Monday, March 23, 2009

The Good Life Despite a Tooth Extraction

Physically, all of Flagstaff seems to be falling victim to horrible set of flu-like symptoms, primarily chest and head congestion, with active symptoms that drag on for at least two weeks and require antibiotics, followed by many additional weeks of intense fatigue. The Planner-Guy was hit hard this past week with coughing fits that lead him to sleep in the old, faithful Lazy Boy that I regulated to his Man Cave.

Although flu-free, my on-going tooth ache ultimately turned into a total dental odyssey, propelling me to the dentist, to the endodonist, and then to the oral surgeon. Perhaps a root canal but I actually stood a chance of just loosing the back molar, which was deeply cracked. To make a long story short, having a tooth pulled could require pharmacological interventions more mind-altering than those adequate for a root canal. Even, if the oral surgeon does not suggest going under anesthesia, DEMAND it. If secret agent Jack Bauer threatens to pull teeth in order to secure the cooperation of Legislative Aides gone bad, then you can be sure that having a tooth extracted could reasonably be classified as torture. My husband will tell you, the procedure involves screaming, even when the patient popped a happy pill, accepted nitrixoxyde, and was shot up with plenty of novocaine. My oral surgeon, having no interest in extracting municipal secrets from this Executive Assistant rescheduled my tooth extraction to the next day, when at that point the procedure was seemingly over in seconds once an IV was inserted in my vein.

Three days later, I have a chipmunk cheek and am eating soft food. Luckily, part of our new "slow" lifestyle is cooking at home. With my aching jaw and my husband's unrelenting cough, we needed comfort food. Coincidentally, the April issue of Cooking Light arrived in our mailbox Friday, the very day of my tooth extraction. Hurray! On page 154 I found just the dinner for Saturday night - soft and easy to chew for me, a symphony of flavor for Bob. Planner-Guy (aka Chef Bob) has a hard time letting go in the kitchen and just giving me my space in the kitchen so the fact that he was too ill to seriously interfere meant the timing couldn't be better.

I am happy to report, the results could not have been more satisfying. The crust is made from a mixture of brown rice, egg, pesto, and parmesan cheese. The filling is mostly egg substitute, skim milk, prosciutto ham, plum tomatoes, a dash of crushed red pepper, mozzarella, and fresh basil. If you like quiche, this is a wonderful alternative.

Despite my aching jaw, thanks to the power of Advil and some good weather, I road the Expedition in to work three days last week (twice peddling up to the dentist and the endodontist for mid-day appointments) During the day, I managed to capture a few shots of people and their bikes in downtown Flagstaff. As you can see, the look is very casual, very mountain-chic, characterized by chunky knit hats, heavy boots for foul weather, and Teva sandals. Though comfortable, I am not a big fan of Teva sandals, unless of course I need to traverse a creek or shallow river (which I have not done in some years), I do own Teva water and casual shoes and find them to be very mountain-chic.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cafe Society

When relocating to a new city, one of my most pressing tasks is to locate the locally owned coffee shops. Louisville, Kentucky where I moved from prides itself on many very good coffee houses all around the city. Since we've moved to Flagstaff, we discovered Late for the Train. I frequently visit the one on N. San Francisco during my lunch break.

I usually order the Cafe Americano with plenty of room for cream, and occasionally one of their very chewy chocolate chip cookies or brownies. The Late for the train staff are always very friendly and lately put up with my picture snapping with no complaints or eye-ball rolling.

Now that the weather is warming, the usual suspects sip their coffee on the sidewalk. Bikes are almost always tied up outside the shop, too. I've noticed several coffee/bike blogs out in the blogosphere so I assume there is some sort of relationship between bike commuting and visiting cafes.

I must admit, the summer between junior and senior year of high-school, I took a class trip to Europe and when in France became enthralled with French cafes and the people who patronized them. Regardless of their age, drinking tiny cups of coffee in white porcelain cups, they all seemed infinitely more sophisticated that I was or would ever hope to be. Reading newspapers or passionately engaged in rapid conversation (in French, of course) and wondered where, oh where, could I find such a place in Greenville, SC, where I lived (or perceived to be imprisoned for at least one more year). Venturing out on my own, I found a cafe and ordered a coffee with all the skill of a practiced master of 3rd year high-school French. In awe of coffee, my surroundings, and the impossibly then, well-dressed, chain smoking inhabitants of the cafe, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had been born in the wrong country. Or at the very least, was living in the wrong city.

