Why Biking is All Sorts of Healthy

Last Monday I got a new bike, my first road bike, it’s so great.  I don’t have a picture of it yet but found a picture online that is very similar, it’s posted above, isn’t it pretty?  I love bikes for all sorts of reasons which relate to the ways in which bikes make you healthier.  The thing I like most about bikes is that they’re pretty much accessible to everyone.  Minneapolis has a plethora of used bike shops, including the Hub Bike Co-op which is my favorite and where I bought my new bike for $250.  Bikes that’ll get you around can be found on Craigslist.  My old roommate used a $20 bike from Craigslist to commute for years.  Minneapolis has the NiceRide system which allows you to rent bikes from kiosks all over the city for commuting and recreation and the fees are $55/year for students and $65/year for everyone else.  This means that for all of the reasons I’m about to discuss, biking is a feasible way to embody your attitude about sustainability, frugality, and heath.

Bikes save you money.  Mr. Money Mustache did a great job of discussing all of the potential and theoretical ways in which bikes could save you money, but I’m going to get a bit more realistic.  Let’s calculate the average amount of fuel burned and money spent for an average American commute in a year.  To do this we’ll have to Google some things:

  • In 2009, the EPA reported that the average fuel economy in America reached 22.4 mpg.
  • The average commute in America is 15 miles.
  • Gas was $3.56 per gallon on average in 2011.

Driving to work every weekday for a year (50 weeks, accounting for some vacation time) at 30 miles/day in a 22.4 mpg car will result in 7,500 miles driven, 335 gallons of gas burned, and $1,193 spent on gas.  And that’s just commuting.  According to the Federal Highway Administration, Americans drive an average of 13,476 miles per year.  Just  replacing half of your non-commute related trips with biking would result in a yearly saving of $475.

You can start your transition to bike commuting slow by combining biking with taking the train/bus or by investing in a bike rack and driving part of the way way and biking from there, this would be a good way to save on parking if you work in a downtown area.  I started doing this a couple summers ago and eventually realized that the whole bike/train/bike arrangement took more time than biking alone, so last summer spent a fair number of weeks biking 12 miles each way to work.

The other obvious remedy for the 15 mile commute issue is moving closer to your place of work, finding a job closer to you, negotiating a 4 day work week (at 10 hours per day) to cut one full day of commuting out of your schedule, or trying to negotiate the ability to work from home.  I currently have a 4 mile commute and find that it’s the perfect distance to get some exercise in the morning and afternoon but not so long that I dread biking it every day.

Bikes are good for your health.  Biking for one hour at 10 mph will burn 540 calories for a 167lb, 37 year old man, and this is a fair bit slower than bikers usually ride.  Assuming you were to live about 5 miles from your place of work, biking 9 months out of the year (accounting for weather and winter), you would end up biking 1800 miles!  That’s far!  Spending time at the gym is quite tedious, and costs money, so biking as a commute would allow you to get rid of that gym membership and make the most of your time.  At $40/month that would be a savings of $480 a year, enough saved to buy a quite nice used bike!

Biking is a great way to spend time with friends and get out into your community.  When you have friends that bike, biking to events becomes part of the socialization time.  Spending time with friends makes you happier than driving someplace by yourself.  Biking is also a fun way to people watch and get exercise on your own.  I biked 10 miles today around the lakes and saw five people I knew in the process which made me feel very connected to my community and left me with a big goofy grin on my face for the majority of my ride.

Bikes are good for the environment.  Looking at our previous calculations, we see that commuting by car by an average American burns 335 gallons per year, which results in the release of 6365lbs of carbon dioxide.  If we cut all of our car trips, including commuting, by half we could save 300 gallons of gas from being burned, 5,700lbs of carbon dioxide from being produced, and $1,070!

Biking places takes initiative, and hard work, and muscles, but there are so many benefits individually and for the environment that I consider it completely worth it, even if I do end up getting stuck in the occasional rainstorm.


