dreaminghope: (Faerie Wings)
LJ wanderers: I have a very liberal "friending" policy: if you add me to your reading list, I'll add you to mine.

I try to at least skim every post on my f-list, though I tend to skip posts about dreams and most memes. I don't always click on LJ-cuts (which is why I don't usually use them), and I never play videos. I only comment when I feel like I have something to say, and I don't expect any more then that from people who've added me to their f-list.

Swap-Bot wanderers: Unfortunately, all of my craft-related posts are behind a filter, to avoid cluttering my non-crafty LJ-friends' pages. To see them, you would need an LJ, to get on my friends' list, and to get into the "crafty" filter. Though that's not exactly hard, I will occasionally post some craft pictures here (below the cut) so you can see what I'm up to and into. More pictures are also available on my Flickr account.

Four craft pictures )

Cheers!
dreaminghope: (Confused Zoey)
I'm in an abs class at my gym, and I've finally achieved a stable plank with my feet on the ball:

Plank on the Ball

I've held it for about half of the minute the instructor is counting down when I realize that I'm not sure how to get back down. How did I get myself into this position?

I tried a step class once, and it was a complete mess. I am very uncoordinated, and I couldn't figure most of the moves. Mostly, I jumped around waving my arms and laughing at myself until class ended. I vowed to never take another step class.

Nash 360: This class covers all your fitness bases with Nash intensity! Three 20 minute segments of challenging cardio, muscle conditioning, and core training will get you total body results.

Sounds good, and it is on a Friday morning, which I have off of work. I wasn't even alarmed when we all started setting up steps; I'd been to a "Strength and Stretch" class where we used the step as a bench for doing chest presses. But what followed was an hour long step class, sometimes with weights. I'm still very, very bad at step class. I bounced, and flailed, and sweated - even done badly, step is a good workout - and shook my head at myself. I accidentally took a step class: How do I get myself into these positions?

Hatha Yoga: Experience a meditative, calm, yet strong practice. Perfect for beginners or advanced students who seek mind-body awareness and flexibility.

Before today, I'd been to about four yoga classes, all Hatha Yoga, with two different teachers. I'd found them to be challenging in some parts, but mostly relaxing, refreshing, and good for stretching. Today I went to my fifth class, with yet another teacher. Exact same class description as the others, but this was different. I guess the rest of the students are all regulars, so I suddenly find myself in an advanced yoga class for which I was very poorly prepared. As the people around me are balancing on one foot, tying their arms into knots, and pushing themselves into headstands, I hold the last pose I am able to get into and ask myself: How do I get into those positions?

At the end of the minute, my exit from the plank wasn't very graceful - a sort of controlled fall to one side - but it got me down and ready to get into the next challenge.
dreaminghope: (Paisley Hat)
Every morning, the crows of Vancouver fly from one end of the city to the other. At the end of the day, they fly back. The exact times vary seasonally - crows fly by the sun, not the clock - but for at least a couple of weeks in the winter, their evening commute coincides with my walk home.

At the height of the commute, you can see a river of crows that stretches across the sky, from horizon to horizon. This picture doesn't capture it adequately, but every dot is a bird:

Crow Commute

I don't know which is more fascinating: the periods when hundreds of crows are sitting on the trees and power lines, still and nearly silent, or when the hundreds of crows nearly simultaneously take off in huge swooping flocks.

At least none of them are attacking me.

There's a crow in my neighbourhood that hates me. Or maybe it just hates my summer hat (the one in my userpic); I haven't been willing to run the tests necessary to know. I was walking to work one morning when a crow started swooping at my head, screaming. It didn't hit me, but flew at me over and over as I dodged. I ran across the street, the crow still following, still screaming, and hide under some trees. An old man already on that side of the street laughed at me and said something that sounded sympathetically amused in Chinese. I kept close to trees and sprinted down the sidewalk until I was apparently out of the crow's territory. No crows attacked the old man.

A couple of mornings later, I had decided to myself that it was just a one-time occurrence and I walked along that same route wearing the same hat. I got to the same intersection and then a crow started swooping at my head, screaming. I assume it was the same crow, but I can't be completely sure. If it wasn't the same one, it hated me just as much as the other crow did.

This time, I ran to an industrial building and flattened myself along the wall. It was a two story building with no windows and a flat roof. The crow wheeled above me, repeatedly diving as steeply as it could from the edge of the roof down the side of the building. As I edged along the base of the building, the crow kept following and kept screaming and diving. It couldn't get to me, but it sure seemed to want to try. It gave up after about three-quarters of a block and I speed-walked to work, hugging the edge of buildings and keeping under trees whenever possible.

I don't walk that way to work anymore.

I like the crow commute, but a little bit like someone likes scary movies; I get a little adrenalin rush just hearing the crows cawing.
dreaminghope: (Flying)
An important part of safety in paragliding is taking an SIV course. SIV is a French abbreviation for "Simulation d'Incident en Vol", which translates to "simulation of incidents in flight". Over water, you do things to your wing to imitate bad things that can happen while flying and practice recovering. You learn how to recognize problems, learn what actions you should or should not take in various scenarios, get a feel for long it takes for normal flight to resume, and figure out about how much altitude you lose in the meantime.

For various reasons, I was not able to do the iParaglide SIV course in my first two years of flying, but this year, I made it a priority and headed off to Pemberton with another pilot on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately, Russ wasn't able to go this year (he has done SIV for the past two years, though), so I was without my usual support system when facing new flying experiences. Fortunately, I'd been flying with three of my four fellow SIV students all season, so I wasn't doing this with strangers.

For iParaglide's SIV, we go to a remote little beach on Lillooet Lake and we use a boat with a special winch to tow each of us, one at a time, to about 3000 feet above the water. Getting towed up isn't a passive process, but one where you have to constantly monitor the boat and steer to follow it and constantly monitor your wing and brake to keep it steady and overhead. The boat gets you up, but you are also flying the whole time, which, as one participant put it, has some advantages over driving up a hot and dusty road to a mountain launch.

Once high over the water, our instructor, Dion, uses the radio to remind you about what you are going to do, then guides you through the process. For example, to do a frontal, he'll remind you that what you are going to do is pull down all the A risers on both sides. He'll say: "So grab all the metal carabiners for both A lines on both sides. On my command, you'll pull them both down hard and then release. Ready? Three, two, one: huy-yah!" And on the "huy-yah", you haul down on those lines and the entire front of your wing collapses and you release the lines and you fall a little until the wing opens again. And as it happens, Dion says: "OK, release. Great. The wing is open again. Good." And then he gets you ready for the next move. It is all progressive: you start with a move called big ears, which is easy and benign, and move up to slightly more exciting incidents that are likely to happen at some point in your time in the air, like frontals and asymmetrics (where some portion of your wing collapses, usually because of turbulent air, and you have to shift on to the good side of the wing and fly with that until the collapsed portion pops back out).

