Friday, November 30, 2012

Reworking a Curbside Christmas Tree

Someone dumped this poor thing on the curb. So I brought it home.

Hubby gave me the big snippers to cut the branches off. Those snippers are AWESOME!

See??? Just like that, the metal snaps. Love those snippers.

The pile of lights I cut from the branches. I was so hoping the lights actually worked. They didn't. Maybe that's why poor little tree ended up on the curb.

The branches now adorn the window boxes. I think the little tree looks very happy!


And they also adorn the front porch as the wreath I made using an extra bicycle wheel, also a freebie from the local bike shop. Best wreath I've ever had.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Baby Steps to Living More Simply

Over the past few years I've been slowly redesigning the way I move through life. The first change I made was to get more exercise. Agreeing to do a sprint tri with a friend springboarded me into action. Since then I have completed several sprint tri's, several century rides, a cross country cycling tour, and lots of shorter mileage rides. I feel more fit now than I ever was in my teens and twenties. The second change I made was to bring home less work. Rethinking how I respond to student papers and implementing a new procedure involving more one-on-one time with each student made less take-home work a reality. As such, my evenings are now spent with my family, doing activities we all enjoy. The third change I made was to drive less and use my bike more for transportation. The first year didn't go so well. As soon as the temps dropped below 45 the bike went up on the hooks in the garage. I kept at it, though, and now I'm completely comfortable using my bike to go wherever I need to in whatever weather the day offers up. The change I am working on now is sustainability: reducing, reusing, recycling.

The whole idea of sustainability has been nagging at me for awhile. For years I agonized over the amount of trash we were putting on the curb every week. I kept thinking if every family of five was generating as much landfill garbage as we were, the earth was in a world of hurt. There had to be a better way to deal with items we were throwing away. My first step to reducing how much we were contributing to the landfill was to set up a compost box to throw all meal scraps into. I wanted to garden, so what better way to build up an organic foundation than to create my very own dirt? I then bought containers into which we put our cans, glass, cardboard, and paper products instead of throwing them in the trash. Simply doing the composting and recycling cut back on our curbside trash by more than 50%. Seeing this made me start reconsidering other aspects of my life.

Like clothes.

For many years, I operated on the idea that new was better. Even very recently--I began searching for a stylish raincoat I could wear for my cycling commute. I had settled on buying a very expensive ($399 expensive!) coat made in Great Britain. I was on the web page, ready to choose the purple coat, when thankfully the sane part of my brain shouted, "Back away from the computer! Don't you dare buy that coat!" I didn't buy that coat. Instead, I made a promise to myself that I would keep looking until I found one right here where I live, at one of the thrift stores, giving it new life. Staying local. Living sustainably. Looking back at all the new items I just had to have, I realize how silly this mentality was. New isn't necessarily better. It is, however, more expensive. And wasteful. When I think about all the money I could have saved by shopping at thrift stores . . .. (Insert eye roll here.) So now I'm on a mission to see what treasures I can find on the cheap. Within the last week alone, I found a $14 red wool coat that I have learned will keep me warm even when the temps are in the mid teens, and a $5 pair of casual black leather shoes in excellent condition (Franco Sarto--originally $70). Spending less than $20 for two great items makes me feel giddy, something paying full price for new products never did (well, except for when I bought Sweetness--she was totally worth every penny I paid).

Living more simply hasn't been easy. In many ways, I just wasn't ready to make the changes though I knew the changes would positively impact my life. Not allowing naysayers to sway me was also a challenge along the way. Still is. But I like where I am, doing my small part.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Reveling in the Aftermath

Three days after completing the Gravel Grovel, I'm still mulling over the ride and how it affected me. Riding 62 miles of paved rural roads is all well and good; riding 62 miles of rural gravel roads with steep inclines along with some treacherous mountain biking terrain thrown in is a totally different experience. The roads I normally ride are mostly flat with some small hills here and there. I have cell phone service no matter which direction I might decide to go. During Saturday's ride, in addition to cycling on gravel for upwards of 90% of the ride, I also had no cell phone service whatsoever. I was totally cut off from being able to call for help if it was needed. At one point, right around mile 53, I was exhausted, trying to climb yet another hill, up out of the saddle, my rear tire spinning to the point I knew I was going to go down if I didn't sit, putting weight back on the tire to keep it firmly attached to the ground. My stomach lurched with the effort I was expending, and for a split second, all I wanted to do was break down and cry. The Gravel Grovel was doing a number on my head and my body.