The Beauty of Breaking Up

Everyone always talks about how hard it is to break up.  It is hard.  However, every time I’ve broken up with someone, while being awash in sadness and melancholy regret, I’ve also felt a strong pulse of hope and excitement about the possibility of dating someone new in the future.  There is a lot of sadness in breaking up, but a lot of hope too for new relationships, new friendships, and a renewed relationship with yourself.

I may not be very experienced in sustaining relationships but I’ve certainly had experience breaking up.  The vast majority of the relationships and dating experiences I’ve been involved in have ended at my own say-so, not necessarily because I did not like that person anymore, but instead because I knew they couldn’t enter into the type of relationship I want.  This may be the result of them not being nurturing or attentive enough, not sharing my core views of the world, or simply not desiring the same sort of relationship that I do.  Whatever the cause, breaking up is difficult and emotionally draining, but in these situations staying with that person would be much more harmful over time as the incompatibility grates on your spirit.

When you have only dated one person, or never experienced a major break up, the prospect of such an event occurring is a threat to be avoided.  You can get stuck in dating situations if only for the reason that both parties are too afraid of the pain of a break up.  How many times have you heard someone say, “I can’t believe I dated that person for so long,” or, “We should have broken up months ago?”  These are after-the-fact acknowledgements that a couple dragged their feet in breaking up.  All of the time spent prolonging a dying relationship is time not spent healing, growing, learning to be one with yourself, and meeting new people.

Experiencing break ups makes you much more able to let go of attachments in dating situations.  After a painful break up, you realize that you’re strong and you can heal.  I’ve found that a lot of strength comes from knowing that I can break up with someone whenever I need to and this eliminates the fear of a relationship going dead without ending.  This makes starting new relationships less stressful.  You understand that it may well end, but that you’re prepared for that possibility, and you are able to be present and enjoy that person’s company to determine whether there is a fit.  You are less likely to project your own expectations on someone else and instead can learn about who they really are and then determine whether you’d like to continue seeing them.

Another fear I used to harbor was one that a relationship would end and I would be inconsolably sad.  Break ups helped me learn that emotional pain can be overcome and that the presence of such pain gives you a greater appreciation for the small joys in life.  It also helps you not fear that pain in the future and appreciate present happiness more.  One Marion Keyes quote I’ve loved for a long time states, “When happiness makes a guest appearance in one’s life, it’s important to make the most of it.  It may not stay around for long and when it has gone wouldn’t it be terrible to think that all the time one could have been happy was wasted worrying about when that happiness would be taken away?”

The most resounding reason for appreciating break ups is the possibility that they offer for personal growth.  When you end a relationship that’s not right for you, you prove that you really and truly love yourself.  You demonstrate that you love yourself more than you love anyone else and you will put your own needs before any desire for or attachment to being in a relationship.  You will put your own needs above the rapport you have with another person, no matter how much you love them.  The knowledge that you are willing to subject yourself to temporary pain and discomfort to pursue personal truth and self-love will make you more confident in yourself.  This confidence and self assurance will surely make you a more lovable person in both romantic and platonic situations.

Dating someone who does not nurture your true self is draining.  Much time is wasted spent worrying about whether your friend will change and whether they will ever appreciate you and treat you the way you’ve hoped to be treated.  It is important to voice our concerns and stand behind our truths.  Through this process we learn more about ourselves and learn how to love and appreciate ourselves, whether this ends the relationship or not.

I have a very distinct memory of taking the bus to break up with the only person I’ve ever loved.  The entire way there and the entire way back I listened to Silver Lining by Rilo Kiley and still believe that Jenny Lewis’s words aptly embody my message here, “I was your silver lining but now I’m gold.”  You can mean a lot to a person.  However, if there is not a fit, leaving the relationship to strike out on your own will be immeasurably difficult but will result in the sweetest of rewards.

