Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

Archive for the tag “illustration”

Cartoon: Health messaging is all around us

Crowded subway screening messages cartoon_color2

Everywhere we look, we are bombarded with health messages, usually across a variety of media platforms. How to prevent disease. How to treat disease. These days, a person has to be able to think critically not just about the message being transmitted (i.e., Is it credible? Does it apply to my personal circumstances?), but also about the messenger transmitting the message (i.e., Is the information from a trusted source? Are there any conflicts of interest or external motivations that may be influencing the message?). In an age of such complexity, it has never been more important to educate ourselves about health and healthy living. We need to become critical thinkers, so that we can appraise the messages and the messengers. There’s a lot of health information out there – too much to stay on top of by ourselves. That’s why we also need to identify trusted curators of health information, who can help us sort through all the noise to find the signal.

An excellent, plain language resource to start educating oneself about health messages is the free, open-source book by Woloshin, Schwartz, and Welch called Know Your Chances.

Words Matter: The Importance of Choosing One’s Words Carefully

This week, I was asked by a friend if I could come up with a cartoon that she could use in a presentation that she would be delivering at an international conference on communication later this month. She wanted a humorous illustration that would help make the point that the words we use matter in ensuring that our ideas are understood as we intended. By contrast, when we choose the wrong words, misunderstanding can often occur, sometimes with comic effect.

This cartoon was drawn by hand using a black Pitt pen on glossy (finger paint) paper, which I then scanned and colorized in Photoshop. It shows a Catholic school student having to explain her unfortunate choice of words in class to the priest.

This cartoon was drawn by hand using a black Pitt pen on glossy (finger paint) paper, which was then scanned and colorized in Photoshop. It shows a Catholic school student having to explain her unfortunate choice of words in class to the priest.

What if we made taking the stairs the more desirable choice versus the elevator?

My (boring) workplace stairwell…


If I got my hands on some paint (and permission from the building owners), oh what the possibilities could be…

I could paint a huge tree of brightly-colored autumn leaves with a bluebird perched on a branch…


Or a thrilling ride down a ski hill…

Before_staircase3_Ski Lift

Seven flights of staring at boring, bare walls while walking up drab concrete steps is otherwise not a very inspiring way to start one’s work day. I wish developers and architects (and companies) would do more with stairwell and stair design. Stairs are sculptural and are functional public art just waiting to happen. Maybe if we had more visually interesting stairwells, more people would actually want to take the stairs at work – instead of always opting for the elevator.

Collection of hand-drawn sketches from Illustration course

This fishbowl sketch was based on the class’s theme of surrealism. We had to pick an object – in this case, a vase with flowers – and give it a surrealism spin. I decided to turn one of the leaves into a fish trying to escape the fishbowl – a metaphor for how employees can sometimes feel trapped working in a corporate office 9 to 5, day in and day out. The hands represent ‘working for the man (or ‘woman’, as the situation may be)’. A classmate – a florist by day – later remarked that the drawing made her think of Little Shop of Horrors. The sketch was done using watercolor pencils and wash.

Fishbowl sketch

The sketch below was a very quick fashion sketch I did on a break. It was my modern interpretation of Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer. The sketch was done using a combination of graphite and color pencils,and wash.

Girl with a Pearl Earring sketch

The sketch below arose out of a themed exercise the instructor assigned to the class. We had to incorporate black beans and a ‘found object’ of our choice – in my case, a broken candelabra – into a drawing. I decided to do mash-up of the classic children’s books, The Little Engine that Could and Jack and the Beanstalk. The drawing is done entirely in graphite pencil.

Beans exercise_sketch

Illustration: ‘Afternoon at the beach’

Inspired by a photo I took earlier this week of a multi-colored parasol at Parlee Beach at dusk and the artistic style of Maud Lewis. Drawing and colorization done entirely in Photoshop using my laptop’s touchpad.

Beach art

Whimsical fish and bicycle mixed-media illustration

seafood bike_collage_med.res

This was an illustration I did for my 3-1/2 year old nephew based on a trip I made to London, England in September of 2012, where I happened upon a lovely green delivery bike complete with wicker basket for Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill off Regents Street.

