Sunday, December 25, 2011

Writing..a lost art?

Last week I was in Starbucks, pausing to have a latte and just relaxing with a friend. I noticed a young man beside me with a computer and a journal and an ink pen. I was delighted..he had the laptop with earphones but also had an ink pen as he wrote in his journal with flowing script.

Who knows what he was writing, poetry, reflections, perhaps his Christmas list, but it did not matter. What matters is that he was writing.

Writing is unfortunately a lost or dying art. Although there are many beautiful journals that are sold in bookstores and stationary stores, I have never seen anyone actually write in them except for this one occasion in Starbucks. What do people do with the journals they purchase? Maybe they write secretly at home, or perhaps they don't write at all, choosing instead to display their lovely leather journals over their fireplace as momentos of the lost art known as writing.

What the Doctor said...

Bubba, my 15 year old dog had been limping and cutting short his walks. He would raise his right hand as if to say "call it a day!". I arranged an appointment with an orthopedic specialist for dogs.

The vet took one look and told Bubba he had great muscle tone, was in top shape and his limping was caused by a slight strain injury that aging athletes have. Bubba was thrilled! He pranced out of the examination room and resumed his walks with renewed vigour, pulling and running and generally showing the world he is indeed in top form.

His new attitude has nothing to do with medication and I am convinced it is a result of what the Doctor all you medical professionals out there...choose your words carefully what you say has a direct impact on patient well being and recovery!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My own cat in the hat

Three years ago, after deciding that my high tech cross country skis afforded me NO control on hills, I bought a pair of back country skis, with metal edges lots of control. Two years ago I upgraded my snowshoes (yes the rawhide type) with racing snowshoes. So I can now run on the snow and ski to my hearts content...but there is no snow.

It is December 15th...the bleak mid winter of Christmas carols..and no snow. It was 9 degrees today! I did not even wear a jacket! A little too cold to bike, not cold enough or snowy enough to ski..and too wet to run. In the book the cat in the hat, the children were faced with this dilemma as all they could do was sit sit sit and they did not like it not one little bit. The cat in the hat came to entertain them.

My cat in the hat is a cycling and fitness training program called Cyclo Club. Like the cat in the hat, Graeme Street, the creator of Cyclo Club, produces workouts that look like fun ....but....

I am following 30 minute high intensity workouts which really challenge me. The objective is to get to your maximum heart rate..push it harder..go back to the max and repeat. At the end of 30 minutes, I am done and ready for a 15 minute recovery session, which is a lot of yoga.

The cat comes back!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The French vs the English..a study part one

I have had the priviledge of having my friend Marie from France stay with us for a few weeks. Her sojourn with us has highlighted what I believe are fundamental differences between the French and the English. They are as follows:

Food: For the English, food is a necessary evil. We hurry our meals and are content to grab a bite at Subways. This is demonstrated when I go cycling with an English group. With few exceptions, they seem to be content with fast food or food of marginal quality and then hurry the meal. Not so for my French cyclists. For them, I swear the meal is as important if not more important than the ride itself. There is no such thing as a hurried meal and food is savoured and enjoyed.

Now the French have developed different food groups and they are as follows:

1) Cheese. No day is complete without a healthy serving of good French cheese...on bread or on a cracker or a baguette...a Frenchman would rather lose an arm than not have cheese in their pantry. Cheese is an essential food group.

2) Bread. In the same way as cheese, bread is essential. Breakfast is a thick slice or two of bread, lots of butter and cheese.

3) Jam. This was a surprise to me. My friend, whom I will take as typical for my purposes loves jam and butter. While we anglophones may have a little French friend eats it by the jar full. So jam is a third food group.

4) Wine...French of course, but I did introduce Marie to Ripasso wines.

5) Coffee: Good, dark, strong espresso coffee. None of this watery coloured water that some people call 'coffee'. The French refer to this as sock juice!

Within these five food groups...the French can survive and indeed thrive. There is no need for fruits because that is handled by the jam. Vegetables are optional...and wine and coffee round out the rest.


The French don't believe in daily exercise. They are content to read the paper or get involved in an animated discussion. For the French, discussion is an animated activity designed to raise the blood pressure and followed by a glass of wine. I believe that the idea of exercise and working out is very foreign to the French. While the anglophones will purchase treadmills I have yet to see a Frenchman or woman on a treadmill in the gym.


France is a country of soft greens and lovely pastoral vistas. The French however, do not reflect these colours in their dress. They wear black, grey, grey again, more grey and white. I believe that our long winters make us long for colour in Canada and unable to see flowers...we dress as such with yellows, reds and greens. The French are arch conservatives in dressing!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Exercise..a matter of perspective

Today I started a 90 day high intensity training program and this mornings work out was on my bike trainer in the basement. My training room is in the basement workshop. At the moment we have a guest. She is an academic whose view of exercise is that it is a quaint idea but not terribly relevant. If she could, she would be happy to sit and read all day long and study ethics, science and ancient Egypt. When we are having meals I often feel like a barbarian as I am interested in the actual joint of meat and she wishes to discuss the ethics of the joint chiefs of staff!

Today I turned on my video for the workout and hammered away. A high intensity session means that for 40 minutes you are really pushing yourself. As such, I grunt and whine and say things like "I am dying", all the while Graeme Street the creator of the videos is on his bike demonstrating techniques and encouraging his internet audience.

Marie, our friend heard his voice and heard my pleas and jumped out of bed. She had concluded that Graeme was an ambulance attendant and that either I, or Cyril was in trouble..likely dying. She rushed upstairs to find Cyril reading the paper. 10 minutes later I crawled upstairs and she explained to me what her thinking was.

Its all a matter of perspective, because I am used to working out, if I heard such sounds, I would assume that it is a good workout but would never conclude that 911 had been called, or aliens had invaded the premises.

Exercise, a matter of perspective!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Charity Overkill

It seems that there is a charity event for every conceivable cause imaginable. The argument is that there is no public money and so they have events like runs, or golf games and solicit funds over the telephone. They are not small like a local church bazaar or bake sale, many of these events are large and professionally run.

I wonder if some of these are not make work projects for those involved. Take the millions of dollars raised for breast cancer. It cost a considerable amount of money to raise that money. Recently the Weekend to End Women's Cancer, which charged its participants $1500.00 in fundraising (they had to raise that) disclosed to me that it cost them around $500.00 per person. That is outrageous..the event is cancelled for next year.

I am sure this is not atypical of charities. Where they may have started out as well meaning and the money would go to those who needed it, I think that many of them have lost their vision and are simply profit making companies with CEOS etc.

Should we support these businesses? Should they have CEOS who are paid considerable sums of money? Why can we not direct more public funds to assist those where the need is greatest? By diverting charity from the public to the private sector, are we not allowing our government to abdicate its responsibility to the poor and disenfranchised of our country?

The charities that cry the loudest for funds, appear to have plenty of money to spend on advertising, free Christmas cards, pens and stickers.

I believe that charities should return to their more humble roots and realize that they can help many more people if they divest themselves of costly administration, CEO's and cultivate a larger volunteer base. I believe the time is coming when the charities will say "Please sir I want some more" and the collective answer will be no.

Suppertime Snipers!!!

As I glance at the clock, I see it is 5pm. I live in a middle class suburb but....5pm is when the suppertime snipers come out. You all know them. They start a barrage of phone calls. "You helped us once before...can you increase your donation?" " I am calling on behalf of..." "Hi, how are you can I speak to Mr. or Mrs. Benson?" "5 million people a day are dying of starvation" and on and on it goes.

At my home 5pm to 7pm seem to be the prime time for these snipers. It does not seem to matter if they are on a no call list, or if you hang up them. If you have ever had the misfortune to donate to any one of these are doomed to get these annoying phone calls for ever.

The argument goes, if they don't solicit they wont get the funds they need. Do they need the funds? In my opinion there are far too many charities...there is a charity for everything. There are more charity runs and lotteries and golf tournaments in Ottawa than anywhere else. There are so many in fact that at times the routes interfere with each other. It is charity overkill!

As for the suppertime snipers...I just put my phone off the hook and enjoy a peaceful dinner.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Since when is free speech free

Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail believes that there should be no sanctions on free speech and that we should stop trying to legislate or attempt to control it. Let everyone speak their mind!

What is missing in her article, is the notion that when you live in a society, freedom has to be tempered with responsibility. Of course you are free to think irresponsible and hurtful thoughts, but once you live in a society you must consider the effect of your speech on others.

It seems to me many people use the pretext of free speech to hurt other people and push their agenda. When is it 'hate?' When it singles out a group or a person unfairly and targets them. Hence comments like all gays are sinful, all Jews are greedy, all Moslems are terrorists can be seen as hate as they target unfairly a group of people.

If we try to target an individual in this way, our 'free speech' about them usually ends up in a defamation lawsuit and rightly so.

To target groups of individuals and say hurtful and hateful things against them claiming that it is free speech, is not only irresponsible, it is just plain wrong. Free speech is never free! Society has a responsibility to act as a watchdog for those who are vulnerable and targeted unfairly.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Voting at 43%

We just had our provincial election and the voter turnout was about 43 or 44%. This is appalling. If it were a board meeting there would not be a quorum but such a low turnout is enough to elect our provincial government.

When does the process stop? What if 30% turned out, or 10%..would this be considered sufficient?