Get Excited About Your Period: Use a Menstrual Cup

I have not used tampons regularly for over three years.  I don’t use pads.  I don’t go sit in the Red Tent.  I use a menstrual cup, specifically the DivaCup (you can also get the Moon or Keeper cups, they’re all slightly different).  It has changed my life for the better, significantly.  Menstrual cups are made of top-quality silicone, can hold about one ounce of fluid, and can be worn for up to 12 hours.  There are a number of reasons that I love the Diva cup, these include logistical, environmental, and health reasons.

Logistical:  I have not had to worry about carrying tampons with me for over three years.  I have not had to regularly change a tampon in that time or really give any thought to my period besides in the morning and before bed.  Menstrual cups can be left in for up to 12 hours and generally removes ‘taking care of your period’ from your life.

If you do need to empty it away from home, you can simply take it out and dump it in the toilet, possible wiping it out with TP before reinserting.  At home, they can be emptied, washed out, and reinserted.  I use Dr. Bronner’s castile soap on mine, since this is a gentle and all-natural soap that I use for all sorts of things.  I’ve heard that cups are awesome for camping (I actually got mine at REI), which I haven’t done in the past three years, but I imagine they would work splendidly.  Many of the health and environmental arguments below can be satisfied with reusable pads, but cups are comfortable and, like tampons, cannot be felt once inserted properly.

It takes a little while to get used to inserting your cup, and as everyone’s body is different some people can feel it once it’s inserted.  The DivaCup has a long stem to be used for removal, but I found that cutting this shorter made it more comfortable.  If you do get a cup, give it some time to get used to it.  Additionally, they can occasionally leak, so you’ll have to figure out some way to deal with this (if you care, I don’t) like using reusable cotton pantyliners.

Environmental:  Since I haven’t used tampons in so long I can’t adequately estimate how many the average woman uses, but let’s do some estimation.  Assuming an average 4 day period, and replacement every 4-6 hours, this would result in 20 tampons used per cycle.  With an average of 521 cycles per 40-years, this adds up to 10,420 tampons per lifetime.  That’s a lot of waste, and there would be even more if you use pads.  Chemicals are used for bleaching and dying tampons that can be environmentally harmful at the front end of the process, and boxes of tampons need to be manufactured and recycled.

Menstrual cups have been certified by the FDA to be used for a year, but prior to FDA approval the DivaCup website stated that cups could be used for up to 10 years before a replacement would be needed.  I’ve used mine for three years and it has not lost any integrity as far as I can tell.  That is a lot less waste overall and a lot less stress on the environment.  Cost is another factor, if we estimate $10/50 tampons (as a quick internet search indicated), this would be $2,084 over a lifetime (or $52/year).  Menstrual cups cost $35, and can be replaced either per FDA requirements every year or every 10 years (this is my intention).

Health:  Tampons are made of bleached cotton and contain fragrances, dyes, and other toxic materials.  Depending on the bleaching process, some of the chemicals left remaining in tampons have been linked to cancer in animals.  Further exposure occurs when fibers are left behind by tampons in the vagina and take a couple of days to be naturally flushed out.  The DivaCup website states: “The DivaCup is latex free and is made from top quality silicone, a material that has been used in healthcare applications for over 50 years. This silicone is not the same type of material used in breast implants. No chlorine, dyes, colorings or additives of any kind are used.”

Tampons have been linked with the potentially fatal condition toxic shock syndrome, and menstrual cups have not.

Another benefit of cups is that in order to use them, you literally have to stick your fingers up into your ladybusiness and come face to face with the fact that your period is actually blood coming out of your body!  You have to touch it!  You don’t just take out some impersonal cotton product and discard it.  You feel more connected with your body, and less squeamish because of it.  And I don’t know about you, but being a non-squeamish person who is connected with my body is much more important to me than keeping my fingers clean.

I’m not the only one whose DivaCup has changed her life, check out this yogi.  If you’ve been converted, you can pick a cup up at your local co-op or REI!

The Book I Recommend to Everyone: If The Buddha Dated by Charlotte Kasl

You might be skeptically criticizing this book already. Yes, it is a dating/spiritual/self-help book and includes occasional requisite discussions of uncommon religions (like Quakerism and Sufism).  But it is so much more than that!  Charlotte Kasl brings a warm compassion to every reader of this book. She holds your hand and helps you peel away the masks you’ve created for yourself to get closer to true happiness.  This just so happens to be a good strategy for dating, but the book is quite applicable to other relationships and life in general.

