Holy blog stats, Batman!

Wow!  Yesterday’s post is bringing an unprecedented level of traffic to my little ol’ blog.  To those of you who shared it on social media: thank you.  I’m honored.  I’m also honored by the number of positive responses I’ve received—it seems I struck a chord with a lot of mothers.  We are not alone!

If you’re a new visitor to my site and are poking around because things look interesting: welcome!  Drop me a line about yourself in the comments; I love to hear from new people.  You can follow my blog via WordPress, or through the “subscribe by email” link in the menu on the right (or bottom if you’re on a mobile device).  I’m also on Twitter.

OK, that’s three exclamation points in two paragraphs, which is a lot even for me.  Time to spend the rest of Little Boy’s nap time knitting. 🙂

What I’m watching/reading/listening

On the reading front, I’m busy with Notorious RBG, about the life and legal opinions of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  (You may recall that this was one of the books I got for Christmas.)  RBG is an amazing woman; her biography is also a sobering reminder that it really hasn’t been that long since women were expected to quit their jobs when they became pregnant and it was assumed that we couldn’t be family breadwinners.

Next up on my reading list and still on its way to me from Amazon is Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting.  I suspect I’ll be writing more about this one when I’m done.  I’m a big fan of the author’s blog, The Skeptical OB, and her (paraphrased) message of “parent the way that works for you, but don’t think it makes you a better mother than anyone else.”

When it comes to listening, I’ve let my obsessive side out and am binging on the Never Not Knitting podcast.  It’s good to have on during my commute or when I’m making tedious figures for my thesis—the podcast is cheery and fun, and I can keep up if I miss a word or two here and there.

I’m also binge-watching the first season of House on Netflix.  Don’t ask me why—it’s a good show, but not great—but I just keep turning it on.  (Note that “binge-watching” for me means two or three episodes a week; who has time to watch multiple hour-long episodes in a row?!)  We also have a regular roster of current shows on the DVR: The Flash, Supergirl (and the crossover between those two, which was hilarious and wonderful), Agents of Shield (meh), D.C.’s Legends of Tomorrow (yes, there’s definitely a theme here), and The Big Bang Theory (yes, we still watch this).

What are you reading/listening/watching lately, readers?  Any suggestions for me?

Ten life lessons from skiing

Ski lift and snowy mountain.No, alas, I’m not skiing right now.  Time, money, and location have conspired to keep me from the slopes since Little Boy was born.  I’m thinking about it today because it’s Spring Break—whatever that means for a grad student—and Spring Break has often been, in the history of my life, a time for skiing.  I’m missing it pretty badly.

When you’re on the slopes, there’s a lot of time to get philosophical, and there are a lot of good lessons to be learned from a lifetime of skiing.  (Now if only I remembered to implement them everywhere…)

1. Learning a new skill takes time and practice.

Skiing is one of the few things in my life that I have been initially terrible at, but stuck with long enough to become really good.  Most things that I’m really good at now are things at which I had some base-level talent to start.  Definitely no base-level talents with sports, especially not sports that trigger my fear of heights.  But through some combination of familial pressure, personal pride, and just plain enjoying being out on the snow, I kept at it through the “sucking at it” stage, all the way through to the “can ski almost anything on the hill” stage.

2. You’ve got to face your fears.

See: fear of heights.  Also fear of smacking into trees.  You have to just take the plunge if you want to get better.

A rocky ski slope.

3. Focus on how far you’ve come, not how far you have left.

The first time I skied a black diamond run, every turn was terrifying.  When I paused, it was rather discouraging to see how much longer the run went on.  Until I turned around and realized that I’d made it quite a ways down the slope already; if I could make it that far, I knew I could manage the rest.

4. Never follow anyone blindly.

There’s a very specific backstory to this lesson: Once upon a time, I was trying to improve my control by directly following my little brother’s line.  Except my little brother decided to jump off a small cornice.  I wasn’t looking far enough ahead, and caught some rather unexpected air.

Snowy trees.

5. When you fall, get right back up…

Everyone falls in skiing, from the greenest beginner to the Olympians on TV.  (In one of the ski racing events at the 2014 Olympics, of the first 6 or so people to attempt the course in competition, only one made it down.)  Falling happens—and sometimes it can be pretty spectacular.  Everyone in my family has their favorite “fall stories,” whether it’s getting tangled up in the lift, skiing straight through a bush, or face-planting in deep snow.  Almost all of these are, in retrospect, quite funny.

6. …but if you fall hard, it’s OK to take a break.

