Are you sharing an elevator with an arachnophobe?

The most difficult part of commuting by bicycle isn’t traffic, or pedestrians wandering off the sidewalks, or squirrels darting under my wheels or the weather. It’s getting an elevator in my apartment building with my bike. The apartment building has the worst elevator service I’ve ever enjoyed in my renting life: slow, often one is broken and out of service, the freight elevator is usually busy, and they are rather small in size. I can handle drivers who haven’t mastered the concept of signalling turns and I wear layers of cottonless clothing on chilly damp days to avoid hypothermia but waiting for an elevator is agony.

Last week I had a new and unique elevator experience. I was waiting with my bike in the lobby for an elevator along with a woman and her chihuahua doggie. It was a cute little doggie and she was wearing a rather fetching (ha! — oops corny joke, sorry) pink and grey argyle sweater with matching leash. I cooed at the dog for a moment but returned to the important task of staring at the elevator doors, coaxing it to the lobby.

When the elevator arrived, the door opened to reveal a middle aged woman holding a shopping bag. The dog lady and her dog were about to board  when the shopping lady screamed in shock and horror. I flinched. The dog lady flinched. Heck, the chihuahua flinched. The shopping lady hid in the far corner of the elevator until the dog lady decided to wait for another elevator. I got on with my bike and spent the next few seconds standing awkwardly with the cowering shopping lady. Considering the large number of dogs who live in our building, it must be sheer hell for this woman to get on an elevator and I felt bad for her, the dogs and the dog owners. I can’t imagine how awful it is standing in the elevator and hoping that a dog, even a tiny sweater wearing chihuahua, won’t get on the elevator.

I guess shopping lady felt the awkwardness and decided to break the silence and ask me some questions about my bike. Yes, I commute with my bike nearly everyday. It’s a lot more fun than riding the TTC. I have clothes for cold days, wet days, and sweaty humid days too. I think helmets are great too. Yup, my lights are bright and shiny.

Then she apologized for  screaming and panicking when the dog got on the elevator. I told her it was okay and I understood  she is afraid of dogs. She said a dog bit her badly as a girl and has never gotten over it. I made comforting sounds and asked her if she liked cats. No, but she does like birds and has a pair of finches. I cooed appreciatively.

I should have ended it right there. It was a good moment for the two of us and I absolutely wrecked it. The next thing out of my mouth was “At least she wasn’t walking a huge hairy spider on a leash” with a big grin. That drove the poor woman into a state of twitches and she slapped her hand over her mouth to stifle a scream. I’m guessing huge hairy arachnids are far worse because she was still twitching when I got off at my floor.

I guess that’s why people I know come to me last when they need solace, comfort and advice. I drive everyone to the therapist’s couch.

Here is a photo of some cookies I baked this weekend.

Choco-Oat Nugget Cookies

I made these tasty nugget shaped cookies from whole wheat flour, oatmeal flakes, sunflower seeds, coconut flakes, cocoa powder, and a crumbled 70% dark chocolate bar. I save them to eat on my bike rides instead of granola bars or energy bars. Super tasty and cheap to make.

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Todmorden Mills

I know it’s been …. forever since my last post. No excuses. Just busy busy busy. Still, I felt guilty so here’s a photo from Todmorden Mills. I went all freaky with the original colour — high contrast, deep colours, then in a new layer I took out the colour and erased some of the black and white bits to reveal the red bricks and some colourful stuff on my bike.

If  YOU want to ride your bike to Todmorden Mills in Toronto, then the long way is either north along the Don River Trail (if you are starting nearish the lakeshore) until Pottery Road. Take the walkway under the bridge heading east until you reach Todmorden Mills. If you are riding south from around Sunnybrook Park, then you wind your way to the Don River Trail also to Pottery Road, be careful crossing over to the walkway and follow the same route east to the mills. The easy was is to find yourself riding north on Broadview Road until Pottery Road (the corner where the delicious Dairy Queen is located) and simply follow the walkway downhill to the mills. And regardless of your route, your efforts definitely deserve a DQ treat. May I suggest the cherry cheesequake blizzard? I love that it so much my heart hurts that one isn’t in my hands right now.

