Gaston's Tavern

Tales from Gaston’s Tavern: Birthday Bunny

According to the animal shelter, October 2, 2016, was Gaston’s 3rd birthday. I don’t know how they knew but that’s fine with us. Our birthdays are also on the second day of our birthday months, so it fit in nicely. And it was a fun excuse to buy him a new toy and give him a raspberry. But only one – he’s too small to get more fresh fruit than that!

Birthday Treat!

Birthday Treat!

Exploring his new birthday cozy hideout, in his front yard

Exploring his new birthday cozy hideout, in his front yard

It’s also been just over 6 weeks since we adopted Gaston – and a somewhat traumatic 6 weeks it’s been! Oral antibiotics and eye cream for an eye infection stressed all of us out, and I’m still worried because his eyes are still a bit watery, which mats the fur around his eyes. Between trying to wipe his eyes and eye drops, we still aren’t bonding as well as I’d like. Unless I have a snack. The health trauma was intensified when we took him back to the vet, who trimmed the fur around his eyes and trimmed his nails. Gaston didn’t speak to us for days.

Gaston at the vet

Gaston at the vet

But the lucky bunny got a fancy new tavern earlier this month! The Mechanic turned carpenter and built a wonderful, two-story pen on wheels, with vinyl floors and a carpet-covered ramp.

My contribution - covering the floor with vinyl

My contribution – covering the floor with vinyl

Gaston's Tavern

Gaston’s Tavern

Because we used exercise pen wire panels, The Mechanic was able to create four sets of doors – two on top and two on bottom. This makes it easier to get into to clean and play with Gaston. We are both hugely pleased with how it turned out! Gaston loves running up and down the ramp.

The top level is not this clean any more, after he destroyed the paper bag full of hay and scattered it everywhere!

The top level is not this clean any more, after he destroyed the paper bag full of hay and scattered it everywhere!

We added a “front yard” so Gaston can start to come and go as he (mostly) pleases. However, it took him about two week before he finally ventured out in it. He hasn’t taken to hanging out in it yet, but I guess he’s slow to warm up to things, so eventually we’ll see him there. The front yard is the next step to someday letting him run around the living room, but at the rate he’s going, that could be a while. That’s okay, baby steps are fine.

He finally came out, just this past weekend!

He finally came out, just this past weekend!

Gaston is quite comfortable in his tavern, however, which makes me happy.

I also created a Go Bag for him – September is National Preparedness Month, and how could I not have a box of his things, ready to go in an emergency? I need to add some more things but it has the basics, including a towel, food pellets and some hay. gastons-go-boxI’ve been much less productive since we got Gaston – all I want to do is sit and watch him, or talk to him, pet him, and try to get him to play with his toys. petting-gastonIt’s fun to watch his personality emerge, and I’m excited to see what adventures we’ll have as he begins to play with us more. Someday, I hope, he’ll be snuggling with us on the couch! #bunnylove

Wonderful new fabric, too!

Competing Hobbies, Different Tribes

One evening last week I braved our Metro system to go to an event at Stitch Sew Shop, a fairly new sewing store in Old Town Alexandria totally geared towards people who want make their own clothing. The event was an opportunity to meet Lisa Comfort, the sewing genius behind London company Sew Over It. Lisa’s goal with her shop is to teach as many people to sew as possible, and the store offers classes, patterns, online classes, and I believe has expanded to other cities. Her patterns have both a modern and a vintage feel. There were maybe a dozen other women who had traveled from all over the DC region (Tyson’s, Bethesda) to see Lisa and to talk sewing. Our conversation ranged from the fall of good fabric stores to why dressmaking seems more popular in the UK to how do we teach our husbands to be better photographers?! I bought some fabric and a pattern, and returned home feeling a bit euphoric.

Lisa Comfort and one of her patterns, in Stitch Sew Shop in Alexandria, VA

Lisa Comfort and one of her patterns, in Stitch Sew Shop in Alexandria, VA

Wonderful new fabric, too!

Wonderful new fabric, too!

The evening got me thinking about the different hobbies and interests I have, and the different tribes therein. There is the bicycling world, the sewing world, and now, the bunny world. I’ve been in the bike world for several years know, admittedly on the periphery, and my interactions with the sewing world has been primarily online. And I’ve just dipped a toe in the rabbit world since adopting Gaston a month ago. And I’ve discovered something interesting.

