30 March 2010

randoseru: the perfect cute backpack for bicycle commuting.

I'm here today to tell you about my Mom.

She's pretty special. She lives in Japan and knows just what I like.

Such as very early birthday presents.

She saw the little kids in Japan wearing these backpacks- randoseru- and knew that it would be just the thing for bike commuting.

She scoured and scoured ebay until she found the perfect one.

It's made out of a horse.

Horse leather, that is.

It's red because the girls in Japan get the red ones. I like the red- it's very high vis.

As you can see, it's very finely crafted. The randoseru are made for the children to wear as a part of their uniforms through six  primary school years.  

The clasp closes magnetically and can also be locked with that little swivel.  The straps swivel as well.  I love the metal construction- it is industrial.

The back is cushy, as are the straps.  They are also adjustable.

The randoseru has a see-through pocket for your homework, forms for your parents to sign, or if you're a history grad student, your "haircuts of the U.S. presidents" print-out.

I have the hardest time remembering who the Gilded Age presidents were.

The front pocket zips closed and is perfect for pens and wallets and lipgloss and such.  The front has a see-through space your ID. But not your id. 

This randoseru has really adorable white piping. 

It has a deep storage compartment that would fit three or four history monographs and some composition books.

It sits up really high on your back for proper ergonomics.

My mom would probably suggest that I move that towel before taking pictures to post on the internet. At least she taught me how to apply mascara.

Water rolls right off the back when it's raining- I made it through a storm yesterday and all my stuff stayed perfectly dry.

Isn't my mom the coolest?

(these pictures brought to you by photo booth, since my camera was never recovered)

28 March 2010

at the very least, a case for wearing a helmet.

Last night, a friend and I were headed home after a very long day.  He hit a deep pothole and crashed his bike.  I was riding slowly behind and don't really remember seeing him crash, just feeling like I was moving in slow motion as I rode up to him, and tried in vain to enable my kickstand.  Exasperated, I threw the bike down and slowly pieced things together.  He was not getting up. He was unconscious.  He was breathing heavily.  A stream of blood spilled out of his head onto the pavement.  I felt one hundred percent helpless, alone, yelling his name in the yellowy streetlight and wishing he had been wearing a helmet. 

A car stopped and the couple in it called 911.  A cop came instantly and my friend came to.  An ambulance came and efficiently took him away on a backboard, leaving me to make frantic phone calls.  They asked me if I wanted to go in the ambulance, but what would become of our bikes?  I was completely bewildered. The cop waited in his car while I sat out on the curb, waiting with the bikes until my roommate came by bike to wait for a friend with a car to come.  We huddled together and tried to process the horror of the incident, and then we crammed the bikes and three people into a Ford Focus hatchback.  My roommate rode off to the hospital and I was taken home to be managed and consoled because, as you can imagine, I was pretty out of it.

It is an awful and surreal thing to be covered in the blood of someone you love.  

Even though my coat has been washed and all the stains came out, I still see the blood smeared in bright red relief against the sublime light gray cotton.  I was wearing my terror, my fear, the feeling that the moment had somehow transformed me.  

Feeling like la pieta there in the street, I couldn't help but wonder what it means to be washed in the blood of The Lamb.  

(my friend has come out battered but alright- still at the hospital, he has been treated for a concussion and facial fractures. we are pooling our dollars to buy the man a helmet.)

25 March 2010

a month of folding bike.

I got a flat last month.  It took me a while to getting around to taking my rear wheel off.  It took me still more time to get the flat repaired.  And getting the wheel back on... I think I will do that tomorrow.  It's not that I've been particularly busy-- though I have been out of town for about a week of the last month and out of school for a week on top of that.  I didn't realize how long I had been off the ODT until I did a mass update of my bike log yesterday: a month!  

I suppose that says a lot about the functionality of the Dahon.  It's an easy bike to grab and go (considering our stairs).  It has fenders and stays reasonably clean.  It handles fine in the rain and I am plenty visible on it.  Surprisingly, I've even settled into a grocery getting routine with it- the bike handles just fine with a bag on the handlebars, or the basket on, depending on how well I plan.  I've actually been doing fewer deliberate grocery trips and doing more combined trips, getting groceries on the way home and the like.  I even rode it to a job interview in high heels (red patent peep toes, if you must know) and a dress.  It was fine.  I have yet to fall off it in traffic, even if it is not always as sturdy or as maneuverable as I like.  A month of folding bike has been a mostly positive experience.  I've gotten a lot faster on it. The bike does exactly what I need it to do.  It is a pure transportation machine... if all I'm doing is five or six miles a day.

