Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Naked Bike Wrestling

It's official. I'm packing up my bike for the winter. The Trek Valencia and I had a good run, but logistically it just isn't going to work out. Don't worry though. We're just "taking a break" not ending things entirely. We have every intention of getting back together once the weather is a bit less hideous. But the fact of the matter is that I'm just not willing to deal with what I had to deal with yesterday, and so November 24th will officially be my last day of cycling for the season.

I cycled to work yesterday because the forecast promised light drizzle instead of torrential rain and mild temperatures. The ride to work was fine and my cycling gear kept me warm and dry. However, on the way home the rain picked up dramatically and though I wasn't uncomfortable my bicycle didn't fare too well in the elements. By the time I arrived at my apartment the entire drive-train was caked with mud, dead leaves, and debris from the road. My front brake was making a strange metal on metal scraping sound and upon further inspection I found just about every moving element of my bicycle to be infiltrated with dirt. This might have been okay had I had access to a garage and a hose where I could have hosed down the whole mess, dried it off properly, and let my bicycle live to see another day. But in my tiny apartment there is no place to clean or store a grime covered bike and so I stood in the hallway dripping rain and mud and wondering what the hell to do.

I figured that my only course of action was to somehow manoeuvre my bicycle into our bathtub and give it a shower. This proved to be easier said than done. My bathroom is EXTREMELY small and the door opens against the tub, effectively blocking access except in the area adjacent to the toilet. This meant trying to force my bicycle around the door, over the toilet, and into the bathtub. Achieving this was akin to wrestling with a large metallic crocodile who spits grease and does not in any way want to cooperate. My bathroom was soon coated in mud and chain lube and it became apparent that I was going to wreck my clothes quickly in this fight, so I opted to ditch them. They would get soaked as soon as I managed to turn the shower on anyway and they were more of a hindrance than a help. So there I was, naked, filthy, and wrestling with my bath-phobic bicycle. In the end I had to drag the front half of my bike into the bathroom, stand on the toilet, and wedge the front end into the tub. The bicycle didn't actually fit in the bathtub and when I realized this I nearly curled up under my bathroom's heat lamp and gave up. But I decided that the bike would have to be washed in sections so I turned on the shower, got into the tub with my bike, and washed down the front half. Then came a second wrestling match where I had to turn the whole bike over to get the back end under the water. I showered that off too creating a hideous mess in my bathtub. Had I been thinking more clearly I might have thought to take the wheels off before starting this showering trick, but I didn't think to do that and paid the price for my lack of vision.

I eventually managed to remove the fenders, get most of the grit out of the braking system, and rinse everything enough to move the bike back into my bedroom where I've been storing it. The front brake is still scraping and I think the poor bicycle will need to go in for a proper cleaning and tune up before I pack it away completely for the winter.

I'm definitely feeling a bit defeated. I had all the proper winter gear--the coat, the pants, the neoprene shoe covers, the headlights...what I don't have is a living situation that allows me to effectively deal with the filth accrued by winter riding. I honestly didn't think of that. Winter cycling + miniature apartment = epic fail. :(

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Very Vogue

On Sunday M. and I had our engagement photo shoot with our painstakingly chosen photographer. I'm happy to report that everything went amazingly well and I came out of the whole thing feeling like a Vogue model (well, minus the cosmetic surgery). The whole photographic adventure began Saturday with an epic trip to the Metrotown Mall. As it turns out, neither M. or I had appropriate clothing for a fashionable engagement shoot. In fact, my lame wardrobe was making me feel about 100 years old, made up as it was of threadbare t-shirts and jeans that didn't quite fit and certainly weren't reflecting the styles of the day. (M. pointed out stark evidence of my lack of style in that my jeans are not of the skinny variety and cannot be tucked into boots. Instead I have been rolling up the cuffs to keep them from getting soaked in the Vancouver downpours. And if M. thinks this isn't stylish, I'm really in trouble!). So I caved to the trends, bought two pairs of skinny jeans, tights, a few new sweaters, and grey felt boots. So with new clothes donned, and hair actually cooperating for once we set off for New West where we were set to have an urban photo-shoot under the skytrain line.

