Monday, December 30, 2013

A Carless Life

Over Christmas, I sold my car to my parents.

It's a good car - it was cute, fuel-efficient, spacious despite its small size, and had never had any mechanical trouble. I really loved that car. But in a city like Chicago, the car had become a liability. In my first six months of living here, I was slapped with ticket after ticket, unfamiliar as I was with the Byzantine parking rules that seem designed specifically to generate revenue from outsiders and newcomers. Then there were the sky-high gas prices, the tolls, the battle to find parking, the increased insurance, the monthly loan payments. To top it all off, I don't even use my car every day - I take the train to work. So as much as I loved the car, it had become a liability - an albatross hanging from my neck, weighing me down.

Needless to say, I'm glad that I sold it to my folks. However, I'm already noticing that the adjustments I need to make are more significant than I initially thought.

For one, my friends and significant others keep asking me to drive them places! I hadn't realized how often other people relied on my car; in that sense, I do feel a bit guilty about selling it. Perhaps if I had worked things out a bit differently, we could have shifted to a "communal car" system, which would have alleviated the financial burden of keeping my car. Although I suppose that is, in a sense, exactly what the ZipCar system is, so there you go.

For another, hearkening back to my previous musings about the cold, running errands is much more... complicated in this weather. Today didn't get warmer than the mid-teens; I wore long underwear beneath my jeans, and three layers beneath my down jacket. I planned out my errands so that I could make regular stops along my route to warm up - but I had to balance that with my other physical limitations, namely how much I can carry. Because I am a genius, I decided to actively improve my cooking at the same time that I forfeited my car, so my grocery trips have become much more frequent; no longer can I do the once-a-month stock-up of supplies.

When the warmer weather returns, I will probably switch to biking for much of my commuting about. However, I have an intense fear of biking in Chicago; I know too many people who were nearly killed by Chicago drivers, and the legal system doesn't really seem to care how many cyclists are maimed or killed each year. But I may have to overcome my fear of biking if I'm to adapt to a carless life in the city.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Knowing What I Don't Know

It wasn't until recently that I realized I was terrible at cooking.

Well, I shouldn't say terrible. Just not very good.

When I'm cooking for myself, I'm competent enough. I can make a stew, or a stir fry, or a simple pasta dish, that I greatly enjoy. But I get kind of tired of cooking the same thing over and over again, and it turns out that my tastes run on the bland end. I blame my stint at a wilderness school, where we ate a paleo diet with no salt,  no pepper - no seasonings whatsoever. It reset my palate, I guess, and now what I consider "salty enough" is very bland to most other people. Combine that with my limited experience with different recipes, and I wind up with a rather boring cooking experience.

I lived in ignorant bliss of this fact until recently, when D started dating two lovely women who are also incredibly talented cooks. As I became friends with them, I started enjoying more and more of their cooking, which I quickly realized blew mine out of the water. When I listen to them talk about cooking, I realize they're talking in a language I barely understand, if at all. They use terms for sauces and methods of cooking that I've never heard of, and I feel like a child when I ask them to explain them to me.

But, dammit, I realized I was never going to improve if I didn't swallow my pride and ask them to teach me their mysterious ways. And so I did, and one of them, Am,  gave me the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook with the promise that she'd help me learn.

I vaguely remember my mother having this cookbook when I was a small child. The bold red-and-white plaid cover is instantly recognizable. Am calls it "the Bible of cooking." I don't recall any specific recipes that my mother used from it, but I'm sure it informed her cooking in the same way that the Bible informs my family's celebration of Christmas. My mother vaguely attempted to pass on her cooking skills to me, but - like her attempts to instill Christianity within me - she was unsuccessful. In the case of religion, I rejected it wholecloth and went pagan (though at this point my parents are basically agnostic anyway, so I don't think they went to church for any reason except a sense of duty towards their parents). In the case of cooking, I can't exactly stop eating and opt for an alternative, so I might as well pick up where my mother left off and teach myself.

D has already eagerly volunteered to be my guinea pig. My brother has also agreed to help me with a project of cooking each and every food available in the game Skyrim. I've already done some preliminary research on what sorts of recipes I could use. I'm sure I'll share my adventures here. It'll be a learning experience for me.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

On Romanticization and Subzero Weather

Every state I've ever lived in has touched at least one of the Great Lakes (the cool ones, not Erie and Ontario), so I have a long and intimate acquaintance with the cold. That may explain why many of my favorite fantasy worlds feature winter and the cold prominently; I rewatch Game of Thrones on a regular basis, I've sunk hundreds of hours into Skyrim, and my favorite book series as a kid was set in Alaska, above the Arctic Circle. I - like many other Great Lakes natives - derive a pride of sorts from the cold winters, and lament their gradual loss to climate change. The cold makes us hardy. It makes us tough. We're not like those namby-pamby Californians who think they're so special with their palm trees and whatnot.

And then I moved to my current apartment, which doesn't have central heat.

This isn't to say that my apartment is unheated - however, instead of a furnace with vents piping warmth throughout my place, I get a gas fireplace set into the wall. It's barely a step up from a cast iron stove - and even that's debatable because (speaking from firsthand experience with a cast iron stove) a stove's metal body can radiate heat in all directions in a way this gas fireplace can't. It's one of the many quirks of living in a 150-year-old house that was never properly modernized because the previous owners lacked either the cash or the ability to care, or both.

Still, the lack of central heat wasn't much of an issue when I first moved in. I'd lived in apartments without central A/C - and in apartments with zero A/C, which wasn't always fun but was doable. So this wouldn't be that bad either.

