Saturday, June 7, 2014

Transitions

The past two months have brought heaps of transition to the Parker family. In March we made the tough decision to close our storefront and convert Custom Futons in to an exclusively online business. While this was a hard choice to make, I have been taking comfort in knowing this direction holds the most promise for future growth both personally and professionally. We were lucky to receive much press during the transition which aided in a relatively painless liquidation of our inventory. We are now shifting our business's focus to supplying customers nation wide with custom sized futon mattresses. More about this change can be read/seen here...  here... and here.

I've also begun a second job working as a bookkeeper for The Dubuque Food Coop, a start up organic foods store located in downtown Dubuque. I feel extremely lucky to have landed this gig so quickly and I am continually encouraged by the seemingly perfect fit this job appears to be for my personality and lifestyle. The staff/management are an amazing lot. They care about promoting work/life balance, food education, and community awareness of healthy living. I feel SO fortunate to be part of the DFC team.

Lastly, we moved our personal residence a couple weeks ago and are now renting a little 2 bedroom house that has a garage just the right size to house my tools and our canoe (all of which I had been storing at the shop). The new place has been a good fit so far, and Stanley seems to approve. We have more space than our last rental and the landlord gave us the okay to go ahead with a garden!

I spent last weekend setting up my home office which fits completely inside the guestroom closet. So, Custom Futons has officially reduced it's area of operation from 1,600sq. ft. to 6! Everything about the new business model is more efficient. I'm still working some things out as far as hours of operation and re-vamping the website, but those are all details that will solidify with time. Below are a few pictures of the new office, and the new place.


Custom Futons new location... cyberspace!

Stanley gets to accompany me to the office on a more regular basis these days :-)

The van is our last big asset to liquidate. Should be done in another week or so. Transitions are hard!

We have an awesome garage at the new place!

The start of our garden :-)

That's all for now, thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Two Onion Farm CSA

Last year our business hosted a pick-up site for Two Onion Farm, a CSA located in Belmont, WI. The first time I heard "CSA" I was like, uh... what's that?!? So, just encase you are in the dark on this like I was, CSA stand for Community Supported Agriculture. It is a concept that promotes purchasing food directly from the farmers that produce it.

Meet the McGuire family, owners of Two Onion Farm!

From what I understand, no two CSAs are exactly alike but most follow the same concept. In advance, their customers (aka members) purchase a share of the farm's yield for the coming season. Then as the farmers harvest, food is dropped off at a local site for members to pick up. This was all new to me when we agreed to host a pick-up site for Two Onion Farm. I must say, it has been fun and exciting to see this method in action. I've had the chance to meet most of the members and Two Onion even gives us vegetables in return for hosting.

I have really enjoyed being involved with this CSA. It supports local economy, promotes healthy food choices and means we get to eat food that is fresh and in season. It has pushed me to try new recipes and be more open minded about what I eat. It has also caused me to think more about where my food comes from. We've really enjoyed participating and agreed to host again in 2014. Can't wait for those boxes of veggies to start showing up!



Friday, October 11, 2013

Rediscovering my Music Collection Via Vinyl

My brother-in-law Ben recently gave me an excellent collection of records. Not owning a player myself, I turned to amazon to see what was available. I found the Electrohome Signature Retro Hi-Fi Stereo System - EANOS700. I like this player a lot because it's allowed me to consolidate and rediscover my music collection. It's a compact unit with built-in speakers that plays Vinyl, CD's, MP3's and Radio. I'm sure vinyl purists would consider this player to be less than ideal, but I like it. The sound is good and it means my collection of music remains usefully intact regardless of format. I made a custom sized stand for it out of some discarded futon wood, and now I'm enjoying classics like Simon & Garunkel, Chicago, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, The Grateful Dead, and The Beatles... on vinyl! 

While listening to Ben's records over the past week I've been soaking up the album art, jacket inserts and such. It's nice to experience each musicians creation this way. I'm also finding it nice to listen to an album in it's entirety, something I seem to have lost complete ability to do since the introduction of MP3s and internet radio. I think for me, absorbing cover art while listening to an album provides a more authentic experience than simply dialing up a playlist on my ipod. These records have reminded me how having a music collection tangibly available in my home can invite conversations about, and appreciation for, the artists who made it. I'm loving it!

Here are a couple pictures of the stand I made. I'm loving having a physical music collection again!

Every time I do a woodworking project I come away with a new piece of knowledge. This project I learned how to use a jointer which was AWESOME for getting the lumber stripped down to a raw surface. Another thing I really liked about using the jointer is that it creates a very straight finished edge. So, after running each board through, I was then able to glue several pieces of wood together for a solid top because their edges lined up much more nicely than they would have if I had just sanded the finish off.  

