Friday, January 18, 2019

The Old and the New

Happy 2019!

The weeks have been flying by, and in my world lately, it's been all about writing, running, walking, and making good food.

Specifically, soup.

There's just something about January and soup. It's probably the fact that the average temperature has been in the mid-20s Farenheit all week (or so), and now we're bracing for an ice/rain/sleet/snow/wedontknowWTF storm on Sunday that will wind up sending temps plummeting into the single digits for Monday.

So I've stockpiled soup: leek and potato soup and sweet potato soup, to be exact. I've also got a batch of veggie chili made with black beans, sweet potato, and quinoa at the ready.

I've been trying to eat healthily (or healthier) to start off the new year (I cycle through this phase pretty regularly, don't I?), so the house is currently full of fruits and veggies.

And books.  I've been reading like crazy lately, and it's been quite wonderful (as it so often is).

I even went to the library last week and took out a stack of books (most of them work-related), so I'm all set to sit by the fire with the kitty cats this weekend: we'll listen to the wind howl, and the sleet (or rain or freezing rain or snow or whatever) ... make whatever sound it's going to make... and while they cat-nap, I'll sip soup and hope that the power doesn't go out.

I may knit a bit as well. Because that's been happening a lot too lately.

I didn't have a New Year's Resolution this year, per se--probably because I was too busy chillaxing with a friend to come up with one.

On New Year's Day, though, I read a blog that I like and the woman who writes said blog talked about all kinds of New Year's rituals that her family enjoys. I'm not a ritualistic kind of person, but one thing she mentioned that I liked is that in her family, they make a commitment on New Year's Day to spend a few minutes doing the things they'd like to do throughout the year.

Without planning it, I'd done the same: I did a wee bit of writing while my friend was sleeping in, then I did a wee bit of knitting, and there was a walk, a nice meal at a nice restaurant... well, you get the picture.

So when I came back from my New Year's weekend away, I decided to continue the momentum as much as possible. I've been trying to finish up projects that needed finishing and just generally focus on cultivating the mindset that I want to have throughout the year.

In the midst of all of this, I got the good news that I've been given a course reduction for the next two years so that I can pursue a research project proposal. Needless to say, this helped the overall mindset-momentum mightily.

I've also been thinking quite a bit about friendship. On Christmas morning, a friend surprised me by showing up at my door with a beautiful red poinsettia, and I find that it's become a nice reminder of what I want to pursue in terms of my friendships in 2019 and beyond.

I've noticed that, ever since I turned 50 last October, my attitude has changed. It had been changing slowly but steadily before that, but (perhaps not surprisingly) it seems to me that 50 marked a mindset-milestone.

Honestly, I think I've gotten to a point where I cast a somewhat wary eye all around. I've come to realize that being an introvert, far from being a liability, is actually quite the little asset.

Because I don't crave company, I can focus my friendship energies on what psychologists call "reliable alliances."

This article by Brent Green suggests that, as we go through life, we encounter 3 basic types of friendships: "convenience" (people who live nearby, who work where you do, etc.), "cosmetic" (superficial connections who are often "friendly" because you can benefit them somehow), and "interdependent."

In "interdependent" friendships, as Green points out, "[b]oth parties contribute and receive." Not surprisingly, these are in fact the strongest and healthiest kinds of friendships.

As this article by Ellen Hendriksen similarly suggests, "Good friendships represent an equilibrium of support."

I agree that this sense of interdependence is healthy, but I also acknowledge that it can be somewhat ideal: obviously, you have to look at the friendship over the long haul, not simply in the short term.

For me, I think it boils down to this: at the end of the day, I've been around the block a few times now (as the little half-century mark of my age suggests), and I just can't bring myself to worry anymore about whether someone is being straightforward or self-serving with me.

In some ways, I've come to realize that if I do find myself wondering about that, it probably means they're not being straightforward. And that just is what it is.

