Thursday, March 15, 2012

Freedom

I can't imagine there is anyone who still reads this blog although I do think people stumble across it from time to time. My last post was on June 11th and I am guessing that on that day, on that walk, was when I missed the step that severely flared up a major herniation I have in one of the discs in my back. For a few weeks I was just in minor pain, but then in early July, my back seized up in my sleep...big time. Even my abs seized. I've been in pain and in physical therapy ever since.

I've also hardly been on a bike since. I tried in November, but the combination of lifting my leg over the bar and the sheer amount of inflammation I had at the time got my back so close to seizing while I was riding that I've been afraid to even ride. When the MRI results came back, both my PT and my doctor agreed that I need to see a surgeon. The appointment to see him is next week, but apparently the herniation is such that it wouldn't be a simple laminectomy to fix. As if back surgery is ever simple. I also know from working with clients who've had herniated discs repaired surgically that the surgery itself can cause new pain and problems. And you'll always be more vulnerable in that area.

Anyway, about a month ago I really started having trouble with walking and since it hurt to drive I've just been feeling trapped in my house. Riding the stationary bike is so boring but my PT said my best bet for being able to walk more without pain was to cycle.

So, today, I went and bought a new bike. It's a Specialized comfort bike and I'm sitting so upright that I look like Mary Poppins when I ride. It's got shocks and a comfort seat and a step through frame so I don't have to lift my leg up. The sales guy joked, "It's like riding a couch." I took it for a spin and my back felt so great. I said, "This feels even better than a couch." So, we decked it out with fenders and a light and grocery baskets and a lock and I rode it home. The great thing about it is that my legs never even extend far enough back to be in line with my torso. This relieves all the strain on the central protrusion in that disc.

When I got home I added the water bottle holder, pump and seat pack from Reilly and said to Peter, "I'm riding to Tabor." I was thinking that I would just ride to Tabor and come home without actually riding to the top, but my back was feeling so good I decided to give it a try.

My new bike has some pretty good gearage (if that's a word) so it handled the hill pretty well. Plus, I'm not miserably out of shape. But it was slow going as it's not a light bike and I think the forward angle of my legs probably reduced my power. My heart was pumping and I was getting soaking wet. The whole thing was actually ridiculous because I was wearing jeans and my Clark's shoes and a sweater and sweating my butt off.

But then I got to the top. And I was overwhelmed with emotion. This was the first time I had been up here on a bike since I hurt my back. Riding on Mt. Tabor is one of my favorite things to do in this whole world and I had missed it so much. I stopped at the place where you can see the view of the city and called my dad. When he answered the phone I started to cry. I said, "You'll never guess where I am," and told him all about my new bike.

When I was riding home I started thinking about what I wanted to name my bike. Peter teases me for naming my bikes and says I'm just like the Norse. Apparently they named everything like houses and chairs. I like to do it though. The feelings I've had over these last nine months have been of a loss of freedom. I'll never be able to do cardio dance again. I have to be careful about every step I take when I walk. Since it hurt to drive and I hate to drive anyway and the nerve root pain I was feeling made getting on my bikes hard I just felt trapped. Stay at home. Rest. Or go out into the world and hurt.

Riding this new bike I felt something new though. I was out in the world and I wasn't hurting. I felt better than when I rest. I felt freedom. Freedom from pain. Freedom from being trapped in my house. Freedom from having to ride that stupid stationary bike everyday in order to be able to eat anything. Freedom to climb and sweat and be surrounded by beautiful things. So, it seemed to me that there couldn't be a more appropriate name for this new bike, my shock absorbing couch on wheels, my new Mt. Tabor climbing steed, than FREEDOM!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Cupcakes

If you ever come to Portland, one thing you must try is a Saint Cupcake cupcake. They are, hands down, the best cupcakes in the Universe. The red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting is just amazing. To. Die. For. Simply wonderful. Seriously, one day I was really depressed (it was just a really bad day that simply would not get better) and my friend Lucy called while I was in the middle of sobbing. She said, "What can I do?" I said, "Can you bring me a Saint Cupcake cupcake?" And she did. And it helped. They are just that good.

