Q1 Resolutions in Review

A new post in a new location! I moved my blog from my own domain to WordPress about a month ago, but this is the first actual post over here. Please update your feed readers, assuming you still use such a thing!

1. More letters.
I’m keeping up with my goal of one letter/week, but they’ve mostly been thank you notes. (I need to write more thank you notes as well.)

2. More books.
1/16 completed. Not great, but not too far behind.

3. More miles.
Running: 161/750 completed. I entered the Chicago marathon lottery in March, and am running the Illinois Half I-Challenge at the end of April. Running is feeling really good. I like my current training program, and my current running routes. I need to be more consistent about long runs, but the combination of winter and sickness has made this difficult.
Biking: 94/2000 completed. I just haven’t felt like riding lately. I’m not sure why that is.

4. More movies.
1/12 watched, but it was a big one! We took the baby to see Star Wars in the theater. He was unphased by the noise or explosions, but he definitely didn’t like the non-human creatures.

5. Less meat.
N is working on perfecting briami and the eggplant sauce from a favorite Italian restaurant. I’m playing with Persian food and crusty rice for bi bim bap. I don’t know that I’m eating less meat, but I am enjoying exploring vegetarian cooking.

6. Less debt.
We have a substantial amount of travel coming up in the next six months, including an extended trip to Belgium, so I don’t think that we’ll pay off all of my debt, but we’re making steady progress, which feels good.

7. Less complaining.
8. Less guilt and regret.
Works in progress, always.

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Bike to Work Week 2014

It’s Bike to Work Week in Chicago.

While I was an enthusiastic bike commuter in Champaign, I hung up my wheels for the first year I lived in Virginia. A bike commute wouldn’t have been impossible, but it would have been a miserably hilly 8.5 miles on busy city roads on a heavy steel bike from the 70s with approximately 2 available gears. A year later, I had a lighter single speed, a 7.5 mile commute along the Potomac, and a couple of coworkers living in the neighborhood, so biking to work was actually kind of a joy.

I did it!
Bike to Work Day 2009

Then came just-as-hilly Michigan, where my commute was uphill both ways, with stoplights at nearly every block for half of my commute. I had good intentions of biking and a dramatically shorter commute, but barely rode at all for the two years I lived there.

By comparison, biking in Chicago has been a joy. Yeah, I broke my arm (again). Yeah, I face-planted on Cermak last year and narrowly avoided getting hit by a truck. Yeah, I had a wheel stolen, and replaced a wheelset because roads on the south side are just terrible. Yeah, I tense up every time I bike on the open grating on many of the city’s bridges or over tracks that even slightly protrude from the road. Yeah, I get pissed off at drivers, at buses riding in the bike lane, at pedestrians not paying attention, at cyclists breaking the law.

But that doesn’t make it any less of a joy. It’s such a different way of being in the city. I can’t explain it any other way. Even on the worst of days – like Tuesday, when I did my 8 mile bike commute straight into 23mph winds – it’s better than driving, and easier than taking mass transit, at least for my commute.

Before I got pregnant, when we were first talking about the prospect of having a baby together, we argued about biking. I love it. It makes me incredibly happy. I’m also injury-prone (see above), and that’s not good for a baby. A friend’s husband and midwife banned her from biking when she was pregnant. It’s too risky.

We struck a compromise: no road bike during my pregnancy, but Divvy was OK as long as I was riding conservatively. When the weather finally improved, we spent a couple of long weekend afternoons riding Divvy on the lakefront – not too fast, not aggressive at all, just enjoying the weather and the view and the exercise. It felt amazing. N – who hadn’t been on a bike in the city until last fall – ventured onto the city streets with me. I had a serious case of bikeyface.

And so I’ve resumed biking to work a couple of days per week – 7-8 miles on Divvy via the lake or MLK Drive. I arrive at work sweaty, hungry, happy, and energized. I don’t have to go to the gym on my lunch. In the afternoon, I take the Metra, picking up a Divvy bike for the two miles between the station and home. It’s great.

My goal for Bike to Work Week was to ride at least one way, every day. I’m not sure I’ll make it the final day – 5 days of consecutive commutes on heavy bikes while six months pregnant have left me jelly-legged and exhausted, and besides, the weather’s going to be terrible – but I’m awfully happy that I was able to ride this week, and hope I can keep it up awhile longer. Besides, judging by the kicking, the baby seems to like it.

