The Zen of Fingernails: Giving Up Attachment

I’m obsessively attached to my fingernails. Well, we’re all attached to our fingernails, except for George Clooney in that one scene in Syriana that I totally couldn’t watch.

What I mean is, I really want to have nice fingernails. Long, strong, no peeling layers, worth polishing. Fingernails that lead you to make extra hand gestures when you talk and cradle your coffee cup gracefully, tenderly, with both hands, just so people can notice how pretty they are.

Alas, I am doomed. Although taking calcium did help with the peeling problem that dogged me for years, I just cannot grow out a complete set of 10 good-looking fingernails of the same approximate length and maintain them for more than 24 hours.

Every single time I reach that day, that moment of nirvana where I realize that they’re long and well worth polishing with a pretty color in place of my usual clear protective coat, something happens.

I grate one while making hashbrowns.

I hit our granite countertop straight on and break one.

I’m crocheting and a microsnag gets caught in the yarn and tears just far enough that I can’t file it smooth and save the nail.

Or—in one horrendous accident right before my wedding in July 2007—I actually cut straight across the nail and into the thumb with a knife that slipped, and I wore a bandage through weeks and weeks of growing it out. Nothing says long, strong sexy fingernails like a cartoon character bandage on your thumb. At your wedding.

In a domino effect that never varies, once one goes, the rest start dropping like flies. Nails that were beautifully smooth and strong develop tiny tears down low, close to the cuticle line where it will really hurt like a son of a gun if it catches and tears, so I have to cut the nail back to protect myself. I hit countertops, encounter graters and knives, and lose the length one way or another, usually on at least half of them before the carnage stops.

I cut them all back because I hate that look of mostly long nails and a few short freaks, and start all over again.

My special bonus handicap in this quest for perfection: When I was a kid, maybe 8 or so, I smashed a finger in a solid wood door that was at least two inches thick.

I remember going to yell to my brother Don that Mom said to take out the garbage. In turning away and slamming the heavy door shut, I have no idea how I could catch the middle finger of my left hand in the door so badly that the fingernail was torn off, but I did. (For one thing, I’m right-handed; for another, just one finger, in the middle of the hand? What the--?)

I marched into the kitchen where my mother was washing her hair in the sink (this was before they added a showerhead in the upstairs bathroom in our very old house in the country, outside Lewiston, Idaho). I stuck my bleeding, ravaged finger under her face and said, “Look what I did!” Must have still been in shock, since I wasn’t yet crying from the pain.

The sudden appearance of a bloody stump under her sudsy head gave her such a shock that she couldn’t drive, so the garbage-toting Don had to take us to the hospital. They gave me a shot, sewed the fingernail back on, and told me that if I was lucky I wouldn't lose it completely. There was enough attachment in the nail bed that it did grow back, fortunately.

But I have three little notches around the nail, one on each side and one off-center at the base, where the stitches went in. So that nail is nothing like the rest of my fingernails, and I often develop one of those little microtears at the site of one of the side stitches.

Through the luck of the genetic draw I have tapered fingers and nice oval fingernails—except for Mr. Blight on my left hand. That door-slamming accident cost me a lucrative career as a hand model, I’m quite sure of it.

In a weird Lamarckian coincidence, my mother also had a childhood accident that smashed the middle finger on her left hand and ruined the nail. In her case she was behind a rocking chair when her visiting grandmother rocked back and mooshed her finger.

Mom’s quest for beautiful fingernails led her to various failed attempts in the early days of acrylic nails, leading to a nasty nail fungus and terribly weak, soft fingernails that she had to leave unpolished for a long time. She’s now back to fake nails, I notice when I visit her in the dementia facility; someone comes in and does the nails for the ladies who still have enough cognition for vanity.

I never went the fake route. It’s my own nails that I want to have as a thing of beauty and a joy forever. For over thirty years I have sought fingernail perfection, and my nails have fallen short.

The origin of suffering is attachment: one of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. In life all is transient; nothing lasts forever. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, loss is inevitable. Thus I suffer because my long fingernails are inevitably temporary adornments.

When the day comes that I let go of my attachment to fingernail perfection, and the accompanying suffering over the snags and chips of daily life, it will be a sign that I have grown spiritually.

Or that I have finally gotten acrylic nails.

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Fun with Slogans: Deathless(?) Prose for Chests & Bumpers

Chalk it up to my undergraduate studies in linguistics and English at Washington State University. Or to my general word geekiness, which pre-dated college and gave me fun facts to share as small talk.

In fact, I charmed my first husband with linguistics on the night we met (at a Mensa meeting. Doesn’t get much geekier.):

“What’s the difference between a blackbird and a black bird? All blackbirds are black birds, but not all black birds are blackbirds. (pause) It’s all in the emphasis.”

This thing we’re chalking up to college and word geekiness? My deep-seated desire to coin the kinds of phrases that will live forever on your car bumper or chest.

I think of my deathless prose at odd times (don’t we all?), inspired by someone else’s poorly written slogan or my witty family or a funny turn of phrase in a meeting (I try not to guffaw out loud at these junctures—usually succeed). And there’s always the random association free-for-all in the morning shower.

There is now an outlet for such fun and games! Thanks to someone on Twitter—can’t remember who—I found and its, where I can submit slogans.

The slogans are visible for a week, and people vote up or down. If any of mine win, I get $400 cash and a $100 gift certificate for shirts, thus ensuring that my children will receive a plethora of T-shirts.

On the other hand, I may get no votes at all, making my prose just a little short of deathless.

Hence this list, so at least the faithful who read this can get a chuckle or two.

You can go vote too, if you like—not just on mine, but on all the rest—if you click on the phrase and create a log-in. Your choices are “I’d wear this” and “Uh, stupid” (which gives me an idea for another post, on how we might affect election outcomes by just . . . reframing the options a tad).

If you submit a slogan of your own, tell me in the comments so I can go vote!
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Snow Day

A snow day starts early.

My job includes managing emergency communications, so if there’s any question that we might shut down, I get a call around 4:30 a.m. from the calm-voiced Jon, director of facilities.

He’s always apologetic about having to wake me, and remarkably cheerful given the cold darkness outside and the fact that he’s been up far longer than I.

Between the two of us, we work through the list of factors to consider. How is the plowing going for city streets and for campus parking lots, and what are the campus conditions? What are the other colleges and universities doing? Major school districts in our area? Are city officials asking people to stay off the streets and drive only if absolutely necessary, and what’s the forecast?

It’s a pretty human process, with no cut and dried way to decide, but we eventually come up with something, always erring on the side of safety. We confer with the equally calm-voiced HR director Diane to make sure we're wording things right per university policies.

If we actually close, that means no one goes to work. No one.

No one to plow the sidewalks and parking lots. No one to keep the computers and phone lines working. No one to see that the HVAC keeps the buildings from freezing.

So we don’t CLOSE close. If we decide we should minimize travel to campus, we suspend operations, a decision the chancellor makes after considering our recommendation.

When we suspend operations, we don't hold classes and only “essential” personnel report to campus. When we used that term in our campus communications in the heavy snows earlier this year, people had to ask whether they were essential.

Kind of humbling to find out you aren’t, but you don’t actually want to be essential—not on a snow day. If you’re non-essential you don’t have to venture out into the conditions that officials are defining as too dangerous for travel.

If you’re me, on the other hand, in my essential role….

Actually, I don’t have to venture forth. I count on those essential IT folks to keep the systems working that allow me to put the word out.

Recorded phone message, web site alert page updated and then linked in color-coded text from the home page, emails to campus listservs because quite a few staff check their work email from home, a notice on the portal system that people use to access official records and information, emails to media followed by phone calls, and now Twitter and a note posted on the wall of our Facebook page and sent out to our fans.

(By the way, it’s the same whether or not we suspend operations. If we’re open for business as usual, people need to know that too. )

After I push our announcement out as many ways as possible, I monitor the TV broadcasts and check media web sites to see if they’re using what we sent, and post a comment if I can find someplace to do it that will be visible and informative.

