Friday, June 27, 2014

Fracture Five for Friday

I am beyond swamped in all facets of my life right now so I didn't exactly make the cutoff for Three Things Thursday...so here's my Five for Friday...just an FYI - I almost added another choice F word to the title but wanted to keep this family friendly.

1) My head is swimming from all of this fracture shit.   Sure, I've been living with this thing for MONTHS now, but to finally be on track to actually get it healed is taking up so much of both my physical space and my head space.
Had another appointment with Dr. Dale.  Yes - my shin is still fractured.  The report didn't say anything about my left foot (likely because the requisition was for the right shin) BUT he agrees something does appear to be up with that and that it is likely also a fracture.  Can I get a YAY?  No wait - let's not start cheering as this story worsens...

He adjusted my foot and boy has it been tender since.   In fact - when I woke up on Thursday, it took a few minutes before I could put my weight on it.  It feels better today.

***

2) Had my first Graston treatment.  YOWIE WOWIE!!!!  

In case you've never seen one before - this is the instrument of torture...I was lucky that the scissors were there for size comparison...


Ok - it hurt.  Though after the build up everyone gave me - it wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting.  I may have only squealed 4-10 times while he did it.

Ice was a must after this particular treatment...I had to come up with a creative icepack holder from the tech shirt I keep in my drawer and an elastic band...

Practically office appropriate.  I think it really showcases my ankles...

Then, that afternoon - I had all kinds of fun watching my bruise develop.


Wow does this ever hurt, but I remain optimistic...

***
3) I have a new best friend in this fracture game...meet Nelly.   


Ok - I don't know if that's her real name, but I had to have some sort of name for her since we'll be hanging out every day.


She is a bone growth ultrasound machine.  I need to strap it over the fracture and press the on button.  20 mins a day per fracture.
  


She's better be working hard too - because honestly I don't feel a damn thing when it's on. The beauty of ultrasound.   Then again - when I had to get ultrasounds with the twins I usually had a full bladder and massive discomfort so my ultrasound frame of reference maybe a bit skewed.

I was instructed to not only use it on my shin but, since I have it, to also treat my ankle just in case it is fractured.

***
4) If we don't start seeing progress quickly under this new course of treatment - Doc says I may have an aircast in my future. He says that it might just come down to really cushioning the impact of the walking I do.   Just in case, I've already been brainstorming with the other bridesmaids on how we can bling it up for the wedding in early August.

Maybe like this but in blue....
(source)
***
5) I now have a few recommendations for new runners to look at.  A couple of Mizunos and a more cush Saucony.   I will need to go to Strides or Gords closer to when I can start running again to see what else is out there and right for me given this new insight into my bone crushing running style.


Friday Reads: The Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon

I don't often review a cookbook (mainly because I rarely follow one), but I am compelled to do so for this one.

The Oh She Glows website has been a wonderful resource for healthy living for a while now.  I am so happy she finally released a cookbook but not for the reasons you might imagine.   Our family is vegetarian, so it is really nice to have another cookbook that we can eat anything from.   The real reason I have fallen in love with this book is that the recipes are things my kids will ACTUALLY EAT!

True story.

When I first opened the parcel from Amazon, my daughters crowded around me and we poured through the beautiful pictures.  They started a chorus of "Can we make that?  and that? and that?" until we found one that we had all of the ingredients for and could make that night.  Pan-Seared Garlic Tofu.

I chopped and seasoned and smacked their little hands and they kept reaching into the bowl to eat the tofu raw!  As soon as I had it all cooked up - it pretty much vanished!

Ok - that could have been a fluke.  They like tofu as it is, though usually not so voraciously.  

So, I went grocery shopping for some ingredients that might challenge their tastebuds.  Raw cashews, walnuts, apple cider vinegar...dinner was going to be a real test.

That night I made the Life Affirming Warm Nacho Dip and the Taco Fiesta Potato Crisps.   The dip was a cheese-like swirl full of veggies and cashew "cheese" made from carrots, cashews and nutritional yeast.   I wish I'd taken photos or videos of them adding scoop after scoop of the stuff to their plates and exclaiming "DEEEE-LICIOUS!" as they shoveled it into their faces.   The Potato crisps might have been a bigger hit if I'd peeled the potatoes instead of following the recipe to the letter.   But the cashew sour cream was sure popular and they were scraping the toppings off the potatoes with their chips - including the walnut taco meat!

I already love this cookbook and I am sure it will be well loved in our kitchen as I work to teach my children that there is life beyond copious amounts of cheese.  

Highly recommend this one.  It might be vegan, but I think even meat-eaters will love it!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fracture Update

Wow - by now, you'd think I could be writing posts about getting back to running.  About the wind in my hair and the summer sun on my skin.  Instead - I am writing about how I am still broken.  But I am also writing about hope.

The Specialist

First things first - I have started to see a sports injury specialist.  This was a hard call for me to make because it is expensive.  BUT what I have been doing for the 12 weeks since I was diagnosed is NOT healing me.  I need someone to actually try to help me heal instead of just telling me to sit still for another 4 weeks.

So last week, I started to see Dr. Dale at Elite Sport Performance.

Waiting
For the 40 minutes of my initial assessment - I felt like I got my money's worth from his assessment fee.   He poked and prodded the break.  He had me do some exercises to determine some weaknesses.  We reviewed what I have and haven't been doing...and he pulled no punches when he hit me with the reality of why I am broken.

Ultimately - it pretty much comes down to 2 things:

1) Muscular imbalances
2) My running in a shoe that is much too light and not nearly cushioned enough for my weight.   Ultimately - this is what broke me. My considerable weight pounding down with no shock absorption.

