Exercising Willpower

I learned recently about the idea of will being like a muscle that needs to be exercised in order to be strong. I guess before I thought it was like a talent, something some people are born with, like mechanical aptitude, or great hair. but two things have changed my mind about this: I read in a yoga magazine about the idea that the front of your body embodies desire, and the back embodies will. Both sets of muscles must be strong, and will must follow desire. Strong belly, strong back, strong back, strong belly.

Is desire stronger for a lot of us? So many people tell me, “I wish I spoke Spanish,” and I have to tell them that wishing isn’t enough, they have to do it. The same goes for learning to knit, or play music, or anything you desire- the will to do it has to follow.
The other thought I have had about willpower is that most of us try for willpower on the big things in life- quitting smoking, or changing our diet, rather than exercising our willpower on little things for practice. Is there anything bigger than changing your diet? We all try, at one time or another, then discover it’s too big, and blame ourselves for lack of willpower.
I have been training myself-  putting post-it notes on my computer that remind me to do things.  Simple things, mostly- like “stretch” or “menu plan.” As I do them, I feel this satisfaction that I am exercising my will. Yeah, there are benefits to stretching, and to planning out a menu once a week, but the other benefit is that I am doing something simply because I will it.
I have also gotten in the habit of cleaning the kitchen sink every night before I go to bed- no dishes to soak, no goopy pans. Most nights, it is a pain, but most mornings, it is a joy to have a clean sink. I will it to be so!
We have an older house, and there are a lot of little things wrong with it, that I have desired to have fixed, but haven’t had the will to follow through on. So, now that my will is stronger, I have started to work on home projects- not crafty ones, but things that can be defined as “handy.” Things that involve caulk, and levels, and maybe the rental of a heat gun. Projects that I have “desired” to be done, but until now, haven’t had the will to do myself. These are projects that I want to accomplish, that I will accomplish. (slowly, and with plenty of mistakes, I’m sure- watch this space)
So, what do you do to exercise your will? Not resolutions, but things that you desire, and are willing into existence?


You can’t tell the difference from a galloping horse

I’ve been agonizing about this blue scarf (agonizing for me, which entails mentioning it once or twice, but thinking about it all the time) and I have finally decided to just suck it up, finish it, and wear the thing. What made me turn the corner was a friend posted a super cool video on Facebook, with demos of 25 ways to wear a scarf. I was like, man, I wish I had a sca….wait, I do.

The pattern is "Madeira" from Knitting in the Sun, in Gloss, a laceweight wool / silk blend from knitpicks, in Cyan.

My mom always tells stories about her grandmother, who worked for a milliner before she was married, and would make the most creative hats, but that same carefree style didn’t work for making clothes.

Actually, DH will tell you that this is not really Cyan. He's in the business, he knows.

On a hat, you want the flower placed artlessly, casually, as if it just grew there, right on your hat. If you use that same casual artlessness on the side seam of a skirt, you have a problem. My mom always quotes my great-grandmother as saying “well, you can’t tell the difference from a galloping horse!” and declaring that whatever sloppiness in her clothing was just not that big a deal.

I never really understood if I was supposed to be on the horse, or the person looking at me was on a horse…or maybe the horse will be wearing my scarf. That’s a nice image. Anyway, I will artfully twist and knot the scarf I made, and declare that it is not that big a deal. In fact, it is really pretty.

Should I fertilize the plants in the pond. or just buy more goldfish?

oooh, pretty flower...ugh, what's wrong with the lettuce?

My water lily just bloomed- a lovely yellow flower, and I notice that the bloom is the same shade as the water lettuce and the water hyacinth. That’s not good. They are supposed to be a much richer green. My pond book recommends fertilizer spikes for potted plants, but these two are floaters- they have massive furry root systems that absorb nutrients from the water. Nutrients such as fish poo.
I won’t put fetilizer in the water of the pond itself, because that would be hazardous to the fish.

