Monday, March 30, 2015

It's early, but

Summer in Calgary is not a season. It's not a time of year. It's not even a particular temperature.

It's a periodic event happening at random times, for a random length of time, a random number of times in a year. It must be seized and enjoyed, for it might not pass again any time soon.

Therefore, even though the ground in the back yard is still frozen, mostly, it was summer enough for me. I hauled out the pressure washer and hosed stuff off. I moved the barbecue into the back patio. The plan is to have our first outside meal of the year tomorrow. The forecast says it will still be summer. There are tiny green things emerging from the garden. It will probably still snow before the May long weekend, the traditional start to gardening season. Carpe diem and all.

I'm feeling much better, but just that little bit of activity convinced me I was smart not to go for a run. Even though it's warm, I'm not quite ready for that.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The slow descent, then ick

Thursday got away from me. Working late, then picking Linda up after an appointment, then going to see a presentation of a new suburb not far from here, then the British Chippy for supper. Typical of developers, they want to start selling lots before the roads to get there are built. We got home at half past pissed off cats. They glared, and told us what inconsiderate staff we are.

Friday in the pool again, starting to feel the descent. Swim was fun though. No special milestones for me, though Michelle was pretty pleased. By Friday evening the descent was an all out plummet without a safety rope.

By Saturday I was face down in the dip, snuffling and achy, and stayed there all day. All night. Most of Sunday. It was beautiful out, but it was all I could do to plod out and run some errands. I'm very pleased I didn't kill that geezer that walked out in front of me on Elbow Drive. He just turned left off the sidewalk in the middle of the block and walked into the street. I nearly wet my pants. I was about to change lanes in a semi orderly way when he realized there was a car coming and stepped back. Then HE had the nerve to give ME the stink eye.

The only thing that really cheered me up over the weekend was learning that Danielle Smith had lost the PC nomination in Highwood. Maybe it makes me shallow, but I cheered. She peed in her own Wheaties good and proper, and was forced to eat them. I hope she liked the taste, because she's going to be eating them for a while. She is done in politics. Done like dinner, and I couldn't be happier.

Still on provincial politics, there was a typical PC budget released on Thursday. I'm intellectually indignant about it, but too under the weather to work up a good rant about it. Suffice to say that corporations continue to get the (black) gold, and ordinary Albertans get the shaft.

I picked up Photosweeper yesterday, and turned it loose on my iPhoto library. It found almost 2000 duplicates that were a no brainer to delete. Then I loosened the settings a bit and it found more almost duplicates. Many of the choices it made were good, but since it was mostly comparing an original iPhone photo to an enhanced Snapseed photo, I swapped which one was going to be kept. It was only $11 and I think a really good deal.

So far I was just getting rid of obvious duplicates. I'm thinking about making a pass through and getting rid of the bad/poor/redundant but not a duplicate photos. That will be a little trickier. I just hope that as the main computer talks to the laptop, it doesn't try to be "helpful" and restore the deleted photos.

That long list of things I was going to do this weekend? Still there. Waiting. Maybe during vacation.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Amazing when your spine actually works

I'm not sure what happened, there was no great meaty thunk, but over the last little while my spine has cut back on cranky, and got more in the cooperation groove. I am loving it.

So Monday I had a very nice swim I told you about. Tuesday I was champing at the bit to go for a run. 4 K, 28:36, mostly nice and relaxed, trying for quicker turnover.

My overall pace was a bit shaky but the averages are nice. Long warm up and cool down. Good stretch session after.

Wednesday, oh Wednesday swim! I actually wanted to swim Tuesday, so I was keen to get in the water. I'd decided to do another round of CSS and actually pay attention to times and count laps. I am over the moon with happiness on my splits! The short story on my CSS times is that in a short course pool I could do 1:50 till the cows came home. Then I tried going just a bit faster and that didn't work out so well. I aimed for 1:45 on 2 minutes, and made 6 x 100 doing about 1:44, and the 7th was over 1:45. I was working all of them, and needed every second of the 15 seconds or so rest.

So today I decided to have another go, after some really good swims in the 50 m pool. It was short course, and I was getting in after a swim club warmed up the water. The first one was 1:39, then I settled into a 1:42 or 1:43 per 100 pace, on 2 minutes. I'd hoped to get to 10, and got to 15x100. 15!! Nice and easy, I could feel my breathing but I wasn't gasping, and I was never short of air. I could have kept going, but I got to thinking about a work meeting first thing.

What was different? I'm not sure. I think my spine cooperating again helped my turns. My kick was better, and my body position was a little better. The continuously breathing out thing makes no sense to me at all, but people that swim faster than may say it works, so I was trying. Let's call it a work in progress. 

I was thinking about stroke, and trying for a bit of a faster turnover. I think rather than 38 per 50 m, I was doing about 41 or so. The only one I really counted was a golf trial. 50 m, 41 seconds, 43 strokes, strong but nowhere close to all out. I wasn't trying to swim fast, I was trying to turn my arms over faster.

So as you can imagine, I'm pretty pleased. 

Yoga tonight. A cooperating spine makes that ever so much better. I can touch my toes again. Yay me! If I don't celebrate my little triumphs, who else will? 

On the way to yoga we dropped in at the Canstruction at Southcentre mall. Very cool. I can imagine it took a steady hand to build some of these. Here's a couple of my favourites.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Thinking technical swim thoughts

Last August I wrote up some technical thoughts about swimming. Feel free to check it out. I'll try not to repeat myself here.

The 50 m pool has been set up for the last bunch of swims, and I'm loving it! I've always been a little slower swimming long course, but it's coming together. Today I had a lane to myself. 50 m gives you time to get into the groove and really work on your rhythm.

Part of the time I was visualizing swimming in a shallow, narrow trough. Shallow to keep my elbows high, and narrow to keep me from swinging my arms wide to recover. I was experimenting with subtle timing on exactly when I started my catch.

Something I've noticed lately is that I've been tending to glide a little more. That means when I start my catch I'm trying to get more water and pull harder. This means my muscles are working harder and I have to supply more air. I was thinking this is almost like pedaling in a big gear on a bike.

