Sunday, 30 June 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey

In recent months, my reading pace has slowed considerably.  There were a few reasons for it that I can identify, namely my time was being stretched in more directions than it had been during the winter.  When spring arrived, I ramped up the intensity of my exercise regimen.  Plenty of my free time was spent running or riding my bike or lifting weights.  All things that can't be done while reading.  Most of my reading is done at work inbetween tasks.  That time was still there, but once the calendar turned over to April, something drastically changed. 

For the past two years I have co-owned a fantasy baseball team with one of my friends.  I enjoy it, baseball is the best fantasy sport there is.  So many numbers.  Trends, situational stats, injury impacts, it is a blast trying to figure out what all the different factors mean.  Our team is in year 3 now, and the league is scheduled to run perpetually.  This year another buddy offered a chance to join a second league.  Also a keeper league, meaning I am committed for the next handful of years, the new league might be even more competitive than the other league.  It is definitely more time consuming for a number of reasons.  With endless roster moves allowed, you can spend as much or as little time on your team as you want.  The rosters are set on a weekly basis, so you can just log on Sunday night, make a couple moves and be done with it.  Those owners doing that find themselves at the bottom of the 13 team league.  Right now, I am on the edge of contention, in 5th place.  I also joined a 1 year league with some other buddies, smaller entry fee, but with 12 teams involved, still worth a decent bit of money if I win.  I didn't intend this to be a detailed update on my fantasy baseball teams, as I have plans to make a post on the topic in the near future.  This is a book review, so let's get back to it.

For me to get into a book, and read it with a decent pace, there needs to be a flow to the story.  A reason for me to keep with it, to see what happens next.  If I pick the book up and read an uneventful few pages, my mind will begin to search for something else I could be doing.  Often, these books are still good reads, they just take forever to get through because I am reading them 2 or 3 pages at a time.  I read "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" over the course of about 2 months because it had this problem.  The story did centre around an interesting character, but it too often went off on tangents with other characters that didn't capture me.  The novel was drawn out over 350 pages, with a short climatic ending.  Too much time spent preparing for the end, too little time spent on the end itself.  I was beginning to wonder if my interest in reading was fading.  Fear not.  Enter Randle McMurphy.

The main character of the novel "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" is different.  He might the most unique character in any book I have ever read.  If you took the character traits of Randle McMurphy and put them in a vaccuum, you would think villian, antagonist, bad guy through and through.  But, when he is juxtaposed against Nurse Ratched, the boss of the Psych ward that McMurphy gets sent to he becomes a martyr of sorts.  His frequently used and quite loud voice becomes a collective one, speaking for the patients on the ward who either don't speak themselves or didn't have the guts to do so.  Nurse Ratched, called "Big Nurse" by Chief Bromden and the other patients, seemed invincible.  Her cracks, so well concealed previously, are exposed with expert precision by McMurphy.  The arrival of the protagonist on the ward adds life to the other patients, but as the story reaches its conclusion, it's not clear whether or not the excitement that McMurphy has brought was for the best. 

Chief Bromden is the narrator of the story.  His situation is unique.  After experiencing considerable trauma in his younger days, much of which is chronicled in the novel through flashbacks, he is diagnosed with a handful of mental illnessess and sent to the psych ward indefinitely.  He pretends that he is deaf and mute, maintaining the charade for more than 10 years by the time McMurphy arrives.  After McMurphy's arrival, Bromden struggles with maintaining the ruse because he often hears shocking things coming from his mouth.  Bromden has to shape his behaviours based on things he can see, and try to sort out those things that he heard.  Eventually, he can stay quiet no longer, opening up to McMurphy and becoming his right hand man of sorts. 

The novel is paced by McMurphy's antics, and Nurse Ratched's reaction to said antics.  As far as I can gather, the theme of the novel is that while McMurphy is seemingly successful in breaking the head nurse down, he leaves a lot of collateral damage in his wake.  Even McMurphy begins to unravel, but Bromden seems to be the only other patient that notices.  He manages to convince the night watchman to allow a couple of women onto the ward, procuring alcohol as well.  Many of the men join in on the fun, having a blast with plans to clean up before the morning staff arrives.  The other men convince McMurphy that this is his best chances to escape the increasing harsh punishments that he has faced.  He doesn't get away, and the men all pass out without cleaning up.  When Nurse Ratched finds them all in the morning, one patient, Billy Bibbitt is still missing.  He is eventually found in the spare room on a mattress with the second woman.  His ever present stutter disappears as he stands up to the nurse for the first time.  She sends him into her office after telling him she would call his mother.  A few minutes later, they hear a horrifying scream from another nurse after she discovered Billy's body.  He had slit his own throat.  This leads McMurphy to attack Big Nurse in the climax to the novel.  She is off work for a week because of the injuries she incurs.  The ward crumbles.  Many of the guys get out, signing themselves out, getting themselves transfered, etc.  When Big Nurse returns, only 3 of the guys remain.  She is powerless as her voice doesn't work.  McMurphy is returned from the disturbed ward.  He has had a lobotomy and is now in a vegetative state.  The story concludes with Chief Bromden suffocating McMurphy mercifully, then escaping by using his super human strength that McMurphy helped him build up.

