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.

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.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

New season, new job

The leaves are beginning to turn their pretty fall colors around here and the insane (for me) heat is starting to wane. At last. Autumn has always been my favorite season. Much more so than New Year's, it seems like a renewal. Winter is a time for hibernation and occasional lifting of spirits. Spring is the time of anticipation and ramps up into summer, when there's always stuff going on. Fall, on the other hand, doesn't seem to know where it's at. It's simultaneously a season of starting anew (new school year) and slowing or quieting down. The busy-ness of summer gives way to a quieter, more contemplative season as the days get shorter and the temperature slowly starts to drop. I love it. "Clair de Lune" has been playing endlessly in my head, not that I mind, and seems to capture how the season feels for me. It has a quiet sort of energy to it, soaring and beautiful without being overpowering.
The change in seasons usually brings with it a change in  point of view for me, particularly autumn. Taking stock of my life at the end of summer works well for me, far more so than the middle of winter. Changes always occur. We got married in autumn, at my request. (My husband would say, at my insistence.) We'll mark five years on this coming Sunday.
Some of the changes made in autumn are always out of my control, which brings the usual mix of good and bad. HusbandX's job, we found out in mid-August, decided not to extend a full contract to him. The one bright side is that it was for company reasons, not for performance reasons. (They don't have enough senior staff to take on more junior staff.) But once again, he would be jobless come the fall.
For a while, I was just angry. It seemed that life was throwing us more of the same old crap just as we were starting to get comfortable, to hope that we could change our circumstances. I was mad at the company for not telling us sooner, so that he could begin job hunting that much faster. I thought of how much time we've already spent living in my parents' house when we (foolishly) planned it to be for no more than 3-6 months. This was particularly notable when I realized how much our daughter has changed since we moved in here and when I further realized that, soon, she'll have spent as much of her life in this house as she did in Fairbanks. Half her life in a place we've considered a temporary living situation, with only two rooms actually "ours". I've just been angry at it all.
After a while, I got sick of being angry. I was sad, too, and it was affecting how I interact with the people around me. Since I'm mostly at home, that means I was taking out my anger and frustration on my family. It's not pleasant to realize that, particularly as a mom. What a terrible example to set! So I decided to be more proactive, to do something to change our circumstances. I'm sick of waiting for companies to realize how great my husband is. I'm tired of being at home all the time, having nothing in common with the moms that I meet in this fancy neighborhood, and feeling like my brain is atrophying from disuse.
People (mostly nosy neighbors) keep mentioning that surely our daughter is old enough for preschool now. (Depends on the preschool, it turns out.) HusbandX and I talked it over and decided that, even if she's not old enough, it would be good for her to get more social time with kids her own age. We can see how starved she is for that, so putting her in either preschool or daycare would actually be a good thing.
With all of this and more going through my head, I started a job hunt. A really, really lazy job hunt. I applied for a grand total of three jobs over the course of four days, two of which were part time. Thankfully, since I was applying for jobs that I had plenty of experience for, I heard back from one of them the day after sending in my application. I had a phone interview a couple of days later, and then they asked for an onsite interview. Apparently, I nailed it. I had no sooner gotten home than I received a call saying that the team was impressed with me and that they wanted to do a background check and get some references before extending me the offer.
The background check cleared, of course, and my wonderful references said nice things about me (I assume), so yesterday I accepted the offer. I'm still stunned by how quickly everything has moved. HusbandX's employment ends this Friday, and mine begins next Wednesday, just over two weeks after submitting my application. I'll only be working part time, but I'll still be receiving full benefits, which is incredible. Occasionally I'll be asked to come in full time, but I don't mind that. My biggest concern was that I wouldn't cover the cost of childcare, or that I'd just barely cover it. (After taxes, transportation, office-appropriate clothes and childcare, not to mention the allure of convenience when you're tired from working all day, you might be surprised at how much it costs just to have a job.) In this case, however, the company will cover my bus fare, and I'll be earning enough to have some money leftover even after childcare, taxes, and my retirement contributions. I might not be earning much each year, certainly not enough for us to live on in an expensive city like Seattle, but the math still works out in favor of this job. Plus, the mental relief it brings to me is worth quite a bit more.
Even better, the company seems like a neat place to work. Ethical, based on the benefits they offer, what they do, and how they're organized, and everyone I talked to said that they enjoy working there. The position I'm filling shouldn't be particularly taxing, nor will it be completely mindless. It's a mix of duties (reception/admin assistant type work) so every day will be a little different. I was concerned that my upcoming trip to Russia would be a problem, but they're fine with it. Phew!
I have so much to be excited about this autumn. It's not what we'd planned on, and it's not even what I'd hoped to be excited about (house hunting...), but it's a good change.
I'm also feeling more hopeful again in general. My optimism came back before I even had an interview, just from beginning the process of searching for a job. It turns out that doing something to fix a situation, rather than just being angry about it, is the best way to feel better. I know that HusbandX will get another job, and it should happen much more quickly this time. Good things are starting to accumulate, and the tail end of 2016 should be better than the first half of it was.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Garden peas

