Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Review: Austenland

Let me start off by saying, wow. What a whirlwind read: I picked up Austenland because I have been avoiding Blindness for weeks; I started it and just couldn't get fixated enough to read it on my own. So, as Amb did too, I grabbed Austenland and away I went... 2 days ago. I finished reading this in 2 day, folks! I figured this would be one of those smutty "chick lit romances" that throws in this poor woe-is-me heroine who hasn't the foggiest idea of what to do with herself in terms of her love life and readers read as she awkwardly struggles to grow and mature as a character and then coincidentally finds love with a wonderful Darcy-esque man. *swoon*

I generally shun and abhor chick flicks/lit romances. Yuck. But, as Amb promised, I fell right into the rabbit hole on this one. I didn't have high hopes for the literary quality of the prose and I suppose that was the weakest point for me... the conversation style writing. It felt lazy and lacking a solid grasp of quality writing. However, I'm no writer and similar to my perspective on wine, if you like it, then that's good enough.

The story presents us our heroine, Jane Hayes. Similar to the target reader demographic, she is in her 30s and probably read Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice and then was introduced to the impeccable BBC rendition of the same story, in 1995; and like many of Austen's modern female readers, fallen in love with Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy a la Mr. Colin Firth.

(Note: most of you male readers might be completely confused about who this "Mr. Darrrcyyy" is and why us females swoon so much over him. It's ok, you'll never get it; it's a girl thing. We're all in love with Mr. Darcy in some way.)

Oh don't look at me like that, Mr. Darcy!

Jane is down and out on her love life and through a surprise inheritance from a great aunt, finds herself gifted a trip to Pembrooke Park--a fantasy place where the Regency era comes to life and the patrons participate in a staged farce of Regency romance and a life of leisure. The reader follows Jane's story from starting as an awkward, damaged and unsure heroine. She becomes the heroine that we all want her to be: strong, confident and comfortable with who she is and what she wants.

The book makes a great premise for a chick flick movie, and that's exactly what happened--though I have yet to watch the movie that came out earlier this year--but lacks real "meat" as a literary gem and could easily be defined as being a quick and easy read that fits the purpose of being a literary palette cleanser; a break from something heavier. It was fun and thrilling for a P&P fan like myself but it certainly doesn't make you think or react viscerally like The World According to Garp.

If you're looking for a guilty pleasure rush of excitement, girly thrills and a Mr. Darcy fantasy, then this is the perfect read for such a purpose!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Never Late, Always Remember

When I started this blog, I was on the verge of turning 30 and I wanted to reflect and focus on me. After all, that's the single most important relationship I will ever have in my life. I spent the previous years entrenched in things that I thought I needed to do and at the time, enjoyed but what started as desire became obligation. More than a year later, some things have come full circle but none, more than my return to FanExpo.

I started working FanExpo in 2000 when it was still in its infancy. To me, this was a time when the idea of a girl admitting that she enjoys the Star Trek franchise (most notably TNG), wasn't popular. It was one fateful afternoon when things changed. I left for various reasons and as I've gotten older, I've started to realize what's important to me and what I like. Maybe it was this mental growth but I'm not all too sure what made me decide to return and "work the con"; but, old friends (and new) quickly accepted me back into the fold.

Things have changed a lot: the show now spans the entire MTCC complex and there was a record attendance of over 100,000 patrons. What a weekend! I was assigned to the Premium Lounge where we oversaw the Premium ticket holders' swag bag give-away and helped maintain the state of the space. I don't usually talk to strangers and find that when put into social situations, I keep mostly to myself. However, I felt very comfortable among the crowds and was able to spend most of the weekend chattering away. I know... me, chatting with strangers like we're old friends! In fact, I would safely say I made some new friends this weekend.

Now to get to the fun stuff! What did I do while at the expo? I worked mostly. But I had the opportunity to walk the show floor when it was virtually empty and to see all the neat stuff that the different vendors brought with them after the show closed one of the evenings. It reminded me of an episode of "Today's Special" when they run around the mall at night. One of the highlights is when I met Tony Moore of the Walking Dead comic series. He is both the creator and artist (first 20 issues) of the story. In both instances, I "geeked out" and felt like a kid in a candy store again!

