Sunday, February 23, 2014

Week 8 of 52: Why traveling with me is not fun for you

I've got an hour and 15 minutes to get this post out, so here goes nothing (Please don't hold this against me but I'm not letting Chris win this early into the competition!):

Top 5 reasons I suck as a travel partner:

1. I'm an introvert - as much as I like experiencing new cultures and meeting new people I don't like to do that all the time! The problem with travel is there is a tendency for people to want to squeeze everything into their 2 week trip. And yeah if that's you then we will have a problem. Yeah in 2 weeks if I manage to do 2 cultural things that is remarkable. So either find someone else who likes stimulation overload or accept that you are sightseeing on your own.

2. I'm a sociologist - I find fun in the most boring things. For example, one of my favourite things to do in a new place is visit the local Walmart. I don't shop at Walmart but I like to see the people when I travel and let's face it, everyone shops at Walmart. It is a great place to see the local wildlife.

Starbucks in Qatar! Boring to you, super exciting to me!!
3. I'm a writer - kind of related to the first two points, just place me in a coffee shop with my laptop and I'm happy. You could lose me for days doing this in my regular environment, now add a new environment!! I might just spend the whole 2 week vacation doing this!

4. I get lost easily - hey, if you consider getting to the destination half the fun then we might be alright but if you are one of those people who needs to travel from point A to B with absolutely no deviation and insist that I be the navigator then we are most definitely in trouble! Not exaggerating! Ask anyone I've gone trail running with. Seriously dudes, I get lost on straight roads. I know that is kind of hard to believe but it's true. It is easy for me to get lost because my brain convinces me to take random turns because it feels that at that moment this is the right thing to do. I know it makes no sense. It frequently happens when I'm by myself or if you ask me to lead the trail run! It's like my brain starts wandering and then I do. And yes I have been known to get lost with the GPS. I'm just directionally challenged, please accept it.

5. I'm just not fun - I know you think I'm just saying that; but, seriously, I'm really not that fun of a person. For example, one of my favourite things to do is read a book and lie in bed all day. I don't care if I'm traveling or not. I love to read and I normally do not have time to do it during my regular life so unfortunately that means when I travel I do a lot of reading. So far on my trip I've read two books, two magazines cover-to-cover, and have already started reading book three. I have a fourth book as back up, just in case. 

So if you just read this post and were like: "what is Andrea talking about?! Not fun??!! What??!! This was the most interesting read ever!! All my vacations are like this!!" and you are looking for a travel partner, please get in touch :)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Week 7 of 52: More Muslim than I 5 reasons I have not been deported from Qatar

Not that being deported from Qatar is a goal of mine, I was just thinking that some who have known me throughout my life are probably a bit surprised is all.
Intercon Hotel, Doha, Qatar.

Let me explain.

I'm visiting my good friend Ann. I have known Ann since grade 7. We likely became friends over the shared trauma of being moved to Hamilton by our well-meaning families at the age of 12. She moved from London, Ontario and me, Winnipeg, Manitoba. We basically attended the same schools from grade 6 to OAC (grade 13). We hung out in overlapping social circles but not the same ones growing up. It wasn't until she finished teacher's college and moved back to Hamilton that we became the girl friends you see depicted in media. We weren't giving each other manicures and shit like that but we did marathon Sex and the City.

It was only 2 years of solid friend time we shared together before I left Hamilton for Victoria to attend graduate school. FYI - solid friend time = talking on the phone regularly, going dancing together and talking about boys. And during these 2 years, Ann knew me as such:

the girl who worked at a law firm full-time during the day while finishing her undergraduate degree at night school and summer school. The girl who was on the Dean's Honor's List and had plans to attend graduate school.  The girl who drank every day, starting at lunch until after school, smoked pot every night before bed (to relax!) and who chained smoked and drank coffee like it was water. The girl who would not get a serious boyfriend because she was leaving and didn't see the point of wasting her time with a guy that she was going to eventually break up with (I hate watching men cry, then having them stalk me!). 

Ironically, when I moved to BC, I gave up drinking and pot. Pot never really came back but drinking has made several reappearances and no doubt will come back again at a later date. But my substances for self-medication are the subject for another blog post. My point is, Ann has experienced a different Andrea than the one my current friend circle knows and loves. So she was a little surprised when I showed up at the Doha airport in my present form.

