Sweetheart

Recently I’ve been trying many new things, but mostly to slow down, take my time, think about what I’m going to do before I do it, and notice (without judging) how I feel. And while these things are valuable to try to do, it’s not on every day that I’m able to do them. My days seem to swing back and forth between “take your time and find your path, my child” and #notenoughhoursintheDAY. When you have three and a half minutes to be somewhere in ten minutes and you can’t find the car keys which are ALWAYS in the same place but today they’re NOT, and someone just realized you really meant to get in the car NOW (and he is, frankly, pretty pissed off about it), and someone ELSE for some reason can’t find their SHOES even though they were WEARING them when they got HOME half an hour ago and HOW could you lose your SHOES in thirty minutes when WE HAVE SOMEWHERE WE NEED TO GO, there isn’t the luxury of sufficient time for mature reflection and dispassionate self-analysis.

Shall we play a game?

Shall we play a game?

Some days you have to have a different method for figuring out how you’re doing. A good day — no, a great day — is like being at DEFCON 5, or Threat Level Green. That’s the day when I drift around the house, ruminating on my good fortune at being able to breathe freely, make my own decisions, and generally appreciate my relative autonomy. That’s the day when I react to good things by muttering “sweetheart” as I go about my business.

Now, I realize that muttering “sweetheart” to an almost empty house makes no sense. I’m not addressing myself or the dog. I don’t have a sweetheart unless you count the memory of having had one, many years ago. And that really just doesn’t count.

I think I say it — almost autonomically — because I feel happy. Comfortable. Settled. Cuddly. Peaceful. Forgiving. All the things you feel when you’re with your sweetheart and all’s right with the world.

A strange game....

A strange game….

Now, that being said, a more difficult day — a DEFCON 3, Threat Level Yellow Day — doesn’t get the same utterance. That’s the day when I feel I’m moving against the flow, swimming upstream, and generally working at cross purposes with the universe.  That’s the day when the word “asshole” spills from my lips. It’s not a “Fish Called Wanda”-level “ASSSSSHOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLE!” bellowing, just a kind of muted growl at seemingly constant low-level frustrations.

For a long time, I thought that these were the only levels I had. And then came a DEFCON 1 kind of day. Threat Level RED. An “I can’t go back to bed, so you’d better get out of my way” kind of day.

WWIII

…the only way to win is not to play.

I don’t remember who or what set me off, or how it ever got resolved. All I remember now is that I was channelling the language of an extremely dissatisfied sailor. Whatever I was wandering around muttering, it probably sounded like “!@#$%ing @#$%s!!!!!!”

I like the “sweetheart” days much better. Pretending I’m not alone. Pretending someone understands completely. Pretending that everything, the way it is right now, is just fine and will never change. Oh, sweetheart, that’s just the way I like it.

Published in: on October 1, 2014 at 11:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Things That Make You Go Hmmmm…

Random observations after a 150-mile bike ride

(Note: These pictures are from the Internet for illustrative purposes only, and were not taken by me or at the Scenic Shore 150.)

1. Overheard on Day Two, from the first of five riders tucked in behind a tandem: “It’s like driving 80 miles an hour on the freeway behind a guy with a radar detector!”

Fast. Tandems are fast.

Fast. Tandems are fast.

2. Consecutive rider numbers on riding partners are cute. The older the riding partners are, the more adorable it is. If they both look over 70, your heart just melts.

cycling pair

3. A Conversation I Had With Almost Everyone:
Them: “Is this your first time on Scenic Shore?”
Me: “Yes, how is Day Two?”
Them (after a dramatic pause): “Well, it starts out very pretty as you ride out through the park. The first 45 miles are pretty flat. BUT THEN…”

THE CLIFFS OF INSANITY!

THE CLIFFS OF INSANITY!

4. A lunch consisting of a tuna salad sandwich, a chocolate chip energy bar, a kosher dill pickle spear, pasta salad, chocolate milk, and fruit punch Gatorade sounds like a lunch assembled by a psychotic nine-year-old, but when you’ve just ridden 50 miles it is the perfect combination of carbohydrates, protein, fluids, salt, and sugar. And it does not matter in what order you eat everything, as long as you eat slowly. (I am not making this up… it’s exactly what I had for lunch on Day Two.)

From "Bike the Drive" in Chicago. But still from the Internet.

A food stop from “Bike the Drive” in Chicago. But still from the Internet.

5. Overheard on Day Two, at the rest stop 13.5 miles before the end: “There’s nothing better than finding beans you didn’t know you had!”

The orange ones are excellent.

The orange ones are excellent.

