What are we talking about today?

I'll get back to theme days once I find a groove of posting regularly. In the meantime, most of my posts are about some variation of books, bikes, buses, or Broadway. Plus bits about writing, nonprofits, and grief from time to time.

This blog is mostly lighthearted and pretty silly. It's not about the terrible things happening in the world, but please know that I'm not ignoring those things. I just generally don't write about them here.

30 June 2011

You're Doing it Right!!

Here's a nice bit about writing that my husband found. Take heart, writers!

29 June 2011

The (Beginnings of a) Plan

This was the flyer route that used to
serve our street. It has since been
eliminated, to my great regret.
As mentioned Monday, we're taking our use of the local bus system, and thus our exploration of Austin, to a whole new level. In theory, we're going to ride all of CapMetro's 84 separate routes around Austin. I may have bitten off more than I can chew here.

But actually, it's not as fantastic (or as bleak, depending on which way you look at it) as all that. First off, we've already ridden the buses that come by our apartment from beginning to end multiple times, and will almost certainly be using them to get to the other routes, so we need not count those (although I'll probably write about them, if I can get over that "familiarity breeds contempt" thing).

Since the train can go either direction,
it kind of reminds me of Doctor
Doolittle's pushmi-pullyu.
Of the rest: Some routes have an associated flyer (express) route that covers the same territory: no need to take both. A few routes are short, specific shuttle services that we will only take if we need to. Nine buses are late-night services that come nowhere near my neighbourhood; I love the bus and I love blogging, but not enough to stay out until the wee hours and then have a long walk home just to write about it. Then there are a couple of other maybes, like the express bus that actually leaves town. So, subtracting all the "definitely not"s and "already done"s from the list, I'm left with about 50 definites and five maybes (I get a different number every time I count).

I see a lot of this in my future.
Of course, it wouldn't be a project without rules, so here they are:

1. Always plan ahead.
2. Ask the bus drivers for help when confused. (I'm really bad at this; I'd rather blunder around any day than actually ask for help. Well, no more!)
3. Take a notebook, the camera, and a spare set of batteries on each trip.
4. Find at least two interesting places to stop on each route.
5. Write the blog post right away after a trip so I don't forget everything.

So, the real question today is: What should we call this adventure?

28 June 2011

I Shall Treasure My Ignorance.

Among my rather long to-read list on Goodreads is a large chunk of classics, many of which are books that I've always intended to read, anyway, so they're on the list. But, I'm discovering that they aren't quite the enjoyable reading I had hoped they would be.

I've finished 11/13ths of these.
Some I've enjoyed: I loved Pride and Prejudice and am currently liking Emma. I finished The Great Gatsby, and didn't hate it. But lately I've taken on The House of the Seven Gables (snooze), Corelli's Mandolin (lost interest), and Lorna Doone (I have no idea what he's on about).

After a couple of weeks of struggling, I've given up on Corelli's Mandolin and Lorna Doone. And while I'm not exactly pining after them, I do feel a bit like an illiterate boor for having given up on books that have obviously brought pleasure to generations before me. It may be that I've turned into one of those "must-be-entertained" people that tend to get on my nerves. Sigh...

Oh, well. Bring on the 21st century literature, if you please! Hold the cultured bits.

Have you read many classics? Did you like them? Or are you a more modern reader?

27 June 2011

It's All A Stunt!

I don't know when I first heard of "Stunt Journalism", but the phrase finally registered with me a few months ago when I read Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project. At one point, Gretchen was feeling melancholy about the whole deal, especially when she found out her presumably-original idea actually had a whole genre already, and that maybe she wasn't as original as she thought. (Other recently mentioned examples of stunt journalism are Eric Brende's Better Off and Vanessa Farquharson's Green as a Thistle. Then there's The Today's Show's Where in the World is Matt Lauer?.)

It probably helps that unlike Gretchen, I'm not already a published writer with an editor waiting for the results of my experiment. I be but a simple narcissistic blogger, as it were. But when I read the phrase "stunt journalism" and realised that it's exactly the sort of thing I like to read, my reaction was not "Meh. Everybody's doing it," but "Oooh! Great idea! I want one! What kind of stunt can I do?" Yes, while there are many bandwagons that I avoid, there are others that I not only leap onto, but relentlessly chase down first.

The only problem left for me, then, was to decide what my stunt would be. While an all-out green living onslaught, à la Colin or Vanessa, sounded appealing, I think I have about all the green living one marriage can take at the moment. I flirted with the idea of doing a from-scratch cooking series, kind of a Julie & Julia thing, minus the expensive ingredients and the masses of butter and the lobster-killing. But the internet is crawling with foodie blogs, by actual foodies (like my classmate Natalie over at The First Kitchen), not people like me who will eat anything if it's covered in enough salsa or chocolate, and don't really care about the taste of anything else. I had pretty much decided on doing a tour of Austin's locally owned cafés and trailers, seeing what kind of greasy food could be gotten on a low budget, but that plan was contingent upon me getting a summer job. Six weeks and as many "thank-you-for-applying-but" emails later, the café plan has been abandoned.

Finally, it came to me. I'm already a fairly tremendous fan of our local bus service, which gets me around and has allowed me to meet all sorts of people. I'm already documenting my car-free life a bit. So, for my first foray into stunt journalism, I shall use and abuse Capital Metro. I'll ride all the routes. I'll see all the sights that are in reach of public transportation. I might just make their PR person tear out her hair when I start tweeting about the good and the bad of my journeys with them. And you can read all about it here, starting this Wednesday and continuing until I run out of places to go (but definitely before the end of the year-- I don't want this challenge to go on forever). When I told Chad about this plan, he immediately said, "I was thinking of doing that, too!" So, he's in, with a brand-new CapMetro Regional Pass that allows him onto the trains and express buses (instead of his normal, boring pass).

