Thursday, July 31, 2014

Grace under pressure

So You Think You Can Dance is a television show which purports to select "America's favorite dancer". Amateur and some specialized professionals (hip hop, ballet) dancers in many genres go through an audition process and a small group is invited to a week long selection camp. Twenty dancers are then chosen for the televised competition. Each week the dancers are paired with one fellow competitor and matched with a dance style and choreographer. After a few hours with the choreographer and a couple of days of rehearsal they must perform in front of a live audience and judges. The dance styles include everything from contemporary to hip hop and ballroom and unusual genres such as Bollywood and African jazz are also represented. Competitors are almost always required to dance outside of their own genre. Each week at least one male and one female dancer are sent home, based on judging by the public. In the end, the individuals with wide skill sets, the ability to learn quickly, a strong work ethic and the capacity to perform under pressure rise to the top. 

This week was an important one in the scheme of the program. The field was reduced to ten competitors from fourteen. The top ten go on tour and from hereon in are matched with "all stars" from last seasons with whom they perform until they are eliminated. At the outset of the show last night, six dancers (three women and three men) were put in jeopardy based on having the lowest vote totals after the show last week. After receiving that news they were then asked to dance their competitive routines.

One couple, Casey and Jessica, have been perceived to be front-runners ever since the auditions. It was a surprise to see them in the bottom six although Jessica has received some fair criticism for her facial expressions and inability to connect emotionally. Last night they were given a contemporary routine by choreographer Travis Wall, who is himself an alumnus of the show. He has turned into an amazing choreographer who has won Emmy awards and has his own dance company. In the context of SYTYCD, dancers who draw the 'Travis card' are guaranteed a spectacular routine but that places more pressure on them to live up to his work and reputation. Imagine the stress Jessica and Casey must have felt as they took the stage knowing that their time on the show was likely dependent on this single performance.

Here is what happened.

Spoiler alert: I will reveal at the end of this post whether this remarkable display of grace under pressure was sufficient to save Jessica and Casey from elimination.

For a taste of more of the wonderfulness that is SYTYCD here are a few more videos. As you watch them remember that there are tap, ballet, contemporary, jazz and hip hop dancers in the mix. They will be penalized if they are unable to perform in the style they are given and match the movements of the others in the group numbers.

This performance is from the first show of the season which served as a showcase for the top twenty dancers. The competitors were paired with others in their own discipline. Here Jessica danced with Ricky, the strongest dancer this season. The choreographer was Sonya Tayeh.

For the last two weeks the producers have let us enjoy group numbers by the women and men. From last week, here is Travis Wall's group number. 

And here are the top seven girls from last night in a number choreographed by Mandy Moore.

And the men, back with Travis Wall.

Spoiler alert:

Jessica and Casey preserved their spot on the show, at least for one more week. Four other dancers were sent home.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Failure or success?

I ride a bike but I try hard not to be a cyclist. That's because, where I live at least, cyclists have a look and an attitude that can be very off-putting to adults who just want to get back on their bike. And it is those people who I am interested in helping. Even though there is a lot of emphasis placed on getting young people outside and active, realistically our community is too diffuse and the roads too bad for them to embrace cycling at this point in their lives. If we want to increase awareness of active transportation alternatives we need to reach opinion makers. If we want to create new habits and interests that will last a lifetime we need to engage adults who are reasonably financially secure and are looking to add a new facet to their lives.

I know from experience that many of that target group reject cycling because they feel it requires a certain look and type of equipment. My goal has been to show them that you don't need elaborate and expensive gear to get back on their bikes. I help them with an initial bike purchase based on their three to five year goals, then help them become comfortable with longer and longer times in the saddle while riding on the trail and finally  use the same incremental approach to explore the roads of the province. I am pleased that many of those I have coached now incorporate biking into their lives in important ways.

I don't think I would be as effective in delivering my message if I rode a fancy bike or wore funky looking matching clothes (known as kit in cycling lingo). For that reason, until last year, I just used a bike known as a road hybrid, equipped with a bike rack and fenders. The bike is clearly utilitarian and has little in common with the racy machines we associate with cyclists. I do use clipless pedals but favour a style used by mountain bikers. My shoes look like hiking shoes and I can walk normally in them because the cleats are recessed. Although I wear bike shorts and jerseys the shorts are always black and the shirts don't have text all over them.

Then last year I bought a new bike. It is a wonderful carbon frame road bike with electronic shifters (For those who care it is a 2013 Specialized Roubaix Expert DL Ui2.) I love the feel of the bike on the road - it feels like an extension of my body and when I am not coaching I can make it fly. Even though I acquired a fancy 'cyclist' bike I was still using the same type of shoes and clothing. But the shoes I wore with that bike were never comfortable. This week, in a vote of optimism for the future and to prepare for fun in August, I bought a pair of really nice road shoes. They are much stiffer and lighter than my others. And they required that I upgrade to a new type of pedal and cleat. The cleats make me look like all those other cyclists - there are big lumps under the front of my foot so I have to gingerly walk like an inebriated duck.

