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

Greenwood Tank

Sewing Reset with Bikes

A weekend immersed in IKEA led to another weekend immersed in sewing, although not with the best results. At least the folding bike storage turned out well!

The Mechanic and I ran out to IKEA two weekends ago, and came home with enough stuff to revamp the look and feel and storage of our apartment. I love IKEA – I love the sleek Scandinavian designs and the fun, quirky designs as well. I wish I had the space for some of those giant closet systems! I found myself wishing I had space for a new desk, too, once I found a desktop covered with cute buttons. Alas, it was the wrong size for my space, so I had to leave it behind.

Look at the cute buttons!

Look at the cute buttons!

The goal of the trip was to get another of those oh-so-useful 2×4 Kallax bookcases. I can’t get enough of these. This time, we put it up on legs, so the folding bikes could be stored *underneath* the storage. It worked perfectly! Genius.

Folding bikes below, sewing stuff in the cubbies, art work will eventually be hung on the wall.

Folding bikes below, sewing stuff in the cubbies, art work will eventually be hung on the wall.

After measuring and pricing and examining three different storage units for our living room, we went with the same Kallax collection. This time we added 8 cabinet doors to the 4×4 bookcase and carefully moved the almost-full 10 gallon fish tank to the top. It’s amazing how a larger piece of furniture can make our living room look bigger! We are both quite pleased with how this turned out, and at a fraction of the price of the other options we considered.

We even added a wine rack!

We even added a wine rack!

Of course, moving thing around was a good opportunity to sort fabric and notions and so on. Since I recently ordered some fall sewing patterns, I have new options in mind, and therefore did a bit of shopping in my stash. Is it weird to use the same fabrics and color schemes over and over?!? Because I have some knits that could be good for the New Look 6412 dress I will make, but is another navy and teal/aqua dress one too many?!

Too much of a good thing?

Too much of a good thing?

Sorting through fabrics got my fall sewing plans juices flowing, but I need to finish my summer projects first! So despite being on antibiotics and pain meds for Gum Graft #2 this weekend, I cranked out some stuff. In retrospect, perhaps I shouldn’t have – I’m not really pleased with how things turned out.

I made a third Vogue 8815 peplum top, in white pique with reflective piping on the hem, and realized a few things – first, reflective piping is the wrong reflective finish – I look like Judy Jetson wearing this top. Second, the badly fitting bust darts show up waaaaay more on this plain white pique than they did in the two print versions I did. I realized, way too late, that when I lengthened the waist on this pattern, I never dropped the bust point correspondingly. Whoops. So I’ll have to redo those darts. And I think I’ll use the last of my reflective rick rack on the hem, instead of the piping.

Then I made the Straight Stitch Sewing Greenwood tank. I was so excited about this pattern – so easy, a tank top, what could go wrong?! And I have been in love with the fabric forever, so I was glad to finally have an excuse to make something with it. And then…. it turned out terribly. I don’t really know what went wrong first, but I was concerned when the instructions said the armhole and neck bands should be “slightly stretched” to fit their corresponding opening. I had to stretch A LOT to get them to fit. Then I tried a stretch stitch on the bindings, which turned out too heavy, too dark, and both armhole bindings are thick ropy, distorted seams. They look terrible. The narrow zigzag I did around the neck looks marginally better. To top it off, the fit is weird – baggy around the upper torso and snug around my waist and hips. Added to these problems was the fact that it was my first download-and-tape-together pattern, which I’m too impatient for. Overall, I’m quite disappointed. This will be a wear-around-the-house top, if that.

So I have one more project to complete and I hope it doesn’t disappoint me either! I need to finish Simplicity 1693, just need more bias for the neck and armholes, then add the elastic waist. I love the geometric “eyelet” but it’s not as drape-y as I assumed it would be, so that could be a problem with the gathers. Simplicity camiI am trying not to get too excited about fall sewing, since I know that whatever I want now for the fall will not be what I end up loving (I can’t explain it but this happens with every season). On the other hand, I feel like I need to have stuff done before the season starts. At least I have some things still lined up for summer – and at least it will be warm well into October! But planning is the best part. Fall Ideas

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red poppies

Let Nature Nurture

There is a lot of pain, fear and anger in the world these days. I don’t know if it is worse than years, generations, decades or even centuries past, but it is certainly stressful. I have been avoiding the news, discussing the news, thinking about the news… I just need some time to recover from the raw emotions of the shootings in the United States, I need time to fully process and recover my strength. I don’t have time to turn to nature to help me heal, so instead, I’ve been hunting through my photos for pictures of some of my favorite healing nature places.

