Monday, November 23, 2009

observational studies are just not all that difficult

Albany based its bicycle plan on the input of white people tied into local bike organizations. Some of these made conscious efforts to point out bike routes in unrepresented parts of the city, but presumably know rather less about what the average Albany bicycle user (who likely does not consider himself a “cyclist” and may well be wishing he had a car) wants. It looks like San Francisco is using the same tactic of collecting information from only those most interested in giving it. Cyclists are encouraged to install an iPhone app that tracks their routes to aid in traffic planning. You think maybe the folks willing and able to use this are not exactly representative of the population?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

RPI goes high-tech

RPI is running an “Exploring Engineering Day” this winter which I think C would enjoy. It’s free, but requires registration. Do they have an online registration form? No. You have to download a PDF. Is it a fillable PDF, which would allow you to easily and legibly enter your info and e-mail it in? No. You have to PRINT IT OUT and MAIL it. With your street address, so they can MAIL back a confirmation letter. Really, seriously? I’d expect that of a liberal arts college maybe, but c’mon.

(I went all 20th century and faxed it, then e-mailed the organizer to see if she got it. No response yet. Maybe they’re having trouble with their vacuum tubes or dropped a punchcard or something.)

They’re also inexplicably segregating the children by gender; boys in the morning, girls in the afternoon. (They didn’t have a place to mark gender on the form though; I wonder where they’ll place C.) Maybe they want the boys to get used to how it would be if they actually attended RPI?

Monday, November 02, 2009

the sky is falling!

Our household is becoming better able to weather short-term or long-term emergencies. Next week we are having a woodstove insert installed into our fireplace which should be capable of heating our house. I shudder every time Dan uses the fireplace because I feel it’s wasteful (it doesn’t put out much heat and it sends a lot of pollution up the chimney) but the insert should resolve both of those objections, plus we’ll have a backup heating/ cooking source when the power goes out.

A big birthday present this year was a water filter which, in addition to filtering chlorine and pollutants from our tap water, is capable of removing microorganisms as well. The filters should last over a decade and can render pond water safe for consumption. So if our town water supply has problems we’ll still be able to purify drinking water.

And I’ve finally gotten a 30-day supply of food stored away. I’m guessing that the food we keep in our kitchen would feed us all for 30 days, so having the extra storage in the basement means we can probably feed our family for two months. I see this as a good insurance policy, not only in the case of a community disaster or epidemic but if we’re sick or lose our jobs or for whatever reason don’t want to buy food for a while. I’ve stored things we normally eat- beans, pasta, etc.- which will be rotated into our pantry so the supplies stay fresh.

Given the ugliness and bad government handling of natural disasters over the last decade, I do not feel safe expecting outside assistance if my community is cut off from normal supply lines. Do you?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Halloween Trick or Treating

The start of a very rainy trick-or-treating night...C as mercury pollution from Lafarge Cement plant, A as ballerina/princess, and me as Gargamel--note smurfs caught in a net bag, "Azrael" the cat peeking out of my cape, and I also made "smurf brownies" with blue M&M's that came out well... (even though he wasn't trying to eat the smurfs, of course, but instead turn them into gold).

Closeup with a friend

showing off the new short haircut

Blossoms Halloween Parade

A is one of the big kids now! Don't forget to click on photos to enlarge.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I am becoming less jaded in my old age

I've been listening to more radio in the car lately, both as an attempt to shake off Kurt Cobain and because I've had more car time in the past week than in the previous month. What I’ve been hearing is catchy but disturbing. I laughed when I caught the line, “I know she loves me- she loves everybody.” Listening more carefully though it’s a sad and creepy song. Yet it's nowhere near as bad as "a kiss with a fist is better than none." It’s sickening to hear, and even assuming it is supposed to be metaphorical, it’s suggesting that it’s better to be in a painful relationship than in none at all. Please, go find the girl who loves everybody instead.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

bike plan again

As expected, the final presentation of the Albany Bicycle Master plan was disappointing. I'm not sure whether the organizers wanted to limit attendance or are just inept (and am not sure which bothers me more) but they didn't announce the meeting until last week and didn't release the plan until today, so no one could read it before the presentation. Not that it would have mattered anyway, I suppose, since they again refused to allow questions or comments from the audience. (I was tempted to stage an uprising but was unsure of my support.)

A few things will be implemented in the next year or so. They're entirely inadequate but I didn't think they were going to even pretend that this process was going anywhere. This spring: an education program. Woo-hoo. We'll see what this looks like, and hopefully it will be more focused on drivers not killing people than bicyclists being irritating to drivers. Also, CDTA is going to assist businesses and municipalities in bike rack installation and include bike racks along the bus rapid transit line between Albany and Schenectady.

The big exciting finale: sharrows along a few disconnected streets. Sharrows are pavement markings with pictures of bicycles and arrows, intending to inform drivers that bicycles are in fact allowed on the road. Maybe they're better than nothing, but they risk giving the impression that bicyclists aren't supposed to be on the roads without them. (Bike lanes can be problematic in this way too, but at least with them the cyclists are getting something out of it.) And white paint is apparently very expensive 'round these parts because they're only putting them in a few random places. (Well, presumably they're not random and are streets that are being worked on- Delaware Avenue is one- but the final effect will be disjointed. And given how hard the City finds it to keep even lane markings painted, I wonder how long they'll be maintained.) Perhaps we need to just go in and paint our own, like these folks?

There are going to be actual bike lanes on Clinton Avenue but only for a few blocks.

The reports is at (100-page pdf) and comments can be directed to

Biking ten miles in the rain after dark was thankfully not a total waste of time. It is a nice night despite the drizzle and a fox crossed Delaware six feet in front of me.

Monday, October 05, 2009

it's better than wanting an unnecessary minivan

I’ve been thinking a lot about going car-free once our current car dies. If there were a local carshare program, we could definitely do it, and I think we might be able to pull it off anyway- the occasional taxi or rental car should be less expensive than the monthly cost of purchasing, maintaining, insuring, and fueling a car. Even if we can’t keep it up long-term I think it would be an interesting experiment to try for a few months.

