Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Goal Perhaps?

So I've never really trained for anything. Certainly I have accomplished many things that have taken commitment (it did take me a decade, but I did write a book, after all) and, yes, I've undertaken both physical and mental challenges, but I have had little experience in the world of organized competition or other such arenas that would require a training plan that actually pushed me. I gym, bike, yoga, dance, and swim because I need to move. It might be time to put a bit more intentionality behind those endeavors and see what I can wring out of them.

So... why not Adventure Racing? And look at that, a race nearby and right there in smack dab middle of summer.

Heck, since I just posted about needing something new to do in my life while downing a bowl of pasta and rooting around in the pantry for something chocolate, I'm thinking Adventure Racing might be worth a try. Okay, time to get the bike out, get some new trail shoes, retrieve the canoe from my folks cottage, and try to remember my orienteering skills from Girl Scouting days past...

5 Days

Every day for the past five days, I've gotten an afternoon headache. Fortunately, a nap and/or drugs take it away by evening, but the pattern is wearing on me. And the timing sucks because it leaves me grumpy at the point during the day when kids need attention and everyone around here is running low on good humor.

All of this is amplified by my thought that something needs to change/happen in or around my life. I'm unsettled. I want... well, if only I knew.

And then there is the boy's most recent 'habit'... when you ask him to set the table, hang up his coat, wipe the food from his face, etc. he says (with all the indignity he can muster): "Why do I have to do EVERYTHING around here?" Um, yeah. It would be funnier if it weren't so infuriating.

Yep, it is time for something new... people? places? adventures?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wait, can it be????

Yes, it is spring. Okay, technically it isn't spring until 1:48am on Thursday, March 20th, but the signs are here.... There are birds chirping outside my window, there is an almost-warm (or at least not cold) gray rain falling, and only the once-largest but now all dingy snow banks remain. The temperature was 34 yesterday, but today it might hit 50 degrees. Yep, that is spring in Michigan.

A more personal measure... I have ridden my bike for six days in a row. It doesn't hurt that my car is currently on the bench due to illness, but I'd like to think I would have ridden anyway. The first couple of ventures out were tough after almost six weeks off (and not a whole lot of riding in the six weeks before that), but it got better quickly and I felt great zipping about with the Bike Ypsi crew on Sunday. That zingy feeling of arriving at one's destination with blood pumping is pretty cool. I even rode to and from the Women's Studies conference this weekend -- a first for me. Now I just need to get my bikes a bit more cleaned up, exorcise the gear-shifting demons that live in the black bike, and find a water/wind-proof/resistant jacket that has sleeves long enough to cover my wrists even when I'm riding on the hoods and I'll be all set to embrace the season.

Yay! Spring!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fickle as a Pickle

So I've been working away on the advice literature for women in public space for a couple of weeks now. I collected most of it this fall, then played with it for a few weeks in January, and now I've been back at it in order to prepare a presentation for a Women's Studies conference this weekend.

The problem is that I am suddenly feeling very over it. I've read it all multiple times, I've sifted, noted, and categorized (and posted some funny bits on my other blog). I've drawn some conclusions, figured out where it fits (at least roughly) in the bigger scheme of my research, and now I'd like to move on.

The problem with this, of course, is that the presentation for Saturday is not yet done. I still need to pull and arrange evidence for the last section, I still need to figure out how I'm going to start the whole thing (was thinking of reading from Sister Carrie, but now I'm not so sure), and I still need to write up that pithy conclusion that will bring it all together and convince my audience that I am brilliant. But I'm having trouble mustering the energy. Not being a perfectionist, I am too often content to figure out the broad strokes and then move on to the next topic. I guess I like the hunt better than the kill...


Okay, I know, cowboy up and get to work. Yes, yes... watch my speed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"And Some Kind of Help..."

“And Some Kind of Help, Is the Kind of Help, that Helping’s All About”

I loved, loved, loved Free to Be You and Me as a kid (yes, doesn’t that just explain so much?). One of the more prominent themes in it is that we should get past our stereotypes and rampant individualism enough to help each other out. But do we?

Over the last few months, many of the people in my immediate circles (myself included) have needed help – help with jobs, help with houses, help with mental health, help with transportation, etc. Watching this, I’ve been struck by how hard it has been for folks (again, myself included) to actually ask for help. We seem to assume that we shouldn’t ask, that we should do for ourselves, and, maybe, that our friends won’t want to pitch in.

But what I have witnessed is that people will do for each other. What keeps us from asking is our own fear that we are “imposing” or asking “too much.” It isn’t that big a deal for me to watch other people’s kids, yet I seem to think it is a huge deal for them to watch mine. I’ll toddle over to help a friend move some furniture, but I won’t call for help when I need some moral support after my garbage disposal has exploded.

