Pain and Practice

[The writing in this blog post is an excerpt from a Free Write I just did with Iphy, Hannah, and Doug. I will explain the rules of Free Write in another blog post… but not today cause I’m running out of time…]

I can feel the muscles in my hand straining and sore (have I written so much or just put too much pressure on it? There’s a metaphor there). My hand muscles and face muscles are sore as I relearn the feelings of their regular use – my flute embouchure has gone to crap (sorry about the language but it’s true – I used to be able to do 2 octaves of chromatic-scale longtones before I got fatigued and now after just a few notes I hurt).

I am thinking about skills that take muscle practice in part because I was talking to Serena earlier about lifting and how much I miss it. My body still hurts from Wednesday’s game of Shark Tag. Even though the stiffness is kind of a pain (pun possibly intended) I am trying to mentally frame it as something positive: a reminder that the micro-tears I am causing in my muscles with practice will heal stronger and grow my endurance; that ignoring my body does not make me disembodied; that I am more powerful when my being inhabits more than just my head.

Here’s this week’s mosaic!

[click to enlarge]

Whiteboard Mosaic Blog! [first full week]

This summer I discovered a new reflective tool that I love: done column mosaics! They’re exactly what they sound like – you take all the stickies from the “done” column of your Kanban and make them into a mosaic (maybe doodling between them, maybe not, maybe writing reflections between them, maybe not…). I like that it’s a flexible medium for seeing what I’ve accomplished; as a self-reflective human, I’m always interested in what Past Mel was up to, as a Virgo, I hate the redundant work of rewriting things from my Kanban and as a serial-notebook-keeper I don’t like to leave things out of my personal records because then I won’t know that I’ve done them! Done column mosaics have been the answer for me, and so here’s this week’s!

Cookie n00bs – Star Wars Edition

Nancy admires James’ tiny Yodas
n00bs hard at work cutting out cookies!
Xander shows off his marshmallow Storm Troop Cupcake
Xander shows off his marshmallow Storm Trooper Cupcake
Oliver made Chewbacca and Jabba the Hut
Oliver made Chewbacca and Jabba the Hut
Aniyah shows off her creation
Aniyah shows off her (slightly frosting-bloody) creation
Saylor and Yoda!
Saylor and Yoda!

This week we made and decorated Star Wars cookies in cook n00b with Nancy! Initially, Nancy and I were worried that the cookie cutouts wouldn’t look good when they came out of the oven, or that that would be too complicated to decorate. What we forgot to consider is how creative and adaptive all the kids are! We were blown away by the variety of Wookiees, Yodas, Vaders and C-3PO’s (and even a Jabba the Hut cupcake!) – such a good reminder for us grownups that things don’t have to be precisely perfect to be beautiful, creative, and delicious!

Slaying the Witch-King of Patriarchy

“‘My friend,’ said Gandalf, ‘you had horses, and deeds of arms, and the free fields; but she, born in the body of a maid, had a spirit and courage at least to match yours. Yet she was doomed to wait upon an old man, whom she loved as a father, and watch him falling into a mean dishonored dotage…’”

From the first time I read LOTR at the tender age of eleven, I loved it. It wasn’t my first experience of high fantasy, but the seriousness with which Tolkien approached his heroes and the evil they faced appealed to me: I took myself seriously, and even then I believed that the small can slay the mighty, can stand up against evil. Tolkien’s worldbuilding is impressive and unprecedented and I’m grateful to the father of the genre I love for bringing about the high fantasy renaissance, which lead to the publication of novels like The Golden Compass, The Broken Earth Trilogy, and every perfect book Tamora Pierce has ever written.

