Here Comes the Rain

Well, it’s now truly September in Oregon.  Someone flipped the rain switch and we’ve gone from sunny to drizzly seemingly overnight. It is, of course, not nearly cool enough to warrant the wearing of a serious coat.  So today I got to give my first design for the new line a trial run.

P1000058

Here’s the rain coat that I’ll have available on Etsy when the line launches soon.  The fabric is polyurethane laminate or PUL which means that while it’s waterproof, it’s also breathable to an extent.  And unlike those plastic-y rain slickers, it’s soft and quiet.  The same color and pattern will be one of the options, and I’ll have a couple of other colors and prints available as well, just in case bright pink isn’t your color.  🙂

One of the things that has always bothered me about buying clothes online is that while they give you a size chart to go by, if you don’t fit the sizes exactly, it was a crap shoot if a garment was going to fit you.  I’ve always had a “rack of doom” (very large breasts) which has made it difficult to buy tops and dresses that fit right for me.  My waist and hips might fit in the size chart, but my bust could be 2 or 3 sizes bigger or not even fit the size chart at all.  With all the garments I’m going to offer for sale, I’m going to make the finished garment measurements available to customers.  I want you to know ahead of time if you can order the size that matches 2 out of 3 measurements or if you need to order a size up or a size down.  This rain coat is a great example.  While this coat is roomy all the way around, the sleeves are just barely the right length.  If I were any taller or my arms any longer, it wouldn’t work.  When this coat goes on sale, you’ll have a size chart to guide you, then the measurements at all the key points.  If you need longer sleeves, no problem… there will be a place to leave a note when you place your order and I’ll take care of it for you.

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Alternate Transportation

I’ve talked a lot about my bicycle and my experiences as a fat person pedaling around my neighborhood.  So far I’ve had a pretty genuinely positive reaction, all the way around.  I’ve also talked about my experience with car sharing, which I love.  I’ve touched on public transit, but I’ll devote more time to that later.  Today I want to talk about other ways of getting from city to city.

My Mom spends a lot of time caring for my Grandma, who needs someone with her 24 hours a day at this point.  As a result, Mom doesn’t get to go out on her own and do a lot of stuff.  So the other day when she called me and asked if I’d be willing to come and spend 3 days with Grandma so that she could spend a weekend with some friends, I immediately agreed. Now getting to my hometown for this would normally involve getting a car from the service and driving down.  But having the car for 3 days would be prohibitively expensive for me, not to mention something of a waste since I would be driving there, parking, staying put for 3 days, then driving home.  Not worth $215 (3 days, $71/day).  So I’ve got to find another way to get there.

Now Mom could drive all the way up here, pick me up, drive me home, then make the trip again to meet her friends in my city.  But that’s a LOT of driving.  5 hours per round trip.  So what else?

Instead, I’ll be getting a train ticket to take Amtrak from my city to a large town closer to my home town, reducing the round trip to pick me up to 1.5 hours.  I’ve taken Amtrak a number of times over the years, and once I figured a few things out it’s been just about the most pleasant way to travel.  The first thing I learned is not to book a ticket on the line that runs from LA to Seattle, even though my stops are within that route.  That particular train is almost never on time.  There’s a shorter line that runs between Eugene, OR and Bellingham, WA that is much more reliable.  Plus it runs a couple of times a day as opposed to once a day.

The next thing I learned is to pay the extra for a business class seat.  It’s much less crowded, the seats are a bit wider (more comfortable for my wide hips), and you get a coupon to use in the snack bar.  For my trip, it’s about $10 extra for the upgrade and I get $3 off snacks.  Well worth it.  I usually travel down during dinner time, so I just plan to have a leisurely dinner on my trip south.  Then on the return trip north it’s a late breakfast or early lunch.  As an additional seating tip, provided there aren’t any passengers in wheelchairs, I like to take the “companion” seat next to the wheelchair space.  This seat has a lifting arm-rest on one side, making it even more size-friendly.  I’m ALWAYS prepared to move if this seat is needed, but it’s my favorite spot on the train.

