Monday, June 29, 2009

I Feel (Bike) Pretty!

Recently, I blogged about some negative comments pertaining to a post on Treehugger. The writer, also a woman, made reference to the benefits of attractive women riding bicycles. I took no offense. Like it or not, by human nature, attractive people do seem lead social trends and if they lead society in the direction of more bike commuting and bike infrastructure, well so be it. Besides, the way I see it our culture also has embrased a wider range of beauty types so some progress has been made.

As a woman though the beauty myth and my participation in it remains an interesting, painful, and at times embarrassing topic of conversation. I read the ctitical comments and could not help a certain amount of self-examination (probably about 4 minutes of self-examination to be quite honest). I write a bike commuting blog with a moderate amount of time devoted to fashion (albeit of a mountain girl variety quite often) and most of my subjects are women. Guilty. I love clothes and am always fascinated by the fashion choices of others, especially those styles and combinations that I am not brave enough to try myself.

The use of the words "girl" versus "woman" created a fair amount of argument in the Treehugger article. Obviously, I am a woman; in fact I am “over a certain age”, so shouldn’t I be insulted by the use of the word “girl”? At my age, shouldn't I bristle at being evaluated on my appearance when my looks are being increasingly the least relevant thing about me, especially given my level of education, my life and career experience, and the self-knowledge I have aquired with age? I certainly have been evaluated on my looks, both positively and negatively, and I can be pretty hard on myself when I don’t feel that I measure up. Why then do I participate in this sexist exercise of worrying looking pretty while riding a bike?

No answers. My sister has tried to raise her two daughters free of the dead weight and negative influence of Barbie and her shallow, penthouse-living, dune buggy driving friends. Nonetheless, Callie and Laura were captured by the World of Barbie, as were my sisters and I. Captured for hours and years despite the fact our mother had no interest in hair and fashion and tried to guide us to books and the outdoors. Callie left the womb and immediately began critiquing her mother’s fashion choices. The child loves nail polish, shopping with Aunt Val, and is allergic to nature (despite natural abilities as an athlete). I am much the same.

If I were referred to as a girl at work, yes, I would cringe but I love being a girl and hanging out with girlfriends, over wine and bruchetta. We’re grown up girls who crave red shoes of the slipper variety. Virtually all of us wear makeup. Most of my beginning and nonbike commuting friends confess a huge amount of anxiety over the idea of helmet hair at work, to which I share that I keep a hair dryer, product, and both a barrel and a paddle brush at my desk for just such monstrosities. Frankly, I only mildly wish that someday I’ll shed my addiction to beauty and hair products but I get too much enjoyment out of them. The results can be gratifying to the ego. I pedaled to work helmetless once last year and applied red Aveda lip gloss before I left home. My day was made when a middle aged gentleman walking down the sidewalk off Butler shouted out “You look great!” Whoo-hoo! A really nice compliment, not vulgar or intimidating. I’ve delivered similar compliments to other women, perfect strangers I just thought looked very fabulous, and every time I can tell they are tremendously flattered. Hey . . . that’s just the way our minds our built.

Because I am a woman though, I try not to limit the pretty and chic look to a narrow type of woman. I wouldn’t want to be evaluated by a standard I could never measure up to. I’ve featured women of every age, shape, and ethnicity (or try too but we humans tend to segregate ourselves a lot). I love featuring older women, especially, who are still so clearly living by their own terms, growing, embracing new experiences, and not abandoning their sexuality because they passed some dreaded number. No matter how old she gets, Lauren Hutton will always be my image of the ultimate beauty and style (and I believe she pedals bikes as well as rides camels). Since I am only 4 years away from 50 I don’t spend one minute wishing I were 25 again. The most exciting times for me have all been since I turned 40.

