Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The decadence of pedaling fast and going slow

One of the things that's been hardest -- but most satisfying -- to learn about riding my bike up and down hills has been shifting gears.  It's not that learning how to shift gears is all that tricky (although I've made my share of gaffes at that).  No, the hard part is learning that I should shift gears, and often.  In particular, when the going gets tough, I should shift to a way easier gear.

By now, I've been cycling enough that I can recognize from far away the painful form of an amateur cyclist going up a hill -- one who is laboring hard, moving forward on sheer muscle and grit, climbing the hill as though each pedal stroke were a stair-step with treads two feet high.  The whole body moves, and the poor person's legs look like . . .  pushhh . . . . pushhhh . . . . pushhhh . . . . . while the experienced riders spin their legs like propellors: whup-whup-whup-whup-whup-whup.  The pushhh-ers feel like they're full of power, but they tire themselves out.  The whup-ers are the ones who can talk going up hill, switch back into a higher gear at the top, and take off.  And now when I go up hills, I try to be a propellor, not a stair master.
One of the hills I ride once or twice a week.
Because of the headwinds and the hill, I'm always in a super-low gear
by the time I get to that danged barn.
My bike-gear-education has changed the way I run up hills, too.  I get to a nasty hill on one of my runs, and I make myself take teeny-tiny-baby-steps.  I jog up the hill bip-bip-bip-bip-bip, looking like a bunny rabbit who wishes she were a gazelle.  It feels so silly.  It feels like I lack power.  But I do it, and somehow I can bip-bip-bip my way to the top of the steepest hill and still have energy left to run some more on the other side.

I love the word that goes with this concept: cadence.  It sounds like "dancing", and I think there is something dance-like about whirring my legs while the rest of my body barely moves, gently moves, steadily moves itself over the crests and past the obstacles that had risen up before me.   But the word itself -- cadence -- comes not from dance but from music and rhythm.  Its ancient roots lie in the concept of falling, of descent.  "Cadence" shares its origins with "decadence".

Riding has started me thinking about how the metaphor of cadence might apply to my larger life.  When things at work start piling up, I should . . . go slow.  Fill my to-do-list with silly little things and cross them off my list speedily, bip-bip-bip-bip.  When kids and house repair start to seem overwhelming, act like it's all part of a dance.  Forget about power or pushiness.  When bills pile up, take time to talk and laugh out loud as I whup-whup-whup my way through the small details, knowing that the big details will take care of themselves.  And eventually, I'll get over the hump, and I'll have the joy of letting all that earlier effort mingle with gravity to take me zooming, decadently, down the other side.

Monday, July 21, 2014

My day job

With my husband taking over much of childcare duties, I'm spending more and more of my non-training daytime able to think about math.  I don't write much about it here.  But I thought I share some pictures of the stuff I obsess about when I'm not writing about kids, or money, or triathalons, . . .
 I could completely go all psycho thriller on you and say . . . only three people in the world know what that diagram means, and I'm one of them.  
But of course this isn't really a conspiracy game.  It's just stuff I love.

Winnie the Pooh once asked Christopher Robin where he goes when he's not in the Hundred Acre Wood, and 
. . . Christopher Robin began to tell Pooh about some of the things:  People called Kings and Queens and something called Factors, and a place called Europe, and an island in the middle of the sea where no ships came, and how you make a Suction Pump (if you want to), and when Knights were Knighted, and what comes from Brazil.
If you asked me where I go when I'm not blogging, these pictures would be my answer.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

In the twinkle of a (dog's) eye

My beloved mutt has been squinting out of his right eye lately.  We got this pooch from the Humane League at the advanced age of 6 or 7, and in the years he's lived with us, he's become a loyal devotee of his beloved Miser Mom.  He follows me around the house; he curls up by whatever chair I happen to be sitting in; he eats my underwear.  (That last weird quirk still confounds us.   But aside from his culinary habits, he's a great dog).
Meeting Miser Dog at the Humane League, August 2010.
At any rate, he's been squinting with one eye.  He doesn't seem to be disoriented, distressed, or in pain, but the squinting is unusual.   So, I took him to the vet.  The first thing the vet said was, "Wow! Ten-and-a-half years old!"  And then the vet decided the dog has a torn cornea, "but fortunately, those heal fast."  We got a tube of antibiotic ointment and went home.
Miser Dog likes food in canning jars, but of course!
I was relieved at the diagnosis, for two reasons.  First, I was glad my dog wasn't some kind of deathly ill; he's in remarkable shape for a dog his age.  Second, I'm not a huge fan of end-of-life excessive medical intervention.  A tube of ointment; yes, I'll fork over $150 for that and another $100 for a follow-up visit, but I was leery of getting in much deeper.
I don't have a picture of putting ointment in his eye,
but I do have a picture of J-son brushing the dog's teeth.
Speaking of "end of life", just how geriatric is my dog?  I asked my vet that.  I grew up with Irish Wolfhounds and Great Danes, two breeds of giant dogs with gentle dispositions and short life spans (they live about 7 or 8 years).  How long do dogs like my ten-and-a-half-year-old mutt live?  The vet said, "oh, nine years, ten years."   She paused.  "Um, maybe twelve."

