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How two weeks of riding my bike helped me lose weight and save money

Bike frugal wisconsin
The blue beast, loaded up with groceries!

I looked down at my glass and metal bathroom scale, as I do most mornings before I hit the shower, and a small grin found my face. The scale said 20.9 — the lowest point my body fat percentage has reached since I’ve been measuring it.

I eat healthy and I exercise regularly, and I appear pretty slim in clothing, but I’ve always had a body fat percentage that’s higher than I’m truly comfortable with. I’ve used other means to slim up — following a ketogenic diet worked pretty well (and the science is solid about this approach) — but overall I’ve learned not to worry about it too much.

As I’ve posted on the blog before, I’ve recently returned to frugality. Not that I was unfrugal — those who know me that I always operate in some frugal fashion or another.

But recently, after some big expenditures such as my sister’s wedding, I decided it was time for another tweak. One of the big tweaks was my car usage.

This isn’t a post about going from zero to hero. Far from it. It’s actually a post about going from half-hero to full Mustachian bike stoic. I already biked to work two-three days per week, and usually made my Saturday pilgrimage to the farmers market on my bike, but for other trips, such as the grocery store, I would use my car.

I lucked into a full week of biking, and then decided how far I could push it. As a journalist, I do occasionally need my car, because I sometimes have to travel to out of the way places that would be unfeasible on my bike. It’s not necessarily that the drive would be impossible, but that it would take up too much of my day and wouldn’t be fair to my employer to spend so much of her time riding my bike. My general rule is if it’s in the city limits or nearby, I will bike; if it’s beyond, I’d better take my car that day.

So with luck, I had a week where the stars aligned, and I was able to use my bike for all my trips in a week, including the very fun Open Streets Wausau event which, as I mentioned, was very fun. So then came the weekly grocery trip.

My weekly journey takes me to Aldi, which has some of the lowest prices on food that is also high quality. The trade off is that there generally aren’t name brands, it’s a small and cramped store, and there often is only one choice in any given food product. I can’t say I enjoy shopping at Aldi, but my wallet enjoys it quite a bit.

The other downside of Aldi is that it’s in Rib Mountain, and is quite a trip. I essentially have to go north, then back south, to get there. Unlike my sneaky, virtually car-free route to downtown, getting to Rib Mountain involves perilous, traffic heavy commuting on dangerous roads.

Or does it? I decided to put it to the test. I cleared out my Timbuktu messenger bag, put a grocery bag inside (Aldi only has carts, not those little baskets, and I refuse to push an enormous cart around for the dozen or so items I buy each week) and off on my bike I went.

I was stopped along the way by my good friend Pat Peckham, my former coworker and now my neighbor and city alderman. I stopped to tell him about my grocery store experiment, and we had a pleasant chat until I went on my merry way. It’s not a chat I would have had in my car; biking helps connect you to your neighborhood.

One caveat, and one I plan to continue — I purposely lightened my needed load by buying a few things the day before at Kwik Trip, a local gas station/convenience store that sells grocery items. The nice thing about these stores is that they carry more than just convenience junk — there are decent meats, cheeses, eggs, milk and other odds and ends to round out a grocery list. I bought bananas, an onion (I go through one every few weeks), some hamburger and one pack of cheese. All fit comfortably in my Timbuktu.

bike groceries wisconsin frugal
On my second trip, I bought even more – finding the limit of my bag. Any more and it would be wise to invest in a back rack or pannier.

The trip was much better than I expected. At this point, thanks to a push for more bike friendly facilities, I only needed to take one segment of road with no lines or lanes for cyclists (but plenty of width for safety) and was even able to navigate a busy department store sprawl via a bike/ped path that runs behind all the big box stores. The path connects with the exact street I need, so getting to Aldi was a success.

There’s a feeling of accomplishment that comes with accomplishing things on one’s own power. As Mr. Money Mustache would say, Muscle over Motor. I love that phrase. I shovel snow, rake leaves, cut the grass with a mechanical mower. You don’t have to be in a gym to get exercise.

In fact, it’s that justification that helps address the complainy-pants argument “but I don’t have time!” It’s actually saved me time — I got my long bike ride and my grocery shopping accomplished all in one fell swoop! Doing both would have taken me 2 1/2 hours or more — the whole endeavor was about 1 1/2 hours and now my cardio and groceries are done.

