Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Surround Sound

Would you believe it if I told you I've never seen West Side Story? Well, that's only half true; I saw it last night at the TSO. But until then, I hadn't seen it before. Despite this disadvantage and the advantage of pop culture and the media, I had already seen all the best pieces of West Side story stitched together from various sources like Family Guy and the Simpsons.

Tony & Maria in love <3
For those of you who are like me, the story is in essence your modern day Romeo & Juliet. Set in the 1950s, two rival gangs duke it out while two of their respective members fall passionately in love. It's an unlikely story but one that is romanticized beautifully so; to the point that I too am drawn in and believe their instant love for one another.

Now, I got the opportunity to finally get to know one of the greatest classical American love stories through the big screen in a live orchestral audience! That's right folks, not only did I get to watch the movie on a huge screen, I got to listen to an incredible live orchestra (the Toronto Symphony Orchestra) play the entire (including the trailer and credits) soundtrack. It was an incredible experience.

The Roy Thompson Hall is acoustically incredible as it is so you can only guess how amazing the sound was, for the movie! Sometimes when I go to the TSO, I get a little bored watching the orchestra and really, it's not terribly exciting all the time. It's really neat to watch the group play together and each section be responsible for their piece that alone, makes no sense but once put together, the whole thing just transforms into something wonderful. But, sometimes... that's not that interesting. So, it was a welcome change to watch the screen and just be pulled into the story with the incredible soundtrack enveloping you.

There was a great rendition of America on Glee!

The neatest thing was how the conductor was conducting! First, this movie is ~2.5 hours and standing isn't going to happen. Next, how did he know when he was supposed to play? It's not like he and the singers could coordinate by communicating with one another. He was at the mercy of the video as it was. He was seated at the podium with a small screen which simultaneously played the movie but when there was musical score, there were these flashes and bars that would travel across the screen--as if prompting him about where they were, in the score!

Needless to say, not only was the opportunity to watch an American classic while being bathed in music but seeing the coordination of the conductor with the movie and the players was truly an inspiring feat!

Amber and I were chatting about it and we hope that the TSO takes their nearly full house as a sign to do more of these types! Can you imagine if they did Star Trek or Rent?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Spring Show-time

I started riding at Greyden in October: that makes it 8 months now. I just attended the spring in-house show over the weekend where I got the opportunity to see what a show is like and what competitors do. There is the basic walk-trot, walk-trot-canter, cavaletti, equitation on the flat, hunter equitation... and some others that I probably missed. I arrived pretty early... though, I honestly couldn't do the 7am start. I decide not to compete because I just can't bear the idea of having 8-10 year olds ride circles around me. I don't think my ego could take it. That said, I brought my camera and new lens to shoot photos.

The drive on Sunday mornings are wonderful things. If you want to get some "alone time", take a drive out to the Caledon area. It's wonderful. Things are green, open and lush. It's such an amazing change from the cityscape. It's also stress free because few people are on the road. It's absolutely wonderful. In addition to that, the weather was sunny and warm but windy.

The farm is packed and the usual parking lot is jam packed with automobiles of various sizes; as well as a few trailers. I quickly make my way down to the outdoor ring and see crowd of parents and riders around the spectator area. Sometimes, I wonder how different life might have been, if my parents were more enthusiastic about the sport. I see the parents in the stands watching their kids and cheering them on and am reminded of the times I accompanied my mom to watch my brother and his t-ball games or hockey. Not a lot changes... parents are still rooting for this kids and reminding them to "do this" or "do that". It brings back some fond memories.

I try to get some good photos of the little riders because that was my main purpose: to try my hand at motion activities. I'm typically a landscape photographer and enjoy the stillness and grandness of nature. However, I'm here to try something new and extend myself to something I don't particularly enjoy or am very good at. The kids do really well and some of them would ride laps around me if I got out there. That's ok, another time when I don't feel so sheepish for even considering to compete.

