Snow Day Pictures

We got even more snow, and there’s lots more days of snow in the forecast. I’m trying to embrace and enjoy it, rather than worry about it, since — let’s be honest — what will worrying do? It certainly won’t clear the roads, ensure school’s in session, or guarantee that I can get to work next week. So here’s a few pictures from today’s snow adventures.

Before:

Friday Back Porch

After:

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Before:

Friday Before Road

After:

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Some other pictures:

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After spending an hour clearing our driveway, I went for a snowshoe walk with Dad.

Well, actually, I started to snowshoe to Mom and Dad’s house, but when I got to our neighbors’ house, we chatted and they offered to taxi me in their snow tire-clad SUV. The dad drove me and then his teenage son drove them home after dropping me off, giving him a chance to drive home.

So that was awfully nice of them! Dad got ready and we left for our snowshoe walks.

Well, actually, we first dealt with a couple of the snowshoe binding straps that broke. They’re old, old, old rubber that became brittle, cracked, and broke. Each shoe has four bindings, three on top and one around the heel. The heel binding is crucial, but you can get by with two of the three top bindings. But two heel bindings broke, as did two top bindings on one shoe.

We thought we’d have to scrub the whole plan, but then realized we could cobble together one shoe’s-worth of working bindings. I wore those while Dad wore a pair of rubber boots, and we cut our walk down to a visit to Edith Moulton.

My snowshoe straps held up, so I walked Dad most of the way back to his house and then took the long way home.

Here are some pictures from the walk.

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Enough Snowmageddon Scoffing

Okay, Midwest, Northeast, and anywhere that gets more snow than Seattle. We know you get more snow than we do, and you handle it with panache rivaled only once in history, by the socialites aboard the Titanic.

But I’m sick of taking your scoffing and your snide, superior remarks about how inept we are at dealing with snow. It seems that, during our snowstorms, all that people from other places can talk about is how stupid and hopeless we all are to freak out over a “little” snow.

Winter Wonderland?
This picture was taken 24 hours after it snowed last week. Notice the road conditions: Completely untreated and still quite snowy, but now mixed with refrozen slush and packed-down ice. It’s approximately an 8% grade; local kids sledded down the middle of the street the following day.

I lived in central Massachusetts for nigh on eight years, long enough to experience some legitimately wintry winters — and I bike commuted through three of those years. So I think I can speak to some regional differences here. When we lived back East, it would snow; cities and anyone with a pickup truck would clear it; and then it would get sunny and surprisingly nice. Bundle up and you could head out as normal. Cold, yes, but clear skies and dry, clear, mostly flat roads.

Maybe it lets everyone else who has to freeze their buns off all winter feel a little glow of warmth at how much more capable their cities are than ours at handling snow. I don’t begrudge you that little warmth, but before you start mocking us, you try driving 20 miles on our streets (so to speak).

If you really did try to drive 20 miles when it’s snowed here, you might have to let some of that smug superiority slip away. Because:

  1. We have hills. Real hills, with grades exceeding 15%, and they’re everywhere. You can’t go from Point A to Point B without going over quite a few of them. I know; plenty of cities in the Rockies have hills, much bigger than ours. But consider point #2:
  2. Our cities don’t invest in lots of snow-clearing infrastructure. It doesn’t make sense financially, when some years we don’t get any snow at all, or just a day or two. Our usual “wait until it melts” plan works because it rarely stays below freezing for more than a few days at a time. Typically snow goes away within two or three days here, even in the middle of winter. The whole city of Seattle has 35 snow plows; Denver has 70.
  3. Because we don’t have a lot of snow-clearing infrastructure, people drive on the snow, packing it into ice. Then melts a bit during the day and refreezes overnight into an even more exciting untreated skating rink. Try driving on that up and down hills, and then come back and scoff at our caution.
  4. People here have no practice driving in the snow, and therefore stink at it. Most Washingtonians don’t know to drive steadily and carefully, with no sudden stops or turns. Instead, everyone seems to be under the impression that their four-wheel-drive Escalades mean they can drive at the speed limit regardless of conditions. Plus, Washington has recently received a massive influx of people from California, India, and other warm climates — none of whom come with snow driving chops.