So, upon realizing that we were running out of time to make something homemade for my friend Taya's party tonight we decided to walk over to Saint Cupcake and get a dozen. The lady behind the counter said, "You going to a barbecue?" I said, "Yep. I figure if you're not going to bring something homemade, there is nothing better than showing up with cupcakes." She smiled, "These will definitely be a hit."

Reilly had a flat (I think she needs a new tire), so we strapped the cupcakes to the rack of Peter's commuter bike. I took out Amie, my much ignored road bike as of late, dressed in my new favorite sundress.
It's not a short ride to Taya's new house. We took the bike streets until Burnside had a bike lane, then zipped down Burnside, up 122nd and over to 131st (about a 40 minute ride total). The whole way I kept asking, "Are the cupcakes okay?" "Yep, they're good!" replied Peter, looking back to check on them.

We got to Taya's and presented our gift. "Saint Cupcake!" she exclaimed and she opened the box:
Oh no! We laughed so hard. I mean side splitting, tears, silent laughter kind of laughing. It was a great party and people still enjoyed the cupcakes, scooping out some frosting with each one.

We really moved on the way home and I had so much fun! Might have been bitten a little bit by the bicycle bug tonight again. My back felt good with the 80 minutes of riding. If it's a sunny day tomorrow, you might find me out on the Springwater on Amie. We shall see.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Chris and Ashley

My brother, Chris and his fiancee, Ashley, are out visiting this week. They got here Thursday and for dinner we attempted a bike ride to the taco cart. Unfortunately, our bikes, even with the seats all the way down, were way too big for them, so we had to change our plan and walk instead. I will say that riding my road bike around for that little bit reminded me what a great bike it is. If I can carve out some time and get some nice weather I'd really like to attempt a 2-hour ride soon. My back has been doing so great lately that I have been hesitant to change my workouts much. But I do miss long rides and we've got the Cycle Oregon weekend ride this summer so I've got to get some training in!

Yesterday, we took them on an all-day marathon walking tour of Portland. I was a little worried the whole time that they were going to get exhausted and stop having fun. But, they were both troopers and I'm sure by the time the day was over we'd walked over 10 miles.

We started with a walk downtown, across the Willamette River where I got this nice shot of them with the city in the background.
Our next stop was the cart pod on SW 10th and SW Alder. First, we did a once-around to show them all their options. It's really astounding all the great food choices we have from carts in Portland. Lots of Thai, Vietnamese, barbecue, Japanese, Greek, hot dogs, Egyptian, Indian, Brazilian, Cuban, soup, German, organic healthy, NW, fish n chips, bubble tea and desserts and I'm sure more than I can't think of. Eating at a cart in Portland is a quintessential Portland experience. Peter decided on a gyro, I went for chicken yakisoba and Chris and Ashley went for fish n chips. We ate our meal in the Galleria, got dessert at Cafe Bleu and started the long walk up the the Japanese Garden.
Along the way, Chris had a little fun with the creepy baby face statues.


We had a nice view of Mt. St. Helens with my favorite bridge, the sweeping Fremont Bridge.
When we got to the Japanese garden, we headed first for the view of Mt. Hood. Amazing.
Then, we wandered around the garden, admiring the azaleas and Japanese maples, taking pictures of koi, watching the zen stick slowly fill with water, dip down into the bucket below then lift back up and slowly get filled with water again. Mesmerizing.
On the way home, we showed Chris and Ashley Matt Groening's Bart picture near Lincoln High.

Then, we came home for an hour and a half rest. Chris and Ashley fell right to sleep, Peter and I made sandwiches and walked Dexter and before we knew it it was time to leave for the hockey game.

We always walk to the Rose Garden from our house. It's much more fun than driving. To my amazement, Chris and Ashley were still up for it which was so much fun. I felt like I was not only sharing my city with my brother and future sister-in-law, but I was showing it to them in the way that I, myself, love to see it. In my head I thought as we were walking to the game, This is, hands down, the best visit I have ever had with a family member.

The hockey game was fun, even though the Winterhawks lost. Kootenay Ice actually won the WHL championship as a result, though, so it was fun to watch them get their trophies and celebrate.


