Friday, May 5, 2017

The Good

My last post feels like kind of a downer. You might think that I've been depressed (and I have, just not Depressed) or that I've been wallowing in anger since November. Some days yes, but for the most part no. I've just been living my life, with a few extra reminders about being kinder.

Some really, really good things have happened in these last few months too. HusbandX started a job back in December, one he enjoys and is happy in. Since my brother was home for a few months at Christmas, we were able to hire him as childcare for us when we were both at work. We've been so, so lucky that for childcare so far we've only ever had to rely on friends and family. That will change in the fall when our Munchkin starts preschool. We found an amazing outdoor preschool that I applied for back in the fall and we found out over the winter that she's in! She'll get to spend her mornings playing with other kids in the woods, and I could not think of a more perfect setting for my child. I know she'll learn a lot and have fun doing it.

So, now HusbandX and I both have jobs that we are happy with. In some ways it's been an odd adjustment. Double employment? What's that? But after hunting around for so long, it's nice to know that HusbandX found something that suits him so well. Having met his coworkers at their Christmas party (in January), they're nice people. The work they're doing is interesting and engaging, and HusbandX is just so much happier than he had been. It's nice to have purpose again.

Since he has a job, in February we started working on our next big thing. We began searching for a house. Waaay back we'd written down a list of our wants and needs for a living situation. Since I'm a planner and a dreamer, I have huge notes dedicated to features I want in my future yard and garden. We already knew what neighborhoods in the city we could afford, which coincidentally happened to be the same neighborhoods where many of our home-owning friends live. We narrowed it down to one area to look in, figured out how far out of that area we wouldn't compromise about even for an amazing house, worked out a budget we were comfortable with, and started our search.

We didn't expect it to be all kittens and roses, thank goodness. It started off slow. Many friends had told us to look at as many houses as we could stand to. It would give us an idea of what's available, what are good prices, what things are actually selling for, and would refine our ideas of what we want in a house. It did all of those things. And let me tell you, the Seattle real estate market is bonkers. There are tiny houses with frankly dangerous issues (broken retaining walls, cracked foundations, outdated electrical systems) that smell of cat pee and they're going for half a million dollars, or close enough. What. The. Fuck. We looked at so many houses with features that made us say, "Wut?" and a few that we outright laughed at. Outrageous house, outrageous price. But they sold. In less than two weeks a house, even a miserable and downright awful house, would be sold. What?

One day I sent HusbandX a link to a listing and said, "Maybe this is a possibility?" It was a $14million dollar penthouse with a view of the Space Needle. We had fun looking at the pictures and joking about, "Well, I would buy it but that kitchen is tasteless," or "the bathroom needs some work, you can't even fit an entire football team in that tub!"

We found one house we really liked in the first month of looking and put in an offer, but someone else got it. We found another house we liked less but which would suit us well enough and put in another offer the next month. Now that someone else has it, I'm thankful for that.

Then...oh boy. We found The One. A house that had all of our Needs, and pretty much all of our Wants. Bigger than I'd initially thought we'd go for but well worth it. The yard and garden match some of my dreams amazingly well, but there's still opportunity to make them just the way I want. Walking around, this place felt like Home.

We did a pre-inspection and that confirmed what we'd already known: this was a great house. There was one major/minor issue that I had some small reservations about. Not enough to deter us but enough to make me slightly less excited about paying so much money for a house only to then lay out even more money to fix this. Then it turned out the seller was having it fixed anyway, which frankly doubled my excitement as it meant that pretty much all of the issues in the house were purely cosmetic, or at least could be put off for a while.

The other houses we'd put offers on had both had many more offers at the same time. I know one had at least six other offers. This one, however, only had one competing offer. HusbandX worried. "Do other people know something that we don't?" I held onto the pre-inspection in my mind as proof that we weren't going for a lemon.

That there were only two offers worked to our advantage. In the end, we're getting a house and lot of a rather large size for the city, close to amenities and close enough to work to bike, close to a bus line. And we're getting it for less than we would have expected. It's rather incredible. I feel so, so lucky.

We're working our way through the loan process right now. For those of you who haven't bought houses, finding the right house and getting an offer accepted is just the start of the stressful process. The bank required tons of paperwork, some of which we had on hand and some of which we needed to contact others about. For about two weeks, every day I was scanning and uploading and searching and signing documents. It was chaos. HusbandX joked, "I thought the stool sample was a little much." It really felt as if they asked for everything just short of a virgin sacrifice.

In the midst of all of this, my part-time job asked me to work longer hours, so I've had more full days in the last month than I've had short ones. I got a small raise at the end of March, too. That's good news for our house fund, but the extra work has added a whole new level of craziness that had me sucking down chamomile tea to calm down. I slept horribly for a few nights, worried about paperwork or that the bank would randomly deny our loan. Ugh.

But now, things are almost over. The appraisal went through just fine. We're still getting the funds together, as about half of what we had was in an investment account, so the thought that it won't get here in time is my final worry. It's mild, however, not the kind of worry that causes my thumb to randomly start twitching for an entire day. (True story.)
These two helped me chill out. At least,
when they weren't causing further sleep
disruptions they did.

It's nice to finally relax. It's nice to feel like this house might actually become ours, although I'm still not going to count on that until closing day. Even then, I think I'll have a hard time taking in that we own a home. When does it begin to feel real?

There are so many reasons we decided to buy a house. There are online calculators out there about whether it's better to rent or to buy, monetarily. We didn't even care (although I think that in this area, it's pretty much a wash) because there were so many other reasons we wanted a home of our own. Among them, we're tired of crappy landlords and worse neighbors. Seriously, we've only ever had one truly good landlord, and we always seem to be stuck with awful neighbors.

I wanted to finally, finally have a garden space that I could do whatever I wanted to. Keep backyard chickens? Maybe! I don't have to seek permission from anyone to plant things, and I know that if I plant a fruit tree or berry bush then I'll be around to harvest it too.

We also will get to remodel our environment to suit us. There were plenty of houses I saw which were nice, but they were someone else's conception of what a nice house should be. The house we're buying has just enough work that needs to be done that we can make it to suit ourselves and our needs.

That includes making it more environmentally friendly. Of course, one of the most environmentally friendly options is just to not buy more crap that needs to get manufactured while throwing out other stuff that will sit in a landfill for who knows how long. And I get that. But even things like increasing the R-value of the attic insulation is exciting to me. How pathetic is that? And that's my point. We're becoming homeowners because this stuff is exciting and fun for us. If it's not making you squee, just a little, to think about it, then renting is a far better idea. Not everyone has the inclination to look up Youtube videos about plumbing, or the desire to refinish cabinets, or to paint walls, or build a patio, or whatever the latest DIY project for a home is. (And I'm not kidding myself--there's always one more project that can be done when you own a home.) We do care about and enjoy these things, so that's what we're going to do.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Quiet

I haven't written. I mean really, I haven't written much of anything since early November. I'd like to say there are a variety of reasons, like the weather has sucked or because I've been too busy. Both of those things are true, but they're not why I haven't written anything. I've just been too upset and depressed about the state of the world to arrange my thoughts in any coherent fashion beyond anger. And really, that's not what anyone needs. That won't make the world a better place. So I've stayed quiet.

