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 January 2016

Free Doughnuts! The Boys Next Door

Feelings. So many feelings. My first theatre visit of 2016 nearly destroyed me.

Source: City Theatre Austin's
Facebook page.
The Boys Next Door is the story of four gents with varying degrees of intellectual disability who live together in a group home, and the social worker who looks after them also with varying degrees of success. It has many moments of absolute hilarity (like when one character shouts "Free doughnuts!" and throws them out the front door one by one), and lots of sweetness.

Now, there's a reason I don't review live theatre for a living: everything I wrote would be a variation on "OMG, so awesome, go see it right away," which all my theatrical friends assure me would be a welcome change from the traditional review, but which I doubt would get me paid for long. However, about The Boys Next Door, it basically boils down to, "OMG! So awesome! Go see it right away and bring a hankie!"

Why bring a hankie? Well, when I told my friend Tony (who plays Barry Klemper) that we were looking forward to seeing the show, he did not say, "Oh, by the way, I have the most emotionally shattering scenes in the show and they're going to leave your heart laying on the floor in pieces, so bring an entire box of tissues," which was a bit of an oversight. Yes, the sad bits of the show will positively rip your heart right out of your body and possibly incite feelings of hatred and violence toward the character causing the emotional devastation.

One of the side effects of fangirling so much over every actor I've ever seen live (and stalking them all on social media) is that I have no trouble separating the actor from the character, sometimes to the detriment of me enjoying the show--it's harder to get lost in to the moment when I can't forget I'm watching people play make-believe.

However, as I sat in a theatre and laughter dissolved into tears as the show went on, I forgot that I was watching a friend. Moment by moment, everything else fell away and the action on the stage was all there was. Which is as theatre should be. Which is why I was a blubbering mess by the curtain call.

And so at the end, I was able to cheer and grin even while my heart was still in pieces. The Boys Next Door, while devastating, is absolute magic.

And, therefore (since it's popular in community theatre, I've heard, and may well be playing near you sometime soon) (that link is to a excellent review of The Boys Next Door, btw, should you care to read it), OMG! So awesome! Go see it right away!

29 January 2016

Melt It All Away

From time to time, people ask me what to do with their candles that have burned all the way to the bottom but left a fair amount of wax behind. I don't know if people ask me because I write about reusing so often, or because I do other green things so it's naturally presumed that I have have Thoughts On The Subject.

Source: Sorina Bindea on
I do, as it happens. Before I married a guy with asthma, I was quite the scented candle fanatic (and from where I'm sitting in my living room, I can see four right now, so I suppose I am again) and they never burn down to my satisfaction. I paid for that whole jar of wax, dangit, and I am not amused when it burns straight down the middle. That's just cheating.

Some things I've tried with varying degrees of success: Stick a tealight in it and see what happens. (Nothing. Don't bother.) Put the jar on one of those heater things--this one works, of course. Stick a taper candle in the middle-- this one works best if you cut the taper down to the size of your jar, but in the end it really only works marginally better than putting in a tealight.

Then there's sticking in a new wick, which I've also done. This works best in conjunction with melting the whole thing down. If I were going to try this again, I think I'd get the wax just warm enough to pop out of the jar, put it into a double-boiler-ish setup so it melts faster, then pour it back in once I'd made sure the wick was in place. (Not what I did last time. Last time--well, let's just say there was a big mess.) Oh, and once you finally do melt the candle all the way to the end, remember there are things you can do with the empty jar, like put a pillar candle in it to catch the spare wax, for instance.

And, of course, you can always ask Pinterest to see what people more expert than I am have to say.

Do you burn scented candles? What do you do with the leftover wax?

28 January 2016

New Year, New Gadget

What my watch said when I forgot
to switch it off while I wasn't
using it. It's very bossy.
I've done a few runs now with my new Garmin. So far, it's working exactly how I was hoping. It tells me (mostly) how fast I'm going. It even stops when I stop, which is really nice, since I usually don't bother stopping my phone's clock. (I'd rather think that I'm running slower than I really am than the other way around.) It motivates me to keep on my pace.

