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.

29 July 2011

(Re) Charge!

This post is probably a bit unnecessary, since I think we were the last people in America to finally start using rechargeable batteries a few years ago. But, in case we weren't, today's green tip is one of those that is environmentally sound and will save you some cash: Use rechargeable batteries.

Yep, they cost a bit more at the beginning, but they will last a looooong time (at least in my experience). We bought our first set not long after we got our digital camera, so around five years ago. They were our camera batteries until they wouldn't charge enough for picture-taking any longer, which is when I downgraded them to my bicycle light. They lasted for about three years of being charged once a week, until they finally gave up the ghost last month. And I have a couple of them still in low-drain items like clocks.

And now that I'm thinking about it, I realise that I just tossed them in the rubbish without giving it a second thought. Please don't do that; go to this site, put in your location, and get a list of drop-off spots for all kinds of batteries.

We've had to buy a second set, of course, but that's all we've bought in five years. They are saving us money, keeping dead batteries out of landfills or recycling centers, and keeping new batteries from having to be made (and the metals and chemicals thus required are doing whatever it is metal and chemicals do when they aren't in use). Does it make much of a difference if it's just us doing it? Not really. The good news is that it's not just us doing it. Which is the sort of enviro-thinking that keeps me going when I see litter on the side of the road.

Do you use rechargeable batteries? Have you found some long-lasting ones? Have you ever recycled your batteries?

28 July 2011

I Really Have Turned into my Grandmother

Chad and I have this interesting rhythm in our marriage: When one of us does something that might be bothersome/style-cramping/irritating etc., the other one has the right, and in fact the obligation, to request that the behaviour in question come to an end. No such objections mean that said practise may continue indefinitely. This is how I've managed to sneak pretty much everything past my husband: I do something, like adding dried fruit to the granola bars, and don't mention it until he does. And because he's easygoing and an all-around good guy, he takes a while to mention things. It's a nice system (for me).

I think this soap looks more
like cheese. Source.
We had one such instance come up recently: Our last bar of soap was in the process of disentigrating in the soap dish. We coped with smaller and smaller pieces of soap until I finally remembered to pick some up at the store. However, at that point I was pretty much committed to using the last of the previous bar, which by this point had more or less melted itself to the soap dish, so that when washing my hands, I just ran them over the dish to get them soapy. Chad came in while I was doing this one day, and I said, "I love how this whole soap dish has turned into our bar of soap." He laughed and said "Yeah," which I took to mean "And I don't mind if we keep doing that."

Truthfully, I didn't intend to turn our soap dish into the final resting place of soap slivers, which were to be extracted from their watery grave a little at a time. It was the result of never thinking about the soap except while actually washing my hands, and when my hands are dirty is not a time when I want to go rummaging through my bathroom cabinets. So, I let it go to this point.

It happens that about the same time, I was running out of bodywash. Since I'm a fan of all things homemade and also of reusing, I thought I would just scrape the old soap out of the dish and put the scrapings into the bottle with a little bit of water to see if I could stretch my bodywash a little bit further. Fortuitously, Chad's bar of soap in the shower went to bits about this time as well, so all told I had quite a collection of soap slivers to stick into my bottle.

Now if at this point you're thinking that this story is getting a bit silly, well, I can only agree. The resulting soap is a bit thinner than my usual bodywash (big surprise, since there's so much water), so I've been using a washcloth instead of my shower puff. Otherwise, I'm still getting clean and basking in the knowledge that I saved a few pennies, and that my grandmother (all my grandmothers, if it comes to that) would be happy that I didn't throw out something that was still usable.

What's a goofy thing that you do to save a few pennies/minutes/grey hairs/whatever?

27 July 2011

A Faster Bus

Weeks and weeks and weeks ago, Kerri asked if the bus system in Austin is viewed as only being for marginalized members of society, as it is in many other places in the US. Alas, the answer is yes. And since I don't have a new Have Bus Will Travel story for you today, I'm going to answer this question to the best of my ability. And talk about a couple of other bus-related things, too.

Back in February, I interviewed one of the VPs of the local bus system, Todd Hemingson. And for some inexplicable reason, my notes from that interview have gone missing. I'm afraid I may have shredded them without thinking when I was purging my home of last semester's excess stuff. Oops! Good thing I have a reasonably good memory. Anyway, one of the things we talked about is the stigma that buses are for poor people-- it's pretty strong in Austin, but in other places that Mr. Hemingson has worked (including Portland, if memory serves) that hasn't been the case. And he'd like to see CapMetro work to erase that stigma so that more people would feel like the bus was a viable choice instead of an unfortunate down-on-its-luck relation to the motor vehicle that turns up at family reunions and has a lampshade on its head by the end of the evening. (I'm pretty sure those weren't his exact words.)

They'll have their work cut out for them in Texas, where the automobile is king. Not only that, but the bus stops so frequently that it is a lot slower than taking a car (and for some routes, it's slower than a bike. Even me on a bike. Very, very slow). Plus, there's that minor detail that most of the riders are low-income, and some riders take the bus home after working a their hard-labour jobs all day and don't smell like roses, and of course from time to time a homeless person will see in the bus a sort of mobile shelter and hop aboard. Due to the frequent correlation between mental illness and homelessness, I can see how this might be off-putting to someone who is not accustomed to such sights.

So, like I said, a bit of a hard row for CapMetro to hoe if they want to encourage people at higher income levels to leave the car at home. For some routes, however, the bus does have a lot of high-income riders-- the express buses and the trains. I think there are a couple of reasons for this: One, express services and the train connect to Park and Ride stations. It's easier for people who live in surrounding towns to drive into Austin as far as a Park and Ride and then take the bus/train the rest of the way. Two, they are a bit more posh. Okay, that's totally subjective and kind of jerky, but hey, these are the routes that charge extra, stop less frequently, and have free wifi. Not to mention the nice cushiony seats. Posh.

