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1. Almost Finished

Something I learned today: extraterrestrial law is NOT the same as extraterritorial law. The field of extraterrestrial law as such does not exist. There is space law, but it is not the same thing. So, if there is anyone out there interested in extraterrestrial law, the area is currently wide open. Make your mark!
This is what happens when you should put your reading glasses on to read a title before typing it into a search field and decide eh, the type is big enough I can read it. Silly Stef. You should know better by now.
The Middles have moved to Almost Finished and that is a good thing because there are gobs of books I want to dive into and um, I am also about to be deluged by books from the library. Maybe not deluged, more like showered. I have China Mieville’s newest, The Census-Taker waiting for me to pick up. It is a novella so shouldn’t take too long to get through. In theory. Then I am next up for The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie. I am looking forward to this especially since I got the second volume of Squirrel Girl from the library last week. The squirrels are lively right now and I need some squirrel literature to help me feel less animosity towards them and their garden-destroying ways. I am also next up for Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Mulligan. I have been waiting for that one a very long time.

That’s not bad. Only a few library books. A light shower. And I should be able to get back to the Richard Mabey book, The Cabaret of Plants, that I had to set aside for Herman Melville and Charlotte Brontë and Tarot Cards.

I have a feeling, however, that very soon it is going to get difficult to juggle reading and all my other goings on — the chickens, finishing the coop, gardening and cycling. Cycling is becoming a major “distraction” at the moment. I have a professional bike fitting scheduled for this coming Sunday. I just found out there is a women’s racing team here called Koochella and they are offering a clinic April 10th on bike handling skills and racing for beginners. Having enjoyed some virtual races over the winter months I am curious about the real thing. Then I have another cycling clinic on April 24th for the gravel race I registered for at the end of May. This one is informational, the how-tos of gravel riding like tires and what to wear and bring for food and how to read a cue sheet (route map) so I don’t get lost because it is not a closed course or well-marked with fans and media lining the roads. After the two clinics I will have a better idea about how much I want to try racing and how much time it might take up if I do.

So perhaps I should read as much as I can these next couple of weeks just in case reading time ends up being cut back significantly. I have a four-day weekend coming up in honor of my birthday so if I can tear myself away from cooing over the Dashwoods I will be reading. Say, maybe I could read to the Dashwoods! Do you think they’d like Jane Eyre?

Filed under: biking, Books, chickens, In Progress Tagged: extraterrestrial law, squirrels

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2. Fever

Yesterday I came down with spring fever. The temperature got up to an unseasonable 57F/14C. The spring fever outbreak was of epidemic proportions in the city causing people to go outside without coats on! There were people out running and cycling, walking dogs and children. I walked out onto my deck with bare feet and stood in the sun, face upturned, as though I were a sunflower. It felt delicious.

I had a window open for a while for the cats and when they weren’t fighting over who got to sit in the window where there was plenty of room for both of them but neither wanted to share, their noses were plastered to the screen. Then, for no reason that I could discern, one or the other of them would go running around the house, scrabbling across the furniture and skidding around corners on the wood floors.

Fickle spring

Fickle spring

But what a difference a day makes in more ways than one. So much restless energy let off yesterday and today, rain turning to sleet and then to snow. Waldo and Dickens were mad at me for not opening the window again. Since they didn’t pull out enough of each other’s fur yesterday they had a few more rounds today. Finally they have settled down and are curled up together sleeping as I type this.

Seed sprouting is coming along nicely. The leeks and onions are looking good. The peppers have not yet sprouted but they are getting close. They take a long time to get going which I found out too late last year. But I am getting a nice and early start this year. Today I made more newspaper pots and seeded tomatoes —pink brandywine, pink ponderosa, Cherokee purple, and Evan’s purple pear — and celery. I had no luck at all with the celery last year and since I have seeds leftover I thought I would give it another try.

While I am making newspaper pots I can’t help but notice article headlines. Of course the news is generally bad (terrorism, Syria, ISIS, climate change) or infuriating (presidential election campaigning). I was beginning to get a bit down about it all today and then I realized that all the bad stuff in the paper, I am turning it into good stuff. Pots for starting vegetables and soon herbs and flowers. And newspaper, being compostable and good for the soil, will get planted right into the ground with the vegetable plants in May. So then I couldn’t help but smile over turning bad news into sweet onions, spicy peppers and juicy tomatoes. If only my reach went beyond newspapers.

Some of you have mentioned you are interested in making your own paper pots. Here is the YouTube how-to video for the pots I use:

The pots are a really good size. You don’t need to be precise in your folding. After making a couple it gets really easy and you don’t have to think about it. A good activity while watching Netflix. Be aware though that the more you make, the inkier your hands will get so don’t plan on touching anything while you are working.


QOM, sprint and lap jersey all at the same time

QOM, sprint and lap jersey all at the same time

I’m still cycling indoors on Zwift. For a time last week on one of my sessions I had the women’s QOM (queen of the mountain), sprint and fastest lap jersey all at once. I had to take a screen shot to mark the occasion.

I am part of a women’s only group and Wednesday I led my first virtual group ride. The women’s group has two rides that leave at the same time, a fast ride and a slow ride. We start off together at 1.5 w/kg until a certain point in the course and then the fast group increases to 2w/kg (and then 2.5 w/kg on the second and third laps with an all out sprint to finish) while the slow group continues and does 3 laps (about 19 miles/30km) at a constant 1.5 w/kg.

I’ve ridden with the fast group the last few weeks but Tuesday night I had a hard workout and needed a slow recovery ride. No one had volunteered to lead the slow group and I asked if there was going to be a slow ride and who was leading. It turned into one of those because-I-asked-I-got-volunteered situations. So I led the slow group.

We were a pack of five and stuck together tight even on the hills (we found out later the fast group fell apart at the end of the first lap and we felt quite pleased with how well our group did). We all had a great time and they asked if I would lead again and even consider being the regular ride leader. I was so flattered, how could I say no? Hopefully it goes just as well this coming Wednesday night and wasn’t just a fluke.

The women have also started some women-only racing which is great because even though I have been doing the open racing on Zwift every Thursday night since January, it’s all men and pretty much a stupid free-for-all. The women race on Saturday afternoon every other week and so far we’ve had two races and they’ve been great with everyone following the rules and encouraging each other. In yesterday’s race I finished 14th in a field of 22 and I had a great fun time.

My goal for the next race is to really concentrate on strategy and making sure I am at the front of the pack when we cross the start line so I don’t get dropped off the back and end up racing alone and having to work twice as hard as the people up front in the pack.

I just found out there is a real life women’s gravel road race at the end of May a half hour’s drive south of the Twin Cities. And it’s free, no entry fee. It’s only 33 miles/50 km which is a totally doable distance for me without any extra training. Astrid, however, is a road bike designed for smooth narrow tires and pavement. We rode on gravel trails every week last summer but the gravel we rode on was crushed and packed and almost like pavement. The internet informs me I can get some tires for Astrid that will work better on gravel, slightly wider with a little tread. I’ll have to talk with the folks at my local bike shop and find out if it is true. I hope so!

Filed under: biking, gardening Tagged: gravel, racing, seed starting, Zwift

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3. Coming Soon to a Golf Course Near Me: A Food Forest

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Minneapolis? It is by no means a perfect city and the winters are long and hard, but by golly how many other cities have a community advisory group that works with the city council on things like urban agriculture and food security issues? Homegrown Minneapolis is the name of the group and their latest newsletter included a map of all the vacant city lots that can be leased for community gardening and urban farms. Also in the newsletter is information regarding a proposal to turn a public golf course near my house into a food forest.

What’s a food forest? It is exactly what it sounds like. It is a designed landscape that mimics a natural ecosystem while incorporating food producing plants like nut and fruit trees, shrubs, perennial vegetables and herbs. Annual plants can also be grown in the mix. And of course it is a space that also utilizes native plants to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects, control weeds and build soil fertility.

The site of this proposed food forest is a public golf course near Lake Hiawatha. The golf course is very expensive to maintain not just because it was built on a wetlands and requires millions of gallons of water to be pumped out of it every year. It turns out the amount of water being pumped far exceeds the permit limits and is therefore illegal. A portion of the golf course has also been closed since 2014 when we had so much rain that the “back nine” was flooded and is still so soaked and damaged the park board can’t really afford to fix it. This golf course also drains into Lake Hiawatha which suffers greatly from water quality issues do to run-off into the lake. This golf course covers 140 acres and serves very few people, costing to my mind and many others, more than it is worth.

So a young, brilliant city resident has put up a proposal and taken up the challenge to advocate for repurposing the land. His vision allows for a much reduced golf course, fruit orchards, nut trees, and more. His vision even includes returning wild rice to Lake Hiawatha which, I just learned, used to be called “Rice Lake” because local Native Americans grew and harvested wild rice there before they were forced to move elsewhere.

The food forest would be grown on public land, would be tended by volunteers, and would welcome all from the community to go and harvest food from it. It would solve the water pumping problem and the lake’s water quality issues as well. And it would provide learning opportunities for both adults and school children. Plus it would be far cheaper to maintain than a full golf course not to mention more beautiful and useful.

This is such an incredibly exciting thing and if it goes through, if the Park Board decides to go along with it, it would mean Minneapolis would be home to the largest food forest in the United States. And yeah, you know I’ll find a way to be involved with the project even if it is only volunteering a few hours every month. There is a meeting being held on February 27th. It’s scheduled for four hours in the afternoon which is a big chunk of Saturday time for me, but I might just see if I can make it for at least a portion of the meeting. If not, I am sure there will be other opportunities as the proposal picks up steam.

In my own garden, I have a tray full of paper pots ready for onion seeds next weekend. I must continue working at making pots because at the end of the month I will need to get the peppers and tomatoes started. I love this time of year. While it feels so hectic getting everything started, it is also the most hopeful time of the gardening year because there is still so much possibility. The slugs haven’t eaten the greens yet, the squirrels haven’t dug up or stolen anything, there hasn’t been too much rain or not enough, too much heat or not enough. In my mind’s eye my garden is lush and green and perfect. Reality will kick in soon enough, but until then, everything is still perfect.

In chicken news, the same newsletter that brought word of the food forest proposal also informed me that the city council will be voting on the new chicken ordinance on February 12th! I wasn’t expecting anything from the city council until summer. But perhaps they want to get it all settled before spring when people who want to start keeping chickens will be looking to get underway. Bookman has not yet begun to collect neighbor signatures, it has been too cold and snowy. But now we will wait and see what happens come Friday. Bookman may just be saved the trouble of collecting signatures after all. Fingers crossed!

In cycling news, I am still riding in virtual races on Thursday nights. Each week is different and sometimes I finish first or second and sometimes I finish last. One thing for sure, my fitness has improved immensely. I am also in the final week of a 6-week workout program that has meant hour-long (or more) workouts four to five times of week doing intervals of varying intensities. This too has paid off. On a (virtual) ride after my workout yesterday I decided to see if I could beat my personal sprint records on the two sprint sections of the course and I blew each one away by several seconds! I even managed to ever so briefly hit 4 watts/kg, something I thought I would never manage. I also noticed I now frequently go over 3 w/kg which means that after this week I will start racing in group C instead of D. Technically I should start this week but I want to give myself one more “easy” week before I go to the next group and start coming in last all the time. I will be good incentive to work hard and improve, right?

Also this last week on Wednesday night I participated in my first virtual group ride. It was so much fun! I am part of a group on Zwift called ROL (Ride On Ladies — in Zwift you can give riders a “ride on” thumb’s up, it’s a way to offer support and tell other riders they are doing great or thanking them for a good ride, etc). There is an ROL group ride on Wednesday nights but I had not joined in because it is a fast ride and with the races I’ve been doing Thursday nights I didn’t want to overdo it the night before. Anyway, a slower group ride was introduced this week so I joined that one. We used an app called TeamSpeak which allows us to actually talk to each other while we ride. I rode with a couple people from Seattle and someone from Ohio and I think maybe Texas. Technology is awesome!

Also, there are enough ROL women who are interested in racing that we are going to have our own women’s race on Saturday upcoming. It will be a 30km race and I will have to race in group B which is both exciting and scary. There are not a lot of women on Zwift, I saw somewhere that women are only about 8% of the Zwift population, but among them are some really strong riders and racers. It is exciting to ride with them because it forces me to work harder and they are all supportive and encouraging so even though I feel intimidated, it comes from my own personal worries of not being very good rather than anything anyone else has said or done. Currently there are 24 women who have indicated they will be racing Saturday and 56 who have said maybe. We’ll see what kind of turnout there really is. I just hope I don’t finish last in my group. But hey, if I do, incentive to improve!

Filed under: biking, chickens, gardening Tagged: Food forest, Lake Hiawatha, Minneapolis, sustainable gardening

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4. Getting Ready for Gardening

newspaper pots and inky hands

newspaper pots and inky hands

I noticed on my way from my porch to the bus stop earlier this week that birds are starting to sing in the morning. At 6:30 it is still dark but a few voices are sleepily chirruping hello in the pre-dawn. This made me so happy that I would have danced my way down the sidewalk if it weren’t for treacherous slicks of ice hiding in the shadows. We might be having a thaw this weekend —it’s 40F/4C as I write this — but spring is still two months away.

Still, one must plan and prepare. Today I began folding newspaper pots for starting seeds. In just two weeks the onion seeds will need to get going. Last year I got started late with the onions and the late start combined with putting them out when they were too small meant I ended up with no onions at all. Not having grown onions before, it was all trial and error. Mostly error. This year I try again and see if I have any success.

Folding pots out of newspaper is messy and a bit tedious after the first pot or two. What does one do to entertain oneself? Watch the Secret History of the British Garden of course! I just watched the third episode about the 19th century and there is only one more episode left and that makes me very sad. A few years ago I watched and loved A Year at Kew. There are three seasons of this marvelous show and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it, especially on a cold winter’s day. Why can’t Americans make good gardening shows? It’s not like we don’t have any spectacular gardens.

I almost titled this post “Pot Making” but decided it might give the wrong impression. Have I ever told the story about my pot garden? Way back before Bookman and I bought our current house we had a townhouse with a large south-facing deck. We began container gardening on it before container gardening became a thing. To me at the time it was growing plants in pots. We were at a social event once, I don’t recall the exact occasion, but I was talking with someone and said with great enthusiasm that I had a pot garden. The astonished look on the person’s face and her sudden loss of words made me realize what I had just said. I quickly explained I was growing tomatoes, peppers and herbs in pots on my deck. I wasn’t entirely certain she believed me. I beat a hasty retreat.

I have been lost my gardening journal. It had three year’s worth of notes and plant lists and plans in it. I have no idea where it has got to. I have looked in all the likely places more than once and even in unlikely places too. It never leaves the house and my house isn’t that large. The last I recall seeing it was during the summer on my reading table. Bookman kindly surprised me with a new notebook that even has a pocket in it, very handy. But I remain nonplussed about the missing notebook and terribly sad about not only the disappeared garden notes but also reading notes. My hope is that it will turn up eventually and I will wonder why I failed to look for it in that location. In the mean time, planning for this year’s garden moves ahead.

