Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Fitting it in

Dammit Karen, How do you, as a personal trainer-slash-fitness instructor, fit your own workouts in?
Photo by Ravi Roshan on Unsplash

A reality check for a so-called "fitness professional"

"How do you, as a personal trainer-slash-fitness instructor, fit your own workouts in?"

The question came out of the blue from an acquaintance, and it threw me for a loop. I sucked in my stomach and wondered how I could cover up my arms without pulling them, turtle-like, into the top of my sleeveless dress.

The right answer, of course, is that I make time for myself.

That, despite my time-consuming "serious work" of writing and editing, and my one-hour-at-a-time "superhero work" of training clients -- which usually involves demonstrating correct form or partnering up for a move or two -- and leading boot camps (with more demos and partnering) -- and teaching a fitness class (or two) per week, I still have the focus and energy to get to the gym for proper strength-training sessions, and I never miss the time I set aside for my running group. Yes, all this and the kids and the dog too!

And my hair? Beautifully styled, of course!

Now that you're shielding your eyes from the glare off my halo, let me reassure you: the truth, of course, is different than the right answer.

I do demo moves for clients and participate whenever I can, but I am definitely not getting the same benefits from the workouts as my participants. I sneak in five to ten minutes of strength work before each session as I set up and practice the routines. I stay 15-20 minutes after my clients have left the gym or field and put myself through the same paces.

(In the case of my aqua fitness class, however, I am definitely working harder, since I'm jumping against gravity, while they are being buoyed up.  Also, they're all at least 60.)

And, when my kids are at swimming lessons, I sprint up the stairs to the leisure centre gym and work harder for 22 minutes than anyone else in the gym does for 60, so that I can be back down to greet them before they even get out of the pool.

My running group is sacred, too. It's time that I have scheduled into my calendar, three times a week, and I go, and I run 6-10 miles to wherever the group has planned for that day. If I need to, I choose a faster pace group that promises to be back to our neighbourhood even 10 minutes earlier than my usual group (and skip the coffee afterwards), but I do it. 

On days that I really can't do the run and give the dog enough of a walk, he comes along to Primrose Hill, and gets off-leash, run-like-crazy frolic time while I do hill repeats four to six times. Forty minutes, and we're both back home, sweaty, tired and ready for a shower or nap, respectively (lucky dog).

Lately, I've been adding in extra bursts of activity, especially on days when my kids need motivation. They absolutely abhor the monthly "fitness" days at their kickboxing class, and I've made them a deal to make the extra conditioning more mentally acceptable for them: for each pushup and burpee that they have to do, I will do the same number. As there are three of them and only one of me, it's really not a fair bargain; it adds up quicky, but I do it, and I usually let them watch. Sometimes, when I feel that I haven't lifted anything in a while, I'll drop and do a few sets of 25-30 pushups in the afternoon, or after dinner. Without having to think too much, I can do up to 90 pushups, which seems like bragging, but it's really not (this strength and endurance has been built by 30-plus years of doing pushups...with short-armed biomechanical efficiency).

Also, having been plagued with low-back issues for years (possibly exacerbated by pregnancy, my swayback is not making me look taller), I recently undertook a 21-day "fix" that involved repeating a short, low-intensity routine every evening. I completed it in only 26 days (ha!), and have realized that working my core daily (or almost-daily), even if I'm half-paying-attention-while-watching-tv really does make a difference to my posture, my pain and how I feel about my body.

So, there's how I do it.  A little piece here, a little piece there.

And no, my hair is not styled. Don't be ridiculous.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Disproportionate rage response

Dammit Karen feels a disproportionate rage response at certain so-called compliments
Related image
Proportionate growth in animals: different parts of the body grow at approximately the same rate.
Quote and image credit here.

I sometimes get compliments; everyone does. On days that I actually take the time to style my hair (once every 34 days or so), I like to hear somebody tell me it looks good. If "dressed up" to a level higher than "Canadian casual" (ripped jeans, t-shirt, scarf), I want to hear someone tell me that I look nice.

(For both of these, of course, the "for a change" is implied, and usually unspoken.) (It only hurts a little.)

But my Least Favourite Compliment, which is (hopefully) always meant sincerely, feels so backhanded that I can't even. I am an adult, coherent, articulate person, and I. Can't. Even.

Are you ready?

"You're so proportional."*

This is usually followed by a reassurance of the "cuteness" of my body, which, also as a grown woman, I still can't even. My arms! My legs! They are all in perfect proportion to the rest of my body!

