Friday, December 3, 2010

Can Pashleys and Road Bikes get on?

Common sense and practical advice from other bike bloggers like Velouria says that when you ride with your partner, make sure you are riding the same kind of bike, so one person isn't at a complete disadvantage if he or she is on a steel-framed upright bike and the other is on a road bike.

I love my Pashley. I enjoy riding her more than my road bike; she's more stable and the hub gears are a dream. My husband, however, adores his road bike and despite me hinting that he might like to test ride a Pashley roadster with its beautiful ride and inherent stability, he won't be tempted.

For most of our rides during the last month, then, I've been on my Penelope Pashley and he's been on his road bike. Even when I'm on my own mixte road bike I have trouble keeping up with him as he's bigger, stronger and rides at a different cadence to me.

But something strange has been happening. I've been keeping up with him. Even overtaking him. On the Pashley.

I'm getting fitter and lighter and stronger, which is marvellous. And I admit a few days ago I got angry. There I was, pedalling fairly swiftly away from our house down our street with - bliss! - newly laid asphalt. How smooth it was! The potholes had gone, and Penelope was almost singing with joy; I was too. Then t'other half pedalled furiously and with a "ner-ner-ner-NER-ner!" overtook me. He just HAS to be in front. Every time. It's a male thing. He might say it's because it's his comfy riding speed, but he seems determined to pass me as early in our rides as possible.

So I got mad and got even. I pedalled furiously too. I caught up, and although my muscles were whingeing and then begging for mercy, hung either beside him or right on his tail as we swept through the park and onto the roads and bike paths. On a couple of the downhill stretches I passed him, with my own "ner-ner-ner-NER-ner!" and two fingers held up as I swept by.

By the time we'd reached the half way point of our usual 30 minute ride, I was pumping. I wasn't blowing too hard, and on the way back managed to stay on his tail up the hill. I usually fall back up the hill. I resort to dropping to second gear, panting and puffing. Well I stayed in third, it nearly killed me, but there was no way I was leaving the rear wheel of that little black road bike.

I checked my watch when we got home, and we'd shaved a couple of minutes off the 30 minute standard. My muscles were quivering, but I felt fantastic and really energised. My husband felt stunned that I kept up.

Sadly the weather has been awful since then; driving rain since the weekend. It wasn't raining this morning - yay! - but we elected for a walk before breakfast rather than a ride as our dog, like us, was exhibiting signs of cabin fever. Aside from which, wet jacaranda petals, which are strewing the street and our favourite bike path right now, are notoriously slippery and I don't feel confident riding on them. We've both nearly slipped over just walking on the wretched things.

Having achieved a modicum of fitness, I need to get out and exercise every day now. I feel uncomfortable if I don't.

So watch out, little black road bike. You won't have the clear road in front of you any more. You can admire the pretty taillight of a Pashley instead.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sydney's bike lanes - angels or demons?

Hot off the press is the latest from the City of Sydney about cycling in Sydney's CBD and inner suburbs:

"City takes action on sharing Sydney streets

29 November 2010
As new bike counts show significant increases in riders in central Sydney from March to October this year, the City of Sydney is implementing an education program to help bike riders, pedestrians and motorists interact more safely and respectfully.

Bike counts at 94 intersections in March and October 2010 showed an average 40 per cent increase in the morning (6am-9am), with 29 per cent in the afternoon (4pm-7pm). Growth in areas with dedicated cycle facilities nearly tripling: 124% increase on Kent Street in the CBD; 167 per cent near the Anzac Bridge; and 173% on Bourke Road, Alexandria.

"Pedestrians, cyclists and drivers coexist in major cities across the globe. We want that spirit of cooperation here so that cycling provides a practical, safe and healthy alternative to reduce congestion," Lord Mayor Clover Moore MP said.

"Through our new Street Share Program, we aim to help everyone who uses our streets-whether by car, bike or foot-to share respectfully, and have a safe and enjoyable trip."

"Bike riders, like everyone else, must obey road rules. We want responsible riders who are aware of drivers and pedestrians, slow down on shared paths, and adhere to road rules."

The City of Sydney's Street Share Program will deliver information for bike riders, pedestrians and motorists. The integrated program of strategies include a shared paths safety campaign; "Explore Your City" group rides; grants for community cycling initiatives; a Sydney Loop Ride taking in the harbour foreshore; free bike maintenance; and riding classes.

The City of Sydney uses social media, advertising, newsletters, events and cycling courses to educate road users and promote safety. More than 600 people (70% women) have completed the free Cycling Confidence course and 450 have completed the free bicycle maintenance course. In the past three months, more than 10,000 cycling maps with safety information have been distributed and the City's SydneyCycleways Facebook page has 1500 fans.

The Street Share Program report to Council also prioritises nine planed bike corridors to target safe connections to useful destinations. These make up 53 kilometres of the City's endorsed 200 km bike network, and connect to destinations such as workplaces, schools, universities and parks for both commuting and recreation.

The routes will have the best mix of separated cycleways, bike lanes, contra-flow lanes (which allow bike riders to travel along a one way street), mixed traffic and shared paths. 

Final routes and treatments will be assessed and communities will be consulted to determine the best possible outcome for bike riders, pedestrians, business, residents and motorists.

Ms Moore said; "The City's promotion of safe bike riding and the building of a connected network will benefit everyone. More people riding bikes will improve public health, ease congestion and keep Sydney moving.""

The City of Sydney has installed bike lanes over the last twelve months which have come in for their fair share of controversy. While the plan has been a great idea per se, implementing it hasn't been as well thought out as it could be despite this cheerful media release. There are some horror intersections for cyclists using the paths with high risks for casualties caused by unwary motorists. Many commuting cyclists are shunning the bike lanes and going by their regular routes. Read the full story here in The Australian.

Additionally, shopkeepers are now losing business, particularly along Bourke Road Alexandria because of the bike lanes in front of their shops. Cars can't park in the bike lanes and realistically there's nowhere else to park on Bourke Road. Cyclists aren't using the bike lanes as heavily as the City hoped, either, adding insult to the shopkeepers' injury.

All in all the plan has, in some ways, been a bit of a disaster for both retailers and cyclists in certain parts of Sydney. 

Lord Mayor Clover Moore has hoped to engender an urban village atmosphere, with fewer cars and more cycles, and I applaud her for that. Visions of Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Vienna were all undoubtedly in her mind but I think Sydney's urban sprawl, our less than great public transport system and the subsequent reliance on cars has impacted negatively on the urban village ideal.

It's hard to build cycling infrastructure into a city that's been growing in an ad hoc manner for 200 years. Planning new infrastructure for new suburbs and developments has worked well. There are cycleways parallel to the M7 motorway, and a cycleway parallel to the T-Way public transport road running from Blacktown to Richmond and Windsor; both of these are huge new paths which provide cyclists with a safe road, and they are only two examples of good offroad cycleways.

Throughout greater Sydney I see many cyclists riding on the footpath alongside main roads. It's illegal unless you're under 12 years of age, but adults do it because the alternative of riding with Sydney traffic is appalling. Serious commuters do ride on the roads and most of them have mapped back ways that keep their time on main roads to a minimum. Seeing all these cyclists on the footpath tells me that offroad bike paths, rather than bike lanes on the road, may be the solution to get people riding more. Shared footpaths alongside main roads? I'm sure the Pedestrian Council's Harold Scruby (a self-seeking, publicity-greedy megaphone on legs) would foam at the mouth. But it might just be the answer.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Affordable cashmere and silk/cotton cardis

Earlier this month I mentioned that in my Great Wardrobe Cleanout I was replacing some awful synthetic stuff (that didn't even fit nicely if the truth be known) with cashmere and silk blend cardigans from a company called Woolovers. I did promise to post a review when the goodies arrived. I'm still waiting on one which is on backorder and should be here next week, but can happily say that the cashmere/mrerino blend and silk/cotton blend cardigans are just lovely.