I have made some sacrifices in choosing the new shoes and cleat system. I won't be able to walk as comfortably should I be in an accident and have to walk home. I can no longer claim to be 'just a biker' and will have to think carefully about which bike and apparel I wear when I coach to ensure that I convey the right message. But those sacrifices are worth it! I love my new shoes, I love my increased ability to generate power on my bike and I love that I let my personal preferences override what might be best for the group, at least this once and on a reasonably meaningless point. Don't worry - I'm not getting soft. That's about as big a step as I can take. I promise that you will never see me in matching kit!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Planning ahead

I am facing a two week hospitalization followed by twelve weeks or so of recuperation at home. As soon as I get out of the ICU I anticipate that I will pick up my iPad and connect with the world, do some work and watch movies. But I know there will be a limit to how much I can rely on the iPad to entertain me. On top of that I will start to get disgusted at how unproductive much of the time spent with technology can be.

So I am planning some knitting projects. I already know that I want to knit a lace scarf for one of my surgeons and socks for the other but both types of knitting require a lot of concentration. They are not well-suited to how I expect to feel for the first eight weeks. 

For the last few months I have had the urge to knit a blanket. I think it started with this.

Now that I look at the details of that blanket it doesn't hold the appeal it did when I first saw it. The modular idea is a good one, however. It will let me work at a manageable scale and I'll get a bit of reinforcement every time I finish a block. I started looking for alternatives that could be made in a modular fashion. 

I think I have settled on my choice. I will make a log cabin block and then frame it. The blocks will be made of Noro Kureyon and the frame of Berroco Vintage. I have some Noro at home but it is not sufficient for an entire blanket so I went shopping for something complimentary.

Here are my choices of approaches to a log cabin blanket. Both projects are made by user sprucetree18 on Ravelry and use Sarah Bradberry's formula for a log cabin block. I like the second one best. It is the same concept as the first but the frame colour also appears at the centre of each square.

Here are my color choices for the first experimental blanket which may be more lap robe sized.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A gift to myself

I bought a piece of jewelry.

I could make it myself but that's not the point. I saw it and read the designer's accompanying story on a day when it mattered. At the time I didn't know that Lynda Constantine lives just a couple of miles from my house. She and I are now talking about the possibility that we could help die cut the components for one of her lines.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Just For Fun tour

I am determined to enjoy the weeks before my big and scary surgery. After having to cancel the Cabot Trail trip and the associated training rides I decided to make the next few weeks all about me and summer in Nova Scotia. I will choose cycling routes that are magic because of the scenery or the food or both. It's remarkably difficult for me to completely take off my coaching hat so I am hoping that these rides will attract people who were intimidated by the goal of riding the Cabot Trail.

Here's the email I sent out on Thursday afternoon.

AWOLNATION has wrapped their 'Never Let Fear Decide Your Fate Tour' and the Rolling Stones just finished their '50 and Counting Tour'. I think it is time for the 'Just For Fun' tour here in Nova Scotia. Since I am booking the events I am focusing on what will entertain me, regardless of distance or challenge. One of the things I have always wanted to do is take the ferry across the LaHave river. And two of my favourite rides last year included a stop at the LaHave Bakery. So I designed a route that incorporates both for the first stop of the Tour.
We will start in Bridgewater and ride along the eastern bank of the LaHave until we get to the ferry. We will cross, stop at the bakery and then ride back along the western shore of the river. The route is only 37 km long and very flat for the first half with some rollers in the second half. We should do it fairly speedily and even with time added for a meal be home for an afternoon of beaching or sailing or golfing. 
We will park and meet at the Bridgewater Home Hardware store. This link includes a map. Be ready for departure at 9:00 am. You don't have to let me know if you are coming but you will be left behind if you arrive late.

There aren't too many rules associated with this ride. As a courtesy to everyone please ensure that your bike is in good working order and that your tires are inflated. I really think you should wear high visibility clothing but please come even if you don't have anything suitable. Several of us have vests we can lend out. In any event, we can sandwich you between more visible people. This route is a great opportunity for those of you who are unsure about riding on the road. We will be moving at a relaxed pace and you will benefit from the protection and wisdom of the more experienced cyclists.

What a day we had! It started with surprise after surprise as cars pulled into the parking lot. There were people who had never come on a group ride, strong riders who I thought would skip such a short and easy trip and a whole family - husband, wife and two kids (five and two years old.) In all there were 17 adults and two children. It was a beautiful morning, sunny but not too warm with a breeze that turned into a bit of a headwind at around 10 km. We all arrived just in time for the ferry across the river. The kids were pretty thrilled by the short trip.

The bakery is right where the ferry docks on the other side of the river and it wasn't too busy - until we got there. It took a long time to prepare the various breakfast wraps and to pour coffee and dole out muffins but no one was in a hurry. We all sat outside in the sun to wait and eat. New acquaintances were made, others caught up with people they hadn't seen in a while and notes were exchanged with another group of cyclists who had stopped for a coffee break. 

