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Friday, January 31, 2014

Portrait of Zippy

I guess I don't have much to say about this except I realized after Jello was put down that I had missed opportunities to document his cattitude and awesomeness.

So I took a couple of shots at Zippy, kinda back-lit, because I could.

I think I'm going to have to go up to the Human Society and get him a new kitty sibling.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Laid Up

So I know, guys, we've all wished for this: a girl who's always in bed. But trust me, traumatic brain injury is not the answer. She might be in bed all day sometimes, icing her aching head, but she'll surround herself with guard animals.

Actually, Corinna called me to the bedroom with orders to grab my Nikon. I know, guys, we all wait for that call, but in this instance she was wanting me to get that Zippy, our dog-scratching cat was laying with Foster. Zippy's interactions with Foster are usually characterized by claws-out swipes and hissing. When I got the camera on him, Zippy was just realizing that Foster was there, leaning against him. I think he was trying to decide how soon he must viciously attack the canine.

Foster, on the other hand, is oblivious.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


So getting ready for Em's birthday party, I made a grocery run by bike, something I haven't done much lately. I rarely go to the 'American grocery store' as we call it, the Sunfresh on 18th. There are several Mexican groceries in our neighborhood that have better prices on meat, we get most of our produce from the resellers at City Market, and then there's the Asian markets over their in the River Market, and if I'm loading up the smoker there's Krizman's and Bichelmeyer's.

There are few grocery needs these joints don't cover, but if you're making birthday cake by a recipe from Joy of Cooking and don't want to guess at ingredient substitutions, Sunfresh is it. Good place to get cereal too: from what I can tell Mexicans and Koreans haven't caught on to cold cereal & milk.

As I was coming back, I decided against climbing 18th against the wind with a heavily loaded bike during relatively brisk traffic. I could do it, but a block over I had the street to myself, and that's where I stumbled on this architectural gem. A neighbor came home while I was admiring it, and when I inquired how long it had been there, he said a couple of years. And then that it was some sort of eco-thing that had to do with the University of Kansas. It's true, I found this piece bemoaning the fact that they couldn't find a buyer for the place at first. They talk about asking $190,000 for it, and I gotta say they should have looked up a few comps before building it if they needed $190 grand for it.

Don't get me wrong, I really like this house. I'd want the carport long enough to cover a car in a hail storm, and I don't know how it's laid out inside, but this is the kind of house I'd buy if I could. But in this neighborhood, the only way you're going to see $190,000 is with five or six bedrooms. It's all relative, of course, my own house (a three bedroom bungalow in a nice historic neighborhood) cost less than half what they were asking. Transplant my house and yard to San Francisco, from what I hear it might fetch half a million.

Monday, January 27, 2014


I bought this smoker right before our wedding, used it to ruin a lot of meat for that wedding, in fact (I burned the food to a cinder, though people ate it all up and claimed to like it—I didn't know I had so many friends who craved a mouthful of ashes). But once I figured it out, it was great, like living at Gates.

Well, it was great until it wasn't. I burned out on barbecue, I really did. The smell and taste of smoked meat just nauseated me for a while. And then I had that whole second round of heart disease thing, the bypass surgery at 43 years old, maybe the last thing I needed was to find red meat palatable.

But I'm past the burnout part even if the red meat still isn't an entirely good idea. I love the stuff, and I range from feeling I should never eat it again no matter what to thinking that with my genetics, plaque's just gonna happen, the best I can do is take the drugs they prescribe, exercise a lot, hope for a miracle cure someday. I know there's probably a truth somewhere in between, but anyway I loaded the smoker up.

A whole brisket, 17 lbs, took up most of the lower rack. The top had a pork Boston Butt and about 20 pounds of Polish sausage from Bichelmeyer. The sausage came off after a couple of hours, maybe less. That was one of the lessons from the wedding feast, it may be a massive amount of meat but even stacked on top of each other sausages cook a lot faster than roasts. That was supper on Saturday night. The rest, the brisket and pork butt, that came off the following morning, about 16 hours in at 220ºF. I didn't even put rub on the meat this time, but the first little taste and I was in barbecue heaven.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

All Growed Up

Em told me she didn't want an 18th birthday party. No sleepover with friends and Dad making pizza, no wild rumpus.

So you don't want a cake, and have relatives come shower you with gifts? Alright, but it doesn't make turning 18 sound that grand to me.

Well, cake. She decided she does like my birthday cakes. I only make one kind, it's the Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake recipe from Joy of Cooking. There's a hundred other recipes I could try, but it was my first from-scratch recipe and it worked so well I just kind of find myself making it every time there's a birthday cake to make.