This is unusual for me. I am, and always have been, a bit of a loudmouth. Quite possibly too full of opinions for my own good, I'm not a quiet person. If I am, it's because I'm thinking about things. There is no "off" in my head, no peaceful quiet place that I go to. My head is full of chatter and so is the rest of me. I like to write not because I think my opinions are so unique but because there are so many people who share my thoughts but aren't able to articulate them, or not in the same way.

I am what could politely be described as "progressive", politically. "Dirty hippie" might also work. 😊 This is not because I'm surrounded by like-minded people (if nothing else, living in Alaska fixed that right up) but through thoughtful inner searching and talking with people who are not like me. It's been very popular since the election to say that "we lost" because "we're in liberal bubbles". No. We all lost because of fake news is profitable, and because there are people in the world who want to profit off of our communal loss. There would be no fake news without a hefty profit margin, and I don't think the advertisers we can see are the ones profiting most heavily.

The nature of human civilization is progress. There are small steps backward, but in general the trend is to move forward, to better ourselves, to move beyond what we have been. I am not trying to say that human nature is any fundamentally different than it has been since before written records, but it's obvious to anyone that we've moved on from what we were. That we've changed and that in that changing we've shaped the world as it now is. Progress.

On the other hand, conservatives want to keep the world as it is or even move it backwards in some basic ways. That is in the very definition of the word "conservative". It takes a very rosy view of the past, ignoring the realities that life has been a difficult, dirty struggle for most of humanity for as long as there has been humanity. It's also a misguided philosophy because it assumes that we can, as a society, stagnate. We can retain things as they are and everything will work out!

Again, that's not how the world works. That we will move forward should always, always be implicit. Progress will happen whether we all have to be dragged kicking and screaming into our collective future or whether we work together to ensure a more equitable, fruitful, people-centered future. I want to help shape that conversation. Really, I think that's what we all want, deep down. To argue against that, to claim that things are fine as they are or were better in the past so we should go back to that ideal is just dumb. It is never going to happen, and you wouldn't want it to if it did. Help shape the future instead of looking to the past for all the answers, because the latter is a quick way to get humans nowhere fast. Learn lessons from the past, but work to move forward. We can always make the world a better place.

Hearing the voice of progress be so gleefully drowned out by sore "winners"* and crack-pots has been, frankly, heartbreaking. What do you say in the face of such fundamental stupidity? You can't argue with a fool, as is being proven every single day to anyone paying the least amount of attention to the news.

So I've been quiet in the face of all of this, and yet I haven't. I've used some of the time I would have otherwise spent on this blog writing to my elected officials instead. I've even tried calling a few times, and despite how much I love to talk I do not enjoy talking to strangers over the phone. I've been working quietly to support friends who are getting involved in politics, trying to support friends and family who are in vulnerable groups--the people who are Not Like Me but who've helped shape my worldview and from whom I've learned so much about the varied, wonderful human experience. The fact that some of them, maybe even many of them, are in a position to lose the rights and supports that they should be able to take for granted is infuriating and terrifying. I'm honestly scared of the people who think that this is all right, who go along with it or even actively support it. Seriously, what is wrong with you?

All of this is also driving home my enormous privilege. HusbandX and I have the means for insulating our family from many troubles. Not all of them of course (no one can escape climate change) but many of the ones that are so scary won't actually affect us. I won't have to walk into a bathroom with a picture that doesn't represent me because someone else decided that I'm some sort of dangerous abomination. My marriage is never in danger of being de-legitimized. If the schools suck, well, we have the means and education to home school our kid.

But it's always in my mind that others, including people we like and respect and love, don't have those options. Some of them don't feel that they can speak up on their own behalf, because drawing attention to yourself can be dangerous. (If you don't believe me, talk to a Muslim or an LGBTQ military person.) How could I look at these people I respect so much and not work to give them the same level of safety and security that I have? How does it not hurt some people to think of hurting others in such basic and cruel ways?

I'm still working on how I can fight back in both large and small ways. The hardest part is that I feel like this is such a multi-faceted battle we're fighting. Do I focus on climate change or LGBTQ rights? Muslim rights, Black Lives Matter, women's rights, or healthcare access for all? They're all important, as are many others. How do I work on all of them? Do I just pick one pet cause, and if so how do I choose when they're all crucial? Are small pieces okay, or do only larger actions matter? It's enough to make me want to go hide in a book. And I have done that. In doing so, I came across this:

"Progress is the mode of man. The general life of the human race is called Progress. Progress marches on; it makes the great human and terrestrial journey toward the celestial divine; it has its halts where it rallies the belated flock; it has its pauses where it meditates, in sight of some splendid Canaan suddenly unveiling its horizon; it has its nights when it sleeps; and it is one of the bitter anxieties of the thinker to see the shadow over the human soul, and to feel progress asleep in the darkness, without being able to awaken it."
                                                     -Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

It turns out that Victor Hugo was wrestling with some of the same thoughts and anxieties that I was, over a hundred years ago. As I said before, human nature has not changed despite the massive changes in society and technology. It was oddly comforting to read that, to know that this has come about before and will almost certainly come around again. This period will be uncomfortable. I see bad things looming in our future, and I know I'm not the only one. However, humanity has survived these dark times in the past and we will again. We will find a way to thrive, to find moments of peace and joy despite everything around us. That's what we do.

So, that's become part of how I'm fighting back. I can't change what others do, but I can work to spread happiness in my own little sphere. I decided that the best way to start changing the world in the way I want was to simply be kinder to everyone. Patience is not my strong suit, and while I can generally be dubbed cheerful it's not always easy to remember that I should be as cheerful around strangers as I am with those I know. The cashier or the bus driver are as deserving of a smile and genuine thanks as anyone else who helps me. It's not much, but it fits with my ethos of making the world a better place. Even if all I've done is offered a smile, it's a start.



*Seriously, no one won this election. All of humanity lost.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Humbling Ten Years

We are about to hit a new marker here. The beginning of February will mark ten years that HusbandX and I have been a couple. This is especially remarkable as 2016 seems to have been the year for long-term relationships to fall apart. I don't have any facts or national statistics to back me up, just anecdotes, but I suspect that a number of factors have made 2016 especially hard, and many people have manifested that in either stress on their relationship or a realization that now is the time to end a relationship that doesn't make them happy.
Over this past year, we've seen over a dozen relationships (of 3+ years) fall apart among our friends and family. If I had to guess, I might even say it's more than 20 couples. In one year! Several more marriages and relationships are on the verge of falling apart, or going through a rocky patch. It's rough to witness. No matter if it ends up being a good thing in the end, it's always painful during the process.
When we saw the most recent public announcement of imminent divorce, I turned to HusbandX and said, "I wonder how many people are surprised that we're still going?" He laughed, mostly because we're quite certain that there are people out there who are surprised that we're still happily married. Two awkward misfits like us, how do we manage to make it work when so many (objectively) better people can't make their relationships work? (Don't worry, we're baffled by it too.)
I'm clearly not an expert in relationships. I don't want to tell anyone else to do with theirs, (well, except for the people sending in Postsecrets talking about knowingly, willfully marrying the wrong person--those are just sad; don't do it!) but I've had quite a bit of time to think about why our relationship is so long-lasting. Since I've been writing romance, I've also made a little study of what makes a relationship good. After all, I can't write effective romance if I don't know what makes a romance worth reading about!
I know that part of what has enabled our relationship is luck. We were just plain lucky to meet each other when and how we did, that we were each receptive to the other's feelings, that neither of us was in a different relationship when we met, and that we had the support of our families. (Don't discount that, ever. If your families aren't supportive because they don't like the other person's skin tone or gender or personality, you have a much harder road ahead of you than we did. I salute you for persevering.) But, not all of it is luck either. So here are the ways we've tested and strengthened our relationship.

