Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tandems and trust issues

While we were out in California, my SO treated me to a little early birthday present: a spin around wine country in a tandem. We've been talking about riding a tandem together for a while and he happened to find a bike shop that had several for rent at a reasonable price, so we decided to test drive one and see how it went.

I've only had one experience with a tandem once before this, and it wasn't an experience that I was necessarily eager to repeat. On the last night of an extended stay in Portland, a friend of mine picked me up and took me out for dinner on a tandem (this nice yellow one here). It was very Portland, very sweet, and very terrifying. If you're a person of a certain height (read, short), then you usually end up in the stoker position at the back where you have no brakes, no shifters and no ability to steer. The bike is pretty much controlled by the person in front of you, and if he or she is tall then s/he also obstructs your view of what's coming. You basically just have to pedal and trust. My Portland bike companion had good intentions, but our bike styles were not exactly compatible. He had us whizzing down hills while I quite literally shrieked in the back. At one point I think he actually paused to check on me because I'd stopped shrieking!

Much as I love the idea of biking on a tandem with my SO in theory, I was still pretty nervous when we got on the bike. But, I was willing to give it a go because I knew that he would be trying his hardest to make it a good experience for me, or else I'd never get on a tandem with him again! Getting started was a little shaky because you have to coordinate your movements until you can get going fast enough that you're not in immediate danger of falling over. Even once we were going, it was still a little freaky because I had the distinct feeling like we were tipping over too far to the right. Does my SO ride crooked, somehow? I don't know, but it was unsettling.

Since there's not much to see ahead on the tandem (aside from someone else's back), it's a great opportunity to look around. We took a 12 mile loop around a valley filled with vineyards, and it was a beautiful view. It was nice to be able to check this stuff out and not have to always be looking at the road ahead of you. And the best part about being on the tandem was that it was like having an electric assist bike, powered by my SO. We whizzed around that 12 mile loop in maybe 50 minutes or so, and while I was pedaling, I really wasn't busting my butt (sorry, hon!). Towards the end of the ride we seemed to be getting the hang of starting and stopping pretty well, and made it through the last few stop signs with not too much trouble.

So, will there be more tandems in our future? I'm not sure yet. It would be a good option for touring for us. Instead of always going at my (much slower) speed, we could be going at the average of our two speeds, making us much faster overall. I think over time we'd get pretty used to each others' biking styles as well, and I would probably feel less freaked out about not being in control. It would suck a bit to have a permanent view of his back when we went traveling, but I would also be able to pedal and look around, so maybe that makes up for it. But if I'm being really honest, I think I'd still rather be in front. Nothing is more calming than having your own set of brake levers.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tough day on the bike

Some days I have great bike mojo, and then other days it seems like I just can't hit my stride no matter how hard I try. Yesterday was one of the latter days for me, unfortunately. My SO was going out to Watkins Glen to ride in his very first official bike race, and since it was supposed to be a pretty nice day for biking and I've never been to the race track I thought I would go along. I knew it was going to be a longish ride and have some fairly substantial climbs as well, but somehow I really underestimated my abilities here (or was just having a bad biking day), because it ended up being a very long day!

We took the bus partway up the hill to save us a bunch of climbing, leaving about 20 miles to go to the race track. Almost immediately after getting off the bus we had short but nasty steep stretch, and with me feeling still a little stiff and somewhat queasy from the bus, this didn't go well at all.

That little red blip at the beginning there? Yeah. That almost made me turn around and go home right there! I stuck with it, and the rest of the ride into Watkins Glen was pretty nice and mostly gently downhill. To get to the race track we had to climb again, and quite a bit. By this point we were quite late, so the SO left me at the bottom while I slowly spun my way up in granny gear. This wasn't fast, but it wasn't miserable either and I did make it up just before the SO was set to launch.

This was the first time I'd been to a bike race (unless you count the highly informal Cascadilla hill climb), and it was fun to watch the goings on of the race bike set. My bike looked highly out of place there, and I got one slightly snarky comment about my "classic" Brooks saddle. The SO's race kit came with all kinds of clinical looking goos and potions. I tried a package of the Hammer Heed drink in lemon lime (I figured I could use some electrolytes after sweating my way up the hill), and it was nasty. Sorry, Hammer.

