“The easiest thing in the world to do is not do!” (Variation of William Goldman quote)

It really doesn’t matter how much one loves to do something – you still must have the discipline and the motivation to do actually do it.

Art is a lot like running. I love to run. I also love to sketch paint and draw. Sometimes however, it is hard to find the inspiration to make art, just as it is sometimes difficult to lace up those shoes and get out the door. It is a lot easier to role over and go back to sleep.

There are a couple tricks that I have found that work.

If you want to get in the habit of going for a run, gear up. Put on your running shoes, running pants, jacket and hat. Even if you don’t feel like running, gear up anyway. You will instantly feel totally inspired to get out there for that run. Here in Ottawa we have had several weeks of minus 20 to minus 30 degree Celsius weather with wind-chills down to minus 35-38C – not exactly inspiring weather for running. It is amazing how even in this crazy weather, when you gear up, the cold becomes a non-issue. It just takes that first action, to put on your shoes.

Art is much the same. Somedays are way harder than others to start painting. After a demanding day at work, the couch is awfully inviting. So to battle the temptation of doing nothing, I use the same trick as with running. I gear up. I carry a sketch book with me always. It is nothing special – just a small 3 1/2″x5″ pocket sized moleskin sketchbook, and a few pencils or a fountain pen, and maybe a small watercolour kit. If it is pocket sized, it is easy to carry. Anything larger won’t see the light of day from my knapsack. Having my sketchbook on my person inspires me to simply look at my environment and sketch. It has to be easy and very convenient for those times when I see something I want to record. So if you want to do more art, don’t burden yourself with setting up large canvases and thinking too hard. That is like saying I am going to run a marathon tonight. Keep it simple. Sketch every day, and just like running that marathon, the daily habit will give you the discipline and motivation to tackle that big canvas.


I am surprised. I feel remarkably calm. I can see the 693 foot arches of the bridge in the distance beyond the trees. I am not sure how I ended up in the first wave, but I am here. Fifty metres from the start line of the New York City Marathon.

Somewhere up on the upper deck are the elite men. I can see one of them, leg up on the guard rail stretching. I can’t tell if it is one of the Americans, Ryan Vail or Jason Hartman. I laugh to myself, “these guys will be done the race long before I even cross into Manhattan”. It is amazing that even with a 2:11 marathon, neither Vail or Hartman will likely beat the big guns. Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai and Ethiopian, Tsegaye Kebede, both sub 2:05 marathoners, are the frontrunners for the $500,000 purse, and that does not include performance bonuses for leading at the different stages of the race.

The first wave green corral is on the the ramp to the lower deck of the Verrazano Bridge that links Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island and Fort Hamilton on the Brooklyn side. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1964. The fact that we start with a hill, and my GPS watch will beep the first kilometre at about the two-thirds point across the bridge hasn’t registered yet. I am amused at the warning to the runners that urinating on the bridge is not pleasant, and unsanitary. I was previously warned not to stray too close to the edges of the lower deck as there is a distinct possibility of being pee’d on by the the upper deck runners emptying their nervous bladders. “Last year,” a Brit next to me was saying, “there were as many women pissing as guys!” Of course with all this talk, guess what – I had to go! Technically we were not on the bridge so I jumped over the guard rail and joined the other dozen or so guys relieving themselves in the bushes.
“Jesus!” I thought to myself, apparently out loud, “That has to be the sixth time I have gone this morning!”
“You and me both, mate!” retorts an Ozzie I met earlier in the corral.

Our day started early. I woke at 4:30am, knowing I had to meet our group in the hotel lobby no later than 5:30am. I wanted to be sure that my nagging muscles were loosened up so I had a hot shower and used my therapeutic yoga balls on my feet and calf muscles. I was really concerned about seizing up before the race. The temperature was spectacular for the days leading up to the race but this morning it was overcast, windy and only 3 degrees C. Definitely not great for a guy who periodically has sciatica flareups. The solution for today, a brilliant one Janice came up with, air activated heat pads from the pharmacy. The kind you use for back and muscle pain. These proved to be a God-send waiting at Fort Wadsworth with little shelter from the wind. I also have a few sweaters that I toss at the start. Volunteers collect all the disposed of clothes at the start corrals, clean them and donate them to the various shelters and charitable organizations in New York City.

