Thursday, December 12, 2013

Update: I'm still here...

...just too darned busy to write much these days.  Life if full of work and Christmas preparations - with the odd run thrown in for good measure.

Last weekend, Husband and I hosted an open house to kick off the season and "warm" our new kitchen. More than 50 people turned up and everyone seemed to have a good time so we were pleased - especially since, even jammed with guests, the kitchen functioned pretty well. Here's a "before the party" photo for those who are curious.

I suppose I should include a "before the renovation" picture too to give you some idea of the transformation wrought by my handsome, handy husband - with a good deal of help from our dear friend Ron, I hasten to add. This photo was taken after the wall came down but before the door and windows were moved.

I put my camera out intending to take photos during the party but completely forgot once people started arriving so you'll just have to take my word for what a good party it was.

Running has been a bit hit and miss lately but I'm trying to be okay with that. After all, 'tis the season to rest and recover from the year's races. Once the New Year rolls around, it will be time to start training for Cabot Trail Relay, which is only 5 months away! In the meantime, my goal is to run just three times a week with a longish run on the weekend. So far, so good.

I haven't taken many pictures lately either. The camera on my new Blackberry is pitiful, which takes all the fun out of trying to capture images during my runs. Perhaps I'll look into getting a small but decent point-and-shoot to carry with me instead.  Here's a shot I got during a long run on Sunday when I followed the trail that skirts the Dartmouth side of the harbour.

I've been lugging my DLSR back and forth to work all week, determined to take photos whenever I get the chance. Alas - there haven't been many opportunities. Here's one of my friend Cathleen on the ferry home last evening which I like even though I didn't get the exposure quite right. I should have used some flash, I think.

The forecast for the weekend doesn't look great for either running or photography - which may be just as well since I've got Christmas cards to write, shopping to do, and a quilting project to complete - so things will likely be quiet here on the blog too. Hopefully, I'll find time for more running and writing during the holidays. I'd like to finish the last installment of the our European Adventures, and write a post about my New Year's resolutions at least.

What about you, dear readers? How are your Christmas plans progressing? Have you made any New Year's resolutions yet? What running or other adventures are on your agenda for 2014?

Monday, December 2, 2013

The insanity continues: from NaNoWriMo to Christmas

Clearly, weekends should longer. However hard I try, I'm never able to do all I want to do. This past weekend was a case in point. By last night, my "to do list" looked something like this:

Run a short run (5-8k)
Run a long run (14-16k)
Finish planning for open house
Bake phyllo cups for appetizers
Call Janet
Visit sister and her family
Visit Mum and Dad
Read a book
Start Chrismas quilting project
Finish Christmas quilting project
Start Christmas shopping
Write Christmas cards
Go for a photo walk
Go for a motorcyle ride
Store motorbike for the winter
Write blog post
Begin novel revisions
Spend quality time with Husband
Catch up on sleep

I'm glad I crossed a few things off the list but something needs to change. For a recovering type A personality like me, a half-completed list is crazy-making.

Of course, part of the trouble is that my lists are often too long. The other is that I underestimate how long some things (read "quilting projects") will take. I suppose the answer is better planning but that feels like a whole new project and I really don't have the energy to take on another one.


While you're thinking that over, here are a couple of photos from Sunday's run. As you can see, it was a grey dreary day, but it was also still and mild, so perfect for running.

I can't say I'm very impressed with the camera on my new Blackberry but, come to think of it, I haven't checked the settings yet so perhaps it's not the camera's fault. Something else to add to my list.  :-(

On the upside, both my weekend runs - an 8k at tempo run on Saturday and a 14k LSR on Sunday - felt great. The highlight came on Sunday when I spotted a pair of massive bald eagles high in a pine tree near the river. I wish I'd taken a decent picture. They really were spectacular.

Despite my general grumpiness, I seem to have landed on a cheerier note so let me sign off here and get back to work - right after, I strike "write blog post" off my list. ;-)

Happy running and writing, friends.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

NaNoWriMo - Day #28 - Whahoooo!

I'm too tired to write much tonight. I'll write a full update sometime on the weekend, when I've had a chance to gather myself and go for a nice long run.