At what percentage level do we decide that the process as we understand it does not work?

I have heard it said that the 60% exercised their right not to vote. Voting is a right but it is also a privilege. The same people who decided not to vote also enjoy the benefits of living in Ontario. They collect pensions, or UI, use our hospitals, enjoy our parks and drive on our roads. How can you in good conscience enjoy the benefits without participating in the process?

At a time when many countries are struggling with democracy and many countries simply do not allow their citizens to vote, people who do not vote, whether by apathy or ignorance should be ashamed of themselves.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Charity Christmas Cards

I have received some 200 Christmas cards from the various charities that I have supported in the past. Along with the notebooks, the pens and stickers these are all unsolicited and not wanted.

In fact, it is arrogant for a charity, who solicit funds by writing appeals to the heart, to turn around and waste this money by sending Christmas cards, notes and pens that nobody wants or needs.

I will send each of these charities a Christmas card, and my note will read "Since you insist on wasting my money on this card, it is clear that you no longer need my support"

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ottawa Bicycle Club Summer End Century Tour

The Ottawa Bicycle Club is Ottawa's oldest bike club and is over 100 years old. It is a club that truly has something for everyone including time trials, races, tours and many speed groups.

For those of you who may be intimidated by the riding style of the OBC, don't be. Pack riding is disciplined, fun and enables you to cover greater distances and greater speeds. Our stops are shorter and we drink and eat as we ride, all of that makes for more efficient and fun rides. The OBC offers some great overnight tours as well.

One of these tours is the Summers End Century Tour, or SECT. This from Ottawa to Cornwall and back again. The ride starts at Kelseys where your bags are picked up. You start in your speed catagory and off you go, either for 100km or 100 miles. The SECT tour is one of the nicest bike tours ever and here are the reasons:

1) We ride in a peleton. This is usually a double peleton which allows you time to chat and ride at a fast clip;
2) Drafting means that I rode 100 miles in a little over 5 hours;
3) The riders are polite and very friendly;
4) The rest stops are wonderful;
4) The number of participants is not huge. We had 50 riders. You will not be swamped or lost in a crowd. Our riding groups were limited to 12;
5) The little towns that you ride through are beautiful and charming; and,
3) The overnight stop in Cornwall is great

We have an overnight stop at the Navcan centre in Cornwall. This has a wonderful little pub with Karaoke. Celine Dion, the beach boys, Sonny and Cher and possibly Elvis were all present for Karaoke night. Did you know there is a song called Cheeseburger in paradise? Neither did I. Our evening meal was beautifully served and included succulent ribs, mash, corn chowder soup, a plethora of salads, rice, peas and a table full of desserts. Our riders ordered wine with our dinner...nothing says a good 100 miles than ribs and a bottle of MASI wine.

The resort is large, comfortable and beautifully situated on the St. Lawrence seaway.

On the second day we rode back and I chose to ride 135km rather than a full 100 miles. The highlights of the stop back were a wonderful lunch in Russell complete with homemade carrot cake and other delicious salads and cookies, and the beautiful little towns on the way home. The ride ended at Kelseys which is a stones throw from my home. In short, the ideal bike tour.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tweets and Twits

I am fascinated by people's use of Twitter. They tweet everything from "I am having lunch" to some of their deeper psychological states, such as self loathing, or state of sobriety. What interests me is their staunch belief that by sharing such intimate details of their lives on a minute by minute basis with their followers that somehow they will be closer to that community.

It is an illusion of intimacy based on tweets that are typed into a telephone throughout the day. The Tweets are not merely "where are you lets meet for coffee" but expressions of angst and sometimes painful loneliness.

I think some Twitter addicts actually believe that they are maintaining and nurturing friendships in this way and that their endless prattle about what they are doing fosters intimacy. Intimacy cannot be attained by this way. Intimacy involves physical contact, of having a cup of coffee with your friend, of going to a movie with someone..of being physically present. A few clicks on a keypad and a send is a very poor substitute for real communication and presence.

I suspect that people search for intimacy in tweets and post very personal and revealing details about themselves. Do they hope that their audience will respond to them? What if you tweet and no one replies?

Twitter gives one the illusion of having friends, much like 'friends' on facebook. It allows you to share thoughts, feelings and actions with an audience that may or may not care. Real intimacy and real community cannot be maintained or nurtured in this way. To tweet in the hopes of connecting with others is to be a twit.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Riding with Children...the best way to go

I have a good friend who has four children, three girls and a boy with ages from 6-13. This family enjoys biking and have found great bike trails even though they live in suburb of Ottawa with a growth rate that could rival bamboo. You go to bed and in the morning, there is a new shopping center where once there was grass!

Last week I went biking with them. It was delightful. The youngest told me all about the things they see, like ducks and deer. We did see a deer. We stopped and picked wild grapes and I told Joanna that although sour because they stained your hands red they were like blood. We enjoyed our blood berries. The deer that we saw was a handsome buck, lying in a field in the sun. When he saw us he rose and galloped into the nearby woods but not before we saw how glorious he was!

The bike path meandered through sun dappled woods and enabled us to avoid traffic. I learned all about the ipad and the new ipod from Nicole's son David. His older sister, Rachel filled in the details as we spoke about future plans, art and school.

Even Mary who normally is uninspired with matters of bicycle was inspired and I watched as she spun her pedals, weaved and wove and kept up with all of us, her bright robin's egg blue helmet glinting in the sun.

All of Nicole's children were pleased to tell me all about the bike trails and where they stop. Joanna was especially pleased to tell me that the rest stop was the Dairy Queen where there would be ice cream. We ordered the same, a chocolate dipped cone! The others ordered blizzards!

As I rode, I realized that I miss a lot when I ride. I would have missed the buck, probably not noticed the large bunches of wild grapes, have whizzed by the sun playing on the leaves. Cycling with children reminds you that in life it is not about the destination, in this case ice cream, but the real joy is getting there. I enjoyed listening and entering into their world. I learned that my 4 year old ipod is completely and hopelessly outdated. It is the electronic equivalent of a slide rule! I learned about the latest movies, what to avoid (Green Lantern) and what to rent and even purchase (Thor). I learned that 3D movies are not worth the lineups and the hype and I was reminded the kids can go to a waterpark get spun around like a dishrag and spit out of a tube and actually enjoy it.

To any who may be getting bored with the bicycle...ride with will hear and see things that you would otherwise miss!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How to eat a treat!

Having dogs is a great thing and I have learned so much from my dog. In particular my dog has taught me how to eat a treat. When Bubba gets a treat, he takes it to a sunny place, carefully puts it between his paws and savours each bite. He chews thoughtfully and smiles. My other dog Sophie inhales her treats! Sophie does not take the time to enjoy any of her meals.

How many of us are like Sophie? I have seen people at bakeries buy a wonderful treat, a croissant with almonds and chocolate or a lemon tart and simply stuff it into their mouths without savouring it, or appreciating the texture and taste. They eat it furtively, feeling guilty for purchasing a treat in the first place. They mutter something about diet, as it that were a prayer, and stuff in the pastry. They do not enjoy it! They eat it in a few gulps, swallow some coffee and then dash off.

Bubba is right folks. Treats are meant to be enjoyed, to be eaten in a quiet place and while you are eating think about how fortunate you are and how wonderful this experience is. If Bubba is not ready for his treat, he will hide it and take it out when he is ready. How many can do that with a triple chocolate treat?

I used the word treat rather than pastry to stress that a pastry or ice cream is indeed a treat, a gift of the bakers and of tradition to us. It is a delight to our taste buds and a pleasure. We do it an injustice if we merely stuff and run!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bon Ton Roulet 2011

The Joys of Tourism

This was my second year doing this tour. For the first year I brought heavy bags, did not pack well and did the long routes each day. I did not stop at the designated site seeing places and came home very tired. I was focused on performance and pitted myself against the routes.

This year, I packed lighter, rented a mattress and did the short route, doing all of the little museums and stops along the way. My cycling speed was much faster, I climbed very well and had a great time discovering things from woman's sufferage to antique bicycles in historical centers. I discovered a farm with Jersey cows that made gelato and fabulous cheese, I discovered a produce store that served as a temporary shelter in a torrential rain..that also served the best pie ever.

By being a tourist, I learned to really enjoy the region. I did not rush but was able to pass most people on the hills and arrive at the end point in plenty of time to take a shower, relax, set up my tent and read.

There were adventures as well! My expensive carbon cycling shoe with ratchets broke and I held it on with a used inner tube. Oddly it worked better than the ratchet! My new MSR Hubba tent that was so highly touted and rated actually broke. The pole snapped on the final night. I was saved by Marc who rode a tandem with his 72 year old mother. His mother produced a knitting needle that was able to feed the elastic tubing through my broken pole allowing me to attach the spare pole section. It worked. Luckily that was the last camping night of the tour.

Being a tourist allowed me to take my time and enjoy. At one point I was almost knocked down by a female cyclist at breakfast. "I have lost 10 minutes!!" she exclaimed as she bolted up the stairs. "I hope you find it" I said. There is no lost time, only time wasted in worry about time, or about performance and distance.

This years tour was a true Zen experience for me. I let go of all of my performance driven anxieties and enjoyed my gelato, cheese and company. I rode with two gentlemen from New Jersey who worked at the same hospital. One of them Lloyd who rode a tandem shared all of my interests in history, politics etc and like me, relished the beauty of the hills, the colours of the hay in the fields, the fresh air and the experience.

