Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cat Pee or Lack Thereof

On Monday of this week, I took Hammett in for urinalysis and an ultrasound. I have now and then seen him get in the litter box, strain, and leave without producing anything, but I wasn’t sure whether he was trying to pee or to poop.

Several days ago, however, I saw him squat for quite some time over his litter box, ultimately leaving behind a very small amount of pee, so that probably answers that question.

Straining to urinate can indicate that a cat has Feline Urologic Syndrome, or a blockage or kidney stone that can result in a swift, painful death.

I was prepared for Hammett to be distraught for 12 hours after he got home from the vet, like the time before, but he was perfectly fine. He went behind the bathroom sink for a token three seconds, lest anyone forget he is highly sensitive, and then he went on about his business.

When I spoke to Dr. Press about the test results, he said Hammett did not have a blockage (per the ultrasound), but that he did have blood in his urine, consistent with chronic FUS. There is no direct treatment for FUS, which is an inflammation, but a standard way of preventing occurrences is to feed the cat wet food, which is mostly water, and so helps keep the cat’s urinary system healthy.

Unaddressed FUS can lead to the aforementioned blockage or stone. If you ever do see your cat going to the litter box repeatedly but not producing anything, that is potentially a life-threatening emergency, and you should call your vet right away.

Male cats are more prone to FUS because the pee has to travel farther to get out. I’m afraid I may have caused this myself by making Hammett eat dry food, which Thelonious ate all her life, enjoying vigorous good health for most of her 19 years.

It’s cheaper than wet food, uses less packaging and can be put out just once a day; you can go away for a weekend, leaving out plenty of food and fresh water, without anxiety. I also think it decreases dental problems, though Dr. Press doesn’t think so.

Hammett, you won’t be surprised to hear, does not touch wet food, including tuna. He’s not even that crazy about dry food. He eats very sparingly, rarely with enthusiasm, and only once or twice has he finished all of the food in his bowl in the course of 24 hours, even though it’s less than a cat of his weight is supposed to eat.

Speaking of which, my boy is up to eleven pounds! How does he continue to put on weight while barely eating? And why can’t I do that?

I went online to find out how to achieve the switch to wet food and learned that you should start by implementing scheduled mealtimes instead of leaving food out all the time. The idea is not to starve your cat into submission, but to have him be hungry when he eats (which is more the way of things in the wild, anyway), so that he might be more inclined to try a new thing.

Once you get your cat on an eating schedule, you may have to slightly decrease the amount of food offered temporarily, in order to encourage the transition to the healthier diet.

You start by putting out food for 20, 30 or 60 minutes, depending on whose advice you’re taking, and then taking it away. Repeat every 12 hours. I’m leaving it out for 60 minutes, because Hammett really is a nibbler.

During this process, you must make sure your cat is getting a minimal number of calories each day, and not going without any food at all for longer than 18 hours.

Yesterday, the first full day of the transition period, I put dry food out in the morning, and he ate only a bite or two. In the evening, he ate maybe one-twelfth of a cup of dry food: not very much, though he seemed perfectly cheery and energetic. I probably have been giving him too much food all along, judging from the fact that he never finishes it.

I collected a lot of stuff from the Internet and pasted it into a document that I am reading and rereading for encouragement, but I also called Dr. Gordon (Dr. Press was not available) to make sure I am not going to starve Hammett to death while switching him to scheduled mealtimes. Dr. Gordon said not to worry, that he will eat when he’s hungry.

Once he’s eating with gusto just twice a day, I’ll try a variety of canned foods. It doesn’t have to be high-quality food. If I can get him to eat canned food, I can switch him to a better one later, though because of the recent cat food recalls, I’m going to stick with what they have at Rainbow and Whole Foods for starters, and will only shop at Safeway if he absolutely won’t eat any of the former.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Defiant Porcini Will Think Twice Next Time

This past weekend, I saw Reservation Road, about a man who accidentally hits and kills a young boy with his SUV and then drives off. It wasn’t fantastic, but Mark Ruffalo played the man. I am crazy about Mark Ruffalo.

I also saw Lars and the Real Girl, starring Ryan Gosling, which was excellent.

I almost want to cover my eyes these days when an actor has to react to a catastrophic loss, I have seen it done unconvincingly so many times, but Ryan Gosling gets this exactly right, in the funeral scene.

