Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In Training to Get Loopy!

A series of small misfortunes have kept me off my bike for the past month or so.

Don't worry, it was nothing serious, just a migraine, an illness and some minor surgery to remove an annoying mole, all happening in quick succession. But everything seems to be healed now, so I am climbing back up into the saddle again!

Only this time, I'm not just riding, I'm in training!

Now, before you get too excited, I'm not entering a race or planning on making some cross country trip or something like that. No, my goal is much more modest. All I want is to be able to ride "the loop" at least once before the summer is done.

OK... I realize that the above graphic tells you nothing... but doesn't the lake in the middle look vaguely like the head of a golden retriever?

Anyhow, "the loop" as CatMan and I have coined it, is just a series of connected bike paths that makes a loop... hence the very creative name.

I measured it out on Google Earth, and it says it's only 30 miles... you know, it feels much longer than that because this terrain is not exactly what you might call flat. Plus, I may have cheated near the reservoir in the bottom right hand corner... I think the actual route involves a climb to the top of the dam - oh, the joy.

Anyhow, I'm guessing that when you add it all together with the miles required to get to and from the start of "the loop" it will come out closer to 45 miles. I could probably do it today if I REALLY had to, but it would be a long, hard slog. And the truth is that it's not so much the length of the journey in miles that is the problem, it's the amount of time that it will take.

Between CatMan and I, we have a series of medical "issues" that make it pretty darned difficult to stay in the saddle for more than 3-4 hours. He has a bad back, and I've got this freaky allergic condition that makes it downright dangerous to combine food and exercise - meaning that I can't ride for at least an hour after eating (preferably two) and I can't refuel along the way.

And even though I'm very happy with my new bike seat, I fear my little tuckus would definitely start to complain if I forced it to endure a 6 hour ride!

So... all this means that in order to meet my goal, I've gotta get in better shape so I can ride faster.

We rode about 2/3 of the top section today (both ways) plus the ride to and from the trail, which ended up being 23 miles and took about 2 and 3/4 hours. I'm sure our average speed took a real hit from my abysmal performance on the hills... at one point during the steepest part of the ride I looked at my speedometer and I was cruisin' at a whopping 3 miles per hour! Oy!

But the summer is young and barring any more unforeseen "misfortunes," I'm hoping to get out there and ride 2-3 times per week. I figure if I push myself just a little bit harder on each ride, I should be able to "get loopy" by the end of the summer!

Of course, there are those who would argue that I'm already plenty "loopy" enough...

So how about you? Anybody else got any big goals for the summer?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Happy Memorial Day

Memorial Day is one of those holidays that always leaves a lump in my throat. I know... who'd a thunk it from a hippie peacenik like me!

But here's the thing, my family is full of veterans. CatMan is a vet, my father is a vet, and both of my grandfathers were veterans - still not sure how I turned out to be such a radical.

The truth is that I abhor war. I think it's hideous and barbaric, and some part of me seriously has a hard time believing that human beings haven't yet come up with a better way of solving their problems.

That being said, I am eternally grateful to the men and women who have sacrificed their lives, giving me the freedom to be the hippie radical that I am. I stand in awe, and am forever in their debt.

Happy Memorial Day everyone.

Friday, May 25, 2012

My Home is NOT Your Target Market

I don't know if it's the economy, or the warm weather, or just that I'm becoming a curmudgeon in my old age, but the number of door to door salesmen, solicitors, fundraisers, canvassers and proselytizers just seems totally outrageous lately.

Seriously, I can't even work in the front yard without some dude with a clipboard trying to sell me cable TV or security systems, or subscriptions to the paper, or save my soul, or God knows what else!

So today, when yet ANOTHER one knocked on my door, I decided I'd had enough!

I'm not sure exactly why it bothers me so much. I mean there's the invasion of privacy for sure, but it's sort of deeper than that. It's like the hand of corporate America thinks it somehow has a right to march right into my living room or something. To be honest, it really pisses me off.

Don't worry, I didn't go postal or anything, but I did decide that I needed a No Solicitors sign.

My first thought was to find something on the web and print it out. My oh my... I guess I'm not the only one with this problem! Check out these little gems!

