30 September 2009

mandatory muppets post.

It's my ethical obligation to ensure that you don't miss this- Sesame Street does Mad Men. I seriously hope that this encourages children to use the word sycophants (and not barbiturates, ahem, Don Draper).

nutcase helmet review.

So the helmet is here and has been operational since yesterday. The first time I wore it was not the first trip I made out by bike that day; I admit, it was the most glorious of sunny fall mornings and I just couldn't conceive putting it on once I got outside and realized that I forgot to grab it. However, I made two other trips yesterday and another trip out today, and I've worn the helmet ALL THREE TIMES.

Can I just get a round of applause, please? Because this is really hard for me. The first time I went out (to the store for baking materials, so I could bake to dull the pain of making a huge concession) I felt patently uncool. No wind in my hair? No tossing my hair around to enhance the awesomeness of the image of the wind in my hair? It was torture. My cycle chic felt totally stifled.

After baking a batch of amazing cookies (nothing fancy, just some Toll House recipe Chocolate Chip cookies) I headed for class in Center City. I was a little more on board with wearing the helmet as I headed downtown, being as it was the one week anniversary of my crash. The second ride was much different than the first.

I wore my sunglasses.

It changed everything. Suddenly I was not dorky helmet girl- I became a bike pilot! Kind of like Amelia Earhart!

Channeling the ultimate crasher of them all made the ride much easier, and really, coming home in the chilly darkness a few hours later, I didn't even notice it. So it took a lot of convincing, but I'm now rolling with a covered noggin. Here's how it looks:

don't judge my mess, ok? I spend all my time commuting by bike.

The helmet itself? It fit perfectly right out of the box (I got an M/L). It comes with a ton of extra pads. The matte finish and muted design works well for me. It's extremely solid and well made, and no damage was sustained when I chucked it at our hardwood floors last night when I was cranky. I think I made a good purchase.

One unexpected bonus- it's a good way to take bicycling advocacy inside. I had a nice chat with some non-bikers in the elevator about the merits of cycling in our fair city and another chat with a peer about bike registry on campus.

28 September 2009

file this one under 'things that make me happy.'

Nothing like clicking into the NYT this morning and seeing this on the front page:

Oh Mount Rainier, how I've missed you so! It's not even mid-semester but the littlest things make me homesick.

22 September 2009

school of hard knocks.

Yesterday I ordered a helmet online.

Today I fell off my bike.

I should have known it was going to happen. I was feeling psychic all day, from the "I should put some ibuprofen in my bag" (didn't) in the morning when I left to when I was sailing down 12th Street thinking "I really wish I had my helmet for days when I had to take streets I was unfamiliar with." A couple minutes later, my tires got caught in a cluster eff-you-see-kay of vestigial trolley tracks, and down I went.

In front of a bus.

Which fortunately, was at a stop, but really, the view of a bus from fifteen feet away, on the pavement, is quite a sight to behold. I scrambled up as the twenty people at various points of the sidewalk asked if I was ok, absolutely mortified. It's an Old Dutch! I'm not supposed to fall off my Old Dutch! I was never going to fall off this bike!

Well I did, and thanks be to god, I was unharmed. I landed on my generously naturally padded hip and my reasonably brawny/squishy shoulder/upper arm, and managed not to hit my head. Not a scratch, not a road rash, and not even the beginnings of a bruise. I got up and walked away. Even the bike was ok.

I can't get over how lucky I was.

20 September 2009

years later.

via NYT

More than any other season, the coming of fall moves me to remembrance. The crisp air and turning leaves herald anxious first days of school, cross country races, divorce, the beginning and end of my own relationships, death, and the assumption and throwing off of religious beliefs. If anything is going to happen in my life, it happens in the fall. When nature goes into transition, so do I.

