Tag Archives: Cape Breton


My friend, Michael Rudderham, posted this video a week ago on Facebook.

Jay McNeil is a radio DJ in my ancestral homeland of Cape Breton who is on a journey of his own and is bravely telling his own story in a public video blog.

I say bravely because I know it’s something I couldn’t do. I tried. When I moved this blog from the privacy of Facebook to public forum of WordPress I tried to incorporate a video blog. I couldn’t get past doing an intro video. It wasn’t a technical issue. I have a good camera that records in full HD. I’m an iMovie ninja. I just couldn’t get through doing a few minutes without flubbing a line or blubbering like an idiot.

Yes, I wrote blubbering. Cried a few man tears. In my defence, even James Bond cried … twice. As I was reading from the script I had written, my mind wandered through the journey I had taken at that point. It was the end of  July 2011 and I was a mere 11 lbs away from my goal. With most of the journey seemingly behind me, memories and emotions kept flooding to the fore. The early morning wake-ups. The walks to Free Form in the dark, cold winter mornings. The low feelings of hitting plateaus. The unmitigated joy of losing a single pound to break that plateau. The workouts and runs with Vicky and Christian. That first 5K race. Chris and Britt’s wedding. It all just came up. Sometimes it was the giggles. Sometimes it was man tears. Maybe it was my subconscious telling me policy advisors should be heard by the employers and not seen by the public. Whatever was going on in that crazy mind of mine, I simply didn’t have the composure to continue.

I came to realize that writing a blog and shooting a video blog are substantially different activities. There’s a bit of intellectual and emotional distance the written creates creates. Everything I’ve written goes through a couple of edits and re-writes. With video, it’s all out there. Heart and soul. Good on Jay for being able to do what I could not.

The video got me thinking about my identity, who I am versus who I was. I would like to think I’m the same guy. I just shed the fat suit. When I did my weight loss the first time to combat sleep apnea, I told one friend it was to make the outer me look like the inner me. I had positive self-esteem, but I was realistic about what my body looked like. The doctor’s diagnosis helped with that.

Maybe because I was never that heavy, I didn’t settle for less. At least that is what I thought. I’ll probably never figure out to what extent my size and lack of abilities constrained my choices and what I consider success. As worlds of possibility open up before me, it’s obvious that even though I aimed as high as I could, my size put me on a direction where certain choices and achievements were available to me.

That’s okay. I don’t intend to spend any significant period of time being retrospective. I’m not going to be haunted by past successes that just aren’t there.

I’m only starting to understand what it must be like for friends who used to be in shape who have lost their fitness. It took a while because everything I’m doing I’m doing it for the first time. When I look at the past, I don’t see great feats of physical accomplishments. I was on the winning team for “sports day” in sixth grade at Coxheath Elementary. That’s pretty much it for the glory days of youth. Hung up the hockey skates after probably a season. I did summer sports like baseball, soccer, and golf. You know the fervour fans of these sports display? That’s pretty much the level of disdain I hold for these sports. The only thing close to an actual athletic team I belonged to was the Air Gun/Archery club at George Street Junior High.

Two future running bloggers are in this photo. Can you spot them? Winner gets the prestigious Attaboy Award.

That’s not to say I hated sports. I enjoyed non-competitive sports where I could just enjoy myself, like skating and skiing in the winter and swimming in the summer. Maybe that’s why I’ve taken to running. I’m only in competition with myself.

When I look back, though, I see the geeky kid above.  I don’t see provincial championships. I don’t see podiums and medals. Now, to use the vernacular of my generation’s preferred entertainment medium, video games, I’ve levelled up and unlocked new achievements. My greatest successes are in the present. That is where I choose to live.


PS – Speaking of that annual ritual of youthful sadism “sports day”, for any readers in Cape Breton, the Cape Breton Post took a photo of me humiliating myself, at the skipping station one year. For some reason, 1985 comes to mind, but it could have been as early 1982. If anyone were to find said picture and send it to me, I’d be eternally grateful.


