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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wordless Wednesday:That's one big dust bunny

Or is it an Ewok? Who put the Ewok head under my couch? Isn't my mom's dog the cutest?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Good vibrations

Comfort means different things to different people. For me, comfort is going to bed with a book. For my mother, it's a 10-Motor Full-Body Massage Mat from Dr. Scholls.

My mother and I look alike and sound alike, but what we consider relaxing is quite different. Maybe it's because she's plagued with insomnia that she finds the gadgets so wonderful. There's the foot-jacuzzi, the wax bather for hands and feet, the mini-beads automatic neck massager and the Homedic backrest with shiatsu massage...

For me, the problem with this stuff is that you have to sit down to enjoy them. Aside from work, where I type seated at a desk for eight hours a day, or the the stolen 20 minutes at a time that I use to type on this blog (and re-design my website for a future launch--stay tuned!), I don't sit.

I have three couches in my house and I sit on one of them maybe once a week for a couple of hours to watch a movie with the kids on Fridays. The rest of the time, it's cleaning, or cleaning and helping with homework or taking the kids to the park or chauffeuring to lessons.

I'm afraid to sit down for fear that a week will go by and I won't notice. If I stop moving, I might like it too much, so I dare not. Or, maybe I'll get BORED and that would be VERY BAD.

I realize that this level of frenetic activity might not be healthy, but my mother set the bar high. Her pace was frantic with single-parenting four kids, one of whom severely disabled, while working full time. In comparison, my life is leisurely.

My theory is that because Mom was so completely time starved, she bought comfort in the form of books, ice cream, hand cream and all these relaxation gizmos. I figure her reasoning is: I bought it, so therefore I'm relaxed. This makes as much sense as my propensity for buying closet organizers and considering myself instantly organized.

It's also like a host of other people who buy expensive home fitness equipment only to use them as pricey laundry drying racks.

So, I lay down on the buzzing mat and all kinds of bad jokes started coming to mind.

"See Patti, for the price of a medium pizza, you can have this warming all over massage every day."

It was loud and the vibrations made my nose itch.

"Here, try it while sitting on a chair," she insisted. You'd think she was making commission on this thing. "What do you think?"

When I spoke, the mat made my voice quiver like I was driving over a washboard road in a dirty jeep.

Dad came over to see what all the fuss was about. They've been divorced for more than 20 years, but they carpooled for the visit.

"Lou, it's your turn," she said. He tried it out. Even though they're not married he does what he's told. He tried the prone and sitting version.

"Well, what's your favourite position, Lou?" my mother asked. "The floor or the chair?"

Then he started wiggling his eyebrows.

"GACK!" I said. "I'm outta here."

They laughed and laughed. That was enough relaxation for me.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Give bad feelings the boot

Retail therapy is a fine complement to dynamic cycle-therapy, I've found.

Before my Mallorcan adventure, I was contemplating intense psychotherapy and some pharmacological helpers to combat anxiety brought on by grief and years of unrelenting stress.

But now I'm cured! I figure with all the money I saved in psychiatrist fees, I could do this trip annually until 2050, but my husband doesn't agree.

Let's see how long the good feelings last. Souvenirs can be a great spirit booster. So here's a little tour of my keepsakes.


Mallorca: the olives, the bread, the aioli, the footwear! Oh yeah, the cycling and bike stores are pretty awesome too.


These babies are suede and high. I'm close to six-feet tall in these suckers.

Of course, I'll never be taller than my gorgeous 6'2" sister, who wears heels to boot. (I think these boots are nicer than hers, but don't tell her. Shhhhhh).

Next are the whore shoes:

Look how well I balance on one foot. I'm doing tree pose in this photo.

The fashionistas in the office assure me they're not whorish at all. Wear them with jeans, I've been told.

Casual sandals from the Camper outlet:

Try not to look too closely at the veins. These feet look like they belong to a transvestite weightlifter. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

These are my comfortable shoes, but I won't wear them on my Home Depot shopping trips with my friend Susan. Staff there always mistake us for a couple and I'm the man. Not that there's anything wrong with that either.

