Summer Summary

The summer of 2016 certainly hasn’t been boring. After a nice long informative meeting with the Sickkids genetics department we have formal confirmation that there really isn’t anything to do/not do for the time being. The cavernoma situation has slowly become a fact of our life. Happily, the kiddo hasn’t had any vertigo issues since May so we are now chugging along with all systems normal.

July was a blur of day camps for the kiddo and work for the adults. August included some real summer holiday plans with a week at my parents house in New Brunswick and another week in Temagami at summer camp. Wanapitei offered a week long ‘Family Camp’ that allowed all three of us to almost completely escape work and electronics. It was the first backcountry trip that I’ve taken since having Portia and meeting Simon so it was exciting to rediscover camping with these people I love. There were just as many bugs, stinky out houses, and smelly body parts as expected, plus even more stunning moons, loon called still morning lakes, daily canoe trips, heart racing cliff jumps, and new friends than I could have hoped for.

We’ve been back from summer camp for less than a week and already Portia has lost her first tooth, I got to train with a few Cirque du Soleil performers, and Simon and I received invitations to move to the next stage of the Canadian Space Agency’s Astronaut Corp recruitment. we have officially met the minimum requirements to apply for the job, which is a pretty big achievement in my books. With 3772 people applying for 2 positions the chances of actually becoming an astronaut remains incredibly remote, but it has been fun just throwing my hat in the ring and spending my summer imagining the possibility.

Work has finally slowed down. Like myself, most of my clients take vacation in August. The rest of the year, however, is looking bananas work-wise. Detroit in early September and a full week in New Brunswick are already confirmed along with a looming project in Mexico plus potential training sessions for a big corporation in Montreal, Atlanta, Ohio, Chicago, New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois and two more in Mexico that all need to happen by end of 2016. Another lifetime ago the prospect of so much travel would have been exciting. I still love that my work provides opportunities to explore non-vacation places that one would rarely travel to by choice, but the thought of scheduling all that, missing the kid and leaving Simon with all the home-front responsibilities along with his own demanding work schedule takes some of the fun out of it. Sounds like I need to find someone in my neighbourhood that we can hire to help with dog walking, school drop offs and maybe a few of those myriad other little things.

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The past two weeks have been a challenge. Simon had back-to-back conferences with only a few days between to celebrate his birthday at home. Portia’s neurosurgeon appointment became scheduled just as he left for Germany on Thursday. Work continued to go great guns and I of course, tried to keep up my circus training through it all. So after a massive stretch of solo parenting, medical appointments, medical related emotions, dog walking and work insanity I’m capping it off with 2 blissful days of staycation time. Simon is still in Europe, Portia is with her grandparents, and I am decadently responsible for only myself and the dogs.

The neurosurgeon meeting went as I had expected/hoped. Watch and wait will be the name of the game. Many people with cavernomas can live their entire life not knowing they are there. And so, with no evidence of bleeding the plan is to leave them alone, monitor them via MRI once a year or so, and get on with life.

Not knowing for sure what the neurosurgeon meeting would bring or how I might react I made no formal plans for my staycation weekend apart from circus classes (aka mental health improvement sessions). When the Canadian Space Agency announced Friday morning that they were recruiting for astronauts, my weekend plans became clear. I guess it says something about where I am in my life, that rather than make plans to party it up I’m playing at the gym, spinning in my cyr wheel and spending the remainder of my time on the deck with a beer working on my ‘Why I want to be an astronaut’ essay.

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Just keep swimming

I named my online journal TurbulentFlow as an acknowledgement that the flow of life is rarely smooth and laminar. Right now, the river of life could be headed straight toward a waterfall while I do my very best to continue paddling calmly along.

The hidden undertow is a brain issue with my six-year-old daughter P. Since late November, she has had multiple vertigo type episodes that seemed to come in ever growing waves over the course of a week, crest, and then fade away. We went to Sickkids emergency during the first one. They tried some kind of physical vestibular maneuver, but the conclusion was that she didn’t respond in the expected manner and unlikely she was experiencing typical vertigo. The episode resolved on its own while we were at the hospital, so we went home and resumed life as normal.

Early this month it started again. She immediately saw the pediatrician cascading into referrals to a series of specialists to investigate what is going on. We didn’t expect to get in for an MRI very quickly, but were able to jump on a cancellation spot within a week. 2 days later we had a report identifying 4 potential cavernomas in her brain. Cavernoma (otherwise known as cerebral cavernous malformations (CCM), cavernous haemangioma or cavernous angioma) are tangles of blood vessels similar to raspberry birthmarks on the skin. The clusters form low pressure blood pockets similar in size and shape to a raspberry or piece of popcorn. Unfortunately, what is totally benign and harmless at skin level has the potential to be much more terrifying when inside of a brain.