Week 45 – Gearing Up

Winter is coming.

Since the adaption of Game of Thrones was announced for HBO, you’ve been seeing that phrase a lot this year.

In Canada, winter is almost always coming.  When it isn’t coming, it’s here.

Like death, it stalks us all.

I know it sounds rather ominous and gloomy.  The truth is I like winter. Not fussy about the short days, though.  The hardest part of starting my workout routine back in January was the fact that early morning workouts meant leaving my building in darkness and going home from work in darkness.  Daylight happened while I was at work. After a couple of months of this, I have the complexion of one of those emo Twilight vampires without the sparkles.

I love winter activities.  When I was younger, I skied a lot.  My parents would take my sister and I cross country skiing in the woods.  As we got older, we got into downhill skiing.  Growing up in Cape Breton, we were spoiled.  The hill in Ben Eoin was only half an hour form our house in Coxheath, so we would often do our homework after school and head to the hill after dinner.  One of the drawbacks of big city living … okay, medium city living … it is Ottawa, after all … is I don’t have a car.  As such, most ski hills are out of reach.

What I don’t need a car to get to is the Rideau Canal Skateway. 

I live a few blocks from where I took this photo.  I just need to toss on my skates and go.  It gets really crowded during Winterlude with tourists, so I usually avoid it then.

I even managed to skate when I lived in DC.

The reflecting pool at the Sculpture Garden would be frozen every year.  I don’t know how they did it, but they would keep it frozen until the end of March.  By that time, this Canadian would be back in the shorts.  In fact, it was 25 degrees Celsius when I took this photo.  Before you ask, the ice is real, not one of those synthetic all weather surfaces like they had in the Rockville Town Square. There was a nice cafe adjacent to the pool for a cup of hot chocolate afterward.

They also had alcohol, but there were bars nearby that were cheaper.

Winter was always weird in DC.  My friends from the southern US never got used to the cold.  Me, on the other hand, I was always waiting for winter to arrive. The coldest it would get would be -4.  I never got used to the mass panic and chaos that a snow flurry would bring. They would actually call it a “snow shower”.  The idea of American Empire seemed silly every time 4 cm would close down the capital of the free world.

I did, however, miss “snowpocalypse”.

You won’t see guys like this on the Weather Nework up here.

BTW, for those not up on their weights and measures, 22 inches is about 56 centimetres.  That’s a legitimate snowstorm even in these northern climes.

It’s also my first winter as a runner. New season means new gear. New gear doesn’t necessarily mean more gear, though.  With the Running Room’s one year unconditional warranty on its Running Wear brand, I got to return my old gear that I bought when I started in the spring because it’s now too big. Yep, the warranty even covers weight loss. Between my store credit and my instructor’s discount, I managed to fully stock up on winter gear (jacket, pants, thermal undies, socks) for a net expense of $13. Pretty good, huh?

I also took the first step in the next phase of this journey.  I signed up for the half marathon for Ottawa Race Weekend.  I’ll take the Running Room clinic that begins in February.  I will have to pick up some new spring/summer gear along the way because even stuff I bought in June/July is too big.  I really need to give my drawers a similar gutting as I gave my closet earlier this year.

My apartment looks like I’m getting ready to move. Now that my size is stabilizing, I’ve been buying some clothes on Beyond the Rack again.  I don’t have to worry about being a different size then when I ordered. I’ve ordered a few shirts and sweaters as well as some athletic gear.  I think the smallest discount I got was 50%.  Even bought a $700 Invicta watch for $60. Seems like everything arrived this week. One shirt was the wrong size, but they have a pretty good return policy.  Just slap the prepaid return address label on the box along with the return UPC sticker and the purchase will credited to my account.

Winter is coming.

And I am ready.

Just bring it.


Week 42 – On heroes

There are some weeks I love my job.  This was one of them.

I got to meet one of my heroes.

25th Anniversary of the Man in Motion Tour Reception

That’s right.  Rick Hansen.