I have since returned to Europe twice and am always content to while away hours at a cafe, be it in Lisbon, Vienna, or Prague. An I do mean hours. A few years ago in while visiting Berlin with a friend and native of Germany, my sister was surprised to find a typical visit to a cafe can be 2 hours with no need to feel rushed to give up one's seat. She was impressed.

It was at a Viennese cafe that I first considered bike commuting. From the cafe where I sat with my mother we observed hundreds of bike commuters going about their business in designated bike lanes and on the multi-use paths off the street. All dressed in normal clothes for work or school,carrying their belongings in messenger bags, wicker baskets, and panniers. Before that trip, I had never considered bike commuting as urbane or stylish. More than that, it looked easy and fun. As I've mentioned before, I was already working as the legislative aide to a Metro Councilman known for his preference for bike commuting and I was beginning to see where he was coming from. At that time, we frequently scheduled our meetings at coffee shops in downtown Louisville or in our district. He always pedaled straight to the front door, wasting no time looking for a parking spot, and pedaled off an hour or so later to his next event with no worry that he had incurred a parking ticket or let the meter run over. Sheer glamour? No. Convenience and a slice of coffee cake without guilt? Definitely.

As I wrap up this post, I conclude that the connection between cafes and bike commuting would have to be the opportunity to experience a slower pace of life. Time spent at a cafe can constructively be spent savoring the taste and aroma of fresh brewed coffee, listening to the buzz of conversation going on around one (hopefully not one sided cell phone noise), watching the variety of characters arrive and make their rounds among the other customers they know, and pouring over a stray edition of the New York Times Book Review (score!). My bike commute offers much the same. I never know what I am going to see. Every ride is different and must be savored for that difference. Monday afternoon, I rode past a soccer match on the ball field off the FUTS near my neighborhood. Tuesday I road home in the early evening and enjoyed the simple quiet of a lone ride at dusk.

More on other Flagstaff coffee shops worth your time this weekend, I hope.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Agony of Defeat, Plus a Toothache

On the way home from Bashas Grocery Store this afternoon, Bob challenged me to an after-dinner game of Scrabble. Referring to himself as the World Champion (which he is not), he knew I could do nothing but accept the challenge. Bob and I are both under-the-weather; he with a bad chest cold and me with an unfortunate toothache. Since I have no experience with toothaches, Bob, no doubt, assumed I would be too distracted to concentrate on Scrabble strategy. The first of several thinking errors . . . .

We lit the gas logs and huddled around the coffee table. The puppy-chows settled in around us, confused that our attention was uncharacteristically directed away from them. Things began poorly for Bob when he realized that he needed to exchange all his letters at his first play.

Despite unspeakable pain and suffering, my mind intermittently wandering to the chance of an emergency root canal on Monday afternoon, I played one of my best games in quite some time. Thank God for Earl Gray and Vicodin! I successfully managed to add points through the use of French words and by dominating the triple-letter score spaces.

Bob clearly was frustrated and, whether due to chest congestion or the effects of red wine, refused to accept that "quince" really is a word, even though I swore on my honor that it is a flowering plant, and that indeed, I had a small red quince shrub growing in the cottage garden of my old house in Louisville. Luckily, I never play Scrabble without my American Heritage Dictionary within easy reach.

The game ended with a blood curdling scream from Bob. Although he had used all his tiles, and I could find no place for a remaining X tile, thus forcing me to both give him 8 points and deduct the same amount from my score, I won. The cry was so unexpected and loud that Jade was startled from her nap by the fire.

For my opponent's POV, possibly blurred by the combination of cold medication and lack of oxygen to the brain, visit The Running Bob .

From Our Front Porch

One of the main selling points to our house, aside from being Energy Star certified, was an amazing front porch,long and deep. We've made it into a living area with comfortable porch furniture we found last spring at Home Depot and outdoor rugs from Target, along wicker pieces that we picked up at used furniture stores. Spring through fall, we spend a good bit of time out there, sipping wine, snacking on fruit and cheese, and playing cards. I believe front porches are essential elements to a good residential community. I'll write more about that later and post some pictures of the porch later.

As a reminder that Mother Nature exists on her own timetable, we were visited by snow again on Friday. Not much, hardly even an inch but it does leave a pretty frosting on everything. We don't have a great view of the San Francisco Peaks from our porch, although the homeowners who live behind us do - simply jaw dropping! Anyway, I managed to frame a somewhat nice shot of what we can see when we stretch and lean across the porch railing just so.

