Monday, April 21, 2008

Bikes out, so are the idiots, and I have road rage

Bikes out, so are the idiots, and I have road rage

Well, well, we've finally had a few weather days worthy of saddling up and I am happy to say that I didn't puke on my first great ascent, although I sure as heck felt like it. It was an awful stroke of reality, that near puke, as I was not riding over some mountain or even up some mountain worthy of the heaves, but rather some stinking (central) Iowa roller with a cross wind that made standing up incredibly difficult. Details. Excuses. Call them what you will. I have a ways to go.

But then, we all have a ways to go when it comes to our collective fitness at this early stage of the season no matter where our geographic location may be. So while my former Washington riding buddies are thowing down another can of cold Rainier at the top of Galbraith or stopping for a microbrew in Bow over the top of Chuckanut Pass, I will get my yucks elsewhere. When I figure out where, I will be sure and let you know, but all signs say Woodward at Mr. C's... which is another story for another day.

In the meantime, I plan to bitch about how increbibly ignorant and clueless Iowa drivers seem to be when it comes to bikes. I will give you that after a long cold winter it takes some time to train the general population on actually seeing bicycles, and this generally comes with some practice. The weather gets warmer, more people ride and the behavior tends to improve. But cripes, I was run off the road and onto the shoulder twice in one ride yesterday...and needless to say it's not because it was a long ride. It was also perfectly open road. A highway. Sun high in the sky. And no cars coming in any other direction. In fact both times, there were no cars in any direction as far as I could see aside from the one trying to kill me.

A little road etiquitte for you: if there are no oncoming cars on a two lane highway, there is no law, rule or other asinine reason suggesting you drive by me on my bike at 80 mph in your car or oversized truck and your way by scrape off my handlebar tape. Two lanes, two modes of transportation--that's one lane for me and one for you. SHARE. Or heck, I don't take up much space, tend to ride on the white line on the side of the highway, please just move over enough so that the backdraft doesn't suck me off my seat as you speed by. And one more thing, if you are so inclined to honk, make cat calls, obscene gestures, hang out the window, wave furiously, or whistle while you drive by, hang on to the goddamned steering wheel. I can assure you I look better on my saddle than I look as a hood ornament.

After my second foray into the muck that was called a shoulder and nearly catapulting over my handlebars (but recovering with grace, flipping the asswipe off, and not even clicking out) I decided perhaps it might be a good idea to live to see Monday (although I am not sure why in retrospect). I rolled back into town and decided to hit the trail back from the ISU Research Park through the Vet College, across campus and through Brookside Park. Some idea that was.
The trails were busy yesterday and while the bulk of those frequenting them were adhering to the basics, there were a few particularly annoying people I met along the way:

1. A gaggle of four sorority sisters (and I know they were sorority sisters because they were wearing identifying t-shirts--so cute!) speedwalking hip to hip who refused to break stride and make room for oncoming traffic. To you: next time I will ride right through the middle of your "event" and THEN I will laugh and laugh as I run YOU off the trail. And then I will make your daddy buy me a new bike.

2. A person LAYING DOWN on the trail along the mighty Skunk. To you: I understand the river was hypnotizing yesterday especially near the dam but for god's sake...laying down, and on a curve? To you: next time I will ride my Kona and I will ride right over you. And as you examine the tread marks I leave on your face I will speed off and chalk up your idiocy to Darwinism.

3. Two college aged male rollerbladers (seriously, didn't rollerblading die in the 80's?) gawking at the teenaged skateboarders at the Skate Park and taking up the entire trail. I hit the brakes, and while approaching yell "bike on your left."

Rollerblader number one turns, looks at me with an expressionless blank stare. Rollerblader number two turns, looks at me with an expressionless blank stare.

I yell, "bike on your left."

Rollerblader two moves right. Sweet. One down, one to go.

I yell again, "bike on your left."

Insert stupid blank stare...the smarter of my two rollerblader friends says, "DUDE, move over!" and then in slow motion the less smart of my two rollerblader friends JUMPS directly in front of my bike, which is already off the trail and now the street because my stupid rollerblader friend has indeed moved but he's jumped even further into my path.

To you: you are an idiot and deserve to fall and break your wrist. And I am fairly certain that when I tell you that you are an idiot at the moment when you leap in front of my bike and force me onto the road or into your groin that immediately thereafter you are not going to catch me with all your gangly arms flailing when you try yell obscenities and skate after me telling me you are going to knock me off my bike. Again, to you: you are a complete idiot.

It's Biker Road Rage.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Anti Biking Laws Proposed

Cycling Friends,

The following is a posting on the listserv. I will refrain from further comment until I can dream up some diplomatic way to address what a complete load this all is.

This is a heads up on a proposal that is being considered in Jackson County
and maybe all counties. We will be informing you when these ordinances are
being drafted and when they are scheduled on an agenda. We desperately need
cyclists to take action and go to the meetings, contact their elected
officials, and stop this in it's tracks.

*Cycling Ordinance being considered by Jackson County*

The proposed ordinance for counties was distributed at a recent meeting of
the Iowa County Engineers Association. It looks like a private effort, not
endorsed by ICEA, and it does not appear on the ICEA website.

