Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Theatre review: Eating Peanuts in an Elephant's Graveyard

Last night we had the good fortune to attend a special performance of Dartmouth Players’ latest production, Elephant’s Graveyard, written by George Brant. Based on our sneak preview, I highly recommend you buy tickets asap so you don’t miss out. The play runs from March 30th to April 15th with evening performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday and matinees on Sunday.

I admit to feeling some trepidation as we walked to the theatre last evening. I knew the play was based on the true story of a circus elephant’s death in a small Tennessee town in 1916, and that events leading to her death reflected the darker aspects of human nature. But I needn’t have worried. Though the story is terribly sad, this Dartmouth Players production is as emotionally and psychologically compelling as it is visually beautiful.

To begin, let me congratulate the team responsible for creating a near perfect setting for the play. Set design (Ray Lefresne), costume design (Pam Wood), and lighting design (Richard Bonner) worked together brilliantly, contrasting brightly costumed circus performers against drably attired townspeople, and highlighting key action and dialogue. More congratulations must go to music advisor, Greg Simm, and musicians, Evan Toth-Martinez (drums) and Jacques Robear (guitar and vocals) for their contributions, which did much to support the dramatic arch of the production.

Not including Mary the elephant (who never appears on stage though she is palpably present throughout), the cast comprises fourteen performers, many of whom remained on stage for almost the entire play (which runs to 90 minutes with no intermission). Under the superb direction of Tamara Smith, they delivered a series of interrelated monologues – interspersed with short choral pieces – that could, in less capable hands, have left the audience dazed and confused. But that never happened, no matter how crowded the scene.

Given the size of the cast, there isn’t space to comment on each actor individually, but, without exception, they delivered powerful, engaging performances that fostered understanding and sympathy for even the most despicable characters. From the disappointed New Testament preacher (Matthew Myers) to the sad and avaricious ringmaster (Roy Ellis), their performances will remain with me for a long time.

Though all the cast did well, I must make special mention of Sharleen Kalayil, whose depiction of Mary’s trainer was gripping and sensitive throughout, Christine Gerogiannis, whose portrayal of an exuberant youngster struck all the right notes, Sean Mott, whose impassioned soliloquy on American greatness sent familiar shivers through the audience, Des Adams, whose weary and laconic observations on Mary’s death and the recent lynching of a black man in the same town shone a light on the grim values that underpin much of American (and, some would argue, Canadian) society to this day, and Brad Morrisson, whose regret-filled closing lines provided some small measure of redemption.

Of course, no production can succeed without a lot of hard work and experience behind the scenes. Elephant’s Graveyard was ably produced by Holly Irving, a long-time member of Dartmouth Players, and stage managed by Nikki Beaulieu-Belliveau (Stage Manager) and Tippy Scott (Assistant Stage Manager.)

As for the peanuts – well, you’ll just have to go see the play to understand what that’s all about. I strongly recommend you do!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Introducing Jackie!

So...this happened last week.

Husband and I have been talking about getting a dog for ages, so he goes to Cape Breton, meets an 8 week old Jack Russell terrier and decides she'd be a good birthday present for both of us. Next thing I know, life is all abut when the puppy pees, how much she sleeps and whether she's had enough exercise to behave herself and sleep through the night. It's insane. But also pretty darn fun. Too bad the rest of life is busy as well. There's not much energy left for writing these days. Or for running, as it turns out. Hoping the weather improves this week so I feel more motivated to train. On the other hand, once she's big enough, little Jackie's gonna be a fantastic running companion! We just need to survive puppyhood somehow!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Running lessons: Tough times make us stronger

Another week of training gone and, with just 12 weeks until Cabot Trail Relay, I'm beginning to feel a tad nervous.  So far, I've managed to complete all the long weekend runs on my schedule but I've been much less consistent about midweek runs. 

Last week, for instance, I only ran 3k on Tuesday evening before slowing to a walk because I was feeling woozy. I'm not sure what the problem was - maybe tired from all the running the week before (37k in total) or maybe fighting a bug of some kind. Thank goodness my energy returned to normal this weekend - especially given the challenges posed by the weather. 

Let me back up. The weekend before last was fantastic for running - spring-like with mild temperatures, little wind, and fog no less! I had to strip down to my running bra at the midpoint of my 8k on Saturday morning fun.  Seriously!

Since the weather was so mild, Husband and I headed down river for a walk on Risser's Beach in the afternoon. There wasn't much to see but it was mellow wandering along listening to the waves and shaking out my legs in preparation for my long run the next day.