We both like shiny things!!
Top 5 Andrea behaviors that surprisingly align with Muslim culture here in Doha, Qatar:

1. No alcohol! Between my depression and workout regime I have no desire to drink right now so I'm happy to be in a place where I don't feel the societal pressure to drink or at least the pressure to explain why I don't want to. 

2. No drugs! Obviously pharmaceuticals are ok, otherwise I would be in trouble! As I do have the tendency to resemble a walking pharmacy when I travel. Always a fun challenge when I have to explain to foreign officials toting machine guns that the pills they found in my bag are for my allergies and that I am not a drug smuggler. Just so we are clear, I'm referring to my 3 week road trip through Mexico. Thankfully my sign language is universally recognized! I'm talking about the illegal kind. Not a problem I haven't smoked pot in over 10 years, unless you count my Amsterdam visit where I had to try it. You could order it off a menu at the coffee shop! I had to do it once just for the experience.

3. No public displays of affection (PDA)! No problem. I have no partner, I have no interest in hooking up and I don't like to watch other people touching each other. So I'm good on this one. In fact I'm kind of surprised at how much I'm in approval of this one, that the other day when we went clubbing I almost had a couple kicked out for their PDA. In my defense their PDA wasn't a simple kiss or hand holding it was full blown dry humping on the dance floor. Besides the fact that their PDA was interfering with my ability to dance the main thing that bugged me was how disrespectful it was. It is so not cool to disrespect the culture of a country you are a guest in, even if you disagree with the culture. You can go to jail for this shit! Dry humping in public in Qatar is like being invited to thanksgiving dinner, whipping out your dick, and pissing all over the host's dinning room table in front of all the guests. It's just not cool people. I don't give a crap what you decide to do in the privacy of your own home with your lover or lovers, that is not my business, but when you put it in front of me like that, you start making it my business. Sorry I just don't care to watch that shit and I don't like being forced to! Looking back on that night I'm kind of surprised I didn't get them kicked out. It was almost unbearably tempting to complain as I was pretty sure if I did, they would go to jail. And that made me feel kind of happy to know I could wield that type of power...and it is shit like that which makes me think I was an evil dictator in a past life. But my past lives are totally the subject of another blog post or two!
Perfect amount of skin for clubbing, in my humble opinion!

4. Cover it up people!! People dress very conservative here and I love it! Except for when this extends to my run gear-don't love that so much. If I didn't have the propensity to overheat when I run then this wouldn't be an issue; however, the weather here is like summer back home and everyone knows I lose about 5 pounds of water when running outside in the summer and that is when I'm wearing just short shorts and a tank top. Needless to say I have been spending a lot of time on the treadmill. My conservative dress preference comes from the fact that I belong to the "less is more" camp of style. It is shocking to some because I've been frequently told that if people had a body like mine they would show it off more. Yes it was always my goal to get a smoking hot body so I could parade around the streets naked. Yeah, no it wasn't. Sorry guys but the smoking hot body is just a mere side effect from developing healthier mental health coping strategies.  One of the few benefits of my frequent tendencies to be unreasonably anxious about nothing. Yeah, if you want to see me naked the closest you will get is taking up running and running with me when it is hot out. You may be able to catch a glimpse of my thighs and my arms but you won't ever get to see my amazing abs because I just can't bring myself to run in just my sports bra no matter how hot it is. Maybe if I was Kara Goucher, Shalane Flanagan or Catrin Jones racing the Barcelona marathon...maybe...thankfully, I do not have the elite runner problem of being a woman and needing to find the right balance between appropriate attire for optimal performance and being stylish.

5. No pork! Although I have recently taken up eating meat again to appease my body's iron stores I don't exactly crave meat nor really care for it that much. So really not a problem. I actually would much rather just take iron supplements than eat meat because that is actually better for my sensitive digestive system that way.

Oh and my bonus point: I woke up this morning at 4:45am to the Islamic Call to Prayer. I got up and opened my window so I could listen to it. I thought it sounded beautiful.

No I'm not converting! I'm just saying!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I assure you, there is no situation in Qatar

Just have to say that my first title for this blog entry was "I assure you I will return with my head intact" but then thought maybe that was a bit insensitive or inappropriate and because I am neither of those things I changed it to the boring non-sensationalist title above.