As time has passed, I've traded the dread of autumn- oh no, my life is going to fall apart, again- for preparation. Anticipating upheaval, why, It's mid-September and I've already lost and gained back the stress weight, feverishly baked pies, brownies, and cookies to impose order on my world, vacillated between sunny and sad music (mostly sad), lived for every solace bringing family phone call, and heck, I've even thrown myself into my work with all the intensity of a first year PhD student so that I don't have to think about things. I still feel the losses, the abject loneliness that comes with things you can't change, but with time I have the benefit of experience and hindsight to buoy me through it.

Because nobody can tell you at the time:

that eight years after your parent's divorce, your family will be healed and emerging as something bigger, better.

that seven years after she died that you will have found reserves of love to give that you didn't know you had.

that five years after he died, you'll be finding tranquility every day on a bike his memory spurred you to buy.

that five years after he broke your heart and you started to think about your potential, you'll be well travelled, doing fulfilling work on another coast, and someone you never could have been otherwise.

that two years after you left the church, you'll be living a life of untrammeled authenticity, boundless hope, and uncomprehendable peace.

Like Eve, I will take what the fall gives me.

of all time.

19 September 2009

decisions, decisions.

Well, the last time I posed a question to my blog, things worked out alright, so it's worth a shot.

I mentioned recently in my post about safety that I've considered getting a helmet. For the past few weeks I've been turning the corner on the issue. Winter is coming. Sometimes the cars get a little close. My hair gets wet when it rains. The wind can get a little blowy around here. The groceries sometimes put my bike a bit off balance. On occasion I get a little cheery with my friends at the bar- not too cheery to ride, but cheery enough to wear a helmet. And so on.

I'm getting a helmet.

But here's the thing- I'm picky. I take my credentials as a plainclothes cyclist very seriously, and I don't want a helmet that it too sporty for my rides. That rules out most available helmets right there. I've been looking at Nutcase Helmets because they look thoughtfully designed, meet safety standards, and won't compromise the unsportyness of my ride situation. So I'll probably go with one of those.

The quandry: I have a pink bike and a red bike. Nutcase is all sold out of black and gray helmets, which is fine I suppose because they offer so many neat designs. It makes choosing so much harder though.

The candidates:
Click to enlarge
Pixie Stix- If I just had the Old Dutch, I'd like go with this one because it's subtle and sufficiently matchy. As I tend to ride the Old Dutch for helmet mandating occasions- bad weather and high traffic- this is still a good candidate.

Star Bright- Does it really go with either of my bikes? No. But it is definitely my favorite design, appealing to my Atomic Ranch sensibilities. This helmet raises the question of whether it has to match.
Click to enlarge
Flower Power- the dark horse candidate for no clear reason.

Which helmet to get? Pick one in the poll on the right or leave a suggestion in the comments.

can't go back now.

I've been working my way through Season One of Gossip Girl (don't hate!) and the music on the show is almost as good as the clothes. It got me listening to The Weepies today.
Pretty, chill music with lovely harmonies and oh so timely lyrics
that would sound good as a soundtrack to home movies or photo slideshows.
And they have a video with muppets!
You can listen to more of The Weepies here and to Deb Talan's solo work here.

16 September 2009

may the barack be with you.

I've been tuning out politics lately (as happens when it upsets me) but was nonetheless long overdue for a picture of The Barack. Can you believe it's been almost a year since I was posting photos of him every day? I miss the mass emotional upheaval of presidential campaign season.

14 September 2009

bike math.

a lovely bike spotted whilst in the UK

I was talking to Big Brother last night and I mentioned that I haven't taken the bus hardly at all since I got the folding bike two weeks ago. We started crunching numbers, and I was surprised to learn from Google Maps that my trips to the shopping street (2 miles round trip) and to the University campuses (5 miles round trip and 5.4 miles round trip, respectively) are really starting to add up. No wonder I am hungry all the time!