6. After Day One, most people crept into their tents at 9:30pm. Everyone else went into the lounge area of the main building at UW-Manitowoc to watch the day’s recap of the Tour de France on the wall-mounted television. We sat quietly, numb from riding, mesmerized by watching other people ride. The Tour might be the only sporting event whose audience ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT want to participate in it. Collectively, everyone watching on Saturday night had completed either 79 (the organizers lied about the 75; we all noticed) or 100 miles. In the morning each one of us was going to rise, eat a bizarre breakfast, and ride another 75 miles. And we were convinced that every single rider on the Tour was insane.

7. Those pockets on the back of a cycling jersey can hold so much stuff that at the end of the day you might find things you forgot you’d stuck back there. On the second day mine held a berry-blend protein bar, a squeeze packet of lemonade-flavored electrolyte gel, the aforementioned Sport Beans, and a Stinger vanilla waffle. And my smartphone.

Ooooh... a chocolate waffle. But I heard the honey waffles are the best.

Ooooh… a chocolate waffle. But I heard the honey waffles are the best.

8. Cyclists are quite proud of their bizarre tan lines. Because of the gear they wear, they usually tan in a patch on the back of the hand, from the shoulder to the wrist, from mid-thigh to the knee, on the top of the nose, and at the back of the neck. And since there’s not really a way to cover these areas and tan the rest, that’s just the way it is.

cycling tanlines

cycling legs

9. It’s okay to judge the cyclist ahead of you by their calves. Cycling is NOT a weight-loss activity. You can do it every day and it only seems to tone and reshape you on the inside. Except for the calves. You can quickly tell who just started riding (they have calves), who has been training for a while (they have muscular calves), who has been doing this for some time (they have “cut” calves with great muscle definition), and who wants to turn pro (you can see every tendon in their calves, and they complain that the route does not have enough hills to present a challenge). Thighs are not always a fair way to judge a cyclist. Young female cyclists may have muscular thighs. Older female cyclists may have big-looking thighs that hide their muscles. Long-distance cyclists of any gender may have long, lean, yet muscular thighs. But professional sprinters and track cyclists will have thighs as big around as a normal person’s waist.

genetics

calves riding

10. You can do it. No matter how crazy your goal might seem, you can do it. Practice, train, and dream… and train some more. You can do what you thought was impossible. But you have to try.

 

Published in: on July 21, 2014 at 10:03 pm  Comments (2)  

Week Fifty-One: Chocolate Versus Cancer

NoCancer

Are you sick of cancer? Are you afraid of cancer? Are you angry at it? Do you feel helpless in the face of it? Decades ago the mere word “cancer” was a death sentence. What power the word gained over us! These days we have screenings, treatment options, special diets, alternative care, and support groups. But hearing the words “you have cancer” still means that your life has significantly changed and you need to prepare for battle. This week I’m going to give you some suggestions to help wipe out cancer, or make it easier to deal with. And I got a lot of help from my friends, whose contributions are shown indented as quotes. They have been there, and they know from very hard experience what they’re talking about. I cannot thank them enough for sharing their stories with me during the preparation of this week’s post.

1. GET TESTED. This is the Number One thing you can do for yourself. Many, many cancers are treatable if detected in their early stages, so that’s when you should try to find them. Make that call, set that appointment, and get checked. If you don’t have health insurance, look into programs like the Well Woman Program in Wisconsin that covers uninsured and under-insured women. Set money aside. Ask for help to cover the cost. But get checked on a regular basis for everything that you should, and make sure you are performing self exams as well.

2. REDUCE YOUR RISK. Stop unhealthy habits as soon as you can, and replace them with healthy ones. I shouldn’t have to give examples here — you know what changes you need to make. If you don’t know, ask your doctor or an honest friend. Losing weight and stopping smoking won’t guarantee you will be cancer-free, but it certainly improves your odds for avoiding cancer or for surviving rugged courses of chemotherapy or radiation.

3. TALK ABOUT IT. Many cancers take root in “private” places. We may not want to talk about breasts, testicles, or cervixes (cervices?), but we need to be talking to each other about breast cancer, testicular cancer, and cervical cancer to make sure we know the latest information, know what we should be tested for, know what treatments are available, and know how we can support friends who are fighting for their lives. Our shyness and ignorance help cancer win when we can’t afford to lose. In October and November this year I got back some “bad” test results, and was waiting for weeks for a follow-up procedure and then for the results that would tell me whether or not I had cervical cancer. I shared this information with only a very few friends, only to find out that a cousin was undergoing a similar cancer scare at the same time. How many women would have benefited from my sharing my experience sooner rather than later? I’m sorry I was shy… I just didn’t want to make extra worry for my friends. Anyway, as of right now, I’m cancer-free. Now go get yourself tested!

4. BE THERE. Talk to your friends with cancer. Talk with them about the cancer, or about whatever they want to talk about. It might be cancer, or it might not. Keep being their friend, and keep being there. Be reliable. Be helpful. Fighting cancer is hard work, and it’s harder if you feel alone, abandoned, or ostracized because of an illness you didn’t ask for. So call them. Email them. Visit. Be there. Show up.

