Friday, December 15, 2017

riding in the cold gets harder when it's colder, and i'm older. but not impossible.

So we're making up a batch of veggie burritos at home today -- they coast us about $0.50 each to make and are delicious, with flour tortillas, refriend beans and rice we make ourselves, and shreeded cheese.

Sweetie is also whipping up a batch of from-scratch ginger snaps for my sister's holiday party this weekend.
We needed ingredients for both, plus ai needed to fill in on a few things due to adjustments in my diet (more on that later). So, after pulling on some warm clothes and steeling myself for the wind, I got out on my bike and rode to the store.
Clad in multiple thin layser, topped off with a wool cap and a rainjacket as a eind shell, I was fine. Slow, but fine.
By the time I got there I found I'd had enjoyed it.
Rain is in the forecast for later today so I wanted to get home before it started. (The only forecast worse than 38F is 38F and raining.)

The diet thing -- yesterday I met with a nutritionist who work with IBD patients. Together we talked about my current dietary choices and looked at a couple of options:

1. begin with a complete and radical elimination diet, in which I eat basically nothing but broth for a few weeks, and then slowly add back stuff and see how my body reacts to it. The upside is that this is a much more complete approach to modifying a diet, and can be the most effective for many IBD patients. The downside is that taking this approach can often result in multiple "healing crises" -- episodes where I cannot control my bowels and/or I will be in enough pain so that I can't work.

I can't afford to not work. We cannot afford for me to not work. Period.

So we looked at the other option:

2. We discussed which foods caused the most memorable triggers during my childhood -- which foods seemed to send me to the bathroom more often and more urgently. I recalled the hot fudge sundaes my mom took me out for every week, in an effort to help me gain weight( it didn't work and I ran to the bathoroom more often), and immediately said it was dairy.
So we're cutting out all dairy, starting today. This will mean no cheese, no milk in my coffee, and butter is only allowed in cooking ( thankfully, she and I agree that margarine is terrifying).

As a modifier, Alyssa also wants me to try swapping out processed grains where possible, and substituting starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots and yams. Finally, when I crave a snack that's super-processed, she wants me to open a small tin of smoked oysters instead. They're protein-rich and loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids, both of which my diet can use more of.

"So veganism isn't happening for me any time soon, is it?" I asked with a smile.

"Probably not ever," she said, "Crohn's and UC patients who can't absorb plant protein have to get it some other way, and that means animal proteins. You shouldn't try a vegan diet, because it won't give you what you need nutritionally. If you could eat kale, perhaps we could talk about a vegetarian diet, but not vegan."

I thought about smoked oysters and mussels, which I hadn't eaten in a long time but which I remember that I liked. "Gook thing I don't keep a kosher kitchen," I said.

Seriously, I doubt I'll ever totally give up on all grains -- that's simply not a realistic thing for me, and since I tolerate them pretty well, I'm not going to lose sleep over it (though I'm happy to experiment with eating less wheat and more rice). Giving up dairy seems like a more reasonable place to begin.
I hope to see noticeable results within a month.

And I'm relieved that I don't have to give up coffee.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

there's a special place for bike thieves - but is it hell? should it be?

A few days ago, someone broke the three locks that secured donated bicycles and a janky cargo trailer I was preparing to tune up for Catholic Charities refugee resettlement program. They left the two cruisers, and took the two mountain bikes and the trailerfrom where they'd been locked up beside my house. Of course, being diligent thieves they also took the broken locks (likely to avoid leaving fingerprints).

Since the bikes were donations and I'm not officially a non-profit organization, I haven't called the police. The best I can do in this situation is get some more locks and collect more donation bikes to replace what got pinched.

I've had friends tell me to store the bikes indoors. Where? Our little house has no basement or garage.
I've had friends tell me to get heavier locks. I'm working on that.
And I've had lots of people tell me the thieves suck.
Well, maybe they do.
And maybe they're even more desperate than the folks I'm trying to help.

The existence of bicycle "chop shops" along the Springwater Corridor and in other homeless encampments is well-documented. Some brave souls have actually stolen their bikes back, at considerable personal risk (because the homeless men who steal and guard those bikes are armed with guns, knives and other weapons which they will use to keep their loot).

I'm not brave enough to do that.

Years ago, when I had a customer's stolen bike in the workstand at the shop, The too-short-for-the-bike fellow who was waiting for me to fix the flat realized that I had realized the bike was stolen. In a split second he leapt over the counter, punched me to the floor, took the bike out of the workstand and took off. Of course, he was never caught. And of course, while I staunched the flow of blood from my bruised nose, the police who responded advised me to never try and save anyone's bike again. "It's just a bike," one of the officers gently advised me. "Your life is worth far more than that, regardless of your intentions."

