Monday, June 30, 2014

We wait all year for this

Current Conditions

Partly Cloudy
Observed at:
Halifax Stanfield Int'l Airport
6:00 PM ADT Monday 30 June 2014
Partly Cloudy
101.2 kPa
24 km
SW 22 km/h

Graphic forecast

30 Jun

  • 15°C


Mainly sunny
  • 30°C


A mix of sun and cloud
  • 26°C
  • 16°C


Chance of showers
  • 40%
  • 24°C
  • 16°C


Chance of showers
  • 40%
  • 26°C
  • 16°C


Periods of rain
  • 24°C
  • 15°C


A mix of sun and cloud
  • 24°C
  • 14°C

Detailed forecast

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cycling and life

This is the second of the articles I have written for the Indoor Cycling Association. I know that the last three paragraphs may come across as a little strong if you are not immersed in the world of 'spinning' instruction. There is a growing tendency in the industry to encourage exercisers to exercise at a very high intensity without reference to the skills which are actually applicable to biking up a steep hill - or taking on a life challenge. I think my current situation gives me a unique opportunity to educate and also, I'll admit, to shame some instructors just a little. In the end, I think those who just rely on high intensity and charisma to attract and maintain students are lazy. I don't have a problem if they cringe a little inside when they read what I have written.   

I sent it off with a different title and was interested to see how it eventually appeared

We Are All Beginners at Some Things

It is the day of a meeting with a new doctor and a novel procedure. The date has been on the calendar for awhile and I have been looking forward to the answers it will provide. But now it is here and the thought of it seems too much to bear. It would be easy to let anxiety take over. But I know another way. 

Today will actually be composed of a series of events, not one horrible experience. I need to break it down, set some goals and get on with it. When I look at it that way the day doesn't seem so daunting. I know how to dress myself. I know how to drive. I have methods for dealing with the stress of the waiting room and even the procedure itself.  So I begin. Here's a peek at my thoughts through the day.

Get dressed. Check.

Drive to the health centre. Check. Nope - not quite. The anxiety is bubbling up. Work on something. Become mindful of your breath. Establish a pattern and stay with it. Your goal is to keep your heart rate low.

At the front desk. Put a smile on your face. It will make a difference to me and them. Keep smiling. Don't worry about the fact that you are the most cheerful person in the waiting room. You are doing what works for you. 

Waiting. You know how to sit in a chair. Focus on your spine. Keep it straight but relaxed. Sit deep into the chair - don't perch, you aren't going to fly away any time soon. Good. Deep breaths, long slow exhales. Read your book - you brought the tools so use them.

Meet the nurses. Smile. Walk tall, drop your shoulder blades. Form matters. Talk less, breathe more.

Doctor enters. Not so bad. You have this thing.

Procedure begins. Here it is - the steepest part of the climb today. Breathe. Relax - tension will get you nowhere. How about a tiny smile? Time slows down. Slow your heart rate with it. Focus on your breaths. Count. Just one more and then another and then another. What will help me sink into this? A babbling brook, hemlock trees, a picnic, a child - I'll go there. It's over. Really? That wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

Results. Bad news. Not so scary though. Just another hill to climb.

The rest of the day. This feels like riding downhill after a hard climb. Everything is a bit blurry and feels rushed but maybe it is just that time has returned to normal.

I survived that day and could almost say that I thrived. On reflection I have two sets of observations relevant to coaching indoor cycling and other activities. First, over the course of a couple of hours I used almost all of the body and mind management techniques that I coach (and which were highlighted in many of the recent ICA summit sessions.) If you feel awkward discussing some of those topics or it isn't part of the culture where you teach, please consider my example. Do you want to deny your students access to information and techniques which are truly life skills and have application to so much more than just cycling?

Second, every activity or behaviour can be broken down into component parts. Those steps seem much less daunting in isolation. On my difficult day success at each step set me up for the next one. We know this in the abstract but do we consistently apply the principle in our classes?  Do we treat every one of those steps as equally important and celebrate success as each is achieved? Do we focus too much on the outcome or final step and neglect to acknowledge all its precursors?

Perhaps you are thinking "Yes, I break things down for the novices or newbies in my classes." My message for you, based on my experience in the last few weeks, is that everyone is a novice or unskilled at something; everyone struggles with at least one aspect of his or her performance. You won't always know which aspect is most problematic for any individual. I don't think I look or act like a novice cancer patient but that doesn't make any of the steps I am taking less difficult or less worthy of celebration. For that reason you should not make assumptions and skip steps or fail to reinforce small achievements. As an instructor/leader/coach in your classes that's one of your most vital roles - to identify and describe the steps and mark your students' progress as they climb them.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Holiday eating

Continuing with the good medicine theme, today is brought to you by grilled steak, a garden salad with all ingredients from TapRoot Farms and garlic bread. I can't remember where I first saw the formula (no longer a recipe I follow) for my garlic bread. It was probably Cooks Illustrated. This is a similar recipe. Don't worry about amounts. No one will complain if you use too much garlic or butter or cheese.