Gaining entry into the New York City Marathon is typically the luck of the draw. Americans have three methods to gain entry. There are no time qualifiers like the Boston Marathon, so the NYC Marathon is therefore accessible to all. Typical entry is through lottery. Of the 50,000 people who ran this year, there was another 20-30,000 turned away. The New York Road Runners also has a 9+1 guaranteed entry program. Runners can run 9 New York Road Runners events over the course of the year leading up to the marathon and volunteer to assist at 1 event. This provides the opportunity to forego the lottery and gain a guaranteed entry. Raising money for a sponsor charity is the last option for Americans to gain entry. For runners from other countries, there is also the International Travel Partner guaranteed entry package that can be purchased in their country of origin. This is how I gained entry to the 2013 NYC marathon.

5:15am, our group meets at the clock tower, in the centre of the historic Waldorf Astoria Hotel lobby. The trek begins.We arrive at Bryant Park adjacent to the New York City Public library to a army of volunteers and convoy of buses. Security is very tight. After the Boston Marathon bombing in the Spring of 2013, and the cancellation of the 2012 New York Marathon due to Hurricane Sandy, nothing is left to chance. Runners are allowed to bring only a clear plastic bag issued to them at the running expo, the clothes on their back, and their race bibs must be showing at all times. Water bottles, 1 litre or greater are immediately confiscated. I knew in advance that my camelback hydration pack was not allowed. Security at Staten Island was even tighter. Fully geared and armed military police lined the Verrazano ramp at Fort Wadsworth. All runners were subjected to inspection and metal detectors by New York’s finest. Remarkably, even with 50,000 runners, everything went amazingly efficiently.

The absolutely best part about the New York Marathon are the people. I chat with a runner sitting next to me from Mexico City. This is not his first marathon, but it is his first in New York. He was entered into the 2012 race but of course it was cancelled because of the Hurricane. A mother and daughter duo sit behind me. I walked with them from the Waldorf. They are part of our Canadian tour and are from Ottawa, my home town. I am blown away to hear that at 59, it is the 20th marathon for Mom and the 7th for daughter.

6am on a New York Sunday is remarkable. The streets are just starting to show signs of life. Our convoy of buses make our way along FDR drive, under the famed Brooklyn bridge and over the Manhattan bridge. We step back in time as we make our way along the Gowanus Expressway past Red Hook, and Bay Ridge with amazing views to lower Manhattan. I laugh out loud when we are greeted at the Verrazano Bridge with the sign “Leaving Brooklyn – Fuhgeddaboudit!”

We are now minutes away. You can feel the energy. Michael Bloomberg gives his last pre-marathon speech of his twelve years as Mayor of New York City, followed by Mary Wittenberg, President and CEO of the New York Road Runners, who reminds us all that we are running for Boston, and for the people of New York who were devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

The cannons boom, and we are off, Frank Sinatra’s “New York New York” leading us on to the Verezzano Bridge.



I had my first banjo lesson of 2014 yesterday. I was thinking about how long I have been taking lessons, which is just over a year now, and just how far I have come. I can actually play a couple old time songs now – or should I say I can massacre a couple old time songs. I am always amazed at those people who an play so well and make it look so easy. Bastards! How do they do it?

As with everything in life, to get good at something you have to practice……a lot! To get really good, to the point of being an expert, you have to be completely obsessive and pretty much practice all the time. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”, a terrific read by the way, he boils it down to ten thousand hours of solid practice to master any skill. Gladwell backs up his hypothesis with some very compelling evidence. Obviously some people certainly have some natural aptitude, or what we call talent, for some things, but I think this only avails that person with a small advantage – the rest is simply hard work.

To put this into perspective, lets use banjo as an example. Based on the ten thousand hour rule, if I was to practice 15 minutes a day, 7 days a week, it would take me 109 years to master the banjo.
A half our a day would reduce this to 55 years. One hour a day, or seven hours a week would take 27.5 years. Ten hours per week, 19 years. 20 hours a week, 9.6 years and 40 hours per week,4.8 years.

Holy Crap! Based on these stats, I should be really good by the time I am 90 years old – 38 years from now! Haha!It’s gonna be a riot in the home!!

It is a really good thing I love my banjo, but maybe I better ramp up the hours!

I wonder if Janice would mind me taking up the bagpipes…………..