With my most recent household project, however, I did put out a minor call for help and I got plenty. The job of stripping wallpaper seemed overwhelming to me – I was responsible for how long the kitchen was off-line, I had to choose the paint color, etc. – but, really, it was not that big a deal for those who helped – a few hours of their time but hours that included socializing, food, and beer.

All of this only reinforces my desire for a “compound” – a group of folks all living in close proximity who function more like family (in other words, people to whom you feel mutual responsibility) than merely “friends” or “neighbors” who are either physically not around when you need them or are around but only by accident rather than by design. I want people to whom I can go for help without a second thought. I do want my own space, mind you, but I would also be delighted to come home and find S or S or A or A or several other people drinking coffee in my (our?) kitchen. I would love for my kids to have 4 or 5 houses whose back doors were always open to them. I would love to go to the store for milk and buy for 15 people instead of 4. I would love to know that as I’m wrangling with all the sucky decisions that come with being a grown-up there is not just one person invested in my thought processes, but many. We seem to too often make things more complicated than they need to be. Why does every house on my block have a lawn mower? Why can’t I go out while my children are sleeping even though there are adults at home 10’ away from their bedroom window (but in a different house)? Why do I have to figure things out all on my own?

Admittedly, I’m a bit stuck on how to move out of my nuclear family, 1950s brick ranch house existence to this other model, but my want is real, it is on-going, it is large…

The Geography of Midnight -- Blow Out II

I toddled on down to Hamtramck this past weekend for two nights of the 11th annual Blow Out. As was the case last year, no bands blew me away, but I find the idea and the logistics of the event pretty damn cool. 200 bands, 20 venues, crappy Michigan March weather, and hit-or-miss (er, mostly miss) beer selections. There is a certain sport to the event – finding a good band in a decent venue with acceptable beer – that appeals to me. This point seems lost on my Blow Out buddy of the last two years, however. So if you are intrigued, I might be looking for a new companion for next year!

Since there are sooooo many bands, it makes sense to split the task of choosing where to be when. I took the Thursday night shift:

Manna & Quail: young, keyboard fronted, pop. They were billed as tight, but they had a stand-in bass player who’d had all of 45 minutes to learn the tunes (for a 45 minute set). They didn’t entirely suck, but we were late, I was unsettled, the beer was yellow, and, consequently, I had little love to give them. They would have had to work waaaaay harder to hook me.

Scarlet Oaks: best of the evening and the only full set we caught. A lovely pint of Arrogant Bastard helped loosen me up for this Wilco-ish band. The guitarist/singer was eager and had Gerry-like moves (though the songs were nowhere near as intricate as Gerry’s), the drummer was all enthusiasm, the bass player competent, and the other guitar player took a turn on the pedal steel… some sort of sonic padding, such as pedal steel, was a great idea for this band, but he needs to get bigger and more comfortable on the instrument. They struck me as a band with some potential.

Freer: this poor band, anchored by two brothers, had the unfortunate curse of media attention. The Free Press had given them some build up but then they had technical issues (it seems… no one ever told us) and started waaay late. Bell’s Brown Ale held us at the quintessentially Hamtramck neighborhood Atlas bar until they got two songs in. But they had started with a loose “blow out” jam that was just too sloppy to come back from… at least after starting late on a night when several other bands were playing in same time slot. We wandered off to catch Georgio “the dove” Valentino at the Painted Lady, but he had finished early. Simplicity was still playing at the New Dodge, around the corner, but the “alti-ness” of their tunes evident on the web didn’t come through live… and this was another bar with only yellow beer… so homeward we fled, knowing there was another full night of music to be had.

I think my strategy next year will be to limit the choices of bands a bit by sticking to the better venues -- the ones that have both decent sound and decent beer. The tiny neighborhood bars that only serve yellow beer are mighty cute, but I'm not there for cute. Next year: Small's, Whiskey in a Jar, the Belmont, and the Painted Lady will be at the top of my list.

If You're Child-Free, Does that Make Me Child-Enslaved?

Okay, yes, I do think that language matters. I am postmodern enough to believe that discourse shapes what we believe is natural, good, right, and possible. Consequently, when I sloppily used the term “childless” with a friend the other day and was resoundingly critiqued, I folded instantly. Of course… “childless” indicates that one is missing something and that is a notion to which people who intentionally have no offspring understandably object.

But, then, what does that make me? Am I childful? Child-restricted? Child-shackled? You can see where I’m going. I do feel rather “child-shackled” at this point in the process, actually, and it is not just because my children are young and needful. I feel that way because of this whole childfree movement that has emerged in recent years. Frankly, I object to the response of the childfree which seems to run something like this: you had ‘em, they are your problem, expect nothing from me, and by-the-way, could you make them shut up?

