Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Joy

My 4 boys travel well. The hardest part of this 6 hour road trip was the strategic packing of stuff like guitars, amps, fiddle, winter wear, Christmas presents, cooking and dog. We did it. We live to tell the tale.

The old farmhouse in rural central New Brunswick is charmed, I'm sure. Florence and Warren McPhee raised 9 children there. Victoria is the youngest. Her sisters Susan and Sheila popped around, JR and Kenny made the trip too - so the house was half full. It was non-stop action; food, fun and music.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Expect Great Things

I've changed my tune.  I've warmed to the season and I'm ready to celebrate.  We leave today for chilly New Brunswick where we'll spend Christmas with various bits of our family.  We'll be with my Dad this evening and with Victoria's Mom for Christmas.  

It will be challenging and hilarious.  There is much to do so this will be quick.  Sorry, I haven't posted the rest of the "12 Jigs of Christmas".  You get the idea.  Life here is one big jam session.  Chris doesn't know it but we've bought him a ultra-cool electric ukulele complete with cutaway and pick-up.  I'll catch some video and paste it up...as time permits.

Let me leave you with a couple of pics.  The skating pics were taken at our friends' house on Sunday afternoon.  The last one is of my boys.  Chris-13, Ben-6, Sam-8, Jon-11.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!  Expect Great Things!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Infection

The Christmas "infection" has not set in. I've been to a dozen Christmas concerts, dinners and parties. I've sampled shortbreads, fudge and all manner of sugar cookies.  Despite playing through those Christmas ditties with the boys...I confess to being a fraud.  I am not officially in the mood for Christmas.  

I don't mean to sound all scroog-ie.  I do enjoy celebrating the birth of Christ, the music and fun of it all.  Honest.

I'll be on vacation later today. Three delightful weeks at home with the RunningWife may coax me out of the Christmas coma.  Actually, we'll be traveling home to New Brunswick to be with Victoria's mom, who I believe is 86 now.  She's still at home on the farm.  A few bits of her family will be gathering and I am looking forward to visiting with them.  The kids are excited too!  Even Ella will go with us. Here's a pic of V with Florence. She stayed with us last Christmas. 

I've been playing with my new work camera; Canon Rebel XSI/450D.  It's on steroids at 12.2 mega pixels.  For my application, I'll be using the standard kit lens 18-55 mm zoom 1:3.5 - 5.6 Image Stabilizing lens most of the time.  I've also got a 75-300 mm 1:4-5.6 zoom which is what I used for these non-flash pics. First, here is our family friend Zech (L) and Jonny (R). They were swirling flags around during a Christmas Concert at the church.

Here's another pic. That's Jonathan at the top of the shot.

Crazy cool camera.  I'm looking forward to getting outside with it.

Running is okay.  I'll be glad to focus a bit more in January when the buzz of Christmas has wrapped up.  Yeah, I'm supposed to be in week 3 but I've taken a few shortcuts and snoozes and missed a bunch of runs.  The weather has been wacky too.  I'm all about grace.  

See you next time!

Monday, December 8, 2008

12 Jigs of Christmas #3

Chris and Jon are home from school today due to some nasty weather. It poured buckets yesterday and then froze pretty hard overnight. Too much ice for the school busses to safely make the rounds. It's just as well. The boys are pretty beat after the weekend.

And, due to the nastiness outside, I opted to forego my scheduled 8K. I may get it in later today depending on roads. I've learned not to sweat the weather. No sense in that.

Allow me to serve up the 3rd installment in the 12 Jigs of Christmas. I've had this one in the can for a few days. The airy jazz-infused "Autumn Leaves" into "Let it Snow" medley. Again, the hats are a mere statement of fashion...nothing more!

Hope you like.

Friday, December 5, 2008

12 Jigs of Christmas #2

Week 1 of marathon training is in the bank and I feel great. At this point I'm looking to keep it fluid and steady. I always find that 'speed' has a way of coming along on its own so I tend not to focus on it. It'll come. I'm wearing my old faithful Timex Ironman watch and running the chrono but not keeping track of time.

To the business of the "12 Jigs of Christmas". I've embedded Number 2 in the series. This plays out in our home right after breakfast. The kids push the envelope today and end up 10 minutes late for school! They didn't want to wrap it. Aren't we a charming and fun bunch.

And, here's a bit of insight for you. In larger group sessions like kitchen parties when a dozen or so musicians are involved and underway, someone will often holler out a tune they want to hear. The group will slide right into it as if the set list was laid out weeks in advance. It is amazing to watch them transition from one melody to another - smooth as silk. This kind of thing often brings Victoria to yelping and stomping. I love her just the same.

