Saturday, February 28, 2009

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

When I first took the Expedition to work and locked it outside of City Hall, Planner Guy insisted that I remove the leather (pleather??) seat from the quick release and keep it at my desk until we left. And, why, would I mar the beauty of my cute little bike by removing the seat? With an eye-ball roll, Bob told me that the morally challenged think nothing of stealing bike seats from unattended bikes, especially if they are nice, new, comfy ones (he probably did not use that exact language). Reluctantly I carried seat up to my desk, feeling a bit like an over-reactive ninny.

Earlier this week, I stopped by my friend and coworker Dave's desk and told him about my blog. He told me his bike seat was stolen the night before when he left his bike locked on the front steps over night. Villains! I do not tend to spend much time worrying about personal safety or being a crime victim so it truly astounds me to hear news like this. I just can't imagine any circumstances in which I would steal.

I'm pretty careful about where I leave my bike and for how long. City Hall steps seem pretty safe due to all the foot traffic. Still, I'm glad the quick release on my seat had to be removed when the rear rack was installed - its beauty and comfort would be too great a temptation.

Art Meets Bicycle

Bob and I both work for the City of Flagstaff and like to take a break from City Hall at lunch time for walking downtown. One of favorite strolls leads to Absolute Bikes, newly expanded to a larger space on East Route 66. They have great selection of bikes, accessories, a helpful staff, the occasional store dog, and paintings by my favorite Flagstaff artist Lyle Motley. Two of his bike-themed paintings hang above the service counter in the back of the store, and a large mural on the side of the building adds beauty to our downtown. I never tire of this mural because, for me, it shows a truly mature artistic style that has not sacrificed the "of course I can do that" imaginative leaps that are too often squelched as a the result of unfortunate elementary school art experiences. Anyway, I could say more but that is for a completely different post - anyone who has ever been that little kid in grade school who found a novel approach to using Scotch tape and crayons know exactly to which I am referring.

I've had great experiences with all the bike shops I've visited since we've lived in Flag, and I'm sure I'll mention other shops in future posts but on Friday I went to Absolute to pick up a small cap missing from my front shock absorber. I stopped in earlier in the week in search of one but they don't usually carry spare caps. The bike mechanic took the time, however, to fashion one for me from another cap and secured it to my shock absorber. I was happily surprised when he called me Friday morning to tell me they got a Specialized shock cap in a shipment for me! So, I dropped by after lunch and there it was - at no charge.

While I was waiting I visited with the store dog-of-the-day, pictured here. I used to take my late, great mini-Schnauzer, Pepper, to the studio with me in art school. I am certain my high productivity was a direct result of having Pepper curled up on the pillow under my work table.

Naturally, I can never leave Absolute Bikes without paying homage to the lovely ruby red Breezer. I test rode the Breezer before finally settling on the Specialized, mostly because my checkbook found the Specialized more agreeable. The ruby red Breezer is an 8-speed, I believe, and really had everything a bike commuter could want - a head light, rear rack, fenders, a bell, and a full chain guard. I do find the seat on the Specialized Expedition (now the Globe) to be superior in every way to the Breezer's but I know that I will continue to fantasize about riding for espresso and biscotti on the Breezer until I own one (unless I get a Dutch bike, of course). At the moment, my husband needs a street bike since he recently decided to run a triathlon. More on this later.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reunited and it feels kinda-sorta good . . .

After two wacks on the snooze button, I remind myself that Bob and I decided last night to ride our bikes into work today, that it would be the best part of our day, and that I was excited about posting my experience this evening. Last night, I had enthusiasm and resolve but at 5 a.m. both elude me. Bob is little help at this hour since his denial of the pending daylight is strong. Luckily, Milo, the boy-dog, pads over to my side of the bed and commences the ritual of woofing in my ear. He is persistent and I can do nothing but obey. Glad that I am attending to Milo’s ever-changing needs, Bob agrees that yes he will get up early and will peddle to work with me. There is no escape route.

What to wear? It would be in the low 40’s when were to leave so I decide on a light wind breaker (oh, how I miss my camel colored suede trench coat worn threat bare from love) and JCrew separates, the most striking being the mustard swing jacket (photo to follow). With snow still on much of the ground I concede to the practicality of my Dansko clogs, although I wonder if red ballet flats would do.

Out of the garage by 7:10, I see the wisdom of the clogs immediately upon entering the FUTS trail. Hard, frozen, deeply rutted snow covers the path and foot-high ice berms block the ramps onto the street. I would have loved those ice berms when I was 10 but now they just represent a closed head injury so I step off the bike and guide my bike over them. We end up spending about half our ride in the bike lanes, mostly free of ice, due to rutted ice on our favorite paths. I had planned to take some photos of our route but with the snow dirty with cinders and mud I elect to defer bike bath pictures until it is either newly covered with snow or instead blanketed with purple and yellow wild flowers.