Having established my credentials as a serious fantasy fan (come at me, bros) there’s something I have to get off my chest. LOTR has a serious lady problem. Three and a half books we’ve encountered only 5 female-identified characters in this months-long journey. Five! In the course of literally thousands of pages of epic journey! How is that even possible???? Let’s review:

  1. Goldberry River-daughter, wife of Tom Bombadil, first lady-bodied character to meet our Hobbits on their journey. Like Tom, she’s tied to the Old Forest outside the Shire but, unlike him, she doesn’t doesn’t move the plot forward at all, unless you count dancing upon the morning dew while starry-eyed Hobbits watch her, and their hearts were glad of it.
  2. Arwen Elrond’s daughter and Aragorn’s future wifey. Doesn’t have any lines. None. Zero. Zip. HOW????
  3. Galadriel Lady of Lothlórien/Lady of the Golden Wood/Keeper of the Ring of Adamant/mightiest and fairest of all Elves remaining in Middle Earth. Or, as every character who hasn’t met her alleges, an evil sorceress who entraps men in her woods, never to be seen again.
  4. Éowyn Niece of Theoden, King of Rohan, and ice princess of my heart. Hangs around caring for her bespelled, elderly uncle until Gandalf rides in and convinces the king and literally every other able-bodied male to go mess with Saruman in Isengard. This leaves Éowyn, shieldmaiden of Rohan, home alone to defend their capital city which we assume that she does successfully, but don’t know because at that point in the Two Towers all the men ride off to adventure and that’s the last we see of her or any female characters at all until…
  5. Shelob She’s actually just an ancient, venomous, offspring-slaying, darkness-vomiting,  spider-monster who drinks the blood of Elves and Men and Dwarves and Orcs and Hobbits alike.

Yes, Éowyn does go on the slay the Witch-King of Agmar, a task that no man can complete. What happens after that? Everyone assumes she’s dead, talks about how beautiful she is and how tragic her collapse/death was and then Aragorn heals her physical wounds so she can fall in love with Faramir and “heal her soul.” She’s a badass character who Tolkien recognizes as being a worthy warrior unfairly limited by her gender. But, instead giving her a chance to prove her worth and take charge of her own story (just like all the other male-identified characters get to….) he writes her a love story and calls it a day.

No story is perfect, but we all deserve better. Now, more than ever, we could use the reminder from the genre that prides itself in building worlds, that there’s plenty of room to build awesome characters of all genders to kick evil out on its butt.

Chili Champs

Today I was the guest chef at cook n00b and we made chili! In the beginning, I got a little overwhelmed by everyone asking me what they could do, but after a minute everyone had a job they seemed to be happy with. (Plus, the chopping went much faster with everyone pitching in.) The chili turned out delicious, as it always does. Honestly the best part about chili is that it’s almost impossible to mess up. Here’s the “recipe” we used:

Chop 2 medium yellow onions. Put one large pot on medium-high heat and after about 30 seconds, add the onions and 2 lbs of ground beef to the pan (the pan should be hot enough to make the onion and meat sizzle). Let the meat brown all the way.

As the meat is browning, chop 2 green and 1 red pepper. Personally, I prefer jalapeno peppers to regular green ones but today we went with the non-spicy peppers, so as to appeal to a wider range of humans. Set the chopped peppers aside. Gus, Timo, Douglas, and Nahla did most of the chopping.

When the meat is all brown with no red in it, add the spices. We used the spices from this chili kit but as long as you’ve got cumin and paprika you can throw in whatever you want and it’ll still be chili, promise. Iphy and Hannah stirred the chili as I added the spices, which helped distribute them pretty evenly throughout the meat.

Then add one large can of crushed tomatoes, 2-3 chopped cloves of garlic, 2 cans of kidney beans, 1 can of black beans, 1 can of corn (all drained, except the tomatoes, obviously). I also added a tomato-can’s-worth of water and a little masa flour so it would thicken up nicely.

We let that cook for about 15 minutes, then added the peppers and cooked them till they were soft (about 10ish more minutes – the best way to tell is a taste test). For sides, we made rice and cornbread (from a box, because I’m not fancy enough to know how to make cornbread from scratch). Ryan made the rice which was particularly awesome because whenever I make rice on the stove, I burn at least a little of it to the bottom of the pot.

That’s it! Chili is more art than science, so trust your taste buds and don’t be afraid that you’re gonna over-season or overcook it (in fact, I prefer to cook my chili for about an hour – just be sure to add more water if you plan on cooking it for a long time). I particularly recommend making it while nervously putzing around your kitchen because it’s Sunday afternoon and the Giants are playing terribly – chopping is a great distraction from football-induced rage and then you get to eat comfort food when they lose. Happy Chili everyone!

