Fat — it’s complicated

13 07 2015

This morning I read about a young female comedian who had been fat-shamed by a male comic who left much to be desired in the good looks department. He made fun of her size and her disability (she lost an arm in a car accident) by noting that she fat-smelled because she was unable to clean out her “fat belly flap” because she only had one arm. Apparently he did it for the sole reason that he could since they had no relationship other than a couple of passing hellos when working in the same location. It was an egregiously shocking and revolting example of what fat (and disabled) women put up with in this age of distorted body images and the infantilizing of the female body. A size 0 is a size that a child can wear and yet it is the size that mature women are expected to aspire to. By designating a size as 0, it is as though we are supposed to be seeking erasure. In saying this I am in no way suggesting that naturally slim women are infantile or lack presence but that the social construction of women’s bodies by others is a phenomenon that has beleaguered women of all sizes and needs to be stopped.

The female comic who was the object of this over the top example of fat shaming, responded online in a bravura show of strength and dignity that I suspect may be career altering for her tormenter. However, many like her live every day enduring taunts on the street, fewer job opportunities and promotions, exclusions from social occasions, and whispers behind her back. Fighting back are movements like “Big is Beautiful” in which those who are “curvy” are increasingly flaunting their more ample proportions in magazines, on high fashion catwalks, and in blogs, and public media.

For many of us, it has been a welcome change to see a more diverse representation of the female body in various media and while acceptance is beginning to shift, size still matters in the public arena of politics and commerce. For example, a highly competent and attractive politician who has come to power recently in a high profile cabinet position is regularly excoriated by ad hominem rhetoric that, if it were directed at her race would be considered the worst form of racism. She is a powerful woman who does not conform to the preference for vulnerable, tiny female bodies and so, when she enacts government policy with which someone disagrees, it is her female body that becomes the target rather than the policy. Unlike the comedian who took on her tormenter publicly, however, the minister must ignore these comments in order to minimize their effect on carrying on with her work effectively. So we see in these cases that power and influence wielded by  non-normative women in a predominantly male domain can become easy targets in a world in which male desire constructs and dominates public discourse.

Yet — and I am speaking from personal experience here — fat is uncomfortable and over time is highly destructive. My knees are testimony to the literally wearing effect of carrying far too much weight over an adult lifetime. For most of my adult life I carried at least 80 and, at my peak, 120 pounds more than my body could comfortably tolerate but for mCASWE Picture 018ost of my adult life I was able to do so with few health issues and few obvious experiences of discrimination. I hated the clothes I was limited to in “plus” size shops and lived in constant fear when I travelled by air that someone would need the middle seat as I sort of spilled over into that space. but, other than that. I was able to carry on with my life with few obstacles…until I was about 55. Then subtle signs of abnormal wear and tear began to emerge: my ankle injury from a car accident just would not heal properly so stairs became impossible, my back gave out on me with disconcerting regularity, my knee would suddenly give way and my whole leg from hip to knee would throb and ache while I hobbled along holding my knee stiff so it wouldn’t collapse on me with unbearable pain. Then it was my heart, high blood pressure, constant pain in my feet, knees that increasingly ached from osteoarthritis, shortness of breath…the list goes on. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t beautiful and it had to stop.

So, about four years ago, following two open heart surgeries to repair and then replace my mitral valve, I began to take some tentative steps to lose some weight. In years past I had tried Weight Watchers a few times and been completely unsuccessful — gaining back anything I lost and then some. I know others do it but I couldn’t. My doctor told me that even a 10% weight loss would really help my heart, so I figured that I might be able to do that…and I did thanks to help from a nutritionist at an extended care clinic.

With that bit of success under my belt, I looked for a way to keep at it in a way that was workable for me. That’s when I stumbled on to Fitness Pal. It took some getting used to but I found it a relatively painless way to figure out not just what the calorie value is of what I am eating but, more importantly, what its nutritional value is and how to balance carbs, fats, and protein. After using it for a while, I began to learn that, for example, if I chose to wrap my sandwich contents in a lettuce leaf — which is surprisingly good and nicely crunchy — I had calories left over for a nice apple for a snack. And, because I could make the choices around what I liked (with occasional treats to keep it interesting), I would stick to it. Progress has been slow and a bit uneven, but it’s been steady. I’ve now lost 85 pounds with another 35 to go. It feels great!

Exercise was my next addition and this was something I’d avoided like the plague. It hurt, it took time I didn’t have (or wouldn’t make time for) and it was not fun in any way. When I took my sabbatical, I moved to Victoria for the year and began moving more because it was more fun to do so. Then I took up pole walking and gradually, very gradually, I could walk longer distances. I had great hopes that I’d be able to ride a bike but that dream crashed when I kept getting big sores on my legs from the inevitable bumps and bruises of learning how to ride. And since I am on warfarin because of my artifical heart valve, a simple bump was not ever simple so that was the end of that. But I got a trainer — a wonderful trainer who patiently helped me build up strength and confidence — and now I love to exercise and have become a bit of a gym rat — being in Victoria with more time on my hands makes going to the gym so much easier than it was in snowy/icy/cold Edmonton when I was working 60+ hours a week. For someone who found walking a block a challenge, I can now comfortably do 2-3 km and am working on increasing that. I am beginning to be able to shop in departments with more clothing choices and I can wear shoes comfortably now that used to hurt.