I took a deep breath to calm myself and thought back on my first century ride. I'd felt the same way at the end, when I'd battled through the last 13 miles, 9 of which was in a headwind. Alone and tired, I really, really wanted to stop, but a small voice deep inside my head said, "You're almost there. Don't stop now." I finished that ride, and when I arrived back at the truck, I turned away from Hubby to keep him from seeing me nearly break down in tears from all the overwhelming emotions gripping me. The century I completed after that first one went better, with me never feeling along the way that I wanted to stop. My third century I was even stronger. Those rides, along with my summer ride across the US, have instilled in me a confidence that rises up when I most need it. That small voice I'd heard during my first century wasn't so small on Saturday. When all I wanted to do was give in, that voice, loud and clear, said, "The last six miles are all downhill. Just three more miles. Just three more miles." I leaned down over the handlebars and kept on going. At the six miles to go mark, I saw Hubby standing near the road, snapping pictures as I approached. I knew then I had the ride all but wrapped up.

Since finishing Saturday's ride, my shoulders have been achy, my hips fatigued. The Gravel Grovel may have left its mark on me, but I won the battle. Now I look forward to the next one.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sore And Tired But Definitely Not Disappointed

2012 Gravel Grovel
In September, I signed up to ride the Gravel Grovel, a cyclocross event held in the Hoosier National Forest just south of Bloomington, IN. At the time, I had just bought my mountain bike and was looking for an endurance ride to test myself. When a cycling friend sent me the link for the Gravel Grovel, I didn't even think twice about paying the $45 fee. During the 8 weeks between signing up and actually going to Indiana, I prepared somewhat for what I knew was going to be a very difficult ride, but with work and family, the training was sporadic at best. The two weeks leading up to the day Hubby and I were scheduled to drive over, I toyed with the idea of not going. Every excuse I could dredge up I listed on a piece of paper: cost in gas, hotel, and food; not in shape; Thanksgiving weekend was meant for being lazy; and the weather was too cold. Then I reminded myself that I would be far more disappointed by what I didn't do rather than what I did do.

So Hubby and I set off for Indiana late Friday afternoon. Between home and Champaign, Hubby looked at me and asked, "Do you know where we're going?" I responded with a nope and a shrug of my shoulders. "We're on an adventure," I said. "We'll figure it out as we go." And we did. We stopped at an Indiana rest area where we found a map. A real, in color, paper map. We studied it and figured out a route to our destination then set off. A few hours later, after winding through some dark countryside that scared Hubby (he's such a city boy), we arrived in Bedford where we spent the night.

Getting ready to start off.
Saturday morning brought sunshine, calm winds, and a chilly 27 degrees. I was prepared, though, having just bought a new cold-weather jacket, gloves, and balaclava. With my new duds on my upper half, along with my thermal leggings, wool socks, and booties on my lower half, I lined up with the others to begin the ride, hoping I would stay warm during the next few hours. If there's one thing that makes me miserable when riding, it's being cold. I knew if I was cold, the 62 miles was going to be extremely long and unpleasant. I found out just a few miles into the ride that my new clothes would keep me toasty warm, just how I like it.

The creek finish line!
My main goal for the day was to simply finish. I'd spent some time examining past accounts of the ride and went into it knowing it was going to be really, really tough. My hope was that I could make it through the ride without a flat tire (accomplished!), with an average speed of 12 mph (didn't accomplish :( ), and without going down on gravel (accomplished--though I did go down on the mountain bike trail). In the end, I finished 15 minutes past my hoped-for cut off of 5 hours, but still toasty warm and with a huge smile on my face. Me and The Bette made it through in one piece.


