Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Favorites

A break from my transportation kick to bring you my five favorite things about snow days:

1. Sleeping in.
2. That awesome, "and now we take a break from our regularly scheduled programming" feeling. Regular life is having some technical let's all sit around in our PJs and play Memory.
3. I'm often inspired to take up outlandish and totally uncharacteristic house projects. Like: I made a sock doll yesterday. People! A sock doll!
4. Hot chocolate and cookies are obviously medical necessities.
5. The snow.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Wheels on the Bus

I don't know anyone over the age of five who loves buses. If they do, they keep their passions to themselves, which is just as well, since buses are big, ugly, unglamorous, move in a cloud of diesel exhaust, and apparently are one of the top causes of death in the United States (as evidenced by the phrase, "I could get run over by a bus tomorrow and then where would you be" and variations thereof). They're also the public transportation option I've used most often in my life.

Every weekend during the winter of 1994-1995 I took an RTD bus from Boulder to Denver (free with my student ID), walked to the urine-y and exhaust-y Greyhound Bus Station on the ungentrified part of downtown, and then took a bus to Glenwood Springs. I made this trip in snow and ice and riotous game crowds and was delayed only a handful of times. I had my share of strange seat mates (the well-dressed giggling man in his forties who claimed to have a sports car and tried to leave me with his phone number; the earnest and lugubrious former truck driver who wanted to impress upon me the wisdom of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, which he claimed could have saved his marriage, if only he'd read it in time; the man who carried on an entire, merry, give-and-take conversation with himself during the course of the four-hour ride)--but mostly it wasn't too crowded, and I rode alone and worked on my physics homework. Once we were in an accident ("Bus driver! Somebody hit us!"); once we had to wait for an hour on a pass after a semi jackknifed and closed both lanes. Mostly, though, it was a sturdy, stodgy, reliable way to get to Glenwood, and most of my fellow passengers were regular folks who didn't want to risk driving the mountain passes in the winter.

So, when I took this job, one of the first things I did was look at possible bus schedules (especially, uh, for days like today. Holy TOLEDO is it snowing out there.) The Denver RTD site has a handy "route finder" function, where you can plug in your starting and destination intersections and get instructions on which buses to take and how long it should take to get from A to B. Being me, I wasn't satisfied to just plunk in my address and my work address, but had to try to game the system a bit and put in large, obvious intersections that I knew were serviced by bus. Even so, the route they suggested took ONE HOUR AND FORTY-FIVE MINUTES. I mean, WHAT? In what universe would a normal person opt to take an hour and forty-five minutes to go 13 miles? I could BIKE it in less time. I mean, not today, obviously. But STILL. That's RETARDED. No wonder ninety percent of the people who use the buses are clearly obligated to use them due to their unfitness to drive/ own cars (Note: that stereotype is based on my experience with buses in other midsize cities. Maybe here the buses are populated by young professionals. Who just happen to want to TRIPLE THEIR COMMUTE time by riding the bus.)

So. Buses don't work. Trains don't work. Bikes don't work. What's a girl to do? Drive, of course. And voila: global warming. Also Denver's brown cloud. Parking lots. Acidic runoff. A drive-thru culture. I want something DIFFERENT.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The F Line to Lincoln

We chose our neighborhood based in part on its proximity to Denver's light rail line. Specifically, we actually vetoed an entire region of the city, one which would have been in many other respects more congenial, because its light rail line is not due to be completed until 2012.

We don't regret this decision (at least not any more than I regret every single decision I have ever made, which is obviously a personality flaw, not a reliable indicator of that decision's worth). My husband's office is a five-minute walk from a light-rail station; he spends less on his (heavily employer-subsidized) transit pass than I do on gas in a given month. We both love using the light rail to go into the city, mostly because it unshackles us from the harness of I-25, which is my least favorite interstate EVER. Also, even though I'm 37 I still get a kick out of the fact that it feels like a ride. I can see the mountains when I ride! And the bison bas-relief along the light rail corridor! And that funky yellow Stacking Tower Game sculpture near the Santa Fe exit! Also, when I get bored of that, I can read: last winter, when I took the train in every day to an internship, I barreled through about three books in one month just during the time I spent on the train. Sometimes it felt like the apex of civilization, to ride along in the elevated train as I read about Medieval Europe.

