Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.

And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.

A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"
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A Different Kind of Gift

Christmas, Christmas. Last minute shopping, baking cookies, board games, carols, decorating the tree, and presents, presents, presents. I just wanted to share a really great gift idea for anyone who may be hard to buy for on your list, or someone who lives far away, or a neat way to honor a loved one who has passed away. Actually this type of thing is great for any occasion, but I find it exceedingly perfect at Christmas. Whether you are religious or not, the holidays are always a good time to think about others, to take stock and to give to others.

Heifer International is my absolute favorite charitable organization. The basic premise of their work is simple: instead of giving a hungry person a single meal, give them the ability to provide many future meals for themselves. Not a cup of rice; a cow. They provide several types of animals depending on the climate, the community needs and the most appropriate animals for each culture and region. They provide these animals to a member of the community and that person agrees to pass on offspring to other members of the community. It is like a pebble in a pond--the ripples grow larger and larger over time. Heifer then provides relevant education for the recipient and the community. It is the classic "Teach a man to fish" premise and I think one of the most sustainable approaches to reaching out and helping others. The is nothing like enabling another person to provide for themselves to spark interest, pride and community involvement.

The holidays provide the perfect time to send some money to help someone you do not know, will never meet, but still care about through simple human compassion.  So tonight before you head to bed with visions of sugar plums in your head, take a few minutes and head over to the Heifer website.  Send them a few dollars so they can keep making the world a better place. 
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Monday, December 21, 2009

Wool Bicycling Jersey

I have read on various blogs the merits of the wool cycling jersey.  From adventuring to hardcore training to bike camping, bicyclists sing the wondrous properties of the wool jersey.  It breathes, it keeps you cool, it keeps you warm, it's naturally odor-resistant, it looks better than Lycra/Spandex, its natural, its "green", by god, it damn near a miracle shirt.  Put one of these on and you will shave a minute off your mile, will attract members of the opposite sex in hordes and will be so perfectly the right temperature that you will wonder how cotton became the "fabric of our lives."

So after reading page after page of  praises and glowing testimonials of the wool, what else could a beginning cyclist do, but Google it and try to buy one of her very own.  Being as it is winter and the cold months upon us (well, those of us with seasonal weather at least), a long sleeve jersey is of course the only real option.  So what are the options?  Well, there's this, and this and this.

But after looking at those options you might notice that the wool jersey may end up being the ONLY piece of clothing you get to buy this year!  Well, at least if you are on a budget or the recession has you thinking about how you spend your money.

Well, I'm here to offer an alternative.  Sure some of you may cringe, or scoff or turn up your clearly-richer-than-I-am noses.  But there's no need to be that way.  Just as there is no reason to spend hundreds of dollars just to be able to ride in comfort.

May I present the overlooked:




Each of these sweaters is 100% wool.  Some are name brands, some are unknown.  Some are thick and warm, some are thin enough for early summer riding.  Some are pretty and some are rather ugly.  Some are a little scratchy, most are soft enough to wear against the skin.  All were about $4.50.  That's 6 pure wool sweaters for $27!  That's less than half the price for a new one.

I found all six in 3-4 different trips to thrift stores over the last few months.  I know that might skeeve some people out.  Some might think it's gross to wear something that isn't brand spanking new (even though the "new" whatever has probably been tried on by 38 people before you bought it).  A simple handwash was all that's need for most of these.  Had I been a little more discriminating, I would not have gotten the few that require dry cleaning.  As it stands, I can still afford the dry cleaning bill because these were all so affordable!