Water

My most relaxing place is the ocean. I love the crash of the waves on the rocks in Mendocino, which is my happy place. But there are many oceans, and rivers, and bays, and lakes, and other places that have water that make me happy.

Trees

I love trees, too. I love their huge size, the bright green when the leaves are new, the dramatic skeletons when the leaves are gone… In forests and in fields, and down the street from me. Trees are completely uplifting.

Blossoms

Any bright and cheerful blossom in the spring makes me smile – I can’t get enough of the gorgeous colors around me then. When I lived in New York City, I lived near Fort Tryon Park, and spent years wandering through the park soaking up the vivid colors. And I’ve always loved gardens – botanical gardens, gardens at historic estates, gardens of my neighbors. Bright colors make me happy! 2015_Dogwood blossomsChristina's Flower 2

Fort Tryon Park, in 2007

Fort Tryon Park, in 2007

Just looking at these pictures make me happier, and perhaps more resilient. Of course, they also bring back happy memories, which probably also lowers my stress level. It’s a nice reminder to see adventures with friends and family over the years.

I hope you have a moment to stop and smell the flowers and enjoy the trees. It won’t solve the world’s problems, but it might make them easier to stomach. red poppies

War Eagle Cavern Entrance

Unexpected Treats in Northwest Arkansas

The Mechanic and I took advantage of the Fourth of July long weekend to visit his father in Missouri. Although Poppa Mechanic (who is himself a mechanic and restores and uses tractors and farm equipment) lives in Missouri, he lives so close to the Arkansas border that we fly into Bentonville, AR, and most of our adventures are in Arkansas. I had only visited Poppa Mechanic once, several winters ago, and it was freezing cold, plus there was an ice storm! On that trip we enjoyed Crystal Bridges and Eureka Springs  so I was glad to have the opportunity to visit while the weather was better. The Mechanic and I were surprised and impressed at some of the unexpected treats we found. NW Arkansas

Caves and Cliffs

I have never visited this part of the US before meeting The Mechanic, so that makes all of this area new.  I’m especially enthralled with the caves and rocky bluffs everywhere! Near Poppa Mechanic is a cave that has been converted into an outdoor bar, and another is called the Old Spanish Treasure Cave. Ooh, fun! So visiting War Eagle Cavern was our second stop off the plane. The inside was not as spectacular as the entrance (and the tour guide’s grasp of science and history was questionable) but the entrance was AMAZING! Just like old movies or books, with green vines dripping over the edge – so cool. War Eagle Cavern Entrance

Its hard to get a proper picture from the back seat of the car, but these bluffs or cliffs or whatever they are called are literally over the road everywhere!

Its hard to get a proper picture from the back seat of the car, but these bluffs or cliffs or whatever they are called are literally over the road everywhere!

Elven Chapel

The Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel really isn’t an elven chapel, of course, but boy does it look like one! It’s secluded location belies the fact that it is minutes off the highway in Bella Vista, AR. Between the slender, graceful swooping design of the chapel and the quiet woods surrounding it, I expected Galadriel herself to open the door to us. The architect, local Fayetteville, AR, boy E. Fay Jones, had studied under Frank Lloyd Wright, and also designed Thorncrown Chapel, just outside of Eureka Springs. If I’d known when we passed it on our last trip I would have insisted we stop. Cooper Memorial Chapel is simply magical inside and I was envious of the engaged pair touring the chapel as a possible wedding site. I hope they picked it.Cooper Memorial 2Cooper Memorial 1Good Eats

The Mechanic and I had discussed what we’d do when faced with limited vegetarian dining options, but never had to worry. Every restaurant we went to was a delicious surprise for us non-meat eaters. Even Poppa Mechanic joined us in our vegetarianism!

