Thursday, July 16, 2009

Putting things together...

Week Thirty-One:Woodworking

There is a long list of knowledge and skills of which every grown man should have at least a rudimentary understanding. The talents included on this list are as varied as basic auto maintenance, how to balance a checkbook and the proper way to attack a Cover-2 defense. Unfortunately, as proven several times throughout this experience, I am deficient in far too many of these fundamental man-skills and therefore must make an attempt to familiarize myself as many as possible. Hence this week’s essential ability: woodworking.

Before getting into the process, however, allow me to provide the back story for this week’s experience. For the last several years’ worth of birthdays and Christmases, my girlfriend Jackie has been eagerly requesting a buffalo-shaped cutting board. But while this seems like a relatively easy demand, the subsequent search for said item has repeatedly proven itself futile. Aside from the occasional misshapen and overpriced piece at local arts and craft shows, none of which have been worth buying, it has been nearly impossible to find the coveted buffalo cutting board. Therefore, after years of frustration I decided to take the initiative to showcase my creativity and craftsmanship in making the board myself. Of course, since this was a recent decision it only made sense to incorporate the process into my yearlong adventure, 52to30.

I decided to start this adventure in the usual place, scouring the Internet for directions on how to construct a cutting board. Surprisingly, this is a relatively popular activity so there was no shortage of information and I quickly started to put together my plan. Once I compiled a list of materials and had a general idea of how to begin I started sorting through images of standing buffalo to use as a stencil for my board. I easily found an acceptable outline (not too detailed or cartoonish) and used a copy machine to blow the image up to the appropriate size, approximately 18”x12”.

My first real hiccup during this process was actually trying to find the right wood for my board. First, I was surprised to find several local hardware stores unable to help me in my quest for wood. After unsuccessfully visiting and calling a few of these stores I eventually wound up at a little place called WoodCraft, a wood-working specialty store whose validity I recently questioned – ironically enough. Going for the contrasted look of alternating light and dark strips of wood, I wanted to use maple and walnut but I was disappointed to learn they were unavailable so I had to settle on my back ups - oak and cherry.

With all the materials and plans assembled I started to measure my blocks of wood into 1-½ inch strips to be reassembled in alternating order. However, as I was getting ready to cut these strips I quickly realized I didn’t have the right saw to make such straight, thin cuts. It was beginning to dawn on me that this would be a little more difficult than I had originally envisioned. Thankfully though, whenever a situation like this arises I know exactly who to call – my good friend Terry.

Terry owns close to every tool imaginable and loves having an excuse to use them so, even though it was after 10pm when I called, he invited me right over to start working. After quickly discussing the plans, he quickly formed a strategy and we got to work. As previously mentioned, I now realized what I was in for so I was very thankful for Terry’s help since it would ensure a much better job. Rather than a trial by fire, I would be learning everything from someone who knows what they’re doing. Or so I thought.

After changing the blade in the table saw and calibrating the measurements (my previous pencil lines rendered meaningless) Terry started to cut the first strip of wood. Having not operated a power saw since Middle School Technology class, I decided to let him get things started while I watched and learned. However, as the blade cut into the board, Terry’s basement started filling with thick, white smoke to the point that you couldn’t see past five feet. Once the strip was cut, we turned off the smoke detectors and fanned away the smokescreen, Terry realized he put the blade in backwards.

Thankful that the friction didn’t start the wood on fire, we laughed it off, fixed the blade and started over. Things went much more smoothly from this point on as Terry cut the first board into strips before allowing me to do the same with the second. Next, we laid out the strips in the light-dark pattern to find the best combination to our puzzle – minimizing gaps and putting the two roughest edges on the top and bottom since they would be cut off anyway. Finally, we bonded these strips with wood glue before clamping them together to dry overnight.

When I arrived at Terry’s house the next night I was totally reassured by our progress. Looking at that board all sealed together and ready to be worked pumped me up beyond belief so after ensuring the strips were solid we began the process of sanding. Once again, Terry started off but we took pretty regular turns as we progressed from rough to fine sandpaper and the cutting board was made incredibly smooth before our eyes. This process is quite remarkable when you see rough, slightly uneven planks of wood come together as an even, smooth surface.

