Stolen bicycle saga

Earlier this month, as my bike hunt dragged on, I followed up on a Craigslist post for a Salsa Vaya 2.  The Vaya 2 offers a bit of a component upgrade compared to the Salsa Vaya 3 that is on my bicycle short list, but that comes at a price that is more than I want to spend.  (It also comes with a color scheme that I prefer, which would be the main attraction for me.)

Anyhow, the opportunity to get a lightly used, 2014 Vaya 2 (with the beautiful baby blue frame) at a Vaya 3 price sounded pretty good.  The CL ad was a bit odd, referring to the bike as a “professional racing bike,” and making no mention of frame size, which is pretty important.

I called the number in the ad to ask about the frame size.  Talking to the seller, who had no earthly idea about the frame size (he kept repeating the wheel size), or really about bikes in general, it quickly became clear that something was fishy.  I told him that there should be a sticker on the frame with a number on it, something from 50cm to 60cm (not the 26-inch number he was giving).

At that point, it came out that the CL seller didn’t actually have the bike in his possession.  Instead, it was on layaway at a pawn shop, and he was going to buy it if he had a serious offer.  (At that point, he also offered to drop his CL asking price by $300, meaning I could have had a $2k bike for $1200.)

Um, yeah.  The odds that this wasn’t a stolen bike were slim to none, you know, the 0.000001% range.  I immediately shared a link to the ad on Bikelife STL, a local Facebook group, asking if anyone there belonged to the bike in question.  (On the off chance that this was, somehow, a legitimate sale and not a hot bike, this was a bit of a risk, since it meant that someone else could buy the bike out from under me, but I knew how upset I would be if my bike were stolen, so my primary concern was tracking down the rightful owner.)

One of the photos in the CL post clearly showed a “Big Shark” sticker on the frame, so I also contacted Big Shark, asking if anyone had bought this bike and reported it as stolen.  I didn’t have a serial number (or a correct frame size), but one of the store managers did some work, looking back at their 2014 sales records and contacting everyone who had purchased a Salsa Vaya 2.  He narrowed the list based on the accessories that were still on the bike.  Within a day, he received a return call from the rightful owner of the CL bike.

Unfortunately, I’m not really sure how it played out after that.  Theoretically, the owner, with the help of the police, got the name of the pawn shop and recovered his bike, but I never received any follow-up communication.  I going to hope (and assume) that the story had a happy ending.

On a related note, I saw this post today on better (and worse) ways to lock a bike to prevent theft.  With the right tools and enough time, almost any bike can be stolen, so your goal is to make it so that your bike isn’t an easy target (and then hope for the best).  If you’re using a standard U-lock, you may want to swap for a mini U-lock which is harder to force open.  Also, always record the serial number of your bike, to help with tracking in case of theft.

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Mindfulness: Retreat and last class

I spent Saturday morning attending the half-day retreat portion of the mindfulness workshop (the retreat is in addition to the weekly class).  Part of the attraction of this particular workshop, at Masterpeace Studios in Webster Groves (MO), was it’s location, just a few miles from where we live.

Given the distance, I went into it thinking that I would bike to most of the sessions, but it didn’t work out that way.  If I’d had to, I certainly could have biked to the weekly classes, but taking the car was much more convenient, given the timing.

On the way to the 7:00pm class, making the extra 10-15 minutes to bike was tricky, compounded by the fact that I would have been biking on a full stomach.  Biking home from class at 9:00pm would have left me too wound up for my normal bed time (a general problem for me with nighttime biking).  All of this to say that when you have access to a car, it’s easy to find an excuse to use it, even if you could choose another mode . . . .

The Saturday retreat, however, offered the perfect opportunity to bike, and the weather couldn’t have been better!

The Retreat
I really enjoyed the retreat.  Unlike the [understandable] anxiety of some of my classmates (can I do this for four hours?), I went into it feeling very calm and positive (once I found out that I would not have to go four hours without food — hey, I have a very high metabolic rate!), and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

My classmates and I practiced “noble silence” (i.e., not speaking during the retreat), and our instructor led us through a series of guided mindfulness meditations.  She alternated sitting meditation with practices that involved movement (e.g., mindful yoga, walking meditation), which was really nice.

Our final practice was mindful eating, and then we broke the silence and talked about our experience.  I was soaking it all in and didn’t have much to say, but given my classmates’ comments, I’m very glad the timing worked out so that I didn’t feel conflicted about spending those four hours at the retreat instead of attending to a long to-do list.  Having the time and space to go into it unburdened was really a gift.

Former students are invited to join any future retreats, and I already have the March retreat date penciled in my calendar.

Last class
Last night was it.  The last night of [this] mindfulness class. I’m going to miss it, but I’m determined to keep practicing on my own.

