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.

31 December 2012

That's a Wrap

Well, it hasn't been a very busy year here at Cheekyness, has it? I just had a look at my blog stats & apparently I ran out of things to say once I stopped going to college every day. Well, that's a bummer. Guess it's time to re-adjust my lens and find interesting things in my non-campus life.

So this is the time of the year when some people will make (and for most, promptly abandon) resolutions, some will avow that they never make resolutions, and there's always that group that says they don't make "resolutions", they make "goals", accompanied by dictionary definitions of both words that should clearly explain why one is better than the other. Okay, well, if thinking of things that way works for you, on you go, then. For me, it's six and half-a-dozen whether it's a resolution, a goal, a plan, or whatever you want to call it.

How was 2012 for me? I managed about half of the things I set out to do. But one that I missed is going to be bugging me-- I came up just over 100 miles short of my cycling goal this year. I wanted to do 2000 miles; I finished at 1895. And I'm not going to go ride a century today just to catch up, so that's it. On the upside, it's still nearly 700 miles more than 2011, which was 400 miles more than my next best year (2009). So, I guess I'll embrace it. But I think I'm shooting for 2013 miles in 2013, just for fun.

In the bigger picture, 2012 was not a good year. Too many shootings, too many traffic fatalities (77 in Austin this year, up from 54 in 2011), too much hatred spewed across the internet... just too much. I would hope that 2013 will be better in that respect, but I have to say I'm almost out of optimism. The best I can hope to do is hang on.

Well, that's not a very happy note to end on. Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve! Enjoy your fireworks, your friends, your parties, or whatever it is you do to welcome another turn of the calendar. And let's all hang on together in 2013.

What are you doing to celebrate tonight?

18 December 2012

In My Mailbox

I haven't done one of these in a while, but I should probably rename it. None of these books came in my mailbox. However, it's the sentiment that matters, so here goes-- books I've read in the last couple of weeks (all images from Goodreads):

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

One of my holiday favourites! There was no way I was letting Christmas go by without Dash & Lily. I've pondered buying this book instead of checking it out from the library every year, but I'm afraid if it were within reach to re-read all the time, it would lose its magic. So it remains my 'read-every-Christmas' book.

Buzzwords, May Barenbaum

Chad picked this up for me from the library a couple of semesters ago when I was eye-deep in classwork. I added it to my to-read list with the promise that I would come back to it, and now I have. Haven't started it yet... it's sitting on my shelf begging for my attention.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

I can't believe I've only just read this book. It was on my Kindle, I was on the bus, it was a long trip, and this is a short book (much to my surprise-- I thought it was longer). Loved it.

Head Over Heels, Sara Downing

Another Kindle read. Liked it but didn't love it. Enjoyed the writing style, though!

Diary of a Mall Santa, Stewart Scott

Heartwarming holiday read. Brought me to tears a couple of times. There's no doubt in my mind that this man is an excellent Santa.

Thumped, Megan McCafferty

Sequel to Bumped. Not quite as satisfying as the original, but it kept my attention enough to read it through in a single evening.

What are you reading this week?

17 December 2012

A Time to Pause

I really wish I could write an appropriate, touching, rational post about Friday's horror. I'm afraid I can't do it. Not because I don't have words-- I have plenty. But because words won't help, and they're all being said already, by everyone.

I also wish I could express the frustration I felt as my Twitter feed scrolled down my screen Friday morning. None of the arguments that sprung up, none of the tears shed, none of the "in remembrance" pictures that are circulating will bring back what we had on Thursday. I hope the tears and words and prayers can bring some help to the families as they heal. But as I lay in bed Friday night, all I could think was, "What do you do after you've lost a child? How do you even take your next breath?" I don't know the answer to that, and I hope to God that I never find out.

After a quick Google search, I found two organizations where you can help, if you are able: a school support fund through the United Way, and a private memorial fund. If neither of those work for you, here's the CNN article with more organizations.

I pause today to share this because I want everyone to know that when I resume posting my usual nonsense (tomorrow), it's not because I've forgotten or don't care. How could I not? Part of me making sense of my world is to write down what I'm thinking. And I could go on posting, day after day, about the senselessness of a school attack, as I'm sure we all could. But that's a short road to bitterness, to fear, to never leaving my house again. I won't let one madman have that much space in my head; he already has more than I wanted to give him. Than any of us wanted to give him. May God bless the families in Newtown. May they know that we all stand beside them.

Please, share whatever you'd like.

13 December 2012

I win again!

I'm not clear on what I won this time, because final grades aren't in yet, but last night around 10:30 I turned in my final assignment for my first semester as a graduate student. I'm once again looking at five blessed weeks of peace and freedom and no need to lug around a giant textbook everywhere I go in case I have three minutes for reading.

My first class was Introduction to Rhetoric, which was nice for me because that's what I've been studying the past to years in undergrad, so it made a nice transition to graduate-level work to have some of the same material that I've already seen a few times. Here's another nice transition: Remember Caffeinated, my instructor from a few semesters ago? Well, one of my classes next semester uses one of his books as the textbook. I will totally be reading my textbook in his voice, which should be really entertaining. More importantly, since I've been introduced to his teaching and writing style already, I have some hopes of understanding what he means, which will be a great improvement over this semester's textbook.

So, my plans for the next few weeks are: READ (for fun! yay!), blog, crochet, finally learn to knit, run, tidy my house, bake some bread, and oh yeah, put up some Christmas decorations. And take them down again in due course.

Students & teachers out there: How close are you to being done for your holiday break? Everyone else: Do you have a book recommendation for me?

30 November 2012


I gave myself a real fright this year, thinking I wasn't going to make it. But with 25 hours to spare:

Heck yeah, zero excuses. Here's what my stats look like:

If you look closely, you'll see there are only six days when my word count peeked over the par bar even a little bit. Today will be the seventh day (ha, ha), since I'm past 50K already. I still have one final chapter to write, and I hope that nabs me another thousand or so words before midnight. This will be the first time in my three years that the story is done when the month is done. 