When I start my catch just a hair sooner I'm going a little quicker, so I don't have to work quite as hard on the pull. It's more like I'm maintaining my speed, rather than trying to regain it, almost like spinning in an easier gear on a bike. No one stroke has a big effort in it, it's all a steady smooth motion. Catching sooner makes it easier to get your hand vertical in the water and pulling yourself forward. This makes it easier to get a faster stroke rate going.

If you wait too long to catch you'll mess up the return, and you're likely to be pushing your lead hand down on the water, trying keep your head near the surface. This drops your hips and legs, creating  more drag, and making it harder to move forward on two fronts. One is the increased drag, and the other is the decreased stroke efficiency by starting so low in the water.

Drag is what kills swim speed for most swimmers. I was dragging my legs a lot, and probably still am a bit. Kicking a little harder helped improve my body position. For many people the problem is that they are looking forward. That head position itself creates drag, and it drops the hips and legs.

The first time I tried kicking harder, I could feel the lessened demand on my arms for the same swim speed. My body felt totally different in the water. Consider that water has about a zillion times as much drag as air. Every pause in your stroke, every imperfection in your kick, and most importantly, your head position are going to affect how much drag you produce. Clean up your body position, improve your kick, and you'll find the same arm stroke will take you further with less effort.

A huge part of this is mental. I was concentrating on swimming smoothly, gliding through the water. There's a Jedi mind trick with the catch. You want your catch to grab the water and give you a solid anchor point to move your body past your hand. You want the other water molecules to slide past your body with the minimum of fuss.

One of the suggestions that I haven't mastered is breathing out the whole time. Generally I start breathing out as my third stroke starts the catch, and use the last bit to blow the water off my 'stache. I'm working on it.

So the first K was 18:55, and ended the 1500 m in 28:30. Very pleased with that. 2x100 hard, 1:40 and 1:42 with 20 seconds rest. Then 200 m, gradual build every 50 m. 50 m cool down.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A compendium

Such a nice weekend! Slept in both days, which is very rare. I was feeling stressed and tired and aggravated on Friday afternoon. I so need a vacation. Soon. 

Every now and then I post a bunch of photos, and write about them in the order that Blogger posts them. As we know, Blogger is sometimes inventive.

Calgary has been discussing a ring road around the SW part of the city for decades. Not that I cared then, but I was a small child when they started. At last, if the provincial government doesn't weenie out, it's going to be built. Unfortunately, it's going to take up a lot of space in a place I've run a lot, and would like to run more. There is a nice path that runs beside Woodbine, then north to the reservoir, beside Cedarbrae, then Oakridge. You can see from the map that some of this is going to become freeway. It looks like the path is going to have to cross the Southland extension, and over an expanded 90th Ave before I get to the reservoir. Sigh. Such is the price of progress. Note, on this map, west is up.

Saturday I bottled the Reisling. I had supervision. Can you see her lurking up on the sofa cushions? Every now and then I got admonishments, or cryptic cat commentary.

In the carboy the wine was a beautiful amber. In the bottle it's much paler. I'm not thrilled with the labels. I think they're going to be a bitch to get off, and they give the wine an unattractive green tint. Tastes pretty good, though, from the one sip I got out of the siphon after filling 30 bottles. It isn't often that happens. Normally I get 29 bottles and a little bit.

No swim today. Did I mention the sleeping in thing? Linda got inspired to deal with some tenderloin she bought. She likes to mix up different marinades, then add it to a zip lock bag with 4 or 6 slices. It goes into the freezer, and comes out when we feel like BBQ tenderloin. This is the first of several before photos.

This is bison for dinner in progress. Another before.

You go, Blogger! We got a couple flower pots for the front of the house.

Here's the meat ready to go on the BBQ. The last before.

And on the BBQ. I think this qualifies as in progress.

After! With a yummy salad, wine, and a Yum bun. Wonderful! I keep telling Linda she could give cooking classes once she retires, but she's so modest and humble she thinks nobody would show up.

And to finish off!

I earned my nice meal today with a surprisingly good run, 5K, 36:30. Mostly nice and easy. There were a few niggles, but about 1 K everything settled down and felt great. I'd originally thought to only run 4 K, but it felt so good I kept going. It was a bit cool and I was maybe a little bit overdressed, but I wasn't sure about the wind.

Saturday afternoon and evening was a lovely time with friends. They've been retired for a few years now, so I keep picking their brains. They suggested seeing Kingsman and going to dinner after. It was a surprisingly fun movie, even if there are lots of plot holes. Jack Davenport is an actor I like watching, and Michael Caine is always lots of fun. Colin Firth was a surprise in that role, but well done. Dinner was at Selkirk Grill in Heritage Park. They all had the bison, but I had lamb, and it was wonderful.

I was thinking at the time that this is a good way to do things, spending time with people we like. They are busy enough in retirement that they wonder how they ever had time to work. I know how that feels, and I'm getting itchy about feeling it again.

I had an interesting suggestion for my blog. One of my long-timeish readers suggested that as a new feature, I start with some of the existing posts, and polish them up another level into an actual topical essay. He noted that many of my blogs are little mini essays now, though often there are other things included. He thinks my readers might enjoy a weekly feature of a polished essay, with the blog organized so they are easy to find. Since he's my age, he suggested the level of polish would be for newspaper publication, but I'd like to do much better than what's currently in the papers. 

Is this something you'd like to see?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Eventually that string is going to break

You know the phrase, I'd forget my head if it wasn't tied on with string? That's been me lately. Two examples.

We usually take lunch to work in glass containers with those click top lids so they don't leak. On swim days I'll take a couple of other containers. One has yogurt in it, the other has granola, and I mix them after the swim. Then they all go into my pack to go home. On Tuesday, at home, I dug the three containers out, carried them stacked up with my right hand, my swim suit in my left hand as I walked through the kitchen into the bedroom. After I put my suit where it goes, I'm standing there looking at all this stuff in my right hand.

After the Thursday swim I forgot to shave. No, really. I've been swimming there, then going into the office for several years now, and I forgot to shave. Good thing there isn't a fashion police at the office. Good thing it's strong string.

So the swimming. Pretty good. Tues was 500 m warmup, then 8 x 100 aiming for under 1:50 on 2 min in the long course pool. That's pretty close to my CSS pace, but it's harder to do long course. Cool down. 1500 m overall.

