Thursday, February 16, 2012

Heart, Home, Oregon

Or, a new adventure, same as the old adventure.

I moved away from Oregon almost exactly ten years ago for graduate school, and have been away (except for visits) due to the ins-and-outs of life and career ever since. I'm extremely happy to say that I'll be moving back to Oregon this spring. In a turn of events that seems almost too good to be true (not to mention a lot of hard work to make it possible), my wife and I will be moving to Corvallis, home of Oregon State University.

We will be putting Southern California in the rearview mirror with a mixture of sadness and gratitude, for although we appreciated a great number of things here, and made some wonderful friends, we never did feel that it was a good fit for us. When home is home the way Oregon is home, no other home will do.

Here are some really wonderful things about our soon-to-be hometown of Corvallis, Oregon:

I'm excited that I can be riding my bike in the bucolic countryside in about ten minutes in any direction from town, and that we will be only an hour's drive from my dad and my childhood home (where my wife and I were married). I'm also excited that instead of being surrounded by several million people, I'll be surrounded by only about 60,000 people and lots of open countryside. Portland is only a couple of hours away, Eugene is just a little ways down the road, and all of beautiful Oregon is our backyard. We also have good friends in Oregon, and I'm looking forward to reconnecting with them, and of course making new ones. Oregon is where my heart has always been, and I'm so happy that I will soon be able to join it there.

The timeline feels quick, there's so much to do, so I may not be posting here much until we are settled, but I'll try to keep my reader(s) abreast of what's going on in the meantime. Not sure if I'll keep blogging here, or maybe start a new space for this new chapter in our lives.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put it to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world….”
Henry David Thoreau,Walden; or, Life in the Woods  (1854)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Opinel No. 6 Folding Pocket Knife

My grandfather's pocket knife has been cleaned, oiled, and retired to my bedside drawer, and this has become my new utility/pocket/everyday knife. Opinel is famous for good quality, affordable knives of all sorts, and the locking mechanism on their folding series is especially well-regarded. I've had my eye on one of these off and on for years and I finally decided to go for it. I've only had a it a few days, and haven't had much chance to give it any use, but I love the simple aesthetic and functionality. I hope it will be with me through many adventures.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

This New Year

Woodie Guthrie's "New Years Rulin's" for 1942
{click to see larger}
via BoingBoing
I've developed a greater appreciation for New Year's resolutions in the last couple of years than I had previously. I once questioned the value of good intentions proclaimed once and then forgotten or even flouted, but I now see a great deal of potential value in the chance to genuinely reflect on the passing year and assemble a list of things you would like to do better in the new one.

Even the old chestnuts "lose weight" and "stop smoking" when pondered during an annual time-out represent a degree of concern and engagement with one's lifestyle and choices that we may not be able to muster during the humdrum of our daily routines during the rest of the year.

Although our culture seems to grow increasingly narcissistic, this is perhaps one moment in which we can productively turn inward and compose a new (or renewed) vision of ourselves that accomplishes something more worthwhile than Facebook or Twitter status updates or new profile photos. In refashioning what we expect of ourselves, we can perhaps also re-imagine what we might contribute to our shared cultures and communities, and how we might, through many small actions, be the agents of larger and greater things.

I have two big ones this year: 1) simplify and 2) slow down.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Don't Stop Pedaling

So here are some photos of the finished Bianchi project, a.k.a. "Big Red." As the title hints, it's a fixed gear. Aesthetically, I was shooting for a 1890s or early 1900s look, something that would evoke the early days of bicycling when all bicycles were fixed. I very consciously did not want to build either a trick bike or a track bike, but I did want to tune into the "pure" ethic of the fixed gear, and bringing in the historical element made a lot of sense.

I've been riding it for about a week, and since this is the first time I've ridden fixed, of course it's taking some getting used to. At first, it was fairly intimidating to feel the push back when I tried to stop pedaling or slow down with just my legs, and I was using the front brake a lot. As I've gotten used to riding it, I have started to get a feel for the intuitive response that devoted fixed gear riders talk about and I haven't been using the brake much at all. Think slower, go slower, almost like choosing to walk at a different pace.

Just as riding a bike makes me more aware of how I'm traveling through my environment than driving a car, riding fixed is certainly making me more aware of how I bicycle through my environment. Of course, the lack of gears is a big factor, but I'm also much more aware of my speed, other traffic, road surface, and topography. I'm still not comfortable building up much speed because I'm not yet entirely confident in my ability to bring the bike to a quick stop if I need to, but that's more psychological than anything, and between the front brake and my improving ability to regulate speed with my legs, I'm doing fine. Also, the gearing is fairly low (52-20) to accommodate our San Diego hills and the fact that I'm riding in an urban environment and not a velodrome.

