Monthly Archives: December 2012

Out With the Old, In With the New

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is New.

The leaves of the old year blaze forth in a last burst of color. But among the old, at first almost unnoticed, are already the buds

DSC_0066 cropped smallDSC_0074 cropped small

that, as the last old leaf drops away, await the new year!

DSC_0012 cropped small

(Magnolias, Central Park, New York City)

Happy 2013!

Christmas Lights

By Vladimir Brezina

We always get our Christmas tree only a day or two before Christmas, barely hours before the Christmas-tree vendors in the streets pack up for their migration back north. We do this not just because we procrastinate (we do), but because Johna follows an older tradition. According to Wikipedia,

Traditionally, Christmas trees were not brought in and decorated until Christmas Eve (24 December) or, in the traditions celebrating Christmas Eve rather than on the first of day of Christmas, 23 December, and then removed the day after Twelfth Night (5 January); to have a tree up before or after these dates was even considered bad luck.

So, even as our neighbors’ Christmas trees are already out in the street for removal, our tree is only now reaching the peak of its transient glory—

Christmas tree lit, 2012DSC_0074 cropped smallDSC_0037 cropped smallDSC_0091 cropped smallDSC_0103 cropped smallDSC_0117 cropped smallDSC_0123 cropped small

Weekly Photo Challenge: Our 2012 in Pictures

By Vladimir Brezina

The last weekly Photo Challenge of 2012 is—My 2012 in Pictures!

It’s been impossible to select the best photos. There are just too many photos to look through—I’ve posted more than 2,000 on this blog in 2012—and it takes more resolution than I am capable of at the moment to cull them severely. It’s like killing your children…

So here are, by no means the best photos of 2012, but just 12—one for each month—that in future years may remind Johna and me of some of the memorable stories of 2012—

The stories and more photos are here:

We hope that 2013 will turn out to be equally memorable and picturesque!

Happy Solstice, Festive Holidays!

By Vladimir Brezina

This morning we passed the Solstice of December 21, 2012, otherwise known as, and we can be cautiously optimistic—I am, on the whole, an optimist—that the world as we know it will continue…

So it seems safe to wish everyone a Happy Winter (or Summer, as it may be) and Festive Holidays!

And safe to respond to Ailsa’s photo challenge, which this week, very appropriately, is Festive


Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Surprise.

Kayaking around New York Harbor, we see many surprising things. And one of the most surprising, hidden in a narrow Brooklyn creek, is the wreck of an entire, respectably-sized submarine. The Yellow Submarine of Brooklyn has a fascinating history—involving a crazy but surprisingly well-developed scheme to salvage valuables from a famous sunken ocean liner—that I’ve already written up here and here. So I’ll just post a few photos—

IMGP0742 cropped smallIMGP6690 cropped smallIMGP0754 cropped small


By Vladimir Brezina

DSC_0069 cropped small

… like a sea-anemone
Or simple snail, there cautiously
Unfolds, emerges, what I am.

Philip Larkin, Best Society

DSC_0070 cropped smallDSC_0084 cropped smallDSC_0158 cropped smallDSC_0183 cropped smallDSC_0188 cropped smallDSC_0221 cropped smallDSC_0224 cropped small

But, contrary to Larkin, the best society is not always solitude…

DSC_0118 cropped small

(St. Pete Beach, Florida, December 2012)

Travel Theme: Transportation

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Transportation.

It’s amazing how much stuff can be transported in a sea kayak! When setting out on a kayak expedition, there’s no need to leave the creature comforts at home. Compared to a multiday backpacking or bicycle trip, a sea kayak expedition is a positively luxurious experience

IMGP2340 cropped small

… until each morning, when all that stuff has to be fitted back into the kayaks

IMGP5469 cropped small

We put off the packing as long as we possibly can and stand around drinking coffee

IMGP5464 cropped small

It’s such a relief to have the last bag in the boat, to snap on the sprayskirt and push off into new waters…

IMGP5494 cropped small

(Photos from our 2011 Albany to New York trip and our 2012 Long Island circumnavigation)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Delicate

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Delicate.