(Sidebar question: Why isn't there one specific place for official representatives to log in and post our info, alphabetically by agency? The school districts have that.)

Because I have the laptop open and I’m connected to my work desktop, I end up dealing with old stuff from my in-box for longer than I realize in my too-early-morning daze.

Eventually I realize I’ve been up for over 3 hours. I’m doing things that are neither urgent nor important, I have a headache because I haven’t had coffee but I shouldn’t at this point, and there’s nothing more to do in this “emergency.”

After that, I go back to bed for a while before I get up, pop open the laptop again, and settle in for a quiet day of work and watching the weather in case we have to do it all over again the next day.

Sweetie and the Poo Rock

Sweetie enters the dining/family room, where Eldest Daughter, Second Daughter and I are all ensconced with our laptops: family togetherness, 21st-century style.

“Where’s the poo rock?” he asks. We all snort with laughter.

We know what he’s looking for: the pumice stone we use to get mineral deposits off the toilet bowl. It’s the word “poo” that sounds so funny, especially coupled with “rock” to form “poo rock.” (Having a juvenile sense of humor is considered an asset at our house.)

It probably triggers thoughts of Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo, from South Park. I was never a South Park fan, but we were trapped at the lake cabin and there’s a DVD of that episode, so I was subjected to the singing talking poo and his little poo family.

The poo rock is a key piece of the bathroom cleaning equipment and supplies in our house. I don’t think we have particularly hard water, but a ring forms fairly quickly. We do scrub the toilet—every so often—yet that just doesn't do it.

I’m fond of the application of a bleach/water spray to kill toilet germs. In general I’m pretty environmental in my housekeeping practices, such as cleaning the shower with a paste made of baking soda and a dab of shampoo. (Try it! Works great!)

But not for the toilet. Death to germs, bring on the bleach.

We inherited some build-up when we bought the house that we have worked away at with the help of poo rock. I’m still sort of amazed that you can scratch away at porcelain (or whatever toilets are made of these days) with a rock and not hurt it, but that’s the magic of poo rock.

Another challenge in our master bathroom is that we have a yellow toilet. Hello, toilet manufacturers? Yellow is the last color we want for a toilet. Well, maybe second to last—brown would be the winner there. I want to know when something’s clean and I’ll never, ever know with this toilet.

We conserve water in the time-honored fashion, by not flushing until it’s necessary. This, coupled with Stupid Yellow Toilet Color, means that I’m not quick to stick my hand in for scrubbing even if it looks innocent. I have to flush before I start cleaning.

You may be noting that this wastes water. Yes, but wouldn’t you make sure?

Sweetheart and I were brushing our teeth together the other day. I thanked him for his diligence in attacking the mineral build-up so effectively.

There are a few spots that are hard to reach because of the intricacies of interior toilet design so he hadn’t gotten absolutely everything farther back. His efforts had improved the view enormously, though.

“What we really need is poo rock on a stick,” he said.

Do you have any idea how much it hurts to snort toothpaste foam through your nose?

By popular demand: Recipe for Spicy Fries

I’ll have to figure out how to add an audio element to this page, with Eldest Daughter saying in a distinctive voice, “Thpicy frieth!” kind of like Sylvester, of Tweety & Sylvester. She loves these—eats them by the bowlful.

The recipe is courtesy of the side of a bag of Mann’s pre-cut “sweet potato” fries from Costco. I put “sweet potato” in quotation marks because this was a bag of the orange things known to many as “yams.” You want the orange ones, not the yellowish ones.

For every 3 c. of yams cut into fry-like sticks:

½ t. red pepper flakes (amp up if you like things really hot)
½ t. chipotle pepper flakes (optional; or substitute these for the regular red pepper flakes)
1 t. chili powder
2 T. olive oil
1 T. lime juice (I often have to leave this out because I don’t keep limes on hand, and it still tastes fine)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
1 T. spicy brown mustard (e.g. Grey Poupon)
¼ t. ground black pepper

Add at end: 1 t. salt (use kosher for extra crunch)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, stir together the ingredients for the spicy coating. Add potatoes and stir until evenly coated. Arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, then turn and bake another 10 minutes until crispy and browned. Sprinkle with the salt and serve.

I make these in really big batches because they go so fast around my house. The catch is that you can’t achieve a single layer in the pan if you cut up too many, so plan accordingly. They’re still good if they end up heaped in the pan—just not as crispy.

You might also bake half the batch and taste, then adjust the heat on the second half if you want them spicier.

Thanksgiving is an act, not a menu

Like so many, I get a tad Grinchy about commercialization around this time of year. I won’t be shopping on Black Friday, going toe to toe with desperate women in appliqued sweatshirts over this year's version of Tickle Me Elmo.

If I do anything commercial at all, it will be a walk to the Rockwood Bakery with My Sweetheart for a caramel macchiato (latte style), and possibly one of the orange almond rolls or their outstanding quiche.

Now that’s something to be thankful for: good food, the ability to move freely under my own power, a quiet neighborhood that makes for an enjoyable walk, a sweetheart who will happily go for a walk with me, holding hands and striding in step. (We can’t help but do that: he was in the Marines, I was in marching band. Left-right-left. On our second date we walked and talked for hours, enjoying the crisp snap of our steps in unison when we realized our strides matched perfectly.)

Or we’ll take Eldest Daughter and Second Daughter with us and walk the other direction, to the Perry Street Café. We haven’t been there in a while, but when we walk in the waitresses will recognize us, they’ll ask where the little kids are (with their mother; we only have them every other weekend), and the bottomless cups of coffee will begin.

Second Daughter will get a Caesar salad (no olives—why do they put olives on the Caesar anyway?); they make an enormous salad and she’ll eat all of it (note that this is for breakfast).

Eldest Daughter will get a mushroom/cheese omelet with hashbrowns and mix the entire plate together in one unappetizing (to me) gloppy mess with ketchup.

I’ll get the veggie scramble and an English muffin with honey. My Sweetheart will get pancakes, possibly; scrambled eggs; some kind of sausage or bacon (his chance at meat, since the rest of us are vegetarians); and will eat everyone’s leftovers if we let him.

Again, something to be thankful for: Living in a good-sized city with urban amenities that still has a hometown feeling and good little neighborhood cafes, and teenage daughters who will happily hang out with their folks (as well they should—we’re buying) and carry on intelligent, well-informed conversations about things like world affairs, ethics, and the economy (also lame jokes, word play, and occasional applications of the phrase “that’s what she said”—we’re not all high-brow and intellectual all the time).

I note that my stories do revolve around food—just not a blow-out feast requiring me to get up in the dark and start mincing celery and onions and rolling out piecrust (hopefully not all in the same dish).

I’ve had those years, and I love to cook a major feast, but that’s no longer what Thanksgiving is about for us. An event that creates major stress for one or two of us (Sweetheart likes to cook too) while the rest overeat and then roll away groaning isn’t really all that fun, if you think about it.

It’s just the four of us this year. I asked everyone to tell me some favorite foods, and over the course of the four-day weekend I’ll cook my way through the list, which so far isn’t too daunting:
  • Laura Potatoes: Roasted in the oven with a liberal dose of a mustard vinaigrette dressing that’s good on everything from salad to pilaf to baguettes to, well, potatoes.
  • Spicy Fries: Based on a recipe originally found on the side of a bag of yam fries from Costco (modified to use chipotle for smokiness), these are basted with a mustard/chili sauce, the spicier the better.
  • Wild Rice: Sweetheart didn’t specify a preparation method, so I think it will be my recipe that involves caramelized walnuts or pecans, orange zest, and sautéed celery and onions (I guess I do end up doing some of that veggie prep—just not at o-dark-thirty in the morning).
  • Oven-roasted Cauliflower, Oven-roasted Broccoli: My personal favorites, from Cook’s Illustrated recipes that make these vegetables truly finger-licking good. Sometimes we eat them straight out of the pans at the stove. (I'd better become a member so I can actually log on and look up these recipes I've linked; fortunately, I have the print versions in the kitchen bookcase.)
  • Berry Pie: Second Daughter’s request.
  • Pecan Pie: Eldest Daughter’s request.