I did have a problem with it on one tight-ish zigzag. On a couple of my running routes, I run up a street, over a block, then back down the next street. It took my Garmin a few blocks to catch back up with what was going on, and at the end of the run the mileage didn't quite agree with what my mapping program says. And not in the "I-didn't-run-the-tangents" way, but in the "wasn't-the-mile-marker-supposed-to-be-two-blocks-ago" way.

So, I'm smoothing out that bit of my routes, by going a few blocks more down before I turn back, and I hope that will help. I haven't done that particular route since the great day of electronic confusion, but it's coming up again this week. We'll see.

Do you have a fancy gadget that sometimes has a bit of trouble keeping up? What do you do with it?

27 January 2016

Conference Time Again

Every other year (that is, years when the Texas Legislature is not in session), my office joins forces with another nonprofit to produce the Texas Trails and Active Transportation Conference. This year, it's in Houston in March-- exactly six weeks away. Eeep!

At our last conference in 2014, I was
way starstruck by so many of our speakers,
starting with this lady--
Fort Worth Mayor Besty Price.
She's awesome.
And I'm speaking again, this time on Day 2 of the conference. I'm talking communications: going over the basics like where to find your metrics and how to create an editorial calendar, plus some less-obvious but still-helpful stuff like how to make your pictures Pinterest-ready. And of course, I'll be live-Periscoping from the session just for fun.

Fortunately, this entire conference isn't about me nattering on (although if you're into me nattering on, you should follow BikeTexas on Periscope and see it happen live daily). The TTAT Conference will bring together those involved with bicycle, pedestrian, and other active transportation and recreation modes from around Texas and the world. The conference will focus on issues of economic development, health, safety, and many other topics relevant to advancing active transportation and trails.

So, if you're in Texas, near Texas, or passing through Texas next month and this sort of thing strikes your fancy, check it out! If not, no worries-- I'll be sure to tweet and blog my way through, so you'll at least get glimpses.

26 January 2016

168 Hours

I have many feelings about this book.

Source: Goodreads.
First of all, she admits pretty early on that this book is for a fairly narrow audience: people whose work life allows some kind of flexibility and who have some disposable income. While some of her discussion is applicable to pretty much everyone--if you only have a couple hours a day to devote to a hobby, are you choosing the one that's going to bring you the most satisfaction?--much of it is not.

So, that being the case, what did I like about this book? Her case studies are well-chosen and fascinating. Her points about having to make choices about your time vs your money are good ones (for instance: if you have some spare cash, but want half and hour twice a week back to do something fun with your kids, maybe it's better to pay someone else to take care of your lawn).

Most of all, I appreciated her rather pointed comments about TV, because the truth is, if I'm choosing to watch TV (as I am, this week, while the Australian Open is on) then I'm actively choosing not to do something else. This is a point I wish more people would come to grips with. There are few things more aggravating to me than someone saying about one of my hobbies, usually with an accompanying smirk and/or eyeroll, "You have too much time on your hands." My complaint here isn't merely that it's no one else's business what I do with my time; my complaint is that about nine times out of four, this is said by someone who's already mentioned multiple TV shows in the conversation. So my response is inevitably, "So do you."

I also think Ms. Vanderkam's suggestion to keep a time log for a couple of weeks is golden. As it is often said, "If it's not documented, it didn't happen." How am I supposed to know how I'm spending my time, how will I see what activities are sapping hours from my life without giving much satisfaction in return, if I'm not paying attention to where the hours are going?

So, yes, I liked this book a lot, for all that it was aimed well above my pay grade. It got a bit tedious toward the end, but most of the book is thought-provoking and worth the time spend reading it.

What are you reading this week?

25 January 2016

Shows I Loved: Boy Meets World

Like so many '90s children/teens, I watched the ABC Friday night lineup like it was the only TV that mattered. Shows came and went throughout the years, and while I remember them all well, in the last few weeks I've been revisiting a favourite: Boy Meets World.

We've watched the newer Girls Meets World with all the nostalgia we can muster (when we can remember that it's on, that is). So revisiting Cory and Topanga's early days seemed like a good idea when I got Denise the complete set for Christmas.

