Lessons Learned From Wordpower 2016: Part 1

I hope everyone will pardon my distracted mental state these days as my mind continually slips away to this question: “What was I doing last week at this time?”

This is because I spent last week doing what many children and teen authors love best in the world: speaking to students. Firing them up about books, stories and the written word.

This “firing up” happened while I was traveling through northern Alberta as one of sixteen authors, illustrators and storytellers who participated in the 2016 Wordpower tour, which was sponsored by Cenovus Energy.

Many thanks to Cenovus Energy for again sponsoring Alberta's Wordpower tour.

Many thanks to Cenovus Energy for again sponsoring Alberta’s Wordpower tour.

Alberta’s kids’ book-touring scene is distinct in that professional artists can not only apply for the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s “TD Week” tour, but we also have a provincial counterpart through an Edmonton-based organization called the Young Alberta Book Society (YABS).

For the past several years, YABS has organized the one-week Cenovus Wordpower tour, which is dedicated to fostering a love of literacy among Alberta students by bringing them in contact with professional artists from the province.

I was fortunate to be part of this year’s Wordpower tour and I went in GANGBUSTERS! I hope the students learned tons from my presentations and writing workshops. I learned TONS from them too–so much so that I can’t convey everything in just one post…. hence the “part one” status of this week’s multi-day post.

So for today’s instalment, here’s the first thing that I learned:

It’s hard to present to students when you’re crying.

To be clear, the students didn’t do anything bad to make me cry; rather, the students of Le Goff School at Cold Lake First Nations did something all-out wonderful and unexpected and powerful.

But I need to back up a bit first…

While Le Goff teacher, Ms. Christine, helped me rearrange her room for my presentation, she also taught me some words in Dene. I practised and practised and could finally say ‘hello.’ (It sounds like “ay-GLOHN-its-ay.”) To my surprise, when I said it to the students, they not only understood what I was saying BUT THEY SAID IT BACK TO ME!

My tour partner, author/storyteller Gail de Vos, and principal Mary Anne Bushore at Le Goff School

My tour partner, author/storyteller Gail de Vos, and principal Mary Anne Bushore at Le Goff School

I told them they were making me feel very welcome and that at my home, we sometimes greet people in French by saying ‘Bienvenue.’

Then came the magical question from one of the teachers: “Would you like us to sing for you?”

WOULD I??? There is of course only one answer to that question. So out came the guitar and next thing I knew, the students and their teacher were singing me an amazing “welcome song” in English, Dene and in Cree. The beauty of the song combined with the light and the pride in the students’ eyes were overwhelming and, well, I think you know what happened next.

*sniffle, throat and eyes fill, shoulders heave*

I learned that this musical greeting was in honour of me having traveled to share my stories with them and because they wanted to wish me a continued safe journey.

Wow. Just, wow. And like I said, it’s hard to present when you’re crying. The students however graciously waited me out until I could share my stories with them in return.

One of my stories involved a farm adventure from my childhood years and it included farm animals. The students tried to teach me the Dene words for the various farm animals and they only giggled a little at my best efforts to say them.

As it is, the only animal name that I had much success saying was a word that sounds like “goo-goose,” which does NOT mean ‘goose’ as I thought, but PIG. Clearly I need to return for more lessons at Le Goff.

The newly-caped Puppy Girl from Le Goff School clearly shares my dog-loving sentiments.

The newly-caped “Puppy Girl” superhero from Le Goff School clearly shares my dog-loving sentiments.

The students were an enormous amount of fun and the younger group joined me in transforming into superheroes. The world already feels like a kinder, better place.

Along with the hand shakes, hugs, and open invitation to “please return whenever you are in the area” (you bet I will!), my time at Le Goff School–crying and otherwise–was magical and will forever live in my heart.

To all of the fabulous students and teachers at Le Goff School, a big ‘mass-ee’ (with apologies for mis-spelling ‘thank you’ in your beautiful language).

Hypo Half #7: Every Race Is Its Own Story

Every race is its own story.

That thought has been at the forefront of my mind while running dozens of races over the past ten years. So while I’ve been running the various courses, I’ve also been sizing up the athletes around me and speculating about the stories that each brought with them that day.

But today, that didn’t happen. Today, I had more than enough “story” of my own to process.

For the first time in six years, I wasn’t running the full 21.1 km of my beloved Hypothermic Half Marathon. Instead, I was running a short leg of it as a member of the KwadSquad – a push-team dedicated to helping individuals with physical disabilities experience an endurance event that they would otherwise be precluded from.

Unable to run the Hypothermic Half Marathon because of a slow-healing injury, but with “a few kilometres in me” notwithstanding, I had been invited to join the KwadSquad team. Specifically, I’d been honoured with the opportunity to run the final distance with the team and to push Raminder, who suffers from cerebral palsy and cannot walk, across the finish line in her chair.

KwadSquad

KwadSquad

This situation was the result of several people whom I consider “angels.”

