Monthly Archives: March 2011

A Painful Tale

This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. Pain. What it used to mean to me, and what it means to me now.

Of all the awful bodily conditions in the world, I have to admit, chronic pain is the one that probably frightened me the most. It began when I was 13 and going through my Nirvana phase. I read somewhere that Kurt Cobain suffered from chronic stomach pain and that was one of the reasons why he did drugs and ultimately killed himself.

I’ve always been a healthy person physically. Even when I was overweight and inactive, my body still felt fine. The idea of having to wake up every single day to pain sounded horrifying. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of people who dealt with something like back pain every day. I was a wimp and hated the odd occurrence when I did experience pain. Even DOMS bothered me, and I knew it would eventually go away. How did they deal with it 24/7?

Then, the accident happened. A little over five weeks ago, I fell skating on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. I shattered my left elbow and everything since has been a new lesson in pain.


A lot of people ask me if I felt my arm break. The answer to that is yes and no. I had me feet sweep out from underneath me, falling backwards directly on to my elbow. I do remember a *crunch* in my arm. But I couldn’t have predicted just how bad that *crunch* really was. I remember screaming when it happened. But I think it was more out of shock from suddenly being in so much pain, than the fact that I was in so much pain itself. Does that make sense?

I have fallen lots in my life. I’ve banged up every limb, fractured, sprained, and even had stitches in my head. I’m definitely not the kind of person to overreact in these instances. But as I crawled off the ice that day there was only one thought in my head: “I need to get to a hospital, and I need to get there now.”

At that point I was in a residential area. I had skated 7km from the downtown. I had no idea where to go to get to a hospital. I was all by myself in a city I didn’t know well. I tell you this because it was during this time that I experienced a new kind of pain, different from the one that happened when I first hit the ice. For the first time in my life, I was in so much pain and shock that I felt like I was going to throw up. Or pass out. Or both. And I was walking in a strange city with no clue where I needed to go. It was at that point I called a cab. I crouched on the ground until it came praying I wouldn’t black out.

By the time I got set up in the emergency room, things started to calm down. I set up my arm so the pain was at least bearable. My sister arrived and we talked about getting poutine that night once I was done at the hospital. We thought a sling, maybe a cast, then we’d be out of there. However, there were two events that made it very clear I was not getting out of there any time soon.

First, I couldn’t move my elbow whatsoever, but still insisted on not cutting off the two long sleeve technical shirts I was wearing. The ER doctor helped me take them off and I freaked out. Like, totally and utterly freaked out. Crying, screaming, causing a huge scene. I had no control over it, I just knew that no one was coming near my damn arm. The ER doc then returned with a cup full of pills and I happily obliged.

The second instance was getting my first round of x-rays. Not knowing what was wrong with my arm, they asked me to bend it in all directions to get pictures from all angles. There was more hysteria. My sister and everyone in the waiting room outside thought I was being tortured. It was then that we knew there would be no poutine that night. I’ve read about a lot of active people getting injured and about how upset they were not being able to run, etc. But at that point, I didn’t care about what I would no longer be able to do. I just didn’t want to be in pain anymore. A wish that has stuck with me every day since.

After that, I was given a steady stream of pain meds. Every four hours I was asked to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. I hate this scale. I hate being asked to rate my pain. I hate thinking about my current pain, comparing it to my past pain, and then trying to determine if it’s better or worse.

Anyways, the initial pain of the fall was not the worst pain to come. Turns out I completely shattered my elbow, obliterating the cartilage in the left radial head. I was immediately admitted and operated on the next day. A two hour surgery turned into a five hour one. I learned afterward they had to remove my elbow and reassemble the small shattered pieces on another table using screws and glue.


The post-op pain was a whole new kind of pain. I was heavily medicated for a week after. But in the times when the meds began to wear off I could begin to feel the 14cm open incision that ran along my arm, or the three metal screws holding my elbow in place. The pain would come in waves. So just as I thought it was getting better, it would come back in full force seconds later. My sister would sit with me as I writhed and moaned in pain, unable to do anything but just live through it.

Over the last 5 1/2 weeks, it seems my worst fear has come true. I’ve learned to live with chronic pain. Generally, it has gotten a little better each and every day. But a whole new kind of pain has begun with physiotherapy. Unlike the pain of the initial fall, or the pain right after surgery, the pain of physio is self inflicted. My joint is actually able to move, it’s the pain that’s keeping me from moving it. The muscles along the upper left side of my body have completely seized up in efforts to protect my arm. That stiffness has only contributed to the pain.


Now when I get asked where my pain is on a 1 to 10 scale, my perception of it is totally different. I have experienced a lot of 10s. So while my elbow still hurts with every waking and sleeping moment, it’s bearable knowing that it’s nowhere close to the pain I once felt.