The first stop was the War Eagle Mill, just outside of Rogers, AR, which The Mechanic remembered as a child. A beautiful location, so many options of flour, cornmeal and more, and best of all, one of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had in their Bean Palace Cafe on the top floor of the working mill. War Eagle MillOur next surprise dining experience was in Historic Downtown Rogers, the next day. We ducked into Hammontree’s Grilled Cheese and found a hidden gem. Gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, plus every gourmet hot dog could be made with a veggie dog! A long list of local brews, a vintage bar and a ginormous pterodactyl over the entrance were other treats but the Star Wars themed art and menu items really sold me on the place. Feel free to open another location in Arlington, guys!

At the end of that day, we had ended up in Fayetteville, AR, further south, and with no idea where to eat, simply Googled “Vegetarian restaurants” and ended up at the charming Eco-conscious Greenhouse Grille. Our meal there was delicious, and left us pining for such an option at home.

Sewing Store!

I never know what we’ll run into when cruising a “historic downtown” of any small town, but I couldn’t have been happier to run across The Rabbit’s Lair. A sewing and knitting store located in a beautifully preserved pharmacy, The Rabbit’s Lair is the kind of sewing store I wish existed in more places. I did end up buying a few things, yarn and an embroidery kit, but I’m sure I would have found more if I’d stayed there longer! I mean, bunnies and sewing! I <heart> this!

The Farm

In addition to these stops, plus a few others (Who knew there was a Daisy Airgun Museum?! Yes, as in “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!” And the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks was lovely), we spent a day on Poppa Mechanic’s farm, feeding cows and driving tractors. The wheat fields were beautiful in between crazy thunder and lightening storms, and I loved looking across the fields to see them twinkle with the light of more lightening bugs than I’ve ever seen before. The highlight for me was getting to drive a vintage Ford tractor, reliving the summer I was 15 and learned to drive, on a John Deere tractor, on my grandfather’s farm.

This quick trip was so much fun and definitely left me ready to return and explore the area even more. It was a great way to celebrate our nation’s birth. Trucks

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Floral

…Oh Look, Something Floral!

I am determined to get these pants made before the end of July! My wearable muslin, something that I can use to help perfect the fit of this pattern, and still be able to wear out of the house. I got all the pieces cut out (has anyone ever wondered about the logic in how these tissue paper pieces are folded?!) and…. Simplicity Pants…oh look, something floral!

FloralIt’s terrible. I can’t focus on “basics” because I’m so easily distracted by floral prints.

There I was, innocently ordering white fabric to make simple summer tops, when this lovely floral knit forced its way into my shopping cart. Seriously, I’ve been wanting it *forever* and seeing it made up in Straight Stitch Designs’ Greenwood tank, well, I finally could resist no longer. (By the way, sorry for copying you, Kimberly!)

Now I just need to tape the pieces together and see if I can follow the lines...

Now I just need to tape the pieces together and see if I can follow the lines…

I need another floral print summer top like I need blah blah blah….

I do, however, need a basic white top, so I decided to get a simple white cotton pique and make another V-neck peplum top (I altered the original Very Easy Vogue 8815 top three years ago and prefer the lower neckline), with some reflective piping on the hem of the peplum. Although I’m not a fan of white tops, I need something simple that I can wear with my print pants and skirts, and the pique has a nice bit of texture and body that I think should do well with this top.

Pique Peplum

Pique Peplum

While hunting for appropriate white fabrics, I found this fun geometric eyelet that I think I will make up into a simple drawstring waist tank top. I don’t have a pattern for this, not one that I is exactly what I’m looking for, so I might just make something up. But it rather begs to be a sort of a Victorian camisole, doesn’t it? Well, a modern Victorian, at least!EyeletI’ve been looking for a while for a pattern that is simple enough for what I want, so I’m hoping someone here in the sewing blogesphere will know just the thing. Here are some examples of what I’m looking for:

I have found some patterns that are headed in the right direction, but now that I’ve only ordered 1.5 yards, I don’t want anything too complicated. And you know me, lazy stitcher! I want it to be easy.

So I’m open to suggestions. I am also open to the fact that this could be a winter sewing project for next summer. I do still want to finish my wearable muslin pants!

 

 

Unfolded once outside East Falls Church

Folding Bike Date Night

Last Friday night, The Mechanic and I visited friends for dinner – friends who live in Fairfax County. We examined all the options, and finally decided that we would take Metro to East Falls Church Metro Station and bike the rest of the way. But because we needed to arrive at 7pm, and bikes are not allowed on Metro until after 7pm, we took… the folding bikes!