That was almost twenty years ago. I have not stepped between a thief and a bike since. It's a personal decision for each of us, based on one's experiences and strengths. My strengths are not in direct physical force, and I know it.

Still, the loss of the two bikes, and the trailer (which I'd already repaired to make it usable), were annoying and frustrating.

Four years ago, I had my own trailer stolen from my home. It was a repaired and converted kids trailer, strung with nylon webbing from a lumber yard and used to haul cargo. It cost me maybe forty bucks for the trailer, replacement wheels and the work and small parts I'd put into it.
Six weeks after it was stolen, I spotted it at a homeless encampment that clearly looked like a bicycle chop shop. The man who was unloading it glowered at me menacingly as I stared at my trailer. it was clear that he would not give it up without a fight.

I rode on.

Today, I have a folding trailer that can be stored flat, and indoors. I also own fewer bicycles, sticking to just two that I alternate depending on my needs that day. They're both stored indoors under lock and key. When I'm out on errands, the bike is locked with a heavy-duty U-lock AND a cable. I don't like having to carry such a heavy lock, but this is the world we live in and that's that.

There's an old saying: There's a special place in hell for bicycle thieves.

And yet, I wonder how true that is in today's world where so many more people are living one paycheck away from homelessness, from desperation, from starvation, from death. (Yes, people have died from being homeless here in Portland, often due to exposure to the elements and starvation and/or the illnesses that accompany those things.)

And I keep coming back to the idea that perhaps each of us has the personal ethics we can afford to have.

If I have to steal in order to survive, I'm not likely to sit up at night worrying about my soul. I'll be too busy worrying about how to get warm, dry and fed.
And so I can't be TOO angry at whomever stole the bikes and trailer. Because it's highly likely they were desperate, homeless and hungry enough to steal; and perhaps addled enough by illness or addiction to be unable to find work.

Their numbers are rising.
And it is very hard for me NOT to wonder if one day I might join them on the sidewalk, simply because I'm already living hand-to-mouth and one day I'll get too old to work and the world will get too cruel to care about anyone like me.

So while bike theft is frustrating -- and if my personal bike were stolen, I'd be angry and sad -- the fact is that right now, I can find another bike more easily and legitimately than someone who is forced to steal one.

So I can't be too hard on bike thieves who live under tarps in the thickets out on the Springwater.

And to my friends who've offered advice, thanks. I'll sort it out as best I can, and eventually get back to helping newly arrived Portlanders find their way around town a little more affordably by bike.

If you really feel bad about this whole scenario, please make a donation of money or time to organizations in your town that work on creating stable housing for the poor, refugee resettlement, or advocacy for the homeless. Seriously. Do it today.

Happy riding.

(Photo: homeless encampment along the Springwater Corridor-South, December 2015.)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

off-season coffeeneuring -- travels with a pluviophile*

Last week I really struggled with a depressive period, where I felt like crap and didn't want to go outside. A couple of days, just getting out of my PJ's was hard. Then, somehow, the fog lifted and a couple of days ago I went outside and it was okay.
So I did it again today, combining errands and coffee.

I rode a mile to a bus stop, went multi-modal (every Trimet bus has a rack on front that holds two bikes) and got off at Lloyd Center to drop a package in the post office's mail slot. Then, I decided to ride over to the Rose Quarter, where the wind picked up and I decided to toss my bike on the MAX train. (I have a gig coming up next weekend and need to take care of my voice -- meaning I can't always ride in the cold and wet whenever I feel like it. On those days I'm glad there's public transit.)

I got off and rode over to Rivelo to say hi to John, and to deliver several pairs of socks for him to hand off to the local homeless shelter. He had a deal where if you brought socks you could have a free bandana. So take him up on it before Christmas, Portland friends -- the bandanas make nice gifts and are 100% cotton. We chatted for awhile.

 At Rivelo there's currently a suitcase filled with these cool blue bags. They're Sackville handlebar bags, hobo-style but a little slimmer and more streamlined than the old-style hobo bags Riv used to offer.
And these, done up in a very pretty blue waxed canvas, are selling so cheaply right now that if you need one, go get one. Because the price is stupid-low, and John needs the space for other stuff, and while I normally don't like to tell people to go out and consume, these are actually good and if you need a handlebar bag this will do you for YEARS. And the price is stupid-low. I'm not posting it here because John is lonely and could use the company, so go visit and say hello and maybe buy a bag. He's got about seven or eight left, so grab one soon.
(If it's any help, if I wasn't totally broke I'd buy one for myself.)