The sewing world seems to be the most supportive and accepting. I think this is because it is the only one of these hobbies where there truly is no wrong way to do things. That’s what makes it so great – everyone’s personality and creativity is celebrated by all of us. Through blogs, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, I have found a group of people who are creative, who constantly strive to try new things, and who cheer on each other, even if the project isn’t their style. No “you shouldn’t put *those* sleeves into *that* bodice,” or “That fabric isn’t suitable for that outfit.” Nope, we are all exploring with what we love, and everyone is okay with that.

Not everyone would make (or wear!) a skirt like this, but my sewing community on Instagram loved it!

Not everyone would make (or wear!) a skirt like this, but my sewing community on Instagram loved it!

In the bicycling world, I still observe a lot of “you are doing it wrong!” attitudes, many “You aren’t doing that *my* way, therefore it’s wrong,” articles and commentary. Okay, there are some things that you shouldn’t do, like biking the wrong way in a one-way bike lane. But I hear stories from new (or not so new) cyclists about how they were treated by others on bikes, and it makes me sad that we can’t support each other’s choices. Why have some of us in the bicycle community still not learned that biking slow/short distances/old bikes/upright bikes/in street clothing/cautiously/casually is still GOOD biking? Yelling at a new rider or buzzing too close to pass them is *not* how to encourage them to keep them biking. Daily I am grateful, though, for the conscientious, supportive bike people I know. Without them, I would have left long ago.

My bicycle is an extension of my style - it expresses who I am.

My bicycle is an extension of my style – it expresses who I am.

I’m learning that bunny ownership is probably similar to parenthood – lots of people think they know best and want to make sure you know their way is best. And there are legitimately some things that you can do incorrectly with a rabbit including feeding it the wrong things (not enough hay. never enough hay), bad cages, and so on. Luckily I not only have past experience, I have a trusted source. But I also know enough to keep this group at arm’s length. Too many negative experiences in the bike world to want to get too close to this group.

This is a very relaxed and happy rabbit - we must be doing something right!

This is a very relaxed and happy rabbit – we must be doing something right!

As we interact with others who have similar interests and hobbies, I hope we can all remember to take a breath and not jump down their throats for doing whatever it is in a different manner (assuming it’s safe and legal, etc.). Really, it’s okay to be different. It’s what makes us all interesting people.

Not everyone would wear this, either, but everyone loves it! (Can we talk about how adorable the star purse is?!?!)

Not everyone would wear this, either, but everyone loves it! (Can we talk about how adorable the star purse is?!?!)

I think this is where bikes go to die. None of them appear to be ridden recently and some are clearly missing parts. Perhaps if these owners had had proper storage, this would no longer be a pile of nearly useless bikes.

Need for Better Bike Storage in Apartments

Arlington County is doing a great job of encouraging more residents to bike more often. Between the ever-present roadies on expensive bikes wearing expensive kit and the low income people who have few better transportation options grows a population of people in between who are spending more and more time on their bikes.

But while this is great for those who live in dwellings with garages or other storage options, people in apartment buildings, especially in lower income apartment buildings, have considerably fewer options. New bike-friendly apartments are all the rage – if you can afford them. For the rest of us, we have to make do with the little we can scrounge.

A survey of a few blocks in Arlington show how badly needed proper bike storage is:

I think this is where bikes go to die. None of them appear to be ridden recently and some are clearly missing parts. Perhaps if these owners had had proper storage, this would no longer be a pile of nearly useless bikes.

I think this is where bikes go to die. None of them appear to be ridden recently and some are clearly missing parts. Perhaps if these owners had had proper storage, this would no longer be a pile of nearly useless bikes.

Some of these bikes might get more use, as well as the covered scooter. But I suspect that those kids' toys get used more.

Some of these bikes might get more use, as well as the covered scooter. But I suspect that those kids’ toys get used more.

These bikes look like they are in better shape. And the fact that one has a baby seat suggests that it's used more frequently.

These bikes look like they are in better shape. And the fact that one has a baby seat suggests that it’s used more frequently.

We watched this apartment complex get renovated and these new bike racks installed. I bet the residents were thrilled to have so much space for their bikes. Too bad covered bike storage wasn't installed instead.

We watched this older apartment complex get renovated and these new bike racks installed. I bet the residents were thrilled to have so much space for their bikes. Too bad covered bike racks weren’t installed instead.

Speaking of covered bike storage - they could build fancy fences and covers for the dumpsters but not for the bikes?!?

Speaking of covered bike racks – they could build fancy fences and covers for the dumpsters but not for the bikes?!?

Surrounding a nearby new and "nicer" apartment complex are bike racks labeled "temporary." But who can blame the residents from parking their bikes there?!