This year, we've been growing peas. I love growing things, I always have. Gardening, canning, and otherwise preserving food is something I've always enjoyed, and living in Alaska made it seem like more of a necessity in my life than just a pleasant hobby. (If you lived there, you'd understand. The state has a precarious food supply at the best of times.)
Here, I'm amazed by the abundance of foods we can grow. Not just the number and variety, but also the fact that there are multiple seasons in which to grow. In Alaska gardeners spend the entire beginning of the year in anticipation. Waiting, planning, scrapping the plan for a new one, and more waiting. Finally, sometime in May, the trees leaf out and you go. Everything into the garden, all at once, go go go! Grow, little seedlings, grow! A few weeks later you're thinking, "Um, what am I supposed to do with all of this rhubarb and zucchini?"
Today, in August, I pulled out our pea plants and re-seeded. Incredible. The spring planting had developed a white mildew, so I harvested what I could and then yanked the plants out so that I can plant the fall crop. Multiple gardening seasons. I'm still in awe.
Over the course of the summer we harvested roughly a gallon of shelling peas, after being shelled, plus more sugar snaps and snow peas than we could eat. Seriously, I took quite a few to the neighbor who shares her fruit with us. Gardeners are nothing if not generous.
Peas, Grommet! Roughly a pint of them.
The peas haven't just been about getting food, however, they've been a learning tool. The Munchkin helped me plant, helped me tend, and then helped me harvest. All right, so the planting lost her interest quickly, the tending was mostly fun because she got to play with the hose, and harvesting mostly meant that I handed her peas to munch on while I picked them. Still, it's been an activity we've both enjoyed, and I will continue sharing this with her as she grows. As someone once said, why would I explain miracles to her when I could just grow a garden and show her instead?
It was while I was picking peas a few weeks ago that I thought about all of the unrest our country has experienced lately. Overt racism has taken center stage, and it's ugly. It's a very ugly thing. I mourn the lost lives and the hatred behind these acts while not really knowing what I can do to stop it other than to be kinder, and to try to raise my child to be caring and empathetic. How many of us have looked at our children hoping that their generation doesn't have to experience this? I know I have. Yet, it feels like I'm doing so little. I have to remind myself that it's not a little thing, to raise a child who is caring. Clearly, there are a lot of people who fail at it.
After yet another shooting, weeks ago, I had a conversation with my friend Claudia. She's a cyclist, one of my mommy biking friends. She's also black.* However, her son has a white dad. Her son's hair is black, but straight. His skin is light. He doesn't, as she said, present as a black man. Already, by the age of ten, he's noticing that people treat him differently when he's with his white father than if he's with his black mother. We were talking about how important it is to discuss these issues with our kids, while at the same time wanting to shield them from the worst aspects. Obviously, by ten, her son understands that black men are being killed for, essentially, being black men in public. But she also knows that his experience of race and identity, even with a black mom, are going to be different than that of other black men. How to navigate such a large issue, one that is so important and yet so fraught with hard truths about people? It was a heavy, important, wonderful conversation.
Three sizes of peas. All were ripe, but some were
made to be bigger and others were meant to be small.
So I was thinking about it while I harvested peas. The Munchkin was messing around with the hose behind me, and I wondered how I will broach this topic when she's old enough. It will, by necessity, be different than the conversations Claudia has with her son. We are white, and have a white experience of the world. My daughter and I will never have to worry, in this country at least, that someone will automatically suspect us of being less than simply because of our skin. How do I explain this? How do I help her see the world through the experiences of those who do get labeled as 'other'? How do I show her the silliness of racism, bigotry, xenophobia?
Then I realized, I had the answer in my hands. You see, we grew three different types of peas. They were all in the same raised bed, so they cross-pollinated. Not all of them, but enough. So we started off with three types of peas, but what we harvested ended up being a wondrous variety. Some of the cross-pollinations ended up bizarre, others were made better. Bigger, sweeter peas. Since searching for peas is literally looking for green things in a sea of green, some of them got missed until way late. We ended up with snow peas which were the garden equivalent of Sloth from The Goonies--huge peas in deformed, oddly light pods. I even got some nice seed peas, by accident, because they got left on the plant so long that they cured in the sun. There were so many different peas. But, in the end, they're all peas. They were all sweet and tasty, or in the case of the seed peas, useful. And the variety, as I said, made some of them better. Some of the peas ended up huge. Some were a little silly, not like the others, but that's just the way nature is sometimes. It doesn't make them any less peas to not look just like the others do.
A regular snow pea, and one of my crazy cross-pollinated ones.
When the day comes that I have to have a conversation with the Munchkin about the awful, ugly hate that some people hold in their hearts, I will begin it in the garden. We will talk about the ways in which people have such beautiful variety as well. This applies not just to race, but to other aspects of people as well. The same neighbor who shares her fruit with us has a son who is disabled. He was born with microcephaly, among other issues. There's no distinct diagnosis for "what's wrong with him" (as she gets asked, frequently), he just is who he is.
He's also roughly the same age as my Munchkin. The more the two kids play together, the less I see his disabilities and the more I see how he is, in so many ways, just like every other kid. Though he is older, the Munchkin is already surpassing him. She will continue to pull away from him in what she can do, as he stays more toddler-like. However, at least for now, they are friends. He likes to ride his trike, to play with the hose and in his wading pool, just as my kiddo does. Seeing the two of them dropping rocks into the storm drain together, and spitting down it when they run out of pebbles, is hilarious. They play, just like any other two kids their age would. My Munchkin clearly knows that he's not like she is, but it doesn't keep her from playing with him. It's beautiful.
Beyond anything else, their play also shows me that these attitudes, racism and bigotry and even sexism, are all learned. These are not natural attitudes, so I don't have to force anything on my daughter, or really teach her not to hate others. All I have to do is foster her own natural sense that people are different, and that's okay.
If all the peas were just the same, then we wouldn't get to marvel at each and every one of them. They're all a gift, and I hope she remembers that.

