Sunday, February 9, 2014

Post post crash

Riding in traffic: still scary. But this new Surly helps. A lot. Because I feel awesome riding it. I have also developed a terrible case of SBS, or Sanctimonious Bicyclist Syndrome.  But whatever.  I've earned the right to it.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sponge Candy aka Honeycomb aka Sea Foam aka Cow Brains

The other day, my friend Marc was really excited to share some sponge candy that he had purchased at Wegman's grocery store--apparently, it's a treat out of Buffalo, NY.  He was surprised when I said that I'd had it before, under the names "honeycomb" or "sea foam." It's actually mass-marketed in the UK as Crunchie bars, which are the most delightful things on the planet.  I was thisclose to buying them on Amazon when I thought I'd look up the recipe for fun.  I was excited to find that the candy itself (chocolate aside) is naturally vegan, as it just involves boiling the shit out some sugar and the same chemical reaction that third-graders use to create volcanoes.  This batch was intended for the birthday of my dairy-free boyfriend.  Good news for me--he hated it, so now I have it all to myself.

I will say, it's better dipped in chocolate (fun fact--the 4 lb. bags of Kirkland chocolate chips from Costco are vegan).  Also, did I mention that it's the easiest recipe ever?  Ready? Here it is.

1 c. dark corn syrup (you could probably use light, but I like flavor)
1 c. white sugar
1 tbsp. vinegar
1 tbsp. baking soda.

Heat the first 3 things together on medium heat with a candy thermometer stuck in the pot and stir until the sugar is more or less dissolved.  Once it looks like a cohesive substance, stop stirring.

Let it boil (no stirring!) until it reaches 300°F.
Boil boil boil. Boil.

When the thermometer reading gets to 300, pull it off the heat.  Add the baking soda and stir quickly until the white streaks are gone.  Transfer to a 9 x 13 baking pan that has been greased.  It will look unseemly, sort of like a cow brain or a lump of flesh.

I will HAVE my pound of flesh and it WILL BE in a baking pan.

Let it cool completely.  I suggest taking it for a bike ride in 5° weather.  That's what I did.

Once it's done cooling, break the pieces apart using the destructive tool of your choosing.  It should look like this on the inside. 
Warning: this shit is also a great adhesive,
and you'll be scrubbing your pot FOREVER.
Or you will leave it soaking in the sink with apologies to
your housemates as you run out the door,
and they will decide to be nice and clean it up for you.

It is possible that I burnt the inner part ever-so-slightly.  It's unclear.  My boyfriend thought it tasted like burnt marshmallows, but I like burnt marshmallows, so maybe that was the problem.

I recommend a sealed bag or canister.

Eat as is, or melt down some chocolate, dip the pieces in it, and let them cool.  Or just get lazy and eat each bite with a few chocolate chips--it's pretty much the same thing.  I want to try this with agave nectar because I have a ton that isn't getting used, but corn syrup is cheaper and more widely available (unless you're ingredient shopping at Whole Foods, in which case you're stuck spending $7 on either ingredient).  

Otherwise, if you want to make this healthier, go find a recipe for something else altogether.

Ta-da!  Magic!  Or rather, chemistry.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

On riding slowly

Yeah, OK, so these days, I'm getting passed by people on Capital Bikeshare (this morning, that included a man who passed me on the right within about a foot).  Once upon a time, that would have been shameful. But it's really not so bad.  I just have to add an extra 10-15 minutes or so to my riding time, and in some respects, it's less stressful.  I can't pass people, so why even try?  All I have to do is focus on getting from A to B.  To C.  And D.  And beyond.

IN THE MEANTIME, I'm looking at a sexy new Surly.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Post-crash thoughts

Happy 2014, Bike D.C.!

First off, I don't recommend being rear-ended by a Buick as a strategy for getting a new bike. The insurance company of the guy who hit me has been very obliging, and while I'm still putting together bills from physical therapy and mechanics' notes to send to my claims adjuster, it's been pretty well-established that I was not in the wrong.  But it's annoying to have to get that stuff together, especially because there's no manual on how to do it all correctly.  I've had more than one insurance person get annoyed with me on the phone for having absolutely no idea what I was doing.  If I had money, I would just hire a lawyer.  But I don't, so here we are.