Once the sanding was finished it was time for the hard part. First, I took my stencil (the enlarged copy of a buffalo, cut out of several pieces of paper) and placed it in an ideal spot on the board, away from any major defects or gaps. Thankfully my calculations were correct and it fit perfectly! Using a pencil, I lightly traced the stencil onto the wood before touching up a few spots and retracing the shape with a fine-tip marker. My apprehensions were eased quite a bit when I saw how well it looked on the paper. Unfortunately, the most difficult part of all would be cutting it out.

Of course, as previously mentioned, if anyone has the right tool for the job, it’s Terry. This was no exception as he unveiled the fancy little handheld saw with turning radius, blah, blah, blah. (Sorry, I wasn’t taking notes so I can’t remember it’s official name.) With a strategy in mind Terry started cutting the wood, making slow but steady progress. I took a turn cutting along the top hump of the buffalo where the line is easier to navigate but even this didn’t last very long. We’d come too far at this point for me to screw it up so I deferred to Terry’s expertise. My job during this process was to rotate the board, adjust the clamps when necessary and keep the cord from getting caught.

After about fifteen to twenty minutes of heavy concentration on both our parts, Terry finished the cutting and the buffalo had taken shape. We decided to call it quits for the night and continue next week. Jackie’s birthday isn’t until next Sunday so we’ve got time to finish before then. However, all the tough jobs are done and we only have to sand the edges and stain the finished board with butcher-block oil – essential for sealing the wood against seepage from food products.

I am so happy with the cutting board at this stage and I’m very proud to have been a part of this process. Granted, Terry easily did most of the work but this experience was more about learning. I could have attempted this entire project on my own but there’s no way it would have been anywhere close to this successful. Instead, I would have been terribly frustrated in the process of creating a piece of crap which would have only been a tremendous waste of my time, energy and money. Instead, I learned way more about woodworking than I ever imagined, had a ton of fun with one of my best friends and created an incredible birthday gift for the woman I love. Sounds like an all around awesome experience to me.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Running on empty...

Week Thirty:Run a 5K

The idea of running 5k had actually been suggested by several different people as an activity for Fifty-two to Thirty. In fact, completing a marathon was also brought up but that’s a commitment I am neither willing nor able to make at this time. Yet, despite being a casual runner, I was initially reluctant to the idea of a 5k due to the sheer intimidation involved. Not only would I have to do some serious training to prepare for the run, I was also unsettled by the thought of running in such a public setting. Usually I don’t mind being in the open but I wasn’t sure what types of hardcore runners I’d be dealing with in this situation. It’s one thing to run around a park or neighborhood, but quite another when people are taking themselves too seriously.

However, I gradually started warming to the idea thanks to the influence of several factors. First, there is a 5k called Tommy’s Run that is run by a woman I work with. Since this race is sponsored by my employer and is therefore patronized by some of my coworkers, I figured it would be a comfortable place to begin my competitive running career. Also, this woman reassured me that Tommy’s Run is a much more casual atmosphere than a lot of other races in the area.

Another reason I started to consider running a 5k was the recent emergence of two people I know as devoted runners – my brother Patrick and my boss Joe. Now, Pat has become a regular accomplice lately here at 52to30 and his encouragement was an obvious influence. Then, once he started to run regularly (always updating me on his most recent times) I was further inspired by our natural brotherly competitiveness. Always friendly, of course.

Joe, on the other hand, inspired me through his utter dedication. Although he only started running a few months ago, Joe has been borderline obsessive with his running and his progress is very impressive. Joe provided updates on his status nearly everyday and his commitment really inspired me to start running again. Therefore, after discussing Tommy’s Run with Joe and relating the information to Pat we decided to give it a try. This would be the first 5k for all three of us.

Unfortunately, by the time I fully committed to participating in Tommy’s Run, it was only two weeks before the race. Since I hadn’t really run since autumn, I knew I would have to put forth quite a bit of effort to make a good showing and I didn’t have much time.

To start, I drove through the streets in my neighborhood to accurately measure the distance of a 5k (3.1 miles to be exact). After determining the serpentine path, I figured I could run it about eight times in the two weeks leading up to the race without wearing myself out. Unfortunately, my first attempt was far from successful, as I couldn’t even make it one full mile before slowing to a walk with my lungs burning. I continued the walk/jog pattern for the full distance and made the trip in just under forty minutes.

