Archive for the 'video' Category


Back on the mountain bike again and it feels great

Ian back on the bikeIt felt so good to be on the bike again – my real bike, not my daughter’s and definitely not the one that replaced the one that split in two as I was crossing the road last year – that I rode 45km along the Elbe just because.

Tuesday it will be three months since my ski injury, and only three weeks ago the physiotherapist at rehab said to me in a gentle, roundabout kind of way that my goal of getting back on the mountain bike would have to wait.

“I think we all knew that riding again by the end of your time here wasn’t going to be,” she said, “but I think by the end of the year you’ll be ready.”

The end of the year?  Another seven months of taking the bus?  I went home feeling despondent.  I was making progress on getting the knee to bend more and more, so why such a long, drawn-out recovery?  Maybe she was just trying to make sure I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high for a quick return to full range of motion.

By some scheduling quirk they assigned me a different physiotherapist the next week.  She’s no better than the first one, but somehow she stretched me out one day so much, it made all the difference.

That same afternoon – the Friday of week three – I got up on the exercise bike, the real one, the one with the real crank and not the one you adjust shorter for those with limited flexibility – and gave it a turn.  And another.  And another.  I could not believe it.  It felt tight at the top of the circle, but I could do it just fine.  I was so happy, I wanted to scream with joy.  It was like climbing to the top of a ridge when you’re heading for the summit and taking in an incredible view knowing that you’re finally over the first big push.  I clenched my fists, bowed my head,  wanted to scream but couldn’t, so it just happened – a gush of tears.  I could not hold them back.  I was so happy, so incredibly overjoyed at once again proving to myself my leg was going to get better enough to allow me to do this simple task once again.  I tried to hide it by swiping my towel, taking in deep breaths, but it didn’t work.  It was like a release from weeks of frustration and doubt.

I looked over to my right to the desk at the corner of the gym and there she was, the physio who only two hours before had had both my legs stretched out on the table saying, “Gee, you’re really doing this well.”

I wiped off my face and walked over to where she was sitting, leaned over and said as sincerely as I could, “thank you! Thank you!  Thank you!”  She didn’t know what I meant, but I pointed over to the bike and said, “over there, the bike – I can do it!”

I led her over and got back on and showed her, thanked her again, and kept on it for another 20 minutes.

Yesterday, after practising in the  meantime on my daughter’s bike, and the dreaded split-in-two bike, I took out my bike – the one I watched them build from scratch – and took it for a spin.  The right thigh might still resemble a sausage with a slice down one end, but it bends and is getting stronger.  It feels great.


Grinding it out with a grain mill

Germany HaWo Kornmühle grain mill wideOne of the first things I noticed about my wife K’s kitchen in Hong Kong was this big, blocky wooden thing in the corner near the back door leading out to the terrace.

“What’s THIS?” I asked, flipping a globular wooden knob back and forth.

“It’s a grain mill,” she said.  “A friend brought it from Germany for me.”

That really floored me.  Her flat was actually quite spacious by the cramped standards of Hong Kong, but the kitchen was little more than a narrow corridor wedged between an oversized living room and the tiny, windowless room we stored stuff in, but was designed as the maid’s bedroom.  We may have been cooking with gas, but you had to be really organised or you’d quickly run out of counter room.  You could stretch your arms across and touch both walls it was so small, so this glorified hunk of wood seems like the last thing you’d need.

But she swore by the results she got by grinding her own whole wheat flour, and I couldn’t much argue after she served up some Kaffee und Küchen for the first time. 

In Hamburg we have a much bigger kitchen, so the mill seems to take up a lot less room on our counters, and after 22 years it still gets used a lot, especially the last couple of years or so that I’ve been baking bread regularly.Germany HaWo Kornmühle grain mill cleaning

It’s a German product, dependable and built to last out of solid beech, but you have to take it apart once in a while to give it a thorough cleaning or it starts to look a little ratty.

On the inside you’ll find a powerful motor and millstones made of a hardened ceramic.  The first time I turned loose all the bolts and separated the parts to clean was after it hadn’t been used in a few months.