Upon later reflection, I would love to say that my ride to and from work was a chance to appreciate the view of the snow capped San Francisco Peaks or the reflection of the pines in the ponds created by the melting snow. So often I have lost myself in watching humming birds and noticing lizards scurry across the path, or just enjoying the sun on my back, but today’s ride just stressed me out more than anything. It required concentration to avoid icy patches and straying from the very narrow bike lane and simply to remember to pay attention to what was going on around me. I lost my balance twice on icy areas and Bob occasionally became exasperated with the notion that I wasn’t attending to traffic properly (a point on which I disagree). Nonetheless, I’m glad we braved the riding conditions and relieved that after both rides today I didn’t experience any lower back pain, a sure sign that I am on the mends. We did decide that we probably need to let a bit more snow clear before we ride out again but reassured that spring is right around the corner.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"You're blogging now", he said.

My husband Bob, the Planner Guy, is amazing! While preparing me a dinner of Sizzling Scallops, from Williams-Sonoma Soups, Salads and Starters, he simultaneously created a the masthead for this blog. How did I earn this good fortune?

Bob (and I will now refer to him mostly as Bob, his real name, because complete anonymity is so just too much of me) also authors his own blog, where he frequently posts not only his insights and observations about running but also his adventures in cooking, including photos and video post.

Opening the garage door this morning we were surprised by pleasant a 40-ish degrees. "We could have ridden in this morning!", Bob remarked. Too late for this morning, and late is something you never want to be during lay-off season, so tomorrow we hope weather will cooperate and we can pedal in. I can't wait! My first ride in since mid-December; my first ride in since I started this blog; and my first ride with the new wicker basket Bob got me for Christmas.

I'm embarrassingly worried about rain from a system in California tomorrow morning. My former boss, Tom, rode everywhere no matter the weather, layered up in woolens, leather, and rain gear. Not fashion but very practical, and he usually arrives mostly dry. Maybe I can learn to ride while carrying an umbrella . Arizona always needs the water so it's selfish to hope for dry conditions but I've been off my bike for months, and unable to run due to a back injury for months. There will be time for snow and rain still in March. Tomorrow should be for Bob and me.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Cozy Room With Not Much of a View

Like many newly married couples each maintaining his or her individuality is at least as important as establishing the togetherness. When we were dating the Planner Guy challenged me to make room in my house for him, pointing out that it wasn’t very guy friendly. I had cold beer in the refrigerator so I was stunned but then he complained about my 13-inch TV screen and lack of a Lazy Boy recliner! After we got married, my husband explained that what had given him pause in our early courtship was that my life already appeared pretty complete without him, which my house seemed to illustrate perfectly. My house was a home without any empty rooms or college-era furnishings. I hadn’t left anything for him to do (no dry wall to hang or basements to renovate) so there didn’t appear to be a place for him. Heavy sigh!

Somehow, I managed to demonstrate that there was a place for him in my life. We got engaged, moved to Flagstaff, and bought our house together, filling it with our combined our furniture but our place pretty much still had my imprint - and there were some rules about keeping things tidy and using coasters. Control freak stuff. The Man Cave was PG’s place to just be himself and unwind with his favorite creative outlet, his blog. To politely request that I “keep out”, he encouraged me to start my own blog and recreate the “cozy room” from my old Louisville house. I can take a hint . . .

Back in the ‘Ville, I lived in a 1050 square foot 110-year-old Victorian cottage in a historic district, with tree lined streets and pubs, coffee shops, and pointless little boutique stores just around the corner. I had friends over quite a bit. We usually hug out in the in the front “parlor” or the kitchen. My cozy room was just for me, in the back of the house, situated directly over the furnace so it was a particularly comfy place to sit and watch TV or work at my desk during the winter.

Our Flagstaff house is quite a bit different. It’s a never-been-lived-in contemporary Arts and Crafts style home with a larger, more open living area that gets lots of light. The bedrooms, PG’s man cave and my cozy room are in the rear of the house. It’s taken me almost 2 years to get my cozy room in order. Above my little secretary desk which sits againston the wall as you walk into the room, hangs the yellow nude pastel drawing I created 20 years ago. One the next wall under a large window I placed an overstuffed tuxedo-style antique sofa. A matching chair is tucked in the opposite corner, next to it, a Vietnamese fish basket table that my parents bought in Saigon 48 years holds a dead plant (not charming but there it is) and some family photos. The furniture is strewn with pillow and throws. A footstool I keep threatening to recover usually holds a wicker tray with teacup and a damp Earl Grey bag. Soon I’ll hang some sheer drapes to diffuse the light a bit and hang some more art (my own again). Since Planner Guy got me this laptop for my birthday this past December, I rarely care about entering the man cave, except to admire the large Empire table to put in there as PG’s desk. Although, at the moment I’m writing from the kitchen island, as I am multi-tasking blogging and the Oscars, I spent most of today reclining on the sofa in the cozy room reading sipping many cups of chai and petting the Jade-dog.