We’re continuing with the other medical appointments as well, but right now, the cavernomas seem to be a pretty likely explanation of P’s symptoms. I try not to google medical stuff too much. Cavernoma Alliance UK website has been the most useful so far.  The MRI report recommended a neurosurgical review, which we are waiting to get an appointment for now. At minimum, the identification of cavernomas should mean another MRI to obtain a clear picture (the first one was unsurprisingly motion degraded), and regular MRIs after that to keep an eye on them for changes. Unfortunately, the only formal treatment available for cavernomas is brain surgery, which is terrifying for obvious reasons… actually, the whole concept of anything other than brains in her brain is terrifying for obvious reasons. The upside is that we live near Sickkids, one of the best children’s hospitals in the world. No matter what happens, she will be in excellent hands.

And so here we are now. For P’s sake, my husband and I won’t give in to the fear. Everyone who knows and loves this little girl is worried, but she will take her cues from the adults around her. Keep calm and carry on – it’s the only thing we can do.



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Wrapping up 2015

Holiday party at the Fly with Me studio. This was my 2nd time performing this routine*, the first was in June. Still needs work, but it has definitely improved from the first run.

*any routine

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I started running in 2006 with the couch-to-5k program. It’s a straight forward 8 week training program that took me from gasping for breath after 90 seconds of continuous running to being able to steadily run 5km without stopping.

For a long time, running was my only source of fitness. I had a dog that needed walking anyway, so even when life was super busy I could multi-task. I never felt more like a bad-ass single parent that on the days I managed to run with the stroller + dog to daycare, drop the kiddo off, continue my loop back home with the dog, shower, change and be at my desk working by 8:30am.

After almost 10 years of running I can safely say that I have minimal natural running talent. I’m slow and that’s okay. I take a strange sort of pride in sticking with something that I’m clearly not very good at. I love the simplicity of running. No class to fit into the schedule or membership needed.

Unfortunately, my relationship with running shoes is filled with drama. After running for 4-6 months on a set of shoes I’ll notice my hip and knee starting to ache indicating that it is time to replace the worn out pair. Because running shoe fashions change, I can rarely find the same model to replace the worn. More than once I’ve wasted money on new shoes that set me on the biomechanical path to plantar fasciitis within a week. Maybe I just have super special snowflake princess feet – 2 years post-bunion surgery, the right one has enough scars and imbedded hardware to qualify as a special snowflake princess franken-foot. Whatever the cause, it is incredibly frustrating.

This week my body feels like a broken down car. I can’t blame it all on the bad shoes, but they are responsible for a decent share. I’m a mess literally from head to foot. As I lay in bed this morning and took inventory:

  • Aching eyes – I need reading glasses or less internet. Probably both.
  • Left rotator cuff – Been slacking on rehab exercises and it shows.
  • Low back pain – showed up when I started doing silks. Need to research yoga poses.
  • Right hip – Bad shoes.
  • Right plantar fascia – Bad shoes continued.

The above combination also means I’m sleeping like crap and can easily start to spiral downward. It Expands beyond my physical self I’m self-flagellating with all my flaws. I procrastinate. I’m careless. I’d rather eat cheese and muffins than carrots and turnips. What’s the point of all this exercise if everything is just going to break?

Thankfully, breakfast and the full light of day usually helps. Nothing to do but keep moving and trust that this is just a bump in the road.

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Circus in the city – Flying Arts Collective

I hold pretty consistently to an 8am-4pm Mon-Fri work schedule, but as a self-employed consultant, it is primarily by choice. When a last minute client reschedule opened up a Friday morning slot I took the opportunity to get in some extra aerial practice.

The Flying Arts Collective offers drop-in open gym time Fridays 10:30am-1pm and Sunday 4pm-6pm. The inexpensive class $10 (non-member), $5 (member) (cash only *I think*) is meant to supplement existing aerial training. Someone is in charge to ensure equipment is used safely, but no teacher is provided, so this isn’t the place for pure beginners or learning new tricks. The main doorway is well marked on the street as ‘Toronto Fighting Arts Collective‘ (shared space with all sorts of interesting looking groups) at 927 Dupont 2nd Floor.