Talk to them. So many of Mark’s friends did not know what to say to him — so they said nothing at all. He felt so isolated and alone, especially when he was really, really sick. Even if it is just a card or phone call — it is really important. — Sarah, caretaker

Keep visiting! Call, write, visit as much as you use to if not more. Of course, be guided by the person’s cues. Your visits may need to be very brief. — Anita, caretaker

Be a true friend by asking the person with cancer to do things to keep their mind off the situation. Don’t treat them like they are sick and exclude them from activities. The person will decline the offer if they aren’t up to it, so don’t decide for them what you think they may want. Exclusion sucks, we’re still the same people we always were! — Michele, 2X cancer survivor

My experience is that cancer can be very isolating and consuming. I would suggest making a sincere effort to connect with the person fighting cancer. Don’t just ask, “how are you.” Really make an effort to ask about the kind of things they are dealing with since being diagnosed. If they have no one to go with them on appointments, offer to go along. Ask if you could come sit with them during chemo treatments. Ask the person out to do something fun. It could be something simple like coffee or ice cream but it might give the cancer patient an hour of his/her day to NOT think about cancer. — Deb, caretaker

5. PUT YOUR MONEY IN THE RIGHT PLACE. Buying a pink object to “raise awareness” of breast cancer mostly raises the profits of the company who manufactures the pink object. You know who needs the money? People fighting cancer, that’s who. Have you ever heard a cancer patient say, “Thank goodness my health insurance covered everything! I’m completely cured and don’t owe a penny!” Me neither. Look around your neighborhood and talk to your friends. Ask around. You do know someone who needs financial help, even if you don’t know them yet. You can give them money to help with their bills, which are likely to be huge. Every bit helps. Ask at your bank to see if they are accepting donations to help out a local family who is struggling. You can give anonymously, but give. They need you, and the time is now. Besides, do we really need to spend waste another dime on “awareness”? We’re aware already. Let’s move on to treatments and cures, please.

6. MAKE YOUR COMPUTER GO BOINC. My friend Cory told me about BOINC, the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, which lets you add your computer’s untapped resources to a worldwide network so that scientific projects can get access to the extra computing power they need for their research. He set it up on my computer in a couple of minutes, and now my computer is running calculations to help combat AIDS and childhood cancer while I sleep. Check out the website. If you’re interested in participating with me, leave a comment. If there’s enough interest, I will start a team you can join. Personally, I can’t think of a better use for my plethora of vintage Macintoshes.

7. LET THEM DRIVE. Each person is an individual; people fighting cancer, more so. Each body reacts to disease differently and responds to treatment differently. When you’re being attacked by cancer, you need to understand what’s working and not working for yourself, and what your limits are for each different activity. If it’s your friend or family member who’s fighting accept that they are driving the car on this trip, and you are their crew. You may not like how fast or slow their car goes — you may have wanted to map out a different route — but you need to respect that they are in charge now, and you are there to assist in the way that they need your assistance. Check your ego and assist.

Dean and I talked about this and decided that the one thing would be UNDERSTANDING. This would be to understand the kind of FEAR the family is facing with the prospect of no longer having this person around. An understanding of what multiple doctor’s APPOINTMENTS mean to the family planning and how to handle them. An understanding of how ONE’S HEALTH CHANGES affect the whole family. An understanding of the LIFE CHANGING process that happens to an entire family with the diagnosis of cancer to one of its members. Basically to be UNDERSTANDING of the fact that this diagnosis doesn’t just impact the person, but the whole family. If someone is distracted it isn’t because they don’t want to talk about it, but they are dealing with the cancer on so very many levels it is hard to see past all the things it impacts. — Bonnie, 2X cancer survivor

The most important thing you can do for someone with cancer is let it be their journey. We discover that a loved one has cancer and that affects us tremendously. Sometimes, and it’s human nature, it can be difficult to stop thinking about ourselves and really allow the patient to absorb, come to terms with, and dictate their own cancer journey. We just want to help. We want to swoop in and save the day. But, we are not superman. Being angry at our own lack of ability to DO anything can take away for the true matter at hand. The one best thing to do? Let go. Let it be about the person with cancer every minute you are with that person. Let him or her tell you what that journey looks like and accept it as it is. — Paula M., caretaker

The one best thing that I feel you can do for someone fighting cancer is to make sure that they understand that this is their battle and that they have to make their own decisions regarding their own treatment. — Paula R., caretaker

8. BE POSITIVE. Telling your cancer-fighting friend about your other friends who have died from cancer IS NOT HELPFUL. Neither is it supportive, kind, or necessary. Take your friend seriously and give them credit for their perspective. Don’t undermine them by comparing their cancer to your inconvenient hangnail, or whatever. Don’t pester them with “facts” you picked up from WebMD, recommend quack cures, or suggest they need an attitude adjustment to make everything all better. They have a whole medical team thinking of appropriate treatments to try: YOUR job is to provide emotional support. Stay their friend, hug them and touch them if it’s safe and welcome, and keep smiling.