You can watch Cory grow up,
right there on the box!
I gotta say: Their early days were their best days. Also, wow, could this show be any less diverse? That's been annoying me about Girl Meets World (and is one reason I don't work that hard to remember when it's on--surely Cory and Topanga could have made friends with a few people who don't look like them by now?), but when coupled with the original it's pretty obvious they're not even trying.

So, watching seven seasons of a beloved childhood sitcom in a couple of weeks' time is a good way to ruin said love. In such rapid succession, it's much too easy to see the continuity goofs, the relentlessly recycled plotlines, and your favourite characters' flaws that are easily accepted in the long term but become aggravating with constant exposure. At least the show does poke fun at its own inconsistencies (as in one alternate-universe episode, when the Cory-like character asks, "How can I learn so much every week and still be so stupid?").

However. There is a certain delight in the nostalgia provided by revisiting a childhood show, even if you do see all the blemishes in a new light. That's part of the reason I enjoy watching The Brady Bunch with my mother, after all--it's like visiting old friends and re-entering that frame of mind you were in at the time, without all the bother of having to re-live through it. And, of course, it lets you see how far you've come from this moment that was frozen in time.

What's your favourite childhood show? Would you watch it again?

22 January 2016

Over the Rainbow

One of the challenges of crafting as a hobby is the leftovers.

Small balls of yarn that are too little to make much of anything but too big to just toss. Odds and ends of fabric. Embroidery thread that's wandered off from its label so there's no telling what shade it was... is this DMC 351 or 352?

What I do with old crayons.
It's the low-cost therapy
that keeps on thera-ping!
And then there's crayons. Somehow, I managed to have some crayons survive my childhood and travel with me through many adventures until I recently turned to melted crayon art to solve my crayon clutter problem (and someone else's too--I had a huge jug of castoff crayons when I started).

Fortunately, if turning your home into a colourful splatter zone is not your thing, there are other options. Check out this blog that has 26 suggestions besides the melty things you see on Pinterest. If you'd rather find new homes for whole, gently loved crayons, try these:

The Crayon Initiative
No Crayon Left Behind
Crazy Crayons

Of course, check with teachers you know, your local schools, a women's shelter, or youth club first. They may be more than happy to take those crayons off your hands.

Now, if only there were such easy solutions for my odd remnants of cross stitch fabric.

What do you do with old craft things laying around your house?

21 January 2016

Running Is Not As Complicated As I Make It Sound

Whether it's the new year, the most popular races in Austin looming before us, or just that I've been talking about running a lot lately, I've been getting lots of running questions from assorted friends and acquaintances. That being the case, it's time to dust off and update my Running FAQ post again. Is running in your plan for 2016? Here you go:

So, how do you start running?

I'll start with the easy answer: Slowly. Seriously, don't try to be Usain Bolt or Kara Goucher right out of the gate. You'll end up injured and/or discouraged. Be willing to make haste slowly, as they say, and the rewards will come when they come. (I know; it sounds depressing. But if you want to run, that's the way it's going to be.)

Okay, I'm going slow. Now, what else do I need?

I wear Mizunos. You should wear
what works best for you.
This is the biggest challenge for new runners and runners on a budget, IMO, because not only is this probably the most expensive running necessity, but there's also a huge disagreement among runners over what kind of shoes (or no shoes) are best. My first piece of advice, then, is to always, ALWAYS listen to your body. When you're trying out something new with your feet, pay attention to the weird twinges or strange pains to be sure they're a normal part of adjusting and not a sign something is wrong. Rest, ice, stretch, and all that good stuff in between runs. In short, take care of your feet.

Now, as to where to get them: I recommend finding a place that will do free gait analysis for you so they can make recommendations about what shoes to get--for example, I overpronate, so I buy motion-control shoes. When it comes to buying, I get my beloved Mizunos from Academy Sports (a chain store) in low-budget times and from a local running store in more comfortable times. If Academy doesn't work for you, I also recommend Sears or Target for budget shoes. I don't recommend Walmart because I've never been happy with their selection of running shoes. They have too wide a demographic to be much use in this area, I'm afraid. You can also find deals on Amazon pretty often, especially if you know your brand & size already.

Wicking clothes:
It's totally possible to run in cotton t-shirts. I did it for years. But sooner or later, you'll get a wicking shirt from a friend or from an event you entered and you'll wear it and wonder why you put up with sweat-laden cotton for so long.