Thankfully, however, I was not deterred and for my second attempt I adjusted my stride, which extended my stamina tremendously. Each successive time after that I was able to run a little bit longer without walking and eventually cut my time to thirty-two minutes. And while inclement weather only allowed me to get in six runs before the race I felt confident in my ability and was really hoping to break the thirty-minute mark on race day.

* * *

The day of the race was the first time I really felt nervous about this experience. It’s only natural to have some game day jitters but I felt like I did everything I could to prepare for running a 5k. I had a nice pasta meal the night before to load up on carbs, I didn’t exercise the day of the raise so I would be fresh and I was sure to stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water. I was ready to rock.

Pat, Jackie and myself arrived at Green Lake about 45 minutes before the race was supposed to start - Jackie wasn’t interested in racing, instead providing moral support and documentation. After stretching out and warming up for a bit I was really getting antsy for the race to begin before eventually being told to gather at the starting line.

As the starting pistol was fired, the large jumble of racers moved forward, slowly sifting through each other like a school of fish. However, the wide range of ages and abilities was immediately apparent as the obvious runners shot ahead and I was nearly capsized trying to pass an eight-year-old girl walking her dog in the race. Thankfully, after surviving this near calamity, I separated myself from the stragglers and settled into a comfortable pace. Or so I thought.

I’m not sure if I was running too hard due to the pressure or if it was the unforeseen obstacle of running uphill, but my hard earned stamina was nowhere to be found. Within the first five minutes I was feeling spent and I knew wouldn’t be able to run the whole race. Then, just past the twelve-minute mark (a little more than a mile into the course) I had to start walking. Rest assured, I hated myself for it.

After this brief respite, I picked up my pace and put another big chuck of the race behind me. Over the next mile and a half I slowed down a couple more times while alternating all my hatred and anger between myself and the actual process of running. In fact, it was during this stretch when I swore I would never run again. I had lost sight of anyone I knew and to make matters worse I was approaching a large, uphill portion of the course they decided to leave until the final mile of the race.

As I approached the hill, I decided to leg it out for the remainder of the race. I started chugging up the hill and made the next left on this final stretch at was likely my best pace of the day. With about a half mile to go at this point I truly started to feel the burn. However, despite knowing I was going to finish last out of everyone I knew, I had to finish strong just to make the effort worthwhile. Rounding the final bend towards the finish line I pushed myself into overdrive with longer, quicker strides and passed through the balloon archway at 33:19, a pace of 10:33 per mile.

After catching my breath, I guzzled some water, downed a few orange slices and eventually ripped into the complimentary pizza. My time was good enough 151st place out of the 167 men that raced and despite being blown away by Joe (25:01), Pat (27:35) and our friend Brian (27:31) I’m very happy I was able to finish my first 5k. In addition to those lowly stats, I also failed to reach my goal of thirty minutes and I actually regressed from my previous best time.

However, despite all these negative outcomes I quickly rescinded my personal ban on running. I recovered quickly enough to put the whole experience into proper perspective and, aside from any excuse that tries to sneak it’s way into my subconscious, I should have known better than to wait until the last minute to start preparing for this race. The truth is, as grueling as running seems when you’re doing it, the physical and mental payoff is well worth it after you’ve finished. That said, I look forward to keep on running and hopefully making any future 5ks a little more competitive – at least among the people I know.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Week Twenty-Nine:Zip Lining

When I first started writing out ideas for Fifty-two to Thirty, there were several big ticket items for which I was especially excited. Zip lining was definitely among these ideas. In fact, when the activity originally occurred to me I literally wrote down, “Go zip lining (figure out how)”. So this activity actually began several months ago when I started researching the logistics of zip lining.

After realizing there were no places to try zip lining locally, I started to think I might be out of luck. Of course, I quickly dispelled this negative idea when I stumbled upon some zip line kits and figured I might as well make the investment for a lifetime of awesomeness. Also, my brother Sean was planning a party at our family’s cabin the last weekend of June so, figuring this would be the best place to install a zip line, I decided this would also be the perfect opportunity to try it for the first time. The wheels were set in motion and all that was left to do was buy the kit.

Prior to ordering the zip line, I toyed with several possible paths at the cabin. Criteria for the proper location naturally includes two trees an adequate distance apart, a clear path between thee trees and a steady but not too drastic slope. With a few prime spots in mind I started researching various zip line packages on the Internet before finding the best deals on eBay.

