Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Turn and face the sprain

When I was a kid, I thought it would be the coolest thing in the world to sprain a joint or break a bone. I saw so many friends and classmates with their (signable!) casts and their finger splints, and I wanted a piece of that action! When it finally happened, it was anticlimactic (my brother stepped on my little finger, and I didn't even know it was broken until a doctor confirmed it looked like an old break, long after it was healed). Now that I'm a seasoned connoisseur of musculoskeletal injuries and they just keep on coming, I'm pretty sure it's not cool at all.

When I was young and all starry-eyed about the idea of showing up to school in a cast, I thought it would be a sort of badge of honor—like, "Look at what happened to me! I was doing something so awesome and exciting that I caused serious damage to my body in the process!" However, in real life, I've never acquired an injury in an awesome or exciting way. Among my most notable injuries: I broke my toe getting out of bed, I sprained my back because I coughed while bending over, and I sprained my ankle dancing to Gangnam Style. These kinds of mishaps do not serve to bring me the glory I always imagined. In fact (dancing to Gangnam Style!?), they're downright embarrassing.

My latest injury was acquired in an equally unimpressive way: I sprained my ankle falling off the couch.

At least I can say that this injury was caused by altruism. I was giving the dogs water when I noticed one of their bowls had quite a lot of hair and particles floating around in it. Rather than force the dogs to drink hair and particles, I thoughtfully dumped the bowl into one of my plants so I could give the dogs fresh water. The plants, as you might recall, sit in my bay window behind a grate, requiring anyone who wishes to water them to stand on the couch and lean over the grate—a precarious position to say the least. I handled this acrobatic feat with aplomb, but the trouble came when I turned back to return to solid ground. As I was lowering my left foot in preparation for landing, it got caught on the yoga mat that I use as a waterproof pad under the slipcover. The slipcover was not on the couch at this time, because it had recently been washed (removal of a urine spot courtesy of Bubalou), so the yoga mat was free to fold upward under the pressure of my right foot, and snag my left foot on its descent. My left foot did not handle this acrobatic feat with much aplomb, as it twisted quite painfully before my knees collapsed. The subsequent tumble was surely a sight to behold, as the half-full dog-water bottle and dog bowl I was holding all went flying to the ground along with my body. So to recap, I get karma points for suffering this grievous injury whilst providing water to both dogs and plants, and the dogs get all the blame.

Dogs. Ruining my life on a regular basis!

In case you were worried, I don't think this is a very serious sprain. I can still walk (limp) on my foot and run it through an approximation of its usual range of motion, and I was able to bike (slowly) to work today. I'm sure I'll be back to my usual tricks in no time flat, but in the meantime, "flat" is the operative word. I am pretty certain that all those lovely high-heeled sandals I have been so excited about wearing are going to have to go into hibernation for the foreseeable future.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The art of compromise: a bike-shopping story

As I mentioned in my post about switching from Greenie to Snowflake, when I was shopping for a bike, I wanted everything to be perfect. I had a long list of criteria to meet:

  • It had to have a step-through (women's) frame, since I do a lot of riding in skirts
  • It had to have fat, durable tires, since I'd seen other people's road bike tires go flat over practically nothing too many times
  • It needed to be able to accommodate my front basket, rear rack, and fenders
  • It could not be a "cruiser" —they are for people who want to ride slow, and I have places to go!
  • It had to be lightweight—my old bike is a monstrous clunker, and I've had enough of wrestling that around Metro to be ready for a change.
  • It must not have a front suspension, which just adds weight and yet another moving part to keep maintained.
The preceding criteria were basically must-haves. I would be very reluctant to compromise on any of them, but there were a few other things I wanted that were really just strong preferences.

  • I wanted lever shifters instead of twist shifters, because I'd used another bike once where I was constantly changing the gears by accident, just by leaning too hard on the handlebar.
  • I preferred V-brakes over disc brakes since I understand how to maintain them.
  • I wanted a fun color. Though I was willing to consider dark and boring colored bikes, I always felt reluctant to make a purchase, because they didn't spark joy!
  • I preferred fewer gears. My last bike had a lot of problems with shifting, and I basically only ever used 3 out of my 21 gears anyway, so anything more seemed like overkill.