In the waning days of his friend, three ladies come over and sit with him in his gloomy living room, bringing their knitting. One explains, “That’s what happens when you have a tragedy—people come over and sit.” You could hear people sniffling all over the theater.

I have finally mastered the art of using dried porcini without having the dish end up gritty: After soaking the porcini, one should put the water and mushrooms through a strainer and then rinse the mushrooms thoroughly, in several changes of water, at least until the apocalypse, when there will be no water for rinsing mushrooms. After that, don’t cook with dried mushrooms. Use plain sand instead.

If the soaking water is needed for the recipe, after straining, put it through a compostable paper coffee filter. This will remove 99 percent of the grit.

I said to my mother, nearly 99 percent of the readers of this blog, on the phone recently, “I can tell you’re not reading my blog, because if you were, you would have emailed me to tell me not to ride my bike in the middle of the street.”

“I try not to think about you riding your bicycle, at all, ever.”

We discussed ISPs and I summarized Jesus Land for her. When we hung up, she said, “Don’t ride your bike in the street, period.”

Jesus Land is a memoir by Julia Scheeres, whose parents were missionaries. I thought it was going to be a sort of humorous, sort of appalling story about living with religious zealots, but it was a profoundly upsetting and heartbreaking story about living with vicious sadists, in your own home and everywhere else.

Julia had three siblings who had gone off to college by the time the memoir starts, plus two adopted black brothers, one of whom was older, angry and predatory, and who sexually abused Julia repeatedly, which she bore in silence.

The other adopted brother, David, is almost exactly Julia’s age, and they are best friends, riding bikes together, exploring the countryside, making each other laugh. David is intelligent, funny, gentle, and sensitive. He had been in a series of foster homes and wants nothing more than to be part of a close-knit family, but in Julia’s parents, he finds people who, at best, show no affection to their children. Julia has no recollection of being hugged or hearing the words “I love you.”

Julia’s mother spends a lot of time writing to people she has met doing her missionary work, while her own children are told to get lost. There is an intercom system in the house which, in transmitting mode, blasts religious music to all points, and which, in receiving mode, is handy for eavesdropping on one’s children.

The father, a doctor, seizes any excuse to beat the sons in their room in the basement. Julia, from her room on the second floor, can hear their shrieks of pain. Once, the father, a doctor, hits David with a two by four and breaks his arm.

(My mother said here, “It sounds like they were even worse than your parents.”)

That’s at home. When these children step out of their house, to ride their bikes or go to school, they are tormented constantly by racists who scream at David, the only black child in their school, that he is a nigger or ask Julia why she is with a nigger. When they get on the school bus for the first time after moving to their new town, a larger boy kicks David in the testicles.

And these are the parts we know about. This kind and smart little boy’s life was an absolute hell on earth, yet he never stopped hoping to make friends and to be loved.

When they are 16 or so, the siblings are sent off to a Christian school in the Dominican Republic, there to be at the mercy of another bunch of sadistic creeps, a tale that seems to be all too familiar. Christian boarding school? Uh oh.

The book is dedicated to David, so I assumed there would be a happy ending: In the end, we grew up and we moved where we wanted and did what we liked and had happy lives, but as the remaining pages grew fewer and fewer and the happy ending hadn’t started, I got worried, rightly so.

I highly recommend this book for a searing portrait of racism and cruelty to children, but it will make you angry and very sad.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Here's Ann's darling little dog. I have promised not to reveal her exact address, to foil dognappers.

The Gift that Keeps on Regifting

Last week I saw my mental health professional for the first time in months or years. I’d brought some notes and said, “I have some complaints about some of your recent comments,” which was funny (I thought), because she hasn’t made any recent comments, at least none that I was there to hear.

But then I squinted at my notes and said, “Oh, wait—these aren’t about you, after all.”

I detailed my complaints and she listened with sympathy and understanding, as always. It’s dawned on me that when I thought for four or five years that she was doing all these terrible things and being so mean to me, possibly we had a giant transference underway, which is what’s supposed to happen in therapy.

I guess the idea is to work through the original problem by seeing the transference through, but it turns out it works just as well, if I may say so myself, to leave therapy in the proverbial huff and not go back for a couple of years. Lots cheaper, too, though it’s not like it costs me an enormous fortune to go to therapy. My therapist is too nice to say, “Hey, it’s not 1985 anymore. My rates have risen.”

Very nice visit. I’ll probably go back after I’ve had time to build up more complaints.

