Too many bicycles. Not enough parking.

PM Network March issue

It was so interesting speaking to the designers of the world’s largest bicycle garage for this month’s issue of PM Network Magazine, a trade publication by the Project Management Institute.

While it’s hard to imagine any American city building a multi-store parking garage solely for bicycles, the concept hints at what the future of cities — even ours — may look like. As homeowners increasingly demand walkability and opt for proximity over space, cars will become less and less necessary. Multi-use buildings are cropping up everywhere as people look for a lifestyle where they can walk to work, a train or bus station, and the local grocery/restaurant/pub.

Bicycles are such a convenient, environmentally friendly way to get around in that scenario. Imagine having so many of them that the city can’t find enough space to park them all. When we get there, the Netherlands will already have a solution in practice that we too can implement. Check out my piece on how they did it.


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What Alice Waters misses on food

Alice Waters returned to her home state of New Jersey last week amid an unusual storm. All day, a mix of snow and rain poured down while high winds downed trees and pushed the precipitation until it seemed to be coming at cars and house sideways. The box office at William Paterson University, where she was speaking, had a recorded message assuring ticket holders that the event would go on and pleading them to stop calling. Only about one-third of the auditorium was full.

Waters — the chef of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and the most famous face of the California-style of fresh, seasonal cooking for which she is now an activist — casts a long shadow on my food education. I remember pausing at the entrance to her restaurant the only time B and I ate there, the way one might reflect when entering a temple. She was standing near the entrance when we came in, and I felt as if I was meeting a goddess. The meal was everything you’d imagine if you know anything about Waters — unfussy, simple, close to the earth, and decidedly missing the fancy flair of a fine dining experience. The vegetables, many of them grown on the grounds, were the star of every dish.

And yet, as much as Waters has guided and influenced the movement that has so informed my sense of how to cook, she has also felt alien to me — or rather alienated me. Hers is a French-style of classical cooking and, even when she makes a, say, chickpea curry, it does not in any way resemble what the Indian equivalent of that dish may taste like. My experience as the child of working-class immigrants isn’t reflected in her culinary movement, except for its advocacy of greater rights for farm workers. We are the objects to be sympathized with and lifted, not the creators who might champion and evolve the movement.

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The trials of mothers who marathon

I was so thrilled to get into the NYC Half Marathon on my first attempt. It felt like a sign — the city giving me a huge welcome hug as we settle in the Northeast. But training has been a slog. I didn’t think about how cold it would be in these winter months. My only other experience with such a cold winter was in Chicago, and I certainly wasn’t training for any marathons yet.

Complicating things is how difficult it has been to carve out time to run, even on a treadmill. Being the primary parent of two young kids and trying to have any semblance of a training schedule has proven very difficult. I wrote the following rant to make myself feel better about all the chips stacked against me (which worked!):

Welcome to the Mothers Who Marathon Training Schedule.
The research bears that it’s ideal for you to run four times a week, preferably at dawn, using weekends for long runs and “rest days” to cross-train by cycling, weight lifting or joining your pick of Zumba/Barre/Orange Fitness.

But we’ve got you, mommy. We know that dawn is about the time your husband slips out the front door and your five-year-old enters zombie-like into your room, snuggling up against your warmth and settling in for the remainder of his sleep. His lil sis follows, cramming herself between the two of you if at all possible, likely rendering you to the corner 1/6 of your king-size bed for the remainder of your feeble attempt at sleep.

We know you’re clocking in 10,000 steps on your fitness tracker just running up and down the stairs to get water and pack the backpacks and dash to the potty and, oh, to put on your own clothes and take a quick glance in the mirror in the five minutes between the kids-are-ready-early-yay and the oh-shit-we’re-late-again moment. We know weekends are a coveted, precious time when you finally get to experience that blue moon of parental life – a brief, blissful glimpse into the ease of managing two unruly children when both mom and dad’s hands are actually on deck. We know you plan it down to the minute each week, determined to maximize every moment.