Moral support. — Ken, 4X cancer survivor

9. DO SOMETHING. If you want to help, ask what you can do. This is not the time to treat someone as you think you would want to be treated; take the time to find out how they want to be treated. You can’t make their cancer go away, but maybe you can pick up that gallon of milk for them so they don’t have to make an extra trip. Maybe what they really need is for someone to just tackle that mountain of laundry so it doesn’t upset them any more. Ask, then do.

Be as supportive as the person in need WANTS and ALLOWS you to be. This may mean dropping everything else to be by someone’s side. Or graciously backing off and giving them the space they need. Or taking care of their loved ones by grocery shopping, picking their kids up at school. — Rona, caretaker

10. REMEMBER THE REST. Cancer may reside in one person, but it attacks a whole family structure. It saps strength, strains relationships, and adds extra tasks and expenses. Often the primary caregiver at home is rapidly becoming as worn out as the cancer patient. Giving them attention or respite care can ease their burden for a bit.

I thought it was really great when people came and did things with the other kids too! Sometimes they felt a little forgotten… and really loved a little bit of attention. The meals were also fantastic!!! We were spoiled. — Liz, caretaker

and, of course….

11. NEVER GIVE UP, NEVER SURRENDER! Life on earth is rare, precious, and all too short. You do not get a do-over, so don’t give up. Live the best life possible. Ask for help if you need it. Offer to help when you can. Love the people you love.

Published in: on December 19, 2013 at 1:54 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , ,

Week Twenty-Six: We Shall Never Speak of This Again

I started this blog somewhere around 2006. We were innocent knitbloggers then. We posted pictures of our kids and used their real names, talked about where we lived and when we were going on vacation, and basically shared all kinds of details about our lives. That changed for me the day I was checking my statistics page and noticed that people were using my firstborn son’s full name as the search term for finding my blog. All right, Search Engine Optimization is one thing, but there are very few people who are on a “need to know” basis for my firstborn’s middle name. At that point I removed a lot of kidly photos from my blog, and tried to share personal information more thoughtfully.

These days I spend quite a lot of time on Facebook, and I wince at the ways people leave themselves bare and vulnerable. They announce with great fanfare when they will be away from home for extended periods of time. They post pictures of their children for all the Public to see. They advertise their preferred bedroom activities in one post, then complain about their stalking ex in another. They complain about their jobs, then complain that they’ve been “let go.” They issue vague, passive-aggressive status reports so that cyberfriends will rush to their emotional rescue. It’s tough stuff to watch, and it makes me that much more aware of any details I post about my own life.

That being said, I marked a very personal milestone last week, and I thought it needed to be mentioned — once and only once. Last week I was divorced. Now, I have been married before, and counting from the date of my first wedding, I have spent 80 percent of the time from then to now in a married state. But I am single now and intend to stay that way.

It’s been a long time since I last called myself single. I’m finding that no matter how much time I think I need to have in order to understand myself, I’m underestimating. (Sheesh. I have a lot of me to understand. No wonder I’m hard to live with.) I also have children to co-parent for the rest of my life. Because they are important to me, and their mental and emotional health is important to me, my blog is not going to be a space where you will see me bash an ex, any ex. Life is tough enough to handle without making it hard on other people with open wounds, petty jealousy, and juvenile revenge fantasies. I may struggle sometimes, but I’m doing my best to be decent to everyone in this situation, including myself. I trust that if I hold myself to that standard, others may eventually reciprocate. (Sadly, I have some prior experience with this type of thing.) But even if they don’t… I won’t regret walking the high road.

Now it’s time to move on. Want to see an artsy shot of the geeked-up Tardisvan?

oooo-WEEEE-oooo.....

oooo-WEEEE-oooo…..

In the last week I’ve driven another thousand miles, attended a family reunion, finished a pair of socks, knitted one slipper for my grandmother, grilled hamburgers (and portabella caps), cleaned and reorganized my rental house’s laundry room (well, I’m almost done), and maybe done another thing or two here and there.

Redskin, I mean, Redhawk hockey socks!

Redskin, I mean, Redhawk hockey socks!

This weekend I have a big plan: to support my knitting friend Bonnie Stedman Dahnert. She’s the honorary chairperson for — oh, heck, read all about it here. Come back when you’re done, and I’ll put the rest in my own words.

I started our local knitting group, but Bonnie is our rock. She seems to know everyone in the county, know what to do on every occasion, and know how to teach any knitting technique you need to learn. She has taught some people to knit, and others how to crochet, and others how to spin. She has given advice, yarn, driving directions, restaurant reviews, prayers, and compassion to everyone who needed them. We half-joke that whenever we don’t know what to do, we call Bonnie. When my youngest son had a stitches-requiring accident last summer and my husband was away, I instinctively called Bonnie and she immediately said “bring the kids here.” She watched my other kids until after midnight, when Tommy finally had his stitches in.

