Thursday, September 6, 2012

Excuse me while I just lick this salt off my fingers...





Top Five Signs Your Work-From-Home Arrangement Just Might Include Too Many Potato Chips:

1. You know that the keys you use most often on your computer are "A" and "E" because they are the most encrusted with salt.

2. When you walk into your office, the dog automatically stations herself under the desk with her mouth open to catch dropped chips.

3. Whenever you stand up, inches of crumbs fall from your lap and slowly drift down toward the floor (and the dog, see #2).

4. You find yourself thinking they go with everything; nothing garnishes banana bread quite like a nice crispy Sour Cream & Onion potato chip.

5.  You consider having potato chips with your lunch, but think to yourself, "Oh, but I had chips for breakfast."

Monday, September 3, 2012

A sigh of contentment


I'm feeling particularly sunny and happy today.  Maybe it's because it's sunny outside, with a clear blue sky and delightfully cool temperatures.  Maybe it was almost 30 miles of biking on country roads before 10 a.m. Maybe it's because a new neighbor delivered a fresh hot loaf of banana bread to my door this morning. Maybe it's because it's now been a full month since the last time I had to commute on the Washington DC Metro (which, don't get me wrong, provided pretty good service so long as you were willing to be crammed into a train with hundreds of other sweaty people and get your ass groped once or twice a month).  Maybe it's that we're finally nearly unpacked and at last I know where my other pair of running shoes are.

(Mike and our chariots in downtown W3, note they are not even locked up!)
After just three weeks here, we are already getting into the tempo of our new country mice lives.  We walk places:  to the store, to friends' houses, to work, to the local pub.  We get outside: biking along long country roads, running through trails cut into fields, walking the dog in the evening and staring at all the stars. We chat with folks: the neighbors (seriously, thank you for that bread), the woman at the boutique in town (about whom I now know more than some people I worked with in DC for years), the guy at the Farmers' Market who answered a question about native plants with a long disquisition on the very meaning of "native," the pilot down the street who as it turns out can, indeed, recommend a good vet. We cheered at our first local parade although we missed the big annual fair (see note above about emptying boxes in search of running gear), but are vowing to hit the Round-Up down in Pendleton next month (even money says I come home with another pair of cowboy boots).

(There is a special place in heaven for guys who volunteer to be the rodeo clown with the pooper scooper in a horse-filled parade)

There's really only one more thing that will make this first holiday in W3 (Walla Walla, Washington) absolutely perfect.  Yes, a nap.  Maybe after another piece of banana bread. Here's the August monthly report, although somehow August already feels really far away.

video

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Transitions

If this move still doesn't feel entirely real, it is no doubt due to the fact that we continue to inhabit an empty house.  And yet, somehow our life in Virginia is taking on an unreal tone for me as well.  We are neither here nor there, but also both there and here.  We are camped out, if camping can mean air conditioning, a double-thick air mattress, and Netflix videos on the computer at night.  We are settled down, if one can be settled when all of one's belongings are somewhere in Nebraska. Or Utah. Or Montana.  We are filled with plans for the future, just as soon as we finish the process of selling the home of our past.

We marvel at the cool mornings and crisp evenings, and still compare the weather with our last known address. We paint--and when the color is awful, we repaint--and we try to remember the size of our furniture as we wander through each room. We have a $100 bet about what color the couch actually is.

We do our work, me from a camp chair in what will eventually be the dining room.  We go on bike rides. I get myself hopelessly lost on runs through fields and residential neighborhoods.  We have laughter-filled meals with old friends.  We have twilight drinks with new ones. We buy a second box of plastic forks, because I keep forgetting and throwing them away after we eat.

They say the lessons come not from the destination, but the journey.  This is a long class, indeed. But a good one.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lost in America

Here's the thing about spending days and days on the road, living out of your car: your life becomes all about spending days and days on the road, living out of your car.  It's load it up, drive, drive, drive, let the dog out to pee, drive, drive, bad food, drive, check into a hotel, unload the car, walk the dog, feed the dog, eat more bad food, collapse, start over tomorrow.

