Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Year Without NaNoWriMo

Today marks that magical first day for so many aspiring authors around the world.  The day they embark on National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and start to write the 50,000 words that will become their novel.

This year, I won't be with them.

Not for lack of wanting to.  Or ideas.  This is the first year in the past five years that I am not going to write a novel.

It's because I want to write and illustrate a children's book instead.  I have three solid ideas I'd like to attempt, but my goal is to just finish one.

But children's books don't happen to be 50,000 words.  Not the storybook kind.  

So, I wish everyone who is doing NaNo great luck!

Pants on, my friendly pantsers.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Let's Sketch It Returneth....November Prompts

I do't even know how many people here follow my Instagram #letsketchit challenge, but here are the prompts for November in case anyone would like to build a sketchbook practice and play along!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Techy Tuesday: London Drugs PhotoLab Service (Service & Product Review)

I was recently contacted to review the London Drugs PhotoLab Website and happily agreed.  The timing couldn't have been more fortuitous since I had just started building a gallery wall in my upstairs hallway!

I decided it was time to get the shot of my girls with the parrots in Punta Cana printed to add some awesome colour to that wall!

The website itself was incredibly easy to use.  Just like shopping anywhere online, really.

You just hit the Get Started button.

The website makes it incredibly easy to select the photos you want to an even pick photos on Facebook, Instagram and Flickr!!!  That was incredibly helpful to me, because I couldn't find my original photo in my house but I knew where to find it on Flickr!

From there, you just pick your photo and it will ask you what products you want to print it on.

You then get to select from a list of options you have for that product.  Here is a sample from the 4x6 photo prints option:

Add it to the basket and repeat as necessary until you have everything you want to order.

Checking out is super easy - just go to your cart and hit the Checkout button!

Here's where the beauty of working with a company that has bricks and mortar stores EVERYWHERE!

Sure - you can pay online and have it shipped to you just like every online photo printer.  BUT, if you live near a London Drugs - you can have it sent to the store for free and pay for your order in person when you pick it up.  I LOVE THAT!

As for what I ordered - I had a 16 x 20 CANVAS print done of the parrot picture.  I wanted a statement piece.  

later that same day, the store I arranged for pickup at called me to clarify my order and ask if I wanted it stretched or just flat.  Silly me.  I thought I would stretch it myself.  So I told them - nope - just what I ordered is fine.  They told me it would be ready in a day or two.

And it was - after I finished my half marathon, I popped on over to the London Drugs on 130th and there, in a lovely triangular box/tube, was my lovely canvas print.

The colours are amazing and I couldn't be happier.  unfortunately - the image I chose isn't really conducive to stretching and the print is exactly 16x20 so there is no extra canvas to work with here - stretching it myself would cut off parrot heads.  I ended up simply framing it and I am perfectly pleased with that.   It is just a word of caution - if you want a canvas print stretched - get them to do it or choose an image with a border to it.

A canvas print this size would cost around $35.

And my gallery wall?  Looks fantastic with it up my own humble opinion.

From what I could see - their pricing is fairly competitive with other sites I have used in the past.  The convenience of local pickup, however, is priceless to me.  I will be using this service for my photo printing going forward.  I am smitten with the fact that my photos won't be at the mercy of the postal system and that I can pick them up.

So - if you are looking for a place to print the photos for your Christmas cards, I encourage you to give the London Drugs PhotoLab website a try.  I think you'll find you are as happy with it as I have been.

Please note:  All prices are as of the time of publication and may increase or decrease over time.  I was provided with this product for review, free of charge, in exchange for my honest opinion.

Monday, October 26, 2015

MOMday: Illuminasia at the Calgary Zoo

I have a few mommy posts to do this week, but I wanted to start with this one because it is a bit time sensitive for anyone local.

If you have been to the Calgary Zoo lately, you have been greeted by a lovely surprise.  The entire grounds is strewn with stunning lanterns as the Illuminasia Lantern and Garden Festival  is going on until November 1!

Until I saw these during the day - I didn't really have any desire to spend the money to attend the festival at night.  But look at these!  How freaking adorable are they?  Me and the girls were fascinated...nay...OBSESSED with them.

It then became a race to figure out when we might be able to actually make that happen.  Doodle and I both have this thing about in how to avoid them.   When a mom at our school mentioned that she had gone on a weekend and strongly suggested we go on a weeknight, suddenly our options for available dates changed dramatically.  We had two Thursdays left.

