The long arm of the IRS

I’ve found myself recommending things and sending links to stuff I’ve bought on Amazon A LOT lately — so my other half suggested I look into Amazon affiliate links.

While registering for the Affiliate Program for Amazon UK, I’m asked if I’m American — because, despite being resident in the UK for the last 13 years and paying taxes here, I’m still expected to report all income to the IRS back in the States.

It still baffles me, the long arm of the IRS. Surely it should be INTERNAL and they shouldn’t be bothering me given that I’m now EXTERNAL to the country!?

And now I’m wondering if I ought to bother at all, if it’s going to make filling in my annual US taxes more complicated.

Estimated time of arrival

I’m early to just about everything. It’s compensatory from *knowing* I would be late! I am aware of what time I need to be somewhere, rely on my SatNav to give me a estimate of how long it will take, then give myself an extra 15-30 minutes to get distracted or lost.

My husband does the same but almost absent-mindedly, and he doesn’t require a third party (the SatNav) to tell him how long it’ll take.

I guess it’s like he’s memorised the times tables so he already knows 3*2 is 6 automatically but I’m counting 3 and 3 on my fingers.

When it comes to time, it’s like he processes it without having to consciously note it.

Time blindness sucks.

Slow Fashion

Let’s talk SLOW FASHION!

Everyone has heard of “fast fashion” but I’m sure you’re all familiar with slow fashion, too, if not by that name. Hand-me-downs, secondhand, pre-owned, pre-loved!

Today I went shopping for slow fashion, some retail therapy at the charity shops in the town centre — and I found loads! For £24.20 at three different shops, I got 2 pairs of jeans, a pair of workout bottoms, a dress, a skirt, a jacket, a t-shirt, and 3 kerchiefs (which I am intending to use as gift wrapping). I also collected a parcel of a pre-loved shirt that I bought online!

This is not to say that you can’t buy new to be a part of the slow fashion movement — I also stopped into TKMaxx and picked up 4 pairs of amazing, quality pyjamas that I’ve set aside for my kids for when the weather gets colder and I know they’ll be loved again after my kids have outgrown them!

When I was growing up, we did a lot of shopping at consignment shops and I got a lot of hand-me-downs from cousins. It was frugal for my parents but it gave me the opportunity to play with different styles; to this day, I have such an eclectic mix of things and, despite being in my thirties, I still love “playing dress-up” in the mirror!

Consciously Tidying

It’s no secret that I’m ADHD and I’ve been spending a lot of time lately trying to work out exactly how to explain it to people.

I was discussing with my husband a couple weeks ago that I’m not naturally tidy. Where he’ll pour water for tea then put the kettle back on the stand without even thinking about it, I have to CONSCIOUSLY put the kettle back on the stand rather than just put it down on the nearest cleared space to the cups. I used to get annoyed that I didn’t know where the kettle was because sometimes it was on a different counter, sometimes only an inch away from the stand. I now make a conscious effort to put it back, sometimes with a few seconds (or minutes) delay as I realise that I’d set it down in the wrong place (again).

Let me talk to you about entitlement.

I am told that I’m a Millennial and, as such, I’m from an entitled generation. I feel like I straddle GenX and Millenials, though, and I see the painful entitlement on both sides.

Millennials who feel entitled to a job just because they went to uni, something my grandfather rages against having gone to night school whilst working for wages and supporting a young family. I was told by that same grandfather to go to uni to get a good job, then I graduated in the midst of the Great Recession and felt the bitter sting of being unemployable because I both didn’t have enough experience but was suddenly overqualified for entry level work — but still needed to repay huge debt.

But I also see the older generations who’ve worked hard all their lives and feel entitled to their retirements, something that is now being treated as a luxury that won’t be extended to the Millenial generation with the retirement age being raised year-on-year.

But we’re familiar with these generational differences, we’ve heard it all before.

Let’s talk about other types of entitlement.

People who feel entitled to own their own homes which are far bigger than they need while young families can’t afford them.

People who drive cars and feel entitled to park their private vehicles on public roads, making thoroughfares less pleasant and less safe.

Men who feel entitled to write legislation dictating how much control women have over their own bodies.

I’m in the UK and now see why every citizen should be entitled to free healthcare.

Time Flies when you’re having…. kids

“The days are long but the years are short” was something I was told by an older parent, with a wistful look, in the very early days of my new parenthood.