For my non-Canadian readers, Rick Hansen was a teenager when he was thrown from the back of a pick-up truck and paralyzed from the waist down.  Despite his paralysis, he stayed involved in sports and eventually became the first person to graduate University of British Columbia with a degree in physical education.  Inspired by another great Canadian, Terry Fox, who ran across Canada to raise awareness and funds for cancer research, Rick started the Man in Motion Tour.  He pushed himself in that wheelchair around the world to raise awareness for spinal cord injuries.  This week on Parliament Hill, we held a reception for the 25th anniversary of that tour.

I can remember getting roused at some unGodly hour when I was nine years old to see Rick push himself off the Newfoundland Ferry in North Sydney.  I was stunned that this guy was planning to push himself around the world.  I couldn’t understand how an able-bodied person could even think of doing that, let alone someone confined to a wheelchair.  As Rick would show us time and time again, being in a wheelchair wasn’t necessarily a confinement.  For those fans of 80’s Brat Pack flicks, David Foster’s theme from St. Elmo’s Fire was inspired by Hansen’s journey (if you click the link there’s a related video interview with David Foster explaining). That song was everywhere on the airwaves in Canada

As I started on my own journey, Rick Hansen was a constant inspiration.  When I was dragging my arse out of bed for a 6 am workout, I would just say to myself, usually in my nagging mother’s voice (sorry, Ma), “Rick Hansen pushed himself around the world.  You can make your appointment with your trainer.” When I didn’t thing I could lift another weight, I’d hear the voice saying, “Rick Hansen…” You get the idea.

Now the weird thing about this photo, he’s thanking me.  When I told him I worked for the Speaker, he thanked me for putting on the event.  The truth is, I was only minimally involved in this event.  I tweaked my boss’ speaking notes. That was pretty much it.  I thanked him for everything he’s done for spinal cord research, but I couldn’t get over the fact that one of my heroes was thanking me.

I have to admit that I didn’t have a lot of real life heroes growing up.  In the 1980s, it seemed like pretty much every athlete was on some kind of drug.  I was never the starstuck type, either. I remember being a caddy at a celebrity golf tournament and not giving a whit if I got to caddy for Mike McPhee or Tommy Hunter or …. I was there for the money.

(BTW, I hate golf.  Just a brief aside.  Mark Twain said it ruined a good walk in the woods.  I agree with him on that point.   Now that I got that off my chest, back to our post.)

Rick Hansen was different.  He wasn’t a professional athelete, so he wasn’t in it for the money.  He wasn’t even in it for himself.  He was doing it to raise awareness and money to help others in his situation.  That struck a chord that stays with me to this day.  I would tune into the news everyday during the Man in Motion tour to see where he was.  In an era before the World Wide Web, Facebook status updates, or tweets, the nightly news was the only way to keep up with his journey. 

That David Foster-penned John Parr song remains stuck in my head 25 years later.   Last year, when he wheeled the Olympic flame into the stadium in Vancouver for the opening ceremonies in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, I jumped out of my chair and cheered.  Almost lost my laptop in the process (the Olympics dovetailed my last big push to finish my doctoral dissertation so many an event was spent with one eye on the laptop and one eye on the TV), but my sturdy MacBook Pro survived that and many more falls over the next two weeks, usually corresponding to a Team Canada goal in hockey (the women’s 14 goal route of Italy was particularly rough).

Losing 66lbs has been one of the biggest accomplishments in my short life thus far, but it’s not like I wheeled around the world.  There’s more journey ahead.


Week 36 – This one’s for the ladies

Donate: Run for the Cure

This week’s weigh-in: 175 lbs

Weight loss to date: 61 lbs

To goal: 5 lbs

Thank you.  It’s been another great week.  Feels great to be back to 175 lbs. With a couple of weeks left of my sessions, the finish line is within reach.  The challenge will be to stay on course and not slack off.  As always,  I know you’ll be in my corner.  I certainly wouldn’t be here without you.

I wouldn’t be here without a lot of people.

I’ve written about some of my male role models and friends in previous posts.  I figure it’s time I wrote about some of the women in my life.