The short version is that, for the second year in a row, I managed to crank out a little over 50,000 words of a draft novel in just under a month.  I have no idea whether what I've written is any good or will ever be read by anyone but me, but I'm damned happy I made the effort.

Sleep well, folks! I know I will.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

NaNoWriMo - Day #21 - No news is (sorta) good news

I blogged a lot during NaNoWriMo 2012 but I can't imagine how I had time. I'm barely managing to keep up with writing my novel this year. In fact, I'm not keeping up. I should have written something like 33,500 words by now and instead I've only written about 28,500. The good news is that a "win" is still within reach if I'm diligent but it's going to be a close - particularly since I'm still struggling to figure out where the heck my story's going. I'm trying not to be too uptight about it - to relax my type A brain and let the characters take the plot in whatever directions make sense to them - but I'm finding it hard to do.

I'm a little worried about my running too. The weather turned cold suddenly so I find myself more inclined to curl up by the fire than to get my butt out the door - though I always enjoy it when I finally do. Fortunately, Husband knows how important running is to my mental health so does what he can to encourage me. This week, he went so far as to offer to run with me, which was very much appreciated - especially since I know he doesn't like running all that much. As it turned out, we completed a mellow 5k loop around the lake and both thoroughly enjoyed it so, hopefully, it's something we'll do more often in the coming months. 

CTR 2012
You may recall that I promised myself I wouldn't set my 2014 running goals until I felt completely recovered from this year's races, but then I got chatting with my friend Rhona about going to Newfoundland for her wedding next summer and realized it's the same weekend as the Tely 10. (I know, right? How can I not register?) Then last week, I received an email saying that the Smokey Mountain Daredevils were looking for a couple of people to organize their triumphant return to the Cabot Trail Relay and I somehow got myself nominated for the job. (It's a mystery. Really!) All of which is to say that it seems I may already have at least two events on my calendar for 2014 - which is a good thing I guess if it helps motivate me to run all winter.

A word about the photo I posted yesterday since some of you asked. Last night I received an annual report from Pearson College where I was student when the photo was taken. The report contains links to a video of current and past students talking about their experiences at the college, which reminded me of how full of optimism and hope I was at 18 and how confident I was that humanity had the courage, compassion and creativity required to solve the world's most intractable problems. Thirty-odd years later, I find it much harder to be so optimistic and confident, so I posted the photo as a reminder to myself not to give in to despair. Now, more than ever, we need to remember that the only way out of the darkness is to be hopeful - defiantly, irrationally, passionately, courageously hopeful - then work as hard as we can to create positive change in ourselves and others.

Happy running and writing, friends.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

NaNoWriMo - Day #17

This has been a day of no writing and the week ahead isn't looking much better, but for some reason I'm still clinging to the hope that I'll find the time and energy to churn out another 26,000 words before November 30th - which really doesn't seem likely. Work is hectic, Christmas is just around the corner, and we invited 50 or so people to our house for a kitchen warming in a few weeks so I've got more than enough to keep me busy.

And then there's running. I managed to squeeze in three good workouts last week but skipped my long run today so that I could spend a couple of hours cleaning and prepping my motorcycle for winter. It felt good to get that chore done but I'm grumpy as hell about missing my run.

The trouble is weekends just aren't long enough. When we bought our country place a few years back, I imagined I'd spend long hours there pursuing various creative projects - quilting, painting, writing, photography. Instead, most weekends are taken up with running, blogging and various social activities so I rarely have time to pursue other interests.

I know it's a just matter of setting new priorities and making some decisions. If I want to spend time doing other things, I simply have to give some things up.  Either that or become one of those crazy morning people who crawls out of bed at 5:00 to run, blog or whatever. It would be amazing if I could be one of those people but I really don't think I have it in me.

And yet…and yet... if I were a morning person, maybe I could find time for all those things I want to do.

One thing's for sure, I'll be working a day job for lots more years so I'd better figure out how to juggle things better than I have been.

And, on that happy note,  I guess it's time I was tucking in. Here's hoping a good night's sleep either inspires me to do some serious writing in the morning or helps me make peace with ditching NaNoWriMo 2013 once and for all.  I'll let you know how it turns out.

