Posts Tagged ‘family’

wonderful birthday

Neil took me to Boston for a blowout birthday celebration. Overnight at the Lenox Hotel, the Bruins hockey game in the afternoon, and the Celtics basketball game in the evening. Now heading home after a delicious breakfast.20140301_132258

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So I fell off the wagon on Wednesday, when it became apparent that if I wanted to complete the sekrit needlework project in time to get it to the recipient before Christmas, I’d have to work full time and then some on the stitching, putting Crows aside. The needlework didn’t absolutely have to be finished; I could have worked on it over the summer and sent it for next Christmas. It’s a surprise, so the recipient wasn’t going to be disappointed about something she didn’t know was coming.

But I’d know, and I’d be disappointed. So I pushed hard and got it done — put it in FedEx Express about an hour ago.

So I’m behind on the writing. And I don’t care :D.

I’ll post a photo of the needlework project later, after it’s been received. After all this, I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

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One of the problems with keeping this blog up to date is that when I’m doing interesting things that I’d like to write about, I don’t have time to post. I took my smartphone on the Tuesday-Wednesday hiking trip, but after the hike Tuesday I was too tired to do anything but crash after dinner. I didn’t even stay up for fireplace and goodies with our friends.

Wednesday morning I woke up pretty early — it’s hard to sleep in with the sun shining in your tent — and when I came out of the bathroom, I found this lovely lady waiting for her turn:

luna moth

We saw this luna moth just sitting outside the women’s bathroom in the morning

I didn’t go on the Wednesday hike with Neil; it was longer and more strenuous than I was up for. Instead, I spent the day with my watercolors at Silver Cascade. I really like the way it turned out:

Silver Cascade 20 June 2012

watercolor of Silver Cascade in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire

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Proud mother moments

We spent the long weekend down in Pittsburgh for youngest’s graduation from Carnegie Mellon University. The whole family was able to come, so besides the pleasure and pride of the event, we had the pleasure of two full days of family activities, including a couple of nice dinners out. We had lovely weather the whole time.

Here’s the happy graduate:

David in his robes, with honors medallion, before diploma ceremony

David in his robes, with honors medallion, before diploma ceremony

My three awesome kids at David’s honors ceremony Saturday:

my three graduates

Steven, Rochester Institute of Technology, software engineering. David, Carnegie Mellon University, materials science and engineering. Kat, Northwestern University, tv production.

We had hoped David would be able to come home for a visit afterward, but he needed to stay to take care of housing and try to find an internship next term. Hopefully he’ll have time to visit for a bit later in the summer.

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I’m not a morning person. In my ideal world, I’d go to dinner at 8, stay up until midnight or later writing, and not get up until 8 or 9 the next morning. The times I’ve been able to stick with that cycle, I was healthy and happy and didn’t suffer from insomnia.

Oddly, though, I also didn’t get much done, especially writing. The day was half gone by the time I got up and moving, and while the late-night words always seem to be high quality, they don’t come easily. I get the most done when I get up early, no later than 6:30. When I started getting up that early, years ago, it was a forced decision based on work and kids. Now it’s either such a habit that I can’t throw it off, or my body rhythms are changing with age. Be that as it may, an early morning seems to work best for me now.

I used to use the morning time for writing; when the kids were in school, that time before they got up to get ready for school was the only writing time I had. I wrote well then. As they’ve grown up and left home, the schedule has kind of come apart. I’ve kept irregular hours and battled insomnia.

About a year and a half ago, I started getting up again. I’ve been using the early morning time for errands and online stuff. I get up, read my mail, read and reply to Forward Motion posts and my blog, check Facebook, etc. You know the routine. :D Then I’d try to write, or I’d go to the gym to work out and then do the housework for the day and try to write afterward. I wasn’t losing track of loose ends that way, but I wasn’t getting a lot of writing done, either. It’s hard to sit down and get into the story when I’ve already been buzzing around for several hours.

I thought about going out to exercise first thing in the morning, but the gym is crowded then with people working out before they start their job. Besides, experience has shown that I will exercise at other times of the day. Afternoon may be the easiest. I can do chores and errands any time. I can edit, for myself or for Moongypsy, at any time of day. I can read any time.

The only thing I don’t seem to be able to do at any old time is the writing. It goes well first thing in the morning, and it goes well late at night, and it struggles against fatigue, distraction, and interruption the rest of the day.

I was reminded of this rhythm while I was on vacation, oddly enough. We visited my parents, who are 80-ish and no longer get up early. We were in the mountain time zone, but we were waking up at our usual eastern time. So we had at least a few hours in the morning to ourselves. I was able to use some of that for writing.

Now I’m trying to get back on the old schedule at home. Get up around 6, breakfast, sit down to write. It’s only been about a week but already the writing is flowing more easily and productively. I’m happier. The best part of my day is going to the thing I want to do most. I’m also getting more done in the afternoons when I’ve already accomplished the important goals and don’t have to worry about getting done in time to write.

We’ll see if it continues to work that way but so far it’s a successful experiment.

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from Erin’s reply to “Habit-forming”:

“So I stop trying to be good because I’m afraid if I am, I have to be perfect.”

