Tuesday, March 11, 2014
I've been struggling to get back to pre-bypass surgery form. This is the third lease on life for me: survived a heart attack at 32, needed a double bypass at 43, I can just see the Grim Reaper coming up on 50-year-old me and saying Third time's the charm! I started bike commuting again and got a vasectomy that put me off the bike for a couple of weeks. Then got sick repeatedly while the weather turned foul, but pre-bypass me didn't let weather deter him. I've done 2ºF, 107ºF, raining and 35ºF, the only thing that's ever given me real pause is ice, and that's because I don't have a sumo suit to make falling down all the time no big deal.
Cardiac Rehab perversely affected my riding a little, the logistics of getting there on the days I needed to seemed to dictate driving. And it's so damned easy to fall back into that default driving thing. When your wife crashes her bike and gets a traumatic brain injury that means both she's riding less and needing driven places a bit more, there's another pull to that sedentary lifestyle. One thing, then another, next thing you know it's been a couple weeks since you mounted up. And while I wouldn't diagnose myself with anything like clinical depression, I was definitely getting in a funk, binge sleeping on weekends, having trouble falling to sleep on weeknights, even having some appetite issues, and I knew the likeliest medicine for it was to just ride. Which would also be good medicine for the weight I've gained in the past few months. I haven't seen 300 lbs yet, I've seen the 290s and I have XXL shirts I can no longer wear—which has to absolutely delight that Grim Reaper guy, less than a year post-op and the heaviest I've ever been.
Corinna pointed out that I didn't have to bike commute to ride my bike. Which is true, but less obvious than you'd probably think. When I first trained for a Bike MS, I rode strictly in a way that was pointless except as a build up to riding Bike MS. I thought of my rides as training. I devised challenging routes and went on ambling, wandering adventures. One of those adventures was how I met my wife, actually. But the more I rode as a commuter, the less I rode for the hell of it (and when you log 100 miles in a week without riding for the hell of it, it's hard to see the point of just riding in a circle or out and back).
So I'd taken my bike in to work with me this morning with the plan to ride home and then back in in the morning, back on the commuting trail. But Corinna needs a ride to a doc first thing in the morning, so she asked me to come home and ride from here so I'd have my car at home in the morning. This is not the sort of request the woman I married would ever make, but traumatic brain injury can be a real game changer (he typed remembering he still needs to either find a bike shop that can get him a MIPS equipped helmet or break down and buy the sucker online).
I had been so looking forward to the ride home that when I got home, I wanted to go out riding immediately, no delay. The temperature was dropping and there was a front blowing in with wicked northwest winds, so I figured the sooner I got out the better as far as riding comfort, and besides, if I stopped to eat a dinner I wasn't yet hungry for, maybe do a couple things that needed doing, the next thing it'd probably be seeming to get late, get unpleasant out, and the momentum getting me on the saddle would be lost.
So I basically put on riding shorts under my pants (no way I have the ass callouses to skip that at this point), and saddled up. The wind out of the northwest was pretty strong, so I read that direction, figuring I'd get a tailwind coming back which would be fun. North and west of my house, there's a pretty dodgy neighborhood, and I passed a house owned by the sort of shitheads who let semi-feral dogs run around without a leash or a fence and had to spray this pup four times before he got the message and let me climb the hill he lives on. He wasn't that menacing, but he wasn't 100% benign either, and he triggered all my PTSD type adrenaline issues related to dogs. But having got past him, damned if I was going to let anything stop me from having a good ride.
And past the seedy section, across an Interstate, it gets real suburban and normal. Hilly, too. Going out Georgia, I found myself actually needing my granny gear a couple of times—a ridiculous gear, I think I have 24 teeth up front and 34 in back or something like that. Then up 59th, north of Leavenworth Road, until I got to what might be the highest point, topographically speaking, in Wyandotte County. I can't be sure, there was enough tree cover around me to make it hard to tell, but I sure didn't see how anything could be uphill from where I was. Looking at Google Maps, I saw that the downhill ahead of me probably did indeed go through. Down near the river, around the Quindaro Museum, and eventually over to the Fairfax area more or less, or maybe just to Quindaro.