He even calculated out the weight my legs would have endured over the course of my half marathon in February...11,605,000 POUNDS of FORCE raining down on uncushioned feet!  YOUCH!

We talked treatment options and decided it would be a three pronged effort:

1) Strength training to build up the muscles
2) Graston
3) Using a bone growth stimulator daily to encourage healing

One interesting thing to note.  I had brought a little chart showing how I have reduced my activity over time according to my Fitbit steps...I am proud of how restrained I have been, but he was quick to point out that I still walk 5k everyday.  Just in regular activity.  BLAMMO!  So much for taking it easy.  I walk 5k by parking close to my building, not working out and just doing my bare minimum home routine to get the girls ready for bed!  Oy vey.  Talk about being slapped with reality.  So what if I am walking half as much as before - I am still walking a helluva lot.

He then sent me on my way with a requisition for a bone scan and instructions to get my bloodwork done which, I admit, I just hadn't had time to do since getting home from vacation. (I went Sunday morning for that)

The Bone Scan

By some miracle, I was able to get a bone scan scheduled for the very next day after that first appointment.  I truly had no idea what I was going to be going through.  I knew they had to give me an injection and then I'd need to come back to have the scan done.


So, at 10 am that morning - I was at the radiology clinic and they injected me with the stuff.   While I was there - they also put me into the big MRI-like machine to check my blood flow in my legs.
Taken after the fact...didn't want my phone to meddle with the test.

Then I was sent on my way.

At 2pm, I was back and being loaded back onto the machine.  I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I think I thought this would be like an ultrasound.  Instead - I got to hold really still and have my legs scanned in multiple positions in THIS beastie.

They had the monitor atop the machine angled so I could watch the scan and my heart sank when I saw the break light up on the screen.

What I didn't expect to see, however, was the way my LEFT foot lit up.  

THAT scares me.  It's bad enough to have a break that won't heal in my right tibia.   The possibility that something might be up in my left foot despite not having any pain is more than a little terrifying.

But I held myself back from self diagnosing.  I joked with the tech about it but her lips were sealed.  If she saw something - she wasn't sharing it.  All I can say is that it was probably good for my sanity that the disk of images didn't work on my Mac or I totally would have spent the whole weekend self-diagnosing myself.

I haven't heard from my doctors office yet so either she hasn't seen the scan yet or there is nothing to say.  I want to say it is more likely the former because I am sure my tibia is still broken, given how sore it still is, and I would expect they would notify me of that!

So now I wait.  I have another appointment with Dr. Dale tomorrow where he will look at my runners and help me figure out better shoes for me.  I expect the Graston to also begin then, which also terrifies me because I figure it is going to hurt a whole fucking lot.  I am looking into rental options for the bone growth stimulator since I do not have $3000 kicking around to buy one (nor do I want to - but if it will help this heal I surely want to use one!)  He should have the report about the bone scan and the films from my initial x-rays by then so I should hopefully have some insight on exactly how bleak this is and how to move forward.

But one thing is for sure - I WILL move forward because I am so tired of sitting here trying my damnedest to not gain any weight until I can move again.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Race Report: Banff Marathon 2014

Also known as: my big DNS (did not start)

It is so weird to be writing a blog post for a race that I didn't run, but I think that this will give me a certain measure of closure and I did end up still doing pretty much everything EXCEPT run it, as you will see.

Fracturing my leg RIGHT at the start of Marathon training SUCKED.   Beyond sucked.  I had hopes for this marathon.  It would be number 3 for me and the one where I finally got some time redemption (I hoped).  To have that dashed immediately was a huge blow to me.  To find out 4 weeks ago that my leg was STILL fractured made it impossible to even hope I could scale back to the half for it.  Even if I had to walk it.  This race was not meant to be.


But I still wanted that closure.  So I decided - why the heck not.  I will still go out to Banff and play like I would if I was running it: pick up my package, attend the expo, go to the runner briefing.  I can't recap the race for you all - but I can give you a bit of the lead up for future years.

The Expo

The expo for this race was held outside in Central Park in Banff, the day before the race.  There was an emergency packet pickup on race day but we were strongly encouraged to attend the expo if we could.  Especially since there would be a mandatory race briefing.

We got a bit of a late start, but hoped to make it to the expo in time to register the girlies for the Kid's race.  No such luck, as an outdoor concert in Banff had the streets packed with cars and people and as we turned in front of the park, we could see the kids running.  My girls were so disappointed - so we staged our own mini kids race and let them cross the finish line.


It's too bad that we missed the actual race because it looked like the kids got their own bibs and I saw some kids with medals too (they promised finisher ribbons so I am not sure that the medals were for the race).

Now for the Expo itself.

The first thing I noticed upon entering the park was the sheer volume of porta potties for this tiny race (only 1500 people in both the half and full total).  It was impressive.



And there were also flush toilets in the park as well - so I imagine they were well covered.

The expo was outside and was actually much larger than I expected for this race.  I remember running BMO Okanagan in 2011 and basically just having Bondiband and CEP there.   This expo was MUCH better than that.



As you can see - it was a GORGEOUS DAY for it.  Puffy white clouds and lots of sunshine.  Vendors like Powerbar, Helly Hansen, Suunto and Fast & Female were there.  There was also a booth selling run gear, but I think it might have been a local sport store.  They also had commemorative merchandise for sale.

Package pickup itself was pretty smooth.  There was one line for the half and one for the full.  I was surprised that the full line was the busy one.  I guess people really wanted to take advantage of a closed route through one of the most beautiful places on earth (like I did).

Even with the lineup - it went fast and soon, I had my own Helly Hansen bag full of goodies.