As it rained, I recalled what a Buddhist sage once said, which is to embrace the rain, and feel its wetness. I did not mind the rain. I embraced it and bought a rain jacket. I found beauty in the wet landscape, the dark skies and the dark shining roads. The more you fight with what is inevitable, the less happy you are. I chose to accept and had a fantastic trip.

This year I did not struggle with the course, I did not set myself against the route and the hills, I embraced them...they seemed to roll easily beneath my wheels as I felt the sun on my skin and the breeze on my face.

Being a tourist is clearly the way to ride.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dogs and conscience

Thomas Aquinas believed that dogs could not go to heaven, because they had no soul. He articulated a soul as the capacity to exert free will. A person with a soul must have a conscience.

Today I wonder if dogs have a conscience. Do dogs really know when they have done wrong without you telling them? My rescue dog Sophie is a true pirate dog. She believes that any food is fair game and takes delight in stealing.

I am going on a long bike trip and have packed special food bars. Some of them are chocolate and coffee, others peanut butter. Each bar is sealed in foil, and that placed in a plastic bag and that in a larger bag. I left to pick up my car and returned to see a foil wrapper, thankfully for peanut butter and jelly, on the floor. There were traces of torn wrapper that led, yes right to the pirates lair...her food dish.

Sophie had no idea she was doing wrong. She was rather proud of her accomplishment and sat beside me gleefully. There was no remorse, no apology. Sophie enjoyed her ill gotten gains without apology, guilt or even an upset stomach!

There are three levels to a conscience. The first level is when we don't do an action because we know there will be punishment. This is when the owner chastises the dog. This is self preservation! A second, and higher level, is that we don't do an action because we know it will upset the social order or others. This is the fear of social chastisement. Had Sophie been at this level, she would have known such a theft would clearly have upset me and confused the other dogs. The third level of conscience, Aquinas would say is we do not sin or do wrong, in order to please God. I would say that we often choose the right path out of love. It can be love of one's family, or simply to obey one's moral compass. We do this action because it is the right thing to do. This is often demonstrated by people who have risked their lives to save others. They will often just say 'it was the right thing to do'. This higher level of conscience I believe can be seen in dogs. There are stories of dogs sacrificing themselves to save a family member in fires or situations of danger.

Sophie failed somewhere between the first and second level of conscience. She is amoral. I am not sure the same can be said for all dogs. Thomas clearly never owned a dog!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Suntanning..pastime of the dinosaurs

I have never worn sunscreen. My cycling friends do. They slather it on, greasing themselves like ducks before going into the oven. I believe that putting chemicals on the largest organ of your body and then cooking it, is a recipe for disaster. A few days ago, I had my FIRST sunburn. Nothing serious, a little peeling on the arm but since I am going on a six day bike tour, I decided to purchase sunscreen. I opted for Zinc oxide as the likelihood of that being absorbed by my skin is next to none.

I went to Bushtakah today to pick up sunscreen and other products for my bike tour next week. At Bushtakah I was greeted by a salesclerk of my vintage who shares my philosophy of sunscreen. We explained it to a young salesgirl in her 20's. She looked at us as if we were dinosaurs. In her generation, once the baby comes out of the womb it is slathered and greased with thick white SPF 200 solution. Kids of her generation never questioned sunscreen, it just came with the territory. Want to step outside? Wait wait get the sunscreen. Don't forget your ears! Diaper bags have special pockets so parents can carry sunscreen!

Most of these young folks never know what it means to have a sunburn. She winced as we told her of putting tinfoil around our faces to tan, and using baby oil. I must confess, while I did not use baby oil, my solution was Dark Tropic Tan.. spf 2. I wore that when I was sailing in the Caribbean and to my surprise my feet got sunburned.

The young salesgirl no doubt has heard that "Sun is bad" all her life and is indoctrinated. I on the other hand, live in Canada where for 10 months of the year (or so it seems) we are encased in snow and ice. When the sun and the warmth do appear I relish it like a pagan Druid, rejoicing in the heat and almost worshiping the sun. If the sun gets too strong, I will put on a long sleeve shirt or get in the shade. I got burned a little because I am a cyclist and hence exposed to the elements.

I used dark tanning oil as a teenager and so did all of my friends. I have never had a skin problem. I suspect that if I had slathered on SPF 100 and covered my pores with thick, white glue as parents do to their children nowadays, it may have been a different story.

Blame it on the thinning ozone layer caused by most people insisting on private gas powered transportation (aka a car), but my sunburn has caused me to actually buy sunscreen, albeit organic and a modest SPF 15!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Overplanning and bike touring

I have a friend who describes herself as a destination person. She counts off days before her trip and if there was a transporter beam to take her to her destination she would beam there.

I enjoy the planning, probably because I am disorganized. This week I went on a three day two night bike camping trip and while I was packing and planning, you would think I was preparing for an expedition to the rainforest or at least Mt. Everest.

It became very evident that my old camping gear from my canoe camping days was not suitable. While I had a great stove, you had to prime and pump it, I could see this breaking so bought a simple little canister stove. The stove is very simple and plugs into a can of fuel. It is not like cooking over a fire. I quickly learned that you cant just turn it on, boil water and keep your water hot as we did over a fire. I ran out of fuel after making some bacon, a paltry amount of coffee and some eggs. Hmmmm.

My tent from canoe camping days was a nice light tent but a little low, so I bought a new ultra light tent, ditto for a new sleeping pad and sleeping bag. I finally have a sleeping bag that is warm enough...maybe too warm!

Titanium forks, bowls that collapse, small kettles and a food pack that I could hang and I was set. I also bought a pack towels are technological marvels. They fold into the size of a handkerchief and fold out to the size of a large beach towel and weigh about an ounce. They dry instantly.

Bike outfits with matching socks...that was easy but which ones to bring? I decided wisely on bib shorts for the entire trip.

When I finally decided what to pack, I must have repacked my bags 100 times to minimize what I was taking. I decided I did not need long pants or a sweater (needed both so I bought an Army surplus sweater). I decided that I did not need dental wax...mistake had to pick up some. Our livingroom looked like a war room with maps, notes etc.

I packed by Kobo reader. That was a real bonus..nothing like reading before bed. I also packed a journal with a fountain pen. The journal was small enough to carry and I journalled on some of our stops.

Once the bags are packed, and the bike loaded, the next adventure was actually getting on the bike. It was hard to vault over such high bags. Once you got going the momentum carried you but hard to stop. There is no way I could pack 'shorter' bags because of the length of the tent. However I saw Jim had strapped his tent to his back carrier hence his bags were shorter and thus easier to get over. I will copy that next time!

The trip itself after all my planning and detailing was almost an anticlimax. My trips usually are because of the attention I put into planning and packing. By the time I actually take my trip, I have already taken it in my mind many times over!

My friend is right. She would have thrown a few things in a bag, had a more spontaneous time and enjoyed herself. She would not have camped but thrown a few belongings in a bag and stayed in a hotel and she would have enjoyed the adventure!

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Freedom of Biking

When I was 13 years old I got a new bike. It was a blue supercycle with white tire walls and a white saddle. I remember feeling immense pride in owning a bike and also great pleasure and a sense of freedom as I rode it around the town. It was my route, my bike, my choice.

Some 40 years later, I still bike. I love the speed and the sense that I can use my bike to do almost anything. I don't need a car to get me places. Recently I reintroduced myself to bike camping. There is nothing like the feeling of riding a bike with your camp gear and indeed your entire world on wheels. Fantastic.

When I bike, I feel that I am not ruining the planet for my own enjoyment. The only carbon dioxide I emit is from my own breath! I love the silence and being so close to the scenery that I can stop anywhere to enjoy the vistas. I love the fact that the bike is powered by me, not some engine. I love the fact that there are no traffic jams when I am on a bike, I can zip around like a cat.

I love the fact that I can park anywhere, parking spaces are always available and I can park my bike close to where I stop for a break or to have a picnic. If my bike breaks down, I can usually fix it and for the most part I can maintain my bike,

Cars are clumsy and awkward. They require mechanics and parts and are expensive to run. They run on gas and make you fat. My bike runs on fat and uses no gas!

Ottawa is considered one of the cycling capitals of the world. We have numerous bike paths that can take you almost anywhere and for the most part, cars are getting used to the idea that the bike is a vehicle and yes, we do ride ON the roads, not hugging the curb or on the sidewalk. Over 40 years later when I ride my bike, it is still my route, my choice, my freedom!

Vive le Velo!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bike Touring take two: Beware the false messiahs!

Today I listened to an interview of a self proclaimed bike tour guru. He started at 17 and is now 25. He has written a book about bike touring. I listened and was appalled at some of his tactics.

1) Bush or stealth camping. This is where you camp in the bush and make your own campsite hidden from view. This is a great way to be attacked or beset upon by undesirables. Chances are your spot is also the spot for those who have drunken bush parties! I would not recommend this practice to anyone especially women.

2) He is very down on park camping, presumably because there is a fee. There is also comfort, showers and security...I can't see the downside. You can always find a quiet place.