I put 5 comet goldfish in the tank at the beginning of the summer, and have removed one corpse- the other fish are nowhere to be seen, but I am assuming they are alive- Shrodinger’s cat, I guess, if I dig around in the pond searching for them, does that change the outcome? Maybe I don’t really understand what Shrodinger’s cat is all about. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schr%C3%B6dinger%27s_cat   In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t.

Google has helped me once again, though, by suggesting that I put some fertilizer in water in a bucket, set the plants in them overnight and see if that helps.  About half the plants are soaking now- we’ll see what happens.

A year’s supply of garlic

A bucket of garlic, with the dirt still on it.

Last fall I planted around 50 cloves of garlic- just the boring kind from the grocery store. How do I know how many? Because I just harvested 50 heads of garlic, each of which started from a clove.
I don’t know if this will be a year’s supply- I know we don’t buy garlic every week, so 50 should certainly get us through the year, but many of the bulbs I harvested are smaller than the typical grocery store bulb. And, I need to save out some to plant again this fall.
Late September last year, I got a few heads of garlic, broke them up and put them into the ground- half into a brand new bed by the hillbilly goldfish pond and the other half in the Boy’s garden- a 2×2 space that I dedicated to him a couple of years ago so he wouldn’t dig holes randomly. Also, I was hopeful that if he was participating in his vegetable growth, he would be less picky. Not so much. I talked him into the garlic because he does like garlic bread… I planted the cloves about 2 inches apart, which was too close, it turns out. Next year, more space between.
Last week, the leaves were going brown, so I researched when to harvest, and discovered that the time to harvest was in fact, when the leaves were going brown, and while the soil was dry. The thunder was starting to reverberate while I was on the internet, so I went out before the rain came, so I could dig while the soil was still dry. I was extremely conscious of the metal digging fork in my hand as the storm moved in. Got it dug up and into a bucket before the rain, driven diagonal by the wind, came in.
The garlic is curing now- I knocked most of the dirt off the roots, and put the plants into bunches of about 20. I tied twine around the bunches, and I’ll hang them up in the garage, hopefully somewhere where I won’t bump into them every time I go in there. After they cure for a couple of weeks, I’ll trim off the roots and stems and store them in the basement.
I got most of my info from the fine people at http://www.gourmetgarlicgardens.com/growing.htm  which has great quirky information- more than you think you need to know about garlic, the native american flute and southwest US petroglyphs. it’s a rabbit hole right after my own heart.
I also plan to order some “boutique” garlic to plant this fall- with a bit more space, in a different location (rotate stuff in your garden, you know- the best way to avoid pests and disease is not plant the same stuff in the same place year after year.)

You might be wondering, why grow your own? it is cheap and legal at the grocery- per pound, it might be the cheapest produce around. Think about this- if your garlic comes from California, or China, what does it take to ship it here? What kind of pesticides and fertilizer? What’s the carbon footprint of your garlic butter? With very little work, and very little space, I have what I hope is a year’s supply.

Getting dressed from the clean clothes pile

A mom of  a friend of the Girl and I were talking the other day- I was getting cleaned up for a party,and she said that she honestly expected to have a messy house until her kids moved out- she joked about getting dressed off of the clean piles of clothes in the living room. I’ve done this, of course, and you probably have, too.  Maybe not.  Maybe you are better than me… just stop rubbing it in.

When I was planning our party, I figured that I would have to spend like an hour a day cleaning, and I wanted it to be really clean, not just have all the piles of stuff moved into the bedroom, which is what I usually do.  The problem with doing an hour a day, is that is so bleahhh- there’s no system.  Then I came across http:www.flylady.net

I had read about it in the past- in lady’s magazines.  It is a cute little cult about changing your life by setting up routines about keeping your house clean. Cult is mean. It’s not really a cult. Don’t be mad at me, FLYlady!

The routines are simple things like “shine your sink before you go to bed” at first you’re like, what? why clean my sink? but I have been doing this, and it makes a huge difference- when I leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight, they make breakfast that much harder, then DH and the kids pile more dishes in, then we have to run the dishwasher, unload it, then reload it, the counters are awful, and it becomes harder to do anything in the kitchen. But, if I clean the sink and run the dishwasher before I go to bed, then unload it while I am waiting for coffee, everything is smoother, all day.

