Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gettin' girlie

I'm a sucker for chick flicks.

I don't strike you as the type? Then you don't know me so well.

Behind this crusty, cynical, misanthropic exterior lies a mushy, soft-hearted romantic.

I just got back from Best Buy. I picked up a handful of movies, scoring only one of the three I had gone to get.

I missed out on Elf and Slap Shot but ordered them off eBay as soon as I got home.

Clutched in my chubby little fingers was a copy of The Holiday, starring Kate Winslet, Jack Black, Cameron Diaz and Jude (Rawr) Law.

It didn't reach critical acclaim. It wasn't a box-office smash hit. It will never replace Love Actually as my all-time favourite movie. And I've watched it on TV three times in the last three weeks.

But it is a cute, little holiday flick that warms the heart ... and makes me bawl my friggin' eyes out.

Essentially, it's about two women on opposite sides of the world — Los Angeles and London, England — who are career-driven and broken-hearted. They step outside their respective boxes, travel to each others homes in a holiday swap and spent Christmas on their own.

At least as long as it takes to fall madly in love with the men of their dreams, of course.

As independent, carefree and uncommitted as I am, there's still a tiny part of me that keeps the romantic fires burning.

So there The Holiday will sit, nestled next to 13 Going on 30, Clueless, The Break-Up and Rumor Has It.

Yeah, big Jennifer Aniston fan, too.

Argh ... just don't tell anyone. Let's keep it our little secret, OK?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ghost of Christmas past

It's Nov. 29.

That means tomorrow is Nov. 30.

And there's only 25 more days after that until Christmas.

The corporate holiday party was last week. I didn't go. I never do. The girl with no date always sticks out like a sore thumb.

Plus, partying is often the last thing I want to do in the runup to Christmas Day.

For many, the holidays are festive and bright. For others, it isn't quite so easy.

Me and Dad
It's been 15 years since my entire family celebrated Christmas together and that last Christmas wasn't exactly brimming over with holiday cheer.

My father, you see, was on his last legs. The doctors had sent him home to die. The cancerous tumour on his neck had grown so large it was cutting off circulation to his arm and he was unable to eat, sustaining his life with Ensure energy drinks.

We all knew in our hearts that he didn't have much longer. It was the elephant in the room and yet no one would talk about it. I spent the long nights on vacation from my job in Newfoundland crying as hard as I am right now.

We all pretended it didn't exist ... for the sake of making Christmas worse than it already was.

I left the next day or the day after Boxing Day. I can't quite recall. I know it was some time after the entire house erupted because Kevin leaned across Mom's oak dining room table to kiss his fiancee-now-wife, Diane, and broke it.

As I stood in the doorway with my bags packed, I told my father not to get up. That I would come say goodbye while he sat in his chair.

In all his stubbornness, he pushed his frail body up and shuffled his way over to me, enveloping me in his arms. I was afraid to hug too hard. I thought I might break him.

He died some two weeks later.

It's my ghost of Christmas past. Did I leave too soon? Should I have spent more time with him that Christmas? Should I have talked to him more, let him know it was OK to go? That I knew it was coming ...

And so for many years, I avoided Christmas. I still went home to Nova Scotia as often as I could, playing the role of dutiful daughter for my mother.

I wonder sometimes whether my brothers have it any better. They're all married and two of them have two beautiful daughters each.

I wonder if it's any easier to wake up on Christmas morning, knowing they get to sit around their trees and pass around gifts to smiles and laughter.

Me? I fight through it many days, punching against the dark shroud that can cover me like a black wool blanket.

I decorated the apartment last year, the first time I'd done that since my roommate Rosetta and I adorned our duplex in Gander back in 1995.

And I'm trying to start my own tradition of making Christmas my own, the single girl in a world of families and festivities. Last year, I left Calgary and drove to Seattle to spend it with friends. Altogether, it was a great time but there was something missing.

I still don't know what that is.

This year, I have 10 days off, skilfully arranged around the statutory holidays that fall on the weekend, the days off in lieu and only two days of holiday time burned.

I know I'll wake up Christmas Day to my most loyal friend, Shep. But there won't be any gifts under our tree. Everything will already have been opened by then.

