Reflecting on Two Years

Yesterday marked my two-year “Tamaversary,” as they call the start date anniversary at work. My boss celebrated by ordering chocolate-covered strawberries, which I did appreciate.

Two years doesn’t sound like much to me, but compared with the tenure of most developers, I’m practically ancient. And somehow this two years has gone both very quickly and very slowly. The real question, however, is whether I’ve grown or learned anything in this time.

Writing Growth

Over this time, I’ve certainly learned a great deal about technical writing for software, and I think my writing quality has substantially improved — albeit with room for continued improvement, of course. I’ve gotten much better at using fewer words, clearer descriptions, and more consistent terminology. I’ve also learned to think about how users will find and consume content, to make answers more readily available.

Before joining Tamarac, I’d never read, let alone written, release notes. Achieving the right tone, the perfect mix of marketing and technical communication, is something I keep working at. I’ve gotten much better, ah some stories I really nailed, which feels good. Now I get to work on hitting the sweet spot for every story.

Cultural Growth

My boss describes me as a leader. I find this odd and a little improbable; I’m a mere Tech Writer II, just doing my job. But I have made real connections over the last two years — nobody who’s going to be my best friend decades from now, probably, but definitely solid, even friendly, working relationships.

I naturally have reached out to the other people on my team and I get along with them well. But I also have formed good relationships with PMs, developers, QA, and marketing, all really valuable connections. This year I want to start getting to know the support folks upstairs, because they use Help Center at least as much as external clients. I want to find ways to make Help Center more useful for them.

It’s not all work, of course. I also run the Bike to Work team in May, and I organize fun little things for our team, like bringing in pies on Pi Day or Indian food for Diwali. It makes us all happier, and my boss doesn’t stop me, so why not?

Why We Keep Teeth

Benji has lost four teeth so far, the front two in the top and bottom. Before he lost his first tooth, which came out at the end of June last year, we prepped him with the hard reality that there is no Tooth Fairy. We are the Tooth Fairy, I told him. This didn’t faze him, as long as a prize appears overnight in place of his tooth.

We also skipped the tooth-under-the-pillow shenanigans, and instead have a special jar to contain the tooth. The jar sits outside Benji’s bedroom door, making it nice and easy for the “Tooth Fairy” (he still wants to pretend, even though he knows it’s us) to make the swap.

So: Today Benji lost his fourth tooth, the final front top one.

Benji with top and bottom front teeth missing.

This means my human tooth collection now expands to four. Yep; I’ve kept all Benji’s baby teeth so far.

Not that long ago, my mother gave me a baggie of my own baby teeth that she’d kept for nearly 30 years. She’s not alone: I have anecdotally heard of lots of parents who keep their kids’ teeth.

Which got me thinking: Why do I keep these nasty relics?

It’s bizarre and rather gross. These aren’t exactly the crown jewels here, y’know?

But today I think I figured out why I, at least, feel irrationally reluctant to just toss those teeth in the garbage (compost? I guess they’re probably compostable… eventually; they are organic, but like shells probably don’t decompose much, hence teeth in skulls thousands of years later… Maybe if you crushed them up…. Hmmm)

Sorry, back from my tangent! It was interesting, but as I was saying, I think I feel reluctant to get rid of Benji’s baby teeth because they represent, at a very visceral level, his childhood — and losing them emphasizes both his maturing and how quickly it’s happening. A baby getting his first tooth is exciting, and often much celebrated, but not nostalgic. It happens in that 18 months of insanity that all parents survive with only vague, hazy memories.

A kid losing his baby teeth, on the other hand, is leaving babyhood behind. He’s growing up, maturing, and becoming increasingly independent. He’s had those baby teeth for five, six, seven years — long enough that they feel like part of who he is. Losing them is an exciting and healthy but somewhat heart-wrenching step towards becoming a new person.

So! No wonder it’s hard to chuck those baby teeth without a qualm: They’re all tied up with all the fraught emotions of memories of a child as a baby, and anticipation of the future and a child growing up. We’re great at celebrating this step for kids, but I wonder if there would be some way for parents to celebrate this, too, a way that acknowledges the more complex feelings potentially tied up in these little teeth… but that also gets rid of them in the end, too.

Open Letter to Specialized

Having run out of options to get financial recompense from FedEx, BikeFlights.com, and USAA to replace my S-Works frame, I’ve sent Specialized the following letter. I don’t expect it to make any difference, but it can’t hurt.

(In case you missed this story, here’s the background:
Crushed, Frame Damage Update, Acceptance, Bike Update)

Dear Specialized,

My name is Katie Ferguson. This June my family splurged on an S-Works Tarmac disc to replace my 2015 Cannondale SuperSix Evo. The full-price S-Works was a huge financial stretch for us, but worth every penny. The crisp responsiveness, zippy power transfer, and incredible lightness combined with the unbelievable comfort made it a joy to ride, by far the most wonderful bike I’ve ridden in my almost 15 years of cycling. I told my friends that it offered all the benefits of the best race bike combined with the comfort of my long-time commuter bike. I named it Swift, after the bird.