Two in particular:

My grandmother, Nan Read, and mother, Helen Read.

(Well, three actually.  I don’t have a picture of my maternal grandmother in a digital format.)

You’ll remember Nan from my post for my entry for Run for the Cure.  Yes, I will be linking to my donation page every time I mention Run for the Cure.  Nan is a breast cancer survivor.  Helen’s mother, Ellen (Grammie) MacEachern, did not survive.  Both my grandmothers had breast cancer.  On top of that, my paternal grandfather, Tom Read Sr., died of lung cancer.

Three out of four of my grandparents have had cancer.  Only in Sydney. Must be something in the water … and the air … and the topsoil.

Posting about Run for the Cure earlier this week started me thinking about the influence of the women in my life.  I was particularly thinking about my family.  I used to use the history of cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes in my family as an excuse to not lose weight.  I’m genetically cursed, so why bother? Have fun now.  Suffer later.

A woman convinced me otherwise.  More on that in a later post.

While I may have used my family in the past as an excuse for my complacency, now its my excuse for going forward.  Both my grandmothers were women of their generation, the so-called “greatest generation”.  Born just after the First World War, grew up through the Great Depression, and raised their kids alone while their husbands went off to war.  (Nan was a little lucky on the last point.  My grandfather Tom was assigned to civil defence and was based out of Sydney, so they got to see each other fairly regularly.)

They also raised families three to four times the size of the average family today.  That takes a certain amount of stamina.  I’m sure Mom and Dad were perfect angels to their parents and it was just their brothers and sisters that were utter brats.

Yeah, right.

Nan was born Dionysus Poirier in the Plateau, just outside Cheticamp.  Acadians have this habit of occasionally using ancient Roman names for their kids.  They moved to Glace Bay where her father and brothers worked the No. 11 colliery.  There she met Tom Read.  It was a controversial relationship from the start.  She was a Catholic and he was an Anglican.  That counted as a mixed marriage in Depression-era Cape Breton.  To escape the scorn of their relatives, they moved to the thriving metropolis of Sydney to marry and raise a family.

It wasn’t just marrying a “prod” (Protestant) that made Nan a rebel.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1973, just after my parents became engaged.  Not wanting to distract from the festivities, she quietly had a mastectomy to remove the tumour.  She was also into new age-y stuff like yoga and vegetarianism in the 70s, decades before it was trendy.

She would be similarly stoic in facing her husband’s cancer several years later.  Dad once told me he visited once towards the end to find that Nan hadn’t eaten in days because the very smell of food made my grandfather sick.  Back then the palliative care unit at a hospital might have been one bed in a dimly lit, window-less room.

Yes,  I know that pretty much describes every hospital room in the 1970s.  Yet faced with that for her husband’s final days, she chose her own discomfort so he could stay in their home a little longer.

Nan’s a tough bugger.  She turned 95 this year.  Anyone who makes it to 95 is doing something right.  It was just in the past year she finally relented and moved into a nursing home.  It’s been a tough adjustment.  When I first visited her there last year, she seemed under the impression it was temporary while she healed up from hip replacement #2.

That’s right, hip replacement #2.

Coffee buddies, July 2011

She’s since accepted it and is enjoying it more.  My aunts try to bring her out to the family bungalow in Ben Eoin as much as they can, which makes her happy.  When we had an end of summer dinner last month, we had our campfire early so she could partake.

Last Ben Eoin campfire of 2011

Where Nan was the paragon of Acadian stoicism, Grammie MacEachern was the paragon of Scottish stoicism.  Born Ellen Kyte and raised on a farm in East Bay, overlooking the Bras D’or Lakes.  Billionaires lust for the view my grandmother grew up with.  She would marry her childhood sweetheart, Donald MacEachern, and move to the shipyard district of Sydney where he took up carpentry.  Donald would be conscripted and sent overseas, leaving her with two boys to care for until he came home.  My grandfather was also a severe asthma sufferer.  Not a good condition to have when you spend your work day around sawdust.  They read last rites to him on more than one occasion while my parents dated.  He would actually outlive his wife.

