Thursday, April 26, 2012

Real Americans Ride Their Bikes

In honor of National Bike to Work Month, I feel obligated to dispel a popular myth: just because I ride my bike to work and wear spandex, doesn't make me a cyclist. This is an important distinction because the misperception that a person needs to be into bikes in order to ride one to work stands in the way of many people considering what could be a perfectly reasonable transportation option.  
I have a good idea about what makes a person a cyclist because I'm married to one, and he: 
  • is an athletic-type for whom riding his bike constitutes a core part of his self-identity
  • talks bikes with his friends and complete strangers
  • reads about bikes on his mobile device and subscribes to Velo News
  • is confident that he knows how to fix a flat tire, and  regularly carries an air pump in case he needs to
  • enthusiastically rides his bike to work in all weather (he famously rode home during the epic Seattle Flood of December 2006, during which he almost got swept out to sea)
  • rides up near-vertical surfaces just to prove that he can
  • is peppy about bikes and riding them

Anyone who possesses two or more of the above qualities is very likely a cyclist, too.

While I admire my husband for his bikeyness, I am not and don't aspire to be like him. On the contrary,
  • I am pretty much ambivalent about biking (that’s another thing: unlike regular people, cyclists always call it “cycling”)
  • I take the shortest route
  • I'm not a big whiner, but I often curse and complain in my head
  • In general, my relationship with my bike is purely pragmatic
It's true that biking to work can be a total slog and there are lots of mental and physical barriers to doing it, among them:
  1. It’s tough to get on your bike in the dead of winter, when it’s just as dark when you leave in the morning as it is when you ride home. 

  2. It isn’t fun to ride on crappy roads that weren't designed for bikes; have no shoulder; are poorly maintained, and full of debris and overgrown, hazardous shrubbery.
    • (Note to @SeattleDOT: just because you slap up a little green sign and designate it a “bike route”, doesn’t necessarily make it a bike route.)

  3. It’s sometimes unnerving to ride among cars that don’t bother looking for you before they make a turn, or worse, would happily mow you down if they thought nobody was watching.

  4. It rains. And this is unpleasant.

  5. Riding a bike is way harder when you’re tired, which I am, what with getting woken up every night by my two young kids and all.

  6. There is planning involved, like purchashing gear and a wardrobe that looks presentable after being stuffed into the bottom of a bag, and making accommodations to your schedule.^*
The reality is that, on most days, like most people, I would rather be in my comfy, warm car with my travel mug and my morning radio. (Shout out to @KUOW and @KEXP.)

So, you might ask, why do I ride my bike to work, why go through all of this suffering and scheming? Do I do because it gives me an excuse to carry around a reflective, waterproof backpack? Do I do it because I get to wear a sporty blue windbreaker? Do I do it for the helmet hair?

Sure, those are all bonuses. But the real reason I ride my bike is because it makes a patriot out of me. Nothing feels more American than the senses of freedom and raw satisfaction I get from pedaling my own a** to where I'm headed, fueled by nothing more than a multi-grain bagel.

In addition, what better way to:
  • Reduce our country's dependence on foreign oil?
  • Set a good example for future generations?
  • Help fellow countrymen and women who are stuck in traffic by getting one car off the road? 
  • Contribute to creating cleaner, more livable cities for our children and grandchildren?

(Not to mention, in rush hour, it's nice to breeze past stopped motorists. Sayonara, suckers!)

All of this is to say, if you have all sorts of excuses that have prevented you from considering bike commuting, you are not alone. Maybe this Bike to Work Month can be your opportunity to face them down. Remember, you don't have to commit to being a cyclist, you just have to have a bike and ride it. Uncle Sam will thank you!

* Disclosure: I work at a place that was recently written about for having great commuter facilities, like swanky locker rooms and showers. This does help, but it's not completely necessary.

^ As an example of scheduing madness, my husband and I both work full-time and our kids go to daycare, so we’ve had to develop elaborate schemes to accommodate our commutes: Husband cycles to work early, I lug kids to car and put bike on top, drive to daycare, drop kids off, leave car at daycare, bike to work. Husband bikes to daycare from work, lugs kids to car, puts bike on top, drives home. I ride home from work late. It's absurd, but it works.