Disclaimer: OMG! If this is the first blog entry you read by me and you actually don't know me I should tell you that I am both insensitive and inappropriate! If you have no sense of humour stop reading now!!!  Ok, glad that is out of the way...back to the post...

First day in Qatar and my biggest concern is whether or not I will be able to make myself some Starbucks coffee first thing this morning. Have you seen theses power outlets? Confusing. And having your best friend explain how to use a universal converter after 24 hours of travel with maybe 3 hours sleep is sketch at best.

Yeah, so I know I'm in the Middle East but I assure you there is no situation where I am. Although if I don't get my coffee a situation may develop over here! It always kind of surprises me that my Master's Degree in Sociology did not prepare me better for making coffee in foreign countries...sigh

Yes, so, I'm not in a war torn country or a country run by Islamic terrorists; however, I am in an Islamic country. And if you equate the word Islam to the word terrorism or female oppression than yeah I can see your cause for concern. Because you know how much I love throwing myself in dangerous situations and I always love to feel discriminated against. So yeah, my job over the next two weeks is to help demystify Qatar by chronicling my very astute societal observations in this lovely blog for all to read :) Something my Master's Degree does make me qualified for! Yay!

Just so we are super clear on how little danger I am actually in. On the way home from the airport last night my friend was showing me some potential run routes and at one point she said, "actually you may not want to run here because it's kind of dangerous."

So naturally I took this opportunity to ask what type of danger I was actually in. And I made sure to ask in a super crystal clear kind of way just so she didn't misunderstand me.

"Oh, like are there tribes of terrorists living over by those dunes over there that will kidnap me if I go running by them?"

Apparently no.

"Maybe just tribes of crazy Arabs that will lose all control if they see me in my run gear and just stone me to death on the street?"

Still a no.

"Dude, am I going to get kidnapped and beheaded while I'm here?"

At this point my friend told me to shut up and let her talk so she could clarify what she meant by dangerous. Construction. The sidewalks aren't finished and I would have to run on the road. She then suggested we get me home so I could get some sleep. Good plan.

Oh! And I just figured out how to make coffee! Situation adverted.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Week 6 of 52: Crushing Cedar - 2014 Goal #2 Accomplished


My awesome bookshelf!
Most people hear that word and think of some lovely wooden furniture piece they have in their living room (like my awesome bookshelf!!) but to me it makes me think of a race. A 12k race I ran last year. A race that was an epic disaster. If you need a refresh read my post where I describe the awfulness in surprisingly scant detail (see Goal #2).

I don't want to get into too much detail about the race, mostly because I have seriously wasted too much time thinking about it for one lifetime. And to write about it just feels wrong on so many levels. But I guess I kind of have to otherwise you will not truly understand the scope of the accomplishment here.

Last year I thought it would be fun while I was training for my first half marathon to do all of the Vancouver Island Race Series races. All 8 of them. The first one was the Harriers 8k race (usually held one of the first Sundays in January). I thought, I will just run it for fun and see how I do. Well for someone not really trying all that hard, I did quite well. 40:40, almost a 5min/k pace. Not bad for doing an 8k time trial the day before the race.

Even though it was an awesome race I still found it too much mentally to race the next race, 10k Cobble Hill. So I skipped it and decided I would do every other race. So next up was Cedar 12k.

Despite some mad tappering the week before the race I was exhausted come race day. I slept well, I was well fed but I was exhausted. I thought once I got out of the car and did a warm up run I would get my energy back.


I was seriously exhausted. Every step felt heavy and like way too much work. "It is a hilly course," people rationalize, so of course it is hard but then those people don't really know me because if they did they would know how much I love running hills. How I am always the one to suggest we should throw in another hill to our run route for fun. Yes, I am that crazy person. And even if I found going up hills hard the going down part should be easier but it was not. Nothing was easy about this race. It was all hard and awful. I had to keep stopping to walk and that just pissed me off. But I was just too tired to keep running. I remember being so frustrated that I frequently thought about faking a heart attack just so the paramedics could take me back to the finish line because I was just so done with this race.