Learning to manage chronic pain has turned into a huge life lesson for me. It’s humbled me. It’s made me more sympathetic. Of everything that’s happened over the course of these last several weeks, dealing with the pain has by far been the trickiest part. I can live with the use of one arm, but it’s hard to live when you feel crippled by pain.


The other thing I’ve learned is that I shouldn’t be stubborn and make myself suffer. My instinct is to be tough and try to get through this without pain medication. But my physiotherapist has instructed me to take painkillers to get through our exercises. I can’t very well do much when I’m breaking down into tears on the the physio table. Meanwhile, Tylenol has just become a part of my daily routine.

Overall, I’d say yes, living with pain everyday really does suck. It doesn’t get any easier or feel any less painful because it’s constant. But I’ve learned to manage it. I’ve learned to continue on despite the knives constantly twisting into my arm. Being in pain is actually quite exhausting. But the only thing I can do is just deal with it and take it as it comes. Because, what other choice do I have?


Move It Monday – Upper-Body Workouts

Welcome to the first day of the PIPES Challenge!!

If you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, you can read all about it right here.

I’m taking part in Morgan’s six week challenge to build upper-body strength. My challenge however will be a little different. I’m recovering from reconstructive surgery on my left elbow. I just started physiotherapy to get my muscles moving the joint again. My goal is to be able to almost fully extend my left arm on my own by the end of the challenge.

My arm exercises currently involve a belt and a bag of frozen peas.

Regardless, I do have a ton of tough upper-body workouts up my sleeve (pun intended) and it’s only fair to share. Below are three different types of upper-body workouts. That will hopefully challenge those pipes in new way and get you ready for the gun show in six weeks! ;)


Upper-Body For The Attention Deficit

Aim for around 12 reps for each exercise. Choose whatever cardio machines you like, or leave it out. With cardio, it takes a little over an hour.

Warm-up: 15 minutes on the elliptical, increasing resistance

Straight set (x3):
Dumbbell pullover (chest, back of shoulders, lats, rhomboids,triceps)

Alternating sets (x3):
Incline chest fly (chest, front of shoulders, biceps)
Incline dumbbell row (lower lats, rhomboids, middle traps)

Cardio: 10 minutes on the rowing machine, alternating grips

Straight set (x3):
Cable lateral raise (top and front of shoulder, traps)

Alternating sets (x3):
Dumbbell twist curl (biceps)
Forward triceps extension (triceps)

Cardio: 10 minutes on the stairmaster, increasing speed  

Upper-Body For The Heavyweight

Recommended for the advanced. A workout that has you lifting heavy at low reps and extra sets. Knowing your limits and using proper form are extremely important. The weight below is what I use for this workout, therefore just a guideline.

Exercise Weight Reps Sets
One arm dumbbell snatch  25 lbs 4-6 4
Romanian deadlift to row  60 lbs 4-6 4
Wide-grip lat pulldown  70 lbs 4-6 4
Barbell bench press 60 lbs 4-6  
Push-up  on toes to failure  
Incline dumbbell shoulder press  25 lbs ea 4-6 4
Incline dumbbell curl 12 lbs ea 12 3
Tricep pulldown 40 lbs 12 3


Upper-Body Pyramids

Pyramid sets get deep into your muscle tissues, really stimulating growth. The weight listed are just an example of how it varies with each set. Go with whatever challenges you the most.


Exercise Reps Weight
Wide-grip lat pulldown  12 45 lbs
Seated cable row  12 40 lbs
Wide-grip lat pulldown  8 55 lbs
Seated cable row  8 50 lbs
Wide-grip lat pulldown  6 65 lbs
Seated cable row  6 60 lbs
Wide-grip lat pulldown  10 45 lbs
Seated cable row  10 40 lbs


Exercise Reps Weight
Dumbbell bench press  12 20 lb dumbbells
Standing cable fly 12 10 lbs each hand
Dumbbell bench press  8 22.5 lb dumbbells
Standing cable fly 8 12.5 lbs each hand
Dumbbell bench press  6 25 lb dumbbells
Standing cable fly 6 15 lbs each hand
Dumbbell bench press  10 20 lb dumbbells
Standing cable fly 10 10 lbs each hand


Exercise Reps Weight
Arnold press  12 12.5 lb dumbbells
Barbell upright row  12 20 lb barbell
Arnold press  8 15 lb dumbbells
Barbell upright row  8 20 lb barbell
Arnold press  6 17.5 lb dumbbells
Barbell upright row  6 30 lb barbell
Arnold press  10 12.5 lb dumbbells
Barbell upright row  10 20 lb barbell

Biceps –
Alternating Sets

Exercise Reps Weight Sets
Barbell bicep curl 12 20 lbs 3
Incline curl  12 10 lb dumbbells 3

– Alternating Sets

Exercise Reps Weight Sets
Skull crusher  12 20 lbs 3
Forward tricep extension  12 20 lbs 3


As always, leave any questions about the workouts below. Let me know if you need alternates for any of the exercises because of equipment restrictions, injuries, etc. Most importantly – have fun!!


