Mom Overboard! (Habit Experiment mid-month check-in)

Two weeks into Exercise month of my Habit Experiment, and I’ve already learned a lot about myself.

For one, I hate keeping emotion journals. To be fair, I already knew this, but for some reason I keep trying them and every time I do, I have to learn again that I hate them. I gave up on my habit journal after three days.

Another thing I already knew about myself but was surprised to learn again is that I dislike half measures. I set up this very reasonable Habit Experiment, adding one habit a month so I wouldn’t become overwhelmed and so I would increase my chances of success. But “reasonable” is so boring and, because I don’t like boredom, reasonable things are unsustainable. So, I made some changes.

1) I’m waking up at 5:15 every morning to write for thirty minutes before I go for my walk, and I’ve implemented a 9:30 bedtime to help support this early-rising habit. The early wake-up is proving easier than the early bedtime.

2) My thirty-minute morning walk is now a one-hour morning walk, and it has been joined by a half-hour after-lunch walk and an hour-long after-dinner walk. This is because…

3) My steps goal has doubled, from 10,000 steps to 20,000 steps a day.

4) Instead of doing little bits of exercise whenever I feel the internet yen, I’m setting aside a 30- to 40-minute stretch each day to do a Fitness Blender resistance training video.

5) I’ve cut several activities from my schedule, including a couple of volunteer roles and my voice lessons. I’m sad to lose these things, but I’m relieved to have a little more time…to walk.

My spouse worries I’ve gone a little overboard. He invoked data that suggest that you can optimize the health benefits of exercise by walking/jogging 40 miles a week, and any more than 40 miles a week can actually have a detrimental effect on your health. Of course, you’re still healthier than if you didn’t do any exercise, but you’re not as healthy as if you did a reasonable amount of exercise. He worries that because I’m on pace to walk 61.5 miles this week, I’m damaging my health.

I worry that because he’s reading these studies, he might not be up for our proposed Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2022.

“Why are you so into walking all of a sudden?” he asked. At the time I didn’t know, but in the days since, I’ve been able to come up with a possible answer (in addition to the obvious one, that my FitBit inspires in me a compulsion to walk just to see my numbers increase).

I think it all comes down to a need for escape. This is why I retreat to the internet when my kids start getting to me, and this is why walking for 2.5 hours a day works for me. Even though walking around our suburban neighborhood bears a striking resemblance to walking on a treadmill, I’m alone with my thoughts and the occasional eastern cottontail or striped skunk and so the walk meets my need for escape.

And except for the encounters with the skunks and the drivers who think 8 inches is enough clearance to give a pedestrian walking on a road with neither sidewalk nor shoulder, my walks don’t inspire the kind of anxiety in me that the internet does.

This need for escape is, I think, also why it hasn’t worked for me to do little bits of exercise every time I feel the internet yen. Squats and lunges would keep me away from Facebook for a while, but after my set was done, I’d still feel like opening up the laptop. The escape I feel with my walks lasts even after I get home, so I’m on the internet less. (Or maybe I’m just on the internet less because I’m walking for 2.5 hours a day.)

I do fear that my 20,000 steps a day isn’t sustainable. For one, we will eventually come into winter, and even on days when I can walk for 2+ hours outside, I will necessarily have to go slower because it will be dark and icy and my glasses will be covered with frost. I can walk in rain (and did for two hours yesterday), but ice and temps at or below 0°F dramatically decrease my exercise efficiency

Another problem with my current plan is that I have hardly any time for reading or for blogging. And unless I give up this homeschooling gig, I’m going to have to convert some of my walking time to writing time eventually. Or I could get one of those standing treadmill desks and walk while I write…

But for now, this is what I’m doing. And I’ll plan to keep with the 20,000 steps a day (for my short legs, this is roughly 8–9.5 miles a day) at least through September and see how I feel. There’s no need to stop walking now just because I’ll have trouble getting the miles in when the weather turns bad. Maybe by October I will have come up with a way to do all of my walking and writing and reading and homeschooling and volunteering AND sleeping.  Or I will have moved onto the next compulsion.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What began as Mason Currey’s blog, which began as a way to procrastinate writing projects, Daily Rituals is a compilation of the rituals and routines that creatives in various fields follow (or followed) to get their work done. The contents of the book are gleaned from the reports of biographers, friends and family, or from the reports of the authors, composers, artists, and scientists themselves.  It would be easy to read this an entry or two at a time, but I gleefully went from entry to entry and read the book straight through.