We subjected ourselves to hardship

When I was younger, my best friend and I went on a road trip. The car broke down and we were stuck for two nights in this crappy little town in Oregon. Then we spent the next week (two weeks?) no more than two feet away from each other for almost every waking moment. Yet, we were still friends at the end of it! When we decided to move in together, that experience really helped. For one, we knew that we could go through less than ideal circumstances and still remain content with each other. We also knew each other and ourselves better after that experience, and we knew from it that we would be a good fit as roommates.
Years later, when HusbandX and I moved in together, I thought about that. We'd already traveled to and with each other, just short trips, so I was somewhat confident that we'd be able to live together. However, our first living situations were challenges in and of themselves. The first place we moved into was huge, but we had eight other roommates. There were personality conflicts and far too little privacy. That didn't last for more than a summer, but that was all right. HusbandX and I hadn't had any real conflicts with each other so we counted it a success.
Ice fog at about -55F.
I actually used an outhouse in weather like this.
After that, however, came an even bigger challenge. We didn't have much money, so we moved into a cabin without running water. It was the right price, but we were both a little nervous. We'd have to use an outhouse in the cold Alaskan winter, and we'd have to haul our own water. We'd have to do every single dish by hand. Even worse, we had to pay for heating oil and it was hideously expensive that year. $1200, and we weren't sure it would last a full six months! We made a pact not to turn on the heat until after it snowed and we did it without too much grumbling. (Turns out, in that respect I'm hardier than he is!) We even managed to figure out a system of getting the dishes washed without killing each other. (Seriously impressive.) We let the cold and the inefficient cabin bring us closer together, literally and figuratively. We even used trips to the outhouse in the cold as a source of jokes and banter that drew us closer together.
This was not the type of hardship we'd endure for the rest of our lives, and we knew that. But facing these challenges without falling apart was important. We still refer to those days, usually with a laugh. It was a hardship, but it's also a time we remember fondly. I knew then that if we could survive six months in that cabin and come out the other side still friends, still in love, we'd make it through anything. And we have! The early lessons on how to treat each other well despite tough circumstances has served us well.

We show our appreciation

We really don't do dates. Every once in a while, sure. But most of the time if we're going to get out (and away from the kiddo) we're going to do stuff with friends, like our weekly bike ride. Instead of having a dedicated date night, we show our love and appreciation for each other in much smaller but more frequent ways. We make each other tea or coffee and almost always put it in cheesy, flirty mugs my parents have. (One says 'I'd walk a million miles for one of your smiles'. I mean really cheesy.) When HusbandX gets up with the kiddo on weekends (it happens occasionally) he makes pancakes with her and they bring some up so I can have breakfast in bed.
How could I not marry this?
We make sure to thank each other frequently. These small acts of kindness toward one's spouse or partner frequently, in my observations, fall by the wayside as people get more comfortable with each other, so it's been a conscious effort to continue doing so. We also make our thanks more genuine by making them specific. "Thank you for taking care of X chore earlier." "Thank you for making dinner tonight."
We're not perfect, there have been plenty of times when we get snippy with each other or just flat out ignore the nice things we do for each other. We can even be downright mean and cruel to one another. These nice things fall by the wayside, especially when we get busy. Then we have a conversation, generally with one side expressing feelings of under-appreciation and the other pointing out the ways that appreciation has been shown but ignored. Then we both redouble our efforts to both show appreciation and to acknowledge it. Because acknowledging it is just as important. It's nice to know that when you've done something the other person knows what you did for them. It's not selfishness, it's human nature.

We purposely do stuff together, even the things we don't do together

We're not super compatible in that we do everything together. We have many of the same interests, such as cooking and biking, but we have plenty of things we do separately too. HusbandX got into weight lifting when I was pregnant and discovered that he loves it, so he's kept it up. Me, I don't like doing any particular exercise regimen because I get bored with it. But HusbandX's gym has occasional "bring a friend for free" days and sometimes I'll even go with him.
We have our hobby agreement, where we trade hobbies. He reads a book from a list I gave him, so that we can talk about it, and I play a video game from a list he gave me. (I still need to finish playing Portal....) Most of the time, though, we do our own hobbies. We just do them in the same room. When I laugh at something in my current book I can tell him, and he'll tell me about silly things that happen in his games or with the friends he talks to while he plays them. It's togetherness for introverts.

We prioritize sex

Eww, TMI! I know! But this one is so crucial. When I was in Russia my brother said, "I don't want any details, but it occurred to me that it must be kind of tough for you guys to have, uh, alone time at Mom and Dad's. I mean, you have a kid so that already makes it tougher." Yeah, it does. But this is an aspect of our relationship that's critical to our happiness with each other. I've had a few friends mention that things get rough between them and their partners when they don't have sex often enough.
The hotel room we booked for the first stop on our
honeymoon was less conducive to honeymooning
than one would expect.
A while I ago I found an app to track my period (since I am NOT one of those lucky women who's super stable and can name the day it's going to start every single month) and realized that it can track other things as well, like migraines and...sex. So I started tracking how often we have sex. I can now say with certainty about what our monthly average is, and that if we drop below a certain number we're almost certain to have a huge fight. If we drop below a certain average across a couple of weeks, we'll be grumpy and snappish with each other. I've told HusbandX about my informal research and he, too, has started noticing some of the same things. It's become something we now think of first when we're getting irritated with the other person. Have we made enough time for this recently, and could that be the cause of the irritation?
Every couple's numbers are going to be different, which is why personal tracking of such a thing (if you're interested in that) can be beneficial. You never know what you'll discover about your relationship with a little data.

We're frugal

This seems like kind of a weird one to put on the list, and originally I was going to say that we're on the same page about money. After all, finances are one of the biggest things that people fight about, so if you're on the same page with your partner then you should be fine. But, if you're both spendthrifts and constantly in debt because of it then you're not going to be really happy either, as you'll have that hanging over your heads. So, being good with money is one way that we've fostered our relationship.
As with anything else we're not always on the same page. But we are often enough, and we check in with each other frequently enough, that it's okay. It might seem silly to others that I text him, "Hey, can I buy a book?" (The answer is pretty much always yes, because he doesn't get texts from me like that very often. Go libraries!) We check in with each other for almost every purchase (aside from groceries) and warn each other if we're going to be spending out of our norm. We're not really asking permission, but a heads-up is really nice. The last time I texted about buying a book, I didn't get a response so I bought the book anyway. He got the text when I reached home and said, "Yes, you can buy the book," knowing perfectly well that I already had.
Some couples don't want to check in with each other that much and set up monthly spending allowances for each party. However you want to do it is fine, the important part is that it's a system decided on together and that it's one both people can agree to. The point is to avoid future arguments about money, not to cause recurring ones.
This also helps because we both know that we have our long-term goals in mind. Neither of us buys that much because we have some really big goals for this coming year. Being on the same page for the large financial goals is absolutely critical for any couple. We know where we stand, so the few minor purchases we make aren't going to throw us off our big plans. The fact that we both know that helps prevent us from getting annoyed when either of us spends a little bit.