I'm invited to a friend's house for Christmas dinner and Shep and I are scheduled to spend New Year's Eve in Idaho with our American friends.

Still, that's all three weeks and more from now.

In the meantime, I'll be doing my best to put on my holiday face, make merry, drink lots of eggnog and join in the Yuletide fun ... never forgetting the spirit that Dad and Mom brought to Christmas when we were kids.

But know that sometimes I'm forcing it and it isn't exactly easy.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Shopping socially

An interesting phenomenon is sweeping across Calgary.

I suppose some might call it social shopping. The trouble is, some people aren't being very social about it.

A number of cost-savings opportunities are cropping up, from Living Social to Groupon and the Canadian-operated Steal the Deal. Others exist, I just can't remember their names.

I've partaken in several of these deals since they started, mostly massages and facials. A day at the spa isn't something I'm normally inclined to spend $200 on, but if it's knocked down to 49 bucks ... sure, what the hell?

You can pick up on hot deals on ski passes, candle shops, hair cuts, food and more. Some of the offers are pretty basic ... get 20 bucks worth of whatever for $5. Some are more high-end, like the aforementioned spa trip which I have yet to book.

I call these 'social' shopping because they employ the internet as their main vehicle of advertising. They use Twitter, Facebook and email -- all the hot tools for social networking.

Along my journey on the social shopping trail, I ask how the whole dealio is working out for the business in question.

I have learned that a lot of you are cheap sunsabitches.

You don't tip. You're rude. You're there to get the biggest bang for your buck and you really don't care much for the trail of distaste you leave in your wake.

Folks, we have to remember that even though we're getting a discount on a service, we still have to act like civilized, social beings ... no matter how much we're saving.

Sure, these deals might expose some of us to experiences we might not otherwise be able to afford.

And we aren't the only ones investing in these deals. Sometimes, these deals can attract hundreds of shoppers.

So don't be surprised when you call to book your appointment and you can't get in for a few weeks.

And for heaven's sakes, tip.

Trust me, your facialist will understand if you say 'I'm sorry, I would give you more but this is all I have right now' and promise to spread the word about the good service you received.

But when you need to pay the GST on the service, it amounts to $1.75, you flip a twoonie onto the counter and demand your quarter back ... well ...

I've only been disappointed once using one of these services. I sat through a three-and-a-half-hour cut-and-colour at a salon. Three and a half hours. For a cut and colour. The guy kept bouncing around and doing other stuff at the salon.

They had my email address and a couple months later, I received a notice saying the salon was shutting down.

Colour me surprised. And that colour didn't take twice as long as it should.

At the same time, let's remember that these businesses are putting these deals out to get new traffic through the door.

They want your business. They want to serve you and they want to serve you well.

And they want you to come back.

Thus far, I have found myself a new massage therapist and a new esthetician.

I encourage you to take advantage of the deals you can get from Groupon or Living Social or whatever.

But don't take advantage of the people serving you.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Got me a rubdown

Never doubt the importance of a good massage therapist.

I've been to a handful of massage clinics around the city and, sure, it all felt good. There was the chiropractor in the south end, too, but the way he was pushing me all around, trying to get stuff to crack ... well ... just ...


It's one thing for me to stretch and make things pop but getting all twisted up that way and forcing it?

No. That's just not my bag.

Today, I capitalized on a Living Social deal, getting an hour-long massage at Back and Body Health for half the regular price.

I wasn't expecting much really, nothing much different than the usual treatment ... rub this, move that, dig your elbow in there ...

In fact, I tried to talk to my last massage therapist about the issues with my shoulder but all I got from her was a couple of uh-huhs and the same old routine.

Corey Batt, however, listened intently. He asked me about the injury, when I thought it happened, how it happened, what kind of therapy I've been doing and so on. I told him about the pain localized in my anterior deltoid, the compensatory stiffness on the left side of my neck and even the lower back stickiness I usually experience after some heavy deadlifts.

He started on my right shoulder blade, worked around on it for a little while and then announced, 'yeah, you're really muscle guarding on this side.'

Muscle guarding?

It's a protective response in a muscle group that results from pain or fear of movement.

So my right shoulder girdle is all bunched up.