I have begun a list of things that need to be done once the ground thaws. Last year at the Friends School Plant Sale in May we bought a few shrubs in anticipation of our garage being knocked down and an expansion of garden space. It took far longer for that to happen than we expected so we had to plant the shrubs in a temporary location in the main garden. They will need to be transplanted into what we now call the chicken garden. The list keeps growing every week. Spring is such a busy time!

And speaking of the Friends Plant Sale, I got the save the date postcard in the mail during the week. It is magneted to the refrigerator door where Bookman and I can see the date and the photo of the beautiful flowers. Every year I think it will be the year when I get to finally plant up my front yard and pack it full with prairie flowers and grasses and every year it gets put off. This year it is being put off again because I need to plant a green roof instead. I have already begun a list of plants I know will be good but looking at the catalog when it becomes available at the end of March will be when the planning really happens.

Lots of things in the works and the closer spring gets, the busier I will be. But it is all fun and I love it or I wouldn’t do it.

In cycling news, 250 Kung Fu nuns biked 2,000km in India to spread a message of women’s empowerment and environmental conservation. They are amazing and inspiring women.

Filed under: biking, gardening

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5. Climate Change in My Garden

Garden not to scale and all the beds aren't even in the right place!

Garden not to scale and all the beds aren’t even in the right place!

The seeds I ordered last weekend arrived already this week! I was not expecting them for another week or two, but here they are. It is far too early to be able to do anything with them yet. As I type this it is -3F/-19C outside with a wind chill of -19F/-28C. Ah, winter in Minnesota!

Despite the cold, I was rather disturbed to learn that 13 of the last 16 winters in my area have been “Zone 5” winters. If you aren’t a gardener or in the U.S. you might not know what that means, so let me explain. The United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, long ago created a plant hardiness map. It is based on average annual extreme minimum temperatures over a 30-year period and goes from zone 1, the coldest, to zone 13, the warmest. My zone in Minneapolis is 4 which means minimum winter temperatures regularly dip below -20F/-28.9C. That’s air temperature without wind chill added in. The last time the USDA updated its zone map was 2012. I’m not entirely certain, but I think they update it every ten years.

For 13 of the last 16 winters to be zone 5 is a big deal. It won’t yet put me squarely in a warmer zone but it is definitely moving there. State climate watchers and meteorologists are speculating that within the next three to four years we will begin seeing zone six winters. This is both crazy and scary. A zone 6 winter would mean a minimum temperature of only -10F/-23.3C. Some people might wonder why I’m not cheering, why I am not excited about the bigger variety of plants I might be able to grow, why anyone would be upset over a winter that never got colder than -20F/-28.9C because, wow, -10F/-23.3C is still pretty cold.

But it is not cold enough.

Minnesota ecology has evolved around long, frigid winters. Already forests in the northern part of the state are showing signs of stress and disease. Our moose population is getting smaller every year. The emerald ash borer is spreading at a faster rate, killing the state’s ash trees. And every year incidents of West Nile virus occur earlier and earlier in the season. That we even have to worry about the virus at all is a fairly recent, within the last ten years or so, thing.

And it isn’t just ecology that is affected by warmer winters, people are too. Minnesota culture is heavily invested in cold winters. Heck, we have a frozen lake’s worth of jokes about it. And we tend to think we are better than everyone else because we can endure the frigid cold. There are winter carnivals and events that warmer winters will make difficult. This year it took so long before the cold hit, the lakes have not been able to build enough ice for the various pond hockey tournaments and many of them have been postponed or cancelled entirely.

Warmer winters are no small, inconsequential thing.

I am not quite sure how to plan for shorter, warmer winters in my garden. I continue to operate under zone 4 assumptions but clearly I am going to need to adapt. I don’t know what that means, exactly. Today I spent an hour or so figuring out where to plant all those seeds that arrived in the mail earlier this week. I am supposed to rotate my “crops” to keep garden soil healthy and avoid hungry insect problems. But, as big as my garden is—pretty much my entire backyard—it still is not large so rotating is a flexible term. I mean growing my tomatoes three feet from where they were last year and moving the zucchini from one end of the garden bed to the other counts as rotating, right?

I got it all figured out though, at least on paper. There are always revisions when it comes time to plant because I can never remember exactly how much room I have in all the various garden beds. And bundling up and walking around the garden right now won’t work because everything is under snow and I can’t even tell where the paths are and where the beds are. Spring and planting time will reveal all!


Just a quick bike note today. I did another race on Thursday and it was an entirely different mix of people than the week before. There were eight people in group D and I was still the only woman. It was a crazy fast race and I think the guy who won by just over five minutes should have been racing in the C group instead, but maybe he has low self-esteem issues and needed an ego boost or something. I came in fifth in my group riding pretty much at the same rate I had the week before. I had a great time though riding with a C group rider who had gotten dropped from the main group and playing tag with another D group rider.

I’ll try again this coming Thursday and see how it goes. One thing for sure, it is most excellent exercise and I work a lot harder in a race than I do during a regularly scheduled workout. I will be really interested to see how it all translates to riding outdoors again when spring comes.

Filed under: biking, gardening Tagged: climate change

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6. The Birds and Bees and a Bike Race

What does one do on a day when the high temperature is 0F/-18C and the windchill makes it feel like -10F/-23C? Why, order garden seeds of course! I wasn’t planning on placing my order until next week but the need to think warm, green happy thoughts won out.

I ordered with three different companies. My biggest order went to Pinetree Garden Seeds. They are a great company, reliable, excellent prices and good quality seed. I love them. I got the usual sorts of seeds, carrots, beans, peas, cilantro, cumin, mustard, nasturtium. In addition I got some new varieties and some new for me to grow things. I got the Irish Cobbler potatoes we grew last year and a purple potato called “Adirondack Blue.” I got a Japanese turnip called “Shogoin” that is white and about the size of an extra large radish. It can be sliced up and eaten raw, pickled or stir fried. I also decided to try growing chicory this year, “Catalogna Emerald,” and it turns out it is a fancy Italian dandelion, but hey, I like dandelion greens so no hard feelings. In consultation with Bookman we decided to try growing cauliflower for the first time. I am getting seeds for a short season small headed heirloom variety called “Early Snowball.” We also decided to try and grow ground cherries, also known as tomatillos. The variety is “Pineapple” and the description promises high yields of fruit that have a pineapple flavor. I’ll let you know!

I also bought a little thing called a “seedmaster.” Not seeds but a seed distribution system for those tiny seeds that Bookman’s sausage fingers drop in huge clumps and that stick to my damp ones. The seedmaster looks kind of like a fat syringe without a needle. Fill it with seeds, push down the plunger and it will supposedly drop one tiny seed out at a time. It was about the price of a packet of seeds so if it doesn’t work, I haven’t lost much. But if it does work, the clouds will part and the angels will sing.

Baker Creek sells nothing but heirloom seeds and quite a few of them are for hard to find rare varieties like the Sakurajima radish. A variety of daikon radish, Sakurajima is the world’s largest radish. It typically weighs 13 pounds/6 kgs and can grow as large as 100 lbs/45 kgs! There is an article on the history of this radish with some photos at the link attached to the radish name. No, I did not order seeds for this!

What I did order was seeds for golden amaranth and elephant head amaranth, pink radishes of normal garden size, “Holstein” cowpeas —funny on several different levels, but Americans probably know cowpeas better as “black-eyed peas”— and a white seeded sunflower called “Tarahumara.”

One more order placed with Jung Seeds. They’ve been around since 1907, very reliable with good prices. They are based in Wisconsin, a neighboring northern state so when their catalog says something is cold hardy I can believe them. I like to get actual plants from them from time to time as well as garden supplies. This time I ordered a seedless red grape called “Somerset” that is supposed to be good eating and for jam or jelly. Bookman and I have tried growing grapes before and failed both times. The varieties we tried were different than this one and we planted them both in the same location, a rather exposed one at the back of the garden. This one is going to go in a small space on the south side of the house where it will get lots of hot summer sun and be protected in the winter from the cold north winds. I am not sure how long it takes for a grape to begin producing. If it survives the summer and next winter I will consider it a success.

I also ordered ten feet/3 m of nylon trellis that is guaranteed for five years and promised not to tangle. If there is the remotest possibility that it can tangle, in my garden it will. But as long as it is easy enough to untangle, that is all that matters to me. Also, that it is reusable year after year. This will save me having to buy the giant skein of jute string every spring and creating my own pea and bean trellis out of jute and sticks from tree prunings. This stuff is so upscale fancy in comparison I might not recognize my own garden!

These seeds are all in addition to ones I have left over from last year: several varieties of tomato, sweet peppers, hot peppers, pole beans, pumpkin, zucchini, Swiss chard, beets, cantaloupe, okra, basil, onion, and a whole bunch of other seeds it will take far too long for me to list out for you. Big garden? Oh yes! Bookman and I will start making paper sprouting pots in the next week or two. We’ll seed the onion around mid-February and the seed starting just scrolls out from there to peppers then tomatoes and more. Busy fun times ahead!

cover artWhile I am on the subject of seeds, I have to tell you about Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener. I mentioned last week that it is a really good book. I did not mention how hilarious it is. I was reading the section on flower anatomy yesterday because in order to properly cross plants you have to know all the sex parts of a flower. The author has some fun with this explaining that flower stamens are plant penises. The carpel is the female part of the flower. The ovaries live at the bottom of the carpel. The top of the carpel is where the stigma is. The stigma is the plant version of a vagina. He goes on to talk about plant sex and what happens when a flower gets pregnant.

But that’s not all. Because in order to make crosses, a gardener has to do a sort or artificial insemination thing. If the plant you want to cross has flowers with both male and female parts in one flower, one must first emasculate a flower so it does not self-pollinate by using tweezers to pull of its little plant penises. This procedure really is called emasculation and the author alludes to it as being like neutering!

Pollen of course is plant sperm and the gardener needs to transfer pollen from one flower to the other to make the desired cross. The author discusses various ways to do this and in the end recommends fingers and tweezers because they are easier to clean so you don’t risk spreading pollen where you don’t want it:

Between crosses, I clean pollen off my fingers and tweezers by rinsing them off with a little water or (if no one is looking) simply a quick swipe with my tongue—which really isn’t all that gross, people, you eat pollen every time you eat honey. Even if it is, erm, plant sperm.

I’m just going to leave that there for you to dwell on. No doubt I will also be seeing an uptick in pornographic spam.


So I am doing a six-week workout program in Zwift to improved my FTP (Functional Threshold Powers, a measure of fitness). The first week went pretty well and I began the second week yesterday. Week one was only four days of various types of interval workouts. I took Wednesday as an easy ride day and Thursday I entered my first virtual bike race!

I entered in category D, the lowest ranked category. I could have raced category D women’s group but I was the only woman racing and besides the categories are based on watts per kilogram (how much power you produce per kg of weight) so on that ranking alone everyone should be fairly matched regardless of biology.

I was really nervous but excited. The A and B groups start first so they don’t get tangled up with the slower racers. The C and D groups start together two minutes later. It is a neutral start where we all get a chance to form a group. The real start of the race comes in a section of the course that is about five minutes from the start/finish line. There were about five other Ds that I fell in with and we pedaled along together in a group until we hit the first big hill. Then the group fell apart, I found myself in front of them, and by the time the hilly segment was over I had lost them completely.

But then I spied a D group person about 8 seconds ahead of me. Back at the start he must have been up at the front with a big group of Cs and I had not seen him. So I made it my goal to try and catch him.

The race is three laps and each lap is just a little over 10 miles/16kms. I caught the guy on the first hill on the second lap. We spent the rest of the race riding together. There are three hills on this course and they all come at the end of the lap; a long hill of about 6% grade with a few short spots of 8-10% grade followed by a downhill that turns a corner into a short, steep 10-12% grade hill that then has a nice longish descent that lets you catch your breath before the really long hill to the finish that ranges from a 3-8% grade. We hung together until that second hill on the final lap. He started to pull ahead and gained a 7-second lead on the descent that I could not make up.

Can't believe I won!

Can’t believe I won!

It was a great race and I had loads of fun and figured I came in second since the guy had crossed the finish line first. But it turns out that is not how the race finish is calculated. It is calculated by your actual start and finish times so, when the results were posted, it turns out I won my group by 2 seconds!

The guy I was racing against found me on Strava afterwards and thanked me for a great race, told me I had caused him some pain. I thanked him too and told him the feeling was mutual (I was a bit sore on Friday!). It turns out it was only his second race.

There is a race every Thursday night and I will be trying it again this week. My new racing friend will be out of town but he promises to be in the race the following Thursday for a rematch.

Filed under: biking, gardening

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7. Hello 2016!

I hope the New Year is off to a good start for everyone!

I did not stay up until midnight, I haven’t made it up that late in so long I can’t remember when last I did. This morning person has to have a darn good reason to be up that late and since parties and other sorts of gatherings aren’t my thing, there was no reason to not read in bed and go to sleep as usual.

However, BookerTalk is a curious person and wanted to know what reading was winding down 2015, so to satisfy her nosiness, I read The Small Heart of Things: being at home in a beckoning world by Julian Hoffman. It is a lovely, quiet book full of observations of the natural world and humans in it.

Today though, today, let’s talk about 2016.

2016 goal: Read the Table

2016 goal: Read the Table

For the last couple of years I haven’t had any reading goals. This year though, I think it is time. Oh it is nothing so lofty as reading more classics or finally getting around to reading particular authors. No, it has to do with my reading table and all the books that are piled on it. Some of those books have been there for two or three years. This table is meant for books in progress or books to read next and it has become clear that in progress and next are ideas that have gotten extremely wobbly and imprecise in my vocabulary.

Therefore, it is time to clear the decks, or rather, the table. I am growing weary of Bookman’s jokes that he is worried about it collapsing. But if you think I am going to go through and list every single book that is on that table in the post for your edification, you have another thing coming! As the year progresses I will definitely make updates so you don’t have to worry, you’ll find out what is on the table as I do because, big reveal, I don’t even know all the books that are piled up on it! Surprises for everyone!

And of course there will be non-bookish Sunday posts to look forward to as well. Chickens ahoy! Biking adventures! Chills and thrills! You just never know what might happen. Oh, and then there is Vocalis too. I had better get working on my next essay. I already have the title: The Joy of Socks. Do you like it? I wonder what it’s about?

It’s going to be a good year.

Filed under: biking, Books, chickens, gardening Tagged: #readinginto16, Read the Table

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8. Goodbye 2015

Wow, what a year 2015 turned out to be! Between gardening and planning/building for chickens in 2016 and my new passion for biking I am surprised I had much time to read at all. But I did! And I managed to read 75 books, the same number as I did last year. I think it helped that I read quite a few short books and graphic novels, but in the end it isn’t the number but the quality that matters and did I ever read some excellent books this year!

Here is how it breaks down:

Books read: 75

Fiction: 43
Nonfiction: 30
Plays: 1
Poetry: 1 (while I only read one complete book of poetry, I read lots of poems)

Breaking it down even further it was a good year for hybrid genres which is why the numbers don’t add up:

Biography/Memoir: 13
Children’s/YA: 4
Comics/Graphic stories: 15
Culture/Social science: 2
Diary: 1
Environment/Climate Change/Nature: 2
Essays: 4
Fantasy: 5
Gardening: 2
History: 2
Humor: 1
Books about books/Literature/Writing: 6
Science: 1
Science Fiction: 5
Short stories: 3
Steampunk: 1

Books Written by…
Women: 41
Men: 33
Multiple: 1

Rereads: 3

Number of authors whose books I read more than one of: 7 (Matt Fraction, Ann Leckie, Noelle Stevenson, Jo Walton, Kurtis Wiebe, G.Willow Wilson, Virginia Woolf)

In translation: 6 (French, Japanese, Spanish, Greek, Dutch) this number is way down from last year, I really need to work on upping my in translation reading

Book Source:
ARCS: 15 (many of these were books for review for Library Journal and Shiny New Books)
Own: 11
Library: 49 (I am such a good library user!)

