What are we talking about today?

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

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

30 March 2012

Cloth Napkins

In advance of our move to Austin a couple of years ago, and because we had a frenzy of going-away dinners & parties, Chad and I bought a mega-pack of paper towels from our local mega-store.

We are still working our way through that pack of paper towels. I'm not sure if it was worthwhile because of its long-lastingness, or if it's a nuisance to have five rolls of paper towels stuck in a cabinet.

A good use of a napkin if ever I
saw one. Source.
Anyway! Today's green tip is to make the switch to cloth napkins instead of paper ones. As with most of my other green living switches, this one will cut down on your rubbish (great!) and save you some cash (even better). About the only way it won't save you money is if you wash the napkins all by themselves. Please don't do that; they can go in with your other kitchen towels/washcloths/etc. (In my house, they will probably go in with the regular clothes, but I acknowledge that other people are somewhat less barbaric than I.)

Another advantage of cloth napkins is that you can get more than one use out of them before washing. Only brushed a few crumbs off your lips? Fold it back up and put it away your next meal. Obviously, this doesn't apply in houses where napkins are regularly used to soak up the spilled orange juice (although in that case, perhaps you should bypass the napkins altogether and skip straight to giving everyone a kitchen towel).

If you (like me) have extra fabric kicking around your house, or you think the prices for cloth napkins are outrageous, or you just like making things, Kim over at Feathers from My Nest has a delightful, and fairly easy, tutorial for making your own. I can't wait to dig out my favourite fabric and sew up a few, as soon as we finish with our mega-pack of paper towels.

Do you use cloth napkins? Do you like them? Bonus: Insert humourous mega-store tales here!

27 March 2012

In My Mailbox

I got home yesterday and found this sitting on top of my school books:

Chad picked it up at the library, so I don't get to keep it, but isn't it brilliant?

What are you reading this week?

26 March 2012

Make the Voices in Your Head Better: Start Running!

This past week was my running anniversary. Kinda.

My first race: a 2-miler
in Sept. 2007. Source.
Five years ago, I decided to make my on again/off again relationship with running a bit more permanent, so I invited it to move in. Had I know it would take over my wardrobe, schedule, eating habits, laundry, sleep patterns... yeah, I would have made the same decision. I did a quick count: four 5Ks, nine 10Ks (my favourite distance), two 15Ks, two half marathons, one full marathon, and a whole bunch of other distances ranging from 2-milers up to 11-milers, for a grand total of 38 races in the past five years. I guess after all that, I really have no cause for moping around that I missed yesterday's Cap10K (not that logic stopped me from moping, mind you).

Anyway, enough of that. This past Saturday, I went out for an easy 4-miler, which basically goes up a hill and then back down again. (See elevation profile below. Yes, I know what it looks like.) I was pep-talking myself up the hill, got all the way up and to the turnaround, then had to talk myself up the much shorter side of the hill before getting that nice descent you see there. On my way down, rejoicing in my success at having gone up all the hills without stopping, I wished that I could bottle my running self-talk for other times.
So I got this from USATF's website, but I'm not linking to it, because I've given enough
hints about where I live and I don't want to give any more help to any
creepy stalkers that might have run across my blog.
My first half marathon.
Yep, same shirt (it's no
longer my running shirt,
though). Nov. 2008.

I hear other women talk about running giving them confidence and a feeling of empowerment. And I agree whole-heartedly, so much so that I even wrote a paper about it. However, it's only in these rare moments that I realise how true it is: I have so much self-confidence as a result of running. I have a very perky, endlessly cheerful, voice in my head that tells me to keep going when I'd rather stop. I don't know who this über-happy Su is that sits on my shoulder while I'm running, but apparently the defeatist Su and the "I suck" Su that usually tag along with me can't keep up while I'm in my running kit.

I need Perky Su. I need her to show up when I'm writing, or on my bicycle. I need her when I'm stressed out about my homework, or when a massive crowd of students walks into the Writing Center and they all expect me to find them a consultant, STAT. Failing all else, I need to record Perky Su and market her to other runners, because she's amazing. I bet I can make some cash off the "You can do it! Just keep going! Are you going to let a little bit of asphalt beat you?" that I get from her.

Or, while I'm sleeping, she could just beat the living daylights out of the defeatist and "I suck" voices so that they'll move out. I'd be cool with that.

What do the voices in your head do for you? Do different ones show up at different times? Should I see a psychiatrist?

23 March 2012

Welcome, Vermies!

