Saturday, July 24, 2010

Thirty-One Days to Make a Difference

I had written "thirty-one days to change the world," but let's not get grandiose, little missy. The thing is, I'm not fully who I am unless working for justice is part of my picture, and I've lost touch with that piece of me. On a purely personal level, this is no good. And besides, people, the planet, and the whole freakin' universe depend on each of us caring enough to make a difference.

None of which changes the certain truth that there are a lot of things going on in my life, and a girl could get scattered unless there was a miracle she paid attention. So, it's time to pay attention. For the month of August, I will do one small thing each day. We're talking small, here. Really small. My only rule is that the action has to be more than writing a check. That's too easy, and it's too easy for the local agencies as well. Rather, together, we have to do something, connect with something, make a hands-on difference. Then, the world gets better.

Here's the August plan, which I reserve the right to change:
1: start composting (which is to say, assemble the composter, which involves confronting my fear of household tools.)
2: figure out how to help with local bike paths project
3: say thank you every minute for my wonderful children
4: learn more about refugees and forced migration
5: ride my bike to work -car-free day
6: take those two unused bicycles to Hesed House
7: work on Human Rights lecture series
8: work on social worker exchange project
9: be a better neighbor -clean out the darn garden
10: destroy your BP credit card -they get no more of my money
11: make it easier to recycle in the upstairs rooms
12: car-free day
13: work on Human Rights lecture series
14: bring flowers to work
15: work on social worker exchange project
16: be a better neighbor -bake something for somebody
17: organize a "Knit Unto Others" (knitzvah??) project -mittens and socks for homeless people
18: work on Sweater for Rachel book
19: car-free day
20: work on Human Rights lecture series
21: deliver an insane number of Mom-baked goodies to dear son who turns 26 tomorrow
22: traveling -offset airmiles :(
23: work on social worker exchange project
24: work on Sweater for Rachel book
25 -be a better neighbor -flowers in the front!
26: car-free day
27: work on Human Rights lecture series
28: work on Sweater for Rachel book
29: work on social worker exchange project
30: talk to sister #2 about Black Tie and Tails charity event
31: bring baked goods to work

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pending Projects in the "Think Great Thoughts" Category

  • getting blogger to treat static pages like dynamic pages, so that my primary blog will have clickable tabs, sorted by the "categories" of my life. I'm quite sure no one cares except me, but I want this to work. Then I have to figure out how to embed the feed of one blog into another -and get the whole thing to be transparent to my readers. Andrea shakes her fist at the sky a la Scarlett O'Hara.... as God as my witness....
  • act on my resolution to include more pictures in my blog. I love it when other people do that. Step one: find camera. Charge it.
  • prepare a talk for Cypriot visitors who want to learn about social justice project development -and develop an actual project. How cool is that?
  • become the world's expert on refugees and forced migration. Way to bury the lead, huh? But that's the goal.
  • prepare my portion of a talk on grant writing for DeKalb County service providers.
  • breathe..... breathe.... into this paper bag, if need-be.

I would not let students get away with such loose-y goose-y goals. Ummmm, could we have something measurable here? A timeline? What are the component tasks? I'll take care of that. But at least now I'm "out there" with my goals.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Group Theory

Here are some groups I wish existed -or if they exist locally, I wish I knew where they were.

  • An eco-group to provide gentle challenge, support, and creative energy around personal and local green initiatives. I'm talking about everything from helping me get started with composting all the way to enhancing the bike paths and ideas I can' even come up with.
  • A non-fiction writer's group for people writing everything from dissertations to articles for journals to, say, knitting books.
  • a social action group. There's the DeKalb Interfaith Network for Peace and Justice, for which I am grateful. However, their issues and "style," if you will, have never been mine. I want a group that will cook for Hope Haven, knit for the children in Mongolia (or wherever), adopt a family at Christmas time, collectively be a Big Brother/Sister for a local child, figure out some sane response that individuals might take toward correcting the damage done by the oil spill in the Gulf.... maybe it would also be a social action book club.
  • a meditation group -could also be a yoga group. But I'm thinking here of a "don't just do something -sit there" sort of long meditation session once a week or once a month or on the summer solstice.... or something.

Clearly, I can't start all these groups right now, or I would have done it already. I couldn't even promise to attend the meetings all the time. I just think that this town would be enriched if they existed. I think my life would be improved, as would other people's. And I think I've reached the limit, for now, of the support that on-line communities can provide. I don't see myself turning away from the computer in some sort of Luddite revolt. I just want a little more in-real-life activity; not enough is getting done on the ground.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Lycra Bike Shorts, Swimsuits, and Other Horrors

If you're a large woman in America, your whole life is an opportunity to feel self-conscious, embarrassed, resentful and way too big. You can hide in the corner or on the couch, you can go to therapy, or you can put on your lycra bike shorts and get out there and move.
—Jayne Williams, Slow Fat Triathlete

Jayne knows, she really does, how hard it is to put on those Lycra shorts or that swimsuit when you don't like the way your body looks. I love it that she understands; it means that she gives credit where credit is due. Bless the hearts -and backsides- of the people who need to exercise and DO IT and don't worry if said backside looks bad on that bike seat. Or they do worry, and they do it anyway.

The thing I need to do is move past the revulsion I feel when I look at my own body. The body I see has nothing -NOTHING- to do with the body that's in my head. This body is a new post-divorce artifact (artifat?), and it makes me sad and grossed out. Moreover, I'm tired all the time. Deeply, in my bones, exhausted. People will suggest that this is because I am doing too much. But seriously, I've felt this bone-deep thing before, and it's not physical. Fundamentally, it's emotional and spiritual. It's about whether or not I am lovable. Am I good enough? Do I deserve to be healthy and trim and vibrant?

But there's a time and a place when I do love my body. It loves to move and do things and exercise. I love to climb rocks, and do yoga, and ride my bike, and swim. I tolerate strength training, but do not love it. I loathe running, but could walk or hike, I suppose, since something in my fitness life ought to be weight-bearing.

So, where to go with this? I will start from that place of love. Actually, I will stay in that place of love. "I love my body when it does.... x (where x is a life-enhancing and health-improving activity)," suggests that I should do x. If an activity makes me feel less-than or not good enough, out it goes. For now, that means I will bike slowly, do modified yoga, lift baby weights, and swim as slowly as I need to. I will enjoy the activity for its own sake.

And if you don't like the way my backside looks, you shouldn't have any trouble passing me up and moving on to more congenial sights. Move along!

Sunday: bike ride, and gentle yoga
Monday: gym (which means weights and the treadmill) and yoga
Tuesday: swimming and yoga
Wednesday: gym and yoga
Thursday: swimming and yoga -and I'll ride my bike to work today (it's about a mile to work, so it's no real fitness work -just the principle of the thing)
Friday: bike ride and yoga
Saturday: yoga only

But, I deserve it!

This thinking gets me in trouble, on so many fronts. And yet, it's not wholly false.

This thought has been rattling around in my head for a while. Where is the balance between a healthy sense of entitlement and narcissism? Of course, when you ask a practitioner that question (as I must, when questions bounce around in my own head, right?), then the immediate answer is that no one knows. And beware of practitioners who claim to know the line between sane and crazy, healthy and unhealthy, but that's another story.

Moreover, today is roughly the 3-year-anniversary of arriving home from a trip and discovering that my "partner" had taken all the family money and hidden it, so that I could not have access. I was "unentitled" in an instant. Even my own paychecks had been re-routed to this mystery new account. His clearly distorted sense of entitlement.... my distorted willingness to give up all sense of entitlement... it's all enough to give a person pause.

Now, though, I have the pedestrian delight of being in charge of my own finances. Both of them ;) There is a strange (really, I think it's strange) sense of awe and power when I get to choose a new dress or a new piece of furniture or which brand of milk I want. But one must quickly find a sense of balance here. Equating self- worth with purchasing power isn't a safe or wildly ethical path to enlightenment.

This struggle with entitlement shows up in other places as well. "I'll just have one bite of ice cream; I've worked hard today." Uh huh.... when was the last time you ate one bite of ice cream -or anything, for that matter? The consequence of that thinking has been 40 pounds. Or, I'll try to squeeze too many activities into a single bit of time, because I want to do them all. And therefore, the universe should allow that by expanding time, just for me? What am I saying here?

I am starting to define the way Dave treated me as domestic abuse. I don't want to slip back into a "woe is me" rant, though. Many, MANY people on this planet experience much worse, every single day, with no hope of the luxury of choosing their own milk or having a bite of ice cream -or freeing themselves from abusive men. That acknowledged, however, surely I'm entitled to something.

So I need to locate the healthy expression of the sentiment "I am here. I am powerful. I deserve to be seen for who I am." I suppose defining the question is a good start. The corollary of this question is "Do I dare speak my dreams out loud?" Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Metal Mouth

Brace yourself for a sort of puke-y TMI post.

It's been a year with a mouth full of metal.

I said, thinking that I meant it, that I would get braces right after college, when I had a job. That didn't happen. I got married and had babies, which I don't regret for a single second. With those babies came about a zillion other ways to spend money, but it's not as though my teeth were miraculously straightening themselves.

Well, a year ago it happened. I somehow sensed that I had a moment to get this done. Otherwise, it would be another 20 years, and I just don't have that kind of time!