The first angel is Morrie, a dedicated member of the KwadSquad. Himself a survivor of a potentially devastating accident, Morrie has since gone on to run the Boston Marathon, and also to carry several physically-challenged friends through endurance events, including half marathons and even a half-Ironman triathlon.

Raminder – also an angel – has now completed several events with Morrie. Only the briefest conversation with Morrie is required to understand the extent to which Raminder, along with her friend and roommate, Chandra, inspire him. I now understand why… but more about that later.

Becky and Raminder

Becky and Raminder

Becky, who is Raminder and Chandra’s caregiver, is adamant that one must NEVER feel sorry for these two women; that their lives are varied and meaningful and filled with constant opportunity. What Becky is less forthcoming about is the extent to which she makes these opportunities happen through her dedication and vigilance to their needs. As I saw today while riding in the support vehicle, Becky is a fierce, kind-hearted advocate for them.

Tanis, yet another angel, is a strong runner who has participated as a push-chair athlete for several events alongside Morrie and Raminder, including the Rotary Run For Life in September 2015 when I first saw the KwadSquad in action. Tanis’s role today involved running and “pushing” with Morrie, while being a second set of eyes to ensure that Raminder’s health and safety needs were met throughout the event.

And finally Justin Ng, the Edmonton Area Event Coordinator for the Running Room, was the superstar who connected me to Morrie and the KwadSquad when I donated my race bib. My request to Justin was that he pass it along to someone who would enjoy the race as much as I have for the past six years. Justin delivered in spades.

Justin at the microphone, greeting runners as they finish the race

Justin at the microphone, greeting runners as they finished the race

That brings me up to today’s event, where I spent most of the actual race doing something unfamiliar: sitting in a support vehicle. Sitting isn’t something I do easily, but I soon found myself caught up in the excitement of watching for Raminder and the rest of the KwadSquad team, which included Morrie and Tanis, at various checkpoints along the course – waiting for my opportunity to join them.

Although I had met Morrie the previous day when he dropped by with my fabulous new race shirt, I hadn’t yet met Tanis and Raminder. Both are delightful and it was an especially sweet moment when I first got to speak with Raminder and to thank her for letting me run with her.

my new favourite fashion statement

My new favourite fashion statement

To say that Raminder’s smile lit up the east end of Edmonton is no exaggeration. Wrapped in a sleeping bag that had pocket-heaters planted throughout it, and with most of her face covered, Raminder was toasty warm while her wide, engaged eyes took in the scenery as it unfolded before her.

Although Raminder has speech challenges, she responded in single words, which were amplified by that broad, warm smile. While I was nervous about manoeuvring her special chair with the fat-bike wheels, I also couldn’t wait for my turn to push Raminder for that precious final leg of the race.

And when it finally happened, it was beyond sweet. Even with Morrie and Tanis on either side of me, and with Morrie offering suggestions to help me better steer the chair over the bumpy course, I suspect my amateur “driving” left something to be desired. I’m sure I lack Morrie and Tanis’s skill at the wheel, but Raminder was a generous, kind-hearted rider.

The moment when we crossed the finish line will be forever etched in my heart. It was an incredible privilege and a joy to take Raminder over the final stretch of the course. I was glad I had packed Kleenex too because – wouldn’t you know it – something hit me full in the eye (bugs are common during our Edmonton winter; really!) and it got a little hard to see.

Team photo: Tanis holding baby Dylan, me, Raminder and Morrie

Team photo: Tanis (holding baby Dylan), me, Raminder and Morrie

Becky of course was waiting at the finish line and when she asked if it had been a bumpy ride, Raminder answered “yes,” offering a sweet smile in my direction. And then that same bug flew into my eye all over again.

After we parted ways, I dearly wanted to head out onto the course – injured foot notwithstanding – because nothing helps me process my thoughts and emotions better than a good run. And many thoughts and emotions were streaming through my head just then.

But the privilege of running the course wasn’t advisable just yet, so I had to defer for the time being. Thankfully, running with Raminder and the rest of the KwadSquad team was privilege enough. They are wonderful. I am grateful.

And yes, every race indeed is a story.

 

Plot Twist: My Hypo Half Streak Continues!!!

What a whirlwind these past few days have been… a beautiful, heart-stopping, mind-blowing whirlwind–so much so that I can barely remember the woman trying not to cry on the physiotherapist’s table a few days ago.

HypoHalf 2012

At the finish line of the Hypo Half 2012 wearing my flashy new medal

If you read my last post, you know that my six-year running streak at the Hypothermic Half Marathon was ending this year due to an injury.

Unable to run that distance myself, I donated my bib for this sold-out event in the hope that whoever received it would enjoy the race as much as I do.

Well, I got much more in return than I ever anticipated.

KwadSquad: kick-ass runners/angels

I soon heard from Morrie, my race-bib recipient. Morrie is a member of the Kwad Squad–a push-team dedicated to offering athlete-partners the opportunity to participate in endurance events from which they would otherwise be precluded.

Morrie and race partner at the Great White North Half Ironman

Morrie and race partner at the Great White North Half Ironman

I can’t imagine a more perfect situation and my tears over missing my seventh annual Hypo Half quickly dried up.

