Settle Down That Worry

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worry into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, things fitting together for good, will come and settle you down. -Philippians 4:6-7

I’ve been memorizing and meditating on that verse during my bus rides to work. I need that reminder these days.

One thing very cool was the moon last night. It’s been so cloudy and wet that we haven’t seen anything other than clouds in the sky for…I can’t remember. But last night the clouds cleared for a bit, giving a view of the “blue harvest moon.” It was beautiful as I rode across Lake Washington, and I got some glimpses on my way through Kirkland.

Sadly, we didn’t get to see any of the lunar eclipse, but I’m thankful to have seen any of it.

Lemonade in January

I got another flat tire on the 520 trail part of my ride yesterday evening. That’s two flats in six days, not that I’m counting. They were both in the rear tire, so you might think they were related, and in a way they were. But the first flat was a slow leak from some small thing that poked a tiny hole, and I was able to ride on it for a couple miles as it went flat (and as I fruitlessly hoped it wasn’t going flat). The second one, last night, was a 1/4″ to 1/2″ long slit that emptied my tube in no time flat (so to speak).

I say they’re related because together they tell me it’s time for a new tire.

I changed my flat, again appreciating the well lit nature of the 520 bridge path, but riding along I could feel the tube bulging and going lump lump lump as the wheel turned.

So, once again, I stopped at the bike shop. This time I got a new tire, and since it was time anyway, a new chain too. They also threw my cassette into an ultrasonic bath, which was super cool. If it didn’t cost like $700 I’d consider getting one myself!

That did give me the idea of using an old Sonicare toothbrush on the cassette, though. Much cheaper and I wouldn’t have to disassemble anything. Could be messy, though…

Anyway, I eventually got rolling again but didn’t get home until after 7, thanks to all the shenanigans. I was a little damp, but for a day that featured continual rain from dawn to dusk, I was fortunate. The rain actually tapered off by the time I got going, and it was one of my drier rides this month.

Anyway, I’m thinking of last night’s mishap as lemons, and my getting a replacement tire and chain (and clean cassette) as the lemonade. Still… Hopefully from here on out I have uneventful commutes for a while.

Oddball

Have you heard the joke about Seattle that goes, “I visited Seattle for two weeks and it only rained twice – once for 10 days and once for four days.” Since November, I think that’s been pretty accurate. My rain garden should be super happy right about now.

The funny thing is, looking around the bus, very few people are dressed for rain. They’re all going to work, wearing business or business casual attire, with nice shoes and no Gore Tex to be seen. Newcomers here think we don’t go in for umbrellas, but every single person in line at my bus stop had one. In short, taking away the dark gray, soggy exterior, the people on my bus could be commuting in San Francisco or New York (although I’d expect more overcoats, scarfs, and gloves for the latter).

I, on the other hand, am absolutely a product of my environment. I’m in a neon pink waterproof bike jacket, weather my work clothes beneath — but I chose synthetic black pants that push the limits of our dress code because they dry out quickly. I’ve got on booties, gloves, and ear covers. As a bicycle commuter, I think I may experience the weather more directly that any other commuters (unless someone walks, I suppose — boy would that be nice, close enough to walk to work). Even waiting at a bus stop in the rain, while wet, doesn’t involve being out in the weather for as long and intensely as I am when commuting.

Hence the bizarre gear.

Indeed, I’m one of those things that is not like the others today. Actually, that’s true every day. I’m not good at fitting in, especially regarding clothes and appearance.

That’s okay. My clothes remain functional and within acceptable parameters.

Now it’s time to go back out into the soaking wet. If you don’t hear from me again, over probably grown gills and turned into a fish.

How Diet Choices Are Like Religious Choices: Evaluating “The Gluten Lie”

Y’all know I’m pretty passionate about science. And I care a lot about food and healthy eating choices.

Well, I’ve been reading a book called The Gluten Lie (please pay no attention to the stupid clickbait title), and although I haven’t finished it, I’m finding it interesting so far. The book is written buy a guy who studies religions, meaning he’s used to evaluating cultural beliefs and myths, and looking for patterns in those areas. He brings this interesting perspective to the field of nutrition.

What this means is that, while he does allude to scientific research, he’s not presenting rock-solid scientific arguments with tons of research studies backing up his discussion points. For example, he discusses the current cultural fad of thinking gluten is “bad” for you and that all people would be healthier avoiding gluten. While he does offer some counter-research and some investigation of why those claims probably aren’t accurate, he isn’t trying to completely dismantle the claims of people advocating low- or no-gluten diets. Instead, he explores historical context for avoiding grains and how we came to hold this belief — and he calls on the reader to acknowledge that it is, in fact, a belief, ultimately taken on faith.

Because, as he points out, nutrition research is incredibly difficult. How do you run a controlled study on what people eat? How do you get a statistically meaningful number of people to let you control every molecule of what they put into their mouths every day, probably for years? Alternatively, when you ask people to self-report what they’ve eaten, who wants to admit they ate a dozen 2″-square brownies after dinner when they could simply round down to a half-dozen 1″ brownies? Or if people aren’t intentionally lying, they aren’t remembering accurately: How many brownies was it, again? and how big were they?