I enjoy cooking, especially for people I love. Doing it this way spreads out the labor as well as the enjoyment of the food. That makes me a lot more thankful than being exhausted when I finally sit down to eat.

If we happen to walk to a neighborhood spot for someone else’s cooking, we’ll get to connect with our neighbors and with those familiar faces we don’t actually know, but see often enough in the places where we’re regulars so that we’re “friendly strangers.”

As someone who particularly loves to feel a part of her community networks, I love this about Spokane: that willingness to strike up a conversation with a total stranger in line at the grocery store or coffee shop, make small talk, and in all likelihood find we like something or someone in common that creates a bond.

These are small things, perhaps, but they make life good. Plenty to be thankful for, even in hard times. Let us give thanks.

Kate-isms: Life with a Teenage Girl who Thinks Fast and Talks Even Faster

Eldest Daughter turned 18 last week. Time to commemorate this with a random collection of Kate-isms, almost all collected in one sitting.

“Mom, you’re so funny and lame. Well, sometimes you’re lame funny. Sometimes you’re really funny but it’s lame because you’re old. But you’re still usually funny. Sometimes.”

"Mom, write in your blog! You’ve had the Holocaust at the top for DAYS. Pep it up a bit!”

“Mom, the day you referred to ‘Mr. Fifty Cents’ you lost all your street cred, white lady.” Me: “I never had any street cred.” Her: “Exactly.”

“Gangsters. They’re like the lions with the biggest testicles. Or when the gorillas go like this"(chest pounding and improvised gorilla grunting). This is said while she is wearing fake leopard print shirts (two of them, layered) and whiskers and black nose artfully created with eyeliner for her duties opening the door on Halloween to exclaim, “Oh, aren’t you CUTE!” to the baby lions and tigers and bears. It’s like “Madagascar” around here.

Imitating me in a breathy style: “You know you’re going to write about this for your blog: ‘Oh, we exchange such clever quips. My darling daughter who knows all my era’s song lyrics, it’s such a joy to watch her grow. Just the other day she looked at me when I tried to sing REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” (to kill the earworm of “Keep On Loving You”) and said, “Stop now. I will shoot you in the face with a bow and arrow.” She’s so funny.’”

(Later: “Are you going to put that bow and arrow thing in your blog? It’s funny and people who read your blog will like it and laugh unless they don’t think it’s funny in which case they shouldn’t be reading your blog because you’re funny. Sometimes.”)

She refers several times to REO Speedwagon as a one-hit wonder. I protest that they had more than one hit (all of them during my high school and college days). She says, “Well, I don’t like any of their other songs so those don’t count as hits for ME so they’re a one-hit wonder.”

She mocks my technical know-how. I explain that I was on BBS systems back when we used packet and the text slowly crawled up your screen at baud rates of 300 and 600. She says, “Am I supposed to be impressed?” I say “Yes.” She says, “I’m not.”

“Mom, writing about your mother’s dementia is not that much of an improvement over the Holocaust. Write about me and how funny and witty I am. That will pep it up!”

“Know what’s fun?” Me: “What?” Her: “Me!”

“Life is never as exciting as you think except sometimes.”

“What’s that thing called…. Pronouncements! I make a lot of those. I think we could make a book out of them and sell it.”

My revenge on her is that she looks like me. She laughs just like me. My words come out of her face at times. Someday my very voice will emanate from her mouth. At least it will if she meets with my fate, which (as I've mentioned before) is to look down and see my mother’s hands sticking out of my sleeves, hear her voice coming out of my mouth, recognize that all the times she said “Someday you’ll look back on this and laugh/thank me/not remember any of it” she was right. BWAhahahahaha.

Married name(s)

The name thing: I got to thinking about this because of a Twitter discussion about the effort women go through to change their names when they marry, which is actually a holdover from when we were chattel.

I’m married to my third husband, but use my first husband’s last name. A sorority sister I reunited with via Facebook refers to this as a “divorced name”, which I think is a good way to label it.

Second marriages are pretty common any more, so when I refer to my first as “the girls’ dad” in a way that makes it clear he's not My Wonderful Sweetheart, you assume MWS is #2, unless you actually met #2.

Almost no one did, as he was a bit of an agoraphobe and an introvert and absolutely hated the thought of the “Babbitts” he was sure he would meet at the thousand and one Chamber of Commerce-type events I attend (and enjoy) for my job.

The name? Well, my maiden name was Greene, spelled with an E. I was tired of spelling my last name all the time so as not to be confused with the color, thought Chamberlain was a nice distinguished name, wanted to share a last name with the children I knew we’d have. #1 was a feminist kind of guy and would have been willing to take my name, but it rhymed with his first name and that sounded really, really stupid.

I subsequently built up a lot of political and social capital (name ID, in political parlance). Brand equity, if you will, although there are lots of other Barb Chamberlains out there.

So when we divorced after nine years of marriage, I kept the name. This, even though by then I’d discovered the many ways people could misspell Chamberlain unless I helped them, so I was still spelling my last name all the time to avoid being –lin, -lane, -land, or -lun.

It had become my name, independent of how I acquired it, and I kept it on the way into—and out of—my second marriage and into the marriage that now makes me seriously, deliriously happy every day.

We clearly believe in marriage: My family’s marriage history is entertaining, or discouraging, or typical, depending on what you think about the odds of finding the right person for your whole life the very first time you try.

  • My parents (ages 91 and 87) have been married for 63 years.
  • My oldest brother: married to #5. He believes in marriage more than any of us, and I’m not being flippant. He really worked at it every time.
  • Second brother: #2.
  • Third brother: #2.
  • Older sister: #2.
  • Me: #3.
  • Younger sister: Never married, still with her first boyfriend, passing 20+ years.

Moral of the story: While my parents apparently got the secret of a successful marriage the first time, the only one in our family to be matching their success to date is the one who never got married.

As Eldest Daughter reassures me, third time is the charm for me. She’s right.

Five things you don’t know about me

I hate it when I get this kind of question as an ice-breaker at workshops. See, the thing is that I was an elected official. As in, out there in the public eye with reporters asking questions about all kinds of things and then putting them in the paper or on TV.

Granted, this was more or less pre-Internet. Yes, kids, I’m old enough that I used to do bulletin board stuff via packet on a 300 baud modem—and I’m not that old. You can’t hit Google and find much from those days (at least, I can’t, so if you find good stuff please send me the links).

Now, there are hundreds of occurrences of my name (actually, 2,350 as of Nov. 15 if you search Google for “Barb Chamberlain”), but most consist solely of my name as a contact on a press release since I work in communications. Or they’re some other Barb Chamberlain (there are 46 of us on Facebook as of today; I’m thinking of starting a club).

The other problem with compiling a list on this topic is that I’m a talker like my mother and I disclose lots of things. My closest friends and family members know all kinds of stuff (and I think one of them actually reads this blog). But there’s this blogger game of tag where you link to other bloggers, with all of you writing on the same kind of topic. In this case, the theme (or meme) is five things you don’t know about me.

I think it’s fair to take “you” to mean total strangers, not the family member(s?) and friend(s?) who read this. This is our getting-acquainted talk. Pretend I’ve had an extra glass of wine or a second lemon drop or something, and you asked me about my life in politics.