Here's where we started:

Gruesome, huh? There were teeth perpendicular to each other.

One year later, we have this:

DUH, that didn't work. You can't see my teeth there, can you? For heaven's sake! Allow me to distract you with the pretty girl in green... I'm still waiting on the orthodontist's official one-year photos. My teeth are mostly straight now. My bite is still all catty-wumpus, but we're just now starting to work on that.

Even I can't turn this process into a metaphor. Filling your mouth with metal??? No, that doesn't take us anywhere interesting. Encasing one's troubles in metal? Spending staggering amounts of money when my parents had been willing to pay for this? Sadly, no. Those are not inspirations for creative thinking, either. It just feels good to be doing one of those "I always said I would" tasks. That's part of being a grown-up too, isn't it?

Friday, July 16, 2010

An Upside-Down Grownup

So the story is this. When I was a little girl (and I must have been very little, based on my memory of the house where this happened), I remember standing on my head on the couch, kicking my feet up against the wall behind the couch. Mysteriously, my mother was not charmed by this behavior. Admonished to get down and go do that in the yard if I needed to do it, I asked my mom if she thought the world looked better upside down or right-side-up. Our mom would definitely reply "right-side-up" which, of course she did.

She further said that mostly, grownups like right-side-up better. Even now I'm not quite sure that's true, but then I just felt sad for the grownups. I wondered why, then, anyone bothered to become a grownup.

"Mostly, they just have to."

I don't think she meant anything metaphorical, but even then, that's where my brain went. And revolted. "I want to be an upside down grown up".

And so it will be ;) I just have to figure out what that means.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Grown-Up in My Own Story

Somewhere around day 2 after driving away from my marriage (He left me, just to be absolutely clear. It's just that he made me do all the work associated with that leaving. Great system.), I wrote the phrase "becoming the grown-up in my own story." I didn't realize, of course, that I had identified an important theme for myself, or that it would take so long.

But here we are. It's hard. I've recently realized something mind-altering. I was an abused wife. Without being libelous (he never hit me -or would ever hit anyone, I imagine), I was definitely abused. There's not a legal definition of emotional abuse; it's not criminal in the way that assault is criminal. Nonetheless, there are working definitions:

* name-calling or putdowns
* keeping a partner from contacting family or friends
* withholding money
* stopping a partner from getting or keeping a job
* actual or threatened physical harm
* sexual assault
* stalking
* intimidation

There are more examples; you can see them on the Violence Wheel. Suffice it to say that I was looking at the wheel (an old social work standby) for another purpose, and was flat-out gobsmacked at how many examples applied to me.

ME! How can this be?

Actually I am less interested in that question than in how to move forward to make things different. Sure, patriarchy had a role in this. Grandiose narcissism (not mine) probably had a role in this. My personality absolutely played a part -which isn't the same thing as saying that I caused it. My upbringing had, perhaps, a little role. Catholicism, perhaps a little more. There's a complex story to be told there, but it's already been done.

What's more important to me right now is to acknowledge that abuse infantalizes its victims. This becoming a grownup thing is profoundly NOT metaphorical. Rather, it is exactly the task in front of me.

I remember asking my mom once why people became grownups. (I'll tell you more about that story tomorrow.) Her reply was "they just have to." At that time she was in a complicated relationship herself, so a little fatalism was to be expected. But my toddler self wants to go back and say, "Nu-UNHHH, you GET to."

So now I get to become a grownup. I'm a work in progress, way back at the starting line. All this crashing around I've been doing -well, it will doubtless continue for a while. But the house, the physical fitness, the friends, the family, the job, school, the cats, the travel.... I've been crashing around experimenting with things the way a toddler does. "You mean, the world holds all this STUFF, and I get to try it ALL?"

Well, yes dear, it does and you do. Now you just have to be big enough and brave enough and graceful enough to figure out how to do the things you want, give back to the world, and say thank you all the time.

So, that's the project, for now.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Keep Calm and Carry On

Everyone has seen the revived poster from World War II by now, and doubtless smiled at the British restraint of it all. I certainly have. Moreover, I have used the phrase to myself and other people repeatedly. It's easier said than done, that's for sure.

In some areas, it is perfectly easy for me to break goals down into teensy-tinsy pieces, and just do the next right thing. I step back and congratulate myself that I have done what I need to do today. I'm following the plan, on the path.... gosh, I'm good. When the exact same process needs to be undertaken in other areas, I freak out and think that I'll never finish and that I might as well not start and that I'm not smart enough or disciplined enough ...or whatever enough... to get this done. The small step seems too small to be meaningful.

Is this fear? Embarrassment at being afraid? Embarrassment about being/feeling powerless? I can't tell. It shows up in the weirdest places. The garden. The front porch. And of course, it shows up in more predictable places. Will I ever understand my retirement funds? Honestly, I'm beginning to doubt it. But I'm done with feeling stupid. Consider this the start of the embarrassment alleviation project ;) Forward motion -no matter how small- is still forward motion.

I will just keep breaking down the tasks into smaller and smaller bits, until the step is too small to avoid taking! I will be calm, and I will carry on!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Sweater for Rachel

Yesterday was the third anniversary of my niece, Rachel Grace's, death. She was born many weeks early and lived for about 48 hours. Just doing my thing -knitting, writing, trying to make meaning from the circumstances- I seem to have come up with the draft of a book. This is a DRAFT of the introduction, but in honor of Rachel it seemed appropriate to post it today.

Let’s stipulate from the outset that the birth of any baby can be a gift to the world. It does not matter to me if the child has physical and/or cognitive challenges. It doesn’t matter if the child will only live a few days. The child is perfect. Nonetheless, the circumstances around his or her birth can be staggeringly imperfect. Of course, we want easy lives rather than hard ones for the babies in our lives, and so we prepare. We give up coffee (!). We take more naps. We listen to Mozart. In that same spirit, we acknowledge that full-term pregnancies are better for babies than shorter-term ones. In the case of a premature infant, something is very wrong, even if just for a short time.

It may seem silly to knit for such a non-standard situation. How many babies can this affect, after all? The answer is “a lot,” but that is not the point. We knit for many reasons. We soothe ourselves with knitting. We knit to show love when words fail us. We knit when we don’t know what else to do. There’s a vague sense of disquiet, that “something’s wrong” feeling, when a knitter finds herself without her knitting. We knit because it’s our art, quibbling about the distinction between art and craft aside. In short, we knit because doing so is part of who we are.

Moreover, it must be said that knitters flourish in bad times; it’s where we are at our best. Whatever the problem, we try to cushion its impact with soft, warm yarn, knitted up with all the love we can muster. I know for a certain, lived truth that the stories of premature babies do not always end happily. Rachel Grace, my niece, lived among us for about 48 hours. She was our perfect Rachel, just as the world and our family needed her to be; nothing about her life was a mistake or a failure. And yet, she died. Knitting has a role here, too. I knew that she would probably be born premature, and I knit anyway. She never wore the things I made for her, and that matters not at all. Knitting those things was no sillier, for sure, than the fact that I was knitting receiving blankets for a baby born at the end of June in Alabama. That was probably way stupider, actually.

I will argue that knitting for premature babies is no more futile than any other knitting. If you only judge its immediate utility, knitting is always futile. Babies outgrow garments as quickly as we can knit them, sometimes after only one wearing. I have been known to misjudge entirely, and a knitted garment NEVER fit its intended recipient. Knitted garments cost more to make than their mass-produced counterparts. Certainly, my time could be more productively spent in other ways. (Dusting comes immediately to mind.) And yet, I will argue to my last gasp that knitting still has merit.

Knitted baby garments warm and protect. They organize rituals, as we see with, say, knitted baptismal gowns. Knitted toys are fun and harmless when thrown. Knitted blankets welcome babies into families, as in “Auntie Andrea always makes the receiving blankets. Here’s yours.” And they even mark life transitions. Auntie Andrea also makes (has great intentions of making, anyway) the afghan that accompanies a college freshman off to his new adult life. Premature babies need many of these same life markers; we just have to provide them faster.

Sometimes, though, even knitting is not enough. In the case of the howling grief that accompanies the death of a child, it was not. My next line of defense is to write. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. And when even that fails, I teach. Healing from Rachel’s death required all three. This book is the result.

I have designed patterns specifically for preemies and micro-preemies. You will find the standard baby wardrobe of hats, booties, and blankets made tiny. But more than that, you will find garments that accommodate the machinery and wizardry that attempt to mimic the simple elegance of a mother’s body. You will also find patterns that allow for the interesting social bonding that occurs between a tiny preemie and his or her parents. And finally, we have to acknowledge that on some level reducing the number of pre-term babies requires not better technology but better care of their mothers. In that spirit, I have included a pattern for mom. It’s not exactly a public health intervention, but it’s a symbol that at least part of our focus needs to be on her.

Alongside each pattern, you will find an essay based on my reflections as I designed and knit each item. I claim no great wisdom. I don’t even claim small wisdom, come to that. But I have walked this road, and if my experience helps anyone then so much the better. And finally, on the off chance that the sale of the book results in any actual money, it will be donated entirely to the March of Dimes in Rachel’s name, to help ease the lives of all babies.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Not those fantasies. Calm yourselves.