It doesn't mean the person doesn't like you or care about you, it just means they aren't a "reliable alliance."

All the cards aren't on the table.

This used to be something that would give me cause for concern. I used to think it meant that I had to try harder, to put in more effort, "be there for them" and that if I did, eventually, I could earn the person's trust by "proving" myself.

Now, at 50, I find myself thinking, "Meh. I got nuttin' to prove. So why worry about it?"

I think, chances are, if you had a window into the big picture of what's going on with them--if all the cards were on the table-- you'd probably be pretty surprised.

And so would a whole bunch of other people they spend time with, who may not even know about the connection this person is trying to forge with you.

What I like best about my newfound attitude is, it isn't cynical just... common-sensical.

It's helped me think about how to structure my time and shift my focus in ways that have been working out well for me for these first few weeks of the New Year.

So here's to 2019! May it be The Year of Reliable Alliances.  

Monday, December 24, 2018

That Week, Tho

Last week was a doozy.

It started a week ago Saturday, and for some reason, everything seemed to be coming in at once, and all via email or online.

I don't know what is with people, but something is clearly up with them, and it is not good.

All I could think in the midst of all of this was that a whole bunch of bad people-karma had decided to land on my doorstep last week, compelling me to work through it all.

There was a brief lull, just long enough for me to get all the grading done, and for that I am grateful.

Because really, why should innocent students suffer?  They shouldn't. They were not in any way shape or form the problem.

It was... "the Grown-Ups" (for lack of a better term).

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't think people should navigate relationships from behind a computer screen. They're just not good at it.

I know I'm probably more or less alone on this point, but I really don't think social media, email, etc. have done the human race all that many favors. It's gotten to the point where I now celebrate the fact that I shut the wifi off completely for at least 12 hours a day.  

Last week, there was the credit card company again.

Remember how my card was hacked, back in June? Yeah, well, 6 months later, I'm paying for the problems caused, not by the thief, but by the CREDIT CARD COMPANY's handling of the problem.

Talk about ironic.

Ye gods, but I hate them at this point, I truly do. After an hour on the phone with them, I ended up looking like this:


They made me feel like crap, and gutted my day. I'd been really looking forward to that day, because the grading was done, and it was my first official day "off" but no, I could not have that, I just could not.

The Cosmos said "No."

I ended up going for a walk and then buying myself a little "cake" of yarn to knit, just to cheer myself up (needless to say, I paid for it with cash).

I'd promised myself pizza and Christmas cookies, so I made both.

And then I went to bed early, which is really the best thing to do when someone has made your day ... bad.  If I'd had a teddy bear, he would have been soaked with tears before I drifted off to sleep that night murmuring, "those rat bastards...".

But as my mom always said, "This too shall pass." And it did.

Of course, when said credit card company sent me a customer service "satisfaction" survey 48 hours later, I filled it out like this:


My best friend said she wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of that survey. As I told her, "If there was comment box, there was a comment."

It was therapeutic.

As far as the other pesky humans went... meh. Not worth worrying about.

I decided about midway through 2018 that I simply wasn't going to navigate friendships or relationships via screens and computers anymore, and that's been for the best, no question.

Life is calm and generally peaceful (unless and until I check my credit card, that is), and it's hard to argue with that kind of success.

As "the Week" was happening, the motion sensor light on my front porch decided it simply just couldn't anymore, so it began switching on and off, at random.

But only barely on, and then immediately off. Sort of like someone had just discretely snapped your picture when you stepped onto my front porch.

If you walked in front of it, and it picked up your movement, you felt like you were on the catwalk.

(And yes, I did begin humming that song, "I'm Too Sexy" at one point, because really, how could you not?)

If it hadn't been on my front porch and visible from the street, and if I hadn't been so mad-sad at the credit card company, and if the anxious part of me hadn't been just a tiny bit worried that the whole light fixture was going to suddenly spark into some kind of lightning-strike-laser-beam kind of thing (because it was that kind of week, after all), I probably would have begun voguing.