In return we have shared her joys and tried our feeble best to help bear her own fears and sorrows. I don’t know if the newspaper article I linked to fully describes the anxiety our group felt when we realized the toll this second round of chemotherapy was taking on her, and how close we came to losing her. The CaringBridge site that her daughter Brigitta set up for her allowed us a glimpse into the minute-by-minute fight that she gave this second round of cancer. I do know that “she responded well to the treatment” is not the most accurate description of Bonnie’s fall and winter of 2012.

So, Saturday. I’ll be there for her as leads the lap of cancer survivors around the track, and as she speaks to the crowd. This morning at knitting-group she gave us pink-ribbon buttons that say, “No one fights alone!” And she’s right. We all have to fight for each other. It’s a bumpy ride, this short life, and we need to spend our time making it easier for each other.

Week Twenty-Three: The Kind of Person

Between my house and the city of Jefferson sits a modest brick house on top of a little hill. The property has some mature maple trees, a couple of barns, and some ratty-looking fencing around what might once have been a large pigsty or a chicken coop; it’s gotten pretty overgrown, so it’s hard to tell. For the first several years that I lived here, the house seemed empty, and I guessed that the property had been abandoned. Maybe it was one of the properties that the state purchases so that they can tear it down someday when they need to realign or widen the road.

Last summer, though, I noticed a red pickup truck parked near the back door, then another car. Over time I could see that the grass was being mowed regularly. In the fall a little table appeared by the mailbox, piled with colorful ornamental gourds for sale on the honor system. So, apparently a couple or family had moved in and was going to make something of the place. Cute.

This spring there were…goats. And maybe some sheep. The property is on a sweeping curve, so it’s hard to get a good look.

And now there is a sign announcing that it is operating as a CSA.

“I’ll have to check that out,” I thought when I saw the cute sign. “After all, I support CSAs.”

Actually, though, I don’t support CSAs. Not because I think that they’re stupid, or misguided, or anything of the sort. But I can’t say that I support them if I’m not signed up with a farm, that’s why. If you don’t act on your beliefs, you can’t claim to be “the kind of person” who has those beliefs. You are just a person, and you are taking action or you are not. And in this case, it is something you must support with your wallet — theory is not enough.

Busy Barns Farm at the Fort Atkinson Farmer’s Market.

Do you support the local Farmer’s Market if you don’t shop there? Are you a runner if you don’t run? Are you a poet if you don’t actually write down any poems? Do your actions — your actual actions in reality, not the ones you “know are right” or the ones you want to do someday — align with your beliefs?

To state things more clearly, I think Community-Supported Agriculture is a wonderful, progressive, and healthy thing. I am thrilled that there are small farmers just miles away from me who are selling directly to the customer. I would very much like to stop by this place sometime, see what they offer, and maybe sign up. But as of right now, I’m not supporting it. Right now I’m usually buying groceries at Wal-Mart even though I’m not proud of that. It’s close, it has everything from shampoo to baseball gloves to DVDs to produce, but every time I’m there it pains me that I’m giving this company my money. But by my actions, that is what I’m supporting. That, right now, is “the kind of person” I am.

I don’t really want to be that kind of person. Now, how do I change that?

I change that by knowing what I really need and using what I have. I am tired of throwing out food that I bought because I wanted to use it… and then didn’t.

I change that by planning ahead. I am tired of going to the big box store every other day because I forgot one thing, then remember another, then impulse-buy a third.

I change that by deciding what food we will eat, and what “food” (i.e. empty calories) we will no longer buy. I am tired of making sure I have bought the proper brand-name snacks and chips when I know we could do better.

I change that by exercising more and eating less, and more simply. I am tired of feeling uncomfortable and unhealthy in my skin.

I change that by learning new recipes, using different spices, and working with fresh food from the garden in my backyard. I am tired of providing “heat and serve” meals rather than real cooking.

I change that by pulling in to a new driveway and introducing myself to strangers. I am tired of letting anxiety dictate what I do.

I change that by getting out of my comfort zone in order to do something I know is worthwhile.

Published in: on June 6, 2013 at 2:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Week Sixteen: Decisions and Revisions

The calculus train is barrelling along past Reimann Sum station now, and I’m staying in my seat and taking all the notes I can. I’m keeping up with my homework on antiderivatives, summation notation, indefinite integrals, and definite integrals. There will be an exam in two weeks covering this material, and I’m not scared of it. The biggest problems this week have been (a) slipping on the frosty ramp outside the house and bruising my hip, shoulder, hand, and ego; (b) getting almost to school and realizing I was driving the car that didn’t have the commuter window-sticker; and (c) getting so wrapped up in my homework that I lost track of time and was a minute or two late to class. They didn’t all happen on the same day (but two of them did).