My hackles go up at this kind of sentiment. First, there is the obvious: we were all children once and a lot of someones had to put up with our less-than-stellar public behavior before we knew how to behave any better. Second, what kind of fucked up society am I living in if the other folks who are theoretically in it with me feel no responsibility for the youngest generations? I know they are my kids and I bear the lion’s share of the responsibility for them, but, yeesh, can’t I count on the rest of you -- people to whom I am bound by various social strands and shared humanity -- to at least pitch in a little?

How about you at least stop staring at me like I am some sort of blemish on society if my kid cuts in front of you in line or steps on your toes while trying to race out the door of the library? You might even consider seeing if you could muster the patience to not be angry (something I do a dozen times a day, at least) but instead calmly tell Janie that we all have to wait in line and the end of the line is back that-a-way. You see, I told her that already. I told several times. But then I tell her lots of things, all day long, and she has grown adept at tuning me out. But attention from another grown up… now that is new. She just might pull up and listen… or she might not, and then you and I can look at each other with understanding and support instead of one of us looking angry (you) and the other looking guilty (me).

I’ve often had trouble putting my finger on it, but ever since I had children, I’ve felt that we live in an amazingly child-hostile society. Yes, we have lovely things like family leave and children’s play areas at the mall, but all of these things leave me feeling like I can have children, but I should have them “over there,” out of the way somewhere, where they won’t be a bother to anyone. The rub, of course, is that children do not move quietly through the world, they are not always easily contained, they are, in short, a pain in the ass (but yes, a lovely, adorable pain in the ass). And yes, I could use a bit more help as we move from the pain-in-the-ass phase to useful member of society. Think of it as a long-term investment.

The rampant individualism that too often comes out of the loud ‘n proud childfree folk actually scares me a little (it doesn't just come from them, of course). What does it say about the general health of our society if we shun any but the most direct and inescapable responsibility for one another?


E has always been a pretty social kid – delighted by attentive adults and happy to play with kids of all ages and genders. Part ham, part benevolent dictator, and a pretty energetic kid, she has moved easily through the world (so far, she is only 9, mind you).

About a year ago, however, I realized that she hasn’t ever really had a “best friend.” Oh sure, there was the older girl down the street that she idolized and there have been kids that she has spent lots of time with, but she has not had that chosen-by-her, kindred spirit, do-everything-together buddy… until now.

When E skipped up to fourth grade (something the school calls “double promotion”), her teachers expressed concern that she would struggle socially. Just the opposite has happened, however, perhaps in part because she had not formed one of those foundational kinds of friendships in second grade that would have made skipping third grade hard.

During the first half of fourth grade, E settled in with a tight little group of smarties. I was pretty happy that she had a crew and certainly not disappointed that they were the brainiacs of the class. I finally got to meet the two boys when they came for E’s birthday party in January. Great kids. The other girl of the group couldn’t make it, though. We finally managed to have her over a couple of weeks ago and the love affair has blossomed between E and T now that they have been able to spend hours and hours together outside of school. E is beside herself with joy when with or plotting to be with T. And T, another great kid, seems to feel the same. And I have to admit that that joy is a little infectious… Remember your fourth grade best friend? You ate dinner at one or the other of the houses almost every night… You sat together everyday at lunch… You played together everyday, all day long in summer… And all those sleepovers…

I’m very happy for E.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Fighting the Blues with Orange

Feburary was not the kindest month. I did not ride my bike, I did not finish the Girl Watching article (though it is getting close...), and I did have many bouts of serious grumpiness. We had lots of beautiful snow and even some clear, sunny days to go with it, but I found myself battling the blues for much of the month.

Part of my decision to tackle the kitchen was the hope that having a project would help me feel a bit more energized and connected to something. So the wallpaper came down, the scrubbing and patching commenced, stinky primer went up, much debate over color ensued, and finally 7 hours of painting netted me an orange kitchen. Well, it isn't really orange... technically, it is "pumpkin patch" -- a sort of orangish/brownish/terra cotta kind of color. Along the way, the kids, Andy, Shannon and Laura all pitched in. There is still caulking and organizing to do, but step one is done. Hopefully, I can get the ceiling fan replaced soon and pick out some new window treatments as well. I like it.

There are two things I particularly like about the recent changes (besides the color and lack of wallpaper). The first is the new arrangement of the stove/fridge area. For some reason the cabinet that is now in between them was over on the far side of the stove. Moving it in between and moving the microwave to the other side of the kitchen has netted me a butcher block work space next to the stove!
Second, is the new outlet/garbage disposal switch. It used to just be a switch, but now it does both and that means that the space above the dishwasher is much more useful.