When the parcel arrived - only a week to come from the UK with a very reasonable postage cost to Oz of 14 quid/$20 - my husband was home and asked me what it was.

"Cardigans," I replied happily, impatience almost making me rip the plastic postpak with my teeth.

"Of course it is. It's coming on summer." He shook his head. This is a man who owns four pairs of shoes. He doesn't understand the female clothing gene. Which is probably lucky or we'd really be fighting for wardrobe space.

These lovely cardigans are transeasonal, however. Certainly the cashmere/merino is too hot for summer, except for those nights when the cool change has come and you're sitting outside actually getting cold when the temperature suddenly drops from 35 to 22.

So... the cashmere/merino blend cardi, which is pictured at left:  I ordered this in lilac and black. Unfortunately because the site uses Flash to let you have a look at selected colours I can't show you it in the colours I chose. I wear quite a lot of purple and lilac shades, and had an awful hand me down puce-ish cardigan which did transeasonal duty for my purples. It's now gone to charity and the lovely lilac one will take its place. And as for black - a girl can't have too many black cardigans. This one replaces another cheapie.

The fabric is soft, and has a reasonable cashmere feel but not as soft as 100% (and unaffordable) cashmere: it's 30% cashmere and 70% merino, and machine washable on a gentle cycle.

The fit is gorgeous. It's a fitted cardigan so if you have a waist, it shows it off. I chose the v-neck version rather than the round neck as it does a bit more for my body shape; I have big boobs, to my despair. If you've got 'em, flaunt 'em I suppose. The v-neck at least makes me look like I have two separate boobs whereas roundneck cardigans can give one that 'monoboob' look.

The sleeves aren't TOO long, either. I hate sleeves around my wrists unless it's perishing cold. 3/4 sleeves are my friends for a lot of the year and while this isn't a 3/4 sleeve it's not a nuisance length either.

On to the silk/cotton cardigan now. I ordered this in black (again? you ask) and blueberry which is a deep purple. This fabric is much finer and lighter. It's the perfect summer cardi, and the attention to detail with the frilly edges and faux pearl buttons is a delight. Sadly it's not a v-neck but the neck is low enough that it highlights your assets :-).

Once again a superb fit. I've worn this one already to a business meeting and it accentuates my waist without pulling at the buttons and causing gaps. The sleeves in the pic look a little long, and perhaps they are, but they push back and stay back readily.

The fabric is machine washable on a gentle cycle - although I'll be putting this delicate little cardigan into a lingerie bag if I machine wash it. I tend to do my wools by hand but modern woollens are more able to be gently machine washed I've found.

Both cardigan styles come with extra buttons and on the silk/cotton one extra matching thread, which is a nice touch.

The Woolovers site claims it uses British wool but only has one line called British Wool. I suspect that despite badging itself as fine British knitwear the garments themselves are made in China. Nowhere on the garments does it state the country of manufacture but there's a little inspection tag on the inside with Chinese characters, so you can make up your own mind about that. It would explain the affordability of the cardigans. The quality, however, looks good. No loose threads, buttons sewed on tightly.

In short, I'm impressed. I've tried on several affordable/similarly priced cardigans here in chain stores, and haven't liked the fabric or the fit. To get the same blends of cashmere and silk I'd have to pay a lot more in a high street or department store. And the fit is perfect; fit is what I'm happy to pay for, and these cardigans make me feel like I look good.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The incredible shrinkin' woman

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm on a lose-weight kick at the moment. And, by gosh and by golly, it's working.

It helps that the workload is winding down a bit near the end of the year, and I'm not waking up through the night worrying about work.

I've been using the Shape Up Club online membership and app for about a month, and have lost 4 kgs. Or around 9lbs. More than half a stone. It might not sound much, but the app recommends not trying to lose more than 500gms/1 lb per week based on my height, my current weight, and how much I want to lose. I started out at 69kg/152 lbs, and am now 65/143 lbs. Given that I'm 158cm/5'2" that's still way too heavy (or weigh too heavy). I want to get down to about 60kg/132 lbs. Under that would be nice but I haven't been under 60 kgs since 1991! At my worst I was 72kg a couple of years ago, and I'm not going to translate THAT into pounds...far too depressing!

This pic, lousy as it is, is one I took today. I tried to upload one of me at a chunky 72kg but the server rejected it. Truly. The server obviously has good taste.

I'm currently allocated about 4,500kJs a day to eat, and I try to come in under that if I can. From having a row of Lindt dark chocolate every night, I'm now only having it about once a week and not really missing it. I don't do biscuits any more, or cake. Although I suspect I'll add the occasional one back in when I've reached my goal. Everything in moderation :-).

I haven't had to make too many dietary changes as we eat pretty good food in general; minimal fast food (emergencies only), not many cakes or biscuits, no soft drinks or sodas, very few snacks such as crisps. Chocolate and wine are the main weaknesses so I've cut down on the chocs and now have a glass of low alcohol wine with a few ice cubes in it at night. Wine is civilised. I refuse to give it up. I had, like many of us, blown out on the portion sizes for protein such as chicken and meat so had to reeducate myself there. To help things along I minimise the carbs I have in the evening, as they don't get burned off as easily.

Because I'm not stressing my butt off and tying myself to the desk from early in the morning until dinner time, I'm making time to get out and get physical. I'm walking a minimum of 30 minutes a day (and that's brisk walking... sometimes my husband has to puff to keep up on the hills). I'm cycling again, to the shops and for leisure around the streets and parks at weekends. Housework, cleaning and gardening all burn kJs very nicely - something I've always done anyway. I've been to the gym once, but slogging along for half an hour on a treadmill or stationary bike is boring as hell compared to being out in the fresh air on a real bike, smelling peoples' gardens and having the sun on my skin. I've started using my husband's hand weights at home and doing pushups and other resistance exercises.

A bonus is my skin is looking brighter - I got a fantastic compliment from a client yesterday who thought I'd had some kind of surgery or expensive facial treatments.

And oh, bliss, my jeans are loose. The Fat Person jeans I bought last year. They're just about sliding off my hips. I also had a pair of low-slung cargo jeans which I hate but hadn't got around to replacing. I had to replace them this week as I got so sick of hitching them up. I don't wear belts with low slung jeans as they draw attention to my hips and increase the risk of the dreaded muffin top :-). And I replaced them with a size smaller (and slightly higher rise too so they don't fall down as easily).

Keeping the diet under control as we head into Silly Season will be a challenge; those canapes at cocktail parties are killers, and I have a few parties I have to attend on behalf of my work. But now I've seen a result I'm determined to keep up the good work.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Places I love to shop at for merino and other woollen garments

I mentioned my love of Icebreaker clothing in a post a few days ago.

Icebreaker is lovely; you can wear it cycling or on other outdoor excursions, and it's equally smart under a jacket for work. In summer the superfine wool is cooler than a cotton t-shirt and much cooler than anything synthetic. It's great for holidays as it really doesn't pick up odours. I confess to trying this out last summer, wearing the same tshirt for a week. Before you recoil in horror, it didn't pong after seven days. It felt fresh each day when I put it on.

The price of all this perfection and adaptability is...the price. Icebreaker is expensive in anyone's language; you'll rarely find it on sale if you walk into adventure, ski or outdoor shops. At least any items you might actually like won't be on sale.

