Monday, November 3, 2014

Creepy Crafts

I went all-out for a Halloween party this year (and by 'this year' I mean, I forgot to hit "publish" two years ago).  Unfortunately, my camera was not quite up to the task of capturing the mood lighting and creepy effects.  But this will at least give an idea of what I did and hopefully provide a little spark of inspiration to anyone who wants to plan their own Halloween party.

First up - drink labels, I found some of these online and printed them out - but most of them I made up using good old MS Word.   I tea-died the paper - drying it in a warm oven, then covered the original labels with black crepe paper.  I think they turned out well.

All the liquor

Crystal ball - found a light-bulb globe and a tiny glittered tea-light holder at Goodwill.  I added a bit of glitter pain to the globe and set it in the holder.  The "book of visions" was more tea-dyed paper, burn around the edges (actually - I think that's paper from a shopping bag on the cover, tea-dyed pages inside).  The idea was that people would "gaze into the crystal ball" and write predictions in the book.  The idea was a bit better than the execution - but a few people did write it in, which was fun.

Part of the problem with these pictures is that with the flash -  you miss the effect of the mood lighting, but without the flash - it all looks blurry.  Hopefully- you get the general idea.  Cobwebs and tattered fabric over pretty much everything.

The white bouquet had creepy crawly bugs in it, but I'm not sure anyone noticed.    

I have a handful of old pictures of my family, I printed them out in black and white and they ended up looking really spooky actually - just by being low-res.  

These were fun - I made the jack-o-lantern ones last year, and the mummy ones are new.  The mummies use tissue paper and cheese-cloth.

On the alter to the right I had 'fortune-candies' - copied a bunch of spooky fortunes and wrapped them around Hersey's minis.  It was fun to have people read their fortunes out.  But I did too many!!  I'll be eating fortune candies for months.  

How the crystal ball looked with candles.  

The pictures in the back were all cut-outs in black glued over book pages.  I think it worked really well.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


I'm back to bread baking!

Here are my latest Challah rolls

The insides are really dense.  It's an enriched dough - with oil and eggs, so it should be somewhat dense... but usually I do an overnight rise which gives it a little more lift.  I'm going to use these for sandwich rolls though, so they should be good.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Portland Century Ride

After the 'agony of defeat' I experienced on the Seattle to Portland ride, I decided to re-evaluate my riding goals.

Last summer I had set a goal of riding a century - 100 miles - and trained pretty hard for it.  I signed up for the Portland Century ride and completed the 80 mile option.  I felt confident and in good shape for the Harvest Century in September, but Mother Nature had other plans and sent a ride-canceling storm.  I was half tempted to do the ride on my own anyway - but so much debris had been blown into the streets that it would have been impossible.  I was incredibly disappointed.

My training this year has not been nearly as intense, and I've hit more obstacles.  The "Worst Day of the Year" ride in February was canceled and I got a flat tire the night before the Bridge Pedal.  And I've already written extensively about my fore-shortened StP ride.  So I saw this year's Portland Century as a last-ditch effort to actually reach my year-old goal of riding a 100 miles in one go.  I needed a win!

I got up at 0'dark thirty and rode 5 miles up to the University of Portland for the start of the ride.

Waiting in line to register for the ride

Fortunately I had picked up my packet early, so I didn't need to wait in line - just ran in to grab a bit of breakfast before heading out.  

Mile 0 - Feeling pretty good.  It's chilly, so I've got an extra shirt on.  But the ride starts out flat in familiar territory.

Mile 10 - going along Marine Drive past the airport.  Did you know that PDX uses air-cannons to scare away birds?  Boom!  Boom!  Boom!!  It's a bit of an unnerving sound as you ride past.

Don't much like the look of those clouds hanging over Vancouver.

Looking back at Portland it's nothing but clear skies!

Mile 14 - After a harrowing climb up the I-205 bike path with cars zooming past on either side, we reach the first stop of the day.  It's nice to get a breather after that hill, especially knowing that we've got a bit more climbing to do within the next 10 or so miles.  

