Sunday, January 21, 2018

Bag of potential: reclaiming my leather satchel

When I was a starving graduate student, I used to read the East Bay Express religiously. It was a small, independent, free paper -- like the Stranger here in Seattle. It even had the "Savage Love" column … and introduced me to Rob Brezsny's "Free Will Astrology".

I kept seeing a small display ad for a handmade leather bookbag for $79, with a slightly larger size for $99. I decided that, as a grad student, I deserved a good-looking bag. So I called the artist -- I wish I knew who he was! -- and arranged to visit his studio, in an industrial area in Oakland. He showed me the two size options, two options for buckles, and then showed me a bunch of leather hides to choose from. I chose a smooth black leather, paid half the price of the bag, and left. Two weeks later -- probably less -- I went back, paid the remainder, and picked up the bag.

It really was the bag of my dreams -- simple, clean lines, an inner zip pocket, roomy enough for a laptop. I carried it every day for years and years.

Over time the leather got pretty beat up, and the bag faded to a distressed light gray. It was still the PERFECT bag, but I stopped carrying it.

Recently Wil and I were talking about bags. He covets my black Filson Field Bag -- a weird sample that one doesn't see very often. I sort-of covet his small leather bag he picked up at KOBOSeattle at Higo, but it's not big enough for my purposes. I do love my Filson bag -- it's a beauty -- but it's not quite perfect. My leather bag, however, *is*… almost. It's just not black anymore.

I said, "I wonder if there's leather dye for bags" -- realizing, as I said it, that OF COURSE there is leather dye. We looked it up on Amazon and, sure enough, found Fiebing's Leather Dye. Reviews were good, so I bought the "set" -- the Deglazer (to remove oil, dirt, and old stain), the Leather Dye, and the Resolene (to protect the finish).

Over the weekend I cleared off the table, put down a couple of towels, and opened a bunch of windows … and set to work. I couldn't really tell if the Deglazer was "working" -- but it did seem to take off some of the color… and several of my brain cells. Imagine nail polish remover. Then concentrate it. Then surround yourself with it. We ended up opening the front door to get a cross breeze and clear out the stench.

Then it was time to apply the dye. I'm not sure what I was expecting -- but I do know that since I was working with black I didn't have to worry too much about "matching colors". So I used the funny little sheepskin-tipped applicators and painted it on. The leather -- which was pretty dry -- seemed to really soak up the dye. I used about 2/3 of the bottle on this one bag. It was amazing just how black it got.

first application: 2/3 of the bottle
I had been worried, somehow, about applying too much dye -- with the result that the front flap of the bag was a little streaky. Okay, more than a little streaky in bright light.

okay, yeah, it's quite streaky
So a few days later I just put on another light coat. The result? #nonemoreblack

Then another day later, I applied a coat of Resolene, the clear acrylic finish. I'm not sure what I was expecting -- would it be glossy? One coat seemed enough for most of the bag, but I ended up doing a second coat on the flap.

Even that still left the bag feeling a little … dry. To be fair, the leather had been dried out and distressed, so just a dye-job wasn't going to solve the issue. I considered using something called "Leather Honey" -- which I suspect shouldn't be indiscriminately Googled -- but we tried using Dr. Marten's Wonder Balsam, which we already had at home. And, well, it worked wonders.

Over the next week or so, when I remembered, I would rub in another bit of Wonder Balsam into the bag, and it got softer and shinier each time. I can imagine that I'll need to keep doing this every couple of months, but I'm still amazed at how great my old bag looks.

the result!
The Fiebing's Leather Dye was easy to use, though admittedly just trying to get something black is easier than trying to hit a particular shade. I'm not sure whether just reconditioning the leather would have re-darkened it, but I love how jet black my bag is again.

While this wasn't part of my #101in1001 project, it feels like a corollary to it -- and a huge success.
obligatory before and after collage

Thursday, January 18, 2018

100-Day Challenge, Finish Line

Today is the 100th day of the 100-Day Challenge, and I'm happy to say that I finished strong.

Yes, I had a bleak week at the turn of the year, hitting my goal only 3 out of 7 days.