This turned into a fun and naturally well-photographed trip, and it was so much easier than we expected (thankfully we had no problems with Metro, either). The Mechanic made convenient carrying straps for the bikes in their folded position, so of course now I’m considering making reflective straps, especially one to hold the wheels of my Tern together. The magnets aren’t really strong enough to hold. This was an easy way to carry them and not have to worry about a giant bag once unfolded.

Folded up  and on the Metro platform around 6:30pm.

Folded up and on the Metro platform around 6:30pm.

On our way home, we again biked to the Metro, but since it was after 10pm, didn’t bother to fold the bikes up. We were both thrilled to discover how easily the tiny bikes fit in the Metro elevators! Normally, with a full sized bike, this is a Tetris-like challenge. Folding Bike in ElevatorAnother bonus of the small size of the folding bikes is that they more or less fit on the landing in front of our apartment door. With my commuter bike, I end up with it hanging off the top ledge onto the steps below, angled and still banging into the stair railing and doorway. Big win for this! Folding Bike on StairsAlthough the bikes are larger than we anticipated while folded up, and don’t easily fit into a smaller suitcase, this date night proved that even if we don’t travel with them as we’d planned, we will still get plenty of use out of them. I purchased inexpensive bike lights for mine – I still am not sure I’ll use mine enough to justify expensive lights. But these worked great in the evening on our way home. Folding Bike LIghtsKnowing that we can take the folding bikes on the Metro before 7pm with little hassle opens up a wider range of date night destinations, allowing us to get near a location and bike the rest of the way. I’m all for these sorts of multi-modal adventures!

Mmmmm.... grilled pizza! Our folding bike date night reward (thanks for suburban friends with a huge outdoor grill!)

Mmmmm…. grilled pizza! Our folding bike date night reward (thanks for suburban friends with a huge outdoor grill!)

 

Purple Print Scuba Skirt

Shifting My Summer Plans

Here we are in mid-June and I feel as if my summer is over already! I have two more small-ish trips lined up, in addition to my recent trip to New Orleans and a quick weekend trip to Shenandoah National Park. Over the July Fourth weekend, The Mechanic and I will be visiting his father in Missouri, then I am going to a work conference in Portland, Oregon, at the beginning of August. Then it will be time for back to school, so just like that <poof> my summer feels gone!

All the traveling has cut into my spring/summer sewing plans, however, so I’m shifting my plans and re-prioritizing. I had grand plans for completing garments for each trip, and I did get my navy culottes and blue Liberty of London “Edna” blouse done for New Orleans (even though I ended up not taking the culottes). However, the denim dress and red pants I wanted to make for Missouri are not going to happen, and making a “business” dress to take to the conference definitely won’t happen. And the Breton-style shirt I wanted to make from the cool ammonite Spoonflower fabric? I haven’t even printed out the pattern I downloaded, let alone order the fabric!

This past weekend I cranked out some easy stuff that definitely deviated from my original summer sewing plans. I really wanted light gray, easy casual drawstring pants that would coordinate well enough with many of my blouses that I could expand my wardrobe a tad (at the moment, I have one pair of fitted gray jeans that go with *everything* so I wanted another options). I stupidly ordered five pairs from the Gap and Target, and returned them all because they fit terribly. For about a fourth of the price, I ordered a box of fabric and made pants and two tube skirts instead! And I made another Sprout Grainline Studios Lark Tee with Spoonflower performance pique fabric. So four things in two days, woot! Oh, and I cut out new pieces to remake the crown of my sun hat as well as the McCalls dress. Super productive!

However…. I’m rethinking my summer sewing plans. Looking at my schedule, I can see that I am not going to have time to get all the summer sewing done I want to, even if I prioritize and only do the denim dress and the red pants. And it makes me realize that the harder, more involved winter sewing I want to do is what I should be starting instead. So maybe I need to shift my sewing so that I make fall/winter things in the spring and summer, and spend the winter working on spring/summer clothing (come on Snow Days!).

Cut out is a start!

Cut out is a start!