In addition to being unsafe, he was dismissive of gear. How can you be dismissive of gear! Camping gear has changed in the 20 years that I purchased my gear. It was great gear then but I found shopping for new gear great fun. Did you know there are backpacking expresso makers? Neither did I. How about towels that absorb 5X their weight that fit in your backpocket? Lightweight kettles, and best of all silicone bowls. These bowls squish and fold flat. Titanium sporks (fork and spoon), freezedried organic meals, silicone mugs,portable light tents of all sizes etc. etc. This year I bought a silk liner for my new sleeping bag...ahh the luxury!

Bike touring is a lot of fun, but one must beware of self proclaimed messiahs who advocate crazy things. I went bike camping alone a few days ago, but was not really alone, my husband knew my route and I cycled along roads well traveled. I camped in a provincial park that had wonderful hot showers.

There is solace in bike touring that comes from knowing that you have your home, your kitchen, your bedroom, closet and entertainment all with you. All my possessions (those needed for the trip) were around me.I plan to do a few more small trips this summer because they are a lot of fun. When I do longer trips I will encourage others to join me, as in remote areas it is never a good idea to travel alone.

Beware the false messiah!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bike Camping

Yesterday and today I decided to relive my bike camping days and took a trip some 70km away to a provincial park to camp overnight and then ride home.

I used to do a fair bit when I was younger, but now over 50 it is not quite as I remember it. The bike is heavier and it takes me longer to pack! In fact, compared to my other bikes, touring seems like driving a truck.

There is, however, something magical about having your tent, sleeping gear etc all in your bags and you are free to explore the road. On day one I followed a bike route, it was rambling, twisty and I got lost a few times. Today, I decided to 'go straight' and followed one road. On Monday, after making many wrong turns and cycling in the heat, I arrived in Manotick at the black dog cafe, not hungry but thirsty enough to drink a river. Two ice teas, a salad, three glasses of water and one large Beau's lager later I was ready to roll. I arrived at the campsite at around 3pm. On Tuesday I decided to take a direct route.

My direct route led me into North Gower where I spent some delightful time in the town archives speaking with the archivists. History never ceases to fascinate me.

My campsite was at the Rideau River Park, a lovely small provincial park. I set up my tent and was joined by Cyril for supper. We had a roaring fire, I had a drink and then put my breakfast away. I carefully put my eggs, bacon, tomato and bread under a pot with a heavy peice of wood on top. In the morning, the bacon and bread were gone, the eggs broken and the tomato left. I made an egg and tomato omelet.

I was excited to try my coffee filter for my coffee and boiled some water in my new kettle. The coffee was so bad even I could not stomach it. I will repeat the experiment at home and see what happened.

My speed was reduced with this bike. I could maintain a speed or around 24km/hr but there is no way I could maintain a speed close to 30km/hr which is more what I am used to. At times, I felt like I was pushing a lead weight.

I got to try my new Hubba Hubba tent...beautiful, sleeping bag worked and even the thermarest pad worked well. The new camping equipment is so superior to my old 25 year old gear which was far bulkier.

To all those folk who are regular bike campers kudos to you. it is a LOT more work than mere road riding.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why ALL dogs go to heaven

As a theologian I have always been fascinated by concepts of heaven. Many cultures reward their heroes and base their afterlife on a concept of heroes.

The Greeks, for example, rewarded valor with the Elysian fields. On Saturday I attended a performance of Die Valkyrie, part of Wagner's Ring cycle. The Valkyrie, in full armour and bearing her sword appears to Siegmund with her prepared speech. "I appear to heroes who will fall in battle and will escort you to Valhalla" she describes Valhalla as a place where Siegmund would be attended by fair maidens and would be greeted by other heros. He is interested but then asks if his wife Sieglinda could accompany him. The Valkyrie shakes her head "no girls allowed". Siegmund then refuses to go to Valhalla.

The Valkyrie is shocked. A similar scene was shown in the movie Black Robe where the Jesuit priest is speaking to the natives he is accompanying on a long canoe journey about heaven. He describes heaven and the chief asks as he is smoking if there will be tobacco. The Jesuit shakes his head, very sure that there would be no tobacco in heaven. The chief then asks about women..would have have his women. Again male or female in heaven. The chief, at that point, writes off Christianity.

The problem with heaven is that every time we extrapolate from our own experiences we create ridiculous versions of heaven. Is heaven a hall of heroes? Is it a smoke free zone? Is it people playing harps? If we believe in an afterlife, what is it?

This is why all dogs go to heaven. I have learned about heaven from my dog Sophie. For the first 8 years of her life, she was abused, neglected and starved. She was brutalized. If you had asked her about heaven she may have answered that it was a place where you could get a meal..but her experiences and life was so limited she could not extrapolate. She never knew love.

Sophie now has soft beds, she is greeted with affection, has homemade meals, is never hungry and is very much loved. Sophie could not have extrapolated love as she had no concept of love.

The problem with our concepts of heaven is that they are based on our extrapolations from our experiences. Our life experiences, like that of Sophie, are simply too limited to understand what it would mean to be totally loved and appreciated for who you are. To be welcomed not as a hero..but to be loved and appreciated. To be valued and cherished.

Sophie has taught me that a concept of heaven that does not consider the depths of love and is too bound by physical concepts and simply not worth going to.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

2011 weekend to end women's cancers...end the circus

This year I volunteered for the 2011 weekend to end women's cancers held in Ottawa. I was part of Team Experience and hence was able to see more of the organization and what was going on.

The weekend is organized by a professional group that comes with trucks, stages, lighting and speakers who practice gravitas and say "you have done it ladies". There are huge signs, screens...and it is done with the professionalism of a traveling stage crew which is what they are.

I managed to speak with Barb the chairman or CEO of the traveling stage show and suggested that there could be more walkers IF the $2500.00 fundraising minimum was reduced to $500.00. Without batting an eye she said "this would not cover our costs" sensing she had made a mistake, she then proceeded to try to impress me with the stage, the professionalism etc.

Needless to say, we DO NOT NEED a professional traveling circus. This event could be held locally and run by volunteers. Ottawa is a very generous city. No where in the literature does it ever mention the "cost" of the show and I am sure that walkers believe that all of their money goes to help cancer survivors and research, but this is not the case.

We need to stand up and TAKE BACK OUR WEEKEND. We do not need paid stagehands and an army of staff with microphones to make this a spectacular weekend. By involving more of our local businesses, this event could be a true feather in the cap of the Regional Cancer foundation instead of a pawn and a money maker for the professional stagehands.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Summer is the time!!!

It is summer and I have a broken wrist. I have cancelled many of my bike tours and have been unable to do much training...BUT on June 10th it comes off!

I have a tour planned in New York and a new one at the end of August in the Blue Ridge parkway...known for spectacular climbs and scenery. This year I will go with a group and hopefully gather like minded people for next year. I will visit my family at the same time/

So what is left? Brockville with panniers, Bon Ton Roulet, Picton x 2 and the Summers end Century. At least I have those to look forward to and train hard for!

There is nothing quite so wonderful as a good bike tour and for me a good deal of the pleasure is in CAST OFF SOON!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Percy Saltzman and weather porn

Percy Saltzman was a TV meteorologist. They were no weather men in those days. He had a chalkboard and analyzed the weather patterns, there were no "Oh my it will rain" or "I am so so sorry about the weekend", it was just the weather.

Today we have weather men, personalities in their own right with their own twitter accounts. Complete with the latest technologies, these weather people make it seem that they in fact control the weather. It usually starts with the inane news host who says "How is the weekend looking..." and then a pained expression. There is no science in this, it is all cute, apologetic and overkill. The swirling satellite images look daunting and with a serious expression the weather people will tell you yes partial cloud, scattered showers and a 20km/hr wind. What that means is nothing except a breeze all bets are off. But the weather personality cult is such that it has many people terrorized.

My mother actually believes the weather forecasts. She thinks it is akin to having a horoscope cast, fixed and rigid. She is unaware that the weather forecasts themselves are based on models and guesses and approximations. Thus my mother hears scattered showers and a 20 wind and she is prepared for a deluge with wind. It does not help that we are constantly bombarded with images of floods, and storms.

The weather person cult is like Fox news. When you listen to Fox news you are convinced you are in the middle of a crime zone and the streets around you are crawling with drug crazed maniacs. The only safe thing is to lock your doors and wait until Fox news pronounces it safe. In Canada we don't have Fox news but we do have weather people who have a cult following and have people actually believe them.

I lived in Newfoundland where you can have three seasons in one day so I take weather people with a healthy dose of skepticism.

I miss Percy Saltzman. The weather people today would do well to learn from his example, cut the hype, cut the cuteness..just the facts ma'am.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Election

This year I am volunteering to help my local Liberal Candidate. I am truly appalled by the Conservative party, also known as the Harper conservatives. The dictator known as Harper has been found in contempt of Parliament and brushes it off as a tactic by his enemies. He refers to Parliamentary debates as bickering and has shown a distaste for entering into debates of any kind.

His message is "Vote for me or else". The tragedy is, people are actually voting for this man. I don't understand it. Anyone who watches the news, reads commentaries, will know that:
1) He has created a huge deficit
2) The reason we weathered the recession was because of the work that Paul Martin did
3) He shows contempt for the Canadian people by refusing to respect Parliament and democracy
4) He tolerates no opposition.
5) He has no respect for our judicial system and continues to insist on a nonsensical law and order plan that is based on flawed research and a US model.
6) Harper does not believe in universal medicare.