While I read, I knew that the end of the novel would be eventful.  I wasn't sure exactly which direction it would go in.  The writing of Ken Kesey is impactful and is quite a different take on the study of humanity.  The Big Nurse attempted to dehumanize the men under her care.  She tried to create a very mechanical atmosphere, and she seemed to have done it.  Once McMurphy arrived, she began to doubt herself.  The men gained confidence through McMurphy, and it turned out that you can't control people, even if they are sick and or mentally unstable.  I loved the wild ride that this book took me on.  It's status as a classic is widely debated, but critics be damned.  I know what I like, and this, I like.  Thanks Ken Kesey (R.I.P.) for bringing some excitement back to my reading

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Sheila Says Blog, So I Blog

I just finished speaking with Sheila.  I mean this in the virtual sense, who actually uses a phone these days?  I was chatting with her on the computer, while I relax at work, waiting to wake the guys up.  She asked if I was blogging, I told her I wasn't.  Why?  My lame excuse was that I had nothing to share, no new news.  I have no idea if it's a common occurence amongst those who blog, but lately for me, I have struggled with the concept of readership.  Who wants to read the drivel I write?  In the last few months, I have been making weekly updates.  These updates are in a family diary style, putting down in hard copy the happenings of the previous week.  I need to realize that it doesn't really matter if people are interested in what I have to share.  It matters most, that I want to share it.  The subject matter is family focussed, because I spend most of my time with my kids and girlfriend.  When I gave it some thought after talking to Sheila, I realized the last few days have been quite busy.  Maybe nothing was life-altering or impactful outside of our family, but things did happen nonetheless.  I was even wise enough to take a few photos along the way.

I have been struggling with energy levels the last number of weeks.  My running regimen climaxed with the race on the first weekend of June, and I haven't been able to get back on track.  I have been getting very lazy about getting out of bed on my days off.  Jasmine has been very mature about making sure she leaves on her bike in time to meet her friend, who she accompanies to the school.  She take after her mom in the getting places on time department.  Laying in bed, often half awake, Asher either joins me in bed to watch his tee-tee as he calls it, or runs around the house playing.  These sleep-ins usually end by 930, but they really slow down the start to my day.  I also feel guilty about leaving Asher to entertain himself.  The time I am wasting lazing in bed, should be spent drinking coffee, reading the news online, updating my fantasy baseball teams and mentally preparing myself for the day ahead.  All that crap still happens now, it just happens later; and I don't like it.  I haven't turned into complete couch potato, but I fear the downward spiral.  I want to start getting myself up by 830 every day, and to accomplish this I need to go to bed earlier.  I'll let you know how that goes. 

I may not be spending much time devoted entirely to exercise, but many days that I spend with Asher are filled with exercise intentional or otherwise.  I had a late soccer game Wednesday night, but was up and ready to go Thursday morning.  My lazy morning starts have led Asher and I to miss Strong Start quite a few times lately, but there was no way that he was going to miss out this time.  It was the day of the big end of year party. 

I had heard that every program in the city was invited to Fort George Park for fun and games.  We arrived at the park, finding a spot 2 blocks from the park.  A steady stream of snot nosers and parents/grandparents/nannies/aunties/uncles were heading towards to playground.  I had underestimated how many people would be involved.  I am going to guess there was ~400 children all 4 years old or younger.  My son is not shy.  He is very active, loves to run every where he goes.  We headed straight to the playground, and I'll tell you, that was a scary experience.  Asher was climbing up the fire truck structure, then heading down the slide.  He did this over and over.  No sweat.  I got distracted, I looked up, and I couldn't see the little guy.  There are a few little places on this structure where he could have gone to hide, so I circled the thing looking in all the obvious places.  I did another lap, checking EVERY place.  I looped around again, spotted his shirt, then realized it was another Asher-sized boy with the same shirt.  Great.  I'm scanning the rest of the play area the whole time.  On my fifth lap of the truck, after about 60 seconds had passed, the "should I ask someone for help?" thought entered my mind.  Not cool having to admit you screwed up as a Dad.  The next lap my thoughts were more morbid.  "This is a creep's dream right here.  Mass confusion of kids, easy to snatch and go."  Oh man.  I think I looped the truck 9 times and about 2 minutes passed total.  I found Asher on the little train adjacent to the fire truck.  There was probably 20 kids swarming the train, but I spotted my guy in the fray.  I picked him up, he was smiling like he does, not aware of Dad's internal panic.  We left the playground area, me shell shocked, Asher not concerned as there was much more to explore.  I believe that is the first time I have had that happen.  Prince George is pretty quiet most of the time, and the places that a 2 year old likes to frequent aren't prone to crowds.  It is now 3 days later, and it still scares me.  How easily life can be turned upside down. 

I had planned ahead, knowing that we would be near the water park, I packed Asher's swimming trunks.  He hasn't really enjoyed the water park yet as he was too young last year.  Asher was very interested, and the water provided a good reprieve for me after the scare at the playground.  Asher changed into his swimming trunks then wandered his way around the perimeter of the water park.  As it turns out, he was interested, but not to excited about the cold water.  He patiently waited his turn for the water guns, then when he got his chance he fired away.  When a bit of the water hit him though, he went running.  I love that things don't really bother Asher that much.  He doesn't cry over every little thing that happens like some toddlers do.  It sure saves mom and dad a few headaches.  After the cold blast we didn't venture back into the water again.  We did take a few more trips around the outside of the park, falling at one point into some mud near the edge.  Asher scraped his knee and had mud all over him, but after picking him up and washing him off with as little of the cold water as possible, he was smiling again.  We had a snack, then spent half an hour chasing bubbles with Asher's teacher who was running that station.  Oh the fun.  Nearing nap time we decided to take off.