Once upon a time, in the dim and distant past, I told you that Chad and I had begun composting on our patio.

We've been at it for a little over a year now. We know it's working, somewhat, because we've thrown all our fruit and veggie scraps in it, plus some paper every couple of weeks, and yet it still fits neatly into one bin (we did upgrade to a bin instead of the plant pot we were using). However, it hasn't worked quite as well as we had hoped, as I discovered when I tried to plant a little pine tree in our compost-- there are still quite large chunks of things we put in there ages ago kicking around. Bummer.

Definitely like this bag.
And the logo.
So, in the midst of some frustration, I made a beeline to websites about vermicomposting. After some poking around and consultation with Chad, we decided to order some vermies of our very own to see what they could do with our carrot peelings and strawberry leaves.

Our new pets duly arrived yesterday, in this adorable bag from Ecstatic Earth. I showed them to their new home, and then fished out a couple for a picture. They were not amused.

And now... we wait. It should take them a day or two to recover from travelling (much like humans), but we have lots of delicious treats for them to nibble out there, so I'm anxious to see them take off and become healthy, happy vermies. After all, who wants unhappy worms living on their porch?
The stars of the composting show!

Summertime may pose a problem, because these are not Texas vermies, and it's recommended that they come indoors when the temps are over 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). In Austin, that's mid-May through late September. So, I may be sharing more than my food scraps with my wriggly new pets in a couple of months' time.

Do you compost? Invite wildlife into your house? Do you think I've really gone round the bend this time?

21 March 2012

All Aboard!

Last week, I spent quite a bit of my time on the bus giggling.

You see, South by Southwest was in full swing, so many Austinites heeded the sage advice to take Capital Metro to the festivities instead of trying to drive downtown. Quite a lot of out-of-towners did the same, with the result that many of my usual routes were full of first-time bus users. And that's where the giggling began.

Not that I in any way look down on new bus users, of course. On the contrary: I wish we could get more people into public transportation, so that the agencies responsible would have more money to run the services more often. And set up more express routes-- I'm just far enough away from the city center that my commute is 30-45 minutes by bus, but unfortunately that's not far enough away to justify a flyer or express route in my neighbourhood at Capital Metro's current funding level. (Or at least, that's what they tell me.)

And of course, I do remember my first bus ride with unfortunate vividness. Well, it was my sort-of first ride. I rode Lubbock's Citibus a few times when I was a student there briefly in '97-'98, before I moved to Scotland, but I really don't remember it. In Britain, you pay for how far you travel on the buses, and you get a printed ticket each time to prove that you've paid the fare. I had learned just how far I could travel for 50 pence, or a pound, or how much to pay if I wanted to go both ways.

After two years of this, I considered myself a seasoned bus rider, and so I was not prepared for the shock awaiting me when I moved back to Lubbock. To begin with, the woman at the bus plaza assured me, we don't have "timetables" in Texas. They're called "schedules."  Okay, call it what you like, I say. Furthermore, it's $1 every time you get on the bus, no matter where you're going. (I later found out this was not 100% true.) Well, that makes it easy, right? So the first morning of my new job, I got on board, paid my fare, and waited. The bus driver stared at me. I stared back.

Driver: Do you need a transfer?
Me: (A what?) Um... no?
Driver: Okay, you can take a seat.
Me: Oh. Thanks. (Wait! What about my ticket?)

I was really nervous, those first few days, about riding with no ticket in hand. And that, by the way, is a good snapshot of culture shock: Things that seem familiar are actually quite strange, no matter now normal they once were, and you have no way of explaining to those around you that you've undergone a personality change and you have no idea when you'll be back to normal. It's an adventure.

So, my giggling last week was not without sympathy, but more out of remembrance. Most of the struggles seemed to be with how to pay-- where do the bills go? What about change? How do I swipe my ticket? And there was some trouble signalling for a stop, too. In other words, I'm really happy not to have to relive that confusion. However, if you are looking to start using public transit soon and think you might have trouble, I do have a handy guide to riding that might help.

19 March 2012

Can One of You Be My Next of Kin?

