Tuesday, August 30, 2011

must tradition always trump sustainability? and at what price?

This is the time of year when Jews around the world begin to Plan Ahead. We are entering the month of Elul tonight, the 30-day period when we do nothing but turn inward, examine ourselves, and then turn outward to make amends with those we may have harmed during the past year. We hope that we will have done the hard stuff by the time we approach Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), a month from now.

It's also the time we plan ahead to the holidays that immediately follow Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Specifically, this is the time when Jews who are planning to erect a sukkah (temporary dwelling) for the eight days of Sukkot begin to design their structures, replace worn or broken pieces of framework, and place their orders (usually through their synagogues) for Lulav and Etrog, the species with which we say the special blessings inside the sukkah. The lulav and etrog are flown in from Israel by the plane-load, thousands and thousands of them in boxed sets ranging from plain to elaborate, for sale to Jews all over Diaspora who will use them in their temporary structures -- their Sukkot (literally, "booths").

Someday when time, resources and storage space permit, Sweetie and I want to erect our own sukkah. (We don't have a garage or basement so storing the reuseable parts outdoors in our rainy climate is a real problem, one we haven't yet resolved.)

But the whole issue around the lulav disturbs me greatly. The idea of paying someone to fly a bunch of plant stalks and fruit over from halfway around the world sort of galls me. Especially when that stuff will dry up, and shrivel, and won't be of use again the following year. It really bugs me that so many aspects of trying to maintain Jewish life in Diaspora require sustaining a connection to Israel that feels neither truly connective nor sustainable.

So several years ago I hit upon an idea: Since I'm in Diaspora, why not use what's been given to me here? Why not ride my bike up to Forest Park and gather freshly-fallen branches of Oregon native species? Green fronds of Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir, Oregon Grape and Western Red Cedar, combined with an aromatic cedar cone, would certainly make an acceptable -- and far more sustainable -- Northwest Native lulav.

No, it doesn't really say anything specific about a connection to Israel. But I already have issues about figuring out connection to a place I may never make it to. Plus, international air travel is insanely expensive and the carbon footprint is simply too great for me to ignore.
So I tend to think that simply erecting a sukkah in a not-so-very-Jewish place like Portland is connection enough to my Judaism and to the Jewish people, if not to Israel specifically. As for connecting to harvest, it would be fairly easy to substitute any of the natives for something like a single stalk of alfalfa or hard red wheat, both of which are being brought in from the high plains of eastern Oregon as I type this.

So far, every rabbi I've suggested this idea to has given it a big, fat, emphatic "no" vote. Few have been able to explain why, at least in terms I am able to relate to. But still, it's an idea in the back of my mind. Someday, if Sweetie and I are able to find a way to store the re-useable pieces of a sukkah frame, it's something I'll definitely look into. Sweetie thinks it would be okay to have it sit alongside an Israeli lulav; I think it would be acceptable to have it be a radical alternative to an Israeli lulav. (I tend to be more radical than she is in many things.)

And if we ever get around to building a sukkah, the arguments over the dinner table will be interesting, to say the least.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

change of seasons, change of tires

This morning was my first scheduled cyclocross practice. I sent out an email to teammates and friends inviting them to join me on this first of three, and possibly four, Sundays at my local park. I hurriedly swapped out the fat short-track tires and swapped in the early-season**, skinnier cyclocross tires. Although I was a little late getting to the park, I wasn't surprised to find no one else there. After taking several laps around the park that included practicing dismounts and some admittedly awkward re-mounts -- will THIS be the year I learn how to make the flying leap back onto the bike? -- I decided I wanted a longer, more brisk ride. I took a loop north and around Overlook. I enjoyed noticing the first changes of color in the trees, with leaves turning gold and orange around the edges, and even a couple that softly fell into my path; in spite of the past week's hot temperatures, autumn is definitely on the way here in Portland. The first rides on skinnier tires are always a revelation after racing all summer on fat, off-road tires; although there's no noticeable weight difference, the skinnier tires make my bike feel lighter and more nimble, especially on pavement.