Happy writing and running, friends!

PS The photo above is one I took in Paris in June.  I'm hoping to write a post about our visit there soon. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 11, 2013

European adventures: Lest we forget Normandy

As we were leaving France in August 2012, we passed through the city of Caen and were introduced to the beaches of Normandy. We decided then that we'd stop to visit the area if we returned to France this year.

Upon arriving in Caen, we checked into our delightful B&B housed in one of the few 16th century buildings that wasn't destroyed during the Battle of Normandy in 1944.

Our delightful B&B - built in the 16th century

Our first stop the next day was the Memorial (a large museum), where we planned to spend a couple of hours boning up on WWII history in preparation for a 5 hour guided tour the following day. 

The Memorial, Caen, France

The Memorial, Caen, France

As it turned out, we only managed to drag ourselves away 6 hours later when we were too exhausted and emotionally drained to absorb more. We learned a lot we didn't know about WWII and the events leading up to it - not to mention the horrific price paid by all involved. 

Details that have stayed with me include:
  • a photograph of the smiling staff of a German "hospital" where 10,000 people with disabilities were "euthanized";
  • photographs of Caen which was largely destroyed by allied bombardments before the city was "liberated"; 
  • a photograph of a 16 year old girl, a member of the French Resistance, hung by occupying forces; and
  • chilling video testimony from the Trials of Nuremberg.
When we left the museum, we wandered outside for an hour or more exploring the Canadian Memorial Gardens, a tribute to the 5,000 Canadians who died during the campaign to liberate France. 

Canadian Memorial Garden, Caen, France

A monument in the Canadian Memorial Gardens

I had been worried the Memorial would glorify the war - or at least Allied involvement in it - but I really don't think that it did. To the contrary, its exhibits were careful designed to emphasize how brutally the war was waged by all sides. 

That said, I came away from our visit truly believing for the first time that the war was a "just" one - or, at least, that it was as just as war can ever be. Hitler and company came frighteningly close to achieving their objectives and, had they done so, our lives would be very different today. 

The next morning, Husband and I both felt in need of something to soothe our souls before we embarked on a tour of D-Day sites, so we opted to spend the morning at the Musee de Beaux-Arts, where we took in an exhibition of Impressionist paintings inspired by the Norman seaside, and the Musee de Normandie, where we admired photographs created around the same time period. I was especially intrigued by the photographs. Even with what we would now consider rudimentary tools, the featured photographers captured gorgeous images of life in Normandy.

A photo by amateur photographer, Gustave Gain

Our visit to the Musee also provided an opportunity to wander round the ramparts of William the Conqueror's ancient castle and take in views of the city below. 

A view from the Chateau Ducal, Caen

After lunch, we took a bus back to the Memorial and joined our guide, Jean-Francois, for called "Follow the Steps of the Canadians". Our first stop was Bernieres, the site of a large monument to Allied forces and the centre of great deal of Canadian activity following the D-Day landings. This house is purported to be the first liberated by Canadian forces.

The first house liberated by Canadians on D-Day, Bernieres, France

We also visited several other key sites along the beaches...

This monument sits next to the beach at Bernieres

Another smaller monument to D-Day

...and spent about an hour and a half exploring the Juno Beach Centre

Juno Beach Centre

The Centre contains a variety of exhibits that describe the many roles Canadians played in the war effort - from supplying troops to manufacturing weapons to transporting supplies across the dangerous waters of the North Atlantic - so we'd have been glad to spend more time there. There really aren't words to describe how deeply moving it was for everyone on the tour. 

Members of our tour contemplating the tragedy

Our next to last stop was the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery where more than 2,000 Canadians who died during the Battle of Normandy are buried. 

Beny-sur-mer Canadian War Cemetery

Beny-sur-mer Canadian War Cemetery

The cemetery is still meticulously cared for by local people - which seems extraordinary after so many years - particularly given the price the locals paid for their liberation. In the city of Caen alone, more than 1500 residents died as a result of Allied bombing! Nonetheless, monuments like this one are scattered throughout the city.