After eating and sleeping, Asher had a mission.  He wakes up dazed usually, and it takes some kind of stimulation to get him going.  Not this day.  He quickly remembered what we had picked up on our way home from the Strong Start party, and we set out for the school.  We hit the field and tossed the soccer ball out of the stroller.  Asher and I had gone by Value Village to exchange a few things.  We walked by a shelf of sports gear, and he exclaimed: "Daddy!  Gocker cleats!"  It was awesome to see his pure joy.  He has been getting really good about using new words.  Even a few weeks ago he may have hollered "Gocker!"  But, getting more specific has been fun for me and Sheila.  We looked and he fell in love with the first smallish pair we saw.  I managed to find a smaller pair, but they were still 2 sizes too big.  Soccer cleats aren't made for really tiny guys.  They were cheap, so I bought them anyway.  We had some fun, Asher scoring a few goals on me, then me trying to score on him.  Asher is collecting a pretty impressive assortment of sports gear after we added a baseball glove and pair of soccer cleats in the last week. 

After a quick dinner, Sheila, Asher, Jasmine and I headed down to the soccer fields.  Jasmine had her last practice.  I was less than enthused about running the practice, feeling kind of blah from getting too much sun throughout the day.  Despite our lack of success, then girls on the team are committed to soccer.  Nearly all of them attended the practice, and they worked pretty hard.  Brady and I organized them into teams to have a scrimmage and were a little shocked to realize that most of them had no clue how to have an informal game like this.  It seems that the group this year isn't fanatical about soccer, and likely most of them don't practice soccer away from the scheduled times.  I can't force the love of the game on them.  I don't want to overcoach them and turn them off of soccer.  I do want to see them find some tangible success as it is this that keeps players interested.  We ended up having a good scrimmage, I was trying to drill home the point that aggression and effort win soccer games.  I hoped to see it in action on Saturday afternoon.

Friday morning saw me up nice and early once again.  Asher and I got ready and walked over to Malaspina for Sports Day.  His teacher had mentioned the day before that the Strong Start program was going to participate, and of course we were heading over to watch wawa in action as well.  Asher had lots of fun, and he was more willing then the other toddlers to try the relay events that were set up for the primary kids.  He really impressed the other parents with his lobster claws, his sack racing, his ability to throw a ring onto a mat, and to top it off, he donned gardening gloves (adult sized) and rolled the log a few feet.  Most of the kids had little interest in participating, so no relays actually took place.  We lasted less than an hour before we were ushered inside for a snack. 


After snack we went looking for Jasmine.  The events were spread throughout the field, so finding her wasn't that easy.  Walking past the bouncy castle caused a 20 minute detour, and it took all of my efforts to refocus Asher back on the finding Jasmine goal.  We asked a few of her friends that we saw, and finally found her.  Jasmine was having fun despite how lame "Sports Day" has become.  There isn't a single sport involved, but that's a rant for another day.  We went back inside for circle time before going home for food and sleep once again. 

Saturday morning was early again.  We dropped Sheila off at the dentist and went to a few nearby garage sales.  Jasmine was very nice and she gave Asher a quarter out of her little stash.  As we got out of the car at one sale, he walked up the driveway holding his quarter out in front of him.  He approached the crap on display and you could tell he was itching to find something to spend his money on.  He saw me pick up a magazine and it back.  "Oooooooohh!  Baseball"  He picked up the magazine.  The lady hosting the sale told he he could have it.  No, no.  He is looking to buy I responded.  Asher toodled over and handed her his shiny quarter.  Jasmine found a few goodies too.  She kept going on and on about the dolphin figurine she bought.  "Dad, you know that these are like 10 bucks usually?  How did I get so lucky?"  Awesome.  We went back and got mom before going to the outdoor liquidation store to pick up more gear we need for camping.  We are pretty much all set now.  Sheila and the kids set up the tent in the yard last night, and it will probably lead to a backyard sleepover or two this week.  If Sheila can get a couple days off mid week in July maybe we will be able to test out the gear before our planned trip in August. 

We found ourselves back at the soccer field for Jasmine's game.  She only has a couple more games before the summer break starts.  I was really hoping for a good effort from the girls, after the focus of our practice.  It was nice to see that we were up against 1 of the 2 teams that we have beaten this year.  It was a spirited affair with lots of the competitiveness I was hoping for.  Jasmine didn't play in goal, as I wanted to go for more offense.  Jasmine and a number of others played very hard despite the heat.  We had a lead, but with an inexperienced goalkeeper in net the second half we fell behind.  I drove home the point about competing and aggression.  One or two of them understood what I meant about urgency.  "Girls!  The game is winding down and we are losing!  Leave it all out there!"  I mentioned a few times to Brady how hard one girl had been working.  She may be the best player on our team, but she hasn't found a goal yet.  She plays a defensive midfield style, and yesterday she was all over the place.  Tons of effort, lots of stealing the ball and gaining extra possessions for her team.  She understoof urgency.  Their goalie played the ball in, she read the weak pass and cut it off.  She strolled into the box and drove the ball into the net.  We had tied it up!  The referee blew his whistle less than a minute later.  I was very happy for the whole team but especially this little one.  She likely has no clue just how good she is.  A soccer team has many different roles and many of them are thankless.  She plays one of those roles, and I made sure she knew how important she is to the team after that big goal.  Awesome stuff!

As I wrap this up, I am looking forward to the next few days.  My sister is in town from Montreal for a visit, and it will be great to see her after work.  We haven't made too many plans, but keeping the kids busy and active will be the goal.  Erin will probably get a kick out of how much different Asher is from her last visit at Christmas.  I will try to take plenty of pictures to share next week.  For now I leave you with a few more photos from the last month or so.



Monday, 17 June 2013

Happy Father's Day to Me

I was going to open with a grand declaration of how great my Father's Day was.  I still am, but after reflection, I was lucky enough to have a weekend, not just a day, that was an all around good time.  I am lucky enough that my children both love me every day of the year.  Asher being that he is 2, thinks mom and dad are the best people and the world, and not much can beat that feeling.  Jasmine being that she is nearing teenage times, is a little less demonstrative with her affection.  Yesterday, she put aside her teasing and her back talk and complaining.  As I lay in her bed thanking her for such a nice day, I mentioned to her that she hadn't said a mean thing to me all day.  She laughed a bit, a special treat to dad on his special day.