Decision time: it was a tempting adventure. Some shit I've never seen. But it'd be fully dark by the time I go there, so maybe not that much to see. I'm out of shape, so it might be more miles than I really should attempt. A few rain drops came down and I noticed the temperature had dropped enough I needed to put on a shirt with sleeves, and I did so. No problem, I had my rain suit, too if it got really pissy, but while making this wardrobe adjustment I got a vision of myself riding slowly up a steep hill from the river into the Quindaro neighborhood, in the dark, alone, with a fairly expensive phone and camera on my back. Take one of those risks out of the equation and I'd probably have plunged down the hill—a riding companion, say, or daylight for hours to come, but taken together it sounded like a big bowl of Stupid.
So I turned tail and reveled in both a tailwind and a prevailing downhill. There were plenty of climbs to do along Georgia, but the wind was at my back, and it's not for nothing, that line in the old Irish blessing. I was flying. Around the time I got over by Super Bunny's, it started to rain in earnest, and it was really pretty pissy when I got back (if I'd had an hour to go instead of ten minutes, it would have been rain jacket time). But it didn't seem pissy, it seemed exhilarating and refreshing. I realized that somewhere between when I settled back down after the dog and when I'd almost plunged myself into an epic adventure but thought better of it, the fog, malaise, depression, whatever you want to call it, had evaporated.
Sunday, March 09, 2014
The tree stakes I got last year for my heirloom tomatoes worked great. Except for one problem. Late in the season, the weight of the plants started causing them to slip down the poles they were tied to.
The result was tomatoes that had been seven feet tall being three feet tall, damaging the plants and making it hard to harvest fruit. I hauled them up as best I could, but it was a problem.
Most of the vinyl sleeves are loose enough you can slide them off the steel pole—and that steel pole might not be as slippery, but I bet the same thing would happen if I went with bare poles. With wood, I used to drive nails in to give hang-holds. For this, I figured drill holes in the sleeves where zip-ties can go through, then tie your cloth strips to a zip tie loop in the sleeve. I've never seen a tomato plant heavy enough to break a zip tie.
The only problem is a few of the stakes have such fat poles that there isn't room for the zip tie to go through. A few others are so snuggly jacketed I can't even get the sleeves off, but I think by doing the ones I can, I'll at least be able to get vertical support from a neighboring stake. Perhaps run a horizontal pole though zip ties on neighboring poles, too.
It was going really slow at first, I couldn't get the drill bit to bite into the vinyl. I switched bits to a saw drill bit thinking it felt sharper, but still. I ended up making pilot holds with a small bit and then really having to lean on it with the larger bit. This went on for about an hour, I think, when I realized the drill was set to reverse. No need for pilot holes, and I got a dozen sleeves knocked out an probably a half hour.
Saturday, March 08, 2014
When I did the purple mohawk last summer when I was going to be off work for surgery, the first step was to bleach out the hair. I almost stopped and didn't to the purple, I liked the look of the bleached hair so much. So it'd been on my mind ever since to maybe just try doing the bleach, no purple and no mohawk, I just don't think that'd fly with my bosses.
I'm not as nuts about how it turned out this time. Maybe it seems too yellow, I don't know. It'll either grow on me or I'll let it grow out and buzz it off in a few weeks.
Recently I found some photo accessories online that were too cheap to pass up, an LED light with a diffuser, a set of reflectors that fold up to fit in my camera bag, and I wanted to play with them to see if I could get a decent portrait shot in my living room, something that has always seemed nearly impossible.
I'd say the LED array helped quite a bit. I experimented with different placements for it, realized that I really could use a couple of them. I wouldn't say the results I got are pro portrait stuff, but it was a good learning session. I prefer photographing other people, I'm pretty much never happy with my own self portraits—other photographers' pictures of me tend to seem more flattering for some reason.
I learned, for one thing, that those reflectors pose their own hazards: you can see the reflector in my glasses in some of the shots, instead of getting catchlights in my eyes I got a big foil disc in the corner of my specs.
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
I have a friend, I'll call him Bob. Both because he made it clear he wished to remain unknown, unseen and anonymous if I was going to blog about his collection, and because Bob is actually his name. I guess it's convenient if you want to be anonymous to have a name like Bob. And what a collection Bob has.