We agreed on the big things before ever getting married

The fact that we got married wasn't done in the heat of the moment, at the height of our love. And the very fact that we're married is because we carefully vetted each other beforehand. In fact, I considered dating to be more like a job interview than anything else. 
The big issues are going to be different for everyone, but for the most part you want to agree on things like having kids. I've seen a few posts on places such as Reddit like, "My wife wants kids and I don't. We never really had this convo before we got married, so this is a bit of a surprise to me." WHY WOULDN'T YOU TALK ABOUT THAT BEFORE GETTING MARRIED? I don't mean that everyone needs to agree on every aspect of parenting--or any other big topic--before getting married, but it seems like much more of a big deal if one party wants kids and the other doesn't, as opposed to wanting two kids vs. three. It's kind of a big deal and something you should talk about with a prospective partner. No matter how much in love with them you are, you need to figure out what your deal breakers are and stick to them.
Our party animal.
I've told HusbandX several times that if he hadn't wanted kids at all then I wouldn't have married him. He was surprised, but that was one of my deal breakers. Another one was pets, which seems funny but it's actually a big deal for a lot of people. If you have three cats you adore and a potential partner who hates cats, are you really compatible for the long term? I was so nervous for HusbandX to meet my dog because he "doesn't like small dogs". He loves her, though, so no worries there. If he'd hated my dog, we'd have had some serious problems. I suspect that if I'd hated cats, it would also have caused problems.
There are others, but I won't get into every single one of them. They'll be different for every person and couple, but it's important to recognize what they are. Some things can be negotiated as life goes on, but the big things should be agreed on from the start.

We recognize the cycles of a relationship

We're not going to constantly be doe-eyed with little cartoon hearts popping up all around us. There will be times when we have to work harder at being attractive for or attracted to our partner. Conversely, there will be times when it feels like being married is the easiest thing in the world. We take advantage of those times and work hard at consciously choosing each other when we're in a low point. This is the nature of the beast, to have ups and downs. It's easy to compare us after ten years to the way we were in the first year and think that things are just not as good as they were. But, we're more comfortable with each other than we were, and in many ways our relationship is better. It's easy to lose sight of that, though, when we're not getting the same hormonal highs from each other that we did in the beginning.


Of course, all of this is predicated on trust and honesty. None of this is going to salvage a toxic or downright abusive relationship, and if you can't trust your partner then you need to get away from them immediately. But with one glaring exception, pretty much all of the relationships I've seen or heard of crumbling this year are between two good people who really like each other and just, for whatever reason, can't make it work.
I don't know why or how I was so lucky to meet HusbandX. Not that I always feel lucky. Sometimes I think that my life would have been so much easier if I'd married someone who isn't as strong-willed as I am, someone I could manipulate or dominate, someone who would let me have my way. It's clearly the best way! I suspect HusbandX has had similar thoughts about me too, and for some people that probably is the right choice. But for me, if I hadn't married someone with as much personality as I have then I wouldn't have been able to respect him. Being equals isn't always easy because there are plenty of times when we clash, but that's okay because trust and respect underlie everything else. It helps us to keep functioning as a team even when things are tough.
I look forward to the next ten years with HusbandX, and trust that they'll be even better than the last ten have been. That's saying something, because he still brings joy to my life every single day and I wouldn't be the person I am without him.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The books of 2016

It's time once again to talk about my favorite books of the past year. Books are one of my favorite frugal hobbies. I get most of mine as ebooks through the library, or by borrowing them from friends and family. However, I have quite a large collection of books I own (pared down regularly, but still huge) and I pull from them regularly to reread. I'm one of those weird people who loves everything about books, from the tactile pleasure of turning pages to the smell to the beautiful covers. I love staring at my collection of books and remembering fondly the stories, characters, and hours I've spent with them.

HusbandX, on the other hand, looks at my books with a hint of resignation and a wordless reminder that we're not going to get a larger house just to have space to stash books. He enjoys books, but not in the same way.

This past year, my total books read was just over 80. I write this with humility, because while it seems like a lot it's because this is what I devote a large amount of time to. I don't watch much TV or many movies, I haven't knitted much at all, I'm not a gamer, and there are times when I've used it as an anti-social crutch. (No I don't want to go out, I'd rather finish my book!) Paring this many books down to a few favorites might seem tough, but every year has its stand-outs.

1. I started my year with Urban Cycling, by Madi Carlson. The author happens to be a friend of mine, and a complete badass when it comes to biking. After reading her book I can say that she's as warm and personable on the page as she is in person.
This book is on my list not because I'm friends with the author, but because I learned a lot from it. Madi makes cycling for transportation in the city seem realistic and doable, even for families. She knows what she's talking about, having two kids and no car herself.
In addition to philosophy about biking and discussions about the pros and cons of various bikes and bike components, she also has advice about basic bike maintenance. I don't know much, but I have become a pro at greasing my chain since reading the book. Even HusbandX asked for some advice after I read it!
Highly recommended for beginners in particular, but all cyclists or anyone thinking of starting to bike can get something from it. I did, and I've been a cyclist for most of my life.

2. Curtsies and Conspiracies, by Gail Carriger, is the hilarious start to a young adult Steampunk series. She's got books in the same world written for adults which I have yet to read but they're on my list. If they're anything as witty as this series--and I'm told they are--then I'll spend many more delightful hours reading about Victorian morals clashing ridiculously with espionage work.

3. Better than Before, by Gretchen Rubin, is a book about research into and the author's attempts at creating good habits. The premise is that by figuring out how one responds to influence (are you someone who must keep a promise when it's made, or someone who chafes at promises, or someone who only responds to outside pressure?) then you can figure out ways to motivate yourself to create better habits and, thus, a better you. She also documents various things that throw a wrench in all of this, such as sudden sparks of inspiration, or whatever you want to call it, that lead to a big change. As I was reading the book I talked with a friend about it and she said, "Oh! I had that, and now I floss every day. I can't even tell you why, I just woke up one morning and decided to floss. I haven't missed a morning since then."
I found it very fascinating to think about how and why we form habits, and have definitely been using this knowledge in my life. I find that it can be rather freeing, as knowing what I want my habits to be shows me what matters the most to me. Then it's easy enough to cut the rest free from my life and focus on the things I value.
The books I didn't borrow from the library or
from friends and family.

4. The Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman, is another young adult page-turner. It might seem similar to the Gail Carriger series, as it's another Victorian fantasy, but while the Carriger books are light-hearted and funny this was definitely a bit darker. Not sad and not scary, but definitely not one I settled down with to laugh.
I'm excited for the second book to come out. I think the author can do a lot more with it, now that the fantasy world has been set up, and the plot will move forward faster.

5. The "Legend" series by Marie Lu started rather slow. The first book was good but nothing special. Still, it was a series and people have raved about it so I figured I'd read the others. Oh boy. The second book was really good and the third was amazing. I really wasn't sure what direction it was going to go in and that's a very exciting thing. So many books are predictable and rote that finding one where I see many possibilities for resolution but don't know which one is coming is genuinely thrilling. I don't want to say any more because I don't want to spoil anything.
If you enjoyed the Hunger Games series at all, you'll love these too.