Friday, November 23, 2012

The Extent of My Black Friday Shopping

Thrift store find.

A beautiful vintage wool coat with an ILGWU tag sewed into the lining.



Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Very Happy Thanksgiving

It's official. I ate way too much today. All day. Started around 8 this morning and finally took my last bite at 8 this evening. First morsel in was the delicious almond flour with coconut drizzle cinnamon rolls. Last morsel in was the homemade pecan pie baked by Lovely Beautiful Daughter. Now I'm thinking, "What in the world was I thinking?" I've not eaten this much food in one day in . . . probably . . . ever! Tomorrow, I'll get back to eating the way I know I should eat: a lot less and way more thoughtful about what is consumed.

This being the first Thanksgiving without Mom, I was kind of dreading the day. So many of my Thanksgiving memories include her. She would always be up and in the kitchen early, way before the rest of us pulled ourselves out of our warm beds, fixing breakfast for us while at the same time prepping the turkey and preparing the stuffing. Along with the mashed potatoes and gravy, Mom always fixed a cranberry dish for Dad. He was the only one who ate them, but Mom made sure to have a bowl of the deep red berries next to his plate when we all sat down to eat. Pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and mincemeat pie topped off the meal.

What made today not as dreadful as I was thinking it might be was Lovely Beautiful Daughter. She and several of her friends gathered in the kitchen and prepared the meal. And though she totally forgot to put the turkey in the oven, thus delaying our dinner by nearly two hours, having the young people in the house--working together, laughing, playing games while the turkey cooked--gave me much joy. When we finally did sit down to dinner, each of us taking a turn offering what we are thankful for, I felt truly blessed to be surrounded by such a variety of individuals.

Though it's official I ate way to much today, it's also official that today was a good, good day.

My Helmet Rant

The Boston helmet campaign really pushed my buttons. To suggest a cyclist will eventually fall victim to a crash of some sort, and thus should always wear a helmet just in case, simply advances the same, old tiring argument: cycling is a dangerous activity.

To the contrary:
  • Cycling is a very safe activity.
  • Cycling is a very enjoyable activity.
To suggest otherwise misdirects the conversation. Come on, Boston.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

And the Cycling Bliss Continues to Grow

Recently, because of my hyper-enthusiasm over cycling--for commuting, for fitness, for bliss--I was searching for other cycling blogs written by women. When I typed in "cycling blogs by women," one of the first hits on the results list was "Women's Bike Blogs: The List." Doing the ol' purse the lips in the "yeah, there's probably two, maybe three blogs listed," I clicked on the link. What I thought next was straight out of A Christmas Story--"and the lamp (in my case, list) blazed forth in unparalled glory." The next thought was, "Great. Now I'm going to fritter away time going through this list and reading all these blogs." I consoled myself by justifying that reading all the blogs was a good, healthy activity, almost akin to being on the bike itself. So I started reading.

"The List" was compiled by Barb Chamberlain, author of Bike Style: The Quest for the Intersection of Style and Comfort, and I for one am incredibly grateful to her for doing so. I have enjoyed reading some of the blogs and look forward to continuing down the list. I feel connected to so many other women who love cycling as much as I do, and hopefully through these blogs, I can create actual connections, enlarging my circle of friends who just happen to be women who cycle.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

My Pledge

I signed the pledge on Friday, and already I think I have two women ready to commit to riding a bike more often. Both have bikes, but those bikes have gathered dust in the garage for a variety of reasons. Because both are moms, busy moms at that, the idea of using a bike for transportation doesn't make sense to them when they have appointments to get to, grocery shopping to do, kids to pick up from school, kids to ferry to sports practices/events, and a myriad of other "stuff." I totally get their perspective because I was there for a long time myself. When thinking about all the things a woman/mom has to do, using a bicycle as the primary mode of transportation doesn't seem feasible.

