Thursday, August 30, 2012

New Post Over at Wordpress

I'm still trying out WordPress instead of Blogger, and I've put up a new blog post there: Reflections on Biking to Campus. Please visit me over there and bookmark the page! I'm likely to stay there, but will update this page if I make the move permanent.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I've moved!

Based on some recommendations by friends, I've decided to move my blog to wordpress. I will probably keep this one up for a little while just in case I change my mind; however, all new posts will go up at my blog over there. Please stop by!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Product Review: Ortlieb Waterproof Bag

The bag under review: Waterproof Office Bag
If you are going to commute by bike, chances are you are going to want to buy a pannier rack. The reason for this is simple: you need a place to put your stuff. Now, some people love to get the bikes with baskets on the handlebars, or simply buy a cargo bike; those are good options as well. But my impression is that the vast majority of bike commuters use pannier bags.

If you are going to be commuting only on occasion and "when the weather is good," then you probably don't need to invest a lot of money in your pannier bags. However, if you are planning to commute regularly or - like me - your bike is your primary mode of transportation, you are going to want to invest in waterproof or water resistant bags.  I am fortunate enough to be married to something of a bike guru, so I already have a wealth of bags from which to choose. I am also fortunate enough that my husband already owns two waterproof bags, and is willing to part with one. (Thanks, Honey!) That waterproof bag is an Ortlieb Waterproof Office Bag, and it is fantastic.

Now, I'm still a novice in this bicycling world, but my impression is that Ortlieb is one of the premier choices in waterproof bags. If it is, I can see why: these bags are high quality. The material is waterproof, and the top rolls down before cinching, which provides a really good seal to protect what's inside. In addition, this bag has a hard inner shell, which makes it perfect for transporting books and my laptop: the essentials for PhD life.

As you can see, I have my laptop, some folders, and several books in here, and I still have room. Plus, all of my stuff is snug and secure - and protected from rain! In addition, this bag has a nice divided organizer that provides spots for pens, a phone, accessories, and even credit cards.

I prefer to keep my cards, phone, etc. in a separate small bag that I can transfer from place to place, so I don't use most of these pockets. However, I can see how valuable they would be to someone who essentially uses this as a briefcase.

The quality of this bag is complemented by its ease of use. The clips are rigged with a quick-release strap, which is NICE - it makes it easy to put on the rack, and to remove; you just pull up on the handle and the bag pops off the rack. (This is especially nice when it's raining and you don't want to be fiddling with things.) However, even though it is easy to "pop" off, it is also very secure on the rack, which is obviously an important feature. It also has some "customizable" (the red squiggly line is telling me that this isn't a word, but I think it should be)  features that I didn't even know about until I asked my husband why the bag sits crooked on my bike. (Novice alert!)

He pointed out that the reason for this is to aid riders in not kicking their bags (assuming they put it on the correct side, as I have NOT done here). The idea is that you tilt the bag in the opposite direction as is shown above, leaving room for your rotating feet. This is not a problem on my bike, as my feet come nowhere near the bags. However, if it *were* an issue, I could change the set up of the bag on the back:

My husband is holding the bag. Look out, Vanna White!

The bars and clips on the back can be moved, creating a tilt in one direction or the other, or creating a straight strap. (When I'm not feeling lazy, I may fix this on mine). In addition, the latch on the bottom that helps keep it secure can be moved around to create the perfect balance for securing your bag to the rack.

One final feature I really like about this bag is related to safety: it has reflective patches on it. You can see it on the "front" of the bag in my photos above, as the reflective label was activated by the flash on my camera. In addition, it has reflective patches on the sides, which sit behind you when you ride, making you visible to drivers:

Though, in some cases, they still won't care about how much room they give you.
As I believe is obvious by now, I just love this bag. It is well worth the price, especially if you plan on carrying a computer or other electronic devices with you on your commute. It is a pricey bag, that is for sure; however, it is a helluvalot cheaper than buying a new computer. (I got a red squiggly on "helluvalot" too, but I really think that should be a word as well.) I would highly recommend this for the bike commuting office professional. Oh, and if you like the features of this bag but not necessarily the style, Ortlieb has some other styles available, including the Downtown bag, among others.