Surrounding a nearby new and “nicer” apartment complex are bike racks labeled “temporary.” But who can blame the residents from parking their bikes there?!

"Temp. bike parking - 4hrs max" - yeah right.

“Temp. bike parking – 4hrs max” – yeah right.

Rusty chain at a "temporary" bike rack suggests otherwise...

Rusty chain at a “temporary” bike rack suggests otherwise…

Well, where *do* you store your baby trailer when you aren't using it? For a small apartment, that's a big piece of equipment that can't easily get hauled up stairs. And once in an apartment - it's probably as big as a kitchen table.

Well, where *do* you store your baby trailer when you aren’t using it? For a small apartment, that’s a big piece of equipment that can’t easily get hauled up stairs. And once in an apartment – it’s probably as big as a kitchen table.

No doubt the bike racks next to this bus stop were intended for individuals to bike to the bus stop, to ease commute options. Now, however, it's yet another pile of dead bikes.

No doubt the bike racks next to this bus stop were intended for individuals to bike to the bus stop, a good “first mile/last mile” solution. Now, however, it’s yet another pile of dead bikes of nearby residents.

If the bike rack you are supposed to use is overly crowded, and you don't want to carry your bike upstairs, and don't have a place in your apartment, a sign pole works fine, right?

If the bike rack you are supposed to use is overly crowded, and you don’t want to carry your bike upstairs, and don’t have a place in your apartment, a sign pole is your best bet.

There's always the tree storage method.

There’s always the tree storage method.

Not everyone is as obsessed with dedicated to their bikes as The Mechanic and I, nor as willing to have bicycles as part of their interior design. But as this area becomes more bike-friendly, those who build and manage apartment buildings, especially affordable housing apartments, need to provide better bike storage. Why? I would summarize into two main points: maintenance and vandalism.

  • Maintenance. Unlike cars, which have their gears covered in sheets of metal, the functioning parts of bicycles are predominantly exposed to the elements. Fully enclosed chain cases are the exception here in the US, rather than the norm. Having seen the bike storage scenario in Copenhagen, I understand the popularity of chain cases so much better. But if your bike is left in the rain or snow for any length of time,  you are risking rusty parts, which will make it much less easier (and fun) to jump on your bike and go. If you aren’t a bicycle mechanic and can’t afford one, you are kinda screwed once your bike gets into bad shape. Replacing chains and other metal parts can set you back even at the best of times, and if you are already cash-strapped, well, good luck. You wouldn’t want to get into a car full of snow, would you? So why would you expect someone to get on a bike covered in snow?
  • Vandalism. In some ways, vandalism is worse than outright theft, which of course no one wants at all, and which is why properly locking your bike is important. But vandalism – missing rear wheel, seat stolen, pedals, even lights. Missing small pieces can add up to a very unrideable bike that either your insurance won’t cover or you don’t know how to replace or can’t afford to. Losing lights means possibly riding in the dark. Losing the seat makes for a very uncomfortable ride home or bus ride. Any sort of vandalism probably lead many people to abandoning their bike all together.

I don’t want to get into theft because there is a lot going on with locks and proper locking, but obviously any bike left outside unattended for a period of time is more vulnerable to theft than a car would be. It’s easier to steal a bike – no one notices, and they are easier to hide or throw in the back of a truck or whatever. Homeowner and renters insurance doesn’t cover a bike the way it covers a car, either.

Apartment developers and property managers should really consider installing bike lockers or at least provide covered bike parking, especially if they manage properties that have heavily used bike racks. High end buildings are beginning to offer free bike storage so there is no reason why the lower income apartments, including the historic garden style apartments, can’t provide bike lockers. At minimum, provide more racks – as shown in these photos, a few racks and a pair of staples here and there are not providing enough for the need. You can’t expect me to believe that rows of bike lockers are uglier than these piles of abandoned bikes. Charge a minimal fee, if you must – we pay an extra $10 a month to have a 4×4 storage cube. I bet apartments that can provide better bike parking solutions will have lines of happy prospective tenants.

This poor bike is a friend's - we had biked to dinner together in DC...

A common sight…






New Reflective Fabric Sources

The hunt for decent reflective fabric is an ongoing obsession, and a sometimes frustrating one (it’s really hard to find!). But lately I have found two great resources that I want to share.