Do you like stunt journalism? Do you think this is another sign I've lost my mind? Is there somewhere in Austin that you'd like me to go to and write about?

26 June 2011

Never Trust a Moth

I sat down to write a post about the peace of Christ ruling in your hearts, and then remembered that I did that last week. I told you that I'm losing my mind early.

So, how about this instead: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal" (Matthew 6:19-20, NAS).

When I was a kid and heard this verse, I had this mental picture of a celestial me in the hereafter, swimming around in my heavenly treasure much like Scrooge McDuck, because I certainly didn't have any earthly treasure. (What kid does?) These days, while the only thing I really fear someone outright stealing is my beloved bicycle, I do have a worry of a fire or tornado or whatnot destroying irreplaceable items, like scrapbooks and photo albums. And generally, worry along those lines leads me to wondering if my treasure is on earth after all, and if I wouldn't be better off getting rid of everything so I wouldn't be so concerned for the well-being of my stuff.

While I do think Jesus warned against greed, I don't think he warned against scrapbooks. So occasional conscience pangs aside, I don't really worry about my attachment to mementos. But there is the other half of the verse: Laying up treasure in heaven. I often hear this verse invoked in moments of great trial, that such-and-such a person is laying up treasure in heaven by enduring a cruddy situation here on earth. (I also hear it used slightly less piously in reference to putting up with irritating people; I'm not sure that we're meant to self-pronounce laying up treasure just because we nodded & smiled all through Mrs. Across-the-Road's boring story.) And I don't dispute that, but I do wonder what ordinary actions constitute "laying up treasure". Loving your neighbour? Having integrity? Remembering to thank God through the bad times and the good? Looking out for the less fortunate? I would consider all those to be good treasure-laying activities.

What do you think?

25 June 2011

A Quick Recap

I flicked back through some of my past Green Living posts, just to see what I've already covered and what I may have missed. And then I thought, Why not just gather all these tips and stories into one post before going on to new waters?

So, Su's quick and cheeky ideas for living in harmony with the planet and, not at all coincidentally, your pocketbook:

1. Take your own reusable bags to the store. This can include the paper or plastic bag they gave you last time, as well as the canvas bags sold for that purpose.

2. Keep your thermostat higher in the summer and lower in the winter. When you aren't at home, set it even higher (or lower), but no more than 10 degrees higher/lower than your "at home" temperature.

3. Think before taking the car-- could you run that errand on foot or a bike? What about public transportation or carsharing? The same goes for commuting.

4. A reusable water bottle and coffee (or hot drink of your choice) mug are good investments.

5. Think about reusing before recycling or tossing. This may mean thinking before you buy something.

6. Ask for your bills and statements to be sent electronically.

7. Shop at Farmer's Markets (with your reusable bags, of course!).

8. Use thrift stores, Freecycle, Craigslist, or whatever to pass on things you don't want and as a first source for something you do want.

9. When buying new, look for things that are recycled or have recycled parts to reward companies for caring.

10. Hand-wash your dishes, unless you have a dishwasher that meets the current Energy Star standards. If that's the case for you, 1) You lucky dog, and 2) You'll use less water & energy using the dishwasher.

11. When it comes to cleaning products, use less. You can always use more if needed afterwards, but you can't use less shampoo (for example) once it's on your head.

12. Making stuff yourself is fun, rewarding, and cuts down on waste.

13. Composting is totally doable, no matter where you live.

14. Use hankies instead of tissues.

What are your best non-wasting or green living tips?

24 June 2011

It's Too Early for That!

I was standing waiting for the bus and I thought, "I should listen to my iPod out while I'm waiting." I reached for my backpack and then realised that the music I was hearing was not just in my head, but was in fact coming from the iPod that I was already wearing.

It was hiding on my head the whole
time. And since my photography
skills are, erm, non-existent, it reads,
"See Su Run."
Further proof that I'm going prematurely senile.

Speaking of things that are premature... a few days ago The Weed wrote a nice post about his patch of grey hair, and a couple of days later I had a Twitter chat with Mia about going grey... you might say that grey hair is on my mind. You might mean it literally when you say it, too, because I have this grey streak on the left side of my head (and a slightly smaller one starting on the right side). Both my husband and Mia pointed out that Rogue on X-Men has a white streak, so I'm beginning to think I should just go all-in and make it a complete white streak all the way down to the end my hair, so it at least looks like it's there on purpose. Goodness knows I can't get it to stay any other colour (and trust me, I've tried!).

Okay, so the grey hair probably isn't premature. My mum started going grey about my age, but I always thought that was from continuous exposure to my eccentric father, which is enough to bring on early grey to even the most tolerant of heads. Clearly, some of it seeped into the gene pool. Dangit. (My brother & sister, BTW, still have perfectly obedient brown hair. Some people have all the luck.)

I know I'm not the only one! What do you do that hints that you might be growing older disgracefully?

23 June 2011

Where Have All the Prepositions Gone?

I've been meaning for a couple of weeks to write about prepositions, and in the great traditions of JEFritz, I actually went out and did some research.

And no wonder, with all this
confusion going on.
This all started because a Facebook friend non-apologized for ending a sentence with a preposition. I said that it's not actually a rule in English, someone else disagreed, and so I went on a quest to find out. And here's the bottom line: When you're hanging out with the Grammar Nazis, it's probably best to quietly duck out and find a better party.