Thurs was 1500 m that started good. The first K was 19:15 long course, then it all fell apart. It took almost 10 minutes for the next 500 m, and I could feel myself struggling. I did some pull and drill, really focussing on my stroke, and that was a bit better. 2 K overall.

Then with the weather so nice I tried a run. Short and heavy describes it. Only 2k, but it was so nice to be out in shorts and a tech shirt. Now it's cold and looks like it's going to snow. Nothing like in Halifax, of course, but maybe a nice dusting to put some moisture in the ground.

Other thoughts at random. I should get Michelle to do more guest blogs. That was very popular! I still need a vacation. I'd like to take the people that designed Maximo out behind the woodshed. I'd like to take the person that shut down the network servers last night out behind the woodshed too. I came in today wanting to get something down first thing, and I had to deal with autosaved documents in excel. That got me all tensed up afraid I was going to lose some work, and meanwhile, my office is much hotter than normal, and I'm warm from a brisk walk in.

My left hand is all banged up, but I didn't bleed too much and not on anything important. I think I did it opening a door in a parking garage I've used a zillion times. The swim lane ropes have been eating my right hand, wrist, and elbow. Ouch. I used to have a good sense of where my appendages were, and didn't bang into things. Much.

Lately though, I think my brain is full. It doesn't like switching between tasks anymore. I've noticed myself walking on auto-pilot a few times, and I'm curious about where I'd have gone if I hadn't noticed. I've done that driving a few times. I'm finding it harder to let stuff drain away. Workouts used to do that, but lately I can't do them hard or long enough.

Even though Penn West said they weren't going to do more lay offs, they did. Not to the scale of Conoco Phillips or Talisman, but these were people just down the hall from me. Some days I feel like pulling the plug on the whole industry and see if I can make a living as a writer. The rational side of me says that's a lot more work, and pays a lot less than the current job.

Celina likes the micro-fiber towel. She has tried to drag it off to do who knows what to it. I have to hang it in the bedroom to dry.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A guest blog post by Michelle!

As many of you know, Sunday was Michelle's very first triathlon all by herself! Your first is always special, and I'm so pleased I was a small part of it. I didn't want to write much about it because it's her experience not mine, but mentioned she could be a guest blogger if she wanted. Next morning, this text was in my email. Take it away Michelle!

There aren’t many people on earth who can tell me “where to go” and “how to get there” and have me keep coming back for more directions.  Keith is one of those people.

Keith, thank you very much for the generous gift of your time throughout the winter as my swim coach!  Only months ago I couldn’t swim but I took adult learn to swim lessons and stuck with them because of a long weekend swim with your analysis, drills and encouragement. The Talisman 10-mile Triathlon was perfectly timed the weekend after my last swim lesson and I just swam, biked and ran in my first triathlon.  You were a fabulous personal cheerleader on race day too!  :)

So… how did it go?

The day before > I pumped up my tires and did a short ride and a run in my gear, making sure everything fit and nothing chafed, switching out a piece or two that felt restrictive.  Richelle from Tri It helped me find this outfit that fit. On my test run, I turned my ankle but it seemed fine… until 11 p.m. when the throbbing woke me up.  I searched everywhere but couldn’t find a tensor bandage so pulled on a CEP compression sleeve, tied an ice block to my ankle with a scarf, took an ibuprofen and elevated it on a pillow until the morning.  I often have a restless sleep before a race but I don’t sweat the small stuff, immerse myself in the exciting race day ambiance of the event and carry on.  By morning, the ankle was fine.

Race day setup > I woke up to a sweet good luck email from Amy and had toast & PB.  Keith and I arrived early at Talisman Centre and dropped off my bike.  I got my body markings done and we headed to the pool for a warmup swim.  I only swam for about 20 minutes, then hit the hot tub and changed into my tri outfit (Louis Garneau shorts a 2XU top and a Moving Comfort bra).  Next I headed to walk the route and familiarize myself with the transitions through the swim, bike, and run areas.  For extra peace of mind, I wrote how many swim laps, bike kms, and run laps were needed for the race on my hand with a sharpie.  I was in the last group of racers (heat four) so once heat two had cleared out of the bike area, volunteers helped set up my bike on the Tacx trainer.

It took a bit to get it set for a “2” incline, then I had about 10 minutes to get back to the pool before the race started.  Keith reminded me to leave my bike in a lower gear so I could get spinning faster right off the bat.

Swim > Lucky for me, there was only one other racer (Isabella) in my lane so we wished each other good luck agreed to split the lane so we could each stick to our own side and just swim at our own pace.

I did a quick" re-warmup almost lap" and then it was time to get back to the wall to start.  After the first 25m, I stopped to check my timing chip that was velcroed around my wee ankles.  The strap wrapped twice around my ankles and had slipped but wasn’t coming off so I kept going.  Somewhere on lap two, I sucked back a mouthful of water and had to stop to cough about ten times so I could breathe and carry on.  Isabella called out “you got this!”

I just tried to keep moving and do push turns when I could, stopping for a few breaths from time to time or switching to backstroke a couple of times for extra air.  I kept my cool, felt good and steady, and didn’t feel like I was going anerobic.  It felt like I had a good balance between cardio and strength and couldn’t go any faster without getting out of breath.  I could see Keith standing along the edge of the pool with the other spectators.  The water in this pool is a bit cooler than in the training pool but that’s perfect for race day. With one lap to go, the volunteer called out to me to let me know and I glanced down to the lap counter on my finger to confirm I was on track at 9 laps.  One more to go.  Before I knew it the race was over and it was time to climb out.  I can spring out of the training pool on my own but this one was deeper and a kind volunteer gave me a hand up.

T1 > I ran down the roped-off carpeted transition path through the training room and down the hallway to Gym 1 and quickly spotted my bike thanks to the fluorescent ribbon I tied to the brake cables.  Sitting down felt awkward so I stood up again to pull on my super-cool heat mouldable carbon-fibre Bont bike shoes (from Kijiji). I tried to do a quick blot of the most soaking wet parts but it made no difference.  It would have been good to have one towel under the bike to catch drips and another to step on to dry my feet off before putting my bike shoes on.

