Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Off-Season Coffeeneuring (OSC). Because, coffee. And bikes.

Since I'm traveling a fair amount this winter, I'll be trying to get in as much bicycle riding as I can when I'm home.
This is harder than it used to be, both because of not having a "job" to commute to, and because the darker days and the rain are harder for me to live with than they used to be.
So when it's not raining and there's daylight, I am making myself get outside, even if it's only for an hour or two, and I pedal my bike around town. If I have errands to add that makes it easier to go farther than my neighborhood; but even if I don't it's still nice to get out and ride. Yesterday's ride was under mostly sunny skies, cool enough to need a heavy sweater but nice in the sunny spots.

The official Coffeeneuring Challenge is in the books for another year. So now I'm in the off-season. Like many devotees of both bicycles and coffee, that just means Off-Season Coffeeneuring, or OSC.
Yesterday it was a quick trip up to New Seasons Market on N. Interstate Avenue, where I enjoyed a cup of the good stuff (Nossa, of course). Then, I took the scenic route home, riding over to Ainsworth so I could take a loop through Peninsula Park.

On the way over the freeway, I had to stop. It was around 3:30 in the afternoon. And the northbound lanes of I-5 were backed up as far as the eye could see. I admit I felt smug, but only for a moment. The enormity of the imbalance -- between my decision to ride a bike and the choices so many thousands made every day to drive a car -- sank in. Riding my bike won't save the planet. But if I can do anything at all to reduce my footprint and it inspires others to reconsider their options, perhaps together we can all stall the end of the world a little bit.

So I snapped what is probably the last decent photo on my ancient digital camera:

I stood there for a good ten minutes, watching the traffic below me creep northward to Vancouver.
The Portland metro area is estimated to grow by another million people in less than ten years' time.
Considering how little affordable housing is left in town and the fact that the formerly-dying suburbs are now crowding with an overflow of the working poor (all priced out of inner-eastside Portland), I'm not sure where on earth a million more people think they're going to live when they arrive.

At least when Sweetie and I are ready to sell our crappy little workman's bungalow -- in, oh, thirty years or so -- we're virtually guaranteed a buyer. That's something.
Meanwhile, I'll keep riding, through fatigue, illness, aging and bouts of depression, and through the rain as long as I can.
Today's ride took me up to the cheap bento place on Killingsworth. I had a full punch card so my $4.99 teriyaki bowl was free today (good thing, because money's tight right now). I made a loop past Community Supported Everything and its free closet, and stopped in at the Community Cycling Center to poke through the bins. As I headed home, the sunset was a beautiful parade of blue, purple and pink fading down to red through the clouds. I tried to take pictures, but my camera is basically a goner now. (sigh)
Tomorrow, I'll look for another coffee place to nurse a cup of the good stuff.
See you on the road.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

back to the bike and dressing for the weather

After two weeks on tour, during which I enjoyed a fair bit of awlking but did not ride a bicycle once, I'm glad to be back home with my Sweetie, the cats and my bikes.
However, I've also com home to a sudden drop in temperatures, and making the adjustment to late fall/early winter is proving a little difficult.
I'm looking forward to a dry day tomorrow during which I'll be commuting to a couple of Hebrew students and running some lovely urban errands by bike. Wool socks and underlayers will be the order of the day.

Speaking of synthetic fibers,  Patagonia finally admits, after years of making outdoor clothing using new and recycled synthetic fibers, that there just might be a little problem with that.
I sort of gave up on most synthetics years ago, after realizing that (a) if I'm not allergic to wool there's no reason to avoid it; and (b) cotton still feels delightful next to the skin in all but the coldest weather. Plus, wool socks are the nicest things I can do to my feet.
But Patagonia, Rapha and a host of other chi-chi clothing companies still push the plastics, I guess because they can. So if you're contemplating buying Yet Another Synthetic Fleece this year, reconsider and maybe look for something made of natural fibers instead. Extra points if you scavenge instead of shop.

Speaking of scavenging -- don't be squeamish! If you spot a wool garment soaking in the rain because it's been sitting in a "free" box for a week, it can still be taken home, cleaned and used. I carry an extra plastic bag with me for just this purpose and scored a Pendleton wool shirt that way. It was a little big for me and missing most of its buttons. Machine washing in hot water and machine drying, plus replacement buttons, has turned this into a winter shirt I wear a lot when the weather turns cold.
No smell, no stains, no problems.

