Saturday, November 8, 2014

On getting inked

When I was in university, it seemed like every other week, another one of my friends was coming into the campus bar with a tattoo.

I wanted one too. The trouble was, I didn't know what I wanted. Until one day, a close friend of mine grabbed my notebook and spelled out my name in Arabic cursive:


I don't speak or read or understand Arabic. But 19-year-old-me thought it was one of the most beautiful things that I had ever seen. I just knew this was going to be my tattoo.

Until a few days later, a classmate spotted my notebook and said, "Fetus?"

"Excuse me?" I said.

"That word," he said, pointing to the cursive. "It means fetus."

"No it doesn't," I said, as though I was suddenly an Arabic linguist. "It's my name."

"Maybe," he said, "if your name is fetus."

"My name is Jeannine," I said. "NOT fetus."

"Well," he said. "that says jea-nay-na. Which means fetus."

Well shit, I thought to myself. Good thing I found that out before I got it tattooed on my hip.

The experience of almost permanently marking my body with something that I didn't entirely think through and that I would have surely regretted left me feeling pretty gun shy about the whole getting-a-tattoo idea. I still wanted one. But I needed to be sure I was telling the right story. You know, not one about fetuses.

My story started to come together in 2006, when I decided to enter a competitive bodybuilding competition. This was, and always will be, one of the most difficult things that I have ever done. From twice-a-day everyday cardio sessions, to gruelling weight lifting sessions followed by gruelling posing sessions, to a steady diet of plain tuna from a can, to steadily increasing carb deprivation, to a pulled groin that haunts me to this day, to pre-show dehydration, it was 16 weeks of pure hell. Not to mention that I had to completely give up wine.

But as hard as it was, and as miserable as it made me (and Hubby for having to deal with me), I stuck with it until the bitter end. And I got on that stage. And I posed my sore, tired ass off.

And I got second place in Eastern Canada.

And I'm not going to lie. I'm pretty damn proud of that. Even though I cried a lot when I didn't get first place.

Hubby was pretty damn proud too. Which is why he surprised me with the gift of a session with a professional photographer. This was doubly nice, because let's face it, I'm never going to have a visible 6-pack again.

Of the 90-or-so photos that I got back from the session, this one is my favourite:


Something about the neutral, almost vulnerable, expression on my face, juxtaposed against a chiseled back and bicep (that I no longer have) made me fall instantly in love with the soft edginess of this photo. To this day, every time I look at it, two words come to mind: strength and femininity.

And that was what I wanted my tattoo to capture. Except that I had no idea how.

Until last New Year's Eve.

Fergus and I were in the Arboretum when we met another border collie. The puppies played together while we humans chatted and walked along together. Through the course of our conversation, I discovered that he was a tattoo artist. I've never met a tattoo artist before. So as ridiculous as this sounds, it felt like a sign. That 2014 was the year I would finally get my tattoo. By the time we left the Arboretum and went our separate ways, I'd taken down his name and the name of his studio, and I vowed to give him a call to talk about a tattoo.

About a month later, I dreamt about that tattoo. In my dream, the lyrics to Thunder Road were recited over and over and over again. When I woke up, I knew that I had the rest of my story. Because Thunder Road isn't just my favourite song of all time. It is the song to which I walked down the aisle on the day that I married my best friend. The man who supports me through it all. Even when I'm a carb-deprived, bodybuilding basket case.

The next day, I called the tattoo studio and booked a consult. I brought the picture above, as well as photos of the car that Springsteen drove when he wrote Thunder Road (because the last lines of the song urge Mary to climb into his car so they can leave their "town full of losers"), and some of storm clouds over the desert. And we talked. About strength and femininity on the one hand, and about escaping and love on the other. And could we marry the two concepts somehow.

This is what he came up with:


I had no words when I saw it. In part because I wasn't expecting the "me" to be so prominent. In part because I had a cheesy vision of a car driving off into the desert storm. But as I spent more and more time with it, I fell in love with it. The intricate details of the car. The mythical quality to the female figure. Her hair blowing in the wind of a storm. It didn't match the picture in my non-artist's mind. It was infinitely better. We made some minor adjustments, to make "me" recede a little more into the storm clouds. And then I spent two and a half hours straddling a chair, as I lost my tattoo cherry.

(In case you're wondering, it doesn't hurt so much as it is annoying. In what I imagine to be a Chinese water torture kind of a way).

This was the result:

Fresh off the chair - with a little bit of blood

The next day

Believe me when I tell you that pictures do not do it justice. And the more I look at it, the more I see that even though it is another person's interpretation, it a perfect reflection of the story I wanted to tell. My love for my husband (and maybe a little of my love for Bruce) in the picture of our wedding song. Strength and femininity in the image of the "Thunder goddess" hovering over the desert sky. Two seemingly distinct concepts that I never would have imagined together, making a piece of art more perfect than I could have hoped for.

I am so proud to wear this masterpiece on my back. Thank you to Glen and Barnstormer Studio, for a tattoo that was well worth the 20-year wait.

And thank you Fergus for finding the only other border collie in the Arboretum last New Year's Eve. Had you not insisted on harassing that poor dog for his stick, Glen and I would have never met. And I'd still be trying to figure out how to tell this story.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Ultimate Sacrifice

The Sargent-at-Arms receives a 4 minute standing ovation when he enters the House of Commons. As Members of Parliament sing O Canada, a single tear falls down his cheek. 

"You are so loved", the words repeated over and over to Corporal Nathan Cirillo by civilian Barbara Winters, who rushed to his aid once shots were fired so that she could administer CPR alongside other like-minded civilians, as he clung to life. 

Corporal Cirillo's dogs peeking under his fence, which has become a makeshift memorial, waiting for their master to come home. 

These are the words and the images that are stuck in my mind on this day. The day after.

The day after the young, strong, beautiful Corporal Nathan Cirillo, reservist of the Argyle Sutherland Highlanders, was killed in cold blood. He has performing an act so sacred that it is enshrined in our National Anthem - "stand[ing] on guard" for our national treasure - and the memory of the brave men and women who have served in our country's name - that is the National War Memorial. 

Mere seconds later, the gunman rushed to Parliament Hill, where Members of Parliament were gathered in their respective caucus meetings. They heard shouting and gunfire in the Hall of Honour. They took cover under tables and chairs and in closets. They had no idea who or what was waiting outside those doors. They were scared. Some of them prayed. 

It finally ended moments later when Kevin Vickers, the very brave Sargent-at-Arms of the House of Commons, shot the gunman. Just outside the doors of the Library of Parliament. 

My Library of Parliament. Your Library of Parliament. Our Library of Parliament. 

Our Hall of Honour. 

Our Parliament Hill. 

Our National War Memorial. 

Our Ottawa, and our Canada. That in less than 2 minutes, someone tried very hard to take away from us. 

The view outside my office window
from Langevin block
Parliament Hill means something different to everyone. Many of us see it for the first time as tourists, and are excited by the chance to see the city from atop the Peace Tower. Some of us think of it as merely a place where politicians scream at each other from across the way. Many of us view it as a symbol of our democracy. 