There were a few bug skins clinging to the walls of the flour chute and around the grinding face, which was a bit of a YUCK moment, but once it was scrubbed clean, put back together and burnished with linseed oil, it looked good as new.

For grain I head to the organic food store.  I’ve ground a variety of grains over the years, but usually stick to wheat because that’s what the bread recipes I use call for.  The only thing I’ve not tried is corn, because I’ve never found corn kernels that specially say they’re for making corn flour, but what I’d love to do is grind some corn to see if I can make some whole grain polenta from it.

Germany HaWo Kornmühle grain mill settingsThe manufacturer’s website has a variety of mills to choose from, and I like the fact they still make the exact model we own.  Their website gives you a bit of sticker shock, though.  Our model will set you back €454, but they’re guaranteed for 10 years.  Like I said, they’re built to last, so you should have it at least as long as we have with regular care.

If you want to see it running in this video, turn your sound down!  It is a bit of a noisy thing:


Notes on two weeks in the mountains

Long-suffering readers of this space will know that I’m nuts about an essentially pointless sport – much like golf – where the object of the game is to survive with a smile the pain of strapping a pair of heavy, plastic bricks around your ankles, attaching them to planks and pointing yourself downhill.  And, like golf, there’s the renting equipment, paying for your right to be on the course, dressing for the day, and following certain modes of etiquette.

It’s an addiction that makes no sense, but it got its claws into me before I was shaving and now I can’t shake it.

In Canada, I used to satisfy it in small doses.  How’s the weather look tomorrow?  Looks great for skiing – let’s go!

Living in Britannia Beach less than an hour from a former Olympic venue, you can do that.  In Hamburg, you have to plan your trip ahead of time because unless you fly, it takes the whole day to get down to the Alps.  We started planning for our recent week in St. Anton, Austria more than six months ago by booking a place in Pettneu, a small village 5 minutes from the main village of St Anton but quieter, friendlier, and much cheaper for overnight stays.

Then after a very dry Autumn, the snows hit the Alps this winter with a sudden force that knocked out roads and forced many people to prolong their vacations.  Such massive dumps I’d not seen in 15 years of living here, so I thought hmmmm… Six metres at the top?  Why go for only one week when there’s so much snow?  So I booked another week at Ischgl, a resort we’d never been to though it’s in a valley very close to St Anton.

Ischgl turned out to be a great discovery for us.  With its huge variety of runs laid out in such a way that you’re never far from another part of the area even though it’s spread out quite far – even taking in a tiny portion of Switzerland – it beats St Anton in a lot of ways.

Another discovery was the best part of Arlberg – the region where you’ll find St Anton – is Zürs, a smaller area with some amazing terrain and great scenery only 20km or so from St. Anton.  You can ski there on the same ticket, but for some reason we’d always only gone to nearby Lech if we ever ventured out of St. Anton.  It turned out to have the best skiing of any place we went to this time.

Another new experience was skiing with my daughter all day, every day.  We’d made a deal before leaving that, for the first time, she wouldn’t have to take lessons.  Three years ago – the last time we went as a family – she was in lessons and she’d been on a school ski trip last year, but it had been so long since I’d seen her on the boards, I was unsure whether she’d be able to keep up to me.

First run down I knew that I’d have to give her a few tips to work on, but as for whether she could keep up – hah!  That was often my problem.  On several runs she never stopped from top to bottom.  How could I have forgotten what I heard one woman say on the slopes five years ago: See that girl down there? She’s like a madwoman!

Along the way over the two weeks this year, her skiing improved.  Compare the video here with the one below it.

In this first clip – she’s the one in white in the background at the start – you can see how by swinging her arms and rotating her shoulders in the direction of her turn so much, she’s not only got a lot of unnecessary movement, she’s making the preparation for her turn much more difficult for herself.  So I had her think about getting her upper body as quiet as possible throughout the turn, keeping the shoulders square to the hill and the hands still out in front, with just a touch when planting the pole before the turn.