I was going to try to sum up my thoughts about leaving Virginia after six years, but right now Virginia is nothing but a place I was seven states ago.  So instead I'll just post July's monthly report and promise Very Deep and Profound Thoughts on starting over--sort of, not completely, since happily I still have my job, my dog and my husband (in no particular order) carrying over from the last chapter--at some later date.  Probably from an empty house while I wait for the movers to arrive.

video

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"No time for a kiss at the subway station..."*

So the other day I stood wedged into an overheated car on an Orange Line train, trying to ignore the conversation of some neighboring tourists about which building was actually the Capitol and hoping that for once nobody would grab my ass, and it occurred to me that in just a couple of weeks, I won't have to commute anymore.  No more mildewed trains, no more broken escalators, and no more cramped trains on the Metro.  No more detours to the gym for a shower, no more dodging unpredictable taxis, no more knees popping all the way up the hills on my bike.  

Here in the Hard Core 'Burbs of Northern Virginia, I fritter away moments each morning checking the weather, looking at my schedule, mapping in my head where I need to be and when in order to determine what mode of transport I shall take.   debate whether a 50% chance of rain really means it will rain, or if a triple-digit temperature forecast really means collapse. I pull out bike clothes, I put away bike clothes, I pull them back out again before shaking my head and looking for my Metro card.  I plan out the packing of pannier bags like some sort of clothing engineer.  I offer up a quick prayer that I don't destroy a computer in a fall.  And then...only then...do I spend the actual 75 minutes or so getting to work.

But in just two weeks, my commute will consist of the 3 or 4 seconds it takes to carry my coffee from the kitchen into the home office; I'll suddenly have all those hours I spend commuting back.

Let me say that again:  I will have an additional couple of hours to fill as I please each day.  That's 13 to 15 HOURS a WEEK to spend doing things other than shuffle my way to and from work.  Over the course of a year, it'll add up to the equivalent of 5 weeks of vacation--it's like I'm suddenly going to be French! Whatever shall I do with it? (Other than taking up smoking and pretending that I am French.)

Bike rides, but unhampered by excess commuting gear and the dreaded Circulator Bus?  Become a true "yogini," maybe get to the point where I can touch my toes without groaning? Learn to do that funky chi running thing (even though I feel like I'd look kind of silly at it)?

Maybe I should embrace the arts.  I could finally learn to knit. Take up watercolors, or set up a pottery wheel out on the deck? I could try to make something to sell on Etsy, or maybe start off by understanding what Etsy is. Or maybe I should attempt another belly-dancing class, this time without a torn shoulder and a sling which, frankly, can really cramp a girl's efforts to undulate and shimmy. (Can one take a belly-dancing class in Walla Walla, Washington?)

Conversely, I could blow the dust off my banjo.  Maybe this time I can actually turn on a metronome without falling under its hypnotic spell and stop playing "On Top of Old Smokey" like a dirge. I can learn to read music well enough that I can transcribe it, and amuse all my friends with ironic versions of bluegrass versions of the Clash or Donna Summer.

Mmmmm.  Maybe I should read more.  Not just the Harper's Index ("Minimum number of U.S. states whose constitutions forbid atheists from holding public office: 6") and Scandinavian detective novels, but brainy stuff that will arm me with useful tidbits of information at cocktail parties. ("Well, of course you know what Kant would have said about that!  Ha, ha...Hey, would you like to hear me play 'Hot Stuff' on the banjo?")

I could spend the time becoming a bona fide small-town-style fixture.  I'd walk into the coffee shop in the mornings and be greeted by name before pretending to look at the menu and saying, "Oh, what the heck, I'll have the regular!"  I'll chat with other folks about the weather and how the Walla Walla Sweets are going to do this season now that really good outfielder graduated and all.  When the winery tourist folks come into the joint I'll tip my hat [note to self:  get a hat] as I walk past them and the waitress will say, "Her?  Oh, she's a regular.  You should see her belly dance."