Provisions include requiring a permit to hold a Cycling Event using county
roads, a 60 day lead time, a permit fee, proof of insurance for the Event, a
certificate of additional insured, an Appeal process for an aggrieved
person, revocation conditions, and a fine for violating the permit terms. A
Cycling Event is defined at 30 cyclists (reduced to 20 by the Jackson County
Board) where the event is publicly advertised and/or has an entry fee or

Monday, April 7, 2008

Start Seeing Bikes--Another Member of the Cycling Family Killed

The following is an excerpt from the Bike listserv:

Randy VanZee was struck and killed instantly by a vehicle from behind as he was riding west into the setting sun near his home last evening. It doesn't seem possible that yet another of our treasured friends could die so violently and senselessly. I'm sure we all recall his valiant spirit and kind heart so clearly demonstrated during his RAAM participation. I will personally miss Randy as will we all. The sport of UltraCycling lost one of its most valiant supporters.


As I spend more time in the saddle and slowly find myself surrounded by more cyclists, I realize that the idea of getting hit by a car is not necessarily and "if" scenario, but more likely a "when" scenario. Just last summer as a friend was mountain biking in Colorado, his group came off a trailhead in Breckenridge and one rider was leveled by a car. It was this rider's first car/bike altercation on his mountain bike, and his second car/bike crash of the year.

A fellow Team Evil Cyclist nearly lost his life two years ago commuting home one night, and my ex-, another from the Evil camp suffers from the lingering effects of a car/bike commuter crash from five years ago. The stories pile up.

Bicycling Magazine frequently runs chilling accounts of fallen cyclists. This is one that profiles a few of the more than 7,000 killed this decade. While I am sure the VanZee family will likely seek comfort in the knowledge that Randy died doing something he loved, his death is a chilling reminder of the danger we all face each time we saddle up.

BOOK: Marathoning for Mortals

What to do when it is so ass biting cold that you cannot possibly run outside? Why read about running, of course. I will write more on this later too.

BOOK: The Memory of Running

I will write more later.

MOVIE: Who the $&% Is Jackson Pollock

I am taking a History of Modern Art class this semester and the other day we watched this film. The wind was blowing about a hundred miles an hour this day and I can assure you that I was not at all happy about walking across campus to watch a movie--until I watched this movie. It was just plain fantastic.

I have all sorts of things to say about this documentary, but at the moment I need to work more. So I will just let it sit here until I have more time. That said, in the meantime, watch it. It's hysterical, thought provoking, quirky and somewhat tragic (if you are a believer in the purity of art that is).

BOOK: Life of Pi

I will write something about this book later. It's a bit strange and I haven't yet decided how I feel about it. I shall check in with myself and get back with you shortly....

BOOK: Family Dog

My friend Scott gave me this book one night as we were lamenting the state of the world over a bottle of merlot. He has three very well behaved chesapeak bay retreivers who remind me of cartoon characters. Their personalities are distinctly different, and recently when Scott went away I spent some quality time with his dogs. Or I should say, two of three of his dogs. It was about fifty below outside and the third, a female who hates women (much like Scott himself) wouldn't come out of her kennel. Not without Scott. The other two, both males; they loved me, they loved on me, they loved around me, and one night, they even accompanied me into the bathroom to watch me pee in what might have been one of the most entertaining experiences of my life. To say that these dogs are well trained would be a mild understatement. Scott's dogs are his children and his family and while they are spoiled rotten, they are also tough as nails and well behaved. Naturally, Scott does not hesitate to criticize the paltry dog training skills of those of us lucky enough to call ourselves his friends, and he is always willing to offer help and suggestions as we struggle to control our mutts...whether we like it or not.

Scott's well behaved purebreds are a sharp contrast to my dogs. I have two. One is a mutt with a bit of napoleon's complex; half black lab, half australian shepherd. She can jump six feet in the air from all fours, is a vindictive pooper (read: piss her off and she'll poo), she listens when it's convenient and if she gets too excited she'll tinkle on the floor. She is also loyal to a fault, the best spooner on the planet and easily the smartest dog I've been around in my life. The other is a few fries shy of a HappyMeal golden retreiver. He is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful goldens I've seen in my life, and yet perhaps also one of the dumbest.

Scott loves to rib me about my lack of dog training skills. When my golden was a puppy the dog catcher kept getting called to my house while I was at work. He would burrow his way out of my fence, through my fence, or over my fence, around my fence, and these office ladies who worked nearby would coax him over to the fence to pet him, and then he'd try to leave with them, get stuck and then they'd call the doggie police to "rescue" him. I'd relay these stories to Scott over beers at night and he would point and make fun of me. After offering some futile tidbits of advice I think Scott got sick of listening to these stories so he gifted me a shock collar to try and get my 80 pound puppy in line. I was adamant against the shock collar at first, but faced with the bitchy walking lunch hour ladies who kept calling the doggie police and the possiblity of losing my dog, I acquiesed. Another beer, and I reported back: the shock collar didn't work. Scott laughed his butt off, told me I didn't turn it up high enough.

I cranked it. The dog barely noticed the thing around his neck, didn't even jump.
Another beer, and I reported back: it still didn't work. Again, Scott laughed his butt off at me.
Then he told me my dog was hopeless and ordered us both another round.