Anyways, once we got talking about it, I couldn't just stop there and found myself channeling the spirit of social history and making an Excel spread sheet. Here are the results- the sheer data of it all, as sent to BB:

"Per our conversation, I went through my calendar and my spending transactions to determine how many miles I've ridden since I got here. As of right now, I've ridden 94.6 miles since the Old Dutch arrived on 8/23. So tomorrow will make it 100 miles in 24 days- not bad. In the first 2 weeks of the month, I've done 65.8 of those miles, so I am on par for about 140 miles / month just for regular trips to school and the store.

For the whole time, that adds up to 56 one-way trips, which at $1.45 / trip via bus is a savings of $81.20.

I've spent about half that on extra food and beer compared to my usual habits before (not controlling for higher cost of living in an eastern city), putting ~$40.00 towards the value of the folding bike.

But add in the time saved from riding the bus (especially if I billed at my transcriptionist rate of $20 / hr, with an average bus round trip taking ~ 1 hour, whereas average bike round trip is 40 minutes) (making that $20 x .33hr saved x 28 round trips) for a savings (including fares saved) of $172.

So, more or less, the folding bike will have paid for itself in the next two weeks or so... not taking into account which bike I ride, just in general quantifiable savings.

Though now that I consider it, when I had a car-- my insurance quoted me at $155.00 for Philly. Add in my gas costs (going with what I spent last Sept.) of $35.00 and monthly maintenance of the car (towards oil change, car wash) of $20 and that's about $200 / month. Going out on a limb and saying that driving is not all that much faster than biking in this town (parking being a bitch) so no subtraction for time saved. Considering I planned originally to have bike and car here, I can totally add that to my savings towards bike cost, and when you include projected hypothetical bus costs (not paying for all modes of hypothetical transportation even though they are redundant) the folding bike will actually be paid off by like, Thursday.

Obviously, the numbers game is useless because (the math may be wrong, heh heh...) the physical fitness and mental health benefits and sheer convenience mean that bike has already paid for itself, but the statistics make it kind of gratifying now that I am spending basically $0 on transportation and instead of putting all those miles on a car or a bus, I put them on my legs.


13 September 2009

on safety.

All this reading of cultural history- a big thing in my program here- lately has really attuned me (more than usual) to language and the meanings of well, everything.* After reading about the tragic disappearance and murder of PhD Student Annie Le, which hit pretty close to home, I couldn't help but consider how often the issue of safety has been coming up lately. What is safety? How so we define what is "safe" and "unsafe"? What does it take to feel safe? When is safety an illusion, and really, why do we care about safety? What are we so afraid of? What do we do when the drive for safety interferes with our ability to live well? How do we judge that?

There's obviously no real answer to this, and even discussing it leaves me wide open to criticism and a sense of discomfort arises (is it safe to talk about safety? on my own blog??). I'd thought about putting it on a spectrum and attacking it that way, but the more I chew on this the more I realize that safety is too complex for that (oh cultural history perspective, you are ruining me!). So here's the three instances that have caused me to consider safety lately. I'll present the evidence, maybe make some conclusions, and then you can tell me where you stand if you like because I am really curious about what we conceive safety to be.

1. Bike Helmets
I don't own a bike helmet. It didn't make it into my car when I left Utah because I had worn it all of 5 times while I lived there; it didn't fit right, it looked dumb, and in my opinion, one doesn't need a helmet when riding on sidewalks on campus (which at Utah was an accepted practice, not a lawbreaking activity like it is here in Philly) unless it's icey. The reasoning I usually gave for not wearing a helmet were:
a. I ride a very heavy steel bike rather slowly.
b. I don't like biking to appear unsafe (!) because like others, I generally don't think it is. I follow the rules of the sidewalk / road, after all.
c. Unattractive, sweaty head, messed up hair, etc. etc.