Another routine is “put out hotspots.” A hotspot is a place where junk accumulates- at our house, my dresser top is one (we have several, but only I am responsible for my dresser) If I don’t take 2 minutes to put my clothes away,then my dresser is piled with bras and unmatched socks, and shirts, and that isn’t any better than getting dressed in the living room. I deserve to live in a clean house.

So, a couple of weeks into these routines, and our house is still relatively clean after cleaning it up for the party.

FLY, by the way, stands for finally loving yourself, and at first I thought, ick, mushy self-love, but I am realizing that I do deserve to live in a clean house, and I have been taking some time to make that happen, rather than yelling at everybody about it.

I’m not killing the slugs, I’m inviting them for a beer, then they die.

Homegrown, organic beautiful, and eaten by me, not by neighborhood gastropods.

We have been having such a wet June (global weirding, or is this normal?) that the slugs are having a field day. My strawberries are getting ripe, and the slugs have been eating half of them. Now, I’m a generous soul, if the slugs would eat some berries, I wouldn’t mind so much, but they seem to eat half of each one.
My MIL has taught me the solution- cheap, grocery-store-type beer in a saucer at ground level. She saves her margarine tubs for this, but I’m too snobby for margarine, so I use salsa containers. You have to bury them so the rim is just at ground level- the slugs are attracted to the carbon dioxide coming off the beer, then they drown in it.

The Boy checks the trap the next day- "EEW! there's beer on my hand!" Our take, a couple of slugs and a spider. Collateral damage- sorry spidey.

I will also set out board traps- pieces of scrap wood on the ground- the slugs hide under them during the day, so I can scrape them off into the compost pile. My friend Schnied’s mom feeds slugs to her goldfish, but I think these slugs are too big for my fish.

There’s been a radio ad recently that just curls my hair- a major pesticide company telling me I need to kill the bugs that are eating my precious garden crops. It just makes me mad- they want me to dust poison on the food I want to eat. Grrrrr. With beer, they die, but it is their choice. And not all of them die…maybe I’m still conflicted.

I’ll add new beer to my traps before we leave for the weekend. Last year, we barely had slug damage, I think, because the garter snakes stepped up to the plate. I realize that for some people, snakes are worse than slugs, but garter snakes are slug eating machines. And you hardly see them- we’ve got great ground cover, which is good snake habitat.

Burr Oaks are smarter than you and I


I have a burr oak tree in the back yard- it anchors the xeric bed, looking tall and beautiful on the end by the swing set. It was exactly as tall as the Girl when she was 3, and now it is taller than my tape measure.  Every year, I examine the buds in mid-May, and wonder if it has died.

This tree is smarter than I am, and smarter than the other trees. I planted it because it is a western native, but I have since learned that it isn’t aRockyMountainnative, it’s from theBlack Hills. Trees that leaf out too early inSouth Dakotaget snowed on, so the burr oak has evolved to wait.

The thing is, a lot of times, trees that leaf out too early inColoradoget snowed on, too. Our average last frost date is May 15, and this year, I wouldn’t have been too surprised if our recent rainy days hadn’t turned into snowy mornings, killing off apple blossoms and breaking branches off ashes, and maples and other more hopeful trees. Nope- the burr oak knows what it’s doing.

This little leaf is waiting for spring before it unfolds all the way.

There is no joy in warball

            One of the good things for me about doing yoga is the non-competitiveness of it. I have spent a lot of my life feeling klutsy and bad at sports, and I finally have found a way to move my body where I’m not at risk of losing. When I was in middle school, I was placed in an “adaptive P.E.” class. It was me, another similarly clumsy smart girl, and 2 older kids with Down Syndrome. We threw balls at targets, walked on balance beams, caught bean bags. It was awful, as if regular P.E.,  they gave it to me as an intervention. I remember feeling so frustrated. That clumsy 12 year old is sometimes alarmingly close to the surface of my everyday adult life. I cried a few weeks ago in Yoga class, because I couldn’t do “Dancer’s Pose”- which is where you stand up, reach back, kick your foot up and grab it, then lean forward, balancing. 