The smaller the interval you measure, the closer you get to an accurate estimate of the area under the curve.

Of course, I know me by now, and when things are going well I tend to extrapolate the success to the nth degree. If I solve one computer hardware issue I think I should work as a Genius at the Apple Store. If I write a haiku I wonder how I’ll ever have time to finish my epic metered saga. One good pot of soup, and I’m thinking up graphic treatments for a cookbook series. If I think of an improved mousetrap design, I fret over my inability to purchase enough warehouse space to store all the inventory. That sort of thing. It’s more amusing now that I can catch myself in the act of making ridiculous or disproportionate future plans, and ground myself gently back in reality.

horsebeforecart1

Thoughts like these have started me wondering about my academic future. Enough people have asked me if I were going back to school this fall that I started wondering, too. I went from “no” to “probably not” to “maybe” to “I think I’ll change my major to Pure Mathematics and get a full time job too and edit at night and invent cold fusion” in the space of an afternoon. Well, except for the cold fusion. I’m sure someone else has that all worked out by now.

I caught the thought, then I held it and took a more critical look at it. The physics professors seem distressed at the thought of my being a math major. What are you going to do with a math degree? Well, the same thing I was going to do with a physics degree at age forty-coughcoughcough — learn everything I can about what I’m interested in, while I still can. I’m interested in education but not in teaching, but who knows? With four technically oriented kids, being able to teach math might come in extremely handy. I’m interested in the history of math, the history of science, and the history of language. I don’t have five lifetimes in which to read everything, so I need to choose my reading matter carefully. For that, a structured course seems like a good idea. What’s it all good for? Well, it’s going to help me become more like me. That should be the purpose of education — to help you develop your strengths and shore up your weaknesses. It’s your choice as to whether you apply that towards finding a job or not. Personally, I think that this experience and education will eventually land me in a place where I’m making a living, but I just can’t see all the details from here. Not yet.

The math-and-numbers side of me is now being balanced by my words-and-letters side. I’m not just playing Words With Friends and Scramble any more; I’ve gotten a client who would like me to edit his book manuscript and help him get published. While I’m waiting for him to sign and return his contract, I’ll go ahead and hard-copy edit his first two chapters and keep track of my time so I can figure out my rates for future jobs. I’m also editing a friend’s dissertation for chapter-by-chapter publication in an academic journal. I’m reading fiction and nonfiction. I’m writing every day and blogging every week. And I’m still playing Words With Friends and Scramble. Finding point-scoring combinations among the letter tiles isn’t interfering with my “mathing” any more, so I’m just trying to stay balanced.

Then there’s knitting, that combination of wool, coding, artistic expression, and applied topology. I’m doing finishing (weaving in loose ends) on a huge project, turning a heel on a sock, designing a mathematically and artistically geeky scarf, and knitting a lace-edged narrow shawl that’s a therapeutic exercise.  My friend Bonnie has taught me how to do a Long-Tail cast-on — in fact, this patient woman has taught it to me twice so far — so I have a new tool in that particular toolbox.

As usual, all I need is time. T.S. Eliot assures me that won’t be an issue:

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
— “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Week Twelve: Chop Wood, Carry Water

This week, I’ve been struggling with dual and somewhat opposing impulses.

Kittyinyang

On the one hand, I’ve experienced a terrific burst of energy and creativity. I’ve been storing up yarn and patterns, and quilting fabric and my own designs, for years; suddenly it’s time to CAST ON. Now. Start. Finish. Work. Sew. Knit like the wind! I’m getting vivid dreams. I’m getting the urge to sketch things, make plans, open new files, and (in a purely theoretical sense, since it’s SNOWING as I write this) open the windows and let in fresh air. Spread my wings. Redefine and reinvent myself. Run run run run run.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HwTFViLR5Y

On the other hand, I’m disciplining myself with quiet time, practicing meditation, and reading about mindfulness. I am trying to listen to the quiet, follow my breath, and be still.

Don’t do something — just sit there.

I need both things in my life. Sitting still doesn’t take away from my busy-ness as much as it prepares me for it, conditions me for it. The writing I do after I wake up and before I go to sleep is not creative writing but a way to both organize and de-clutter my mind. It also makes a safe space for anything that wants to be written about, contemplated, memorialized, or speculated upon.

So how do these different impulses interact with each other? Do they crash into each other? Do they pull away from each other? Do they chase each other like snakes trying to make meals of each other’s tails? Do they twist in opposite directions to form a knot? Internally, they probably are taking turns doing all of those things. It’s difficult to keep that internal conflict-resolution process from showing on the outside, but that’s another benefit of the sitting practice, of the breathing practice, of the mindfulness practice, of the writing practice.