Given my public profile, these fun facts are public or quasi-public knowledge or in a bio somewhere, but you as a passing blog reader aren’t likely to know them:
  • I was born on Election Day, and elected for the first time on my 28th birthday (I like to think I was born to run). Eldest Daughter (and first child) arrived six days later. As we like to say in our house when we tell this story, That Was A Big Week.
  • When I was elected, I was the youngest woman ever elected to the Idaho State House.
  • When I subsequently won a Senate seat, I became the youngest woman elected to the Senate, and hence youngest woman elected to both.
  • My ego bubble got a nice puncturing when someone pointed out that since I lost my Senate re-election bid, I probably became the youngest woman ever defeated for election to the Idaho State Senate. 1994. Not a good year for Democrats, since even Speaker of the House Tom Foley lost his seat. Sigh.
  • Given that I was born on Election Day, it finally occurred to me to ask Mom whether she’d voted that year. Yep—she voted absentee in advance. What I don’t know is how she voted. Democrat Gracie Pfost (pronounced POST) was unsuccessful in her effort to move from the U.S. House to the U.S. Senate that year. Mom probably voted Republican (in the Senate race it would have been a vote for Len Jordan, who had replaced Henry Dworshak, for whom the dam is named, when Henry died in August of that year). But maybe she voted for Democrat Compton White Jr. for the Congressional seat. These fun facts about the 1962 midterm election are courtesy of a web site that will soon vanish unless his successor copies the content: a page from Larry Craig's official U.S. Senate site. A better long-term link is this basic PDF list.

When I set out to write a list of five much more obscure items—short-lived jobs, encounters with famous people and the like—the post got way too long. So I’m saving those items for another day. You’ll just have to wait for Geraldine Ferraro’s hand, the constellation, the marriage thing, reproduction roulette, and my mercifully short-lived sales career.

Here’s the two people I have to thank for this writing assignment:

  • A blog I read regularly for great insights and resources on social media, by Chris Brogan
  • The blog Chris told people to link to in order to help boost his fellow blogger's readership, because Chris is incredibly generous as a social media leader, by Dominick Evans

Here are links to some more blogs that I enjoy reading. I went for a mix of social media, local, and inside-your-life types of blogs.

They're listed in in reverse alphabetical order, which is harder than it looks even though I can recite the alphabet backwards--hey! another fun fact you probably didn't know! They are hereby tagged and invited to write a post on the same theme, so subscribe, watch for it, and get to know them:

Bike blogging round-up

The late, lamented MetroSpokane blog was a great read. Five days a week, the anonymous author delivered a slice of urban life to my email in-box: Design, planning, restaurants, funky street art, commentary on local and regional policy issues—all my cup of java.

I made a habit of forwarding occasional posts to people I thought would find them interesting. After a few times of sending them to a city planner involved in Spokane’s University District because I thought the ideas expressed were a great fit for our vision there, he confessed to me that he wrote the blog.

I kept his secret, and started writing occasional cycling-related posts. Now that MetroSpokane has ceased publication and the blogger has outed himself, I wanted to collect the links to all my posts in one spot.

Spokane’s bike equity
A brief discussion of a much better piece by someone else: Dave Steele on “Unseen Bicyclists” at Next American City.

Is Spokane ready for a pedi?
Discussion of the feasibility of bike pedicabs in downtown Spokane.

Spokane loves used stuff: Here's some
An item on the bike swap being held at the first SpokeFest.

Policy wonking: Road dollars and road designs
A discussion of how road designs shape behaviors, i.e., all engineering is social engineering.

It’s All in the T-t-t-timing
Discussion of I-985, which fortunately lost big-time in the Nov. 4, 2008 elections.

Getting there on a Bike: Help us Google!
Rallying folks to ask Google to add bike-specific functionality to Google Maps, similar to what they’re doing for pedestrians.
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Getting older, or, it’s not fair but nobody said it would be

So nobody promised it would be fair. I get that. In fact, I use that line with my teenage daughters All The Time. No one signed a contract, no one provided disclaimers in 5-point type for wiggle room, no one made any promises whatsoever. But still.

I’m 46 as of yesterday. Here are three things I thought when I was younger that I now know to be wrong.

1) There will be a break between pimples and wrinkles.

Not true. The “facial evidence of accumulated wisdom” does not create a protective barrier that prevents breakouts, and pimples don’t magically stop appearing just because you get some “character” in your face.

The various things you can use for blemishes dry out your skin and make the wrinkles look worse; the moisturizer you need for the wrinkles encourages break-outs. Since all skin products for any age are just hope in a bottle and have few real effects, there’s no magic answer. On the bright side, I’m saving lots of money by not buying skin care products, other than that one bottle of Oil of Olay Regenerist because some web site said that it did actually have a marginal effect, and it costs a lot less than the other ones on the shelf at Rite-Aid. Effects so far? Not so’s I’ve noticed, but hey, keep hope alive.

2) If you’re nearsighted, then when you start getting old-age farsightedness, your eyesight will improve.

Wow, SO not true. I’ve worn glasses since I was five, got contacts for my 13th birthday (the old hard plastic kind that you had to acclimate to one hour at a time over a painful two-week period), had radial keratotomy when I was 21, and am still a -11 in my left eye and -10.5 in my right eye, with some astigmatism as a side effect of the RK. An eye doctor once told me this level of myopia would qualify me as legally blind if it weren’t correctible.

All my life in order to read or examine something with lots of fine detail, I have brought it right up to my face about an inch away from my eyeballs if I'm not wearing my contacts or glasses. Now, of course, I have to move things away from my face in order to bring them into focus.

When I work at the computer or read, I wear cheaters if I have my contacts in. My prescription glasses actually work pretty well, probably because they correct for the astigmatism in a way my contacts can’t (because at my high-diopter prescription level, astigmatism correction isn’t available—am I really that special? It's like needing an orphan drug or something).

The beneficial side effect of all this is that I’m not buying any food products with tiny, tiny print on the label, because I like knowing what I’m eating. This pretty much eliminates all processed foods, not that I ate too many of those to begin with. Saved from high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils by old-age eyes.

3) I won’t turn into my mother. Ever.


I did manage to do some things differently in raising my own daughters. As I read somewhere once, you only have two options in parenting: being your parents, or being not your parents (yes, that’s written correctly).

Since “not your parents” is a vast and unknown territory, you have no guideposts when you enter that strange land. You’re bound to get lost and wander around, trampling randomly underfoot the fragile wildflowers and rare endangered creatures, AKA making a whole new batch of mistakes different in kind but not in scope from the ones for which you blame your own parents.

In my case, I did some things differently/”right” (in my view, because after all I’m The Mom So I Decide): being more open with the facts of life, talking with them honestly about my own feelings and life mistakes, being closer, hugging more.

My reward has been that my daughters—unlike me at their age—don’t appear to consider it sport to be sarcastic and make their mother cry. They do spend a lot of time sequestered in their bedrooms playing music I don’t care for and talking to their friends on the phone(s) for hours, so they are like me at that age. (At one point about ten years ago, I remember apologizing to my mother for my brattiness at around age 16 and 17, and telling her that her revenge on me was that I have two daughters.)

But I recognize that when this strange new landscape overwhelms a bit, I scurry back to the familiar signposts of my childhood, open my mouth, and my mother’s words come out.

Also, there’s the part where her hands stick out of my sleeves and her voice and laugh come out of my face. That’s not that bad, since she was and is pretty cheerful (despite the dementia). And now my voice and laugh are coming out of my daughters’ mouths (particularly Eldest Daughter, although all three of us have an identical laugh at times).


Seriously good oatmeal cookie recipe

These are not your ordinary oatmeal cookies. For one thing, they don't have those nasty raisins in them--those squished-bug-like raisins that exist only to deceive the nearsighted into believing they're about to bite into a chocolate chip cookie. For another, they are more crispy than chewy, with a delicate consistency similar to sugar cookies. As far as I know, the recipe has been in my mother's recipe box since before I was born, labeled BEST Oatmeal Cookies. She was right.

I have updated the recipe based on extensive (ahem) experimentation. Originally it called for a 50/50/split of white/brown sugar; I have tilted it toward brown for richness and moisture. I've added several spices; the original recipe only involved the cinnamon/sugar coating in the last step. The're fantastic without the spices so no need to fret; use or leave out and you'll have addictively good cookies either way.

Advice from experience: Double this recipe. You won't be sorry.