But I've never bought Icebreaker from a retail high street shop, shopping in person. I've bought my pieces online.

For Aussies, the best Icebreaker bargains are at  The Aussie dollar is strong against the Kiwi dollar, and this shop always has a wide range of Icebreaker and usually has something nice on special.

When international postage was somewhat cheaper last year and before I picked up a couple of Icebreaker pieces cheaply from BackCountry. Now, however, postage from North America has skyrocketed in cost. It's no longer a bargain and I'm better off buying from the Kiwis.

Moving on from Icebreaker, Australian and NZ catalogue shop Ezibuy carries a range of outdoor merino wear - Isobar. I 've bought two tops from them when they've been on sale. The first was of equal quality to Icebreaker, the second was *almost* there but not quite. The second item I bought was a heavyweight merino - ie 260gm - zip front sweater, and I picked up a similar item in Icebreaker in a different colour last summer and noticed the weave was not as tight nor the merino as fine in the Isobar. Isobar's base layer long-sleeved top, which was my first purchase, is excellent however.

Ezibuy also carries fine merino clothing for everyday wear. Admittedly the knit isn't as tight as the outdoor wear, and the $30 tunic I bought nearly two years ago has not held its shape as well as I thought. However, at least it's wool, and merino at that, and it's very reasonably priced on the whole. I also bought a couple of normal wear merino waist-length tops from Ezibuy and they have held their shape just fine.

Kathmandu outdoor clothing store had a sale on last month and I scored a pale mauve long-sleeved merino top for $60, down from an astonishing $149. The quality is there at first glance; I haven't worn the top yet but am saving it for next autumn or a really cool day (unlikely now before next autumn).

Piece by piece I'm getting rid of synthetic tops and where possible bottoms from my wardrobe and replacing them with natural products such as wool and cotton. Hence I troll the net for specials on merino and other wool.

Pure cashmere is out of my reach unless it's made in China and I do try and avoid clothes made in China if I can. (Sadly Icebreaker is now made in China as its sales have skyrocketed and the cost of producing the clothes in lovely NZ is now prohibitive.) There have been health scares with chemicals used in the production of cheap Chinese clothing - typically polycotton blend tops of the cheapest variety - with formaldehyde the main chemical culprit. It makes the clothes nice and crisp looking when they're on the rack but can cause severe reactions in the wearer.

But... I've now found an affordable site for Cashmere blends - Woolovers. The link is to the Aussie version of the site but it IS international with sites pertinent to the UK, US, Canada and NZ, and the prices are amazing. I've ordered a Cashmere/Merino cardigan from these guys and it's on the way to me as I write. Expect an update when I've received my cardigan - affordable cashmere! Oh joy! I can't find anywhere on the site saying the garments are made in China, so I do have some high hopes here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nutcase helmet review - Nutcase gets the thumbs up

As I mentioned earlier this year, I was given a Nutcase helmet for my birthday. Now I've had the opportunity to use it for several hours in both cool and rather warm conditions, it deserves some praise.

I love it.

Helmets are vile and enable you to look totally naff whilst wearing nice clothes when cycling. But in defence of the Nutcase it's less naff than most and it is comfortable. In all honesty once I'd had it on for a bit the first time I rode it, I forgot I was wearing it. It's a superb fit.

Given that all the riding I've done so far has been in spring, and this spring in Sydney has been cooler than average, the air vents have provided sufficient cooling. Go fast enough and the air just whizzes into them. Once I've had some summer rides I'll revisit that topic and see how it stacks up against a more open helmet.

I had concerns about the lack of sunvisor and still do to a degree; I've found myself squinting even with sunnies on, but the comfort of the fit makes up for it.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Nutcase helmets to cyclists who don't want to look like an alien has landed on their head. Until cycling laws change (ha!) and we can go back to riding around parks and quiet streets without bloody helmets should we wish to do so, Nutcase is my choice.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Musings on a wardrobe

Twice a year I go through my wardrobe, ready for the change of seasons. It's a mysterious fact that once I've done this there are never enough coathangers available yet there were before I started and apparently a similar number of items get taken out and replaced with the next season's! :-)

I usually do the ready-for-summer gig on the first weekend in October, as it's typically warm enough by then to put the big woolies away. But this October was unseasonally wet and cool. I wore a heavy winter jumper a couple of days and we had the heater on at night - and even during the day last week. Bizarre. This is Sydney. October is usually in the mid 20s.

However the cool weather has gone for good I think, so, tempting fate and daring her to send another cold snap, I sorted my clothes this morning. A charity bag (which isn't really full enough), a washing/ironing pile and a hangup pile.

I'm a dreadful hoarder. What annoys me about me is that I can't even get rid of clothes I don't like any more. Take a camel-coloured pullover tunic I have. It looks like a sack of potatoes on me. I rarely wear it. But...the colour is good especially with black and cream, and it's pure new wool rather than an acrylic blend. So after much humming and hahhing I tossed it into the Wash and Keep pile. Don't worry, the charity bag hasn't left the house yet, I may still decide to chuck it in there at the last minute.

I have heavy cotton sweaters from the late 80s/early 90s which I might wear once a year. They are white, and a pig to wash as one of them has red satin embroidery and dye on it and runs like Phar Lap at the first sign of water. Yet I keep them, year after year. Once a year I might wear them out to a friend's house, as the style of the sweaters doesn't scream about their era. The one with red satin I bought in Paris so that has sentimental value, and they were both quite expensive so I hesitate to give them away.

And there are the jumpers my mum knitted me in the 80s. Very much a labour of love and even though I don't wear them any more I can't get rid of them. I just can't. I feel guilty at the thought. Mum spent hours on them, particularly one with a checkerboard pattern, green leaves and knitted roses sewn on the jumper. So they take up space, mothballed but sacred.

Am I alone in this? How many of you out there are ruthless? How many can say, "Pah! I didn't wear that top at all last year, or the year before. Into the charity bag with it"? If that's you, I envy you.

I have, though, finally decided to sell on eBay some clothes that on eBay. These are a couple of vintage gowns from the 1960s. The cheong-sam is a bit tight and I HATE the high collar I've decided; it chokes me. The white one with flowers is too big. And it's nylon so I boil in it. I've worn it once and felt glamorous, but in a meriingue-like way.

And finally there's this one below, which I didn't buy on eBay but paid, in retrospect, too much for in a boutique nearly ten years ago. I adore the colours but it doesn't fit me any more and while I am losing weight, I doubt whether I'll wear it again. If it sells, it sells. If it doesn't it'll go back into the wardrobe and I'll try it on again when more weight comes off. It zips up OK right now but I look six months' pregnant. Not a good look. I do adore the colours though.

One thing I AM turfing out is the cheap t-shirts and knitted cotton tops which collect little balls of pill on them. Made in China, they stretch out of shape in the first season. I used to buy cheap t-shirts because they were, well, cheap. And I can't reason paying $50+ for a cotton t-shirt just 'cos it's made by Esprit or Gap or some other label.

I discovered Icebreaker clothing last year. Beautiful, beautiful fine merino wool. And it's spoiled me forever for cheap t-shirts. I bought one Icebreaker tshirt and was so impressed by it that when I have a good month financially and there's something suitable on special I buy another Icebreaker piece. They are well made, and well-designed enough to wear under business suits (I'm not a blouse or shirt person). I live in them. I buy mine from a website in NZ (which means they are relatively cheap as the NZ dollar is even weaker than ours, and postage over the Tasman is pretty cheap too). They are cooler in summer than cotton tees and dry much quicker on the line. They hold their shape. They don't pill. They don't need ironing, which is good 'cos I'm busy enough ironing kaftans in summer (see below).