She would be diagnosed with breast cancer and it would be his turn to take care of her.  She spent the last couple of years of her life in and out of hospital for treatment.  Since we were so young, the grandkids were sheltered from the full extent of the situation.  Like a proper Scot, Mom doesn’t exactly talk about it, either, so forgive me if I’m scant on the details.

She’s been gone a little over 20 years now.  I remember her wry smile, her lilting accent.  When we got sick, she would often take care of us while our parents went off to work.

You couldn’t ask for better grandmothers.

Now for Helen or, as I call her, Mom. Frankly, I’m not sure where to begin.  Like any mother-son relationship, it’s been rough on occasion.  With the passage of time, I can recognize that she always had my best interests at heart.

She gave up a lot with our move to Fredericton.  Her mother had passed away the year before and the prospect of the oldest daughter leaving town was going over like a fart in church.  With the healthcare cutbacks in the early-90s, there was no guarantee she would be able to practice her trade as an ultrasound technician when we moved.  Despite all this, she relented so her husband could advance in his career and her kids could live in a cleaner, safer city. (It didn’t help that the homicide rate in Sydney was at all time high that year which included a triple homicide at the Sydney River McDonald’s).

She’s been one of my greatest supporters in everything I do.  She doesn’t tell me she’s proud of me.  She doesn’t have to.  She shows me.

Me and Mom, CUA Commencement, Washington, DC, May 2011

Living in another city from my family, we keep in touch with Skype.  Better than the phone, but still a poor substitute for real contact.  Every time we’ve met since I started this journey, she started crying.  Before I met up her and Dad in DC for commencement in May, Dad wondered aloud if they’d even recognize me.  Mom replied, “He’s my son.  I’ll know.”

When I pulled into the bungalow in Ben Eoin in July, I saw the hand head to the eyes to wipe away a tear.

I’ve never been so proud to make my Mom cry.


Donate: Run for the Cure

Week 29 – Did you miss me?

July 29, 2011

This week’s weigh-in: 181 lbs.

Loss to date: 55 lbs

To goal: 11 lbs

A great couple of weeks. Thank you for all the support.  While I was limited in my ability to reply or even read comments while I was away, you were never far from my thoughts.

Last week was a week off from writing, but not from the journey.  I’ve been going flat out for a while, so it was nice to dial down the pace a bit and get back to Cape Breton to get some real salt water in my system.  Having a salt water swimming pool at my building is great, but there’s something about the Bras D’Or Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean that cannot be replicated in a pool.  It’s probably the gential-shrinking cold.

Had a great time.  It was the first time I saw my parents since commencement in DC, a little over six weeks and fifteen pounds ago.  Mom fought back tears.  Again.  My Facebook-less relatives were shocked at my weightloss.  Spent a good amount of time helping Dad get his boat operational.  The rest was at Big Pond Beach.  Much to the consternation of my family, I wore my speedos to the beach, the ones I refered to in an earlier entry as “aspirational”.  Parts of my legs got sunshine that have heretofor never seen sunshine before.  Needless to say, SPF 60 did not prevent a sunburn.

Sometimes you can learn from recreation.   I actually learned a lot about the challenges ahead during this trip.  In particular, I learned how hard it is to eat healthy when you travel.  I love driving.  If I had the time, I would have driven from Ottawa all the way to Ben Eoin with an overnight in Fredericton.  Instead I flew to Fredericton on Sunday after I finished the last of my groomsman duties for the Reed-Richardson (or is it Richardson-Reed? I’ll let them fight it out) wedding.

BTW, how hot did I look in that tux? For those that weren’t there, I’ll add a photo once I can find one of me solo (the public nature of this new blog means I should be a little more judicious of the photos I post).  I mean that in the sense of temperature, not attractiveness.  It was the beginning of a heat wave and the rented tuxes were winter weight wool suits.  Since I’m the one who talked the grooom into going rental instead of just wearing black suits, I have only myself to blame.