Here is my set up! I chose to leave the stand unstained for now. I'm kind of liking the unfinished look.
  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My Bike Ride to Iowa City

This past weekend I  decided to make a trip to Iowa City to visit my friend Travis Kraus at The Futon Shop. This time of year gets pretty busy with students on the move so I wanted to lend an extra set of hands and hang out with Travis for a bit. Always up for a challenge, I decided to make the trip on my bicycle. 

Click here for an interactive map.

I left Dubuque Saturday night at about 6:00. My friend Casey lives in Monticello and was nice enough to let me stay at his place that night so I could break up the ride. I rolled into Monticello at about 10:00pm and joined Casey at The Jitney, an amazing little wine bar on Main St. that has craft beers on tap and a great atmosphere. I then got up early Sunday morning, had breakfast at Casey's family's restaurant, Derrell's, and set out on my merry way for Iowa City. I arrived at noon tired, stinky and dehydrated. Needless to say, I was of little help at The Futon Shop that day. After getting a shower at the Iowa City Rec Center, I spent most of the day sleeping on a pile of foam in the basement of the shop. By the end of the day I was feeling good enough to knock out a dorm delivery to a customer named ANDREW PARKER!

Jenny then joined me for dinner in Iowa City with our friends the Witry's. After dinner we visited Jenny's sister Kelly briefly and then drove back to Dubuque with my bike loaded in the back of our car. Below are some pictures of my adventure along with a brief list of things I realized while cycling this 98 mile route.

Things I realized:
1.) Unlike a car that has a gauge indicating when you are getting low on fuel, a person has no such advantage when it comes to dehydration.
2.) It's way scarier to almost hit a rodent while riding a bike than while driving a car.
3.) Google maps has an awesome feature that shows the best route for driving, walking or biking.
4.) This was the furthest distance my own legs have ever carried me in a period of 10 hours. Also, I have a new perspective/respect for what cars allow us to do.
5.) I probably spent as much on food as I would have on gas... wonder what my food mileage was?!?

Leaving Dubuque on Old HW Rd. 


Pulled into Monticello at about 10pm.

Having a Russian Imperial Stout at The Jitney with Casey.

Had an awesome breakfast at Darrell's in Monticello. Thanks again Casey!

A beautiful sunrise along the Emerald Highway just south of Monticello. I fought the wind all the way into Iowa City.

HW 1

I've never been so happy to see the HyVee on Dodge in Iowa City. I had an employee take my picture and then I ate an enchilada!

Kings of futons.

The other Andrew Parker! He was pretty cool.

So that's my trip. Glad I did it, but not sure if I'll do it again anytime soon. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Commuting Update

It has been about two months since I began using my bicycle as my primary means of transportation. Here is a quick update on how it's been going.

I've encountered a number of exciting challenges as a commuter. Riding in the elements, random repairs, arriving to work sweaty, thieves, negotiating traffic, etc. While these challenges seemed inconvenient at first, I'm now finding that they are simply part of biking. Truth be told, it's actually becoming kind of fun to figure out how to deal with each new challenge as they occur.  

Simply put, I've been connecting with networks of bikers, learning about bicycle maintenance, and finding myself surprised and inspired by how efficient and healthy this mode of transport really is. It has been an extremely freeing feeling to not only power the machine that gets me where I need to be, but to also have an understanding of it's mechanics.

I used some zip-ties to attach a milk crate to my rear wheel rack. It works great for moving all kinds of stuff, Stanley included! It mostly gets used for hauling my lunch pail to and from work.


I got this mirror because I was starting to feel a little vulnerable when cars were passing me. At least now I know they're coming. Installing this turned out to be a pretty involved job. It mounts to my brake lever so I had to completely undo my front brakes and kind of retrofit the housing to get it to work. It was totally worth the effort and I feel pretty pleased with myself for figuring out how to take apart and reassemble my brake lines. Also, notice the little bell to warn people when I'm about to pass them... haha, like that happens very often :)

My family gave me these saddlebags for my birthday! Even more exciting, these saddlebags came all the way from Switchback Cyclery in Toronto!!! Switchback is associated with Sanctuary, a church located in downtown Toronto that is "becoming a welcoming community where people who are poor and excluded are particularly valued". I'm so glad to have these bags and so glad the money used to purchase them went to such a neat venture. I'm finding that saddlebags are really nice to have for making grocery trips. They clip onto the sides of my bike rack and can detach to load and unload!