The ladies shirts were this bright green and the mens were black.  Included in the bag was also power bar samples, Soap from Rocky Mountain Soap and assorted flyers (including the Canadian Running Race Guide).

The bibs were much smaller than I expected.  A lot of the touting about this race is how there would be interpretive stations on the course and you could collect stamps from these stations on your bib.  These bibs, however, didn't look like the ones in the advertising and didn't particularly have any spaces reserved for said stamps.  

The shirts were nice - short sleeve Zorrel brand tech shirts (my favourite brand of race shirt).

I didn't buy anything at the expo.  I did notice, however, that the river was really high.  Not as high as last year when the race was cancelled, though...


You probably can't tell, but the water is right up in the grass.

I also didn't stay for the race briefing.  I figured why rub salt in the wound.  Besides - I already knew, from the athlete update that was emailed that morning, that the race course had changed due to competing bear activity on the original route.

The Route

When I registered, it was entirely because of the route.  Closed course running out and back up the Bow Valley Parkway?  YES, PLEASE!  That is my absolute favourite highway in the province.  The new route would instead run up the Legacy Trail (beside the Transcanada) out past the park gates and back.  It is almost a blessing I couldn't run it because that is not the route I would have wanted to run.  It would still be very beautiful - it just wouldn't be as special as the parkway.

Now, I do think it is worth mentioning the facilities on course.  As we drove home, I couldn't help but notice that there were porta-potties on the trail and, by my odometer, pretty much spaced exactly 2k apart.  IMPRESSIVE!  Probably because it would be nearly impossible to have runners pack out their own shit during a marathon but after having run a facility-less half in February - this was a sight for sore eyes!

It's also worth noting that for race day today the weather was ABSOLUTELY PERFECT!

The Hard Question

So, now for the big question - would I register again?  I REALLY want to say that I would.  But I probably won't.  With the first year being cancelled and the route change this year - I just think having this race in Banff at the end of June is too volatile.  I know that May is much colder out there, but it is also a safer month to have it.  Less bear activity, lower chance of flooding, lower chance of rainfall (typically).  I'd take the slightly cooler temperatures and run the route I registered for rather than basically playing wait and see on the race.  Plus - this is NOT a cheap race.  At $150+ for the full - it is a pretty dear chunk of change for a race that really hasn't proven itself for delivering what it advertises.  Keep in mind that I registered during the Early Bird...the fees only went up from there.  And no refunds or deferrals. I couldn't even have transferred my bib if I'd had an interested friend.  I was lucky to be able to claim this through my personal spending account so it was free - and I did that because I didn't want to be out the money if the race was cancelled due to another flood.  I just lucked out that that insured me for this stupid stress fracture too.

So - you probably won't see me at the startline for this one in future years...but never say never.  Maybe if I win a lottery and can wait until closer to race day - I might.  It is certainly a well organized race and I look forward to seeing how they do in future years.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday Reads: Doctor Who The Crystal Bucephalus by Craig Hinton

The Crystal Bucephalus is book 4 in the Missing Adventures series of Doctor Who novels.  This one features the fifth doctor with his companions Tegan and Turlough.  They suddenly find themselves inside the most exclusive restaurant in the galaxies, The Crystal Bucephalus.   You see, the Crystal Bucephalus is no ordinary restaurant.  It is a restaurant capable of opening time portals to the best restaurants throughout history.  The exclusive guest list can eat anywhere and anytime on the Cartes des Locales (the restaurant list).  It isn't a time machine, per se, but it is the closest thing outside of Time Lord technology.

At the exact moment that the Doctor shows up, a murder happens in one of the locations and, because of his timing, the Doctor and his companions are instantly seen as culprits...until the Doctor reveals his secret - he is actually the financial backer of the establishment and it would not be in his best interests to cause a murder there.

A mystery to solve and a love triangle to navigate as the three physicists, who built the technology the place is based on, work through their own complicated relationship.  Throw a couple of powerful entities into the mix and you could have one helluva complicated and messy story or one helluvan adventure.

I'd actually say the book is both.  At times it felt incredibly long.  Like the story just wouldn't get to the point and then, suddenly, it would move on into another angle.  I enjoyed the adventure, but it would have been nice if it had been a bit more formulaic.  WOW, did I just say that?   But it's true - in books like these, they are supposed to be almost like harlequin romances for geeks.  Quick and semi-predictable with a few surprises. This one was like a feature length film.  It covered a lot and the story roamed all over the place.  BUT in the end - it wraps up nicely and the Doctor and sail off into the Time Vortex with his friends.   Then again - I guess that kind of IS Doctor Who in a nutshell.   I would call it a win.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Three Things Thursday

1) My dayhome woes seem to have resolved themselves (for now).  I was having a whole lot of stress about the whole thing and very nearly took a year off work to just solve them once and for all...but then we managed to work out a good arrangement for transporting the girls to school.   Here's hoping it works.  I wish I could feel more confident long term.

***

2) This weekend was supposed to mark marathon #3 for me as I am registered for Banff Marathon.  I'm still really sad that I can't run it.  Hell - that I couldn't even train for it!  Today, I had my first appointment at Elite Sport Performance to deal with my poor fractured leg.

The appointment was interesting.  We assessed where I'm at.  I need to go for a bone scan (which somehow I lucked out and got an appt for tomorrow!) and blood work.  We talked about my weight in relation to the shoes I run in (ie - that the shoes are perhaps a bit light for what I need) and then talked about a treatment plan which would include Graston, strength training and, possibly, a bone stimulator (though amputation and boingy feet may come in much cheaper and heal faster than this fracture is).  I go back again next week to really work out the plan.