On Saturday morning I went to Rainbow and then Tom and I took the train to Sacramento to celebrate his birthday, somewhat belatedly. His mother, Ann, has obtained the world’s dearest little dog, Sophia (Sophie), part dachshund and part Italian greyhound, eight months old, sweet and affectionate, very short tan hair, long elaborate ears. She’s extremely cute.

She was a stray, in the pound for some time, which boggles the mind. It’s hard to imagine someone not turning the world upside down to get her back.

We hung out: Steve, Tom, Ann, Mac and I. In due time, Julie arrived and we ordered pizza for dinner and further hung out.

Tom and I slept in the TV room on a sofabed, and the next day, the same group assembled for brunch, plus Eva, Paul and Dan, who had all been busy the evening before. Tom opened his presents, which included a copy of Fiasco, which I recalled, incorrectly, that he had read.

Steve, who gave it to him, asked, “Have you read it?” Tom said, “Yes, I read about a third of it—before I gave it to you.”

Uh oh! Flag on the field: possible regifting situation. In fact, it turned out to be the rare regift to the original giver, as confirmed when we discovered our card to Steve still inside the book. (Besides forgetting that Tom hadn’t actually finished the book, I’d also forgotten that I was one of the original givers.)

We suggested Steve could take the final step by crossing out “Steve” on our card and writing in “Tom” instead.

By the way, Tom wasn't regifting; he bought the book for Steve, but figured he might as well read as much of it as possible before turning it over. However, Tom instructed me to note here that he wasn't one bit offendedhe is happy to have a chance to finish the book.

In the afternoon, Tom and I took the train back home, pausing for an hour or so to sit in Old Sacramento to enjoy the beautiful, warm fall day.

Sunday evening I talked to my mother on the phone. She had lost her engagement ring a year or so ago, and was calling to report that she had found it, tucked in the drawer of a desk in their study.

I had the day off work yesterday and made split pea soup, from Laurel’s Kitchen, Deborah Madison’s mushroom-barley pilaf, and a new dish: Arugula-Pecan Pesto, from Mollie Katzen’s new book, The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without.

She recently appeared in Newsweek magazine’s little feature where authors list their favorite books, and Deborah Madison’s The Savory Way was one of the books she listed, so I have recently gotten that, too.

I’m looking forward to trying the recipes in The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without, but am finding the book slightly unsatisfactory in that, while many details are included, some rather basic instructions are omitted.

For instance, the pesto recipe calls for four cups of arugula, but gives no hint as to whether that is with or without stems. I pulled the leaves off the stems, as my arugula was fairly mature (in fact, it was clamoring to go to an R-rated movie), but wouldn’t have known to do that from this cookbook.

The result is kind of odd, probably not something you would eat with a spoon or spread on a piece of toast, but it’s not bad as a dip for apple slices. Maybe I should have used a chocolate bar instead of arugula.

My safety vest arrived this morning, and it’s fantastic! It’s exactly what I wanted: loose-fitting, mesh, zipper in front, extremely bright orange with reflective strips, not too long; it stops at the hips. It even has three pockets, two inside.

I showed it to my coworker and said I’ve been finding our work (with software) kind of hazardous lately, but that I should be much safer with my new vest on. She said, “It will probably cut down on unwanted social interactions, too.”

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Clocks Demonstrate Outstanding Backstroke Form in Sewer

This morning a package arrived for me at work, which I assumed was either a safety vest or a book or two.

I feel a bit guilty about shopping online, vaguely uneasy about acquiring anything that isn’t strictly necessary, since I think this reflects an underlying idea that some object is going to increase my happiness, and also aware that fossil fuels must be burned to ship the thing across the country to me (not to mention manufacture it to begin with).

However, I’m not sure the energy cost would be any less if I just walked to a nearby store. The energy cost of getting the book to the bookstore is probably similar to that of getting it to me at work, since it probably doesn’t arrive in a truck all by itself, but grouped with stuff other people have ordered.

In the lobby I found a courier with a long rectangular box, not likely a safety vest or a book. “What on earth is that?” I asked. The courier said it appeared to be flowers.

“Flowers?! No one ever sent me flowers in my whole life.”

Not only was it flowers, it was a dozen beautiful roses—red, white, yellow, pink—with a cushion of packing material nestled near the stems. The flowers, along with a very sweet card, were a gift from Lisa and David, to thank me for helping them right before their move.

