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.