The past several weeks have not exactly been low stress, between wrestling with decisions about PA school and replacing my bike, and other, broader issues that are an indirect part of my life.  I won’t say I haven’t been anxious or down at times, but, overall, I think I managed much better during that time than I would have if I had not been practicing mindfulness every day.  Results are good motivation to continue the work!

I’m currently reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living, the book on which the course I took was based, and the more in-depth information there is reinforcing what I’ve learned these past six weeks.  I’m finding ideas there that I can incorporate into my own practice going forward.

As I mentioned last time, I’m planning to continue recording my daily practice.  I was wondering what I would do with Monday nights, now that I suddenly have them free again, and I might try to establish them as Mindfulness Mondays, a dedicated time for a longer mindfulness practice.

I’m also looking into longer retreats (2-3 days), ideally ones that don’t require a trip to the east or west coast.  I’d like to find a good, nearby option (i.e., easy drive or train ride) and plan on deepening my practice that way in 2015!

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Pumpkin time!

Matthew grows a lot of delicious winter squash this year, but he’s never grown a “jack o’ lantern pumpkin.”  He plans to correct that next year (especially after dropping twenty dollars on “squash we can’t even eat”), but this year, we visited the pumpkin patch.

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We visited Braeutigam Orchards two Sundays ago.  I posted these photos on Facebook that evening, and I felt like a bit of a fraud, because this perfectly illustrates the Facebook effect: the pictures people share often give an unrealistic view of events (and if you compare your own REAL life with what everyone is sharing on Facebook, you’re likely to not feel too great).

So, in the interest of full disclosure, while there were some good moments, this happy little family outing was anything but.  It started with stress about keeping someone halfway quiet on a Sunday morning while we tried to get out the door, my own anxiety about returning in time to avoid the dreaded car nap, and getting lost on the way to our destination, to the constant chorus of, “Are we at the pumpkin patch yet?”  (“Yes, kid, why don’t you get out of the car and wander around East St. Louis looking for a pumpkin.  Knock yourself out!)

Anyhow, I don’t want to dwell on the bad, but it was what it was.  I went into yesterday with a plan to have a better Sunday.  I started with some mindfulness practice (while Matthew and Gabriel made pancakes), followed by a quick jaunt outdoors with Gabriel, to run and shake off some energy.  After a quick Skype chat with my mom, we headed outdoors to carve the big pumpkin (an 11 pounder).

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Matthew and I handled the knife work.  Gabriel helped scoop out the seeds and goop, and drew on a second pumpkin.

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He also enjoyed running around with the sword from his Peter Pan costume and playing with some Halloween figurines (while sporting tiger whiskers).

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In the end, we had a lovely Sunday morning, and we have a pretty great jack o’ lantern (to be revealed on Friday, along with some costume pics).

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Two-wheeled troubles

It’s been a rough couple of months, bicycle fleet-wise.  Our stable, which has held as many as five bikes, has seemed bare with just two or three bikes at any given time, between planned maintenance and unexpected events.  As of this week, we are down to ONE really, truly functional bike between the two of us!

Matthew’s Giant hybrid
As part of the conversion to a kid-hauling bike, and due to general age of the previous wheels, Matthew invested in some new, heavier-duty wheels for his back-up bike.  No sooner did he get the new wheels (and install a front rack, to address weight balance issues with G on board) than he noticed some handling issues (well, he’d noticed them before, to some extent, but dismissed them).

Another visit to the bike shop revealed a bent fork (probably due to a crash, and has been bent for some time now).  There’s been some delay in getting the correct replacement part, so this bike has been at the shop for a couple of weeks now.

Matthew’s Salsa road bike
In mid-September, Matthew took this [barely year-old] bike in for a regular tune-up, not expecting any issues.  He was rather surprised when a guy at the bike shop called and told him the rim of his rear wheel was cracked.  Despite the fact that the bike was just barely out of the warranty period, and that this rim seems to have some track record of trouble, it was very hard getting anyone to take responsibility for it (turns out most bike warranties cover the frame, but often exclude “components”), but in the end, customer assertiveness prevailed.*

Matthew purposely waited until he had the Salsa back to take the Giant in for the fork issue, so he wouldn’t be bike-less.  But of course, after barely two weeks of riding (and after he’d taken the Giant to the shop), the newly replaced rear wheel on his Salsa went out of true.  So, until we deal with that, Matthew’s left using Big Blue for all of his bicycle trips and busing on days that I need Big Blue.

BUB
When I replaced BUB’s tires last month, I noticed that he was in major need of a tune-up.  In the end, I got the tune-up, plus a new chain (I think these replaced the original components, so I was due for the new parts).