My neighbor Angie and her little buddy Dillon happened to be walking back home. Did I mention that dogs are also essential to element to a good residential community (like Sarah in Girls and Bicycles said today, though, please pick up the poo)? Angie is quite bundled up, so despite it being mid-March, the mornings here remain quite frigid. Burrrr! I'm ready for warmer weather.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More Scenes from the Trail, Plus Shoes

When I pedale to work one of the hardest decisions is choice of footwear. In Louisville, I typically wore suits and business casual most of the week with heels or dressy flats and sandals, depending on the weather. I didn't have to worry about stumbling over stray volcanic rock so Dansko clogs were regulated to home and Fridays. Oh, how my life has changed.

This is Flagstaff, and I do have to worry about stumbling over volcanic rocks, other types of rocks that only a geologist could identify and that are forever blocking my route, and, of course during the cold months, cinders strewn all over the road and sidewalk, keeping the walker, driver, and bicyclist safe from sliding all over creation. I'm a city girl. and this debris of nature disturbs my inner French-girl who would like to walk gracefully from the door of City Hall to coffee shop without twisting my ankle.

This morning I decided I wanted to wear my red Earthshoes, pictured here. I purchased them at Shoes and Such on Aspen Avenue two years ago during a fierce snowstorm while Bob and I were on our way to the Wine Loft. Having never recovered from my mother buying me the white go-go boots and not the red go-go boots that she bought my sister when we were 8 and 7 years old respectively, I am powerless before red shoes when I find them on sale. Score! I also found red suede ballet flats on the same trip, also on sale. Still under a delusion that I had aced a job interview that afternoon and convincing the Planner Guy I had the job, both pairs were mine! But I digress . . . I rarely wear the red Earthshoes, though whenever I do I get numerous complements, especially on the Campus of Northern Arizona University. I just couldn't wear the Dansko clogs another day (although I no doubt will wear them on Friday) and Earthshoes navigate volcanic rock and the boulders that were sure to be on the FUTS and sidewalks on Milton Avenue exceptionally well.

Again, I biked in alone since Planner Guy had a committee meeting after work and needed the car. The red Earthshoes work well on the bike and oddly collected half the amount of cinders on the inside that the clogs usually do.

Continuing yesterday's bike route theme, today I photographed the FUTS on the southside of the train tracks just west of the Amtrak station. Happily, the train was passing as I took this shot, adding a little visual interest. I've never been on Amtrak but I've heard it's wonderful so I'm determined to plan a trip somewhere in the next couple of years.

On my way home I shot a section of the FUTS trail, coming and going, that runs
through the older section of Ponderosa Trails, our neighborhood. When the weather warms up we will see dog walkers and runner, as well as an assortment of children on bikes. I freely admit, I prefer the dogs.<

> And here is one of ours. Milo, the boy-dog. Bob got him when he lived in Winter Park, Colorado. Milo often went to work with Bob and was known as the Planner Dog. In those days, he often ran along side stray mountain bikers for hours before returning home. His favored past time these days is lying atop snow banks that form in our back yard and surveying his domain.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Path Less Taken

Although Monday was bitterly cold and damp, today's weather made for a perfect morning bike commute. Planner Guy's alter-ego Chef Bob cooked up an amazing Irish beef and Guinness stew last night to serve at the semi-annual Community Development pot luck (Irish themed I suppose in honor of St. Patrick's Day) so he drove the Element to work. I can't let a good biking day pass me by when any day now a March snow storm could be upon us, dumping a foot or more of snow, so I pedaled in on my own. Despite the nice weather, I saw few bicyclists on the road and Flagstaff Urban Trail System. Too bad. Flagstaff is a small town and most trips are pretty short. Most can be at least partly done on the FUTS. Oh, well. I pedaled in alone but confident that I could guiltlessly enjoy lunching on Chef Bob's latest creation (which was fantastic).

Pictured here is a view from the Flagstaff Urban Trail that runs along side our
neighborhood. The San Francisco Peaks are just over the tree-line. Although it is not apparent from this photo, they are still capped with snow. The view is particularly dramatic after a fresh, heavy snow. I make it a point whenever I bike to work to take few moments during my ride to appreciate the Peaks for their age and beauty, and the fact that they contain a dormant volcano! As I consider this, I find myself wondering if Arizona receives any "pork" to pay for the US Geographical Survey to monitor our volcano? I'll have to consult with Governor Jindal's staff on that one.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Cold and Windy Week

Bob and I only rode to work once this week due to high winds that neither of us felt quite ready to tackle. After many months laid up with a herniated disk I am still building up my strength and am just able to make it up our the many hill in Flagstaff without walking my bike so I know I am not ready for 40 mile an hour winds. The weather forecasters threatened a chance of snow but it never arrived. We could use one more really good snow for the water it brings but I must admit that I am ready for spring to arrive, along with a more consistent riding schedule.