Watching the SO race was quite fun, and I'm a bit sorry that I didn't get to take a spin around the race car track. He was all by himself after the first lap, and for a minute I thought he was in the lead! It's a bit hard to tell where everyone is on the race track since there was another group that started a minute ahead of his class. Little did I know that getting separated from the group is almost a sure sign that you've fallen behind, not pulled ahead, at least in the first round. By the time he'd finished he was pretty convinced that he was last, although it turned out to be not quite that bad.

We had a long downhill and then another climb to get out of Watkins Glen. I made it through that alright, but by the time we reached the top my legs were really done. With not too much power left in my legs I started really feeling the pressure on my butt, and all along that long flat yellow stretch in the elevation map above I was just waiting, waiting for the downhill to come and save me. We made it back to Ithaca in the end, but really not a moment too soon for me!

So, I'm not sure what happened here. This was a long ride (probably the second longest ride I've been on) and a lot of climbing, but it felt much harder than it needed to. I had to have the SO rub some tiger balm on my poor legs last night, and I can't even look at a bike seat today. I'm guessing there will be a lot of sitting gingerly and not a lot of biking for me in the next few days!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Happy Birthday to me!

Yesterday was my 29th birthday! Yay! I love celebrating my birthday -- people you haven't heard from in ages call you to say hello, you get free drinks, and of course great presents. I got the gift that keeps on giving this year from my SO: a subscription to Burda magazine! A year's worth of Burdas seems like a great way to build up a base of patterns to work with. They come in a range of sizes, there's tons per magazine (including plus size and occasionally petites), and even the crazy patterns might have some elements could be repurposed (like cool sleeve patterns or whatnot). I won't start the subscription up until we move to our new apartment in August, but I'm very excited to start seeing what rolls in every month!

He also made me a sweet card with a customized Burda cover featuring my finished version of the self-drafted chiffon dress:

Isn't that cute? I finished this dress just in time to go to a friend's wedding in California, and it was very comfortable to wear. I'm so enamoured with this pattern that I might (once again) push aside the SO's promised sports coat and make summer top using this pattern instead. Or maybe I can somehow work on both at the same time? So much sewing, so little time!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On being meat-free in meaty places

It was around this time last year (give or take a week or two) that I decided to try out eating exclusively vegetarian. I was in a car with a friend talking about food politics, and we both came to the conclusion that although neither of us was especially comfortable with the idea of eating meat, we both kept eating it out of habit, convenience, and of course tastiness. Out of this conversation, "project bacon" was born: We decided that we would try eating vegetarian for a month and see just how difficult it really was. Although I'd been eating less and less meat over the years anyway, I thought that going full on meatless was going to be too difficult. What would happen when I went to a restaurant or to a friend's house? Would I find myself undone at the sight of bacon and then feel guilty about eating it?

Turns out, it wasn't nearly as much of a problem as I thought. Social situations have been a bit awkward at times, and the only meat I've eaten in the past year was my mother's thanksgiving turkey, mostly out of a desire not to make it an issue at the dinner table (this year I think I'll be able to get away with eating the tofurky). I still do like the smell of bacon, but I haven't really had an overpowering urge to eat it. Frankly, if I had I would have eaten some by now, both because I lack willpower and because I believe in making environmental/social justice life choices that work for you. There are a lot of ways to be better to the world and to other people, some of which will make you more miserable than others. I'm perfectly happy living without a car, but take away my hot shower and I'm a truly cranky person.

I've always thought of these things as personal preferences, which brings me (in a long winded way) to the point of this post. I've been thinking of myself over the past year as a person who is happy not eating meat, but my recent trip to California made me think a lot more about meatless eating and infrastructure. I think about this in transportation terms all the time, because there are some places in the world (California is a bad offender here) that are obviously not built with pedestrians or bikes in mind. Trips that would be perfectly manageable on foot become really unpleasant when there are no sidewalks or crosswalks to speak of, and it changes the way you relate to the world around you. What this trip made me realize is that this is true for vegetarian eating as well (at least in my case). Not only is it difficult or impossible to find tofu in some places, but it changes the degree to which I miss and want to eat meat.