An extra 2 and 1/2 to 3 hours a day.  That's a lot of time.  Maybe I don't actually have to choose.


*The subject line is a lyric. Sound familiar?  Yeah, it's from "No Time This Time" by the incomparable band The Police. I should spend some time digging around for that CD....

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Totally In the Dark


If you read the papers--or if you have friends or family in the Greater Washington DC who, like me,  tend to revel in complaining about the weather--you'll know by now that at the end of June we got one helluva storm here in Ol' Virginny, followed by a blackout.  While losing electricity can be a sort of adventure, a chance to live all "old-timey" and eat by candlelight, the fact that this one came in the midst of a heat wave was....problematic. The fact that it lasted for days was nerve fraying.

Within 12 hours, civilization here in the Hard Core 'Burbs (such as it is) started to crumble.  Housewives in their Lululemon yoga pants all but came to blows at the local Harris Teeter when the ice supplies ran low.  Gas station owners raised their prices per gallon by about $0.40 virtually overnight, and they could get away with it because so few had any power and the lines were reminiscent of 1973. Traffic lights were out, and rather than come to a stop local Virginians adopted a "might makes right" attitude with SUVs barreling through intersections at an awe-inspiring death-defying 40 miles per hour.



We retreated to the basement, hiding from searing heat during the day and sleeping on makeshift beds formed out of sofa cushions at night.  The dog was panting and looking at us beseechingly, "Really, you guys can open the dog food cans but you can't do anything about this damn heat?"  One night as I lay there suffocating under a wet blanket of humid air I thought about how millions and millions of people all over the planet live like this every day; subject to increasingly violent and unpredictable weather they suffer through without refrigeration, without air conditioning, without coffee makers for the love of god.  I silently acknowledged how very lucky I am to live when and where I do.

video

But because I am a very good multitasker, in addition to this compassion for others less fortunate I was able to feel a deep and abiding pity for myself.   It is this ability to redirect my attention to my own suffering that makes me a true American, I think. I proved that I am not equal to our pioneer forefathers.  Hell, I wouldn't have lasted long in about 1950. Also, any plans I may have been entertaining about becoming Amish have gone out the window--the solidly-closed-to-seal-in-the-air-conditioning window. Now, a week later, we once again can contribute to global warming by keeping our own living space cool, we are slowly refilling the refrigerator with expensive foodstuffs, and with the cushions back on the sofa the dog can once again take up all the space while we watch our stories on the Tee Vee.  And I am able to boot up the computer and do the monthly report for June.  Enjoy!


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

If change is the new normal, I've got normalcy down pat.  New job for my spouse?  Check.  Moving cross country (again)?  Check. 

Three years ago we moved into the Hard Core 'Burbs and thought we wouldn't be moving again for a long time.  Hell, we even got rid of those ratty cardboard boxes we'd used to go from Los Angeles to Washington State, from Seattle to Virginia, and through three moves here in Virginia.  Yes, well, "pride goeth before a fall" as they say. (I guess that one would be "fierté vient avant une chute," though I'm not sure the French are as concerned with pride as we Americans are.)

So now we ponied up some moolah for new boxes, we're sorting through all our stuff, and I am grateful to have mundane everyday type things to keep track of in the midst of all the madness.

Here--somewhat delayed--is the May monthly report.  It features coffee, tight hamstrings and bunny rabbits.  What could be more normal than that? Or as our friends across the Atlantic would say (right before cooking up said bunny rabbit, no doubt), "Ce qui pourrait être plus normal?"

Friday, June 8, 2012

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step...





I am trying to keep my heart open.  I am trying to see the value in the process. I am trying not to have a nervous breakdown at the very thought of having to pack up everything I own.  

Again.