Then he runs his hands down my back, moving the muscles around my lower spine.

I'm not sure whether he emitted a sound of shock, fear or surprise but it sounded kind of like a 'phphphooph.'

And he said 'yeah, you are really twisted up down here.'

Fact is, I don't do anything unless I go all out. Play hard or stay home, right?

Trust me, this is one time I'd rather give up that talent.

In any case, Corey did things to my back, shoulder, arms and pecs that I've never had done before.

That was 10 hours ago.

My shoulder hasn't clicked when I move it since I left the clinic on Burbank Cres.

The cinch in my neck is gone.

Granted, this is a temporary measure. The ultimate solution won't be known until after my MRI in February and a permanent course of action is determined by my doctor.

But if Corey can provide some relief in the meantime, who am I to argue?

Oh, and he also recommended I see the Back and Body Health owner, Dr. Ryan J. Hoover. He has extensive experience with sports injuries and Corey says he isn't the type to go popping and cracking bones.

So I'm willing to give that a try, too ... even consider some Active Release Techniques as recommended by another friend.

Stay tuned.

But if you'd like to try Corey out for yourself, give him a call at 403-209-2225.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Musical memories

It may have been each one of us was out to shock our mother just a little bit more than the older child.

Our musical choices were indeed edgy, particularly for the type of town in which we lived.




Our hometown's nickname is, in fact, The Little Vatican. The university, the community newspaper, the radio station ... everything in that town while we were growing up was run by the local diocese of the Catholic Church.

The Bishop lived in a regal, stately Victorian-style home on Main Street. One man ... huge house that's now a bed and breakfast.

The Scottish-Catholic mafia ... or something like that ... ruled the town.

We grew up on whatever sounds were emitted by CJFX, a radio station with an AM signal so powerful it drowned out all other stations within reach, and the few musical shows Dad let us watch on our two channels. Yep, The Grand Ole Opry and The Tommy Hunter Show.

Our musical exposure on CJFX amounted to fiddles — OK, not so bad now that some of us have discovered a bit of our cultural identity — and a skosh of adult contemporary, played after 8 p.m.

And Elvis Presley. Lots of Elvis Presley. Mom loved him.

I vaguely remember the four kids huddled into the 1970 Cutlass Supreme. Oddly, I Was Made for Loving You by KISS came on the radio. My mother slammed the off button and made some crack about men in makeup and noise.

Boy, did she ever not know what was coming.

Then music videos came on stream. We'd get three every Sunday on Switchback, hosted by Stan the Man. Then CTV started showing Video Hits.

We were amazed. I was enraptured by the Eurythmics, Rick Springfield, the Thompson Twins and more.

God bless the '80s.

It's Shane's fault, I suppose, for the spiral into darker music. He started collecting Led Zeppelin and Rush.

Men with long hair. Dark sunglasses. Mystical messages.

What was next?

Kevin and KISS. Twisted Sister even.

Me and Motley Crue. And Bon Jovi, Poison and Cinderella.

Jason and Iron Maiden.

The walls of our respective bedrooms were papered with men in makeup. They sang of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

The wave wars began. Shane, the eldest, would storm out of the house, looking for a peaceful respite of Whole Lotta Lovin' and Black Dog.

Mom would yell from the kitchen.

We'd twist the volume buttons on our ghettoblasters even louder.

Then Dad would come home.

Turn that shit off.

Yes, Dad.

On went the headphones. How any of us survived our teen years with our hearing intact baffles me some days (so, kids, crank up your iPods ... don't listen to your parents, you'll be fine, trust me).

Ultimately, Jason won the shock contest.

The youngest. The baby. The favourite!

Long gone were the days that Jason would croon along with Charlie Pride or go solo with Crystal Chandelier for anyone who would visit.

No, those days were in the past for the Burner Runner, so nicknamed for his speed on the track and the fire-red hair that blazed around with him.

No, Iron Maiden wasn't quite bad enough to bring into the little bungalow on Church Street, where the crucifix still hangs in its spot on the living-room wall.

The little house where an 11x14 of Jason in a polyester leisure suit, giving the Fonzie thumb-up, still hangs.

Into the little red house, Jason brought a musical group named 2 Live Crew.