I’ll always bear the marks of having been so overweight because I’m at an age where my skin doesn’t snap back to its former size so sags and bags are inevitable. But hey, there’s always Spanx! I’ll never be able to wear pretty shoes because of wear and tear on my feet and ankles. Fat does exact a price! But what hasn’t changed is that both versions of me that you see in the pictures attached here and the pictures still to come were beautiful in their own way and both definitely deserved respect and every opportunity that my abilities qualified me for. Judgements of my character, ability and worth were not and should not have been dependent on how closely my body conformed to norms constructed by what is perceived as desirable to the male gaze. Nor did I lose weight to do so. Having said that, I do wish I’d done it sooner for my health and my ability, as I aged, to participate more fully in life. However, at 70, I feel better than I did when I was 40 — much better! I can do more and enjoy it more and I have to say that, as recently happened at a special occasion I attended, it’s kind of fun when people I haven’t seen for a while don’t recognize me. It makes me feel like I have Ninja powers:-)

So, watch out those last 35 pounds…you’re toast!!! And all those who persist in constructing ideal images and using them to demean the vast majority of us who do not conform, one day you’ll be toast too!


The happy knitter…

30 03 2015

IMG_0308I used to knit many years ago and it was anything but pleasant — maybe because my knitting reflected my frame of mind at the time: uptight! I cast on my stitches so tight that I had to fight to knit each one and my knitting never loosened up. As a result, sweaters, painfully (literally) stitched over several weeks, were too tight when they came off the needles, so had to go to other smaller kids rather than my own. Eventually I lost interest.

Years later, after retiring from a very satisfying but hectic career, I embarked on a two pronged approach to what to do with my new freedom from schedules and deadlines and meetings and reports and…the list goes on. First, I wanted to get into better shape and second I wanted to pursue something more creative. This seemed like a nice balance to me: active/sedentary, physical/mindful, body/soul. I found a wonderful trainer and soon found myself feeling much better and able to do much more physically. However, the creative goal was a bit more elusive. At first I thought I’d like to paint. I had in the past and really enjoyed it and, heaven knows, Victoria offers lots of inspiration for painters. However, the problem of where to set up for painting in my smallish condo was definitely an issue. What to do?

I came across information about a knitting class at the Beehive (a local yarn shop) and decided to go for it. At that point I didn’t know many people in Victoria and my reasoning was that even if the knitting didn’t work out, I’d meet some people. At the first class, I was easily the worst student there. I fumbled around trying to cast on and the knit stitch was totally incomprehensible to me. You would think I’d never knitted before in my life. Our instructor was endlessly patient though and I went away feeling like I kind of knew how to do one stitch and that stitch was enough to make a dishcloth. I proudly brought mine into class only to discover that it was about 2/3 the size of everyone else’s. My stitches were still too tight…so tight that I had the red marks on my hands from trying to force the needle through two stitches for a double stitch. It wasn’t a promising start but for some reason, I was hooked. It was just the challenge I needed and, unlike teaching, parenting, and writing, the results were tangible, immediate and predictable (at least they were when I began to knit more confidently). For the next class, we made little slippers and for the last class, our assignment was a pair of fingerless gloves. Easy peasy but when I’d finished, I was almost as proud as the day I handed in my dissertation…and my knitting was beginning to loosen up.

Since then, I’ve gone through my cowl phase — everyone got one for Christmas — which helped me learn how to do cables, drop stitch, increases, decreases, and knitting in the round. Then, due to a mini population boom among my friends, I IMG_0167learned how to knit baby sweaters, which required a whole new set of skills I had to learn and then had the fun of giving my creations away — warts and all. The thrill was seeing pictures of these beautiful little people wearing something I had created. Hats, then socks, mittens, and an interminable Dr. Who scarf for my son, were next. My granddaughter loves her grandma made hats and that makes me very happy. I tried lace but I think that will have to wait for a while. I did manage to finish my project but I think I’ll wait to try another project. However, I’ve discovered the delights of fair isle and am beginning to explore its possibilities!

Now I’m feeling confident enough to try something far more complex — a sweater for me. I have frogged (rip it, rip it!) many parts of it several times, learned the value of a safety line, and yet, the thrill of seeing it come together has been such a joy. My next project is a summery cardigan knitted with linen which will again test my limits as linen, unlike wool, has no give. As soon as I saw the shimmery hanks of linen hanging there at the Beehive, though, I knew I had to have it. So here we go again….something new to play with and new skills to learn. IMG_0450

I’ve thought about why, at this point in my life, I have fallen in love with this ancient craft…and, of course, that’s part of it. I feel rather primeval while knitting — a wolf woman gathering materials and creating something beautiful for family and friends from string and sticks. I am participating in the rituals of womanhood at its most elemental level — independent, creative, adaptive, caring, and I prefer to think of it as non-patriarchal. The rhythm of the needles as they move softly in and out of the wool as it slides through and is directed by my fingers is soothing, meditative, immediate and tactile.