So with that said, the accomplishment and feeling of self-reliance is more important to me than the nearly 8 pounds I lost, or the several percentage points of body fat. But those don’t hurt either.

A renewed push toward frugality

As many of you know, B.C. is a pretty frugal guy, or at least tries to be. But this is modern life, and so it’s not always easy.

Case in point: My sister’s wedding. While I tend not to go to weddings when invited (and my absence is rarely noted — I’m hardly the focus of most couple’s big day, afterall) my sister’s wedding is definitely one of those can’t miss, not getting out of it scenarios. I personally think traditional weddings are an enormous waste of money that can be better spent elsewhere (or better yet, saved!).

But, it was my sister and new brother in law’s wedding, so they call the shots, and I go along for the ride. After all, they’re bearing far more of the expense than I.

I didn’t mind buying wedding presents — my sister’s list included a number of practical items, and I ended up buying a cheese board and grill tray from Bed, Bath and Beyond from their registry.

The one that’s been sticking in my craw? The tuxedo rental. All told, it ended up costing me $250. For one outfit, to wear one day. As a frugal thrift shopper, that $250 is probably more than I’ve spent on clothing for the past 3 years, and at the end of the wedding, I have to give it back.

I had no involvement in the planning process of what the wedding party would wear, and wasn’t told anything about the cost until I got to the checkout. The pain in my gut, born of years of frugal living, burned in my loins as I pulled out my credit card.

What bothers me is that it seems like such a waste. I would have rather spent that money, or even a little more money, on a nice suit I could wear for presumably the rest of my adult life. It would have been an expense, but at least it would have gone toward something useful. As it stands, I now only have a picture of me in a nice tux (which is nice for my dating profiles, though still not worth $250!).

Seeing my sister get married was a great experience, far more meaningful for me than I expected. Her and my brother in law have been together for 13 years, lived together for much of that time, so going in I thought of it more as a formality. It turned out to be far more emotional for me than I expected.

But with her wedding over, it’s time to renew my passion for frugal living. Why do I do this? I’ll probably make a whole new post about this at some point, but I’m one of those FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) nutjobs you might have heard about. The basic idea is to spend the minimum amount of money to obtain happiness, allowing yourself to save the money that will eventually allow you to be free from work. That doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t work. What it does mean is that you have enough money that work is optional, and you can pursue only the work you want to do.

It’s also important to note that this doesn’t mean self-deprivation. It’s really more about learning to appreciate the simple things in life; not needing every new gizmo and gadget as it comes out; not buying into the constant upgrade consumerism cycle (something common in one of my favorite pursuits, cycling); and being content to enjoy things once in a while instead of all the time. In other words, a treat should be just that: a treat. A good example: One of my favorite summer time activities is pizza on the farm at Stoney Acres Farm in Athens, WI. It’s a lovely Friday night activity with a nice craft beer or two (or three or four) and pizza made in wood-fired ovens with ingredients right from the farm. It’s a great treat, and one I indulge in — once or twice per summer, not every Friday. That way, the times I do go are special.

Of course, that $250 I spent on a tux would have paid for a summer’s worth of pizza on the farm nights. Just sayin…

I’m B.C. Kowalski, writer and photographer, among other things, in Wausau, WI. I also write books, including the Robot Awareness series, and I run Define Photography. Follow me on Twitter too!

Making mead: my first attempt

mead, brewing, wisconsinI love craft beer and wine, but for some reason I’ve just never wanted to make it myself. I’m not really sure why. I think I looked at the cost of the kits and I wondered if it really made sense financially — for the amount of beer I would get, wouldn’t it make sense to leave it to the experts? After all, if I screwed it up, I would have to go buy that beer anyway. Plus, I really don’t drink that much beer in the first place, despite how much I like it. So whether it’s actually worth it or not, I’m just not sure.

But I was at the home of a friend who is one of the most prolific brewers of things that I know. His basement fridge/bar is always stocked with several of his home brews on tap, as well as homemade wines.

One day after yoga his wife invited me to stop by for some home brews and homemade soup, an invitation I happily accepted. This friend served me something I’d never tried before: mead. Here I was drinking the nectar of the knights of Beowulf out of a mason jar, and it was delicious: sweet but not overly so, robust and filling.