Helpful resources:

Bike Commute Blog: Helpful tips
Bike Commute Portal: More helpful tips, plus product reviews and offers
Commute Seattle: Riding in King County/Seattle
Paul Dorn's popular bike commute blog


Gregg's Cycle: Our favorite bike shop with lots available online
Hub and Bespoke: Ridiculously hip cycling gear in Seattle
Bike Trader Online: Cheap,used equipment and gear


Sunday, April 8, 2012


For many people, Easter is about when their favorite dude, Jesus, miraculously returned from the dead. 

But Easter has become about something else that refuses to die, too: plastic.  

A quick trip to  the local purveyor of Eastery things reveals aisles upon aisles filled with stuff made of plastic:
  • Plastic eggs
  • Crappy plastic toys that your kids will forget about in a week
  • Plastic candy wrappers
  • Plastic baskets
  • The plastic film covering the cardboard box containing a foil-wrapped chocolate bunny, and my personal fave...
  • Plastic grass 
(Anyone having trouble finding real grass is free to come mow our lawn).

At first glance, it's silly. You think, "how on Earth did it get this way? All for a little Easter egg hunt and a bunny? That seems a little silly..." 

But when you meditate on the fact that plastic takes anywhere from 10-1,000 years to biodegrade in a landfill, depending on climate conditions and availability of trash-eating microbes and such (less time to break-down in the ocean, but it never actually biodegrades there)...

...and when you realize that, when plastic finally does break-down, it releases super-nasty, toxic, endocrine-disrupting BPA compounds... can't help but come to the conclusion that it's beyond absurd that Easter has become so hydro-carbon-derived, disposable, tchotchkes and decorations. It's obscene. 

We plan on doing Easter a little differently at our house from now on, with the goal of having a less plastic-y Easter in order to celebrate things that really do signify re-birth and spring and all that happy stuff

We're going to start some new traditions and just be mindful about the things we do buy: we might ask the Easter Bunny to hide some real eggs, for a crazy change; maybe we'll buy our jellybeans and chocolate in bulk. Maybe we'll make a bunny rabbit sock puppet. Pick some flowers. (I'm clearly no Martha Stewart, but we'll figure it out.)

Happy Easter.



Friday, November 11, 2011

Finally, something.

I feel all sorts of guilty for not having done anything productive for society whatsoever after my emphatic last entry. All that stuff I said about wanting to get involved and help the world and contribute was completely idealistic bull-oney. The reality is, after #2 was born (a belated welcome to baby Beau, now a solid six months old), my life has taken a serious turn for The Busy. I may have to leave it up to the rest of the 99% to take care of business for a while.

The utter chaos of the earliest months post-new baby has subsided, no doubt, but left in its wake endless flows of:
  • Diapers to change
  • Bottles to clean
  • Laundry to wash, dry, and leave in the basket in a heap until we need it
  • Miscellany to pick up from the floor (e.g., keys, measuring cups, plastic bananas, choo-choo trains, puzzle pieces, books, cracker crumbs, babydolls, toilet paper and teabags)
  • Meals to prepare so that they can mysteriously disappear into the deepest crevices of the highchair 
  • Hand-me-downs to sort
...Not to mention, small, whining humans to attend to.

If you're among the friends whom I've neglected for the last several months, please forgive me, and know that I really do love you. Let's pencil in a lunch date for 2030 or thereabout.
The only reason I was even able to finally compose this entry is because my amazing husband was at home with both children -- alone -- while I was traveling abroad for work, and was laid over in Frankfurt. I don't know how he did it by himself for a whole week, frankly. He managed to wake and feed the kids, dress them, get them ready for daycare, drop them off, pick them up, feed them again, put them to sleep AND go to work every day, and no one even lost so much as a limb. (I'm pretty sure he skipped bathing them, but it's still pretty impressive.) He's far more capable and calm than I am when it comes to the parenting.