Here's what it means to me. 

I love Parliament Hill. I burst with pride when I tell people that this beautiful place was my "office" for four years. First as a page in the Senate, where I had the privilege of standing in the Hall of Honour to greet Nelson Mandela during his state visit in 1998. Then as an MPs assistant, in a tiny office tucked away just below the House of Commons. Even once I became a public servant, my office in Langevin building had a clear view of Parliament Hill. Once every week, my colleagues and I would walk across Wellington, up the Hill, into Centre Block and into the Cabinet room just outside the Prime Minister's Office. I can't describe that feeling of privilege that comes from serving your country. Even now, years removed from working on the Hill, the Peace Tower takes my breath away. Every time I run along the Quebec side of the river and catch a glimpse of the sun rising over the Library of Parliament, my heart skips a beat. 

The Peace Tower pokes through the fog
on an early morning run
And just off to the East of Parliament Hill stands the National War Memorial. With that beautiful guardian angel watching over our fallen soldiers. With the tomb of the unknown soldier at her feet. A place where thousands of Ottawans gather every November 11th to honour the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform throughout this last century. A list to which Corporal Cirillo's name is now added. As well as Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent's, struck and killed in a hit-and-run attack in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu a mere two days previous. 

These places are so much more to me than monuments. They are so much more than representations of democracy and freedom. They are democracy and freedom. They are my country. They are my city. They are me. 

The National War Memorial to the right as I stand with my
fellow citizens on Remembrance Day to honour the fallen
As the capital went on lockdown yesterday, I was about 3km removed from the sheer terror of that 2 minutes. But I felt it deep within me. I felt it as I thought of all of the many friends of mine who still work on the Hill or in offices that overlook the War Memorial - close enough to see and hear the tragedy. I felt it as I thought of the childcare workers in the Parliament Hill daycare, who worked to keep the children calm during a 10+hour lockdown. I felt it as initial reports indicated that there may be a second and even a third shooter running free.

But I also felt love. As my 17-year-old niece texted me to ask "Auntie, are you guys okay?" followed by an onslaught of texts and Facebook messages from other friends and family. As one of my colleagues at work shared her lunch with me because I had not brought my own and could not leave our building in lock-down. As reports of the various acts of heroism began to trickle in. Like those civilians who did not know whether or not there was another shooter but who ran to Corporal Cirillo's side nonetheless to revive him. And the Sargent-at-Arms who, while wearing his ceremonial uniform, retrieved his weapon and led the charge of RCMP officers to contain the shooter. As the Pittsburg Penguins lit up the ice with a red maple leaf and sang our national anthem, even though they were not playing a Canadian team. 

The National War Memorial on Remembrance Day
These acts - some small and some indescribably big - are those moments of humanity that are hidden within the darkest of terrors. And they are what I want to remember the most about the past hours.

In the aftermath of an event like this, many will say, "I never thought it could happen here." I am not one of those people. After 9/11, after subway bombings in various European cities, after the death of the London soldier by machete, we know that this can happen. Even here. Even in sleepy Ottawa. And we as a nation have made the conscious choice - and I believe with all of my being that it is the right and only choice - not to lock up our national treasures. Because they belong to us. Because they can hardly be symbols of democracy and freedom if we can't access them. But in making that decision, we must also accept that it can happen here. Indeed, now we know that it can.

Thankfully, the Corporal Cirillo's, the Warrant Officer Vincent's and the Kevin Vickers of this world have agreed, through the jobs that they do day in and day out, to protect our national treasures. And in so doing, they protect and serve us. They sacrifice themselves so that Fergus and I can run by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or up Parliament Hill. So that thousands can gather in front of the War Memorial every November 11. So that Moms and Dads can visit Ottawa and bring their children to the top of the Peace Tower. So that Members of Parliament can debate the issues of our times. 

God bless the men and women who dedicate their lives to making sure that we are free to enjoy all that it means to be Canadian. Including our national monuments. May we never take for granted the burdens that you carry so that we do not have to live in fear. 

My heart overflows with love. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

"We are the (B-side) champions, my friends!"

Some of my earliest - and fondest - memories are of playing baseball.

I must have been really young - like 3 or so - when my Dad first taught me how to swing a bat. He bought me this big red plastic bat and a plastic ball, and while Mom stayed home with my napping baby sister, he took me out to the park to practice my swing. Over and over again, from only a few feet away, he would lob that plastic ball at me until I finally figured out how to make contact. The most memorable batting practice was the day I cracked the ball right between his legs. He fell like a tonne of bricks, in obvious pain but delighted nonetheless that he had sired a little slugger.

From that day forward, he stood a little further back when he pitched the ball to me...

I've been playing baseball ever since. Dad enrolled me in fastpitch when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade. Throughout junior high, I dabbled as a windmill pitcher before moving over to first base. (I've always been better at catching a ball than throwing one accurately). I played in a league right up until the day I graduated from high school. During most of my university years, I was too busy drinking at the campus bar and playing euchre to play ball. But I missed it. So when the opportunity came up to join a softball league the summer after I graduated, I jumped at it. It was a super small Thursday night league, with only 5 or 6 teams. But it was better than nothing. And it felt great to get back out there, even though I was rather overweight and out of shape at the time...

The next summer, I was a little leaner and I had quit smoking. And I was asked to join the Parliament Hill Softball League. I agreed to join the team as long as I could play first base. The captain told me I had to earn the position. Which meant I had to be able to catch the bullet-fast throws from the short stop. So he "let me" play first base my first time out.

That was 16 years ago. 16 years and a couple of iterations of the team later, I am still playing first base in the Parliament Hill Softball League. Every Friday night. (Well, unless the Ottawa Redblacks are playing at home. I am a season ticket holder, after all...)

This year's iteration of the team is the Forbes Beauty Co. Nailers, so named because we are sponsored by the best boutique spa in all of Ottawa, Forbes Beauty Co in the ever-trendy Hintonburg 'hood. (Check her out on Twitter @FBCspa). She's the best sponsor ever because she gave us hot pink shirts. Our boys look particularly smashing in hot pink! (#realmenwearpink)

She is also a good luck charm. Because this past weekend, we played in our softball tournament. And we won! Woooooooohoooooooo!!!!

Okay, so we won the B-side of the league tournament. The "Best of the Worst", as we like to call ourselves. But still. We had to win 4 games, in a row, to get there. And we never win 4 games in a row. So who cares if it is the B-side! We won! And there was a trophy! And we drank beer our of it!

#realmenwearpink! Before we went on our winning streak!

"We are the (B-side) champions, my friends!" Taking home the (B-side) trophy!

I am super proud of us for pulling this off.

I am proud because we played through a freezing cold downpour on Saturday, making the field a soupy, quick-sandy mess.

Look at that infield. Yuck!

A girl gets dirty playing first base on a day like this. My leg after diving (or maybe tripping) while making a play.

These cleats weigh 5lbs more than they did on Friday, and I am sure they will never be clean again...

I am proud because despite the shitty conditions, we had fun!

video

Me, my second baseman and my shortstop. Just a little dirty...