I was introduced to this book by a good friend while studying abroad in Northern Ireland, and the concurrent reading of this small dating book made our friendship so much richer and more rewarding.  This is honestly the only book I will ever need when it comes to living life in a spiritually and emotionally healthy way; it is also the only book I’ll ever buy about dating.

Essentially this book discusses how to remain mindful and honest in dating situations.  This first requires you to examine past relationships and set yourself right.  It guides you toward understanding what you’re looking for in life and in relationships.  It teaches you how to be authentic, shedding the masks that conventional dating books and popular culture tell single people that they must don in order to be attractive potential partners.

The most important piece of this book for me has been her lessons on attachment and acceptance.  She discusses how attachment to an idea, a person, or a feeling will inevitably cause suffering.  However, if we live moment to moment, consciously grateful and aware of the lovely things in our lives, and able to welcome new things and let go of losses, we will suffer less.  Unhappiness and heartbreak will come into our lives, and if we aren’t so attached to being always happy, the presence of these feelings will not cause in us so much suffering.  She also advocates acceptance of whatever we’re feeling in the moment, and not judging ourselves for feeling afraid, or angry, or depressed.  Instead she says that certain feelings are cues for us to examine more closely.  We might think, “Interesting, I’m very angry about that, why is that?”

Kasl discusses that when you get wrapped up in thinking or in your thoughts, you might start thinking that your thoughts define reality.  You might think, “I need to keep this relationship.”  This causes you to alter your relationship with reality and with your partner.  We are adults, and do not need any one other person, and if this relationship were to end you would be sad but would eventually heal, and become stronger, and move on.  When we get wrapped up in thoughts like this we do not act in accordance with our authentic self and we may end up clinging to a relationship that is not right for us, simply because of a fear to be alone.

As I’ve been lately trying to be more mindful, through regular meditation and yoga practices, I’ve found some surprising benefits.  I’ve been more focused, productive, peaceful, and happy.  I’ve had a greater awareness of and appreciation for my surroundings and have been surprised by spontaneous bursts of happiness and gratitude.  I’ve only been practicing mindfulness for a short while and it has greatly enriched my life.  However, as a cautionary note: pursuing mindfulness for any goal can be an attachment in itself.

One part of this book that I particularly enjoy discusses how to be alone (which is discussed elsewhere, in poem form).  This part speaks to my heart:

“Sometimes we open our heart, date lots of people, and stay true to our path, yet no lover is forthcoming.  This tests our faith and our ability to accept what we are given…  There may be absolutely nothing wrong – no deep block, no problem, nothing you could have done differently.  It’s just not your time right now, for no particular reason.  Your path is to find acceptance, to be at peace with yourself.”

“Ultimately, life is about knowing who we are and being able to accept the inexplicable rhythm and pulse of our journeys.  We move from asking Why me? to reflecting on what befalls us.  We learn to say, This is my life right now.  What can I make of it?  What can I learn from it?  How can I feel joy? “

The Art of Making Do

This article will explore the careful assessment of minor disasters in order to cut costs and clutter.

How many times has something you own broken?  Hundreds of times?  Thousands?  I wonder what it would look like if we could follow the pathways of all of these broken toys, clothes, tools, and utilities.  What percent do you think were fixed, and what percent ended up in the trash?  I’d bet that in the vast majority of each of our experiences broken items end up relegated to the realm of garbage to be swiftly replaced.  I’m here to advocate something different and it starts with one important thing: patience.

