Sunday, May 23, 2010
Canadians honour our colonial past this weekend with a wink and a nod towards Queen Victoria on the occasion of her "official" birthday. Our May 24th long weekend is commonly referred to as the May two-four, and for many involves at least that much beer. Queen Victoria quite possibly would not have been amused.
For those who have them (I don't) Victoria Day is traditionally "open the cottage" weekend. It also triggers a mad dash to the nurseries and planting out of annual flowers: generally speaking we don't get overnight frosts in most of Canada after May 24, and this weekend has been positively balmy.
I've played a little golf Friday and Saturday with more coming up tomorrow: done the usual laundry/groceries thing: hung up some baskets of bright red geraniums but done no serious gardening at all: and lounged on the verandah with Charlie, sipping coffee and reading reams of newspaper followed up by some Joy Fielding.
("Charlie, would you like to sit on the verandah?" I ask. And Charlie picks up one of his stuffed toys -- his lamb -- and immediately trots over to the veranda door: so clever!! Lamb likes sitting on the verandah too, apparently.)
The tulips and lilacs are just about finished; there are lily-of-the valley and tall purple iris and woodruffe in bloom, all smelling wonderful, with Oriental poppies soon to come. And life is good. No blackflies! No mosquitoes!! OK, I know they're coming but -- none yet!!
I'm certainly very keen on the notable and splashy occasions, the turning-point celebrations of life -- they matter, no kidding. Our son's graduation is coming up (a small miracle), and our 31st wedding anniversary. (Bride NOT so radiant this year, which would also be a good thing.) But pretty often it's this relentlessly ordinary stuff that gives me the most pleasure, the most contentment.
Sunday, May 09, 2010
The rain on the roof which was so pleasurable Friday evening solidified into that four-letter white stuff mid-way through Saturday. And yes, my husband remained undeterred from his golf game, his foursome as dauntless as Shackleton venturing into Antarctica . . . or so they seem to believe. But he needed the electric blanket to recover last night. In May!!
That wasn't all. We woke this morning to snow on grass. Snow in among the tulips and lily-of-the-valley. Snow in the mauve lilacs. And snow smothering the deep pink flowering crabapple.
Over the course of the day the sun has come out and the temperature risen from 0 celsius to about 7 degrees. The snow is gone, the sky is bright bright blue but the wind is bone-chilling. I did not even think about attempting to swing my golf clubs . . . too traumatized, or that's my excuse.
Snow in May is, of course, completely unconscionable! Still, my mid-afternoon inspection assured me nothing appears to have been fatally damaged in the garden. The candelabra-like bud clusters on the huge chestnut trees remain unbowed. With the recovery of some warmer weather, I believe we can probably still expect our Yeats moment to happen pretty much on schedule later this week. They smell so good. That bees love them helps ensure a bumper crop of glossy conkers each fall. And up close each individual flower resembles a pink and white fringed snapdragon.
Should I mention any of this, my beloved son will simply roll his eyes and flute in what others might consider a cruelly pretentious falsetto, "Ah, the floryngia is in bloom". "Floryngia" would be his all-purpose nomenclature for whatever initiates each round of my spring ecstasy. And I tolerate it, because all things considered I am quite quite fond of him. And even I can recognize that my raptures must become rather tiresome . . .
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance? - William Butler Yeats
Saturday, May 01, 2010
A recent article in the Toronto Star says that Canadians are healthier and live longer than Americans. Here's the link if you are interested:
Like many Canadians, I'm a huge Obama fan and in particular admire his courage in advancing socialized medicine in the US. Politics is the art of the possible -- what Obama wants to do and what he has been able to do are not entirely co-extensive, but he has made a start. And of course he may pay the political price for his principles.
As a Canadian I'm well aware that many Americans believe that they have good reason to be concerned and wary about the Obama health care programme. And I don't consider that as an outsider to the American system I've any right to comment about that. ‘Il faut cultiver notre jardin.’—We must cultivate our (own) garden, said Voltaire quite properly!! However, for those Americans who do fret about these changes, the recent comparative Canadian/American statistical data reported in the Toronto Star may offer reassurance.
The Star article describes a report prepared by David Feeney, a dual American/Canadian citizen based in Portland Oregon who looked at the effects of two Canadian measures: universal health care and social programmes intended to reduce economic inequalities. Canadians pay more taxes to fund our safety nets. There is a price and we feel that pain for sure.
Apparently, however, they work.