Bike > I clipped in my left foot easily, swung my right foot over the saddle and clipped in on the second try to my Trek Madone women-specific bike (bought second-hand).  A few sips of Ultima electolyte drink from my water bottle and two small squeezes of some salted caramel gu in the box on my crossbar were all I needed. I was happy I stashed a lip balm and something to wipe the sweat from my face in there too.

I had the best cheering crew!  Richelle,  Rose, Maddy, Keith, the volunteers chatted nearby and reminded me to keep up my cadence.  Jordan was there with an enormous lens on his camera. (Making us do this. Making us!) Photo credit Jordan Brydon.

 I was feeling my legs but wasn’t breathing very hard and I knew I had to save energy for the run. As soon as my bike computer displayed 12.5 km I dismounted on the left side of my bike and got myself over to the right side where my running shoes were.  (Note to self: next time organize stuff behind the bike or under the bike and gear down to spin faster so I use more cardio and less leg power.  Figure out how to work harder on the trainer to build leg power.)

T2 > Thanks to the velcro on my bike shoes, they came off quickly but I got a cramp in my left calf pulling on my Altra 3sum running shoes.  I willed myself to relax and it went away.  (Note to self, next time loosen the elastic Yankz laces a bit more.)  Next was a quick run across the Gym to the stairs… (STAIRS!!!) up to the running track above.  Keith had warned me that my legs might feel rubbery coming off the bike and to hang on to the handrail in the stairwell.  I had observed some very stiff, rubbery legs going up those stairs but thankfully my legs felt good enough to run up the stairs.

Run > At the top of the stairs, a volunteer pointed me in the counter-clockwise direction and I stuck to the inside “fast” track passing lots of people.  I held back a bit as I wasn’t really sure about the pacing for all three sports.  A volunteer handed out elastic bands every 5 laps to help us keep track.  My lap counter on my finger came in handy for the run too.

I was feeling good, waved at Keith and picked up the pace in lap 14 and sprinted the final lap.   I heard Richelle yell out “Go Michelle! from below.”  (Note to self.  The run is my strongest area, let it all out here!).  I ended up with a little blood on my left heel, which is weird because I have run sockless in these shoes on my 12 km RUNcommute home with no issues.  The only thing I changed was tightening the laces so next time I will leave the laces loose and wear socks in both my bike and run shoes.

Post race >  We looked at the times and I was very excited to have done my swim ten minutes faster than a month ago!  I was shocked by how fast my run was as I didn’t feel like I was actually running that fast.  Sometimes, ditching the technology and pushing myself by feel gets the best results.  Awards were given for oldest and youngest athletes (11-years old!) as well as for the rubber-band volunteer and best bike and run "pain faces” (LOL).  The staff and volunteers at this event were amazing, organized, encouraging, friendly, helpful and reassuring.

Post-shower In the locker room I chatted with Isabella about her race and told her the story of how I had just learned to swim over the winter.  She was going to tell her sister and try to get her to learn to swim.  She asked if I was feeling proud and I thought about it.  I wasn’t feeling that beat-your-chest-like-a gorilla-pride and I think I was feeling more grateful for all the support I received and to have been able to do this event at all.

I found Keith in the bike area and we brought everything up stairs, enjoyed coffee and a snack, chatted about the race and future plans and chatted with the super rubber-band volunteer about his races too.  I gave Keith a card and a DIY sewing project microfibre towel with sharks (it sort of matches his swim trunks) on it to thank him for being my coach.  He really didn’t have to do that but I’m so grateful he did.  Keith took swim video and when I watch it, it seems like I’m swimming in slow motion.  I can see my head popping up and a funny reach with bent hand.  I will study it more and try to make adjustments… and just swim more.

Inspiration > It’s all around me.  Running with Keith through the winter last year while training for two ultras planted the seed that some day there might be a new and different challenge waiting for me.  Keith’s Ironman finisher’s smile greets us at the top of this blog with every visit.  Obviously some of the triathlon awesomeness around me inspired me.  My friend Maria did her first full Ironman last summer and I stayed up until midnight to watch her cross the finish line on the live video feed.  Another friend Jenn (breast-cancer survivor) finished the 2013 IMYYC 70.3 in spite of having her bib taken from her when she didn’t make the cutoff time.  That’s determination.  She’s back for more this year and she’s going to rock it.  Amy and Leana make triathlon training sound humanly possible.  Sophia (kidney transplant recipient) did a duathlon a couple of years ago and planted that seed.  Last summer I trained for the duathlon part of the 2014 Strathmore Women’s Triathlon.  Instead of the duathlon, I ended up joining my friend Deb in the team triathlon relay where she did the swim and I filled in with the bike & run.  Our team placed first.  I was inspired by the ladies of all abilities in that race and started to dream of learning to swim.  Last summer I volunteered at IMYYC 2014 as a banner girl and learned what it means to be Ironstruck.  Wowza.  I held the banner for the elites as they crossed the finish line, then biked home after my volunteer shift through the age-groupers sweating it out in the hot sun on the run and I started to think that there might be a place for me at the back of the pack if only I could swim.

Determination > In July bought myself a chlorine-resistant suit, swim cap, goggles, nose plug and earplugs.  I took them with me on a summer trip and thought I would try them out at the hotel pool but, sadly in spite of watching YouTube videos on how to put on a swim cap, I felt so dorky, and so intimidated.  I remembered how awkward I felt showing up for my learn to run clinic three years ago and figured I would work past the fear but the water in the outdoor pool felt SO cold and there were too many people around watching for me to attempt flailing around.  I stayed in the pool for less than a minute and then ran into the hot tub to warm up as per my usual performance. Fail.

I knew what I wanted but didn’t know how to approach the fear or get into any kind of a routine. A few weeks later Keith offered to have me tag along on one of his regular Friday morning swims. I think he said we would leave at 4 a.m. and at that point I was willing to go at any time just to get started and get over my fears of feeling awkward.  Keith gently, encouraged me (without laughing… how is that possible?) from being afraid to put my face in the water to working on drills with a flutter board and pull buoy until I had enough confidence to sign up for swim lessons which started in October.  I took Adult Learn To Swim Level 2 lessons and repeated then twice.  Then Level 3, repeated twice.  There were a couple of times I was tempted to throw in the towel when I hit a plateau, or was sore all over and exhausted, or felt like hubby was annoyed with my training schedule, or like it was all too much effort and nobody cared anyway.  Then Keith would text me asking if I was still coming swimming (how could I say no?) and that kept me on track.  (So it's MY fault??? :-) ed)

Rewards > Over the winter, I got stronger and started to see mini lat muscles in my back.  (No not latte muscles!).  Just this week, there was the hint of a bicep on my stringy muppet arms.  Progress.  Arm muscles should definitely help with swimming, oui?  ;)  I have been called short, petite, small, thin, skinny and weak but I prefer the term  “concentrated!"  I can definitely say that this spring, I was thrilled to discover that winter swimming has improved my core strength, cardio and breathing for fast running, and helped keep up my leg strength for biking.