This would be acceptable if Harper were running for election in the Ivory Coast ..but this is Canada.

Harper is a threat to democracy, and a threat to the Canada that I know and love. I am dismayed that anyone would vote for this individual.

Death wish on a bicycle

The sky this morning was solid grey and it was raining steadily. While driving my husband to his medical appointment, I noticed a cyclist. She had a mountain-hybrid type of bike and was going in the same direction I was.

Then I saw, she reached to her ear and had an ipod. The white wires were a dead give away, she paused to adjust her earpieces, did not look around and continued to ride, through a stop sign.

While I am all for cycling, cycling with a ipod is clearly a death wish. There are enough hazards with Ottawa pot holes, (I like the French ni de poule better), drivers, road garbage, and in this case a steady rain without purposely handicapping yourself.

Why do people do this? The cyclist was not a teenager, she appeared to be around 30 years of old, so had reached 'the age of reason'.

The good thing is, the cyclist had a helmet. I am not sure what she was protecting though, because clearly her head is empty!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Good Friday insights

This has been a very busy week for me. I sing in a small but ACTIVE choir and have been exhausted with choir practices, church, more choir and church. It is all fun. This Good Friday we had a long rather monastic liturgy with processing and chanting and some singing. I have never enjoyed Good Friday finding the entire sacrificial lamb and atonement aspect of theology somewhat primitive, so normally I don't really pay attention to what is said. This time, the liturgical comments were about pain and rejection and it dawned on me that there is something very universal about Good Friday, which in essense is about utter abandonment, pain and rejection. Even God forsook Jesus as he lay in agony.

The Easter message, that of resurrection, perhaps shows us that in even in the midst of rejection, betrayal and the all to numerous horrors of the world (the election??), that good will triumph, life will rise again and there is hope.

The Christian message does not see the world through rose coloured glasses. All is NOT all right with Jesus...and yes, the righteous do suffer..but in the end, all is not lost. There is the triumph of hope. No doubt this was what Victor Frankl understood when he realized that in the midst of utter darkness, in his case a concentration camp, if one loses hope...if one loses sight of Easter...then indeed all is lost.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Democracy at hall meetings...conservatives a no show!

Tonight I attended the all candidates meeting for my riding in Ottawa-South. Ottawa South has an excellent incumbent in David McGuinty for the Liberal party. McGuinty is hard working, has a strong social conscience, is highly intelligent and well versed on the issues. He is a dream candidate and the kind of person I am proud to support.

The Conservative candidate did not show up for the debate and McGuinty debated with a well meaning Green party candidate and a charming young fellow from the Pirate party. It was a tribute to our democratic process that questions were asked to all the candidates although Mike from the Pirate party(that stands for copyright protection and open access to information) and Mic from the Green party were clearly out of their depth on most if not all of the issues. That is the democratic process, to get involved, to take a stand on issues and to ask questions.

The Conservatives have shown a distinct aversion to any form of debate during this election fearing questions, or dismissing debates as Harper does, as mere bickering.

Despite the Conservative propaganda that no one is interested, the room at Rideau Park United church was packed. There was a long line of individuals asking questions and it was democracy at work. The questions ranged from health care, to military spending right down to the fact that McGuinty does not know a tweet from a chirp. He promised he would learn!

Bravo for Canada and for our democratic process where questions are asked and parties like the Pirate party can sit at the same table as the more traditional parties like the Liberals. Such debates and exchanges of ideas are at the very heart of democracy. It is a pity that the Conservatives do not believe in it!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Terror on pedals

Yesterday was a beautiful warm spring day and my first ride of the season. I was pretty excited and packed carefully and rode from home, some 13km to the start point.

The group was fairly fast so I would not be bored. Unfortunately 10km into the ride on Robertson rd, shortly after the Queensway Carleton hospital...terror struck. My left pedal and clip, which is the one I normally clip in and out of was giving me problems. Things were not sticking the way they should. I was using my mountain shoes and my SPD clips. This problem has happened before with them but I did not see the signs.

I played with the cleats as I rode and finally forced my foot down. There was a very loud CLICK. A little too loud. Worried, I tried to unclip and to my horror, my pedal would not release. My foot was glued to the pedal..and this caused me no end of worry. My right foot could release well enough and had I been calm, I could have ridden with one foot but I am a creature of habit and visualized having to stop, being unable to release the foot I always release and falling into traffic.

My heart raced and I called out "I am in trouble and stopping". I stopped at the side of the road. John tried to get my foot out of the shoe and after a great deal of effort, my foot emerged. We could not unclip the shoe from the pedal. John left and with one shoe on, I tried with my tools to extricate the shoe from the pedal. No luck. I walked half shoeless to a coffee shop to await rescue from Cyril.

Cyril picked me up and as we drove off, I was going to take him home and then go the bike store, it became clear that I had left my cellphone in the Second cup. Horrors. I dropped Cyril at home and then went to Kunstadts. After some effort, they extracted the shoe. The little metal cleat on the shoes for the SPD cleats has two screws. One of the screws was missing and my shoe had clamped onto the pedal using the hole for one of the missing screws. Thus, I was unable to pull free. Very scary!

My last mission of the day was to retreive my cellphone. By this time I was rattled and very worried about future safety with these cleats. I missed the turnoff several times and circled the Second Cup from all angles, except the right one. Finally, I picked up my cellphone and drove home.

It is hard to describe the way I felt when I knew my foot was clamped onto that pedal and I could not get out. I had one fall once with a fully loaded bike that left a nasty scar on my knee and I wince to recall that time!

Clipless pedals are great. They allow you to pull up on pedals and get a lot more acceleration and power..but when they put a deathgrip on your have to be a far cooler customer than I.

The family that bikes together....

I am passionate about biking and know of a family that bikes together. Rather than going to the mall, Mom, Dad and four kids go biking. This warms my heart! I use them as an example of how to live responsibly and raise children to have environmental consciences.

Yesterday was a beautiful warm spring day. It was the first fine Spring day we have had in Ottawa and my family (I cannot use their lets call them the Jones) went out for a bike ride. It was heavenly, Dad, Mom, and the four kids all on bikes with helmets and smiles. Off they went.

There are those who would blame a slight breeze for the problem, others see more sinister motives but a slight breeze slowed the progress of the youngest daughter Sophie. Sophie is a very bright, very competitive child who is certain she can best her older siblings in everything. Alas, the wind slowed her down..and then it started. Softly at first but then louder and louder...until it was like the wail of a banshee. The moans and complaints from Sophie.

At first, imagining it to be temporary, the wails and cries of Sophie Jones were ignored and the family rode on. Sophie got louder and louder until the family became worried. Mom was starting to imagine there was something wrong with Sophie and so they rode to the Pizza Pizza place for Pizza.

Sophie shook her head. No pizza. They offered her soft drinks, through sobs she moaned no soft drinks. She lay her head on the table and wept complaining of a pain in her side. Mom was thinking that Sophie was having an attack of appendicitis and touched Sophies belly. Howls. Sophie's Dad, Alex checked his blackberry...the pain should be lower down and she should be nauseated. As if on cue Sophie adjusted her pain spot and felt sick to her stomach. Carole, Sophie's mother was almost hysterical with worry!

Carol who had graduated from hysteria to a state of frenzy at this point decided to see if Sophie was bluffing. Carol hardened her face and squared off against the steely look of Sophie and said "Do you need to see a doctor" "Maybe" came the reply. Carol dug deep inside of her and said "YOu may need an appendectomy" "Whats that?" "Surgery" "maybe"

At this point, Alex and Carol decide that Alex and the older siblings will race back to the home and Alex will return with the car to retrieve his sick daughter. Carol and Sophie waited. Once Alex returned, his face white with anxiety and worry...Carol raced back on her bike as fast as she could pedal, her mind racing, visions of ambulances...

When she got home and breathlessly opened the door, gasping she said "How is Sophie" "She's fine" said Alex. "Fine what do you mean fine!!" Carol stormed in to find Sophie wrapped in her favourite blanket watching a princess movie that she had wanted to see that afternoon.

The moral of the story and breaking news for medical science, is that a princess movie can be a miracle cure for appendicitis!

Friday, April 1, 2011

The different species of bike riders!

I thought spring would never come and that my bike would be forever chained to the trainer in my basement but behold, today I saw a robin and watched as the temperature rose. Yes bike season is back.

The first bike rides with any club are predictable.I have divided riders into the following categories. The first is the "new bike types" There are always those who have purchased new bikes, some hundreds of grams lighter at considerable cost. They maintain that this will make them faster and better riders. They forget that the most important component to any bike is not the frame or even the wheel weight, but the fitness of the rider. Too many Easter chocolates can make a difference!

The next type, or genre are the born again fitness types. They have enrolled in triathalons and will happily tell you all about their bench presses, their V02 max, their power output and will try to convince you that your methods, if you have any, are old school and outmoded. The best solution to these people is to make sure that you pass them early in the ride and drop them. This is the only way to cool their evangelistic ardour!

