Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Joy of Not Working Out

For many of the most garden-variety reasons, I didn't much like high school gym class (except for square dancing in Grade 11; that was fun). Then high school ended, I got into doing (and eventually teaching) aerobics classes, and being fit became important to me. The activities varied over the years — aerobics in all flavours, running, swimming, strength training, cardio machines, rowing — but, until quite recently, I was always on some kind of weekly workout schedule ... always making sure I clocked x-number of minutes/hours, kilometers, reps, laps, etc.

Cute kiddies spotted at the bus stop: "We just bought banana bread!"

Now, those who know a bit about my lifestyle may wonder why my list of fitness activities doesn't include cycling — that activity I've done almost every day for the past 15 years, including a few years of bicycle commuting between Vancouver and Richmond.

Well, you see, I've never thought of cycling as a workout. Even though the hills get my heart rate up and give me leg muscles ... even though I sweat and burn calories and all that jazz ... cycling has always been more about the scenery, the thinking time, the fact that I'm not cooped up in a car, spewing noxious fumes into the air and wondering how badly overdue my next oil change is.

It's also something I almost always enjoy, in contrast to almost everything I've ever done on a cardio machine/in a weight room/in a muggy, hyper-chlorinated indoor swimming pool.

I'm not averse to exercise — au contraire — and many of my official "workout" activities have been plenty enjoyable (especially rowing, which straddles the workout category and the contemplative-communing-with-nature category).

No ... what I've become averse to, I guess, is the notion of working out as something that's separate from "regular life" — something that needs to be done and gotten out of the way, no matter how unpleasant or inconvenient (an idea I recently encountered on a bus advert for Anytime Fitness, a 24/7 gym: "Get a workout in, then get on with your life!").

Here's Freddie on that same bus ride. We're heading out to UBC for a non-workout hike. :)

Kits Community Garden
[I'm tempted to apply for a plot but fear my thumbs aren't green or motivated enough!]  

The fact that 21st-century North American urbanites don't tend to lead inherently active lives (and thus need to plan for exercise) is hardly an original observation. But it's something I've thought about more since Freddie moved in. Living with a heavy-ish, high-energy dog has meant that physical exercise (walking/hiking/running with Freddie, towing Freddie to work, lifting Freddie in & out of the bathtub, etc.) has become a bigger part of my regular life. I do far fewer scheduled workouts; I don't keep track of time or distance or reps or nothin' ... and I'm discovering I like it that way.

Joanne and I discover a new trail in the Seymour Conservation Forest!
[Most of the trails are dog friendly.]

I don't think my overall fitness has deteriorated. I probably can't shoulder press as many metal plates as I could in the pre-Freddie days when I was hitting the gym a couple of times a week ... but who cares? I'm pretty sure pushing my bike + dog trailer up Arbutus Street has kept me in reasonable bench-press shape. And I do still (grudgingly) lift weights at home ('cause the people who claim that strength is the Fountain of Youth have convinced me).

However! Lest anyone think Freddie and I are living the idyllic, athletic life of our pre-techie ancestors ...

... fording streams and foraging for berries ...

... trail-blazing ...

 ... tree-climbing ...

... let me hop down off my high horse and say, "Er ... no."

I see scenes like this one down below, and I'm reminded how much recreational/life time I still spend sitting down, doing bugger-all in the way of physical exertion.

I might not be glued to a TV, watching World Cup football ...
... but nor am I tearing around a big field (or farming one, for that matter) for big chunks of my day.

Sitting is the new smoking, they say.

"Whaddaya think, Freddie? I'm not a musician, but if I stood at the corner of 4th and Yew during my non-teaching terms, lecturing on the structure of the analytical paragraph (with plenty of gesticulation, for added upper-body effect), would anyone stop and listen?"

"Freddie? Hello? Yeah, OK — point taken."

Back Lane Blooms

Church Yard Apples
I'll keep working on not working out ... in the most active way possible. Which may, for the moment, mean marking midterms in an upright position. But if anyone needs any bags of peat moss or cords of firewood transported — carbon-free — gimme a call. Freddie's trailer is versatile!

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Freddie Walks the Picket Line

Freddie is a citizen of the world and prefers to remain apolitical, but today he had no choice: to show our solidarity in this latest version of the Provincial Government vs. Teachers, Students, and the Foundations of Social Democracy, he and I joined Leah on the picket line outside the groovy Vancouver high school where she teaches.

We first walked to BCTF Headquarters at 6th and Cambie to pick up some buttons and (I hoped) a T-shirt, but they were all out of the latter.

I was a member of the BC Teachers' Federation for thirteen years. I taught Grade 6 and 7 French Immersion, then K-7 ESL, before veering off into the world of post-secondary education in the early 2000s. The reasons for this slight career change were varied, but one of those reasons was the steady decline in support for public education on the part of British Columbia's increasingly neo-conservative, corporate-butt-licking, social-service-slashing provincial governments (not a uniquely British Columbian phenomenon, I realize).

This is Ken, the guy charged with the thankless task of fielding some pretty obnoxious phone calls and messages (these days, anyway). I heard him take a couple of (innocuous-sounding) calls while I was there, and his tone was entirely pleasant and professional. I don't know that mine would be!

More students per classroom, ever fewer resources and programs, stagnant salaries, a relentless and ridiculous demonizing of teachers ... all with the aim (I'm now convinced) of strangling public education into nonexistence. Because, hey — people whose kids really deserve an education can afford to pay for it out of their own pockets, right?