I am proud because we frankly don't have such a great record, yet we found a way to pull off the wins anyway, and when it mattered, we all played our best damn softball!

I love Friday night softball. And I love my teammates. I am hard pressed to think of a better or more fun-loving group to spend my summer Friday nights with!

So what the hell am I going to do with my Friday nights now that the season is over? Probably mope around a little until I figure out something else to keep me busy.

And start planning for next year. Because we have a title to defend!

Or maybe, just maybe, we'll win the A-side....

Here's to you, Forbes Beauty Co. Nailers! #bestoftheworst #realmenwearpink #bestdamnpeopletospendmyFridaynightswith

See you back on the diamond in May!

Victory tastes good!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

For shame...

When I was a teenage girl, my bedroom was wallpapered with posters of all the stars that I loved most. The list is more than a little embarrassing. I mean, it includes the New Kids on the Block and Kirk Cameron... You know, the regular crew that appeared in all of those teeny-bopper magazines back in the 80s. But it also includes professional athletes. Like World Series winning David Justice of the Atlanta Braves and the forward-who-once-had-the-hardest-slapshot-in-the-NHL, Stéphane Richer of the Montreal Canadians. Okay, also a little embarrassing... But my point is that I didn't just idolize sitcom stars and singers. I idolized professional athletes. 

I admit it... I idolized guys like Richer and Justice partly because I thought they were cute (oh so embarrassing). But I also just really loved sports. I loved what these guys could do. I loved how talented they were. I loved how they led their teams. When they won, I won. When they lost, I lost. My life became wrapped up in their on-the-field/on-the-ice performances. As did the lives of most of my peers who idolized their own respective professional heroes. We'd gather around at recess to trade baseball and hockey cards and talk about our heroes. Because that is what they were to us young, impressionable kids. These athletes were our heroes.

Which is why I am disappointed in the NFL. No, disappointed isn't a strong enough word. Sickened, is a better one. Sickened with a healthy dose of enraged.

By now, everybody knows the story about Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens. On Feb 15, he was caught on surveillance tape dragging his fiancée out of an elevator. He admits that he hit her, and in an interview with the League and the team, at which Rice was present, she tells everyone that she provoked him and that he's actually a good guy. One month later, they get married. Following a hearing, the NFL gives Rice a 2-game suspension. Then yesterday, TMZ released full video surveillance of the entire elevator episode, so the world can now see first hand 8 vile seconds during which Rice punched his fiancé in the face - twice - causing her to fall backwards so that her head hit the handrail, knocking her out cold. He then dragged her body out of an elevator.

The NFL claims that it hadn't seen the video before making its decision on a 2-game suspension. Now that they have, they have suspended him indefinitely, and he has been released by the Baltimore Ravens.

Neither the NFL nor the team should have had to see the video before making these decisions.

And here's why. Because millions of little boys grow up watching these guys on the field, and end up wanting to be these guys both on AND off the field. And when they see their idols smacking a woman around with no repercussions, it sends them the wrong message. How does that stop the devastating cycle of violence against women? It doesn't. And the league and the franchise should have known that, even before they saw the severity of the assault.

But here's what really bothers me about it. Millions of little girls also grow up watching these guys on the field. They idolize these men. Some of them dream of ending up with a guy like that.

And some of them do.

What are we teaching our girls if one of the biggest mass producers of media for public consumption, the NFL, is condoning domestic violence through its abhorrent protection of players who hit women?

We're teaching them that it is okay to be hit. Especially if the guy doing the hitting is semi-famous and adored by throngs of fans. Especially if the guy doing the hitting has a SuperBowl ring or two. And especially if the guy doing the hitting is just so important that his team couldn't possibly live without him for more than 2 games.

The NFL and the Baltimore Ravens want us all to think that they did the right thing today by taking action against Rice and unveiling a new "policy" on domestic violence. Don't let them fool you. All they have done is sent a message that violence against women is okay. Or at least it's okay until you get caught on video.

Shame.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Scars

I have three scars along the left side of my body: one on my shoulder, one on my elbow and one on my knee. They are the result of an unfortunate rollerblading accident about 18 years or so ago... My first time ever on rollerblades. No helmet. No knee pads. No elbow pads. And no wrist pads. Stupid, I know. But I was trying to impress a boy.

Jason was his name. And to this day, whenever I catch a glimpse of one of these three scars, I think about him.

Jason was a year ahead of me in high school. Mostly, I saw him around at weekend parties - one of the guys that could buy the rest of us minors our beer and coolers (yes... I drank coolers). But I really got to know him when my then-boyfriend's sister started dating him, and the four of us would hang out together.

I remember this one time, in the middle of winter, my parents went out of town, and the three of them convinced me to have a party at the house. I wasn't much of a rule-breaker (well, except for curfew... I always blew my curfew), but they wore me down. As far as parents-are-out-of-town-high-school-parties go, it was pretty tame. By 1:00 am, everyone was gone except for the four of us. But we weren't done partying. Over and over again, we blasted She Sells Sanctuary by the Cult on my Dad's state-of-the-art stereo system, dancing, singing, and playing air-guitar around the living room, using the coffee table as an ad hoc stage. Then we all stripped down to our underwear, filled the two-man jacuzzi hot-tub in my parents' bedroom, cranked open the window, squeezed ourselves in, and smoked cigarettes and drank beer until 4 in the morning. (Mom and Dad, if you read this blog, I guess I'm busted...).

By the time of the rollerblading accident, I had been away at university for two years. I was home for a couple of weeks visiting my family and friends. Jason and I bumped into each other at the bar one night. He asked if I wanted to go rollerblading with him sometime. I didn't even own rollerblades, but I said yes. Then I drove to the closest city an hour away to buy a pair at Canadian Tire. The next day, he came to pick me up and we drove down to the beach. He was a pro on those things - skating backwards, sprinting ahead of me, turning around on a dime... I, on the other hand, was a total knob. He very patiently taught me the basics, and off we went to blade around the lake.

Everything was going great until we came to a pretty steep hill, sloping downwards. "You going to be okay going downhill?" he asked me. "Of course!" I said, not wanting him to think that I couldn't handle myself.

And then the inevitable happened. I started to pick up more and more speed. I began to panic. Jason was screaming at me, "Use your brake!". I turned my head to see where he was, and somehow swerved onto the gravel shoulder. I fell forward, skidding a few feet and scraping the hell out of myself in the process. When I picked myself up, I had three nasty gashes along the left side of my body: one on my shoulder, one on my elbow, and one on my knee.

Jason was by my side within seconds, helping me up and making sure nothing was broken. Once we had determined that I would live, we both started laughing, and he screamed out, "That was AWESOME!" Then he led me back to his truck so that I could get home and clean up my wounds (which involved a considerable amount of painful gravel extraction).

That was the last time I ever saw Jason. The next day, I hopped on a plane back to Ottawa. A year later, my parents moved away. I came back to Manitoba less and less as I got more and more busy with school and work. And when I did go home, there wasn't really a reason to drive down to Killarney. And as happened with so many of my high school friends, we didn't really stay in touch. At least not until Facebook came along.

