Sunday, December 29, 2013

First Tire Change

So here we are, deep in the non-scootering months. But, with yesterday's warm weather (nearly 40 degrees F, downright tropical), I decided to do a little maintenance on the Symba. The Symba has tubed tires, similar to a bicycle, and awhile back I had picked up some Kenda Tuff Tubes so as to be ready for any flat tires. The advantage to tubed tires is that you don't have to replace the whole tire in case of a flat, but the disadvantage is that tubes go flat more easily than a tubeless tire. The Kenda tubes are thicker than the stock tubes, so hopefully the new tubes will make a flat less likely.

I have yet to actually have a flat, so I decided that this winter I would install the Kenda tubes and gain some practice changing tubes when I'm not trying to get back on the road as soon as possible. So, taking advantage of the brief warm spell, I started yesterday with the front wheel. The front wheel is easier to remove, as removing the rear wheel requires first removing the exhaust.

The front wheel off the axle

Taking off the wheel wasn't too difficult, and I then took the wheel inside for the tube change. It took a little work to get one side of the tire off the rim, but I soon figured out it was easiest to hold the tire down with one knee and then pry the tire up with a tire iron. At that point I could pull out the old tube. Nothing wrong with it, so I'll keep it on hand as a spare. I inflated the new tube a little - everything I read online said this makes it easier to put the tube in without pinching it. It certainly did, and then I just had to push the edge of the tire back over the rim. With the tire on the floor I was able to do this by hand, without using the tire irons (preferable because that reduces the chances of puncturing the tube). Then the wheel went back on, good to go. The rear wheel will have to wait for another stretch of warmer weather, as today we're back below zero.

My goal with the Symba has been to learn how to do as much as the maintenance myself as I can. Most things are easy to get to on the Symba, which makes it a great do-it-yourself bike. So now I've added tubes changes to my repertoire. I hope to never have to deal with a flat tire on the side of the road, but at least now I'm familiar with the procedure, with some help from this step-by-step guide on the ADVRider forum.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Cookie Carnage

It started innocently enough.  The dog went downstairs first, as usual, to wait by the back door while we all got ready.

Then we heard noises.  The Coffee Queen went downstairs and caught the dog in the act: fully one-third of the gingerbread cookies had been eaten.  The cookies she'd spent all last night decorating.  She even ate the wax paper.

Oh the horror!

If only we had a literal doghouse.  In the dog's defense, they are really good cookies.

Where's Ulysses when you need him?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Story Masters Workshop

This past weekend I spent 4 days at the Story Masters Workshop, put on by Free Expressions.  Several people from my writing group went to this last year in Seattle and they lobbied hard to have it brought to the Twin Cities this year.  How glad I am that they did.

Based on their recommendation nearly everyone from my writing group attended the workshop this year (including those who went last year), as well as several others from Jane's groups, the Hamline MFA program, and many other area writers.  The workshop consisted of one day each with Christopher Vogler (Author of The Writer's Journey; it's awesome, read it), James Scott Bell, and Donald Maass.  On the fourth day the three of them together led a discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I've never had a time like this when I was able to dedicate days to writing: learning and thinking about my own stories.  It was amazing.  Each of the three had a different approach to writing, but I found that they all complemented each other and that they offered a variety of tools to use, depending on what most needs work in your story.  It allowed me to better understand why something works or doesn't work, and if it doesn't, how to go about fixing it (not to mention I have a better understanding of what's going on when something does work).  I also left with a long list of movies to add to my Netflix queue. :-)

I was impressed too by how approachable each of these men were.  They took questions during break, and they shared an attitude of "Here's what I've learned, now you can use it too."

All through the workshop I had ideas about how I can take The Mighty Carrot even further.  I have notes about rewriting the beginning, about how to fix the climax, and other moments that will add to the story as a whole.  One of my top takeaways was what Donald Maass said about not writing objective description - instead, give us the sense of place through the impressions and emotions of the character.  I struggle with description and I can already see that this is going to be a powerful tool.  (And he's right, I do as a reader skim over those long paragraphs of description!)

Another common thread was of the importance of emotion.  I think it was Donald Maass who said, "A story isn't the plot."  Rather it's the emotional journey of the protagonist, which is externalized in the events of the plot.

