Beginning CSS (for free!)

Hopefully you've finished a couple of HTML tutorials on Codeacademy by now and you're on your way to becoming an HTML expert. Maybe you've already built a social media profile (HTML Basics II) or a clickable photo page (HTML Basics III). Now it's time to get into CSS. What is CSS? CSS stands for "Cascading Style Sheets," although knowing that probably won't help you much. The best way to understand CSS is to head over to CSS Zen Garden. As you can see, there are thousands of different themes for this website. Try clicking on a few. The only things that change are the layout, color, and style. All of the text and the basic format stay the same because the HTML hasn't changed. CSS is what determines most of how the page looks. If HTML is the skeleton, CSS is the skin.

CSS Zen Garden has a link to a great collection of CSS resources right here:

Although they only accept the best designs, getting your theme accepted to Zen Garden is something to work towards. First off though, we want to style our own website.

There are already several CSS courses on Codacademy. It's probably a good idea to start off with the three CSS courses in the Web Fundamentals Section.

After that, you can move on to this course:!/exercises/0

Wow, that was easy! You can already build a nice looking web page!

Build a Website in One Week with Codacademy

My mom asked me a very good question - "How long will it take to learn to code in Codeacademy?" Codeacademy started fall of 2011 with just a handful of lessons, and new lessons are being added weekly. Coding, like sailing, seems to be one of those things that you could spend your entire life learning. In fact, January of last year, codeacademy started a plan called "Code Year" where you could reasonably get through every single lesson in a year by making weekly progress (and still keep your friends and your full-time job). Fingers crossed that they'll do it again this January!

But how long will it take before you can build your first website using what you learn on Codeacademy? Even if you have zero experience you can build a site within one week.

By doing just 5 exercises a day you can get through "HTML Fundamentals" and "Build your First Web Page" in six days. In order to make the most out of Codeacademy, I recommend that you have a goal. For instance, wanting to build your own portfolio site could be a goal. Having a concrete goal will make Codeacademy more than a game - it will help you to connect what you're learning to the actual practice of building websites in the real world.

Draw a layout of the website that you want to build on paper or mock it up in Photoshop or Gimp if you want to be fancy. For the first version, just focus on creating the text that you want to display when you open the page with a browser (we'll get into "hosting" sites in a later lesson.) For instance, your first website's code could look something like this:


<h1> Monica Houston's Portfolio </h1>

<h2>Everything is better on a boat</h2>

<p>Hi, I'm Monica Houston and I live on a boat...yada yada yada</p>

<h3> follow or friend me here</h3>









Write your code into a text editing program like text-edit or notepad and save it as something like "index.html." Right click and open it with your browser. BAM! You've made your first real web page!

So how do you make it pretty? Codeacademy has an entire series of courses on CSS - the language that is used to style HTML. I'll go over resources for learning CSS in my next post, but for now I'll leave you with this useful video:

Learn HTML in 30 Minute

How to Teach Yourself Web Development

A couple months ago, my Mom mentioned that she was considering taking some web development courses. That gave me the idea to collect a list of free resources that I used to teach myself web development. The other week I attended Ignite Seattle and had the chance to watch and excellent five-minute talk entitled "The Art of Explanation" by Lee LeFever. In it, he mentioned the "curse of knowledge" and how it makes explaining difficult because we can't relate to our audience. Thankfully, I don't have the curse of knowledge. I've learned everything I'll be writing about web development over the past two years, and much of what I'll be teaching I'll be learning or relearning as I write about it.

I have a rough format in mind, and if you've ever wanted to teach yourself web development or just become more web savvy I'd encourage you to follow along. I'll assume that you've never done any web development.

So let's get started! The first thing that you should do is sign up for an account on "" We're going to go over HTML basics. HTML is basically the skeleton of the internet. Most of the text you look at online uses HTML. I'll talk more about codeacademy and other resources for learning HTML in my next post. Cheers!


Living on a Boat in the Winter

When I tell people that I live on a boat, they invariably ask me if I've lived on it over winter yet. And so far I've just shrugged and told them that no, I bought the boat in July and I'm still waiting to experience my first winter. Until now. "Looks like it decided to be winter," said the woman at the bus stop on Thursday morning. It was true. The sun no longer reaches it's zenith. Instead, it gets above the tree tops around noon and then immediately decides it's time to head back down. The wooden dock ices over in the morning and I have to be careful not to slip off as I wheel my bike to the gate.

Waking up in the morning has been getting harder and harder as it gets darker and rainier and colder. Going to bed is also difficult. I have two space heaters, but for safety reasons I don't leave them on while I'm gone. When I get home from work (and other evening activities - so usually I get home pretty late) the first thing I do is turn the heaters on and close the boat up as I jog to the marina bathrooms for a hot shower. By the time I've run the hundred feet along the icy dock to keep my wet hair from freezing the boat is warm. But when I crawl into bed, the covers are still chilly.

Last Sunday I went to lunch with some friends of my friend Shayne, a couple name Alex and Christine. They have lived on a boat for a while and they gave me some expert advice. "Buy an electric blanket and a dehumidifier." Christine also suggested opening storage areas when I'm not there to let them air out.

I took their sage advice (they're both world class sailors and know a thing or two about boats) and bought an electric blanket. I also ordered some dehumidifiers from amazon to place in my storage compartment. Although my boat doesn't leak (it did have two very tiny leaks on the deck but I filled them with epoxy and that seems to have done the trick) it does condense on the inside in the winter, which can lead to mold or mildew, especially in closed storage areas. I found a couple of wireless silicone dehumidifiers to place in the storage areas and hopefully that will solve the moisture problem. Other than that, the boat is totally cozy and I'm happy to living there, even on a cold November morning.

Foul Weather Bluff

I woke up on Saturday at 6am. No, that’s a lie. I reset my alarm to 6:15…then 6:30…then finally 6:45. Not that I wasn’t excited for the race – it was just that it was Saturday. Now it was almost too late. I rushed to find my clothes. Layers, Shayne had said. Wool socks, wool pants, wool shirt. Sweater. Sweatshirt. Foulies. Keens. Lifejacket? Check. I was ready to go. Shayne was here to pick me up.

The sun was rising, glinting off a forest of silver masts as we pulled up to the Edmonds marina. People were milling about, carrying things on and off sailboats. What beautiful boats! No two were even remotely the same. “This is Wagz.” Shayne was introducing me to someone. “And Wayne.” I shook their hands. “It’s a pleasure.” Then we were ushered into the yacht club’s meeting room for the skipper’s meeting, where the race was explained. I drank a cup of coffee and stared around me at the hundreds of sailors. I didn't bother paying attention to the race details. Not my job.

The boat, Bravo Zulu, motored into the harbor and swung around, nestling up to the fuel dock. I grabbed a line that was passed to me – it was soft and thick and new. A wiry man with a hoarse voice told me to wrap it around the cleat once before I did the figure 8. I followed his instructions.

“I’m Peter,” he said, shaking my hand. Clearly he was the one in charge.

I picked up a brush and followed Wayne around the boat, scrubbing the decks glistening white as he sprayed them with the hose. A few final preparations, as short speech from Peter, a few more introductions to the rest of the crew, and we were off, motoring after the fleet into the sound. Around us, sails were going up. Gold and black, they billowed outwards as the boats turned into the wind one by one and winched their sails to the top of the mast. A beautifully painted catamaran skimmed past us. “That’s the dragonfly. She wins every race,” Wagz said.

We sailed in circles, waiting for our turn to race. Every five minutes, the committee boat blew a horn and another set of boats took off. Five minutes to go. I was positioned on the windward side where they had told me to lie down. Code 0, the asymmetrical spinnaker used for light wind, was on the foredeck, ready to go. Denny, the boat’s owner, was talking to Peter. They were watching the boats in the classes ahead of us to see which sails they were using.

One minute to go. I tried to move my body off any lines that I might be holding down. “If you’re sitting on one of the lines, they’ll yell butt-cleat,” Shayne told me.

The horn blew. We were off. I heard a commotion on the leeward side of the boat. Peter was yelling, “Stand down. Barging at the line. Barging I tell you!”

“That’s it. They’re doing a penalty. They were barging.”  The “Absolutely”, a black and yellow boat in our class, had had to sail around as a penalty for barging. Our start had been perfect.