This is an opportunity to unburden myself.  This move--is it number 28? 30?--is a gift; a chance to think about the role that my possessions play in my life.  This is a time to run my fingers over the binding of a book, recall the joy I felt submerging myself in that world, to feel again the way my heart pounded when the heroine was in danger; and then to let it go into the bag for donations. A moment in which to hold each bowl, each running medal, each crazy little Virgin de Guadalupe tchotchke (and how is that for a multi-cultural reference?) and really see it, sometimes for the first time in ages. If they are covered with dust, unused and unloved, then they should go in the hopes that they can bring beauty or joy to someone else.  This move represents a time to release the anxious grasp on material things.

Oh, who am I kidding?  This move is a pain, and I'm half inclined to burn the joint to the ground. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Three Wishes

 
In just seven days, I will join you--five extraordinary, amazing, hilarious and determined little girls--in toeing up at the starting line for your first 5k race.  You'll be jittery and excited.  You may feel a little unsure whether you'll succeed. You're going to be surrounded by hundreds of other little girls, some of whom will have come from very different--very privileged--neighborhoods.  But we'll do our best to focus, and when we hear the word "Go!" we'll dig down deep inside and draw on twelve weeks of practicing.  I have every confidence you are all going to make it across the finish line (and that I will be crying).  But the fact is, that tape really marks a beginning.  Because all of you are poised to start another kind of race, too: the race against uncertainty, against assaults on your confidence, and against all the odds that teen aged girls in one of DC's poorest neighborhoods are going to have to confront. 

If I could have just three wishes for you as you get started on that marathon, this is what they would be:

  1. Stay Strong. When we started our twice-a-week sessions last March, you couldn't even comprehend a 3.1 mile race.  We did a few laps around the confines of your school yard and you begged to rest.  But week after week, we ran.  When our legs hurt, we ran.  When our chests heaved, we ran.  And at one point, much to your surprise, we did a full three miles just to prove we could.  Each and every one of you has had an afternoon when you wanted to just stop moving, but you didn't.  We put our hands on our hearts, and we caught our breath, and we kept running (left, right, left, right) and somehow we found the strength to get it done.  Remember that feeling.  When people are cruel, when the work becomes hard, and when all you want to do is lie down and quit, you remember just how strong you are.  Feel your heart beating, take a deep breath, find your strength and keep on moving.
  2. Stay Beautiful. We are short, and we are tall.  We have braids, and we do not. Our skin is every hue.  Frequently, our socks don't match.  When we run, we grin and we laugh. We jump and we skip. We nourish ourselves with healthy food (well, mostly, though we do have a penchant for Jolly Rancher candies).  We feel the power in our legs. We pump our arms up and down. We feel the energy emanating off of us.  We are happy in our bodies. Hold onto that joy. Keep that pride in the connection between your body and your mind.  If the world tells you that you are too dark/heavy/short/tall or that you should be blonder/skinnier/curvier to be "pretty," you remember all the incredible and beautiful things that your body can do, then use your powerful legs to move away from that narrow thinking. You are luminous.
  3. Stay Together. There are so many things our society somehow neglected to provide for you: plentiful and warm clothing, access to fresh food, ample housing for you and your siblings, safe streets.  Right under the noses of our national leaders, you are starting your race having to hurtle over joblessness, little access to health care, low graduation rates and high rates of substance abuse. And you know what, it is absolutely not fair and we have failed you. But you do have parents who love you, and siblings to help you. Your teachers are there for you, as are your coaches. Most importantly, you have each other. During our season you argued, and sometimes you disappointed each other; but you also talked it out, supported each other, and hugged each other in the end.  You are each others' secret weapon, and together you are unstoppable.   
I'm not going to lie to you, being a teen aged girl can be really hard. Really hard. But you've already shown that you can do "the impossible." You've proven to yourself and the rest of the world that you are tough, and smart, and determined. You are a Girl on the Run getting ready for the starter's gun to go off, and there is no stopping you. And you can be sure that I am always cheering you on.  You can do this. On your marks, get set.....GO!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Learning New Tricks from an Old Dog

video

Out of necessity we developed a puppy peeing protocol pretty quickly.  As soon as the alarm went off, one person was positioned next to the dog’s crate in the bedroom, gently assuring her she was going to be able to go outside in just a moment.  The other was at the ready at the front door; hand on the door-knob ready to throw it open.  After shouting confirmations across the apartment, both doors were released and both humans cried, “Go! Go! Go!”  Molly—little more than an orange blur through the bedroom, then the hallway, and finally the living room—would typically make it until she reached the front doorstep, at which point she would abandon her self-control.  A pitcher of water was ceremoniously dumped on the porch, and we would pat ourselves on the back for coming one step closer to house-breaking our beloved dog.