I’m perhaps using this to justify my lust for cargo bikes. I’ve researched them sufficiently to have picked out what I would get; a Yuba Mundo which is decidedly less fancy than a lot of options but should be able to do pretty much anything I want it to for a reasonable price. (Comparatively reasonable, I mean; it’s still more than $1000.)* I was pretty much set to just get it when Dan pointed out that we can really do most of what we need with our current bike trailer and that it was rather unlike me to buy anything that we can reasonably make do without. I didn’t much appreciate being forced to admit that I just wanted it because I like it, but it’s true, so I’m letting it wait. Hopefully the new model coming out next month will only be available in hideous colors to reduce my temptation.

* Nerdy details about the final narrowing-down once I decided to focus on the less expensive options: I was torn between the Mundo and a Big Dummy, which is similar in a lot of ways but has fancier components plus the benefit of working with Xtracycle parts which are coming out with more nifty accessories each year. (The Kona Ute, also in this category, didn’t sound as sturdy.) But in addition to costing more than 50% more, I was worried about the shape of the frame making it more difficult for both Dan and I to ride it. The top bar of the Mundo is angled such that I think we’re both more likely to be able to ride it comfortably. (Its frame comes in just one size, while the Big Dummy comes in several, which means it’s not designed to accommodate riders of dramatically different heights. Most people don’t share bikes.) Finally, a very patient man at a Portland utility bike shop was kind enough to chat with me and he said he’d get the latest version of the Mundo even if price were no object. Then I was sold.

You've probably never noticed this, but fathers are treated differently than mothers.

Facebook post from a guy I knew in college: “[Name] is beat from picking apples and carrying children all day.” His mother posted: “Dads like you are rare!” I was tempted to write something snarky about how fathers who spend time with their children aren’t rare in my world, where most of my friends wouldn’t consider having kids with someone who wasn’t willing to be a co-parent, and that men shouldn’t be given pats on the back for doing what ought to be expected. I managed to refrain (it’s his mother, after all, and I can give her the benefit of the doubt and pretend that she just wanted to tell her son that she’s proud of him and wasn’t thinking about her word choice) but it was difficult. When I see women posting similar things they get comments like “isn’t fall fun?” or “but aren’t kids worth it!”

It’s most noticeable to me when Facebook-ers are expecting children. Women can’t post anything without people mentioning the baby. “I had an avocado for lunch” will get comments about how they should eat more, or the unsaturated fats are so good for their fetus, or they’d better be careful so they don’t gain too much weight, or to enjoy it while they still got to eat with two hands. Men’s impending parenthood is generally ignored. A friend of mine who posted about his baby for two trimesters was kind of ignored; he’d put up a status like “Finished sewing curtains for the baby’s room!” and people would comment about his art, his house, anything but fatherhood. It’s so frustrating to see people who quite clearly are not choosing a stereotypical gender-based division of labor to remain externally defined by it. What could a pregnant woman possibly be thinking about other than gestating, after all, and her husband must certainly be more interested in other things, right?

(Incidentally, the research potential of Facebook comments is pretty much untapped; if I were in grad school I’d be figuring out how to use Facebook data for my dissertation.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

90% of you still have at least one kidney! Congratulations!

Social marketing can work. And pointing out that most of your peers are engaging in healthy or prosocial behavior can be effective, so, for example, a 16-year-old virgin doesn’t think she’s the only one left. But the University at Albany attempts to do this in a rather confusing way.

Every semester the counseling center hangs up posters around campus: click here to see them. The one on my floor says: “79% of UAlbany students drink alcohol twice a week, less often, or not at all.” This is presumably supposed to make students who don’t drink frequently feel better about themselves. My reading? More than a FIFTH of the student population is drinking three or more times a week. WOW. Really, twice a week on average is quite a bit, assuming that it’s typical student-type drinking rather than a beer with dinner. Wouldn’t the statistic have been a little more encouraging to non-drinkers if it only included those who drank less than once a week? Or was that number too embarrassingly low to publish?

Another? “80% of UAlbany students have not engaged in unprotected sexual activity as a result of alcohol use.” I’m not entirely sure what this is trying to convey. That those in this 80% shouldn’t feel like prudes? Seems a little bit backwards. Maybe it would be more effective to point out that an entire FIFTH of the population apparently has, which (a) you may want to make an effort to avoid, and (b) means that whoever you’re sleeping with may well be in this category and perhaps more likely to be diseased. (Also: 77% have not physically injured themselves and 88% have not gotten into a fight due to alcohol. Reverse those odds, and wow.)

There are more. “58% of UAlbany students consume four or less alcoholic drinks at bars.” Disregarding the grammar, it’s hard to even know what this means (other than that 42% consume 4+). Is this only among students who are old enough to drink at bars, or can just about anyone get served around here? Or are all the people lacking fake IDs included in that 58%? “89% of UAlbany students believe that alcohol shouldn’t interfere with academics.” The rest think it SHOULD?

I’m not sure whether the survey results were so disturbing that there was no good way to present the data positively, or if the campaign’s designers just weren’t thinking. I find it pretty hard to believe that these posters are going to do what they hope.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

must stop reading Modern Love

I hate the insistence that every bad experience has a “purpose” of some kind. SOMETIMES THINGS JUST HAPPEN. I understand the benefits of looking on the bright side; saying “well, it sucks that I lost my job, but if I hadn’t then I wouldn’t have had time to replace the plumbing.” But accept it for what it is, optimism or rationalization, not something that was “meant to be.” Believing that some force out there not only chose this to happen to you, but chose it in order to IMPROVE you, is arrogant and self-centered and negates the experiences of the people out there who have bad thing happen to them with no reprieve. Like the ones who just die of cancer, in pain, with grieving families. What, had they done something wrong, so they didn’t just get cancer in order to find a new boyfriend? “People don’t die of disease; they die when their life is complete?” Gawd.

Twin Trees

So I thought I’d written up and posted about our trip to Twin Trees back in July, but it turns out I was only half done. And now I don’t remember what else happened. But here’s what I have:

Day 1: I pack furiously, but confronted with a refrigerator full of a CSA share, I am too overwhelmed to consider planning meals. I leave behind the cheese I’d bought for the trip but Dan remembers to bring socks and underwear this time.
The ride is blessedly uneventful. When we arrive, C immediately claims his favorite chair in the living room and reads a book. A wails, as we’re still unloading the car, “C has something to do and I don’t!” I suggest she climb on rocks, and to my surprise, she thought that was a fantastic suggestion.