So tomorrow I'll head out and see what I can find. No pix for awhile, because the camera that my friend scored for free and gave me a decade ago has pretty much died and I don't have another camera yet. Be patient. Nice photos will return.

Happy riding, and bundle up. Winter is coming.
(Below: wool cycling cap by Kucharik of California. Made in USA, fits under most bike helmets; sometimes can be found discounted on eBay from time to time. Merino wool is soft and long-lasting.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

2016 Coffeeneuring Challenge extra credit: Townshend's Tea

This morning I rode up to Alberta Street to meet a dear friend and catch up. She's not a coffee drinker, so she suggested we meet at Townshend's Tea. When I offered a lukewarm response, she suggested I try some sweet chai. I agreed.
The morning was absolutely beautiful, with cool, crisp air and tree-lined streets still clinging to the last of their leaves. Knowing that I wouldn't be riding a bike much, if at all, during my upcoming travels, I relished the morning ride, even with the last of the rush-hour throng.

I arrived before she did, parked my bike and waited for the tea shop to open. Next door is a bakery called Back To Eden, which offers only vegan and gluten-free baked goods. I felt sorry for them. I couldn't imagine my life without gluten in it. Still, its good for folks to have options, and the goodies in here look mighty tasty in spite of lacking butter. Could be worth a trip next time.

When my friend arrived, we went inside and ordered two cups of sweet chai. It was surprisingly tasty, and contained enough caffeine to make it worth my while.

There's a local cat who thinks that the tea shop is a second home, and she wandered in and out while we enjoyed our drinks. She seemed friendly enough, but we were both of the mind that animals don't beling in restaurants unless they're bona fide service dogs.
Still, she was cute and friendly; before I left I managed to snap a couple of photos of her.

So I think that wraps it up for my Coffeeneuring Challenge this fall. I leave tomorrow for a two-week mini-tour in the Midwest and will probably not have time to go for a bicycle ride.
Plus, as you may be able to tell from these photos, my ancient digital camera is running on fumes and will probably die very soon.

Hopefully, before Errandonnee Season begins I'll have procured another cheap digital camera.

Meanwhile, special thanks to Mary Gersemalina (aka Chasing Mailboxes) for creating the Challenge and happily encouraging all of our rides, long or short.

Happy riding.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

2016 Coffeeneuring Challenge, extra credit: Nossa Familia (Back to the Mothership)

I've officially fulfilled my seven rides for the Coffeeneuring Challenge this year, but I had to get some coffee for my upcoming trip. Because my colleagues live in places where the best coffee can be had at their local Dunkin' Donuts, and that is the pinnacle of sad coffee. I feel it's my job to help them find better coffee.
So I went into town and stopped in at Nossa Familia for a cup of goodness.
And a bag to take to my conference next week. Hopefully, there will be a spare coffeemaker so I can introduce my friends to real coffee.
(And reusable coffee cups. Because some of them haven't gotten the memo yet.)

If Nossa is new to you, check it out.
They do mail order.

And if you're in the Portland area, Nossa can be found in many restaurants and sold by the bag at New Seasons markets.
In the absence of smell-o-vision, an evidence photo will have to do. My cup, after being filled with Teodoro's Italian Roast. Trust me, this is the good stuff.

Friday, October 28, 2016

2016 Coffeeneruing Challenge 7: The story of Fred Meyer

My final Coffeeneuring ride was a combined coffee and errand trip to the Fred Meyer store in the Hollywood neighborhood of NE Portland.
Sweetie needed a few things we could only find there, and I needed a little pick-me-up after my Hebrew lesson. So off I went.
It's now dark enough in the evenings that I need lights to ride. And cool enough to add a flannel shirt under my jacket.

Fred Meyer is a chain of stores based in Oregon and Washington, founded by Fred G. Meyer in the 1920's and growing into a regional institution. "You'll Find it at Freddy's" was a slogan I grew up with.
The chain merged with Kroger about twenty years ago, but kept its name and some of its regional identity (though the store-brand toothbrushes say Kroger now). It remains a one-stop shop for groceries, household items, office supplies, furniture and sporting goods -- the larger stores still sell guns and hunting gear. And it remains a fixture in many Portland neighborhoods, smaller and far more beloved than its competitors (WalMart and Costco).
The Hollywood Freddy's sits next to a park that is not lit well; I noticed a couple of folks sleeping on benches there as I pulled into the huge parking lot and looked for the bike racks at the grocery end of the building.