Though I love this bag, it's not the only one I use on my commute. Other product reviews coming soon: Detours Market Ballard Bag, Detours Coffee Bag.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cuts, Chaos, and Cold: More Lessons Learned

Well. The past few days have been...interesting, to say the least.

Sunday I wrote a post about feeling kinda low, and wishing I had a car. Little did I know that my day was just going to get better.  And by that, I mean that my day was decidedly not getting any better. Around 8 o'clock that evening, Malcolm fell and split his chin. So, there we were, with no car, no insurance, and a kid who needed stitches. <sigh> I started to panic about how to get him to the hospital (no urgent cares in town), because I knew how far away it was (about 5.5 miles), and I also knew that we were on the last day of NO Sunday bus service (starts back up this coming weekend). Don started checking out a route, wondering if he could put Malcolm in the Bakfiets and take him, but that option was quickly vetoed: too bumpy, too far, too dark. I first went up to the neighbors' apartment to see if they could drive us, but they didn't answer the door (turns out they didn't hear me knocking).  Then I started calling cab services in town...which apparently only have one cab each or something, because each of them was "all booked up" for at least a half hour. I checked with the neighbor again after reserving a cab, and they jumped to the rescue! Cancelled the cab and got on our way.  Lesson learned: always have a back-up plan. Unfortunately for me, my back-up plan WAS the cab, but I had never fully checked out cab companies ahead of time...which means, no back-up plan. Yeesh. (Malcolm is fine by the way. Five stitches and a battle wound to brag about, so he's just peachy.)

So...on to the start of this week. Orientation for school started yesterday, so this is really the test week for my biking habits. Yesterday went pretty well, but I didn't have to be to school until 11am, so that left me plenty of time to get situated. I decided to test my electric assist's ability to keep me from getting sweaty, and it worked wonderfully. I think I only pedaled about 12 times total between the apartment and school, which is great for being presentable, but bad for exercise. (I'll have to figure out that balance in the future.) I arrived early (as intended) and dropped off all my extra stuff in my office and headed on my way. This is what happens on a well-planned day.

Now let me tell you what happens on a poorly-planned day.

Today's orientation started at 8am, which means that if I wanted to get all my stuff to my office so I didn't have to lug it around, I would have needed to get to school by 7:40. Didn't happen. First of all, the problems started last night, as I was overwhelmed by the long day of orientation, as well as a little tired and disorganized from doing a bunch of stuff around the apartment after I got home. So...I didn't even climb into bed until around midnight, at which point I realized I had missed a call and had a voice mail. Checking it revealed that I had inadvertently shipped all of my textbooks for the semester to my old address in Toledo instead of to our new address here in Blacksburg. Of course, I handled this with grace and calm, drifting off to sleep with the knowledge that I would handle things in the morning.

Yeah, right.

I went into full-on panic mode. I checked the shipping notifications and discovered the purchase had been split into four different shipments, all arriving at different times. Fantastic. Luckily, I was able to contact my brother-in-law via text message, and he agreed to pick up the packages and ship them back out to me. (Thanks Mike!) Unfortunately, the amount of money I will have to pay in shipping will negate the savings of buying the textbooks from Amazon in the first place. Bah.

So...the point of all of that is that I didn't fall asleep finally until around 1am; so when my alarm went off at 6:15am this morning, I couldn't figure out for the life of me why I would have set it so early. So, naturally I hit "snooze." Twice. (Three times?) Finally, I dragged my butt out of bed only to see that it was around 50 degrees outside. And foggy. So, already running late, I had to figure out a backup plan for my cropped-sleeve shirt/shorts option, because that definitely wasn't going to work for the ride in. I quickly grabbed some warmer clothes, stuffed the cooler clothes in my bag, and headed out the door (without having eaten breakfast, I might add).