On the way home we stopped for another quintessential Portland experience, Voodoo Donuts. It was packed! Peter and I decided to try the bacon maple bar for the first time. Ashley and Chris got a bacon maple bar to share and my favorite donut, The Old Dirty Bastard (oreo, chocolate and peanut butter). We walked home and sat around the table eating our donuts (delicious!) and talking and laughing until the wee hours of the morning. It was a great day.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Amuse-Bouche

We set out today after a solid morning workout (and a light breakfast) for a five-hour adventure around the city. First stop, Built to Grill to share an order of fried calamari, our current new food interest. The calamari was crispy and delicious, drizzled with lemon and served with marinara sauce.
Then, we set out for lunch. I was in the mood for SPICY so I decided on chicken fajitas served with corn tortillas and habanero salsa. Peter went with a Bohemian goulash that he enjoyed quite a bit.

We wandered over to Deschuttes Brewery next for a couple of nitro stouts. So good! Their coffee nitro stout could very well be the finest beer I've ever had in my life, but this was mighty tasty too.

Next, we ambled over to Pazzoria to hopefully find some cinnamon-y chocolate chip cookies, but sadly they were out. So, we walked over to the Heathman to see if we could participate in high tea. Unfortunately, high tea requires reservations and had started an hour earlier. We'll definitely have to do that sometime though. So, we settled on chocolate chip cookies (which were quite cinnamon-y) at the Nordstrom cafe, sitting out at the bistro tables across from Pioneer Courthouse square and sipping coffee.

While we sipped and nibbled, sitting there for quite some time, we talked about how neither one of us are multi-taskers. We both like to do one thing at a time. I guess we enjoy listening to music while we do cardio, but in general, we try to focus on one task at a time. We wondered if this is partly because we don't have children. Maybe it's a luxury to be able to focus solely on one thing, cooking or reading or cycling or writing. If it is, it's something I enjoy about my life.

We also got talking about our new Molecular Gastronomy kit we'd received in the mail a couple of days ago. We decided we wanted to play tonight with our new toys. So, we walked back over to the Pearl, to Sur La Table, and bought some not-to-expensive little serving dishes for amuse-bouches. Then we went to Whole Foods and bought some ingredients for our ideas.

After walking home, we set to work: We juiced, we measured, we blatzed in the cuisinart. When we were done we had 5 little dishes.

Little caprese salads made from Greek yogurt, tomato and powdered olive oil.

Shrimp with a lime, olive oil, jalapeno and cilantro sauce.

Fennel, salami and feta amuse-bouche drizzled with olive oil.
And these little kiwi things that were supposed to have little beads of rhubarb juice and mango juice sprinkled on top. The beads just melted so we obviously need to get better at that, but it was still mighty tasty.
A last minute addition to our feast was frozen coconut lychee jelly (like you get at the Asian grocery store) shaved over chocolate chips.

This was one of our most typical weekend days. Exercising a ton so we can eat like kings, wandering all over the city, thinking about life and food and somehow always finding something interesting to talk about even though we've been together for nearly 14 years. You know, when we got home, we were drenched with rain, but as I was writing this I had hardly remembered that. Good food, good fun, a good friend and a little adventure could never be dampened by a few raindrops.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Two Tomatoes

I rode off today in the best mood. I got a very reserved, very "Mom" client to drop the f-bomb this afternoon with my new trap table workout. It is so hard and wakes up muscles in a way they've never felt before and really challenges your balance and coordination. And about 25 minutes into it, she said under her breath, "F*#k!" That, I tell you, will make any trainer's day. I should put a sign on my door that says, "Profuse sweating and outbursts of profanity much appreciated."

Anyway, I don't like to talk about my work on here much because that's not what this blog is about, but man did that feel good. She was so proud of herself when she was done and gave me a huge hug with an exclamation of "Another amazing workout, Sara." So, anyway, as I rode off that was what I was thinking about and even though it was drizzling the world felt quite sunny to me.

Actually, I think one sunny day in Portland in the spring, for me, is like one rainy day in the desert. The positive repercussions last for days. I don't care that it's drizzling, I got to wear a sundress yesterday!

I already had my workout done for the day, but I needed a couple of things to get ready for my friend to come over for a sauna party. Well, it's not really a party because it's just one person, but if you're an introvert like me having one friend over feels like a party. My plan is to make caprese salad, and since I couldn't resist enjoying the tomato I bought for it over the weekend, I needed a new one.