Looking forward > This year Keith and I are doing IMYYC 70.3 as a team relay.  There’s no way I’m ready for a swim like that… but Keith is!  I’ll do the bike and run.  I look forward to continuing to swim, bike and run!  I blame Keith.  Thanks eh. ;) (You are very welcome! KC)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

If you feel you have to give back, did you take too much?

Lately I find myself thinking about things. Sometimes it's small stuff, like if I've put socks and underwear into my swim bag. Sometimes it's big stuff, like wondering if I need to work 37.5 hours a week anymore, and how much money I actually need.

Need. How much I need. Most people seem to have the idea that they never have enough money. They think there is no such thing as too much money. They ask themselves "can we afford it?" If they aren't quite that forward thinking they end up asking "how do we pay for that?" But the question that has troubled me most over the last bunch of years is "do I want to afford it?"

It was a big change when that question first happened. I was a little startled. The first years of our marriage we didn't have much money. Signing the mortgage papers terrified us; it seemed like all the money in the world. Now, depending on exactly the choices I make at tax time I might net that in a year. So unless I develop a sudden taste for round the world cruises on the Queen Mary II, you can see where the "want" part of affording comes from.

Many people 'want' all sorts of outlandish things, which leads to the problem of paying for it. Some of them think what they see on TV is real, and decide they not only want, but deserve that. Some people think their things provide status for them. My personal experience is that BMW drivers have that one bad.

I've never been particularly troubled by having the newest, shiniest thing. I put off buying an iPhone till the 4 came out, and still have it, until the 6 had been out for a while. My desktop computers have been an Atari 800XL, then a Mac 5200 (the shame), the cube (which I still have and use for playing DVD's while on the spin trainer,) and now a 24 iMac (the early 2008 model) I've had for a while. So you can see I don't go crazy buying computers. Just don't get me started on the whole software update thing.

Or cars. 66 Ford Falcon (used, of course, I wasn't old enough to drive in 66). 78 Pontiac LeMans. 83 Honda Accord (I still miss it!). 95 Dodge Caravan (the shame!), and now a 2004 Honda Accord. Think of it, a car more than 10 years old, with 266K or so on the clock, in big money oil and gas Calgary. I am not ashamed. It runs just fine, and gets me from place to place. What do I need a new car for?

The first time I came across a study that showed money ceased to be a motivator surprisingly soon, for a surprisingly large segment of the populace I was shocked. But it's true. I took a 10K a year pay cut to get off shift work once, back when 10K was a lot of money to me. I took an extra week of vacation rather than a raise. I'm just now figuring out how much time I want to take off this year, because I don't want to work a full work year minus a few weeks of vacation.

No. A buddy of mine once said "I aspire to schedule my work life the way most people schedule their vacations." (Hi Alan!) That idea has been rolling around in my head for a while, and I'm asking myself the question, why am I not acting on it? What does it take to act on it?

The answer comes back to those wants. How much do I want? I'm a simple guy, and my wants are not big. That part is straightforward. But there are two other elements that are more complicated. How long am I going to have those wants? I just read a study that says a married couple in their mid 60's have a 50/50 chance of one of them seeing 90. That is mumblty many more years for me, and anyone that really wants to know can figure out my age from an assiduous reading of my blog. Plus, I have a parent and a grandparent still living, unless someone has forgotten to phone me. My financial plan is already assuming I live to 95, and I won't be surprised if that gets bumped to 100.

The other piece is the stability of the markets. Right now is a dumb, foolish, ill-considered, downright stupid time to buy a house for almost anyone, almost anywhere in Canada. I have a very smart financial advisor, and we've done very well by her. Yet, shit happens. I do not want to be a Walmart greeter because I have to work, and that's the only job I can find.

There are two things balancing here. Make hay while the sun shines. Even with the downturn in the markets, the sun is shining on my situation. I keep in mind that could change. Oil and gas companies are notorious for abrupt layoffs. Every hour or day I don't work when I could, I am forgoing an exactly known number of dollars. The balancing thing is that I don't want to be the richest guy in the graveyard. You don't need money when you're dead. I am wanting the time more than the money. (Shush! Don't tell my boss; I will need to break it to her gently.)

And yes, I'm thinking about retirement, though not in the sense of stop working entirely. I don't have a company pension, so I will be living off my investments. One advantage of being a contractor is that I can work work in short bursts, then take some time between contracts. Depending on the market, of course. At this writing, that's my retirement model. Work some of the time, enough to fund the rest of the time off. I keep doing the math. At my current rate, I don't have to work all that long per year, to fund a nice retirement for the rest of the year. I have no shortage of things I want to do besides work in a downtown office. And every year I can put off drawing down investments is all to the good.

So, back to the beginning. Some people give back with a monetary gift, and you won't see me complaining. I think that's great. I was just listening to a TED talk by Ricardo Semler. One thing he said was "If you feel you have to give back, maybe you've taken too much." He used as an example of one of the richest men in the world, Warren Buffet, giving away money by giving to one of the few people even richer than he is, Bill Gates, for further distribution. The Gates foundation has demonstrated expertise at giving away billions. Billions! Most of us struggle to conceive of that much money. 

But Semler has a point, perhaps those people took too much along the way. As the saying goes, money works like manure, best spread thinly. 

Many people consider giving back to be giving of their time. Volunteering. There used to be a thing called "dollar a year man". Just like John Oliver wonders "How is that still a thing", I wonder, why ISN'T the dollar a year man STILL a thing?