And as if that isn’t incredible enough, I received this follow-up email from Morrie today:

 

As a runner, I know you’re saddened to miss this opportunity to continue your streak of hypo half. I’ve thought of this…. I’m not sure the extent of your injury, but ya think you have 1km or even 1/2 of one in ya? We would love and be privileged to have you push Raminder over the finish line. The feeling you get when you hear the crowd pushing you on and hearing Raminder’s expressions of excitement and joy is absolutely nothing short of amazing.

 

*wipes away yet more tears*

Luckily, I indeed have a few kilometres in me and you can guess what my answer was, right?

And so, I am joining Morrie and Raminder for the final few kilometres of the Hypo Half tomorrow morning.

I’m over-the-moon with excitement that I’ll be part of the push-team supporting Raminder’s first Hypothermic Half Marathon, and we expect to cross the finish line around 11:15 a.m. tomorrow (Sunday, Feb.21st).

The race starts and finishes at the Highlands Golf Club at 6603-Ada Blvd, Edmonton, AB.

If you’d like to help cheer Raminder on as she crosses the finish line, we’d love to see you there!

The Woeful, Wonderful End to my Hypothermic Half Streak

To non-running, non-cold-weather people, the idea of running a half marathon in Edmonton’s winter conditions perhaps sounds like punishment. But the Hypothermic Half Marathon, which is held annually in February, is one of my favourite races.

Hypo Half finisher medals: 2010-2015

My Hypothermic Half Marathon finisher medals: 2010-2015

I’m not alone in loving it. It typically sells out even though two separate race dates are offered, and even though both include two start times to accommodate hundreds of eager runners, like me.

To ensure a spot, I again registered early this year and was pumped about running my seventh annual Hypo Half in early February. My training included embracing minus 30* Celsius temperatures in mid-January for a pre-race gear-testing run. I even ran the first 5 kilometres into a strong headwind to ensure my gear was adequate (it was) before returning home after 17+ kilometres.

The happy look of training in -30c temps in January

The happy look of training in -30c temps in January

It was a fun, memorable run but in the days that followed, I was troubled by a tight left hamstring and a sore right foot. Both seemed minor however and I was confident that by reducing my pre-race mileage somewhat earlier than planned and by seeking some early physiotherapy, I would be race-ready before February 7th. No problem, I told myself.

But with less than a week before my race, my injuries were getting worse. So when the race director sent out an email asking people to consider selling their race bib to someone on the waiting list if they knew they wouldn’t be able to run, I contacted him.

Instead of selling my bib though, I learned that I had another option. I could switch my race date to the second race two weeks later–more than enough time, I was sure, to finish addressing those pesky injuries.

I stepped up my rehab efforts but my injuries persisted. I finally had a frank talk with my physiotherapist who said he’d support whatever decision I made while also cautioning me that if I race on February 21st, I would potentially set my injuries back three or four weeks–which would take me pretty much back to where I started.

My well-needled foot and leg. I'm pretty sure the treatment commonly known as "IMS" stands for "Youch!"

My well-needled foot and leg. I’m pretty sure the treatment commonly known as “IMS” stands for “Youch!”

While still on the physio “slab” that day, I made the tough decision to pull out of the race. Runners never make such a decision lightly, but I was feeling beaten-up and I didn’t want to jeopardize other upcoming running goals.

Filled with self-pity, I emailed the race director and asked him to give my bib to someone else. I also confirmed that no, I didn’t want any payment for it. I just hoped it would go to someone who would enjoy the event as much as I have for the past six years.

At this point, I was up to my neck in “woeful”…

…but “wonderful” soon kicked in when I got this email from the person who received my bib:

 

Hi Karen,

You don’t know me or my team, but I’m hoping you can call me at 780-XXX-XXXX so I can explain. You have made my athlete’s day let alone world! It is unfortunate that you couldn’t make it, but you have affected my athlete who has CP in a way that can’t be measured. We really wanna thank you and let you know how important this is to us. Hope to hear from you soon.

 

I rang him up and learned that Morrie is a member of KwadSquad, which is a team of runners that pushes physically-disabled individuals in specially-designed chariots over various running courses.

Our phone conversation also gave me the opportunity to tell Morrie that he was wrong about something: I do in fact know him–sort of.

Rotary Run For Life race: where I first crossed paths with Morrie and his athlete-partner

Mementos from the Rotary Run For Life: where I first crossed paths with Morrie and his athlete-partner

We ran together for a short stretch at the Rotary Run For Life–the suicide awareness and prevention fundraiser that I ran in September. In my subsequent blog post (“Run And Write For Life,” September 2015), I described the unknown KwadSquad member as a “kick-ass runner” and an “angel” given his running prowess and his commitment to offering such a memorable experience to an individual who would otherwise miss out.

I was incredibly inspired by the KwadSquad then, and am even more inspired now upon learning about Morrie’s background. At one time, he was seriously injured and wasn’t expected to live. He not only survived his injury–which makes mine feel unutterably puny by comparison–but his commitment to the KwadSquad and to its wheelchair athletes represents his way of giving back.