I only make one kind of frosting, too. The recipe is really simple: 2 sticks of unsalted butter; 1-1/2 pounds of cream cheese, a cup of powdered sugar, a splash of vanilla and food coloring to make it whatever color your heart desires. In this case, Em wanted orange, and I used a whole bottle of yellow and a few drops of red and this is what we got.

Actually, she got into decorating the cake some with me, that was nice.

Corinna spent some of the party on ice—parties are really hard for her actually. She wants to socialize, loves to entertain, but she pays quite a price for it in pain.

There is a photographic phenomenon I've noticed a couple years running now when I try to shoot Emily across her lit cake. The candle lights reflect, somehow, a bit above the candles, such that she ends up with candlelight in her face, or in this case her forehead and hair. I'm guessing it's a reflection off the UV filter but I haven't taken the filter off to test that theory.

I guess now that Em's 18 there are fewer and fewer things in the world I can actually protect her from. Military service, marriage, voting for Republicans or Democrats, lots of things that could mean absolute disaster, I guess I just have to hope she's been taught well enough to negotiate these choices at least as well as her old man. Better than me, actually.

I know in my own life, there have been plenty of times I've told my parents about stuff I'm either going to do or have done that elicits winces and sighs of despair. And that's the stuff I tell them, the post-filter content.

But no matter what those choices are, even though I'm sure I'll wince, sigh in despair and lose sleep over some of them, she'll always be my little honyock.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fresh Tag

Been getting back into the bike commuting, missed way too much of it after the heart surgery, vasectomy, and various other things. Took a half day for Martin Luther King Day on Monday to finish up a project at home and rode my bike through the city at a leisurely pace. I needed leisurely because after doing around 100 miles last week, I felt half crippled with between sore muscles, saddle-soreness and fatigue. This time last year, a century would be a light week for me, and I know it will be again soon, but not yet.

Anywyay, there is fresh paint since last I rode, this time on one of PBI Gordon's buildings in the West Bottoms. Since it's private property, the chances are it will get the old white-out treatment sooner rather than later. I wondered at first how the hooligans who tagged it got up on this roof over a loading dock, but then I saw the spikes on the telephone pole right by it. Even I could have climbed it, and I'm no marvel of upper body strength, balance or agility.

Only semi-related, but I saw some conversation on Facebook the other day about resistance to putting bike trails on the levies around the Kansas River near here, and the usual bogeymen are cited, thieves and vandals. But the levy walls over where the levies are technically off limits to the public (posted no-trespassing in fact), they're lousy with tags. Some of those tags, they're too big to fit on box cars, true story. Over to the east of the River Market, where the Berkley Riverfront Trail runs, though, a trail that tops the Army Corps berm keeping the river in line, most of that area you never see tags.

Monday, January 20, 2014

My Bike Be Like...a Monster Art Show

This event was kind of like a bike-centric First Fridays all under one roof. It was an art show that started when Vincent over at Velo+ put out a Facebook feeler for art to display on the walls of his new shop. I guess he got more offers than he had space for, so he took down most of his merchandise and set up a gallery opening for at least a half dozen artists, including the Poet Laureate of Lobsterland, Corinna West.

I think Corinna was the first offer, and it had originally been conceived as a show of her art being the first of a series, then morphed into a multi-artist show.

Velo+, is a relatively new bike shop here in the KC area. It's in Old Town Lenexa, by Jerry's Bait Shop where I sometimes sneak off to watch football games since the Chiefs got good again (having ditched my own TV a couple years ago).

Most suburban bike shops leave me cold. The emphasis tends to be on selling people impractical bicycles that combine discomfort for the rider with great expense. Bicycles that are great if you're going to race a road criterion, but which only a dedicated few can really get the benefit of. Casual, novice riders buy these things, as far as I can tell, 'train' on them for events like BikeMS, then after four or five years of meaning to ride them again, put them up on craigslist for sale. Sometimes these shops will at least push big guys towards mountain bikes instead of road bikes, but still with an emphasis on high performance stuff that makes little sense for a lot of people.

It's great to see Velo+ offering more commuter-friendly stuff (as well as all the crazy things you could want if racing is your heart's desire). Bikes that can take a rack or two, have clearance for fenders, some of them even have chain guards so you don't have to tuck your pants into your socks like me.

And I'm impressed, too, that these guys seem astute enough to figure out what a given customer wants and needs. Fat bikes, racing bikes, mountain bikes, etc. Plus, Vincent is a frame builder and does really neat bespoke builds.

A lot of the people who came out for it where folks I knew from Critical Mass, Kickball, the Velo Vixens zine party, or just around town.