He slipped this cassette into the tape deck and they started yelling 'Fuck Martinez, fuck-fuck Martinez.'

And I thought, 'ooooooooooooh, shit, we're all in trouble now.'

I don't remember too many more wave wars after that.

I don't remember any of us playing anything too loudly after that.

No more sex, no Jack Daniels, no more audible headbanging.

Walkmans and headphones were the answer to any weird looks or 'turn that shit off.'

It may have been it was time for us all to move on and get jobs, keeping us away from home for longer hours than just school would allow.

But it's a pretty funny memory.

Just as long as no one ever tells you I actually owned a Vanilla Ice or Technotronic CD.

It never really happened.

I swear.
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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ridin' solo

Aside from my stupid shoulder issues, I just can't do group fitness.

I tried. Lord knows, I tried.

And my shoulder ended up being a pretty good escape clause.

My new and beautiful friend, Cara Fullerton, is learning how to teach a Get Ripped class, designed by Fitness Plus guru Jari Love. It appears to be an immensely popular class with the floor covered with bodies this morning.

I would love to take one of the classes to show my support and say, 'hey, Cara, you rock!'

But I ... uh ... ooh, ow ... my shoulder.

Yeah, that's it.

Seriously, I hate group fitness.

I have this intense competitive streak, you see. It means that when I'm in a group fitness situation I have to be looking and seeing what she's doing, lifting more than he is and bending further than she is.

It isn't something I can control, dammit! I have a burning, innate desire to be at the top of the class and no amount of inner voice saying 'Angela, just slow down and do this for you' isn't going to stop me.

Yes, yes, I can hear my mother now: 'wouldn't it have been lovely if she had applied herself so well in school.'

Shush, Mom. I know kids who would have killed for my 84.6 average.

In one part of my brain, I know I should be doing whatever class for the benefit of functional strength and variety in my workout program.

But in order to suppress that competitive spirit, I have to engage it in another way ... competing with myself.

That's the big reason I'm constantly adding more weight, setting higher goals and pushing bigger numbers when I'm in the squat rack.

That's why when I racked 255 yesterday and pushed out one rep, I did a little dance in the Olympic room to reward myself.

And I didn't care if anyone was watching.

Because unlike one friend who told me she needs to be told what to do, nobody is better at pushing me, at driving me, at telling me what to do ... absolutely nobody ...

Than me.

Spinach-stuffed Chicken Breasts

Pulled from the Kraft Canada website, these are delicious. I would have paired a breast with a spinach salad or something but I ploughed through half a big bag of Twizzlers before they were out of the oven.

Don't judge.

1/3 cup water
2 tbsp Kraft Roasted Red Pepper with Parmesan Dressing, divided
2 cups fresh spinach leaves, chopped
2/3 cup dry Stove Top Stuffing Mix for Chicken
1 tbsp coarsely chopped roasted red peppers
2 small boneless skinless chicken breasts (1/2 lb./225 g), pounded to 1/4-inch thickness
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella

1. Heat oven to 350 F.
2. Bring water and 1 tbsp dressing to boil in large skillet on medium-high heat. Stir in spinach, stuffing mix and peppers. Remove from heat. Let stand five minutes.
3. Place chicken, top sides down, on cutting board; spread with stuffing mixture. Starting at one short end, tightly roll up each breast. Place, seam sides down, in 8-inch square baking dish. Brush with remaining dressing.
4. Bake 35 min. or until chicken is done. Sprinkle with cheese; bake five minutes or until melted.

Nutritional information per chicken breast
Calories, 280, total fat, 7 g; saturated fat, 3.5 g; cholesterol, 75 mg; sodium, 680 mg; carbohydrates, 19 g; dietary fibre, 2 g; sugars, 4 g; protein, 32 g

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Me and my iron

I work out.

And when I work out, I go all out.

I suppose it comes from my 'play hard or go home' philosophy in sports.

I wonder if anyone has ever done a study correlating that thought process to incidents of injury ... huh.

But I digress.

The reasons why I love to work out are few.

Primarily, my trips to the gym are a method of stress relief. If it wasn't for tiring my muscles out on iron, I'd be in jail for randomly punching people just for being stupid.