Since this would be my first experience zip lining, I decided on a package with 100 feet of cable. Other options included anywhere from 50 to 300 feet but considering cost and experience, 100 seemed like the right fit. Next, I had to choose between the three different trolley options available. Unfortunately, the most sturdy and well-constructed option was also, naturally, the most expensive. However, after some lengthy internal debate, I figured since the difference between the least and most expensive trolleys was only twenty-five dollars, the quality was well worth the price.

Now that I had decided what I was going to buy and where I was going to buy it, all I had to do was the trigger. Easy, right? Unfortunately, I really had some reservations about dropping a hefty amount of money on something so extraneous, especially considering the current economic climate (both personally and globally). Therefore, I came up with the brilliant idea of subsidizing the zip line by asking for donations from some of my friends. My logic being, if I could get ten to twenty bucks from those most likely to get some use out of it, I would feel much more comfortable with the investment. Naturally, between such an awesome idea and such awesome friends, I quickly raised a third of the cost and made the deal happen.

Thankfully, the zip line showed up just in time for the cabin party. As soon as we arrived at the cabin last Saturday I started checking out the various locations I had previously considered. Since I had done a little more research and even watched some zip lining videos, I had an even better idea of what I was looking for. After measuring the distance between several trees using my feet as an unofficial ruler, I realized my best option would be to run the wire from the edge of the woods to a lone tree in the middle of the yard. This course stretched about eighty feet across unobstructed, slightly descending ground – perfect for some first time zip lining.

The next task of this process included the crunching of some numbers. I won’t bore you with all the details but I needed to figure out what heights to start and end the zip line according to the distance and sag of the wire. Zip lines are not meant to be a tight rope between two anchors, as this would cause the rider to barrel full speed into the bottom tree. Instead, the line needs to sag in the middle so the rider loses speed as the trolley moves back up towards the bottom. Additionally, with the inexperience of everyone involved, I wanted it to be low enough so they could drag their feet on the ground for further breaking. After considering all these factors and using the prescribed equation, the line would start at ten feet and end about seven feet off the ground.

Actually setting up the line, however, was not as easy as it seemed. Thankfully, after a bit of experimentation, trial and error I was able to get it up very nicely with the help of my brother Pat and our friends Paul and John – all very eager to lend a hand. Honestly, their cooperation was priceless and I am very thankful for the assistance.

As soon as the line was up and to our standards we tested it by taking turns, jumping up from the ground and traveling a short distance. We didn’t want to start full speed from the platform just in case something went wrong and we crashed to the ground. However, everything worked perfectly and we decided to start jamming.

The fist time launching from the platform is rather nerve-wracking. It’s only about ten feet but it goes against all natural instinct to jump from that point and this initial hesitation was evident during everyone’s first attempt. However, I just tightened my grip, leaned forward and pushed off with my feet. Once again, just like everyone else, after that first trip I barley gave the launch a second thought.

The best method I found was to lift my legs so they wouldn’t drag on the ground but using them to slow down the last ten or so feet before releasing and continuing past the tree in a short job. Some of the girls, however, preferred to have someone catch them as the bottom – perhaps a mixture of fear and the inability to reach the ground. But despite the chosen method, everyone that attempted the zip line loved the experience and, with the exception of one person (Tony!), got right back on for another try. Naturally, as the day wore on people started experimenting with their style, going down backwards or striking poses mid zip and even resorting to zip lining in the dark after sun down. As bad as some of these ideas seem, I took full responsibility as watchdog to ensure nothing got out of hand. If safety wasn’t first, it was at least a close second to fun.

For three days following our zip line experience, my forearms and sides were tight with soreness. No matter how much I stretched or moved them, the pain took its sweet time in leaving my body. However, this short period of discomfort was well worth the amount of fun I had last Saturday. The zip line has been packed away to ensure its longevity by protecting it from the elements. But with the experience gained in setting up and riding the line I can’t wait to get it back up for more excitement. Naturally, the next time it will be a little longer, higher and steeper – I really can’t wait.

Note: Zip lining is easily a top three experience so far in 52to30. However, I would never been able to pull it off without the help of everyone involved in the process of funding, set-up or even the enjoyment of the line itself. Special thanks to everyone that helped: Ryan, Terry, Jason, Jackie, Pat, Paul, John, Sean, Rose, Carrie, Jeanine, Gene, Yvonne, Joe, Jen, Tony, KJ, Jill, Christine, Nick, Danielle, Andy and anyone else I forgot. Stay tuned for more zip lining fun!