I probably wouldn't have been running as late if I had not stopped to take this picture.
The bright side of this unplanned chaos: more lessons learned!

Lesson...Five?: Even if you are dressed warmly, you need gloves; otherwise, your fingers will turn into icy little good-for-nothings during your ride. (Also, if you're not wearing said gloves, you'll find yourself debating between being late and being cold, as a slower speed provides a much "warmer" ride.)

Lesson Let's-Go-With-Six: When you're wearing glasses because you can't put your contacts in because your eyes hurt too bad because you didn't get enough sleep...they fog up. A lot. Which means you have to stop every quarter mile or so to clean them off. This also causes a conflict with timeliness, as you find yourself debating between "being on time" and "not wanting to crash." I opted for not crashing, but somehow still managed to make it to orientation on time - hungry, cold, and bogged down with too much bag weight - but on time.

The silver lining in all of this?  I got to wear my scarf! (several of my friends just burst out laughing) Those of you who know me know I have a slight scarf obsession (24 and counting), and that I was disappointed at the prospect of living in a warmer climate because it might make the scarves not as...prudent. But seriously, the first thought that popped into my head when I realized I would need warmer clothes was "I can wear a scarf!" And that brought me great happiness. It worked out well, really, because it kept my neck warm, which I imagine would have been another issue I would have otherwise complained about. So, maybe we can add that as...

Lesson It-Must-Be-Seven: Scarves are your friend. I already knew this, you do too.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday, Rainy Sunday

This morning we were prepared to try out a new church, but at 6am awoke to the sound of pouring rain. <sigh> We were hoping it would clear up in time for us to ride, but the radar was indicating nothing of the sort. (Oddly, every single other day it called for rain here it didn't start until after 1pm. But not today!) Taking the bus is not an option for us for church because even when bus service IS running on Sundays, the first one doesn't start until 11:30, effectively missing the beginning of most services. So, if we can't ride...chances are, we can't go.

Fortunately, our neighbors (who go to the church we were going to check out) so very kindly offered us a ride.  UNfortunately, they have a truck with a rather snug cab, which made it entertaining to try to fit four adults and two kids into this "little" thing while rain is pouring down around us. But, we got to church, checked it off of our shopping list, and came back home (verdict to be determined later). And I promptly fell into a funk.

This is the first day that I've really wished I had a car. Not just because of the rain...but because of how I feel. Checking out a new church for some reason made it "click" with me: I have left my church home. While I have generally been doing fairly well with focusing forward and not dwelling too much on who we left behind, today my eyes were firmly fixed on Toledo. It will be difficult to find the oddball mix we had back there, a community that is so deeply caring for one another and that is focused on social justice. A community that is filled with people who are genuinely interested in studying the Bible deeply and learning what G-d has to say, even if those discoveries break open the boxes they had previously put Him (and Christianity) in. A community filled with people who are interested in the Jewish roots of our faith, who celebrate the festivals and say Shema almost daily. While I was sitting in the pew (yes, a pew!) this morning, tears started welling up in my eyes as I realized that I would no longer get to commune with these people on a weekly basis. I started to feel lost without my spiritual anchors.

So today, as ridiculously "first world problems" as it sounds, I wanted a car. Why? Because I feel drained, and tired, and sad...and I just don't feel like putting forth the effort to ride my bike anywhere. It's kinda chilly here today, and it's supposed to rain some more...and I want whatever superficial form of comfort I can this case, a Starbucks Peppermint Mocha. I want to be able to just drive over there, pick one up, and come home and cry softly into it. Why this particular beverage? Because that's what I would grab on chilly, rainy days while studying or hanging out with friends. Because it's warm (and delicious). Because I want some sort of representation of normalcy in an apartment that still doesn't quite feel like home. Because there are Starbucks stores everywhere, and visiting one could mean I'm anywhere...even back in Toledo.

I know that this post is a bit "off topic," but I promised to share the highs and the lows...and this is a low. Today I'm feeling sad, and I wish I had a car.