Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Starting Thursday, the forecast shows temperatures in the mid-90s through Saturday. The ten day forecast is even more promising, with temps dipping into the low-90s. In terms of morale, that drop below highs of 100 degrees is huge. Life begins anew.

With the advent of cooler temperatures, my thoughts turn again to the garden, which sadly, looks as if it suffered through the same extreme summer heat that the rest of us did. Approximately half of the new plantings I put out in late spring/early summer look like this:

Yes, my friends, that once was a living thing.

And since this weekend is the Labor Day holiday, I think it's appropriate to fill it full of chores that have been, for one reason or another, left undone, one of them being pulling out all the things that died. I'll also take the opportunity to tidy up the garden for fall. I think I'll leave off re-planting ornamentals until the spring, but I have plans for a winter garden and so I might as well get things ready for that. I want to re-vamp the drip irrigation system to make it more efficient, so I'll probably do some future posts about that little project.

If all that isn't enough to fill out the labor days (or if it gets too hot and I have to go inside), I also need to finish making some window screens for the west side of the house and finish painting the trim in the dining room.

I have plenty of motivation for clearing my undone-chores list, since as soon as I do, I can start on my next quirky project, which is to build my own custom-fit-to-me randonneuring-style bicycle frame. Yes, I will be welding.

So the long term forecast is this: Grit returns to the Bike Garden. Read all about it here.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Building the Rivendell "Betty Foy"

It's been a while since I last posted, I know, but I didn't feel much like idle chit chat after the funeral, and then Walu and I went to San Francisco to escape the heat for a few days, and then school started back up...it's an old story.

Anyway, I have lots of things saved up to talk about--so many, in fact, that I hardly know where to start. I've dithered about the issue for a couple of days now, and have finally decided to just jump in with whatever is foremost in my mind. I'll get to all the other posts in due time.

So here's what I'm spending much of my spare time on these days: building a new bike. The bits and pieces came via UPS while we were in San Francisco:

I've long had the idea that I'd like a bike I could throw a handlebar bag onto, loaded with a camera and a lunch, and go rambling around for hours at a piddling pace--an old-fashioned European touring bike, if you will. (Of course this begs the question that there is anything in or around LBB that might invite rambling and touring.) The Ruby and the Salsa, much as I love them and as much as they serve their own, specialized, useful services, are simply not comfortable enough for me to imagine spending long hours in the saddle on them. The problem seems to be with the drop bars and the beating my hands take on them. More than 20-30 miles, and I am done with the rambling fantasy.

Neither bike has the geometry for a handlebar bag, either, though I have, in fact, been putting one on the Ruby lately so that I can carry a camera along on my rides. Even so, there just isn't anything remotely "rambly" about the Ruby. She is built for one thing, and that thing, on a person with better legs than mine, is speed. The Salsa might be a little rambly, but she's just not super comfortable.

Nevertheless, in an experimental mood earlier this year, I switched the drop bar on the Salsa for a pair of Nitto Dove handlebars (swept-back, or "North Road" style). What I got was less than satisfactory. Not only did I immediately develop knee problems from the change in geometry, there was an obvious loss of speed. I got, in short, a bike that was neither a fast commuter (which La Chica was before) nor a rambler capable of going long distances comfortably.

I've wanted a Rivendell for a couple of years, and the Betty Foy, in particular, for the last year or so, since it seemed to fit the profile of what I wanted exactly. Rivendells are reputed to be extraordinary bikes--durable, well-made, exceptionally comfortable to ride--indeed, the very ramblers I've been fantasizing about. Short of a custom-built randonneuring bike, they are probably the best on the market for a person searching for such a steed. So when I got a little discretionary money in the form of a paycheck for a summer course I taught at Mary Baldwin College in June, I thought I knew a good way to spend it. Even so, it took me almost two more months to make up my mind to place the order. I mean, how many bikes does one person need?

Ironically, it was a bit of car-trouble that gave me the push I needed. My Subaru had some hiccups when I was traveling back and forth between San Angelo, and since it is nearly ten years old, I started thinking that maybe I should look into getting a new car. But then--mirable dictu!--the hiccuping turned out to be a very fixable problem, and suddenly I had a car that probably has a few more good years left in it. So if I wasn't going to have to spend my money on a car...