We zipped ahead with the full spinnaker. 6 knots and climbing. I waited, attentive, for them to yell “squirrel.” Squirrel was my task – to stand in the “sewer” and fold spinnakers as they were handed down to me. There were 5 different spinnakers and a drifter. There were also 2 different jibs, but it looked like for now we would only be using the jib for light wind. My other job was rail-meet. Basically, I had to use my weight to either weigh down the leeward side of the boat when we were going slowly and trying to fill the sails with wind, or to counterbalance the windward side of the boat when we started to speed up and the boat keeled over from the wind’s pressure. The force of the wind is an amazing thing. Even in the light winds and fair weather the 40 foot, 12,000 lb Bravo Zulu was being pushed fast enough to leave a wake.

We reached Bainbridge Island just behind Absolutely. A cluster of fishermen at the point were standing waist deep in water. ‘Don’t turn yet,’ Denny told Peter. The rest of the crew looked skeptical as we flew towards the shallow water at the point. We sailed within throwing distance of the waist deep fishermen without touching the bottom, saving time by not gybing. Now we seemed to be ahead of the Absolutely. The mark was just ahead, at Foul Weather Bluff. But the currents came into play again. We were caught in a bad breeze and even though we had been closer to the mark, Absolutely managed to round it before us. “Squirrel!”

They had yelled for me. I rushed below and grabbed the n.1 spinnaker. I heaved it to the deck.

Then I hurried below again to gather and fold the code 0.

As the ships rounded the mark they flew their colorful symmetrical spinnakers for the downwind leg. It was beautiful to watch them go up, like hot air ballons, puffing to full size, full of powerful wind.

The downwind leg soon became painfully slow. The Puget Sound currents were pushing outwards, and several boats with full spinnakers appeared to be standing still, pushed in one direction by the wind and the other by the tide. I was lying on deck again, weighing down the leeward side. It seemed like a good time for a nap, since I was on the sunny side of the deck. I closed my eyes and slept for a good twenty minutes. When I woke up we didn’t seem to be much further. There was one more marker to go around before we could head back. It was on the south side of Whidbey Island. Two fat seals and three slender cormorants had decided to use it as their personal platform. The seals slid into the water as we rounded the marker, splashing their fat into the waves. We didn’t have to take the spinnaker down, as we were still headed downwind. Denny, Peter and the crew were discussing again. The water in the direction of the finish line was too smooth, too calm. One boat had been ahead but seemed to be stuck in the calm water to the north of the finish line. We decided to sail south of the finish line, then tack north to avoid the windless section of water.

We were moving again, faster. I went up and down, fetching the jib and the code 0 in case we needed them again. We didn’t. We finished with the symmetrical spinnaker number one. As we passed the committee boat, they blew the air horn. No pistol for us – we hadn’t been first in our class. Absolutely had taken first.

We had been sailing for 8 long hours and covered 26 miles. It had been a slow race, but the unusually perfect weather had made it enjoyable and relaxing. Next time we'll hopefully have stronger winds...

The Future is Here: DIY 3D Printing

I watched as a coil of white plastic was pulled off of a spool into the plywood frame, forced into a metal head, and squeezed out, partially melted, onto a the smooth metal surface that moved in precise circles. Layer after layer of thin melted plastic slowly gave shape to a round object.  When it was finished, the Makerbot Vulcan pushed the round object out onto the table, where it landed with a soft bounce. I picked it up and slid it on. It stretched over my hand and slipped on like a bracelet, my first piece of 3D printed jewelry. I was at the 3D printer Survey hosted by StudentRND. I’d sent a link to my coworker Scott the week before about how 3D printing is changing our economy. Scott, who hadn’t realized how far 3D technology has progressed in the past year, immediately caught the bug. We started talking about chipping in to buy a 3D printer together. The 3D Printer Survey looked like the perfect chance to experience consumer level 3D printers and possibly make a decision on which 3D printer we wanted to buy.

At the survey, Craig Zupke presented a useful prezi titled ‘Your Path To a 3D printer.’ He talked about the inverse relationship of price to maintenance. Basically, you can get a 3D printer for $500 if you’re willing to build it from scratch and maintain it yourself. Otherwise, plan on shelling out $12-$15K. One of the things that makes these printers more affordable is that they are self-replicating. Once you have one, you can print out up to 80% of the parts for another one. is the main site for self-replicating 3D printers. The first self-replicating 3D printer came out in 2008, and since then growth has been exponential, as makers modify and improve on the open-source designs.

Currently, there are only a handful of 3D printers available at consumer price-points. The Makerbot printer is probably the most famous. Emmett, creator of the famous ‘gear-heart’ design, showed us his two printers, the Vulcan and the Venus. The Vulcan was one of the very first 3D printers, and it prints its own upgrades. The automated build platform was one of the upgrades, and it makes it easy to mass-print 3D parts. Emmett was mass-printing bracelets as we watched.

The Venus is a newer printer, and Emmett showed us how it could print 2 different colors of plastic at once, making multicolored objects. The precision and level of detail was impressive.

Another person had brought his Makerbot replicator. It’s similar to the Venus, and he praised the easy setup and ease of calibration. He also gave us a pro-tip: don’t use ALS plastic, use PLA. The plastic used in DIY 3D printers comes in a spool of thin tubing. ALS is the smelly, non-natural plastic that is used frequently in toy-making. PLA is a biodegradable, odorless plastic that needs less heat and does less wear and tear on the 3D printer.

Craig’s printer was a MendelMax and Craig had built it himself. He showed us some cool 3D models that he had created by scanning himself and his daughter using a sensor bar hooked up to his Nintendo (I think? I know you can also do this by using a Wiimote with Autodesk.)

Another woman showed off her Ultimaker printer. The objects that she showed us had an incredible level of detail, much finer than any of the other objects we’d seen printed on the other printers. Unfortunately, she told us, she couldn’t recommend Ultimaker as a company. Some of her parts didn’t work when the printer was first shipped, and they hadn’t given her a free replacement. Also, they are based in the Netherlands and are slightly pricier than most US based DIY printers.

Finally, Johann showed off his Rostock Printer. It literally is DIY – Johann designed and built it himself. He offers the plans for free at or

He explained to us that the Rostock is named after the town he grew up in in Northern Germany. Johann was printing out parts for the second generation Rostock printer as we talked to him. He held up what he had built so far on the second version, a light-weight frame made of openbeam and printed plastic parts.

The first-generation Rostock was fast and worked beautifully. It can print objects as large as 12x14 inches and is incredibly sturdy and accurate. Unlike most of the other 3D printers that we’d seen, the engines, wiring, and arduino that power the whole thing are aesthetically tucked out of sight below the printer. All the parts, Johann told us, could be bought for $500. Scott and I were both impressed. We’re not buying a 3D printer yet, but I know that I’ll definitely be attending the next 3D printer Survey.


The Hippie Hacker

Chris McClimans is tall but soft-spoken and his hair cascades over his shoulder in a tangle of thick, dirty-blond dreadlocks. He wears sandals he made himself from a piece of rubber and twine, and he carries a bulging backpack at all times. It’s not hard to believe that this man once lived in a green Volkswagon van in Austin and Boulder, or that he spent the past several years travelling around New Zealand with his now wife. It wouldn’t be hard to believe, either, that he is couchsurfing around Seattle at the moment, living out of said backpack as he looks for work.

What’s remarkable is what he has in his backpack. I had the odd coincidence of running into him three days in a row at three separate technology events. Monday I ran into him at Ruby on Rails Meetup at the Racer Café. Tuesday he was at the monthly Hacker News Meetup, where I convinced him to come to my arduino meetup the following night. That’s when I finally got to see what exactly he carried with him in his bag.

After the meetup we gathered round as Chris pulled several pieces of magic out of the mysterious black backpack. Item number one was an ergonomic keyboard that he typed on in Dvorak. He is clearly a man who uses his keyboard a lot and loves comfort and efficiency.

Items two, three and four were laptops, each one covered in some of the coolest coder stickers I’ve ever seen.  You can’t always judge a man by the stickers on his laptop (for example, my laptop proudly wears a GitHub sticker while my GitHub account remains sadly barren) but I think it’s safe to believe that every sticker on Chris’s machines represented a part of his deep knowledge of computers.

Item number five was a small USB stick.

This stick of memory was the magic wand from which Chris could deploy his own creation, Instant Infrastructure (:ii), to the whole world. He demonstrated for us on his laptop. After plugging in his USB stick he ‘factory reset’ the operating system from the stick itself. The purple background blossomed on his computer, followed by the familiar Ubuntu icons.