One of the many monuments in Caen celebrating the city's liberation by the Canadians

Our final stop was the Abbaye d'Ardenne, where 20 Canadian prisoners of war were killed by German Panzer forces, and the Garden of the Canadians, a monument commemorating the massacre. I was surprised to see the Nova Scotia flags adorning the site until I learned that five of the murdered men were North Nova Scotia Highlanders. 

The Garden of the Canadians

On this Remembrance Day, I'll be thinking of all those young men who died or were injured in Normandy in 1944 and whispering prayers of thanks for their bravery and sacrifice. Over one million Canadians served in WWII - roughly 45% of Canadian men aged 18-45. One million. And, of that number, nearly 47,000 died and many tens of thousands were injured - all in the name of protecting the freedoms we too often take for granted. 

Lest we forget. 

For more photos from our visit to Normandy, you can follow this link to my Flickr set. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Nanowrimo - Day #10 - It goes...


I'm nearly a third of the way into my 2013 Nanowrimo journey and the best I can say is that it goes. Don't get  me wrong. I've sketched out a reasonably complex story that's unfolding nicely. It's just that I'm not feeling especially enthusiastic about it.

I'm not sure what the problem is. Maybe it's that I'm so focused on working out details of the plot that I've yet to become immersed in my make believe world in a way that lets me smell and taste it. Certainly, the text doesn't include much description, which is fine - I can go back and add colour later - but I like writing description and, to this point at least, I'm mostly writing dialogue. Guess I'll just keep plugging and hope I start enjoying it more soon.

It's a three day weekend for me since our offices are closed for Remembrance Day on Monday. To mark the day, I plan to attend the service at the local cenotaph and write a brief account of our trip to Normandy. The photo above is of one of the many beautiful monuments we visited at the Memorial in Caen, France.

What about running, you ask?  No, I haven't given it up altogether but, yes, I've reduced the intensity of my training since Cape to Cabot. My current plan is to run 3-4 times a week for a total of no more than 30-35 kms - enough to maintain a reasonable base for next season but not so much that it interferes with other activities. We'll see if I can stick to that. Yesterday, I went for an "easy" 8k and couldn't resist upping my pace to 6:20/km - not blistering, by any stretch but much faster than I intended when I set out.

I still haven't settled on my running goals for next year. I think I might like to focus to shorter distances and see if I can increase my speed. However, watching the runners in New York last weekend had me daydreaming about one final big city marathon so I may not be done with long distance events quite yet.

And motorcycling and photography?  I managed to get Patti running yesterday long enough to go for a quick trip up the river and back. She was a little grumpy after so many weeks sitting in the driveway but, once she warmed up, she enjoyed carving down the highway as much as I did. If the rain holds off, we'll do a longer trip out to the beach and back today.

Unfortunately, my camera stayed in the bag all week because I was too busy with work and NaNoWriMo but I hope to get it out before long to try my hand at street photography. I've started following a wonderful photographer named Valerie Jardin who's got me thinking a lot about why I like taking and sharing photographs. More on that when my thoughts gel a bit.

Speaking of photography, I was very moved by this photo essay, which a friend shared on Facebook this week. Such stunningly beautiful and moving images of fear and pain, love and loss. To my mind, it's an example of the best kind of photography - one that evokes emotional response, exposes unexplored aspects of the human condition, focuses attention on the beauty of everyday life, and/or challenges us to question what we know.

It's time I signed off now and got back to the novel.  I had a pretty good day of writing yesterday - thanks in large part to Janet who came by for a few hours to swap story ideas (thanks, Janet!) but didn't quite reach my goal of 3,000 words. Hopefully, I'll be a little more productive today. It would be wonderful to start the new work week a little ahead of the game.

Happy running and writing friends!

Monday, November 4, 2013

NaNoWriMo - Day #4

Day #4 and I'm doing well racking up the words. Unfortunately, what I'm producing is mostly crap. And, no, I'm not just being modest. The first couple of chapters really are crap.

To add insult to injury, my neck and shoulders are tight and achy - which I blame on too much time with my laptop and the stress of knowing I'm writing crap.