Cycling wear

Next up is my cycling fashion series. My only concern is that these up the flashy factor, which might raise people's expectations in the speed department. Oh well, I'm stylish, but slow. Sue me.

This is my favourite, favourite cycling acquisition:

Good thing this isn't a scratch-and-sniff picture. You'd fall over. Maggie doesn't mind though.

It has a nice fleecy inside and I'm utterly charmed by the pinkness of it. Great for chilly days. I've worn this five days in a row on commutes. Oli held his nose while he took this picture.

Flashy jacket:

The light, bright Ca'n Nadal jacket. This jacket is how I recognize fellow Mallorcan tripsters on cycling rides in the Gatineau Park.

I think everyone who does this trip buys one of these. It's wind resistant and it folds up teenie weenie. Perfect for your jersey pocket and you still have room to stuff in your portable IV kit and pint of EPO-infused blood for those really long rides.

Trip jersey:

Lori's arm warmers are a perfect match for this gorgeous jersey. She really should just hand 'em over.

These jerseys were given to all trip participants. I love the design and the fit. This is the best fitting jersey I've ever worn. But that could be because I buy cheap-ass jerseys as a rule and not expensive nice ones like this.

Trip fleece:
The fact that the fleece matches Jen's and my eyes is an added bonus. Photo by William Fu.

Great for post-ride hanging around or dress-down days at the office. I love how this fleece is fitted. Again, this jacket was given to trip participants. Love it.

Whoever said money can't buy happiness was wrong. WRONG.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Shoulda got on that bus

Me (in pink) while I was still smiling and heading for Cap de Formentor. That's Tracy behind me playing charades with the photographer. Photo by William Fu.

In a state of utter depletion on a thin ribbon of highway between Alcudia and Cala D'Or, Mallorca I learned a lot about restraint, humility, privilege and gratitude.

But it's easier to be philosophical in hindsight. At the time, I wanted to get off my bike and throw it at the pace leader, but I didn't for a number of reasons:

1. I really like his wife and very much wanted to remain friends with her.

2. The last functioning rational neurons in my brain recognized that this impulse was ridiculous and would cause me a lot of problems later. See #1.

3. He was too far in front to hit.

We were about 100 km into a 140-km ride. We had ridden a 60 km mountain stretch from Alcudia to Cap de Formentor to a soaring lighthouse overlooking the northernmost point of Mallorca.

I made huge progress. The downhills, which had scared the bejeezus out of me days earlier, were exhilarating, even with their paucity of guard rails and sniper winds that threatened to blow me off course. The uphills were protracted and grinding, but I had granny to help me out.

Our bus was waiting for us at the municipal sports centre where bikes would be loaded and riders who wanted a lift could be conveyed in comfort back to the hotel.

I had thought I'd take the bus, but after hearing that so many people would be riding the mostly-flat, wind-assisted 80 km back at an "easy pace", I thought what the hell?

Hell indeed. In the first 20 km, I knew I was in trouble, I downed a sports gel (and I hate those), some dried fruit and glugged water.

"Ease up!" I yelled. The pace slowed for two minutes and then resumed. All I kept thinking was, shoulda got on that bus, shoulda got on that bus...

I got quieter and quieter. Brad, one of the riders in our group, knew I was getting into trouble.

"So, what was your favourite subject in high school," he asked?

"History," I said and we spoke of our areas of interest. For me, The Great War. For him, World War II and Rommel's North African battlefront to be precise.

I knew he was trying to keep me from lapsing into bitter silence. As I faltered more, he started pushing me uphill.

On a gradual uphill, I dropped off the group like a rock, crying quietly behind my sunglasses. I couldn't even pretend to hold on anymore.

Then, Lori swooped in and offered to lead me back at a slower pace. I didn't want to stop for coffee or beer or anything for fear I wouldn't get back on my bike. As we cleaved off the group, we were joined by Jen who felt it would be easier for me to draft off the two of them.