Now, he explained to us, he could use Ubuntu ‘out of box experience’ (OOBE) to image his computer with the selection of open source software that he needed. For instance, if he were a doctor he could simply select the ‘doctor’ software package and it would automatically image his computer with all the tools he needed. Or if he were a teacher he could similarly image his computer with tools for teaching. Of course, the stick depends on the availability of free software that can be deployed on the computer. Chris has already demonstrated his idea to people at Dell who are coming up with a tool to share software via a Git Repositor (if you don’t know what that is, it’s basically ‘the cloud’) called 'Sputnik.' More than anything, Chris said, he needed developers willing to volunteer their time to create free software.

I invited Chris to couchsurf on my boat that weekend. Although I was in and out, dancing all night Friday at a Kaskade concert and then dancing in the viral video We’re Nasa and We Know It on Sunday, Chris and I got a brief chance to talk Saturday morning. We were munching on blueberries he brought home from the farmer’s market and sunning ourselves on the deck of my boat. I asked him how he’d come up with the idea for Instant Infrastructure and he told me about Cambodia. He spends about 60% of his time volunteering for charity and 40% working to make money.

He spent 6 months in Battambang, Cambodia, where he taught local youth about computers. He realized that the kids there wanted to be like him. They wanted to have his fancy macbook pro and use the expensive software packages that he did. He also realized that they would probably never be able to afford to do this. Determined to bridge the technology gap, he developed Instant Infrastructure to be deployed on the cheap Windows machines in the local internet cafes. Using Ubuntu , the kids were able to master computer skills, and have even developed a site in their own language, Kmer, titled ‘Humanity to Everyone.’

Chris’s passion and his giving spirit were evident as he talked about the kids he’d taught.  I feel honored to have had a chance to host the ‘Hippie Hacker’ in his travels in the Northwest.

How to Give a Lot When You Don't Have Much

On a trip through Italy I remember going on a walk and ending up chatting in pidgin Italian with a fruit vendor. I didn’t have any cash with me, but she handed me a pear anyway. I protested that I couldn’t pay for it. She smiled at me and said, “giving costs nothing but it is the best reward.” At first I thought I had misunderstood her. “Giving costs nothing?” If she hadn’t given me the pear, she could have sold it. There was an obvious economic cost, and I found myself doubting her business sense. And yet, I remembered her and thought about what she’d said (and the sweet taste of the pear). Giving back sure feels good, doesn’t it?

I may be a bitter young cynic, but I can still appreciate the joy of giving, and I admire those who give. So how do you give back when your salary barely covers the necessities?

  1. Give what you have.

Chances are that you have extra stuff lying around, taking up closet space. You don’t have to send your stuff to a developing country for it to make an impact (in fact, some make a strong case for overseas aid ruining the economy of developing countries). Make an account on Freecycle, and give it away there. I had some extra kids lifejackets when I bought my boat, and I listed them on freecycle, and within 10 minutes I had five people asking if they could take them. No matter how little you have, chances are that you have something extra that somebody else could use, whether it be a cardboard box or an old towel.

2. Give your time.

Time is money, so it’s understandable that you feel like you can’t afford to give your time. However, if you find yourself wasting time in front of the computer or television, consider giving your time to charity instead. There are many groups, such as the Seattle Volunteers Meetup (for those in Seattle), that give you a great social outlet while at the same time providing you a rewarding opportunity to give to others. You don’t even have to commit to doing it regularly – you can instead choose to go out every now and then for a key event that really matters to you, such as cleaning up the parks on Earth Day. And if the reward of giving in itself wasn’t enough, you can volunteer in a field where you are trying to build a portfolio, such as volunteering to build a website for a non-profit.

3.  Give your home

I have some awesome travel stories, thanks to the amazing people who have hosted me around the world. Without these hosts, I would never have had the chance to travel and see what I did. In Argentina, I lived with three wonderful families who put up with me for four months each. To me they are still "familia."

If you have the space and time, you could consider becoming a host parent for an exchange student. If all you have is a very tiny boat, like me, you can consider becoming a host for couchsurfers. Some amazing people hosted me when I was doing a bike trip across France. I just hosted my first couchsurfer, Rebekka from Germany. It was her first time in the states and her excitement about being here rubbed off on me. It’s cool to be able to see the place you live through the eyes of a stranger. (Disclaimer: This is pretty much common sense, but here are tons of weirdoes in the world and you should be choosy about whom you host. Make sure that they have plenty of recommendations and a fully filled out profile, and if they give you the creeps when you meet them in person, don’t feel bad about reneging on your couch hosting offer).

4. Give your knowledge

Chances are that you have more than just time to give. You might even have some knowledge! There’s even a chance that somebody else wants to learn some of the knowledge that you have. In the age of the Internet, there’s a ton of ways to give your knowledge. For instance, you could contribute to Wikipedia or an opensource project. You could submit a recipe to or a similar site. Or you could contribute your expertise on a forum that interests you. Then again, you could go old-fashioned and offer to teach or tutor face-to-face.

5. Give your positive energy

Okay, so you don't have time to host a guest, you have nothing to donate, and you frankly just aren't a giver. What to do? You can give yourself simply by being yourself. Have you ever had a stranger smile at you and that kept you smiling the rest of the day? Or have you ever interacted with somebody who asked you how you were doing and really meant it? Rather than being a martyr and giving everything away, try being selfish and focusing on your own happiness. Rather than spreading yourself thin by trying to give to much, forge sincere relationships with people. Once you are happy yourself you’ll probably make a lot more people happy. Who knew giving could be so selfish? Apparently giving really does cost nothing.


Seattle Startup Weekend - Women's Edition

I had the privilege of attending Seattle Startup Weekend’s first woman focused event this past weekend. I say priviledge because there was a waitlist of over 100 women who weren’t able to come, in addition to the ~70 who did. I like to think that I helped to contribute to this wait list, since I did my best to promote the event to any design, technical, or business minded women whom I know. Unfortunately, I don’t know many. Actually that should be in past tense, because now I can say that I know quite a few. I expected the weekend to have a different feel to it from the mostly male startup weekend that I attended in April. Startup Weekend Women’s Edition had a ratio of men to women that was roughly the inverse of an average Startup Weekend. So how different was it to attend a startup even that was 75% women? Honestly, there was no difference. There was still that tangible energy. The sense of complete and utter focus and the do or die mentality was electric. It was fun!

And why would it be different? It’s not like we spent the weekend talking about our uteri. We spent it pumping out code, crafting business models, and doing market research. My team and I stayed up until 4am Saturday night working on our project. The only differences I noticed were that there were more macbooks, the food served was veggies and wine (as opposed to beer and pizza) and the t-shirts actually fit.

While I had a blast at the mostly male startup weekend in May and made some great connections, I think that women’s edition of startup weekend had greater benefits for me. In any realm, from sports to business to technology, men are too quick to offer help and often end up overshadowing the women who meekly accept their help. Oftentimes it seems like men, especially older men, assume that they know more just because they’re men. And I think that many women have been conditioned to assume that they know less or aren’t as skillful, which makes them vulnerable to accepting a guy’s help. It was good to be an environment of mostly women, where no guy was going to pop over and suggest that I follow his lead or ask me to give him my code for him to "fix" it. I'll probably delve more into this topic in a later blog post.

I look forward to staying connected with all of the incredible women I met this weekend. Also, if you were a woman who attended Seattle Startup Weekend and we didn’t get a chance to connect, or if you’re a woman who would be interested in attending a startup weekend and wants to know more, feel free to comment or reach out. I’d love to get to know more startup women!

Top 10 Reasons to Live on A Boat

I live on a boat. I have lived on a boat for four whole days. It's an unconventional adventure and I'm still figuring it out. I have no doubt that my decision to live on a boat is one of the best choices I have made so far in my life (ok, maybe that's not saying much, but baby steps, right?). Anyway, here are my top 10 reasons for living on a boat:

10. You can move anywhere in the world and never leave home

Okay, so maybe this isn't true if you want to move to the Midwest and there's no lakes to dock your boat there. But you can move anywhere worthwhile and not have to leave home (I'm kidding. Sort of).