Selling these frocks on eBay may give me the wherewithal for another Icebreaker t-shirt - well, that's the plan anyway. And there's an Icebreaker sale on right now at my usual Icebreaker website.

So while the charity bag isn't as full as it could be, there are plenty of tshirts in there. I have more in the wash pile to join them.

My other summer clothing love is kaftans. Not the full-on 1970s Demis Roussos versions, but lovely cotton hipskimmers from places like The Tie Rack, which has stores in Australia. Last summer was so abysmally hot and humid I ended up buying half a dozen cotton kaftans in beautiful colours and patterns. Rich purples, lime greens, cool aquas and whites. The long sleeves protect your arms from the harsh Aussie sun, and the loose fit allows air to circulate. They are brilliant for cycling in. 

And finally - I sorted out my makeup as well this morning. All those lipsticks, blushes, eye makeup and foundation I don't use anymore as the colour looks naff on me. The winner was a mauve lipstick from 1985. Yes, 1985. I'd kept it to wear with purple stuff in summer but realistically hadn't used it in ten years. Behold:

Wave it goodbye - the garbage collection is Wednesday morning. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Petunia is going Shimano

I've been pondering this for months and when I decided in early spring I'd convert Petunia to a 7 or 8 speed hub bike Shimano Nexus hubs were in very short supply. They still are. I've been keeping an eye on eBay and other sources and found one on Amazon. The hub was cheap enough but the postage is almost half the cost of the hub!

However, I don't care; I can cover it. The Aussie dollar and US dollar are on parity at the moment so it's still cheap enough to have this little chap below shipped to me:


It's a Nexus 8 speed Rollerbrake or Vbrake hub. Comes with all the accoutrements such as shifters so it's a pretty good deal I think.

I won't be doing the conversion myself as my bike maintenance and repair skills are limited to bolting on extras such as removable headlights, or at a pinch adjusting a derailleur. There's a bike shop down in Parramatta with experienced service staff with whom I've discussed this project. 

Converting Petunia is going to cost more than I originally paid for her - in fact at least double! - but the end result I believe will be a unique sweet mixte I'll be very happy with. 

Having discovered hub gears last year on my lovely Pashley last year I'm in love with them. They are such a boon in stop/start urban cycling. Have to stop? Just select the appropriate gear to set off again in while you're stopped. Now try doing that with a derailleur. You may find your chain departing from the chainring. I feel far more confident riding with hub gears; part of that is because my hands don't have to leave the grips to change gear.

Now I can go searching for a chaincase cover so I can ride Petunia without getting chain lube and dirt on my jeans; if anyone sees a pretty one let me know! I suspect I'll be getting one from overseas and will start my search at Velo Orange.

What will this elegant piece of engineering look like with hub gears? Maybe I'll know by the end of the month - it depends on shipping and how soon those bike shop lads can do the work. I suspect the chainring may have to be changed as well so will see what's out there and affordable and importantly, attractive. Any advice from anyone on chainrings and anything else I may have to do to make this conversion work?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Spring into action

I've been lax in posting to my blog the last few months. I've been too busy to get my head around leisure pursuits, and it's taken a toll on my health. My doctor tested my cholesterol last month and told me it was heading for the high side, and I needed to do more exercise and lose weight. The problem with working the way I've been is that you get into a rut: you go to bed at night with your brain still whirling around work stuff and wake in the wee hours still thinking about it. When you finally nod off again you've had a broken night's sleep, and if you've set the alarm for 6 to go for a walk you feel too tired to get up and hit the snooze button and finally get up an hour later, too late really to get a walk in before the work day starts. This, perversely, makes you even more tired and irritable throughout the day. It's a vicious circle.
With people pulling me this way and that to do projects for them I resorted using the car instead of the bike to go to the shops, when it was perfect cycling weather in late winter and early spring. I had maybe two weekends off all winter. I was heading for clinical depression too, I think. But that's another story.
Now it's nearly summer but thankfully it's still relatively cool. I've learned to say no to people and keep the workload to a manageable level most of the time. We set the alarm for 6.30 now and go for walks most mornings. The last two weekends we've headed out to Olympic Park with our bikes for a couple of hours on Saturday mornings. Neither of us had ridden since August (shame on us both) and I was surprised that my fitness level hadn't dropped too far below its usual mediocrity. Must be the walking, as we live in a hilly area and our morning walks include at least 3 hills.
So the exercise bit is happening, and I've finally found a solution to help me lose weight from an unexpected source - my iPhone. It's an app called ShapeUp Club, and is associated with a website, The app is free, but it pays to join the website for $36 a year. It works on a similar principle to Weight Watchers, ie you are allowed eat a number of kilojoules/calories per day, but the beauty of it is the food database, where with a simple click you add an item into your daily allowance and it recalculates how many kJs you have left to eat that day. You add in any exercise taken and again it recalculates. You can also add in your own recipes and foods from your pantry. I've lost two kilograms in two and a bit weeks using ShapeUp Club to track my food intake and exercise.
Over the last year I've tried:

  • The Paleo Diet (very expensive as you eat a lot of meat/protein, and I started to feel guilty about eating so many dead animals. I did kickstart my weight loss though, but it plateaued because we broke the diet with chocolate and red wine)
  • The Gabriel Method (didn't lose a gram, but the hypnotic CD helped put me to sleep when I was stressed.)
  • The Dukan Diet (Echoes of the Paleo Diet, and for the first few weeks really restrictive. Too restrictive. Protein only. No fruit, very few veggies until the second month. Not balanced in my opinion)

but the ShapeUp one is the sensible option. I've likened it to Weight Watchers as it promotes a balanced diet rather than high-protein or no-carbs. While WW uses 'points' to calculate your food values, the points are undoubtedly based on a kJ or calorie count.
So now I'm having an action-packed spring, and loving it. Taking time to smell the roses. Destressing. And finally getting out on the bikes again :-)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A good year for the roses...

I have a tiny garden, a courtyard garden that was barren when we moved in but is now home to two garden beds out the back - one with camellias, azaleas, bluebells, a butterfly bush, cyclamen and other goodies, and a sunny bed for herbs and veggies, and ringed with scented lovelies like lavender.

Along the walls and fences are my pots - typically full of plants that are 'too good' to plant in the garden, as we don't intend to live here forever and I don't want to leave my lovely collection of old fashioned roses behind.

It's the middle of spring here now, and the roses are in their first flush of blooms for the summer. As well as my old-fashioneds, I have a climbing rose that a friend gave me. It was a $2 tubestock and has now taken over a lattice fence out the front. I've been picking armsful of it and together with the old-fashioneds it makes the house smell divine:

And here are some of my other lovelies. The purple rose is Reine des Violettes, an old French rose with an old-world smell. Crush the petals and your fingers become purple with dye. I've pondered what I can do with that... there must be some craft project which deserves to be  dyed with rare rose petals :-).

As well as the Queen of the Violets, I have a standard rose which my friend also gave me. Not sure of the name of it, but it's the one in the middle; as a bud it's pink but it opens to a pale pink-tinged apricot colour and again has a knockout scent. It wasn't doing well for my friend - odd, as she's a horticulturalist and a rose freak - but seems to like living in a pot well enough. It's covered in buds at the moment.

Old friends which I've had for more than ten years are Heritage, by David Austin, and Penelope, whose breeding dates back to the early 1800s. In the pic below Heritage is on the left, that big double, tightly rolled bloom. Penelope is only coming into full bloom now and I haven't taken a pic yet.

Many people prefer to leave their blooms on the bush, and I always leave a few there, but it's a joy to have them in the house, and with the strange stormy weather we've been having lately I think it's nicer to have them inside and enjoy them rather than let them get damaged by the storm and wind.

