Change of life.

So.  Here it is.  My return to writing this blog.  I’ve been meaning to put up a post for some time, I even had one half-written in my head.  It started out comparing the arrival of my birthday to a cloud of dust on the horizon of an Old West town: was it a mounted gang of bandits coming to settle a score or pillage the townsfolk? Or maybe it was an approaching storm.  Either way, it wasn’t looking good.  I chose the time around my birthday to restart writing again because I was turning forty-two and it seemed like such a late start to shift focus from dogsledding to something else, but that is just what our family did.

The funny thing about dogsledding is that it is easy to fool yourself into thinking you are being active.  After all, there is the carrying of two, 5 gallon buckets full of meaty water and kibble during the twice daily feedings, the scooping poop, the loading and unloading of dogs (and tons of food, every three months), as well as the harnessing and hooking up.  But that’s it, really.  If the dogs are any good at all, you don’t do much else.  You just stand on the runners for four hours at a time with the occasional push of the sled up a hill.  I stepped on a scale one day, just out of curiosity, and found that I was thirty pounds over my ‘ideal’, medically endorsed (and likely unattainable) weight.  I was going to have to load a lot of dogs and scoop a lot of crap if I wanted to bring my weight down.  I could no longer convince myself that it was muscle weight, either.  Face cheeks don’t build muscle and muscle probably doesn’t roll over the top of your jeans.  Nope, I was out of shape and eating poorly. Shortly after confessing my thoughts to Jenn and saying how I wanted to join a gym to get healthier, my employer sent me on an out-of-town job for the summer.  The schedule was two weeks out, five days back.  During one of my two weeks out, I came back to my trailer room, checked my phone and saw a video text.  It was Hunter in what I recognised as a karate outfit.  She solemnly stared at the camera for a moment then bowed and said “reeee-spect!  That’s what we say at jiujitsu, daddy!”  The camera swings wildly around and there is Jenn’s face – “I signed us up at the club!” she beamed.

“It figures she would wait until I was out of town.” I thought to myself, not really sharing the same excitement.  “The Club” was a local Brazilian Jiujitsu and Muay Thai place.  They also offered fitness classes and yoga.  Jenn’s friend and one-time coworker IMG_3628owned the place with his wife and although Jenn had wanted to join for some time now – and had tried to convince me to do the same – we hadn’t because I was resistant.  I’m not a fight-y sort of person. I didn’t think my daughter needed to be a fight-y sort of person, either.  And, to top it off, all I could picture was a room full of kids with an instructor barking at them: “Hai!” [the class punches], “Osh!” [the class kicks].  If you’ve ever seen the Karate Kid, then you know what I mean (and I’m not referring to the wax-on, wax-off parts).  By the time I got back for my time off, they had been there almost two weeks.  Hunter was in love with the classes and Jenn was raving about how hard but fun the Kettlebell classes were.  And now, I’m expected to go.  So, the next day, Jenn and I show up at Sudbury Brazilian Jiujitsu and Muay Thai Acadamy  for class.  I am registered due to the family membership that Jenn bought, but I don’t have my club gear yet: shirt, shorts and skipping rope.  I’m helped at the front desk by one of the employees, who also turned out to be the instructor for our class.  I go upstairs and change and come back down skeptical about the ‘workout’ I was going to get from swinging a weighted ball around.

We start with skipping, which, although rusty at, I am managing to do okay with. For the first minute.  The second is a bit tougher and by the time the third minute is over and we can get a drink of water, my legs are voting to see whether or not to keep me standing and my lungs have left me completely.  Next, it was burpees.  Then push ups.  Then crunches, then… I don’t even remember because I was in the bathroom trying to not throw up.  And we hadn’t even swung a kettlebell yet.  I had to leave the class.  The room was getting all faint and I was apparently alternating between green and pale and man! was it, like, a million degrees in that place?  I finished class humbled.  I admit it.  A half-hour fitness class nearly killed me.  By the time Hunter’s jiujitsu class rolled around at six that day, I was barely able to walk, let alone sit cross legged on the mat to watch her class.  My legs were sore, my arms were limp and my core refused to move.