The bike and cat were hand-drawn using a black pitt pen; the fish and newspaper were photographs I had taken and cropped, while the boy, cartoon fish, and background were all drawn using Photoshop. Colorization was completed in Photoshop. My nephew loved it! 🙂

Swimming: A Yearning for the Life Aquatic

Summer, 2012

I’m out for another evening work-out on another sweltering summer night in the city. I have never seen Ottawa looking so dry. Alarmingly so. We have not had rain for more than a month, and the straw-colored grass is just thirsting for water. During the day, it looks as if we live in a giant wheat field like the one depicted by the 20th century American realist painter, Andrew Wyeth, in his tableau, Christina’s World. An odd  juxtaposition of happy sunbathers can be seen along the canal near the Corktown footbridge soaking in the intense sunshine seemingly either blissfully unaware or undisturbed by the desperate, drought-like conditions surrounding them. As night falls, our sun-scorched earth becomes a version of Van Gogh‘s ominous Wheatfield with Crows, where pedaling along the parched Arboretum‘s lonely bike path expectedly triggers the doleful a-hink-a-honk chorus from the hundreds of resident, apathetic Canada geese, floating disinterestedly on the warm lagoon waters.  A small, skittish cohort suddenly breaks away in V formation, having decided to seek skyward sanctuary; their remaining feathery flâneurs left bobbing over the small series of waves generated from the wake…

Another day, another night of heat. The wind has changed, and so the smell of smoke from a brush fire in the city’s west end now permeates the warm, humid air, causing me to defer my run until tomorrow morning in favor of a swim indoors. I’ve just started working out at the university pool since my community pool is closed for the summer for much-needed renovations to its dilapidated roof and ventilation system.

The Quest to Conquer the Fear

The university pool is a hard-core, 50 m competition pool filled with water tending on the cold side, conducive for supporting top performances by its varsity swimmers; my unassuming community pool, by comparison, is only 25 m in length with a balmy ambient water temperature perfect for more casual or leisure-inclined swimmers. I was slightly intimidated by the prospect of kicking around on a flutterboard in this big pool, imagining all those aspiring Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin swimmers lapping me several times over…

I am still learning to swim properly. It’s not so much the physical aspects of swimming that elude or intimidate me, but the considerable psychological baggage I carry for deep water that I can’t seem to unpack. It’s been more than a year that I’ve been incorporating pool work-outs into my athletic routine, but I am growing impatient with the plateau I seemed to have hit in my swimming progress.

My interpretation of the famous Edvard Munsch painting, The Scream.

I took some adult lessons last winter, which began with promise, but then I seemed to lose momentum. I struggled fruitlessly trying to master the art of treading water without exhausting myself from the effort. I’ve tried both the ‘bicycle’ and ‘egg beater’ techniques, but my legs and arms invariably tire after moving about at Mach 8 or like the powered-up propellers of Porter‘s Bombardier Q-400 turboprops. I cannot seem to get myself to slow down in the belief that I will float. By contrast, the rest of my less fit classmates easily mastered this essential water safety skill. I was discouraged, but soldiered on, albeit dispiritedly as I watched my peers transform into confident, competent swimmers, effortlessly completing 25 m up and 25 m back. I would achieve no such breakthrough.

During the in-between time of my lessons, I mostly stick to my security blanket routine of non-stop laps up and down the 25-m section of shallow water at the university pool supported, of course, by my large, trusty red flutter board. Because I kick away vigorously and continuously for almost an hour, the effort usually provides a decent cardio (and muscular endurance) work-out and most importantly, a much-needed cross-training break from the unforgiving, repeated pounding my lower limbs have sustained from all the years of exclusive running.

Physically, I do not look like someone who cannot swim. In fact, I probably look like someone who swims well — possibly at a Master’s level. With my focused, hour-long flutterboard sessions, I would often be queried by curious swimmers in the adjacent lanes about what I was training for; I did not fit their image of a non-swimmer and so they were always more than a little surprised to learn that no, actually I was still learning how to swim.

What is it about Deep Water?

