Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Beginning of Summer in St. John's

Eleven months now, I've lived in St. John's, Newfoundland and this is the first June and Canada Day I've spent here. I thought that the cold winter weather was behind me after spending two months of our Canadian Spring in Australia and Belize, but boy, was I wrong.

Last Friday, it was a jarring 6 degrees. It rained all day and chilled me to the bone. Our furnace is still on, and sweaters are still in regular rotation. 

Friday June 27, 2014, St. John's, NL.

That being said, there have been a number of beautiful sunny days in the last month, and some not-so-beautiful days that transformed into beautiful evenings.

Government House grounds,  St. John's, June 2014
A few things I've observed about living here in the past 11 months:

Newfoundland is beautiful, rain, snow, fog or shine.

View from Signal Hill, Jan 1, 2014

If you want to be active year round you have to dress for it. This is true anywhere, but specific to St. John's, if you're waiting for dry and sunny days, you'll never leave your house. I now own a raincoat I love, rubber boots that protect me from rain and snow and an assortment of toques and mittens. I wore all of my outdoor clothing at one point or another during the winter; not a coat left unworn, not a mitten left unweathered.

Owning an umbrella is fine (we own two) but it's windy here and when it rains sideways, it's best to be head-to-toe in rain gear rather than protect just the crown of your head from the rain.

Layering clothing is a must. In a matter of minutes it can go from sunny blue skies, to rain, wind or snow. It happens fast. Be prepared to strip and layer on when needed.

I came here sporting cute little bangs that I have since let grow out. As much as I liked them, they were a total nuisance when hiking or even doing a simple chore like walking downtown to the bank. 

This is the biggest lesson I've learned: when the sun comes out, go outside. Do not wait until later... in an hour that bright sun might be gone. I used to take Ontario sunny days for granted and just observe them happily from my office window. Oh, don't worry, Kerri, there'll be another one tomorrow. Here, I follow the sun. 

Signal Hill, ice bergs and happy feet, June 2014.

 Hiking opportunities are everywhere. The East Coast Trail is long and stunning. It boasts stunning, rugged coastlines and keeps your heart healthy. From my house, I'm mere steps from lovely walking trails, and from a gorgeous 2km hike up Signal Hill. When I'm home, I go up as often as I can. I take the same photos over and over again and I love taking my visiting family and friends to see the view from the trail. 

Within a few hours from St. John's, are little communities along the coast full of culture, food and stunning vistas. Bonavista, Trinity, Port Rexton, Petty Harbour and Cape St. Mary's are a few of the places I've been since I moved here. There's still so much more to see.

Downtown, I have everything I need, Fixed Coffee and Rocket Bakery for coffee, Model Citizens, Twisted Sister, Johnny Ruth and Living Planet for clothing; Chinched, Cathedral Bistro & Saltwater for a nice night out for dining, The Ship for music, the Duke of Duckworth for fish and chips and a pint, Yellowbelly for some great local beer and a burger;  Piatto Pizzeria for delicious wood fired pizza; my absolute favourite, Mallard Cottage for brunch... I could go on, and in another post I will go on about where to go when you come here.

It's beautiful here today. The sun is hot, the wind is strong, and this weekend a tropical storm may bring even more wind and rain to the island. Until then, you will find me outside, enjoying the heat.

Signal Hill sunset hike, St. John's, July 3, 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pain, Pain, Go Away: Coping With Sciatica

I suffer from sciatic nerve pain; a pain I can only describe (at its worse) as a sharp, constant radiating pain starting in my lower back all the way through my right leg.

This pain started late 2011 at the height of my running obsession. I became "a runner" in December 2009, and my measurable progress was invigorating. In the year leading up to my injury, I was running 5km six times a week. In October 2011, I was on tour in North Carolina, staying in great hotels with beautiful gyms. For two consecutive days I ran back to back 7km runs. After the second day, something wasn't quite right. I stretched, I continued to play shows, but I couldn't run without a twinge in my back. I thought it was sore, overworked muscles, so I gave them a break for the rest of the tour. We still had about a week left in that US tour, and long drives followed by hours of standing on stage. When that tour ended another one began. I wasn't able to run at all this point, and sitting in the car (or anywhere) felt like tiny knives were swimming up and down my right leg, bum and my lower back.

The next tour was in Northern Ontario - a part of the country not known for its short distances between each town. I traded my heeled stage boots for flats, I stretched every morning, noon and night, not knowing I was actually doing more harm than good at this point. I took Advil for the pain, and slept fitfully when the pain was at its worst. It was an awful time in my life that I did not document very well because it physically hurt me to spend time in front of a computer or a journal and express properly what I was going through. And I think I was in denial. I wasn't coping well, for a couple of reasons; 1) the one thing that gave me a natural boost everyday had been taken from me, and 2) the pain was causing me to fall into a dark and lonely place despite the wonderful and supportive people in my life who wanted nothing more than to help me through this. I became depressed. I feared I would never run again or walk without a limp. It affected my personal life, my social life and my work life. If I couldn't sit comfortably I would be unable to drive or spend time traveling from gig to gig. The job I had always wanted, and dreamed about since I was 10, was now hurting me. That, and an obsession with physical fitness that could have used some adjusting before I hurt myself.

