Posted in sqt

{sqt} – disability rights, epidemics, communication, love, and lemons

  1. Some good news this week – the FDA has banned the electric shock devices used by the Judge Rotenberg center to control disabled (primarily autistic) patients. From the ACLU statement in response to the ban:

    “Using what are essentially human cattle prods to shock people with disabilities into compliance is simply barbaric. For over 40 years, the disability rights movement has fought to ban the use of abusive ‘behavioral treatment’ methods such as these ESDs. The FDA’s decision today banning their use should be seen as a necessary and important first step to securing a broader prohibition on the use of aversive interventions.
    “People with disabilities deserve the right to be supported with dignity and respect, and there are no circumstances under which they should be subjected to pain as a means of behavior modification.”
    – Susan Mizner, director of the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program
  1. Some not-so-good news is that the novel coronavirus COVID-19 does seem to be of potentially greater concern than I originally thought (in line with the flu in terms of transmission rate and severity, far lower in total number of cases so far, but still concerning to researchers and health care workers because it is an unknown agent). In response to that, one of the labs we frequently work with at the university is optimizing protocols for high-throughput diagnosis and training people to run those protocols; if an emergency situation does occur where the load of potential cases is very high, they’ll be equipped to run 24/7 and process 1000-3000 tests a day. (I say “they”, but I’m hoping to run through the training myself so I can be part of the public health response if the epidemic becomes a serious issue locally. I guess I’m nerdy enough that the opportunity to be involved with a novel virus on even a small scale is just purely exciting to me 😛 )
  1. Coming down to a more personal scale, communication and relationships are so hard. Even when two people are trying as hard as they can, misunderstandings can happen and feelings can be hurt and it’s just all around miserable – so much so that even knowing how a good conversation about something meaningful can fill up my heart like food and drink, it’s tempting to just not even try sometimes. But isolating myself doesn’t lead to health, or happiness, or holiness; it leads to bitterness and selfishness and despair. My sister shared a quote with me today that speaks to this, and of far more than this – of the value and even necessity of pursuing relationship in a self-giving way, of staying alive and invested and connected not for your own sake but that you might in so doing pour out your life for the needs of others and open yourself to be so poured into by others (and I don’t have access to the original formatting of the quote, unfortunately, since that can be significant with poetry):
"I don't want to feel better; I want to know better.
I should have known that God is not in the meal
but in the sharing of the meal.
I should have told you that holiness resides in needing each other,
in acts of survival made generous."
- Julian K. Jarboe, "Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel"
  1. Speaking of powerful quotes from books, I came across this one and realized that far too often I am impatient with and even contemptuous of weakness – starting with myself, but sadly spreading out to those around me as well. I do not often respond to my own struggles with compassion and grace, and that attitude of harsh, high standards can carry over into my interactions with other people. Having had the issue brought to my attention, I’m trying to be extra intentional about cultivating a spirit of love and gentleness instead: to offer open arms and a listening ear instead of an eye roll or an “I told you so”; to wait calmly for someone to process and express themselves instead of letting my attention drift away from them in impatience or disrespect; to make space for struggle and failure and fear and meet people where they are instead of expecting them to succeed in a way or time that’s convenient for me.

    “No one is of the Spirit of Christ but he that has the utmost compassion for sinners. Nor is there any greater sign of your own perfection than you find yourself all love and compassion toward them that are very weak and defective. And on the other hand, you have never less reason to be pleased with yourself than when you find yourself most angry and offended at the behavior of others.”
    – William Law, cited in Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
  1. One of the great blessings of cultivating this gentleness and patience is seeing the happiness and peace it gives to those around you. I think as a parent of small children it’s easier to see things like that – young children are both more sensitive to their parents’ attitudes and more expressive of their own feelings. For example, Rondel has been working really hard on riding his bike the past few weeks. He has training wheels, but he still feels very panicky about balancing, steering, and just generally maintaining control of the bike, especially at faster speeds. It is so easy to become frustrated when he bikes at a slow walking speed – Limerick racing ahead then having to wait for him to catch up – particularly because he doesn’t look anxious at that speed. Some part of my mimd interprets his actions as laziness or an unwillingness to try when really they stem from anxiety and poor motor skills, and my resulting impatience just makes him feel worse. But when I remember to re-evaluate in terms of gentleness and grace, I can see the anxiety and try to help him work through that root problem so that biking can be something fun and energizing for him like it is for his siblings.
  1. Another thing that I’m learning as a parent is how little control we really have in the interests our children develop. Aubade wears princess dresses as often as she can, claps with delight at the thought of going to a shoe store, revels in sparkles and stick-on earrings, and pretends every playhouse is a “princess house.” Just. What. I have no words. Aside from having to tell someone with no concept of monetary value that she can’t have all the shoes she desires, though, it’s actually pretty fun 🙂
  1. Finally, I got a bag of lemons from my mom and need to use them up this weekend! I’m definitely going to make a jar of preserved lemons, now that I know I like them and won’t wait six months before breaking into them, as the batch from last year was beginning to get mushy (still tasted good though). I’m also contemplating making a jar of lemon marmalade, but I’m debating whether or not to add some sort of accent flavor to it. I could go a slightly savory route with rosemary (I made a rosemary and lemon shortbread last week that I loved, and this would be a similar flavor profile), or more Middle Eastern with cardamom (my favorite spice of all time). Or I could keep it straight lemon, simple and bright. Any thoughts?