The first option isn’t really new. I have known about Seattle Fabrics, Inc., for a while, but I’ve never ordered from them. So I finally did and wish I hadn’t waited so long! It’s not the prettiest website but they have several reflective options. Alas,  you can’t really search for them on the website, but if you look under “New Arrivals,” and keep scrolling down, you will see “reflective piping tape” in several different colors. I’m pretty excited about these, since they look like they will be easier to sew into seams than piping or the heavy reflective fabric bias tape that I make. The reflective bits are only on one side, just keep in mind. I ordered navy, gray and black, and I wish I’d ordered more of the navy.

Reflective Piping Tape

Reflective Piping Tape

seattle-fabric-3I also ordered several yards of their reflective piping, because although working with piping is not my favorite thing, there is no denying the amazing reflective power of reflective piping. seattle-fabric-2

I mean, WOW

I mean, WOW

You can also order a sample pack of what they offer, and I swear I saw a listing for reflective material, but I can’t seem to find it now. Definitely check it out!

The other new source is none other than Mood Fabrics! Are we going to see reflective fashion on Project Runway soon?!? This is fabulous, because they are selling several different colors of reflective fabrics – but hurry! The blue and the red are almost sold out! I ordered two yards of the blue, a yard of the red and a yard of the brown-gold. I have no idea what I’ll do with them yet but I DON’T CARE. It’s sooo hard to find this, especially in colors, that even at this price (which was a bit eyewatering 0_o). But I also got a free Mood tote and a “Made with Mood” label, so that’s fun.

Pretty colors!

Pretty colors!


It's even pretty reflecting. Somehow this makes me think of a Cinderella dress....

It’s even pretty reflecting. Somehow this makes me think of a Cinderella dress….

I don’t really know yet what I will do with any of these new acquisitions, but I’m happy to see my reflective stash grow. And the timing was right – I just used some black reflective tape (marketed for motorcycle safety) for the first time, in my new Zeus skirt. It looks pretty cool with the lightening-esque design of the fabric. (This skirt is a bit too narrow and short to be a good bike skirt, but will always be good walking around in the evening.)

So make haste to Mood Fabrics! Maybe the demand will convince them to restock. We need our reflective options!!!


Gaston 4

New Blog Series: Adventures of Gaston

It was bound to happen eventually – I got a rabbit.

I had rabbits years ago, when I lived in New York and knew nothing about them. When Tobie, my beloved lop, died in 2007, I knew it would be a long time before I had another, and in our current apartment, I didn’t really think we had the space. But…. the bunny longing increased, and I would occasionally haunt the Animal Welfare League of Arlington‘s website, to see what sweet bunnies they would have. It wasn’t until recently that I found The Right One.

Look at all that fluff!

Look at all that fluff!

It wasn’t too hard to convince The Mechanic to go look at bunnies, and we brought this little fuzz ball home August 26, 2016. A whopping 3lbs, we named him Gaston – a nod to lionhead rabbits‘ Belgian origins, as well as something a bit sinister to counter his small fluffy size. Belle’s nemesis in “Beauty and the Beast” wasn’t very nice but this Gaston is just as sweet as can be.

Nope, not a cat!

Nope, not a cat!

Hello, I am Gaston!

Hello, I am Gaston!

The Mechanic was picking on me, because I’ve always sworn that my bike Fauntleroy would stay in the living room, but didn’t blink when it came time to give Gaston space for his pen. Poor Fauntleroy has joined the other bikes in the storage space. And promptly got a flat tire. His way of getting back at me, I’m sure.

Gaston takes over

Gaston takes over

We have had two major adventure so far, in the short time we’ve had him. The first was to the vet, and the other is the construction of a custom pen.

Gaston needed a vet appointment as part of his adoption agreement, but since I suspected he had an eye inflection that was just as well. He did really well on his Lyft ride to Paws, Purrs and Exotics Animal Hospital, in Old Town Alexandria, where the vet determined that yes, he does have an eye infection. Now we have to give him oral antibiotics and put cream in his eyes twice a day for two weeks. No one is really happy about this arrangement. But Gaston sat quietly in my lap while we were at the vet, and has been fairly good about the medication process. (Confession – I ran into Stitch Sew Shop with him after his appointment… I couldn’t be *that* close to the store and not stop by! So he’s already learning about the sewing addiction.)

The Mechanic decided that he would build a two-story pen for Gaston, and over Labor Day weekend, we went to Home Depot and JoAnn Fabrics to stock up on supplies. Me being me, I had to get thematic and color-coordinated fabrics for the vinyl floor and blankets and rugs. I’m definitely working the Gaston’s Tavern theme – think woods and rustic and reds.