Turns out, a lot of these criteria are mutually exclusive. Try finding a bike with fat tires but without a front suspension. They are few and far between. Try finding a speed-oriented bike that also carries less than 21 gears. I still haven't!

As I shopped (over a period of years), eventually, I had to give up on some of my less-important criteria to make room for the most important ones, which I distilled down to light, fast(ish), and durable enough for jumping curbs and surviving stretches of loose gravel in my commute.

I stopped worrying (as much) about getting fat tires and started looking at hybrids with "32c" tires, which are narrower than my old ones but not so crazy skinny that they'll go flat hitting a bump on the pavement (as happened to my ex-boyfriend once!). I considered frames with a horizontal top tube (and started brainstorming ways to still be able to ride in a skirt). I conceded that maybe a front basket wasn't the best method of transporting stuff, and started looking at bikes with less clearance between the handlebars and front tire. 

This was also when I added the price limit I mentioned in my last post: Although at first, I'd been mostly looking at fairly costly bikes from REI, this round of shopping, I decided that my new bike had to cost under 400 dollars. Those who know my shopping habits might be shocked that I'd even consider a bike in that price range when you can get a bike for less than 200. But those who haven't been shopping for bikes for the past few years might be excused for not knowing that every bike in the low price range gets terrible reviews. Apparently they go out of tune very rapidly (if they can ever be properly tuned in the first place), and after having spent the last 3 years on an out-of-tune bike, I wanted something that I could keep in good working order with minimal effort. It seems to be true that in the bike market, more expensive bikes have better components, meaning less finicky maintenance. The 430-500 dollar range seemed to be about the MSRP of a decent bike with some measure of reliability, and of course, after I started finding those models in end-of-season sales for 300-400, I decided that was the range for me. Not so cheap that it would fall apart right away, but not so expensive that I would regret it forever if I hated something about it.

And no matter what bike I picked, there was a good chance I would hate something about it. Since none of the bikes I found met all my criteria, I was considering the purchase to be essentially an experiment. I would find out what I liked about the new bike and what I didn't, and then after a suitable amount of time, if I didn't like everything, I would trade up to a more expensive (better made) bike that ticked exactly the right boxes.

So after years of deliberation, and several months of this-time-it's-for-real hardcore shopping, in the end, I decided on Snowflake.

Snowflake was a pretty good compromise at $295.74. Way cheaper than I ever expected, it also was better than a lot of the bikes I had considered in a number of ways. It did have the women's frame and it had some of the widest tires (at 36c) I've found, barring a mountain bike (and it turns out I rather like these tires. They have a bigger rolling diameter than my old tires, making it easier to move fast—one of the most important criteria in my daily commute).

True, I had to take the twist shifters (which I still dislike) and the white color (which is better than black or grey, but still less preferable than any other color I can think of), and the excessive number of gears (which have proven to be my least favorite thing about this bike—more on that later) but I feel like I spent a little money to learn a lot, while simultaneously getting a bike that's a solid improvement over the last one.

Committing to purchase something is one of the scariest things I ever have to do (just under making phone calls), so I'm relieved that this purchase went off without a hitch (that is, unless you count the failed purchase from Amazon). Now that it's over, I can focus on riding. Guess what I'll be blogging about next!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

If you were wondering about my hair...

Last month, I posted a gripping exploration on the topic of not washing one's hair. Following that post, I embarked on a month-long experiment in which I waited as long as possible between hair washes. The results were not too impressive (the most I ever managed was 5 days, and they were 5 very un-pretty days!), so I didn't have much to say about it when I was done. I had almost forgotten about my short-lived venture when I ran across a video which stated what I'd already observed: about half the sources on the internet tell you you should avoid washing your hair too much, and the other half tell you washing your hair is essential!