Head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of the Seven Quick Takes link up! For fellow homeschoolers, there were some helpful/thought-provoking posts on that topic this week that I found encouraging 🙂

Posted in sqt

{sqt} – biking!

I’m joining the SQT link-up today, hosted by Jen at Meditatio this week! She mentions in her takes that she’s been blogging for 20 years which I find completely amazing – head over to read the rest of her post as well as the other linkers 🙂

  1. I’ve worked at the same place for close to 10 years now and I’ve commuted by bike off and on throughout that time – from two different homes, on three different bikes, and across widely varying work schedules. Currently I’m riding a $5 3-speed cruiser with pedal brakes that I bought from a retiree in a trailer park in Apache Junction and biking mostly at night.
  2. Biking at night is very different than biking in the day. I actually wear a helmet now (with a headlight strapped around it and a built-in taillight), and a fluorescent pink vest with reflective stripes. I have pictures but they’re pretty awful 😛 Safety over fashion though! I’m very visible and I can tell that most drivers are giving me a wide berth, but a lot of people just aren’t expecting a biker or feel irritated by the presence of a biker and don’t drive as safely as they could.
  3. I also put cost over fashion and instead of using something like real bike panniers to carry everything I need each day at work, I just have a plastic crate zip-tied to the rear rack of the bike. (I actually Googled how to do this just to make sure it would be stable and I found the most hilarious step-by-step guide. If you need a laugh, or want to attach a crate to your own bike, check it out!)
how not to tie a crate to a bike, image courtesy of the Eugene Bicyclist blog mentioned in take 3
  1. The hardest part about biking to work is making myself do it. Every day I think, “I’m tired, I don’t want to push myself that hard”, or I put off packing a change of clothes or procrastinate checking my tire pressure and lubricating my chain ($5 bikes haven’t had a lot of TLC in their lives and they can really benefit from it. I reduced my commute time by 10 minutes just by lubricating the gear chain, after one horrendous commute home where the bike was fighting me the whole way.). It’s just easier to take the car, since most days I don’t leave until after Paul gets home and his little commuter car is available and driving it doesn’t mean stranding him with the kids.
  2. So why go to the effort? Because every time I get off my bike at the end of my commute, I feel less depressed, less anxious, and more motivated than I did when I got on it. (The therapist I saw after Aubade was born described it as mindfulness biking and it’s pretty accurate – I just sink into the present world around me, the warmth of the sun or the whir of the wheels or the light catching on the trees, and the whirl of anxiety fades.) Of course, in the long-term it’s also just a healthy practice since I don’t have another way to squeeze 25 minute intervals of hard exercise into my daily life, but those short-term benefits are what keep me getting on the bike each day.
  3. Another benefit to biking is the sensory experience of commuting in the dark. I really, really, really loathe driving at night. Between the windshield and my glasses, all the head lights and tail lights and traffic lights and building lights fracture across my vision like broken shards, stars and lines and webs and points that feel like they’re stabbing me, and I have to stay on maximum capacity and focus the entire time just to deal with the lights and be safe and aware. When I bike, head lights are sometimes too bright (and police lights are still desperately painful) but I don’t feel like my whole field of vision is splintering apart.
  4. The flip side, of course, is that a car with a loud engine and a driver who wants to rev that engine proudly is much, much louder without the walls of the car to muffle the sound; it makes me want to get off the bike and stim until I can feel calm again. I wear headphones and listen to music or podcasts when I bike during the day, but at night with the added risk of poor visibility I don’t want to dampen my other senses. So it can make things difficult – but still definitely worth it.
My eyes don’t make such geometrically perfect patterns with the light, and the dimmer lights fracture as well, but other than that this isn’t too far off from what I see. Public domain, picture credit JB Stran.

Do any of you have the option of biking to work? Have you tried it? I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts and experiences 🙂

Posted in family life

bikes!

