25 July 2010

Bicycle Chic

I am supposed to be getting a car this fall, but what I really want is new bike, a tricked out bike, with cup-holders, books-on-tape in stereo (like The Stig) and a climate control system.

Everyone has reasons for not biking--money, business, sloth... but I especially want to speak today to those with objections of a more aesthetic nature. It's not all leotards, mushroom-shaped helmets, and bikes with little Tour-de-France seats.

Allow me to introduce the latest fashion accessory: the bicycle. The new bike scene is hip and healthy, with a range of bikes and accessories, meaning there are bikes and accessories which fit your lifestyle and your own unique sense of style. It's just a matter of assembling your touring gear and hitting the road.

For me, it's the beach cruiser bike. They're big, sturdy, and comfortable, and they come is fun colors. You can add baskets, lights, bells, etc., as needed, to make them uniquely yours.

These are just a few of the beauties I've seen:

The Nirve Lahaina

The Rover GFX

The Diamondback Della Cruz

The sixthreezero Scholar

Helmets can be fun too! They don't have to be the big puffy things. They can be sleek and colorful. I didn't think Kate Hudson's helmet was too bad in "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days." "...a little give and a little go." And for those who absolutely can't abide anything helmet-like, there are helmets made to look like hats.  

Early motorists wore driving goggles. I can't quite make Model T speed, but I still want the goggles, something like Caractacus Potts would wear, or Ruth Nichols, one of the original ninety-nine of the women's aviation society, founded in 1929, The Ninety-Nines.

Don't let convention hold you back. Today we ride. Tomorrow we sail and fly. Pedal confidently in the direction of your dreams!

Shopper Athlete

I usually walk to the grocery store. It's a brisk, two mile walk, round-trip, an easy distance for a girl armed with an iPod, long-handled shopping bags, boots, an umbrella... whatever is called for.

But today I zoomed to the store on a bike. My roommate had recommended the transportation of groceries by bicycle handlebars. This worked very well. I divided the weight of the groceries equally between the two handlebars. I used reusable cloth shopping bags as they are more durable (and reusable). It worked pretty well, on the whole. When I rode there was a sort backlash of momentum from the shopping bags. They would swing forward when I pedaled forward, and then back, which stopped me momentarily, especially on uphills. Actually on the steepest uphill the back was just winning, so I walked for a bit there. And it was still much easier than if I had carried them by hand. Be careful that you never turn the front wheel to either side very sharply. This will cause the bags to alternately pull you away and then slam into you. It is embarrassing and counterproductive and above all you will look silly. Not to mention that it's also not ideal for the groceries. I had to perform a small surgery on the cardboard milk carton when I got home because of this. Try not to let it happen to you. I think that handlebar transportation is not ideal in general and would recommend the more traditional front basket or rear saddle bags.

At any rate, I enjoyed myself very much and it occurred to me that I, carrying the spoils of a shopping adventure and cycling as I went, was a shopper and an athlete. I am proud to be a shopper athlete.

11 July 2010

Productive Workspaces

My productivity has always been a little spotty. I've devoted hours over the years to the investigation of why that is the case. I've tried to ascertain which stimuli or lack thereof impede progress and which speed it.

Should I brighten the whole room when I'm working or shine a single spotlight on my current project, as if to say, this is only thing in the whole world that matters, or at least in the whole room?

Should I use a large table, giving my project room to expand? Or should I confine myself to a small desk in order to invite focus?

What, if anything, should I listen to while I work? I once listened to the same two minute Shostakovitch piano prelude over and over on repeat for an entire paper. I tend to prefer instrumental music with repetitive motifs like that of Philip Glass. It's easy to jump into their rhythm, and the melodies are not too distracting.

How much coffee yields the perfectly functioning brain? If breakfast is the most important meal of the day and Cheerios the best breakfast cereal, then I should be eating Cheerios every day, no? Chocolate--distraction or part of the process?

Does the presence of peonies in the workspace help or hinder progress? This question requires copious verification.

I have a problem with sameness in workspaces. Rarely have I written two papers in the same place, with the same organizational method. For a chemistry final, I covered the living room floor in stacks of paper, each for a different unit. I wrote a lab report for biology while standing up at the kitchen counter. I once used my parents bed because it was ideal for spreading out notecards for an English research paper. I wrote two final papers standing up at my desktop computer, on top of my cinder block-lofted bed in my dorm room.

Last May, I had a "homework island"--a blanket on the floor, where one beach was lined with things read and another beach with things not yet read. It was nice to watch the beach of 'things to read' erode.

My favorite work location ever has been the west side of the 5th floor, the top floor, of the IUSB library. From it I can see the river valley, lined with trees. At night that forest is lit up with little points of light. This is a space to think big thoughts in. I sit in my carrel with a light under the shelf that shines on my work and on my work alone. It is a space both for grand thoughts and for industry. And I wish I could take it with me wherever I go.

Perhaps I will move in to the 5th floor of the IUSB library. I would be well-provisioned in respect of drinking fountains and books. I could breakfast every morning with fresh newspapers on the 2nd floor. I could receive quiet guests, whom I would entertain with readings from whatever was at hand, or just pop down to the basement for a few congressional hearings transcripts. They're ripping!

It is possible that my difficulties with productivity may be owing, in part, to something other than workspace. It is possible. But this requires further exploration.

Yum Summer Squash and Gruyère Casserole

Here's one for the vegetarians: flecks of yellow and red in a sea of cream. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Thinly slice 4 cups of summer squash. Chop a yellow onion. Saute summer squash and onion in canola oil. (I used two skillets for more surface area and thus faster sauteing.) Drain any excess oil. Pour squash and onions into an ungreased 9x13 inch baking dish. Add a cup of grated Gruyère. Mine was "cave aged." Stir in about 1/2 cup buttered soda cracker crumbs. Combine 2 eggs, beaten, with 4 T melted butter and a half pint of heavy whipping cream. Add to squash. Stir in one clove of minced garlic. Add the zest of two small lemons. Stir in the juice of a lemon, halved and squeezed. Add sugar, salt, and ground pepper to taste. Mix well. Top with another cup of buttered soda cracker crumbs. Then top with about 1/2 cup finely and freshly grated Parmesan. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the surface is lightly browned.

This casserole is balanced--sweet, savory, tart, acidic and basic. And when it comes to food, the word "balance" is pronounced "yum."