So now it's about five years later and he's apparently regained some hope in me. I should also note that Scott and me, we evolved too--we switched to wine. A couple months ago we are discussing my vindictive pooper dog, and he jumps up from his big leather chair and whips open his kitchen cupboard (read: bachelor) and throws me this book. Read this, he says.

So throughout the course of the next few days, I make my way through the thing, and I become more depressed with each passing chapter. I recognize these behaviors that my dogs most definitely do not possess and I also recognize how long it must have taken Scott to cultivate these behaviors in his own little family of four legged lovers. And now, finally finished, I am pleased to report that I have forever lost hope in myself. I am an awful dog trainer mom. My dogs will always be little clones that I am trying to create into miniature human beings in my likeness and because I love on them the way that I do, they will forever be naughty. Pass the merlot.

BOOK: The Glass Castle

It doesn't take a long look over my posts to learn that I have quite an affinity for the memoir. I am a sucker for a finely crafted story, especially one's own. There is something so vulnerable, pure and admirable about a writer's ability to pull oneself just far enough from life's shit in order to tell their own story objectively; and at the same time, it is necessary to stay wholly immersed in the shit in order to tell one's own story truthfully and successfully.

This is hands down, one of the best memoirs I've read in years. They say in writing classes that the best fiction reads like nonfiction and the best nonfiction reads a whole lot like fiction. This is a book that should be waved around as an example in each class where the professor preaches this gospel. It's astonishing, unbelievable, and utterly hilarious. The last book I read with this intensity was Grisham mystery. I couldn't put it down. And allow me to remind you, it's a memoir.

Her story is likely something that you will not on any level relate to, but yet somehow it is still just utterly gripping. Walls grows up in a situation you wouldn't wish on anyone, especially a child, but her authoritative voice, witticisms and gentle detachment are just plain astonishing, all encompassing, and somehow at the same time tragic and side splittingly funny.

I am out of adjectives. Read it.

BOOK: Listening Is an Act of Love

My friend Scott says you know you are getting old when you start obsessing over talk radio. If this is in fact true, I've been old for quite some time now. And frankly, I find that my obsession continues to grow. When I lived in Bellingham, I chalked it up to not having any decent radio stations nearby. The mountain pass between Seattle and Bellingham eliminated all the great Seattle choices (KEXP), and most of what the dial picked up was Canadian stations.

Here's a little known fact: there is actually a law in Canada that says that Canadian stations must play the songs of a certain number of Canadian born artists per hour. Oh the pain of it all. I dig Alanis Morissette but my goodness, you can only hear so much Alanis and Bryan Adams before you are about to poke your own eyes out with a hot iron.

Now I am in Iowa and the radio stations suck here too, but there's really no good reason for it here, they just suck. It's no secret, I hate big radio and get pissed off just thinking about that whole machine; I stream indy stations whenever possible. And I recently acquired a new laptop without a sound card; so needless to say, I listen to a whole bunch of NPR.

I love something different about each NPR segment and now cannot sit at my computer and accomplish much of anything without NPR playing. It makes me smart by osmosis, fills my mind with lots of useless facts I then pepper on my friends, and yes, Scott, it makes me feel very old.

One of the greatest segments on NPR plays once a week; and I became completely enthralled with it after I heard its first airing: The StoryCorps Project.

The Project seeks the stories of ordinary Americans. A mother might interview her child, or a husband a wife, or two friends. They are recorded in a simplistic traveling booth, archived, and excerpts are replayed each Friday morning. The intonation of voices, the pauses for breath, even the tears, and sometimes the sobs are captured on tape. It's powerful and somehow not really fit for description in prose. If you have never heard the weekly segment, you can and should download the excerpts each week on

All that said, if you want more than the recordings, you can have that too. StoryCorps just released a book of excepts of a few of the recordings. While with the prose you lose the guttural noises, the inflection of voice, and the power of silent space in conversation; you gain an ability to assign your own voice to the characters, and to physically hold in your hands a piece of their lives, history, and a tremendous celebration of the lives of a few ordinary people. You also get to see their pictures at the end of each segment.

The idea behind the StoryCorps project is that each and every human being has a story worth telling. And that each and every human's story is truly what we should be celebrating in this life; that they are far more interesting and notable than some freaky sensationalistic Hollywood dream.

This idea of taking an ordinary person's story and crafting it into something worth telling is something that we talk about a lot in writing classes, and something that spoke to me years ago when I began teaching nonfiction writing class at a prison. I thought of many of my students' stories as I read this; many of them would not have been able to write them, but they could perform them, or tell them. I wanted to see them in this book.

Listening Is An Act of Love is a coffee table book that can be taken and digested in parts or in one setting. You will undoubtedly be compelled to want more from these ordinary folks, as well as you will want to glean ordinary stories from those you love.

You'll want to listen more. Talk less.

BOOK: A Thousand Splendid Suns

It is always with great hesitation that I purchase an artist's second CD, that I purchase an author's second book. The record and publishing businesses of corporate churn and burn all too frequently disappoint. This might explain why I carried around, and then put back A Thousand Splendid Suns about fifteen times before I purchased and then read it.
Thankfully, it did not fall into the all too familiar, cliché category of failed sophomore efforts. I did not find myself bawling my eyes out as I did when I read The Kite Runner, but I was fully vested in the characters and can report that the book held my attention to the point that I did not sleep a wink on a 2,000 mile plane trip. This is a feat; given that I have flight induced narcolepsy and cannot recall the last time I stayed awake long enough to see the drink cart.