But using the bike once a week for a shorter errand, or using the bike twice a week to get small amounts of groceries, or using the bike three times a week for a half hour of fitness riding is feasible. Starting small, taking the proverbial baby steps, is the way to work the bike as transportation into one's life. There'll be hiccups along the way, but isn't this the case with all new endeavors? I've faced a lot of hiccups, but over the last four years I've also learned a lot that has allowed me to make tweaks here and there to improve the process. The learning process has actually turned out to be one of the most exciting aspects of cycling. Seems like every time I ride, whether it be my commute or for fitness, I figure out another cycling problem that makes the next ride even better.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Failure, But Just For This Evening

Day 3 into a 30 day healthy eating challenge with a friend turned into an epic failure for me. I did really well right up until dinner. I stood up to join the family in the kitchen, and I made it as far as the table then had to hold onto one of the chairs while I waited for the grip of dizziness to pass. That bout of dizziness was the second time today that I about went down. The first time happened when I stood from sitting at my desk in the office. Thankfully Funny Delightful Son was standing next to the desk and wanted to give me a hug right then. I put my arms around him and used our hug to keep myself steady. After the second round of seeing major black spots and feeling that telltale weakness wash through my muscles, I succumbed to eating not just one grilled cheese sandwich but two. And some Greek yogurt. After watching an episode of our current Netflix choice, I stood and waited. Nothing. Thankfully.

Going cold turkey on giving up sugar and processed carbs is tough. I know I've been consuming far too much sugar the last couple of weeks, what with Halloween and my once-a-week stops at the coffee shop for a caramel latte, so it's no wonder my body is rebelling. Shoving it full of sugar then abruptly turning off the faucet of the sweet goodness is bound to cause an adverse reaction. What will put me back on track tomorrow is that even though I only made it through 2 1/2 days of healthy eating, I could tell a huge difference in how I was feeling. Despite today's moments of dizziness, the rest of the 2 1/2 days was really good. Energy. Focus. Not feeling the 2 pm sugar coma coming on. Excellent nights' sleep. All of these positives I want all the time.

Kind of sums up my healthy eating failure: the frost on the bridge can be slippery, causing a fall. Just get up, dust off, keep going.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Walking Happy

Three years ago marked my first 5k, the Jingle Bell Run. Lovely Beautiful Daughter ran with me to offer encouragement and support if I reached a point of wanting to walk. My goal was to complete the race without resorting to walking. While I wasn't fast by any means, and I can't even remember what my time was, I did jog the entire 3 miles, my daughter at my side. I ran the same race a year later, said no to doing it last November, then said yes to doing it again this year but with the intention of just walking. During these past three years of running, cycling, and swimming, I reconciled myself to the fact that running isn't my strong suit and swimming is just okay. Neither are something that I simply can't wait to do everyday. Walking, however, is much like cycling: I can do each for hours on end, enjoying every single second. So today I walked the three miles to the starting point (which happened to be my place of employment) then walked the 5k, giving me a total of 6 miles for the day. Every step I took brought me happiness. Even in the 49 mph winds blowing from the south.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Another Ride on the I & M Canal

Yesterday I had the opportunity to go north, to Peru/Lasalle, to ride the I & M Canal. I've ridden part of the canal before, but I wanted to go further, around 60 miles, to give me a chance to see what this distance feels like on the mountain bike. With the Gravel Grovel only two weeks away, I knew I needed to get some distance in or I will be hurting badly in two weeks. Hubby dropped me off at the Lasalle access, and I started off under sunny skies and a breeze blowing out of the south.

My goal was to try and average at least 15 mph. My first five miles showed 14. I noticed I felt tired, like I didn't have a lot of energy though I'd made sure to eat a good breakfast. The last two or three weeks, I've not had much of an appetite. I've basically been eating only to make sure I don't get so fatigued I can't focus or function. There have been a couple of times, too, when I do eat that I reach a point where I feel nauseous. Mostly, though, I find myself standing in the kitchen, going through the cupboards and fridge, searching for something to spark my interest. Nothing does. The only thing that has sounded good is pancakes. And french fries. Why these two items, I don't know, but if it means eating, I'll eat them. I've had more pancakes the last two weeks than I have the last two years.