And I made it. My nursing team: Lori, Nadia, Jen and Brad, kept me at a pizza joint near the hotel and jammed Coca Cola and water into me, refusing to let me crawl home and sob in the corner.

In my hotel room, my friend Susan served me hot, sweet milky tea and brought me food, while I huddled, shivering under the blankets.

It was difficult and embarrassing, hitting the wall like that, but it was a privilege to suffer because I overdid it on a bike trip. I have two friends facing cancer and a husband with serious heart issues. I know that now, but at the time my thoughts were pretty infantile.

And I'm grateful to the people who helped me out and to the other cyclists who later shared their tales of hitting the wall or "bonking" on long rides.

And the pace leader? Well, he's my friend, too. The way I look at it is that it's flattering to have him think I could go that fast. But my aerobic base kind of sucks and I probably should have gotten on that bus.

But I'm glad I didn't because now I can say that I've ridden 140 km in one day.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Random thoughts on cycling in Mallorca

Jennifer (left) and I relishing a downhill during our mountain ride from Calvia to Galilea in Mallorca, Spain. Photo by William Fu.

Can't find 'em? Grind 'em
This was the advice I heard on Day 1 of the trip to Mallorca when a fellow rider was clunking through a gear switch. I rarely had this trouble, but the idea is to keep peddling and fiddling with the levers until the chain lands where it's supposed to. Don't hit the brakes on a group ride or you could be sporting someone else's front wheel where the sun don't shine. Painful and not very fashionable.

Quality time with granny
Riding in the mountains is where I spent this quality time. Faced with switchback climbs 5-7 km long, I put my bike in the easiest of gears (A.K.A the granny gear) and slowly and anaerobically, ground my way to the top.

Shammy time versus growing mushrooms
Shammy time refers to training time on the bike. The shammy, of course, refers to the padding in bike shorts. Shammy time is not to be confused with "growing mushrooms". The latter saying refers to the predilection for sitting around in one's cycling wear, post-ride and drinking. I'm not confessing to anything, but they called me Portobello. I'm just sayin'.

Tending my private garden
I like the garden imagery over the mushroom one, so this is my preferred alternative saying to growing mushrooms.

Sharks and dolphins
Sharks were the fast riders on the trip. These riders are the type who do repeat hills on 5km mountain climbs and can, amazingly enough, drink until 2 a.m. or later and get up and do it all over again. Freaks (I mean that in the nicest possible way). Some sharks can easily swim among the dolphins and laugh, talk and take long unshark-like coffee breaks during rides. These riders may be sharks, but they have the heart of a dolphin.

Dolphins get the job done, but more slowly and with greater appreciation for the landscape. Conversation abounds during dolphin rides and dolphins have been known to stop and shop, carrying their loot back on their bikes to the hotel. I'm a dolphin.

How do you spell your last name?
If you're the photographer who took the picture above, you have the pleasure of telling everyone, "Eff you". William Fu grew up in China and came to Canada years ago. When he was asked this question, he responded honestly and his questioner responded with "Eff you too." Great story.

Salad is for sissies
I didn't eat much salad on this trip. I always reached for the more calorie-dense options. When I'm going to be climbing my heart out, it's bacon and egg sandwiches and chocolate croissants. You can take your muesli and your celery and shove it.

I supplemented all the cycling with running sprints through airports on the journey to and from Mallorca. The consensus among the riders was that Frankfurt was the longest run. We all booked our flights separately, but we all had the mad dash through Frankfurt in common. It must have been a couple of kilometres at least.

The return trip for me also involved running through the Geneva airport and Dulles in Washington. My poor fellow travellers. I lost my deodorant the day of my return and I arrived for my flights in the nick of time, sweating and stinking of aoli from our last feast. I made it, but my luggage didn't. Luckily, I packed my sexy new boots in my carry-on. I'd include a picture of the boots, but my camera is currently in Belgium. Long story.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

You only get one ass; take care of it

I'm riding Stevens Impala racing bike, with aluminum frame and carbon front fork. Sweet wheels. But am now regretting my ill-advised decision to not bring my own bike seat.