If you are responding well to commands on those first moves, you next learn b-line stalls and spirals, both of which will help get you down should you encounter cloud suck or other undesirable weather conditions. Then you move to the Big Scary for most of us: the full stall. You pull both brakes all the way down and hold on to the bottom of your harness while your wing turns into a flapping mess above you and you rock back and forth and plummet downwards. The important part of the full stall is to release the stall only when your wing is in front of you; if you release while it is behind you, it will start a cascade, so you'll be swinging drastically forward and backwards in a fairly uncontrolled manner, still losing altitude. Dion gives clear instructions, saying "hold, hold, hold, and release", but if you don't respond quickly to the commands, it can still lead to some crazy stuff. Before going out for the clinic, I was worried about my physical ability to hold down the brakes during the stall and about my ability to do just the right thing at just the right time while my wing is flapping around above me. Then there was an incident on my first tow that lessened my fear quite a bit. Afterwards, Dion called it "the most harried thing I've ever seen at an SIV" and if it had happened lower, I would have been in quite a bit of trouble and may have had to throw my reserve parachute and do a water landing:

A graphic representation of my first tow launch. )

After that, pulling asymmetrics and even the full stall didn't seem so bad. I was a bit discouraged when I couldn't do a B-line stall - I pulled as hard as I could on those suckers, but those nothing was moving - but Dion and I discussed the characteristics of my particular wing and my physical strength and decided to try a C-line stall instead. Usually a C-line stall is a bad idea, but it works really well with my small Icaro Instinct and accomplishes the same thing as a B-line stall: increases your descent rate a lot while staying relatively stable. You drop quickly - it feels a bit like a descending elevator - and you only rock around for a couple of moments until it steadies. As long as you wait until everything is steady before releasing and release slightly more gradually than exiting a frontal, all is very safe and sane feeling. It's a really nice tool to add to my paragliding toolbox, so the whole weekend was worth it for that discovery alone.

I was coming down with a bit of a cold and was so anxious through the whole weekend that I barely ate or slept, so I only managed four tows (most of the other students did six each), but I learned so much and am looking forward to doing it again next year.
dreaminghope: (Sunspot)
Many of our paragliding friends have gone on amazing flying adventures: all over the US, Colombia, Australia, and more. One pilot from our school is working on an amazing trip: flying Kilimanjaro for charity. Russ and I are still just getting started with our paragliding vacations, and our first adventure was Nova Scotia this past July. We went with a fellow local pilot, Craig. And last weekend, Russ and I went to our first fly-in, at Black Mountain in Washington State, with Ducky and Jim, another local novice couple.

Flying in Nova Scotia was amazing. It was also completely different than the mountain flying we've done up until this point. Craig had some experience with ridge soaring - where you stay up thanks to the wind forced upwards by the shape of the terrain - but Russ and I have only flown sites that are mostly thermal-driven. Also, none of us had flown coastal sites before. They are different than mountain sites: the winds are higher, the air is smoother, and, in the case of the Parrsboro region, the launches aren't as high.

In learning to fly from iParaglide, we learned our novice safety rules based on local sites, including only launch in winds under 15 km/hour and "height is safety". Suddenly, we were faced with sites that only worked if the winds were at least 25 km/hour and launches less than 100 feet above the landing zone.

I don't think we would have successfully flown if it had just been the three of us. The low winds we launch in for mountain flying wouldn't have kept us up, and our flights would have been 20 or 30 seconds, at the most. And during the higher winds, we wouldn't have had the nerve to launch if it weren't for the best decision we made in preparing for our trip: hiring a local guide.

After Craig came back from a paragliding trip to California last spring, he clued us in to how much he learned from people who had flown the sites before that he did not learn from all the internet research he did before the trip. When we realized that we were going to be flying sites in a small community on weekdays (so the chances of just randomly meeting up with locals would be decreased), we emailed Michael at Pegasus Paragliding and arranged to hire him for a couple of days during our trip.

Michael was fantastic. He was flexible about timing so we could use our time with him on days when the weather was flyable, he was understanding about the challenges we were facing, and, since he is also a paragliding instructor, he was able to coach us through our first coastal soaring experiences. When he wasn't available one of the days, he sent us his assistant instructor, Brian, who was also great. They were both friendly, cheerful, and encouraging, while also staying focused on safety. Thanks to their help, we were all able to have very successful flights at two different flying sites, plus some very short sled runs at a third site. Michael and Brian also introduced us to a number of flying sites we weren't able to try out for various weather-related reasons, showing us the launches and telling us about the typical wind directions, things to look out for, and the best places to find lift. Some of the launches are literally people's backyards and would have been very difficult to find without help. We left eager to return to Nova Scotia for both the friendly people and the great flying. Next time we will be more prepared for those high wind launches!

In Nova Scotia, it was just the three of us and our guide, which was very different than our next flying adventure. Last weekend, four of us novice pilots crossed the border to Washington and went to Black Mountain for the first time. It was the annual Can-Am Black Mountain Fly-In. A fly-in is just a fun excuse for a lot of free flyers to get together to socialize, to eat, and, weather allowing, to fly. There are sometimes fun competitions (a spot landing competition between the Canadians and the Americans, in this case), but the main focus is on fun and enjoyable flying.

We'd never flown Black Mountain before, so a fly-in was a great way to get introduced to the area: lots of experienced pilots to answer questions from lots of other new pilots. The launch is very odd: you stand on the logging road with your wing on a very steep slope behind you and a very steep hill in front of you. That kind of launch is challenging - you have to get the wing up fast without eating up a lot of runway, keep it loaded while on the flat bit, and commit to that steep run-off - especially in light winds, which is what we had that day.

Because of the light conditions and weird launch, Ducky and Jim decided not to fly, so they were our retrieve drivers (and excellent retrieve drivers they were: they picked us up with beer and food ready to go). Russ and I checked our wings out in the parking area and then joined the line of pilots ready to go. The launch is a one-person-at-a-time deal and the light winds meant that people were slow to launch, each hoping for just a little more wind, so the line moved slowly, but that meant there was a lot of time for socializing. It was great to talk with paragliders and hang gliders of all experience levels about where they'd flown, about flying this particular site, about flying other Washington sites.

When you got to the front, the event's safety officer was there to check that you were hooked in correctly and some volunteers would help get your wing set up and would hold it up to catch a bit more wind. Everyone was so encouraging and supportive. When someone had an aborted launch, everyone helped get their wing back in place so they could try again. When someone had several aborts in a row, they would move to the end of the line so the next pilot could go. During each successful launch, people cheered.

The flying was simple: just a sled run, as we all knew it would be because of the weather. Russ tried for the spot landing, but missed scoring any points for Canada. I made the decision to not even try for the target, since it was in a narrow field, and I landed in huge alternative landing zone across the street. No help for the Canadians from us! Still, Russ and I each got a flight at a new mountain to add to our log books, and a new favourite event to add to our annual calendars. We just went for the day this time, but next year, we plan to have our camping gear figured out and go for the whole weekend.

There are some less pleasant people in paragliding too, of course. Our home launch site sometimes gets a little tense when some people with big personalities and incompatible ideals are all there at the same time. But, generally, paragliders (and hang gliders, from what I've seen) are very cool people. It might be the kind of people who are drawn to this weird little sport, but I wonder if it is partially something the sport does to you over time. All that sitting around waiting for the wind to be just right creates patience. Having to check your equipment and check the weather and make the decision about when to fly creates personal responsibility and independence. Flying in itself is an act of joy, of freedom, and of faith, and it requires the pilot to live in the moment and focus entirely on the act of flying. The combined results are people who are generally fun and relaxed, who go with the flow, and who take good care of themselves. Oh, and if our experiences in Nova Scotia and at Black Mountain are any indication, paragliders also know how to eat well. Lobster dinner with Michael (tofu curry for me) and barbequed ribs in Washington (potluck salads and dessert for me) fuelled our flights. Delicious!
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
We were waiting for the same suburban bus. He asked me for the time. I accidentally gave him the time the bus was coming instead of the actual time, and we started chatting when I caught him to correct myself.