I've collected fallen petals in a bowl... my petals are around 1cm deep and I toss them daily to let them dry out without rotting. I'm thinking pot-pourri here.  I've never made my own but this might be a good year to start. My roses have never been bloomier (if that's a word). 

On the other hand, my sweet peas which have grown berserk didn't fire at all this year. Not a single flower, and most of the seedlings died in their youth despite TLC. I noticed a guy down the road who always has a splendid wall of sweet peas didn't have a good display this year either. Something just wasn't right for them.

More about cycling and my usual stuff soon. It's been a very busy few months and the poor bikes didn't get enough attention until recently.

Monday, August 23, 2010

How busy is too busy?

I saw my doctor last Wednesday, who tells me I'm suffering from stress. This has manifested itself as stomach palpitations and psoriasis (ugh) on my legs. Oh, and my blood pressure is up, too. She told me I had to think about working less hours.

I looked at my diary carefully. Since March, I've had five, maybe six, weekends where I haven't had to do some kind of work for some client or other. I've been running a chamber of commerce during the week and building websites like a madwoman at weekends.

I work from 9 to 6 or after during the week with a cursory lunch break and usually 10 till 4 at weekends. I try to go for a walk before breakfast, but if I've lain awake worrying about work for a couple of hours at 2am I find it hard to get up again at 6. I try and ride a bike to the shops, or walk, but if I'm on a deadline for something that five minutes I save taking the car makes a mental difference. Doctor recommends walking or cycling :-). More exercise to help alleviate the stress in other words.

So I have a month before I see the doctor again, and she's told me that during that time I have to think seriously about my work and what I can give up. I'd love to give up the Chamber of Commerce as it's the work I enjoy the least these days. Sadly it's also regular money and 80% of my income at the moment. The thought of losing that money adds to the stress as it's 80% of not very much when all's said and done.

My husband has told me my health is the most important thing and he'll do whatever it takes to take up the financial slack if I cut myself free from the chamber to concentrate on work I actually enjoy doing... like websites and writing.

With social media obligations thrown into the mix looking after the chamber as a one-woman band has really become too much (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn - I have to add people to our group on those sites and input email addresses etc etc et flippin' cetera). I've spoken to my president and said I need help but realistically I need a succession plan, not just help, and I can't think of anyone in the member base who's daft enough to take on what I do for the number of hours each week I do it. I've refused help so far as I don't have the time to train someone or manage someone, but I think I'll have to bite the bullet and do it or self-implode.

On the plus side I took a complete day off yesterday; we went for a drive into the country. We were going to take the bikes but t'other half wasn't feeling fantastic so we elected to walk around some country towns on foot, poke about in antique shops and hit a specialist herb and rare plants nursery. I hardly had a stomach palpitation all day (unlike today, when I'm back at the desk).

So my goal is to find someone to take over my chamber job more or less completely by next year. I'd be happy still doing graphic and web stuff for the chamber, but not the admin, the banking, the events, the filing, the phone calls, the emails and everything else. During the last year I've had three acquaintances doing a similar chamber job to mine quit, burned out. There must be something in the air 'cos I'm going to add myself to the list.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Nutcase? Describes me pretty well, actually

My mother doesn't know what to get me for my birthday which is later this month. My mind ranged briefly over the Shimano Nexus 7 Hub but I thought it was a bit expensive and not the sort of thing my Mum buys for me. I did consider the DVD set of the TV series Flambards from the 1970s/1980s but then found something more useful and practical while doing a round of the bike blogs, something I haven't had time for much lately.

Nutcase helmets are now available in Australia. Now, I hate helmets. I won't get into the helmet debate, save to say that helmets are compulsory here even if you're just trundling a few blocks along a quiet street to the shops. I can see the point if you're commuting on major roads, but I get grumpy at the thought of getting fined if I get caught without one on the back streets. They make my head unbearably hot in the summer humidity - so much for the 'wind in your hair' element of cycling; it doesn't happen in Oz any more thanks to the nanny state.

Another reason I hate helmets is that most of them look so naff. Do I really want to look like a road racer? Until recent years there wasn't a great deal of choice really. You got a bike helmet that screamed 'bike helmet' and gave you the head shape of an alien. My alien head is purple; on the plus side, it has a lot of ventilation:

Then I got hunting through the Nutcase site and found my birthday present. OK, so it doesn't have as much ventilation as I'd like, and I suspect on the hottest summer days I'll have to resort to the Purple Alien Head again. But I won't feel so annoyed at having to wear a helmet when it looks like this:
Yes, this is the helmet I chose. It was a tough decision as they have some great designs but I figured this one goes with both my bikes and a fair amount of my wardrobe. Not that I wear pale pink... but the pink will complement other colours in my armoury and I do wear plenty of green.

Another downside is that it won't accept a sunvisor, which is a shame as I get quite photophobic in bright light. I know some Bern helmets come with a visor but have even less air vents than this. And frankly, they aren't as stylish, graphics-wise. I'll figure out a workaround for the sunvisor. I did ride for years with a helmet that didn't have a visor anyway. The kind people at Nutcase Australia ("Have a nutty day!") suggested wearing a fabric sunvisor under the helmet but that's another layer of fabric/stuff around my head so not an option really. 

My helmet should arrive next week, but I'll be a good girl and wait until my birthday to open the box, and post a review on the helmet when I've used it for a few hours.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The hub of the matter

Poor old Petunia - I haven't ridden her much lately. In fact I haven't been on either bike as often as I'd like to, but when I have I've taken Penelope out, enjoying her stability, her thumb-lever gearswitch and quiet hub gears, and ambling along at a leisurely pace. My husband, on his lightweight vintage road bike, has usually been at least a hundred metres ahead of me.

His ideal pedalling/riding speed and my ideal pedalling/riding speed don't match, even if we are both on road bikes. He's bigger and stronger than I, and I've given up trying to keep up with him, especially early in our rides when my muscles haven't warmed up. He's used to having to wait for me at certain points in regular rides, while I swan up on Penelope in my own time.

But aha, he didn't have to wait yesterday. Tyres pumped up tight, Petunia was ready to roll. I think the poor man was shocked when I was at his rear wheel from the get go. So was I! I fell behind on the hills, of course, but made up for it on the flat.

Having Penelope and her hub gears has spoiled me. I like being able to change gears with the flick of a thumb, and not have to take one hand from the handgrips to change gear on the head tube. I also like not getting grease on my jeans.

So I've been pondering changing the lovely Petunia to a hub-geared bike and considering the Shimano 7 and 8 speed hubs. At the moment the hubs are scarce here in Australia; Shimano isn't importing many and frankly it's cheaper to buy one overseas and have it shipped over. Even overseas they're a little hard to find right now.

My sister-in-law in the UK has a mixte frame with a Shimano 7-speed hub and she adores it. Her husband, a talented bikebuilder and handyman, built it up for her:

What's holding me back is the cost; it'll cost more than Petunia cost in the first place to undertake her transformation, and I'm a bit short of $400 right now for parts and labour. One of my clients owes me $1000 and keeps finding excuses for not having paid me, which is very frustrating.

Still, I had a chat to a reputable bike mechanic who told me what would need to happen to turn Petunia into a 7-speed beauty. He told me to keep the 27" wheels as they were in excellent condition and tyres would be readily available for some time to come. So that saves me forking out more $ for decent 700C wheels. I'll need a new crankset. New shifters and brake levers. I didn't have the bike with me at the time but will take her in so he can see her for himself and advise me as to feasibility. I know she has semi-horizontal dropouts so might be able to do it without too many extra adaptors. I've been reading the wonderful Sheldon Brown's thoughts on the Shimano Nexus system.