Soooo . . . when I say that Sunday I spent the day in Phoenix with my cousin and found the most perfectly cute, super high-heeled pumps that I deem suitable for bike commuting, and my husband just deems totally hot, I feel not a shred of shame or remorse. And yes, the last thing I thought about before I went to sleep last night and the first thing that entered my consciousness when I awoke this morning was whether I had anything in my closet that would look really great with my new, kiwi, super high-heeled pumps, higher heeled than anything I have ever dared. I purchased them at My Sister's Closet, a high end consignment store, for only $14.95. They did not appear to have ever been worn. Settling on to my Expedition this morning and testing their road and pedal worthiness, they made me so very glad that I am (heavy sigh) a GIRL!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer Finally Arrives!

Summer finally arrived in Flagstaff this week along with the summer monsoon season. The mornings remain cool and very pleasant for being on a bike. This week I've been able to abandon my jacket or heavy sweater but not my lighter biking gloves, as it is likely that the morning chill could remain all summer long. Naturally, the change in season brings with it the desire for new summer clothes. It is with great discipline that I hold back, a least most of the time. It isn't easy when I see pretty clothes displayed in store windows with vintage bicycles.

Today I wore my new favorite outfit - the Vitaliti tank and wrap skirt, both from Patagonia. I found them recently in Mountain Sports, at Aspen and San Francisco. The skirt hits me a few inches below the knee. I wear black leggings under them to stay overed with my skirt flies away on my bike but also for a little more warmth. Summer might have arrived in Flagstaff but I'm not really comfortable until its at least 80 degrees. Until then, I am still cold. To help me combat the chill I wore a light tan 3/4 sleeve cardigan from Ann Taylor, which has been a central part of my spring and summer wardrobe for about 5 years. I've worn it so much I recently noticed the neckline is frayed and this morning I found a tiny whole in the front. The cardigan is so elegant and soft that I toy with sending it my seamstress to see what she might be able to do with it to prolong its life. I hate saying goodbye to a piece of clothing this reliable. I am sure that I'm going to end up feeling the same way about the wrap skirt. I worried about whether or not I'd get tangled in the in skirt while pedaling my Expedition but nothing of the sort happened. I will likely purchase another.

From the Front Porch

Despite the threat of rain, I pedaled in to work most day this week. Morning showers are rare and I don't necessary mind the rain in the afternoon on my way home. On the way home that afternoon the rain became heavy as I cut through NAU campus so I stopped for an iced tea at Campus Coffee Bean and chatted on my cell with a former coworker, while I waited out the precipitation with my Expedition locked up near me.

I arrived home about 45 minutes later after a stop at the grocers. Bob was asleep on the front porch, where we've been spending our evening hours nearly every night this week. Twice this week, we played cribbage on the porch until after dark. With candles burning, the planters and flower boxes bursting with color, and the dogs happily splayed out on the floor, our front porch is the perfect place to rest after pedaling up several steep hills on our way home.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mirror Images

After the winter snow melted and we were able to pedal to work again, Bob installed a rear view mirror on my handlebars. Yes, I suppose I could have done it myself but Bob likes being able to do things for me and I just am not interested in bike maintenance. Anyway, I love the rear view mirror. Not only do I feel more confident about what is going on behind me but I also like having a view of what I am leaving behind as I wait for the green light.

Occasionally, I am surprised to find a fellow bike commuter directly behind me.

This young lady was riding a lovely Electra. I wasn't quite enough with the shutter to capture the bike before she scooted past me at the crosswalk.

And a lovely view going forward.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Don’t Hate Them Because They’re Beautiful on Bikes

Recently, April Streeter a Treehugger blogger came under fire for a post listing six reason why the world needs more girls on bikes. Streeter's approach to the subject was light-hearted but she commented on the influence bike commuting women have on changing the priorities of transportation planning and insfratructure. The piece got a fair amount of criticism for allegedly being sexist toward women because she pointed out (correctly, in my opinion) that many women are reluctant to bike commute due to concerns about their their appearance upon arriving to work and worries about their safety. Some who commented took issue with referring to women as girls, while others questioned why attractiveness was even an issue. Along those lines, several readers commented that cycle chic bloggers would not consider featuring hot guys on bikes. On that last suggestion, I whole heartedly disagree. I married a hot guy on a bike and he’s one of my favorite subjects. I also know that a most of the cycle chic blogs I read take note of well-dressed and good looking men on bikes on a pretty regular basis.