Second, you know how, if you're involved in a crash, you usually become more cautious of certain things that you're doing?  For example--after I was doored, I was hyper-aware of riding far enough away from parked cars, and when I skidded out on some uneven asphalt/gravel and screwed up my hip, I rode slower through construction zones and was careful not to brake on uneven surfaces.  When something happens to you that is 100% beyond your control, like getting rear-ended, it's jarring to think that there is nothing you could have done differently to avoid that accident. The only thing you might have done is not gone on the ride at all, but that translates to living in fear and not doing whatever you love, so that's not really an option--so I'm back on a rusty English three-speed that I bought off of my roommate for very cheap (still waiting for those insurance payments to come through!), and I'm biking around the city like usual.

Except--it's not quite the same.  I have always been a worrywart, and it has gotten approximately 100 times worse in recent weeks. I can't hop on a bike without experiencing some degree of fear, particularly on busy roads.  Whereas before, I was very adamant about giving myself enough space on the roadway, I find myself shying off to the rightmost side of the road, but because I don't want to ride in the dooring zone either, I just wait for every car to pass before I start to ride.  The sound of cars passing stresses me out, even in bike lanes, and I have an irrational hatred for every car on the road--to me they all seem like evil death machines.

I project this fear onto other cyclists, too.  If I see a cyclist in front of me get close to a car, I envision a terrible accident and reflexively shut my eyes, only to open them a second later and realize that everything is fine.  This has also translated into a general concern about everyone's mortality, and I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about people being involved in horrible incidents entirely of my own imagining.  When I was at home driving my mom's car in the Phoenix suburbs over Christmas, other cars were whizzing by me as I barely kept at the 45 mph speed limit and crawled by pedestrians in parking lots.  Highway driving was out of the question.  

So...yeah.  While, six weeks after the wreck, my body is fine (minus two wrenched shoulders that I'm seeing a physical therapist for), and I'm very fortunate for that, my brain doesn't like me very much.  I'm not really sure what to do about it except to keep bicycling, eventually get a faster bike, and work my way back up to where/who I was before.  Part of me feels like I should just woman up and get over it, but that's much easier said than done. Could you call this PTSD? I have no idea, but I'm guessing there's a lot of folks that have been through similar experiences after car/bike/skiing/hiking/whatever accidents, and that thought helps a little bit.  I really don't want to make a big gigundous deal out of this, and I'm not looking for further sympathy, but talking/writing about it helps. 

One last thing--it's always been my dream to bike across the country, and I was hoping to do that after I get my M.A. this coming December.  But I was struck on a multi-lane suburban road, and unfortunately, there are a lot of those in America.  So it's going to take some time. For now, I'd just like to get back to being comfortable on city streets, because if there's one thing that getting back on a bike has reminded me, it's that I love bicycling more than pretty much anything else I could be doing (even in the nasty, wet D.C. winter).

Getting there!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Some well-deserved gratitude

WABA's Cider Ride was on Saturday--it was a great ride, and if you want to know more about it, my friend Rootchopper does a nice job covering it on his blog. I was assigned as a sweep to the 47-mile route, and around mile 34, I got into a wreck.  As we were riding down Arena Drive near FedEx field, a driver hit me square-on from the rear, and he was traveling at about 25-30 miles per hour.  He did not brake before he hit me. He was old and couldn't see very well. This was the second accident I've been in in about a month--the last time, it was due to some really shoddy road construction.

First, what sucks about this--having a scraped up face, sore shoulders and giant bruises down my butt and legs, feeling shaken up and freaked out by cars and loud noises, having the crash replay again and again in my head like a 4D horror movie experience, having a wrecked bike that I was really very attached to, and having to deal with police reports and insurance bullshit.

But what doesn't suck about this is that I got incredibly lucky--blessed, if you will. If the car had been anything taller than a sedan, it would have crumpled me instead of knocking my bike out from under me.  If I had managed to take off my rack that morning, like I tried and failed to do, the car would probably have done more damage, but the rack took a lot of the force. If I hadn't been wearing a helmet, I would have smashed my forehead instead of the helmet.  If the weather had been warmer, I wouldn't have been wearing all of the layers of clothing that very literally saved my skin.  After a quick ride to the emergency room, I got to get up and go home.  I am fully aware that many (most?) of these accidents do not end so well.