KwadSquad: kick-ass runners/angels

KwadSquad: kick-ass runners/angels

So after feeling sorry for myself for 24 hours, I’m done.

I’m not gonna lie–I’d still love to be racing on Sunday. But I couldn’t be happier that the race team of Morrie and Raminder, his athlete-partner with cerebral palsy, will be enjoying the gorgeous Hypo Half course in my place.

Let’s just say that my perspective has been restored. Morrie’s kind words warm my heart–something that can’t be measured in my world either.

 

Special thanks to:

Justin Ng, Race Director of the Edmonton Hypothermic Half Marathon, for finding the substitute running team of my dreams; 

Miles Morgan, Physiotherapist/wielder of many IMS needles who “gets” people like me who need to run;

Morrie and Raminder of the KwadSquad, who inspire me while carrying a piece of my heart in their race-day chariot. SO. MUCH. RESPECT.

The Woeful, Wonderful End to my Hypothermic Half Streak

To non-running, non-cold-weather people, the idea of running a half marathon in Edmonton’s winter conditions perhaps sounds like punishment. But the Hypothermic Half Marathon, which is held annually in February, is one of my favourite races.

I’m not alone in loving it. It typically sells out even though two separate race dates are offered, and even though both include two start times to accommodate the hundreds of eager runners.

As usual, I registered immediately this year and was pumped about running my seventh annual Hypo Half in early February. My training included embracing minus 30* Celsius temperatures in mid-January for a pre-race gear-testing run. I even ran the first 5 kilometres into a strong headwind to ensure my gear was adequate (it was) before returning home after 17+ kilometres.

It was a fun, memorable run but in the days that followed, I was troubled by a tight left hamstring and a sore right foot. Both seemed minor however and I was confident that by reducing my pre-race mileage and seeking some early physiotherapy, I would be race-ready before February 7th.

But with less than a week before my race, my injuries were worsening. So when the race director sent out an email asking people to consider selling their race bib if they knew they wouldn’t be running, I contacted him.

Instead of selling my bib though, I learned that I had another option. I could switch my race date from February 7th to the second race two weeks later–more than enough time, I was sure, to address those pesky injuries.

I stepped up my rehab efforts but my injuries persisted. I had a frank talk with my physiotherapist who said he’d support whatever decision I made, while also cautioning me that if I raced on February 21st, I would potentially set my injuries back three or four weeks–which would take me pretty much back to where I started.

While still on the physio “slab” that day, I made the tough decision to pull out of the race. Runners never make such a decision lightly, but I was feeling beaten-up and I didn’t want to jeopardize other upcoming running goals.

Filled with self-pity, I emailed the race director and asked him to give my bib to someone else. I also confirmed that no, I didn’t want any payment for it. I just hoped it would go to someone who would enjoy the event as much as I have for the past six years.

At this point, I was up to my neck in “woeful”…

…but “wonderful” soon kicked in when I received this email from the person who received my bib:

 

Hi Karen, 
You don’t know me or my team, but I’m hoping you can call me at 780-XXX-XXXX so I can explain. You have made my athlete’s day, let alone world! It is unfortunate that you couldn’t make it, but you have affected my athlete who has CP in a way that can’t be measured … We really wanna thank you and let you know how important this is to us. Hope to hear from you soon. 
I rang him up and learned that Morrie is a member of KwadSquad, which is a team of runners that pushes physically-disabled individuals in specially-designed chariots over various running courses.
 Our phone call also gave me the opportunity to tell M that he was wrong about something; I do in fact know him–sort of.
We ran together for a short stretch at the Rotary Run For Life–the suicide awareness and prevention fundraiser that I ran in September. In my subsequent blog post (“Run And Write For Life,” September 16, 2015), I described the unknown KwadSquad member as a “kick-ass runner” and an “angel” given his running prowess and his commitment to offering such a memorable experience to an individual who would otherwise miss out.
I was incredibly inspired by the Kwad Squad then, and am even more inspired now upon learning about M’s background. At one time, he was seriously injured and wasn’t expected to live. He not only survived his injury–which makes mine feel puny by comparison–but his commitment to the Kwad Squad represents his way of giving back.
 So after feeling sorry for myself for 24 hours, I’m done.
 I’m not gonna lie–I’d still love to be racing on Sunday but I couldn’t be happier that the race team of Morrie and his athlete-partner with cerebral palsy will be enjoying the gorgeous Hypo Half course in my place.
 Let’s just say that my perspective has been restored. Morrie’s kind words warm my heart. And that’s something which can’t be measured in my world either.

“Kids’ Book Basics:” The Metro Tradition Continues

Fifteen years ago, I was part of a team of teacher-writers creating curriculum-based educational software for a grade 5/6 literacy project. I was sad when the project ended but delighted that I had finally – FINALLY – figured out what I wanted to do “when I grew up.” I wanted to write for kids.

A smattering of kidlit books by Edmonton and area authors. This is just what I could readily lay my hands on in my person collection. There are way more!