Remember when I proclaimed The Grilled Cheese the coolest restaurant idea in Toronto? I still maintain that proclamation, but that doesn’t mean School Bakery & Cafe doesn’t come pretty darn close.

School Bakery & Cafe

Located just on the outskirts of Liberty Village, School was a bit of an afterthought on my Toronto Bucket List. Reader Joanne suggested it in the comments and I was reminded of reading reviews on it a while back.

School Bakery & Cafe

Being on the other end of the city (it’s way out West, I come from the East), I wasn’t sure if I’d find the time to make it there. My friends and I already had Sunday brunch plans for this week. Which meant I’d have to be motivated enough to get there on my own for a solo weekday brunch.

School Bakery & Cafe

Until we realized that we could brunch on Saturday too. What a novel idea – both days of the weekend! I immediately suggested this place and my friends agreed upon seeing the spectacular menu.

School Bakery & Cafe

We arrived around 12:45pm to a line-up out the door. Waiting for brunch in this city is just the norm. That’s why it’s always best to go with a small group of friends. The smaller the party, the faster you’ll get seated!

School Bakery & Cafe

I loved this place the second we made it inside the door. Unlike other cramped brunch places in the city, School is made up of two large rooms. Including a garage-type door they open up for a patio in the summer. There’s also the open kitchen concept, which I lovelovelove.


The decor of School is just that – reminiscent of being in a school down to the very last detail. Chalkboards and books line the walls. It’s even inside an institutional looking building that reminds me of an actual school.


Let’s not forget the projectors playing silent Betty Boop cartoons…


Or the apple centerpiece on every table…


But the menu is where School really shines through, not just the loose-leaf it’s printed on.


It’s divided into two sections. Sweet n’ Fruity:


Salt n’ Savoury:


My friends, this was a hard decision. I studied this menu like any good student would. I went back and forth between Super Cheesy French Toast, Smoked Salmon Endive Salad, or maybe the Upstream Benni?

Roommie Megan went for the first choice – Super Cheesy French Toast.

School Bakery & Cafe

With double smoked bacon, maple syrup and greens. This was probably the thickest sliced French toast I’ve ever seen. Still incredibly light and fluffy though. The gooey cheese was actually the perfect compliment to the eggy bread, and the maple syrup made it the perfect blend of sweet & savoury.

School Bakery & Cafe

The boys went for the Melted Gooey Four Cheese Omelet Soufflé. They said it was a lot like a fluffy egg pancake.

School Bakery & Cafe 

And what did I finally decide on?

School Bakery & Cafe

That would be the Spiced Benni on Cheddar Chive Biscuit served with back bacon, chipotle hollandaise and home fries.

School Bakery & Cafe

I asked for the hollandaise on the side as I don’t actually like it. But I spread a little on top just to get the spiciness of it. The eggs came out perfectly poached and runny. The bacon in thick slices. Then there was the biscuit.

School Bakery & Cafe

Hands down, the best part of the meal was the biscuit. It was even a little spicy. The perfect size and shape for the benni, and didn’t turn to mush under the bacon and runny eggs.

School Bakery & Cafe

The home fries were spectacular to boot. Crisp and slightly black on the outside, soft on the inside. Not too greasy and the perfect two-bite size.

Apart from their brunch, I’d also heard good things about School’s bakery. Something I was easily convinced of as soon as I tried their biscuit. So just as we were about to get the bill, I asked for an extra treat to-go. Something I drooled over as we stood waiting to get in earlier.


That my friends, is a Nutella scone (also pictured earlier in the post). I spent all afternoon walking down Yonge St. with it in my purse. Like, from Lawrence to Bloor stations. Just over four miles. I thought for sure I’d destroyed this thing of beauty during my wanderings, ripping into it immediately when I got home.


The scones had been just pulled out of the oven when the waitress gave this to me. I popped it in the microwave for a few seconds. Long enough to make the chocolate flavour stand out and the nutella on top to melt. It was very soft for a scone without the sweetness of a cake. A little spice in there too. This, and a side of celery may have been my dinner on Saturday…


Overall, School gets a passing grade. I will say the wait to get our food was longer than acceptable, and they did mess up one of our orders. The price is also a little high for brunch. I don’t normally spend 20 bucks on breakfast (or err, “second breakfast” in this case). Still though, totally worth the trip and price for the one-time experience.

I have one more Toronto brunch review to do, then I plan on doing a post featuring my top brunch spots and dishes. You’ll just have to wait to see how School shaped up compared to the rest of the class ;)