When the kids were little -and from time to time, driving me right 'round the bend- I would toss off fantasies of my alternate life. You know, the life where all is peachy, no one's diaper needs changing, no plumbing breaks, and one meets up with only interesting challenges. Yeah. That life ;)

Leaving to go live on the beach and sell margaritas to the tourists was a favorite. Or, I would threaten to join a communal household where my only tasks were making bread and knitting for the community. This would be a LARGE communal household, apparently, since there are quite a few other tasks involved in managing a home. The details are a little vague, obviously, but it goes without saying that this household too is near a beach.

Of course, the fantasy life would be every bit as much trouble as real life; we all know this. However, humans also still occasionally fantasize about starting over, taking the path not chosen this time.

I was given that opportunity to start over (tragically, minus the beach part)-although it felt like a cataclysm at the time. My life today has very little to do with my life a few years ago. All my fretting about this life's new challenges is just the admission that being the grown-up in my own story is occasionally hard. However, it is way better than NOT being the grown-up, that's for darn sure.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Thou Shalt Not Freak Out

Michael teases me about my goals and my goals having goals and possibly being a little obsessive about this process. When I tell you that my current goals list (scheduled for completion two years from now) is 39 PAGES long, it's possible that you will agree with him. I think I agree with him, come to that. But, it's what I do, and it harms no one.

Much of those 39 long pages is just a rephrasing (operationalizing, in annoying social science lingo) of the amazing discovery that I get to make the rules now. So I blather on about ontological frameworks and questions like "what is health?" and try to figure out what that means for me and how I might get there. Then I move on to "what do shelter and haven mean for me?" and then I muse about how I want my house to be THAT, whatever that is. On and on through "scholarship" and "community" and "creativity".....

Seriously, you ask????? Yeah. Seriously. It's a wonder I get by with 39 pages ;)

"Thou shalt not freak out" is one of my new rules -a rule I have a great deal of trouble following, I might add. It's easy to focus on the not-yet-done(kitchen ceiling still an embarrassment) and the impending disasters waiting around the corner (I refuse to even speculate here.) Would it be easier to stay centered in the moment, not borrowing trouble (as Jill so frequently has to caution me against), if I had some kind of spiritual practice?

Probably. Sundays without church still feel a little ungrounded to me. On the one hand, I certainly don't have time to sit somewhere and be annoyed (occasionally even enraged) for an hour. They ought to at least pay me, if that's going to happen. On the other hand, I miss the liturgical punctuation to the week. I miss the days when there was a community that I loved there. I miss the good and wonderful things that Catholicism can offer and seems to so intentionally have turned its back on. (Thou shalt not end sentences with a preposition is apparently not one of my rules.)

So, granting that I can't "do" Catholicism in its current form, is a fledgling/returning yoga and meditation practice enough? I think it could be, but it isn't quite yet. I do think, though, that the lack of a spiritual dimension to my life (What is spirituality? That will be good for another few pages of musing!!) is part of why the weekends are so formless -not that that's the biggest problem of a lack of spirituality.

Maybe it's time to go on a retreat somewhere -even if just with a tent,a book, and my journal. And possibly a bottle of wine ;)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Middle-Aged Bridget Jones

"At times like this, continuing with one's life seems impossible... and eating the entire contents of one's fridge seems inevitable. I have two choices: to give up and accept permanent state of spinsterhood and eventually be eaten by Alsatians... or not, and this time I choose not. I will not be defeated by a bad man and an American stick insect! Instead, I choose vodka. And Chaka Khan."

I had a very strange day yesterday. Mostly sleeping, as it happens. And beating myself up, for the entertainment value of it all, I suppose. I mean, seriously, most people ENJOY the weekends. What's wrong with me that they make me feel pathetic? What's wrong with me that...... blah, blah, blah....

Then, the little iPod shuffled to Chaka Khan belting out "All By Myself" and I realized that I was having a Bridget Jones day. For crying out loud. As darling as she is, she is 30 and I'm, well, not. (Although, one shouldn't prematurely rule out the possibility of chasing Colin Firth down the street wearing only one's underwear.)

OK. It's over. Seriously, that kind of self-pity is just boring. There are plenty of things to do, plenty of things to feel powerful about, proud of... There are plenty of interesting things to work on. Today will be better.

Carved Anew by the Details of your Devotions

It’s Mary Oliver’s thought. “You too can be carved anew by the details of your devotions.” And in fact, this is the plan. I have concerns about not getting everything done. But they aren’t the concerns of a flibbertygibbit who wanders from one thing to another, starting them all and finishing none. Not quite. Or not every day, anyway.

Many things languished during my ill-fated marriage. Love, certainly. But also attention to the house, attention to my professional goals, …well, you get the idea. To address this situation, you know by now that my goals have goals and that I have charts and mind maps and vision boards to prove it. I hope you know –I hope I know, come to that- that I am working on most of these neglected areas and that I have the rest waiting patiently in the queue. I’m relying on a hope that there is a psychic difference between “ignored” and “planned,” even though the reality feels the same at this particular moment.

I do wonder (worry is too strong a word) if my concerns are not sufficiently weighty. Can I be a scholarly expert on refugees and global homelessness if I spend all my public blogging time reporting about my house, or yoga, or the cats? Is that really where my attention is? Where’s the gravitas?

Well, first off, is it not possible to be simultaneously a serious scholar and light-hearted? Few are. I get it that I’m walking a weird path here. But I just don’t think I can maintain grave and serious across the lifespan of a career. Well, I know I can’t. But I also know that I have something to contribute. So, stipulating that I know how to behave in public places, can’t it be true that I am fundamentally unimpressed with much of the academic posturing I see and still be serious? Light-hearted is not the same thing as air-headed. I want to carve that path, and have that path carve me.

More importantly, though, I don’t think it’s an indication of flightiness that I am spending so much time thinking about my house and gardens and yoga and cats. These are also things that anchor a life. They are things that root a life in a place and a time. And they shelter me. I lost safety –not the way the people I study have, heaven knows- but that loss jerked my life into a new path. Feathering my own nest, tending to its structure and stability, remind me that I am creating my own safety. (As much as anyone can, that is.)

When I get frazzled and a little unhinged (and it happens, and not just to me, I remind myself), well-meaning people advise me to slow down. Do less. Well, first of all, I’ll obsess about however much work is in front of me -no matter how slight-, so slowing down won’t really help the stated problem. Moreover, if I do less, then I won’t get everything done. A lifetime is not enough.

So, I really am looking at this mission expansion idea.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Kitty Snuggles and Mission Expansion

I was quasi-thinking while still mostly sleeping this morning. Cillian and Claddagh come to wake me up at about 4:00 in the morning. They pat my cheek with their paws. They nibble on my fingers, if I have carelessly left them available outside the covers. I am NOT open to these gentle suggestions. I have to get up at 5 anyway, but the difference between 4 and 5 is really important to me. Claddagh politely gives in and goes back to sleep at my feet. Cillian is younger,feistier, and holds out for play-time somewhat longer. Eventually, though, I fall back asleep, while still in the middle of petting him. He concedes more or less gracefully, and with my hand on his back, we all sleep for another 45 minutes or so. It's cozy and sweet, and the only consequence is that I have to change the sheets slightly more often than I would otherwise.

This having pets thing began so innocuously. Claddagh adopted us. Then he needed a buddy. I looked around, and it was done. And now my life is bigger and richer. Not simpler.

Hang on for an impossibly tortured segue. I just this week wrote a draft of a paper suggesting that, in spite of hideous fiscal pressures, this is not the time for universities to be risk-averse. The answer to our troubles is not, I think, retrenchment and mission truncation; it's large-scale collaboration and expansion. Assume I made my case, just for the sake of argument ;) I wonder if I was talking to myself. ("As usual", mutter my children.)

Maybe it's like the cats. Perhaps my flailing around, trying to organize and simplify and eliminate is the wrong approach. Perhaps a richer life is LESS simple. Where do the ideas of expansion and collaboration take me, I wonder?

Yoga and Writing

I am late to the dance, as usual, but I'm in. School's out for the summer, and I don't want to lose my writing mojo. And I really don't want to lose my yoga mojo. So, this is perfect: New Project.

In 21 days, I can get a boat-load of writing done @ 800 words a day! In 21 days, research shows, a new habit forms. My yoga is pretty much at five days a week already, assuming you count a restorative hanging-around-on-the-yoga-mat enough of a practice for one of those days. Nonetheless, yoga will be that much closer to fully reintegrated into my life. It will be mine again, and my heart (the metaphorical one) and my body crave that.

So, what should I write about for 21 days?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Math-Rat Report

He's gone -moved away -to New Jersey (I think) for the summer, and then presumably off to UT-Austin to be with one of his lady-loves. Why she would sign on for this is beyond me, but she is not my problem.

Here's the thing. I've been in a mostly-silent dither with myself for a few weeks now. I knew this day was coming; I just didn't know the actual date with any precision. All my pals would say things like "Won't that be SUCH a relief for you??!!" Clearly, the right answer was embedded in the question, so having been a good student once upon a time, I would dutifully provide that answer. But it wasn't quite what I was feeling.