Will I revise? No idea. I'll make that decision after my grad papers are all finished and I'm a little bit bored. (HA! Unlikely...)

Did you do NaNoWriMo? How did you do? Or did you do something else super-fun in November?

27 November 2012

Book Lovers, Rejoice!

Author extraordinaire Beth Revis (Across the Universe, A Million Suns, Shades of Earth) is having a massively massive book giveaway. You can get all these:

... if you're the lucky winner. 

Why do I love YA books? For a few reasons, really. One is that I got to YA in the natural course of reading and just never moved any further down the road. But that's only a small part of it. YA is filled with great stories and fabulous characters. For adults, it also provokes a fair amount of nostalgia, or possibly some "I wish my school had been like that!" or for the really harrowing stories, "Thank goodness my teen years were not that eventful".  Plus, I find them a lot easier to take in terms of language choices: there's less swearing and much less graphic violence and sex scenes. YA authors have this miracle of suggestion, it seems, and leave a lot more to the reader's imagination, which I prefer.

If you must enter to win this contest (and I wish you wouldn't; I hate to see my chances narrowed!) go here

Do you love YA? Why or why not?

26 November 2012

Run Right

I ran a Turkey Trot last Thursday, as is my wont, and enjoyed it very much, as is also my wont. However, I noticed once again that many people participate in these fun runs and family-oriented event with no clue how one is supposed to act, line up, or indeed, with no awareness at all of race day etiquette. (For repeat offenders, see Race for the Cure.)

I am here to help you with that.

Now, I in no way want to discourage anyone from gathering family, neighbours, friends, coworkers, random strangers, etc., and doing a holiday race together. There are a lot of nice Jingle Bell 5Ks around this holiday season, if eating chocolate, drinking cocoa, and watching yet another Hallmark Holiday Movie is starting to bring you down. Strap on your walking shoes, grab a coat and the kids, and get out there! No, this list of tips is just to make sure you and everyone around you can all have a fun time and show some basic courtesy to one another.

1. Slower participants start at the back. No exceptions!
This is the grim face of a
crazy person. Do you really
want to be in front of this?
Photo courtesy of the
West Texas Running Club.
This is so important, I'll say it one more time: Fast people get the front of the start area. Slow people get the back. Why? Because the fast people might just trample the slow people in their way, and the slow people will almost certainly frustrate the life out of the fast people. Remember, whatever this race may be for you, others in the crowd will be using it to get a serious workout or try to beat a previous time. Trust me, we are slightly crazy when we're in that mode. You get in front of us at your peril.

If you're walking, go to the back of the crowd at the start, no matter what your friend says about how she started at the front last year and everyone just went around her and it was no big deal. And-- I can't stress this enough-- no matter what time you arrived. Please don't come to the race an hour early so you can be up front, unless your name is Shalane Flanagan.

Not sure if you're a fast runner or not? Here's a good way to find out: If your running friends that you usually train with are at the front, go ahead. In all other circumstances, move back. If your race has signs with your expected pace, LINE UP THERE. Seriously.

2. Please do not form a human wall.
Walking two abreast is fine. Three abreast is sketchy. More than three abreast, and you've become a roadblock. Don't do it! It's great that your family is all walking together as a group, but you need to arrange yourselves so that every other person on the course doesn't have to squeeze through the tiny gap you left them out the side.

On the same note, please be aware of the space between you and other groups on the road. If you are walking three abreast and you happen to fall in step with another group that's also walking three abreast, the same problem ensues. If people are yelling "Excuse me!" a lot or you get brushed by more than one sweaty arm, it's time to re-think your position.

3. Do not, do not, do not stop in the middle of the pack.
Feeling a cramp? Screaming baby in your jogging stroller? Just tired and need to walk? That's fine. Pull over to the side, make sure that no one is directly behind you, and then stop. Alternatively, you can tuck in behind another walker if you just need to take a breather. Whichever one you choose, know that stopping dead in the middle of the road is a recipe for someone running into you. And I promise, no matter what kind of distress your baby is in, there is no universe in which stopping so that runners can knock into the stroller and send you both flying is a better situation. Take a few seconds to get out of the road.

4. Be kind!
Remember, whether it's your first race or your fiftieth, there will be people who don't know about race etiquette and it won't even have occurred to them that they need to look it up before heading out. Reserve your patience for those people, and if you must correct them, do so as kindly as possible. Do your part to make sure everyone has a great race. And be sure to thank all the volunteers and race officials that you see, including the police officers directing traffic!

Do you do fun runs? Do you bring the kids? Which is your favourite?

23 November 2012

Light Up Your Life

This post is not seasonal or jolly in any way. Happy Thanksgiving!

I finally remembered to gather my compact florescent lights (CFLs) a couple of weeks ago and take them in for recycling. Which, for me, involved wrapping them carefully in plastic bags and packing them into a box get to Home Depot on my bicycle so they didn't crack or anything goofy like that on the way. They do have a bit of mercury in them, which is not the sort of thing I want hanging around in my panniers.

The guy I found in the lighting department at Home Depot was really nice, and pointed out that Home Depot keeps the CFL recycling box at the front of the store, not near the light bulbs, which is just crazy. Anyway, he was very kind about praising my earth-friendliness, which makes me think that Home Depot really is recycling properly, and not just putting out a box to make people feel good. And if your CFLs run out, you can find a recycling spot near you here.

The man also said the amount of mercury in CFLs is smaller than the tip of a pen, which is good to know-- the way people talk about CFLs sometimes, I felt like I was handling a fragile deathtrap. Turns out, cleaning up a broken CFL is not terribly different from cleaning up any other broken light bulb, except that the EPA recommends letting the room air out for 10-15 minutes in case any mercury vapour escaped.