We unpack and eat ice cream and send the kids to bed. (C in the Chalet, and I wonder if the fact that he not only accepts, but enjoys, sleeping in a building by himself at his age is something I should worry about.) Dan equates contra dancing with speed dating and we listen to the rain on the roof.

Day 2 dawns bright and sunny; we wonder where we are. Friends call and worry that their child may be too ill to visit. We assure them that vomiting only adds to the ambiance and ask them to pick up our cheese*. Dark clouds have rolled in by the time they arrive. “It’s funny,” they say, “it was sunny right up until we turned onto Thirteenth Lake Road.” How did my ancestors find such a miserable microclimate?

Hooper mine, lemon balm pesto, wine, campfire, s’mores (with vegan marshmallows!), hearts. Dan and I marvel at the functional toaster, and it occurs to us that we, too, could have one that toasts both sides of the bread simultaneously and stops when done.

Day 3: A bickers with her friend all morning (“everyone in the whole world is hurting my feelings!”) but shrieks, “You can’t leave so soon!” when his family departs. We go to Raquette Lake, where it’s windy and cloudy but not actually raining. The kids explore the cemetery when we return. We wonder, not for the first time, why my relatives LIKE to have a view of the road. I read a recipe that calls for a quart of breadcrumbs, which are used as bait to trap the pigeons used as the meal’s protein source.

Day 4: C wants to spend the day in his pajamas and we agree that he doesn’t have to go anywhere that requires clothing. So we spend the mostly sunny day reading; A colors and misuses game pieces and both kids play outside. Dan can’t take another day without e-mail and goes to North Creek for a fix. (I am extremely jealous.) He then demonstrates an effective way of removing dried CSA popcorn from the cob that he learned from a childhood of tic-tacking houses with field corn. I propose that people who hit deer with their cars be required to take partial responsibility for their actions by learning to gut and cook the meat.

Day 5: I think we went to the swimming hole at Ski-Bowl, which has the same lifeguard as last year. Sweet job- there are rarely any swimmers there, the pond is only about 5 feet deep, and he has his friends come over to hang out all day.

Day 6: Our next set of friends gets in around midnight and we stay up way too late chatting.

Day 7: A guest cooks us potatoes and peanuts for our third breakfast before we head out to Hooper Mine again. A climbs to the promontory without assistance. We stop at Thirteenth Lake on the way home and A freaks out when “black plumpy things” attach themselves to her. “The problem is that she doesn’t move around enough so the leeches have a chance to grab on,” Dan opines, as he swims out to a rock. All the children wail because they can’t reach the rock too.

Dan liked last year’s improvised lentil/ turnip/ feta meal so much that he makes it again, on purpose this time. Brian arrives as our other friends leave, bearing a six-pack of beer and a bag of cookies. He knows how to please us.

Day 8: Brian takes his bike to check out the “bike center” at Garnet Hill Lodge but is foiled by typical Adirondack service. So he rides to North Creek and back instead. The grandparents pick up C for a couple nights at Raquette Lake.

I tell Dan that I don’t want to go out to dinner if it means driving as far as Indian Lake (20 minutes). He tricks me into getting in the car to drive to the trailhead for Vanderwhacker Mountain an HOUR away, the last five miles of which on a rocky dirt road that does unmentionable things to our car. It’s muddy and buggy and steep and starts to rain when we’re less than halfway up. Brian and I insist on descending, traumatizing A who’d been promised a fire tower, but as it starts raining harder and harder even Dan admits we were right. We arrive at the car soaking wet and covered in mud, and of course have to creep back along the now-wet road designed for high-clearance 4WD vehicles. We have been officially Vanderwhacked.

Tired and hungry, we stop in Olmstedville for pizza at the dubiously-named Lucky Leprechaun. The waitress is polite and the place is clean, which is remarkable ‘round these parts, so things are looking up. The food takes forever, but when it finally comes I’m impressed that my first slice of pizza is tasty. Then I have a second and realize I was just starving initially. There is a single bathroom that eight people, including the four in our party, all desperately need to use simultaneously. I give up before it’s my turn, determining that it’d be more expedient to just drive home, where I declare that sea shanties don’t make anyone gay.

Days 9: Who knows? Presumably we were recovering from being Vanderwhacked.

Day 10: We manage to pack and clean up early so we’d have time to get home and settle in before I needed to go to work on Monday. But we are foiled on our way out of North River, when A has a sudden bout of (understandable) motion sickness and vomits all over the car. We spend an extra half hour cleaning up in the Hudson. Our car ride is more peaceful than usual, as C is still with his grandparents and A can obsessively listen to the same book on tape as she did on the way up, and I get the first load of laundry in as soon as we get home.

Back in September!

* I later find local cheese from happy cows for sale at Hudson River Trading, so I won’t have to fret so about left-behind-cheese in the future.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

this is an awful lot of pears

I expect them all to ripen while Dan is away, leaving me with a lot of work to do this week.

driving home from pear-picking

D (as torrential downpour begins): Sorry; I need to stop telling the story for a while so I can focus on driving.


A: No matter how many zeros you get, you still have nothing.
C: Of course. But if you put just one other number in front of all the zeros, you could have a huge number! Even one that goes on forever!
A: Like pi goes on forever.*

(At this point I get distracted; we’re crossing the Dolly Parton Thaddeus Kosciuszko Bridge and the rain is stopping; I ponder the surprising effect the Mohawk River has on weather patterns. When I tune back in, C is counting by twenty-billions.)

C: 420 billion, 440 billion…
S: Why are you doing that?
D: Because he’s showing off to A. Leave him alone.
S: But why twenty-billions?
C: Because it’s so fun! 580 billion, 600 billion…

When he reaches 900 billion, he starts interjecting the a cappella equivalent of guitar riffs between counts. And there is quite a grand finale at one trillion.


D: Um, did you want to hear the rest of the story now?

* Poor child; I can’t remember the last time we had to calm her angst about pi, but it seems that while she’s much braver about facing it, she’ll never forget.