A small sample of kidlit books written by Edmonton and area authors.

My next step was to seek some instruction on writing fiction for children. I soon stumbled across a course called “Introduction to Writing for Young People” at Metro Continuing Education, which was then called Metro Community College.

I immediately registered and on the first day of class while waiting for the other students to arrive (yes, I was the first one there), I became lost in thought while the instructor, Colleen Heffernan, greeted everyone at the door.

Colleen Heffernan, author of Dinosaurs In The Attic, Mill Creek Kids, and A Kind of Courage

Colleen Heffernan, author of Dinosaurs In The Attic, Mill Creek Kids, and A Kind of Courage

I fully admit that I was guilty of what we now call “creeping” people. And I was creeping Colleen hard – my eyes following her every move and gesture as questions swirled through my mind.

How had she started writing children’s books? How long did it take her to write them? How did she eventually tip the odds to become a professionally-published children’s author?

And most of all, if it was possible for Colleen to write several children’s books, was there any way I could do that too? And while I was dreaming anyway, how incredibly cool if, like her, I eventually got to teach a children’s writing course!

Despite hardly daring to believe those things could ever happen, I began conjuring images of my future published books. And just to seal the deal, I also dreamed about someday teaching a children’s writing course.

Minutes later, the class started. Colleen began by describing herself sitting at the back of the class at a Metro children’s writing course some years earlier, looking up at the instructor, Mary Woodbury, and hoping that, like Mary, she’d someday be a published children’s author – maybe even teaching a course on the subject.

Mary Woodbury (1935-2013), beloved writing mentor and accomplished writer of numerous books for kids, teenagers and adults.

Mary Woodbury (1935-2013), beloved writing mentor and accomplished writer of numerous books for kids, teenagers and adults.

Wait! WHAT?

So the seemingly crazy thoughts crashing through my head had also crashed through hers? And she’s now the published author of several children’s books AND she’s a children’s writing instructor!

Is it possible that someday those things could happen to me too? Will the Metro tradition continue?

Yes.

Years later, I’m the author of two upper-middle-grade novels with several others in process, and I’m joining author Rita Feutl in teaching a new course at Metro Continuing Education.

Rita Feutl, author of Rescue At Fort Edmonton, Room Enough for Daisy (co-authored with Debby Waldman), and Bike Thief.

Rita Feutl, author of Rescue At Fort Edmonton, Room Enough for Daisy (co-authored with Debby Waldman), and Bike Thief.

“Kids’ Book Basics: Writing For Children and Teens” begins January 12th and it runs for five consecutive Tuesday evenings. I’m incredibly excited about it and I look forward to telling our students – the next generation of Edmonton area “kidlit” authors – about the Metro tradition, and inviting them to be a part of it with Rita and me.

"Kids' Book Basics" (January 12-February 9/16) found within... if you can get past the doughnuts (aka "subliminal advertising") on the front cover.

Details about “Kids’ Book Basics” (January 12-February 9/16) found within… if you can get past the doughnuts/”subliminal advertising” on the front cover.

I hope you’ll join us!

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Metro Continuing Education can trace its origins to the night school for adults first offered by Edmonton Public Schools in 1891. Today, Metro still offers courses and programs for people of all ages with three program areas: Academic Success Programs, Adult Continuing Education Courses, and the English Language Institute. 

 

TaleBlazers 2015: A Tale of Literacy and Superheroes

Delighted I got to add my left-handed scrawl to Onoway's "Wall Of Honour"

I’m so delighted I got to add my left-handed scrawl to Onoway’s “Wall Of Honour.”

After a vigorous ten days of offering literacy-based presentations in Alberta schools and libraries, I can now add the following numbers to my collection:

Number of students spoken to: 921

Number of kilometres driven: 2,147

Number of new superheroes released into the world: 358

Number of students who’ve met my top-secret superhero alter-ego: 358

Number of students who’ve received my promise about the pay-offs for working hard to become better writers: 592

Overall, it felt like a job well done. In fact, a job befitting a literacy superhero–a role I strive to fill.

Along the way, I amassed many priceless memories–something which continually happens when I am surrounded by my favourite demographic: kids and teenagers.

Here are some of my highlights from this year’s TaleBlazers literacy tour:

Meeting and encouraging new superheroes, including Golden Cheetah, EnviroGirl, Awesome Big Bro, Ninja Bat Boy, Puppy Girl, and Half-Lizard/Half-Spider Boy. They take my breath away with their passion and conviction. The world is already a better place because of them.

Feeling like the grand prize at the fall fair…. because the school that won this year’s Dr. Charles Allard Win-a-Literary Artist Contest used their “golden ticket” to invite ME to speak with their students for the day. Meeting my wonderful hosts and all of the Onoway Elementary students was a huge win for me too! And imagining myself as a massive stuffed teddy bear from the Ex (also how I felt given the fabulous lunch and snacks they served me) was a memory to cherish.