In theory, the story I'm writing should interest me but, truthfully, I'm bored already - which I suppose means I'm writing the wrong story. Or maybe it's the right story but the wrong genre. Or maybe I'm just suffering a major sugar crash after devouring too many Halloween treats this past weekend.

In any case, here's a synopsis of what I've got so far:

No one is more surprised than Cassie Jollimore when she's elected to the Legislature and appointed Minister of Justice and Attorney General. Nothing in her previous careers as a small town lawyer and masters runner has prepared her for the challenges she faces as chief law officer for the Crown. Determined to do a good job and earn the respect of her colleagues while keeping an appropriate emotional distance between herself and her dangerously attractive Deputy Minister, she struggles to balance pragmatism and idealism. When  she begins receiving death threats less than a month into her new job, she can't be sure whether they're related to her new role as Minister, her investigation into a Cabinet colleague's suspicious activities, or the ex-husband she'd rather forget.

Even going for a long run yesterday didn't help much.  By the time I headed out late afternoon, my body was as tired and achy as my head. On the upside, I ran through Shubie Park where I was pleased to find some colourful autumn foliage remained - though even the rich forest smells and dogs frolicking in the park didn't do much to energize me. By the time I got back to the house, all I wanted was to curl up by the fire and sleep.

That said I'm not ready to give up on this novel just yet. After all, as I discovered last year, NaNoWriMo is an excellent antidote for post-marathon syndrome. When the little voice in the back of my brain starts nagging me to go for another long tough training run, I tell it to shut the hell up and get busy plotting. A month of short, easy runs is exactly what my body needs to recover from all the events I've run this season.

BTW, if you're participating in NaNoWriMo too, check out my friend Janet's blog for some great tips. Janet's been writing for awhile and coached me to my first NaNo win last year so she knows what she's talking about.

Time to get back to work!

Happy running and writing, friends.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

NaNoWriMo - Day #-1

Here it is. The last day of October - which means National Novel Writing Month (November) starts tomorrow. I've signed up to participate in NaNoWriMo again but have to admit my commitment isn't what it was last year.

The problem is I have no idea what I want to write about.


As of noon today, I have only the vaguest notion that I'd like to write a mystery novel and that my central character might be a former journalist or newly-minted Justice Minister. More than that I can't tell you. I don't have a plot, characters, or locale. I don't even have a victim, for goodness sake. Which isn't at all promising.

But here's what I learned from my NaNoWriMo experience last year: That making time to write every day and giving myself permission to put fingers to keyboard with no goal beyond producing 1667 words let all sorts of interesting stuff ooze from my deepest self-conscious. At its best, the process was exhilarating, joyous, and creative. At its worst, it was profoundly cathartic.

So plot or no plot, I'm going for it. Husband's hitting the road for a week so I'll have plenty of time to snuggle into my flannel jammies, brew endless cups of hot honey lemon (spiced up with the occasional shot of rum) and write my little heart out. With luck, I'll have figured out a story to tell in a day or two. Here's hoping anyway.

Wish me luck!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Race report: Cape to Cabot 20k


Yay! I did it. I finished "the toughest race in eastern North America" and, truthfully, it wasn't even all that hard. Okay, the last long climb up Signal Hill was hard and I nearly threw up after I crossed the line, but my knee held up well, the weather was excellent for running, and I met lots of warm, friendly people before and during the race so I had a fantastic time.

Backing up a little, Husband and I arrived in St. John's a week ago last Thursday and immediately headed for Cupids where we'd booked a night at the delightful Cupids Haven. I can't remember when we last stayed in such a comfortable and peaceful spot. We were the only guests that evening so had the whole place to ourselves. Before settling in front of the fire with a bottle of wine, we made our way to Bay Roberts for a late lunch at the Madrock Cafe - a tiny restaurant where we sampled Newfoundland specialties, including fish cakes, brown beans and toutons with butter and molasses - not exactly low-cal food but, since I was carbo-loading, I downed a huge plateful.

After a fabulous night's sleep and delicious breakfast served up by our host, Charmaine, we headed back to Bay Roberts to walk a 5 km portion of the Shoreline Heritage Walking Trail.


Despite a heavy mist, we thoroughly enjoyed the scenery and historic sites along the trail. The autumn colours were more subdued than at home but I was determined to try to capture them all the same.