Although there is over 750,000 sqft of space designated for corporate vendors, independent artists, celebrities, workshops, seminars and many other events, any patron who goes will tell you that they go, for more than the cool toys and the opportunity to meet their heroes. This weekend is a chance to make friends and to be yourself among others who are doing the exact same thing. Since I started, the attendance has grown 9x what it used to be. That's incredible! It's encouraging to see the wide range of demographics and entire families dressed up together, to enjoy the weekend. Sure, you can think it's a cash grab but the expo is literally a chance for all the geeks and nerds to congregate in one place and socialize and do business. For us big kids, it's a chance to continue reliving and enjoying the stories, characters and themes of our yester-years.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Lesson #47: Nifty Knows Best

Aug 16, 2013

It was just me again. I was looking forward to getting out of the city and as usual, had a nice relaxing drive out that way. I still get anxious when I think about the new outlet mall out that way. So far, things have been good. I hope the upcoming long weekend is the same good luck!

Today I ride Nifty; he's a sturdy and sensitive Quarter Horse. I think that he's probably misunderstood by riders who don't know him better because of his sensitivity and then think he can be a little much to work with because of his sensitive and overly obsessive attention to details. I read that sentence again and realize that I might have just described my own character traits. HAHAHA no wonder work has been going the way it has! ADW would tell me I'm sensitive (on the boarderline of being overly-sensitive) and obssessive about details. Sounds like me and Nifty will be just fine... in time. Afterall, I'm not sure I'd be friends with me if I wasn't me!

We've been told that because Nifty is a chestnut with pink skin, he tends to be more sensitive overall. His skin is thinner than most horses and he actually can get sunburned! Gillian puts sunscreen on his nose when they're out in the sun. He also is not a fan of being groomed since his skin is thinner than most horses and so it must feel like an unwanted and uncomfortable scratch/rub-down. He's also very sensitive in the mouth--he hates when riders yank on his face and prefers leg aids! The best thing about Nifty is his responsiveness to leg aids. The others are not as responsive to leg aids and sometimes I'm really going to town with my leg to get them to move.

Anyways... :) my first impression of him today is that he's not too cranky pants and might actually be cooperative. We get started out in the ring with Kristy as Sheri's got a personal commitment over the weekend. That said though, we warmed-up as usual and got into things just as we would. I've had a rather stressful week and been experiencing some anxiety with work and other things so my head wasn't exactly in the right space. But, I didn't recognize this until I started riding Nifty. I had some difficulty getting him moving in a forward thought at the start... when we did get moving, he just sort of clopped along. The posting trot was fine with him but the seated trot was (as usual) not particularly enjoyable. Of all the horses I've ridden at Greyden, Nifty is the one that I am the most hesitant to ride when we increase the gaits. I've gotten used to some of the others who are a bit more challenging but Nifty remains the source of canter-related anxiety. The first time I rode his canter was during the Mother's Day Ride.

Now we move towards the canter *gulp*. I feel myself tense up (and so did he!) so trying to get him going was like trying to do something without your heart in it. Everything was fine up until this point; I was confused and frustrated because he was responsive to pretty much everything else. At the time, I was growing more frustrated with the unresponsiveness to notice much else but in hindsight, I recognize he was just responding in-kind to my own anxiety and since I'm not quite "alpha horse" in his eyes, he was doing what he thought was best for me (and himself). At this point, I was told to correct him when he was doing his funny bend against the way he was to be bent. I spent possibly a quarter lesson correcting him.

I did get one canter around but that was about it. It was by no means graceful or happy. The silver lining in this stormy grey Dark Kloud (as an old friend affectionately referred to me as; coinciding with my initials of DK) was that we managed to get through a line of X-jump and a low straight jump through a trot turned canter (a la Nifty). I was also able to turn him around nicely before calling it a night. Not too shabby considering my less than stellar headspace. Thanks Nifty!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

“It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.” --Oscar Wilde

Our world is filled with all sorts of diverse subjects, themes and stories; there are so many that I want to immerse myself and just take it all in; I thirst for knowledge and new experiences. I'm sure you can tell through my blog posts, that I have a wide range of interests with a few key focuses that I could easily devote my entire life, if I was allowed to. The main one is certainly my equestrian activities but reading helps me get into the heads of other people to know what their lives are/were like.