Mile 20 - I ride right past the cut-off for the folks doing the 45 mile option.  Feeling pretty good.

Climb baby climb.

A few people ask me "So are you doing the 100?" and I'm always hesitant to say "yes", so I reply "Well, that's what I signed up for." because when you aim to do something you've never done before - how do you know if you're going to make it or not?  Day 2 of StP was haunting me.  I kept telling myself that I'd just see how I felt and take the 80 mile option if I needed to.

Hill climbs = excellent views

Mile 30 - Second stop of the day at Lacamas Lake.  Despite the clouds it's really quite pretty out.  And this stop has bagels with lox.  I can't describe how motivating that is to this Jersey girl.

Lacamas Lake

Mile 35 - There's a bit more climbing but I take it slow and steady.  I've decided to take a relaxed approach to this ride - and even stop a few times to take pictures or when ripe blackberries tempt me off the path. "They were off my path so I never had dared... " I find myself singing the Into the Woods soundtrack as I ride along tree-lined roads.

Mile 40 - Immediately after the next rest stop we come to the big decision point - 80 mile option or 100?  I'm hardly the fastest rider, and the hills - although modest - do put my legs to the test.  But despite the chill, I'm feeling pretty darn good.

This is what I came here to do!

Mile 50 - We've had a quite a few rollers, and I have to say my legs definitely feel it.  But it warmed up and the views are impressive.  This is why I ride - to see beautiful places, to spend the day outside in the fresh air, and to get the exercise that I don't get in my day-job.

Getting close to La Center Washington.

Mile 60 - We're past the half-way point, and about to turn south to head back to Portland.  This stop was in a lovely park.

La Center rest stop
Stop and smell the flowers.

There were lots of statues and carvings. 

In a somewhat unpopular move, the organizers put the food down a hilly path.  After the hill climbing we'd just done - no one was particularly happy about the stairs.

It was interesting to chat with people and to overhear snippets of conversation from exhausted riders -  "Those hills were killing me"   "The thing is - these folks ride all the time, we just do weekends...."  - because I was feeling ok.  Tired and a bit sore, sure... but not wiped out.    Most everyone on this ride looked the part of a serious cyclist in spandex with clip-in shoes.  But in the end a pretty jersey is no substitute for training.

Mile 65 - Back on the road.  We pass lots of farms, goats, cows, horses, pigs, chickens and lots of apple orchards.  It's quite a scenic ride.

Mile 68 - I hear a rider say "This is the farthest I've ever gone!" and several of us congratulate him. This is the first century for a lot of us and the more experienced riders give us words of encouragement.  The recreational cycling community is incredibly supportive.  

Gotta love an old red barn

Mile 70 - More rollers.  There's no one giant hill to conquer on this ride like there was on StP, but there's a total of about 3,000 feet of elevation change, so I'm getting quite a workout.  Fortunately there haven't been any stop lights at the bottom of the hills so I've been able to carry the momentum half way up the next hill.  It's still a challenge though - to maintain control as you're barreling down the hill at 30+ mph, and then rapidly down-shifting to be able to climb the rest of the next hill.

At one point my chain just refuses to get into first gear and I'm screaming at it to just GO GO GO GO COME ON!!!   I try up-shifting and then trying to down-shift again, it finally clicks in.   Pedaling in the wrong gear sapped every bit of strength I had in my legs.  OMG - PAINFUL!!

Mile 75 -  Much needed rest stop at NW Organic Farms.  The farm provides organic heirloom tomatoes in a simple salad with olive oil and salt.  It is absolute perfection on this hot summer day.

Mile 77 - Because this is not a race and people start whenever they want, and take as long as they need at the rest stops, the riders get quite spread out.  This is nice because it means you're not just staring at someone's butt the entire time, and you don't constantly need to maneuver around other riders to pass or be passed.

But we ran into a bit of trouble here - they were paving the road, and traffic was being held up to take turns going around it.  While we were stopped, at least 50 other riders all caught up and when we were eventually allowed to go - there was quite a crowd.

paving crew

Mile 78 - I'm still surrounded by several other riders and overhear one saying "We're at mile 78... last hill at mile 80." And sure enough, a few minutes later we hit a down-hill section and I start building up quite a bit of speed.