Even though Clark works super-duper hard when I'm away, I still think I have the losing end of the deal. Aside from the long plane rides and endless hours in conferences and meetings, which are less than glamorous, it feels completely wrong to leave my family behind and jet to another continent for a few days. I don't mean morally wrong. I mean physiologically wrong, like some acrimonious undertone in the Universe is causing my cells to malfunction. My mantra is that I do it for my kids' futures and the privilege of doing good work every day, which is true, but it doesn't really make me feel better.
The only comforting thing is the fact that my babies are seemingly well-adjusted in spite of my occasional abandonment. They may even be better for it.

#1 (Dollie, who deserves her name), who just passed 21 months, started walking exactly one week after the baby came. This development has been both a blessing and a curse. It means, on the one hand, that we don't have to carry her around all of the time; but, on the other, that we instead have to chase her around most of the time. We have to be prepared at any moment to prevent her from stepping on or smothering her brother, or trying to share her carrot or cookie with him.

The good news is, Dollie is fairly loving toward the baby. I'm sure after six months that she's already lost the memory of her brief stint of only-childhood. She's not 100% enthusiastic about the attention he commands, but she's pretty good at asserting herself when she has unmet emotional needs. It could be much worse: I have a colleague whose son repeatedly tried to squish his baby sister with his Big Wheel; another whose kid tried to stuff the new baby in the mailbox to send him back. Dollie has not been so resentful. Most of the danger she presents stems from either over-affection or the general hazard of toddlerhood. (See this video of Dollie cracking Beau up.)

For his part, Beau is a pretty mellow dude. He basically tolerates his big sister's intensity and sometimes grabs her hair in protest (or, perhaps, reflex). He's sweet and he smells delicious, which is amazing since we rarely get a chance bathe him. Poor Beau. As a second child, he's a lot more neglected than the first one was at the same stage. But he hangs in there. 

He's been a good sleeper for the most part, which is just about all a parent can ask for. Seriously, it's as good as it gets. Sure, you hope your kids eat and don't cry incessantly or destroy things or get sick all the time... but having kids who usually sleep is absolutely golden. We've learned from experience that if your little ones sleep through the night, you should just keep your mouth shut about the rest of your complaints when you talk with other parents or they may never speak to you again.

I intended to dedicate a full blog to Dollie's impressive recent language acquisition, but she's so far along that it's already old news. Our favorite word is "squirrel," or "querla," as she pronounces it. She's learning many words in both Spanish and English (gato/kitty; agua/water; jugo/juice; leche/milk; bath/bano, dozens more). She's also grasping important grammatical concepts, especially the possessive verb form ("My this!"; "No, Buck, my ball!"; "My car!"; "No, Beau, mine!"). And she increasingly understands specificity/nuance. Clark told me he pointed to a picture in a book last week and said "bird." Dollie blinked and corrected him: "eagle."

The other thing I've been meaning to blog about is Dollie's boyfriend, Little Graham. (There's a "Big Graham" at her daycare, too. Incidentally, Little Graham is well on his way to outsizing him.) I am definitely not the type to impose the social construct of "romance" upon 1 1/2 year olds just because they are friends, and she's a girl and he's a boy.

No. They are actually boyfriend and girlfriend. They kiss and hug and roll around in the grass; they follow each other around; they call after one another when the other goes to get a diaper change; she bosses him around and he generally does what she says.
I totally endorse and encourage the relationship. My feeling is that if Dollie can lock it in with Graham early and skip the whole dating scene in her teens-twenties, perfect. Graham's a pretty sweet kid. His parents are cool, and I definitely feel like we could all hang out if we become family some day, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.


My goal is that next time I write I will have done something actually meaningful (or at least interesting), like camp out with the Occupy folks downtown or write a letter to the editor on some critical issue. But I may have to give myself an out because I'm realizing that substance just might be too ambitious for this stage of my life.

