Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Spring! Bicycling!

The last three days, I've gone for short walks at lunchtime. My office is right near a park with bike/walking paths, so there are plenty of places for walking.

On Monday, I was wearing long sleeves and I started out with my leather jacket. It isn't an extremely heavy jacket since I removed the zip-out winter lining, but still...a few minutes into the walk I had to take it off and carry it.

Yesterday I left the jacket in my office and just went out in long sleeves. By the end of the walk, I was pushing the sleeves up to my elbows.

Today I went out in short sleeves and did not want to come back in at the end of my walk.

I don't know how much longer this great weather will last. By the time I left work to go home, it was storming, but still warm. So far the 5-day forecasts are looking like the weekend will be decent (50 degrees, partly sunny). We're planning to do our first bike ride of the season this Sunday - the Spring Forward ride. Since we've been slugs all winter, I expect we will do the shortest route (18 miles). My bike has been sadly neglected in the garage ever since last September. The previous year (2003), we kept riding until the end of October, but for some reason we had a bad cycling season last year. Other parts of life kept getting in the way.

I plan to spend a good part of Saturday getting ready - I need to put the rooftop rack back on the car and make sure the bikes are in decent enough condition. My mechanical skills are limited, but I can at least do some cleanup and drip chain lube in the right spots.

We have a lot going on this year, so we probably won't get as much riding in as I would like. My love for bicycling really kicked in back in 2001, when I rode in an AIDS ride in Montana (7 days, Missoula to Billings, very "hilly"). I badgered Laura into riding with me in the summer of 2003. She finally gave in to make me shut up, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that she liked it. By the end of the summer, we both had new road bikes.

We rode a total of 476 miles in 23 rides that summer and fall, which is why I say 2004 was a "bad cycling season" -- we only rode 16 times for a total of 342 miles. Yes, I do keep track of this!

So far we've planned on riding in three organized "invitational" rides this year:
  • the Spring Forward ride I mentioned above
  • The Silver Springs 60 (April 24). This one starts near where we live.
  • Bike the Drive (May 29) - we did this last year and it was awesome. They shut down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago for the morning and let bicycles take over. Four lanes of road (each way), full of nothing but bikes -- check out the pictures at that link! We're planning on staying downtown overnight so that we don't need to get up before dawn to get there in time. Now that I have a digital camera, hopefully I'll be able to get some good pictures.
Of course, we also plenty of riding on our own, especially on some of the bike paths around where we live. We're fond of the Virgil Gilman trail, which is not as well-known so it is much less crowded on weekends. The Fox River trail is beautiful, but you have to hit it early on weekends before it becomes overrun with other riders, walkers, joggers, and people with small children. It is also very long. I'm also found of the Great Western Trail.

I'm hoping we'll be able to squeeze some good rides in this spring and summer.

Speaking of bicycling, here's a cool article about a programmer who quit his office job to become a bike messenger (via Monkeys in My Pants).

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Parents, Children, and Spouses - Who Wins?

Wow, it's been nearly two weeks since my last post. I haven't felt much like blogging lately, for all sorts of reasons. The Terry Schiavo drama has become wearying and still seems to be a major topic of discussion at lots of blogs. For some reason, this case has been bothering me greatly, and I couldn't figure out why. I don't think it has much to do with the issues in the case -- it is more about the identities of the combatants. Religious Right folks on one side; the rest of us on the other. Yes, I know that is simplistic, especially since Jesse Jackson has jumped into the fray. It just seems just like all the other fights that have been going on lately -- gay marriage, abortion, access to contraception, the level of government intrusion in people's lives, on and on and on.

However, one aspect of the Schiavo case has hit home in a more personal manner for some reason. I keep dwelling on this question -- how do parents learn to let go of their children? I know that good parents are always parents of course, but at some point surely they must relinquish control over how their children live their lives. At what point does the adult child's new family -- spouse, partner, whatever -- become just as important as the relationship with his or her parents?

I admit I have my own issues in this area that probably color my opinions. In the past year I made a decision my parents aren't particularly happy about, and that has led to numerous bad feelings (on both sides, I think) and arguments. I've also spent a great deal of time agonizing over why I still care about their approval.