Look, it's bendy! Source.
Which takes me to (holy crapiola, this is getting long) the newest addition to the CapMetro array of services: Bus Rapid Transit. It's coming to Austin in 2013; the two busiest bus routes in town will be replaced by BRT lines to move more people faster and, it is hoped, attract new riders. And I think this may well be the impetus that people who would take a bus if only it were faster have been waiting for. I mentioned in my ride recap of the #1 that it's the busiest route in Austin, to the tune of 17,500 riders per day-- no wonder the bus crawls along. The BRT stops will be farther apart, but will be the bendy buses! And people will be able to get on through all the doors, instead of just the front! I do love me some bendy buses, even though the first time I was on one, about 14 years ago in Mexico City, I feared for my life (we were standing in the joint. I was afraid of being squished). Anyway, the plan is to carry more riders (a bendy bus carries 102 people and has the capacity for four wheelchair users and (we hope) six bikes) faster. I'm looking forward to seeing it in action.

I know a bunch of you live in places with no public transport, so... Would you ride a bus or train if it were available? Do you ride public transport now, if you live in a transport-enabled city? Have you ever been on a bendy bus, either at home or abroad?

26 July 2011


I didn't do a Teaser Tuesday for a couple of weeks and it feels like it's been eons. It's not that I don't want to share; it's that my reading over the past couple of weeks has been heavy, and while it's very interesting, I don't think it will do well when reduced to snippet form.

Here, then, is my take on Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069. My take so far, that is; I haven't gotten that far into it. Interesting, as I said, but slow going. Anyway! So far I've learned that I can stop feeling guilty for not really liking Baby Boomers and Millennials as a whole, because it's totally normal for each generation to not get along with its neighbours. And I've learned that in the case of the Baby Boomers, they started it anyway by writing off Gen Xers back before this late Gen Xer was even born. Sheesh. Actually, the writers make an interesting point: Kid-centred movies in the late 60s to early 70s tended to make the kid the bad guy, or at least someone to be feared (like The Exorcist or Carrie). No wonder Baby Boomers aren't wild about us.

The authors have four generational groups that have cycled through over and over again since the Puritans first came to America: Two dominant groups (Boomers and Millennials, and what's left of the G.I. generation) alternate with two more passive groups (Silent and Gen X, and whatever today's babies will be called) over and over again. I've been telling Chad for years that Gen Xers have a lot in common with Silents, but didn't have any reason to believe that I was right until now. In the US, we have at least six generations living: Lost, born before 1900 (there may be one or two of them left); G.I., born from 1901-1924; Silent, born from 1925-1942; Boomers, born from 1943-1960; Gen X, born from 1961-1981; Millennials, born from 1982 until... well, somewhere around 2001. I have a theory that eventually that date will be moved back so that only those who can remember 9/11 are included, and kids born in the late 90s and up until now will be the as-yet-unnamed generation (Wikipedia says Gen Z). But that's not in the book, and it's just my personal speculation.

I picked up this book because I find generational traits and differences fascinating. And so far, it's been worth every consultation of the dictionary to read what these gentlemen have to say about the way generations cycle in America. It was written in 1990, so naturally I'd love to see an update to include the past 20 years. They do have another book published in 1997 that I haven't read yet. Maybe that will be next.

What generation are you in (if you're American)? If you aren't American, does your culture have generational divisions like we tend to do? What's a trait of your generation?

25 July 2011

Failure in Foresight

So last week at church, I was chatting with a woman I had just met. We're in the process of changing churches, and by "in the process" I mean "we're visiting a bunch of places this summer and haven't decided yet where we'll land." So I'm having lots of chats with people I've just met. At this particular congregation, we've been asked more than once how we found them, and unfortunately, my answer is really dumb: I took a wrong turn one day onto a really busy street, feared for my life, and finally got to the intersection where the church is. The cross street was my intended course, and as I stood in the left-hand turn lane waiting for a favourable traffic signal, I had a chance to get a good look at this church building. When I got home, I googled them, liked what I saw, and suggested to Chad that we should visit, which we now have done a few times.

My parents did give me
good bus-riding skills,
since they wouldn't drive
me to school.
Anyway, that was a long way round to today's real story, which is actually a trip down memory lane. She asked how I got into cycling, and for some reason I told her that as a kid, my brother was allowed to cycle wherever he wanted, while I was limited to about half a mile in either direction (we lived on a county road) from our house. So, I explained, I am just making up for all those years of lost adventures.

And that's not the whole story, of course, but it does have some basis in fact. My father is one of those people who believes that one's abilities are preordained by one's genitalia, and I'm sure he couldn't understand why a girl would need to ride her bike across town to see a real, live friend when she had a roomful of dolls that she could play with without ever leaving the house. He used the same line of reasoning to refuse to teach me how to drive a standard transmission (seriously, those were his words; "You're a girl. You don't need to know that") or how to change a tire on any type of locomotion. It's a bit ironic (I think? I'm never sure with that word anymore), then, that I'm the one who rides my bike all over a major US city after having sold my standard transmission car a year ago, while my brother drives his automatic transmission vehicle daily. I still don't know how to change a flat. On the other hand, I don't think he knows how to sew on his own buttons, so I guess we're kind of even.

And so the takeaway lesson here today is: Parents, please teach your children life skills with no regard to their gender.

Did your parents have any goofy quirks like this? Do you know how to drive a standard? Can you give me simple directions on how to change a flat? (That one's a joke; I don't own a car.)

22 July 2011

Reuse Those Creative Juices

One day a couple of weeks ago, I was waiting for a bus (of course) and thinking about how I wished that there were a list of reusable things and suggestions for what to do with them. I already reuse things as much as my limited imagination will allow, and generally take the extra step of thinking about reusability when buying something, but I don't really have a go-to list of not only things that I should reuse, but also extra ideas for when the previous ideas have been exhausted.

So I decided to make one.

These are not very reusable. :(
You can find my list under the 1001 Ways to Reuse tab at the top of the page. There aren't really 1001, because I have found/thought of that many yet, but I have about 200 on there. The page needs work; I'd like to make each category a link that jumps down the page to the appropriate spot, but I don't know how (and I'm not sure that you can do that in Blogger, anyway). 

Some things on the list are redundant, since an old sheet and an old towel, to name but one example, have more or less the same uses. Some things are a bit silly, because we all need some fun in our lives. Most of them are either things I've done myself or that friends have done. Suggestions are, as ever, welcome; full credit is promised when I add your suggestion to the list.

