Monday, April 29, 2013

Lesson #24 & 25: Regularity and Persistence

Who's with me about Friday's awesome weather?? Kick.ass, right? I was so excited about Friday's wicked weather and the prospect of riding outside I probably vibrated out to Greyden. The week felt long because I spent part of it doing a juice cleanse and I actually spent a lot of time missing the opportunity to chew and taste: I love tasting salt, spices, fat and animal proteins. I'm not a mega carnivore but I do enjoy tasting these things on a relatively regular basis.

We parked and saw that the larger stable door was open... "We're riding outside!" I thought happily. Unfortunately, it wasn't happening because one of the mares spooked, bolted and threw off one of the advanced riders! So, Sheri told us we'd ride indoors because Kent's horse is a warmblood whom she didn't feel confident would be ok out in the outdoor ring and like always with horses: better safe than sorry.

We started on the right rein (meaning the right rein is on the inside of the ring) this evening, posting trot around... trying to get our rhythm. We usually start on the left rein and it felt really strange doing it on the right this time... strange like you're wearing the shoes on the wrong feet! But, as with most things (not like wearing shoes on the wrong feet!), things come together and flow. We worked on "X" jumps and ground poles. Atlas has got to be the laziest horse I have ever met. He did look a little tired when I got in, but man... he was brutally dull that evening! I kicked and kicked and flapped and kicked some more and he just ignored me!

Anyways, when Atlas got a bit more forward, I worked on getting him into a canter and who knew: he seems able to get into canter from a walk or even stop! He does throw his head high though... which explains why he typically wears a martingale. This time, the canter felt much better because I noticed I wasn't wrapping my legs around his body and I was able to keep my weight in the seat and stirrups without toppling over!


I decided that to move forward with my riding, I need to get more saddle time and made arrangements to have an additional biweekly lesson on Sunday mornings. Sunday mornings are very different than the evenings. The stables are lively and the horses are generally outside in their paddocks socializing and eating. The vibe is very different and I really enjoyed it.

I was assigned Nikki but I was hesitant because of the times I've ridden her, she's been even more lazy than Atlas has been. But, we rode outside today and guess what? She was very forward and I had to slow her down a few times! This time, Sheri got us doing a low straight jump and an X jump--both one after another. We posted around the ring during the trot and two-pointed over both jumps while alternating our exiting turns. This was A LOT of fun and I felt it was really helpful for me to work on jumping and turning.

Sheri took a video for each of us and showed us how we were doing and it seems my upper body posture isn't bad but, the biggest thing holding me back are my heels. I need to work on relaxing my ankles and just dropping my weight into the heels in a passive way. It's something that most people have to work on because calve muscles seem to be tight. I also notice this when I do my yoga classes as my heels don't touch the mat in downward dog. But, if I work on it regularly, it moves that way!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

And away we go!

ADW here...This weekend, we had our very own double-header, riding on Friday evening and Sunday morning.

On Friday, the weather was nice so I thought that we might be riding outside. Unfortunately when we got to the barn, we were told that one of the horses during the lesson before ours (which was held outdoors) got spooked and bolted, with the rider falling off. Our instructor Sheri decided that the horses may be a bit skittish and we held our lesson in the indoor arena.

We commenced our normal trots and small jumps and then Sheri suggested that we…canter. “Canter…?” I thought to myself, “I’ve never initiated the canter before, I don’t even know what to do!” If you recall, I experienced the canter while in Iceland, but I have never initiated it myself. Sheri suggested that I try to by kicking Aspen while exiting a corner. After a few attempts that just resulted in a very bumpy and fast trot, Aspen responded and away we went! I was able to initiate the canter twice and I was surprised by how smooth it was compared to a bumpy trot. Hopefully now that I have my first canter down, I can get it going again next time and improve on my balance.