In this clip, taken on the second-to-last day, you can see she wasn’t doing any of those things nearly as much:

We froze our butts off a couple of days, skied by Braille in fog and flat light on another, but were rewarded on most days with a perfect combination of fresh snow and brilliant sunshine.  For all the snow and the luck we had with the weather, this trip is going to be the one we compare all the others to for a long time to come.


the day the lolcats died

If you’re like me and woke up feeling rather clueless because you couldn’t tell the difference between a SOPA and a PIPA so you went to Wikipedia to get some info and found a black page with the ominous message that the Intrawebs as you know them will be forever damaged but why should you care because you’re not living in the USA and have never had a congressthingy to write to…

…the following video lays the issues out very clearly.

I was going to join the bandwagon and black out this humble blog for a day of protest, but unlike them and other heavyweights like Wikipedia, I’d rather have a laugh instead.

This guy’s kind of out of tune, but he’s funny:


Busking at the Christmas markets

The red-haired girl and a friend went out busking today, he with his saxophone and she with her clarinet.

Although they’re schoolmates and so see each other every day, they’d not had much time to practise their Christmas songs.  He lives far away south across the Elbe river, and they’re both busy kids.

But they did have time for a couple of sessions before hitting the Christmas markets.

She went out last year with another friend who also plays the clarinet, and that time I watched them both very closely the whole time.  But this year we left the two of them to practise at our place, catching up with them after we’d come back from having lunch down in the harbour.

They’d been playing for about a half-hour by the time we’d stopped by to watch and say hello.  First thing she told us was how a woman had just come up to them and told them to stop because they sounded awful!

I thought that was pretty mean, but the red-haird girl was smiling broadly.  She didn’t care.  They were out there in the crowds playing away, and coins were dropping into her clarinet case.  I added a couple.

“We’re heading downtown if the weather stays nice,” she chirped.

I hadn’t counted on them venturing so far away, and felt a free-range kids moment coming on.

“Uh… really?” I said.  “All the way downtown?”


“OK, but watch out for yourselves,” I said.  “Not everyone down there is going to be friendly.”

“It’s OK,” her friend said. “I’m pretty athletic.  If anyone tries anything, I’ll run after them.”

As wife K and I left them to play some more, I told her of my anxiety, just letting them go all the way downtown midst the crowded madness of Saturday pre-Christmas shopping.

“Just remind me a couple of times that everything’s going to be OK,” I said.

Then I added that I didn’t want to be lurking around the corner all the time, they’re close to 15 and mature for their ages and could take care of themselves, I didn’t want to be like some sort of helicopter parent because that’s not the way I am.  But it felt very strange to just start walking away and let them go.

“They’ll be OK,” K said.  “And don’t forget. We’ve got to give them roots, but also let them have wings.”


Forgotten moment of joy

This week I’m a straw-widow.**  Or widower, more like it.

Wife K and the red-haired girl have taken off to Turkey for a week’s short holiday.  Missing them both, I’ve been looking at old home movies shot on our sturdy old Hi-8 camcorder.

It’s been fun testing out an analog-to-digital converter a friend lent me, and at the same time re-discovering clips I hadn’t seen in a dozen years.

Here’s one tiny moment of joy I’d completely forgotten:

That girl and I are still playing together.

If we have time when they get back, we’ll make one showing what we’ve been practicing lately.

**A direct translation of the German term Strohwitwe(r), which you become when your spouse is away for a while.


Facebook planking craze hits Hamburg!

Planking, the Facebook craze destined to last at least a few more hours one more week, has gone global.  Even the sleepy backwater of Hamburg, Germany has caught on.  We in Hamburg are more sensible than the rest, though.  Understated refinement is how we go about things here.

And because already at least one person has plunged seven storeys to his death in pursuit of the perfect planking position, in the interest of safety the editor and staff at Letters Home recommend you at least be sober before attempting your plank.

OK, so I bent a few of the official rules here.  But the penguin IS lying rigid on a 31-year-old German turntable.  Top that, plankers!


Will you still need me, will you still feed me

I still remember hearing this song for the first time and thinking what an incredibly long way away it seemed.

Soon it will be only 13 years – about as long as I’ve lived in Hamburg.

Or does a really cold winter just make you feel old?


A Hamburg weekend

If you’re going to be meeting me and a few other bloggers in Hamburg the weekend of Sept 10 – 12, this post is for you.   These photos will illustrate some of the details I’ll be posting on our little forum site.