I don’t eschew the deep end of the pool entirely. In fact, I often enjoy doing laps on my flutterboard there especially to avoid the usually crowded lanes of the shallow end or getting hit in the head by a wayward ball from the rambunctious pick-up water basketball games among the 20-somethings that go on concurrently in the adjacent leisure lane. When I’m relaxed in the deep end, I imagine myself being supported on top of a giant bowl of Jell-O or a very big waterbed; I can easily sense the difference in buoyancy between the shallow and deep end. When I’m not relaxed, work-outs can become suffused with anxiety, where I experience a hyperawareness of the depth beneath me and a consequent need to remain within relatively easy reach of the pool’s side wall; I still persist with my work-out, but I am relieved when it is over and I can exit the deep end.

In spite of this long-standing fear of deep water and the challenge this presents to learning to swim, I have perhaps surprisingly always derived a great deal of artistic, spiritual, and intellectual inspiration from being near water — especially oceans and lakes. I think it is this desire to one day be able to safely canoe, row, or kayak solo in open water that most fuels my desire to learn to swim.

If I think back to my youth, there was a time when I delighted in going to my community pool for public swims to cool off during the hot summer months with my friends and sisters. Like most kids, I took swimming lessons, even excelling in my early series of Red Cross classes; however, I had not yet reached the level at which classes would be conducted exclusively in the deep end.

One day, during one of those care-free summer afternoons of my youth spent at the local pool, I remember wanting to try jumping into the deep water in such a way as to minimize splash. I was not a slim kid and so my jumps into the pool tended to be more on the ungraceful, cannonball side. I was also becoming increasingly aware of my slightly excess corpulence as a girl on the verge of puberty coupled with a generally increased self-awareness of physical appearance.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the outcome of my attempt at a rip entry jump. I jumped in straight, entering the water feet first with pointed toes like an arrowhead. However, I must have let myself descend too far since I began to panic. Fortunately, survival instinct kicked in as I was able to claw my way back up to the surface without drawing attention to myself. Hovering over the side of the pool, alternatingly gasping for air and clearing my throat of the water I had inhaled, I remember physically trembling as I thought about how differently this experiment could’ve turned out. Sadly, I don’t recall ever returning to the pool after that incident.

A Cautious Reacquaintance with Water

Fast forward many years later to the summer of 2011 when I decided to finally go back for another go at learning to swim with confidence and proficiency — and to tread water, all because of being sidelined last summer by a running-related injury and a determination to preserve my hard-earned cardiorespiratory fitness.

I can still remember that first Friday evening last summer when I tentatively slipped into the shallow end of my community pool. Why is it that pools are always so uninvitingly cold upon initial immersion? I recall the two young, teen-age (or so I thought) lifeguards confidently sitting sentry on their chairs, and how they would generously dispense stroke improvement tips to the eager, mostly novice or average-ability swimmers in the pool, a motley assortment of parents with their young children or toddlers, a few teenagers, some senior citizens, and me. Flutterboard-shod, I stayed close to the wall that night, but did venture partway into the deep end under the watchful eye of the lifeguard. My ankle, wrapped securely in Kinesio tape, was a curious enough accessory to behold as to prompt an inquiry from one of the lifeguards. We engaged in a chat about possible differential diagnoses for my injury, along with my long hiatus from the pool, my fear of the deep end, etc. I remember how reassured I felt when the lifeguards asserted that I would have nothing to fear under their watch. One of them also encouraged me to don a pair of goggles whenever I came to the pool for a swim. He explained that I might feel less anxious about the water if I could open my eyes and see where I was actually going. He was right.

The Comfort and Characters of the Fishbowl

After a few more drop-in visits to this modest community pool, a certain comfort with the staff, the facilities, and the other swimmers began to develop. I decided to commit to this pool and took out a 3-month membership. For the rest of that summer, my non-running fitness routine would consist of daily cycling and visits to the pool 3-4 times per week or more; my ankle tolerated this regimen well. In the process, I had become something of a regular at the pool, recognizing, and often chatting with, other regulars. This pool felt comfortable; it felt like my pool. I renewed my membership and my routine continued through the fall, winter, and spring, replacing the cycling with some cross-country skiing in the winter.