I'm obsessed with my strength and putting up numbers, especially on the squat bar. Why? We all need goals. And as I reach a weight number on the bar, I get to set a new one and work hard to reach that goal.

It's a real sense of accomplishment to get there.

So you know how much of a bummer it is to not be able to work my upper body.

But with the strength, I also get wicked-looking legs, a nice, round butt that used to be flat and stronger bones, a must when my grandmother's body deteriorated with osteoporosis in final years.

And it means I get to eat.

No, I don't get to eat whatever I want. I'd be 200-and-some pounds if I just flagrantly started shovelling anything into my mouth.

But I'm not obsessed with food. I tried LA Weight Loss last spring, remember? But the regimen of writing every little morsel down in a diary drove me friggin' nuts.

I can't spend my time counting points or calories or pounds.

I can't do it. I can't pick and peck at plain old chicken breasts and munch on carrots.

I gotta live. I gotta have my beer, my occasional Coca-Cola, pizza, ice cream and donairs.

For the most part, I try to eat as cleanly and healthfully as possible but I don't beat myself up if I pick up a bag of Twizzlers and polish it off before dinner.

It's about the freedom to enjoy my life and still be healthy, strong and wise.

Even if I am a little 'fluffy' in some spots.

It just means there's something to hold onto.

That said, here's a recipe out of Clean Eating. Because it's been a while.

Chicken Piccata

Chickpea puree
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Chicken Piccata
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour, divided (I used spelt for the gluten-free extra goodness)
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
4 4-oz skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4-in thick
3 tsp olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced (I ... uh ... love garlic, so I used four)
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp capers or olives, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1. Prepare chickpea puree. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic and chickpeas and cook, stirring frequently, for six to eight minutes or until onions are light-golden brown and tender. Remove from heat and pour into a food processor. Add stock and puree until smooth, adding a bit of water or additional stock if needed. Season with salt and pepper. Cover, set aside and keep warm until ready to serve.
2. While chickpea mixture is cooking in skillet, prepare chicken. Reserve 1 tbsp flour for later use. In a shallow dish or plate, combine remaining flour with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour mixture to coat completely and shake off excess.
3. Heat 1 tsp oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan and cook for two to three minutes per side, or until golden brown. Remove chicken from pan and transfer to a plate.
4. Using the same pan over medium-high heat (do not wash, the brown bits will add flavour), add remaining 2 tsp oil, garlic and reserved 1 tbsp flour. Heat mixture, stirring constantly for about one minute, scraping up any brown bits from the pan. Add stock, lemon juice and capers. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium-high and simmer for about three minutes, until sauce thickens. Add chicken back to pan and continue to simmer for an additional two minutes. Remove from heat, stir parsley into sauce and season with salt and pepper.
5. To serve, scoop 1/2 cup of puree onto plate, top with chicken piccata and spoon 2-3 tbsp sauce over top.

Nutrients per serving (4 oz. chicken piccata, 1/2 cup puree, 2-3 tbsp sauce)
Calories, 390; total fat, 13 g; saturated fat, 2.5 g; carbs, 24 g; fibre, 5 g; sugars, 5 g; protein, 44 g; sodium, 670 mg; cholesterol, 100 mg

Monday, November 15, 2010

Keep trying

This is not a failure, folks.

It isn't even a setback.

It's merely a pit stop on the road to hell and I just caught air on the speed bump.

Yes, I got some downer news this morning. I checked my email and there was a quick note from my recruiter at Amazon.

Yes, that Amazon.

The department manager has decided to pursue other candidates for the position for which I had applied.

I was sad.

Oh hell, I got up from my desk at Shaw, went to the washroom and wept quietly for about five minutes.

Then I dried my tears, updated my Facebook status, sent out a handful of other crucial emails for those who aren't on the old FB and went about my day with a little bit of weight on my heart.

I received a lot 'aw' and 'sorry' responses.

Even a handful of #sadface.

But as the day went on, the weight lifted, my heart lightened and there was no #sadface.

Let's look at the bright side: I have a great job, writing web copy for Shaw Communications.

I was just aiming higher and looking for a little change of location.

