. More hours in the day. To derive more enjoyment from my life and my job. A sunny outcome to this situation and also to another similar though far less dire situation. To make a contribution. Somehow, I find receiving material things an extremely depressing event... (unless they are utilitarian and will help me in my everday life (like the dustbuster and the car snow shovel I got this year)... unless a Precor EFX Elliptical machine shows up at my door... that extremely materialistic object would be welcomed with open arms and a cozy spot in my basement especially now (see desired healthy left knee above). It is obviously not realistic or fair for me to expect La Cocotte to share my dim view of material goods. Her job is to want and our job is both to give and to help her be happy with what she received.

Last year we went overboard on the gifts... so overboard that La Cocotte's joy in receiving them was, I believe, blunted by their sheer number. Confronted with the small mountain of presents, she went into a trance and tore into package after package without being able to process the contents of each. The overall effect was similar to the giant chocolate chicken episode. This year, I was determined to get the "right" number of presents. I also sternly lectured my family members who would be buying presents on the importance of keeping it reasonable and buying small (in number and size) presents for the children. Despite the complaints, my edict was stuck to grudgingly and the result was a contained, reasonable Christmas haul where I feel every present was appreciated and will be remembered. La cocotte said that she liked all of her presents and that she got "beaucoup" (lots) presents but not, however, "assez" (enough) presents. And indeed as I looked at the pile of presents we, her parents, purchased for her, it did seem that the pile was perhaps somewhat modest. Or has my compass just been thrown off by the ridiculous excess in society (again. I refer you to the giant chocolate chicken). So, here is a complete listing of all the presents we got for la cocotte for my future reference and also for judgement against the barometer of the opinion of the internet:

1.  44 key keyboard
2. ballet outfit for her upcoming lessons (tights, slippers and body suit)
3. magic carpet sled
4. slinky
5. bathtub crayons (already used down to stubs)
6. weird stocking stuffer thingy too convoluted to describe

Total cost approximately $160.

In addition to this she received an assortment of other presents from people other than us (Dolls, Mr. Potato Head, puzzle, Snakes and Ladders game and there are more on the way we have been warned). This, in her estimation, is simply not enough presents. I find this somewhat alarming and disheartening but I think ultimately her feeling of not being satiated comes from us not hitting the sweet spot... we did not buy the one toy that is designed to be appeal to her inner princess, you know the one... pink, plastic, child spends hours in front of totally entranced, good for stimulating the imagination and the Chinese economy. Anyway I am curious as to how her haul (just the enumerated one above i.e. the one from us) compares to others...

***begin depressing part of post ... might want to bail out now***

This next part of my train of thought is really a separate thought... really should be a separate post. Also, there is nothing original in these next few thoughts and they are something I am sure every other parent (no, scratch that breeder-centric thinking) person who is relatively comfortable thinks... it just feels obscene to have such luxury against the backdrop of all of those around the globe who go without. Our Christmas, reasonable and contained as I felt it was, would represent luxury beyond the wildest imagination of hundreds of thousands of children (again, scratch that) people around the world. Inequity is always present and, indeed, we don't have to look to iconic images of extreme deprivation in impoverished countries to find it. God knows it exists right here in my city, in my neighbourhood... but somehow inequity is particularly poignant at this time of year (which is ridiculous right? bc people go without regardless of whether I have heaps of presents under my tree and heaps of food on my table). So I make the donations which I do with a nauseating feeling of power... $10 for a mosquito net to prevent malaria, $20 for immunizations for a family, $100 for clean water for a family, $1000 for a one-room schoolhouse for village, $200 for a cow for a family... I guess there are no easy answers and I don't really have a point. I am just having a hard time reconciling all of these images and numbers this time around.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from the giant, drooling mouth

Monday, December 17, 2012

Nanosecond before chaos

Photographing infnats and toddlers is probably not unlike to trying to capture images of wildlife on the African serengeti in terms of the complete obliviousness and hence lack of cooperation of the subjects. How many times have I witnessed the picture perfect moment, whipped out the camera only to have the infant look away, the toddler look away, the toddler take the infant away, my thumb over the lens, or, most often, the moment simply end in the seconds between focussing and the shutter actually closing. Frustrating. Last night though the lions, giraffes, wildebeests and all the stars lined up and I managed to accidentally snap a photo which tells a complete story through the expressions on Thing 1 (intense concentration and focus) and Thing 2 (obliviousness and innocence). Without further bragging or explanation, I present my chef d'oeuvre which I call "Nanosecond Before Chaos":

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Race Report: 3000 m indoors

"OMG, this was so much fun. Seriously! I loved it. Racing is fun."

Yeah, what she said. This was the most satisfying and heck, flat out fun race I have done in awhile. Things fell into place like layers of hair after a really expensive cut at a salon (or so I've heard). In the days leading up to the meet, the coach of the club I now run for told me I had the choice of being the slowest in the fast heat or the fastest in the slow heat and he would adjust my seed time accordingly depending on what I wanted. The fastest seed time was 9.55, the slowest 14.00. I figured if the stars lined up I could just barely avoid being lapped in the fast heat but would definitely do some lapping in the slow heat so I opted for being the turtle in the fast heat. So he obligingly adjusted my seed time from a conservative 10.50 to a still realistic 10.44 thus leap frogging me over the 5 girls seeded at 10.45 and ensuring me a spot in the faster heat. I really did not know what I was capable of having not run anything shorter than 5 km since this race. I had been having trouble running even 600 m repeats at 10.45 pace so I thought that 10.45 was at the improbable edge of possible.

