Tuesday 29 November 2011

Amigurumi friends

My baby blanket crochet project is progressing - slowly. I've been itching for colour and to whip up something quick-quick. On Thursday evening I heard Nataniel on a radio ad, speaking about a toy collection through Checkers stores. I got online, found some patterns and whipped up these three amigurumi. The baby monster (yellow) only takes one episode of House to crochet.

Toys (new and used) can be placed in collections bins at Checkers.

Monday 28 November 2011

Senior moment

On Saturday night, my mom and I went to watch the most recent of the Twilight moves, Breaking Dawn (part 1). Our teenage cousin got us both into Twilight; we've read the books and have seen the previous movies. This one was sweet (they really could have put the whole book into one movie) but this isn't a movie review.

With youth flooding the ticketing desk, we get directed to the popcorn counter - the lady can issue tickets from the one terminal. We tell her the movie we want to see. We select our seats. She says, "That's one adult and one senior". So I ask, "What's senior - 60?". "Yes," she says. My mom is not yet 60 - she's got eight months to go. But I just couldn't bring myself to correct the young lass; she would have been so embarrassed. Instead I give my mom a big hug.

We watch the movie. Lots of smooching between Edward and Bella. Jacob is growing up and looking more dishy; I can see what my cousin sees in him (Team Jacob). Mom and I are Team Edward (although I'm way more into the most delightfully wicked vampire sheriff, Eric - Alexander Skardgard - from True Blood). I don't get what Edward sees in Bella - she reminds me of Frodo from Lord of the Rings. Snivelling. Anyhoo...

We walk out of the theatre and mom nudges me.

"It's because of you".

"Me what?" I ask.

"She thought I was a senior because of you. It doesn't happen when Judy and I go to movies." Judy and mom are similar age.

Indeed, having a daughter with a good dose of grey hair, despite my youthful complexion, would scoot mom right into the 60s classification. We both think it is helluva funny. As we walk she keeps poking me and saying again, "It's you".

Two years ago I took the plunge to never colour my hair again. Turning grey at a young age runs in my dad's family. He was completely silver in his mid 30s. My aunt says she was the same.

I found my first grey hairs at 21; more in my mid 20s and by 28 I was covering the grey with dyes close to my natural colour. Fed up with being a slave to colour (it's a pollutant, dries out your scalp and hair, my hair grows really fast and I think regrowth looks trashy), I decided to let the grey grow out. I chopped my hair short and it took a year to eliminate the colour residue. At the same time, mom took the plunge too. She reasoned that if her daughter is grey, she couldn't very well still be a brunette.

It was the best decision that we both could have made.

Grey is traditionally associated with aging. If someone has grey hair they couldn't possibly be young, could they? Of course they can. This is a nice article on MailOnline about "Why are today's women going grey at 25?".

I remember a spread in Time Magazine about Hillary Clinton, when she was running in the elections. The article was Hillary and some other women and it discussed whether it was 'right' for them to let their hair go grey or does grey hair make them old and past their sell-by date and thus not credible to be in positions of responsibility - or so public perception goes. Grrr... But look at George Clooney or Richard Gere... grey is sexy then.

Ja, just as the article I linked to above says,
"While men get given the silver fox sobriquet when they start to show signs of salt and pepper, when it comes to women grey equals grandma. From society’s perspective, a woman with grey hair is over the hill and has reached the end of her reproductive life."
In my book, grey is just a hair colour. It's my natural hair colour. Grey doesn't change my brain cells nor add another 20 years to the amount of time I've spent on the planet. But, it does get my mom into movies at R8.00 less for her ticket.

[Veteran 90s supermodel Kristen McMenamy has gone the grey route too - and it has given her modelling career a boost. She made the cover of VogueShe is now 46 - article on MailOnline and MSNBC Today (with photos of other silver foxes - male and female). I like.]

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Odds: Israeli cosmetics, mountain people & saying and being sorry

Israeli cosmetic brands
What's with them? For over a year now there have been those temporary 'stores' in shopping malls, in open 'square' areas. Cosmetics like moisturisers, exfoliators, sunblocks, wrinkle smoothers, fat disappearers... All very expensive. All with Israeli. And all manned by absolutely charming young Israeli men. Lovely accents and so smooth.