And of course I can't actually describe that feeling with any accuracy. There was some sadness. Some irritation, certainly. Some glee -now I get the kids all to myself. (Picture me rubbing my hands together in anticipation...) Some astonishment (and a smidge of shame) as I see the distorted and abusive patterns than evolved over the days and years. I knew I was wanting unreasonable -even mutually exclusive- things. Within seconds of each other, I would think "he's not even going to say goodbye??" followed by "you would just smack him if he showed up." There's this never-ending dialogue between what I'm apparently "supposed" to feel and what I do feel.

So, quite by accident, I learned last night that he is gone. It's weirdly serendipitous that I'm using my new home office for the first time this week. I'm still getting used to it, but I'm totally loving it. So, I was sitting there, working on a paper in my yummy yellow office. (Remind me to post pictures.) And the this way-that way dithering on the subject of Math-Rat was ....gone.

Huh... I thought. This must be what peace feels like. And I went back to writing.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

House Blessing

My new office is not all the way finished. I'm looking at a ladder as I type. I'm looking at outlets that need covers. The trim isn't installed. Nonetheless, I took advantage of a visit from the boy-child to move furniture into this room. So my desk and my computer and a lamp are installed in this new space, and I'm using it.

I had thought when I moved into this house that I would live expansively in it. The habits I have developed are a little different, and I'm not sure that I'm thrilled about that. The old pattern is this. The office was a shared office, and it's the room you walk into from the driveway. I always ALWAYS have work to do, which involves the computer. So I tend to put my stuff down, feed the cats, and head back to the office -where I sit until I either go exercise or go to bed. Frequently, that's where I eat, for heaven's sakes. So I spend entire evenings, sometimes, within 5 steps of the door.

Ummm.... I get it. This is something just shy of stepping confidently into my new life, huh?

So, something must be done. I have commandeered the boy-child's old bedroom, installed a new wooden floor, a new ceiling fan/light fixture, and painted it a butternut squash yellow. And I've figured out the wireless internet, so now I can work upstairs -as can guests. (The boy child saved the password for us, in a sensible place!) I need crown molding yet, and baseboard trim, and to finish painting the doors and windows. I need to buy light bulbs that actually fit in the light fixture (sigh...), and to install the outlet covers (a pretty copper). I have most of the pictures and things I want on the walls. I need to knit something for this room -my personal trick for making spaces mine. It will probably be pillow covers in this case.

There is also furniture to be purchased. I want to have a futon in here, so that with a little sleight of hand, this room can become another guest room. I'll need a side table and a lamp for the futon/couch. I want one of those barrister bookcases. I want an antique globe, although I can't quite figure out where to put it. I need curtains.

So, clearly, there is much to be done. And this is just one room. (Pardon me while I breathe into this paper bag for a moment.) However, I hope that turning it to its intended, new, purpose will move me into my house -literally. I'll be further than 5 steps in.

So, give me until August, perhaps. Just before school starts again, and we all get crazy busy. I'll be a little further along, I promise. Probably a very little, but that's ok. We'll have a house blessing. A little smudging to get rid of lingering sadness. Some new houseplants to clear the air. Wine, definitely wine. Stay tuned.

God bless the corners of this house and be the lintel blessed;
and bless the hearth and bless the board and bless each place of rest.
Bless each door that opens wide to strangers and to kin;
and bless each crystal windowpane that lets the sunshine in.
And bless the rooftree overhead and every sturdy wall.
Gentle peace, the peace of God, the peace of love to all.

The Grandma Expectation

Let me just preface this post by saying that no one I know is doing anything wrong. First of all, how would I know? Secondly, why would anyone care what I thought? Moreover, neither of my children is expecting a baby, as far as I know. We don't want rumors to get started.

But here's what I have noticed. Many women my age have already become grandmothers. The weird thing about this life-transition is that you have no control over it at all. It happens when your kid says it will happen.

Well, never mind. Now that I think about it, children always raise their parents -moving into new stages and requiring different things from their parents, who struggle to keep up. My general rule of thumb in parenting was that by the time you got used to a developmental stage, it was almost over. Time to batten down the hatches ;)

So, grandmothering. I'm looking around watching my peers learn to do it. I see models and I don't like any of them, for me, I mean. MUCH older women (say, the age of my grandmother, may perpetual light shine upon her) still subscribe to the notion that what a woman does after 50 doesn't matter very much. Productive life is almost over, but by golly she can spoil those grandchildren. I profited mightily from this version of grand-parenting. So have my children, really -at least the spoiling rotten part.

But then I start to wonder.... are my only-slightly-older friends much different? I have friends who drop their commitments at a moment's notice, happy to do so, and run half-way across the country to babysit. Some of my friends are parenting their grandchildren. Yikes! I'm wondering if helicopter parents haven't turned into helicopter grandparents. Has childhood become so complicated that it requires this many adults in supporting roles?

Or, is it a phase of life thing? Are we supposed to be slowing down, entering a more graceful and calm phase? And child-care, particularly of someone else's child, becomes an attractive option?

I understand the love one would feel for the child of one's child. I understand the rapture that ought to greet any baby. But what about those of us who can't (or won't) do what we're supposed to be doing? I don't have time -or the inclination- to slow down right now. For all kinds of reasons -some good, some not- I am only just now able to fully focus on a career and my goals. ME. There is some urgency to this, since the security that comes with a long marriage is now gone. But there is also a large measure of delight.

The urgency thing, though, means that I feel like I must deflect the advice of well-meaning friends who say "do less," "want less", "lower your standards." No one is going to support me in some idyllic retirement. I need to craft a life from which I don't particularly want to retire.

Does the old model, where I become the "crone" -the family "wise woman"- make any sense any more? There is the obvious truth that I don't have much in the wisdom department. But what I mean is, does the model work? Can't we be a little more inclusive?

What would a feminist role of grandmothering look like? How has grandmothering changed because of the opportunities we now have? How is grandmothering continuing to change because of the inequities that still plague us, and the reality that many of us are coming to careers late? Is grandmothering changing because of a general feeling that we are very far from done at 50 or 60?

It needs to. Yes, I will knit for babies that come into my life. Yes, I will make cookies. Yes, I will go to Baby Gap and buy foolish things. But I don't think I can be the grandmother who thinks that her grandchildren are the most interesting thing about her. I don't think I will carry around cartloads of pictures. I don't think all my stories will start with them -as perfect as they will, without a doubt, be.

But EXACTLY how this looks????? I have no idea. Once again, women my age are carving out new territory, with very few role models ahead of us.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Push Through? Pull Back?

I signed up for a yoga class, to support my home practice. We are on week two, and I'm on week two of hurting myself. OK, universe, I get it. Or, I'm trying to get it, in any case. Nothing is seriously wrong. And, in any case, I did it to myself. (This morning my back froze up during the dangerous and daring activity of unloading the dishwasher. I must have made something vulnerable last night at yoga, is my thinking.)

I'm on this gentle path toward elite fitness, which, for already-elite athletes, sounds really silly. They are all about working through pain and muscling forward. They talk with glee about workouts that are so hard you have to "throw up in a bucket" afterward. I can be that way, right enough, but I have too many things on my plate to be serious about that path toward fitness. So, I'm carving out a new niche.... the couch-to-kick-butt-fitness training plan, which involves lots of riding my bike, yoga, a smidge of rock climbing and weight training, and even less swimming. Athletes would call it "base-building," I suppose. I call it getting off the couch and having fun. Categorically, though, I am rejecting the rhetoric of the athletes that says that just because I can't train 20 hours a week, I can't play in their playpen. I bet they're wrong ;) But I'm also rejecting the notion that just because I'm five minutes younger than God and 40 pounds heavier than I should be, that I should settle for less than my real goals.

And my body is waking up, no question. A year ago, there were yoga postures that I thought were forever lost to me. I modified everything. It took so long to get into a posture that what ought to have been a 1/2 hour practice took an hour and a half. I feel better, now. I can DO things. But clearly, something is amiss, and naturally I think the question is bigger than just yoga.

The universe is offering an existential question. What do you do when the wrong thing feels right? How do you even figure out that it's wrong, before it's too late? These days I always feel a little bit of pain. Apparently this is what happens when you let your health deteriorate. I'm astounded that people consider living like this, but that's another blog post. Yoga feels so good. It's hard work sometimes, but there's this delicious feeling of re-inhabiting my body. Moreover, I thought I was accommodating my limitations. I try to distinguish between the "ouch" of stiffness, which can be gently challenged, and the sterner, sharper "ouch" that means "stop right now; this is not a conversation."

But there's a whole lot of gray area in the middle, and apparently I'm choosing "push through" when I ought to be choosing "pull back." This is an affront to my nature. Let's just posit that if I KNOW something is wrong, I stop. (Ignore the fact that there is very little historical evidence to support this claim. Clearly this is a learning point for me.) But how do you distinguish between the two? There must be signals that I am missing.

Either that, or unloading the dishwasher really is dangerous and I should cease and desist with all housework. Oh wait.... I already did :)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

You Grow, Girl

This garden thing.... what am I up to, here???

I have been encouraging anyone and everyone to come dig flowers and take them home. It feels both wasteful and destructive and exhilarating, in that way that throwing a cheating lover's belongings out the window must. The gardens too, it seems, are fraught with unspoken power struggles, attempts to put on a brave face. It's not that I've turned a corner and have chosen to gracefully and intentionally change things. Not quite. I just can't stand them anymore.