There is the winter coat I want to make – a huge undertaking for me, who normally prefers quick and easy projects. Not only is it a complex looking design, it means an outer fashion fabric, a lining and perhaps even a Thinsulate inner lining. I haven’t decided yet. And making all the reflective bias to include in the seams. I do want to make a muslin, because if I am going to spend all this time and money on it, I want it to fit right (shoulders, I’m looking at you). So that adds even more time onto the project. This could take months.

Butterick 6292 Version C

Butterick 6292 Version C

Other fall/winter things I am thinking about – perhaps a dress that could have a blouse or turtleneck layered under it, something with a deep scoop neck and fuller skirt. I haven’t found a pattern for it yet, but I haven’t done much looking. And I *still* am dying to use the Spoonflower fabric I picked out months ago, Moonglow Mystery. It screams Victorian to me – something with a high ruffled collar, rather than a traditional shirt collar. But do I want buttons up the front? Slightly fuller sleeves? Not too fussy, but not quite classic either…  And as always, pants. But if I get the red trousers made this summer, those can be my wearable muslin for that pattern, and I can just make a few pairs in whatever color I need. I need more wide-legged cuffed trousers in my life. And I still want to make a cardigan, and maybe another sweatshirt? I have no interest in making blazers or sweaters, but what other cold-weather garments can I make now that I can still wear without a coat, so I can show off the reflective detailing? Then there is the Issey Miyake pattern I’ve owned since 1991 and would still LOVE to make, but I’m afraid it’s beyond my skill level. Lots of tailoring techniques I haven’t used since I learned them – in the 1990s!

It’s hard to get motivated to sew for winter when the summer is just getting started. I just can’t think of what I might want in 6 months! And I’m not doing a Me Made challenge of my cold weather things, haha!

I guess I shouldn’t worry about it too much, at least not until I get the denim dress and the red trousers made. But I’ll definitely be looking for ideas, and filing stuff away for next year. That is, this winter, when I’m sewing for next summer.

Not the most flattering photo, nor the sexiest of outfits, but I love the way the butterfly tee and the linen pants work together!

Not the most flattering photo, nor the sexiest of outfits, but I love the way the butterfly tee and the linen pants work together!

 

Also, I think I will be shifting my blog to “summer hours” and only posting once a week until things settle a bit. They will, won’t they?!

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Looking West from Stony Man Summit

Sustainability in Shenandoah

The Mechanic and I are celebrating our second wedding anniversary, and since the date falls midweek (June 14, in fact!), we celebrated over the weekend by hiking in Shenandoah National Park.

Looking West from Stony Man Summit

Looking Northwest from Stony Man Summit

 

The Mechanic, who prefers roughing it, agreed to stay at the Skylands Resort overnight, mostly so I could convince him to eat at the restaurant – I really wanted to celebrate with the famous blackberry ice cream pie! We stayed in a cabin, which was slightly deceptive, because we didn’t get our own cabin, but rather, a fourth of one of the original cabins.  It was charming, small, and rustic, but the charm mostly wore off as we watched a mouse exploring our belongings after we got into bed. Erk. The resort was fully booked, so we spent the night with all of our belongings in the rental car, while I sweltered with the sheet over my head, so the mouse wouldn’t run across the pillow. Romantic anniversary…

The weather was perfect, sunny, warm but not hot, and very windy. We saw three black bears, a few deer, lots of chipmunks, birds, inchworms, butterflies, and of course, the mouse. But what got me really excited was the hourglass in the shower. Shower ChallengeThis 5-Minute Shower Challenge is *brilliant*! I’d love to talk to whomever came up with this, because for all the things that hotels do to reduce their footprint, it’s hard to talk to people about how much water they use when they shower. This is the perfect way to do it – give everyone a game that not only brings awareness to an important conservation issue, but challenges them to see how they can help, while cheering them on to doing better. The “towel talk” is one thing, and dependent on how well trained the hotel staff are – even if you carefully hang up your towel to reuse, sometimes they still get replaced. Water usage is a conservation issue that doesn’t currently get enough attention, so it’s nice to see this challenge.