On Friday, I finally decided to get around to making some purchases that we have budgeted for long ago.  Jasmine came with me as we toured Prince George in a frenzy of transactions.  We stopped off and bought the family sized tent set we had been eyeing for weeks.  The set included a couple of sleeping bags, a couple camping chairs, a sun shade (pointless, but free!) and a 6 man tent.  Sheila's tent requirements were:  big enough for all of us, tall enough to stand up in, and that was about it.  If it keeps the rain and wild animals out, I guess that is just a bonus.  We now have most of the things we need for a camping trip, tent, bags, chairs, cook stove, coolers, air matress.  I'm still planning to pick up a lantern, an axe and maybe some fishing gear for the kids and I.  We went to another store, and Jasmine decided that she had at last found her new bike.  We also found a baseball glove for Asher, so he can throw his left hand instead of using Jasmine's glove.  She wheeled out of the store, grinning from ear to ear.  From there we visited Value Village.  I don't shop at the ultimate thrift store as often as I used to, but I can still find good deals for the kids there.  We handed over a bag with about 10 pairs of outgrown shoes, and the girl handed us a 30% off coupon.  Well now.  We escaped after finding some shoes for Asher, a shirt and toy for Jasmine, a few books for me, and a couple pairs of shorts again for me.  We finally arrived home and brought all of our goodies inside.  Asher loved his new running shoes, and loved that he got his very own baseball glove.  Jasmine couldn't help but go for a ride right away. 

Friday evening found me at the soccer pitch.  Queensway Auto World were scheduled for a tough game against open division team Mr. Jake's Steakhouse.  They are a team with younger, fitter guys.  Talented players to say the least.  They hadn't lost a game yet this year, and after Friday night, they still hadn't.  It didn't help that we had very few players, only one spare, and a few of our best guys couldn't make it.  Sadly, that may be our downfall this year.  There is a lot of talent on the roster, but due to injuries and busy lives, we haven't all played in a game together.  It may not happen going forward as the summer months will add holidays to the list of reasons why guys can't make it.  I had my poorest outing of the season, but much credit goes to their team.  They made us look bad.  4 goals for them, and hardly a shot for us.  It was humbling. 

After soccer, I went to pitch some cards at the Treasure Cove.  I had made my return to poker the night before after nearly a month away.  The hour and a half spent there was uneventful, but a few buddies hastily organized a game over at a friends house.  In the end we had 9 of us playing a much smaller home game, that ended up being way more fun than playing at the Casino usually is.  We played 25 cent/25 cent blinds with a $20 buy in.  Your second buy could be $40, and we capped it at $50 for your 3rd and subsequent buys.  It was a mixed game, and I don't get too many chances to play live games other than hold em.  So, we started off with mostly holdem as the host's girlfriend was playing and we were being polite.  I raised the button to $1, small blind who is a smart thinking player who is also wild and unpredictable went all in for $20.  In the spirit of this being a small friendly game, and realizing that the $19 call was 1 raise in the casino game, I made the call with Q10 suited.  I knew that my buddy was on any 2 cards at that point.  I made 2 pair, my friend showed 4-2 off suit and I doubled up.  The chatter was mostly friendly, I was feeling good.  I proceeded to get exactly 1 more hand the rest of the night.  After a raise, a call and a three bet to $5, I moved my $20 stack in with QQ9 while playing crazy pineapple.  I was called by one of the other loose players.  I didn't improve, but the queens were good enough.  I walked out with $13 profit, but had a good time hanging with the guys outside of the casino. 

On Saturday Jasmine and I went to her soccer game, and while the game didn't go our way, I was more than proud of little girl.  I woke up a little late, Sheila and the kids had already gone out.  Jasmine had left me a little note.  She wanted me to know that she had hurt her foot really badly the night before and couldn't play.  When they came home we had a chat, and she showed me her foot.  It was badly bruised, she had stubbed her pinky toe, and the bruise had travelled up her foot from there.  Sheila and I were able to convince her to go and try playing goal.  She plays the first half of each game in net anyway, and Dad let her know how important she is to the team.  Also, she had her new pair of goalie gloves to try out.  She tried her best, even deciding to play out the second half.  I let her know that I was proud of her effort.  We ran into a hot team, and for whatever reason I couldn't convince half of the girls to run.  Alas, we lost. 

My mom and had come up in the morning, and had been visiting with Sheila and Asher at the house during soccer.  They met up with us after soccer and we all went to Noah's Ark, Prince George's very own petting zoo.  Asher had some fun meeting the animals, they mostly have different kinds of birds, sheep, goats, horses, pigs.  It really is pretty cool for a small city like Prince George.  Jasmine always likes going.  She really enjoys the horses.  They also have a number of different playgrounds, a ball pit, and a barn with a number of slides inside it.  Asher was more interested in the playground then he was the animals, but we had a good time regardless.  It's always nice to see my mom, and she always has fun with the kids.  She spent the night and had lots of quality time with her grandchildren.  Sheila made a great steak and chicken dinner that we all enjoyed. 

Sunday started with work.  I had Friday and Saturday off, so this was day 1 of a ridiculous 2 day work week.  I used a couple of lieu days, and I'm glad I got to spend some of that time off with my family and friends.  Work has been trying lately, but yesterday went off without a hitch.  Nary a reminder about behaviour was needed.  When I mentioned it after work to my mom, she joked that maybe that guys knew that it was Father's Day and were being nice.  Most of the time the guys are very calm and relaxed, and it was good to see that things were relatively back to normal.  I came home and saw my mom off, thanking her for coming to visit.  Sheila had already left to Quesnel for some time with her dad.  I had a few ideas in mind for me and kids.  We loaded up the truck and were off. 