Now, go forth and reuse! And today's question: What is your favourite reusable item? What do you do with it (if it isn't obvious)?

21 July 2011

This is Why We Need Rites of Passage

As you know, the end of all things came last week. Here in the multiplexes of the earth, our fellowship with Harry and friends came to an end.


I mean, everyone realises that we still have DVDs, right? And that books are re-readable? I do understand; I went around in mourning for weeks after reading The Deathly Hallows four years ago, after all (btw, not for nothing, but since today is the anniversary of the book release, why didn't they wait one more week to release the movie? A more fitting ending, I would think). I get the not wanting it to end thing, but... it ended. We already knew how it ended.

Anyway, never mind that. What I've really been giggling at this week are the status updates, the tweets, the blog posts, the notes on Facebook, etc., about this being the end of childhood for an entire generation. I don't dispute that point, but what's funny is that it's like every young person from 16-24, plus every parent of that age range, seemed to all realise it separately and decide to bewail it for the universe. And so after reading the 23rd or 58th "end of an era" post, I finally decided that we need more rites of passage.

I don't really want to talk about the images that came up
when I googled "rite of passage". But a young woman at
her bat mitzvah is both safe and sweet. Source.
We already have a few, like graduations or confirmations. And some other things that are more individual but still happen around the same time for people of the same age: getting a driver's licence, going to college, etc. But our culture doesn't have many events in which our society as a whole says to a particular cohort, "We recognize that you have finished one stage and begin another." Graduation and retirement are pretty much it. I think that's a shame, but it's where we are. And that leaves it up to communities and families, and, apparently, films.

Even allowing for regional and religious differences, we need these moments. A final movie in a book series, no matter how crazy-awesome that series is, should not be the marker of the end of one life stage and the beginning of another. It would be cool to have more pauses in time to mark a transition from stage to stage. Dharma and Greg, oddly enough, demonstrates this very well: Throughout Dharma's life, Abby marked milestones and changes with ceremonies that when compared with what the rest of society does, were very strange, but when considered on their merit, were (mostly) good ideas. Even as she made her own way in life, Dharma had those mile markers that showed where her path had already been.

So long, Harry. Thanks for being a mile marker.

Do you or your family have any special rites of passage?

20 July 2011

Kick Butt, Route #7!

My title, alas, has nothing to do with Route 7 itself, which is about as normal as bus routes get, but rather about a coffee shop along the way: I thought Kick Butt Coffee must have about a dozen locations in Austin, because I feel like I see them everywhere, but it turns out that they just have two locations, and I go past those places often enough for it to seem like there are a lot more of them. There's probably some deep meaning in that. The original Kick Butt is on the #7 route, though, and so I made a note of it when we went by.

See? Vintage. It says so right on
the shop.
So! Another route, another ulterior motive; there are shops along North Loop Boulevard that I've wanted to peek into for a while now, and this route goes right by them. Brilliant! There were a lot fewer shops, though, once we got there and started looking around, than I had thought there were when I went by on my bicycle. Among them were a bunch of vintage shops, an anarchist bookstore, and a place that declared itself to be "Austin Chronicle's Best Naughty Store 2010". We did not go in to investigate.

After a hop back on the bus (which involved some sprinting in 100+ heat, but the driver was nice enough to wait for us), we zoomed through campus and downtown-- well, as much zooming as one can do on public transportation. South of the river, there are a bunch of houses that are so high up off the street that the sidewalk leading to the front door is actually a staircase. Presumably, this is to ensure their view of the river, although I don't really know. Further down, the houses become apartments, just like everywhere else in the city. And when I read about this bit of the journey in my notes, it reads, "I wonder how close the sa". I have no idea what that means, nor did I know on that day when Chad nudged me awake. Yes, this route put me to sleep. Not a good sign.

I think this was outside the anarchist
Further south, there were some hills and trees to ooh and aah over, and then... The End. This is the first time we've ridden a route straight from one end to another (we usually get them somewhere in the middle), which was kind of nice because at the southern end we were able to get a flyer bus back to downtown and save some time over taking a regular bus.

Something I thought about while riding: A few years ago, the Lubbock buses started a route that went from the mall to the newest Target, which is in the middle of a nice shopping centre. Unfortunately, the route had to run through a neighbourhood that was filled with car-owning, public transport-disliking, letter-writing people, who lobbied the city until the route was discontinued. And I thought of that because there was quite a stretch of this route where we didn't pick up any passengers, and I wondered if this is another neighbourhood where no one who lives there needs the bus, but the route runs through it to get to the transport-needy people on the other side. Whatever it is, in Austin the bus is more of a part of life than a nuisance to be expelled, for which I am very thankful.

Have you ever been to an anarchist bookstore? Would you fall asleep on the bus? Do you prefer to get to a bus stop on time to avoid the sprinting?

18 July 2011

Cuteness on the Bus

Kids on the bus crack me up. I'll save my long-winded observations on how bus-riding makes them competent and independent for another day: Today is all about how cute they are.

Most parents will squish their small kids in two to a seat, especially when the bus is crowded. This is totally normal, happens all the time, etc., but the kids still manage to look affronted every time. I've never seen any of them throw a fit, they just put on their offended face and then get on with it.

One day last week, I was getting off behind a mum who had two toddlers and a baby, plus a large stroller. The older girl jumped the gap between the bus and the curb, but the younger one was too small for that. She reached for her mum's hand to get help getting across, but since Mum had a baby in one arm and a stroller in the other, she couldn't get the wee one right away. So, in a resourceful, "anyone taller than me will do" kind of way, the girl reached for the next adult in line-- me. I got her across, and fortunately her mum wasn't one of the "call the police-- someone just looked at my kid!" kind of people. We all went on our merry way.

And now for something completely different... I was on the bus more than usual last week because the brakes on my bike (who I decided to call Charlotte, Sharlie for short) were all out of whack. Someone at Bike Texas recommended I go to East Side Pedal Pushers, who are only a couple of blocks from here, so I did, and Wow. The young man who fixed my brakes was very communicative about what he was doing, got my input at every stage, and was all-around friendly, speedy, and professional. I have a new favourite bike shop. Plus, while he was working, I got to poke around looking at all the sleek and shiny bikes sitting in the shop. I plan on having Sharlie for a long time, but it never hurts to look.