Several of us from my group met the other day to talk and debrief about what we had learned.  I spent a lot of my time during breaks and at lunch with those I knew discussing these ideas in the context of our stories.  I found it was very helpful to have those discussions with those who knew what I was writing, as it helped make the ideas more concrete.  It's going to take awhile for me to think through all of this, and apply it to Carrot, but I'm excited to do just that.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


I've done NaNoWriMo before, but this year, as I've started to write picture books, I'm participating in PiBoIdMo - Picture Book Idea Month.  The concept is simple: come up with an idea for a picture book every day for 30 days.  It's hosted by author Tara Lazar over at her blog.  So far it's day 2 and I've come up with 4 ideas, so here it goes for the rest of the month!

Monday, October 14, 2013

"Flora and Ulysses" by Kate DiCamillo

A couple of weeks ago the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul held an event to celebrate the release of Kate DiCamillo's new book, Flora and UlyssesThe Tale of Despereaux is one of my favorite books and, as you probably already know, I'm writing a book about a superhero rabbit, so how could I not love a superhero squirrel?  (And I swear, I had no idea she was writing about a superhero animal when I started my book.)

The event was a lot of fun, and as an aspiring writer it was encouraging to hear that even a writer as successful as Kate still finds writing hard.  MPR recorded the event for broadcast and you can find the full audio here.  Afterwards Kate signed books and was gracious enough to pose for photos as well.  I felt sorry for the parents further back in line though, as I have a feeling it took awhile to get everyone through.  I had my copies of both Flora and Ulysses and Despereaux signed and, yes, had a photo taken.  There aren't many people I'm excited to meet in person, but Kate DiCamillo is one of them.  I mentioned Jane's workshop and she asked what I was writing.  Really, I didn't steal the idea!

It's Kate DiCamillo!  She writes great books!

I had to pace myself so as not to tear through Flora and Ulysses in one sitting.  It was wonderful, my favorite of hers since Despereaux.  I especially loved Ulysses.  The joy that fills him after his near-death experience is just delightful. 

In Jane's workshops we often talk about finding the one moment that sums up the emotional line of the story.  In Flora and Ulysses the moment that jumped out at me was when Flora tells Ulysses, when he experiences a moment of indecision, "Remember who you are."  My week at my day job after the book release event was a long and hard one.  Times like that are always harder for me because I'd rather be writing, I feel I should be writing.  But that line gave me something to hold on to.  A good story is like that.  So remember who you are, dear readers, remember.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Daddy Day!

A little while back the Little Scoot and I had a much anticipated Daddy Day.  We were going to the Science Museum.  On the bicycle.  The Little Scoot loves the Science Museum, and loves riding on the back of the bicycle, a perfect combination.  The Coffee Queen was spending the day with her mom, and so off the Little Scoot and I went into downtown Saint Paul.

The Science Museum was closed.  Apparently they close every year after Labor Day for cleaning and maintenance, and this was the one Saturday of the year they weren't open.  Little Scoot was very disappointed.  Backup plan: the Children's Museum, also in downtown Saint Paul.

And it turned out to be the perfect day.  The highlight was the pretend street filled with everything from a grocery store, to a doctor's office, to a music studio.  And how the Little Scoot loved that!  The stage has a blue wall in back, so that on TV you can watch yourself perform in front of different backgrounds.  The Little Scoot was in his element.  He danced to song after song, either playing a pretend guitar or singing into the toy microphone (yeah, definitely the child of two actors).  I've never seen such joy.

Little Scoot's performance debut

Eventually the stage became crowded with so many other kids it was time to move on (I'm not sure I ever would have pulled the Little Scoot away otherwise).  This exhibit also had a make-believe post office complete with postal uniforms.  So the Little Scoot dressed up and delivered mail to the other stores and houses (each had its own mailbox, how clever is that?).

Is that cute or what?

Really, a wonderful day, if a hot bike ride back home (no, Daddy, can't answer your question right now, he's trying not to die biking up this big, big hill).  And what Daddy Day would be complete without an ice cream treat?

Ice cream!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Last Days of Summer

While the weather has still been wonderful these past few weeks, something's changed.  There's a nip in the morning air, the light is fading early in the evening.  Yes, it's fall in Minnesota.

The State Fair is considered here to herald the end of summer, one last hurrah before we all start to prepare for the long, inevitable winter we've all tried so hard to ignore.  The Coffee Queen, the Little Scoot, and I made our annual trip to the Fair on one of the hottest days of the year.  We biked there while it was still cool, which allowed us to skip the hassles of traffic and parking, but it warmed up fast.  We ate ourselves silly, as usual, which included the obligatory cheese curds.