Track stands and tricky dismounts and all that kind of thing are still a long ways off, if ever, but who knows, I might try some of that stuff as I build up confidence.

Geeky details:
Handlebars: Nitto Promenade B-617
Fixed/free hub and 20t cog: Soma
Saddle: Brooks B-66
Handbrake: Dia-Compe from my old parts bin
Tires: 27" Panaracer Pasela

The rest is what came with the bike, including the rear rim, which I used to build up the new rear wheel around the fixed hub. My LBS ordered all the new bits and consulted on gearing, etc., for which I'm grateful. I didn't want to throw a HUGE amount of money into the project on the off chance that I absolutely hated riding it, but that turned out not to be the case.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Here we are again...

Here we are, well into yet another month, and no new posts have been forthcoming.  It has indeed been a strange autumn. My instincts have been telling me to stay close to home, hunker down, pull back, and focus on simple things. This has meant renewed attention to work more than anything. My work is my work, not work done for someone else, so to be immersed in work in healthy and productive ways does a great deal to create a good state of mind. It has been a long time since I have found myself in such a positive relationship with my work, and it feels good. 

The Bianchi project is finished, I'll do a post on that before too long, once I get a chance to take some good photos. I bit more diligent online research and finally deciphering the remnants of the decals has identified the bike with 99% certainty as a 1973 Bianchi Strada. From what I can tell, a good quality road bike for the American market from the beginning of the 1970s bike boom.

I'll keep posting here as often as I can, maybe I'll try again to use this space for writing. Here's hoping that my handful of readers is doing well and staying warm as we approach the winter solstice.  

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Biking, Hiking, Underbiking

After several weeks of not riding much, and generally not going out much, I took a couple of hours this morning to ride around and explore some places in the city I haven't been. One thing San Diego really has going for it is the canyons. This time of year is especially nice, since the natural areas around here are starting to green up again after the summer. Most of the canyons in the urban area are public spaces with trails that are easily accessible as long as you know where the secret staircases and trailheads are. Part of the fun of an exploratory ride is that you get to stumble across them and have little adventures. The photo is from a canyon in Hillcrest, just north of Balboa Park, and these trails are actually part of the Balboa Park trail system.

Parts of the various trails I "discovered" today required hiking with the bike over my shoulder, others I had to walk the bike, but several of the trails allowed me to do a little underbiking*, which is the closest thing I've done to mountain biking since I was a teenager. Granted, it's not very close at all to mountain biking, but it was still fun to ride a little dirt.

*Underbike, ride a traditional road bicycle on surfaces that typically warrant the use of knobbie tires, flat bars, and sometimes suspension.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


The Bianchi project inches towards completion.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Building a Bicycle Wheel

I took advantage of a rare rainy Saturday (dark and stormy, even) to build a new rear wheel for the Bianchi project. I've built a few bicycle wheels over the last several years, but I'm amazed every time I do it. It's one of those things that I never thought much about, and then when I did think about it, assumed it was way out of my league. But using Sheldon Brown's instructions, it's not really that difficult. I would even say that it's fun.

Once you have the instructions, the majority of the task is essentially just putting pieces together. If you can assemble IKEA furniture, you can build a bicycle wheel. This is not to say that tensioning and truing and dishing (the last of which I've never done because I've never build a rear wheel with external gears) don't require skill, but they are skills that you can acquire with patience and attention to detail. Hell, I made it through grad school, so I have those in spades.

I took my time, enjoyed the physicality of building something, read the instructions carefully, had a cup of tea, and the whole very civilized process took a couple of hours, with another hour or so the next evening to work on the truing, which I did by mounting the wheel in the frame and using a ruler as a gauge. I probably could have done it faster if I had needed or wanted to, but there was no reason to hurry. 

Building bicycle wheels is one of those empowering tasks that you never thought you could do, but if you're willing to take a little leap and just jump in (keeping in mind that failure is always an option), it turns out to be a pretty rewarding experience. Of course, having said this, my wheel will probably explode the first time I ride it. Jinx.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Apple Crisp Recipe

Some of the smaller apples, I forget which kind these are.

But seriously, time is speeding up, right? I just cannot fathom where October has gone.