My mom always said that the best thing to do for yourself is to read. When you read, you're taken on an adventure that is far away; be it a fictional or non-fictional read. I am inspired by Amb to read more and to allow others to have an idea of where I've gone, with my reading. In an effort to accomplish this, I am going to undertake a new project called the "Book Club 2013" and I'll be posting a list of books I will be reading and subsequently reviewing.

A new page has been created to keep track of this new project and I hope that you will join me in suggesting good books to read! :)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lesson #46: Magic Moment

Aug 9, 2013

ADW and I had another semi-private lesson and today, I ride Indy. I haven't ridden Indy for a while. The only difference this time was that Sheri was doing some stuff with one of her horses, Bons, and a student. So, during warming up, she was riding him around; and it was incredible to watch her do her dressage magic. Her seat is amazingly awesome and just the way she looks as a rider... we're both blown away. I definitely want to get tickets to watch the dressage competitions at the Pan Am Games.

We had the space today so spent most of our time working on the gaits--particularly the canter. We warm-up with the trot and Sheri tells us to lengthen the stride. I read up on it after I came home and see that there are quite a few aids that a rider should do to get a horse to lengthen their trot; we are not at this level of skill yet. In addition, the horse is generally trained to do this. To overly simplify, we merely extend the 'up' part of the post a fraction longer. I don't think I'm quite successful but trying certainly gave me the chance to get a feel for my balance and forward impulsion.

I am finding that the weight that needs to go down through my heels are starting to sink down some more but I also continue to work on the proper leg contact with the horse's body and saddle. My lower leg still flaps about sometimes but I try to wrap around their body and have the proper alignment with heels, hips and head. While doable for short spurts, doing any of this for a longer duration is a tricky endeavour and I find myself tiring quickly and thus reverting to "bad habits". It also continues to be tricky once the gaits increase from a walk.

We trot a few more times in both directions and then we move to the canter. Sheri says that the canter is what we'll work on because there is enough space with just the two of us. So, from walk, we ask our horses to gear up to canter and take a burst as long as we can handle. Indy has been more and more difficult to get started in lessons so I find myself pushing him a lot, to get him forward thinking. I notice that my balance is much better than it used to be and I'm able to coordinate my alignment when he's taking turns.

I focus on getting my leg alignment in the right place in canter because I am finding that my heels are lifting a bit when riding and it thus throws my balance off. I also notice that Indy is a bit unsure of himself sometimes and if I am not clear about what I want, he guesses and doesn't appear to be very good at guessing appropriately. Sheri reminds me to focus on getting my leg alignment in the right place with proper contact. I had some trouble getting him started prior to this reminder and I notice that the instant I have proper leg alignment and the appropriate contact with his body, he takes off exactly as I need him to and doesn't hesitate or guess incorrectly.

It's a "eureka" moment that provides an immense amount of clarity about how to apply my aids to Indy (and any other horse, for that matter). But, it isn't easy. My leg muscles continue to be conditioned with each lesson to develop closer and closer to what is considered ideal. I had just a glimpse of what wonderful magic can happen when I am suddenly talking the right language with the proper pronounciation, to Indy. Now to work on the endurance and flexibility to really drive it home.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Review: The World According to Garp

I'm not a heavy fiction reader. In fact, my requirements for a good fiction are generally high and typically, I bore quickly from a fictional read that doesn't catch my attention right away. This was my initial thought about The World According to Garp. I received the book (along with others) from ADW 5 years back when we first met. I suspect it was his way of trying to impress me with his bookworminess; frankly, he had a better chance of wooing me just by donning his glasses. The pile of books sat on my desk until I decided that I need to read more.

I didn't know what to expect from The World According to Garp; the cover gives nothing away and I've never heard of the author, John Irving. Wikipedia summarizes the major themes: death, gender roles, and sexuality. I was skeptical considering the dark subjects it focuses upon and wonder what Mr. Irving would do, to draw his reader in. The Wiki article goes on, to mention that this book is Mr. Irving's best selling title: I decided it was worthy of a chance.