The more local “Cascades” train I take doesn’t have checked baggage, so anything I’m taking has to fit into the carry on baggage you’re allowed.  I’ve never, ever seen Amtrak make a fuss about the size of carry on baggage, at least not in my area.  Do keep your ticket and ID in an easily accessible space in your bags.  I like to carry a large tote bag in addition to my “overnight” size rolling suitcase.  I can then slip my purse into the tote near the top and still have access to everything I need.  You CAN take your bicycle with you, there’s usually a small additional fee.  I haven’t done this yet as my family lives far outside of town and I typically have use of a car while I’m there.

As far as accessibility goes, my Grandma has taken the train on several long trips, from Oregon as far as Chicago.  She far prefers the train over any other way of traveling long distances.  My Mom always goes with her and has told me that the staff is always kind, understanding, extremely helpful, and overall fantastic.  They’ve never had a poor experience.  Grandma uses a manual wheel chair when traveling and can’t manage stairs on her own.  Amtrak’s website has a fantastic tool for booking travel if you need assistance, including letting you specify what sort of assistance you might need.  And they offer a little bit of a discount to a companion or assistant traveling with you if you need some help when traveling.

My other travel option would be to take either the Greyhound bus (shudder) or a combination of inter-city transit buses (double shudder).  For this distance, buses just aren’t a good option for me.  I find Greyhound (or the Amtrak thru-way buses, for that matter) to be too cramped for me.  The various inter-city bus options available could, in theory, allow me to cobble together a way to get from the Portland area to Albany, OR in a single day.  And there are ways to get from Albany to my home town on buses as well, but you couldn’t make the entire trip in one day.  I might as well bike the entire distance.  And that’s not happening.

So there are other ways of getting where I’m going, but I definitely recognize that as far as inter-city transit goes, our country has a long way to go to make it both car-free friendly and fat-friendly.

When discrimination hits the news

Twice in recent months a story of fat hate and discrimination has hit the news in my state.  While some might argue long and loud about how bad it is that people are being discriminated against and attacked in the street.  I agree with that completely.  But I’d also like to make the point that the very fact that it’s making the news is a small, positive step in our society.

First the story: (be aware that some of the comments are dismissive of the girl’s experience, even going so far as to say she was lying in order to get money for school clothes) http://www.kezi.com/girl-complains-of-weight-discrimination/

Now hear me out.  Here’s the logic.  Discriminating against fat people has reached a level where, at least on the surface, the public is beginning to disapprove of it.  I think that ending this social stigma will happen as a process rather than an overnight change.  We need stories like this one to make the news so that those people who dismiss this as an “obvious” lie begin to see that it is not an isolated incident nor are the people having these experiences lying.  To paraphrase a popular adage, we as a country can not begin to solve our social stigma problems until we admit that we do have a problem.

Zipping Around

I talked earlier this week about giving up on car ownership because of the cost.  It was a really hard decision, that I did not take lightly.  I knew that no matter how easy it became to run to the grocery store down the street for a few things every couple of days, I would still need to, you know, buy toilet paper more than one roll at a time.  My mother, ever helpful, suggested I use my rolling suitcase or get one of those folding grandma carts to make my grocery run.  I replied that I don’t particularly care to look homeless, thanks.

I had heard, vaguely about car sharing, but I didn’t really know anything about it, and expected it to be prohibitively expensive.  But when it came time to hand over the keys, I started doing some research on the car sharing concept.  I was happy to find out that the expense was not what I expected.  There were two car sharing services operating in Portland at the time that I selected one, Zipcar and Cars2Go.

Let me explain car sharing really quickly for those of you who have never heard of it.  The car sharing company owns a fleet of vehicles which are parked in designated locations around the city they’re operating in.  Members have an access device of some kind (usually a card or keyfob with an embedded RF ID chip in them) and vehicles are equipped with a chip reader that allows members access to the vehicle.  Typically the members are billed on a by the hour or by the day basis, depending on how long they use the vehicle, and the car service takes care of the usual costs associated with owning and maintaining the car.  I assume the vehicle has a way of communicating with the company to report distance driven, location, and other information.  Membership is typically month to month, and members are required to keep a valid credit or debit card on file for the charges involved.