However. The train is not perfect. For those of us without employer-subsidized passes, it's pricey--for my two-month internship, for which I was not getting paid, I estimate I spent over three hundred dollars on train fares, including all the times I "forgot" to validate the free passes my husband had gotten for filling out a survey. It's seven dollars round trip per adult--that's a lot, especially considering that skillful vetting of parking lots can get you an all-day parking spot for about five dollars in downtown Denver. It's relatively useless if you want to go somewhere not in the middle of downtown--even though I live less than a mile from a light rail station, it doesn't make sense for me to take the train to go to the zoo (two and a half miles from a station), the writer's institute in northern downtown where I sometimes like to take classes, or to any of the other major submetropolises--Littleton, Boulder, Golden, Arvada. Even once the light rail extends to all of these places it won't make sense--it will take twice as long and will probably cost upwards of fifteen dollars round trip.

In other words, except for the relatively limited number of people who live in specific suburbs and work directly on the train line, Denver's light rail is less of a public transportation option and more of an overpriced lark. I LIKE the light rail. I WANT the light rail. But even I don't use it very often. So, Regional Transportation District: we need more! For less!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why I Love My Bike

My favorite form of transportation is the bike. Yes, it has its limitations: it doesn't do snow, and rain is kind of unpleasant, too. Long distances are inconvenient. But overall, if I could ride my bike everywhere, I would.

I bought my current bike in 1993 for $500--a Specialized Rockhopper mountainbike. At the time that was a sizeable chunk of my savings, but I fell so instantly in love that I didn't regret a single one of those dollars. I rode it in snow, in ice, in rain, in the dark. I used it for actual mountain biking and also for commuting to various jobs, including one that was ten miles away from where I lived (by sheer coincidence, that job lasted only two weeks).

Sixteen years later, I've put more miles on my bike than on my first two cars combined. I've ridden well into my third trimester of pregnancy. I even rode during the months of my first pregnancy when I was both hugely pregnant and crippled and had to walk with a cane--it was the only form of locomotion that didn't hurt. I've hauled groceries, kids, biology-chemistry-physics textbooks, and small pets. I ride to school events, baseball games, and playgrounds. As late as last week I hauled Helen to her ballet class on the bike carrier she is much too big for, and even though work is thirteen miles from my house I'm still hoping to commute here by bike, at least occasionally.

I love starting the day by riding to work. I've had to defend this to my kids countless times over the past years, usually while hauling their complaining selves out the door to their own bikes. I like starting the day with taking deep breaths of the crisp clean morning air, with getting a feel for the weather and the temper of the day ahead, with seeing what's out there or catching a glimpse of a hawk or a fox. I like getting to work a little chilly or damp, pulling off all my gear, shaking out my hair, and settling in. Inclement weather is a challenge, one that I've overcome by the time I get to my desk. One of the hardest things about having kids has been that this pleasure is so often inconvenient, or involves massive struggle or argument (the kids do NOT feel like riding their bikes is a great way to start the day).

One of the challenges with my new job is that regular bike commuting really isn't an option. By the most direct yet still bike-friendly route, it's thirteen miles, which could take me as long as an hour and a half one way (I like biking, but I'm not a fast biker). Combine that with an eight-and-half-hour day, kids to pick up and feed, and a spouse with his own busy and stressful schedule, biking to work can only be a luxury that I indulge in a few times a year. I'm bound and determined to do it, though--I'll keep you posted.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Favorite things about fall

A Friday Favorites about the current season which is, WEATHER PLEASE TAKE NOTE, fall. Not winter. Not summer. FALLLLL.

