Friday, July 28, 2017

Reading Report

I'm really relieved to note that July has been a big reading month. Before I posted the big number (7 finished so far), I was mildly concerned that I wouldn't meet my 52-book quota.

As you know, I prefer to accomplish all my goals, leaving no to-do list item unchecked. I did remind myself, however, that I'm just doing 52 books this year, and not 57 or 64 or 75; so being "on track," or one or two books ahead of schedule according to Goodreads is totally fine and not behind.

Even if I'm not in danger of failing to hit the magic number, I did discover, however, that I'm woefully behind in certain categories. For instance, I've only finished 8 works on nonfiction. Similarly, it's go-time on children's and YA. I've only finished 5! That's totally unlike me, and I feel a little deficient, a little less-than, a little inferior at being a literacy educator for young people. Plus, I can hardly recommend a top five come year-end without reading at least 15 of a given genre.

I'm glad I stopped to assess. My priorities are now clear. Children's and YA and nonfiction. And, let's be honest, some adult fiction because I can't help it.

Now we know.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Feminism Problems

I have a really hard time coordinating and scheduling home repairs and maintenance, and after 16 years of suffering, I've decided to blame sexism.

I call the people, I inquire, I make the appointments, I greet them with my usual charm and goodwill. I request the estimates and suggest the dates.

And then?


Many vendors just sort of ignore me after that. "I'll send you the estimate," the roofer said. And yet, I did not receive the estimate. "We'll start the work the week of July 17th," said the handyman. The handyman has presumably disappeared from the face of the earth.

I think the only home repair/improvement provider I've successfully dealt with is the landscaper, who is a woman. And maybe, now that I'm thinking about it, I've had some success with the rodent removal technicians and the one plumber who gave me helpful advice.

In my current situation with the roofer and the handyman, I just had to give up and forward the contact information to my husband. Maybe they'll recognize his manliness and actually communicate with him. Maybe they'll want to do the work if they know that there's testosterone on the premises.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Be Who You Are, And Be That Well

I went to a religious high school with two exceedingly quotable founders. One of founder Saint Jane de Chantal's best directives is, "Be you who are, and be that well." Like, don't try to go and massively change in order to gain favor from anyone, including yourself. Instead, hone in on your best, most authentic version, and let that goodness shine through.

That's kind of what Gretchen Rubin is saying in this book that I've become obsessed by, Better Than Before. In it, she talks about knowing yourself as the key to habit acquisition. 

And who cares about habits? Everybody probably should. Rubin's premise is that habits are "the invisible architecture of our everyday lives," so your habits determine what you accomplish and, more importantly, how you feel.

I'm only a little more than halfway through the book, but it's already inspired me to try a few new things (or return to some tried and true routines) to invigorate the habits that I know make me feel happier and more successful. In the book, Rubin offers various strategies you can use to implement and maintain habits. Some of the most appealing to me as an Upholder (that's my tendency, according to Rubin's framework - what's yours?) are Monitoring and Scheduling.

Here's what I'm going to monitor this week:
  • I've known for awhile that I probably missed a food when I stuck with some of the eliminations from the diet last fall that helped me lessen my symptoms of psoriasis. After several experiments, I'm pretty sure it's corn. So, this week, I'm going to monitor my food choices and make sure I'm not eating processed corn. I'm going to have a "no corn" item in my habits tracker in my little to-do list book that I carry with me.
  • I'm going to make a list of the things I want to do multiple times per week - write my book (there are almost no new scenes left to write, FYI), exercise, and blog. I'm going to put a number of check-boxes next to each of these. When I fill the check boxes (four for blogging, for example), I can stop worrying about the tasks until next week. This is a combo of monitoring and scheduling.
  • Finally, I'm going to monitor my supplement taking. I'm supposed to take a digestive enzyme thing and also probiotics, but sometimes I forget. If I put those things on my to-do list and check off the box, I do it.
And now, as a bonus, I've used the strategy of Accountability to ensure that I'll do these things by writing them here. Win-win-win.

The time that Gretchen Rubin helped me reconceptualize failure

Habits and attitudes to help writers.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

It's Finally Feeling a Little Like Summer

summer discoveries, summer, matcha tea

I'm finally sleeping in a little, my feet hitting the floor in the 6 o'clock hour instead of my school wake-up time of 5:15. I'm drinking my tea while looking at Facebook and the New York Times. I'm writing new pages in the mid-afternoon while kids are doing whatever.

Most recently, in case you're curious, Mac is throwing playing cards, which is apparently a thing.

Also, I'm listening to the new music by my brother, Noah Engh, which he recorded in his home studio while his baby napped. And, I'm trying to catch up with every single friend and family member I have.

It's good! I'm looking forward to the two weeks that the children will be at camp, as those will really feel like vacation (no driving them, no playdates, no haggling with them over book completion). Those two weeks are coming right before I go back to school on August 21st. A great reprieve.