The whining on Facebook about incandescents being banned has picked up again lately, which makes me think that one of the "the government is coming for your children next!" horror stories is probably circulating again. Yeah, not so much. (In case you don't want to click through: incandescents aren't banned. You can still get them.)

Do you use CFLs? Do you recycle them?

11 November 2012

Remember, Remember

I re-read my old Remembrance Day posts and decided I couldn't do better today than what I've said before. Here's my 2008 Remembrance Day post:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

— Lt. Col. John McCrae, MD
Canadian Army

I have a Canadian coworker, who has made huge contributions to my sanity over the course of the past three years.

So I wandered to her desk yesterday morning, and announced, "I am here in my capacity as someone who asks stupid questions." She laughed and said, "Thanks."

My question was, "Does Canada observe two minutes of silence at 11 AM today?"

Yes, they do. A lot of countries do.

Why don't we? I have a variety of theories, but here's what I have settled on: We do not know war like Europe knows war. We don't even call November 11th "Remembrance Day". We honour our veterans, and rightly so. We fly our flag, as so we should. But we don't remember.

We have been blessed; our cities do not have the scars of war still upon them. Our elderly do not tell stories of huddling in air raid shelters while the sounds of planes and bombs roared outside. We do not have a war memorial in every town. We do not have these collective memories handed from one generation to the next, as Europeans do.

Our people, our families, have been touched by war. But our land, this past century, has not: not like France, or Poland, or Russia, or Britain. Or Iraq. And that, I think, is why we do not observe the collective moment of silence; we do not know, as they do, the relief of hearing two minutes of silence after years of hearing nothing but suffering.

Think of the poppies. Remember. And give thanks.

09 November 2012

Enviro Your NaNoWriMo

As soon as this merry little post appears in the blogosphere, I've written more posts for November than I did in October. That's just sad. I haven't had a 1-post month since 2004.

The other evening in class (I'm an online grad student; I know you've probably all forgotten about my adventures in education), our instructor asked, "Does anyone have any questions about today's assignment before we begin?" I said "Can I have October back? I'd like to give it another go." She agreed that she would also like to try October again, but she doesn't have that kind of power. How sad for all of us.

Anyway! NaNoWriMo is in full swing, except here, where I've spent the week catching up on homework, a work assignment, and another top-secret project that is not remotely NaNoWriMo-related. Not even a little bit. And since in theory Friday is my environmentally friendly posting day at Cheekyness, I decided to think of ways I could green up NaNoWriMo. (I've been typing it #NaNoWriMo so often on Twitter that I have a hard time leaving off the hashtag. Ye be warned.)

My mug of choice. So big it's
practically two mugs of choice. Also,
it's brilliant, as you can plainly see.
1. Drink your caffeinated beverage from a reusable mug. You're going to be on a first-name basis with the baristas at your local watering hole by the 30th anyway, right? They may as well know what your mug looks like so they can return it to you if you leave it behind one day in a sleep-deprived, alternate-world, writing haze.

2. Unplug your electronics when they aren't in use. Save energy, save money, save yourself from getting up to use the loo at 3 AM and seeing your computer sitting in idle mode and deciding to type "just a couple of quick paragraphs" and still being there when your alarm goes off for work.

3. Short showers. It'll save you time, water, and money. Get a whiteboard and pen in there to write down ideas, but not if it will cause you to linger. If you forget to shower, don't worry about it. You'll get it next time.

4. Only do laundry on the weekends. Save your weekday evenings for writing, and save all your clothes up until you have a full load. And then ask your spouse/roommate/children/neighbours to do it for you so you can keep writing.

5. Writing by hand? Make sure to get as much use as possible out of your pens and pencils. Sharpen those things down to nothing. Use the last drop of ink. Write on both sides of the paper. Use those discards from the printer that have one little line of text at the very bottom.

6. Eat oranges, tangerines, pears, and apples. They're in season now. (Okay, in most of the US they're in season now.) No prep required, the peels are edible or compostable (or both, if you're anything like my husband-- he loves eating orange peels), and you can stave off the NaNoWriMo 10. (I don't know if that's really a thing. But I bet it is.)

7. Resist the urge to print. Look, it's a first draft. Those are always going to be cruddy. Don't print it out until you de-cruddy it a bit. Or a lot.

8. Seven is probably a good number of tips, yeah?

9. Just leave the dust alone. It will still be there in December. That's not really an enviro-tip so much as a NaNo survival tip. But hey, it will save you either washing or tossing the dustrags for a while, and there's probably an environmentally friendly practise in there somewhere.

10. Don't drive! Carpool or take the bus. Valuable writing time. Save gas. Less pollution. Transcribe bizarre conversations directly into your novel. It's a win-win-win-win. Change the names of your carpool buddies in your novel before you get it published, though.

Well, that was the longest "I'll just write a quick blog post before bed!" ever. Dangit. Have a happy Friday, everybody!

Are you a WriMo? Let's be friends! I'm cheekysu. (The one in Austin, in case that link doesn't work like I think it's going to work.)

01 October 2012

Nothing to Report

Chad asked me something about my blog the other day, and I told him, "I still have things to write, but I haven't taken the time to write them." And then I sat down to write, and can't remember all the things I  wanted to write about. Meh.

Last week I went out of town with my work to do bicycle things. I also had to turn in my first reading response for grad school. Before that... yeah, I don't know. I probably tweeted about it.

Denise & I making faces at
each other. Kinda.
My sister moved in! Yay! I'm so very happy to have her here. So far we've spent a lot of time waiting for buses. Seriously, I don't know why she is so lucky, but I swear CapMetro has gotten slower since she moved here. No need to raise expectations, I suppose.

I hope to go around and visit a few blogs this week, maybe make some friends, that sort of thing. Also, did everyone else notice that NaNoWriMo starts in a month? Holy macaroni.

What are you up to? Any brilliant NaNo ideas you aren't planning to use that I can swipe?