Today, I learned that Jason passed away. Turns out that he was battling cancer. I've been gone so long that I didn't even know that.

It's true that we didn't keep in touch. And I didn't know any of the details about his life for the past two decades. Still, the rollerblading and hot tub episodes are two of my favourite memories of life with the high school gang. I've recounted these stories often throughout the years. And I've thought of Jason often too. Like every time that I look down at one of my three scars.

You had too little time on this earth, Jason. And during what time you did have, we may not have been the closest of friends. But you left an indelible mark. On my left shoulder. On my left elbow. On my left knee.

And on my whole heart.

Rest in peace, my friend.

P.S. Fuck cancer.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sexy Back on a Tuesday night in Ottawa

My 17-yr-old niece is not talking to me anymore. Because last night, I was at the JT concert. And she was not.

Now to be completely honest, I didn't even realize that JT was touring. Hell, I didn't even realize that he put out a new album. These days, I think of him more for his guest appearances on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (that #hashtag skit makes me cry every time). Plus, I'm a Springsteen fan. I live in the blue collar world of the musical anti-hero, and not in the glammed-up world of pop/R&B. Still, when the opportunity came up to see JT, I jumped on it. Cause, well, it's JT. And let's face it, ladies. He is one good-looking man!

And an extremely talented one! He can sing, he can dance, and most importantly, he can play the guitar. Is there anything in this whole wide world more attractive than a man with a guitar? I don't think so. Am I right, ladies?

Pulling out his guitar. Oh my...

Oh no, wait a minute... there is. And it's a man with an undone bow tie and a slight southern drawl who travelled across the crowd on a mechanical, elevated stage so that he could do a guitar solo of Elvis' Heartbreak Hotel.

Heartbreak Hotel cover - made me a little weak in the knees
Seriously. I. Lost. My. Mind. I was born in the 70s and raised by a mother who, like all women with a pulse at the time, was in love with Elvis. So a shoutout to the King gave me goosebumps. Not to mention that it was one hell of a classy way to acknowledge his Memphis roots. Because let's face it - without the groundbreaking musical movement that was Elvis, he wouldn't be doing what he does now.

Props also went out to Michael Jackson, with a cover of Human Nature from the Thriller album. Another album that I grew up with, and a song that I haven't heard in over 20 years. And another classy move to acknowledge the man who was undeniably at the core of the pop music movement. It just felt right that he would honour the memories of two of music's greatest who paved the way for him to do what he does.

And then, of course, there was his own stuff. Which, admittedly, I'm not all that familiar with. With the exception of the few songs that are on my running list - Sexy Back being one of the best running songs of all time. But you don't have to be familiar with it to appreciate it. Because whether you can sing along to the lyrics or not, that man puts on a show! Yes there is all the dancing and an incredible light show, but what got me about this concert was the floating stage.

The stage that "floated" across the entire crowd
Reaching out to his fans while travelling across the Canadian Tire Centre

He was right there in front of us! I'm sure he is waving at me!

A floating stage is cool - no doubt about it. But it's also a way to reach out and "touch" everyone in the crowd. To make them all feel that, no matter where they may be sitting in the stadium, they are just as important to him as those who got lucky enough to get into the first few rows on the floor. Props to you, JT, for this element, and for staying at the back for a few songs before floating back up to the main stage. You made us all feel like you wanted to be an intimate part of our experience, even if just for a minute or two as you floated across the crowd. But it was enough to make us all feel special!

And a word or two must be said about the incredibly talented musicians and performers backing him up. The Tennessee Kids are outstanding in their own rite. From the back-up vocals to the horn section to the dancers - they bring raw energy and talent to support their front man, and they have fun while doing it! Which guarantees that the crowd will have fun too.

And speaking of the crowd... Ottawa, I am proud of you. Because let's face it, this city has the reputation for being the place where fun goes to die, in part because Ottawa crowds don't stand at concerts. Worst yet, they get angry at those around them who want to stand and dance. I've even seen security haul someone out - at a Prince concert, no less - just because she wouldn't sit down. It kills me every single time. But last night, for the first time in my 20 years of concert-going in this city, you were on your feet! Every single one of you. From start to finish, the entire crowd, minus a few stragglers here and there, was up. And vibrating with energy. So very un-Ottawa! And so incredible to see. Maybe I just need to come to more pop/R&B concerts!?!?!

So yes, it was a great night. Proving once again that music is the eternal equalizer, bringing us all together to share a few hours of magic. Well worth the 45 minutes it took to get out of the Canadian Tire Centre parking lot. And well worth the seven cups more of coffee that I am going to have to drain to get through today after such a late Tuesday night.

A few more snap shots of the night:

There's only one way to experience a JT concert, and that is with your best girls! 

First glimpse of the stage 

First glimpse of the man himself

The crowd was asked to pull out their cell phones. And they did!

The light show

Monday, June 2, 2014

A non-racer's race report - Ottawa Race Weekend

On May 24-25 (yes, this blog post is late), hordes of the sweaty, the carb-loading, the hopped-up-on-electrolytes, and the wicking-fabric-and-compression-sock-clad descended on Ottawa as the city celebrated the 40th anniversary of Ottawa Race Weekend. From the 2k, 5k and 10k runs on Saturday evening to the half and full marathons on Sunday morning, 48,000 runners of all shapes, sizes, ages and skill-levels joined together to participate in the fun. 

I was NOT one of those runners. 

If you've read this post, then you know why. If you haven't, what are you waiting for? Go read it!

(Or read this recap instead:)

- I'm too non-conformist to do something that has become so mainstream;
- Some people need the throngs and a training schedule to motivate them. I'm not one of those people;  
- Going for a run is my way of having alone time, and there is nothing less alone than being surrounded by 48,000 strangers;
- The only sentient being I like to spend time with on my runs is Fergus, who is the BEST running companion. Partly because he keeps unwanted company away from me; and
- My whole athletic life is best described as one giant injury, interspersed with moments of non-injury.

So basically, I don't run marathons because I don't like people and because I have convinced myself that my TFL and my knees and my groin and my multitude of other injuries could not withstand the extra mileage without demanding payment in the form of years shaved off my running life. Which means lost time for me to do one of the things I love most in the world - go for early morning runs with Fergus. If I only have a certain number of kilometres left, then I'd rather drag them out for as long as I can. Or at least until Fergus retires his paws. Because let's face it - that furry little gong show needs his exercise or else he will drive Hubby and I to drink more than we already do! 

So THAT is why I did not join the 48,000 runners in their pursuit of the finish line. 

All of that said, I still love Ottawa Race Weekend. Because I love running. And the weekend is a celebration of all things running. It's exciting stuff! Like on Friday morning before the races began, when Fergus and I were out running along the river behind Parliament Hill and were passed by a group of elite runners out for their last "slow-and-easy" run before the marathon. I knew they were elite runners because their "slow-and-easy" pace smoked our own respectable 5:30, making it look like we were merely crawling along. Slow as they made me feel, I got all giddy thinking that I had possibly just shared the path with the soon-to-be winner of the marathon.