Who else has a cute kid story today? (Or perhaps a not-so-cute story, or a cute-to-everyone-but-mum story?)

15 July 2011

H (Part) 2 O

Last week I talked about greywater, and some of the ways we've found to capture barely-used water (like in the shower) to reuse it (in our case, for flushing the toilet).

I remembered the other day reading a short story in school called Rain, Rain, Go Away: Mrs. Wright comments that to fill a cup with water, Mrs. Sakkaro put a cup under the tap, turned it on, and then turned if off again before removing the cup. Mrs. Wright thought that was odd, I wondered what was so strange about it, so I began doing the same. I've been doing it that way ever since. I don't know how much water I've saved by doing this-- possibly enough, over the course of the last 20 years, to take one shower-- but I suppose you could say it was this story that set me on the road of water conservation.

Kinda. After all, despite dire warnings from experts, and studies telling us just how much trouble even the US is in when it comes to water shortages if we don't change our hydrating ways, it's hard to imagine running out of water. I mean, Central Texas is in a drought, all the little creeks and streams I cross on a daily basis are dry, but water still comes out of my tap on command. Clean water. It may taste funny some days, but then that's why I have a filtration pitcher. So basically I'm living my life, drinking water like a crazed person, and hoping someone figures it out. Fortunately, since I do have a strong earth-loving streak, I am doing something.

In addition to the aforementioned water reuse, I've started taking what I've discovered are called Navy Showers; that is, I turn the water on to get wet, turn it off for the actual washing bit (soap and shampoo), then turn it back on for a final rinse. I have a feeling that my heat-loving self will not love this approach once the temps drop again, but on the bright side, I have months before I have to worry about that. Another easy one is handwashing, done the same way: Water on for getting wet and rinsing off, and water off for lathering up. We all know about turning the water off during tooth-brushing and shaving. And of course, I try not to spill when filling my pitcher.

Is there more I can do? I'm sure there is. In what I'm calling the easy way out, I live in an apartment complex with somewhere around 200 units. The grass-watering and the pool here, while they all use water, definitely use a lot less than if we all lived in 200 separate homes. There's something to be said for apartment living. But those two things hardly count as my contribution, because I don't intend to have a house with a pool, and I'm just forgetful enough that my grass would probably die with no assistance from me in the water department. I'm not saving a lot, overall, by living here.

How about you? Do you conserve water? I'm sure between us we can come up with some great ideas.

14 July 2011

Is It So Hard?

So I have a few rant-y posts all stored up inside me for your reading irritation. We'll start with the easy one: Why does our culture make "different" such a fight?

The sun breaks through the clouds...
if only.  Source.
Seriously. You prefer books over movies? Weirdo. You'd rather be single than married? Dork. You are putting off buying a house? Immature. You don't want to drive an SUV? Freak. And those are the smaller, individual things. We all know how well we act on the biggies: That we (this would be the all-encompassing 'we') had to have a Civil Rights Movement instead of actually living out the "all men are created equal" that we thought was important enough to put in the Declaration of Independence, for crying out loud, is a disgrace. That our society regulates who can get married and who cannot based on sexual preference-- as if that's anyone's business but the concerned parties-- is an embarrassment. (Yes. I said it. Conservative friends, feel free to turn away in horror.)

Why, oh why, can we not live and let live? You don't approve of my lifestyle? Fine. Walk away and you don't have to see it. I don't approve of yours? I'll do the same. See how easy that was?

I tend to get started down this road because I'm a cyclist, which everyone knows is crazy-weird, and many drivers have no qualms about getting on the internet to shout about how wrong it is that they have to share their space with cyclists. And if the internet isn't enough, these people will go to town meetings or-- even worse-- drive in such a way as to intimidate cyclists. But cycling is only one small example out of many. And even if we get past cyclists v drivers, or one race v another, or gay marriage, I'm sure there will be another issue on the horizon.

Two questions today; answer either or both. What does your culture do that drives you crazy? What would your ideal "living in harmony" look like?

13 July 2011

All the Ones

On July 4th, Chad and I had a whole day free from any outside commitments; no class for him, no internship for me. So we decided on this day to tackle the longest, and busiest, route on our list: Route #1.

The transit center at the northern end
of the route. It's a park-and-ride, and
is really pretty cool.
Actually, we were quite lucky to get a three-for-one deal on this route. There are two regular #1 routes, the 1L and the 1M, which share the middle portion of the route with some slight deviation from one another at either end. An express route, the 101, also covers this particular line, but it was not running on July 4th due to the holiday. As mentioned, this is a busy, heavily-traveled corridor through Austin, one that runs almost as far to either end as we can go on a bus; basically, we covered the length of Austin in one day. One long, tiring day.

Because of the busyness, this route runs frequently; on a regular weekday, if your travel needs take you anywhere on the shared portion of the route, your wait is likely to be less than 10 minutes. It's slightly less frequent on weekends or holidays, but we never waited longer than 20 minutes all day. Additionally, CapMetro just received a federal grant to start a Bus Rapid Transit service in Austin, and this route will be one of the first to get the faster buses. I participated in a webinar about that yesterday, so much much more about it is coming soon!

One of the shops on South Congress.
This was my favourite store that I
saw the first time I ran the half-
marathon in Austin. Please do enlarge
the picture and identify all the
famous people.
Anyway, my poor unsuspecting husband had no idea, when I suggested we take on the longest route on our free-est day that I had an ulterior motive: There are all sorts of fun shops on South Congress that I've wanted to visit ever since our first trip to Austin for the marathon in 2009. Life and forgetfulness have intervened often in the year we've lived here, but I finally managed to get myself and my husband to this row of quirky, locally owned shops. Unfortunately, most of them were closed for the holiday, but at least we got closer to them than ever before. More photos from the trip are here.