Watching: Ratatouille (Such a good movie!)

Listening : Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA (Appropriately enough)

Reading : John Adams, Party of One by John Grant

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rediscovering the flame...

Week Twenty-Eight:Start a Fire Without Matches

Hiking is one of my all-time favorite activities. I just love being out in the wilderness enjoying nature, getting some exercise and of course being with friends. However, despite this passion for hiking, I’ve never been terribly ambitious, usually limiting my treks to several hours or less. While someday I’d like to attempt a longer trip, perhaps the Appalachian Trail or some other expanse of wilderness, I want to make sure I’m prepared with all the crucial survival skills necessary for the long haul.

Now, I’m no expert but I’ve watched enough episodes of Man vs. Wild to know that the ability to make a fire is among the most important of these skills. Additionally, creating fire without the aid of matches or flint is a critical ability in case you find yourself in such and undesirable position. Also, to really drive the point home, it would just be super cool to start a fire with nothing more than a few sticks.

Therefore, with my task laid out before me, I started scouring the Internet for tips and information about starting a fire without matches. Despite seeing it done countless times on television, I wanted to ensure I gathered the appropriate techniques and materials for doing it correctly. Naturally, the materials needed were as sticks and some dry kindling. However, there was a bit of variation when it came to the process.

While the bow method seemed quick and effective, I decided to bypass it because of the additional material needed – string. Sure, I’ll most likely have shoelaces available for this purpose but I’d like to keep the process a little more basic. Thus, I decided on the technique of spinning a stick into a notch on a larger piece of wood to create a spark, which ignites the kindling (it’s not the most clever name but it gets the point across).

After finally stringing together a few dry days I gathered the necessary materials to start my fire, including directions and the knife I usually take along on hiking trips. To observe and provide any needed assistance, Jackie and my brother Pat decided to join the adventure (along with several curious nieces and nephews).

Setting up shop in the middle of the driveway I started by cutting a notch into the larger piece of wood (to be used as a base) and whittled the end of the stick to a dull point. I then started spinning the stick between my hands to create friction at the connecting point on the base piece. It was immediately evident that I would have trouble building up a rhythm since my hands were quickly sliding down towards the base. Therefore, each time I got to the bottom I had to stop spinning to move my hands back to the top.

Pat and I took turns with this method for about ten minutes before realizing it was useless. Thankfully, however, my brother is a devoted follower of the TV show “Survivor” and therefore suggested a similar technique we could try. By cutting an angled notch on one end of the base piece we could build the friction much faster by moving the stick back and forth very quickly. This way, we would have a much better grip on the stick while keeping a more consistent pace.

Within minutes we surpassed our previous progress and really started to notice the results. The initial evidence of our improvement was the distinct smell of burning wood – not necessarily a campfire but similar to the scent of wood shop in high school. Needless to say we were pumped!

(Now, if you have a mind even remotely similar to mine, you are noticing the ridiculous level of sexual innuendo involved in this process. Giggles followed nearly every motion and sentence as we discussed rhythm, pace, wood, grip, strokes, etc, etc. Perhaps when I turn thirty at the end of this long adventure, I’ll finally grow up and not find such things so funny. Hopefully not.)

After continuing at this pace for several minutes we noticed some smoke rising from the contact point and made sure our kindling was in position to catch any sparks. Unfortunately, after much more enthusiastic pumping, this is where our progress began to stall. Even though we could still smell the burning wood and the base was hot to the touch we were unable to create the spark necessary to ignite the kindling.

Overall, we spent nearly an hour trying to start a fire with sticks but all we had to show for it was a pile of sweat and our raw, carpal-tunneled hands - it certainly wasn’t for lack of effort. In fact, we were still toying with ideas as we packed away the materials but were just physically unable to continue. With a little more research, experimentation and shear force of will, I’m confident this experience will be revisited very soon with much more successful results. Stay tuned.


Watching: Eastbound & Down

Listening: Johnny Cash: American IV

Reading: John Adams, Party of One by John Grant

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It's all about the climb...