As the years have passed, I’ve come to learn that it’s a really profound statement. I didn’t realise just how much the days can seriously drag, and just how much I’d wish that the children’s harder phases would pass quickly…

But then I’d blink and the day is over and the phase has passed and my baby is not a baby anymore.

It’s actually made me a lot more mindful! I’ve taken up meditating and looked into modern Stoicism, specifically to appreciate the moments and not wish them away nor waste time wishing it would all slow down!


I want to ride my bicycle: A personal history

When I was in high school, probably about 15 years old or so, I found out that my best friend’s parents let her cycle the several miles to the town library. Not one to pass up on an adventure, I begged my own parents to let me join her on a trip. They gave in, but only because my best friend had been doing it for over a year already and they knew I wouldn’t be alone.

The journey on a map looks quite straightforward – down one big long road and then up the other again.

Down the hill on Rt 32 in Montville, Connecticut
Down the hill on Rt 32 in Montville, Connecticut
The route on the map of how I travelled from home to the library
The pillgrimage from home to the Raymond Hill Library

Of course, it was down a great big hill and then up another great big hill. So, she and I would meet at the bottom of a great big hill and we’d cycle up the other hill together. It was only four miles, but it was a fantastically far distance to go without my parents around – at that point, the farthest I’d strayed from them without being driven was a quarter-of-a-mile walk to deliver something to the post office.

It was then that I realised the freedom that the bicycle could offer me. If I could cycle somewhere, I didn’t need to wait for my parents to give me a lift. I could cycle to the library, to my friend’s house, or to the grocery store two miles away. I didn’t do it for fitness, but to get out of the house.

By 17 years old, I was quite happy to cycle the 8.5 miles to a friend’s house across town, bicycle laden with lunch, a change of clothes, books, and whatever else I’d want with me for the day’s adventure. I still remember cycling across town one sunny summer day – at 90F (32C) and humid. I wasn’t bothered, just stopped to take a drink of water every mile or so.

[At this point, I’d include a photo of me with my bike, but I can’t seem to find it just now!]

I wore a helmet (legally required until age 18), but not fluorescent colours. It’s not that it was safer to cycle in my hometown back then, but just that it hadn’t occurred to me that it could be very dangerous. The main roads were wide so I could cycle in the gutter and leave plenty of passing space and there weren’t many cars on the back roads. Actually, the only thing I was ever really scared of on my bike was an angry dog tied out in a garden at one of the houses halfway up the steepest hill – he pulled the chain off the doghouse one day and chased me the rest of the way up the hill, starling at my heels.

I got a car at age 18, gifted from an elderly aunt who could no longer drive. I’d graduated high school, started college part-time and worked part-time. Driving saved time, especially with the distances involved (10-20 miles, depending on which campus I had to drive to), so I all but abandoned my bike to the shed.

I secretly celebrated the handful of times when my car would break down on days that I didn’t have class and I was able to cycle the five miles to the shop where I worked. I remember my family getting upset that I was using my bike to commute rather than asking to borrow a car. In the years since I had started my cycling, traffic had gotten busier along the main thoroughfare and they were worried about my safety. If anything, I worried less as my familiarity and comfort with the roads increased. I prided myself on being one of only a few cyclists in the entire town (I knew the other two, as our paths would very occasionally cross).

When I moved to Edinburgh, at age 21, I initially didn’t take a bike with me. I spent the majority of my first year of my undergrad wishing I had a bike, though, to visit the farther corners of the city in the free moments between studying and societies. When I returned for my second year, I brought with me a budget mountain bike from Wal*Mart that would suffice for the few years I had left of university and wouldn’t make me cry if it rusted to bits.

The first time I tried to cycle on the streets of Edinburgh, though, I discovered the fear. The traffic was on the wrong side of the roads, the signal lights weren’t overhead where I was expecting them, the roads that I frequently walked were one-way in the opposite direction, and there were cars and buses and taxis! I found myself paralysed. I remember standing outside my flat with my bike, unable to get on it and cycle on the roads. I walked to the Meadows and cycled along North Meadow Walk. I intended to cycle back along Melville Drive but couldn’t bring myself to join the road. I cycled back along the pavement until I reached the North Meadows Walk cycle path again. Confused by my nervousness I looped around the Meadows a few times, avoiding pedestrians as best I could, until I finally made myself cross at the pedestrian crossing at the East end of the Meadows, turn Right onto Melville Drive, and cycle on the road back to the West end of North Meadows Walk. I mounted the pavement and congratulated myself but didn’t do it again for awhile.