A Windy Day Bike Rider Deserves Lunch

Yes I did. It was a cloudy, windy Saturday in Toronto and I wanted something different for lunch than coffee and a cookie at Starbucks.

I decided to head to Charles Street between Yonge Street and Bay Street for a plate of okinomiyaki at the Okinomiyaki House.

I’ve never had it before but passed the restaurant plenty of times over the past 20 years. Today was the day I ate okinomiyaki.

Okinomiyaki and a Coke

Okinomiyaki is a savoury pancake filled with chopped onion and cabbage. I ordered beef so my pancake also had sliced pieces of fried beef too. On top a sweet and tangy barbeque sauce is spread along with a dollop of mayonnaise. It was delicious and only cost $10.00 Canadian with a can of Coke and tip.

Then I pedalled against the wind to get home. Ugh. So tired now.

Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and chilly so my bike ride will take me to Soma chocolate shop in the Distillery district for Mexican hot chocolate. No, I’m not bringing you a sample. Go there yourself and enjoy the spicy elixir.

Another critter captured on a memory card

I rode my bike 16 km (10 miles) today through Mount Pleasant Cemetery, along the Beltline, and down the ravine in the Cedarvale Park. It was a lovely day — a bit of sunshine, warmth, some cloud and cool breezes. I enjoyed today’s ride and managed to take a terrible photo of what I think is a Baltimore Oriole and a photo of an animal’s den.

 

I think this is a Baltimore Oriole

I think this is a Baltimore Oriole

The den is quite interesting. I only noticed it on the Beltline (I won’t say where exactly because I wouldn’t want someone finding it to ruin it. It’s not harming anyone along the trail) when I saw an animal zip across the trail. It went by too quickly for me to figure out if it was a small dog, a cat, or a rabbit. 

I wonder who lives here?

I wonder who lives here?

It’s pretty obvious an animal didn’t build and decorate this den by itself. Someone put together the den and set up a bed, food bowls, and water  bowls for the occupant. I only saw it because of the mystery critter zipping by 10 feet in front of me. When I rode past I looked to my side and saw the den. I had to get off my bike and look at both the den and maybe a glimpse at the den’s owner. No luck. But finding it was interesting, especially since I’ve ridden by countless times for years and never noticed it. Hopefully anyone who sees it leaves it be too. Luckily the brush will grow and hide the den very soon.  

My guess is a dog bides his time in this den while the owner is away at work. 

I took these 2 pictures with my Sony 4 meg point and shoot. If I didn’t have that I never would of taken a decent photo with my cell phone. Now, the thing is, the point and shoot took so long to do it’s little song and dance when it’s turned on, that I nearly missed taking the bird photo. I wasn’t even sure if I got the shot of the bird because I couldn’t tell on the camera’s small screen. The bird flew away a moment after I took this photo, but I had to wait until I got home and plugged the memory card into the computer to find out if I actually got a picture of it. If I had my Nikon D40X and the 55-200 mm lens I wouldn’t have this worry, and odds are a much better picture since I would’ve seen what I was doing through the longer lens. I guess I’ll be taking the D40X and the long lens out next time.

Please vote for my photo!!

Yellow Pages is having a photo contest and one of mine is in the running for May! They found it on flickr.com and I’d love to have more than 4 votes (although I love and appreciate each of those votes). So please vote for me!! Here’s the link:  http://www.ypgphoto.com/2009/may/toronto-on-laura-vingada/  

This is what the photo looks like:

I took it last summer. It’s a first bridge at the north end of the Don River Trail near Sunnybrook park. I think the Don River Trail is my favourite bike riding trail in Toronto. There is only 1 street crossing on the 12+ km from North Toronto to the lakeshore of Lake Ontario, it’s paved, has lots of critters, birds, and wildflowers, the Don River, and fairly flat for fast riding. I’m already looking forward to my next ride!

Spring limps in like a winter weary Torontonian

The majority of the snow has melted.

The Don and Humber rivers are flowing like mad towards the lake.

I rode my bike a full month earlier than last year, and exactly 4 months after putting my bike away for winter. I’ve racked up 90 km already.