I found that Cars2Go didn’t offer any vehicles in the western end of the city where I live.  (I’m closer to Hillsboro/Beaverton city lines than I am to Portland it’s self).  So that was a definite negative for me, I’d have to take the train into Portland each time I wanted to use a car.  They also only offered the tiny Smart ForTwo in my city.  I had several concerns about this in particular.  I sometimes want to go and visit my family, which is about 100 miles from my home.  These little Smart cars only have a range of about 80 miles on a full charge…so for that trip I would have to stop and charge the car both on the drive down and on the drive back in order to get there.  Inconvenient.  In addition, I’m a fat chick, and these cars look TINY.  I may find my way to a dealership to try sitting in one, but I’m not optimistic.  The cars offered really just don’t fit what I’m looking for when I use a car.  I want to be able to travel a long distance.  I want to be able to carry a lot of groceries.  I want to be able to put my bike in the back and take it for repairs or whatever.  I want to be able to load up several friends for a night out.  The Smart car just doesn’t fit that bill.

The other option was Zipcar.  There are a variety of different makes and models available, so I can get a SUV if I want to go camping for the weekend, or I can get a Mazda 3 if I’m just running errands around town.  I also like that with Zipcar I get to try out several types of cars, so that in a year or two when I’m ready to purchase a car again, I can go in knowing what works for me and what doesn’t.  I’ve already decided that I have no interest in driving a Honda Civic or Nissan Sentra.  Neither of these cars are comfortable for me to drive, no matter how I adjust the seats or steering wheel.  I’m in love with the Mazda 3.  It’s a small car, but the 5 door model (hatchback) has plenty of space where it counts and is genuinely comfortable for me to drive.  Bicycles fit in the back easily with the front wheel removed and the back seat laid down.  Cost wise, Zipcar was more affordable than I was expecting.  There’s a $25 application fee (they do check your driving record, mine was clean for the last 3 years, so no issues for me there), and then you select a baseline monthly membership based on how much you think you’ll use the car.  Personally I have the $50 monthly plan.  I commit to pay $50 each month, and in return I get $50 in driving credit each month… so it’s not like I’m paying a membership fee on top of driving time each month.  For the cars I get, that’s about 6 hours of driving time each month.  In months where I’ve got more planned than that, I can simply pay the extra for other times I want to use the cars.

So let’s say that on September 2nd I want to do my big grocery shopping trip for the month.  I know I need the car for 4 hours for that.  The Mazda 3 that I like is $9.68/hour, so the shopping trip would cost me $38.72.  Since I’ve got the $50 membership, that first $38.72 would be subtracted from my balance and I wouldn’t have to pay anything else for that trip.  Awesome.  Let’s go shopping.  Now let’s say later that month I need to visit my family for a birthday party.  It’s a 2 1/2 hour drive each way, so I’m just going to reserve the car for the whole day (reservations over 8 hours default to the daily rate, which makes for a better value).  That’s $71.10 for the day.  But I’ve still got $11.28 in driving credit for the month, so when I book the car, they only bill my card for the balance of $59.82.  Awesome.  Now if I was using that much driving every month, I might bump up to one of the higher memberships just for the convenience of paying once.  But I don’t always, so I just stick to that lower membership.

Now you might be thinking, “$70 for a car for the day?! With gas prices and insurance, that’s crazy!”  But here’s the best part.  The car sharing service covers the insurance.  And the gas.  And the maintenance on the car.  And the registration.  And all of the other expenses associated with owning the car.  I’ve only got to make sure that I keep my driver’s license valid.  There are some limitations of course.  For each reservation, you get 180 miles per day.  They bill you a small per-mile charge for going over that amount, $0.45 per mile.  There’s a dedicated fuel credit card in each of the cars, so if you need gas while you’re out and about, you can fuel up without having to dig into your own pocket and waiting for reimbursement.  The insurance covers you in case of an accident, there’s a deductible of course, but you can pay a little bit extra each month (less than $10) for a $0 deductible.

