Saturday, January 29, 2011

New Blog

I've decided to integrate my balloon twisting website  with my blog.  Future posts will be over at that site.  It's still a work in progress, but please update any subscriptions that you may have so that you can follow me there.

I'm planning on doing some big projects (both with balloons and biking) in the next year, so come over there and please stay tuned!

Balloon Biker

Friday, January 28, 2011

Meep Meep

Road runner

Balloons are supremely easy to carry via bike.  Basically...they are light and you really only need to strap down key you can even move big things that way.

After making a road runner for an acquaintance at work, I figured I could try a different way.

The best part was when I was biking to work and another cyclist passed me and said "Meep! Meep!" as he went by.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oddity Tour: Day 1

I'm finally recapping my Wisconsin Oddities Bike tour from last summer....

Saturday, July 31, 2010
Day 1

I’ve always had a hard time saying no and I began this ride after not saying “no” to several people.  The night before leaving on the ride, I helped lead Chicago’s monthly Critical Mass bike ride.  I had become friends with a map maker for the ride who wanted help, so I was willing to lend my skills and my balloons.  Then, a family that had previously hired me for a birthday party wanted my services.  I had to decline that, but I offered to create a balloon delivery.

Mermaid delivery

This was how, in the morning of my first “vacation”  really ever, I found myself working and creating a massive balloon mermaid.  Fortunately it didn’t take too long to twist a kid-sized mermaid holding a few dozen fish wands, but it did put me a little behind schedule to catch my intended train.  Since I had done that day’s ride before, I was confident and decided to take the slightly later train.

Eventually I had my bike packed up and I rode the 3 miles to the train station and climbed on board with my hefty bike just as the train was pulling away.  To this day, I’m still not sure how I managed to life it up the steps....I am stronger than I ever thought.

The massive amount gear and my bright yellow balloon pump attracted a bit of attention from the packed train.  I had a great me answering bike camping questions for many folks who were heading to a horse race.  Eventually the train emptied out and I found myself at the end of the line in Harvard, IL..

OT in Harvard

It felt comforting to begin this ride with a familiar route.  The month before, I did the same bike ride with a group of women for a camping weekend. I had biked up earlier on my own that time, so I knew exactly what to expect.

OT Where the golfballs grow...

The first 15 miles are through corn and soybean fields and I got to pass through the lovely town of Delavan, which used to be a circus colony.  Between the years of 1847 and 1894, the town was home to 26 circus companies and is the site where P.T. Barnum’s circus was formed.  The town pays homage to that history with statues in a park near it’s watertower.

OT Delavan giraffe

OT tour Delavan Lion

After Delavan, the ride to Kettle Morraine State Forest in South Wisconsin becomes very pretty with a varied landscap.  Having lived in Chicago for the past 5 years, having to tackle hills is certainly a challenge, though I love the way that rolling hills and expanses of forests look from afar.

OT Delavan peaceful lake

When I reached the campsite that my friends Sarah and Paul had set up, I had to set up my tent quickly to avoid the numerous mosquitoes swarming my hot and sweaty self.  They were off swimming in Whitewater lake and came back to the site just as I finished tidying up from the days ride.

We had an enjoyable night around the camp fire chatting about this and that and how I’d be spending the next week on my bike.  The long two days soon caught up with me and I headed to bed shortly after the sun went down feeling incredibly excited for the week ahead and meeting the unknown.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Game Day

Most people who know me realize that sports are not my cup of tea.  That phrase alone likely shows that I can't even make good sports metaphors.

Today, Chicago is apparently playing in a very important game.  I don't think I'll watch it, but I'll make effort to show some civic pride.  As most folks know, when I do a birthday party, I like to bring a special pre-made balloon for the birthday child.  This is one of my favorite parts of doing parties.

The party I'm doing today is for a first birthday.  For whatever reason, the child has not yet indicated a preference for favorite balloons.  Astounding!  I offered to bring a surprise, and thinking of things was tough...cute, and for a boy.

Well, it's the big game day, so I kind of hedged my bets and am bringing two sculptures!  Yes, two!

A bear:

and a Bear:

Here's to hoping that they like them!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


I have a confession, I rather enjoy kids movies.  Actually, the last several movies that I saw in the theater can be termed as movies that kids would enjoy, and be allowed to see.

When I heard that Zachary Levi of Chuck stardom was voicing the male lead in Tangled, I had a desire to go and see it.  When I heard that the movie was empowering for girls and well told, I really wanted to see it.  However, as it my wont, it took me two months to get around to going to a movie theater and seeing the movie.

But then I was told that a birthday child loved Rapunzel.  Finally, I had an excuse to see the movie and I called it research.  $4.00, second run movie theater, very important research.  And it's very proven vital that I did this research.  How else would I know that Rapunzel had flowers in her hair when braided or that frying pans are incredibly versatile weapons?

