Thursday, September 1, 2016

Running for My Mental Health

As I've shared my running journey, I've talked a fair amount about the physical health benefits I notice when I run. I first started running as a way to enhance my weight loss - along with changing my diet.  It was a big part of how I was able to lose a fair amount of weight about seven years ago.

I've also noticed my baseline endurance has improved significantly since I started running. Of course, if I take a longer break than I should, I lose some of that endurance. However, once I start running again, I've never had to start completely back at zero.  (When I first started the Couch to 5k plan, running for two solid minutes was a real challenge.)

What I haven't talked about much is the noticeable benefits to my mental health that running has.  This is partially because I'm still not as comfortable talking about my depression as I would like to be.  I greatly admire people that can share their struggles and stories - they inspire and comfort me.  I want to be able to do that, and I know that talking about mental health helps reduce the stigma around it.  But I still struggle with sharing it out loud (or online, as the case may be.)


There is no shortage of research that shows being active helps improve mental health (I was going to Google a wack of articles to share here - but you all can do that yourselves - it's pretty much common knowledge.)  I can attest that I feel better mentally, as well as physically, when I'm running regularly.  For me, it's not only the physical activity, but it's getting outside with fresh air and (hopefully) sunshine.  I pretty much run outside exclusively, as I find treadmills tedious and uninspiring. I know they work for others, but just not my cup of tea.

One of the hardest things about my depression is when it starts to creep in, things like running (basically anything that not essential and requires any extra effort) are the first things to go by the wayside.  I can come up with a myriad of reasons not to put on my running shoes and head outside: I don't have time. I don't want to have to wash my hair. I'll do it in the morning. My running clothes are dirty. And the one that's been winning a lot this summer - It's just too hot!

The catch-22 is, I KNOW that running will improve my mood, but my low mood makes it harder to run.  It takes a lot more work to talk myself into it.  If I'm paying attention, I can take advantage of small bursts of energy or enthusiasm, and get my behind out the door before I can talk myself out of it!

The heat and humidity we've had in southwest Ontario this summer has been a significant challenge for me to stick with my training. I don't mind running in rain or snow, but give me temps in the 90's (40's) plus humidity? Ugh, I'm melting just thinking about it. One personal motto of mine has long been: you can always put more on, but you can only take so much off!

As a result, I haven't been running as much as I had planned this summer, and I've had an unusual slump in my mood as well.  (I most frequently struggle with my depression in the winter, when I'm not getting as much sun.) Today I felt a bit of an upswing - and I went for a run.  It didn't hurt that the weather felt almost fall-like. I am already feeling the positives effects of doing so. But much like bathing, the effects don't last unless you do it regularly.

So here's to hoping that the mild temps, motivation, and mood improvement are here to stay for awhile.  Goodness knows I need to to get ready for the next race - a 10k!




Monday, August 1, 2016

Running Playlists

I can't run without music.

Okay, I take that back. I can run without music, I just really prefer not to.

I have only ever participated in one running event where headphones were prohibited (and I found out day of the event no one was really there enforcing it, but I followed the rule anyway.) If it hadn't been an amazing opportunity to run across the Mackinac Bridge at dawn, I might have reconsidered.

I've read about people who listen to audio books while they run, or use the time to think without noise distractions, or meditate, or pray.  While that all sounds good in theory - it just doesn't work for me.  Most of the rewards I get from running are at or near the end. That feeling of accomplishment when I've gone a little further or run a little longer. The burst of energy after I've finished a work out.  The weight loss and health benefits that come when I train consistently.  Most of the challenges that come with running are before or during the run.  For example, getting out of bed early to get in a run before work, convincing myself that I have the energy to run after work, and not talking myself out of stopping partway through.


Music distracts me from all the reasons not to run or to stop running. It provides motivation when I feel myself slowing down. 

During a recent run, I realized that every song that came up on my playlist had a memory associated with it. After I was finished I thought about how I not only felt great from having run, but also from the memories that came up with the music.

So below, find some of my favorite running songs - the good, bad, and embarrassing - and why they bring a smile to my face. I'm always looking for playlist suggestions, so leave your favorites in the comments so I can keep refreshing my list!




"Sexy Back" Justin Timberlake - This song will always remind me of my friend Erin's fabulous bachelorette party in Chicago. I think everywhere we went that evening we heard it played at least one. I lost track of the number of times we danced to it!