The book was another great read to help me with my process of trying to understand and unravel the complexities in a region plagued by years and years of war. That said, my quest to understand this region, and these wars are a little like going to college for the first time, the more you know, the less you realize you truly know. But I keep reading….

Without telling too much, A Thousand Splendid Suns dovetails the lives of two women. Both have their coming of age in completely separate environments, and later in their lives (or by our perception as they near adolescence) they find themselves thrown together under unthinkable circumstances. The two mix like nutmeg and fennel in the beginning, and then slowly find themselves bound to one another with a loyalty and fierceness that I would argue no woman borne under what we call normal circumstances will ever fully comprehend or understand.

Their story is a beautiful tribute to the powerful and inexplicable bond created between two women. It is also a love story; a tragedy and a history lesson. It is about survival and redemption and hope. And if you are feeling sorry for yourself in any way shape or form when you read this book; this too will pass.

BOOK: Eat, Pray, Love

I was running through the Seattle airport about a year ago; on my way for a long, free I might add, weekend in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The plan was simple: lie on the beach, sip cocktails, soak in the sun. Repeat.

During the dark dreary days of winter in the Pacific Northwest, you don't tend to see the sun much; perhaps ever if you work a standard day. This transplant needed a healthy of Vitamin D something fierce. I had the aloe, the margarita shaker, the bikini…but, I realized as I ran to my departing gate, no book!

My plane was boarding so there wasn't time for reading cover flaps, pithy New York Times reviews, inside pages, or the like. I grabbed Elizabeth Gilbert's, Eat, Pray, Love. It was the little noodles fashioned into the word EAT lain just so across the cover that did it for me. I like to eat. I like to eat noodles. They swiped my credit card and a few seconds later I slid into my seat; huffing and puffing with a sense of accomplishment like I'd just run some sort of marathon.

An hour later we are en route and passing cocktails back and forth and I am reading passages from this book to a male co-worker. He is thoroughly amused. Okay, he's a nice guy and could have cared less. He just happens to be one of those guys who know we women like being listened to and he appeased me. And then he continued to buy me more drinks and eventually my vision blurred and I stopped reading for awhile when he reminded me that I'd only bought one book and if I didn't stop reading now, I'd be done with the book before we even arrived at said beach.

That said, within 24 hours of my arrival in Mexico, I'd blown through the book it its entirety. It was so…perfect. So…me at just that moment in time. The book is autobiographical in nature; and follows the path of a forlorn, lovesick Gilbert as she tries to pull together the pieces of her life post divorce. Thankfully, the book is not so much about Gilbert's messy divorce as it is about her quest to find her true voice and to deliberately craft for herself a new life built from conscious intention rather than circumstance and motion. To do this, she lands herself a healthy book bonus and heads overseas, beginning a year long self-discovery journey. She spends the first four months in Italy, experiencing the sensory pleasures of food and language. She then travels to India to do yoga and meditate; and then to Bali, ultimately learning how to blend the spiritual, esoteric understanding of self and ultimately find out how to balance the act. The book is her journey and is filled with so many passages that stopped me dead in my reading tracks. Like this one:

"I have boundary issues with men. Or maybe that's not fair to say. To have issues with boundaries, one must have boundaries in the first place, right? But I disappear into the person I love. I am the permeable membrane. If I love you, you can have everything. You can have my time, my devotion, my ass, my money, my family, my dog, my dog's money, my dog's time—everything. If I love you, I will carry for you all your pain, I will assume for you all your debts (in every definition of the word), I will protect you from your own insecurity, I will project upon you all sorts of good qualities that you have never actually cultivated in yourself and I will buy Christmas presents for your entire family. I will give you the sun and the rain, and if they are not available, I will give you a sun check and a rain check. I will give you all this and more, until I get so exhausted and depleted that the only way I can recover my energy is by becoming infatuated with someone else."

So at the risk of divulging too much information, allow me to just say that at the very moment I read this particular passage, my two little nostrils might have been an eighth of an inch out of the muck of trying to wade through a particularly similar boundaries quandary myself. Finding someone who in prose alone is willing to be self deprecating, brutally honest and genuine was like breathing in a whole mouthful of salty ocean air after waking up and finding you've been chewing a piece of shitty gum for months.

I also had at that particular moment a few thousand other problems that seemed to have crept into my life and I was painfully desperate for a girlfriend who understood; who was fully willing to rip on me for all of them so that I could truly get myself in a space to be self reflective, laugh, cry and move forward. While I didn't find the girlfriend, I found the book. I've read it three times since. And when I did find the girlfriend, I passed it on to her. And when my other girlfriend Heather called from Chicago, we cracked open respective bottles of wine 2,000 miles apart one night and I read it to her. She ran out and got it, and passed it on to her friends. And now Oprah put it on her list of favorite things and I feel I've been outed, or perhaps my opinion is somehow invalidated to some.

