How I Came to Be a Bike Advocate

“How did you come to be a bike advocate?”

To answer that question as one of the opening speakers at the first-ever Future Bike when we held an “Inside the Advocate’s Studio” session, I had to back up to how I came to be an advocate of any kind.
I thank my mother for raising me in a way that shaped me into an advocate.

While she wouldn’t have used the word “feminist” to describe herself, she absolutely raised me to be one.

When she married my father she had already been an independent woman with a job and a car (which was hard to come by during World War II). She used stories about her mother and herself to illustrate why I needed to ensure that I could take care of myself as an adult before getting married. (She definitely assumed I would marry.)

She was pro-choice in an era when abortion was illegal, understood that to be a complex position, and answered honestly with good explanations of the various facets of the issue when I asked her position as a young teenager.

She raised me to look at others with empathy. If we saw someone who was morbidly obese, for example, instead of responding with criticism of their size she would say with compassion, “Just think how hard it must be for her to go to the movies or ride a bus when the seats are so small.”

Mom had never heard of privilege, but she inherently understood the concept. She told me I was a lucky kid: I had two parents who loved each other, a safe home, plenty of food, a good education, and lots of opportunity. Therefore I needed to use that education and opportunity to help people who weren’t as fortunate as I was.

I know calling it “luck” doesn’t unpack the invisible knapsack or dig into multi-generational and structural advantages and disadvantages. But Mom—born in 1921—prepared me well to understand it, and to want to address it. She explained pieces and parts of the world’s problems as being rooted in other people not having the advantages I’d had.

She had watched her own father, whom she described as a proud man, go door to door during the depths of the Depression asking if he could rake leaves or shovel snow to try to earn a little money so he could give his three children a birthday or Christmas present.  She knew what it meant that she had been able to attend a two-year teachers’ college to earn a degree and what a difference access to an education made.

She knew how far my father had come from his humble beginnings, how hard he had worked to rise through the ranks at the lumber company he worked for, and how much it meant to him that every one of his six children earned a college degree.

Mom told me a story that has always stuck with me, perhaps more than almost anything else she ever said.

One summer she and Dad and the four older kids in the family (I and my younger sister not yet having made our appearance) went to Chicago for several weeks. Determined to make the most of this opportunity in the big city, every day she got on the city bus with the kids, a map, and plans for some cultural or educational destination.

On one of these outings as she stood waiting at a corner for the light to change, a funny feeling crept over her. When she looked around to figure out why, she realized she was only the white adult in sight. The only other white people were her four children.

This woman, born and raised in lily-white Lewiston, Idaho, could have told me about her anxiety, even fear, at these unfamiliar circumstances. What she told me, though, was this: “I realized this must be what it feels like to be in the minority.”

As an adult I understand that in that moment she still carried with her all the advantages American society gives those who are white. She certainly spent the vast majority of her time in a world that didn’t expose her to that feeling, let alone cripple her access to what she wanted in life because of her skin color.

But as a child, I heard her tell me that there was something wrong with our world if being a minority made you feel funny, feel different, feel left out.

She reinforced this with other stories (quite a storyteller, my mom), like the one about a friend whose bitterest regret later in life was that he refused to attend his daughter’s wedding when she married a man from Hawaii who was of Japanese descent. Mom’s friend did this because of his experiences during World War II, but he came to appreciate his son-in-law and thanked him for being such a good husband. She credited him with overcoming his discrimination.

Or the one about a white family in Lewiston whose son married an African woman he met while serving as a missionary, how wonderful Mom thought it was that the mother-in-law welcomed her new daughter-in-law with open arms, and how there were others in town who would not have done so. Her disapproval of those who would criticize or reject a loving couple was clear.

Raised an Episcopalian and later a Lutheran, she didn’t bat an eye when one of my brothers married a Jewish woman from Brazil; rather, she read up on the significance of the bris ceremony her first grandson would have. She chose a formal departure from the Lutheran church because she couldn’t accept that being a good Muslim or follower of Australian aboriginal beliefs or anything else meant you couldn’t go to whatever reward might await after death, modeling religious openness and justice. I know this because she told us so--her values were there for me to learn from.

When the message from your mom is that you’re lucky, you should use what you have to give back, lots of people are unfairly discriminated against for who and what they are and what they believe, and good people don’t do that, you grow up to be an advocate.

And as soon as you bicycle on almost any street in the U.S., you become a bike advocate because you see how critical is that we change our streets so that everyone from age 8 to 80 can feel comfortable riding. Mom's dementia meant that she never really knew this became my job, but I know she'd approve.