I called my father the other day to get his input on my garden (which is all planted now, and I'm very excited about it!). He had to call me back, and it happened that I was crossing the street when my phone rang. So we had this conversation:

I should send my dad this picture.
Dad: What's up?
Me: Hang on, I have to turn up the volume. I can't hear you over the traffic.
Dad: What?
Me: I'm crossing the street.
Dad: What?
Me: I'm walking to the bus stop.
Dad: Walking?
Me: Yes, walking. It's this thing people do when they don't have cars.
Dad: Where's your car?
Me: I don't have a car.
Dad: What? (You begin to see the common theme here.)
Me: I don't have a car. I ride my bike and take the bus.
Dad: What happened to your car?
Me: We sold it when we moved to Austin.
Dad: Oh. I thought you had a car.
Me: Nope, not since we've lived here.

You can see here that 1. I wasn't exaggerating when I said my parents don't read my blog; 2. Turns out my dad isn't losing sleep over my cycling all over the place after all; and 3. If you've read my blog for one day, you know more about my current life than my father does. Maybe he should check in with my grandma (his mother); I write to her about twice a year. She's probably more informed than he is. (And no, it's not like I haven't told my father this before. He also doesn't know what my major is. I'm not sure that he remembers offhand that I live in Austin.)

So, clearly, should anything ever happen to me, I'm going to need one of you to step in and tell the relevant authorities what I've been doing lately. Any takers?

16 March 2012

Clearing Out

A long, long, time ago, I wrote a post about using less-- basically, cut back on the soap or the shampoo or hairspray and see if you can get by with less of the product in one go, thus stretching your resources and your budget. I meant to do a follow-up, but never have, so here it is: Do make good use of your things.

This is along the lines of people who suggest that you use your good china more than once a year, and I think it's true: Don't be afraid to use the resources you have. Someone gave you a bottle of nice lotion for Christmas? Great! Use it (a little at a time)! Have some bath salts kicking around in a drawer? Dig them out and have a relaxing evening. 

I'm trying to take this advice in my own life, but for some things I've waited too long and it's time to toss them. Which has brought me to another dilemma: What on earth do I do with products that are no longer usable?

The taking-up-space culprits.
So here we have my three bottles of stuff that have to go. I have a spotty memory-- that is, I remember word-for-word conversations from 20 years ago, but can't remember that massively important thing Chad said this morning. So don't be freaked out when I tell you that these three things were bought (from the left) in 2009, 1998, and 2004, respectively. Yes, really. The sunscreen lasted this long because I've only used it for my face; the perfume, because I used it a little at a time in the first place and then married a guy who's allergic to it; and the hair gel I bought when I started working at Chick-fil-A in the (vain) hope that it would keep my hair under control in a ponytail.

I've been meaning to get rid of them for a while, but as you can see, the perfume and the gel still had stuff in them that I had to deal with. (There was a bit of runny sunscreen left, too, which I just poured into my other sunscreen.) I knew I didn't have to get it perfectly clean, because the processing at the recycling center will get rid of the goop, but I also didn't want to put this much stuff into the recycling. Finally, after I had considered as many avenues as I could think of, I gave in and dumped them down the toilet. Yes, there are a lot of reasons not to do that, but if I tossed the bottles altogether, then the liquids would eventually try to seep out of a landfill somewhere, which is even worse. No, there are no easy answers when it comes to disposing of stuff.

Goop is now flushed, bottles are on their way to the recycling center, and my bathroom sink is a bit clearer. And I'm determined to use the rest of the stuff I have before it also goes bad. So, today's tip is not strictly green living, not strictly budget living, not strictly healthy living, but a combination of the three: Use your resources, use them wisely, and don't let clutter stress you out.

How do you get the most use out of your things? What do you do with it's time to toss them?

15 March 2012

Closing Streets

Jack from BikeTexas, telling a cyclist
what kind of work we do.
A couple of weeks ago, Chad and I went with BikeTexas to Síclovía in San Antonio. For a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, a major street through downtown San Antonio was closed to motor traffic and open to walkers, skaters, skateboarders, runners, cyclists, dogwalkers... you name it, people were out doing it. There were people near us playing something ping-pong-ish in the road. Children deployed their sidewalk chalk. UT San Antonio Pharmacy students had a hula-hoop and jump rope station.

The parade at Síclovía.
Taking advantage of the closed streets.
That yellow thing in the corner
is Jack's (above) cargo bike.
BikeTexas was "renting" out bikes-- they were free for people to take and use, so long as they left us with some credit card information in case they and the bikes didn't come back again. (They all did.) Chad helped with the bikes, at his first BikeTexas event, while I was at the membership/petition-signing booth. I'm not very good at the spiel, by the way, but I did get credit for one guy becoming a member. (The abbreviated spiel: A lot of BikeTexas' funding comes from the dues people and organizations pay for us to do bicycle advocacy on their behalf. We need members!)