Monday, August 17, 2009

maybe I shouldn't try to learn everything from books

I nicked a tire on my bike last week and replaced the tube by following the instructions on the box. I still wanted to patch the old one though- Dan has done enough tube patching to feel that it’s not worth the effort, but I figured it was worth a try, especially since the tube was only a month old and we need one for our spare bike. I couldn’t find any rubber cement, so I asked a friend who was coming over to bring some along if she had any.

Instead she brought a patch kit; even better. And it had instructions- hurray! They say “How to use” with a little picture of a skull and crossbones on one side and a fire on the other.

“1. The side of Aluminum foil is adhesive and care should be taken so that a finger.”
Huh. Well, maybe this makes sense in context.

“2. Pick a corner of the paper and remove the paper softly from the aluminum foil.”
Okay, I don’t see any “paper,” but maybe that’s what the orange stuff behind the black stuff is.

“3. When the rubber solution coated on the tube s about dry put this patch on it with paper as it is.”
That implies there’s a rubber solution coated on the tube. Well, I can do that. I do wonder how I’ll know when it “s about dry.”

“4. Snap the paper by folding the patch on the center.
5.Remove the paper from the snapped parts.”
These suggest the paper goes on top, which is logical. I suspect that if it’s actually paper it won’t snap exactly, but whatever.

“6. Place the repaired part of the tube on a stand and pat it with a small hammer several times.”
“Pat” it with a hammer? Huh. Pressing it together or clamping it seems to make more sense than gently slamming it. But anyway.

It felt like I should start by putting the rubber cement on the tube, since I’d be waiting ‘til it “s about dry” and all. So I get out the cute little tube enclosed, open it, and squeeze. Nothing happens. Hmm. I start flattening it from the bottom. Still nothing. Aha! The cap is still sealed! I poke a hole in the foil carefully, expecting rubber cement to start oozing out too quickly due to all the squeezing. But it doesn’t. The brand new, unopened tube appears to be completely empty. And I give up.

I'm no longer sure how I feel about the Internet. Or the funny papers.

C (laughing): I looked up a chemical and it talked about its atomic number, so then I had to look up what atomic number meant, and it said it was the number of protons in the nucleus. But then I had to look up what nucleus meant!
My father: What chemical were you looking up?
C: Chlorine. It said it was hay-lo-genic.
My father: Yes, it’s a halogen. Why were you looking up chlorine?
C: Because when I looked up IED the article talked about chlorine.
S: What’s an IED?
C: Improvised Explosive Device.
S: Er, why were you looking up IED?
C: It was in one of the comics.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

and women don't like beer, either

This article discusses how bicycling is a white, upper/ middle class pursuit and wonders why. It irked me. First, it doesn't actually have any data at all to back up bicycling as "white." It sounds like someone asked a few (probably white) people if they think most cyclists are white and they all said yes, which isn't exactly an accurate sampling method. Second, it jumps to assumptions about cycling as transportation after considering cycling as a sport. It's likely true that a smaller percentage of non-white people take up bicycling as a hobby for the same reasons they're probably less likely to take up any sport that demands expensive equipment and travel; like skiing, it just doesn't make sense for most of us to do it, and if all your friends aren't doing it there's no good reason to take it up. But I suspect that a lot MORE poor people, who are disproportionately non-white, use bicycles for transportation because they can't afford cars.

Maybe things are different in Toronto; it has much better public transportation than my area, so maybe the poor have better options than bicycles. But about half the cyclists I see once I cross into Albany are black. I'm not riding anywhere that a sane recreational rider would choose to go; the people I see are just trying to get around, just as I am. Unfortunately, they're apparently invisible to the powers that be.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I'm still not entirely comfortable with it

I forgot my first name last week. I was signing a work e-mail and it didn’t seem quite right, and I sounded it out and it didn’t seem like it ought to be pronounced like that, really it’s an awfully odd combination of letters and sounds, and is that really right? The first “a” really should be more of a schwa sound, shouldn’t it? My, I need more sleep. And, apparently, a less complicated name.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

not part of his job description

A: C, will you make a prince puppet for me to go with my princess?
C: No, why would I want to do that?
A: To make me happy.
C: Er, no, I'm busy.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

late blight moves fast

When I got back from vacation on Sunday the garden looked all right; neglected after ten days, certainly, and my broccoli seedlings had been devoured, but overall everything was healthy. By Tuesday, two of the tomato plants had late blight on 75% of their leaves. Today all the rest of the plants had it too. I pruned them back to only a few stems, but don’t have high hopes of saving the plants unless we get a week of sun starting now. I haven’t even gotten to harvest any tomatoes yet- the Early Girls set fruit more than a month ago but nothing has ripened. Sad year, and I’m glad I’m not a farmer.

Monday, June 29, 2009

clothes are useful when it's cold

“Now that I've got long lovely red hair and wear skirts and push-up bras and shit, life is better.... Part of attracting boys is wearing the "I'm attracted to boys" uniform, and, well, I know it's weak but I'd rather have the boys than be a Gender Revolutionary.”

I don’t think I could begin to separate the way I present myself from the way I want other people to see me. I make choices based on comfort, time, and personal aesthetics, but what I choose to wear is fundamentally determined by the message I want to send out into the world. I have no idea how I’d dress if it didn’t affect other people. At home I go naked a lot and wear more dresses. (The dresses I own are very comfortable for many tasks but not for bicycling or anything that requires pockets, so are fairly impractical for leaving my neighborhood.) Would aesthetics matter if no one else noticed, or would comfort be the only consideration? I have met a few people who appear in most circumstances to think very little about what they project to the outside world (though I know this can be misleading; I had a good friend in college who spent hours to look as if she’d just rolled out of bed and thrown on a flannel shirt). I’m a bit jealous. Some of them (men) are judged less on their appearance, but all of them have decided that they don’t need to get the benefits I do from looking a certain way, and I’m a bit in awe of that. I’ve chosen to give up some of the things I’d get if I wore makeup and dressed more “nicely” by Delmar standards; in return I feel more true to myself. How much more self-actualized are the folks who’ve given up more?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

thanks for showing me your swiss army knife

What to do with the boxes, my friend wonders, the old photos and graduation tassels and ticket stubs, the stuffed animals from my high school boyfriend. So many things to keep.