So my ears perked up when my friend then explained to me that mead is actually one of the simplest things to brew. Perhaps this is my window into the world of home brewing. I once thought things like homemade bread were difficult — I’ve since realized how easy, and cheap, it is to make your own bread, using this recipe. I then modified that recipe to make pizza crust — basically it’s the same thing but flattened out and with shorter bake times. So maybe mead would be the same?

Well, after hours of research, I’ve learned that it’s not exactly simple. And my trip to the homebrew supply store didn’t help matters.

First of all, many of the videos I found online were missing key elements — either they used specific terms they didn’t explain, or they skipped key elements in the process that were confusing to someone who didn’t know what was going on.

I finally stumbled upon this very simple recipe for mead — perfect I thought! It actually was meant to need almost no extra equipment, but I thought I would use an actual brewing jug and airlock.

I went to Bull Falls Brewing Supply store, which has a great selection of stuff. But this is also where things got more complicated.

I really just wanted to buy the things I had put on my list, but the man who runs it was a little overly helpful. It ended up being a very awkward encounter — the two things that would have been helpful would have been A) he let me simply buy the things on my list so I could follow the recipe I’d already pre selected, or B) he’d walked me through the entire process, picking out the specific items I needed. Instead, he offered unsolicited advice, spoke in jargon without explanation or in vague terms. (For example, he said “This yeast will take care of you, as long as you feed it once in a while.” He seemed non-plussed when I asked what that meant.)

This goes to my principal of either you do something, or you don’t. I’d really have preferred to simply buy what I needed. If the man was going to supply me with information, he should have started at the beginning and walked me through the process as he sees it. By offering select bits of info, much of it unexplained, he simply confused me.

Don’t get me wrong, he was obviously very knowledgeable about brewing. But knowing, and being able to help others, are two different things. Also to his credit, he offered his card with his number and told me to call any time I had any questions — and repeated that a couple of times to emphasize I really am welcome to call him for advice. He was friendly and meant well.

mead suppliesI left the shop with the supplies I need, and a few things I wasn’t planning on buying. Ultimately I decided to follow the recipe as planned, but I plan to add one process not in the simple recipe: I plan to rack my mead after it is done fermenting, before transferring to bottles.

Those supplies by the way? That’s just to make the mead. The ingredients themselves I still had yet to acquire.

I’d already gotten the recommended yeast, with some Lavin something or another. It’s the one our friend at Bull Falls told me would work best for mead. Good enough for me.

The main ingredient in mead is honey, so I bought a shitload of it. I stopped at the first stand at the Wausau Farmers Market that had honey, and bought the largest amount. I promptly found others that were slightly less expensive. So it goes sometimes.

The recipe called for oranges and raisins. I already had oranges, but figured I would get raisins at the grocery story on my trip the next day. Which I promptly forgot.

Finally I stopped at Downtown Grocery on the way to yoga class and found a nice bag of raisins for $1.38. Perfect. After I returned to yoga and making myself some supper, I promptly cleaned my kitchen and set about to making the mead.

The first thing I did was sanitize all my equipment. I’d purchased a quick sanitizer from Bull Falls so I was set to go — just fill a sink with water and disolve a tablespoon or two into the water, which you run everything through. The point of this is so other bacteria don’t get into your mead and create something entirely different than mead.

The process was pretty simple. I followed the video below:

Basically you heat the honey (about 2.5 pounds) and about half the water for 20 minutes, while activating the yeast (stirring it in room temperature water), then you put it in a jug, fill it up some more, add your oranges and raisins, “pitch” your yeast (a fancy way of saying add it) top it just a little more (leaving a decent amount of room at the top for the foam that will form) and put your airlock with a little water in it on. I’m oversimplifying but the whole process is in the video, which I recommend.

I moved my jug (carboy) into the basement, where it should be a desirable, cool temperature for making mead. I have a bar, and so it is currently sitting on top of the bar.

This is where I got nervous. What if nothing happens? I of course hopped down the stairs in a couple of hours to see if anything was happening yet. Nope. I checked it the next morning before heading to yoga, and didn’t see anything either. The yeast had basically attached itself to the raisins, which looks a little weird – so it must be eating. When it’s fermenting, little bubbles should pop through the water in the airlock. It releases the byproduct of fermentation without letting air in, and that’s the whole point of the airlock.

I came back from yoga and a few errands (on bike of course) and sat and watched the airlock for a bit. I thought I saw something resembling a little bubble – and then it burbled up through the liquid. Success! It occurred to me it might have been doing this earlier and I simply didn’t stick around long enough to see.