In many ways, it is the antithesis of the life of the mind that I have lived for many years and yet it connects the body and mind in such a symbiotic way. Some studies have shown, for example, that knitting can help stroke patients create new neural pathways as they connect body and mind through the knitting rhythm of their needles and wool. For me, it has helped me reconnect my mind and body by creating new pathways between them as I continue to learn some of the infinite combinations of knit and purl that can make the most marvellous things.

Knitting can be subversive too as knitters come together to yarn bomb trees marked for cutting, war tanks, symbols of government — a hand made reminder of what matters in the face of pervasive corporatization and colonization.

Knitting has also provided me with a community of fellow knitters. I am greeted — often by name — at the wool shops that I frequent (at one time I had 6 full points cards at one of them — no wonder they greet me so enthusiastically…LOL), I meet new people in the classes I take — many of them young women, and I am now the lucky participant in a knitting group of smart, thoughtful, fun women who knit, laugh, (small g) gossip, comment on current events, and learn together.

And so I proudly declare, I am a knitter…a very happy knitter.

There are only two things to be sure of…and this is one of them

11 02 2015

Death and taxes…the two things that we can be sure of. I don’t have much to say about taxes, but I’ve become very conscious of death these past few weeks. I suppose that’s a natural result of crossing the big 7-0 threshold, and because I just had my will redone due to my move to BC, but it’s also because death has been in the news lately. The Supreme Court has ruled that the medical profession can assist in a patient’s death under certain circumstances. While the ruling is fraught with dire possibilities, after thinking about it for a while, on many levels, this decision makes good sense to me and, rather strangely, provides some comfort.

I will, of course, die some day. I’ve had two heart operations and have experienced other health issues so my chances of an earlier than normal death may be heightened. I don’t really fear death but I do resent the thought of not being alive. I love life, even on the days that I’d rather crawl under the covers and disappear for a while. I love being involved in the lives of my friends and family and will hate not knowing how their story evolves. But I will die and the thought that I have some control over the circumstances of my death, should my life be filled with unbearable pain with no possible end to its unremitting horror, then I would want to be able to die peacefully surrounded by my family, and supported by my physician.

At present, of course, a patient or family designate under certain circumstances.can leave orders not to resuscitate a terminally ill loved one while in hospital. I came face to face with this terrible decision when my mother became extremely ill and had several small strokes following a massive stroke and was taken to hospital. I was teaching and was called to the school office by the principal to take a call from the doctor in charge of my mother’s care while in hospital. He introduced himself and then bluntly asked, if your mother has another stroke, do you want us to resuscitate her? I was totally taken aback as I had no idea that this kind of decision would be mine. I told him that I’d never had this discussion with my mother and would have to think about it. My first impulse was to say, of course — resuscitate her, keep her alive as long as possible. But what does it mean to be alive? My mom, who had always been on the go, enjoyed her friends and children so much, who was active in her church and was a part of my life every day, had been wheelchair bound and in a nursing home for about three years following a massive stroke. She depended on others for almost everything and seemed withdrawn much of the time but was always happy to visit with me almost every day as I stopped by on my way home after work. She didn’t socialize much with others in the nursing home but loved seeing her friends from church. Her life, as far as I could tell, was bearable. However, after she was admitted to hospital, her ability to interact became more limited. At first, she was able to converse but that ability lessened after each small stroke. It was after one of these strokes that the doctor called me. As it turned out, mom had a conversation with the nurse and made the decision for me. She did not want to be resuscitated and, as painful as this was, it was the right decision for her.

Finally, after months in the hospital, my visits with mom consisted of spending most of our time together adjusting her pillow. She would become quite agitated and pull her pillow back and forth behind her until it landed on the floor. I would pick it up and adjust it carefully, she would relax for a moment and then the whole process would begin again. I would try to chat with her but had no sense that she comprehended what I was saying, nor did she initiate any conversation. Was this sufficient reason not to resuscitate? She died following another massive stroke and her DNR order allowed her to pass away peacefully and in no pain.

It seems to me that the Supreme Court decision is an extension of the decision not to resuscitate that we already have available to us. According to The Globe and Mail, “The Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling says physician-assisted suicide should be available to a competent adult who ‘clearly consents to the termination of life and has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.'” This leaves many questions that will need to be addressed by the government and arbitrated through case law, but for one woman, speaking on CBC, whose husband had ALS, the lack of such a law meant that, having made the decision to end his life before the disease had robbed him of all that could be described as a life of some dignity, he had to end his life earlier than he might have chosen as he needed to be physically able to take care of the necessary details himself, and he had to die alone as he could not involve others in his death as they could be held legally liable. For her, the Supreme Court decision was too late for her circumstances but was something she celebrated.