The Coffee Queen and the Little Scoot eating cheese curds

We also spent time in the animal barns.  The rabbits and sheep are always favorites, as is the Big Pig.  It's a really big pig.  Little Scoot also requested a ride on the SkyTram and loved the view from up high.  We headed home after lunch when the heat became too much.  And thus it became official: the State Fair (for us) was over, and fall was upon us.

The Coffee Queen and the Little Scoot: Up, up, and away!

We've seen a lot of monarch butterflies in our backyard this year, thanks to the Coffee Queen planting zinnias next to the vegetables.  The monarchs love the flowers.  I suppose they are fueling up for their long migration south.  Little Scoot enjoyed watching them... for about five seconds, and then couldn't understand why Dad kept snapping pictures.  We need something to remember these last moments of summer, to remember that the warmth will come again, even when we're buried under three feet of snow.  By then the monarchs will be in Mexico.  I think they have the right idea.

The monarch butterflies in our backyard

Monday, September 9, 2013

Rainy Monday

It's a drizzly, grey Monday here in Saint Paul.  Not such a bad thing after all the warm, dry weather we've been having.  It does, however, thin out the crowd in the motorcycle parking.

The Zuma 125 that lives near me was still there, as was a Kymco maxiscooter, a Harley, and a Yamaha motorcycle.  I found it a pleasant, cool ride this morning, although it did hit home that fall is here, which means winter is just around the corner.

Friday, August 9, 2013

My car was stolen

So, my car was stolen.

It started with a call from the Coffee Queen.

"Where did you park your car?"

"In front, like I always do."

"Because it's not there."

And it wasn't.  We both thought we were losing our minds at first.  It must be there, right?  I mean, who steals a 15-year old Honda Civic?

But no, it really was gone.  I reported it to the the police and a very kind officer came to the house and even flashed the police lights for the Little Scoot.  But he didn't hold out much hope for the car's recovery.  Apparently Civics of this era are prime targets to be chopped up for parts.  So I called the insurance company and assumed the car was a lost.

To be honest what sentimental attachment I had to this, the first (and so far only) car I ever purchased has mostly faded.  Perhaps it's the draw of my scooter, perhaps it's that the Civic is simply old.  It's been a great car, but for me a car is purely a utilitarian object and this one had served its purpose well.  Besides, we'd been talking about going down to one car anyway.  Here was the perfect opportunity to try that out.

Two days later, however, the police call.  My car has been found a whopping three miles away.  The next day I'm able to take a look at it in the impound lot.  It won't start, but the thieves broke the hood latch and so there's no way for me to determine why.  So I authorize the insurance company to tow it for repairs.  There the shop determines the problem: the battery has been removed.  And again, all I can say is really?  There's value in car battery at least 6 or 7 years old?

So the battery is replaced, the hood latch repaired, and finally I'm able to drive it home.  It has the date and time written on the windshield, as the police do when they tow an abandoned vehicle, looking like some kind of automotive scarlet letter.  I drive it a few times like that before the Coffee Queen is kind enough to scrub it off (Windex works).

So now the car is back, sitting in the driveway and waiting for me to get around to cleaning it, more from the latent dog hair than its ordeal.  And I'm still shaking my head at why anyone would bother to steal it in the first place.  I'm sure if it had been newer or worth more I'd have been more upset.

But a late 90s Civic with over 150,000 miles.  Really?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Constant Vigilance

As parents we quickly learn the importance of Constant Vigilance.  Turn away for a moment and the yogurt is everywhere.  Blink and a finger goes up the dog's nose.  And that quiet at nap time?  It can only mean that each and every diaper has been pulled out and spread all over his crib.  And let's not even talk about what happens when you go too long without potty time.

The Little Scoot when left to his own devices

So when the Little Scoot brought me a cup of water on a hot Sunday afternoon what did I do?  I drank it.  "What a thoughtful boy," I mused while lounging in the hammock.  After all, I'd seen him leaving the house not a minute before with the cup in hand.  Mommy must have sent him.

Then he refilled the cup in the kiddie pool.

"Did you just fill that up in the pool?" I asked.


Uh oh.  "Did the first glass come from the pool too?"

Silence.  Not good.

"Did the water Daddy drank come from the pool?" I persisted.