Without posting too many photos of kids who are not even remotely related to me... here are a few of the better photos where faces aren't too distinguishable (for privacy!).

Getting into the ring. That's Aspen's white butt! and our handsome Atlas looking back at me


This is a pony named Lucky

Buddy going at canter with his rider

Monday, May 27, 2013


On Saturday, ADW and I had plans to bring our parents together to meet. *deep breath* and you know what? It didn’t explode in my face like I was anticipating it might have. Instead, I was surprised in a whole other way… I’ve never been to the Double Tree Chinese Dynasty restaurant near the Airport. The reason for this get together can be found here.

I thought that this might be a nice quiet brunch/lunch that would be pretty uneventful and very normal. Well, it was far from it! we arrived and were surrounded by hoards of costume donning teenagers?? We accidently picked the weekend (and location) for the annual Anime North Convention. This event brings thousands of young people together to share and enjoy something that they have in common: Japanese Anime. I’m not a big fan, myself but I do understand the appeal of a fantasy world and the chance to meet strangers who have similar perspectives and likes as you do. The wonderful thing about these types of events is that it brings together people who are otherwise marginalized by the general population because this world appeals to certain groups of people and not the masses.

These types of events have become more popular in the recent years and the FanExpo of Toronto which started over a decade ago, continues to draw huge crowds of people together to share a common interest. It’s even grown to satellite out in Vancouver! I think it’s amazing that an idea or story can bring so many people together to share and enjoy the I felt it was very fitting that in the background of our own coming together of sorts was another type of coming together of people. I think that we get too wrapped up in the whole business of our own lives that we forget to recognize the importance of families, community and great ideas!

Cheers to the good, courage and amazing, in people!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Lesson #29: Big Personalities

We rode outdoors again, on Friday. I'm sure I'm not the only one to say that the best riding is outdoors. The drive up was also pretty relaxed and not particularly stressful. Upon arrival, we get ready to tack up. Our lessons horses assigned are Aspen for me and Indy for ADW. I am always excited to ride Aspen because in my head, I'm riding a unicorn. A kooky wild unicorn who clearly has a mind of his own.

ADW and I both adore Aspen and I know he enjoys riding Aspen because he's a joker with ADW and pulls all sorts of ridiculous practical jokes on him--like taking him to the corner without reason. Or the times he stops and insists he has to pee but nothing happens for a good minute or two.

When we get to the ring, Sheri asks me to trade with ADW as she wants us to do some canter today and Indy's canter is not as smooth going as Aspen. Last time I cantered on Aspen I wasn't even too sure I was cantering because it was so smooth! Anyways, so we trade and I climb on Indy.

Of course, I get the kooky horse who's been a bit strange lately and he spooks because of an unknown pony running by. Seriously?? Anyways... it doesn't matter because having a 'difficult' horse only helps a rider develop the skills to deal with a more extreme horse. Learning to "speak animal" is a feat in itself. People who keep animals (this is more common in the city, I find) are generally idiots who have no idea what they're doing and blame bad behaviour on the animal when in fact animals generally act out of instinct or based on training by humans. No matter. This lesson I focus on proper posture as the posture seems to help with appropriate balance and riding, as a result. I remind myself to sit up straight, look up and forward, weight in heels, heels relaxed yet firm to keep them from collapsing, chest open, elbows at my sides and hands closed with thumbs on top. A lot to think about! But, when all that comes together, everything actually does come together while you're moving!

We work on trot to get warmed up and during seated trot, I keep my gaze up and forward while keeping my hips loose enough to absorb the movement. It's still uncomfortable--I loathe doing the seated trot when asked. However, we quickly move into canter and I have the opportunity to take Indy in a nice canter around the ring. But, we know this boy loves to move and his canter always gets faster than an inexperienced rider is able to handle so I often find myself transitioning back down so I can gain control of him. This proves to be a feat I'm able to handle this lesson. Hurrah!