Related Reading

Goodbye, Mom

So strange, to feel sad and yet to find a bit of gladness at the same time.

Last Saturday I took Eldest Daughter Kate to Lewiston for a visit with Mom. We arrived at the midday meal time. The first thing that struck me as I walked in and looked across the room was how very much she resembled her own mother, my Grandma Humphrey, with her hair now snow white.

Mom slumped, birdlike or perhaps mouselike, at the dining room table, nibbling sporadically at half a roll smeared with jam. A full plate—chicken drumstick, roasted baby red potatoes, steamed orange and yellow carrots—had been pushed aside, as had small plastic glasses of water and pink lemonade.

As always, she brightened when we greeted her but didn’t really know who we were. We settled in, one on either side of her, resting our hands on her shoulders and talking gently. At one point she laughed merrily, sounding so much like her old self that I put my head down and cried.

Kate encouraged her to eat some of her other foods but Mom wasn’t interested. She finished the roll—a 40-minute task after we arrived plus who knows how long before we got there to eat the first half.

For some time Mom’s speech has been a garbled mix of English and Klingon (or perhaps something less guttural than Klingon). She’ll start a sentence with a few words of English and segue without a hiccup into a waterfall of speechlike sounds: all the intonations and accompanying facial expressions of a sentence and none of the meaning.

We’ve learned to respond to her tone of voice and non-verbal language for an interaction that seems to satisfy her. Amazing how far an “Oh, really?” or “I see what you mean” can carry a “conversation.”

She came across loud and clear with “Don’t push me!” as Kate and I tried to maneuver her from dining room chair to walker to upholstered chair in the main seating area. That made us laugh because she communicated quite clearly in that moment.

With the aide’s help we got there at last and nestled in, talking and giving her some loving human touch with pats and hugs. She told us quite a bit, most of it in words we couldn't understand.

But at one point she said "Jan," my older sister's name, very clearly in the middle of a sentence. We loved hearing that because Jan has been the one on the front lines with both Dad and Mom for at least a decade and it felt as if this still registered with Mom. She also said "Bill" a couple of times--my dad's name and we think she meant him, in whatever mash-up she was sharing.

At one point Kate, trying to reach Mom with who we were, leaned in and said, “This is your daughter, Barb—Barbara,” pointing to me, “and I’m her daughter, your granddaughter.”

Mom looked right at me and said quite clearly, “You have the world. Bless you! You’re mine.” I burst into tears. It felt so strange and wonderful to have her say something that made some kind of sense. When she said, “You have the world. Bless you!” I felt as if she were responding to Kate’s identification of herself as my daughter because all Mom’s life being a wife and mother meant more than anything to her. “You’re mine” meant she knew I was her daughter.

I don’t know if any of that is true. Life is what you make of it and that will be my truth for this visit.

We hugged and kissed Mom and told her we love her, then headed back to Spokane.

There I helped Kate move and did a thousand other things for the next 3 days: worked on presentations for the conference I was to attend later in the week, rode my bike officially and unofficially, went to meetings and events, smelled the lilacs in Manito Park, ate ice cream at The Scoop, spent time with friends, and drove back across the state to Grand Mound, near Olympia.

All of this hurly-burly explains why I didn’t look at personal email until late Tuesday night. That’s when I discovered that Sunday night Mom’s hip broke and she fell. She was in the hospital and failing fast.

Operating on a 92-year-old woman with dementia who’s on blood thinners and who doesn’t understand what’s happening didn’t make sense.

We were waiting for the end and she would spend the rest of her life—however long it lasted—in bed on pain medication. I felt angry that we treat our animals better than we treat humans when it comes to the end of life.

Wednesday morning my brother Don called, sobbing, to tell me she had died peacefully in her sleep during the night. I called my younger sister and couldn’t reach her so I had to leave a message. There’s no harder voice mail to leave in the world but who would want to learn this from an email rather than a human voice? I knew we’d start planning the service via email and she would see that; with 6 siblings we carry on a lot of family business that way.

I’m so sad. I’m sad that my parents didn’t have the old age they deserved. I’m sad that Dad lost his loving companion of so many years and had only her shell there with him. I’m sad that when he died just after Thanksgiving in 2012 we couldn’t tell her. She wouldn’t understand, if she did it would cause her pain, and then she would forget but have a lingering sadness, so why do that to her?

I’m sad that a woman who was a storyteller all her life and kept all the family memories in circulation had to lose her memory. I’m sad that the woman who made sure she never missed a birthday card to anyone couldn’t tell you how old she was or how many children she had. I’m sad that she suffered pain and had to go to the hospital.