A couple of years ago my mother dropped off a humidor of old letters to me, I say. I glanced at a few, shuddered to remember how lonely I was as a teenager, and recycled the rest unread so I wouldn’t have to think about that anymore. Dan tried to dissuade me but I have no regrets. If the love letters could have sorted themselves out, I might have saved them, but smiling about the gushiness of my gay boyfriend from ’91 wasn’t worth going through the rest.

She considers. I don’t think I have any love letters, just the teddy bears and hand-me-down bongs.

I’m shocked, and surprised that I’m shocked. She dated athletes, nice boys all, but perhaps less likely than the tortured artists I coveted to write her poetry. Plus I had summer-camp boyfriends back when long distance calls were expensive, and I started using e-mail obsessively as soon as college began; we were writing to each other anyway so paeans of joy were no great stretch. Even the perpetually stoned potter left haikus about my feet on my whiteboard freshman year. (The limericks, well, they don’t count.)

But I hadn’t known that I considered such words to be a standard part of even a fleeting relationship. I don’t remember anyone before Dan giving me tangible gifts. My friend has a collection of jewelry and toys from birthdays and Christmases; she’d have been hurt if a boyfriend had failed to provide her with such. I got sonnets, and just now realized how much I took them for granted. To all my exes out there: thank you for skipping the heart-shaped magnets.

bike plan meeting

Last week’s Albany Bike Master Plan public meeting was a bit of a let-down. It was not well-publicized (indeed, the only reason I knew about it was from an e-mail sent out a month in advance by the organizers to those who’d signed in at the last meeting) and had a much lower turnout than the one in February. That wasn’t too disappointing, though, since they weren’t presenting any new information. The facilitator tried to avoid taking questions publicly, asking us to instead talk to the staff individually. This didn’t stop some irritated people from the audience from voicing their legitimate frustration with the fact that several major roads in Albany were in the process of being reworked without any provisions for bicyclists.

There were two workstations where they asked for input- one on prioritizing different goals, and one to comment on the maps of desired bike routes drawn up from feedback obtained at the winter meeting. There wasn’t a whole lot to say about the latter other than “sure, great, but is any of this actually going to be done?”

I left not really knowing what the point of the whole thing was. It certainly wasn’t to tell us anything, so presumably it was to give the agency our input. But given that the only attendees were a small self-selected group of politically-minded folks who have very strong feelings about cycling, this meeting was not a good place to gather information if they’re actually interested in hearing from a reasonable cross-section of Albany bicyclists. After we were dismissed to the workstations I asked the woman running the study how they were reaching out to other demographics. (Most visibly absent was significant representation of non-whites, when more than half the people I see biking in Albany are black. A lot of people bike because they can’t afford cars, and they weren’t at this meeting) She said something vague about having a meeting in the South End but was quite defensive, even though I broached the subject politely.

I fear that the city is just going through the motions. Someone out there wants to pretend they’re listening to concerns of bicyclists, so they’re making a “plan” and holding public meetings, but they are not making any effort to reach out to most current bicyclists (much less potential ones) and are unlikely to actually implement any of the things we ask for. Well, maybe they’ll put up a few bike racks; that’s cheap and easy and doesn’t piss off drivers. But nothing that will substantively improve the safety and ease of bicycling in the city.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Committing suicide after a failed marriage is courageous?

I haven't read this book; the review alone are pissing me off. There's nothing new about romanticizing dramatic love affairs that end badly. I hate that so few people seem to see how passion can coexist with stability, that happily living with someone day in and day out is in fact love, and that chasing excitement may be a fine option for some but opting out of that doesn't mean settling.

I agree that just because an affair doesn't last forever doesn't mean it wasn't important or worthwhile. But I don't think being subsumed by someone who treats you badly shows self-confidence, either, as Nehring seems to suggest.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

this isn't love, it's narcissism

If Dan were dying and decided that he was going to devote all his energy to making a statue of himself for me to remember him by when he was gone, instead of spending time with me, I'd leave him too.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

no clip-ons at least

Dan has a tie hanger that lives in the corner of the closet because he never wears ties. He pulled it out today so he could install some cables. I asked if we could sort through them, but alas, he wants to keep them all. Even the skinny purple polyester one, the brown paisley one, and the one with Winnie the Pooh on it. Maybe someday….

why do I look at articles on NYC renovations?

The bike must be for show. No one uses a kickstand on floors like that.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

this summer we can calculate prime numbers

A: Me too!
D: Me three!
C: Me five!
A: Me 600!
C: NO, A, that's not part of the Fibonacci series!

Proof that anything your kid learns will just be another excuse for an argument.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Stay at home parents are trophy wives

Stay at home parents are trophy wives and/ or arm candy. While presumably if they went to work for minimum wage to take care of other people’s children at a day care center, even though their husband’s earnings would eat up that income pretty much entirely because of their household’s higher tax bracket, they’d be considered “real” contributors to their marriage.

I wonder if he could sell it at the Little Book House

All the kids in C’s class are doing reports on different countries. For their final project, they are making an alphabet book on their country, with each letter discussing a different topic. (A, for example, could be about animals, and they’d list some animals found in the country.)

Of course, instead of choosing Ireland or France like a normal child, he had to go with Afghanistan. Some of his topic selections? J is for jihad, O is for opium, Q is for al-Qaeda, V is for vengeance (post-9/11 bombings by the U.S.), Y is for yearning (for children to no longer be killed by land mines). I suspect this was not quite what his teacher had in mind. Now he is supposed to add illustrations- I can’t wait to see it when it’s done.

A few weeks ago he sent the President a letter asking him to pull out of Afghanistan. He included diagrams suggesting a withdrawal plan. I thought it was pretty awesome but realized that most parents probably don’t get sappy over their kid’s military strategies.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

On the incompetence of bureaucracies

HR e-mail: I noticed that for one holiday in January you charged .5 of a day, but for the other one you charged a whole day. I know you are at 50% FTE, but we don’t have any information on your work schedule and so we can’t determine if the way you have earned and used your holiday leave is correct. Could you please send in your schedule using the form found at (link to a form that’s not editable and so cannot be submitted online) as soon as possible? A fax or scanned copy is acceptable.
S: I’m sending in the form, but I have already done so twice. Just in case this one disappears also, I work full days on Mondays and Wednesdays and half days on Thursdays.
HR: You really sent the form twice!!?? That’s weird. I will print this e-mail so we have that at least…thanks for explaining your schedule.
S: Once when I started the job, once when I switched from a Friday to Thursday schedule last summer. Hopefully this time it will make it!
HR: Oh – that was a while ago…who knows where they ended up.