I showed up my usual 10min early (being late for stuff gives me hives), which I wouldn’t recommend since I was the very first one there. Upon reflection I can see that 2.5hrs of aerial is more than plenty of time to work out and performing arts folks aren’t renowned for being early birds. Fortunately, someone from the martial arts space noted my lost expression and invited me to make myself at home and start warming up. Jasper from Flying Arts arrived at 10:30am to lower the permanently rigged equipment. While others trickled in, I signed a waiver, paid for the class and finished warming up. By 11am, things were well underway.

The 2.5 hour all you can aerial session is very well equipped. 5 sets of silks, 2 single point hoops (different diameters), 1 static trapeze, 1 dance trapeze and a corde lisse (rope) were all available for use. Each piece of equipment had ~1” foam matting beneath and a few crash mats floated around for general use. On the day I was there ~15 people attended the session which kept much of the equipment in use without being crowded.

Similar to the open gym sessions, training classes at this space are run on a per class price system. This is similar to a yoga studio, but pretty unusual in Toronto for circus training, which generally runs on a per semester basis. My hours of research watching Centerstage and similar 1990s era dance movies, have led me to believe it is a common class format used in the New York performing arts community. This could also explain why the majority of the people attending the open gym session appeared to be either professional performers or just very very good. It was equal parts impressive and intimidating.

Everyone there was friendly and welcoming. Any and all intimidation I felt was entirely the result of my much deflated ego clanging around my own headspace. I’ve been training on hoop for over a year and like to think that I’m pretty fit these days, but I’m also still a 40something full-time working person who just started silks this summer. Despite an intention to work on my silks skills, I bailed after a few climbs and stayed on the more familiar hoop for the remainder of the class. Next time I’ll go in with a written plan of what I want to work on so it is less tempting to just work the things I’m already comfortable with.

All-in-all, it seems like a great place. The fact that they offer a number of daytime training classes could allow me to add in an extra circus training session around my work schedule. I’m going to buy a 5-class pass and see how it goes!

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Show time!

Cirque du Old Lady became a real thing at the end of June when I performed in the student showcase. Notification went out a month before the show which gave me 4 classes to work out a routine. The school offered a special choreography focused class, but I wasn’t able to make the weekend workout times so I was on my own from a development perspective.

For the space theme so I picked a song and whipped up a simple costume idea. I haven’t put together a routine since my gymnastics days, but the process came back pretty quickly. Playing the song on repeat I broke it into sections and chose a few obvious places to ‘hit’ particular moves. From there, I tried imagining the moves I could do to get from one section to the next. I chose moves that I felt I could perform consistently and safely even when nervous. I left out some of the flashier moves like meathook that I’m still building strength for. I did include a foot hang, but also planned for an alternate move if it wasn’t feeling solid during the performance.

Written down, the routine was a list with sections of moves with the line from the song I wanted to ‘hit’ beside the end of each section. From there, I brought the routine list to class and started working on the sections. In a class environment, no one was going to want to listen to my song over and over so I mostly worked on the routine by singing the song in my head. For some sections I had a few ideas of what I might do and tried each out to see what felt best. There were definitely some major differences between how moves worked in my head and how they actually flowed in real life. It took 3 full classes of working through the various sections of my 4 min song to feel like I had a routine that flowed reasonably well. To develop muscle memory, I worked the routine in different variations such as slow speed and working everything on my bad side. At the end of each class I hooked my phone to the speakers and did the routine to live music. After 4 weeks of work I felt confident enough with the routine to perform in the student showcase.

In the final week before the show, nerves kicked in big time and I spend a lot of time reminding myself that I was doing this for fun. Music was on cassette tape the last time I performed a routine in public. The fact that my performance was meant to be a little silly went a long way toward calming my fears of making a fool of myself. With a little clowning in the routine that was kind of the point.

The actual show was great. Just like me, everyone performing was excited with a side of nervous. The backstage energy was supportive and we all got out there, did our thing, and had a good time. My own performance went by in a blur. My husband and little girl tell me it was good. It wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly fun and in the end that really is all that matters.

All photos are courtesy of Cirque-ability.

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Learning pains

People often develop strong opinions about things that come in contact with the body. You don’t need to be an elite athlete to have a favourite brand of running shoes or bicycle. When I started journalling I noticed that my hand tired less quickly in my fancy Moleskine journal than when I used cheapo binder paper. Circus training means using equipment provided by the studio. Professionals may have their own apparatus, but part of being a student means learning to adjust to what is available.