It was raining, but in this instance it actually added to the atmosphere of the New West back roads and alleys with their run down buildings, peeling paint, and boarded up storefronts. There wasn't any traffic on a Sunday morning so we were able to get some shots standing in the middle of the road with the Skytrain line creating stark grey angles and the dim cloud filtered light illuminating the pavement. All in all it was extremely fun and our photographer created a relaxed and easy mood that kept us from feeling awkward.

We did have to have a kissing lesson early on though. Engagement shoots require that the participants appear infatuated with each other, which means a lot of kissing shots. This is fine and all but apparently kissing for pictures is different than kissing for real because we were quickly admonished for non-aesthetic kissing. Damn. So we had to refine our technique and figure out how to make it look as if we were kissing while still keeping both our facial profiles visible and not squishing noses or lips. What this amounts to is something not very much like kissing at all, but more like accidentally brushing lips. Thankfully our photographer didn't have to jump in and give a real demonstration of how to do it. I assume that would have been awkward...

Once we mastered kissing, everything went smoothly. Our photographer says I'm a contender for America's Next Top Model. (I don't care if he tells every bride that. I'll take it). He told M. that he might be able to make the Sears catalogue. I later pointed out that at least he did better than a Zellers ad or something. Sears is fairly respectable at least in the world of department stores. By the end of the shoot I was damp from all the rain, freezing cold, and a bit stiff from holding poses so long but had thoroughly enjoyed myself. Our photographer took over 500 pictures and I'm hoping to have digital files by Christmas. This definitely ranks as the most fun wedding related thing so far! I'm not sure M. liked it as much as me. Maybe once he starts raking in the Sears catalogue revenue...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wedding Dress Madness

The rhetoric surrounding wedding dresses is very similar to that surrounding dating, meaning that like finding a perfect partner for life finding the perfect wedding dress can be fraught with dangers and anxieties. As women embarking on marriage we are told that we must find the Perfect Dress. This dress must show off all the right aspects of our figures and somehow encapsulate our personalities. As far as I can tell a pristine white dress is meant to symbolize your pristine and most perfect self and as such isn't to be taken lightly (or cheaply). The bridal shop clerks will tell you that if you are looking at yourself in the mirror wearing the hundredth wedding dress that you've tried on and you can't shout in totally assured rapture that this $5000 piece of silk that you're wearing is "The One" then you need to keep shopping.

This sounds suspiciously like Hollywood versions of dating where the message on the street is that there's "The One" perfect partner out there for everyone and you had better not let them go because otherwise you'll spend a lonely life alone with fifty cats. Now the fact of the matter is that I don't believe in "The One" when it comes to men (or to clothing for that matter). I think there are many potential "Ones" with whom you could be happy. And that isn't to downplay the joy of finding someone that you want to spend the rest of your life with. Even if there are hundreds of people out there that you might be compatible with it's still hard work finding one and it's something to be celebrated. And apparently this celebration requires the donning of a huge white dress that comes weighted down with the discourse of "Oneness."

I suppose wedding dress shopping might be uncomplicated and exciting if you have an unlimited budget but for those of us hoping not to take out a loan to pay for the pounds of chiffon and tulle it can be a bit daunting. I have never before in my life put on a dress that the salesperson tells me is "very reasonably priced" only to look at the price tag and find that it says $2700. How wedding dress retailers get away with this blatant robbery is beyond me. I don't care if the dress is made out of the reconstituted feathers of fossilized Dodo birds--it isn't worth that much money. I kept thinking of all the other things I could do with the cash. A lifetime supply of polymer clay came to mind, or a small herd of sheep to provide me with an endless supply of yarn. But alas, instead I must fork over a small fortune to buy a dress that I will only wear once for a grand total of about 10 hours. So with all of these financial concerns bouncing around in my head it was very difficult to see any dress as "The One." It seemed to me that the price was too great.