And, of course, the chameleon/salmon paint job made it the first bike I’ve ever owned that I actually liked the color. (I’m in the blue jersey on the left.)

On it, I trained for and rode the Levi’s Gran Fondo in October, finishing 7th of the women who did the full 117-mile/11,000-ft Growler route. As a Seattle-area native, I reveled in the glories of riding in Northern California, a new and delightful experience for me. The beauty and challenge combined with the pleasure of riding my S-Works made it some of the best riding of my years on the bike.

Shooting Meteor 3

But then: tragedy.

On the shipment back to Seattle from Levi’s, FedEx crushed the frame of my S-Works.

I’d had it professionally boxed in a hard-sided Thule case, but that didn’t matter; my frame was totaled. And I had opted out of insurance, trusting my case to protect the bike. When I filed a claim, FedEx and BikeFlights.comeach sent me a check for $100. The only silver lining was that only the frame sustained damage; all the components, including the wheels, appeared to come through unscathed. I’d ridden the S-Works a mere 2,000 miles before it was destroyed.

Since then, my family has saved to pay to replace the frame. While my local bike shop, Woodinville Bicycle, has generously offered me 30% off a frame replacement, I’ll be honest: We can’t easily afford to buy and build up the same bike again. I’ve also been waiting for the new color schemes to come out, so I can obtain another bike as beautiful as my destroyed bike.

My two requests for you, then, are:
1. Can you please let me know when to expect the new colorways? I’ve been waiting since October for some size 49 S-Works disc ladies’ frame choices that aren’t red and white.
2. Would Specialized be interested in helping me replace my frame at a lower cost than my bike shop can offer? I know you are cyclists, too, and that means you can imagine the anguish and sorrow I experienced at finding my beautiful, beloved, brand-new frame destroyed in shipping — with no financial recourse from the shippers or our insurance company.

You say that believe that bicycles have the power to change lives, and it’s true. Now you have the opportunity to help change my life directly, to change this story from a tragedy into a romance, where the beloved and its lover get back together after so many travails.

I look forward to hearing from you, and to the day when my rebuilt S-Works and I can be reunited once more.

Crossing the 520 Bridge

The sun has only just set, dipping below the western hills toward the unseen vastness of the Pacific Ocean. Our little piece of the Pacific slowly darkens from blue-gray to a color of blue and black too dark to differentiate. Crossing the bridge now, I pass over wetlands and lily pad habitat, the land only hesitantly giving way to water. Fading light shines on smooth ripples, brightening the tops with white, and outlines bunches of sedges and rushes. It’s bedtime for most birds, but in the summer, waterfowl flock here.

A wooden trail, rife with its own series of tiny bridges and floating spans, cuts darkly through the grasses and across the water. Although I have ridden parallel to this path nearly every evening for over a year, I rarely see people walking there or using its small docks.

Once out on open water, the sky and the horizon take over. To the east, the setting sunlight gilds the newly risen towers in Bellevue, glints off windows packed into the dark Kirkland hillside, and highlights the snowy peaks of Mt. Baker and its Cascadian companions. To the south, lights on the I-90 bridge march toward the dark bulk of Mercer Island, while in the hazy distance Mt. Rainier rises in stately glory, dimly visible though the fading light.

The sky lives with the sunset, dark faded orange-pink brightening to the west into rose-gold and bronze, a halo of light silhouetting hills dotted with yellow windows of unseen homes, the hard-edged tops of skyscrapers, and the dark blue-gray bulk of mountains beyond. The water catches the sun’s last light and sends it back, a shattered reflection of orange, red, and navy blue that embraces the black hills and darkening sky above.

Upon the eastern side, another night grips the hills, the towers, the mountains. I ride on.

Iliac Artery Circulation Issues

I think I’ve alluded a few times to my leg, and dealing with excessive leg pain while riding, but I don’t think I’ve actually explained what the deal is. Partly that’s because I’m still not 100% sure myself, and partly because it’s hard to describe. But I am going to be trying not aggressively to figure out for sure what’s going on and, if I’m really lucky, find a treatment. I imagine I’ll talk about that journey here, so this post is the prologue.

Once upon a time, in April 2016 to be exact, I went out one day after work and did some very, very vigorous hill repeats. The hill was steep and I attacked each repeat with the ferocity of a rabid squirrel.

Towards the end, my left leg really started feeling fatigued, much more than the right. But I pushed on through, because that’s the point of intervals. If they don’t hurt, you’re doing them wrong.

I rode home and thought no more about it. I’d recover and move on with my training.