We will work on his pen and continue his medications, and try to get some improved litter box habits this month. And just spend time hanging out next to his pen, watching him and trying to get to know each other. I’m so excited by this fuzzy bunny! I’m very happy to have a rabbit in my life again.

Follow our adventures on Instagram and Twitter #gastonthelionhead

Follow our adventures on Instagram and Twitter #gastonthelionhead

THe Save


MCalls dress trim and button

Reflective Bike Dress Success! Mostly…

It’s been a while since I’ve made a garment that I’ve been so pleased with. My McCalls 6520 chambray dress (Version A in this out of print pattern) has been on my summer sewing list for a while, so I was glad to finally get it done. But not having enough time to sit and sew for days on end, I ended up doing this in pieces and parts, which may be why it ended up being so well made (for me). Mcalls 6520 frontMcalls 6520 backThe pattern called for the waistband on the outside of the dress, so I didn’t make that part up, just used reflective fabric. But I did add the reflective bias to the back raglan sleeve seams! I couldn’t decided and am very glad I did. It looks great! I didn’t alter the pattern much, other than add a teeny bit of fullness to the back skirt part, since I was concerned about it being too snug across my hips and bum. Since the drawstring pulls in the waist, the extra gathers aren’t noticeable when I’m wearing it. Mcalls 6520 back gathersI was a bit nervous about the button placket in the front, since I don’t love the button hole function on my machine. But I think they turned out well, and are covered up by the clear flower buttons anyway. Another win! MCalls dress trim and buttonSure, it’s cute, but how does it reflect and wear?!?!?

Well, the reflective parts are pretty cool. MCalls dress front reflectiveMcCalls dress back reflectiveMCalls 6520 back reflectingHow it wears is the only downside. It’s not terrible on the bike…

…but it’s not great sitting at my desk. The bottom button has quite a bit of strain on it. I try not to think about it being my hips or butt…

See the strain? I'm going to have to reinforce this somehow but haven't quite decided how.

See the strain? I’m going to have to reinforce this somehow but haven’t quite decided how.

At least on the bike I can pull it up a bit (and show off my Bikie Girl Bloomers!)

At least on the bike I can pull it up a bit (and show off my Bikie Girl Bloomers!)

Although sitting in it isn’t ideal I have a sit/stand desk so I just need to make sure I stand most of the day. And not run after a bus or anything. But regardless of this one functional flaw, I really love this dress! It is lovely now in the hot weather and will be cute in the fall with a turtleneck and tights. Three cheers for a multi-seasonal garment!

Also, how cute it is with this little star purse from Target? Found it in the kids’ section. Star Purse

Hill House Inn

On The Trail of Jessica Fletcher

A week ago, I flew home to Sacramento, CA, to surprise my mother on her <significant age> birthday. My dad and I had been plotting for months, so I was pleased that my mom really was surprised. Yay! And Happy Birthday Mom!

Celebratory lemon squares I ordered from a friend and had shipped in time so that I could splurge as well!

Celebratory lemon squares I ordered from a friend’s business and had shipped in time so that I could splurge as well!

My dad and I debated a while about what to do the brief time I was there, and finally decided on our family favorite destination, Mendocino, on the California coast north of San Francisco. As a family, we have been going there for about 30 years – at first we would rent a house in town for the week of Thanksgiving, and a week in the summer. Parking the car and wandering the town and coastline was worth the four hour drive from Sacramento. Mendocino is completely My Happy Place. The Victorian village overlooking the wild Northern California coast is as picturesque as it always has been. In fact, the foggy town has been the filming location of many a movie and tv show – one summer we watched Julia Roberts in a convertible drive down the street over and over as they filmed “Dying Young.”

I love this view...

I love this view…

A very famous 1980s TV show was filmed here, “Murder, She Wrote‘” starring Angela Lansbury as mystery writer Jessica Fletcher. We never actually saw any filming, but Mendocino stood in for Jessica Fletcher’s town of Cabot Cove, Maine from 1982-1996, years we definitely vacationed there. We knew “her” house and Hill House Inn, as well as the iconic streetscape of the town. Earlier this year, I binge-watched almost every episode of “Murder, She Wrote” while working on some sewing projects. So deciding to take my mom there for her birthday was not only a no-brainer, but a chance to see some of those famous Cabot Cove sights!

Blair House, aka, Jessica Fletcher's house

Blair House, aka, Jessica Fletcher’s house

Angela Truffles

It’s clear the town hasn’t forgotten about it’s famous (and rather deadly!) past. And I certainly hadn’t forgotten my past in Mendocino – most of the trip consisted of “remember the time…” Over the years, we rented many houses in the middle of town, and more recently, stayed in hotels outside of town. We’ve seen the stores change hands, or stay the same, and the coastline change, but mostly stay the same….