It sounds weird to say, but I feel like I have bit of an advantage on the down-hill. My daily commute involves going down a long steep hill - rain or shine, wind or gravel - I go.  I'm also a heavy girl on a heavy bike, so momentum is in my favor.  So when I see that I've got a down & up in front of me - I embrace the slightly out-of-control feeling of zooming down the hill.  I was able to overtake a few riders on down hills earlier in the day - one lady calling out "you're awesome" as I passed her.

But I can't here - there are too many other riders.  Slow or fast - they're each just taking whatever clear lane they can find - 3 or 4 wide in the road.  I hold on and barely touch on my brakes to keep me from running into the person directly in front of me while still keeping as much speed as I can - and GAH!  There's a huge pothole in my path!  Rider to my left, rider to my right, and more behind - no place to go.  Ka-thunk!  Snowflake takes it like a champ.  I know on a lighter bike - on thinner tires -  I'd have been toast.  But nope... my girl is solid.

But then we still have to get back up the hill in front of us - again, too many riders around.  It's hard to stay out of each others way.  I'm trying to get into gear and it's taking too long.  I didn't get nearly enough momentum from the down-hill and my legs are wiped.  What kind of sadist puts a hill climb at mile 80 of a century??

A few riders are stopping and walking - I vow to at least catch up to one of the walkers before I stop.  But my legs are screaming.  I'm in my lowest gear and that's all I've got.  50 yards from the top, I get off and walk.  Dang!  I wanted to take it.  But I'm hardly the only one walking at this point.  The hill won that battle.

Mile 85 - Our last rest stop is at a winery.  Sweaty cyclists nibbling on cheese and crackers and enjoying a wine tasting - yup, this is the Portland Century.

Mile 88 - we cross the Columbia again and as we pass Jantzen Beach there's a woman sitting under a tree ringing her cowbell!  First cowbell of the day.   There's a van with bikes on the roof driving back up to Washington - they honk and cheer at us.  Yay!  This little burst of encouragement perks me up for the last push.

Mile 90 - The last 10 miles of the ride are flat and uneventful.  I'm back in familiar territory and could reach the school even without the road markings.  I take one last blackberry break before the end of the ride.

Mile 100 - Done!  My first official century completed.  In fact, I think the final mile-count for the ride is 101.9 miles, plus the 5 miles that I rode to and from home puts me at 111 for the day.  w00t!  I did it.

I take it on faith that the ice sculpture was prettier earlier in the day.

Music, food, and lots of smelly people - what more could you want?

Despite the fact that I'd covered more miles and about the same elevation changes - I felt so much better than I had after the first day of StP.   What was the difference?

1.  Gear - I'm on the same bike, but after getting two flats in a week I decided to splash out and buy new tires.  They're nothing fancy - about the same as my old ones.  But as soon as the new tires were on, I immediately noticed an increase in my average speed.  Good gear makes a difference!

My Special Snowflake, taking a well earned break herself.  
I also caved in and bought a pair of padded bike shorts.  I'm not convinced that it is much of an improvement - after 50 miles in the saddle, you're going to feel sore - but it may have helped.

2.  Training - I still haven't done as much training as I did last summer, but I managed to get in a few 20-50 mile rides and a good hill climb practice in the month after StP.  And, well, of course doing StP definitely counts as training for this ride.

3.  Support - I had actually planned to ride with a friend but didn't meet up until the end.  We did text each other from the route though which was nice.

At the first rest stop, I saw a gal who I'd done a few group rides with last year.  I was too shy to approach her until I ran into her again at the second stop.  We chatted and encouraged each other.  She was a bit ahead of me all day, but I'd catch up to her at the stops and chat.  It was definitely nice to see a familiar face.

(I was however, sorely disappointed by the overall lack of cowbell on this ride!)

