Eating shoots and leaves: Real food, not bad grammar

I spent most of the morning running errands/shopping with my best friend, with our only sustenance an eight-ounce eggnog latte (eggnog lattes have not yet left the coffee places in their seasonal migration). I’m home, I’m tired, and I’m dining on…. One cup of spinach, one cup of red cabbage, a handful of mixed nuts, and some Newman’s Own Low-Fat Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette.

This is not because I’ve read the latest diet book—or have I? I’m over halfway through Michael Pollan’s wonderful In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, and I’m eating real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

As a vegetarian I have a head start on his food philosophy, with several reasons for not eating meat (of any kind—four legs, legs and wings, fins, shells):
  • my generally Buddhist approach to life and my personal ethical boundaries;
  • the environmental cost of meat production (even organic or free-range meat requires more resources per calorie than plants);
  • the health benefits of being a vegetarian (my enviably low blood cholesterol count, for example);
  • and initially, the greater ease of preparing meals for my family after Younger Daughter became a vegetarian at around age eight. (I’d be in trouble if I didn’t credit her as the first one in the family; I followed next, then Eldest Daughter, and Sweet Husband and Younger Children go along perforce because that’s what I cook.)
As a young woman I had a fairly typical obsession with my own weight and the foods that made it go up or down. I drank Slim-Fast, ate Ayds (remember those? Chocolate-flavored diet candies that were supposed to squelch your hunger pangs), and took diet pills on occasion. I’ve never been big on drinking soda, thank heavens, but when I did it was always Diet Coke, not regular Coke.

I’ve long since moved past that to a healthier relationship with food, in which it is here to sustain my health and to be enjoyed. My daily session with the scales now is meant to measure my progress in bike training for a more efficient power-to-weight ratio (less flab means more muscle to push up the hills).

I think we eat fewer processed foods than most U.S. households. My mac and cheese doesn’t come from a box (but Eldest Daughter’s does—she loves mac and cheese from a box so she buys her own). Sweet Husband makes a killer-good marinara from scratch. Because I make terrific soup, I haven’t had canned soup since I was a kid and Mom fed me Campbell’s Chicken and Stars when I got sick (I do get nostalgic for the little stars).

But I’ve succumbed to the “nutritionism” that Pollan writes about in some ways: a reductionist view of food in which it becomes only its constituent parts, and then only the constituent parts that have been analyzed successfully in a lab.
  • I buy skim milk and low-fat yogurt.
  • I have sugar-free hazelnut-flavored sweetener in my cupboard for my morning coffee.
  • There’s a bag of ground flaxseed in the fridge so I can add a spoonful of omega-3 “good fats” to my fruit smoothies, and soy protein in the cupboard to use in place of flour as a thickener for “cream” sauces (made with fat-free evaporated milk and pureed white beans, not actual cream).
  • In making substitutions to turn a meat-a-tarian recipe into a vegetarian version, I use the occasional meat analog made from textured vegetable protein, a highly processed soy product.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because those are a set-up for failure. I do a little reflection, though, during this quiet season where we pause in the cold and dark before the earth turns toward the sun again (in my hemisphere).

I’ve come partway toward where I want to be in my relationship with food. The rest of the journey will be fueled by real food, and it will be delicious.

Bike blogging in other spaces: Some of my posts on Cycling Spokane

This blog is headed BiketoWork Barb, but that’s sort of a label for who I am--I don’t write about cycling in all my posts. Lately I’ve been enjoying the privilege of being a guest blogger at Cycling Spokane, and I thought I’d share some of that bike-blogging energy here by linking to those posts.


It's All a Blur: Things I Remember about Christmas

For those of you now stressing out because you have—once again—failed to create the Perfect Christmas Of Your Child’s Dreams Through Gift-Giving, there is aid and comfort. They. Won’t. Remember.

Truly. At least, if my memories are anything to go by.

I’m 47 and still sharp as a tack, or so I tell myself. My memories of specific Christmas presents consist of exactly two items:

  • Hoppity Hops.
  • A guitar

Oh sure, I have an overall Christmas memory blur, just like my overall summer vacation memory blur (which includes swimming lessons, sun, and sleeping out on the lawn that time the mouse climbed into the battery case of my radio and I put my hand on it in the night, screamed, an d flung the mouse far, far away. He was probably as scared as I was. Maybe. Wait, where was I again? Christmas. Right.).

So as I was saying, my overall Christmas memory blur exists. It includes stockings hung by the chimney with care. The only stocking things I remember are candy canes filled with M&Ms, gold chocolate coins, and Lifesavers story books—all things I try to find for my kids. (This year I struck out on the M&M candy canes—although I long ago started going for the lower-cost generic alternative—and the Lifesavers story books, for which there is no substitute. Sorry kids. You read it here first. Surprise!)

Other things in the blur: Christmas cookies, especially the buttery-good spritz ones. My mom made a huge assortment of cookies, aiming for artful variety in flavor, appearance and texture. Pie: pumpkin, apple, chocolate. Big traditional meal. Decorations. Lights. Specific ornaments, some of which I now have since I did the bulk of sorting out when my folks downsized to assisted living (so if you’re one of my five siblings and you’re wondering where the two elves went that used to sit on the tree branches, now you know).

But gifts in the memory bank? Two. With year after year of careful selection, Mom counting gifts to make sure my younger sister and I received the exact same number (I used to joke that she would wrap mittens in separate boxes if she had to, to make it come out even), all that anticipation—two.

The Hoppity-Hop is an easy one to remember for a couple of reasons. One is that I woke up that Christmas morning with my first-ever stiff neck. We’re talking seriously stiff, can’t-climb-out-of-bed-by-yourself stiff, cry-when-you-try-to-move-anyway stiff. My older sister, who’s ten years older than I am, had to help me out of bed.

The house we grew up in had a curving staircase. The upper part was walled in, the lower part curved down to the main entrance. Once you got past the corner with the funny steps shaped like pieces of pie, you could look into the living room where the tree stood, surrounded by Santa’s generosity.

My older sister held me by the shoulders as I walked down the stairs, saying repeatedly to my younger sister, “Now don’t SAY anything when you see the tree. Don’t SAY anything.” She knew what sat there and she didn’t want me to turn my head abruptly.

We got around the corner. Little Sister screamed, “Hoppity-Hops!” and I started to turn my head so I screamed for joy and pain as Older Sister quickly whipped my whole body around so I could look at the tree. Yep, Hoppity-Hops! THE gift that year and a ton o’ fun—not that I could bounce on it until after my stiff neck cleared up.

It was a ton o’ fun, that is, until the following summer when one of my older brothers—who was probably about 17 at the time—went bounding across the lawn on MY Hoppity-Hop, leaping higher and higher, laughing joyously, rediscovering the freedom of childhood…. Right up until my Hoppity-Hop popped.

The guitar I remember because my clever gift-giving mom wrapped an ordinary box—the size that you secretly think is a little disappointing because it probably holds a hat and scarf set—full of tissue. As I sorted my way through the tissue, I wondered what in heck this gift was—heck, where in heck this gift was.

I finally found a little piece of paper. As I looked at it, my sharp-as-a-tack brain slowly registered that I was looking at a cut-out picture of a guitar. The meaning of it dawned on me just as my mom sneaked back into the living room with the real thing behind her back.

I’d been asking for a guitar (Hoppity-Hop-popping Older Brother played the guitar) and I was so excited to get it. I took lessons for a year, maybe more; never got as good as Older Brother; finally decided I’d keep on with piano but not guitar. I don’t know where it ended up; I kept it around for years, thinking I’d play it and every once in a while reconfirming the fact that I no longer had any finger calluses.

So with all the selecting and wrapping and bill-paying, just know that you’re mostly creating a happy blur. Which is nothing to sneeze at, mind you.

Frankly, my dear: I believed it when Rhett said it, but never again

I just had to tweet this the other day. I couldn’t say this particular thought out loud because I was in a meeting in which someone was doing this very thing: starting sentence after sentence with the word “Frankly.”