Anyway, on Easter, Laura and I went to my parents house for dinner. My mom was listening to some AM talk radio station, because that is what she does. Politically, she is hard to categorize. She claims to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative. She has been a Republican since the Kennedy era or so, she loves George Bush (all the Bushes, really -- yes, I find it odd) and she despises Bill Clinton.

Yet at the same time, she has been an atheist since long before I was born. She has a serious dislike of organized religion. Back in high school when I had my own evangelical Christian phase (I really must write about that sometimes) our biggest arguments centered around religion. I remember being driven to fury over her contempt for religious faith. She is unashamedly pro-choice (and tells with great pride about writing a letter about it to the first George Bush).

So, based on all that, what side would you expect her to embrace in the Terry Schiavo drama? If you guessed the parents who are motivated by Catholic faith and supported by their anti-abortion "friends", you would be right. Somehow, I knew that's where she would land even before we drove over there on Sunday, even if it does seem counter-intuitive given her political positions.

She comes down on this side based on the fact that she is a mother, and, as she said, would not want her child's fate to be decided by "some guy." Never mind that the "guy" in question was chosen as a husband by Terri.

The talk radio program on Sunday for some reason set me off and we started our visit with a bit of an argument. I freely admit that I overreacted and got a little too angry, especially considering that I don't have particularly strong feelings on the case (at least, I didn't think I did). We then veered off to other issues regarding Republicans, gay marriage, and so on before things settled down and we went on to talk about less contentious things. The rest of the visit was pleasant, but here it is two days later and I am dwelling on a few offhand comments that I wish I had addressed during our conversation.

On the one hand, my mother likes to point out how lucky I am that I have a supportive family and that I don't have to worry about my relationship with Laura being mistreated in the event that something bad happened to either of us. On the other, she talks about how she would not want decisions regarding her children to be made by someone else (that "some guy" comment again). As you might imagine, this makes me worry that if I were incapacitated, she would try to take control and cut Laura off as a decision maker. Yes, I know, we can and should see a lawyer and draw up the paperwork to prevent that. I currently have just one obstacle in the way of doing so, but hopefully we can clear that up in the next few months and take care of it.

One unique aspect of marriage is the fact your husband or wife is a person you choose (setting aside arranged marriage for a minute of course). You can't choose your parents or your siblings or your cousins -- but you can choose your spouse and make that person your closest legal relative. That is one of the reasons I find gay marriage so compelling -- it grants a level of "relatedness" that can't really be duplicated with any amount of paperwork or lawyers fees.

Since a spouse is chosen -- unlike all those other relatives -- it makes perfect sense to me that the spousal relationship would take priority over others, even parents and siblings. My sister is an evangelical Christian (unlike me, she did not leave that phase). She chose for her husband a man who shares her faith. If she became incapacitated, it would be obscene to push her husband out of the way and let my parents make the decisions. Her chosen husband shares her worldview and is far more likely to make decisions with which my sister would agree -- as hard as that might be for my parents to accept.

Likewise, my parents have their own worldview that does not at all match that of my grandparents. For my entire life my grandparents have been appalled at my parents' lack of religious faith and they have tirelessly worked (unsuccessfully) to bring us back into the fold. Perhaps they too were unable to accept their child's choices. If something happened to my father, I don't think my mother would entertain the idea of her father-in-law stepping in to make decisions for more than a nanosecond. I can easily envision conflict between them. I can easily imagine my mother's ire at the idea of being usurped by a man with a wildly different worldview than hers or her husband's.

I don't have children and probably never will, so I suppose I can't really talk about how hard it must be for parents to let go of their children. I can only see it from my direction.

It is this aspect of the Schiavo case that keeps holding my attention...parents versus a child's spouse.

Incidentally, there are some good discussions of the Schiavo case going on at Alas, a Blog. Also some good posts over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. And Jason at Positive Liberty also makes the connection with gay marriage:
For the record, my wishes for the end of my own life are as follows: I trust my lifelong companion, my husband under the laws of Canada, Scott R. Starin, to make all medical decisions for me whatsoever. I do not trust anyone else with this capacity, no matter who they are.

I expect Scott's decisions to be followed down to the very last detail when I am incapacitated. I do not want my body to be kept alive artificially in a persistent vegetative state when there is no hope of recovery, and I trust Scott to make the determination of when and how my life will end if ever this state should befall me.

