Shifting Gears

“Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.”

–Charles M. Schultz

“Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings.”

–C.D. Jackson

I take indoor cycling classes at a local gym several times a week, a fact you may not know about me. I also take other gym classes, such as bootcamp and Zumba because I’m crazy trying to stay healthy. You probably don’t care about my exercise habits. Fair enough. It’s not an exciting subject, but keep on reading anyway. There is a point, and it has to do with gears. Well, with shifting them.

BIKE TIRES

There are no actual gears on the indoor cycling bikes, but there is a knob or lever that changes the resistance. In the cycling classes, the instructors exhort us to raise the resistance (“Strong is the new skinny!”), and then sometimes to lower it (a bit) so we can sprint (“Break away! Break away from the pack.” “Let it go” OR—“Strong, but fast. Make sure you have some control.”). The idea is to mimic—to some extent—an outdoor ride with both hills and flat surfaces. The ride is more challenging when riders climb and jump, as well as sprint, and it is also more fun. (Fun on some days being a relative term.) During these cycling classes, riders must consciously turn the knob or move the lever to change the resistance and adjust positions. It becomes almost automatic, but not quite. After all, it’s hard not to notice if the resistance is up so high that you can’t turn the pedals, or if there is suddenly no resistance. Or if the pedals suddenly fly off the bike. Ooops! Nope, never seen that happen. Well, not more than 3 or 4 times. So, I’m sure big name gym, there’s no need to replace the bikes yet. It’s only been about 7 years, and what’s a pedal or two?

Sorry, got off on a rant there when I a really wanted to talk about was switching gears. You know, like on a bike—if you rode a bike that had gears. And pedals.

Most of us metaphorically switch gears throughout our days. We switch from talking to family or friends to interacting with co-workers, customers, or patients. Language, demeanor, and tasks all change. Sometimes we work against resistance, challenging ourselves to climb hills of indifference or scale the steep grades of drudgery. If we’re fortunate we sprint to the finish of a project. Ride completed. Woo hoo!

Hundreds of times throughout each day, our brains switch gears. We concentrate at various intensities and focus on a variety of tasks. We multi-task.

If you drive a car with an automatic transmission, like I do, you don’t think about switching gears while you drive. But you probably think about other things while you’re driving, even while you’re watching the road and singing along to the song on the radio. Most of the time, as we go about our daily life, we don’t think about how we switch gears either. We automatically switch our roles from parent to co-worker or from daughter to mentor.

Most writers work on different types of projects. Even bestselling novelists might take time from working on that next big novel to compose an op-ed piece, some poetry, or even something bigger, like a screenplay. Writers are familiar with switching gears as they move to or back and forth between various writing and editing projects. I was struck by the variety of topics I researched and wrote about for different projects this past week. As I worked on captioning the illustrations for my World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia and read through the copyedited manuscript (still working on that, folks), I was immersed in the American Revolution. There I was lost in the battle at Lexington and Concord for a time, or thinking about clothing and its care, or pondering the fate of soldiers who died or were disabled. Then I was researching topics for test writing: bridge barriers, sustainable green roofs, and color trend forecasting. Then I had a meeting to discuss food history, scholarship, and nutrition with a friend for a possible new project.

So these were some of the topics I researched and/or wrote about as part of my professional life. But, of course, in switching gears to my personal life, I read about, discussed, and experienced many more. For instance, there was a memorable family dinner discussion on The Diary of Anne Frank, the Holocaust, and poetry. Then there was THAT episode on Grey’s Anatomy this past week that had my daughter and me crying.

We need to be flexible in life. We have to be ready to shift gears when necessary—when pedals fly off of a bike, when projects get delayed, and when the cat steals the chicken from the roasting pan in the kitchen. (Umm. . .yes, it’s possible that might have happened here once.) But we also have to be ready with the landing gear for our amazing ideas. It’s all well and good to have a brilliant idea for a book, but it doesn’t get written and published without work. The ideas may soar, but you have to find a way to make them land, too.

Then again, sometimes life gets too crazy, and you need to just put the gear in neutral, sit down, eat chocolate, and watch Grey’s Anatomy. I lie. I always need to take some time during the day to eat chocolate.

So while you’re thinking great ideas, multi-tasking, and being a superwoman or superman, here’s a super easy chocolate treat to make. I made it this week. You can pretend it’s healthy because there’s fruit involved. And nuts, too, if you want. I’ll pretend it’s an actual recipe, when it’s only melting chocolate and dipping in fruit. Or whatever. You can make these fancier by piping white chocolate or coating them in nuts, but really, you know you just want an excuse to eat chocolate. So keep it simple. It’s still super. I suggest making these when no one is around so you can lick the chocolate off your fingers and from the bowl–when you’re finished I mean, not while you’re making them! Practice good hygiene, kids. Enjoying these treats with a glass of red wine is optional, but highly recommended. Also, chocolate covered fruit does not really keep—so you have to eat it within a day or so. Oh, the tragedy.

Super-Easy Chocolate Covered Strawberries or Other Stuff

Ingredients:

Good quality chocolate

Fruit, nuts, espresso beans

I used about half a bag of Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips. You could use a bar of chocolate, but this is really easy. It’s 60% cacao, so it counts as dark chocolate, but it has enough fat to melt and coat the fruit. You could use semi-sweet, but really, use bittersweet. I covered about 6-7 strawberries, a bunch of blueberries, and some almonds. If you want to make more, just remember that the chocolate cools and gets hard quickly, so sometimes it’s better to make more in two batches.

Also, make sure the fruit is dry before dipping it into the chocolate, or the chocolate won’t stick.

Method:

Place chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. It should take between 1-2 minutes to melt the chocolate, depending on the amount of chocolate and your microwave. Don’t overheat it. The chocolate will cool quickly, so dip fruit into it right away and place on wax paper to harden. Yeah, that’s it. It takes about 10 minutes to do, but it looks impressive, and it tastes great. It’s chocolate–shift your gear to bliss.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries, Blueberries, and Almonds

Chocolate Covered Strawberries, Blueberries, and Almonds