Week Twenty-Seven:Rock-Climbing

Of all the outdoor activities and various action sports I’ve participated in through the years, rock climbing is one I’ve never really attempted. Even when I’m hiking and encounter a large cliff or rock formation I am always the least daring of my usual cohorts (most likely Terry and Jason) in our attempts at scaling the obstacle. I’m not sure if I’m just a wuss or if it’s my general distaste for pain and/or death that keeps me from wedging myself into tight crevasses, but I’m always content to take the easy way and enjoy the surroundings rather than tempt gravity with my potential broken body.

Of course, aside from the literal activity of climbing a rock, there is also the more established sport of rock climbing. Complete with ropes, harnesses, and various other pieces of safety equipment, this established practice of rock climbing can be performed on natural surfaces (cliffs, boulders, etc.) or in a specifically designed gymnasium. Therefore, in an effort to minimize the possibility of the previously mentioned pain/death scenario, I decided the latter would be way to go.

When considering rock climbing for 52to30, I received a recommendation for the Niagara Climbing Center in North Tonawanda. After checking out their website, I decided it would be the place due to their reasonable prices and the fact that it’s the only such place I know of locally. You can’t argue that logic.

My good friend Terry agreed to join me on this adventure and Jackie also came along in the role of photographer. (For the record, she was not interested in climbing but was happy to take the pictures. I would hate for anyone to think I’m keeping her down.) We arrived at Niagara Climbing Center early Saturday evening and filled out some clearance forms while looking over the place.

The climbing center is located in the gymnasium of an old school and has all the musty charm you would expect in such an environment. Surfaces are erected along the walls and in the center ranging from flat, vertical faces to jagged or crooked forms, jutting out at various angles depending on the level of difficulty. Each surface is similarly speckled with assorted shapes and sizes of artificial rocks laid out in various patterns to further establish complexity. Along each wall there are climbing ropes every couple of feet, suspended between the ceiling and floor through carabiners and a ratchet system that prevents climbers from freefalling to the ground.

Our instructor Beth was explaining how this system worked as Terry and I slipped into our harnesses. Beth seemed nice and was very informative while (very literally) showing us the ropes. After her brief and rapidly paced tutorial she watched us climb one of the beginner walls to ensure we were doing things correctly. I was very eager to begin so I volunteered to go first and, once properly strapped in, I quickly started climbing. I did pretty well for a first timer but there really isn’t too much to the process, especially at the level Beth started us off with. So after we each took our turns on the beginner wall, Beth left us on our own and we started making our way around the gym.

When one person is climbing, the other has the task of belaying the rope. This refers to the process of tightening the rope through the ratcheting device to ensure there is no slack in the line. Therefore, if the climber loses their grip they do not fall, instead dangling from the rope at the same height with minimal drop off. At the end of the climb, the person belaying the rope must wrap it around their waist and lower the climber by slowly releasing a trigger on the ratchet.

As a result of this process Terry and I took turns climbing and belaying as we made our way around the gym. Gaining confidence after each successful climb we quickly worked our way to the more complex routes. Additional inspiration was provided by the Ozzy greatest hits collection that was being blasted through the gym’s sound system the entire time we were climbing.

It’s a pretty incredible feeling when you push your body as far as it will go. Several times, as I was splayed out across some wall, feeling the burn in muscles that have been hibernating for years, my legs would start to tremble from the unnatural extension and pressure. Once it got too hard to hold on I had to let go and dangle from the rope in total dejection. In fact, the only thing that kept me going was Jackie telling me I looked like Spiderman. Probably the best compliment I’ve ever received.

Of course I’m being overdramatic about not being able to scale every wall on my first ever rock-climbing adventure. It would take much more than that to deter me. In fact, the sensation of letting go was actually one of the most exciting aspects of the whole experience. It’s difficult at first because it goes against every natural instinct to let go when you’re that high in the air. However, once you’re confident in the fact that you won’t plummet to your death it’s kind of cool to float there weightless before repelling down like Danny Ocean into the Bellagio vault.

After about an hour of climbing I was totally spent. The amount of energy rock-climbing requires is astonishing and my forearms and shoulders are still sore three days later. My first experience with this sport was totally awesome and while I don’t see myself becoming a regular it’s definitely something I look forward to revisiting a few times a year – particularly as an option during the winter months. If you’ve never been rock-climbing I highly recommend it as a new experience that’s fun, affordable and great form of exercise. It’s also great for kids because it’s very safe and relatively easy - trust me, those are two of the reasons I gave it a try.