No, seriously: Grammar Girl says not to end a sentence with a preposition if the preposition is unnecessary (her example is, "Where are you at?", in which the "at" is already implied and need not be spoken). Tina Blue of Homestead.com says to do whatever sounds natural. Jack Lynch of Guide to Grammar and Style says re-word if you can, but not to the point of making your sentence sound all clunky. Grammar Mudge more or less agrees, saying to avoid ending a sentence in a preposition if there is a "graceful alternative".  Cliffs Notes says, basically, go ahead. Daily Writing Tips actually says "Go ahead." Dr. Winford James has a lovely linguistic explanation that involves the relevant noun phrase making an invisible copy of itself, since the noun in this instance must do double duty as a subject of a sentence and object of a preposition. If you only want to click on one of these links, this would be my recommended one. One of his examples is "The topic wasn't worth speaking on", which could be logically re-worded to be, among other things, "This is a topic on which I will not waste my breath" (that's my re-word, not his). But, what "the topic" in that sentence has done is move to the front, so the sentence is to be understood as "The topic wasn't worth speaking on (the topic)".  Which would be redundant and silly if actually written out.

Among the sources cited is some discussion of phrasal verbs ("cheer up", "run over", "write out"), which appear to end in a preposition but don't, because the preposition is now part of the verb. And then there are prepositions that double as adverbs that can throw people off because they appear incorrect but aren't.

The over-arching advice that I read many times over, however, is this: If you are in a formal writing and/or speaking situation and your writing/speaking my be read/heard by someone who believes in the "no final preposition" rule or the aforementioned Grammar Nazis, then it's time to re-think, re-word, or scrap the sentence and start over. Otherwise, in blogs, Facebook, casual conversation, non-Nazi parties, or that soon-to-be bestselling novel you're writing, carry on and have some fun with it.

Were you taught not to end a sentence in a preposition? (I wasn't, by the way.) Do you do it? Avoid it? Not care one way or the other?

22 June 2011

Confessions of a Chronic Cyclist

The Good:
I'm totally in awe over the new Austin Bike Map. It's been in my possession for over two months, and I still think it's the best thing to happen to my cycling habit since bike lanes. The other night, I was poring over it while Chad did his homework, and I finally said, "This is so fabulous-- I really feel like I could go anywhere in this city on a bike!" My husband did not say, "Wow-ee, honey. That's great. Is this why we're spending $14K per year to send you to one of the best universities in the nation? To enhance your perception of the obvious?" He didn't say that, because unlike myself, my husband is neither a jerk nor a smart aleck. What he did say was, "That's great!" in his best imitation of my "I-could-do-my-homework-better-if-you'd-stop-talking" voice.
All that to say, the Austin Bike Map is fab. I love cycling in this city.

The Bad:
Summer has officially arrived at last, although here in Austin the summer temps arrived about two months in advance of the actual season to spread out and get comfortable while the calendar was getting its act together. My bicycle has no air conditioning. Put these two things together and I have this perma-sweat that is bound to stick around until mid-September at the earliest (although since it does go away, I suppose that makes it a semi-perma-sweat). This has the added effect of keeping non-cyclists about five feet away from me at all times, which, given my slightly anti-social approach to the universe, could actually come down in the "good" column. Unfortunately it also means more laundry and more hydration, which leads to more trips to the loo than any one person should be taking.

The Ugly:
I got off the bus the other day and was then facing two one-way streets, both going the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. So I walked the bike back to the previous intersection, passing a convenience store that had a couple of drunk guys behind it. One of them emptied the copious contents of his stomach onto the ground right as I walked by. The other guy cheered. If I'd been in a car, I never would have had to see that. (Thanks to the wonders of Blogger technology, I can pinpoint the exact location of this incident for your viewing pleasure, except I still haven't figured out which button to press to get the location to appear on my blog. Oh, well.)

Your turn! Good, bad, or ugly about anything in your week. Although I ask that you please steer clear of vomit-related stories.

21 June 2011

Summer Reading

I had totally intended to do a Teaser Tuesday of Spindle's End, by Robin McKinley, but in a moment of madness I returned it to the library before I remembered to write down a snippet. Or take a picture (this one is stolen from Goodreads). I can't even do an adequate review, so here's the quick and dirty version: It's the story of Sleeping Beauty, only longer, more entertaining, with much more fantasy thrown in, and hardly any pink (unlike Disney's version). It does move very slowly, so if you prefer your fiction fast-paced, this book probably isn't for you. It has mixed reviews on Goodreads, so you'll probably want to check those to get a somewhat more balanced view of the book instead of just my "It's great! Read it!" approach. Having given those disclaimers, I love this book, have read it multiple times, and it's definitely among my favourites. Proceed as you will with this information.

See? Cutesy.
The Austin library is having a summer reading programme, complete with a cutesy name and prizes. So I naturally gathered up as many of the entry cards as possible when I was last there and have already turned in two of them (one entry for every five books read, beginning June 1st and ending August 30th). I'm liking my chances in this contest, given my current "I'm spending the entire summer reading, ner ner ner ner" stance. Of course, I like my chances in most contests that I enter, and am rarely justified in my confidence, but never mind that.

I finished The Great Gatsby and Anne of Avonlea over the weekend, and re-read Sleeping Naked is Green. And I have six books that I'm currently reading, but I many not finish all of them, since they are long and have varying degrees of enjoyability. I object to finishing a book I don't enjoy just because I started it, especially when I have so many other books (158, to be exact) on my to-read list.

What are you reading this week?

20 June 2011

Best-Laid Plans

Due to an election on Saturday that Chad and I were both working, and a smashing headache (just mine) on Sunday, Chad and I got behind on our running. Oops.