I don't like to ignore sales people at these stands so I tend to smile and nod hello in passing. Big mistake. The first time I got caught I was urged to rub an exfoliator (Dead Sea salt concoction of sorts) into my hands, and then they spray/rinse your hands with water and your hands are silky soft (I find this stuff quite greasy). And then there was an amazing moisturiser and must-have sunblock. The price? About R2000 for the moisturiser that should last for a year - because you use so little. "Do you not think that your skin is worth less than R200 per month?" Actually, no, I don't.

The first guy was good but not as charming as the third - I know, I know - I keep getting caught when my guard is down and I'm grabbed and seated despite protests. It's another one of those things where one wouldn't want to be rude and to tell them to play on the highway...

I asked the third guy what the deal is with all of these Israeli cosmetics. I asked whether they were scraping every ounce of goodness from the floor of the Dead Sea. And I asked how come they're all out here. He said there were environmental policies in place to protect the Dead Sea and that they make more money working out here than they can at home.

On Sunday I was chatting to Pam. she got caught too. And, she bought a small product. Not a R2000 moisturiser but she's keeping mum on what she paid because it was more than what she usually pays in the supermarket, no doubt... She also commented on how absolutely charming these guys are. Very smooth. She knows it. I know it. They know it. But it is generally done in a nice way such that they can get away with it. Helluva silly.

Mountain people and valley people
I remembered another story from Frank Dick, the coach/motivational speaker guy from the UK. It was about being a mountain person vs being a valley person. I found this typed online:
"There are two types of people in this world, valley people and mountain people. Valley people seek the calm and comfortable ground of shelter, safety and security. They may talk about change but do not want to be involved in it, especially if this means breaking from the routine of what has worked okay up until now. Their concept of achievement is not losing, so playing for the draw to them is all that’s needed. Their concept of fitness is being fit to survive. They are the people you meet who sentences begin with; "I would have", "I could have" or "I should have".
Mountain people have decided that valley life is not for them and seek to test ambition on the toughest climbs. They know that there is a rich satisfaction in reaching the top and the fight thats needed to get there. They live for the test of change and enjoy the resilience required to bounce back from the bumps and bruises that come with the mountain territory. They not only talk about change, they deliver it. They take the risk of winning because to them there is no such thing of a risk of losing. People can lose without training or practice, it comes quite naturally, so where is the risk in that? They know achievement is not always reflected in a gold medal but is always measured by the excitement of knowing just how much further their best shot takes them, when they take the risk of winning. Achievement is balanced on the finest of edges but they know that. Whatever the outcome of the contest, they are always accountable for the result. They are winners and they know it."
You can watch Frank doing this walkin' 'n talkin' presentation in this snippet here:

Why are you sorry?
I think we need another word that has a similar meaning to sorry. These synonyms don't quite work for me. I've recently started noticing how often this word is used in an apologetic context; just like it's overused cousin, 'humbled'.

I think that I'm finding this word irritating because we're turning into an apologetic society; we apologise too much for things that really do not merit an apology nor forgiveness. We apologise for being... ourselves. This is what has really struck me and is the reason for this post.

In writing this it is difficult to conjure up a good example for you...  The word's use is too flippant; it lacks gravitas. It is quite fine to apologise when you bump into someone in a mall (an accident); but a 'pardon' or 'excuse me' would suffice.

Sorry, for me, is more emotive. Stronger. More meaningful. You can feel sorry, be sorry and say sorry. Like being sorry for someone over the loss of a loved one. This is in the context of expressing sympathy, grief or dismay at another's misfortune. I'm ok with it in this context because it isn't apologetic.

When you're sorry for your wrong doings... I have a feeling that post-misdeed remorse comes about because while doing the action you know if is wrong; because, certainly, by apologising, you know full well that what you did was wrong. Better to ask forgiveness than seek permission eh?

There's also that joke about a husband apologising to his wife by saying, "You're right. I'm wrong. I'm sorry".

During this week, pay attention to how many times you hear people say sorry and consider what they're sorry about. Also try to catch yourself before you say sorry just out of habit. Don't. Try another word to apologise - if an apology is actually necessary; if you're apologising for something tangible. But, instead of being sorry, do right. No apology required then.

Words are a dime a dozen but they do count and I think that it is important that a couple of words like sorry should be a little more treasured and are said only when you feel sorry and are sorry.

First paddle - of the year!

In preparation for Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge in 2008, 2009 and 2010, I paddled two or three times a week for the last six months of these three years. I really got into it, especially in the second and third years when I felt completely at home in the kayak. This year, with plenty of other distractions like FEAT and yoga, I haven't paddled at all!