I also have a number of friends who run in the half- and marathon. And so, with the marathon starting at 7am on Sunday, Hubby and I got up bright and early, abandoned the ritual walk with Fergus, and made our way down to the 9-ish-km mark on the course. We wanted to make sure we would get there in time to see the elite runners blow through. And blow through they did, sometime around the 23 or 24 minute mark (I wasn't paying attention to the pace car). With their long strides and effortless breathing, they were pure poetry in motion. About 20 minutes later, the crowd of runners thickened as pace group after pace group made its way down the street, still early enough in the race that the runners were all smiles. Hubby and I saw a few of the friends we had come to see, and excitedly yelled out to them as they ran past. And we cheered for the thousands of people we didn't know, some who were clearly seasoned pros, and others who were obvious first-timers, many of them thanking the spectators as they ran by. 

The church on the corner of Fairmont and Wellington marked the 9k-ish mark

Had to round a pretty sharp corner before continuing into Hintonburg

As the crowd of runners started to whittle down, we headed home where we were greeted by a very excitable Fergus who was not at all impressed that he had not yet had his morning walk. So he and I took off to his favourite place on earth, the Arboretum. After about an hour of working out his demons by playing fetch, swimming and chasing other dogs, we started to make our way home. Except that I'd misjudged the time and our way out of the Arboretum was blocked by the half-marathoners who were now coming down the Queen Elizabeth parkway in droves. 

The high-point of the half-marathon - Queen Elizabeth Drive is FULL of runners

While I hadn't intended on it, Fergus and I made our way over to Carling Avenue where I split the next 45 minutes between keeping an eye out for friends of mine who were running the half and keeping Fergus from barking and jumping into the crowd to run along. Thanks to the liver treats I had in my pocket, he was remarkably well-behaved, even earning a few compliments from dog-loving runners as they went by. 

The half-marathoners making their way down Carling Avenue

And Fergus clearly enjoyed the atmosphere. Because when the crowd thinned enough for us to dash across the street to make our way home, he kept pulling me back towards the runners. Clearly, I'm not the only one who gets excited by race weekend in our household!

"I'm not ready to go yet! There are still lots of runners coming through here!"

So mesmerized by the runners...

We got home just in time for me to make my way down to the finish line to celebrate with a few friends who had completed the marathon, including Fergus' second favourite running companion - my neighbour, Kate - who has taken him out for a few 20+km runs while training for this race. She was positively elated, having broken the 4 hour mark and shaving over 20 minutes off her previous time to set a new PR. So off we went to a local pub for a well-deserved pint (it's tough being a supportive neighbour and spectator!)

As I sat there and listened to the runners breaking down their races, I couldn't help but be inspired by what they had accomplished. And not just them. Ottawa Race Weekend is filled with stories, big and small, about triumph. Like the fact that the winner of the marathon set not only a course record but a record on Canadian soil with his time of 2:06:54. Or the 22-year-old autistic man who ran his first marathon ever, coming in at 2:39:21 and capturing 28th place. Or the woman we saw wearing a shirt that said "Keep calm and fuck cancer" on the front and "I run for Judy" on the back. Or the runners who thank the spectators for coming out to cheer them on, as though we are the ones doing all the hard work. More than one moment and more than one story brought on goose-bumps, and maybe even a tear or two. 

And so, the real lesson here is that I might have to start leaving town on Ottawa Race Weekend. Before I get so inspired that I abandon my disdain for marathon training and jump into the fray myself. Who knows. Maybe you'll see me on the course next year. 

Cheer for me if you do, okay? 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

It's a girl!

Many couples that we know had the "Honey, I think it's time for us to have kids" conversation. We never did. We knew from the beginning that we weren't the parenting kind. That does not mean, however, that we have not had plenty of conversations about bringing life into our home. Only that we talk about bringing furry life into our home.

The issue, however, is that Hubby is a cat person, and I am a dog person. [Insert gasp here] So there was an awful lot of talking, but not a whole lot of agreeing. Here are a couple of sample conversations:

Me: "I grew up with a dog. It sure would be nice if I had one again."

Hubby: "No"

Me: "But you work long hours and I'm here all by myself. I need company!"

Hubby: "You work long hours too."

Me: "Not as long as you!"

Hubby: "That's not really true, is it?"

Me: "But I'll take care of it! You don't even have to do a thing! I'll walk it, and feed it, and pick up after it, and train it!!!"

Hubby: "No."

Me: "My friend just got a wiener dog and he's sooooo cute! Come on! Can we get a wiener dog?"

Hubby: "No."

Me: "Can we get a wiener dog? Can we get a wiener dog? Can we get a wiener dog?"

Hubby: "No. No. No."

Me: "Don't you even love me?"

[long awkward pause]

Hubby [furrowing his brow in deep concentration]: "Yes. But we're not getting a dog."

*****************

Hubby: "Let's get a cat. I grew up with them and I miss having one around."

Me: "Over my dead body."

Hubby: "They're not a lot of work, Jay. Not like that dog idea you are always going on about."

Me: "I hate cats. They're aloof. They lick themselves and then cough up fur balls everywhere. And they track their kitty-litter-soaked paws all over the house. Gross! I'm not having one here."

Hubby: "They're not that bad, Jay."

Me: "Yes. They are. They are assholes. They are just waiting for you to die so that they can eat your organs for breakfast."

Hubby: "What happened to you when you were a kid?"

Me: "Nothing. Why?"

Hubby: "You seem a little aggressive about cats. Why are you okay with the ones that we pet-sit for our friends?"

Me: "Because I know those little assholes are eventually going home."

Hubby: "You're cold, Jay."

Me: "Shhhhh..... I'm trying to watch the football game!"

*************

... and so on, and so on, and so on...

I thought I'd won the conversations would end when I finally convinced Hubby to get a dog, thanks in no small part to the crazy man running around our 'hood hitting women over the head with hammers. And as I watched the ever-deepening bond between Hubby and Fergus, I was sure we both felt that our family was complete. No more conversations about cats! Yay!

Our very first family outing, and the very first picture of Hubby and Fergus together.

Watching t.v. together

Best friends hanging out and playing in the Arboretum

But as it turns out, Mr. Fergus is also a cat person. After pet-sitting a friend's cat for a week (affectionately nicknamed Princess Kitty, but known as Sadie), we discovered that he absolutely loves having a cat around. Particularly this cat. When Sadie left, he pined over her for days and days and days on end, running up and down the stairs as he futilely searched every corner of the house for her, whining and barking the whole time. Which of course, Hubby used against me. Leading to this conversation...

Hubby: "Huh. Will you look at that. It looks like Fergus wants us to get a cat!"

Me: "Shut up."

Hubby: "Are you really going to say no to Fergus? Look at him! He's miserable and lonely. He needs a little friend around."

Me: "Shut up."

Hubby: "Really, Jay. What happened to you?"

Me: "I'm going to punch you in the face."