So when people object to all the conflicting reports we hear about different foods — are eggs full of dangerous cholesterol, or are they actually healthful protein packages? — they’re right. Recommendations are constantly changing. That’s because, honestly, researchers don’t know. Add to this the fact that many news articles tend to take cautious scientific statements like “There was a statistically significant correlation between consumption of eggs and slightly increased HDL cholesterol, which may contribute to heart disease,” and turn it into “Eggs cause heart attacks!” and you’ve certainly got a recipe for setting the general public up for disillusionment and distrust of mainstream experts.

Okay, let’s take that, and then ask, “How do people decide what to eat?” If it’s not based on serious, rigorous science, what’s the basis for deciding what to put in our pie holes when it’s not pie?

Belief. Myth. Stories.

“You are what you eat,” for example. We scoff at the idea that eating a (ahem) part of a tiger could make a man more virile (a belief held in Asia), but we still think eating high-fat foods will make us fat. Uh, nope; that’s actually excess calories. Eating a piece of bacon or bread with real butter on it isn’t more likely to make you fat than eating an equivalent amount of other calories — at least, there’s no research demonstrating that yet.

Yet this belief that eating fat makes you fat has persisted from the time of the ancient Greeks to today. I grew up eating nonfat everything, including nonfat frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, margarine instead of butter, and seeing my parents showing every evidence of obsessively avoiding fat. And look what it’s brought us: Gross fake substitutes and mountains of guilt over indulging in “sinful pleasures.”

Oh, yes, notice the religious language there? The author points out that we use quite a few religious terms when talking about food, such as the way we talk about “good” and “bad” foods rather than “nutritious/healthy” or “non-nutritious/unhealthy” foods.

Another common belief he discusses is that food and eating were healthier in the past. He calls it the “paradise past,” where we think that the way people ate at some point in history–be it 10,000 years ago or 100–is better than today, and that people in that time lived healthier lives because of their mythical perfect diets. The funny thing is that this belief has been around for a long time. When people 100 years ago said diets need to go back to a healthier past diet, what does that mean for us today claiming that diets 100 years ago were the ideal we should strive for?

That idea of an eating “paradise past” ties in not only with the idea of the Paleo diet’s claim that we haven’t “evolved” to eat grains, but also the suspicion of “chemicals” in our food, the mistrust of GMO foods, and the whole “only use ingredients your great-grandmother would recognize” claim. (Good thing it doesn’t say “grandmother,” or else we might be going back to the 1950s era of lime Jell-O mixed with canned spinach and topped with whipped cream and grapes. It’s all green!)

He doesn’t call this out specifically, but all this got me thinking about how people really do treat food choices like a religion. Ever talked to someone who’s on the Paleo diet? They have the evangelistic zeal of a Mormon missionary: Boy do they know they’re right and want to convert you to their thinking. They aren’t alone; many people, when you scratch the surface, hold equally powerful beliefs around food. Similarly, the rules and rituals around food and the avoiding of specific foods parallels religious behavior in many ways.

Most of all, like when a person believes in a certain religion, no amount of counter-evidence is going to change the believer’s mind. They know they feel better when they cut out gluten (never mind the other lifestyle changes that may have contributed), and that’s much more powerful than a discussion of the nocebo effect and sociogenic illness. Plus, once you buy into a specific diet or food belief system, it becomes a fundamental part of how you think of yourself. It’s incredibly hard to ask someone to then evaluate that decision in a cool, rational way.

What does all this mean?

Well, I haven’t finished the book yet, so I don’t know how the author wraps it up. But it reminds me of a few things:

  1. Respect other people’s food choices, even if I think they’re ridiculous. Odds are I’m making dietary decisions on an equally flimsy foundation.
  2. Don’t worry too much about the exact foods I’m eating. Instead, eat in moderation when I’m hungry, and choose foods that have high nutritional value: Carbs for energy, protein for building muscle, and vitamins and minerals my body needs to be healthy. Try not to obsess about avoiding certain things or adding in certain things because of some study that claims sugar causes Alzheimer’s or something.
  3. Don’t try to change anyone’s mind about food. This ultimately is a matter of faith, not subject to rational analysis and evaluation. In fact, maybe food is another topic like religion and politics, best left untouched in the workplace and at family gatherings.

That’s most of what I’ve got so far. There’s more, but I’ll save it for another day. I’d love to hear what y’all think about all this.

My Brain on Thankfulness

As you know, Seattle in January isn’t known for its pellucid weather. I’ve gotten in a full quota of rainy day rides already, and we still have months more to go.

One of the more miserable biking experiences is having to change a flat tire. Add in darkness and rain, and you’ve got the perfect mix for the ultimate misery. The only way it gets worse is if it’s sleeting out below freezing.

As you can imagine, every ride I check my tires, and always hope and pray for another flat-free ride. Until Wednesday that prayer had been answered. But, alas, all good things must come to an end, and that includes my months-long run of no flat tires.