Jonathan sent me an invitation about two week ago to join him in a double for time trial in Germiston. He's an experienced paddler with loads of river racing under his belt and he'd been quizzing me about my interest in doing Dusi some time. And that's how I ended up on the dam tonight. And a good thing too as I've been itching to get back on the water for about three months now - the timing was perfect.

Rain starting to come down; we got off the water with lightning threatening all around. Darkness came early tonight - heavy black clouds. Illumination in this unstable cellphone shot from security lights.
We got on the water and it was great that on getting into the boat, an Ascent, I felt pretty comfortable. An Ascent is only a little notch up from an Accord. These kayaks are similar; both nice and stable. We paddled a bit and then jumped into the time trial.

Earlier in the afternoon the wind had been howling with the approaching storm but for time trial it was actually perfect. Germiston can whip up into a frenzy and that's what I thought we were in for. It turned out just lovely. We did three laps and then noticed paddlers getting off as there was lightning all around. We had the boat loaded just before the rain started to properly descend.

It really felt good being on the water and it was fun to paddle with Jonathan. Over the festive holidays I'm planning to put in some time in my single... haven't sat in this one for at least 18 months. Better pack my swimsuit!

Jonathan, thank you for getting me back on the water. It has been too long. Your nudge and invitation to join you really was just what I needed. And I look forward to another session in about two weeks.


Monday 21 November 2011

I don't feel like sharing... today

I popped out this morning to run some errands and bumped into a chap I haven't seen for years - maybe 15 years or more. I'm not sure how we know each other but it dates back to school days, although we went to different schools. I have a feeling that we went to the same aftercare, which would have been around grades 1 to 3. We've lived in the same area so over the years during school we would bump into each other. I know his name, but not his surname. And, aside from hello greetings in passing, I don't really know him.

Turns out he has recently returned to Jo'burg after years in the UK and then Cape Town. He studied journalism (he's been working in landscaping) and is looking to get back into writing / PR in the travel-type genre.

So, he suggests that we go for coffee and chat.

Mmm... I'm battling with stuff like this at the moment. I find it really difficult to prioritise activities when things hit from all sides. Many existing responsibilities and commitments and even more things I'd like to do.

To say, "No" is hard - well, I find it hard. "No, I don't want to go for coffee. I haven't seen you for 20 years and little interest to sit around chatting." Sounds so rude, doesn't it. And yet, being direct would probably be the best route.

It's the bit like the example of a lift door that opens and inside is a really unsavoury character (think serial killer) and your instinct tells you not to get in but backing off would appear rude and could offend the guy, so we get in. It would have been better to say, "I'll wait for the next one".

But, I have given him my email address because I could maybe assist with a contact here or there (as a freelancer I do know how hard it is) but to spend an hour chatting over coffee... I'm so not energised for this.

A few weeks ago a woman with good intentions did an email intro between me and other lass as she felt that I would be able to assist her friend. The friend sent me an email saying, "I would love to buy you a cup of coffee so you can share much of your adventure racing knowledge! When would you be available?"

I love AR but there's a limit. I've spent a decade writing about AR and putting it on www.AR.co.za for everyone to read and enjoy. It's all online. Now, if I'd spent 12 years studying a degree in AR would my knowledge be taken so lightly? Do you say to a specialist doctor, say a neurologist, "Hey, let's meet for coffee so you can tell me everything you've learned about neurology in 12 years?". You can read up about neurology on the web. The joy!

I did decline the coffee invitation and directed the lady to the over 100 articles that are on www.AR.co.za, which are there for her and everyone else.

I've also had a number of emails from friends (like more than five, less than 15) putting people they know in contact with me for me to teach them how to navigate - because they know how much I love teaching and how much I love navigating. Generally, the person is about to do an event like Mnweni Marathon, Skyrun or Freedom Challenge and they need to know (or think they need to know - depending on the event) how to navigate. There's usually a time factor with the race only a few weeks away.

Considering that I've never seen any of these people at orienteering (best foundation for learning basic principles) and that a snap theory course, with no practical experience, will not help them much out in the field where they will need to interpret contours, plan routes, make decisions... it would be a wasted time investment on my side. I'm swaying towards the principle of 'helping people who help themselves'. To my knowledge you can get hold of a GPS tracks for both events and if people show up at orienteering then I'm more likely to be inclined to assist them.