09 September 2012

Be Light Made

I'm reading along in a textbook about oral cultures and their sentence structure, formulas, clichés, and so on (and it's fascinating, btw; I think I made need to explore this more), and I come across two examples from Genesis 1: The first is an early translation, still influenced by oral culture; the second is a more modern, American, literate version. Have a look:

In the beginning God created heaven and earth. And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God moved over the waters. And God said: Be light made. And light was made. And God saw the light that it was good; and he divided the light from the darkness. And he called the light Day, and the darkness Night; and there was evening and morning one day.
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, 'Let there be light', and there was light. God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness. God called the light 'day' and the darkness he called 'night'. Thus evening came, and morning followed—the first day.
A page from the Gutenberg
Bible. I don't read in Latin.

Like so many people my age or older, I grew up hearing the King James Version read in church and at home. I was a teenager before I found out there were other versions. Ong goes on to explain after these passages just why one or the other appeals to a brain trained by orality or literacy, but (surprise!) despite being a literate person in a literate culture, I prefer the first passage. Why? Because from my earliest days, the Bible has been spoken word.

That isn't to say I don't read the Bible. But I've found in recent years that I prefer to read from a paraphrase in modern English rather than a strict translation. However, if I'm reading aloud or hearing it read, I prefer those older translations. And now I'm wondering if that isn't because the older versions adhere to the conventions of oral tradition they descended from (the Old Testament, at least, was spoken before it was written, whereas much of the New Testament was written with the intent that it would be read aloud). Those conventions make them easier to read aloud and easier for the hearers to remember them.

What's my point? Some things were meant to be read aloud, and some things-- the Bible among them-- were meant to be shared. I wonder if Christendom hasn't lost something as we've gradually made Bible-reading a solitary, rather than community, act. I wonder if by focusing on snippets and bits at a time, as we often do in Bible studies or sermons, we miss out on the joy of the whole.

I don't know the answer. But I do know that I'm going to suggest to my husband that we regain some of that community by reading together, instead of alone, and see what happens.

Do you read aloud? (Anything, not just the Bible.) To adults, or children, or both? Does it feel natural?

Source: Ong, Walter J. (2007-03-16). Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (New Accents) (pp. 36-37). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition. 

04 September 2012

Teaser Tuesday #29

Source: Goodreads.

Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, Anna Lappé and Bryant Terry

It's as if someone asked, What would happen if we decided what food to grow and feed the country based not on the greatest health return to all of us, but on highest financial return to a few? Well, we've found out.

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!

03 September 2012

First Week

The University of Texas at Austin does not start classes on the last Monday in August like every other university (at least, all the ones I know of) in Texas. Oh, no. They wait and begin two days later, on Wednesday. I was cool with that.

My graduate school (Texas Tech) does not have this policy. They started on Monday, by golly. I was less pleased with this.

But hey, I'm an online student! And my one and only class meets on Wednesday! So, I still started on the day that I've come to think of as THE DAY for school starting. Result!

My tendency, as an online student taking one class, will probably be to slack off. Being as I've already had to read a crap ton of rhetorical stuff, I think slacking off will be the worst idea ever. So, I'm reading.

My first class? I brought home my work laptop so that I could use a newer, faster, and (according to all the Mac ads) less-likely-to-crash computer for the online meeting. In real life, this sleek little computer froze up, twice, in a 90-minute period. Plus, the discussion was so far over my head that I couldn't keep up anyway.

Yeah. So, first week as a grad student was not so grand. But the fun, paper-writing part is still to come, so it's bound to get better, yes?


02 September 2012

Running Toward You

Sometimes I ponder my tendency to only post Christian-related things on Sundays. I don't intend to give the impression that Christianity is a Sunday game. I don't believe that at all.

I hope that I'm following Jesus all the time. I hope, if nothing else, I can leave behind encouragement where I go, at least most of the time, and not leave despair in my wake. If I'm spreading bad vibes all around, it's time to reexamine my life. Again.

Maybe I'm searching for reassurance today. An acquaintance said earlier this week that Chad and I have left our God. I don't even know what that means, but I wonder what made him say that. My suspicion is that we were an easy target for something else gone wrong in his life right now, but it could be that with this person we got it wrong. Maybe the encouragement I was seeking to spread a few days ago seemed more like sarcasm or superiority. Or maybe, like so many other things, loving Jesus isn't something that you can easily see over the internet. Maybe that's why Jesus visited before mobile phones and Blogger, before TVs and radios and Facebook. There's no substitute for a person standing beside you, offering a hug, holding your hand, no matter how kindly worded 140 characters may be.

I don't believe I've left God. I'm still running toward him. But I don't want to knock anyone over in my rush to get to my destination, because it turns out God is running alongside me the whole way. And the people in the road with me are kind of the point: there's not reason to be here if I can't spread some kindness. And although the distance and interwebs may separate us, dear friends, I hope I can send a spark of joy your way, too.

What's making you joyful today? Or, if you prefer, is there something I can pray for you today?

31 August 2012

Free: A Long Post About Tax-Free Weekend

I have such a long list of potential topics for my green/budget/healthy Fridays that it's hard sometimes to choose one. So, here goes: I'm going to talk about tax-free weekend, which here in Texas was two weeks ago.

Now that's a happy sign.
Why go tax-free? A few reasons. One, it's a boon to local retailers, even though Chad and I were dumb and totally missed the boat on this one--turns out a shop we thought was local isn't. I've heard (but can't find a source just now) that for a lot of local businesses, tax-free weekend is second only to the day after Thanksgiving for sales. It gives them a nice boost going into the pre-Christmas buildup.

Second, it's good for low-income people (hey, that's us!). I've heard many of my more financially stable friends say again and again that they would rather have teeth extracted than set foot out their door on tax-free weekend. And I'm happy to hear that, because it's one fewer family between me and the sales. If those for whom saving $8.25 on every $100 spent is not worth it would just stay home, then the deals and space in the store are available for those of us who count every dollar in our budget and don't have much wiggle room. Especially low-income families with multiple children in school. My parents would have done a praise-the-Lord dance if we had had a tax-free weekend when I was growing up.

