Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bikes all day

Biking to a Different Beat
NYC kids on their mobile beat machines

One of the best things about working in the Bicycle Division of the City of Toronto's Transportation Safety Planning Department, is that looking at articles like the one above, is completely encouraged - in fact, can even pass as research.

This one definitely passes as research:

Toronto's Michal Kapral in his "Twinkie" Velomobile

I so want one of those!!

Kapral says:

"I live 10 kilometres away from work; driving takes me 47 minutes [parking included]. The streetcar takes me 47 minutes, but the streetcars are normally late or delayed in some manner. When I was in really good shape I could run home in 35 minutes, but I would need to shower and change afterwards. Now the Velomobile takes me 20 minutes, plus another 10 minutes answering a mob of questions from people on the street while I lock it up. But still, I get to work in less the time then it would take me to drive in half the effort of running, and I get my exercise for the day, all while enjoying the comforts of a car without the need to pay for gasoline or insurance."

And even this article from the BBC News has been circulating around the office.

Bike sex man placed on probation.
(Oh, dear. Can't a person get a bit of peace these days?)

I love my job!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Financial Literacy

It all started when I learned on Monday that my RBC Visa interest rate had been increased to 24.5% back in September. Further investigation revealed that this penalty was the result of 3 late payments over the period of 12 months.

(A late payment strike against you is levied the day after your 'Statement Due Date.' This strike goes against your credit rating and can hinder any future attempts to get another credit card, a cell phone, a loan, a car, a mortgage, etc.)

After my initial shock, I protested, I pleaded, but - "No, this a 'delinquent' payment pattern," the RBC financial advisor state firmly, "and will require 6 months of consistent payments before the interest rate can be reduced."

There must be something I could do! That evening I complained to Nicholas, who exclaimed, "Aren't there laws against that? 24.5% are what loan sharks charge!"

It was time to take matters into my own hands; my financial illiteracy was costing me too much.

I went back over each Visa statement of 2007, (luckily, online banking allows easy access to electronic versions), and wrote down the date and amount of each payment I made towards my Visa. As the real picture emerged, I became more and more sure in my belief that this was totally unfair! My sleuthing revealed that:
  1. I missed Jan and Feb's payments because my balance was $0 or near to $0;
  2. For 8 months this year, I had made two payments on my Visa, rather than just the required one;
  3. and, that during September, the third 'delinquent payment period' I had made a payment - one day outside the statement period.

At this point, I called the number on the back of my Visa card, and explained the real picture to a very sympathetic representative named Michelle. I added, my voice surprisingly thick with emotion, "A 24.5% interest rate is something a loan shark would provide, and I will no longer bank through RBC if an alternative cannot be provided."

I did it! I stood up to my bank!

"Let me see what my manager can do for you." She replied, gently. "Please hold the line."

I waited 10 minutes, feeling super-empowered and very hopeful.

When Michelle reconnected, Here is what she offered me:

  • An immediate decrease in my interest rate back to it's usual 19.5%

  • A $100 rebate for the difference in interest charged since September

  • An opportunity to take advantage of the "3.99% Transfer Balance Interest Rate"
    (Which in a nutshell, means: I first transfer the amount on my RBC Visa to another card ("from another bank", Michelle noted in an undertone) then 4 days later, call RBC and say, "Hi, I'd like to do a balance transfer of $-- from my -- card onto my RBC Visa card." and they'll transfer the amount right back onto my card at a 3.99% interest rate for 4 months!)

I was ecstatic!!

I'm going to pay off as much as I possibly can until April, at which point, I will change my Visa plan to a 11.5% fixed interest rate.

(I also set up a minimum payment to automatically be taken out of my chequing account, so I ensure I never miss a payment due date again!)

Who knew becoming financially literate could be so much fun?!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Merry Birthdays!

Although none of us will be in Toronto for Christmas this year, we still wanted that 'Christmas feel' about the house. Sunday night was a festive occasion of Decorating the Tree to remixed house/lounge versions of our favourite carols: "Have, have, have yourself...a mmmmmm- mmmmmerry little... have, have have yourself...."

So, perhaps that's why our little Canadian Tire tree turned out to be a much more of a Charlie's Angle affair than a Charlie Brown. Or perhaps it was the sparkly green apples that Nicholas adored and which inspired our tree's apple-bedazzled adornment. Or perhaps the recent cinematic outing to "Breakfast with Scot" where I was the only female in the audience full of couples, might have had some influence. No matter the reason, this be the happiest little tree around. And she's wonderful!

Right now, she is merrily watching over a miniature mountain of presents for the birthday boys, - for Nicholas and Jeremy are 25 today! Merry Birthday!

