And I ran – I ran so far away

On Saturday Mr. M and I completed a run that has pretty much crippled me (almost three days out at that.)

In preparation for Tough Mudder – a race we’ve signed up to participate in this June, we’ve been ramping up our training sessions and pushing ourselves harder than normal when it comes to our workouts.

(We’ve also signed our lives away just in case either one (or both) of us croaks on the course. If any of you have anything to tell us between now and the 23rd of the month, speak now, or forever hold your peace.)

He’s been focusing on running longer distances, and I’ve been working on building strength and gaining speed.

I’ve always loved to run far. I’ve just never like to sprint. What’s the point in going all out (or pushing your body to failure) when you have 10+, 15+, 20+ kilometers to cover?

The only time I could really do that was with a finish line in sight and the entire course length at my back.

But like I said, I’m moving (slowly, but surely) out of my comfort zone.

Saturday morning broke cold, but the air lacked the chill that has defined these long, past winter months. The grey sky spackled by coal coloured clouds, dripping fat drops of rain onto my ponytail, on the peaks of my cheekbones, and in between my eyelashes.

I put on, and took off my toque three times before leaving it behind.

We ran a quick 4k up the (continuous) hill to New Westminster Secondary School’s track. It’s a fabulous surface – soft, spongy, with enough bounce and give – well maintained and well visited on that murky, moody morning.

We ran three 100m all out – my lungs on fire, my legs like jelly, my arms flailing like two propellers, free falling, faltering.

Sucking in air to cool down my screaming brain.

It had been so long since I ran like that – I don’t remember the last time I gave until there was nothing left to give.

A young boy, running laps, while his older brother skulked around the soccer pitch in the middle of the stadium, stopped in amazement and yelled out “WOW!” as M and I tore down lanes six and seven.

You should see how quick M is – he is the Road Runner, or The Flash – all burned rubber and singed tail feathers.

After we finished at the track, we completed the rest of our 10k loop. Our pace was very fast – sub 4:30 per km. And believe you me, by the end, the loop had finished us.


My earliest running memory is from about the age of four.  I am at a park with my family: my mother, father, and two sisters. 

The summer breeze ripples through the weeping willows, dandelions poke their sunny faces out of the uncut grass and I am tearing around the periphery, again and again, like some pint-sized Orestes, keeping my furies at bay.

Having challenged my parents to a footrace, one, two, three, four times, they eventually, gently, encouraged me to run a lap on my own, so they could catch their wind and perhaps formulate a plan on how to deal with their budding long-legged lollopper.

One lap turned to two, two to three, and they practically had to tie me down when it was time to go home.

Speedy Gonzalez my father would always call me.

Ariba Ariba! I’d reply, before attempted to dash off, barefoot and wild-eyed to complete another tour of my make believe stadium, for make-believe admirers, and fans.

When I was eleven, my father began taking me out for runs with him, down at Jericho beach.  Summer mornings spent running the gravel path between the “nice” concession stand and the start of the hill leading up to UBC, trying to match my stride to the easy flow of my father’s.

Mr. M's and my running course while we lived in England. Edgbaston reservoir.

Every day trying something new, maybe running a little farther or sprinting a little faster, trying to control the rhythm of my breathing and becoming comfortable with the beat of my heart.

We watched Chariots of Fire together.  I analyzed the men as they sped around the school courtyard, racing the clock, racing each other, racing their fears, racing themselves.

As a teenager I ran before school, after school.  Like Forest Gump said: I was going places.


I read about Atalanta, the completely kick-ass (in my opinion) Greek deity who refused to marry anyone who could not beat her in a footrace.  Those who tried and could not would face decapitation and many, many suitors lost their heads in their attempts to win her hand.

When I grew up, I wanted to be her.

Dancing like a dancing thing (either that or it's my Bluth chicken impression) after my first half-marathon.

My love for running has helped heal me.  It pushes me; it has made me grow not only as an athlete but as a person.  It has introduced me to new people and reunited me with old friends.

