Kitty came home

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Stretched out on the couch, I was reading, zoned out on a lazy Sunday night. Then, I heard the heart-wrenching cry of a cat.

My stomach twisted. It couldn’t be. My mind must be playing tricks on me.

It wouldn’t have been the first time I had thought I heard her cry: my lovely, loyal house cat who had been so cruelly let outdoors nine days earlier, only to get lost in the abyss of other-backyards, and God-knows-where-else. For days I had been shaking her food bowl, calling her name, making come-hither kitty sounds, to no avail. I put out flyers, posted an online ad, called the SPCA. I thought she was gone.

She cried again. A high-pitched whine. I jumped from my seat and ran to the back door.

It was her. It was my grey cat named Ginger, in all her tabby, striped glory. I opened the door and nearly fell on top of her, laughing and crying all at once.

After nine days of being outside – she had never spent more than half an hour outside a house before this point – she had not a scratch, not a limp. She may have lost a pound or two, but my cat really did come back.

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We are young.

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29 Great things about being 29
– I’m in the best shape of my life.
– I’m a homeowner.
– I can still pass for a university student.
– I’m old enough to know better, but young enough to still act like a kid.
– I tell stories for a living.
– I don’t own a car.
– I’m closer to my parents and siblings than ever, but I’ve never lived so far away.
– I’ve lived and worked in two provinces and one territory.
– I have money in the bank.
– I live with a man who loves me for me, encourages me, respects me and makes me feel beautiful every day.
– I have a cat that purrs so loudly, you can hear her from across the room.
– After 10 years of living away from home, I still feel like a farm girl.
– I can break into a dance just about any time.
– I love to smile, laugh and cry.

– I am a pianist, and though I don’t play enough, the language of music will never leave my soul.
– I never know what kind of story will cross my desk each day.
– I’ve learned how to live alone, but I’m glad I don’t anymore.
– I’ve learned how to mend my severely broken heart.
– I really love coffee, wine and chocolate. Who doesn’t?
– I still feel like the whole world is my oyster.
– I am surrounded by wonderful friends, both near and far.
– I enjoy and appreciate healthy foods now more than ever.
– I still eat McFlurries and donuts when I really want them.
– I can articulate my thoughts and gain the respect of my work contacts and peers.
– I feel less nervous tackling difficult stories, but I still get a burst of healthy anxiety now and then.
– I have two grandmothers and a grandfather who fill my heart with love.
– I am an aunt to two tremendous children who are most definitely the cutest in the world.
– I have learned that I can handle living on the cheap, getting laid-off, getting divorced and still come out relatively sane.
– I love myself.

Next challenge: 10K

Ready to run

My first 10K race will be May 5 at the YSJ 10K. It’s a race around Saint John’s airport runway.

Thanks to the moderate spring weather over the past few weeks, I’ve been able to get quite a few kilometres in pounding the pavement. And I’ve noticed my times seem to be improving since last summer. So, I’m pretty confident that at least completing the race should be a cinch.

Reaching my goal might be another challenge. I want to run this one in under an hour. Kind of a tall order for a novice runner. But I want to aim high.

The other thing I’m a little nervous about is a rule about no ear buds or iPods. Understandably, since it’s an airport with actual airplanes, I can see this as a safety issue. But my music is such a motivator for me, and my playlist kicks butt. Without music, I focus more on my laboured breathing and I think it psychs me out. So I will need to practise running without music. Runners who do this often says it helps them focus on the pleasure of the run, so I’m thinking a good place to practise this will be the Irving Nature Park, my favourite place to run in Saint John.

As for training, I decided not to stick to a serious regimen but keep doing what I’ve been doing: two to three runs a week, one of them being eight to 10 K, a spinning class and also trying to fit in some strength training. I should also really be doing yoga.

For eating, just trying to eat as many fruit and veggies as possible, less sugar, more fibre and more protein.

This will be my third race ever! The best part is my little sister will be visiting for the weekend and will be cheering me on from the sidelines.

Breathe

“Your breath is a gauge for how you’re living your life.”

It’s so simple, yet so easy to forget. Breathe in, and out, and that’s really all there is.

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Yoga in the White Room. That's me on the bottom left, with a black racer back top on.

This reminder came to me last week when I took part in a yoga class in Saint John’s ever-cool White Room, in the old post office on Prince William Street. Jay MacLean offered the class on Leap Day, Feb. 29 (his birthday), to raise money for National Anti-Bullying Day and the Boys and Girls Club of Saint John. It was also the same day I interviewed the still grieving mother of Jason Dow, a man who was brutally murdered in the street about a year ago. (Marina Dow says her son was bullied all his life, because he was gay.)

The feeling of doing yoga, breathing in and out deeply into stretches and poses with at least 100 other people that evening was incredible. It was grounding and strengthening. As the class began, it was bright and sunny. As the class progressed, the sun delicately set over the Saint John harbour.

The collective aura was so positive – one reason why I always enjoy group classes, whether it’s spinning at GoodLife or a boot camp class with the folks at Simply For Life on the west side.

In my drive to improve my health and fitness, which has actually become a fun challenge for myself, it’s easy to forget that part of that challenge involves taking a breath, and being in the moment. This simple necessity is so easily overlooked when I’m busy trying to burn as many calories as possible on the spin bike or on the treadmill, or planning my next meal (or treat).

I love how running and exercise can chase away the stresses of life, but sometimes, I think “breathing into” those stresses, as a yogi might suggest, is just as important.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

When you wake up on a Sunday morning to find at least 15 centimetres of fresh, white snow outside, and the sun is shining, and you have energy to burn, you just have to go snowshoeing.