On an up note - I am starting to formulate a plan to start running again after I am finally cleared.  There is a lady (or two) in my office who would like to learn so I may do a little Learn to Run/C25K thing as a group.   Guess we'll see.

***

3) I'm officially obsessed with Little Free Libraries.  I visited the one in Kingsland this morning.  So cute - made from an old console TV.


I have the strangest hankering to build one for my front lawn.   I don't know why.  I am just so inspired every time I see one in Calgary and then I think about my own little town that doesn't have a library of any sort (outside of the schools).  I think it'd be a fun addition here.  I just have to figure out a design...and how to encourage people to use it.  Perhaps, as the old adage goes, "If you build it, they will come"

***

Have you ever had an injury drag on and on?  How did you deal with it?

Have you ever noticed things resolving themselves just as you come to a decision on how to handle them?

Have you ever been to a Little Free Library?


Monday, June 16, 2014

MOMday: The Trouble With Dayhomes

Warning: This one's long and maybe a bit ranty.  I'm actually amazed, looking back, that I haven't written about this more.  It has been a huge weight on our lives for all of these years.

Had someone told me five years ago that childcare was such a bothersome beast, I would have laughed and told them they were insane.  How bad could it really be to find someone to care for your kids and allow you to have a career or some form of fulfillment outside of motherhood?

Boy was I ever jaded back then.

But then, by the one year mark in my twins lives, I should have been totally aware that this was going to go all uphill from here.

The first year with twins is a busy time.  An overwhelmingly busy time where you lose whole months and don't remember the last time you breathed.  What this meant for me was that I was suddenly faced with the end of my one year of maternity leave and I had NO ONE to leave my kids with.  Dayhomes in Langdon just didn't have the hours we needed and finding one in the city was so daunting.  Day cares were prohibitively expensive.  It would have been almost as much as my take home pay to put them in one - if we could find one that had a short enough wait list to give us hope.  So private dayhomes was it...and I couldn't find one that could take two kids under two years old.

Why is that, you ask?  Well, a lot of the dayhomes that have multiple spaces are newer and are usually a result of a mommy deciding to stay home at the end of her mat leave - with her own "under two" year old.

I was lucky that year, though.  I looked into my work union agreement and it turned out that I could extend my leave.  I was working at the school board and I could extend my leave to the end of the year PLUS another year.  SWEET!  Since I was a 12 month employee - that would buy me another year and a half.  Hubby and I figured we could afford to keep me home a while longer on his salary and so I settled in for another year.

But then, my daughters decided to only learn one language.  And that language wasn't English.  Twinese ran rampant in our home and it was getting frustrating.  As the girls were getting closer and closer to their second birthday - I made a really hard decision.  I had to end my leave early.  And that meant finding a dayhome.

That first search actually went quick.   I was able to find a place that was workable on our commute and was remarkably affordable.  She was a grandmother, the girls liked her and we decided to give her a try.

I returned to work just before they turned two.    Work was not all it was cracked up to be.  I was miserable in my old role and was thrown into a dramatically different team than I had been with before. The first few months felt like adjusting to a new role - both my own and that with our dayhome.  It wasn't long before both started to slip.

I noticed it in little things - like how she always seemed to be coming out of her bedroom when we picked the girls up.  Like she'd been sleeping.  And our kids were in the "dayhome" area of the house, behind a baby gate in the playroom.      When we noticed scrapes on the kids and would ask her about them - she would never remember them falling.   It was like little red lights all over the place.  When a friend sent me a job posting for my current job - the timing was perfect to make a move on both the job AND dayhome front.  So I did.   And I became significantly pickier in the dayhome search.

I returned to Kijiji for my search.  It didn't take long to find two dayhomes that fit our new criteria.  We only needed to meet with one to find a perfect fit, though.  She would still be caring for the girls if we had our way - trust me we tried.   The girls spent a year and a half in her care before the day that I showed up and found her in tears.

Her condo board had pulled all business permits in the complex.  They gave her until the end of the week to shut down...she negotiated a second week.  We were out on our keisters with hardly time to find a replacement.  I rushed to make arrangements with my work to allow me to work from home until we could find someone.

But then dayhome number three appeared.  She was relatively new, but had aspirations of running multiple dayhomes and we liked that she had similar professional credentials to the one we had just lost.  She was professional - almost too professional - and justified her extra expense in that she had a helper and would take the girls on many field trips.

This was the dayhome where we learned exactly how the dominoes start to fall.  First, she kept insisting on extra money for fieldtrips.  Then, her helper left suddenly.  Then, the girls told us they weren't allowed to play outside anymore.   Then, I saw something she accidently posted on twitter about looking for a rental house.   The dominoes were falling.  I started to feel like we were suddenly going to go through a repeat of dayhome #2.

I started to look for a different dayhome within 3 months of our move to her.   Only this time, we had school looming.  And we don't live in Calgary so we had to stop picking from the vast pool of city dayhomes and try to find something that could fill the role for the school years.

I wrote to the dayhome we are currently with on a few separate occasions during those months.  She had the hours we needed and the location.  She was willing to school transport.  She was willing to feed them the way we required.  But she didn't have enough spots to take both.

Until one day in late November.  I happened to be home sick and was starting to feel a bit better late int he day so I was boredly going through kijiji and I saw and ad saying she had TWO SPOTS!!!  I pounced!  We interviewed her that night and were REALLY impressed.  The next day, I told her we would love to move to her in the new year and then I gave notice to our other dayhome.

That was 7 months ago.  The girls have been in this dayhome for half a year.  And BOY can a lot change in half a year.   They have been fantastic with the girls.  Truly fantastic. We have seen amazing developmental leaps in them.  They are probably beyond kindergarten curriculum at this point from what they are learning there.   But we have also been kicked out twice and renegotiated our way back in (neither booting was our fault).  Now, they can't drive the girls to school.  Of course they can't.