9. You learn everything about boats

What better way to learn about boats than to live on one? When you're constantly having to take care of the boat (because if you don't take care of it, you might drown in your sleep) you're constantly learning  skills that will come in handy if you ever go cruising, for example, or become a sea captain, or sail around the world, all of which I plan to do if I live long enough.

8. You get really good at fixing things

...especially if you're on a limited budget.  On an older boat like mine, you have to learn a bit of marine wiring to make sure that your outlets keep working. You have to learn how to work an old-fashioned propane stove. You have to fix the finicky creature that is the boat toilet.

To use a geek metaphor, your apartment is Mac OS, where everything works as soon as you open it up and you don't really have to fiddle with anything, while living on a boat is Linux, where you're constantly tinkering and upgrading.

7. You get rocked to sleep

I love the feeling of being rocked to sleep. One thing I'm still getting used to is the fact that that rocking sensation stays with me for several hours after I get up. It's 10:30am, I've been off the boat for the past 4 hours, and I still feel like the world is rocking gently back and forth. Maybe it is rocking. Maybe the land is rocking, and the water is still. Hmmm....

6. You wake up on a boat

This seems obvious, but it's amazing! There is no better way to start your day than crawling out of the v-berth, heating up some water for tea, and doing a bit of yoga on the dock as the sun rises.

5. You can play "I'm on a Boat" constantly because it's always true.

In fact, I have my alarm programmed to play "I'm on a Boat" every time I wake up.

4. You have awesome neighbors

People that choose to live on boats are fascinating, colorful people who have plenty of stories. There is also a solidarity between boat-dwellers that doesn't exist in, say, your average apartment complex.

3. You become more mindful of what you waste

One of the main reasons I chose to live on a boat was to keep my life simple. I don't like having too many things. Having an uncluttered life helps me to have an uncluttered mind. Living on a boat certainly makes you re-evaluate what things are important to you. Also, you don't have room for a normal, American-sized trash can, so you don't buy cheap things that are going to break, and you only buy and throw away what you have to. When I bought the boat I made a resolution to make my boat a "trash-free" boat. Everything I buy must be either in recyclable or compostable packaging. I don't buy much, but even so, this is proving to be a challenge.

You also pay attention to the water that you waste. You can't use harsh cleaning products, because everything you put on your boat gets washed directly through holes in the floor into the lake that you live on. Instead, to clean my boat I use water from the lake and a lot of "elbow grease."

2. You don't have to clean the bathroom

I'm lucky - I live in a small, family-owned marina and there is a small bathroom that only a handful of people use. It is always spotless. It's nice to have one less thing to think about.

1. It's the best place to be in the Zombie Apocalypse

...hands down. You know Dawn of the Dead? How did they escape? On a boat. You know Day of the Dead? How did they die? They got off the boat. When the Zombie Apocalypse comes, I will try to save everybody like the hero that I am, but unfortunately that will not be possible. Instead, I will only be able to 8 of my friends on my boat. I really hope you make the cut.

Maiden Voyage

I shook the owner’s hand. "Text me when you get to Seattle !" She said. "I’m excited for you guys!" She pushed us off from the dock and threw me the bow line. The engine was warmed up, so with Andy on the tiller we backed up and started out on our journey.

Andy, John and I were headed from the marina of Port Angeles, Washington, to the Fremont Tug Boat Co on North Lake Union in Seattle. It was an 80 mile trip, and we had a chart of Puget Sound, several gallons of water, a cooler with turkey, crackers, chocolate and beer, and some other gear, including a propane tank and some ropes.

There were three of us. John was the most experienced sailor among us. He has a Laser and a 19-foot sailboat but he hasn’t done much distance sailing on larger boats. He had never dropped anchor or been through the locks. Nevertheless, I trusted him with my life. Andy is another useful person. He has experience fixing his jeep and he knows about motors and other mechanical things. He also is a lifeguard and has first aid and CPR certifications. He hasn’t really sailed since his sailing class sophomore year at Bainbridge High though.

And me? I’ve sailed my grandparents sunfish at their cottage a couple of times. I’ve ridden on my uncle’s sailboat on a tiny lake in Pennsylvania. In other words, I’m pretty much an expert. The first time I went to see my sailboat, the owner told me to take it out for a spin. I somehow managed to clear the slip. Then I ended up overstearing and doing a full 360 right in front of the fuel dock. A power boat drifting by joked to me, "Are you sure you have your boating license?" While attempting to dock the boat on the way back, I accidentally knocked the boat into neutral and almost drifted into another boat. Somehow (i.e. – with the help of a guy in a power boat who pulled me to the dock, and another sailor who grabbed my bow line and tied me up) I got the boat safely docked before the owner arrived. Naturally, I was confident that I could sail the boat 80 miles across open water.

The forecast told us that Saturday’s winds would be blowing at only 3 miles per hour, but thankfully they kept up at around 6. We were headed downwind, so John showed us how to jerry rig the jib open with a pole on port while the mainsail went out to starboard and keep the boat balanced directly in the center, thus catching more wind. We were flying across the sparkling sound, the dinghy tied to the back bouncing along the waves behind us. I turned the battery on and looked for a station on the radio. The only stations available were either arabic music or talk radio, so we settled for Arabic music and John and I bellydanced around the boat. The weather was sunny and perfect for sailing. Andy thought he saw an orca’s fin. He pointed it out and we kept watch until it surfaced again. There was definitely something there, whether orca or not I don’t know.

At 6pm we were still making good time. We’d passed Port Townsend and decided to cross over to Whidbey Island. Andy was asleep in the hold. The waves were getting choppier, and I asked John if I could take the tiller again. By now, the air was colder and I was dressed in long underwear, an underarmor shirt, and a complete set of rain gear, as well as a hat and sunglasses. The boat rolled in and out of the waves and I played with the tiller. There’s nothing like sailing a boat with the wind in the sails and the motion of the waves under the boat. And not just any boat. This was my boat and I was the captain. I was smiling ear to ear.

The sun was starting to set and the wind and waves were getting wilder. I had decided to anchor by the Keystone Ferry at Admirality Bay, since that looked like the most sheltered area on the map. The waves were pulling us toward Whidby Island, but the winds were pushing us in the opposite direction. Suddenly, the waves stopped and the ocean went almost surreally calm. The setting sun behind us cast a golden glow. We drifted along for a bit before I realized that this wind, or lack of wind, wasn’t going to get us to Admirality Bay by nightfall. "Maybe we should just anchor there," I said to John, pointing at the cliffs. "That looks somewhat sheltered."

I told John to get the anchor ready as we sailed in. There was a large anchor, two small ones, and a laundry basket full of rope – 200 feet of it. John sorted it out, took the jib down, and dropped the anchor. Just then, the waves picked up and the boat started to rock wildly again. Andy woke up and came out of the cabin rubbing his eyes. He exclaimed at the beauty of the setting sun, by now a ruby red sliver falling into a silver cloud. I didn't give him a chance to admire the spectacular sunset though, because I was nervous about being blown into the cliffs.

"Could you take down the mainsails? We just to dropped anchor."

Andy complied, sleepily fumbling with the ropes. I looked up to see the piece that goes in the top of the mainsail swinging in the wind. "Grab that!" I shouted.

"Grab what?"


Andy looked up but it was too late. We’d lost the main halyard (the rope that pulls the mainsail up the mast). The boat was rocking back and forth in the waves and there was no way we could reach it. The boat also seemed to be being pulled by the tide toward the cliffs.

"This really isn’t a sheltered area," said Andy. We all agreed. I hadn’t wanted to use the motor at all, but it was almost dark and Admirality Bay was still a couple of miles away. Besides, the next morning we were somehow going to have to retrieve that piece.

We reached Admirality Bay after an hour or so of motoring in the dark and the cold. We passed the ferry dock and I found a spot behind what must have been an abandoned pier. I dropped the anchor from the bow, letting the chain and then the rope slip through my fingers. Finally, we were anchored and safe. We went below deck and started to prepare for bed.

I had taken my rain gear off and was shivering under a blanket, trying to get warm. John was peeing off the back of the boat when we heard him shout down to us : "Uh, guys...why are we not where we were? We’re really really far from where we were."

We ran up the stairs to to take a look. The boat had been pulled by the current, anchor and all, about 100 yards from where we had been. We were directly in the path of the ferry. The ferry was just appearing, a white dot on the horizon.

"What do you want to do?" John asked. "I suggest that we sail into the harbor."