Turns out I was low iron. Unfortunately, I did not find this out until 6 months later so it gave my brain lots of time to obsess about everything that went wrong and then try to make sense out of it. I can't believe how much time I spent trying to find a pattern by monitoring my output and my energy levels, sleep hours, quality of sleep, diet, coffee consumption, hydration thankfully I have a coach that analyses my running for me because leaving that to me is exhausting.

Anyways, on to the present.

Well I ran the race today. I was not expecting great things. I haven't been feeling great this last while (see This, my life post if you need a recap on that) so I was not expecting to wake up suddenly happy and full of life. And I did not. I managed to get out of bed 20 minutes before Chris came to pick me up, threw some stuff in a bag, threw my run gear on and headed out the door.

Then Starbucks happened. Coffee always makes me happy. Bought a grande dark, bottle of water and a chocolate chunk cookie. The breakfast of champions clearly.

Then Starbucks happened again. Bought a tall dark. Yup, it was that kind of morning. You know the ones with the low hanging clouds the color of ash grey. I will say that this inspired an interesting car discussion about whether being burned alive was possibly one of the worst ways to go. I believe the consensus was yes. Yup, it was that kind of morning.

Then we got to Cedar. 45 minutes before race start. Which was good because it took me that long to get ready. No the race organizers were not inefficient. I'm just depressed where the simple act of getting ready to race is overwhelming.

I will say that my state of depression is pretty fun as an afterthought. And would be really fun as a tv show where I was not the star but someone else was, so it would be really funny because it wasn't me. Sigh.

The site of me walking into a gymnasium full of runners milling about was pretty hilarious. I mean I basically rolled out of bed, my hair is in the messiest lopsided ponytails ever, I'm clutching my starbucks as if somehow it is giving me strength to move through this mess of a life. Everyone around me is stretching, looking all serious and shit, eying me and my ill-placed starbucks. I march up to the race registration and announce "I'm here to sign up for this race thing that is happening."

The middle-aged couple stare at me a little shocked. The people in the long line adjacent to me turn and watch no doubt I am much more entertaining than their pre-race anxious thoughts.

I continue on, "how do we make that happen?!" Said, with probably, a little too much enthusiasm.

They point me to the table to fill out the registration form. I leave and come back 2 minutes later.

"Here I filled out my form!" I think some people may have clapped.

They go to give me my number then stop when they noticed I hadn't checked the waiver.

I will just say making jokes about suing people generally does not go over well.

Next, I make my way to the far left hand corner of the gym and just stand there. I don't know what to do. The decision between texting my friends to let them know where I am, going to the washroom and pinning my bib to my shirt feels perplexing. Is this depression or is this just me being a space cadet?

Then I start talking to myself. Thankfully I quickly realize that makes me look crazy so I turn to the people sitting near me and engage them in a conversation.

"I'm really nervous." I say.

The older woman, in street clothes, looks at me sympathetically. The old man, in race clothes, nods knowingly. 

"There are a lot of people here or this gym is really small." I continue.

"Where are you from?" She asks me.

"I came from Victoria."

"Us too."

"You're racing?"

"He is." She points to her husband who is staring out at the mass of runners with a look of serenity.

These are our people. These runners.

"He doesn't get nervous anymore."

I want to be older and wiser. I want his peace.

Me and the woman smile at each other. Her smile is warm. Like a mother's smile. Supportive.

"Awesome. Good luck!" I say to her and her husband.

She says thank you for him. He just smiles.

"I need to find a washroom."

"There is one right behind you." She says helpfully.

"Wow. I sure lucked out with this spot. Thanks!"
Not nearly as messed up as the field trip to the mass grave

I run the race. And I have fun. I chat with my friends Kim and Steven for the first few kilometers. Then I break away for a bit. I focus on my form. Mid-forefront strike, roll back, spring in step. Lean forward. Pick up knees. Keep shoulders down. Lower my arms. Glide. Peace.

I come across Katie, a woman who I'm training for the Oak Bay Half Marathon. She is walking. I get her to start running again and spend a kilometer with her. Then I break away again.

At the turn around I cheer my fellow runners as they pass me headed to the finish. I love their intensity and passion for the race. It is inspiring to watch. I do not have the fire within. Not this time. I'm not disappointed by this. I know it will come back. I made it out of bed, I am running. That is all that matters right now.