When I finally got home from tour, a month after the onset of the pain, I sought treatment. I went to the Artists' Health Centre at Toronto Western Hospital, located a convenient 10-minute walk from my apartment. I saw a physiotherapist first, and finally spoke openly about my pain. When I told her I couldn't run without pain, I wept, and when she assured me I would one day run again, I wept some more.

She ran me through a bunch of physical tests to see what was going on. The "bend test" was telling: I was to bend over slowly, vertebrae by vertebrae and touch my toes. Though I could touch my toes (through pain) she noticed that I skipped all the lowest vertebrae and compensated in other ways to finally reach my toes.  She gave me a series of exercises to do that would strengthen the muscles in my lower back. They were such strange, little exercises, but once I started them, I could see that those muscles were weak, dominated by other bigger muscles that had likely caused my initial injury. She prescribed alternating icing and heating the base of my spine, doing the stretches twice a day, and she taped my back with Physio Tape. I was (and am) sceptical that the tape did anything, but at that point I was willing to try anything.

I told her I needed to exercise or I wouldn't survive the winter without spiralling into a deeper depression. She said I could try swimming, but cautioned against swimming longer than 20 minutes at a time. She was telling me to heal and I had to trust her. I needed to feel hopeful that I would one day get past this injury and feel like myself again.

In 2012, a year after the original injury, I ran again. It was short, but I ran. I continued to swim and ride my bike, and though I could always feel the nerve down my leg, the pain was at a 2 (out of 10) instead of a seven and to me that was a huge victory. You can read about my reaction to that run here.

Fast forward to March 2014.

I had been maintaining a pretty strict fitness regimen of Jillian Michaels' 30 minute workouts with an emphasis on core strength and flexibility. By the end of March, in the final week of a 5-week tour of Australia, I found a week had gone by where I wasn't getting enough sleep, where I couldn't squeeze in a workout, and where the drives between shows were getting longer and longer. The tour van was uncomfortable and my muscles started to seize up. The flights home from Sydney to St. John's totalled 22 hours, and after a day at home I was back in the air on a 14-hour flight to Belize. The pain was worsening, but I thought if I just walked it off, stretched, relaxed and swam and took a break from harder workouts, it would sort itself out. (I hate myself for not dealing with this earlier.)

After a 13 hour flight back home to St. John's, and just one day at home, I was on another 8 hour journey to Vancouver to start a nine day tour across the Prairies. It was a tour of long drives, short sleeps, no time to work out, no time to stretch. The pain was brutal. Sitting was excruciating. Lugging and lifting suitcases was getting harder and harder. And because of the tight schedule I had no opportunity to stretch my body. Things got worse. I went for a quick massage fix in Winnipeg, and it helped delay the worst of the pain, but it wasn't enough. I flew home the next day... another 6 hours sitting, in flight, in pain.

On May 1st, finally home, it's as if my body knew I had a month off and it just quit working. I could no longer sit still to eat dinner, I could walk but the pain through my bum and leg was constant. I stubbornly continued hiking up Signal Hill and took a road trip to Bonavista to see icebergs. In a way those things helped as much as they hindered. The articles and advice about coping with sciatic pain are confusing and conflicting. You're supposed to rest (a little), but to stop your muscles and joints from seizing up you have to keep moving (to a point.)

In the mornings the pain is the worst. Standing after sitting or lying down takes me a solid 10 seconds to complete and the pain is mind-numbing. Walking is okay, but walking uphill aggravates the my pain. And in case you've never visited, St. John's, Newfoundland, is a hilly place. In a new town, I no longer had access to the Artists' Health Centre that helped me the first time around. I needed treatment and I had to start from scratch finding something I could trust to help me heal. When I'm feeling down and out, small chores feel like mountains, and researching a new Physiotherapist or Chiropractor was exhausting. I was feeling sorry for myself and heading to that dark place again. I found a chiropractic clinic and started treatments about a week ago. His differential diagnosis to date: Piriformis Syndrome.

[Oh, and just for fun, in the middle of all this, I caught a flu/bug and was nauseous for three days. You know something else that isn't fun? Throwing up while suffering from sciatic pain.]