Turns out, I should have checked the bike over more carefully before taking it home.  My first ride out, I discovered that the front brake was rubbing the rim on one side.  My assumption was that the brakes were not adjusted correctly, but Matthew suspects that I have a wheel out of true.  I’ve still been riding it for short trips, but, if it is a wheel truing issue, it looks like I’m headed to the bike shop yet again.

Of course, I still haven’t replaced Baby Jake, so on the days that Matthew takes Big Blue, my options are pretty limited, bike-wise.  Gabriel and I actually walked to a park (that I would usually choose to bike to) yesterday, which was a nice change of pace.

I guess it’s good that our one functional bike is the one that we can both operate, but I’m ready to have a fully functioning bike fleet again!

*Clarification from Matthew: Most bike warranties cover components, but only the ones that break, not the ones needed to install the replacement part, nor the labor involved.  My rim broke, but since they discontinued that exact rim, I also needed new spokes to fit the new rim, as well.  The spokes, plus the labor of building the wheel, were the lion’s share of the cost here.

 

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Creamy celeriac soup

Nothing says fall is here like beautiful (or slightly funky, in the case of celeriac) root vegetables and chilly weather that invites turning on the oven to roast said veggies.

This recipe started with a desire to make a creamy soup based on celeriac (AKA celery root). Celeriac is a rather humble vegetable.

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Beneath the dirt and gnarly exterior is some good stuff.  (We sell a lot of our celeriac to Five Bistro; it’s on the menu now, in fact!)

You can always chop up veggies, boil, and puree them, but basing the soup on roasted veg really amps up the flavor.  I discovered that starting with a covered dish for the first twenty minutes of roasting, followed by spreading the vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet and roasting for an additional 30-40 minutes, worked really well for both celeriac and carrots.

I used a fairly generous amount of oil for roasting and generous butter for sauteing the leeks.  This approach yielded a rich, creamy soup without actually requiring cream.

CREAMY CELERIAC SOUP
Recipe by Melissa
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

2-3 celeriac, depending on size
8 carrots (you won’t use all of these in the soup, but you won’t regret having extra roasted carrots, trust me!)
1 large leek
4-5 small potatoes (or equivalent larger)
1 bay leaf
butter and/or olive oil
salt & pepper

Directions
Preheat the oven to 425° F.  Prep the celeriac by cutting off the tough outer layer, then cutting into large chunks.  In a large, lidded Pyrex baking dish, toss the celeriac chunks with olive oil and salt.  Bake in covered dish (use a baking sheet set on top of the pan or aluminum foil if you don’t have a lidded dish) for about 20 minutes.

Prep the carrots by cutting into carrot sticks.  Wash and chop the leeks.

Once the celeriac has roasted in the covered baking dish for 20 minutes, use a slotted spoon to transfer to an oiled baking sheet (minus any accumulated liquid in the pan).  Roast on the baking sheet, uncovered, for 30-40 more minutes, stirring once.

In the same baking dish you used for the celeriac, toss the carrots with some olive oil, cover, and roast for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, follow same procedure for transferring to a baking sheet and roasting, uncovered, for an additional 30 minutes.

Chop the potatoes (large chunks), and cook with a bay leaf and 5-6 cups of water, and 1 t. salt.

Saute the leeks in butter, over low heat.

Once your celeriac and carrots are roasted, potatoes are boiled, and leeks are sauteed, you’re ready to blend.  For this soup, I pureed all of the potatoes, most of the celeriac (reserved some to chop smaller and add to the soup as chunks), most of the leeks (again, reserved some to garnish the soup), and about 1/4 of the total carrots I roasted.  Use the cooking water from the potatoes as your broth (just remember to remove the bay leaf before pureeing!).

Working in batches, blend until you have a nice, smooth, creamy soup.  Add more or less of the broth (or additional water) to reach a consistency of your liking.  Salt and pepper to taste, and add the reserved leeks and celeriac chunks.

We rounded out the meal with a side of greens and [whole wheat] bread spread with roasted garlic.  Oh, and some of the extra roasted carrots!

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Raising a child in an apartment

There must be thousands (millions?) of people raising kids in apartments, but among my friends and acquaintances, we’re somewhat of an anomaly.  I can think of exactly one other apartment-dwelling family-with-kids that we know in St. Louis.  Other than that, it seems that by the time children enter the picture, there’s a house involved.  While in many ways, I’m in no hurry to buy a house, raising a kid in a multi-family building presents some challenges, mainly involving noise.

We live in a two-family duplex/flat with wood floors.  We intentionally chose a second-floor space, in part because it tends to be quieter on top, compared to living on lower levels with people walking around above you.  That said, there is very little up-down sound insulation, and sounds carry both ways.

