Close the bathroom door

This past week having brought us Valentine’s Day, of course the digital landscape was awash in content about relationships and sex and being more successful at both of those and whatnot. This was one of them.

As I read it, I got a little twitchy, as I am still wont to do, recalling the trials and tribulations of a long-distance relationship even this many years later. The Internet was getting mainstream then, but it was primitive. We mostly communicated online via telnet programs and email. Not too many people had cell phones yet, and those phones didn’t have cameras, apps, or any of the other key features that enable you to be connected 24/7. Hell, we wrote letters to each other.

But what I found really interesting about that article is that it’s a lot more broadly relevant than just for long-distance romantic pairings. I don’t know how many times it’s happened at this point where I’ve run into someone, or have intentionally met up, and they’ll inquire about something that we’ve never talked about before. Now, I freely admit to my senility, so my reply is often, “Did I tell you about that?” And as often as not the reply will be that they saw me mention it on Twitter or Facebook. Right.
Continue reading “Close the bathroom door”

Raging and gently, night and light

This year is the 10th anniversary of my friend’s death on December 22nd, 2003. A number of years ago my aunt’s sister died on Christmas morning. A friend’s father-in-law died this morning.

This isn’t terribly unusual. People die all the time. But it feels like it is. In this season of togetherness and celebration and relatives stressing you out, it feels like a sin of some kind for people to die, or come close to it. It seems more tragic. And then I feel disrespectful for everyone who gets sick or into accidents or dies around the other 50 or so weeks of the year.

And does that feeling of Yuletide tragedy get pushed back further every year like the retail-drive Christmas season does?

It’s vaguely like how I feel bad for anyone born between mid-December and mid-January. Well, your birthday’s going to suck. Like that’s the worst thing that could happen around your birth, or like there aren’t other “inconvenient” days to be born throughout the year.

It feels like we’ve done this to ourselves. And by “we” I mean those who celebrate Christmas. If you don’t celebrate anything in late December/early January, someone’s death doesn’t necessarily take on extra and somewhat manufactured weight. Though western culture has done its damnedest to infect everyone with the Christmas spirit. I mean really, can’t we just leave the Jews alone to enjoy their movies and Chinese food?

Perhaps there are also historical ties. In the day, when people died in the winter (and this still may be the case, depending where you’re at), they couldn’t be buried right away. They pretty much literally had to be kept on ice until spring thaw when the body could be interred. So you had however many weeks or months of being indoors more, with more darkness outside (until December 21st, at least), and possibly more aloneness, to grieve, to think, and kind of… wait. There was that bit of closure that wasn’t possible because when spring came you were going to have to go through it again to some degree, if you chose to.

If you go way back, you have Solstice taking place around the same time as Christmas (not a coincidence). So there are ideas of the shift of darkness and the return of light and new life. You don’t have to look very hard to find where Christianity got its metaphors… But winter cold and darkness and loneliness and other seasonal hazards are real, and there’s little question why not all elderly or isolated people “don’t make it” til spring.

Blessedly, I have not had that many friends die throughout the year. I don’t have enough of a basis of comparison for whether I dwell on it more this time of year, or it makes me more sad. I do know the season comes with more baggage than most times of the year — for me and many others. This is why I have friends who don’t celebrate at all. In fact, they’ve taken years to divest themselves of obligations on The Day, in favour of eating badly, drinking heartily, and enjoying geeky and/or trashy entertainments. I admit to a certain envy.

Ultimately, though, right after a death during the holidays, there’s one concrete thing that would make a death you’re close to harder. The administrative details. You’re supposed to be winding down at work and gearing up for baking and shopping and all manner of social occasions. And all of a sudden that has to come to a screeching halt, replaced by hospitals and funeral homes and decision after decision. Except that all the festive stuff doesn’t entirely go away. The people and the decorations and the food. And you don’t get any time to exhale, to start processing.

I’m sure funeral directors and the like can verify that death doesn’t take holidays, nor display any particularly religious or secular affiliation at this, or any other time of year. But I suspect there are some things different about managing the mortal coil departures lounge this time of year.

The point of these musings? Nothing, really, beyond a brain dump of things on my mind lately, having had both birth and death wander by in close proximity. (That makes it sound like I recently miscarried or something. I didn’t.)

It’s December 21st, the shortest day, and longest night, of the year. Thomas never did tell us what we’re supposed to do about the return of the light…

Uptown 21 Takeover Dinner with Beast Restaurant

Last evening the food creators and food lovers gathered at Uptown 21 for the second in their 21 Takeover dinner series (hashtag: #21takeover). This time the host was Scott Vivian from Beast in Toronto, and his wife/partner/pastry chef Rachelle.

The lovely Paula and I were invited to join in the festivities, and so we arrived with bells on, tummies empty, and smartphones at the ready. (Many thanks to her for most of the photos, which were quite superior with her camera vs. my iPhone.)

So, what were we in for? A sneak peak…

Dinner menu - Beast 21 Takeover

And what is a lovely dinner without wine?

Beast wine pairings - 21 Takeover

As it turned out, Paula and I were seated with Krystina from Rosewood Estates Winery and her guest, Amela, who were charming and knowledgeable company. (Krystina arranged the evening’s pairings.)

After some intros and welcomes and such, we were off to the races, beginning with the Tawse Riesling Spark paired with a tangy and crunchy morsel of scrumptiousness that was the amuse.

The amuse bouche was pickled onions and Brussels sprouts with crema on Taco Farm tortilla tostadas. It was a snap, crackle and pop of a starter, and the plate (we were served family style) was quickly bare.

the amuse bouche

Next up were some of Rachelle’s breads, and I could have eaten either of them alone… or just the butter, too. So soft, so rich.


In his opening remarks, amid less important business, Nick addressed the elephant in the room: all of the terrible moustaches. (His, of course, was very manly and could only increase his chefly powers.) 🙂

After the breads, Krystina introduced the evenings wineries: Rosewood Estates, Tawse, and Lailey, and the wines we’d be enjoying (for those who chose pairings). For the first of the courses on the menu, we’d be enjoying 2010 Rosewood Pinot Noir.

First up of the courses was the cauliflower and croutons with a gorgeously bright salsa verde. The warm “brown” roasty flavours and all the bright green flavours were good friends, and the Pinot was just the right weight and complexity.

cauliflower and croutons with salsa verde - 21 Takeover

Next up was one of my favourite salad ingredients: smoked trout, with Greek yogurt, beetroot, and quail egg. I could have eaten the whole plate by myself, easily.

smoked trout Greek yogurt beet root quail egg - 21 Takeover

Whew, one course under our belts, and our appetites thoroughly whet for what was to come. To prepare us for the next round, the Tawse 2011 Chardonnay arrived. Might I note, I’m not a big Chardonnay fan, but this was lovely, subtle stuff.

Then things got serious as the “poutine” arrived: fried gnocchi with wild boar and cheese curds. Epic. (The gnocchi was described as tasting like “the best Tater Tots ever”.) 🙂 The Chardonnay had just enough body and brightness for the richness of the poutine. An oakier variety would have been “funny”, as my Dad would say.

poutine - gnocchi wild boar cheese curds

After pillaging that plate with vigor, things got a bit more ethnically inspired. (Is something Quebecois-inspired ethnic for us? I guess…) It was time for the battered and fried squid with fish sauce vinaigrette, Thai basil, and pomelo. And might I note here that I am not generally a big squid eater, but this was fantastic, and I happily ate tentacles — even for the camera. The Chardonnay was lovely with the tangy, Thai-inspired flavours at work.

squid fish sauce vinaigrette Thai basil pomelo - 21 Takeover

Next up was the special wine, the Lailey 2011 Syrah. Glad I got to try it, because Krystina finagled the last of it from Derek. Amazing stuff. Rich, well rounded, and not a hint of that overbearing “green pepper” I worry about with big Ontario reds.

So naturally the next course got its meat on in a big way. Venison with mushrooms on a bed of pine nut grits. And again, not a venison fan, but this was perfectly cooked and so flavourful. I ate my share and some of Amela’s this time. Yum! Even more crazy was that I happily wrapped each bite in mushroom, and anyone who knows me knows my utter abhorrence of the things. I don’t even know who I am anymore, and I don’t care. 🙂

venison with mushrooms and pine nuts - 21 Takeover

Next up we went back to the veggies and sweetened things up a bit with squash, pepitas, and feta with a wonderfully complex maple glaze. The smell of it was intoxicating. So perfectly “fall”. (We argued over what was all in the glaze. It was almost… Moroccan.)

squash pepitas feta maple glaze - 21 Takeover

And with that, my friends, we’d completed the main menu. What remained was the announced sticky toffee pudding (I have not words for how much I love that stuff) and a mystery dessert made with chocolate that had been delivered by Ambrosia Pastry that afternoon. (If you have not tried their many varieties of bean to bar chocolate, you are SO missing out.)

Another first arrived next: mead! Not that I’ve never had it, just that I’ve never liked it, typically because I find it cloyingly sweet. (Same issue with ice wine.) But this was a dry mead (yes, it exists!) and was a whole ‘nother ballgame. This was a 2011 Rosewood Estates Harvest Gold Mead. And the honey it’s made from is from Krystina’s family’s own bees.

And lo, with coffee and tea and such served if mead wasn’t enough, the desserts arrived. The announced sticky toffee pudding positively SWIMMING in toffee sauce, and a beautifully simple chocolate tart. People… it was a miracle that every table did not come to fisticuffs over these desserts. Rachelle is made of magic.

The tart let the chocolate shine. It was rich and complex and just sweet enough. Even the pears garnishing it could have been their own dessert. I hurt me to my core to cut it in half for Paula to have her share. 🙂

chocolate tart with pears - 21 Takeover

And the pudding… moist and festive and the sauce… well, people did shooters of the sauce. ‘Nuf said. (Seriously, I ate sticky toffee puddings across the UK and could have stayed right here for the finest.)

sticky toffee pudding - 21 Takeover

And with that, the meal came to an end. But not a belly was left unstuffed nor a taste bud untantalized. Huge thanks to Nick and Nat for the invitation, and to Scott and Rachelle for the meal, as well as all the kitchen and front of house staff who made the evening run flawlessly.

Next up in the 21 Takeover series is the gents from The Bauer Butcher. It’s gonna be a meat-tastic (and magnificent!) menu. Take a look. (And Nick wasn’t even kidding about the bacon fat baklava…) That one’s December 11th and it’s selling out FAST.

Next door

Many thanks to a number of friends who shared their experiences, thoughts, and insights, helping me round out this post and give me the sigh of relief that these reactions were not Just Me. Also, this post includes a variety of experiences based on relationships with a variety of people over time. Right now I am fine, and my people are doing alright. This generalizing is as much to protect individuals’ privacy as to try and make sense of dealing second-hand with mental illness.

Wednesday, February 8th was a day to talk about mental health. Why it was sponsored by Bell, I don’t know. Why it was February 8th, I don’t know. But hey, getting people talking about mental health and raising money isn’t a bad thing.

Unsurprisingly, it brought to mind my own experiences with mental illness. I consider myself fortunate — any depression I’ve dealt with has been situational, and temporary, and I always remained at least somewhat functional. Those who have helped me through it have my eternal gratitude and are immediately welcome to anything I can do for them when they need it.

But depression and I have been close, sometimes very close, off and on for a lot of years. I kinda… live next door. I’ve seen many strong voices online talk about their struggles with depression, which has helped a lot of people. I haven’t seen much, however, from the people around those who struggle. There are some good reasons for that. A lot of what you think and feel seems either utterly futile, or makes you think you must be a complete asshole.

Mostly I’ve been depression’s next door neighbour, but sometimes other neighbours show up: anxiety, mania, substance abuse… And you would think, after all these years, that I’d know how to be a good neighbour by now. I’d have figured out How To Help.

Nope. I suck.
Continue reading “Next door”

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft

If you take this gig, I think you should pour your heart into it, but I want you to remember that you’re going to have another five to ten other jobs in your lifetime just like this one. This means that for each moment you spend being pumped about the new gig, you’ll have an equal and opposite moment at the end of the gig where you can’t wait to get the hell out. — Rands

Sometimes you hear or read something and it gets stuck in your head. Perhaps because it totally resonates. Perhaps because it expresses an opinion so diametrically opposed to your own. Perhaps because there’s just… something to it, but you can’t yet put your finger on it.

When I first read that quote, I’d been working at a job I didn’t like for about eight months. I’d never really liked it, and, in fact, my manager quit a few weeks after I’d started. Things didn’t go uphill from there. However, about six weeks after I read that quote, I met the PostRank folks and started on a new adventure, one I liked much better.

But for the past while, since I’ve known that I’d be leaving Google, that quote has come to mind a fair bit. Especially when you come from a startup where there’s always more to be done than bodies to do it, being in a position of not being particularly useful isn’t easy. Or when you’re among people who claim to need/want X, but then make decisions and plans that will never accomplish X. Being informed that their attempts to make me permanent had fallen through wasn’t terribly surprising, nor was it emotionally crushing by that point.

I don’t want to give the impression that I found my time at Google horrible. Anything but. It’s totally not the real world there, and that’s a lot of fun. Googlers are insanely well taken care of, and that level of geek-centric culture can be a great time. The people I worked with, both on the Analytics Marketing team and the operations folks I got to know just by being there, are all great, highly capable people. I just didn’t happen to fit the prevailing structure. When you get far enough away from high school, eventually you realize it’s okay not to fit in everywhere. 🙂

Hindsight gives you a considerably broader point of view, and so one can indulge from time to time in the What Ifs. I’ve never for a minute regretted saying no to moving to Mountain View, but what if I had gone there? It would have been pretty much the only chance I had to find somewhere to “fit” at Google, simply because what I do is done there, but not here. At the same time, though, the way they handle community management, for example, is very different from how I am used to working, and how my personality prefers to work… so would I have been happy there? Would I have loved living in the Valley or San Francisco, or would I have always felt painfully un-hip? (Kidding.)

Ultimately, Google is a big company. A very big company, no matter how much they try to believe and market themselves (especially internally) as something scrappier, more nimble, or “startup-y”. I’ve told numbers of people that working at Google felt more like working at the insurance companies I’ve worked for than any of the tech companies I’ve worked for. Nothing wrong with that — the company has around 32,000 employees. But as you grow you have to accept and adapt to how your growth affects your employees, culture, communications, etc. as well as your products, customers, and the market.

So, what if I hadn’t tagged along on the Google adventure? They never really needed or wanted all of us, so what if they’d said thanks, deposited a few bucks into our accounts, and we went our separate ways back in June? I recall seeing a couple of really cool jobs back then, and waffling over whether to apply and push my brain into the direction of moving on, or to settle myself in the saddle for whatever ride Google would bring. Needless to say, I chose Google. I think a lot of people would. I am at least grateful that KW is a tech-strong area and desperately thirsty for talent. I’d be a lot more freaked out if we’d had a crash between June and now. (Especially given how many cool gigs I keep seeing for Toronto, Calgary, and the Valley…)

Unsurprisingly, I have been constantly asked the last while what’s next. Perhaps if I’d had a quarter for every ask I wouldn’t have to look for a new job at all… Short answer is: I can’t say. I have some great opportunities that right now mostly just require patience, I know my skills are valued, and I am superstitious enough not to talk about it all in much detail in the open without Is dotted and Ts crossed and where the capricious gods of fate may hear me… Most importantly, I feel fine about where things are and are going.

I am also very grateful to everyone who’s been supportive and helpful. I’ve received leads, introductions, and whatnot from many people who didn’t surprise me, and a number who did. Sounds a bit self-serving, but you hope that by being active in your community and making yourself useful that they’ll be there for you when you need it, too, and that has very much proven true. Fellowship: it ain’t just for Mennonites! So thank you all.

I’ve also enjoyed getting a closer look back into the startup scene recently. It’s certainly grown and changed since PostRank was one of those scrappy, nimble companies with six employees and computers on folding tables. For every story like this I see that makes me weep for the future, I have also seen, heard, and talked to brilliant folks who are passionate, fearless, and who just happen to have recently graduated… or not. It’s also heartening to know their mentors and know that those are folks who’ll kick their asses if they get uppity. 🙂

At the same time, I see the mistakes they make and am becoming ever more aware of the value of experience (especially my own), and for access to business mentoring that reflects that. It seems to be easy enough to get insight and information from great people about the tech, the financing, and all the “hard” skills, but the worst errors I see being made are about people. And it’s not that these folks are sociopaths or lack social skills, it’s just that being the CEO of a company is very different from doing hacking projects with your buddies, or being low enough down the totem pole not to be responsible for a lot of things. I look forward to seeing how these folks grow and change over the years the same way I look forward to seeing how the tech scene here does.

The end of the PostRank era has been hard at times, but it would have been harder had it ended back in June. Having had months to get used to the team being flung to the four winds has provided separation time, and having suspected a permanent position wasn’t going to work out has provided the motivation to send my brain forward, rather than miring it in the present or pining for the past.

I’ve been in much worse places — still working at a company that was crumbling around me, laid off a week after my birthday — so I’m in a very okay place. As I told a couple friends, my main challenge currently is working on my patience, which has never been my strongest of virtues. (Given that it’s my sister-in-law’s name, perhaps she could impart some wisdom?)

Hopefully, I’ll have awesome news to share in one of my all-too-infrequent posts soon. Watch this space. 🙂 In the mean time, a few snippets from Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go, which has been on my mind a lot lately, too (and the title of this post comes from it). I thought it important enough to make a parting gift for the Googles.

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.


You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.


Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

And when things start to happen
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.

Dearly beloved…

If someone asked you if you wanted to go to a concert put on by a guy in his mid-50s, I don’t think you’d quite be expecting what we experienced on Saturday. Glitter, spandex, strutting, gospel, wailing guitars, high heels, and, naturally, many references to purple.

Welcome 2 Canada, indeed, Prince.

stage, Prince concertAndrew, Shawna, Melissa, myself, and Sherry (whose bucket list this concert was on) went to the second Toronto show this weekend, and it did not disappoint. It was a good sign when he started things up with Purple Rain. And proceeded to rock through a bunch of hits, a few covers (songs he wrote and others), and a few songs I wasn’t familiar with. (Setlist)

Whatever the audience make-up, when he commanded us to sing, we knew the words. There was even a gospel-tastic cover of Sarah McLachlan’s Angel during an intermission, courtesy of the backup singers.

The music itself starred in the show, too. Prince called out the band on a regular basis, as well as the superiority of real, live musicians and singers. As well as his own copious collection of hits. As he hollered out during the encore, “Call the babysitter — I got too many hits!”

And, blessedly, the encore ended with a fine rendition of Kiss, Sherry’s favouritest Prince song. It just wouldn’t have been a complete evening without it. We sang, we danced, we got the funk out. Exactly as His Purpleness intended. 🙂

And for your funktification, the defiance of the “no photos or video recording rule:

November 25th show videos
November 26th show videos

It gets dark earlier

Like many people, I’ve always loved fall. The crisp air, the cooler temperatures, the smell of leaves, etc. Though I know people, like my friend Violet, who have serious issues with fall. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it’s the season of death. (At the same time, though, the Jewish celebration of New Year in the fall has always made a great deal of sense to me.)

I seemed to be immune to this phenomenon until the last few years. I believe it started when, Sherry and I each had three deaths in the fall. (Two years ago? Three? I find I can no longer remember.) Mostly family, as I recall, and some more expected than others. I particularly remember how hot it was the day of my aunt’s funeral.

And then there was the former PostRank office. Typically I loved the fact that we were on the fifth floor, and the windows were big and wrapped around the building. I had a wonderful view of uptown Waterloo and various neighbourhoods, the trees as they changed with the seasons, and the landscape under snowfall.

What I also had was a front row seat to death. On Allen Street, behind the office, there are several churches, and directly across the street on King is a funeral home. So every time a member of one of those congregations died, I knew. Every time there was a visitation or funeral at Erb & Good, I was some weird kind of spectator. And more than once I crossed the street in my sensible heels and conservative attire to attend visitations of my own.

Same as it ever was, probably, but it gets to you, watching the rituals of the dead practically every day — sometimes more than once — from mid-fall until well into spring. You can’t help but ponder your own mortality and that of those you love.

One of the things I become ever more cognizant of as I get older is that not everyone dies old. Somehow it seems like we should be advanced enough medically and technologically to ensure longevity by now. And yet, among others, I know of the deaths of two pre-teen children this summer (accidental drowning and suicide — suicide).

The season has started. In the last little while I have learned of two terminal cancer diagnoses and the recent death of an acquaintance’s mother. It’s only September 20th. Beyond that, my Dad turns 70 next week, and Mom turns 65 in early November. Parents as seniors is a hard thing to process. I have found myself physically shaking my head to clear it when I have started doing mental calculations on how long my Dad can hope to live past this milestone.

But we keep breathing, keep moving. Smile at the pictures of my niece’s first day of school. Take part in as many social events as my comfort level can manage. Give and take hugs wherever they’re offered.

But sometimes you will be left alone in your own head, or what’s going on in your own head doesn’t matter, because someone else needs you. (And, in fact, helping and serving others is about the best thing for you sometimes.)

It does get dark earlier now, but not all year.

Is it better yet?

Recently I was on a mid-afternoon coffee run with several co-workers. We were heading up King Street in Waterloo when a silver Mercedes drove by. There were four young guys in the car, the window facing us was wide open, and one of them stuck his head out to shout a bunch of unintelligible stuff as they drove by.

The whole experience reminded me of back in the day in high shool when my brother and his friends would drive by my friends and I and holler stuff. It was such a weird experience that I actually called my brother to inquire if he’d hollered at me on King Street a few minutes before. Nope.

Then, given my thorough confusion, one of my co-workers informed me as to exactly what happened. The guy had been yelling at him, sarcastically commenting on his scarf, and either began or ended the charming interlude with “fag”. Ahh.

But there’s more. Apparently this is not even remotely uncommon for him — happens all the time. Huh? Here? Often the comments are considerably worse. As used to it as you can get, I guess, he takes the attitude of it being the world’s way of making sure he maintains a thick skin.

I was just… boggling. That happens? Here? Often? We live in the same city, but apparently we’ve been living in very different ones, perception-wise. I’ve lived in Waterloo for well over a decade (and my family is from here), so it’s not like I just fell off the turnip truck. But I freely admit that what happened is something I would expect back home in Grey County, not in Uptown Waterloo.

Apparently I have a lot to learn. I even told my co-worker I wanted them to yell at me. I’m pretty good with shit like that (and, less face it, I can whip my bully pants on pretty fast), though admittedly, there’s not much you can do with a cutting remark when people are speeding away down the street.

Some of the people I told about the incident raised their eyebrows as much as I did. Some weren’t surprised in the least. Nothing like being disabused of the notion that where you live and the people around you are not necessarily in fact “better than that”.

Sure, it’s a crappy minority, but it’s still there. It was young people — those leaders of tomorrow and whatnot. And yes, it was a bunch of asshats in someone’s dad’s Mercedes, so you could roll your eyes and write them off as rich asshole frat boys. But a friend of mine had hate spewed at him on the street in broad daylight. That is not cool with me. And it’s plenty of evidence that while “it” might get better after you get out of high school, etc., “it” ain’t fixed yet.

“Iceberg, Right Ahead!”

This morning Melissa and I ventured downtown Kitchener to take in the Titanic exhibit at The Museum. Sherry had seen the permanent exhibit in Halifax, so it would have been hard to impress her. 🙂

I was told this local exhibit is a bit more extensive than the standard travelling version, but not as big as the permanent one (unsurprisingly). I’d heard good things from those who’ve been to see it already. Admission for us non-member adult types was $20.

Upon entering we received a “boarding pass”, with information about a particular passenger — name, class, travelling companions, reason for travelling, etc. Its main use wouldn’t become apparent until the end of the jaunt through the exhibit.

They did a good job of placing the Titanic within its time and culture, in terms of the technology, what was going on in the world, and even the social class stratifications it illustrated. There was a good mix of personal item artifacts and ship artifacts, though I admit those placed without context weren’t all that compelling. After all, it is the stories that draw us in. There’s even an iceberg, which was a big tactile hit with the kids present.

(Note: The display cases are outfitted with alarms, and any time they’re brushed or bumped the alarms buzz for about 20 seconds. This is not uncommon, but is somewhat annoying.)

In the earlier parts of the exhibit there were plaques about various passengers and families — who they were, what they did, where they were from and going to, what class they were in, etc. They would pop up here and there in the exhibit, giving a bit of a narrative as to the ship’s “population”, and it worked well at the end when you were informed of their fate. (Spoiler: almost none of them made it.)

Interestingly as well, many of the people noted weren’t supposed to be on the Titanic at all. They’d had passage booked on other ships, but were transferred or had to re-book due to a coal strike. And of course there were any number of people who were supposed to be on the ship but weren’t due to this or that circumstance — illness, change of plans, etc.

The most compelling artifacts were those either placed in a facsimile display of how they were found, or displayed simply, next to a large scale photo of them in situ at the wreck site. The wrought iron end piece of a bench, a stack of gratin dishes perfectly arranged in rows, a chandelier from the first class men’s smoking lounge… You could marvel over the fine condition of the piece, or the destruction caused by the wreck and decades underwater. I was somewhat amazed at the good condition of many paper items. But then, there’s not much light or oxygen 12,500 feet beneath the waves.

There have been a great many items recovered, apparently, from one gent (Henry or Howard something…?) They found his trunk full of belongings — only thing was, he wasn’t on the ship. He and a friend were supposed to sail, and his things were taken aboard, but he was apparently “shanghai’d” the previous night and taken aboard a ship headed for Asia as part of a press gang. He escaped in Egypt and eventually made it back to the US. Presumably he never got his things back. His travelling companion died.

There were also re-creations of a first class and third class cabin. Certainly there was a great difference between the two, though the third class bunks looked quite comfortable and surprisingly spacious. The beds were mahogany, and unlike most steerage of the day, had real mattresses. Third class only had two bathtubs for 710 passengers, however, as the exhibit noted, back then most folks bathed at most once a week, so it wasn’t quite the hygiene horror we’d consider it today.

At the end of the exhibit, there were four boards showing first, second and third class passengers, as well as crew. Also displayed were the numbers of people saved and lost in each group. Unsurprisingly, the percentages of survivors were far lower in third class (24.5%) and among the crew (23.8%) than among first class passengers (60.5%). My boarding pass passenger, Mrs. Baxter, survived, as did her daughter and son’s secret mistress. Her son, Quigg, did not.

Did you know that, of the infamous band that kept playing lively tunes to keep passengers calm, as contractors, none of them was required to remain on the ship and they could have attempted to escape in the lifeboats? Every one of them went down with the ship.

Total number of survivors: 706. Total number perished: 1517. As the North Atlantic water was below freezing that night (salt water freezes below the freezing point of fresh water), most people died of hypothermia, not drowning.

All in all, a fine way for a history buff to spend an hour or so. And even if you’re well familiar with the ship, the movie, the documentaries, and everything else, there’s always interesting things to learn, particularly the stories of the people. For more interesting tales and stats, of course, there’s always Wikipedia.

My first race

This year I’ve been doing pretty well at trying new things, and have even checked off a few “life list” items. This morning I completed another one.

When or why I got it into my head that I wanted to run a 5K I have no idea. I’ve never been a runner, and goodness knows in the past when I’ve tried running at the gym I got bored to tears very quickly. As I’ve told a few people, too, me running is a lot like bumblebees flying: highly improbable. And yet…

But with the advent of my thyroid medication giving me something resembling a metabolism and some energy, and my gall bladder surgery further improving things by vastly improving my digestive process (including how much I actually feel like I need to eat, and what I crave), I felt like it was time.

I forget from whom I originally heard about this program, but it seemed like something I could do. And it had a really good iPhone app, which helped. (I do loves me some concrete timing, instructions, and milestones.) The general idea is that by the time you’ve completed the 9 weeks of training, you’re able to run for 30 straight minutes, which should be about 5km. Not exactly, at my speed, but we won’t focus on that…

Of course, I should have known things wouldn’t go quite so smoothly. I actually started C25K back in January, at the gym… and then got derailed. Repeatedly. I got sick (twice, I think), I moved, I went away on vacation… By June I was at square one. Again. However, I also had two awesome things going for me: a) I didn’t have to run at the gym because it was summer, and b) I lived next to Waterloo Park, which is a great place to run (smooth trails and good people-watching). Even given the heat we frequently had this summer, I took advantage of the fact that sunset came after 9pm and ran in the evenings when it usually wasn’t too bad.

And when I passed week 3 (as far as I’d ever gotten), I was pretty jazzed. When I got to week 5 and realized I actually could run for eight minutes at a time, I was totally on board. I had to check myself from time to time — I have a tendency to run far faster than my body can maintain — but by the time I finished the program I was good at managing that, too. I’d also long since graduated to new scenery and regularly ran the Iron Horse Trail (from my place to Victoria street down Caroline and the Iron Horse is 6.6km).

I was mid-way through the C25K training when I finally put my money where my mouth was and signed up for a race: the Annual Oktoberfest 5K. I am not a competitive person, and I’m bad at setting goals and achieving them (yeah, typical curse of gifted children…), and even just completing the registration freaked me out a little bit. (Good.) But I also made sure to tell people I’d signed up. It’s a good way to keep you from chickening out of stuff. And it gave me a date on the calendar to work toward.

So yeah, I had absolutely no excuses not to do it.

What made it better is that my friend Colin was signed up to run the 10K. (His first, though he has 5Ks under his belt already.) My friend Cari was going to run that race, too, but ended up being in the Dominican for a wedding (tough life…) My other brother Jamie wanted to run with me, but I think had to work. (But hey, he cheered via Facebook, and he was saving lives, so it’s a good enough excuse…)

I finished the C25K program a week or so ago, but honestly by the end of it wasn’t paying that much attention. I knew where my warm-up walk would take me to, and from there it was just about running to Victoria St. and back with as few breaks as possible.

I was a tad concerned late this past week, as my last couple runs had been harder (just from pushing myself), and my calves tended to get a bit sore. They were hurting on my final pre-race run on Friday evening, so I cut it short and walked home. Unfortunately, the running was the only thing keeping me comfortable, and I damned near froze.

Got to the Rec Centre this morning just after 8am (conveniently I just had to traverse the boardwalk in the park and I was pretty much there), and headed up to the mall. Got my bib, shirt, chip, etc. and got properly outfitted. Eventually ran into Colin, as well as my ex-housemate, Peggy, from many moons ago. She was there running with her husband and two sons. Apparently her husband and younger son are avid runners. She goes for support, and apparently the elder son just wanted to get it over with and get to the eating of hot dogs. 🙂

Headed outside to hand over my bag to the folks who were taking stuff back to the Rec Centre, then went to find a patch of sunlight to stand in, since it was still chilly in the shade. Enjoyed the people-watching immensely. Though I gotta say, just because you’re ridiculously fit does not mean you’re going to be flattered by spandex… And good Lord are runners obsessive people. There was nowhere to hide from conversations about… running.

It was really cool seeing the fast folks out front heading onto King Street before I even got to the starting line. Basically, they would have been done by the time I finished my first kilometre (though I imagine most of them ran the 10K). Etiquette dictates slower runners stay near the back, and I was happy to do so. Plus it was fun having half of King St. to run on!

First kilometre was ridiculously fun. The sun was shining, the air was crisp, the mood was jovial, and I felt really good. And, hell, we were heading gently downhill! After that it got a bit harder, including a couple uphill areas — you never realize there’s any uphill between the mall and Bridgeport unless, as Andrew noted, you’re on foot or on a bike.

My time after the first mile was around 13 minutes (they called out times at one mile, for some reason, and had sign markers for each kilometre). I am no Roger Bannister. 🙂

I initially didn’t understand why the cups at the water station were barely half full… until I tried drinking while moving. I was even nice and tossed my first one in the garbage can, though I was past there after drinking the second, so threw it to the side of the road like everyone else.

I passed Colin some time between the 2nd and 3rd kilometre, I think. It would have been nice if I hadn’t had to walk at all, but I need a handful of short breaks. Something to improve on. From time to time I would go a bit faster just for a change of scenery. I don’t tend to like people around me while I exercise in general, and I got tired of seeing the same backs of heads or listening to the same breathing patterns.

It was impressive to see some of the folks running the 10K turning from Albert onto Bridgeport and joining the shared end part of the course. I saw two guys who were from Laurier’s cross country team, I think. They were machines. They were running faster at kilometre 9 than I did at any point in my race. Good on ’em.

And then there was my nemesis… An older gent, power-walker type, who kept ending up near me through much of the race. I got fed up in the home stretch and started sprinting. I was tired of his wiggly ass, and no way was he finishing before me. Plus, running fast felt good.

I felt great at the end of the race, though my legs will definitely need a day or two to recover. It was cool having Andrew and Melissa there, too. I think they were more proud of me than I was of myself. 🙂 (Sherry is, sadly, away on business.)

As I crossed the finish line, last time I saw on the clock was 38:59. I kinda hoped I’d made it in under 39 minutes. I went into the Rec Centre and got a drink and a bite to eat, then checked the results. Triumph! My actual time (from the timing chip) was 37:31. My gun time (from the start of the race til I crossed the finish line) was 39:01. I admit, had that second time been the “official” one, I’d have been a tad disappointed. As it was, I was totally jazzed at my results.

Will I do it again? Totally. The only way to go is up, right? That said, I think I will pass on the November and February races… We’ll see what’s what in the spring.

the finish line!

iPhone action shot courtesy of Andrew, and in front of me you can see my nemesis just before I passed him.