This made me more excited than it really should have. But I’m ecstatic to know that my little science experiment worked. At least so far. It’ll turn into something alcoholic. Maybe it’ll taste like garbage. Who knows.

What I do know is that in three weeks or so, it should be ready to transfer into another carboy (jug) and maybe I can start another one.

I’m B.C. Kowalski, writer and photographer, among other things, in Wausau, WI. I also write books, including the Robot Awareness series, and I run Define Photography. Follow me on Twitter too!

Fresh talk, jarrod crooks

My first appearance on a new show, Fresh Talk

Fresh talk, jarrod crooksThere was a bit of trepidation in my stomach as I made my way to the Public Access studio at City Hall. I was about to be on my first YouTube show, and I didn’t quite know what to think.

When filmmaker Jarrod Crooks asked me to be on his new YouTube show, I jumped at the chance. Would I? It sounded like a ton of fun.

But on my way to the studio, it suddenly became very real. It’s a talk show, and there’s no script. Jarrod, and his cohort Randy, are very funny people, as you can see from the trailer below. They’re both really good guys too, and I happily obliged their request to shoot some promo photos for them. It’s something to add to my resume and I like the idea of being part of one of Crooks’s projects. For those who don’t know, Crooks has produced four feature films now – including his latest, Indie Guys, which I wrote about for City Pages.

Jarrod and Randy are cool, but how would I be on screen?

Well, it turns out, OK. Not great, not bad.

It was fun either way. My episode involved unboxing a set of Super Mario Brothers toys made in Japan – and I had plenty to talk about when it comes to all things Japanese.

I had some tough acts to follow. One of the episodes invovled children, and they were comedy gold. Another involved one of the actors on Indie Guys, who did some hilarious rants. How the heck would I follow that up?

Well, it’s safe to say Hollywood won’t be calling me anytime soon. But it was a fun experience, and Jarrod has mentioned having me back. If he does ask me back, I will likely jump at the chance again.

UPDATE: He did have me back. Apparently there was an issue with the sound, and the whole thing had to be completely scrapped. I came back in for a toy review, in which I appear in about 5 seconds of.


I asked Jarrod if my bit was funny or stupid, and he laughed and said “well, it’s all stupid.” So, suffice it to say, I’m not YouTube famous yet, and it’s unlikely that I ever will be. But, it’s a fun process and I look forward to doing more!

Check out the trailer for Fresh Talk – don’t forget to subscribe!


I’m B.C. Kowalski, writer and photographer, among other things, in Wausau, WI. I also write books, including the Robot Awareness series, and I run Define Photography. Follow me on Twitter too!

open streets, wausau, skateboarding

Open Streets Wausau: This is what I live for

open streets, wausau, skateboardingWausau had its first experience with Open Streets in  May, and I’m still grinning ear to ear about it.

If you live in a city like Portland, or Bogota, Colombia, then you likely already know exactly what an open streets or cyclovia event is all about. A loop of streets is closed down for a block of time, essentially turning the street into a makeshift parkway for bikes, skaters walkers, skateboarders — hell, you could grab a pogo stick if you so desire.

But this isn’t Portland or Bogota — this is Wausau, and the fact that our city even has such a thing is a huge mark of progress for our city.

Why? Because Wausau for a long time has been deeply entrenched in car culture. Anyone who used a bicycle for transportation knows the pain of trying to do so in Wausau. Even 10 years ago, it was hard to bike any significant distance without someone yelling something out a car window at you. Bike accommodations were unheard of. A common question when someone would see your bike gloves would be “you biked here?”

In 2010 I moved to Stevens Point, and was pleasantly surprised by what I found there. Whereas Wausau has just developed its first bike/ped plan, Stevens Point was working on its second (it’s important to note these are 25-year plans). Riding the streets felt like a dream compared to Wausau. First off, there were far more people riding bikes, or walking to destinations, which meant that drivers were far more likely to give people leeway, to actually stop for pedestrians and biking just felt a lot safer and smoother. Stevens Point’s road networks are basically one big grid, which meant for every busy road there was a much quieter street to ride my bike down to the same destination.