For Christmas, we used part of our Christmas gift from my grandpa to buy a bike for each of the boys – their first pedal bikes! I’d been scouting Craigslist for months and hadn’t found much besides princess and unicorn bikes with pink streamers… so I figured this would be a good use of the Christmas money, and the boys were excited.

That is, until they tried to ride them, and realized how different it was from the little push bike they were used to. I think they avoided the bikes for at least three weeks before agreeing to try them out again, and for another week or so they wouldn’t want to go farther than down the driveway.

Now, however, they are finally starting to figure things out!

(No, my children never wear shoes if given a choice. Yes, they get that from me…)

While riding down the wide sidewalks at the park, Limerick was passed by a teenager going quite fast on his own bike, and decided that he could also go fast, and started pedaling as hard as he could. He got some speed, and had to go around some corners, and fortunately slowed down before reaching the parking lot or crashing 🙂

Now I can look forward to family bike rides in the not-so-distant-any-longer future! You know, once they get the hang of braking, and can go more than once around the block without getting tired. Baby steps. Or in this case, training wheels, I suppose?

Posted in musings

biking through everyday life

I bike home in the evening, as the sun is getting low and the heat of the day has past, and the last half mile of my ride takes me down a residential street. This time of day, when work and school are done but the day still lingers to hold off the nightly routines, the neighborhood is filled with the soft sounds of people simply living.

A white girl in loose outdoorsy clothes stands close to a black man in the street, both of them touching each other and a bike (his bike, I think), looking into each other’s eyes as they talk.

Three boys around ten years old, two Hispanic and one white, wrestle on the front lawn, laughing and shrieking and trash-talking and acknowledging defeat, alternately.

A little Mexican girl of no more than two bounces up and down on a little wheeled horse contraption that moves forward every time she bounces, her mother patiently walking beside her.

An old man sits in his driveway on his scooter, accompanied by his faithful mannikin, perched upon a second scooter (I’ve seen them driving those scooters together, the old man towing his mannikin behind him, as it somewhat creepily nods and grins along).

A mother stands on her front porch and swings her arms forward into a startlingly loud clap, to the cooing and burbling delight of the baby sitting in its little chair in front of her.

I love this part of my commute. This neighborhood may be poor materially, but it is rich in the simple joys of family and community life; I contrast it to the wealthy neighborhoods I know where the residents don’t even speak to each other except to complain and regulate each other’s activities through their HOAs, and I know which option I’d choose if it had to be one or the other. I crave that freedom to simply be, to savor with gratitude the warm night air and the sounds of people living together and letting each other live in their own way, and I am encouraged every time I bike through it.

Posted in musings

bike thefts and mindfulness

Remember how excited I was about biking in my {SQT} post on Friday? Well… it’s a good thing I’d written that post the night before, because when I went out to the garage that morning both my bike and my husband’s bike were gone. Beautiful brand-new bike (first new bike I’d bought since I was in junior high), stolen. I took the car instead that morning, and worked on cognitive-behavioral techniques about it all day (because sadness triggers a lot of unhelpful thought patterns for me), and prayed about the best way to move forward, and just generally felt sad and disappointed and hurt all day long. It wasn’t just a bike that was stolen: it was my quiet time with God, my exercise time, my outdoor alone time, my time of refreshment and empowerment, that was taken away. And I didn’t know if it would be financially wise to buy another bike when we apparently live in a high-risk area.

But what I did know was that I didn’t want my (very legitimate) sadness to prevent me from experiencing the happiness of all the good things that were just as much a part of my life as the bike theft. Driving home, I thought about how the kids were waiting for me, how they would be excited to see me, and want me to play with them, and fill the house with silly games and wild stories and sweet cuddles – and how my sadness could interfere with my ability to connect with and cherish them, or keep me from feeling the joy of their laughter and craziness. Was I going to let this unknown thief steal the happiness I have with my children? No I was not! It is ok to be sad, I told myself, but right now, in this moment, I am going to seize the joy and beauty and love that presents itself, and let the sadness wait until a time when I can listen to it and determine how to address the practical issues the theft created. The bike was stolen in the past; the commuting will take place in the future; but my children are with me now, offering up their little happinesses, desiring my love and happiness in return. And I can choose what I am going to open my heart up to in this now, this present moment. (Oho! Look at that! It’s my 2017 word of the year!)

One of the things I’ve learned from my therapist is that it’s extremely pointless to try to make a thought or emotion go away. The more one fights it, the bigger and stronger it gets. Choosing to open oneself up to a new thought or emotion, however (a more helpful alternative), allows the unhelpful thought or emotion to slip away, or at least shrink into the back reaches of the mind. So that’s what I tried to do with my sadness and disappointment, by fully living in the present moment so characterized by the happiness (and neediness 😛 ) of my children.