So, today, as the end of a very long and challenging year approaches, I don't feel like sharing. I may feel like it tomorrow or the next day, but not today.

Be better

On Friday and Saturday I attended the SASCOC Coaching Framework conference where the new Coaching Framework policy was signed off and handed over to the Department of Sport and Recreation. In short, there's a stronger focus on sport - across disciplines - with specific attention to Sport in Schools. Federations, like our Orienteering Federation, are encouraged to expand into schools across Provinces, which is what we're doing.

One of the speakers on Saturday was Frank Dick, OBE. His coaching credentials are extensive and he is also a motivational speaker, using sport and his coaching experiences as themes. And what a speaker this guy is! Funny, insightful, fluid and energetic -  a pleasure to watch and to listen to.

One of his stories was an absolute gem. To paraphrase... A nine-year old girl sees him working with athletes at a track and asks him to coach her. A short period later she's lined up at the start of her first 100m  race, against seven others. She finishes 8th and is feeling down at finishing last. Frank tells her, "But you finished 8th and you ran 18 seconds". She again says that she was last. He tells her that she ran 18 seconds which is faster than the 19 seconds she ran previously. So, in fact, she's just run a personal best.

Great perspective. This story continues around being "better today than you were yesterday... everyday".

Great message.

Frank illustrated it with this clip of Usain Bolt, when he ran 19:30 in Beijing in 2009. In the second slow-mo replay the camera is on Bolt's face and it is clear that he is running against himself, against the clock - he's striving not just to be better than the other runners that he has annihilated; he's running to be better than he was yesterday.

And this message comes in parallel with a super blog post this past week by marketing guru Seth Godin.
The other day, after a talk to some graduate students at the Julliard School, one asked, "In The Dip, you talk about the advantage of mastery vs. being a mediocre jack of all trades. So does it make sense for me to continue focusing on mastering the violin?"
Without fear of error, I think it's easy to say that this woman will never become the best violinist in the world. That's because it's essentially impossible to be the one and only best violinist in the world. There might be 5,000 or 10,000 people who are so technically good at it as to be indistinguishable to all but a handful of orchestra listeners. This is true for many competitive fields--we might want to fool ourselves into thinking that we have become the one and only best at a technical skill, but it's extremely unlikely.
The quest for technical best is a form of hiding. You can hide from the marketplace because you're still practicing your technique. And you can hide from the hard work of real art and real connection because you decide that success lies in being the best technically, at getting a 99 instead of a 98 on an exam.
What we can become the best at is being an idiosyncratic exception to the standard. Joshua Bell is often mentioned (when violinists are mentioned at all) not because he is technically better than every other violinst, but because of his charisma and willingness to cross categories. He's the best in the world at being Josh Bell, not the best in the world at playing the violin.
Other people don't count. You - the best you - does.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Mulberry hunting

I guess I've always taken mulberries for granted because they're so available in Jo'burg and I've been eating them every year since I can remember. In the past I've thought, "I really need to make something with them", but haven't even gotten as far as a mulberry jam. It's probably because I don't have a tree and so I usually munch on the run when I pass trees hanging into the road.

With timing running out before the berries go bye-bye, I decided to get myself some for a dessert. I has been hot, so their days are numbered. Last night I was on a mission. I started by going to an old haunt in Kensington where I remembered a tree with a good yield of sweet, juicy fruit. Nada. Not a mulberry in sight - all finished. As you may recall I had a silkworm thing happening last year so I paid more attention than normal, needing to pick leaves almost daily.

I headed back through near home and tried some trees on my regular running routes. Nothing either - they've all dropped their fruit in the past week. I got lucky on my last try -  a tree with lots of berries but higher than I can reach. Good thing I'd packed my little step ladder (just a two-step one, like you'd use in a kitchen to get to items on high shelves). It worked, barely, and I got enough berries for a dessert attempt.

Most recipes online are for mulberry cakes, crumbles, jams and smoothies but I didn't feel like any of these so I made a phyllo treat - mulberries plus finely chopped apple and a drizzle of honey sealed in phyllo layers. Came out nice-nice.

I was wondering why mulberries are so neglected and don't have the glamour of their berry cousins: strawberry, raspberry, cranberry and gooseberry. Part could be that they don't keep very well - they're squishy very soon after picking. And then there's the colour issue - the juice stains (as I recall from childhood) and turns everything it touches a deep purple. I learned something else - the stalks. They cannot just be plucked from the berry - the need to be snipped.