Our flight path took us through a rather long layover in Memphis, and it became obvious to me pretty quickly that this was not a place designed for vegetarians. Trying to eat meat-free there was very much like trying to walk in places not meant for pedestrians: you find yourself doing the culinary equivalent of tromping through bushes and sprinting across freeway entrances. Getting a vegetarian meal would basically require subtracting the meat (where possible) from what was on offer, which would result in pretty boring meals: sandwiches with veggies and a sad slice of cheese, etc. I had nachos without the meaty chili, which was fine for one night but would probably cause serious unhappiness if I had to do it every day. My poor SO has even fewer options, and usually ends up eating fries in situations like these. With his steely German willpower I'm pretty sure he'd stay vegan even if it meant fries for weeks, but I know I wouldn't survive as a vegetarian in these circumstances. I don't deal well with the feeling of deprivation that comes with being a meat-free eater in a meaty land.

Needless to say, I was glad to come out on the other side of the airport system and find myself in California, where the SO and I could eat at an entirely vegan Chinese restaurant (me above, with my fresh rolls and salty plum lemonade) and many other places where meals could easily be made meatless. A friend took us out to Burma Superstar for an absolutely stunning lunch:

I could eat this food forever and never look back. We had the tea leaf salad and the rainbow salad, fried yellow bean tofu, coconut rice and vegetarian noodles. I can't even tell you which dish was my favorite because they were all so good. Too bad they don't have a Burma Superstar Ithaca outpost, because I have a feeling there's no way I'll be recreating a 22 component salad on my own any time soon!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Self-drafted chiffon dress

It's starting to take shape! After draping, drafting, muslining and cutting, my chiffon dress is finally starting to look like a dress that I can try on, and I'm starting to feel a bit less paranoid that I may have just killed my gorgeous chiffon. See, it's actually looking pretty good!

The lighting in this picture is terrible and doesn't do the fabric justice, but you can see that the fitting is coming along nicely. I messed around with the gathers on the top tonight trying to get them just so -- I had a weird poufing thing going on over one boob. While one side turned out exactly the size I drafted it, the other inexplicably grew during sewing. Go figure. A little extra cutting and tucking and now it's looking better.

I was hoping to be able to get away with wearing a nude colored bra under the top, but unfortunately the chiffon is a bit too sheer for that. I tried on a tank top under the dress, but that's really not a good solution. The tank top pushes the center of the dress away from my chest, which really distorts the lines of the dress. So, I'm going to have to come up with some other way to line the dress. Probably I'll try drafting some triangle-shaped cups out of the black batiste lining fabric and see if that looks good.

Really though, these are minor problems to be worked out when compared with the major triumph that is a deep V dress that doesn't gape in the front or only cover half of my boobs. Seriously! I have never had a top that fits me this well, and I'm psyched. More to come soon!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Refugee plant is tasty

Ithaca friends take note: your refugee plants are welcome with me, especially if they happen to be tasty plants! A friend of mine is going away for the summer, and so she left behind her cute little thai basil plant with me. I popped a couple leaves in my leftover pad thai that I heated up for lunch today.

Last year the SO and I tried growing some plants out on our back patio, but we were thwarted at every turn: the back patio is too shady, it rained all the time, and the squirrels! Those merciless little jerks ate everything they found tasty, and dug up the rest just for fun. The SO, normally a nice, calm vegan man, actually threw rocks at the squirrels one day. They were that bad.

This year we've put some pots down on the front porch where the squirrels seemed less inclined to root around, and we tried one of those upside down tomato plant hangers in the backyard. So far so good on both counts, but you never know. So, friends with plants that need babysitting be warned that your plants are not indemnified against squirrel loss!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Bikes galore at the Ithaca festival

The Ithaca festival parade is definitely not your average small town festival parade. It has a fire truck and a marching band, but the rest of it is more like a cross between a protest rally and a hippie carnival. This year we had a save the deer protest group, a float that drew huge cheers from the crowd protesting a proposed drilling project, and some random bits of Ithacana like the "Volvo ballet" with station wagons dressed in tutus and the chain saw marching band (my personal favorite). Bike advocacy groups of all stripes were also out in full force this year, and I present a mini-photo essay of Ithaca's bikes for your viewing pleasure.