(And in the end, we found two cheap old bikes on Craigslist that will work for now and not be quite as appealing to thieves – or quite as much of a loss if they are stolen! I still miss my bike, but at least I don’t also have to miss biking itself.)

Posted in sqt

{SQT} – my first week back at work!

Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum again this week!

Well, maternity leave is finally up and I’m back at work. Which honestly I’m very happy about, as much as I love motherhood… I just do a lot better when I have some time away from the kids to be task-oriented and rational 🙂 So in that vein, here are seven things I’m grateful for in this first week back!

  1. I’m thankful that my job has such great benefits. Our insurance has covered us through the pregnancy, birth, and Aubade’s two hospitalizations, and getting to take 12 full weeks of paid maternity leave is a huge privilege (at least here in the US). The time to heal, both physically and emotionally, without financial stress, is such a gift.
  2. I’m thankful for the flexibility of my schedule! My supervisor and team have been incredibly accommodating of my attempts to work around my husband’s and my mom’s classes (so that one of us can always be with the kids), which can result is some pretty strange hours, and I’m very appreciative of their understanding. For the rest of this semester I’ll be working four afternoons and one full day (I only work 30 hours a week), which leads me to the next item on the list:
  3. I’m thankful that I still have mornings with the kids. Two days a week I don’t have to leave until after lunch; the other two days I leave mid-morning. So that means I have two days to go out to a park or splash pad without having to rush home or be out in the heat of the day, and two days to play at home and do crafts/cleaning/baking/other activities. It’s a good balance, and a great way to start the day. In addition, it means I can still make it to the church moms’ group on Wednesday mornings! I get a chance to talk with other moms, and the kids get a chance to play in an unforced, unstructured way at a park with other kids.
  4. I’m also thankful for the opportunity to bike to work again. I biked back in 2013-2014, after Rondel was born until I was about 13 weeks into my pregnancy with Limerick, when the onset of summer and a miscarriage scare persuaded me to stop. For some reason, I never started back up, and I’d been missing it. So I bought a new bike (my old one had been stolen) and didn’t give myself the option to chicken out! It’s six miles one way, so it’s a bit tiring given that I haven’t been doing any exercise at all for a long time now, but there’s something unbeatable about the wind in my face, the sun on my arms, the smooth whir of the tires on the asphalt, and the feeling of strength in my legs as the miles go by. It leaves me feeling joyful, energized, and empowered, and I can’t complain about that even on days when I’ve got a headwind both ways 😉
  5. As a corollary to biking again, I’m thankful for a relatively distraction-free time to pray – namely, the hour every day that I’m on the bike. No one is talking to me, I can’t read a book or use my phone, and no one is around me to notice what I’m doing and make me self-conscious. It would be so hard for me to carve out that much time in any other way, and it is so good to have a chance to just be with and talk to God. And if I don’t have anything on my mind or don’t know what to say, a round trip is just about the amount of time it takes me to pray through the Rosary, and it’s hard to go wrong spending an hour meditating on the events of Jesus’s life.
  6. I’m thankful also for my coworkers. My supervisor is absolutely wonderful – intelligent, visionary, adaptable, and pragmatic; he never micromanages, never gets angry about a failure or mistake, always provides opportunities to learn new skills and stretch our abilities, and always listens to and considers our input. My teammate is also great; after a rough period when we were figuring out how to work together, we’re settling into a good rhythm. He is one of the most dependable and hard-working people I know, and he has good lab hands in the bargain so his work is typically impeccable.
  7. Finally, I’m insanely grateful for my husband. My return to work puts more pressure on him, as a lot of his time is now filled up with the kids and his studying has to be squeezed into odd hours or pushed back late into the night. But he still manages to be kind, compassionate, and servant-hearted, even when he’s exhausted and stressed and the boys are waking him up again at 2am. He’ll hold that wakeful little boy in his arms and get him a drink of water and speak words of peace and love to him so that he can go back to sleep, and never complain about how tired he is or speak sharply out of exasperation. He keeps up with the laundry, washes dishes, and feeds the kids nourishing food, and never criticizes me or complains to me if I don’t do as much as I probably should, or if I do something that annoys him (like forgetting to put a new toilet paper roll on the holder… haha). And I know he will be there for me if I need a listening ear or practical advice.

All in all, I’d say it’s been a good first week back, at least for me… it probably was a bit more rough for my husband and the kids, but someone has to pay the bills and I have the blessing of loving the work that I do.