Sunday morning, I crawled out of bed earlier than usual and headed to Prince's Inlet to join my buddy David's for a favourite run out to Second Peninsula and back. This is Dave at our turnaround point at Bachman's Beach. I didn't bother to try to take other photos since it was still so foggy.

The run was "easier" than some I've done lately because the weather was so lovely and there were many fewer hills involved but, at 17k, it still felt challenging - maybe because we ran early enough that I didn't have time to stretch properly first. In any case, it was - as always - great fun running with David and catching up on his news.

By contrast, this past weekend's runs were much tougher. Husband and I set out after breakfast Saturday morning, intending to do 8k up river and back, but the wind was so strong and cold we turned back after about a kilometre and finished our run in Peace Park, where we could be out of the the wind for the most part. By the time we'd finished two circuits of the park, Husband had had enough so we headed back to town, where he dropped me so I could run a last few kilometres back to the house before calling it a day.

The forecast was for calmer weather yesterday but, unfortunately, the forecast was wrong. We woke up to only marginally warmer temperatures (-7C) and even stronger wind. I couldn't imagine tackling my planned workout, which would have involved fighting heavy headwinds for six 500-metre climbs up Logan Street hill. Instead, I opted to do my hill repeats on a 500 metre stretch of Aberdeen Rd., which was mostly out of the wind.

Even with little wind, those six hills felt hard. After completing just two, the gremlins in my head were having a field day - loudly insisting I was too damned old to run North Mountain and might as well throw in the towel now, walk home and plop myself down by the fire for the afternoon. Fortunately, after training for nearly 30 long distance races, I've learned a few tricks for dealing with the little blighters. "First off," I growled under my breath, "I am not too old!  Second, every one of these climbs will only last 3 and 4 minutes - which is no time at all. Third, plenty of people have way worse things to deal with than this - illness, depression, addiction, breakups. If they can deal with their stuff for weeks and months at a time, I can most certainly run uphill for half an hour! So bugger off and leave me alone!" Which they did.

Of course, it helped that I could feel the training starting to pay off. The hills felt easier than they have in a few of years. If I stick to my training plan, there's every reason to hope I'll be strong enough to run leg 9 in a reasonable time. I just need to be patient and keep working.

Ahhhh...there's another of those wonderful lessons that resonate in the rest of my life. The reality is that many of the best thing in life only become possible through concerted and consistent effort - fulfilling relationships, satisfying work, and good health - to name just a few. Of course, you might be lucky enough to have some of those things drop in your lap but mostly you have to work for them.

Another lesson is that it's often the tough times that make you stronger and happier in the long run. Sure, I might have preferred mild, calm conditions for this weekend's runs but the cold and wind made for more intense workouts overall and forced me to confront my gremlin so, as training runs go, they were actually pretty awesome.  In life it's the same. Shit happens and you can't imagine  you'll ever get through it, but you do. And usually you end up wiser, stronger and more confident because of it - which is also pretty awesome.

And, with that, friends, it's time to curl up by the fire to read a bit before bed.  Hope spring is in the air wherever you are. Happy running and writing.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Five ways to tell if your training is going well

It’s February, the toughest month in many Canadian runners' calendars - when the weather outside is frightful, we've put on extra weight as a result of eating too many holiday goodies, and we're just ramping up our training for spring races.  

When our bodies feel sluggish, we're still getting into a good training groove, and there's little to show for it yet, motivation can be hard to find – which is why it’s important to recognize and celebrate even small shifts that tell us we're training well.  Here are five of my favourites:

1.  I sleep soundly and wake up refreshed.

When my training is going well, I get just enough exercise to go to bed physically tired but not so much that I'm over-training - telltale symptoms of which are insomnia and a failure to recover fully between workouts.

2.  Walking down stairs feels good.

Pushing too hard and not taking time to stretch and cross-train often leads to muscle tightness and joint pain that can make it hard to walk down a set of stairs. Training well means getting enough rest and doing what's needed between workouts to keep my joints and muscles limber and pain-free. I know I've been stretching and resting enough when I can do a long run one day and walk downstairs easily the next. 

3.  I can put on my socks without sitting down or leaning against a wall.

To run well, you need good balance and flexibility, as well as a strong core. When I can balance on one leg to put on my sock, I know my body is balanced, strong and flexible enough to run well. Yoga, stretching and core exercises help keep it that way.