Publication Dates:
2015: 35
2014: 17
2000-2013: 13
1950-1999: 4
1900-1949: 2
1800s: 3
BCE: 1

Favorite Fiction:

Imperial Radch Trilogy by Ann Leckie Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, Ancillary Mercy
The Waves by Virginia Woolf (for Shiny New Books)
Orlando by Virginia Woolf (also for Shiny New Books)
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Favorite Nonfiction:

On Immunity by Eula Biss
This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin
The Art of Daring by Carl Phillips
The Rider by Tim Krabbé

Honorable Mentions:

When Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen Founds
The Martian by Andy Weir
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Just City by Jo Walton (for Shiny New Books, hmm I am seeing a trend here…)
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson


This is the first year I have ever kept track of how much biking I did, and frankly the first year I have ever done enough biking that I would want to keep track. Would you believe I pedaled 5,311 miles/8,511 kms? Holy mackerel! I did it over the course of 209 rides and 301 hours. Not all of those rides and miles were outdoors. Astrid and I covered 1,500 miles/2,414 kms together outdoors with our longest ride topping 70.6 miles/114 kms. The rest of the miles were on a stationery bike in the late winter/early spring, and with Astrid hooked up to a smart trainer since the end of October.

Using Zwift and a smart trainer, I have pedaled since October 23rd, 1,593 miles/2,564 kms in 88 hours 29 minutes climbing 86,873 feet/26,479 meters of virtual elevation and burning off 117 pieces of pizza (285 calories each). My longest virtual ride was 100.2 miles/161 kms.


In the garden we had our 1 1/2 car garage torn down, built a shed, installed a chainlink fence and framed a chicken coop. In addition we had the pleasure of a family of hawks nesting in my nextdoor neighbor’s backyard. All but one ear of popcorn was stolen by squirrels. We grew potatoes for the first time. Also Brussels sprouts and amaranth. None of our lettuce seed sprouted but it was a great year for peas, chard, sorrel, basil and zucchini.

Thanks for sharing 2015 with me!

I hope you all have safe New Year’s celebrations. And may 2016 be filled with lots of good books and joy and all the things you love most.

Filed under: biking, Books, gardening, Year in Review

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9. Notes From a Vacation

Waldo and Dickens on vacation

Waldo and Dickens on vacation

One week of vacation down, one more to go. What have I been doing? Waldo and Dickens over there give some indication. My legs are beneath the quilt and they are laying on them. We are all three on my reading chaise. This is the good life.

One of the things I have been doing on my reading chaise is going through the pile of gardening books I borrowed from the library. At this point in my gardening life garden books have reached the point of being repetitive. Knew that. Knew that too. Oh yup, also knew that. It gets hard to find and learn anything new. But I keep trying. Sometimes I do learn something interesting. Like, did you know that beets, spinach and swiss chard are all in the beet family? Or that when garden space is limited, potatoes give you more calories and nutrition per square foot than any other vegetable? I also learned that building a wind turbine in my backyard will never happen. It has to be 100 feet away from any other structure and at least 30 feet taller. Like the city or the neighbors would ever let me put that up!

I have also been sorting through the chicken books I requested from the library. I figured out which one I decided I wanted to buy last February, A Chicken in Every Yard. I also found The Chicken Whisperer’s Guide to Keeping Chickens has some good advice in it. However Chicken in Every Yard is the best comprehensive book and includes everything from raising chicks to caring for sick birds.

Since I was thinking about chickens, I checked in at Egg Plant Urban Farm Supply to see if they had anything up about ordering chickens yet. They do!. I can order my chicks as soon as the end of February. Crikey that isn’t that far away! Way back I had thought we’d get two buff orpingtons and two australorps but, as much as I love the way the orpingtons look, so big and fluffy and pleasingly round, they seem a bit too docile. I want chickens with more curiosity and who like to forage and I didn’t want to worry about the orpingtons getting picked on by others. So, at the moment we are planning on two australorps and two Rhode Island reds. Of course, until I actually place the order, I might change my mind again.

Amaranth seeds

Amaranth seeds

Back at the end of September I cut off all the amaranth flowerheads, bagged them up and brought them indoors to dry. They’ve been hanging out in the basement since then. Today Bookman and I finally decided it was time to start doing something about harvesting the grain. It’s a process and the seeds are tiny but as a first try with amaranth we are pretty pleased. We haven’t finished yet, but we expect we’ll be able to fill the jar. Next year we aren’t going to plant corn so there will be more room to grow more amaranth, both red and gold varieties.

Amaranth chaff in the snow

Amaranth chaff in the snow

Which leads me to something else I did: seed inventory. I went through all my seed packets to see what I have, what varieties did well, what didn’t what I want to order again, that sort of things. Then I went through the seed catalogs and marked what to reorder and of course had to mark a few other things new to try. I also decided that next year I have to be better at saving seeds so I don’t have to reorder so many. I make it a point to buy heirloom and open-pollinated varieties so I can save the seeds but then I rarely do mostly because I want to eat them and begrudge letting peas and beans go to seed and setting aside the biggest heads of garlic to replant in the fall. I’ll be placing my seed order mid-January so I still have time to revise what I want. Once the order is placed, I’ll let you know what yummy things will be going into the garden come spring!

On the cycling front, I rode 100 miles/161 km yesterday. It took me five hours and eighteen minutes to do it and my legs complained the last ten miles, but by golly, I did it! When the odometer clicked over to 100 I cried a little from happiness over my accomplishment, because my legs were hurting so bad, and from relief over being able to stop. I thought when I stopped pedaling I my legs would stop hurting but as soon as I climbed off Astrid they started hurting even more! After stretching and walking around for ten minutes the pain went away and I was just plain tired. Today there are no lingering effects and the pain is a vague memory, so vague I am actually looking forward to doing it again sometime!

But not yet. Because now I am going to try my legs on virtual racing as well as a six-week structured workout program for building fitness. Astrid and I don’t necessarily like being stuck indoors, but Zwift is working out well for both of us.

One more thing before I go this evening. That essay site I’ve mentioned a few times? It is now live! Stop by Vocalis if you feel so inclined. Let me know what you think. And if you have an essay of your own you would like to publish, send it over! All the information including the email address is there.

Filed under: biking, Books, chickens, Essays, gardening Tagged: amaranth, Vocalis, Zwift

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10. Happy Christmas

Bookman and I don’t celebrate Christmas but I know many of you do so I wanted to wish you a happy Christmas.

And in the spirit of the season and my new-found obsession with cycling, enjoy this festive little tune:

Filed under: biking, Personal

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11. The Popcorn that Was

The hawks have flown the nest. Oh they are still around now and then, but essentially they are gone. The squirrels wasted no time moving back in.

Now, I think I have mentioned we are growing popcorn in the garden this year instead of sweet corn. About a month ago Bookman asked, should we put nylon socks on the ears of corn? Nah, I said, the hawks have been keeping the squirrels away, nobody is going to bother the corn this year.

Except the hawks left at the same time the corn was ready to be picked. Want to guess who got the corn first?

One ear. One. That is all they left for us.

Yes, I am a stoopid hoomun.

Lemon squash

Lemon squash

Today I did manage to harvest quite a few things, however. Picked all the crabapples. Once they get cooked down I don’t know how much juice they will translate into, but there are a couple pounds of apples. We have cheesecloth now and are ready to go. Just need to carve out time to cut the apples open and stand over the stove stirring them while they cook down. We got half-pint jars too which will also come in handy for making zucchini relish.

Also harvested some carrots. We didn’t get many but the ones that did sprout are really lovely. And purple. Cosmic purple. Dug up the rest of the potatoes too. There were quite a few, enough to encourage me to grow potatoes again next year. Picked several softball-sized lemon squash. They are called lemon squash not because they taste lemony but because they are round and lemon yellow. Makes it really easy to see them in the green leaves for picking.

We already have a few small pumpkins on the vines. The cantaloupe is growing like crazy this year too and if all goes well it looks like we will have quite a few. The variety we grow is called Minnesota Midget. It is a short growing season cantaloupe that is not quite as big as the huge ones you get at the market, but perfectly sized for two people. The flesh is a lovely orange and the flavor is sweet and juicy. Another week or two and they will be ready for eating. I can hardly wait!

I cut back the comfrey for the second time this season. It had gotten huge. I must try to

Perennial sunflowers

Perennial sunflowers

be more proactive about cutting it back because the big stems flop over and the huge leaves cover and smother everything they land on. I had two big armfuls of comfrey that I spread around the chicken garden to build soil. I had planted an experimental patch of buckwheat in the sand and it sprouted but the plants were little things with tiny leaves and tiny flowers. They are now buried under comfrey. The rest of the chicken garden is mulched in a thick layer of wood chips. The wood chips will keep the weeds from growing, because weeds don’t care if they grow in glorious loam or stingy sand, and they will decompose, creating soil as they go. Wood chips take a long time to do this but we will also be adding leaves and straw to the mix. And we have a compost bin set up in the area too.

Regarding the chickens, Bookman called the city on Wednesday. We are not allowed to start building the coop until we get the permit process started. So the city is sending us a packet with all the information and forms and stuff. We should have it in a day or two. The city has taken its sweet time and not yet changed the rule about needing your neighbors’ permission, so we will have to get their signatures. We also have to submit a site plan for approval. I think once we get that done we can start building the coop. Hopefully it will be a long, mild autumn.


Have I mentioned lately how much I love my bike, Astrid? I thought I could still love my

The Ninja, brand new in 2006. I thought it was true love until Astrid came along

The Ninja, brand new in 2006. I thought it was true love until Astrid came along

city bike, Ninja, but after pulling it out for the first time this year to ride it over to the library —it has a basket, handy for carrying books and stuff — I realized for the first time what an uncomfortable bike it is. It is slightly too small for me, which explains why when we used to go on rides longer than to the library, I would get so frustrated. I never understood why. But Astrid and I fit really well and the difference is so obvious that I wonder why I never figured it out when I just had the Ninja. Well, I do know. It’s because I had never had a bike like Astrid that actually fit me before. It also makes me mad that the bike shop I got Ninja from let me out the door with it, that they didn’t bother to make sure it was the right size and all that. I have not been back to the shop I got the Ninja from since I bought it, and I will never go back to it or one of their many locations ever again.

Anyway, Astrid. I love her dearly.

We had a really fantastic ride yesterday. It was the usual training route. The day was one of heat and tropical humidity. At 7 a.m. it was already 70F/21C with humidity somewhere around 70% or more. One of the great things about cycling is you generate your own breeze when you ride so even while I sweat a lot, as long as I keep moving I don’t feel how hot and humid it is. When I have to stop for a traffic light though, I am suddenly one big puddle. So I guess you could say the hot and humid weather encourages me to keep moving.

Riley Lake, one of the many lakes along my ride

Riley Lake, one of the many lakes along my ride

And move I did! Last week I was so thrilled to have finally averaged 15mph/24kph. When I began my ride I told myself it was okay if I couldn’t do it again because of the weather. But I felt good, really good. Maybe the intervals I began doing twice a week two weeks ago are starting to pay off already. Maybe it was the overnight oatmeal I ate for breakfast. Or the zucchini bread that was my cycling snack for the day. Or maybe it’s that I am getting really good at drinking small amounts of water while riding instead of stopping every 45-60 minutes to guzzle some down. It could be a combination of everything. Whatever it was, when I got home and looked at my ride stats I averaged 15.3mph/24.6kph and I beat my Queen of the Mountain time by four seconds. Not too shabby! It just might be by race time at the end of September I’ll be averaging 16mph/26kph. It could happen, right?

I had a little splurge yesterday on some new cycling kit. I only have two jerseys, one pair of shorts and a skort. Team Estrogen is having a summer clearance sale so I thought I would take advantage. I ordered a new jersey, a jacket that will be great for spring and fall, bad kitty socks, and BOGO (by one get one free) shorts. I saved almost as much as I spent so I don’t feel too guilty about it. And now I won’t have to worry so much about when I need clean clothes for a ride and whether or not I’ve done the laundry. If you bike, tri, or run and haven’t visited Team Estrogen before, I recommend you stop by and take a look. They sell the good brands, have plus sizes, have frequent sales, and the whole site is geared toward active women and run by women too. Plus they have good customer service.

If you are looking for a little cycling motivation, or just enjoy the Tour de France, Bookman and I watched the movie Chasing Legends the other night. It is a documentary that follows team Columbia-HTC on the 2009 Tour. They were a new team that year and I believe it was Mark Canvendish’s first Tour. He made the most of it too by winning eight stages, the most any British rider had ever won. It’s a good film, exciting, funny, harrowing. The cinematography is fantastic. Plus it gives a bit of the history of the race during which at least one rider has died from exhaustion in the mountains. I was feeling pretty good about my average speed, these guys average 24mph/40kph over a day’s ride of 125-186 miles/200-300km!

Astrid and I won’t be riding in the Tour any time soon, or ever, but it might be a fun challenge some July to ride as many miles as the Tour over the course of a month instead of 21 days. I might be crazy but I am not that crazy! Ok so even a month would be kind of crazy since the Tour is 2,200miles/3,500km, which over the course of 31 days comes out to 71 miles/114km a day. Whoa. I’d have to save up my vacation time and take the entire month off! Might have to rethink that challenge a bit.

Filed under: biking, gardening Tagged: Tour de France

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12. A Taste of Autumn

The week was an unusually cool one for August, even in Minnesota. It gave us a taste for fall and it was rather delicious if I do say so myself. Days around 70F/21C and nights dipping down to 60F/15C or a few degrees cooler. It’s great for the humans but not so great for the hot weather veggies like tomatoes that just don’t want to get ripe in the cool. It warmed up a bit for the weekend but we had a cool front and storms last night and the cool will again stick around through the middle of the week. The State Fair starts on Thursday this week, however, and there are guaranteed at least a few hot days during its 10-day run.

The amaranth flowers are getting bigger and they are so pretty too. I’ll take a picture after they get a little bigger. The pumpkins are going crazy. The cantaloupe isn’t ripe yet but it is getting close. All of the different varieties of dried beans we are growing, black beans, cattle beans, cow peas (black-eyed peas) are looking great.

We picked a normal-sized zucchini from the garden, more lemon squash too and a few more yellow wax beans. There are some yellow beets that are almost ready to be pulled too.

Crabby apples for jelly

Crabby apples for jelly

Bookman is currently making our first ever attempt at crabapple jelly. We’ve got the apples cut up and simmering and the house smells delicious. They get cooked for a while and then left to drain their pectin-filled juices through cheesecloth into a bowl. Then the apple mash goes on the compost bin and we work with the juice to make the jelly. If all goes well I will have a photo of a jar or two of pretty jelly to share next week. Wish us luck!