The new toy type comes next. These are individuals who have purchased a GPS system or a power meter. I have ridden with GPS riders, they miss the scenery because they are fixated on their tiny screens that tell them where they are. "Did you know we are in Kemptville?" "Yes" "How do you know" It is at this point that you point out the large "Welcome to Kemptville" sign for them to see. Maps are a thing of the past for these folks. A close second to the GPS geek is the heart rate geek. I have a heart rate monitor, it records my heart rate. The heart rate geeks have incredible monitors that beep and bleep when your numbers get too high, or fall too low. I suppose if you died...the monitor would call 911 for you. These machines are colourful and loud. Nothing ruins a lovely zen moment of riding in the country than BEEP BEEP of someone's heart rate monitor. As for me, I am very good at predicting my numbers. If I am panting, finding it hard to breath and maintain an effort, chances are my heart rate is close to its maximum. Biking is beautiful because of its simplicity.

There are the tire phobes. These are individuals who are convinced that the narrower the tire the better..and hence they cannot ride near gravel, sand, potholes...or anything else except a smooth paved velodrome. Yes they will tell you that a 22 mm tire is better than a 25 mm tire and you go faster. In fact, you do not, but no amount of physics will convince these people. Like religious zealots they preach the gospel of skinny high high pressure tires and slow the ride because of pinch flats! Heaven forbid that they should put on a puncture resistant tire..weight you know!

Bicycle clothing is another interesting thing to observe. I know that unless you are build like an olympian no one looks good in bike clothing..but that is not the point. The point of tight clothing is for wind resistance and efficiency over a long distance. While wearing loose clothing that catches wind like a parachute may not seem like an obstacle, once you ride over 80km, those little inefficiencies will start to slow you down more and more until you are dropped from the group. Yes while parasailing is a fun sport, a bike ride is not the place to practice parasailing!

The last type of rider is best described as the "I don't like groups I prefer to ride alone" This spells trouble. It means a rider who is not confident in their own skills to ride in a pack and a rider without skills is a dangerous one. In a headwind it is crazy not to form a peleton or a paceline, either staggered or straight. It is insanity not to shelter from the wind. What happens is that these riders will catch the wind, and fall further and further behind..eventually vanishing on the horizon.

This is what makes biking such a lot of fun!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

In praise of electronic readers!

This Christmas I was given a KOBO electronic reader. It had about 100 books already pre loaded and decided to take it on my Cuban holiday this year. Normally when I travel to Cuba, I bring with me my Spanish dictionary and other resources as well as a few books. This makes my bag heavy and cumbersome.

I purchased a Spanish book for my Kobo as well as "the Best laid plans" which won the Canada reads competition. The Best laid plans was a sheer delight to read. The Kobo is light, very portable and very readable. I was able to bring my book poolside or enjoy a good read under a palm covered umbrella at the beach. It is also light enough to read when you are in bed. Since I was participating in a bike training camp, I usually was in bed at 930 and asleep by 932!

I collect fountain pens, have leather and canvas bags for my bike and generally enjoy the feel and touch of well made, well crafted items. Hence, I was unsure as to my abilities to enjoy the KOBO.

If you enjoy reading and are in a situation where you are traveling and weight and space are at a premium (I can think of the many times I was on diving holidays and the space in my boat cabin was limited), then the Kobo is a great choice.

A best seller costs about $6.00 which is far less than a paperback and less cumbersome than a hardcover. You can also delete books if you are finished reading them, or purchase additional storage capacity. If you are like me, unless the book is a timeless classic like the Lord of the Rings, it is unlikely that I will ever re-read a book. On the other hand, I find it very difficult to get rid of books in my house. I can give away clothing, electronics, household appliances..everything but in the case of a book there is always a nagging voice that says "what if". Indeed, what if I would ever need my textbooks on advanced calculus or fluid mechanics? One never knows. I have packed these textbooks in boxes and they are piled in my basement. It has been at least two years and I have not opened the boxes...but ...but.

An electronic reader solves this problem as there is no issue with storage. If you don't read a book, delete it.

I realize that my words go against the very fiber of my soul as a historian, which is to keep and preserve for posterity. There is something quite wonderful in finding an old book at a sale and seeing the underlined sections, looking at the dates and the signatures and imagining where that book has been. On the other hand, one can quickly become burdened by wonderful things. I am all too aware that letter writing is vanishing and we are replacing our modes of communication and even our grammar with atrocious text constructs like LOL or ROFL. I am also aware that many people no longer read finding that a luxury. Perhaps the ereaders will appeal to these individuals, who may purchase one to be fashionable, but will soon get hooked.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The long season of Lenten bike training

The Lenten season began in November for me. It has also been a time of a crisis in my faith. Since November, I have been diligently training when it became too cold to enjoy outdoor biking. Since that time, I have been in my basement, or on my weights and even in Cuba. I have grunted and groaned, astonished my dogs and cursed at my training videos. I have learned a lot about technique, nutrition, speed etc but I am eager to leave the basement and hit the road.

The problem is, there is still snow and ice and it is about -10 degrees out there. I know you can layer but riding a performance bike bundled up like the Michelin man is an accident waiting to happen.

I have planned my bike trips for the summer, and am looking forward to time trials and the occasional group ride. Many of my rides will be solitary training rides as I find going at a steady pace for x amount of kilometers does not lead to improvement in my case, just more miles!

I am ready to go outside. My biking outfits are coordinated, my gloves are clean, my socks matching...all is ready with one exception..the weather. I have tried numerous rituals to encourage the temperature to rise. I believe the best way to do this is appease mother nature and be kind to the earth. To wit, I observed earth hour, I wear organic cotton socks, I never waste electricity, I walk or use public transit...I truly want to believe that the warmth will return...but I find myself doubting. Perhaps I am not trying hard enough!

Tomorrow morning My Lent will continue in the basement tomorrow with a grueling 2.5 hour epic workout that will surely be a pleasing sacrifice! The ancient Israelites used to sacrifice bulls but I am offering my exertion and that has to count for something!

Alas, the forecast for Tuesday calls for much of the same, cold, windy and pleasant only to those in the business of selling down parkas and wool underwear.

I am not sure what to believe anymore!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cuba and Pleasantville

A few years ago I watched a movie called Pleasantville, which was about a carefully controlled town that was entirely in black and white. There were no books in the library and everyone lived carefully measured and boring lives. Of course an outsider changed that and infused colour into the town.

Cuba is a modern day Pleasantville. In the past 10 years that I have visited, Cuba remains stuck in the 1950's. Their libraries contain numerous books about the revolution in 1953 but nothing else. The museums are all about the revolution...there is no visible progress. 10 years ago most people use horses for labour and oxen to plough, that still remains.

Of course they have a good system of education and medicine, but like Pleasantville it is only a matter of time until the steady state system known as Cuba will change. It is already happening with the internet. While the newspapers are controlled, food rationed and the way of life unchanged, the internet with its possibilities and information will bring change to the Cuban landscape.

The revolution in 1953 involved gunfire and the ousting of Battista. This revolution will be one of ideas. The life for the average Cuban is worse under Raul Castro than Fidel. The truth is, that the Cuban revolution is static and has failed under its own system. Economically, Cuba is stuck in 1953. Ideologically, Cuba is at a crossroads of change as new ideas are sweeping Cuba through the internet.

In Pleasantville, once the people had tasted colour, they could not go back to their black and white world. Once the Cuban people are exposed to new ideas, the black and white world of Castro's Cuba will be changed forever.

The Happiness Project..blah blah best seller

On the recommendation of a friend I am reading the Happiness Project. It is a best seller about one woman's search for happiness. I can tell you right away why she is having a hard time. She is the most tedious person imaginable as she researches where to find happiness. Is it in interests? (She catalogues this), a tidy closet? Lack of clutter...etc etc. I cant imagine why it is a best seller.

Happiness is not an end in itself. It is a by product of a life that is lived with confidence and contentment. Happiness is not a day on the beach, or a nicely organized sock is simply a state of being that comes naturally as one lives. I am happy when I see the snow, or the rain, or the sun. I am happy when I go to my bike shed and look at my bikes, or go on my trainer. Happy when I have breakfast, or see my husband or walk my dogs. I don't do anything to look for happiness nor do I fret about "am I happy"

Happiness, or rather an appreciation of the state of happiness exists more obviously when we are directed towards others. I find that I am most satisfied when I am assisting others in some way or thinking about their well being. A life lived in the pursuit of your own happiness to the exclusion of others is doomed to fail. That is why, although I have not finished reading the book, I am pretty sure the author will never find happiness because her search is all about her. It is akin to reading the diary of a 13 year old girl!

I suppose I find the popularity of this dreary read depressing. Is it the case that most of us can no longer find pleasure in a cup of tea? Or in watching birds at a feeder, or people, or watching snowflakes as they fall and alight on fenceposts? Have we become so joyless and morose that we cannot experience the immense pleasure that physicality gives us? The joy of movement or of music? Is this why Prozac is a best seller as well? Is Prozac our Soma where we try to recapture something of the colour of life?

Happiness is not something we look for, it is the way we live and you don't need a book to find that out.

Monday, March 14, 2011

My Holguin Training camp in pictures

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Training camp in Cuba

From February 27th- March 6th I was with the velo quebec training camp in Holguin Cuba. Training camp means 4 hours on a bike in Cuba learning different peleton formations. The peleton means you can go much longer and sustain speeds in headwinds.