Keywords: Occupy Wall Street, 99%, Parenthood, toddlers, new baby, laundry, diaper, very exciting life

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Cure for the Common Apathy

It feels a little wrong to be focused on what’s happening inside my body, at a time when there's so much going on outside of it. Between the political and geological forces rocking the world these past few months, it seems as if the globe is going through some serious cosmic transformation. (Indeed, travel writer Jan Morris agrees, and is certain that we’re about to be visited by aliens. She gets around, so if anyone would know, it would probably be her.)
In case you’ve been asleep, I’m referencing things like: 
  • Cataclysmic tsunamis (and the nuclear meltdowns, environmental and human consequences that follow them)
  •  Apocalyptic floods and tornados (and accompanying human suffering they cause)
  • Democratic uprisings (and human rights abuses by despotic political regimes in reaction to them)
  •  Dead notorious terrorists (and terrorists that remain alive and very angry as a result)
  •  The dissolution of collective bargaining rights (and the ballooning corporatocracy ahead)
  •  Donald Trump (or, more specifically, the shallow, racist, self-interested masses that think he’s real neat)
  •   ...Etc.
I recognize that that at this particular moment, when I’m 10+ months pregnant and about to give birth at any second, I have a legitimate excuse for not being deeply engaged in current affairs, even if they are super-important. Instead, it’s normal that I would be distracted by the:

  • Aches (carpel tunnel syndrome is apparently fairly common in late pregnancy. Who knew?);
  • Pains (the regular sort that come with trying to function normally with a bowling ball inside of one’s abdomen);
  • Insomnia (bladder = extremely squished);
  • Fascination (ok, did I mention that I'm actually growing a *human* inside me? That is weird);
  • Angst (no explanation necessary), and yes, buried somewhere deep in my psyche... 
  • Excitement (again, no explanation necessary)
... that are often associated with pregnancy.

But even with my current focus on what's happening in my own body, I can’t help but want to be more engaged in what’s happening in the wider world. 

I would be lying to say that my lack of engagement is only a result of 10+ months pregnant. In reality, I’ve been predominantly complacent/apathetic since my rabblerousing  early-mid-20s days. Sure, I read the news. I vote. I furrow my brow. I occasionally forward articles to my friends. I txt $10 to the Red Cross. But mostly, I stand by and complain about how bad/scary/idiotic things are, and hope that people with more time on their hands will deal with them very soon.

Laundry: A common
distraction from saving the world
And would it be wrong for me to suggest that you may be leaving things to those people, too?  After all, you and I are busy, right? We’ve got laundry to do. Sick kids to tend to. Dinner to make. Dogs to walk. Reports to write. Paperwork to file. Houses to clean. Family members to argue with. Parties to plan. Cars to take to the shop. We're waiting to get our stuff done. We’re waiting for the sun to come out. We're waiting for tomorrow, next week. 

And yet, we have stakes in the outcomes of today’s big events as much as anyone, don’t we? Do we really have less free time than the people who are out there rallying troops, risking their lives, rebuilding cities, helping those in need, writing editorials, and storming their capitals? Don't those people have bills to pay and appliances to fix and kids and jobs and other responsibilities, too? Why do we get to sit by and let them do the work? What makes us so special?

I hate to break it to you, but we are not special. We’re just paralyzed by the mundane, mesmerized by the mildly entertaining, and daunted by the prospect of inconvenience. And that is what keeps us tethered to our couches, passive observers of right now.

You might argue that I’m experiencing a hormonally-induced frenzy, and you might be right.

But I suspect that my sudden burst of inspiration/frustration could actually be a rational response to the realization that I'm about to bring another person into a place that needs some serious attention. That is, this thing going on inside me might actually be the spark I’ve needed to become part of the things going on outside.

I’m not committing to moving mountains after I deliver the baby in the next few days, but I am declaring my intention to get off the couch. And to get ready to fight the aliens when they arrive. 

P.S. For those who have been waiting on the edge of your seats since my last post, the sock never showed up. It's one of the great mysteries of the world.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What goes in

He's sorry. 
Buck the Dog wants me to tell you that he didn't mean to actually eat the child's sock that was covered in yummy applesauce. Honest. He just wanted to sniff it and taste it, and... 

I noticed the child removing the grody sock and leaving it on the floor. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the dog lying down (in hindsight, I realize, conspicuously close to said sock). I turned around to do wash the baby's bowl. I half-registered the dog leaving the room rather abruptly. Had I been more alert, I might have heard the choking and gulping noises that must have followed. 