I put the flowers in a vase I keep at work and then looked at the packing material to see whether to toss it out or recycle it. It turned out it was the kind of packing material that says “Godiva Chocolatier” on it. A dozen roses and a box of truffles! What an incredibly kind and generous gift! I felt extravagantly cared for.

My SkyScan clocks arrived recently, two little travel alarm clocks that, if they are able to get a signal from Fort Collins, set themselves to the correct time periodically. The instructions sent with these items are particularly poor—they imply both that you don’t need to do anything for the clock to set itself correctly for the first time, and that you do need to do something.

I was so irritated I felt like taking the batteries back out and flushing the hapless little clocks down the toilet. This is why I can never buy a new computer—I can’t tolerate that level of frustration.

At first it seemed neither clock would pick up a signal, but then one did, and then both did, which is kind of thrilling. I assumed that when both clocks got the signal, they would be set to the exact same second, but they are actually one second apart, which I suppose is close enough.

I’m back to meditating for an hour most days, with a simpler practice than before. After a very brief introduction, I focus on the sensations of my breath, mainly the outbreath, because too much focus on the inbreath can produce a headache very rapidly; it tends to lead to a subtle amount of straining in order to heighten the sensations. In the space between the outbreath and the inbreath, I just notice a general feeling of peace.

The introduction is to notice any sounds that may be present in the room, then any sounds coming from outside, and then to get the general feel of my body and to notice four “touch points”: lips touching each other, hands touching the tops of my thighs, butt touching the cushion (a pile of sweatshirts), feet touching the floor. That probably takes less than one minute.

I cheat in one major way, which is that if Hammett comes over, I pick him up and hold him. I call that the “love meditation” portion of the program.

For a while, I was sitting for only six minutes most days, but noticed, as always, that I was getting stressed out very easily. Sitting more is essential if I want to feel calm. It has a good effect on my entire life. I think of it as a gift to those around me, too. It makes it so much easier to pause and consider whether I really need to say or do whatever has popped into my mind.

I’m reading Everything Arises, Everything Falls Away: Teachings on Impermanence and the End of Suffering, by Ajahn Chah.

Every morning I read the day’s entries from the Al-Anon book Hope for Today (modern, and geared toward children of alcoholics) and from One Day at a Time in Al-Anon (old-fashioned, and geared toward wives of alcoholics).

The latter has a fine no-nonsense tone and basically one message: Mind your own business. That is, don’t worry about what other people are doing and definitely don’t criticize them or try to make them feel bad. Put your focus on improving your own life.

Every morning I also read one mini-essay from Pema Chodron’s book Comfortable with Uncertainty, which is made up of writings from her other books. All of her books that I’ve read are excellent.

Quickest Squirt Gunner in the West

Part of the reason I’ve been able to nurture a feeling of anxiety about taking the lane when I cycle for so long is that the approach to my apartment building is via a block where I often have had people come up too close behind me, or pass too close or too fast.

It’s uphill, so cars do have to accelerate, which makes it sound a little worse as they go by—the car just sounds angry—but I don’t think I’ve ever actually had anyone honk at me there. Now I’m making a point of being a bit farther out in the lane, to make it clear that I am using the lane, and things seem to be a bit more peaceful.

Maybe I was leaving enough space that it was ambiguous as to whether there was enough space for the car to get by or not, so they would hurry to get the anxiety-producing event over with sooner, or to get out of the way of oncoming traffic, whereas if I’m decisively in the lane, the motorist knows he has to wait for oncoming traffic to be clear, and so doesn’t floor the gas pedal and try to shoot past me.

It is or was Fleet Week, so the Blue Angels did their air show over the weekend, at the usual ear-shattering volume, leaving the odd activated car alarm in their wake. I thought this might frighten Hammett, but he thought it was great and followed the action from his perch by the window. He loves to chase bugs, and maybe thought the airplanes were large bugs, boldly flying right past his house.

We did see Dr. Press yesterday morning. Hammett has got a couple of small symptoms, the kind of things you could treat or just let be. They wanted to take a urine sample, but after a bit, the technician came out and said, “He has no bladder, so we couldn’t get a sample.”

No bladder? The one cat on earth without a bladder, or is this common? If he doesn’t have a bladder, where does he store pee?

Then I realized what she meant and offered an alternate wording: “He has a bladder, but there’s nothing in it right now,” which made other people in the waiting room chuckle.