So while I'm thinking about it, let me quickly summarize my own conclusions.
  1. My hair gets grossly greasy approximately 28 hours after a wash, and no reduction in the amount I wash it seems to change that.
  2. I hate how my hair looks when it is greasy...
  3. But I love how obedient my hair is when it's greasy—I can brush it to the side and it stays there...I can brush it up into a pompadour and it stays there...I can wear a hat all day and not get hat hair, because I can just brush it back up into whatever shape I want!
  4. When I haven't washed my hair in about 3 days, it reaches this sweet spot where it can be manipulated into just the right shape, but still can look clean if I dump a whole ton of talcum powder into it.
  5. However, while talcum powder may make my hair look clean, it also makes it look parched, which isn't exactly pretty.
  6. Conversely, I love how shiny my hair looks right after a wash. I never thought I had very shiny hair, but after spending most of a month with dirty locks, I can really appreciate my moderate natural shine when I do actually allow it to shine.
  7. On the other hand, my hair gets annoyingly limp a few hours after my shower, which kind of dampens my joy at the shine.
After making all these observations, I finally came to a conclusion: there are good things and bad things about both washing it often and washing it sporadically, but washing it every 5 days actually took more effort than just doing it with every shower. That's because I'm bad at keeping to non-daily schedule. Daily washes are also easier to fit into my lifestyle, since my hair basically always looks the same. My 5-day wash cycle, by contrast, caused a lot of stress because my hair's appearance varied wildly from day 1 to day 5, meaning I always had to plan in advance if I wanted to look more presentable for an event or a meeting. Plus this persistent green color will never wash out if I only wash it every 5 days!

So I've decided to go back to my old ways and wash my hair every two days, supplementing with a powder if it gets too greasy!

I realized that my favorite thing about my hair when it's oily is the volume imparted by the combination of the shape-holding powers of the oil and the separating powers of the powder...and if all I really need is more volume, then I can have that without having to schedule my whole life around my hair-wash days!

So I invested 9 dollars in a (tiny) shaker bottle of Big Sexy Hair volumizing powder, and wow! It works! I mean, it doesn't turn my straight strands into the luscious bouncy mane of a superstar with a styling team, but it does endow my hair with instant lift when I need it, without having to wait until it has marinated in its own oils for 2 days.  Ta-da! Now I can wash my hair and style it too!
Freshly washed and volumized!
Ultimately, the lesson I've learned from this experiment is that you shouldn't trust anything you read on the internet.

Just kidding, everyone already knew that. But a better lesson is: when it comes to the best way to care for your own hair, you really just have to listen to your own hair. If you have coarse, dry hair and it's always looking dried crispy, then maybe you shouldn't wash it as much. If you have fine, straight hair that turns stringy at the mere mention of oil, then maybe you should wash it more!

I bet you didn't need a month and almost 2000 words to tell you that!

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Mouse Walrus

And now for something completely different.

Being a Very Forgetful Person, I have devised many methods over the years to remind myself of things. My To-Do lists in Evernote (which include the "Ongoing To Do List" for miscellaneous tasks, as well as at least three for specific projects such as fixing the house) are a good start, but sometimes I forget to look at Evernote!

When there is one small thing that I need to remember to do in a short time frame, I'll often just use an odd object, placed somewhere prominent, to catch my attention and jog my mind into thinking about whatever the thing is. A Forgetful Person could potentially have some problems remembering which task has been mentally assigned to the object, so it helps to use an object that is somehow related to that which needs to be done.

Consider my mouse at the office. A few years ago, I started using a wireless mouse. I resisted going from wired to wireless for a long time, because I have a strong aversion to relying on tools that rely on batteries, because batteries require so much maintenance! However, a change in the configuration of my desk rendered my mouse cord too short, so I reluctantly adopted the wireless mouse as my new pointing device. The problem with this wireless mouse is that it uses a rechargeable battery, and that battery dies after about a week and a half off the charger.

After a few annoying instances of having to stop everything and charge my mouse for an hour, I decided to put my mouse on the charger every Friday after work, so that I could return to the office on Monday with a refreshed battery waiting for me. Charging one's mouse every Friday sounds like a simple habit to get into, but Forgetful Personhood knows no bounds! Almost every single Friday, I was so eager to be going home for the weekend that stopping to drop my mouse on a charger just never happened.

And so, I resorted to my old trick of using a Reminder Object. On my desk, I keep an inbox tray. Since inbox trays are relics of a past era that I fortunately don't live in, I do not need to keep paper in my tray. Instead, I load it with an assortment of toys that I've accumulated over years of going to conferences and receiving goody bags. My inbox tray presently  looks something like this.