Now, this particular person is actually someone I do believe is frank in these statements. It’s just a verbal tic.

But I have another acquaintance who says it quite often and whom I know to be not entirely truthful at times. I’m talking about big dishonesty—cheat-on-your-spouse-lie-to-your-friend dishonesty—not spare-my-feelings-about-how-this-outfit-really-looks-on-me tactful misdirection: “What an unusual shade of brown!”

When the latter person starts a sentence with “Frankly” or “Honestly” (which happens multiple times in any one conversation) it’s all I can do to keep from rolling my eyes or blurting out, “Really?”

For the record, I also notice other verbal repetitions, such as teenagers overusing “like.” Just ask my two teen daughters, who don’t overuse it because when they started down that road, I repeated “like!” every time they said it for a while. Worked like a charm, although I sounded as if I had the hiccups. (I taught them not to use “like” when you mean “as if” or “such as,” too.)

We got through that phase rather successfully. I, like, notice it when other people, like, overuse “like,” but it doesn’t raise my hackles the way “frankly” and “honestly” do. (Although I do think it sounds as if the person needs some intellectual booster shots if it, like, happens multiple times in back-to-back sentences.)

My theory: There is something about asserting one’s truthfulness specifically that makes me notice—and question—the sincerity of the word being overused. Frankly, honestly, methinks the lady doth protest too much.

A talent for stating the obvious

I live with a house full of people who enjoy a good laugh, and who can fire off a quip that will leave us all in stitches—the kinds of things that make me laugh until I cry. Sometimes it’s a turn of phrase, sometimes it’s a reference to a line in a favorite movie that we all quote in sync, sometimes it’s an involved word-play pun thing requiring extensive inside knowledge of family stories.

When someone says the line, “You don’t know,” we all simultaneously cry out “You don’t know!”, hold our breath, and cover our heads with our arms. This, of course, is Guy Fleegman in that great classic film Galaxy Quest, when they land on the alien planet to get the beryllium sphere and Fred Kwan opens the hatch.

When someone refers to pain, we say, “Life IS pain, princess. Anyone who says differently is selling something”—from that other great classic filmPrincess Bride.

If it’s a discussion of money, someone is bound to say in a semi-strangled voice, “Give me the cash!” and do a little dance, like the guy who tries to hold up Korben Dallas in Fifth Element. Note that this is NOT the same thing as saying “Show me the money!” like Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire.

Perhaps my favorites, though, are the straight lines.

Scene 1:

Sweet Husband (pointing to new building in a neighborhood we drive through frequently): Look, there’s a new office building.

Me: I wonder what’s in it.

Sweet Husband (gently): Offices.

Scene 2:

Me (experiencing a craving for those puffy little pastries with the powdered sugar and fresh lemon while snuggling in bed with said Sweet Husband one weekend morning): I want a Dutch Baby.

Sweet Husband: But I’m not Dutch.

Scene 3:

Sweet Husband and I are seated in the dining room, working away on our respective laptops. We hear an odd snapping sound from the living room and look at each other.

Sweet Husband: What’s that?

Me: A snapping sound.

That’s the kind of thing that cracks people up around our house.

You'll save us, won't you? My kids the idealists

Ann Handley inspired me with her piece Innocents at Home, about the optimistic and idealistic Millenials. Go read it now—I’ll wait (and hope that you come back—you could get lost reading her other posts, and I’d understand).

I have a couple of those innocent idealists at my place too, although Eldest Daughter would probably describe herself as more of a cynical pessimist or pragmatist than an idealist.

Eldest Daughter is 19 now. She loves it when I say that out loud, “my 19-year-old.” I am somewhat less fond of this, since I can't continue to be 35 in my head unless I had her at 16, which I didn't.

Her birth came six days after I was elected to the Idaho legislature on my birthday lo, these many moons ago. I went home from an organizing session the weekend after the election, woke up at 2 a.m. to pee, and my water broke. Nine weeks later, I was in Boise with her as a freshman legislator and new mom.

There was (I assume still is—legislative traditions don’t change quickly) a color-coded name tag system in use that let you identify people at a glance in the capitol: white type on black for House members, black type on white for Senate, white on green (the color of money) for registered lobbyists, white on red (the color of we’re-out-of-money) for staff in the executive branch.

My friend Jane, who at the time served as executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, had name tags made for my baby and a girl born to another freshman D House member a week after mine (and here I thought I was so unique, campaigning pregnant and all). The name tag for my bundle o’ joy, burgundy type on light pink, read “District 2 Legislative Baby” with her name.

And thus, the die was cast: She’s always been a political baby. She has a poster of four-time Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus autographed "to the future governor." She has been in parades doing the float queen wave, but not as a float queen--she walked alongside her mom the candidate. She has gone doorbelling a few times, although I quickly realized that people would think we were Jehovah's Witnesses if I brought a kid with me. She listens to NPR.

Second Daughter is 15, born in 1994 (the year I lost my re-election bid for the State Senate, after winning the seat in 1992). That means she was six in May 2001, about a month away from her seventh birthday, when U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords announced he was leaving the Republican Party to become an Independent.

I remember it because she burst into the garage to announce, “Mom! Jim Jeffords left the Republicans! Now education will be safe!” She knew the balance of power in the Senate had changed and that the change would affect policy. (You may also guess from this that she had been exposed to influences and opinions from a Democrat.)

Let me repeat—she was six years old.

This is the same kid who, just a couple of years later after becoming a vegetarian, would walk around her elementary school handing notes to people that read “Save a cow—be a vegetarian” and “Cows don’t eat people—why should people eat cows?”. She carried a petition to gather signatures asking Skittles to remove gelatin from their recipe so it would be a vegetarian candy (which it is in Europe, apparently. What gives, Skittles?).

Second Daughter also quizzed me when she was in a math team in about fifth grade as to whether the president really needs to know math, since she plans to be president someday. (Her comment when Hillary Clinton was doing well in the 2008 primaries was, “No—I want to be the first woman president!” to which I responded, “Sweetie, I can’t wait that long—you won’t be 35 and eligible to run for another 20+ years”). (And yes, the president needs to know math.)

I remember reacting defensively when Eldest Daughter—at about age 12 or so—responded to some news story about environmental devastation by turning to me and saying, “Your generation ruined everything.”

Now, hang on just a second....

For one thing, I’m really from the very tippy-tippy-trailing-edge of the Baby Boomer generation, not dead center where the big rabbit sits in the boa constrictor, so it’s not my fault, right?

For another thing, that generation did manage to work its way--painfully at times--through civil rights, feminism, the Environmental Protection Act, access for people with disabilities, and other signs of progress. They/we didn’t ruin everything.

Still, she had a point. The consumption-driven economy creating/created by our nation’s wealth after World War II used up a lot, and we’re now seeing the cracks and potholes in that system.

My daughters think and talk about big issues. They recycle without having to think about it. When Eldest Daughter realized she wouldn't be able to vote in the historic 2008 presidential election, she said, "Oh, well, I'll get to vote in the school bond and levy!". They pay attention to the news. They accept, embrace and exemplify human differences I wasn’t even exposed to as a kid. They're smart and compassionate.

They’re going to save the world.

I’m counting on it.

Friday the 13th, Or, Why Some People Need to Lose a Driver’s License

Two things happened today, one lucky and one unlucky.

Lucky: My older sister sent an email to the family distribution list to announce that finally—FINALLY—my dad will no longer be endangering the pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, small pets, landscaping and signposts of Lewiston, Idaho. That is to say, she’s going to sell his car and he won’t drive any more.

Last week Dad turned 92. For years his hearing has been going, his eyesight has been getting worse, and his interest in following all those “suggestions” planted along his route (like, say, STOP, or 35 mph, or SLOW—School Zone) has been decreasing while the terror threat level has been increasing.

Some of his cognitive abilities have probably faded a bit, too, since he can’t tell you much about whatever little incidents are behind the numerous scrapes, dings and dents in his gold Honda station wagon. (Ever since my parents moved to Lewiston in 2001, I’ve told any friends planning to visit the town to flee for their lives if they see a car matching this description headed their way.)