Better than Best Oatmeal Cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together:
1 c. butter (don’t use shortening—it makes all the difference in the world! And for even more amazing flavor, brown the butter first)
1/2 c. white sugar
1 c. brown sugar
1 egg (okay to use egg substitute for a vegan version, but if you’re a vegan you’ll miss the buttery goodness mentioned above)
1 t. vanilla

Sift together, then add to the creamed mix:
1-1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour (yes, you can use white if you must)
1 t. soda
¼ t. salt
¼ t. nutmeg
½ t. cinnamon
Optional: 2 T. ground flaxseed (adds omega 3 for vegetarians)
Optional additional spices: 1/4 t. each ginger, mace; dash cloves.

Stir in:
1-1/2 c. rolled oats
¾ c. finely chopped walnuts and/or pecans

Prepare a bowl of cinnamon/sugar
1/3 c. white sugar
1+ T cinnamon (keep adding cinnamon until you get the color you want--darker if you want a heavier hit of cinnamon, but if you've added the spices above you don't need too much)

Roll dough into balls the size of small walnuts, then roll in the cinnamon/sugar mix.

Use parchment to line the cookie sheets if you have it--handy stuff! If you don't have it, grease the cookie sheet.

Place on cookie sheet and flatten gently with your thumb or the bottom of a glass. They don't spread too much but they do spread some so don't crowd.

Bake at 350 degrees for 7-9 minutes, then hide a batch for your snacking pleasure before you give your family a taste. In my current oven 8 minutes brings them to perfection; they'll still be moist and slightly bendy in the middle.

If you put two cookie sheets in the oven at once, then halfway through rotate the pans top/bottom and front/back for more even heat distribution.

After you take the pans out, let them sit for 1-2 minutes before removing from the pan.

I miss live voting

Around three years ago, Spokane County went to an all mail-in balloting system. As I understand it, this saved money; if they hadn’t made the change, they would have to buy accessible voting machines for all 85 polling places at a cost estimated then around $500K, versus making arrangements for accessible voting as needed.

It cost us something in civic culture, though.

I miss real voting. I took my daughters with me year in and year out, to primaries and general elections and school levies and bonds, in Idaho and then in Washington. I talked with them about why we were going, why it was important. We thanked the poll workers (average age upwards of 70, most times). I saw neighbors I might not see any other time of year. We all got “I voted!” stickers and wore them all day long, and the girls often got a treat.

I asked Eldest Daughter Kate if she misses it. “I miss those stickers and the suckers. The lollipops, not the political fools. I think it’s fun. Well, not this year because it would just taunt me.” (She turns 18 right after Election Day.) “But in general it’s fun and I miss it.”

Not only that, but it has changed the entire pace of campaigns. Once upon a time, boys and girls, you learned everything you were going to learn about a candidate—good, bad, wacky, and made-up—right up until the single day on which you had the chance to act on that knowledge.

Nowadays, I know it seems as if campaigns run on and on forever and ever, especially if you watch much TV. But the poor candidates have to work feverishly (and keep pestering you with those ads, mailings and phone calls) even though they know that plenty of ballots are cast within a day or two of being received in the mail. This burst of early voting takes place even though there are still 2-3 weeks left in the campaign season, endorsements still to come out, debates still to take place, neighbors still to talk to over the back fence.

In effect, “Election Day” is now a moving target that begins roughly three weeks before the actual Election Day.

In 2005-2006 when Yes for Spokane Schools worked to help pass the last levy for Spokane Public Schools, we knew the levy vote in March 2006 would be the very first election held via all mail-in ballot in Spokane County. We had to move every single tactic up to execute three weeks earlier, while also planning to keep executing on the traditional cycle for people who cast their votes “later,” aka closer to or on Election Day.

It’s hard on volunteers to reach a fever pitch and then sustain it for three weeks. It costs more. It’s tougher to keep the calling lists current—maybe your vote has been cast but your name is still on the list of those who haven’t voted because it takes a while to churn the data, so you keep getting those GOTV calls.

Every campaign faces this marathon. We’ll face it again this coming year, for the levy and bond campaign that Spokane Public Schools desperately needs.

I won’t get my sticker, but I’ll vote anyway. And when Kate said sadly, “I can’t vote in the presidential election,” she then perked up and said, “But I’ll be able to vote for the levy and bond!” That’s my girl.

Mom frmrnyis

My mother has dementia caused by microvascular disease: blood vessels in her brain shrinking and drying up, and a series of mini strokes. My older sister’s graphic description of her MRI a few years back was that it looks like Swiss cheese.

The dark spots are places where her life used to be stored. The woman she used to be has been packing up and moving away a little bit at a time since at least 2000, and probably sooner.

I can date it with some precision because she and Dad went to visit my brother Don and his wife Lisa in Seattle for a fake millennium party December 31, 1999. (Fake, because sticklers know that the new millennium started 1-1-01, not 1-1-00. At the end of 1999 you’ve had 999 years go by, not 1000. Duh.)

After Mom and Dad arrived, said their greetings and started settling in, my mother went to the bathroom. On her way back, she just sort of stopped and stood in the short hallway. Lisa found her there with a very lost expression on her face. She clearly didn’t know where she was, and from the way she looked at Lisa, she apparently wasn’t quite sure who that young woman was either.

Lisa is wonderful. She very gently said, something like “Gladys, it’s so nice to have you here in Seattle visiting your son Don at our house, and I’m Lisa and I’m so happy to be married to him.”

Mom sort of came to and put on her hostess smile—the one that covered up any amount of misbehavior, spilled cocktails, red wine on pale carpets, burned hors d’oeuvres, or late-arriving guests with a gracious sense of welcome. “Of course!” she said brightly.

They sat down to talk, and Mom admired a pretty Christmas tree ornament. The way Don tells the story, that’s all I need to write about the next half-hour or so.

Here’s how the scene goes: She looks at the ornament, says how beautiful it is, asks where they got it, smiles and nods at the answer, and looks away briefly. They try to move the conversation on. Her eyes roam back to the ornament, she rediscovers it and says, “Oh! What a beautiful Christmas tree ornament! Where did you get it?”

Variations on this continue for some time until Don finally snaps (he’s never had small children) and takes the ornament off the tree so it ceases to exist as a cue in her visual field. Problem solved. At least, the short-term problem.

I have a huge folder of emails to and from my siblings both before and after that date. There are six of us. I lived in Coeur d’Alene at the time, about 35 miles from Mom and Dad. Jan, my older sister, lives about 90 miles south in Lewiston. Everyone else is farther away: Seattle and Friday Harbor in Washington, Twin Falls, Idaho, and Albuquerque at that time for world-traveling Jim (who subsequently went to the Philippines and now Mozambique for the State Department).

So Jan and I made up the team for a story I may tell another day: me accompanying Mom to medical appointments, discussions with Dad, Mom getting lost driving to her hairdresser of 20-plus years, negotiating and manipulating towards the decision to move to assisted living in Lewiston, finding a place, Mom’s struggles with her memory loss and ultimate surrender, packing, sorting, estate sale, move, disorientation, settling in, group meals, hoarding of desserts in various drawers, more problems, moving again to a special dementia facility where they live today.

I’ll be visiting tomorrow with my girls, who are very kind and loving with their grandparents. When we visit, the conversation takes a lot of laps around a very short track (similar to another blogger's description), often with topical cues coming from the TV that never shuts off and always plays at a volume that accommodates Dad's habit of keeping his hearing aid turned down.

Mom is very pleasant and seems happy to see us, although I’m pretty sure she can’t quite place us at first. Dad generally does a graceful job of saying, “Oh, hi there middle daughter Barbara Kaye! And here’s Kate and Laura!” He’s cuing her with names and roles. Her hostess skills must be in her bones instead of her brain, because she always rises to the occasion.

A friend of mine who helped care for her mother-in-law with Alzheimer's described it as being like an anthropologist visiting a tribe with its own customs. You observe but you don't try to bring them into your culture because that would be cruel and disruptive to their way of life. Gladys Land is a happy place, so we visit and then take our leave.