When I was preparing my will, I asked that my family ensure that no heroic efforts be made to continue my life should I be robbed of a sufficient quality of life to ensure dignity and a level of comfort that was tolerable. Although I’ve never been close to having to think about these issues in any imminent sense, I recall the unbearable pain I experienced when a huge bruise bubbled up on my leg. How would I deal with this level of pain if I knew there was not going to be an end to it? I don’t know but I do know that the Supreme Court decision opens up possibilities that are a double edged sword that must be approached with a commitment to honouring life while enabling each one of us to consider deeply when our life should end. What that will look like is a conversation we need to have with our loved ones and as a community of care.


Try a little tenderness…

16 06 2014

Yesterday, while helping my daughter, Melissa, move to her new apartment, a lawn chair that I was carrying unfolded unexpectedly and the aluminum tubing bumped my lower leg. It wasn’t a hard enough bump to notice much and I simply refolded it and kept on going. I’d forgotten about it by the time I’d taken the elevator to her floor. Later in the day, my leg felt a bit irritated and, when I checked it out, I found a small bruise that was sore to the touch. There was still some work we wanted to get done so kept at it for about another hour and by that time, the bruise was about the size of an egg and very sore. As we relaxed at home after a busy day, my leg began to throb and soon became unbearably painful. No longer able to hold back my tears, Melissa became alarmed and called the online nurse who suggested that I call an ambulance. By this time, I would have done just about anything to make the pain stop. My bruise, now the size of a goose egg, felt exactly like my thumb had felt when I slammed the car door on it many years ago — only this time the pain was spread over a much larger area.

The ambulance medics were very careful and were clearly worried about the size of the bruise and its location just below the knee and toward my inner calf on the shin area. On our ride to the hospital, the older medic rode in the back with me and explained to me that the excruciating pain was because the blood in the bruise was tightly compressed in that spot on my leg so it was setting off nerves in a pain response. I think he was trying to distract me and, in his own way, comfort me.

When we arrived at the hospital, the medics gently rolled me into the triage area where the triage nurse did everything but roll her eyes at me as she tried to tell me that this kind of bruise was what I should expect as someone on Warfarin. She ordered a wheelchair for me which set off a new wave of excruciating pain as there was no way to keep my leg elevated. I was in despair as I truly felt that I would not be able to deal with the pain much longer. The older medic leaned over and whispered in my ear, “we are going to get a second opinion” and simply wheeled me into the treatment area and got a nurse and doctor to look at me immediately. They soon had me in a cot, foot elevated by a soft pillow and gave me a pill containing a modified form of morphine. My pain began to diminish enough that I could bear it as long as I didn’t move my leg at all. Then things got worse.

Within about 15 minutes I began to experience waves of pain that felt like my leg was burning. It was excruciating — the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my life. I tried to be stoic and quiet but I couldn’t help moaning at the worst of the pain. My original nurse never came back to check on my pain levels and, although Melissa tried to comfort me, it was clear I was in agony to anyone who took the time to look. Finally another nurse who was stationed across from my cubicle came over to check on me. When she realized how much pain I was experiencing, she said, “I’m such a wuss but I can’t stand to see a patient in this much pain.” She immediately inserted a line and began direct injection of the morphine drug. I finally had some merciful relief.  In the meantime, my original nurse came by with more pills but when told they hadn’t touched the pain, shrugged and said that the other nurse might as well try a line. Ummm…yeah!

Things could have been so different. If I didn’t have a medic who was compassionate enough to break protocol to seek another opinion or if the nurse hadn’t intervened when my assigned nurse wasn’t willing to act on my behalf, I’m not sure what would have happened. In this world of standardized efficiency and cost cutting protocols based on quantified probabilities, so many are suffering in unimaginable ways because overworked staff follow the rules rather than take the time to get to know and then meet the needs of those they are serving. I’m thinking of the children who are made to feel “less than” because they aren’t the “standard” middle class student with supportive parents and sufficient food and shelter to ensure he or she arrives at school prepared to learn. Increasingly, children who are not being taught in their first language or who carry the trauma of war and/or extreme hunger find themselves being tested by culturally inappropriate “standardized” tests. First Nations students whose learning needs are so poorly met, immigrant children, children with disabilities in classrooms with more and more students and less and less support staff. Busy teachers, stressed parents, and the suffering mounts.

In the absence of systemic change, we can only hope that these children will find their medic who ignores protocol or their nurse who is a “wuss” in the face of someone else’s suffering and then acts despite standardized protocols. My leg is slowly healing — my hope is that the children in our schools will find a place of tenderness and healing as well.




Some of the Reasons I Love Victoria

5 05 2014


There are the obvious reasons to love Victoria — a pretty harbour, the ocean, tea at the Empress, Butchart Gardens and all the lovely sights that attract tourists, but I love it for reasons that may not be obvious to many tourists. I love Victoria because of its daily surprises that make me laugh, make me catch my breath, or cause me to sigh in contentment. None of them are that extraordinary but they have the cumulative power to delight. Today, for example, I was driving near Dallas Road that runs along the ocean for several miles and was delighted by a thin layer of fog that was creeping up over the sea wall and swirling around the feet of people walking along the pathway and scuttling across the road in long white fingers. It danced and swirled and was a beautiful surprise on a rather grey day.

