Mar 22, 2015

Boston, Baby...

I have a story to tell, kids.

Today's story is about Massachusetts, and how God works things out in wonderful ways sometimes. Not every time; but sometimes he arranges things in ways that make me giggle just a little bit.

It begins with the springtime, and this springtime is particularly exciting because we and friends around us are finding out our follow-on assignments; that is, where we are headed after this year of ACSC.

We had heard rumors of Florida. It's perhaps a little indulgent, but we thought about beaches, and relative proximity to some dear friends (and Disney World), and seafood, and investing in swimsuits and boogie boards instead of the snow gear and sleds we've accumulated in 4 of our 6 locations over the past 14 years.

The thing about rumors, though, is that you have to be careful how much stock you put in them. I mean in the military life, even official stuff that's in writing can change, so rumors have to be taken with a boulder-sized grain of salt. So we didn't sell any of our snow boots or anything, which is good, because when the assignment came through it was Massachusetts instead of Florida.

To begin with, I was surprised. I had known that Massachusetts was a possibility, but I didn't expect us to get sent there for many reasons (which have varying bases in reality). My brain had to make a bit of a paradigm shift from tropical drinks to shoveling snow, but the thing about that is that I was going from an imagined potential reality to a familiar and true one. What's more, it was going to a familiar and true reality that carries a wealth of fond memories for us. So as the day wore on and I started thinking snow pants instead of tankinis, I also got to think about dear friends and places we have missed for several years now. I got to send messages to a couple of said friends, one of whom immediately texted back "DON'T TEASE ME!!!" because we have a lot of trust and mutual respect, and have maybe been known to tease each other when important info is on the line.

It was when we got to tell the kids that really started the wheels turning. His Highness was born in Massachusetts, after all, and it turns out that for all the possibilities and excitement about beaches, he was even more excited to return to his birthplace. The younger kids haven't been there yet, but as we began to tell them of the sights and activities we had enjoyed, they (and we) got more and more excited as well.

It is also true that every place has its downsides. On the day we found out our assignment, it was 60 or so degrees in Alabama, but I believe there were something like a zillion feet of snow on the ground in the greater Boston area. This winter has been record-breaking (over 108" of snow this season), and maddening, and really unpleasant from all I can gather. Their winter days are really short, and really dark, and sunshine isn't guaranteed any time of year. So there's that.

But there is also SUCH beauty. There are the green summers, and the vibrant autumn leaves, the amazing amount of history in the area, and pretty much the coolest little-big-city ever. And (most) people there know how to use traffic circles. Plus, we're moving in the summer, so we will arrive to the best of all the things. We have a lot to look forward to.

Amid this swirl of memory and emotion, I began to think about work. I've been doing a mostly stay-at-home gig ever since we moved from Mass, and it's an interesting thing because in recent months I've started to sort of wonder and dream about what the next few years might hold for me career-wise. It hasn't kept me up at night or anything, but just a light "Hmmmm, I wonder..." on the back burner. Well long story short, Tiny E heads to preschool this year and while it's not the exact timing I'd have chosen, it's a really good set-up for me to return to work part-time with my same company (fortunately, they feel the same way).

So that's what I mean today, when I say that God works things out in weird and wonderful ways sometimes. I had a half-thought, but he already had things worked out in a way that will be an easier-than-usual transition for us. He decided that the next thing would be to send us back to a place we've already known and loved. And he doesn't always do things this way, so I've decided to see it as a gift, even though it will mean buggy summers, and snow, and dark mornings, and winter dates with the treadmill (but now there are PODCASTS!).

I see it as a gift that I get to feel truly excited about this move. Moving has so many different feelings that go with it, so it's a gift to know (at least somewhat) what you're getting into, and to feel excited about it.

In the meantime, we have an entire springtime season to enjoy in lovely Montgomery, and a lot of life happens in a season, so we have a lot to do before we head north. So carry on, friends. Carry on...

Feb 27, 2015

Lessons From a Dress...

You guys. The dress.

Got it here
Certainly by now you've seen it, at least if you are on Facebook or Reddit or HuffPost. It was one of the two viral-est stories in my feed yesterday, along with the runaway llamas (shout out to Arizona!).

It's ridiculous, really. Someone posted a phone photo of the dress, and said there was great debate amongst friends as to whether it was white & gold or black & blue, and then the rest of the internet took up teams to try to gain consensus (or at least to form factions; either-or).

Now, right away I saw white & gold. I took my cues from the back-lit surroundings and assumed it was in the shadows, hence the dimmed colors. I asked The Littler One, and he agreed that it was white & gold. There was also the slightest amount of irritated condescension in his voice as he asked, "Why are you asking me this?" as if I should know by now that he is really and truly solid on his colors. So we joined #TeamWhiteGold.

Then of course there were copious discussions and articles and so on, which made me go crosseyed until I found an article that actually answered the question. And I was very pleased indeed that I was right, that the dress was white & gold.

This all happened in the space of about 20 minutes last night, and by the time I went to bed I was beginning to see how the dress debate was going to take over much of Facebook for a while, and I sighed a little sigh of anticipatory boredom, and lamented all the sheeple in this world, and focused my attention on more interesting distractions (Yes, I realize I'm devoting an entire blog post to this "sheeple-y" topic. Thank you for noticing that).

I thought about the factors that go into our perceptions of things. I mean, Big Groups of People fight about how the other Side is wrong all the time, even over issues that many will agree are open to interpretation. When we are honest, we admit that it is possible to look at things differently from each other, and still maybe not reach a right and correct answer. And here was this dress giving us a concrete example of not only seeing things differently than each other, but somehow scientifically, physically SEEING actual objects differently than others would. I don't know much about eye anatomy, but I know it has to do with differences in our eyes and brains, and color wavelengths, and some stuff about chromatic bias and whatnot. And as far as I can tell, it truly is just differences, and not a matter of higher or lower functioning.

I thought it was a good & healthy thing to be confronted with, and I thought it was cool that something as lighthearted and simple as a bit of fashion could teach us something about overarching worldviews.

But wait...there's more.

This morning I woke to see that the dress had indeed taken over the internet. I rolled my eyes good-naturedly and scrolled right on by most of the "catch-up" posts of people who had joined the phenomenon more recently than I. I posted a deep thought on a friend's wall about the whole seeing-things-differently idea, and I congratulated myself for rising above the sheeple and reaching transcendence about the dress (and also for having superior rods & cones that could perceive the actual color of the dress, unlike some people).

And then.

Then Huffington Post published an article about the dress. And they found the person who took the original photo to begin with. And they found the actual company that made the actual dress, and posted a screen grab of the dress on that company's website. And guess what?

That's right, the dress is black and blue. For realsies. Whatever I was reading before, that said it was actually white and gold, was a bunch of nonsense.

And guess what else? My inner tone shifted ever so slightly. When I thought I knew I was right, I was thinking "Oh, how interesting that we all see the dress differently. I'm so glad my rods & cones work better than some." When I found out the verifiable truth, I shifted a little to "Dude, chromatic bias and my rods & cones really got me on this one."

Notice--even though I was wrong--that I still decided my rods & cones worked just fine (and my eye doctor would agree--they really do), whereas when I thought I was right, it was most certainly because of superior functioning on my part.  It turns out there's a difference between agreeing to disagree while retaining a bit of irritated condescension (who, me??), and agreeing to disagree and staying open to the possibility (or outright fact) that you're wrong. I mean, maybe there's room for both, but I certainly learned a little bit from my own experience here.

That said, I don't want to paint too broad a picture. I'm not suggesting overarching moral relativism, or the absence of truth, or anything like that. But I do think it's a good and healthy thing to leave room for humility and extend grace to those of differing opinions, and be aware that sometimes you might go to bed one night thinking one thing, and then read an article the next morning and realize everything you thought about that thing is fully and completely wrong.

As for my own perceptions, the more I looked at the picture within the context of the truth, the more I started to see the blue & black. It took some doing, along with looking at some of the images where the settings were adjusted and/or corrected, and looking at them on my computer screen instead of my phone, but I was finally able to see the blue (looking much lighter than its actual royal color) and the black (that was looking way out of whack due to the effect of the overhead lighting on the phone camera, but was still visible as black).

(And now, of course, I can hardly see anything except blue & black, or at least blue & brown. Cuz our brains can really mess with us.)

So keep that in mind the next time you see a phone photo of a dress of dubious color. Or, you know, if you're involved in a friendly debate that begins to get heated. No matter how much you see white & gold, there's quite possibly a chance that things are blue & black.

Got it here

You're welcome...

Feb 13, 2015

Friday Confessional...

I have decided that I'm an information junkie.

I'd like to blame having Facebook on my phone. Anytime I think I'll "just check" to see what's going on, I end up lingering, and before I know it a half hour has passed. Maybe if I take Facebook off my phone...

Except that before I had a smartphone I had my computer, and I would just sit down there. So maybe it's the fault of Facebook period. Stupid wall. I mean, there are friends I keep up with, but a lot of the time I ask myself if I'm truly being a friend to all these acquaintances, or just being voyeuristic in a socially acceptable way.  Maybe if I get off Facebook altogether...

Except that when I'm not on Facebook I like to watch TED talks, and I just found some podcasts I really enjoy. And before Facebook I would sit and read blogs, and comment on blogs, and get into all sorts of important-sounding-but-ultimately-pointless discussions. Now I still read blogs, but I (like to think I) am a little more intentional about which ones I keep up with.  Maybe if I give up all blogs...

Except that before blogs I had favorite websites I would visit. I would read the AZ Republic online, especially the comics. I would visit Homestar Runner (which, incidentally, I heard might be coming back with new material?!) and other sites. Maybe if I stay off computers except for work- and home-related stuff...

Except that before computers I still read magazines. And books. And the actual newspaper (when we had a subscription a zillion years ago). And the backs of toothpaste tubes. And pretty much whatever I could find.

I like reading stuff, and learning stuff. I like knowing things from a lot of angles. It makes it harder to find my own, solid-line opinion sometimes, but I'm finding I don't mind that so much. Sometimes it feels freeing to let go of having to decide for sure and just "live in the tension," as my pastor says. So basically, I've always been an information junkie.

Now of course there's a downside to this, and that is that I have a hard time turning it off, this need to take in information. Sometimes info piles up and instead of processing and letting it go, things get a little tangled. Sometimes I get a little mindless, like a little outwardly-calm-but-crazed animal in search of a meal. Must read must read must read. It might sound weird, but I wonder if this is its own form of gluttony. Overconsumption of info.

It's tricky because it's not visible. And it sounds very smart and noble to say "Oh, I read a lot." But I have my days where my mind is racing and I'm puttering around the house and can't focus well, and I fight an urge to go pick up my phone (or a book, or magazine, or...) and read or watch something. I can sense in myself a general unease, but it's hard to break the pull of information. And I don't know that it does justice to the things I do read, you know? Like if I sit down and inhale an entire cream pie (yum, cream pie...), I don't enjoy it as much as if I have a slice, and eat it slowly, really tasting each bite (not to mention the greater ease of digesting a slice. Or two). If I'm just reading reading reading, I don't get a chance to mull over what I've read.

One could argue that it's a case of having too much time on my hands, but I'm not sure how much I agree with that. I've had seasons of calm and seasons of busy, and somehow this need for info is always there.

There have been times where I've been forced to stop taking in information, and you know what happened? I calmed down a little. I got a little more meditative in my thoughts, instead of racing around finding more info to consume. I was better able to focus on the moment; as my therapist says, to train my observational self, rather than my thinking self (whom we've determined gets a little anxious).

So I'm really mulling over how to chill out a little. I'm trying to work in more actual writing time, away from the computer. Nothing profound; mostly lists and daily records, with a few notes or letters thrown in. Our church started a series on the book of 1 Peter, so I'm thinking instead of flitting about from article to article (and comment threads, God help us all), I could come back to that as needed, sort of like a healthy snack. I have a stack of paper books that I'm working my way through (I'll never give up paper, no way), and in general I only read them at nighttime, and recently I've been transitioning to a one-book-at-a-time rule; I think that actually helps me moderate pretty well.

I read an article somewhere about being a producer, rather than just a consumer. It was written in the context of creativity. Like, how it's easy to read stuff, and look at nice art and things like that. It's much harder to produce something of your own, but it's also more valuable because then you are contributing to creativity and art and whatnot.

It's not all that different from running. I love to talk about running, but as I've been training for my upcoming race, I feel like more of a producer. I haven't even done any official races, but somehow I feel more a part of the running community (and also, you know, the stuff about burning more calories is nice...).

So it is with information, I think. I love to read. I love to look stuff up on the internet and learn to use resources and stuff. But instead of just getting my thinking self all amped up, I love the idea of making something and contributing my own little piece to the community, and giving my thoughts the time to form connections and ideas, rather than just buzzing in and out and around and to and fro. I think it's worth the effort to "burn" through thoughts and ideas so they don't get all stopped up.

It's hard because it's work, but I think it's valuable...

Feb 11, 2015

Old School Handwriting...

I've been thinking about handwriting lately. They say humans' hands are starting to develop differently because of texting--as technology moves on we use our hands differently, which of course makes our muscles work and strengthen differently.

So much of my written communications is actually typed communication. Emails, messages, and the like are typed or tapped because it's quick and travels at light speed to where it needs to be. I mean, I can be in the middle of chores, pull my phone out of my back pocket (or fanny pack, which I'm helping to bring back BTW. A story for another post...), and have a conversation with a friend in AZ or FL (or MA, or several other states...). I have a computer in the kitchen, but it's still quicker to thumb-type on my phone. It's wonderful.

Still, I feel inextricably tied to old school handwriting. I've tried out a couple of digital planning tools, but I remember best with an "analog" system--yes, they call paper and pen analog these days. Some lists I keep on my phone, but I write in my Smiley Diary each day, and it makes me feel peaceful to take that few minutes and write out what I've done, what I need to do, and any other random thoughts that need to leak out at that moment. They say there's something neurological that happens with writing. The brain-hand connection of actually forming the letters bonds us with the words in a way that typing--as efficient as it is--just can't.

I can still feel the effects of the digital way of things, mind you. When writing, I get impatient with the ends of my words, and they often look like nondescript zig-zags (Luckily, I've taken enough Facebook quizzes to know I only need to include a few letters of the word to later decipher what I'm trying to say). Still, occasionally I'll slow down and deliberately take the time to form each letter. It really is beautiful, the things we can form with just some paper and ink (or lead).

A friend sent me a handwritten card a few weeks ago, and I have yet to write back. This is the drawback, I think, to maintaining a skill as the advancements continue around it. I will write back though, because there's just something about taking that few minutes to share a little extra in the form of the written word...

Feb 5, 2015

The Daily Mooooooovie, and Other Random Tales In Brief...

Tiny E and I have a daily ritual. We get the boys off to school, and then she says "Mom, I wanna watch a moooooovie." And so each morning she picks out a moooooovie to watch while I do my back exercises and general puttering about the house, and then we go on with our day.

Like most kids (I assume), she goes in spurts with her favorites. We spent several weeks watching all the Shreks, interspersed with a couple weeks of The Princess Bride, along with the occasional Pixar Short Films compilation. And of course over the holidays we upped the electronics consumption so we could indoctrinate them with show all our favorite Christmas movies.

Well our efforts have not been in vain. Here, in the first week of February, Tiny E has decided that she likes A Christmas Story. She says, "I wanna watch A Christmas Story," and I'm all "Really? It's a Christmas movie," and she's all, "Yep, I wanna watch it."

Sometimes I struggle with really small matters of principle. I mean, should I allow this unseasonal consumption? Will it destroy the Christmas magic later in the year? But I decided to allow the movie for several reasons, most of which are inconsequential. Mostly, I decided that it simply doesn't matter that much to me, and for a little kid she has really good taste in movies, and heck I'd rather watch A Christmas Story over the Buddies franchise most any day.

*****

In other random news, His Highness was getting ready for school today when I looked in his closet and found no pants. No school uniform pants is a problem to begin with, but I was even more surprised to find no pants whatsoever. "Geez, you're completely out of pants. Let me go check the dryer."

Well I went to check the dryer and found that it was still damp from the night before. Dangit. I started it, but upon checking the clock I realized there wasn't time for the clothes to dry properly before the bus came.

I said, "I'm sorry Your Highness, I'm not sure what to do. The pants won't be dry in time."

He replied, surprisingly calmly and somewhat cryptically, "Oh don't worry Mom, I'm sure I can work something out."

I'm all, "Whatever," and ran off to put out a fire or some such Mom nonsense that goes on during school mornings.  I returned to find him putting on pants he had pulled from under his bed. I said, "What, do you have some sort of pants stash under there?" And I took a look and found he did, indeed, have some sort of pants stash under the bed, containing enough clean pants to get him through the rest of the school week.

I questioned him but got no comprehensible answer as to his reasoning for a pants stash. The most logical guess I can make is that when it comes to his newly-acquired responsibility of hanging his own laundry, he didn't want to bother with the pants clips and tossed them under the bed so I wouldn't find them and nag him to hang up his pants already.

I kind of wish I'd thought of that. This kid has a lot to teach about simplifying chores.

*****

And finally, a story about the Littler One. We joke that he'll either grow up to be President of the United States, or the dictator of a small Latin-American country. He's been giving me a hard time about obeying lately. Like, instead of the more passive-aggressive procrastination and overall dilly-dallying, he'll just flat-out refuse in his most intimidating voice. So I've been attempting to tread the line of having compassion, but also not taking any guff, Mister. Which results in some really interesting conversations around our house.

Anyway, last night I was on the final stretch toward bedtime. Everyone was bathed and dressed, and I was herding them toward the hallway for the brushing of the teeth and the reading of the books (The Cat Daddy wisely steered clear, as I do when it's his turn to do bedtime). His Highness and Tiny E had brushed teeth, but the Littler One, as usual, kept finding urgent distractions to keep him from succumbing to this vicious nightly ritual we call rest, while I was being pulled by the distractions of small children trying to trash the place on the way to their bedrooms.  So along the way I kept asking and asking, and he kept disappearing toward the bathroom, only to be pulled toward the siren songs of toys and books.

Well finally, I said, "DID YOU BRUSH?!?!?" and he replied, "YES!!!!" and I said, "I'm going to check your toothbrush!" because I had put the paste on all the brushes so I'd be able to tell if his had been used or not.

So he ran off and shut the bathroom door. I thought for a second and decided that he was full of it, and was only just then brushing his teeth, and lying to me, and I had just had enough. I barged in, and he gave a little yelpy scream and tried to wedge himself and his toothbrush behind the door, but I am strong and wiry and clever, and I wrestled him for his toothbrush and went to feel the bristles, only I came away with more toothpaste on my finger than I had put on the brush to begin with.

I looked, and the toothpaste I now held on my finger was a completely different type than I had put on for him to brush with. It was his sister's toothpaste, which is pink, and which he'd rather die than be caught using, so I was greatly surprised. I said, "What the--"

Suddenly a look of victory came over his face. He was laughing and said, "I trapped you Mom, it was a TRAP!!!"  And he ran off, bragging to His Highness, "Guess what, I trapped Mom!" while I washed the toothpaste off my finger. He was gleeful, in fact. I feel like he felt he had leveled-up somehow in his grasshopper-mom-bewilderment training.

Here's the thing--my kids surprise me in little ways all the time, but they very rarely leave me speechless. However, in this instance I had no words. Like, how do I even enter the process whereby the Littler One thought he would put toothpaste on a toothbrush to trip me up? Was getting toothpaste on my fingers the original goal, or just a happy byproduct of goofing off? And the most obvious question, to remain forever unanswered: did he ever actually brush his teeth, or was that just new toothpaste on top of the original dose I put on there?

All of this points to reasons we won't be surprised if he somehow grows up to overthrow a small Latin-American government and instill himself as dictator. Because he pretty much does whatever he wants, and laughs maniacally when things go his way.

*****

So, how was your Thursday??

Feb 3, 2015

Safety Run...

When we were living in Virginia, our little town had two pedestrian deaths within a couple years of each other. You can talk statistics and safety and risk and stuff until you're blue in the face, but when something like that happens in your community, it tends to make you pause--if just for a moment--and think a few things through.

Now, perspective is needed here. On the one hand it's easy to freak out and buy some bubble wrap, and cry "Infrastructure!" and "Stay indoors!" But the truth of the matter is that you can take every single precaution known to man, and even give up the fullness of life, and in the end, accidents and bad things still happen sometimes. Humanity, imperfect world, blah blah blah.

On the other hand, throwing caution to the wind and being careless is really just unwise, you know? "I do what I want, it's others' job to look out for me." No, dummy. While the pedestrian having the right of way is technically true, it's a high price to pay for being right. Because physics, and all.

So as with most things in life, I look for balance. I'm cheap, so I don't like to spend a lot on fancy stuff unnecessarily, but the reality of two people dying made me take safety a little more seriously with my running. So here's what I do to stay safe out there in the asphalt jungle (and hopefully give my mom a little peace of mind)--

Every time:
Assume drivers don't see me--I always feel like I'm pretty aware of runners and bikers when I'm out driving, but it has crossed my mind that a) I'm biased because I am a runner, so I tend to notice people who are doing the same kinds of things I enjoy, and/or b) I only think I'm more aware than average, and I'm actually not-seeing the same amount of people as everyone else.

This is sort of along the lines of defensive driving, which one could get into a whole discussion about if one really wanted to, but my take is that it comes down to a fine line. You have to be alert, because duh, physics. You can follow all the laws perfectly, but that doesn't account for everyone else's potential for distraction and overall boneheadedness. And being right doesn't make you tougher than a moving car.  (but wouldn't that be cool if it did?)

On the other hand, if you are too paranoid you get twitchy, which in my opinion can be just as dangerous. If you're hopping all around like a scared bunny, you are the unknown, and people won't know what to do to get around you safely. Don't hop around like a scared bunny.

So then what is my happy medium? Making eye contact with drivers is good, but I don't do it well. Instead, I do a lot of waving. I wave so much I look like a happy-go-lucky fool, but really I'm just acknowledging people. "Hey, I see you, thanks for seeing me. We're such good road sharers." I can tell a good amount by their response, or lack thereof, and make adjustments accordingly.

When I'm crossing a street, drivers will very often wave me across, but if they don't, or if I'm otherwise unsure, I'll stop and wait to cross. This might seem obvious, but we runners get a little crazy on our endorphins sometimes, and forget things like traffic rules. I'm nowhere near any record-breaking paces or anything so I really do have the few extra seconds to spare. If I'm feeling antsy I'll jog in place, but sometimes I'll welcome the little break and just stand there. I'm on my way again soon enough.

RoadID--This is sort of like a MedicAlert bracelet, except that I don't have any medical conditions to speak of. BUT if I were to become incapacitated while out on a run, my RoadID has my basic info (name, blood type, allergies etc), plus a couple phone numbers for emergency services to reach my family. For an annual membership fee, you can also choose the interactive version, where you fill out a more thorough profile and emergency workers call an 800-number to get your info. They have a bunch of different colors and material choices, and since I really like bracelets anyway, it works out well.

No headphones/earbuds--This can be a tough one. I know a lot of people who are seriously helped by music in their workout. Like, if they didn't have music they might not even do the workout. But there is a cost, and that cost is decreased alertness and audibility (it's a word; I looked it up) of your environment. And earbuds were a factor in at least one of the pedestrian cases in my town. I've heard it suggested that if you must have music, to do one earbud in and one out, so you get the benefits of music, but retain most of your alertness of the things around you.

As for me, I don't take them at all. Admittedly, this is less about safety and more about my own personal bents. First, I prefer schlepping around as little as possible. I don't even bring my phone unless I'm tracking my miles. One of the things I love about running is the general lack of necessary gear to accomplish it.  Second, I get sweaty, and there's a bit of an ew-factor for me when I think about sweaty headphones. Finally, my personality is such that running is a time bring peace to the noises of my life. I breathe and think and listen, and it really does add an extra calm to the rest of my life that wouldn't be there otherwise, and while I love music, adding it to my run would undo at least some of my hard-earned calm. I've been asked if I get bored, but there are enough thoughts, prayers, world solutions, and speeches in my head to last me miles and miles. And miles and miles.

Bright colors--I didn't use to pay attention to what colors I was wearing, but in the past several years I've started to be a little more purposeful about it. I decided I really prefer white cotton graphic tees, so I try to keep it bright with various gaudy shorts, shoes, socks, and the like. And right now is a great time for bright colors, because they are in style. Not sure what I'll do when fashion swings back toward earth tones, because boy do I love my neon pink shoes.

In the dark:
I didn't always run in the dark, but it is becoming more of a reality for me for several reasons. I have a pair of fully-reflective shoes, and several of my running garments have reflective bits on them. But still, while I know reflective fabric is better than non-reflective fabric when it comes to visibility, I felt I needed to be a little more proactive about staying visible, so I started inviting batteries to the party--

LED armband.  I felt self-conscious about getting blinky-lights, but I had to suck it up a little because this is one situation where I WANT people to see me. There are a ton of options for lights, so you need to do a little looking and see what you like. I like this armband because it is lightweight and uses the same button batteries we keep around the house for other things, and because it has three settings so I can control the amount of blinking.  I feel a little like an unbalanced Christmas tree, but most drivers don't want to run into a Christmas tree, balanced or not, so I think in the end this meets all my goals.

Headlamp. Oh boy. The star on top of the unbalanced Christmas tree. This one makes me feel like a MAJOR dork. So many things don't phase me, but I needed a good pep talk about getting a headlamp. Spelunkers wear headlamps. Surgeons wear headlamps. I don't know what I was afraid of. I mean, I'm unabashed about my overall nerdiness, so I don't know why it bothered me so much, but there you have it. After I had a couple of early morning near-encounters with curbs in our minimally-lit VA neighborhood, I decided it was better to be an illuminated dork than an injured one, and ordered the lamp.  Mine is a basic model, but it has kept me from kissing the curbs. Which is good.

If you are interested in reading more, Erin has a whole running blog here. She is from my old neighborhood in VA and has a bajillionty tips, tricks, and encouragements to share.


In short, safety is important. Don't freak out, but don't be dumb, either. I like Mike Rowe's philosophy of "Safety Third," which boils down to the fact that staying safe is your responsibility, so take it seriously. And thankfully, with all the available gear out there, it can be kind of fun too...

Jan 18, 2015

The (Not A) Tomboy Cake, Concluded...

Read the first part here, or the rest of this will make even less sense than usual.

To recap--I had a conversation with a photo on the internet:

Source Link Here

It had lots of steps. Lots and lots of steps:
  • Grease/flour/buttered-parchment-line 3 cake pans. Or, if you are not a friggin' bake shop needed, improvise with 2 cake pans and 1 pie pan.
  • Bake the cake: Make the almond batter. Wash mixer bowl and paddle attachment. Make a meringue and integrate it into the batter. Divvy among the pans and bake cake layers. Cool layers & wrap tightly. Wash mixer bowl and whisk attachment. 
  • Make lemon cream: make whipped cream and fold into store-bought lemon curd (or make the lemon curd if you really, really want to). Chill overnight. Wash mixer bowl and whisk attachment again.
  • Go to bed.
  • Wake up, jog, make meringue frosting.
  • Trim and assemble cake as follows: cake, strawberry jam, lemon cream, cake, strawberry jam, lemon cream, cake, frosting. Wash the ever-lovin' mixer bowl and whisk attachment. Again.

Resulting in this:


And this:



And so, the pros:
  • Each component was amazing. The cake batter was fantastic. The lemon cream was fantastic. The jam I carefully selected from the store shelf was fantastic. The meringue frosting should probably be illegal in my house, it was so good.
  • Using real almonds instead of almond extract makes a huge difference.
  • The cake was not too sweet, which balanced out all the other ingredients, which were almost cloyingly sweet. 
  • The lemon cream tanged up a bit after chilling overnight.
  • Since I frosted the sides--thereby making it not a Tomboy Cake--the cake was very forgiving of all the trimming I did, and it didn't dry out like the reviews complained about. Also, I didn't even need to mess with piping supplies. Which in my case consist of a zip-top bag snipped at the corner, but still. One less thing. 
  • The cake improved on the second day--the flavors were a little more married, or something.

Areas of Improvement:
  • The almonds didn't grind as finely as I hoped. Next time I would grind them first and then blend with the flour, instead of both steps at once. Thanks for nothing, recipe.
  • The cake layers were done way sooner than the recommended 40-45 minutes. I pulled them at 35, and they were still overdone.
  • The texture was less like cake and more like a quick bread; according to Alton, my creaming technique needs some work. 
  • While the components were amazing, the texture of the cake combined with the itty-bitty, not-quite-ground almond pieces made it feel like eating banana bread (but without the bananas) layered with jam & lemon cream and meringue frosting. Not bad, just a little weird. 

Tiny E loved it as-is. His Highness loved licking all the bowls along the way but might have overdone it because he thought the finished product was gross. The Littler One was happy with just the frosting. The Cat Daddy was appreciative of my efforts, but didn't sneak a giant piece while the rest of us were sleeping, which I presume means he thought it acceptable but not earth-shattering.

All told, part of me wants to try this again and see where I can improve it, but then again even if I can make it completely optimally, it feels like a risk due to my family's mixed reactions. Still, if you are considering this, my overall suggestion would be to go for it because, meringue frosting. And YOLO. And you really can't go wrong with more cake in your life.

In particular, I think that my baking friends should maybe give it a try (you know who you are) and let me know how it goes. 

I'm available for quality-control testing, FYI...

Jan 16, 2015

The Tomboy Cake...

Today I would like to talk about a small project I have in progress, and that project is the Tomboy Cake.

If you click the link above, you will see this. Isn't it stunning?



I've not had great success in the past with scratch cakes, but this one called to me. It was all, "Come on, you can bake me."

I was all, "You have a lot of steps. The cake, the lemon-curd-turned-lemon-cream, the jam, the meringue frosting. I have to friggin' cook the meringue frosting."

"Come on. I'll be awesome."

"The reviews say you're kind of dry."

"That's because my sides are naked. You can just frost all of me."

"Labor. Intensive."

"Just split me into steps over a couple of days. You can even buy some lemon curd instead of making it."

"Buttered parchment inside of greased & floured pans."

"You have Baker's Joy. Plus you've watched enough Good Eats to know all about folding in foams to make things light & fluffy. It's bad stewardship not to use the tools you've been given. Seriously. The only thing you actually have to buy is more parchment. And some lemon curd. And eggs, but you need those anyway. Come on, just try. If it's not worth it, you never have to make me again."

"Ugh, FINE."

So I bought the parchment and eggs. I went to four stores looking for lemon curd, and finally found it at Cost Plus/World Market. And these are the things I have done so far:

--Printed the 5 page recipe. To be fair, it is pretty large print. But still--Five. Pages.

--Traced and cut out parchment circles for the pans.

--Made the almond sponge batter. It could use some adjustments technique-wise, but tasted amazing.

--Baked the cakes. I have 2 proper cake pans, so I improvised by using a pie pan for the third layer. I plan to trim the pie-pan-cake edges to match, since I'm frosting the sides anyway.

--Possibly burned the cakes. They were in less than 35 of the 40-45 recommended minutes, so I'm kind of mad about that. But I'm hoping with some creative trimming all will be forgiven.

--Made the lemon cream. Not as tangy as I was hoping. Sad face :(

--Washed my food processor parts once and my mixing bowl and paddle/whisk three times.

Tomorrow I will:

--Friggin' cook the meringue frosting. And wash my mixing bowl/whisk a fourth time.

--Trim, layer, spread, stack, and frost. And whoever eats a good dinner will get a slice. Unless it's a disaster; then whoever doesn't eat a good dinner will be forced to eat a slice (Just kidding. Maybe).

Something about the process really draws me in. Baking is not something I would want to do for a living, but every so often I like to try new stuff, even (or maybe especially) if it is tricky enough to be on the order of a project. I suppose I like the feeling of creating something, especially when it's made of ordinary stuff I already have, but is put together in a completely different way than I've done before. Plus, I really do like making use of the skills Alton has taught me over the years. He makes things look easy, and while lots of things aren't as easy as he makes them look, they are often at least doable.

So I'll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck...

Jan 11, 2015

Notes: The January Edition...

In the spirit of Thank You Notes on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (which I don't stay up late enough to watch but I have loved every single clip I've seen via Facebook and/or YouTube. I think he is hilarious and uplifting, and a comfortable level of both confidence and self-deprication), I would like to present notes written to abstract concepts and inanimate objects around me--


Source Link Here

Dear Low Side Ponytail: Thank you for being so practical that I can wear you for most anything, yet just different enough to turn my most boring lack of hairstyle into something passing as an actual thing. Thank you for being in fashion while my hair is at its longest. Sincerely, Skerrib.


Source Link Here

Dear Polycarbonate Drum Enclosure: I hate you with the fire of a thousand suns. I understand your purpose, what with making older folks more comfortable in a contemporary worship setting, and making it easier to control the sound mix in historically acoustically drum-unfavorable church buildings. But you separate me from the rest of the band, making me feel like a child in the naughty corner who couldn't control herself. You make me rely on (admittedly, really cool) technology to stay with everyone else, instead of finding the groove, watching foot taps, and using my musicianship to control things like dynamics and stuff. I like to think I am professional enough to work productively with you, but your only redeeming quality is that you hide me just enough so I don't feel like everyone is staring at me, which keeps me from being self-conscious. But I would trade that to sit alongside the rest of the band in a low-profile position, which I haven't done much of since 2008. I'm pretty sure you make God sad, and I hope you burn in the apocalypse.  Sincerely, Skerrib.


Source Link Here

Dear Smiley Diary from Korea:  Thank you for providing the perfect mix of practicality and whimsy. I love your colors, your mix of monthly and daily planning pages, your markings with the teeny number-people, your stickers even though I don't know what to do with most of them, and your sweet little positive sayings that brighten my days, even when my children climb the pantry shelves and strew oatmeal through the entire kitchen.  I look forward to my planning time every day. Mostly. Sincerely, Skerrib.

Source Link Here
Dear Starbucks: Thank you for being sensible most of the time, and for having an easy way to consolidate my gift card balances on one card. I don't even like coffee (and therefore I kind of gag at the aroma when I walk into your store), but I still love you. Sincerely, Skerrib.

Source Link Here

Dear Tiger's Blood: Thank you for becoming slightly more mainstream, so that now only 57% of my friends look at me like I've grown a third head when I talk about how fantastic you are, where it used to be pretty much everyone who thought I was making things up. I loved your cherry/coconut flavor in those fundraiser lollipops in high school, but I love you even more in Italian and shave ice. Always and Forever, Skerrib.


Source Link Here

Dear Teen Titans Go: You are such a weird cartoon. So, so weird. Like, why do you have Robin along with all these other no-name teen heroes? It is so random and nonsensical. But when I sit with His Highness and watch you, it turns out you are pretty witty after all, and your humor translates to older (albeit slightly warped) audiences. Thank you for letting me relate to my oldest kid, yo. Sincerely, Skerrib.


Source Link Here

Dear Buddies Film Franchise: It turns out you are not pretty witty after all, and your humor does not translate to older audiences. Your only redeeming quality (other than the fact that my kids like you) is somehow procuring a few fairly-famous names, preventing me from poking my own eyeballs out by providing me with a fun guessing game when I hear a familiar voice emanating from a clothed animal. And I think, "I sure hope they got a good paycheck for this job." As for the lesser-known and/or less skilled actors, I think "They sure were lucky to work with those other folks." And as I am not an actor, let's keep it at that. Sincerely, Skerrib.


Seven is a good start. What would you write notes to, and what would you say??

Jan 2, 2015

Hands in the Pants...

Today I would like to talk about something highly dignified: how I came to complete the better part of a 5K bike ride with my daughter's hands in the back of my pants.

It seems so simple in my mind. It was cool out, but not freezing. We wore our sweatshirts and pants to keep warm, and I decided at the last minute to leave my gloves behind, because it felt just that pleasant out. I buckled Tiny E into the seat on the back of my bike, and we rode off.

Maybe a quarter mile in, I realized I wished I had brought my gloves after all. I commented, "Oh, I wish I hadn't left my gloves at home." And Tiny E said, "I wish I had my min-tens. My hands awe cold." And I thought "Oh, how sweet. We are so alike. Biking with my baby is so fun."

Then I heard, "I want to keep my hands warm in your butt!" And I felt a pair of little hands suddenly slip into the top of my track pants and nestle against my butt.

I said, "No! Get your hands out of my butt--I mean my pants!"

She said, "No! Your butt is warm! My hands need to be nice & cozy!"

On and on we went as I mulled my options. I could stop and give her a talking-to and hold firm to the boundary. Or I could bike on and pray that I would be immune to any judgmental stares from passers-by.  The truth was that my clothes were tucked in such a way that the only thing exposed was the bottom of my shirt. And stopping would only prolong the time until I could warm my own hands, so I pulled my jacket a little lower and kept going.

Which would have been fine had Ms Curious not inquired, "What kind of underpants you wearin', Mom?" and attempted to find out. It was there that I drew the boundary. I swatted her hands away and told her that NO ONE wanted to see my underpants, and maybe she could stick her hands up my jacket instead to keep them nice & cozy.  She agreed for, like, 3 seconds, but eventually the little hands found their way back down to my pants and settled in for the duration, and I kept the topic of conversation away from things that would result in curious and/or wiggling hands.

Thankfully, that was the extent of things. Her hands remained warm & cozy, and as far as I know I didn't expose any skin or under-things, so there was minimal awkwardness for anyone who happened to look our way.  But there was still a small part of me that wondered, as we rode along, "How did I get here, to this place, riding my bike with someone else's hands nestled against my butt? And should it bother me more?"

I decided that cavemen probably had to resort to far more awkward situations to keep warm, and that I would consider gloves and mittens the next time, just to be safe. Still, things like this always remind me to be very aware of what I'm saying to people. What seems like a benign sharing of information could, in fact, sound like an invitation to others.

So the next time you leave your gloves home, choose carefully what you share with your friends. You just might end up with someone else's hands in the back of your pants...