But more importantly, it is my form of meditation and calm; it provides an outlet for the voices in my head and a space for new ideas to percolate and brew.

It gives me an opportunity to create change and be inspired.  It allows me to inspire.

Running moves me.

So tonight, despite tight hamstrings, and tender collar bones; aches in my back, and no-laugh abs, what did I do once I got off the metro, having just left work?

I went for a run.

And I’ll continue to do so. Maybe tomorrow. Definitely the day after that.

This weekend I’ll push it again, harder this time, with Mr. M, my running partner in crime.

Seriously folks – we are two tough mudders.

We are runners.

Danke schoen, darling

I really feel like a crazy Haligonian opening every one of my blog posts with a report on the weather.

But it’s something that I just cannot help. It’s in my friggen DNA for goodness sake.

(Using the word friggen is also a trait inherent to my east coastness, along with my undying love for biscuits topped with molasses, and raucous, foot stomping fiddle music.)

I'm blue, dabadee dabadie...

Seriously, if you talk to anyone from the east, it’s inevitable that you will eventually have a frank, relatively long (and always in-depth) exchange of information covering the current temperature, wind speed, cloud cover, chance of rain, possibility of snow flurries, or likelihood of category five hurricanes – it’s pretty much conversation law.

My grandfather used to sit and watch the weather network. On TV. At home.

For fun.

So in that (weather) vein, it must be reported that today has been absolutely blooming gorgeous. Cool and crisp as all get out (it was minus five walking to skytrain this morning) but beautiful – in a way that felt as though you were living inside of an icicle.

The sun shone long, and the sky burned blue, and the mountains stood stark and snow capped, fogged only by the slow, even rhythms of my breath.

And confronted with such beauty, well – there isn’t much else you can do save mention it to every single person you possibly can.

I wear my the sun doesn't burn my eyeballs.

It’s something to celebrate!

Today at lunch I meandered around the Robson Street corridor, dropping in on clothiers and admiring their new spring collections.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the goods on display at Zara, a store I have been consistently disappointed in for a while now.

While I didn’t purchase anything, I did try on a rather adorable capped sleeve sundress – the cotton stretch material was a dark navy, speckled with a beige palm tree print, and an asymmetrical hemline – longer in the back than in the front – a styling that I actually find quite charming.

I didn’t take any photos because I’m making a concerted effort not to be so dang weird.

(For all of you who know me this is an epic undertaking.)

If I’m still thinking about it tomorrow, well, as one General Douglas MacArthur said, “I shall return.”

(For different reasons entirely, I assure you.)

I also managed to find my way into the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.

Love, love, LOVE this place.

Although, to be completely honest, I kind of get to the point of some perverse, nihilistic panic every time I find myself in this store. I undergo something of a sensory overload that eventually reaches the level where I start to think, “I’ll never be able to taste all of these delicious looking treats – what’s the point in even trying!?”

Especially because I know that I’m just going to buy the same thing I always get.

Oh skewer of marshmallows dipped in chocolate and sprinkles – where would my life be without you?

(Wait. I probably don’t need an answer to this question.)

Like ice cream flavours, I’m not very good at branching out and trying new things – especially when it comes to the simple, but amazing taste-bud tickling pleasure of moulds of sugar, corn syrup, water, and gelatine covered in processed cacao and more (multicoloured) shards of sugar.

When I put it that way, doesn’t it sound downright delicious? No wonder I love them so much.

Side note: What will they think of next? Dipping it in yogurt? Covering it in chocolate buttons?!

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Okay, now that I’ve got weather, fashion and chocolate out of the way (the blinkin’ trifecta of my life here folks), it’s times to get down to brass tacks (aka the real reason I wanted to write this post).