Because of potential job schedule changes that are as yet unclear, I have not signed up for all of the Cross Crusade races I originally planned to race. So far, I have signed up for the grand opening at Alpenrose and the PIR race, both favorites of mine and races I can easily get to and from without help. Once I figure out my job schedule I will hope to add at least two or three more races to my 2011 cross schedule.

I've stressed a little about how to manage the "down" time between the end of short-track and the beginning of cyclocross seasons; I had ten days totally OFF my bike during an absolutely lovely vacation spent with family. There was plenty of walking, a little kayaking and swimming (BRR!) in a mountain lake, and some definite mental and emotional recharging. On the down side, I ate some pretty rich food in spite of my best efforts. Still, when I got back I found it wasn't too difficult to get my groove back on the bike after a couple of days. Today I enjoyed little bursts of speed on pavement and off, and returned home after a brisk, 45-minute loop that has helped to turn on the little switch inside that says "cyclocross". I'm starting to get excited.

(** Technical notes: For the early season in Portland, when things are still pretty warm and dry, I like to train and race on Club Roost Cross Terra tires, a cheap and decent hardpack cyclocross tire for 26" wheels. Later on when the rains come and the ground gets muddy, I'll swap in the "later season" choice, Continental Cross Country 1.5's.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

technology shouldn't be this hard

The cell-phone arrived in the mail yesterday. My sister offered to help me figure it out, but she wouldn't be available until sometime next week. So I decided to see how far I could get on my own. Millions of people use these things all the time; it shouldn't be that hard, right?


Part One: using the landline, I call the toll-free number to activate the phone. I commence navigating the computerized, phone-based sequence of instructions, which I am told will take ten minutes to complete. For some unknown reason, I am switched in the middle of this interaction from auto-response to a real, live person. This is where my troubles begin. The person is sitting in a large, loud call center that is located in a distant land, and speaks with a thickly-accented English that is difficult for me to understand. He walks me through the process, slowly and painfully as I ask him to repeat himself several times. Finally, we have established a new phone number and uploaded my minutes. Unfortunately, he has assigned me a phone number without an Oregon area code. I ask him repeatedly to change the number so my local contacts won't incur long-distance charges. He refuses -- that's right, refuses -- saying that this is the right number for the primary calling area zip code which I've given him. I thank him and get off the landline to try out my phone. First, however, I look up my cell phone's number online to see where the search service think's it's located. I discover that my number is assigned to an already-existing cell phone account in Encinas, California.

Clearly this is not going well.

Part Two: Using the landline, I call back the service center, this time asking for Technical Support and getting someone whose English is clearer and easier for me to understand. He is patient as I explain the situation to him. He walks me through some instructions, then tells me to turn off the cell phone while he does some stuff on his computer. He asks me to stay on the phone and he will tell me when it's okay to turn the cell phone back on, by which time he will have given me an Oregon area code and number.

As he types and I wait patiently, I hear a loud electrical SNAP! and suddenly my landline goes dead. Workmen installing insulation in the crawlspace have accidentally severed the phone line with their high-powered staple gun. It takes ten minutes for them to give me landline service again. Meanwhile, I was in the middle of something technical and fear I will have to begin the process all over with someone else.

Part Three: I call again, and wait for Technical Support again. I explain what has transpired so far. The new service technician asks me to turn on the phone. He types, I wait, and then my screen comes alive with light. He tells me some buttons to press, and then I am staring at my new cell phone number, this time with an Oregon area code. He calls me on the cell phone to make sure it works. It does. I think him, he thanks me, we hang up.

Part Four: I begin to try and figure out how the buttons work. This turns out to be more difficult. I would like to enter phone numbers of friends into the new phone but nothing in the instruction booklet even mentions adding contact info. Further, the way buttons work is not intuitive (at least to me) and I keep getting screens I don't want. I decide instead to send an email to my closest contacts to let them know my cell phone number. I hope that when they call there will be some obvious way to add their numbers into the phone after the call ends. I hope.

Looks like I'll have to wait till Big Sister is available next week. I can make calls and check voicemail but that is pretty much all I can do for now. I don't know how to select a ringtone, or pretty much anything else. So I'm on my way but it's slow and halting progress.

The entire process so far has taken nearly 90 minutes.