And when it comes to sights to see, that's about it. There are lots of shopping centres along this route, a few libraries, two universities and a college, but for sheer coolness, nothing beats those few blocks on South Congress. I will say that we passed a couple of liquor stores with amusing names: Metric Liquor, which is on Metric Boulevard but makes me think it's weighed in grams instead of ounces, and Passionate Spirits, which I don't want to dwell on too much. What this route does have is lots of connections to other bus routes, lots of living spaces (of the single-family house and the apartment variety), and lots of shopping centres that are easy to get into from a bus. Which is what makes it such a popular route; what it lacks in scenery it more than makes up for in function. Goodness knows I've hopped onto this route from campus multiple times, usually to get to a connecting bus. It works, and works well.

And the Super Target at the
southern end of the route. I think
all stores with "Super" in the name
should be required to have capes.
Now, this north-to-south, easy connectivity also attracts all the crazies that ride the Austin buses. Not only is this route crowded, but it's like a little "Keep Austin Weird" fest just being on this bus. We got on one that was particularly crowded, and a young man standing near the front told us to move back so people could get on. Um, excuse me? Are your feet glued to the floor so that you can't move back? I didn't stop to snark at him, though, since I was intending to move back anyway, but sheesh. Another young man, who I temporarily named Mind-Altered, was loudly regaling his friend with a roommate's story of his (the roommate's) latest conquest, and how Mind-Altered told him, "I don't want to hear this!" I wanted to ask him, "What makes you think the rest of us want to hear it?" As it happened, we ran into Mind-Altered and his pal about three more times before the day was done. At another stop, a man got on and searched about 10 different pockets in his cargo pants and knapsack for his bus fare before finding it. Then, once he got a seat, he practised martial arts moves with his arms until we got to his stop. And finally, not so much "weird" as "wow", a dozen-ish French-speaking students got on the bus and had us completely surrounded for the last couple of miles of the route. I really need to learn that language.

So, what have we learned? Sometimes the routes will be more utilitarian than pretty. And people-watching opportunities abound, no matter what.

Is there something in your city that's more function than design? Do you see/use/visit it?

11 July 2011

A Cure for the Summer Heat

In a frenzy of holiday-weekend madness and another-job-rejection depression, I talked Chad into buying some fudgesicles last week. They're pretty much my favourite icy treat ever. Of course, having bought and inhaled them, I promptly wanted more. I didn't really want the trek to the store, though, especially given the likelihood of the fudgesicles melting on the way home, plus the equal likelihood of me buying more than I intended while there. And then my shoulder angel turned up and reminded me, "You have a recipe for those."

Yes. Yes, I do. A few years ago I was in a Once A Month Cooking craze, and during that time I found a HUGE database of recipes, compiled by mums who wanted to feed their kids homemade food but were constrained by budgets and limited time. There was great stuff on there, and I saved all the ones that sounded good, including this recipe for Magic Mix (which is good for lots of things, btw, not just fudgesicles; that may be a post for another day):

4 c nonfat dry milk powder
1 c flour
½ c vegetable oil

Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix until it looks like cornmeal. Keep mix tightly covered and store in freezer (or refrigerator). This recipe makes 10 servings. ½ c cornstarch and ¼ c oil can be used instead of the flour and ½ c oil.

When I went looking to see if I could still find the website to appropriately credit the geniuses who shared this with me, I was unsuccessful. I did, however, find an alternate recipe for Magic Mix:

2 1/3 C. Non instant Powdered Milk
1 C. All Purpose Flour
1 C. Real Margarine (not spread) or Butter, at room temperature

Combine dry milk, flour and margarine/butter into a large bowl and mix with electric mixer until it looks like corn meal. Keep mix tightly covered in the refrigerator, it will stay good up to 2 months.

Popsicle molds + ice cube tray of
soon-to-be fudgesicles. I stood my
molds on end because I had an
irrational fear that they would leak. 
So I promptly mixed some up, then launched into the fudgesicle recipe:

½ c sugar
2 cups water
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 t vanilla
2 c Magic mix

In a medium saucepan combine the sugar and cocoa powder. Stir in the Magic Mix and water. Cook and constantly stir over medium heat until the mixture bubbles. Stir in vanilla and beat mixture until smooth. Pour mixture into 3-ounce paper cups. Place a wooden popsicle stick in each cup. Freeze until firm. Popsicle can be stored in a plastic bag in the freezer. To eat, peel off the paper cup. Recipe makes 8 fudgesicles.

I thought this one looked like Darth
Vader's helmet. Then I took a bite out
of it and it really looked like Darth
Vader's helmet.
I tried some of the cooked mix when I switched spoons for filling my popsicle molds, and Wow. It was like hot cocoa had solidified itself into a thick chocolate sauce. Also, the recipe may say it makes eight paper-cup-sized treats, but I filled my four molds and still had enough mix to entirely fill an ice-cube tray.

And the result? Cool, creamy chocolate goodness. However. I will definitely try the alternative recipe for Magic Mix, just to see if I like it better. Also, the fudgesicles are a bit too sweet, and I've (finally!) reached an age where enough is enough as far as sugar is concerned. So, on my next go-round, I'll reduce the sugar as well. Your mileage may vary. Also, if you're doing the ice-cube-tray thing, use sturdy toothpicks.

This would be a fun project with school-aged kids, btw, if there are any mums out there who are having a mid-summer crisis with bored children. When I was a kid, I used to think that every mum but my own was making popsicles with their kids, but now I've come to believe that my mother is probably not alone in her reluctance. :)

Have you ever made your own fudgesicles? Popsicles? Other frozen delights?

08 July 2011

Grey Is My Water (Part 1)

Every time we go to Indiana, my husband is bound to say at least once, "You are so like your Grandma!" He's right, of course. Case in point: The last time we visited, Chad was rinsing an apple or washing his hands or some such nonsense, and he let the water run about three milliseconds longer than Grandma thought was necessary, so she launched into scolding mode: "You're wasting the water! We have to pay for that!" Yes, in case you're wondering, most of my best lines are actually my grandmother's lectures repurposed for the 21st century.

Loch Lomond. The Loch Lomond. As
in, "You'll take the high road." That
Loch Lomond.
So, it's genetics and not just eco-craziness that makes me reluctant to waste water. Unfortunately, there are lots of ways to use water and not as many ways to reuse it: Dishwashing, cooking (specifically pasta or beans, in this house), laundry, showers, handwashing, and of course, flushing. Some of this water is capture-able, some not.