First bike commute of the year.

Morning commute #divvyon

Nice end to my day. #divvyon

2014 Resolutions

  1. Eliminate my credit card debt. I made progress in 2013 but not as much as I’d like.
  2. Bike 2,000 miles. A repeat from 2013. I made it more than halfway thanks to hacking my commute, which resulted in biking more than 500 miles in the last quarter of the year, so this should be easy enough.
  3. Bake one new pie per month. A repeat from 2012, when I made this resolution and then baked zero pies. Savory pies count, but not quiches, as I mastered them a number of years ago.
  4. Leave the country at least once. A repeat from 2013, with the added incentive of loved ones of my loved one living on another continent.
  5. Read 25 books. This was my goal for 2013, but I fell short by several books despite increased commute reading time.
  6. Score a new PR. This means either besting one of my 2013 times in the half or 5K, or running a new distance.
  7. Complete at least one item per month from my Chicago bucket list. Because if I don’t make a list, it won’t happen.

Better Than Driving

Lo these many months ago, I complained about my commute. I want to tell you about how that’s changed.

In July, Nicolas moved up to Rogers Park, and we commenced a back-and-forth schedule that left a number of friends scratching their heads as to how it was possible. Perhaps ‘possible’ is the wrong word. ‘Practical’? ‘Reasonable’? ‘Sane’?

To travel the 17.2 miles from his apartment in Rogers Park to Hyde Park, where I work, it takes:

  • 35-60+ minutes driving, depending on traffic + time to park
  • 75-90 minutes biking
  • 80+ minutes via mass transit (red line + 1-2 buses)

To travel the 11.8 miles from my apartment in the Ukrainian Village to Hyde Park, it takes:

  • 25-60+ minutes driving, depending on traffic + time to park
  • 60-70 minutes biking
  • 80+ minutes via mass transit (2 buses or 2 trains + 1 bus)

By September, I was totally burned out. I kept arriving white-knuckled and seething with hate after an hour sitting in traffic followed by 5-20 minutes spent looking for parking. ANYTHING had to be better than continuing to drive. The days when I biked to work from my apartment were a breeze in comparison, even though at least one leg of that commute was straight into said breeze. I was ready to try just about anything.

Enter the two crucial pieces of my new commute: Metra, which is commuter rail, and Divvy, which is Chicago’s new bikeshare program. And so about two months ago, I stopped driving to work altogether. In fact, since mid-September I’ve bought 3 tanks of gas, 2 of which were used in their entirety on a road trip. Considering my previous weekly mileage, that’s significant. And after some complicated spreadsheet acrobatics, I’m breaking even with a monthly rail pass and annual Divvy membership, if not saving money each month as long as I commute from Nicolas’s at least once/week. I’ll definitely be saving money when I factor in paying for parking ($6.50/hour!) when I have to go downtown for appointments twice a month .

An average morning now looks like this:

Rogers Park to Hyde Park:
7:35am: Rain or shine, Nicolas walks me to the Metra station .4 miles from his apartment.
7:49am: 20-25 minutes of reading on the train while making my way south to Ogilvie Station.
8:15am: Arrive downtown, but a little over a mile from my next train. Divvy to the rescue! Pick up a Divvy bike around the corner, then ride to Millennium Station. Dock bike and catch the 8:30 train.
8:30am: 15 minutes of reading on the train while making my way south to Hyde Park.
8:45am: Arrive in Hyde Park, and walk .6 miles to my office, arriving by 9am.

Ukrainian Village to Hyde Park:
8am: Ride my bike 4 miles to Millennium Station OR leave a few minutes earlier to walk .3 miles to pick up a Divvy bike, then ride downtown.
8:20: Arrive downtown. Carry my bike into the station to catch the 8:30 train.
8:30am: 15 minutes of reading on the train while making my way south to Hyde Park.
8:45am: Arrive in Hyde Park, and bike .6 miles to my office, arriving before 9am.

And the evening:

Hyde Park to Rogers Park:
4:45pm: An alarm goes off on my phone alerting me that I need to leave the office. Walk .6 miles to the Metra.
5:02pm: 15 minutes of reading or texting on the express train while making my way north to Millennium Station.
5:19pm: Arrive downtown. Pick up a Divvy bike and ride to Ogilvie Station. Dock bike, zip through the French Market to pick up a treat for dinner.
5:43pm: 15 minutes of reading on the express train north to Rogers Park.
5:59pm: Nicolas meets me at the train and we walk the .4 miles to his apartment.