Nonetheless, you should still read it. You should read it if you are a man because it will help you to see how crazy we women really are and I say that in the most respectful way possible. You should read it if you are a woman because I guarantee, if you read it in January, or July, or August or December, you will surely find some page that speaks to you; that makes you want to pack your shit and move, take a trip somewhere, or maybe just begin to believe again...or to remember to pray.

BOOK: Three Cups of Tea

Given that the state of Iowa is swarming with presidential hopefuls, this book has never been more timely. For what it's worth, I've heard nothing in all the rhetoric blanketing our state that remotely resembles a war "exit strategy" of this sort--one that actually takes into consideration the true rebuilding of those places we systematically just destroyed.

The book is the story of Greg Mortenson's effort to educate the rural people, in particular girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It's a strategy that was proven to work as a means of empowering people in that region long before we dropped the first bombs in Afghanistan. It's a strategy that politicians should be talking about as they throw terms around like exit strategy and point fingers at one another for who said what and supported what and when. Mortenson is a guy who walks the talk of self accountability at a level that most of us will only ever read/dream about.
I have about 25 pages to go and then will write a more thorough review, but I had three friends call me in the past week and ask for reading suggestions (its no secret that I am blowing through books in these chilly days of no rooms to paint/no bike to ride!). This is one for the "must read" list.

BOOK: Drunk Divorced and Covered In Cat Hair

I hate cats. I am sure they are a fine pet for some, but I find them to be entirely too skittish and when I am around them they turn me into some sort of red eyed lunatic. Not only do I tend to have the desire to claw my eyes out within about five seconds of our shared space; they make me wheeze and sneeze to the point that inanimate objects tend to dislodge themselves from my organs.

I also do not knit, nor do I have plans to become a "stitchin' bitcher" at any point in my immediate future. I can just hear my smartass friends saying, "Crazier shit has happened, Ali," And you know, they are probably right about that.

However, I have been known to point and laugh at women (and even one man) who brought their knitting materials to Friday pint night at Boundary Bay Brewery and proceed to shun all conversation with others as they sat, counted stitches, and drank water. The sin of it all. Water? Allow me to assure you, there are people out there (and you know who you are) who have tried to lure me to the dark side and sign me up for this knitting thing many times. I'm not folding, even though I have a healthy obsession with stocking hats and am pretty sure it'd be somewhat satisfying to start cranking out my own.

So why in the hell did I read this book? I have no idea other than to say that the first two words spoke to me on some level: Drunk. Divorced. I have been drunk. I have not been divorced, although I feel I've been through what feels like a divorce sans the official piece of paper. And it's still a bit um, fresh. And this was not a self-help book, god forbid, but it was someone who apparently had been there done that, and I happened to need that type of therapy that day.
I mentioned in previous posts that I recently spent a very lonely Saturday at Border's; spending gobs of money on all kinds of entertainment for myself as I tried to figure out what to do with myself on an ass biting cold Iowa afternoon. I had earlier that day had my first "Oh shit, what in the hell have I done by moving back to this place?" moment. It was cold. My son was away. I was on strike from work. I had plenty of groceries. My laundry was folded. I had already been to the gym...twice. I took a bath for the first time in about five years. I shaved my legs. Allow me to repeat myself, I shaved my legs. I had no clue what to do with myself.

Given that I am a take the bull by the horns kind of gal, I plopped my ass on the carpet and decided to make a list of my "hobbies and interests." I would complete my hobby list, choose one of these hobbies, and have myself an enjoyable afternoon. I got to work. The list went something like this: Bikram yoga, biking (mountain), biking (road), snowboarding, running, travel (seeing new places), hiking....

I was proud of my diligence. I was motivated. I was thinking this might be a real productive day for me. I was, as they say, bullish. I straightened myself up, looked back over my work and all at once it occured to me that I'd moved myself approximately 1,500 miles from the place where I could do each and every one of these things on any given day. And then, I proceeded to bawl my eyes out.

What in the hell have I done? What do I like to do, or more specifically what can I do in this freaking flat and windy deep freeze? Do I really not have one hobby that I can accomplish on what was now turning into a shitty, shitty day? Did I allow myself to lose so much of who I am in my recently failed relationship that I no longer knew how to entertain myself? Did I really spend as much time as my therapist said trying to make my partner happy and in turn completely lose myself? Too many questions, for which I had exactly not one answer. I did know one thing: I needed to get out of the house fast or this spiraling mind f-c* was going to go from bad to worse.

I am not much of a shopper, but I could spend days in a good book store. Unfortunately, Borders is about all we've there I was, lugging piles of books under one arm, while I scanned one CD after another and sampled tunes from artists whose CDs I had no intention of buying with those gross headphones stuck to my ears.

So, the book. It's based on the apparently famous blog started by Laurie Perry post-split. The short version is, she's trying througout the book (and apparently the blog) to cobble together a life post breakup. She has no clue what to do with herself and she offers a glimpse into her struggle with a raw hilarity that made me want to call her up and invite myself over for a glass of merlot. I relate to this woman. and her writing is witty and honest and unapologetic. She makes no qualms about drinking away her sorrows. I was hooked.