P.S. Did you know that ‘brass tacks’ can be defined by: “engaging with the basic facts or realities” and that the origin of the figurative expression – “getting down to brass tacks” – originated in a Texas newspaper The Tri-Weekly Telegraph in January of 1863. One of their editors wrote:

“When you come down to ‘brass tacks’ – if we may be allowed the expression – everybody is governed by selfishness.”

The more you know, eh?

OKAY, for real, I’m getting back on topic.

Last night I watched the Oscars. This is both an exercise in brilliance, and brutality.

(Also, is it just me or is Billy Crystal turning into Wayne Newton?)

This is how the majority of my person feels about (all) awards shows:

Award shows…ugh…WHY CAN’T I QUIT YOU!? You’re like the friend I no longer know anything about, and have nothing in common with, but refuse to stop having that one really boring, vapid lunch with every year because, well let’s face it, YOU’RE FLIPPING GORGEOUS.

I wrote that after watching the mind-numbing dreck that some fool advertised as the 2012 Golden Globes.

(The fact that I watched the entire bloody thing lends me to believe that it is in fact I that is the bigger fool.)

Seriously though, no matter how much I want to leave these programs in my past, and never, ever look back, I cannot stop watching them for two small, but very important reasons.

1.)    Growing up, my family used to always watch the Academy Awards together. It was our thing. Inevitably, amongst the five of us, we would have seen all the nominated films, so we would actually have some kind of vested interested in the outcome of the night. It would be spring break, so we kids would be allowed to stay up much later than our usual bedtime, ensuring that we would get to see the full scope of the program (this was at the time that the ceremony would run 5+ hours long). Often time we would be on vacation somewhere, which only added to the mystique and brilliance of the night, particularly during the years spent at Silver Star (ski resort), which meant lots of cozy clothing, warm rooms, roaring fires and carnation hot chocolate.

Almost as cozy...

My family didn’t do much together as a team – after the age of twelve I hardly remember eating a dinner that had every member present. In fact, due to our frantic, conflicting schedules, I pretty much ate every single meal outside of school hours alone.

Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not complaining about this. It’s just the way things were. And perhaps why those nights with everyone crammed around the TV set, wondering who would win, or why someone would chose to wear what they did, so special.

It was so out of the ordinary, it was extraordinary.

2.)    As much as Hollywood is well, Hollywood, there is so much else going on at the Oscars that I find remarkable, and inspiring. The short film makers, the animators, the documentary filmmakers, the foreign film nominations (and yes, of course, many of the “mainstream” films, their casts, and crews) are all heartening examples of individuals who have committed their lives to a passion, pure and simple.

And I like to be reminded of that.

As I continue to walk the line between my creative and academic pursuits – stretching my legs a little further into both ponds, I like to see those beings rewarded for their efforts.

BIG pond it is.

I like the reminder – it gives me better reach.

A real wild child

I’m laughing today because when I wrote my last post on Wednesday the sky was blue, the sun was out, and I was prancing around in a skirt without any tights on underneath.

Now, the temperature is barely hovering below zero degrees, the smallest of the snowflakes flying by my office window are about the size and circumference of a cornflake, and I’m pretty sure the sun has peaced out so hard I’m like to believe that Old Man Winter has locked it up somewhere in an off the grid bomb shelter, outfitted with enough rations to survive the both zombie and nuclear apocalypses (combined.)

We may never see it ever again.

Grim times in the Maritimes here folks (except not in the Maritimes, but you know, figure of speech et. al.)


To comfort myself, I bought the biggest apple fritter known to humankind this morning for breakfast.

I don’t know if this photo does it the correct amount of justice. This thing was pretty much the size of my face.

Boy was it ever awesome.

Although I’m not a huge breakfast gal in the first place, I have been making a concerted effort to 1.) eat it (period.) 2.) eat it before 11am and 3.) choose healthy options (which on a regular day works out to yogurt and granola and many, many cut-up apples and bananas).

Which I actually really, really love.

Only today that just wasn’t going to cut it.

Hence, the fritter.

I’ve always had a pretty big (okay, massively huge) sweet tooth from as far back as I can remember.