There's the direct approach:

Slightly annoyed yet still comical:

Hit 'em in the pocketbook:

Make 'em wonder if you're slightly crazy:

Inform them directly that you ARE crazy:

Tell them where to go:

And my own personal favorite:

In the end I decided to just make my own. I went for a combination of polite and thorough. Since so many of those selling things are kids trucked in from god-knows-where, they probably don't even know what the word "solicitors" means, and I wasn't taking any chances!

Anyhow, here's what I came up with:

If anybody would like to print it out and use it, please feel free, if you click on it, you should get to the full resolution version.

And one last amusing footnote to this story. When I told CatMan about my sign, his response was: "That's a great idea. Maybe you should go door to door in the neighborhood selling them!"

Gotta love a man with a wry sense of humor!

Anyhow, how about you? Do solicitors make you crazy or is it just me? Any other great ideas on how to deal with them?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Lawn Mower is "Reel" Green!

This is a slightly edited re-posting of something I wrote several years ago for a now-defunct blog. My apologies to the one or two of you who might recognize it.   

It never fails. Every year about this time, when lawn mowing season begins in earnest, I’ll be out mowing the lawn and some neighbor will come running over to rescue the “damsel in distress.”

They’re just sure that nobody could possibly be using a hand push reel mower of their own free will!

This year it was the fellow house sitting for the guy across the street. “Do you need to borrow a real mower?” he asks.

“No thanks,” I reply, “I’ve got a reel mower!” The confused expression on his face told me that the pun had been lost on him, so I continued, “I prefer this one.”

Then ensued the standard discussion about workouts and muscles and gasoline, and I tried in vain to explain that really, this mower is lighter, more maneuverable and just easier to use than the power variety. They never believe me.

I think that reel mowers have taken a bad rap over the years because most people don't know how to adjust them properly. I even read a review of reel mowers on the Consumer Reports web page where they had the standard complaints about how these mowers didn't do a good job and were had to push, so they didn't recommend them.

Then followed about 100 irate comments from Consumer Reports members who owned and LOVED their reel mowers! The universal opinion was that Consumer Reports hadn't bothered to adjust the machine properly!

But really, I've owned this mower for nearly 15 years now and I couldn’t be happier with it. It’s lightweight, quiet, easy to push, cheap, and it requires no fuel to operate. I've never even had to sharpen it, and this is the first year that I've actually had to do any adjustments to it since its initial setup. I think that once every 15 years is a maintenance schedule I can live with!

When I used to use a power mower I’d feel exhausted from the noise and the smell and the general stress caused by the whole experience. And I won't bother you with the gory details of how I killed three of them the first summer I owned my house by hitting things like stumps and concrete... oops! I'm just glad I only ran over inanimate objects and not a cat or a limb!

But mowing with the hand push mower is no more stressful than a walk in the park… really.  And no mower is more eco-friendly! Believe it or not using a gas powered mower for one hour releases the same amount of air pollution as driving your car for 100 miles!

I actually do own an electric mower, but the cord is a massive pain in the rear, and even though it's much quieter than the gas powered variety, it still gives me a headache. Plus the tiny wheels seem to get stuck in every bump and hollow making it sooooo much harder to push. So I only drag it out a few times a year if the grass has gotten too long to do with the hand mower. I just think that the reel mower is so much simpler and easier.

OK, so the key to successful reel mowing is having the thing properly adjusted, and there are only 2 basic adjustments.

First is the height adjustment which controls how high the cutting blades are off the ground. On my mower (Which is an American Brand) the mowing height is adjusted by moving the roller bar up and down using the bolts located on either side where it’s attached. I keep mine on the highest setting because it's easier to mow and because the grass needs less water if you keep it a bit longer.

Next is the blade adjustment. Reel mowers essentially work like a pair of scissors. The spinning blades brush against the horizontal blade at the bottom cutting the grass between them. There are 2 screws on either side of the horizontal blade which adjust the angle at which it makes contact with the spinning blades.

You want to fiddle with them so that the spinning blades touch the horizontal blade, but aren't stopped by it. The manuals all say that you should be able to insert a piece of newspaper in between and it will cut it like a pair of scissors. Personally, I just go on the “feel” of it. You’ll know it’s right when it makes that satisfying “whst, wsht, wsht” sound.

Once you’ve got it adjusted properly, it really does cut “like butter!” Seriously, it sort of feels like you’re pushing a baby stroller.