Step one, reach back, step two, find your foot...can I go back to step one again...

 That physically retarded (can I use that phrase? probably not)  12 year-old-swam up to the surface, and I wound up just bawling in child’s pose for a while.

After I got myself back together, I got up and finished the class.

I went to class the next week though, and managed to find my foot after asking for help from Kristin, who’s awesome. www.lovelandyogacorefitness.com I’m still not great at the balancing part, but I get stronger every time.

            I had a realization today, in the shower (don’t all great realizations come in the shower?) that I shouldn’t be doing yoga to get better for next week’s class, but to get better for life. See,  when I couldn’t find my stupid foot, I made plans to practice holding my foot back, grabbing it, leaning forward, then I felt guilty when I didn’t follow that plan. A lifetime of experience with gym teachers gave me the idea that I should throw balls at targets to improve my eye hand coordination, or do squats to have stronger glutes, or run faster so that I can … run faster.

            I need to try to keep the idea before me that I walk because walking helps me think, and dancing is fun, and riding a bike feels good, and yoga gives me peace.  I can’t blame the gym teachers- maybe they were trying to teach me this all along, and I wasn’t ready for it. They found joy in war ball? doing the shuttle run gave them time to think, doing jumping jacks brought them peace? Maybe.

            So, what is your favorite way to move your body now? What did you hate in gym class?  Bonus points if the answer is the same, but the attitude has changed… 

Heating the house with tea

The tea stein.

So, as rain turns to snow outside my window, I have begun the yearly process of trying to heat the house with tea. It works, somewhat. After a gloriously warm and dry fall, we are finally getting some cold weather.
We live in an older house, a mid-century-fabulous, low-slung ranch, with huge windows facing East and West in the living room. Love the house, but it isn’t very draft proof. DH said something about using a stick of incense to find the drafts in the front window, and I said, “Oh, so you can caulk the cracks?” He looked shifty eyed- he hadn’t thought about it that far. We don’t have a caulking gun, so it would involve a trip to Home Depot. Home Depot is a place that makes DH very uncomfortable.
So, I am heating my house with tea. In the past I have tried heating with a pot of soup, simmering away all afternoon. I have also tried it with chocolate chip cookies, but I’d like to be able to zip my ski pants, so instead, it’s tea.
Before I got my electric tea pot, I used to fill the kettle, turn it on high, walk away. When I eventually returned, it would be boiled away. I would have heard the whistle, if the whistle hadn’t broken. This runs in the family. My dad would do the same thing, walk away, get caught up in something, and when he came back, the pot would have boiled dry and started to melt. He burned through the bottom of several tea kettles this way. Eventually, he started making tea in the microwave. This has been suggested to me, but with the microwave you don’t have the advantage of heating up the house as well.

To me, winter interest means it looks good through a window, covered with snow, while I drink tea.

It is probably only psychological, that the house is warmer when the teapot is going, but the placebo effect can’t explain everything. So, once the water is boiling, I slosh some sugar into my big pottery stein, add a teabag and fill it with water. I cup the mug in my hands to warm them, try a sip, but of course it is far too hot to even slurp carefully, so I bring it to the couch, and set it on the end table to cool. Or, sometimes I sit cross legged and put it in my lap, although that sounds kind of creepy, now that I see it written down in black and white. I hear your diagnosis, “deep rooted psycho-sexual problems.”
The tea finally cools enough to drink, and the pottery mug keeps it warm for a longish time, but by the time it is half done, it is too cold, so, I turn on the kettle again, go to the bathroom, and when I get back the water is hot, and I refill. Now, here is the beautiful part, since it is half cold, the tea is just right, immediately, so with the second round, I don’t have to wait as long. The tea might be weak, though, so I tip some more sugar in from the bowl, and add another tea bag. The process repeats itself all afternoon, all winter.