Dessert was a raspberry pie. I used this recipe (halved to make just one). It was very easy and quite good. It is definitely a formula I will remember because it would work equally well with othe berries and soft fruits like plums and peaches.

We washed it all down with Bon Bon from Petite Rivière Vineyards. It is was an unorthodox choice but fit the mood on a very sunny and warm holiday weekend.

If food isn't your thing, thanks to Kathy Loomis, here's another embroidery based music video. Still with embroidery, Sandy Donabed pointed me to an article on Peruvian artist Ana Teresa Barboza. I am increasingly fascinated by the potential of 'just' stitch but confess that I am too lazy to pursue it. Too many hours are required before you can see whether your ideas have come to fruition.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Oooh, shiny

I received a beautiful flower arrangement two weeks ago. Yesterday I dismantled it and saved the orchids which are still going strong. There was a collection of red and clear objects in the bottom of the  clear glass vase. I assumed that they were the standard glass pebbles. When I poured out the water it turned out that the items are acrylic and are a unique conical shape with facets on some of the planes. There are three sizes and three colours.

Who knows why but as soon as I handled them I wanted to sew them to something. The problem is that right now I don't really want to do anything as involved as drilling. I need to find a way to entrap them in something. I can see this piece in my mind but don't want it to distract me from the cats and community pieces. What to do?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Good medicine

It's one week post-surgery. The booklet that they gave me on discharge says I shouldn't drive or lift anything or drink alcohol for several more weeks. It doesn't say why I should avoid any of those activities. I can think of a good reason for not lifting - it is a pretty obvious piece of advice for someone who just had a piece of flesh removed from her body. But the other restrictions? --- I don't know why I should follow that advice.

What I do know is that there is a set of activities which make me stronger and healthier. What's on that list? Eating, cooking and drinking good food and wine. Being responsible to people and groups to which I have made commitments. Teaching novices arcane material which can make a fundamental difference in their lives.

I am going to proceed based on that list. So today was devoted to several organizational phone calls, the drafting and sending of two important SAQA emails and the background work for a cycling trip to Cape Breton. Tonight I taught another two hour cycling skills clinic (off the bike!). Between those activities I made and ate a tasty dinner of herb-roasted lamb chops, risotto and stir-fried bok choy and zucchini. Dessert was strawberries with maple syrup.

Galloping is good medicine. So is the glass of wine I had with dinner.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Green sunshine

It was another grey and chilly day. I think it felt worse because we have now had two perfect summer days this week. But it was hard to stay gloomy when unpacking the CSA box tonight.

That's lettuce, beet greens, bok choy, spinach, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes (greenhouse), strawberries, raspberries, Jonagold apples, cranberry juice, eggs and a bouquet of Sweet William.

It is all sunshine in a different form.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Maximally true

I just spent an hour researching the definitions of terms like maxim, saying, proverb and cliche. It's tricky stuff and there appears to be lots of overlap in meaning and usage. I'm not sure it matters what they are called. Everyone recognizes the format and has experienced the underlying truth behind the tired words.

Two people from far away have reached out to check on me today. I have only the slightest acquaintance with each of them - one I have never met in person. It means a lot to feel that my web of support is so large. And it helps to have to respond to each note I receive. I process a little of the truth and a little of my intention each time I do so.

I had just finished writing replies to my far-flung correspondents when I received an email from a woman who lives in Nova Scotia and who I have met no more than ten times. She told a story about a long-term health challenge that is now behind her. This is not the first time I have heard something similar in the last two weeks. It helps to hear these previously hidden stories. They make me feel less alone. She ended her email this way:

And what you will be left with is a better "you"...not to say this is a "gift" as it sure as hell isn't that, but you can relate to anyone going through anything after that...and that isn't a bad thing, and you appreciate life, and death, in a less abstract way, filling to live one well and accept the other better.

That's something you hear a lot so I guess it qualifies as a cliche or maxim or expression. My experience so far, a few weeks into this cancer thing, is that it is certainly true.