"Poker Face" Lady Gaga - I can recall many evenings of dancing to this song while out at one of the few bars in Oneonta, NY with the rest of my Baseball Hall of Fame Intern colleagues.  Okay, some of us may have done more dancing than others... 

"The Middle" Jimmy Eat World - Running is one of those things that has helped me feel better about myself and learn to accept who I am. This song helps to remind me of that.

"Call Me Maybe" Carly Rae Jepsen - PHGP dance break.    :)

"No Fear" Terri Clark - One of the few country and slower songs on my running list, this song reminds me not to let fear stand in the way of my goals.

"Krazy" Pitbull ft Lil Jon - There are many songs on my running playlist that come from Zumba classes I have taken. Inevitably, they make me think of all the fun times I had with Allie trying not to make fools of ourselves....

"Waka Waka" Shakira - I don't know why I like this song. It makes me smile, it's catchy, and I have it in my head for days after I hear it. I'll probably be singing it for rest of the day just because I read the title. You're welcome.

"All Day" Girl Talk - This is my absolute favorite track for longer runs. It's a mix of songs, all with good running beat, that runs for over an hour. Free to download, I like this ones for races because I can just start it and let it go.

"Boogie Shoes" K.C. and The Sunshine Band - This song always reminds me of dancing with my mother-in-law Debbie and sister-in-law Jenn.  It's a regular in the playlist of my father-in-law Chuck's band.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge

I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions. I know I'm not any more likely to stick with changes I want to make in my life just because I made them on January 1.  However, when I came across this 2016 Reading Challenge at the end of December, I was intrigued. I had been reading quite a bit over the holiday season - especially since we couldn't travel - but I was in a bit of a reading rut. I liked the idea of challenging myself to complete a certain number of books over the year, and stepping outside of my reading "comfort zone" to explore different genres.  This challenge has different levels - Light (13), Avid (26), Committed (52), and Obsessed (104).  I figured Committed would be a challenge for me, but an achievable goal, so that is what I settled on.

I spent the better part of New Years Eve choosing which books I wanted to read for each category. I'm a planner, and for me picking out the books was part of the fun. Along with the designated categories I knew I wanted to focus on including books that I own and haven't read, as well as recommendations from my favourite librarian/blogger Nomadreader.  I also made sure that all my selections (that I didn't own) were available from the library.

As I was compiling my list, I discovered that there was a group on Goodreads for people doing the challenge. This has been a great space for getting suggestions, updating progress, and sharing good finds.

At 23 books completed, I am a bit behind schedule (I should be at 26 since we are halfway through the year.) However, I did get a little behind during rehearsals, as memorizing lines took precedence over recreational reading. (Now to get a little head before rehearsals start for the next show!)

Below you will find my list. I've linked the books I've finished to my reviews on Goodreads. Some reviews I have included comments, some just star ratings. I would like to go back and add more reviews, that may or may not happen. My brother also gave me a notebook for reviewing books that I read, but I'm reserving that for the ones that I really enjoy.


I'm always looking for suggestions for my next book. Feel free to leave yours in the comments!

Light
Avid
Committed

Monday, June 27, 2016

Run the District - Run to the BBQ Report

I would guess that pretty much every runner has a preferred activity post-run.  Maybe you hold a few yoga poses while downing Gatorade, or you're a morning runner who hops in the shower after grabbing a coffee.  Personally, post-run I'm usually downing water while stretching, and trying to convince my dogs not to lay on me while I'm sweaty. However, last weekend and switched things up and after the Run to the BBQ, I opted for some beer and pulled pork post-race.



The Run to the BBQ coincided with the Western Fair District Beer & BBQ Show.  As part of our entrance fee, we were given tickets to get into the show as well as a few tasting tickets.  Last year the race was set up so that after crossing the finish line you were directed straight into the show.  This year they switched things up a bit, and upon completion runners received a ticket to get into the show that was good for the entire weekend.  This was a nice change, so that if you didn't want to go to the show all sweaty and in your running gear you didn't have to.  Normally, I wouldn't opt to go to a public event all sweaty and in my running clothes, but I figured since I would be one of many smelly ones wondering around it would be okay. Plus, hopefully people wouldn't be able to smell me over the BBQ....

Route
The route for this race took us through the Old East Village neighbourhood - in fact we ran past our house twice.  I was glad that this was a single-loop route, and though we did overlap for the first and last kilometer, it was still really nice. There was even a very enthusiastic group of children with signs and cheering everyone on.  The route was mostly flat (though we did run through the Florence underpass again - like on the Chuckle Run) and partially shaded, which was nice since it was a warm evening.