One by one, the kids start to fill the mat.  Most have white belts, some have yellow, some are yellow and white striped and still others are orange.  The instructor walks to the front of the room, where I had not too long ago nearly died, and asks the kids to line up.  They do.  All in rows.  Neatly and quickly.  He looks them over and says “…we begin our class with?” to which they all say in unison, “reeee-spect!”  The class begins with a jog around the mat and some warm ups: jumping jacks, rolls (front, side and back) and ‘shrimps’, a move, as it turns out, that is pretty key to the whole jiujitsu game.  For much of the class, kids pair off and roll around on the mat.  They are supposed to be practicing the move taught to them by the instructor but they are also having fun, giggling and falling down.  At the end of the class, the instructor sits down with them in a circle and spends a few minutes on character development.  They talk about what it means to have empathy; to be a good citizen; to be a leader.  They talk a lot about bullying and how to deal with bullies.  Talk to them.  Tell a teacher or parent or adult, verbally stand up for yourself.  He stresses time and again that fighting is an absolute last resort and if he hears of any of his students – children or adults – starting fights or being bullies, he will kick them out of the Academy.  They end each class on a fun, non-serious note: dodgeball played with two giant exercise balls.  The kids love it.  And so do I.  Like, right away.  After several months of watching Hunter’s classes, I decide that I might like to try Brazilian jiujitsu, too.

This is Hunter (white gi) and her training partner doing a Bubble Sweep.

It’s now January, 2013, and I’m standing on the mats in a borrowed gi, the white karate outfit that most of us are familiar with.  Except it’s heavier and thicker because all the grips, grabbing and pulling would shred a lightweight karate gi in no time.   I’m not really sure about this decision now.  There are at least eight other guys all looking at me like I’m the newest doggie chew toy.  Class starts and, after the warm ups, I am more or less used to wipe the mats: everything I do — absolutely everything — is countered and defended with ease.  I leave the mats soaked with sweat while my opponents have not even started to breathe heavy.  My first few classes go pretty much as you might expect. I wonder what I am even doing. Even worse, I do jiujitsu like I wonder what I am doing.  But there is something about this sport, something really hard to explain, that draws you in.  Jiujitsu’s fans liken the sport to a game of chess: for every move there is a counter and for every counter there is another counter and so on.  It is a complex game, this martial art.  But it’s not that.  Not really.  I never really felt as though I needed empowering, but there it is — that feeling.  Once you get the hang of jiujitsu (and I am not at all trying to say that I am some master.  I’m just a white belt, after all) you really feel different.  In control.  Confident.  Coupled with this new confidence was my drop in weight and an increase in my cardio and strength from both the Kettlebell classes and Jiujitsu classes.  It all added together to create this really strong feeling of being in control of our lives.  Jenn began jiujitsu shortly after I did and immediately took to the sport, although it took her a while to be comfortable with being choked.

All of this exercise and focus on our health has led to us re-examine how we eat.  We have always eaten well: mostly healthy with a lot of home made food and home prepared foods, but we snacked a lot.  Chips, pop, candy and sweets and it

Our kitchen was mid renovation here, but these are all the sugar containing items from our fridge.  We donated it or gave it to family.

Our kitchen was mid renovation here, but these are all the sugar containing items from our fridge. We donated it or gave it to family.

was not doing us much good.  Recently, some people at the club have challenged themselves to go sugar-free for a year and although I admired their resolve, I thought to myself that I would never be able to do that.  Give up sugar?  Not likely.  That is an entire food group for me.  Jenn, too, was skeptical in her ability to cut it out of her diet altogether.  But then we saw Hunter put away a giant Mars bar in one sitting and we knew we’d have to do something, so we agreed to join the challenge.  We would be going sugar free for a year.  We have removed all refined sugars from our diet, keeping only honey and maple syrup for cooking and baking.  We also have not cut out the sugars found in fruits and vegetables, as long as they are still in the fruit and vegetable and not added to something.  As per the deal with the challenge, we are allowed one cheat a month.  We are two weeks in to the challenge now and I plan to write a post soon about how our first month has been and what effects, if any, we have seen.  So, stay tuned.

Snorkeling Sand Lake

This is a post that has been a long time coming.  There are so many things that have around here but they will have to wait until a better time since I find myself unprepared for writing at the moment.  I wanted to share this video from the July 1st weekend this year but have not been able to until now, now that the trees are losing their leaves and our internet signal can, supposedly, travel between transmitters unimpeded.

This video is my first underwater one, filmed with the GoPro Hero 2.  We had a ton of fun collecting the footage, Hunter and I, so, without any more delay, here it is:

 

Cold air, new snow, bright sun.

