What are we talking about today?

I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week, but this is the a basic idea of what you can expect to read about when.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Thursday: Whatever's on my mind.
Friday: Green living.

20 January 2017

Self-Care is Green, Too

Source: Vivek Chugh on freeimages.com.
Take a nap. Read a book. Listen to soothing music. Spend time with a friend. Turn off your TV. Check out. Whatever you need to do to get ready to face the day and make your corner of the world a better place, every day.

Especially this day.

19 January 2017

One of Many

My current MC, Sybil, has gone a bit quiet but is not forgotten. She and I still meet to talk about her life and what new thing I'm going to throw at her next. This is a school story, because it's a genre that I've loved most of my life (more like Chalet School than Harry Potter), and it will certainly never see the light in its current form, so I'm thinking about the first round of revisions even as I finish the ending. (And it's a series. Yeah, I'm doing everything I can to make sure it never finds a publisher.)

I still think this probably looks like
Sybil. Maybe not in her best moment.
Source: Martin Walls on freeimages.com.
Sybil comes from a remarkably large family, which I've gone back and forth on keeping. They don't all come into the story, apart from the occasional mention, and sometimes I've wondered if that's just one ridiculous thing too many for Sybil's life. I had almost decided to bring her sibling roster down to perhaps still being a large family by today's standards--like four or five children--instead of the current ocean of people who live in Sybil's house.

And then I changed my mind. Because big families get enough bad press and I'd like to bring a more positive look, if I can. (Not that Sybil necessarily loves it. Coping with so many people is one of her challenges.) Because I keep meeting big families in my real life that confirm that what I'm writing is not out of the realm of possibility. Because I ran across an interview with an actor who I like who described being from a family of more children than I would ever think to cram into one house, not even in a fantasy novel.

And because it's fun. My day-to-day life is mostly one of solitude, which I've come to enjoy most of the time, so being able to write about all the people and the noise and the activity is a nice escape. I think if I rewrote her with just one or two siblings, Sybil would be lonely.

What are you going back and forth on lately?

18 January 2017

Sudden Stop

My father has been a CDL holder since the licensing began in 1986. When the program was coming into effect, his employer handed round training materials to all of their drivers to study for the written exam. For the couple weeks before the exam date, watching the CDL training videos was a fun-filled family activity--we probably could have all passed the written exam after our intense studying.

Image source: Reddit.
One of the training videos was all about driving on steep grades, including the use of a runaway truck ramp if the truck loses brakes in the mountains. (Said ramps often slope uphill--sometimes a really steep hill if it's a short ramp--and are filled with deep gravel or sand to bring the truck to a safe stop. There are other kinds, too, with mechanical arrestors and barricades and whatnot.) Central Indiana is not really known for its mountains, so the existence of runaway truck ramps has been something that's lurked in the back of my brain for 30 years with no practical use, since driving large and heavy vehicles is on my Never-Ever list for this lifetime.

Until I drove from Cincinnati to D.C. a few weeks ago, passing through West Virginia. I saw a sign that read, "Runaway Truck Ramp 1 Mile" and of course the "useless information" section of my brain lit right up. Sure enough, it looked exactly like I'd always pictured it.

The day I drove to D.C. was also my father's birthday, so I called him that evening to tell him I was walking along Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House, and oh, I saw some runaway truck ramps on the drive in. No prizes for guessing which one he was more excited about--he's never seen one in person, either.

"Did you have to use it?" he asked, because everybody's a comedian, and then he went on to tell me that if I used it, I'd have to be towed back out. Then he said, "You probably wouldn't have to have your bicycle towed out. You can probably just pick that up and walk out." I was about to ask how far he thought I would fly if I hit one of those ramps on a bicycle, when he added, "Of course, you're going to go over the handlebars if you hit one of those on a bike." Yeah. Wherever I landed, I doubt I would be walking away.

Anyway, like many last-ditch safety features, most of these ramps are not used a lot (thank goodness, although there's one in Colorado that's used 20+ times a year), but when they're needed, they're critical. Caltrans posted a video a few months back of one in action--you can see in the video how fast the truck stopped. It's incredible how such a simple idea as having a gravel pit as a backup plan can save lives.

What's a backup plan you hope to never, ever use?

17 January 2017

Best Books of 2016

As promised, the top five books that I read last year. Of course, this is highly subjective and my loving a book is no guarantee that you will. Please note that these aren't necessarily books published in 2016, but rather books I read in 2016. I'm not that fancy.

I read 112 books in 2016 (I had a lot of free time while I was funemployed), rated 32 of those with five stars on Goodreads, and had to narrow it down to five. Yikes! So here we are, my favourite books from 2016 (all images are from Goodreads):


5. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander

When a Supreme Court justice quotes a book, it's good to pay attention. This is a book that will fill you with anger and despair (I hope!) and, if it doesn't inspire you to push for change, will at least tell you something has gone horribly wrong.


4. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, Cary Elwes & Joe Layden

If I hadn't already had a crush on Cary Elwes (and come on, who doesn't?), this book would have done it. If you're a fan of the movie, a fan of Mr. Elwes, or a fan of moviemaking, be sure to pick this one up. I've heard Mr. Elwes reads the audiobook himself, in that lovely lovely accent of his, so it's on to-listen list.


3. Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution, Janette Sadik-Khan & Seth Solomonow

The revolution's happening in New York! Yes, okay, that line technically belongs with book #2, but it also applies to this one. Active transportation dominates NYC, and Ms. Sadik-Khan worked as transportation commissioner to make the streets of NYC reflect that reality. The work is hardly done: in 2015 alone, reckless NYC drivers killed at least 16 people who were either on a sidewalk or in a building, for goodness' sakes, and many, many more who were lawfully in a crosswalk or bike lane. (Or even unlawfully--jaywalking is not, after all, a capital offence, nor are drivers authorized to impose said sentencing themselves. Yet.)

Regardless of the work yet to be done, Ms. Sadik-Khan planned and worked and pushed and cajoled New York into being a slightly better place for people who aren't in cars, and having visited some of the changed roads and plazas myself, I'm a fan. Read the book to find out more and be amazed.


2. Hamilton: The Revolution, Lin-Manuel Miranda & Jeremy McCarter

Despite my disclaimer, I managed two books in a row that were published in 2016. How about that. Enjoy the cast album? Enjoy Lin-Manuel's sense of humor? Enjoy not spending thousands on a ticket to a Broadway show? Read this and wait patiently with the rest of us for the day when Hamilton will finally be on tour and/or affordable to see in person. And laugh. Lin-Manuel really is a funny guy.


1. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs

Our legacy of slavery can feel like the distant past, but to not see that it reverberates all around us today is to be willfully ignorant. Bring your whole heart and your mind to this book and let it teach you. Did you read it in school? Good. Read it again.

Runners-up:


Brailling For Wile, Jamie Zerndt
The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
Streetlights Like Fireworks, David Pandolfe


Want to see more of what I read in 2016? Check out my Year in Books on Goodreads.

16 January 2017

Running Crazy

This is pretty much what it looks like to run in Cincy
lately, except we have more hills. Image source:
Patrick Nijhuis on freeimages.com.
Running metaphors tend to make me a little stabby, not because they're (necessarily) untrue, but because geez, surely there are other ways to encourage humans to live life as it comes or take it one day at a time without resorting to "It's a marathon, not a sprint!" Running metaphors date at least as far back as the apostle Paul. Let them go, y'all.

So it's a little crazy-making when I catch myself thinking, "You don't have to go fast, you just have to go," or similar platitudes when I'm running. And then I waste valuable energy being annoyed at myself for not coming up with anything better than clich├ęs to pep talk myself with. It's not that they aren't true; it's that I, as always, want more words. Or at least different ones. Because it's my intention in life as well as running to be here for the long haul, which will take all the words and energy I can muster.

Yeah, half marathon training is going great.

What's making you crazy today?

14 January 2017

Will It Grow? Secret Garden, Round Two

I do not consider myself particularly lucky, especially when it comes to critical life moments like choosing a checkout queue at the supermarket or finding a good parking space, but sometimes, some really great times, I'm the luckiest person alive.

Signed by (top to bottom) Jason
Forbach (Albert Lennox), Jared
Michael Brown (Lieutenant
Wright), Maya Maniar (Ayah),
& Henry Baratz (Colin Craven).
I had one of those great times when I got to return to D.C. only a couple weeks after I saw The Secret Garden to see it a second time. My show ticket and place to stay were provided by other kind and generous folks, making this trip both awesome and affordable. Thank you, kind and generous folks!

This show closed in D.C. last weekend, but if you're in Seattle, you're in luck--they're coming to you soon. Don't miss it. Please don't miss it. If nothing else, you'll get to see it in the spring, which is obviously the correct season for a show that includes a song called "Winter's on the Wing."

Spoilers after the jump.

13 January 2017

Heat It Up

Y'all. It's cold outside.

That being the case, I'm using up a lot of electricity. And I'm betting you are, too, even you lucky folks in Austin, who I've heard have also been a mite chilly lately.

Once upon a time in the depths of environmental bloggers past, Crunchy Chicken used to run a Freeze Yer Buns Challenge. (She may still, from another platform where I don't follow her.) I'm a person who is cold all summer long because air conditioning, so being cold all winter long just makes me sad. Alas, that's how winter works.

So! If you want to be green and save some green at the same time, it helps if you can put your thermostat as low as you can stand it. Age-old strategies like wearing sweaters in the house and curling up under blankets still work just fine. And wrapping your fingers around a mug of hot tea, cocoa, or coffee always helps. (Decaf only after 9 AM for me. I know, so boring!)

You're gonna need a bunch of these.
Image source: Dr. Manhatthan on freeimages.com.
A couple other strategies I use that are more "move the energy around" than strictly "saving energy": I turn the thermostat down for the house and carry a space heater from place to place with me. If you're doing this, please don't dig your 20-year-old one out of the attic. For safety's sake, get a newer one with all the up-to-date safety features. Thanks to considerable advances, this is one appliance where older is not better.

I also had a brainwave before Christmas and asked for an electric blanket, thus making my Grandma's shopping easier and my own nights more pleasant. This does make it harder to get out of bed in the morning, but that's better than shivering all night, methinks. And when my electric bill comes, heating up just me does turn out to be cheaper than heating up all of my square feet.

What do you do to keep your electricity (or gas) use under control during the winter?

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