“One Year Car-Less”

It has now officially been one year, that I have lived without a car! I now know, from personal experience, it can be done! It is surprisingly easy and at this point I have no intention of going back! Yes there are inconveniences, like slogging groceries in a backpack in the dead of winter…..actually, now that I think about it, that’s the only one! The benefits however, are amazing. Here are my top 10:

1. When I did drive, I did not have a car loan on my last vehicle, so I got off lucky with around $5K in car expenses a year. With car loan payments, that could easily hit $10K/year. That’s money in the bank.

2. I now have the coolest bike in the world with my Brompton! Check out their webpage – http://www.brompton.com – These guys have created a serious cult following!

3. I no longer have to be a taxi to my kids – I guess that isn’t totally fair as an empty nester, but if they were still living at home I wouldn’t be their personal chauffeur!

4. I walk or bike to work every day which means I get to listen to audio books and learn all kinds of new and interesting things.

5. I walk or bike to work every day so I get the added benefit of being in the best shape that I have been in years – and I get to eat ANYTHING!

6. My blood pressure, which used to be in the mildly hyper tensive range is now, at last check, 109/60 – Freaky low!

7. Did I mention that I am in the best shape I have been in years? I am running the New York City Marathon in November 2013 – I couldn’t have done that a year ago when I commuted by car!

8. Walking is like a moving meditation – I no longer suffer road rage; I have a clearer mind; I have a quieter mind; I am way more relaxed; and I sleep unbelievably well.

9. I have a much better appreciation for my city – when you drive you don’t see beyond the road and the traffic around you. When you walk or bike, you truly experience your environment and the people. Contrary to popular belief, Ottawa is NOT the city that Fun forgot!

10. I am no longer bothered by the weather. When you walk everywhere, you get used to it. Bring it on! Rain, sleet, snow – I am ready for you!

Now that I am moving into year two of my life without a car, I look forward to diving into exploring further the notion of sustainable living and design. I think it would be really cool as a designer to really push the status quo of what has become the conventional Canadian suburban lifestyle by exploring a much more urban based sustainable living model.

“It’s Only a Beard Dude!”

As I bomb around the city on my Brompton, I have noticed that there is a new fashion trend on the rise. I keep seeing these dudes, sporting these huge beards! There is nothing particularly new about the beard, but these are definitely different – They are bigger and bushier.

Facial hair has alway been a symbol of manliness (no pun intended). I am certainly no expert on beards, in fact I couldn’t grow one until I hit my forties, but my guess is that the beard was an evolutionary thing, to make men appear bigger, stronger and more intimidating to their enemies and competitors. Why do you think hockey players sport the playoff beard – it’s not for good luck, but is intended to intimidate the crap out of the opposing team.

Men wear beards for many reasons. They are often worn for religious beliefs. Followers of Islam, Orthodox Judaism, Sikhs, Hindu and Rastafarianism believe strongly that maintaining their beards is a function of their faith. Beards were worn by kings, emperors and world leaders as a symbol of power and aristocracy – Emperor Meiji of Japan, Czar Nicholas of Russia, Henry the 8th, and President Lincoln to name a few. Beards came and went over the ages as fashions changed.

Beats, poets, philosophers, athletes, artists musicians, rebels, hippies, hipsters and grunges all sported beards. Some notable beardo’s include Charles Darwin, Carl Marx, Earnest Hemingway, Brahms, Che Guevara, Castro, Henry David Thoreau, Jesus, Brad Pitt, Alan Ginsburg, Chuck Norris, Walt Whitman, Kimbo Slice, Kenny Rogers, Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill (ZZ Top), Santa Claus, Leonardo Da Vinci, Rasputin, Rembrandt, Gerry Garcia, John Lennon, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Macho-Man Randy Savage, Luciano Pavarotti, Sigmund Freud, Gandalf, Lanny McDonald, Joaquin Phoenix, Colonel Saunders, Curt Cobain and of course you can’t forget Clint!

As I read various webpages about beards, I have come across some interesting anecdotal tidbits of historical facts, truths and hyperbole. Did you know Alexander the Great banned beards in his armies because he was of the opinion that enemy soldiers would grab them in battle? I read that online – it must be true!

So as I said above, there is definitely something going on. I keep seeing these big awesome beards all over the place. Skaters in the parks, hipsters in the coffee shops, bikers (as in cyclists), and musicians, all sporting these big, bushy, kick-ass Viking beards. Call em hip, call em cool, call em funky, whatever. All I can say is this dude, is suffering from kind of beard envy!

I may just have to grow me one of those “Attitude Beards!” Haha! Now that would be a sight as I play my banjo!