There are a few caveats to using a reel mower. They can be a little bit unforgiving if you let the lawn get really long because then the grass can't stick up into the cutting mechanism to get clipped off. So depending on how fast your lawn grows, you might have to mow more frequently especially during peak growth seasons.

They also don't handle sticks and random debris like a power mower would - they're designed to clip grass, not to be a chipper shredder! So you'll make your job MUCH easier by giving the yard a quick once over to pick up any stray sticks etc before you mow.

But in my opinion, the advantages of my hand push mower so outweigh any difficulties, that there really is no contest. Sure, you may have to mow a tad bit more frequently, but would you rather have a hideous life and limb threatening experience a few times a month, or a nice pleasant one once a week? I know my answer to that question!

So, what do you think? Have you ever used a hand push mower? Would you recommend one to a friend?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Food Waste Friday - The Epic Fail Edition

OK, so I've never participated in Frugal Girl's Food Waste Friday series before, but I figured, why not start off with a bang? If nothing else, it will make everybody else feel soooo much better about their own food waste, which will seem paltry by comparison.

I figure y'all know by know that I'm a tad bit neurotic. And I'm afraid that I've created perfect storm, and all of my neuroses have collided in my pantry, creating complete and total dysfunction.

I've been a bit of a food hoarder all of my life. I'm not entirely sure where it comes from, but I'm sure it has its roots in my crazy childhood. My mother was a bit of a hoarder in general, and having a cupboard full of 10 year old cans of pickled beets was just normal in our house.

Plus, my mother had a whole host of eating "issues" and would regularly do things like steal my Christmas candy, eat my french fries, demand a "bite" of my candy bar - which translated into cramming the entire thing into her mouth and leaving me with a tiny piece... you get the picture.

Anyhow, I learned early that food "territory" had to be defended fiercely, and I'm sure that led, at least in part to some of my crazy eating disorders and my overall neurosis about tossing food.

But I can't blame it all on my mother. When I first graduated from college and was living on dirt (by choice) I went through times when finding enough money to feed myself was a real challenge. I never went hungry, but I did have to participate in some food bank programs in order to get by.

But things really spiraled out of control after hurricane Katrina. I'm not sure why, but somehow watching the television coverage, and seeing those throngs of people with no food or water sort of  pushed my apocalypse buttons, and I reacted by going out and filling my pantry with enough canned and dry goods to last a year. Because, you know, we have sooooo many hurricanes here in land-locked Colorado!

Seriously, I bought case after case of beans and tuna and even canned spinach... good lord, canned spinach?!? What was I thinking? I guess I figured that if the world was coming to an end I'd be grateful to have the slimy stuff.

But, alas, the apocalypse did not arrive, and in the meantime I got obsessed about the dangers of BPA, and I read Michael Pollan, and decided that eating canned food wasn't really all that healthy.

But, I couldn't just get rid of the stuff, because that would be wasteful. (See what I mean about the colliding neuroses?) And much of it was already past its expiry date so the food banks wouldn't take it. So it just sat in my basement.

And I actually did intend to eat some of it up... but the thing is that it wasn't stored in a very accessible place, so when I did use canned food I generally ended up buying new stuff because I had no idea what was lurking under the stairs behind boxes of other crap. Oy!

But spurred on by my recent encounter with 27 episodes of Extreme Hoarders, I decided that it was time to tackle the problem once and for all! So here it is... the food I'm tossing this week.

Oh, the shame. But everything in these boxes expired over 4 years ago, and some of the cans were even leaking.... EEEEEEWWWWWW.

There's also a collection of canned goods that are more recently expired, and I've made a pact with myself that they need to be eaten within the next few months or they're getting tossed too. To that end, they're all on my kitchen counter so they can't get lost in the land of "out of sight out of mind".

So, what have I learned from this little episode? Well, first off it would be really nice if I could just push a button and de-neurotify myself. I fear that is easier said than done though. I mean, I know logically that the chances of my having no access to food for an extended period of time are extremely unlikely, but I still think it's prudent to have at least some canned food on hand. But in the future, I'm going to try to stick to these guidelines.