Growing up in an incredibly healthy household was both a blessing and a curse (in the parlance of Peter Parker). I love, love to munch on greens and organically grown gourds and grains, but I also crave dessert and deep fried goodies like the fiend of all fiends.

Picture this:

I remember eating my first Dairy Queen blizzard like it was yesterday.

It was the summer of 1994. I was nine. My mother and I were in Bellingham, Washington for the Bellingham Highland Games. We were staying at a small motel with the other dancers from my dance school and H’s mother decided to treat us to ice cream and asked us what we wanted for the DQ. Most of the girls requested dipped cones, but I was curious as to what the heck a “brazier” could be (because that was always advertised on their signage outside of the restaurants) and so that’s what I ordered.

One brazier please. Thank you very much Mrs. K!

Little did I know that a brazier is a small oven. Or, as Wikipedia puts is: A brazier is a container for fire, generally taking the form of an upright standing or hanging metal bowl or box.

(In hindsight, I’m pretty happy that Mrs. K didn’t come back with a small chiminea. I would have been a little sad to receive that in lieu of an ice cream.)

Anywho, because Mrs. K wasn’t crazy (like 9 year old me. Okay, because Mrs. K wasn’t crazy like me) she either figured out that I meant blizzard, or came to such a conclusion with the help of the fifteen year old kid working behind the counter (I’m pretty sure the mean age for all Dairy Queen employees sits around 16.3)

And boy did she ever deliver.

That small, mint M&M blizzard was pretty much the pinnacle of taste bud explosion up until that point in my pre-lemon meringue life. (The meringue explosion is a post for another day).

I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

My sense memory from that whole day is so strong, it sometimes surprises me.

The day is hot, but not so to make you uncomfortable- the breeze made it tolerable, running over the small hairs on our arms, giving us gooseflesh, and tucking the stray, errant strands from our falling-apart-buns, behind our ears, or flattening them against the length of our backs.

I am wearing a too-long tank top and loose fitting shorts. I am a gangle of arms and legs, too tall, and too skinny, and I try to fold myself up as neatly as possible to take up less room on the bed.

I am squashed next to H, who is my best dance friend. She has an amazing spray of freckles across the bridge of her nose and copper-kissed hair that shimmers like polished bronze when she dances in the sun.

When I sit with my legs tucked up to my ears, I imagine that I am a grasshopper lying wait in a field of wheat , but also strawberries.

I smell like a mix of hair spray and sunscreen; the backs of my knees itch from where my garters had sat, keeping my socks from falling down as I danced. My cheeks are flushed pink, and my lips stained red – from both the sun and my mother’s makeup – these rouges the only two pieces of makeup I will consent to, despite exasperated pleas from my teacher and coach.

We are five girls, giggly and wired; a day spent flinging and swording and reeling under the bright, blinding sun is what we chatter about, mulling over our missteps, medals, trophies and tears.

We’ll do it all again the next day when we head to Enumclaw, for their highland games – for their medals and trophies, their bagpipes and drums.

It’s the summer, so school seems light years away.

We are dancers, eating our ice cream – our mint chocolate, vanilla dipped, peanut parfaits, and our rag-tag card games, and ever evolving nick-names, our tartan, our seams, our slippers and lace; our dreams.

I like remembering that I am still that silly, but wild, singing, dancing, ice cream loving child.

Apple fritter anyone?

Gifts that keeps on giving

For my birthday, I received a number of fabitty fab birthday presents (from a number of fabitty fab individuals.)

In preparation for my first marathon, I was gifted a belt to store gel packs, and a beautiful, (but more important breathable) zip-up running shirt. Mr. M gave me a pair of lovely earrings that have little cameos of ravens on them (because this way I can pretend that I’m Odin, and that my little feathered friends are whispering the world’s secrets into my ears as I go about my daily business.)

I also received another Murakami book from my good friend A that I devoured on my way home from her house on skytrain.