This past Sunday I rode to the beach in the east end of Toronto and remembered to bring along my camera.

My bike on the beach.

The beach was full of people on Sunday because it was sunny the entire afternoon and about 9 degrees celsius. It was busier on the western edge of the beaches between Woodbine and Ashbridge’s Bay.

Dog footprints!

Stone inuktuks.

I hope spring continues to get milder and milder as we get closer to June.

Dear Neglected Readers,

Winter. I hate it. I have such a hard time being interesting or interested in the world around me from November thru March. That’s why I haven’t written much here lately. Sorry but snow, gale speed winds, snow, and ice covered sidewalks, and snow really do a number on my creative forces. 

 

Stupid Crummy Snow. Grumble...

Stupid Crummy Snow. Grumble...

I took this picture with my Lomo Fish Eye camera. And once again – if you want to upload a lomography photo to your computer you need to ask the photo developer store to burn your photos onto a cd. (In fact, you may save a few dollars if you burn the photos rather than print them. I don’t bother printing anymore. Only the really really good shots that I want to frame.) Then just pop the cd into your computer and copy to whatever photo library app you use. I have an Apple computer so I use iphoto. It’s easy! 

 

But since it is March I’m trying hard to do right by vingada.com and write something current. Let’s see…

First off, I’m thinking about taking a digital photography class sometime this summer. I quite thoroughly adore my Nikon D40X and want to take better, more creative photos. And my Flickr account is looking kind of bare so I should head out once the thermometer is showing temps on the plus side. I also need to work on my Photoshop Element skills — they are seriously weak. One big BIG advantage about taking a photo class at a college is I can get a student card and then purchase the real live honest to goshness Photoshop with curves, levels and rendering for a song. 

I am looking incredibly forward to riding my bike. Oh my God! I miss bike riding!! My poor bike looks more like a coat and towel rack with the sweaters, hats, quick dry towels I use for swimming covering her sweet Shimano geared frame. And her tires are flat, the chain needs lubing, the brakes adjusting, and a general going over with my allen key collection to tighten all of her bolts. Then I will ride like the wind! Not much of a wind since I haven’t ridden since November turned into one of the snowiest Novembers in living history. So, it also looks like I will have to cut back on Starbucks Apple Fritters (mmmm, donuts – just typing that makes me drool) and start walking up stairs instead of looking for an elevator or escalator. 

Cats have been high on my mind the last few months. My mom’s cats Freddy and Belle make me laugh hysterically whenever I visit. I bought them catnip and a couple of paperbags and had much fun watching Freddy enjoy his cat high while destroying a Whole Foods bag. The Freddle takes much pride in his destruction prowess. You can see him measure up a bag or a box and watch as he decides just how he will render it into a pile of paper shreds. 

 

Freddie versus Bag. My money is on Freddie.

Freddie versus Bag. My money is on Freddie.

 

 

My best friend Jane suffered a terrible blow this January. Her beloved cat Whitney passed away at the age of 14. She was a great kitty. Whitney was truly a regal cat – she was a lovely deep black colour and she adored sleeping on her mom’s pillow. I got to babysit her a couple of times and she ignored me in a truly elegant manner. Her sister Jasmine has been doing her best to comfort Jane this past while. Jazzie is a truly bonkers cat — she has a great and terrifying hiss, and her fangs sink deep and hard into any annoying fleshy parts that pat her too much. Hey, I was warned. And my thumb is better now.

 

Jasmine in her carrier.

Jasmine in her carrier.

I went with Jane to the vet with Jasmine a couple of weeks ago. Jazzie needed her vaccinations and a general check up. She hissed like a demon cat and wouldn’t let the vet and technician examine her. They did manage to give her the vaccine shots but that was it. Yeah, she’s pretty fierce. Jane and I had a great afternoon and we managed to ignore the furious hissing cat sitting in the back seat of the cat.

So, this is a re-start to vingada.com!  I will end this post by listing a few of my latest obsessions:

1) Questionable Content. Is a great webcomic by Jeph Jacques featuring a fantastic cast of characters. I love their misadventures and I love Pint-size the very naughty robot. 