The ride back to the cars went quickly and the group subdivided into skills/strength groups so no one felt held back or pushed. Back at the cars no one seemed to want to leave. There were many more long conversations and lots of smiles. I couldn't have asked for a better start to my Just For Fun tour. I'm not sure whether the big turnout was because of the easy route, the ferry ride, the bakery or a desire to support me. It was probably a bit of 'all of the above'. The 'why' doesn't really matter. What makes me happy is that people got some exercise, enjoyed the companionship of others, ate some great food and had fun.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A poem for me

I don't particularly want to be labeled as a pollyanna but cancer has brought interesting new experiences and some firsts. One of those is this: Alan Brooks wrote a poem for me. With his permission I have copied the poem below. Here are some links to material which might help you enjoy it. You can choose to look at those links before reading the poem, after reading it or not at all. This is the original poem, titled Adlestrop, which is referenced in the title and text, here it is read by Richard Burton and here is some information on its author, Edward Thomas.

Adlestrop Revisited
            for Christine Nielsen

I too remember Adlestrop, that name
murmuring of Edwardian summer
heat, blue sky and small, still clouds,
the new-cut fields, the train’s unexpected
pause, the open windows and the song
of birds charming the poet’s ear
to the very edges of the twinned bucolic shires:
the fulgent calm before the onslaught
of the August guns.

Was this the unassuming place
to which his mind turned from the trenches,
the muck and stench – this single minute
his refuge of remembered music
in the midst of carnage – his mild paradise?
Was he there again, abstracted,
as he stood to light his pipe
when the concussive shell
sent him straight to heaven or to hell?

I too saw Adlestrop, only the name,
as my own train from London rattled by
one afternoon. It was the late ‘70s;
the sign a held glimpse in a long row of green.
I don’t remember hayfields. Was it late June?
Summer surely, but, windows closed,
heat if there was heat kept itself outside.
Still, "Adlestrop," and I could feel myself
turned back some sixty years and more
to linger in that simple perfect place.

Poetry came to him along with war.
Three years at most of each,
one hundred forty verses more or less,
and yet those so un-modern lines,
their speaking of a world already obsolete,
echoed long after the guns fell silent.
"He was the father of us all," said Hughes.
Through the second and more wars since,
and all the troubled peace,
a century on, here in this old New World,
the birds still sing and hold me
in a place both now and in-between.

In the season of biting flies,
in the season of morning fogs
burned off by afternoon to blowtorch winds,
in the time of thunderstorms,
of mosquitoes mobbing the screens at dusk,
there are those days now and again
when the mist lifts and the breeze comes fresh and clean
for a midday hour or two.
I think of you then.
I think of you too in the days of humid heat
you love so well, and seek, and in the long evenings
shortening already, though one can
hardly as yet tell.

The sky is too big here, with always
something going on. I wish,
but so far no fair-weather cloudlets,
lonely and still as haycocks. Smears, streaks,
broad strokes, washed blues and roiling masses.
I think of you day by day, even when alone
surrounded by friends and love.
We are so far from Adlestrop.
Yet here they are, at last –
soft as downland sheep watched
by the slow-moving sun.
It feels a kind of coming home.

Beeching’s axe fell hard and sharp on Adlestrop,
severing the goods trains from the platforms first.
Another swing and down the station went,
one hundred years and more smashed up
and hauled away as bricks and dust.
That was 1966. I turned up one year later
on the liner Maasdam, Montreal to Southampton:
the anchor dropping in a hard blow, the ship listing
half the night, the morning harbor all
whitecapped blue. Disembarking
to the storybook sight of bobbies, red call boxes,
and those little trains like a model railroad
or something out of Disneyland.
I took one up to London, then to Birmingham:
not the Cotswold line. That would have to wait.

Britain chose the lorry, car and motorway:
Adlestrop became another hamlet without purpose
except now as a bit of picturesqueness
(heritage rating 3 of 5) and place of pilgrimage
by those who love the poem. The station
sign, I’m told, was placed outside the bus
shelter and a station bench is also there,
enclosed, bearing the poem as a plaque.
If I could visit, I would pass it by.
But I could swear the sign, some sign,
was there along the track that later year.

And what if it wasn’t really there?
If all I saw athwart the rocking car
was anonymous bland greenery
from Oxford all the way to Gloucester?
The sign some ectoplasmic emanation
of the writer’s mind made visible
and carried by a lyric held by heart?
Would it matter? I go there at my will.
It is a place of peace. I go there still.

In the season of the hermit thrush,
fluting awake the dawn, and of the midday ovenbird,
I think of you.
In the season of full flowering,
of the second mowing,
of high summer before the turn,
of the deep in-breath before
whatever is to come.