***********

Things only got worse for me when Sadie came to live with us for a year after her human got an excellent career opportunity in California. The deal was that she would take Sadie back when she returned to Canada. But with each passing day, Hubby became more and more used to having a cat around. And Fergus was more and more thrilled to have a constant companion and playmate (by playmate, I mean something that he could herd up and down the stairs). Even Sadie started to relax into her new setting, getting particularly attached to the F-Bomb, mewling and howling whenever he wasn't around for her to torture.

Soon, we were a mere month away from our friend's return. As the time drew nearer and nearer to sending Sadie home, I started to dread having to give her back. I worried that her departure would lead to a renewed debate about whether or not to get a cat. I worried that Fergus and Hubby would mope around the house for weeks on end. I even worried that Sadie would be a little sad without her big, dumb, high-strung friend around to mercilessly taunt.

Damn it!

And so it was that, over the Christmas holidays, Hubby and I had one more conversation about growing our family.

Me: "I don't know who will be more depressed when she is gone. You or Fergus."

Hubby: "Ahem.... Definitely Fergus."

Me: "I'm not so sure about that. You want to keep her, don't you?"

Hubby: "Ahem... ahem... Well, Fergus wants to keep her. That's for sure."

Me: "And you?"

Hubby: cough, cough, sputter, sputter "Yes."

*********

The next day, Hubby sent our dear friend a note that went something like this:
You love Sadie. And Jay and I love Fergus. I know that we all want to do what is right for our pets. They have become best friends, and I worry that separating them may not be the best thing for them. If you agree, Jay and Fergus and I have a loving home waiting for Sadie.
....

And so now, we have a cat.

I am still firmly in the dog-person camp. And I still get grossed out by her kitty-litter soaked paws. And I make Hubby clean the kitty litter because I refuse to touch it. But even I have to admit that she has weasled her way into a tiny little corner of my heart. The way she comes running to the door alongside Fergus to greet us when we come home. The way she cuddles up to me as I am doing my post-run stretching routine. The way she curls up in my lap when I'm watching t.v. or reading a book.

Fine! I admit it. I like her. And I'm glad that we adopted her into our home. She makes our little family complete.

She may be an asshole. But now she is my asshole.

Welcome home, Sadie. And thanks, JJ, for making it all possible.

Sadie has become the real boss. She gets the dog bed, the dog hides under the table.


Unless she is in a good mood. Then she will share.

I run with Fergus. But I do my post-run stretching with Sadie

A family moment - Sadie cuddled on my lap and Fergus at my feet

Hubby and his herd hanging out watching t.v.

A rare quiet moment - Sadie hunkered down for a nap. She is actually pretty cute when she sleeps.

Taking a break from chasing and swatting at each other. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Generation Y is the new Generation X

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine shared this video on her Facebook page - Kevin Bacon explaining the 80s to Millennials:


Of course, I had to watch the video. Because like all almost-40 women I know, I love Kevin Bacon. That is because like all almost-40 women I know, I grew up in the 80s. Ahhh Footloose. What girl didn't want to dance with Ren McCormack? Am I right, ladies?

Being a child of the 80s makes me more than just a Kevin Bacon fan. It makes me a member of Generation X. Which is why this video was particularly amusing. Not only did I rock the parachute pants (watch the video), but I often feel like an out-of-date Gen-Xer who appears irrelevant to the new crew of bold, tech-savvy, short-attention-spanned Generation Y. I mean, I only just figured out Twitter in the past six months!

At no time did I feel the difference between our generations so acutely as I did last weekend, when I returned to my alma mater - the University of Ottawa - as a guest judge for a 4th-year Public Administration case competition. My job was to play the role of a Minister being briefed on a matter requiring an urgent decision, while group after group of students disguised as public servants led me through a just-the-facts briefing. A policy geek's dream weekend!

Now as an alumnus of the U of O, I return to campus often enough. But every single time that I do, I am struck by the same thought: "Wow, these kids are just getting younger and younger every year."

Of course, they aren't getting younger. I am getting older. A fact which became all to clear when I introduced myself to this particular cohort as a proud alumnus of the University who started 20 years ago, prompting one girl to yell out, "Wow! I was only 1!"

Ouch!

Let me tell you. A whole lot has changed since she was 1 and I was... um... older than that. First of all, this was my computer:

Photo credit: http://www.garethjmsaunders.co.uk/pc/

It took up an awful lot of room on my desk, it crashed all the time, and it took forever to process a simple command like "save". And it wasn't even connected to the Internet. That's because the Internet was still so new in the early 90s as to render it relatively useless for anything other than email. And if I wanted to use it to check my email account, I had to go to the computer lab, an occurrence so infrequent because no one was really using email back then. We talked to each other over the phone. And by phone, I mean a land line. Or we just hung around the campus bar waiting for each other to inevitably skip class and show up.

Because the Internet was still in its pre-Google and pre-Wikipedia days, we used the library for research. I spent hour after hour combing through microfiche and journal articles. I threw my back out every two weeks from stuffing 20 hardcover history books into my backpack so that I could write my research papers. Information was never at my fingertips. It was at least a five-minute walk away.

And this is what passed for classroom technology:

Photo credit: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transparency_(projection)

That's right. A transparency projector. The professor would photocopy lecture notes onto a transparency and project them onto the wall at the front of the class for us to copy down - with a paper and pen in a notebook - during the lecture. My more "technologically savvy" calculus professor (part of my very short-lived attempt to secure a math minor) would bring clear transparencies, and write on them in "real-time" with coloured markers during the lectures. Pretty big step up from the chalkboards of high school!

Compare that to what I saw last Saturday when I walked into an undergrad classroom for the first time in almost two decades:

  • There was not one note-book, not one pen, not one paper. Save the pieces of paper that I was using to take notes so that I could evaluate the presentations.
  • Every single student had a laptop or a tablet with a keyboard. So did the professor.
  • Students used their laptops to build PowerPoint or Prezi presentations. They then hooked up their laptops to the class projector in under 30 seconds, without the help of a tech guy. 
  • There was a class projector. And it is always in the classroom. It's not special ordered from AV services for a once-in-a-while special need. It's the tool of choice for lectures.
  • During breaks, students were projecting their favourite YouTube videos, most of which seemed to be Lady Gaga videos.
  • Between presentations, when students weren't using the projector to present, they were using it to scroll through live tweets of the event, for which they created their own hashtag. And it wasn't even distracting for them to read through the tweets and listen to the feedback they were getting from the judges. Cause they are damn good at multi-tasking, those Millennials!
It all kind of blew me away. And made me feel old all over again.

It also made me think a lot about these Millennials, and the impact that they are having on public policy and public dialogue. They are often accused of being lazy, spoiled, self-serving, uncommitted, and apathetic. They don't vote. They don't trust their institutions of government. They question everything. And they don't contribute to public dialogue.

But I don't think that's true, especially now that I've spent a day with 50-or-so aspiring policy wonks. I think they are trying to find better ways to contribute to public dialogue than the traditional channels to which government clings. I think they are trying to raise legitimate questions, not because they dislike authority, but because they want to affect change. I think they are making use of social networks and forging more connections than any generation before them so that they can advance their aspirations and beliefs. And I think that they have found their identity in being able to use today's technologies and networks to solve complex social problems, and can't really understand why the rest of us aren't jumping on board.