Especially when it began flashing like a strobe light. Again, at random. Always at random.

It would be pitch dark for hours on and then..."strike a pose!"

Needless to say, I was not at all certain my neighbors would be amused by any of this, so although it took some doing, I got it to stop--once it became clear that the guy I'd called and asked to come fix it really wasn't going to show up.

Did I mention "people" in the context of "last week"? Yeah.

But as of Saturday, things seemed to settle down, which makes sense because that made it one full week of stress and chaos, with a lull for grading (and if I'm here calling "grading" a "lull" that gives all the teachers out there a sense of just how nutty it all was).

Today, I took a 4-mile walk in some snow showers, bought a couple of knitting needles that I do sort of "need" to finish a current project, and made a mince pie.

Tomorrow, there will be a feast, but tonight it will be a Silent Night.

With wine and without wifi. Curled up under a blanket by the Christmas tree, with a book and some knitting and the kitties, always the kitties.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 14, 2018

"Zigzag Writing"

I've been a card-carrying Writing Geek this week, which means that in addition to getting quite a bit of writing done, I also read (yet another) book about writing when I wasn't... writing.

This time around it was Helen Sword's Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write (2017), and as with many of the books about writing that I've blogged about (for example here and here, or even this one) I recommend this one as well.

The focus of Sword's argument is, we need to think about writing as something that can be conducive to both productivity and pleasure--too often the conception of writing for academia involves only the former, and not the latter.

In fact, Sword suggests, academic writing tends to be associated with misery and drudgery--as she puts it, "we find ourselves crushed under the weight of expectations and the rubble of our fractured workdays" (ix).

The key is "to bring air and light and time and space back into the picture" (ix) by reimagining both our writing and ourselves as writers, focusing on the extent to which we're "artisans of language," who write in order to be productive, yes, but also because the act of writing brings us pleasure (x).

As Sword suggests, "perhaps we can learn to recognize productivity and pleasure as commodities that supplement and enhance each other's value" (x).

To do this, though, we need to recognize that productivity is not the only--and perhaps not even the most important--measure of academic "success." As Sword points out, there are "other, less measurable, academic accomplishment such as craftsmanship, collegiality, pride, and even joy" (x).

That said, of course, we're reading a book about writing and successful academics, so the focus of Sword's work is on conceiving of a more symbiotic relationship between productivity and pleasure.

The essence of Sword's conception is what she identifies as "the Writing BASE," the "Behavioral," "Artisanal," "Social," and "Emotional" habits that form the cornerstone of your writing "house."

Sword's website gives you the opportunity to visually map this BASE: you can find it by clicking on this link for The Writing Base.

According to Sword, "the broader and more symmetrical your base is, the more stable and spacious your House of Writing will be" (5)--in short, the more air and light and time and space you will feel you have created in your "architectural" approach to writing.

My House of Writing is generally pretty solid, but--not surprisingly, given my status as card-carrying Introvert--the "Social" aspect is pretty lacking.

That said, I will acknowledge that several years ago, after I co-authored a couple of articles with a wonderful co-author, I realized that I not only wouldn't mind writing with someone else, I might even occasionally enjoy it. This had not seemed even remotely possible to me in all the years preceding this particular writing project: I simply assumed I "wrote solo," end of story.

But I also realize that, given that my inclination is to write alone, I'd need to find the right co-writer before I'd agree to undertake such a thing again. The good news is, I now find myself scanning the horizon for possible co-writers in ways that I never would have back when the "Social" cornerstone of my writing was, well, non-existent.

I do try to talk about writing and my writing projects, but I've found that this generally doesn't go all that well. I think that, as Sword argues, academia is rife with competition regarding productivity, and because of that people can have one of two reactions to conversations about a writing project: 1) you're showing off, to rub their nose in the fact that you're more productive, or 2) you're inadvertently making them aware of their own shortcomings.