Where is your respite now, in these heavy days,
your heart’s ease and clear-headed calm?
Your place of blue skies and
fair-weather cumulus? You’ve told us.
Somewhere warm along the old canal,
upstate New York. Medina,
Chittenango, maybe Clyde.

I see you cycling steadily, unhurried,
aware of all around: the still water,
grit under tires, pasture smell,
a duck splashing down ahead.
Do you hear a meadowlark?

I see you among the small towns
and villages of that route, riding
where you will, taking in
the history, taking photos in memory,
knowing that at the end
you’ll find a gallery or museum,
or lunch at a cafe, sitting under
some old shade tree, a glass of Malbec,
sun dappling the grass,
alone in the bright moment,
uncaring, Adlestrop at last.
 Alan Brooks 

It is obvious that Alan did research that helped him understand more about the original poem, its author and the history of the place he references. His poem would not be the same without the information he collected.

Did you check out the links I provided above? What do you think about adding context to your experience of a work of art?  I, for one, appreciate background information which may help me extend my appreciation of a piece. In eighth grade I took an experimental course called 'Interrelated Arts'. The three instructors worked hard to place visual, written and musical pieces into their historical context and show their relationship to one another. I have very strong memories of discussions about the rococo period and about Picasso's Guernica and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.

I think that course did a great deal to shape how I approach the activity of attending to works of art. I wonder if it also formed my own attitude to making art. I find it next to impossible to make something unless I can see/feel the way it fits into a greater whole.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Finished: #2 - February Fitted Pullover

Ta da da!

The second sweater is finished. It's not particularly attractive which may be why it languished in a bag for a few years. But it is done and I will get some use from it.

I am knitting the collar for #3 and then need to sew up the side seams. #4 will be a piece of cake. #5 has been selected.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A bit of galloping

Yesterday I did a presentation to the leaders-in-training at Camp Westwood, a day camp based at the St. Margaret's Centre. I have worked with the kids at the camp for several years. My topic is always the same - how to create behaviour change using positive reinforcement. On the first occasion I got to see them several times for a couple of hours each time. One of the highlights from that year came in the last hour. I had challenged the campers to think of a real life situation where they had seen someone attempt behaviour change or perhaps when someone had tried to change their own behaviour. I asked them to develop a little "play" in which they would act out what had happened and then to redo the 'script' based on what they had learned from me. 

My favorite group of three dramatized grocery shopping with mom, dad and a child in a shopping cart. The child was screaming for things off the shelves and the mother and father had a difference of opinion about what to do. The results were wonderful - the actors captured every nuance of the parent-parent and parent-child interactions. And their "do over" was perfect. It showed me that they understood the effects of punishment, the nature of positive reinforcement, the selection of useful reinforcers and the importance of chaining behaviour in increments.

The last few years I have only had an hour with the kids. I chat about ways to alter behaviour and then I do a demo using a clicker and candy to show how a brand new behaviour can evolve quickly with little to no stress for anyone. Following a debriefing on the demo I hand out clickers and bags of candy and have the kids work in pairs to train one another. There is inevitably a lot of noise and milling about but, on average, about half the kids seem to 'get it'. Following the 'action' session I call the kids back together to talk about what I observed and ask them about their experiences. Then I wrap up, hitting the three points I have been making for the last hour. There's usually an awkward moment or two near the end but the silence is quickly broken by the kids who want my attention just for the sake of having it. 

Yesterday that period brought a new highlight for me.

A girl raised her hand and when I called on her she said "My mom is a speaker."

At this point I was thinking "What does that have to do with anything?"

She went on to say "I know that some people don't like to share their tips but can I share this with my mother so other people can learn about it?"

My response to her was " Of course, our world will be a better place if more people understood what we have been discussing." And then I floated home knowing that that bit of galloping was worthwhile.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Finished: #1 - Charvet Pullover

Ta da!!! It's done. This isn't a beauty shot. It is too hot here for a selfie. You will have to take my word for it that this is a wonderful sweater that fits really well. The waist shaping is perfect. Lesson learned - I missed out on four years of this by letting it languish in the unfinished pile.

#2 will be complete tomorrow. #3 has been selected.

Finishing feels great. Does anyone want to join the finishing fest? Send me a photo of your before and after and I'll post them and celebrate with you. Knitting, quilting, housework - what have you been putting off?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tomorrow will be different

It will be a difficult day so I took a walk to look at the day lilies. These flowers won't be there tomorrow but there will be others in their place.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Lessons from the TV

Many people are surprised to learn how much time and attention I devote to watching televised bike racing and reality shows. At this time of year it can add up to about 25 hours a week, between the Tour de France, So You Think You Can Dance and Amazing Race Canada. I am always multi-tasking (knitting, grooming dogs) but that doesn't really mitigate the investment of time, at least from the point of view of my friends and family. My response is that I am better entertained and learn more from the real drama that unfolds on the screen then I ever would from the manufactured dross of shows like a Game of Thrones. I see people at their best and their worst, I see them develop coping skills, I see the effect of community and I see excellent coaches at work. All of that is learning which I can both pass along and use in my own life.