Okay, so we're on borrowed time, and grateful for it.
Miser Dog wears J-son's Domo Hat.
But that's not the end of the story, because we went back for our follow-up visit a week later, and the torn cornea wasn't healing up after all.  My vet recommended we got to a doggy ophthalmologist, to get surgery (the ophthalmologist would probably do surgery: cut the cornea even more, in hopes that the blood vessels will respond by forming new blood vessels, and thereby heal the eye).  It turns out that this breed of doggy docs are few and far between; the nearest appointment we could get is three weeks away in time and an hour away in distance.  And they cautioned me:  it costs $150 just to walk through the door, with actual medical services costing more.

I asked: so . . . what happens if we don't do the surgery?  The receptionist didn't like the question at all.  "It might not seem like it, but torn corneas are painful."  And "It's possible the dog could go blind in that one eye."

So here's the dilemma:  am I heartless to say "No" anyway?  Going blind in one eye is . . . not fun.  If my mutt were a puppy, that argument alone would convince me.  But he's not a puppy, is he?   (Actually, a decade ago we faced a similar question with N-son, who has such bad nerve damage in his right eye that he's effectively blind in that eye.  His ophthalmologist told us surgery was an option, but not a very hopeful one, and so N-son has grown into his teens happily and productively seeing the world largely through his left eye).

And as for the pain question, my dog doesn't seem to be in pain or discomfort at all; he just squints a little.  On the other hand, a long car trip followed by a "cut your cornea until it bleeds" surgery seems to be a pretty nasty way to spend those golden years.  My husband and I talked about this; we decided against the surgery.  As I told my husband, "I'd do the same for you!"  And it's true; we've often joked about getting "DNR" tattoos should we ever come down with a terminal illness.

Still, a decision like this is hard.  It feels a bit heartless and calculating.  Am I really putting money and time ahead of my dog?
Dog kisses: they're the best.  Yecchh!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Thrifty Thursday: Canning water sink declogger

Before I get to the Canning Water Sink De-clogger, I have two little words for you:
  1. pickled,
  2. kale.
Oh, my goodness, we are in love.  Pickled kale, pickled kale, pickled kale!  We used a recipe from Poor Taste Magazine; the basic idea is that you whip up a batch of brine, heat it to boiling, and then dip-and-release the kale.  If you can the kale as we did, it gets a tad soggier but no less delectable.

We actually have an over-abundance of vegetables from our CSA, plus an overcrowded garden box of J-son's beloved kale, so late last week I pickled a bunch of them and then canned them up so we can enjoy them during the winter.  We've now got pickled zucchini, pickled beets, and two quarts half-a-quart remaining of pickled kale.

When I was done canning up the veggies, I had a pot of boiling water to get rid of.  And instead of just tossing it outside or down the kitchen sink, I remembered the slow drain . . .

. . . our bathroom sink has been sluggish.  My husband had already tried liquid drain cleaners to little or no effect.  But I'd heard boiling water could help, so I poured the canning water there.  Yes, the sink was definitely clogged.  I waited a few minutes (conveniently, exactly the amount of time it took me to find the plunger) and then gave the sink a little plunger "whoosh".  Magic!  That was exactly what my sink needed to run fast.

Which is good, because we definitely need to wash our hands for dinner.
J-son has "thirds" of kale.
That full plate of green stuff isn't a serving tray; it's his dinner plate.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Weeds on Wednesday

One of the claims of theology that has never lost its power to amaze me is that funky notion that, while we were yet sinners, the Lord of It All went out of his way to give us the gift of life, the universe, and everything.  This summer, not far behind the Father Himself comes Mother Nature.   I've been neglecting her badly this summer, and yet in spite of it all she spills over with abundant life. 

Abundant, but unruly.  We've got the oregano gone wild . . . 
 . . . and the highly verdant weed patch, strong and healthy.
 But there's also J-son's box of kale.   Even though we already harvested about half of it, it looks like we haven't taken any.  We have an amazing wealth of kale!  (Tomorrow I'm going to tell you what we did with the first harvest . . . total score).
 Next to the kale is my patch of basil.  It is apparently a very slow-growing form of basil.    Very, very slow . . .
 Please grow, basil?