Convincing a student with behavioural tendencies that Grenade Boy wouldn’t make for a positive superhero figure, but that tapping into his love of tigers would be a fantastic mission. And so Tiger Boy emerged. He immediately got to work building his superhero cred by becoming my eager assistant for the rest of the morning. Thanks, Tiger Boy!!!

Enjoying earnest conversations with division one students… Me: “What is an adventure?” Students: “Going on a trip.” “Doing something different.” “Discovering and exploring.” And this wide-eyed response from a Cindy-Lou-Who lookalike: “Doing something brand new. It can be scary. You have to be very brave.” [author’s heart grew three sizes]

Smiling over generous feedback from the teachers and librarians… “Wow, I’ve NEVER seen those grade 6’s listen so well!” and “I learned some new writing tips today too that I’m going to use in the classroom.” Sweet!

This concludes another year of TaleBlazing author visits and I’m grateful to the entire 921 students who I met. As always, they have inspired and energized me for my writing projects in the days ahead.

Thanks also to the teachers, librarians, generous sponsors, and of course to the Young Alberta Book Society (YABS) for arranging these tours. YABS’s mission is to foster literacy and a love of reading among students in Alberta by bringing them together with Alberta’s literary artists and their works. Now, how cool is that???

Steph and Jenn - YABS's fabulous administrators who make EVERYTHING possible... when they're not dancing like chickens in support of charities.

Steph and Jenn – YABS’s fabulous administrators who make EVERYTHING possible… including dancing like chickens to support charity.

 

 

Running: A Love Story (or My 10th Runniversary)

 

My beloved Edmonton river valley donned her prettiest fall party frock for the occasion.

The Edmonton river valley donned her prettiest party frock for the occasion.

Even though my blog has recently been top-heavy with posts about running, today’s milestone leaves me with no other option but to write another one. This is because – *drum roll, please* – it’s my 10th running anniversary. (Runniversary? Runner-versary?)

Effective today, I’ve been a dedicated runner for ten years. But my relationship with running began long before that – back when I was a university student. At that time, I had an irregular-at-best running routine.

Meanwhile, my brother Derrick was becoming an incredibly committed runner. And with many of his earliest races happening in Kingston – where I was living and studying at the time – I went and watched him race at many of them. The energy and emotion when the starter pistol went and also at the finish line, always left me choking back tears – and this when my own sporadic running had pretty much fallen off.

Derrick has raced every distance from 800 metres to 100 miles. His daily running streak dates back to Christmas day 1988.

Derrick has raced every distance from 800 metres to 100 miles. His daily running streak dates back to Christmas day 1989.

Clearly running was striking some chords for me too but I never imagined myself actually running and definitely not racing. Years of intense, confidence-shredding gym classes from my formative years had convinced me that athletics were best avoided.

So when I got to pick some of my high school courses in grade nine, I had one guiding principle: no gym classes. I stuck to that for my entire five years of high school. And hey, that’s okay, I told myself. You’re better at academics than athletics anyway. So no big deal.

It actually was a big deal though and over the years, I gradually started breaking my own rule. I was a good swimmer and eventually became a swimming instructor and lifeguard. But still, I never saw myself as an athlete and rationalized that swimming was just “something that anyone could do given enough classes.” And besides, it could lead to a good summer job. (It did.)

Then at my sister’s invitation, I joined her for some aerobics classes and eventually I tried them all – high-impact, low-impact, tae bo, step, etc. I fell in love with feeling fit and while I met many wonderful, supportive instructors, I also crossed paths with some whose methods were gritty reminders of those gym teachers from my earlier years. And to add to that, I was tiring of indoor aerobics classes.

The turning point soon followed… My kids both signed up for the only sport available to students at their small elementary school: cross-country running. While cheering them and their teammates on, I was again surrounded by the energy, the camaraderie, and the adrenaline rush of running.

Derrick after a very long run...

Derrick after running a crazy long distance.

And again, that same choked-up feeling moved into the back of my throat. Something had to give. And it was me…

I phoned my brother, Derrick, who had become a successful race director and running coach, in addition to being a talented runner with several course records to his name. I cautiously asked him if he thought I might possibly become a runner too.

I don’t remember his exact answer but it was something like “Hell, yeah, and here’s how to get started…”

My first race ever. "Pets In The Park." Spoiler alert: this run

My first race ever – “Pets In The Park” with my beautiful Tassie. [Spoiler alert: this race is a key scene in my first book, Dog Walker.]

The rest, as they say, is history. I’m now a four-season runner who’s run dozens of races with distances ranging from five kilometres to half marathons… and half marathon number eight follows in just nine days.

Another early running companion; Reilly, my handsome Newf-lab cross.

Another early running companion: Reilly, my handsome Newf/lab/teddy bear cross.

That brings me to today – my tenth runniversary – where the celebration begins by juicing up my most potent “Mean Green” (romaine, swiss chard, spinach, kale, orange, pear, cucumber, watermelon, plum – a.k.a. whatever is in my crisper),

My most potent Mean Green juice

…channeling some extra superhero inspiration,

SpiderMable, Edmonton's favourite new superhero.

