Day 95 – My Very Stressful Christmas

The above phrase was coined by my lovely friend Krista. She uses it to describe how she feels about the leaders’ debate during a federal election. She makes stick puppets of all the candidates, gets some snacks together, and watches every minute of the debate with a delicate mix of excitement and anxiety. She has a great time, but she’s clearly stressed out by the whole ordeal.

Well, I’m going to have to borrow this phrase. Because I can’t think of a better way to describe how I feel about Marathon Day. A typical training period for a marathon is 19 weeks. That’s just over four months. Four months of almost daily runs. Four months of trying to eat like a runner (which, for me, means not getting up to eat cheese in the middle of the night). Four months of counting down to One Epic Day. Nineteen weeks later, my day finally came – the Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

It was awesome. And it was, of course, my Ninety-fifth Official Act of Happiness.


I’m borrowing Krista’s phrase because, as excited and joyful as I am about Marathon Day, there are few things as stressful as knowing that tomorrow morning, not only will you have to wake up at 6:00am, you’ll also be running 12 kilometers beyond the human body’s fuel capacity. FUN, RIGHT?

For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure of running a marathon, let me break it down for you. When you begin your training, the thought of running 42 kilometers is so far off in the distance and unfathomable, you hardly think about it. But as the weeks wear on, and the training distances grow longer, it slowly dawns on you that Jesus H Christ, a marathon is fucking long! And you’re going to run one!  Even though this was my fifth, I was still a bundle of nerves.

For me, it all comes to a head in the three days leading up to the event, during which I turn into such a ball of nervous energy that I can’t. Sit. Still. The day prior to the race, I attended the Race Expo with Jenn, a.k.a. my marathon girlfriend. We trained for our first big race at the Outremont Running Room in 2007, and have since run a total of 4 marathons together. She’s the only person who can truly appreciate – and match – my excitement, so she’s the perfect date for any pre-race event.

We picked up our gear, including our race numbers. Some of the larger and better-organised races will print the runner’s name on their bib so that spectators can cheer them. When I registered, I thought it would be fun to put an exclamation point at the end of my name. I’d completely forgotten about this until I opened my packet and pulled out a bib that read “Cristina!” That’s the moment I knew it was going to be a really good race.

In the final hours leading up to The Race, I did my best to prepare. I watched “Spirit of the Marathon,” and cried at least 3 times. I ate a metric ton of moose-shaped pasta (the fun shapes are unnecessary, but I’m convinced they help). And I tried desperately to get some sleep. By the time my friends and I reached the starting line, my energy had reached a fever pitch. It was cold, grey, and windy. And I was wearing a bright pink shirt, a bib with an exclamation mark on it, and was jumping up and down shouting “WE’RE GONNA RUN A MARATHOOOOOON!” Needless to say, I was the only one.

I’ve heard it said that a marathon is like life – you’re going to encounter obstacles. What matters is how you deal with them. The first half of the race went off without a hitch. My parents even came to meet me at the 12k mark – bravely waving a Montreal Canadiens flag so I could spot them. I probably spent the first 21k trying to slow down, but I was just too bloody excited.

Around the 25k mark, fatigue hit me for the first time. And I still had 17 effing kilometers to go. But instead of having a (characteristic) panic attack, I stopped for a moment, stretched my knees, and reminded myself of all the things I’d done to prepare for this day. I’d done dozens of training runs. I’d gone to crossfit twice a week. And most recently, I’d loaded myself with enough carbs to fuel every runner in the 5k. So I kept going. And every time I hit a roadblock, I went through the checklist again. There was no conceivable reason for me not to finish, so I pressed on. I listened to cheesy music, I played air drums, I punched the air, I smiled and waved and thanked every wonderful person who cheered me on.

And I finished. I finished with my best time to date, beating my old record by almost 4 minutes. I put my arms up and screamed as I crossed the finish line, with more joy than my birthday, Christmas, and five Halloweens combined, and I remembered why I put myself through this mania year after year. No matter what’s happening at work, no matter what state of disarray my personal life is in, I can still run.  I can still push my body to new and exciting limits. I can still complete this distance that should be impossible for the human body. And I can still have that feeling of victory. And nothing can take that away from me.

Cheesy, but fucking true. Run a marathon for yourself, and you’ll see.