I'm always this sweaty
when running. I'm not
always this smiley.
I proposed multiple solutions to the problem, from running two days in a row this week to just skipping the run that we missed altogether. Chad was a bit reluctant at first; he told me, "They don't like us to do that."

Me: Who's "they"?
Chad: The people who gave us the training program.
Me: I set the parameters for the training program! The only "they" here is ME!

That's totally true, by the way; I use Runner's World's SmartCoach feature, which is fantastic, should you be looking for a fast, free, customisable running programme.

Anyway, at the end we came to a compromise: We will run every other day until we are caught up. Barring further incidents, we'll be back on track completely by next Saturday. That's the happy advantage of only running three days per week-- snags are easily fixed. And now if you'll excuse me, I should be running. And by all means, do get out today and enjoy the final day of spring.

How do you cope with snags that come up in your plans?

19 June 2011

Peace Be With You

Not long ago, my husband and I were discussing variations between church services of different denominations (we talk about theological things in our downtime. We're kind of funny like that, but hey, we need to get some use out of Chad's Bible degree), and I said, "You know what's great? During the Catholic service, they turn to one another and say 'Peace be with you.' I think we should lose the Evangelical 'stand and greet one another' crap, and instead say 'peace be with you'." For the record, I don't actually think standing and greeting one another is crap. I do think that 30 seconds is not sufficient for greeting, and since our time is limited, we may as well use it wisely.

My dad tells me that
"Wings of a Dove" was
my grandad's favourite
song. Source.
I think it's pretty evident that our world can use some peace. We live in a place of conflict, from full-scale wars to spats with the neighbours. And to some extent, we thrive on it-- one thing that's important for writers to keep in mind is to give our main character plenty of conflict, for example. And who would watch the evening news if Brian Williams came on every night to say, "Everybody got along great again today! Good job, Earth!" But I doubt that anyone would argue that modern life has too little conflict and too much peace. Even leaving out the bigger stuff, we're harried and stressed. "Peace" is something that you get during your vacation by the lake, not something you get in Monday-Friday life.

And yet, peace is meant to be something that we carry with us: Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you" (John 14:27). He didn't intend for us to be always stressed out and stretched so thinly that we left no room for peace in our lives. There are plenty of commercials that promise peace if you'll only use the right shampoo or drink the right coffee or eat the right afternoon snack. Jesus promises peace to those who have chosen to follow him. I worry sometimes that we have collectively rejected the peace of Jesus in favour of a life of crazy.

As ever, I have no secrets on how to do it. Perhaps that will be next week's topic! :) In the meantime, to get us started: What brings you peace?

17 June 2011

My Week that Was

I so often feel that I have so much going on, so I ought to have tons of things to blog about... not so. I mean, fun things happen, and if I remembered long enough I'd write them down. I do carry a notebook with me, and as I understand it the next step is to take it out and actually use it, yes? I'll work on that. Anyway, here's the boring version:

A few days ago, I decided that sitting around watching TV and reading, while entertaining, were not actually good ways to spend my evening. I posted this on Twitter: "What can a sensible married woman who is completely broke do in Austin on a Tuesday evening?" One of my cousins suggested that I had overlooked one rather obvious recreational activity, and that's when I realised that I hadn't clarified that my husband was in class and I was on my own for the fun things to do.

Downtown Austin on Tuesday night.
I was across 6th Street from Whole
Foods. With the setting sun reflecting
off the buildings, there was a lot more
orange in real life that didn't come
through in the pic. It was pretty cool.
So, I took the bicycle (I'm currently taking suggestions for a name for the bicycle, by the way) and we ventured downtown. We (I; the bicycle had to stay outside) poked around Book People. We (the bicycle; I stayed upright) fell over while standing around chatting with some runners on Town Lake. We (yep, this one's both of us) stayed out for so long that we were riding in the dark on the way back and I'm pretty sure we rode right past a rather large snake on the trail.

And then on Wednesday, I attempted to do the same thing, but got distracted along the way and ended up at Bananarchy (I had a Groupon) 30 minutes before they closed and right after they ran out of bananas. The young lady very kindly extended my Groupon, and added a dollar to it even though I tried to talk her out of it (it wasn't their fault I waited until almost the literal last minute to redeem the Groupon, after all).

On Thursday I did my roaming during the day, because I was on the hunt for the local Mrs. Baird's Bakery Outlet store. Actually, I knew approximately where it was, so it was more a recon mission to find out prices and possibly purchase some bread. And I discovered that their prices are perfect, but they don't take $20 bills. Nor do they have bike racks, although I was able to fix that little problem on my own (huge gate with bars nearby). So, I'll have to go back.

And today... well, today's just a normal day. Bike Texas, then Chad and I are going to have dinner & spend the night with the Election Judge we're working with tomorrow, because she had pity on us having to get across town before 6 AM with nothing but bicycles and bus passes and offered to let us stay overnight with her family and then drive to the site tomorrow morning. Which is really, really kind, especially since I'm already not looking forward to another 12-hour shift as an election worker, so at least I have something about this weekend to look forward to. I mean, I appreciate the pay and the opportunity to serve my community, but still. Twelve hours in one room. Should be "great".

What did you do this week? What should I name my bicycle?

15 June 2011

A Non-Road Trip

A few weeks ago, Charlie asked if we ever go on road trips, since we're car-free. The real answer is that we rent a car if we decide to go somewhere, but the slightly more factual answer is no, we don't go on road trips. I think we've done three in nine years of marriage.