The Tour de France has been particularly eventful this year, filled with unique challenges, crashes and the withdrawal of several of the favourites. But one event stood out - the determination of Garmin-Sharp rider Andrew Talansky to complete stage 11. His struggle did not go unnoticed - the TV coverage was actually extended to show him cross the finish line and the crowds stayed to cheer him on. You can see snippets of video here (footage from the road), here (post-race interview) and here (analysis) and read about it here and here (interview with Talansky).

The opportunity to watch Talansky and his coaches was both inspiring and instructive. It was even more helpful to get their perspectives after the event. When I construct a training plan for people who are going to ride the Cabot Trail - a multi-day trip with some exceptionally difficult climbs - I try to build in moments of despair which lengthen to minutes and then hours. That sounds cruel but how else will both my riders and I know that they have the tools to deal with what they will experience on the trip? They need to be able to tap into the experience of prevailing over doubt and weakness. As Frankie Andreu says in the third video clip, they have to have pushed the negative thoughts away and installed some useful ones. The depth of their pain, exhaustion and anguish will never compare with Andrew Talansky's - or will it? It is never far from my mind that lessons learned on the bike will have applications to every aspect of their lives.

Now watch this video of dog owner/trainer Kris Osojnicki and her dog Tori. Keep track of what you are thinking and feeling throughout the six minutes of the video. (For context, the dog in the video comes from the breeder of my last Bernese Mountain Dog and I was once very involved in canine performance activities.)

I was tickled when a friend sent me a copy of a post that linked Andrew Talansky's decision to continue with Kris and Tori's persistence and eventual achievement. The author, Ruth Nielsen (no relation), could see and explain the parallels between the two events and draw out a valuable message. Her time watching the Tour de France paid off if she was able to alter just one person's definition of success. Here is what she wrote, reproduced with her permission.
One of the things that came to my mind as I watched the video of Kris and Tori’s journey to MACH 3 is how easy it can be to negatively "judge" other competitors or trainers when we see a team struggling for success. Comments – even in jest – suggesting that someone’s dog is "blowing them off" – or questioning why someone is bothering to compete with (or train) a dog that is having problems are often heard, and those comments can be hurtful and discouraging. Watching Tori turn from a tentative and reluctant competitor to a teammate at the top of her sport is pretty compelling evidence that a dog who appears to be struggling can ultimately become a super star. I’ve judged teams in draft that had what I would call a train wreck of a performance come back and be picture perfect – and I’m always thrilled when I see that happen.

Everyone deserves support in their journey – and I believe that support can be a factor in the progress the team ultimately makes. It’s a lot easier to give up when things aren’t going well than it is to keep trying and maintain your goals and positive attitude and take the long view towards success.

I watched an internationally televised example of perseverance in the face of struggle and challenge today when I was watching the Tour de France coverage. (I admit I’m a fan of this event!) Andrew Talansky, one of the American bike riders who finished in the top ten of the Tour last year came to this year’s race with hope of getting a top five finish – something well within his capabilities. But a series of disastrous falls took their toll on him and after being in the top ten in the early days of the race, he lost a significant amount of time and was well out of the running for a top spot. On today’s stage of the race he was obviously riding in a lot of pain, and at one point pulled over on the side of the road and stopped. He had a long conversation with his coach that lasted about 4 minutes. This is pretty significant in a race where time is everything, and everyone assumed that this meant he would be quitting the race. The two top favorites already had to drop out of the race with serious injuries, so it would not be a surprise if he quit. But what was a surprise was that Andrew got back on his bike and started riding again – completely alone and well behind everyone else in the race. This is huge in a big bike race because the riders all prefer to have the support of other riders around them who will make the ride easier as they take turns drafting off each other. Riding alone is much more difficult, and riding alone when you are way behind everyone else has got to be psychologically devastating, especially when you had goals of being one of the top contenders. There is a time limit each day based on how far you are behind the winner – and if you don’t make it to the finish line within the time cutoff, then you are dropped from the race. This meant that Andrew had to race against the clock since having chosen to keep riding, he would be dropped from the race if he didn’t cross the finish line in time. There is a big difference between quitting and "being dropped" – and no one wants to leave the race because they couldn’t make the time cutoff. The tv cameras that normally just cover the winners crossing the finish line chose to film this solo journey in last place as Andrew rode alone against the clock, struggling just to finish so he could say that he made the time cutoff. The announcers speculated about whether he would make it, and you could see he was reaching deep in spite of obvious pain just to make the time. Even though the winners had crossed the finish line half an hour before he got there, the spectators stayed to cheer Andrew across the finish as he managed to make the time cutoff. Instead of treating this as the unimportant event of the last person across the finish line, the media and the spectators applauded a competitor’s choice to keep trying, even though his goals had changed and "success" on this day meant something vastly different than it did when he started the race.