Halloween, Procrastination and Pavlova

Even though I was sick, I came in on Halloween and am so glad that I did – everyone’s costumes were so creative!

img_2057Iphy as a Holy Cow

img_2048Sterling as Nightmarionne

img_2049Anakin Skywalker and Kylo Ren play minecraft

img_2050Doug as the poo emoji (Timo wanted to know why he chose the iOS version)

img_2054Saylor as a scary park ghost

img_2055Iphy painted my face and I looked v scary.

My old friend Procrastination is back – as soon as I opt into a challenge it whispers “What if you just made it up tomorrow?” and I respond “Great idea, Procrastination, let’s go grab some coffee and catch up!” And every time I kick it down the road, Natnowrimo gets bigger and scarier. Stories are hard. I’ll work on it this weekend XD

Today we made Pavlova with Nancy and Alex at my first ever cook n00b!

img_2067 img_2068 img_2070 img_2071 img_2072 img_2074

dropping defensiveness to waivers, picking up exploration

Why is there Something instead of Nothing?

Why are there physics and pumpkins and dumplings and python projects and jump-scare video games and lacrosse balls and sports with complicated rules and games with simple mechanics and rainbow keyboards and expo markers and existential questions and 8-bit philosophy and Cartesian uncertainty and schools where kids must be gently pushed out the door on Friday afternoons because they don’t want to leave and I don’t either which is why I’m still here, writing this blog post instead of going home to nurse the cold burgeoning in my esophagus and lungs, why are there places that feel safe even for strangers, why are some places safe and how do we know they are real if we can’t trust our senses?

Why is there a separation between the Mind and the Body? What do those borderlines feel like – high water marks in the sand of the beach or the time between night and day when it is neither or not or both? What is the difference between the darkness in the squishy part of my head behind my eyes and the darkness of the Nothing beyond space? Why did I stop asking myself these questions and can physics answer them? Can science fiction? What about realistic fiction or fantasy or memoir or first person shooters or 2D adventures or VR explorations or social-deductive games or Solitaire? Descartes believed that the only thing that is verifiably real is doubt because he was the sort of philosopher who mistrusts the body in service of the Mind but I mistrust all Minds that don’t trust their Body because what is computation with no inputs?img_2032

There must be Something instead of Nothing because Saylor carved this pumpkin today and my throat hurts and the sun is setting again, east of here.


the rules of the perch

If you’re on the perch and you get down, the perch is open.

You can’t call fives on the perch.

When you get goggled on the perch, you must climb all the way down and put your shoulder on the floor. The top of the perch does not count as the floor.

Only one person is allowed on top of the perch at a time (unless the second person is deemed sufficiently tiny).

If you’re at the top of the perch, you have the power to soothe hurt feelings (or not).

The perch is “really not stable.”

semi-solid cheese fondue and dark chocolate pretzles

This week I learned that you can make cheese fondue without the wine (and it’s still delicious) and that when dark chocolate fondue is bubbling that’s because it’s hot enough to burn your mouth. I learned to watch out for goggles from mischievous players perched on the top of the bookshelf in the library, where the vantage point is perfect for ambushing unsuspecting humans, and that I like playing the goggles game even when I have to put my shoulder to the ground because it’s still not losing, and that it’s okay if I don’t play werewolves on a day when everyone’s energy is feeling overwhelming (in fact, it’s better to stay away because quiet places pop up all around school while a rowdy game of werewolves is happening). I was reminded that sad frustrated humans are still accountable for their actions and that’s more than okay – it’s important. I learned that variables in Python are more flexible than they are in Java and that talking through the architecture of building a game before writing code is much more comprehensible than just starting with the build. I learned that the pen-pineapple-apple-pen song has it’s own wikipedia page. I learned to knit but not yet to perl, to cast on and trust that at the end of all these stitches I will learn to cast off.fondue!soldering lessonsAbby teaches Timo to knitJiana's doodles Sterling was trapped in the magical land beyond the self and needed the power of friendship to release him

park trip week

There are ducks at the park, and they don’t run off right away when humans charge at them, even when those humans are small and loud. It’s harder to jump off a swing at 25 than it was when I was 5. The algae bloom is in full swing. Small humans make like excellent billy goats when climbing Central Park boulders. Tire swings are the most fun swings. Bees like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I am made easily nervous but learning to trust small humans when they run off half a block ahead of me (and not dash off after them, because this is not a chase game).