Thelonious always seemed able to forget her visit to the vet immediately upon arriving home—“Where am I? Oh, this is my house; cool”—but Hammett seemed quite upset when he got back home and was tucked behind the bathroom sink when I left for work.

When I got home from work, he was in the same state, so I opened the closet door so he could hide properly while I went to see Jack Eiman about my aching neck.

When I got back from Jack’s, Hammett was still in the closet and didn’t come out to greet me, at which point I became concerned that they might have hurt him probing the depths of his bladder for an elusive drop of urine. It was a very chaotic day at the pet hospital, and the technician was one I hadn’t seen before.

I finally turned on my computer and did some Googling to see if it is common for a cat’s bladder to be punctured in the course of obtaining a urine sample, but I found no mention of that at all.

I got in bed about 10 p.m. with my Deborah Eisenberg book and, to my relief, heard Hammett chewing on some crunchies in the kitchen, and then he got in bed with me and stayed practically the whole night, nestled right against me.

This morning he seems nearly back to normal, though he still isn’t in the mood to chase one of his sparkly balls, his favorite toys.

I guess he’s just very in touch with his feelings. He tends to run along next to me, sometimes getting underfoot, which makes me afraid I’m going to accidentally kick him, or trip over him and break my neck. The other day, he startled me so much doing this that I spoke sternly to him, at a slightly elevated volume, and I used a bad word, and he stared at me with a terribly wounded expression.

Thelonious would have been completely oblivious in the same situation: “Is that lady talking to me? I wonder what she’s saying.” Whereas Hammett was clearly thinking, “Mama! It’s me! Your baby! Why don’t you love me anymore? Ah, the pain of this rejection! It is unbearable!”

I asked Dr. Press how I could change this behavior before one of us gets hurt, but it sounds like it would be impossible. Dr. Press said I would have to provide a negative result, like the loud noise of coins being shaken in a tin can or a squirt from a water bottle, right when he performs the undesired action, every single time.

I’m prepared to look like a dork wearing a safety vest—you know, including at work—but wearing a safety vest plus holster with squirt gun is probably too much.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Episode by Hammett

The Road I bike skills class has completely changed my life. I realized that, despite having cycled around San Francisco for more than twenty years, besides being afraid to take the lane in some situations, I did not feel entitled to.

I identified the stretches on my routes to and from work where I should have been taking the lane but was scared to. I pictured myself doing it and thought, “No way.”

However, I vowed I would begin to do this, and since then I have been, and only good things have happened: I am safer, and I feel more confident, and, unexpectedly, I feel calmer.

The first couple of times, I rode along thinking, “I’m scared, I’m scared,” and reminding myself that the car behind me is not the one I have to worry about. Traffic flowed around me and no one honked or seemed upset, and I began to relax into this new thing.

There were a few blocks I wasn’t sure about: Wide enough that I should be over to the right, or not? I ran the matter by David C., who happens to be an actual cycling instructor, just like the ones who taught my class.

“On Market Street, westbound, say, from Sixth to Eighth—”

“You have to take the lane there,” he interrupted firmly, a welcome affirmation.

You don’t have to ride along the extreme left edge of the lane to make the point. If you ride far enough from the right that motorists won’t be able to pass without going into the next lane, they will generally leave you enough room.

Along with feeling entitled, finally, to use the road, I also feel an increased sense of responsibility to obey the law: If I’m going to ask people to respect my rights and safety to the utmost, I need to offer the same in return. I was doing a pretty decent job with this already, but there was room for improvement.

Then there are matters of courtesy and fair play. Turning right onto New Montgomery from eastbound Market St., I would creep along between the cars and a line of parked cars, thus beating ten vehicles to the light. Then I would feel like I didn’t have the right to take the lane once the light turned green—rightly so.

Now I simply wait my turn along with all the other cars trying to get to the light. It’s slower, but I’m not traveling in the door zone, so I’m safer, and I feel entitled to be in the lane I’m in and to remain in it once the light at Mission St. turns green.

After the first time I did this, I noticed there was still a lingering bit of unease. Soon the Internet told me what it was. One principle of vehicular cycling is, at an intersection, to be in the lane that is proper for your destination: A cyclist should be in the rightmost lane that goes where she is going.

If I am going straight and one of the lanes is right turn only, I should be in the lane next to that one, because I am not turning right.

Once through the intersection, another principle applies, which is that slower traffic stays right. The lane I was using on New Montgomery was the left of two lanes going in the same direction, and I was doing it because that’s where I wanted to be when I got to Howard St.