On the chicken front, we are making some progress. The fence people are coming out this week to set the posts for the fence we are installing around the chicken garden. Yay! We’ve been waiting nearly all summer for the fence and now it is finally our turn. They will set the posts and then the following week come back and do the fencing. It will be good to finally have this done and no more contractors to deal with.

We did not receive the packet of information from the city regarding the permit process so Bookman called them Friday. He actually got to talk to someone in animal control, the department that does the permitting and all that instead of some admin person that doesn’t know anything. Unlike what Bookman had been told before, the animal control person said we can definitely start building our coop now and don’t need a permit for it at all. We don’t actually need the permit until next year when we are ready to get the chickens. That’s a good thing because the permit has to be renewed every January so we won’t have to pay for one now and then pay again in January.

So Bookman and I sat down earlier today and started figuring out what we need for lumber. Since neither of us has ever built anything before we are moving into new territory here. We have a plan for a coop like we are building but it is not the same size nor is it insulated for a cold climate or have a green roof. But the basic footprint is there. So we have to figure out how many 2x4s we need and how long and sizes of plywood and how big are sheets of plywood anyway? And what to do we have to do to build the rafters to support the weight of the green roof? And we only have a Honda Civic hybrid car, how are we going to get a load of lumber home? We are making progress but we still have quite a bit of figuring to do on the supplies. We haven’t even begun to consider nails and bolts and door hinges and screws and all that.

One very important thing we have decided on, the coop will be bright yellow with white trim.

When it comes to the actual building part, my Saturday biking buddy has offered to come and help us if we need it. So it’s good to know we have access to an extra pair of hands if necessary.

All I can really say at this point is that it is a good thing we are getting started on this now because we are going to need all the time we can get to build this coop!


We are three weeks away from the Jesse James fun ride Bookman and I are doing. We are both very much looking forward to it. Two weeks after the fun ride is my Gran Fondo race that is not a race.

Bike ride scenery: old flour mill ruins now an awesome museum

Bike ride scenery: old flour mill ruins now an awesome museum

My long ride on Saturday began in a nice and cool morning. It was humid but the constant wind that was blowing kept me from feeling the humidity. Of course for the entire outing I was riding into the wind or battling a cross-wind. Never once did I catch a break and get a tailwind. I told Bookman that it felt like I was riding uphill the whole ride which made the actual hills almost not even noticeable. Almost. Because riding uphill into the wind is something you notice a little bit. My average speed was slower than I wanted it to be but not as slow as I feared. All things considered, the constant effort was a good workout.

I need to take Astrid in for a tune up before the sponsored September rides. Her shifting has gotten a bit rough. I have tried to clean the chain and put fresh lube on it but it has not solved the problem of the gears not switching smoothly. Since I have not managed to take a bike maintenance class this summer I don’t know what else to do, thus time to call in a professional!

I am also thinking of getting a professional bike fitting. I have trouble with my feet going numb and have determined it is not my shoes. I am glad it is not my shoes, I would hate to have to buy new ones. The problem is my posture and how I am sitting on the bike. A professional fitting will do all sorts of analytics, figuring out the width of my sit bones, knee/ankle alignment, hip/pelvis rotation, etc. They will help me figure out my optimal riding posture and form and get everything just right and hopefully help me make my numb feet trouble go away.

In an effort to help my posture improve, because I have noticed my feet don’t start to go numb until I begin getting tired, I have added exercises to help strengthen my core muscles. This means planks and side planks and boat pose and bridges and a few other things. I should probably do crunches too but I hate crunches more than I hate planks and will avoid them as long as I possibly can. I feel like I have mentioned this before. Have I mentioned this before? I could go look but I am too lazy.

The core exercises are in addition to the free weights I do and I know it will help because the weights have helped improve my arm and shoulder strength so I don’t get a sore neck and shoulders like I did when I first began riding in the spring. I’ve been doing weights for several months now and I am just getting started on the core exercises so I expect it will take some time before I begin to notice much of a difference there. But then maybe not. I’ve been doing intervals twice a week for three weeks now and I have noticed a small improvement. Yay!

Now please excuse me while I go enjoy some dinner that includes basil pesto made from fresh-picked basil from my garden.

Filed under: biking, gardening

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13. Seasonal Transition

Giant sunflower

Giant sunflower

It is season transition time! That means some days are like summer and some are like fall. The leaves on maples are beginning to change color already. The Canadian geese are flocking around the lakes for food and rest on their way south. The bees are very busy. The monarchs float through the garden. The crickets chirp almost 24-hours a day. The cicadas buzz in the heat of a warm afternoon. Days are noticeably shorter. Nights are cooler and mornings are on the verge of crisp. Some of the pumpkins in the garden are hinting at orange. On my bike rides I see masses of goldenrod with their feathery flowers turning yellow and bluestem grass flowering and starting to turn pink/red. The squirrels are frantically collecting their winter stores and digging holes everywhere to hide it in. And my allergies are raging beyond what my medication can control but I refuse to lock myself in the house and as a consequence have a near-constant sore throat, dry, itchy eyes, and swollen sinuses so I feel as though I am coming down with a cold even though I am not. But in a little over a month there will be a killing frost and it will be the end of the growing season and I will be both relieved and sad.

We have a sunflower in the garden that is 10 feet/3 m tall. The flower on top is ridiculously small given the plant’s height. It must have put all its energy into getting tall and not saved enough to make a big flower. We have a few shorter sunflowers in the garden and we are attempting again this year to save them from the squirrels so we can eat the seeds ourselves. One has a bag over the flowerhead already as the seeds grow and dry. We did this last year and it worked until we left it too long and an enterprising squirrel broke the flower stalk and ripped the bag apart and had itself a tasty meal. Not gonna let that happen this year!

The amaranth is going great. I had thought it would only get about 5 feet / 1.5 m tall

Awesome amaranth

Awesome amaranth

but some of them are about 7 feet/ 2 m tall. They are very beautiful plants. I looked up when and how to harvest the seeds and it should be pretty easy. Famous last words! But I also discovered the plant has a golden yellow variety too. So Bookman and I are thinking we will plant both read and yellow next year. The seeds are tiny and you can use them like flax seed or cook them like quinoa. Apparently they make a delicious breakfast porridge. The whole enterprise being an experiment this year, I am not certain how much seed we will get from our patch. Next year I will know to leave more room between each plant. Also, the young greens are reportedly very tasty and rich in iron, calcium and vitamin C. According to one website I found, if you prune down the main stem for greens early in the season it will promote a somewhat shorter but much bushier plant that will produce more flowers. The greens are used like one would use Swiss chard. I also learned that amaranth is a nitrogen hog so next year, since the plants get so tall, I am going to try growing pole beans with them and see how that goes.

Brussels beginning to sprout

Brussels beginning to sprout

The summer has been cooler than usual this year which is fine by me, but it does present a problem for plants that need heat to ripen the fruit like tomatoes. We have loads of green tomatoes in the garden and so far have had only three cherry tomatoes get ripe enough to pick. The coming week is forecast to be downright hot, summer’s last hurrah. So my fingers are crossed that the heat is enough to get the tomatoes on their way to ripening. If not, I suppose Bookman will have to make some green tomato salsa or discover the pleasures of fried green tomatoes.

I picked the last of the yellow wax beans, a second effort from the plants that are now officially done. I also picked a couple of small yellow beets. When I say small, I mean small, they are about the size of a gobstopper, but I am happy about it nonetheless because they are the first beets I have ever pulled from the garden. Every gardener has the vegetable that she just can’t grow and it is always one that is so easy, according to everyone else, but for some reason it is not easy for her. Beets are my Achilles heel. Every year I plant them and they sprout and get a few inches tall but never really leafy and never any beetroots. That I have pulled two beets big enough to actually eat is a cause for celebration and makes me inordinately happy. Perhaps my beet luck is about to change!

We had a bald eagle visit the neighborhood yesterday. It is not uncommon to see them near

Aralia Racemosa

Aralia Racemosa

the lakes but they generally don’t fly around the neighborhood. It circled around low a few times, watching something, no doubt, though I don’t know what. All the crows in the vicinity were in an uproar and goodness can they make a loud racket! After circling around four or five times it gave up and left, much to the relief of the crows who quieted as soon as the eagle departed. Unfortunately I was too busy watching it to even think about trying to get a photo. Such a beautiful bird too!

Thursday the fence people came our and set the posts for out fence. Yay! This week they will come out and install the chainlink. Yay! Bookman and I are still working out all the materials we need for the chicken coop. It is taking longer than I thought but we are getting there!


My long ride yesterday was lovely. It was cool enough that I had to start the ride with arm warmers. I took them off about halfway through and was still a bit cool but it was also really humid and I was borderline warm with them on. So I figured better a little chilly than hot. It was foggy in a few places though not so foggy that it affected visibility. A very nice ride.

My friend who rides with me Saturday mornings for part of the way had a wasp fly into one of the vents of his helmet and sting his head! I’ve eaten my share of gnats, been smacked by bugs and other unknowns, have even been pooped on by a low flying crow, but I’ve never had anything fly into my helmet let alone sting me while riding. Luckily he isn’t allergic to wasps and while it hurt he was able to keep going and still enjoy the ride. Next weekend he is getting married so I will be on my own for the whole ride. The weekend after that is the Jesse James fun ride Bookman and I are signed up for. One of the perks is a chair massage at the end of the ride. I am not sure which I am looking forward to more, the ride itself or the massage at the end of it!

Filed under: biking, gardening

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14. Apple Picking Time!

Minnesota midget cantaloupe

Minnesota midget cantaloupe

It’s been a hot and humid week and because of it I haven’t spent much time out in the garden. The garden, however, is at the point where it needs no help from me other than to keep it watered and weeded. The watering happened but the weeding did not because it was just too uncomfortable to be outdoors for any length of time.

The good news is, the heat has finally brought our cantaloupe to ripeness. We have two chilling in the fridge and two more almost ripe still on the vine. And all those green tomatoes? Still green but finally starting to blush. Well, not blush exactly since they are cherokee purple, but you know what I mean.

Are you wondering about the crabapple jelly? Turns out it takes a bit of time to cut up crabapples and boil them and then let the juice drain through cheesecloth. And you don’t end up getting all that much juice, at least not from the amount of apples we had. So we have about a pint of juice in a jar in the refrigerator. Tomorrow we will get it out and boil it up, add sugar and spice and hope for the best.

Also tomorrow we will be attempting sweet zucchini relish. Just like cucumber pickle relish only with zucchini instead. I will report back next week on our success or failure.

It is also apple picking time! And all I can say is, thank goodness for this long Labor

Our single ear of popcorn dry and ready to pop

Our single ear of popcorn dry and ready to pop

Day holiday weekend! Because tomorrow we will also be picking apples from our green apple tree. We’ll fire up the crockpot and start making apple butter and applesauce. Which reminds me, I still have a container of gooseberries in my freezer. I have to cook those up into jam sometime. But since they are frozen, they can wait a bit until after the rush of everything else.

Of the two sunflowers we had bags over, one was raided by squirrels and lost. The other, I rescued just in time! I cut the head off and it is now in the house drying upside down in a paper bag. The flower on the ten-foot tall sunflower has actually gotten pretty large. We cannot reach it without a ladder. Bookman thinks it is safe, I know otherwise. It is not ready to cut down, the seeds are still not all developed, so who gets it first, us or the squirrels remains to be seen.

Meanwhile in the chicken garden…

Our chain link fence was installed during the week. It looks really nice. In the spring I’ll be moving some shrubs we got this spring out to the part of the fence that runs along the alley. The idea is to form a screening hedge. The shrubs that will go there are elderberry, serviceberry, and flowering quince. I also have a prairie rosebush to plant along the fence that goes from the alley into our yard. And, Bookman and I loved the black raspberries from our small garden patch so much that I am planning on planting more of them along the fence because I am greedy that way.

Lovely new fence

Lovely new fence

As you can see from the photo we have covered over the sand with wood chips. This keeps weeds from growing and the wood will also decompose, albeit slowly, to improve the soil so we will actually be able to grow things in it. After all the leaves fall from the trees in a month I am also half inclined to ask my neighbor, who bags up his leaves for the city to take away, if I can have some of them to spread out on top of the wood chips. Leaves decompose faster than wood chips and between the two I might actually end up with a thin layer of loam over the sand by next May. I want so badly to plant a cheery tree there in may, but I might have to wait another year so it is possible the area will be a “field” or amaranth, popcorn, pole beans and pumpkins which in itself will be fun.

Today Bookman and I took our list of chicken coop supplies to the home improvement store to investigate what standard lumber sizes are available so we can figure out how much we need of everything. We also looked at insulation, hardware cloth, and windows. We are very happy with what we learned. We will get the final figures together tomorrow. We have decided we will have the lumber delivered instead of renting a truck because it makes Bookman happy to have other people do the loading and loading instead of us. So either tomorrow or sometime during the week, we will go back with out final list and place our order.

Up until today it has all been so abstract and I have been doubting whether or not we could actually build our own coop. But after our expedition I feel much more confident. Our coop plans turn out to work very nicely with standard sized lumber and we won’t have much cutting down to odd sizes to do. Yay us!

Bookman wants to do a time lapse video but I don’t want to have to figure out the filming and editing for such an undertaking so there will be a combination of video and photos, or possibly just photos. We’ll see how it goes once we get started.

What a ride I had yesterday! There was rain, sun, wind, heat, and humidity. I ate quite a few gnats too. The cicadas and crickets were incredibly loud. Some spots of the trail were covered in goose poo. Sometimes the geese were still there and I rode by warily hoping none of them would decide to attack. Since they aren’t nesting it was unlikely, but you just never know with geese.

Because it was raining for about the first two hours of my ride, there was hardly anyone else out. Since it was warm it was quite pleasant and having the trail mostly to myself was marvelous. How marvelous? At one point there was a large deer standing right next to the trail. She looked up as I approached, I slowed down and moved to the other side of the trail, looked at her and told her it was okay, I’m just passing by and she didn’t have to interrupt her breakfast. She tensed up and was thinking about bounding away but decided I wasn’t a threat and stood there watching me as I pedaled carefully by not three-feet (1 m) away from her. She was so beautiful.

Later in the day what I thought was a big twig with leaves on it at the side of the trail turned out to be a snapping turtle on its way across to the lake. It was almost the size of a dinner plate. It paid no attention to me, just went about its business of slowly crossing the trail.

The squirrels are out in force right now, fattening up and collecting stores for winter. They are thick on the trails and thank goodness I managed to not run any of them over. A few of them nearly got up close and personal with my bike tire, but I am glad we missed each other. I’d feel just terrible if I ran one over.

I did however, get beaned by a huge dragonfly. I saw it hovering over the trail ahead of me but it zigged when it should have zagged, bounced off the the inside of my right arm, smacked into my chest, bounced against my left arm, ricocheted off my chest again before finding an exit under my right arm. Since there was no bug spatter on my arms or jersey I’m assuming it escaped shaken up but uninjured.

So much excitement!

This coming Saturday the 12th is the Jesse James Days fun ride. Bookman and I are riding together and it should be, well, fun! The weather is forecast to be sunny with a high of 69F/20C, with the day starting off cooler than that of course. Perfect! The course reportedly goes over some beautiful rural roads. I’ll try to remember to snap some photos. And maybe we will get lucky and be around for one of the re-enactments of the failed 1876 bank robbery that led to the ultimate downfall of Jesse James and his gang!