Cultivating patience is hard.  In our society it is so easy to find whatever you need on a whim without any further thought or contemplation.  Patience requires mindfulness, and mindfulness in all things is difficult.  Being present and putting thought into our predicaments, however small, will eventually bring us more peace and wellbeing than giving in to our every fleeting desire.  If we approach these situations with patience, we can teach ourselves a few lessons:

First, we will increasingly value what was broken.  When my iPod recently broke, I missed the presence of portable music in my life dearly.  I spent a week missing my favorite tunes in the shower and found my morning routine to be missing its jubilant soundtrack.  I spent time on the bus staring out the window missing the ability to actually listen to the song that was bouncing around in my head.  Luckily my dad doesn’t often use his so he let me borrow it for a couple of months until I get an iPhone for my birthday.

Second, we will assess the impact of discarding the item on ourselves and the environment.  Mending clothes, fixing broken electronics, and generally favoring “reusing” instead of “replacing” is healthier for the environment on two ends.  Materials are not being harvested to make whatever will be replacing the broken item and the broken item will not take up space in a landfill and (in the case of some electronics) poisoning the environment as it does so.

Third, we will have an opportunity to ask for help.  Asking for help is so underrated.  When you ask for help, you bind yourself with whomever you are asking.  It can make you very thankful for their generosity and give you something important to share with that person.  Asking to borrow something frequently unused will often be met with generosity.  A good friend posted on Facebook this fall that her apartment was freezing so I gladly offered up a spare space heater.  Sure there are times I would have liked to use it this winter but knowing it was keeping her warm in her drafty apartment more than made up for the loss.

Fourth, you’ll find ways to purge your life of unneeded things.  When I had an iPad, iPod, smart phone, and computer I would sometime pile them on top of each other and feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of electronic internet-accessing devices that I owned.  Since I sold my iPad and my iPod broke, I’ll have the opportunity to simplify my life into having one computer and one phone/music player.

Fifth, it will give you time to shop around and make the best financial decision to remedy your situation.  I have become much pickier as to what items I am interested in purchasing in the last year.  I once would buy clothes or other goods because they were the only things available.  When you are able to be mindfully patient, you can wait until you find the perfect fit for your needs, meaning that there will likely be less waste and less clutter in the end.

And sixth, it will allow you to develop skills in fixing broken things.  Self-efficacy is wonderful and learning how to fix and mend things make you feel more efficacious and capable.  The only thing better than figuring out how to fix something on your own is inviting over a knowledgeable friend who can teach you while socializing and drinking beer.

The next time a button pops off of a favored shirt, your lampshade gets a tear, or any number of breakages happen in your life, take a moment to reflect mindfully and cultivate some patience.  Even if you do go out and buy a new ice cream scoop right away, at least you’ll have concluded that the absence of an ice cream scoop from your life was too big a loss to bear.  Then the next time you’re scooping some Oreo ice cream, you’ll be grateful.

Time is counting down until you need to plug your laptop in!

Why I Like My Computer’s Terrible Battery Life

There’s nothing like the thrill of hearing the sweet chirp of your computer’s battery monitor telling you that you have three minutes until your computer completely shuts down due to a drained battery.  I’ve heard this chirp often lately.  It’s hard to tell if my computer’s battery life is getting worse, or if I’m just using it in charger-less situations more frequently.  Either way, my computer’s battery lasts for 1.5 hours maximum, and usually less.  That chirping noise is supposed to happen when I have 10% battery left, and for some reason is often delayed until I have 5% battery life left, which functionally means that the chirp will happen quite belatedly after my computer has died and been turned back on after being plugged in.

So you would ask why, why would I possibly like this lovely feature?  There are three reasons.

First, the computer that I have has worked splendidly.  It’s an Acer Aspire 5532.  When I bought it brand-new from Best Buy in May of 2010 it was less than $400 including tax.  Sure it doesn’t have a web cam, but my old computer didn’t either so I already had one.  Yes it only has two USB drives, but that’s enough for filling up my external hard drive, so good enough for me.  It has a 17” screen which is fantastic for watching the Daily Show and the other various videos that one might watch online (ie. Baby Sloths).  It’s not bad looking either.