Third, many stores run sales to go with tax-free weekend, in order to entice more shoppers in. This is where cheapskates really get lucky. The combination of markdowns, clearance sales, loss leaders, and no sales tax makes this a great weekend to hit the stores. Chad and I both got new shoes and quite a haul of new clothes (including new-to-us clothes; we visited the thrift stores first), all of which we needed but had been putting off buying because they're all expensive.

So much for my analysis of tax-free shopping. How to make it planet-friendly? I submit a few ideas:
1. Shop local retailers. This also helps your local economy.
2. Plan your shopping in clusters so you can park once for multiple stores. This gets some stress-relieving walking in (unless you have to walk across a busy parking lot; that might amp up the stress), burns a few calories, and does NOT burn any extra fuel in the car.
3. Go to thrift stores. Way too many perfectly good clothes in the US end up in landfills. Save yourself some money and help ease our collective waste cycle by hitting thrift stores for t-shirts, jeans, or dress clothes.
4. Do you need the hangers your clothes came on? If you don't, give them back to the cashier for re-use. Or take them to a thrift store once you get them all collected at home.
5. Take your own bags. Yes, those reusable bags you take grocery shopping work perfectly well for clothes and school supplies, too. Throw them into the washing machine the day before heading out if you're worried that they aren't clean enough.
6. Don't just throw the tags into the rubbish without thinking. Are they paper or cardstock? If so, toss them into your paper recycling or stick them in your compost.
7. Don't buy what you don't need, or you risk turning into one of those people who takes things to Goodwill with the original tags still on. If you are getting rid of clothes that still have some life left, donate them to a thrift store instead of tossing. (If you're getting rid of stained/ripped clothes, consider turning some of them into dustrags.)

See? There are always ways to wrangle some lower-waste options out of your daily life. Happy shopping!

Does your community have a tax-free weekend? Do you take advantage of it?

30 August 2012


This is a name that I really like, although I currently have no characters by this name. I've always liked it, but really fell in love with the name thanks to the movie Stardust. (I only just found out it's also a book. Should have known! It's on my to-read list now.)

From the Pictish name Drustan, which is from the name Drust, which might be from the Celtic word drest, meaning riot. So I suppose if you name you name your baby Tristan, you have only yourself to blame when he starts racing around the house leaving disaster in his wake. Currently the 87th most popular boy name in the US, down from a peak of 81st in 2008. Across the world, it is most popular in British Columbia, where Tristan is the 35th most popular name for boys. For girls, Tristan made it all the way up to the 590th most popular name in the US in 1996, but is not currently in the top 1000.

Charlie Cox looking all heroic as
Tristan in Stardust. Source.
Famous Tristans: I ran across a few whilst scouring the internet, but none that I'd ever heard of. Am I missing someone?

Fictional Tristans: "The" Tristan from Tristan and Isolde, Tristan Thorn (Stardust).

My Tristans: None, that I know of. For how much I like this name, I don't seem to run across it much!

Do you know any Tristans? Did you like the movie Stardust?

Source: Behind the Name

29 August 2012

The Perils of Voting

Way back in May, I told you about my adventures in walking to my polling place. Well, we had a run-off election in July, and this time I decided to take my bicycle instead and take my chances with a road that the Austin Bike Map has clearly marked as being a barrier to cyclists; that is, dangerous enough that it should be avoided. Unfortunately, I didn't have much of a choice.

The next day, I sent an email about the experience to the Travis County Elections office. I have not received a reply (surprise, surprise) to this email or the one I sent back in May. Here's the (rather long) email I wrote:

Oh, yeah, walking through here is
a breeze! Or not.
My husband and I do not own a car, so in order to vote we must walk, ride a bike, or take public transportation. On May 31st, my husband chose to walk to the polling place while I took public transportation part of the way with the intention of cycling or walking the rest of the way. The nearest bus stop to the YMCA is 1/2 mile away on MLK Blvd, east of 183. I got off and rode my bike to the intersection with 183, where I had to get off the bike and start walking to avoid impeding traffic, getting run over by an inattentive motorist, or both. Unfortunately, the walk from MLK to E 51st is along 183, which has no sidewalks, but does have a sharply banked meadow of thigh-high (on me) weeds that I had to wade through while pushing my bicycle. I was somewhat concerned for my safety.

My husband chose to walk from our apartment, which is just over a mile in the opposite direction that I came from. The grass is mowed in that direction, so he didn't walk through weeds, but he was followed by a homeless man who wanted to know why my husband was walking around in "his" territory.

Neither of us suffered unduly from our experience, but I can see why having to walk so far in not-so-pleasant circumstances might detract people from voting.

Today, I chose instead to ride my bike along 51st Street, headed east from Springdale road. I had elected not to do this in May because east 51st is marked on the Austin Bike Map as being particularly hazardous for cyclists. There are patches of sidewalk on the south side of the road, but nothing going the whole way, so I had to ride in the street. I was genuinely concerned that a driver might be blinded by the morning sun and not see me until it was too late. Also, high weeds cover the side of the road in areas without a sidewalk, on both sides of the road, so walking would have been an unpleasant alternative once again.

Going back to Springdale road, 51st street is essentially one long blind curve. I was worried, again, that drivers might not be able to see me in time to react if they came around the curve and found a cyclist in their lane. But again, what could I do? No bus runs on this road. There is no shoulder and no sidewalk. And so, at one point a group of cars came around the curve and the driver in my lane had to get over enough to pass me with inches to spare. He or she was not at fault-- this road was not designed for cycling. However, the encounter gave me quite a fright, as I'm sure you can imagine, and once I was safely back to Springdale road I stopped to compose myself before continuing my ride to work.