And this practice is difficult. I have often described my father, who just turned 79, as the oldest living undiagnosed and unmedicated ADHD patient. When I was growing up he always worked at least three jobs. He finally retired from his primary job only to work a series of post-retirement jobs and travel with my mother on trips ranging from Alaska to the Panama Canal, and from San Francisco to Maine. (They’re banned from New Hampshire, though, or maybe it was Vermont. Don’t ask.) He still gets up early and does a few hundred situps before he goes to the basement to lift weights, row, and walk the treadmill. He simply does not stop. (Unless golf is on TV, then it’s naptime!) And the older I get, the more I discover that I am truly my father’s daughter. When I was younger, I swung my legs, tapped my fingers, hummed (I thought) to myself. I ran, I rode, I hiked, I biked, I paddled. When I was in class I doodled beside my notes, made lists, passed messages to my friends. The knitting I took up almost a decade ago has given my hands something to keep busy with while my brain focuses. If you have never tried if, let me tell you that sitting quietly and emptying your mind is HARD. They don’t call it “monkey mind” for nothing. It is full of chatter that must be dealt with. And I’m not very good at it.

At the risk of driving my readers crazy, in Wherever You Go There You Are Jon Kabat-Zinn quotes one of his students as saying “When I was a Buddhist, it drove my parents and friends crazy, but when I am a buddha, nobody is upset at all.” So I’m trying not to go all “Buddhist” on anyone. I’m not in an evangelistic “three recruits and I get a zafu” program, and in many ways, this place is familiar territory to me. Some of my Zen and Buddhism books have been on my shelves for quite some time now. The wheel turns, and they are needed again for me to regain my balance. I’m writing about my own experience. If my words speak to you, it’s up to you to decide what that means for you.

But, as Bill Cosby might say, I told you that quote so I could tell you this one. In The Miracle of Mindfulness Thich Nhat Hanh quotes a line from a Vietnamese folk song:

Hardest of all is to practice the Way at home,
second in the crowd,
and third in the pagoda.

Right now I’m practicing at home, swinging five bats before approaching the plate to assess what life intends to throw at me next. (From the way it’s gone so far, I’m guessing knuckleball.) I need to do what I need to do. It’s not time to try to walk and chew gum at the same time; it’s time to walk for walking’s sake and chew gum in order to chew gum. When I try to do more, I tend to bump into things.

Published in: on March 22, 2013 at 9:39 am  Comments (1)  
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Week Nine: The Ninety-Three Percent

As of today I’ve hit an important milestone on a knitting project I’ve been working on for a few years now. For various reasons I am not ready to reveal its nature in this space (but those of you who know me from “another space” will be able to figure it out pretty quickly), but I can say that I now have just 15 units left to knit before I assemble the whole thing. That puts the project at 93 percent complete, though in truth after I have those other 15 parts knitted I will call it no more than 99 percent until every last end is woven in. And because even the pre-assembly work is going to take some time, I can’t even give you an estimate as to when this project will be completed, photographed, and fully shared. Just know that I am very happy that my daily work, which I’ve been referring to as “quota knitting,” is getting me steadily closer to a huge creative goal.

MathWarehouse-pie

But trust me. When I do the reveal, you won’t miss it! (You may question my sanity, but you won’t miss it.)

Most of you, when you see it, will want to ask me one question. The answer to that question will be “yes.”

I’ve also been chugging away on the Wingspan shawl and really should take another picture now that I’ve finished 5 of the 8 wedges that make it up. I don’t know if it’s the merino sock yarn, or the Addi Turbo needles, or a combination of factors, but I find it delightful to knit on it and shall be sad when I’ve finished it. But finishing it will allow me to take care of some other projects that also need my attention. Such as socks made from sock yarn. (What a concept!)

This week has been busy with healing myself body and soul, shoveling show out of the way, and driving kids to, fro, and back again as they all took turns being under the weather in various ways (dental work, low-grade fevers, sniffles & sneezes, and good old-fashioned hooky-playing). One of the best things I did was go back to campus Thursday morning and reapply myself to my calculus book. I’m having to start almost from scratch with the math, but today I got to a place where I am doing well and seem to have a deeper understanding of the type of problems I’m solving. We’ll see. Between the weather and everyone’s health it’s been tough to get down there. Now that we’re healthier I am renewing my commitment to finishing the course. My math-related plans after that point are still nebulous, but slowly forming.

My progress on my other resolutions has been somewhat hampered by the knitting done on these two garter-stitch projects, but there is a small project I had intended to cast on for on Valentine’s Day that calls for a new type of cast-on. So as soon as one of these projects is complete (most likely Wingspan), I will try it out and perhaps be able to check off one more completed resolution.

And finally… it’s finally MARCH! My already-teenage son will turn 14, my sister will be performing at SXSW in Austin (on his birthday!), we will have Spring Break, and DOCTOR WHO will be back on television!