Let the new search begin.

But we're stuck.  Stuck to a Langdon dayhome and, more specifically, stick to THIS dayhome because there is an interesting phenomenon in Langdon.  Dayhomes don't seem to have hours that actually WORK for parents who actually work in the city.  Take us - we leave our house at 6:30 every morning.  Drop off the girls and head to the city.  Hubby is dropped off before 7:30 and I usually get to work by 8.  Then - I leave my office right at 4:30.  Pick hubby up by 5 and we are on the road home.  Usually we get there around 6, but if there is an accident or bad weather - we can be squeaking into the dayhome driveway at exactly 6:30.   There is very little wiggle room.

So we are lucky to have this dayhome with it's hours of 6:30 to 6:30.

Other Langdon dayhomes?  Well - they open at 7:30 and go to 5:30.  Or maybe open as early as 7 but insist on closing by 5:30.  I get it - their kids need to go to the soccer that starts too early for my kids to join.  Or to dance that ends by the time we are getting into town.   But those aren't hours that work for real working moms...and definitely not for single vehicle working families.   Apparently, I have heard, that those dayhomes are for the STAY AT HOME MOMS!!!!  WTF!!!!

Three years and four dayhomes.  I never thought that would be us.

Let me tell you - I now truly appreciate those exorbitantly expensive organized daycare centres.  With their structured hours and their caregiver:child ratios.  Sure, they may look like little prisons for children and they may cost as much as private school...but you get what you pay for.  You get the transportation they promise.  You get the hours they set.  You don't need to worry about them closing without sufficient notice.  You don't need to pay for them to take vacation.  You don't need to worry about your children being abandoned or drawn into drama.

Worth every penny after all we've been through.  Of course - there is a group of ladies trying to open one of those here in Langdon.  It's just too bad the county keeps tying them up in red tape.  This last time I wrote - I didn't even get a response.  It leads me to believe that dream has been crushed.

So I will be trying to get the girls through one more year.  Once they are in grade one, there is organized before/after care at the school.  But Kindergarten is going to be an interesting year around here.  I really wish I had a time machine to get us through it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday Reads: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

I must admit, my friends, that this is an exceedingly difficult review to begin.  THIS book was so incredible.  So amazing.  Oh, and oh so very difficult to describe.  And, before we go any further - this is NOT to be confused with Fifty Shades of Grey.  You will never find a review for that book here.

As far as post-apocalyptic dystopian stories go, this is BY FAR the most imaginative and original one I have yet encountered.  400-plus years previous, Something Happened.  No one really knows much about it, but a man named Munsell wrote a whole bunch of rules (books and books of them) to tell how the world would operate going forward.   People were separated based on the true colours they could see and the hierarchy of society fell in line.  Those who can see the most real colour automatically became the leaders.  Those with the lowest true colour perception became the labour class and those in the middle fell into approriate roles for their levels.

The story begins with Edward Russet starting the tale of how he ended up in the belly of a carnivourous Yateveo tree and how it all began with the wrongspotted man in the paint store and the girl with the most interesting/cute nose he encountered shortly after (who obviously knew who the man was).   Eddie and his father, a relief swatchman (kind of like a doctor specializing in colour healing) are headed to the Outer Fringes, where his father will be relief swatchman for East Carmine's swatchman who died in a very suspicious way.  Eddie quickly learns that things are much different in the Outer Fringes.

Ok - I'm doing a terrible job recapping the plot...let's take a look at what the dust jacket says. After all, THAT is what hooked me:
Welcome to Chromatacia, where the societal hierarchy is strictly regulated by one's limited color perception. And Eddie Russet wants to move up. But his plans to leverage his better-than-average red perception and marry into a powerful family are quickly upended. Juggling inviolable rules, sneaky Yellows, and a risky friendship with an intriguing Grey named Jane who shows Eddie that the apparent peace of his world is as much an illusion as color itself, Eddie finds he must reckon with the cruel regime behind this gaily painted fa├žade.
Quite frankly - I love this rich world that Fforde has crafted.  I was overjoyed to hear he plans more novels in this world - even if they won't technically be a series quite yet (the next one will be a prequel).  The societal hierarchy is really cleverly described and it is interesting to see the temperaments align with the colour perception of the characters.  More importantly, however, the character development is absolutely phenomenal!   The story is told from 20 year old Eddie's point of view and as he moves through the world and experiences new things, it isn't hard to see how his brain works differently from the rest of the people in his world.   A delicious mystery forms the basis of the storyline and is revisted throughout until the answers are found.

I am not sure that this book is for everyone, but I enjoyed it so much.  I do recommend giving it a chance and see if the first few chapters aren't enough to hook you for the whole book.  Leave your preconceived notions of the world we live in behind because this book delves into a much different place with very little relation to our own.  I am so happy the publisher gave Fforde the chance to write a book like this (something he, himself, acknowledges in the end notes that he wasn't sure he was up to the challenge of). Look for the pop culture references from our world and see the creative ways they have been used and, most importantly, buckle up and get ready for an fascinating ride through Chromatacia.

And, if you need a little help along the way - Fforde has a great reference section on his website.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Three Things Thursday

I have so many post-vacation blog posts to write but, as is prone to happen, I got sick two days after we landed back at home.  And knocked right on my ass with it.  Horrible chest cold, sinus thing, throat feeling swollen shut...and then add to that that I ended up with a gastrointestinal bug as a reminder of the Dominican...NOT FUN! Saw a doctor yesterday who assured me I am not actually dying.