My husband urged me to but I thought, too heavy. Won´t pack it. But when you´re on a cycling trip in a distant country, it´s always a good idea to bring your own saddle.

So the seat on my fancy rental racing bike is sleek, but on a long ride it's like a slow enema. We did 90 km today and my legs are fine, but um...not the rest.

Halfway through the ride past orange groves and beautiful adobe homes, all I could think about was getting off that seat.

"So, who's going to pull the seat out of my ass, so I can sit down and have coffee," I asked?

No takers. Not a very supportive group. And the group leader said, "I'm not your gynecologist, but I'll take a look."

Roy, a fellow cyclist and 60-year-old lawyer from Philidephia said, "Actually, what you mean is proctologist."

Then I had to start with the proctologist jokes. They told me to shut up.

We had cafe con leche and sat in a beautiful courtyard, kibbitzed and then headed back. The towns are uniformly cute with one- and two-story clay structures with green shutters, courtyards, narrow streets and wonderfully indulgent drivers.

Verdant fields are surrounded by low stone walls and this route was rolling.

I left my husband a panicked message to drop my seat off with a fellow Ottawan who was flying to join the group tomorrow. Here's hoping she got the message.

If not, I will be visitng the bike shop. Soonish.

After dinner, I watched families dancing a traditional Mallorcan dance in the hotel courtyard. The footwork was intricate and the rhythms they clacked out on their castenets were rapidfire.

I watched grandparents dancing with their grandchildren, teenagers and married couples dancing the same dance to the same song over and over and I smiled until my face hurt.

Very important words: "Plantago ovata"

Dear Mom,

Sorry I didn't have a chance to call you before I left. I was in a bit of a lather packing. Putting together my cornucopia of stomach and headache medications was quite time consuming.

I´ve been looking forward to this trip for weeks, but waiting in the airport I was a nervous wreck. What if I got my days mixed up and I missed my flight? I could hear the imaginary loudspeaker in my head announcing, "Paging passenger Patricia Murphy. This is your last chance to board Flight 826 for Frankfurt. You're never going to live this down."

Actually, that would be a great opening scene for a murder mystery. The passenger missed her flight because she shat herself dead in the bathroom after eating a ham and cheese sandwich that contained poisoned brie. A very complicated ham sandwich indeed.

A lot of things trigger my"trick" stomach, as you know. And I worried (further worsening my absominal distress), that I'd be stuck in the middle seat of the middle row just as my bowels turned to water.

It's funny that I worry so much about my stomach and not in-flight mechanical issues. Which brings me to my next story.

Good news, I got an aisle seat in the middle row and it was looking for a whie there that the middle seat in our row of three would be unoccupied. So, I started having fantasies that I'd be able to throw my various and sundry things into that space for storage.

Alas, a harried young man arrived just before the safety announcemnts started.

As we taxied down the runway, he said he was held up by security. "They searched everything!" he said.

Poor guy. Non-caucasion and you get targeted, I thought. But then, so do some other elements. My mother-in-law always gets the special treatment coming back from Mexico, I told him, commiserating. It seems that single women "of a certain age" travelling to Latin America are on the drug mule profile.

He smiled. "Well, another reason is that I´m going home for a visit to Jeddah. That's in Saudi Arabia."

Oh yes, well...

"What are you doing in Ottawa?"

"I´m studying electrical engineering," he said. After that, he disappeared to the bathroom for a very long time.

I sat there thinking.

When he returned we spoke some more. He was very charming and outgoing and even though I try to be open minded about things, I made a point of mentioning my daughters and my husband as often as possible.

But, after dinner, I had other worries.

I had three bites of the salad after our onflight meal and then realized it contained beans and corn. Very bad. Then I broke out into a sweat. Even after spending a king's ransom at Shoppers'Drug Mart, I forgot the Immodium and the Metamucil.

But, at the farmacia in Palma de Mallorca airport, the pharmacist looked up Metamucil in her book and smilingly produced a box of Plantago ovata. All is good.

Your loving daughter,