I managed to upload the whole clip to Facebook, but YouTube balked at the length of the original clip so I've hacked it in half. I need to hone my editing skills. So, that's why there is Part A and Part B. Anyhow, what you don't see before Part A begins is Chris peeling off his hoodie and Ella (dog) immediately plopping down on it. We're all roasting beside woodstove in the den. And the the hats? Purely a fashion statement.

Get a coffee, this will carry on for about 14 minutes. I told Chris (guitar) and Jon (fiddle) that we need to save enough material to cover all 12 vid's. Their combined response: "Dad, we know a thousand songs". Ah, the confidence of youth.

Again, welcome and enjoy. The other boys, Sam and Ben will join us soon for something special. Come again. Take care.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

12 Jigs of Christmas

I'm off and running. Marathon training is nicely underway. Everything feels good so far and I'll soon have more to say about that.

You may know that my home is full of music. It is non-stop music from morning to night - whether it's Sammy hammering the piano, Chris and Jon dawdling on any number of instruments or the CD player rattling the kitchen walls, there is always something playing in the background or foreground. I love it.

Chris and Jon played a set of Christmas tunes last weekend at the Waldorf School Christmas Fair. To prepare for the 1 hour set, the guys selected a few favourites and put them together as medleys. I love that they work out their own arrangements - really make the tunes their own. Yes friend, music is not necessarily a bunch of black dots on a page. It's an interpretive dance of sorts.

What' cool is that Chris & Jonny asked me to upload and share a few of these handmade medleys with you. So, I am pleased to offer "The 12 Jigs of Christmas". That's right, there will be 11 more of these gems leading up to Christmas Day.

This is like having you in for coffee. We're set up in the den around the woodstove. Ben and Sam are noodling around with toys, the dog is barking at the guinea pig, there's stuff everywhere. This is real life. Welcome to it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Winter Stuff

It’s warmer this week. In fact, it’s raining right now so most of the snow that landed over the weekend is disintegrating. I’m pretty happy about that. The guys at work are talking about building an outdoor rink for the kids. It’ll have to get quite a bit colder for that to work – likely after Christmas.

As a kid, I spent hours on the ice. I learned to skate and play hockey on an outdoor rink. Every community had one and I was lucky enough to have one in our backyard. Nothing beats shinny on the pond, a bonfire, and hot drinks to share. These pics are from a couple of years ago: A few of you have suggested that shoveling is a good bit of cross-training. I guess, maybe, it is. I’ve never thought of it as such (more of a necessary evil) but it does offer a thorough full body blast. I said to my wife on Sunday, “I feel a little stiff today. Not sure why”. She reminded me that I’d shoveled the driveway.  

RunnerMom questioned how any person could train for a marathon in the snow and cold. It’s not a big deal really. I don’t think any half-sensible Canadian will run in a blinding snowstorm or in the extreme bitter cold (I’ve done both but have yet to declare myself half-sensible). I actually like running in the winter.

What do I wear? Probably the same stuff you do. I hate being too hot and I dread weight of any kind. I may drag my iPod Shuffle but no water, phone, keys, Kleenex – nothing. How do I stay warm? It’s always cold at first but I quickly warm up. Say the outside temp is 25 F – I’ll dress for 45 F. I add 20 F degrees to the current temp so that I don’t overheat. Often, during winter runs, I’ll not bother with a jacket at all. I will don a breathable toque and thin gloves if the air temp is at the freezing point or if there is any kind of NW wind. There is plenty of good cold weather gear on the market. I think I like UA Cold Gear the best. Some runners wear YakTrax. I’ve never tried them but they are a cheap and safe accessory. I tend to throw on a reflective vest too because all of my running is in the dark. No sense getting run over by the snowplow or salt shaker.

I hear it’s Thanksgiving in the USA. Be thankful and happy. Take care of each other.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Reasons...not Excuses

No excuses – only good reasons for not getting out on the road this morning. You see, a warm woodstove casts a certain warm and lovely hypnosis. Add a delightful cup of coffee and a footstool and soon all thoughts of running a few snowy kilometres at -10 seem futile. I did, at least, wear my running gear.

We got dumped on over the weekend. About 40 centimetres of snow (about 16”) fell Friday night and into Saturday morning. It was quite a surprise. At home, we had a tough time to dry the kids’ snow pants and mitts fast enough! There is rain and warmer weather in the forecast this week so hopefully we’ll see the bare ground yet again this month. And, maybe I’ll get out running tomorrow morning. Maybe.