4.  Weather.  I was quite cold for the first half of the ride, but that was probably a good thing.  It ended up being a hot day, but nowhere near 100 degrees like it had been for StP.   That kind of heat can really sap your energy on an endurance event like this.  Cooler weather made a difference.

5.  Home court advantage.  The first 15 and last 15 miles of the ride were easy peasy.  No major hills, no surprises, all places I'd ridden before.  You can study the route map all you want, but there's no substitute for knowing the roads yourself.

So that's it!  My first century... and probably my last... on Snowflake at least.  She's a great bike, but if I want to get serious about distance rides, I need to invest in a road bike.  That's just not going to happen this year.  I've achieved my goal, and I'll feel good about only signing up for shorter rides for the next year or so.  Lord knows I've got plenty of other goals (cough cough - grad school - cough cough) in my life right now!

Post race party with a co-worker!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Actual Crafty Content

In between all of my other summer adventures this year I have actually been doing a little bit of quilting.  I made this one in a bit of a rush between school getting out and my trip to Las Vegas.

I didn't have months and months to do anything complicated so I chose a fun pattern with lots of fabrics that had been used in other baby blankets for mutual friends, and a few special fabrics for this little girl.

I really love I-spy quilts, because you can tell stories with them, or play matching games, or counting games.  Heck, I really should just make myself one because I like them so much.

This particular little girl lives in France with her American mother and French father, so I made sure to include some flashes of France (see if you can spot the Eiffel Tower) and allusions to America (I spy some cowboy boots and an American flag).  And then, of course, there are rocket ships, kittens, pirates, pumpkins, and baked potatoes.  Because - why not?

I didn't have enough fabric in my stash for the back so I picked up something with a little international flair:  

And a few French phrases:

The backing all together:

It may not be heirloom quality, but it was made with love!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Seattle to Portland - part 2

While wandering around on Saturday night I kept hearing rumors that the weather on day two was going to be even hotter.  The general consensus was that we'd have to get up even earlier to get most of the ride in before it got too hot.  This was not promising.  I managed to get into my sleeping bag by around 9pm... but there was no way I was going to be up for a 5am start time.  I didn't even bother setting the alarm on my phone.  I'd just sleep as long as I could.  This turned out to be not nearly as long as I would have liked.  


I woke up at about 4am to the sound of bike cleats on the gym floor.  Everyone had been very respectful of people sleeping - and aside from some rustling and snoring - it had been quiet all night.  But there's simply no way for that many people to get ready in silence.  

Grrrrr.... I rolled over and tried to ignore it.  Never mind riding another hundred miles - I didn't want to *move*.  I finally got up to go to the bathroom feeling like a zombie.  My butt was still sore and my calf muscles were locked up... I could barely open my eyes.   I shuffled back to my sleeping bag and agonized for a few minutes about whether or not to call it quits.  I knew I didn't have 100 miles in me physically... but mentally - I'm stubborn.  I'd spent the day before imagining myself crossing the finish line and thinking about how bad-ass it would be to do all 200 miles - despite riding alone, despite my heavy bike, despite my lack of training... I can do anything!!

This is that mental challenge that people were telling me about.  Mentally - I was there.  Physically however... my body was screaming no.  I sent a text message to my support person back home "I'm not doing this - come get me in Centralia, call me when you wake up."  But I knew she wouldn't be awake for hours, so I started trying to figure out how to spend my day in Centralia.  Ugh.  

It was only 4:45am, but by this point I was well and truly awake.  The gym was practically empty, everyone was already on the road - trying to beat the heat.  I headed off to the shower and changed into my normal clothes.  I started packing up all my gear.   I expected to be the last one left in Centralia - but when I exited the gym I saw a ton of people milling about.  Some folks still in their tents, others in line for coffee, as well as a bunch of folks just starting out on their bikes.
Centralia college - 6am
The mental / physical debate started up again... it's not really too late to start.  I'm walking now, so I can't be too bad off.  I stood for a while, indecisive.  I overheard a couple of older guys talking about the ride, one of them was still in street clothes.  Finally he said "Oh heck - I'll ride today."  I laughed and said I was trying to decide the same thing.  He stopped and thought for a moment.
"Have you had any caffeine yet?" he asked.
"Well, have a coffee and then decide".