Any more than that and the Dahon starts to exact its revenge.  Smaller wheels mean more spin.  I have to work harder with a load in my backpack vs. on the rear rack (generally not a fan of stuff on the rear rack of the Dahon).  The last couple of days were particularly busy.  I inadvertently did 25 miles in 2 days on that little machine.  That kind of mileage is a little out of the norm for me considering my habits, and not something I would usually do without rotating bikes.  My leg muscles can take it but my seat bones... my knees... my pecs... oy.  So I've encountered the comfort limits of the Dahon and we're kind of like frenemies right now.  It only took 120 miles!  

Needless to say, I'm getting on that ODT wheel tomorrow.

disclaimer: for once, church of the granny bike is going to be a little churchy.

True fact: whenever I get homesick, I listen to grunge music.  I get homesick when it rains because I think, hey, if I really wanted to live somewhere where it rained so much, I could just go home.  It's been raining a lot lately.  So I rediscovered Nirvana's Unplugged album. 

Did you catch that logic? Are you with me?  

Anyways, this time around The Vaseline's cover "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam"  caught my ear.  My latent inner Mormon has some theories as to why.  Thinking of Stella's post over at The Exponent,  and maybe even actually thinking about Jesus for a second,  the song is a good answer to the question of "How can we view and follow Jesus in a way that will actually bring about the Kingdom of Heaven on earth?"  Maybe Jesus wants us to be more than Sunbeams- maybe he knows what we are made of and that's enough.  He is our advocate, after all.

What this song also invokes for me a time I confessed to a guy I was dating that I didn't have very many hobbies.*  He suggested that I learn how to play the accordion.  This song makes me want to learn how to play the accordion. At home. In the rain. 

*I know, WTF. This blog is evidence that I have tons of hobbies. But whatever.

13 March 2010

escalating equipment demands.

This afternoon I find myself staring out the window, wondering if I'm really willing to bike it to my evening social commitment this evening.  I have great rain gear, but it is raining so hard.  Like tons-of-standing-water-on-the-road-hard, drivers-hitting-huge-puddles-that-would-leave-me-soaked-to-the-bone hard, I-can't-really-see-myself-journeying-into-unfamiliar-territory hard.  It's not that I'm unwilling to ride in the rain, I tell myself.  It's just that I need a poncho.

A poncho? Really?  What have I become?

It hit me that my experience as a car-free adventurer has been marked by the steady acquisition of increasingly sophisticated equipment.  Arriving in Philadelphia, I owned the Old Dutch Treat, a basket, and a seldom used Blinkee light.  Then I bought the Dahon so I didn't break myself doing the stairs with the ODT every day.  Then I realized doing so many miles probably mandated a helmet, so I bought the Nutcase.  Then I got rain gear because I realized it was going to be a long wet winter.  Then I found I needed a better headlight for all the night riding I wanted to do on the Dahon. After the bike-deprived onslaughts of blizzardy, I found myself plotting how I might build up a snow bike for next year (I don't know that I ever blogged that fantasy, but I sure felt it) (ha... back in Utah I thought I was so cool for riding in the snow).  And the good lord knows that I would always like a road bike.  

I often find myself thinking that the only thing keeping people of their bikes is having a bike, or the only thing that it takes for me to ride successfully in the rain is a little bit of waterproof mascara.  It irks me a little to realize the reality of my lifestyle-- and the roadblocks that it might present to others wanting to make the change-- is that it is marked by consumerism.  I'm ok with that for myself-- I have no qualms about spending some of the proceeds from my car's sale on bike paraphernalia or, to cast it in even holier terms-- supporting bike related companies that I think are doing good things for the world.  I have no problem sleeping at night because I have a good raincoat or a folding bike.  But when I think about making cycling accessible and appealing to everyone, how to mediate the goods issue is quite the quandary.  I'm glad there are programs in Philly like Neighborhood Bike Works that help to improve bicycle access, but I'm curious as to what other solutions to that issue might look like.  Sure, you can bicycle commute on a bike-shaped-object, but it probably sucks not to have fenders or to be invisible to motorists without lights.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back to meditating on how I might acquire a poncho without getting soaked.

08 March 2010

music monday: the temper trap.

Since seeing (500) Days of Summer (which I thought was fantastic and don't you try to tell me anything different) and buying the amazing soundtrack, I've come to enjoy the band The Temper Trap.  BBC called their album "blooming enjoyable pop music" and Pitchfork conceded that it's "radio-friendly sound... for the Coldplay set."  Whatever you call it, this music is exactly what I want to be listening to as warm sunny weather moves in.

05 March 2010

vodka vs. vinegar: pie crust battle a draw.

Last night when we were cutting into a the chocolate pudding pie I made, my roommate admitted he is solidly "Team Pie." Now I had always considered myself very much "Team Cake" but... I said, in complete seriousness, "Pie is a more satisfying creative outlet for me at this point in my life."  (aren't you glad I'm not saying that about, oh, liquor? heroin?)  It's cheesy but true.  Conquering pie crust and the limitless number of possible fillings is starting to look like a mildly consuming spring semester project that nobody will complain about supporting, ever.