Hyde Park to Ukrainian Village:
4:45pm: An alarm goes off on my phone alerting me that I need to leave the office. Change into biking clothes and ride .6 miles to the Metra.
5:02pm: 15 minutes of reading or texting on the express train while making my way north to Millennium Station.
5:19pm: Arrive downtown. Carry my bike out of the station and ride 4 miles home.
5:45pm: Arrive home.

When this commute works, it WORKS. When it doesn’t work – like the days when I’ve dawdled getting out of the house and so missed the last possible train that could get me to work on time, or the days when the skies open up, catching me unprepared, or the days when my leakproof thermos has soaked my bag in coffee – it’s a hassle, and there are tears involved – but my schedule is such that I can stay later to make up for a late arrival, and I have clothes in my office, and I can always buy another coffee. And it’s still better than driving.

I missed the train from Rogers Park last week, and so biked 10 miles south to catch the next train downtown. I did that ride in 40 minutes flat, straight into 11 mph winds. I had snot running down my face because it was too windy to take my hands off the handlebars. I arrived winded, and with a slightly pulled calf muscle, but I beat the next train coming from Rogers Park, and I got to work with a tough workout under my belt and a cup of coffee from Intellgentsia to sweeten the morning. Better than driving.

This all probably sounds like an enormous hassle, but I can’t even tell you how much happier I am. My schedule is more regimented, but it also means I’ve carved out time for things that I love and are good for my mental health: every single day I get at least 2 miles on my bike and 30 minutes of reading (or just uninterrupted downtime). Nicolas meets me at the train when I go up to his house, and nearly every day for the first month I arrived bubbling over with excitement and energy and happiness instead of hating everything on the planet after spending 15 minutes circling his neighborhood trying to find a parking spot. So much better than driving.

First #panda on #Divvy, the new Chicago bike share program.

Contents of my bike bag, Thursday, October 10, 2013.

#dailytights #panda. #yearofnopants with 2 months to go!

Last Weekend

A pretty good fortune after a really good lunch.

There are so many ways in which the life I have in Chicago is not the life that I imagined a year ago when a life in Chicago was still just the glimmer of an idea. There are lots of days that are hard, and lots of days that are lonely, and lots of days when I think about getting the hell out of here. But then there are weekends and weeks like this one, full of moments and events that were beyond the reach of my imagination a year ago – running a sub-2 hour half in my vinyl dress, riding my bike all over the city, drinks and dinner and brunch with so many new friends, impossibly happy late-night texts, dancing til 2 on a Thursday, crying like a baby at New Order – and then I stopped, realizing that I couldn’t possibly capture all of the ways and times I felt my heart swell over those few days.

If you’re reading this – if you’re a part of my life in any small way – thank you, thank you, thank you. For holding me through this last year. For loaning me your steam cleaner. For sending me real mail. For calling me out on my shit. For picking up the check, or letting me pick up the check. For longer walks than either of us expected. For the bourbon and the coffee. For over a thousand texts in under two months. For the yoga and the dancing and the bike maintenance and mentorship. For you, all of you, all of the time. My heart is so full, you guys.

Things I Miss About Champaign

I’ve been meaning to make this list for a long time, but Gemma’s recent photos have pushed me to actually writing it up.  My feelings for Champaign are all wrapped up in my grad school experience, my first really fulfilling (and challenging) professional job, and a prolonged period of personal growth and experimentation between the end of my marriage and the beginning of my relationship with Shane – so lots of complicated, complicating things factor into my relationship with that little city in the corn.