We were hoping to get to the park in time to ride the train.  It is really cool and old, and Asher hadn't been on it yet as it was out of service last year.  As we got closer to the park Jasmine and I figured out that there was a Car Show going on.  Then I remembered that Metis Day was also going on.  We parked 3 blocks from the park, and as we walked closer signage was up for a Music Festival that was going on at the Museum in the park.  It was great to see all of the people out enjoying the weather, but these factors all conspired to help us miss out on the train.  Asher got to see it as it chugged around the track towards the storage shed.  I promised him we would come and go for a ride next week, but what ultimately curbed his disappointment was the dozens of vehicles (he uses that word, very funny) that were still lined up in the park for the Car Show.  We had missed a lot of them, but we had fun walking around checking out the ones that were still there.  An older man who was showing off his car gave Asher a hat that someone had left behind.  Thank You sir as dad had forgotten to put a hat or sunscreen on his son.  A few minutes later we bumped into Sheila's cousin Terry and his teenage daughters.  Jasmine and Asher both call him Uncle Terry, and his girls often babysit the kids.  He was in the same boat as me, his girls were being all nice to him on his special day.  Uncle Terry spoiled the kids with mini donuts and ice cream bars, Asher was very cute picking out a popsicle.  Jasmine helped him choose to Spiderman one, which mostly just melted all over his hands and face.  We visited a bit more, thanked Uncle for the treats, then were on our way back to the truck. 

Jasmine ran back to the truck to grab our tennis gear, while Asher and I made out way to the nearby courts.  It was getting hot so I decided to take my shirt off.  Monkey see, monkey do.  Asher wanted his off right away.  I laughed at how quickly this happened.  Asher has a new favorite sport.  He has his own racket, but there is no way that he can connect with the ball yet.  The best part?  He doesn't care.  As far as he is concerned, he is playing, and having a blast doing it.  He runs up to the net and throws the ball over, and this served as a good way for Jasmine and I to start a rally.  He likes to hoard the balls too, only allowing Jasmine and I to have 1 at a time, while he hangs onto the other 3.  A few times he crouched by the net, then ran and got the errant balls, just as a ball boy would in the pros.  We had a lot of fun, and Jasmine is getting better with practice.  We are able to rally a little bit and get a sweat going.  The rules are modified, numerous bounces are allowed, and Jasmine thought it was funny to play the ball even after it had hit the fence.  I was concern that Asher would get roasted, and we wanted to go and cool down so we decided it was time to head to the pool.  Jasmine asked Asher what his favorite sport was and until yesterday the answer was always hockey.  He responded with: "TENNNNNISSSSSS!!!" ( he pronounces it more like Denise with a T, very cute)

The Aquatic Centre was hosting a free swim, and I thought we had made a mistake when the parking lot was nearly empty.  We went inside and I was still unsure.  It turns out, everyone avoids the free swims perhaps assuming its going to be too busy.  The swim was frantic as usual, Asher never wants to stay in one place for long.  We got in trouble with a lady when Asher dumped a bucket of water on my head, then her toddler copied.  She was trying to avoid getting water in her eyes (not sure why), and I was laughing on the inside as I watched.  We moved on, Asher politely handing the bucket back to her son so he had 2 to splash her with.  Asher must have been extra cute yesterday as he had a few different older ladies fawning over him.  The pool visit concluded when I suggested it was time to go out for dinner.  Asher got out of the pool, ran over to Wawa as I chased him and hollered: "Time a go!!!  We leaving for dinnnnnnnahhhhh!!"  Everyone within 30 feet heard him and got a laugh out of his super serious face that he was giving Jasmine.

We went to the Chinese Buffet to eat, we were starving, and I wasn't interested in making Asher wait to eat.  He was bouncing off the walls by the time we got there.  Jasmine was reminded about my buffet rule, you have to eat at least 3 plates to get your money's worth.  She tried her best, and I decided she was okay with 2 plates and 2 desserts, hehe.  Asher ate a couple bites, but mostly he flirted with the old lady in the next both, smiled endlessly at every staff member that walked by, and crawled under the table back and forth between the sides of the both.  He ate his whole bowl of ice cream though, big surprise there.  As we left he was still bouncing around, running away from me and giggling wildly.  We strapped him in his seat, he ate his cookie, then fell asleep with the last of it in his hand.  Jasmine and I had to look back to see him sleeping, it was hard to believe he had turned that fast. 

When we got home I carried Asher in, pulled off his socks and shoes and laid him down im his bed.  I pulled the blanket up over him and turned the shade down.  My little boy is getting bigger everyday, but he still looks pretty small all by himself in his big boy bed.  Jasmine got ready for bed and laid down without a fuss.  I came to say goodnight, crawling into bed to visit for a minute.  Sheila rrived home from Quesnel a little later to find Jasmine and I sound asleep in her room.  What a great way to end a great day.  I'm a pretty lucky guy, and it's nice to be reminding of that from time to time.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Inside My Mind

I have been struggling to get something written this week.  Normally, I look forward to my time spent pecking away.  For some reason, come Monday this week I wasn't feeling it.  I worked hard this weekend, the routine at work was broken by some unexpected situations.  I am going to give you an old fashioned rambling blog. Follow along as I search my brain.