So, when parent-teacher conferences left us with a whole Thursday night at our disposal...we took full advantage and leapt.  Luckily, I am an Engage member at the zoo (yay - free parking) so it meant I could buy up to 5 tickets at 20% off.  Every little bit of savings helps..especially since this event is not one of those "included in your membership" things.   For our little family - it ended up costing around $70 to get in.  My advice would be to buy your tickets online and then bring snacks and a wagon!

We got to the zoo as the sun had set and headed through the light crowds to where the magic was happening....everywhere.

See for yourself...

Daylight has NOTHING on this bridge at night.  NOTHING.  Wow.

The butterflies are gone from the garden, but the lanterns were enough to put smiles on these faces.  (Also - holy hell humid in there.  We only lasted a few mins.  I feel bad for hubby who had to wait for his pro camera to acclimate to it).

In the atrium of the conservatory - there were vendors and a "dress up" station to try on traditional costumes of the featured culture.  That night it was part of India's week.  My beautiful Buggie was all too happy to don that saree.

It was breathtaking.

Now - do I think it is worth the money?  That's something you have to decide for yourself.  I DO think it is overpriced for what it is...but so is Zoolights and how many of us shell out for that each year?   This event does make for a very late night...particularly if you don't live near the zoo.  We walked around and saw all of the lanterns but we didn't hang out for the entertainment.  My girls went to bed after 10pm that night...on a school night.   That is a bit late in my thinking for two 6 year olds...but it was an interesting experience for them and they did like seeing the lanterns.  But they liked seeing them in the daylight too - when they weren't tired and cranky.  When the sun was up and warm without the chill and dark surrounding them.  And I liked that during the day was included with our zoo passes.

This is the last weekend for Illuminasia.  Thursday-Sunday to see them lit up...or anytime to see them unlit.   Your call, but they are cool to see.   And if you have kids who maybe don't handle staying up past their bedtimes - you can still get in on this cool experience without feeling your wallet cringe.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Friday Reads: The Martian by Andy Weir

I've had this one on my "To Read" list for some time. It came highly recommended to me by friends I trust for their taste in books.  It gets rave reviews EVERYWHERE!  Hubby even wanted to read it and read it before I did.  I was absorbed in my Thursday Next books (another excellent series by the wonderful Jasper Fforde that I need to get a review up here for) and just figured the Martian could wait for me.

Of course, that was before the movie came out and the pressure mounted for me to read the damn book before we could go see the movie.

Now, I wonder why I waited so long to load this one up.  WOW.

The premise:  

A team of astronauts in the future are on a mission to Mars when a storm blows in early into the mission and the team needs to abort the mission and head back to earth.  Unfortunately, in the low visibility on the way to their escape craft, one of the team members, Mark Watney, is hit by debris and blown away from the crew.   The captain takes (almost too much) time to look for him and figuring him to be dead, reluctantly joins the crew and leaves the planet.

While the team mourns the loss of their crewmate - Watney wakes up on Mars.  Alone.  Abandoned.  Injured but saved by pure dumb luck.  And he has no way to contact anyone.

Another mission isn't expected to land on Mars for several more years.  Mark has enough supplies to last him part of that time but he faces starving to death before any rescue could happen.  Luckily he is a resourceful guy - an engineer and a botanist - and he puts those smarts to work to help him quickly make a survival plan using what he has on hand.

When the NASA teams back on earth stumble on mars satellite imagery that shows proof beyond a doubt that Watney is still alive - they put all of the most brilliant minds they have to work at trying to save him.   

Ok - I am not going to give anything away.  I haven't seen the movie yet and I do hope people will read the book before they see it.   

I loved this book.  It was the perfect mix of funny, science geek, humanity, survival, adventure, and smarts.  It worked "science speak" into the text in a way that made it super digestible and really interesting.   I felt like I was a fly on the wall in every scene as this book drew me in deeper and deeper to the story.  It's been a while since I've had a book do that.  Sure, I've been reading alot lately but this story captured me, heart and soul.   I think even someone who doesn't think they like science fiction, would really enjoy this book.  It was a story with heart, brilliantly written and masterfully painted.    The only thing I didn't care for was how abruptly it ended.  I wanted to keep going and see how the rest would play out after the crew returned to Earth.