He is 70 years old - a wiry, mid-60s-looking 70 - and his watch battery died today and we talked about old-fashioned watches you have to wind every day - like his Dad's watch - and new-fangled watches that wind themselves when you move and cool solar-powered watches, and his first TV, and computers you carry in your pocket, and that he is a psychologist who doesn't really believe in psychology anymore, and the time he went to a psychiatrist but walked right out because the doctor brought out his prescription pad right away, before even getting his name...

And we got on the bus and we talk about the over-prescription of Valium to women in the 1950s and '60s, and the corner store owner that got him and his friends all addicted to nicotine when they were kids by giving them free cigarettes until they were hooked, and that his wife is a social worker and his kids are all social workers and psychologists, and about how he doesn't usually drink, but he had a couple of shots of vodka with his friend today because it is his afternoon off from taking care of his wife who is dying of cancer...

Wait. Deep breath. Slow down.

They just found out a month ago that she has advanced ovarian cancer. It happened fast - one test was clear; the next, only 21 days later, showed cancer everywhere - but that's how it is with this type of cancer. Now he is learning all kinds of new things about medicines, about preventing bed sores, about what conversations really matter.

He says he isn't scared of dying, "but living scares the hell out of me".

He says that he knows she'll be waiting for him. He laughs when I say that she'll get all the paperwork filled out at the Pearly Gates for him. We're both crying a little.

These days, he likes to take public transit and talk to strangers. He talks to people in wheelchairs a lot; "they understand where I'm at". He feels really lucky, because he is healthy in both mind and body, he owns his own house, and he has enough money so that even if he lives to a hundred, he still won't have to go on social assistance. He feels really lucky to have his wife. They love each other very much and they have always gotten along and had great communication, though they had some professional differences of opinion. "I'll get to hold her hand while she is dying."

Before retiring, he used to work with abused kids: "It is amazing what a 10 year old can heal from. I still hear from some of the kids I used to work with. They went through such awful things, but now they are healthy, and they have happy families." He may not believe in psychology anymore, but he obviously helped people. We're both teary again.

We talk about work, and callings, and changing our little pieces of the world for the better using whatever gifts we have. We talk about gratitude. We talk about smiling. We talk about how the world would be better if more people knew that it is OK to cry:

"I wish I'd known that before my wife started dying."

"At least you got to learn it. It's cool that you are still learning things."

"The older I get, the more I realize that I know nothing."

We talk about learning from our parents. We talk about learning from everyone around us. We talk about people watching. He tells me that I should be a social worker. He is going to be alright, but he is sure going to miss his wife. We both have damp cheeks when I get off the bus.

Angus, wherever you are tonight, I am thinking of you and your wife. Thank you for the conversation.
dreaminghope: (Sunspot)
There was a fatality on Monday in the Canadian Paragliding Nationals in Pemberton, BC. The pilot's body was found yesterday. My heart goes out to his family and friends. I'm sure he loved flying, but I'm sure he didn't intend to give his life for it.

***

Russ and I got a late start - 9 AM - on Saturday, since I nearly gave myself sunstroke cleaning the deck on Friday and Russ was out late, and then we just sort of threw wings and water bottles in the truck and started driving. We were going out to Pemberton to meet up with Dion and some iParaglide students and novice pilots and do a bit of flying before the national competition opened on Sunday. We saw pilots, including some friends, registering for the competition, had some lunch, then headed up for our first flight off Upper Mackenzie launch.

Russ and I had checked out the Lower Mackenzie launch on a previous visit to the area, but this was our first visit to the new, higher launch, and our first time flying the site at all. The new launch is gorgeous. The view is magnificent, of course, and the launch is also a nicely shaped slope with new grass and is very wide, so lots of people can set up and even take off at the same time.

IMG_1680

The competition pilots were flying a practice task, but we launched after most of them because us novices like the mellowest conditions that happen first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon and the evening. There was still some bouncing about as I flew through thermals, but I probably only noticed them as much as I did because the last flying I did was in Nova Scotia, where the air was butter-smooth.

I discovered that I love flying Pemberton. Upper Mackenzie is at least 1000 feet higher than our usual site, Mount Woodside, which makes even a sled run (a flight from launch to landing without any lift) about ten minutes longer. To me, it felt even longer than that, though, because you can't see the landing zone (LZ) from the launch. You launch, then fly all the way around a bump in the mountain to finally see the LZ just on the other side of the river. In my novice-level experience, that feels like an adventure.

Before turning the corner, I was briefly concerned about being able to identify the LZ from the air, as all fields look alike from more than a 1000 feet up, but it turned out to be easy: just land where all the other paragliders are landing and packing up.

Seeing as how we'd just gotten back from Nova Scotia a week before and had scrambled a bit in the morning, we'd only been intending to go up for the day and then maybe go up again on Sunday to watch the start of the competition and maybe get another evening flight in. But the weather was looking good for Sunday morning, so Russ and I made the decision to stay overnight after all. While still on the LZ, Russ used his smart phone to find and book us a cheap hotel*. We rushed to the only grocery store still open to get toothbrushes and deodorant before it closed at 9 PM. Turns out that one of our pilot friends had a package of new underwear in her hotel room, so I bought a pair of panties from her. The next day, we bought some West Coast Soaring Club t-shirts in the LZ parking lot, and we were relatively inoffensive, scent-wise.

That first flight on Sunday was one of my favourites so far. Though it was only a slightly prolonged sled run, it was memorable because Russ and I got to fly together for the first time. Despite the fact that we both paraglide, we've rarely been in the air at the same time due to a variety of reasons. Even in Nova Scotia, where we flew at the same time, we were rarely in proximity to each other; we just always seemed to end up on opposite ends of the ridge.

But the launch is huge, so we could set up side by side. I launched first because Russ' new wing is a faster than mine. Shortly after I was in the air, Russ followed me. We flew the typical route towards the LZ, but were able to see each other and call to each other over the radio or even just through the air. I loved being able to see him flying above me, his shadow passing over me, and seeing the sun filtered through his wing.

We arrive at the LZ at around the same time, as there wasn't any sustained lift out there, and Russ pulled a maneuver called "big ears" to descend faster than me. The only problem was that we were so close together at that point that I was getting bounced around in the wake of his glider. We both landed safely and with big smiles.

We did a quick pack and paid for a ride up with one of the competition retrieve vehicles and managed to get another flight in each before the conditions got too strong. I was very proud of myself on this one: I am typically a bit nervous launching in front of big crowds of strangers, but despite a crowd of competition pilots hanging around, I set up and took off. It was a nice, simple flight with even less lift than on the previous one.