Monday, August 22, 2011

now i've gone and done it

After years of hemming and hawing and trying really hard not to need one, I finally bit the bullet and purchased a cell phone of my own today.

Backstory: seven years ago, a friend gave a pay-as-you-go, candy-bar style cell phone to me and Sweetie, topped up with some minutes and assigned an Oregon area code, just so he could find us at a very large folk festival without having to scan a crowd of 40,000 people. Since then, we have used the phone sporadically, mostly for travel; and I have dutifully taken it to Radio Shack and paid cash every ninety days to top it off and keep the number from expiring.

Problem is, Radio Shack is going to stop supporting this phone (or, more precisely, the -- ugh -- bangs brain for memory -- Service Provider? YES! That's it!) VERY soon. This means that I won't be able to buy any more time on the thing and the phone number will expire in October.

Second problem is that I am returning to synagogue teaching work this fall. In and of itself that's NOT a problem; in fact I'm really looking forward to teaching again. But the religious school has done away with walkie-talkies in the classrooms and expects every teacher to instead have his/her cell-phone on their person.

Small detail: I haven't had a cell-phone of my own. I only had the one Sweetie and I "shared" (which meant we argued about who HAD to carry it rather than who GOT to carry it -- and that was only when one of us felt a need to carry it at all, which wasn't often).

Clearly it was time for me to get one of my own.

So after looking at my options, and asking slightly nervous questions of my sister (who knows nearly everything about nearly everything, as older siblings often do), and getting her to promise that she would hold my hand during the learning process, I went ahead and bought myself a cell phone. I don't plan to text -- too expensive, eats up minutes -- and won't be using the Bluetooth or camera features (seriously?). All I want to do is make and receive phone calls. I'm hoping this won't be too tough.

But it IS a huge change for me, to go from cell-phone relative freedom to being sort of tied to one. I hope it won't be a mistake.

Friday, August 19, 2011

cross crusade official 2011 schedule

Here it is, the Cross Crusade series schedule:

Oct 2 Race 1 - Alpenrose Dairy - Portland, OR
Oct 9 Race 2 - Rainier High School - Rainier, OR
Oct 16 Race 3 - Heron Lakes Course, Portland International Raceway - Portland, OR
Oct 23 Race 4 - Washington County Fair Complex - Hillsboro, OR
Oct 29 Race 5 - Old Mill District - Bend, OR
Oct 30 Race 6 - Old Mill District - Bend, OR
Nov 6 Race 7 - Barton Park - Estacada, OR
Nov 13 Race 8 - Pro Paddock Course, Portland International Raceway - Portland, OR

I am thrilled that Cross Crusade will visit PIR not once, but twice this year. I assume this happened because Sherwood is off the schedule this year and also because the USGP Portland Cup -- now renamed the Deschutes Brewery Cup -- has been moved to Bend and takes place a week later than usual. This was done to help elite-level racers better prepare for US Cross Nationals, which have been moved out to January 2012 -- in Madison, Wisconsin. (Yeah, good luck with that. I certainly won't be there.)
Quite a bit of calendar-shifting and rule-changing was done in the off-season to accommodate the elite-level racers who need a later National championship race to prepare for Worlds; and also to purposely thin the ranks of the entry-level racers at Nationals because their numbers at Bend simply overwhelmed USA Cycling race organizers and officials).

I would have skipped USGP anyway this year, even if it had stayed in Portland. But now that the same course has become a Cross Crusade race, I will include it in my schedule, meaning that I'm racing five times this year and twice at PIR. That's probably all the time and energy I will have, for reasons which I'll discuss later on.

Meanwhile, here's a little teaser from last year to illustrate why I love racing at PIR so much.
It's the mud, silly.

Cross Crusade Race #4 PIR from Burk Webb on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

[cyclo]cross training

Today I began my cyclocross-specific training with a morning run.