I'm back in Toronto after a very difficult plane ride Tuesday night. During the 3-hour flight, I stood at the back of the cabin for 2 hours and wriggled uncomfortably in my seat for the other hour during moments of turbulence, takeoff and landing. Carrying a backpack, a banjo and rolling a suitcase behind me took a piece out of me. The pain was too much. Standing in the baggage area of Pearson airport more tears fell from my exhausted eyes. I was greeted at the airport by my buddies Sue and Matt who carried all of my things, drove me to my accommodations and let me cry freely as I tried to cope with the pain.

Today, May 29th.

I'm standing at The Common coffee shop on Bloor Street in Toronto (because I still can't sit down) working and editing my blog. It's important to me that I document this experience and the timeline so I can avoid suffering this again should the telltale signs arise again. I'm scared that I have eight months of pain and recovery ahead of me, and I'm worried about what a lifetime with this pain will feel like. But I remain cautiously hopeful that sheer willpower and determination will help me power through. In time, when I do get better, I will read this again, and remind myself where I was and how far I've come. And I will work hard to maintain my health, and do everything I need to do to prevent this from ever happening again.

We're all suffering from something. Physical or mental health problems, loss, grief, pain, circumstances out of our control. Writing this down helped me today, and hopefully did something for you too. I welcome your stories, your insights or just your presence in my life.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

It's *Spring* in Newfoundland

It's been a cool return to Newfoundland after nearly two months away in much warmer climes.  It was almost exactly a year ago when Brian and I visited St. John's on a house hunting mission. I remember the weather being cool, but also sunny, with the promise of spring in the air. Since I got back, it has snowed every morning, we've barely reached double digits on the thermometer, and there is a freezing rain warning in effect for tonight.

Despite all this, I have decided to enjoy this meandering winter by pulling out sweaters I stowed away after I got home from Belize; I've been enjoying feasts of pasta and bread twice weekly; today I remade my bed with my feather duvet (that I foolishly packed away 6 weeks ago, oh Kerri, when will you learn...) and Brian and I have been spending our weekends touring around the province.

The thing is: Newfoundland is gorgeous even when it's cold. The sea ice is breaking up right now and there are tons of icebergs that can be seen from the shore, even in St. John's. Last weekend we walked around Signal Hill and Cape Spear with our winter jackets zipped up to our chins and watched the waves crash against these giant and beautiful formations in the water.

Brian taking a minute in the sun at Cape Spear, May 3, 2014.
Midweek, we decided we would take a weekend road trip off the Avalon Peninsula. The purpose was twofold: 1) to hike the Skerwink Trail and 2) to visit Bonavista (a town neither of us had yet visited) to see the ice breaking up. The hike was stunning, even in the cold, and it was made even more enjoyable by the fact that we were alone on the trail. There were icebergs to see, and rock stacks to take in from the highest points on the trail. It's rated as one of the top 10 hikes to do in North America: I concur, it's beautiful.

Brian on the Skerwink Trail, May 10, 2014.
After our hike, and just before the temperature plummeted and the rain came, we had a late lunch at a vegetarian cafe, Two Whales Cafe in the tiny town of Port Rexton. Lentil soup, veggie paninis, coffee and tea was just what we needed to fuel the drive to Bonavista. Along the way, this beautiful Trinity North iceberg caught my eye from the highway.

From the shores of Trinity North. 
Bonavista was bigger than I imagined. With the bright sea ice contrasting the ominous low-hanging clouds overhead, Bonavista was a sight to see. I took probably fifty photos of the hundreds of icebergs in the ocean -- icebergs that made the ones I'd spotted in St. John's look like ice cubes --  but here are four of my favourite snaps from the day.

Sea ice breaking up on the shore of Bonavista, May 10, 2014.
Two icebergs in the foreground, and another huge one in the far background on the right. Cape Bonavista, May 10, 2014.
Bonavista shore, May 10, 2014.

Probably the most impressive iceberg I've seen (so far) this close to the shore, Cape Bonavista, May 10, 2014.
It seems that no trip out of the city would be complete without a moose sighting. These two moose were hanging out by the side of the highway (no surprise there) outside of Clarenville -- and we thank the oncoming driver for signalling their presence. Brian, ever the patient companion and husband, knew I would want a to take a photograph before safely heading home before the sun went down. They are such huge creatures, but don't they look so friendly side by side posing for this photo?

 Moose sighting near Clarenville, NL, May 10, 2014.
I'm already itching to get out and explore more of the province. Next weekend, we have two friends arriving. One of them is my buddy Mark Smith who is 28 days into a cross-Canada bike trip. I can't believe he's on his bike in this weather -- for that he gets massive kudos from me (or more likely, a bunch of plates of fish & chips from the Duke, and a whole lot of YellowBelly beer when he lands in town on Friday.) You can read more about his bike trip (and see his beautiful photos of his trip) here.