What -- why -- ??? Why is this considered a compliment, and/or why would you say that to someone?

I totally get what they're saying, though. It's true, I'm short. And, to go with my (short) self, I have (short) arms and (short) legs and (tiny) feet. For some reason, I have "normal-sized" hands, which, because my fingers are slender, don't look freakishly large, but this often surprises others. I joke about having man hands (they're not) and being able to palm a basketball (I can't). Because everything else about me is little and cute, though, it's funny, I guess?

I know there are far worse things to be, and be told, and I guess I'm happy that I am "proportionate"**, though being tiny-but-with-nice-long-legs might be even better.

But I have never, ever stood beside a tall person and said, "Hey! Your legs are long! And look! Your arms are also long!"*** Nor would I do that to a fat person or a muscly person or -- gasp -- someone who isn't proportionate. Like, "Wow, you have big biceps, but you don't seem to have calf muscles."

How, also, am I supposed to respond to something like that?

Anyhoo, I forget what I'm complaining about, but now I'm all worked up.

* and ** Proportionate or Proportional?  Discuss.

*** Although I do make fun of my friend's tall mom who has tiny feet - how does she not tip over?

Monday, 17 June 2019

Ailsa somehow turned nine

So, Ailsa turned nine two weeks ago.  We celebrated, but--

Vaughn turned ten in January, and it's not on the blog.  Oh, and Tamsin turned six in November.

I have been remiss.  But I have now retro-posted both of these important days. Go ahead and check them out.

Good?  Now, back to:

Girl child turns nine

Ailsa the amazing, the indomitable, the awesome, the inspirational... she is as much a force to be reckoned with now as she was for her first few months. 

There is far less screaming and crying now, but the lung strength she built up with countless hours of baby rage has served her well. She, too, is a total bookworm, and does very, very well in school in both languages. She sings and dances, excels in everything athletic, and is loud and brave and fierce and funny. She is usually kind but is always getting in trouble/getting hurt for things that she thought would be funny or cool.

We were "unfortunately" in Malaga (post coming soon!) on her actual birthday, so the poor thing had to spend her special day with monkeys in Gibraltar.

She made the best of it.

AND a frozen pizza party with cake and presents.

For her proper party -- at which she actually wore a dress -- she asked for a pizza/movie party with a few friends at home.

On request, Chris crafted himself out and produced a watermelon pig fruit bowl.

Once the fruit's all gone, it can be used by Saskatchewan fans!

I made two hedgehogs:  one for olives, and one for cocktail sausages.  (Ailsa had found a cool party planning book for sale at the library for £1.  Now, that's $1.70 well spent.)
Fact:  food tastes better when eaten off hedgehogs.
And a dragon cake, which, for my first attempt with fondant, was a complete success. 

We spent an hour or so making crafts: pen holders with paper and glue and a fancy pen topper with FIMO.  While those dried/cooled, the girls watched a dragon movie (during which I sat in the kitchen and ate chocolate).  Pizza and cake, and hometime for the guests!

It was a good day, and a good celebration of the last wonderful nine years.

Love you, little miss!

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Huffling Holiday in Tattershall Lakes, Lincolnshire

I survived a Tattershall Lakes holiday with a family of five Alternate title:  We went to Tattershall Lakes and all you got was this lousy blog post.

(This was not posted after the eggcitement of Easter, so I'm posting now.  Enjoy!)
A view from the Lucy tower at Lincoln Castle

Party of five

There are unique challenges to travelling with a family of five especially when one of them is Chris.

The world is not built for that fifth person.  Restaurants, hotel rooms with two double beds, rollercoasters... all of these easily hold a family of four or less.  But when you add one more person in, whether they be small, pale and ginger-haired, or tall and somewhat cranky, things just get harder and/or far more expensive.

Where to?

Over the 12-days-too-long Easter break, we took another caravan holiday, this time with Chris along.* 

We started with choosing the where. Lincoln had been highly recommended to us, and even though I was hoping for someplace warm, we were concerned enough with the fallout from April's Brexit deadline (kaff - at the time of booking - kaff) to decide that we should see some more of our host country.

So far, we've cut a very small slice out of England, from the Isle of Wight to Portsmouth to Oxford to Salisbury to Kent (camping!) and Dover (ferry to France). So going North was in the cards.  Of course, I want to go to York.  Haworth, moors, Secret Garden and Brontes: all of that must happen over the next two years. But, friends said that Lincoln was like York, but smaller, quieter and less expensive, and closer.  These were all good things.