To be more specific, it was a morning run punctuated by little intervals of walking. Per instructions from friends and teammates, it lasted exactly twenty minutes (not including stretching -- very important!). I hadn't done any running since high school. While I remembered to stretch before and afterwards, I did NOT remember how much I'd bounce around, even in a sports bra (to be honest, I was smaller back then). And then there's the running-while-asthmatic thing; I'm going to need to carry an inhaler with me to do this (I forgot this morning and simply took longer walkng intervals than recommended to get my breath back). I was not asthmatic in high school. And whether or not I have the "right" shoes is anybody's guess. Running shoes weren't quite as technical in 1979 and there were fewer models to choose from. (My current running shoes, a nine-dollar special from ebay, are lightweight, hideously ugly, and fit well. They'll do.)

Still, it felt surprisingly good to jog, to swing my legs and arms back and forth and feel my feet pound the paths in the cool morning air and to feel the sweat under my shirt when I finished. I'll do it again on Saturday.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

you could see this one coming from miles away

Standard & Poor decides the US Government's finances are more on a par with, oh, Belgium's; and then this gets out.

Why am I not surprised?

Better yet, although the probing began before our government lost its precious Gold Star Credit Rating, would anyone even have followed this story if S & P had left well enough alone?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

the horror

This just in about the state of the performing arts:


I read the article, read some of the comments, and then I went outside and threw up.

Okay, seriously, I didn't do the last bit; but I could have.

Are you [bleep]ing KIDDING me?

With so many people going to concerts without knowing about the music, you're going to leave the writing of the program notes to audience members with smart-phones and crackberrys and let them text notes in real time? And then you're going to encourage other people to read those notes and get their information about the music from a 140-character [bleep]ing TWEET?

I'm going to go to a concert in the future and watch as hundreds of my fellow concert-goers whip out their smart-phones and tweet away to the strains of a Rachmaninoff or Beethoven symphony? Excuse me, but [bleep] that. That is just way more white noise than I like in my concert experience. I predict that if this becomes a serious trend, lots of people will stay away from the concert halls -- especially if orchestras don't lower their ticket prices after firing their annotators and program publishers. The whole idea is just galling, even for someone as rough-around-the-edges as me.

Okay, now I think I will puke.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

final series standings, PIR stxc 2011

Final series standings in the Womens' Singlespeed category:

Order Name Age Team 6/6 6/13 6/20 6/27 7/11 7/18 7/25 8/1 Total Worst Best 7
1 Susan Sherman 42 Showers Pass 30 30 30 30 0 25 25 30 200 0 200
2 Shawn Postera 37 (independent) 22 19 22 22 30 17 17 17 166 17 149
3 Kristin Bott 30 Team Slow 19 17 19 19 19 15 0 15 123 0 123
4 Beth Hamon 48 Team Slow 17 15 17 17 0 13 15 13 107 0 107
5 Dani Dance 39 River City 0 25 25 25 0 0 0 25 100 0 100
6 Julie Kramer 40 Team S+M 0 0 0 0 22 19 19 19 79 0 79
7 Lisa Belair 44 Team S+M 0 0 0 0 0 22 22 22 66 0 66
8 A. Christiansen 26 Ironclad 0 0 0 0 0 30 0 0 30 0 30

(I've listed the top eight spots. (there were four other racers but none raced more than a couple of times, and/or in some cases switched categories early in the series.)

The category did not grow this year and in fact it shrank a little, down to 12 racers from 15. Of those 15, at least three switched to other categories (usually their Masters' age group), and switched to racing on a geared bike, early in the series.
If I had successfully completed every race, my worst score might still have been tossed out but what was left might have been enough for me to tie for third or place third outright. Obviously, my improvement from fifth to fourth overall had at least something to do with me and my ability to finish more races.
After talking with Loraine at the OBRA championships, it's clear to me that most women opt out of singlespeed (or never try it at all) in part because of the effects of aging, particularly on the knees. Loraine showed me scars from multiple knee surgeries and told me she was anticipating yet another one. And she's a little younger than me. Sharon (who raced the category once before switching to her age group) told me that the demands of singlespeed -- particularly the stress on the core and lower back -- exacerbated her back issues and forced her to give up singlespeeding. (She's selling her singlespeed bike so it's a pretty permanent decision.)
I've given geared mountain bikes some thought, and after assessing my body and my improved strength, I think I'm good for another year or two before I have to make that choice. So I remain committed to singlespeed racing for the next year at least.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

a last backward glance: short track memories

Photos from last night's festivities:

A couple of pix from Tomas -- Womens' Singlespeeders out of the gate and looking for the illusive holeshot:


A very dusty and wild short-track course:


Team Slow representing at the podium awards party and schwag toss (that's what I look like when I'm trying to take a picture with my own camera. I'm amazed I got the shot):

PIR short-track finale

Kristin enjoying her podium (she's on the far left, having won third place in the series overall for Womens' Singlespeed):

PIR short-track finale

This morning I felt a little tired. In spite of how underslept I was, I rode part of the way to work, and ran errands for the shop at lunchtime. The telltale sign came as I attempted to power my way up a short, steep climb on SE 9th between Washington and Stark Streets, and when my brain sent the message to my legs nothing happened. I mean nothing. My legs felt dead and unresponsive. I dropped into a lower gear -- I was on my city bike -- and spun in a too-easy gear back to the shop.
When I left to go home a few hours later, my legs told me they'd had enough, and I tossed my bike on transit for the ride home. Tonight my quads are a little stiff and sore. I'm hoping that stretching, a hot shower and some more stretching will help. But overall I'm pretty happy with how the short-track season went.

Now I take a break from serious cycling to enjoy time with family and friends. I'll get back into the swing of things and begin my cyclocross preparations (more stretching, running and barrier work) in about a week to ten days.


race report: PIR short-track # 8/Series Final

Monday night, my short-track season ended with a laugh and a smile.

I had put everything into my race on Saturday, knowing it might leave me feeling diminished on Monday.
Then my period roared into town Monday morning.
(Gentlemen: get over it. Women get these, and you don't; but if you did they'd affect your performance, too. Oh, no? BET me.)
I felt tired and slow all day, and knew that just finishing Monday's race would have to be enough.

The course was suitably fun for the closing night, a technical relief after Saturdays flat-fest; and finally included a reasonably exciting drop-down from one of the berms, the first real one of the season. Back and forth over the whoopdees and through the rhythm sections, each lap dustier than the last and me getting slower and slower. I even inhaled a huge tuft of cotton wood fluff floating through the air, causing me to hack like a smoker through a fourth of a lap until it cleared. I struggled to get up the tallest berms (remember these are designed for motorcycles), and had to get off and walk twice. No matter. After 25 minutes of dusty, crazy racing, I heaved myself up and across the finish line in a final burst of frenzied pedaling and turned in three incredibly labored laps (I'm guessing they'll call the first one a start lap and not count it for anyone) on the warmest evening of the series.

Sweetie came and cheered for me from the backside bleachers, waving the team sign and yelling her considerable lungs out. Although I was drained, I blew kisses at her each time I went by. She has been to nearly every race of the series to cheer me and my teammates on. It has made all the difference for me, and I will really miss hearing her at cyclocross races this fall and winter.

Just finishing was good enough to keep me firmly in fourth place overall for the series -- one off the podium, but also one spot better than I did last year. Teammate and pal Kristin made the podium with third place overall (another medal for Team Slow!), and thanked me later for agitating and organizing for a category she could win something in, which made me smile so damned hard. I hugged friends from various teams, and thanked Shane and Mielle for all their encouragement. I didn't stick around the for the end of the schwag giveaway; when you work in the bike industry the last thing you need to bring home is More Schwag. Instead, I opted to leave a little early, ride all the way up to Red Fox pub and get us a table. I left ahead of my teammates, but most of them actually beat me there (no big shock or anything -- in spite of my racing success I am still dreadfully slow). Still, I was glad for the long ride up N. Denver and time spent drinking and eating with friends.

Most delicious of all: the cooling night air as I rode home, on nearly-empty streets at almost midnight. Nights like these on a bike are simply the best, and I suspect I won't have time to enjoy too many more before work and the weather conspire to send me indoors sooner. But OH! the feel of cool night air on sweaty skin, rolling along at a gentle 10 miles an hour while shadows play in the darkened trees and I play back in my mind the exuberant final evening, and my whole summer season of racing, well, THAT is simply golden.
A beautiful end to my short-track adventures for the year.