Looking back at Mendocino

Looking back at Mendocino

View in town

View in town

Our favorite shoe store is still there!

Our favorite shoe store is still there!

It was so nice to be home for a while, and to enjoy the rough, foggy coast (bundled up while Washington, DC, sweltered in miserable heat!). Being back in Mendocino made me want to rewatch all the “Murder, She Wrote” episodes – when we got back to Sacramento, I did make my parents watch one that was set in “Cabot Cove” so we could see the sights. I have to confess, I rather enjoyed Jessica Fletcher’s style, since it reminded me of what I wore in high school and college. It was fun to relive the location of special family history, and a television heroine as well. I feel like there were many lessons to be learned from Jessica Fletcher, and that’s part of what makes me want to watch the series again. Being where she once was, decades ago, makes her more alive. I am not the kind of person to make a random pilgrimage of someone I admire, but well, given the chance to see Mrs. Fletcher’s stomping grounds, how could I resist? Add in my favorite place in the entire world, and it was an easy choice. Oh, and celebrate with my mom! I love you Mom!

2016 Mendocino Tiki

I have pictures taken next to this character going back to the 1980s! It’s Tradition!


Mysterious Fabrics

Magical, Mystical, Mysterious…

All I want to do right now is this: Mysterious FabricsWhen I should be doing this:

I’m totally ready to start my fall/winter sewing list! But I need to finish my summer projects first. Luckily, it stays hot warm through at least the beginning of October, so I have a few weeks left to wear summer clothes. Plus, I’m more excited than I expected with how the top of my dress has turned out, so I really want to finish that up.

But I guess I’m always happiest planning, so a’planning I will go.

I decided to go with a theme for my fall/winter sewing: Magical, mystical, mysterious. Inspired in part by the Spoonflower fabric that I am obsessed with (yet can’t find the perfect pattern for), I decided that everything should either be dark and moody florals or mysterious and mythical beasts.

Kinda obsessed with this print!

Still obsessed with this print!

Think dark, foggy woods, curling ferns, dropping trees, anything Alexander McQueen, draping vines full of intensely colored blooms, overgrown English gardens in the moonlight, mysterious creature seen at a distance through dark trees… think fanciful creatures… landscapes that make you shiver in fear… or delight… I want to evoke a magical, mystical atmosphere – which I will be wearing in the bright dullness of my office.

I’ve been eyeballing this Pegasus rayon print by Fibs & Fables for a while, so I just went ahead and ordered it from Stonemountain and Daughter Fabrics. I think it will be the perfect fabric for the high collared, Victorian-feeling Simplicity blouse pattern I have. PegasusThe colors are much more vivid in person; I can’t get the color to adjust properly. But isn’t this rayon lovely and fun?!

I feel in love with this dark, mysterious floral print as soon as I saw it on It’s a heavy ponte knit and I have no idea what I’ll do with it, but I had to have it. It’s exactly the mood I was thinking about. I have enough that I could do the McCalls 6844 cardigan that I’ve been thinking about for a while, but on the other hand, maybe I don’t want it as a cardigan, but more like a sweatshirt. But fitted. Well, whatever it ends up as will be lovely and just *perfect*! Mysterious Floral KnitThe last piece of new fabric is a navy corduroy, which will be a perfect, knee-length A-line skirt. I’ll need to line it, and maybe I’ll think about pockets. I’ll use the same Kwik Sew 3877 that I have used before – easy breezy. This will be a very practical – yet mysterious – cooler weather skirt. Navy Corduroy

That’s perhaps waaaaaay too many sewing projects to have lined up, and what’s worse, I haven’t even thought about how to make them reflective! So I need to cut myself off for a while so I can get some things done.

But it’s going to be hard to focus, when these lovely mysterious fabrics call to me…

Biketown 2

Biketown at the Bitter End

I was in Portland, Oregon, one of the bikiest towns in the United States and home to a brand new bikeshare system, for five days before I finally got a chance to ride a bike! I was getting worried that it would never happen. Then, at the bitter end, as the sun began to set, some friends and I jumped on bright orange Biketown bikes and did a quick ride over the Tilikum Bridge, “Bridge of the People,” a bridge newly opened for pedestrians, bike-riders and the streetcar. It was an amazing moment.

Oh what a beautiful car-free bridge...