6. The Hands-On Home" by Erica Strauss, is seriously the best book I've read about housekeeping and gardening. I've loved her blog for many years and was super excited when she published her book. She's such an approachable author that sometimes it feels like I'm having tea with a friend rather than reading a book. She's got everything from cleaning recipes to cocktail recipes in this book, and it's all neatly categorized. Even though I read it through the library I plan to buy a copy because it will be very handy to use as a reference.

7. The YA book The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh, and its sequel are a duology retelling of Scheherezade. When I saw the books I was intrigued, because how on earth was she going to make the prince any sort of notaterribleperson? She made it work and kept me reading until the last page of the second book was done. Even then, the next book I read suffered by comparison. This was another one where I rushed out to buy the book in a fever of impatience to read it. Then I had to order it and wait two whole days. Injustice!

8. The Pride of Lions and its sequel, The Blood of Roses, by Marsha Canham are two of my favorite romances. Don't let the genre throw you off, they're actually great novels. I've read these books probably half a dozen times over the years and they're still great. Set during the Scottish uprising in 1745, it's a clash between two people of different temperaments and warring nationalities. What I love the most about them is how much the characters change over the course of the two books. Honestly, they have more genuine character development than most books of any genre do. Added to that, it's clear the author actually did research about the time period. I won't say it's completely historically accurate (romance is, in the end, fantasy--readers don't want to hear much about scabies and syphilis) but it's close enough.

9. The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan, showed me just how much of the Great Depression was left out in my high school US history class. It was very sobering, and it made me really grateful for the times we live in.

10. Me Before You was made into a movie, which I watched on one of my flights to Russia. It was a really good adaptation, but as usual the book is better. It has so much more nuance, which is a good thing when it's about such a complex issue. If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, read the book. Then watch the movie. The actors did a wonderful job, and I read the book with their voices and faces in my head because of that. But definitely, read the book.

11. Ender's Shadow, by Orson Scott Card, was as good as my brother promised it would be. I read Ender's Game a couple of years ago and it is, of course, a great book. Ender's Shadow adds so much to it, though. It's the same story but from Bean's perspective. If you haven't read either of them, read both. They're well worth your time.

12. Sustained, by Emma Chase, was a romance novel that actually had me laughing out loud. When I was going over my reading list to determine which books I'd put on this list, this one made me grin with remembrance. I loved this one, and for as much as I love the genre I'm pretty particular about my romance novels. I've read enough bad ones to adore the keepers, and this is among the latter.

We'll be reading these books for years to come.
As a bonus, I'm going to put in our favorite children's books of the year. The Munchkin has gotten so many, but our new favorites are definitely Rosie Revere, Engineer, and Ada Twist, Scientist. I've gotten choked up reading those (remembering what it's like to have a grownup laugh at you, for instance) and I can't say for sure, but I think HusbandX might have gotten a little teary the first time he read them to our girl too. They have wonderful messages about perseverance and failure, but also about curiosity and the joys of discovering, questioning, and creating. I've noticed a huge uptick in the question, "Why?" since we got these for Christmas.

In addition to both of the protagonists being female, I also love that Ada is not white. We need more good books with diversity in them and we need to read them to all kids, not just minority kids. These books are a win on all counts.


As always, feel free to let me know some of your favorite books of the past year. I'm always on the lookout for more to add to my (massively, insanely huge) to-read list.

Happy reading!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Self Experimentation

I stopped eating breakfast. While I was in Russia I decided that, while I was on my own, two meals would be the order of the day. After all, I've read enough about the "overfed American" to feel pretty bad about how much I eat. (It's a lot.) Just before leaving, I'd also read a comment someone made saying that we all still eat as if we're manual laborers even though pretty much none of us are. Plus, I'm cheap and didn't want to pay for more than one meal a day. (Free hotel breakfasts for the win!)
I'm sure other people in the hotel thought that I was, uh, rather piggish with the way I chowed down at breakfast every day, but I was also walking pretty much all day every day while I was there so even two large-ish meals stretched pretty thin.
At a park in St. Petersburg. I didn't notice any hunger
when I had such pretty sights to occupy my mind instead
But, not as thin as I would have expected. In fact, it was great! I'd start to feel quite hungry about an hour before my planned meal time every day (somewhat early, about five o'clock) but I usually didn't notice it too much because I was too busy looking at amazing things to bother with my appetite. So when I got home, I decided to keep it going and see if maybe this would work for me over a longer period of time. Not only would I be eating less (good for my waistline and my bank account), but it would be a heck of a lot easier too. I'd only do this on work days, and eat like normal for weekends and holidays. In part, this is because the Munchkin is small and skinny, and she eats more if I'm eating too.
I realized that, at home, the easiest meal for me to skip would be breakfast. After two weeks at home, getting over a severe cold and normalizing my sleep patterns again, I dove into my experiment. I thought it would be rough to hop on my bike each morning with nothing in my stomach (except, sometimes, water) but I haven't noticed a difference at all. I thought I'd be a slave to the candy dish on my desk (no getting away from it) but I hardly notice it most days. I do drink tea with a splash of half and half in it, but those are the only calories I take in until about 11:30.
It quickly became my new normal. It's streamlined my mornings so that I can sleep in an extra few minutes (yes!!!) and I usually have my lunch all ready to go in the fridge the night before. I pack a filling lunch, but make sure it's quite nutritious since I'm conscious of the fact that I'm taking in fewer nutrients overall. Gotta make them count! It's also not extra large, and I haven't noticed a lack of food.
To make life even easier, a lot of the time I'll make one big meal that I can portion out for quick lunches all week. One of my favorites is this (but with spinach instead of kale, partly because I'm growing spinach).
After a few weeks of this eating pattern, I found out that this is actually a thing called intermittent fasting. There are plenty of studies surrounding the health benefits of fasting, I just hadn't realized that such a short time period would be beneficial. Nor did I think of it as "fasting", which I tend to associate with religious periods of deprivation for spiritual reasons. I know people fast for all kinds of reasons, not just spiritual, but that's the connotation it has in my mind.
Obviously it's far too early to say that it's a huge health boost or anything, but I'm also not feeling deprived at all, the way I thought I would be. In fact, I feel good enough to keep eating this way most of the time. I'm not going to get all super dedicated ("Oh no, I can't eat that, it's out of my eating time period....") but for most days this is what I'm going to keep doing for the foreseeable future. I've not noticed a reduction in small measures of my health, such as my nails (which tend to get brittle and break easily if I'm not getting enough/the right mix of nutrients) and, again, I don't feel deprived in the least. In addition to the lack of ill effects I've felt, I've also noticed already that we've saved a bit on groceries in the last month. Cutting out one whole meal a day, as it turns out, can really drop the grocery bill.
As for weight loss, that's hard to determine. If I was losing weight it was happening very slowly. That's fine, as I wasn't really doing this as a way to lose weight. But mucking up any results I might see in myself, in the last couple of weeks I've been down with a horrible bout of the flu that's made even the thought of food repulsive. When I do eat, it often makes my stomach grumble in protest. In effect, I've been involuntarily fasting. (Which led to me complaining to HusbandX that I ended up eating Christmas cookies "because they took the [hunger] pain away," then trying to redact it. "Wait, forget that I just said cookies take the pain away." Too late.) I've lost several pounds because of this illness but do not recommend that as a method of weight loss. It's been horrible. Get your flu shots.