But walking naked up the aisle isn't really an option and my attempts to buy a second hand dress failed miserably so M. convinced me that I was going to have to accept that dresses were a rip off and simply buy one that I could afford even if I thought it was a giant waste of money. And so with my mind slightly more at ease about the money (I had nightmares about M. seeing me in my dress and saying something along the lines of "you paid HOW MUCH for that?") I went back out into the world of wedding dresses not to find The One, but to find A One and I did actually manage to purchase a dress that I'm extremely excited to wear assuming I don't think too much about the horrific act of conspicuous consumption that I'm performing by wearing it. I'm not sure if it's perfect. I don't know if everyone assembled is going to gasp in collective awe as I walk down the aisle. But it's a beautiful dress that I can wear on what promises to be one of the most exciting days of my life to date. After all, the day isn't about fashion, as much as the magazine producers like to tell you that it is.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Professor Taft

As promised, here is my needle felted owl, Professor Taft. He's a bit of a hermit and prefers the orderly structure of a bird house to the unpredictable quality of trees. A great fan of Keats, Professor Taft keeps an extensive library and likes a wee bit of Port in the evenings.



Roving, Rambling, and Felt

Apparently I needed a new hobby. And apparently I thought it would be a good idea to combine my love of wool with risk-taking behaviour (knitting doesn't involve much personal risk unless you count itching from bad sweaters or the psychological trauma of a dropped stitch). So my newest venture is into needle felting, which combines the joys of working with wool roving and the highly dangerous and very real possibility of stabbing yourself multiple times with extraordinarily sharp barbed needles. This is a hobby to get the adrenaline pumping, that's for sure. But backing up a bit for some context...

I discovered needle felting purely by accident when an example of needle felting and polymer clay sculpture mixed together showed up on a blog that I subscribe to. The project was a troll sporting a polymer face and a fuzzy needle felted body. My brain screamed "That is SO cool!" and I spent the rest of the day researching needle felting online. The process itself is very simple. You take some wool roving (unspun wool), roll it into shapes, and stab it hundreds of times with a thin barbed needle. The barbs agitate the wool fibres and cause them to lock together, producing a dense fabric that shrinks with repeated stabbing. Anyone who has accidentally put a wool sweater in the wash will be familiar with felting. Needle felting doesn't involve water though, just friction and heat from the needle. Using this simple technique it is possible to create absolutely stunning sculptures such as those made by Stephanie Metz:






The image above is one of Metz's teddy bear skulls, meant to comment on the strange juxtaposition between the fuzzy teddy bears we give our children and their reference to the ferocious animals that they are modelled on. More common though is the creation of unbelieavably cute and whimsical creatures, with teddy bears and bunnies being common projects. After witnessing the creative possibilities inherent in needle felting I decided that this was something I had to try. I made an enjoyable trip to Birkeland Brothers Wool on Main and 20th and picked up bags of wool roving ranging from Merino to a coarse mixed batt in mainly natural colours (though I couldn't resist a bag of red roving which I plan to make felt Cardinals out of as Christmas tree ornaments). I equipped myself with 10 felting needles in various gauges, and a piece of foam to protect my table top and I was ready to go. As crafts go this one has surprisingly few components, which makes it attractive financially.

I headed home with my piles of roving and immediately set out to create an owl, whom M. and I have named Professor Taft. Pictures will follow shortly, but I would like to say that he was a huge success and I have fallen deeply in love with needle felting even though, as all the websites warned, I stabbed myself and nearly bled all over my finished project. I must admit though that the slip came after dinner when I was full of great food and a glass of wine. It would appear that felting under the influence is a VERY bad idea. If you are even remotely impaired or groggy the chances of injuring yourself increase exponentially. M. suggested that I start a group called Mothers Against Drunk Felting, which might be an advisable initiative. This is NOT a craft for children as my bleeding finger attests to, but it does create fairly fast and satisfying results. Having finished Professor Taft I'm on to a felted Cardinal. After that I may move on to mammals. I have appropriate colours for skunks and raccoons, and both ideas fill me with geeky glee. The potential for merging felting with knitting and polymer clay sculpture is bouncing around in my mind and I'm sure some hybrid projects will be in the works soon.

Felting is also a very therapeutic art. There's nothing like going home after a rough day at the office and repeatedly stabbing something with a sharp object. You can turn your frustration into beautiful, sweet, and whimsical pieces of art!