I tell the story of Andrew Talansky because it’s another example to me of the journey that is illustrated by the video of Kris and Tori. We don’t always know the struggles that are behind someone’s success, and by the same token, when we see someone struggling, we have no idea how successful they can become if they keep trying. Talansky’s teammates talked about the long term goal of having Talansky win the Tour de France – but that isn’t this year, it’s in the next 3 – 5 years. Not giving up today was part of that journey. Watching some of Tori’s early runs was not an indication that this dog would have three MACH’s (and likely more) in her future. We can all applaud the journey and support those who are trying – no matter what their struggle may look like. The guy who was in last place today may be standing on the podium in Paris in a few years. And all those runs where Kris and Tori didn’t Q were just part of the journey to MACH 3 and beyond.

I applaud Kris and Tori not just for their ultimate success, but for the courage to keep on trying. Some days the goal is just to finish. I’m going to keep that journey in mind when I see someone who is not successful now – and remember that their success may be down the road for them. I’ll be cheering for all of you on your journey – whatever it may be. "Success" is what you define it by where you are in your journey with your dog - and I wish everyone the greatest success!
That's just one of the many ways in which what we see unfold in the crucible which is bike racing or dancing for your life or travelling with a loved one can inform and educate our 'real' lives. For that reason I will keep watching TV and telling the stories and attempting to articulate what I have learned. You'll know where to find me every May for the Giro, July for the Tour de France and September for the Vuelta. Please keep your eye rolling to yourself.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

HDMGG - July 20

We have had two weeks of warm weather with occasional rain. Things look good although fruit set on the tomatoes seems slow.  Maybe I am just more impatient these days. 

I missed pruning a couple of suckers on one of the cherry tomatoes and they are taking off across the deck. I should cut them off but am reluctant to do so. What is the source of my sudden affinity for a couple of stems of plant material?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

What to do with a bad plan

I completed the front and back of the Charvet sweater in the new yarns. I like it better than the first iteration. So far, so good. Then I started on the sleeve. I thought I had figured out how to make it longer - from 3/4 to full length. I knit and knit and even when it was clear that I had a Frankensleeve on my hands I just kept knitting. When I got to the end I could see that no amount of squinting, pushing, shoving or blocking would make it right.

What to do? I did what I tell my students to do: make a plan but when it is no longer working for you be quick to abandon the plan!! This plan - to lengthen the sleeves - was clearly a bad one. It stalled the first try at the sweater four years ago, consumed valuable time this time around and, worst of all, it sucked all of the fun out of the process of completing this sweater. So I ripped, I tinked, I frogged all the way back to the point where I could rejoin the original pattern. I will have two short-ish sleeves by the end of the weekend and a completed sweater not long after that. The sweater will be something to wear around the house because I don't like shorter sleeves inside winter coats. But that's OK. Each time I wear it I will be able to celebrate leaving a bad idea behind and finishing what I started.

My next completion project will have much less drama - I just need to finish a simple neckline and sew up some sleeve seams to have a sweater. It, too, may not be my favorite garment but it will be done and my plan to work on unfinished business will look like a good one.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Slowing down

In the last month I have had two surgeries - the last just nine days ago - and I anticipate a huge and complicated procedure within the next few weeks. I am determined to stay as active and healthy as I can between these significant events. I find myself caught between the need to hurry up and accomplish things because I might run out of time to do them and the sense that I should slow down and enjoy every moment.

On Wednesday, just a week after my last procedure, I went for a bike ride. I recruited a friend to accompany me to ensure that I didn't overdo. Today I rode again but this time I was alone. My mantra was 'slow down'. I reviewed all of the truly good physiological reasons to avoid pushing as hard as I could but I knew that wouldn't be enough. So I resolved to stop occasionally and take photos. The shots are only remarkable as evidence that I prevailed in my determination to do what was best for me. I think I found a happy medium - I rode farther in the same amount of time than I did on Wednesday but I also stopped for photos and even sat on a bench overlooking the sea for a while.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Wasted moments

Do you ever find yourself doing nothing and thinking "I should be doing something."? At those times I often pick up my knitting. I like the fact that simple materials and movements can result in complex products. I have recently come across some artists who use other mundane materials and techniques to create amazing work.

Robin Wight sculpts fairies from stainless steel wire. His subject matter doesn't appeal to me but I am fascinated by what he manages to convey with bent wire.

Diana Herrera sculpts lifelike birds from paper.

Still with paper, Rogan Brown makes many cuts to reproduce natural forms.

Back to fibre, Nastasja Duthois uses straight lines of thread to create wonderfully complex images.

These days I am even more aware than ever how little time we all really have. Perhaps it is time to find a way to make even more of the wasted moments in my days.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Spots and patterns

Trolling the internet at night reveals images which link to things I have seen elsewhere and a pattern continues to emerge.

First I stumbled on the work of Joyce Robins. These pieces are clay with color applied through glaze and paint.