Guess that sinking feeling in my stomach was dirty pool water.  At least the pool hadn't been used for potty time.  The Coffee Queen had a big laugh over that one.  Rookie mistake, Dad, rookie mistake.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Building a puppet theater

Just over a week ago the Coffee Queen, the Little Scoot and I went to the Guthrie Theater's 50th anniversary celebration.  We were invited by some new friends from church: Nathan, Amy, and their son Micah who are originally from Tasmania and are living here for a couple of years (Nathan is a post-doc at the U of M and you can read his perspective on American life here).  The Guthrie had all sorts of activities going on, including the opportunity to tour the backstage areas which we all enjoyed.

Outside the Open Eye Figure Theatre pup on a small puppet show for kids.  The show was somewhat lacking in anything resembling a storyline, but the Little Scoot loved it.  He was quite taken with the puppets (especially the skeleton) and decided he wanted a puppet theater.  Well, what are dads for if not to turn these dreams into reality?  He also spent the next week asking for a "Daddy Day" so on Saturday we went to the hardware store and came home with a pile of wood and assorted hardware that I turned into this:

The assembled framework of the puppet theater

The original plan was that the Little Scoot would "help."  He was very excited to get his own pair of safety glasses, and he watched from a safe distance while I cut the wood with the power saw, but after that he decided it was more fun to chase the dog around the yard.  Oh well, it probably went faster this way. :-)

The Little Scoot talked about the puppet theater all week and what kinds of puppets he wants.  He wants a skeleton as well as "Old Monster Zebedee" (which he came up with), and yesterday he created "Dr. Beaks" who is apparently a bird..  The theater is now ready for the decorating crew, a.k.a. Mom and Grammy, and the plan is to put some kind of proscenium arch over the middle section.  The Little Scoot and I will then see about coming up with a play.  Our neighbors are already asking when opening night is going to be!

I love that the Little Scoot is old enough to get excited about projects like this and I know we're going to have even more fun when he's old enough to actually help with the construction, under Dad's supervision of course.  Yes, somehow I have become the "responsible adult."  When did that happen?

The Coffee Queen and the Little Scoot outside the Guthrie

Monday, June 24, 2013

"The Wind in the Willows" in La Crosse

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to drive down to La Crosse, Wisconsin to see a production of my adaptation of The Wind in the Willows put on by the La Crosse Community Theatre.  This was a youth production comprising a total of 39 kids on and off stage, ranging in age from 8 to 16.  And they did a beautiful job.  LCT just recently moved into a new space and they made great use of it.  The sets, lights, and costumes were all gorgeous and really helped created the world.  The cast too did a wonderful job.  I was impressed with the level of acting they demonstrated, from the loyal faithful Rat to the menacing Chief Weasel (who had perhaps the coolest costume) to the younger forest animals who through their transitions between scenes created the bustling river community.

The director, Rebecca Seflow Hartzell, was recently hired on at LCT to further develop their youth program and is clearly doing a great job.  The kids were responsible for areas behind the scenes as well, stage managing and running the light board, for example.  I think whenever you given kids this kind of ownership over the production they will rise up to the responsibility  They all took their roles seriously and it paid off in a polished production.

Rebecca and the theater's executive director David Kilpatrick invited me to do a talkback with the cast, crew, and audience after the show.  The kids all asked great questions (sometimes better than the answers I could think of!) ranging from how the show differed from what I had envisioned to how long it had taken to write to how I started writing plays in the first place.  They were a fantastic group and I appreciated how welcome everyone made me felt.  So congrats to everyone involved for a job very well done.  I hope it will not be the last time my words are brought to life in this theatre.   It really was a treat to see my play in such good hands.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Conversations you never thought you'd have

One of the best parts about having kids is the sheer randomness of it all.  The Coffee Queen, the Little Scoot and I went for a walk around the lake this afternoon and came across a great puddle.  When the Little Scoot saw it he was overcome with joy.  The conversation went something like this:

Little Scoot: That's the puddle I smelled!

Me: What does a puddle smell like?

Little Scoot: Chocolate and dog poop!

Me: ???

The Little Scoot proceeded to jump in the puddle which sort of sums up the desire of every three-year-olds heart.  Meanwhile I now know what a puddle smells like.

Puddle jumping

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Planting the Garden

Well, it may have taken awhile but summer is finally around the corner.  It's been a strange spring with a lot of rain (the running joke is that Minnesota has been moved to the Pacific Northwest) but a couple of weekends ago we finally had a beautiful day to plant the garden.

The Little Scoot is at an age where he loves to help.  So he supervised while I dug a trench around the new garden plot in the backyard, and then he helped the Coffee Queen tie up the fence.  "Help" is, of course, a very loose term when you're three.