First up, a e-bike group named the Buffalo St Chargers. I don't think I've ever seen a single e-bike in Ithaca (although it certainly makes sense, what with all the hills we have here), so I was kind of surprised to see a whole gaggle of them in the parade. Check out this e-cargo bike:

Next we have the Bike It! folks, who are biking to the US social forum in Detroit this month. The SO and I have gone on a few of their training rides, and they're cool folks. Here's a Bike It! tandem crew:

A random lady in a "bee on a bike" costume. I have no idea what group she was associated with, but the costume made me laugh:

The TCAT parade bus, with a bike in the bike rack. I love that they have racks on the buses here, although I admit I don't use them very often because of an irrational fear that my bike is going to somehow come loose and get mashed under the bus. I know, that's not actually going to happen, but it doesn't stop me from being all paranoid about it:

And last but not least, my SO, who decided to ride with the FLCC crowd this year in the parade. The parade theme was "singing in the rain" and he wanted to decorate his bike accordingly. Half an hour and a whole lot of zip ties later, he came up with this:

He strapped our watering cans and umbrellas onto the bike racks (and inexplicably, left the watering cans full of water and rather heavy. He really likes to make it hard on himself!) I helped him complete the look with a towel sarong. Amazingly, he was not even close to the most outlandishly dressed FLCCer.... I'd have to give the prize there to the other half-naked biker wearing some hot pink fluffy shorts. Ah, Ithaca.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Culotte slips for summer skirts

Summer weather is here in full force in Ithaca, and I've started unpacking some of my summer clothes. I really like changing over my wardrobe... there's something that feels optimistic about stuffing those sweaters to the back of the closet, like winter is never going to come back (ha!). I also really love unpacking clothes that I haven't seen in a while, and in some cases even forgot that I had.

One of the recently unearthed items is a light cotton summer dress that I bought a few years ago, but it still seems new to me because I haven't worn it much. Why? Because as much as I like dresses, it's kind of inconvenient to wear them in the summer. Your skirt blows up when you hop on your bike, and (if you're built anything like me) your thighs chafe if you walk around too long. In the winter this doesn't seem to be as much of a problem since I'm not on the bike as much and can wear tights for walking around, but in the summer the hot, sticky weather makes me (ironically) inclined to avoid dresses.

So on the recommendation of the interwebs, I decided to try out a culotte slip (also known as a split slip). It's basically a pair of loose, lacy shorts to wear under a skirt, like a slip:

I ordered a three pack to try out (in black, white and beige). Yes, I realize that I could have sewn some of these myself, but for $25 I thought I'd just order some and see if I liked the concept. I've worn the black and the white pair now, and so far so good. They make walking and biking around in a skirt _much_ more comfortable. They do add a bit of bulk, though, especially to skirts that are already lined. Maybe it would be better to omit the skirt lining on future summer dresses and sew up a matching pair of these instead. It would be a great way to use up a spare yard of silk or cotton lawn!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fabric Mart feeds my chiffon obsession

I was browsing around the sewing blogosphere a few weeks ago and happened on a post (not even sure where now) about someone's recent fabric haul from Fabric Mart. I think I've been to a Fabric Mart in real life and was not terribly impressed with it, but I clicked along anyway and was really, really pleasantly surprised. They had a bunch of designer fabrics (including the Vera Wang chiffon that I made my Chantilly dress from), and a beautiful selection of couture silks. This one caught my eye immediately:

I can't even tell you how psyched I was to find this! I love prints in bright, rich colors but I'm getting a bit tired of flowers, and I was really excited to find a print that was a bit more abstract. It's even more beautiful in person, and now I'm currently obsessing over ways to sew it up.

I think I'm going to try making the BurdaStyle Jenny dress, or rather something inspired by it:

The flowy top would be perfect for this silk chiffon. The only problem with this pattern is the deep V neck. Deep Vs do look good on me, but they're such a hard fit when you have ample cleavage. I asked about this when the pattern was posted and got some helpful tips from people on the forum, but in the end I figured that it would probably be as much work (if not more) to alter the existing pattern piece than it would be to just make it myself. I'm already planning on changing the skirt to a bias cut A line anyway, so really it makes sense to just try drafting it myself from scratch.

I've already started on drafting the top (no pictures yet, though). Basically I took a piece of very lightweight cotton and draped it on myself, pinning it at the shoulder seam and just under the bust. Then I gathered enough fabric to cover my breast, and then marked where the side seam and shoulder seam fell by just drawing on the fabric. I used that to draft two pattern pieces for the back and the front, and then made a muslin to test it out. The armholes ended up much too small (totally fixable, though), but the fit in the bust is great! I hope hope hope I actually have enough chiffon to make this dress now (I had a blouse in mind when buying it so I only got 1.5 yards, although it is wide). But, if not, I'll have a deep V pattern that (for the first time ever) actually covers my breasts. Are you excited? I sure am!