Today I'm feeling much better so it all must be running its course.  Thank freaking goodness.  So, if you've been waiting on the edge of your seat for those fun post-vacay info-posts - they are coming.  They just aren't here yet.

***

My shin still hurts.  Next week was supposed to mark the end of the 4 extra weeks off and I am so not sure that the fracture is healed even now.   I have no clue why not.  I haven't been working out *just in case*.  I am totally not walking as much as I would like (with the exception of our vacation).  I finally decided that I am fed up.

And I booked an appointment with Elite Sport Performance.  I go next week.  I have wanted to book sooner, but I have not had a spare moment in months to rush to the doctor (hence why it took so long to get diagnosed in the first place).  These guys are right next door to my work and come highly recommended by a friend who had a stress fracture healed in their care.

Twelve weeks is too long.  I'm looking forward to just being healed and running again.


***

I tweeted this link yesterday and I think it bears re-sharing to my readers who may not be on twitter. Heather from Relentless Forward Commotion wrote a wonderful blog post about her first time experiencing a half marathon from the back of the pack.

140 characters is truly not enough for me to commentate on this.  I have always been a mid-pack runner, but I HAVE spent several races at the back.  Most notably, my first marathon in 2011 and my ultra-half marathon last Fall.

In the blog post - Heather writes about how she is not normally a slow runner (half mara PR of 1:40 to prove it), but last weekend, she woke up very sick and ended up almost quitting before a couple of back-of-the-packers convinced her to walk the rest of the race with them and she earned every step of her 3:31 finish time.   While she is normally used to a race course that is lined with spectators, has her choice of the food while it is still fresh and unpicked over and is comfortly on her way home (if not done her post-run bath) by the time the clock hits 3:30 - she now knows what it means to earn that time.   She has seen how dramatically different the race experience is for a 1:40 halfer compared to a 3:30 halfer.  And it has left her sad and angry enough to articulate the experience.   It didn't take away from her achievement of having finished - instead it left her with a greater appreciation of what the race is like long after she is usually gone.  Perhaps even inspired her to stick around and make someone elses 3:30 half a bit brighter as these runners are left in the wake of mounds of paper cups and tired (or dwindling) volunteers.

I personally think it does a speedster good to experience the silence of the back of the pack.  Most of them never will.  They will quit a race instead of finishing one slowly.

So, to a speedster who may be reading this and acknowledging that we each have our own journey...remember next time you go for the second energy bar in the post-race food that that might mean one less bar to feed someone who spent twice as long on the race course.   Remember, as you thank the volunteers along the way (if you are even able to at that speed) that that thank you might be what keeps them there to cheer on someone (or hand them water) near the end.  And remember that as much as you'd like to speed home after collecting your age group award - there may still be someone on that course who will miss the ceremony and reach the finish line only to discover that some speedy bandit (who didn't even pay for the race) was given their race medal and now there are no more left.

Ok - pushing my soapbox out of the way.  The original post touched me deeply. I hope everyone will take a moment to read it and not see it as a whiny speedy person who had to walk a race.  If that is how it's being read, you're missing the point. It is about the experience - not the speed.

(and if I get flamed for this - I WILL delete those comments.  My blog, my piece.  Just saying)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Resort Review: Majestic Colonial Resort (Punta Cana)

For our vacation, we spent the week at the Majestic Colonial Resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.  Since they tout themselves as being really family friendly, I figured it'd be a good thing to share my thoughts in case you have been looking for a vacation destination.  Keep in mind that I am reviewing this from the view of someone who DIDN'T upgrade to the Colonial Club, which was adult only.

Location

The resort is located in Arena Gorda (Playa Bavaro) next to Macao and 30kms away from Punta Cana International Airport.  It is attached to the Majestic Elegance Resort as well, but does not have cross-usage privileges.  The resort is All-Inclusive.



Room



Our room was a good size.  We had two double beds, a single bed and a sofa, plus the television and desk.  The television was mostly in Spanish, but English channels could be found if you looked hard enough.  The girlies were happy to just watch Spanish cartoons on Disney Junior.


The bathrooms were odd.  The sinks and jacuzzi tub were out in the open and the toilet and shower were behind frosted glass doors.  The toilet cubby was teeny and claustrophobic to me.  And not very private since if someone was seated, you could almost see everything through the door.  I was glad I brought air freshener, as well.  Just saying.


We were on the ground floor in a Gardenview room.   We had a small terrace and almost a "yard" between two hibiscus hedges.  There was no drying rack or line in our room or terrace.  This made drying laundry and swimsuits somewhat of a challenge.

Our room was basic and seemed to be the norm - even for those in our group who had upgraded to the colonial club.   I did have a chance to tour one of the upgraded rooms, since my cousin (the bride) had been seriously upgraded on check in to the presidential suite.   That had a living room, dining room, bedroom and a solid door for the bathroom...and a terrace that was easily the size of my yard back home (and I live on a fifth of an acre).  It was impressive, though perhaps excessive for a week in paradise.

Public Spaces



The resort was very clean in the public spaces.  There was a constant presence of gardeners tidying up and pruning things.   There were fountains and palm trees everywhere and hibiscus and other flowering shrubs lined all of the walkways.  If I had to hazard a guess, the property was about a kilometre long so it was a HUGE amount of walking.




The pathways throughout are not restricted to walkers.   And they are not well-lit at night.  
The illumination in the foreground
 is entirely from my camera.
We didn't realize this as we walked home one night and the girlies were ahead of us and suddenly a small cargo truck came barreling toward them at "not walker friendly" speeds and without headlights.  We literally got the girls out of the way JUST in time.  In fact, Buggie's shoes got run over when she lost them as she bolted out of the way.  I would recommend bringing a flashlight (or four).