Of course I have a favourite aerial hoop at Cirque-ability. When I started classes last year I dreaded the days when it wasn’t available and I had to train on ‘the other one’. The tippy single point one with a smaller pipe circumference that hurt my hands and dug into my soft parts even more than the larger stable double point. With more experience under my belt I still prefer to use the one I’m most familiar with, but mentally I try to welcome the opportunity to stretch out of my comfort zone. Physically, however, it guarantees a world of hurt. I was on a completely different hoop yesterday and today I’m dragging my bruised self around. This new smaller double point with short ropes and padded taping that was awesome for grip, but pulled at my clothes has left me with the same sort of full body ache I remember after every single class in the early weeks of training. A good sign that I learned something new, but I’ll be happy to see old faithful back up next week.

Slothing out this morning was incredibly tempting, but I’ve unfortunately found running and foam rollering to be more effective weapons against impending activity induced rigor mortis. I run turtle slow under the best circumstances, but the rhythmic movement seems to help everything loosen up. I’ll probably be passed out by 10pm tonight, but Friday night outings haven’t been a part of my regular lifestyle for quite some time anyway.

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Springing along

Happy to report that my lack of updates is because I’ve been sticking with the bumped up workout plan. I still have to be careful about overloading my left shoulder, but continued PT seems to be keeping it on the healing track while still training. Generally I feel like it is fitting into my day-to-day life without major sacrifice. I even managed to get decent workouts in during two work trips which has been a major stumbling point for me. Three years ago I would have cringed at the idea of trying to find time to exercise 5-6 days a week. I only have time to take class in the studio once a week and even that can be a pain to work into the family schedule. It has taken time to ramp up to where I am, but thanks to my weekly ‘circus hit’ I genuinely look forward to the hour I spend fitting a conditioning workout in or going for a run. I’m prone to minor depression of a kind that I don’t usually notice until after I’m on the other side and life starts feeling less difficult. By most climatological measures, this winter pretty much sucked, yet for me it had almost no noticeable hard parts. Even if I wasn’t seeing the physical benefits, I’d say that the mental health improvements are well worth the effort I’m putting in.

From a training standpoint, the additional exercise is resulting in small, but important, performance improvements. The strength I’m gaining will give me more endurance, control and protection from injury. I’ve upped my max number of pull-ups from 4 to 6, but for the most part these aren’t measurable. I’m at the point in training where it is less about learning new tricks and more about adding some artistry, perfecting the tricks I do know and learning to move between tricks with control and grace. I’ve even signed up to perform at the end of June in school’s student showcase.

As for non-circus things, things are following a reasonably smooth path these days. Life has been mostly days of work, errands, family dinners, house projects, and enjoying time with my husband and kid. From the outside it may seem predictable and boring, but after a reasonably dramatic decade, I’m at a point where I can appreciate the more stable flow that is happening now. A growing kid, consulting work, three dogs and a 100 year-old house seem to ensure the routine doesn’t stagnate into a rut.

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Bump in the road

New format training is definitely working! I felt noticeably stronger during my last hoop session especially through my core. Unfortunately, I also took note of a sore spot in my left shoulder that has been showing up on and off for about 3 months. At first it would resolve itself between training sessions, but for the last few weeks it has become a constant. I’m old enough to know that ignoring something like this is likely to result in permanent damage so I found a physiotherapist last week and went in for professional advice.

After running through a diagnostic test series, he identified my rotator cuff and bicipital tendon as the irritated components. Not at all surprising considering that a large component of aerial work involves hanging with my arms overhead. Add in moves done from skin the cat that combine hanging with arms turned inward and behind the back and the shoulder stresses are pretty easy to identify. I probably could have self-diagnosed via google, but I felt it was important to get a real diagnosis to ensure that any steps I take to fix the problem don’t end up making it worse. The physiotherapist recommended a series of ultrasound and massage treatments to speed healing in the joint along with daily exercises to strengthen the supporting muscles and help prevent future injury. Only time will tell for sure, but I’m hopeful that I’ve acted early enough to allow for many more years of hanging upside-down. I’m taking a break from training moves with extreme shoulder positioning while it heals, but there was no recommendation to stop completely which I was very happy to hear.

This week, I used the shoulder issue as an opportunity to switch things up and take a beginner lesson on silks. After a year on the hoop, I consider myself pretty strong, but climbing and gripping on fabrics seemed to require totally different muscles. My hands pumped out which hasn’t happened on lyra in many months. Happily, I was able to climb and learned foot-lock and a couple poses. I’m signed up on the hoop for the upcoming spring session, but will try to fit some fabric climbing in where I can to build my grip strength. Maybe I’ll switch to fabric for the summer session and go back to being a beginner. Hoop isn’t nearly as popular as silks so I’m sure I’d be able to jump onto one every now and then.

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