Today I want to yammer on a bit about uses for greywater; next week I'll talk more about water conservation. And just to clarify before we go further: Greywater is used water from non-toilet sources (although Crunchy Chicken does point out that water from the kitchen sink could be considered blackwater due to the organic material). Blackwater is from the toilet, because it contains, erm, toilet stuff. Whitewater comes from your taps and is drinkable (but has no clever Wikipedia page). My goal is to use more whitewater for drinking, cooking, and showering purposes and use greywater for other purposes, if possible.

Unfortunately, we live in an apartment and don't have the option of installing a greywater system (those things that take shower, bathroom sink, and/or washing machine water and redirect it to plant watering or some other non-drinking use). So, I'm having to make do with what I have. At the suggestion of Crunchy Chicken, I put a bucket in the shower a couple of months ago and use the collected water to flush the toilet, in a "this is the least I can do to save water" kind of way. (Chad says this dirties up our clean toilet. I say there are more important things in life that sparkling toilets, especially since Central Texas is in a drought, again. Chad says, "Have it your way, then." And so I do.)

And so, I thought, why not put all my used-once, captured water into the greywater buckets? Rinse water (I use a big bowl in the sink, instead of the sink itself) from the dishes, the cooled water left over after I incubate my yogurt (I don't want to use it for cooking or drinking after it's been sitting in an old milk jug for eight hours), or the day-old water forgotten in my water bottle. I can't do anything about my laundry water or my kitchen sink water, both of which would need the previously-mentioned greywater system to clean it up a bit before watering the lawn or whatnot, but I can at least make a dent in our water use. And if I didn't flush my toilet with greywater, it would be flushed with whitewater straight from the pipes, which is a pity.

Do you have any kind of greywater system, or another way to reuse water that isn't too dirty?

07 July 2011

I've Been Awarded

I've managed to pick up a couple of awards, and in the process I realised I hadn't updated my Trophy Case since the last time I got awards. Sheesh... I tidy up my blog almost as well as I tidy up my house.

From the wonderful Jenny at The Modest Peacock, I received:

Thanks, Jenny! The usual course of action is to share 7 random facts about myself and then pass it on. More on that anon.

And from the ridiculously cute Nutschell at The Writing Nut, we have:

What's not to love about that? Thanks, Nutschell! The rule for this one is to list 5 books/films/TV programmes I've experienced in the last 12 months. So just for fun, I'll combine these 5 and the above 7 things and see what comes out. And I'm totally ignoring that "last 12 months" bit, because you all know what I'm like with rules.

1. I can't remember the last time I was in a movie theatre. It might have been the third Pirates of the Caribbean; it might have been The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe; it might have been Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Whichever of those is the most recent.

2. I held out on cloth hankies instead of tissues for years, even though my husband tried to get me to switch. I finally gave in after reading No Impact Man. And now that I use and love hankies, I have no idea why I was so opposed to them in the first place.

3. We don't actually own a DVD player any longer, but that's okay, because we also don't have the money to rent DVDs. Good thing we have cable TV, eh? (It comes with the apartment; I clarify this because I realise it's generally insane to have cable TV but no spare cash for Netflix.)

4. Dharma & Greg started playing from the beginning a few weeks ago on one of our cable channels. I've been watching, laughing, and remembering why I loved the show in the first place.

5. I find there is no circumstance in my life that cannot be explained by an episode of Friends, The West Wing, or The Waltons. If I ever meet anything outside the purview of those three shows, I will assume that I have finally met alien life.

6. Speaking of alien life, the book Contact? Much better than the movie. Much, much better.

7. Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are in a movie together this summer? Wait, Julia Roberts was in Eat Pray Love? This is what happens when you don't watch TV (much) or go to the movies. You miss things.

8. I read Dash & Lily's Book of Dares last week. It's a Christmas book, but being slightly out-of-season has never bothered me (I listen to Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas stuff year-round, after all). After reading, I raced to the internet to find out if Collation is a real film and was sad to find out that it is not (although seriously, Pixar, it's a great idea), but was delighted to confirm that The Strand is a real bookstore.

9. So now I want to plan a book-finding vacation in New York. Or perhaps just go to grad school there.

10. And now that I'm thinking about it, I want to write my memoir in a hurry so Julia Roberts can play me. She's 11 years my senior, but has less grey hair, so I think it can all work out. Now I just need to do something interesting. Or perhaps I can wait and write my memoir when I'm 65, so that a 76-year-old Julia Roberts can play me. That gives me a few years to do something worth writing about. Okay, it's a plan.

11. I think I'll call it The Wheels on the Bus and it'll be me sitting on the bus through various stages of my life. A not-yet-born actress will have to play the young me, Debby Ryan will be the perfect age to be the middle-aged me, and Julia Roberts can play the senior citizen me. And Tom Hanks can play Chad.

12. And now for something completely different... I wish David Letterman, Craig Ferguson and Conan O'Brien could have their late-night-ness a bit earlier in the day. I turn into a pumpkin at 10 PM so I can't stay up to enjoy the hilarity, which is a real bummer. Although now that I've hunted up those links, I magically remembered that I live in the internet age and can watch these very funny gentlemen any time I want. Well, that's one problem solved.

There you have it! And now, to hand them round and share the joy. I'm choosing recent commenters this time, and I feel like there's someone who said they don't care for blog awards... but I can't remember who it was. So, go see these bloggers and spread some love!

Versatile Bloggers:

Delores at The Feathered Nest
JEFritz at Still Writing...
The Golden Eagle at The Eagle's Aerial Perspective
Mary at Giggles and Guns
mshatch at Mainewords

Cute Bloggers:

Jenny at The Modest Peacock
erica and christy at erica and christy
the Runner at Running Candid
Kerri at Earth's Crammed with Heaven
Deniz Bevin at The Girdle of Melian

06 July 2011

"This Is More Fun."