Weather
It is June, which means it was hot and humid, though not as bad as it could have been. The race started at 7 pm on Friday evening, and it was about 80 F (27 C).  There was a bit of a breeze and as I mentioned the course was partially shaded, so it wasn't too bad.

Gear
I looked pretty much identical to the last race, with my running capris, Run the District Ambassador shirt, and Brooks Adrenaline 13 shoes.  After this race I do think I need to invest in some good compression running shorts.  I like the support that the capris give me versus the other running shorts I currently have, but it would be nice to have something with a little less coverage for hot days.

Thoughts Along The Way
For this race I was concentrating on my two goals, running the entire time and (hopefully) beating my time from the Chuckle Run. So those were the things dominating my thoughts while I ran. I spent a good deal of time people watching in the neighbourhood, as a lot of people were out walking or out in their yards watching the runners.

Finishing & Results

I'm happy to report that my improved training paid off, and I accomplished both of my goals.  I ran the whole race (it wasn't fast, but it was running) and I beat my previous time by nearly two minutes. I also physically felt a lot better at the end of this race than the last one, so it's nice to see the improvement.  I'm keeping up the training and hope to see an even better time for the next race.

The Beer & BBQ Show was a lot of fun, and the beer was quite refreshing after the race. I'm looking forward to the next event -  I Run for Ice Cream - which, you guessed it, ends with ice cream!  Hey - if you have to run in July, at least you can finish with a cold treat!

If you want to join me for the next race you can register here!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Run the District - Chuckle Run Report

Yesterday was the first of the Run the District races - the Chuckle Run. Each race is themed with something relating to the Western Fair District - this one because that is where Yuk Yuks Comedy Club is located.  Some of the themed elements included a rubber chicken race medal, three comedians performing along the race route, and a man in a chicken suit leading the fun run. Each participant also received a free ticket to Yuk Yuks, and since Doug and I haven't been there yet, we're looking forward to using them!
I've never really recorded a race report, but read an good article about them recently, so I thought it would be a great way to capture my Chuckle Run experience.


2016 Chuckle Run route
Route
As expected, all the Run the District events take place in the Western Fair District and surrounding neighbourhood. This year, they switched up the Chuckle Run route to give participants a "behind the scenes" look at the district. The course was a 2.5k loop that started in the Agraplex and took us around the fairgrounds - including on the race track. This set-up allowed for three race length options - 2.5k, 5k, or 10k.  Since this was my first race of the season, I opted for the 5k route.  I'm not a big fan of routes that are loops or out-and-backs, as I like the scenery on my runs to change.  But at least for this one I was exploring areas of the fair that I hadn't seen before so it was "new to me."
2015 Chuckle Run - rain!

Weather

The event was on Sunday, with a start time of 10:00 am for all three distances (9:45 for the kids fun run.)  Fortunately, we had some rain on Saturday which brought the temperature down a bit on Sunday morning. It was still pretty warm, and humid - I believe the "feels like" temperature was around 80 F at the start - but a breeze helped, so it was bearable. This was a huge change from the weather last year, which was cold and rainy.  Neither extreme seemed to dampen the spirits of participants and everyone was having a great time.
I'm official now!


Gear

Pretty much regardless of the weather I wear the same type of running capris. Particularly when it's hot and humid, I need to have the right fabric covering my thighs - nothing worse than uncomfortable chafing after a run! I planned on adding fun socks for the run, but given the heat....?  I didn't realize I was going to get a special Run the District Ambassador shirt, so that was a pleasant surprise!  This was my first race in my new running shoes, but I had several training runs to break them in. I was really pleased with how my feet felt at the end of the race.

Thoughts Along The Way

I was not prepared for this race - I talk a bit more about that below, so I won't go into it much further, but I have to mention it because most of my thoughts were along the lines of keeping myself going. I started out the right way, pacing myself not trying to go to fast. When I started out I kept telling myself I just wanted to run the whole thing - it didn't have to be fast, I just wanted to keep running.  About 1/3 of the way in, Doug had to walk for a bit. This wasn't a big surprise, he's been having some knee issues and we knew this would likely
Just before we started!
happen.  I managed to keep going though. There were two unexpected hills (well, technically four, as I did the loop twice), as the route took us under a road twice, but my usual "head up, chest out" mantra my brother taught me got me through those.  After finishing the first loop, I didn't think I was going to be able to keep running for the entire race. I made it up the first hill on the second loop and had to slow to a brisk walk.  I was disappointed, but I was still going. I changed my goal - finish running and run all the hills.  I managed to do both. I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face, knowing that a few years ago I wouldn't have even attempted what I had just completed.