Five Circles, Joyce Robins

Red Blue Open Circle, Joyce Robins

Striped Rectangle, Joyce Robins

That reminded me of another artist whose work has entranced me since I first saw examples in the book 500 Tiles, published by Lark. Andrew Van Assche does not seem to have a website so sourcing images was difficult.

Rotation, Andrew Van Assche

Barbara Schneider's Tree Ring Patterns series is linked to the first two artists, at least in my mind - both by repetition of a basic shape and by a neutral palette. You will have to click on the link to see the work. While you are on her site, check out the Leaves series as well.

Finally, we come full circle. I came across the Joyce Robins reference on Betty Busby's Facebook page because I need to talk to Betty about our upcoming regional SAQA show. When I looked at Betty's website I discovered that she started as a ceramacist. There are lots of goodies on her page - she is prolific - but I am most attracted to her Macro pieces (in the Fiber gallery) and this recent vessel is one of my favorites of hers.

Ginger Jar, Betty Busby

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A perfect gift

Today I wrote a short "thinking of you" note to a friend who has had some surprising health issues in the last couple of months. She wrote back almost immediately - to tell me that at that moment she was in a green hospital gown and waiting for a CT scan. I know that she hasn't shared her concerns with many people and I was pleased that my email reached her at a time when she needed to know that she is not alone.

I must be getting old because my immediate reaction was wonderment at how far technology has brought us. My second reaction was gratitude. In the last six weeks I have spent lots of time in the ER and clinic waiting rooms and have even been admitted overnight to the hospital. Through it all I have been able to stay in touch with friends and family, surf the internet, read books and play games using the free wi-fi service at the hospital. The ability to stay connected and to reproduce my out-of-hospital life has made a big difference to me during my short visits. I can only imagine how important it must be to people who are forced to remain in hospital for much longer periods.

The installation of the wi-fi service at the hospitals was paid for by a grant from two families. They wanted to support something which would be a benefit to many patients and their families. Based on my recent experience their innovative gift has met that goal. Thank you, Gauthier and David families.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Small actions

I am so glad that I picked up my knitting again after ignoring it for a few months. I'm not sure whyI put it down but I now realize that I missed it. I am making fantastic progress on redoing the Charvet pullover - the back is done and I am halfway through the front. I love the idea that a long dormant project will be complete within the week.

But what I love more is the simple act of knitting. The 'engineering' is remarkable and the repetitive movement is soothing. But beyond that, it has always seemed to me that knitting (and perhaps lacemaking as well) is a statement of confidence. It takes so many actions, each built on the last, to create the final product. And throughout the process there is no way to visualize the final product until all of the tiny steps have been completed. All you have is the belief that the accumulation of many actions will create something satisfactory and possibly wondrous.

I agree with what Stephanie Pearl-MacPhee, the Yarn Harlot, wrote on this subject. She was contemplating the enormous generosity of knitters with respect to her participation in a fund-raising bike ride for the People With Aids organization in Toronto.

"I just don’t know what to say, or what to do, or how to ever thank you, or how to tell you that someone who is one of the crappiest riders going to Montreal is now the top fundraiser for the whole rally… or how to tell you about the look on people's faces when I explain that it’s knitters. It’s just how knitters are… and how much what you’re doing is changing the idea of who cares about this, and how crazy wonderful knitters are, and how I think it’s because you’re knitters that you do this.
I’ve been telling people for years that knitting changes your brain. Changes the way you think and teaches important lessons, and that one of them is the idea of cumulative action. Cumulative action is the idea that small actions aren’t unimportant if they are combined with other small actions. It’s a lesson that not everyone learns. Some people go their whole lives thinking that unless you can do something big, there’s no point in doing anything at all… and they have trouble seeing how one small action in their life could ripple and matter. They can’t see the possibility, and so they don’t do what they could. The problems seem too large for a small action to change anything.
Here’s the thing though, there are no knitters like that. None. Knitting teaches you that one small action does matter. That one small action, like knitting a stitch, isn’t unimportant. It’s vital. One small action repeated many times is a sweater. Or a shawl. Or a pair of socks to hold the feet of someone you love, and that idea? The concept of cumulative action? It makes knitters the most remarkable fundraisers of all. Other groups, they have to rely on the part of their community that understands that… knitters? Our whole group gets it. Our whole group sees that one small thing – put together with many other things can create something enormous, and wonderful, and magical.
Why are knitters like this? Because they knit, and they have learned everything they need to know about little things mattering."    Stephanie Pearl-MacPhee (July 26, 2012)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Soundtrack for summer

It was a beautiful summer Sunday. Here's a portion of the soundtrack that ran through my head today. No iPod required. I use these artists fairly frequently in my indoor cycling classes.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Advice for climbers

Recipe report: We tried grilled romaine for dinner. We left it for two minutes on its cut face and then sprinkled on grated Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar. It was a great way to deal with the enormous heads of lettuce we get from the CSA.