And yet I’m glad. I’m so glad that Kate and I had that last sweet visit. I’m glad Mom laughed and that my laugh sounds a lot like hers. I’m glad we hugged her and kissed her and told her we love her. I’m glad Mom spoke so clearly and said something I can treasure. I’m glad that at the end she didn’t have to suffer long and she went to sleep.

My older sister Jan wrote a beautiful obituary that tells you more about her life.

Goodbye, Mom.


Tab Set: What I'm Reading

When I'm online I make heavy use of the CTRL-Click feature. If you hold the CTRL key when you click on a link, that link opens in its own tab rather than taking you away from the page you're on. This inevitably means that in any given day I spawn a lot of open tabs of articles I mean to get around to reading.

Given my varied interests and the kinds of things my friends and other contacts share in social media, that leaves me with quite the eclectic mix. I share today's tabs in hopes that you'll find something to amuse, stimulate, or inspire in some way.

  • How to Make Your Own Laundry Detergent: I've been meaning to do this for years. In fact, I bought the ingredients in Spokane before we moved--18 months ago. So it's high time and the fact that we're almost out of laundry detergent prompted me to go look this up. Did you know that gallon for gallon, liquid detergent costs more than gasoline? I'm on it.
  • Everyday Rider: Riding Out Your Period: On the Bicycling Magazine blog by my friend Elly Blue.
  • You're Not as Visible On a Bike at Night as You Think, New Study Shows: From BikePortland, a piece I looked up to share with Elly (although she lives there so I imagine she's seen it) for a discussion on Facebook about things she could write about in her column for Bicycling.
  • The Anthropology of Walking: Has me thinking about how my bike-riding patterns might fit into the findings of a study of foragers and reflecting on my reading of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.
  • This Is Love: A very sweet cartoon strip on overcoming hurts to your heart and loving again, which someone shared on Facebook and I reshared. This illustrates what my Sweet Hubs did for me.
  • Which Musical Should You Star In? I don't take every quiz that crosses my path, but with Second Daughter now a sophomore majoring in musical theater I had to take this one. ("Rent," for the record. Also, if I were a Star Wars character I'd be Yoda, and I scored 87 out of 100 on "Are You a Millennial?")
  • Tsunami House by Designs Northwest Architects Stands Strong in the Face of Tidal Waves: I'd move into this gorgeous Camano Island house in a heartbeat--never mind the tsunamis. Sweet Hubs and I have agreed that we like a bit of the industrial (despite the fact that I've picked older/historic houses for the last two purchased) and want a certain Zen minimalism when we finally settle somewhere other than a rental. Since moving to Seattle we've lived in downtown and in Northeast Seattle and I'd like to check out more neighborhoods before deciding.
  • The Nonprofit Weekly Roundup: Secrets, Emals, and Tips for Better Donor Retention in 2014: I work at a nonprofit. 'Nuff said.
  • The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector: Since we changed our name November 2013 to Washington Bikes (formerly Bicycle Alliance of Washington) I think about this a lot. This piece from the Stanford Social Innovation Review popped up in social media somewhere.
  • Demystifying Scaling, Part I: Another piece from the Stanford Social Innovation Review I'm reading because as a statewide organization with a small staff, Washington Bikes has to be smart in how we scale our work for maximum impact and effectiveness. We'll be adding a new staff position in Spokane soon (geographical scaling) and are exploring some technology innovations that could help us reach more people.
That should represent sufficient randomness. And now, off to ride my bike. The sun is shining and the birds at the feeders look pretty happy.

Morrocan Spiced Chickpeas and Squash

Morrocan Spiced Chickpeas and Squash
Packed and ready to take for lunch.

This recipe is a modification of a much fancier dish with a beautiful presentation found on the BBC site, Moroccan Spiced Pie, which they credit to Good Food magazine, Vegetarian Christmas 2006. I modified it for several reasons:
  1. The first time I made it following the recipe it looked nothing like the picture. I appreciate the BBC's description of wrapping it up in "voluptuous folds" of filo dough, but baby, there was nothing voluptuous about those folds when I did this--more like skimpy and unconvincing. Maybe filo sheets are bigger in the UK. This was a lot of work for not enough return, as the filo layers mostly just fell off once you started cutting into the dish.
  2. Filo dough is a pain in the patootie to work with. I love the flaky layers but I can stand to wait for my next piece of baklava to experience them. That's also a very time-consuming step and if that's stopping you from experiencing the flavors in this dish, it shouldn't.
  3. By leaving off the whole filo step I also eliminate a lot of butter, making this a healthier recipe.
  4. Leaving off the filo leaves me free to serve this over a bed of any type of cooked grain I choose. It becomes a gluten-free recipe without the filo and you can keep it that way. So far I've served it over brown rice, quinoa, and farro, and all of these were delicious.
  5. I made it a lot faster and eliminated some of the clean-up by dropping the hummus-making step and just throwing in all the ingredients of the hummus. The hummus didn't really work well for me anyway in the elaborate layering plan--you're spreading something smooth over something lumpy and then it's all wrapped up and doesn't show, so what's the point?
  6. Once I dropped the filo step I also eliminated an additional baking step, making for a faster prep. Note that I had to cook the squash longer and at a higher temperature than the original version in order to cook it enough.
Herewith, my corner-cutting version, which makes approximately 12 cups:

Moroccan Spiced Chickpeas and Squash
  • 2 t. each coriander and cumin seeds (Out of the actual seeds? Toast the ground spices briefly in a dry pan.)
  • 1 t. paprika
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 4 T olive oil 
  • 900g squash, peeled, seeded,* and cut into small chunks (about 2cm) (this is a butternut squash on the smallish side)
Dry fry the seeds briefly in a small pan over a medium heat until toasty--don't let them burn. Grind coarsely using a pestle and mortar (or a bowl and the end of a rolling pin), then mix in the paprika, cinnamon, salt and oil. Tip the squash into a roasting tin, pour over the spiced oil and toss. Roast for 30 minutes in a 400-degree oven (or longer in a 350-degree oven), until the squash is soft when you poke it with a fork.
  • 2 T olive oil (I've toyed with the idea of using coconut oil here for flavor, although it would increase the saturated fat. If you do, tell me how it turns out.)
  • 12 shallots, quartered (~12 oz.—roughly equivalent to one onion, which I use since I usually don't have shallots on hand. Red onion would be especially nice.)
  • 4cm/1½ in piece root ginger, finely chopped (~15-16g, or around 1-1/2 T)
  • 140g whole blanched almonds (1 cup)
  • 140g shelled pistachios (1 cup)
  • 75g dried cranberries (2/3 cup)
  • 2 T clear honey or maple syrup (which would make it vegan)
  • 225g fresh spinach, preferably baby spinach (one of those plastic boxes of spinach has 170 grams so get lots; you could always serve this over fresh spinach instead of a grain)
  • Can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (425g)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
  • 1 t. ground cumin (If you like things pretty spicy and you're not adding the Yogurt Harissa Sauce, increase cumin by 1/2 to 1 t.)
While the squash is baking, heat 2 T olive oil in a frying pan, add the shallots or onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown. Add the crushed garlic and cumin and stir a couple of minutes, then stir in the ginger, almonds and pistachios.When brown, toss in the cranberries, honey, and the spinach so it wilts. Take off the heat and stir into the squash when it comes out of the oven. 

Stir in at the last minute before serving so flavors are fresh:
  • 3 T lemon juice, or zest and juice of one fresh lemon
  • 4 T chopped fresh coriander
  • 2 T chopped fresh mint
Cooked this way, 1 cup of this has 328 calories with 19 grams of fat (nutritiondata.com analysis)--far less than the 978 calories with 66 grams of fat the BBC version has. Even if one of their servings is 2 cups, this is a healthier version by far.

The step I haven't followed that I will one of these days--Harissa Yogurt Sauce to top it:
  • 200g carton Greek yogurt (1 cup)
  • 6 T milk
  • 3 large sprigs mint, leaves chopped
  • 2-3 T harissa paste
Mix the yogurt and milk together to make a thin sauce, stir in the herbs and season. Swirl in harissa to taste. Drizzle over the top. Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over the top.

Flavor note: This is a savory-sweet and fairly mild dish when made without the Yogurt Harissa Sauce. You can oomph up the flavors with the addition of more cumin, as noted, and you might want to add 1/2 to 1 t. ground black pepper. Increasing the lemon would also zing it up. I've considered drizzling a fruity balsamic vinegar over the top; I have a bottle of fig balsamic that calls out to be used this way.

*Save the squash seeds. I drop them into a small bowl with water to cover because someone once told me to--I have no idea if this affects the way they bake up. After you take the squash out of the roasting pan and mix it with the chickpea/spinach step, separate the seeds from the stringy squash guts and spread them in the pan, tossing with what remains of the seasoned oil. Roast around 9-11 minutes or so. When you hear them start to pop like popcorn, take them out. Crunchy goodness that you might even want to sprinkle on top of this recipe.
Layered with quinoa and farro.