DW-Artwork-NEW

Published in: on March 1, 2013 at 4:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Week Eight: Spiking

This will be a short post just to make the quota. I have been under the weather and so have some of the kidlets this week, so I’ve been trying to keep up with keeping up. I told myself that during Lent I would knit one square per day on a huge project I’ve been working on for a couple of years, and as of today I’m one square ahead of pace, having knitted the only square that needs additional stitching. If I can finish it tomorrow (which will require learning a new sewing technique) I will have 21 plain squares left to knit and can then think about how to seam up the whole thing. Thinking that far ahead right now just adds to my fatigue (and I’m already perplexed as to why lying on the couch all day napping, knitting, and watching TV has worn me out).

I’ve been enjoying knitting on Wingspan again after fixing a dropped stitch, but I have tried to do my “quota knitting” first… so poor Wingspan is waiting for me to pick it up again. I’m on the fourth wedge of probably eight. I don’t have any new photos but will probably take a progress shot when the fourth wedge is done.

I logged into WordPress last night to try to write a post, but nothing came to mind. When I looked at the little stats bar, I noticed a big spike in viewing. I investigated a little more, then realized that I’ve conditioned everyone to expect new posts on Thursdays. That’s when I aim to write them, too; however, this week I was too worn down for the inspiration to strike at the usual time. I’d like to thank those of you who showed up on your own, looking for my words. It reminded my of my late grandfather, who used to keep a vegetable garden. Next to the garden there was a post for a huge purple martin house that he built himself. Every fall after the birds migrated away, he’d take down the house, clean it out, and store it in the garage for the winter. Every spring he’d take it out, clean it up, and put it back on the post so it would be waiting for them when they returned. One year he didn’t get the house up in time, and the birds took turns waiting on the top of the post!

Woody’s martin house looked something like this.

By next week I might have a lot more to say or show. For now, though, I’d better rest.

Published in: on February 23, 2013 at 12:06 am  Comments (1)  

Ascending and Descending

Whoa! it’s been a week. Not for knitting — no, not so much for that. All I have been able to work on knitwise was blanket squares, and not so many of those. But as I walk through my evolving work-and-study schedule at school, I’m finding pockets of time that I might be able to use for work that requires more concentration, like the DNA Scarf.

I’m definitely in the right spot at work. I sat down this morning to start a blanket square, and by the time two other people had entered the break room, we were having a lively conversation about knitting, crochet, and the lost art of lace tatting. Not one person has wandered in, watched me work for a split second, and commented cheerfully, “Knit one, purl two, huh?!?” Which is refreshing.

As far as school goes, I got through my first astronomy lab (fun) and my first astronomy quiz (got almost everything right), and emerged from the dizzying Chapter One of the precalculus book and its extremely dry review of linear algebra and entered the peaceful and friendly Chapter Two dealing with functions.

[f(a + h) – f(a)]/h, anyone? Come on, it’s fun! And eventually it’s going to have some cool purpose, I just know it is.

Ascending and Descending, M.C. Escher (1960)

I haven’t exercised this week unless you count repeatedly climbing (and descending, let’s not forget descending) several flights of stairs and crossing acres of campus to deliver Extremely Time Critical campus-mail envelopes. I volunteer for that job every chance I get. The air is crisp, the sidewalks aren’t too slippery, and the way I walk, it’s aerobic. And I’ve been drinking very little soda (until the headaches creep back into my temples, then I have just a teensy bit), mostly having flavored green tea water. It tastes better than I’m making it sound. Zero calories, lots of hydration.

So I was pleased to weigh myself on the Wii this morning and see that I had finally met my incremental goal. It took me about three weeks to lose two pounds, but I did it. The next goal is to lose two pounds by two weeks from now, and by healthier means than by catching a bit of the stomach-bug that’s apparently making the rounds of the house. Jack had an awful day of it on Thursday and stayed home from school on Friday too for good measure; Colleen stayed home from school on Friday as a sort of preventative attempt; Tommy has it now and let’s just say we’ll be washing a lot of bedding today. Poor critters.

Resolution Update

  1. I am publishing this post on Saturday as I promised. Check.
  2. Knitted about three blanket squares. I need a recount on that particular project.
  3. I rehomed a hand-knitted sweater this week. Unfortunately, it was Tyrone, which I absent-mindedly put in the regular wash, thinking the wool was Superwash. Oops. Yep, it felted and would no longer fit my heartbroken five-year-old. (Who promptly insisted I had to knit him a new sweater, RIGHT NOW.) I passed the sweater along to the owners of the local coffee shop where my knitting group meets; their little boy just turned one year old. Anyway, in all other areas, clutter abounds. There is work to do here.
  4. Doing well on my Precalculus homework and Astronomy work. The first Precalc exam will be February 10; the first Astronomy exam should be February 14.
  5. I met my incremental weight-loss goal of two pounds and have set my sights on the next two pounds.
Published in: on January 28, 2012 at 8:27 am  Comments (3)