I don't really like road trips. I realise that's un-American, but I don't. Chad says it's because all I can think about are road trips with my family, and you know what? He isn't wrong. I never went on a road trip in my young life that wasn't with my grandparents, squashed into their van so that we could bring every possible thing under the sun with us. And we always had nasty microwaveable sausage biscuits for breakfast before we left. And stops were infrequent enough to be things of wonder: My grandfather, once behind the wheel of a car, was on a mission. A mission that did not include bathroom breaks or Happy Meals or, to my chagrin, side trips. Ever.

Yes, that's what always made me sad about road trips. There were all these other roads, leading to all sorts of other places, and we sailed right past them time after time. I always wanted to turn off onto one, just to see where it led, but I was strongly outvoted.

An actual picture of my "not my road"
So, one day I was on Town Lake Trail with my bike, and I saw a trail leading off in another direction. I started to go right past it, then realised just in time that I don't want to be that much like my grandfather, so I turned. And I followed it, just for the joy of seeing where it went. (Nowhere very exciting, as it turned out, but hey: Baby steps. I have a few generations' worth of "stick to the plan" genes to overcome, after all.)

I was pondering a map of downtown Austin earlier and noticed another trail that forks off of Town Lake. I'm headed out right now to see where it takes me.

Do you ever take the time to leave your course just to see what happens? Is it worth it?

14 June 2011

Teaser Tuesday #13

(Some days, I'm not sure I should bother writing books, because everyone else is so good at it. This is one of those days.)

The Strictest School in the World: Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken, Howard Whitehouse

They were both quiet for a moment, the professor missing his steam engine and Rab wondering if there was any cake to be had.

"Size small! Cork inserts, rubber bodysuit, propellers on the feet that flip back when not in use, belt for lashing yourself to suitable wreckage. No cigars, though."

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be ReadingAnyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

13 June 2011

Run Away!

Today, Chad and I begin Week 5 of our 26-week training plan for a half-marathon in November. In case you're wondering: Yes, that is unusually long for a training plan for anything. But by doing it this way, we've given ourselves plenty to time to get back up to speed (quite literally) and start off with low mileage. Which is totally necessary, because we've been lazy for mumble mumble mumble and need to build back up to where we once were.

Not my finest running hour.
The truth is, it's easy to hit snooze when the alarm goes off. It's easy, when facing a hill, to stop and walk. (We live in a part of town called University Hills-- believe me, it's called that for a reason.) It's super-easy to call it off altogether when the mercury creeps above 90 (and I do-- 89 degrees is my upper temperature limit for running). But, as I chant to myself when the going is rougher than I want it to be, the only way to make running easier is to keep doing it.

Just like nearly everything else.

What do you do that gets easier as you go along?

12 June 2011

Being a Steward(ess)

At the recommendation of a friend, I read Everyday Justice by Julie Clawson this week. And in a word: Wow.

First of all, I'm just really happy to read a book that approaches earth-friendliness from a Christian perspective. I'm not really clear at what point Christendom decided that God's command to Adam and Eve to ""Fill the earth and subdue it" meant "Go ahead, trash the place", but that seems to be where many people are. Of course, there are also the "God will destroy the earth anyway, so there's no point to looking after it" crowd. To me, that's an untenable position for anyone who is also a parent who makes his/her child keep his/her room clean. After all, why should the kid clean up? The house won't last forever anyway, right? It's my belief that we should be good stewards of the earth God has given us instead of tearing it up.

Anyway, mini-rant done. Ms. Clawson covers a wide range of doable things for anyone who wants to live in such a way that allows other humans to also live. So, naturally, she talks about things like cocoa plantations and sweatshops. And she answers one thing that's always been a pressing question for me: If we all stopped buying sweatshop-produced clothing, wouldn't those workers be out of a job, and therefore even worse off than before? How can we fix that? Ms. Clawson gently reminds the questioner that safe working conditions with decent pay are possible, actually, and that consumers who care need to start demanding it.

I'm challenged by this book because I love a good deal as much as anybody. Even though I re-wear and re-use and otherwise squeeze all the life possible out of my possessions, I still buy on the cheap to begin with. But should other people have to work in nasty conditions for hardly any pay just for me to have a cheap t-shirt? Of course not. So it's past time for me to start acting like it, instead of wringing my hands in woe.

So, I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in their goods being ethically and environmentally produced (although there's not a lot of new information, if this is a subject you've researched before). I highly recommend it to Christians who think that asking about the source of our goods is outside the purview of loving one's neighbour. Here's a news flash: it isn't. 

Have you read Everyday Justice? What do you think a Christian's response to injustice and/or planet-destroying activities should be?

11 June 2011

Have It Your Way

Unless you've been living under a rock, or in a country where reusable bags are not breeding and handing themselves out in bulk to all unsuspecting recipients, you're probably the proud owner of a snazzy reusable bag or seven. I hope you're using them. And I say "have it your way" because you can get these bags in pretty much any size, colour, or pattern you like. Companies that used to give out pens and notepads now give out bags. Grandparents can get bags with their grandkids' pictures on them (although I can't say I'd be flattered if either of my grandmothers took me shopping in this way).

My fleet of reusables. The mesh bags
are for produce or for the bulk bins
(almonds, usually) and they tend to
bring delight to the store clerks.
The problem with reusable bags is that they don't do you much good sitting in the car. If one wishes to get any benefit out of the reusable bag, then one must take the bag into the shop. There's no way around it. And I heard recently that at least one store has decided that putting reminders on cart corrals is a better motivator for customers than giving a 5-cent discount for using a reusable bag. Pffft. It's not my local store, which is nice for them, because if it were they'd be tired of hearing from me by now with all the protesting e-mails I would send out. I'm very fond of my 5-cent discount.