That really nails one of my biggest issues. To paraphrase the WBMason detectives, Good enough is never ever ever ever! good enough (official W. B. Mason video). I didn’t learn this attitude from my family. My family has always been encouraging and supportive without being pushy. It wasn’t until I hit school that I learned I wasn’t good enough.

Having learned to read so young I don’t even remember when it happened was a problem because I wasn’t following the rules. I was ahead of everybody else and that caused problems for the teachers. When it came time for recess, that was a problem too, because I wanted to stay inside and read (a whole wonderful library! With BOOKS! AND MORE BOOKS!) instead of playing with the other children.

Mrs. Chesnover called my mother in to discuss my problems. How I was too far ahead of the other kids and wouldn’t socialize with them and thought I was better than they were (that last is probably true and probably was a problem) and what were we going to do to keep me from turning into a houseplant? I didn’t mind that so much. What hurt was that my mother didn’t defend me. I think I knew even then that she couldn’t. She’s a very shy and private person and standing up to a determined authority twice her age was just not in her. (And it should be noted that Mrs. Chesnover was a lovely person, very kind and helpful to all of us kids, and I adored her — if it had been the hard-boiled Mrs. Olson who taught the upper grades talking down to Mom, I’d have reacted with the six-year-old’s version of “Fuck you.”)

So it wasn’t exactly betrayal I felt, although there was an element of that. It was confusion. Because basically I had just learned that as far as the rest of the world was concerned — in the eyes of someone I respected and cared about, and who cared about me — everything about my family and my life was wrong, because they had raised me this way and that wasn’t how they should have done it. And that no matter how good I was and how strong my progress in many areas, if it wasn’t the areas everybody else wanted me to be good at, it wasn’t good enough.

And the only way to figure out what those other areas were was — still is — to guess. I imagine they seemed quite obvious to nice kind well-intentioned middle-class Mrs. Chesnover, but I was a wild kid from the boonies with only the faintest idea of what civilization meant. I’ve learned more over the years, gotten better at anticipating what I’m supposed to do, but it’s still a learned thing. I didn’t grow up in this middle-class world and I’m still not fully comfortable here. I still don’t know what the standards are. I only know that it takes only a very small screwup to send me plunging back to being that shy scared confused second-grader again. Anything less than perfect is failing. And for far too much of the time, it’s easier to just fail in the first place without bothering to try first.

But I can’t go home any more either, not really. I’m not comfortable there and never was — never would have been. It’s possible that I had already discovered a fault line between my cozy childhood world and the possiblities of outside. I think it’s very likely that the fracture would have developed gradually instead of ripping open like that as I was exposed more and more to school and books and new ideas, but that in the end I would have ended up in the same place with the same feelings. But I think if it had happened that way, I would also have had more resources to cope with it and keep bridges across the gap, at least.

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I was reading an article a while back about some of the science behind the formation and maintenance of habits: “A dopamine-rich part of the brain named the striatum memorizes rituals and routines that are linked to getting a particular reward, explains NIDA’s Volkow*. Eventually, those environmental cues trigger the striatum to make some behaviors almost automatic.”

That makes sense from a functional point of view. If routine behavior becomes automatic, that leaves more of the brain to deal with the non-automatic, the dangerous and threatening, the creative and new. When the habits and routines function in the service of productive living, they let you get more done with less effort.

But what about bad habits? They keep us from getting things done. Shouldn’t the reward system guarantee that behavior like that doesn’t become entrenched? If I’d write when I sit down to write, if I’d work when I need to work, if I’d exercise when I said I’d exercise, I’d get things done, and I’d still have time to rest, relax my brain, enjoy spousal time, and watch the Red Sox.

But I don’t have those good habits. Instead I surf the web, play video games, and whine about how I’m not getting any writing done. The bad habits seem to be stronger than any benefit I’m getting.

Except — those habits must be giving me some benefit. What positive benefit am I getting from NOT writing, NOT exercising, NOT getting things done around the house? What does it think it’s protecting me from? If I start to be an efficient, competent, productive writer, and think of myself as an efficient, competent, productive writer, isn’t that better?

Well, maybe not. If I’m efficient, competent, and productive, I’ll make my friends who are struggling feel bad because they’re stuck and I’m not. If I’m efficient, competent, and productive this week, people will expect me to be like that all the time, and then they’ll push all the work on me, and I’ll be the responsible one in the kitchen working while everybody else plays, and I’ll never have any fun ever again. (There are family reasons why I think this; it’s not just random fear.) And since writing is part of the fun — it’s a cycle. If I write, I jeopardize my ability to write in the future.

The kicker is that the situation that causes me to feel this way has long since ceased to exist. Looking back on it with the eyes of an adult, I’m not sure it ever existed the way I perceived it. The differences I attributed to power and control were probably personality and preference. So I’m stuck in a defense that doesn’t work against an enemy that never existed, and still acting like everything in my life depends on maintaining that defense.

I think it’s going to take a long time to unwind that negative cycle. I’m going to have to start with small steps. If I get a little more done, I’ll feel a little better about myself, and if I feel a little better about myself and my situation, that will mean a positive reinforcement that contributes to the new habits. And so on.

It’s not the only issue going on, but at least now that I’ve recognized it, I can start to work on it.

* = Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and an authority on the brain’s pleasure pathway. Full article has aged out, but if you Google Volkow’s name you can find more of her research.

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