1. The colors. Duh. But I like how the reds and oranges and yellows make the world seem three-dimensional again, instead of green-on-green flat. And how I suddenly notice little spots I hadn't before: the line of ethereal rose-petal bushes along Holly Road, the three blazing hawthorne trees at the edge of the park.

2. The holidays, starting with the heathen costume-and-candy one and moving, stuffed-tummy-like, all the way through to the religious one at the start of winter.

3. The closing-in cozy feeling at the end of the day. Pulling the curtains, turning up the heat, making some soup.

4. The crunch of all those leaves. (Please note: I do NOT so much like the juicy squinch of slimy wet leaves).

5. Cleaning shit out. Ripping the black tomato vines out of the garden. Cutting down on those messy, rangy flowers. Shaking off all those LEAVES. It's like cutting off your hair: one day, messy, shaggy, always-in-your-line-of-vision, and the next day, gone. Stark and pure.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Not that there's anything wrong with it, but...

has anyone ever worked at an office with a male boss and his wife where the wife was not in charge of office parties and birthdays and goodbye gifts?

It's like a semi-official expectation. It's also one of about 1 million reasons why I could never work for my husband: I lack the skills. (Luckily for his employees, and me, he possesses a rare y-sorted gift-giving gene.)

I can't say this observation makes me mad, exactly. It's not like End of Feminism. And all (two of) the wives I've known in this situation genuinely seem to enjoy the parties, decorations, being thoughtful, et cetera. But in both cases it did sometimes seem like she was enabling her husband's complete lack of interest in/ concern for his employees...or else just participating in the stereotype that the woman is the one who is caring and thoughtful, and the man is the One Who Gets Shit Done, and perpetuating the further and much more annoying cultural belief that these two things have to be separate.

Or maybe I'm just griping because I myself am so EVERLOVING POOR at the gift thing, and I'm jealous.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I have been totally impressing myself in my ability to wake up every single morning at 5:30 and go for a run. The runs are not long or even particularly aerobic, but they manage to get my wiggles out and allow me to sit in my chair for the next eight hours (plus another damn hour in the frigging car) without feeling like I am going to diiiiie.

In related news, however, I am REALLY ready for daylight savings time to be OVER. I know, I know, I'll be driving home in the dark from now on (ACK). But at least I will have begun the day in the twilight, instead of the pitch black dark. I am SO SICK of running in the dark. Yes, I can see the stars (such as they are over south metro Denver), and it's nice to be learning the constellations, et cetera, but folks, I RUN INTO stuff. Okay, once. But still. Sick of the dark.

Monday, October 19, 2009


I bribed Silas to rake the front lawn yesterday. Five bucks. That's big money in our house. And I tried to keep my expectations low: I remembered Swistle's excellent comment about when her two bigger kids help out: they are not very efficient or effective, and if they were a tool from Target she would totally ask for her money back, but the little bit that they can do is helpful. Plus, I reminded myself, there's the "building character" factor, although I've never been clear if this factor is negated if you pay the children. I vote no. Because as much as I wishity wish it, my kids aren't going to help out just from the sheer joy of contributing to the household.

But: he did it. The lawn actually looks raked this morning. Not, er, well-raked, but still: raked. Most of the grass is visible again. And there's an enormous pile of leaves in the back, covering up the half of the yard upon which grass does not grow. I haven't figured out a good way to measure Si's character, but I'm confident that it is bigger, or shinier, or whatever happens to it when it gets "built."

These are the kind of chore in which Si excels, anyway. Big, fun, messy, and--most important--limited. Bribery is like antibiotics to this kid: you can't prescribe it too often, or it loses its effectiveness. We tried paying him to mow the lawn (with a nonmotorized push mower, CPS people) last summer, and it worked great for about two times. Then he couldn't be bothered. Same with loading the dishwasher. "Again?" he wails, which I totally get, but still can't really sympathize. And of course we make both kids pick up their crap and put away their laundry. But overall, we're having less success with getting helping out around the house to become part of the daily routine. Chore charts are effective, but again only for about two weeks, and then we all start forgetting to fill them out. As much as I have always admired color-coordinated family chore calendars ("Joe washes the dishes on Tuesdays and Fridays, Ruth on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and Karin and Katey on Saturday and Sunday," etc.) I have never been able to actually write one out. It makes me feel a) controlling and b) like a total dork. And no matter what sort of chore arrangement we have as a family, "nagging" always seems to be my job.