Our last section of the lesson is focused on a short "X" jump with 2-point position during trot. It's a pretty good final exercise as we each move nicely over the jump without any real issues. I hope to continue to improve my balance so that I can ride any canter for an extended period of time without losing my balance and needing to recollect. Continuing to focus on improving balance through retained correct posture.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Everything's Come Up Milhouse!

For the last week or so, I've had a very welcome string of good luck. It started on the Saturday during Mother's Day weekend when I wanted to go for spa day at Greyden. Instead, I found my little furry friend! A series of other unusual good luck incidents occurred... in addition to winning 3 numbers on two separate Lotto Max tickets I bought for the same week.

Literally, everything's been 'coming up Milhouse' since then but on Monday morning, I got a call about my new furry friend... One that put my stomach in knots. The lady who lost my furry friend was calling to claim him back. I was devastated. I called ADW to tell him that I was going to meet this lady to talk with her about my furry friend and that I would do the right thing and return him if that's what was meant to be.

After talking to my neighbour, she told me that she found the little guy as a stray and that he wasn't getting along with her own cats so didn't have a problem giving him up. I was both relieved and ecstatic! My little furry friend is now going to join me furever.

I decided that I needed to name him appropriately... a name that was both cute and fun as well as refined and proper: Buckingham; Bucky for short! It works out perfectly because he's got these two little white marks on his upper lip that mimic false front teeth and he's quite proper when it comes to his manners.

Here's Bucky beating me to bed the other night...

Time for bed!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lesson #28: Mind of His Own

Last Friday, we had the opportunity to ride outside: I love riding outdoors.

I got reunited with my unicorn and with the seasons having changed, he is now raining white fur on everything. My jacket is covered in fur and so is ADW's car (Sharkie). Grooming him is also a big chore since he's shedding so much that the curry comb is clogged with fur so I'm constantly stopping to clear it up. While I have Aspen, ADW is assigned Indy! We head out to the outdoor ring and get ready to get our guiddyup on.

I work with Aspen to be sure I'm not balancing on his face and that my posture is upright, open and straight. I usually catch myself slouching which seems to place my upper body precariously close to the horse's fore body. This tends to be problematic when the horse pulls forward or otherwise and I have nowhere else to go with my hands but forward and I often am pulled forward. I realize that when Sheri is telling me to keep my elbows at my side, that I should have my chest open and my shoulders back. Unfortunately for me, my day job is essentially a desk jockey and this lends to my poor forward leaning posture. However, once I start reminding myself of this, I notice that things feel better and I feel like I have more control of what's happening.

Now, that's me but what about Aspen? He's in a little bit of a mood today and he wants to run a smaller circle around the ring and at the start of the lesson, I spend a good portion of it trying to get him to move outwards. He's also in a following mood and when Buddy tries to canter, Aspens does too! So I end up spending a lot of time readjusting him to do what I want.

We work on a lot of trot--both seated and posting and some directional changes. Nothing way out of the ordinary and all good to continue to improve our balance and feelings with the various gaits. We transition into canter from seated trot and Aspen takes off in a wonderfully smooth canter. So smooth, I wasn't sure if he was in fact in canter! What a wonderful feeling it is, to be able to ride a canter several times around the ring with good control. To go at that speed is exhilarating!

ADW and I switch things up because Indy's doing his twisty gaits where he's leading with his inside shoulder and it's really strange for a newbie rider b/c you don't quite know what to do because it's distracting! Anyways, he's being a bit of a suck today and doesn't want to canter no matter how many times I try to initiate.

After untacking and grooming, we take the boys to paddock 7 to have a nice long weekend break. Paddock 7 is a huge paddock with lush grass, a pond and space to gallop and frolick. Aspen is dragging ADW to the gate and as soon as I let Indy go, they gallop right down the hill and off into the distance! Sheesh, I spend all lesson trying to get Indy to canter and he takes off in a gallop, when he's done lessons! *sigh* This just further iterates that you really can't force animals to do something they don't feel like doing...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Long-Weekends are Best for...

