Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday, October 07, 2012

I'm six!

Happy 6th Birthday Cultural Flotsam! (In Internet years, that must be about 726.)

As always, my heartfelt thanks for checking in, or stumbling upon and sticking around.

Yours truly,

Cultural Flotsam Inc.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Cycling in Rotterdam

This past summer I spent a month in Rotterdam. For any urban cycling enthusiast, this city is paradise. That is, if your preferred way to cruise is on an easy-riding, gorgeous upright jalopy.
It's just so... civilized.
Everyone glides along at an even pace. Old folks, business people, students, moms with tots in tow.  It's one of the most enjoyable experiences to be had. And safe. Helmet? Never even crossed my mind. Over here in Montreal? Don't leave home without it. That's the difference. There is no antagonistic relationship between cars and cyclists there. If anything, the bike is king. Everybody does it, therefore it's deeply ingrained in the national culture and respected as a daily form of transportation. Not just a leisure activity or a cheap way to get around for people who can't afford a car. We still have pretty far to go before urban transport gets this evolved.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Jogger: Take 2

If you've been a regular follower of this totally sporadic blog (bless your heart, luv), you may remember a post I did back in 2010 about taking up jogging. If not, see here. That venture lasted all of 3 weeks. However, I am happy to report that, prompted by a friend who also felt her time had come, I've taken it up again, this time in a much more structured manner. We are following the Couch to 5K program, or C25K (link below). In roughly 6 weeks, I have gone from being barely able to jog for 60 seconds straight, to my first-ever 20 minute non-stop run (yesterday).  By July, I should be able to run 30 minutes straight, with relative ease. This, for me, is a miracle, and living proof that the human body is capable of overcoming its limits if the mind would just shut up and let it get down to business.

Having taken this challenge a bit more seriously this time out, I've discovered a few things that have made the whole adventure both more enjoyable and easier. Here now, for the total beginner, or for those who've been thinking about taking this up, are a few tips:
  • Do it with a buddy. Ideally someone in similar physical (non)shape, and equally as keen. It's amazing how much easier it is to get out the door when someone else is counting on you.  All those encouraging words, high-fives, and post-run hydrating drinks in the backyard just add to the pleasure of it all.
  •  Ignore the forecast. Don't let the rain, cold, heat or wind stop you and get used to running in all kinds of conditions. It's time to break the habit of using any little excuse to talk yourself out of running ("Oh, the sun is too low - I'll be blinded."  "It's too cold and then I'll be sweaty and get chills." "I just drank too much water - I'll get a cramp.") Shut it and move! 
  • Practice positive motivation. It's true that just getting your butt out the door on a regular basis is possibly the hardest thing about running. One trick is to just change into your running clothes. Keep puttering or doing whatever you were doing, but start looking like you're about to go jogging. Put your runners on. Become the runner. Then the next big step is getting out the door. But once you've crossed that threshold, you've already started. And I've never regretted starting once that run is done. Smug satisfaction is a drug.
  •  Find the time of day that's right for you. Some people like to run first thing in the morning. I find any form of serious exertion before 10am to be both impossible and immoral. My natural time seems to be somewhere around 4 or 5 PM, when I start to feel gross from sitting in front of the computer all day and need to shake a leg, literally.
  •  Find a route or path you really like. Maybe you like to feel secluded, or you prefer to blend in with other joggers in a big park. Personally, I like the long, straight bike path by the rail road tracks in my neighborhood. I don't have to think about dodging casual walkers, baby strollers, darting children, soccer balls, soccer moms, and squirrels. It's just me and a few fellow leg shakers at a time, like travelers on a highway.
  •  Invest in good running gear. It may seem like a big pill to swallow at first to invest in new shoes, clothes and a good bra to keep the girls in place, but anything that makes the experience more enjoyable right off the bat is worth the investment. But maybe save the really nice stuff for when you know for sure you've got the running bug. Consider it a reward for all that hard work. Then you know you've become one of those people who talks tech with the folks at The Running Room.
  •  Go slow. This is really what the C25K program is built on. Keeping it manageable so you don't get discouraged right away. Each week is challenging, but not impossible. It feels great to be able to push yourself just beyond what you thought was possible. That's what keeps you motivated. Also, running can be hard on the body. My style is barely a notch above a brisk walk. Find the pace that's right for you and respect that. Be kind to your body. 
  • Stretch. There are different schools of thought about pre- or post-jog stretching. I usually just do post and have been fine with that. There are lots of online sites that can give you a few exercises that will keep your leg muscles from killing you the next day.
  • There's an app for that. There are tons out there, including one on the C25K site, complete with friendly lady that lets you know how long to walk, when to run, and when you're halfway there. Let's you focus on your breathing and pacing instead of counting in your head.