Last night I made The Pioneer Woman's Pie Crust and Smitten Kitchen's Chocolate Pudding Pie.  PW's pie crust has a lot going for it: shortening and white vinegar are MUCH cheaper than butter and vodka.  The outcome was basically as good as she talked it up to be-- this is the flaky-ist crust I have ever made.  It just kind of dissolves in your mouth with its amazing texture.  For a pudding pie, that really works and honestly, I cannot stop eating this pie.  Seriously, get on it!  You need some homemade pudding in your life.  But anyways, the crust.  I was rushing it a bit and it still came out really flaky and amazing, so that's a win.  It also comes out of the pan with zero fight.  I have no recollection of ever having that experience with a crust I've made.

The problem with the vinegar/shortening pie crust recipe is that it has very little flavor.  For a fruit pie, I think I would definitely like something more buttery.  I think I may have to bite the bullet and make an all-butter crust in spite of the love I feel for the Cook's Illustrated vodka/shortening/butter version.  I thought this would be an either/or contest, but now I'm feeling like different pie crust recipes might suit different moods and I'm ok with that.  

04 March 2010

on graduate school, clifford geertz, and the process of finding peace.

Earlier this semester I swore off the academic study of religion.  It was an abrupt conclusion I came to as I realized that it put needless constraints on what topics I approached and how I approached them, so for the time being I decided to set it aside.  It’s been freeing to just hunker down and get to know the methods and possibilities of the field of political culture, especially in this odd moment when I don’t have any kind of major research going on. 

Of course, I got my start as a historian studying religion- going to a Lutheran school as a devout Mormon can have that effect on a person- and they say you can leave home but it never really leaves you.   (Now that I think about it, though, my efforts to swear off religious studies were in vain because I’m in a religion class right now- ok, so I’m around the study of religion but it’s so steeped in ethnic terms that I’m not noticing it.  Which probably gets to this whole other notion of “being present” in my life that I’m working on, for obvious reasons that include my forgetting that I just spent 3 hours of my day talking about Catholicism.)

At any rate, I don’t think a lot about religion as it relates to myself any more, that is perhaps the real change here. I am happy with my relatively unexamined life (which it turns out IS worth living).  I lack a religious identity rooted in present practice- the best I can usually muster is an oblique "I used to be Mormon." As the flat on the ODT remains unfixed and I find myself worshipping at the Church of the Folding Bike—a sacred space I tend to plow through so relentlessly that I do very little actual reflection—I just don’t have much of a spiritual focus anymore.  That realization, somewhat ironically, gave me  pause this evening.

I didn't come to it in overtly spiritual consideration, but more in pondering the question of what I might take from my experience in graduate school if I were to quit now and go to work full time.  I’m not necessarily contemplating dropping out as much as I am trying to extrapolate some meaning from this life that I chose a year ago—a life in Philadelphia that is intensely fulfilling and abundant, and simultaneously wrought with deprivation and uncertainty.  The best answer I could come up with was that my time in graduate school has given me a framework to help me understand and appreciate my world.  I felt that as an undergraduate, but there is something deeper and richer about that awareness in the midst of year three of graduate school and year twenty-five of life.  It is a feeling that is difficult to express.

So I was happy tonight, reading an essay to prepare me to start grading a stack of midterms tomorrow, to find an eloquent articulation of what I felt.  It was, perhaps not unsurprisingly, in an essay about religion.  Clifford Geertz writes:

"There are at least three points where chaos—a tumult of events which lack not just interpretations but interpretability—threatens to break in upon man: at the limits of his analytic capacities, at the limits of his powers of endurance, and at the limits of his moral insight.  Bafflement, suffering, and a sense of intractable ethical paradox are all, if they become intense enough or are sustained long enough, radical challenges to the proposition that life is comprehensible and that we can, but taking though, orient ourselves effectively within it—challenges with which any religion, however “primitive,” which hopes to persist must attempt somehow to cope."

To some degree, as a historian, my supreme confidence in the interpretability of everything has made me somewhat impervious to chaos.  It’s a post-modern sense of confidence- there is so much gray area and there are so many possible right answers and explanations- but yet it''s a confidence that imposes a fair amount of order on my world.  The intensity of “bafflement, suffering, and a sense of intractable ethical paradox” is tempered both by the overwhelming scope of history and the inherent mysteries imposed by silences and forgetting and losses and suppressions.  To “do” history is to dedicate myself to the possibility that I am capable of understanding in spite of my limits, and maybe even because of my limits.  It is a simple, stark, and seldom acknowledged sense of hope that has relieved me of the constraints of what in the present seems possible, necessary, or planned.  Even adrift, I am oriented.

I would have never imagined finding the infinite and spiritual and plain in the secular realm of my work, but it is one of many unexpected encounters that has made this process  worth the effort. And for me, right now, that's the answer I need.