Enter MWM. Here’s the game plan: Sneak in a half-hour run between the elementary school visit and the pediatrician appointment. Enjoy an abandoned gym at 11:30 am, or rush over at 9:30 pm and run before closing time as the staff member behind the counter eyes you annoyingly. Plan to do that three times a week, but realize that it’ll only happen once if you’re lucky and hopefully being riddled with guilt the remaining days will burn some extra calories. Convince hubby to take the kids somewhere on Saturday afternoon and then, against every instinct your body has to plonk down on the couch and recharge, lace up your sneakers and trudge through the week’s long run.

Go slow, because you have no other option. Feel the pull of a changed body hunkering you down, as if you’re literally shouldering the weight of pickups and drop-offs, late-night wakeups, never-ending diaper changes, mealtimes that have transformed into high-level negotiations and the honey-I’ll-be-taking-the-late-train calls.

Don’t spend time worrying about how poorly trained you are for race day or what an exercise in scheduling marvel it will be to even arrive at the 7:00 a.m. race on time. Because for you, mama bear, it’s not about crossing the finish line. Getting to the start is the real achievement.


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Wake and bake

This morning, I bouled pizza dough to make mini pizzas for the kids.

They were all dressed and watching Daniel Tiger, who was singing, “Making something is one way to say I love you.” I usually wake up in a haze (I’m not a morning person at all), desperate for more sleep and trudging along to get the kids ready. I prod them from one task to the other, then rush to get myself ready before heading out the door.

Taking a half hour to just roll around some dough and sprinkle cheese was incredibly calming. (And thanks, Daniel Tiger, for providing the a.m. mantra.) I began dreaming of working in a bakery and starting my day surrounded by piles of rising dough and the sweet smell of butter.

Moreover, as much as it seems like effort to make these, I used store-bought pizza dough, store-bought sauce and a block of mozzarella (all local because we live in New Jersey and NJ loves its Italian food). All I had to do was shred the cheese and add the love.


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Salmon fishing in New Jersey

We left Seattle nearly six months ago, and the shock has still not worn off. We live in a quaint Jersey town (which I, in my ignorance, didn’t even know was a thing). It was settled nearly a century before the country gained independence.

There are Victorian mansions with ghosts, colonials with Roaring Twenties finishings that have withstood the test of time — which, in our present moment, offer a reminder of the glory days — and a storybook village that checks all the boxes: organic store, local bookshop, Italian pizzeria, Italian pastaria, vegan bakery, local coffee shop, a two-screen movie theater, Starbucks.

The people are creative and engaged. There is a local mercantile, a coworking space abuzz with photographers and writers, and a school where adults can take classes on a variety of trades, languages, and topics. There is a nearby forest reservation with a school for kids to commune with nature, and there is a humanist society that offers children classes on morality. On Saturday, the local library is hosting Ken Burns. I feel like I dreamt this place up.

And yet… I miss the sound of the rain falling pitter, patter on the rooftop shingles. I miss the moist air scented with sharp pine, a warm hug from the universe while you hunker down in your raincoat and squint through the water to see where you’re heading. I miss serious coffee shops with bespectacled, darkly dressed customers reading paper books and sipping warm cups of joe with the interest of a vintner sampling her first barrel. I miss the local food. I miss salmon.

(Today’s Daniel Tiger episode suddenly feels so apropos: “Sometimes, we have two feelings at the same time, and that’s okay.”)

Our town grocery (i.e. Amazon’s Whole Foods) had a special on farmed Atlantic salmon and I decided to give it a go — mostly to see whether I could taste a difference from the stuff pulled out of PNW waters. Salmon is so plentiful there that you can watch streams of fish gliding up the ladders of the city locks during migration season, melding together to form a metallic wave akin to sheet music.

This East Coast variety was a pale pink in comparison to the brilliant orange of Northwest salmon, and it definitely didn’t have the bold flavor of the latter either. Still, I did make a delicious dinner of it.

I soaked a cedar plank, massaged garlic oil on both sides of the fillet, sprinkled kosher salt, paprika, mustard, black pepper and dried oregano. I baked it at 425 until the smoke alarm caught whiff of my ignited cedar, pulled out the plank and finished the job on foil in a total of about half an hour. It went over a pile of cous cous, nestled in sauteed spinach, and coated with a generous drizzle of a fig vinegar-agave reduction. Of course it didn’t need all that (garlic, salt and pepper would have been enough), but B was home early and the kids were enjoying his company during bathtime, so I had fun.