What does he collect? Kitsch, especially kitsch that has a 1950s flavor to it. He's not that much older than me, if at all, I don't think, so this is fueled as far as I can tell by nostalgia for a world he never experienced.
I don't think it's an uncommon impulse. A world we only experienced through imagination and retelling is bound to be far superior to a world we actually inhabit.
Bob's a big fan of estate sales. I think when his marriage broke up, he found estate sales in the same way Ed Norton's character in Fight Club discovers 12-step recovery groups.
This kitsch includes Hawaiian statues sold to the tourist trade, glassware that promotes the booze industry, and crazy exercise devices. But mostly, Bob collects ashtrays.
He doesn't smoke. He did put in a dip while we visited, but if anyone ever collected an item they had no direct personal use for, it's Bob and his ashtrays.
Local interest guides his buys to a great extent. A lot of these things promote businesses that are or were in the Kansas City area back when smoking was so universally accepted that nobody thought twice about using paraphernalia for a deadly drug habit as ad specialties.
I suppose it just depends on the context. These ashtrays were minted in the Mad Men world, and if you can drop Alka-Seltzer into rye whiskey at 10:00 a.m. at work and nobody thinks intervention, well what's an ashtray with your restaurant's logo on it. You're going to have an ashtray on every table in that restaurant, or eventually only the ones in the smoking section, so why not an ashtray that reminds people exactly whose turf they're on?
Bob has a story behind pretty much every purchase. Sometimes it's the thing that distinguishes the ashtray specifically, like it being made to look like a violin or being so large you would only have to dump it after smoking a whole carton. Others, it's the fact that he got it for two bucks and later saw one just like it sell for five or ten, proof that he's made a wise investment.
Ashtray or otherwise, and distinguished or not (he has quite a few plain glass ashtrays which might have been cheap enough but aren't particularly interesting), each one comes with the tag line 'I just couldn't resist.'
I'm not judging, there are plenty of things I can't or don't want to resist, and it's a pretty interesting collection. So much so that at first, I was thinking, I've got to come back sometime and photograph all this kitsch, and that morphed into, why not now?
My product-shot photography skills are lacking, I know. I should go back sometime with my camera and some decent lights, maybe a backdrop.
I thought at first Bob's ashtray collection was inspiring me to want to collect ashtrays myself, but that was wrong. What I think I want to do is develop a website dedicated to the art of the ashtray, start it off with some much better photographs of the cream of Bob's collection, then see where it leads me. Because you can buy an ashtray for $2 at an estate sale, sure, but you can probably get away with photographing it for free.
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
Actually, I shouldn't say 'second bike' because I already got one. I have a Dahon foldable bike that doesn't really fit (though I think if I put apehanger handlebars on it, it could work at least for the Trashboat Regatta) and there is also the Divorce Maker, a tandem I bought a couple of years ago that me and Corinna have not ridden enough to break us up so far. And there's that used Scott mountain bike I bought two Regatta's ago that my wife kind of gave away but I could probably reclaim if I wanted to. Oh, and my Diamondback, the frame is bent but not cracked, so I could probably put wheels and a saddle on it again if I was desperate.
But basically I only have one bike. The way some hillbilly who has five cars but only one that really runs well has one car, anyway.
But I think about a second bike, and often I think yeah, another Long Haul Trucker with racks and fenders and a Brooks saddle, basically "Bartender, I'll have another of this." But the Krampus from Surly has captured my imagination more than a little. This is a half-fat bike or something like that, not quite as Humvee-ish as a Pugsley or Moonlander, but still a high volume low pressure tire thing that gives you considerable float and huge traction. Good on snow, sand, tree roots, rocks, and so on.
I'm generally not a fan of getting off paved roads, it just gets frustrating, but maybe part of that is the bike. A Krampus would be less likely to sink in the mud, right?
Anyway, the latest thing from Surly is like the Krampus would be after they consulted me: the ECR looks an awful lot like a Krampus, 29+ and all that, but with a dropout designed to adjust the chain stay length and to readily accept a trailer, as well as braze-ons for all kinds of racks. Disc brakes, no problem, see also Rohloff hubs, you can pretty much do everything a rider like me could want to do. All I need is to set aside a couple of grand to get the bike in the first place—that Rohloff rear wheel will set me back that much on its own, but for a camp bike to take through the muck, what could be better than internal gears?