We went apple picking (yes, apple picking) up near Julian this last weekend and got a nice bunch of imperfectly perfect apples. I think you can judge the organic-ness of apples by the earwig-to-apple ratio. When I made an apple crisp last night with seven of the larger apples, I found two live earwigs in them, which seems like a pretty fair ratio.

The apple crisp is my mom's recipe that I remember from childhood, and I was very happy to have it turn out exactly right. It's not a hard recipe, but for some reason it's just one of those things I never thought to try. And speaking of ratios, the butter-and-sugar-to-apple ratio in this is probably a good reason not to make it too often. I didn't get any good photos of the apple crisp and I didn't want to ruin anyone's impressions of the recipe with a bad photo.

Apple Crisp

6-8 apples, peeled, cored, sliced
1/4 to 1/2 cup water (depending on how juicy you want it)

Arrange the sliced apples evenly in a baking dish (I used a glass pie dish) and pour in the water. Sprinkle 1 tsp. cinnamon over the slices.

In a bowl mix 1 cup brown sugar and 3/4 cup flour. Cut in 1/3 - 1/2 cup butter until crumbly, then sprinkle over apples. Bake covered (I used aluminum foil, but if have a covered dish, that's better) at 375 degrees about 1/2 hour or until apples are tender.

I found that 40 minutes was better, with the last 10 minutes uncovered.

There you go, super easy, really good.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It's the Middle of October?

Yeesh. Where does the time go? I've been thinking that it hasn't been that long since my last post, but it has been a few weeks. I've been alternating between working hard and hardly working. It's a weird time of year for me. Being a Northwesterner living in Southern California, I expect fall weather, but really we just get hot and dry. Add to that my 20 + years of conditioning that fall is "back to school" time, yet I am not back to school, and the months of September through November just end up being a muddle of contradictions.

My research trip to Louisville went well, and I've got a lot of information to sort through, plus more research to do as I get started on the article/chapter that will be the result. I really enjoyed my time in Louisville, which from what little I saw of it, seems like a great city. The Root Cellar was on my walk from the hotel to the archives, so I stopped a couple of times to buy some fresh local produce and chat with the owner, who was an extraordinarily nice man. Also, I think I saw more bricks in Louisville in a week than I've seen in Southern California in four years. It was nice, I like brick buildings. 

Here's the current status of the Bianchi project, which I'm still going to keep quiet about until it's finished. Yes, that's an IKEA flowerpot it's sitting on. The cranks and chainring are original, as is the front brake. The Brooks B66 came off another bike, the brake lever is from my parts bin, and the handlebars are Nitto Promenade B617.

In other news: I saw the largest spider I have ever seen "in the wild" and I ate my first pineapple guava. I would like to repeat the second, but not the first.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sapote, Sapota

Picked up a dozen of these exotic fruits from a friend who has a tree. I'm looking forward to finding some tasty things to do with sapote/sapota. So far, I mashed one up (they are also nicknamed "custard apple") with a few strawberries for a little mushy fruit salad. Something with peaches will be next. They're kind of like a mildly sweet avocado, which is a little off-putting without another flavor involved. They should be good as a smoothie ingredient.

Friday, August 26, 2011

1970s Bianchi Project

Just picked this up last night. Not exactly sure of the year or the model because most of the frame graphics are gone and a lot of the components have been upgraded over the years. Based on the Carnielli stem, (so cool), I'm guessing early or mid-1970s, according to what the Internet says. I have fun plans for this one, but I'm not going to share them yet, since pre-sharing on the Internet seems to lead to failure in many cases.

Friday, August 19, 2011

I Made This

Well, sort of. My first copy of my first book, due out officially September 1st from Northern Illinois University Press. It's even on Amazon, but don't buy it there, see if your local book seller will order it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ginger Beer Batch No. 2 Taste Test

It looks good, at least...
Well, it was okay. It wasn't great, but it was okay. There's still a lingering yeastiness, and the ginger isn't as obvious as I would like, although it does make its presence known in the aftertaste. Using the champagne yeast produced an ideal amount of carbonation, although there was some minor exploding action when I released the excess carbonation before refrigeration. I might use less yeast next time, and I'm thinking that the key to a really excellent flavor might be in adding some flavor elements after brewing, including lemon peel and perhaps a touch of ginger syrup. In short, I wouldn't say that I've achieved my goal of the perfect ginger beer recipe yet. Stay tuned, I'm going to keep trying.