  1. Riding my bike down University towards GSLIS early in the morning in the summer – empty roads and the sun coming up through the trees.  A 7 minute commute on a good day.  And then the long months when I couldn’t ride because my arm was in a cast.
  2. West Side Park.  Living across from West Side Park.  Walking home through West Side Park after a long shift at Aroma or a movie at the Art or a too-late night at Mike & Molly’s.
  3. Coffee and sandwiches at Paradiso.  Consistently good music on the stereo.  The smoking section at Paradiso, barely partitioned off by a row of ficus trees.  Books or homework on the “patio”.  Paradiso’s perfect imperfectness.
  4. Living near downtown Champaign, where I never paid more than $500 for a one bedroom apartment, and even that included utilities.  My first solo apartment directly across from the park.  My studio apartment that never really got above 50 degrees in the winter, but that in the summer offered the most fabulous porch for parties.  The apartment with the Wild Things on the wall and the yellow kitchen.  Our last place on Clark, where we rented the entire ground floor for around $750, planted our first garden, spent $300+ on heat in the winter, and enjoyed the mixed blessing of a screened-in entryway – great for cats in the sun, not great for cats escaping.
  5. Saturday mornings at the Urbana farmers’ market, bringing home things I didn’t recognize and that would eventually go bad in the fridge. Splurging on fancy cheese, meat, and a croissant from Art Mart.  Riding our bikes to the market and bringing a dedicated backpack for watermelon or canteloupe.
  6. Friday afternoon Revolution Lunch at Jerusalem Restaurant with my favorite nutters.  The food was fine, but the company was effing crazy.  I’m glad to hear that it hasn’t changed.
  7. French toast at Sam’s, where Shane and I went for breakfast one of the first times he spent the night.  We drew maps of our hometowns on the rectangular napkins.  In case you ever forget, the special is at the top.
  8. Late nights studying at Merry Ann’s with Sarah and Nicole, drinking TERRIBLE coffee and eating fries and goofing around with the servers.  Going to Merry Ann’s at bar time, ordering a grilled cheese sandwich, and being in and out in under 10 minutes.  Greg and I standing on the booth and singing happy birthday to Mark, who brought us screwdrivers mixed in the back.  Hanging out with Shane for the first time after Carl and I had gone to see 2046, all three of us wasted but on totally different things (exhaustion, alcohol, an emotionally weighty movie).  Many many plates of fries before Subversion.
  9. Boltini bingo.  We went almost every week the last summer we lived there, but I didn’t win ANYTHING until my very last card on my very last bingo.  Marv gave me his oversized clapper, which I kept until we moved to Michigan.
  10. AromaWorking at Aroma.  Drinking mojitos outside Aroma in the spring of 2003.  Working 20 hour days (Aroma + Carle) in the fall of 2004 when it was easier to not sleep than to deal with my heartbreak.  10 hour kitchen shifts with all New Order all the time, getting fake engaged to Sam, smoking out front with Carl and Erich and Leah in the summer.  Ryan’s shark mug and Dave catching flies out the air.  Flirting with customers who became friends.  Coffee grounds permanently under my fingernails.  A good place and a good time, though definitely not the best coffee in the world.
  11. Symposium at the Esquire, and the Esquire in general.  For at least the first year after we left Champaign, I would often sigh and say that I just wanted to go the Esquire for dinner – cheap beer, cheap bar food, endless bowls of peanuts.  Always the same, never disappointing – just a solid townie bar.
  12. The Blind Pig in the winter of 2004-2005.  Holding hands with Carl on my 25th birthday.  A snowball fight in the middle of the night in the middle of Walnut Street.  It’s still a great bar, and I know Shane misses it greatly, but (oh this is so hipster) I stopped truly loving it when the sign went up.
  13. Swimming laps in the outside pool at IMPE in the summer of 2005.  I had started exercising that spring, but realized after my first botched length that Curves had nothing on laps in the 50 meter pool.  Sunshine, chlorine, hard work, bliss.
  14. Sunday nights at Bentley’s – our Local Neighborhood Bar – with the GSLIS crew.  Beth’s Bloody Marys and Blue Moons adorned with loads of snacks.  So many games of Bohnanza that we bought a second copy – one for the bar, another for occasions when we were less likely to spill drinks.  Planning our first Bonnaroo, celebrating our first NYE, eating a whole lot of miniature pizzas.
  15. Gyne instruction totally changed my understanding of my own body, and of the range of what constitutes ‘normal’.  I am so thankful for having the opportunity to work with such a remarkable group of women and to become empowered to advocate for my own health.  In the years since, a number of friends have felt comfortable asking me about gyne health stuff because they knew I had this experience and was willing to talk about it openly.  What a remarkable gift.
  16. Porch parties at my place on Springfield.  There weren’t many of them, but oh, they were wonderful.
  17. So much enduring love for Cafe Kopi.  I can’t believe I lived in Champaign almost a year before I found it, and can’t believe I haven’t found a comparable spot since.  Actually, I can believe it.  Kopi has something really special going on.  The coffee and food aren’t remarkable, but they’re solidly good, as are the staff and the ambiance.  I spent way too many nights doing my grad school reading over their cafe miels and tuna salad salads – and swatting away the ever-present flies on the patio.  Those things will survive the apocalypse, I swear.
  18. Mike & Molly’s may be my most favorite bar ever.  Shane preferred the Blind Pig, but my heart belongs to M&M.  Lots of nights reading with a beer, hanging out with townie friends, dancing to music played in the loft by friends.  Someone – Tim? Steve? – trying to explain darts to me.  The chalkboard in the bathroom.  Knowing that I was a regular when I forgot my ID and the bartender vouched for me to the doorman.  The bar’s vignette in Tell Me Do You Miss Me.  Carl arranging for my induction into Pi Omega Omega on my next-to-last night in town.
  19. Nox/Subversion and the year that saw me on the dance floor almost every week.  I told Shane recently that I missed out on being a raver girl because I didn’t live in a big city in my early 20s.  Instead, I had Tuesday nights at the High Dive with Emily and Jim playing the music I always wanted to listen to but didn’t know how to discover on my own.  Saturday nights with Tim in the booth and reciprocal pants protection with Shane and Karin.  Meeting Brian and Ben and Kristina and so many others.  Dancing when I was sick, dancing when my heart was breaking, dancing when I’d had too much to drink, dancing on the patio in the pouring rain.
  20. And then there’s everything about GSLIS: getting my job, making my friends, meeting Shane, finding a career path, getting a real job, discovering and falling in love with and then hating and then loving research.  All the wonderful, remarkable, challenging, and exceptional people who over the years became friends, colleagues, trusted associates, and family.  I can’t even begin to articulate the ways that this school changed my life.