See, I had this vegetable garden. I liked my vegetable garden. One year (when I was in graduate school), I didn't get out there to plant quite quickly enough, and my vegetable garden had been turned in to a flower garden. No discussion. Just Dave taking over something I enjoyed, making me feel not good enough....

I pretended that it was all for the best. It turned out, possibly, that Dave liked gardening. Or maybe he just didn't want to be with me on the weekends, who can say? Whatever. More gardens appeared. The yard was improved, certainly.

Truth? I never liked it. I said that Dave had beautiful gardens. But what I THOUGHT was that Dave had beautiful flowers and hum-drum gardens.

I know that all these flowers represent time and money. That chatter runs through my head, certainly. What is it with me that I can't make something about them work? Am I such a brat that they have to go just because they were his?

Ummm.... yes, apparently. But I don't think (quite) that I'm being a brat. The mental lightbulb illuminated yesterday. Another little garden is on the chopping block. More flowers sent off to live somewhere else. Bring your spades. I'm serious.

However, I have decided this.... I need to clear the slate.... make the canvas clean.... choose your metaphor. I can't see what needs to happen out there until it's emptier. By the time I figure it out, the perennials that I'm giving away will need to be separated and thinned at their new homes. Perhaps they can come back here again, and settle in new places. Wouldn't that be interesting?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oh, Now I Remember

Subtitle: Knitting with Cats

I cast on for the Spindle Socks last night. (Unsurprisingly, I found some sock yarn in my stash.) Then I remembered part of why I fell away from knitting. Knitting with cats is like shoveling snow in a snowstorm, scheduling a picnic in northern Illinois in April... Idealism inevitably collides with reality -pretty much the story of my life.

I've been sharing my life and space with cats for about a year now, and my knitting has been floundering for longer than that. So, I really have no experience in sharing a knitting space with these little dears. And one (Cillian) is just a kitten, to make matters slightly more challenging.

So, I tried knitting with the little one in my lap and the bigger one sitting on my desk chewing on the yarn. Oh, that was fun. I tried closing the door to my office, and working in peace. Except they cried on the other side of the door. I had no heart for that.

But today, I stuffed the "sock" (all 52 stitches of it!) and its pattern into my briefcase. Perhaps I can knit before class tonight... or if I take a lunch....

Other ideas, oh wise ones?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

String Theory

I can't knit. I mean... I know HOW to knit. I love knitting. But the process of getting it done is all discombobulated. I need to recombobulate ;) Absent combobulation (???), I can't find the inspiration to even start. Last week I got together with some dedicated and inspiring knitters -and didn't have a knitting project. I sat there like a bump on a log. I couldn't make it all come together with yarn and needles and a project. Heaven knows, I have enough of each of those; I just couldn't get them to match up into a cohesive single project.

It's not simply a time management problem. Everything is a time management problem these days; that's just the water I swim in. But it's also perfectly obvious that for the things that matter to me, I find the time and I find the money. I've found the time to cook, at least a little bit. I've found the time to exercise and do yoga. I'm writing again. So, what are we going to do about this knitting thing?

In the old days, I had hours on end to knit, because sitting around helping people learn to knit was part of my schtick. I loved it, but it had to go. I needed my Saturdays in a huge way, so, I can't do that anymore. Mourn it; move on. What else did I do that worked? There was always a sock project in my purse. There was always a "mindless knitting" project that I could work on while watching a movie. There were projects by the chairs where I was likely to plop at the end of a day. I had knitting in my office, in case I wanted to take a lunch break and knit during that time. Sometimes I would commandeer one of the comfy chairs at the coffee shop and knit there for a bit. (Clearly, I've never been a linear knitter, dutifully finishing one project before starting another. Rather, certain projects met certain kinds of life-demands. Or capitalized on certain kinds of opportunities, I suppose.)

I'm pondering that insight. What kind of knitting can I do, that matches my life now? How can I capitalize on the little snippets of time I do have? Would it make sense to dive into knitting baby things and socks -small projects where I have a chance of completing them? There are no babies I'm particularly waiting for these days, but they do have a way of showing up ; And socks are always good, and are quite entertaining to knit.

And above all, can I start again without confronting my stash and my patterns? They are a huge mess. HUGE. A big scary jumble in corners of the house where I rarely go. Yes, it needs to be done. Yes, it's a source of embarrassment. Yet somehow it feels like starting something (anything) is more important than tidying, at this point.

First up: Spindle Socks by Anna Bell, with Cashmerino. I'll order the yarn today. I promise.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Me, Being Me

So, we're back to the "so, what?" question. On some level, I want all the pieces of my life -my work, my research, my home life, my yoga, my biking, and whatever else there is- to be all of a piece. The activities that are in my new life need to be the ones that make me, well, me. It's a high standard; I get that.

I had a disturbing academic encounter the other evening. Certainly there are un-intellectual academics. There are even anti-intellectual academics. Put a bunch of both types in a room with me, and I end up sitting there wondering if I've accidentally taken a train to Crazy-Town.

I don't question their right to be that way -not at all. I'm not suggesting that they're not smart and I am -not at all. I'm just questioning the good sense of me being in a room with them. I have a completely different orientation to how intellectual work gets done. It's hard to imagine that we have very much to offer each other.

So, rather than alienate myself from people (people I actually like, by the way), I started doodling and quasi-journaling. (Did it look like I was taking notes? I hope so.) Is this an essential activity? Who am I in this context? Can I be me in this context? Is this the path to get me where I want to go? Can I turn this into something productive, in spite of the barriers? Nothing like a little existential crisis in the middle of an unproductive meeting!

I didn't get far, because I did, in fact, have to listen a little bit -if only to be sure that I didn't get "volunteered" for anything. I did get this far, though. If I am going to do the "so, what" work, I'm in charge of that. Certainly there are mentors and guiding lights, but I have to find them. They weren't the people in that room, and that's the truth.

I'm not on my own, exactly. It's a big world, and there are plenty of connections to be made, yet. But I don't exactly know where I'm going from here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Science Proves What We Already Know....

The Importance of Hating Your Ex.

To be clear, however, for him to hate me is completely unjustified and is inconsistent with the just ordering of the cosmos. I find this to be a perfectly rational position to take ;) Any questions?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I'll Just Not Hear That

It's a particularly dysfunctional thing I do. Information that I don't want or can not absorb, I just find a way to not let into my consciousness. We have plenty of evidence that I do this. I hear you. "Really? You BELIEVED that your husband was working late all those nights? Seriously?????" It's a fair question. I did. And I believed that his public shaming of me was accidental. He just didn't know any better, I hypothesized. And, I do this in a thousand other ways that have nothing to do with Math-Rat.

On some level, the psyche is hard-wired to do this. Massive trauma can be buried entirely, until -or unless- the person is ready to deal with it. Even with sudden horrible news, such as news of an unexpected death, we can step outside ourselves and watch the information sink in, one tiny step at a time. It's healthy and protective that we have this skill. But like anything else, it can be over-done.

I have to un-learn this pattern, just a bit. For months now, the message from my friends has been "slow down.... you're doing too much." Picture me, with my fingers in my ears, singing "la, la, la" at the top of my voice. Andrea pouts.... donwanna hear it... won't hear it... you can't make me. I've even postulated that people advising me to slow down are engaging in a strange hegemony, asking me to want less, settle for less, to BE less.

But I think this is information that I need to let in. I'm not at all sure what I'm going to do with it once it's all the way in, but I think I may have been conflating slowing down with settling. But what the heck does it look like to simultaneously slow down and yet claim that you want to play in a bigger game? Seriously, on the ground, what does that look like? Or is full-speed-ahead, leaning into your life the only path that is going to work? Trying to break my thought habits may melt my brain. Stand by.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A little levity

The tattoos aren't real. I can't quite see a real one in my future, but these were fun! It's just part of how I spent Mother's Day 2010.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

More than Breakfast in Bed!

That's my Mom -camping with her wine glass and her hat! She deserves a whole day just to herself.

Originally, though, Mother's Day had a social justice purpose. It was a Mothers' Day for Peace, and Julia Ward Howe wrote its Proclamation. Oddly, she also wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic, so I'm struggling to understand her politics. Nonetheless, the proclamation bears remembering today.

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.
-Julia Ward Howe, 1870

Saturday, May 08, 2010


I've been engaged in a quiet project of getting rid of stuff. And then I realized it's more than stuff that's getting the big heave-ho. Sit down and get comfortable ;)

It started like this. I have not tended the gardens as they deserve -because they are not the gardens I want. So, I started with the most jungle-y of them and invited friends to come get its perennials. I'm clearing that garden out and putting something new there. A patio, a new back fence and some other stuff, thanks for asking. And then I realized that for about a month I have been taking 2-3 bags of stuff weekly to The Salvation Army, and there is plenty more where that came from. This isn't stuff that was Dave's; he took all of that. This is stuff that was ours.