On my way to finding a self-serve coffee sampler pot, I noted that Halloween decorations were out in full force.
And so was the Halloween beer.
After finding some coffee and giving my thermal cup a couple of sample squirts -- it turned out to be some awful "French Vanilla" facsimile and I was glad I took only a taste. Sometimes "Shade Grown" means, well, nothing.

I got the things on my shopping list, and made my way to the checkout line. Along the way, I counted at least a dozen shoppers wearing bicycle helmets, and smiled.

Freddy's is following the example of other grocers in providing healthy snacks for kids -- but they don't frown if adults help themselves, too.
I grabbed a banana to get rid of the taste of the coffee, and wolfed it down in line.

It was not an unpleasant trip, if only because I knew what I needed and where to look for it all, and because I could leave easily when I was done.
(Word to IKEA: People actually want to shop and LEAVE. Stop making stores that are like mazes where you feel like you're trying to escape a minotaur.)
I loaded up my bike, unlocked, and enjoyed a lovely 7-mile ride home through residential streets with fall leaves backlit by street lights. I loved riding through my city on a cool fall night. I loved that, in spite of all the hipsterication, there were still places where I could feel rooted and familiar and at ease, places with funk and grit and some age to them that felt like they'd be around for awhile yet. Gentrification is real, but so are the parts of Portland that have not yet succumbed. I am grateful.

So that's it for Coffeeneuring this year. It's been an interesting run, and an eye-opening approach.
I'll keep riding and drinking and enjoying. Hope you will too.

Monday, October 24, 2016

if i vote and nothing really changes, then what?

Tonight I will join my friends to celebrate Simchat Torah (or, if you're above a certain age, "Simchas Toirah"), a festival literally translated as The Joy Of Torah.
I study Torah regularly, both on my own and weekly with a group of friends. Jews are told to "turn it over and over, for everything is in it."

My life is deeply enriched by this study habit.
And yet, when we are called upon to reflect the truth we find in there back to ourselves in real life, and back to our friends and neighbors through our words and actions, what does it look like?

This election cycle has been brutal for my psyche and my soul. It hasn't played well for some of my relationships, either.
This year, voting felt far less like a privilege and far more like a duty, one that made me want to wash my hands afterwards with shop-strength Borax soap and hot water. I sent off my envelope last week the day after I got it, and felt only drained.
Worse than voting was in reading the earnest posts of so many of my friends and colleagues who still believe their vote matters greatly on every level, and that not casting a vote for the highest office in the land is tantamount to driving while drunk.
(Believe me, if I could drink, I would have poured myself a few shots of Chopin half an hour before filling in those stupid little black dots. Maybe it would have calmed me down.)
But the truth is that I feel like I was born in the wrong age for my vote to count more than as a cipher. Voting for me has become an act of social subterfuge, something I do to make my friends and acquaintances think I'm on board with the program. Voting is what Americans do, especially Americans with a hard-on for flag-waving nationalism, Americans who at least pretend that they believe in the enterprise.
The problem is that, since before I was old enough to vote, the enterprise has been rigged, has been bought and sold a thousand times over by intersts with money and power, has been and is being manipulated by those intersts to help insure a desired outcome that my little vote will not influence in any meaningful way.
If I want to influence the movement of the needle as regards societal values, the way I know best is to live my life and hope it influences others who see what I do.
At the local level, perhaps, my vote can still count -- especially if I live in a small town.
There's an after-school youth recreation program in a small town on the central Oregon Coast today because I registered to vote in Lincoln County and voted for it while I lived there over twenty years ago. Once it got established, people got used to having it and voted the bonds to fund it again and again every few years.
But that outcome is a lot easier to bring about in a town of less than two thousand people.
It's much harder to bring it about in a city of seven hundred thousand. So the powers that be have to spend so much money on their arguments as to make the whole thing seem ridiculous.
We could do a lot more to bring about meaningful change if we diverted those advertising dollars -- millions of them -- to funding job creation and educational programs to reduce poverty and homelessness and hunger.
But no, we need to prop up those important careers in advertising and social media. We have to keep telling our kids that a college degree is your ticket to adulthood. We have to allow our universities to invest in the stock market (because clearly, recruiting students on Financial Aid and reducing your faculty to untenured part-timers without benefits or job security just isn't bringing in the big bucks like you thought it would, right? )
We have to keep the machine running at all costs.