What about you? How do you handle household chores?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Favorites

So I'm not going to go on here about how I inexplicably keep thinking of this job as a prison term/ David Copperfield child labor gig, but in honor of my occasional feelings of claustrophobia (you: and HOW is it you've held down a job all these years?), a Friday Favorites of the things I fantasize about doing (and which may or may not be impossible now that I am EMPLOYED):

1. Doing a two-week family road trip. This might be one of those childhood memories best left un-relived, but still, I'd like to find out instead of just letting this dream sink into oblivion.

2. Doing a writer's residency. I haven't done one since 2007, folks. I'm starting to get itchy.

3. Taking time off whenever Si's school has a holiday, which is approximately every other day. I want to take him to do fun mom-n-son outings! That I couldn't do when I didn't work because we couldn't afford it! Now that I can I don't have any tiiime! I think this one qualifies as a Middle-Class Sob Story (TM Tess).

I could go on, but those are the main things right now.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Alone in the house

Last night I got home and the only one there to greet me was the dog. The others were all out picking up Hubs' replacement cell phone from the FedEx office (reason #54 not to work: so you can be at home that one time each year you have to sign for a damn package). In other words: I was ALONE IN THE HOUSE. It was wonderful, in its own way. I could proceed from task to task calmly, without getting interrupted or distracted. I could finish what I started without ever having to take a break to find something for somebody, or remind someone not to leave their shoes in the middle of hallway, or make somebody an emergency snack. There was a minimum of yelling.

So, what did I do during this miraculous break? Made dinner, of course. And loaded the dishwasher. Small pleasures, people.

After dinner was made I did get to sit for about ten minutes with a glass of wine and a book. And then when the kids did get home they were busy keeping a secret so they bustled away into the back room with a lot of whispering, so I got to keep reading. Until I got scared out of my pants from the ghoulish thing from Scream, with a giggling Silas inside. And then a fairy ballerina wearing a familiar heart-spotted T-shirt came out. I guess they stopped at Target, too, and picked up costumes. After I was done screaming and appreciating the Scariness of the costume, I did ask Si a little wistfully--"So, no bat?" Last week he said he wanted to be a bat for Halloween, and even though I'm not really a costume-making kind of person, I jumped up and offered to make him one, since I loved the idea so much. I'm not sad not to have to make a bat costume (because when was I going to do that, exactly?). But I do miss the bat.

"You can still make a bat costume," Si said helpfully. "For yourself."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Lunch hour

People: I went for a hike on my lunch hour yesterday. I KNOW! I couldn't believe it myself. It was just so beautiful driving in, and I am beginning to get a little tired of walking the neighborhood streets, so I looked up the nearest trail on MapMyRun when I got to my desk. The nearest trail is six minutes away, you guys. (By car. Vroom vroom). And it's a real trail, not a bike path in somebody's back yard. It's behind the hogback, so it doesn't require the suspension of audial disbelief that a lot of Denver area trails need ("I am in naturrre. It is so peacefulll. Just ignore the sound of that busy highway a tenth of a mile away.") The views are spectacular. I saw bear poop (which, PSA to any bears that are reading: please avoid the plums. Your system just can't handle them.) It was absolutely fantastic (and, okay, it didn't take the thirty minutes that I had optimistically allotted it, but still: I was back at my desk within an hour). Plus: it was something I could not have done while working at home. Time, gas cost, fretting: I just wouldn't have done it.

So. There. Reason fifty-three I am glad to be working here.