The old dude had a point.  I'd only had an apple and some trail mix... and it was still obscenely early.  I grabbed my phone and texted my friend "Fuck it - I'm riding.  Call me when you wake up."  I knew I wouldn't make it 100 miles, but at least I could be further on down the road by the time she was ready to get me.  I quickly changed into riding gear and took my luggage to the moving van.  I got my bike out of the corral and was on my way.  It was only 6am.

Seattle to Portland - Day 2

Mile 100 - This isn't so bad.

Mile 101 - Actually... it really is.  My butt does not want to be in this bike seat, my legs are stiff, and I'm still really tired.

Mile 102 - My butt hurts, but if I shift a bit I can relieve the pressure a bit.

Mile 103 - A hill - this early, are you kidding me?

Mile 104 - Ok - now this part of my butt hurts, but if I shift a bit... hmmm...

Mile 105 - First rest stop of the day.  

A local community group is cooking up a pancake breakfast on their lawn.  I pull over and load up on eggs, sausage, pancakes, and yes - coffee.  Well, about half cream and sugar, half coffee - but it's caffeine.  The guys at my table are veterans of the ride - they're talking about gears and ratios and I don't understand a word of it.  One of them jokes about passing a granny on a beach cruiser going up The Hill  yesterday.  I laugh and say "I'm pretty sure that was me."  We chat a bit... and I mention that someone had told me there would be banana bread at the top of the hill - but I didn't see it yesterday.

"Oh, no... we haven't gotten to that hill yet - that's today." he tells me.
"There's another big hill???"  I cringe.
"Yeah - it's not quite as tall as the one yesterday - it's just longer." he says this as though it's supposed to reassure me.  
"I thought today was just rollers"
"Yeah the big hill first, then it's just rollers."
I finish up my breakfast and head out again.  

Mile 106 - Owwwwiiiieeee.

Mile 107 - maybe if I shift a bit....well, now my lady bits are squished but at least my butt doesn't hurt as much.

Mile 110 - The OTHER hill.  Head down, granny gears, owie owie owie, just keep pedaling.

Mile 111 - At the top of the banana-bread hill I get a text - my friend is up and willing to come get me, we just have to figure out where.  My route map is in the bottom of my back-pack on a moving van somewhere along I-5, so I ask around until someone knows where the first official rest stop is - Lexington Riverside Park.  Rescue secured, I feel a lot better.  

Mile 112 - except that my butt hurts.

Mile 113 - and it's actually really cold out.  

Mile 114 - here come the "rollers"... which is really just a fancy word for more hills.

Mile 117 - The people passing me are saying obnoxiously chipper things like "Good morning!" and I kind of want to throw a stick in their spokes.  

Mile 120 - maybe if I shift again... no, now that just hurts in a brand new way.  

Mile 123 - more hills?  Are you fucking kidding me?

Mile 125 - I'm really trying to use my momentum from the downhills to carry me up the next... but I always lose momentum about half way up... and I can't seem to click it into gear just right to carry me up.  It's a struggle each time.  

Mile 127 - Where are the cowbells?  How come no one is out with their cowbells??  

Mile 130 - For the first time, I'm stopping at the tops of the hills, just to get a breather and to get off the bike seat a bit.  

Mile 133 - It's really quite cold out, on the up-hill it's not bad, but going down I'm freezing - where's the heat everyone was promising?  Also - my butt hurts.

Mile 135 - Mini-stop at Castle Rock School.  I get off the bike and rest for a minute.  My friend texts me to say she's on her way and to verify the location.  I borrow a map from a couple of girls who look far more organized than I am.  Yup - only about 8 more miles to go.  I can do 8... 8 is nothing.

Mile 135.5 - How have I not gone not 8 miles yet!?!

Mile 136 - For serious my butt really hurts.  On the Hyperbole and a Half pain scale I think I went from a 3 "This is distressing, I don't want this to be happening to me at all" to 6 "Ow, ok, my pain is super legit right now." over the course of the morning.