One of my personal goals is to volunteer at as many races as I've done. I'd have to count up, but I think I'm still a few short. Lately, I've been coaching Michelle on her swim. That's a form of giving back too. Today at Talisman Center in their 10 mile Tri, she swam 500 m in 16:22. The swimmers among you scoff. Keep in mind, last fall she couldn't swim at all. I have video as proof. Her bike and run put her on the podium for her age group. I have photos, but if she wants to write and photo, she has a blog of her own, or she can do a guest post here if she feels the need. Or, you could have had a twitter account and seen it live.

Yes, she will say kind things about my coaching. But the important part is that she listened, she tried, she kept trying, and didn't get discouraged. I am so proud of her. That's part of the reward of giving time. But there's a selfish element too. Coaching her swim stroke made me think about my own, and it's improved enormously.

I have to post this. Calgary weather today. Gotta love it.

Your turn. I am curious, have you volunteered? Doing what? Have you thought about retirement and what you'll do?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The biggest one ever

Swam Thursday, and it was pathetic. Long course, 1 K, 19:30. My whole left side was in rebellion, and it was all I could do to get that much done. Leg trailing along, arm flopping here and there, left ribs and lung not expanding because of the pain. Not a lot of fun. The only thing good about it was that I didn't stay in bed, huddling under the plaid flannel blankets.

I didn't even consider swimming on Friday, nor a run after work. I've been so tired, and not sleeping well. Friday I was out getting shots of a pretty nice sunrise. See for yourself. The first is looking east, and the second is looking north west, believe it or not. These are un-retouched.

Saturday I actually slept in. From there I graduated to cuddling cats and having a slow start to the morning. A little later I bottled a Brunello kit. 29 bottles, with maybe a third of a bottle left over. I'm drinking that now, very fresh and fruity. Very drinkable, and that's right out of the carboy. I can't wait for 3 months to taste it again.

The only thing is that I suspect the label is going to be hard to get off. Plus, it's huge! It doesn't need to be this big. I can't get it all in one shot.

I had to go through a bit of effort getting these photos on the laptop. Turning off photostream and turning it back on is the only way I know to force it to update. I was scrolling through looking for a particular photo, and I've come to realize there are many duplicates. Photosweeper here I come!

Anyone have any experience with the new photo app, or with photosweeper they'd care to share with me?

In other news I've had verbal assurance that my contract is renewed, we're just waiting for the paperwork to show up. I still need a vacation.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A brain dump

I don't know where this blog post is going to go.

It's summer outside and yet with one thing and another, I'm not out there much. I have an hour till I leave for yoga class, and what I most want to do is nap. There's been a lot of that lately. I'm not sure why.

Paperwork is piling up on my desk, and I have not the slightest desire to deal with it. I used to love getting paper mail, even bills. These days it seems like I am drowning in statement. Half of them want me to go paperless, and I've already talked about that.

Yet personal tax time is coming, and I'll have to deal with it. Bother.

I used to like email too. I actually chatted with people via email. A conversation. Now it's notifications and copies of stuff I've already seen. So far I've built 56 rules in my email to delete things, or move them to folders. My brother and mom periodically send me chatty emails, and I try to respond within the day. Other than those, I'm trying to think of the last chatty email I've had. Email, not Message, not Twitter mail or responses, or any variety of Facebook.

I'm feeling buried at work. I like what I do, and there's often interesting stuff. What's killing me is that I'm being forced into doing half-assed work, knowing, KNOWING I'm going to have to come back and revisit it. Yesterday and today I was part of some User Acceptance Testing. We got through the script ok, and they've done a good job on pulling together a lot of information to produce a report.

The problem is that the report is just the first step, and there is no hint of a process of how someone would take that report and get to the step of mailing the finished version to where it needs to go. There are some soft spots in the process that produces the report that will need to be worked on. The project team, which technically I'm part of, is between a rock and a hard place. They've already got more to do than there is time to do it. Anyways, enough of that.

The downside of swimming so much is that a couple of my work shirts don't fit anymore. I was getting dressed on Monday, putting on a shirt I've worn many times before and wondering why the sleeves are so short. And why the buttons are snugger than I remember. I should have measured my shoulders, since that's where the fit seems to have changed. Some shirts that fit loosely are now a bit tighter. My weight hasn't changed that much.

I think that means more shopping, as I've notice a few of the shirts are looking a little worn or faded. I buy good quality shirts, but some of them I've had a long time. Just what I want to do, more shopping. (that was sarcasm!) Lately I've really not liked shopping. More bother.

I was thinking today back to the prep for Ironman. I wasn't working for much of that, and I was enjoying it. I was tired a lot, but I had lots of things to do. Toward the end I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever have time to work again.

There are lots of things I'd like to work on around the house now. Even with all the yard work we had done last year, there is some finishing touches, and some work needed on the front now too. Lots for me to do. Plus fitness. Plus working on books.

Plus, relaxing and enjoying life. I'm thinking I'm not doing enough of that. There was an article on CBC on the way home talking about data overflow. Sometimes I think I'm being overwhelmed with data, but I don't think I'm addicted to my devices. The only electronic device in our bedroom is the low tech alarm clock, unless I forget to take my iPhone out of my pants pocket.

Maybe I need a digital data holiday. Take some time off work. Set all my devices aside for a week. I'm pretty sure I could do that. I think. What about you? Could you take a digital data holiday and go a week without any of your devices?

Lastly, to make Jen happy, a photo of the back up Nutella supplies.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Calgary summer is happening now, but a mini-rant

Today is summer out there. It might well be the only such day until June, or even July. You just never know with Calgary. Lots of people out biking and walking today. Even a few runners. A few skateboarders, and even, (gasp) a roller blader. We don't see them much any more.

There was a nice rant last week that took up lots of energy and emotion to write. Friday I dragged my tail to the pool. A swim meet was starting but I managed to sneak in a pretty good half hour swim. Mostly going short and hard.

Saturday was clear, but still cool. I was out for a short run, a little over 2K. It didn't feel particularly good and I didn't push it.

Sunday I was in the pool for 2 hours almost. I don't understand the Acadia pool. Stand beside it and looks clear. The bottom is clearly visible. But get in and try to look down the pool, and at best you can see half way. This makes it tough to see what people are doing. Part way through I was surprised when someone did a fast flip turn as I was standing right beside the rope talking to Michelle. One of the swim club guys was going slumming, I guess. He had a great stroke. We watched, shamelessly.