Winter has not been consistent this year – or the past two for that matter – in little Saint John, so when the conditions are just right, we jump on it.

So this past Sunday we bundled up and drove to Elmhurst Outdoors on the Kingston Peninsula, one of our favourite winter destinations. The last two winters we travelled to Elmhurst to cross-country ski, so this time, we decided to try out snowshoeing. I rented a pair for $5.30 plus tax, and the day pass was another $5.30. Very economical day out!Image

We ventured out to take a long winter hike up a hill that would lead us to a scenic lookout of the St. John River. The path twisted and turned, and the hill warmed the body – which was essential because it was well below -10 C. I don’t own snowpants and thought I could get away with wearing running tights, but was freezing my buns off.

Snowshoeing is a great way to enjoy the subtle beauty of the forest in winter. The trees were heavy with snow, and we could hear the sweet chirps of winter birds. Surprisingly, we didn’t see another soul on the roughly two-hour hike. It was peaceful and the cold, fresh air felt good for the lungs. The snowshoes were light and easy to wear. The grips help you climb up and scramble down hills with ease.

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When we finished, we took a few minutes to warm up in the cabin and have a bowl of homemade soup.

We always say we’ll go back to Elmhurst again (I just love their groomed ski trails), but a steady, snowy stretch never seems to last long enough. Spring is already just a month away.

Elmhurst’s activities don’t end when the snow melts. When the sap stars to run through the maple trees, they have educational tours for families, and, best of all, fresh maple syrup is on the menu at the cabin. I think we might manage another trip yet.

Wet paint. Our first DIY.

After painting I-don’t-know-how-many-square-feet of our new house, I have a whole new respect for the art of interior decorating. But what they say is true: for not much money, you can totally update the look of your house with a fresh coat of paint.

When we bought the house, most of the rooms on the main floor were painted a minty green colour. It obviously had been there a long time. The colour went behind the baseboards and cupboards that have been there for about 10 years.

So, armed with a $10-off coupon per gallon, we went to Home Hardware and bought a few cans of the Beautitone Designer Series paint. We picked Hurricane for the main colour – a greyish-blue, and Cool Custard for one wall in the kitchen. For our bedroom, we went wild and picked Outback, a dark and sexy reddish-brown.

The dining area: before
After

We’re both amateurs, but for anyone who has never painted: it’s totally doable. I started out by washing all the walls with a bucket of warm water and a tiny bit of mild detergent. Then I went over the areas again with just water to make sure the soap was all off. This was a lot of work but it’s a good way to make sure the paint bonds to the wall.

The next big job was taping off all the trim. It takes a long time. Then we started by cutting in the corners and areas along the trim with a brush. The rest was covered with the rollers, moving in three-foot sections, following a W pattern, then filling it in. We painted two coats just about everywhere.

One mistake I think we made was waiting too long before we took the tape off. In some areas, the tape pulled off scraggly lines of paint. We still have to fix these areas.

All in all, a successful first project. Our house no longer feels like an old lady’s place. It feels fresh and modern. Not bad for a 40-year-old home!

The bedroom: before
The bedroom: before
After

The year I bought a house

This year, 2012, will be the year that I bought a house. Four walls, that are all mine – well half mine, thanks to my partner in life, love and home-ownership. Real earth, a plot of land. Walls to paint, grass to cut, gardens to plant. A bathroom where I can plug in hair appliances, a place to barbecue, a place to wash my clothes, and a place to lie my head.

It’s really happening, and our little blue house on Saint John’s west side is ours as of January 20.

I will truly miss living in the historic uptown, our beautiful, tree-lined Germain. But after almost 10 years of paying rent, I am ready for home ownership. An investment for the next few years, at least.

The journey of house-hunting was filled with ups and downs, adrenaline highs and frightful lows. For all those property virgins out there, I want to share some of the things I learned:

  • It was easy for me, an optimist, to fall for a home right away while my boyfriend, and our agent, were quicker to point out the faults. This was important.
  • While we weren’t sure we needed an agent right away, we are so glad we went with Don LeBlanc of Century 21. His easy-going, patient, almost fatherly advice was so appreciated. He helped us weigh the pros and cons and bring up points we wouldn’t have known ourselves.
  • Mortgages are complex and bizarre things. So are lawyers. Both want your money, and lots of it. Shopping around is important.
  • One thing to consider if buying a house is the term of your mortgage. Five years is common. This means your interest rate is guaranteed (historic lows right now, people!), but you will pay a penalty if you break the term, equal to the interest you would have paid for the remainder of the term. Kind of a scary concept, so we had to make sure home ownership was something we wanted to commit to.
  • Property taxes will make up a significant portion of our monthly living expenses. Around $225 – yikes! And yes, the taxes are higher in Saint John than in surrounding towns, but the real estate is more affordable, and the transportation costs are less. The latter two won us over.
  • Because of our investment, I find myself considering the city issues I often write about from an entirely different perspective. Transit cuts mean I can’t take the bus to make it in time for my 7 a.m. shift. Saint John’s water and sewer projects mean I will have to pay more every year for however long into the future. And the Harbour Bridge’s ongoing repairs will mean traffic delays for us in the summer months. Ack!
  • The what-ifs are the scariest part. What if we lose our jobs? What if we break up? What if our house burns down and insurance doesn’t cover it? I’m not gonna lie. These still scare me. I guess at some point you just have to take a leap of faith.

The issues around home ownership are very grown-up. What’s the difference between aluminum and copper wiring? Why do we need attic vents? How much will our electricity bills really be?

It’s a little scary, but also very satisfying. Apartments have always felt transient to me. A house is a home.

Can’t wait to have you over for tea.