And the goofy poll about washing your running gear. Yeah, that was an experiment of sorts but interestingly, there is a tie between the 'once-a-day-washers' group and the 'when I can't stand the smell' camp. Personally, I have to throw in with the 'when I can't stand the smell' people'. Thanks for your consideration.

And, I bought a new strap for the Timex Ironman. That's the third strap to match a third fresh battery. Guess I'll keep it for awhile.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Fiddles & Dancing Girls

Caught these guys last night in Halifax. So, completely maritime cool. Have a great weekend. Ashley MacIssac, Marc Boudreau, JP Cormier, Allan Dewar and the dancing girls.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Thanks for your input on the last post - I want a Garmin 405 but might not be able to justify the "investment" right now.  I'll probably get a new strap for the old Timex.  I appreciate all of your comments and email!


Marathon training begins on November 30th.  I plan to run the The Blue Nose Marathon  again in May of '09.  I ran it in 2007.  It was my first and only marathon.   18 months ago, I was hoping for a 3:30 finish until the wheels fell off in the late going.  Certainly, there is no shame in a 3:53 finish, especially for a rookie.  I have no regrets whatsoever.

I learned some things:  

  • Miles are just miles without friends.  Next May, I will be less about business and more about fun.  I know a few more people now that I hope to connect with before, during and after the race.  
  • I cannot will my body to do more than it can do.  Mind over matter does not always matter. There's not much a person can do when a foot cramps up - except walk or stop or both.  Who cares.  Whatever happens...happens.  
  • Smile more.  I appeared way too serious in the '07 race photos.   I believe there is no harm in a goofy grin.  I will high-five more kids.  
So you see, there's a bit of unfinished business.  Despite the fact that I have not run much during the last 5 months every new step feels like new territory - again.   As much as I struggle with form, stride, suffer heavy legs and burning lungs I realize that I've never been this mentally prepared to run the distance.   

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Than Just Time

My old Timex Ironman Chrono is about done.  I’ve changed the battery 3 times.  I’m ready to buy another new strap.  The ‘Indiglo’ feature died a couple of years ago.  It’s just old and tired.   I would love to collect a bit more info about my runs.  I see the value.

So, I’m considering a couple of options.  I thought the Nike+ Sport Band might be fun.  I'm not so interested in the iPod Nano+ thing but could live with the shoe pod.  I've read the odd review of how inaccurate they can be.  The deeper I dig the more I fix on a Garmin Forerunner.  The 405 is so sweet and versatile.  It’s looking pretty sexy here in green – heck, the darn thing even tells time!  For a dude who likes tech it may be too complicated.  I'm not so sure. I would like to hear from you if you use the Nike+ system, Garmin, Polar or whatever.  Post a comment or email robbcusack (at) hotmail.com

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Real Guitar Heroes

Kids are full of surprises aren't they? If you haven't heard, my two oldest boys play a lot of music together. They continue to perform as an acoustic folk duo (fiddle, guitar, whistles, mandolin, drums, etc) but have recently been stretching their wings a bit. Chris is 13. He plays in the high school jazz band. Jon, at age 11, is a fiddle prodigy but he will play any instrument you set before him. I mean...anything. The boys pooled their loot and bought a burly black electric bass. It's a new Ibanez 5 String BTB305FM with Bartolini pickups. Big fat sound. Yup, you guessed right. They both play it well.

In this smudgy little clip, their buddy Jake takes the new bass for a spin. Jake is a decent player - he has his own bass. Jon fills out the rhythm on drums while chewing a halloween sucker. Chris is playing lead. Remember the Scorpions?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


My iPod Shuffle was on the fritz this morning so I was forced to listen to my own gasps. It wasn't so bad. I chose to leave the watch home so I have no idea how fast I ran. Honestly, the distance doesn't matter much either right now. I'm learning to run all over again and want to simply love it for what it is. The real journey has yet to begin. For now, the trip and destination are immaterial.

I will start a formal marathon training plan in a week or so. For the moment, I'm having spontaneity for breakfast and washing it all down with a glass of enjoyment.

See that full moon this morning?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Lest We Forget

Terry Kelly is a local visually impaired singer-songwriter. "Pittance of Time" is another way for us to honour all Canadian veterans. Thank you. Lest we forget.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Smells Along The Way

Lunenburg County, where I live, is considered the Christmas Tree Capital of the World.  There’s a big sign on the highway to prove it.  Honest.  Apparently, the cool and moist climate here in Nova Scotia is ideal for growing balsam fir trees.  Take a drive anywhere in the region and you’ll run into a Christmas Tree Farm.  Annual exports exceed 3.5 million trees.  That’s a pretty big industry.   