My sister has been dealing with this for years, bless her heart. Even after she worked with Dad’s doctor and had a meeting with him and Dad that included some tearful moments and the clear statement that his driving days were over, Dad went right back to the dementia facility where he lives with Mom (who has vascular dementia, which I’ve written about here and here) and tried to load her in the car and take her for a visit to his younger brother. Luckily the on-the-ball staff at Guardian Angel knew about the situation and handled it with great creativity (lured him back in, snagged the keys, disconnected the car’s battery, and called my sister. Way to think on your feet, people!).

Now the car is physically gone so that won’t happen again, and Dad seems to have accepted it. I feel great certainty that lives have been saved (and I know for 110% certain that property damage will go down).

The email from my sister arrived this morning, providing an appropriate context for….

Unlucky: I was almost hit by a car today. Driven by an old man with gray hair who couldn’t quite meet my eyes at first after we both stopped, shaken. A man who made me think of my father.

Backing up, here’s what happened:

Leaving a great potluck we had at work and lugging a small laundry basket with my Crockpot, the remains of a batch of African Yam Peanut Soup (vegan AND gluten-free—I’ll post the recipe one of these days), the coffee travel mug I won as a door prize, and my backpack with cell phone, laptop etc., I looked both ways before stepping into the crosswalk.

This crosswalk is one of several on Spokane Falls Boulevard, a four-lane street that runs through the heart of the WSU Spokane campus. We’re looking forward to the new Martin Luther King Jr. Way that will help route some of the traffic to the south edge of campus and off this particular road, to help calm the traffic. As you might imagine, I’m looking forward to that even more eagerly after today.

As you enter from either direction, road signs tell you that you’re coming into a campus. Westbound on SF Boulevard, though, drivers have a tendency to slingshot around a curve as the street crosses over the Spokane River. They come shooting into the heart of campus, passing one crosswalk about a half-block before reaching the one I was using.

There’s a median we like to call the “Island of Refuge” in the middle of the road. I crossed the eastbound lanes successfully, paused at the median and looked to my right. I saw cars and trucks up the street with plenty of room to stop, paused, and took a step.

Over the years we’ve all learned to be a little bit bold in asserting our rights as pedestrians on this stretch. It’s like taming wild animals: make eye contact, speak in a soothing voice, but show them who’s the alpha.

I took another step as I looked to my right again, just to be sure we all agreed I had the legal right of way.

A compact car was bearing down on me without slowing a bit, doing at least 35mph in this 25mph campus zone.

The driver and I both realized this at the same moment. I heard the brakes screeching and the smell of burning rubber filled the air as I leaped back toward the median. The car was about three or four feet away by the time I started my backward move—close enough that I could have fallen forward and hit the hood with my hand, had I not been trying desperately to avoid any physical contact whatsoever.

When the car came to a stop—smack dab on top of the crosswalk I had entered—we both just stopped. I stood there, looking at the driver, who had his head down and didn’t seem to want eye contact. He finally rolled the window down, looked at me and said, “Sorry. I guess I was daydreaming.”

“Okay, well, this is a campus zone,” I said, not knowing exactly what to say. (Screaming “You stupid a-hole” isn’t really my style. I can hear all of you saying that, though, and I don’t disagree.)

He rolled the window up and pulled away, revealing a rear tail light held in by tape that demonstrates he’s been in at least one impact accident already.

I looked to my right again. Every other driver was frozen at the wheel, probably thinking they were going to witness a body flying into the air and hoping it wouldn’t make them late to some important meeting. I crossed the rest of the street, took a few steps, then realized I needed to stop.

I set my laundry basket down, bent over and propped myself up with my hands on my knees, breathing rapidly and realizing that I was shaking all over with a fine tremor—adrenalin rush. Two coworkers stopped and helped me out by carrying the basket to my building and giving me an arm to lean on while I walked, feeling pretty shaky all the way.

The man who almost hit me today may have kids somewhere wondering if it’s time to take away Dad’s keys. I have an answer for them. And I know we were just incredibly lucky that my dad didn’t hit or kill someone while he was still driving.

Have you talked with your aging parents about how you’ll all know when it’s time for them to stop driving? Have you thought about your signals for yourself?

Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style

Inspired by Bicycling Magazine

Cyclists who reading Bicycling know that its content aims primarily at racing cyclists and people who like to think they might be someday. Ads for Hammer and GU gel, car ads that compare the feeling of driving to the feeling of cycling at high speed, training tips for people who plan their lives around “base/build/peak”—this isn’t for a 12mph rider on an old Schwinn, or someone who adds an electric motor to his/her bicycle to make it possible to get up hills without working.

Their Rites of Passage piece has a lot of high notes for their typical reader, and a few for the rest of us. I thought I’d add a few of my own.

First, you might go read their list and the comments. I particularly like the one who said “Realizing that you want to ride so bad that the trailer and kid on the back that add 60lbs to the already 7% climb is a small price to pay.” This person is hard-core, but a parent who's ready for Spokane's hills. (And don’t assume this is necessarily a DAD, either!)

In no particular order, here are some of my own rites of passage—some specific to Spokane, some not. Why not start riding and rack up a few of your own?

  • Catching and passing a guy (after he first passed you) on a steep hill on the Old Palouse Highway coming back from coffee at On Sacred Grounds in Valleyford with your husband who cheers you on, after which he explains the meaning of the phrase "to get chicked," as in, "You just chicked that guy!".
  • Leaving for your morning commute in the rain, knowing that you'll be riding home in either rain or snow.
  • Riding down Stevens at 30-35+ mph when all the lights are turning green for you and realizing it would be so much easier to shoot the lights if the cars didn’t get in the way. (Drivers who aren’t hypermilers do a lot of jack-rabbit starts, then have to slow for the next red light just before it turns green, instead of going at a nice steady pace that would let them keep rolling. They could learn something from the cyclists.)
  • Recognizing that downtown Spokane has a slight rise heading west to east—something you never really noticed when you drove through.
  • Avoiding the Centennial Trail as a commute route because it slows you down. (Did you know there’s a speed limit? 15 mph)
  • Choosing the Centennial Trail as a route because it lets you ride by the Spokane River, and that’s worth slowing down for.
  • Discovering there are some great biking bloggers in Spokane.
  • Creating a log-in at a cycling site with your main email address, not the one you use for warranties and junk email, because you actually want to read the newsletter they'll send you.
  • Volunteering to do something in your community to make it better for cyclists, whether it's working on bike infrastructure, helping put on a family ride, or showing up to testify at City Council in support of a master bike plan.
  • Asking candidates for public office where they stand on using transportation dollars to pay for bike infrastructure—and voting accordingly, since bikes are transportation.
  • Joining cycling organizations and clubs that advocate politically and publicly on behalf of cyclists, not just ones that put on club rides.
  • Realizing you don’t know the price of gas—and you don’t have to, any more than you have to carry change for parking meters.
  • Learning that within downtown Spokane, it’s usually faster to bike to a meeting than it is to find your car in the parking lot, drive, find another parking spot, realize you don’t have change for the parking meter, run to the meeting to borrow some, run back, plug the meter, and scurry back to your meeting in high heels. That could just be me J but for most trips under two miles--and most trips ARE under two miles--the bike is frequently faster than the car.
  • Drawing the circle within which you’re going to house hunt based on three factors: high school zone for your kids, legislative district for your politics, and bike distance to work (and associated hills) for your legs and butt.
  • Walking into a Chamber of Commerce event taking off your helmet and carrying your panniers like they're your briefcase.
  • Saying jokingly to a Chamber staffer, “You put in that new bike rack outside the building because of me, right?” and having that person answer in all seriousness, “Yes.”
  • Having people look twice when you show up at a meeting without your reflective lime green/yellow jacket.
  • Realizing that a building or establishment that doesn’t have a bike rack or other secure bike parking facility isn’t your problem—it’s their problem—and asking them where you can put your bike so they have to solve that problem, the way they solved it for their car-driving customers. (Just last week at the Davenport Hotel they checked my bike like a suitcase—awesome service, delivered without batting an eyelash. If enough of us ask, building owners will catch on and put in parking. They do it for cars.)
  • Falling for the first time as an adult—getting up bleeding—and finishing the ride instead of calling for help with your cell phone. (This one is for Betsy J, founder of Belles and Baskets.)
  • Smiling at a motorist who yells, “Get on the sidewalk where you belong!” because you know the law, and he clearly doesn’t. (Bikes on sidewalks are illegal in downtown Spokane, by the way.)
  • Particularly for women: Realizing that you now evaluate potential clothing purchases based on whether you can bike comfortably in them, in addition to how they look on you and whether they’re on sale.
  • Having bikes in your living room because—well—your house is where you live, and bikes are how you live.