Only this past week I caught some pretty cute fellas on my lunchtime walks with the camera. I mean no disrespect by posting these shots.

Yes, this young woman is a pretty, girl on a bike. I don’t resent her for it, nor do I resent any boy or man, bike commuting blogger or otherwise, who notices her youth and good looks. I assume she does have a brain in her head but also knows that she is attractive and has decided to go ahead and flaunt it. Good for her. I think she wears it well (and in fine taste for the middle of the day). I hope she uses her self-confidence and educated mind to negotiate herself a salary equal to a similarly qualified man, something that gender neutral pronouns, public belching, banning Barbie from the toy box, and addressing Barbara Boxer as "Senator" as opposed to "ma'am" have yet to do.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Of Bike Commuting, the Simple Life, and A Question of Gratitude

My days start and end more elegantly when they start and end (more or less) on my bike. My core self is awakened, along with what I value and find meaningful. My senses focus on the beauty of the natural world. I pedal toward downtown and appreciate the gentle curves of the bike path and, lately, the pink, purple, and yellow flowers blooming among the grassy brush. Occasionally, I am childishly delighted when a rabbit hops across the path or a pair of blue birds flit dash between trees. I look up at the Peaks and think about how many tens of thousands of years they have existed and am humbled. We humans live a short life so we had better make the most of it. Owning and acquiring won't extend our lives (unless, of course, we acquire, own, and actually pedal a bike). I think of this as images from the new Eddie Bauer sale catelog intrude upon my thoughts. Won't that skort look great on ME on my bike in the pages of SRAB?

Despite that Bob and I are trying to simplify our lives, and bike commuting is part of that as we learn to depend less and less on using a car, we continue to want things we don't need and fight the urge to live beyond our means (something nearly impossible in Flagstaff and so many other cities and towns in the Southwest). I can definitely say that I don't feel grateful for all our "stuff", with the exception of my laptop and my bike. Chatting with some friends over the weekend, we talked about how our numerous possessions weigh us down. Choices seem more remote as we worry about what we'll do with or how we'll live without all our things. I wonder if my new Patagonia skirt counts as "stuff". At least I can fold it in a ball small enough to fit in a carry on bag or one of my panniers.

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about gratitude and all that is being said about being grateful and being lucky, especially with respect to employment. These days, if Worker #5 has a job he or she is typically told he or she should feel grateful. I think most of us who have survived a round of layoffs do feel grateful on some level but what if we don't? Does lack of gratitude for having a job mean one suffers from an entitlement complex, or is selfish, self-absorbed and unwilling to count one's blessings? Gratitude to me suggests luck and having gained without effort - in my opinion. I don't know that I necessarily feel lucky or grateful to have a job. I am absolutely grateful, very lucky in fact, that my community has invested in a great urban trail system that allows me to safely get to and from work on most days that it doesn't snow. Very grateful that we have an alternative to having to pour our money into the gas tank.

I suppose if I made no effort to find and keep my job, if I brought nothing to my position or place of business, or did not care about how my behavior or words might reflect upon employer and coworkers then I would and should feel grateful that anyone would keep me on the payroll. On, the one hand many, many dedicated employees have been let go so by that token one should feel grateful to have a job, any job (and I don't have just a job; I actually have a pretty good job in a town where there are generally fewer employment opportunities that offer benefits and opportunities for grownth). On the other hand, is not everyone expected to work? How is a person expected to survive without a job. My goodness, this isn't Denmark! Or even Canada. As Timothy Geithner assures us that CEOs of money losing corporations receiving bailout monies are too valuable and smart to risk loosing to overseas competitors and shouldn't be subject to salary caps, I wonder who really should be grateful.