I am trying to eat from my garden, at least a little bit, every day. Don't worry, I'm failing all over the place. My fall crop of peas didn't come in as quickly as I expected them to, my carrots ran out in October, and the gallon of peas I'd so carefully picked and stashed in the freezer was used up sometime in September. I was really counting on my spinach to carry me through. And for the most part, it has! But it's still not growing as quickly as I'd like, and critters have been nibbling at it from time to time. While I can harvest a few leaves most days, I really do mean a few leaves. Also, sometimes it needs a rest.
One of my plans for the weekend is to pull one of my large planter pots inside and fill it with lettuce and spinach seeds. I can stash it near a window in the garage where it will be protected from the harshest weather but still able to grab enough sunlight. I figure that any little bit of food I grow at this point is a win.
Naked baby in the garden, just before I planted.

But since my winter growing capability is still limited, I've decided to include the pantry items I stashed away over the summer - jams and canned tomatoes of various sorts and applesauces and whatnot - because those are things I either grew or gleaned as well. Why shouldn't they count? It's all food that I don't have to buy, and it's local, and healthy. Plus, this way I can't forget about my pantry items until they get dusty and old.
That has made this experiment more of a success. Having the applesauce on hand has been especially happy during my illness, as I can choke down a few bites of that without having my stomach yell at me for hours afterward. And the kiddo (also sick) will eat an entire (quart) jar in one sitting, practically.
We don't eat much jam in our house, however we discovered a while ago that mixing homemade jam into plain yogurt (basically making your own "fruit on the bottom" yogurt) is fantastic.


In case you're not familiar with it, there's a "no shampoo" movement about. For over a year I washed my hair with baking soda and rinsed with white vinegar. I tried several homemade shampoo recipes, but they were all awful.
In the end, no 'poo failed me. Not because it was actually bad for my hair, it just didn't end up fitting my lifestyle. I have very fine, straight hair. Many people who go no 'poo are able to go for a week or longer without washing their hair, but the most I was ever able to do was four days. Then I'd be a greasy mess. And if my hair got sweaty (hello, exercise) or wet (hello, rainy Seattle) or, worst of all, was ever in a bike helmet (nearly every day), then my hair would get greasy faster and I'd end up needing to wash my hair more frequently. When I started working every day, I quickly realized that not using shampoo wasn't nearly as important to me as actually having hair that felt nice. So I'm back to shampooing nearly every day, albeit with a very gentle baby shampoo. (The same stuff I use on the kiddo.)
What did I keep from my experiment? For one thing, I still use vinegar as conditioner. It's seriously awesome, and my hair doesn't smell, the way you might expect. It's gentle and my hair ends up both shiny and soft, without being over-conditioned and getting greasy really fast.
The second thing I kept was homemade dry shampoo. There are a few recipes I've seen online, and what you use will depend on what color your hair is. I like mine, though, and as a bonus I end up smelling faintly of chocolate. Yum. It's especially useful on my bangs, which tend to show grease faster than the rest of my hair.
Would I recommend that others try going no 'poo? Absolutely. It seems to be most effective for those with coarse or curly hair, many of whom say that they can effectively switch to washing with water only or that they can go for a month between washes. That would be lovely, and good for them. Many also say that their curls are far more manageable and that they've stopped using all hair products. Can you imagine how much money you would save if you never bought any of your hair products? And the time savings....


Switch to a menstrual cup. Seriously, do it. They are life changing. Even better than the money savings and the lack of disgusting garbage, many users (including myself) report that cramps either become less severe or go away entirely, and many people also say that their periods are less severe than they were using disposable tampons or pads. What woman doesn't want those things?
I don't feel my menstrual cup when it's in, to the point that I sometimes forget that it's there. I don't have any problems (like leakage) while biking or running or weight lifting, either. It's seriously been one of the best things to come into my life. (Thanks for the recommendation, Lucy!) So that's why I'm telling you.
I have not (yet) experimented with Thinx panties, of which I've heard nothing but good reviews, nor do I have any reusable pads, but at least one of those options is in my future. I know several women who, for whatever reason, can't bear to use tampons. Either of these options would be great for them, or for those who are squeamish about using a cup. I plan to get one or the other to use as backup for my cup, as my copper IUD means that, some days, I have to empty the cup 4-5 times. That's a little tricky while at work, so I'd rather have Thinx or a pad so that I just don't have to worry about it.
There are so many ways to hack having to deal with a period, and making it less awful, that there are no excuses not to.


Oil cleansing is the shit. Seriously, you have to try it. My best friend mentioned to me once that she'd started washing her face with oil and, curious, I looked it up. Then I tried it. OMG, I'm never going back to normal face cleansing again. This is, like, washing and lotioning in just one step. Only, it's actually better than that.
The only thing I do differently from some (most?) is that I still use a gentle exfoliant on my face about once a week: baking soda dissolved in water. Not much water, mind you, it's like a very liquidy paste. It feels kind of silky between my fingers. When my skin starts to feel rough or like it needs a good scrubbing--every few days--I use the baking soda scrub first and then oil up my face. My one regret is that I do this at night, right before bed, so my skin looks dewiest and pink with health right at the time when no one's going to see it. (Yes, I'm including HusbandX in that. He comes to bed later than I do most of the time.)
Seriously, it's awesomesauce. You should try it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"But I don't have a shower!"

I started my new job, and it's been wonderful so far. My coworkers are friendly, the company has been treating me well, and I love working part time. Transitioning from working at a public university, with its constant budget tightening and attitude of, "What's overtime? By the way, can you take care of this on your way out the door?" to working in the private sector is giving me some odd moments. I mean, I get to order stuff without getting four different people to approve it first! I can just...order it. How strange. I didn't even have to go through training for the credit card, they just handed it over as if I was a rational adult capable of using a credit card. Insanity! I'm pretty sure I spent more on coffee for the office today than I spent on everything in a year for my old office.
This week I've been working full time. I knew that there would be times I'd be asked to do so. I don't mind it, but it's making me realize that they couldn't pay me enough to go back to working full time permanently. Which is great, because they made it clear that my position will be part time for the long haul. It's just good to know that both the company and I are totally in sync on this one. I don't know how other families do it, with two partners, spouses, parents working full time. With commutes on either end, I feel like I'm never home. (And in fact, traffic was awful today so I was away from home for 12 hours.) I never get enough time to myself. Never get enough time with the kiddo. This week, at least. It will be nice to get back to my regular schedule next week.

Not that working again is all sunshine and roses. Even working part time takes a big chunk out of my day. I spend half an hour each night getting everything ready for the morning so that I don't forget some crucial item in my mad rush. I'm not a morning person, but now I have to be up by 6:10 every day to leave for work. And that's if I only give myself half an hour (or less) to get ready before I go. Oy.

And I have to take a bus. Most of the time it's not so bad, I get about forty minutes of (mostly) uninterrupted reading time in. Glorious! But then there are the times like that one day, when I got treated to the world's slowest transition between drivers--over half an hour of just sitting there while the relief driver washed various parts of the bus, with the bus so full that people were standing in the aisle, and then a yelling match between the slow driver and a guy in a wheelchair who kept shouting that his colostomy bag was getting full so just drive the damn bus, and then the driver wasted even more time by arguing back, threatening to call the cops and have that guy kicked off the bus...yeah. Buses.