Calgary, you see, has grown a little weary on me. I celebrated seven years of life in the YYC back in May. In fact, my mother emailed me on the 13th to let me know she still had a PostIt note on the fridge, saying 'Angela driving to Calgary today.'

I've been laid off, dumped three times, broken a hand, torn my rotator cuff, torn my labrum and been concussed a handful of times.

OK, they've all been my own damn fault ... with the exception of getting laid off. I hold that miserable PKP prick in Montreal mostly responsible for that.

Don't get me wrong. These seven years have been filled with a lot of wonderful memories and people.

But my vagabondish nature is starting to kick in again. It gets this way every once in a while and in the last few years, I've been able to subdue it with a trip to the mountains or little road trips to the smaller towns outside Calgary.

My thirst for adventure, however, has taken me to magical places. In the last year, I've traveled through Montana, Idaho and Washington State.

And every time I'm in Washington State, I want to stay a little bit longer.

Manito Park, Spokane

If I didn't have to come home on my last trip there, I wouldn't have.

'The States?!?!? Well, now we know she's gone off her rocker. We'll find a good temporary home for Shep and sent her off to Ponoka for a nice padded vacation.'

Oh, trust me. I never would have thought the States would be a destination of my liking ... Ottawa, Toronto ... maybe ... but the home of G-Dub and Sarah Palin?

Aye criminy! How the hell would me and my Maple Leaf tattoo fit in?

But I do.

The more time I spend in the PNW, the more I laugh at Canadian misconceptions of Americans ... and, by comparison, the remarkable self-loathing of Americans.

'You didn't want to have to deal with us asshole Americans anyway,' wrote one friend, although I know he was joking.

Well, half joking probably.

And we Canadians think we have patent or copyright or some weird ownership over politeness and being nice.

We don't.

Take for example a morning I spent at Manito Park in Spokane last month. Shep and I couldn't walk more than five or 10 minutes without being stopped by someone who wanted to talk.

Sometimes, it was to chat about the weather; sometimes, it was to talk about how beautiful my dog is; sometimes, it was to talk about my camera; and sometimes, it was to just say hello.

Yes, it happens in Calgary but more on the odd occasion than a regular occurrence.

My weekend in Spokane reminded me of home and Halifax or Newfoundland more than I can recall any night at the Trap & Gill.

And on the I-5 going into Seattle?

Well, when you put on your dinker-dinker (my dad's name for the signal light), the other drivers actually make room for you to merge lanes.

No, really, it's true.

I know you could never believe it unless you actually saw it. I damn near went into shock.

Just don't expect it to suddenly happen on the Deerfoot when you get back.

Calgary, I suppose, has grown too big and metropolisy for this smalltown girl who always wanted to live in a big city.

It's busy.

It's jammed.

And we're acting towards each other with far less consideration, respect and politeness than I ever thought possible.

Maybe a change of pace is necessary and with it, another career move.

This one 'no' won't deter me. Neither will the next one.

After all, I've already found another opening that suits my resume just fine.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Strong and determined

I've been hanging onto this picture for almost 10 years.

I found it one night while I was surfing the internet, looking for a replacement claddagh ring, since I thought I'd lost mine.

Scouring online Irish jewelry stores — yes, I've been shopping on the net almost since you were able to — I came across this blue heron, all tied up in a mystic knot.

No documentation exists on why the Celts were so bent on tying everything up but we know these knots rarely have a beginning and an end, possibly signifying infinity and the timeless nature of our spirit.

Yes, I'm part Irish, part Scottish ... even part redhead, doncha know? Yes, if my hair catches the right light, you can see the red glowing as brightly as it does on any one of the brother's heads on a 24/7 basis.

And my temper? Well, that's all Irish ... believe it.

I hold my Scottish/Irish heritage close to my heart.

The Gaelic language in my family died on my maternal grandmother's tongue in the early 2000s.

Aye but she was a proud Irish lass, adorning her wee Greenwold Village apartment with shamrocks every March, teaching us about forach (a dessert of oats, whipping cream and sugar), baking us biscuits so hard you know they could break a window, and reveling in the jigs and reels of the local fiddlers.

She was a symbol of strength, independence and determination to me.

I've long wanted to have those qualities and to ink myself as a testament to that discovery.