Having now tried all three directions, I see four options for people without cars: 1) Long walk through tall weeds, near high-speed traffic, coming from the south on 183; 2) Long walk near a homeless camp, near high speed-traffic, coming from the north on 183; 3) Long walk with mixed sidewalk and tall weeds, but with a bit more space to get away from the traffic, coming from the west on E 51st street; or 4) Short bike ride on a dangerous street that is not designed for bicycles, coming from the west on E 51st street.

The election officials assured me that this YMCA has been a polling place for years. That is not encouraging news. I wonder how many people in the precinct have been discouraged from voting as a result?

Therefore, I ask that before November and any subsequent elections, Travis county consider its options in this area and choose a polling place that is ideally accessible to people using transit, but is at least accessible by foot or on a bicycle.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

What do you think? Am I being unreasonable to ask for a different polling place? Should I be more blunt with the election officials? What should my next step be?

28 August 2012

Another Book List

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a list of books I wish I could have read when I was a teenager. To balance that out, here's another list: Books I read too early. (All covers are from Goodreads.)

The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton
I learned many things from reading this book. The biggie is that I'm very careful when handing out book recommendations to children and young teens, because I don't want to be responsible for them reading something they aren't ready for. Lesson #2 was that forcing kids to read books for school is a dubious practise. (Yes, I know there are good reasons for it. None of those reasons did most of my class any good: not me, a lifelong reader, nor my non-reading classmates, who remained non-readers.)

I was just not ready for this book, no matter what the inventors of the 8th grade curriculum at Greenfield Junior High School thought. I couldn't handle it, and it sent me into a depression that lasted for weeks, during which I refused to tell anyone-- parents, teachers, guidance counselors, etc.-- what was going on. They tried to drag it out of me, but I dug in and wouldn't talk. Whenever I think of 8th grade, this is what I remember first. And there's no way I'd go back and reread it, not even to exorcise any demons that may still be lurking. Now, I have seen a bit of the movie version with Rob Lowe, but that was mostly for the eye candy, and I only watched about 10 minutes of it.

Little Women, Lousia May Alcott
Just to be clear: I loved this book. I still love it. But I wasn't ready to read it in the fifth grade.

One of the fundamental truths of being an early reader in a small school is that you'll outgrow the school library in a hurry. That's what happened to me. I had read everything that I found interesting, and even a few books that I didn't like at all, but by the end of fourth grade, I was left with only the massive thick books like Little Women. The librarian wouldn't let me check it out because it was reserved for 5th & 6th graders.

So, I checked out something else that day, and over the summer I read all of Louisa Alcott's books available in the public library, except Little Women, because I took what the librarian said to heart and decided to read Alcott's shorter books first. Once school started again, I checked out Little Women, because as a 5th grader I was now allowed to check out thick books. I zoomed through the first 3/4 of it, and then stalled close to the end. For some reason, the bits about Amy in Europe and Jo in New York were less interesting to me, and I struggled with them. But really, the librarian had been right and I didn't yet have the attention span to read a book that long. I came back to it a few years later (right after I was force-fed The Outsiders, as it happens) and read the whole thing straight through.

The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis
I was forced to read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe in 6th grade. I didn't like it, mostly because I was reading it under duress. (Are you seeing a theme here? My teachers almost made me hate reading, really. One teacher succeeded in turning my brother off reading forever.) I ignored the rest of the Chronicles of Narnia for a while, then came back to them as a freshman in high school and loved the first four. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader I liked a teeny tiny bit less, and I didn't like The Silver Chair at all. Why? Because I had grown rather fond of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, and wasn't excited about the cast change. I put it away and finally came back to it and The Last Battle when I was a junior or senior. The series is among my favourites now, but The Silver Chair remains my least favourite of them.

Did you read any books before you were ready for them? If you're a teacher, how do you balance the need to teach books with the hope that kids will want to read for their own sake? Do you have any good tips on how to know when a child is ready for a particular book?

27 August 2012

Public Speaking and Bicycles

It's been an exciting weekend in Austin for bike-related stuff. And I was right in the middle of at least some of it.

This weekend was also the Hotter'N Hell 100, a massive bike ride in Wichita Falls, TX, that draws thousands of cyclists from all over the country. When my employer asked if Chad and I would like to go (I work for BikeTexas part-time now, instead of merely volunteering), we decided that we didn't. Neither of us is that keen on long car trips or huge crowds, plus it was my final weekend before starting grad school (which starts TODAY, btw. Yikes!), and I wanted to relax and enjoy it, not be running around working. Plus, BikeTexas didn't need my help; ten people from the office went to run the booth and whatnot. So I stayed home.

Chad was my official photographer!
Here we're all waiting for our turn to
speak. L to R: Austin City Council
Member Chris Riley, me, and Austin
Bike Program Manager Annick Beaudet.
However. On Friday the local transit system opened a new bike shelter at one of the train stations, and the city had a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new set of cycletracks (separated bike lanes). These events happened at 9:15 and 10:30, respectively. As the lone person available to represent BikeTexas, I was duly selected and sent.

It was really fun. I had one minute to speak at the bike shelter opening, of which I took about 45 seconds, because I talk fast. I got up to the podium, and the microphone was pointed waaaaay up, because the person speaking before me is really tall. I didn't bother trying to adjust; I just stood on my tiptoes and talked loudly so the mic would pick me up. The CEO of the transit system had to step over and lower the microphone for me. I don't always represent BikeTexas, but when I do, I'm completely inept with the technology.

Here's the schmoozing bit. Me with
Chris Riley.
Anyway, we (Chad and I) hung around schmoozing with the local dignitaries and CapMetro officials until the southbound train came clanging down the track and pretty much everyone there had to hop aboard for our next event. Yep, it was a lot of the same people at both things. We got the train downtown, and most of the city officials and other local bicycle advocacy people took off on their bicycles to get to the ribbon cutting. But, Chad is bicycle-free, so we walked to the nearest bus and took it instead. We got there just a few minutes after the city and other advocacy people, so transit turned out to be a pretty good deal.