I’m sure there are many more. Add yours in the comments!

My Reasons to Vote NO on Spokane’s Prop 4: A Really Long Political Discourse, Possibly Verging on a Diatribe, Running into a Rant

Let me be clear: I believe city government has an essential role in making our city livable and workable for everyone. I believe taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society. I vote and speak out for the passage of measures to make Spokane a better place to live, such as Citizens for Spokane Schools and our “Yes for Kids” campaign every three years, the street bond that is improving the streets on which I commute via bike every day, and the sales tax that supports mental health services and law enforcement, among other things.

I’m not an anti-government, anti-tax conservative. I’m not opposed to the creation of government programs that address market failures—in fact, I believe that’s why we have governments, because markets so often fail to protect the environment or provide services for people who don’t have fat wallets or a working vehicle.

To make it even harder, I like and respect many of the people who are working with great passion for passage of Prop 4. I think the City Council's addition of advisory votes on funding if Prop 4 passes was an inappropriate effort to condition voter response to the measure, even though I agree with them that it creates unmanageable burdens on the City's budget. I am completely at odds with some of the people I find blogging against Prop 4, in disagreement with reasons they state against it, and in some cases downright alarmed by their overall political philosophies (I won't even link to the example I'm thinking of--he's seeing Communists behind every bush and doesn't deserve the traffic.)

But I oppose Spokane’s Prop 4. Not only do I oppose it, I’m allowing my name, face and words to be used in ads against it.

It would be easy not to—just to oppose it silently and vote no. Maybe tell a few friends who ask, but keep my head down so I don’t alienate anyone who might support me politically at some point if I ever run for office again (or lose a few friends on Facebook).

But I believe it’s important for people who share progressive values, and who have legitimate concerns about a specific proposal from “our own side,” to be willing to speak up. The left is not a monolith, nor is it a bunch of mindless sheep lined up and waiting to support the latest new government program. I think the criticisms of current national health care reforms prove that point nicely.

We have minds and we need to use them to analyze critically the proposals from our own—not just from the other side. Since the full text of the measure will not even appear on the ballot, it's particularly important for people to share their thoughts so voters might be encouraged to go read it for themselves before voting.

I’m not opposing Prop 4 because I think it’s great to let developers violate the comprehensive plan or because I think everything’s fine and needs no improvement—far from it. I think we need an impact fee ordinance that really encourages density and true transportation choice, for example. Hey, maybe the City Council could get on this—if we had the right people there.

I’m not opposing it because I disagree with every item on the list—there are some I support, had they been presented as separate items for individual votes in accordance with the state's requirement for single-subject measures to be presented to the voters.

I’m not opposing it just because I think specifying fee-for-service as the mechanism for preventive healthcare is the wrong way to go about getting that for every resident who needs it—although I do, and I really wonder at the choice of this particular mechanism.

I also wonder about declaring a right to healthcare services; only part of our health status is actually determined by access to healthcare services, preventive or not. They might have called on the city to do more to create an environment in which individuals can attain a better health status—something that’s actually doable within the core services a city delivers. A healthier city would expand its infrastructure, education and encouragement aimed at making it easier for more people to choose active transportation, for example, with related decreases in chronic preventable diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

I’m opposing it because, as written:

It’s unenforceable. Some measures have specific mechanisms, others don’t, and some of the elements are simply illegal for a city government to undertake.

It’s a big fat target for lawyers who sue and then get paid (by us, the taxpayers) no matter what the ruling in the end. Insert loud cha-CHING sound here. If the city wins its side of the suit, though, we don’t get our attorney fees covered, so it’s written to encourage anyone, from anywhere, to file suit against the city. That’s us. (At least, that’s how I read their language, since it refers to the prevailing plaintiff getting attorney fees reimbursed, but not prevailing defendant.)

Oh, but it gets better: Those suits can be brought against any person for violating the terms of these amendments. Your potential liability isn’t just indirect, as a city taxpayer—it’s direct.

It seeks to regulate sectors such as lending institutions and health care that are regulated at the federal level and which city government can’t touch.

Let’s think about the lending provisions just a little more, shall we? Anyone recall a certain financial meltdown in oh, say, the last 18 months or so? Anyone think that lending institutions should have pretty high standards for the financial wherewithal of their borrowers to repay loans? Maybe this has something to do with our overall stability as an economy, which isn’t really in A+ shape right now?

Maybe we should ask lending institutions to be fair-but-tough on everyone they lend to, rather than seeking to extend extra consideration to a borrower based solely on ZIP code rather than on ability to repay. People and businesses in Spokane already have “equal access to capital” as called for in this: They have to prove they’re worth lending to. If that bank or credit union is the place where I’m keeping my money, given that I want it back, I probably support this standard. Some great micro-lending programs are out there that could be developed and applied here. Oh, and there’s the Community Reinvestment Act, too.

It includes a “right” to affordable and renewable energy, which is a service not even delivered by the city. No mechanism proposed so I don’t what you’d sue to have the city do here, but I’m sure there’s something.

It grants rights to ecosystems. Since the river can’t come into court and sue on its own behalf, someone will have to do that. Setting that aside, just look at the right it grants the ecosystem: The right to exist and flourish. How on earth—how on EARTH—does the city accomplish this? I feel pretty good about my credentials as an environmentalist, but I honestly don’t get this.

Despite the wording emphasis on our incredibly important and irreplaceable river and aquifer systems (a topic on which I’ve commented here and on the late lamented MetroSpokane blog), this describes not just the Spokane River Gorge, our sole-source aquifer, or a wetland that provides essential habitat—this includes every element of incredibly complex systems.

This goes so far beyond existing environmental protections at the local, state and national level that I can’t begin to imagine the range, complexity, and pettiness, let alone the expense, of the suits that will be brought. And since Nature really is “red in tooth and claw,” things are living and dying every day, in every ecosystem. Human action didn’t bring an end to the dinosaurs. “Right to exist and flourish” isn’t one of Nature’s principles—it’s a human idea.

Sarcasm alert: Why, only the other day I tore out some crappy little shrubs in my backyard because I want to plant raspberries so I can increase my food sustainability just a bit. Goodbye to a little bit of insect habitat in my backyard ecosystem (I don’t think the squirrels were getting any food off these particular bushes) and its right to exist and flourish.

I absolutely want access to undamaged ecosystems. I just don't think we get them by bogging down the court system.

It gives power to neighborhood councils that I can’t elect or un-elect. Not just the power to enforce the comp plan, as I’ve heard supporters say (and we do need better enforcement and real teeth for the comp plan). It gives them the power to veto anything that doesn’t square with the provisions of these charter amendments themselves. All of them.

More on this because I think this is the heart of the matter, thanks to the bad City Council decision for the Southgate Neighborhood and the expansion of unnecessary big-box development that just encourages the American addiction to unsustainable overconsumption. If we really want to protect ecosystems around us, one way we can help achieve that in this area is by increasing density and containing sprawl. Spokane covers more square miles with far less density than cities like Seattle, San Francisco or Paris, France.

If you increase density within the urban growth area, you’re going to have to—wait for it—build taller buildings, closer together. In someone’s neighborhood. Where they may like things just the way they are. So they’ll carry petitions, get signatures (not that many needed), and take it to the neighborhood council.