So I tried to kick my pace up a notch. For the next ten miles I was able to keep the average speed above 15. I still wasn't feeling great though. I stopped and drank some of my sports drink and ate a GU, then started off again, hoping to feel better at some point. I wondered if not riding at all the last two weeks, since the Tour de Shawnee, was part of my problem, but you'd think having some time away would actually be a good thing. I have been commuting every day, a short 6 miler; however, this distance probably isn't nearly enough to maintain the level of fitness I'd achieved from the summer ride.

When I was 38 miles in, I reached Morris. Hubby met me there to have lunch. We found a little bakery and had panini sandwiches with soup and a piece of pumpkin pie. I ate half of my sandwich and the pie, but again, I just couldn't find it in me to eat anymore. Usually when I ride like this, I can put the food away. Instead, just looking at the second half of the sandwich made me feel like barfing. I wrapped it, put it in a bag, and stowed it in the truck to have after finishing the ride.

I set off again, heading towards my 60 miles for the day. Five miles beyond Morris I resigned myself to having to settle for a steady 14 mph pace. I just didn't have the gumption to do anymore than that. During this part of the ride, I also stopped and took pictures. This length of the I & M was new territory for me, so I wanted to enjoy it as much as possible. During one long stretch, the path took me through a thick woods. I saw movement on my left, and when I turned to look, I saw the most beautiful buck I've ever seen in my life. He ran alongside me then ahead, and when he was thirty yards beyond, he cut over and onto the path. He ran for quite some time in front of me before veering to the right and back into the woods. That majestic animal was the picture that got away. And I hope he continues to get away from the hunters whose deer stands could be spotted all through those woods, and grace others with his beauty.

The last 15 miles of the ride offered up some truly wonderful sights. A spillway with yellow leaves trapped at the bottom, a hornets nest hanging from a branch over the canal water, trees gnawed at by beavers, the dam the beavers built, and gulls diving down to the lake's surface to snatch up an unsuspecting fish.While my average speed for the day didn't meet my intended goal, I don't really care. Life isn't a race to rush through. Rather, it's something to savor.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Dreaded Business Plan

I've been working on the business plan for my bike shop dream, and after completing the section on market needs, I scrolled down the outline I put into place to see just how much more I need to develop. My shoulders slumped. I felt like I was right back in grad school, writing that 20 page paper on The Tempest. After several hours of writing about the evils of colonization, I thought surely I was on page 20. Sadly, I was only on page 8. While some ideas come easily and I can write about them with little effort, other areas, really important areas, get pushed to the side and ignored. I thought I was getting close to being finished with the business plan. Ha! Not only do I still have over ten sections to fill out, but these sections deal with numbers, something I usually try to avoid. I didn't like algebra in high school, and I didn't enjoy trigonometry and statistics in college. Hence the degree in English.

Why can't I just walk into a bank and tell the loan officer my wonderful plan? Why does the plan have to be in writing? After all, the bike shop dream truly is wonderful. Just ask me. And furthermore, why do I have to show all the numbers? I can be trusted with lots of money. Really, I can.

Despite feeling overwhelmed right now by writing up my bike shop idea, I know eventually, if I just keep chipping away at it, I'll finish it. If I'm serious about opening up a women's specific bike shop, I have to at least try to make it happen. If I don't finish the plan and present it to the people who can fund my idea, the bike shop idea will remain just that--an idea. If I finish it and get turned down, at least I'll be able to move forward knowing I tried. I'll be unhappy for awhile, but there are other ways to combine my love for cycling and helping women that don't require a bike shop.

I love this pic. It helps bring me back to center.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Hubby is a classic enabler.

Today called for rain. My response: pack my rain jacket and hat just in case the ride home was wet. It was. No worries. I was prepared.

When I walked through the door after work, he asked, "Did you get my text?" I shook my head. "I was going to come get you."

How am I going to follow through on my desire to commute by bike if every time it showers or the temperature dips below 30 he is waiting at the door to load my bike into the truck and drive me home? I've reached the point where I don't mind getting a bit damp or feel a little cold during my ride. I'll dry off, and I'll warm up. Hubby, though, can't seem to wrap his brain around the idea of using the bike as transportation no matter what the weather offers up.