The best part is that all the things that are said about wool are true.  It's really a great fabric and perfectly suited for bicycling.  And with second hand wool, you don't end up being a billboard for some company that is only interested in revenue dollars.  You look just as good running into the library or post office as you might going into your favorite coffee shop or your cubicle.  You don't smell like a racehorse or gym sneaker.  You really do stay both cool and warm.  So next time you find yourself drooling over a $150 wool jersey that is out of your financial reach,  remember this post and google your nearest thrift or second hand store.   Maybe it'll be within riding distance.  Go prepared for a little treasure hunt and remember to check for damage to anything you are interested in buying.  If you can't stand the thought of handwashing, get the "dry clean only" ones.  If your independent bicyclist streak affects the other areas of your life, then take 30 minutes and handwash your newly found friends.  The first time you ride in one, you will feel both remarkably comfortable and proud of yourself for finding a great value.  And no one will ever know you didn't buy it at the mall. 
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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chuck's Attitude Adjustment

So a couple weeks ago, poor old Charlie Brown's seat got a bit twisted during the ride. This made it really uncomfortable--amazing what a difference an inch or two can make when it comes to comfort and fit on a bike.  Now on all my old beater bikes this year, an adjustment to the saddle was about the easiest thing to do and I had no problem fiddling with my old adjustable wrench to get the right height and straighten things out from time to time.

On the new Globe, this means actually having an Allen or hex wrench, which of course I have not "gotten around" to getting.  Well, during all those daydreams (in which I am a bikemaster and can Macgyver a bike out of some old shoestrings, an eraser and paperclips), I had been making a wishlist of bike tools in my mind.  I, of course, want to assemble a good repair kit but would also like some "tinkering tools" too I can rip stuff apart and put it back together.  I feel like there no better way to learn than by doing.  Well, that's a long way off.  So for now when I need to buy something (even inexpensive things) I try to think about what tool will be the most useful and convenient in a variety of situations.  "Bang for your buck" economics.  So while I was out hunting up some Allen wrenches I decided to go with a multitool type that I could throw in my repair kit down the road.  I ended up with the Park Tool AWS-9 which contains the 3 most commonly used hex wrenches along with regular Phillips and flathead screwdrivers and is about as long as my cell phone and half as wide.

In addition to being off the straight and narrow, my seat was a tad bit low.  While I was getting used to the new bike, it didn't seem to far off.  Now on a ride of more than about 5 minutes, my thighs start screaming with the slightest effort.  It basically makes my legs feel like they are having a permanent cramp.  I'm not usually one to shrink from pain, especially the "good" workout type of muscle pain which is sort of exciting because it reaffirms my suspicion that there are muscles under my padding!  But this discomfort from a too-low seat is another thing entirely.  Imagine walking up a flight of stairs (or 10) in your basic "duck walk" position.  It feels like your thighs might feel after doing that.  Twice.  And since it it a simple adjustment, there is just no reason to not fix it.

Finally I was able to make the slight and necessary adjustments.  Bonus that both issues can be taken care of in with the same adjustment.   Seat adjustments are so quick that I'm kicking myself for stalling and taking so long to dedicate 3 whole minutes to addressing the problem.

It's this easy:
Loosen bolt holding seatpost.
Move seat higher or lower
Make sure seat is aligned with frame
Tighten Bolt.

That's it folks.

Now I always take the time to mark  the "before" position of the seat with a Sharpe so if I get clumsy (highly likely) and drop the seat or bump it or whatever I still know where it was so I can make the adjustment.

Remember that small adjustments make a great deal of difference with bikes and don't be dramatic or drastic with your changes.  Since it takes all the time of peeling off a sock to do this adjustment, it's ok if you have to do it again later. 

Now I know my ride will be comfortable and my minor adjustment will mean I can go for longer rides without muscle fatigue. 

This short little fix was made better by the fact that I was listening to this:

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Charlie Brown's Style

One of the fun things about my new Globe Vienna 4 is that you can choose your own head badge.  It's nice to be able to put something personal or new up there from time to time. I decided a bike with all of Charlie Brown's character needed a head badge that would make a strong first impression.  The results of the poll a few posts ago make this the new head badge for Chuck!

Can't wait to take him out and see what people say!

Thanks to those of you who voted in the poll. 

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