I nodded in assent and Andy took the tiller. We started to head in. On the map, there looked like there might be a harbor entrance behind the ferry dock. Unfortunately, as we got closer we didn’t see any harbor entrance and realized that what looked like a harbor on the map was actually an enclosed lake with no entrance.

"Doesn’t look like there’s anything here." I said. "You should turn around."

"Too late!" Shouted Andy. The ferry was right behind us, a white monster with a blaring horn.

"Pull in here," John said, gesturing toward the boat ramp on the side of the ferry area.

We pulled out of the ferry’s way and spun the boat around. There was a boat ramp with a sort-of dock. John and I jumped off the boat and tied it to the dock. It wasn’t hard for us to make the decision to stay docked there for the night. There was a sign that said "30 minute docking only", but I figured that the coast guard would let us be for the night, especially since we were having some technical difficulties. Finally, finally we were able to go down to the cabin and get under the warm blanket. Out of harm’s way, it was actually quite funny. I started to doze off. Then I heard John’s voice again.

"Uh guys? I think the tide is going out and I can hear the keel scraping on the gravel."

Once again, we jumped up. This time I valiantly let the two men drag us a bit further down the dock into deeper water as I stayed below deck with the blanket wrapped around me. I checked my phone. It was midnight. I turned my phone off. The gentle creaks of the boat, the fenders hitting the dock, and the swoosh of the tide were the only sounds. Oh, and Andy and John snoring.

I was in the main v-berth, and I’d taken the canvas off of the skylight above me. Since we were out of the way of other boat traffic, I’d turned the anchor light off to save batteries, and the only light came from the moon. And the blue and red flashing of police lights. Police lights ? Oh no, the coast guard had come for us. I heard loud voices and footsteps on the dock and jumped up. "Don’t give me a parking ticket," I was thinking in my head. "Please don’t give me a parking ticket!" We pulled back the hatch and poked our heads up. There were two coast guard boats and a small motor boat. The motor boat was tying up on the other side of the dock, and two men in their fishing jackets were stomping around looking frustrated. From their conversation, we caught on that they had just been rescued. The coast guard motored away, and once again and for the last time I closed the cabin door and went back to bed.

The next morning, John woke us up with an annoying morning person smile. I couldn’t be too angry at him though, because I was also somewhat of a happy annoying morning person this morning. I was a new boat owner, and thrilled to be alive on a foggy, chilly morning in the Pacific Northwest.

I pulled Andy out of bed and we rummaged through the boat’s extra gear until we found the mast-climbing harness. John climbed the mast first and brought the main halyard down. Holding it, I saw what was wrong. The cleat didn’t close all the way, so when I’d rigged the mainsail I probably hadn’t gotten it all the way closed, and a couple of jerks from Andy taking the sail down had been enough to set it free. Thankfully, a quick squeeze from John’s leatherman fixed it. Unfortunately, John had brought the line down on the wrong side of the spreaders. We tried to tie it to another rope and pull it back up, but that didn’t work, so Andy climbed the mast and threw it down the correct side. It was fixed. There was a little cafe above the dock, and they turned the "open" sign on just then, so we went in and had some coffee and breakfast sandwiches. The power boaters from the night before were there too, and they told us their story. The motor had died and they’d been adrift, floating toward Port Townsend in the dark, so they’d had to call the Coast Guard to come rescue them. This morning they’d realized that the only problem with their engine was the ground to the battery, which had come loose. They’d fixed it themselves, after paying the coast guard $640 for a rescue.

The fog gradually rolled away as we sailed south toward Seattle. We arrived at the locks around 7pm. I was terribly nervous for this part, as I’d heard horror stories of ships coming untied and damaging other boats as the water rushed into the lock. Before the locks, there was a drawbridge. The sailboat ahead of us sailed in just fine, and the drawbridge opened up for it. It went down again before we arrived though, so we sailed in circles, confused as to why it wouldn’t open for us. A couple of power boats passed us. I was getting more and more nervous about us either running the mast into the bridge or hitting the wharves on either side. We couldn’t just spin in circles for forever. John suggested that maybe we needed to blow a horn. I thought maybe we needed to radio somebody. "No, I think we need an audible signal," John assured me, pointing to the sign that said we needed an audible signal. The sailboat and motor boats that had gone ahead had already entered the lock and were lining up. We were still on the wrong side of the drawbridge.

I tried making horn sounds with my mouth, but nothing happened. I went below deck and looked around for a bit. In a stroke of genius, I thought to look under the flares in the cupboard above the ice box. Sure enough, there was a funny looking kazoo-like metal instrument, a bit rusty but usable. John blew on it a couple times to blow the dust out. Then he took a deep breath and blew a loud "toot!" and just like that, the drawbridge opened. We went through and into the locks. It wasn’t difficult at all. We tied ropes around cleats on our port side, the gates closed behind us, and we and the three other boats in the lock gradually rose higher as the water slowly trickled in. Tourists all around us stared and pointed. We waved. It felt a bit like being in the zoo. The woman on the sailboat ahead of us gave the lock attendant a bag of chocolate coins. Then the gates on the other side opened and one by one we motored out into the brackish water of Lake Union. There were two more drawbridges before Fremont, so I got a chance to toot the horn a couple more times. Finally, we were home. Except that I’d never left home. Like a turtle, I’d carried my home with me for 80 miles. The sunset was red over the Seattle skyline, promising a beautiful morning.

Boat Naming Contest

So that's it! I have my very own boat. I'll give more details in a bit. First things first though, I need a good name for her. And not just any name. I've decided that I want the name to be a computer science pun. For instance, a friend suggested "Sea++", "Sea#", or "C Shell." The dinghy also needs a name (preferably something that matches). To up the stakes, the person who thinks of the best name for the sailboat or the dinghy gets to christen them at the boat christening party on August 4th.

To help you out, the boat is a 1974 29' Ericson with light blue trim and green sail covers. The sails are white and the spinnaker is blue and yellow.

The Most Beautiful Person in the World

I'm sitting in a café, getting frustrated with writing some JavaScript on a website that I've been working on. Every time this happens I get angsty. "I can't program. I'm just a dumb artsy person. I should have stuck to painting." I start to feel self-pity. What if I had gone to school for computer science? I would be miles ahead of where I am now. I'm the worst JavaScripter in Seattle and I know it. One irrational angst leads to another. What if none of my plans work out? What if I can't get a boat? What if I never move up in the world and stay in the same job forever? Suddenly the most beautiful person in the world walks in. She is about 5'2", maybe 25 years old, and has dyed red hair in a mullet and a spiky nose ring and two lip rings. She is wearing a hoody and ripped jeans. She is there with her date. He is a boy, about 14 years old, in a red raincoat that is too big for him. He walks trippingly and almost falls over himself as she guides him to his seat. "Do you want some tea?" she asks gently. Her voice is so gentle. He doesn't say anything. Instead, he puts his head down on the table and covers himself up with the big red sleeves of his red rain jacket. She pushes his tea toward him. He doesn't move.

"Do you want something else?" She asks. He still doesn't reply. "I'll get you something else." She gets up and goes to the counter and orders him a parfait. While she is there, he sits up with a mischievous smile on his face, and starts to laugh, a deep throaty laugh, as he drinks her tea. I'm laughing too. He puts his head back in his arms when she comes back.

"You did want tea," The most beautiful person in the world smiles. "I brought you a parfait. Do you want this?" Again, he doesn't move. "Do you want to see the fire?" She goes over and lights the gas fire in the back of the cafe. He looks up, attentive. He walks over to look at the fire, murmuring. She keeps talking to him. Slowly, he starts to talk back, mostly nonsense, sometimes laughter. He eats the parfait hungrily. I can't stop watching them. It looks like she is the babysitter, or the caretaker. But she genuinely cares for this boy.

I remember another night, a couple of days ago, when I was headed out dancing around 1am on Capital Hill. It was raining. A middle aged homeless woman was sitting in the dirt crying and a guy my age got off his bike to sit next to her. I couldn't stop staring. Usually in Seattle people shove homeless people out of the way, or else ignore them. But he was crouched in the dirt next to her, talking to her and she was nodding. He helped her to stand up. I couldn't stick around and watch, because I had to go dancing. Something about this scene sticks with me though. I have just come from a party of laughing, smiling, genuinely happy people wearing their finest clothes with their hair and makeup done to perfection. But here, in the mud on a street corner, I just saw the most beautiful person in the world.