As I pedaled through our neighborhood, the streets shiny with rain, I was mostly thinking how much fun it is to do cheap, fun things. I feel weird about spending money on stuff. I always ask if the thing I'm buying will make me happier than what I already have. Like, "Will these sandals make me happier than my flip-flops?" Unlikely. "Will this new car with it's monthly car payments make me happier than my old car?" Definitely not. I like spending money on experiences like travel or food. I'd rather pay for a massage than a new purse. Actually, I hate purses so that's not a good example. Anyway, my point is, I just got both my bikes fixed for 10 bucks and I'm having a ball on my short little ride to the grocery store. So, it's a cheap, fun thing, and well, it makes me happy.

Anyway, 10 minutes later, I was out of the store, having forgotten my wallet, (but luckily I remembered some cash), with two bright shiny tomatoes. And, so I pedaled home, with the sun peeking out as it does so often, even on a rainy day in Portland in April, pleased with my day and my work and my life and my now functioning bike to get ready for my friend and fire up the sauna. Cheers!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Coffee, Calimari, Cookies and Chicken Taco

Peter and I take amazing walks. It's part of how we feed our natural traveler's spirit when we're in between trips. I've decided to start including a diary of our walks here on my cycling blog, because, well, it's my blog and I thought it might be fun to record and share them.

It's about a 30 minute walk to downtown from our house and just before you get to the bridge across the Willamette you walk past Water Avenue Coffee. We decided to stop in and try out the Pour Over Coffee, a very Portland experience. The barista was dressed smartly in a button down shirt, tie and apron and explained that we had two choices for our coffee, an African coffee, that was richer and had tea overtones and an El Salvador coffee that was lighter with hints of tobacco. We said, "One of each!" First, he ground the coffee and then poured hot water through the filters and into the carafes below.

Then, he took about 3.5 minutes to carefully, methodically, pour hot water through the grounds. As he poured and we watched, he explained in some detail, the intricacies of pour over coffee and the particular types of coffee that we had chosen.
When he was finished, he swirled the coffee around and poured us a cup of each. We sat down for our taste test, sipping and switching and sipping some more. We talked about how fun it would be to take my brother and his fiance here when they come to visit next month. Eventually, we decided that Peter liked the El Salvadorean coffee best and I liked the African coffee best which worked out nicely.
As we left I said, "You know, that is a characteristic I really appreciate in my fellow man," speaking of the very knowledgeable, very zealous barista. "What do you mean?" Peter asked in response. I said, "To love something that much, to be passionate, almost to the point of obsession, so that it is obvious to anyone who comes across you that you love something so." Peter said, "Yeah, it's amazing to see someone who loves what they do as much as he does."

I was very excited to be able to wear a sundress today and Peter got this nice picture of me with the river and the city in my dress. Proof of sundress weather in Portland in April. Yahoo!
"I'm really craving calamari!" Peter had announced before leaving, so after getting downtown we headed over to Berbati's Pan for a plate of fried calamari with feta, olives and green onions. We'd never had this before on our downtown walking adventures, so it was fun to try something new.
Next, we walked to the Pearl and stopped at Pearl Bakery for chocolate chunk cookies. We used to live in the Pearl District and after finishing our cookies and we talked as we wandered around the neighborhood how it was one of those things in life wear the reality didn't live up to the dream. I think people who love Europe wish that we could have what they have with long afternoons sipping espresso or drinking wine while sitting in wicker chairs around bistro tables surrounding the piazza. I know I was wishing for people young and old going for walks before dinner, or meeting up for ice cream for an afternoon snack. Unfortunately, we found that once we got to the Pearl that the sidewalks were nearly as empty as the sidewalks in the suburbs. The only people you saw out were the dog walkers. Within 9 months of moving into our loft, we were out looking for houses. We also got tired of having to pay money to sit outside. It's nice to be able to go out on the back patio to drink your coffee and eat your cereal in the morning...for free.