But as a slower vehicle, I should use the right lane, go through the light at Mission, and change to the left lane before getting to the light at Howard. This works perfectly, and I arrive at the bike rack genial and mellow instead of angry and frightened, as was the case some days.

To bolster my new philosophy, I have ordered John Forester’s book Effective Cycling, he being the guru of vehicular cycling, and I ordered a zipper-front safety vest that I’m planning to wear all the time.

I have a couple of safety vests that I wear after dusk, but they are held on with strips of elastic. They do the job, but the look is not flattering.

I see (a few) cyclists wearing safety vests all the time. I saw one such person go by the other day who was covered with tattoos. That’s not uncommon, but this fellow actually had lines tattooed all over his face so that he looked like he was a hundred years old.

I keep coming home and finding the bathroom rug wadded up and nearly stuffed into the litter box. I think Hammy is HaHtrying to tell me he likes the new cat litter. He used to like to pull all the small towels and any cloth rags off the towel bars and down onto the floor practically every day, but he doesn’t do that so much anymore.

The first time I saw the rug all twisted up like that, it made me think I should start a line of designer clothes to be called Episode by Hammett.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Rooting for Roots

The same weekend I went to bike class, I saw The Brave One, which I don’t recommend, due to a ghastly amount of violence and gore, improbable actions by main characters, and an unsatisfying ending.

Saturday evening, Tom got a DVD that I could tell right away was not my kind of thing.

“Is this a war movie?”

“No, history.”

“History of what?”


I went home and got my book (Ayelet Waldman’s novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits; not awful, not fantastic) and brought it back to Tom’s, and we had a companionable evening of movie-watching and reading.

On Sunday, I made three dishes from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone: Baked Spanish Rice, Southern Style Black-Eyed Peas (once recommended by Lisa C.), and Tomato Sauce with Dried Mushrooms.

The mushrooms in question were dried porcini, and as before and despite my best efforts, they ended up a bit gritty, which is annoying, but the black-eyed peas are good, and the Spanish rice is wonderfully deep shades of red and orange and very good. I will definitely make that again.

I have had Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for a long time and have always loved it—it’s such a nice big book, hardcover, with really good paper and pleasing line drawings. It turns out, after all these years, that it also has the instructions inside it for how to make many tasty things to eat. But I liked it even before I knew that. It’s like a big witch’s book, with all the secrets in it.

I just came upon Deborah Madison’s advice to use a mortar to grind up dried herbs right before you use them and tried it that day. It made the herb flavors much more intense, and when the pasta sauce was cooking, the smell was enough to make one nearly faint with pleasure.

Hammett will have his annual visit to Dr. Press tomorrow. I love him very much, and sometimes marvel that in this vast universe, there should be this one tiny soul who likes to sit in the bathtub—when I come home from work, he very often comes out of the bathroom to greet me—and nap next to the laundry basket. He likes to sit on a little table by the living room window and keep an eye on things.

Just the merest speck, in the greater scheme of things, but with a whole personality and world view his very own.

It has been just over a year since Thelonious died.

The couple of weeks before the anniversary, I was very aware of what I was doing the year before: buying tens of cans of cat food hoping she would like one of them, administering medications, cleaning what seemed like gallons of diarrhea off the floor near the litter box.

There was another sad anniversary the day before that, that of the untimely death of my dear Aunt Netta, three years ago. I called my uncle that day to tell him I remembered what day it was and that I was thinking of him.

Now that I am using index shifting on the Marin, as mentioned, its various symptoms have disappeared. I took it to Freewheel so Dan could fine-tune the shifting and move the brake levers a bit closer in.

It’s touching that he labored for years to make the friction shifting work, knowing it was nearly a lost cause, without ever saying, “Why don’t you just use index shifting like everyone else?” I thanked him for his self-restraint, and for all the time he put in on the friction shifting. He is really a sweet fellow and an excellent mechanic.

This weekend I organized my recipes and cooking-related notes, which took the better part of Saturday. In the late afternoon, I went to Rainbow and then made butter cookies with lemon frosting, and ginger cookies, which are like shortbread. There are no eggs in them, just flour, butter, sugar, a bit of salt, and fresh ginger, powdered ginger, and candied ginger.

Today I made smoky Mexican black beans, and a new recipe from 366, Caribbean Rice Pilaf, which requires annatto oil, which you make by heating annatto seeds in canola oil, and then straining the seeds out. The result is deep orange and very pretty.