This is a broccoli plant- and after the snow melted, I actually picked the broccoli- and it's fine!

It’s not depreciation, it’s self-deprecation, idiot! er, I mean, Self Deprecation and Giftedness

bedside reading

A selection of books by my bed.

My daughter is ten, and in the gifted and talented program at her school. A few years ago, when she was first being tested, I told my sister in law, and she asked if my husband was gifted, and if that was where she had inherited her intelligence…I realized that I had done too good a job hiding my light, as it were. Covering, acting like I wasn’t as smart as I am…

Actually, I have spent 40 years swinging pendulum style from showing off knowledge, back to acting normal, then exploding with brilliance, then faking idiocy. In the 80’s in a small town, it wasn’t okay for me to act smart. I remember hemming and hawing at Trivial Pursuit questions pretending the answer wasn’t obvious, sitting on my hands in Spanish in junior high. It was absolutely not appropriate for me to get better grades on Spanish tests than the Mexican-Americans who spoke Spanish at home- they were mean to me because of it. I didn’t stop trying, I just tried to be less obvious about what I knew. Other people who grew up with me may argue, perhaps they were super-intelligent and felt their intelligence was nurtured by their peers. No one else has lived my life, and being super genius was not the way to go, most of the time for me. I developed a “self-deprecating” style in the hopes that people would like me. It doesn’t always work.

Inside, I’m still nerdy, and desperate for people to like me, or at least not hate me.. I sometimes wish I could be that person who thinks, if they don’t like me they can f— themselves, but I’m just not. See, I can’t even cuss on my own blog, I’m so desperate for you to not be offended. So, the pendulum swings again, and I listen politely while people explain things to me that I already understand, then I show off, explaining how linguists use a phonetic alphabet to transcribe people’s accents, or that the Rosetta stone is actually in the British Museum. Then I make a joke, put myself down before anyone else gets a chance to. Those boys in junior high Spanish were mean as a form of social control- they didn’t want to feel bad themselves, so they made me feel bad.

At least I have chosen a job where my intelligence is mostly rewarded. I teach, and that is a job where I can be a know-it-all. I’m supposed to be an expert, if not a genius, and so I mostly fit in here.
As an adult, I have found circles of friends who like me for me, a husband who is my peer. I am so lucky. The pendulum doesn’t swing so far that I am afraid of falling off anymore.

Knowing this, I worry for my daughter. She is, as I said, also gifted (she gets it from both of us, dammit…)and I see her crazy pendulum swings now, in upper elementary, and wonder what middle school will be like. When she gets an answer on her homework wrong, she’ll hit her forehead with the heel of her hand, chanting “stupid,’tupid, ‘tupid!” Then the pendulum swings again and she says, “actually, Mom…” and correct my misconceptions. She recently learned the word misnomer, and went around using it correctly. “Monty Python’s Flying Circus is actually a misnomer, it isn’t a circus that flies…”

I wish her grace- the skill to gracefully show what she knows without appearing snotty, I wish her confidence, not arrogance. How do I guide her? Her G.T. teacher, herself a gifted person who is the mother of a gifted girl, oddly isn’t much help…she has just come through the teenage years and wonders how she survived, I think. Conversations in the teachers’ lounge usually turn into parents bragging about how smart their children are, a round robin story topping festival. Not helpful, when I want my little girl to grow up happy…

I shared the story about my sister in law not having noticed I was smart with a colleague, herself a gifted woman. She laughed. In my voice, she said, “Oh, see, I’ve been hiding the fact that I’m smart around you because I didn’t want you to feel baaaad.” She had also spent time covering up her intelligence, but she had realized that she could be one of those people who says F you. She knows who she is, and and she isn’t going to act any differently just to make other people feel comfortable. She probably even can curse on her blog. I’ll just stay here on this pendulum until it slows down.

photo credit, Jeff Stahla

If this is how she is after a carnival, imagine her on a bad day.

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