Communal living

I've been on a bit of a '70s kick lately. Perhaps entering my 40s has made me reflect back more than usual. That and a few awesome polyester shirts I recently scored. Anyway, the odd result of all that is my recent fascination with this book. The Alternative: Communal Life in New America, published in 1970.

Scary as it may seem, I admit that in my darker moments, I have fantasized about escaping it all and living on a commune. Altho I didn't quite imagine it like this (below), what appealed to me was probably the same impulse that drew thousands of drop-outs to the arid valleys of New Mexico, Arizona and California in the late '60s and early '70s. A sense of total independence from society's demands, and a need to just 'check out' for a while.

All told, the height of the mass hippie exodus (many from the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco) only lasted a few years. However, as Darwin would have it, some survivalists, with greater adaptability to the harsh reality of living on the land, managed to make this a long-term, viable alternative for themselves. These communes, which were notable for their experimental architecture, tended to attract people with advanced skills or knowledge in this field.

Those who chose to remain in urban settings were impelled by a desire to reach out to the larger community by offering education and health services, or open up a restaurant.

While communes may not exist in the same numbers as the late 1960s and early '70s (well into the thousands throughout the US, by the estimates of this book's authors), the search for greater freedom and independence does live on in some people today, but minus the desire to band together with like-minded people in the name of sharing and equality and peace (and free love and drugs!) that drove the hippie movement. When people today speak of living off the grid or going back to the land, they tend to do it alone. Maybe because they're not 21 anymore, and the desire to retreat, while still strong, is fuelled more by the weight of experience than any utopian dream.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rye Whiskey

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, or rather, I only make ones that are fun, such as: have friends over for dinner more often. This year, I thought I'd dedicate more effort to supporting the rye whiskey industry, specifically, Canadian rye whiskey. For reasons as yet unknown to me, the Société des alcools du Québec, or the SAQ as it's known, hasn't made much effort in this regard. Sure, you can expect to find your usual CC or Crown Royal, and the more well-stocked SAQs may even carry a Glen Breton (too rich for me at over 80 bucks a bottle. Ouch!), but a Wiser's or any of the Alberta ryes? Good luck. This of course is also reflected in the wine selection, which typically goes overseas or south of the border much more than directions west of here. Dommage. What might explain this? According to this Wikipedia article, Quebec ranks 1st in the country overall for wine consumption (at 21.4 liters per person annually), but it ranks a measly 12th (that's last, y'all) on the consumption of the hard stuff. So, in other words, not a priority for the SAQ. Très dommage. So when traveling outside the province, I try to pick up a bottle of Canadian rye. In November I went to my teeny-tiny hometown liquor store, Le Bon Ami (which also doubles as an insurance agent. Am I the only one who finds that funny?) and picked up a bottle of made-in-Ontario Wiser's, which didn't disappoint.

But speaking of south of the border, this fine tipple named Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey, produced by Tuthilltown Spirits in Gardiner, NY, made its way to my kitchen table recently. Its only drawback is that it comes in a rather wee little bottle, so the joy of it is all over before you can say 'easy on the ice'. I won't embarrass myself by trying to describe its other virtues, suffice to say that next time I'm in NY, picking up another bottle will be on my list of things to do.


Wednesday, January 04, 2012

What is it? #2

Likely a kitchen utensil. Flat as a tennis racket. Total length approx. 11 inches. Rounded wires so not something you'd use to push a cooked spud through to make fries. Suggests scooping and straining, altho its flatness would make scooping difficult. The name WIRAX suggests a rack of some kind. Maybe something you'd lie over a source of heat to toast. Made in England, probably mid-20th c.