I left that classroom feeling rather inspired. Public policy is alive and well among this younger generation. They just talk about it in different ways and on different channels. They want to find solutions to complex social problems, but they want to do it using different skills and tools than those we know and understand. And they want to forge new partnerships and new connections to help them make the world a better place.

I'm feeling pretty hopeful about the future of the public service. I hope they invite me back next year so that I can keep learning from this impressive group of Millennials.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Yah, Mon!

This morning, I was here:

Winter in the Arboretum

One week ago, I was here:

Winter in paradise

Oh what a difference one week and a four hour plane ride makes.

Welcome to the Oasis at Sunset Resort in Montego Bay Jamaica. (Admit it, you have that Bobby Bloom song in your head, don't you. You're welcome).

This is where Hubby and I recently spent seven days and seven nights, basking in glory of +30C weather. Our wee getaway from this year's polar vortex. A chance to kick back, relax, and rejuvenate.

With my entire family.

Yes, that's right. We went to Montego Bay with my entire family. Mom, Dad, sister, brother-in-law, niece, nephew, brother, sister-in-law, and us. All ten of us.

Romantic, n'est-ce pas?

Well, the truth is that Hubby and I would likely never have chosen a resort vacation if it were just the two of us anyway. Lounging around is not really our thing. Specifically, lounging around is not really Hubby's thing. I have no trouble doing as little as humanly possible for a few days. Hubby, on the other hand, goes squirrly after a couple of hours. Which is why we tend towards more active vacations.

But this particular trip was not about the two of us. It was about my Dad. And his 60th birthday. Which was actually last year. All he wanted to do was bring the whole family together for a vacation. But we failed to make it happen in 2013. So we were all bound and determined to make it happen this year. And make it happen we did.

Here are some highlights:

Running along the beach

Everywhere that I go, I bring my running shoes with me. Because there is no better way to get to know a new city than by running through it.

Except not every city has a travel advisory out stating that you should exercise a high degree of caution due to the high level of violent crime.

Gulp....

Okay. So no leaving the resort for me. No problem. Because there's a beautiful beach and a beautiful ocean right outside my cabana door.

The view of the beach from my balcony

With a view like this, who needs to leave the resort!

Well, the thing is that the resort is small. Like really small. Like really really really small. To run from one end of it to the other is less than 1km. And since I don't really consider it a workout if I get any less than 5km under my belt, it meant that I had to run back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth again across the beach and through the resort. My route looked like this:

Screen shot from my RunKeeper app

I have to tell you, it's pretty boring to run the same route over and over and over and over again. Every single day. It's almost as monotonous as running on a treadmill, something that I hate so much that I run outside during Canadian winters, even when the temperature hits -40C. The only thing that kept me going day in and day out was the knowledge that I was burning off all those sugary calories from all those pina coladas I was sucking back.

Then again, I was running along a beach instead of through slush and snow. And I did have the beach all to myself on those early morning runs. Well, almost to myself...

Goats on the beach. Of course!

There was that family of goats frolicking along the shore. But no other humans, which was kind of nice, I guess. And I did get to hop right into the ocean to cool off after each of my sunrise runs, which is a pretty spectacular way to start the day. So I guess running the same loop over and over again wasn't all bad.

Snorkelling

I don't snorkel. Something about putting a tight fitting mask over my face makes the claustrophobe inside of me get a little anxious. Plus, I'm not smart enough to figure out how to put the darn mask on in the first place...

That's me... Trying to figure out a snorkel mask. Genius.

Then again, I don't get to hang out with my eleven-year-old nephew - who I am convinced is part fish - every day. So I agreed to give snorkelling a try just for him.

I lasted all of 15 minutes. I'm not a strong swimmer, and couldn't really keep up all that well anyway. And both my mask and my snorkel kept filling up with water, making it difficult to appreciate the bounty of the sea swimming below me. So I gave up, and left the snorkelling to the pros, like my Dad. Who spent hours out there looking at the coral reef, and who never hesitated for even a second when my nephew asked, "Who wants to go snorkelling?" Thanks for saving me from having to go back out there, Dad!

As for me, well, I took up this position with Hubby:


And from our poolside perch, we could watch Dad and nephew snorkel through the bay - 2 little dots on the horizon, bobbing up and down, coming up for air every few minutes to excitedly rave about all the different types of fish they found. They were best buddies out there, and it pulled at my heart strings to see them having so much fun.

The pool

Having no children of my own, I don't usually hang out at water parks. Plus Hubby hates water. So I didn't really expect to spend all that much time on the resort's water slides.

But then that pesky nephew of mine begged me to go down the water slides with him. "Just once, Auntie!" And so off I went with him to the top of this monstrosity:


I thought I could sneak away after one or two slides. But I didn't really want to. I'd forgotten just how much fun water slides can be. Especially when you are hanging out with an eleven-year-old whose eyes are shining with excitement. And so up and down we went, over and over and over again, racing each other to the bottom of the slides and then hurrying back up the stairs for another go. He even taught me how to go super fast, by lying on my back with my arms by my side and lifting up my bum so that only my shoulders and feet were touching the slide. Less resistance equals more speed. And a bigger splash when you enter the water!

Waiting for my brother-in-law at the bottom of the slides

When we weren't tearing up and down the slides together, we were hanging out in the pool. Where my favourite thing to do was to lounge around on a tire tube.

That's me, gracefully trying to get into the tube

But my nephew's favourite game was to sneak up to me while I was lounging on said tire tube and to flip me over. So I was particularly happy to watch him get a taste of his own medicine when he and his grandpa were hanging out in the pool:

Ooops!

While I spent my fair share of time in the pool with the nephew, there is no doubt that I much preferred being outside of the pool, with my niece. Lounging on a chair, reading a book, sipping a pina colada, and taking the occasional selfie:


Now that is more like it!

A stranger, my sister, me, and Dad

Private beach

The Oasis is part of the larger Sunset Resort, and it's a bit of an upgrade to stay there. You get an a la carte restaurant for all three meals instead of a buffet. You get to stay in a cabana instead of in an apartment tower. And best of all, you get a private beach, away from the hustle and bustle of the larger resort. And away from all those people fighting over beach chairs.

We spent most of our mornings and a few of our afternoons on the private beach. And for the most part, we had it to ourselves. It was fantastic. Peace and quiet, a nice cool breeze coming off the water, and the sound of those bleating goats. The perfect place to catch up on the many books downloaded onto my Kobo.

Riveting!

Incidentally, I tried all week long to get Hubby to get into the water with me. The Bay isn't very deep and it was nice and warm. So I thought for sure I could convince him to come for a dip. But alas, this is as far as he went:


Wouldn't even take his shirt off. Have I mentioned that he hates water?