August 6th update – Judge for yourself.  Here’s the video from the wedding (and yes, that’s yours truly drinking from a flask in the thumbnail.  In my defence, the minister offered it me.  Can’t refuse a man of the cloth, even if he’s an Anglican):

Back to our story.  As someone who prides himself of being a rubber-tire tourist, I like to spend as little time on the road as possible.  That means speeding and take out food on the road.  Problem:  the healthy options at the fast food joints aren’t exactly driver-friendly.  Salad is not something that can be eaten with a hand.  The same is true for a bunless hamburger.  Even if I chose chicken nuggets as a lesser evil (which I did on my return trip), the salad still meant pulling into the restaurant and sitting down to eat.  I really and truly hated this.  The food is awful, too.  If you think a fast food hamburger is disgusting normally, try it without the bun.  Most of the condiments stick to the bun and the patty left behind is rather bland.  It’s just not a substanial meal.  I think the DQ fiesta burger at the rest stop in New Glasgow cured me of ever getting a burger from that chain again.

For the actual vacation, I was well prepared.  I made a sidetrip to the Moncton Costco on the way to CB to pick up a jug of whey, a blender, and other foodstuffs it was easier for me to find there and bring than to send my parents hunting and pecking through the supermarkets of Sydney.  I had little problem sticking to the nutrition plan.  I did drink a lot of beer.  It was light beer, but when you drink a lot of light you might as well drink a few at regular strength, instead,  and have a better tasting drink.  The result, combined with some wedding weekend cheats that I probably didn’t swim off, was a weigh-in on Tuesday two pounds heavier than when I left.  Those were gone in 24 hours and I’m finishing the week with the results above, a new low.

Starting to get rid of my fat clothes.  I decided to leave some of the clothes I brought with me behind to let my Dad and brother-in-law fight over them.  Since I’ll probably never wear them again, it seemed kind of silly to bring them back when I could leave them behind and make room for other stuff in my one piece of checked luggage.  I’ll probably do the same when I go back for my cousin Fred’s wedding at the end of next month.

One of my tasks this weekend is to get the donation read for Moore’s clothing drive.  This is the second year the chain is doing it.  They give, in turn, the suits go to local organizations that will help men be properly attired for job interviews.  For your genorsity, they give you a 50% off coupon for your next purchase.  If you have some business-y stuff you don’t wear anymore, you might want to consider donating.   More info, including what they are looking for here.

(BTW – if any women in Ottawa reading this are looking to shed some of their office attire, my friend Marlene Floyd is the Chair of an organization Dress for Success Ottawa National Capital Region that helps women prepare for job interviews and the like. You can find them here.)

As you can see, that’s pretty much 3/4 of my wardrobe.  On top of that I have a lot of stuff that they won’t take that will end up in another charity’s bin elsewhere.  There has been the occassional suggestion that I sell them on Kijjijji or Craigslist to make a few bucks for my trouble.  I’ve been so blessed by the benefits of this weightloss, I feel the need to pay it forward. Sounds sappy, I know, like the movie with the kid from the Sixth Sense and the killer from Se7en.  A more positive spin than my naturual inclination to portray it as punishment for my frivolity.  Not only was I total glutton, but a spendthrift one at that.  Who needs over a dozen suits? Apparently, I did.  I was like the HYDRA of suits.  I would wear one out and buy two more to take their place (in partial defence, I always bought them during a 2 for 1 sale).  I had every excuse:  well some are for winter, some are for summer, some are separates for casual days … yadda, yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah.

It’s time to get the stuff out of my apartment.  As I’m slimming down, I’ve been thinking about economizing  in general.  Definitely going to keep the suit count down to a more realistic number.  Need to start saving the dough for when student loans come calling for that PhD money in December.  Yep, at 34, I’ll start repaying my first ever student loan. As Dad said to me once, “Hope you having fun while you’re studying, because you’ll be paying for it longer than you were studying.”

No worries. Like the Cylons, I have a plan.  The plan is:  lottery tickets.  And lots of them.