The walk itself was an exercise in physical and mental fortitude.  Her powerful chest strained against her harness as she lunged down the sidewalk, while her human companion flexed legs, back and shoulders to keep her in check. Peripheral vision was critical in order to spot squirrels in advance of the puppy noticing them; one had only nanoseconds to prepare or run the risk of a dislocated shoulder or skinned knee.

As a puppy, Molly taught us patience, unconditional love, and the value of owning a steam cleaner.

These days she groggily meanders from her bed (memory foam, covered with synthetic sheepskin and her name embroidered on it, naturally) into the living room, usually around the time that both her humans are well into their first cup of coffee.  She nods to us, allows us to scratch her ears, and then settles onto the couch to drift back to sleep.  Some time later we gently wake her, and suggest that if she’s amenable perhaps she would enjoy a walk? Whereas she once forged ahead, dragging her human behind like some sort of flailing animated anchor, she’s now often bringing up the rear.  If she used to require at least a quarter of a mile between her and her house to even consider taking her poop, she’s now frequently happy to go no further than the front yard. And yet, all these years later she continues to teach me valuable life lessons.

When you’re moving slowly you have the chance to really pay attention to your surroundings. On our strolls I have learned the call and response of our local birds and can follow the progress of hawk hatchlings by the change in their cries. I know precisely when the frogs start singing, and on occasion catch a glimpse of deer leaping through the underbrush. I now recognize subtle differences in the sound of my own footsteps; there is a distinction between the way that twigs crackle underfoot on the dirt path, the murmur of shoes on fine cinder paths, and the robust crunch of walking on gravel.   
I watch fiddlehead ferns unfurl and tiny yellow flowers bloom on the forest floor. I examine home renovations in the neighborhood and assess their aesthetic value like some sort of architectural peeping tom.

I’ve also learned interpersonal skills.  Molly has shown me that if you are feeling tired or overwhelmed, slowing down and visiting with people is both a chance to rest and to broaden your social circle.  Taking the same route each day is not a reflection of being stuck in a rut, but an opportunity to see familiar faces and to check in with acquaintances.  And if you approach a person eagerly with a broad smile, they will more than likely stop to talk to you and possibly even share a biscuit from their pocket. 

And sometimes leaving home isn’t even the cure for whatever ails you.  Sometimes what you really need is to roll around in the grass and enjoy the sunshine on your belly.

Thanks, Molly, for giving me the chance for lifelong learning.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Achooo!!!!


In going over the stats for this month's Monthly Report, I realized that I was sick pretty much all month long. And do you know who I blame? I blame Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, one of those meddlesome 19th century lady busybodies, and her partner in crime, First Lady Helen Herron Taft.  Because of these two, Washington D.C. is virtually crawling with cherry blossom trees and I spent pretty much all of April sneezing my brains out.  Way to go, ladies.  Couldn't you have just built a goddamn school or started a book club like all the other "civic improvement" types?