2) My ipod Touch. This thing is a miracle! I’ve had it for months but I can’t get enough of the apps. My latest favourite is TumiNeko or “Tower of Cats”. Basically you take cartoon cats out of a basket and stack them up as high as you can. Then they topple meowing and hissing! Yeah, I don’t get out much…

3) Starbucks apple fritters! Oh my goshness, they are deep fried delicious apple, sugary, frost dripped bundles of fatty happy goodness. And I have to give them up so I can fit in my bike shorts… crummy stupid tight shorts. 

4) My terrible and inept attempts at vegetarianism. I can’t call myself a vegetarian by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. But I’m going to try — how about a carnivorous vegetarian? No? Well, it’s constant work. I started really well in late September of 2008, had one lapse in October (Chipotle’s Carnita burrito, who could blame me?), did really well in November, December, and most of January. But failed miserably in February. I’m pretty sure a solid 2 weeks worth of steak and burgers knocks me out of the Vegetarian Club (if there’s one, I don’t know). I will try harder from now on. Just have to keep out of Chipotle and South Side Burger (oh heavens!).

Here is a nice series of photos I want to share with you. But don’t tell my mom, she hates these photos. I love them!

 

Mom holding up Freddie. I don't think he likes this.

Mom holding up Freddie. I don't think he likes this.

 

Freddie is soooo going to lose it. Heh heh heh!

Freddie is soooo going to lose it. Heh heh heh!

 

 

 

Freddy hates cuddling.

Freddy hates cuddling.

Oh God! That cracks me up every time I look at that shot. I took the photos with my cell phone (2 megapixels, not too bad) and I was completely involved with holding the phone steady and didn’t realize that Freddy was tired of posing. He went nuts and started savaging my mom. I have never laughed so hard in my life!

My Christmas Tree

christmas-tree-2008
Go on, laugh.

Feel better?

Story regarding tree starts now:

So my apartment is a small two room plus kitchen, bathroom, and a few closets. Not miniature by any stretch, but it’s a challenge to fit a full sized Christmas tree (whether it’s real or plastic) for the season, as well as to store decorations and the tree (if it’s the fake kind) for the other 11 1/2 months.

I went with my imagination and made this tree out of squares of felt I sewed together in a Christmas tree-like shape. The ornaments I bought at the dollar store with the exception of the pewter wolf and pewter cat. I purchased those at the recent One of A Kind Craft Show and Sale a couple of weeks ago. I’m hoping to add a small and interesting ornament each year, but I have to be careful not to buy anything really delicate like glass balls or fragile wire creations.

I got a kick out of making the Christmas tree. It’s a little out of the ordinary and easy to change each year. Next year I’m going to pick up some LED lights to brighten up the room. I still need a tree topper but haven’t had much luck finding or making something that I really like. I found a few craft books that had instructions on how to make angels out of clothespins and tulle, or stars out of styrofoam and glitter paint. But none of them hit that happy craft spot. I’ll just save that spot on the top of the tree until I see something I love.

As far as gift giving goes I limit it to those nearest and dearest. My best friend is getting some treats and so is my mom. The Sweet Baby Cat and I decided to buy a 32Gb Ipod Touch for each of us when the Apple Store had their Black Friday sale in November. Ahhh! No puffy sweaters! Life is good.

Oh, the Ipod Touch is excellent. I love being able to listen to music, watch videos, have my favourite photos, and my contacts, calendar (oh disorganization, I’ll best you yet), and get to play games, roam the internet, have free apps galore (my current fav is VeganYumYum’s recipe collection – free! Go look!) and not have to pay for the accompanying cell phone costs when compared to the Iphone.

I’m tolerating the snowfall and cold weather with as much good cheer as a summer worshipper possibly can. I don’t like riding in snow and ice so my bike has slowly turned into a glorified coat rack. Geez, I feel guilty typing that out. I’m going to clean up my bike as soon as I sign off. But once Christmas passes I’ll be back to my winter whining. In the meantime I have to stave off the winter fat (and burn off the stubborn fat) by swimming, assaulting the walk/run track and the gym at the nearby communty centre. I’m already salivating at the thought of conquering the hill on Poplar Plains Road this spring!