Now, if only a marriage allowed us to make such decisions--but apparently it doesn't anymore.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


Back in college, I wrote quite a bit short fiction, which is not terribly remarkable considering that I was majoring in creative writing after all (University of Illinois liked to call it "Rhetoric", but it was essentially an English degree with more classes in writing. I took all the non-fiction and fiction classes they offered at the time). By the time I graduated, I was getting tired of my own stories. I think the quality of the ones from my last class was a definite slip backwards from my earlier work. I don't know why this happened, but there it is. Maybe I was just burnt out.

So, I decided to take some time off from writing fiction. I gave myself a year -- I decided I wouldn't worry about writing any complete stories for an entire year. Instead, I would perhaps revise my existing ones, send them out to magazines, and do lots of "practice writing" to generate good ideas for once that year was up (if you want to know what I mean by practice writing, see here).

Well, you can probably guess what happened. I collected a handful of rejection slips for my stories (I still have them in my file cabinet). I filled several notebooks with lots of rambling. The year ended. And another, and another. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that twelve years passed and I did not complete a single short story.

I have lots of good reasons for this, of course. I was a bit surprised when I started my first job out of college and discovered to my dismay that I liked it. It was supposed to be just the soulless day job, taken to support my brilliant fiction! It wasn't supposed to turn into something I liked, or something that would slowly expand to take up more and more of my free time. 40-hour weeks turned into 50, then 60, then 70. One pay period I logged 93 hours of overtime. That is 93 hours on top of the normal 80-hour, two-week long pay period. You do the math on that. Ah, yes, the days when I was paid for my overtime...

I didn't exactly do nothing during all this time. Like I said, I got a few rejection slips. I made several false starts, both for short stories and for an epic novel I had in mind. These didn't go very far. One story was published, in a small literary magazine called Oyez Review. It was actually a bit of a surprise - they apparently neglected to inform me that they had accepted the story. I had completely forgotten about submitting it, and one day I opened my mail to find two contributor copies of a magazine I didn't recognize...with my story in it. Full of typos that I didn't create, I might add. I was a little annoyed by the whole thing, but still happy to have published.

Anyway, somewhere in there I met Laura, moved a few times, and changed jobs. I tried to get back into fiction writing a few times, but I think the biggest barrier was my own inability to accept my tastes. I wanted to write "literary" fiction because that's what was expected back in college, but at the same time, I didn't like most literary fiction that I read. Why would I want to write stories that I wouldn't want to read?

A few months ago I started digging through files on my old Macintosh and ran across some of those false starts and ramblings. Maybe that's what prompted it. Maybe it was all the first novel exuberance over at John Scalzi's site (see here, here, here, and here). I found myself remembering my "promise" when I finished college and wondering what happened to the last twelve years.

So, the whole point of this long, rambling story...I took one of those old ideas that never went anywhere, started over from a completely different direction, and actually finished a story. I rewrote it a week later, then wrote a third draft with a few minor tweaks. Last night I submitted it to a science fiction magazine. I should note that when I submitted stories twelve years ago, this e-mail submission thing was unheard of.

It will probably be rejected. I fully expect it to be rejected, not because I think it is awful, but because the odds are against me. But you know, I always liked writing fiction. I think I've missed it over these years without really realizing just how much.

We'll see what happens. I'm doing my best to stop thinking about it and start working on a new story, but I have to admit I'm not doing terribly well at that.

Sunday, March 06, 2005


I don't cook all that often, but every so often I like to make a huge batch of homemade enchiladas. If at all possible, I avoided canned enchilada sauce. It is much more fun to make my own, starting from those dried chili peppers. I didn't think of photographing this process until the peppers were no longer dried. Here's a photo of a chili ristra from Flickr:

Originally uploaded by Tandika.

The thing I like about this is that they don't even look edible in this state, but the end result is delicious.

So, we started with sixteen dried peppers of various kinds -- Pasilla, New Mexico, and Guajillo. It was a pretty much random mix based on what was available at the grocery store. The first time I made this sauce must have been about eight or nine years ago and I actually had a chile ristra like the one shown above that my parents brought back from New Mexico. But, I digresss.