Later in the day, I found a shady spot in town to wait with our wings while Russ got another ride up the mountain to pick up The Beast (our vehicle). While up there, he snapped this picture of just some of the competitive paragliders in the air:

IMG_1691

Then he found out that our vehicle was missing. After scrambling around, talking to various competition organizers, they reached a retrieve driver on the ham radio. The driver was in the process of driving The Beast down the mountain, thinking it belonged to one of the competitors. He was very apologetic, and Russ and The Beast were soon reunited and picked me up only a little later than originally planned. Back to Vancouver, tired, dirty, hot, and very, very happy.

* Some of the furniture was broken, the shower was luke-warm at best, and the room was over a sketchy-looking bar - but the bar had been shut down by the police already that night, so it was quiet... except for the train in the middle of the night. No air conditioning or screens on the windows, but they did provide a stand fan. Still, everything was clean and we got showers and some sleep.
dreaminghope: (Sunspot)
A week ago, Russ, Craig, and I went to Nova Scotia for paragliding. We had a wonderful time, fell in love with the Maritimes, and even got in a bit of flying towards the end of our vacation, despite some weather issues.

The sites we were flying in Nova Scotia were different than we are used to. We're mountain flyers: flying with the eagles, seeking thermals, being 2000 feet up. This was coastal ridge flying: soaring with seagulls, hugging the landscape, only launching from 100 feet up. The launches were also different, and the winds were higher. This led to the silliest launch I've ever had... or even seen.

If you want to understand why it happened... )

On Friday morning, we went to West Bay. The winds felt calm until we got to the edge of the launch, when we discovered that they were actually about 25 km/hour, with some higher gusts. Still, that's the kind of winds you need to make ridge soaring work, so we set up. Russ and Craig both had good launches, and then it was my turn. I was nervous. Reverse launches, which you need to do in stronger winds, are not my strong point, and these winds are much higher than we ever use at home. Still, I had done a high wind launch the day before at Fox River and we had Brian, an assistant instructor from Pegasus Paragliding, with us to give advice and keep an eye on me.

Because the winds were so much lower at ground level, Brian helped by lifting the edge of my wing up. I pulled up with good control, got the wing stabilized, turned around to do my run, and launched with one step. The only problem was, I launched to where my feet were about two feet off the ground, but I had no forward momentum. Being light on my wing, my trim speed matched the wind speed so closely that I was going neither forward nor back, but just hanging in the air trying vainly to run, like Wile Coyote off a cliff. It must have looked hilarious: I'm in my launch posture - leaning way forward and hands all the way up behind me to keep brakes all the way off - running in the air about two feet off the flat part of launch. Brian managed not to laugh at me, somehow, and had time to walk up behind me while I hung there and started pushing on the back of my harness. He pushed me off the edge to where I could turn so I wasn't flying directly into the wind and could finally fly free.

Yup, that's me: the push-start paraglider!

The lessons I learned... )
dreaminghope: (Starry Starry Night)
The second of my posts about 2012's Gathering for Life on Earth.

The official theme of this year's Gathering was "Between the Worlds", and between worlds we were. There were a lot of workshops about different states of being (expanding senses, hypnotherapy, trance states), along with the usual magic of being in ritual. Besides that, there were just a lot of opportunities to dance, chant, sing, drum, and laugh into a whole new spiritual plane.

There were some big booming drums that vibrated my base chakras like the earth's heartbeat rising through the soles of my feet to my guts. Around the fire, the ground shook with the drums and the stomping of the dancers. I danced, alternating between swaying and circling my hips and pounding the dirt with my ancient tree trunk legs. I danced in and out of a trance state, never quite gone, but wavering in between.

Horse and hattock!
Horse and go!
Horse and Pellatis, Ho Ho!


I went to a workshop on altered states on Sunday. There was a huge amount of useful information about different ways to induce altered states, along with two experiments in reaching them: once with drumming and once with chanting. I skimmed and skipped along the surface of an altered state... closer, closer, but not there.

Strong like the ocean...
Gentle like rain...
River wash my tears away...
Aphrodite.


Sunday night, magic happened. Driven into the main lodge by rain, the drummers outdid themselves, pouring everything into the rhythm as the dancers absorbed and reflected back the energy. People were high on wine and mead, on dance and chant, on mandrake and magic. Women did divination on one side of the room while others chanted over the mad drumming.

I did some chanting and some drumming - enough that my voice was still roughened two days later and I have the start of my first drummer's callus - but I still felt that I drifted through the night, less present than others. Still, an incredible thing to have had even the smallest part in.

I was up earlier than most on Monday morning, woken by my anxiety that I'd miss getting a shower, that I'd miss breakfast, that I had too much to do to take down the Gathering and not enough time to do it. Of course, many people were up much later than I the night before, so I had the bathroom to myself for a hot shower and the staff hadn't even started making breakfast yet. I wrapped myself in my big warm cloak and wandered through the grey morning, enjoying the quiet. I found myself on the docks, watching the last mists drift off the lake.

"I should get in for a swim," I said to myself. I immediately dismissed the idea: I didn't have a towel with me; I didn't know how long I had until breakfast; I'd have to tuck my precious necklace into my shoe rather than leave it back in the cabin like I'd normally do when swimming; I'd been in the water on Saturday afternoon, and the lake had been cold on that warm and sunny day. When I thought about how cold the water would be, my heart started pounding.

If you are scared, maybe that's something you need to do.

I stripped quickly and stood on the rain-slicked dock. I made sure my cloak was folded up so it would stay mostly dry. I walked down next to the ladder, but didn't use it. I crouched on the edge of the dock and lowered myself in to the water in a smooth motion, not giving myself time to stop before I was submerged.

It was so cold that my lungs emptied involuntarily. It was a long moment before I could inhale again. I did a couple of quick strokes, than held on to the ladder, still in the water to my chin. Once I could breath, I hauled myself out of the water and wrapped the fabric of my cloak around me so I was bundled from neck to ankles. After another breathless moment, I felt a flush of heat and a rush of energy. I slipped from ordinary consciousness straight into a kind of ecstatic state.

I am here. I am here. I am alive.
I am here. I am here. I am alive.
I am here. I am here. I am alive.
dreaminghope: (Firelight)
Just take your clothing off, stand in a circle with other naked people, and the magic starts.

On Friday night at The Gathering for Life on Earth, there's traditionally a skyclad (nude) ritual. I go to it most years; I ran it once.

The Gathering is a lot of people's first experience being naked with other people in a non-sexual context. Sometimes it is the casual nudity of the clothing-optional site, sometimes it is dancing around the fire, sometimes it is skinny-dipping, and sometimes it is the ritual on the first night of the event.

When you go to a nude ritual with people who have done it many times before, it can be very comfortable. As they undress, they take care to fold their clothing neatly, they chat about the room's and floor's temperature, and they tease each other about footwear choices (when naked, slippers look good; gum boots, not so much). Everyone takes off all their clothing the way people usually take off shoes. No one's looking at each other's nudity, but we're not not-looking either.

I went to this year's skyclad ritual. It had a good energy, it was a lot of fun, and it started a bit of a meme for the weekend ("my legs are strong like the trunks of ancient trees"). However, I did find myself with a bit of a dilemma: I couldn't figure out what to do with my hands and arms. I couldn't remember what I usually do when I'm clothed. Clasped behind my back seemed too exposed; in front seemed like I was trying to hide. Hands at my side felt forced. Crossed over my breasts was right out as being too defensive; crossed under my breasts was rejected as an option for pushing everything up too much. I try to figure out what other people are doing, but that leads to looking at areas not normally seen, which quickly leads to not-looking.