 And if you do go visit John, Be sure to bring a pair or three of clean socks without and holes or rips (pro tip: You can find them in packs of six really cheap at Goodwill.) He'll also take knit caps and gloves if you have them. They all go to people who need help staying warmer this winter.
After my visit with John, I rode back over to the MAX station, hopped the train and took it back into town, where I filled my thermal mug with some late-afternoon half-caff and enjoyed it while I watched the rain come down. In spite of the chill, I felt good being out and riding around. I'll try and do it again this week if weather allows before I head out of town for my gig.

If weather permits tomorrow, I'll visit with a friend over tea and then stop by the CCC for Scrap Sunday, to see if there's anything useful for my ongoing refugee bikes project.
And if you're in Portland and you'd like to help out, you can do one or both of the following:

1. if you've got bicycle parts, locks and lights and/or adult-sized bicycles you'd like to move along, I can use them to provide affordable transportation for our newest Portlanders. (Yes, we ride bikes here even in the winter, as long as it's not icy.)
Just let me know and we'll figure out the hand-off.

2. The bikes I repair are delivered to Catholic Charities, which then distributes them to newly-arrived refugees who will use them to find work or go to English classes and job-training. If you don't have a bicycle to give, but you'd like to help out, Catholic Charities can always use financial donations to make their work possible. I can vouch for their work with refugees and assure you that they do good stuff to help people get settled in Oregon and move forward with their lives in safety and peace.

Thanks, and happy riding.
(*pluviophile - lover of the rain)

Thursday, November 9, 2017

bicycle stool (or, recycle all the things)

Last week, a friend from my shul brought me two old road bikes as donations for the refugee bicycle project. One of the bikes was fine and would be great after a tune-up; the other had been in a crash and the frame and fork were damaged beyond repair.
I assured my friend that I'd scavenge whatever useful parts I could and recycle the rest.

After removing all the parts -- including the bottom bracket and headset, which are both still fully functional -- I decided to make the frame into something I could use in my shop. Years ago, in my early months at Citybikes, I'd made a work stool from a damaged bike frame. It was a great height for working alongside a bicycle in a tight space and I liked having it. When it was stolen, I never got around to replacing it.

But now that I work at a home workshop, I thought it would be a good time to make another.
So I grabbed my hacksaw and removed the front triangle of the frame, sawing off the downtube and top tube about an inch and a half from the seat tube (which I eft attached to form the rear triangle).
I set the front end aside. Then I spread the dropouts as far apart as I could without breaking the old steel tubing, to form a tripod.
Since I'm bigger than I was when I made the first seat some twenty yers ago, I decided to add another "leg" in the back to stabilize the seat more.

I used a damaged mountain bike handlebar, flattening one end to fit over the cable stop bracket at the seatpost clamp and sawing off the other end to the correct length. I used hose clamps to attach the handlebar to the frame after I'd affixed the flattened end to the seat clamp bracket. The bottom end got capped with a stout handlebar plug.
Hose clamps worked well -- if you choose this addition, be sure not to overtighten them. You can cover the hose clamps with thick tape if you're concerned about the sharp edges.
Once that was done, I plugged the two open holes and added a wide saddle and accessories. The bell is just for fun, and the bottle cage was rescued from the front half of the frame to be used to hold my beer.

I may look around for an even wider saddle, but this was in the junk pile and for now it'll work.

I really like the addition of the fourth "leg" as it stabilizes the stool so I can put more of my weight on it. It's a good height for truing wheels on the bike, detailing brakes and such. And it's small enough that I can hang it on a hook and lock it inside the shop when I don't need it.

As it happened, the front end of the frame is being claimed by an artist friend, who will turn it into door handles for a large cabinet in her studio.

So in the end, almost none of it will end up in the landfill. I couldn't be happier.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2017 - #7: Ps & Qs; riding through depression and wrap-up

This year's challenge was actually pretty hard for me to complete.
Not because of the distance -- riding two miles is not a big deal in and of itself -- but because I am really struggling with some health issues this fall that include a Crohn's flare-up and depression that's amplified by the change into the dark, wet days of late fall.

On top of this, I've also had to hustle for gigs, which haven't been coming this year; and the release of my latest CD, which I hope will kickstart the process of getting more gigs.

So riding my bike to get coffee just hasn't been especially prominent on my radar just now.