Canadians on average live in perfect health till age 52: Americans, only until age 49.3.
Canadians on average live to age 79.7; Americans, only until age 77.2.
While we live out those longer lives, only 6 % of elderly Canadians are poor in comparison with 23% of elderly Americans.
These discrepancies are considered by experts to be statistically huge. And the stats don't change when racial differences are taken into consideration. To top it off, although Canadians do pay more taxes the cost of health care in the US is significantly higher than in Canada.
I work hard to stay healthy and to keep my family healthy. I earn a decent living and could afford to pay for our routine and basic health care myself. In fact I would be very willing to make co-payment for non-catastrophic health care proportionate to my income, as would many Canadians. Not all of us would claim that Canadians have the perfect funding model for the universal health care system we enjoy and it's likely that some tweaking will be required to keep it solvent.
Still, and despite my best efforts to keep us healthy, members of my family have from time to time required some pretty extensive health care interventions. The costs of the crisis health care we have needed could have been crippling if we had had to pay for it. And there is no question paying for it would have significantly affected my ability to support myself and my family in the past, presently and in my old age.
Voltaire would probably have approved of my work cultivating my garden this morning! It felt good snapping off those dead perennial stocks; rooting out the arching and invasive raspberry canes; bagging the debris; dragging it to the curb. While I worked, bending and yanking and clipping and heaving, I experienced my strength and health with pleasure. Surrounding me and intoxicating me was the colour and scent of dozens of pink, mauve, white and deep purple hyacinths -- naturalized from the bulbs I've enjoyed during the winter and then planted out in the fall over the past 23 years. There are clouds of pale blue forget-me-nots and dark purple violets. Lily-of-the-valley and lilacs are budding and soon to bloom.
Last spring passed in a bit of a blur as I wrestled with health stuff: this spring I'm consciously inhaling every minute. Nothing feels better than feeling healthy. But it also helps not having to worry about paying for the health care that I received unstintingly when I needed it. May need again.
So -- I'm not Canadian smug -- really not. But today I'm cultivating my garden. And feeling quietly Canadian grateful.
Friday, April 16, 2010
I was interested in a recent article in the Toronto Globe and Mail with this headline; here's the link if you'd like to read it too:
The gist of the article: many people GAIN weight when they start a running programme or are in training for a 10k or marathon or triathalon -- as much as 10 pounds or more. And for only a small number of people is the weight gain related to increased muscle mass.
Mostly, the weight gain results from people failing to realize how few additional calories they are actually burning because they're running. The average runner burns only about 420 calories for 1 hour of running at an 8-minute pace. And runners find their schedules more time-crunched than ever because they're fitting in the runs. That means less time to plan and prepare healthy foods -- chopping vegetables for salads, and so on. Plus appetite increases and they feel entitled to "grab and go" -- a handful of cookies, a sandwich (there's the 400 calories) because they are, after all, virtuously embarked upon a vigorous workout.
But, according to Joe Friel (in a different article), every pound of additional body fat causes a runner to slow by 2 seconds per mile -- 25 extra pounds means 7-8% slower runs. The lighter you are the faster you go: up to a point. Running coach Simon Whitfield says that persons who are excessively thin because of poor nutrition (about a third of female college age runners) are generally not able to sustain their running careers for long. Not to mention: every extra pound has the effect of about seven extra pounds when you're running and landing on your heels!
Moderation in all things: not a new message, but one I need to keep telling myself. After a month's hiatus (slow recovery from pneumonia, breathing difficulties) I'm back to my podrunner intervals week eight, running a steady 28 minutes after a 5 minute warmup and then a 3 minute cooldown. Using the POSE technique: rapid cadence, short stride, landing mid-foot, vertical posture --and it still looks dorky but is beginning to feel more instinctive. Remembering to stretch after the run. And I've got right back into my strength training too, with attention to the lower body hip flexors, quads and hamstrings to stablize the knee joints and hip joints. No injuries so far: yay!! Plus I've been out on the golf course as much as possible . . . my 'cross training" on non-running days.
When I was running 10 k some 15 years ago, I forgot about the strength training, ran every day, landed heavily on my heels with a long stride, and weighed at least 20 pounds more than I do now. Blew out my hip and knee joints. And I'm determined not to do that again. Gotta stay light so that I CAN run: and not expect that my tentative return to running justifies eating more.
Which is tough. Because: I'm hungry!! But: I'm runing because I really love to run. And there's no way I want to let running make me fat.
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