I love the fact that flowers can be found almost all year long but in the spring the city almost literally explodes with colour. Azaleas and lilacs and rhododendrons (couldn’t someone have come up with a more beautiful name for this lush delight?), and tulips and especially the cherry blossoms and plum blossoms and apple blossoms that fill the sky with frothy pink and white blossoms. I love the pink snow that covers the walkways and curbsides as the blossoms give way to green leaves.

I love that the city is full of quirky and interesting people — the old guy that walks around in all kinds of weather with really short shorts and a winter jacket, looking for all the world like he forgot to put on his pants that morning and the woman who pedals her bike with her multicoloured skirt blowing behind her and her big hat held on her head with a sensible bike helmet, and the old women with their grocery trundles, and the man in a motorized  wheelchair who is a regular at the coffee shops in Cook Street Village who is greeted warmly by the staff who bring over his coffee which he enjoys while reading his kindle. I love that almost invariably, when you stop to let a pedestrian cross the street, they will nod and mouth thank you to you for doing so, even though it is their right to cross the street. I love that many people stop and say thank you to the bus driver before getting off the bus. And I love the bustle of old and young people and their dogs and babies in the Village.

I love that when I go to the rec centre, there are people there using walkers and canes, the in-betweenerss like me, and the seriously fit all coexisting and getting on with whatever is going to make us feel healthy and well. I love that I can go for a walk any day of the year and that if it snows it will likely be gone in a couple of days so it’s kind of exciting while it lasts. I love the fact that it’s difficult to find a restaurant that has unhealthy food. I love that every trades person and repairman I’ve encountered is polite and kind and usually on time. I love the concerts in the summer at Butchart Gardens and the merry forest of umbrellas that spring up if it rains.I love taking the drive along Dallas Road and Beach Drive — especially at sunset — or joining the legions of walkers and runners enjoying the long pathway by the sea. I love the silvery water with sailboats in the distance when I walk at Willows Beach. I love the sun pouring into my patio garden and the fat raccoons that waddle through at times. I love seeing a peacock or two or three strolling down my street — fugitives from Beacon Hill Park. I love the deer standing at the corner in Oak Bay (although the residents aren’t too keen) as though they’re going for a stroll and waiting to cross the street.

I love the incredibly creamy, smooth, yummy soft ice cream cones at the Beacon Hill Drive-in. I love the quirky fairy tale houses  and the haphazard streets and lane ways filled with flowers and bicycles in James Bay. I love the sound of the horses clip-clopping by as they pull tourists in old-fashioned carriages through the park and around James Bay and Fairfield. I love the sound of a lone bagpiper who practices in the park and the squeals of children from a distance in the playground.  I love the baristas at Bubby”s Kitchen who know how to make a great low fat latte. I love Munro’s Books with its heady smell of old and new books in its beautiful old interior. And I love that drivers are mindful of bikes and pedestrians and make an effort to coexist with one another. I love that I live here and am able to enjoy this magical place every day. I am blessed.


It’s paying off…

4 08 2013


Since my sabbatical year in 2011/12 I’ve been working on several wellness issues including my diet and exercise. At times, my progress hasn’t been what I wanted it to be, but I have lost 60 pounds and counting, have learned how to eat food that is both healthy and delicious (they are not mutually exclusive), and tentatively embarked on a fitness program.

It’s almost embarrassing to admit — no, it’s really embarrassing to admit — that when I began this journey, I would think twice about going to the end of the long hall in my building to get my mail, walking to the pharmacy a block away was a big deal, and bending down to tie my runners was a challenge. I started off slowly by joining a pole walking group. (Yes, I’ve heard all the jokes about pole dancing…LOL). After learning the technique, we would set off to walk the promenade at Willows Beach — about 4 blocks long. Fortunately there were benches spaced strategically along the route and we enjoyed every one of them. My friend Lynne had a good excuse as she was about to have knee surgery but I was just plain completely out of shape. Slowly we would stop at every second bench, then every third until we could walk the whole distance, take a break and walk back again. Next we tried the Gorge walkway which is about a mile long. We took breaks and did the slopes up and down fairly gingerly but we did it and eventually we could do the 2 km route fairly handily.

In addition to the walking, I also worked with a great trainer at Vibes Fitness who took me from barely able to get up on the machine to working out with greater strength and endurance. I also did Aquafit but fairly sporadically as I kept getting terrible sores on my legs from various attempts to learn how to ride a bike. That activity was sadly taken off the list but a trike is still in my future.

By the end of my sabbatical year, I was doing pretty well — if I were an eighty year old, out of shape woman — but not for someone my age and I was kind of frustrated. I was grateful for the positive changes that had occurred but knew I needed a whole lot more fitness if I was going to be able to really enjoy my life on the island.