I knew our trek on Route #30 was going to be a good one when it started off with a conversation with a wee boy and his mum. The wee boy was giggling with pure joy at the universe, and his mum told us how much he loves to ride the bus. She finished up with, "We could bring the car, but this way is just more fun." Yes. Yes, it is.

We're in a drought, but
this trail still manages to be
green and friendly.
The 30 passes a couple of parks and through a really pretty neighbourhood before our preferred first stop near the Austin Nature Center. There's a trail head immediately behind the bus stop, so that's where we headed. The trail is gorgeous and blessedly shady (it was around 100 Fahrenheit on this Friday afternoon), winding around a dried-up creek and including plenty of trees, plants, and informational signs. There's also a Lookout Point, which naturally we climbed up to, cursing our own stubbornness as we went. The Nature Center is really close to a freeway, and for this country-bred girl it's a bit surreal to be in the middle of forest and still be able to hear traffic. And yet, that's more or less what happens.

Our next stop was Barton Creek Square Mall, because we wanted as much contrast between nature and city as possible. The drive there was what really made it worth it, though, because the mall is near the Barton Creek Greenbelt, which meant hills full of trees, and as the bus came over a hill we could see for a long way. I was totally awed, because I never get tired of scenic vistas.

One downside at Barton Creek Square is the placement of the bus stop. I don't know if it's the mall's design, CapMetro's, or both, but the bus stop is situated so that passengers have to cross traffic and walk along the edge of the building (no sidewalk) past an unloading zone and behind the handicapped parking spaces before getting to the building. No "Watch for Pedestrians" signs, no crosswalk markings on the lot, nothing. It needs a redesign. I would imagine these not-ideal conditions extend to anyone who parks and has to cross the parking lot. Definitely needs a fix.

Now, I had previously thought that we had hit the heights of posh peeing the time we used the loo at the Scottish Parliament building. But I was wrong, because the facilities in Nordstrom are far superior to the public loos in Scottish government buildings. After we finished our visit, I remarked to Chad that it was probably the poshest pee I'd ever taken, but he disagreed; apparently the men's at the Radisson (where we dropped in for a visit last week) is fancier than the men's at Nordstrom. The women's, on the other hand, is much better in Nordstrom. Do with that information what you will.

As we wound our way from Barton Creek Square to the South Lamar Transit Center, I watched out the window and thought about how little I know of Austin. I'm very familiar with the swath of city from downtown to our apartment, but that's it; I've only become acquainted with a small sliver of the place I currently call home. And I suppose that's the real meaning behind this project, and probably the sort of motivation that convinces people to take staycations instead of going somewhere far off: There is plenty to be discovered right here. As we rolled down streets I've never seen and saw glimpses of neighbourhoods I've never visited, I was glad that I chose this stunt over any others that came to mind. It really is more fun.

More pictures from Route #30 are here.

How well do you know your city? (I won't specifically ask for public restroom comments, but by all means, feel free to volunteer them.)

05 July 2011

Teaser Tuesday #14

Before we get to the Teaser Tuesday bit, I have a question for Goodreads or other book site users: What do you do if you don't finish a book? Do you write a review that tells people why you didn't finish? Do you remove it from your list? Leave it dangling? Move it to "read" but don't put a finishing date? I'm just curious as to what other people's general practise (if you have one) is.

And now, the teaser you've been waiting for:

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares, Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

He brandished a volume of Winston Churchill's memoirs and pointed it accusingly at me.

"And while I will never allow myself to be banned from the Strand, I promise not to seek information when you are sitting at that particular desk."

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!

04 July 2011

People Loving People

This is the local news coverage of the church we attended in Lubbock: they went to Tuscaloosa a couple of weeks ago to help with cleanup. Sure wish we could have gone, but I'm delighted to see these people that I love doing what they can to help. (And yes, I totally got all teary when I watched.)

How Things Change

Last year, Independence Day was our last day in Lubbock: We rolled out of town on July 5th. And just sitting here thinking about it, I am totally marvelling at all that has happened since then. It's remarkable how the human brain adapts to change: I lived in Lubbock for 10 years and 2 months, but it all seems like a dream-- I kind of feel like Elizabeth Gilbert mentions in Eat, Pray, Love, when she opens her eyes in India and it's as if she has been there forever. I may still be new here, but when I open my eyes in Austin every day, it's hard to remember everywhere else.

The real contrast, though, is in the weather: Last year, it started raining sometime on July 2nd (or it may have been July 1st) and continued in a bucketing, emptying deluge for a few days. The running club's Independence Day run was cut short, the fireworks were cancelled, and even the pre-firework show in the park was flooded out, to my great disappointment. This year, it hasn't rained to speak of for weeks (both here and in Lubbock) and the fireworks are cancelled for the opposite reason: Too dry. Bummer.

But my real thought for today didn't happen on Independence Day. It didn't happen this week, or even this year. Once upon a time, Chad and I worked at the Texas Boys Ranch, looking after boys who had been removed from their homes through no fault of their own. I took eight of them to a hockey game on my own one night, and I remember it clearly because it was the only time in seven months that I got all the boys in my charge to do as they were told at the same time. We came out of the entrance to our section in the stadium just as they were about to play the national anthem. I stopped the boys at the top of the ramp so we could stand still for the anthem, but one of them didn't notice and was goofing around, pretending to hide in the curtain behind us while all the others laughed. I grabbed his sleeve and pulled him over next to me, then hissed at all of them, "Stand still!" Then I stopped looking at them, turned toward the flag, and put my hand over my heart.

But I hadn't really stopped watching them, of course, and out of the corner of my eye I saw eight little boys look at me, then look at each other, and then every single one of them faced the flag and put his hand over his heart just like I did. It's been years, and the thought of it still fills me with pride, not just that they behaved for 30 seconds (although that was nice), but also that they realised in that moment that something important was happening. And they wanted to be part of it.