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Day 94 – You’ve got the right stuff, baby!

I’m just gonna come right out and say it – I love the New Kids. Not in an ironic, the-80s-are-cool-again, pomo self-aware way. I just straight-up love the New Kids. I listen to them when I’m out on long, arduous runs. I sing the entirety of “Summertime” when I’m in the shower. I text-bomb my sister with the lyrics to “Step by Step.” I love them, and I don’t care what you say!

The only person who has ever truly appreciated my NKOTB madness is, in fact, my sister. Not because she shares my taste, but because she went through a similar episode with The Backstreet Boys. My “Please don’t go girl” is her “Quit playin’ games.” My Jordan Knight is her Nick Carter. We might not swoon over the same fivesome, but we get each other’s obsession.

She best demonstrated this understanding when, for my 25th birthday, she took me to see The New Kids live. I had just quit my job in Montreal and moved back to Toronto. I had also just been brutally dumped – 5 days before the birthday in question.  The prospect of turning 25 was decidedly unpleasant. My sis, as always, knew exactly how to cheer me up – with 8th row tickets to the NKOTB concert. We danced, we screamed, we drank giant beers. We reverted back to 13 year old girls we still secretly are. It was a fucking awesome concert, and I still talk about it to this day.

So imagine my shock, awe, delight, and all-encompassing glee when she presented with my Christmas present this year – tickets to see the New Kids AND the Backstreet Boys! Both our favourite boy bands under one roof? On the SAME STAGE?? What god did I please?!

After six months of nail-biting anticipation, we finally donned our pink NKOTB t-shirts, and set off for the NKOTBSB concert, and my Ninety-fourth Official Act of Happiness.


It goes without saying that the concert was spectacular. True, they may be neither “Kids” nor “Boys” anymore, but these guys still know how to put on a damn show. Call me easy to please, but there’s something about 4-to-5 men wearing matching white suits and dancing in unison that will never get old for me. They sang all their old hits, busted out all their old moves, and made every girl’s dream come true.

The night can be easily summed up with the above photo. Take a good look: in the upper left corner, you’ll see a devilishly handsome young scamp known as Jordan Knight. He’s also known as the cooler older brother Jon Knight, a lover of pompadours, and according to some accidental internet finds, a very popular first gay crush. He’s also my all-time, hands down, no-holds-barred, favourite New Kid.

If you’ll look in the bottom right corner, you’ll see a girl in a pink t-shirt, frantically reaching out and trying to touch Mr Knight like she’s drowning and he’s a life raft. If you look closely, you can almost hear her shrieking! “JORDAN! OH MY GOD! JORDAN!” That girl, dear readers, is me.

That’s right. I almost touched Jordan night. And it was magical.

Day 93 – Kicking everyone’s ass all the the time!

You may have heard me mention from time to time that I’m a marathoner. There’s a slight difference between saying, “I run marathons” and “I’m a marathoner.” While the first is something you do, the second is something you are. Marathon running has not only become an important part of my life, it also is a pretty accurate description of my personality. When I decide to go for something, I go all out. I read the training manual, I buy the fancy shoes, I eat the weird food. And by the end of it, I may smell like a Greyhound bathroom, but I feel accomplished, dammit!

The flipside of this means that if I’m not 10,000% committed to something, it ain’t getting done. Ask my poor parents about the progress I’ve made clearing out my old bedroom.

While I will readily admit that this approach to life is maniacal, unsustainable, and frantic, I’m much less comfortable admitting that marathons aren’t the BEST THING EVER. There is never a moment in my life when I feel happier, more accomplished, or more spectacularly wonderfully happy as when I cross the finish line, bedraggled and delirious.

As much as I adore my drug of choice, marathoning is hardly the most comprehensive workout. By the end of training season, my legs look like they’re carved out of marble, while the upper half of my body is just how I left it 4 months prior. I end up feeling like one of those kids’ flip books, where you can take the top half of a duck, and put it on a fireman’s body.

Much like the flip books, the two halves of my body tell different stories. The lower half is strong, driven, and fueled by determination. The upper half is squishy, and fueled by cheese and red wine. The lower half is all about kicking ass and taking names, while the upper half can easily name all the toppings on a Ristorante Deluxe pizza.