But just around the corner from the Emperor's new basil is K-daughter's garden box, which is a riot of mellons, quinoa, peppers, and tomatoes.  This looks like a mess, but it's really a mosh pit of vegetable revelry.
Seen from afar, it's even more fantastic and funky.
And peeking in up close:  tomatoes!  Check 'em out while you can, because they're so delicious they don't last long around here. 

Leaving the well-loved enclave of K-daughter-dom, we return to the land of tall grasses of Weedville. 
 The weeds, they don't surprise me (in either the literal or theological sense).  I've been so focused on other things this summer that the weeds are inevitable.   But the beautiful boxes of food growing in spite of my apathy and neglect?  They're a gift of grace, breath-taking and life-giving.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Training Treasures

There's a lot about this IronMan training that makes me never want to do it again, just like there was a lot about pregnancy that steered me toward adoption and organ donation instead of waddling around nauseous in search of a bathroom for nine months a second time.

But, as happy I will be---come August 25---to wake up and not have to think,
"When will I do my 18-mile run this week?  How can I find a riding buddy to help me get to 70 miles on the bike this weekend?", 
and as delighted I will be not to have to constantly tell my achy legs,
"it's the workout you get when you're already tired that makes you stronger,"
there are some really joyful things about all this training, and these, I'll miss when I go back to being a mere mortal mathematician. (There are also things about being pregnant that I look back upon fondly, but not enough to ever want to do that again, either).

Here are some of my training treasures.

Truck winds.
When I'm running along a mostly empty road and a semi-truck passes me, it comes with three different rounds of wind:
  1. First, there's a wall of air that passes along with the truck.  It's such an enveloping wind that it's almost like diving underwater.
  2. Second, right after the truck passes, there's a huge gust of wind so powerful I have to hold onto my hat (literally -- otherwise it blows off and I have to run back and pick it up).  This one is exciting, like being on a roller coaster.
  3. Third and finally,  I wait one, maybe one-and-half, seconds, and the third wind comes.  It's a gentle little puff, like someone opening a door.  I always wait for that last little puff after a truck blows by.  Ahh.
Farm views.
The rolling farmland in our area makes for a hilly workout, but it also makes for some fantastic views.  There's something deeply awe inspiring about cresting a hill to see acres of corn and kale, farm houses and fallow fields, knowing that the food that will someday be on my table is right now growing up out of the ground under my very own feet.

And this, disgusting but true: I love getting totally sweaty.
Not a little sweaty, not like walking out of a cool building on a sweltering day and worrying about stains in the arm pits before going into the next cool building.  No, really, really sweaty:  the kind of total body sweat that makes my neighbor look at me and say, "Good lord! You have sure been exercising, haven't you?!"  The kind of sweaty where my clothes are dripping and clinging to my body,  the kind of sweaty where every inch of my visible skin is shining and when I finally wash off in the shower, the water running off my head is salty.  Total happiness, there.

Eating.  Food.  More food, even.
Dang, now that I'm training, I eat like a teenage boy; I'm a bottomless pit; I'm a munching machine.  And I love it.   My buddies tell me that I look slimmer than ever, but in fact I weigh the most I have ever weighed in my life (pregnancy excepted).  And that's all muscle.   What's more, it is hungry muscle.  Feed me.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Portrait: a still life with games

Q:  If something is hard, why make it harder?
A: Because that might make it more fun.
I've been reading (and skim/re-reading) Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonical recently.  McGonical is  a game-maker, consultant, and TED-Talkster who thinks that we ought to fix the boring and difficult parts of our world by game-ifying them.

Here's how she defines a game: "Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles."   Her example is golf: if all you really wanted to do was to get that little white ball into the little hole, you'd pick the ball up with your hands, walk it over to the hole, and put it in.  You wouldn't decide to stand far away and hit the ball with a fussy, expensive little stick.

Unnecessary obstacles:  it's like the FlyLady suggesting setting a timer for cleaning.  Or telling your kids to clean their room, but to use only one hand.  Or promising myself, "If I grade 5 more papers this hour, I can have a bowl of ice cream."

If you want to make a game out of a chore, this book doesn't quite tell you how to do it, but it has some general principles.

" . . . all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation."

There's a great chapter on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation -- this is more of a pop psychology book than a game-design book.   McGonical is probably more interested in turning everything about her into a game than I would be, but I still found myself mulling over ways to add rules and feedback loops into my own routines; I can see how that would make all sort of .  As she notes in one of her TED talks,
When we play a game (and this is in the scientific literature), we tackle tough challenges with more creativity, more determination, more optimism, and we're more likely to reach out to others for help.