So I vote. 
But really, if I'm being honest, I only vote anymore as a form of social subterfuge, to make folks think that I'm on board with this gigantic glacier of spin and money and wasted potential that our political system is today. Because if anyone suspects that I'm not on board with it, that given the choice I'd drop off an empty ballot and tell the presidential candidates to go jump off a bridge, well, there goes my ability to find employment and to get along with my earnest sign-waving, flag-waving neighbors and to maintain my role in the social order.
(Below: SE 8th and Oak streets, Portland, Summer 2016)
The social order is a mess right now. The proof of that is the four thousand people going to sleep on Portland's sidewalks every night, with no real plan in place to create safe housing and restore mental health treatment for them all. The proof is in the humiliation I still feel when I have to reapply for food stamps every six months -- humiliation I know I shouldn't feel because being this broke isn't my fault, it's the fault of a social order that decided long ago some kinds of work are more "valuable" than others and, well, hey -- I didn't become an advertising executive because back then I wasn't thinking about which job would earn me the most money, because I decided to follow the path my gifts and aptitude led me down instead. Sorry about that.

My casting a vote for President of the United States in 2016 will not change ANY of that.
And I am weary of feeling pressured to act as thought it might.
So I voted.
And I wrote in my choice for president, someone who wasn't on the ballot but who deserves my vote because we share a similar vision of how the country could get back on track. 
And then I voted all the down-ticket things, and then I sealed it in an envelope and sent it off.
I wish to heaven I could be done, that I could wake up and have it be January 31 already so that the new President Figurehead could be installed and we could all just get back to our lives again and calm this crap down. Because this country will continue to be for sale to the highest bidder, and I still won't be allowed into the auction by the bouncer, and I may as well get on with doing what matters, making the change for good that I can make.
Because I learned a very long time ago that my ballot won't change the world nearly as much as my own two hands can.
Back to work. Party's over, people, nothing to see here, move along.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

2016 Coffeeneruing Challenge 6: Life, death and coffee

I'm a member of the Jewish Burial Society here in Portland. That means that when someone in the Jewish community dies and has stipulated that they want a ritually correct Jewish burial, there are volunteers who take turns preparing the deceased for burial, and afterwards other volunteers take turns sitting with the deceased (whose body is prepared and sealed in the coffin) in the waiting room. I serve as a Shomrah, or Guardian. I take a shift (usually 60 to 90 minutes) and sit with the coffin while I read psalms or sit in silent meditation, until the body is taken away for burial in a Jewish cemetery.

I am glad to do this mitzvah, or commandment, even though it's the one thing that the person can never thank me for, the ultimate in paying it forward. I am glad to help bring some comfort to the family, who know that their loved one will remain attended and cared for, usually by complete strangers, right up until the burial.  It also brings things back into a really grounded perspective whenever I'm in danger of stressing too much over the small stuff. Because, as nice as this life can be, we're all gonna die someday. I figure I may as well keep it in mind periodically.

I always need a little time afterwards, to collect myself and return to density. Usually this means taking a scenic bike ride around the neighborhood near the funeral home, until I feel calm and ready to return to mundane daily life again. After an hour of riding, I'm also usually hungry. So after my shift and my head-clearing, I rode up the street to Cup & Saucer Cafe.

I grabbed the latest issue of Willamette Week, just out today, and a menu and sat down in a booth. And then, I laughed out loud.
 It was perfect, really. The cover story was a feature about a couple of people in Portland who specialize in helping folks process death and dying, either as the one who will die or as the one who is left behind.

(Actually, not a bad set of articles. Check 'em out online.)
Cup & Saucer was around when I moved into the neighborhood over twenty years ago.
Even back then, breakfasts weren't exactly cheap, so as a young starving music teacher I usually opted for coffee and some baked treat if I dared take myself out for breakfast.

Now I'm a grownup. And breakfast is still not cheap. But it's good. Today I had the black bean and cheese omelette, with home fries and a scone.
The place has had some remodeling done, but the booths and chairs are pretty much the same as they were back when I was a young punk in torn jeans and a semi-mullet.
(Hey, it was 1989. Gimme a break.)

Another thing that has not changed are the scones. You can order one with your breakfast, or a basket of three scones. Or both. I got the basket to go so I could enjoy them tomorrow at home.
They are perfect warmed with butter and jam.  Do not take these home and put margarine on them. Please.                                                                                           
Had a nice ride home, punctuated by errands along the way that were designed to help me get more squarely back to density, to my ordinary life. When you spend time with a corpse, it stays with you a little while. Ultimately, I went home and felt much better after a nap.
And coffee and scones. They make life a little nicer.