For the Friday side trip with Umlauts, go to the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof and look for this view:

If you’re standing right here, turn around and you’ll see a huge Burger King sign.   We’ll meet there!

Do resist the urge to indulge as you wait for others to arrive, as we’ll be having lunch in Umlautsville.

Personal anecdote: the first time I was at the Hamburg central station, my wife-to-be and I almost tripped over some junkies shooting up in a corner just outside.  The place has been cleaned up a bit since then.

Skipping to Saturday afternoon, I’ll be posting a raft of nautical options to enjoy after lunch.  Beside, on, or under the Elbe – your choice.

Bonus flashback look at winter on the Elbe, as seen from the upper deck of one of these ferries:

OH!  That reminds me.  A blogger in Alabama kayaking (!) through the Panama Canal a while back thought of me when she saw that very ship – or one in its fleet – sailing through that busy ditch.  Here’s what she posted on her blog:

Double-secret-special-bonus photo of the bar That Queer Expatriate and I were forbidden to enter, probably because we weren’t dressed for it:

I guarantee you the best view of the entire harbour through those huge, tall windows at the top, but if you go, make sure you’re clothed in a little better attire than just jeans and t-shirt.  If not, walk straight in like you own the place and head for the windows just to get a glimpse before they throw you out.  It’s worth it.

And finally, the Sunday breakfast/brunch thing:  We’ll catch a boat on the Alster to get to the restaurant. This way you’ll have covered Hamburg’s two great natural attractions – the Elbe and the Alster.  We’ll meet at the foot of the big wooden quay on the southeast corner of the Binnenalster.  The end of the quay looks like this:

Please remember to wave to man standing guard as you float by:


Waterskiing and wakeboarding without a boat

Of all the weird ideas, right?  Who ever heard of waterskiing or wakeboarding without a boat?  I certainly hadn’t up until not too long ago.  Having learned to water ski the usual way on summer afternoons at our Canadian prairie lake, it never occurred to me there was any other way to get pulled around the water’s surface.

But the not-so-little-any-more red-haired girl came home from a birthday party a while back with tales of waterskiing at a lake only a few minutes’ train ride from our place.   “There’s no boat – you’re towed along by a cable,” she said.  “It was fun, but I never got out of the water.”

“Don’t worry,” I told her.  “We’ll go back this summer and we’ll give it another try.”

It’s not at easy as it looks.

Once fitted out with your wetsuit and gear you stand in line for the lift, side-stepping down the ramp to the launch area.  When it’s your turn on deck you stand on a plastic grass pad and grab ahold of the handle.

The operator sitting in a booth beside you gives newcomers like us a few tips on how to get ready.

“Stand on that red stripe, sit right down on the back of the skis, and make sure you don’t get pulled too far forward when the rope tightens.”

Sounds all right, but once you get going?  The contraption that sends you skimming around the lake is not much more than a huge cable loop strung around five pulleys suspended about 10 metres above the water. 

As your rope goes around each pulley – assuming you actually manage to launch OK –  you have to position yourself just right in the water so that not too much slack builds up, otherwise the force of the rope tightening again after it rounds the pulley will jolt you forward – if you manage to stay up – or rip the handle out of your grasp and send you for a flying face-plant.

That happened to both of us a couple of times before we got the hang of it.  We each had to walk back from the far end of the lake after having fallen half-way around, but by the time our two-hour ticket was up we’d each made it four times around in one go.  That’s how many turns you’re allowed before you’re supposed to drop the tow for the next person waiting in line.

We could have bought a day ticket, but we also wanted to do a little bike ride through the countryside afterward, so the two hours were just right.  My arms were aching by then anyway, so I was glad to get on the bike and let the legs take over.  But on the train ride home, we already made plans to try it with a wakeboard next time.

For a look at the little red-haired girl’s second time up on the water, I present you one of the shortest videos you’ll ever see on youtube:

If you’re near Hamburg and want to give it a go, you have to get yourself out to Pinneberg, a suburb 25 minutes or so by train northwest of the city.  From the S-Bahn station the lake is an easy five-minute walk through a park alongside the tracks back toward Hamburg.

The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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