If Prop 4 passes, instead of increasing urban density you’ll encourage people to build outside the city of Spokane, where they’re free to destroy a little eco-space and won’t have to wait for a neighborhood council veto, and you’ll encourage sprawl. I’m 100+% certain this is not the goal of Prop 4 supporters. Unintended consequences, folks, unintended consequences—the problem with every well-intentioned law or regulation.

I served four years in the Idaho legislature and I’m pretty good at reading statutory language. One of my colleagues across the aisle, in fact, told me after I lost my reelection bid in 1994, “We’ll miss you. You used to read the bills.” (Not sure what that indicates about the other legislators—kinda scary.)

I’m not trained as an attorney, but writing legislation gives you some practice in paying attention to details and language. So I see the holes, I see the inconsistencies, and in particular I see the difference between what the charter actually says and what its supporters tell you it says.

I’ll take just one example—and a darned expensive one it is. In the Sunday Oct. 11 Spokesman-Review pro/con roundtable articles, Prop 4 backer Brad Read writes:

“(The opposition is)… working hard to convince voters that the proposition would require the city to buy health care for all residents, which couldn’t be further from the truth. By intentionally misrepresenting it, they’re avoiding the measure’s clear language, which merely requires the city to convene a meeting of health care providers to determine how their existing fee-for-service preventive programs can accommodate all Spokane residents who need such care.”

The proposition’s “clear language” does not “merely require the city to convene a meeting” no matter what someone asserts. The proposed charter amendment says this:

“Residents have the right to affordable preventive health care. For residents otherwise unable to access such care, the City shall guarantee such access by coordinating with area healthcare providers to create affordable fee-for-service programs within eighteen (18) months following adoption of this Charter provision.”

“The City shall guarantee such access.” Guarantee.

The language laid out in the clause that starts “by coordinating….” provides for a specific mechanism. But if that mechanism doesn’t work, the guarantee is still sitting there, and I doubt the city leaders would be allowed to shrug their shoulders sadly if a meeting didn’t lead to the intended outcome and just walk away.

This guaranteed access is the primary subject and object of that sentence. (I majored in English and Linguistics, which comes in handy when you’re parsing statute.) It’s the goal of Prop 4 supporters for people to get this access, not for the City to convene a meeting. It must be—otherwise why bother?

Furthermore, it doesn’t say providers, and providers only, will extend existing programs. It says the City will coordinate with those providers to create programs. The City is the one charged with guaranteeing this access, so it holds the responsibility for seeing that the programs are created regardless of cost required to make them “affordable” to residents.

Since these same providers suffer from lower Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement rates than other parts of the country, and everyone involved would have to find the money to pay the providers of preventive healthcare somehow, you tell me how this is accomplished without the City writing some mighty big checks drawn on taxpayer-funded accounts. (And someone, somewhere, funding and running the system that does the screening to figure out exactly which residents are “otherwise unable to access such care” and which ones aren’t, so you know who’s eligible for the care. This is a new definition with respect to eligibility for care, so it means extending the current system or creating a new one.)

If you edit the charter sentence down by removing the dependent clauses (except the time frame just so you can ponder the cost and complexity), it looks like this:

“…. The City shall guarantee such access … within eighteen (18) months following adoption of this Charter provision.”

This one strikes close to home because when I served in the Idaho Senate, I sponsored legislation seeking to bring together a widely representative group of stakeholders—people with disabilities and mental health issues who aren’t well served under current systems, primary care providers, seniors, hospitals, insurers and others—to design a health care reform effort that would work for us in hopes of getting a Medicaid waiver and trying something new. Couldn’t get it out of committee, it being Idaho and all, and I took plenty of flack from lobbyists for even trying.

This isn’t just a requirement to convene a meeting. It really isn’t. I sit now on the board of a healthcare foundation (which is not in any way associated with my political views, so I won’t name it here.) I can assure you of my commitment to making affordable preventive healthcare available to everyone. Having the city convene a meeting is not going to accomplish this, and for a supporter to say the charter amendment “merely requires the city to convene a meeting” appears to be a misunderstanding of their own mandate for a right to be guaranteed by the City.

This piece has now officially crossed the line from discourse to diatribe to rant, which isn’t where I wanted to go.

One more thing before we break up this lovefest, just because I’m a big fan of representative democracy in all its messiness and incomplete realization of its highest goals--

Supporters make it sound as if these are the rights we need to protect us from business as usual, and that with their adoption things will finally start happening around here that will contribute to a more sustainable, more livable community. Since we’re still working on fully realizing the values of equality embodied in the U.S. Constitution more than 200 years after its adoption, I’m pretty sure that’s not the case.

Yet every week issues come before the City Council that affect our ability to live according to values found in Prop 4.

  • How they will ever pay for street repair—that’s a biggie for me, since I’m (ahem) rather intimately acquainted with our rough streets as a bike commuter, and complete, well-maintained streets are essential for bike commuting and access to transit stops.
  • How they’re going to balance the budget in the face of falling revenues and rising healthcare costs.
  • How the City’s own practices as a purchaser of goods and services, a real estate/facilities manager, and employer could become more sustainable.
  • How we might improve our courts and law enforcement practices so people with mental disabilities get appropriate responses and the treatment they need.
  • Whether or not to vacate a particular street right-of-way, affecting future opportunities to add bike lanes or rapid transit and the texture of our urban fabric when smaller blocks are consolidated into larger ones.

The answers to these will not be provided by passage of Prop 4. The votes that will affect the outcomes of specific issues requiring specific budgets will be taken by members of the City Council. We will still have representative democracy and we will still need good City Council members.

Prop 4 has ended up being used as a deadweight wrapped around the necks of two good candidates despite their stated opposition to it. Specious analysis of campaign contributions is being used to imply hidden support, without regard for the ability of reasonable people to agree on some things and disagree on others. (For a nice discussion see Spokane Skeptic and DTE Spokane.)

If those candidates lose, Prop 4 supporters have something to answer for every week when the City Council votes.

3 Things My Mother Taught Me

My mother turns 88 today—September 13, 2009. Born in 1921, she grew up through the Depression, taught school, married a dashing World War II bomber pilot and hometown boy, raised six kids, had a brief stint as “Mother Trucker” working with my dad in a truck dispatching office after his retirement from a lifetime working for Potlatch, had some seasons as a snowbird heading to Death Valley with Dad and going on an Alaskan cruise—and got dementia.

Now everything from her long life is gone, except for her love for my father.

The number of her children and our names and faces: Gone. When I visit, my father does a good job of saying hello in a way that reintroduces who we are and how we fit into her life. She always smiles her best hostess-y smile when we arrive, but it’s clear that she doesn’t really recognize us.

Her actual age and what has and hasn’t happened already in her life: Gone. Sometimes she refers to her mother , dead in 1986, as still living. Sometimes she talks about whether or not she and Dad should have children since they haven’t had any yet. Sometimes she’s living in Spokane, although they’re in Lewiston. Sometimes she lives in the big house they used to own outside Lewiston, instead of in the dementia unit at Guardian Angels.

What she just said and where a normal conversation would go next: Gone. I like to describe it as running a lot of laps around a very short track. (I've written a bit before about what this is like. This means I'm repeating myself. This is of some concern.)

Her looping would be familiar to anyone who has spent some time with a dementia patient. As soon as she finishes a sentence—if she does, and if she uses English rather than throwing in a few Klingon words created by the strokes that cause her dementia—she might pick up that thread of thought and start all over again. And again. And again.

Fortunately, the thing she repeats more than anything is how much she loves my father and how well-suited they have been for each other through nearly 65 years of marriage. She repeats things about how they met or things they did together, and often gets those right: “He was always such a good dancer,” with an arch look and a smile.

If she has to forget everything else and repeat just one essential element of her life ad infinitum, at least it is love.

This essay is my birthday present to her, although I don’t know if she can still sustain enough cognitive continuity to read much.