So what, they just randomly throw away forms that are more than, oh, six months old? I guess that might have been code for “someone who used to work here really sucked” but if so, don’t act all surprised about it going missing.

the problem with encouraging independence

So say you’re eight years old and you just heated up some peas and want to put some salt on them. But the saltshaker is sitting in the dish drainer, empty. You could ask for help, given that your mother is in the next room, but you don’t. Instead you find the big container of salt. You could pour a little bit out to sprinkle on your peas, but you’re feeling helpful and decide to refill the saltshaker. When you do, the salt doesn’t shake out. (You don’t know that this is because the saltshaker was wet and salt doesn’t like that so much.) You get a pencil and poke it in the holes of the saltshaker (breaking off the lead in two place) to no avail. This inexplicable failure doesn’t stop you. The logical next step- getting some Tupperware out of the cabinet, poking some holes in the bottom of it with scissors, and filling it with salt to replace that defective saltshaker. Mission accomplished.

environmental and financial win

New York state agencies no longer provide bottled water. I'm pretty happy about this (wrote about it last year) but am shaking my head at how complicated they're making it.

"Each executive agency will have to provide alternative sources, like fountains and dispensers for tap water." These already exist in every public building. They are called sinks.

"The order requires the state’s Office of General Services to monitor the compliance of agencies and to identify ways to make tap water available free..." Given the way bureacracies work, I suspect this will take up a lot of time and money when it shouldn't.

I also imagine it will take a lot of time before it changes anything here at SUNY, if it ever does.

Monday, May 04, 2009

of course we could have told a more interesting story

These accident-explanatory slings might have been useful when A broke her arm, but I'm not sure whether an illustration of a child tripping over nothing and falling on the grass would have kept people from asking questions anyway.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I want these around town

Bicycle air pump station

All of our bicycle pumps have lasted, hmm, maybe a month? Our spare bike currently has a flat and our regular bike tires are low- guess we're going to have to invest in a $60+ bike shop pump.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Are front loaders the best environmental choice?

Our Kenmore 417 front loading washer worked very well when it was working. Huge capacity, got clothes and cloth diapers clean, spun everything out so it dried quickly. But it needed service twice in the first three years we had it and just irreparably bit the dust after only seven. The bearing needs to be replaced (apparently a typical failure on these machines) and it was constructed in such a way that fixing it is virtually impossible. If we did choose to repair it, we’d have to replace basically all the innards of the machine, and the parts alone would cost about as much as a new one.

We are hugely disappointed. It was expensive to purchase (and all the service calls made it even more so) but we expected it to last a good long time. We also consciously paid a premium for doing the right thing for the environment; it used much less water and electricity than a top-loading washer. But from what we’re hearing from the two repair guys we talked to and from online research, seven years is about as long as you get out of front-loaders. This makes them decidedly NOT a sustainable choice. The energy and materials wasted by having to replace it so soon negate its efficiency during its brief period of operation.

It seems that “low-end” front-loaders are just not built to last or to be repaired. (I can’t get much information about the $1000+ ones. I certainly hope they are fixable. It’s not like it’s a brand-new technology that still needs the kinks worked out of it.) Top-loaders can be kept running for at least twice as long.

So now that we’re past the need for having a washer than can tackle big loads of diapers, we decided to go with a top loader that can be repaired when it breaks. We got one from a used appliance dealer two miles away, who advised us not to buy the front loader he had (“they’re junk”) and only charged us $25 for delivery and removal of our ungodly heavy washer from the second floor. And saved us from the potential hell of having to deal with people on Craigslist.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

forts, junk, and muscles

C has been spending a lot of time lately building forts inside. He’s renovated a niche in our upstairs hallway with a mini-futon and plants and he keeps on stealing couch cushions to build tunnels. I’m wanting to snag discarded furniture and give him some tools to make something outside, but Dan is less than enthusiastic about the junkyard aesthetic that would lend to our property.

He doesn’t really have a leg to stand on though. It was his idea to grab the discarded wooden utility spools; we made a family fun trip across the railroad track to get them, and attracted some attention as we rolled them home. Even less attractively, we salvaged a metal futon frame he hopes to turn into a utility trailer for his bicycle. We were careful to put it where our bad neighbor would have a nice view of it, which is also where we keep our stack of reclaimed fencing/ pallets.

To keep from going numb during my work days I occasionally get up and do modified push-ups, leaning against a railing in the hall. This is somewhat less awkward than doing push-ups on the floor in public, though I still get funny looks. Over the weekend I was curious to see how many real push-ups I could do. (12; I have no idea if that is above or below average.) Interestingly, the limiting factor wasn’t my arms (though they were almost there) but my abs. And three days later my stomach STILL hurts. I’m clearly not getting enough general exercise. I suppose that’s not too big a surprise, since most of my non-work hours are spent lying down, trying to catch up on some of the rest that insomnia steals from me.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

wasn't there a movie about this?

"Robots must be constrained to adhere to the same laws as humans or they should not be permitted on the battlefield," Arkin wrote. Asimov already came up with excellent laws of robotics, but by definition war robots can not conform to them.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

this is NOT a suggestion. Just popped into my head.

When I read Stranger in a Strange Land as a teenager, the messages about freedom and religion and sex didn’t seem too profound to me. But eating dead bodies- that was something to think about. Made sense, after all. Maybe that’s why Soylent Green never made an impact on me. It was only logical, what with the hunger and overpopulation, and meat was harvested in a rather less disturbing way than in the warren surrounded by snares in Watership Down.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

my dreams are serials

While the plots of my dreams do not pick up again, incidental details do all the time. One example: dreams about Twin Trees, my family’s cabin in the Adirondacks. Over the past year or so I’ve dreamed about it numerous times and there are several things about Dreamworld Twin Trees that are different from the real one. But they remain consistent within Dreamworld. There is another bedroom in the basement (no basement in the real world) that my aunt and uncle normally sleep in. I do occasionally when they’re not there, but don’t like it because it’s creepy. A secret door off this bedroom leads to a deep closet. There are lamps and dishes that are consistent in my dreams that are nothing like the ones actually there. The woodstove is a different style in a different location (where the telephone table is) and includes an oven for baking. In one of my dreams the oven broke and my relatives slid parts of a broken electric oven into the opening, so the stucco-ish woodstove sports the door of a 70’s-era oven on its side. It’s been there in all my dreams since.