Ok - I think I kept it pretty spoiler free.   I loved the book. Everyone I know who has read it - loved the book.  YOU will love the book.  Go read it.  Read it before you head to the theatre.

Now, for fun, here's the movie trailer.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Race Report: Harvest Half Marathon 2015

SO yesterday...I did a thing.  You know...nothing much.  I just ran a freaking half marathon.  My first since the epic terribleness of my stress fracture of 2014.

Running has not been an easy journey for me this past year.  More like hill training where there is only uphill.  It's been a battle.  It's been hell.  I cannot find the run love.  But I'm working on it.  I know it's there - it's just covered by 30 some extra pounds and a whole lot of solo time.   But it's there.

I first registered for Harvest Half Marathon for a number of reasons.   I wanted to force myself back into a training pattern and build some consistency with my running.  I figured if I paid the money and knew the distance was coming, I could make myself run regularly.  It pretty much worked...for weekends anyway.  I've run this race twice before: here and here.  I knew what to expect.  I knew it would be pretty.  And cooler than summer.  But probably still pretty nice.

But training didn't come without challenges.  I was wearing the shoes Dr. Dale told me to...and I was running 9 min/km and not improving.   I missed my Kinvaras.  Finally, Tina and I figured out a shoe that would be more like my Kinvaras but with the cush I needed now.  I bought myself some Saucony Triumphs and suddenly sped up...a bit.  It was like the Wave Riders just didn't have enough room in the toe box for me to spread out my toes and really run.  Unfortunately, this was only a month ago.

And then I got a cold a couple of weeks ago and ended up not running for two of the three weeks before my race.

But still...I was ok.  I was ready.  I didn't have a goal.  I knew I could be looking at a time of up to 3:30 and I was ok with it.  I just wanted to finish.

After all - this little thing I found on Instagram says it best...

There would be no cactus sitting in this race.

Even with the cactus sitting.  Pretty sure cacti don't grow in these conditions anyway.

Yeah - those blurry swirls in front of the light...that's snow.

Friday it was warm and 20*C.  Saturday it was 2*C and snow.  And rain. And holy hella wind.    It's ok.  No cactus sitting.

I got to the mall at just after 7 and popped into McDonalds to use the bathroom before heading over to Mid-Sun Community Centre and the race start.

Boy was I ever happy I grabbed my winter running coat and hand warmers on the way out of the house!

I quickly located on of my Best Running Bitches, Tina, in the gym of the community centre.

Everyone was packed inside to stay warm as long as possible.

And then we were found by Leana

Leana was dedicating her miles to a local blogger, Jen, who recently lost her life far too soon in a hiking accident. I think in our own ways, whether stated aloud or not, most of us local bloggers have probably been doing the same lately.  I never met her in person, but I was one of the first bloggers she had contacted when moving to Calgary and always felt a kinship with her.  I'm sad I was out of the running community for so much of her time here.  She was one of my favourite local bloggy "friends".   If anyone would like to contribute to the memorial fund set up in Jen's Memory, click here.

Ok - sadness aside, back to the race...

Soon it was time to leave the nice warm gym and head to the start line.

Here was my race plan.

  • Run alone
  • Ignore the world
  • Be invisible
  • One foot in front of the other
  • Finish before the course closed
There were some other group pictures taken before we headed out, but I somehow got cut out of them.  My invisibility goal was working out already.   I put in my earbuds and started to move with the crowd as we poured onto the street.   Sophia had paced herself with me and said she'd like to start with me so she could hold herself in check pace wise...since we all knew I was going to be slow.  So, I removed my earbuds (and lost a Yurbud cover) and resolved to be sociable...something I haven't had to be all training cycle.  I'm afraid I'm not very good at the "talk and run" thing anymore.  I'm much better at the "head down, git 'er done" thing.  Talking takes a lot more air from my lungs.

But we chatted away.  I had never really run with Sophia before and we both have 6 year old kids so no shortage of topics to talk about.   

Down the big hill at the start...before the 5k of climbing....

And so we plodded on.  Slow and steady.  Sophia is nursing a bout of Plantar Fascitis so needed to keep her pace in check.   I, well I was just slow.  It was cold.  We kept going. At least the wind was somewhat shut out.  That 5k of climbing at the start is hard.  And I have no hills to train on during the week so I was walking a bit more than running...just trying to power up until I could run down into the valley again.