The concern ceased to be an issue when it came time to join hands and chant and dance, but I have to remember that for future skyclad rituals I run: give people something to do with their hands. Otherwise: awkward!
dreaminghope: (Keep Walking)
Over coffee, a friend and I were discussing what it is to go to a gym, to workout, as a woman. She had made the mistake of looking online for inspiration to get more fit, which led to a nearly endless stream of "how to lose weight" messages. She observed that even some of the seemingly empowering messages have weight-related messages lurking: "I feel more confident (now that I'm a size four)", "I finally feel like I can wear a bathing suit (because large women shouldn't wear bathing suits)", "I feel so good about myself (as long as I keep the weight off)". She bemoaned the fact that even if she doesn't care about losing weight, just getting healthier and more fit, she's going to appear to be participating in this larger dialogue that somehow smaller is better.

Even if you are actively trying to lose weight, resist the messages that tell you that losing weight is the only way to become attractive and healthy. There are healthy, confident, attractive people of all sizes.

Almost a year ago, I started a new gym routine which did result in some loss of weight and inches and considerable increase in strength, stamina, and overall fitness. Through the process, I've been actively trying to resist weight-loss and appearance-focused messages (with mixed results). Thus:

Advice for women about how to go to the gym without buying into the dominant paradigm surrounding weight loss

Choose an appropriate goal measurement: If your goal is to get more fit, define "fit" first: lose the unhealthy belly fat, get stronger, improve your cardiovascular health, have less joint pain, whatever. Then choose a way of measuring your results that corresponds to your goal. Don't default to using a scale; your weight often isn't meaningful as a measure of fitness. Alternatives to the scale includes taking body measurements, figuring out your one rep maximum, checking your resting heart rate or your heart rate recovery rate, calculating your body fat percentage, or track your pain in a journal.

Choose a reasonable schedule for tracking your changes and an appropriate way to measure your progress.

Lift weights: You won't bulk up (unless you really try to), but you will increase your strength, improve your fitness, boost your metabolism, and prevent bone loss. And the messages around lifting aren't focused on weight loss.

Go to a coed gym: I went to a Curves women-only gym for years and only switched to a co-ed gym last year. Though Curves tries to focus on a nebulous concept of "empowerment", there were always people around discussing their weight loss (or lack thereof), there were weight-loss support groups run in the gym, and the business' magazine was full of ads for diet foods. In contrast, my new gym, a Steve Nash Fitness World, has DotFit, which is always advertised as a way to "support your fitness goals" and never exclusively as a weight-loss product. Advertising to get to both men and women is less likely to feed into "skinny is better" message, and going to a co-ed gym means fewer ads aimed just at women.

Unfortunately, the above might be changing. I wrote the paragraph above, then remembered a new series of poster ads in my new gym, featuring weight loss success stories, both men and women, from Fitness World locations around the country. Still, men don't talk about their weight loss on the treadmill and women seem to talk about it less when men are around.

Workout early: Maybe it's just at my gym, but I've found that working out early in the morning means working out with a different group of people than going to the gym during the day or after work. The early morning group (at our gym, that's 5:30 to 7 AM) are dedicated. They are the hardcore fitness people, including lots of amateur body builders. I find working out with them inspiring and non-intimidating: you can learn a lot about lifting and using the machines by watching them, but they are entirely focused on what they are doing and don't care what you are up to. In contrast, the weight area is busier after work, but seems cluttered with people who are more interested in socializing than in lifting.

Do lots of different things: By incorporating a lot of different activities, including some in the gym and some outside of it, into your week, you make getting healthier part of your daily life. The prevailing messages around weight continue to keep "losing weight" and "dieting" as a category of activity separate from everything else – something you do for a limited time until you reach a magic number – so making physical activity just another part of life counters that story perfectly.

Trying different physical activities gives you lots of choices if something isn't working for you. Life is too short to do things you don't enjoy. For a while, I pushed myself to run on the treadmill even though I disliked it, but I found that the recumbent bike and elliptical machine are both more enjoyable for getting my cardio. Also, I tried a step class last week... never again! On the other hand, I've discovered several fitness classes I do enjoy and have added them to my weekly schedule.

I also pick and choose my classes at the gym based on the instructors. I prefer ones who push you to your personal best over ones who just yell orders. The second one – barking out "go faster", "get your knees higher", "squat deeper" – often makes me feel inadequate, where a teacher who says "go as fast as you can" and "if you can, go deeper on these last five reps" encourages me to try a bit harder, but without the damaging messages.

Get two for one: Learn self-defence techniques or how to dance, and get your fitness needs met while focusing on learning, not losing.

Don't buy all new clothes: When your body starts changing, especially if you do lose inches, don't run out and buy a whole new wardrobe. Replace items that don't fit anymore as needed, but keep wearing what does still work. Buying all new clothes is part of the story that you will workout until you reach a certain size, then stop. Instead, know that your body will always be changing, so you'll always be adjusting your wardrobe to suit you now. Also, if you purchase all new clothes all of a sudden, you are more likely to get comments about weight loss, which tends to reinforce that as being the most valuable result of the process, instead of whatever your goal actually is.

Choose who to talk to: Avoid sharing your fitness efforts, especially when they are new and fragile, with people who want to talk about dieting and losing weight. Talk to people who also have health goals. Talk to people who also want to get fitter, stronger, healthier, more flexible. Talk to people who are already living the kind of healthy, active life you are aiming for.

Choose how to talk about it: Beliefs become words, and words become beliefs. Your subconscious thoughts about what you are doing will be expressed in what you say about it, and what you say will shape your subconscious in turn. Reinforce the beliefs you want with the words you choose when talking about your workouts and your goals.

No guilt: Probably the hardest of all, but most important to getting free of the trap, is to refuse to guilt yourself and to stop "should-ing" yourself. Workout because you want to, because it feels good, because you want the results, because it feels good when you stop, but not because you should.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
I know, I know; everyone's kid is the most talented, the most adorable, the most intelligent... but, seriously, my nephew is brilliant.

My sister is very modest about the obvious genius of her first-born. In conversation, she tends to focus on how rapidly he is changing, comparing what he can do today to what he could do a week or a month ago. This provides plenty of conversation fodder, as two-and-a-half year olds do change almost daily, but she does miss out on a lot of opportunities to brag.

We were at my sister's place yesterday for a family dinner. Towards the end of the evening, I was telling William, my nephew, that I was getting tired. My Mom laughed that Russ was going to have to carry me from the car if I fell asleep on the drive home. William ran up to Russ: "Uncle Russ, are you ready to carry Aunt 'Lissa? If she's asleep, you have to carry her!"

Russ did scoop me up and teasingly carried me towards the front hall. William ran ahead and unlocked and opened the front door - a new trick he has only acquired in the last week or so, to my sister's consternation.

Setting aside his acute listening skills and ability to carry through on ideas, I think art is where his best talents may lie. I received my first nephew-made birthday card this year. Here's the outside of the card, which I flattened and scanned:



Observe the colour choices, the freedom of the movement of the lines, and the placement of the art relative to the page. I think he has perfectly captured that elusive thing about childhood: the way joy can so easily turn into angst, and how chaotic, yet contained, life must seem from a toddler's perspective.