Like much of our media now, there is a lot of sex in The World According to Garp; used as both a noun and a verb. The act of sex, getting it, wanting it, forcing it and the implications or expectations associated with being a specific sex. You could say that Irving sold the book like most marketers do now... with sex; a whole lot of it. But, he doesn't glamorize it like those CK billboards. He makes no attempts to hide anything about the "real deal". The implications of the act of sex as well as what it means to be associated with a specific sex. Irving really messes with the reader's socially conditioned version of sex as both a verb and noun. We're made to feel uncomfortable and out of our natural comfort zone of understanding and what's "normal".

Complimenting this theme of sex, he displays the dualities in virtually everything. Where there is life, there is a moment where death becomes the dominant leader. Or where there is bliss, there is great sorrow and sadness to contrast. The reader is never allowed the opportunity to just be happy for Garp and his family/friends. There is always momentary happiness which is usually followed by a great deal of sadness. But, isn't that the way life sort of is? I found the book's subjects to be very real. Surprisingly, several of the people in my life have read the book and have generally provided a somber or dire perspective on the plot. They have even gone as far as to tell me that the book is "heavy" and "they wouldn't read it again".

Although the story is thoroughly speckled with unusual (and uncomfortable) situations and characters that the average reader might consider to be too crude or even offensive, the reader is always reminded that the world isn't a pretty place and that the theme of sex seems to seep into everything somehow. I find myself not the least bit offended by Garp's actions as I keep a similar realistic (?) view on the world and its people. None of the bizarre cirucmstances seem too far fetched in my mind. So when I finished reading The World According to Garp, I was neither strongly opposed to the subjects he talks about or the characters Irving creates. I felt like Irving represented people with  experiences of disappointment, sadness, disappointment, anger/rage, jealousy, joy, desire, anxiety and happiness. I'd say he got well into the minds of people in general and just decided to make up an interesting story to "put it out there", if you will.

I know Irving has written some other books--not only this one has been adapted to the silver screen--and they all seem to address unconventional themes and issues; so certainly a "heavy read", but one that is real enough to keep us grounded in the reality of the world and its people.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Lesson #45: City, Meet Countryside

The standard route taken to get out to Greyden is going 401 west until Trafalgar and then going north until we arrive on site. It's a bit far for my liking but at the same time, it's not the worst thing to have happen. Afterall, I get to see wonderful scenery on the way out and I always get a kick out of the "DANGER: Quick Sand, Do Not Enter" sign. The worst thing to happen to date is the new Premium Outlet malls that have opened at Trafalgar and 401.

Sunday morning was pretty quiet, but on the off-ramp to Trafalgar, there were two OPP cruisers parked with two police officers taking what looked like a coffee break. Of course, ADW took the opportunity to chastise the officers for what seemed like a waste of tax dollars (his words, not mine!). But, I mention casually that it's a good chance the officers are there to get ready for the hoards of shoppers who will eventually make their way out to this location, from the surrounding areas. More on this later!

We have a shorter lesson today because we are the only ones in the lesson. No matter. I ask to ride Trinket again because I am utterly determined to settle whatever issues I have with this mare. Sure, it's not going to go away this one lesson but it won't ever go away if I don't work at it. So, I determine to get on her and get going. The tack up is pretty quick because I totally lost track of time and we make our way to the ring, on this very cool morning.

Lenka starts our lesson with walking around the ring in both directions and then we move into the trot. She tells us to insert 3 smaller circles into the larger one, at the trot; but to be aware to continue the trot and not slow down or stop. For some reason, easier said than done! Trinket had her way of slowing right down to a walk and a few times she stalled. I'm learning to get her going better and trying to understand her better as well. Doing it at a posting trot is much easier than seated trot... which is the next exercise. My equitation on flat SUCKS.

We continue those exercises until we're both getting the flow better. I find that for seated trot, I am putting majority of weight into my heels and sort of pivoting through my ankles which is likely partially right but at the same time, wrong. This is especially likely because after the bareback challenge on Friday, I learn that my seat should be the main thing keeping me in place and not being semi-standing through my heels. It's tricky to explain without having ever done it but that's the best it'll be :P

Our next exercise is doing a line of ground poles and a cavaletti with 2-point position and half seat in the middle. Lenka reminds us to "push down" on their necks in our 2-point positions. I am starting to feel the balance points better as it literally is a slight tilt or shift forwards or backwards that means the difference between accomplishing this or not. We're talking centimeters!