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15. Harvest Season

Zucchini relish

Zucchini relish

It is officially harvest and putting by season in the garden. I have so many dried beans to shell and still more to pick, I’ll be busy at it for some time. Have I ever mentioned how much I love beans? Definitely the fresh ones, but the dry ones to keep and cook in stews or burritos or other yummy dishes? You plant them the end of May and then except for the occasional water and weed, you pretty much forget about them and let them do their thing. I tuck them into places all over the garden, between bigger plants, in front of shrubs, in nooks and crannies. For dry beans you let them dry right on the plant. You know when to pick them off when the pods are brown and crispy. And beans are so beautiful too. I’ll have photos next week when I have enough shelled to make a decent picture.

Picked more cantaloupe melons from the garden this week. There is one small one left on

Crabapple jelly

Crabapple jelly

the vine with a bit more growing and ripening to do. I used to think a sweet melon from the market was good, but oh, just like vine ripened tomatoes, there is nothing like a melon picked fresh from the vine, chilled and eaten the same day. So incredibly sweet.

Speaking of vine ripened tomatoes, one of them actually got ripe! There are a number of others that are just beginning to color up. I also picked a couple of cherry tomatoes too. I think next year I just need to start the tomato seeds a couple weeks earlier, instead of mid-March, more like around Valentine’s Day. Now watch, next year I will end up with enormous plants by the time it is safe to put them out at the end of May and I will be complaining that I started them too early!

Still picking zucchini and lemon squash. Those will keep going until frost, sometime around early October. The pumpkins are going crazy and turning orange. There are a bunch of them this year and I can hardly wait until they are ready to pick just after frost (frost makes them sweeter). The Brussels sprouts are getting bigger and will hopefully be ready to start picking in a week or two. I didn’t realize the plants got so big and kind of crammed them too close together so instead of all six plants doing really well, there are two doing great, one doing okay, and the rest aren’t sure what they are doing (kind of like me sometimes!).

Silly Dickens

Silly Dickens

We started picking apples and last week Bookman made three pints of apple butter. Today he is making apple sauce. Last week he also made sweet zucchini relish. It came out so good! Tastes better than cucumber relish if you ask me, but then I am biased since it came from my garden! We have three pints and will probably make a few more. There was also success with the crabapple jelly! First time we have ever made it. Two cups of juice nets less than a pint of jelly, but hey, any little bit. The recipes call for one cup of sugar to every cup of apple juice so that’s what we did but the result is much sweeter than we’d like so next year Bookman will be cutting back on the sugar, maybe try one cup of sugar for two cups of juice. I don’t mind my jelly a bit tart, I’d rather that than too sweet.

We didn’t manage to get the final materials list together for the chicken coop last week, but we are close. The plan is to have it done today or tomorrow and then Bookman will go and order the lumber one morning during the week and have it delivered as soon as they can fit us into the schedule. That will hopefully be in time for next weekend so we can get started building it!


The road ahead

The road ahead

Yesterday was the Jesse James fun ride. Bookman and I planned on the 60 mile/100 km route. The day was forecast to be sunny and mild. We drove 45 minutes south with the bikes on back of the car. When we first moved to Minneapolis 20 years ago, we could drive 15 minutes and be outside the city and surrounded by farm fields. In a testament to urban sprawl, it now takes half an hour.

The morning was quite chilly and both Bookman and I were wishing we had brought light

Bookman rising (click to enlarge)

Bookman rising (click to enlarge)

jackets instead of just wearing long sleeves. We worry so much about Bookman and heat with his MS and didn’t even think about the cold which, at a certain point, acts almost as detrimentally as the heat for Bookman. Only difference is he recovers quicker from cold than heat. We began the ride around 7:30 and quickly found ourselves out amidst rolling hills and fields of corn and soybeans. The sun took a while to break through some low clouds to warm us up, and in the process kept Bookman too cold for too long. He was really struggling for awhile. It didn’t help that we missed the sign pointing to a turn in the route and we, and a good many other people, went the wrong way for about three miles that included a long hill. The riders in front of us figured out we missed a turn and let us know. We stopped to look at the very poor map the ride folks had given us and a kind police officer who had been sent out to find all the riders who had missed the turn came up and helped us out. At least the way back to the route was mostly downhill!

Back on track, we wound our way through beautiful country. A tractor parade drove by on their way to the Jesse James Days festival. The tractors were decorated with little flags and the farmers were all smiling and waving as we passed.

Fields of soybeans

Fields of soybeans

Our first rest stop was at the 22 mile/35 km mark. Bookman took a long rest and asked if we could take the 45 mile/72 km route instead. He’d gotten some energy back after being so cold at the start, but not enough to feel confident we’d make the longer route. He also wasn’t quite prepared for all the rolling hills (and there were a lot!). I was having a blast on the hills, a bit of a surprise really since the hills on my training ride are not my favorite thing but a necessary evil. But the work paid off apparently and there were only two hills that turned out to be real work.

Can I brag a second though? Even the hard hills I did really well on and passed people. The people I pass on hills though aren’t the really fit riders out with their really fit bike club pals, but the cyclists who are non-club sorts and tend to be larger men (as in very tall with big frames) or general recreational riding sorts and people who haven’t figured out how to pace themselves on hills. Still, it was great fun to pass people on hills especially when they were halfway up already when I hit the bottom and I pass before they reach the top. Bookman and hills do not get along at all. He did great though and made it up every single one without having to walk up. I’d wait for him at the top and cheer him on.

There were a couple of big downhills that were great fun. Country roads with hardly any

Barn and farm fields

Barn and farm fields

traffic and no stop lights or stop signs at the bottom of the hill meant I go fast and not worry about having to stop. Whee! Is that ever fun! Maybe because I’ve been riding all summer and feel balanced and confident on Astrid and maybe because I am just fearless enough that I don’t worry about crashing while zooming downhill, and maybe because I really like going fast, I’d hunker down over my handlebars to try and get more speed for as long as I could. Bookman found himself a bit unsure and, while he appreciated the opportunity to rest, he didn’t quite get the thrilling whee! that I did.

While it didn’t turn out to be the great success and long ride we had planned on, it was still overall a very nice day. I loved riding out in the country, seeing all the farms and fields, smelling the skunks and the cows, waving at horses and goats watching me ride by, listening to the birds, crickets and cicadas.

I will definitely be going on the ride again next year. Not sure about Bookman, he’s rethinking the whole long distance cycling thing a bit.

Filed under: biking, gardening Tagged: Jesse James Days

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16. Coop Building Commences

Magic Beans

Magic Beans

The week was warm and we had a couple evenings and one day of rain. A lot of rain. The warm and the rain are rather unusual for this time of year, especially night time thunder storms. The month is trending much warmer than normal and the weather people are saying we might be looking at a top ten warmest on record. I am pretty happy and so is the garden but my allergies are not pleased. September is one of those love-hate months. I love that the weather has been mild because gardening and biking. I hate that it has been mild because I suffer. As long as I am busy and absorbed in a task I manage ok, but sit down to rest and I fell like I’ve been through the wringer.

Needless to say I did not spend much time working in the garden this week. And when I was out in it, I was simply passing through and maybe picking a tomato or checking on the progress of the pumpkins. Grasshoppers are everywhere and I don’t even want to think about what they are chewing on. Bees of so many varieties are on the hyssop, the zinnias, the asters, and goldenrod. The monarchs are everywhere too and one even flew into my head as I was watching bees yesterday. Was it drunk on nectar? Hungry and disoriented? Whatever the case, those butterflies pack a wallop! Not that they hurt, only that they make a bigger thud when they run into you than you would expect.

We got all the beans I picked last weekend shelled. There are still more to pick in the garden. The coco noir black beans are not very prolific so I think I will not grow them again. If we do another black bean, it will be a different variety. The Jacob’s cattle beans (great in stew or soup) is pretty prolific and I wish I had planted more. This year I just planted what remained in the seed packet from the year before. I think in spring I will be ordering these again, or maybe saving a large portion of what we got this year to plant next year.

What I am really pleased with are the cow peas, also known as black-eyed peas. This

Cat TV

Cat TV

variety is called “lady pea” and is about the size of a lentil. The plants are really prolific and are still blooming and producing more pods. We’ll be harvesting these until frost. I definitely will be planting more of these next year.

Bookman was cooking up apples into sauce the other day and had put the cores in a bucket and set them out on the deck until he had a chance to take them to the compost bin. The squirrels are busy and extra bold right now and before the bucket made it to the bin, a squirrel made it to the bucket. Dickens was looking out the screen door at the time and as the squirrel helped itself to the apple cores, Dickens turned to stone inside, watching. The squirrel didn’t care at all that there was a cat less than a foot away watching him through the screen window.

I’ve been talking about it all summer and finally, finally, we have begun work on the chicken coop! Today we began with the “foundation” and digging critter barrier. Our options were to build the coop on brick pavers or to bury hardware cloth a couple inches down and several inches out from the edge of the coop to keep digging critters out. We went for the pavers. It is a more expensive option but we thought less work in the long run and we felt better about having the coop sit on something solid instead of bare ground.

Laying the foundation

Laying the foundation

Today we started laying down the pavers. Of course we can’t just lay them out and start building. They all have to be squared and level so our coop doesn’t lean and all that. Luckily we have plenty of sand to lay the foundation on! We managed to put down half of the foundation today. A good start I think. Once all the pavers are down we’ll start building the coop and run frame. Hopefully we will have time to work on the foundation a bit this week, if not, next weekend will see us finishing it up.

Bookman, who was initially reluctant on the chicken idea back in January when I suggested it, is now gung-ho and as excited as I am. We are both really glad to at last start work on the coop!


Well, bad news. The Gran Fondo race I signed up for at the end of the month has been canceled due to road construction. Apparently there is too much road work being done in the area where the race is to be held that they can’t put together a route that avoids it. I was so disappointed. I’ve been working so hard all summer to train for it and now I won’t have a chance to find out if my hard work paid off. Plus, since we didn’t do the 60 mile/100 km route at Jesse James Days, the Gran Fondo was going to be my “century” ride this year. Disappointed as I am, I will still do a 100 km ride even if I am on my own. I was going to do that yesterday but it didn’t quite work out.

Not having to train for a race anymore, I decided I was now free to do some exploring for different routes and just ride for the fun of it. Not that my training rides aren’t fun, I do love them, but I don’t have to worry about time or getting in so many hills or practicing sprinting or anything like that.

Saturday morning began chilly and I had a really hard time warming up. I felt like I was pedaling through sand for the first hour and half. My allergies were also bothering me and I was fighting off a headache. I road a little less than half my usual ride and took a turn off where I see some other cyclists turn now and then. It turned out to be quiet suburban streets that felt suddenly almost rural. I was hoping for some good hills to try but there was only one, a long gradual grade that didn’t make me work too hard until I got close to the top. The route spit me out close to the end of a nice hilly section I usually ride on. I doubt I will take that alternate route again.

I then decided I was going to take on Purgatory Park, a trail Bookman and I had tried in early spring that had a couple really short but steep hills. I headed down the road and turned off into the park, finally starting to feel energetic and looking forward to the challenge of those little hills. I came down a hill and around a bend to cross a foot bridge over the creek. I was on a packed gravel path and it had washed away a bit from the edge of the bridge, leaving a concrete lip sticking up of about 3-4 inches / 7.5-10 cm. I hit it rather hard, got a bit of jolt, continued across the little bridge and back onto gravel. And then I noticed Astrid did not feel quite right. I stopped to check things out and surprise! Two flat tires.

I knew at some point I would get a flat. I even took a class early in the spring to learn how to fix one. Now confronted with not one but two flat tires I was somewhat at a loss for what to do. For some reason I thought if I just pumped air into them they would miraculously repair themselves. So I took my little pump off my bike and realized I had never used it before and had no idea how to use it now. Fifteen minutes later when I figured out how to get the pump locked onto the valve stem I started pumping, listening for air to leak out to confirm the tube was punctured because for some reason I thought maybe I could have two flats but no punctures. I could not hear any air leaking but the tire was not inflating. Instead of blaming a puncture I blamed the pump. Why not? I called Bookman who was at work. I was not far from the park entrance which is on a major road and not far from where Bookman works. He happened to have the bike carrier in the car still. He decided he would take his lunch break and come get me.

I walked poor Astrid out of the park and we waited for Bookman’s arrival. I felt really dumb not being able to figure out how to use the pump and fix my tires. I had a spare tube and a patch kit so I technically could have gotten myself mobile again so I could ride home but my hands and my brain just couldn’t manage it. After Bookman got lost a few times he pulled up, put Astrid on the back of the car and delivered us home. My Hero!

I showered, had lunch, and in a better frame of mind and comfortable surroundings decided to tackle fixing the tires, or at least one of them since I only had one spare tube. And it is just as well Bookman rescued us because I had to come in the house and quick watch a YouTube video to figure out how to get the tire off the bike. I have a quick release lever but I also have to unlock the break lever too. Oh yeah! That fix a flat class was a long time ago! Once I got the wheel off the bike I was fine with the rest, though getting the tire back in the rim almost had me in tears. I do not have strong hands and I could not get the last little bit to go in. I was just about to give up, when as a last ditch effort I used my feet to hold the tire and act as a counterweight while I pushed with my thumbs on the tire and in it popped! Then I started pumping. I used the little pump I carry on my bike to make sure I would know how to do it next time. Then I got the wheel back on and checked to see how long it took me: 45 minutes. And that was one wheel!

I didn’t have another tube to do the back tire but I took it off and got the tube out anyway. Then I decided now would be a good time to do some cleaning. So I scrubbed the cassette and the derailleur and cleaned them of road gunk and felt pretty good about that. The bike shop was closed by the time Bookman got home from work last night so we went today and I got three tubes. One for the tire now and two spares. I also talked to one of the bike mechanics and she said from the punctures I described it sounds like my tires were underinflated. So she talked to me about inflation and I had brought one of my wheels with me and she inflated it to the proper psi and it was hard as a rock. Turns out we had not been reading the pressure gauge correctly on the pump. That means both my flats could have been avoided. Live and learn, right?

So now having crashed twice this summer and getting two flats at once I have learned many lessons. I am stronger than I suspected. And I also now really know how to fix a flat. Next weekend Purgatory is not going to beat me!

Bookman likes me to text him from time to time while I am out so he knows I’m still alive. My eyes have reached the point where the text on my phone is almost too small for me to see clearly. I also wear polarized sunglasses which prevents me from seeing the screen on my phone with any kind of clarity, and yesterday my eyes were burning and itching from my allergies. All that to say with autocorrect, Bookman got some interesting text messages.

About an hour into my ride I was stopped at a traffic light and still pretty cold. I texted Bookman “Brrr” Except with autocorrect and my inability to see the screen the text Bookman actually got was “Beer.”

An hour later I stopped for a brief snack. I texted, “snack break finally not so cold.” The text Bookman received: “smack break finally not so old.”

The next time Bookman heard from me was a phone call to tell him I had two flat tires. That wasn’t fun but the text messages kept us laughing all day.

Filed under: biking, chickens, gardening Tagged: flat tire, Gran Fondo, Purgatory Park

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17. This is Autumn?