And riding the ECR felt completely natural to me, it's a Long Haul Trucker made into a mountain bike. David, and granted he was trying to sell me a bike, pointed out how perfectly suited this bike was to me, and I had to admit he was right. If I had the money on me, I would have taken the thing home, it would be a second bike that would make me ride my first bike less, true story.
Monday, March 03, 2014
I love judging beer. But of course, too, I take my Nikon everywhere. When I took Amanda's picture with her sexy beer-label-plastered laptop in the foreground, she asked me, "What do you do with these pictures?" I shoot a lot, I know, but the question surprised me. How could I not shoot this?
I couldn't help it. I actually shot a lot less than I did last year, partly because I didn't buy the banquet this time. It would have been very good, basically a seven course beer & food pairing, but after judging two flights Friday, two flights plus Best of Show on Saturday, and partaking of the kegs of craft beer in the hall after that, and after being overfed systematically (homebrew judges eat like Hobbits, there's just no other apt description), I was fat, dumb and happy without the banquet. And when you're fat, dumb & happy (not a bad thing itself), a seven course beer and food orgy just doesn't seem as special.
Among the things they ask you when you sign up is what categories you have to recuse yourself from because you're entering beers there yourself (something I haven't worried about for almost 15 years because I keg everything and consume it, so I never have bottles of homebrew to enter), and the corollary, what should you judge on the basis of passion and expertise?
Smoke and wood-aged is a category I routinely check on that last one. I've judged it quite a bit, often with judges who think all smoked beer is a conspiracy to poison beer judges, and that's a dirty shame because that assumes everyone who likes a Bamberger Rauchbier with a slice of ham (see what I did there? A food-beer pairing) is on a par with a guy ordering a Canadian rotten toe cocktail.
One of my faves in this category is a peat-smoked Scotch Ale, something I've brewed a bit myself but not encountered very often judging smoke and wood aged beers. Last time I entered one, a clerical error prevented the judges from knowing it was peat smoke or a Scotch Ale, and the resulting score was fairly insulting if understandable given that lack of information.
One of my pet peeves, actually, in this area comes when the brewer enters something that doesn't exist. I don't mean it's not a real beer that you can drink and love or hate, but the style guidelines are there for a reason, to tell the judges what the brewer is trying for. So a Smoked Belgian Quad or a Bourbon Barrel Matured Imperial Porter, no matter how much I might like them, never get medal-class scores from me: you know where Belgian Quads are on the BJCP style guidelines? They're right by Imperial Porter in the categories that don't fucking exist, that's where they are. Have I had a Quad? Sure a couple of them but it's not a recognized style. Can I read 'Imperial' and think 'Baltic' for that Porter, probably, but can't the entrant judge use the style guidelines I'm supposed to be judging by? If they do, I promise to not only give it higher marks but to avoid using half-points (something I used to annoy registrars with until I realized the hubris of saying that my palate was more nuanced than a 50 point scale).
But if I'm a fan of smoke, I tend to be less enthusiastic about wood. Oak in particular has a harsh, tannic character I generally find objectionable. All those oak casks beer was traditionally served in were lined with pitch specifically because oak tastes horrible. For years now, I've encountered perfectly good beers that folks chose to ruin by aging them in retired bourbon barrels, on oak chips and so on.
Imagine my surprise when judging a flight that there were three bourbon-barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stouts I scored at 40+ points. They were really great Imperial Stouts to begin with, and with noticeable oak character, and they worked. I didn't know that combination could be enjoyable, but damn, it really was in these examples.
Which I guess gets to the heart of what goes wrong with smoked beers. The first time I made a peat-smoked Wee Heavy, it was undrinkable at bottling. 25 IBUs is appropriate hopping for a Scotch Ale, but the dryness smoke adds means you need to cut that hopping about in half. 18 months later, that beer went from worst to first, a total favorite, and by cutting back on bittering hops I was able to make subsequent batches drinkable right off the bat. The key is what is harmonious, and the lesson I learned with my Scotch Ales, obviously the Russian Imperial bourbon barrel crew has figured that one out, too.