Anyhoo, here you have it:  running the numbers for my April.  WARNING:  There is some math involved.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wanderlust


I find myself suddenly seized by the desire to take a long trip, the kind that requires a great big suitcase.  What few travels I have done recently—oh, over at least the past two decades, truth be told—have merited at best a small suitcase, the kind one takes through security and to the jetway in hopes that there will be enough overhead space to cram it onto the plane and thus avoid the wait at the baggage carousel.  I want to take a trip that unambiguously calls for an enormous suitcase.  Such a trip would include multiple cities, perhaps even variations in climate, and at least one train ride.  I would need running shoes to lace up for early morning explorations of strange towns and some strappy sandals for dinners in out-of-the-way restaurants, where I would try heretofore unknown dishes.   I would bring a bathing suit for lounging poolside or at the beach, but also a sweater for hikes into the woods. I want to carry a dog-eared tour book in my bag with temples, historic districts and local markets tagged by post-it notes, and also a book listing common phrases in a language I do not speak, although I know that ultimately I’d fall back on hand motions and the kindness of strangers to get me through stumbling conversations. I want my suitcase to have a lot of little pockets, into which I would stuff the unfamiliar coins of other currencies and maybe a shiny pebble or a seashell or two.  In the end, even this suitcase will prove insufficient and I will buy another bag to carry back treasures and gifts, causing a logistical challenge at the airport on the way home.  I want pack a very large suitcase and take a long trip.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

From the Mouths of Babes

I don't often have a lot of children in my life (unless you count my husband, ba-dum-DUM). But lately I've been spending what is for me an extraordinary amount of time with the 10-and-under set, and to my surprise I've found the experience quite educational. I expected boundless energy, spontaneous demonstrations of affection, and not a small amount of bodily fluids. None of these presumptions have been proven unfounded yet.

But children, I am learning, are also remarkably generous little creatures. When my girls' running team got headbands for every lap completed, and Alliyah ended up with two glittery ones and Shoyanna had none, Alliyah simply handed one of hers over. This required no conversation or cajoling; she just assumed that the bounty should be evenly distributed if everyone is to have a good time. When Paul toddled by a platter filled with cherry tomatoes, he gleefully handed some to anyone within reach not already eating. (Ok, they were covered with drool because he's two and so, ultimately, maybe not super appealing, but it's the thought that counts.) Max used his skills at hockey to raise $1800 to help the homeless, and while I'm not sure how much of the story of struggle, loss, incarceration, and ultimately redemption Max was able to absorb, I suspect that someday he'll remember the parallels in his life and that of Marque and will retain the empathy and compassion that he demonstrated raising money for this charity. Keira reminded me how to count in French and gleefully shared that most precious of possessions: knowledge that can makes one's world seem boundless. Even the littlest one, Sophie, never stinted on the smiles.

For weeks I have seen one impulsive expression of altruism after another from these children; small little humans who are of many races, sexes, ages, religions and socio-economic backgrounds. While I'll concede that eleven children do not a scientific sample make, I will nevertheless conclude that those under ten maintain an embrace of concepts like "fairness," and "kindness," and "munificence," even in the absence of their being able to understand those actual words.

So what happens? How do we end up with so many selfish, uncaring adults? Are our teenaged years really so terrible that we lose these instincts? Do we lose our moral bearings in the same way that we do that incredible physical flexibility that allows kids to hunker and put their feet in their mouths? (I can't even touch my toes, what the hell happened over the last 34 years?)

All of these children are growing up in the shadow of a Congress that seeks to hoard so much of the nation's wealth for so very few people. Worse still, it seeks to punish the least powerful among us, denying children food and withholding from their parents affordable homes or wages high enough to care for them. I think that were these children and I to have a conversation about politics--which quite frankly none of us are inclined to do when there are so many more interesting things to talk about, but if we did--these kids would find these policies baffling, too. If there are dozens of tomatoes, why shouldn't everyone have one? If I know how to do something special, why not use that skill to help others or teach them how to do it too? If an ex-felon can become a mentor with just a little help, why deny him that aid? I suspect that, as is typically the case, these children would have so many questions (so, so many questions...always). I wish I could invite Eric Cantor to running practice so that the girls and I could ask him at least this one: just how many hairbands do you and your friends really need?

Saturday, March 31, 2012

'Fessing Up With the March Monthly Report

So here's the interesting thing about carrying around a little notebook and keeping track of all your doings every day (video link): this practice makes time slow down a bit. When I was a little kid and summers were, like, endless grown-ups would always say, "Just wait until you're a grown-up, time just flies by before you know it." Now, frankly, this statement always struck me as annoying because (a) I was obviously never going to be as old as they were, and (b) I didn't care about time in some vaguely defined future, I cared that I was super bored now.