Ahead of time I memorized all 15 of the splits I would need to run 10.45. I told myself that the two biggest mistakes I could make would be to go out too fast or to waste energy elbowing for space out in lane 2 or 3 especially given that there were 10 girls seeded between 10.30 and 10.45 in the heat (plus another two girls at 9.55). So, when the gun sounded, I hesitated a split second to allow everyone to get ahead of me and positioned myself at the very back of the pack right on the rail. I reminded myself that inevitably people go out too aggressively in track and bided my time at the back. It was a full 600 m before I passed anyone. After that, it seemed I was slowly and steadily passing runners throughout but honestly I barely noticed. All I was thinking about was the next split I needed to hit and how the gap between splits I was actually running and the split I needed to run was steadily increasing (i.e. I was running under 10.45 pace). I have never felt so a) focussed and b) free of physical distress before in a race. I was completely in the zone. (Ok, I did spend a bit of mntal energy whining about paste-mouth that comes with running at an indoor dry!). But really, this race was an absolute blast and it was so empowering to move slowly and steadily through the pack.

With a km to go, I was essentially deciding when to kick.  Finally, I realized if I could run a sub-80 last 400 m, I would break 10.30... at that point I heard the one-lap-to-go bell ring for the first place woman (who was trying to break 10.00). I decided I did not want to be lapped and took off. I managed a 77 second last 400 m good for a 10.28 final time. Just missed getting second place by 0.04 seconds. So here, as best I recall, are my splits:

3.34 (1 km)
5.41 (1 mile)
7.05 (2 km, second km run in 3:31)
10.28 (last km in 3:23)

Honestly, I would not have thought I could run a 3.23 km period right now, let alone at the end of a 3 km race. Amazing what the adrenaline of a race and rested legs can produce. Makes me want more!

Oh... and Mmmonyka, this part is for you - except for one other woman born in 1980 (who finished 0.04 seconds ahead of me) I was the oldest athlete by 14 years!! Almost everyone else was born in the 1990s. I was a whopping 24 years older than the youngest runners in the race. Quite a different scene that road racing!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ring the bells that still can ring

As I've written about before, I am not really into music all that much. I know that for some people that is akin to saying "eh, oxygen, I can take it or leave it." I enjoy music but it never really occurs to me to put it on so yeah, I guess I can generally take it or leave it. That being said, there have always been three bands/artists to see in concert on my bucket list: 1. Bob Dylan (done, Bell Center, Montreal, 2007(?) ). 2. Leonard Cohen and 3. U2.

The way my life is right now I would have expected it far more likely that I would see Barney in concert (does he tour??) before getting to numbers 2 and 3 on my list. Nonetheless there I was in the Bell Center on November 29 seeing Leonard Cohen live for the first time. My love affair with Leonard goes back to my teen years when my BFF and I were equally obsessed with the dark poet. I recall one summer night coming home around 11 pm from the lab where I was doing my masters at the time to an excited voice mail from BFF saying "I'm on Saint Laurent and he's here. Leonard. Leonard! He's at the corner on Saint Laurent and Marie Anne headed northbound. It's 6.45 pm so if you get this message soon head over this way and call me on my cell phone." Who knows what would have transpired had four hours not gone by before I heard the message. Perhaps it would not have been 15 years before I got to see Leonard in person.

So yeah, I don't know much about music. Or poetry. And let's face it, Leonard is just as much about poetry as he is about music. But this concert exceeded my greatest hopes. Almost 2 weeks later, I am still lingering over the lasting mental images and enjoying them and trying to figure out what was so magical about the experience. (you know PPC, if it's worth doing, it's worth analyzing into oblivion).
First, he is a generous performer. He started at 8 pm (no one opened for him, bonus) and he played until just past 11.30 pm with only one brief (and punctual intermission). He had what seemed like a ten piece emsemble with him which resulted in rich and varied sounds. Again, know nothing about music, but I think he had a bass (that's the cello but bigger right?), harp, piano-organ, drums, violin (fiddle? are they the same?), 12 string guitar, other guitar, three back up vocalists and I am sure I am forgetting some. Every musician got a solo (and I guess that is par for the course) but during the solos Leonard turned to the musician and took off his hat to them and really drew attention towards them. Even the drummer got a solo and if you're not familiar with Leonard's stuff then you'll have to take my word that it is not exactly drum solo kind of music.

The other thing that struck me about this concert is that it truly was all about the music. The set was minimal, it consisted of an oriental carpet. The lighting was basic and served only to highlight the soloists and Leonard himself. The back-up singers (all women) were dressed in staid black suits, nothing sexy, distracting or provocative...they were treated as artists. There were no crazy costume changes and only very minimalistic dancing. The star of the show was without question the music and lyrics, Ironically Justin Beaver played in the same venue a few nights prior; I can't imagine there was any overlap in the audience!

It was fascinating to watch Leonard move. At 78 years old, he can still do a shuffle and a soulful kneel with the best of them. He had three or four basic moves which he used very effectively to express the music. When he closes and eyes and kneels, you really believe it is because he is so engrossed in the words melody. Finally he was unexpectedly humorous and self effacing. Upon returning from intermission he looked out at the audience and said "thanks for not going home. I really appreciate it." and while I am sure he has said this at every concert he has been forced to do since he was swindled out of his life savings (oh, yes... read about it here) it came across as genuine astonishment.

Finally, I would not have thought it possible but he found a song more appropriate than "closing time" on which to ehd the show.

Here are some links to some of the highlights of the show: Hallelujah, Closing Time, Everybody Knows.