An absolutely scrumptious lunch Ms. A treated me to, at Cafe Medina. GO THERE.

Such a strange sensation to be reading a book about a very early Tokyo morning, when you yourself feel as though you are operating out of a parallel, late-night dreamland. I was so tired that I could hardly keep my eyes open, and yet at the same time, too engrossed in Murkami’s prose to actually allow my body to let go, and crumple under the weight of my end-of-week exhaustion and post-hang out daze.

What a strange tug-of-war we mortals can play, between need and desire, consciousness and sleep.

Two other gifts that provide me with a huge amount of happiness (on a daily basis at that) are the gorgeous prints my sister in-law V made for me.

They are currently hanging in my office and I cannot even begin to describe what a difference they have made in my day-to-day work regime.

The power of art is strong, my friends – very strong.

Is your office green with ivy? I mean, envy?

Plus, the prints, combined with a few other touches of beauty and comfort (I also have nice black and white photo of SFU hanging on the opposite wall, and I finally managed to finagle someone to come in and mount my “to-do” cork board) ensure my office no longer looks like the place you go where you find out that you have a terminal illness.

Because that folks, is pretty darn bleak.

Just looking at this photo puts a smile on my face!


Today the sky is blue, and the trees are sun-drenched (and not rain-drenched) for the first time in what seems like ages.

Over my lunch break I hopped, skipped, and jumped my way out of the office, and around my downtown neighbourhood in an effort to procure everything that was populating my (ever-growing) “NEED TO GET” list.

It is always so pleasant doing these kinds of things in the glorious sunshine, rather than scurrying about like a drowned rat, trying to stay one step ahead of the looming fog and drizzle.

Is it springtime yet, Ms. Nature?

I picked up the usual suspect at Shoppers Drug Mart: make-up remover, cotton pads (to be used with said remover), body wash, and face cleanser.

I had a mild flashback to high school when I approached one of the clerks to ask if she knew where the Neutrogena products were, and she briskly responded:

You mean the acne products?

Umm, I wasn’t sure, actually. “It’s very orange and has a pump on the top?” I said, a little nervous all of a sudden.

Yes. You want the acne face washes, upstairs in the acne solutions section – aisle four.

I know this might seem a little silly, but I totally felt as though I was being shamed. Like I was in a one of those horrible sitcoms playing the nerdy high school kid who tries to purchase condoms, or tampons – or the young girl stuck buying Vagisil, or Imodium, or Exlax or whatever.

(Also, super hilarious that the spell check wants to change Vagisil to valise. That would require a majorly daft pharmacist to make that mix-up.)

Now, I’m sure the only reason I actually felt this way is because in high school I actually did have bad acne, and I spent so much time, energy and money trying not to have bad acne.  Now that I’m finally living a life of clear skin (as an easy, breezy, covergirl – or, you know, whatever) it’s hard for me not to get my back up in those kind of situations.

It’s like the horribly embarrassed fourteen year-old girl inside starts yelling: “I’m beautiful now! Why can’t you just leave me alone!”


Okay, so I’m over dramatizing this for the sake of humour and readability, but the sentiment is the same. Even though I was over the whole thing in about 2.7 seconds, I guess it’s true what they say:

Some (acne) scars just take longer to heal.


To speed up the process I bought (and thoroughly enjoyed) a large package of peanut butter M&M’s (seriously I’d fight to the death to prove, and/or, to defend my stance that they are in fact, the best M&M product – or at least to a missing handful of hair) and an ice cold diet Pepsi.

I also managed to get a hold of a pair of sweatpants that I can wear on my way home from the gym for only sixteen dollars!

You have no idea how happy this makes me. Seriously.

Money-wise aside, this is also fantastic news because I normally go to the gym straight after work, and I really don’t like walking home in my workout clothes with just my big winter coat as my only over layer.

It kind of makes me feel like a super-harlot, because my shorts are shorter than my (rather long) coat, and this may or may not contribute to the illusion that makes it look as though I’m not wearing anything underneath my jacket.