Oh what a beautiful car-free bridge…

Portland has only had their Nike-sponsored bikeshare system for about two weeks now, but despite it being brand new when we (“we” being almost 500 members of the Association for Commuter Transportation) arrived, it seems like Portlanders have taken to it like, well, Portlanders to bicycles. Everywhere we saw half-empty and empty docks, people out on orange bikes, and occasionally, a Biketown bike locked up to a public rack – because they come with U-locks and can do that. !!!! So great!

So what were the bikes like to ride? The bicycles themselves are Social Bicycles, a bikeshare system that uses both smart bikes and smart docks. They all have computers on the back of them, where you enter your rider code. In my case, I chose a one-trip ride from the kiosk, then was given a code to unlock the bike. If you have an annual membership and the app, I’m sure you have a regular code, but I’m not sure. The bikes have larger, usable baskets, which fit my color-coordinated orange purse perfectly. The bike felt very upright to me, which I like, and the handlebars are much narrower than I’m use to. Although that didn’t bother me, I kept smacking my ankles as I pedaled, something confirmed by a friend. Not sure what that’s about. Smooth shifting, smooth riding, really easy system, although a bit hard to see in the dark where the U-lock needed to go to lock up at the end of my trip!

Given the ability to lock the bike up wherever you are, I can see getting a ton of use out of this system. It’s just a shame I didn’t get to test it out better!

Biketown bikes were not the only cool transportation feature around town. Of course, we all oogled the green lanes and bike boxes everywhere we went. Most of us sighed in envy…

In addition, Portland has streetcars, light rail AND an aerial tram, on top of what seemed to be an extensive bus system. The streetcars had hooks to hang bikes, although you know how much I dislike those. Nevertheless, with huge amounts of people on bikes, they are doing something to be accommodating. I spotted bike lockers in front of a public parking garage, a seat built into a bus sign pole, and signs everywhere declaring the sidewalks for pedestrians only (I suspect that has something to do with the large number of homeless people we saw in the downtown area, though).

I wish I had more time to run around Portland and see the rest of the transportation infrastructure, but it was a really good and really busy conference, so I’m not upset. But I did get to do more than just conference stuff and study transit options – our conference hotel was close to both Voodoo Donuts and Blue Star Donuts, and one of the conference tours included the Portland International Rose Test Garden. I could have stayed there forever – the air was so fragrant!

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Keeping busy with the conference wasn’t the worst thing, of course, but I do look forward to returning someday to really explore the city by Biketown bikeshare. There are indie fabric stores and bike shops everywhere that I never go to, and I didn’t dare step into Powell Books on this trip. I think I need to go back and smell the roses again, too. But I won’t wait so long to jump on a bike next time!Bike Sculpture

Buca Boot - Secure Lock (low res)

Getting to Know… Buca Boot!

I admit it, I’m lazy. Part of the reason why I actually dislike running errands by bike on my way home from work is because I hate having to drag all my stuff around every time I shop. At minimum, I will have with me my breakfast and/or lunch containers shoved in my pannier, along with a toiletries bag and emergency kit. That is, I’ve almost always got a pannier and a purse. Am I the only one who can’t ever leave the house with just an itty bitty purse?!

So when the ladies of Buca Boot reached out to me, I was quite intrigued. The Buca Boot is a hard, lockable case that attaches to your bike’s back rack, and the fabric sides are pockets that expand for carrying larger items while the case is open (for those days you overdo it at Trader Joe’s!). It’s pretty ingenious. Founder Kathryn Carlson said, “I assumed someone must have already created a product like the one I envisioned….I mean, what cyclist wouldn’t want to be able to leave their stuff securely on their bike?” It’s like she knows me! For the record – I Googled around and couldn’t find anything else like this.

Buca Boot - Hero Red

The Buca Boot! All photos courtesy of Buca Boot

I had the opportunity to ask Kathryn some questions, questions that weren’t covered in the extremely detailed website. Some of my questions were about the process, while some where about safety, security and the Boot itself. Here in her own words:

Some thoughts on how the entire process, from idea to completed Kickstarter, went, as if you were giving advice to any other bike style entrepreneur-wanna be.

In one word, the process was…long! I had the idea for the Buca Boot ten years ago while in grad school in London. But, after not being able to find a bike storage solution that was lockable, versatile and stylish, a friend said to me, “If no one else is making it, why don’t you?” And so the journey began….

I had to learn so much, since I’m an economist by training and had been working in finance building spreadsheets as opposed to physical products. I started by talking to everyone I knew who had some connection to engineering and industrial design and working networks and contacts to find the right collaborators.