I improvised, I cooked for myself, and it was delicious. The crispy salmon skin cracked in my mouth with a burst of saltiness and umami, bringing to my senses the illusion of a bite of Puget Sound.

An illusion only, of course, because the salmon was raised on a farm. And I, my friends, am 10 miles from the Turnpike.


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My love affair with libraries

I still remember the first time I entered a library. It was an elementary school field trip, not long after my family had moved to California from Pakistan. My mom chaperoned (as she did every trip — helicoptering was her way of ensuring her children were safe in this new world), and when we got to the library, the librarian explained that we could each get library cards and check out books for free. Both our minds were blown, and visiting the library to get books became a regular part of my childhood.

I loved books, so much so that my parents would sometimes yell at me to stop being antisocial and put my books down. I’d read at home, in the car, on the school bus, in between classes and sometimes even at lunch. It became a real loss when, in college, I began to get carsick when I tried reading on buses. I loved walking through the collections at the University of Washington, which has the largest library collection of any public university, and just smelling the books. I’d look for old books that captured moments in history — census data from the 1800s in South Asia, for example — and marvel at the knowledge accumulated in the written word.

Fast forward to being a mom, and libraries took on new meaning for me. They were places for storytimes and gathering with other moms on maternity leave. They were places to escape on snowy days and let the kids have fun. So imagine my surprise when a friend who returned from a stint in Istanbul told me that there were no public libraries there. What did parents do with their kids, I marveled.

Of course, they did whatever my parents did in Pakistan with us. I know now that my mom’s shock at the free public library system was a result of the fact that free public libraries are actually a very special, wonderful aspect of life in places like the United States. How lucky are we that our predecessors thought the libraries were a public asset worth investing in.

I felt very emotional about all this when I reported on the state of public libraries in the digital age. We have a generation of people used to Googling information, not combing through card catalogs, now unsure if they even need libraries. I hope that they decide they do.

Give this article a read to see how one library system is trying to cope with the mounting challenge it faces from the Internet. (Hint: The answer is embracing technology, not fighting it.)


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Filed under Geeked Out, Parenting, The Marginalized

The trials of feeding toddlers (kale & mushroom quiche)

One of my biggest struggles as a parent is feeding my kids. But if you were to observe our family, that wouldn’t be immediately obvious. The kids are healthy eaters. They tell me when they are hungry. They don’t snack much, they eat at mealtimes, and they are gaining weight appropriately.

Yet feeding them is a great source of stress for me, perhaps because of a sense of weighty responsibility. I feel like I must expose them to nutrient rich foods, expand their culinary world, and hit all the right targets on the nutritional pyramid or wheel or what not every day. I keep telling myself to “let go,” let them eat, and just relax. But I still find myself getting tense as the weekend begins to end and I know I must go for the next grocery run, plan the next set of meals.

There is SO much advice out there from doctors and nutritional experts on how to address this challenge (and I’m not alone in feeling like it’s a challenge). The one that has been most useful for me is to think of meals in terms of responsibilities: I have the responsibility to provide the food, and they have the responsibility to eat it. No force feeding, no bribing, no “you must finish everything on your plate, or else.” If they ask for more of one thing that was served (white rice! bread!), offer it. That works — most of the time. I still usually coax them into taking a few more bites, or to eat the protein on their plates.

Preparing home-cooked foods takes work. I rarely, if ever, pull out a frozen meal, microwave it, and serve it to the kids. I make their mac and cheese from scratch — beginning with a roux. So it can hurt a bit when my son takes a bite (or a whiff) and says, Ew, I don’t want to eat this. It’s yucky. Sigh. I take a deep breath in, steel myself, and begin the evening negotiation. Just five bites, I’ll say, and then watch him resist the urge to gag as he takes down five teeny, tiny crumbles of food. Okay, how about some cookies and milk? #fail

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