Then on Sunday morning, we headed up for another lesson.  This time, Sheri was comfortable in holding our lesson in the outdoor arena and it was a big difference! It took a bit of time to adjust to riding outdoors since there were no more walls holding us in, but the extra space, the fresh air, and general surroundings made for a very enjoyable lesson. Even the horses had more energy riding outside. With warmer weather coming up, I can’t wait to take more lessons outside!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Lesson #23: User Error

Last week lessons were cancelled because of that freak spring storm that took out power in parts of Ontario for the better part of the weekend. While it was rainy in Toronto, it was snowy-ice-maggedon out that way. It's amazing how different the weather can be, in Toronto versus an hour drive away. The weather has been unpredictable the last few weeks with hail today and +20 degree centigrade weather earlier this week--it's as if nature can't decide whether to leave winter behind or to move forward into spring.

We were fortunate that the weather held out on Friday and we got in with good time. I was scheduled to ride Nifty and ADW was to have a good time with Aspen. I was reluctant because Nifty has a reputation for being a yanker and I didn't feel that my little arms would be able to handle it. Since Nicole and Kent weren't in, Denise suggested I could try Trinket. This is the first lesson I've been on Trinket so I didn't know what to expect but apparently she's one of the more "advanced horses". Sure, I said. Let's try this.

Trinket is a small thoroughbred bay mare with white facial markings. She's a sweet horse with good temperament and a curious nature. Everytime I brought a different brush to groom her with, she'd turn over and look at it--as if asking me what I was doing next. I just let her smell it and told her what I was going to do next. She seemed to be content with my explanations.

We spent the lesson working on turning with 20m circles, 2-point position and serpentines. The 20m circles were trickier than I thought since the aim was to ride over the center of the poles which were placed radiating from the circle's center as if splitting the circle into 4 equal parts.

Let me tell you, this is far trickier than one would think; especially if you're moving faster than a walk. And, Trinket decided to take advantage of me when I lost contact with her mouth and would  stop on a dime. Posture is still something I need to work on.

The 2-point position was not new for me but ADW had not done them before and this was his first opportunity to try them over the Cavaletti jumps and the ground poles. Again, not an easy feat to accomplish when Trinket would slow down to a walk just as she's approaching the Cavaletti because then I would need to make her go forward and that distracted me.

We also did serpentines around the ring and Sheri had to remind us to change our diagonals when we passed through the middle line of the ring (A to C) because we simply forgot! Not that it was difficult to do, but it just wasn't quite second nature yet.

At the end of the lesson, ADW said he had thoroughly enjoyed Aspen today because Aspen seemed in good spirits with ADW and responded well--sure beats the last time I got on Aspen... I did reflect some more about my lesson with Trinket since this weekend has me waddling about because of the soreness of my inner thighs. I noticed that she responded poorly to rough handling in the respect of being kicked hard when I wanted her to be forward. She seemed much more responsive when I simply nudged her; and, the whole hand contact was something that was really failing this time. I was flapping about and I'm sure I wasn't providing enough pressure to let her know I meant business. The last thing I noticed was that I tend to pitch forward when I get flustered with trying to keep her going and I'm sure she is NOT impressed with this shift in weight because it means she's got more to lift up when she's moving forward. I know I'd be displeased too.

As usual, it's typically rider error and not much horse error... schoolies are all trained properly to respond appropriately but if the message isn't clear or well initiated, it's only expected that the recipient of the message would guess or take advantage of the situation! I'll need to remember to focus on proper posture as it seems to be a failing point for me this time.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!

I picked up some worms a few months ago, in order to start vermicomposting but was quite unsuccessful. However, failure has generally not defeated my morale enough to stop so I got some worms from a local source (thanks Alice!) this time and went all out and upped my bin size and style. I now have a 30L+ bin with holes drilled in the bottom and lid. It's been a few weeks and while it took a little time to understand exactly what it was that they wanted, I think I've gotten it down now.

I've left the bin open and sprayed it daily with a mister and continued to add vegetation. A lot of the stuff is being eaten quite slowly. I'm not quite ready to experiment with types of foods that wormies like or do better with but I'll get there. For now, I intend just to get a good population going and fine-tune the care which I need to maintain.