I remember taking it slowly, re-learning how to cycle in Edinburgh. I remember mostly cycling with my flatmate who was, himself, an avid transportation cyclist. He cycled to class most days while I walked, but if we had somewhere to be together and needed to be there fast, then we could cycle and I would cautiously follow him. I remember the day I raced him across quiet streets to get to flat viewings and we were both surprised by how I’d taken to cycling. It took two years for me to cycle Edinburgh with confidence.

After I graduated, I donated my rusted bike to the Bike Station. I moved down to England where my boyfriend was working and found myself again wishing for a bike. There was a particular style of bike that I’d seen locked to fences in Edinburgh but couldn’t seem to find new or used! I was desperate for a racing bike like I’d used back in Connecticut, but with a dropped top-tube so I could still occasionally wear skirts. I managed to find one on eBay, collection-only in a village outside Nottingham. I fell in love with the cherry-red beauty and duly collected it and had to cycle it the 5 miles back into Nottingham because I couldn’t take it on the bus.

Red bicycle in the bike storage space
Cherry red 1984 Raleigh Stratos, affectionately named “Caroline”

Then, I moved to Cambridge. Cambridge, I’m told, is a cyclists dream in the UK. I found it more terrifying than cycling in Edinburgh because there were more cyclists and the drivers were more impatient with us. Where drivers would pass me wide in Edinburgh, or wait behind me until they could, in Cambridge they’d come within a hair’s breadth. In Cambridge, I had punishment passes, SMIDSYs, and a healthy dose of “damned cyclists”. Cambridge was better in some ways, but much worse in others. But I had a bike that I loved and a need to get out and see the city. I cycled into town every Saturday and Sunday from where I was staying in the outskirts, despite bad weather and impatient drivers. I loved it, despite everything.

I moved to Norwich where my fiancé had gotten transferred and took the train into Cambridge daily. That was when I invested in a Brompton which forced me to leave my beautiful and beloved Raleigh in the storage cupboard in Norwich rather than risk theft or mud at the bike shed at Cambridge station. I was sad about not riding my road bike, but the Brompton was much more practical. After a year and a half of English cycling, I moved back to Scotland and resumed my cycling in Falkirk and Edinburgh.

Raleigh Stratos and Brompton bicycles, propped up against the shed
My Raleigh Stratos and my Brompton

Things in Edinburgh had changed, noticeably, in the time that I was gone. The cyclists I saw weren’t only other students. There were more cyclists, more high-vis, more helmets. There was strength in numbers reminiscent of I’d seen in some parts of Cambridge but the drivers still didn’t have the impatience of the drivers in Cambridge. I couldn’t cycle as hard or as far as I’d gotten accustomed to on the flat roads of the English city, but it was fine. There was more of a community of cyclists in Edinburgh, rather than the isolation of cycling in Connecticut, or the free-for-all folks-on-bikes in Cambridge. There were a few sporty cyclists, some students, and a whole load of folks who’re just enjoying getting to work.

Before returning to Edinburgh, I didn’t see myself as a cyclist. I was just a person who happened to ride a bike. It was only in a conversation on the phone with my dad, when I’d commented about how much cycling had changed in Edinburgh and how happy I was to be cycling there again that he told me “Oh, Denise, you’ve always been a cyclist, you’ve always loved your bike.” That’s when I started reading blogs by cyclists, learning about cycling campaigns like Pedal on Parliament. I wrote a blog post about it, at the time, describing the different categories of cyclist that I could associate myself with.

I still don’t really see myself as a cyclist, it’s not my profession and it’s not even what I would consider a hobby. I only really ever cycle as A-to-B transport, but cycling is my favourite mode of transport and advocating for the bicycle has become my passion. It’s been really hard giving it up while I was pregnant, and now because I can’t carry an infant — but just wait, I’ll be back out there, soon, cycling to the train station!

Feminism in Technology and Cycling

I’ve wanted to write this for a long time, but got rather scared about posting anything about feminism after the recent “It’s about ethics in games journalism” nonsense.

The scariest thing is that I have friends who genuinely believe that it really WAS about ethics in games journalism, not about keeping minorities out of their exclusive club.

Feminism in Technology

I’m in the middle of this really great Venn diagram, so I’ve started seeing a lot of similarities in campaigning and threats. I write software user manuals, so I consider myself a part of the software industry. I also commute by bike (at least, I did until pregnancy made me take a break) and have gotten involved in cycle campaigning.