However, now that I am:
a. on the road a lot more
b. riding a smaller, lighter bike, faster

I've been questioning whether this change of circumstances makes me less safe and mandates a helmet. I don't feel less safe. I choose what bike to ride based on where I'm riding at what time of the day to ensure that I am slow, sturdy, and visible when I'm in the dark or in high traffic areas. On one side is the friend how says, "You never know when you could get hit," and on the other side is the friend who, having been hit several times while not wearing a helmet says, "Whatever."

See how fraught safety is? You could be doing everything you can to prevent injury (whether or not that includes wearing a helmet) and still get injured.

2. Walking around.
I live in a pretty social neighborhood. People are always chatting me up, on the bike, walking, at the bus stop, whatever- this place is to me, unavoidably interactive. I love it. On the other hand, women's safety has been compromised in this city in recent history (see here and here). I work hard to be aware of my surroundings and don't talk to everyone who talks to me, and steer clear of scary places or opt to ride my bike if I have to travel through. A recent article in the NYT threw down all the arguments for and against letting kids walk to school, and I think catches this argument pretty well- statistics, social pressure, desire for independence- there's a lot at stake and a lot that factors into how we perceive what is safe.

Ok. This is starting to feel tedious, I think I am belaboring the point and getting a little tired and incoherent.

3. Annie Le.
Security records show that this girl went into a building- a "secure" campus building, no less- and she never came out. What more is there to say about that? Given the nature of the small communities that work in places like that... yah, there is really nothing that can be said.

It seems to be that feeling unsafe is a recognition of when our agency can be unexpectedly trumped by that of others or circumstances to in large or small ways change our destinies (or outcomes, if we are feeling less dramatic). It seems an issue of control- how much control do we need to have to feel like we can function? At what point do we have to let go and let faith kick in so we can live? I feel like so much of the time whether I feel safe or not is contingent on the "vibe"- if I get a bad vibe, feel some dark energy, or whatever, I am out of there, I am calling the cops, I am doing whatever it takes to make the circumstances feel right. But after you've done all you can do, there's still nothing you can do, ya know? How do you reconcile that? In in the end, is safety just a construct or is it really important?

08 September 2009

five things the universe is screaming at you.

I will promote any website that features pop art depicting Scandinavian folk symbols. That's a COTGB guarantee.

I follow
Rainn Wilson on twitter, and finally made it over to his site SoulPancake. The mission there is to "chew on life's big questions." It's a neat site to check out. As my faith orientation has shifted over the past few years, I find that sometimes I get so caught up in the living of life to its absolute fullest that I don't stop as much to reflect as I could- or the things I do reflect on are more logistical than spiritual. So in the interests keeping it real, I am taking the SoulPancake challenge to

List 5 Things the Universe is Screaming (or Whispering) at [Me]:

1. Stop making lists of people to call and actually call them.
2. Sincerity matters just as much as being nice does.
3. Hiding in bed for another hour won't change anything.
4. You are good enough, smart enough, and gosh darnit, people like you.
5. Just because you are living the dream doesn't mean you get to stop pursuing a higher quality of life.

That's harder than it looks, but a worthy exercise. What are your five?

06 September 2009

war pug.

I saw this on the internet today and I just couldn't bear the thought of not sharing it with you (especially you, Amanda):

Also, an interesting article about Lego's business model. Because the Danish are awesome.

05 September 2009


I'm shrinking. It's been unavoidable- the stress of moving, a sudden drop in beer consumption, the only two proximal grocery stores being Whole Foods and Trader Joe's (goodbye Oreos, Pringles, and Breyers Ice Cream, hello organic vegetables), and of course, all this biking. It's gotten to the point at the present rate that I'm going to get bumped down a smaller jeans size, and since I can't handle the trauma of jeans shopping (and being hungry all the time), I have decided that I'm going to bake more regularly. As I already eat a ton of butter and full fat dairy, cookies feel like my only hope.

Interestingly, the unintentional movetoPhillyandwasteaway weight loss moment coincided with the reappearance of the recipe notebook.