I really thought it was going to take forever for winter to arrive – if it came at all.  We spent an increasingly frustrating time on a four-wheeler, just trying to get the dogs out and trained.  Even our temperatures were so unpredictable that it was nearly impossible to set aside clothes for the next day (if you are in the habit of doing that, which I’m not.  Thankfully)

Where I am going with this is here: we finally got some snow.  And some cold temperatures.  So not wanting to let either go by un-enjoyed, I took a bunch of dogs to one of our favourite trails.  The following video is from that day and it is a bit long but I did that in case the weather turns again and we lose our nice snowy artery through the bush.  This morning, as I write this, it is -22C but by Wednesday – three days from now – the forecast is saying to expect rain and temperatures four degrees above freezing.

Here is our run…

Having fun with Dario

Hopefully, this video will help compensate for my absence from here.  Surely there will be something written here soon.

Bring Your Dog Mushing Day

The trouble with addicts is that they are always looking to drag someone else into their addiction. No matter how much time it may swallow, no matter how drastic a lifestyle change it may require, the addict is more than happy to try and recruit new people into their world – which is why we help hold “Bring Your Dog Mushing” days. Welcome to our life-changing, money sucking and yet totally addictive world of dog-powered sports.

A people trap, operated by a mouse.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usIf I am to be honest, I would tell you that I was not looking forward to Disney World.  In fact, I was kind of dreading it.  But, if anyone looked my way, I pretended to be excited – I mean, I’m not a jerk – I didn’t want to spoil the excited anticipation or the experience for Jenn or Hunter, but, really, who wants to go into an over-priced, over-hyped and overrun amusement park?

Besides, I never was a big fan of Disney.  I remember as a kid preferring the Looney Tunes/Merry Melodies cartoons over the vanilla pap that Disney seemed to ladle out.  Of course I watched them – any port in a storm, right? – but what sensible kid would choose preachy, dialogue-laden cartoons and movies over the slapstick hijinks of falling anvils, Acme electromagnets and shotguns that can be plugged with a finger?  Disney’s outlook on life, the one where all the animals get along and everything can be fixed with a song, was not one I believed in, nor wanted any part of.  False and overly sweet, it turned me off as a kid.  Imagine all that Utopian treacle smacking you in the face.  Under the hot Florida sun.  Amid a mob of Mickey-eared tots all sticky from candy.  After you have just forked over the equivalent of a third-world goatherd’s yearly income – each – to get in (which isn’t enough expenditure: the rumours are true – every ride, every show, every exhibit exits you into a gift shop.) Oh, I was just shaking with excitement.

Walt Disney began to set up shop on his chunk of Florida real estate by using a host of dummy companies to purchase land,  disguising some of them as ranching firms.  That nobody caught on to what was happening is somewhat amazing considering much of the land was deemed swamp.  What would a ranching company want with swamp?  It seems like a good way to lose your herd.  And the mineral rights.  The ‘ranching companies’ also bought up the mineral rights.  For $15,000.  Swamp ranching or not, something sneaky was going down.  Nobody noticed or, if they did, nobody said anything and now that chunk of Florida swampland makes 36 billion dollars a year. Far more than ranching and mineral rights combined could have.

Paved over and built up, Walt Disney turned swamp into a dream and now, here we were only one more shuttle bus stop from walking into probably the best-known, most recognized theme park the world has ever known.  Once out of the bus, I looked around the parking lot.  Bus after bus was disgorging tourists already glitzed and glammed as their favourite character.  And these were the adults!  There were all sorts of Princesses, a few Mickeys, a Minnie or two.  I even thought I spotted a Geppetto, but he just turned out to be an old man.  For the most part, the kids were still too tired or under threat of not seeing Mickey to misbehave this early on but, as we made our way to the ticket booth, there was that one family with the three kids running five different directions.  The fact that they were being yelled at was certainly furthermost from the minds of the kids, but that didn’t stop the dad.  He yelled louder which, it seeemed, suggested to the kids that if he was going to yell like that, they’d be able to hear him all the way over…THERE!  They took off into the growing crowd.  I expected the headlines in the next day’s paper to read: “Near Tragedy at Disney: Three Kids Just About Strangled.”  All of this and the sun was barely up.

Standing amid a steadily growing crowd is not one of my preferred activities, so imagine my delight, when out of a prop Victorian-style house pile the dancers.  I know they are dancers because nobody else runs like that. The men are wearing straw boater hats and gingham vests, the women are in gingham dresses and bonnets.  They are here to open the park by singing and dancing to Good Morning, Good Morning.  I try to get a look under the façade of makeup – are they really happy under there?  Is their smile a pasted-on, vaseline-on-the-teeth one or is it genuine?  Which ones are otherwise failed dancers/actors and which ones have aspired to this position.  Does anyone aspire to this?  How many are just trying to put themselves through post secondary school to get a real job?  And then I wonder if they sit around at night, perhaps in a bar, complaining about the day, the job or their peers.