I wanted a spread for bread and was thinking about something artichoke-based. George chose Roasted Artichoke Lemon Hummus. It was good. I don't know what the roasting contributed but I liked the effect of the artichokes in the hummus. It lightened it up considerably.

Tomorrow is one of the regular Sunday training rides for the group which will cycle the Cabot Trail in 6 weeks. I can't go along because of my surgery last week. I was feeling guilty this morning about not being able to help people deal with the big challenge I set for them - repeats of two very difficult hills. So I quickly wrote them a note this morning.

I won't be joining you for tomorrow's ride, on my bike or in the car. But I will be thinking of you.

If I was present, here's what I would tell you about the ride I planned. It is all about the hills. And it is all about change. If you want change, you must face stress so that your mind and body can adapt to new demands. If you want to change the way you feel on hills, both physically and mentally, then you must do hills. You must practice and observe and practice some more. That's why you are going to climb, ride to the bottom and climb again.

Here are some brief tips on how to manage your climbing.

Approach with energy. You are defeated before you begin if you let the idea of the climb slow you down before you start. Harvest whatever speed you can on the run-in to the hill and adjust your mindset to success, not failure.

Stay relaxed. As the hill gets steeper under you it is easy to tense up and feel like you need to do even more work to meet the challenges of the hill. You don't and if you try you will fail. I am fond of suggesting that you 'float like a butterfly". If that picture doesn't work for you, develop your own imagery that will encourage you to stay light and relaxed.

Be content with slow. Every body and bike will go up the hills differently. Don't compare yourself to others. Make sure that you gear down so that you don't have a heavy loaded feeling in your legs until it becomes absolutely unavoidable. The fast pedalling (and slow speed) of an easy gear will save your legs - and you will need them for the next hill, and the one after that.

Break it down. Don't look at the top of the hill or even toward the top. Ride from driveway to driveway or telephone pole to telephone pole. Celebrate each achievement and then go on to the next. If it helps (and is safe) look down at the ground near your front tire. The road won't look like it has any slope at all!

Be happy. I wish I could play you some happy bouncing music while you climb. Try to reproduce the energy and outlook you have when you are at a party with good friends and good music. If that doesn't work for your personality, go inward. Celebrate the opportunity to see all the details of the world around you. Notice all the changes in your body. Be aware that this moment will never happen again.

I am not deluded into thinking that those tips will, on their own, get you up the hills you will encounter tomorrow or on the Cabot Trail. More than once you will come to a point where you can no longer pedal. Get off your bike when you need to recover, rest and drink. There is no shame in getting off. And there is no shame in staying off if you decide to walk to the crest of the hill.

Those of us with more cycling experience have all battled the demons which encourage us to stay on the bike no matter what and beat us up when we stop for a rest. We can testify that those demons disappear the first time you make the big decision to dismount. At that point you realize that you have actually won your personal battle by doing what is right for you. If you want to keep the demons at bay, take control. On a long hard hill make a plan in advance to stop at regular intervals, e.g. every third telephone pole. Now you are in control and you can't ask for more than that.

I am having you do repeats of each of the hills tomorrow because you will learn a tremendous amount from your first time up. Your second trip will let you capitalize on that learning. I think you will be surprised at how much your attitude and ability will change once you know a little more about what you are facing.

There is nothing particularly insightful about the advice. And it isn't particular to climbing a hill on a bike. The approach is universal but sometimes we all need a reminder.

Friday, July 11, 2014


It took me a few hours last night to sort out how to lengthen the sleeves on the unfinished sweater. Some time after that I realized that I stopped knitting three years ago because I was out of the blue yarn. That's out of character - I usually go into every project with a couple of extra skeins. But I was excited about the pattern and 'shopping' from my stash so my judgement was clearly impaired.

I decided to unravel everything I had done and start again using the same type of yarn for some of the stripes and something else from my stash for the others. The unwinding was meditative and the fresh start is a statement of optimism. That's not a bad tradeoff for a few hours of time spent on the project.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Unfinished business

Last week I was poking around in the spare room looking for a gift for a friend's new puppy. The toy wasn't there (because, for reasons I can't recall, it was on the top shelf of the coat closet) but I did come across several bags with unfinished knitting projects. I will have a lot of sitting around time in the next little while so I think I will work on some finishing. I won't make a commitment to every one - I reserve the right to rip or throw out any that no longer appeal to me.

Here's the first. It is a pattern that appealed to me as soon as I saw it in Interweave Knits. I wanted it to replace a well loved V-neck pullover in blue silk.

My project notes on Ravelry show that I started this in late 2010. It is a complicated pattern because it is knit on the bias and has waist shaping and shaping for inset sleeves. I motored through the front and back and then got a little stumped on the sleeves because I wanted full length rather than the 3/4 sleeves called for in the pattern. I wrote to the designer to ask her how she suggested I make that change. She wrote back on December 3, 2010. I can't really tell whether I followed her advice so I will probably rip out the few inches of the first sleeve and start again.