The peppers soaked in boiling water overnight. By morning, they didn't look all that dried anymore:
Chili Peppers after Soaking Overnight

I took off the stems, removed the seeds and veins from the inside, then blended the peppers with garlic and some of the water they had soaked in. Then, I forced it all through a strainer.
Forcing Peppers Through Strainer

Next, I browned a little flour in oil, stirred in the puree, added various other spices and cooked it till it looked like sauce.
Cooking the Sauce

Meanwhile, Laura chopped and sauted the onions and got out the pre-shredded cheese (have to allow for some laziness here). Then it was just a matter of dunking each tortilla in the sauce, filling it with cheese, onions, and chopped black olives, and lining them up in a pan.

As you might imagine, this gets a little messy.
Rolling Sauce-Covered Tortillas is Messy

Two Pans of Enchiladas, Ready for the Oven

Bake until the cheese melts, then sprinkle a bit more cheese on top.

We had them for a late lunch. We'll probably bring some by my parents this evening as well.

I Don't Have a Brother

I don't have any brothers. My parents chose to consider their family complete after two daughters. I am the youngest.

I believe my grandfather was a bit upset by this, as my sister and I were insufficient to carry on the family name. My grandfather had two sons and a daughter. His daughter had six children-- including two boys--but of course they didn't have the same name as him, so they didn't technically "count."

All of that is a bit incidental. The point I'm trying to make here is that my immediate family (nuclear family, if you prefer) completely lacks a person who could be considered "my brother." Yet despite this, even as a child, I knew the meaning of the word "brother." I'm sure this all seems very obvious and most folks are scratching their heads and saying, "duh." Ordinarily I would agree with you, but it seems that some people have a difficult time wrapping their heads around the idea that not all families must be the same in order to preserve the meaning of words.

In this post, David Frum worries that the terms "mother" and "father" will be stricken from the language as a result of same-sex marriage. He refers to a statement he made to Andrew Sullivan once:
Andrew, three years after we permit gay marriage, it will be illegal for schools to send home printed forms with one blank for the mother's name and one blank for the father's.
Hmm. I went to school in the 80's, and I seem to recall that most school forms had ONE blank labeled "Parent/Guardian". Most things didn't require TWO signatures, and even back then not all children had mothers and fathers. Apparently some didn't even have parents, they just had "guardians." I guess in Frum's alternative world, the foster kids shouldn't get to go to the zoo field trip since they don't have anyone who could legally sign the Mother and Father lines on the permission slip.

At any rate, the argument that same-sex marriage will bring about the end of civilization by forbidding us to speak or think certain words is, frankly, silly. I do not have a husband. Most of my female co-workers do have husbands. By some strange trick of the brain, I am able to comprehend what husband means. The definition of the word is not changed by the fact that my family does not include one, just as no one would state that the word "brothers" must be tossed away because some families don't have any.

As for legal and government forms, there are so many easy ways around this "problem" that for folks on the right to obsess about words is beyond silly. Marriage certificates can have two slots: "Bride/Groom" and "Bride/Groom". Circle the appropriate term for each party to the marriage. School forms should be neutral where possible, but there is nothing unwholesome about the word "parent". Filling your name in next to the word "parent" does not mean that Junior has to stop calling you Mommy.

The end of Frum's post contains the most revealing comment of all:
And one effect of this revolution - and for many proponents, one of the revolution's aims - is to make forever unthinkable the idea that husbands and wives each have special duties to one another, and that a husband's duties to his wife - while equally binding and equally supreme - are not the same as a wife's duties to her husband.
Ah, the real objection. We all have gender roles, and same-sex marriage nicely highlights that not everyone is willing to live within them. Alas, Frum does not elaborate on exactly what those roles might be. What are a wife's duties? What are a husband's duties?

Andrew Sullivan takes on that argument here:
But the gender role argument against equal marriage rights has always been to my mind the most coherent of those on offer. If you believe that women should be subservient to men in marriage - and men should take proportionate responsibility to take care of and lead their wives - then indeed the idea of complete equality and interchangeability in the marriage compact is threatening. So let David and the right make that argument: we want to keep traditional gender roles in civil marriage and letting gays marry hurts that effort. Let them spell out a wife's duties and a husband's responsibilities. And let them make that case openly to the public. Support for same-sex marriage - especially among women - will soar. Because they will see it for what it is: a big advance for the civil equality of women.
A very good point, I think.