Sure, sometimes I get somewhat jealous of people who have MacBook Pros or iMacs, but there is no way that I could ever justify such a purchase.  Let’s assume that people replace their computers every 4 years.  My <$400 17” screen Acer will average out to less than $100/year, while a $1799 15”MacBook Pro will average $479/year (after tax) and a $1199 13” MacBook Pro will average $319/year (after tax).  Even considering the fact that MacBooks have greater resale value, a brief Ebay search indicates that a 4-year-old 15” MacBook Pro can resell for an average of $780, which still results in a yearly loss of $284.  I understand that some people do interesting things with their computers, but I don’t and I know that the vast majority of friends and acquaintances with MacBooks use their computers for the same things as I do: listening to iTunes, writing Word documents, checking Facebook obsessively, Googling things, Wikipediaing things, Youtubing things. Which brings me to my next point:

Second, a crappy battery life is an amazing way to meet people at coffee shops.  If you frequent coffee shops that have ubiquitous electrical outlets, this does not apply as much.  But if you, like me, enjoy independent and local coffee shops with sporadic electrical outlet placement, having a computer with poor battery life provides you with a great excuse to speak with that cute guy or girl sitting next to the nearest outlet.

For example, one day I was at Espresso Royale in Dinkytown, a place infamous for its lack of outlets.  I was working away on grading some undergrad discussion forum posts when my computer died without even chirping first.  I spent several minutes with computer cord in hand wandering the coffee shop, seeking an elusive outlet.  The only one I could find was at a two-person table where a fellow was sitting by himself, working away on his own laptop.  I asked if I could share his table and outlet, and he willingly obliged.  This fellow, Jesse, was very friendly and the entire endeavor was quite satisfying.  We chatted, worked, and watched each other’s computers while the other went to smoke (him) or went to refill a water bottle (me).

This is not necessarily just a tactic for those who are single and looking.  There’s something about having a connection with community that has become more and more important to me as I’ve been learning to navigate the world on my own.  While being in grad school has blessed me with an abundance of lovely friends and acquaintances, many of them will someday move away and I’ve been especially aware of possibilities for meeting new friends once this happens (and before!).

Third, I’ve been trying to spend my time a lot more wisely lately.  I try to do some sort of physical activity every day, usually including at least one hour of yoga and some running or biking.  I’ve found that both meditating for 20 minutes every morning and being physically active make my mind more able to focus on work or homework that I might need to finish, which makes me overall more productive than if I had forgone the physical activity and meditation and tried to spend all of that time working.  One of the major features of this new lifestyle trend has been to cut down the time I spend online.  When your computer unexpectedly dies or starts chirping that it is about to, you are able to assess what you’re doing and evaluate whether that activity warrants the retrieval of a power cord to continue.  In many situations I realize that what I’m doing (watching the Colbert report, re-reading Mr. Money Mustache blog posts, looking at friends pictures on Facebook) isn’t something that I really want to spend more time doing, so I leave my computer dead or plug it in and turn it off.  Having this time limit helps me be more productive and provides a great reminder for times when the internet sucks me in.

Having a great computer battery life is probably a necessity for some people, but I’ve found that the monetary as well as unexpected social and personal benefits from a poor battery life are not insignificant for me.

How to Read This Blog

I suggest you wake up.  I suggest you open your window and stretch your arms high above your head.  I suggest you sit down at your computer with a hot beverage, being careful not to spill on your keyboard.  You spilled that one time and man, did that turn out poorly.  I suggest you settle in.

I have one many-faceted intention: it is health, mine and yours and the health of the environment.   I want us all to be physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, socially, and spiritually healthy.  I have found that these intentions have interesting intersections in the world.  Finding ways to further more than one goal at once makes me (and hopefully will make you) happy.  Happiness, too, is important.

So this blog will suggest that you wake up.  Wake up to the ways in which how you act and live affect your life detrimentally.  Wake up to being alive and present, to being healthier and happier, to acknowledging the effect you have on the world around you and taking responsibility for your actions.  Wake up to a new way of thinking about the world, placing much less value on things and much more value on health: your physical health, the health of your relationships, your financial health, and the health of the environment.