How sad that makes me, when she turned me into an incredibly fast, retentive reader with her teaching skill. She posted names of things on flash cards all over our house so that I learned to see words as entire and intact units, rather than painful constructs of sounded-out syllables. This makes me a good proofreader because I know at some subconscious level that the shape of the word is wrong, even before I can tell you where the typo is.

The best gifts she gave me, though, were lessons in how to lead my life. Because of her, I have these qualities:

I’m a feminist. She told me stories about my grandmother—to be told here another day—to illustrate why I should be able to take care of myself as an independent woman before I married. Admittedly, she did assume I would marry and have children. Her wish for all her children was that we have a marriage as happy as hers (we all got there eventually).

I believe in service to my community. Long before I ever heard of the notion of privilege or paying it forward, my mom gave me both those concepts. She told me how lucky I was, to grow up in a home with two parents who loved each other, plenty to eat, never any fear of losing the roof over our heads, a college education.

More important, she told me there are lots of people who don’t have all those things and because of that, they may not be able to do and be everything they want in this world. So I need to use the gifts I’m given and whatever talent I have to contribute, because I can and because some doors will open for me that may not open for others.

I try to be kind, and I look for the good things that abound. Kindness is underrated in this world. My mother was kind and she taught me empathy.

If we saw someone who had any kind of problem that made life more difficult—say, someone with a disability, or someone who was morbidly obese—Mom said something like, “Oh, life must be so difficult for them. Think what it’s like just to try to go see a movie” (or whatever seemed relevant).

This wasn’t said in a patronizing way—it was said to help us put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

My mother was almost always cheerful, too, and I have her sunny optimism most of the time. My dear and sometimes brooding husband knows I’m his Sally Sunshine. (Every marriage should have one.)

Thanks to Mom, for me the glass isn’t half-empty, it’s half-full, or maybe you need a glass that’s a different size, or we’ll get something to drink later instead of right now. The lines “We’ll just make the best of it” and “Things will turn out all right in the end” can carry you through many of the bumps in life’s road.

These were good lessons. Thank you, Mom.

Where have you BEEN, anyway? It’s been far too long.

It’s called Real Life. That thing we do with family, friends, projects and causes that matter to us. That thing that slows down the tweet stream, drops the rate of Facebook updates from multiple ones every day to once or twice a week—the thing that stopped my embryonic blog for five months.

I don’t have anything dramatic to report for my time spent in four-dimensional life. Bike to Work Week got pretty all-consuming about the time I last blogged in late March, so that was the first bump in the road. My work chairing that committee is on top of a full-time job, kids, sweetheart, all the rest, so it does command a lot of those late-night hours I might otherwise use for a creative outlet.

That’s not the only board or committee I’m on, and most of them cut a pretty wide swath in my in-box. If I’m lucky, they don’t all peak at once—Bike to Work Week fortunately doesn’t take place at the same time as the Spokane River Clean-up (coming up Sept. 26—have you registered yet?), or the executive search committee I was chairing for a foundation board I'm on. I run Twitter and Facebook accounts for volunteer efforts like Friends of the Falls and Bike to Work Spokane. My work as communications director for WSU Spokane also involves tons o’ email, Twitter & other electronica. Keyboard fatigue, pure & simple.

I got past Bike to Work Week, I did some other board work, then Eldest Daughter graduated from high school. This was huge. She naturally thought it was blogworthy. I agreed. But what would I write?

Something to sum up her evolution as a young woman and her life to date? Reminiscences about her life as a Legislative Baby, my little political parade companion wearing a sash that said “Future Governor” while waving to the crowd, and knock-‘em-dead songstress in every talent contest she ever entered? A look ahead to her college life and her plans to be a bilingual civics teacher? Reflections on my divorce from her father and how I could have done a better job as her mother but now it’s too late?

Too much pressure. Couldn’t do it justice, so I didn’t do it. That took me from mid-June well into the really nice part of a Spokane summer—and we have beautiful summers here.

The fact of the matter is that I had let online time cut too big a chunk out of family time. Things that ranked higher on my priority list than blogging for the past few months:

  • Being madly in love with my husband and spending every minute together that we can
  • Celebrating our two-year wedding anniversary in early July with dinner at Mizuna, the most wonderful restaurant in downtown Spokane for vegetarians and the carnivores who love them
  • Long bike rides with Sweetheart, usually with a nice little coffee stop at the halfway point like On Sacred Grounds in Valleyford or the Rocket Bakery on Argonne
  • Walking in the evening holding hands with Sweetheart, heading to Press or Lindaman’s for coffee or just around the neighborhood
  • Sleeping in on a few Fridays off just to start the weekends early, then lingering over the newspaper with hot French press coffee sprinkled with cinnamon and brown sugar
  • Walking holding hands with Sweetheart on a Saturday morning to Rockwood Bakery for quiche & buttery-good pastries (oh, and coffee—is there a theme here?)
  • Yoga classes at Twist, taught by my best friend Betz, and coffee with her once or twice a week (I hear that theme music again)
  • Reading fiction in actual books picked out at the downtown Spokane Library, with its wonderful view of the Spokane River
  • A week at the family lake cabin in August, where there is no Internet connection and only spotty cell phone service
  • Having The Engineer (boy age 11) and Movie Sponge (girl age 9) with us for five weeks straight
  • Fierce board game head-to-heads: Monopoly, Pente, Parcheesi. Eldest Daughter isn’t one for board games, but the rest of us are always game for a game
  • Teaching #2 Daughter to play gin rummy, and losing to her badly more than once. My father would be so proud.
  • Movie nights with fresh popcorn
  • Hosting a fundraiser for a political candidate I believe in
  • Walks to a neighborhood park (we have several—thank you Olmsted Brothers for Spokane’s park plan) with the little ones, where they climb trees and play on swings
  • Cheering Eldest Daughter on through her job search, which resulted in several interviews and two part-time jobs in a tough economy (she has been offered almost every job she has ever applied for)
  • Ditto for her preparations for college--she starts next week with a "preview" one-week intro-to-college class
  • Cooking up the occasional storm trying out recipes from the wonderful World Vegetarian cookbook, my mother’s old recipe box, and other sources
  • Finally finishing a sampler afghan I’ve knitted away at over the years, and starting on a sweater for fall (back & right front done, almost done with left front, sleeves & finishing after that)
  • Seeing my daughters through a rough patch involving a breakdown in their father’s health
  • As a consequence of said health issue, surviving the experience of my 18-year-old and 15-year-old daughters leaving on their first cross-state road trip
  • Cheering at Sweetheart’s bike races--he placed second in his category for the series he raced, and moves up to race at a higher level next season
  • Sitting out on our back patio on summer evenings listening to the frogs shrilling their little froggy hearts out, holding hands and sipping a glass of something with my Sweetheart
  • An epic hike with the little ones in Liberty Lake County Park: 3 miles up a steep forest hillside to the waterfall and back down again
  • Feeling the season start to turn as the temperatures drop, the air becomes more mild, and a few yellow leaves start drifting to the ground

This is real life. Pretty sure I made the right choice. But now I’ve broken the log jam and I’ll get back in the groove—without sacrificing any hand-holding walks with Sweetheart.

What IS It with the Body Spray Already? Smells Like a Lot More than Teen Spirit

Chanel S.Image via Wikipedia

My eyes are tearing up and I’m getting ready to sneeze, a good sign that one of my sweet-smelling daughters has readministered body spray. Again.

“Readminister again” is not a redundant statement; they will later re-readminister. Possibly just as they get into the car or some other enclosed space in which I will be trapped with the vaporous goodness.

Japanese Cherry Blossom? Cherry Almond Vanilla? Something involving cherries, at any rate. Or flowers. It’s hard to tell what specific scent it is when it’s bombarding you at Force 10.

Don’t get me wrong—I love my daughters. Really. I’m pleased that they prefer to be clean and sweet-smelling. They generally leave the house groomed, although we differ on the critical question of whether slippers with semi-hard surfaces on the bottom count as footwear for the big wide world out there.