When we finally got the team together, it took about 6 months to get to the first prototype and we were pretty psyched when it arrived. It looked great and seemed to do what we wanted it to. But it was during the filming of our Kickstarter video that we really tested that prototype. Two solid days of filming…opening & closing the Buca Boot over and over, dropping bikes, riding around New York City, etc…gave us real insight into what had to change. It’s why the final product both has a slightly different look but also is much more durable and secure than what we actually showed on our Kickstarter campaign. Buca Boot Red

In terms of launching an actual Kickstarter, my best advice is to prepare professionally. Approach it as if it’s a full-time job and don’t assume you will go viral. It will be amazing if you do, but most crowdfunding campaigns don’t, you’re going to have to work hard to reach your goal.

Some key things that we found to be important in terms of a crowdfunding campaign were:  1) an engaging explanatory video, 2) a well-designed page that makes it easy for people to understand your product and your story and 3) preparing your networks for the launch so that you get good initial momentum. Momentum is key. It’s what the story becomes. You want press coverage and they want a winner…so it’s best to reach out to the press before you launch and then hook them with good initial momentum. Boot bike street - edged v2

On a more personal level, it’s a really big endeavor, so make sure you have a good group of cheerleaders around you. We have a group of advisors that we call the “Brain Trust” who are mainly friends with relevant expertise that we need professionally. But, they are also great for the occasional pep-talk or perspective that is a necessary part of this process.

Say, for example, that I wanted to start a clothing line of my reflective fashion – what lessons learned would you suggest, and what would be the biggest one thing you could recommend?

In terms of some simple lessons learned:

  1. Everything takes longer than you think.
  1. Always remember what “problem” your product is trying to solve. It may be as much about the experience you are enabling as the product itself. For us, it’s the freedom that comes from not having to be a slave to your stuff all the time and to be able to have more convenience on your bike. For your clothing, it’s not just a dress or shirt…it’s ‘looking good while also getting to use your bike’ or ‘safety while living the way you want to’, etc…Make sure that everything you do – from product development to customer engagement – is in service of that larger goal. You’ll get stuck in the weeds occasionally – that’s the nature of trying to run a business – but if you keep the larger goal in mind your customers will respond and you’ll be providing them with a better product.
  1. And finally, and possibly most importantly, TRUST YOUR GUT. It is really important to know the difference between constructive criticism and useful feedback or just lack of vision. Buca Boot - Red - Paola On Bike

I think that for women who bike in this area, bike theft is a really big concern. I constantly read about another bike being stolen from a garage or yard or even building bike rooms. How would you address concerns about theft and potential vandalism?

Unfortunately, we haven’t solved the problem of bike theft and the weakest link is always going to be your bike lock. In terms of locks, I really like my Abus and OnGuard thick cable locks.

There has also been a ton of new development in the bike lock and bike security areas.  For example, Rejjee, another local Boston-area company, aims to be a global “lost and found”. They are creating an online database that the police and bikers can tap into to identify stolen bikes and gear. And bike lock technology is advancing with connections to smartphones, etc…I think we’ll continue to see security improve.

But, if someone steals your bike with a Buca Boot on it, they will be frustrated, since it’s really hard to get into a locked boot. During our product testing, it took us weeks to break into a Buca Boot — we had to try really hard and use a lot of different tools.  We also have customers in major cities all over North America and Europe who have been using Boot Boots in urban environments without incident.  No product is perfect, but so far, so good. Buca Boot - Secure Lock (low res)

Something I have observed is that for many women, cost is a big concern. Obviously the Buca Boot is not an inexpensive product – why should they want this over a less expensive set of panniers?

With the Buca Boot, you don’t have to make a trade-off between style and functionality.  We spent a lot of time working with outstanding design engineers to create a product that offers functionality, protection and convenience and looks great to boot (pun intended). For all of its functionality and durability, the Buca Boot is a mid-priced product that makes your bike a fully viable transportation option.  

We hope someday to be able to offer an even lower-priced product, but to create a new product and set-up a new manufacturing and supply-chain is not cheap; we appreciate consumer’s willingness to support innovative new products and we think you will find that the Buca Boot is worth every penny. Buca Boot - Studio Work

I’m really interested in trying this out and seeing how much I can store and carry in it, and I love the idea of storing my bike helmet in the truck, rather than carrying it around. The Buca Boot is not being sold in stores anywhere around here, which means you have to order it. But when you do, use code “Tin10” to get 10% off your order! That way they know Tin Lizzie sent you!

Buca Boot - Helmet