Tuesday at lunch time we dropped by AZ Bikes on Aspen Avenue so that Bob could gaze longingly at his new love, the Kona Ute, which features an long, wooden rear rack for carrying extra cargo.He thinks this bike and mine would be perfect for our bigger grocery shopping trips. Plus, he just thinks it’s really cool.

He was also quite taken with a rear rack designed to carry coffee cups! Very clever

My Other Love

One of my other great loves is a truly good cup of tea. My favorite brand is Tazo, and I prefer traditional teas over herb teas. Tazo is a bit more expensive than most brands found at the grocers, so when we moved to Flagstaff I decided I would try other less costly brands. Each disappointed me. I like a strong flavor and every brand I tried was too mild. So I’m back to Tazo. I don’t buy a lot of sodas or snacks and, since we’ve cut back on dining out, I think I can justify this little luxury. I recently did some final unpacking from Louisville and found my favorite set of teacups. I picked them up at a street market in Portugal several years ago. Tea tastes extra good in them.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Another Good Day for Biking to Work

We're in our second week of unseasonably warm temperatures, and knowing a snowstorm might be just around the corner, Bob and I decided to take advantage of the weather and bike to work.

And, pictured here is Bob, who ran 16 miles yesterday in preparation for the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon in May. I thought he looked rather dashing this morning. Maybe it was the tie.

Though today's high was about 63 degrees our ride in was still quite cold, about 28 degrees so we wore insulated biking gloves. My digits were still frozen almost numb for half the ride causing me to wonder why I couldn't be satisfied with just riding in the nice warm Element. The ice was mostly gone from the FUTS trail though, and the view of the San Francisco Peaks was really lovely. I saw a Mountain Jay along the way and felt comforted that spring is on its way.

Since I knew it would be pretty warm still after work I left the puffy jacket at home and wore my mustard JCrew swing jacket, purchased specifically for riding to work. I love the bright happy color and the empire waist cut. Khakis are part of my regular uniform. They go with everything, can be easily dressed up or down, and never look dated. Practically speaking, if I had pare down my wardrobe to 10 basic items, Gap straight cut khakis would be a reliable choice year after year.
Bob and my mom question the Dansko clogs, however. I swear I will master at high heals on a bike by this summer.

There’s that crazy lady with the camera . . .

In the last week or so I’ve discovered that my biggest challenge with this blog will be the role of street photographer. I’m disappointed with myself for being a bit gun-shy in this area. I spent a year in art school as a photo design major and fantasized a lot about working on city streets, documenting precise moments in the lives of everyday people doing the ordinary – sipping coffee, kissing a loved one good-bye, secretly applying lipstick in the reflection of a store window. Now, here is my chance, and I’m foot dragging.

Friday, Bob had a meeting so I was on my own at lunch. I strolled downtown Flag with my Blackberry looking for the moment, the bike, and the would-be fashion icon. And, as I walked out of Late for the Train with my cafĂ© Americano, there they all were across the street. The inspiration was about my age (mid-40’s) wearing Audrey Hepburn-chic casual slacks and a tee walking a Trek 7300 down the sidewalk. Damn! I almost bought that bike in the Valley last spring . And I’d love to know where she got those slacks. Quick, where is my Blackberry? Do I have enough storage capacity for another shot? Where is that camera icon? You! You at the bench! Hold my coffee!

How do I plan for the in-the-moment shot? How I sprint across the street and accost a complete stranger with a request to photograph her and her bike for the purpose of plastering it over cyberspace without looking like a crazy lady? Oddly enough, I initiate conversations with strangers all the time. If we had both been locking up our bikes in front of Mountain Sports I could have struck up a conversation and got my photo in nothing flat. Proximity must be the key. I guess it’s a skill I’ll have to master.

Today, with Bob by my side, I got a shot of Gladiator-Boy. We saw him on a red scooter while on our lunchtime stroll. Slow on the draw, my Blackberry was not ready when we first saw him motoring through the alley clad in a red cape and Roman helmet but we saw him again on the way back to City Hall, and Bob reminded me “It’s now or never”. My subject was more than happy to cooperat and his companions seemed impressed with his new found celebrity. A star and a street photographer are both born.

Yeah, I know, he's not on a bicycle.