Other sustainability issues that struck us while we were there include, of course, biking and dining. The roads are so narrow and twisty and windy, that cyclists who brave the roads (and we saw many) were cranking up hills with queues of cars behind them, then whipping down hills, still with cars behind them. It’s not my comfort level, and it’s a shame that there isn’t a way to add in proper bike lanes. We did see a walking lane in Skylands, although it came to an abrupt end in the middle of the road. Walking LaneThe biggest transportation drawback to me was that even once we arrived at our hotel, we still had to drive to get just about anywhere. We explored hiking trails that were near Skyland, but I’m sure there are better ones out there. We just didn’t feel like driving to them. And you still have to drive to the various visitors’ centers. It’s a shame they can’t run shuttles between at least the visitors’ centers, resorts, campsites, and major trail heads. Reducing the vehicle travel within the park would contribute greatly to the air quality, which is the topic of a few of the displays in the Big Meadows interpretive center. Of course, The Mechanic loved our rental Mercedes Benz, a surprise and free upgrade from Enterprise, so he wasn’t as upset about driving, but after a deer jumping across the road immediately in front of us, he was even more cautious while driving. See – fewer cars would equal more wildlife survival!Our Wheels

Another thing that was slightly disappointing was the menu at the Pollack Dining Room at Skyland. Not a lot of vegetarian options. I mean, at least there were some, but I feel that national parks should put more effort into discussing food and sustainability if they are going to offer meals, especially when conservation is pretty much what national parks are all about. Even locally raised meat uses way more water than do vegetarian options, including grains and pulses. Plus, it’s cheaper. I don’t expect an entirely vegetarian menu in national parks. I mean, you’d lose a ton of visitors! But at least offer some better/other options than portabella burgers or pasta. Our meals were tasty, nevertheless, and the blackberry ice cream pie was worth breaking my no-dessert rule!Blackberry Ice Cream PieOverall, our second anniversary weekend was a definite win, and mouse aside, couldn’t have been better. The sustainability puzzle keeps me thinking, about ways to make it easier and more fun, but there are no easy answers, and I am not assuming to offer any. But I really love that shower challenge! Do you know how long a 5-minute shower is? Butterfly Whisperer

 

See one of these signs near a Metro station? It's part of the bike train plan!

Gentle Reminder: Courteous Biking

If you are in the Washington, DC, area, or in tune with what is going on in the area, you are aware that our Metrorail system is in a sort of meltdown. Service and safety have steadily declined in the last few years, with fires, stalled trains, and smoke in the tunnels being almost daily occurrences. It makes it challenging to promote the use of transit options when people have become afraid to travel underground.

The new general manager, Paul Wiedefeld, has grasped the bull by the horns, and launched “Safe Track,” the WMATA plan to cram three years’ worth of maintenance into a year. By breaking repairs into “surges” and halting any service at midnight, WMATA repair people can (hopefully) crank out the necessary repairs by the Spring of 2017. Surge #1 hit Arlington first, with single-tracking trains between two stops, and reducing the time between trains. Arlington County put together a very thorough and comprehensive plan to help people manage their commutes and give them other options if they didn’t want to struggle through the initial surge.

Folding e-bikes marketing for the Safe Track win!

Folding e-bikes marketing for the Safe Track win!

Regardless of all the plans in place, traffic this first week was visibly worse. The recent post from Bikeyface was timely – yes, it’s Drive Month in DC. Everyone resorted to their auto-pilot plan, and drove. I rarely see such backed up traffic through the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor! But on the flip side, there are suddenly waaaay more people biking into DC. Yay! BikeArlington created a system of bike trains to assist newer cyclists navigate the trails and roads between the East Falls Church Metro Station and Rosslyn, with a leader stopping at every Metro station to pick up people along the way. Apparently few if anyone took them up on this awesome plan, but maybe that’s because everyone was already biking on their own.

See one of these signs near a Metro station? It's part of the bike train plan!

See one of these signs near a Metro station? It’s part of the bike train plan!