Riding my bike! On a
cycletrack! In a skirt!
People spoke (not me this time!), they cut the ribbon, and we all jumped on our bikes to try out the new cycletrack. It works!

So! I spoke in public for the first time in ages, nobody fell down (except Chad, getting on one of the buses), and we're only a little bit sunburnt. Great day.

What's your latest adventure?

14 August 2012

Making a List

I read a lot of YA because, well, it's fun. Sometimes I feel like I got to an eighth grade reading level and then just stopped progressing, but hey, so did most of America.

Anyway! I've read quite a lot of books lately that I wish I had been able to read as a teen. (They were all published after I was in my twenties.) The messages I've seen of the strength and courage possible in teenage girls would have been good to know when I was that age and I was relying on what I knew of Laura Ingalls and Beezus Quimby. Both good role models, in their own way, but neither of them really fit my personality.

So! My ever-growing list of books I wish I had read as a teenager (all cover pics are from their respective Goodreads pages):

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things
If there's one book my teenaged self needed more than any other, it was this one. The MC is overweight and low on the self-esteem. She has to learn to be comfortable in her own skin, when to challenge her parents, and when to take what they say and live with it. In a lot of ways, this character could be me. I recommend it for older teens, mostly because it deals with some mature themes that the reader has to be ready for, a little bit because it has some language, and a slightly larger bit because I don't think your average 13- to 14-year-old is ready to challenge her parents wisely. It takes those extra couple of years of maturity to learn to pick your battles. (Some probably are ready. But most aren't.)

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (series)
First of all, these books make me wish I had three best friends. Failing that, I wish I had a tailsman that gave me such a feeling of power. Because of course, the girls don't need the pants to find their confidence, develop life skills, and face the challenges of the teenage years. However, the pants help them all bridge the gaps between what they know they can do and the thing they'd like to be able to do. Over and over and over. Plus, it's so cool to see them learn to deal with mistakes and grow throughout the series. I've heard the last one is not as good, which makes me sad, but I've only read the first three. I can tell you that I'm putting off #4 because I don't want to be done with the series.

Thirteen Reasons Why
A bunch of people find out, a little too late, what impact their actions have on other people. I got a sense of urgency from this book to be aware of other people. That would have been good to know in my self-absorbed teen years.

The Princess Diaries (series)
It's rare that I watch a movie before I read the book, although having done so with The Princess Diaries and loved the movies, only to find out that the books are much much much better, I'm wondering if I should rethink my policy. Mia, as we all know from the movies, is awkward and unsure. The first four books cover most of the first year after she learns of her royal heritage (unless I'm really bad at counting, which is always possible), and it's remarkable how much she learns about herself, her friends, and what she really thinks about things in such a short time. I would never wish that kind of life upheaval upon myself, but these books would have been great when navigating my own rocky freshman year of high school.

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares
Okay, I realise there's a theme here. Girl learns things about herself really fast and has to adjust her worldview, behaviour, or both. But you know what? It would have been good food for thought when I was a teen, to know that it was possible to learn things and then act on them right away. Also, Lily's unquenchable cheeriness just makes me happy. Dash's unquenchable snark makes me laugh out loud.

There are probably more, but these are the ones floating on the top of my head. Do you have books you wish you'd read at a younger age? What are you reading this week?

13 August 2012

Closing Ceremonies

In case you've wandered by here in the last 17 days and wondered why on earth the cobwebs were spreading and everything had a thick layer of dust on it, wonder no more: I've been watching all the Olympics.

Seriously. I had a livestream of something on at the office every day, and while I don't actively watch while I'm at work (except in the case of tennis and soccer), I would glance at it from time to time. Coworkers would come in and ask, "What are you watching?" and I was all "Double sculls! Isn't it great?" They'd come back a couple of hours later and ask, "What's this?" and I'd say, "Field hockey!" Isn't it great?" And the next morning it was, "What are you watching now??" and I'd shout, "Synchronized swimming! Best thing ever!" And so on. I sure hope I still have a job when I get to the office today.

I had a look back at my posts during the last Olympics, and I can't for the life of me figure out how I managed to get so much blogging done while watching so many sports. My best guess is that I wasn't using Twitter quite as much in 2008 as I do now, so I had more things to share with the blogosphere.

I have no problem cheering for this
tennis-playing Scot. Source.
So, what do I think? First of all, the Games were as amazing as ever. I have the luxury, being an American, to not mind when we get beaten in this or that sport, because medals are such a matter of course to us that it's easy to be blasé about them. (More on that anon.) Plus, since I am a sports fan all the rest of the time, too, I have a hard time turning off my fandom to a particular athlete, even if he or she isn't from the US. So, I tend to cheer for whoever I want to and leave the "USA! USA!" to other people. I watch for the pure enjoyment of sport about 60% of the time, and for a specific athlete all the rest of the time.

So, gold medals. Because we expect them in the US, we waste a lot of breath complaining about Gabby Douglas' hair or about how this or that athlete didn't sing the anthem. First of all, who cares what the athletes look like, including how they put their hair up while working? And as for the second one-- there's NO WAY I would be able to sing the anthem if I had won a gold medal. No way. I'd be bawling. And if I weren't bawling, singing along to the anthem would be a good way to start. I tend to be fussy about soccer/football/baseball/etc. players singing before the game, but after? Once all the effort is expended and the emotions are crashing down? Well done, gold medal winner: stand, cry, smile-- do whatever you want. Although I do appreciate people at least saluting the flag. (Hand over heart, that is.)

So... Games are over. I'm so very sad. I'll have to find something to do with this sudden free time. Fortunately, there's the small matter of Camp NaNoWriMo.

Did you watch the Olympics? Do you have a favourite moment?

31 July 2012

Teaser Tuesday #28

Source: Goodreads.
Peter and the Starcatchers, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Peter asked what shooting stars were, and Mr. Grempkin said they were meteors. So Peter asked what meteors were, and Mr. Grempkin said they were rocks that fell from the heavens. So Peter asked if that meant that the heavens were made of rocks, and why were the rocks so bright?