Mile 140 - "on your left" "on your left"

Mile 141 - @#%%$^ %#^*& @#$%! %!$^&&** !() @$%!!

Mile 143 - Lexington Riverside Park.  I'm done.  I'm done done done-ity done.  It's the half-way point for the day, but it's the end for me.  I set Snowflake on the ground and grab a couple of snacks.  Right at that moment, my friend texts me that she's pulling into the park.  I see her and all but run to the car.  Get me out of here!

Don't cry because it happened... smile because it's over!

She tells me "You look pretty good!"  I tell her "That's because I know I'm going home."

Also, she brought her doggies with her:

Puppy action shot

Mile 147 - Cars are comfy... and warm.

Mile 151 - "Hey - can we stop at Burgerville?" - "You just finished a long ass ride - we can stop wherever you want"  Yum!!!

Mile 153 - Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Mile 155 - "Waah huh?  Was that thunder?"  Bang! Crash! The lightning flashed, and well, that's another story, never mind anyway....

Mile 160 - Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Mile 199 - "Should I take you home?"  "No, my keys are with my luggage - I need to go pick them up at the finish line."

Mile 201 - "Ok - just drop me off here."

Mile 202 - I am a horrible human being.  I am just genuinely a horrible human being.  I needed to get my luggage and the only way I could think of to get back to the baggage pick-up was to re-join the ride.  Like... a block or two before the finish line.  And I had to cross the street at a red-light, so I ended up in front of a whole group of riders who had presumably not escaped the thunderstorm by snoozing in a car for the past 50+ miles.

Oh well, I had to laugh.  Everyone was cheering and waving and ringing their cowbells.  I knew that technically I cheated, but I'd worked hard so I high-fived a couple of kids and smiled for the camera.  I will probably not, however, be paying $60 for the commemorative CD of all the ride photos.

Seattle to Portland ride - Day 2 over!

I got home, took a nice warm bath, puttered around online for a bit, and then fell asleep by 3pm.  I got up a few times and puttered around a bit more, but pretty much slept until my alarm went off at 5:30am for work. I woke up sore, but not incapacitated.

So, lessons learned?  Training matters, gear matters, support matters.  The mental aspect is important, but at some point you just can't ignore the physical aspect.  And this is an important thing for me to pay attention to.  I'm a thinky-thoughts kind of person - I live in my brain and don't pay enough attention to my body.  I have been trying to get better about that in the past couple of years - eating better, indulging in massages & pedicures, and biking for fun and exercise.  But now I've kind of gone too far in the other direction - forcing my body to do more than it was really capable of.  There is a fine line between challenging myself and masochism!  

Am I going to sign up for StP next year?  I'm not sure.  Of course the stubborn part of me wants a rematch.  I want to prove to myself that I can do it.  But the sensible part of me knows that I'll need to get the gear, training, and support sorted out if I want to do it.  And that's not easy, or cheap.  I have actually been eyeing a carbon frame road bike that would run me around  $3,000 - $6,000 depending on the components.

The Specialized Ruby Pro is a quick and efficient, FACT carbon bike, with OSBB and Zertz vibration dampers in the frame and fork, designed to cover long distances with maximum control, efficiency, and comfort. Dura-Ace/Ultegra drivetrain and Roval Fusée SLX wheels are ready for a gran fondo or local race. 

Then there's the clipless pedals for $40 and shoes for another $100, even just padded shorts would run me around $70.  Serious training would take the better part of each weekend for a few months... and finding a team that rides at a similar pace would take some time & commitment too.   How far down this rabbit hole do I want to go?

How far down this rabbit hole do I want to go while still in grad school?

I might do one more organized ride this year - one official century so I can say I did it properly.  But I think that'll have to be my limit until I'm out of school.  The StP can go on the bucket list to do someday.

Until then, I think I'm going to just go back to my old riding group (the appropriately named "NumBunz") - 40 miles around town and finishing with lunch and a beer.  That I know I can accomplish!