On the other hand, now that I'm up so early I get
to see stuff like this, and that's not so bad.
One of the perks of my job, though, is also the commute. Not just the reading time on the bus, but my bike ride. It's wonderful. I now have something pushing me to ride my bike at least five days a week, for at least five miles round trip. At the start of the day I get a rather bracing trip in the cold, which wakes me up quite thoroughly, and a little bit of exercise to get the blood flowing. At the end of my day, I get some time to clear my head, a chance to use my muscles. I get home happy and refreshed. Ready, as someone else put it, for act two of my day.

It is, with no hyperbole or exaggeration, one of the best parts of my day. Even this week, when it's been so cold. (It snowed on Monday and is supposed to snow again tomorrow--very unusual for this area.) Once again, it's making me wonder why more people don't bike commute. The most common excuse I hear for this is, "But there's no shower where I work. I don't want to be all smelly." Fear not, friend! Bike commuting and a lack of nasty smell do not have to be mutually incompatible, and I'll share my secrets as to how. I have years of experience getting to work under my own steam in all kinds of weather conditions, without stinking up the office.

This is going to seem quite obvious, but deodorant is your friend. I've gone all crazy-hippie and just use baking soda (I smell like me rather than flowers, just a not-bad-smelly version of me), but really any deodorant will work. As well as the usual spots to put deodorant, however, I also suggest that you place some at the top of your inner thighs, right in the crease. Why? Because that's one of the other places you'll sweat the most.

Bring a change of clothes. I mean everything. Really, everything. When it's warm out, you'll want to change it all anyway, right down to your sweaty underwear. (Ew.) If it's wet out, you'll probably end up wanting to change your underwear as well as your outerwear, even if you have fenders. I was quite thankful, earlier this week, to have a full change of wardrobe when the skies opened up on me during my ride. I was drenched. Not sitting on wet underwear all morning made my day much more pleasant.
And when you don't feel the need to change your underwear? It's small and lightweight. It's not going to make or break your ride, and when you do need it you'll be very thankful you have it. Just, um, put it in a bag or something. Apparently mine hooked onto my Nook when I pulled it out of my bag the other day, and I ended up with underwear quite noticeably sitting next to me on the bus.
Of course, there are also those who say that it's most comfortable to ride commando, and I admit I've done that plenty of times too. (I find it neither more nor less comfortable.) Just, you know, don't forget your underwear. You don't want the embarrassment of having packed a skirt and no underwear, to walk around all day with the uncomfortable feeling that at some point your skirt would flip up and you'd flash your coworkers. Just trust me on that one.

Along with my change of clothes, I also have a change of shoes. I'm not going to walk around in my bike cleats all day, that would not only be unprofessional looking and annoying (the clacking...), it would be uncomfortable. I don't like standing in those shoes or walking in them for too long. They were definitely made for riding.
There's nothing saying that you have to have special shoes for riding, of course. In that case, it still might be nice to take a second pair, however. First, on rainy days you're not going to want to wear wet shoes all day. Second, you might not want to wear your cold-weather biking shoes in your office all day. Third, sweat. Always the enemy of the office cyclist, sweat.
Again, though, you don't have to change shoes. HusbandX ran into the problem of smelly bike shoes, since he didn't have enough room to carry them or anywhere to store a second pair at the office, and a friend suggested that it could be solved with a very simple homemade item. Take a pair of socks and fill them with dried beans or rice, or both. Then add something good smelling, either essential oils or cloves and orange peels, cinnamon sticks. Sew the socks shut. Whenever you're not actively wearing your shoes, put the special socks in them. The beans and rice will absorb moisture while the essential oils or citrus and spices will take care of any smell.
Wash the shoes regularly, too, if you can.

With my long lunch break I went
for a walk downtown.

Especially for ladies, have a few hair supplies on hand. I can't speak to guys' experience, but helmet hair is just not a great look for most women. I keep some bobby pins and hair ties in a pouch with my ID, bus card, building card, office keys, bike lock key, etc. I also keep a spare pair of earrings in there, in case I forget to wear some. (Don't mock. Earrings can make a casual outfit seem a bit classier and more work appropriate. Since I almost never wear makeup, either, having small touches like that can make a difference in how I'm perceived--slobby or au naturel.)
I usually end up doing my hair on the bus. Nothing terribly elaborate, because bus, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve to make my hair look like I spent time on it without actually spending the time on it. It also helps cover things up if my hair is wet from my ride, or sweaty, or if I just didn't get a chance to wash it and it looks a little greasy. I'm quite certain that every other woman (and probably man, too) reading this post has her/his own tricks for hair, so just don't forget the supplies with which to do them. Like the underwear, they're small enough that you won't notice them weight-wise but they make a big impact on your comfort and the way you present yourself to others.

Take a sponge bath. Most of the time this shouldn't be necessary, but there are occasions when you find you've over-dressed for the weather, or you pushed yourself harder than usual to make it to the bus/to work on time, or you're just feeling slightly under the weather so your body has decided to rid itself of all fluids via your skin. It's simple enough to carry either a handkerchief/bandanna or a very small towel and I've found that they're invaluable, for so many reasons. Douglas Adams was on to something. Among its many uses, I can give myself a quick rubdown with my towel, plus some soap and water, in the most crucial spots. If you really plan ahead and have deodorant in your desk, smelliness won't ever be a problem. If you don't plan ahead on the deodorant, however, you're most likely still okay. If you really need it for some reason, you can always give yourself another quick rubdown later in the day.
You probably won't need the winter
biking gear I brought to my brother.
Probably.

Everything I've mentioned carrying with me fits into a moderate sized pannier along with my lunch, bike lock, phone, and Nook or book. It's not particularly heavy and I can attach my helmet to it before slinging it over my shoulder for ease of carrying. (The strap is just large enough that I can hitch it up over my arm onto my shoulder.) I even have room for a small grocery run after work, if needed.
Everyone will have their own favorite method for carrying their stuff, of course. For HusbandX it's his beloved Osprey pack. (I mention the brand by name just because they've been so fantastic. Lifetime warranties, people! His previous bag finally gave out and they offered him a new one, free of cost. He got to pick out the color and everything.) I don't like having things on my back when I ride, so the pannier (which I stole from my brother) works well for me.

Why do I write so much about biking? It's not just because it's frugal, or because it's fun, or because it can change your life for the better and make you happier. It's so that shit like this doesn't happen. What kind of country do we live in, that motorists can kill bicyclists without any repercussions? We need to get a critical mass of cyclists going in this country to make it more normal, to put more infrastructure in place so that people can cycle safely, and so that drivers are aware of cyclists. I'm tired of hearing about how dangerous biking is, because it's not in most circumstances. It's unaware, oblivious, impaired drivers who are dangerous to cyclists and pedestrians, not the other way around. Considering the number of people who die in auto accidents each year, driving is just plain dangerous no matter what your mode of transportation is.