My imagination being what it is, it was inevitable that I would start to create visual stories or character sketches in my head about some of the other swimmers at the pool. This mental storyboard game I would play also proved to be an effective distraction strategy, increasing my comfort in the water by turning my thoughts away from the water, itself.

Cast of Characters

Inspector Clouseau was a year-round mustachioed (not just for Movember) swimmer, whom I could always count on to release a torrent of water over the lane buoys that separated us as he thrashed his way past me down the Fast lane. He was constantly working on his arms, wearing a flotation device between his legs so he wouldn’t have to kick.

Gargle-Mel was a member of the senior water-walkers crowd, who bore an uncanny resemblance to an old boss of mine. I always knew when he was in the water before actually seeing him because of the distinctive gargling sounds he would make underwater, which I would hear from a lane away as he trotted up and down the deep end with his flotation belt cinched to his waist.

A couple of times, I crossed paths with scowl-faced Maxine, who reminded me of her grumpy elderly doppelganger of greeting card fame. Maxine would often swim next to me in the leisure lane, and would lambaste me for any amount of splash I might inadvertently kick up from my powerful lower limb outboard motor.

The Indomitable Frogman was a weekend fixture in the pool. He always distinguished himself by his alarmingly nude color swim trunks and, despite his advanced age and glacial breast stroke pace, was either completely oblivious or didn’t give a whit about the traffic jams he would routinely trigger behind and beside him as a queue of swimmers (including me & my flutter board) successively manoeuvred (or leap-frogged) their way past him…

Wednesday evening swims were among the busiest sessions at my community pool, where accomplished, fit swimmers could often be seen chasing or racing each other in the Fast and Very Fast lanes. Wearing goggles was a must because of all the splashing, thrashing, and churning of water. On some nights, the water could become so rough that I had the impression of swimming in the open water free-for-all of a triathlon.

Among the talented Wednesday night swimmers were a couple, The Great White Shark Lady and her husband/partner, Scuba Steve. I was forever baffled as to why the Shark Lady would always opt to swim in the Medium lane when she so clearly belonged in the Fast lane. When she entered the pool’s waters, she would inevitably swim circles (figuratively-speaking) around everyone else in the Medium lane seemingly without breaking a sweat or exceeding her resting respiratory rate. Scuba Steve, on the other hand, was a regular in the Very Fast lane with the other hard-core swimmers, including some strong women. I felt like I was at Marineland watching a frisky dolphin as I admired Scuba Steve’s powerful flip-turns off the wall underwater as he progressed through his series of successive 25-m laps. I would always marvel at how he never misjudged his distance from the wall.

There were other interesting characters, as well, such as Waltzing Matilda who, like so many of the older adults in the pool without a swimmer physique per se, nonetheless seemed to just dance on water with her effortless, graceful interpretation of the breast stroke. She would almost certainly never break a sweat, looking more like a proper lady at a Victorian ball waltzing up and down the pool in her imaginary floor-length frock. 

One of the more fascinating characters to observe was The Amazing Flying Lake Trout. If I were going to cross paths with him, it would almost assuredly be during one of those busy Wednesday night sessions. His appearances were almost theatrical, with his grand entrance parading not one, not two, but three full-length towels, which he always carefully draped in parallel (like Patrick Bergin‘s character would’ve done in Sleeping with the Enemy) over the observation deck. Next, instead of beginning his lane swim in the shallow end as was customary at our pool, he would walk over to the deep end, greet the lifeguard on duty, and then unceremoniously launch himself from the deck like a WWE wrestler atop the ropes in the ring executing his finishing move — in this case, a sort of bouncy butterfly stroke into the Medium or Fast lane. The tidal wave generated from his entry and subsequent pounding, single fin-like kick of his feet had the effect of clearing the lane in which he was swimming, as the other swimmers quickly strategically switched lanes or waited for the tsunami to pass before continuing their work-out. The energy that the Flying Lake Trout would’ve expended with his inefficient stroke must have been considerable, which made it all the more remarkable how he was able to swim a series of brisk 25-m laps before taking a break.

Sauna-Addiction-Lady, by contrast, was not a swimmer that I could tell, but she would always come to the pool on Saturday afternoons with her swimming family. While her husband and children frolicked in the pool, she would disappear into the wooden, poolside sauna shack, spending an inordinate amount of time luxuriating inside. One weekend afternoon, she emerged so completely red-faced and dehydrated that I thought she was going to faint. A couple of ladies were concerned enough to offer her water, despite her protestations and assurances that she was fine. Personally, I do not understand the allure of the sauna and the desire to make oneself dripping hot, but then I also do not understand Bikram yoga or people who choose to take their vacations in tropical areas. I chock it up to being a Nordic girl, but maybe I am part amphibian…

And then there was Mr. Even-Though-I’m-Old-Enough-To-Be-Your-Father-I-Can-Still-Rock-A-Speedo…  Why is it that men of a certain age — those nearing or at retirement age, who still hit the health club — seek to attract the attention of women at least 25 years their junior? What’s wrong with pursuing more age-appropriate women? Having had enough unwanted, poolside encounters with said men, I’m seriously starting to wonder a) how old I actually look and b) what kind of unintended signals I may be giving off. One such awkward encounter occurred last spring with an older man, whom I initially thought was just engaging in friendly, professional chit chat about our common industry. So when I agreed to go for coffee one afternoon, I did so on the assumption that it would be for professional networking. The thought that he might have been interested in me never crossed my mind as he was clearly old enough to be my father. However, when I began the conversation with an animated analysis of where I thought the industry was headed, Mr. Speedo’s true intentions were suddenly and awkwardly revealed when he interrupted my diatribe, lamenting how we always seemed to talk about work… [For the record, just in case there was any uncertainty on the subject, Speedos should be outlawed for all but competitive male divers, such as Alexandre Despatie.]

What It Will Take for this Aspiring Fish to Earn her Fins

To finally become a swimmer, I am going to need to find the right instructor and the right pool. Someone patient and creative, and perhaps with a gift for psychology. In particular, someone who knows how to teach and work with adults, which is not the same as teaching and working with kids. Kids are fearless and mostly uncomplicated, more apt to bounce back from setbacks.

In the meantime, until my community pool reopens, I will keep exposing myself to deep water at the university pool while dodging stray basketballs. It may also be time to leverage that analytical brain of mine and check out a couple of well-reviewed books on swimming (Conquer Your Fear of  Water by Melon Dash and Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton).

Adventures in comparison bicycle-shopping in Ottawa

Last June, I sustained a running injury to my right foot. I wasn’t sure what I did, but running any amount of distance resulted in pain, swelling, and stiffness. My range of motion (including dorsiflexion) was also reduced because of the swelling, which made running up hills difficult and uncomfortable. Fearing I had torn a ligament or had incurred a stress fracture, I reluctantly decided to stop all running as a precaution until my foot was able to be assessed. To that point, I had been running three times per week, including 21-22k (or a half-marathon) every weekend. The idea of losing the considerable cardiorespiratory fitness I had built up over the years was inconceivable to me, and so overnight I had to metaphorically ‘flip the switch’ and transition to activities that would preserve (or, at the very least, mitigate any loss of) my fitness.

Bicycle along Front Street East in downtown Toronto

Since I had already been using my aging, but trusty, purple Trek mountain bike for commuting back and forth to work every day, I simply decided I would just have to up the ante and add a separate 20-k bike work-out every day. However, I wasn’t sure if daily cycling would be enough to safeguard my fitness, so I also decided to face my fear of deep water and check out the community pool nearby. [My swimming adventures/misadventures will be chronicled in a subsequent post.]

Not surprisingly after biking almost every day to/from work and then at night for exercise last summer and fall, my 17-year-old Trek took a beating. Since I still needed it as a commuter bike, I decided I would have to look into getting a hybrid bike that would withstand work-outs on both the road and trail.

The freedom and pleasure that comes from riding a bike: a Sharpie sketch colorized in Photoshop.

Shopping for a bike is no small task — especially if you live in an über-athletic city like Ottawa (or Vancouver) where there is no shortage of sports stores and the specialty, independent, neighborhood bike shops — with their exclusive, often non-overlapping  lines of bikes — can be found on just about every other street corner. As someone with little mechanical inclination or in-depth knowledge of cycling, comparison-shopping for bikes became akin to collecting, synthesizing, and analyzing data for the purpose of answering a complex (to me, anyway) research question.

I decided to do what any good researcher would do: conduct a field study or pragmatic trial (since a controlled trial would be impractical, if not next to impossible). I visited several shops (a sort of non-random sampling of the population), and conducted extensive bike-related Q & A interviews with the sales staff who approached me. (Lucky them! And no, I did not formally consent them into my research study! ;-))

Bikes in a Queue, Rideau Canal, Ottawa

One place — store # 1 — I was particularly impressed by, for both knowledge and service, advised me that most bikes within a given price bracket are comparable in quality. What becomes important to the purchaser, however, is the after-sale service and the shop’s location. All things (or bikes) being equal, it was better to pick a place close to where you live, and which provided great service. Good advice, I thought. And, very customer-focused as opposed to being solely business-centered. This salesguy scored big points with me for his honest advice.  His shop was fairly conveniently located, but unfortunately, they didn’t have the kind of hybrid bike I was looking for at the price I had in mind. I really wanted to do business with this shop, and had even test-driven a decent retro-looking da Vinci hybrid bike. In the end, the bike was not aerodynamic enough and more importantly, it exceeded my budget. I felt bad. The guy was so nice, knowledgeable, and passionate about bikes. On top of the great advice he had given, he even offered me a spare metal pant clip that they had lying around (to protect my trousers when commuting to work) so I wouldn’t have to purchase a set. (Tip: Velcro clips are not a good alternative; they just don’t stay securely fastened.) A small gesture, but again, super customer service. Other businesses could learn a lot from this place. (On a related note, I similarly had a great customer service experience at this store in the winter when I had brought my classic xc-skis in for cleaning after applying an absurd amount of Klister wax — my first time trying this highly tenacious, but effective wax — to my skis to maximize my performance in spring skiing conditions. When I returned to pick up the skis, the technician who had cleaned and re-waxed them actually ran out to my car as I was packing the skis away just to explain exactly what he had done and to reassure me that the ski wax he had applied would be perfect for the weekend’s forecasted conditions. I was impressed. This guy was clearly passionate about his job and obviously took great pride in his work and in delighting his customers. I’d definitely be back.)

My next bike store (#2) — even closer to my ‘hood — had a powerful-looking, slick Stevens hybrid on display, which wasn’t as stylish as the previous store’s candidate with its boring combination of grey, red, and black, but it still looked racy and fell within my budget. I decided to take it out for a (joy) ride.

The problem with this second shop is the history that I have had with its hit-or-miss customer service. It’s weird, because there always seems to be plenty of staff around — young 20-somethings buzzing about the showroom — but every time I visit this place, I almost always have to seek out the staff instead of vice versa. Not cool, especially since I purchased my road bike from this store. I have also found that their mechanical servicing has been a bit hit-or-miss, too, when I’ve had to bring in my decidedly unflashy, cheap commuter bike for some tweaking. We’re not talking catastrophic oversights here, but I have had to come back on several occasions to deal with unresolved little mechanical problems that nonetheless impacted my bike’s performance. It made me wonder if my old Trek bike suffers from a sort of ageism at this store as there seems to be a particular focus on supporting competitive or elite cycling and related bling despite a mixed clientele. There are definitely some pretty flash, upper-end skus in that store. In any event, I liked the way this Stevens hybrid bike rode; it was fast, powerful, and I noticed it seemed to fit me better than my commuter bike, which is a bit small for my long limbs. However, never the one to rush a major decision — especially when a not-so-insignificant amount of cash is involved — I decided to check out one more reputable shop before I made my purchase decision.

Cyclist out enjoying an afternoon ride in the Arboretum, Ottawa

This third and final store has a great vibe to it, much like the first store. As with the first store, I had also previously done business with store #3 when I had purchased a great set of skate skis for xc-skiing. (Subsequently, my sister had also purchased a set of classic skis from this store, on my recommendation, which she continues to be very happy with.) In addition to store # 3’s great ski products and advice, I was given the name of a wonderful xc-ski instructor when I wanted some help improving my classic technique. Given my past success at this place, I was therefore optimistic I would find an appropriate comparator bike here to complete my field study.