So here's my little story for you: I've used my backpack for loading groceries for my entire adult life, but it took a while for me to start refusing the plastic bags and loading my purchases straight into my backpack. And when I did, it sent the supermarket employees into a dither. I explained, as politely as I could, that I had to load my bag myself since I was the one carrying it. The poor sacker would stand and look at me, in fear and trembling for getting into trouble if the manager saw the customer serving herself instead of being served. (This was before the reusable-bag craze took off.)

I remember one day that there were no fewer than three sackers standing and watching me pack my bag (I was the only shopper at a checkout; it was a slow day), asking occasionally, "Are you sure we can't help?" I finally got tired of it and asked them what the issue was, and one of them explained that they had, in fact, been reprimanded for letting me load my own bag instead of doing it for me. I said, "That's dumb," to which they all non-committally grunted. When I got home that day, I called the store, demanded the manager, and explained very slowly and carefully that I had the highest opinion of their customer service but the lowest opinion of their management and would they please stop being such idiots. And not long after that, the entire chain began offering the 5-cent discount for reusable bags and no longer breathed down my neck when I wanted to pack my own stuff. I don't know if it was my influence or not, but I did remain a loyal customer until the day (quite literally) that we moved out of Lubbock.

Do you have a multitude of reusable bags? Do you use them? Is your local store welcoming of such things?

10 June 2011

Oh, Is it 2012 Already?

There's a reason I'm not into politics. The name-calling and the showboating and so on drive me mental. I do my research, I vote, and I spend the rest of the time changing the channel when the talking heads show up. Needless to state, I'm not a member of a political party, preferring to vote for a candidate, not a party.

The backdrop of the studio where the
forum (and the filming) took place. It
used to be where Austin City Limits
was filmed.
I went to a forum on Wednesday night with four 2012 Texas candidates for the US Senate. They were all Republicans, and for the most part, they all agreed on pretty much everything. Even when they prefaced their remarks with "And here's where I differ from my colleagues," they didn't really disagree that much. So I left feeling like if I decide to vote in the Republican primary (Texas is an open primary state; I can choose either ballot next March), I should just draw straws.

So, anyway, in case you came round to see what I thought of the Texas Senate candidates, here's a rundown (if not, just skip to the end):

Former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams: Looks cranky. Talks much too loudly. And he called for the abolition of the EPA during the course of the forum, among other things that made me say, "What??". Now, I'm one of those earth-loving granola people you always hear about (that means I make my own granola, right?), so I can safely say I'm not voting for this guy.

This has nothing to do with the post,
it just goes well with the picture of
the studio.
Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert: Has a very soothing voice. Said nothing that made me roll my eyes, so that's something.

Texas Railroad Commission Chair Elizabeth Ames Jones: Okay, I know that a political campaign is all about selling yourself to the voters. You are the product. I get it. But good grief, when your answer to every question is "I already did that," you start to sound like Al Gore. Self-promotion aside, she "um"s a lot, which I foresee being a turn-off to some people. Better shake that habit soon.

Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz: Also big into the self-promotion. Claims to have graduated from college 20 years ago, which makes me think he has a painting in an attic somewhere. From a distance, he looks a bit like Robert Sean Leonard, but up close he doesn't. And I know that for sure, because I rode in the elevator with him up to the studio. (Not just him: it's not like the two of us were awkwardly staring at each other, or something. It was a very full elevator.)

So, there you have it! The tone of this post probably came across kind of negative, because I really don't do the political scene that much, but it's events like this that made me want to move to a capitol city in the first place. So as this excruciatingly-long election season wears on (seriously, Election Day is still 17 months away), I hope to catch more events like this. Just don't expect that I'll refrain from mocking.

Have you ever gone to any kind of political forum/rally/event? What was it like? Or if not, do you think you ever will?

09 June 2011

Where It's At.

You can never go wrong with a
picture of a cute bear.
I'm currently writing a shopping list and a contest entry. That's about all the writing I'm doing today.

I had a brilliant post planned about ending sentences with prepositions, but it will have to wait. In the meantime: How do you feel about prepositions at the end of sentences?

07 June 2011

Teaser Tuesday #12

Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert

I assumed this meant, "Should we go out to a bar?" That's what sports fans in America would do if their team had just lost ... But Luca and his friends didn't go to a bar to cheer themselves up. They went to a bakery.

Then I will be a real Italian girl, instead of a total American who still can't hear someone call across the street to his friend Marco without wanting instinctively to yell back "Polo!"

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be ReadingAnyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

06 June 2011

You Might Be A Runner If...

So, these do go around (great job, Jeff Foxworthy!). I've collected a few of my favourites here.

1. If you use the words "easy" and "six miles" in the same sentence... you might be a runner.

2. If you've ever grabbed Body Glide instead of deodorant and decided it was no big deal... you might be a runner.

3. If you've done the opposite and totally freaked out... you might be a runner.

4. If you think a shower without a run preceding it is a waste of time... you might be a runner.

5. If you've ever lost a toenail and then shown your foot to people with pride... you might be a runner.

6. If you are comfortable discussing bowel movements with complete strangers... you might be a runner.

7. If you can convert kilometers to miles and back again in your head... you might be a runner.

8. If you know what PR, PB, PPM, BQ, AG, and GU are, but are a bit fuzzy on all other abbreviations... you might be a runner.

9. If you've ever ingested Vaseline by mistake, thinking it was Gu... you might be a runner with an eyesight problem.

10. If you have ever spent 30 minutes discussing shoes with your friends, and you're a man... you might be a runner.

11. If you know where every public restroom is in a 5-mile radius from your house... you might be a runner.

12. If you're an adult woman and you've peed on the side of the road... you might be a runner.

13. If your medicine cabinet is stocked with baby aspirin, ibuprofen, and Ben-Gay and you aren't a senior citizen... you might be a runner.