But then I rallied. Ten out of ten days to finish the project. And, yes, this did include some late-night strides around the block to hit my goal. I am absurdly proud of this.

It's difficult to read on this graph that summarizes the 100 days in weekly installments, but the only week that I didn't at least average over 10,000 steps per day was the first week of the year. 

Full disclosure: I can't run an hour nonstop. And I didn't get at least 10,000 steps for 97/100 days. 

However, I did hit my goal for 92 out of 97 days, and I'm super proud of that. And I used a lot of stickers. I hope I can keep it up even outside of the challenge!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Reading Darwin: Voyage of the Beagle

I decided that I'd like to read more of Darwin's work, rather than read *about* Darwin. So as part of the 101in1001 project, I've added several of his books to my reading list. Unsurprisingly, I decided to start with Voyage of the Beagle.

It's been charming to read his narrative -- shocking sometimes, of course, given how much times have changed. But I was surprised to hear him use the phrase "people of color" -- albeit to indicate different non-white races who co-existed in one area with whites. And he often praised the natives -- again, though it was often tinged with a "noble savage" feel.

My favorite section, unsurprisingly, was the chapter on the Galapagos -- so funny to hear him talk about the differences in, say, the finches on the different islands, but not knowing why. Darwin didn't have an "a-ha!" moment while there -- indeed, that wouldn't come for some time -- but it's funny to feel like you're the clever one, rather than Darwin. "It's evolution, you ninny!"

This edition includes two appendices: a copy of the instructions from the Admiralty regarding the voyage, and a lengthy essay by Captain Fitzroy attempting to reconcile the geological record he saw with the biblical account of the flood. The first appendix was remarkable to me largely because the visit to the Galapagos wasn't part of the main mission -- it was listed as a "nice to have if you're in the neighborhood" sort of thing. The second appendix was remarkable since poor Fitzroy is left turning intellectual somersaults to soothe his soul, having found some of Darwin's work "ungodly".

I love reading Victorian scientific works -- science at a time where people didn't have formal training, but used their powers of observation. Lyell's "Principles of Geology" -- written by a man who wanted to be a barrister, but had poor eyesight so turned his focus to geology -- is an excellent example of this. Just thinking about him is making me want to dust off my old "Controversy in Victorian Geology: the Cambrian Silurian Debate". And just re-reading the title of that book by James Secord makes me feel a little nerdy. Happily nerdy, mind you, but nerdy.

Now trying to decide whether to re-read "On the Origin of Species" next, or read Alfred Russel Wallace's independently arrived at paper on natural selection first. I've always had a soft spot for Wallace, you see.

But I'm happy to say that this marks the completion of a #101in1001 project. Off to a good start!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

100-Day Challenge, Milestone 3

It really was going so well. Despite back to back Fridays that fell short of my 10,000 steps goal, I was running *and* getting my steps almost all of the time. And even though I had missed 3 days of the "10K Every Day" part, I felt like we were in the home stretch, and I would be able to achieve this crazy thing.

And then my hip started to hurt. That's okay, hell, that was even expected. So, okay, I'll get my steps.

And then I got sick. Not deathly ill or anything -- just a good old-fashioned cold, the likes of which I hadn't had in a couple of years.

I got sick on 12/31, and only got 3334 steps in. I rallied on 1/1, and then missed again on 1/2 … though at least I did get 7810 steps. Another rally on 1/3… and then another miss on 1/4, but again I had a decent day with 8250 steps.

Then another miss, on 1/5, with just 2315 -- the fewest steps I had taken in months. Back up on 1/6 … and then back down on 1/7 (3354! Ouch!).

A combination of feeling ill, rainy cold weather on many of the days, not wanting to go out in said weather on those days, and plain laziness are the culprits.

However … I'm happy to say that I didn't drop the entire challenge just because I went through a bad patch. And even on the days I didn't get my steps, I didn't always just give up completely and resign myself to the couch. I mean, on 1/2 and 1/4 I got within a couple of thousand. So I've got that going for me. Which is nice.

So we've got just over a week until the end of the challenge -- I'll check in again then.