That was in early November, when temperatures sauntered between 40 and 55 degrees. Right now, it's 17 degrees outside, but wind chill is bringing it down to 5. Tomorrow the high is going to be about 19 degrees, and it's not expected to crawl above freezing for the rest of the week.

I'm learning things about the cold that I didn't know I didn't know.

Even though the Starks are always shown in their furs, bracing against the cold, I didn't really understand how keeping the cold at bay is a constant battle. When a bunch of warriors are drinking and laughing by a roaring fire, I didn't really think about how the cold would descend upon them as soon as they stepped away - how it crept at their backs even as they sat by the flames. I unconsciously assumed that all their castles and keeps had central heat, that warm air took them up in a comforting hug as soon as they stepped through the doors, like it had whenever I came home from building a snowman, or skiing, or shoveling the driveway.

Now I truly understand why lap dogs were bred - they're living hot water bottles. (I'm fortunate to have a lap cat, which is even better in my estimation.) I'm rediscovering the usefulness and the genius of shawls - which, as a bonus, are very fun to knit. I have no fewer than three blankets on my bed, and I lament throwing out my ratty, torn old comforter during the move because at least it was warm.

And even then, at least I have some sort of heat source, and a relatively well-insulated apartment; too many people in this city don't even have that.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Shit Monogamous People Say

True to form, I'm hopping on a rhetorical bandwagon about a year too late.

When people learn about polyamory for the first time, or learn that I'm polyamorous for the first time, I've noticed a few themes or questions that pop up again, and again... and again... and again. Not all of them are outright offensive, necessarily, but it does get tiresome to hear them over and over. So here you go, mongamous people, answers to all your questions/statements about poly!

"Boy, I could never do that!"

I think a lot more people would be successful at polyamory if they were just willing to try. Not everyone will like it, but given the high rates of divorce and infidelity, I'm guessing a good many people would benefit from it. So don't dismiss it out of hand.

"So you're allowed to cheat?"

The word "cheating" implies that I'm breaking the rules. I'm not breaking any rules. I'm just playing by a different set of rules than most people are. So no, I'm not "allowed" to cheat. (Now there's a whole 'nother thing about how uncomfortable I am with the game/competition terminology that's commonly used to describe dating and relationships, but that's a rant for another day.)

"Don't you get jealous?"

Of course! It's a totally understandable response. But my jealousy isn't a good reason to forbid D from dating other people, in the same way that his dislike of fish isn't a good reason to forbid me from eating seafood.

"But you and D aren't really committed to each other, though."

If a relationship that has lasted seven years, distances spanning half the globe, and a near-death experience isn't "committed," then I don't know what the hell is.

"Sounds like an excuse to have a lot of one-night stands."

Funnily enough, I'm betting I've had far fewer one-night stands than many "monogamous" people. They're not really my jam. But even if I was having a lot of one-night stands, why would that be a problem? As long as we were using protection and everyone was pleased with the outcome, there's nothing wrong with that.

"Will you have sex with me?"

Probably not.

"Why not? You're polyamorous, aren't you?"

Yeah, but a girl still has standards, dude. You're welcome to ask me out on a date, but don't assume anything.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pros and Cons of an Attic Apartment

When I lived in Wisconsin, I lived on the ground floor. While there were definite advantages to it - easy to move things in and out, easy to let the cat out - there were also disadvantages. Like having strange people knocking on my patio door late at night. Or getting bugs. Lots and lots of bugs.

My newest apartment is the attic apartment of a four-flat. There are some interesting quirks to such an apartment that I never would have expected. Some of them are nice... others, not so much.

PRO: Nothing is out of reach.

At 5'4", I'm only slightly shorter than average for white American women. Unfortunately, houses are generally designed with a 5'10" white guy as the "standard." (THANKS, PATRIARCHY.) So I can never reach the top shelf, or even the second-to-top shelf, of a typical kitchen, bathroom, pantry, closet, etc. without the assistance of a stool or a gentleman caller.

But in an attic apartment, the sloping ceiling keeps everything within reach! I still have the stool, but I mostly just use it for sitting when I put on my socks in the morning.

CON: Lack of vertical space.

On the other hand, I don't mind storing something high up if I need to reach it only a few times a month or year, like my Christmas tree or my fine china. It keeps it out of the way, yet secure. I don't have that luxury here - storage space is sorely lacking. I'm also struggling to find enough wall space to hang all my pictures, because hanging something on a wall that is only three feet high just looks silly.

PRO: It stays warmer in the winter.

Heat rises, so I get a little extra warmth that leaks up from D's apartment below me. That's especially helpful because I don't have central heat - just a gas fireplace set into the wall.

CON: It stays warmer in the summer.

Heat rises in the summer, too. Not looking forward to that.

PRO: No upstairs neighbor.

My upstairs neighbor at my last apartment was not a particularly loud guy. Heck, he was a real nice person. But, thanks to acoustics and physics and all those fun sciences, I could hear a lot of the stuff going on in his apartment. I could hear his cats playing tag with each other, I could hear the TV, I could hear him snoring sometimes! As far as upstairs neighbors go, I could've had way worse, but it was still disruptive at times.

CON: Stairs.

Three flights of stairs after a long day isn't very much fun. And it made the move a royal bitch, too.

Like all apartments, an attic apartment isn't perfect. But I'm an optimist at heart, so I'm excited to find out everything I can do with this space.