So about Mom frmrnyis, the name of this piece? That’s what happened when I got my fingers off by a key typing “dementia”. I looked at it and thought, “Well, that’s probably what it’s like in there—close, but not close enough to make sense.” So I left it.

Standing up for what’s right

The Holocaust. The Rwandan genocide. Abu Ghraib. Lynchings of Americans because they were black. Somalia. Bosnia. Everyday, ordinary people can do horrible things.

They can also be heroes. The Stanford prison experiment revealed how quickly ordinary people entered into their roles as prison guards and prisoners. Now one of the experimenters, Philip Zimbardo, and co-author Zeno Franco examine whether there is a “banality of heroism”—a seed lying within each of us that can be cultivated—as a positive corollary to the “banality of evil”.

They examine individual heroes and call for cultivation of the idea of heroism within each of us, so we can imagine ourselves acting when we must.

How can we foster a heroic imagination in ourselves and in our children to prepare them for the day when we have to stand up for what’s right, regardless of the cost?


A friend just asked me on Facebook, “Obama or McCain?”

My answer:


We can talk policy differences (which are real), or you can look at the level of judgment exhibited in their VP choices. Which one of them chose a VP who's actually qualified to serve as president, and which one chose a VP to pander to a strident subset of the electorate?

Extrapolate from that to the type of people they'll choose as Cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, ambassadors....

‘Nuff said.

Kate and the tomato soup incident

“Who had the best day today?” This used to be my standard opening at dinner to get the girls talking about their day. When they were younger, their hands shot in the air and they talked eagerly about what happened at school that day: awards for most books read, leading roles in dramatic presentations featuring talking vegetables, chosen for the solo in choir, best grade on the math quiz, made a new friend, fought with a friend, broke up with a friend, made up with a friend.

Today, Kate raised her hand (actually both hands, but we got sidetracked by Laura and something about being the last to touch your nose, which makes you the one who has to do whatever was just mentioned, otherwise known as “Nose Goes”).

Kate described a day in which she finished all her homework while still in class and worked ahead, turned in assignments for her two online classes, scheduled appointments for her in-grown toenail surgery (partial avulsion with phenolization—already had this on her right big toe, now need it on her left) and her senior portrait (much more fun than podiatric surgery, if that’s even a word), had a reasonably good set of accomplishments at her after-school job at the school district headquarters—a day marred only by The Tomato Soup Incident.

I wish you could hear this story told in her voice, and see the dramatic flashing eyes, eyelid twitches denoting disdain, and emphatic gestures.

“Imagine you have not A computer, or a few computers, but a room FULL of computers, thousands of dollars worth of computers.” (“Funded by levy and bond dollars,” I interjected—a plug for the vote coming next March.)

“Yes! Funded by levy dollars! And just imagine that you are a senior who has been told not once, not twice, nay nay, told every single day NOT to bring food or drink into this room full of thousands of dollars of computer equipment. Imagine that you ignore this day after day, and that today you have left a full bowl of tomato soup on top of the scanner that it exactly matches in color.

“Now imagine that another, innocent senior, who follows these rules to the letter and never brings food or drink into the computer room, turns around suddenly, not realizing the soup is on top of the scanner where it does not belong, and she knocks it over.

“Does this do anything to the person who LEFT the soup there? Does it do more than drop three drops on her sweater? Does it instead drench the innocent senior, soak her shoes, and leave her smelling like tomato soup—which she loves, but not as much as her fruity berry body spray? Does it in fact ruin her favorite top, so she has to spend the rest of the day in her camisole and a big purple coat?”

“Which top?” ask mother and sister in unison.

“The one with the little—“ (circling gesture to indicate keyhole opening at the neckline).

“Not that one—the light blue one with the—?” (mother gestures to indicate flowing Empire waist).


“Oh no!” from mother and sister in unison. “That one was cute!”

“I know! And now it smells like tomato soup!”

This doesn’t come close to capturing the storyteller essence that is Kate.

Christmas tree bills: Good or bad?

A recent post on Shallow Cogitations about the financial bill (the “bailout” or "economic stabilization"), got me thinking.

Hank’s post highlights some of the items added to the bill to pick up votes, which he describes as costs of the bill (or “frosting on manure”, in his follow-up comment). You can read my comment at his post, so I won’t repeat it here.

The larger question is a topic on which I’ve gone back and forth in my thinking over the years: how Congress structures bill content to achieve passage.

When I served in the Idaho legislature, we couldn’t do what Congress does. The state constitution requires that all bills be on a single topic. If I voted for a bill, or against it, that vote typically had a pretty clear subject. Not always a clear meaning, mind you—I might support the underlying issue but believe the bill was poorly written and thus vote against it, or recognize that an amendment had gutted the purpose and prefer to wait for a better bill than to pretend this one actually did anything.

But when you hear that a specific candidate “supports veterans” or “opposes wasteful spending,” look at the basis for that claim. Typically it will be votes on bills that include hundreds of separate and often unrelated subjects. So one could simultaneously vote for and against veterans, for and against energy alternatives, for and against education, in any given bill. This isn’t to say that voting records are meaningless—take a look at the rankings from constituency groups at Project Vote Smart and you’ll see clear patterns.

At the state level, the budget bills are the ones where individual line items give or take away for various constituencies. In Idaho, the capital budget was the “Christmas tree” bill: hang a couple of extra shiny ornaments on it to pick up key votes from legislators who could go home and tell voters they were bringing jobs to the district because state-funded construction would go there, and the bill would pass.

Congress has 435 members in the House, 100 in the Senate. If they had to take each topic individually the way the state does, then a health care bill would be only a health care bill, an energy bill would be only an energy bill. We might see clearer delineations of philosophical and ideological differences if this were the case.

Tax and fiscal policy—and health care and energy and so forth--aren’t that simple. Every policy encourages or discourages specific behaviors, with the underlying premise that this behavior modification is a good thing for public policy. Where would we draw the line and say something did or didn’t “belong” in a single-subject bill?

An item that could be described as energy and/or health policy—providing a bike commuter tax credit (at a much lower dollar figure and overall cost than the existing tax credits for parking, vanpools and transit, by the way)—is embedded in the financial bill. That particular item was introduced as a separate bill already, by Earl Blumenauer of Oregon who is an ardent bike advocate, but had not made it all the way through the system. See Biking Bis for a discussion of the politics, and this page for a discussion of the federal commuting benefit in general.

Whether the economic stabilization bill itself is good policy or bad remains to be seen. They hung a bike ornament on it, but Blumenauer voted no. They also hung ornaments on it for other constituencies who had probably been working their issues separately and saw this as an opportunity (rightly so).

Should these disparate subjects be included in large bills as bargaining tools? Would we get better policy if everything had to be debated separately? We’d certainly get less policy, since there would be even more bills than there are already. There are so many unintended effects and policies that actually work at cross purposes—think about tax subsidies for tobacco farmers for just a minute….—that I don’t know if anyone could say whether we’d be better off, or worse.

Being sick

When I was sick as a kid, my mom brought me toast with honey and Campbell’s chicken & stars soup. Whatever beverage she brought had ice cubes in it, which made it feel like a grown-up drink (my folks hosted a lot of bridge club nights and the occasional cocktail party).

If I had an upset stomach she gave me 7-Up—the only time I ever got to have pop as a kid, with the occasional rare exception of a Grape or Orange Crush purchased in a gas station on a family vacation (I think she limited us to those two because of their faint, faint resemblance to some sort of fruit juice).

I got to lie on the couch and feel sorry for myself, with a receptacle handy in case I threw up, or with a box of tissues at hand if it was a sinus-y thing. She wiped my forehead with a damp washcloth if I ran a fever. So I like to be taken care of when I’m sick.

I woke up yesterday with a scratchy throat that grew a lot worse last night. I kept waking up feeling as if I couldn’t swallow (and wondering if I’d been snoring).