Venn diagram of cyclist, female, and tech

As a woman in technology and as a cyclist on the roads, I’m a minority. And, it turns out, minorities don’t really get treated fairly…

Physical threats

Inpatient drivers and catcallers don’t necessarily realise just how threatening they are. What they do have in common is that they’re unashamedly using their position of power.

It’s unlikely that a car that’s driving too close to a cyclist is going to be injured. The car can, then, be used as a tool to threaten a cyclist with little risk to the driver. Likewise, a catcaller is unlikely to catcall if they think there’s any risk that the target would harm them back.

Victim Blaming

When I come home, upset because my life has again been risked on the roads, the reaction from friends and family is rarely “I wish people were more considerate of you! The police should do something about this!” Instead, it’s questions of “Were you wearing high-vis?”, “Were you wearing a helmet?”, “Why don’t you just stop cycling if it’s making you so miserable?”. It doesn’t matter what someone is wearing – I should not be punished with assault just because I’m not wearing what people want me to wear.

It makes me angry, deeply angry, that friends and family should push me to give up something I love. I am not the one doing wrong here, I am not the one who needs to change. By advising me to give up cycling, they are implying that it is my own fault that my life is risked, not those other people who are breaking rules and threatening me.

Any sensible person wouldn’t throw themself into the path of a vehicle that would injure injure them. People on bikes aren’t the ones who wield the strength and power.

Women for years have been fighting for the right to wear what they want and to walk where they want without fear of assault.

I will cycle in a short skirt without a helmet– Why should that mean I’m asking for harassment?

Anti-Feminism and Vehicular Cyclists

I have a friend who’s a staunch vehicular cyclist. The reasoning being “I have the right to be in the centre of this lane, the motorists are obligated to slow down and wait until it’s safe to pass. There’s no problem here, just people not following the rules. Enforce the rules and you won’t need to take away road space just for cyclists.

This same friend of mine thinks it’s wrong to have women-only groups in the technology sector, on the grounds that it’s unfair to men.

I can’t argue with the “fairness” of it. Yes, it’s unfair to exclude men, but it’s also unfair that the minority groups such as women and people of colour are forced to endure marginalisation and harassment on a daily basis and we rather need to have a support group lest we leave the industry altogether!

Yes, it’s all well and good saying that enforcing the rules will make the roads a friendlier place — but people are only human and they will use the power that they have. They’ll do reckless things because they aren’t always aware of how much more power they have than the more vulnerable road users.

Where resources go

There is a problem with allocation of resources in both trying to get women into STEM and get more people onto bikes. There’s a huge number of campaigners all crying out for mostly the same things, but those with the money keep insisting on spending it elsewhere.

There’s a huge number of big software companies who are throwing money at schools to try to get kids into software development and especially the young girls. They should be spending money at trying to retain the few women they have already in the field which would, in turn, provide role models for the young girls they’re so desperate to get in. This would involve upsetting some folk (like those who think it’s unfair to have women-only groups) but it would benefit everyone in the long run if there was a more diverse industry.

Something similar happens with money to get people onto bikes . The politicians keep throwing money at the “easy solution” that won’t upset the motoring lobby– cycle training. But training won’t get people to STAY on their bikes. To get people onto their bikes and to get them to stay, there needs to be infrastructure changes. They’re expensive, and it requires ruffling some feathers, but it’ll benefit everyone in the long run.

 Cultural Change

There needs to be a cultural shift, there’s no question about that. Changing our society to make women equal, truly equal, is not just about paying them the same and letting them take time out for families. It’s also accepting fathers as caregivers, too. It’s about no one doing a double-take when you say that your closest female friend is a software developer, or that your father is a nurse;  anyone should be able do the work that they want to do.

On our roads, it’s about making the groups of such disparate vulnerability all equally safe. This means giving them their own space. This means enabling people to choose which mode of transport suits them best, because it is most convenient or pleasurable, not because it is most safe.