So. Onward. Today, I'm sharing three amazing summer discoveries:

  1. The Happier in Hollywood podcast. My friend Susan told me about this. It's Sarah Fain and Liz Craft, lifelong friends and creative partners, talking about their work as tv writers and producers. It's about creativity and strategy and life hacks, and I love it. I've listened to almost all of the episodes now in the last couple of days, and if you're thinking of trying it out, I recommend this one with Marcia Clark. She seems totally badass. 
  2. Ben and Jerry's is making almond milk ice cream in really good flavors. I have a pretty limited diet to help with inflammation (psoriasis), and dairy is a definite no-no, so this Ben and Jerry's invention is fabulous for me. I'm still not supposed to eat the other things in the pints like sugar and chocolate, but every once in awhile, this is really good.
  3. A daily matcha latte. I'm a total convert. Matcha, ground up green tea powder, is supposedly really good for you with tons of antioxidants. I have a kind from Whole Foods I like that also has turmeric and ginger and cinnamon in it. I don't prepare it according to the tea box directions, but rather according to the Instagram directions I linked first.
This summer is not bad, not bad at all.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

"What Bit You?" And Other Unanswerable Psoriatic Questions

Recently one of my Instagram pals posted a photo that showed her varicose veins. In the post, she says she loves the photo and the other gals who are in it with her. Plus, she writes, she usually feels "100" about her legs. She used the cool 100 emoji you can use, but I don't know how to get it on Blogger.

Anyway, one of the gals in the picture with my pal posted it on Facebook. Since she's fine with the veins, my friend was surprised to find herself worrying about strangers' opinions when it got a broader audience.

I loved that post, and it's inspired me to try to become 100 with my psoriasis spots. It's kind of shadowy in the picture above, but you can see that there are several pink lesions there on my calf. The other calf has more, but smaller spots. There are also some on my arms and upper back. That's pretty much where you'd notice them if you saw me around town. I've got bigger concentrations on the sections of my skin that are generally covered by clothing, like my upper thighs and torso.

My dislike of the psoriasis is well documented on this blog. But maybe hating it is the wrong approach? I've been thinking I should be a little more "meh" about the whole thing. Whatever. It's just a skin thing I can't really control.

Sometimes, though, I'm in the middle of doing something else like hanging out with friends or watching my children, and someone will call attention to my condition. "What bit you?!" someone recently shrieked across a parking lot. I mean, it's true that many of the spots look like insect bites. This person obviously didn't mean anything by the query and probably wishes she hadn't asked.

Another time, I was just walking along the pool deck and someone shouted, "Do you have a rash?!"

A Boy Scout (I'm not keen on them) at Custer State Park stood right in front of me at the swimming beach and said in disgust, "Are those ALL mosquito bites?!" He could see the upper thigh clusters at that point, which may have disturbed him.

I mean, curiosity is a natural human inclination. I totally understand it, and I myself wonder things all the time, personal things about other people and their physical conditions. I guess my point is, we can help each other become 100 with our differences if we don't ask about them right away or in a super public situation. Doesn't that seem fair? You can ask in a 1:1 environment if you know the person. Then, I'll totally be happy to describe the whole problem of psoriasis to you, every little detail.

Otherwise, I'll just be doing my own thing, heading towards 100.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Vacation Report: Part 3

Wind Cave National Park

We're now sitting in our living room catching up on The Bachelorette. We all agree that the trip was one of our best with ratings ranging from 4 to 5 stars out of 5. Here are some highs and lows from the last two days in Custer State Park:

Horseback Trail Ride: this was Mac's #1 priority for the trip, and it met all of his expectations. From the barn, we had a great view of Crazy Horse Memorial, which brings me to...

Crazy Horse Memorial: Dan and I were left with many perplexing questions. Why was the museum focused so much on the life and family of the sculptor, and not on Crazy Horse himself and the Lakota people? Why does the white family of the sculptor control the funds and timeline? Why does everyone accept the sculptor's choice not to accept state or federal funds, even after his death and even after the project has taken more than 60 years so far? We don't have satisfying answers to these questions, but via extensive research, I have discovered that other people and journalists have posed the very same ones.

Wind Cave: I also had questions about the Wind Cave, some about the Lakota people, the original discoverers of the cave. These questions were not adequately answered by Park Ranger Jenny, I think because she had only worked at Wind Cave National Park for three weeks. I'm not trying to judge, but I'm not sure that Jenny actually had the appropriate level of intellectual curiosity about the Wind Cave. She told me she'd rather be in the law enforcement division of park rangering, rather than leading cave tours. This showed. 

Evan's Plunge Mineral Pool: Wow. This place sucked. We went because hot springs are usually good for my skin, but we all hated this venue and cannot recommend it. I'll describe it in three adjectives: dirty, dated, and lame. And my skin is not improved.

The 10-hour Drive Home: We finished listening to Jurassic Park and no one yelled at anyone. Pretty amazing. 

I can't wait to plan our next trip, which will be to L.A. in January. Maybe I'll have my Harry Potter tattoo by the time we visit his World.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Vacation Report: Part 2

I'm not trying to brag, but we did do tons of cool stuff yesterday.