In the cafe, I go back to the JavaScript problem. I forget my angst. I stop comparing myself to my friends. I think about the finished product - the kids who will be playing with this website when it is finished. Maybe someone like this 14 year old boy in the red rain jacket will enjoy playing with it. I catch his eye and smile. He laughs, covers his eyes, and turns away. Then he peeks back at me and I laugh too.

Just Focus Part 1

Like most members of my generation I have a terrible attention span. I have been known to be literally distracted by squirrels while trying to carry on a...SQUIRREL!I need all the help I can get with focus, especially when I have 50 tabs open in front of me on my work computer as well as my phone buzzing on my desk.

Besides yoga and distance running (there’s nothing like a long run to clear your head), my number one focusing tool right now is called a pomodoro. I discovered the pomodoro technique about a year ago, and occasionally use it when working on something that is time sensitive. Last week I realized that my productivity at work could use a boost. My outside life was distracting me from focusing, and my mind kept getting pulled away from my tasks by non-work related calls, texts, facebook messages and emails. So I did a quick search for a pomodoro app, and finally downloaded an app called “pomodroido.”

Smart phones are funny things. They can enhance your focus or they can destroy it. My phone was both the cause of my problems (the messages never stop) and the answer (my productivity apps now keep me on task).

So what is a pomodoro? From the Pomodoro Technique website:

  1. Choose a task to be accomplished
  2. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
  4. Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
  5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break (10 minutes is good)

Anyway, I started using pomodoros at work. I experimented with different lengths (for instance, working for 40 minutes and taking a 10 minute break) before deciding to stick with the default. For now, 30 minutes seems to be my maximum attention span. Even that was a bit much for the first week - it was a real effort to get to the end of the pomodoro without being distracted. Also, five minutes is not very long for a break. That’s barely enough time to pick your nose and check your favorite blog.

I feel like my focus has definitely gone up after two weeks of using these though. I’m almost ready to go up to a thirty minute pomodoro. The best thing that this does is that it minimizes the time I spend doing useless things like checking my email. If I get new mail during a pomodoro, instead of being pulled away from my task to check it I consciously choose to ignore it until the pomodoro is finished. My email can wait for 25 minutes. It’s not going anywhere. It could probably even wait for an hour to check my email, but I haven’t yet achieved that level of patience and focus.

I also realized that bigger chunks of time, like an entire day, can be used in a similar fashion. Rather than constantly juggle every detail of my life, I can set aside certain days to work on certain things. For instance, I can have a “personal finance day” once a month where I make sure that all my bills have been paid. Or I could have a “chores” day like my parents had when I was growing up, where I do household chores like vacuuming and laundry. Days have been traditionally set aside for different chores, as proven in this old English poem:

Wash on Monday,

Iron on Tuesday,

Bake on Wednesday,

Brew on Thursday,

Churn on Friday,

Mend on Saturday,

Go to meeting on Sunday.

Thankfully, we live in an awesome time when we don’t have to spend an entire day washing (or go to meeting on Sunday) but dividing weeks like this could certainly help with focus. Here is a modern version of the poem that fits my lifestyle better:

Build websites and climb on Monday,

Go to track practice or duck dodge and pay bills on Tuesday,

learn Windows 8 and go salsa dancing on Wednesday,

Run, climb and study app design at the library on Thursday,

Climb, party and network on Friday,

Leave town on Saturday,

Come home and take a nap on Sunday.

It’s not really as catchy as the original poem but it certainly reflects my more modern life.

Historically, humans have always divided their lives into smaller portions and even though these portions, like minutes, hours and weeks, have nothing to do with the seasons or the stars, they make sense. Whether you use a traditional seven day week or a ten day week (like they created during the French Revolution) or an eight day week like the early Romans (or the Beatles), dividing your time into weeks helps to create a certain structure and routine, which can help to make your life more organized. Of course, sometimes I do cheat on the pomodoros.

The Power of No

One of the greatest luxuries about being an adult is that nobody can tell you what you can't do. Nobody can say "Monica, it's a week night. You shouldn't stay up late working on that stupid business idea because you have to wake up at 5am tomorrow and that's two hours from now." or " Monica, you have a sinus infection. You shouldn't go running tonight, and then go to an absinthe tasting, and then go Salsa Dancing until 3am." It's also one of the most difficult things, at least for me. If there's nobody to tell me what I can't do, I end up doing everything at once.  Especially coming from a small town, the excitement of being invited to three or four events every night is a little overwhelming.

Which is why I am learning that I never HAVE to do anything. Another one of the greatest luxuries of being an adult is the power to say "No." "No," as in: "No, I'd rather not go to your cocktail party/windsurfing/Las Vegas. I would prefer to stay in tonight and read a book."

I think a lot of people forget that they have this basic human right.  You can say "no" to all sorts of things. You can even say "no" to work. You're sick. You're stressed. It's a beautiful sunny day out. You've been working hard all month. Say no to work and take a sick day. That's what they were designed for.

If you work for yourself, you can even say no to a client. "No," as in: "No, I'm not going to build this website for you because I already have a full work schedule. If you'd like, feel free to get on my wait list, but otherwise here's x's number - she's a great web designer also and would be happy to do this for you."

Conversely, you can also say no to social events because work is more meaningful to you. "No," as in: "No, I love hanging out with you but I also have an awesome job and I want to get a good night's sleep so that I can change the world one day at a time."

There's a whole list of other things you can say "No" to.

Say "No" to stress. Why worry? Things will either get done or they won't get done, but being stressed won't help.

Say "No" to your peers putting you down. If somebody says, "Monica, I can't believe it's already June and you don't live on a boat yet," I will reply: "go fry your head in a microwave," as I was taught to say in grade school. I do things in my own time.

Say "No" to people asking for more of your time than you want to give them. Some people are very needy. Just remind them gently that they need to find other friends because you aren't willing to be there for them at all times.

Say "No" to anything that bores you. Say "No" to people who sap your energy. Say "No" to situations that might become awkward. Say "No" to anything or anyone that doesn't challenge you. Say "No" to events that will be fun but that you can't enjoy because your schedule is already overbooked. Say "No" when you are tired. Say "No" when you really just want some alone time.

You never HAVE to do anything. Everything in life is a choice, so follow what excites you and keep growing.

50 Days of Morning Yoga

When I don't feel like biking to work, I carpool every now and then with one of my coworkers, Drew. About a month ago we were talking about stress back problems and I encouraged Drew to try yoga. A week ago, I rode to work with him again and he seemed extremely satisfied. "Thanks so much for suggesting that I try yoga," he gushed. "I've been doing fifteen minutes every morning for the past week and it's totally changed my outlook on life."

I felt like an idiot. Do as I say, not as I do. I hadn't done a lick of yoga in over a month and my lifestyle hasn't been exactly zen. In fact, I'm such a doer that the things that I do, which started out as enjoyable outlets for my excess energy, have started to cause more stress than joy. Even hanging out with friends sometimes feels like a chore - I'm thinking about the next task while I'm with them and I'm wishing I were at home working on my projects instead of with them. And once I get home, as I work on my projects, I start thinking about work the next day and worrying about how tired I'm going to be. This creates an endless cycle of worry, since I can't keep up with myself anymore. My tasks have taken over my life. That's when I have to stop and regroup.

I can handle a huge number of tasks as long as I stay in the moment during each of them and give each my all. For instance, when I go sailboat racing I have to be focused solely on getting the most out of the boat's sails, training my muscle memory to jibe and tack, and if I have a free second, enjoying the wind in my face and the salt air of the sound. I can't be thinking about the fact that I have rock-climbing in an hour, or that I'm going dancing after that. In other words, I have to FOCUS ON THE TASK AT HAND.

The best way to do that is the one I always preach to friends and haven't been following myself: 15-30 minutes of yoga before work in the morning. For the next 50 days I've decided to challenge myself to get back into it. Feel free to follow along if you like - I'd love to hear about your experiences doing 50 days of yoga. I'm right at that swing in the moving process where the adrenaline of a new place and new friends starts to wear off and the stress of the daily grind starts to set in (if you let it). But I won't let it.

Tomorrow can worry about its own problems. I'm going to stay in the moment.