After our stop-off, Freddie and I walked on to our destination on the east side of town.

Of course, that's not what the BC (Not-At-All) Liberal bean counters say. They say times are tough; belts must be tightened. They say — OK, they imply (unless they've had a few drinks) — that teachers are greedy and combative and unreasonably self-serving. Sometimes they even dare to claim that cutbacks will result in a better, more efficient system.

To which I say: bullshit.

The legal/political manipulations this current government has gone through to rob teachers of their collective-bargaining rights and strip away classroom conditions already contractually guaranteed have been shameless and downright jaw-dropping.
Some of the sins teachers have been accused of (left)

Even if our province were barely scraping by economically (ha), and even if all teachers in the province were "negligently" working only those hours for which they're being paid (yeah, right), I can think of a crapload of costs that should be lined up at the chopping block way ahead of public education (and healthcare). Starting with the Minister of Education's expense account, perhaps?

I'm trying to show off my solidarity buttons here. They say "A fair deal for teachers / Better support for kids."

We did several laps of the school grounds. In the trafficky stretch along E. 25th, the support from drivers was fantastic — loads of honking and waving and thumbs-up. Only two obvious expressions of disapproval the whole three hours.

Anyway, I got out of the business — maybe chickened out. But my ties to elementary and secondary education remain strong. Arguably, everyone's ties to education are strong. After all, those kiddies being sardine-packed in under-funded classrooms today are, in the not-too-distant future, going to be running the joint. And while the idea of a 90-year-old Christy Clark languishing in the care of some illiterate day nurse who can't tell time has a certain appeal, I really don't want things to be that way.

Playing Behind the Picket Line

So. For all my teaching friends and family members, for my former colleagues, for my former students who've since become educators themselves, for the friendly and dedicated folks at Tupper Secondary School ... most of all, for all the students currently in our ailing system — from those who still believe in Santa Claus to the ones who'll be eligible to vote in the next federal election — Freddie and I walked the line this afternoon.

Leah's program: Tupper Young Parents Services (TYPS)

Their garden grows beets, and I got to take some home.
Solidarity forever!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

A Racist Dawg? Is that even possible??

We went out to a movie!

With Freddie!!

For the first time since Freddie arrived!!!

(We've made some good progress in getting Freddie accustomed to staying by himself, so we could, in theory, go to a movie without him ... but it's better if he can come along.)

Anyway, it was a matinée of The Grand Budapest Hotel, and we were undoubtedly the only people in the theatre who didn't think it was a super-fabulous movie ... but that didn't matter. Freddie managed to lie quietly for 110 minutes + previews! (And Jeff Goldblum had a starring role, which would make pretty much any movie worth seeing.)

It's Paul's birthweek!

One of his gifts was a selection of spiced nuts from this place (right and below): Ayoub's Dried Fruit and Nuts. Yummy wares and groovy ambience.

Oh, and speaking of birthday events, Action Andy (aka Dad) turns the Big 8-0 tomorrow — that's cause for chandeliers!

Madonna of the Seed Racks

Freddie and I went to the garden store for organic pesticide to combat the little creepy things that have infested one of the otherwise thriving shrubs on our balcony.

Speaking of household pests, there's been no sign of Bhangra since I moved the anti-mouse device to the kitchen (though watch her appear right after I hit "publish").

Labradoodle Meets Ficus

Just another zennish morning in Pacific Spirit Park ...

Spot the dog!
Beach Art: a furniture installation down at Spanish Banks

Forest Art

I really dig coffee. Almost as much as I dig chocolate. This photo is here to remind me that even though most west-side coffee joints close stupidly early I could, if I really wanted, go out for a cappuccino at midnight.

But anyway ... to get to the matter of my post title ...

A couple of evenings ago, Freddie and I went down to the big lawn next to Kits Beach to watch the world go by (and practice ignoring other dogs and skateboards). It was busy, with lots of people (and dogs) to-ing and fro-ing nearby. Freddie did quite well with the dogs. No skateboards came close, so I can't report any progress or deterioration in that department.

At regular intervals, however, he went squirrelly bananas — lunging, barking, being an idiot, as far as I was concerned — at the sight of certain people. Not all people — just some.

None of these sunbathers interested him much.

Babies sometimes catch his attention ... but not this one.

Anyway, it didn't take long for me to realize that all the people Freddie was barking at were Asian. And they were all, as it happened, part of an ESL language-school group that was setting up a picnic nearby.

But there were other picnic groups nearby (Caucasian ones), and Freddie didn't seem to give a woof about them.

I thought: WTF, Freddie?! We live in an Asian city. Most of my students are Asian. What's your problem?

I wondered if he's been somehow restraining his xenophobic impulses during English 1107 class. I wondered if he would launch a vicious attack if I accidentally lost my grip on his leash.

Then it hit me. Yeah, these people were Asian. But they were also something a whole lot more interesting to Freddie: YOUNG. As in late teens, early 20s young ... laughing and bouncing and exuding Labradoodle-ish energy in everything they did. I looked around again. Everyone else in the immediate vicinity was 25+ and/or lying comatose in the sun.

I knew at that point what would happen if I were to let go of the leash. So when two of the youngsters drifted away from their group and started waving at Freddie, that's just what I did (after asking them if they like dogs).

Kisses and play bows and much frolicking ensued.
So it appears that while Freddie is probably ageist, he's not racist.