This book has been a comfort to me on so many levels. The biggest help it’s offered is to show me that there are really a ton of different routines productive creatives follow. Continue reading

Bookends: July 2014

The first day of each month, I’m posting a summary of what I read the previous month and what I plan to read in the coming month. I would love if this could become a conversation in the comments about what’s on your reading list, too!

Today marks a record for our family:

As of this day, my spouse and I have lived in our house for three years, the longest period of time we’ve lived in one dwelling for our adult lives. And although my spouse lived in the same house from first grade through high school, three years is the longest I’ve ever lived in the same dwelling (so far). I understand this probably doesn’t seem like much of a milestone to most people, but to us, it’s kind of big.

It’s funny to watch how we react to the knowledge that we’ve been here longer than we’ve lived anywhere. Although we have no particular plans to move, we’re both sort of looking around, expecting that something will make us move, and because of this we’re hesitant to make any long-term plans (long-term meaning longer than about three months out. I scheduled an orthodontist appointment for my daughter for November and then wondered if maybe I shouldn’t schedule so far out).

It will be interesting to see how we feel as this fourth year progresses. Will we start to feel a sense of security…and will it be a false sense of security?

At any rate, no matter how long we stay in one place, there are always books, and as long as there are books, I’ll be reading them.

Here’s the recap of what I read in July:

Continue reading

The Habit Experiment: July Wrap-up and August Kick-Off

One month of my nine-month Habit Experiment is done as of today. Yippee!

July’s Habit: Mindful Internet Use

To refresh your memory, my goals for this month were…

(cue Wayne’s World dissolve)

1. Restricting my internet usage to morning hours and evening hours for the completion of specific tasks.

2. Keeping a log of the times during the day when I feel a pull towards the computer for a non-planned usage of the internet noting what’s going on at the time and what I’m feeling at the moment.

Goal #1 was moderately successful (I only had one week in which I fell off the wagon entirely), and Goal #2 was successful only in the sense that I still want to keep a log and have a plan for how to implement it more effectively.

I’ve lost about one pound and my crossword puzzle times have remained about the same, but I don’t think either of these has anything to do with my internet use.

Inspired by Charles Duhigg’s How to Break Bad Habits (also in the appendix of his book, The Power of Habit), I have settled on a couple of tweeks for changing my internet habit during August (listed below).

August’s Habit: Exercise Daily

In addition to continuing to reduce my mindless internet use, I will devote August to developing an exercise habit.

I’m not 100% new to this. I’ve been taking a 30-minute walk every morning since April 2013, but I want to add a bit more while remaining realistic (I’m not getting any younger, after all). My motivation is to feel healthier, happier, and more energetic, as well as give me some wiggle room to eat high-calorie foods without gaining weight. In developing my goals for my exercise habit, I realized I could combine them with my mindful internet use habit and perhaps hit the proverbial two birds with one stone.

My goals for August:

1. Walk a minimum of 10,000 steps per day, as measured by the FitBit David Sedaris inspired me to buy. I’ll get this with my morning walk combined with regular daily activity, and perhaps a walk around the neighborhood with the kids. I wanted to go for 15,000 steps per day, but I prefer to under-promise and (hopefully) over-deliver.

2. Do 30 minutes of resistance training each day. Because I have trouble finding a chunk of time to exercise, I’m going to try out exercising in lieu of mindless internet use. Every time I feel a desire to check my e-mail, I’ll do one set of some form of resistance training (push ups, squats, lunges, triceps dips, etc). I’ll keep a list of exercises handy so I don’t have to spend time choosing one, and I’ll alternate upper body and lower body each day. At the end of the day, I’ll finish up whatever exercises I’ve not gotten to. Or so goes the plan

3. Keep a log of my exercise and internet use, à la Charles Duhigg (see the “How to Break Bad Habits” link above for more information about this).

So, I’ve got my measurements on board and my paper day planner at the ready for me to log stuff.

Let’s go, August!

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was my Classics Spin #6 book, and I was supposed to have it done by July 7. Well, I missed that deadline by a little bit, but I eventually finished it, and it still counts towards my Cavalcade of Classics challenge. So there.

There were parts of this book that I really enjoyed. In the latter chapters, the action picked up and Dickens did a great job of keeping the intensity up and leading the reader along, something I imagine would be especially important for a book published in episodes.

I also liked how innocent Oliver was, always trying to do the right thing despite the circumstances. He seemed a little too good to be true, but I liked him so much, I didn’t mind that he was a bit unbelievable. He just had so much spirit.