Here is a basic repair kit I put together. Only thing left to get is a small transportable bike pump. This kit has everything I need to change a tire, perform preventative maintenance, and trouble shoot any issues that may arise. It amazes me how simple bikes really are once you start to look closely at them. In the past month I've learned how to change a tire, grease gears and the chain, adjust brakes, seat, handle bars etc. It feels very rewarding to understand the mechanics of my transportation.   
So that's the update on my commuting for now. As always, thanks for reading!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Patch Job

Monday evening I found Jenny in the kitchen reluctantly considering weather or not to discard her much loved yellow hoodie. Before going much further I really should mention a few things about this hoodie and why Jenny loves it so much. 1.) It's yellow with a fun/unique design, 2.) It's a nice weight of fabric, not too heavy but not too light, and 3.) It zips up and has two pockets in front.

I'm sure anyone who knows Jenny knows the exact hoodie I'm referring to and you are probably just as surprised as I was that she would consider getting rid of it. To credit her judgement, I must admit, it had seen its better days. Both elbows were completely worn through and other tares had begun around the sleeves. I suggested she let me try to fashion some sort of a patch job and she agreed.

So I headed to Joann Fabric and thanks to a very helpful employee, I got everything I needed to resurrect the yellow hoodie. It only took about an hour and Jenny was very please with the results.

I started by putting a piece of cardboard inside the sleeve making sure it was wide enough to stretch out the material slightly. I then ironed the wrinkled and curled fabric flat so it could receive an iron-on adhesive netting for re-enforcement and then an iron-on patch.  

After ironing on the netting and patch, I turned the sleeve inside out and put another patch on the inside to cover the exposed portions of the netting. This helped to re-enforcing the elbow and also made it so the inside of the sleeve would feel soft.

I made the patches using an iron-on adhesive and some fabric.

Here it is all finished. The yellow hoodie lives!


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Becoming a Bike Commuter

One of the things I enjoy most about running a small business is meeting, and doing business with, other proprietors. I've found that talking to other business owners keeps me excited about running my own business and motivated to excel in my work. My most recent interaction of such was with Tim and Lisa Ingram, owners of Momentum Bikes in Platteville, WI. Tim & Lisa have made several purchases at Custom Futons and so in turn I recently had Tim tune up an old beater bike of mine because I'm trying to become a commuter.

Walking into Tim's shop is an experience. Long boards, bicycles and other alternate transportation accessories line the walls tempting your attention. Employees help customers and busily work on bikes in an open-to-the-public repair room. Barely visible, through a door opening to the back alley, is another employee grilling lunch for the entire staff. It quickly becomes apparent that this shop isn't just a fun place to be, it's also a fun place to work. The employees seem genuinely excited for the bicycling adventure that awaits each customer who enters the door. Their enthusiasm for biking and the lifestyle it can provide their clients is evident in every conversation that takes place.

Long story short, Tim helped me get my bike (and me) ready for commuting. "It's a lifestyle" he said, and I'm starting to understand what he means by that. The past week I biked to work almost everyday. I've also made trips to the grocery store, restaurants etc... all on my bike! Surprisingly, I've been getting to these places in nearly the same amount of time it would take me to drive and I'm not paying $4 per gallon to do it. I'm discovering how rewarding it can feel to approach the challenge of getting where I need to be without using a car.  

Tim helped me realize a few good things about using an older bike as a commuter. He pointed out that "bolt on" wheels accompanying an older frame help insulate your bike from potential thieves. He also pointed out that commuter bikes get a lot of ware and tare and for that reason it's good to start with one that already has some bumps and bruises. So what exactly did Tim do to my bike? I'll let the pictures and their captions tell the story.

The first thing Tim suggested was to put fenders on my front and back tires. After getting completely soaked this past week on a 12 mile ride into work from Sherril, I must say I am very glad to now have these fenders. I'm finding that riding in the rain is just part of commuting so these fenders were well worth the money. ($50 for the pair)
Tim stressed the importance of staying visible. This head light is detachable so it doubles as a flashlight and has two settings; solid on and flashing. Law requires a headlight to ride at night, taillights are optional. I chose to have a headlight, taillight, and rear reflector. 
The taillight is also detachable and can be mounted in a few places depending on where I feel it will be most effective. It came with a belt-clip that also allows me to put it on my backpack if I want to. It also has different settings for flashing or staying on solid.  
Here is the rear rack and fender. The rack added another $50  but it will allow me to hang saddle bags on both sides AND have a basket or milk crate on top. I should be able to get all my groceries on this rig once I get it decked out the rest of the way. Also, notice the bike lock chain wrapped around the seat pole. 
So this is my commuter bike! I should also mention in addition to these accessories, Tim did a complete tune up; truing the wheels, greasing the chain, checking the breaks etc. Look out Dubuque, here I come!!!
Thanks for reading.