I sat on the floor of the bookstore and read the first 30 pages. Then my neck hurt and I realized I'd been there for four hours at that point, and I probably needed to go or the Border's people would begin to charge rent for squatting. So I took my book home and at 2 a.m. I was still reading the sucker, just utterly amazed that I could have so many thoughts and feelings in common with a cat person AND a knitter. I slept. I finished the book the following morning; successfully getting myself through that one shitty afternoon. And the next day was better somehow, the sun came out. And for god's sake, she had a house full of cats--at least I hadn't dipped that low.

BOOK: Deep Economy--so good my friends wouldn’t share

Two friends/colleagues for whom I have great respect told me to read this book within about, oh four hours of one another.

"Amazing," one said.

"It's been a really long time since I could definitively say a book changed my life. You must read this," the other said.

"Loan me your copy," I said.

"Get your own!" they both said.

Well okay then. I trudged on over to Village Books, the Bellingham indy book store (insert longing sniffle), and I can now safely say I was taken by this read as they were. I am also feeling a small pang of regret that I passed my copy on excitedly to a friend and will likely never see it again. I'd like to read it again, and again. It's one of those books where you could do that, and learn something new each time.

The underlying premise of the read is that our over productized, mass produced, glutton for anything bigger, badder, cheaper mode of operating our economy is essentially killing off our sense of community. And our penchant for consumption and all things "Made in China!" will eventually kill off our economy as we know it.

Sounds really depressing, and on a lot of levels, it is. But McKibben writes this thing in such an upbeat manner that you can read about the gutting of a small community and yet at the same time feel a great deal of hope as you learn about a coop community garden built atop a former dump.

The advocacy of communities whereby we can depend on one another struck a chord with me. When I read this book, I was living in Bellingham, WA and had what I would consider to be a small handful of people in my tribe. After three years of struggling to find my "place" in the Pacific Northwest, and trying quite unsuccessfully to juggle being a single parent, a relationship that I wanted desperately to succeed, and at the same time climbing the corporate ladder, I decided one day shortly after reading this book, to quit.

I quit my relationship, I quit my job (or tried to), packed a trailer full of my stuff, put my house on the market, and moved back to Iowa. Now I cannot say that I read the book, "jumped off the dock and started swimming," as my friend Mike says. I don't even know if I had a conscious thought that the book had some sort of link in my process.

I do know that I had such a desire for the community that I once had in the Midwest, and that did drive my decision to move back to Iowa. Of course now in hindsight, I know I failed to recognize through the fog of my failed relationship that on a lot of levels I had developed in Washington a quiet group of people who were most definitely, in my corner. It just looked different from what I'd grown to expect, and I desperately wanted the comfort of my Midwestern people back as I mourned the end/loss of something very significant.

In short, I needed to know that when proverbial shit hit the fan, I could show up at my friend's house and throw myself on his couch. I needed to know that in my doing this, he wouldn't bat an eye or find it unusual, he would wrap me up in one of his hugs, pour me a large glass of wine, and proceed to make fun of me until I laughed at myself. I needed to know that when I got caught late in a meeting, I could call someone to bail me out and pick up my son. And while I had blueberries and cherries and apples and pears and grapes and plums all falling from their limbs in my Washington yard, I wanted a few goddamned good tomatoes and some "real" sweet corn each July. I wanted to go to the grocery store and see someone I knew. I wanted crunchy leaves in Fall, not soggy ones. I wanted to get pulled over for speeding and have the cop be some guy I used to babysit for, and get let off with a warning.

I longed for my son to grow up near his cousins as I had mine. I longed for him ride in the combine at harvest with my 80 year old Grandpa. I wanted him to understand this landscape; this gutted, flat, former prairie land of wide open sky and killer sunsets. I wanted my brother to take my son hunting; teach him to track a bird. And I wanted my dad to teach him to swing his bat. And when my son started acting like a little shit, I wanted someone in town to rat him out.
It was not easy to stand up and leave what I'd spent three painstaking years building, behind. First there was my relationship with a man as tied to the Northest rain, fog, solitude, and muddy roots poking from the green, mossy mountainside as I am to my corn on the cob. I knew from the beginning, that he wasn't going anywhere and the time I spent with him there only underscored this notion. I simply knew that if I left, he would stay. Yet we loved one another desperately and fought like hell to make one square peg fit into one round hole, and all the while I continued to struggle to make sense of things, he continued to love me. I will forever love this man for his patience, and most of all for allowing me to peer inside and hold what I believe to be among the most innocent and pure of souls.

I was successful in the Northwest, perhaps too successful at my stint in high tech corporate America. I worked for amazing, understanding people, but each day I felt torn. Torn between being a mom, accepting the next promotion and knowing that I would only be half present even as I sat at dinner with my son. Knowing that sooner or later I would be traveling and miss his games. Or that I would be traveling to one of our offices soon and...what on earth would I do with him then? As someone who finds a great deal of comfort in the landscape, it was not easy to leave behind snowboarding within an hour, a mountain devoted to biking, a bounty of fresh fish, a house with a half acre of fruit, a view of the Mt. Baker from my couch, and some of the most inspiring road rides I've ridden along the Puget Sound coast. And it nearly brings a tear to my eye thinking of my long lost, Bikram yoga studio. But I did it, I quit.