One thing I don’t quite understand in a lot of these 19th-century books is how easily people fall ill. Emotional strain or just a walk in the cold can put them into fits or lay them low with a life-threatening fever. Were people back then really that delicate, or were the pathogens present in 19th-century London just so dangerous and ready to pounce that people were always a head cold away from death? What were these mysterious fevers people were always getting?

The most unpleasant part about the book is Dickens’s insistence on referring to Fagin primarily as “The Jew”. According to the notes at the end of my version, Dickens responded to critics who claimed his portrayal of Fagin was anti-Semitic by saying that at the time the story took place, most of those in Fagin’s line of work were Jews. I don’t know if this is true or not, but the way that he calls him “The Jew” at least as often as he calls him by name suggests that he’s actually saying he’s in that line of work because he’s Jewish, which is a very different thing than just saying he’s in that line of work and happens to be Jewish.

In addition, there’s a scene in which Oliver sees Fagin and shouts, “The Jew! The Jew!” It seemed strange to me that Oliver would have referred to him like that because I thought other characters generally referred to Fagin by name, and Oliver would have done the same.

And then there’s the way that Dickens time and again describes Fagin in ways that suggest he’s less than human, like in chapter 47 when Dickens says that Fagin “disclosed among his toothless gums a few such fangs as should have been a dog’s or rat’s.” I don’t recall Dickens comparing other non-Jewish characters to animals in this way.

I also considered the possibility that Dickens was just writing about Fagin as the culture at the time would have seen him, but I could buy this notion a lot better if these nasty things were said only by other characters in the story, but by and large, it’s not other characters who are saying these things; it’s our narrator (whom I read as Dickens). All of this suggests to me that Dickens’s portrayal of Fagin wasn’t merely a reflection of the demographics of a particular type of criminal in London at that time but truly was (and is) anti-Semitic.

But aside from this admittedly very large part of the book, I enjoyed the story. I nearly always enjoy Dickens’s dark storytelling and psychologically tormented characters, and I find the female characters in his book refreshingly strong-willed (refreshing because not every strong-willed woman is punished for it (though most of them are)).

View all my reviews

Breaking All the Rules

As I drove away from the open field where I left my progeny for day camp, I wondered what I should do with my two and half hours sans enfants. I found myself near a small lake I knew that had a wooded walking path around it, and I decided to chuck my usual need for over-planning and just take a walk in the woods. I had my sun hat and sunglasses with me, and I was wearing my good walking shoes. What other preparations did I need?

In the parking area, I opened my door and a voice in my head piped up with one of the Safety Rules for Being a Woman: “Always tell someone where you’re going!”

I hadn’t told anyone where I was going.

I looked at my phone and decided it was too much like checking in with a parent to call my spouse and tell him I was going for a two-mile walk. I’m a grown woman. I can take a walk without notifying my spouse. (But before I put my purse in the trunk, I tucked my phone in my pocket, just in case.)

With my sun hat shading my face, I started for the trail head. I glanced back at my car and eyed the white van parked next to my driver’s side door.

Another rule popped into my head: “Never park next to a full-size van!”

I envisioned the abduction scene from The Silence of the Lambs.

I shook off the image and headed for the trail head again. I was trying to think of a reason not to worry about the van when I walked by a Jeep Wrangler in which a middle-aged man sat alone, listening to “Rock You Like a Hurricane.”

“Morning,” he said in his Massachusetts accent and raised his hand from the wheel in greeting. I smiled and nodded a greeting, and the voice in my head recited: “Buddy up for safety! Never walk alone!”

I’d been on this walk many times with only my kids and had felt only mild annoyance at their pokey walking pace, but now without my diminutive guards I suddenly felt afraid.

I noted the man’s appearance and took a quick look at his license plate and walked on, with what I hoped looked like purpose and confidence. On the trail, I met woman after woman walking alone. After about the sixth solo woman, I began to feel more comfortable. If they were alone and okay, chances are I would be, too.


Sure enough, the biggest dangers I encountered on the path that morning were the piles of horse poo I had to dodge and the gnats that swarmed my mucous membranes. I was safe despite breaking the rules.

When I was a kid, I imagined that when I reached adulthood, I would eat peanut butter directly from the jar, and I would be confident and courageous. The first dream has come true, but I’m far from confident and courageous.

Here I was feeling nervous about walking around a suburban lake by myself in the middle of the morning. And why was I nervous? Was it because of some real danger at this particular lake?