Bikes are a popular mode of transportation for completing errands in Ottawa’s trendy Glebe neighborhood.

While this third store caters well to both the hard-core cyclist and the rec rider, the first store is probably more focused on the rec (or intermediate-level) cyclist. Store # 3 is also a well-known shop with a great reputation among the athletic community — both for cycling and cross-country skiing — with knowledgeable, friendly staff, but unfortunately for me on this occasion, a limited selection of hybrid bikes owing to an apparent, recent run on their bike inventory.

As I studied store #3’s  leftovers, an astonishingly handsome young teenage salesguy, who looked like he’d just stepped out of a preppy Tommy Hilfiger magazine shoot approached me. (My reaction immediately made me think of the recent, provocative essays by Globe & Mail writers, Ian Brown and Margaret Wente on the topic of the propriety of admiring and being admired by those much younger than oneself.) Since I could — biologically speaking — have been this boy’s mother, I forced myself to return my focus to quizzing him with my mental set of prepared bike Qs. It was clear he not only knew his stuff, but was charmingly and refreshingly a bit shy. Curious to know where this knowledge came from, I learned he was a competitive xc-skier on the junior international circuit and cross-trained by cycling in the off-season; he similarly loved skiing in Gatineau Park. After asking me about my intended use for the hybrid (e.g., errands vs exercise) and the budget I had in mind, he recommended a white Giant bike. This hybrid bike was the most aggressively styled of the three with its road bike-like aerodynamic design, bullhorn handlebars, and thin tires. I could tell it would be fast, and was assured it would keep pace with the road bikes along the canal paths and parkways. I decided to take it out for a spin. It WAS fast! And, lighter-weight compared with the other two I had tried. However, I was unsure whether it possessed enough stability for me; making turns could be a bit dicey (especially if there was any amount of rain on the road), I noticed, depending on my speed. I returned to the store, still unsure about the ultimate suitability of this bike. Mr. young, chiseled good looks salesguy, although interested in making the sale, wisely did not attempt to pressure me when I indicated I needed to try out the Stevens bike one more time at the other store.

That weekend, I took the Stevens bike out again from store # 2 (with the spotty customer service), racing it all along the canal paths, seeing how fast it would go, how my legs felt on it, and how well it kept up with the sample of road bikes out there. It passed with flying colors. (Pun intended.) Although not quite as fast as the Giant bike from store # 3, it had that little extra bit of stability I wanted. So, I took it back to the store and proceeded with the purchase and selection of accessories (i.e., requisite bell, front and back lights, and fenders to guard against big puddles). The order for the installation work was placed and I left, confident I had made the right choice, though knowing I had made a potential trade-off for a lower-level of customer service.

Bikes parked for the Sunday morning Famers Market, Ottawa

A couple of days later, I returned to store # 2 to collect my new bike and bring it back to its new home. I am now the proud owner of a nuclear family of three bikes: my matriarch Trek commuter mountain bike, my teenage Opus road bike, and now the new baby — the unassuming yet racy, Stevens hybrid bike. Needless to say, I will not be having any more bikes; my two-wheeled family is now complete! 🙂

Farewell to Winter and the Magic of Skating on the Canal at Night…

Farewell to ice, snow, and cold for another season and the pleasures of nighttime skating on the canal…

[Below: Hand-drawn sketch using thin Sharpie marker + charcoal. Figure in foreground then colorized using watercolor pencils and light wash. Drawing then scanned into Photoshop for background colorization and addition of whimsical moon & stars.]

A Beatrix Potter-inspired illustrated Easter greeting…

Saw an Easter-themed ad from Pottery Barn this week advertising a children’s storytime event featuring Peter Rabbit. Made me remember how much I love Beatrix Potter’s wonderfully detailed illustrations from her classic children’s tales (pun intended). If you have never seen or read her imaginative work, you must! 🙂 Gave me the idea to create my own Beatrix-inspired Easter Bunny:

[Hand-drawn illustration: initially sketched with black Sharpie marker and colored with Crayola markers.]

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