A few things I've learned so far...
  • These systems are always much less finicky on a grand scale. It's when you try to mimic it in a small closed system, you're bound to be required to be more attentive and slight changes can really wreck havoc on your little system.
  • Plastic containers are pretty air tight and while you don't even need air holes on the sides, just leaving the lid open does wonders.
  • The compost should be wetter than you think. I mean it's also easier to dry out a wet system by just leaving the lid open for a few hours.
  • Another thing I encountered was these little shiny mites on my first few days (when I snapped the lid shut) which were all over the sides of the bin where there was condensation. My solution? Leave the lid open over night to release excess moisture. And nothing to worry about as the mites wouldn't survive outside the bin anyways.

I feel a little more confident that I'm doing the right thing now that my worms don't look like they're dying every time I go digging to check on them. Just some more patience and soon my bin will be full of compost and worms!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Worldly Tastes Close to Home

This weekend we were lucky enough to dine on delicious Korean kalbi beef ribs, try Afghani style spiced fish, and re-connect with the tastes of Peru. The best part? All of this was within comfortable driving distance in our diverse city of Toronto.

To recap...

On Saturday night, we visited our local Korea town. Its a short little strip between the Bathurst and Christie subway stations that has an abundance of authentic Korean establishments. Here you can find restaurants that specialize in soondubu (Korean tofu stew), proper Korean barbeque (and not the unauthentic all-you-can eat style), Korean bar food (I must try the friend chicken!), little dessert houses (bite-sized redbean walnut cakes are our favourite), and even a supermarket specializing in Korean groceries! We often frequent this area when we have a hankering for some spicy Korean food.

Then on Sunday for lunch, we visited a flea market in the suburbs of Mississauga. Here we found a little food court that offered us a wide variety of flavours from around the world. In no particular order...there was*deep breath*... Chinese, Hakka Chinese, Indian, Carribean, Latin American, Fillipino, Middle Eastern cuisines and a bubble tea stand thrown in for good measure!

I ordered the pan seared fish from the Afghani counter since I had never had anything from Afghani cuisine, while Deb ordered some fried corn tortilla chicken wraps from the Latin American counter. The fish was nicely spiced with a nice hot sauce and flavourful chick peas on the side. The rice that came on the Latin America was spiced with Aji chili which was a flavour we had become very familiar with during our Peru trip. And topping all of this off was a nice refreshing...Inca Kola! Very satisfying...

I have always been told that Toronto is a very culturally diverse city, but I never really took time to think about it. While we sat in this little food court surrounded by the tastes and smells from around the world, I began to have a better appreciation of what our city has to offer. We may not have the best transportation system, the most famous arts and culture scene, or even the tallest building in the world anymore, but I can't think of another city in the world where I could sit in a small little food court with that many tastes from around the world.

ADW signing out!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Lesson #22: Sensitivity Training

Sometimes things go leaps and bounds and other times nothing seems to work. Friday was one of those days where nothing seemed to come together the way I wanted. Corporate world, for one, was kicking my butt and left me in a beat-up frame of mind by the end of the day. But, I would persist, stand proud and leave behind everything by heading out to Greyden for the evening. This is our first lesson since returning from Iceland.

When we drive in, I see them putting Indy out to the paddocks for the evening and wonder if I saw that incorrectly... I've been riding Indy for several weeks and I was probably just getting used to him... I have separation anxiety issues, it appears! I'm riding Atlas tonight. I admit I was mildly disappointed because the last time I rode Atlas, I had a good deal of difficulty to communicate properly to get him to move. So, it was off-putting for me when I saw Atlas beside my name.

Atlas is a sweet curious young silver gelding with wavy hair. Reflecting back on my tack-up, I think that though nobody else was able to pick up on my slight disappointment, he was. He was jumpy around me and restless. When we got into the arena, he was jumpy and uncertain with me on his back. I spent the lesson working on transitions, a few cavaletti jumps and we learned something new: turn on the forehand.