Continuing on with our snacking we stopped at Cha! Cha! Cha! for tacos; chicken for me and shrimp for Peter. I did a masterful job of splashing avocado salsa all over my cardigan and dress, but, for the most part, got myself all cleaned up in the bathroom. Whatever is left we'll just say is adding to the "patina" of the dress. Sure, that sounds good.
Next we wandered up to the NW 23rd area, where there are many, many more people out enjoying their neighborhood. We went up 21st, down 23rd, admiring the cherry blossoms and planning what we wanted to do about dinner. Peter had mentioned ceviche which sounded good to me. We have an agreement in our house that we must go out for ceviche. We tried to make it about 6 months ago and after eating it Peter was in such a panic about food poisoning that he very quickly set about getting both of us drunk. You know, to kill the bacteria. Reminiscing about this night we both had a good chuckle, but in the end we decided that a couple of bahn mi sandwiches sounded the best.
So, we wandered back into downtown, and over to the cart pods where we purchased 2 sandwiches for 5 bucks.
Then, we made our way back across the river, across the train tracks and back up the hill to home. I changed out of my sundress, built a fire, and we enjoyed our sandwiches to the pop and snap of a real wood fire in the backyard.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sunny Day, Skyr, and Thoughts on Life

What a beautiful, sunny day it is today. I had an hour of cardio dance scheduled today so I knew I didn't want to go for a fitness ride (ie. hills), but a 40-min there and back ride to Whole Foods sounded like a lovely thing to do when my 10:30 had to reschedule this morning. You see, I've become a little bit hooked on Siggi's skyr. I have a thing for creamy food. I love all things dairy, especially yogurt, whipped cream, mousse, ice cream. I also love guacamole, hummus, baba ghanoush. We ate skyr two or three times a day when we were in Iceland and since we've been home I've just kept up the habit. Skyr on oatmeal for breakfast. Skyr for an afternoon snack. It's packed with protein and at just 100 calories a serving, it's the perfect food for someone who has an (ahem) slow metabolism.

Anyway, two weeks ago when I was at Whole Foods I bought so many of them that the clerk asked me if I just wanted to order cases so I could get a discount. "Sure," I said, "I'll take a peach and a vanilla." Yesterday, I got the message that they were in, so it seemed like the perfect excuse for a sunny ride to NE Portland and back on my trusty, basket-equipped commuter bike, Reilly.

Despite the dry, near perfect day, I was in something of a somber mood on my ride. My thoughts were about how life can really get hard sometimes. I have four friends who are going through some tough times right now, some harder than others. Some really, really hard. Anyway, I know what that's like because I've had some serious struggles in my life too and well, today it was just on my mind.

I have this theory that hard things we choose to go through like running a marathon or putting yourself through college or doing RAGBRAI or losing 40 pounds, these things I think can have an incredibly empowering effect on our lives. I think it's because at any time you can just choose to stop and nothing really bad will happen to you. But, if you finish that marathon even when nearly every part of you wanted to stop; when you just held on to that little part of your will that said, "You can do it! Keep running!," then you can draw on that feeling for the rest of your days. You learn that you are able to persevere.

But, I think some things, like long illnesses, like the death of a loved one, like crippling poverty or the sense of being trapped by choices that you didn't even make in your life, these things can leave us feeling vulnerable. I think it's because you're stuck. You can't get out of it, you have to just w-o-r-k t-h-r-o-u-g-h it. Some people do feel empowered by these things, I'm sure, but I think it is less likely. At least, that's my experience. It's hard to reminded that life can get really hard, really fast, with no warning and what you thought you knew about life and maybe even yourself just isn't true anymore. That's tough. Life. It can sometimes be so hard.

Of course, I was thinking about all these things as I do when I ride in that relaxing left pedal, right pedal slightly meditative state. I was heading through a bike signal by the library after having picked up my skyr when, WHOA!, a firetruck was running the red light. I had heard the siren, but hadn't quite registered it as being close because it was being blocked by the houses. I slammed on the brakes, stopping halfway into the intersection. Cycling can really be a mixed bag, sometimes. I'd love to live in a world without cars. Of course, I guess you'd still need firetrucks. And airplanes because I want to see the world.

So, I made my way home, still pensive, still pedaling, but now with two cases of my current favorite food. In fact, I think I'll go have one right now. I'm thinking vanilla. Or, maybe peach. No, definitely vanilla.