I was out tidying in the garage, and cleaning a few layers of gunge from the barbecue and enjoying the heat. It was warm enough that I was almost thinking I should be wearing a hat, but I wasn't out there long enough.

I thought about going for a bike ride, I really did. But I've still got the trainer tire on Estela and I'm feeling, I don't know, not up to changing the tire. My last ride was only 15 minutes on the trainer, and my legs were feeling it. Tomorrow is supposed to be nice, so perhaps I'll go for a run then.

In the meantime I've been musing about terrorism and bill C-51, along with Harper's naked scare tactics. I am seriously thinking that Canadians have lost their minds if they think terrorism is a threat. Here's some facts. True facts, as opposed to Harper "facts":

  • In 2012 there were 2077 motor vehicle fatalities across Canada. 
  • In 2011 there were 2006 motor vehicle fatalities across Canada.
  • In 2010 there were 2237 motor vehicle fatalities across Canada.
  • In Alberta in 2012 (population 3.7 million people) there were 345 people killed and 18,220 injured in 135,595 collisions.
Source is Transport Canada collision statistics, Alberta Transportation, and Municipal Affairs Alberta.

Now, Harper would have you believe that terrorists are an eminent threat to us. But how many Canadians have been killed by terrorists in Canada? I don't know exactly, and the number depends on exactly what you call terrorism. 

In any case, speaking broadly, the number is going to be a small number of dozens, at the very most, going back decades to include the FLQ. Now go back and look at the last 3 years of motor vehicle fatalities alone. More than 6,000. A tiny handful (admittedly very sad for the people involved) compared to a good sized village worth of people killed. If the Canada wide ratio between killed in injured is the same as Alberta, then almost 320,000 people were injured in vehicle collisions. That's almost the entire population of London, Ontario, a good sized city.

Are you a driver? Are you a passenger on a regular basis? You run a real, measurable risk of death or injury in a motor vehicle collision. Any random trip to Co-op for groceries could be your last action on earth. You could be driving in to work, dreading the Monday morning blahs, when suddenly you aren't feeling anything at all. Driving across town to visit friends could cause you a life changing injury.

As one CBC reporter put it, "More people are killed by pythons in Canada than by terrorism." You are more likely to win the lottery or be struck by lightning than be killed by terrorism. Or a cow. I couldn't find specific Canadian figures, but some estimates say that 50,000 people are killed worldwide by cows. A Canadian is more likely to be killed by a cow than a terrorist, and most of us never see a cow from day to day. The last cow I actually saw was in Bermuda of all places with a very rickety fence between me and it.

Yet what do people worry about? Terrorism. Idiots. Harper is good at pushing the buttons, and he'll push any button necessary to gain and hold power. Do you really think Michael Sona was a rouge staffer, acting against the wishes of the party to run an honest election? You do? No wonder you think terrorism is a threat. Please don't vote until you learn to think.

As for the rest of you that do know how to think, DO IT! Look at what is being done to your country. Phone or write your MP. (Mine is Harper himself, and he certainly won't be getting my vote.) Join protests while you still can. All tyrants worry about riots in the street. As long as the army is willing to shoot protesters, the tyrant will stay in power. But they worry about the army too, and rightly so. Bodies in the street are the only thing Harper worries about. The media might report that. He's been losing court cases, so he doesn't want to charge people. But wait, what does C-51 say about disappearing people? Has he learned that trick from the Americans yet?

Maybe he worries about what is going to come out at the Duffy trial, but that's another blog.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

My supported crocodile slept

The thing that happened last night while I was at yoga was the beginning of the reaction to Jim Prentice, the Premier of Alberta, saying, "In terms of who is responsible, we all need only look in the mirror, right. Basically all of us have had the best of everything and have not had to pay for what it costs." It blew up even more today.

Holy crap. Can you believe it? For those that don't live here, Prentice is leading a government that has been in power longer than any other government in Canadian history. There are dictatorships that haven't lasted this long. It's been 44 years that Albertan's have voting for this government.

In the beginning I admit it was easy to vote for Peter Lougheed. One could argue he ran the best provincial government ever in Canada. It's been downhill ever since. You might want to read this rant as a warm up for what's below. I'll try not to repeat myself. Let's just say I haven't forgotten the hashtag #mistakesweremade

So Prentice did get elected, to nobody's great surprise. There were some common sense decisions made near the start, but I don't give him any credit for that. The situations that lead to him making a common sense decision were stupid, and the government did it.

Prentice doesn't think LBGTQ kids should be allowed to form a gay straight alliance at their schools, unless they go through hoops an adult would find daunting. He deliberately created bill 10 to gut an opposition member's bill that would support such alliances. I can't tell if this was a slip on his part, or done with malice aforethought.

It's a measure of how stupid and ill-considered the bill was that Bishop Fred Henry reared up on his hind legs to support it. You've got to know if he's on your side, you are wrong, wrong, wrong. It's a no brainer is to allow the kids to form these alliances if they want them, and schools should be required to support them. They work. End of story.

Now we get to last night. Prentice claims there is a $7 Billion hole in the budget. The problem is that the Alberta budgets have been deliberately made so obscure even financial experts have difficulty doing the math. I certainly do not take Prentice at his word. It could be any number at all.

It's just that this number is big enough to be scary, and gives him a stick to whack the favourite targets of the Alberta government. Namely, their own employees. Prentice and his cronies think they are overpaid. These people are your neighbours. They are teachers and nurses. They are doctors and emergency responders and many other professions. They do work that is absolutely critical to a modern society working. Ask yourself, are these people that you know getting overpaid? Is the teacher that taught you and is now retired, living on a gold plated pension?