I haven't come close to mastering this move and so I don't understand the breakdown completely so I won't try to review it here. But, it is something we'll be working on soon, again, I hope! Although rudimentary, it's a challenging move and I think I over did it... it involves flexion of the horse to initiate the turn but I think I was a little forceful about it.

I left the lesson feeling deflated, defeated and depressed that Atlas didn't like me. Completely crazy, I KNOW. I lamented on the way home and even the next day about this. But, after reflecting, I realize  Atlas is sensitive and picks up on my body language, thoughts and easily translates this into our relationship. When I'm not sure about my own actions or self-worth, it makes Atlas uneasy because he's not sure if he can trust me or not. If anything, he did what he was supposed to and didn't throw me off or give me a kick when I wasn't in the right frame of mind. Hopefully, I have the opportunity to ride him again next week and I'll work on both my image of self and trust with Atlas.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spring's Sprung!

How was your weekend? Did you get the chance to head out, today? I live in Toronto and Sunday's weather was a great introduction to our long-awaited spring! It finally felt like I could bring out my spring jacket and shed my Canada Goose parka. And, with this much improved weather, it's only natural for me to start thinking about the garden and all it's glorious garden-y goodness.

The past 2 years I've had 4 boxes to work with on the south side of the backyard and we've been growing kale, swiss chard, chinese chives, tomatoes and carrots. Some vegetables have been more successful than others but I did some research about rotating the different crops and based on the veggies I planted, the next best thing to plant into the soil are beans and peas.

Beans and peas can be planted directly into the ground but since the ground's not ready, I started some of the other seedlings that I plan on putting out there this season:

Seedlings warm and cozy in the mini green-house

My make-shift seedling box :)

I feel like vegetable gardening should cost minimally or there isn't really a point... It doesn't make sense to pay more for a tomato that you grew in the garden than picking one up from the grocery store, right? I'm all about local and sustainable but like anyone else, I've got a budget and I make compromises. Seedlings typically cost $1-5 and a packet of seeds costs around $2 with several dozens of seeds. You do the math. So, needless to say, I didn't feel like paying for coconut coir pots and thought to make the seedling pots with toilet paper rolls and a round tofu container. I prepared potting soil and filled the half toilet paper rolls and then planted as usual with a good misting over the top. Now, just wait.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Eating Adventures in Iceland

Iceland's food can be considered costly when comparing what one is used to, living in Canada (or the US). There is no denying that eating in Iceland can cost a Canadian a small fortune but just try the  food there and try to tell me that you would rather continue to eat the second rate stuff at home. I see it whenever coworkers or friends make a run to the food-court to grab a quick lunch from a big box corporation with faceless employees assembling your sandwich like automatons. All too often, we walk into grocery stores and buy all our food from a grocer who is essentially a distributor of food from various farmers who we will never know or meet. While this sort of consolidation in the supply chain is efficient and cost effective, we miss some of the more minute details such as knowing that the ground meat we're getting isn't an unknown mixture of several animals' body parts of an unknown source or background.

Food is important to me... not just because I love eating a good meal and nothing could make me happier most days, but, the food system tells an intricate story about a nation's health and their perspectives on life itself. I don't intend for this post to get all preachy but rather, to feature some of the fabulous food we had in Iceland.

A big foodie scene isn't typically associated with Iceland. France, Italy, Japan... they all boast a  fascinating food scene. I mean like ADW mentions, Iceland isn't exactly the first place people think about going to, in the middle of a bizarre Canadian winter. But, with the financial melt-down in 2008, the Icelandic Krona exchanges for a lot more CDN than it used to. Eating in Iceland for a Canadian is miles better than it used to be.