The Little Scoot helps put in the fence

Digging is about as far as my gardening skills go.  The Coffee Queen is the one with the plan.  I just point the shovel where I'm instructed.  Last year the side garden was decimated by rabbits and so this year she is determined to protect her hard labor from them (hence the fence).

The Little Scoot was given a corner of the garden for his very own and even picked what went in it.  He has a tomato plant, some green peppers, and a few other things.  He helped Mommy plant while I did some other yard work and I think it's safe to say he had a fun day. :-)

The proud gardener showing off his corner

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The most awesome morning ever!

The Coffee Queen had to work this morning which meant it was father/son adventure time!  The Roseville library was having an event to kick off their summer reading program and it was awesome.

We started with an outdoor scavenger hunt and the Little Scoot was really into it.  He allowed us to take a break for Culver's ice cream, but he insisted on finishing before he would sit down to watch the miniature horses.  (Yes, miniature horses.  I told you it was awesome.)  And when we found everything the Little Scoot received his coveted prize: a sticker.

Serious about the scavenger hunt
Always time for ice cream

After petting Joey the miniature horse we went back inside to do crafts (goofy googly eyes) and then went to see a real fire truck.  The EMTs also gave him another sticker.  And, last but not least, face painting.  Little Scoot decided at the last minute that he didn't want his face painted, but he did allow them to paint an adorable frog on his arm.

With Joey the miniature horse
Proudly sporting his Frog art

On our way back to the car I asked him if he had had a fun Daddy morning.  He had and wanted to have lots more Daddy mornings today.  Aww.

He also missed Mommy. :-)

Daddy modeling the googly eyes.  Is that how you spell googly?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Back home

The Coffee Queen and I were out of town recently - celebrating our 10-year anniversary in Italy!!!  We went to Italy for our honeymoon and so it felt like the right time to return.  More about that anon, but considering it was our honeymoon that first planted the scooter seed it was fun to go back and see all of the scooters there as a rider.

It was a great trip, but we were glad to get back and see the Little Scoot again (who spent his time with the grandparents and didn't seem too bothered by the fact that we were gone).  I was also excited to get back onto my own scooter again, now that the good weather is finally settling in here in Minnesota.

At least it has been beautiful since we've been back.  Today, however, was cloudy with a forecast of rain most of the day (I love how meteorologists hedge their bets by predicting a 60% chance of rain all day).  But I rode anyway as I have a meeting this afternoon in another building plus an errand to run on the way home.

I am always amused on days like today when I arrive at work and the big Harley and BMW motorcycles are absent, but the scooters are there.  Today when I parked it was just me and a Yamaha Zuma (who it turns out lives close to me).  We'll see if anyone else arrived later but I think it goes to show that we scooter riders are a hardy bunch.  And it doesn't hurt that my commute is only 3 miles each way. :-)

The few, the proud, the scooters.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sometimes this is what a play looks like

Normally I'm not much of a plotter, not in the first draft, anyway.  Once I find the starting point of a story I like to follow where it leads and it can be a surprise to me too to discover how it ends.  Further drafts will of course then require a great deal of reshaping, but I've learned the advantage of having a lot of raw material to work with even when much of it will be later tossed aside.

Not so the mystery play I'm working on.  The first draft was loosely plotted, enough to get me to the end, but when I tried to make headway on the second draft I kept getting stuck, not knowing what needed to happen next.  After reading Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey I decided to apply the steps of the Hero's Journey to each of my six characters (there were originally seven, but strangely one never seemed to enter into the other characters' journeys and so we'll see how the play does without her).  After identifying the key moments for each character I wrote them down on post-it notes and then arranged then and re-arranged them until I had this:
I have to turn this into what???

This is a level of plotting I've never attempted before, but when I wove together the journeys of these six different characters I discovered holes I wouldn't have otherwise been aware of until I had tried to write the scenes.  Instead I was able to iron out many structural issues before setting down a single word.

Well.  Now I just have to write the thing.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

We all need a hero

For the past couple years I have been working on a children's book called "The Mighty Carrot" about a rabbit named Carrot who finds a red handkerchief, puts it on, and becomes a superhero. About a year and a half ago I was fortunate to land in a writing workshop run by Jane Resh Thomas. It was pure serendipity and I greatly appreciate being a part of such a talented group of writers. To have a group such as this to laugh with, learn from, and to be supported by is invaluable.

At last night's meeting Laurie gave me this little fellow, wrapped in red tissue paper:

The Mighty Carrot!
He's the perfect Carrot, captured in motion while off to foil some nefarious scheme. He now sits next to my computer and will be there to help inspire me and remind me of how far I've come.