Autumn joy sedum

Autumn joy sedum

September has turned so warm that the trees have been changing color very slowly. We are at least two weeks, probably three, away from peak color in my area. Usually by now the trees are starting too look pretty spectacular but the summer just does not want to let go.

That is okay in some respects. It means we are still picking zucchini and our tomatoes have had time to get big and ripe. The amaranth has grown to monstrous size and the blossoms are so huge the poor things have become top heavy and all but a few sturdy ones are leaning over. The basil is still going strong too which means more pesto is in the offing. Some of the pumpkins are fully orange, others are halfway there.

Rumor has it there is the chance for frost next week. It is a long time out to forecast anything however, so I won’t hold my breath but I will certainly hope. A frost, especially if it ends up being a hard frost (below freezing instead of close to) will mean I can harvest the amaranth. It will make the pumpkins sweeter too. I am also anticipating being able to harvest some sunchokes for the first time. The patch has gotten quite large and needs thinning, what better way than to dig up some of the roots and eat them! Oh, and I keep forgetting there are some turnips out in the garden too. A frost will make those sweet as well. Frost will also go a long way towards helping my allergies. Once all the ragweed is dead I will be able to breath easy once again.

The porcelain garlic I ordered over the summer arrived in the mail last week. It is too warm yet to plant, I don’t want the cloves to start sprouting. But if the week turns out to be cool and the chance of frost looks more certain for next week, I’ll be planting the garlic on the weekend.

It’s also time to start seed saving. I’ve got calendula, marigolds and zinnias in the garden I want to save for next year. Also dill and coriander.

All of the coneflowers have gone to seed now and the goldfinches are thick among them. I

Coop foundation

Coop foundation

love coneflowers of all kinds and when I began planting them I had no idea the goldfinches loved them so much too. I love their little chirruping! And what a delight to walk up to my front porch after a day at work and have yellow burst out of the flower beds at my approach. They are so wonderfully beautiful that my breath catches in my throat at the sight of them.

Board painting station

Board painting station

The bees are frantically busy on the asters and the sedums and still crowding on the anise hyssop. Most of the monarch butterflies have left but one floats through the garden now and then. I also saw a hummingbird flitting about too. You know, I’ve lived in Minnesota for twenty years now and had never seen any hummingbirds about until two years ago. They aren’t frequent visitors to the garden these days but they are visitors which is a huge step up!

Today Bookman and I finished laying down the foundation for the chicken coop. The week was wet so we did not have a chance to prime and paint any of the boards to build with. We got started on that today too but unfortunately the primer didn’t dry fast enough for us to be able to start building. Next weekend the saw and the drill get to do some work!


The best kind of biker bar

The best kind of biker bar

This was the weekend that was supposed to belong to my Gran Fondo race. Since it got cancelled because of so much road construction I had to take matters into my own hands. No race, but by golly, I was determined to ride 100 km /60 miles on Saturday. I did and then some! I ventured out to find a new trail, Minnetonka Regional Trail. It is 15 miles /24 km of aggregate trail that starts near my favorite “biker bar”, Hopkins Depot, a cafe that sits at the confluence of several different bike trails. To get to the trail head I had to ride through a couple blocks of “downtown” Hopkins, a suburb with one of those quaint small town-like shopping districts. The trail was well marked and good thing or I would have missed it as it was crammed in between the driveway to a business parking lot and someone’s backyard.

The trail was marvelous. It took me right out to Lake Minnetonka and along the shore with

Through the meadow

Through the meadow

views of the lake and a number of boat marinas. Lots of people were out boating on such a gorgeous day too. Near the very end of the trail is a turn off to Carver Park Reserve, with 9 miles/ 14.5 km of paved bike trail. The Reserve also offers camping, boating, hiking, a nature education center, and hosts rolling wooded terrain, meadows, lakes and marshes. It is also a waterbird sanctuary. Supposedly you can see trumpeter swans there.

I road into the park around 9:30 in the morning and was one of very few people there. I suddenly felt like I was a long way from anywhere and it felt so good. I didn’t see any swans but saw lots of goldfinches, a flock of grackles, geese and ducks, and a whole bunch of northern flickers. There was also lots of little piles of poo on the trail and at first I was disgusted that people weren’t picking up after their dogs when it dawned on me that it was deer, not dogs.

There are lots of turnouts throughout the park with lookouts and benches. If the weather is nice next weekend I plan on going back and taking a lunch with me to enjoy. And hopefully the trees will have begun changing color by then too.

One of many lakes in the reserve

One of many lakes in the reserve

It was a great ride even with the wind picking up and my last 10 miles/ 16 km riding directly into it. When I got home tired and sweaty I checked to see how far I had ridden and was surprised: a little over 69 miles/ 111 km! I gave Astrid a happy pat on the saddle for a ride well done.

Something that made me laugh. At the beginning of my ride the sun was just up and my shadow was to my right and just behind me enough that it kept making me think someone was riding on my tail. I’d catch sight of the shadow and expect someone to pass me but the person would keep riding on my ass so I would pedal faster and they kept following me! For the first 45 minutes of my ride I kept thinking my shadow was another person even after I realized it was my shadow. As I approached the trail turn off for the Hopkins Depot, there my shadow was again! And I laughed at myself for being startled and thinking someone was riding on my tail, but I raced my shadow anyway because I was happy and feeling good. It turned out that time there was someone riding on my tail and when I turned off the trail and my “shadow” kept going it scared the bejeezus out of me! Those shadows sure can be tricksy!

Filed under: biking, gardening Tagged: Carver Park Reserve, Minnetonka Regional Trail

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18. Planting and Harvesting



Autumn has finally truly arrived. High temperatures during the week hovered around 60F/15C. Nights got chilly and I had to wear a sweater or light jacket to catch the bus in the early mornings. Waldo and Dickens are both behaving as though it is freezing already and stubbornly curl up against me at night and refuse to budge even when I roll over or begin to flail around because I am too warm with them laying on me.

Some of the flax is still blooming but I wanted to plant garlic in that spot so I clipped off all the seed heads from the spent flax and pulled the plants out for the compost bin. In went garlic cloves. I bought a pound of porcelain garlic, a hardnecked variety that will produce delicious scapes. Last year I think I planted Spanish red and most of it got heaved up with all the freezing and thawing from a winter that was warmer than normal. With a super el niño in the Pacific this year, winter is expected to be mild and possibly snowier. When planting the garlic I kept telling Bookman, make sure the cloves are 2-3 inches deep! I said it so many times he got a little annoyed with me, but I don’t want another garlic disappointment next spring. The patch where the flax was didn’t turn out to be big enough so we also planted garlic in part of the strawberry bed and with the Egyptian walking onion we planted this spring. A pound of porcelain garlic was six heads with 4-6 cloves in each. If it all sprouts and bulbs up, garlic paradise next summer!

Currently the garden is a pumpkin paradise. We picked the first one today. Pumpkins have to cure for about a week before they get cut up and cooked but that doesn’t stop me from imagining all the pumpkin-y goodness that will be in store!

Some of the amaranth was obviously ready for harvesting too. I cut off two big flower heads and put them in a plastic bag to dry. Normally something like that would go into a paper bag, but amaranth seeds are so tiny that any seeds that drop out while the flower is drying would be lost in the crevices of a paper sack. The biggest flower is still going strong though and is it ever gorgeous. Bookman has decided he likes amaranth flowers to much that even if the grain harvest turns out to be negligible, he wants to keep planting them every year just because they are cool looking. And I must agree, they are pretty cool looking. At the moment some of the flowers are developing longer strands in the middle that stand up above the rest of the flower so it appears they are giving us the finger. Maybe they are.

We have a squirrel Bookman has named “Jimbo” who has decided it thinks screens are really awesome things to climb. Jimbo keeps climbing the big screen on the sliding glass door to the deck. This freaks out the cats who have thus far not tried to climb up the screen from inside the house in order to have it out with Jimbo. I don’t think they realize they could do this and I hope they remain ignorant for my sake and for the screen door’s. But it isn’t just the screen door that Jimbo likes. The other day I hear a big thunk! at the kitchen window and move the curtain aside to look out only to see a big fat squirrel belly! I pounded on the window and Jimbo didn’t seem to care. So I pounded and yelled and he reluctantly jumped off. It would be funny if it weren’t so annoying and if we weren’t convinced that Jimbo was trying to find a way to get into the house for a cozy winter hangout.

We didn’t make any actual building progress on the chicken coop this week. Time was spent priming/painting boards while the weather was dry and not too cold. Next weekend we will be able to start building the frame. In anticipation, today we got a square at the hardware store to make sure our corners are aligned so the coop doesn’t end up crooked. To test it out we put together the base frame of the coop which amounts two 4×10 foot boards and 2 4×5 foot boards screwed together in a rectangle. The corners are square but one of the boards is sightly warped so the edges aren’t coming together perfectly flush like they need too. Since this rectangle base is what the upright support boards get screwed into, I am not sure how critical perfectly joined boards are. No doubt it is one of those matters where we will find out just how important it is when we start framing the roof and everything begins to come out crooked or something. Before we begin building up next week we will make a valiant attempt to get these bottom boards as perfect as possible.


Sailboats on Lake Minnetonka

Sailboats on Lake Minnetonka

I still felt under the weather due to my reaction to the flu shot earlier in the week but my outdoor cycling days are numbered and I wasn’t going to let it keep me from what could be my last really long ride of the year. Hoping the cool weather had brought more color to the trees, I rode out to Carver Park Reserve, the same place I went to last week. The morning was cold so I wore a long sleeve bike jersey underneath a windbreaker jacket. Should I manage to get hot, both the sleeves of the jacket and my jersey are removable but I never did get hot mostly because the wind picked up and I rode directly into it nearly all the way home. At least when I am riding up a hill I might not like it but I can see the top and know there will be an end to it. When riding into the wind it feels like riding up a hill that goes on forever, I never get to reach the top and I certainly don’t get the pleasure of zooming down the other side of it after all that hard work. I did stop at Lake Minnetonka and watch the sailboats that were out taking advantage of the wind. They were really flying across the water too!

Hardly anyone was around at the reserve, at least not when I first arrived. As I pedaled along I saw something out of the corner of my eye come swooping down out of the woods. When its swoop took it right across the path in front of me I saw it was a hawk and it had just caught something. As it flew up into a nearby tree I was so busy watching it and trying to see what it had caught I almost rode off the path into some bushes!

A little while later while coming around a curve in the path, I saw what I first thought was a big orange tabby cat heading into the undergrowth. Then I saw the white tip of its tail and realized it was a fox! I have never seen a fox before and thought they were bigger than that. It moved pretty fast so I didn’t get a very good look at it but I was thrilled nonetheless.

I stopped at a different lookout than last time I was in the park. It was in bright

Me at the park lookout

Me at the park lookout

sunshine and Strava said I had ridden 33 miles/53 kms so I thought it was a good time to stop for a bite to eat. I had gotten really hungry while out riding the week before in spite of my date bar snacks so I had Bookman make me a banana-rito (peanut butter on a whole wheat tortilla wrapped around a banana). I sat in the sun eating my banana-rito, listening to birds sing and watching the breeze move across a lake and through the reeds and grasses. It was absolutely marvelous and I could have sat there all day.

Sumac just past peak color

Sumac just past peak color

Back on Astrid we continued our tour through the park. The trees were stubbornly not changing color. The sumac did, which was nice, and was just past its prime but still beautiful. A good many trees had dropped their leaves but the leaves were brown so I don’t know what that was about. It was still beautiful. I got through most of the park without seeing another person, but as I got closer to the park entrance more and more people were coming in on bikes and skates and I was glad I was leaving, having had the chance to enjoy the peace and quiet.

When I got to my street I checked my mileage and it said 69/111kms. Since this was probably the last really long ride of the year — next weekend is NerdCon and who knows what the weather will be like the following weekend this being Minnesota it might be snowing — I decided I wanted to do 70 miles/112.6 kms. So I took a tour of the neighborhood until my mileage clicked over.

Astrid and I are both quite happy with our adventures this year. Hopefully there will be another short ride or two around the city before the weather gets too cold, but the big outdoor adventuring is done for the year.

Filed under: biking, gardening Tagged: Carver Park Reserve, Lake Minnetonka

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19. Finally Frost

Big leafed aster

Big leafed aster

We had frost! Two weeks late but, hey, who’s counting? One of the best things about frost? My allergies are pretty much over. It will be another week or two before they are completely gone, but the worst has passed. I can’t begin to say what a relief this is. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you will completely understand.

The frost happened Friday night/Saturday morning. Friday evening after work I took a bowl out to the garden and picked a bunch of very green tomatoes, a small lemon squash, a few beets and brussels sprouts. If this were early October we would have simply covered the tomatoes, but seeing as how we had frost last night too and except for a surprise warm day here and there, it is not going to be warm enough going forward for the tomatoes to get ripe. So I picked them. Bookman is going to either make green tomato salsa or fried green tomatoes, he hasn’t decided which yet.

The kale survived the frost as did the turnips and chard. The asters and the mum are still going too. Everything else is done. Gardening now turns into pulling the dead vegetable plants and stuffing them into the compost bin and cutting back some of the perennials. Also seed saving. Also harvesting the pumpkins, amaranth and sunchokes. I am so looking forward to trying the sunchokes. One of the pumpkins that was done early Bookman cooked up last weekend and turned into pumpkin butter. It tastes just like pumpkin pie on my toast! We still have lots of apples to cook too. Today Bookman made apple spice muffins. Fall is definitely one of the most delicious times of the year!

I had completely forgotten what we had planted in the new little bed on our boulevard in

Aromatic aster

Aromatic aster

the spring and early in the week was pleasantly surprised to see a bunch of beautiful purple asters blooming in it. I might have even exclaimed, where did those come from? I had to check my new plant list for the year and, what do you know? I planted them! They are symphyotrichum oblongifolium, aromatic aster. I love a good garden surprise.

Chicken coop progress

Chicken coop progress

We began building up on the chicken coop today and were making good progress until the battery in the drill prematurely died. We took a break for it to recharge and even though it indicated it was fully charged, it did not last long at all. Since this is the only drill we have, we had to stop work sooner than we wanted. Very disappointing since it turned out to be such a gorgeous day. We’ve had the drill for quite a few years so I guess the battery has sustained as many recharges as it could. Time for a new battery. We will get on sometime during the week and have it charged up and ready to go by the weekend.


Last weekend I ordered a smart trainer. A smart trainer is a contraption I fit my bike on for indoor riding. The smart part is that the trainer connects to my computer and I can watch video and ride routes around the world in the comfort of my own home. When the road goes up, the trainer will make it hard to pedal my bike. That’s how it is supposed to work anyway. I was hoping it would be delivered by yesterday so I could set it up and try it out, but it won’t be here until tomorrow.

Which means I had to bundle up and ride out into the frosty morning. Now the only warm cycling kit I have invested in are arm warmers, a windbreaker and gloves. These would keep my torso and hands warm enough but my legs, not so much. I have warm clothes that I have biked in before. Seven years ago, before my current job, I used to bike commute to work year round. It was only a three mile/4.8 km ride so I didn’t need special bike clothing, I just needed to be warm when it was ten below (-23C). No need for the thermal underwear Saturday, but I pulled out my fleece ear warming headband and my knit leg warmers.