Running Revisited

After going through hell at the 30K on Saturday (and not winning anything) I decided not to skip running practice anymore. That meant that Tuesday I went to "Getting Back on the Track" with the Antifreeze running group. It was pouring rain so there were only a few of us there. On a good day there are ten or fifteen people. We did six 800s. I've been getting queezy every time I run track. I'm not sure if it's motion sickness or if it's caused by my diet or drinking too much coffee at work or something else. It usually hits at about the middle of track practice, and I slow down because I feel like my guts are about to burst. I try to hang on, even though I fall to the back of the pack. I've tried running with my eyes half closed, staring at the sky, eating less at lunch and not drinking coffee. So far nothing has helped. Maybe I just need to do more track practices. I've been skipping for the past couple of weeks because things like Duck Dodge get in the way. If anybody knows any tips for not getting sick while running track, please let me know!

SSW (Matt Winberry's acronym) was there as always, keeping up a good pace. At the end of practice, he asked me and Tony, "Do you want to run Ragnar?" and we both said yes without a minute of thought. So now we're signed up for this. Something to train for. Which meant that tonight, even though I was exhausted from Wednesday night "tapering" (swing dancing in Bellingham most of the night and waking up at 4am to make it to work on time) I woke from my post-work power nap to get to Road Runner Sports "First Thursday Adventure Run" run by 7pm. This was my first time at a First Thursday, and I didn't realize what a big deal it was.  First Thursday Adventure Runs are scavenger hunts where you run from business to business claiming prizes and raffle tickets. I was ten minutes late, but there was still a huge crowd gathered outside of Road Runner Sports. They seemed to be a lot more festive than the usual Thursday group is pre-run. I realized that everyone had cups of beer and handfuls of raffle tickets. A large percentage were wearing blue "First Thursday" t-shirts. I managed to find Matt and Tony in the crowd and asked them what was going on.

"Hey guys, where did you get the raffle tickets?"

"Monica, where have you been? We got the tickets on the run of course. They hand them out on the scavenger hunt"

"The run? You guys ran already?"

"Yeah, this started at 5pm"

Wow. I was two hours late. Tony went to get another beer and handed me his tickets. The organizer was rapidly reading out the raffle winners and I tried to keep up. They were giving away t-shirts, backpacks, shoes and all sorts of sports goodies. I felt pretty disappointed that I'd missed out on all this awesome. I would have to wait another month for the next one. Suddenly I heard the announcer say "Monica...Monica Simone..."

"Hey, that's you!" Matt nudged me. They had drawn my name from a hat. Somehow I had won something even though I was two hours late and hadn't participated in the Adventure Run. I squeezed through the crowd and claimed my prize - $160 towards a new pair of Asics, $25 at Irwins Coffee Shop, and entries to six summer races! Apparently since I had RSVPd online they had drawn my name from the pool of RSVPers. Now I get to run six races AND Ragnar!

Sometimes just showing up is the whole battle.

I did go for a five mile jog later that night - just me and the lake breeze and the shadowy figures of lovers strolling around Greenlake, whispering in the trees. Running, I've missed you.


Home is Where Your Family Is

The worst thing about flying East is that you lose hours. I boarded a plane at 6am Friday morning, took a six hour nap, and when I woke up it was already 3pm and I was in Philadelphia. The weather there was balmy and muggy. English has the strangest words to describe weather. Philadelphia wasn’t the end of my journey as I still had a four hour bus ride to State College. Also, I had to catch my bus, which I wasn’t entirely sure how to do. I’m pretty sure the expression 'fly by the seat of your pants' was created with me in mind. Luckily I had my handy dandy android to tell me what train to catch to take me to the bus station where I needed to be in half an hour. What did people do before smart phones ? I guess they actually figured out where they were going before boarding the plane. I took another nap on the bus home. Thankfully nobody was there to take pictures, since I think I was drooling. I woke up to a downpour and the driver announcing that we were half an hour late, which gave me just enough time to think about how I would describe my time in Seattle to my parents. I went over everything I had done since moving to Seattle…

The day I arrived at my new home, a little over a month ago, the sun was glinting off Lake Washington. I had to be at work the next afternoon to sign some papers, but since my job didn’t start until April 23rd I had a whole week to rest up, run, and meet friends. I didn’t realize then how much I would need that extra rest. The group of runners I met that week (via meetup) would lead directly or indirectly to me meeting every single friend I have met so far in Seattle (other than my coworkers).

On my first Sunday I travelled to eastern Washington for my cousin’s track meet and saw grey velvet hills, scrubby tumbleweeds and lone ranches that I had only read about in books. The next weekend I found myself climbing in Leavenworth after a full weekend of partying (and a lovely pause on Saturday where I went to the farmer’s market and helped a friend cook an amazing vegan meal). Monday was my first day of work… After Monday, things started to accelerate like a…well, like a rolling stone. I convinced five people to take off their clothes and jump into Green Lake with me. I went to a party at the Corinthian Yacht Club and then dressed up to make an appearance at Bonza Bash on the same night. I travelled up and down Puget Sound looking at boats and learning how to determine what boat to buy. I signed up for sailboat racing lessons and got a membership at Vertical World climbing gym. I went to a Sounder’s game, went sailing in Bellingham, skied at Steven’s pass on the last day of ski season, stayed up all night dancing with my friends Scott and Adan, joined a yacht club, went to a party on a boat and jumped into Puget Sound afterwards, led a project at Startup Weekend, went to my first Duck Dodge, and networked at Girl Power Hour. I managed to get around Seattle without a car and only lost my bike a couple of times (and then found it again). I started an exercise fad at work, learned how to throw a frisbee (only got one bloody nose in the process) and tried slacklining. I planned a weekend trip to Smith Rock with my coworker Andy, went to see my cousin tapdance in his highschool play, and finally headed home for this weekend’s double feature – 30K and wedding in one day. At the wedding, my friend’s great Aunt Ruthie told me "I’m 75. I wish that I could live to be four hundred and seventy five because there is SO much to do!" I think I know what she means.

I've done a lot since I've been in Seattle, but isn't what I've done that makes Seattle the best city in the US as far as I'm concerned. It's the friends I've made. If I hadn't met those friends, Seattle would have been just another chilly, rainy city. Because I met them, Seattle is now home and they are my surrogate family.

Of course, I love being with my real family also. I woke up in my parent’s house Sunday morning to the smell of eggs and bacon. The sun was shining outside and everything was as it should be. Things never change in State College. We had a family breakfast where they told me about our dog Mungo’s new affinity for rabbit-catching. She’s five years old and she just learned how to catch rabbits. She is so excited by it that apparently she sneaks out of the house when my parents aren’t looking and runs away to track them. Most of the time she tracks them backwards though, so she’s sniffing in one direction while the lucky rabbit happily hops off in the other direction.

"Are you sure you have everything?" My mom asked me about twenty times before I left. "Yes, certain. I’m a travelling expert." "Hah!" My Dad scoffed. "A travelling expert? Remember that time in Mexico City when you threw away the stamp you needed to leave the country and we had to sprint across the airport to try to get a new one?" That’s the problem with parents. They never forget all of the embarrassing things you did. "That was six years ago Dad! I’ve learned since then!" I protested. But in the car on the way to the bus stop I suddenly realized that I didn’t have my passport. I jumped into the back of the van and started tearing my luggage apart. I found the missing passport inside of a notebook in my suitcase, where it had fallen and gotten wedged between the pages.

When we got to Philly the megabus driver couldn’t find a place to park so he yelled to us as he circled the block, "Y’all think you can jump out right quick and grab yo bags ?" I was the only person who shouted "yeah!" The driver parked illegally in a city bus lane, shooed us out and started to throw us our bags. "Quick people, grab yo bags and get outta here!" He shouted. "Y’all don see no po-lice comin? Grab dem bags!"

I was taking my sewing machine, snowboard accessories and snowboard back to Seattle with me so I checked them in at the counter at the airport. Or rather, I tried to check them in. When the concierge asked how I would be paying for them, I replied "credit" and opened my wallet to discover that the credit card slot was empty. I suddenly remembered that my credit card had been left in my parents car when I’d deposited some checks at the drive-through ATM that morning. "Uh…um…uh…." I stuttered. "Er, I have to make a phone call." I took my bags off the scale and moved out of the way as I dialed my parents. They must have been taking their Sunday afternoon nap because the phone rang and rang and nobody answered. I must have looked distressed because the concierge took compassion on me. "Do you have any cash? How much do you need? I’ll pay for them." The concierge, Vee, and I are now friends on facebook and I promised him a snowboarding lesson when he comes to Seattle. I still didn’t have a credit or a debit card, and I wasn’t sure how I would pay for the light rail to get home. Five minutes later, my phone rang. Another friend was  calling. "Hey, I was just thinking of you," he said.  "Do you need a ride home from the airport ?" "Uh, yes actually."