In the beginning, when Gabriel was younger, the challenge mainly came from noises below, and my concern that they would wake him.  As he’s gotten older, the noise he makes being an energetic little person — walking, marching, running, jumping, dancing, knocking down blocks — has become an increasing issue.  The sounds don’t bother me at all, and would be a complete non-issue in a house, but I totally get that, for our neighbor downstairs, they are loud, unpleasant, and annoying.

The question is what to do about it.  We ARE actively looking to buy a house, but given our land and location requirements (and the fact that we’ve already been looking for years, since before G was born), it doesn’t seem that that will happen anytime soon.

We could look at rental houses, but I imagine that a rental house that is similar size and quality as our apartment would be out of our budget (and the cost and hassle of an extra move — oof!).

If the noise downstairs is really as bad as I imagine it to be, I’m somewhat surprised that our neighbor hasn’t moved, but that would not solve anything for us, because there would just be another tenant.

Measures to minimize noise

  • Using area rugs might help somewhat, but they’re not going to cover everything, and I don’t want the hassle of keeping them clean (cleaning wood floors is soooo easy).  So we probably won’t go this route.
  • We’ve been trying to keep Gabriel out of the bedrooms (which are above our neighbor’s bedroom) in the morning, especially on weekends.
  • Now that it’s cooler, we’re encouraging Gabriel to wear his slippers, which might offer some sound dampening.

Kids will be kids? 

While we discourage blatantly loud, unnecessary activities, like repeatedly banging his wooden blocks on the floor or shouting inside the house, we’re not willing to suppress or discourage the normal sounds that come with being an exuberant, happy, active child.

Focusing overly on the noise, e.g., asking Gabriel to walk quietly, is stressful for us, and it often seems to produce the opposite behavior.  We try to explain that we’re doing this “to be respectful of our neighbor,” but at three, he just doesn’t quite get it.

Still stressed

Overall, our neighbor has been patient and understanding (and we try to respond in kind to sounds that travel up to us).  We’ve talked with her about the accommodations we’re trying to make.  Still, the ongoing worry about the noise we’re generating makes me feel stressed and “yuck.”  The fact that our neighbor is being bothered by sounds that we can’t totally eliminate also creates a dynamic where it’s very hard for us to bring up reverse concerns.

Having a little person means that we are not ideal neighbors.  I wish I could magically create a sound barrier between the first and second floor units, but short of that, I guess I’ll just have to make my peace, as best as I can, with the situation.

I’d love to hear from others who have been in similar situations, whether you were the one with kids or the one living with sounds from other kids in the building.

 

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Growing big, beautiful onions

I must say that, as the end-user, the larger onions Matthew grew this year are fabulous.  It’s a lot easier peeling one big[ger] onion than lots of tiny ones — this chef is very happy!  Now on to the guest post by Matthew . . . .

I’ve been trying to grow an onion that I’m satisfied with for years.  I kept getting small onions.  Finally, this year, things went well.  I started last December by planting four seeds per 1.5″ x 1.75″ soil block.  I believe this careful regular spacing was important.  Previous years I scatter-seeded and wound up with plants too dense to grow well.  This year I got nice thick pencil-sized of onion starts for transplanting.

I grew Aussie Brown, Stuttgarter, Brown Spanish, Red Amposta, Bronze Amposta, Valencia, and Sierra Blanca.  The Bronze Amposta, Valencia, and Sierra Blanca are sweeter onions without a lot of storage life, but they produced very well for me.  The Bronze Amposta is supposed to have a 3-6 month storage life, so that’s probably my best bet of the bunch, and what I focused a lot of production on this year.

This year was also complicated by a trip out of town right when the Ampostas and the Valencias were wanting to finish growing.  I compromised and harvested most early, to avoid risk of them rotting in the ground, but I left a few Valencias to see what happened, and, wow, did they bulk up in that last two weeks the others didn’t get.  Granted that could have also been all the extra space they had, but I expect it was mostly the time . . . .

OnionTable

As you see, my Valencia late harvest was the champion.  The Bronze di Amposta may have rivaled them had I let them keep growing.  The Sierra Blanca mostly grew to maturity, so I think that is about the size I can expect.

I’ll probably keep brown Spanish in the mix as a longer storage onion (10 months), and do a very few of the others I grew this year to repeat the experiment, but I think I have my primary four onions I’ll be growing unless any other onion wows me.

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These were transplanted out at 6” spacing, kept well weeded, and heavily mulched with leaves as soon as they were big enough.  I think I might mulch first and plant through the mulch next year.

I’m also growing leeks, shallots, Egyptian (top-setting) onions, and potato onions (from SESE).  Leeks and Egypt onions for greens are certain keepers.  So far the shallots and potato onions are looking pretty good, too.

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