What won't he do? Well, it's hard to determine because he's a slippery bugger, floating trial balloons, then reeling them in. As far as I know, this is at least part of the list. He won't:

  • Raise corporate taxes. (They've bought and paid for the PC government.)
  • Raise the regressive flat Alberta income tax. (Him and his buddies might have to pay more tax.)
  • Won't raise royalties on our oil and gas. (Oil and gas companies own the PC government.)
  • Won't bring in a sales tax or a Harmonized GST. (Albertans are allergic.)
  • There may be other sources of revenue he is foregoing, for much the same reasons.
What will he do? It's hard to say, but here's a partial list:
  • Try to bully the various unions into wage rollbacks, now or at contract renewal time. He has already made a trivial and easily reversible "cut" to the pay of MLA's. (They'll just go to the other end of the trough.)
  • Cut the Calgary Cancer Centre. (Does anyone think cancer cares about the price of oil? Does anyone think it's going to get cheaper to build by putting it off?)
  • He might cut the SW Calgary Ring road. (We have been trying to get it built for 60 years, and have only a short window, or the land reverts.)
  • Have another go at raiding the Local Authorities Pension Plan like the last government did.
  • It's safe to say he'll try to pick the pockets of ordinary Albertans any way he can. (Because we have to share the burdens of the mess his government created, while they and their buddies walk away with the loot.)
Yes, I'm angry about this. I haven't voted PC since Ralph Klein's first election and that was in the early 90's. It's been tough sometimes, I admit. But when I look at the outright incompetence and arrogance of successive PC government's I will vote anybody but them. Anybody at all. They cannot possibly do more damage than the PC's and might do less.

Something that causes me to blow my fuses when I talk about this, is people saying, "Oh, but we can't charge the oil companies more or they'll go away." Bullshit. I mean BULLSHIT!

Did you get that?

It's a big steaming load of BULLSHIT!

There are other places in the world to extract oil and gas, true. But many of them are in oppressive regimes. Many charge even more than we do. There are players in all the other fields already. Some of the newer fields are technically extremely difficult to work in.

I say it now, loud and proud. The governments of BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan should get together, unify their royalty rates, and hike them. Raise them. Increase them. Whatever you want to call it. Yes, right now the price of oil sucks. So build in an escalation clause, because the price is going to go up again. I've worked for a bunch of oil and gas companies, and let's just say that while there aren't big carts of money trundled down the halls, there is all kinds of money being made. Some of it filters out to the ordinary workers, enough to keep them working. 

More of it ought to filter out to society. It's shameful we have a homeless problem. It's shameful that our emergency wards are so clogged they can't treat critical patients in a timely manner. It's shameful that there aren't enough teachers for our kids and schools are falling apart. It's shameful that university and college students are being buried in debt to get an education. I could go on.

The PC government here has demonstrated again and again that it is incompetent to deal with the price swings of oil and gas. We should dump them and let someone else have a try.

Look in a mirror. Did you spend the money flying your family around on government airplanes? Did you try to renovate a government building to include a private suite? Did you sign stupid contracts for AHS executives? Did you produce ridiculous budgets that completely miss the price of oil? Did you give yourself huge raises? Were you on a committee that did not meet and yet was paid? I could go on and on.

Why do we keep voting for these idiots? The only reason I look forward to an early, unnecessary election is for the joy of voting for someone else. Does it bother nobody else that calling an early election without repealing the existing law, passed by this very government, is a criminal act?

There. I feel much better.

So, the crocodile. Last night in yoga, as the internet was blowing up with #PrenticeBlamesAlbertans we were doing supported crocodile. You tuck a foam block under each shoulder and relax. After swimming 2K in 37:55 in the morning, my shoulders loved this pose. I went to sleep before our teacher moved to the next pose. When I woke up it was very quiet. Everybody was in their corpse pose for the end of class. My shoulders felt great.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Thick egg pizza

Linda made one of her specialty thick egg pizza's last night. I'll be slicing it up for lunch in a minute. Doesn't this look good?

Crust is home made, organic, from organic wheat and veggie shortening. Sausage, organic tomatoes herbs, cream, eggs, goat feta, olives, and shallots. The shallots aren't organic. So sue her, send the email to The home made part explains why there are cinnamon pinwheel cookies for breakfast!

It turns out Curtis likes watching video, especially if there are animals in it. This has a cat almost attacking a lemon. They are both fascinated when there are meows coming from a video. It's fun to watch them looking around for the other cat.

Off to swim in a minute, remembering my shorts this time! Yay me!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Groom from the nose

This morning I thought I had decluttered my brain, I really did. That lasted till I got to the pool, wondering why I felt a draft on my legs when I took off my pants.

Before then I had told Linda I was swimming. I packed a second breakfast (granola in one container, blackberry yogurt in another, plus a banana for on top, in case you're curious) because I was swimming. I even only did up 3 buttons on my shirt because I was swimming. My bag was packed and I took it out to the car because I was swimming. I dropped her off and doubled back to the pool because I was swimming.

The fail was not putting on my swim suit before putting on my pants. Loud fail buzzer. So I swam anyways. Such is the invisibility of middle aged men that nobody complained. Of course I had a back up pair of shorts in my bag. I've done this before.

Maybe I hadn't decluttered as much as I had thought.

Today's swim was good. In the long course pool again, swimming next to high school kids. Except if what they're doing is called swimming, what I'm doing shouldn't be called that. I got passed like I was standing still, even when I busted out several 100 second 100 m. With a rest in between, of course. The 1 K warmup was 19 minutes exactly, so that's good. 5x100 nice and strong. One almost all out in 97 seconds done last. Look down and some drills.

Sunday's swim was lots of fun. Both Michelle and Leana showed up, and said nice things about the advice they got. Michelle has had lots and has improved so much! Leana has a good solid stroke, as you'd expect from someone who's done as many triathlons as she has. Still, like everyone else including me, there are improvements to be made. I'm really enjoying watching people swim, figuring out what the issues are, and suggesting ways to improve.

This is where you start grooming a cat.

I like to start at the nose with a fine toothed metal comb. Let the cat sniff it first. Very gently comb along the jawline. The cat will likely push harder against the comb. Do under the chin and chest. The top of the head. Gently grasp the ears and comb behind them. Do along the jawline again just because. Get the other comb, this one.

Sorry about the Blogger rotation. This comb works great! I like to work down his back and sides. Sometimes I'll comb it into a part along the spine to collect more fur. Tail. Then roll the cat over or stand him up to do the chest and tummy. Curtis loves this, and will often lick one hand while I'm combing with the other. I have sometimes wondered if I could make a living as a cat groomer. Not dogs; they bark at me.

Curtis is walking normally again, perhaps with only the slightest limp on his left paw. The pad is back to the normal colour, but there is a bit of dried scabby material just along the edge of the pad.