The next four kilometers are not as bad as last time. I'm tired but not exhausted. I can run the hills. It doesn't hurt. It's hard but it doesn't hurt. I run, I walk, I smile. I'm not running as fast as last time, and that is ok. 

For the last kilometer I run with one of my run peeps, Nancy. I try to motivate her by yelling words of encouragement to her. I tell her to follow me and I will run her in. I think it helps she finishes right behind me. Katie follows a close second. Kim and Steven are already waiting, their plates full of food. 

Chris comes in soon after, finishing strong on the sprint. I cheer him in. He's happy, he finished several minutes faster than last year.

I finished a good 6 minutes slower than last year. My average pace was at least 30 seconds slower than last year. I'm not disappointed. It's not the numbers that make me happy it is the experience. I was with my people, my runners. And that makes today's race a lovely, fun, run.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Week 5 of 52: Fucking Delicious Banana Bread Recipe for the days you feel like not leaving the fucking house

Ok, as you are all aware, I have depression.  And that sometimes results in me not being able to leave the house. Although in all fairness I'm an introvert and need my down time so sometimes it is hard to determine what brings about my need to isolate myself from the world. Now, before you get all self-righteous and tell me that I can physically leave the house it's not like my legs are broken, I will try to explain it to you in a way your "never-been-touched-by-depression" mind can process. Let's pretend my mind has the function of legs, well my mind is broken. Get it?! Good. Moving on.

So today I woke up to the smell of rotting bananas. So instead of getting all down on myself about my tendency to forget to eat food before expiry, I decide I'm going to make banana bread!

Love the smell of rotting fruit in the morning!
Banana bread is awesome! I know this to be true because I tend to eat it all in one sitting. So I pull up my favourite banana bread recipe to see if I have all the ingredients.  

FYI - my favourite place for starter recipes tends to be I call them starter recipes because they are so easy to follow and so not intimidating. Good things for the newbie baker in me.

Because I have been baking seriously for about a year now, I have acquired quite the collection of baking essentials, so I was feeling fairly confident that I would be able to make this recipe without having to go to the grocery store. Important after yesterday's grocery store incident (more on that in a bit).

Ingredient FAIL! Not enough butter. Actually it is probably best to say no butter because I'm not sure how long that butter has been sitting in my fridge for...

Butter fucking sucks! I only ever use it sometimes in baking which isn't enough to keep a steady supply of it in my kitchen.

I weigh my options...ok, there really are no options, I need butter.

I really don't want to leave the house! Ok, let me explain. But first a disclaimer: I don't think I will be able to find the words to accurately describe the mortification of yesterday's incident, but I will try so you will get why I'm being extra whiny about not wanting to leave the house.

So yesterday, I didn't feel like leaving the house but needed to. I needed to eat and I had no food in the kitchen and I ran 13k earlier that day so I really needed to eat.  So I dragged my ass out of bed and got ready to leave the house.

I had been napping in bed ever since my post-run shower and my hair was "wavy". Read: bed head. I tried brushing it but really that never helps. So I threw it back in a pony tail and decided I was going for that messy pony look. Although if you checked out my face you would know that wasn't exactly true. I'm a stomach sleeper which makes all the blood pool around my eyes, which basically forms these puffy skin clouds that hug my eyeballs. Yeah, I looked like shit. But I was all "I can make it to the store, grab some food and get back without running into anyone." Also I put in my ear buds to drone out the world with music. Music gives me special powers to ignore all things in my immediate radius.

My special powers work up until I enter the produce section at Market on Yates.

So I'm rocking out in the produce section checking out the Kale selection (yeah I'm cool like that) when I look up and see a totally smoking hot guy. And not just any smoking hot guy but the guy I'm currently crushing on. And that's when I realize my special powers aren't working because he catches my eye and waves hi. And he is smiling, he looks so happy, so opposite of me. I fake a smile and wave. Worst of all is he is not doing one of those 'wave bys', which in all honestly is all I'm capable of at that moment, nope instead he is displaying conversation initiation behaviour. You know, like sustained eye contact and moving closer. I reluctantly take out my headphones.

He asks me about the run I went on earlier that day. Don't be surprised! Any guy I have a crush on talks to me about running!!