But my left leg didn’t recover fully. It still felt fatigued long after the right leg had gotten back to feeling fresh and ready to go. When I tried to do a hard effort, the left leg started giving out sooner.

One day, that winter, I was riding in a group up a hill. I have historically done well on hills, spinning up even fairly steep hills thanks to my beneficial power to weight ratio. But that day my left leg suddenly gave way: It went from tolerable effort feeling to excruciating, agonizing fatigue feeling in a moment. My leg burned, not a cramping burn, but the burn of pushing super hard, but beyond anything I’d ever felt.

I stopped. I’ve never stopped on that or any other hill, but I couldn’t continue. After a moment I limped on, but it hurt so much I was crying as I slowly crept up to the top.

My leg has never been the same since then. When I’m fitter or better rested, the fatigue sometimes takes longer to hit; when I’m less fit or start a ride more fatigued, it takes almost no time at all.

Training for the Levi’s Gran Fondo, every training ride was just a matter of time until my leg gave out. Whenever I tried to put out a lot of power — BAM. Whenever I tried to do long, aerobic spinning — BAM. It felt crippling at times, and I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to do the Gran Fondo.

I went to Dan Druckhammer, a cycling coach and PT I have many years of experience with. He did some tests and research and eventually diagnosed me with iliac artery compression.

This happens to 10% – 15% of cyclists who ride a lot over many years. There are various causes — a torturously long atrery, thickening of the wall at the bend near the hip joint — but the result is that the artery that carries blood to the quad and calf muscles is restricted. Less blood gets to those muscles. They recover more slowly and fatigue more quickly due to oxygen deprivation.

The only treatment at this time is arterial surgery. Professional cyclists sometimes get this condition, and some of them have the surgery with good outcomes… But at least one pro cyclist died from internal bleeding while on a ride after having the surgery. It’s a big artery and surgery is dangerous. Some pros choose to give up riding rather than take the risk.

Meanwhile, Dan has given me some stretching, to facilitate blood flow as much as possible, and some exercises to strengthen my glutes and hamstrings, which aren’t impacted by this circulation issue. I stand to climb hills now, when I very rarely did before, because standing uses those alternative muscles more.

But, to be honest, although I’ve religiously followed his suggestions, things aren’t any better. It feels almost random, that some days I’ll have an okay ride with mild pain, and other days it will cripple me. Lately it’s been more of the latter, and I cannot understand why.

I’m starting to feel really discouraged. What if this ends my cycling?

Before I give up, I’m going to get a referral to a sports medicine doctor to absolutely confirm the problem, and see if there’s anything else to be done. I’m not hopeful, but I’m also not ready to give up yet.

Snuggle Heaven

Before Christmas I bought a red/green/blue projection light to decorate a wall at work. We only ever turned it on a couple times; it distracted the people sitting nearby. Today we took our Christmas decorations down and I brought home the projection light for Benji’s room.

I had a kind of idea it might work as a dimmer night-light than his zillion-lumen pink LED lightbulb, pictured below. That light is so bright you can literally read by its light.

Zillion Lumen Pink Lamp

For the time being, until we could get the projection light mounted more officially, I just jammed it between his dresser and wall. Then I called Benji in to see.

His 100% instantaneous, unalloyed reaction: “It’s heaven!”

Heavenly Light

He later clarified that it was actually snuggle heaven, and we played a game where one of us was St. Peter standing outside the door asking why the other person should be let in to snuggle heaven. Once in snuggle heaven, you get to toss snuggles and bedding all over the room and snuggle around anywhere you want while gazing at the mesmerizing light.

In short, I’d say so far it’s a much greater success at home than it ever was at work.

I is for Ice Cream Sandwich

We have a cookbook from my childhood that’s an alphabet cookbook. It has 26 recipes, each one starting with one letter of the alphabet. I actually use the Wonderful Waffles recipe as my go-to when we make waffles — it’s pretty good! I also like the Oatmeal Pancakes, which are heartier (probably not healthier) pancakes that include quick oats.

Not surprisingly, Benji has decided he wants to cook every recipe in the book.

More surprisingly, he doesn’t care to do them in alphabetical order. Instead, he’s picking and choosing the order he wants to do them in.

Not surprisingly, he’s picking desserts first.

Thus, today we started with I, Ice Cream Sandwiches.

The recipe is super easy:

Step 1: Make peanut butter cookies and let them cool all the way.

Ice Cream Sandwiches: Step 1

Step 2: Plop a blob of soft ice cream between two cookies and re-freeze them.

Ice Cream Sandwiches: Step 2

Step 3: Melt chocolate chips and dip frozen cookie goodness into the chocolate. Re-freeze again before eating.

Ice Cream Sandwiches

Step 4: Enjoy frozen chocolaty, peanutty, vanilla-y goodness.

Ice Cream Sandwiches: Success