Happy Independence Day! Enjoy your picnics, your parades, and your fireworks. And if you aren't in the USA, then have a great day on me. :)

03 July 2011

Finish the Race

Today's post is two-fold: First, a heads-up that if anyone thrives on daily Cheeky posts, he or she will have to make an adjustment. I started the daily blogging thing last July, mainly out of a desire to see if I could blog daily. And apart from a couple of hiccups, I've more or less arrived: Since July 1, 2010, I have posted 359 times. Ladies and gentlemen, I declare that to be close enough. Starting this week I'm backing it down to 3-4 posts a week, depending on what mood I'm in. I'm not changing my topics at all, but there will be some consolidation. Of course, in true Cheeky fashion, I haven't decided on what will be consolidated to when, so I'm just going to throw it all in the hopper and see what comes out. Thanks for coming along on my post-every-day journey! Without all of you-- well, I'd just be talking to myself, wouldn't I? The voices in my head get along better when I talk to people besides myself, though.

Second, today's verse is 2 Timothy 4:7: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (NIV). If you aren't familiar with 2 Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote it in his last days, as he was imprisoned by Rome and awaiting execution, hence the reason "fought", "finished", and "kept" are in past tense. In more or less every sense, he was done.

As far as I know, I'm not done. I still have fighting and racing and keeping ahead of me. But this verse reminds me to keep going, for one day I will arrive at my finish line. And of course it has special resonance with me as a runner-- I know what it is to run a race, pour out all my effort, and finish with nothing left. There's that popular saying that goes around the internet, that when paraphrased says that we aren't meant to arrive in the grave in a perfectly preserved body, having risked nothing and lost nothing, but rather we're meant to skid in sideways rejoicing in what a great ride it was. Or, in this instance, what a great race. I want to live my life so that I can, at the end of my days, say the same as Paul: I have fought, I have finished, I have kept. Run on, my friends.

How is your race going?

02 July 2011

Where it All Began.

Now that I've had this How Green is my Saturday? thing going for six months, and even managed a recap last week without even thinking about how I'd hit the 6-month point, I'm going to take one more trip down memory lane before plunging back into regaling you with my personal Healthy/Environmental/Low-Budget adventures.

Yeah, I've come to think of my lifestyle as Living on a Dime meets No Impact Man. I've mentioned a few times that my family were sustainable before anyone knew what sustainability even was, and for a very simple reason: All four of my grandparents lived through the Depression, neither of my grandfathers even graduated from high school, and then both sets of grandparents raised multiple children (eight on my dad's side, three on my mum's) on small incomes. My parents learned how to make do on very little, then got to put it into practise with a three-children-and-no-money life of their own. It turns out that many things that are good for the wallet are also good for the earth, the chief among these being: Don't Waste.

Hey, it's green.
And really, for me, that's the core of the environmental movement. I know there are other concerns, like about the chemicals getting into our food and water due to pesticides and pharmaceuticals, or the masses of yucky gas created when we move people and stuff all over the place, or the need to extract oil and metals and other modern-day essentials from wherever they are hidden in the earth, causing some level of havoc at the source. And I don't mean to dismiss these concerns lightly, but again, they eventually point back to not wasting things.

So I had "Don't Waste!" well-drilled into me from an early age, and when at age 12 I declared myself to be an environmentalist (that's when the enviro-stuff first started hitting the education system), my parents doubtless saw an opportunity to get me to finally remember to turn off the lights and use both sides of the paper before recycling it. The only real addition I've had to the Don't Waste mantra since then is my mostly-vegetarianism, and that's mainly because I love vegetables and don't love meat.

Anyway. All that to say, most of my earth-loving tips do serve a dual purpose: Keeping the earth as healthy as I can while keeping my bank balance in the black. Usually, those things go well together, and those are the very tips, tricks, and crazies that I share with you.

Until next time: Which of your parents' mantras have stuck with you? How/why?

01 July 2011

Health, Beauty, and the Wonders of Route #3

First things first... Happy Canada Day to my Canadian friends both in person and in the interwebs. May your barbecues be tasty, your parades be perfect, your fireworks be bright, and your insect repellent be strong. And please, enjoy your fireworks in extra measure on my behalf, because the Austin fireworks for Independence Day have been cancelled due to drought.

But never mind that; you came here to read about Day 1 of our Exploring Austin Quest, didn't you? (Real name coming soon, after everyone has had enough time to finish voting on it... VOTE NOW in the poll in the sidebar! -->) For our maiden voyage, as it were, we chose Route #3-- the northern half, that is. This challenge may take longer than anticipated if we have to break all the routes in two!

Remember my rule about asking for help? Well, the first thing I did was break that rule. Oops. Route 3 is detoured by construction, but rather than call and ask customer service, I went with what the online trip planner said to do. Unfortunately, a computer is only a high-speed idiot, and it does not keep abreast of the latest road construction detours all by its onesie. So, the stop it sent us to was closed. There was a sign at the closed stop, telling us the nearest stop to use, so we went there, only to discover there is no stop at the intersection it sent us to. The long and short of it is, we walked about a mile before we ever got on the bus.

I'm sure this is a slightly irreverant
use of the prayer garden.
But, once we got going it was all good. The #3 goes through the medical district, some fun shopping areas, and aaaaaalll the way up north to a couple of adjoining shopping centers, where we got off. Our first visit was to this prayer garden at a church, where Chad decided to pose with the locals, before we headed over to see the wonders of the Great Hills Market. Two things of note here: First, I'd been intending to look for Kiss My Face brand soap as soon as I run out of my current brand, and I found it lurking in the Austin Beauty Store; second, it appears that Chad and I are incapable of walking past any frozen yogurt shop without going in. And they've been popping up all over Austin like a creamy, frozen plague. I liked mine; Chad did not like his.

These may be the strangest bedfellows
ever, but hey, after seeing the colon
and rectal doctors, who wouldn't want
to get their hair done?
And then back on the bus to get Chad to class on time (his class is on the #3 route; that's pretty much why I chose it for a day he had class). I got off with him to take pics of the fun shopping and medical districts around where he goes to massage school. Yeah, I said "fun medical district", because oddly enough, it is. Check out that picture to the left. Seriously, do it.

So, we'll have to go back for the southern half of Route #3, and I can only hope that it's as entertaining as the northern half. If you want to see more pics of our journey (and why wouldn't you?) go here.

Are you Canadian? Do you like frozen yogurt? I don't dare ask your opinion of the colon & rectal docs, but I'm sure you'll tell me if you are so moved. (Ha!)