Readers might not be sure what all this has to do with bike commuting. I'm not sure if it has a thing to do with bike commuting! Maybe bike commuters are more likely to ponder questions about who is entitled to a job versus who should feel grateful? Perhaps my choice to pedal to work rather than simply jump in the car illustrates my tendancy to question the norm. Still, I feel rather ashamed to question gratitude so I wonder if I am alone in this.

I know that Bob and I are grateful to have found one another. This weekend we celebrated our luck of finding each other, and a house with a generous front porch, by inviting the friends we have made in the almost 3 years we've been in Flagstaff over for a recessionary ($10 or under) wine (whine) party. To show our gratitude for their presence in our lives we spend several hours in our kitchen preparing appetizers carefully selected by the Planner Guy from one of his many cherished cookbooks. To see people arriving one time and staying late reenforced for me where my values lie, with people coming together in a kitchen or filling front porch, sharing inexpensive wine and good food. Anyone of them could have been anywhere but they chose to spend their time with us and this fact made me feel very grateful.

Friday, June 12, 2009

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

After a tough week at work one should always try focus on the positives. For me, that would include shoes, dogs, and sushi.

Monday was somewhat summer-like but only somewhat. I wanted to ride my bike to work, which I had not done at all the previous week and missed it dreadfully. My day is always better when I start and end it with a little exercise. And when I am wearing some happy shoes. I chose this floral pair by Indigo. Bob saw them at Shoes and Such on W. Aspen and encouraged me to purchase them as a little frivolous but sexy addition to my feet.

Always on the look for a nice image for my blog, Bob snapped this funny pair, a woman hauling her dog on a bike trailer. He spotted them outside City Hall as the Northern Arizona Pride Association was setting up for Pride in the Pines in Wheeler Park. I would love to think one of our dogs would cooperate on a similar bike trailer but somehow I can't picture it.

As I mentioned above, so far it has been a chilly summer in Northern Arizona. I've ridden my bike to work most of the week but fought some pretty strong winds. Their push back on the ride home to the west side of town has almost been a metaphor for other parts of my life but I trudge through. The force of the winds, and other factors make tough goings but, as I was reminded earlier this evening, my bad week was likely better than a lot of other peoples'. I could be weathering the recession on my own, with neither the Planner Guy or friends, which after nearly 3 years, we have been lucky enough to make.

Slugging it through the wind and a steep hill last night, Bob rung me on the cell phone and suggested that we meet at Sushi Fuji. He had the Element, after having to carry charts and visual aids to a meeting outside of the office. I gratefully agreed that a detour for sushi was in order. I arrived first and parked my bike under a young tree, my usual spot for locking my bike at our very favorite sushi place. Bob got there shortly after I did and these are two of the creations we feasted on. I believe they are supposed to resemble dragons.

My week didn't really end any better than it started but at this moment I have the pleasure of expressing my ideas and interests in my bike commuting and fashion blog. I can do that no matter what happens between 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. My blog is something I take pleasure and pride in, and learn from. The recession/depression and mortgage and job meltdown are strongly testing how I see myself. I try and use my blog as a means of staying connected to that part of myself that is independent, smart, creative, and future oriented - the parts of me that some might find inconvenient but I am deeply afraid of loosing. They have seen me through other challenges. I think those are the attributes Bob loves about me. I also believe they are the characteristics that I share with the readers of SRAB. I truly appreciate all the comments that have been posted on this blog since I got started with it in February. Please keep them coming. They make me feel a little less out of step during a time when it seems so all important to march in a straight line, even if one feels like one is heading toward a cliff.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Farmer's Market Adventure

The farmer's market moved this summer to the south parking lot of City Hall. Bob and I were excited to pedal down on Sunday since we were in need of fresh vegetables and Dr. Hummus and pita chips for our nightly summer front porch fests. It seemed that quite few people had the same idea.

