Thursday, March 27, 2008

Fire and Juice

Okay, so it's a bad ripoff of a Robert Frost title...

Today, Annie fired up her brand new juicer, which I'm assured is the uber-juicer, the creme de la creme, the ne plus ultra... you get the idea... she's VERY excited about it! There it is to the left, artfully displayed with greens and our first glass of orange juice.

I didn't really "get it" at first, until I thought a moment about the fact that she has fond memories of her childhood days in California, back when that part of the country was the primary hotbed for organic and natural foods, long before the nation became "Whole Fooded" from coast to coast. And it made me realize that it's much like my excitement when I bought my Smith AW1A oxy-acetylene torch (to the right there), my first piece of bicycle frame building equipment, and one of the better torches out there for the task. When I was a teenager, falling head over heels for bicycles, I lived about 10 miles from Proteus Design, one of the small custom builders that popped up in the US in the 70s. They used to offer framebuilding classes, and I dreamed of taking it and building my own bike... but alas, I never had the princely sum of $400 to spare. Now, it's a new millenium, I'm a lot older, and I paid a lot more than that to take a class in Oregon. And I have my torch... and Annie has her juicer. Woo hoo!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rites of Spring

Well, today was the first big day of garden work, at least for me. Annie absolutely loves everything about gardening. It's not as big a "thing" for me, but I do enjoy it sometimes... getting out in the air, doing some good honest work with my hands (and back), and contributing to something that will bring us wonderful food and lovely flowers as the season progresses.

Today was roto-tilling day. And it was my first time doing it. Wow! I was amazed by a) how easily this machine chewed up soil to a degree we never achieved by hand, b) how hard it is to actually control a roto-tiller, and c) just how tired my arms, shoulders, and hands got! I reached the point where I had to take a break, because I couldn't grip the clutch lever tight enough to engage the clutch.

All in all a much faster and less back-breaking process, but still a pretty taxing process. I'm glad I don't do this every day!

But the garden is looking great! The soil is dark and healthy looking, and we even got as far as creating rows and putting up some poles and chicken wire for peas. Woo hoo!

Now I need a hot shower or long soak in the tub.

What do you see?

This reminds me of those Highlights magazines I read as a kid... you know, with the pictures where you have to find something hidden?

What you have here is Tybalt, in stealth mode. Can you see him? Kinda shows how useful the tabby markings are when you're a predator. I first noticed him hiding in this clump of grass (I use the term "grass" loosely... we live in a rented house, where the yard is, shall we say, eclectic in its ground cover) when I looked out the window. It was pretty easy to see him from there, but once I went outside and was looking from a more normal angle, he was just about invisible. And he sat stock still, staring at me, as if to see if I could see him. He ended up finally leaping out and racing toward me, as he loves to do. I'm pretty sure I spoiled his fun with hunting, but he was happy for some attention from me.

This next picture is him, later in the day, taking advantage of a new flower bed, using it to observe and stalk a squirrel. He's never actually gotten a hold of one, and I hope he never does. I can only imagine those claws on a squirrel could do some damage. The little guy does like to stalk things though, and now and then will present us with some critter... sometimes dead, but sometimes still quite alive! And sometimes it will get away from him... in the house. Argh. I thought having cats meant you never had mice in your house... well, when they bring them in to play with them....

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Almost Spring...

... and you can tell at the bike shop! We were hopping all day... and it was pretty chilly and grey outside... we even had a bit of hail. Yet there were lots of customers in... and a pretty good number of folks needing repairs. Not quite the insanity we'll have in a couple of weeks, but a teaser for it.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Bike film

Just watched a recent film about bikes... specifically about the beginnings of the mountain bike. It's a documentary called "Klunkerz", and if you're a bike nut, it's well worth watching. I first heard about it back in September, at Interbike, the cycling industry's big trade show. I've always found the stories around the early pioneers of mountain biking interesting, and this film does a really nice job of giving you a sense of what it must have been like to be there at the beginning. It features a lot of old photos and film footage (remember Super 8 film?), as well as present day interviews with the likes of Otis Guy, Joe Breeze, Chris Kelly, Tom Ritchey, and Gary Fisher, among many, many others. A very cool film.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Yesterday, I found a bit of family history in my attic, and passed on the news to my siblings and my mom, which has lead to a bit of shared hilarity for us all. Nothing spectacular, just one of those funny little inside jokes that families have sometimes.

But it got me to thinking about my family, and how lucky I am to have them. I'm the youngest of five, a big family by today's standards, but pretty normal back when we were all born. The picture to the left was taken at my first Thanksgiving... that's me in white, being held by my mom. Her sister is to the left there, and her mom, my grandmother (or "Nana" in our family) is right in the middle of the picture. The other boy, in red, is my brother Stephen, the oldest, with the next oldest, Janet, right next to him. The girl with the big grin is Nancy, the middle kid who pretty much always has a big grin, even to this day. And down in front there, eyeing something on the table, is Louise, my youngest sister, four years older than me.