*I'm never sure how to include this information about a person. Obviously it's important, both for her identity and to inform us of how she experiences the world. But it does feel like an awkward thing to point out because I feel like pointing out someone's skin color can feel like an end point. As in, that's all you need to know about them. Instead, it's just one aspect of who they are. How to say it that way, respectfully? I'm never sure.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Why Frugality?

Over a year after starting this silly little blog, I figure I should address why I chose to talk about frugality (among other topics). I've read so many online comments about how people who are frugal "deprive" themselves, or miss out on life. I've even heard a few comments from friends to the effect that it's not really worthwhile to save money, or even to manage it well. (Thankfully, those comments have been few and far between--most of my friends and family are pretty savvy about this stuff already.) I always feel a little sad about those comments, because the people who make them don't really understand what they're missing out on. They're the same ones who will be complaining that they'll never be able to retire a few years down the road. Or even worse, they really won't get to retire.
Our old lady dog, enjoying a well deserved rest in the sun.
Everyone deserves the same relaxing, carefree time
in their old age.
No one should be stuck working when they don't want to, and a life spent like that just seems like a waste. Do you really want to drag yourself to a job every day, no matter how old you are? And for what? It's not like most people who mismanage their money spend it on things to make their lives better. The odd vacation, sure. But will that brand new, expensive car really make your life better? Or is it just going to be a thing that schleps you to your job every day and you won't notice it after a while? How many clothes have you bought in the past that really, really stick in your mind? How much opportunity for things you really want, or even need, to do are you trading for kitsch and the momentary satisfaction of a purchase? When you think about it, is it really worth it?
The economist Keynes believed that we would have a fifteen hour work week by now. That would be aweome...if it had actually happened. However, what we tend to see is that people work longer hours now than they used to, while others experience a shortage of jobs. It's a disconnect which, frankly, has a whole host of social, political, and economic problems attached to it. But the reason he figured we'd have such a short work week is because we wouldn't need to work any longer. With our needs met, people would put in fewer hours at a traditional job and spend more time in leisure. How many of you just read that and thought of all the ways a fifteen hour work week would improve your life? Yeah. The problem is, people began finding so many ways to spend themselves out of that shorter work week. It's not all our fault, there is a lot of creepy psychology behind marketing. But, if we're honest, a lot of it is also our own fault. No one makes us buy unnecessary stuff, we do it to ourselves. How many purchases have you regretted soon after making them? And how much is that in terms of your salary? Did you waste an hour on the silly purchase, two, four? Taken all together, how much of your life have you spent on silly purchases? Putting it in real terms like that tends to up the stakes. When I was younger, my best friend and I calculated everything in terms of books. "No, that's way too expensive. I could buy at least three books for that amount!" It was an easy way for us to determine what was really important, and what was an impulse purchase we'd later regret.
My love of books is well documented.
I'm not immune to marketing and the desire for stuff. Even as what Gretchen Rubin would call a "compulsive under-buyer" (someone who routinely doesn't buy stuff, even when it would improve my life), I still have the want of things. I just don't take the next step and actually buy them until I've thought about it for a long, long time. As an example, there's a purchase that HusbandX has approved, but it's thirty whole dollars and I'm just not sure I'm ready to spend that money right now on anything except food. As a consequence of this tendency, which HusbandX has to a slightly lesser extent as well, we end up saving far more of our income, percentage-wise, than most people. Not even most people in our age and income bracket, or family situation, but most people in general. As a consequence of that, I can reasonably expect that we will be essentially financially independent by sometime in our forties, if not a little earlier. Not that quitting work will necessarily be something that happens when that day comes, but we won't have to work unless we really, really want to. It might not be important to others, but being able to choose the course of our lives without worrying about money or work is very important to both of us.
HusbandX and I don't have a specific dream we're working towards. We don't want to retire super early, like these people or these people or a whole bunch of others. We don't want to take a few years to travel the world (although we do want to travel, just maybe shorter time periods, thanks). There's nothing pressing which is driving us to frugality. However, being good with our money and resources gives us options. There's so much freedom inherent in being able to make choices, and so many people spend themselves out of these options.
Frugality isn't just about how much you can make over and above your expenses, it's also about how much you can save. I've heard it described as offense and defense, which well describes what HusbandX and I are doing. He's the offense, earning most of our money, while I play defense at home. I do what I can, within reason, to save money so that the money he's worked hard to earn isn't frittered away wastefully. This isn't a model that works for every couple, there are as many ways to do frugality as there are people, but this is what's working for us. For a while when we lived in Fairbanks, the roles were switched. I expect that, at some point, they may switch again, but maybe not. Maybe they won't need to. Being open to changing as circumstances demand, however, is crucial to our smooth operation.
A little bit of defense: home canned applesauce from
free apples. Doesn't get much better than that.
Frankly, the biggest thing that having a bit of money put aside gives us is peace of mind. I know that when times get tough we always have options. There have been times (such as, uh, right now) when we've kept ourselves in less than ideal circumstances so that we can give ourselves better circumstances later on. Do either of us want to be living with my parents? No. But doing so is allowing us to save up the money we need for a down payment on a house of our own. (Soon....) Yay! If we rented, particularly in this crazy market, it would take us years more before we'd be in a position to buy a place. For us, the trade-off has become worth it. Others might not see it that way for themselves, but this works for us.