Beach

The beach is AMAZING.  Gorgeous, super clean, sand like powder under your toes.

NO SEASHELLS!  None. Zip. Zero. Nada.  If you want a shell, there are guys selling large ones on the beach in the morning.

The resort beach has two sections - one adults only and one family friendly.  They are divided by the beach wedding pavilion.  There is security on site to enforce this, as we found out when we tried to hang out with my family one day.



The water was lovely and clear.  There were reefs within the swimming area where you could watch the fish swim around the coral.  For the most part, it was pretty calm - calm enough for us to let the girlies swim in there with us.


There were plenty of watersport options, though we didn't end up using any of them.  Catamarans and Windsurfing was available...and the upsell for tubing or banana boat rides was quite strong.

There are vendors that troll the beach selling sunglasses or jewelry or offering to braid your hair or to do a henna tattoo.  I didn't find them to be as aggressive as the vendors on the actual resort and they would move on as soon as you lacked interest in what they were offering.

Pool

The pool is amazing.  Longest in Punta Cana at nearly 400m long.  The deck is dotted with loungers and palapas so shade is always to be found...and because of the size and shape of the pool, we nearly always had a section of it to ourselves to splash and noisemake at will.



The towel shack is located in a green palapa-roofed building by the pool.   The hours that are posted are meaningless, as it routinely closed at least a half hour early everyday.

Food

The food was pretty standard fare for an All-Inclusive.  Coming from a vegetarian point of view - there wasn't much there except side dishes.  There was a custom omelette bar at breakfast and custom pasta stations for lunch and dinner.    Most of the other restaurants didn't appear to have veg options and we found the buffet at the beach to be rather gross.  The main buffet was nice in that it was inside, air conditioned and didn't have birds flying at us like we'd experienced at previous resorts.  The meat eaters in the group said the food was fine for them, but that it all started to taste rather blah by half way through the week.  Pretty much everything meat-wise was also apparently overcooked.

We didn't really drink much while we were there so I can't comment much on the drinks.  On the other hand, we did make full use of the specialty coffees.   It was lovely to be able to order a cappuccino with breakfast, though I suspect that the machines that made them were automated, rather than barista operated.

The water at this resort were non-potable, but bottled water was readily available at any of the bars.  Each room had a drinks fridge which was stocked with water, pop and beer.  The rooms also came with a bottle of "champagne".

On beach party night, the main buffet was closed and we were pretty much forced to attend the beach party, which had mediocre food at best.

Activities

We did not really partake in any of the activities.  The evening programs didn't start until 10pm and, by that time, we were usually sound asleep (we are such partiers!)

There was a big activities board up near the lobby that detailed what was happening each day and there seemed to be no shortage of things to do.  I'm not sure how people had time to attend anything since it felt like we spent our days walking the length of the resort.

There were also things like a Beach Party night where everyone got to eat with sand in their food..er, I mean, eat on the beach.   These were the only staff pictures I got the entire stay...these women at beach party night wanted to keep the twins.


Also at Beach Party night were the fire dancers - they were incredible but I totally failed to get a photo of them.

They had contests during the day like a "Bikini Contest" or a "Mister Sexy Contest" and there would be large banners announcing them.

There is also a foam party in the main pool on one of the days.  We avoided THAT like the plague.

Kid's Club

The Kid's club is shared between the Colonial and Elegance resorts.  It is pretty big, with two kids pools, waterslides, an outdoor maze, a beach-like area and indoor playrooms.





There is not much shade around the pools, but there are loungers for if families want to play in the pools together.


You can drop your kids off between 9:30 and 5:30 and they will care for them.   While we were here, either not many people were there with kids or nobody was taking advantage of the free childcare.  Ours seemed to be the only kids checked in on both of the mornings we used them.

Our only previous experience with kids clubs was in Cancun and at that resort, they gave you a pager in case you were needed.  This resort simply asks you to say where you will be.  It was not reassuring nor convenient as it really limited what we could do while we were kid-free.

The girlies both loved the kids club here, despite the lack of other children present.  We felt they were safe there, but I don't think I would have left them for a full day.  Diligence did not appear to be strong in the staff.  They did do some crafts with the girlies but otherwise seemed pretty hands-off.  Apparently, they also do activities like Spanish lessons for the kids, but we missed those on both days.


It was good for a short break on those two days, but I am not sure I would have left them everyday or for a full day.

The club also has kids programming in the evenings, like movies, fashion shows, singing etc, in case the parents need a break after dinner.  We saw a few more families take advantage of that.

Amenities

The resort is all-inclusive, meaning your meals and activities are all taken care of.  Do not take this to mean tipping is optional.   The American dollar is universally accepted.   They will automatically convert the price for you.  It WILL NOT be at the current exchange rate.

There are plenty of shops to buy souvenirs, sunscreen etc.  There is a physician and pharmacy onsite that are not run by the resort so you can expect non-partisan care in both.   Sunscreen was $35 USD for one spray bottle.   Prices are VERY HIGH in the resort-run shops.  A couple of the stores had prices in Dominican Pesos and the rest were in USD.  I did a conversion on the iPad to see how much something in DP actually was and when I asked a store clerk - she quoted me a price at double that.  It was a huge part of why we didn't buy anything there.

Thursday night is Market Night and they set up a night market with several vendors selling jewelry and artisan wares.   The vendors are all from the same company and are VERY aggressive.

WIFI is available everywhere on the resort and is free - you just need to log in every time you want to use it.  We found it fairly reliable, if a bit slow at times.

There is a nightclub there that is shared between the two resorts.  I learned there that I am too old for night clubs anymore...and that smoking is still permitted indoors in the Dominican.  Felt just like I was 18 all over again.