Well flash forward, check your calendar, and note that we are now squarely in the midst of the vaguely defined future. And time is totally flying by. I finished grad school TWELVE years ago. I moved to Virginia (for the second time) six years ago. It's been more than a month since my last pedicure (appointment tomorrow then wine with my gal pal M., whew!). But having to sit down every day--if only for a few seconds--and review how many sodas I consumed, or record how many push-ups I managed to do before my arms collapsed, does serve to make me note time passing. And it is passing. That's right people, it's already April.

Here's the perfectly prosaic monthly report. Bless me Interwebs, for I have sinned. I didn't do even close to enough banjo practice this month.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

An Ode to my Trusty Steed


You deserved a better end than this. Six years ago I brought you home. I won't say "I bought you," because it was less impersonal than that. You'd called to me at the bike shop; sleek and dark grey with slightly bulbous lines to your frame, tucked in among brawny mountain bikes and trembling carbon-framed racing bikes. You weren't super fancy; you were a working bike, a steady bike, a commuter bike. We were kindred spirits.

You sped me along the river when I was first learning my way around DC. Together we braved the congestion of the Mount Vernon path, harsh headwinds and even the occasional blast of hot air coming off a jet warming up on the tarmac at National airport. Later, we rode together in the car 35 miles each morning from our little house in the countryside to the Metro parking lot. Then you and I took off on the path for the last 15 miles into work, most often in the dark. And over these last couple of years, you were my stalwart partner in moving from the Hard Core Suburbs to the District. You were the Sancho to my Quixote, the Tonto to my Lone Ranger, the jelly to my peanut butter.

I had other plans for you. I was going to keep riding you for at least another year, and then give you to one of the guys at the homeless shelter so that you could take him to work, or I would donate you to Bikes for the World so that somewhere in Africa or South America you would change the life of a child who could get to school or an adult who could get to the market. It was going to be a meaningful and dignified next phase for a steady friend, and you were going to continue to be loved and appreciated.

I spent all day today eying bike racks throughout DC. Where are you? Are you still in one piece? Are you being treated okay? I know your brakes were temperamental; is somebody easing into them to keep you from squealing in protest? Your little brass bell was just the right tone, is somebody ringing it jauntily? Is there enough air in your tires? Those friggin' rims of yours are really a pain--I can't count how many tire levers I busted trying to change tubes--but those nice tires rarely puncture.

I am trying to tell myself that the person who stole you from me is a person in pain. He's probably in the throes of some thing or another that has in turn stolen his will and his pride from him. I am trying to tell myself that he'll try to sell you, and that maybe somebody will see your bright pink seat and give him a few bills to bring you home to his daughter or his wife. Maybe you will bring a sense of liberation and possibility to another girl someplace, a girl who can't just go online or to a store and buy a new bike like I can.

Maybe starting tomorrow you will soar through the streets of DC again. I hope so. I miss you.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Running the Numbers (with a movie!)

I've never really been able to keep a diary. Even as a kid, I found writing about my day after the fact unbearably boring. Yet, during the day it feels like a lot of stuff is happening. And at the end of the day, I can't quite get my head around what exactly it was I did.

For over a decade now, much of my time has been spent with data. Spreadsheets, reports, powerpoints, testimonies; you name it and I've done the research and produced the materials. And so, I thought why not keep some data. This is my first monthly report, in movie form. It sums up my month in 10 slides and less than 1 minute. It also represents the first time I have ever had to calculate how much toothpaste I use (about 1 inch per toothbrushing) or who is impeding Metro escalator flow. I'm going to produce one every month, though not tracking the same stuff. While I know this makes me a bad statistician, would you really want to count how many times you brush your teeth every single month? Yeah, I thought not.