After my stint teaching in the Fall term 2012, I returned to Victoria and sought a more rigorous program that would bring me to the next level of fitness. I signed up for the Saanich Rec Centre programs and loved the centres — they’re really well equipped, they cater to all ages and stages of fitness, and they are bright and clean and kind of inspiring. I then decided to work with a trainer and signed up but had to have a form signed off by my physician. It was gruelling getting that d$%&n form signed. My own doc was away on paternity leave and his locum would not sign the form permitting me to work out with a trainer. I could have gone and worked out until I collapsed on the floor on my own, but working out with a trainer was considered dangerous?…go figure! Given my medical history I can sort of understand but one of the best antidotes to heart disease is healthy changes in diet and increased exercise. I tried three different times to convince her that I would not keel over at the gym but she wouldn’t budge. Finally my own doc came back and I talked him into signing it…yay!!!

My trainer is Cheryl. She’s perky, fun, knows her stuff, endlessly patient, and is not a twenty year old who can’t imagine what it’s like to be in your sixties and overweight. I expected her to show me how to use the machines and bark out some orders to keep me at it and that would be my session. It turned out that she had quite a different philosophy for fitness training — provide me with the understanding, knowledge, and skills to work out my own fitness. I learned not only what to do but why and how I could extend exercises as my skill level increased. She sent me pictures and notes for various exercises because most of them I could do at home. I ended up getting weights, a step, half pipes, tubing, a ball and various other pieces of equipment that make my exercise program possible at home and, unlike some big bulky machine, can be hidden away at a moment’s notice if guests drop by. She even gave me a set of exercises specifically for the office that will allow me to complete part of my exercise program while attending meetings (although I may look a little odd at times. I mean, you try doing a butt squeeze without anyone noticing:-))

Cheryl also recommended a great therapeutic massage therapist who has made a huge difference in ways I’m not sure I could even explain. For example, my hips don’t hurt if I take a long step and my back no longer twinges after a good strong cardio workout. It’s like magic…

Okay…so what’s happened as a result of all of this work (and it has been work at times although I can honestly say that I enjoy it now) and massage therapy? Well, today my daughter and I went to Saltspring Island. It’s a holiday weekend so there was a crowd everywhere on this charming hippie island. We walked all over the place and my feet didn’t hurt, we stepped down and up some pretty challenging steps and I didn’t need Melissa’s arm to maintain my balance and my knees didn’t hurt nearly as much. I didn’t take any extra medication to help with joint pain during or at the end of the day. In fact, when I got home, I stood for about 45 minutes straight while prepping my dinner — something I would not have been able to do in the past because my right ankle and knees would have been throbbing and my back would have been too sore. My legs don’t swell nearly as much (a problem that is the result of my heart issues) and are not tender to the touch any more. Like I said…magic!

I know these improvements are baby steps in many ways, but they are steps in a direction I never thought I’d be moving. My goal for this academic year (I still think of September as the beginning of the year) is to increase my endurance walking, continue to pursue good nutritional, heart-healthy eating habits, lose more weight (20 by Christmas I hope), and continue to exercise so that I don’t lose what I’ve gained.

Once I get back to Victoria after teaching at U of A this Fall, I’ll step up my fitness program, get my tadpole trike to tool around the park and neighbourhood, and work on losing the last of the weight I want to get off this old bod. I’ve proved to myself that this is do-able and that my goals — modest for most — are just fine as they are but I can also challenge myself. I don’t have to be able to do the Ninja moves one older guy does at my gym on a wobble board, but I can learn to balance on one leg on a wobble board and walk heel to toe on a half pipe. I may not be able to take stairs two at a time, but I will be able to walk up and down stairs without stopping at each step because my knees hurt and my muscles don’t support stair climbing. And I don’t have to lift 30 pounds overhead or 50 while doing biceps and triceps, but I can move up to 3 and then 5 from 2 pounds overhead and 30-40 from 10-20 when doing biceps/triceps. And I may not do it gracefully, but I will be able to get up and down from the floor for mat exercises. It will happen with persistence and commitment. And the motivation? It comes from the way all of this effort is really paying off one small increment at a time as I work to reach my goals for a life that finally includes the wellness that is possible for me.

It will be fun to discover just how far this journey will take me but the pay off so far has been incredible!

Tulips and the meaning of life…

26 02 2013


It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog…partly because I’ve been very busy since moving to Victoria permanently, and partly because I’ve been struggling with why I blog at all. After all, there are plenty of venues for “sharing my life” with others — most of it kid of banal and self-centred. I was thinking about this when I took a picture of some beautiful tulips I bought at a local store — fresh from the fields as Victoria enjoys spring and its gardens come to life. This city is an easy one to enjoy for its beauty and ease of life — no shovelling snow all winter, sidewalks are not ice covered and the beauty of the ocean in its many winter moods is always a delight. It would be easy to be lulled into a stupor of sated hedonism in this beautiful place.

I was brought up short last night, however, after watching a You Tube video shared on Facebook by one of my students after attending a public lecture by Chris Hedges. It was an interview by Bill Moyers with Chris Hedges. Here were two men, excellent journalists and committed social activists (albeit in very different ways) talking about the meaning of faith in the midst of unbearable and ever escalating corporate greed, corruption, suffering, human and resource exploitation, and political arrogance and ineptitude. The question was asked of Hedges, how can your faith exist in such a world and what I took from his response has set me on a path of reflection that I suspect is only beginning.