The dream

I wanted a family-friendly place, ideally where kids could run free outside and I could sit with a cup of tea (and/or mug of morning wine), preferably with the dog. We found a few Airbnb caravan rentals in Lincolnshire, and from there, discovered the Tattershall Lakes Country Park, which is what British people call a family caravan resort.** We chose a large, dog-friendly caravan (sleeps eight!) in a resort that includes a pool, a splash park, kids' activities, entertainment, a pub/bar and short drives to historic castles and cathedrals, and a large green space, which the Brits call a wold for some reason.

Lincolnshire or bust

The drive there wasn't too bad.  It was quick-ish, about three hours including a stop for lunch.  The kids had snacks and books (and tablets), and I even got to catch up on some reading while Chris drove the long stretch going towards, simply, The North.

We got there, checked in (they had the package and keys ready for us, which surprised Chris to no end, oh he of little faith), and pulled up to our caravan. It was not in an ideal location for aesthetics or noise, as it was the first one back from the road (they were lined up in rows), but it was close to the pool, activities, and playgrounds, so that was fine.

The Eurocamp caravan we went to in October was cheap, reasonably nice for the kids, dog and I, and it was fine.  Just fine.  During the trip, I had twinges of "Chris would hate this" but I put those aside, because I was pretty sick, and he wasn't there anyway.

You know how you can think your house is neat and organized, but then you invite someone over and you suddenly see every room from their perspective and realize that you are living with so much clutter, and perhaps what you see as "great" or even "perfectly fine" looks, well, not as good?

The caravan was a good size, reasonably clean, and reasonably priced.  That is all.

A free air show!

We knew that RAF Coningsby was close by, and that we'd probably get to see some cool planes.  Well.  So. Many. Planes.  Taking off and landing right beside us, it seemed.  Some older ones (possibly spitfires?) and some fancy new ones (typhoons, Chris said).  They did loop de loops!  They did barrel rolls!  They did that thing where they zoom straight up then shoot straight down and pull out at the last second!  They did a lot of low-altitude flying.  It was amazing, and loud.

A two-seat Typhoon T3 in flight showing off its longer canopy.
A Typhoon at MUCH higher altitude.
Photo credit: SAC Cathy Sharples

To bed, perchance to sleep

At bedtime, we tucked the kids in, and went to sit down with a glass of wine.  It was starting to get really dark, and ... ROAR.  The sound of a plane doing low-altitude flying made it impossible to talk or hear anything.  ROAR again.  That was probably a barrel roll in the dark. (Do they do barrel rolls in the dark?)  Fis looked at me as if to say, well, you can imagine what he looked like.  I picked up my phone and quickly googled "do planes fly at night at Tattershall Lakes".


Yes, yes they do.  There was a very cranky TripAdvisor review to that effect, and the resort's response was that you can check the RAF schedule online, because it was public, etc.  So I did.  Hey, did you know that only four times a year, RAF Coningsby holds a week of night training, from one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise?  Imagine Fis' face now.

Lesson one:  air shows are fun during the day.

Here, we discover a very important distinction

The kids, somehow, slept pretty well despite the planes.  Unfortunately, however, our caravan next-door neighbours did not, and stayed up until 3 am, partying.

Lesson two:  There is a difference between British families who go to France to have a holiday in a caravan park and British families who stay in Britain in a trailer park.

The next morning, the kids got up at...I don't know, I stayed in bed...made themselves cereal, and took the dog for a walk around the trailer park. So, by the time I got up, they were happily seated in front of the TV, having discovered the magic of being unsupervised. Baby Daddy is not appropriate viewing for a 6 year old.  Also, it's now their favourite show.  Back to Chris' face.

Out and about in Tattershall and Coningsby

We took a short walk over to Tattershall Castle, no more than ten minutes away, and four of us enjoyed the walk.  Vaughn complained that it was "too far". Then, inside the huge, mind-blowing, somehow built-by-hand-800-years-ago, yet still-magnificent building, he decided that it was terrible because it was "dusty" and "probably dangerous". It is possible that he was not flung from the tower because he refused to get anywhere near the edge, because he also decreed the safety barriers "not safe enough."
Yet, backlit, they look angelic.

Afterwards, we walked for another 20 minutes into the town (because we missed turnoff into the grocery store) (and boy was he cranky), had sandwiches from a nice little bakery chain then swung by what the kids declare to be the Best Candy Store Ever and gave them Type III Diabetes.