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!

29 July 2012

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow...


So I watched the opening ceremony, of course, on Friday night. After Beijing's spectacular opening ceremony four years ago, I remember all the articles and podcasts in the British media saying basically, "Well, we'll never top that! Pressure's off." Which I admit is a refreshing change to the "We must be better! We must be louder! We must be fancier!" approach that the U.S. tends to take to everything.

So, I didn't think the opening ceremony was going to have the wow factor of the Beijing version, and it didn't, but I enjoyed it all the same. The hymns that the kids sang--Danny Boy in Northern Ireland, Flower of Scotland in Scotland, Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer in Wales, and Jerusalem in England-- were fabulous. I found out afterwards that a segment honouring, among others, the victims of the 7/7 terrorism in London, was cut from the NBC broadcast. You can see the video here, and while I don't at all agree with the ridiculous headline on Deadspin, it does at least have the whole song.

I decided to risk NBC's ire and swipe
one of their photos. Most teams
looked like flight attendants or like
they had escaped from their
boarding school. Mexico managed
to be fun! Source.
And since I brought up the NBC broadcast... maybe it's time for another network to have a go at the Olympics. The commentators on Friday night (Bob Costas, Matt Lauer, and Meredith Viera) were obviously jaded/bored/uninterested. Among the many, many criticisms of their commentary on Twitter (to which I happily contributed) were that they narrated it like the Macy's parade; they they talked down to the audience (example: "This may not make sense to you since you're not British" or "You can Google him if you want"-- gosh, thanks); and that they made jokes about many of the nations, especially the smaller nations, which bordered on insulting. I wish they'd learn to be silent from time to time.

Anyway, I got up early on Saturday to catch the cycling, some of the swimming qualifiers, and as much tennis as possible. I'm so happy to have cable TV when the Olympics come round. I also don't mind watching prerecorded stuff in prime time, although I take exception to Bob Costas saying they're showing things "as it happened" when of course they've done plenty of editing. We're really just getting extended highlights. But yay, we have the internet now, so I can watch it online if I want to.

Today? More of the same! I love weekends. Swimming, gymnastics, Tennis!, and more cycling. And whatever else I can fill in the corners with-- yesterday I watched some archery, fencing, boxing, basketball, and a bit of volleyball as well. And that's why I love the Olympics so much-- plenty of sports for all tastes, nonstop for two weeks. It's brilliant.

Somebody at work suggested last week that we could hook up a computer to the big screen and have the Olympics on at work. I pointed out that that's a good way for me not to get any work done.

Do you watch the Olympics? What's your favourite (if you can narrow it down-- I can't!)? Do you enjoy mocking the commentary?

27 July 2012

It's Finally Here!

The moment we've all been waiting for since the last time the torch was extinguished... London 2012 starts today! Yes, I'm one of those people. The ones who know when every event is on, and can tell you who the favourite is, but who they want to win instead, and who will probably annoy you silly for the next two weeks.

But, it's also Friday, so I would be remiss if I didn't make some suggestions on how to green up your Olympic viewing. Here goes:

1. Go watch at a neighbour's house. Then, your two houses will only need to use half as much electricity as before. Of course, you could achieve the same effect if your neighbour comes to your house to watch, but then it's on your bill instead of theirs.

2. If your neighbour isn't keen on this suggestion, sit in his/her backyard with binoculars. Don't worry about spilling popcorn on the lawn; the birds will eat it!

3. If you must watch alone, turn off all the lights in the house to compensate for the extra electricity you'll be using.

4. Buy bigger bags of snacks instead of smaller ones. They'll last longer and you'll save on packaging.

5. And don't bother cooking anything. Then you won't have to do any dishes, either.

6. Borrow a flag from a local high school instead of buying your own. Return it after the Olympics are over. This is easiest if you go after dark.

7. Just wear the same clothes for the whole Games. Less washing and you aren't moving from the couch anyway, right?

8. If you actually take any of these suggestions, you totally deserve what happens to you. Have fun and happy watching!

26 July 2012


This name has come into some disgrace in the past week. On the other hand, it's also held by what sometimes feels like every second person in the English-speaking world, so I'm sure it's had some glory this past week, too.

From New Testament Greek to Latin to English, James traveled quite a road from his humble beginnings as a variant of Jacob, which means either "supplanter" or "may God protect". Seven kings of Scotland (and two of England) and six U.S. Presidents have been named James, not to mention a couple of apostles and one of Jesus' brothers (the author of the epistle James in the New Testament), unless you're Catholic, in which case James probably a cousin of Jesus'. Currently the third most popular boys' name in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It was the most popular boys' name in the U.S. from 1940 until 1952, and was in the top five from 1880 (the beginning of record-keeping) until 1980. That's why every other person is named James, methinks. Currently, it's the 17th most popular name for boys in the U.S. Incidentally, it peaked as the 318th most popular for girls in 1928. Clearly, James gets around.

Don't worry, Australian friends; I
haven't forgotten Captain Cook.
Famous Jameses: Geez. If you go here, you can see a list of a bunch of famous Jameses, complete with pictures. (Does anybody else think James Franco looks a lot like James Dean?) A few that I particularly like: Jim Henson, J.M. Barrie, Jamie Murray (tennis player; older brother to Andy Murray), Jimmy Fallon, James Van Der Beek, James McAvoy.

Fictional Jameses: James and the Giant Peach, James Potter (Harry Potter), James Russell (Chalet School), James Bond, James T. Kirk, (Captain) James Hook.

My Jameses: In addition to about a dozen friends and acquaintances called James, I do tend to use the name a lot in writing. So far, I'm holding off in my current WIP, but I've had so many Jameses that I've pretty much lost track of them all.

Are you a James? Do you feel like you're surrounded by Jameses?