And let's back up. I've blogged before about the house with no furniture. He took pretty much everything. I kept only the few things that I had brought into the marriage or purchased after the separation. I have some furnishings now, that's not a problem. But interestingly, the absence of furniture led to the backyard bonfire parties, which turned out to be really wonderful. I couldn't entertain any other way; I didn't have a couch for people to sit on. But I could cook hamburgers on the grill, buy a bunch of beer, and hang out with my friends in the yard. And now people are asking me when I'm going to start having those parties again, so I guess that worked out well. But the point is that the lack of stuff opened space for a new thing to emerge.

So, leaving aside the obvious and disturbing question of how a house that was allegedly empty still has so much stuff that's available to be donated, what IS going on?

I used my marriage -and its attendant stuff- to give me weight. I thought Dave's substance made me more interesting. I thought having matching crystal wine glasses connected me to other women who entertained in a certain way. I thought that having family antiques rooted me to families and their narratives. And I think that collectively, societally, we believe that, as well. Isn't that what registering for wedding gifts is about, on some level? Of course, none of those beliefs turned out to be true. It was all gone in the blink of an eye (ok... 2 years) and then I had this big blank space -literal and metaphorical- where our life together used to be.

I have rushed to fill that space -not so much with stuff, because that takes times and lots of money- but with activities. I must, I frantically thought, hurry and create my own substance, hurry and find my own ways of interacting with people, and rejoice in the new and more authentic connections I have with family. Consequently, my life has become a study in zero-sum time management.

I think my Discardia project is about off-loading thought patterns as well as stuff. You probably don't remember, but my word of the year was "architecture." I was going to spend this year creating the framework for the new life I want. I had not realized that an old framework had to be dismantled first. But I'm starting to see (with a certain lack of clarity, just yet) that this emptiness, too, creates space for something new to emerge.

Could this be calm that's ensuing? How would I recognize THAT???

And if you want perennials, come get them. I'll show you where to dig.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Public Health Principles

We have long known that good health is more than the absence of disease. In fact, good health is more than good physical health. Now, this ideological perspective about health feels like a big snooze, but once upon a time -and not so long ago- it was a huge paradigm shift. And it led, necessarily, to the next question. So, what is good health, smarty pants? Possibly it wasn't phrased quite like that, but you get the idea.

There are many, sometimes competing, sometimes complementary, answers to that question. For whatever it's worth, I find the United Nations definition as useful as any other. It has five components, and when I introduce it to students, I'm fond of drawing it in a five-pointed star. (I'm easy to entertain.) Good health, they suggest, consists of: physical health, mental health, intellectual health, spiritual health, and social health. This is a useful tool in part because it's possible to examine the health of a community as easily as the health of an individual using these categories.

Before this devolves into the well-rehearsed public health talk I sometimes am called upon to deliver, let's move along. As we have established, I feel a little stuck and muddled. It dawned on me that I am emphatically not healthy. Physically I am still pretty much not doing the things I need to be doing. Mental health-wise, I am confronting the consequences of some bitterness and anger. The consequences surprise me, as does the fact that I felt/feel bitterness and anger at all. Intellectually, I am a little frustrated because I don't have a compelling sense of the next-available question in the discipline. Spiritually, I don't even know where I want to go with that. And socially.... I have made messes that need to be fixed. It CAN NOT be true. I will not allow it to be true, that I have made myself too busy for my friends. Of course, it IS true, and must be rectified.

Other than that, though, I'm doing great ;)

So, that's the baseline. It matches up against the also-true thing that I am busy doing things I said I wanted to do. I am marching forward with some goals of mine. I am not only creating disasters. I get that. And yet.... there is existential angst, to put it stupidly.

I can not imagine that anyone wants to walk this walk with me. Nonetheless, my task, I think, is to fix this situation.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The So-What Question

As an undergraduate, I had a professor who, when the conversation became sticky, would make us take out paper and pen and write down our thoughts. He was Jacob Getzels and he would say, "Writing makes for clear thinking" in a really sanctimonious tone of voice. We would roll our eyes and get out the paper, and I thought he was a huge pain in my backside.

And yet, I hear his voice even now. And I still write when things are muddled. And I'm muddled. I need to pull out some mental weeds and let the right things grow.

My current boss has another way of getting at the same thing. He is fond of saying "so, what?" in an interested tone of voice, when faculty present their research ideas. He might occasionally mean, "Who in her right mind would spend time on this?" but most of the time he means some combination of, "Do you care enough about this to reflect on it and write about it in the early mornings and on weekends?" and "what impact (by whatever measure you like) will this have on the world?" If you can't answer the first one, you won't do the research. And if you can't answer the second one, you won't get paid to do it.

I think if I can answer the "so what" question (to say nothing of figuring out how to punctuate it), I will unstick myself. What are the things I'm willing to get up at the crack of dawn and do? Why would the world care (by whatever measure) if I do those things or not? And, being me, I won't be able to answer the question if I don't write.

So, I'm back, if only to dislodge myself from this icky place.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A Girl and her House

Today is the one year anniversary of me owning my very own house -all by myself. I almost didn't notice the date, but I was casting around for evidence that I had accomplished something...anything... in the last year. So I started making a list of the things in the house that I had accomplished. In a house this size and of this age, changing things is a bit like spitting in the ocean. There's always so much more to do, that it's easy to focus on (and see only) that part of the equation. So, just off the top of my head, here's the list.

  • Grill
  • Adirondack chairs
  • Garage torn down
  • Yard managed

I now have a picture in my head of where the yards and gardens are going. That's huge. Next up, this summer:
  • Back garden perennials relocated
  • Brick patio installed
  • Brick fire pit installed
  • 2 new Adirondack chairs built
  • Back fence and gate rearranged/extended
  • Composter assembled and located –somewhere
  • One small front yard garden re-arranged and made pretty

Front Porch
  • Rug
  • Wicker rocker
  • Table, tablecloth, clock
  • Curtains removed
  • planters

Next-up Project:
  • New storm door installed
  • Get it cleared off. It's become a winter-time mess.

Morning Room
  • New lamp

Ummm... I think that's it. This room is still in the emptying out, re-visioning phase.
Living Room
  • Rug
  • Couch
  • Chair
  • Bookshelf
  • Wine rack
  • Lamp

    Next-up innovations
  • Second bookcase

Dining Room
  • Dining room table
  • 8 chairs
  • New “china”
  • Removed doors from the dining room corner, where there was just a jumble. I hope the doors will replace uglier ones upstairs, but I haven’t checked yet.

    Next-up project:
  • Table linens

  • New silverware
  • Building a collection of new cookware
  • New kitchen table
  • new glassware

    Next-up project:
  • Copper ceiling installed; ceiling fan removed
  • Hideous, (seriously) light over the kitchen sink replaced with something nice.

Family Room
This uses to be the office, so it’s a paradigm shift
  • walls painted
  • Bought trim; it will be installed as well

Next-up project
  • Move pine cupboard upstairs to sewing room
  • Move my desk upstairs to new office
  • Install trim

Downstairs Bathroom
  • Toilet repaired, but really it needs to be replaced

    Next up innovations
  • hot water leak repaired

Sewing Room
  • Two new (custom) windows installed

    Next up innovations
  • Get it cleared out!
  • Look for a chest of drawers that can serve as a cutting table

Guest Room
  • Removed scoungy old bookcase
  • New clock

  • I have tentative arrangements to get a full-size wrought iron bed in there.

Workout Room
ahem.... nothing. At all.

Next-up project:
  • Clear out the yarn piles that have developed
  • Bring down the weights and the weight bench

New Office
  • Horrible carpet removed
  • Hardwood floor installed
  • painting finished
  • Have a full-on plan for the room
  • Have purchased the wall hangings

    Next up innovations
  • Prime and paint the trim. Touch up the ceiling where I got over-excited.
  • move the desk etc... upstairs
  • Order the futon

My bedroom
  • New bed
  • New curtains

Next-up Innovations
  • Remove carpet; have Pergo installed

Upstairs bathroom
  • Shower door removed
  • Recaulked the tub
  • Dry wall repaired; room is ready for re-painting
  • New curtains, towels, rugs, etc…
  • Two new pieces of furniture –armoires
  • New ceiling light installed
  • New low-flo “rain” shower head installed
  • Orchid for top of one armoire
  • New doorknob
  • New bathroom clock -which I seriously love

Next-up projects

  • Ceiling exhaust fan replaced
  • Painting

  • New sump pump
  • New furnace and central air
  • Programmable thermostat

Next up:
  • a new hot water heater, probably

If you've gotten this far in the list, you must be a dear friend. Which probably means that you've noticed that I had a LOT of help getting all of this done, for which I thank you. You might also have noticed that the "next up" projects are somewhat smaller and discrete. "Change a light fixture" is a lot different from "Oh my heaven's, I'm rattling around in an empty house." This is a respectable list for a year's worth of work and I certainly don't want to lose momentum or stop this project. But I need a little respite, and some free brain cells to work on other things -such as, my career, for instance.

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Training Report

I can safely say that this exercise (at formerly familiar levels, but new if you look more recently)has been fun. I'm still not getting everything done that I want to get done. Why am I skipping yoga so frequently? I love yoga. But probably I will meet my maker saying, "Wait.... I'm not finished....", so I'm trying to find my peace with that state of affairs.