I have written a couple of articles for ICA which include references to the effect of contacts from friends and others. I know it is difficult, in the words of a friend, for "the ones looking in" to know what to say. I'll sum up my experience to date. It matters that people outside my bubble contact me. It doesn't matter what they say. If you find yourself in the position of writing to someone in a crisis, don't overthink it. "How are you?" will suffice. The maxim (or whatever you call it) "It's the thought that counts." will never be more true.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Two sides

I was forced to be inactive this weekend because I am recovering from surgery to remove a tumour from my bladder. I was looking forward to a warm sunny weekend but both days ended up cloudy and chilly. George went off with the cycling group to do a lovely route in the Annapolis Valley. I tried hard to find some way to avoid feeling sorry for myself. In the end I devoted far too many hours to watching the live feed from a conference which was held in Newport, Rhode Island. (I did get some handwork done while sitting in front of my iPad.)

The conference was the second presented by a group called the Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science. SPARCS is the brainchild of one person - Prescott Breeden. He had an idea and with the application of energy and intelligence (and some financial support from his parents) he pulled it off. More accurately, he created a revolution in the way in which important issues regarding dogs and companion animals are discussed. The conferences have brought together some of the best scientists in the field of canid biology with a special emphasis on behaviour and learning. The selection of speakers is refreshing in terms of the diversity of their viewpoints and approaches. The program includes opportunities for dialogue about those differences. On top of all that, the events are available at no cost to everyone around the world through live streaming.

I watched the second conference this weekend and was really impressed. There were several organizational ideas that I will definitely use the next time I put together an event. On the whole the speakers were well-prepared and engaged. They frequently referred to concepts and ideas in the others' talks which suggested to me that they were also there to learn. It was clear to me that lots of emphasis had been put on the visual appearance of the event. This added a sort of polish that enhanced the sense of professionalism which was developed by the speakers.

I think I heard that 40,000 people from around the world viewed some portion of the live stream over the three days of the conference. They stayed in touch with the organizers and submitted questions for the speakers using Twitter and Facebook. At one point #SPARCS2014 was trending on Twitter second only to the FIFA World Cup.

It all sounds pretty wonderful, doesn't it? There's always another side to the story, though. Some friends of mine attended the event in person. They were extraordinarily disappointed and will probably not attend any future SPARCS conferences. Most of the problems seem to be related to the venue. It was small and uncomfortable and unsuited to a multi-day event of this type. In addition, there were many accommodations made for the live stream at a cost to the people in the room. For example, the theatre was completely dark. It was impossible to take notes and for the speakers to interact with individuals. Even in question periods, queries submitted via Twitter received more attention than those from people who had paid to attend the event.

Registration was not inexpensive and the cost of staying in Newport was very high. Most of those who attended probably spent more than $1000 for the three days, even taking into account that most dog people don't seek out the fanciest hotels and restaurants. I heard that people in the theatre complained to the organizers but changes were not made because it would affect the live stream. By the end of the weekend my friends felt like second class citizens in spite of the fact that their registration fees were what allowed the conference to proceed.

The SPARCS board and Mr. Breeden have some hard work ahead of them. In just two years they have created an event of enormous scale and importance. But it may not be sustainable in its current form. They must make some tweaks while honouring the SPARCS mandate, the novel outreach component and the needs of those who wish to meet and network in person. I hope that they will find a creative solution. SPARCS is too good to lose.

Why bother describe SPARCS on my blog? It is always important to remember that there are two sides to every story and that things are not always what they seem. But what interests me more is the extent to which  my reaction to the conference might have been affected by the visual environment which was imposed on me. Everything was very 'shiny' and perfect and that gloss may have carried over into my evaluation of the content. I think the effect was minor because I was aware of that possibility in real time. If I use my friends' reactions as a standard it is clear, though, that what I saw on the live stream did induce a favorable bias of some kind. Or maybe the uncomfortable seats, dark room and lack of coffee created a different sort of bias in their response to the conference. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

HDMGG - June 22

How does my garden grow? Not very well when the temperature stays low for days on end and a torrential rain storm rips up the plants. The tomatoes are just barely holding their own and the basil is very unhappy. On the good news front, there are several baby peppers. And now that I look at the photos I can see that the oregano has grown quite a bit.

I have made progress toward my goal of keeping the tomatoes in check this year. The stakes are in and the first fasteners are on. I pruned a couple of the indeterminate plants. I will leave the rest until they are happier.

Changes since June 8 - new Early Girl tomato and jalapeno pepper and replacement Roma tomato.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Language matters

For the last eighteen months I have been a contributor to the Indoor Cycling Association website. I have provided articles on instructor education and have also contributed a number of class profiles. These are detailed descriptions of classes with rationale, music and suggested cues. When I received my cancer diagnosis I asked if I could write some articles which linked my health challenges with activities that take place in an indoor cycling studio. I titled the series Cycling Lessons from the Cancer Clinic

The first of the pieces was published this week. It is aimed at a specific audience but I think the message is a general one.