In the wake of his own personal tragedy, my ex- (who was also Midwestern bred) lamented one night nearly a year ago now that he too, longed for the sense of community he recalled from his younger days living in the Midwest.

"You know," he said thoughtfully, "In Iowa, it seemed that when something bad happened, people just came over and started doing things to help. They didn't wait for you to ask, or to figure out for yourself what it was that you needed; they just did things that were helpful--cooked dinner, scooped your snow, whatever they could think of. And here in the Northwest, there are plenty of people who would help, but they assume that you will ask if you need something. And if you don't, well, then they will assume you are fine."

This is essentially the best way I can illustrate my understanding of this new economy...the one where you help without being asked. This community is the one McKibben advocates in this book. A simple return to our roots; giving, interacting with and knowing our neighbors, buying from them when you can, slowing down the madness, and quite simply taking care of one another. Remarkably he succeeds in finding small pockets of this community based goodness all throughout the world.

And I am happy to report that I have once again found mine.

BOOK: Another Day in the Frontal Lobe--offers insight into more than the brain

My dad is a crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, retired cop. He's 60, somewhat overweight, somewhat stressed out about nothing in particular from time to time, and the patriarch of our family. He loves making fun of my mother; she looks 20 years younger than her age, and more fit than most college freshmen and has a higher cholesterol profile than him. She eats like a bird; nuts, twigs and chocolate. He eats steak and potatoes, every meal, thank you very much.

My mom called me a few weeks ago to tell me Dad was in intensive care at the hospital. All signs said stroke, but there was no diagnosis. This was Sunday morning. On Tuesday, we were still looking for answers, waiting for some diagnosis, looking to wrap our minds around something. Life or death, we just needed something. It is a feeling only those previously in that situation could relate to. It was a moment when I realized that my stint as child in this family was over and I was taking over as director in training but without any.

In the meantime, Dad's condition went from bad to worse. He went from slurring his speech to slobbering on himself, from awareness of what was happening to none. He lost all feeling and mobility on his right side. He said through spit and slurs that he would be voting for SpongeBob SquarePants in the next election. He became agitated, restless. We watched the monitors and looked for changes, jumping up to find a nurse each time something beeped in the wrong way, each time something looked different from one moment to the next. We prayed. We cried. I called my brother in Iowa City and told him to come. I thought he would die.

None of the tests, and there was a battery of them, showed anything. CT, nothing. MRI, nothing. Spinal tap, nothing. So we waited. On Tuesday, the neurologist confirmed our initial hunches, Dad had a massive stroke, of the vertebral type, although not in the vertebral arteries.
Now they could begin to thin the blood. And we watched, just as miraculously, as things began to improve. At first slowly and then in leaps and bounds.

I picked up Another Day in the Frontal Lobe as I roamed around Border's on that chilly kidless Saturday, thinking that it might offer a new and different perspective on Dad's case not found through the gazillion Google searches I'd already done. And that it did.

It's a unique perspective first on how few neurosurgeons there are out there, in particular of the female type, the grueling years of specialized training, the comraderie (or lack thereof) of the hospital staff, patient care, and finally, a look inside the brain.

They say in writing classes that you should not write about an experience until you've had some time to distance yourself from the event. I've always had mixed feelings about that notion, but I certainly considered from a different angle as I pondered this read. Was it too soon for me to be reading about what happens when a brain is drilled into? Was it too soon for me to know how dire this situation might be long term?

I now answer all of these questions with a definitive no. I read it and felt comforted by all the knowledge and while in parts I felt outrage at some of the "machine" that is our medical system, I also came out of it with an understanding of the demands placed on these professionals and also on the miraculous power of the grey matter between our ears.

Patient advocates are a real and necessary evil. Asking questions is a good idea. But we already knew this. And my generation, this generation of information seekers, knowledge of this type is a powerful, equalizing and even comforting thing. And in some strange and yet very calming sense, I have an understanding of the brain, in particular my Dad's fried portion of his brain, that I didn't previously have.

And stroke or no stroke, it's worth the time and a quick read if you were one of those kids who loved career day in junior high. I can certainly say, it's a far cry from my marketing gig and stressing out over a PowerPoint slide that won't animate correctly.

BOOK: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I learned of the 100 mile diet when some friends of mine in Bellingham, WA decided to take the plunge and give it a whirl last summer. They posted a blog, shared recipes, and invited my son and I to join them. Here's roughly how it works: Eat local. Eat fresh. Consume things produced only within 100 miles of your home. My home, at that time, was Bellingham, Washington, arguably a fairly easy place to try this in the middle of summer.

It all sounded great in theory until I realized that my Tony's coffee (local Bellingham roaster) didn't make the cut because well, the beans, they don't grow those in Bellingham, WA.
Not one to half ass, I politely declined knowing full well the coffee fix was a necessary evil, that I'd been pining for months for those eastern Washington peaches that would soon be showing up the Farmer's Market, and lest I sound too tree hugger-ish here, my son's penchant for Totino's pizza rolls were a requirement a minimum of once a week around my fractured household.
I also wasn't quite sure that my pocketbook could take the financial strain of the challenge, even with the berries, fruit, and bountiful supply of vegetables and herbs literally dropping to the ground all over my half acre in supplies completely overwhelming for two.