Watching: Sportscenter

Listeing : Queen City Station

Reading : John Adams, Party of One by John Grant

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I've got some good news and some bad news...

Midterm Report

First the good news: we’ve made it to the halfway point of Fifty-two to Thirty! Last Friday was June 5th which marks the unofficial holiday I like to refer to as my “Half Birthday.” Therefore, with six months down and six more to go until I hit the big 3-0 I need to head into the locker room to reflect on what I’ve done and make any necessary changes to the game plan for the second half.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little impressed with myself at this point. I think I can honestly say this is the longest I’ve ever stuck with anything that requires so much energy and attention. Even the average college semester only lasts sixteen weeks so at twenty-six I’ve far surpassed that mark.

I’m not saying I doubted myself but I’m a realist. If even half of my best intentions were actually realized in life I would be the most prolific human being since Leonardo da Vinci. I mean I’m usually pretty good about sticking with something once I’m committed to it but admittedly this is quite a daunting undertaking. Thankfully, however, I’ve been able to maintain my focus on this task thanks in large part to all the positive feedback and attention I’ve received from everyone out there that has taken time to read my weekly updates.

This experience has been tons of fun and I feel a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment from everything I’ve done so far. I’ve gained a lot of useful knowledge, discovered many new hobbies and even faced a bit of failure (not that I needed any practice with that). However, I don’t want it to sound like I’m done just yet. We’re only halfway there and after all the Bills were winning at halftime of both Superbowl XXV and XXVIII before falling short. As a long suffering Buffalo sports fan I know not to count any victories before the clock hits zero.

Which brings us to the bad news. Due to some unforeseen events, including discontinued services and inclement weather, I was unable to accomplish either of the tasks I was considering for this week (I don’t mean to sound so cagey but I like to keep things somewhat of a surprise). Therefore, in the midst of all my back-patting and talk of accomplishment I have experienced the first real letdown of 52to30.

However, if I may sugarcoat the situation a bit, I did not want to post about a meaningless or otherwise half-ass experience just for the sake of filling up a week. Earlier in the year, scheduling issues forced me into a similar situation but I quickly compensated with a last second idea that, although interesting, wasn’t quite as satisfying as the original.

Therefore, in an effort to keep things as interesting as possible this time around, I have moved one of the activities to this weekend with plans of posting two separate entries by next Thursday (Weeks 27 and 28). So while it won’t fall within the previously specified time frame, there will still be an equal number of adventures when all is said and done (Isn’t time relative, after all?).

So here’s where we stand - at this point I have looked back on what I’ve done so far, analyzed my accomplishments and disappointments and formulated a game plan for the next twenty-six weeks. I’ve adjusted some of my loftier plans due to the current economic climate but I’ve also been flexible enough to shuffle my schedule when new and unexpected adventures present themselves. I hope to build on the successes I’ve had so far, learning from any shortcomings and really bring this thing home in a big way. I appreciate your continued support and look forward to winding down my twenties in style. Hopefully you’re there for the ride.


Reading – John Adams, Party of One by John Grant

Watching – The Simpsons, Season Four (Episode: Selma’s Choice)

Listening – Toad the Wet Sprocket, Dulcinea

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I don't know art, but I know what I like...

Week Twenty-Six:Paint a Landscape

I was naturally inclined to pursue art during school since I was always the artistic and creative type. These classes allowed me to practice a wide range of styles and methods and though drawing has long been my favorite medium, I enjoyed experimenting with various others. Among these methods, painting always stood out as a particularly fun activity. Aside from the natural thrill involved in creating art, it’s fun to lose yourself in the process while really making a mess. However, due to the lack of available materials I’ve never actually taken the opportunity to practice it outside of art class.

Unfortunately, despite a reoccurring desire to get back into painting, I haven’t touched a brush since high school. In fact, after articulating this aspiration several years ago, Jackie surprised me with a beginner’s paint set just to get me started again. However, in keeping with my most popular theme, painting was merely added to the long list of things I want to try but never take the time for. Therefore, once again, 52to30 becomes the impetus for me to do away with the excuses and procrastination in favor of giving it a try.