(This might possibly become the best new tradition of the season. Who wouldn't want to open their Christmas Tree presents a whole month early?!)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Adventures of a Chipmunk

Monday afternoon was dreary - typical of Toronto this time of year. Drizzle and shadow prevailed, with a few lonely lamps scattering fuzzy pockets of yellowed illumination through the rain. I was nearly home from work: two blocks away, all down hill, picking up speed on my bike. I was planning ahead since it's a left-turn onto Shuter St and rush hour traffic can be tricky to navigate. One shoulder-check behind me in preparation for switching lanes - road all clear behind - and as I looked forward again, it was just in time to see an on-coming vehicle fling left in front of me, cutting me off completely. One gut-wrenching scream, one valiant attempt at a quick-turn along side the grey van, and my entire left side ate metal panel - a big t-bone steak.

Rolling around on the ground, (I can use this word legitimately:) in 'agony' I didn't have to wait more than perhaps 20 seconds before people were all around.

"Ohmigod! Are you okay?"

"Hello, 911? I'm here on Sherbourn and Dundas with a cyclist who's just been hit..."

"Does anyone know first aid?"

"I know first aid." I groaned, kinda laughing, "But that's not gonna help me." I couldn't open my eyes for long, I was just too nauseous with pain, but I knew the efficient man on his cell phone was standing above me, and two or three others - women, I think, were knelling around me.

"Let's cover her up. Collect all her things. Is this what's left of her helmet?! Where's her bike?"

"My baby! My baby!" (That was me.) "Is she okay? Could someone please lock up my baby?"

A few chuckles, I smiled in relief, it must be okay if we're laughing, right?

"She's fine. She's okay. I'll lock her up. Where are the keys?"

"In my uh... left... uh, pocket." I couldn't remember which was left or right. I tried to move my hand towards my right pocket, but my shoulder said "no way!" with little stabbing jolts of pain.

"My right pocket, sorry"

I could feel people shuffled around me, gently reaching into pockets for keys and carefully removing my courier bag, which was strapped securely my chest. I wasn't making it easy for them, as the pain caused me to roll around an awful lot.

"Shhhh, stay still. Don't move, okay? Just stay still."

It wasn't more than six or eight minutes before the siren and lights of an ambulance arrived, and everything went very fast from there. I understood then that I really did need to stay still when the spine board and neck brace were applied. It was just a series of lifts and rolls and bumps and a few more lifts and rolls before I arrived at the hospital.

Everyone was so kind - I know I was babbling random things as the collision jumbled and tossed my thoughts as if a dresser caught in an earthquake. I like to think I was entertaining, as I told the paramedic that my wallet was in the 'grey lightweight silicon-impregnated waterproof draw-string sack' inside my courier bag, but it was mostly to force myself to keep remembering things. There was always someone around me who would talk with me, in very kind, gentle voices.

My phone rang while I was laying in Emerge, eyes closed and squirming , I knew it was Nicholas. He usually calls just before he heads home from work. I asked one of the kind voices around me if they could please get my phone from by bag, and holding it up to my neck-braced head, that's when I started crying. I could barely hear Nicholas through the brace, and tried not to be dramatic with the details, but I wanted him with me. Now!

He arrived at what seemed like Superman time and everything went very smoothly from there. I was either in x-rays, giving my statement, getting an EMG, holding Nicholas' hand or seeing a Doctor. I got gravol and percocet for the pain and laughs from my still-random conversation. I shared with the radiologist the story of a pin my mom gave me years ago: "Warning: wearing dirty underwear. If in accident, just let me die."

Nicholas was amazing - so patient and soothing, he kept me relaxed, and waited patiently through hours of testing. Jeremy stopped by too, and babysat my bike, which the kind policeman brought over from the scene. Thanks Jeremy!

So, story nearly done, what's left is a torn AC ligament in my left shoulder, some puffiness and bruises in my left jaw, coccyx, and knee, and general aches and pains all over. No spine injury but a heck of a lot of whiplash. The pain will away soon enough, I'm sure. What remains is an overwhelming sense of gratitude for those who helped me, and a wee bit of resentment for the bloody van that hit and ran.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Going round and round

Reading through my one of my old London journals, I came across a moment which made me laugh:

[Heading off to a dermatologist appointment, after a two-month wait to procure a visit to this particular specialist.]

Had I taken three minutes before rushing out the door to look at my A-Z*, I would have noticed that the Hammershmith Hospital is just a three-minute walk from East Acton, and a 15-minute walk from my door. Instead, I ran out and caught the first bus heading to Hammersmith Hospital and sat for a watch-checking, toe-tapping agonizing half an hour of stopping, starting, crawling forward before I had enough, got off the bus at the next stop and phoned London Transport for directions. I was told that the bus I should be on – a now 20-minute extension ride from where I currently stood - would make me nearly 20 minutes late. Hence, I hastily caught a cab. The £10 cab fare brought me back to where I started – in East Acton, five blocks from home.

*A-Z (London street map guide)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

We were just watching a Planet Earth on endangered wild cats and look what I came across.