-Jasmine's soccer team.  Wow!  I was pretty discouraged to start the year.  It seemed many of the girls weren't very interested in soccer, and I would have a trying time teaching new skills.  I have to some extent, but I have spent my time instead encouraging aggression and working on finding the ideal position for each to girl to play.  I have found 3 dedicated and strong defenders.  Steve's (my co-coach) daughter has regained her confidence and along with Jasmine has been providing goal after goal.  After starting the year with 5 losses and a tie, we are unbeaten in our last 3.  After a 1-1 tie last week, a 3-2 win on Saturday, and a 2-1 win last night I'm not sure what the ceiling is.  The girls are watching the game from the sidelines now, and when good things happen they are getting excited and screaming and yelling.  I'm glad they are having fun with it.

-Queensway Auto World, member team of the 30+ division in the North Cariboo Senior Soccer League, did not concede a goal this week in 180 minutes of soccer.  We used two different and very capable goalies in the games, but for the most part, they just watched.  We knocked off the newest team in the league 3-0. then played the top team on Friday.  A physical battle ensued, but we came out on top, in part thanks to a replacement goalie who allowed 3 very soft goals.  It was all we needed.  3-0 scoreline once again.  I didn't score, but I am getting a fair bit of time on the ball, and I can see the benefits of my conditioning.  I had some fun, trying a move or two I don't usually go with.  I pulled off the move where the ball heads through your legs, but you reach back at the last minute and heel pass it the other direction.  I can't recall ever trying it before, and it even worked.  At 3-1-1 we are now tied at the top of the table.

-My son is sports obsessed.  He has to come to all of Jasmine and my soccer games.  He takes part in the warm up with Jasmine's team.  He kicks the ball around the backyard any chance he gets.  A day doesn't go by without him playing hockey downstairs.  He has to join me lifting weights every chance he gets.  As I realize nearly every topic on my mind also has to do with sports, I guess it's not his fault.  He was born with it.

-As I type, Asher has climbed up on the couch, set up a pillow and cuddled up in the blanket.  This is about the same time he does this most days that we spend together.  It's pretty cute.  Making it even more so is that he is staring over at me batting his eyelashes as his eyeballs head into hiding.  If I look over and smile, he smiles back, even bigger.  What can I do but work hard to match his width?  Smile away little man!

-Jasmine is pretty awesome in her own right.  I don't get the super big smiles from her as often as I do Asher, but she still loves Dad.  When I arrived to buy some goodies at her SPCA bake sale on Sunday, she ran up and gave me a huge hug.  She was dressed very nicely with earrings and a nice dress, and her hair very fancy too.  Jasmine and her friend had come up with idea to sell goodies and donate the money to the SPCA.  Sheila slaved away making cookies, while the other girl and her mom made cupcakes.  When I arrived, they had recruited a bunch of helpers.  There was 7 or 8 of them altogether, having fun, helping out.  Jasmine saw half of her class, either helping or buying goodies.  Everything went, and after a few donations were added, the girls had $123 to give to the animals.  They went down and gave the money to the SPCA last night, and Jasmine is very excited.  She and her friend had their picture taken and may appear on the SPCA Facebook page! 

-8 guys got together and drafted 10 players each for a hockey playoff pool.  6 of the 10 guys I grabbed were gone after the first round.  I gave up on the pool, and barely caught a minute of round 2.  I didn't realize that when I drafted David Krejci, I would be getting the leading playoff scorer.  I watched as the Bruins dispatched the Penguins, and the Hawks knocked off the Kings.  This leaves a bizarre situation.  First place guy has 73 points but no players.  Other guy also has 73 points and only Dave Bolland left who has 1 point so far.  68 points and in 3rd place, he has 4 players, 3 Hawks and 1 Bruin.  I'm in 5th, 64 points, 4 guys, 3 Bruins and 1 Hawk.  Two poolies will be rooting for plenty of 1-0 scores.  One guy wants a long series with Chicago doing most of the scoring.  I will be cheering for a long series with Boston scoring more.  Only top 2 get paid, I will be certain to make money if I gain the magical 10 points to pass the tied guys.  Assuming Dave Bolland doesn't get a hat trick or two.

-I got a little carried away yesterday.  I did my chest and triceps workout in the morning and early afternoon, I was way to distracted playing around with Asher so it took me forever.  I went and coached Jasmine's game.  Came home and ate with Sheila and the kids.  A fantastic chicken and rice dish, that had us all eating second helpings.  After sitting and hanging out for a while I set out.  A 7 km bike ride, the first time on my bike in 3 weeks.  It felt good.  I timed in at 18:07.  I sat down for a bit.  Checked on my fantasy baseball teams.  I stretched out.  I completed the 5 km run in 24:51.  I finished off the night with a long leg workout, 8 exercises, 3 sets each.  I discovered a new favourite exercise.  1 leg squats.  Just your body weight.  I even grab onto the weight bench to assist.  I can do about 10-12 each side before the legs give out.  Feeling alright today, was expecting the hit by a truck feeling.

-I'm reading again!  I started "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" last week, and I have actually been spending some time with it.  I like the original style of storytelling, and I get into these types of storylines quite easily.  It has a very similar feeling to Aldous Huxley or George Orwell.  Full report to come once completed.

-Sheila is thinking about turning her baking passion into a more serious endeavor.   She is thinking about selling baked goods at the Farmer's Market, specializing in gluten free items.  Jasmine would likely join her in the project, and it sounds like a great idea to me.  Asher could wear a sandwich board and walk around promoting the booth.  Who could resist that little smiling face?

-We are being very casual about planning our holidays in August.  First we were planning to go spend some time on Vancouver Island.  Now the plan is stalled at "camping".  That where, how and the rest of it has yet to be determined.  I would like less driving time and more relaxing time.  Maybe somewhere near a city so that we can do some tourist type stuff too.  Of course, any other city requires considerable driving time.  We still have 2 months to figure this out, right?