Even if none of these factors convince you, remember that every place is different.

You may take snow and subfreezing temperatures with equanimity, but how would you like 145 days of rain? Plus, we live at the 49th parallel, farther north than Portland, Maine. We get less daylight in the winter than anywhere besides Alaska. How would you like to have the sun rise at 8:00 am and set at 4:00 pm in the winter, and in between have mostly cloudy gloom and 40-degree drizzle?

We don’t make fun of people for hiding from rain or feeling gloomy when it’s gray outside. You don’t need make fun of us for our response to snow, whether or not you think it’s reasonable.

How about if, instead of posting smugly about the inferiority of other people’s ability to deal with conditions we handle as as a matter of course, we empathize with each other over shared experiences? Or maybe we could share some tips with how to cope, or even just provide a little encouragement.

It’s an idea.

‘Snow Fun

I remember the first time I thought, “Oh no, it’s snowing!” That’s when I realized I had truly grown up.

Today, Wednesday, is the first day I’ve gone to work this week. Monday and Tuesday I worked from home, thanks to copious amounts of snow. School has been cancelled all week, too, including today. Monday Benji spent at home with us; Tuesday he spent with my mom; and today he’s going over to my in-laws. I can only hope school’s back in on Thursday, or we’ve got a childcare problem!

Friday they forecast more snow. I’m not going to worry about that yet.

It’s been so cold – 14 when I left this morning – that everything that melted during the day when it warmed up to almost 32 refreezes overnight. This cold is supposed to linger, and that means that daily freeze/thaw cycle continues. That’s what I worry about the most. But I got out the studded tires bike and I’m going to be careful, but try to commute home the next couple days.

Here are some pictures from Monday, when the snow was still fresh.

And here’s me waiting for the bus this morning. I’m planning on riding home. I trust the studded tires will protect me from any surprise icy patches.

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?

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.

Long Week, Big Day

With New Year’s Day on Tuesday, we all experienced a bumpy transition back to work and school on Wednesday. Some of us contained our basket-casiness better than others, but I think that by Friday we all felt that the week had stretched for two, or maybe even three, regular weeks. I know for myself that even though I only worked three days, each day felt exceptionally long and slow.

Fortunately, today made up for so much! Benji started the day off right by finally losing his first top tooth, which has dangled by a mere thread for days.

Looking 6

Then while I went for a ride, Benji and Mom did a playdate with a friend from Mom’s church while Ian had some introvert time. I had a nice ride and my leg didn’t bother me as much as it has on recent rides — more thoughts on that later. It’s really a whole post. But the point is that, despite my getting a flat, the weather held out and I got in some good miles for January.

I arrived home just in time to scarf food and quickly whisk off Ian and Benji to the pool at McMenamin’s, where our church organized a play time. It turns out I don’t even own a swimsuit at the moment, so I couldn’t go in the pool, but Ian and Benji had a super fun time.

By sheer coincidence, a friend of Benji’s from school, Henry, was there with his mother and sister. I chatted with the mom while Benji, Henry, the sister, and a crowd of kids from church played in the water. Benji and Henry were really thrilled to see each other there, and the pool was shallow enough that the kids could safely play without close supervision.

After swimming, we dropped Ian off at his D&D game and came home and drew imaginary Pokemon characters. I know they’re all pretend… but I guess these are even more pretend, because we completely made them up ourselves? Anyway, I drew outlines and Benji colored them in. He found it encouraging to see that I made mistakes while drawing, too.

We created Blinkeon, Flareon, and Blazeon, which all have blinking or glowing antennae and tummies. I got to draw each one three times, one for each evolution, so if we do this again I’ve learned to make them very┬ásimple. Slugeon, Wormeon, and Snaileon, here we come!

So it all worked out well in the end. I’m hoping the weekend will help us reset back into a more normal feeling week next week… preferably with each day feeling shorter than 72 hours.