Bon voyage, Caroline!

I want to highlight a new link in the sidebar–my friend Caroline Genco leaves this week to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in Malawi, and she’s blogging about her experience. Caroline is the mother of Christina, a dear friend, fellow Bike and Builder, and amazing young woman who passed away last summer as the result of a road collision. Caroline is working with HfH’s Global Village program in Christina’s memory, and has established the Christina Genco Foundation in her daughter’s honor. Check out Caroline’s blog and consider donating to either the Christina Genco Foundation or Habitat for Humanity Global Village, if you can.

Today would have been Christina’s birthday. Happy birthday, girl. Miss you lots.

Christina and her mom, Caroline.

Get back on the damn horse.

My bad.  I accidentally let this blog lapse for, um, about five months.  For that I apologize to you, my loyal readers.  And by “my loyal readers” I mean “Grandma.” (Hi, Grandma!)

I’m telling you, I had the best intentions of updating regularly all through what I knew was going to be a busy semester.  So to bring everyone up to speed, here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve been up to since my last post on 17 August 2009:

1. Ironman Canada

This really deserved its own entry (or five) given how important an event it was to me.  I flew out to Seattle, home of my best friend/pseudo sibling Evie, and we drove up to the race site in Penticton, British Columbia.  Along the way we stopped in Leavenworth, WA, which is a faux-German town in the middle of central Washington because… why the hell not?

Of course there's a Starbucks there, just like in Old Bohemia.

On that note, we took a lot of pictures of us pointing at things.

Leavenworth is the kind of town that makes you want to point at things.

Where were we?  Oh yeah, on the road to Penticton.  This picture pretty much summarizes the travelling portion of the trip:

Expressive faces.

Martha was less than excited, I had my mouth open a lot, and Evie, uh, really enjoys driving.  Also, I’m wearing my homemade “Wise Latina Woman” t-shirt, which was way more topical back in August, but nevertheless confused the hell out of most of the Canadian officials.

We had a pretty good time in Penticton.  See?

At the swankiest McDonald's ever.
Evie and Martha got real excited.
I found this mural rather inspiring.

And as for the race itself?  I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun competing.  I stayed strong during the swim, passed hordes of people with much fancier frames during the bike, and although I struggled a little during the run, I rallied at mile twenty and put in a fast finish.

It's almost over!

I crossed the finish line in 11:22:01, over an hour faster than anticipated.  So needless to say, I felt really good about my performance, and I already have my eye on doing another one in 2011.

2. Exams

Unfortunately (or maybe not) this one comes with far fewer illustrative photos.  Basically, I chewed through a couple hundred books, wrote thirty pages on them over the course of two weeks (during which time I also cooked Thanksgiving dinner for nine) and then gave an oral defense of my essays in front of a panel of four faculty, one of whom was present by phone.  Any way you slice it, the experience was exhausting and soul-crushing, but in the end I passed… with distinction.  All along I had said that I would be absolutely content to barely pass, so long as I didn’t have to go through the experience ever again.  Yet somehow, my committee was impressed enough with my written and oral answers that they passed me, and then some.  I’m still somewhat surprised by this, but who am I to argue?

3. Tea Parties

No, not the insufferable political kind.  Every December my friend Becky hosts a holiday/birthday party in San Diego which, seven years on, still draws a sizable crowd of Bonita Vista alumni:

7.5-year reunion?

As a good guest, I like to show up early to help out.


When Becky started out having these parties, we were still in high school and, being the good kids that we were, alcohol could not be served.  So we had tea, and a lovely selection of finger foods and desserts.  These days, the turkey roll-ups and tartlets remain, but we’ve graduated to more adult libations.  And since Becky is such a local mover and shaker, she now hosts at her very own condo (she bought it this year) rather than her parents’ very lovely (and very pink) house in Bonita.

But why, you’re probably wondering, are you dressed like a Folsom Street pirate balladeer? That’s an excellent question.  As part of a personal tradition stretching back to our high school days, I “dress up” for the tea.  Sometimes this means a particular costume, but more often it’s simply a pre-party search for the most ridiculous thrift store duds I can find, and I’m usually not alone.

Bird and lights courtesy of Target.

We actually found the teal jumpsuit during a trip to the Salvo in June when Evie and I happened to both be home in June, and we met up with Becky and Sarah (pictured).  Anyway, after the party we hit up The Lamplighter for some karaoke awesomeness.  Sarah changed into a post-party outfit, but the Bump-It stayed in her hair.

Whoa-oh-oh, she's a lady.