Of course I'm reluctant to get too close to him look like shit and I'm still hoping he will keep walking by and not want to talk even though we already are engaged in conversation (yes, I'm delusional that way).

So I'm not sure how this happened exactly but a pile up happened in the aisle where I was standing and this old woman got tangled up in my basket trying to get by me. The only way to disentangle her was to move out of the aisle and stand beside my crush. So I managed to maneuver out of the stifling mess in the most flustered possible way-taking huge breaths and sighs and then...I blurt out the word "Cedar!" Ok, it was more like yelling.

He just stared at me for a moment, I think trying not to laugh too hard at my complete and utter social ridiculousness, I mean who just yells random words like that? Although it is not random, I am referring to a race coming up next weekend and he knows that. But I guess I didn't need to yell that at him while standing right in front of him. We talk about the race briefly the whole time he is smiling and I'm pretty sure holding back laughter and that just makes me more animated and spastic (naturally). Finally we end the dreadful conversation. I go back to the produce section and hope I can grab my stuff and get through check-out without having to see him again.

Yes, I feel your pain.
Yeah right! I approach the check-out and there he is. So I go into the line beside him and turn away from him, hoping he won't notice me. I peruse the impulse buy magazines and catch the cover of the February 2014 Vogue - Lena Dunham, of Girls awesomeness, looking all wide-eyed and uncomfortable stares back at me. And yes, I'm realizing the irony that I am having a Hannah moment. Only I'm lacking her verbal panache so I'm more feeling like her boyfriend Adam. Fuck.

As I go to pay, I see my crush out of the corner of my eye leaving and he makes sure to wave and smile goodbye to me. I wave weakly back and I swear I see him laugh at me as he leaves. Well, that's when I decide I'm going to take my sweet ass time paying and leaving the store because I am not going to run into him on the walk home. Isn't it cute how I think I can control these things?!

I'm now convinced the universe wants to make a fool out of me because as I head home I see him at the crosswalk ahead. I turn my stride into a snail pace and thankfully the light changes and he crosses. And my god! He is the slowest walker ever, it doesn't help that he is checking his text messages while walking!! Seriously I could have crawled faster.

After what feels like ten minutes have passed, I finally get home having successfully avoided an extension to our previous awkward encounter. I muse that a non-depressed Andrea would have walked up and playfully accused him of stalking her and then invited him over for dinner. And that Andrea would probably now be in the middle of a mind-blowing sex-a-thon with said smoking hot guy instead of trying to currently come up with inventive ways to make banana bread without having to leave the fucking house. I can't wait until non-depressed Andrea returns in all her glory. Today is just not that day. Soon though, I'm sure of it.

Ok, back to banana bread! I turn to Google and ask it for substitutes for butter in baking banana bread. And I come across this lovely little site called PopSugar and it tells me I can use applesauce and it also gives me a plan for a 30 day squat challenge. Think I just found my new favourite website.

So off I go and make my banana bread. FYI baking is always done best while listening to music - thank you Songza for the inspiration.

Fucking Delicious Banana Bread Recipe

Ingredients (substitutions in parentheses) :
2 cups all-purpose flour (gluten free all-purpose flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter (applesauce)
¾ cup brown sugar (cane sugar)
2 eggs, beaten
2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas

ADD ONS (optional)
½ cup chocolate chips + ¼ cup sprinkle on top
½ cup black chia seeds
2 tablespoons vanilla

Steps to successful banana bread baking:
1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan. I used coconut oil and greased a 8x11 baking pan.
2.     In large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, chocolate chips, and chia seeds.
3.     In a separate bowl, cream together butter (applesauce) and brown sugar. Stir in eggs (beat them first), mashed bananas, and vanilla until well blended.
4.     Stir banana mixture into flour mixture. Stir just to moisten (don’t over stir it!). Pour batter into greased pan.
5.     Bake in oven for approximately 55-65 minutes. If you don't have a convection oven I move the tray to the other rack around the 30 minute mark. This helps even out the heat distribution.
6.     Let bread cool for at least 10 minutes before eating otherwise you will burn yourself!!!

Note: Using applesauce as a substitute for butter makes for a very dense bread. Still moist just dense. I thought the dense over fluffy was a reasonable tradeoff for not having to leave the house.