However…. all of these additional people on bikes compels me to issue a gentle reminder about how to be courteous in the bike lanes and trails. I’ve seen some stupid, potentially dangerous actions out there, and heard stories, and want to make sure we all remember that being a PAL is applicable to everyone, regardless of how many wheels you are on. PAL-logo

Easy things:

  • Passing. Do not pass on the right. Pass on the left, and while you are at it, say something (especially if you are on a crowded trail). Do not pass into blind corners!
  • Bike in the correct direction in the bike lane. Having a person biking towards you in the bike lane in which you are correctly traveling is awkward, disconcerting and potentially dangerous for you and the drivers. If a bike lane is two-way, it will be marked as such.
  • Red lights. Legally you are supposed to stop for them. I think I’m the only one who consistently does. Virginia DOT law states “Bicyclists must obey all traffic signs, signals, lights, and markings.” I know there is much debate over this amongst seasoned cyclists, but until the law is changed, I would gently remind everyone to please consider this. Not stopping for red lights is the sort of thing that results in me hearing, over and over, “people who bike completely disregard the law and are a menace to us all.” I know that’s not true, of course, but it sticks in the minds of those who don’t bike, and makes us all look bad. (Honestly, I’m really only concerned about red *lights* here, not stop signs. Just be safe at stop signs.)

Beyond this, please, bicycle to your heart’s content (and health) and just be predictable, alert and lawful. Biking, even to work, really is fun!

Biking home from work doesn't always include balloons, but it should!

Biking home from work doesn’t always include balloons, but it should!

Swamp 9

Of Swamps and Sazeracs and Cemeteries

Five days in New Orleans with my two best friends from high school, one of whom has been living there for the past few years, was definitely a highlight of the year so far. We three haven’t gotten together in a while, so what better place than New Orleans?! But beyond the friendship, there were some experiences that really stood out to me – the swamps, the cocktails and the cemeteries.

We visited swamps in three different places – the Audubon Zoo; the Pearl River Eco Tour in Slidell (just east of New Orleans); and the Barataria Preserve in Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve. And we saw alligators in all three places! Seriously, I fell in love with the mysterious, lush swamps and could have spent all day sitting in the Barataria Preserve.

Soaking up the sights and sounds of the swamp

Soaking up the sights and sounds of the swamp

The Audubon Zoo, of course, was educational as well, and we learned much about the swamps and who inhabits them, even the leucistic white alligator, a ghostly and massive unique reptile.

The Pearl River Eco Tour was an in-depth ride on a small boat (about 20 people) through the Honey Island Swamp, apparently one of the least altered river swamps in the country. Our guide, a native, told us about growing up in the swamps as well as all about what we saw. It was pretty amazing to see wild alligators! Some came up to the boat, hoping for a bite of hot dog or marshmallow, graciously offered by the guide, while some just eyed us from a distance.

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The Batararia Preserve at Jean Lafitte National Park was probably my favorite, however. The boardwalks meandered through the swamp and ended in a marsh, which, while lovely, couldn’t compare to the swamp. We saw alligators (truly wild, not expecting a snack!), a racoon, several snakes, turtles, squirrels, birds, bugs (at least they weren’t too bad), and lots and lots and lots of Spanish moss. And I got a new stamp in my National Parks Passport!

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After all these swamp experiences, we had to cool off somehow – so naturally, local specialty cocktails were the choice! I tried a Creole Queen at Cafe Pontalba; a Sazerac at Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone, as well as it’s signature drink the Monteleone; blueberry mojitos at St. Joe’s Bar on Magazine Street; and daquiris from the daiquri shop near my friend’s apartment. We balanced out the expensive drinks with local beers. Gotta try all the local flavors!

We ended our trip with some visits to the cemeteries. Alas, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is closed to the casual tourist; you have to be in a tour group. By the time we got to St. Louis Cemetery No. 2, it had just closed. Although we checked out the Old Town Slidell cemetery, it couldn’t compete with the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which we visited on our way to the airport. I wish we’d had time to do a guided tour of it, because I’m sure we would have learned so much more. Next time! St Louis Cemetery No 1 St Louis No 2

We had been told we could find crypts dating back to the 1700s at the Slidell Cemetery, but couldn't find them, and it was too hot to linger too long. But it's a nice quiet local cemetery.

We had been told we could find crypts dating back to the 1700s at the Slidell Cemetery, but couldn’t find them, and it was too hot to linger too long. But it’s a nice quiet local cemetery.

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I’d love to go back and experience more, but I’ll probably want to return to the swamps and see more alligators! It’s fascinating to see them in the wild, after having only seen them in zoos in aquariums. I was tempted to bring one back… but I didn’t. Next time!Pink Alligator