So, I guess it's technically one reaction, really, that revolves around showcasing writing "success" as defined by "productivity." Either way, it often doesn't come across as the collegial interaction that you're hoping for.

I also find that talking about a writing project in progress typically doesn't help my thinking much, because often the "advice" I'm given is "well, but what is your thesis? if you don't have a thesis statement, you need to get one," or "it sounds like you need to figure out what you're trying to argue."

Yeah, thanks-- I would have never known.

But again, that said, I do find that blogging about my writing projects helps immensely, and although technically, blogging is, well, writing, actually, as I write a blog post, I feel as if I'm talking to someone (or several people), so I would say that it has a very different "Social" aspect that face-to-face conversations about writing. And for me, it seems to work better in terms of helping to move my thinking forward when I'm stuck.

Much of Sword's book consists of stories and statements from other academic writers who've enjoyed varying degrees of success in their profession. Her discussion of the Writing BASE in Air & Light & Time & Space focuses on how the academics she surveyed conceptualize each of the cornerstones, and the struggles and achievements they've encountered along the way.

Sword's purpose is to show that the "House of Writing" is a flexible structure, that can assume all kinds of shapes and sizes and still allow for both productivity and pleasure. She's somewhat critical of the task-master approach to writing endorsed by Paul Silvia and Robert Boice, both of whom emphasize the need for daily writing, favoring instead "a more individualistic approach" to a writing routine--something that her survey discovered even among "self-declared dailyists."

Instead, she argues, "For the vast majority of successful academics, writing is neither a daily routine nor a rare occurrence, neither an immovable constant nor a random event" (26).

If you like reading about writing and, more specifically, reading writers writing about writing, then Sword's book is for you.

For me, the highlight was a phrase offered by Marialuisa Aliotta, a professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh (UK), that I've incorporated as the title of this post.

Discussing the concept of craft--the "Artisanal" habits that make up the writing process--Aliotta describes how, during the drafting process, she does the following:
I'm a bit of a perfectionist--maybe without the "bit"--so very often I find myself writing a sentence, rereading it, and saying, "Oh no, I'm deleting it," and then rewriting it. So it's this zigzag writing: I can spend hours polishing a sentence. (80)
While I won't go so far as to say that I "can spend hours polishing a sentence," I confess to being, at times, a practitioner of "zigzag writing." Pounding out word counts that testify to productivity is gratifying, but quite frankly, that's just not the way I typically write: I can't keep a numerical goal in mind, because for me, the writing is not about the numbers.

I didn't have a way of framing my thinking about this until reading Sword's book; it clicked for me when I saw Aliotta's "zigzag writing." Sometimes, this is what needs to happen as I work through a project.

When it works well, it's a case of two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward, one step back. This process will make word counts look discouraging, because although they build slowly but steadily, the immediate process is one of subtraction rather than addition.

Another good--and equally "Artisanal"-- way of describing it, offered by Janelle Jenstad, is borrowed from work in the building trade: it's the different between a "roughing cut" and a "finishing cut."
If you're cutting a piece of metal to make a shape, the very first thing you do is give it a roughing cut, where you just get rid of most of the excess metal. Once you've done that, then you do your finishing cut. (27)
In my own experience, sometimes you need to do a bit of finishing as you go, so that the outlines of your project become clearer. A "roughing cut" assumes that the full shape is essentially sketched out, but with writing, sometimes the shape changes as it goes.

In those cases, "zigzag writing" happens.

When it does, I think you have to reconcile yourself to the fact that the project will take shape slowly. But as its contours become polished and the final shape begins to emerge, the feeling is definitely one of craftsmanship.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Peaceful

I'm long overdue for a blog post, I know, and I've had one listed--about a book I read a while back--on my "Writing Projects" for about week now.

Because yes, I'm still using the strategies I blogged about here, and yes, it's going very well--except for that whole not-getting-around-to-writing-the-blog-post-on-the-List thing, obviously.