GE's logo thing.
A robot at the GE booth.
I'm not sure what it does,
because it was standing
still the whole time.
Also in the closed-streets department: A bunch of streets in downtown Austin are closed this week for South by Southwest. Ordinarily, a closed street brings me delight, since I can walk across it without fearing for my life. Not so during SXSW: The closed streets are clogged with pedestrians, bicycles, pedicabbers, and food vendors, so getting around is not as easy as it sounds. Yesterday, the whole of BikeTexas rode from our office across downtown for a GE Mobile Fridge (I think that's what they were calling it) event. They were making some non-conventional bike racks, which as I understand it will eventually be deployed around Austin.

At the GE event. These are a couple of the bike racks;
in the background is the workshop where things were
Everyone who works for BikeTexas always wears a helmet while riding, in a "set a good example" kind of way. So there was quite a train of helmeted riders trying to cross town yesterday, and we mixed in with a bunch of other cyclists on the way, some with helmets, some not. So many helmeted riders in one place are such an unusual sight that a pedicabber behind me said, "Wow, everybody's wearing helmets; that's awesome. All except for that [deleted]. He's gonna get killed."

And finally, a closed-street event that isn't a marathon or SXSW is coming to Austin: We're getting our very own Viva Streets. What's more, it's the weekend of graduation. That means I get to drag my entire family downtown to see what all the fuss is about, plus they'll get to meet all the lovely people I work with at BikeTexas. And, of course, it means I'll get to enjoy the festival without having to stand at a booth. Yay!

The Viva Streets route through Austin. Are you going to be in town
May 20th? I know a fun place you can go! Source.
Have you ever been to a street-closing event? A massive music/film/whatever festival? Something else really fun that I'd love to know about?

14 March 2012

If a Runner Goes to University...

... she might take more classes than she should because she's a marathoner and thinks that university must be easy by comparison. If she takes that many classes, she will probably stay up past her bedtime doing homework. While she is doing homework, she'll get bored and check Twitter. While on Twitter, she'll see updates from other runners and be so inspired that she'll set her alarm to run early the next morning. When she finally goes to bed, she'll look at the clock and realise that she can't possibly get up and run that early, so she'll decide to run in the afternoon instead. The next morning, she'll sleep through her alarm and race out the door too fast to grab her running gear (or homework). That afternoon, someone will invite her to do something fun and she'll go along because she is totally flattered that 20-year-olds think she is cool enough to hang out with. When she gets home, she'll see her neglected running gear but be too tired and have too much homework to go for a run. So she'll set her alarm for early the next morning. ... Eventually, she'll be too embarrassed to call herself a runner any longer and will just stop mentioning it on her blog and hope no one notices. 

Not that any of us know anyone who fits this description, right?

Who wouldn't want to run here?
So, after repeating this scenario ad nauseum for the past 20 months, I promised myself daily runs on Town Lake Trail during spring break. I love Town Lake: it's gorgeous, fairly level, and I don't have to stop for stoplights. So, it's a little running treat, and as a bonus, I normally have so much fun that I go farther and faster than I intended. It's fabulous. I didn't make it over the weekend, which bummed me out, but our friend and fellow runner Ruth was in town Monday for a few hours. I proposed a lunchtime run, followed by actual lunchtime, and got to introduce her to the trail. It was nice, it was relaxing, and since it was about 80 degrees outside, it was exhausting. This is why I get up at 5 AM to run in the summertime.

And then, yesterday: I meant to get up early and go run before our Airbnb guests departed. Unfortunately, I did everything to get ready except hit the "save" button on my phone's alarm, so I didn't wake up on time. However, I had an insanely productive day: Cleaned the house, filed our taxes, filled out my FAFSA... oh, and accepted my admission to Texas Tech for grad school. (Yes, I'm so sneaky with my news!) So by 4 PM, I declared that I had earned the trek downtown, during the crazy South by Southwest traffic, to run four miles. I will do it again today, even if I have to sneak out of BikeTexas for a couple of hours and brave the traffic again. 

What are you doing this week? Anything exciting? Rewarding? Just plain Jane?

13 March 2012

Teaser Tuesday #19

Marathon Woman, Kathrine Switzer

The news was full of the women at Boston, and our spirit captured the imagination of the world.

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!

12 March 2012

Teenage Boys

I've had three days of (mostly) writing. Gosh, spring break is the best thing ever!