On the slipper question they vote Yes, I vote No. My vote does not count. The only time they entertained the possibility of reconsidering this point, it was because four feet of snow fell on us in late December and early January and stayed for weeks. They didn’t wait for the spring thaws to go back to the slippers.

They’re not over the top on make-up, thank heavens. Admittedly Eldest Daughter went through a raccoon-eyes phase, applying black eyeliner and extra-black extra-clumping mascara with the enthusiasm of a small child newly introduced to scented markers.

She shared her hard-earned wisdom with Number Two Daughter, who uses a light hand. Both have beautiful eyes in any case.

And they do smell nice. But this comes at a price: the constant reapplication of body sprays purchased approximately every other week at Smelly Body Sprays R Us or some such chain.

When one of them gets ready for school in the main bathroom, we brace ourselves for the moment when the door swings open and the cloud wafts out well in advance of the girl ostensibly wearing the perfume—or being worn by it.

I’m sure I did this at their age. I remember a certain fondness for Love’s Baby Soft that probably announced itself around corners. Today my tastes are a trifle more sophisticated (Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel, which they had better not stop making), and expressed in moderation.

So what do I do, say, “Don’t smell quite so nice”? There’s a reason the words “teen girls body spray” bring up 103,000 results in Google.

A closer look at these results reveals that apparently this isn’t exclusively a girl thing—in fact, it’s a huge problem with boys.

Who knew? Since we have one boy who is 11 and still smells like the outdoors and whatever project he’s been working on involving glue and solvents, if not soldering irons and melting rubber, this has not yet become apparent.

Boys ODing to prevent BOing is such a problem, in fact, that the manufacturers are actually starting to suggest boys should tone it down. This will never move product—I’m amazed at their public-spirited campaigns (which conveniently move the product name up in the Google results....).

For example, this YouTube spot aims at the boy side of the line, using a sex appeal pitch to suggest that subtlety is sexier than a level approaching anesthesia.

This piece talks about the Axe overdose effect similar to what I’m experiencing with Cherry Almond Vanilla Blossom Floral Flower Whatsis.

The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (such dreamers they must be, the people who could found something with such an aspirational name and so little hope of realizing the goal expressed in the name….Oh wait, it’s a Christian organization; they may have back-up help) write about the problem here.

The Google results, as always, are an entertaining mix of sites telling you about the problem, and sites enabling you to make purchases that will add to the problem.

I won’t even get to the articles where they talk about using body spray as a flame thrower or inhalant. I already know this stuff is both deadly and a substance of abuse--I’m livin’ it. Here it comes now....
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Ways the World Wide Web Allows Me to Procrastinate. Food for Thought, but You Should Do Something Productive Instead of Reading This.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

I could take this one step further and make it a Facebook meme, but I do have a life. Somewhere around here. Backed up on a flash drive. If I remembered to back it up. Dang, I really need to back up more often.

How many of these have you done within the last day? Subtract points if your living actually depends on any of these. Add points if you have no product or service you market online.

  1. Logged onto Twitter and read random bits of noise from strangers.
  2. Responded to these random bits with your own witty observation.
  3. Checked and responded on a second (or third or fourth) Twitter account you also manage.
  4. Followed a link someone tweeted.
  5. Retweeted a link (extra points if you changed someone else’s short URL to your own system so you can track clickthroughs).
  6. Searched on Twitter or any related utility to find interesting people to follow.
  7. Updated your Facebook status. (bonus point for doing this several times a day)
  8. Written on someone’s Facebook wall.
  9. Commented on someone’s update.
  10. Commented on someone’s comment on someone else’s update.
  11. Did one of those ubiquitous Facebook lists.
  12. Tagged friends with said ubiquitous list.
  13. Responded to a tag from a friend with another ubiquitous list.
  14. (awarded yourself points in your head for having an excuse to use ubiquitous everywhere.)
  15. Browsed the Facebook “People You May Know” list and sent out friend requests.
  16. Started a blog post.
  17. Finished a blog post.
  18. Actually posted a blog post.
  19. Commented on someone else’s blog.
  20. Tweeted a link to your blog.
  21. Tweeted a link to someone else’s blog.
  22. Clicked “Mark All As Read” in Google Reader because you have several hundred unread blog posts waiting for you.
  23. Read something in Google Reader, then clicked on it to read it at the original site, then followed links to other posts, then forgotten where you were and closed the tab without remembering to back up to the post you really, really wanted to tweet about, so now you have to go back to Google Reader and find it again.
  24. Favorited, shared, stumbled upon, or whatever-ed anything, anywhere.
  25. Checked your work email junk folder.
  26. Reviewed and deleted email messages because your IT system sent you one of those annoying messages about how much mail you have stored on the server.
  27. Checked your personal email spam folder.
  28. Spent time on Facebook or Twitter to avoid looking at your personal email account because of the backlog.
  29. Responded to someone’s whitelisting email so your email account can get through to that email account. So you can get more email. Think about this.

Okay, now that you’ve spent time on this, admit it: You’re going to turn it into a blog post, post it on Facebook, tweet about it, or email a link to a friend.

What color are your kids’ eyes again?

And admit it—it’s bothering you that this list has an odd number of items, because you now think everything in a list should have 5, 7, 10, 20, 50, or 100 entries.

Admit a little bit more--you're waiting for some kind of rankings based on accumulated points, or instructions for what you're supposed to do with your point total. You might just reflect on it. And check your kids' eyes.

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Becoming a Woman, and Boys Boys Boys: More Time with Younger Daughter

Tattoo contestImage by Melvin Schlubman via Flickr
Picking up where we left off in our mother/daughter interview. Scene: Coffee shop. Rainy day. Nosy Mother and Younger Daughter stare into each other’s eyes, gauging questions and the risk of answering honestly. Nosy Mother asks, smart-aleck Younger Daughter answers.

What kind of woman do you want to be?

The kind without a penis.

That’s a given. Moving on from that—

Young Daughter giggles, then is momentarily distracted when she notices that she left a handmark on the window like that scene in Titanic.

The kind who goes shopping fairly regularly, with the money to do so—not credit cards. I don’t want credit cards. I know it might come in handy, but I don’t want one.

Happy, hopefully. Most of the time. Not like overly happy, but close enough. Um… I’d like to have a career where I can support myself and possibly children with the essentials on my own without anybody else like if they died, divorce, anything like that.

When it’s your turn, what are some of the questions you’ll ask me?

Well, you’re gonna have to wait and see, aren’t you? See, that was a question—get it? Ha ha.

I hesitate because the inteview seems to be winding down and I'm wondering where to take it.

That’s it? You didn’t ask me about boys.

What about boys?

I don’t know, what about ‘em?

What do you wish you had known before now, or what do you hope you’ll learn before it’s too late?
You mean before I go crazy and kill one of them?

Yes, preferably.

Furrowed brow.

Too many questions.

I suggest she stick with the before now question.

I don’t have that many problems. No, wait, that’s a lie. Um…. I guess, just, to know for sure how you feel about somebody before you get into a relationship.

Moving on to what she’d like to learn before it’s too late.

If I knew what I wanted to learn, then I would have already learned it, wouldn’t I? Or at least be part of the way there.

I guess I’d want to know myself better before I got into a really serious relationship with somebody. Have a little bit more confidence too—inward, not outside. My friends have told me that when we’re in public I seem really confident and everything, but then they know me. (With a lisp): Confidenth ith thexthy.

What should I be asking you about boys?

What type.

What type?

We hit pay dirt. To aid in readability this section is shown in separate paragraphs, but it’s best read in one long gulp without coming up for air in order to achieve something like the original experience. Good thing I type at over 100 wpm.

I don’t know why, but dark hair. Not that I don’t think guys with light hair are attractive but…. Like dark brown or black. It’s pretty. Attractive. I know that supposedly that’s less important to women than it is to men, but it’s still fairly important at my age, I’d say. I enjoy the attractiveness.