Here's the inside of the card:



Such a joyful spill of stickers, with such delightful placement. Observe the choice to put just one sticker upside down: such whimsy!

Clearly, William is an artist ahead of his time. Just wait to see his first pieces to appear in the Museum of Modern Art in eighteen to twenty years.
dreaminghope: (Flying)
A murder of crows, a herd of cattle, a parliament of owls... we need a collective noun for paragliders.

The options I've heard most often are gaggle and flock, which do make sense given that we do resemble geese when we launch. Unfortunately, both words only properly apply to geese on the ground; geese in the air are a skein, a team, or a wedge, and none of those terms seem quite right. And one term that applies to us both on the ground and in the air would be easier. For that same reason, I'm not especially fond of a flight, such as for storks and swallows, as it doesn't sound like it could be applied to paragliders on the ground.

Hang gliders sometimes call us jellyfish (all in good fun, of course), so perhaps we could adopt one of the collective nouns for jellyfish: fluther or smack... though a "smack of paragliders" has some unfortunate implications and a "fluther of paragliders" is just difficult to say.

We could name ourselves for hawks: a boil for when two or more are spiralling in flight or a kettle for when flying in large numbers. Or after eagles: a convocation of paragliders. Perhaps it is a little presumptuous to name ourselves after birds of prey, though.

Yesterday Russ and I volunteered at the Outdoor Adventure Show for iParaglide. Towards the end of the day, a bunch of our fellow pilots came by and the conversation soon turned to everyone's newest toys: one person's new harness, another's new helmet with shiny visor, someone's new camera with helmet mount, another's new wing... there's always a new shiny coming out.

As a community, paragliders are pretty camera-happy. We're very fond of taking pictures and video of ourselves and each other. We also love our gadgets, such as GPS trackers, varios, and all kinds of other tools, especially if they help us brag about our flights on the internet. Therefore, in the tradition of many collective nouns coming from descriptions of a group's characteristics or habits of life, I would like to propose a flash of paragliders.
dreaminghope: (Baby DreamHope)
Christmas always makes me think about toys. I was thrilled when I saw a news story the other day that said that some of the most requested presents for this year, after fancy electronic gizmos, are classics like Legos and Barbies.

When my sister and I were little, we didn't get random toys; new toys came at Christmas and birthdays, though we were spoiled on both of those occasions.

I was a kid in the 1980s, with many of the accompanying toys:

I had a Pound Puppy. The one I had came in a two pack in a cardboard doghouse; my sister and I each got one of the plush dogs for Christmas.

I had a Care Bear. I watched the Care Bear movie three times in the 48-hours we had it rented for my birthday sleep-over, but still only had one of the toys.

I had a couple of Barbies and some accessories, though my sister and I didn't really play with them a lot. I really only played Barbie when I had school friends over.

I had a couple of Popples, though they mostly came from garage sales, bought with my tiny allowance. I was late to a lot of the minor trends because I wasn't allowed to watch cartoons, so I missed the advertising and only tended to learn about the new toy fashions once my friends already something to show off.

I had a Cabbage Patch Kid at the peak of the craze. Long before there was Tickle Me Elmo causing riots in the toy stores, there were sold-out Cabbage Patch Kids. My sister had a little boy doll, bought still in box from the trunk of a car in the swimming pool parking lot from a mother whose daughter did not want a boy Cabbage Patch Doll, even if it was the only one left in town. My sister's friends were mostly boys, so she had no problem receiving Solomon. I had a little black Cabbage Patch Kid doll, which was perhaps unsurprisingly still on the store shelf in a small northern town where even the local "ethnic" restaurant – a Chinese restaurant with as much batter as chicken in their sweet-and-sour chicken balls – was probably run by white people. My doll came with the name Charlotte, but I just couldn't remember it ("It's something like carrot...") so my Mom and I applied to have it changed to Amanda. I bet my mother still has the revised "birth certificate" somewhere that the Cabbage Patch people sent us.

But there were a few things my parents didn't buy for me.

Mom didn't like Snugglebumms. I think she recognized that they were a short-lived fad with limited entertainment value. Or maybe she just didn't like that the name included "bum". Or maybe there weren't any available in the two aisles of toys in our small town department store. Anyway, for some reason, she didn't like them and so I didn't have one, except the one I made out of a scrap of terry cloth and some embroidery thread. Mom had to thread the needle for me.

I also never received a Teddy Ruxpin, despite my utter fascination with them when I saw them in a toy store in the "big city" (Sudbury). I spent many hours trying to re-create the Ruxpin experience: I recorded my own audio tapes, then sat my Ogi, my favourite teddy bear, in front of a ghettoblaster covered with a pumpkin-orange, rust-red, and harvest-yellow crocheted granny-square blanket. I would play the audio tape back while my sister and I would pretend that Ogi was talking. Sometimes I would do different voices on the tapes and sit multiple toys in front of the ghettoblaster so they could have a conversation with each other. This kept me happily entertained for hours at a time for weeks, using only things we already had laying around the house. My mother's wisdom shows again: I'm sure many a talking bear ended up stuffed in the back of a closet after only a couple of hours of use.

My sister and I did spend a lot of time playing with Precious Places, Charmkins, Playmobil, and Lego, all jumbled together and laid out in elaborate cities on a double-bed sized, wheeled platform that Dad made for us. The platform was brilliant because it could be rolled under the guest bed in the basement, so our games could remain intact when my mother vacuumed or when guests stayed over. We had to remove the Precious Places houses first, but all the roads and shorter buildings could stay.

However many hours we spent playing with those toys, however, we spent even more playing with no props at all. We had to: we would go camping in our motor home for weeks at a time in the summer, and there wasn't a lot of room for anything beyond a couple of packs of cards, a pile of library books, some paper and markers for drawing, and a couple of stuffed animals each. Together, we invented new worlds and spent entire days in them.

I've been spending more time in toy stores since my nephew was born. There are so many great toys out there – some new innovations and some classics – and I've had no problems choosing gifts for him so far. I look forward to buying him gifts for many, many years, but I keep returning to the idea that sometimes the best toys are the ones you didn't have.
dreaminghope: (Sunspot)
I'm in that tedious stage of sick where I can't actually do anything - too weak, and any cold air or physical exertion makes me cough - but where I am not sick enough to be apathetic about it. I have pneumonia. Just a mild case, and the antibiotics seem to be working, but it has got me housebound... actually, pretty much chairbound. My cat's happy at least; my lap currently makes the perfect place for a ten-hour nap.

But it does give me some time to actually write up our latest flying adventures. Hard to believe it was three weeks ago, but we finally got in our first entirely solo flying day. On October 14th, the three of us who have been flying together since our first Slope Soaring class did some evening weather forecasting, and reached the conclusion that the next day may very well be flyable. Another check in the morning and a quick phone consultation, and we were off. Russ and I picked up Craig in front of his building in the mid-morning (later than we usually go out, as the outflow was expected to linger, perhaps in part due to the time of year), and we were off to the mountain.

On the way up, the conversation was about cloud formations, Starbucks bakery items, and Russ and I's brand new niece (born at 1 AM the day before), and was carefully not about being nervous about our first unsupervised flights. Maybe I was the only one.