Holguin has a lot of hills and headwinds. On day one, I made the mistake of wearing a heart rate monitor and scared myself, the combination of heat and hills made me think I was dying so I slowed down. On the second day, I left it in my room and had a wonderful tour. It all was going so well, I was in the pack and paused to have a drink. In a flash, the peleton was gone. No worries, there is a bus to follow. There was no bus, I was convinced I was on the wrong road so turned. The roads in Cuba in this area are well maintained, I rode past houses, and bus stops and fruit sellers until finally I asked a man on a horse who told me indeed the peleton was on another road. I went on that road and saw them coming back to me. I went ahead of the peleton towards the end.

The hotel we stayed at was Costa Verde hotel in Playa Pesquero. It was the standard Cuban hotel with little villas for the tourists, entertainment but this one had fabulous food with argentinian beef. There is nothing like a good meal after a hard and hot ride and a swim in turquoise waters. I was with a French group and noticed stark differences between French and English. The most obvious is that the French relish their meals and their food. It is a passion for them. I can not eat before riding, but they can and enjoyed every morsel of the succulent sausages, or omelettes or crepes with fruit.

While on the bike, we were taught different peleton formations and I learned that the secret is rapid rotation to avoid getting tired. This is done by the team leader whistling. After you ride for about 80-100km in the hills you are tired although you dont feel it. I did yoga in the morning and was never stiff or sore. By 9pm I was in bed however.

The beach is pristine with thick white sand and a beach bar. It was relaxing to sit and watch the ocean waves and swim although the good reef swimming was further afield. Although I had my mask and snorkel and fins, I only used them twice because of the distance required to have access to the reefs. I did try the catamaran and of course swam,

The hotel also had a pool which we used in a spirited game of volleyball. Our ball sailed out of the pool and onto the laps of many surprised guests sunning themselves like beached whales poolside. Our side lost!

I spent a week with what is best described as iron men and women and a few olympic hopefuls. By the end of the week, I could easily keep up but day one was a shock. I was champion of my basement after all and master of my training..but this was another level. As our coach said to improve you must crack and break and push beyond all limits of pain. Hitherto, I had pushed but not as hard as I did for this week. Try as I may there were some passes that were just too difficult and like many, I took the bus, which I called the "room of recovery" to the next section of our route.
There is something very challenging and at the same time inspiring to ride with people who are a LOT better than you. I was also somewhat annoyed that on day one, they did not wait, nor did they on the second day. By the last day I was using my large gears which gives me a lot more power and speed.

This season I will sprint and do interval training, which I am convinced is the secret to improving as a cyclist. We must leave our comfort zones and push.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Logistics are not my thing!

I am going for one week to Cuba in a bike training camp this Sunday. I have been to Cuba dozens of times before but because I have to bring my bike, this trip has been a logistical headache.

The initial problem arose with finding a bike box for my bike. Thankfully Kunstadts came to the rescue with a hard sided box. After much deliberation, I decided to take my heavier steel bike with the triple cranks. The shoes are more comfortable and I can get a lot of power out of it. It is not a formal race but training.

The next headache was transporting myself and the bike. I was pretty sure the bike and my luggage, which I have pared down to the bare essentials, would not fit in my car, and I was correct. The box is huge and takes a truck or a large van without seats. Taxi service to the rescue!

The flight leaves from Montreal. Greyhound to the rescue! Greyhound will take me to the airport...which is great, no driving, no parking, no headaches.

In Cuba we will stay at one resort. The training is pretty intense so I am not sure how much down time I will have but I have packed my snorkeling gear in case. There are snorkeling kits available at the resort, but to me, using someone elses mask and snorkel would be akin to borrowing their toothbrush. No thanks!

When the training is over, I will leave my luggage at the airport (Greyhound station) and stay at a B and B in Montreal, have brunch with my niece, come back, board the bus and go home. I will sleep for a few days! to get that large box back to Kunstandts. There is the rub. Perhaps they will stay open just long enough for me to call a taxi to take me there and drop it off.

In days of old, they had sherpas to carry all their goods. The bike box included. Or large trucks, donkeys or something. Today, with a very small car and a circle of friends who also have tiny cars, transporting is not the easiest matter.

The training, some 130 km a day up hills at speed, will be the easy part. The tough part is getting it all there in one piece without breaking the bank!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Who says older= wiser, lessons from trip preparations

When I was a child, taking a trip to the beach was so easy. I would throw a towel in a bag put on my bathing suit and go with my parents to one of the many lovely beaches in Prince Edward County. I was unencumbered and gloriously free to enjoy the day! I did not worry how far I could swim or what colour my bathing suit was. I did not worry if I had sandals or enough "out of water snacks", I enjoyed my time on the sand dunes making castles and using sticks for flags or even better using bird feathers. I enjoyed battling the waves and riding on my heavy blue and red air mattress like a wobbly surfboard as I waved to my mother and father.

Today I am preparing for a one week long cycling race camp in Cuba. The things that are mandatory for this tour are my bike, spare inner tubes, water bottles and in ride snacks. I have been preparing for this ride for 2 months on my bike trainer and doing intensive yoga, I have lost weight and am fitter than ever but the problem is with packing. I may as well be preparing for a mountain climbing trip to Everest given the amount of preparation.

I have a different cycling kit for each day, all packed in freezer bags with the air pumped out. I have my sunglasses, my repair kit (recommended) and a first aid kit (also recommended but I brought an expedition size),I have packed three pair of shorts, five T shirts and plenty of items to give away including a clarinet and a box of toothpaste from my dentist. To cut down on weight I have packed my electronic reader rather than books. I also packed my snorkeling gear, a thin jacket and three baseball hats, two of which are giveaways. When you add my cycling shoes, helmet and the 'in ride snacks and protein powders' I now have two bags and one is heavy.

This is a mystery to me. My bike clothes are all made of lycra. To understand this I have produced a diary

Two Weeks before trip
Day One: Get large bag out of basement, open bag and look for flippers and snorkelling gear

Day Two :Repair snorkel, test and pack

Day Three: Find 7 cycling kits with matching socks, pack each individually
Find summer shorts and sandals, pack along with T shirts and cycling jacket

Day Three PM: Change mind about cycling kits, repack and change mind about cycling jacket. Repack

Day Four:
Pack repair kit and put in ride snacks in individual packets...pack

Day Four pm
Decide that first aid kit needs to be packed and repack ride snacks adding gels

Day five am
Change mind about bike. Decide to take the touring bike, advise bike shop, pack correct shoes
Decide to take bus to Montreal

Day Five pm: decide a sweater is a good idea, pack a sweater. Decide I need to expand the items I will give away and so include a clarinet, two harmonicas and a case of toothpaste.
Find B and B in Montreal
Endure phone call from my mother who thinks I should just hop on a bus at 2am from Montreal to Ottawa. Was unaware I will have bags and a bicycle.

Day Six; augment items to give away and pack more T shirts and hats

Day Seven: Unpack snorkel and dive gear and add one piece lycra skin suit. Realize that some form of sunscreen is a good idea
Buy sunscreen and zinc and repack first aid kit accordingly

Day Seven pm:
Pack arnica massage oil, pain pills, and ear plugs. Decide that the massage bar is not necessary. Take out massage bar, put in elastic stretch bands instead.

Day eight
Find that when my bag is packed I can't lift it. Separate items into two bags, one for sports the other for clothes and give away items. Go to bus depot to buy tickets. Find line up too long go home

Day eight pm
Find bag with sports items still very heavy and wonder about the weight of cycling clothing, worry about not having a bus ticket

Day nine
worry about decision not to take racing bike, call bike mechanic to confirm my choice
Call Velo Quebec about daily distances
Pack scuba gear
Unpack scuba gear

Day ten
Pack art supplies, drawing pencils and pastels. Change mind and unpack art supplies leaving only a journal and a few drawing pencils

Day 11
Will try again to get a bus ticket

I am tired just writing it out!!

There was a time when I would enjoy events unencumbered, when I would relish the event and not worry about what I would do, what I would wear, how I would perform, I was content to be.

Supposedly you wiser as you get older but I am not so sure of that.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentines day...

Ahh Valentine's day, a day of lovely velvet boxes, great chocolates and flowers. The day after Valentine's day chocolate lovers will flock to the stores to buy those beautiful boxes at half price!

As a child growing up on the base, we all bought valentines cards for our classmates. They came in a book. Some were large with pictures of are a SUPER valentine, they would read (my favourite) some were just small hearts. The night before Valentine's day at home, I would take out all the valentine cards and decide who to give them too. At school, we had time to distribute the cards. I tried to give one to everyone in the class.

My desk was never overflowing with valentines. I got the small ones, the leftovers that you could not decide who to give to. I think I may have gotten one SUPERMAN valentine. It was always a disappointing time.

My mother would buy me a small box of chocolates. I would save the boxes and store treasures in them long after the caramel chocolates were consumed. Gradually I had no more room to store them and the practice died out.

Years later, after I married and moved to Elmvale Acres I decided to change Valentine's day and used my now deceased cat Felix to be a 'secret valentine'. Felix would purchase small boxes of chocolates, not the velvet box but paper boxes with flowers on them and with a small card, deposit them in the mailboxes of the many isolated senior citizens on my street. I never told anyone what Felix was doing and it delighted me to think of the surprise. One woman, Mrs. Noble caught me and could not believe what I was doing.

I no longer look in my mailbox or on my desk for those little cards, and my mother has long ceased getting me small boxes for my treasures. Felix no longer distributes chocolates and it seems that Valentine's day has disappeared into the dreariness of an Ottawa February day.