SpiderMable, Edmonton’s favourite new superhero.

…and heading outdoors with my running partner.

Zolli and me, long-time running buddies

Zolli and me: long-time running buddies

Feel free to wish me a happy tenth runniversary if you see me on the trails. I’ll keep an eye out for you!

Photo credit: nice man in the river valley

Photo Credit: Nice Man In The River Valley

 

Many thanks to Derrick Spafford of Spafford Health and Adventure (www.healthandadventure.com) for the extensive coaching and support which led to this special runniversary. 

SHA-logo2

Run (And Write) For Life

"That writer who runs a lot"

“That writer who runs a lot”

Something I often hear when I first meet fellow-writers in person is this: “Hey, aren’t you that writer who runs a lot?”

Because I regularly post on Facebook and Twitter (@karen_sp_fitz), I’m not really surprised that people know this about me. Still, that comment always makes my heart soar as it captures my two passions: running and writing.

As my title suggests, I plan to do both for life. And thankfully, they complement one another perfectly; I generally write until I need a physical or a mental break, at which time I run. And while running, my children’s stories are streaming through my head leaving me inspired and energized to resume writing by the time I return home.

I don't know how many kilometres I ran before these stories gelled n my head.

I don’t know how many kilometres I ran before these stories gelled in my head.

While I’ve been writing professionally for over fifteen years, I’ve had a casual flirtation with running for much longer. Then about ten years ago, running became an essential part of my life. Since then, it has helped power me through two published novels, and through several other manuscripts and works-in-progress.

For the past ten years, I’ve not only written many stories and run thousands of kilometres, but I’ve participated in races ranging from five-kilometre runs to half marathons (21.1km) and I’ve loved all most of them. As an added bonus, most have supported charities, which means I’ve helped fundraise for wildlife conservation, MS research, teen shelters, breast and “below-the-belt” cancer research, etc.

 

Some of my running logs, race bibs and bling from the past ten years.

Some of my running logs, race bibs and bling from the past ten years.

To add to that list, I ran a race last weekend that I’ve long wanted to participate in: the Rotary Run For Life in Stony Plain, Alberta.

This event is a fundraiser for mental health issues relating to suicide awareness and prevention–something which I believe few people haven’t been affected by, either personally or through loved ones. That alone felt like an excellent reason to run the event. And so I was solidly in.

Meeting up with friends at the race kit pick-up the previous day.

Meeting up with friends at the race kit pick-up the previous day.

With a number of possible distances offered (5k run/walk, 10k run and half marathon), my gut instinct was to register for my favourite: the half marathon. I love the adrenalin-laced starts and the push-till-you-drop finishes, and what I equally love is those long, glorious kilometres in between.

But because I had previously committed to running another half-marathon just four weeks later, I instead opted to run the 10-kilometre distance. My grand plan was to treat it like a speed workout before my upcoming half marathon.

Don't trust the confident smile. This woman seriously does NOT know how to run a 10k.

Don’t trust the confident smile. This woman seriously does NOT know how to run a 10k.

As always, I spent some time in the days leading up the race visualizing myself on the course–or trying to. That wasn’t so easily done this time; I haven’t run many 10k’s ever, and I hadn’t run any for at least five years. What does a 10k race even look like? What am I supposed to think about? How am I supposed to feel while I’m running it? As for that post-run program, how does a highly-emotional writer handle that?

I couldn’t come up with any answers so I finally resigned myself to doing something that terrifies me: I would just wing it on race day.

That’s exactly what I did and three days later, I’m still trying to process everything and make sense of the experience.

Did anyone ask me how I feel about my mom running without me??? Did they???

Here are the conclusions I’ve drawn:

That a 10k race–ran hard and well–is no easier than a half marathon; it’s just a different beast altogether. (Oh, and mission accomplished with the speed work; met my target time while finishing first in my age category.)

That the memorial markers along the trail honouring the lives of those lost to suicide would make me cry regardless of whether I was running a 10k or a half marathon. And that’s okay.

That Stony Plain is a pretty town filled with gorgeous murals, beautiful old buildings, a bong shop, a yarn store I need to return to, a whole lot of heart, and other stuff too.

Running for Tony... and others.

Running for Tony… and others.

That somewhere between kilometres five and six, I found the exact running visual I needed: collecting all of the stigmas relating to mental illness and suicide, and kicking them to the curb. With. Every. Stride.

That the nicest people in the world, as always, are the volunteers directing the runners through the course while cheering us on.

That the “Kwad Squad” push-team athletes who were navigating physically-disabled people through the course in customized chariots are both kick-ass runners and angels in compression wear.

That once I got on the course and started running, everything I’d worried about in the days leading up to it faded away.

That a suicide awareness and prevention event can be a damn good time.

That like other hard issues in our world, there’s only one way to tackle suicide awareness and prevention: together.

The fabulous Team Amerongen (minus Robyn, who was already running), of which I got to be a guest member. Hurray!

The fabulous Team Amerongen (minus Robyn, who was already running), of which I got to be a guest member. Hurray!