What do Icelanders eat? It seems like a barren volcanic landscape without much other than the sea. While this is partially true, Icelanders boast some of the best dairy, lamb and fish/seafood. I feel they're smart and efficient with their agricultural products. They do little beef and much of it is imported but, their lamb is some of the best I've had. It's not overly gamey, readily available and generally impeccably done. They are completely self sufficient with their dairy and have many green houses growing tomatoes, peppers and salad greens. The highlight of being an island gives them the opportunity for incredible seafood. We feast on cod, plaice, whale (minke, mostly), lobster, monkfish, shark and other creatures of the sea.

When I travel, I like to learn about the culture, people, the country and the food--which is actually part of all those. Scanning the Frommers guidebook, I make a list of the things I must try on this trip: cod chins, puffin, guillemont, whale, fermented shark (Hákarl), brennevin, meatsoup, skyr, and horse. Yes, I ride and love the horse but I'm not adverse to eating my equine friends because it's a great honour to provide sustenance for another. I'm not weird to raise my pets for consumption since building a bond with a critter and then killing it to eat is a bit unusual.

Our first dinner was at 3 Fakkar. This meal featured cod chins, whale sashimi, fish soup and hash fish. We hesitated to try fermented shark this time...

Minke whale sashimi

Cod chins

Hash fish

On our glacier and volcano expedition, we stopped by Country House Anna for their delicious meat soup. The meat soup is a welcome lunch that warms both the soul and body.

Excited to chow down on meat soup!

Our dinner was an informal evening at the Sea Baron (Saegreifinn) where we dined on minke whale, plaice and cod. The whale is interesting in that the texture is like a lean soft beef. However, after our whale watching day, we discovered that traditional Icelanders don't really frequently eat whale and it's more of a tourist thing where they want to "try" it... yep, that's us :( I didn't feel so good about eating whale after that day.

That's not beef... it's whale on the left!

Sea Baron is known for their lobster soup.. Get yourself a cup!

Grilled plaice and cod. yum!

After our horse-back adventure, we are pretty pooped so decide to have dinner at the hotel restaurant, Satt. Let me tell you, this restaurant's food is good! Despite being a hotel restaurant further away from the city center, worth dining at--breakfast, lunch or dinner! Even late bites ;)

Satt's charcuterie platter

Lamb. *drooling*

Mouth watering fish stew

Fabulous cheesy nutty dessert!

We also eat a lot of skyr while we're here. It's not yogurt but has similar consistency to greek yogurt and it also comes in a variety of flavours. The major difference is that it's low in fat (naturally) and high in protein. The breakfast of champions, pipes a random icelander: mix it with milk and sugar and you're good to go!

Alongside the ever-present skyr, we just have to try the world's best hot dogs:

Bill Clinton ordered one with "just mustard"--what a blasphemy!

Another dinner we had was at the Vid Tjornina seafood house. This place is near the city center's pond and it boasts an eclectic interior and unusual menu. For some reason, I have no photos to show for it but remember having an enjoyable 4-course "surprise" meal.

At this point, we are determined to find a location to try the fermented shark. So, we end up at a high-end Icelandic Restaurant (I'll look for the name...) and try their Icelandic Feast which consisted of...
Fermented shark and brenivinn

Not the best picture of ADW... but this is my post so he'll just have to deal with it! The shark is of a squishy mozzarella texture but firm fish when eaten. It smelled like a really ammonia-y stinky cheese and is not for the newbie foodie--apparently Gordon Ramsay spat it out. Go figure.

I man-up and eat horse

Amazing salmon...

Delectable lamb

Monkfish special for the day

A delicious skyr dessert

There is no shortage of coffee houses in the city. We try Mokka Kaffi (the oldest cafe in town) and have breakfast at the Grai Kotturinin. Their coffee is so good. We also try a very Icelandic "malt extract" which is really tasty!

Coffee and a Malt Extract at the Grai Kotturnin

And we rounded up our trip with a dinner at a Chinese restaurant we found. So far, everywhere we've travelled to, ADW insists that we try a Chinese restaurant. I have over-paid for noodle soup in London, lined-up for Kung Pao chicken in NYC and sipped Inca Cola with my tofu.