And that’s not a look I’m ever striving for.


My final purchase was a new pair of work shoes (nine dollars! Thank you bargain barrel pricing and size ten feet!) and two lipsticks (two for twelve bucks! I’m almost, almost afraid to know what they’re made out of, because they’re so cheap. Probably the other bargain barrel size tens that were never sold.)

It’s easy to forget about that though, because they’re so, so pretty.

Sparkly toes and red lips. Watch out world!

With all this talk of TREAT YOU SELF and the weather being as fabulous and fine, it was the perfect day to go out and do something nice for myself.

(It is also heart warming to know that I will once again be able to properly remove my mascara, and not wake up with crazy black muck that has sealed my eyelids shut whilst I slept. Side note: I was going to write “sleep-cum-makeup muck” but thought it might give some people the wrong idea.)

Okay, I definitely don’t need any more proof about how immature I can be, because just writing that out has given a case of the giggles I just may never get over.


Sunny days! Chasing the - clouds away! On my way...


Enough now.

I hope every single one of you had a beautiful day, were fortunate to feel the warmth of the sun on your face, and did something lovely in celebration of you, and just you.

Or at the very least, had a good giggle.

Lover of the Russian Queen

Holy Toledo.

I honestly cannot believe how crazy this week has been. I thought because I had taken Monday off, the days would magically fly by, and what a far flung fantasy that turned out to be!

Waking up today I was feeling more Forrest Gump, (post-multiple cross country runs) than Flash Gordon:

This morning, as has been the case for the past few days, as soon as our alarm went off, Nymeria announced her arrival in the bedroom by jumping up on the bed, and slathering us with her kitty kisses (and not to mention some very enthusiastic whisker rubs/headbutts.)

Also, our little gal purrs like the mother of all trains. Believe you me – the dream of a few extra minutes of glorious shut eye is resoundingly destroyed what with this fur monster-cum-locomotive, luxuriating next to your ear.

One day I will expire from cuteness overload.

It’s a good thing I’m madly in love with her.

When I dream tonight, I’ll dream of this:


The lobby of our “bed and breakfast” looks as though a bomb had gone off only minutes prior to our arrival.  Plaster crumbles off of the walls and coats the exposed concrete floor.  Someone has been painting, but it seems that they have left halfway through the job.  Perhaps to buy more cigarettes, judging from the healthy number of butts that litter the floor.  They have also left their paint splattered socks and a coffee mug half full of coagulated brew.  A stench of ammonia hangs in the air.

We climb the stairs of a building that was built over one hundred years ago, and is only now undergoing cosmetic upgrades.  Our guides from the university tell us that all the structural work was completed after the implosion of the Soviet Union.

Due to the state of the place, I can’t help suspect that Nikolai and Gleb are not really here to help us to rooms, but instead to kill us and make off with our identification and luggage.  The door we stop at looks like the entrance to a bank safe I have seen in every action movie I have ever watched.

Nikolai turns to us as says, “By the way, don’t really expect breakfast.  Bed you can rely on, but I’m pretty sure that sign is lost in translation.”

Right, I nod.

Also, he turns his face closer to mine.  “Did you bring bathroom paper?”

I did, I say.  One roll.

“Every restaurant you go to, get more,” he says.

One morning, during the second week of my trip, Aimee, a young teacher from California asks me if I would like to accompany her to the banya.

Vodka. Nuff said.

We don’t have a workshop to attend and because I have six new mosquito bites and can already smell the alcohol seeping out of my skin, I say yes.  I haven’t exercised once since arriving in St. Petersburg and I figure if I can’t go for a run, I might as well sit in a sweltering sauna and sweat the booze out.

On the walk to the spa, I buy an apple blini.

The building is old, but neat looking with a carved wood banister and great frosted windows.  At the front office we purchase our dried birch branches, cardboard sandals and scratchy luffa sponges.  A young woman with heavy shadowed eyes tells us that level four is the woman’s area.