Friday, July 1, 2016

It's always something

"It's always something, isn't it?" The husband grumbled this to me the other day, and he's not wrong.
It started with a lost driver's license. While we were house-sitting for friends a couple of months ago, I took their dog and the Munchkin on a walk, and decided to call one of my brothers. It was a lovely call, but somewhere along the way the Munchkin decided that she was bored, so she dug into the pouch of the carrier she was in. And then she began dropping the things she found. Bandages (because toddlers, yo), old receipts, and my credit card were all found littering the sidewalks. Not my driver's license. Adding a level of difficulty, I still had my Alaska driver's license. To go straight to a WA license, I would have to re-take the driving test. Annoying. I can get a new AK license from out of state, costing only $5. Not nearly as annoying, but still a hassle. It's one of those minor inconveniences that life is riddled with.
Then, on our road trip to Denver, the car started driving funny on the way home. We realized that it had been quite a while since we got the oil changed, since we drive it so infrequently, so that was the first thing we checked. It was out. We refilled it, and the car drove better, but still not great. We were able to limp home, but the only place either of us wanted to drive it to was a repair shop. The local dealership for our sort of car is conveniently placed so that I was able to bike home, and assure the mechanic that we were in no rush. Biking is our main mode of transport. He looked skeptical, and repeatedly told me to be careful on the roads. Yep, thanks. Got it.
The day I flew out to my family reunion, I texted HusbandX to let him know we'd landed safely. His reply text was that our car is totaled. We have three options: buy another used car (most expensive), get the engine replaced (still hideously expensive), or sell the car for scrap and rely on the use of my parents' vehicle when we need a car (least expensive). It turned out to be a fairly easy answer for us, since neither of us can stand the idea of relying even more on my parents and we shuddered at the thought of getting a different car.
Friends who've gone through this have had good advice for us, as have our families. It's not the end of the world, but it is a giant, expensive hassle. Once again, I thanked our frugal natures for being what they are. We have the cash to pay for it, and it shouldn't set back our house-buying plans at all. Considering that a majority of Americans can't afford even a relatively small car repair, let alone the thousands this will cost us, we are in a good position. I would say we're lucky, but really it's hard work. We've pushed off purchases we'd like to make (the giant scratch/bruise on my leg from the bike wreck caused by my fenders catching my shoes last night is testament to that) in favor of saving for the bigger things. And there are always, always emergencies. It's always something.