National Parks: We busted it to the Badlands National Park at 7:15am to beat the god-forsaken heat. This was smart, and we were able to enjoy many scenic vistas, as well as an exciting hike on the Notch Trail. You've gotta scramble up a ladder on that path and then remind your children fifty times not to fall off steep drop-offs. In the Visitor Center, we watched a film about these rock formations, built by lava and then constant erosion, and the wildlife that lives among them. I was fascinated by the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret and relieved to know that the park no longer supports large predators like grizzly bears.

Driving: We took a scenic highway to Custer State Park and noted the vastly different terrain in South Dakota as compared to our homeland. We listened with rapt attention to Jurassic Park. Something funny is that since lots of dinosaur bones have been discovered here in South Dakota (but not in the Badlands because it used to be covered with a shallow, warm sea), there are random dinosaur statues hanging out along the roads. We saw one of a brontosaur just as the ill-fated Land Cruisers left the control station in our novel. 

Water Sports and Trail Running: I'm not even kidding - we're only halfway through the day! Luckily, I think these quick sentences suffice: Mac and I rented paddleboards and Dan, Shef, and I all ran on some unpaved trails in shifts. It's much cooler in Custer than in Wall.

State Parks: On our way to Keystone and Mount Rushmore, we drove the famed Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park, where we're staying. We saw these species: deer, Tatanka, pronghorn antelope, burro, and rabbit. We didn't see any dinosaurs, but I kept imagining we would because of our book.

National Monuments: Phew, this is the last thing. We went to Mount Rushmore National Monument, hiked the Presidential Trail, checked out a video about the carving, and watched the Night Lighting Ceremony. I cried a little bit when they invited the members of the armed services, past and present, to be recognized on stage and to retire the colors for the night. The only downside here is that Shef found himself to be terrified of the giant sculpture. I mean, I understand. The heads are a little creepy. With coaching, he talked himself down and made it through the whole experience. I warned him that Crazy Horse may be worse. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Vacation Report: Part One

We're here in Western South Dakota on a dream family vacation. Here's a report so far:

Driving: We mostly really enjoyed our seven-hour trip to Wall, home of Wall Drug, thanks to banging playlists and Jurassic Park on Audible. The most complaining we experienced (by the children, not by Dan and me) was when we visited the rest stop pictured above. This stop was highly recommended to me. The recommender only mentioned the view of the Missouri River behind this sculpture, and not the sculpture itself. This is probably because the sculpture was just installed last year. Here's what I learned about it: It's called "Dignity," was done by Dale Lamphere and represents the "courage, perseverance, and wisdom of the Dakota and Lakota culture in South Dakota."

Souvenirs: What's really fun is to bring children into a series of souvenir shops. Several times, I suggested choosing bags of shiny rocks, which is what I remember getting on out-West vacations in my youth. Instead, Shef chose a keychain, Mac chose a cap gun, and I chose an awesome gnome figurine, which I broke on the way back to the Best Western. Damnit.

Weather: It was 105 degrees Fahrenheit in Wall when we arrived. Now it's only 99, and we're headed back to the pool.

Coming Up: Tomorrow, I'll report on Badlands National Park and our drive to Custer State Park. Those things will be the best things ever.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Washing Machine Repair and Bike Pumps

Summer's clipping along, and I'm just taking care of business as usual, checking off exciting boxes like cleaning out the garage and dusting wooden blinds. It's been a magical time.

This very morning, I have a repair person here fixing my Whirlpool Cabrio washer. Turns out the repairs I need are pretty routine, and my technician, Andy, has performed them many times. Lucky for me, he's here right now because he says the next stage in the washer's current trajectory would have been catastrophic leaking. The leaking could have started imminently, but now it won't because of Andy and because of my impeccable timing. And because of my 400 dollars.

I was like, What?!, but then I looked up new high-efficiency washers, and they would cost significantly more. Whatever.

Another really fascinating development is that I'm finally getting a new bike pump and probably today. It turns out I really like to ride my bike, but I'm super bad at pumping the tires. Every time I go to do it, I open the valves and try to attach the pump, and it doesn't work. It falls off, the air won't go in, I have to use two hands and awkwardly work the pump with my stomach while I hold it on the tire.

I've watched YouTube videos and adapted between Schrader and Presta valves - I have Presta, Shef has Schrader, and the pump is crap for both types. The process makes me feel like a moron, and I hate it.

So today, after 10 years of struggling with it, I've finally decided that the pump is broken, and it's time to get a new one. If the new one doesn't work, and it turns out I have a pump disability, I'm going to be really disappointed. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Conference Takeaways

I went to a week-long teacher training. It was super good, and I learned a lot. One thing in particular I learned is that young teachers have very long eyelashes. They're doing something to get them - some kind of salon procedure or serum that makes them grow. What happened was that I myself now would like to have very long eyelashes.

I also learned about teaching, specifically creating a great classroom community. But the eyelashes! That's really going to stick with me.