Cycling fashionista

Cycling fashionista

I am not worried about being aerodynamic so I was not concerned about the knit leg warmers slowing me down. However, if you have ever seen actual cycling leg warmers, they are usually sleek and black and spandex and they have grippers that hold them up. My leg warmers? Not so sleek. Also, gripper-free so to keep them up I had to tuck them under the grippers on the bottom of my bike shorts. A bit unconventional but no big deal. However, my leg warmers are not black. Oh no, they are a snazzy gray with blue and black stripes and scream, dork! When it is freezing cold and blowing snow in your face you don’t care about looking like a dork, you only care about not going down on a patch of ice. Plus anyone who bikes in the winter in Minnesota is automatically awarded “badass” status no matter what their kit looks like.

Not once during the summer did I think, hmm maybe I should buy some leg warmers for when it gets cold. And now it is too late. So I pulled on my striped knits and ventured out feeling a bit embarrassed. To my surprise, there were hardly any cyclists out. By the time I began seeing more cyclists I had been out for close to two hours and was happy as could be with warm legs and no longer really caring what I looked like. I felt so good I actually decided that everyone who saw me must be jealous of my stripes. Far from being a dork I am a cycling fashion trendsetter!

I didn’t want to ride out to the park reserve like I did the last couple of weekends so I decided to do the training route I had been riding most of the summer. Except I rode it in the opposite direction. If you ever want to freak out your body and your brain, such a thing is highly recommended. I was tired in all the wrong places and my brain did not know where I was in the ride since the landmarks were well known but they came during different parts of the ride than usual. My hilly segment came after the halfway mark instead of before. While my legs were more tired than usual at that point, I also didn’t have to worry about moderating my pace very much so I would have energy left for the rest of the ride. It was all so strange, but fun.

I have no idea what to expect for the weather next weekend. At this point long outdoor rides are wait and see. But I will have my trainer by then so if I decide I don’t want to be a fashion diva with my striped leg warmers I will have an alternate way to ride.

Filed under: biking, chickens, gardening Tagged: cycling fashionista

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20. Falling Leaves

Follow the yellow brick road

Follow the yellow brick road

The leaves on Melody Maple have all turned golden and after a beautiful week of sun, we had a cold, windy, rainy Friday that blew all the leaves off the tree. Autumn leaves on trees are definitely gorgeous, but if you ask me, the show isn’t quite over even after they have fallen off. When I walked up to my house after work Friday, I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of my leaf strewn sidewalk. It’s like a piece of the Yellow Brick Road came from Oz to take up temporary residence in front of my house.

There are still plenty of leaves on trees though. The city-planted boulevard tree, a different kind of maple than the one in my yard, still has its leaves. It is currently half green and half red-orange. My apple trees still have their leaves too, though not as many as before Friday. Apples are not striking autumn trees. Their leaves mostly turn a pale yellow and drop off but the entire tree is never yellow at once. The leaves do their thing on an individual basis and almost as soon as they change color they fall so the tree is mostly always green with the leaf density getting fewer and fewer until they have all fallen.

Of the asters that were blooming last week only the aromatic one is still going. The mum

Leave and bluestem grass

Leave and bluestem grass

is still going too. And in the herb spiral, there are a few calendula that the frost did not kill and they are valiantly blooming yellow and orange.

Today Bookman and I spent some time in the vegetable garden pulling out dead tomato plants, squash, beans and various other things. In spite of the frost we had, the weather here remains unusually warm for this time of year and one of the tomatoes I pulled out was resprouting as were a good many of the beans. It is really kind of crazy. I don’t recall an October since I’ve lived in Minnesota that has been this warm.

We harvested most of our Brussels sprouts and had them for dinner tonight. Neither of us has ever had Brussels sprouts before. At their mention I have only ever heard people say, yuck! There are so few people I have encountered who say yum that they seem to be the freaks. But over the past few years I have had enough people tell me that I had to try them and the plants themselves are really odd looking, I decided fine, this year I’ll give them a try. And you know what? They are delicious! Bookman liked them too. That means I’ll be planting them again next year. And next year I will know they need a lot more room to grow than I gave them this year. Success!

We have not tried the okra we grew yet. We didn’t get enough at any one time to do something with so we would chop them up and put them in the freezer. This winter Bookman is planning on using them in a stew or two. When he does, I’ll try to remember to let you know what we thought.

We did not work on the chicken coop today, instead we chose to work in the garden. We did spend some time figuring out a piece of building engineering that had us baffled. We both have the day off from work tomorrow to celebrate our wedding anniversary and plan to make a trip to the hardware store to get the brackets we decided we need. Then we have plans to work on the coop in the afternoon since the day is supposed to be sunny and mild.

As we were out in the garden today I noticed the bees have all gone. There was one lonely bee on the hyssop that is normally abuzz with activity. No butterflies about either. Or mosquitoes! The chickadees and juncos are here in abundance now. We get the dark-eyed juncos here and I do love them ever so much. They are such pleasingly round birds.

The squirrels are quite enjoying the extended warm weather, using it to fatten up even more. This week they took the opportunity to fatten up on the pumpkins that were still in my garden! We had about ten of them and the squirrels ate five. Bookman saw them at it one morning before he left for work and ran out and rescued the ones they had not gotten to yet. Not only am I disappointed about the squirrel raid of the pumpkin patch, but next year I am going to have pumpkin coming up all over the garden from them dropping the seeds everywhere. We got enough for a few pies and other pumpkin goodies, just not as much as we were looking forward to! @%*$#& squirrels!


My smart trainer arrived in the mail during the week. Just in time too because while I could have bundled up for an outdoor ride yesterday, it was gray and blustery and damp from the rain the day before and would not have been any fun. So I set up my trainer and had a great time!

My trainer is a Cyclops Powerbeam Pro with ANT+. What that means is that I plug the ANT+ usb dongle into my computer and it talks to the trainer. There are a number of cycling sites that can be integrated with a smart trainer. They show you video and tell your trainer to increase resistance when you are going uphills and make it easier when going downhill. They measure your energy output and miles and all that. It is pretty nifty.

In addition to the trainer I got a special trainer tire so I don’t wear out my road tire. I took my road tire off Astrid’s back wheel and put on the new one. Since my double flat over the summer I am getting pretty good at the whole tire thing! It didn’t take long to do at all. I did have to borrow Bookman’s thumbs though to get the last bit of tire pushed into the wheel rim, but other than the brief assist, the tire was all my doing as was changing the wheel quick release mechanism for the trainer compatible one. It took both of us to get the bike hooked into the trainer, Bookman lifted while I kneeled on the floor and directed the parts to where they needed to connect.

The cycling program I am using with the trainer is a new one called Zwift. It basically turns indoor cycling into a kind of video game. Riders get experience points, and special prizes for accomplishments and when you level up you get access to more customization goodies like a new jersey for your avatar or a new bike.

As you ride around there are three competitive segments on the course for which you can get points and a special jersey to wear until someone else beats your time. There is a big hill for which you can get king/queen or the mountain, a sprint segment, and an overall best lap time. The course is about 6 miles/9 kms.

Queen of the Mountain!

Queen of the Mountain!

It is so much fun! I did 9 laps yesterday and even though the virtual miles were less than I have been riding on the road, I worked harder and my legs were really tired. I was really good for about five laps and then I began feeling tired. I started telling myself I could take it easy, I didn’t have to sprint. But then the sprint segment would roll up in front of me and the timer would flash up on the screen with the best time, my best time and where I was at that moment in comparison and gosh darn it, I had to try!

The sport of cycling is predominantly men. There are more and more women joining to be sure, but the crowd is mostly male. It is that way on the roads when I am biking around and it is that way on Zwift. The plus side of that is, while the men on the Zwift discussion boards complain about never being able to get close to wearing the KOM jersey because there are too many better riders out there, I, a newbie to the sport, got to wear the QOM jersey twice yesterday. I did not get a green sprint winner jersey. I suck at sprinting. Nor did I get to wear the orange best lap jersey. But because there are so few women, I think of the 250 people riding in Zwift while I was on about eight were women, I have a chance at those jerseys and I find that highly motivating.

So it appears my outdoor biking is done for the season. But Zwift and my new smart trainer look like they will be an excellent indoor alternative. Yay!

Filed under: biking, gardening Tagged: Zwift

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21. November and the Garden is Not Completely Dead

It was a cool, rainy week and we even had snow mixed in with the rain one day. And sleet. We had sleet too. But in spite of the snow and sleet, temperatures remain above freezing. There are still trees with leaves. This week temperatures are going to hover around 60F/15C with a few days forecast to be warmer. It’s really crazy how mild it has been. In the just over twenty years I have lived in the Twin Cities, I don’t recall it ever being this warm at this time of the year even when there was an el niño.

With this long mild autumn, the sorrel has regrown and is looking even nicer than it did in the spring. Bookman has plans to make some pesto to enjoy with dinner one night this week. The chard is still going too. And that’s really it, nothing else in the garden any longer except the turnips which will also be made into dinner sometime during the week. If I had known it was going to be so mild this late I would have planted some late season peas and radishes. Too late now. I will have to work on my psychic abilities for next year though so I don’t miss another wonderful opportunity.

Bookman had the entire week off from work and had planned on working on the chicken coop. That did not happen because of the rain. Today, however, was quite comfortable so we spent several hours outside working on it.

Making progress!

Making progress!

We gave up trying to prime all the boards before building with them because it kept raining or was going to rain and they never had time enough for the paint to dry. It isn’t a big deal really, the wood is all treated. The primer is so we can paint the coop later and is easier to get on when you just have a flat board to paint and no corners and angles. But if we continued painting we were never going to be able to start building and building was more important. So.

We got all the upright supports done, the top cross supports for the walls and roof, and the supports for the coop floor. Next step is to figure out how to frame the roof. It’s coming along and we are having fun making it and feeling rather proud of ourselves especially since we have never done anything like this before. Now that we are really making progress, it is beginning to feel like we really are going to have chickens.

Eventually the weather will get too cold for us to work outside and then we will have to start thinking about where the chickens will live indoors. We will be getting them in March as chicks just a few days old and they will have to live in the house under a heat lamp for a while and even when they don’t need the lamp anymore they will still need to live indoors until they get all their feathers and it is warm enough for them to safely move outside, probably around the end of May. So they need a place to live that is big enough and safe from the sure to be curious Waldo and Dickens. We have a few months to get that worked out.

Since there isn’t much to do in the garden any longer, I have picked Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek back up. I wanted to share a thought that caught my attention:

beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do it try to be there.


Biking until I'm nothing but bones

Biking until I’m nothing but bones

I am very much enjoying riding Astrid indoors hooked up to the smart trainer. This week for Halloween, the folks at Zwift had a little fun and and turned all the avatars into skeletons. We all had little scarves on our heads that matched the color and pattern of our jerseys when we had flesh on our bones. They also added jack-o-lanterns on the roadside throughout the course. It was pretty fun. I wonder if we might all get Santa hats for Christmas? Or maybe our bikes will turn into reindeer?

Anyway, they recently added structured workouts as a beta feature. The one workout everyone is trying is the FTP, functional threshold power. It’s a “test” to find out how much power per weight you can maintain for twenty minutes of going all out. They structure it so you get ten minutes of warmup at a cadence of 90 rpm and then you do about twenty minutes of riding at various watts (power is measured in watts), and then you do twenty minutes all out with nice messages telling things like, you are halfway there if you aren’t struggling you should try to go up ten watts. At first I thought, no way but I’ll try. And I did it and it was hard but not as hard as I thought it would be.

After the twenty minutes is over there is ten minutes of cool down riding. Then you get your FTP. I was hoping for 160 but got 157. It will serve as a baseline for training. I will check back with the FTP workout in three months and see if I have improved at all. It’s my understanding that FTP works better than maximum heart rate for training purposes. I will have to do some research to figure out how to use that number and improve it.

I did read a really good book published by Bicycling magazine called The Bicycling Big Book of Cycling for Women. It has all kinds of general stuff about cycling like the different types of riding and the kinds of bikes and lots of good stuff specific to women like core/strength training exercises, nutrition, and how our hormones affect performance because they do and it isn’t our imagination. Very informative I thought. It’s a good book for novice to intermediate level cyclists, is written by a woman, and is encouraging and motivating as well as fun.

You know you have fallen in love with a sport when you read books about it. I’m pretty sure I’m a goner.

Filed under: biking, gardening Tagged: Annie Dillard

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22. Geometry is Your Friend

The weather is making it really difficult to believe it is November, but I’ve decided to just go with it and try to not be too freaked out by the weirdness of it. Climate change in action? Probably a little bit. But there is also a “Godzilla” el niño in the Pacific that is a major contributor as well. The combination makes part of me very happy because, wow, November and I spent time outdoors today plenty warm in a sweatshirt. The other part me of is worried and a little angry because this is just not right, not normal at all and nobody seems concerned, too busy running around and believing we are somehow lucky. Humph.

On a happy note, I jumped with joy the other day when President Obama said no to the entire Keystone Pipeline project. I want to thank the farmers in Nebraska for all their lawsuits that slowed the entire review process down and gave a lot more people time to comment and protest and government officials, including the president, time to seriously consider what an oil pipeline running across the U.S. from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico would mean in terms of climate change and immediate environmental impacts. So thank you Mr. President. You made me squeal with joy, clap my hands and do a happy dance. My eyes might have gotten a little teary too.

Then there is the news that Vermont Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Senator Jeff Merkley from Oregon have proposed legislation to stop the government from issuing new leases on public lands for fossil fuel extraction. The “Keep it in the Ground Act” would also end all current non-productive leases for fossils fuels on federal land and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific. It would also prohibit offshore drilling in the Arctic and the Atlantic. It is a bold move and Republicans, many of whom don’t “believe in” climate change, are already saying the bill has no chance of passing. It is unfortunate but not surprising. Nonetheless, the fact that anyone is even proposing such legislation is a huge step in the right direction.

Turnips and a radish

Turnips and a radish

Closer to home, I pulled the turnips today. One huge one and three radish sized ones and an actual radish that’s a bit deformed. Bookman is going to boil them and mash them up with a potato to have with dinner tonight. Yum.

We do not rake our leaves up from the yard. We rake them off the sidewalk only. This year we are putting the sidewalk leaves in the chicken garden. Remember it is all sand? We covered it in wood chips in August but those take so long to decompose. Now we are adding leaves. And since it has been windy these last couple of days and the neighbor across the alley from us has a huge tree in their backyard that dropped its leaves, a good many of them blew over and caught themselves along our new chain link fence. I raked them all off the fence and deposited them in the chicken garden while thanking the neighbor’s tree for the donation to our soil-building project.

Bookman and I spent quite a lot of time today looking at pictures of rafters on the internet and discussing physics and geometry. We are ready to frame the roof on the chicken coop and run and sine we are building it as a green roof we have to account for extra weight. What’s the best and easiest way to build five rafters? Lots of rafters are notched on the end of the board that sits on the structure’s frame. Do we need to do that? Also, how steep do we want the pitch of the roof?