Flowers, of course… but also the way insects hold on to them, right way up or upside down, with a delicate touch…

Fly on crocusMonarch 1Monarch 2Cloudless Sulphur and bee

Continue reading


By Vladimir Brezina

DSC_0065 cropped small 3DSC_0014 cropped smallDSC_0026 cropped smallDSC_0057 cropped small

On Being Athletic

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

DSC_0565 cropped small

Quite the athlete–in six inches of water!

I’m not athletic.

Or at least, I never thought I was. True, I’d been on a couple of teams when I was young (fencing, swimming) and been told I had “potential”.

But the formative comment on my athletic abilities came from a gymnastics coach when I was 8: “She hasn’t got it.”

By “it” he meant “kinesthetic sense”—that ability to know exactly where your body is and what it’s doing at every moment. It’s an ability that’s foundational for most athletic endeavors.

The coach was right—I didn’t have it, and I could see its lack in my everyday life.

I fell off things, or tripped and landed face-forward (my lower lip has been split so many times my dentist is in awe of the scar tissue). Especially early on, I could drive my kayak coaches to despair with my inability to understand basic movements: “Move the blade up, Johna… no, UP… Johna, just LOOK at me!”

So I internalized that lack, and for a while it defined me. I had many other strengths, but no kinesthetic sense—or so I thought.

Here’s what I didn’t know then, and know now: Kinesthetic sense—and with it, athletic ability—can be learned.

Sure, there are prodigies who have it at birth, and many more in whom it develops rapidly with just a minimum of encouragement. Like other human abilities, athletic talent appears to be distributed along a spectrum.

But for those of us on the “don’t have it” end of the spectrum, it’s possible to develop it by thinking about your body, what it does, and how it moves.

A revelatory moment came last year when I was taking CrossFit classes. The coach was a wool-cap-wearing tattooed guy in his 20s with interesting facial hair and the wiry body of a professional skateboarder.

“There’s one fundamental athletic motion, ” he told me, and demonstrated it: Driving your body upwards using your legs as a spring, straightening your bent knees and driving from your heels.


Learning to kayak-surf (before developing my kinesthetic sense)

Damn if he wasn’t right! It’s the classical motion of kayaking (driving your heels forward to propel the boat forward with your strokes). But you also see it in practically every other sport, from basketball to golf to rock-climbing. To get it right, everything has to be in proper alignment (heels, knees, back, shoulders) and even the positions of your toes and your neck matter.

CrossFit taught me to pay attention to form, because the coaches encouraged us to do weighted squats—and if you do squats with poor form, you blow out your knees (and potentially create insurance liabilities for the CrossFit gym). Good coaches are therefore dogmatic about teaching you the right form.

So I spent hours watching myself in the mirror, lifting weights and struggling with chinups and situps. I’d shut my eyes and try to feel where my knees, toes, and shoulders were—then open my eyes and see how close I’d guessed.

The attention to form paid off in kayaking—suddenly, I made progress in areas that had been baffling to me in the past. And the more I thought about where my body was and what it was doing, the better I got.

I recently took up barefoot running, which is all about proper form. You have to think about curving your toes up (you want to land on the balls of your feet, shift your weight to your toes, and then to your heels). And you need to keep your neck relaxed and your shoulders back… and use that “fundamental athletic motion” to drive yourself along.

And for once in my life, I’ve found an athletic activity that’s easy for me.  That attention to form feels natural, innate. No, I’m not fast—but my goal isn’t to be fast. If I’m moving, I’m going as fast as I need to. My goal is to develop the form and motion that will allow me to run as much as I want—and I don’t know how much that will be, yet.

IMGP7642 cropped small 2

Practicing my low brace form (don’t want to fall into the Gowanus Canal!)

What’s even more interesting, though, is how the whole experience has changed how I move my body in everyday life.  I find myself doing the “drive” when I get up from a chair, or instinctively adjusting my balance as I climb the stairs, thinking about whether my center of gravity is over my heels or my toes.  And my movements have gotten more graceful and confident—like those of the “natural” athletes I know.

I doubt that having a kinesthetic sense will ever be instinctive for me. And the coach was undoubtedly right—I would likely never have made it to the upper echelons of gymnastics.

But the fact that, as an adult, I can acquire “it” is eye-opening to me.

If someone who “hasn’t got it” can become athletic—what other seemingly impossible things might be possible, after all?