I've been writing a lot lately, though, and this is why, today, I'm going to do a blog post that revolves around some photos.

I'm no photographer, but I've had a very nice weekend, and I think it's best explained in pictures.

First, on Friday, I set up my cats' fancy Christmas water-bowl, like so.

Needless to say, we're all quite pleased with it. It brightens the chilly evenings, now that it's getting dark at, well, early.

It's also nice to have it on first thing in the morning because these days it's also dark when you get up, you know, early.

I really don't know how people survive in communities located above the Arctic Circle. I don't mind the cold weather (within reason) because I can knit my way through it, but I prefer the days when it's still light outside at 8 p.m., even though it was light outside at 6 a.m. too.

Speaking of knitting, I've been quite the slacker lately, so I'm trying to remedy that by finishing a sock that's been on the needles lo these many months. Here that is:
I think the "Second Sock" problem has been aggravated by the fact that I decided to put a different kind of toe pattern on the first sock, only to discover, when I'd finished, that I really wished I'd just stuck with what I usually do.

The pattern for the toe looked neat in the picture, but it's "only okay" on the sock when said sock is on my actual foot.

Which means that I've created a situation in which, once I reach the toe of this Second Sock, I will need to focus all my attention on paying attention to and replicating a pattern that I don't really like all that much, instead of just breezing over the finish line, like I normally do.

Ah well. Live and learn, right?

Speaking of which, I've learned that making homemade hamburger buns is not all that difficult, and they actually look far more beautiful than anything you're going to find in a grocery story bag. Like so:


Look at those little beauties. If they taste half as good as they look, we're in business here. My original plan, since they're technically "hamburger buns" (the recipe, by Alana Chernila, is available here), was to make a veggie burger for dinner.

But now that I'm here looking at these rolls, I'm suddenly very aware that I have a nice pot of leek soup simmering away on the stove and that maybe, just maybe, a mug of soup and a simple roll with butter in front of the fireplace tonight would be a perfect Sunday night dinner.

Here's hoping your weekend has been just as peaceful.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Routine

I've been writing quite a bit lately, but also feeling like I should be writing more.

Setting aside the (very distinct) possibility that my expectations are unreasonable, I took a little time yesterday to do what I often do when this feeling overwhelms me.

I read a book about writing.

This time around it was Paul J. Silvia's How to Write A Lot: A Practical Guide to Academic Writing (2nd edition, 2018).

Silvia is a Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro and yes, he's written a lot.

While his book is explicitly directed towards those in the social sciences (specifically, psychology professors and grad. students), if you're an academic who wishes to write "a lot"--or even just "more"-- than you currently do, this book is a handy guide.

It's only about 150 pages, so it's also a quick read.

I particularly appreciated the fact that Silvia generously allows for counting "reading books about writing" (along with doing research, checking proofs, researching journals and their submissions criteria, and drafting correspondence with editors) as part of one's "writing schedule."

I like thinking of that as stuff that "counts" when I think about "writing," because it takes up quite a bit of time, but often leaves me feeling like I "haven't done anything in terms of my writing" and thus awash in a feeling of low-grade guilt.

That feeling is now gone, thanks to Silvia's observation that "Writing is more than typing words: Any action that is instrumental in completing a writing project counts as writing."

Silvia offers a nice selection of suggestions about how to increase writing productivity, but his main argument is one that is shared by many: you've got to schedule it.

None of this "waiting for inspiration" nonsense.

Writing has to become a habit, and the only way to make it so is to schedule writing time and then--you guessed it--stick to it.

As Silvia emphasizes, "The secret is the regularity, not the number of days or the number of hours."

I've been doing this, more or less, since May, and I will agree, more writing happens this way. In particular, I find myself making headway on multiple projects simultaneously, instead of simply hacking my way through one, in intermittent intervals, and then sighing with relief when it's finally finished.