The one thing we were not, are not, prepared for, are emergencies which involve long-term expenditures. When I returned from my trip to Maine, I noticed that my cat was suddenly looking dangerously thin. I'd thought, before I left, that he seemed to be losing weight, despite eating well enough, and for the past couple of months he's been using...not his litter box. Seeing how frail he suddenly looked, though, after little more than a week, scared me. Adding in his lethargy and the fact that, suddenly, he could no longer even jump up on our bed, I booked an appointment with the vet.
His diagnosis is the worst of all possible worlds. It's treatable, but at such cost. I don't just mean financially, though that is important, but emotional. He's got diabetes. This was such a shock, since our cat is not fat. He's large, as tall and long as our dog, (we suspect he's part Maine Coon) but except for a couple of months right after we moved down here, he's never been fat. We're sensitive to the fact that being overweight is as bad for our pets as it is for people, so we do our best to regulate their weight well. And we did, getting him back to a healthy weight as soon as we saw it had become a problem. Which makes this diagnosis all the more shocking and horrible.
My sweet kitty, today.
The vet was very clear with us that it's an expensive disease to treat. Aside from all of the treatments he would need in the first six months, and the special diet we'd have to start him on, and the equipment we'd need to buy to treat him, and the number of vet visits we'd have to take him to, if all went well and his diabetes turned out to be well regulated (no guarantees), it would be a maintenance of about $100 per month.
If this was a human member of our family, of course we would do this. But, if it was a human member of our family, we'd also be able to talk about it together. Decisions with pets are never easy because it is we humans who have all the power and responsibility. I cannot ask him what he would prefer. He doesn't know anything except that he doesn't feel well. Extending his life might make me feel better, but would it really be best for him? At best, I would need to give my cat 2-3 injections per day, and get blood samples regularly to test. He would have to go to the vet every few months for checkups, and since my sweet little guy pees in terror when put in his kennel, just the idea of that turns me off. Some cats can handle such treatment with relative equanimity, but ours is not one. He would grow to fear and resent me, and that's unbearable. He's a sweetheart of a cat, gentle and quiet. He likes to bluster occasionally, pretending that he's going to go take out a bird, but he's never killed anything in his life. He loves me because I'm so quiet with him. He snuggles down onto me when I get settled into bed at night, because I'm so still and won't startle him. I won't delude myself into thinking that he would still love me if I had to stick a needle in him twice a day.
Finally, our lives just don't support the amount of care we would have to do. All the monitoring, making sure he got his injections in time, the vet trips...I know we'd fail at it. I have a hard time administering regular medication to myself, let alone poking a needle into my cat on a strict schedule. Between all my other care-taking responsibilities, this would be too much.
Cat-cat and baby, checking each other out.
When all of the factors above are taken into account, our decision for what to do was easy. And yet, it totally wasn't. HusbandX and I are in agreement, but we're not happy about it. With all of my reasoning, a small part of my mind whispers that I'm justifying killing my cat. What a horrible thought. Knowing that he could, maybe, survive, stings my conscience. If we were better people, wouldn't we give him that chance? But, survival is not enough. I don't want to see my poor kitty go through all of this, for his sake. Extending his life, or any life, is not the purpose. Living well is the purpose, and he has done that. He has been an incredible cat, a sweet companion. As parents, we can forgive a lot of faults in any creature which treats our kid well. This cat doesn't have much to forgive, and on top of that he's been amazingly patient with our little chaos maker. For a creature who frightens so easily, that's really saying something. He's never scratched the kiddo, though he's been given plenty of cause. At worst, he hides when he doesn't want to be around her, and no one could fault him for that. When I got the call from the vet, I was petting our cat while the Munchkin watched a movie. While I was hearing his prognosis, she came over to pet the cat and give him a kiss. She loves her cat-cat (as she calls him), and it breaks my heart that she will learn her first lesson on death from him.
This is the cat who always knew I was getting sick before I did, and tried to snuggle me into good health. When I was pregnant, he would lie over my belly, purring. To think of choosing to put him down rather than treat him seems so callous. I will always regret this choice, even though I know it's the right one. There is no easy answer, when no options are good ones.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How to make the most of home fruit production

I love gardening. Ever since I was a kid and realized that people could grow their own food, I wondered why everyone paid good money for what they could produce themselves. Now that I'm older, I get it somewhat. It's a lot of time and effort to grow all of your own food, not to mention prohibitive in how much land it takes. But a little bit of food? Well, with the number of blogs out there detailing apartment gardening, clearly everyone could grow something.

This spring, I helped my parents to put in a large raised bed. It's a project which all three generations in this house are excited about and can help with. The Munchkin, in fact, has tried her hand at naked gardening. The wave of the future? It's not any crazier than some other garden trends.

At the moment, we have peas and potatoes growing well, spinach, lettuce, and carrots in their infancy, and perennial fruit going crazy. The apple tree, which last year produced a sad crop of less than twenty apples, needs to be thinned out soon before it kills itself with over-laden branches.

The cherry tree, a gift to my mother for her birthday about five years ago, has set its first real crop. I'll still be buying cherries at the farmer's market this summer, because I love them and can easily eat pounds of them in a single day, but my mom keeps marveling at how many cherries are growing. It's a sight that makes me really happy too.

The blueberry bushes are small, but they're covered in green fruits.

Lastly, we have strawberries. Last summer, the strawberry bed was moved. It had been right next to the house, in a shady spot, and the berries never did very well. There were a decent number of them, and they were always decadently sweet and strawberry-ish, but they were tiny.
After my mom and I picked through and ate some.
We decided to leave a few for the guys to eat.
This year, however? Oh boy. They are loving their new, sunnier spot in the yard, and rewarding us for this change by producing massive amounts of fruit. The berries are bigger, but just as tasty. "Melt-in-your-mouth good", my mom pronounced them. On any given day we don't collect too much ripe fruit, the largest haul so far being about what comes in the smaller plastic tubs at the grocery store. But, they're sweeter and more flavorful than any we could get at the store. Not to mention, we need to pick the ripe fruit every day. In the last week we've probably picked roughly $15 worth of fruit, had we bought it at the grocery store.* That rate of return for a few plants, which will continue to grow and produce fruit for years to come, is well worth it.

Naturally, I want to make the most of the fruit we're getting. However, we don't put any pesticides on our plants, so some of them get eaten by bugs. The ones which are very far gone get left out there, as a sort of sacrifice to the bugs in the hope that they leave the other berries alone. (Ha! Yeah, that'll happen.) But what about the berries which are almost perfect and just have a small part where bugs have nibbled on them? I don't want to toss those away. I was, in the beginning. Then, when I thought about how many berries I was wasting that way, I was just cutting off the buggy parts and eating the rest (still delicious), but now that we're getting so many perfectly good berries, I can be a little pickier. That doesn't mean I want to throw those buggy ones away, however.