Language Matters

In my journey through the health care system I have been observing the interactions I have with "authorities". When you become a patient everyone who carries the key to your wellness is an authority. It is an interesting turn of events for someone like me who is accustomed to being the leader and the one that has the answers. I can learn some valuable lessons from the experience of being on the 'other' side. The first and very salient lesson came in the form of an experience with language.

As coaches we use language to communicate with those we are seeking to help. The more precise our language, the more effectively we can convey our meaning to our students. Precision in our choice of words and phrases can lead to enhanced performance. But, perhaps more important, careful use of language can reduce stress and create an atmosphere of fairness and respect.

I recently experienced an example of sloppy use of language. I was in the Emergency Room and the attending physician told me that he was going to order a CT scan so that I wouldn't have to wait a month for one in the out-patient system. He returned a few minutes later to say that he had spoken with radiology and that they said they couldn't take me until "after dinner". He would not  be on shift when I had the CT so was going to leave instructions for me to be discharged immediately after the test. Instead of getting the results right away I would have to wait until an appointment five days later.

I settled in for the long wait and actually managed to fall asleep. I was surprised to be shaken awake at 2:00 pm with the news that CT was calling for me. The nurses rushed to insert an IV and escort me to radiology. At that point we all realized what had happened. Here in Maritime Canada "dinner" refers to the second meal of the day. Elsewhere in North America it refers to the third meal of the day. Both the physician and I are from outside the region. When we heard "after dinner" we assumed that the test would be done in the early evening. In fact, the staff in radiology were referring to a period in the early afternoon. If they had simply said "between 2:00 and 3:00 pm" lots of things would have been different.

Did the imprecision in use of language make a difference? Yes and no. Workflow was affected for the nurses in the unit and I was faced with a long wait for results I could have received that afternoon. In fact, the ER doctor gave me an off-hand diagnosis which was not confirmed by the results of the CT and I had to live with that more dire scenario until my next appointment. This wasn't a life-threatening event but it added to my stress and caused me to lose some faith in the system as a whole.

In our classes, it is rare that a single instance of sloppy use of language would create more than a little stress. But continued imprecision will diminish the chances that our students will learn and improve and increase the likelihood that they will lose confidence in us and our employers. Please give some thought to my 'dinner' story the next time you describe an effort or a time interval or a sensation to your students.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Art is ...

A friend responded to a draft article that I sent her with this. It is from a book titled The Magazine Article: How To Think It, Plan It, Write It by Peter Jacobi. 

"The American teacher and poet Edward Weismiller once noted that the artist breaks up the world of fact by making us see comparisons, analogies, meanings we never saw before. They lead to nothing, of course, but our own deeper understanding of ourselves and the rest of humanity."

I like that. It got me started on a search for other descriptions of what artists do. I want to compile them and then see what patterns emerge. In the meantime, go look at this. It may not fit your definition of art. But the creator certainly had the determination we all need to finish what we start.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

When in doubt, add a photo

I was unexpectedly kept in hospital overnight. Thank goodness for my iPad. I have been able to stay in touch with friends and do some work. But I don't have much of anything to contribute to the blog. Here are some random shots from the photo library in the iPad. They aren't great - I only use its camera if a better one isn't handy. And I store downloads from other sites in the same place.

Enjoy. These made me happy when I scrolled through them while waiting for the nurse to bring me a sleeping pill.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Women at work

Last night I taught a clinic to beginning cyclists to review a few basic skills for riding on the road and to teach flat repair. I offer these clinics at no cost to assist people, mainly women, who want to develop the confidence to ride independently. It was a lovely summer evening - perfect for puttering about on bikes. But what made it most fun for me was the attitude of the women who attended. They wanted to know what I wanted to teach. They were attentive while I talked and demonstrated and then were able to put into practice what I had described. They carried out repetitions willingly and improved each time. I believed them when they said they would go home and practice on their own.

During the flat repair instruction they weren't afraid of getting their hands dirty. I find that many people become very tentative when it is time to practice the skills that I show them. Not these ladies. I could hear them repeating the steps out loud while they worked carefully but without fear. As a result we completed that portion of the clinic more quickly than ever before.

This morning I will have surgery for my cancer. I hope my doctor and the nurses who will be by her side have the same attitude to learning and doing as the women with whom I worked last night.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Yesterday a discussion on the SAQA Yahoo group, which started as a request for links to interesting blogs, evolved into a more wide-ranging examination of two other issues. One thread examined the reasons for blogging - are they personal, commercial, a mix of the two? What is an appropriate frequency? The other thread involved the issue of making the blog available to the largest number of readers. Just a few years ago people were willing to check in daily with their favorite blogs. Now subscriptions and RSS feed services are in demand. They ensure that readers will have access to the latest posts by their favorite authors at a click of a key.

