Friday, May 21, 2010

Bike to work day - Specialized Commuter Cup!


Today was the Specialized Commuter Cup Challenge/ bike to work day - the day when the bike industry competes for the Commuter trophy. QBP has won it most years, but not last year - and the e-mails were thick in the inbox cajoling us all week. I figured, "Eh, I've been riding a bit lately, weather sounds like it will be pleasantly cool Friday, Why not? Oh, look, Steve (owner) is leading a ride in from Penn Cycle - I can latch onto that group no problem."

So, last night I set my alarm and my radio and my phone to all go off in one great symphony of noise, called my sister, got called by my mother, and read just a chapter or two from a book before calling it a night. This morning I surfaced slowly, glanced at the radio serenading me with the latest The Current (89.3) had to offer and, "8:20?! I'm not going to make it! What happened?" I threw myself out of bed and was already half dressed by the time I hit the bathroom. I was out the door with 7 minutes to do a 12 minute ride and hoped the things were starting with a relaxed pace. The previous week of riding into work served me well and I made it to Penn Cycle in 10 minutes with good wind. The group left shortly thereafter. We did not take the direct route to work. I didn't *really* think we were going to. I thought maybe we'd end up going through the park even though it was out of our way. I knew that if we did go through the park we'd go up Nesbitt, but what I had forgotten (along with a water bottle) was just how many hills were involved in such a ride.

Now, I was feeling pretty good about the initial ride, so when we reached the turning point and I had the option to take the straight-shot into work I said, "It's been a long time since I rode through the park, I think that sounds lovely! But, I'm going to need some water." Steve had some and we set out. 5 blocks later I was reminded of the Hills of Nesbitt and breathing hard, but I was keeping with the group more or less, so things were fine. Plus, we were almost to the park entrance, and riding through the park really is pleasant.

The park, if you don't know your way through it, can swallow you whole. There are two or three interconnecting loops and the paths are decidedly not straight. The first few times through you should take a guide, at least until you get a feel for the turnings and intersections. It had been a long time since I passed through the park. 1 year? 2? But even so, I had traced the trail over a hundred times. We did not turn onto the standard route. "Ahh," I thought, " We're going the long way." And it was beautiful. Better than I remembered it.


I was *thirsty* My body was starting to express its frustration with me in the form of noodle-y muscles and copper-tasting breath. I mooched a little more water off of Steve, but I didn't want to run him dry. When we got to the bubbler (hop-skip-and-a-jump from the QBP parking lot,) I peeled off and slurped down some of the mineral-y goodness. Getting back on the bike was a little difficult, and I might have walked up the second climb now that there was no group to keep up with, but after the long downhill that lets you know you're reaching the edge of the park I was moving well again. As I entered the parking lot I was greeted by the scent of bacon on the breeze. Mmm...bacon. Pancakes, Bacon, a long e-mail and two giant glasses of water later, I was cool, relaxed and ready to assemble reports and create charts - To Track Down lost product and find it Good Homes! To log my Commuter Credits on! To provide internal structure for the QBP Wiki!

And I'll remember to bring a water bottle on my way home.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

And now that the world is less frozen

There is still most of a mountain of what could be termed "snow" over in the Cub Foods parking lot.  The blackness it has acquired from spending months next to cars in constant motion makes it hard to remember its roots are in that fluffy whiteness that fell from the sky.  The melt-puddles *are* super-fun to drive through, though.

This almost-mountain is what I hope is all that is left of the Winter.  I am ready to go dig dirt in other peoples' yards!  To build rain-water collection systems!  To open the windows!  To fire-up a forge!

Yeti has been taking the wraps off the metal shop.  We got out and got some glow-y metal under the power hammer, knocked the rust off the anvil faces (there was hardly any, thanks to many loving coats of WD-40,) and started in on refreshing the hammer callouses.

It felt so good.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve is a big deal in my family.  It's a night thick with tradition - from the Olpoiteck to the perogies to the mushroom soup to the gift exchange.  Don't we look good?

Friday, October 30, 2009

...I went to the store, "I'll just get some netting..."


Well, they had fabrics I thought were cool for 95 cents/ yard and I caved. I bought around 20 yards of fabric and it was great. It's in the wash getting ready for me to turn it into stuff...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I've been playing with beads over the last while and a bit.  I like beads. 

I think they might like me back.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Swords for the Masses

Two weeks ago I went to the Lamberton Iron Pour.

Lamberton is a small town about two and a half hours Southwest of where I live. The kind of town that makes you slow down to 30mph as you pass through. You know, That town.