Finishing & Results
Posing with the finishing bell.

I did a whole post about how I'm training for these events. Admittedly, I wasn't as far along in my training as I had planned to be for the Chuckle Run.  I took a break from training while family visited and during the run of the show I was in. As a result my time wasn't the best, and I wasn't able to run for the entire race. That is always my first goal, but I just hadn't properly prepared. Lesson learned - I have recommitted to my training schedule and will be on track for the Run to the BBQ!
The "official" results aren't in yet, but I did check the unofficial ones yesterday. I finished in about 37 minutes.  While far from my best 5k time, it was also not my worst. I'm looking forward to the next race and seeing the improvement with consistent training!






On a personal note, writing about this experience at all is kind of a victory for me. In the past, it would have been hard for me to publicly admit to a shortfall, or not meeting a reasonable goal I had set for myself. Not that it was easy to talk about going off my training schedule and having to walk during the 5k, but to recognize it as a learning opportunity and to admit it is a big step for me. Maybe I am on my way to being a grown-up...



Thursday, May 26, 2016

Run the District - Training

There is no lack of advice online on how to train for races, and I am by no means an expert on the subject.  However, I do know what it feels like to be new to running and feel overwhelmed with where to start.  Like any other new endeavor, it's easy to become buried in information and feel like you're never going to "get it."  I started small.

Talk to someone you know who's a runner.  For me, that was my brother. When I first started running he had recently completed the Chicago marathon and so was the resident "running expert" in the family.  His advice: get a good pair of shoes.  That was the basics for him, and all you really need in order to run. He told me to go to a running store, take the athletic shoes I currently owned (so that the associate could see how they were wearing), make sure they watched me walk/run, learn about my pronation (I'm an overpronator), and suck it up and purchase a proper pair of running shoes.  I still consider this the most fundamental part of running. I've ramped it up a notch by actually tracking how many miles I put on a pair of shoes, so I can be sure I replace them when needed. But even this you can usually tell by feel.


Start simple and don't overdo it. I'm an all or nothing kind of person. I have a tendency to throw myself into something and then burn out when it gets to be too much. Since I'm aware of this, when I start something new I make sure to pace myself.  When I started running it was with the Couch to 5k program. This program is designed to take you from a non-runner (couch sitting) to being ready for a 5k in 9 weeks.  You only run three times a week, and it starts of very simple - alternating 60 seconds of jogging with 90 seconds of walking. There's a temptation to speed up the training to get there sooner, but that increases the risk of injury and burn out.  Even now, preparing for the Run the District races, I have to remind myself to take it easy. Right now my running schedule is every other day, and I make sure to listen to my body if I need to take a day "off" or repeat a workout that I don't feel I'm ready to move on from.

Make whatever plan you choose work for you. The great thing about the

couch to 5k program (and the various other programs that advance from there) is that everything is set up for you. To make it even easier, I found a podcast that a blogger had created with music mixes and prompts for when I needed to start jogging and then walking. Downloading these made the workouts incredibly easy. I just picked the correct workout (week/day), pushed play, ran when I was told, and stopped when it was over.  (To give you an amusing visual, when I first downloaded these podcasts, I didn't have an mp3 player. So I actually burned them to a CD and jogged while holding my portable CD player flat. That's how cool I looked when I started running...) I was going to include a link to the podcast that I used - but Google Chrome keeps warning me it's a suspicious link, so I won't do that.  But trust me, search for free couch to 5k apps or podcasts, and you won't have any trouble finding one.  Right now I'm using the ZenLabs Fitness 10k training app. The basic version is free. It doesn't have any music, but I've been various Spotify Running playlists and that has worked well.

Hold yourself accountable and stay motivated. As mentioned in a previous post, I'm an externally motivated person, so I've instituted several methods of holding myself accountable. First it was just registering for races. This gave me a solid deadline for training and I found it to be a huge help. I've also scheduled my runs in my Google calendar. Like anything else, if you write it down and make time for it, you're more likely to do it. I've also started running with a buddy.  My husband Doug and I help motivate each other. So even on days when neither of us really "feels" like it, we're still getting out there to run. It's amazing what having a buddy will do for you!  I've also been sharing my completed training days on Twitter and Facebook.  Blogging about my journey also helps. So whatever works for you to keep you motivated and hold yourself accountable do it!