How much neater this rear wheel would look without the derailleur (or the nasty pie dish!)

Sadly neither my husband nor myself is mechanically talented enough to take the job on and save some money on labour costs. Ah, I have fond memories of T'Other Half putting together a sound system cabinet for my mother a couple of years ago. Three screws left over? No problem!!! :-))  So would I trust this man with bike building? Ah, no. It's just a shame my brother-in-law lives on the other side of the world!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Surfers' Paradox

I've just come back from sunny Queensland; in the heart of winter, you can wander around happily in a t-shirt up there. We flew up for my brother's wedding at the weekend, and stayed in Surfers' Paradise.

When I was ten years old my Mum and I went to Surfers for a holiday - my first ever holiday that took me more than an hours' drive from Sydney. I was thrilled and delighted and carried the memories of that seaside holiday in a town that was kitsch but fun with me for years after I grew out of the souvenir t-shirt.

That was a looong time again. I've been back to the Gold Coast three or four times since as I have family living there (but thankfully not in the heart of Surfers). I've seen it go from a seaside resort brimming with two-storey motels and a handful of high-rise holiday apartments and residential apartments to Las Vegas by the Sea. 

The Gold Coast is a party destination particularly for the under 30s who like to drink themselves stupid. There are stands and booths selling tickets to parties, or bar-hopping nights. Even in my 20s this kind of outing is something I would have run a hundred miles from. This sign encompasses all there is to know about Surfers Paradise circa 2010:

This part of the Gold Coast is a Mecca for school leavers at the end of the year. In November and early December wise people leave the district. There are shops that cater for the party crowd all year round, like this one:

What you see is what you get. The shoes were amazing - insane heels and platforms. People-watching late at night we saw girls clomping in their six-inch platforms to the nightclubs. There was a sign in "Trashy Shoes" which stated they offered a shoe minding service. If you wanted to wear your shiny, hot-pink and leopard-print stilettoes out of the shop and straight into the clubs, they will mind your existing shoes for you until the next day. Here I am showing off the merchandise, unable to keep a straight face.

Of course there is still the family-friendly side of the place. Theme parks just up the road (not for me thanks) and lots and lots of bicycles about. Plenty of bike hire places too but we were a bit short of time as it was literally a flying visit. Next time I'm riding around the Coast though - it's flat and cyclists careen about confidently, especially this time of year as it's out of holiday season. 

While I saw literally dozens of bikes, either chained outside a shop waiting for someone to hire them, or tethered to bike stands faithfully waiting for their owners, I didn't take photos. Don't know why. Maybe it's a case of 'see one 3 speed cruiser, see them all'. Tons of cruisers. This is cruiser city. 

One of the nicer bits about Cavill Mall in the main part of town is a lovely mosaic with scenes of local life - surfing, enjoying the outdoors and cycling. 

Surfers Paradise is famous for its Meter Maids, curvy girls in gold bikinis who are employed to feed the parking meters so hapless motorists aren't fined by the local Council when their parking runs out. On winter nights, these delicate, stilettoed creatures wear gold leggings. I never knew anyone made gold leggings. Let's just hope they don't take off as a fashion item, eh?

Cavill Mall is the main shopping part of town, full of tacky touristy shops, and plenty of cheap cafes serving half decent coffee and breakfast. It's an assault on the senses though. Blaring out over the constant noise of construction as more high-rise buildings take shape is the music which every shop and cafe insists on playing. All different. All annoying. You can hardly hear yourself think as you sip your coffee. It was a real relief to turn a corner and hear, for a moment, relative silence. I think we get used to a lot of white noise in our life, but sometimes you can become really aware of it. Sitting in a jumbo jet is quiet compared to Cavill Mall.

And finally, the architecture. As I said, it's changed a lot. It's all high-rise now. Any advantages the first tall buildings in the 60s and 70s had have long been eclipsed. Building after building has ensured that only the extremely wealthy get a decent sea view, and everyone else sees into the windows of the apartment building opposite. We counted no less than four buildings under construction in the same block as our hotel. And the bloody construction workers start work before 7am, too- just what you want after a late night out at a wedding!

Here's some of  the view from our hotel:

That curved building in the right really is curved - it's not just the wide angle lens, but admittedly the curvature has been a bit exaggerated.

And finally, the beach. The reason Surfers has been a seaside legend since the 1920s. Well, because of the high rise, the beach has almost disappeared. It's had to be topped up at regular intervals by sand imported from up or down the coast. High rise developments like this lot affect the way the wind moves with the sea and the dunes. Oh, and because the beach faces east/west, after lunch you don't get any sun on the beach because of the high-rise apartments.

This is before breakfast - you can see the tyre tracks where the beach is groomed and smoothed out on a nightly basis. It looks pretty wide here but imagine this picture was an inch wider on the right - you'd see the water.

Here's looking in the other direction - always swim between the red and yellow flags, as that's the area monitored by the lifeguards. And swim people did. We didn't pack our bathers - didn't think we'd have time to use them, but did paddle in the water, getting our rolled-up jeans soaked to the knees. Mmm, a luxury to walk on a beach in winter and not shriek at the temperature of the water!

Overall though I wonder what's going to win out in Surfers Paradise. Is it going to be just a party town, full of rowdy drunks? Apart from the theme parks, is it no longer a family place? And what of the high rise buildings, growing determinedly in spite of a financial crisis and with apartment price tags starting at $600K+ for a one-bedroom apartment? Who's buying them? There are a lot of brand new apartments still to be had 'off the plan'. Locals don't go to Surfers these days; they shop elsewhere, they swim elsewhere. 

What I ponder on is the impression any overseas traveller gets of Australia if Surfers is one of the few places they visit. It's long been a holiday of choice for Japanese people, and now Muslim travellers flock there in winter (and complain the meter maids are too scantily clad. This blog isn't a vehicle for cultural differences, but really, if you visit a place you should read up first and know what to expect. If I visited a Muslim country I'm sure I'd be made cover up; my culture wouldn't be given any quarter). It's a shame if a key impression they get of this brilliant country is one of drunks staggering out of nightclubs and throwing up in the streets. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Oh glory, back on deck!

Oh bliss. I have my MacBook back. With a new Logic Board and hard drive. Thank heavens for extended warranty. I'm so glad I had that. It would have cost more than a new Mac to get this one fixed otherwise!
So now I'm head down building websites for clients; I've missed out on ten days' hard graft and am going nuts catching up.
Tonight though I took a break. It's Bastille Day - joyeux jour de Bastille! - so it was an excuse for my husband to buy us a bottle of bubbly. I have French ancestors and that doubled the excuse. I stopped swearing at the computer (some things don't change even after the relief of getting it back but actually I was cursing the designer of a web template I was trying to use) long enough to whip up a dish of grilled chicken breast with a tarragon, cream and garlic sauce. I couldn't think of anything more French to cook in a limited timeframe.
Back to the cursing now. I've promised this guy a website by this weekend...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Souper Douper

I love making soup, especially in winter. Now, Sydney doesn't have a 'real' winter with snow and ice, but it does get cold enough that you feel uncomfortable without some form of heating. Our house is chilly and we've had the gas fire on at night and most days since late May. Which definitely makes it soup weather.
Celeriac is one of my favourite winter vegetables; it's low in carbs as well as being tasty. I usually either bake it to go with a roast, or mash it like potatoes with thyme and garlic and a bit of olive oil. But yesterday I decided to turn the huge celeriac in my fridge into soup.
I didn't have a recipe to hand so made something up along these lines:

Chop up 1 celeriac into 1" pieces
Chop finely 1 clove of garlic
Finely slice two leeks
Have about 1.5 litres of chicken stock to hand
Grate a bit of fresh nutmeg
To serve: cream and finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, salt and pepper.