This is an area where you can basically spend as much or little as you'd like. I recommend finding something with a securable pocket (zipper, flap, something) for your keys and phone, whether that be in the shirt or the shorts (I have one of each). The lower budget items tend not to have pockets, FYI, so it may be worth it to find one piece that you like that costs a bit more but has a pocket and then fill in the rest with less-expensive stuff. Check out local events--any running or cycling expo will have lots of high-end clothes that come with nice discounts. Great place to find your one helpful piece.

All the rest of my workout clothes (well, nearly all... read on) come from Sears. I think their generic brand is Everlast. I've been very happy with everything I've gotten from them. Again, I also recommend Academy or Target, and can't un-recommend Walmart strongly enough. Don't even bother. Their stuff is no good.

You may get lucky and have feet that don't blister in cotton socks. If you're not so lucky, sports stores will have wicking socks, as do most department stores (but you need to know what you're looking for). Because of my circulation issues, I've transitioned to knee-high compression socks that I get online from Pro Compression when they're having a sale. But that's not necessary for everyone.

Sport bra: 
I have only ever been happy with bras I got from Academy or a running store. I could with reservations say go ahead and look at Target. I can't recommend Sears here--I've gotten a couple of their bras in the past, but they wear out too quickly to be a reasonable recommendation for someone on a budget, because you'll just be back buying another one in a few weeks' time. Under Armour is my preferred brand for sports bras, and yes, they're a bit pricier than some others, so you may prefer a different brand. Just make sure you get one that fits properly and is rated for high impact sports.

Body glide:
I love this stuff and can't recommend it enough to prevent chafing in all sorts of spots. However, I know the price tag can seem daunting--I have sticker shock every time! The good news is that a canister will last you for a while. The bad news is that you basically have to go to a sports store to get this, because department stores usually don't carry it. The okay-ish news is that you can use regular Vaseline (or a Vaseline-like product), which in my experience doesn't work quite as well, but it does work.

Running buddies are not mere accessories--they make the
miles go by faster. (Just disregard the look on my face.)
I have a couple of fuel belts--one I got at Sears for next to nothing, and the other Chadwick won in a contest. If you're running long and don't want to carry a water bottle in your hand, this is a good option. Be aware that every brand of bottle will leak eventually, and the cheaper ones may leak from the very first time you use them.

Hats or visors are pretty much a necessity for sunny running, as is sunscreen. Protect your skin! I can't even remember where I got my visor, so I can't be much help here, but anything that gives your eyes a bit of shade will do. Just make sure it's a hat you don't mind sweating all over.

I run with an iPod. It's not a necessity and I can run without it, but I have a foolproof race day playlist that I love, and sometimes the right song can give you a boost midrun. I had a cheaper mp3 player for a while, so there's no reason it has to be an Apple product. This is another one where you could just use your phone, if you wanted, or go without. I have a harder time finding earbuds that stay put and don't completely block all sound (I run with one ear open to solve that problem), but Walmart has been a lifesaver here. Finally, something I can recommend Walmart for! You can get headphones cheaply there and they tend to last a while despite their low price tag. I am absolutely not willing to buy fancy sport earbuds that do the same thing but cost five times as much.

I just bought my first Garmin, but that's totally not necessary. I use the stopwatch app on my phone and I've owned a couple of other watches through my running years. Or sometimes I leave them all at home and just glance at a clock on my way out & back in.

Mid-run fuel:
I use fruit snacks from the supermarket. I also like fruit leather, if you have it nearby (try the health food section at your supermarket), and in times when I can find them on sale I use Clif Shot Bloks. Make sure anything you get tucks into your pocket or fuel belt. It's not much fun to carry them the whole time. You really only need this if you're running for more than an hour.

I think that's it! My running gear solutions/recommendations. Remember, running makes you a runner, not a bunch of stuff, so if you can't or don't want to get all the things I've mentioned, you don't have to. Just remember to listen to your body and pay attention to anything that feels weird or off--knowing what all the twinges and aches mean will go a lot longer toward you having an enjoyable running life than any amount of gear ever could.

Congratulations! You're a runner!