(Yes, tattoo. I already have two. Both are hockey related. One has to be covered up by something else ... I'm not sure what.)

Maybe that's why I saved this picture that so-long-ago day. Maybe that's why I felt compelled to find out what the blue heron symbolized.

The blue heron is a beautiful, graceful bird, known for its longevity. It is credited as a messenger of the gods and, coincidentally, my first name is Greek for angel, messenger from God.

The blue heron is noted for its intelligence and solitude. In Celtic symbolism, it represents patience, independence and solitude.

North American native tradition holds up the blue heron as a messenger that teaches about self-determination and self-reliance. It represents an ability to progress and evolve.

You might start to see where I'm going with this.

I've been on my own for a long time, learning to be self-reliant, independent and determined. I've faced change and endured obstacles and challenges, been forced to reinvent myself after a career change, and made bad decisions with life and love but always came out the stronger for it.

I love my time alone — well, spent mostly with my faithful boo, Shep, at my side. I've learned to appreciate the quiet, regenerative space around me when no one is there.

Patience ... well, that's a work in progress and I think it always will be. It probably goes along with the aforementioned Irish temper and redheadedness.

Grace ... eh. If you could have seen me on figure skates 25 years ago, you'd be wondering what the hell happened ...

I kept losing this picture — with each fried hard drive or broken laptop — and I suppose that represents the setbacks I've encountered in my overall character development.

Nobody's perfect. We all make mistakes. Like that one tattoo I wish no one would ever see.

This knotted blue heron, though, will sit on my wrist and be visible, where the other two are not.

Once I get it done, maybe this month or next, you'll be able to see the testament to the strong, independent woman I've become, the great blue heron wrapped in his mystic knot.

And I hope Gram is looking down and nodding in agreement, all the while knitting awesome slippers and mittens for Grampy and Dad.

We just won't tell her I'm not much of a biscuit baker, OK?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Stroke of luck

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Save it for a rainy day

Stars have been falling all over the place for me lately and I'm not entirely sure why.

Maybe I've built up some good karma points.

Or maybe everything is just starting to fall into its rightful place and good things are happening. 

Now please, please ... don't give me that bullshit about having put it out to the universe and asked for it. 

I did not.

And I don't buy into that Secret bunk anyway.

Maybe, just maybe, I'm in a more positive place with who I am, what I do and why I do it. I'm in love with my life and my freedom and I live every day for what it brings me, ensuring I express my gratitude for the good things and try to figure out how to make the bad things never happen again.

Every day is a learning experience, right?

Some of it, of course, is just dumb luck. 

Like winning $700 boots from Stuart Weitzman.

Or, a $100 gift card from the CORE Shopping Centre.

Or, great tickets to a Flames game.

But how much of it is caused by my willingness to put myself out there and go for the things I want?

There are a handful of other things I want right now. And as time passes and life continues to develop, I may be able to share those things with you. But right now, I have to hold my cards close and keep a few secrets.

I've seen these things in the past and let them slip, knowing I didn't have the full confidence in myself to go after them. 

Instead, I settled for second best and ended up more miserable than I ever was before.

And that's how life works, folks. It isn't about wishing to the universe, it isn't about putting a picture of what you want on the wall and hoping and praying it somehow lands in your lap.

It's about going out and doing the hard work it takes to make sure those things happen.

So, that's what I'm doing.

I'm making things happen.

But since a little dumb luck can help the cause along sometimes, you're more than welcome to keep your fingers (and toes) crossed for me.

I'll thank you when it happens.

Not if.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Bummed out

Welcome to the pity party.

I'm bummed out with a bum shoulder.

I had a doctor's appointment last Monday, finally finding a general practitioner who was taking patients.

We talked about the usual things ... my general health, my level of activity, etc and so on.

Then I dropped the bomb. Look, there's something wrong with my shoulder. It probably happened some time in August when I was splitting time between shortstop and second base, depending on whether I was playing women's or co-ed ball.

What kind of wrong with your shoulder, she asked.

The pain is localized in the anterior delt, not like the last time I tore my rotator cuff when the pain was more lateral and posterior delt. That was my supraspinatus ... a little time, a little physio, a little rest and it went away.