We know the LZ well at this point, so we drove straight up the mountain. We've been flying Mount Woodside all summer, so everything was familiar as we pulled into the parking lot, sorted out water bottles and granola bars, then packed our wings up to the launch. Russ volunteered to drive the first round, so Craig and I got our wings laid out, checked our lines rather obsessively, then got in line. There wasn't a lot of wind, but it was a bit cross at times, so the line was slow moving as each pilot had to carefully wait for the right cycle to come straight up the mountain. Since there wasn't a lot of lift, no one was rushing and the feeling on launch was fairly relaxed and mellow. Lots of pilots were just hanging out, waiting to see how the day was going to develop.

The three of us did sled runs all day. There was some lift out there, but it was hard to stay in. Those who stayed up were working hard for it and spending a lot of time "scratching" (circling in areas of no lift or drop while looking for a thermal). Russ, Craig, and I just focused on good launches and landings, and we got in three flights each.




In the pictures above, I can almost hear myself saying "c'mon, c'mon! Pull!", which is pretty much what I was probably thinking.

We all had good forward launches all day. I had one - my second launch of the day - where a little gust popped me a bit when I stabilized the wing, so I unloaded it a bit, but I remembered my training, fully committed to getting my weight down and running hard, and successfully launched despite the brief mis-step. When Craig had a little problem with his wing not coming up evenly, he aborted it cleanly, then shook it off and had a great launch shortly after. We were doing it: making decisions and being responsible for ourselves.

The perfect end for me was my last landing of the day. I came in over the south-west corner, over the "three sisters" - the trees on the Riverside LZ that we use to estimate our elevation - and noticed that I was lower than usual, so I turned on to downwind. As I made my next turn on to base, my feet were level with the tree tops: the absolute perfect height. I turned on to final, lined up with the runway and flared at the perfect height. I felt like I stepped out of the air and on to the ground, and I found myself in the first third of the runway, right where I had wanted to land. I even had time to turn to face my wing and bring it down tidily.

I may have ruined the cool factor of such a good landing by turning to my friends who'd already landed and screaming "Did you see that!" across the entire field.

The local flying season is definitely slowing. By the time I am healthy, we will probably be into the rainy time of year. Russ and I hope to get in some travelling with our wings during the off-season, and hopefully there will be kiting and slope soaring and maybe a random winter flying day or two at Mount Blanchard, but it was still nice to end on a high note: "Did you see that!"
dreaminghope: (Sunspot)
While Russ and I were in Las Vegas this past weekend, three more students graduated from the novice licensing program from iParaglide. Ducky, Jim, and Simon were all people we'd been carpooling, kiting, and flying with frequently, so Russ, Craig, and I have been hoping to have many adventures with them post-graduation too. To that end, we've been plotting our first supervision-free flights, hopefully for next weekend or the weekend after.

Russ and I have been flying with our school since our graduations, because Russ has been playing landing coach every flyable weekend. It has its advantages, not the least of which is an automatic non-flying driver in the form of our teacher, but it means that we don't necessarily feel like independent pilots. In order to really feel like we've graduated, we need to fly without our teacher around.

I did take one step towards that feeling recently. I was the last of our group to launch on one of the rounds. As I was setting my wing up, our teacher headed down to pick the students back up for the next round. For the first time, I was on my own: I was going to launch without my teacher within sight. To further increase the pressure, there were many experienced pilots on launch, including some tandem pilots and teachers from another paragliding school. Luckily, the conditions were ones I am very comfortable with - low winds for a forward launch - and there was one friendly face on launch: Mark, a pilot I flew with last year when he was finishing his novice license and I was starting mine.

After we both landed, Mark told me that it was a good launch, but I already knew that. I brought the wing up evenly, checked it well, and ran down into a smooth flight. I even got a bit of lift as I played around in front of the ridge.

The next step is a new novice flying adventure. Our teacher isn't going to be at the mountain next weekend, so it'll just be us, with our shiny new licenses, making our own decisions, launching and landing ourselves, being pilots.
dreaminghope: (Flying Demon Girl)
We went to Las Vegas last weekend. It wasn't on our List - that is to say, Vegas isn't one of the places we are eager to visit - but exceptions must be made for weddings.

If we're going to Vegas just once, we figured to "do" Vegas. We saw a lot of casinos and their famous free displays and shows. We missed out on celebrity impersonators - unless you count the poorly done Elvis on the street, which we don't - but managed to fit most everything else into three days.

Wedding: We went down for two of Russ' co-workers' wedding. It wasn't a Vegas quicky, and wasn't done by Elvis, but was in a casino ballroom.

Gambling: Penny slots between the wedding and reception. I lost $1 and Russ lost $5 or $10. We're big spenders, we are.

Shopping: Speaking of big spenders, I found a $10 purse at a cheesy gift store amongst the fancy designer stores. I needed something to carry to the wedding and found something ten minutes before we had to leave for the ceremony.

Shows: Burlesque, strip, drag, and Cirque du Soleil... we managed all four by seeing Zumanity.

Bar hopping: Not our usual choice of activity, but with some peer pressure encouragement from other wedding guests and some coupons, we hit a couple of bars before the reception, including the very odd Minus 5, where the walls, chairs, tables, decorations, and glasses are all made of ice.



Buffet: After you've overindulged in everything else, it seems natural to overeat too. We only went to one buffet, since we are trying to be healthier (the gym in our hotel was very acceptable). The Monday breakfast buffet kept us full through our afternoon flight home.

Vegas is surreal. It is fake - Disney for adults - and completely lacking in irony. The tourists are almost as odd as the city; there's almost a desperation about them, a constant performance of how much fun they are having at all times.

While exploring faux New York, and faux Italy, and faux everywhere else, Russ and I had some fascinating conversations about capitalism, commercialism, racism, classism, and some of the unfortunate implications and problematic choices of "Zumanity". And in between, we just gave ourselves over to the experience, including a trip to the world's largest gift store (where we got caught under the awning by a magnificent rain storm - a day's worth of rain in 15 minutes: not everything in Vegas is fake) and taking at least one cheesy tourist photo:

dreaminghope: (Sunspot)
In a high school class, there's at least one: the student who struggled but who worked their butt off. Their graduation is a big deal. Everyone is cheering for them; everyone is so proud of them: their family and friends, their teachers, often even their fellow graduates. I wasn't that student in school; my graduation was taken for granted by everyone, including myself. I am a natural at book learning.

Paragliding cannot be learned from a book. I have no illusions that I am a natural at paragliding. Russ has taken to it a lot more quickly than I have and is already an apprentice instructor for iParaglide, assisting at the slope soaring training hill and landing students at the mountain. Our teacher, Dion, was telling Russ about how to make the slope soaring classes run efficiently, emphasizing the need to identify any struggling students early on so they can get extra help and not slow down the rest of the class. That was definitely me in my first class.

Through the course of the training for my novice license, I've struggled with no-wind launches, accurate landings, reverse launches, and kiting... almost everything, really. And I've slowly learned each of those things with extra help from Dion and his other teachers, some tutoring from Russ, lots of practice, loads of visualizing, and sheer stubbornness. I still have a lot to learn, but I can now do reliable no-wind launches, fairly accurate and very safe landings, reverse kiting for as long as I want in good wind and forward kiting for short periods, and I've done two reverse launches at the mountain.