At least I got him to pose for a couple of pictures with me, even if I couldn't get him to take off that shirt:



The local craft market

One of my favourite things to do when travelling to a new place is to check out the local market. Markets are so vibrant, the heart of many a city. Whether on the streets of Lima or the cobblestone squares of Bratislava, I have spent many an hour wandering from stall to stall to stall, checking out local wares and soaking in the aromas of local foods. And so Hubby and I were thrilled to learn that we could hire a taxi to take us into town to check out the local markets. We rallied the troops and set off for a couple of hours of shopping and people watching.

What 16-year-old girl doesn't want to go shopping?

Hubby and Mom gearing up for some good deals

My brother and sister-in-law ready to spend some dough!

Now like with any market, I expected that there would be lots of vendors trying to dupe tourists into buying junk. And this one was no different. Each and every stall carried an array of identical stuff - carved wooden snappers and turtles, woven bracelets, messenger bags, photos of Bob Marley, all of which looked to have been mass produced in China. But I was not prepared for just how aggressive things got at the market. The minute the taxi pulled up and the doors opened, vendor after vendor after vendor jumped all over our group, pulling all of us in separate directions to go and see their stalls first. "My lady, my lady! Please let me show you what I have." "Sir, bring your wife over here when you are done. You promise, okay?" "I have better prices over here. You come to my stall." It was overwhelming. And I quickly learned that the preferred tactic of every vendor was to practically push you into their stall and block your exit until you bought something. A few of the ladies even offered me "free" gifts if I would buy something from them. One went as far as to tie a bracelet on my arm, despite my protestations, which I had to forcefully remove as I muscled my way out of her stall. I just didn't like it at all. By the time the taxi driver came back to pick us up, I could have hugged him, I was so happy to be taken away from there.

Hubby, on the other hand, was in his element. He's a lawyer, after all, and so arguing and negotiating are two of his favourite things. While the rest of us were getting visibly more and more frustrated, Hubby played it cool and let vendor after vendor lead him from stall to stall, looking over piles of stuff before calmly making an offer for something that caught his eye, and then even more calmly walking away when the vendor wouldn't accept his price. He had vendors chasing him across the entire market, practically throwing their wares at him for a fraction of their original prices. "Sir, sir, I can give it to you for 10$. But you can't tell anyone else that I gave you this deal. Promise me that you won't tell anyone else!"

Watching the market from the safety of my taxi

Swimming with Dolphins

Ever since she was a little girl, my niece wanted to go swimming with dolphins. So when my sister and her family booked a trip to Dolphin's Cove in Ocho Rios, I decided to tag along for some quality time with the kids.

You had the option to swim with either one or two dolphins. Sis and I chose one while my brother-in-law, the kids and Dad chose to swim with two. The big difference is that when you swim with two, you lie face down in the water and the two dolphins swim towards you, plant their noses on the balls of your feet, and push you forward and up until you "walk on the water like Jesus Christ", in the words of the dolphin trainer. We watched as my Dad and nephew took turns giving it a try, but neither one of them was lifted straight up. More like they were propelled forward until they nose-dived back into the water. But then when it was my niece's turn, up she went, like a freaking pro, arms out over her head like she'd been doing this her whole life. I screamed out loud as soon as I saw it, I was so impressed. But what really got me wasn't her acrobatic, aquamarine grace. It was her smile. Her face lit up in the biggest smile that I have ever seen. I've never seen her look quite so happy. I wish I had a picture, but there are no cameras allowed in close range, and you have to saw off your right arm to pay for those taken by the staff. So the memory of that smile will have to do.

As for my sister and I, we got paired up with dolphin Mitch, the alpha male of the herd. Mitch is the sire of five baby dolphins in the cove, all of which have five different "baby-mamas". Bit of a Casanova, is Mitch! Our swim with him consisted of treading in place and tapping the surface of the water to call him over, at which point he swims up right between your arms, you grab onto his pectoral fins, and he drags you a few metres. Belly to belly with a dolphin for a few metres. Not something I ever really expected to do in this lifetime, and probably not something I would have done were it not for those kids. So thanks, niece and nephew, for this one of a kind memory!

Can't see a thing, but this is the cove where people swim with the dolphins

SuperBowl

Who goes and books a family vacation during SuperBowl?!? Well, we do. Which had a few of us football fans worried that we would miss the big game.

Not to worry. As soon as we checked in, Hubby and I asked the resort staff if they would be showing the SuperBowl anywhere, and they assured us that there would be a big beach party, complete with traditional SuperBowl fare. But then they went a step further, and set up a private room just for our family. Two t.v.'s, our very own chili, nachos, and chicken wings, and a bartender coming in to check up on us. Talk about service!

Nice set up - just for us!

Bringing in the food!

Perfect SuperBowl food!

Now if only the game would have been a little more entertaining.

Sistas!

I always knew that there was a strong family resemblance between my sister and I. But I didn't realize just how strong it was until I was walking alongside the pool with my nephew and a lifeguard screamed out, "Hey! Where's your sista?" About five minutes later, my sister and I walked by the same lifeguard, and he started exclaiming to his colleagues, "Hey! There they are! The sistas!" "They ain't sistas! They twins!" the other lifeguard hollered.

And so it was that for the rest of the week, my sister and I were known by staff and guests alike as "The Sistas". Everywhere we went, we were asked if we were twins, and had to explain that we were in fact separated by two years. On more than one occasion, my sister was even mistaken for me or vice verse.

So you be the judge. Do we really look that much alike?


Family


Our last night together

Let's be honest. The idea of spending an entire week with one's family can be a little daunting. Especially for the in-laws. In the lead up to our vacation, I may have overheard Hubby once (or ten times) say, "Yeah. We're going to Jamaica. With her whole family." Followed by him mouthing the words "Help me!"

And who can blame him. We're a crazy bunch. Like all families, we get on each other's nerves. In such close quarters, how could we not drive each other nuts?

But the thing about my family is that we are pretty tight. My sister is my best friend, and she married a great guy. Their kids are two of the most special people in my whole life, the closest thing I will ever have to children of my own. Being their auntie is probably one of my most satisfying roles. Then there is my brother and his partner, who go out of their way to help us out when we need it. And it's nice to have them in the same city as Hubby and I when everyone else is so far away; it makes me feel a little less isolated. Then there's my parents. It wasn't always easy back in the teenage days of living at home under their rules. But once I got over those awkward pubescent years, my parents and I genuinely became friends. Really good friends. And they love Hubby.

So being together, even on such a small resort where we couldn't easily get away from one another, wasn't really such a chore. It was actually a lot of fun. So fun, in fact, that my cheeks still hurt from laughing so much for seven days.

So here's to my crazy, loud, water-logged, wonderful family.

Selfie time for uncle and nephew

Selfie time with Auntie

A sight not often seen - Mom relaxing with a beer

My brother-in-law and niece hamming it up for the camera

Hubby and I

That nephew of mine is such a clown

Grandpa and grand-daugther

Playing cards with my sis

Auntie and niece cuddling up

Chilling with Mom

Going for a dip in the waterfall with Dad

I guess resort vacations aren't that bad after all. Especially if you surround yourself with those you love the most in the whole wide world.