It was because I was remembering lots of rules that had been drilled into my head and the heads of other women of my generation over the years. Don’t develop habits, don’t go running while listening to music on headphones, don’t go walking alone after dark.

The women I talk to say that they choose to follow the rules (or not) on a case-by-case basis.

“When I run, I guess I should technically have someone with me, but I almost always run alone,” says my marathoner sister. “But the place I usually run is made for bikers and runners, and I know bikers and runners, and I don’t know…I just feel comfortable there.” It’s a group she knows and trusts, if not personally then at least in the abstract, and that leaves her feeling safe enough not to follow all of the rules.

“Of course,” she adds, “if I’m in a rough part of town or I have to walk to my car in the dark, I park out in the open, under a street light and either get a ride to my car or have someone walk me to my car.”

These rules are supposed to keep us safe, but do they really? By following all the rules, do we really reduce our risk of becoming victims of violence? I can’t find any numbers to support that notion. The stats I have found are those that say that violence—both sexual violence and violence in general—is more likely to come from within our homes and trusted relationships than from strangers. Is it possible that keeping all of these rules in mind and being on the lookout for danger everywhere just keeps us feeling anxious without actually keeping us safer?

If these rules aren’t evidence-based, why do people keep telling us to follow them? Is it really to keep women safe, or is it just another way to preemptively blame the victim—or to make women feel like victims before we ever have a reason to?

In my high school gym class, we were doing a section on baseball. The teacher took all of the boys up to the real practice fields with the real, wooden bats and the real baseballs, while he sent all of us girls to the muddy lower field with aluminum bats and rubbery balls that bounced unpredictably when hit. When I met with the principal and told him that the girls were being denied access to decent-quality sports equipment and well-drained playing surfaces, he said, “Did it ever occur to you that the teacher was just trying to keep you safe?”

I was fifteen years old and had taxed my introverted, non-confrontational self pretty heavily by meeting with the principal in the first place, so although I couldn’t quite figure out why wooden bats were dangerous for girls but not for boys, I just said, “No. I hadn’t thought of that.”

When I told my father about the conversation that night, he said, “What about the boys? Don’t they need to be kept safe?” The fact that the reason wasn’t applied to both groups, he explained, was what made it sexist.

My spouse has never been told not to jog by himself. My father was never told to get a ride to his car after dark. If these rules really do keep women safe, wouldn’t they also keep men safe? And if they do, why are we only telling them to women?

Teaching these rules only to girls and women and not to boys and men makes the rules suspect in my mind. Why are girls and women encouraged to feel like we need to be protected both by and from men?

If these rules only apply to women, this implies that women are targeted for violence simply because they are women. If we’re being targeted for who we are rather than for what we do, then it seems there’s a deeper issue that isn’t being addressed, deeper than the need for women to be constantly aware of their surroundings in a way that men need not be.

What does our culture gain by keeping us scared?


Find more Weekly Writing Challenge entries here.

How is wifi like an epidural? (Habit Experiment Check-In, Week 3)

When I was pregnant with my daughter I would think about my desire to birth without pain medication and couldn’t figure out why so many women had trouble refusing it. The way I envisioned it, the hospital staff would say, “Do you want an epidural?” and I would say, “No, thank you.”

In retrospect, I was a bit naive. I figured this out myself during eight hours confined to a hospital bed with an ever-increasing pitocin drip.

It was way easier to avoid pain meds when I birthed my second child at home where there wasn’t an anaesthesiologist on call. (Replacing the pitocin with a big birth tub also helped.)

Sure, avoiding the internet isn’t really in the same ballpark as avoiding an epidural, but there are similarities. Just as it was easier to avoid pain meds when they weren’t available, it was much easier to avoid the internet when we were spending each day in Boston and didn’t have access to it. (Replacing grammar lessons with carousel rides also helped.)

At home, I lose all resolve. The laptop sits there, beckoning me. “Come on over, Charity,” it says. “You can just look for a few minutes while the kids are occupied. See what your West Coast friends are up to. Click on a link or two. You can totally read that incendiary post and ignore the comments.”

Really, it’s not the laptop’s fault. People tell me that all I need is a little self-control, and I admit, they are totally right (and also kind of jerks). I actually have a fair amount of self-control, it’s just not limitless. I can’t have a bag of potato chips in the house without consuming the whole damned thing, and maybe I can’t have an internet connection without losing myself in it.