4.  I look forward to being outside.

When my body's revved from training, I like to be outside as much as possible - even in cold, stormy weather! I look forward to participating in winter activities (like skiing, snow shoeing, sledding, and skating) while soaking up some wintry sunshine. Reminding myself that "winter runs make summer bodies" doesn't hurt either. 

5.  I crave healthier food.

My body's smart. When I pay attention, it tells me what to eat so that it's properly fueled for training. Fruits and veggies seem more appetizing, junk food and alcohol far less appealing. I crave healthier options that will make me stronger, lighter and faster.

What about you? How do you know when your training's going well?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Blogging's felt hard lately, though I can't say why exactly. There's plenty to write about - running, politics, food, travel, photography - but somehow I don't feel motivated - which is why, in an effort to get some creative juices flowing, I decided to revisit a blog prompt from last year

Time and place...
Tuesday evening after the long Heritage Day weekend, I'm wrapped in a warm blanket, sitting by the fire, sipping red wine, with husband reading contently beside me.

Not at the moment, but I cooked lots over the weekend - homemade biscuits for breakfast, pork tenderloin with mustard and wine cream sauce for supper on Saturday, squash and risotta cakes (to accompany husband's yummy BBQ lamb chops) on Sunday, and lemon and thyme "beer can" chicken on Monday. It felt good spending time in the kitchen for a change.

A city crew to haul away the snow piles in front of our driveway after the last week's monster storm. It's a good thing we don't need our second car, since it's still completely inaccessible. These photos were taken after the big storm but before a second one, which dropped another 20 cms. The pile in front of the car is at least two feet higher now.

A strange mixture of fear, sadness, anger, determination and euphoria in response to the spectacle unfolding south of the boarder and people's responses to it.

Working on...
So. Many. Things. For starters, various projects at work, which has been more hectic than usual lately. Also, my training for Cabot Trail Relay, which was interrupted by a nasty flu last week, and knitting a wool hat to replace the one I lost last winter. Oh, and selling our country house, and working on a special birthday present for Husband, and figuring out what I want to be when I grow up... amongst other things... 

Several books at once (as usual). I'm nearly finished Virginia Woolf's Orlando, and just started Laura Bates' Everyday Sexism and Margaret MacMillan's Paris 1919. Last week I finished Donna Morrissey's The Fortunate Brothers, which I highly recommend. Next, I hope to reread Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Orwell's 1984.

Listening to...
A wood fire crackling in the fireplace. Also Nemmie the cat, who's more talkative than she used to be - and somewhat more willing to having her picture taken. I grabbed these shots while she was lazing on our bed last weekend.

Warmth and sunshine. It's hard not to with so many friends posting snapshots from their vacations "down south", but I'm determined to stay strong and save my vacation days for later. If the country house sells quickly enough, we'd like to head back to Europe in the summer or fall.

All things Trumpist - here in Canada as well as in the US. And, yes, I do mean Kevin O'Leary, Kellie Leitch, and their nasty little friends. 

The hope, optimism and determination that's springing from the ashes of the US election. Need proof? Check out this video, and this article. And there are plenty more where they came from. Here's hoping love and compassion triumph in the end. There are millions working hard to make it happen.

Also, the mild weather we've been having. It was so runny and warm on Saturday, we stopped to sunbathe for a bit after snow shoeing at Risser's Beach Provincial Park. It was glorious!

A provincial election call. No one knows when it will come but the government seems anxious to return to the polls asap. Also, a long weekend in Prince Edward Island to celebrate Husband's 65th birthday in March. We haven't been to "the gentle island" in a couple of years so are keen to get back and visit some dear friends there.

My waistline. I'm determined to drop a few more pounds before tackling my fifth Cabot Trail Relay in May and, so far, my efforts seem to be paying off. Reducing my alcohol consumption, eating fewer sweets and more leafy greens, and running regularly appears to be having an impact.

The causes that matter most to me - environmental sustainability, feminism, social and economic justice, human rights - on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and this blog. And, no, I don't care if it makes people uncomfortable. As a species, we're headed in the wrong direction and running out of time. Many more of us need to take a stand - fiercely, peacefully, and with openness and compassion. 

Thinking too much about CTR - now just 13.5 weeks away. On Saturday, I managed to run up and down Logan Street hill 5 times but it felt harder than I hoped it would and I took more walk breaks than I intended. I'd like to think it was because I was still recovering from the flu and running conditions weren't ideal, but the reality is I'm a long way from ready to tackle North Mountain. Here's hoping 13 more weeks of training will be enough.

And what about you, dear readers? What and how are you doing...currently?