I participated in the discussion because I have been giving a lot of thought to why I am now writing a daily blog post, how it is affecting my life right now and what the future holds. I am having no difficulty creating a new post every day. I realize that some of my content might not interest anyone but myself but that's fine. I have no commercial interest so the number of readers and their interest in my art or my teaching is not relevant to what I write. This blog is mostly a personal journal - a place to record a sampling of my thoughts and the events in my life. Next year I will know where to look when I want to know what tomatoes I planted and when. In a few years when I want a pick-me-up puppy shot I know there will be a few readily available on the blog. I will look back in a few months and see that cancer was just a blip in my days.

I have already experienced a shift as a result of the blog posts I have written in the last month. When I reviewed them I noted something that was new to me. My posts about art and art quilts reveal a pattern. It is clear that I am interested in large scale work, possibly ephemeral, and that repeating forms fascinate me. I am also not married to the traditional view of art as immutable and to be cherished by the viewer in its original state. I like the thought that something could change through time. I know that a lot of artists use weather to create that change. I am much more interested in the role of human intervention in altering the work.

That realization has led me to develop a concept for a second series. It would consist of large scale pieces composed of a large number of smaller units which could be placed in multiple ways on the larger 'canvas'. I would get to choose the original layout and might also alter it at will. But I would like to see what happens if viewers could also modify it in real time - if they could reach out and make it what they need it to be. 

I don't think it is a coincidence that these ideas have come to me at the same time as my cancer diagnosis. As I think about this project I think about community. I am such a geek that I write a mission statement for myself for every project I undertake and I always incorporate 'creating community' as one of my goals. I never thought of myself as a member of the communities I create or sustain but recently those communities have rallied to support me. Suddenly my viewpoint has changed and I have realized that I am a part of what I have created. 

Over the course of my appointments and surgery this week and next I will be working on small units that can become part of the first 'community' piece. My FAB friends have also contributed some units. When I have a sufficient collection I will lay them out and see what can be constructed from the hands and imagination of many people. I bet it will be wonderful. And it will be even better when others get a chance to arrange it in ways that appeal to them.

Monday, June 16, 2014

I told you so

I had a serious art quilt related post queued up to publish today but I couldn't resist something a little more light-hearted.

What's wrong with this picture? The answer is in the title of the video. Tock belongs to a trainer. I teach other people how to avoid behaviours like this or manage them when they occur. 

What did I do when Tock discovered the doorstop and started to bark at it? I laughed and grabbed my iPad and hoped he would continue long enough for me to capture it in a video. Did I interrupt the behaviour? Nope. Did I reinforce him when he broke off? Nope. This blog post is therefore an official 'I told you so' reminder for myself the next time I complain about Tock barking or playing with something he shouldn't.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Change is good

Yesterday was my last indoor cycling class until September. For the last two weeks I have been doing student requests but I always knew that I would finish up with a profile of my choice.  I chose to use my profile “What’s Stopping You?". I developed it for use in January to address common obstacles to change, with the idea that it might be helpful for those who had made New Year resolutions. I altered the cueing slightly to reflect how we might respond to change which is forced on us, rather than chosen. 

The end of the warm-up is marked by Rick Danko's song 'Change is Good' and I quote from it again at the end (over the Victory March from Verdi's Aida). The song has become one of my favorites since I stumbled on it in the iTunes store. I am moved by it under ordinary circumstances. Yesterday was anything but ordinary. The room was full and the love and support for me was palpable. It was an emotional experience for all of us.

Here are the lyrics:

Change is then, change is now
Change is what, change is how
Change is this and change is that
Change is where change is at
Change is good

Change is yes, change is no
Change is everywhere you go
Change is right, change is wrong
Change is here, change is gone
Change is good

You can change your life
Find a new way to go
You can change your world
You don't even know
Life's a long road
Lighten up your load
Change is good

You can run but you can't hide
From the things you feel inside
You can laugh or you can cry
Kiss all your tears goodbye
All you got to do
Is try and try you should
Change is good

Change is high, change is low
Changes come and changes go
Change is this and change is that
Change is where change is at
Change is good

You can pine your life away
Let others pass you by
You can climb a mountain high
Like an eagle in the sky
All you got to do
Is try and try you should
Change is good

Change is never done
Something better has begun
A change is gonna come

Change is good

This link is to a static video where you can hear the song performed.