There is always tomorrow, when I will line up to buy a huge velvet box of truffles at half price!

The Bicycle-a love affair

I still remember my first 'real' bicycle. It was an electric blue Supercycle with white walled tires, chrome fenders, a large chrome light and white hand grips for the 3 speed. We lived on the base in Ottawa and I rode my bike everywhere. It even had a white saddle and a fake leather bag for your tools. I even had a pump! I could patch a tire but my fix knowledge was very basic.

I remember my pride with that bike as I polished and kept it clean. I would ride up the hill in the hardest gear as I would go faster and ride it to Sir Wilfrid Laurier High School on Codds Road.

I was 15 when I saw my bike being wheeled away by a would be thief. I chased him and he dropped my bike!

That bike lasted a few years and when I worked at a bakery (at 19 years of age) from 3am onwards I rode that bike, with its light on to work at the then Dominion Bakery in St. Laurent Shopping centre every day for one entire exhausting summer.

I never lost my fascination with bicycles or my love of riding. Today that bike has long since vanished, although I have a gold 3 speed in my shed! The simple bike has been replaced by a racing bike, a touring bike and a beautiful steel commuter bike with a big light. I still polish the bikes and even after all these years, seminars and books, my fix knowledge is still basic although I can fix a flat.

Vive le velo!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Scent Free???

I have been noticing a huge increase in signs in doctors offices, clinics etc saying "SCENT FREE ZONE". This is in an attempt to protect people who may be sensitive to scents. They advocate unscented deodorants, soaps etc.

When I enter a scent free zone, my senses are assaulted by the acrid unmistakable reek of stale tobacco smoke on some client's person. The reek lingers and is almost choking.

If they are so worried about someone using scented deodorant or soap...why not make a note to the cigarette smokers out there who stink from a considerable distance.

It seems unfair to require those of us who enjoy scented products to have to forgo using our clairol herbal essence shampoo while the tobacco offenders have no such restriction

Scent free is scent free that that means tobacco!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

John G McKechnie RIP

My brother-in law John died after a battle with liver cancer and Alzheimers. Although I am not there for the funeral, I wanted to share my memories of the Reverend John McKechnie

John McKechnie

A Canadian perspective, Reading, Lindfield and Chichester

When I first met John he had come to pick up Cyril and me from the airport. I was struck by his smile and his presence. He waited for us with his dog Toby. I remember thinking this was out of a movie. This was how we in North America imagine you Brits to be…unflappable, with a dog at your side, but there he was.

The dog stayed on the floor as we drove down what I thought were twisty narrow lanes but learned that these were fairly major roads. This was in Reading.

In Reading John impressed me with his control and love of Toby and his love for his family. I stayed in a small room above the garage. John’s life was so organized. He had prayer meetings, reading times and it appeared as if time stood still in that little house in Reading. Once Cyril and I borrowed bikes and John explained that there was a bit of a hill. I had not fully appreciated the British penchant for underestimation. While we North Americans are accused of hyperbole, the British are the opposite. We mounted the bikes, tall spindly things with wobbly cranks suited for their sons Andrew and Stephen. The seats I recall were instruments of torture and I stood for the ride. The ‘bit of a hill’ was in fact, a mountain! I spoke with John about ministry and prayers in general and even referred to his clerical suit as a prayer suit. He impressed me with his understanding of the needs of younger people in his parish and I recall thinking to myself this man may look like what we all expect clergymen to look like, but he is practical, down to earth and had an excellent grasp of people!

John told us about Roman ruins and in particular the ruins of a covered roman bath. There was only one and they had to write to Rome to get plans approved. Well there was the wall of it, being used for a sheep grazing field. That was another of my impressions of Britain, sheep. They may be no market in sheep wool…but the sheep are there.

Doreen made Sunday dinners and wonderful lunches and I was struck by the sense of calm and deep love that emanated from that house. I was also impressed with Toby fetching the mail!

Our next visit was in Lindfield. This is where I was introduced to central heating, or the lack of it. The vicarage was a carriage house and there was no central heating. No matter, it was May, the fields were full of bluebells, and primroses and the grass verdant…and the house cold. I had packed shorts and clothing suitable for a Canadian late May. I nearly froze. Cyril had not warned me that the ancient Britons spent most of their time in a deep freeze state! John was busy during our visit and my memories of him were mainly him mounting a tractor mower and mowing the vast expanse of grass attached to the vicarage like a country squire. In fact, I thought of him as a country squire..he had ‘the look’. He had routines with Doreen and tea times and once more when I was thawed enough to think, there was this wonderful sense of peace and calm in the McKechnie home.

Our last few visits with John were in Chichester. He did visit us in Canada and I will speak of those times. Here John took us for a walk on the downs and explained to us all about Fishbourne. He was to me, the picture of virile health as he strode with his long boots over the fields. Both Cyril and I loved hiking and this was a delight to me to walk among the chalk and flint and see the grasslands and the birds. He knew a lot about this as well. For John the world and nature was a delight. Once again he spoke about my interest in Roman ruins and told us about the palace in Fishbourne, which we visited on this time and once again. The mosaics are so impressive!

He produced ordinance survey maps for us, and tourist maps and explained to us where we could go. There was a lot to do and see in Chichester which itself is a beautiful place. John impressed me with his carpentry skills and his ability to make an extraordinary little garden out of a very small space. A man of many talents and strength. Again, I was overwhelmed by the sense of peace and order and tranquility, no matter what there was breakfast and there was tea.

On our last visit, John still had his routines but no longer engaged us in discussions about nature or Romans…soon after he was diagnosed with Alzheimers

John was also a Canadian white water explorer. Both of John and Doreen’s sons had come for a visit to us and Cyril and I provided them with the Canadian experience as we understood it which meant canoeing in Algonquin Park…(No not a tame park this is the wilderness) and white water rafting. I explained to John and Doreen that we would camp overnight and then hurl ourselves in a rubber raft down some pretty wild rapids. Well not in those words. We camped and one of my most vivid memories of John was him standing with his paddle in hand like a swiss pike, dressed in a faded blue wetsuit with his smile. He was ready! Yes! He had never done it before but no matter he was ready. That same British spirit I first felt when I met him with Toby. We had a blast.

We took them canoeing and were rained out! The British were used to rain, but me as the sole Canadian on the excursion got chilled badly and we had to cut short our trip to the wild. We have a painting Doreen made of the experience.

My memories of John are of peace, tranquility a great spirit and also his great love of Doreen. Bombs could fall, Canadians could visit, the Romans could invade…but he had his teas and his times where he would read and be with Doreen. The secret of a good marriage!

I am sure that John is walking again on his beloved downs and I believe Toby is beside him.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Don Carlo

Religion unlike the simple bible tutelage of Winnie, takes a darker hue in Verdi's Don Carlo. Here the Church rules Spain and King PHilippe with an iron hand. The grand inquisitor in his red robes is the devil himself as he counsels the King to kill his own son Carlo to save the country. Phillip himself has launched a campaign of death against Flanders.

The singing was sensational. Roberto Alagna was Don Carlo, Ferruccio Furlanetto was outstanding as the King. His aria where he laments that his Queen never loved him was moving to the point of tears.

Anna Smirnova as the scheming Princess Eboli was splendid as the scheming and wounded tiger once Carlo rejected her love.

The star of the opera was truly Marina Poplavskaya, her lines were exquisite and pure and her regal bearing a delight to watch. She was sensational, as she sang if angels weep for her in heaven in the final scene in the monastary before the tomb of Charles V, I was half expecting angels to weep.

Simom Keenlyside was Rodrigo, Carlo's friend. He was wonderful. When he sang his dying aria and urged Carlo to be the hero and the saviour of Flanders I was in tears. He gave his life for his friend.

The Church was menacing and in Act III the King appears before the church. There is a scene where some heretics are to be burned at the stake. There is no mercy here, as with the Grand Inquisitor there is no mercy, The act ends with the King and Queen watching the flames burn the heretics.

Unlike Winnies God who accepts sinners and saves them, the God of Don Carlo and the Catholic Church is merciless and crushes all who oppose him, be it by flame, intrigue or sword.

4 1/2 hours of bliss!!

Girl of the Golden West Puccini

Puccini's western masterpiece was at the metropolitan opera. Deborah Voigt the Wagner diva sang the lead role of Winnie, the salon girl with the golden heart. What a role, she rode horses, shot a rifle, broke up fights and tutored miners to read and to study the Bible.

She helped them write letters to their mothers,resolve fights and ward off the advances of Jack the local sheriff and gambler. Jack Vance has resolved to marry Winnie and every man is in love with her. There is a notorious bandit on the loose and Wells Fargo is going to get him. Rodriguez.

Rodriguez comes to the tavern and says his name is Dick Johnson. He and Winnie fall in love and in one of THE most romantic scenes ever he rides to her cabin and they sing outside the little cabin in the snow. Just beautiful.

He is discovered to be Rodriguez and she gambles for his life afer Vance shoots him in her cabin. She cheats and wins.

In the end, when Rodriguez is set to be hung, she saves him by imploring to their Christianity and sense that all sinners can be saved.

Voigt was stunning and Marcello as the dashing bandit terrific. The acting was wonderful...what a concept a western with glorious singing!

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