I noticed my bike handling in the heart-stinkingly squishy way characteristic of a flat tire near the UW, less than five miles into my ride, but far enough to be a long way from any buses that could bail me out easily.

It wasn’t raining much, just a little sprinkle here and there, and Dad and I had planned to meet up and ride home together. I kept riding a ways, long enough to know for sure I definitely couldn’t deny the truth. I’d have to stop and change the tire.

I ended up finding a place on the 520 bridge to change my flat. It had lots of good lighting, anyway, if everything else about the situation left much to be desired.

I changed the flat. The rain started in earnest. A dozen or more people rode by. None offered to help, which I understand — it was dark, cold, and rainy. Still, it made me wonder if my asking “Are you OK?” when I see a cyclist pulled over is actually that unusual. I have stopped to help on occasion if they say they need it, too, because that’s what I’d want done for me.

It wasn’t the easiest or hardest flat to change, but somewhere in the middle. I only carry a (filthy) hand pump on my commuter bike, and while it worked okay, even my low pressure tires didn’t get very well filled. Thus, I stopped at the bike shop on my way home, and the guys took care of me. They re-changed my flat to make it tidier, put anti-flat goo in the tube, and filled me up to my usual 50 psi. I got home later than usual, but I did get home.

It’s holding fine so far.

So at one point during the evening, I started feeling pretty sorry for myself, and it wasn’t fun. To fight the self-pity quicksand, I started thinking of things I was thankful for about the situation:

  • It was above 40 F. Colder would’ve been a lot worse.
  • I did have good light.
  • I had all the tools and skills I needed to solve the problem, all of which worked!
  • I didn’t get a pinch flat on any of the 1/2″-tall slabs of steel I had to bump-bump over along the 520 bridge on my really low pressure tire.
  • It could’ve been raining a lot harder (and later it did!).
  • The bike shop was open and the guys are super nice, and took pity on me. (I later brought them thank-you cookies.)
  • I have the luxury of owning a nice bike and all the bike gear, and have the time to commute.

And you know what? When I finished thinking of all this stuff, I really did feel much better.

Future Planning

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care — then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. -Philippians 2:1-4

Even wiping away the overtly Christian wording, I feel this verse speaks to so much of what’s tearing our society apart: the being obsessed with getting ahead, the not loving others who are different, the constantly thinking about self so there’s no room for others. What if caring for people came first?

… Insert clever transition here…

The last couple days my jaw has been so sore I can barely open my mouth, and I have been having really disturbed sleep and anxious dreams. If you asked how I’m doing, I’d say fine — but clearly my subconscious seems to be telling me otherwise.

What’s going on? Well, my work is in a fairly quiet place, with deadlines under control. My marriage seems stable, my kid is normal… At least, as normal as you can expect from us. Ian’s work is going through a wild transition, but we can weather whatever happens there.

I think it’s the summer. School gets out on 5/23, and doesn’t resume until 9/7 (or so; a couple days after Labor Day). That’s 16 weeks my kid needs care from 8 am too 4 pm, and there’s no daycare this year.

I’ve started planning, and it ain’t pretty. I’m having to patchwork together a nasty mess of care, one day or week at a time, for 16 weeks. It’s supremely anxiety-inducing and showcases pretty much the worst of being the family scheduler.

Result? Not only will we be using up all the good will of our childcare volunteers, but the kid will be spending most of his summer at the all-day Y summer camp (assuming I can get signed up).

And, on top of all that, it brings to the surface all my guilt about being a working mom. That’s basically a whole nother blog post, so I’m going to leave it there for now. But definitely more on this later.

Meantime, I’m hoping my jaw muscle will relax enough that eating is possible. We can hope.

Rain, the Movie

I’ve set myself a goal of what I do on the bus every morning, and one of those things is write a blog post, no matter how short. In general, I just want to resume a little more consistent posting.

The last week, however, my bus rides have been busier than usual. I see many of the same people many days, and if I end up sitting next to one of those people, we’ll often chat. That happened a number of times in the last week, plus of course having Monday off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The bus ride home, which I avoid as much as possible, I usually just read a book. After a day of writing, I usually want a break.

Like I said, though, I avoid the bus home as much as possible. Instead, I’ve been enjoying the amenities of the new 520 trail across the bridge. Over the weekend, we got some spectacular sunny, warm weather, but now we’re back to our regularly scheduled January.

Yesterday I rode home with a friend. I estimated that at least a couple billion rain drops hit each of us over the course of the 20-mile ride. It was serious rain, the kind they have in movies with huge drops that soak the protagonist in no time flat.

In movies they don’t usually show the time when the protagonist is forced to ride a bike though a deep puddle filling the entire bike lane when an unfortunately timed car goes by. They also don’t usually show the wave of cold, filthy water inundating the protagonist when a car drives through a deep pothole filled with water at just the wrong moment.

And they definitely don’t show the half hour of hanging up dripping, soggy gear, followed by a night of hoping said gear will dry by morning.

Good thing. That’s a boring movie idea.