My Run the District training plan. This is actually what I intended to write about - but somehow this post turned into an advise column. I guess that's what happens when you get carried away... Anyway, as I mentioned above, I'm using the ZenLabs Fitness 10k training app. I timed it so that I would be prepared to do the Chuckle Run this Sunday as a 5k (they have 2.5k, 5k, and 10k options for this race.) The first three Run the District races I've registered for 5k, and the last two I registered for the 10k. My goals for each race is pretty basic - run the entire time (unless injury or something unplanned prevents me from doing so) and improve my time for each race.  Like I mentioned above, I'm keeping it simple.  I've been doing most of my training runs with Doug, and he's tracking our distance with the Map My Run app since the 10k trainer is based on time not distance. (If I try to run too many apps at one time my phone is not happy - so we split between the two of us.)



Stay tuned for an update early next week on my Chuckle Run experience. I recently read a great article about writing a race report, so I plan on doing that shortly after finishing the Chuckle Run. If this year is anything like last, I should have a lot of fun photos to post with it! 

Friday, May 6, 2016

London Stage Debut

If you've asked me recently what I did over the weekend, chances are my response included "had rehearsal" or "made Doug run lines with me."  Though I've been trying not to let it dominate all conversations, I'm pretty excited about getting back into theatre.

My first experience in theatre (outside of the school plays - though I do have vivid memories of singing "Yellow Rose of Texas" with Randy Searson in kindergarten) was as part of the children's chorus in Ohio Northern University's production of Evita. As I remember an email went out to faculty and staff at ONU announcing auditions for children. My parents told me about it and it sounded like fun. I had never auditioned for anything before, and decided to sing my favorite hymn - Pass it On. Despite my lack of theatre knowledge, I got a part and was hooked then and there.


Fortunate to have a facility like the Freed Center for the Performing Arts in my hometown, I took every opportunity to audition when I could.  Over the years I was lucky to be cast in shows such as Annie, Music Man, Holiday Spectacular, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Nutcracker. My parents were incredibly supportive, taking time to drive me to rehearsals when I was cast in out of town shows including Annie Get Your Gun and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

But, as often happens, after high school "real life" took over, and theatre took a backseat to figuring out a career path and general "adulting."  I still considered performing a part of who I was - anyone who's done historical interpretations knows it's just another form of performing - but I stopped seeking out opportunities to be on stage.


Fast-forward a few years - after purchasing my first home my parents brought up all my extra stuff they'd been storing since I moved out.  That was the deal, they'd hold onto it as long I was renting and moving, but once I was settled in a house, they were packing up a trailer and hauling it here!  As I went through all my things I came across my theatre scrapbook and happily reminisced. I didn't realize how much I missed it. It donned on me that London has a vibrant community theatre scene, and nothing was stopping me from auditioning again.

I followed a couple local theatre's on Facebook and started to see calls for auditions.  The second audition I attended was for Maybles' Productions, and a role in a comedic play called 1-900-DEE-LITE by Canadian Playwright Uwe Meyer. I was offered the role of Jennifer and enthusiastically accepted. I've been fortunate to have this opportunity to work with some very talented and professional individuals, and couldn't have asked for a better re-introduction to the stage.  I could attempt to describe the play, but it is summed up best on the event page:


"Dee is not your average grandmother - sure she's witty, kind, compassionate and loving but...she also has a job...a special job which requires her to speak to clients on the phone and, well...you know.

When Dee gets a special man in her life, she is faced with a question - how to tell him she's a phone sex operator.

While Dee struggles with her secret, her son Scott is facing his own questions about love and friendship. With one failed marriage behind him, moving forward and taking a chance on love will not be easy.

Jennifer is the girl next door who has been Scott's close friend (and perhaps his only real friend) since they were children. How long can one wait for love before looking somewhere else?

Tom is Scott's 'Old English Teacher' and has recently reconnected with Dee. How will Scot react when he finds out his mother is dating his 'arch nemesis?'

A story about family, friendship, love and sex.
A crowd pleaser that will leave you giggling 'wee wee wee all the way home.'"


The show opens in two weeks - I'm excited and nervous, but I'm sure it will be a great time!  If you're in the London area, I highly recommend picking up a ticket - if nothing else than to see some of the amazing and talented people with whom I get to work!