The context — I grew up in an evangelical Christian home and became a pastor’s wife, but could never come to terms with the questions raised by what seemed to me to be significant inconsistencies within this religious culture to which I had been born. To ask questions of it was tolerated but to come to conclusions outside its ideological positions was definitely not. After a divorce and some time doing graduate work, I met the pastor of my former church in a local deli. His first words to me were, “Where are you going to church now, Janice?” Of all the questions he could have asked — how are your kids? What are you doing with yourself these days? or even the simple greeting, “Good to see you”, would have been welcome — but his inquiry revealed the positioning of those suspected to be outside his system of belief. The only way in which I could become significant again would be to reassert my acceptability by revealing my attendance at a church that signified a “return to the fold” within a sanctioned belief system. I think that was the moment in which I gave up on religion but faith — redefined over time — has remained.

Perhaps that is why I found the interview with Chris Hedges so revealing. His response was that faith is a necessary and singular call to action in the face of a monolithic evil — out of control capitalism — that has created incalculable suffering in this world. Faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” when he is arrested along with others who protested the evil actions of Goldman Sachs, it is all that remains when covering the monstrous evil of the Bosnian War, it carries him through the residue of the evil of colonialism and sexism and racism in urban ghettoes, native reservations, the detritus of homes and humans in Louisiana after the floods. Otherwise, he would give up, join the enemy, or commit suicide in the face of it all.

Many of my students (they’re not “mine” but they remain with me in so many ways) who become newly aware of the evils of sexism and racism and homophobia and colonialism and classism and ableism and…in their classes and schools and communities, feel overwhelmed. I watch some of them turn away, others become angry and accuse me of “making this up”, others are temporarily interested and then become enfolded again in the overwhelming ideologies all around them, others find something within themselves and/or in colleagues and friends to enable them to be aware, actively engage with and resist the forces that would marginalize, neglect, and destroy. And many students who have much more knowledge — both personal and academic — than I do or will, teach me so much about their own struggles against oppression and their strategies for resistance.

Now that I’m retired, I could just “enjoy the tulips” from now on. Walks by the ocean and through the park could fill my days with delight. I could ignore what I understand to be the evil in the world — defined so differently now than in my former life — and it would be so easy to do. I could justify it to myself and to others; I’m older, less sure of myself physically, slower and more forgetful. But I am deeply aware, I have more time, and I am in a community that is remarkably active around social issues. I am certainly old enough to realize that the changes that are so necessary for a more just and loving world are not likely to be enacted in my lifetime. But the spring does come, the tulips do blossom, and I hear faint echoes of the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen in children’s laughter, the gentle love between two old women, the activism of young people, the cherry blossoms that are about to burst open, and the fight for justice among Idle No More activists — despite the persistent drumbeats of war, the haunting faces of hunger, the empty rhetoric of politicians, the devastation of the oilsands and coal seams, the effects of a changing climate, and the endless greed of corporate capitalism. I am a part of that devastation — far more than I would like to admit — but I am awake to the possibilities of my choices for others and I am working on becoming wiser. That has become my expression of faith.

Don’t forget your sunscreen!

13 10 2012

ImageIt all started with a small pimple on my nose — or at least I thought that’s what it was. It was a strange one though: hard and in a quarter moon shape. For several months, we both left each other alone and then it began to change. It would bleed, scab, the top would come off it, and then the cycle would begin again. Finally, I asked my doctor about it while I was in Victoria. He was so upset he hadn’t noticed it but, of course, I had done everything I could to mask it from sight with makeup so the fault was mine in not drawing his attention to it. He was concerned and immediately booked an appointment for me with a dermatologist. After several weeks, I was able to get in to see him and the biopsy came back as both basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. Had I been staying in Victoria, I would have had to wait about 8 months for surgery to remove it but, fortunately, my doctor in Edmonton, arranged for me to see Dr. Keeling for a consult on a Mohs surgery to remove it within three months of my return to Edmonton.

Dr. Keeling was great! Funny but really knew his stuff and was quite reassuring, although he did warn me that I’d likely have two black eyes following surgery — particularly because I’m on Coumadin.

On October 4 I went in for my surgery at 8.30 a.m. Rae Ann drove me — bless her — and I brought some snacks, my iPad loaded with The Big C, Season 2 (seemed appropriate, if a bit macabre) because I knew I could be there for most of the day. The Mohs surgery is done in steps — first, the surgeon removes the cancer, then tests the edges, which are mapped exactly according to location on the affected area, and tests it to check on the presence of cancer cells at the edges of the section removed. If there are any remaining, more skin, etc., is removed until the edges are free of cancer cells.

During the surgery, I felt absolutely no pain. I felt a bit of a pinch when the freezing needle was first inserted and that was it. Once the surgery was complete, I waited for my results and was thrilled to learn that all the cancer was removed on the first go. This was especially good for me because my nose is unusually small so there wasn’t a lot of “real estate”, as Dr. Keeling put it, to take away.