Accessibility

This was the first time at a resort where accessibility played a real role for me.  I am seriously trying to heal my stress fracture so I was happy that the resort took that seriously and gave us a ground floor room to minimize my needing to climb stairs for the week.  It was funny when one morning, Buggie sat up in bed and announced that there are no stairs in Punta Cana.  That told me we had met our goal!

There were elevators in each building as well as in the lobby so I was able to minimize the number of stairs I had to take.   The pathways and hallways were fairly wide and easy to maneuver - especially when the housekeeping and maintenance carts would obscure the way.

There were always ramps or elevators available if there were stairs into anywhere and all of the washrooms included handicap facilities.

I would say that this is a very accessible resort.  The showers in the rooms even had a seat and a second showerhead that was handheld.  My only concern might be the wheelchair accessibility of the toilet cubbies in the rooms as they were quite small.

Staff

I am going to try to be delicate here.  The staff at this resort were absolutely terrible.  The jury s still out with me on whether this was a cultural difference or a staff indifference.  We spent A LOT of money on tipping everyone and, unlike similar trips we made to Mexico in the past, the hands were always out but the smiles and improved service were not.  No one made any effort to joke around with us or even to learn the names of the twins.   We found that they would provide us with the service, but often it was quite rude - even when we were making an effort to speak Spanish and to obviously be making an effort to teach the words to the girlies.

At the pool bar, I had a great deal of trouble even getting the staff to talk to me, let alone take my order.

Housekeeping did visit daily, but had questionable cleaning ability.  I'm not sure our tub actually got cleaned at all while we were there.  The day we tipped the cleaners $10, they took away our robes and didn't leave us face cloths.  Ask me if I tipped them again.

Weather and Wildlife

Our visit was in the last week of May, so this is based on then.  The heat here is INTENSE.  We were totally unprepared for how strong the sun is.   It was probably around 30C everyday we were there.  There were a couple of days where there were sunshowers and all I noticed was just a general increase in humidity when they happened.  One night there was a HUGE downpour that lasted several hours.   It was warm enough in the evenings to go without a jacket.

Tip: go nowhere without your flip flops...One day I tried to quickly run back to our room and burnt the bottoms of my feet pretty bad on the pathway.  Respect the strength of the sun.

After being to resorts in Mexico, I was expecting more in the way of wildlife.  Honestly, though - the birds hanging out at the outdoor buffet were the same stinky starlings that hang out in my yard in Langdon.  There were other birds as well, but few came close enough to take photos of...

We saw three feral resort cats which I am crediting with the lack of lizards.  I managed to catch a couple of them.  They were friendly enough, though only the range guy would allow us to pet him.



We only saw one teeny gecko for a fraction of a second one evening.   There was also a little crab that lived in a hole he had dug in one of the gardens.  My daughters nicknamed him Dig Dig and he would come out when it was a bit cooler in the day.

Other than that - the resort does have several parrots that the photo shop takes around to entice people to have photo ops with...these live in a giant cage beside the kids club and you can visit them anytime.

or - you can look for the photographers...

The photographers also had a large iguana they were carrying around on one of the days, but I avoided it.  Large lizards creep me out.

and then there was also a coral reef within the swimming area where, if you had a snorkel and mask (or underwater camera), you could watch the fishes dart around.  Random shot of the coral.  We have a video that shows the fishies but I haven't had a chance to process it yet.


Not really related to weather or wildlife, I should also mention that we did experience a minor Earthquake during our stay.   5.8 on the Richter scale and lasted about 5-10 seconds.

Special Requests

When we found out that my leg was still fractured a week before the trip, I put in a very swift request for a ground floor room, which was totally granted when we arrived.   

When we informed the front desk about the girlie's birthdays - they arranged a cake and door banner and balloons for the occasion.  We did have to pay $18 USD for the cake but it was worth it because they customized it with their names.

Change could easily be made at the front desk, but I was taken quite aback when the staffer handed it to me and then said "Now, don't forget about me" as he handed me a stack of $1 bills.

Also - we found that calling in a request was pointless.  We called for bottled water and for face cloths and neither request was fulfilled.  In fact - my father ended up getting us extra bottles of water from the adult only lounge one day because we just couldn't seem to get our fridge stocked when we requested it and the bar staff was visibly getting tired of me asking for "Quatro agua, por favor".

I believe anything would be possible for the right price.   They also offered things like romantic dinners on the beach, which sound lovely in principle, but when you'd get down tot he beach and see the setup - it would look rather assembly line as they would be all lined up.  This would be the setup - but there would be 8 of them in close sequence.



Would we return?

Ah, the million dollar question.  The Dominican Republic was BEAUTIFUL.  Getting off the plane, you could immediately tell that it smelled better than Mexico.  We didn't leave the resort the entire week because we knew in advance that it is not a particularly safe place to go wandering.  On the bus to and from the airport, I couldn't help but notice the extreme poverty and excessive garbage that this little island has.

I want to say that the Dominican was not really for us.   While we loved much that the resort had to offer - the attitude of the staff REALLY coloured our opinions on the place.  It was also very much like a resort that wanted to be adults only and grudgingly kept half of it open for the scourge of humanity - families.   THAT could also have been how we felt about it since everyone we were travelling WAS adults only so we got to see what we were missing out on in every conversation.

My dad and uncle went to the Hard Rock Casino down the road and they both reported back that the staff attitude didn't seem to be present over there, so perhaps it was just on or resort.

Regardless, I'd have to say we won't be going back.  It was lovely to stay there once, but I could never see us taking on another visit.  It is funny to say that, because they are quite obviously drawing repeat customers, given the number of "Welcome Back" banners we saw on the doors.