In the ten-plus years I'd been pouring metal, I had never been to the Lamberton Pour (5th Annual.) Larry handed me a photocopied flyer while I was at the "Down on the Farm" pour in June. I looked at the half-sheet with it's picture of Minnesota (a white dot indicating Lamberton's location) dates, and little else and said, "Sure, why not?" I tucked the flyer away and forgot about it until I was unpacking in July and found five of the white reminders peppering my laundry. I pulled one out and thought, "Why not?" I put it on my calender with a "notify me one week before" reminder, and forgot about it. September rolls around and the reminder pops up. "Huh," I think, "why not?" and I start planning the trip down.

When I say the flyer had dates and a picture of Minnesota, I mean that is just about all the information on the flyer. No contact information, no, "Scratch molds available for $15," no "We have a place for you to crash," and it was to be sponsored by the "Lamberton Historical Society." huh? "The Lamberton Historical Society? Never heard of 'em. Oooh... it'll be taking place at a Blacksmith's shop. Blacksmith shops are good, ... but not for pouring iron. I'm confused." It did reference a "Sandshop," but that could mean so many different things. I know of three different sand-type molds for casting Iron and they all take different patterns and techniques to execute. I went hunting for more information over my lunch hour. I mean, in the Great Age of the InterWebNets, how hard could it be?

Turns out, not too hard. There was one clean Google hit - another flyer - and this flyer had a bit more in the way of color, oh, and more dates - "Friday? That's today! And I have to work the closing shift tonight?!? uuuhh... ok, the Pour is tonight at 10pm? ahh...lessee...I'll be able to get out of here by 7, get home, grab three shirts, my pouring gear (thank goodness it's already in a bag,) and boots... I can make it out of town by 8 for sure, so I won't miss the whole thing, I mean, you can't finish a pour in less than an hour... Wait! Where am I sleeping?!"
Fifteen minutes later I booked a hotel room 10 miles out, scarfed down a vending machine sandwich, and had my plan in place. Heck, with the added, unexpected, rush, it was almost like being swept off my feet to go on some Adventure. I've always wanted something like that to happen to me. (Well, ever since Megan Johnson swept me off to see a rainbow in 12th grade and I realized how much fun it can be.)

As I said, Lamberton is a small town. It's in these small towns that my favorite events happen. There is something magical about them to a suburban girl like me. When a town like this throws an event, the Town turns out to attend. There was a funnel cake vendor. Guess what I had for dinner.

I made it to the pour site just as the showy, pyrotechnic pieces were being poured. Molds made from wood rain dandelion-fluff sparklers when they come in contact with molten iron. Witnessing these pieces poured at night is, singularly, the most beautiful sight I know. Considering the height to which the sparks fly and the spread of the fallout pattern, being too close can also be a bit more thrilling than the average spectator is interested in. I just pulled up the hood of my sweatshirt, dug my hands into my pockets, and absorbed the glow. So beautiful.

The next morning I got up early. Super early. 8:30 am.

Yeah, I hear you scoffing. "8:30, Kate? Come now. Most days I've been at work an hour by the time 8:30 rolls around!" Well. Be that as it may, it's still 3 hours earlier than I normally get up, so pretend I'm you, and I said 3:30 am, and appreciate how excited I was, darnit.

So. Up at 8:30, in Lamberton by 9:00. The night before I had located the Blacksmith shop, ascertained what type of molds were being created in the "Sandshop," and knew I had until 11:00 to complete any patterns I wanted cast. (A pattern is what you make a mold from.) I had a chunk of pink styrofoam in the car and I had planned my piece out as I was falling asleep the night before. 2 hours would be plenty of time.

I kicked around the Blacksmith shop for a while waiting for people to show up. Saw a few of the Blacksmith demonstrators setting up, chatted with them a while, asked if maybe it was a hands-on demonstration? (holding my most recent set of tongs behind my back as I asked) "No," they said, "it is not." *sigh* I strolled out to the pour site. Where was Clayton, anyway? I was down to an hour and a half. I saw Larry poking through the molds poured the night before and asked. "Oh, they are over at the picnic shelter in the park," Park?
I looked over my shoulder in the direction he was pointing. Sure enough. Park. Picnic shelter. People looking industrious. Destination Locked.

I swept into the picnic shelter, chunk of pink styro in hand, casing the joint for resources. I had a little over an hour at this point, and I needed to know what corners I could cut. The workspace was laid out very well. Sand mixer, corded drill, table saw, tables to work at and, yes, a hot wire. Hot wires provide the smoothest cut you can get in styrofoam, and, if you have thick material, lots of cuts, or intricate cuts, the fastest. I would be able to shape my patterns at speed. I turned to set my tools down so that I might address the hot-wire unencumbered. Upon turning back, seconds later, the table was swarming with grade-schoolers. Where had they come from? As I approached I could see they weren't using the tool, just standing around it holding up various chunks of styrofoam, wondering how such odd shapes had been achieved. I was about to show them.