That's right ladies and gents - this is one cat that's off the wild species list.

Kids can - indeed - bike

This summer, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon the perfect summer job: a camp counsellor for the Kids CAN-BIKE Camp, an innovative week-long bicycle camp that runs through the City of Toronto, and by the generous donations of local sponsors like Canadian Tire, Children's Aid Society and MEC. It provides children who are at-risk or low income with all the equipment and training needed to bike safely in their neighbourhoods at no cost to themselves or their families. The best part of it all is that at the end of the week, the 10 campers take home their bike!

In order to teach this camp, I had to quickly get my qualifications up to spec (CAN-BIKE 2, First Aid and CPR, First Alert), plan a summer schedule with Idi and Sarah (the other counsellors) and before I knew it - 80 kids, 80 bikes and oodles of fun riding in the sun zipped by before I could say, "Kids can indeedy bike!

I loved it so much, I requested to stay on and am now involved in the expansion of the camp. One of my projects was to prepare this website for the Camp; a snapshot of our summer with an emphasis on our sponsors and agencies. It just went live yesterday, and I'm hoping to hear some feedback, so if you're curious - (especially if you might consider this to be a fun job to have next summer!) please have a look.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"I see money opportunities everywhere"

So you might have seen someting new on my blog recently. Like the unavoidable adverts on the top. My visa bill ran up a little higher this month and I'm trying to offset my costs by renting out my blog. I'm expecting to generate at least 25 cents a month from clicks. That'll pay for my visa in about 6700 years. Happy clicking!

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Runner's High

It all started the first week of September, in reaction to being relegated indoors after a summer of being active outdoors, teaching kids how to bike. I plotted a 7-km route from my door to the office on and ran it one sunny autumn morning.

I wore my heart rate monitor and I recall my heart rate average being somewhere around 171 for the 43 minutes it took me to navigate up and down over the river valley and past the morning rush of streetcars. The run burned around 300 kcal too, if I recall.

I didn't plan ahead so ended up wearing my sweaty running kit all day. Luckily, my office is the Transportation Planning Bicycle Safety division so sweaty apparel is normal, although even there I was pushing the definition of "normalcy." Come 5pm, I ran home, covering the distance more quickly - 40 minutes.

Two days later, I was ready to go again and this time came prepared with my iPod, water bottle and debit card strapped to my hip, and a change of clothes waiting for me at work.

I took this 'alternative mode of transportation' twice a week until two weeks later, I discovered the office has a shower room and to my delight, it mimics a rain forest in volume and warmth. I just need the caw of a parrot and a pina colada waiting for me afterwards. These 10-minute showers have become a luxurious addition to my workday since.

It's a thrill to track my progress on my heart rate monitor. I'm now down to 34 minutes, up to 35 km a week and burning between 400 and 500 kcal each run. I'm also down to 130lbs, which I haven't seen since grade 12!

The most telling indicator of my muscles acute adaptiveness is that my heart rate average has decreased to around 160 - 165 beats per minute while my speed has increased. My cardiac output, the amount of blood pumped to my working muscles per minute, is determined by the amount of blood ejected from the heart with each beat (Stoke Volume) multiplied by the number of beats per minute (Hear Rate). My heart rate has decreased, but by means of the Frank-Starling mechanism, the walls of my heart have stretched, allowing more blood to be ejected with each pump. Less beats but more blood getting to my muscles, and more oxygen being absorbed means I'm running more efficiently.

I've also started to take a 10-km route twice a week, as the lure and rush of endorphin from running is addictive. My work is flexible, so if I show up at 9:15am, after an hour of running, I'm still able to have my shower, my 500mL of chocolate milk (a fabulous recovery drink) before settling down to work for a 9:30am – 5:30pm workday.

It was today I realised that this is truly not a common thing to do. It was cold, zero degrees and lightly raining, but I dressed warmly with a light-weight long-sleeve Marino wool base-layer, a wind-proof toque and light running gloves. But today I only saw two other runners in my 53-minute 10km run, when often it's a dozen or so sharing the route.

Tonight, running home in the dusk, it was just me and my reflective light pounding the sidewalk. Hed Candy blasting smooth tunes through my earphones, the heat radiating off my shirt gently smelling of clean laundry, the rain refreshing on my cheeks, my arms and legs pumping in time, all parts rhythmically aligned. I had hit my stride: a meditative weightless state.

Up a steep incline, I remind myself to decrease the amount of time each foot contacts with the ground. Faster feet, higher knees, arms pump, elbows up and behind. A slight burn of lactic acid in my thighs; heart rate spiking to 182, but still much lower than the 191 when I first took this hill in September. No rest at the top, push it, split-time style - 12 minutes until I'm home.

I will take the weekend to recover, but come Monday, I'll be back on that hill, getting another dose of the runner's high.