Point is also where I met Bob Fisch, otherwise known as the Chief Bike Fun Officer of Poky Pedaling Stevens Point. My very first thought, when he told me about Poky Pedaling, was “why do we need another bike group?” But as I got to know Bob and his group, I understood — this is a needed activity/group in every city, and I have since started my own in Wausau. Bob and his Poky Pedal philosophy has since had a huge influence on me. In another post I will talk more about it, but it has a lot to do with how you look at a bicycle. I think about bicycles differently because of Bob’s influence. Here’s a quick checklist of things (not in any order nor exhaustive):

  • a bike isn’t just for getting somewhere; it can be a tool for fun
  • just because you can bike fast, doesn’t mean others can; it’s fun to accommodate everyone
  • think of others: just because you feel safe biking a busy street doesn’t mean 76-year-old Grandma does. You need to think about her to
  • Bike to work is fine, but it’s not possible for everyone. But bikes can be used for errands, or for having Bike Fun
  • What is Bike Fun? It’s hard to define it, but you know it when you’re having it

So, Point good for biking, Wausau bad, right? Well, while I was gone, there was a major shift. As I mentioned, Wausau had just finished its first bike plan right before I left. By the time I returned in November 2014, suddenly there were bike lanes everywhere. Paths had been completed. The city’s bike/ped committee became a force, with each meeting attended by police and planning/engineering staff whose response to requests are “let’s find a way to make that happen” instead of “we can’t because X, Y, and Z.”

I spent most of the Open Streets hanging out with Bob, delighting in the food, fun things such as live music and bike polo, and all the familiar Wausau faces I ran into. (Many don’t know, but a Stevens Point alderman was even amongst the festivities!)

Something Bob said to me rang true, and illustrated the difference between Wausau before I left and Wausau now: It seems like Stevens Point has more cyclists in general, but there’s much more momentum for cycling in Wausau. (Not en exact quote – I wasn’t taking notes!)

I think Bob perfectly articulates how I feel about bicycling in the Wausau area. There’s a lot of momentum toward bike/pedestrian accommodations. The newly created River’s Edge Trail is an example of that. With its expensive but impressive bike bridge as the cap on the project, the trail is a gem just north of the city’s downtown, which runs through the city’s flagship park. City leaders are understanding that improving Wausau’s livability is a key to attracting a new workforce and making sure people set up shop here, and not somewhere else. While the state is dead last in start up creation, Wausau is bucking the trend as one of the top startup sites in the state.

To me, Open Streets was a perfect celebration of Wausau’s newfound and strong momentum toward bike and pedestrian concerns. These things make your city more fun to live in, and that’s what this is all about.

I’m B.C. Kowalski, writer and photographer, among other things, in Wausau, WI. I also write books, including the Robot Awareness series, and I run Define Photography. Follow me on Twitter too!


The joys of discovering new music: Wolfsbane

wolfsbaneSo one of the things that I do is freelance work on Mechanical Turk. It’s something I do for a little side income, which goes directly into my savings/investments.

And one of my favorite hits to do are from a group called AudioKite. They essentially pay you to write mini reviews of music. It’s fun for me, because music writing is one of the things I really enjoy doing, and something I have at various points in time have done for my day job.

The downside? Some of the music is truly horrendous. I sometimes can only do so many of these songs because they’re just so awful. It’s like an American Idol audition.

But like American Idol, you occasionally find a diamond in the ruff — and I found one of those diamonds today.

Continue reading “The joys of discovering new music: Wolfsbane”

Feeling like a kid again at the dinosaur museum

18275250_10155276083758158_166353722190599296_nI walked into the brand new Colossal Fossils Museum today, and I have to admit I felt just a tiny morsel of that excitement that the site of a dinosaur museum used to bring out in me as a kid. Just a little dollop.

Colossal Fossils started out as a mobile museum that made stops to schools and old folks homes to generate interest in dinosaurs. Which, as you can imagine, doesn’t take much. A kid only needs a quick glance at the giant tooth of a T.Rex and they’re transfixed.

The museum’s director, David Daniels, always dreamed of a permanent location and today that’s become a reality. Colossal Fossils opened up in the Wausau Center mall, in a storefront that once housed a Pac Sun. Now it’s replete with dinosaur skeletons, including Ivan the T.Rex and a giant wooly mammoth skull and tusks.

Yeah, it’s freaking cool. Do I see if differently now? Of course — I’m now thinking about how cool those dino bones and fossils will look through the lens of my camera. I’m thinking about lighting, about getting the right angle, what will look good blurred out in the background.

But damn if I didn’t walk out of there with a slight spring in my step.