Geometry in action

Geometry in action

We decided from roof peak to frame would be a foot which means the roof pitch is not super steep but steep enough to provide decent drainage for the green roof. So then we had to do some geometry. Kids, if you are sitting in geometry class thinking, this is so stupid, I will never need this in real life, let me tell you that you are wrong! So we worked out the math and started to cut and drill and we changed our minds about how we wanted to build the rafters from mitered triangles screwed to the frame to notched rafters sitting on the frame edge. And we got ourselves so turned around upside down and backwards that we decided to stop and have some chocolate chip cookies.

The cookies made everything better. We decided to go back to our original rafter plan of making triangles that attach to the coop frame. Much easier than figuring out how to make notches. By this time though we had worn ourselves out so we called it quits for the day on coop building. Our building progress today was conceptual rather than actual but we have to have the concept down before we can make it reality. Now we know what we need to do and how to do it so next chance we get should go more smoothly.

That’s the idea anyway.

Something bookish. I am very much looking forward to Richard Mabey’s new book The Cabaret of Plants becoming available in the U.S. The Guardian had an essay by Mabey recently in which he talks about plants and the environment and much of what he talks about is in his book. Things like how beans use echolocation to find their poles and mimosa shrubs have a greater memory-span than bees. I am all agog. I must know more! Please book, hurry up and get published!


Just a quick note about how indoor biking is going: great!

Achievement unlocked! I did a metric century on Zwift yesterday (100km/ 62.2 miles). For that I get a special jersey my avatar can wear to let everyone know about it. It was actually harder to do on my trainer than on the road. When I am riding outdoors I get to coast on the downhills and get to rest at traffic signals. On the trainer I am pedaling all the time, no stopping. I did stop halfway for about two minutes to run to the kitchen and get a couple energy bites. But golly, did I work! And sweat! Even with a fan blowing right in my face the entire ride I went through both my water bottles, something I only have ever done on the hottest days of summer. But it was good and it was fun and I got lots of kudos from other people riding at the time. The next big goal is an imperial century (100 miles/ 161km). I wonder if I can do it by New Year’s?

Filed under: biking, chickens, gardening Tagged: In which I learn that geometry and algebra are both handy real life skills to have

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23. Weekend Thoughts and Doings

I’ve been thinking about the terrorist attacks in Paris all weekend. It breaks my heart, all this hatred in the world. My deepest sympathies to the family and friends who lost loved ones and to all the people of France. I grieve with you.

I rode 65 miles/104.6 kms yesterday and it was really amazing to see the support for France offered up by the other cyclists. We all have our country’s flags that appear with our names on the rider board and people riding in France were deluged with “Ride on” thumb’s up. One rider even commented on how wonderful the support was. Many riders added “PFP” or #France or some other tag after their name. There was even talk of having a group ride against terrorism. It was a supportive communal kindness I did not expect to find in an online virtual cycling “game” and it made me glad to be part of it.

This morning Bookman was out working in the front yard cutting back perennials for the time when the snow arrives. Even though it was close to 60F/15C today, the cold and snow will eventually descend. And since I do the snow shoveling I can tell you it is a giant pain in the backside to have the dead perennials and grasses flop over onto the sidewalk and freeze there. Unfortunately Bookman’s hard work gave him a pain in the back and he barely made it into the house before he was hit with a big spasm.

He sprawled out on the floor just inside the door and lay there until the worst of it passed. I got the heating pad and arranged pillows on the couch and stood at the ready to lend a hand as he slowly struggled to get himself upright. Water and ibuprofen soon followed.

Gradually his back began to feel better and he was able to get up and carefully move around. We had plans to do the rafters on the chicken coop today and it seemed as though they were in jeopardy. However, not long after lunch Bookman decided he wanted to give the rafters a try, he needed to move around. I did all the bending and lifting and ever so carefully we managed to not only cut all the boards to build the rafters but we put all five of them together too!

Five rafters ready to install!

Five rafters ready to install!

I must say we both feel rather proud of ourselves and like we accomplished something really big. The rafters are not up on the coop itself yet, I can’t lift them up alone and Bookman was in no condition to do any lifting anyway. So getting those up will be for next Sunday which will not be nearly as nice as it was today. It appears the weather shoe is about to drop and by mid-week we will be crashing to seasonal temperatures — hard frosts at night and daytime highs only a few degrees above freezing. As long as there isn’t snow we’ll keep working.

And now for something a little different. I’ve been thinking for a few months about wanting to try my hand at essay writing. I am not keen on the idea of writing an essay and then flogging it around to different websites or magazines trying to get it published. Nor do I want to purposely write commercial pieces with a specific audience or publication in mind. I just want to write essays on whatever I feel like.

I read an article at The Guardian the other day about how the internet is an ideal home for the essay. And I thought, hmm, what if? I haven’t made it past the idea stage to execution stage yet, but my plan is to create a separate website from this blog for the purpose of essays. I’d like to aim for two a month but I don’t know if that is too ambitious. It seems like it might be. I am thinking it would be good if the site were more active than just one or two essays a month from me, and wonder if any of you might be persuaded to write an essay? It could be a one-off or perhaps you enjoy essay writing so much you might want to write a few. In my mind, I am thinking posting one essay a week would be pretty decent. Topics will not be limited to books. My intent is a site for personal essay writing to explore whatever strikes my — or possibly your — fancy.

What do you think? Even if no one wants to contribute an essay I will still be moving ahead with it for my own personal experiments in writing. It could be a wild success or a terrible failure. But to me, essays are all about the process, the attempt, as the word “essay” implies. I don’t know when I will have this new venture up and running, but it is in the works and I already have begun a list of things I want to write about. It’s a little scary, a leap into the unknown for me, but no matter what happens, I’ll be glad I at least tried.

Filed under: biking, chickens, Essays Tagged: France

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24. Rain Barrel Ice Cubes

I probably should have known better. But so many weeks of mild weather lulled me into complacency. Each weekend I thought, I should empty the rain barrels. But the forecast for the week would be warm and I’d think, eh, I’ll do it next weekend. The last two days we did not get above freezing and Bookman went out this morning to drain the barrels. Too late. Both of them are frozen solid. How could that be? How could 55 gallons of water freeze solid in two days? Well it did. We were hoping for some melt today but the high only made it to 33F/.5C. However, the forecast for the next few days says nights below freezing but days above. So. We opened the hose valves on the barrels for the water to drain should it melt. I hope it melts. Then we can tip the barrels upside down to keep snow out of them and set them up again in spring. Hopefully this one freeze won’t spilt the barrels. Plastic, even when it is thick, is surprisingly fragile when it freezes.

Butterfly weed seeds

Butterfly weed seeds

During the week I noticed the butterfly weed pods split open. I have one in the front yard and have never seen it do this, probably because by late summer it gets hidden by the taller purple coneflowers. At first I thought it was milkweed and for the life of me could not remember milkweed growing there at all. I was beginning to doubt my memory when I looked up butterfly weed on the internet and discovered, yes, it does have pods that burst open and looks remarkably like milkweed. I also discovered that the plants really like sandy soil which explains why it is doing so well where I planted it in the back garden, the soil in its bed is pretty sandy. This is a happy stroke of luck. I have a chicken garden that is full of sand buried beneath woodchips and leaves. Some of those seeds are going to get scattered along the sandy margins this week. Come spring I just have to remember where they got planted so if they actually sprout, I won’t accidentally pull them up thinking they are a random unwanted weed.

Speaking of the chickens, Bookman and I went out to work on the coop this afternoon. While our bodies were warmly layered, our hands were not. Work gloves are not insulated and one cannot build in mittens. So we got two rafter support beams up before our hands were so numb we could no longer feel them. Barring any surprise “warm” days or December/January thaws, our coop building is done until spring. We didn’t get as much done as I had hoped, but we made pretty good progress considering we have never done anything like this before. If we don’t get the rafters attached before spring, that will be first on the agenda. Then the fun with plywood and foam insulation begins. We bought a jigsaw in preparation for cutting holes in the plywood sheets for windows, doors and vents. Fun times ahead for spring!

Will you be surprised to know I am already thinking about what to plant in the garden next year? That early seed catalog I got? I’ve paged through it all and marked it all up. I’m planning on trying a new to me green bean in the garden, a variety called “masai” that I have heard is tasty and has a very high yield. I also just read a Mother Earth News article about turnips and learned there are small turnips about the size of a golfball that are mostly Japanese varieties that can be eaten fresh, even sliced up like water chestnuts and used in stir fries for a bit of crunch. This has made me far more excited than I should be. After two years of not having much success with parsnips, I have decided to toss those out and plant more turnips which I do have success with. So next year I’ll plant the big late season turnips and the small early season ones too.

And then of course I am planning what to grow on the green roof of the chicken coop. I decided to have a purple/blue and orange color scheme. All the plants have to be drought tolerant and low growing. So far I have decided on blue fescue grass, pussytoes, pasque flower and catmint (not a cat-attracting variety!). Next autumn I will plant spring blooming bulbs of Siberian squill, grape hyacinth, and orange species tulips. The roof is 10 feet/3 m long and about 2.5 feet/.8 m from peak to edge. I am planting both sides of it so have lots of area to play with and all winter to imagine and plan. If you could see me as I type this, I have the biggest, dopiest grin on my face.

I am still reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I am reading it little bits at a time and I hope, as the gardening posts become few and far between for a while, you won’t mind me updating you on my progress through this beautiful book and the occasional quote. This one is from the chapter called “Seeing:”

It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you rig a giant sail and go. The secret to seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.

Isn’t that a beautiful image?


Biking on the trainer is going great. Zwift added a bunch of workouts a couple weeks ago and I thought I would give one of them a try. I chose an intervals workout that was 60 minutes long. The workout Zwift gives me is based on my FTP (functional threshold power). I expected it would be hard, but holy Lance Armstrong Batman! After the first two intervals I was sucking wind so bad I could not get my watts up to where they were supposed to be. The screen kept flashing “More Power” in big read letters. I yelled at my legs like Captain Kirk to Scottie, “Give me more power!” And my legs yelled back, “I’m givin’ ye all she’s got Cap’n!” And then the five minute interval would be over and “Fail!” would flash up on the screen in big red letters. To my credit I didn’t give up. I failed interval after interval right up to the end. I am apparently not the only one who is having problems because this week a new workout was added: 6-week ftp for beginners. Ha! As the name implies, it is a six-week workout training to improve ftp. I have decided to embark on that in January.

At the moment my riding plan is to add 5 miles/8 km to my Saturday ride each week through the end of the year. Have I mentioned this yet? Sorry if I am repeating myself. Anyway, by doing that I will be putting in a 100 mile/161 km ride on January 3rd. Yesterday I did 70 miles/112.7 km. I’ve done that far on Astrid outdoors but that included rest stops. Yesterday my only rest was a quick bathroom break. My legs were tired but my rear end was a bit sore. A hot shower never felt so good. Everything is feeling just fine today, but then I haven’t gotten on the trainer yet. That will be the real test.

That I think all of this is a whole lot of fun is utterly amazing to me. If this time last year you would have told me about this I would have called you crazy. Now it seems I am the crazy one.

Filed under: biking, chickens, gardening Tagged: Annie Dillard, green roof, Zwift

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25. The Rider

cover artI don’t remember where I heard about The Rider by Tim Krabbé. I feel like a broken record lately, how many times have I begun a post “I don’t remember where I heard about this book…”? It is beginning to get ridiculous and I should just stop. Does anyone even care how I found out about a book? I think I am just being lazy with opening sentences.

The Rider is anything but lazy. Along with being a chess champion and novelist, Krabbé also had a career as a professional bicycle racer. He got started in racing late in life at the age of thirty. Thirty is not old but to begin racing professionally at that age, not very common. He had talent though and made a good showing. This book is a kind of memoir of his racing and is it ever good.

The brilliance of the book is how it is structured. Krabbé begins with his arrival before the Tour de Mont Aigoual, a 137 kilometer race that climbs one of the highest peaks in the Cévennes. It is June 26, 1977, cool and cloudy. All the other riders are gathering and warming up. We get some of the dirt on who is good at doing what, who is young and ambitious and who has been around a long time and starting to lose their edge. We get pre-race jitters. They line up and then they are off.

And the narrative changes to a different time in Krabbé’s life in 1973. And then we are back in the race at kilometers 25-30 and back and forth the narrative goes between the race and the events that got him there, past races, past sports experiences when he was a child, histories of other riders and races. Having the narrative of one race interspersed with other things really works to ratchet up the suspense and by the time it gets to the end of the race I didn’t want to put the book down.

You may wonder what anyone could possibly have to say about a 137 kilometer bicycle race. I did. But wow, is it interesting. We get an insider’s view of what it is like to ride in the peloton — I was surprised to learn how much they talk to each other, just chatting to pass the time. We also get racing strategy — most of the time it has nothing to do with how fast you ca go. We learn about how terrifying it is to descend mountains on curving, wet roads. And we learn about what it means to suffer on the bike.

I read a lot about suffering and cycling, a lot of cyclists glorify it. Strava even lets you assign a suffer score to your rides as though the more you suffer the better cyclist you are. I have never understood about the suffering. I understand a little better now.

When you are racing 137 kilometers through the mountains there will be suffering. Your legs are going to hurt and many times you are going to feel as though you have nothing left but the race is not over yet and you can’t quit so somehow you find the will to keep pedaling; pedaling up the mountain, through the wind and the rain and the rain that turns to snow and the cold that settles into you in spite of how hard you are working so that you can’t even feel your hands on your handlebars anymore and can’t feel whether or not you are actually squeezing the brakes enough to keep you from crashing as you get ready to go through a sharp downhill turn on a wet road, can’t feel your feet or your face, or anything but the pain in your tired, cold legs that somehow keep pedaling.

I’ve heard before that bicycle road racing is all about who can suffer the most and longest. It now makes more sense. If racing is about suffering then why do it? Valid question. Krabbé says alpinists have it easy, when asked why they climb mountains and they say “because it is there,” people let them off the hook as though their reason has some deep and mystical meaning. Cyclists have no simple answer and can’t easily explain why they do what they do. It’s multiple reasons, because they can, because it is a challenge, because it is a test of will, because

after the finish all suffering turns to memories of pleasure, and the greater the suffering, the greater the pleasure. That is Nature’s payback to riders for the homage they pay her by suffering. Velvet pillows, safari parks, sunglasses: people have become woolly mice. They still have bodies that can walk for five days and four nights through a desert of snow, without food, but they accept praise for having taken a one-hour bicycle ride. ‘Good for you.’ Instead of expressing their gratitude for the rain by getting wet, people walk around with umbrellas. Nature is an old lady with few suitors these days, and those who wish to make use of her charms she rewards passionately.

He also calls suffering an art.

Doesn’t that make you want to jump on a bike and ride?

The only other book about cycling I have ever read is Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About the Bike. I read it long before he admitted to doping when he was still an amazing cyclist with an amazing story. It was a good book as far as the story goes, the writing itself was straightforward and so-so and I am pretty sure Armstrong had help writing it. Krabbé’s book is so much better. It reads almost like a suspense novel. And it is good not just because the story is interesting but because it is well-written too.

You don’t have to be a cyclist to enjoy the book but it certainly helps. But even if you don’t ride a bike and just enjoy being a spectator the book is a lot of fun. Krabbé is Dutch. I’ll have to check if my library has any of his novels that have been translated into English and give one a try. If you know of any other good books about cycling, I’d love to hear about them, fiction or nonfiction!

Filed under: biking, Books, Memoir/Biography, Nonfiction, Reviews

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