I do understand where he is with his thinking. I was there two years ago when I first tried going car-less. I did okay as long as rain wasn't falling and the temps didn't go below 40. Once the snow came, the bike went up on the hooks in the garage, right alongside Hubby's hybrid and the cruiser. Now my thinking is completely different. My comfort levels changed somewhere along the way, and I no longer worry about how the weather will affect my travels.

When I placed my bag on the kitchen counter and took off my knit hat, sprinkling droplets of water onto the floor, Hubby said, "You're really going to ride no matter what, aren't you?"

I nodded. Yes, I'm really going to ride no matter what.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Latest Obsession

Bracelets from recycled bicycle chain links and valve lock nuts. Each one is unique. I've started adding charms to the ends and am working on the knots. With each bracelet, I'm getting more efficient and the end product is getting better. A very relaxing activity.
The black and gray is the very first one I made. Lots of imperfections in it, but I like it and think it looks pretty good on my wrist.
The orange and blue is the second one I made. This is the one I added the valve lock nuts to. I'm not a real fan of the colors, but again, I like the way it looks on my wrist.
This is my favorite so far. This is for a friend whose daughter attends the University of Kentucky. She's also a cyclist, so she gets the whole chain link, valve lock nut thing.

I've also made two pink with purple and one black with yellow. The pink and purple just aren't turning out for some reason, and I think it's because the purple string is much thinner than the other strings in the bag. The whole learning process has been fun, and thanks to one of the local bike shops, I have enough links and valve lock nuts to do quite a few more.

Cycling Towards Freedom

I'm making a concerted effort to use my bike for my main transportation, which means I have had to do some deep-down, honest soul searching. This isn't my first try at leaving the gas guzzler in the garage; I tried to go car-less two years ago. I found out very quickly I wasn't ready to make the commitment and follow through. Now, after cycling all summer through wind, heat, rain, and thunderstorms, my mindset is quite different. Since returning to work in early August, I've cycled every day save four. Two of those days I simply had too much to carry to work than what I could put on my bike, and the other two Funny Delightful Son missed the bus, so I took him to school (which I only did because his school is on the same route as mine). With each day I cycle, the more determined I become to make the bike my only transportation source. Now, with the weather turning colder, I'll face the real test. Hopefully, I'll be able to stick with my resolve and cycle straight through the winter months.

Today I wanted to get in a longer ride, but I also wanted to get some fresh eggs from the farm out near the lake. My old self would have said, "Ride Sweetness for 30 miles. Afterwards drive up and get the eggs." Today, my new self said, "Ride SheBeast and just pack the eggs in the rack pannier. You'll get in 22 miles plus the eggs." A win-win. I checked the temp and wind direction, figured out what I needed to wear for 43 degrees, then set off. While the ride to the farm was against a chilly headwind, I was dressed for it and stayed pretty warm, almost too warm as I could feel the sweat trickling down my back about 5 miles in. At the farm, I selected a carton of eggs from the fridge in the Egg Barn, packed it in my pannier, then headed home. With the wind at my back, I rolled along with little effort.

Not one cracked egg!
Along this same route is a farm that sells cheeses. I figured since I was out I might as well stop and buy some colby and sharp cheddar. I packed these on top of my eggs then started off for the coffee shop. My plan was to stop for coffee and read a bit before heading home. When I arrived at the coffee shop, I was dismayed to see every table and easy chair taken. Not to be deterred, I ordered my latte along with a cinnamon-raisin bagel, and sat outside to drink, eat, and read. My layers of clothing, wool socks, and thermal gloves worked great for cycling into the country and back, and they continued to keep me toasty while sitting at a bistro table outside the coffee shop.

Each day I cycle instead of drive, the less urge I feel to drive all the way around. When I think about going somewhere, I think in terms of how to get to the destination by bike. I love leaving the car in the garage, and I love not having to go to a gas station for fuel. Cycling for transportation truly is freeing.