A Pedestrian for Pedal on Parliament

Every road user is a pedestrian at some point, even if you’re walking from your car parking space to the cinema. I spent years walking around Edinburgh and, now, walking around Falkirk as my primary form of transportation. Being a pedestrian should be easy, just a matter of walking along to your destination! Unfortunately, it’s not…

Too frequently, the pavements are not a safe place for those on foot. It’s bad enough that pavements are often potholed just as badly as the roads and are clutted with street furniture but, on particularly scary roads or where the cycle paths aren’t properly linked up, many cyclists will make use of the pavement (often considerately, but not always)[1]. Then, to make matters worse, many councils have been re-allocating half of already-narrow pavements for the use of bicycles! It’s hard to tell anymore which pavements are for the sole use of pedestrians and which ones we need to share. What is a walker to do?

This year, I will be joining Pedal on Parliament as a pedestrian — because I know that improving our roads for the benefit of bicycles will also benefit the roads for pedestrians like me. Here’s how:

  • Where there are fewer cars, there is less overall risk of serious injury, given that collisions between bicycles and pedestrians are less likely to cause serious injury than collisions between pedestrians and cars! [2]
  • Where there is safe, separated infrastructure for bicycles that are properly joined up to other cycle paths, cyclists will not feel the need to use the pavements to stay safe or join up their broken journeys. [3]
  • Where motorised traffic is calmed, reduced, or removed to make space for cycling, it makes a more pleasant atmosphere for pedestrians, too. The air is cleaner and it’s quieter. [4]

So write to your politicians and then join me at Pedal on Parliament 25th April 2015 — I’ll bring my walking shoes, you should too!


The Alternative Dawn Alarm

Daylight lamps are expensive. I had been saying for years that I was going to buy one but I hadn’t quite gotten around to it. I used one, once, when I had a flatmate who kept his in the communal kitchen /livingroom so I know what a difference they can make.

After I moved out, I’d researched them to decide which to buy and came across dawn simulators like the Lumie bodyclock alarm clock. These are designed to make your body “see” a sunrise at about the time your alarm clock would go off, so that you wake up more slowly and naturally (rather than being jolted out of sleep, mid-REM, by an alarm clock buzzer).

In the Scottish summertime, I keep the curtains and blinds closed tight, trying to keep out the 11pm sunset and 5am sunrise (it’s too bright for me to easily fall asleep and stay asleep). In the winter, those handful of daylight hours are just not enough for me to ever feel awake. Dawn simulators, unlike just keeping the curtains open, switch on at the same time every morning — so, despite the seasonal differences, I can keep the curtains closed tight and the room dark and I’ll still have a sunrise for when I need to wake up for work.

I didn’t manage to buy one back then, because they were all too expensive (and I was a poor student/graduate). By the time I had enough money that I could feel comfortable investing in one, I’d already ended up with a much, much cheaper alternative…

A few years ago (has it really been a few years already?!), I’d seen a Lifehacker article about under-bed lighting. I showed it to my partner who thought it was a nifty idea so we plugged a multi-colour IKEA strip light in under our Malm bed and set it to red so that it would be dark enough that it would be only just visible at night.

A short time later, my partner and I had watched a BBC Horizon episode on how humans perceive colours. It turns out that blue light makes your brain think it’s dawn! We put two-and-two together, switched our LED lights from red to blue, and plugged the whole thing into an outlet timer. Voilà! Instant daylight alarm clock!

Our current setup doesn’t have the lights under our bed, because our current bedroom is too small and the light doesn’t bounce around the room enough to wake us up. Instead, the light is behind the dresser, bounces off the semi-gloss painted walls, and lights up the whole far end of the bedroom.

Blue LED lights reflecting light off a painted wall
Showing the current light and outlet timer setup

It’s not the most ideal setup, because some mornings the faint “click” sound made by the outlet timer switching on wakes me up (if I’m in a particularly light sleep at the time), but it’s a lot better than waking up to a buzzer every day! We’ve been waking up to this for a few years now and it works a treat. About 15 minutes after the light turns on, the radio also switches on using a timer (tuned in to the peaceful classical music of BBC Radio 3) — but we’re usually already awake by then so we can enjoy the warmth of bed whilst we listen to the news headlines.

We have it set so that it doesn’t switch on at the weekends, but we barely sleep in more than 30 minutes, now, because our bodies have gotten so accustomed to waking up at a certain time. When the clocks changed, though, it only took us a few days of gently waking up earlier than we’d like before we were on the new schedule. I’ve never been a morning person, but I can wake up now without the grumpyness and anger at the alarm clock. I may still be tired if I haven’t gotten enough sleep, but at least I won’t be groggy.

Someday I’ll get a daylight lamp, to leave in the livingroom to have some “sunshine” in the winter evenings but, for now, this is enough.