Still, I went out today to finish it all up.
It wasn't grandly ambitious, and I rode all of two and a half miles.
I was exhausted from last night's CD release show, and a bottle of hard cider which, in hindsight, I probably should've skipped, and the change to Standard time didn't give me any additional sleep because my cat kept me up half the night.
So the fact that I went out at all is probably a little amazing.
But I did. I rode over to Ps and Qs Market, bought some pretty darned good coffee, rode around the neighborhood, including a loop around the back side of Woodlawn park, sat and watched the leaves fall and a few birds flying overhead while I drank my coffee, and finally rode home. Along the way I saw some beautiful color, which helped me enjoy the ride a little more.

Let's dispell something about all this: depression doesn't always look like I'm sad.

Last night I celebrated the release of my third CD of original music and I played a house concert and sold some CDs and folks had a good time (and mostly, so did I). Underneath it all, I really just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep, even as I played my heart out and did a fair job of it.
That's depression.
I'm not always visibly sad when I'm struggling with it. I am often really tired, fatigued (remember, this can also intersect with the fatigue of Crohn's, so it's not clear-cut which is which and there's really nothing to be done about that lack of clarity). I remember what it was like to be full of energy and want to get outside on my bike or outside and doing other things. When I'm in a flare-up AND depressed, I don't want to do much of anything but sleep becasue I'm so f#cking exhausted.

One thing -- last night, when talking about the origins of one of my songs, I was able to be honest and also talk about having depression, without any sense of shame or stigma. Because it's medical. It's not something I created. It just is. And I'm glad I was able to get that out there.
When I'm in the throes of a depressive episode, going outside to ride my bike is really, really hard.
But I did it, and I'm done for now.
In my world, mileage doesn't count. Riding does.
So I'm going with that.
Thanks, and good riding to you!

Evidence photo, at Ps & Q's.
This was after I'd already ridden a couple of miles and had sipped some really good coffee.

Below: Drama. I love it when the sky gets like this and really shows up the gold and orange of the leaves before they fall.

P's & Q's also does really nice things with eggs.
Stop in on a Sunday for brunch.
Or just pick up a few staples on ther way home.
(This is where I go for my chocolate milk.)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

tough week, continued

Hey, so if you read my last post, you know that I live with depression, and it was on grand display.

I also live with Crohn's.
Crohn's and depression intersect, and in fact people with Crohn's are twice as likely to also have clinical depression as the general population. Considering that Crohn's is an auto-immune disease, this comes as no surprise to me, at least intellectually.
Emotionally, I've spent a lifetime in denial of just how bad things can get.
But things are getting harder.

I haven't felt like riding as much or as long over the past several months.
Over the last month or so, I've begun to lose my appetite.
I struggle with physical and emotional fatigue far more often.
And today, I will be scheduling appointments with my GI doc for more tests. He strongly suspects that in addition to the Crohn's, I've likely developed C Diff as well (an infection that commonly happens in folks with compromised auto-immune systems). I am experiencing symptoms that point clearly to that diagnosis.

C Diff is difficult to treat, and can mask symptoms of Crohn's, making that harder to treat as well.
It also means that my immune system is even more compromised than previously thought.
I may have to limit my travel and take strong, potentially harmful antibiotics to treat it.
The more complex my Crohn's becomes, the harder and more costly it becomes to treat, and the more I and my doctors will have to fight with insurance companies to get the treatments covered. because I am basically unemployed right now and have no job prospects on the horizon, other than whatever I can do as a freelancer. And right now, that's pretty thin.
In short, things could get harder. And I am scared, exhausted and depressed.

So maybe I won't finish the Coffeeneuring Challenge, on time or at all.
Maybe I won't care.
Maybe the whole bike repair thing for refugee resettlement takes a back seat for awhile.
And maybe I don't know what comes next.

I may choose to share more here. If you find it too depressing and choose to take a break, that's cool.
Maybe I'll get back to the bike stuff before too long, maybe not. Sorry.
Things are looking pretty damned dark right now.

Monday, October 30, 2017

America is what it is, and I am who I am.

This is a break from the bicycle stuff to comment on The World.
Today, special counsel Robert Mueller filed indictments against folks connected with the possibility that Donald Trump colluded with the Russians to rig our last presidential election.
(Don't get me started on how I think prior elections were also rigged in their own special ways.)

Now, there are loud murmurs that Trump may fire Mueller and pardon the man Mueller indicted.
If this happens, it's not revolutionary. In fact, it's only radical because it will be so blantant an abuse of power that no one can look away. People are already wringing their hands at the prospect of a "Constitutional crisis" and talking about "nationwide action" (meaning, protests). to "speak up" about the injustice of it all.

I admit that I am dubious about all of this.

I'm dubious because, as cathartic as a rally/protest might be in this situation, we may be too late for such an action to be actually effective.
Not "meaningful," but EFFECTIVE.