I am sure everyone can agree that it's great the long-weekend is finally here. The weeks leading up to this weekend feel like we're preparing for summer. It's probably because the weather is often unpredictable and I can't seem to get any of my garden stuff going. But, as I'm sitting here typing this post, I hear the fire works going off in the background and know that it's here: the warm weather and countless opportunities to get outdoors!

This weekend has traditionally marked the start of my cycling season too. I'm too much of a wuss to go out any earlier because one year, I went out around April-May and I thought I was going to die. It was the first time out since the autumn prior and my body was reminding me good and well that I was a fool for skipping out on the off-season trainer riding indoors. It took me +2 hours to get home from my usual 45-60 min ride into the city. With little money, a dying cellular phone and my own stubborn character, I rode into the cold wind all the way home--all the while cursing about how dumb the idea was.

Today was totally different. It was perfect weather. I didn't sweat excessively while gearing up hills or weaving through the city cycle paths. The sun was giving me my much needed vitamin D dose and keeping me warm enough to get through my condensed version with ease. First ride of the season and I did pretty well. I didn't have to get off to walk it up any of the hills (uber embarrassing!) I trekked through and I didn't feel too worn out from the gear choice I maintained.

I love my ride. Especially the condensed version.

I start out in Etobicoke and take a series of small residential streets to make it out to South Humber Park and end up at Sheldon Lookout. I love the opportunity that I get, to stay in the city while feeling like I'm out in the wilderness. Toronto does parks pretty well: there is always a sort of "untamed" wilderness that you can get to and feel like you've gotten away from all the crazy of the city. I often think people forget that we have such wonderful places to see and go to, while staying in the city.

Check out the view from Sheldon's Lookout:
Looking into the City from Sheldon's Lookout

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Riding Out in Caledon with My Mom

I'd like to start this post off by wishing all those awesome moms out there, a great Mother's Day! As much as mine often drives me to drink, I (suppose) wouldn't have it any other way. Today, I took my mom (aka Captain Obvious, sometimes) north and west to the Caledon area. We started out the early day by heading out to Greyden Farms for their Mother's Day Ride. Students ride a regular lesson and mom's ride for free.

Unsurprisingly, the weather was as unpredictable and unpleasant as a mother's wrath! Believe me, I know first-hand. Hail, snow, rain, wind... It was as if spring decided to head back south. After warming up at the nearby Tim Hortons (along with pretty much everyone else), we headed to Greyden to tack-up and get suited up for the ride. I rode Nifty today and my mom was on Nikki.

We rode indoors with another mom and daughter. The young girl (like 12??) has been riding for 3-4 years and was riding cantering circles around the rest of us like it was nothing at all! And I get the rockiest canter ever. Everytime Nifty took a stride, I felt like I was going to be launched out of the saddle! Not as I was expecting but certainly a good step forward seeing as I didn't fall off and was able to control him enough to transition up and down--though let's not get ahead of ourselves and say I was doing so gracefully.

Nifty and me

Captain Obvious was riding at a slower pace with Nikki who seemed very content to just hang out and take her time. Good thing too! Because it was the first time the good Captain had been on a horse. Despite this lack of exposure, she did pretty well for herself and remained seated firmly on Nikki for the hour lesson.

Having a great time!

After lesson, we headed to Spirit Tree Estate Cidery for lunch. They're known for their wood burning oven pizza and we were really excited to have some but they opted for a special Mother's Day menu instead. But, they did feature some of their wonderful hard (and non) cider in cocktails for moms. My mom tried their orangey mimosa alongside her salmon quiche. AAAnd! We had an amazing fiddlehead puree soup! DELISH! Totally in-season, local and wonderful for you.

We rounded up our day by visiting the Cheltenham Badlands to see what all the fuss is about. Every time I've visited this site, I've always gotten this idea that aliens came by and had a party there but it's entirely man-made (by accident) due to poor farming practices.