Sweat the leeks in a big pot while you're chopping the celeriac and garlic. When they're soft, add the celeriac, garlic, stock and nutmeg, bring to the boil and simmer until the celeriac is soft - about 15 or so minutes.

Puree the soup in a food processor until it's smooth.

Serve with a dollop of cream, a generous sprinkle of parsley and a bit of salt and pepper. Stir the cream through the soup.

Yum!! Enjoy!!

Oh, and the Mac is still in hospital. I'm finding lots of time for cooking as there's so much work I can't do. Hope I get it back today or tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Enforced rose-smelling

The insane busyness has taken its toll - not on me but on my trusty electronic best friend, my MacBook Pro. The poor little thing has had a major conniption and now won't turn on. It 'hangs' on the startup Apple logo, as if it's afraid to go any further. The fab Apple support line has been brilliant in trying to help me get the little fella going again, but to no avail. So he's booked into the Apple doctor tomorrow.
Meanwhile I'm using my husband's tiny 8 year old PowerBook G4, which can't run Snow Leopard or the newest version of Safari, and which doesn't have Adobe Creative Suite installed. In many ways this has stopped me working. Yeah, I've got Office, but most of my work these days requires the CS and access to modern web browsers.
Surprisingly, I'm not stressed. I should be screaming about the workload mounting up and panicking that my Mac will have something horribly, terribly, fatally wrong with it and it won't get fixed in one afternoon (as Apple is promising me). I should be waking up through the night in a blue funk. These are my normal responses to computer-generated problems. But somehow I've accepted calmly that for the moment I'm buggered, and I'll have to take it slowly workwise until the Mac gets fixed.
My clients have been great about it and haven't pointed out that it's a bit unprofessional to only have one machine loaded with my necessary software. I guess being small business owners themselves they're aware of the cost of multiple licences for software. Aside from which the G4 probably can't run Adobe CS :-).
So it's a sunny winter's day, I still have one rose in bloom in the garden, which I've had the opportunity to admire and sniff appreciatively; now I think I'll go for a ride on one of the bikes. I suspect nature has been telling me to take a deep breath for quite a while.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

So how'd you like THEM apples?

Gosh, I've had an insanely busy few weeks. I picked up a new client who wanted a website for her own business and wants me to build 3 more for her clients. Stupidly I'd quoted a fixed price thinking her site would be about ten hours' worth. It's been about 30. Maybe more. She's wanted change after change. I could get nasty and slug her for more money but firstly I suspect she's like me - a one person company trying to make ends meet - and secondly I need her on side as she can bring a lot more work my way. So I've had her and her over the top website as well as my regular clients this month.

But that's not what this post is about. I saw an ad on TV last night that struck a chord with me. I don't watch much commercial TV. I hate the ads. But this one made me laugh as well as made me think.

You see, we've started to import fruit and vegetables from China. Now this is Australia. We are the lucky country. We have the perfect climate for growing all the fruit and veg we need. However, our government has seen fit to undermine our own farmers and do trade deals to keep China onside. Chinese farming, let me tell you, ain't the greatest. They use chemicals long since banned in the western world to keep bugs and diseases at bay. They use night soil (ie human poo) as a fertiliser. Chinese-grown garlic, for instance, is grown in night soil then chemically bleached and treated with heaven knows what else before it hits our shores.

Of course, Chinese fruit and veg is cheap for the consumer to buy, despite an horrendous carbon footprint as it travels here, because labour costs are so much cheaper in China. Australian farmers are having trouble competing - see this article for more. There has been a lot about this in the news over the last year or so, and consumers are becoming more savvy about buying local products, even if they do cost a little more.

The latest offering from China is apples. Farmers in Batlow, one of this country's premium apple growing districts, are despairing. Already they have a glut of apples despite selling country wide to supermarkets and other vendors. The whole town is an apple economy. It relies on apple sales to survive. Now the Chinese are going to bring in apples and the future of Batlow looks as bleak as the situation in Mildura, once the country's orange and citrus capital, now suffering as a result of imported oranges and orange pulp/juice. Last year farmers in Mildura ploughed hundreds of healthy trees into the ground because they couldn't sell the fruit. It was heartbreaking. We can import fruit in but we're not savvy enough to export it, it seems.

I do get cross at this government. I know we have to have trade deals with other nations. However, by importing fresh food which we are perfectly capable of growing here we are undermining our own rural industries. The Chinese textile industry (again, another industry which loves chemicals; formaldehyde to keep those shirts looking starched, anyone?) has seen the words "Made in Australia" just about disappear from our clothing shops. We can't compete. I'm damned if I want to see the same thing happen with the food I put in my mouth.

Anyway, back to the Apple ad. I hope it hits the hearts of the viewers. I hope people don't eventually become complacent and buy the imported fruit because it's $1 a kilo cheaper than locally grown. The economies of the Western world rely too heavily on China as it is. Now we have a new Prime Minister who doesn't speak Mandarin (unlike Krudd) she might listen to the growing dissent of the populace for imported Chinese food.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Construction time

I've spent a hectic day or so rebuilding my company's website. It was looking dated, and I've been mucking around with new website technology - in particular the pages option from WordPress - and thought it was time to bite the bullet. I'm seriously impressed with WordPress. I hadn't used the system before, and it was dead easy to install it on my server, with one click of the Fantastico button.

Next was a template. With literally thousands to choose from I found one that uses my corporate colours and has an ideal layout. Cost me all of $35. Came with instructions and a link to a video which explained it all beautifully.

Within three hours of making the decision to update, I had my four key pages up. I spent most of yesterday populating the site with portfolio items and other pages and doing final tweaking to text and layout. Half the time was spent going through all my work and selecting and editing key items for the portfolio.

A friend who recommended WordPress to me (he uses it to build sites for clients) pointed me in the direction of a contact form with anti-spam options and THAT installed with the click of a button. Very impressive. Having been used to FormMail and PERL scripts, it was a doddle.

My own business is 'business communications': websites, graphic design, copywriting and editing. I started it ten years ago when HTML was still the most common and affordable way to build a website for small businesses. I don't have the mental capacity to be a software engineer - my brain isn't wired that way - so messing around with java and other scripts hasn't been an option for me. I've been supplying people with robust HTML sites until now, but I'll be selling clients on WordPress from now on.

I now have a site which displays seamlessly on all browsers, shows off some nifty little sliders and other graphic devices, uses blog tags (on pages I select to use as posts rather than pages) to raise my SEO and in general looks 100% better than the rather swish little HTML site it replaced.

I'm a happy little bunny today.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Back: off

Dammit. Every time my fitness reaches a certain level, something gives. Usually my lower back or my neck. There I was last week, getting fitter, running for a longer portion of our morning walk every day, belting around on the bikes and feeling a million dollars. And now I have pulled muscles in my lower back.

I don't know how I did it. I think possibly I slept awkwardly on Friday night - probably twisting my lower body around the two cats who curl up tightly against me on colder nights. They can overheat me and I've probably wrenched something in my sleep trying to get my legs around them without kicking them off (I'm too kind to them, I think; I hate disturbing them too much when they sleep).

It wasn't too bad on Saturday morning however, just a little bit twingey. So I was daft enough to do some gardening. We have clay soil here. Planting anything new usually requires a pickaxe, and I had four plants to get out of their pots and in the ground. As I swung the pickaxe cheerfully I revelled in how much fitter I was than a few months ago; gosh, it was no effort at all, I wasn't puffing, I could go on for ages...