Nova Scotia Balsam Fir trees have become the Christmas tree of choice throughout North America for a few good reasons:  They are lush, fragrant and hold their needles for a long time – even in warmer climates.  Nova Scotia Balsam Fir has become the smell of Christmas.  I smelled it today. 

While out for an easy 5K this morning, I was nearly overcome with the smell of Christmas.  There is a huge Christmas Tree Transfer Station just across the river from my house.  Growers truck their crop to this huge area.  Trees are piled onto 18 wheelers or into shipping containers.  It’s a pretty cool operation.  It sort of caught me by surprise. 

Smell triggers so many things for me and a million memories of Christmas flashed before me on this day.   I was suddenly an adventurous 10 year old boy building a winter woods fort - burrowing into snow beneath the skirt of a huge Balsam Fir.  Wow.  Where did that come from?

Christmas in Nova Scotia is really quite beautiful.   Since 1971, a special tree is chosen each winter to send to the people of Boston to express appreciation for their help during the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion. The explosion on December 9, 1917, was caused by the collision of two ships in Halifax Harbour.  Nearly 2,000 died.  Thousands more were injured. Boston was the first to send relief, offering the services of doctors and nurses, and sending supplies.  So, with great pride we send a huge Christmas tree each year to our friends in Boston, whose outpouring of kindness in 1917 will never be forgotten.

Keep running.  Keep smelling.

Wish my running shoes smelled better.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Webbed Toe Photos (a real ratings booster)

Here are a couple pictures of my left foot.  I didn't shave my toes for you.  I won't bother to link to the specific post but a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I had partially webbed feet. Well, you begged and emailed and insisted that I supply a couple of photos.

This first one shows you the cool web part - see?  It's the same for both feet - the 2nd & 3rd toes are partially webbed.  As a kid I was pretty self-conscious about it.  I distinctly remember my grandmother teasing me about 'cutting' them apart - that caused me a whole lot of stress. Little kids hear and feel your words.  Watch what you say.
This next picture reveals my entire left foot.  It is a glorious site to behold.  See the nasty black spot on my big toenail?  Nope, that's not from running hard miles.  A couple of weeks ago my boss dropped a hard drive on my foot.  His first words were, "I hope you're not training for anything right now".

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Little Light

Ben was born November 6, 2002. My little light is 6 years old today. My wife is not a big woman but she's the most determined woman I know. Ben weighed in at 11 lbs 4 oz. I can hear you gasping from here. V agrees that running marathons is easier than delivering XL babies.
He's booked for a hair cut tomorrow.  Happy Birthday Benjo!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Measuring Up

I don’t sleep much. I know, I know. That explains why I comment on your blog in the middle of the night.

Seriously, I don’t think I ever recovered from early morning radio. To make my 5:30 am gig I’d be up at 3…and at the office no later than 4:00 am. I’ve been off-air for nearly 10 years and I still wake up early. Who do I sue?

Unless it’s a really long run, I normally do not venture out until sometime after 4:30 am. Hey, head out too early and somebody is sure to think you’re a quack. I don’t want that label. I live in a small town.

“Oakhill” is a challenging route that I used to run a fair bit. It is a measuring stick for me and today I measured up. A tough climb in about 1 hour.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Former Glory

I know better than to want to be the runner that I used to be. I can’t go back there as the road lies ahead and not behind. The old miles offer fresh hope and so I begin again.

I remember the easy miles. And, vivid pre-dawn encounters with skunks, racoons, rabbits, deer, porcupines, coyotes, snowplows and log trucks. I can smell the rain coming. I feel the unrelenting sting of a nor’easter. I recognize the collective weight of wet March flakes, slush, and blisters and chaffing and cramps and squirts.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cash & Trips

I never carry cash. I hate the weight of jingly coins in my pocket or carrying a wallet around with me. The only good thing about carrying a wallet is that you know you haven’t lost it. I either carry it in my hand or wear in a front pants pocket. Furthermore, I don’t know how guys can sit in a car and drive with a lumpy wallet stuck in their rear. Most of my friends simply carry a debit card or a credit card in their back pocket and easily whip it out when needed.

Cash is still king though especially in the USA. I’m always reminded of the ‘value’ of cash when I travel in the states. Debit cards are not as widely accepted there as they are in Canada. If you’ve got cash in your pants you can always buy your way out of most any jam…or buy jam, if you need it.

I won’t be taking the yearly pilgrimage to Louisville, KY this fall. The only part of that makes me half sad is that I won’t be able to a little bit of shopping. Clearly, I am no shopper. It’s just that there is so much stuff and it’s always on sale or so it seems.