Tickets are also available online.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Run the District Ambassador

If you follow me on social media at all, you've likely seen me excited about being chosen as a Run The District Ambassador. Everyone has been offering congratulations - quickly followed by the question, "What does that mean?"

In a nutshell, this means you'll be seeing me post a lot more about running than usual!  Basically, I'm going to help promote and support the running events by providing updates, talking about my training, and sharing my experience participating in the races.

There are several reasons why I wanted to be an ambassador.  As many people know, I love the neighbourhood in London where we live - Old East Village. The "district" part of Run the District, is the Western Fair District - a great entertainment area, and one of the many perks to living in OEV.  Our house is a mere block away from the Western Fair District, and we attend events there regularly. I'm always letting people know about things going on in the District, and how awesome it is to live in OEV.  So this position seemed like a natural extension of that.



Fayetteville Running Club circa 2009
Second, anyone who knows me - really knows me - knows that I'm an externally motivated person. I've always wished that I were more internally motivated, but that's just not the case.  I've learned to use this to my advantage and find ways to provide external motivation to keep me on track for certain goals.  Running is one of those things that, for me, requires some external motivation. This usually comes in the form of registering for races. Once I've invested money in something, that's a powerful motivator for me. I was already planning on participating in these events to help me maintain a running routine over the summer/fall. This ambassador position is another way to maintain that motivation. I'm going to be sharing about how my training is going and encouraging people to run with me. That's a lot of accountability, which means this will likely be the best running season for me since I was a member of the Fayetteville Running Club!

The more I've gotten involved in running in London, the more I've enjoyed it. Two weeks ago I volunteered as a marshal for the Forest City Road Races and I had a blast! There is a great supportive running community in London, and being an ambassador seemed like a great way to get more involved. Plus, I participated in a few of the Run the District events last year - and they are a 
blast! 

So, if you'd like to run with me (which trust me, you don't have to be fast to do...) register for one or more of the events! I do receive perks if you register through my links, so that is much appreciated (but not required!) The series is as follows:

Chuckle Run - Sunday, May 29
Run to the BBQ - Friday, June 17
I Run for Ice Cream - Sunday, July 17
Women Run London - Sunday, September 25 (sorry guys, women only!)
The Classic Championship - Sunday, November 6

Or register for multiple events to receive a discount!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Home Sweet Home

It's hard to believe it was just a year ago - today - that Doug and I made an offer on our first home.  (To clarify, it wasn't the first offer we had made - we had made an offer on another home, but there were multiple offers and ours wasn't accepted.)  Yet somehow, it seem like we have been in this house for much longer than that.

We had talked about buying a home in London, but it had all been rather abstract.  Something we could do "someday" if we decided London was where we wanted to "settle down."  It wasn't until we saw a small house on the market in the neighbourhood where we were renting, that we started to seriously discuss buying.

Now to get the full picture, I have to explain that housing prices were fairly high in the area where we had been renting (I realize that "high housing prices" are relative - but I'm speaking for London specifically.) We didn't think that we would be able to find anything in our price range - and at this point we were still guesstimating our price range - in the Old South/Wortley Village neighbourhood. So when we saw a small house go on the market just a couple blocks from our apartment, I looked it up on realtor.ca, mostly out of curiosity.  When we found it fell within the price range (albeit at the top) of what we thought we could afford, we figured "what the heck - might as well check it out."  So we did.  It was small, but we don't need a huge house, and we liked the location, so we were considering it.  In the meantime I mentioned to a colleague at work that we had look at the house and she enthusiastically recommended a realtor.  Since I knew we should consult a realtor if we were seriously thinking of buying, I contacted Kristen and we went on a second walk-through of the house.

Doug salvaged the bricks used to landscape the
front yard from the basement.

After much discussion of budgets, size, neighbourhood, renovations, and lack of closet space - we decided not to make an offer on the house, but we asked Kristen to keep her eyes open for us.  As soon as we mentioned that we would be interested in homes in Old East Village (OEV) as well as Old South, she got excited. It was much more likely that we would find what we wanted, in our price range, in OEV.

Allow me a moment to rave about our realtor.  Kristen Clowry is amazing.  If you are a looking to buy a home in London or Toronto - especially if you are a first time home buyer - call her, you will not regret it!