At the end of last summer, Dion and I both thought that I was going to need extra flights after the minimum twenty to get through all my requirements, but when things started clicking for me, it all came together very quickly. I had my graduation flight last Monday, August 1st. It was my third flight of the day and I launched at about 5 PM, when the wind was just settling down again. I did my best reverse launch yet and glided off into the late afternoon sun.

I will never get tired of the view at 2000 feet. The miracle of being in the air, just me and the wind and all that space on all sides is just so powerful. Even a "sled run" - a flight where you launch, fly straight to the landing zone (LZ) and land - gives me ten magical minutes of kicking back in my harness and enjoying the view. I needed the launch and landing practice and I was flying in the morning, before there's a lot of lift, so that’s what a lot of my flights ended up being this year.

On my graduation flight, the evening winds and the ridge lift meant that I didn't have to head straight to the LZ. Instead, I flew back and forth along the ridge, letting the air hold me up, riding over invisible waves of thermals, choosing where to go next. I almost started crying at one point, as I realized that I was in the midst of a dream come true. That was exactly the kind of flying I've always wanted to do.

On the radio, Dion made a point of telling me that it was a good launch and that I was flying well, around supervising a newer student's launch and flight. He is always reassuring and encouraging on the radio, but he sounded especially proud that day.

As of this evening, I'm on the list of members of the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada. This video, taken by Russ moments after I landed, pretty much summarizes how I feel:

dreaminghope: (Flying)
We're grounded again this weekend – more rain – so I'm thinking about paragliding instead of flying.

Even when I'm not flying, I love watching it. I watch a lot of videos on the Internet. I've watched a lot of landings from the shade of the one tree on the landing zone (the "LZ"). While waiting for my turn to launch, I've seen some beautiful forward and reverse launches, some tandem launches, some hang glider launches, and a couple of top landings. I even love hanging out while people kite their wings, especially hearing the sound as the wing rises into the air and snaps into stability.

A couple of weeks ago, I was left alone on the launch for twenty minutes or so when our instructor from iParaglide went to pick up other pilots while the weather settled down a little. As I was sitting out in the sun, enjoying the quiet and scenery, a beat-up truck rumbled into the parking lot. A bunch of young men with sturdy builds piled out, beer cans in hand, and clambered up on to the launch. Being a female alone at the top of a logging road... I stood up and tried to look friendly and confident.

"You flying?" one asked me.

"Not yet. The wind's too strong still and I'm waiting for my teacher to come back with the other students. Hopefully I'll be launching before the sun starts to go down."

"This is perfect wind for me," a guy with helmet hair says. Turns out, he's a hang glider who flew earlier and just caught a ride back up to his truck with these guys. There was no reason to walk up to launch with them, but maybe he was being a bit cautious about leaving a woman alone with these strangers. The hang gliders I've met so far have been very mannerly; two of them supplied rags and clean water and helped mop me off after I fell into some mud upon landing last year.

"Did you fly earlier?" a guy asks.

"Not yet. Two other pilots from my class did; they are stronger than I am, so they could launch in more wind."

"Cool. So, this is where you jump off?" a guy with a beer asks, peering over the edge a bit.

"They don't jump; they fly," the first guy says to him, and then to me: "This is the first time he has come up with us."

The guys, apparently, come up all the time to watch paragliders and hang gliders launch. It's a thing to do on a sunny day: drive up the mountain, drink some beers, watch people fly. I told the new guy a little bit about how paragliding works and answered everyone's questions. It was all pretty friendly, except when I got a bit annoyed with them when they set off a firecracker on launch while my wing was bundled just off to the side.

They got tired of waiting and drove off before my teacher got back, which was good because the wind never did mellow and no one got to fly again that day. Driving down from launch is kind of depressing.

The next week, as we were packing our wings on the LZ, an old man came roaring through the field on a motorcycle. When he saw us, he stopped and greeted our teacher, Dion, warmly. The guy on the bike is Joe, the owner of the land we have to pass through to drive to our LZ. He doesn't fly himself, but he is a huge fan of paragliders and hang gliders. Before his stroke, he used to drive people up to the launch for free, just to hear their stories. Now, he is looking at buying the LZ land from his neighbour to make sure it continues to be available to us.

Dion has offered many times to teach Joe to fly or to take him on a tandem flight, but Joe's too worried about breaking a hip. He is happy to just watch:

"I can just spend hours watching you all fly. It's the ultimate in beauty and relaxation. It's like a ballet. When a bunch of gliders and some hangies are up there, it's like paradise to me."

I plan to quote Joe when trying to convince a nearby city to let us launch and land in some municipal parks. What a sales pitch!
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
What follows are some of my reflections on the post-Stanley Cup riots in downtown Vancouver. The Facebook and Twitter posts are uncredited because I don't know what's locked under privacy locks and what isn't. If you see something you wrote and want credit, let me know. All spelling and punctuation are from the originals.

We're about a ten minute drive from the heart of downtown, where about 100,000 people had gathered to watch the big game on Wednesday night. We aren't hockey fans, but we flipped over to the game a couple of times during the course of the evening. When we saw that the home team had lost, Russ looked out our living room window, up and down the street: "It looks quiet out there."

I went on Facebook and read the following updates over the next couple of hours:

All I can hope at this point is that all of the people downtown are behaving and continue to behave like civilised folks.

oh come on Vancouver! don't trash the city! street fires and vehicle vandalism?

Car fire at Hamilton and Georgia

Its apprantly getting bad. Police cars getting flipped now..

So... The first can of tear gas has been fired. I'm downtown.

Ug.. now the cop cars are on fire...

Vancouver, this is why we can't have nice things.

St. Pauls hospital is apparently at Code Orange and locked down. :(


Russ slept in until about 6:15 on Thursday morning. He would have slept longer, but I let the cats into the bedroom to keep him from going fully back to sleep after his 6 wake-up call. That was wake-up number two; the first, to the alarm at 4:50, was rough for him and he stayed in bed. He hadn't slept well: couldn't fall asleep, couldn't stay asleep, and between, had nightmares about the riots. Russ wants so badly for this city - his city - to be a place where we can celebrate or mourn together without it becoming a police event.

And it goes on. )

This isn't a holligan town. It's OUR town! Peace & Love. (one of many messages written on the plywood over one of the broken windows at Chapters)

There's a lot of plywood up as businesses wait for new windows to be delivered. All over the city core, the plywood is scrawled with hundreds of messages: people expressing their shame in the rioters, their anger in what's been done in the name of hockey, their hope that it will never happen again, and their faith that our city is better than this. Mostly, the messages were reclaiming this city as being a beautiful and peaceful one, and not what was seen on the international news on Wednesday and Thursday.

Maybe we're a little less apathetic today. Maybe we're taking our city a little less for granted. As I ran errands all over downtown today, I saw a lot of people adding their messages of hope to the plywood, a lot of people taking photos, and people adding thank you notes to the police car. I also noticed that everyone looked at the plywood as they walked past it, even if they were obviously in a hurry.

Last night was not what Vancouver stand for. I am still proud to be a Vancouverite. (one of many messages written on the plywood over one of the broken windows at The Bay)

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dreaminghope

February 2014

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