My own personal frustration is that my writing schedule doesn't seem to make me any less inclined to go in circles and hit a significant stall when it comes to completing tasks on (an admittedly self-imposed) schedule.

This means that one of--or all of-- several possible things is happening. First, my schedule may be unreasonable. I'm willing to admit that this might be slightly true, but I'm not willing to chalk everything up to that.

Instead, I think one of Silvia's caveats about a writing schedule is applicable here: "You must ruthlessly defend your writing time."

When I look back over the months I've mapped out (on an Excel calendar spreadsheet), I can see weeks that lack ruthlessness, times when one of the "specious arguments" that Silvia outlines crept into my writing habits--namely, "I just don't have time this week."

Truth be told, I wasn't making the time. I wasn't being ruthless. I need to fix that.

Because, as Silvia admonishes, writers should "Be forewarned that other people will not respect your commitment to your writing time."

Preeeach, my good man, preach.

Silvia notes that he hasn't "met a serious writer who didn't respect [his] commitment to ... writing time."

On the contrary, Silvia argues, "only bad writers will hold your refusal [to abandon schedule writing time] against you":
The people who grumble and whine are the unproductive writers. Don't get dragged into their bad habits. ... They simply see your writing time as less important.
Silvia suggests that academics treat their "scheduled writing time like ...  scheduled teaching time."

You wouldn't schedule a meeting during one of your class sessions, and you wouldn't let someone wander in and disrupt your class with their pressing administrative "needs," either.

So don't let them do that to your writing time.

Silvia pointedly insists, "If you feel bad about saying no, then lie. If you feel bad about lying, then use the obscurantism you learned in grad school: Claim a 'recurring intractable obligation'."

I need to be more ruthless about my writing schedule.

I also needed to be reminded of--and then adopt--one of the other strategies that Silvia suggests: goal setting.

For a while this summer, I was setting a word-count goal. It worked, but then I stopped, because it just doesn't align well with my own writing process.

Some days, I write a set number of words.

Some days, I look at those words, decide they're crap, and "revise" them right out of existence. And this is good thing.

But logging this kind of "one step forward, two steps back" on a calendar can be undermining. I had to keep reminding myself, "It's okay, the writing today is better, it doesn't matter that there's less of it."

Having to remind myself of that for a week or two at a time began to wear away at my motivation.

When I look at the phases where I didn't ruthlessly guard my writing schedule, this is what I see: I let down my guard around the times where this back-and-forth on the word count had been recurring regularly.

So I'm taking Silvia's advice to "set a concrete goal for each day of writing" from now on.

For me, it won't be a word count (or at least, it won't often be a word count--they did work for me, some of the time, just not consistently).


I was heartened by his reminder that "people's plans often go awry because of inadequate goal setting" and that "Developing the right kinds of goals will make you a more efficient writer" (emphasis added).

Yesterday, I sat down and focused on establishing writing goals that I think will be "right" for me. Along the margin of a piece of paper, I simply identified all of the various writing projects that I've thought about and might like to pursue.

It's a long list, and that's okay: one product of regular writing sessions is having more ideas about things to write about.

On the remaining two-thirds of the page, I made a list of about 10 smaller, manageable "writing" goals for this week.

Some involve actual writing/typing, others involve small research activities.

A few are more motivational. For example, I'm going to dig out an old essay or two that I researched but was never able to finish... are they worth salvaging?

I sort of think so, but the very thought of these projects has worried me consistently for months now--no one wants to pull out an old essay and realize, "Wow. This is crap. How long did I spend on this? Yeah... that time was wasted."

So I simply set myself the task of taking a look at one of them as one of my writing tasks for this week. No drama, no worry.

It's just something on this week's writing to-do list that I know I'll be motivated to cross off at some point.

Right now, it's time for me to go cross off one of the other items on the list: to write a blog post about Silvia's How to Write A Lot.

If you're an academic stymied by a lack of productivity, I think this book can help. It's clear, engaging, and to-the-point.