Ultimately, though, what I miss is being able to walk everywhere – and the fact that wherever I went, I would run into someone I knew.  Hell, it’s been four years and that is still often the case.  And it goes without saying that the people and relationships made Champaign my home, but there are far too many of them to list here.

Bike Angst

I really want to ride my bike.

I miss being a bike commuter. I miss the ride to GSLIS from our house, 7 minutes flat on a good day. I miss feeling superior in January when I would arrive at work in a bundle of layers. I miss the freedom of being able to hop on Yellow and go wherever I wanted in town.

I miss biking into DC. I didn’t do it all that many times, but it was An Adventure: crossing the GW Parkway and riding up along the river, past National airport, over the Memorial Bridge, then up the brutal hill on 23rd by the State Department, arriving at work jelly-legged and drenched in sweat, but secure in the knowledge that I could shower at the gym.

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=104087

Shane has a new bike, and on Monday we set off for work together, resolved to be bike commuters once again. But here’s the thing: I fucking hate biking in Ann Arbor.

My commute is literally up hill both ways.  The route to work is more downhill than uphill, but the uphill parts are situated in the midst of a series of one-ways and stoplights – as in, a light at every block for the last mile of my commute – making it impossible to build up or sustain any momentum.  In the course of a one-way commute, I gain and lose 100 feet of elevation, all on my single-speed bike.  The Statue of Liberty is 93 feet tall, just for the record.

While in most places, a bike is treated as a vehicle and so expected to be on the road, in A2, that seems to be up to the discretion of the cyclist.  This means that cyclists are on and off the sidewalks, in and out of the roads, riding wherever they damned well please – which then means that drivers don’t know what is going on and respond as erratically as the cyclists behave.  This means that today, Shane nearly collided with a cyclist running a red light (or possibly going the wrong way against traffic?), while I was almost hit by a car that ran a stop sign.

I’ve complained about the roads before.  They’re terrible.  This is even more noticeable when you have an uncomfortable seat, and when you’re trying to avoid getting hit by cars or doored while also trying to avoid seams, cracks, and potholes in the poorly maintained pavement.  Shane nearly wiped out in the gravel at the foot of our driveway, and I skidded on a crack in the road today.

In short, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not worth it to try to ride my bike to work.  I arrive in a seriously disheveled and sweaty state and often in a foul mood from the exertion and annoyance of the ride.  I rolled into work this morning and had no willpower to resist Oreos in the breakroom.  I took a different route home and arrived in tears, winded and sore.  I thought that changing out the freewheel would help – and it has – but I’m still actively unhappy on almost every ride, and that’s just not worth it.  Sorry, Orange Porange.  Maybe we can have adventures in another city.