20 January 2016

Getting There

It's no secret I mostly travel by bike. It's faster than walking, more fun than taking the bus, and cheaper/happier/blood-pumping-er than driving. Despite being a reluctant car owner (I should have just had my sister put it in her name, really) for a few months now, I remain a transportation cyclist. Plus, bikes usually get better parking spots than cars (and wow, do I ever hate hunting for a parking space with the car).

Not what buses in Austin look like.
However. Sometimes it's so freeing to just take transit. Especially when my destination is downtown--I take something to read en route, and at the other end I just hop off and walk a block or two to my destination. No bike lock, no parking space, no traffic jams, just an easy trip.

Alas, not every trip is downtown. Not every trip can be laissez faire, I'll-get-there-when-I-get-there. People who rely on transit need it to get them to work, to the doctor, to the supermarket, and back home again in a reasonable amount of time.

Unfortunately, there are stigmas attached to public transportation in much of the U.S., including here in Austin, which have contributed to people not riding, or lack of funds for transit agencies, or both. Even more unfortunately, as long as transit is seen as 'for poor people' or taking money away from other forms of transportation-- or both-- it will likely remain underutilized, underfunded, and under-useful.

So, why talk about it here? Because I think the stigmas are silly. I think the aversions are overblown. I think people who complain every day about having to sit in traffic without even bothering to research solutions maybe need a gentle reminder that if they take the bus instead, they can at least get some working or reading or listening to music done while someone else drives, which might get their workday off to a less stressful start.

I would love for public transportation to always show up on time and go all over the place, for the sake of those who have no choice and for those who do, so that it's the easy transportation choice when someone just doesn't want to hunt for a parking space. I don't know how we get there from here. But I wish we would.

19 January 2016

2016 Reading Challenges

I posted this pic in October & STILL
haven't finished all of them. Sigh...
In keeping with my goal to read 100+ books this year, I've decided to join a few reading challenges around the interwebs beyond my usual Goodreads Challenge. If you're looking for some extra reading motivation, join me in a couple of these:

I Love Libraries Reading Challenge
I'm starting out with a goal of "Young adult - 24". This will probably go up as the year progresses, since about 90% of my books come from the library; however, in case I really get going on the Mount TBR Challenge below, I'm playing it safe with my library use.

Who am I kidding? My librarians know me by name, in a city with nearly one million people, for goodness' sakes. I'll be surpassing this goal in no time. Anyway, part of the signup is to share why I love libraries, but gosh, what's not to like? Free books (both a budget-friendly and an earth-friendly option!), internet access, journal access--I love that one!, and just a happy place to hang out. Libraries are treasures.

Read it Again, Sam
I re-read. I re-read a lot. However, I made the decision a couple years ago to not include re-reads in my Goodreads total, so everything I do for this challenge is on top of my 100+ goal I already set. That being the case, I'm going with "Déjà vu: Reread 4 books" as my initial goal.

Woman Challenge
This one is a no-brainer. I am a woman who would like to be a published author, so if I can't manage to read women's works for at least one in five of my books this year, what am I even doing? Therefore, I'm going for the highest level on this challenge, "Level 4: WONDER WOMAN - read 20+ books written by a woman author".

The challenge host has asked participants to list their three favourite women writers, so off the top of my head I'm going with Jane Austen, Laura Wilder, and J.K. Rowling.

Mount TBR Challenge
Most of my TBRs that I own (a requirement for this challenge) are e-books, and fairly low (most of them) on my priority list. Still, it would be nice to move some of them to the "read" column, so I'm setting my goal for this one as "Pike's Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s". I especially appreciate that for this challenge, if I decide a book is not for me, it still counts as being moved off the TBR mountain. That's the only thing I use unfinished books for!

Are you participating in any reading challenges in 2016? Any of these strike your fancy? (If you want even more challenges, Bev at My Reader's Block has quite a nice list for you to check out.)

18 January 2016

Hello (a little late), 2016

I'll try to have twice as much fun in
2016 so you're not missing out on
too much, sweetheart, but I draw the
line at making that face.
Y'all, I really don't like living in a year that Chadwick never lived in. (Yes, the anniversary is coming up. More on that anon.) It kind of sucks.