I'd lost it after moving from one of my eleven addresses in five years but had given up on seeing it again. Until I randomly ran into a former housemate and he said,"Hey, this isn't my ex-wife's, could it be yours?" and alas, I was reunited was this messy chunk of dreams from a time in my life that I thought my baking skills were going to be my ticket into eternally wedded bliss and a life of deriving spiritual pleasure from cleaning my windows.

Which is all to say, I have this amazing sugar cookie recipe that I would like to share with you. I got it off of Allrecipes.com a million years ago, but it's been modified a little. These are dense little cookies that, in spite of recalling several unrequited loves and the sorrows of one too many singles dances, take the edge off and, combined with that multi-egg fried egg sandwich I just ate, will keep the pants fitting for just a little while longer.

Perfect Sugar Cookies

1 1/2 cups butter (3 sticks)
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon (maybe a lil' more) almond extract (vanilla works if that's all you have, but almond will take you to the next dimension) (amaretto would be a dream, but I haven't tried it)
5 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp (or less) salt

1. Cream butter and sugar with your mixer. Add eggs and almond extract.
2. Add in flour, baking powder, and salt gradually. This dough gets pretty dense.
3. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or more.
4. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
5. Roll dough out however you like. This may involve cookie cutters or you can be life me and just use an ice cream scoop to make balls. At this point, I recommend baking 10 and freezing the rest so you can have fresh cookies whenever you want.
6. Depending on your oven, bake 6-10 minutes. Cool, and, if you really want him to marry you, frost.

When baking 10 cookies at a time, I quarter this recipe.

4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 butter
5 tbsp milk
1 tsp of whatever kind of extract you used in the cookies
A drop or two of food coloring (I prefer using red or yellow)

Mix it all up.

03 September 2009

getting in tune with the title of my blog.

Philly is such a premium bike and art city that people turn their parking into a temporary installation.

So I know that a lot- ok, basically all- of my posts lately have been transportation related, and I know you are all like "where are all the muppet videos?" "conservatism isn't dead?" "what happened to those awful lists of links that nobody ever clicked on?" but the fact of the matter is, the only other thing I have to talk about these days is how much I love my new program, and really, if I talk about this here, nobody will ever call me again. Ever. So in the interests of making sure I still get the occasional phone call, I'm talking about bikes, again. Call it the circle of life or whatever, I go through blog cycles and this one is particularly bike-y.

In the past few days the weather has turned and the muggy air of Philadelphia transformed into the crisp cool kind of air that makes me feel like we should be having a cross country race, right here, right now. Whither my short thin shorts and perma-stink singlet? Spikes, be summoned! All of this is to say that for riding a bike, it's been delightful, even when a closed road unexpectedly tossed me onto a narrow street where some lady gave me a solid nudge into a car with her car mirror (Thanks endorphins!). Feeling the cool wind on my face reminds me of when I got my bike almost two years ago, right in the sweet spot of blissful fall.

I hadn't taken the Old Dutch Treat out in a while since I've been getting acquainted with the folding bike, and really just basking in the convenience of it, but today the ODT beckoned. I read this post and knowing that I was going into Center City for class, it seemed to be that there was no other to travel. I was scared of taking the folding bike back into Center City after the whole mess of getting the bike, but now I am much better acquainted with proper streets to take and was traveling into town after peak traffic. The brawny build of the ODT gave me the confidence to conquer downtown by bike.

It was magical! The bike lanes carried me blissfully, and flat and fast Philadelphia both embraced me and pushed me forward. For music, I rang my bell for small children and precariously placed cars, and on the ride home the hum of the bottle dynamo was my symphony. With its majestic fountains, plentiful neo-classical buildings, and charmingly lit skyline, Philadelphia was paradise. Energized by the engaging exchange of my class and sitting so high on my bike that I felt on top of the world, it was impossible not to be in love with this city, with life, and with the simple connects-me-to-the-universe euphoria of riding my bike.