-“Pfft!  Did you see Brandy out there today?  Who does she think she is with leg kicks like that?  She needs a pole if she‘s going to dance like that!”
-“I know, right!  And did you see that guy in the crowd this morning?  He wasn’t even smiling!” And then, to the server: “Oh, Miss! Another round of Shirley Temples, please.”

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Hunter sure loved spinning the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups. And Jenn nearly threw up. Once on the first ride and once on the second.

But this made me wonder – Disney must have some pretty strict rules by which staff have to abide.  Like the perpetual reference to park goers as “guests” and themselves as “cast members”.  Or the irritating two finger or whole-hand point when giving directions.  Or the swooping motion they make when they pick up stray litter: no stooping, just one fluid motion.  Probably in the official rulebook is a dresscode, too.  A code that dictates how long your hair can be (shoulder length for women) or your sideburns (no lower than the earlobe.  I‘m assuming this is for the men).  Even standing at your booth/concession stand is likely regulated.  No hands in pockets: only at your sides or behind your back.  (All are, in fact, Disney rules.)

None of that mattered now, though.  The park was open and people were funneling though the gates like cattle being loaded into trucks.  I hung back a bit, just in case.  Once inside though, the park opened up and it was, dare I say, not the least bit crowded.  We made our way to the Tomorrowland section of the park because Jenn wanted to get on Space Mountain early.  No long lines for her.  Space Mountain is the only ride I can recall from my trip to Disneyworld way back in grade six, so it must’ve been a good ride.  The sign at the entrance said it was out of commission for part of the morning – probably something about a missing section of track or something – so we decided to duck into a fairly calm and sedate-seeming animatronic show featuring Stitch from Lilo and Stitch fame.  Briefly, for those not entirely familiar with Stitch: he’s an alien.  A mean and strange one but with a fondness for a little girl (Lilo) who herself doesn’t exactly colour in the lines.  Together, they make an odd pair.  The animatronic show was about escapee aliens and how the audience was supposed to be new recruits going through an indoctrination for their first shift at the galactic police station.  It was very realistic if you were a kid and wanted to believe.  Even before we entered the actual theater, a little boy was crying at the seriousness of it all.  I looked at Jenn as if to say “Who brought little Bradley the Bawler?” and she just gave me a smug look back “I know, eh?  Some people’s kids.”  Finally inside the theater, we all sit around the teleportation tube in the center of the room.  Beside me is Bawlin’ Brad.  The theater goes dark and Stitch, a high-security risk has escaped and is on the loose.  LOOKOUT! a big puff of smoke and there he is, glaring at the audience.  Screams from every corner of the theater.  Some even very close to me.

In the movie, laser cannons are trained on Stitch’s DNA so that if he tries to escape, they would just shoot him.  Smart alien that he his, though, Stitch spits and the cannon blasts his saliva while he makes his escape.  In the theater now, there are red ‘lasers’ shooting and ‘pew, pew-ing” all over the place and some of them are pointing at people in the audience.  Bradley beside me is terrified but when the water jet, meant to mimic the spit of Stitch, hits Bradley – and I couldn’t make this up – right between the eyes, he can’t take anymore.  He is escorted out of the show.  Now with his terrified screams gone, I can hear others.  Closer.  Like, beside me closer.  Hunter, the Vampire Diaries, Walking Dead watcher, is cowering in her seat pleading to be taken out.  Jenn and I can’t help her because we are too busy laughing at the absurdity of the situation.  Which, for Hunter, only makes it worse.  When the show finally ended, we tried to avoid the smug, judgemental glances that were our due as we exited the theater.

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The Queen of Hearts. Quite an imposing lady.

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Mickey and Minnie – in case you were wondering who these characters might be.

It wasn’t until after lunch that we tried Space Mountain again.  We had eaten close to the ride and, given the time of day, figured we’d have enough time to digest our lunch before the ride so we strode over to stand in line.  “From here, your wait is an hour and a half” the sign said.  People were standing just past the sign, so we stood behind them.  Great.  An hour and half of standing in line.  This was the Disneyworld I was expecting.

A bright flash of light went off just ahead of the people in front of us and then we started to move.  We had been waiting for someone to take a picture.  The line didn’t start til way up ahead.  We passed the 45 minute sign, the 30 minute sign and the 15 minute sign.  We were going to be the third car out, starting…NOW! The passengers screams disappeared down the passageway as the coaster car shot around the corner.