French's Cove, NL


Shoreline Heritage Walking Tour, Bay Roberts, NL

Though we had a full day of activities planned, it was hard to pull ourselves away from Madrock where huge waves roared against the shoreline.


Leaving Bay Roberts, we headed a further along the shore of Conception Bay and stopped briefly in Harbour Grace to admire the Church of the Immaculate Conception, currently undergoing restoration...


...and a monument commemorating Amelia Earhart's historic solo flight across the Atlantic.


Just up the highway, we stopped to savour the views at Bristol's Hope - a place I remembered visiting more than thirty years before. By then, the sun had come out and it was warm enough that we wished we'd brought a picnic.


Back in the car, we headed eastward again and drove from downtown St. John's to Cape Spear so that I could get familiar with the route before Sunday's run.

A view from Cape Spear, NL


Standing at Cape Spear was a sobering experience. Cabot Tower looked very far away and the steep hills we drove to get to the Cape (one of which was almost 3kms long) were daunting, to say the least.


Fortunately, we spent that evening with good friends in St. John's, who distracted me from worrying about the race for a few hours, and were busy enough the next day that I didn't think much about it again until bedtime. My friend took Husband and me "twacking" (browsing in stores) and we were both struck by how incredibly vibrant and interesting downtown St. John's had become since we last visited. Later that evening, we went for dinner at the fabulous Bacalao Restaurant, where we dined on nouvelle Newfoundland cuisine, before making our way to the Duke of Duckworth for a pint.

Because I was so terrified, I hardly slept Saturday night and was up the next morning in lots of time to catch the bus to Cape Spear at 6:45. As the bus trundled its way over the long hills to the start line, the sun made a brief cameo, then disappeared behind heavy clouds. Fortunately, the winds were light so temperatures were reasonably comfortable when we arrived at the Cape and, while we waited for the race to start, a number of my fellow runners offered reassurance and advice on how best to survive the course. Just before we got underway, we were lead in a rousing rendition of the "Ode to Newfoundland" by fabulous local musician, John Curran.

I previously posted this elevation chart for the race...

...but I think these photos give a better sense of just how tough the hills were. This was the first and smallest of the three major hills we tackled en route to St. John's.


As I neared the top of it, I turned and snapped another picture. You can just pick out the lighthouse beyond the trees.


Coming out of the hills, I stopped briefly in Shea Heights to capture a photo of the city far below.


Only a small portion of the course (4kms along the waterfront) was flat. As I neared the end of that section, I caught a glimpse of the finish line between two ships moored nearby. Signal Hill seemed a long way up from where I stood...


...and indeed it was. I managed to run the first steep section up Temperance Street but, like many of my fellow runners, slowed to a walk for most of the last mile. Truthfully, I could walk almost as quickly as I could run the steepest parts of the hill. I briefly considered hitching a ride...


...but decided to complete the race under my own steam and somehow found enough energy to sprint the last hundred metres to the finish line. This was the view back to the start line at Cape Spear from just beyond the finish.

A view from just beyond the finish line.

Needless to say I was very happy to take my turn kissing the Tower when I finally reached it.


My official finish time was 2:22 but that included a few stops to take photos and stretch. According to my Garmin, my unofficial "run time" was a little under 2:18 - not fast, by any means, but I'll take it. Heading into the race, I was worried my right knee would seize up as it did during my last marathon in September so paced myself carefully, especially during the downhill portions. In retrospect, I might have been able to run the course more quickly but it made sense to take a conservative approach to make sure I finished.

With the race done, Husband and I headed out to the fabulous Gracie Joe's for brunch before spending a bit more time with our friends, making brief visits to Signal Hill and the Battery and heading to the airport for our flight home.

Looking back to where I started from the finish line of Cape to Cabot.
A view of Cape Spear from Signal Hill
In summary, we had an awesome time in Newfoundland, and I was very happy with my performance at Cape to Cabot. I don't think it's a race I'll ever feel the need to run again but I'd certainly recommend it to anyone interested in tackling a fun new challenge.

For more photos from our trip and the race, follow this link to a set on Flickr.