Especially at first, I was worried about making reservations ahead of time.  How in the world could I estimate how long it would take me to go grocery shopping?  The nice thing is that as long as there isn’t a reservation that starts immediately after yours (in 4 months of using the service, I’ve never had that happen), you can extend your reservation on the go.  Reservations are billed in 30 minute increments, so if you really only need another half an hour, you’re not stuck paying for a full hour.  And it gets easier.  You learn how long it actually takes you to do your errands.  You get better organized, so it doesn’t take as long to shop or get things done as it used to.

Specifically as a fat person, there are a couple of things I really appreciate about Zipcar, and a few things I wish were different.  I like that I have several different types of vehicles available to me, so I can pick something that is comfortable for me to drive.  They do make an effort to make the vehicles easily accessible by transit, so for those with mobility concerns it’s not terribly difficult to get to the vehicles.  I rarely have to walk more than 1/4 mile from a bus or light rail stop to the vehicles.  I’ve tried driving both the Honda Civics and Nissan Sentras available in my area, and have not been comfortable in either car.  While I can sit in the driver’s seat just fine, the seat belts can barely latch.  I did a little checking, and Honda doesn’t offer seat belt extenders for any of their vehicles.  Nissan does offer extenders, but charges upwards of $45 per extender.  I’ve gotten extenders for Ford and Chevy vehicles before, and neither company charged me, even though I was the second owner of one car, and the other car didn’t even belong to me.  Honda assumes that your legs or stomach touch the steering wheel if you need an extender, and thus suggests that you drive a larger car instead.  I don’t have that problem.  Also, I regularly drive the Mazda 3’s, which are not only smaller, but the seat belt fits just fine without an extension AND I have more room overall in the driver’s seat of that car.  So that complaint is more “the state of the auto industry in general” rather than a problem with Zipcar.  I’m still not going to shell out the money for an extender for the Nissan, I’ll just drive the Mazda instead.

ETA – I’m not receiving anything for writing this review, it’s simply my personal opinion from my own experience using the service.

Celebrating Labor Day by….working

It may seem counter-intuitive, especially to those who have heard me whine about the unfairness of working on Labor Day in the past, but this year I’m celebrating Labor Day by working.  I lost my job in sales at the beginning of July.  I’m not much of a sales person, so I wasn’t terribly shocked when they let me go.  Since then I’ve been doing some job searching and soul searching and decided to use my time to take the plunge and make a go of staring a plus size clothing business again.

Last summer I was involved in a project with several other women trying to launch a plus size athletic clothing business called “Flying Pig Apparel”.  We got a lot of things right, could have spent more time on other things, and overall learned quite a bit in the process.  The other ladies have all since moved on to other things, but I never really let go of the concept.  So with the things I learned last summer, I’m in the very early stages of development for a new line of plus size clothing for women.

Right now I’m working on a business plan and developing the first designs that will be available.  There will be more to come over the next few weeks, but today felt like the right time to introduce the idea.  After all, very few things would motivate me to work on a holiday.  I can’t wait to show you what I’m working on, but not just yet. 🙂

Fat Chick on a Yellow Bicycle

Several months ago, after taking a good long hard look at my budget and realizing that I was spending as much on my car as I was on rent.  $600 a month on a car I didn’t even like that much.  But I felt like I didn’t have much of a choice, I had always lived in areas where not having a car would be a death sentance for my career and my social life.  But I had moved to the Portland, Oregon area for a job last fall, and had considerably more options.

Besides, I was falling further and further behind each month and needed to find a way to give myself some breathing room.  So when they came for the car I surrendered it without a fight.  Portland has an excellent public transit system, my apartment is well placed to access several bus lines and reasonably close to the light rail system, and I have several stores within walking distance.  After a few weeks, I became comfortable getting around town on transit.

