Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Two-wheel deal

For about 30 years, I've been a bicycle commuter to work. I started bicycling to work on a used three-speed Columbia with internal hub. I'll never forget the sense of freedom and uniqueness from tooling around Sierra Vista, Arizona, one summer during college on that heavy steed. Somehow, I barely remember the five-mile uphill daily commute.

When I settled in Sierra Vista after college, I resumed bicyling—in my business clothes—to my first job as a technical writer, less than two miles away. Of that commute, I recall seeing mesmerizing color combinations created by lights reflecting from anodized aluminum slats in chain-link fences. I never did figure out where that turquoise color came from.

In my mid-twenties, I became an avid cyclist, and bought a series of go-fast bicycles and carry-stuff bicycles, including an old, used Motebecane touring bike, of the latter type. I never appreciated the jewelry fitting-like lugs, cut precisely in a stylized M.

Not my Motobecane Grand Touring bicycle, but an identical model.
Next, from the LBS came a Schwinn Voyageur. I commuted to work many years on the Voyageur, and took at least one wonderful tour: a perimeter ride of the Gila Wilderness. Despite the fact that these Voyageurs enjoy a loyal following due to their intricate fittings, the Voyageur just never felt "right," so when one of the doyennes of Tucson's Greater Arizona Bicycling Association advertised to sell her Miyata 1000LT tourer, I was right on that. A true touring machine with strong 36-spoke triple-cross wheels,  relaxed geometry, bar-end shifters, nice triple chainring, long wheelbase, and lots of braze-ons. The handling of the bicycle improved with weight, especially with front panniers.

The commute was 8 to 10 miles round-trip, and I often headed out on the roller-coaster road to Fort Huachuca's West Gate after work. Eventually an entire cadre of my colleagues bicycled in, even a "non-bikie" woman named Charla who rode a harder morning than any of us: a 20-mile unrelenting uphill from the river to our building in the foothills.
Sometime during this, I also completed two El Tour de Tucson 109-milers in high style, along with 5,000 other cycling enthusiasts, on the go-fast Schwinn Super Sport road bike, as well as a few many centuries and double metric centuries.

I also owned a mountain bike, but my bicycle-handling skills were just a few degrees north of my intrepidness: not my cup of tea, although I loved riding the dirt roads in southern Arizona's San Rafael Valley.

After seven years of commuting to and working in the same place, I put all my worldly goods in storage, found a temporary foster home for my lovely cat, and flew to San Diego with my Miyata and panniers, bicycling east to the Atlantic Ocean: seeing America at 12 miles per hour, solo and self-contained.

For years at Texas A&M University, I commuted to work on the Miyata with panniers or my go-fast Demarais of the gorgeous pink Imron paint job.

Still I'm a bicycle commuter, a short 2.25-mile ride each way to Texas A&M University, but I enjoy even this short-and-not-scenic commute. I park my Downtube folding bike in the bike rack and change upstairs. After more than two decades, this packing/commuting/refreshing/changing thing is routine and second nature.

My Downtube folding bicycle: love it!

On September 3, I'm looking forward to participating in Courteous Mass, a takeoff on the urban Critical Mass bicycle demonstrations to raise awareness of the impact of cycling.  Ifound a small note about the event taped to my handlebars. The group will meet behind a popular college watering hole and ride en masse the 4 miles to downtown Bryan's First Friday event. I'm so excited.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Commencement summer 2010: Head 'em up, move 'em out

For the fourth or fifth time, I served as a graduation marshal, this time at the summer 2010 commencement ceremonies at Texas A&M University. The marshal's charge is to line up graduates-to-be (College of Engineering masters' graduates, in my case)  in alphabetical order in a staging area prior to their marching out to the arena floor.

The term "like herding cats" comes to mind. The excitement level is high, as to be expected, and, of course, students want to group together with their friends, not necessarily with others of different majors and whose last names are not close alphabetically. Engineers, of course, would know the difference between a line and a curve, although achieving that formation is easier in theory than practice.