Andy flipped the switch giving me power, and thus heat. The wire sliced through my two-inch thick sheet of foam at a rate of about an inch a second. That's both kinda fast and kinda slow if you've never tried it before. Hot wires cut with heat, melting their way through the styrofoam. That means, unlike a knife, there is no need to use force. That may sound like it would make it easier, but that also means you have no resistance to work against. Unless you have very, very steady hands, you are almost guaranteed a wavery line. If you stop, the radiant heat eats into the foam making a wider cut or hole, kinda like if you were using an fountain pen and you got a blob in the middle of a word. The kids found this to be the Coolest thing in Ever. From that point on, I worked at a feverish pace surrounded by a gaggle of girls (and two boys) biting my tongue, mapping spirals in Sharpie for the kids to try cutting out, occasionally snapping the thin cross-sections of my piece, pinning them back together, scrapping bits beyond repair, re-cutting them, coaching the kids on how to get better results with the hot-wire, hoping I could meet my deadline, all the while listening to them talk about their Art Teacher.

Ah, yes. Clayton mentioned he had taken the teaching job here. These were his students. Good to hear he was well liked.

I finished just under the wire. Well, actually, I was a few minutes over, but Clayton gave me a bye as I could take care of all the other prep work that goes into mold making and it would be one less mold for him to worry about. I helped him get a few other molds prepped, threw sand at them (a semi-technical phrase for forming a mold with resin-bonded sand) and wandered off to check out the Blacksmith Shop. I mean, even if I couldn't play with the glow-y metal, perhaps I could learn something.

In the time I had been away, a few more smiths had shown up to demonstrate. Some of whom I knew. Some of whom thought it would be fantastic if I were to slide behind a forge and start beating rough shapes from glowing sticks of iron. Glee! For the next three hours I swung a hammer and worked on my line of patter. Patter is hard! I mean, trying to convince metal to do what you want it to through cunning and brute force with unfamiliar tools while strangers watch and ask questions that are seemingly devised to catch you off guard is, well, challenging. Happily, I love a challenge. I had a huge grin pasted across my face the entire time. I also got a few pointers on charming pint-sized spectators from Roger, the Man of Many Hats (bunny ears and a dashing alligator number on this occasion.) My favorite? The swords.

Roger: "So, do you want to see me make a sword?"
Kids: *with awe* "...Yeah...." ("he's gonna make a sword!")
Rodger: "Ok!" *rummages around behind the anvil and comes up with a small handful of something which he tosses into the forge. He draws them out and sets the small, glowing bits of metal next to the fire, in easy reach, grabs the first one up in his tongs and asks, "Knight or Arabian?"
Kids: "Knight!"
Roger: "One knight's sword, coming up!" and he proceeds to pound on the little sliver of metal for a few moments, turning it this way and that, sighting down its length, and a few seconds later, hands one of the lucky youngsters a 2" sword with the admonition, "Don't bring it to school, blades aren't allowed, and you wouldn't want it to get confiscated."

The trick is to start with a double-headed nail. When pounded flat, the two heads become the pommel and the hilt while the length of the nail becomes the blade. Knights' swords are straight, Arabian swords, curved. They really are quite fetching.

At some point, when I had a small cluster of boys orbiting my forge, Roger came through and said something along the lines of, "Would you guys like a sword? You would, well, I can't make you one right now, but I bet this lady could make one for you." What? oh. right, me. heh. umkay,... "Sadly, I am lacking the high-quality sword steel required to make such a blade," I replied. I didn't have any nails! ...But Roger did. He handed me 3 of them and suddenly I was in the sword making business. I lost the second one in the fire. Not my best moment, but happily there were many more where that came from. Pretty soon I had a sword for each of the boys as well as the older girls who had come in to see what all the hubub was about. Most of them wandered off comparing their new cutlery, but a few of them stayed and we had a good conversation about smithing, Rock Band, and, ummm... soccer, I think.

By the time 4:00 rolled around I had an impressive set of blisters from swinging the hammer and it was time for the (second!) pour of the weekend. At this point I was grinning so much I thought my face might freeze that way. The pour went cleanly - no burns. The metal flowed hot (which I had planned for, and was thus a good thing,) and nearly every piece cast as expected. A solid pour.

At this point, I was starting to feel the day. I found a nice pickup truck to lean against. It pulled the heat out of my body in a pleasant way. Not so coincidentally, I happened to be near the smiths. Someone stuck a beer in my hand and we shot the breeze while sitting on the front stoop of the Blacksmith shop.

After a while someone drove the pickup truck away and I had to find a new perch. I heard a rumour of food three blocks down. Best. Red. Potatoes. Ever. I ate too many, but it was worth it.

Even the drive home went well. I crawled into bed and fell asleep knowing I would would hurt in the morning and didn't care. I had all of Sunday to recover. Life is good.