Plus, all these bikes added up don't even come close to what a new car would cost. Heck, they wouldn't even add up to a good used car! Ok, maybe they'd add up to a mediocre used car, but you get my drift.

You see what kind of scary rationalization I am capable of.

Anyway, I called up Rivendell and in short order the Betty Foy and most of her bits and pieces were on the way. (One can, of course, order a fully built bike from Rivendell, but why would an incorrigible tinkerer want to do that?)

This is the second bike I've built from scratch, the first being the Salsa Casseroll. This one was a little easier, since it came with the bottom bracket and headset/fork already installed. In no time at all, I had the guts of the bike put together, more or less in this order (the astute reader might notice that I started out in my shop, but I quickly determined that it was too STINKIN' HOT to work  out there, and so was driven inside to my auxiliary shop, aka, the front living room):

The hammered metal fenders, handlebar, cork grips, Brooks saddle, Acorn seat bag, and Velo Orange constructeur rear rack were all things I either had lying around or on other bikes. I've ordered a Velo Orange front rack, which should be here sometime next week. I've yet to pick out a handlebar bag, as they seem a tad pricey to me. I may settle for a Wall basket and some zip ties...

Finally, Betty Foy is a character in a Wordsworth poem, "The Idiot Boy," and she is supposed to represent the best of mothers. Appropriately, I have named this bike Frances, after my own mother.

I'll ride the bike around for a hundred miles or so and post a review of how it handles. In future posts, I might explain a bit about bike geometry and components, and what makes one better for rambling (and loading up with bags and gear), and another better for speed (and keeping up on club rides), and so on. And that, as Mario Battali would say, is the dish.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Re-thinking the back garden, and a project teaser

This summer's extraordinary drought has got me doing some serious re-thinking about the back garden. I thought I had solved the dry shade problem by planting some shrubs, but about half of them have died. I've also noticed across town that even established shrubs are dying off, so these may not be the answer I thought they were at the start of the summer.

The trouble I'm having with designing a sustainable, water-wise back garden is not one of planting for arid conditions--it is that of planting for arid and shady conditions. With five pecan trees providing more or less all-day shade, I need plants that will thrive without a lot of sun, but without having to be extraordinarily irrigated. I've planted many of the standards of drought-tolerance (artemesia, Apache plume, Russian sage, purple sage, succulents, etc) in the back beds before, but they've all gone generally spindly and weak in the shade, and have eventually died. What to do, what to do?

I've also got a problem with the lawn area. The only part that gets enough sun to plant a drought-tolerant grass is small and beaten to bits by four rambunctious dogs. After a summer of no water, it is, in fact, nothing but dust. I'd post a photo, but it's just too depressing.

You see? That's how I'm different from Fox News and MSNBC. I refuse to alarm you about the state of my lawn purely for entertainment and ratings.  I'll show you some "before" shots eventually, but until I can get some "after" shots to alleviate your anxiety upon seeing it, I'll hold off.

Fox News and MSNBC might do well to be reminded of the tenets of mindful speech, as I was yesterday when I stumbled across this lovely post on Sweet Pea Bicycles. As the post says, here are three tenets of mindful speech:

1. Is it kind?
2. Is it true?
3. Is it useful?

While the author of the post says that "no" to all three keeps the silence, I think it would benefit us all if the news services had an automatic shut-down of a story if numbers 1 and 3 ever raise their heads simultaneously. Imagine, for example, an entire summer without having to hear about Charlie Sheen or Casey Anthony.

It would be well for me to have an automatic shut-down of my mouth, too, but I'm still working that.

Anyway, given the challenges, I'm trying to talk Walu into putting a large stone courtyard in the back garden. He's worried about re-sell value, however, thinking that people will want a lawn. I'm thinking that by the time we sell this house, LBB will be under such strict water conditions that people will be grateful there isn't any lawn back there...

I'll keep you posted on how all the planning and designing is going as it develops. Not much is actually going to take place until this heat breaks.

In the meantime, I was casting about for a short summer project that I could complete before school starts in a two or three weeks and have settled on building up a new bike. I'll post more on that as it develops, too. The new frame and components should be shipped by the end of this week.