Until next time!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Belize Days

My grand unsolicited advice of the day is this: when you can, however you can, however you can afford it, book some time off and go on a vacation. Take a week, take two weeks, hell, take three weeks if you can do it - just do it. 

Take someone special, or go alone. Take a break from your routine, eat something weird, read novels (not the news.) Write in a journal, learn a new skill, do something that scares you, and spend a bit of money. Look into the eyes of the person you brought with you and talk to them. Enjoy the time alone, with nothing else to do and with nowhere else to go. Take long walks and stretch your legs. Wear sunscreen if you go somewhere tropical, and pack a light suitcase if you can. 

Take photographs and print them when you get home. Then, days, weeks and months later, look over your photo album and relive the trip all over again.  

Slow down, sleep, and rest. Be wherever you are, and enjoy yourself. 

Advice part: over.

1. Beach bike ride to San Pedro 2. One of hundreds of crabs on our beach walks 3. Dock at Banana Beach hotel 4. Nurse Sharks at Shark Ray Alley 5. North Ambergris Caye 6. Hammock time 7. Brian and I in San Pedro 8. First sunset of our trip 9. Beach biking continued

At the beginning of April, I spent two weeks on the island of Ambergris Caye in tropical Belize. After a few walloping snow storms in December and January, Brian and I sat down at the computer, picked a place and booked plane tickets.  I knew the timing meant I would be coming off a five week tour of Australia, while he would be coming off a steady three months of work in Newfoundland. 

For me, a vacation is a delicate balance between relaxation and stimulation. I knew I would need a few days of down time with no travel plans (after an almost 36 hour travel day home from Australia just one day before we left for Belize.) For a few days, I wanted no plans. I wanted a blank slate. I wanted to know I didn't need to be anywhere at any particular time. And the result was heavenly. 

For two weeks we read, we sunned, and as I slowly overcame my Australian jet lag, Brian  went for sunrise runs along the beach. We ate, we drank, we read and we swam. 

Because I travel for a living, taking a vacation with my husband means coming to terms with being away from home after already spending much of my time away. So few of my 2014 days have been spent in St. John's, and I'm about ready for the month of May to come around so I can spend four weeks at home. However, with winter hammering down on everyone back home in Canada, it was not hard to agree to a tropical vacation in April. 

I also have to keep in mind that while I've been jet setting around the world, Brian's been at home, alone, ploughing through his daily routines - long work days, long commutes - and he's the only one doing all the chores that go along with owning a house. Though I would have been happy to read books for two weeks, and go for meandering walks up and down the beach petting little crabs and geckos, I knew he would be ready for a few adventures. 

After a few days of reading, swimming and sunning, I was ready for an adventure, and thus, our first excursion was planned: a boat ride to Hol Chan to snorkel at the coral reef. We saw turtles, eagle rays, fish of every colour and pattern (that I never imagined I'd be swimming beside) and nurse sharks that had no interest in biting me, as there was an abundance of chum being fed to them from the visiting boats. It was stunning.

It seemed no matter how much sunscreen I slathered on my body, I got burned if I was outside longer than 20 minutes. We're a pale couple of people, so we eventually learned to stay out of the sun from about 11-2pm every day. 

We tore through our books like crazy, and with the lack of television and computers in our faces, we were both dreaming more vividly. The dreams were like mini-movies, sometimes horrific, most times absurd. 

In our second week, we decided to become certified scuba divers. It was a three day course, complete with reading a text book and executing a test. It was sort of funny, after a week of relaxing, to cram for a scuba diving test. But I'm glad we did it. Brian was the instigator, and I'm glad he kept on me about it. I am now a certified scuba diver. 

We spent the last three days going on boat rides to remote places along the coast of Ambergris Caye. My favourite meal was at the Portofino restaurant (fresh crab, conch ceviche, and a perfect chocolate brownie for dessert.) 

Though we didn't plan it this way, we found ourselves watching the moon get fuller each night we were on the northern part of the island. And on the night of the actual full moon, there was a lunar eclipse. Since we'd been going to bed around 8pm every night (we're wild people) we set our alarm for 12:40am, and woke up to watch the beautiful blood moon eclipse while the waves crashed around us... then the power went out. 

What a trip it was. We came home refreshed, happy, and laughing. Two solid weeks together and we just wanted more. 

After one day at home, doing laundry and repacking my suitcase, I left again, this time for the west coast of Canada, on a ten day tour with my buddies and band mates, while Brian went back to work. Now that I'm finally home again (for a month!) I'm reliving my vacation through pictures and reading my travel journal. I can't believe two weeks ago, I was wearing a two-piece swimsuit, and last week I was in Saskatoon in a blizzard, and today I was atop Signal Hill looking at icebergs in the setting sun. 

I feel lucky. I love my travels. And I am happy to be home.