Mostly, what doesn't suck about this is the reminder that I have one of the best support networks anyone could ask for.  From worried parents, grandparents and a livid sister/brother-in-law out west, to a close (and also livid) friend in Indiana, to a worried boyfriend who offered to come get me (and waited for 6 hours at the ER the last time this happened), to the two cyclists who were with me and took care of me at the scene, threw themselves in front of the car to make sure the driver stayed there, then came to the hospital, to the staff of WABA who took care of my bike and drove us home from the hospital, to the housemates who offered to make me tea, to the friend driving me to pick up the police report tonight, to the many friends who have called/texted/emailed/tweeted at me to see if I'm OK and/or have offered to bring me food and/or alcohol and/or to keep me company--it's kind of overwhelming, in a good way.

I try not to gush, but I can't remember a time when I've felt more grateful.  There's not enough flour in the world to churn out the number of baked goods that I want to make to thank these people.  A blog post doesn't really cut it, but guys, I just have all these feelings.  So--thanks, everyone.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Thoughts on a shooting

Typically, as we watch shootings happen across the country, empathetic sadness sinks in as we grieve for those who have lost loved ones, but we’re grateful that we have never had to experience anything quite so horrible, and that our friends and family are safe.  This morning, for at least 12 families in the DC area, that tragedy hit home, and for the rest of us, it came disturbingly, frighteningly close.  It’s a cruel game of fate, and with the increased frequency in violent mass shootings around this country, you start to feel like a number on a very large roulette wheel.   

Shootings are something that crop up all too commonly in the news these days.  I started grad school last year, so since my life is once again divided by semesters, this frequency has been more noticeable for me.  My first semester of school, finals were marked by the school shooting in Newtown.  The next semester’s finals, just four months later, were marked by the Boston Marathon bombing.  Now, in September, the beginning of the third and current semester, we face a similar situation here in Washington, DC.

Over the last two months, I’ve been working with 4 others on a grant that sends us out to the off-street bike trails in DC every single day.  Since two of those trails, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail and the Suitland Parkway Trail, are located east of the river, we’ve taken to spending a lot of time biking through and hanging out in the Navy Yard, which connects to the newly opened 11th Street Bridge.  This morning, around 7:30 AM, 2 of us biked past the Navy Yard and over the bridge.  Nothing seemed amiss.

Coming back, around 9:50 AM, I wanted to grab something to eat before we went back to home base.  “We’ve got some extra time,” said my coworker, “Let’s head to the Potbelly in Navy Yard.” As we biked that way, we noticed an usual amount of helicopter activity, starting at the US Park Police headquarters right off the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, which runs underneath the 11th Street Bridge.  We got closer and noticed that there were flashing lights on the road, but the trail was still open, so we biked up the hill to see what was going on.

The bridge, which is usually quite busy that close to rush hour, was closed to vehicle, foot, and bike traffic. There was a police car sitting a ways past us, and traffic on the adjacent bridge had also been halted by a police car.  To be honest, the people who live and work in DC are pretty used to street closures due to accidents, bomb scares, presidential motorcades, or whatever else.  Since there was no one running up to us telling us not to be there, we talked about crossing. It was cold, rainy, and we were tired. But this situation was unusual, and something didn’t feel right.  As we stood watching, I noticed two or three police boats in the river, and across the river, one of the helicopters hovered over the Navy Yard.  It appeared to be lifting something, or someone, in the air. The ambient sound of sirens served as a backdrop for the whole scene.

I looked down at my phone to check what was happening on Twitter while my coworker went to go talk to the policeman.  There was a text from our supervisor--“Hey, stay out of the Navy Yard this morning.  There is a shooter on the loose and they’ve closed 11th Street.”  My stomach sank.  What?  A shooter?  On the loose?  Where?  Immediately my thoughts turned to the safety of those that I know who work in and around the Navy Yard, as well as for the safety of my coworker and me--standing by ourselves on an otherwise closed bridge, with emergency vehicles zooming around, we felt like sitting ducks.  As my coworker came back to report, another police officer on a motorcycle pulled up next to me and asked what we were doing.  Turns out they hadn’t realized there was a trail there, so they hadn’t closed it off.  After the officer told me there were “several bodies down,” and that we definitely shouldn’t cross that particular bridge, I asked him where we should go.  “I don’t know,” he said, “I don’t have to pedal.” Unsure what else to do, we turned around and headed into downtown Anacostia for safety.