I either need to unplug the wifi, or I need to find the secret to ignoring my yen for looking at pictures of the babies of people I’ve never met and finding out what my “old person” name should be (it’s Gladys, in case you were wondering).

Maybe the secret is replacing the habit with something else. Maybe a lap around the house or a glass of water or ten jumping jacks. Maybe I should get myself a birth tub and take a dip every time I feel like refreshing my e-mail unnecessarily.

I’ll figure something out. Maybe next week.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends.

Sisters Book Club: The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

The Weird Sisters
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Weird Sisters was the July selection of the Sisters Book Club. To join our online discussion of this and future books—including our August book, Jung Chang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China—join our Goodreads group.


There are some minor spoilers here, so if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing, you might want to read the book before reading this review.

I wasn’t terribly impressed with this book.

Some things that bothered me:

-It seemed like they all sort of got free passes on the mistakes they made, and I found that irritating and unrealistic. Embezzlement is easy and fun and carries only the most intangible of consequences. And who just walks into a place and gets offered a job? Apparently 100% of the Andreas sisters do (and still they don’t stop whining).

-The fact-checking problems annoyed me. Robins aren’t cavity nesters so they don’t live in birdhouses (ch. 12), you don’t knead gingerbread (ch. 22), and I found the progression of the pregnancy to be dramatically accelerated. Oh, and Rose lost 12 pounds in the first two weeks of college because she only ate in her dorm room, in the campus hangout, or in town (ch. 15)? Yep, I don’t buy that one. I lost 15 pounds in two months, but that was on a strict elimination diet. I don’t think burgers at the Student Union would have had the same effect unless the meat was tainted with E. coli. Continue reading

A Dinner Invitation to “Weird Al” Yankovic

Dear Mr. Yankovic,

Your new CD, Mandatory Fun, arrived on my doorstep this afternoon. I knew the UPS guy rang the doorbell even though we didn’t hear it because the power was out because I did like I always do and hid around the corner and watched him through the window.

After the power was back on, my spouse and I put the album on while we made dinner, and I want to commend you on another album the whole family can enjoy.

My spouse loves “Lame Claim to Fame,” and I think he should play “Sports Song” next time he gets together with his brothers for a University of Michigan football game. My nine-year-old loves Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” and I was looking forward to hearing her opinion on your “Inactive.” She liked it, but she observed that it “is kind of a sad song, when you think about it, Mom.”

My four-year-old made us put down the liner notes and all hold hands and dance around in a circle in the middle of the kitchen.

We like all of the songs on the album (except for “Jackson Park Express” because it’s just a little creepy and kind of long for our short attention spans), but I think our family favorite is “Word Crimes.” I love it because I’m a grammar pedant from way back. My daughter loves it because she loves diagramming sentences. My spouse loves it because he’s always on everyone’s case about “less” and “fewer.” And my son loves it because…well, he likes pretty much any song because he likes to show off his mad dancing skills (or is it “skillz”?), so perhaps you shouldn’t put too much stock in his adulation.

While we were all dancing around the kitchen, I thought back to the days when my mom would put Dare to Be Stupid on the tape deck in our 1983 Volvo station wagon and we (Mom, sister, brother, and I) would all sing along.

I thought back to my spouse’s and my courtship in the late 90’s when I tried to patch up a huge gap in his education by serenading him with “I Want a New Duck” and “Yoda.”

I thought of all of the times we’ve told our kids, “Look, kids! It’s Spatula City!” They’ve heard it often enough, even the four-year-old doesn’t respond anymore.

And then I thought about this past week when my kids and I were stuffed into a rush-hour green line train car on the T in Boston and I barely suppressed the urge to belt out, “Another One Rides the Bus.” (The only thing that stopped me was that there was already a guy yelling “fire,” and I thought another crazy person making noise wouldn’t have been welcome.)

“You know,” I said to my spouse, “I would so love it if Weird Al came to our house for dinner.”

I blogged about this a couple of years ago, about how my dream dinner party would be you and the Dalai Lama, and that I would have no problem finding something really yummy to make because I have lots of experience with vegetarian cooking (I’m a near-vegan myself), but neither you nor the Dalai Lama ever responded, perhaps because I never directly invited either of you.

My spouse said I should write you a letter, but I’ve not yet perfected my Palmerian handwriting and it’s just easier to invite you via blog post.