Like if you catch an edge while trying to keep speed across a flat run-out and whack yourself in the head with your pole so hard that it cracks your helmet (true story), don’t feel bad about taking the afternoon off.  Similarly, if you find yourself falling noticeably more often than usual, you might want to think about resting up.  Sometimes pushing through it is unwise.

Looking up on a moguled ski slope.

7. There’s always going to be someone better than you.

I am a darn good skier, if I do say so myself.  I can tackle powder, moguls, even small jumps.  Almost anything on the hill.  But my little brother?  He can ski anything on the hill.  He’s skied Corbet’s Couloir, a run that the linked article helpfully describes as “America’s scariest ski slope.”  As I improve, so does he.  I will likely never catch up to him, and I’ve had to make my peace with that.

8. Don’t judge skill by appearance.

That same little brother?  He wears duct-taped snow pants, because they easily rip on race gates and he’d rather invest in new skis.  We both look absolutely awful in the lodge at lunchtime, with wind-reddened faces and helmet-smooshed hair.  Not that there’s anything wrong with fancy gear (and we do have some, it’s just less obvious), but it’s not a proxy for skill level.

Looking down across ski slopes and a snowy valley.

9. It’s OK to have different goals.

The first time I really encountered someone who was happy not advancing was on the slopes.  For as long as I remember, my mother has skied blue (intermediate) runs, making slow, careful turns in perfect formation.  She is entirely uninterested in joining the rest of the family on steeper, bumpier slopes, because she has found the thing that she enjoys.  As a kid, I couldn’t really understand this; as an adult, I believe I do.

10. Hand and toe warmers are amazing inventions.

OK, this one’s maybe not as widely applicable to life, but it is very, very true.

Status: steam-blocking

Now that I’ve gotten back into knitting and am feeling a bit more motivated to complete things, I’ve pulled some old projects out of hibernation and am working on the finishing touches.  That means weaving in ends (soooo tedious), sewing pieces of an afghan together (even more tedious), and blocking.  Blocking means coaxing your knit piece into its final shape and dimensions, using water or steam; it’s basically the process of making everything look nice at the end.

Two pictures of a knitting afghan square, before and after blocking.

The whole pinning and steaming procedure is a nicely meditative thing to do while Little Boy takes his afternoon nap.

I made socks, and why that matters

My feet, in green stripey socks.

It’s self-striping yarn—they look a lot fancier than they are.

I learned how to knit socks about three years ago, not long after rediscovering knitting as a hobby.  (It’s a wonderful hobby for introverts.  It makes small talk roughly 87 bajillion times more tolerable.)  Socks turned out to be the perfect project for me: they’re wearable, yet a manageable size; challenging enough to be interesting, but not so hard as to frustrate; and there are only two yarn ends to weave in, if all goes well.  Plus, brightly colored socks have always been my thing.  Back in high school, I was known among my friends for always giving funky (store-bought) socks as gifts.

I cast on this particular pair of socks in May 2014.  I worked on them through many an evening night of television, and I brought them with me on our last big pre-kid vacation.

And then Little Boy was born, and I stopped knitting.

It wasn’t just the lack of time, although that was a big part of it.  It was the depression, and the way trying to figure out where I was on these socks seemed like an enormous and exhausting task.  I’d had some problems with the yarn on the second sock, and was worried about getting the toe in the right place, and about running out of yarn.  It just seemed so un-fun.  Why bother?

I tried, once, when Little Boy was three months old.  It wasn’t enjoyable.  I didn’t try again.

Finally, a few months back, I left this pair in a box, found a different pattern, and started a completely different pair of socks.  And all the fun I remembered came back.  Not right away, but it came back—the relaxing feel of having something to do with my hands, the pleasure of making something, the daydreaming of what to make next.

That new pair of socks isn’t quite finished, but I found myself suddenly motivated to pull these green ones back out.  As it turned out, there wasn’t anything complicated left to do at all, just a few rows of straight knitting and an easy toe.  All the ugh I’d imagined was just in my imagination.

Here’s why these socks matter: they’re another corner turned.  Another step back from depression.  Another step towards life.

P.S.  If you’d like to make your own pair of green socks, here’s the pattern on Ravelry.  (I love Ravelry.)

I just applied to be an astronaut

Text of email thanking me for submitting an astronaut candidate application.I just fulfilled a piece of my childhood ambitions—I applied to be an astronaut!  Or more technically, I applied to be an astronaut candidate.  (Not all astronaut candidates, who train for several years, are eventually selected to be astronauts).