Amidst the chaos of reading off names and adjusting MS hoods and tassels, I spotted a man standing arms akimbo, feet spread,  a smile on his face, standing against the wall. Where was my co-marshal, I wondered? The undergraduate marshal, seeing my quandary, stepped in to help me. About 5 minutes before the showtime, this man stepped forward. He was the other engineering masters marshal! Why wasn't he helping line up the 100-plus grads? I as much as ordered him to check the order of the master of science line, while I rechecked master of engineering. He saw what needed to be done, he saw I was struggling, but he stood back. And this man is a lecturer, a quasi-faculty member.

At 8:58 a.m., commencement ceremony was to start 9:00 a.m., a master in computer science student arrived, gown over one arm, hood over the other, and mortarboard in hand. Her major had filed down the staircase several moments earlier, and might even already be on the arena floor. And she still had to don her regalia! The staircase down to the area floor was packed with grads, so I strongly advised her to push her way down past those in formation and find her place among students of her major, and don her regalia before walking on the arena floor.

Anyhow, as usual, the filing-out of grads was the ever the bittersweet moment, but no waterworks from me this time. None of my MS advisee-graduates walked this time, and the Ph.D.s staged in a different room.  Later the sole summer Ph.D. graduate came to my office, in regalia, for photos. Okay, I might have shed a tear or three. The kids will be okay, but me? Not so much. Vaya con Dios, students.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Buescher State Park

Back in the day, I did not feel I was having a good time until I was footsore or tush-sore, sunburned, achy, cramping of muscle, reaching 90% of cardio max, encrusted with salt from my own dried sweat on a trail with a backpack or on a bicycle, with or without panniers.

Now, not so much. Last weekend I camped at Buescher State Park outside Smithville, Texas, and was perfectly content to sit under the trees, knitting and reading, then take a 2.5-mile hike. Granted temperatures were in the upper 90s, and I look forward to hiking the entire 7-plus-mile loop someday, but last weekend, rest was on the agenda.

I have to admit to a large twinge of nostalgia seeing the fit road bicyclists start up the 12-mile roller coaster road to neighbor park Bastrop, part of the famed MS 150 route. I hope that my recreational cycling days are not over. I have my cycling chops, having cycled upwards of 25 century rides, many multi-day self-contained tours, one solo, self-contained cross-country tour, and even some mountain bike excursions.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Slow-Cooker

For my college graduation 30 years ago, my Grandma Anne gave me this Rival Crockpot, avocado green. She passed away more than 10 years ago, but I thought of her every time I cooked in this wonder. Thanks, Grandma.

Thirty years, rusted out at the bottom, but still cooking up a storm! This appliance has cooked up faux bouef bourguignon, all manners of stews, hunter chicken galore, and beans: pinto, garbanzo, black-eyed peas, Anasazi, navy, lentils, frijoles negros, 15-bean soup. Thirty years of coming home to a house with an enticing smell and a yummy dinner.

When I first opened the box all those years ago, I studied with interest the small recipe booklet that came with it, especially the part about baking in the Crockpot! I ordered by mail the gold-colored aluminum baking insert and tried all types of brown quickbreads a one-pound coffee can. The cylindrical breads baked up wonderfully moist.

This Crockpot also cooked up two batches of award-winning chili: first at a company competition in Sierra Vista, Arizona. The second batch crowned me Chili Champion of the Texas Agriculture Program! Imagine: me, a Brooklyn (New York!)-born girl becoming chili champ of those most Texan of Aggies: the Agricultural Program at Texas A&M University!
Great slow-cooker websites

Now though, meat is not on my menu, so I acquired two vegetarian slow-cooker cookbooks, which open up all types of possibilities.

(In case you are wondering, the "table" under the crockpot was the door to my bathroom. Now, supported by two sawhorses, it is my outdoor table while my house is in makeover mode.)

Soon after I drafted this post, twice the Crockpot gave me a big shock when I touched its metal skin. Although it still heats wonderfully, I'm afraid the "stew is cooked" for this wonderful appliance.