In the last seven days, I have done the following:

rock climbing: 1
strength training: 3 (since I've started biking outside, I've had to drop my weights. My legs are TIRED.)
swimming -1/2 mile
biking: 3 hours
and on my rest day, I took a walk
yoga: 3

Compared to the baseline, it's good. Nonetheless, it's discouraging to think how far I have to go, yet.

The coming week's plan is:

Friday: strength training and cycling (in or out, depends on what time of day I can get to it.)
Saturday: outdoor cycling (cross your fingers) and yoga
Sunday: no climbing -kids unavailable :(, so.... yoga and cycling
Monday: 1/2 hour bike ride in the early a.m.; strength
Tuesday: swimming, , 1/2 hour bike ride in the early a.m., yoga
Wednesday:1/2 hour bike ride in the early a.m.; strength
Thursday: swimming, 1/2 hour bike ride in the early a.m., yoga
Friday:1/2 hour bike ride in the early a.m.;strength

Please, please, go Here to make a donation to the Chicago AIDS Ride. I'm all in. I hope you are, too!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Cillian and Claddagh Report

This story ends well, in case you're one of those people who reads the last page of a book first ;)

A few days ago, Cillian started this weird thing. He was skittish, and crying constantly, and would run away from me when I walked toward him. It was just awful to see, and I couldn't imagine what had happened. It didn't seem as though there was an injury, and the obvious indicators of illness weren't there. But clearly, he was sick. I called the vet, nervous first-time cat mom that I am. And they sounded worried, too.

The first night after I noticed this sadness, neither cat tried to sleep up on my bed. This is unusual. Weirdly, missing that annoying behavior made me more worried. When the clock went off, I had to go look for them.

I didn't have to look far; their beds are in my room. They were cuddled up in Claddagh's much bigger bed. Usually if they sleep together, they're jumbled up, like puppies in a pile. This time, they were spooning. I'm not kidding. They were nestled in, and Claddagh had his paw around Cillian's little tummy. I wish I had taken a picture, but I didn't want to disturb them.

Did Claddagh know that Cillian was sick? Probably. Did he surmise a stomach ache? OK, probably not. Probably they just wiggled around in the bed until they were both comfortable. And yet, it's hard not to anthropomorphize when it comes to Claddagh. He knows stuff, I swear.

And this morning, Cillian jumped on my bed for his morning snuggle, and now they're fighting over the toy mice. We're back to normal, apparently.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Training Indignities

So I hired a personal trainer. That was the source of the self-doubt the other day, by the way. I could hear Math-Rat's voice, suggesting that doing so was less-than his "just get on the bike and ride until your nether parts are blue" strategy.

But see... he knows not of personal trainers, and now I do. Young Aaron the Trainer is the reincarnation of Attila the Hun, and he's going to make a warrior out of me. No, that's not quite right. God love him, I walked in and subjected myself to being weighed and having my fat measured with calipers and my waistline measured, and thought I would expire from the shame. Aaron knows all these numbers. He is practiced at not saying "OH MY GOD" when he sees the results. Moreover, he just grabbed my crafted-during-my-lunch-hour training plan and reviewed it as though it were the Rosetta Stone. He takes me seriously. He is on board to get me through this, but I have to do the work.

He does, however, recognize a lost cause when he sees one. He has these cards that he carries around; each card has an exercise. I'm supposed to do each exercise for a minute; he shuffles the cards again while I'm doing my one-minute. The theory is -it's only a minute. He had me doing those pushups where you push off the ground and clap. Yeah... about that.

For the last one, there was no clapping. None. Just a sad little push-off. And as sometimes happens with random shuffling, that card came up again. Young-Aaron-the Tactful suggested that I just do pushups "seeing as you're likely to break your nose, otherwise." So, he's not beyond some gentle teasing, which I like very much.

I may become strong yet. We shall see.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Financial Report

Three people have donated to support the beneficiaries of the Chicago AIDS Ride. Thanks, dears! I appreciate the support. It makes me think you think I can do it -even though, I get it, you probably donated to, oh I don't know, the CAUSE!!!

If someone else wants to contribute, that would be great. Here's the link: Donate.

ideas for fundraisers

href="">Thermometers to
track fund raisers
- even href="">simple fundraisers

Monday, March 15, 2010

Self-Doubt Sucks -the post in which she lectures herself

For this insight, I went to graduate school?????

The insidious thing about self-doubt is that, when you're in the midst of it, it feels so justified. You know that other people occasionally feel doubt, but that they're just being humble or experiencing a momentary lapse. You, on the other hand, really are incapable, and everyone is about to know.


The truth? EVERYONE experiences authentic self-doubt sometimes. Presidents, philosophers, activists, writers, parents.... everyone. Some of us do live there a little more than others, this is true. The top ten reasons why I am inadequate can spring to my mind with very little prompting, and this training I'm undertaking is activating that process quite nicely.

This is a strange twisted path for me. The link between being told repeatedly (however subtly) that you're inadequate and then coming to believe that to be your own thought, is well documented. People participate in their own oppression all the time. But honestly, I thought it was more likely to apply to children and, well, people less gifted in the intellect department.

Really, you want to make this argument?? I'm smart enough that I ought to be impervious to insidious emotional abuse. Therefore, I must be authentically incapable. Isn't this kind of the opposite of self-doubt? Well, no, on two fronts. First, arrogance and self-doubt are quite frequently the same thing. And secondly, the more fundamental (primitive, as in "first in time") parts of our brain -which have nothing to do with intellect- understand repetition and rehearsal. And the "Andrea's not as good as Math-Rat at just about anything" message (everything from higher-order reasoning to washing dishes and grocery shopping were covered, believe me) has been widely repeated -frequently by me. Rather, repetition over decades will penetrate even the toughest of shields; very few people are that resilient in the face of abuse.

So, now what? It's not so much about re-erecting the shield, these days. There's no one -other than me- trying to bash it in. It's about changing the messages. Dave's strategy, conscious or subconscious, I really can't say, was to take a strong person, and set it up so that everything he did was better than what that person did. Therefore, he must be a strong person. When that person (me) was fully broken, I could no longer fulfill my assigned role. Being discarded was inevitable.

The flip side to that same thing is that the game only works if it starts with a strong person. Ergo... I'm a strong person. Or at least, I was, once. But who cares if a person now known to be shallow and sad himself recognized me to be strong? I don't, actually. But it's time to acknowledge that many many of the negative messages in my own head are actually his. His game. His narrative. His needs.

I'm not quite up to replacing those thoughts with happy, uplifting self-talk, but I can acknowledge that many of the negative thoughts are NOT MINE. And, I do at least know that I'm smart enough to have thoughts of my very own.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Training Geekery

For one thing, I apologize. Apparently, all I have to do is announce to the the universe that I intend to start training outside. We are now scheduled for 16 days straight of rain. Perhaps I should take up ark-building?

Let's do the numbers -my weight is n-1.4. This is a trend I can live with.

My training went pretty well, but not perfectly last week. I would feel great about it if I could revert to my "you have a lifetime of getting and being fit; relax" attitude. So, I'm trying for that attitude again, even though there is this looming deadline in my head. And there was a certain amount of moping and sadness, which I expected, since I had hoped that biking would be a "together sport" for my ex-husband and me. Now I get to turn it into a solo-sport, which is just a different kind of fine. But I get to mope sometimes, too; even expected grief is grief. At least it wasn't debilitating.

This week's training plan:

Sunday: rock-climbing (which I'm thinking of as fun as well as lower-body strength work) at the 5.easy, 5.6 or maybe5.7 level- and abs yoga
Monday: 30 minutes of steady-state stationary cycling (or outdoors, if possible); Yoga for Strength
Tuesday: swimming (I hate to admit this, but I'm starting out with 9 laps, which is just 1/4 mile), abs yoga, and lower-body strength work
Wednesday: 1/2 hour walk on the treadmill and yummy yoga
Thursday: 9 laps swimming, abs yoga, and lower body strength training
Friday: 45 minutes of cycling, including intervals, and yoga
Saturday: long ride -just to see how long is comfortable. Surely I can do 15 miles.

There is no rest day, which worries me. But a) one will probably just happen, and b) Wednesday is pretty easy. There is also no upper-body weight work. I'm getting around that by claiming that swimming is gentle cardio as well as upper body strength work. I've always been an upper-body swimmer. And when you add in my generally woeful fitness level, my arms will be sore from swimming, I'm quite sure.

So, there you go. Physical health, emotional health (to use the word "health" somewhat loosely!), and marching orders for this week. It's coming together.

Friday, March 12, 2010

She Considers her Equipment Needs

When confronted with a big new project, my first (unhealthy) thought is, "ooh, I get to buy things." This strategy is weak because it hurts the pocketbook and does not, in and of itself, move the project forward. It's the same as the tendency I have to buy more books than I can read. Or more yarn than I can knit. Or.... well, you get the idea. If I am not going to use the piece of equipment right away, then perhaps I should consider more carefully.

That said... CAN I go shopping?

Bike shorts: Given the Montana-sized person that must be stuffed into them, I think I need new ones. These shorts are horrifying enough, without having them be too small. And I need enough of them that they don't have to be laundered every day, because what are the chances of that happening??