I love strawberry jam, but realized that none of us would want to give up the good berries for weeks, just for jam. Better to eat them fresh. The
See the hole where a bug got to it? So small.
Why waste the rest of the fruit?
buggy berries, on the other hand, are perfect for making jam later on. Since I don't get too many all at once, I'm setting them aside in a bag, in the freezer, to collect. At the end of summer, or when the plants stop producing, I'll make jam.

This was just the first day's collection of less-than-perfect fruit.
How much would I be throwing away over the course of the summer
if I was picky about the bugs? Tons. The answer is, tons. And that would
be a real shame.
We don't actually eat a lot of jam, but it's fun to make and a great little treat. I'll mix it into yogurt, or use it instead of syrup, or, very occasionally, put some on toast for the Munchkin. She goes crazy for it, of course, and I feel better about making my own jam because I know exactly how much sugar is or isn't added. Plus, I get to experiment with different flavor combinations. Last summer's vanilla-cinnamon plum jam was a major hit, so much so that HusbandX has already requested I make it again this year. We'll see what the favorite ends up being this year. Perhaps strawberry-balsamic vinegar jam?

*Remember, we're growing these organically, so this is a comparison to organic prices. Non-organic, it's probably more like $10. Still, I'll take not paying $10, and for a better/tastier product, any day.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

How to score a free laptop

I'm writing to you on a laptop which was completely and totally free for me.  Now, a laptop is not a necessity in my life, so I wouldn't have paid for one at this moment.  But a free laptop?  I'll take that.  I didn't even have to enter a contest.
The secret is: know someone who works in IT.  Seriously.  My brother, before he left on his epic bike adventure, worked in IT for a corporation.  I mentioned that I wanted to get a laptop at some point and he said, "You know, we get rid of them somewhat frequently.  I'll keep an eye out for you."  So he did, and a few months later he delivered a laptop to me, wiped of the previous user's content and with freshly installed OS, browser, and security software.  It's lovely.
Not that it's entirely without flaws.  I can definitely understand why the company decided that it had run its course.  There's a crack around the track pad, the screen is a bit wobbly, it has trouble connecting to the internet sometimes, and some of the keys don't always work perfectly.  (Some problems in the keys didn't start until my cat decided to jump onto my laptoped lap, then freak out as he dug his claws into the keys and jumped away.  My 'o' key was traumatized.)  But for me, for what I needed, it's pretty perfect.  I don't mind dealing with a few flaws.
Not all companies have a policy which allows this sort of thing, of course, but I think most companies which deal heavily with computers understand that if someone else can use that mouse, laptop, keyboard, monitor, or whatever, great.  Go for it.  It would just be getting recycled otherwise, so as long as there's no information left on it which could be harmful to either the employee or the company, take it.  I know of several companies, at least, which have "free" shelves for computers and parts so that employees can take them.
My younger brother also works in IT.  (I'm surrounded by computer-y people.)  He got a job at a repair shop fixing broken (and sometimes "broken") computers.  The other day they took in a MacBook Air from 2014 which someone had dropped off to be recycled.  When they turned it on and messed around with it they discovered that there was absolutely nothing wrong with it.  The person who wanted it recycled just got a newer one and decided to ditch this one.  As my mother would say, "someone with more money than brains".  But, you might know someone like that, someone who gets the newest, "best" gadgets all the time and doesn't care about the old ones anymore.  You too could score a free laptop just by asking, "What are you doing with your old one?"  It's worth a shot.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Skewed Danger of Biking