Two hours later I was hitting the painkillers and lying in front of the heater with the heat blowing onto my back. Yesterday I was still stiff and despite the beautiful day didn't even feel up to a ride. More painkillers. More heater. A short walk with the dog in the afternooon. It's still sore this morning but not as bad as yesterday. Time to start moving about more but I'm not up to anything strenuous.

Bugger!!! Big fat bugger!!!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The craft of Mr Bickle

My grandfather was a baker with his own bakery in Sydney's inner west. If you spoke to any of his customers they'd tell you that Mr Bickle made the best bread in Sydney. He was respected in his craft - during WWII and the era of food rationing the government had consulted him about breadmaking, flour quality and other elements of his craft. He'd retired by the time I was born, and my grandparents bought their bread from their local baker on the northern beaches, or the supermarket. Pop didn't go in for making his own after retirement. Can't blame him after 40 years on the job I guess!

Except for once. I was ten, and our school teacher wanted us to learn about bread and we were given an assignment to bake a loaf of bread. Our teacher would judge the loaves in a competition. Parents were allowed help. In my case, Pop did the work and I watched and learned. I'd never seen him in action before; his arms were still strong and wiry as he kneaded and pulled the dough until it became elastic and pliable. The smell of the baking bread in the kitchen was divine (Mum didn't bake her own either so it was a first for our kitchen.) As far as I can recall he just used plain flour from the supermarket to make this lovely loaf - supermarkets didn't sell strong flour back then. It didn't surprise me when Pop's loaf was judged the best.

Pop's bread in his baking heyday contained no preservatives, unlike today's bread. However, even so, it didn't go mouldy for lack of chemicals either as supermarket bread does today. I suspect that the wheat grown more than 55 years ago didn't have the wealth of pesticides and other much sprayed onto it that today's wheat gets to ensure the harvest is as big as can be. A lot of the fertilisers and pesticides available today hadn't been invented then - and thank heavens for that, really!

Even bread you buy today at owner-run bakeries is pretty well rubbish for the most part (and supermarket bread is DEFINITELY crap). The wheat that makes the flour has been loaded with toxins as it grows, both sprayed on and in the soil. T'other Half and I still buy the supermarket or bakery stuff though for the most part. Around here the choices for organic bread aren't great. There are frozen organic spelt loaves in the local health food store but the flavour seems to have been frozen out of them.

I do bake my own bread from time to time - you have to set aside half a day for it, although you can work and do other things while the dough is proving (rising). Getting organic flour hasn't been the easiest around here until fairly recently. Organic plain flour is available in the supermarkets, organic wholemeal (which I prefer) is much harder to find although I notice our health food store has it in occasionally and the health food section of the supermarket had it last week, so I stocked up. Organic strong bakers' flour, should I wish to make white bread, doesn't seem to exist. My oven is a cantankerous thing, too - it's feast or famine, or rather burnt or undercooked depending on the oven's capriciousness on the day. I have to add half an hour to any baked dinner I make and bread can be quite hit or miss. Hence home bread baking doesn't happen as often as it should in this house.

But today was Farmers' Market day - hurrah!! We have Farmers' Markets five minutes' drive away once a month, and there is a bread seller there from a bakery up the coast with a range of superb organic breads. They aren't cheap - I paid $8 for a loaf of rustic sourdough (at left), and $9 for a loaf of spelt, which is frankly bloody ridiculous - but the flavour and texture leaves commercial breads for dead. I'm sure there is cheaper organic bread to be had in Sydney but not around this part of town, and driving halfway across Sydney to save a couple of dollars on bread costs a lot more in petrol.

Farmers' markets are popping up all over Sydney, giving a fresh and usually organic alternative to supermarkets, and it's a good thing. I like to buy directly from the farmers; you know you're getting fresh stuff which hasn't been in cold storage for weeks, and the farmers are getting the money directly. Five or so years ago there were only a handful of farmers' markets/organic markets, now there are several in each region of the city. Some of them - like the Fox Studios market - are huge affairs where you are really dazzled for choice.

My mother thinks I'm mad in my quest to seek out good organic food. "Organic!' she snorts contemptuously. "Overpriced rubbish! WE never had organic food in MY day!" But as I point out to her, when she was a girl and young woman a lot of the food she ate would have been close to organic, or at least it would have had far fewer chemicals sprayed onto it. In an era before refrigerators were commonplace, fruit and veg would have truly been only seasonally available, and you would have shopped several times a week for the freshest stuff. (My mother is 85 next month... so I'm talking 1920s-1950s.)

So now I have a fruit bowl full of this season's apples - Pink Lady apples, some with the vestige of a stem still attached. They are a little lumpy and misshapen, unlike supermarket apples. They aren't perfect to look at, but the flavour is so intense it makes you delirious. I have the last of this season's tomatoes, smaller than they were last month at the markets, but still full of flavour. I have pumpkins and carrots and autumn's harvest in general.For my bounty, I paid less than I would have at the local greengrocer. My kitchen smells of fresh produce. I have washed-rind and cheddar cheese worthy of a French fromagerie. From the organic saltbush lamb man we have lamb steaks and chops which melt in your mouth, from the Hunter Valley meat man a whole half rump which I know from experience will make the tenderest steaks. We have a months' worth of meat now (we don't eat meat every day).

And best of all I have the bread. The loaves are unsliced, and the bread seller recommended slicing them before freezing the loaf if we weren't going to scoff them all in a couple of days. I've just finished slicing them (and having to have a taste along the way). Mr Bickle would have been proud to have made them; the texture is perfect, the loaves are dense and heavy. In a mass production world it's good to know that the craft of Mr Bickle is a lot more than just pre-mixed flour blends churned out by people who haven't even done a baker's apprenticeship, and that there is a growing number of people like me who demand old-fashioned artisan bread without all the chemicals.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sydney's getting more bike-friendly

It was heartening to hear in the news a couple of days ago that the City of Sydney Council is planning a more thorough off-road network of bike routes. Cycling in the heart of the city is terrifying. I'm not game to try it. It's bad enough driving through town, and even being a pedestrian has its moments when cars jump red lights.

So here's the plan so far. In a nutshell:

'At the heart of this commitment is a safe, convenient and sustainable 200 kilometre network (including 55 kilometres of separated cycleways) that we are building to reduce road congestion, cut emission and improve public health.
We have designed the network to improve connections between employment, recreation and residential destinations to make cycling an attractive transport choice.
To build this network the City has allocated $76 million over the next four years.'

The map above shows the central business district. It's a start! Some of it is already in place, like these lanes in King St:

Sydney City still has a fair way to go though. Parramatta City Council has some fab bike routes which we've used at weekends. Its central business district is far more bike friendly.

In an inspired move (I say inspired because it's rare that our state government does anything inspirational) the T-Way bus system that connects the north west of Sydney via special lanes and bus-only roadways and flyovers comprises cycle lanes. It means you can ride, should you feel fit enough, from Parramatta to Richmond without having to go through door zones or traffic.

The M7 motorway which links the northwest with the southwest has a specially built, separate cycle path running parallel to the motorway so cyclists can take the M7 route but be totally separate from cars and traffic. My friend Julie who works for the Roads & Traffic Authority (RTA) says that cyclists still insist on using the hard shoulder of the M7 instead of the cycle path though - why, I don't know; you get the same exits whether you're on a bike or in a car. I can't imagine why you'd want to risk your life riding in high speed traffic when you could have a brand new cycle path without gravel, broken glass or any other obstacles.

Wandering around the RTA website I found this little handbook for cyclists.