As Marathon Number 5 is coming up in the fall, I’ve decided it’s finally time my ass in shape. Or more than just my ass, as it were. Which brings me to my Ninety-third Official Act of Happiness – signing up for Crossfit!

I showed up for my first class knowing very little about Crossfit, other than everyone in the gym looked like they could either win the Hipster Olympics, or star in their own PowerThirst commercial. I was introduced to Dhani (pronounced Danny, but spelled Dhani. I’m convinced this is for sheer purposes of intimidation), the instructor and owner of the gym. He asked me about my level of fitness, and I told him, with an air of confidence, that I run marathons, so I was pretty happy with my cardiovascular health. This may be hindsight talking, but I’m pretty sure I saw him suppress an eye-roll.

By the end of the warm-up, I was sweaty and jelly-limbed. By the end of the (only 8 minute) workout, I felt like my heart was going to explode. But, you know, in a good way.

Since that first ass-kicking, I’ve been back for more abuse. I’ve lifted kegs over my head. I’ve flipped over tractor tires. I’ve climbed 20-foot ropes, swung kettle bells, and done all sorts of things that make me feel like a Russian spy in training. And while the sense of accomplishment is often reward enough, it doesn’t hurt every time a friend shrieks, “Holy shit! Look at your ARMS!”

After weeks of hearing me go on about how badass I felt, Alison tagged along for a class. And when I asked her if she enjoyed herself, she summed it up better than I ever could.  “It was fun,” she said, “up until I felt like I was about to pass out. Which is ok, because that’s true of most things I like.”

Day 92 – Ukulele Hero

My twenty-seventh year started out on a particularly auspicious note. Many auspicious notes, to be exact. I was (f)unemployed, and free to spend the day lazing about and getting a manicure. It was also the day that I got the call from the Big Important Agency, where I would spend the next six months working. On top of that, it was Pizza Pizza Wednesday, which meant $1 slices at various stops along the TTC line. I had 4.

Truly, that alone would be enough madness for one young lady’s special day. But I hadn’t yet opened my presents. My family, who knows me better than I will ever admit, got me all kinds of lovely things that I would never get myself. My sister, as always, bought me something I thought I would look ridiculous in, but have since worn at least once a week. But the piece de resistance was from the boy. It was, ladies and gentlemen, a ukulele.

Back story: during a road trip from Montreal to Toronto, we had been listening to CBC radio. There was a program about ukuleles, how they’re becoming popular, and how they’re one of the easiest instruments to learn to play. I sat there thinking to myself, “I should learn to play the ukulele.” The boy turned to me and said, “You should learn to play the ukulele!” I said, “I was just thinking that!” And that was the last we spoke of it. Six weeks later, he proved he was more serious about it than I thought.

I immediately fell in love with my uke. I named him Luke. Luke Skyrocker. Oh, shut up. You love it.

Anyway, Luke and I became fast friends. I quickly learned how to play “Happy Birthday,” and went around the house serenading my displeased family members. As the weeks wore on, I added to my repertoire, starting with “Sh-Boom” by the Ink Spots, “Only You” by The Platters, and “Burning Love” by Elvis. I was on fire. I set myself a goal of performing at an open mic one month after starting my love affair with Luke, and practised daily, to the continued displeasure of my family. But the one month anniversary came and went, as I didn’t feel I was ready for my public debut. I kept pushing the open mic further and further back.

And then we broke up. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

As is standard in all breakups, I went through the routine of hiding all the things that reminded me of the once-again-ex-boyfriend. Pictures were filed away in a separate folder, songs that reminded me of him were stricken from my iPod, the whole nine. And poor Luke got caught up in the whole mess. He sat, unplayed for weeks at a time, slowly going out of tune. Occasionally, I’d pick him up and strum a few bars, but it just made me sad. Back to the bookcase he went.

Over the past few weeks, I noticed him getting a little dusty, and finally thought, “Oh, the hell with it. What am I waiting for?” I cleaned him off, tuned him up, and we spent some good old fashioned quality time together. It was like we had never been apart. And it made me realise just how much I had been avoiding to keep all of my feelings in a little box in the back of my head. Restaurants sidestepped, parties skipped. Well, fuck that noise. I’m gonna rock out with my uke out.