Long-sleeved bike shirts: These have such a short shelf-life that I have avoided buying them. Similarly, I don't have lycra sleeves. Why would a person buy just the sleeves of a garment?? Well, because they want to ride outdoors when it's really too cold yet to be doing that.

Clipless pedal shoes. Mine are just plain worn out. I would like to have the sandals, but I can't have everything all at once!

A trainer? Math-Rat ended up with the trainer, which at the time I thought was fine. Well, it was fine, but now I might need one of my own. This is a maybe; I do have a spin bike.

Cool sunglasses. Sunglasses aren't optional. But I don't WANT to just go to Target and get sunglasses. I either need to get prescription sunglasses, or get cool biker's glasses and wear my contacts for riding. Thoughts?

Tunes: I need some more biking playlists for indoor training. Ideas?

Yoga media: DVDs... podcasts....I don't care. But I need something new. I received Rodney Yee's new (to me) Yoga: Core Cross-train from netflix and tried it last evening. Ahem. About that. As I've been saying rather a lot, "at least I know the baseline now." I'll keep the DVD for a couple of weeks and see if I can make some progress.

I went to Wrench Night last night, met up again with some wonderful people, and learned a bit more about my bicycle. And, I heard the good news that the green bike is ready. I'll pick it up today and, if there is still enough daylight enough after work, I'll ride tonight. Otherwise, tomorrow for sure!

Today's training plan: either cycling outdoors or a golden-oldie step workout and a yoga podcast. Probably I should stick with the actual plan and do the step workout. There was a method to my madness in putting that workout there in the rotation. We'll see if I have that much self-control!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Post in which She Reveals the Baseline

Serious cyclists sometimes fret, trying to shave an ounce or two off the weight of their bicycles. I have a heavy bike and a light bike, and I absolutely agree that those ounces matter. But believe me when I tell you that the weight of the bicycle is not the problem, here. I find myself unwilling to reveal the precise number that showed up on my bathroom scale this morning, but at this weight I should at least be imminently delivering twins. Got the picture? For our purposes, we will call this number n. By race date, I would like to be discussing n-16, or even n-20 wouldn't go amiss.

Fitness-wise, I haven't been on the real bikes since last season, so it's hard to judge. Thirty minutes on the spin bike at a steady-state is pretty easy. Add some fictional hills and it feels like my heart is going to jump out of my chest. My uber-flexibility of days gone by is gone, but it's returning slowly. I've never been strong. Rock-climbing has made me somewhat stronger, but it's time to take that little problem in hand. Without strong abs, you can't ride 190 miles, and that's the truth.

Here's the training plan for this week. Questions, comments, suggestions are totally welcome.

Wednesday: 30 minutes of rapid, but steady-state (which makes it easier), cycling; here and there I did some Isolated Leg Drills. But holy mackerel with that. I didn't do many. And I did a shoulder-opening yoga sequence, for about 20 minutes. I was arguing with the cats about whose yoga mat this really is, so the practice was a little wonky. The upside? You have to do jump-throughs when there's a big fat cat sitting where you want to step ;)
Thursday: yoga only -This is my rest day, so I'll do some dreamy, flexibility-focused yoga.
Friday: yoga, a short step workout, and upper body strength training -The step workout seems counter-intuitive, but at my age I am reluctant to give up impact work entirely. My mom's already got mild osteoporosis. I need to do what I can to prevent it.)
Saturday: cycling and yoga. If the bikes are ready, I'll go for the first outside ride of the year!!! If not, I'll stick with the spin bike. Whichever, it's going to be 45 minutes.

It'll be easier to see where strength training and cross-training fit in when you can see an entire week. They are there, I promise.

The books I'm reading to focus my thinking: Shape Up with the The Slow Fat Triathlete by Jayne Williams. She is so wry and insightful, and at the same time so motivating. Like Ms. Williams, I will be an imperfect athlete, but an athlete nonetheless. I am also reading Total Body Transformation: A 3-Month Personal Fitness Prescription For a Strong, Lean Body and a Calmer Mind. Ummm... yeah... I'll take some of that. But the jury is still out on that book. We'll see. It might lean too much toward drinking some weird mystical Kool-Aid; it's a little cult-ish.

And Wrench Night at North Central Cylery is tonight. Hopefully I will get some ride sponsors and re-learn about caring for my bike. Anything mechanical is a source of existential angst for me. But, as with so much of this "brave new life" process, I need to tend to my own safety. Doing so carries some pride with it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My New Focus

Well, the universe provided. And as usual, I'm quite nervous about the opportunities it seems to be...ummmm.... offering. It does have a rather heavy hand, the universe does. But perhaps light touches go unnoticed when it's me.

Here's the story.

As you probably don't remember -but I do- I stepped back from some commitments this semester in order to focus more attention on "life architecture" tasks. And that has been successful. My name is finally all-the-way changed (except today I detected a last little glitch in that process, but I will rectify it tomorrow). I've made some important progress toward furnishing and tending my home. Some other things are coming along as well.

I've even gently and slowly started to reclaim a fitness regimen. And then.... I was offered the opportunity to ride in the Chicago AIDS Ride. It's a 190-mile, 2-day ride from Chicago to Milwaukee and vice-versa. "Oh sure," I said.

And then I plotzed. What did I just say????? THe evil twin who lives in my head started talking, and the procrastination began. I won't be ready that early. I'm not good enough. I can hardly change a flat tire on the green bike of wonderment. (It really is hard, just to be clear.) Dave's the bike rider, not me.

Oh for crying out loud. Is there EVER going to be a point where he's not taking up space in my head?

Having noticed that this is -again-the problem, I plunked down my money to ride. I am not signing up any more to have him define what I do and don't do. I committed myself to raising $1000. (Please don't make me ride 190 miles AND donate $1000. Seriously.) I have readied the bikes to go to the bike shop for a tune-up. I must choose between Wrench Night at the bike shop and the ride orientation tomorrow night. I think I'd best go to Wrench Night, to get re-oriented to bike mechanics but also to find potential sponsors. There will be other ride orientations. I have signed up for a one-on-one tutorial about dealing with my particular bike issues. I have a training plan.

And.... we're off. The baseline sucks. Seriously, I have only once before been in this poor physical shape, and then I was coming off a serious illness. But I have committed myself -not to finishing elegantly, but to finishing.

Think about what this ride is for, for crying out loud. If people can confront the terror of an AIDS diagnosis, this fear of mine is put nicely into perspective. Get on the bike. How bad could it be, particularly when I love to ride my bike??? (Yes, I've ridden enough to know the answer to that question, but let's let the glow spread for a little while.)

So, I will be part of Team Youth Outlook, because a colleague and friend is on their Board. Go here to learn more about Youth Outlook and its work in the community. And go here to learn more about the Chicago AIDS Ride. And PLEASE go here to make a donation.

And I will report here how the training and the progress move along -even if it's backward from time to time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dogs Change Lives

I have thoughts about where -and why- this blog is going. And I considered "the final resting place of defunct blogs" as one of the options. However I decided that there is still too much to do and too many things upon which to reflect. But that's tomorrow's story.

Today's story is this. Pets can change lives. And, as crazy as I am about Claddagh and Cillian the Cats, dogs can change lives in stupendous ways. Susquehannah Service Dogs, a favorite charity of mine, is having an on-line contest for the best story of how a dog has changed a person's life. There are prizes and fame for the author of the story, and lots of good hugs for the canine star of the show (assuming he's still with us). But the important thing to me is that we ponder the joy that animals can bring to our lives and that we think about what it means to be appropriately responsible-yet-humble caretakers of these awesome animals who trust us to care for them.

Want my story?

It's about Wyatt the yellow lab, my sister's dog. He's getting old, bless his heart. He's famous in the service dog industry for an amazing insightful discovery that protected some girls from further abuse from sexual predation. Somehow, he saw their pain before anyone else did. So, we know he's amazing already. But that was a long time ago, and Wyatt is retired now.

But then my life took a turn for the surreal. My husband discarded me, in a hailstorm of gratuitous cruelty and disorienting pain. Psychologically bloodied, I showed up on my sister's doorstep in a state of near-total disarray. I know that she and her family cared for me very tenderly. I know that because I wrote it in my journal, but I really don't remember much about those first few days of my new life.

But I do remember Wyatt. He came out of retirement for me, rarely leaving my side. I think he's not supposed to sleep in the guest room. But because he's a service dog, he knows how to open doors, and he made a judgment call. He opened that door in the night and slept by my side. He sat at my feet while we ate, with his head resting in my lap. Sometimes it almost seemed like he was trying to crawl into my lap. He's too big and my lap is too small, but I appreciated the thought.

And when nothing else worked, and I had to just sit on the floor and cry, Wyatt would come up behind me. He's quite a big dog, so when he settled right behind me, I could lean up against him with no worries that I was hurting him. He would snuffle in that dog way, and then settle in and breathe. He would wait until my breath steadied to his, and then -apparently- decide that I had it together for the next little while, and would wander off.

There were no words that could comfort me in those first few days. The righteous indignation and anger my friends expressed helped later. It helped immeasurably. But in those first few days, those sentiments just jangled me further. Wyatt saw what needed to be done, and offered his huge gentle heart, and just breathed with me.

Man, I love that dog.

So... tell your story. The online entry form is here: Dogs Change Lives. You can submit a story until February 28.