14. If you have a speech of reprimand prepared for anyone who asks, "How long is this marathon?"... you might be a runner.

15. If you know the exact mileage on your shoes, but not your car... you might be a runner.

16. If you think Gatorade and GU are food groups... you might be a runner.

17. If you can eat your entire weight in pasta... you might be a runner.

18. If you judge the quality of a race based on how many days you were limping afterwards... you might be a runner.

19. If you send a picture of your new jogging stroller to family and friends to announce your pregnancy... you might be a runner.

20. If you've been smiling and nodding at these... you are DEFINITELY a runner!!

So, what did I miss?

05 June 2011

Keep Silence

I think I was in high school when I first came across the word "retreat" used in the monastic sense of keeping silence for a period of time, three days or five or a week or whatever it may be, to focus on spiritual things and possibly to prepare for a major event. Maria von Trapp, for instance, took a week-long retreat at her convent before marrying the Captain in order to focus on the seriousness of the decision she was making and enter her new life ready to devote herself to it. (Since I've seen pretty much every "nun" movie there is, I was quite fascinated by the idea when I was in high school. Not in the sense of wanting be monastic, but in the sense of wanting to understand what it was like and why anyone would choose that path.)

But I didn't know that Protestants, or even non-monastics, could also keep focused silence for a time. (I know; I keep marvelling at just how dumb I can be.) The first time I heard of it was not until many years later, in fact, when our Bible class teacher taught a series on Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline, working through the 12 classical spiritual disciplines, one at a time, with exercises to boot. Discipline #7 is Solitude, often referred to as Solitude and Silence (even Foster, in the book, says the name could go either way; each one implies the other). As we discussed it in class, it became clear that many people in our group were freaked out at the idea of keeping silence even for a few minutes-- it's so ingrained in our culture to have background noise, like the TV or radio, going all the time. Even after turning all those noises off, of course, one still has appliances, traffic, noisy neighbours, etc to contend with: No wonder silence is such an alien concept.

And yet, there must be a reason that Habakkuk writes, "But the LORD is in his holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before him." (Hab. 2:20) Is there value in keeping silence? Habakkuk thought so. Richard Foster and my former Bible class teacher think so. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of eat, pray, love, also thinks so: She devotes a chapter or two to the practise of silence at the Ashram she visited in India. Unfortunately, this isn't something I've practised often in my life, so I can't really comment, except to say that I'm sure we've all had times when silence is welcomed-- when a screaming child falls asleep, or when a chatty acquaintance moves on, or when a loud TV is switched off. These times of genuine relief make me crave silence more.

Have you ever practised silence as a discipline? Or even as a break from a noisy day? What was it like?

04 June 2011

Climate Control, Revisited.

The climate control in your house, that is. Last week I posted about saving energy by setting the thermostat to a reasonable temp, raising that temperature when you aren't at home, etc., etc. Waaaay back in the dim and distant past, I also blogged about a high school friend who I called Alex (as previously mentioned, not her real name). In real life, Alex has a serious job as a Heating and Air Conditioning expert, so when she saw that I was blogging about air conditioning, she brought some wise words to the table. So, with her permission (and with some begging for her to share her wisdom about heaters, too, since I do have readers who are coming into winter right now), here's what she said. That's right; this isn't my crazed speculation or something I saw on Google once; this is real, live expert advice.

You are absolutely correct to turn the temperature up when you aren't home. However, there is a limit to how much warmer the thermostat should be turned up. We recommend not turning it more than 7-10 degrees warmer than the temperature you would desire when you are home. Otherwise, the unit will end up running longer than to cool that 10+ degrees than it would have if it had been left at the original temperature all day.
A couple of tips for extra energy efficiency: Change the filter. A dirty filter is not only hard on the indoor blower motor, while decreasing air flow, it also affects the outdoor condenser. It allows liquid freon to be carried back to the compressor (instead of vapor), damaging the compressor.
Also, to save a bit on the electric bill, wash the outside condenser every month or 2 during the a/c season! The a/c sucks in air from the sides (along with dirt and debris) and blows it out the top, cooling the unit. Spray it out with a hose and wash the dirt and debris out of the "fins". Doesn't matter if the unit is running, it is made to take some water. The cooler it runs, the less energy it uses.
Lastly, make sure it is actually cooling properly! It is going to use the same amount of electricity when it runs whether it cools the house or not. At the outside unit, there are 2 copper lines. When the unit is running, the larger line should be cool and sweating. Never frosted. If not, it is probably low on freon. Also, if you have a thermometer, check the air temperature at a return air register, then at a supply air register. It should be cooling the air at least 15 degrees. Anything less than that - call a repairman.

Since I have no clue what a return air register or a supply air register are, I asked, and she said:

The return air register in my apartment.
As you can plainly see, I tried the
paper test. It works.
It varies from house to house. Some have supply in the floor and return in the ceiling, others have the opposite. Some have just one or 2 large return air vents and then a supply duct or 2 to each room. Someone could use a strip of paper to figure out which is which - air blows at the supply duct and sucks at the return.

You might be looking for something like this picture.

As for heaters: Change the filter and turn down the thermostat. Those are about the only easy Do-It-Yourself things. I highly recommend having any heater checked by an HVAC tech at the start of the season. We do more than "clean" it. We check safety controls, make sure it lights properly, and most importantly, check the heat exchanger for damage. No one wants Carbon Monoxide poisoning! Electric furnaces should be checked too!