--Unions have already been neutered in most states with "right to work" laws and lawsuits.
--Fewer and fewer jobs are full time and/or offer meaningful protections against worker abuse, and many workers are being replaced by automation;
--Corporations are legally people (yeah, I know) and the time for the repeal of that legal reality is not now or in the near future;
--A true "General Strike" will no longer be cohesive, cooperative or widespread enough to have a real impact. Too many people cannot afford to walk out on their jobs and/or cannot get childcare to attend a protest. Too many people are elderly, un-ambulatory and/or otherwise unable to attend. Thanks to rampany development and gentrification in cities, too few buildings are left to squat in should participants in general striking lose their jobs and their homes. Assuming that hundreds of thousands could actually be mobilized to make such an action EFFECTIVE (rather than merely meaningful), there would be widespread violence, either from troops sent in by the President or by independent armed militias who see the opportunity to flex their heavily-armed muscles -- while law enforcement mostly look the other way.

We have already watched the protests get bigger, and louder, and more violent.
And nothing has happened, except that the people with power and money are circling their wagons in tighter and tighter circles.

When the first school shootings began happening years ago, and no one in a position of power screamed or pushed through legislation demanding stricter gun laws, that was when we decided it didn't matter anymore. America -- a violent country with violent beginnings and a pervasive, hyper-masculine collective psyche that has wounded generations of sensitive children and encourage bullies for most of its history, is about to have a constitutional crisis. And other than the few hundred thousands who will march in protest, waving their signs and screaming their protest chants and wearing last winterr's pussy hats, 

Most of the country will stay home and yawn.

They will yawn from exhaustion, because they have to work two or three jobs just to stay housed. Because they're single parents or grandparents raising children, and they have no support and few or no resources. Because they are too stressed from surviving to stay caught up with the news cycle or even to read and understand our nation's constitution. because after generations of growing "anti intellectualism" -- which really boils down to hating anyone who has more than a high school diploma because you never got father than yourself, let's be honest -- the people who are actually using their educations and intellect to try and make things better are OUTNUMBERED by the folks who are too poor and sick and under-educated to find the energy and strength needed to engage in this fight.

As a country we are being overwhelmed by an inertia brought on by the widening gap between rich and poor, the death of the middle class (not nearly as slow as some would have us believe, if you know your economic history at all) and the consolidation of the world's wealth into a handful of dynastic cells. For the time being, the deck is stacked against the common working person. I will suggest that it was stacked since long before I was even born, and that the ability to make real change through mass action was already pretty much lost by the time I was in high school. Sorry, I was born too late and grew up too isolated to participate in that grandly romanticized struggle called The Sixties. I came of age with Reagan's election in 1980. Throughout my twenties I was told that "greed is good" and that fashion mattered more than substance because no one was paying attention substance anyway.
As a member of the high school class of 1981, I was never going to be an idealist about politics or the supposed power of my vote. 

I am shocked by the number of television shows today that recalls the halcyon days of the 1980s.
Seriously? Is anyone actually nostalgic for that decade? Good Lord. I'm sure as hell not.


As someone who lost their idealism long ago, I am dubious about the effectiveness of a protest action anymore. It is highly possible that real change will take generations and that I will not have a thing to say about it except on a micro-level, teaching kids or otherwise quietly influencing one heart at a time. I've got nothing else. Because I'm a fifty-something chickenshit with physical and mental health issues and so far have not found a cause that I'm actually willing to really and truly die for. Blame it on my birthyear, blame it on my rootless, isolationist parents and my highly mobile childhood, blame it on depression or auto-immune disease or any number of things. 

But all I can do is all I can do, and dying for a cause is not part of the equation. 
Because I was never raised to believe any cause might actually be worth such a sacrifice.
So it's no stretch from there to my views about rampant nationalism, flag-waving and all the rest.

So what's left? Other than going underground, living quietly and below the radar, and reveling in the small daily miracles, and being kind whenever possible, well -- I honestly don't know.
Other than doing those quiet things, I have no other answers, except to suspect that I am standing on a point in our collective timeline where the pendulum isn't swinging in my favor, and won't again for a long time. I can't be an idealist anymore. I can't pretend that bicycles will helps ave the world in our lifetime. And I can't imagine a world in which we all actually wake up and realize that we need to live kinder, gentler and simpler (and maybe have fewer kids) in order for everyone to have what they need to live a merely decent life.
I don't buy in. I don't believe. In the end, we will all die someday and the older I get, where, when and why matters less and less.

If this totally bums you out, feel free to detach, unfollow, whatever.
This is who I am, this is how I move through the world, and going forward I'll be looking for those smaller miracles, if only to keep from going crazy.