I thought about heading back to the mulberry tree today with a taller ladder, but I'm past it now after last night's dessert, which was yummy. Instead, I've decided to get my own mulberry tree to cultivate for next year's season.

Monday 14 November 2011

On rock and ropes

This weekend I was out at Waterval Boven for a wedding and yesterday I climbed for the first time in many, many years.

I've always liked the sport of climbing but it has never been a focus. At varsity I would climb the wall against the library every O Week (orientation week, held the week before lectures began) and it must have been in second or third year when I was tied to the Mountain Club's table until I joined. I did one trip out to Northcliff, which was fun.

Through adventure racing I've been exposed to ropes - up, down, across - so I'm really comfortable hanging off ropes, I know a couple of knots and I'm familiar with carabiners, harnesses, ascenders and descenders... I'm happy to walk or hang off anything - rope attached - and I don't get nervous about it. This familiarity helps, but it certainly doesn't come close to making me a climber.

Yesterday, Gustav from Roc 'n Rope took us out to play. He's well known to adventure racers from his years of rigging ropes sections at Swazi Xtreme (he recalls that he was at eight of the 10 events). It has taken me a while to join the dots but I knew many other climbers at the wedding from seeing them 'around'. They've been on Gustav's crew at the races. I'm usually so focused at races that superficially I'm interactive but I don't remember much later. I recognise the faces, have a good feeling about the person and have no idea where I know them from. The penny is dropping slowly.

So, the first climb, Charlie led, clipping the rope in as he progressed. Gustav followed and set up a top rope - I'm definitely in no position to lead. Goodness gracious. And then up I went; but it wasn't smooth sailing. The route was a short one and is reputedly a 'tight 16' - it verges on 17. Ja, this doesn't meant to much to me except that I found it helluva challenging. Burning hand muscles - totally unfamiliar holds and grips - and burning forearms.

Charlie ascends with infinitely more experience and style than me. Gustav below.
I learned to lay back, where my hands were in a crack, my feet pushing against rock (not away from the rock but parallel) and my body to the side against the face. That was fun.

"I must put my hand where?"
At one point I said to Gustav that he could lower me down - my forearms felt like they would pop if I went an inch higher. Instead, he kindly let me sit on the rope to let my arms and hands rest and the guys shouted guidance as to where to look for next holds. I made the top - not very gracefully.

At the top! Gustav, totally at home on rock.
We moved on to another spot. Here we met up with other wedding guests, who were making good work of more challenging faces. One of these was Peter Lazarus, the guy who 'found' Waterval Boven and opened it as a climbing spot.

I wasn't totally keen to climb because my hands and forearms still felt so whacked, but both Gustav and Charlie said that it was way better than the first one; a solid 16 with a friendlier face, ledges to rest on and more holds.

Again Gustav leads, to set up another top rope on this second climb.
I'm glad they convinced me to give it a go because on this one I had way more fun and didn't feel as much like a trout trying to swim up a salomon's river. There were a few places where my technique seriously lacked elegance and others where I felt like I was doing the right thing, shifting my weight well, using my legs and finding good holds. It's quite a kick.

The wedding was lovely, the weekend was restful as well as social and playful. I also had a lovely forest run with Kyle (he spoke at FEAT Jo'burg in October last year) and a yoga session with Charlie, munched mulberries and even got in a swim - in a swimming pool (doesn't happen often!).

In the driver's seat

Running with Kyle - he's as light-footed as a bokkie
I can spend ages picking and eating mulberries! A favourite summer past-time. Charlie rediscovered this treat (seems they don't have mulberry trees in Cape Town).
It is interesting to compare what I'm used to with the climbing 'scene'. As adventure racing types, when we play we head out for a spot - say a run at Suikerbosrand - and we say hi, go run for a few hours, say bye and head home. Climbing is very much a whole day or weekend sport where the environment is really social. Then there are the multiday trips and expeditions... in AR our multiday races are fun and social, in their own way, but it is different. It's not an 'around the campfire' getaway. I was chatting to Piers about this; he's a cross-over with one foot in AR and mulitsport and the other in this climbing and exploration community.

Boven is an awesome place to go play. It's about a 2h30 drive from Jo'burg, there are tons of accommodation options (check out Gustav's Roc 'n Rope page) and you can run, bike, climb and chill to your heart's content. My first time in the town, even though I've driven past it countless times.

My previous battery recharging only lasted a few days. I think this one will last a little longer.