Corinna really had to pace herself because of the TBI issues she's still dealing with from her bike crash last summer, but I was under no such restriction. A lot of these folks I mainly see on Facebook lately—between the cold weather (which doesn't keep us from riding but does tend to discourage loitering on streets when we meet) and my several month hiatus for open heart surgery.

The art was great, too. There was more than one piece I'd have bought if I didn't have that open heart surgery to pay off.

Food, beer, there was coffee, too of course. Vincent is also into roasting coffee and brewing in the shop's down time. I think he's still trying to get everything officially certified so he can sell his coffee, but in the meantime he gleefully brews it for anyone who will accept a free cup. They post to Facebook when they're going to be firing up the brew kettles, too, to encourage people to come hang out on brew day. I've never seen a bike shop in this area use coffee and beer to promote their shop this way, but cyclists as a group seem to be big consumers of both these beverages, so it makes a ton of sense.

I was honestly surprised that Corinna even made it to the event, let alone performing. She paid the price for it the next couple of days, and expressed frustration that she hadn't known better than to push herself, but while her TBI might have needed even more rest, everything else about her needed to do this event, reconnect with these friends, get up and do some of her poetry.

My friend Jamie was one of the artists showing, and she'd posted pics to Facebook of some of these chainring paintings. For some reason I pictured them being big, perhaps 4 feet square, and I don't know why I thought that: she obviously used actual chainrings as templates. A four foot diameter chain ring, who could pedal with enough torque to turn it? And if you were strong enough, how would you do it without sawing your groin apart?

And of course I had fun with my camera. I've been playing more and more with the aperture. I discovered that narrow depth of field thing when I got my Nikon and hooked that 35mm lens to it. It's a beautiful thing, the way you can isolate a subject and really show something. But I've also ruined a lot of shots by not having adequate depth of field. I read a piece on the subject that showed some great bokeh achieved even at apertures as tight as f5.6—kit lens territory, but with the subject isolated form the background by distance. Shooting fast still seems to pay big dividends on a lot of shots, and it allows you to shoot at a lower ISO, but check this shot out:

I forgot this woman's name (sorry, not great with names) but I'm really happy with the way the shot turned out. The ISO was cranked to 3200, pretty darn high—it tends to get noisy up there. There's noise in the shot, but it tends to be a pretty satisfying graininess. The aperture is pretty open, f2.8, but you can see by how extreme the bokeh is in the background, I probably could have tightened that down a couple of stops and still made it obvious that the nameless brunette was the subject of the photo. She might even look a little sharper around the edges of her hair at f5-ish.

I shot this guy at f2.8, too. I'd been debating, when I do have some disposable income to put towards glass for my camera someday, whether an f1.4 50mm lens would be worth the extra money compared to an f1.8 50mm prime. Of course I want the option to shoot all the way out there at f1.4, but the price difference is half way to another prime lens or a good speedlite.

One of the most interesting bikes they had on hand was this Genesis. The frame is carved out of mahogany, talk about a pig to ride. But it's not so much for riding, this is the form they use to make an injection mold for a monocoque carbon fiber frame. I gather there is some dispute about who perfected the technology first, but as it's name indicates, the Genesis is in discussion. I'd never realized that was how they did carbon frames, with a bladder/injection mold. I pictured fiberglass layup techniques like what I learned in model rocketry circles to make the tubes, then to join and fillet them.

I'm not really a fan of carbon fiber as far as it being anything I want for myself, but I love stuff like this proto-mold or whatever you'd call it.

I also think it's great when someone finds their power animal and just leans in. Like the lobster and me, but Taylor's thing is cats. She has a lot of cattitude. And even a cattoo.

She claims she only has three actual cats, but with those stockings, that tattoo and that skirt, I bet in a decade or two that will be a three with a zero after it.

Jamie found herself a fatbike and rocked it. She makes it look even bigger than it normally looks, but I could tell she was getting a kick out of bouncing on those low pressure tires. It's a funny thing, there was no such bike, what, ten years ago? But everyone who gets on one seems to love it. You can ride up to a curb and instead of hopping it, just crash into it, the tire will just freakin' roll over six inches of concrete like it was nothing. Tree roots and rocks on the trail? No problem when you're rolling on high volume, low pressure like that. And the rolling resistance and weight aren't nearly the issues you'd imagine.

Plus they're great on snow and sand. We don't have a lot of beach riding here in the heartland, but we do get a little snow.

Anyway, the whole thing was top notch, one of the best Friday nights I've had in a long, long time. You should rush out to Velo+ right now and check out the residual artwork. Buy yourself a fatbike while you're there—you totally need one.