Bicycle boy’s new ride

Ten days ago, on a bitterly cold Sunday morning, I ventured to West County to check out a Specialized Hot Rock.  Big thanks to reader Melissa for pointing out this listing on Craigslist (and for sharing her positive experience with this bike)!  I’m pretty sure I’d skimmed right over this listing multiple times, probably due to “Hot” making me think of the Hot Wheels bikes, and the fact that, although I know that Specialized is a good brand of bicycle, my radar was looking for Giant and Trek, since those are the brands of kids’ bikes that I’d looked at in bike shops.

Anyhow, the bike was well-loved, but the price was right (or right-ish; it didn’t come with training wheels, and I might have tried to bargain more if I’d known that new training wheels would cost $25 — in my head I was maybe thinking half that?).

Here she is:

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It could use new hand grips, and I’m thinking something colorful would be nice.  The current Hot Rocks come with chain guards, and we’re looking into adding one, but it may be more trouble than it’s worth.

Unfortunately, the weather is conspiring against us, so we have yet to even SHOW the bike to Gabriel.  We’d really like him to be able to hop on and ride when he first sees it.

The Sunday I brought it home was just too bitterly cold.  I mean, we probably could have bundled up and gone out, but it didn’t sound fun AT ALL.  That night, we got our first significant snow of the year, and for the next week, he would have needed studded tires to ride the thing.  And then more bitter cold.

The bike is nice and light, which was one of our goals in getting a bike-shop bike.  It has coaster brakes instead of hand brakes, which is not my first choice, but it should be fine for a first bike (and probably less confusing than having both coaster and hand brakes).

If you’ve been reading for awhile, you’re probably aware that our plan was to do the balance bike thing and skip the training wheel phase.  At this point, I would say that we’ve sort-of done the balance bike thing.

G has had his Strider balance bike for over two years now.  He’s perfectly happy to scoot around on the thing, but I can’t get him to take his feet off the ground.  In general, he’s somewhat cautious/risk-averse, so, while this is a bit frustrating, it’s not terribly surprising (and we’ve benefited from his cautious nature in other ways, no doubt).

Anyhow, we’re planning to introduce the new bike without training wheels, but I’m keeping my expectations in check.  I really doubt it will work, but it will be easier to add training wheels (I already bought a set) than to take them off.  Now we just need the weather to cooperate!

 

Toasted

In the last several months, we had to replace both a toaster and a toaster oven.  Both of the now-dead appliances were pretty basic, no-frills items, but they did their jobs.  And then they stopped.

The toaster conked out first.  In the few weeks it took to settle on a replacement, having the toaster oven as a back-up was really nice (if less efficient than using the toaster for simple tasks like toasting bread).

I first turned to Craigslist, hoping for a decent used toaster, but that effort was unsuccessful.  Whenever we’re buying new, we try to read some reviews to help pick a good value product.  Unfortunately, most reviews don’t provide a good test of lifespan, unless the product dies very quickly.

We opted for this rather basic model, and chose the standard dial rather than the digital display, since a digital display seemed like one more thing that could break.  We’ve had the toaster for a number of months now, and so far, so good.

Then, several weeks ago, our toaster oven started malfunctioning.  The heating elements on the bottom were getting hot, but those on the top were not.  The top heating elements are essential to the “broil” function, which is something we use a good bit, for broiling tofu, asparagus, etc.

I succeeded in finding a replacement on Craigslist.  The replacement is actually an upgrade, I guess, to a much larger toaster oven that includes a convection oven feature.  The thing is, the small toaster oven was really pretty ideal for our needs, which included broiling small batches of things and reheating things that we wanted to crisp up a bit, like pizza and croissants.  When not in use, it stored easily under the counter and didn’t take up precious counter space.

If we actually want to bake anything, we usually do so in a quantity that exceeds the capacity of even a large toaster oven, and thus necessitates the real oven.

The new toaster oven (bottom) could eat the old toaster oven for breakfast!
The new toaster oven (bottom) could eat the old toaster oven for breakfast!

This new toaster oven is a bit of a beast, and more toaster oven than we really need.  It’s too big to fit under the counter, even if I wanted to be moving it around all the time, which I don’t, given it’s bulk and weight, so it’s permanently using counter real estate.  While I haven’t tested it yet (time to pull out the Kill-A-Watt meter), I imagine it chews more energy that our previous, much smaller toaster oven, because there is more space to heat to the desired temperature.  If we were using that space, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but, most of the time, we are not.

I spent the first week with the new toaster oven seriously questioning my purchase.  The previous owner had attempted to clean it, which was nice, but the oven cleaner fumes coming off the thing were overwhelming, to the point of potentially rendering it unusable.  I placed an open container of baking soda inside for a few days, but it had little effect.

Then I found a suggestion to place a pan of water in the oven, turn it to 400° F, and leave it on until the water came to a boil.  I decided it would take a really long time to boil an open pan of water in the oven, so I cheated a bit, and preheated the water in the microwave, then poured it into a metal bread pan in the hot toaster oven.  I left it in, with the oven on, for about 30 minutes.  Lo and behold, this did the trick, and we now have a fully usuable, de-stinkified toaster oven!

Friday free-for-all

All things go in cycles — for quite awhile there, my writing was very food-centric, almost to the exclusion of anything else.  My concerted effort to post more on the bicycling-side of things perhaps worked too well, as my food-related posting feels a bit sparse of late.

I blame this in part on my slightly blah feelings on cooking in general, as I’ve been feeling unmotivated and [finally] a bit tired of eating primarily from our frozen and root-cellared stores.  After a number of months, it began to feel like the same food all. the. time.

Fortunately, spring is here (today’s blustery weather notwithstanding), and abundant fresh, local produce is just around the corner.  We’ve already had a few small spinach harvests (from the plants that grew under the low tunnels all winter), and I can’t wait for more.

In the meantime, I finally caved and bought a head of broccoli at the grocery store.  That broccoli is the first non-garden, non-local produce (other than onions, garlic, and frozen corn and peas) that I have bought in I don’t know how long.  It’s easy to focus on the [still many] foods that we don’t grow ourselves or buy local, but in reality we’ve taken some pretty big steps to lighten our food footprint.

Back on the biking side of things, after debating whether it was worth thirty minutes in the car to meet a Craigslist seller (to buy a life jacket for Sir’s upcoming beach trip), I contacted the seller to set things in motion.  Rather then me going to her (over six miles away), she suggested a meeting point conveniently located about two miles from us.

I happily ditched the car for a lovely (though windy and chilly) bike ride and returned home with a worn-once (looks brand new) life vest.  Sir approved the purchase and happily wore the vest for the rest of the morning (you never know, our second story apartment could flood — better safe than sorry!).

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He’s carrying the pump for my exercise ball, which he pretends is a vacuum cleaner (complete with cute sound effects).  Something about the life vest and pump-vacuum combination makes me think of Ghostbusters, though I can’t say quite what, having only watched the movie once, a long time ago.  For those of you more familiar with the movie, does my association make any sense?