Later I found my credit card in my checked bag. Oops.

Rothrock Challenge

Everything ached as I threw one leg after the other in front of me in a lopsided shuffle-run. "Monica, the faster you run this, the faster you can take a nap at the end," I told myself. I sped up, despite the forty-five degree angle of the hill. Then I stopped, gasping, and walk lopingly up the remainder of the hill. I had lost my fellow Rec Hall Regular, Jim, on the first painful 1,200 foot climb at the beginning of the race, and Meira Minard, reigning champion of Rothrock Challenges, was already in the lead, so I found myself in a pack of random runners. I imagined Jim and Meira soaring ahead of me and I felt like crying with frustration. The alternate joy of knowing I was doing my best and anguish of knowing that my best wasn't going to win me a medal today was messing with my head. I hate not winning. I had entered this race hoping to win at least something, but exhaustion from jet lag had worn me out. At least that's what I told myself. I jogged along, making a thousand excuses for my poor performance. I didn't get any coffee this morning. I hadn't carb loaded. I was wearing the wrong shoes (I'm not even sure what the right shoes for a race like that are). I hadn't trained. Wait, that's not an excuse. I could have trained. As my mind wandered I began to mentally make up a training program. I realized that running was fifth on my list of priorities. No wonder I hadn't trained. I need to put running and sleeping enough at the top of my priority list. I know, I will cancel all of my dates, tell my friends I don't have time to see them, and run twelve miles a day every day...

Suddenly I soared into a patch of sunlight which glinted off the wet leaves of the mountain laurel. The sunlight brought me back to the present, to the beautiful day, and to the soreness in my feet. The weather was as bipolar as my mood. A hard rain last night had left the course slippery. I had already passed through waist deep water in one part of the course. The worst spots were the technical spots right after the creek, when my shoes were full of water and slippery and I had trouble balancing as I leapt from rock to rock. And yet, I love technical. I love the absolute focus that it requires. My mind goes completely blank as I focus on finding the next best foothold for my airborne feet.

It was humid. At each water station I dumped a cup of water over my head. A couple of times I found myself running completely alone, the ferns brushing gently against my legs. I got lost twice. At the last water station, the lady told me "you're at mile twelve," but I knew she was lying when, three miles in, a man on a bike called out "only five and a half more miles to go!" There were two more climbs and descents in those last five miles. Another woman passed me and I felt frustration again. The man ahead of me had perfect balance and owned the technical, but his love handles suggested that he wasn't a regular runner. I felt angry about being behind him and not being in the lead. Then suddenly, I noticed the view and realized that I was running in a beautiful forest on a beautiful day and I smiled a huge smile and just ran for the pleasure of running. I realized that it didn't matter that I wasn't winning - being out there, running my best and being humbled by this terrain were the point.

I flew down the last hill like only a skier can run, passing a dozen runners on my way down. The last runner I passed was a guy who I'd been playing leapfrog with all day, and as I pulled away from him he yelled at me "Nice job! You're awesome by the way!!" That was the only push I needed to finish the race running. The rest of the way was mostly downhill. The final half mile was the one stretch of pavement. I closed my eyes and felt thankful for having the life to run and feel this pain and joy. I passed the finish line at 4:11 and ran straight to the pond to jump in. Jim was there with his hand out to give me a high five. So was Tom Cali, who had run part of the race to help encourage Meira. I was 10th woman overall. No, I'm not happy with my place. But I know that I will train harder from now on. Also, never run a race when jet-lagged. Unless it's reverse jet lag. My next race will have to be in Hawaii...

Girl Power Hour

I’m not going to lie. I was leary about going to an event called «Fit and Fab(ulous) ». I go out of my way to avoid anything that talks about nutrition, excercise or weight loss, since I think that women in our culture are already overdosed with these things. Sure, I’ll read Running Times, or obsess over sports equipment, or join a climbing gym, but that’s different. I do these things partly for the enjoyment of physical exertion and partly for the mental edge I think they give me (believe me, I need all the help I can get). I could give a shnitzel if I gain or lose twenty pounds. So why did I go ? Well, I’ve started to miss my girlfriends since I’ve been in Seattle and going to one of the Girl Power Hour (@girlpowerhour) seemed like it would be a good chance to meet more women friends. I think the activities that I choose to attend – like Startup Weekend, for instance – are great for meeting guy friends but aren’t so good for meeting girls. My workplace is also about 70% men. In some ways I love this – I feel like it’s easier to keep my priorities straight.  A lot of times when I’m around women there is pressure to focus on babies, relationships, and appearance, three things that are at the bottom of the totem pole of my priorities (if they’re even on the totem pole).

This event seemed like it would be a place where I could meet like-minded women, since Girl Power Hour is especially designed for women who are interested in having a life outside of the « domestic » sphere.

Actually, missing my girlfriends wasn’t the only reason that I chose to go to the event. Sunday, with the exhileration of the presentation and the afterparty, I had completely forgotten my bicycle at startup weekend. In fact, when I arrived home from work on Monday I didn’t even know where my bike was and I thought it had been stolen for a couple of anxious minutes. Thankfully, when my memory of the weekend returned, I called the owner of the venue, "Makers", Caitlyn , and she said that she could hold onto my bike until Girl Power Hour, which was held at the same venue. I think I spend more time chasing my bike around town than I do riding it.

Maker’s is a beautiful coworking space in the middle of Belltown. It is open, light, and airy. The accent pieces, like an antique organ, are placed so that they add to the zen rather than clutter the place.  I was an hour and a half late to the event because I had spent the afternoon at a boat brokerage and then trying to get a Seattle Driver’s license at the DOL. Even though I say that I don’t give a shnitzel if I gain or lose 20 pounds, I was a little nervous as I struggled to zip up the back of my skirt. Over the past two weeks I have been too busy to run, and all of the free food at work had gone straight to my rear. I did manage to zip it up, however, and even though it is a tiny pencil skirt and I have to get into cars butt first and climb stairs sideways, I felt, well, kind of fabulous. On the way to the bus stop I almost bumped into several people because I was admiring myself in the glass storefronts.

Ironically, the first thing I heard when I walked through the door was a woman on a podium talking about how by excercising she had managed to add two whole inches to her butt. « Wow, » I remarked to a girl standing next to me. « I did that without even exercising. » I decided to go keep working on my butt by hitting the hors d’ouvres table.

The speakers themselves were fabulous. My fear about having to listen to judgemental talks about how many calories are in a spoonful of peanut butter was qualmed when I heard the vulnerable, inspiring talks on how to change our image from the inside out. I have never seen so many beautiful women in one place in Seattle. I met the organizers’ mother at the buffet table, a rockstar lady with little glasses. « Those are my daughters, » she told me, proudly. I found myself wishing my own mother were there.

There were women of all ages in the room, and although I was interested in meeting peers, it was also lovely to connect to some women older than myself. Two ladies introduced themselves. It was obvious from how they carried themselves that they were badasses. We started a conversation that immediately went deeper than the normal networking fluff. Laurie, a ballet dancer by trade, leaned toward me and offered me this advice : « Don’t even think about getting married for the next five years. Don’t waste your time in relationships. Be selfish. Have fun. »

This is the lesson that I took away with me from Girl Power Hour (although I’m not certain that it’s endorsed by the event). Laurie happened to have a  bike rack on her car, so she offered me a ride home. « See, » she said as I strapped my bike onto her car « I was meant to give you a ride home. » We drove past a statue of a giant popsickle and Laurie said «I have to get a picture of that, » so we circled around, jumped out of the car, and had a stranger take a picture of us pretending to lick it. Girls are awesome.

When I got home and opened the Seattle Times, it opened straight to this article which I thought was strangely relevant. Here's a snippet:

Back when Snow White sang, "Someday my prince will come," waiting on a prince — and raising his babies afterward — constituted pretty much a woman's entire range of options. Seventy-five years later, women have options their grandmothers could scarcely have dreamed. So is it asking too much that we relegate this tired narrative to the junk heap where it belongs?


Talk about girl power!