I'm not sure what I've written about my work in progress before now, so let's start at the beginning, shall we? I first wrote these characters years ago as high school seniors. They've evolved quite a bit over time, naturally, as I've written a bit here and there. And yes, this is the sort of project that I've had for so long that any hopes of anyone but me ever wanting to read it are pretty much nil, but hey. I'm enjoying it.

So before NaNoWriMo, I thought I'd pull my characters out and see if I could do something new with them, so they were relaunched into a prequel and now I'm writing them as freshmen. I think I might actually manage to finish the entire school year if I stop getting so distracted and writing down all the minutia of 14-year-old life. But that's what editing is for, yes?

I'm not sure that I've
mentioned lockers once.
Anyway. So, my main character is Sybil and eventually, she's going to fall in love with a nice young man called Greg. In the meantime, two things have happened: 1. Sybil thinks of Greg as a good friend, and nothing more, when they are freshmen; and 2. Greg is really insecure, bumbling, and generally awkward as a 14-year-old. I didn't mean for that to happen, but I started down that road because I thought there should be some reason why Sybil didn't fall in love with him until later. Unfortunately, now I have to figure out how he's going to mature over the next couple of years into the responsible, confident young man that's he's supposed to be when he's 18.

But never mind that: While poor Greg is pining for Sybil, she's started dating. Her first real boyfriend was another freshman, who turned out to be a jealous little brat who has caused Sybil more problems than he was worth. I'm working on boyfriend #2, Jonathan, who is a junior (two years older than Sybil) and so far is a nice guy. One of the senior girls is about to have what is sure to be a giggly, girly conversation with Sybil about him. I'm trying to decide if she's going to warn Sybil that he's also a jerk, or if she's going to heap praise on him and raise expectations way too high. And the only way to find that out is to start writing again.

Well, now that I have that all sorted out, it's time to get back to work. What do you think: Is Jonathan a Bad Boy or a Teenage Saint? What are you working on this week?

02 March 2012

Take That, Swiffer!

In case you didn't have the privilege of growing up with excessively frugal parents, Depression-era grandparents, or (like me) both, I'm going to tell you the first rule of life with cheapskates:

If you throw away anything that still has some life left in it, you're in BIG trouble.

More on that in a minute. First, let me give you a brief rundown on the mop situation at Chez Cheeky. After working our way through a variety of really flimsy, really useless sponge mops through the years, we finally broke down about two years ago and got a Swiffer starter set to see what all the fuss was about.

The rag crate and the Swiffer at the
beginning of the process. And my
washing machine, which was the
scene of the crazy.
I have to say: Swiffer makes a great product. It really works. And the mop frame itself holds together better than any Wal-Mart special that I've ever bought. But, my cheapskate frugal self refuses to buy the proper refills of anything they sell-- once the little bottle of cleaner that came with it ran out, I mixed up Pine-Sol and water in a spray bottle to pre-spray the floor before mopping. (I wanted to put the solution directly back into the little bottle, but the directions say that can cause leaks.) Our starter kit also came with a massive box of the cleaning pads, and my plan was just to use rags once those ran out. Which took two years.

Here's where the never-throw-away thing finally paid off: I pulled out my crate of rags to find one that would work. The bottom surface of a Swiffer is Velcro-y, so things will stick to it a bit, but I was looking for something that wouldn't get too bunched up or slide off while I was mopping. I tried a long-sleeved t-shirt:

And I think that would work, but I would want to cut off the cuffs and probably use two sleeves, one covering each end of the mop head, with some overlap in the middle. But I was not done experimenting yet, so next I tried the a leg from a pair of Chad's old sweats.

Because this was the lower end of the leg, the entire thing wrapped round the mop head without the handle getting in the way. Plus, the Velcro stuck to the fleecy material really well. I cut it off and repositioned it on the mop head:

And then clipped it into place. All ready to go!

And if you've been keeping an eye on my washing machine timer, yes, it took me less than four minutes to do this. It's a good thing I recorded it for posterity, because I would have sworn it took longer.

So, did it work? Happily, yes. The material stayed in place, it picked up the dirt, and when one side got saturated with cleaner I slid it off, flipped it around, and then re-clipped it to finish mopping. Perfect! I'm sure the good people at Swiffer would prefer that I buy their approved refill sets, but I'm even more sure that my parents and grandparents will be very happy that I managed to learn something about reusing.

Do you have a Swiffer? Or, even better: Do you have a clever reusing story to share? I'm always looking for ideas!