Monday, March 09, 2009

maybe I should've gone for a Harlequin

A few weeks ago I realized that I couldn’t recall ever having read a romance novel. I decided to remedy this with Pride and Prejudice. I was unimpressed.

I remember getting into a debate with a women’s studies professor at Alfred about whether Tom Sawyer was more entertaining than Little Women. I felt exploring caves to be inherently more interesting than reading Pilgrim’s Progress. She pointed out that the values placed on stereotypically gendered diversions were socially defined, and that my preference for action/ adventure stories was likely because they, like masculinity, were valued more by my culture. I’m still not sure how much I agree with her. But even the March girls, whom I found boring, were more interesting than the Bennets. Both books concluded in marrying off a passel of sisters but at least in Little Women they did a few other things too.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

I do not however miss tape drives

In fourth grade or so I did an in-depth research project on the Pony Express. My mother suggested I dig up newspaper articles as source material and escorted me to the Schenectady Library (the main branch of our library system). Paper indices of the New York Times were cross-referenced to the boxes of microfilm I needed, but staying on-task once the film was loaded into the reader was near impossible. These were real newspapers from the 1860s! The advertisements! The headlines! Sitting in front of the machine with the stories glowing in front of me, the film whirring as I skipped forward and back, heightened the sense of time-travel.

The process became somewhat less exciting as my academic career progressed; looking up 20-year-old academic articles isn’t quite so fascinating. But in graduate school I worked in the library’s microfilm department and was again enchanted. Most people were too lazy to get their articles themselves so they sent in a request and paid me to do it. I’ll admit to occasionally being glad when they wanted something from the less time-consuming microfiche collection. But the process of seeking out articles on all subjects from all eras was made more romantic by the pages of the microfilm flying by, and I became adept at stopping on the right page on the first try.

Long periods of reading microfilm is awful on your eyes; storage and retrieval is space and time inefficient. But it gives me the same pleasure as a few other time-consuming anachronisms- darkroom work and mixed-cassette-tape production come to mind. There’s the visceral pleasure in the process itself plus the technical pleasure in accomplishing something that requires some work- it gives a sense that you’ve Done Something, not just hit “print” after using a search engine or clicked an icon in Photoshop. I miss it.

(Reminded by this.)

Friday, February 27, 2009

"I take my family everywhere I run."

Interestingly, this cell phone ad clearly articulates one of my major reasons for NOT purchasing a phone. If you have one people assume you're always on call. I want to avoid this primarily for selfish reasons, but being unavailable also empowers other people to work out their own problems. Really, a caregiver who's regularly interrupting her exercise to discuss pacifiers ought to be fired or divorced.

(Imagine a gender role reversal in this ad. Click on picture for larger image.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dollhouse review

The most annoying character on Firefly was a girl named River, who spent most of her time walking around in a dreamy daze but occasionally said and did batshit crazy things. This was a side effect of the government manipulating her brain to turn her into a weapon or something. In the first episode, Dollhouse appears to be all about a group of underweight but otherwise attractive women who walk around in dreamy dazes until they are injected with mission-appropriate personalities, and then they kick ass with occasional craziness thrown in. They have new-agey names like Echo and Sierra. I am thusfar unimpressed, but I’ll admit that it took more than one episode to draw me into Firefly.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I hate difference feminism

Women can not save an economy. Different values can. But they're not "women's values."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

head wounds bleed a lot

C just walked into my room with blood dripping in his face. He'd hit his head on the corner of the medicine cabinet. Tiny cut, he's not in pain or even as stressed out as he normally is over these things. But feigning calm when your kid's head is COVERED IN BLOOD is really really hard.

And I don't know how to put a Band-Aid on when there's hair in the way.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

regional foods fail

In small print on my "Cape Cod Cranberry" juice: "Cranberries in this product are not from Cape Cod."

Friday, February 13, 2009

technology fail

30 Boxes is down and Dan and I have no idea where we're supposed to be. We converted away from the paper calendar about six months ago so we could both access our info when I was at work.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Orin Scrivello is looking attractive right now

Dan’s been having trouble with his teeth for a year or so and decided to go to the dentist. I suggested he make appointments for all of us, since the kids have never gone and the grown-ups haven’t since living in Seattle. (We’ve tried but had administrative issues at several different offices.) It was a several-month wait before anyone could fit us in but he got appointments for us all for this morning.

A, C, and I were all supposed to be seen simultaneously. We checked with C to make sure he was okay being on his own, so Dan could stay with A, and he said it was fine. We foolishly believed him. Apparently the hygienist said something about him “missing” teeth, perhaps referring to some permanent teeth that haven’t come in yet, and he got scared and freaked out. Even after Dan tried to soothe him, the dentist was unwilling to make any effort to work with him and gave up.

I was unaware of this because I was being tortured by an X-ray machine for 45 minutes. In the past when I’ve gotten X-rays they put small pieces of plastic in my mouth and take a few shots. This involved moving a large uncomfortable metal contraption around my mouth for each of about 20 takes. The hygienist commented on how small my mouth was. I could not reply because there was metal digging into the roof of my mouth.

Apparently I desperately need a cleaning and have a few small cavities. I have to make another appointment for the cleaning and a third for the cavities, however. Because why get everything done at once when they can charge for three visits? (Seriously, why couldn’t they do a cleaning today?)

A was happy enough with her dad and actually got a cleaning, but the dentist claimed that her teeth were too close together and she was going to need all sorts of work done and blah blah blah bad stuff. I suspect exaggeration.

Dan was supposed to have his appointment when I was done. But they told him, “Oh, we’re running behind, so we’ll have to schedule you for another time. We might have some openings in March.” What? Someone comes in for an appointment and you say “oops, sorry, just kidding?” Dan, you may recall, was the one who actually needed to go to the dentist in the first place.