Our last and final exercise is the canter. *deep breath* My objective is to get Trinket into a canter and ride the ring in a canter with as little (to no) pony trot. It isn't easy. The first go and we pony trot it for about half of the ring until I give up and bring her back. I get it the second time around but she was a little bit speedy and it always makes me nervous because her canter is much more bumpy than I prefer. I remind myself to keep my eyes up and forward because she is starting to get heavy on the forehand. We try several more times and she even picks up the wrong lead at some point and I find it a bit bumpier than usual. It is rides with this mare that I discover how much physical work and attention that must be paid in order to accomplish this. Riding is not for the lazy or inattentive!

I would say overall, things are coming together nicely with Trinket and I hope to continue to ride her and get to know her since she proves to be a challenging ride for me!

Before I forget... back to the start of this post: on the way back into the city, I have never seen so much traffic in one place before. There is a sea of cars in the new parking lot and the surrounding lots. It's completely unreal. In addition, the traffic goes back to Mavis! I can't fathom why so many people would want to head to an outlet for. It's time for planning of a new route out... next Friday might be frustrating.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Lesson #44: Bareback Challenge

Aug 2, 2013

I'm on my own today; ADW is on his way home from a week in his NYC office and I'm on my way out to Greyden.

I thought the class would just be the 3 of us today but I was so wrong! We had 2 guests whom I didn't expect... *sigh* I don't like having new people I don't know, in the class! :( But, I suck it up (sort of) and get ready to tack up Trinket. I find her busy in her stall munching away and not really caring about heading out to do anything.

Since the weather is unpredictable and it's sloppy and wet outside, we ride indoors. We're greeted by that familiar indoor arena smell... reminiscent of winter. It's been a while since we're ridden indoors and I'm not sure if I necessarily miss it. We start with a brief warm-up of trotting: with posting and seated trot. Seated trot feels good today. Because the ring space is small and there are 5 of us and Trinket isn't exactly the best candidate for a canter in a smaller space, we focus on things that we can all do.

The newbies are learning to do the basic stuff, the rest of us get to focusing on perfecting our trot and walk and transitions. When it seems we're sufficiently in rhythm with trot, Sheri says "take your feet out of the stirrups and now do seated trot."

This isn't impossible to execute but it certainly is challenging and tests our leg endurance--particularly our inner thighs. I remember to wrap my legs around Trinket's body and find that the best leg position to get her moving forward and to continue to stay seated is when my leg position is mimicking the way things would be if we were sitting in the saddle with stirrups. Even initiating with the lower leg squeeze is effective when the leg position is mimicking the proper seat position! Interesting, I think to myself.

Next up? Posting trot without stirrups!! While I've heard it has been done before, I've never seen someone actually do it and I don't have a concept of how it is done. But what the heck, let's try it anyways! Let me tell you, it is tough! Seated trot doesn't use much stirrup but usually with posting trot (so far), I am using the stirrups to move upwards so it isn't conceivable in my brain. But, we somehow manage it. I find myself using my thighs to rise from my seat... and it doesn't last! It is also not the most comfortable for us to accomplish without going cross-eyed. Looks like I need to work on my inner thigh muscle endurance.

Next... we move to bareback: walking while on bareback is not new for us since we've done it before. But, try seated trot now: level of difficulty? 5/5. I experienced not only difficulty staying balanced in the seat but I was only able to maintain proper thigh contact for short periods of time. Whenever Trinket stopped short, my body would continue to move forward and my "bits" would jam into her whithers. I don't know how a guy would manage to do this unless he has incredible thigh strength endurance!! I got a few strides in there where I was able to stay seated and centered but it wasn't for long. Leg position is truly critical here because without the proper leg position, you lose balance and it's more likely you'd fall right off.

An interesting lesson, needless to say! It is certainly something to work towards and brings the learning experience to a whole new level from the original ride to cantering around on Trinket and now the balance and muscle requirements! What a lesson :)