Finally, it was time to leave the streets and enter Fish Creek Park.

Check out the snow on the bridge...

and don't we look cold (and blurry)?

As we approached 7k, I saw a trio of people at the bottom of the of them in an obnoxious yellow puffy coat.  I quickly said to Sophia "Is that Keith?"  and sure enough it was...along with Michelle and Amy.  Nothing quite as happy-making as seeing friends come out in miserable conditions to cheer you on!

and here's a shot I stole from Keith's blog

We only stayed long enough for a hug and a laugh and then we carried on.   Hopefully they went home shortly after to get warm again.   it was really cold down there in the park!

Even in the cold - Fish Creek Provincial Park is always so pretty, with it's valleys and bridges and forests and grasslands.

If it had been a nicer day - this post would be major pretty picture spam.  As it was, though, my hands froze each time I stopped to take a picture so it was just better to keep moving.

At an hour, I took a gel.  I was determined to stay fueled for this whole thing.

At 10k, we took a pit stop in a lovely heated washroom.  Thank you fish creek for your heated washrooms and flush toilets!

And then - it wasn't long before we could happily announce we had passed the half way point!

As we passed Macleod Trail, I started to regale Sophia with tales of my time working in the memorial Forest and gave her the tour from the pathway.   My trees looked amazing out there.  So tall and grand.  Hard to believe I cared for them when they were only a foot high!  And sorry, no photos...too cold.

Once we were past Glennfield, the land flattened out and became a bit drabber.  It's still pretty, but more grassland pretty...and not as pretty when everything is wet and frozen.

But we were hanging in there.  At that point, we were pretty much on track for a 3 hour finish...which wasn't half bad.

At the Ranch, we made another pitstop...unfortunately, this stop was a bit further off the path than we thought so our time suffered.

My phone was so fogged up in the heated room.

Once we were back on the path again - it wasn't too much further...only 6k left to go and we were practically at the hell hill at Sikome.  Right before we hit it, my lungs seized up and I started to cough.  First cold-induced asthma attack in years.

We power walked the hill and, as soon as we were ejected onto Sun Valley Blvd - the wind that had been so much in check through the shelter of the park, hit us full force.   It was unbelievably cold.  So, no more photos until the end.  We were in official "plod and get it done" mode.  I was still having trouble breathing so I wasn't particularly talkative.  

I did start to joke with the course marshalls that I didn't see anyone in front of us so we must still be in the lead.  If nothing else, I made myself giggle with that one.

As we wound through the pathway of Midnapore, I amazed Sophia by pointing out all of the sunken trampolines (we counted at least 5) and soon, we were in the more curve and we'd round a hill and it'd be right there...the FINISH LINE!

Of course - we were so long in getting there that they had packed it least the timing mats were still in place.

Official time: 3:12:20

Beat that 3:15 I had been expecting!

They gave us our medals and we rushed to the warmth of the gym and post-race snackies.

I immediately grabbed a chocolate milk, granola bar, yogurt tube and hightailed it to the middle of the gym to stretch and eat while Sophia socialized.

I was soon shivering uncontrollably and knew I needed to get out of my wet clothes.  So we headed out and walked the block and a bit to our cars at the mall.  

I seriously had to wrap myself in my chawel and sit on my heated seats for half an hour until my fingers moved well enough to get changed.  I did make getting my Lily Trotters compression socks on a wasn't easy to do with frozen hands but I think my legs appreciated it.

So, in I glad I ran it?   Sure.  I needed to get back out there.  I didn't break.  It will build confidence.   Would I have been faster if I'd been alone?  I can't say either way.  I'm sure the talking made this much harder than it had to be but it was nice to have company along those miles.   

Did I sit on any cacti?  Silly goose - we don't have cacti in Calgary...well, only in potted plants.   I wasn't negative.   I just kind of feel dead inside about the whole experience.  No good feelings.  No bad feelings. Half mara #14 was just 13.1miles done.   It has helped me define what i want in the future, though.  I want to speed up and I want to build more confidence.  The pains under my knees as I write this are far worse than any muscle aches.   I know I need to drop about 30-40lbs before I run another a year of 10k races is probably in my cards while I do that.   I want to take the weight off of my knees, get faster at the shorter distances and enjoy the half marathon experience a bit more when I get back to it.   

 Until next time....