At some point I might write more detail about them all, but today I was just thinking what a fun and wonderful bunch they all are.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

We Feed the Birds...

... both directly, and indirectly!

By that I mean, yes, we put out prodigious quantities of seed in multiple feeders... to the tune of over 100 lbs of seed a month! No, I'm not kidding, I'm not exaggerating. Have you ever seen the giant 40 pound boxes of seed they sell at Costco? Well, we plow through three of those in about a month or so, by our best guess. So we have a large and healthy song bird population around our house, which is quite the pleasure... especially as spring slowly arrives, in fits and starts, and new songs join the chorus.

Of course, as with anything, the law of unintended consequences applies. And that comes in two forms... first, in the plethora of the less desirable species that feast on our generosity. Our feeders are now regulartly visited by grackles, cowbirds, and starlings, as well as a remarkably healthy colony of squirrels. And we have at times counted over forty... yes, forty... common pigeons on the power line outside, waiting their turn at the food.

Which leads me to the other unintended, yet fascinating, consequence. In addition to providing seed for the songbirds and other critters, we have also created a rather generous buffet of sorts... for the local hawk population! It seems to come and go with the seasons (spring and fall being the busy times), but a good portion of the year we get a lot of hawk activity around our house. Sometimes it's simply a sudden, urgent fluttering away of every bird in the yard... other times we actually see the hawk in hot pursuit. At times we've even seen and heard birds smack into the side of our house or the neighbor's house in their mad dash to escape. And sometimes we'll just hear the distinct call of a raptor, or see him perched in a branch high above, waiting for opportunity to knock. As near as I can tell we are primarily attracting the most common members of the Accipiter genus, the Cooper's Hawk, and perhaps some Sharp Shinned Hawks as well (even the books admit it's hard to tell them apart). These are the ones with long tails and relatively short wings that are very fast and agile in pursuit. It's not that often we get to witness a real chase, but it's amazing when we do. And a little gruesome to see the aftermath, the dense pile of feathers on the ground, the only thing left behind by these hunters. Once or twice, I've even witnessed the meal itself... reminding me of how raw nature can be.

Writer's block

Apologies to any of you out there who check in from time to time to see what new things I might have said. It's been far too long since I've written anything... I've been in a general slump all around, and the writing is hard to find inspiration for at the moment. But I'm going to give a shot at trying simply writing whatever comes to mind, on a daily basis, brief or lengthy, pithy or not. Maybe if I just "jumpstart" myself in this way things will pick up. Please bear with me.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Peeeeeeeep! They're back!

Yep, it's that time of year! On my last few rides home from work, after dark, I've heard the long-absent sound of the spring peepers along the bike trail. Even though it's still fairly chilly at night, these little guys are starting up their spring concerts.

Tonight, the first time I heard the song was one little guy singing his heart out solo... remarkably loud for such a small critter. Then, a few moments later, I heard another answer from farther away. About a half mile or so further along, I reached the spot where they typically are loudest, and sure enough, there was a whole chorus of the tiny frogs singing. It won't be long before their song fills there air with sounds of life. It's good to have them back, and makes me feel like spring is really near.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

In Praise of Fenders (aka Mudguards)!

Okay, so since I seem to be lacking in energy for new posts, I'm "borrowing" one I posted to the blog for my employer, Bikes@Vienna:

If you come by our shop, most days you'll see one of my bikes sitting out front, since I ride in most of the time. Folks that know me and know my bikes can pick them out by a couple of key features, one of which is the fact that most of my bikes have fenders on them. In this region, that sets my bikes apart from the vast majority of bikes, since folks here generally shy away from fenders. So why do I buck the prevailing style? It's not simply curmudgeonly behavior... there's a practical reason.

Take a look at my Bridgestone to the left there. Look closely at the tires and the inside of the fender and especially the black mudflap at the bottom. Notice the plethora of mud caked on the tire on the inside of the fender/mudflap? That's the accumulated goo from two recent rides on the C&O Canal after rainfall. What you don't see is any appreciable gunk on the rest of the bike, or on me, after the ride. In marked contrast, on both rides I saw a number of other folk riding bikes without fenders who had amazing mud streaks up their backs.

Aside from the forays on the towpath, one of the things I enjoy about having fenders on most of my bikes is that I never have to think about whether or not it's going to rain... I'm always prepared. It makes my bikes ready to go any time, any place... in other words, versatile. And honestly, they don't add significant weight or air resistance or anything like that. Sure, you probably wouldn't put them on a high end carbon racing bike (you probably can't fit them anyway), but on many other bikes they are a great feature.

I used to think in terms of having a "rain bike"... now I suppose I have a couple of "sun bikes"... the few without fenders that I only ride when I'm reasonably sure the weather is clear, while most of my bikes are fendered. It just makes it easier to have fun on my bikes. So give some thought to adding them to your bike... I don't think you'll regret it, and you may very well find it helps you get out on your bike more often, and that's always good!