1. Only buy foods that I eat regularly. I realize that this sounds sort of obvious, but for some reason when I was stocking up I kept trying to buy things that would create a "balanced diet". Of course canned sweet potatoes, & spinach & fruit... these are things I just don't like, and wouldn't eat unless forced to. So from now on, I think I'm just gonna have to accept the fact that if the world comes to an end I'll have to get by on a less than balanced diet.

2. Rotate the stock. Once again, this seems obvious, but I just got too lazy to do it. It was just so much easier to buy new stuff, rather than dragging out the stuff I already had.

3. Choose an easily accessible location for food storage. This is closely correlated to number two, because a big chunk of the reason that I didn't rotate was that I couldn't easily get to the stuff that I already had.

4. Keep it to a reasonable level. If I've learned anything from this little episode it's that trying to be prepared for all eventualities is a loosing game. I mean really... I once read a book about real risks. The book took a scientific look at the things that people worry about and laid out the reality of how likely we really are to suffer from xyz horrible thing. And while the probability of natural disasters and societal collapse are infinitesimally small, the single biggest risk most of us face is (I kid you not) FOOD POISONING!

So there it is. I certainly feel better now that the pantry monster has been tamed, and I promise, promise, PROMISE never to let it get so bad ever again!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Paperless Statements and the Coming Apocalypse

After my successes with the bedroom and kitchen clutter, I decided that maybe it would be worthwhile to revisit a few other areas of chaos in my life. I have no illusions that I'll ever be "neat and tidy" but if I can find some new approaches, maybe I can keep the clutter down to manageable levels.

It doesn't hurt that I've been sick for the past week or so... which means I've been spending a lot of time watching mindless crap on Netflix... which means that I've just seen 27 episodes of Hoarding: Buried Alive, and am HIGHLY motivated to pare down my clutter!

So, the first stop was the desk. I don't know about you, but my desk is a clutter magnet. Try as I might, the paper just seems to pile up.

But Debbie made some very good suggestions in the comments of my last clutter post, so I figured maybe I'd give it a try. Essentially she suggested giving things a more convenient home. This made me realize that a big part of the reason that I dread filing papers is that for some reason the files I use the most were living in the bottom drawer of the file cabinet where I had to either squat or kneel down to reach them.

Now, it's not that my thighs couldn't use a few deep knee bends, but somehow, the added work of having to reach down there always meant that I put off filing the papers because it seemed like a hassle. Soooo... I simply swapped the contents of a few drawers and now it's MUCH easier to file things as they come in.

Of course, in the process of moving everything around I realized that many of the folders really needed a good purge. This, of course, led to a massive shred-a-thon... which would have been much easier if I had a better paper shredder which didn't require me to separate all of the pieces by hand. Oy!

Anyhow, by that point I was good and motivated to see what I could do to lessen the volume of paper coming into the house in the first place. I had set up most of my finances on automatic paperless payments years ago, but there were still a half a dozen accounts that either didn't have a paperless option, or didn't have one that provided good access to records at that time.

But with three sacks of shredded bill stubs, bank statements and assorted other crap as motivation, I decided that perhaps it was time to revisit the idea, and it turns out that the world of paperless statements has improved greatly in the 5 or 6 years since I last explored the options. Woo Hoo!

Off topic, but who stands there taking a picture while the puppy pees on your laptop?!?
Anyhow, I was ecstatic with my new discoveries and proudly called CatMan to tell him about my new paperless phone bills, utility statements, water bills, credit cards and retirement statements. And his response? "Hmmm... guess you'll be in trouble when the big solar storm comes and wipes out the entire electrical grid."

OK, not exactly the response I was hoping for, but I was intrigued. He proceeded to tell me about an article he had recently read saying that in 1859 there was a massive solar storm. It was so big, in fact, that the aurora borealis were visible as far south as Mexico and the Caribbean! And if such a storm happened today, it would likely wipe out the entire electrical grid, and it could take - no kidding - up to 10 years to get the power back on! Holy Moly!

Of course, I did have to point out that if the world was without electricity for 10 years we'd probably be talking about the end of civilization as we know it, which would tend to render things like access to back copies of the phone bill a somewhat moot point. Ha! Score one for the CatLady!

At any rate, for the moment I'm enjoying my clean, clutter free desk. We'll see if I can maintain it, and I guess when the solar storm apocalypse comes, I'll just have to find some other source of kindling!