For this endeavor, I was specifically inclined to paint a scenic landscape due to my personal appreciation for nature and all its glory. Even when I was painting regularly in high school this is one subject matter I never really attempted. Instead, per the assigned task, most of my time was spent creating still life and expressionist pieces along with the random second-rate reproduction of album covers (naturally).

However, despite my own admiration of nature, I never had the opportunity to recreate is scenic wonder on canvas. Quite frankly, despite being a fan of art, I actually prefer to view photographs of such vistas. As impressive as these realistic depictions can be artistically I always figure, “why not look at the real thing?”

This opinion was altered, however, when I was introduced to the work of renowned local artist Charles Burchfield. Much of Burchfield’s work is nature themed but it’s more expressionist than realistic and this really appealed to me. I love the way he depicts scenic views through a more creative and personal style, reflecting his emotion and attachment on the landscape.

However, at the risk of turning this into an art lecture, I’ll stop pretending to know what I’m talking about and simply say I’m a big fan. Therefore, I decided to emulate Burchfield’s style (with much less talent, of course). Not only will this make the piece more personal to me but it will also take off the pressure of trying to paint a realistically accurate scene. It’s a win-win situation.

Setting out on this adventure, my first mission was to decide on my subject matter. Ideally, painting a landscape would require me to actually be outside, in front of the scene I’m trying to create. However, with a decade of inactivity and more than a little self-consciousness I decided to start by working from a photograph of the chosen setting. Eventually, I’ll work my way up to that point but I’m taking baby steps here.

After taking pictures of several possible landscapes I finally decided to choose a road near my work that cuts through a heavily wooded area. The road quickly disappears into the horizon and I thought it perfectly fit several themes I enjoy. Not only was it very naturally appealing with many thick, vibrant trees but I also like the image of the road as it symbolizes various appealing themes - from the desire for travel to the overall journey of life with all its uncertainties. (Do I sound like an artist yet?)

Next, I had to dig out the art set that Jackie bought me to ensure it was still usable. Thankfully, everything was in order even though the set itself was rather basic – it is a beginner’s set after all. There were six tubes of paint, mostly blues and yellows, which would require a lot of mixing to create the colors I need (many shades of green) and several pieces of watercolor paper, about 6x9 inches. Also, there were only two brushes and they weren’t the greatest quality. Again, I don’t claim to be Picasso but I’m experienced enough to know the difference. That said, however, I’m hardly such a demanding artist that I can’t work with what’s available.

In preparation for my painting I decided to peruse the instruction manual that was included in the set as a quick refresher. Also, I went online to check out some of Burchfield’s work for some influence and inspiration (even if you’re not trying to imitate his style I highly recommend giving him a look yourself). My next step was to actually sit down with the picture and canvas to sketch out a basic guideline for my painting. Nothing too detailed just a few contour lines and reference points to keep it balanced before putting any paint down.

I then started mixing up a few different shades of green as I knew it would be the dominant color in this piece. Once I had what I was looking for I started to fill in the scene with the appropriate colors and contrast. I used brighter greens for the right side of the scene and the grass as that’s where the sun was shining. Next I added some darker green to outline the trees and provide depth along various edges, repeating this step with each darker shade.

Although I was discouraged for a time during this process, I continued what I was doing confident in my original plan. Thankfully, this confidence paid off and the trees turned out with a rather nice range of depth and color. They’re not terribly realistic but they’re fun and that’s really what I was aiming for anyway.

Next, after diluting a small amount of blue paint with plenty of water I took to the sky. Leaving out only the areas taken up by clouds was challenging but by this point I had grown very comfortable with my small brush, gliding along their sweeping edges. Keeping the sky an even tone of blue was also difficult but I managed that with relative success as well.

Overall, I’m very satisfied with how my first landscape painting turned out. It’s far from perfect but it’s a fun combination of cartoonish scenery done through a blend of pleasant blues and greens, all of which I love. Also, I’m pleased with the relative accuracy achieved between picture and painting but what’s most important to me is that I can look at it and feel happy. It successfully conveys everything I was aiming for from the warmth of nature to that whole road analogy I broke down earlier.

While I’m not quite ready to quit my job, rent a loft and make painting my life’s work I really enjoyed getting back into the process. I hope to make it a regular hobby in the future and though I realize I could use more practice, as long as I’m having fun I’ll keep trying. For now, I’ll continue with the Burchfield-esque landscape scenes but if there’s ever a market for substandard recreations of album covers, I’m all over it.