So, ladies and gentlemen. In celebration of my reunion with Luke, and as my Ninety-Second Official Act of Happiness, please enjoy my first public ukulele performance. In order to mask the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing, I have chosen the song that I think would sound most ridiculous on a uke. I think I chose right.

Please forgive me, as I am rusty and self-taught, but enthusiastic as all hell.

Day 91 – Hurry hard!

I’ve never been particularly athletically inclined. Sure, I run. But if you think about it, anyone can run. I just do it more than most people. Most other sports, on the other hand, require a specific skill set that I just don’t have. Hockey’s out because I can’t skate backwards, nor have I mastered the art of stopping. Soccer’s a no-go thanks to the fancy footwork. Likewise with baseball, because although I’m alright at bat, I throw with the strength and accuracy of a blind baby monkey.

That said, I do love team sports. Uniforms, camaraderie, yelling things in unison – what’s not to like?

All this is to say that when I got an e-mail from the lovely Krista asking me if I wanted to join her curling team, I was delighted. Joining (and naming) team “Skipper? I just met her!” was an easy decision, as well as my Ninety-first Official Act of Happiness.

[The “captain” of a curling team is called a skip. Hence the hilarious name.]

Since early January, the team has been getting together on Sunday nights to show our opponents what we’re made of. We’ve got uniforms (jaunty scarves), rented equipment, and a tenuous grip on the rules. And we’ve got spirit. Yes we do.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Curling is basically Ice Bowling. It’s a sport for old, white Canadians, men with a penchant for wearing kilts, and people who like to yell. It’s shuffleboard for northerners, bocce ball for indoor kids.

Well, regardless of the stereotypes that may colour the sport, let me be the first to tell you that it’s a fucking blast. It’s got everything an exciting sport needs! Strategy, suspense, loud noises, jargon. The list goes on.

Over the past few weeks, our team has been slowly picking up the terminology. “Hurry hard!” means sweep like your life depends on it. “Right off!” means, ‘If you so much as lay broom to ice, I will disembowel you with my special curling shoe.’ “Take out” does not refer to pizza, but instead to knocking into your opponents’ stone as hard as you can. As a team full of beginners, mastering the complicated nomenclature is an essential step towards greatness.

The first few weeks were decidedly difficult. Most games, we didn’t even land a rock in the house, let alone score any points. Or understand the bloody scoring system. But with each passing game, our confidence grew, our lunges became steadier, and our aim became truer. Last night, all of our hard work culminated in our team’s first ever victory!

True, we had half an hour to warm up since our opponents were late. And true, we were playing against three inexperienced ladies, one of whom was 7 months pregnant. And true, we had to give up one of our players to join their team, as well as take on the sweeping duties of the pregnant lady, as her balance was less than ideal. But we won, goddammit! Don’t take that away from me!

The caliber of our opponents aside, it was without a doubt the best game we’ve played as a team. While our first few games were all about getting a feel for the ice and doing out best not to fall over (an ongoing challenge), last night’s game was about strategery. No, not strategy. Stategery. We came together as a team, mapped out our moves, executed our hand signals with precision, and won.

Our next steps as a team? Create a saucy curling-inspired pinup calendar to raise funds for beer money. I will be Miss September, and my pose will be the “hurry hard.”

Day 90 – Getting the chop

There are certain aspects of femininity that I have never grasped. I have never been able to speak softly and demurely, as I have the booming voice of a 1970s game show host. I would sooner spend the day assembling Ikea furniture than shoe shopping. And I am far too impatient and awkward with boys to flirt properly, so I usually just end up yelling at them.

It’s truly a marvel I’m single.

I also was never, ever able to get the hang of long hair. Unlike my sister, whose shiny, straight locks look like they were stolen from a Pantene commercial, my long hair was always a force to be reckoned with. It grew in thickness faster than it grew in length, and it had a permanent wave right around chin-level, so it always looked as though I had just taken off a toque. It took forever to blow dry and an eternity to flat-iron, but was reduced to a frizzy mess within a few hours no matter what I did. It was dry and unmanageable in the winter, and was hot and unbearable in the summer. Never quite sure how to style it, I tried side-ponytails for a while, but as it got longer, it just felt like I had a dead squirrel hanging around my neck. Try as I might, I couldn’t tame this mane.