“Is that a child with you? Then you need to DRIVE.”
I stared in stunned disbelief at the woman who said those words to me, before she and her SUV screeched away. I admit, in the aftermath I yelled something rather unpleasant to her. It was so shocking, so unexpected, to have someone yell at me for daring to do something as mundane as biking with my toddler.
You can't ever win as a parent, but if you're a parent who bikes, then I've learned that you're perceived as one of the lowest of the low. You're someone who doesn't look out for their own child's safety.
What I really wanted to say to this woman wasn't what I yelled. In the quiet moments I've had to reflect on it since then, I really do wish I could take it back, which is usually the case when I say something in the heat and shock of such a moment. Not that I think a well-reasoned argument would have helped, either. I could have pointed out to her that she, in her giant single-occupant vehicle, was the single greatest threat to my and my child's safety. By concerning herself more with judging me as an unsafe parent than with watching the road, by blocking other drivers' view of us, and by spewing out all of that pollution in our faces, she was making our trip that much more unsafe. But I doubt she would have heard or believed me, if I'd told her.
I wish I could point out to her that she has a very skewed sense of what's dangerous. I don't necessarily blame her for that, since it's a national attitude. We view cars as such a right that taking someone's driver's license away is only for the truly heinous vehicular crimes. And not always even then, since a suspended license is more the norm. (How much does it take for drunk drivers to get their licenses permanently removed?) Getting a driver's license is a “right of passage”, rather than a privilege. Owning a car is seen as almost a moral duty, and the rest of the world rightly considers that a rather strange attitude.
In a country where killing a cyclist is not really considered a crime, it's easy to see why so many people think that cycling is dangerous. However, to think so is also to ignore the fact that it is cars and drivers which are so fatal to cyclists, not the bicycle itself. Automobile accidents, whether a person was in the car or merely a pedestrian, is a leading cause of death among all age groups. It is a particularly prominent cause of death for children between the ages of one to eighteen, topped in the early years only by birth defects. When you give your teenager access to your car, do you think about the fact that they might die in it each time you see them off? Do you kiss your spouse in the morning hoping and praying that they're not one of the more than 33,000 road fatalities in this country every year?
When we add in the number of children who are injured in or by cars each year, biking seems comparatively safe. With its slower speeds, greater maneuverability, and the ability to stop frequently to check on your children, I always wonder why more parents don't choose that option for short trips. Biking to the grocery store is one of my life's greatest luxuries and pleasures.
The statistics about childhood obesity in this country are hard to miss, and while there are many contributing factors, one thing everyone agrees on is that children need to get more exercise. What most people miss is that telling your child to get outside while you're sitting in front of the television is not going to work. We, as parents, need to model the lifestyle we want our kids to have. We need to show them what getting exercise and being healthy means. Bicycling is not the only thing parents can do, of course, but it is one strong component, particularly for those who moan that they don't have enough time to exercise. Biking for transportation, while it seems scary at first, can bridge that time gap. Who doesn't like to get two things done at once? Even if you bike solo, you are still showing your children that it can be done, and that is crucial.
The number one thing I wish I could tell that rude woman, and really make her understand, is how much fun I have biking with my toddler. Yes, there are dangers and, believe me, I am very well aware of them. If she'd known how my heart was racing already that day, not from exertion but from the number of cars and people I suddenly had to navigate through, then perhaps she might have felt slightly less self-righteous. If she'd known how my brain was racing, trying to take in every potential threat, then she might have felt some empathy for me. But even with those heart-in-my-throat moments, biking with my child is truly a pleasure. She sings for me while I ride. We get to have conversations which are as great as one can have with a two-year-old. Almost always, we both show up at our destination cheerful and full of energy. Can anyone reading this honestly say that most car trips with their children are pleasant or fun? Or is it just one more chore?
I read recently about a school which has outlawed kids from walking or biking, or from parents trying to pick up or drop off their children that way. It makes me unutterably sad, that there are people out there with such narrow-minded focus on a car-centric culture that any other model seems crazy and dangerous to them. The damage they are doing those children by forcing them to be in and around cars so much is what seems crazy to me.
I have been a cyclist all of my life, and I will remain one until I'm forced by age and infirmity to give up my bike. It is my preferred method of transportation, and one of my favorite recreational outlets. One silly and ill-informed remark by someone who needs to learn to mind her own business will not make me quit, but I admit that it put a damper on what should have been a milestone. The day she made that comment to me, I was celebrating the fact that it was my longest bike ride with my daughter, over twelve miles round trip. I was feeling strong and content, halfway through, even a little virtuous, and one stinging comment took much of my euphoria away. It often works out that way. Even the man who told me, “You rock!” as he saw me climbing the big hill toward home couldn't lift my spirits, because it's the negative comments we remember much better.
Even if most people who drive are never going to get the courage to get on a bike themselves (although I highly encourage everyone who can to try), why can drivers not seem to contain their anger at cyclists? Why is it acceptable to yell at us, to disparage us, or even to injure us? Why do drivers claim the moral superiority, despite the proven dangers of cars and driving? Why is cycling seen as such a threat to driving? I don't have the answers to those questions, so all I can do is fight back, one smiling, happy bike ride at a time.

It's bike month. Get out there and ride.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jobbed at last!

Many apologies for keeping such a secret. I had every intention of telling all the people who care about us as soon as we got any bit of good job news. But then, the unemployment just wore on and on. It wore us both down, so when there was finally good news we kept waiting for a grand prank or joke to be revealed. "Ha, you don't actually have a job, sucker! Gotcha!"
So, this job is both good news and bad news. The bad news, because you should always start with bad news, is that it's an internship. Yes, a paid internship! And the depressing part for me is that he'll be making significantly more just as an intern than I did at my previous job. On the one hand, yay! We'll be rolling in dough! For us, at least.
On the other hand, holy crap, I was paid so little. I mean, different industries, and not really comparable, really puts into perspective how little money I was making. Oh well. I was working my last job for love, not money. (I still miss you guys.)
So, an internship. HusbandX has dubbed it "rent-to-buy". At the end of his three months, if they don't hate him (which I'm confident they won't), they'll offer him a permanent position with a significant pay increase.
The best part of this all? This was exactly the position HusbandX was hoping to get into. Usually companies do internal hires for this sort of position, at least so far as we've heard, with people working other jobs for years before being moved into this particular one. Since security testing is all this company does (or this branch of the company?), he can go right into a testing position. It's wonderful, and so worth the three months of low-ish pay for the industry.
Even now, four days into the job, I would still only classify myself as cautiously optimistic about his job prospects. I'm still waiting for the prank, but that fear is easing up. I don't think I'll be completely comfortable until a permanent position is offered, but this is much nicer. He came home the other day and quietly, happily, told me, "I mad us $XXX today!" I said, "Yay! I made at least $X off my writing today!" And then we high-fived, because that's how we roll.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