There you have it! I don't have any particular question to ask today; just tell us what your weather is like! And where you are, I suppose, so it all makes sense.

03 June 2011


This past Monday was Memorial Day here in the U.S., a day considered by many to be the unofficial start of summer. Most people celebrate with barbecues, picnics, and possibly by flying the flag. A few might have a parade or go to a cemetery. But despite its name, I'm not convinced that most people give more than nominal attention to the "Memorial" part (in fact, many of the websites I perused while reading up on Memorial Day said as much).

I went looking for the origin of Memorial Day because I've always thought of it as being connected to WWII in a similar way as Remembrance Day (Veterans Day) is connected to WWI. I was wrong; it turns out that Decoration Day, the precursor to Memorial Day, was for those who fell in the American Civil War and, unlike Veterans Day, was specifically chosen not to be an exact commemoration of a particular significant date. It wasn't until after the World Wars that the day was changed to remember all of our war dead.

And maybe the lack of a proper anniversary is why Memorial Day is not particularly significant to me; I'm more of a Remembrance Day kind of gal myself. And the point, I think, is not that we must all do the same things or think the same thoughts, but just like every other day of the year, it means different things to different people. So I hope that if Memorial Day wasn't your day to pause and consider those who paid the ultimate price in the service of their nation, that you choose a day that is significant to you. Because there is a time for serious thoughts as well as a time for silly ones.

What did you do for Memorial Day? Or, if you're not from the US, what day is significant for you to honour those who gave their lives for your nation?

02 June 2011

Writing Exercises

Chad and I have started a fun new story-telling game. And it's his idea.

He's always been one for writing stories and then sharing, whereas I like to write mine down and then hide them away and never let them see the light of day. Ever. I am getting better about sharing, though-- thank goodness for blogfests!

The winners.
Anyway, our last card game got a bit wearing, so we broke out our In A Pickle set, only to discover that we'd never opened it. Oops! Chad's idea was that each card should relate to all the others in the stack as we went along, so the entire string would make a story when we finished. (If you've never played the game: Each card has a word on it, and you make strings of words with your cards and each word has to fit into the word on top of it. The object is to get the "biggest" thing possible, and they don't normally have to make sense as a group. For example, Clown => Solar System => Dictionary, because a clown can be in the Solar System but "solar system" is in the dictionary.) At the end, we each choose our favourite string of words and use them to write a story, with the idea being that we didn't have to use the words in the exact order, so long as they were all in there and we could tell the story in less than 200 words.

So, with his permission, here is Chad's story:
Confessions of a thief: I was a young man when I saw the film that changed my life forever. There was an expedition and deep in the ice they found a cave, which they called "the whale," because that is how it was shaped. The place they warmed themselves melted the ice enough that a puddle formed and in that puddle they discovered an encyclopedia and only a few entries could be read. The one that caught my attention was a castle with a framed phone book and a grand piano. The time period was completely wrong. I began my search for this castle and these things which belonged to one 'Doctor.' That is all I have ever found and now as I lie here awaiting death to take me, one question burns in my mind: Doctor who?
And here is mine:
 The nun shook her head as she walked to the convent laundry to take the bedding out of the dryer. Her young students had been perplexed over the saying, “to have one’s heart in one’s mouth.” The expression had appeared in the paper that very morning as the English equivalent of something France's president had said the day before when her young child had fallen down the stairs and landed on his head. Why this should be newsworthy, Sister Agathe wasn’t sure, but she was sure that it was her job to educate these young pupils in her charge and had at once set them to looking through the dictionary to discover the meaning to this idiom. After 10 minutes of searching, they were no closer to understanding, so Sister had given in and explained it very carefully. Even now, she wasn’t sure that the students had taken in the meaning of the expression.
“They don’t seem to teach the young anything nowadays,” she murmured as she folded the sheets.
Obviously, neither one is wonderful. But it was a fun little challenge, so we're going to keep doing it just to keep our minds sharp.

What is your favourite writing exercise?

01 June 2011

My Own Fleet

Last week's Car-Free Wednesday post turned into a carsharing lovefest, which I'm totally cool with doing from time to time. But today, I'm back to my much more frequent mode of transportation: Cycling.

The former "fleet". Both of which had
bad brakes. (I've heard they are now
repaired & have been donated to a
homeless shelter in Lubbock, which
makes me pretty happy.)
A guy from a local bike shop encouraged me a couple of months ago to consider expanding my cycling family beyond one bike. (Well, of course he did-- that's his job!) But, it's not like it was something I haven't thought about. Here are some bicycles that I dream about adding to my fleet:

A folding bicycle: For greater ease of using buses, trains, airplanes, or a car2go. Although the first three will all accommodate standard bicycles, a folding one would eliminate a lot of the fuss currently associated with taking a bike on public transport. And since car2go has itty bitty smart cars with no bicycle racks, a folding bike is the only way to go multi-modal with them.

A tandem: For trips with Chad.

A cargo bike: For moving more stuff around than will fit in my panniers. Or for moving small people, since most modern cargo bikes include a child seat and seat belts.

A racing bike: Because my road bike just isn't the thing for triathlons.

A trailer: I probably wouldn't need one of these if I had a cargo bike. But it serves the same purpose, minus the child-carrying thing. Unless I get a child-carrying trailer, but that's not really the kind of trailer I'm talking about.

And my husband also has some dream bikes in mind, but you'd have to ask him what they are. Also, if I'm going to have this many bikes someday, I'll need a regular-sized garage just to have a place to park them all.

So, what's your dream transportation? It doesn't have to be cycling-related; I'm totally cool with you dreaming about cars! What do you like? (Although if you want to share your dream bike, that would be brilliant.)