Happy Karen Day (and is Victoria trying to upstage me???)

 

birthday pie

You know those people who go to great lengths to make sure nobody knows it’s their birthday?

I’m the polar opposite. I even tell strangers, like store clerks for instance, that it’s my birthday. And while I’m at it, I’m careful to speak loudly enough so others can hear me too. That’s how much I love birthdays. (Did I mention it’s today??? My birthday?)

I still smile thinking about the many happy memories from my past birthdays. For example, when I was growing up on the family farm between Napanee and Kingston, Ontario, it was pretty much understood that although a birthday cake is perfectly fine, a birthday PIE is even better.

pie

Hello, beautiful!

In my family, the birthday boy or girl was allowed to choose the dessert at dinner. My older sister always chose pumpkin pie. My next brother always chose blueberry cheesecake (not pie; there’s one in every family…) My youngest brother always chose banana cream pie. And for me, it was rhubarb pie–the epitome of birthday happiness.

Since my birthday (May 18th, in case you missed it) arrives near the beginning of the Canadian growing season, it was often questionable whether enough rhubarb would have grown yet to make a complete pie.

rhubarb

Grow, darn you! GROW!

My mom was resourceful however and she occasionally made me my own mini rhubarb pie, and for the rest of the family, she made an apple or pumpkin pie. [Read: a lesser species of pie.]

Mom

Mom, rhubarb-pie maker extraordinaire

This year, my birthday brushes up against that of a certain queen from England who was famously “not amused.” This is not the first time it has happened. And as a child, can I tell you what I was not amused by?

Getting upstaged by a dead queen on my birthday.

grade 3

Who would upstage this little girl? For shame, Queen V!

The year that I turned seven, we didn’t celebrate my birthday on our farm as usual; instead, we went to my aunt’s house in nearby Napanee. My grandparents were also coming into town from Hay Bay for the celebration. And needless to say, Mom was bringing a rhubarb pie for dinner.

Even when it wasn’t my birthday, visiting Aunt Lorraine was always wildly fun. Along with my uncle and two cousins, she lived in the funkiest apartment ever above Uncle Doug’s TV and appliance shop. Given the riot of mischief we always got up to with my cousins, I couldn’t possibly have anticipated my birthday celebration more eagerly.

Aunt L

Aunt Lorraine, artist and all-round awesome woman.

Best of all, their rooftop balcony overlooked the Napanee fairgrounds where, I’d been told, fireworks would be set off once it got dark outside. Birthday presents, rhubarb pie, cousins to get in trouble with–and FIREWORKS too? I could hardly believe my good fortune.

Sure enough, the evening unfolded as expected. The adults ate at their own table. The kids had uncharacteristic freedom at their own “kids’ table” in the kitchen. The cousins all fought. The kids took turns watching around the corner in case any adults decided to “sneak in” on us. We found creative places to hide our food so it looked like we’d eaten enough first course to get dessert. The adults shouted out “What’s going on?” and “Do I need to come in there?” to our angelic replies of “Nothing” and “No, we’re being good.” We spilled fruit punch, flicked food at each other and used words we wouldn’t dare say in front of our parents. In short, it was a glorious celebration.

And then came the fireworks.

I should mention that as a rule, I didn’t (and still don’t) like loud things. I’m afraid of power tools (let’s not ponder a chainsaw or an electric drill severing or impaling one’s limbs), I don’t ride jet-skis or other loud modes of transportation, and I share my dog’s horror with the vacuum cleaner and with the paper shredder in my office.

fireworks 2

Oh, glorious fireworks!

But that night, as schoolhouses burned, rockets blasted into the heavens, and streaks of colour etch-a-sketched outward in blazing colour, I was the happiest birthday girl ever.

My siblings and my cousins started trickling back into the house before the display was over–presumably to resume fighting and scavenging for seconds on dessert and to play with my birthday toys, but I was held rapt in the chilly outdoors until the last starburst of colour had faded and the final wails and sizzles had dissolved.

Upon re-entering the apartment, one of the adults commented that I must “really like fireworks.”

fireworks 1

More fireworks… because you can’t get enough of them.

“It was great,” I’d said. “Napanee did that for my birthday.”

At that point, the know-it-all “olders”–my sister and my oldest cousin–started laughing at me.

“Really? For you? The fireworks were for Victoria Day!”

I was stricken and began scrolling back through my mind. I vaguely remembered hearing something about Victoria Day but I hadn’t paid much attention at school all week because I was too preoccupied by–you guessed it–my birthday.

“I knew that already,” I said, ever eager to shrug off the dumb little sister/cousin persona that I wore like an over-sized dunce cap.

That was the best comeback I could summon up and I’m sure they knew better than to believe me. Oddly though, I don’t remember holding a grudge against those snooty olders for dashing my childhood fantasy about the fireworks. But there was somebody who I definitely blamed.

I am not amused either, Vicky.

I am not amused either, Vicky.

I’ll leave you to figure out who that person was.

Karen Day

Happy Victoria Karen Day, everyone!