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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
20140301_220859

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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 Iā€™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.

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* = 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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Yesterday was the big appointment to discuss the issues related to my slightly elevated blood sugar. I was tense and worried, of course — because I knew exactly what she was going to say and I just didn’t want to face it.

Gotta pay more attention to my diet. Gotta lose the rest of this weight, or at least a good chunk of it. 40-45 pounds over the course of 8-12 months, basically. That won’t get me down to svelte but it will be down into a healthier range.

It shouldn’t be that hard. I lost almost 40 pounds a few years back, to get down to this size. I know what needs to be done and how to do it. But somehow this time, it’s hitting me in my insecurities and fears, down in the places where eating has been a source of pleasure and comfort over the years. It’s social glue. It’s a way to give and share love. A beer after a good golf match, a hot dog at the ball game, a brown toasty turkey for Thanksgiving dinner with all the family around, a wine country tour. And they’re telling me that all this is the enemy? (Note I’m not talking about things like pigging out at a buffet or eating an entire carton of Ben and Jerry’s at midnight after a bad day. I’ve done that, and it has its role, but I mean the ordinary pleasures of sharing meals and enjoying tastes.)

Well, no, the food is not the enemy and eating is not the enemy. There are things I used to eat freely that I have to think about and plan for, or maybe avoid because they’re not worth it. As I get older, there will be more of those things. That’s okay, there are plenty of good things left. The world is full of wonderful foods and flavors.

It’s not about giving anything up. It’s about finding the things I know are good for me, that build up my health and enhance my life. I know what many of those are, but I’ll have more to discover. As I focus on health and fitness, the rest will come.

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I’ve been copying the family recipes to give to the kids (specifically middlest in CA, who we visited recently). Trying to copy them, I mean. If all I had to do was copy them, I could have taken it to Office Max and used the photocopier.

The trouble is, I don’t really cook from recipes, exactly. They’re more like guidelines, or suggestions. In some cases they’re archaeological remnants of a recipe that used to exist somewhere, back in the days before blenders and slow cookers and in some cases even before electricity, modified and then modified again for modern use. But was the recipe ever updated? Of course not. I know how to make it — the actual text on the card is more like notes for a performance than an actual recipe.

So for each dish, I have to look at the ingredients list and see whether it even lists the ingredients I usually use, in the amounts I use. Then figure out whether I make it the way the directions say. If there aren’t directions, what do I need to add to make it make sense for somebody who hasn’t cooked much before? And how much does it make, anyway? Oh, and I suppose I’d better mention what baking dish or kettle to use. And what substitutions you can make. And how long to cook it. I mean, “until done” probably isn’t obvious to somebody who hasn’t made a cake before. And what about the family history that goes with, say, my grandfather’s recipe for chili (that I think is really Basque baked beans) that he got from the other sheepherders back when he was herding sheep in Colorado?

I got more done than I expected to, but not nearly as many as I had hoped. And Steven now has the only existing copy of that chili recipe with the directions and the story.

And I now have significantly more respect for anybody who has gone to all the work to actually put together a decent cookbook, no matter how uninspired.

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Cutting the apron strings

Interesting article in the New York Times this week: about helicopter parents. “There is substantial evidence that students going off to college have changed over the years. For one thing, studies show that they are emotionally closer to their parents and their parents to them. One thing that means is that they depend on each other more for happiness. It puts a burden on children for parents to use their children as vehicles for their own happiness ā€” although today’s young people seem complicit in this arrangement, perhaps because they’ve known no other way ā€” even if it creates anxiety in the children. That’s one reason parents like to be involved in their children’s college experiences, and colleges have had to devise novel ways of getting parents off campus when they transport their kids to school.” et cetera.

Certainly kids being emotionally close to their parents is not something that most of us who went to college in the 60′s and 70′s had when we were growing up. It was pretty much hit 18 and you were out the door, more or less. If we needed support, home was the last place we would have looked. Some of us who had to go home found out that there was more support and caring than we thought. Others — well, they were right. Their parents couldn’t be there for them because they’d spent the last thirty or forty years cut off from their emotions. This was the era of fathers who left before the kids were awake and came home after they were asleep, and mothers who never saw their kids play a Little League game or sing in the back row of the no-tryouts chorus.

One of the things we who went through that seem to have decided based on that experience (no matter what our politics were at the time) is that we weren’t going to make that same mistake with our kids. Our kids would have active involved parents who cared and who didn’t leave their kids to sink or swim. Our kids would not be afraid to show their emotions. They wouldn’t bottle themselves up all their lives and then suddenly crack when they hit middle age.

For the most part we’ve succeeded. Kids today are amazing, full of energy and ideas. They’re strong — strong enough to know when they need help and ask for it, strong enough to help each other, strong enough to go to bat for each other and what they believe in. That freshman you’re complaining about today is probably going to be in the administration office as a senior advocating for his little sister who’s now a freshman.

I’m sure we’ve made other mistakes. I’m sure there’s going to be a down side to this emotional connection. Yes, kids probably are less independent than we were in 1972. They tend not to go off to hitchhike across the country with nothing but a spare t-shirt and some money saved from babysitting the way we did — but even then, for every person trying to build an authentic personality for the ground up, there were a dozen who were just delaying real adulthood by drifting, and they were doing it on Mommy’s credit card and the car Daddy gave them.

The issues are nothing new. Technology changes the way both the connection and the independence are worked out, but the underlying issues happen every time a kid reaches adulthood and has to decide what that means to them, in the context of their family.

Maybe parents want to check up on their kid and control their kid. Or maybe they just like staying in touch with the people who mean something to them. Maybe they just like to know that everybody’s okay. Because you know what? When people care about each other, and depend on each other for happiness, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re using the other one as a “vehicle” for happiness. Most of the time it just means that people who love each other make each other happy.

My kids might disagree with me about this. Maybe they think I am clinging and manipulative and all those other things. I’m just glad they still call, and come home to visit, and pause to text me about the new coat they bought or ask what temperature to roast chicken breasts at.

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