I came the closest I've ever been to getting hit last Friday. It was dark, but I had lights and reflectors. I waited at the crosswalk to get across to the bike path. I was doing everything the way I should, but I could not account for the woman who was going to come speeding up around the corner and turn right without actually looking right. I screamed, I waved an arm to get her attention, and in the end I had to stop forward motion by bracing myself against the vehicle. The only reason she didn't hit me was because she made an illegal turn into the far lane. Comforting. Don't worry, though, she didn't bother to stop and actually apologize or ask if I was all right. She just sped off.

And that? That's kind of a normal bike-and-car interaction. If anything's going to change, it needs to come from people like us. People who decide, you know what? I'm not going to let fear rule my life. I'm going to strap on a bike helmet and ride defensively, but I'm going to ride. I've heard of people riding with one leg, people riding with epilepsy or degenerative illnesses. There are definitely times when I feel like a star for biking. I usually feel pretty badass when I'm riding, because I'm doing what roughly 95% of the country won't. But the truth is, it's not a superpower that I have. It's not that others can't do what I do, it's that they talk themselves out of it. They won't. And that's plain silly. Why hold yourself back from something which has the power to make your life so much better?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

On adventure

I went to Russia. By myself. Well, the travel to and from was by myself, but I went to meet up with my brother and re-supply is around the world bike trip.
I had to leave home and family, including my not-quite-3-year-old, to travel over days just to meet up with my brother, toting more stuff than I've ever traveled with in my life. That includes going to Maine for ten days with my kiddo. A giant box with a bike in it, the biggest suitcase you've ever seen, a giant duffel bag, and that was just for my brother. My own modest hiking backpack (also crammed with some items for my brother) and large purse were downright minimalist, since I didn't want to add to my own misery by schlepping even more stuff. Besides, I figured, if I needed something to keep warm, I was bringing plenty of that to my brother. No need to carry more for myself.
Camping along the Lena River. It was cold enough to freeze
the river overnight, and we got snow because of course it
decided to snow the day we went camping.
We met in Yakutsk. Siberia. Yeah, the place that's talked about as if it's Hell on earth. I can now say that I've been to Asia, my third continent, which is pretty cool. And truthfully, it was amazing.
Yakutsk is the coldest city (with a population over 100,000) on earth, so check that one off the bucket list as well. My brother and I saw lots of mammoth skeletons (as those are very well preserved in the permafrost there), learned about the Sakha Republic and the people who call it home. It's remarkable how much like Fairbanks it is. We went to a Russian circus, we ate strange (to us) and sometimes ridiculous foods. (Scroll down to the section about dining and restaurant reviews--hilariously accurate.) We biked out to camp next to the Lena River, testing out all the new gear. (If his new sleeping bag could keep me warm for a night in sub-freezing temperatures, he'll be fine.)
I've never before been to a place where I was so obviously out of place, to the point that people stared at us wherever we went. At my brother for having a beard, at both of us for speaking English or for the way we dressed. It was bizarre, and at times uncomfortable in the do-I-have-a-wardrobe-malfunction sort of way. A group of young teenagers at one of the museums were obviously whispering about us. I caught a girl staring at me and she was so embarrassed that she actually squeaked and hid behind her friend, covering her face. Am I really such an object of wonder?
My brother, trying on some of his
new winter gear.
Moy brat (my brother, pronounced braht) and I didn't stop talking except to sleep for the first three days we were together, and even after that there were only short pauses in conversation. Five days just does not feel like enough time with my brother after nine months. We laughed together, we discussed politics and life and philosophy and random, absurd things. We made each other giggle until we were both bent double. In short, it was everything I could have hoped for.

As if that wasn't enough, I got to go to St. Petersburg for a few days. I got to see the Hermitage, the Catherine Palace, and "Swan Lake" at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, which pretty much fulfills a dream I've had since I was two. I saw stunning historical sites, and learned much about the city that I hadn't known before.
One of my favorite pictures I took of the city.








Even better than seeing the sights, a friend of mine put me in contact with a friend of hers in St. Petersburg. (Thanks, Lucy!) Anastasia was kind enough to show me around, help me out, and even make blini for me on my last night. We bonded over the fact that our daughters, roughly the same age, are both obsessed with "Frozen". We discussed life in our countries, what's the same and what's different. She told me a bit about what it was like to grow up in the communist era, which was fascinating. (What was I taught about that time, growing up, that's lies, and what's truth?) I will be grateful forever to Anastasia for the time we spent together. Meeting her was like finding a long-lost friend.
I read all kinds of warnings about travelers going to Russia, safety warnings, but not once did I feel unsafe, either materially or personally. Even walking around St. Petersburg after dark by myself, I never felt threatened. Of course, I took the same simple precautions I take everywhere to keep myself and my possessions safe, but did not feel the need to take any extraordinary precautions. (Well, I did have an RFID protetion pocket around my debit card and passport.)
I was also told that Russian people don't smile that often, so I expected dour, emotionless responses. That's not what I got, though. People were friendly, and except for one woman (at the Yakutsk airport) who called me a fascist and told me to go home, everyone was friendly.
How I expected Russian smiles to be.
Sure, some of them were almost certainly laughing at me. (Even now I only know a few words in Russian, and I have an atrocious accent.) But, that's fine by me.

The point in writing all of this is simple. It's not to brag, or even persuade others to go there. I want to remember it, for myself. When I look back on my life, I want to know that I had adventure in it. YOLO might be a dumbass thing that broskis say before doing something stupid, but it has a bit of truth in it too. You only get one life, to live as you want. I want mine to have adventure in it, even if that adventure sometimes costs me a bit. (And I'm not speaking monetarily.)
Before we embarked on our great adventure of Parenthood, I naturally thought long and hard about it. What would it mean, and how would our lives change? How would we let our lives change, and what did I not want to let it change about me? I started noticing our cultural attitudes about motherhood and parenthood and realized that I really, really didn't like them. The way parenthood is portrayed, there's the Before (wild and crazy parties, fun, adventure) and the After (being responsible grownups, putting ourselves aside for the sake of the kids and pouring everything we have into making them respectable people, even to the point of forgetting that we parents are people who matter too). I hated it. If I want my little person to grow up to be well-rounded and full of adventure, as in so many other things, I need to be the model. I don't want her to think that I became Mom and my life basically ended when hers began. What a crappy message for children to grow up with! I frequently tell her that she is one of the biggest parts of my world, but she's not the only one. I don't think she quite gets it, because to a toddler of course my world revolves around her! But one day, she'll understand. And with the example I set, I hope she feels safe to go and create her own adventures, all her life, even if it's sometimes hard to do.
Leaving my family for two whole weeks was rough. But missing out on this amazing trip would have been something I regretted the rest of my life. I had to go, for myself, even if one of the best parts of my trip was my homecoming. (The biggest hugs, and so many kisses!)
A detail on Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.
On my last night in town, full of blini, one of the things Anastasia and I talked about was the fact that, no matter where you go, people are people. In general, people are kind and helpful. Any time I feel bad about the state of the world, traveling outside of my own little bubble reminds me that, yep, people are still generally very wonderful. We have a book that I love to read to my Munchkin, called "Come Over to My House". It's well-worn, because it's one we had when my older brothers were young. The message of the book, however, is timeless. Wherever you go, you'll meet kind people. They might live very differently from you, and it's wonderful to learn about how other people live, but no matter how we live or whether we're rich or poor, people are kind and generous no matter where they are. This adventure of mine once again cemented that idea in my mind.