Lesson three: You already knew this, but nothing can't be fixed with candy.

Lincoln Cathedral and Castle

Lincoln was a forty-minute drive away, so we bundled up Ziggy and went to this beautiful medieval city that has charm, character, steep hills and wonderful, reasonable, not-London prices for lunch at a lovely pub,  Ziggy came with us up Steep Hill, and the kids and Chris were interviewed on BBC about how steep they thought it was. They even made it onto the local evening news, which we caught later, back at the caravan.

Lesson four: Don't leave your trailer looking anything less than camera-ready.

You can see the camera crew at the top.  (Spoiler alert: Steep Hill is only the fourth steepest street in GB.)

The Cathedral and Castle were magnificent.  I can't even describe how spectacular and amazing some of these old buildings are.  The concept of someone having placed every stone, carved every figurine and gargoyle, all by hand hundreds of years ago... it just really puts everything into perspective, such as "I have no talent and have wasted my life".  Also, it bears questioning about the truth behind separation of church and state, as they are literally a three-minute walk apart.
A prisoner and the prison matron get ready for a hard Victorian day.

Anyhoo, the kids had a great time exploring both, but slightly preferred the castle, as there was an Alice in Wonderland-themed trail to follow which ended with chocolate. See lesson three.

The rest of the stay

The family resort was clean and full of families and their dogs.  They offer lots of activities for the kids, but unlike our Eurocamp experience (which had all activities included), there was an additional charge (between £8 and 12) for each, so we let the kids each choose only the one that they wanted most.  Vaughn chose laser tag, Ailsa chose the high ropes, and Tamsin chose zorbing, which we mistook for the water zorbing, so she sort of got two activities for the price of one.  We had to prebook, and they filled up quickly, but they were all happy with their choices.  They spent a lot of the rest of the time playing at two of the park playgrounds with other kids - just what I wanted.
And then she jumped for the trapeze.

The onsite restaurant and pub had London prices (not cool), but offered free entertainment for the kids and grownups alike every evening, from dance parties before dinner to on-stage game-show-type activities, to bingo.  We even saw a Little Mix tribute band (who have three new star-struck fans).

The pool was ok (not great, but ok), but required us to book a (free) time slot ahead of time, and the steam room and sauna were not as clean as they could be.  The brand new splash zone (also free, no booking was required) was absolutely incredible and beautiful and clean the first time -- the kids ran and screamed and splashed for well over an hour -- but there was something wrong with the temperature control when we went back another day, and they were cold and miserable for the fifteen minutes they could stand it.

So fun!  But so f-f-freezing!

As well, for a very dog-friendly place, there was nowhere to exercise Ziggy off-lead, which wasn't great and left him a bit anxious.  A fenced-in area for the dogs to play would certainly be an asset to the park.

Overall, it was clean and well worth what we paid, which was £382 for five days, but maybe not, when we added in the extra costs for activities or the exorbitant prices for food and drink.

Lesson five: you get what you pay for.

The long road home

Holidays are always a great idea until the last day, when you have to come home and everyone's upset about it. We managed to pack up fairly quickly (the booking agent said to "do nothing -- just lock the door and walk away", but we did the dishes and swept anyway) and took a detour to an exotic animal sanctuary and another nice pub on the way home.

Goats totally account as exotic when you're talking ill-advised housepets.

Would we go back?  Probably not (I think we've now "done" Lincoln), but I don't regret going.

Would I recommend it to other families?  Yes. It's a very reasonable price, and if have your expectations managed (it is a caravan park) and you are ready to pay for the extras, there is so much to do. But check the night flying schedule ahead of time.

* to be filed under "It sounded like a good idea at the time". Like all travels with Fis.
** I call it a trailer park.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

The Cranky Book Reviewer read Calypso by David Sedaris

(She’s cranky because she’ll never write anything as good)

Sometimes, good books just upset me.

I love David Sedaris. 

I love his stories about his family, his lifetime of strange jobs, projects, travel and art, all told in his distinctive self-deprecating tone. So when a writer friend recently recommended his newest book, Calypso, as one of his best, I was ready to love it, too.