As we locked up our bikes next to the stalls, I notices a stylish couple locking up this tandem bike! I've never been interested in riding a tandem but this one is truly beautiful. I hurriedly got my bicycle locked up and gathered my basket and pannier hoping to traily the fashionable pair but lost them in the crowd! I hoped to be able to find them back at their tandem after a reasonable amount of time but when I returned the tandem was gone - and so were they. Darn it! Still not fast enough with the camera.

The market always attracts a lot of bike commuters and their families, especially on sunny days. Ted and Lizette are dedicated bike commuters and make it a family (and friend) affair. Their daughter and her friend are well on their way with cycle chic, with both lovely bicycles and a flair for pattern. Lizette clearly shares he daughter's lack of fear of pattern. Those are some happy pants!

I don't know whether or not this model of Flagstaff Mountain Cycle Chic actually arrived on a bike, it definitely wouldn't surprise me if she did. I loved everything that she had on and her shopping basket is on my "to buy" list.

As you can see from Bob's pannier we did quite well at the market for this week. We can't resist the very large green onions and are physcially unable to leave without a couple of tubs of Dr. Hummus. Bob also found some fruit spread that he thought might be quite tasty on one of his specialty "cocktail" pizza crusts. We're having a recession wine and cheese party on our front porch next week and will be doing some experimenting in the kitchen this week so anything could happyen with the fruit spread.

After wrapping up at the farmer's market we headed over to Belgravia Cafe on South Beaver for people watching on hot coffee. Despite the sunny skies, the temperature was surprisingly cool. That's summer at 7000 feet.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Renaissance Bikes, Kowalas, and Some Thoughts About Urban Life While in San Diego

Bob and I spent about an hour and a half at the Air and Space Museum in Balboa Park for the DaVinci Exhibit, which featured reproductions of many of his inventive plans in transportation, engineering, and military equipment. The show included reproductions of some of his paintings but most people forget that DaVinci truly was the Renaissance Man. Here, the Planner Guy poses with DaVinci’s bicycle.Was there anything with which he did not experiment? So much of what he theorized and experimented was later realized in the last couple of centuries. One has to wonder who we have today that is so accomplished in so many areas?

I wondered as I looked at the early 20th Century military aircraft displayed in the rest of the museum, what DaVinci would have thought. Would he exclaim, “Of course! Why didn’t I see that”?

Bob and I have a great affinity for animals and could never have left San Diego without a trip to the famous San Diego Zoo. Anyone traveling here should not miss the zoo. Tuesdays, we were told, are an ideal day to go and happily the “gloomy June” skies parted with welcome sunshine. Below is a sample of the animals we enjoyed.

While I hate to see wild animals confined, the San Diego Zoo houses numerous species that are endangered. Watching the human responses to these amazing creatures, I hope that greater urgency will be given to preventing their extinction. Since Bob was still fairly wiped out physically from the marathon we were not able to see everything the zoo had to offer but for anyone who plans to visit in the future, I recommend planning to spend the entire day.

As I mentioned in my brief Tuesday post, despite San Diego’s lack of substantial infrastructure supporting bike commuting I definitely was again reminded of why I love city living. Almost everything I need or want is within walking distance and buses and other public transit options take care of the rest. Surprisingly, to some, that also includes public parks and green spaces for play and reflection.I also like to frequency of exchanging chit chat with complete strangers that I’m not likely to ever know very well. I usually find those interactions pleasant, often marked by shared humor, and occasionally presenting one person or the other the opportunity to offer help or an act of kindness with no expectation of it being reciprocated. While I’ve had friends who insist that city living is dangerous and have expressed fear for their safety when spending time in the city, it is probably where I feel safest. I can honestly say I haven’t ever felt that level of connection with my community in the suburbs.

Missing for me in San Diego, of course, was the availability of infrastructure supporting bike commuting, things I greatly appreciate about Flagstaff and hope will be expanded upon there. During the past year of bike commuting I have relied upon the bike lanes and the urban trail system and doubt I would be riding my bike to work and for errands nearly as much if they weren’t present.