As we ascend the staircase, we pass numerous elderly men, sprawled out on small benches, with miniscule towels clumsily strewn across their genitals.  Though most look as though they are asleep, we catch many of them eyeing us and we pass by.

Once we enter the woman’s only area, we are greeted by a petite lady, with bleached-blond hair, who sits behind a cluttered desk painting her nails.  She asks us if we are excited for the sauna and when we tell her yes, she expresses delight over the fact that we have chosen her place for our first time.  She hands us each a long, white sheet and a scratchy burlap hat.

Supposedly we are supposed to wear these once inside the sauna; it is a uniform that will protect us against the heat of the room.

(It doesn’t.)

Disregard whatever anyone has ever told you about Russian saunas.  Russian saunas are HOT.

Hotter than hot.

It is a hot that screams, and bites and slaps and stings.   It gets into your mouth, burns down your legs and punches you in the face.  And it is unrelenting.  It is so hot that you can’t just take off your clothes and walk right into one.

I often found myself going to my happy place (aka this picture)

You have to prepare.

This is done by travelling back and forth between the two smaller saunas, located in a different area of the spa.  There is a “dry” sauna (supposedly cooler than the “real” sauna) and a “wet” sauna where you immerse yourself in a warm, slick fog that vaguely smells of freshly-picked lavender.  The contrast between the arid and moist should raise your core temperature to certain degree – that way you won’t immediately expire upon making contact with the debilitating and searing broil that is the banya.

(It doesn’t.)

The sheet that I was given at the front (supposedly to wrap around my body) soaks completely within seconds of my entrance into the “dry” sauna.  I give up and take it off.

I also notice that no one else is wearing the burlap hat I was given. I was told that it works well to keep the body’s core temperature low, but I just feel the Western fool sitting around in a scratchy Gilligan-inspired cap.

We soak our birch branches is a bucket of hot water so they don’t cut us when we start to flagellate each other.  (Flagellate truly being the operative word.)

Finally, we feel as though we are ready to enter the real sauna.  As soon as I walk in, I realize that no one is truly ever ready.

No one.

Okay, so this isn't the woman who beat me up, but they look very similar.

I am then accosted by a seventy-eight year old babushka (I know this because it was the only thing I could actually understand coming out of her mouth was her age) who announces that as it is her birthday, (or at least that is what I think she was saying) and that it is her responsibility to exfoliate my skin with not only my branches, but hers as well.  She flings me down onto a wooden bench with the ease of a man fifty years her junior.

I cry out in pain because the wood is so hot it is literally burning my skin – my most sensitive parts feel as though they are about to pack it in and leave for a less harsh climate.  For the next five minutes (though it seems like five years) I am thwacked from head to toe on both of sides of my body.

Finally, she stops.  “Okay!” she barks.  “Get up and you do your front!”

At first I don’t understand, but she soon rectifies my misunderstanding with a good hard swat across my chest.

Do your front!  She admonishes me.  Do it!

So I do.  I do my front.  I stand there, in the sweltering heat, self-flagellating with a dried birch branch.

My entire body feels as though it is one big blister.

Okay, enough, my drill instructor barks.  Out, out!  She shoos me out of the sauna and into a shower stall.  This may be a little hot, another woman tells me, before they turn on the faucet.  Out pours water fit for a teapot.

One minute, they tell me.  I begin to picture how my death will be transcribed back in Canada.  “Canadian women steamed in Russian bath. Death ruled non-suspicious due to stupid hat.”

Two days later, out at Peterhof, still looking for my sanity.

Just as I reach the point of no return, the water is turned off and I’m shleped across to the room to a whirlpool filled with ice cold water.

“Jump” I’m told.

I do.

As my feverish body makes contact with the frigid expanse of the pool something becomes crystal clear. I suddenly realize why Russian women live so long.

They are made of steel.

Baptized in this fire, they are made of steel.