The drive to Louisville and back from Nova Scotia is never great. Never. It always snows. Here are a couple shots from last year’s miserable adventure:I mentioned to V that I would love to travel to Florida again. I doubt we would have the luxury of an RV this time around but we could take a couple of tents. We could live pretty cheap I bet. V didn’t like the idea of a tent…or two tents for that matter.  This looks better eh?

I'm ready now.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Autumn Blush

My neighbour and I always tie for dead last when it comes to collecting the autumn leaves. We both wait for the bitter howls of November. What's the rush eh?

I have to say that the trees have produced exceptioinaly beautiful colour this year.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Reluctant Comeback

After 6 months of non-running I am pleased to be a runner reborn. I am back at it. It was not as hard as I had feared it would be. Right now I have more hope than speed but I'm not worried about PR's at this point. I am delighted, albeit surprised, that it doesn't hurt like I feared it would.

Honestly, the thoughts of sore muscles and long breathless walk breaks (not that there's anything wrong or abnormal about that) had me scared to death. Thus the title of this post. The fear of failure or falling short paralyzed my mind. I really had a hard time getting underway.

I'm back. And it's good.

Fear is the poison that causes me to hesitate and delay. That's a pattern for me. Those of you that know me might think I've fallen down and bumped my head but it's true. I have no regrets but in thinking back over the years I wonder how much more effective I could have been if only I'd not procrastinated. I'm likely the best excuse maker-upper too. Ask V sometime. It's funny really. She is forever calling me out and I get it. It's laughable.

I glanced at my medal from the 2007 Blue Nose Marathon this morning. "I want another one of those", I sighed. So, I'm having some fun and making a not so reluctant comeback. No more whining either. Promise. Ha.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I've been tagged by Sarah and I've been putting it off wondering what the heck to confess for a few days. Brace yourself for six random things about me:

(1) I love to bake. I don't bake near as often as I used to but I do have a secret chocolate chip recipe that I've developed and refined over the years. The kids love my cookies and beg me to bake them. The key to baking perfect cookies is knowing precisely when to pull the pan from the oven. I used to work early morning radio and had the afternoons off to play in the kitchen. While V was at work - and long before we even dreamed of a family, I would ply my craft in the kitchen. I once baked a 10 egg carrot cake. Once.

(2) I've met and hung with Garth Brooks on several occasions. Through various radio gigs I had the fortune or misfortune to meet hundreds of bands, singers, songwriters. One of the strangest gigs was introducing The Blind Boys of Alabama. The promoter for the event escorted me to the 'green room' to meet the boys before the show. He promptly left me there alone with the band. Picture this: 5 blind guys scattered around the room quietly mumbling to themselves. KFC bones and scraps littered the floor. These guys are really blind. I awkwardly introduced myself to the boys and tried to force a little conversation but it didn't go far. Finally, one of the boys, who must have been 70-75 years old piped up..."let's get this mess on"! Translation: Show me to the stage so I can hurry up and go home.

(3) I once rode an elephant into the circus ring. You have to grab them by the ears and step on their knee and hoist yourself up. There's really nothing to hang on to. I didn't really enjoy that but pretended to just the same.

(4) I spent 24 hours on a raft in December - live on the radio raising money for the YMCA. The raft featured a porti-potti and a nice view of the river. I also spend 12 hours on a cold windy November day 80 feet up in cherry picker broadcasting live with just a bucket to pee in. I did lots of dumb things.

(5) Back in university a buddy challenged me to date a different girl every night for a whole month (I remember it was March 1982...31 dates in 31 days). This guy is now a pastor. I still take his advice.

(6) My 2nd and 3rd toes on both feet are partially webbed. I know, that sounds freaky. I won't bother to insert a photo today. Someday though if there's enough interest. I never grow tired of hearing how fast I must be able to swim and why didn't your parents fix that when you were a baby. People, really. They're just toes.

I'm not going to tag anyone. The party ends here - unless you want to share something about yourself as a comment. Feel free.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Maritime Island Hopping

Cape Breton Island is a wild and magical place this time of year. Autumn’s blush is amazing…as far as the eye can see. We celebrated our Canadian Thanksgiving on Monday with a quick trip to Celtic Colours. Chris & Jon were invited to play in the Great Hall of the Clans at the Gaelic College in St Anns located at the head of the world famous Cabot Trail. I’ve got a bucket load of great memories to process. Meantime, a few photos for you:

My niece Meredith married a very nice young man on Saturday in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Here are a few shots from around the city:
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