This morning, my sweetheart made me a comforting bowl of hot oatmeal before taking off on a long bike ride with a couple of guys from his club, Spokane Rocket Velo. I drank coffee and read the paper, then settled on the sofa with some magazines awaiting Mom Taxi duties for a pick-up after an overnight at a birthday party.

Kate went along for the ride when the call came around 11. After we picked up Laura, I stopped at the grocery store for a few essentials, including the Western Family “compare to Chloraseptic” product and bags of honey –lemon cough drops for me, cherry for the rest of the family in case they catch whatever this is.

Now I’m on the sofa. Kate tucked me in with her special blanket for when she’s sick, explaining that a when-you’re-sick blanket can’t go with anything else. (This sucker is bright blue with starfish and tropical fish and white polka dots all over it.)

At my side I have cranberry-raspberry juice in a glass with ice cubes; water in another glass with ice cubes; my generic throat spray and cough drops; and a box of tissues, all laid out by Kate. She pushed the ottoman a little closer so I could reach everything easily, and told me to holler if I need anything. I asked if I could just croak feebly instead, and she said sure.

The generational torch has been passed.

The future for our parks

I’m thinking a lot these days about our need for a vision for Spokane parks. This came up because of the proposal to have the county commissioners use Conservation Futures funds to purchase the YMCA Building.

As a community, we lack context for this decision. The community developed the Gorge Master Plan through a large-scale and inclusive process, and today Friends of the Falls has a document that anyone can go to in order to see the overall vision.

Where is the corollary for Spokane’s parks? The Olmsted Brothers had a vision, which included the Spokane River Gorge as the heart of a network of parks within walking distance of every neighborhood. That vision needs to be updated as the city grows.

Our understanding of parks has come to include more natural spaces like the gorge, not just parks that require mowing and sprinkler systems. The fastest-growing recreational pursuits are those like kayaking, climbing, and mountain biking—not ones that require sports leagues with refs and equipment.

Don’t get me wrong—I still want the traditional beautiful green spaces. I still want to go to the Japanese Gardens and the manicured parts of Manito Park.

But when we go there, our younger kids spend only a little time on the playground equipment before they want to climb to the top of the big rock on the north side of 17th as it comes into Manito.

I think they represent the future, and I want to see parks that will meet their needs and preserve wild, open experiences, both close to downtown like the Spokane River Gorge, and farther away like some of the other CF purchases.

What I don’t want to see is the same question being asked years from now, at the end of the YMCA building’s life, that we are asking today: How did we get to this point? Why do we lack an overall vision that provides context for individual decisions on parcels and projects?

Our elected and appointed officials and public employees need to create the open forum necessary to understand and weigh the options.

At the end of the day, maybe it will in fact be the case that use of CF funds for the YMCA Building fulfills a public purpose. That purpose needs to be understood and shared before the purchase.

The larger questions of a vision for our parks and river, with a plan for maintenance and operations, await.


I’m like an evangelist who doesn’t go to church. I sing the praises of yoga, but I haven’t gone in months, beyond a couple of Saturday-morning sessions in August.

Over the last seven years, my practice grew from once or twice a week to a steady routine. At one point I practiced 5-6 times a week, and did 108 Sun Salutations at the Solstice and Equinox. My first 108 came the year I turned 40—the same year I rafted the Spokane River Gorge for the first time, and tried the tango. All wonderful and fulfilling activities that helped give me a new sense of who I am.

Yet I’m not going.

I miss it. I love the instructors at Twist Yoga, who are generous friends and gifted teachers and mentors. I miss the centered feeling yoga gives me as a moving meditation. I miss the calm, familiar environment of the studio, with its wood floors and high pressed-tin ceiling and its feeling of a place apart from the whirlwind of daily life.

I miss the community of regulars. When I went back those Saturday mornings, I saw people I hadn’t seen in months who greeted me with a smile and a “Good to see you!”.

I also miss the increased mindfulness it brought to my food choices. I could look at the giant snickerdoodles from Rocket Bakery—my absolute faves—and say to myself, “You do yoga. You can choose not to eat this.”

Since you definitely want to be empty if you’re going to turn upside down, this was not just mind over matter, it was common sense, but it truly was more mindful. I wasn't eating just because the food was there--I was eating because I chose to.

And there are the more obvious benefits of increased strength and flexibility. I was working toward being able to put a foot behind my head, I could sit in full lotus, I could do a headstand raising my straight legs from the floor overhead using my core strength.

Yet I’m not going.

Right now, I’m practicing one of the core tenets of yoga: ahimsa, or nonviolence. This takes many forms. It includes nonviolence toward yourself—being gentle with yourself.

Along about February-March, I just maxed out. I was taking a graduate class that had me driving to Pullman once a week, working long hours to make up for the lost time, and had plenty of volunteer activities in my life, including chairing the first major Bike to Work Week celebration for Spokane. I have two teenage daughters, two younger stepchildren, and my wonderful, wonderful sweetheart, all of whom deserved more time.

I could reclaim the time that yoga took out of each day, feel more focused at work because I didn’t have a required departure time to get to class, and go home to my family.

It’s a different kind of centering, and it doesn’t help with my snickerdoodle control in the least. I want my core strength back, and that mindfulness, but for now, this is ahimsa.

Friend spaces

Years ago when I lived in Coeur d’Alene for a while, a friend of mine, Jeannie, started a women’s group. We met once a month at someone’s house for a potluck and general hanging out and getting to know each other.

The inspiration for the group was by way of rebellion, actually, or making a statement. Jeannie had been invited to a different women’s group, a “birthday club” that met monthly. Jeannie, who was a well-known member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, went once, then her second time took along a college instructor girlfriend who was African-American.

The reception from the 100% white group was distinctly chilly. Jeannie—who decided her past civic leadership roles had made her somehow “acceptable”, or they wouldn’t have invited her in the first place—vowed not to go back.

She started our group by inviting women she knew would welcome a space in which we’d have a chance to get to know women from various cultures and backgrounds. As it turned out, most of us were white. But we were all ages and stages of life, from single women in their 30s to grandmas in their 70s, and we had a wonderful time.

Fast forward a few years. After living in Coeur d’Alene and commuting to Spokane for a while, I finally consolidated my life in one city. That’s important to me because I want to engage in the civic and social life of my community, and that’s tough when you’re always 45 minutes away from either home or work.

I went back to Coeur d’Alene a couple of times for our Saturday group, but now the 45-minute drive was weighted the other way, and my center of gravity was once again in Spokane. So over time I dropped out of many of my CdA connections.

I missed that girlfriend space, though. One day I went through my work contact list. I picked out every woman I’d met in some professional capacity who seemed bright, funny, and interesting. I sent out an email that said something along these lines:

“We don’t have playgrounds with teeter-totters and swing sets where we can make friends simply by taking turns. I meet a lot of interesting women in the course of my work, and I think some of you could become good friends. We’ll never know unless we have time to talk, and that won’t happen in our busy lives unless we actually schedule some friendship time. So here’s your invitation to coffee. Let’s meet at 9 a.m. at the Rockwood Bakery on the second Saturday—because I like alliteration—and see what happens.”

I literally don’t know how long ago that was—maybe four years? Even five?—and Second Saturdays has been meeting monthly ever since, although we move the location around. Women came, brought friends, dropped out themselves sometimes while the friend became a regular. Some come every time, some once in a while, some never come but ask to stay on the list “in case my life changes and I can come.”

The initial invitation list was heavy on women who work in public relations and communications, but that’s not its make-up today. Today, for example, our gathering included a grants director for a regional foundation; a writer/editor; a university librarian; a restaurant manager; a recruiter for a local employment agency; and a life coach.

That's just their professions. I could have said it was two women who do yoga, one who's dealing with her mother who has Alzheimer's, one who redid her house and yard in the last year, one who's thinking about a new last name because she doesn't like keeping her "divorced name" and never liked her maiden name, one who saw an adolescent cougar on a hike this spring... much more interesting that way, and things I never would have known had our connection stayed professional.