These writers, the "Muskrats," are my heroes. They are tackling all manner of stories from a young Norwegian immigrant in Minneapolis to the devastation of Nagasaki, stories make me laugh and cry and fill me with wonder (I will never look at crows the same way again). And they remind me that a little bunny with big dreams is important too.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ten-Year Anniversary

This past weekend the Coffee Queen and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary.  (And no, it doesn't feel like that long.)  My original plan for the day was to take the Symba out for a picnic by one of the Twin Cities' many lakes.  After all, it's May, right?  How bad can the weather be?  It was in the 70s early last week.  It was in the 70s yesterday.  Last Friday it was 30s/40s and raining.  At one point the sky starting spitting ice and we decided that we were really, really not meant to have a picnic.

But the Coffee Queen and I are nothing if not adaptable.  So instead we went out to lunch at the Jasmine Deli, a wonderful little place on Nicollet Ave in Minneapolis.  We both enjoyed our meals, but I think the Flaming Wontons were the best.

We followed that up with a visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  We don't make it to the MIA very often and without a toddler (the Little Scoot made a visit to the grandparents) we were able to visit the galleries at our leisure.  For some reason I often forget what an amazing art museum we have right here in Minnesota.  I'm particularly fond of the Impressionists, and they have a couple of great Monets.  The Coffee Queen's favorite is the Van Gogh.

A sculpture by Picasso

On Saturday the Little Scoot went to the other set of grandparents for an overnight visit (we hardly knew what to do with ourselves having so much toddler-free time this weekend!) while the Coffee Queen and I volunteered to pack food at Feed My Starving Children through our church.  I've been there several times now since the fall and I never cease to be impressed at their operation and how they've worked to make their process as efficient as possible.  There were about 100 volunteers in our shift and in less than two hours we packed enough meals to feed 80 children for a year.

The Coffee Queen, ready to pack some food
Lastly, to round off the anniversary celebration, we went to Theatre in the Round's production of Treasure Island.  This is the first time in years that the Coffee Queen and I have been able to go to a play together.  Wow!  We know the director, Noah Bremer, and his high-energy style of theater was evident throughout.  It was a really fun show filled with swashbuckling pirates and lots of humor.  My brother's new girlfriend, Megan, was in the show and was fantastic as the Squire Trelawney.  We had a great time.

All in all a wonderful weekend spent with the Coffee Queen, my amazing wife of now a decade plus!

The Little Scoot had fun too.  Who doesn't love a bird whistle?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Biking with the Little Scoot

Last Saturday the Little Scoot and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful Saturday morning and head out for a bike ride.  He was excited to get out and about.

Ready to go!

While the Coffee Queen went for a run around the lake, the Little Scoot and I headed along the south side of Como Park and over to the Java Train Cafe.  Not for coffee.  I don't drink it, despite the Coffee Queen's best efforts, although the Little Scoot occasionally does (yes, really).  No, we went for ice cream, of course.  The Little Scoot asked for the "blue" (cotton candy) and I felt like mint chip, so we compromised and had both (naturally).

Getting all the good out of that ice cream.

The Little Scoot also played in the sandbox before we hopped back on the bike (two wheels without a motor is a lot more work) and headed home.  Nice to finally have some good weather to enjoy.  Now if only it will last...

Friday, April 26, 2013

What a Difference a Week Makes

This was the view outside work last Friday:
Minnesota: April 19, 2013

This was the view today:
Minnesota: April 26, 2013

It also snowed several inches this past Monday (which confused the poor robins), and yet today it's supposed to hit 70. I can't explain it, but it would appear that spring has finally sprung for good in Minnesota. Which is good, because I'm tired of this:
This is April???

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Little Scoot Turns Three

This past week we celebrated the Little Scoot's third birthday.

How did this happen?  How did my little baby suddenly become a little kid?  The Coffee Queen has illustrated his journey here.  Has three years really gone by that fast?  I'm not sure I'm OK with that, but it sure is fun to watch him enjoy his birthday!

Two Saturdays ago was the big shindig, with most of the immediate family in attendance.  My mom always makes a fun cake and this year, going with the jungle theme, was a giraffe cake.

Blowing out the birthday candle.  Note all the grandparents in the mirror.

Presents included a foam rocket launcher (thanks to his uncle) which will be a blast come spring (if it ever shows up) and castle blocks.

Building castles with Papa Bees.

On the Little Scoot's actual birthday he, the Coffee Queen, and I went to the Twin Cities Model Railroad Museum.  He loves watching the trains go by, playing with the wooden train setups, and getting to drive a train on a figure-eight.


And of course what birthday would be complete without ice cream?  (Or in this case frozen yogurt at Menchie's.)  Mmmmmm.

A birthday treat

Lastly, we celebrated again this past weekend with more of the family, including his Great-Aunt and his Great-Grandma who also have April birthdays.  The Coffee Queen made cupcakes.  The most awesome cupcakes ever, I might add.

Monkey cupcakes!

In all honesty, I don't mind too much that the Little Scoot is growing up as he just gets to be more fun.  I love that he and I can roughhouse, that he has a sense of humor and tells "jokes" (Knock, knock.  Who's there?  Orange.  Orange who?  Orange castle), and that he's becoming his own little person with his own ideas and plans.  He must think I'm a little slow sometimes, as it often takes me a few minutes to follow his train of thought (it helps when I realize we're not operating in any sphere that could be called reality).  And he has a good heart, which is about all any parent can ask for.

To be a parent is to wear your heart outside your body. - Chinese proverb

Friday, April 19, 2013

Why do we live here again?

This was the view from my bus stop this morning. On April 19th.  Really.

This is spring???
Look, I understand this is Minnesota. I understand we get a lot of snow here. But we're also supposed to get spring. Eventually.

So why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we endure the freezing temperatures and the endless snowfalls when there are so many places in the world where "winter" just means it's time to put on long pants?

Since the Little Scoot was born our family vacations have been to Florida. When it's snowing in Minnesota this is the view from Cocoa Beach.

Don't you wish you were here right now?
Which would you prefer?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Scooter Story: Part 2

50cc scooters are a gateway drug. Really.  They're a great introduction to scooters as they have some great benefits: no motorcycle endorsement needed in Minnesota, you can park at many bike racks (any public ones in Saint Paul or Minneapolis), and they're dirt cheap to insure.  What you don't get is a lot of speed.  30 mph is fine for getting around the city, but a little more power and speed can really extend your range.

Last spring (and yes, at this time of year it actually WAS spring in MN) I did a little research online on the SYM Symba.  I'd seen one once before, back when Blue Cat Motors sold SYM scooters, and thought it a pretty cool looking bike.  What's funny is I'm not sure why exactly I started looking into the Symba.  I wasn't seriously thinking of buying one.  At least I didn't think so.

Fast forward a couple of months.  The Coffee Queen, the Little Scoot, and I were at Grand Old Day in Saint Paul (one of our favorite summer traditions).  Midwest Motorcycle in Minneapolis always has a presence there and this year a familiar-looking bike caught my eye.  I walked over and sure enough, it was a red and white Symba.  I pointed it out to the Coffee Queen and said that - someday - when I bought my next scooter I thought this would be it.  She looked straight at me and said, "If you want it, you should buy it."

The Little Scoot at Grand Old Day.  He likes red too.

Well, if I had learned anything in nine years of marriage it was to take advantage of that sort of opportunity when it presents itself.*  But I did my research.  I scoured the web for information on the Symba's quality and reliability, I researched the alternatives, and made a trip to Go Moto to take one for a spin.  I was a little concerned about learning the semi-manual transmission (the Symba has gear shifts, but no clutch lever) as my one attempt to learn to drive a manual transmission had ended in failure.

But riding the Symba was a breeze.  Just remember to let off the throttle before you shift (otherwise it resembles a bucking bronco, and probably isn't good for the clutch either).  I went home, gave it some thought, went back, and put down a down payment on a brand-new, red and white Symba.

Since picking it up last summer I've hardly ridden the Mio at all (the Coffee Queen has now become very possessive of it as her scooter).  I love the ride, the extra power, and the ability to easily climb above 30 mph (I swear the bike doesn't even like going that slow).  It's just plain fun.  The Coffee Queen quickly dubbed it Dr. Atomic and the appropriate icon was soon procured.  Never let it be said I don't embrace my physicist training. :-)

Me and Dr. Atomic

With the new bike I promised myself I'd learn more about how to maintain it.  I've already done a couple of oil changes, adjusted the chain, and learned several other basic checks.  SYM isn't nearly as well-known in the US as other scooter brands, but as any SYM owner will tell you they make fantastic bikes, and so I don't expect to have to do much more than the basics for quite awhile.