The problem is, I have a lot on my mind these days and I clearly can't pay close enough attention to everything going on around me. But blinking has its consequences

The concern is not so much for the loss of the sock, but for the GI issues that will likely follow. True, it could be worse. It could be any of the foreign objects that the dog is known or suspected to have ingested in the past, such as:
  • A huge glob of bathroom garbage (which is especially gross considering what goes into bathroom garbage.)(Excision surgery #1);
  • The jar of Clark's Aunt Corkie's jalapeno jelly (no, the actual jar. We found the lid, and there was jelly smeared on the floor and wall so we know it was consumed, but what happened to the glass container after it smashed to the ground remains unclear);
  • A brown leather wallet with $20 in smaller bills;
  • A yellow-and-white-checked kitchen rag (Excision surgery #2); 
  • Countless pairs of underpants, various styles and colors;
  • A tennis ball, removed in-tact (Excision surgery #3); or
  • A bar of delicious coconut soap (suds out both ends for days -- cleanest spots our dingy living room rug had ever seen).
Those of you who are canine owners can appreciate that we are fairly intimate with the contents of our dog's poo. Not out of fascination, mind you, but out of logistics. So we generally know when things make it out the other end, and mysteriously, not all of them do.

Humans and other mammals have enzymes in saliva that begin to break-down food molecules when we chew - a stage in the digestive process called mastication. But digestive enzymes are not present in dog saliva.* A dog's mouth is pretty much just the entry point. Saliva lubricates food to make it easier to swallow, but chewing is more fun than than fun-ctionThis is why dogs often gulp down alarmingly large chunks or whole objects. 

Instead, dog digestion really starts in the stomach. Dogs are equipped with gastric acid made up of an especially potent and low-pH mix of Hydrochloric acid (HCl), potassium chloride (KCl) and sodium chloride (NaCl). Food spends as long as 48 hours in the stomach while those compounds go to work.

Dog stomach juices do a great job of tackling most proteins. They are not so good at breaking down rubber, plastic, styrofoam, cotton fiber, squeaky, fuzzy, wood, or metal. And this is why dogs, who tend to chew less because it's not important and therefore may not notice when they -- oops -- swallow things that do not consist of actual food, are prone to getting intestinal obstructions: 

Diagram 1.1: Dog Digestive Tract, courtesy Wikibooks

When things do make it into the intestines, the rest of digestion in dogs happens comparatively quickly thanks to their very short large intestines. 

All of this is to say, I am waiting for the sock to hopefully emerge at some point in the next 2-3 days. If it doesn't, we may be in for Excision Surgery #4. In the meantime, opening the windows and suffering the stinky consequences of my absent mind. 

*A side note: this is partly why dogs do not digest carbohydrates well; mastication is important for breaking down carbs.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Yikes! What the...?

March 1 2011
Ok, ok. I know technically how this happened, but even seven-and-a-half months in, I can't believe it. 

Wee Dollie, sweetest Dollie, is not yet walking. She does not have words. She still eats peas. She is still cutting teeth. She is very much still in nappies. 

And yet here [imminently] comes Number Two, "The Little Dude." 

He's a mover, a shaker, and a troublemaker, I can pretty much already tell. Even if I'm wrong and he turns out to be the mellowest squishy lump of a baby in the world, one thing's for sure:  

We need to brace for impact. 

I'm more intimidated -- terrified, really -- about bringing another baby on board. I think it's because last time it was a great mystery, a wonder, an adventure. This time, we know exactly what we're getting into. (And I should note that Baby #1 is an absolute delight. She has her moments, but she has generally slept through the night since she was only months old, which any parent will tell you is the ultimate golden gift from the universe.) 

Between FT work and a one-year old, I haven't had much time to focus on being pregnant. But at this stage, it's hard to ignore: contractions, heartburn, bloating, creaking, peeing, tossing and turning, trying not to dwell on the fact that I have a small-but-growing human churning about in my abdomen...

Spending these final weeks attempting to organize the house, get things tied up at work, file the paperwork I've ignored for the last year, finish tiling a bathroom (somehow, I always end up tiling a bathroom in the last weeks of pregnancy?). But I'm being a little more realistic than last time about what I can accomplish -- at least I let go of finishing my dissertation, learning French and mastering the guitar before the baby arrives. I figure all that can wait until retirement.