This is why we avoid doctors.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

there are so many things I don't anticipate

My bike lock was frozen this morning.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

everyone's gonna be jealous of my beans

Note to self:

When you're already cutting it a little close to meet a friend on time, it might not be the best idea to grab three of the surplused bulk bins the food co-op is selling for $2. It will very much confuse the cashier, though I did have a PLU. And then when you try to push your cart full of groceries, with the bins balanced precariously on top, you will fail. The 50# bag of oats alone, draped halfway over the front edge of the cart, would make it hard to navigate the parking lot because of their weight. A parking lot full of ice, slush, and potholes? Even harder. When you can only push the cart with one hand because you have to use the other to keep the bins from smashing to the ground? Nearly impossible.

But I was only a little late, and even if I can't find anywhere to put these bins, they're still pretty damn cool.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


As of April '08, more than half of our monthly mortgage payment started going toward principal rather than interest. Last month 62% went to principal. Even without making additional payments, which we do whenever we have extra money in our checking account, we're on track to pay it off in less than half its 30-year term.

(Excluding, of course, property tax escrow, which is 29% of what we give the bank every month. And likely to only increase, since state education funding is decreasing. Thanks Governor Paterson!)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

SimCity and urban planning

This reminded me that I once tried to set up a city with no roads, just rail. Didn’t work. I tried building one road leading from the edge of the screen (presumably where other cities might be) that stopped on the outskirts of town but that didn’t work either. Wonder if it would in real life. If there’s not a SimSustainableCity out yet, that allows you to build windmills and greenhouses and bike trails and horse stables, there should be.

(The rate of nuclear meltdowns, incidentally, was more than a little high in the Sim universe. I guess that was the only way they had to provide a reason NOT to go nuclear, because otherwise it was by far the best choice. Maybe they should have had protestors instead, or bad-karma points.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

don't let Tumnus break your heart

A has informed me that she doesn’t believe in Jesus but does believe in Santa Claus. She cites Santa’s presence at the Delmar holiday parade as evidence for this position. I’ve cautiously suggested that sometimes people like to dress up as Santa, but she does not think anyone other than Santa himself could produce a costume that good. Dan wonders if she’ll convert if we take her to a production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Some people say they felt betrayed upon learning that Santa wasn’t real. I’m not concerned about that. The big betrayal of my childhood was perpetrated by C.S. Lewis. I read and reread The Chronicles of Narnia at an age when I could immerse myself in fantasy and half-believe that it was real. I longed to be Lucy and set up elaborate worlds with paper and glue and Playmobils and gerbils (one named Aslan).

I was 12 or so when I picked up The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe again and saw the religious symbolism. I was truly devastated. To see that something that meant so much to me was nothing more than a medium Lewis created to forward his religion (which was, by chance, the same ones I’d been raised in, but had never particularly subscribed to) was profoundly disillusioning. Now I can appreciate that most of the books can be read as damn good stories irregardless of Lewis’s intent (or was it that he used the proselytizing as an excuse to justify writing fantasy?) but as a teenager, no.

I’m not the only one who had this experience. I thoughtlessly mentioned it to an unsuspecting friend at summer camp in 1989 and he had to fight back tears.

I don’t think that C is as fanatical a reader as I was. While he reads continuously he never rereads books or uses their characters in his play. If I hand him the first book* it’s likely that he’ll whip through it cheerfully and then go back to drawing up his plans for snowball-throwing tanks**. On the one hand this makes me sad because I’d like to share the experience with him (in a way I really couldn’t with his WWII obsession) but on the other I hope it means that he’ll never experience the same sense of betrayal I did.

Until now I put off giving him the books because of the violence, but given his research on the invasion of Normandy that’s not really relevant at this point. I’ve considered mentioning the allegorical components to him but decided against it. I’m hoping that the joy he may obtain from reading them uncritically*** will override any loss he might feel when he recognizes what’s behind the story. And if he doesn’t read them soon he won’t appreciate it in the ways that only children can. But I still hesitate to do it, remembering how hurt I was and wanting to protect him from that.

* Meaning The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe- there’s a movement to reorder the books chronologically but starting with The Magician’s Nephew is WRONG. Gee, you think I have any emotional investment in this?

** Inspired by the go-carts in The Dangerous Book for Boys. Thanks Shannon- I think.

*** I am usually incapable of reading uncritically now which is somewhat of a shame.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

it's all what you're used to

I love it when the New York Times talks about the economic troubles of people with lifestyles insanely outside of the norm.

Shortly after Scott lost his job, the couple replaced their full-time nanny with a more cost-effective au pair and began choosing long-weekend getaways instead of weeklong family vacations. Some expenses, though, haven’t changed: they still shell out for membership at a local country club (“the most modest one in town,” Tracey said); they rented a condo last summer on Block Island; and they continue to pay hundreds a month for soccer, skating, T-ball and karate lessons for the children. They afford these things by dipping into the savings Scott put away during the flush years.

I’m betting their downsized vacation expenses are more than my family’s annual income. Oh the suffering!

Monday, January 12, 2009

stocking up again

I can make wheat flour prices a regular feature! Slightly down from last time- $56.00 for a 50-pound bag instead of $69.50. But it’s unclear whether or not that price included a 10% case discount (former prices listed did not) so it’s probably not as dramatic a drop as it appears.

Seems that we’re consistently going through 50 pounds in a bit less than five months. We use more than 10 pounds of white flour in that timeframe too. I was thinking that was a lot but average annual consumption is 147 pounds per capita. We’re buying about 180 pounds per year for the whole family. We eat more than that- C buys school lunches, we eat out occasionally, etc.- but the vast majority of our meals are prepared at home. We also buy bulgher (best guess- 20 pounds a year) and crackers and breakfast cereal in small quantities.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

why no one gets newspapers anymore

I need to remember to check in on the awesomely random comments of the Bethlehem blog more frequently. A post on a pleasant experience at the Delmar post office led to a shrill indictment of Bethlehem snobbishness (recurring theme), a rail trail announcement became a forum to complain about irresponsible hunters, and a picture of my kids led to the TU being damned for using children to push their political agenda.