So, please consider this an invitation. I can make my awesome vegan lasagna, and we can have homemade vegan ice cream for dessert. Between courses we can play bocce in our back yard. We usually eat pretty early, so you’d have plenty of time to do something else afterward, if you wanted to. I know of at least two public places nearby where there are its/it’s errors that need correcting.

If you’d like, we have an ongoing Saturday Salon at our house at which each person shows up with a poem, song, book, or Big Idea they want to talk about. We all just chat for two hours and then go our separate ways, but you’d be welcome to stay for dinner afterwards.

So, you know, if you and your family are ever in central Massachusetts, drop me a line. We’d be glad to have you over.

In the meantime, thanks for releasing albums three generations of my family can enjoy together.




Car Light in Boston

Monday through Thursday this week, my kids and I drove the 20 minutes to the commuter rail station and then took the train into Boston, where we spent the morning riding swan boats, playing on playgrounds, sketching artwork in the MFA, and measuring our ears at the Museum of Science. After lunch, we headed to my son’s ballet class and then took the train back to the middle part of the state, getting home in time for dinner.

The carousel on Boston Common

The carousel on Boston Common

The upshot:

We had a blast.

By the fourth day, my kids both had a decent mental map of the portions of the T that run south of the Charles River. I estimate that we walked about five miles each day in the July heat, and my amazing children kept up with a minimum of complaining. They returned home worn but excited to share their adventures with their dad.

The kids loved the dance class and the museum visits and the Frog Pond on Boston Common, but each day they would spontaneously proclaim, “I LOVE public transit!” Which is good because we spent a lot of time traveling.


Which was more fun: Riding the train to the Museum of Science or actually playing at the Museum of Science?

From our house to our Boston destination each morning, it took about 2.5 hours (20 minutes driving to the commuter rail station, an hour or more on the train to Boston, then an hour on the subway to wherever it was we were heading). It took about an hour to get to dance class from our morning activities, 45 minutes to get from dance to the train station, and then an hour and a half until we got back home. And that’s on the days the rail system ran smoothly and on time.


Parking at the commuter rail station was $4.

It was also pretty spendy. For four days, it cost us just about $100 just for train and subway fares. And the kids both ride for free. But really, it would have been at least that much in gas, tolls, and parking if we’d driven, so the expense doesn’t bother me that much.

So my kids and I love public transit, but what is it we love, exactly?

1. Together time. It’s great to sit on the train and read or talk and interact with each other instead of navigating traffic. My daughter loved that she could read on the train and not get a stomachache. My son loved that he could sit on my lap for an hour while I read his Ladybug and Ranger Rick magazines to him.

2. Novelty. There’s something magical about climbing into a hole in the sidewalk and finding a train down there that will take us all over the city via a simple, colorful map. I wasn’t too keen on how often I found my four-year-old licking the metal railings, but by Thursday that novelty had worn off, thankfully.

3. Friendly people. Public transit seems to bring out the best in Bostonians. In their cars, they range from unpleasant to hostile, but on the subway, they’re practically magnanimous. Every time we got on a train, someone would stand up and offer my children a seat. When my kids squirmed and knocked into the strangers on either side of them, I would apologize and would inevitably be greeted with an understanding smile. When my son dropped his dinosaur book, the man across the train retrieved it and handed it back. One conductor on the commuter rail called my son “little man” and another gave my kids “tickets” he’d then come back and check for later. My son kept his safely in his pocket, and checked for it before we boarded each train.

4. Self-righteousness. For part of our commuter rail journey, the train runs parallel to the highway, and each day I would look out the window at the cars and think, “Those poor bastards.” And each afternoon when the mom across from me in the dance class waiting area said, “Of course, you drove today, didn’t you?” I sat a little taller when I said, “Nope. Why would we?” (I’m not particularly proud of this one, but I have to admit that it’s probably part of what I liked about taking public transit. I feel so self-sufficient getting from A to B without my car, and it makes me a little smug.)

It’s been a bit of a letdown to return to suburbia where we can get hardly anywhere (safely) without taking the car. There are good things about living out here—we’re close to berry picking and cool hikes and we get to see spotted turtles and foxes on our morning walks around the neighborhood—but it’s tough to see an alternate way of getting around and know I can’t access it in my daily life. It’s triggered another round of Salt Lake City nostalgia.

Each day since our adventure, my son has asked, “Mommy, when are we going to Boston again?”

I’m not sure when we’ll get back, but I’m happy to know that when we do, it’s possible that the journey will be as rewarding as the destination.



Not only was this a great way to avoid the internet this week, it was great practice for September’s habit.