Of course I rode my bike to the competition. Maybe I shouldn't say of course since the bypass surgery, vasectomy and icy roads have really cut down on my riding the past six months or so, but I rode. Had a wicked tailwind going out on Friday, averaged 13.1 mph that way, but the headwind going home meant I averaged more like 10 round trip. And Front Street will be a fine place to ride bikes if they ever decided to pave it, maybe make it wider than two Model T Fords.
I have to say, getting to judge best of show just keeps getting better. The quality of entries has escalated along with the quantity the past decade or so. I can remember when the Bier Meisters were tittering over a 300 entry competition, and 350 the following year seemed mind-blowing. This competition had more like 550 entries, and four flights plus BOS judging, I have to say they were almost all solid entries. I think I filled out one score sheet that totalled 25-ish, which used to be the average but now that's the floor. Judging Stouts on Friday night, I realized by the time we had our first, second, third that there were a couple of brewers who were going to get back score sheets in the mid-40s that didn't place.
I guess the brewer has to look at the score sheet, realize they had a medal-class entry but there were more of those than medals to go around.
And judging Best of Show, wow. That's a process of elimination where you start with the first place beer in almost 30 categories, then start eliminating on the basis that 'this is a better IPA than that is a Cream Ale' and 'this Oud Bruin is more perfect at being what it's supposed to be than that Mild is.' Which gets to be quite the argument when you narrow it down to the last dozen or so entries, because in a competition like this, all those top-tier entries are textbook cases (hell they could possibly be ringers).
The jaded side of my national-rank-BJCP heart says a ringer could shame us. Soak the label off a Bigfoot Barleywine from Sierra Nevada or an Old Foghorn from Anchor, obliterate the cap with a marker, enter it as an American Barleywine. Watch the score sheet come back with a 38 because the judges wanted a bigger malt presence and a really huge hop aroma.
Or how well would Sierra Nevada Pale Ale score in the APA category? See also draft Guinness as a Dry Stout.
I'm not saying that beer judging is bullshit, mind you, I've had way too many times when three of us have independently scored an entry and come up with a two point spread tops, but I suspect at times we're all three five or ten points over/under where we'd be if we were truly objective.
Monday, February 17, 2014
Autism can make birthdays tricky. That house full of people, the excitement of the gifts, the cake with candles, ice cream, all that good stuff can seem overwhelming.
As a father and shutterbug, one of my favorite shots is to photograph my kid blowing out the candles on her birthday cake. A cake I've made from scratch, with custom-tinted frosting and child-like lettering on it (because when you only decorate two or three cakes a year, you don't develop Ace of Cakes type chops). I love taking this photo, and I'd even learned that a flaw in the past couple I'd had was caused by my UV filter and remembered to take it off, but when we lit the candles on the cake, Mo ran and hid under her covers.
I figured out a new trick on the birthday cake. It's still the Chocolate Mayonnaise recipe from Joy of Cooking, but while the cakes were fresh out of the oven, I put the bottom layer in with a layer of marshmallow and turned on the broiler for maybe five minutes, until the marshmallows got melty and started to brown. Then I put the other cake on top and left them to cool. The result looked like the world's biggest Oreo, though I guess in food type it more resembles a Hostess Suzy Q. With the marshmallows in between there wasn't a need for frosting in that area. So my usual recipe of 24 ounces of cream cheese, a half pound of butter, a cup of powdered sugar, and a tablespoon of vanilla yielded far more frosting that required.
I was really gunning for making the frosting yellow, bought a big bottle of yellow dye to get the color rich, but then Mo said she wanted a blue cake, and it is her birthday, not mine, so blue it was. Pale blue, I would have needed a big bottle like I'd bought of the yellow to get it to be a rich, royal blue.
I think a good time was had by all, except possibly for my oldest daughter, who complained that the cats were getting on her lap and that the allergic reactions a couple of my nephews were having to the cats were somehow my fault. Yes, I adopted the kitties, but it's actually not my fault that some people are allergic to cats. I am too when they're new to me, and this weekend my nose and eyes have been telling me about how there's a couple of new cats around. That gets better with time, in my case anyway, and if some people are allergic to cats, and the shelters are over-flowing with cats that need homes, then someone like me who is only slightly and temporarily allergic should probably adopt at least three cats to make up for the people who really can't.
Posted by Chixulub at 8:08 PM