Anyway, Kristen kept her eyes open in Old East, and had us in two homes for viewings the day after they were on the market. We ended up making offers on both homes.  After meeting with us once, finding out what we liked, and touring one home with us - she clearly had us figured out and was able to direct us to the homes she knew we would love!

When we first walked up to our current home, I was immediately struck by how cute it is.  I loved the brick, the large front window, the stained glass above the original door - seriously, great character! Fortunately for us, the character continued on the inside.  The current owner had made some great updates, but had kept a lot of the original features as well (the house was built in the 1890's.)  As Doug and I drove away, we knew we had found the right house for us.  Working with Kristen, we made an offer that night.  It wasn't immediately accepted, but with some back and forth we were eventually able to come to an agreement that worked for all of us, and the offer was signed!

Now, never having purchased a house before, I don't have anything to compare this experience to.  It wasn't nearly as complicated to buy a house in a country where we weren't permanent residents as I thought it would be.  I think that was due, in large part, to the hard-working staff at Mortgage Teacher. They patiently walked us through the process, explaining things in ways that we could understand.  The most complicated part was verifying our income, and with that our status in the country.  Fortunately, this was all before our permits had expired, and we realized what a pain that process would become.  Also, we had to show the provenance of our down-payment, which meant painstakingly documenting the movement of those funds from the US into Canada.  In our favour, we moved this money after the Canadian dollar had started to fall, so we made a fair amount by just moving the money.  (Not as much as we would make today - but we try not to think about that...)

After a thorough inspection, which didn't reveal anything we didn't anticipate finding in a 100+ year old home, and officially getting approved for the mortgage, we signed our life away and took possession of the house on April 16th.  (One of the things the seller wanted was a quick possession.)  It gave us the luxury of being able to do all the painting we wanted before moving in on April 27th. 

We have been thrilled with our home.  Along with the painting, Doug has done a lot of work in the basement and on the back yard, and we have added insulation under the kitchen.  We have a long list of "to-do's" some that will have to come sooner than others (isn't that the case with every home), but overall we are happy with our decision.

We have been fortunate that many family and friends have come to town since we've moved in (and now have a sleeper-sofa they can stay on) which has been nice since we're stranded here.  However, many aren't able to make it, so we included a link to this video in our Christmas card.  So if you would like a virtual tour of our home, you can check it out here:





You know what they say about real estate - it's all about location.  Stay tuned for an update on why we love Old East Village so much, and we're confident this home is a great investment!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Adventures with Citizenship & Immigration Canada...

…or why we can’t currently leave the country.

Doug and I have found ourselves doing a lot of explaining recently as to why we can’t leave Canada.  So, to get everyone up to date, I thought I would provide the whole, long, confusing story here.

As most people are aware, Doug and I are currently residing in Canada with temporary permit status.  He has a Student Permit, which was granted for the length of his program, and I have a Spousal Work Permit, which matches the length of his student permit.  As often happens, completing his PhD has taken longer than the four years originally granted for his student permit.  So, we had to apply for extensions to our permits.

Now, in theory, getting an extension on our permits is a pretty easy process.  The only “new” documentation we had to provide (other than what we supplied to get our original permits) was a letter from Western University indicating that Doug was still enrolled full-time in the graduate program, and would be for an additional year.  The whole application can be completed online, and per the instructions on the back of our current permits, as long as we submitted them more than 30 days before our current applications expired we would be fine.

Since we had already submitted applications for residency (which is the topic for another post) and were hoping that would come through, rather than having to extend our permits again, we waited until 45 days before our permits expired to apply for the extensions.  So, when I went through the whole process online, and clicked “submit” I was a bit dismayed when a box popped up that told me the processing time for extension was currently 50 days.  What would happen if our permits expired before we received the new ones? I was momentarily panicked.  However, I quickly discovered that if you apply for an extension within the appropriate time frame (which I had) after the expiration date you have what’s called “implied status.”  This means we can remain in Canada with our current status – Doug as a student, and me a worker – as long as we don’t leave the country.  If we leave Canada we forfeit our implied status, which means that Doug couldn’t be enrolled at Western, and I wouldn’t be legally able to work.  So, while technically we could leave, we really can’t.

Want a little perspective on why this is so frustrating?  I submitted our application for extensions on March 19, 2015.  Yep, you read that correctly.  Our old permits expired on May 1, 2015 and we haven’t been able to leave the country since. Read on for the craziness that has ensued since.