And what's that front and center in my inbox tray? Why, it's a walrus. In my search for an object to remind me to charge my mouse, the walrus stood out. A toy mouse would obviously have been better, but I figured a small rendition of any mammal was a pretty close second. So now whenever I think "Today is Friday! Oh, I need to charge the mouse!" (Or, more often, "Shoot! I forgot to charge the mouse on Friday! I must do it when I leave today!") I immediately pull the walrus out of the tray and stick it into the top of my backpack, so when I start packing up for my trip home, I'll see the walrus and remember to move the mouse.

It works, and I've been making good use of the Mouse Walrus for something like 2 and a half years now. And in those 2 and a half years, it never occurred to me to wonder a very important question: "Why does the walrus not have tusks?"

Until last Wednesday. As I was putting the walrus out for a mid-week reminder, I finally noticed the tusklessness that should have been obvious to me long ago. Was my Mouse Walrus actually not a walrus at all?

Frantic internet searches ensued. Yes, both male and female walruses definitively have tusks. No, seals all seem to have pointy noses, not the broad snout of my little toy. Was this one really a juvenile walrus? Although I never came up with a satisfactory answer, I ended up thinking about it all day long. 

On the plus side, this absolutely ensured that I also ended up thinking about my mouse for most of the day as well. My question still remains unanswered, but at least my mouse made it onto the charger!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

From Greenie to Snowflake

Last month, I bought a new bike.

This might not sound like a life-altering purchase, right up there along with buying a house or even a new car, but I've actually been in the market for a new bike since before I even started shopping for a new house (that was in early 2015), and in many ways, it has been an even tougher decision! I wanted to make sure that when I bought a bike, everything about it would be perfect. Which meant, of course, that I simply never bought a bike at all.

What finally spurred me to move from bike shopping to bike buying? Plain old-fashioned desperation. My old bike, Greenie, had been around the block a few (hundred) times, and he was really starting to show his age. At some point a few years ago, I tried to replace the front shifter cable, failed at that, and finally removed the front derailer entirely. Ever since then, my chain has been prone to falling off when I go over bumps. Pretty much everything else on the bike was equally out of tune. My problem downshifting into fifth gear hadn't improved in the 4 years since I first noticed it; the brake pads were on their last legs; and, the last straw in a cavalcade of minor annoyances, the pedal makes a scraping noise whenever it turns. It had progressed beyond my ability to fix it (make it worse) myself, but it didn't seem worthwhile to take it into a shop to be goaded into some temporary semblance of repair.

It was time for an upgrade! For real this time! A little before Christmas, I took the plunge and ordered myself a bike on Amazon. My boyfriend's Christmas present to me was professional assembly by our local bike shop. A few days after Christmas, we picked it up at the shop to discover...it was the wrong size! I had ordered a small and somehow ended up with a fully assembled (at the cost of almost as much as the bike itself) extra large!

With disappointment, a bit of shame (why had I not checked the box to verify I'd received the right size!?), and a certain amount of trepidation (would they accept my extremely costly-to-ship return in the not-original packaging?), I sent the bike back (they refunded me) and spent a few months wallowing in uncertainty. By this time, the fantastic deal I'd received on the first bike was unavailable, and I was beginning to have my doubts about whether I'd have liked that bike even if it had been the correct size.

Returning to the drawing board, I revised my expectations a little. I knew it wasn't very likely that I would find the bike of my dreams on the first try, especially since I was switching to a completely different breed of cycle—a road-leaning hybrid style after a lifetime of riding a mountain bike! So on my second round of serious bike shopping, my top priority was price. I would make some compromises, get a bike that would under no circumstances cost more than 400 dollars, I would find out what I liked and disliked about it, and then the next time I was in the market for a bike, I would know better what to look for.

Since I hadn't been so keen on the first bike I'd ordered online, I decided to give a local bike shop a chance to sway me. I tried a couple of mid-range hybrid bikes, at a significantly higher price than the ones I'd been looking at online. Both of them rode so much more smoothly than Old Greenie, I was almost convinced I could love them...except they were black. I hate to say that the single strongest factor deterring me from the purchase of these otherwise good bikes was their uninspiring color. But I I hop on my bike at least 12 times a week and spend 3+ hours weekly riding it. If I couldn't feel even the tiniest spark of enthusiasm when I look at it, I just couldn't commit to buying it!