I in no way expect that NASA will actually choose me.  For one, although I am technically qualified, I am relatively young and inexperienced for an astronaut candidate, who tend to be in their mid-30s.  For two, there’s the whole “we don’t send crazy people into space” thing.  Still, when I learned last fall that NASA was going to be accepting astronaut candidate applications again for a short period of time—and that they’d relaxed the requirements for people with poor eyesight—I couldn’t not apply.

The application process ended up being a fairly good use of my time.  I’ve been meaning to convert my academic C.V. into an industry-ready resume, and this was the push I needed to get started.  It turns out that when you define “professional experience” as “things I got paid to do,” I have quite a lot of it!  Which was encouraging.  It can sometimes feel like grad school has sucked all my life skills away, so I’m glad to know it hasn’t.

Anyway, wish me luck!  I haven’t the foggiest idea how we’d handle it as a family if by some miraculous chance I was accepted, but that’s not a bridge we need to worry about crossing just now.  For the moment, what matters is that I’ve tried.

Bye-bye, breast pump

Going back to school/work after Christmas is always hard, but there was one definite positive this week: I’m not pumping milk anymore!  We dropped the last middle-of-the-day nursing session over the holidays, when the excitement of travel and new toys made it relatively easy to coax Little Boy into changing his routine.  He’s still nursing, but only once a day, when he first wakes up in the morning.

It’s so nice to be done.  I didn’t particularly dislike pumping—it wasn’t terribly difficult for me, and my office on campus turned out to be nearly ideal as a lactation space.  But it was always a thing to do, a thing that I had to remember to do, a thing that took time to set up and put away.  It meant hauling another hefty bag to school every. single. day. and washing a bunch of tiny fiddly pieces every. single. day.  It came with a bunch of extra little tasks, like remembering to grab the milk from the mini-fridge at the end of the day, that made my mental load just a little bit larger.  Being done means that mental weight has lifted, along with the physical weight of that big ol’ bag.  It feels good.

A happy running memory

Sundays are recovery runs, and last weekend was no different.  I go out slow, relaxed, stretching my legs from Saturday’s long run, taking a route with only vaguely known distances, allowing myself to turn around when I feel like it.  It’s a low-pressure day, and it’s usually fairly pleasant.

I started stiffly, a bit sore from the day before.  Just keep at it, I told myself.  It takes you about a mile to warm up.  Then it gets easier.

Not a mile, said a memory.  Two kilometers.

And suddenly I was back running the loop I used to do in high school, training for a half marathon.  Knowing that if I could just make it the first 2K, up to the first left turn, I could make it all the way.  I could picture the brilliant snow, the sharp winter sun, the roads that were sloppy because they hadn’t been completely plowed.  Street after street of clean suburban houses, in developments too new for mature trees.  Crisp air.  Footing that was crunchy or icy or wet.  I ran that route in bad weather, too, including the dark gray obscurity of a heavy fog, but it’s the bright blinding days that merge together into a single memory of the joy of running.

The enveloping happiness of the memory caught me by surprise.  My brain doesn’t really do happy memories.  Its recollections mostly come with hard stabs of embarrassment or deep pangs of nostalgia and longing.  But this memory was good and inviting and warm.

The rest of the run went by in a pleasant daze, filled with more details of the past.  I could imagine what I used to wear to run: fuzzy green sweatpants, thick socks, double-layered gloves, a close-fitting knit hat.  And the same long-sleeved cotton shirt I had on at that very moment.

It was altogether the most joy-filled run I’ve had in quite some time.  Alas, the spell broke in the last few hundred meters, when I had to dodge around the new posts blocking the path to our neighborhood and my mind switched to thinking up choice names for the members of our HOA board.

New books for my toddler, too

Five kids' books, including Made by Raffi.I wasn’t the only one to unwrap a bunch of new books for Christmas.  Shown above are only about 1/3 of the books Little Boy received—the rest were already scattered around the house and car by the time I thought of taking a picture.  You might recognize that the second book is the classic The Polar Express, lovingly selected by my husband, who has fond memories of its magic.

And look!  Santa brought Little Boy his very own copy of Made by Raffi, which, as you may or may not recall, I reviewed on here a while back.  It is positive, colorful and—in what is a definite plus when you’re giving a book over to a toddler—doesn’t have a dust cover.

A pile of new books

A stack of nine books.

I got a whole pile of new books for Christmas—hooray!  The stack of “books to read” on my nightstand, which had gotten dangerously low in recent months, has been replenished.  Even better, these are all books I very much want to read, thanks to proper management of my Amazon wish list over the course of the year.

What are you looking forward to reading next?