So, as you have figured out by now, the 50 days came and went with no new permits and no communication from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC.) We regularly checked the website, and each time we did, the processing times for permit extensions got longer.  The website also told us that we were not to contact CIC regarding the status of our permits, until we had passed the processing time currently listed on the website, not the number of days we were originally given.  In the meantime that processing time had increased from 50 days to over 100. 

Once we had finally passed the current processing time we called the CIC number. The first couple times we called we got an automated message that told us they were experiencing a large volume of calls and to try back later, then our call was dropped.  That was it, not option to hold, our call was just disconnected and we had to try back again.  When Doug did get through, the person he talked to told him that our applications had been flagged and sent to another office.  Why were they flagged? He didn’t know - there wasn’t a note or any other information in our file.  Could we call the other office to find out why the applications were flagged? Nope, the number for that office isn’t available to the public.  We couldn’t get any other information.  So we called back the next week, same story.  Then we called back the following week, this time Doug was told that if we kept calling it would be noted in our files.  And still, we didn’t have any answers.

By now, it’s into September.  We’ve missed no fewer than three scheduled trips back to the States.  Thank goodness we have awesome family and friends who kept coming to see us!

Left with no other options we could think of, we went to the office of our local Member of Parliament (MP.)  There, we gave the details of our situation to someone in the office who deals with immigration issues.  After that representative in the MP’s office made calls, we ended up with the same information – our application had been flagged and she didn’t know why. (They were able to find out that our residency application, which we had submitted the previous December, had been rejected due to quota. We had never received that information from CIC, so were under the impression that application was still being reviewed. Nope, we’d have to resubmit that one too. But again, that’s for another post…)

Meanwhile, Canada held elections, and the MP we had been working with was not re-elected. We collected our information, and prepared to talk with the new MP once he was settled in office.

But – finally – we heard something! On November 14, Doug received an email from CIC asking that he see an immigration doctor to have a medical exam.  We were surprised, as we didn’t recall any medical questions on the permit application (there are medical questions on the residency application), and of course a bit concerned.  Could our extensions be denied due to medical issues?

As instructed, he scheduled an appointment with an immigration doctor (it couldn’t be with his GP, it had to be one of the doctors specified), had the tests done, form completed and submitted by November 18th. We were not going to let our actions hold up this process at all!  Then again, we heard nothing.

Finally, the first week of January, we reached out to the office of our new MP. We had wanted to give him enough time to get settled in office, and then through the holidays.  After a representative from the office made inquiries, we started to hear from people.  First, someone from the medical office at CIC contacted Doug – they hadn’t received the results from all of his tests.  Doug called the lab where the tests had been done, and someone had not submitted the results correctly, so we got that sorted out.

Then, he was told that he needed to go back to the immigration doctor, because they wanted a follow-up with a neurologist.  Due to complications from the EDS, Doug has a weak spot in one of his carotid arteries. CIC wants a letter from a neurologist, stating that the spot is not of immediate concern.  In order to get an appointment with a neurologist he needs to have a head CT.  Fortunately, his GP had already put in a request for a CT appointment in January.  Unfortunately, the earliest appointment that Doug could get, as a non-emergent case, is in July.

So, we remain in limbo, unable to leave Canada.

Next week, it will be one year since I applied for the extension – an extension that was only requested to be good until August 2016. 

What options does that leave us? Well, we are currently in the process of reapplying for permanent residency.  With the new residency system, once your application is submitted, it’s supposed to only take six months, max, to process.  So, in theory, that could come through before the extensions.  Alternatively, once Doug finishes his studies, he’ll qualify for a post-graduate work permit, and I’ll qualify for a spousal permit to match the length of that one.  So we could submit applications for all new permits.  Or, there could be a cancellation for a CT appointment and Doug could get in a lot earlier and we could finally get the extensions. 

In the meantime we have missed: family vacations, planned reunions, holidays, and innumerable events that we would have otherwise attended.  Most recently Doug has experienced two significant losses – one the mother of a close friend he grew up with, and another an important mentor from undergrad. We can’t leave to be there to support friends, or attend memorial services.

I recognize that our immigration struggles pale in comparison to some – especially with the news coverage of Syrian refugees coming to North America. I also know that if ever there was a year for us not to be able to leave, the year after we purchased our first home is probably the most convenient. In this situation, with all the stress and frustration, attempting to be optimistic has been crucial.

So – let this be a cautionary tale to all those of you threatening to move to Canada if the US election doesn’t go your way…It may not be as easy as you think!