Given that there was no need for more removal of cells, Dr. Keeling set to work putting my nose back together again. This necessitated two cuts along the sides of my nose and one where the original cut was made. Based on his description of what he was doing, he then stretched the skin to cover up the “divot” where the cancer had been, sewed that up, then stretched the skin to the sides and sewed that up. Because I’m on Coumadin, they had to cauterize several times and then bandaged me up tightly to control the bleeding. The size of the original bandage was pretty unbelievable. Good thing Rae Ann was driving me home because I don’t think I could have seen properly around the bandaging.


As I said earlier, I was warned that there might be some bruising. Well, they were absolutely right…and then some. At first, I thought it was going to be minimal but by October 5, my face was becoming very colourful indeed. It was Thanksgiving weekend, so I drove to Calgary with Rae Ann. She dropped me off at Chris and Pauline’s and by this time I was quite a sight. I had been able to take off the huge bandage but had to keep the stitches covered with a special ointment and a gauze bandage. From each side of the bandage sprouted purple wings that covered my eyes and another set of wings that covered about half my cheeks with some trailers running down my face along my smile lines to my mouth. It looked for all the world like a huge purple butterfly had landed on my face.

ImageSince then, the bruises have gradually changed colour to red, yellow, green, and navy blue and are very slowly and gradually disappearing.

The good news is that I had my stitches taken out yesterday — October 11 — and my nose is healing up really nicely. I’ll keep the stitch marks covered with ointment for the rest of today and then I can wear makeup to hide the marks that remain until they heal up. The slight swelling will recede and my nose should look almost normal in a couple of weeks.

ImageHere’s me before the stitches were removed…


…and here’s me after. I’m looking forward to posting my picture with a completely healed nose and no bruises. Won’t be long now.

The moral of the story is…don’t forget your sunscreen!!!

My house is sold!

12 10 2012

My beautiful little hobbit house is sold and I am so relieved. More than that, I am amazed because the details of the sale are beyond perfect! So let me explain. I am retiring at the end of December so put my house up for sale right after Labour Day weekend. My concern — what would I do if I sold my house early and possession was desired before the term was over? I had a couple of plans to cover the time necessary, but it would have meant moving some of my stuff to my new location, storing the stuff I’m taking to Victoria, and then figuring out how to get rid of the rest — all while teaching, marking, and professor-ing until the end of December. It was a daunting challenge but one I thought I would have to take on.

Surprise! The buyers don’t want to close until the end of December AND they said yes to every item I offered to leave for them. The arrangements could not have been better if I had orchestrated the whole deal myself. Beyond the optimum logistics of the sale, however, is the knowledge that a family that really cares about my little place is moving in — with a baby and a grand piano! I am so happy that my home will bring a young family some joy and that they appreciate its quirky charm enough to buy it.

I’ve loved living here. The location is ideal, and  all the amenities one could possibly want are within walking distance. Biking is a definite possibility, there’s a beautiful community garden to enjoy and even plant some things in just a block away, and a play park and a pool about two blocks away. I hope the family who bought my house will enjoy it every bit as much as I did. 

Now I’m free to move to Victoria at the end of December with no extra mortgage to worry about and a whole new life ahead. I’ll be back and forth to Edmonton for the next two years though as I complete my half time post-retirement contract — so I’ll be easing on down the road to the island with chances to come back and catch up with friends and colleagues. Best of both worlds really. 

Just pinched myself — yup, this really has come together more perfectly than I could have ever dared to hope.Image


Ups and downs and in-betweens…

8 10 2012

Well, it looks like my house may be sold. Now the agonizing process of “meeting the conditions” — house inspection, condo document review, and financing. None of these conditions is particularly difficult so fingers crossed until Thursday at 9 pm and then it is officially sold — all but the paper work. The other plus in the sale is that they don’t want to take possession until December 28 so I won’t need to do an in-between move before classes and exams are over so that is such a help. By Melissa’s birthday I will be in Victoria in my own place with no other house to worry about or pay for.

I would celebrate, except that my face is just a tad too colourful these days for public display. I had to have surgery to remove a small cluster of cancer cells on the end of my nose this past Thursday. The surgery was painless and very successful and the doctor was able to patch up my nose so that it will look pretty well exactly the same when the stitches are out and it heals (too bad — I was hoping for a Nicole Kidman nose when this was all over) . Unfortunately — mostly because I’m on Coumadin — the surgery left me with not only the stitches but also bruising extraordinaire. My eyes are rimmed with purple, under my eyes is a kind of yellow and purple combination and the bruises have spread down my cheek and my smile lines. Imagine a big purple moth depositing itself on my nose with wings outspread and that’s pretty well what it looks like.

I’ve suddenly become aware of the painful emotional burden of having a disfigured face. It’s extraordinary how this kind of injury can change human interaction. People look at me rather startled, then look away as though willing themselves not to stare. For me, this is going to be all over in 2-3 weeks, but for some, this is their reality every day and it really is socially and emotionally debilitating. I’ve had to warn my classes so that they don’t think they’re walking into a one woman production of Rocky Horror Picture Show when they arrive for class this week.

In the end, both the work to prepare my house for sale and having the surgery will be worth it — it’s the in-between time waiting for the conclusion one hopes for that’s so difficult.