We find a Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of Reykjavik

The last thing that I would mention about eating in Iceland is their water. Everywhere here, we're used to that chlorinated tap water that tastes stale and chemically treated. And, if you eat with me, you know I'd rather die of thirst than drink tap water or bottled water. But, in Iceland, even the tap water is refreshing, sweet and straight from the glaciers. No need to buy water here, folks. Just bring a water bottle.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Geothermal Bathing, the Last Stop

Our last destination while in Iceland is the famous Blue Lagoon. I would say that nearly all tourists manage to fit this visit into their schedule at some point. While it is wisest (both time-wise and budget-wise) to fit this visit into your arrival day or your departure day, it isn't always possible. But, one should note that the Blue Lagoon is located closer to the Keflavik Airport than the capital of Reykjavik.

The clinic/spa is well reputed for its skin healing properties for psoriasis and eczema. They do a fabulous job marketing the healing properties of the lagoon's waters and the fine while silica mud--which patrons spread over their faces and bodies with vigor. And while the walls and the backdrop of lava fields is primal and stunning simultaneously, it's almost unbelievable that this whole location is man-made and actually the run-off from the nearly geothermal heating station. You can even see the station while lounging in the lagoon.

Check out the geothermal plant in the background!

The water is a strange opaque white--probably from the silica sands and is very warm. Well, I suppose it would have to be, in order to beckon people to get into their swim trunks and go running out into a giant pool during the middle of the winter while temperatures are still below zero degrees centigrade. I live in Canada--the land of ice and snow--I would know. Despite this, people get ready and take the plunge.

You drive through rolling barren lava fields and arrive at what seems like a shack with a simple sign and a winding pathway into the lava fields. You get this almost magical feeling when you arrive; with the planked path itself winding into the lava field as if you're being transported to a fantastical place. Just when you think the path will never end, you arrive at the entrance to the Blue Lagoon and are greeted by attractive, well-groomed uniformed hosts who help you get settled about where to go and what to do.

Now, being a North American, I have no real concept of a bathing house and only have shame for my body and thoughts of chlorine odoured change rooms. They have many change rooms segregated for the genders and their locker system is efficient and quick. You are handed a plastic bracelet that is your key for your bill and your locker. There is no need for coins, wallets or any real money while you're there. You pick a locker after checking what's available (green) on a monitor and head over. Then you pretty much get naked and head to the communal showers with your towel in tow. It is mandatory to take a full washing shower and rub down all those grimy corners before getting into your bathing suit and heading out into the cold.

You're looking at the entrance/exit from the change rooms to the lagoon

The showers offer showering gel (doubles as shampoo) and conditioner. My advice for females especially: take a good wash and envelop your hair in conditioner because you will regret it if you don't. Though, it might not matter if you decide to take a float in the lagoon. Before exiting to the lagoon, it's advisable not to think and just take a deep breath and spot somewhere you'll hang/stuff your towel. Then, don't hesitate and KEEP GOING until you are submerged into the warm lagoon waters.

Once you're comfortable and have your bearings again, seek out the wood boxes which house the fine white silica sands that the lagoon is famed for. Grab a little and rub it over your face and your shoulders; now relax and revel in the fact that people pay nearly $100 CDN for a single tube of this stuff from the gift shop.

There are life guards dressed like they're going out for an Arctic Expedition

If you plan early and have the money, I would suggest to try one of their floating massages! I didn't get the chance to do that but if I return, I am certainly going to do so! Imagine lying down in the water and floating there while being massaged. It sounds heavenly and dreamy, to me. In which case, you should probably plan to spend a day here. Otherwise a few hours in the lagoon are sufficient to take in the experience.

I didn't mention that the water in this lagoon doesn't have any chemical additives like our pools back in Canada. The water is purely geothermal sea water that is being pumped up from the depths of the earth and is cycled out every 40 hours or so. That said, my hair doesn't smell like a public swimming pool but it sure does feel like it's turned to unmanageable straw.... even days later. The only remedy? loads and loads of conditioner for the next few days and not leaving it down for work.