Some level of, of, of—like comfort, Oh, I do like them tall. Whether that’s physically because they’re like bigger and taller—I don’t like them smaller than me (shudders). I just don’t. Or just an air about them that’s kind of comforting. I’ve noticed that I always, like, no matter who the guy is if he—hmm—if he keeps kind of capturing my interest when we’re dating, there tends to be some side of danger to him. Never a biker or something, but like—should I change names?—skip that one—there was—after that….

She gazes off into the distance, rummaging through some mental filing cabinet, while I worry about the omissions.

We’ll just say Jesse. Jesse—kind of a—not a great student. He was in Odyssey (the gifted program she was in). He’s taking online classes now. Also now he does a lot of pot. So I’m glad I got out of that. But he didn’t back then. OK.

Or there’s Devin—he was a jerk around his friends but he was nice when you were just with him, so I guess that part of him that was a jerk, that was the danger aspect. I don’t like that, but--three days, I think that one was.

OK, so then more recently I’ll start with Matt. I don’t know what the danger was there, which may have been the reason that it ended because I lost interest, but he’s a really nice guy, which is kind of sad, because, well, he’s a nice guy…. I don’t know. I think Hannah liked him. I don’t think there was danger, so that might have been why.

Nyc? N-Y-C.

Chuckle, clarification that NYC is a spelling and not an offhand reference to New York City.

Scene kid, piercings, but nice guy, very hyper which I appreciated because he could keep up with me but then he didn’t pay that much attention to me. And then I found out—we were hanging out with a big group and we went to this kiddie park and there was this big No Smoking sign and I was joking and said “No smoking, Nyyyyc,” and he said that he didn’t smoke – cigarettes –and it turned out he did smoke occasionally and he smoked pot sometimes and he hadn’t told me that and I was pretty sure it was obvious that that was important to me. That was my birthday. My birthday parties are cursed. That was a bad night. He never came—to the party.

She shoots a sidelong look to see if I caught the double entendre.

Next morning I think he actually had his friend, who was his ex-girlfriend and then they dated again and then they broke up again and her heart was broken—he like told me through her that he didn’t want to date because I was overbearing because of the pot even though I hadn’t said that much. I told him he could either stop smoking pot or date me but not both which was like too much for him. Too controlling.

Most recently there was Eric. He was a junior so he was older. He was a nice guy. So it was good because I had the thing of danger because he was older but he was still nice. It wasn’t really danger but it was something extra, you know?

Like having a motorcycle. One time, I crashed a motorcycle into a fence. With me on it.

That must have been at your dad’s.

At Aunt Jeanne’s. It was a small motorcycle, not like a big one.

They have to be able to talk a lot. Sometimes it turns out that’s a problem because they don’t have as much to say as I do because they’re a guy. Ooh, she has my shoes! (Noticing the black, shiny flats on the barista)

This is by far the longest answer.

I told you you should have been asking me about guys.

A future post will feature an interview with 18-year-old Oldest Daughter, who is just as quick-witted and has four more years of experience in seeing if she can get to me, choosing what she will and won't tell me, and generally excelling at verbal fencing.

Getting to Know My 14-Year-Old--or Trying. Very Trying.

This idea is thanks to The Daily Blonde, who interviewed her 13-year-old son. I show the piece to Younger Daughter and suggest, “We could do this—it will be fun.”

Her: “Sure. Sure as in ‘We can do it,’ not sure as in ‘It will be fun.’”

Later that day, after she completes the latest stage in her quest to re-read all the Harry Potter books—she just hit the speed bump created by #4, which is a lot longer than #3—we adjourn to our neighborhood coffee shop/bakery.

Then to a second, when #1 proves to be—as is always, always the case on Sunday afternoons, and always, always forgotten until we’re looking at the sign on the door—closed after 3 p.m. After ordering, we settle at a table that lets us look out at the cold, rainy street.
it is not a bananaImage by -eko- via Flickr

What do you want to be when you grow up?

She shoots a blue-eyed glare at me from under her eyebrows, since she’s been asking me what she should be for quite some time now and I have apparently not provided satisfactory answers that let her decide her entire future. At age 14. Pursed lips, deliberative pause. She’s so pretty and smart.

There are a lot of things I want to do, but I’m not sure which one. It just has to have something to do with words and people.

Which she knows I just read in her 25 Things post on her blog. She’s picking raisins out of her bagel. That’s my girl!

What are some of the ideas you've had?

Being an English teacher, preferably Honors because—preferably Honors. Or editing of some sort as in newspaper, magazine, publishing house.

We recently discussed the distinction between copy editing and editorial decision-making. I think she means the decision-making kind.

Politics generally, which would be going straight into politics like looking to be a senator or president or something like that. Or going through being an English teacher and then trying to run for superintendent (of public instruction—a statewide office in Washington; we recently discussed whether the teaching profession had any political pathways).

Or train dolphins.

t’d also be really fun to run a coffee shop. I know I wouldn’t make big bucks but it would be fun. It would have to have a cool vibe. I’d want to burn candles but some people are sensitive to them.

Or I could be a trophy wife, go on a reality show.

Talk to me about the dolphin training.

They like fish.

I sense she’s giving up on this whole endeavor.

What do you like about the age you are?

That I have all my options open—well…. Okay, except some certain sports where you have to train since like before you were born. The sense that I have my options open and could do almost anything from here.

What don’t you like?

No one takes us seriously. Adults don’t take you seriously. Also my peers—most of them are stupid. Which is not to say that they’re not nice, some of them—just not smart.

Also I can’t get a job that will pay me enough, like a steady job, because people don’t hire 14-year-olds. I know that I have the responsibility to do it, but because of my age I can’t. All the age limits and everything.

At least I’m tall enough to ride the rides.

Does it make sense to you (that adults don’t take you seriously)?

It makes sense to me that they have more experience and therefore see themselves as higher beings, but it’s really annoying.

Are you going to share your bagel?

Is that an interview question? Is it now? (in a mocking/challenging tone)

Discussion about the raisins we’re now both picking out of the bagel. Nasty, squished-bug raisins, masquerading as chocolate chips. Not that this is a point I’ve made before or anything. We circle back to the interview.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Never Never Land.


Beause I was just joking.

If it were outside the US, it would be someplace like Paris, because come on--French people, fashion, food, coffee, French people.

Or a big city but not in the heart of it. Or a middle city like Seattle where there’s a ton of culture but you’re not flipping off all your fellow drivers—not all of them. Or somewhere near New York.

Or Never Never Land. There are mermaids there, but they were ugly in one of the movies. Not at all your usual stereotype. They tried to play with the mermaid stereotype but it was just ugly. Really fun to play follow the leader and bounce on logs behind Peter Pan, like the little kid with the Indian hat with the feathers.

Treading in dangerous waters, what do you like about our family?

Not too short.

We’re not too short?

Right. How tall am I going to be? Big Sister said about 5’8” or 5’9”.

She lied. What do you like about our family, besides not being too short?

Which one?

The family you live with the majority of the time.

Including or excluding the children?

Sweet Husband’s two kids, The Engineer and The Movie Sponge, are with us alternate weekends & half the summer. Eight-year-old Movie Sponge follows Younger Daughter everywhere, mimics her every move, sits beside YD watching her play Sims, claims to like TV shows she’s never seen just because Younger Daughter likes them. See poem “I Have a Little Shadow.” The Engineer pretty much focuses on making things and taking things apart.

She's stalling.
You decide in your answer.

Let’s see… We’re pretty good-looking.

Can’t argue with that, nor would you want to.

We have fun when we make sex jokes about Santa Claus.

This comment really should be followed by a full explanation about a carful of butt-gusting laughter occasioned by the giant blow-up naughty Santa on North Division who waved at us in leering fashion two Christmases ago. What does a naughty Santa pull out of his big bag of presents? No time though, as I’m having to prompt for answers—they’re not flowing like water here.

What don’t you like about the family?


After an awkward pause, the interview picked up a real head of steam when she prompted me to ask her about boys, making it far too long for one blog post. Boy stuff in another post.

Turn about is fair play; you can read her interview of me.

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