-My fantasy baseball teams are doing pretty good so far.  My 1 team has been in 1st or 2nd all season in the 12 team league.  I keep finding studs on the free agent list, and 2 weeks ago I snagged Domonic Brown right before he produced 8 homers in 7 games.  Jason and I share 1 team, and we have been top 3 all year.  We currently sit comfortably in 2nd out of 10 teams.  Lastly, I am in 7th of 13 in my other one.  I have managed to put together a really solid pitching staff, and with a little work on my offense I could be contending.

-Until next time!

Monday, 3 June 2013

46 Minutes and 28 Seconds of Sunshine on a Sunday Morning: or How I Ran Faster Than I Ever Have Before, at a Distance I Have Only Tried Twice Before

I am someone who often struggles with my own self doubts.  Am I good enough?  Am I successful?  Am I doing the best I can in life?  I don't want to say that I get depressed at times, but I do get down on myself for periods that can last minutes or even hours or days.  I know that people who are truly depressed constantly fight a battle against themselves.  This weekend, I lined up a challenge for myself that until Sunday morning seemed daunting.  In all my imperfect moments going forward I can look back at what I accomplished and smile. 

I had managed to get most of the week off from work.  I wanted time to prepare for Sunday morning, I was able to play my soccer game Friday night, and I was able to spend some time hanging out with my family.  I had run a 10 km trial run on Monday and lived to tell of it.  Please spend time reading the post I authored after that run if you haven't already.  It's here.  I ran a slower paced 7 km on Wednesday and that also went well. 

On Friday night I suited up in the red and white kit of my mew soccer team "Queensway Auto World" and arrived at the field ready to take on "Eden Spas".  I got a fun surprise when a couple of the guys I was going to play with in the recreational league arrived.  They were set to play as call ups for our opponent.  One of the guys joked about me "ditching them", and assured me that I would pay for my rudeness in the game.  All in good fun, Dan is a great soccer player, who could easily play in the league if he wanted to.  As expected, he more than held his own against us, providing his team with endless energy in the midfield.  I started the game on the bench, as we had a full squad with 4 extras.  I came on about 20 minutes in, played striker for a few minutes before shifting back to left wing.  Nearing the end of the half our striker had the ball just inside the 18 yard box in the left side.  He is shifty and quick, so a second defender moved over to help on him.  He quickly moved laterally and fed the ball between the two defenders to me, as my mark had left me to help.  I took one touch to control, then blasted a low left footed shot.  It skimmed along the turf with an out turn as it headed towards the far side of the net.  Having the perfect view, I knew it was in well before it entered the net.  The ball clanged off the inside of the goal post and settled into the net.  I can't recall the last goal I scored in a soccer game, and the last meaningful soccer goal I scored in a full field soccer game was probably back in high school.  (erm, I barely scored any then either, but there must have been at least 1!)  I sat again to start the second half but I joined the game about 10 minutes in this time and helped our team hold on to the 1-0 lead.  We didn't play great, and neither did Eden Spas.  It was an odd game where very little happened.  We committed plenty of fouls, but nothing really malicious.  As the thoughts I having my goal hold up as the winner were dancing in my head, we conceded a free kick about 30 yards from goal.  The ball came in, took a couple of bounces and fell to one of their guys.  He hit the ball, it deflected off of a defenders leg and alluded the goalie's diving effort.  No chance to save it, and the game was tied.  Worst of all, there was 3 minutes left in the game.  It took a little shine off of the night, but I still have my goal to remember.  I've never played at this level of soccer, so scoring a goal in only my second game of the season was an awesome feeling.  I believe there is more to come.

I coached Jasmine's soccer game Saturday afternoon, then planned to take it easy the rest of the day to prepare myself for the next morning.  Ian came over and we watched the Bruins and Penguins game.  After the game, I threw on a movie "Oz the Great and Powerful" hoping it would interest both the adults and the kids.  Meh.  It was pretty bad, but Jasmine seemed to like it.  My mom, dad and sister all arrived from Quesnel.  They were up to watch in the big race in the morning.  Sheila had run out to the store and spoiled me with a few protein bars, gatorade drinks and a pedometer that also tracked time and distance.  I went to lay down pretty early, hoping to get lots of sleep for the race.  I wasn't nervous, but more anxious.  I had laid off the junk food for a couple days, chewed a protein bar and had some gatorade.  I surfed on the internet, hoping to bore myself to sleep.  In the end, it was a fitful night's sleep with only a little rest.  I rose at 645 to prepare.

Observations from race day:

-Having a hot shower before running is great.  I usually run in the late afternoon when Sheila gets home, but I will have to remember how much energy a shower seems to provide.

-I kept most of my pre-run routine as consistent as possible.  I had a half cup of coffee.  I ate a few bites of a banana, and bit of a protein bar.  Typically, I want to run on an empty or close to empty stomach.  I knew that I would need a bit of energy for the race, so I ate a bit.  It worked out, I didn't get a stomach cramp, and I had a decent amount of energy.

-My dad drove me down to the track, with the rest of my supporters (it feels good to type that) due to arrive closer to race time.  After getting my shoes on, it was nice to walk a few laps with my dad and chat, it took my mind away from the race which was a mere half hour away. 

-I had my pedometer, my plan was to use it to run at a steady pace.  I was shooting for a time of 50 minutes or 5 minutes per kilometer.  I had run at or around that pace throughout most of my training.  Without my ipod I thought maybe I would run slower.  I was hoping that the competitors ahead of me and my desire to keep up would counteract this. 

-I wanted to start the race near the front of the pack.  Too close to the back and I would be stuck weaving through people.  If I was too close to the front though, having numerous people run by me would probably be demoralising.  I just moved onto the track, and people kind of filled in around me.  The race organisers counted us down, and we were off.

-We circled half of the track, then left the stadium to begin running the roads of Prince George.  I quickly realised that my pedometer had reset, and was currently counting miles and not kilometers.  Not a big deal, I still had a timer, but I would now rely on feel and instinct to pace myself.

-One lady ran past me as we left the stadium, and I would soon realise how much I didn't want this to happen during the race.  I started up the hill on Massey drive, and soon had someone breathing down my neck.  A lady passed me as we neared the top of the hill, but only for a few seconds.  As we crested the hill I lengthened my stride and passed her back.  I slowly moved away from her and for the next 3 or so kilometers I ran completely by myself.  The nearest person ahead of me was probably 200 meters, and while I wasn't looking back often, I could see when I went around corners that I had a comfortable gap behind me as well.  I didn't expect this.  I thought it would be a tighter race, but with 122 runners of all shapes and sizes, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. 

-The caterpillars were out in full force to cheer us on, happily being squished underfoot as they were impossible to avoid completely. 

-I'm used to running without any drinks on the road.  It was nice to have 3 different drink stations along the course.

-Something that is quickly becoming "my thing" while I run, I said hello or thank you to every single person that was out on the course.  There were a handful of spectators, and most of them shouted words of encouragement, or clapped.  Every one of them got a "thank you" or "good morning" from me.  The volunteers at the drink stations and the crosswalks who made the race possible also got "thank you" from me.  It was fun and inspiring at the same time.

-While the support of strangers was nice, it was even more inspiring to have my family there to support me.  About 3 km into the race as I gradually gained ground on the woman in front me we came up on one of the local schools.  I noticed 3 people sitting in chairs in the parking lot, and I realised as I got closer it was Sheila and my mom and dad.  They stood and cheered, I waved and hollered back at them, then got back to racing.  Jasmine and Asher both hollered at me from the playground.  I looked over to see Jasmine waving from the top of the jungle gym.  I would see them again shortly as they jumped in their vehicles and drove by me.  My sister Paulette, and Jasmine and Asher were all hollering out the windows as they drove by, with the horns going as well.  We covered a few kilometers of Ospika, and I managed to get past the lady I was chasing, before setting my sights on the next runner.  He was a good few hundred meters ahead, but he seemed to be slowing somewhat.  We ran a short hill as we approached Massey once more, and after we crested I decided to pick up the speed considerably to get by.  That might have been the most enjoyable part of the race, passing someone while giving everything I had.  We rounded the corner onto 18th, and my family drove past once more, hollering and making a commotion.  They stopped up ahead, snapping photos, and my Dad successfully passed me a drink.  I got one more drive by as I left the CNC parking lot, and Paulette famously shouted: "GOOOOOO Matt!!  You're in first place!!!!"  She couldn't see anyone in front of me, and there wasn't anyone.  I had a laugh and kept going.

-As I turned onto Westwood for the home stretch I looked at my timer for the first time since the first kilometer.  I had run for 40 minutes.  I wasn't sure how close to the finish line I was, but I had a feeling that I was running a fast race.  I approached Massey and turned the corner towards the stadium.  The runners from the 5 km race were coming in from a different direction, but we would all run back down Massey together.  A sign was placed near the corner telling us we had 1 km to go.  I knew I was running a fast time, and I felt like I had some gas left in the tank.  There was a downhill portion, and I relaxed my body, allowing myself to lengthen my stride.  I passed at least a dozen runners down the hill, picked the pace up a little more as we approached the track.  I entered the track, and decided to leave it all out there.  I sprinted the last 250 meters, passing another 5 or 6 runners.  I even got a reaction from the race m.c. who couldn't help but notice this crazy man galloping across the line.  As it turned out, this isn't normal and I was literally the only person who did a flat out sprint across the line.  I felt great.  I checked my time and I knew I had clocked in at less than 47 minutes!  Sheila and Asher approached, and I got a huge hug from my son.  What a feeling!

-I found out a short time later that my official time was 46 minutes and 28 seconds.  I had finished 14th out of 122 runners.  The 13 people who finished ahead of me were "runners".  Most of them were seasoned veterans.  I'm more than happy that I could be that competitive when I have only run that distance twice before in my life. 

-They handed out medals to the top 3 finishers in each category.  I was in the 19-49 year old male category, and I finished a respectable 6th of 22.  I was 6 minutes off of the third place time, to which Sheila remarked, "well, it's only 6 minutes.  I'm sure you could do that."  Very supportive, but a lofty goal no doubt. 

-While my time is a great accomplishment, the thing I am most proud of, is that other than 1 lady passing me in the first 200 meters, not a single person passed me during the 10 km race.  At the crest of Massey when a different lady passed me for a few seconds, I set that as a goal.  No one was going to overtake me as I ran.  I kept my pace up and didn't feel like I had too many lulls in the race at all.  Other than that brief moment, no one else came close to passing me.  Proof that I can run this distance regularly, without suffering.

-Other than some pain in my left shin, which was present before the race, I feel fine today.  This makes me think I didn't over do it, and maybe I am capable of doing even better. 

-My mom asked me if I got the bug, and honestly, I don't know.  The competitor in me wants to do this more often.  And I will do it again.  In fact, I plan to pull an even more ambitious double in less than 2 weeks.  This time was soccer Friday night followed by a 10 km run on Sunday morning.  June 14th I play soccer again, followed by a 10 km trail race the morning of June 15th.  Why not keep the challenges coming?