 I've learned that once you get past the basics of what you're looking for in a scooter or motorcycle (speed, price, etc.) you just have to find the one that feels right.  I looked into the Buddy 125 but just couldn't get excited about it in the way I could for the Symba.  It just fits.

* I should add that's not all I've learned about marriage in now 10 wonderful years. :-)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Where have all the motorcycles gone?

This was the view on Monday of the motorcycle parking where I work: just me and one other scooter. When I rode to work last Thursday it was just me.  In the summer there are dozens.

Spring has been slow in coming this year in Minnesota and it seems most people haven't been quick to dust off their scooter or motorcycle. (I shouldn't talk, I've only ridden into work the two times so far.) I've seen a handful on the roads so far, but mostly on the few nice days we've had.

I have to say, I'm always impressed by those who ride year round, or nearly so.  The Everyday Riding blog is written by a fellow Minnesota rider who sold his car and now rides year-round, switching to a sidecar outfit in the winter (we certainly have a lot of weather in MN where three wheels are preferable to two).  Circle Blue, a fellow Symba rider, keeps a blog called Did He Ride Today? about whether or not he rode to work (St. Louis looks to have much better weather right now!).  I don't have anything in the way of cold weather gear, but as I only have a few miles to go I can push the envelope more than I would for a longer ride. :-)

Monday, April 8, 2013

My Scooter Story: Part 1

It all began ten years ago. My wife, the Coffee Queen, and I were off to Italy for our honeymoon. Pasta, art, coffee, sea and sunshine. And of course, gelato. We discovered it our first day and had it at least once every day after.

The Coffee Queen enjoying a gelato in Pisa
We also discovered scooters. Specifically Vespas. They zipped through traffic by the dozen (no small feat on the streets of Rome) and their riders looked to be having more fun than anyone. We gazed longingly after them and wondered...

Yes, the romance of life on two wheels had captured our imagination. When we returned to the States we toyed with the idea of buying a scooter, but where? We'd no idea where one went scooter shopping and the couple of times I poked around online all I learned was how expensive a new Vespa really is.

Fast forward five years. My brother started riding a Buddy 125 and when we talked to him about it one day our two-wheeled dream was rekindled.  "What? Vespa isn't the only one that makes scooters?"

Apparently not. Genuine, SYM, Kymco, and others (all at half the price of a Vespa). A whole world of scooters we never knew existed. We soon visited Blue Cat Motors in St. Paul (at that time the SYM dealer) and learned about the different models they carried. Over dinner we discussed the benefits of a 50cc scooter: 100 mpg, we could save on parking. And then the Coffee Queen brought up the most important point of all: it's just plain fun.

Before I knew it we were back at Blue Cat and once the Coffee Queen took the SYM Mio for a spin I knew we'd be taking one home. But to be fair, I didn't need any convincing. :-)

The Coffee Queen on our SYM Mio 50
Zipping around on that little bike, suddenly even the most routine errand was so much more fun. And being limited to about 30 mph or so forced me to learn the back ways to get around. But not being stuck in a metal cage, who cared if it took a little longer to get places? (Even if I did need to pay a little more attention to the weather report.)

And so the Coffee Queen and I joined the ranks of the two-wheeled, our dream finally realized. It was about a year later, back at Blue Cat for an oil change, that I caught my first glimpse of a new bike by SYM, a Symba, and I couldn't help but linger for a moment...

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Saturday morning with the Little Scoot

But before we get to scooters, a little about today's adventure. This morning the Little Scoot and I had some father/son time at the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul. They were having a publication party for Three Triceratops Tuff, a new picture book by local author Stephen Shaskan. It's the story of the three Billy Goats Gruff, only with dinosaurs. How can you not love that?

Outside the Red Balloon Bookshop
Red Balloon is a delightful children's bookshop on Grand Avenue and they had a great turnout for this event. And the Little Scoot had a blast. Shaskan played the guitar and sang several songs with the kids both before and after reading his book. Little Scoot hopped right up in front and danced and sang his little heart out! (He was sad when it was time to sit back down for the reading.) We bought a copy of the book, of course, and had it autographed (Little Scoot's birthday is coming up, perfect). Then we had to enjoy a piece of cake courtesy of the wonderful staff at Red Balloon. They wanted to know if it was our first time there, which it was. We will definitely be back.

Shaskan singing for the kids (Little Scoot is in the blue stripes)
After the reading I promised the Little Scoot a special treat: strawberry ice cream at the Grand Ole Creamery. The perfect ending to a perfect morning with my favorite little man.
Who likes ice cream?  We do!