Only 95 km away from beating last year’s kilometres cycled

And I’m going to ride past 1326 km this week.

That’s only an average of 13.57 km every day from tomorrow until next Saturday. No sweat, I’ve ridden that in week this summer. 

Last year it took me from April until December 2007 to ride 1326 km. That’ll mean I have another 3 month to ride my goal of 2000 km.

I’m hoping this winter will be mild so I can keep riding my bike throughout the winter. 

 

My bike on the Don Rive Trail this summer (with the new REI panniers).

My bike on the Don Rive Trail this summer (with the new REI panniers).

NRG Bars Remix

Yesterday I rode my bike 36.5 km. What a painful ride! It’s definitely not the longest bike ride I’ve ever had, but it was the toughest. And I have no clue why. Okay, maybe I do. Probably the last two lazy ride weeks have not helped my endurance. Most of the rides the last couple of weeks have been short, maybe 8 or 12 km longs. Far short of the 25-30 km a day goal I set for myself a few months ago. The rides have also been on familiar and comfortable terrain — the grocery store, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, the Beltline. None are too challenging and they are all very familiar routes. I know exactly when to push myself and when I can coast. And I have to admit I’ve done a lot more coasting recently. I can’t even blame the hot humid weather because there hasn’t been much of it. Fresh rainy mornings, overcast mild afternoons, and few sunny and hot sticky days. Not stressful, not straining.

Well, enough of that! How am I going to complete a metric century this season with that kind of lacklustre performance? Foot, meet backside. Alright, I’ve given myself a whoomp on the butt. Time to push myself forward on the training path.

To help encourage and feed my enthusiasm on my bike, I’m trying a new energy bar recipe I found in issue 34 of Momentum Magazine. I’ve adjusted it to suit my sweet tooth.

 

NRG Bars Remix

NRG Bars Remix

I used:

4 1/2 cups Kashi Go Lean! Crunch cereal 

3 cups sesame seeds

1 cup medium shred unsweetened coconut

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cups of roasted almonds, lightly crushed

1 heaping tablespoon finely ground coffee beans

1 cup crunchy natural peanut butter

2 cans (600ml) of sweetened condensed milk

Preheat your oven at 300 F

Mix the the dry ingredients except for the coffee beans in a large mixing bowl.

In another mixing bowl carefully combine the peanut butter and 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk, then add the ground coffee beans.

Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and combine completely. This will be sticky and the sesame seeds have a tendency to fall to the bottom of the bowl so definitely keep stirring from the bottom to the top. Use to spoons if you have to. 

On a 11X17 inch pain place a sheet of parchment paper. Butter or spray the parchment. Then press the mixture onto the pan. It’s very sticky so I spooned the mix first onto the parchment then pressed it down, evening out the mixture on the pan.

Place in 300 F oven and leave it for 20 minutes.

Take out of oven. Let cool completely before cutting into squares. I wrapped mine in clingwrap because that’s what I had in the cupboard. It made 30 generous sized squares. 

The total cost was approximately $15.00. 

These are tasty! Sweet, chewy, with a nutty chocolate burst of flavour. Dang, they are yummy. The next batch I’ll make I’m going to up the coffee beans amount. I’m thinking 2 tablespoons. I’ll also add a scoop of chocolate protein powder. I wonder if I can substitute something for the second can of sweetened condensed milk? More research!

I hope you’ll give these a try. You can use lots of different ingredients in exchange of the coconut, almonds, and chocolate. I’m not a big fan of dried fruit, but the original recipe called for banana chips and raisins. I bet dried apples, cranberries, nutmeg, dried apricots, and even trying flavoured coffee beans like hazlenut would make tasty energy bars. If you are allergic to peanuts try sunflower seed butter if you can. And switch the Kashi Go Lean cereal for granola or toasted oatmeal flakes. It’s an easy recipe to personalize.

I have absolutely no idea what the calorie count is or have any nutritional information about the recipe. It won’t trim your waistline on it’s own, that’s for sure. But I’m hoping it’ll give me that little bit of oomph in the energy department when I am approaching kilometre 70 of my metric century!