Not this time. No rest, no working the shoulder with functional movements on the band, nothing is making the pain go away.

What do you think it is, she asked.

I think it's a SLAP tear of the labrum, I said.

She put me through the usual run of movements, asked me lift my arm this way, hold it that way and place my hand on the centre of my back, palm facing out.

Oh Jesus no, I said. That ain't happening. Just taking my bra off at night hurts like a mofo, I said ... OK, maybe not in so many words. I'm way more polite in certain social situations. Believe it.

I think you're right, she said. I think it's a SLAP tear.

But we have to send you for an MRI to be sure.

In the meantime, no movements over your head, no rotational movements.

Well, what the hell else is left, I wondered. That takes out shoulder press, lat raises, bentover flyes, lat pulldowns, rows ... pretty much all my upper-body lifts.

By Thursday, I had a phone call from her receptionist. I'm scheduled for my MRI, she told me happily ... in February.

In fucking February. Goddamn February.

Four fucking months from now.

I get that I live with universal health care and that means I have to wait my turn. I get that I'm still functional even though I'm not pain-free.

But four months?

Fine. So I call in a favour and enlist the assistance of my friend and favourite local trainer, Terri Champagne. You'll remember I tried doing her boot camp a few months ago but had to bail because of my stupid shoulder.

She doesn't want me doing any upper-body lifts at all, given the amount of pain I am experiencing. Hell's bells, washing my hair in the shower is a bitch some days.

Instead, I'm to work on my legs and core. I can do yoga but take care with inverted poses, like downward dog. And no shataranga for me.

Flippin' fantastic.

She suggested pilates, so I went to Best Buy and picked up a DVD to go along with my yoga ones.

I'm setting a goal to make this a positive thing, to hit a three-plate squat — even if it's just for one rep — by the time I go for my MRI. And to have as strong a core as I did a few years ago when the Soldiers of Fitness guys called me Cadet Abs.

That doesn't mean it will be smooth sailing after the MRI, of course. It's only then we'll know whether I'll be scheduled for surgery or be put into physio or whatever.

But, hey, there's nothing wrong with having the most powerful legs I've ever had, is there?


I haven't done a recipe in a good long while. I suppose I haven't done a whole lot of cooking either. Life has been under the gun, on the run.

But here's a good one out of a long-ago Clean Eating. It probably would have been better for me if I hadn't been eating salt-and-vinegar chips with herb and spice dip all through the food prep.

And hey, did you know oats are a soluble fibre which helps lower total and low density lipoprotein (LDL), or 'bad' cholesterol?

Spicy Thai Chicken

1 cup natural quick-cooking oatmeal
5 tsp lime zest, divided
2 tsp ginger, finely chopped, divided (oh, I just used the powdered stuff, chopping ginger is a pain in the you-know-where)
1 tbsp unsweetened coconut, shredded
1 tbsp roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 egg white
16 oz boneless, skinless chicken, sliced into four 4-oz pieces and pounded thinw ith a mallet
Olive oil cooking spray
1 mango
2 navel oranges, peeled and sectioned
1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup Thai or regular basil, shredded
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Put oatmeal, 2 tsp zest, 1 tsp ginger, coconut, peanuts, cayenne, oil and garlic in a food processor. Pulse five or six times until finely mixed.
2. In a large wide bowl, beat egg white with 1 tbsp water. Pat chicken dry with paper towel, dip in egg white then dredge in oatmeal mixture. Place chicken on cookie sheet misted with cooking spray. Then lightly spray chicken breasts with cooking spray and bake for seven minutes. Turn down oven to 375 F and continue cooking for 10 to 12 minutes.
3. While chicken is cooking, peel and slice mango into 1/2-inch pieces. In large bowl, place mango, oranges, remaining lime zest, remaining ginger, lime juice, red pepper, basil, salt and black pepper. Toss well.
4. Serve one chicken breast with 3/4 cup of mango salsa.

Nutrients per serving
Calories, 360; total fat, 10 g; saturated fat, 2.5 g; carbs, 27 g; fibre, 5 g; sugars, 15 g; protein, 39 g; sodium, 105 mg; cholesterol, 95 mg.