If you're not biking, you're part of the problem

I have had so. many. people. point out to me that biking is dangerous. I realize that, from friends and family, this comes from a place of love. People want me to be safe, and thank you for that! I appreciate your concern.
Others, however, exclaim over how unsafe biking is to dismiss it as viable transportation, or even to try to scare me out of doing it and to excuse themselves from biking. There are even drivers out there who will deliberately drive in a dangerous manner around cyclists to highlight how dangerous it is.
Whether you're the jerk whose purposefully making biking less safe, or just the person who won't do it out of safety concerns, I have this to say: you are part of the problem. That should go without saying for the group of people who drives dangerously on purpose around bikers, but the people who are too scared? What?
There has been a lot of scientific analyzing done on why people don't bike (especially women) and it turns out that over half the population is interested in biking but is too concerned about safety to actually do it. (Source and source.) But if you won't bike simply because there are big, bad cars all around you, you're probably also not in the minuscule minority of people who doesn't bike and doesn't own a car, which means that you own a car and are one of the scary drivers you don't want to bike around. You're just making the rest of us do it, and making biking scarier. The perceived danger of biking goes up, and even more people decide not to bike because it's too scary and dangerous. It's an awful feedback loop. By not biking, by giving in to the fear and worry, you become just one more driver on the road, one more person for the rest of us to be afraid of. Hence, you are part of the problem.
It's not that I don't understand the fear, either. Believe me, I'm not immune to worries that someone will take me out one of these days and, at best, I'll end up with massive medical bills. I worry about my husband getting hit every time he bikes away. I've woken up from nightmares in which someone missed me but hit the bike trailer with the Munchkin and...well, you can imagine where my brain goes next. I live with the knowledge that if someone killed my child while we were biking, I would never forgive myself.
But I also ask myself, if someone hit me while we were driving and it had that same tragic outcome, would I beat myself up about it as much? I actually think that the answer might be no, I wouldn't. Would other people judge me as harshly? The answer to that one is definitely no. If we got hit while biking, a majority of people would think that I had it coming for biking with my kid, whereas in a car the same thing would be considered a tragic accident. Why is this? Well, in a car it's much easier to tell myself that I've done all I can to protect her, while the bike seems so exposed. Except, once again, the car would be the dangerous factor in this, whether it was a car-on-car collision or car-on-bike. Cars are, in general, far more dangerous for both the people in them and the people out of them than bikes are. They're also easier to be monumentally stupid in. (Witness the rise of people texting while driving.) The best I can do in either situation is to make us as safe as possible, play defense, and hope that no one around me is insane, intoxicated, or distracted.
And you know what? I actually prefer biking for safety in many ways. For one thing, my bike, even with the attached trailer, has more maneuverability and better stopping power. It always goes slower, so I have more time to react to sudden moves by others. My vision is less obstructed on a bike, so it's easier to see all around me. I don't even hear my phone, and there's no music playing to block the noise of traffic or lull me into complacency. I also make frequent stops in which I can check in with my kiddo. I can't do that in a car because she still faces backwards, but on the bike it's easy enough to attend to her needs most of the time, or gauge her mood.

She likes to steal the butter when we ride home from Costco,
Did you notice a common theme to my worries? I am not ever worried about us being stupid on our bikes. Yes, there have been times when we've made stupid decisions, and it's only ever led to bruises and scrapes. Trips to the emergency room (or morgue) tend to be for those who've been hit by cars*, so I am only worried about the drivers around us. Which brings me back to my earlier point: if all the people who are too worried about drivers to bike would take even one trip by bike a week, it would make the roads massively safer for everyone. After all, the more people who bike, the more drivers will look out for us all. The fewer people who drive, the fewer accidents there will be simply because there will be fewer other drivers to hit. There is no down side to this.
I can understand it if you're in the group of people who hates biking and never wants to do it. There are plenty of things which I can't understand the appeal of, so the fact that biking would strike some people that way isn't bizarre to me. (Well, okay, a little bizarre....) But for those who think only of the safety risks posed by biking, don't! Don't let fear dictate the course of your life. You will never be able to make yourself 100% safe, and it's an expensive illusion to think that you are.
Twice in the last year there have been storms around here which have produced news stories that struck me right to the heart. In both storms, trees fell on cars and killed the male drivers, but didn't scratch their toddlers in the backseat. Now, if they were on bikes the outcome might not have been different - trees might have fallen on them and killed them still. The point is, however, that there are many factors we cannot control, and we are not actually safer in cars than we are out of them. People die in their cars every single day. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not be one of them.

*Kids and/or mountain bikers tend to be the others who end up at the emergency room, but that's mostly just for single broken bones, not for broken bodies like car-on-bike accidents are.