I guess this is what passes for a New Year's Resolution post around here. So, some goals I've set for 2016:

1. Run the Indy Mini in May.
This race has been on my bucket list since I was 20. It's basically the reason that I started running again after a long hiatus after middle school. But ever since I worked up to running a half marathon distance, the timing has never worked out for me to be in Indianapolis on Mini day. This year, ladies and gents. I am registered, I am paid, and it will take an act of God to keep me from finishing that race.

2. Eat the correct nutrients to fuel the running/riding/etc.
I hesitate to say this is a diet, but the fact is that middle age is coming for me and I'll be a lot better prepared to meet it, health-wise, if I eat less chocolate and more veggies. And I love veggies, as it happens, so it's not really a hardship.

3. Arrive everywhere early enough to get in at least five minutes of writing.
So, from time to time an article appears on the internet about whether chronic tardiness is the worst vice ever. While I'm really not willing to engage on this, I am of the opinion that it is not the worst (I mean, surely being a vicious gossip, or chronically unkind, or someone who steals things, or many other things, are worse), but I would still like to arrive places in plenty of time to pull out my WiP and get some words out ahead of my meeting/coffee/etc. (The fact that it's courteous is a nice bonus.) Which leads me to...

4. Write every day.
I want to finish Sybil's story in 2016, and that's just not going to happen unless I put in serious writing time, even on days when the well is dry. And also...

5. Take on some writing I wouldn't normally do.
Whether for work or just to stretch my writing muscles, I'd like some new writing challenges in 2016. I already have one in front of me for the next couple of weeks, courtesy of my friend Bill, and I'm excited for the change of pace.

6. Read 100+ books.
After a couple years of only managing about 50, thanks to grad school and other life things, I want to get my reading back on track this year. My to-read list is long and it's not getting any shorter. By the way, are you on Goodreads? Let's be friends.

These are pretty modest goals compared to some of my more ambitious years, but since I'm only just struggling to get back on my feet after 2015 slammed me into the ground, I'm cool with it.

What about you? What are some of your goals for this year?

02 January 2016

Resolved: Don't Give Up

The cover of the journal where I found
this quote this morning.
"In any case you mustn't confuse a single failure with a final defeat." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is my note of encouragement to those who may already be struggling to keep New Year resolutions, or meet any other goals you've set, and are feeling like the finish line is way too far away-- don't give up. Setbacks happen, but you are stronger than they are.

01 January 2016

Best Books of 2015

The promised list of my favourite books of 2015! Please note, these are books I read in 2015, not necessarily ones published in 2015. I'm not that fancy.

Image from Michelle Seixas
 on freeimages.com
So most years I have a couple of books that stand out in my mind as outstanding, and for 2015 that book is Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. If you do any writing at all, it needs to be on your to-read list.

Before I get to the rest of my list, since Friday is usually (ish) my green living day, here's your reminder to make use of your local library and used bookstores for your reading needs. The problem I run into here (and I suspect many of you do, too) is that of course we all want to support the authors who write the books. Balancing a limited book-buying budget and a desire to live as lightly on the earth as possible with the equal desire to honor the work of talented writers whose words I enjoy requires planning and thought.

Here's what works for me:
  1. I make use of the library or free Kindle books first, always. If I haven't read something by the author before, I don't buy the book.
  2. However, if I do love a book and can possibly fit it into my budget, I do--again, to show my appreciation for the author's hard work at creating something spectacular.
  3. Once I know I like an author, I have no qualms about purchasing subsequent books by the same author (although it isn't automatic--the purchase does still have to fit into my budget).
  4. When I have to make a choice budget-wise, I try to buy books by less well-known authors over bestselling, famous, or otherwise wildly popular authors. 
  5. I put all of my rules on a shelf when I walk into a one of those "all books 50¢" sales, where I just go wild with choosing the prettiest covers and most enticing blurbs until I run out of money. Even worse are the Friends of the Library sales where you can load up an entire paper bag for a couple dollars. I can do some damage at those events.
Anyway! Your mileage may vary. So, the rest of my Best Reads of 2015 list (in order of when I read them):

Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd

All My Friends are Dead, Avery Monsen and Jory John

Best of reading to you in 2016!