Captain Obvious told me that she had never known that so much interesting sites and places were within an hour of the city. There's one place that I wish we had the time to go and see and that's Andrews Scenic Acres--another time! This is a great agri-business that brings families closer to the agriculture sector by making it fun.

It's always nice to get out of the city and explore the country--there's a lot to see and do! Driving out this way is incredibly satisfying because there are so many curves in the road and lots of wonderful scenery. Whatever you did with your mom, I hope it was as enjoyable as our day!

Happy Mother's Day!!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Fateful Dumb Luck

I woke up this morning really excited to head to Greyden for the horsey spa day. You must think I'm completely crazy. A "spa day" at a stable is typically a day set aside for cleaning up the horses by giving them a bath, cleaning and clipping and grooming. Riders also clean-up leather tack to remove  dirt and other unwanted things. It's beneficial for new riders to learn how to take apart a bridle and saddle completely to clean and reassemble. I was really looking forward to this.

Unfortunately for me, my mom wasn't willing to let me have the car to drive up there today (and tomorrow--I'm taking her up for a Mother's Day ride!) so I was left to mull around in my own grumpiness. I did though, decide that it wasn't worth the waste of time and got promptly onto my "house to do list". One of those things was to replant the seedlings that were lost over my weekend away. I made a spot on the deck to get things ready and potted so there I was, mixing the potting mix, filling random containers with dirt and placing a surviving seedling into it or a new seed.

Something about working with your hands with the earth is incredibly satisfying. I was rocking away to Of Monsters and Men and just being one with nature. It was a perfect day too. Nice and overcast with a moderate temperature and my neighbour's daughter taking slap-shots with her dad as goalie. It was my time. I love my neighbourhood.

As I'm working away, I heard this faint mewing. I paused and thought that I might just be imagining things. It's been a long while but I still really miss my two feline siblings. Each one as different as the other but both as close as family could get. Maybe it was the nostalgia getting the better of me today but I slowly removed my head phones and I clearly heard the audible "mew mew mew". Here's the thing though, our neighbourhood is known to have several outdoor cats and a few strays so I wasn't exactly thinking that anything would come out of me getting up to explore--my legs are sore squatting so this could just be a good break.

I make my way down the steps to the car-port and I continue to hear this little mew mew and when I crouch down to take a look, I see 2 bright yellow-green eyes beaming out at me with what look like 2 little white front teeth? Upon closer inspection, I see that he's mostly black with some unusual white facial markings. And, a harness?? At first I thought it was just a collar and in that case, it would have just been my kitty loving self going in for the mega pats and belly rubs. But, I see that the harness has part of what was a leash attached--it looks like someone's lost!

My mom was out to do the weekly grocery shopping so I couldn't reach her to get some cat food for the little guy so there I was, feeding him the pricey, extremely tasty stewed Berkshire pork my mom made. Wow, he sure was hungry! By now, I figured I had to get him out of there since he belonged to someone and was probably just lost, cold, hungry and very scared. I was on a mission.

After several hours of me periodically coaxing him out with treats that ADW brought over (thanks ADW!), he cautiously crawled out to grab the treat and retreat back to his spot and munch away. That's the thing about working with animals... you have to have a lot of patience. Some days things go great, other times, you're wishing you could channel some Dr. Doolittle. Today, I channeled Dr. Doolittle and the second I saw my opening, I went in and grabbed him to pull him out. He panicked and freaked out as any good cat would but lucky me, I looked up and ADW was standing there looking at us in awe "how did you get him out!?".

He's such a pig!

After ADW helped me get the little dude into the carrier we set-up, I took him upstairs and assembled a basic kitty hideout in my bathroom. And, with some patience and time, the little buddy came out of both his shell and the carrier to thank me for "saving him". When in reality, the thing that saved him was that halter that he was wearing. Tonight, he's  got a warm and safe place to sleep and when I last peeked in on him, he was peacefully snoozing away.