If, like me, you're an academic for whom productivity happens, but you find yourself needing reminders about strategies that work, the writer's mindset, and how to maintain good writing habits, this book might be helpful and encouraging.

It certainly was for me.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Thankful

Well, another food-infused holiday is in the bag, and I'm sitting here feeling thankful for that.

It all got off to a bit of a rocky and hectic start. I've had lots (and lots) of work for school, which often means lots (and lots) of stress. Most of it induced by, well, ... people.

They really are a piece of work, aren't they? (Introverts the world over are nodding in silent agreement with me.)

But then, the College closed for the break, which means that everyone-- myself included--logged off and embarked on their merry, meal-focused way.

And for this, I was thankful. Both for the merriness and for the meal.

And because all of the writing and grading and curriculum and policy work that has taken up so much of my time this semester fell quiet.

Finally, I was able to (I'm quoting myself here) "Get some actual work done."

And it wasn't a soul-sucking, mind-numbing, totally pointless kind of work. (I was in a bit of a dark place with respect to work right before the break began--see above re: "people.")

It was a steady, productive, inspiring phase for which I am--as I've said--thankful.

The house (FINALLY!) got cleaned. I don't remember the last time I had a chance to vacuum or clean the kitchen. Let's just say, I would never have gotten away with it if I wasn't a neat-nik who lives alone. You'd have seen the house on TV, with news announcers saying something like, "Tonight, police are investigating a woman found in her home...".

I realize that to many, it probably seems counter-intuitive to clean the kitchen immediately before cooking a Thanksgiving feast, but doing so actually made me feel less stressed about cooking said feast.

I was beginning in a state of calm cleanliness, not one of caked-on chaos.

There was a bit of chaos, however, involving that Temperature Blanket that yes, I am still working on.

I've fallen behind. Way behind.

Which wouldn't be terrible--it's my current state of existence overall, really--except that I've been repeatedly making mistakes when it comes to assembling the squares I've completed because falling behind means it's hard to just pick up where you left off (since you no longer really remember exactly where you were when you left off, but you think you do).

This all culminated in the astounding discovery that I'd actually ended up making one of the same squares twice, thus wasting all the time I thought I'd devoted to "catching up."

Good golly Miss Molly did I cuss a blue streak when I discovered that little mishap.

When the cussing ceased, I came up with a better system for keeping tabs on how I'm assembling the squares so that this "assembly required" phase of the process won't send me into an absolute tizzy.

More importantly, it's a very straightforward system, so that if when I fall behind again, I won't find myself staring at a stack of squares and a blanket that I haven't looked at for months wondering, "Now... what was my system, exactly? Where does go? What month is this anyway?"

Maybe I'll actually be able to post a picture of the thing one of these days. I am enjoying the process (despite all expletive-laden evidence to the contrary). 

I also had a chance to go for a couple of 7-mile runs. I had originally wanted to do one on Thanksgiving morning, but it dawned clear and cold and blustery.

As in 5 degrees Fahrenheit "cold" and 30-mile-per-hour wind gusts "blustery."

Maybe it's because I'm 50 now, but my immediate thought-- as I helped myself to a large slice of sweet potato cornbread with a slab of butter-- was, "Yeah, well, I got nothin' to prove." 

So I didn't do the anticipated Thanksgiving morning run.

I was a little disappointed about that, but quick, repeated checks of the thermometer over the course of the day, supplemented by a hearty meal and a glass of wine, helped alleviate that feeling.

I did go for a run yesterday morning, when it was about 15 degrees Fahrenheit, but no longer (very) windy.

I did not, however, run 7 miles. Only 2. (Last year at this time, when I was struggling to complete a mere mile, I would have stared in stunned amazement at those last two sentences.)

I was even on a bit of a Runners High yesterday morning, I think.