And then, to round out the night, we went to Denny’s.  For some reason, they now feature a selection of items under the heading “Rockstar Favorites,” which includes Jewel’s Acoustic Smoked Chicken Quesadilla, Los Lonely Boys’ Texican Burger, and the Hooburrito.  Remember Hoobastank?  You probably tried really hard to suppress all memory of them.  Well, they’re back!  In burrito form.

What makes it an acoustic quesadilla?

Martha ordered the Hooburrito, which features chicken fingers and BBQ sauce.  She was not happy.

Smile, Martha.

All in all, a pretty full night, and only one of many adventures had over the holidays.  I also rode a bike (not mine) from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale, worked with Habitat for Humanity, and fulfilled my civic duty by alternately sitting an standing at a government building downtown (aka jury duty).  But this post is insanely long as it is, so we’ll save those stories for another day.


Although I’ve been riding a bike to commute since I moved to Philadelphia, and in 2007 I spent the summer biking from Virginia to Oregon, I shamefacedly must admit that I don’t know a whole lot about bike repair.  I can change a tire, and with the help of Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance and a lot of swearing I recently replaced the chain on my Raleigh, but beyond that I usually have to hit up my local bike shop.  This is a) embarassing and b) expensive, so for the month of August I’m taking a weekly bike repair class at Neighborhood Bike Works, a bicycle co-op in West Philly.  Tonight was our second session, and we covered how to replace bearings–the little metal balls that help wheels, headsets, pedals, and bottom brackets all turn smoothly.  My headset, which holds the front fork in place, felt a little loose, so we started taking it apart.  The first bad sign came when a bunch of rusted ball bearings clattered to the floor.  The headset was totally dry–not a dab of grease left in the whole thing.  Turns out the culprit was a nasty crack in the front fork itself:

Crack kills!
Crack kills!

That dark line running from the top of the tube had let water in and grease out, hence the rusted bearings.  Fortunately, NBW has an impressive selection of used forks.  Unfortunately, Raleigh makes pretty much everything to their own ridiculous spec, meaning that Raleigh bikes tend to be compatible only with Raleigh parts.  So after much rummaging, we came up with a fork and a collection of parts that our instructor, Liz, was pretty sure would go together into a functional headset, and our lesson on how to repack bearings turned into something much, much more involved.  The good news is that we (really, Liz) got the whole thing back in working order, and my bike is no longer a ticking time bomb waiting to explode with every pothole we traverse.  The bad news is that now my front fork doesn’t match the rest of the frame.  In fact, it’s a particularly offensive shade of lavender gray that clashes with the lagoon (Raleigh came up with the color name, not me) accents.  Here’s what my bike looked like before:

In happier, sunnier, softer-lit times.
In happier, sunnier, softer-lit times.

Yes, I like to shoot my bike in soft focus.  My bike is like Barbara Walters that way:

The hand that feeds Elizabeth Hasselbeck.
Rub some more vaseline on that lens!

Anyway, this is what it looks like now:

Don't look at me, I'm hideous!
Don't look at me, I'm hideous!

When I was on Bike and Build I named by bike Hedwig, after my favorite movie of all time, and when I bought the Raleigh, I’m pretty sure I named it Kilgore, after Kurt Vonnegut’s recurring character/reflection of the author, Kilgore Trout.  Now, however, I think maybe they should switch names, because the Raleigh is now an exquisite corpse of bike parts.  Incidentally, this brings to mind today’s page on my desk calendar of medical fun facts, entitled Why Do Men Have Nipples? which tells us that upon its 1931 release, the movie Frankenstein “was banned in Kansas on the grounds that it exhibitied ‘cruelty and tended to debase morals.'”  So there you go, bikes, Hedwig, and and my desk calendar all come together on the same day–it’s the lattice of coincidence.  Makes me hungry for shrimp.

I am very good at life.

Cue sheets courtesy of PALCI. Hobbit feet courtesy of the Royles genome.

Since the semester is finally over, for the past week I’ve been able to put more time and energy into Ironman training.  In January I was going to sit down and write out a training plan that would take me through race day, August 30th, but that never happened.  Ditto for February, March, and April.  So now it’s May and I still have no training plan.  But I have a vague sense of what I should be doing, so I decided that today should be a difficult bike workout to wrap up the training week, since Wednesdays are going to be my off days for the time being.  I went online and chose a route called “Philly Dirty Dozen Hill Climb,” figuring it would be a good one to do since the Ironman Canada course has a LOT of climbing.  I wrote out a spiffy cue sheet for myself and taped it to my aerobars.  Said cue sheet would prove virtually useless.

Long story short, I got incredibly lost, and definitely biked more than a dirty dozen hills trying to figure out where I was.  By grace of some velocipedic miracle, I found my way to the Schuylkill bike path, and from there I was fine.