So, in August, emboldened by the encouragement of my friends (and ignoring the pleas of my mother and sister), I embarked upon my 90th Official Act of Happiness, and chopped off all my hair!

Before: Stifled under the weight of my eternally oppressive hair-hat.

 

After: Liberated! Victorious! Drinking fancy coffee and pretending I’m French!

This is hardly the first time I’ve gone for a cut as drastic as this. I’m notorious for suddenly cutting my hair into a faux-hawk, adoring it for a few weeks, and then hating it just as suddenly. Over the course of the ensuing months, as I endure the varying levels of mullet-ude one must suffer through when growing out one’s hair, I will swear to anyone who’ll listen that I’m never doing that again. And sure enough, after six months with long hair, the complaints begin anew.

But since August, I have not once regretted this cut (with the exception of my atrocious bedhead, which makes me look like a pasty cockatoo). I never quite felt like myself with long hair. To say that I was hiding behind it is too obvious a metaphor, but something about it never quite felt right. I almost felt like I was in drag.

Cutting my hair was surprisingly liberating. I haven’t felt so much like myself in ages, and I’ve never received so many compliments on a style that takes so little time. I literally leave the house with wet hair, and arrive at work with a coiffe. I don’t know how it works, but I’m certainly not going to question it.

To those of you who abhor short hair on women: first of all, fuck you. Second of all, let me take a moment to address what I assume are your arguments.

Short hair isn’t feminine. I’m not going to get into the notion of “what is feminine, what is gender, what is what.” That’s another post for another day. I’ll just say that short hair definitely fits into my definition of femininity. Low maintenance hair gives you the time to try out other things, like new makeup and jewelery. Also, I find that women with shorter hair can get away with sexier clothes – something about the lack of sweeping locks makes it seem a tad more innocent (oh, how wrong you are). And with shorter hair, your neck and collarbone are always exposed, which I think is sexy as hell.

You’re just using your hair to hide/You don’t want any attention: I’ve actually heard this one more than once. Apparently, the theory is I don’t want anyone to notice me or find me attractive, hence the chop. First of all, if I really wanted to make myself unattractive, I’d just get crazy, sideshow, knock-the-wall-off-my-house-to-get-me-to-the-hospital fat. That would be way more fun. Second of all, I really don’t understand the logic behind this one. If most women have long hair, how does having short hair help me hide? Clearly, if I really wanted to hide, I’d grow it down to my feet and lurk inside it like Cousin It.

Guys don’t like short hair. You have no idea how many times I’ve heard this one. And I hate to admit it, but it definitely contributed to my reluctance to cut my hair. But my outlook is currently this: if you don’t like me because of the length of my hair, I probably won’t like you. So, no big loss.

Forgive me if this seems too profound a post for a haircut. But it feels profound to me. For the past six months, I’ve felt like myself. I’ve felt confident. I’ve felt beautiful.

And I can style my hair on the bus. If that’s not profound, I don’t know what is.

When we last left our hero…

Two posts in a row? I know, I can hardly believe it myself!

One of the biggest frustrations I’ve felt since abandoning the blog was when I realised how many wonderful things have happened in the past six months that I’ve missed the chance to write about. When I last updated this summer, I was living with my parents.  I had no job, no prospects, and was a few weeks away from completely giving up on advertising and taking the first job that came my way. I had put so much time and energy into this field, and it just wasn’t paying off. I was desperate to move out, and beyond desperate to feel like a grownup again.

Cut to present day. On September 15th, I turned 27. On September 16th, I started freelancing at an agency where I never even dreamed I’d get an interview. About a month ago, I moved into a lovely apartment with a lovely kitchen, and I am officially all settled in. I ran a half-marathon in May, a marathon in October, and am training for marathon number 5 in the Spring. I got a ukulele, and I’m slowly learning to play it. I’m taking singing lessons. My family got a new puppy. She’s an asshole, but I like her. And I finally gave in to the voice in my head and chopped off my hair.

Oh! And I  learned how to make pie!

I wish I could devote a full post to each of these, and to the countless other wonderful things that have happened to me since the summer. I wish I could articulate how much has changed, how different things are, and how much closer I feel to being back on the right track and back to being myself.

But right now, I’m just happy to finish up these last ten posts. And happy that you lovely folks are reading.

(What? I needed something to go with the headline!)


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