Today we talked politics for a while--one item on a long list of topics we covered. Perhaps it was to be expected that my instincts would lead me to invite women who shared my general political sensibilities, but I honestly didn’t know that when I invited them. It just emerged over time, and I suppose women who didn’t find that element a comfortable fit just quietly stopped coming.

We also talked about friendship, and wondered whether some of those childhood teeter-totter friends would become friends if we met today as adults. I’m no longer in touch with anyone from my grade school, so I have no idea if we’ll vote for the same presidential candidate or feel the same about combating global warming. You don’t know, when you’re taking turns on the swing, what will matter to you as an adult and what characteristics you’ll desire in a friend.

I keep the email list and send out monthly reminders, along with news tidbits members ask me to share with the others. I’m fairly choosy in those I invite personally, but I’ll add any name someone else asks me to put on the list. I figure the group dynamic will work itself out.

Kind of like a grown-up swing set, I suppose, although with better manners. And coffee.

Bad bikes! Bad!

Since my job involves media relations, you’d think I would have realized what would happen when Bike to Work Week in Spokane exceeded all our expectations in May 2008 and got such great coverage.

I thought of the success as belonging to the hundreds of cyclists who signed up and the dozen or more hardy volunteers who made all the events come together, along with everyone who has commuted by bike all these years without any free T-shirts as incentives.

But I somehow became a poster girl for bike commuting, thanks to the zillions of emails I sent to the participants and the outpouring of media coverage that quoted me in connection with the event.

So now I don’t just get the confessions of guilty non-cyclists I mentioned previously. Oh, no indeedy—I get every story of anyone’s encounter with a thoughtless cyclist.

You know the ones I mean: they don’t stop for stop signs, they don’t signal, they ride the wrong way against traffic, they jump sidewalks and cross mid-block, they ride three across on a narrow road and hog the lane unnecessarily.

It’s funny, or it’s sad, that one bad cyclist paints us all bad. When I have an encounter with a bad motorist—the ones who don’t look before starting to turn or change lanes, the ones who come unnecessarily close to me in a wide lane to “prove” I don’t belong there, the ones who yell at me to "get off the road!", the ones who park on bike lanes—that doesn’t make all motorists bad.

Nor do four high school kids who jaywalked the other day between the LC fieldhouse and the main building make all pedestrians bad. (I played mom/street cop and yelled, “Hey hey hey! Jiminy Christmas!” when they stepped out in front of me as I came down Washington at 30 mph, wearing can't-miss lime green. That’s a great hill and when the lights are with you it’s a fun ride unless you have to swerve around the freshmen.)

Can’t we all just look out for each other a little better, with a smidgen of civility? ("Jiminy Christmas" was pretty tame, really.) Is that too much to ask?

Confession time

Used to be, I'd walk into a room for a business meeting and get a look or two as I stripped off my helmet and bike gloves and dug my notebook out of the pannier bag serving as my briefcase. I'd guess I was viewed as a trifle ... eccentric for riding my bike to a Chamber of Commerce event.

That was about two years ago, when I completed my shift from "I bike to work once in a while," to "I bike to work pretty often," to "I'm a bike commuter." That's when I started showing up everywhere with my bike gear: at meetings in the Valley, early morning or lunchtime downtown, after work at the Davenport.

Along the way as I evolved or mutated or whatever it was, something else changed--and I'm not just talking about the $4/gallon gas. It's the attitude.

Now, when I walk into one of those dark-suit meetings with my helmet and pannier, people confess.

"I would love to bike commute, but I live clear up by the Rocket Market" (about 3-1/2 miles from the core of downtown).

"I've been meaning to start--I just need a good bike." (might I suggest North Division Bike Shop, Two Wheel Transit, Fitness Fanatics, any of the 4 Wheel Sport shops, Spoke & Sport, Cycle Sports....)

"I wish I could bike commute like you."

"I almost took the bus."

I imagine this is what it feels like to wear obvious symbols of religious authority. People confess, they seek absolution and forgiveness, they're ready to do penance, they're laden with guilt.

Like those religious figures, I suppose, I'm a visible reminder that it is possible to make a different choice.

Bike commuting. It's good for the soul. And you can sleep in on weekends.

The chronology of your life

Just discovered Dipity (I wish I remembered how, so I could credit the source of the link I followed).

For years, I've been meaning to compile a chronology of my life--mostly for my kids, for when they wonder how old I was when something happened, and later for me, if I end up an old and forgetful woman. Since my mother has vascular dementia, and the woman she was packed up and departed a little bit at a time before we all realized completely what was happening, this possibility scares me.

Now I have to decide which things in my life belong on a timeline, and when they belong. There are so many unforgettable moments--but I've forgotten when, exactly, they happened....

How detailed a chronology should it be? I have written journals (in actual handwriting, on actual paper, with sporadic entries) going back roughly 13? years, my high school diaries, and nothing in between. I'm not planning to re-read those any time soon, if at all.

It's easy to remember some big, significant dates, like childbirth and marriage and election days. Looking up the actual effective date of a divorce doesn't make for a joyful trip down memory lane, although it closes the loop.

So much of what makes for a real and satisfying life doesn't attach to any one date:

Laughing until I cry at something my beloved Eric said, finishing an incredibly long bike ride because he encouraged me all the way, or sitting out on our back patio with a glass of good wine, listening to the evening frogs.

Fast & furious wordplay with oldest daughter Kate (who gets funnier with each passing year--very dry wit, adult insights, and great vocabulary and dramatic flair).

Watching daughter Laura blossom into a beautiful, sweet, funny, kind young woman who got along with every group of kids in her gifted/talented middle school program, and who started high school yesterday.

Learning what foods Eric's kids Connor and Cailey will eat and enjoy in our vegetarian household, and finding out much to my pleasure that they love tacos made with TVP and my stir-fry.

Working on something I believe in, and having a project or event come to fruition in a way that makes a difference.

Life isn't chronology.

How much oil do we burn?

The things you'll find wandering around the Web--

I was researching pedicabs (aka the cycle rickshaw, according to Wikipedia) for a piece I'm writing for MetroSpokane, my favorite blog on urban design issues in and around Spokane (which it was before I started writing an occasional bike-related item for them).

The search led me to Main Street Pedicabs, which has a nifty little oil consumption clock on its web site. I tried to get the code to load onto my blog page to become a gadget in the sidebar or the footer (it's available at Energy & Capital).

But I couldn't poke it into the HTML for the blog without either blowing it up, or seeing no difference whatsoever. So here it is below just to capture it somewhere.

As a bike commuter, I may not be contributing quite as much to the speed of the ticker on this clock as someone tooling down the road in a Hummer (obviously someone who believes it's essential to own an urban assault vehicle).

But it still requires fuel to create and bring me things that contribute to the cushy life I lead as an American, from the laptop on which I'm writing this to the vanilla soymilk on my evening snack of Indian carrot pudding (and for that matter, the cardamom and almonds in the pudding--I'm sure they weren't grown around here, nor was the brown sugar--but dang, is it ever good).

When I saw An Inconvenient Truth, I was pleased that I was already doing a number of the things listed at the end as ways to take action. But I wasn't doing all of them. I'm still not. Time to get on that. As the clock shows, there's not a moment (or barrel) to waste.

Learn more about Peak Oil at

Technorati, but why?

So I'm trying to learn which social media spaces I want to hang out in, what I want to use regularly, what might be helpful for work--new media stuff. Lord. I think TV was still in black and white when I was a kid. I know we had a dial phone.

Technorati is on my list to check out, so I'm there claiming my blog spaces. Not that I'm marketing this or trying to draw traffic or expecting revenue from Google AdWords any time soon.

Add to Technorati Favorites

This Blog Is Semi-random, at Least for Starters

This blog is semi-random, at least for starters. Stuff about Spokane, cycling, the Spokane River, various civic causes, good books, cooking–who knows what will turn up?

Miscellaneous background: