Oct 27, 2014

Curious and Open...

On good days, I ask and listen before I throw down the gauntlet of consequences and lectures. No, I'm not talking about time-ins, necessarily. I'm talking about being curious and open.

My therapist and I were talking about curiosity and openness as a way of minimizing anxiety, and the areas where I could practice it. 

The tricky thing about being curious and open is that it's really hard to fake. It doesn't work very well if you tell yourself to ask a question, and even succeed at asking, but then instead of listening to the answer you're plotting your response and how you will SMASH the other person's viewpoint, and possibly the other person entirely. I sometimes have to give myself a little time-out to allow for a perspective-change, and then I can come back and be ready to listen before responding.  But when I can do it, I am sometimes surprised at the answers I get, and how different reality can be from my perceptions and assumptions.

Case in point, and one of my favorite surprising stories about His Highness--

Once when he was about 5, I was putting some laundry away for His Highness. As I opened his drawer I saw that he had dumped the entire contents of his dinosaur bucket inside. Dinos, little plastic boulders, and even some fake vegetation. He was at school, so I couldn't yell for him to "Come here right NOW!!" and he was old enough that I wasn't about to clean out the drawer myself, so I left it for the time being. I didn't know if he was hiding them for some reason, or just being lazy (in a really strange way) about putting them away, so by the time he got home I was genuinely curious as to why...on earth...he had done that. I asked him, "Your Highness, why did you choose to put your dinosaurs in with your socks and unders?" 

He responded, "I thought it would be really cool to open my drawer and have it be like a prehistoric land." 

And then my entire view of the world shifted within about a half second, and of course I replied, "Oh! That's a good idea. I was just wondering." Then I seriously considered borrowing some of the dinosaurs so I could create my own prehistoric sock drawer.

I didn't though, and I didn't ask him about it anymore, and eventually he wanted to play with the dinos and cleared them out of the drawer himself. 

When you think about it, his motivation isn't all that remarkable for a five-year-old, but it was so far removed from my parent-putting-away-laundry motivation that it took me by surprise. And I was really glad that I asked before correcting him, because as I thought better of it, it was very much along the lines of a desk chair on a bed

I think the point is that these kinds of things can happen with anyone, and not just little kids. Perhaps the answer won't be quite as cute so as to make one melt into a puddle of goo over their children's adorable brilliance, but maybe it will be endearing. Or at least, um, not hostile?

It sure seems to work for me. When I remember to ask first and be curious & open...

Oct 21, 2014

Nice Rack...

I've said it before and I'll say it again--I may despise a lot of things about moving, but one GREAT result is the streamlining and organizing of stuff. I love the idea of being active outside, and we are pretty good at it, but the reality of taking the kids out and saying "look at all this beautiful nature; go play" is greatly helped when there are plenty of modes available to facilitate movement. So we have bikes, trikes, big wheels, the jogger, and so on.  And they all make a big, glorious mess in the garage. Fantastic for contemplating life and family and health. Not so great for parking the car in the winter.

The before--sort of. Pay no attention to the X'd out finished rack. You'll see it soon enough.
Of course, you can get hooks and straps and stuff to hang bikes in a garage, but the kids can't work those very well except to rip them out, and that would be counterproductive. And you can buy actual bike racks like they have in schools, except those get heavy and pricey pretty quickly.

So through a series of Pinterest click-throughs I came upon an article from Kids Activities Blog and said "That's it!" Out loud, for all to hear. This thing could be adjusted in size to fit our specific needs, disassembled for moving, AND the cost of materials was under $60.  Badda boom, badda bing. I pinned it, and told the Cat Daddy about it, and bided my time because we were just getting ready to move and it seemed wiser to hold off until we were in place.

The Cat Daddy was skeptical, as usual. But I forged ahead, as usual. Now, I will tell you every time to do your due diligence on any DIY project. You need to go through and consider if you will alter the plans for your situation, make sure all the math is correct, and perform an overall sanity-check. 

I will also tell you that I chose to do none of that this time around, and it cost me two extra 10' PVC rods and two extra trips to the home improvement store. Not too big a deal really, but depending on your distance from said store it could spell disaster, so just make sure you consider the variables here.

I printed out two articles: the original article on Kids Activities Blog, and its source article from the Utah Mountain Biking club, which had some really good diagrams and clarification (I'll link both at the bottom of this post for easy reference).

The plans given will build a 6-bike rack out of 1" PVC pipe and associated parts. You CAN cement the pieces together with pipe dope, but I found that using a rubber mallet to seat them was plenty sturdy for our purposes.

There was a small debate about which tool to use for cutting the pipe. The Cat Daddy recommended our little jigsaw, which I used for a PVC baby gate a couple years ago, but I remembered stability had been an issue. Which is bound to happen when one is using a weight bench for a workbench, but whatevs. The point is, we have a mitre saw with a frickin' laser beam, and why should the Cat Daddy be the only one to use the cool power tools?

I did not account for blade thickness in my measurements, which for the most part wasn't a problem. As long as you're within 1/8" or so you should be good. I had a couple pieces that were off by more than 1/4" (measure twice cut once, people), so I recut them using excess pipe scraps.

Cutting PVC makes you think about a delicious mess of shredded coconut.
My total needed pipe length was on the order of 44'-ish, so I purchased 5 10-foot pipes and cut as follows:
  • 12      18" long pieces
  • 12      10" long pieces
  • 27      8" long pieces
  • 18      1.75" long pieces (connectors)
  • 42      tees
  • 6        elbows 

The supply list with my edits. Source: here.

Actually, first I cut according to the original dimensions given in the picture, where I should have seen that the original 13" dimension was wrong.  I mean, clearly the longest pieces are way more than 3" longer than the 10" pieces.  I noticed the number discrepancy in the Utah article, then I looked back at the above picture and whacked myself on the forehead for not seeing it sooner. DIY projects give me tunnel vision. 

So I headed off to the store and grabbed two more 10' pipes, and went home & cut them into 18" pieces. And then, finally, I was done cutting.

Done cutting, including the original, now-useless, 13" pieces. 
As I moved on to the assembly phase, I soon realized that the measuring-and-cutting phase was by far the longest and most tedious, because the rack came together super-quick. Neither article exactly gave a specific procedure, so feel free to switch things up if you're feeling all crazy and non-conformist.

I went with the main frame first, and did the vertical members. Each rod is an 18" piece and a 10" piece, joined by a tee, with tees added at the top & bottom. Except for the end rods, which have elbows instead of tees at the top & bottom.

You may be able to see in the picture that I lined up the pieces so the red pipe printing is all facing the same way.  You don't have to take the time to do that, obvs, but if you're a bit of a control freak and like your PVC items to look more polished than average, it's worth the effort.

Rods made of 18"s, 10"s, tees, and elbows.
Next I used the little 1.75" connectors to make 6 pairs of rods. Here's where I added gentle taps with the rubber mallet to get things lined up properly. If you don't have a rubber mallet a regular hammer will work fine, as long as you add cushioning (phone book, folded towel, etc) so you don't bust the pipes.

Connectors joined the rods into pairs.
From here I joined each pair with 8" pieces at the tops & bottoms. I got a little excited and moved onto the support arms before I took a picture of just the main frame, but you get the idea. Rubber mallet taps as needed.

8" pieces joined pairs into the frame. I got a little excited and started on the support arms.
Each support arm pair was made of 2 8" pieces, a tee on each end, and a connector between the tees. Except of course for the end pairs which used an elbow in place of one tee.  Tap-tap-tap, went the rubber mallet.

Support arms from 8" pieces, connectors, and tees/elbows

"...38, 39, 40 tees. Hmmmm..."
Here is where I blamed my children for stealing 2 tees before I counted and realized the original list was wrong, and the little thieves hadn't swiped any tees after all. After 40 tees I was short, so I ran and bought 2 more, garnering quizzical looks from the Home Depot staff. 

"Is this all for you today?" 

"Yep. I was two short." 


Done! Thank you, rubber mallet. Note the well-worn printouts, as well.
This was a surprisingly good project to do with the kiddos, or at least with kiddos in the vicinity. His Highness and the Littler One helped with the measuring and marking. I offered to let His Highness do a couple of cuts, but he opted out this time around. Both boys functioned as sawhorses, supporting the long ends of pipe during cuts. And when they got bored with the actual work of it, they took turns with Tiny E, rolling objects down pipe ramps and so forth. Physics!

The Utah article quoted about an hour to build their 3-bike rack, so I estimated this would take about 2 hours. This is accurate in the same way that "30-Minute Meals" with Rachael Ray is accurate, meaning the time required is going to be highly variable. If you work with tools regularly and don't have to make extra store trips, 2-3 hours is probably about right. If you have extra trips, and have little helpers in & out along the way, and break in the middle to make lunch and put the baby down to nap, and take time to shop vac all the little bits when you're done, expect closer to 4-6 hours. 

So organized you could park a car in there.
Once I placed the rack and bikes, I was pleased as punch. Even the Cat Daddy said, "It's not too bad," which in everyday speak translates, "Wow, great job Skerrib! You are a woman of noble character. Eshet Chayil!"

And of course now that I have a baseline from which to deviate, I'm thinking about changes I might make, such as adding more sections and/or spacing out the current sections to leave more room for trikes and sundries between the bikes.

Take a look, and go forth...

Kids Activities Blog post

Utah Mountain Biking post

Oct 15, 2014

Therapeutic Seasons...

I’m a firm believer in seasons of life. While much of it is messy and overlapping, if I step back and sort of relax my eyes a little, I can see lots of time periods that for me have been about focusing on specific themes: learning big lessons, meeting special friends, passing milestones, or whatever. I tend to think of seasons in terms of places we’ve lived, so we have our Ohio season, Massachusetts season, and so on. Our pastor in Wyoming would always talk about God’s ‘assignments’ for us, meaning whatever He had for us where we were, no matter how strange or un-fun it seemed in the moment. As time goes on and we move to each new place, I've come to wonder what is in store for me there, what assignments God has for me, and what chapters that new place will write in my life story.

Most recently I’d been in a season of baby-rearing and back-healing/strengthening, and while I sensed I maybe needed a little help emotionally, I wasn’t in crisis enough to spend the time, money, & effort needed to do counseling/therapy properly, which is to say actually show up regularly and engage, and not blow off the homework.

Well, I factored all the factors and was able to tie up some loose ends, and decided that this is a good season to jump in and do some self-work in the form of counseling. I may have phrased it differently and implied that certain unnamed partners maybe could use some guidance as well…to the extent that such is true of all of us…but certain unnamed partners instead chose things like work, and parenting, and would-rather-an-icepick-to-the-eye-than-therapy-except-in-a-crisis, and we aren't in crisis, so I had to respect that choice.

Besides, within a couple sessions, my therapist and I determined that I had plenty of issues of my own to work on without bringing certain partners into things, anyway. And I may have had to apologize to certain partners for projecting my own issues and putting undue pressure on certain marriages. Or something. Because what I discovered was that, even with meds and healthy habits and stuff, it turns out that I still carry around a great deal of anxiety.

I know. I’ll wait while you sit down and absorb the shock.

Moving forward, instead of “The Cat Daddy needs to be nicer to Skerrib” (which I still contend is a valid and useful life goal), we have steered the focus more toward “Skerrib is a nervous-type and a perfectionist, but there are tools to help with those.”  

Thus I'm expanding my toolkit a little and learning a TON about feelings and stuff that I already like learning about, so it's working out well. As with most things in life, while I've come a long way in a lot of areas, I still have blind spots and/or areas where I'm in denial or fooling myself. So, you know, it's helpful (though not always pleasant of course) to have someone to help me sort thru it all. 

As with any season this too will come to a close in time, but for now I kind of want to go to therapy forever... 

Oct 8, 2014

An Open Letter to My Family, or Why I Hate Granola Bars...

Dear Family,

I want you to know that I love you all with the smoldering intensity of a distant sun. One that is neither exploding into existence nor burning out in one big gigantic supernova.  It is just blazing consistently, happy to illuminate and warm those in its orbit, and maybe do the eensiest bit of damage if proper precautions aren't taken. Nothing could ever change this warm, fiery, fusion-y love I have for you.

And I love treats. By now we have all known each other long enough that you have seen me tear into ice cream with great abandon, or stuff my face with Boston Kremes, or swipe your Halloween candy in the name of a "snack tax."

And I love getting you treats. I know it doesn't always seem that way. I don't always get as excited or eager about things as some folks do, and I'm probably the humbuggiest person in the family. I feel like I say no a lot, because sometimes it's right before a meal, or we've already had a lot of treats that day, or I feel it's a good moment for learning that you don't get a treat every time (hence the term 'treat'), or I know that there's some issue hiding behind the treat, and saying yes to the treat might actually make things worse rather than better. But I love the occasions where the time and circumstance are right and I can say yes to the treats.

And in the general scheme of things, I love granola bars. They are junky enough to be delicious and desired, and just healthy enough to be preferred--perhaps very slightly--over a candy bar.  Every week in the grocery store I walk past the shelf of Sunbelt granola bars, and in my mind I am forcibly restraining myself in order to prevent grabbing a box or three, because they are so yummy, but we would each eat 5 in one sitting and then feel sick & gross, and gain nothing from the experience. I totally get it about granola bars, believe me.

And I know that you are still learning the food-stays-in-the-kitchen rule. I know it's difficult because it's a new rule in this house. I know you see Mom & Dad eat food on the couch (while you are supposed to be in bed, thankyouverymuch), and it's hard that we have a different expectation for you.

But here's the thing: 3 of you are still very...crumbly...when you eat granola bars. Don't get me wrong, this is totally age appropriate for all of you. I don't yet expect you to be pristine about the granola bits. But being crumbly, and still working on keeping food in the kitchen, means that we get granola bar crumbs on the carpet. And the sensible--if worn-out--carpet hides the crumbs well. And maybe this particular time I did a lazy half-vacuum job over some of the affected areas, but I didn't get them all.

And here is how I know I didn't get all the granola bits, family: ANTS. I am so awesome and can handle so many things (poo, for starters...), but ants drive me bonkers.  I found them in the bathroom, and traced their teeny little steps, and what do you suppose I found? Yep. Granola crumbs. And ants on the granola crumbs, making it look like the granola crumbs themselves were crawling off somewhere.

And even this is perhaps forgivable. I threw all the bathroom rugs in the wash, and gave the place a couple good vacuumings, and looked up natural ant remedies just in case clean rugs don't do the trick (hello vinegar, I love you and buy you by the gallon).

But there is a deal breaker, and it is this. There was an ant in my bra. And it was wriggling around just enough that I thought it was a weird stray hair that had shed from my head and was just kind of taunting my skin until I found and grabbed it. And thank GOD the not-a-stray-hair-ANT didn't bite me or this whole post would be in shouty caps.

Now, 3 of the 4 of you will never use a bra (I assume), and the one of you who will is decidedly several years away from that reality, so I don't expect you to grasp the entire magnitude of the reality of finding a living creature in such a personal space. But trust me, it is full of magnitude, and highly unpleasant, and all the other things you might imagine about finding a living ant in your underthings.

And so next time we are in the store and you are asking for granola bars and I'm responding, "Heavens NO!" with that weird tone I use for awkward emphasis, or we are at home and I am vetoing Daddy's promise of granola bars, or one day out of nowhere I suddenly shudder and chant "NOOOOO granola bars!!" and you ask why not, the reason--whether or not I say it aloud--will be "ANTS (in my bra)" and there will be nothing said to change my mind. Because my mind will not be changed until you have demonstrated to me that you have all grown out of the "crumbly" phase.

Love you all so much, and please get that snack back into the kitchen.