Either that or hypothermia comes complete with delusions of grandeur. Because about a mile in, I seriously thought about just continuing on and trying for "more miles." (I was a bit vague about what exactly I meant by this.)

But then I took stock of the following:
1) people do die of overexposure to cold
2) these deaths are often brought on by ill-advised decision-making
3) I couldn't feel my face
4) I couldn't feel my face with my fingers
5) I was wearing (lovely, hand-knit) wool mittens, so the inability to feel my fingers feeling my face was rather surprising
6) my legs-- which, by all appearances, were doing actual exercise-- were also surprisingly numb
7) I was wearing thermal running tights
And no, I was not running so fast that wind chill had become a complicating factor. (Thank you for thinking that, though.) 

I began to cough, and immediately recalled how, in movies about climbing Mount Everest, this is always how it starts: with an odd, ominous cough. (This is also how it starts in movies about nineteenth-century artists and/or prostitutes with TB, by that is neither here nor there.)

So I turned around, ran the mile or so home, and felt thankful.

And maybe it's just me, but nothing makes me happier to be--or at least more "okay" with being--compelled to sit at a desk and write, than a brisk run through arctic conditions.

All that reading to get ready for school again on Monday?

It has been nothing short of heaven-sent, simply because it took place on a couch with kitties, in front of a warm fire.

For this, I'm thankful.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Déjà-vu

I'm finding it hard to believe that I'm spending the weekend gearing up for the start of yet another holiday season, but so it is.

I feel like I was just doing this a few weeks ago. But then, on the other hand, I also feel like a few short weeks ago it was August and I was roasting my brains out.

Instead, tonight, I'm relaxing in front of the fire, drinking a hot toddy after a walk through the (admittedly, melting) snow from Thursday's storm, waiting for a (homemade!) pizza to cool.

I spent most of the day either cooking or running errands in an effort to get a jump-start on holiday feasts and festivities before the next raft of grading lands on my proverbial desk.

What am I making? I'm so glad you asked. Next week's holiday means I can make some of my favorite foods in all their fall-flavored glory.

I'm once again making homemade mincemeat (fruit only, no beef or suet), so that went into the fridge this afternoon to marinate for a bit.

I discovered a wonderful recipe for stuffing and I'm a fan of Barefoot Contessa, particularly when it comes to large dinners or recipes for gatherings, because she knows how to come up with a plan that's tasty and simple--so you can enjoy your guests, not stand sweating in the kitchen, pounding back cocktails and feeling the seething resentment build.

So if you do turkey for Thanksgiving (I'm old school), I highly recommend her recipe.

I may make a sweet potato pie. Actually, I probably will. I'm definitely going to make sweet potato cornbread (yes, I really love sweet potatoes), because it's really, really good and I need to keep my strength up.

I've got brussels sprouts and butternut squash. If you're pretty sure you don't like brussels sprouts, roast them and get back to me. They taste very different roasted. I'm not sure why anyone would ever boil them, quite frankly, if you can roast them. If you do, and you still don't like them, then it's official, you really don't like brussels sprouts. 

And what would autumn holidays be without an apple-based dessert? I really don't want to contemplate such a thing, but since I'm already contemplating sweet potato pie, I felt that apple pie would be redundant.

Luckily, as I was leafing through my recipes, I stumbled upon this Cardamom Cognac Apple Cake.

I actually made this at one point, not for the holidays, and it was both tasty and easy. So it's now in the holiday queue.

I'm also thinking that, given my holiday eating plans, I'm going to do the Runner's World Run Streak again this year.

No, it does not involve streaking. Yes, it does involve running: you commit to (try to) run a mile every day between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

Last year, I made it to Christmas (or so), and I was quite proud of myself. Given that I'm in good health (knock wood), I don't live in an Arctic climate, and I have a YMCA membership, I can't say that I really have an excuse not to do it.

In short, it looks like it's going to be a case of "déjà-vu all over again" this year... and I'm happy about that.

Now, for some pizza.