Laughing at a funeral

My friend Mike committed suicide in his late twenties. At the time, I hadn't seen or heard from him in about ten years. The strongest (and best?) memories I have of him are few: in high school, he used a ridiculously expensive shampoo to make his hair feel soft. Once, he was in a terrible car accident, and a few of us visited him in the hospital, where he waxed poetic about how wonderful Demerol was, but later, yelled at us because "nobody came to visit him". And then there was the time he shot me in the eye with a BB gun.

We weren't close, to say the least, and lost touch after high school. But, I went to his funeral.  It was sad and solemn, and he was buried as a soldier. It was the first time that I'd understood what funerals were really about: connecting with old friends over memories of the deceased and laughing about what a jerk he could be. I probably would never have seen any of them again if Mike hadn’t shot himself. 

In Calypso, David Sedaris gets that mixture right: sad, tragic and poignant, while observing the absurdity around him, making motifs of death — aging,  illness, addiction, suicide — funny between the tears. He combines these themes in a way that feels sacrilegious and blasphemous and wrong, but natural and real, and a celebration of the life that was or is being lost. Just like laughing at a funeral.

Ugliness and Beauty and Truth

My first exposure to Sedaris' work was When We Are Engulfed in Flames. As my introduction to his style of essays, it was a shocking start, a study in the twisted and macabre that was somehow beautiful and hilarious. I was an instant fan. I still regret lending it to a coworker, who never gave it back.

I don't lend my Sedarises out anymore 

I now own most of his collections: Me Talk Pretty One Day, Barrel Fever, Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. Some are better (funnier) than others, but all are  incredibly good. The stories themselves are fantastic: they're guilty peeks into a painful upbringing, awkward relationships, and not being really happy with who you are and what you have done, and what you will, no doubt, continue to do, in such a very, very human way. But it's the way he tells them that shows his skill as a storyteller: his tone, his timing, his twists and throwbacks to something mentioned in another part of the essay... each essay is a carefully-planned marvel.

Over the course of his writing career, his growth as an author has been astounding, inspirational. His early work was strong (and I highly recommend it as well), but each collection is more well-crafted than the last.

It gives me hope. Although I dislike (strongly) his forays into fiction (or obvious fiction, that is -- he has admitted to exaggerating for the sake of a good story), Calypso is full of only anecdotes, many continued from or referring to those in past collections ... and it was perfect.  

In this group of essays, against a backdrop of his own mortality and that of his mother, father and sisters, he exposes the strength of family and familiarity, of how people we love (and love itself) evolves over time. People are funny, absurd, weird, waspish and cutting, horrible and kind. They're real, and he captures that beautifully on every page, weaving seemingly unrelated episodes together.

Um, isn't this called the Cranky Book Reviewer...?

Oh, right.  So while I found this book perfect, the cranky part of me has something to say, too.  

First, unless you've read a great deal of Sedaris' other work, I'm pretty sure you'll be missing a lot of context, like the Ship Shape backstory, or his strained and dysfunctional relationship with his father and sister. Because I've read so much of him, I can't tell how much this will alter or lessen the impact of the stories for Sedaris virgins, but for me, it was like finally hearing the next chapter of a story I already knew.  

Call me maybe

Secondly, he's on the short list of Authors I'd Like to Meet. Always haunted by Gustave Flaubert  ("We must not touch our idols; the gilt sticks to our fingers"), I have never gone to any book-signing or author meet-up, but I would take that chance with David Sedaris.

We have so much in common: he's had a lifelong struggle with learning languages! He had a speech impediment as a child! He lives in England! We should be friends! However, I feel preemptively sad and rejected; he would despise me and find me uninteresting. My childhood was too normal, my struggles too middle-class, and I’m not mean or artsy enough to hang out with him. It's my own fault, but I don't have to feel good about it.   

Dammit, Kate

Finally, I was cranky -- no, devastated -- when I finished the book, because, well, I finished it. Like all wonderful, perfect, absorbing books, it had to come to an end. Rationally, I knew that, but I wasn’t ready for it to be over. I even sent a scathing text to the friend who had recommended it in the first place. I should have paced myself, read one essay a night and chewed over them the next day before rereading them again. Instead, I read it for an hour at a time for four days. I was foolish, and now it's over, and again, I have no-one to blame but myself.

I'm impatient now, and demand that he publish another collection, right now. But I know that this will take some time, and in the meantime, I'll reread his other collections again and pick up the threads of the stories he has woven. I'll wonder again how on earth he managed to turn such normal/weird/sad/funny events into such beauty, and fear that I'll never be able to even come close.

And that makes me really cranky.

Get your own copy!  But don't lend it to Mary.

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