Settled in our seats, Jenn and Hunter beside one another and me alone behind, I reach around to give Hunter a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder.  I can’t find her.  My hand takes in the situation: the shoulder restraint designed to keep passengers in is on either side of Hunter’s body.  Her head barely makes it above the restraint.  Outwardly, I say, as I squeeze “This is going to be so much fun!” and inwardly, “What have we done?  This can only end badly!”  I want to ask the cast member if there aren’t some pillows we can stuff around her wee body but we are suddenly propelled out of the space dock and into the terrifying darkness of space.  My hand won’t leave Hunter’s shoulder.  I try to pull it off, but I can’t.  It’s locked in place by some paternal protective mechanism.  I don’t know if Jenn is holding her or not, but I’m not about to let go.  We zoom up hills and plummet down their other side.  I swear I can feel Hunter sliding between the shoulder restraints.  Another upward swoop and then the bottom falls out of the coaster and we dive down again.  Please, god, end this ride now!  It feels like we’ve been to Mars and back by the time the coaster glides into the dock at the end of the ride.  We are all intact and accounted for, although judging by the looks on our faces in the pictures they took during the ride, we all had our doubts.  The walk out of Space Mountain was long enough that we emerged into the sunny and hot Florida afternoon jitter-free.  It was a beautiful day, we were on vacation – our first ever – and dammit, as much as I hated to admit it, I was having fun.

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Making our way to the Parade of Lights, we stopped on a bridge to watch the castle change colours.

We ran all over that park.  Whirling on Mad Hatter tea cups and riding more sedate coasters.  We spied princesses from afar and toured the treasure-strewn wrecks of Caribbean pirates.  We drifted though a Small World and down jungle rivers fraught with peril at every turn.  Our day finally ended seated in front of Cinderella’s castle.  We had just watched the parade of lights go by, the stars were out and the fireworks were just about to start.  All evening long, from the various vantage points throughout the park, we watched the castle undergo its colour change.  It really was a striking landmark, made even moreso by the constantly changing lights that shone on it.  We sat in front of it as the fireworks exploded behind it, Hunter on my lap and Jenn leaning into me, and I thought that really, the day couldn’t have been better, even though we had spent it on some cheap swampland in Florida.

Catching up after a long absence

It has been a long time since I have been able to update the blog: we have no Internet service due to, I am told, tree leaves blocking our signal. The only solution is to get a fifty-foot tower to raise our receiver above the tree line. The problem is, you don’t just trip over those sorts of things in your daily travel. So I am going to have to update from my phone for the foreseeable future, which I’d rather not do for several reasons, not the least of which is the amount of data I’d use uploading photos. A lot of this sounds like First World problems, I know, so I’ll just have to suck it up, I guess.

Just briefly, by way of quick update, we returned from a ten-day vacation to Florida (Disney included) on the tenth of May. We had a fantastic time driving down and back, visiting Disneyworld and the beaches Florida has to offer. It was the first vacation Jenn and I have had since we were married almost ten(!) years ago.

We we’re only home for a week and a half and our chickens arrived. After taking the summer off from raising any animals last year, it’s nice to see them back again. We presently have fifty two meat birds, fifty un-sexed chickens that will be our layers (the roosters will be sold at a fall auction, I think). To be honest, I forget the type of chickens that they are, but all of them are Easter-eggers, which, if you remember from several years ago, are the ones that lay the coloured eggs.

We also have six turkeys. We had a dozen but Jenn sold half when when she couldn’t get a slaughter date for them closer to Thanksgiving.

And pigs; we are apparently getting pigs. I have resisted pigs for years because I don’t really enjoy thee smell or the mess they can turn your fields into. But Jenn assures me that these guys, a Tamworth/Berkshire cross don’t need a wallow and that they will be kept in a movable pen to help keep our fields trimmed. In the Fall, after our garden has been harvested, we will move them there to hopefully eat the leftover plants and weed roots. We let our garden grow in last year and it was a deplorable mess that took a long weekend to get ready for planting.

Boris, our newly acquired, retired sled dog had his eye removed shortly after our return from Florida. Don’t come to our place if you want to keep your eyes. He had been suffering from uveitis and a luxated lens. There was no repairing it and to keep it intact would have caused him discomfort. Happily, his surgery went well – we have recently found some amazing local vets – and he is now fully recovered and back to normal. Both Oly and Olive are also back to normal.

Here is a video I made a while back. Hopefully, it works being uploaded from the phone:

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