After about 15 minutes of scrolling through confusing and mixed updates on Twitter, we consulted a map and headed back across using Pennsylvania Avenue, which took us into Capitol Hill and skirted around the dangerous area. It’s a terrible connection for bicycles, but it was either that or South Capitol Bridge, which is right next to the ballpark and the Navy Yard, and we weren’t about to risk that.  I found out later that the area we were biking through was also under lockdown advisory, but there wasn’t really any other way to get back up to where we were going.

Everyone that I know, at least so far, is fine.  Once again, I feel lucky to be in the group of people that can sit on the sidelines and feel empathetically sad, and that the roulette ball hasn’t landed on me.  I am so, so grateful for the police officers who closed that bridge down on time, for the first responders and security guards that were in the middle of the situation, and that my coworker and I were fortunate enough to not be near the Navy Yard while the shootings were going on.  

I’m angry at news agencies for reporting conflicting and in many cases, wrong information for the sake of getting a “breaking” story.  I’m angry at whoever did this for terrorizing the city that, after seven years (almost a third of my life), I now call home. I’m angry that people are allowed to exist who have no conception of human life or its value.  I’m angry that the people I know and love who work near the Navy Yard had to be so scared. I’m angry at the NRA for merely existing, especially with their headquarters so nearby.  And I’m angry that there’s nothing we can do except offer condolences to those who have not gotten so lucky.  

It’s an existential kind of anger, the sort that nothing can really quell.  News stories always come out after tragedies like this about people helping out other people, and about heroes in times of crisis. These stories, I think, are meant to focus on the good in humanity, and to help us forget that people are actually capable of committing totally senseless acts of violence.  And the stories help, to an extent, and they honor those who deserve to be honored, but as these shootings become more and more frequent, I find that my own anger is growing, and that my faith and trust in other people, which once upon a time was almost boundless, is diminishing.  Events like this are tragedies not only because of the lives lost, but because of the pure, deep evil that they represent.

Where does it all end?  Are we fated to just wipe each other off the planet entirely?  Isn’t that what we’re talking about, after all, when we want to give guns to schoolteachers?  Do our governing bodies actually harden up and pass laws that might prompt some change?  Will that even solve the problem, or is the human tendency towards violence something that runs deeper than what our country’s laws say we can and can’t do?  

There are so many questions, and so much doubt, but in an attempt to end this on a hopeful note...

An event that happened on the 11th Street Bridge a couple of weeks back was called "One City," referring to the fact that the newly-built bridge connects both sides of the river. Today, that phrase seems to take on a deeper significance. As we sought people and information out in Anacostia (a part of the city that, upon coming here in 2006, I was told never to go into), and as we greeted everyone that we saw outside on the way back from our shift, in an attempt to bring some small kind of cheer to a very dark situation, I was reminded of what connects us and that we are, in fact, one city. I hope that there’s something in the empathy that we can all still feel for those who are grieving--maybe that ability to love and grieve together is what we're supposed to stake our hopes in.  

That being said, my thoughts and love are with the families and friends of those who were killed or injured today here in DC.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Spring has sprung...

...the grass is riz.
I wonder where the birdies is.

Here are a bunch of pictures of seasonally appropriate things.  Why, you ask?  Because I have a paper due, of course.  Also, the wind chill was 37 degrees this morning and DC just can't seem to get it straight.

Cherry blossoms.

Cherry blossoms and the people who go to see them.

Tulips at the Floral Library near the paddleboat station on the Tidal Basin...

At the National Basilica

Posing my bike with some cherry blossoms...

What up.

The Omni Shoreham and their ridiculously pretty landscaping

...I think they could use some more tulips.

Magnolia blossoms (NB: Not a cherry tree).