I considered this book a bit my consellation prize. I also happen to believe that Barbara Kingsolver is one of the most talented writers out there when it comes to description of place and landscape. I read everything she writes. I figured, why not ride along on the Kingsolver family journey instead of diving head first into this 100 mile "diet" business. I took a sip of my Tony's coffee, watched my son devour another box of pizza rolls, and turned the page.

True to form, Kingsolver even describes the awkwardness of turkeys mating for the first time with a brilliance, innocence and utter hilariousness that can't help but bring a smile to your face. But we are talking about a woman who could write about a pile of cow dung and make it sound like something that you should heap on your plate for dessert. Reading about all the concoctions she created from her families' harvest was a true delight. I will certainly try some of the recipes next summer when I am back on my own local eating train.

To that end, Kingsolver raised in me a consciousness of just what is at stake if I continue to purchase my pineapple in the middle of an Iowa winter, where we now live. I am finding that somehow, the pineapple doesn't taste quite right any more.

BOOK: Skinny Bitch--gives one plenty to bitch about

I recently finished reading Skinny Bitch, an impulsive buy and then read. I was roaming around Border's one ass biting cold day with nothing to do but read and then listen to one CD after another. God bless the barcode scanner and those germ infested headsets.

So anyway, I read three pages of Skinny Bitch and immediately was taken by a couple things. First, they said shit in the first paragraph, and it was especially appealing to see governmental types dubbed assholes for "fucking with the food pyramid." I figured, "what the hell else am I going to read today?" and bought myself a copy.

The premise of this read is a bit far fetched (for me at least); to become said "Skinny Bitch" one must throw away everything edible and become a bona fide vegan. No bleu cheese and dark chocolate, sorry, no skinny bitch here. Oh well.

That said, there are still plenty of snippets throughout to both gross you out and piss you off, whether its the USDA, the FDA, or a host of other corrupt types in our lovely governmental system. So now we can blame the government for making us fat just like we can blame the cigarette companies for forcing us to smoke and giving us cancer.

Pass the bleu cheese stuffed ravioli...

CD/MOVIE: Eddie Vedder ....all mellowed out

I once wore home from a college shack an old faded Peal Jam t-shirt. It belonged to an ex-boyfriend from about ten years ago. I never gave it back; not because of some affinity I had for Pearl Jam, but because it was cozy, well-worn, and seemed to permanently smell of my man. He used to tease me that I was no where near deserving of wearing it, as he knew well that Pearl Jam was not a band that made it into my repetoire of music. "You don't even have one single CD, not ONE," I recall him teasing. Somewhere, in some part of me, I must have known that years later it'd be the last material possession I'd have to remind me of him. I still wear it a regularly and receive compliments on it often.

A guy at the gym offered to pay me $50 for it once not too long ago; he even offered as a trade his own shirt (post workout no less). Color me sentimental, hopeless, or perhaps a bit freaked out by the guy--I politely declined. Nonetheless, there's this part of me that feels a small pang of guilt whenever something like this happens, as I don't feel fully deserving of the t-shirt and all its glory. Confession: I still don't own a Pearl Jam CD. And I own a lot of CDs. But hey, when the man who sets the bar for how you wish to be treated in all your relationships (among a few thousand other things) gifts you his Pearl Jam t-shirt, you don't just go giving it away.

So that's a long, round about way of saying that I finally made my very own Vedder purchase. I picked up this CD after (finally) seeing Into the Wild last week. Films of this sort tend to make it to Iowa via the pony express, or sadly, not at all. Nonetheless, I'd had several of my Pacific Northwest friends tell me I "had" to see it when/if it ever arrived. As usual, I was a skeptic. I am not much of movie buff, but do consider myself a relentless reader. So naturally, I read and loved the book, and figured recreating the book in film would be a tall task. I'd read that they filmed most of the footage in the actual places, so was willing to take the risk for that alone. The music, well, it's been a long time since I purchased a movie soundtrack of anything, let alone one entirely by the same guy.

As for Peal Jam/Vedder, I should let the record state that I believe wholeheartedly that the band should and will go down in history as one of the top 10 bands ever, not that they would care/want to be named such a thing. I just tend to make musical purchases that are a bit easier on the ears; tunes that I can drag to work. This solo gig does the trick.

I loved the music in the film, the timing, the relevancy. So I bought it. And I have now listened to it four times through and I keep starting it again--there are 11 tracks and it's only 33 minutes long. I love it every bit as much as I loved the transitions to the tunes in the film. This CD and the film were brilliantly and beautifully done. My only complaint is that the CD is too short. And that the shots of all that beauty.....they made me want to jump ship from my cushy day job and hit the road again.

Which is why the t-shirt is all I have left of that relationship--I took off for a year to explore Europe and things upon your return from such journeys, well, they are never quite the same. Sitting there alone in that theater, admiring all that sky, all those places in this great country, the journey and maybe moreso than anything pondering the courage it took the family to make that film; it occurs to me that this amazing, confusing, rugged and fragile space we fully see and experience it in its most natural and raw and wild state, you should share it with some like-minded soul.

"...when you think more than you want, your thoughts begin to bleed." e.vedder