I also made penne with sun-dried tomato cream sauce, using a recipe given to me by my friend Amy’s son Mike. I sent him a card afterwards telling him how tasty it was.

I cubed beets and a couple of different kinds of sweet potatoes so I can have Mexican Black Beans with Steamed Medley of Root Vegetables, Nearly Unseen Beneath a Sturdy Protective Roof of Avocado Wedges.

I read Deborah Eisenberg’s collection of short stories Twilight of the Superheroes not long ago, and now am going to read everything she’s ever written. I finished Under the 82nd Airborne and am now in the middle of All Around Atlantis. She can be tremendously droll, though she does not write comedy per se. She is really an excellent writer.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

You Want Me to Ride My Bike Where???

Last Saturday, an absolutely perfect fall day, featured the second half of the League of American Bicyclists’ Road I class, taught by a bevy of LCIs (League-Certified Instructors).

The main teacher was Bert Hill. We started by reviewing the information we’d gotten from John Ciccarelli two weeks before, and then Jason Agar explained how the brakes and shifting can be adjusted, and demonstrated fixing a flat tire.

We took a written test, ate lunch, and headed to a practice area in Golden Gate Park to work on the quick stop, the instant turn, the rock dodge and looking back over one’s shoulder while traveling to assess if it is safe to change lanes and suchlike.

In the quick stop, you brake quickly and shift your weight backward to lessen the chance of catapulting over the handlebars. The front (left) brake should be applied three times as strongly as the rear (right) brake, but if you start to skid, you should ease up on the front brake.

The instant turn can be used when a car suddenly makes a turn in front of you, cutting you off; a quick stop may also be used in that case. To make an instant turn to the right, in order to stay next to the car as it turns instead of plowing into the side of it, start by jerking your handlebars quickly and briefly to the left—this actually starts a lean to the right.

Then immediately turn your handlebars to the right and also lean right, to make a sharp turn.

In the rock dodge, you flick the handlebars right or left and then back, just enough to make your front wheel go around the obstacle, while the bike and you stay pretty much where you were. It’s OK if your back wheel hits or goes over the item in question, because that is not so likely to cause a loss of control.

After skills practice, we went out for some real-life riding, north on Stanyan for a block or two. As we neared Oak St., it dawned on me that Bert meant us to ride down Oak, which has several narrow lanes going in one direction, with the park on one side, so cross traffic is reduced and speeds accordingly enhanced.

Therefore, I do not ride my bicycle on Oak St., because I do not wish to die. Page St., one block over, is a very pleasant alternative.

But cycle on Oak St. we did, with me in the rear, completely astonished that motorists weren’t honking at us. Later on, we went west on Fell St., which involved a lane change in front of a moving car. My life flashed before my eyes once again.

Of course, you don’t pull out in front of a car that is going so fast it will hit you. You look back—this itself signals that you are planning a moveassess if there is room to switch lanes, signal by pointing, switch lanes, and then thank the driver with a cheery wave.

I do take the lane quite often, but there are some situations where it seems too risky, and so I just pull over and wait until traffic is clear before proceeding, which of course is totally fine, or I ride to the extreme right side of the lane, flinching each time a car passes me with a foot to spare, which is not totally fine—it’s unsafe.

I hate to cycle along in the center of a lane with a car right behind me that would be going much faster if I weren’t there. It makes me nervous, though as John C. said two weeks ago, feeling uncomfortable is different from being unsafe, and in fact I am safest when there is no way the driver can be unaware of my presence, which he certainly is if I’m right in front of him.

Bert pointed out that most car-bike collisions are accidents, not cases of motorists deliberately running someone down.

Though I did know someone, slightly, who was deliberately run over and killed by a truck driver: Chris Roberston, beloved by several people I know.

Bert went on to say the motorist behind us is (generally) not the one we have to worry about. The real danger comes from the motorist who opens his car door without looking (especially if I am unwise enough to be riding in the door zone), the one who runs a stop light, the one who pulls out of a side street or driveway without looking, the one who turns suddenly in front of me.

It is also unsafe when a motorist tries to squeeze by me in a lane that’s almost big enough. This can be prevented by my riding smack in the center of the lane, but this is one of the situations where I often ride too far to the right, because I dread taking the lane and having an angry motorist behind me. But, as mentioned, the cyclist who does that is actually safer.