I may not be very good at finding my way around the Philadelphia suburbs on a bike, but there is one thing I am pretty good at, making harissa:

As you can see, a career in food photography is not in my future.

I used a recipe from Saveur when I made this batch the other night, but there are a million different versions out there that are basically a riff on the following: rehydrated dried chiles, cumin, caraway, coriander, olive oil, salt and pepper, all whirled together in a food processor.  It goes with pretty much everything–eggs, potatoes, pasta, meat, bread, grilled or roasted vegetables, whatever.  Plus, you can make a big batch and keep it in a container in the fridge, covered with a layer of olive oil, and pull it out whenever you want a taste of Tunisia.

It’s Italian Idiom of the Day time!

rispondere piccheto turn someone down flatly (spicche = spades)

Speravo di ottenere il suo permesso, ma mi ha risposto picche.  I had hoped to get his permission to do it, but he turned me down flatly.

When I was 15 I asked a girl to the winter formal, e lei mi ha risposto picche.  We reconnected years later and discovered that in the meantime we had both come out.  The moral of the story is that everything works out in the end.

Bicycles of the Apocalypse

On Saturday I went to check out the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby, but I got there pretty late in the day, so I missed the procession of human-powered contraptions and only got a few snapshots of people chilling with their creations.  The guy in the fish-bike picture who looks like he walked off the set of Lost (especially when his hand isn’t covering his face) is an old co-worker of mine from the 20th Street location of Capogiro.  I knew he lived in Fishtown, but I didn’t know he was putting an entry into the derby, and running into him was a pleasant surprise.

I don’t visit Northeast Philadelphia very often.  Okay, I’ve only really been there once that I can remember, and it was a year ago on a thrifting excursion with my friend Jenny, who was visiting from Berkeley.  We hit up Circle Thrift, and I walked away with two t-shirts and a three-piece YSL suit for probably not much more than $10.  Granted, I never wear the suit, but it was $6, and one of these days I’m going to take it to the tailor to see if they can alter it.  Come on, it’s the principle of the thing.  Six dollars!

Okay, so the Northeast–it’s very popular.  From what I gather, Hipsterdom travels in a Northeasterly direction in Greater Philadelphia.  The South Street area used to be hip (or so my hairstylist tells me), then it was Northern Liberties, and now Fishtown/(New) Kensington/Port Richmond.  I list all three because I’m honestly not sure what the difference is–for all I knew before Saturday, the area might as well be populated by dragons.  However, I was really impressed.  After we checked out the local artists and etsy people hawking screenprinted onesies (as an aside, I modeled etsy onesies for my mother in the Eighties, back before etsy was a big effing deal–more on that at a later date) my Northeast tour guide, Andy, and I walked over to Greensgrow, a really cool urban farm/CSA built on an industrial brownfield, and then to Memphis Taproom for some dinner.  I had some pretty good hummus with sumac and fried chickpeas that tasted like puffs of legume-y ecstasy, and jackfruit cakes, which are a vegan substitute for crabcakes.  I’m not vegan or even vegetarian, but I don’t eat much meat (expensive! carbon-intensive!) and I wanted to see what jackfruit tastes like.  We couldn’t decide whether I ended up with jackfruit cakes or the crustacean-derived real deal, because when the server came out he said, “Crab ca–er, jackfruit cakes,” and the check read “KRABB” in block letters.  In any case, they were quite tasty, and if they were jackfruit, it’s a damn good substitute for crab.  If not, Memphis Taproom has good crabcakes.  Either way, everyone wins.  That is, unless you’re vegan, vegetarian, keep strictly kosher, or have a life-threatening allergy to shellfish.

So that was my extended introduction to Northeast Philadelphia, a neighborhood I’ll hopefully be frequenting more in the future.

And on a completely unrelated note, I’m reviving one of my blog traditions from when I maintained a Xanga page (remember Xanga?)–that’s right, it’s Italian Idiom of the Day!  Hopefully this will help me prepare for the translation exam I have to take in the fall.  And so without further ado, I give you the IIOTD, taken from the book 2001 Italian and English Idioms.

Today’s idiom: cacciarsi in un ginepraio–to get oneself in a fix (lit. to get oneself in a juniper thicket)

Per risolvere i problemi degli altri finisce sempre per cacciarsi in un ginepraio. For trying to solve other people’s problems he always ends up getting himself into a fix.

Don’t you hate it when you get yourself into a juniper thicket?  Just the other day I did, and I thought to myself, Come mi sono cacciato in questo ginepraio? Because my internal monologue is in (probably grammatically incorrect) Italian.

Okay, it’s getting late, so that’s all for now.  Thanks for reading the first post of Ye Olde Royle Blog!