But, as I have learned from PG and all the blogger’s whose lives I follow, creative blogging cannot be done in the cozy room or man cave alone. Saturday morning, my very supportive husband and I took my bike down downtown for my very first photo shoot. The Expedition and I in front of the mural on the side of Absolute Bikes on E. Route 66! PG was supposed to help me post the shots but is currently trapped on the floor in front of the fire with two dogs and a glass of wine and there, I suspect, he will stay. Nonetheless, just the very act of getting the initial photos done gives me a feeling of accomplishment; so what if I still don’t have any visuals yet.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Will They or Won't They?

Ugh! As with just about every city in the nation, the City is struggling to close a big budget deficit and considering some combination of salary reduction, furloughs, and layoffs – the later everyone hopes can be avoided or minimized. Naturally, I could my blessing to currently have a job and as long as I/we do, my husband and I are saving in preparation for whatever comes. Everyone is going to have to sacrifice and I’m perfectly willing to do that even if it spares layoffs.
I’ve always tried to live pretty simply in anticipation for an economic downturn. Despite the often repeated “nobody saw this coming”, actually a lot of people really did. Paul Krugman, the Noble prize-winning economist, is a GD genius. So have a lot of people who merely have average IQ scores but nonetheless advocate for expanded public and alternative transportation options. I’m actually NOT one of those people, except for the average IQ score. I’ve been acquainted and occasionally inspired by some of those people, however, as they passionately written letters and made phone calls in support of light rail, more bus routes, and better, safer bike lanes. My baby step when we lived in Louisville, Kentucky was to start taking the city bus to work shortly after September 11 in order to save money on gas. I’d see people riding bicycles to work and errands but I was intimidated by what the heat and humidity did to my hair under the bike helmet. Yes, I am a little vain. Later I went to work for a prominent Metro Councilman, who is quite noted for his unpretentious advocacy of bike commuting – everywhere. Now in his late 60’s, he almost never travels by car and usually gets around using the bus and his bike, always wearing a bike helmet and a reflective vest. I knew I could do it, too, but that helmet/hair thing . . .(sigh). Happily, in Flagstaff, the high cost of living is made up for by low humidity resulting in your best looking hair, even under a bike helmet.

So the Planner –Guy and I are awaiting snow-free streets and bike paths with the promise of spring, which hopefully will begin no later than the first week of May. We’ll be on the bikes before then, of course, as weather allows. After that, we’ll probably ride most days through most of October, and possibly into November and December. Buying as little gas as possible is our way of “sticking it to the man” – I have a childishly recalcitrant need to do just that. Our other sacrifice will be, if Planner-Guy can actually make the break, is to get rid of our satellite TV. This would be a huge step for my husband but not unwelcome by me. No TV means more time sitting on the front porch reading, napping, playing cribbage, or just sipping box wine (because we are sacrificing!).

The recovering JCrew shopper in me struggles with what the economic situation will do to the bike-chic portion of this blog. Can I still do it on a budget? Will that part even matter to me if I end up taking a salary cut or reduced hours? I feel an obligation to keep the Ann Taylor store open for business, but will I be able to do my part? At least for now I am convinced that I need only one good bike (for now).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

This is My First Post and I'm a Little Nervous . . .

In the many months that I’ve threatened to start this project I’ve looked at a lot of cycle chic and bike commuter blogs. I’ve wondered at times if I really have anything to add but probably anyone who has ever returned, again and again, to has had that same thought. Flagstaff has a long way to go to truly be the bike centric city that Copenhagen is but I think with every person who decides to give bike commuting (whether in high heels or Teva sandals) we are making strides. Flagstaff has an urban trail system (the FUTS) that is very popular and goes almost everywhere so that my time on the road, where I worry about the very, very monstrously large SUVs, is kept to a minimum.

I’ve been off my bike for since December 15 due to a combination of snow, a lower back injury, more snow, and just plain really cold weather. My plan is to, over time, toughen up a bit in the snow and cold department and a let my back heal a more so that I can be absolutely ready for Bike to Work Week in May. My plan is to have a link to the Flagstaff Bike Club’s Bike to Work Week page and to focus my posts that week on newbies to bike commuting, with a special emphasis on choice of dress. Bob and I started out last year wearing our cool weather running and outdoor gear but within a few weeks switched to regular work clothes.

Since last year’s Bike to Work Week I’ve purchased a Specialized Expedition, which I outfitted with a rear bike rack, a detachable headlight, a kick stand, a rear view mirror, and a wicker basket for the front. I’ll write more about my current choice of bikes in later posts, as well as say a bit about the bikes about which I continually fantasize. I think it is truly reasonable to have two or three bikes to suit the mood, the journey, or the outfit. My husband would probably disagree, although I’ve seen him eyeing a few bikes at Absolute Bikes on Route 66.

As I mentioned above, I log on to regularly for its photos, great links, and descriptions of daily life in Copenhagen. As I get my blog up and running I will begin experimenting with photos from my daily commute (last year we came upon a gigantic elk on the path) as well as updates on putting together bike-friendly ensembles. I need to new bike helmet and hope to find something more fashionable than what I have been wearing (I won’t name names on that one). I’d prefer not to have to wear a helmet but the United States has a way to go before I’d feel comfortable riding without one when I am traveling on the street. Look for photos posted this weekend.