A few days later, I finally found the perfect "starter bike" on the Performance Bicycles website. It wasn't black. It wasn't a beautiful shade of aqua like my second-choice model either, but it was also cheaper by almost a hundred dollars, so I decided that white was a good, affordable compromise. I was sold when I learned that it would come with free assembly and lifetime adjustments by Performance!

So finally I found myself in possession of my new bike! As I always do when I receive a new shiny thing, I waited a few weeks to give it a name, to see what really suited it. The name that kept coming back to me was Snowflake.

No, it may not be the most creative name out there, but I think it embodies the spirit of freedom and ease that I'm trying to achieve with my newer, faster, lighter wheels. My old bike (Greenie) had been named after its color, so it seemed it appropriate to keep the tradition alive. I'll probably never ride this bike in the snow, so its name adds just a touch of subtle irony as well.

I wanted to introduce you, my loyal readers, to this bike now, because, with the change in my lifestyle that comes from changing my bike-style, I'm sure I'll have a lot of stories in the future about how I'm adjusting to my new ride.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Don't It Yourself

I once said that every guy I ever dated, no matter how briefly, came into my life for a reason.

One guy, who I only ever met online (but with whom I had a short and very fiery online relationship full of drama), said on his dating profile that his talent was "Fixing things, rigging things to make them work."

Was it that throwaway line on okCupid that set me on my current trajectory – instilled in me my  philosophy of DIY-til-you-die? (Or was it the plethora of "life hacks" I keep stumbling upon on the internet?) I can no longer remember, but I can be certain that it had an impact on me. Before that, it had never occurred to me that being able to cobble something together was something to take pride in. But now, it's part of my unshakable M.O.

I have more love for my home improvement projects that end up like a Frankenstein's Mashup of glue, scavenged parts, and a smattering of mismatched screws, than I ever would for a beautiful brand-new, store-bought version of the same thing.

But there comes a time when every do-it-yourselfer must draw the line. And for me, that time came when I needed to install a handrail for my basement stairs.

The basement staircase was one of the many "special" qualities of my house when I moved in—it had no handrail whatsoever. That was not a problem for me, young and nimble and indescribably graceful at all times, but it became an issue when I wanted to begin renting out the basement bedroom. Suddenly the primary user of the basement staircase wouldn't be me with a load of laundry in my agile and capable hands, but a paying guest. Who would no doubt be happy to sue me for any slip or fall. I don't have much of a defense in a lawsuit when my staircase lacks a basic safety feature such as a railing.

But I wasn't worried! As an avid DIY-er, I was ready to take on the challenge. Fortunately, the stairs had come with a railing...it just wasn't installed. I found it in the storage cubby under the stairs! All I needed was a few screws, and my staircase would be ready for business!

Cut to 5 months later. The railing has still not been installed. Turns out the hardware that came with the railing was bent and needed replacement, and it took me this long to get motivated and find suitable parts (I got them from Community Forklift for 99¢ each, of course!)

Cut to 4 months after that. The railing has still not been installed. Turns out my basement drywall is just as "special" as the rest of the house, and has no studs upon which to anchor a handrail. But that hasn't stopped me from trying. Now my drywall is pocked with screw holes of varying sizes, and a couple of places where whole chunks are missing, thanks to my inability to master the art of drywall anchors.

I had literally been failing to install my handrail for 9 months, before I finally reached the line of Don't-It-Yourself. I brought in the professional contracting big guns (which was of course a struggle in itself, between the lack of call-backs, the no-shows, and the refusals to provide an estimate). But once they arrived, my handrail was up and stable in less than 30 minutes. And in the two hours that they were there, they also replaced my non-functioning gas oven with a new one (one which I'd picked up for free from a Craigslister, of course!), and installed a new bathroom fan in my basement.

Those tasks would have taken me, on my own, days, weeks, or even months, which would have undoubtedly been filled with many frustrated tears, and possibly a blown-up house!

So no, I'm not ashamed that this time I decided to let the pros handle it. In fact, I just might be changing my tune. Next time I'm faced with a home improvement, no matter how DIY-able it might seem, I may just treat myself to a professional job.