I still have family and friends who live in more rural areas, so I knew I’d need a car every once in a while.  Plus I knew I’d need to run errands occasionally that would be much easier with a car.  So I got a membership to Zipcar.  I’ll talk more about them another day.

A couple of weeks ago, I invested in a bicycle.  I wanted to be able to quickly run to the grocery store and purchase more than just an item or two at a time.  It’s a cute yellow bicycle that I picked up new at Target for about $130 on sale.  I suppose technically I’m too heavy for it… the tires say load limit 220 lbs and I’m…definitely heavier than that.  Other than the tires getting a little low on air sort of quickly, the bike doesn’t seem to show any other strain from carrying me.  Perhaps I’ll look into tires with a higher load limit.  But that’s beside the point.

I put a cute white basket on the front, with a cool quick release mechanism that makes it easy to take the basket with me into the store.  My family chuckled a little bit at the idea of me on a bicycle.  Grandma worries of course, but that’s what she does.  I just laughed and told her that I’m a fat chick on a big yellow bicycle… if someone can’t see me on that, we’ve got bigger problems.  She chuckled at that, which was the whole idea.

So the other day as my boyfriend and I were running around to various stores after pizza supplies, we took bicycles to make the trips easier.  It had been more than 5 years since I had been on a bicycle when I got this one.  I’m still a little shaky, and I’m not confident enough to ride in the bicycle lane on the busy streets in my neighborhood just yet. So I ride on the sidewalks most of the time, but I’m always conscious of pedestrians and give them the right of way on the sidewalk.

As we left the fancy natural grocery store, a woman actually called out to me as we left exclaiming that it was the cutest bicycle she’d ever seen.  I had a quick exchange with her about the bike and that was that.  I had expected to catch a lot of crap riding my bike around the neighborhood.  I’m fairly used to having random insults yelled at my by random passing cars (it’s pretty common as a fat person to have any random stranger yell things at you no matter what you’re doing) but so far I’ve had pretty good experiences.  I’ve had quite a few more experiences like the one with the lady at the grocery store.  People commenting on how cute the bicycle it’s self is.  And my boyfriend and A exclaiming how cute I am on it.  It helps that it’s a very retro styled bicycle, so a lot of people share their fond memories of similar bicycles they had as kids.  I have yet to try it out on a longer trip, though that may be coming up very soon.  For right now, getting around to some of the destinations in my neighborhood more quickly is awesome enough for me.

When people yell at me in the street…

I’ve had people yell all sorts of things at me while walking or biking.  Usually it’s negative.  I am, after all, a fat woman existing in public.  I’m used to things like being moo-d at, having trash thrown at me, being called a fat pig (to my face) in the grocery store, having a person in a passing call wolf-whistle then the entire car begin laughing hysterically when I turn to look where it came from, and so forth.  It’s a shameful list, and it barely scratches the surface.  But yesterday someone yelled something from a passing truck that made me go “WTF?!”

“Hey, nice bike! Good ride?”

I located the source of the yell, and replied, “Yeah, great, thanks!”  Non-sarcastically, I promise.

“I like the basket on the front!”

“Thanks!” Smile, break eye contact.

The yell-er was the passenger in a large, lifted pickup truck with a BBQ roped into the back.  Usually a big, flashing neon sign indicating a jerk.  But this time, no laughter.  No insults once I’d located the source and made eye contact.  No detectable sarcasm in their voice.  Hunh.  Strange.  That’s never happened before.

I’ve been getting lots of positive comments lately on my bicycle.  It’s a retro-styled Schwinn, yellow, with a white basket on the front.  People will engage me in conversations about it, or about how it reminds them of bicycles they had, or whatever.  No comments about “oh, you’ll loose lots of weight since it must be so much fun riding around on it!” or other such idiocy.  Just genuine compliments.  I…I hardly know what to do with those.  And that’s sad.