Today I have a party and I'm bringing this as a special gift for the birthday girl:

Research is important.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Comfortable riding in single digit temps - the cheap edition

While I always appreciate when people think that I’m hardcore for biking in the winter, I have to admit that it really isn’t that bad. Getting prepared and being willing to layer up make most rides rather enjoyable. Some days are certainly worse than others, but even the really cold days are totally doable.

The key for successful bike winter dressing is recognizing that you are going to be generating heat while you bike around. If you wear something that provides insulation to keep the heat in, you’ll be just fine. You can do this with top of the line gear, or thrift-store finds.

On my ride in today, I saw thermometers displaying two temperatures, 6 and 3 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s cold, but I was toasty warm. Different people will do different combinations, but what worked for me today wasn’t particularly expensive or hard to come by.

I was wearing:

Regular work clothes (I’d probably wear the same thing if I were taking the train)
  • Base layer pants – Black Cuddle duds from Target that cost about $14, also doubled as regular leggings for when I got to work.
  • Red Dress for work - I don’t always like to get completely changed and prefer to just subtract some other layers.
  • Black sweater – From a thrift store
  • Lightweight wool socks

 Outer layer

  •  Thick fleece pants – I’ve had these for about 10 years
  •  Fleece pull-over - From a thrift store
  •  Yellow windbreaker – On clearance form Eddie Bauer
Mirror, mirror on a bike . . .

(this picture is from yesterday when it was warmer, but I was wearing the same jacket and fleece pants...just a different dress today!)

I’m still mourning the loss of one of my favorite pairs of gloves, but I’ve found a pretty decent replacement.
I wear long fingered bike gloves from Lake that I got at their warehouse sale. I like that they are yellow. Underneath that I wear a pair of stretchy gloves from a CVS or similar store. The only part of my hands that got cold was my right forefinger, as the stretch glove has a hole in it so I can still use my iPhone.

Wool socks are indispensible. Today I was wearing a pair of Smartwool socks that I was given as a gift. They are awesome, but you can get affordable wool socks at Costco as well.

I’ve been very happy with my shoes. This winter I’ve been wearing a pair of hiking shoes that have Gore-Tex. I picked these up at an REI garage sale for less than $10. They are kind of hideous, but they extremely warm and waterproof.

My head was a little bulky today, but I couldn't even feel the cold.  I wore two free fleece balaclavas from Bike Winter. I also wore a pair of ski goggles. The goggles were probably the most expensive thing and really are a luxury item. It’s not necessary, but wearing goggles really makes one feel protected and warm.

I may have looked a little silly, but I was comfortable and very visible. The only time I was chilly was when I stopped to take some pictures of the spectacle surrounding the school where a Chinese office was visiting.

Just getting out and living your life in cold temperatures is an empowering experience. If you find you are not warm enough, it’s always possible to jump on a bus or a train and try again another time. Look at what clothes you have and think about how you can layer them for maximum warmth.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

That bike tour write up...

OT Loaded bike

In the first week of August 2010, I did my first multi-destination bike tour. While I had done a lot of camping trips by bike, I had never done a trip where I would be contained on my bike for multiple days. This would also be one of the first “real” vacations that I had ever taken.

In the past, whenever I took vacation it was to go back to Washington State to visit my family. Doing a trip that involved multiple days off and no 4 hour flight was a real treat. I had a few ideas for ride, which I thought were all pretty promising. Would I ride halfway around Lake Michigan and utilize the ferry? How about taking the Amtrak down to St. Louis and riding along the Mississippi River? I also looked at a circle around a national forest in Michigan.

Eventually, I decided to do what I titled, the Oddity Tour. This was a ride that would visit some side-show esque sites in Wisconsin. While I’m sure that there are many more strange places in Wisconsin, I stuck to the western end of the eastern part of Wisconsin. For the most part, I stuck to about a 50 mile radius of Madison.

I’ll do a day by day detail of the ride, along with some reflections. The days ended up like so:

Day one: Making a balloon mermaid, Metra to Harvard, IL to Kettle Morraine State Park via Delavan, a former circus colony.

Day two: Riding to Madison and learning about the geologic structure of Wisconsin.

Day three: Visiting Madison, which included the Mustard Museum, a dead squirrel museum and amazing bike infrastructure

Day 4: Riding to Barraboo, Dr. Evermore’s Forevertron, my biggest hill yet, swimming and hula-hooping in Devils Lake and couchsurfing for the first time.

Day 5: Visiting the Circus world museum and the clown hall of fame, riding along a river to Spring Green.

Day 6: Passing some Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, climbing to House on the Rock, seeing the whole thing and still having time to camp all alone.

Day 7: Surviving the night, fixing my chain, visiting “Little Norway” searching for Trolls, and finding Bavaria in Wisconsin.

Day 8: Deciding that seeing Pleasantville, riding in a gold cart, boating, swimming and enjoying the summer would be better than a long ride and facing more hills.

Stay tuned!