So here it is, set to jaunty music: Anastasia's Perfectly Prosaic Monthly Report

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Road Rules

When you spend a fair amount of time on the bike path, you can't help but make a few observations:

1. Don't let anybody tell you different, Northern Virginia is a hilly place. Plus, you'll discover that against all rules of nature, there is always a headwind.

2. You are statistically most likely to get hit by a taxi driver, swooping across three lanes of traffic (without using a signal, natch) to nab a fare from another cabbie. Ironically, the fare is most likely a tourist who doesn't realize he's already only three blocks from the White House.

3. It doesn't matter that you are wearing a bright yellow jacket. It doesn't matter that you're nearly 6 feet tall when you're sitting on your bike. It doesn't matter that you have more randomly flashing lights going than a Donna Summer revival concert. Somehow those suburbanites driving their SUVs still manage not to see you.

4. 83% of people under 25 don't actually appear to know their left from their right, so calling out "on your left" is really just wasting everyone's time and your breath.

5. The salesman who sold the hip young man his shiny new Jamis commuter bike ($950), Brooks saddle ($150), and matching Brooks panier bags ($500) did not give him the free advice that a very busy bike path at 5:20 p.m. may not be the best choice for slowly and repeatedly trying to learn how to use those snazzy new toe clips on your pedals ($50).

6. No matter how beautiful you think the sunset is from inside your car, it's nothing compared to how incredible it looks from on a bike.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Paean to Waxed Wrapping Paper

Okay, yes, butter is itself one of my favorite things, but right now I'm actually celebrating the wax paper that's wrapped around it. In a world of life-threatening plastic clamshells and squealing Styrofoam containers, I find the simplicity of the butter wrapper comforting. I love the bold red lettering; a confident sans serif font telling you what is inside without any spin or focus-grouped branding. And how can one sufficiently praise the handy teaspoon measuring scale on the back, as if they knew you lost your measuring spoons, like, four moves ago. Butter has been packaged thusly since the early 1900s, because, as the leading historian of butter packaging has so insightfully noted, "fine butter does desire a dignified package in keeping with its high level of food value." (Don't believe me? Go ahead and check, I'll wait and just sit here noshing this lovely buttery toast.)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

True Grit

The room itself was not glamorous, a well-used podium set up in front of dozens of mismatched chairs with florescent lights overhead. But the view was appropriate for the evening. From the 11th floor much of DC was laid out below us; expansive and seemingly limitless. We were gathered to honor 41 accomplished men and women. They are restaurant workers and landscapers; they wield tools at construction sites and haul boxes in stockrooms. They care for their children and comfort their aging parents. They pay rent and bills, and they put aside savings to fulfill their plans for a larger apartment or to start a business of their own. And they continue to confront the legacies of substance abuse, incarceration and homelessness. They are the first alumni of the Washington DC chapter of Back of My Feet.

Together they ran more than 8500 miles, though in the stories that volunteers and friends told about them it’s clear that these are men and women who were running toward something. The words we heard most often were “proud,” “friend,” “supportive,” and “inspiration.” We celebrated “leadership,” “focus,” “determination,” and “strength.” We heard about men who once couldn’t run a single mile digging deep and finishing a half marathon. We heard about women who came out three times a week—every week, in the snowy winters and the sweltering summers—to join with others in logging their miles. We shared stories of challenges overcome, of laughter, of love and of the occasional song belted out in the streets of DC. Honorees stood shyly as we read messages of congratulations and pride from their teammates, sometimes looking as if they couldn’t quite believe the effect they had on so many others.

And afterward we clustered together like you always do at a family gathering. Nibbling on cookies, catching up on the daily goings-on with those we haven’t seen in a while. We joked about pounds gained when work starts to encroach on training time, and compared notes about races we plan to run this year. We cheered recent promotions and admired sharply pressed suits and well-shined shoes. As the crowd slowly broke up, with some moving toward buses home and others cadging rides, one thing became clear: against tough odds and the expectations of many, but with the support and love of their Back on My Feet family, these alumni had made it.