Sunday, December 29, 2013

Kicking Bad Habits

In March of this year, Funny Delightful Son signed up for track, wanting to have something to do that included some exercise as well as being with his friends. He's never been a runner, so he went for the field events: shot put and discus. At the time, he was weighing in at around 225 pounds, which helps when throwing shot put and discus. However, Funny Delightful Son was unhappy with his weight and had been unhappy with his weight for several years. As a fourth grader, he stood a head taller than his classmates, and he outweighed them by quite a bit. Where his classmates were the typical thin pre-teen boys, he wasn't, and he got teased by it. The teasing spurred him to constantly round his shoulders as if he was trying to minimize how much space he took up. He started to wear t-shirts beneath button-down shirts or sweatshirts to hide his shape. I regularly encouraged him to stand tall, put his shoulders back, but he seemed only to sink further into himself. I hated seeing this happen to him, and the only thing I could do was continue to tell him that one day his metabolism would kick in, do what it was supposed to do.

And it did. And it has. Where in March Funny Delightful Son was weighing in at 225 pounds, now he is around 165, maybe 170 tops. He has gone from having a 36 inch waist to a 31 inch waist. Initially I was very concerned with the rapid weight loss, nearly 40 pounds between March and June. While he was working out with the track team, he wasn't doing extensive cardio or lifting that would promote this kind of loss. What I didn't know at the time was he had stopped eating sweets. No cookies. No candy. No cake. Nothing sweet crossed his lips. Still, he won't eat anything remotely sweet. Including soda. He gave up the soda not long after giving up the sweets. Now, Funny Delightful Son stands tall. Now, Funny Delightful Son smiles and laughs all the time. Now, Funny Delightful Son loves to go shopping for clothes. He even joined the swim team, not at all intimidated by allowing people see him in just a swimsuit.

His dedication to giving up sweets has been inspirational to me. I love chocolate cake with white icing. I love oatmeal raisin cookies. Thinking of not eating these makes me so sad. And soda? What? An ice cold cola on a hot day is akin to heaven for me. But after seeing all the health benefits Funny Delightful Son is experiencing after committing to not consuming these, I've decided to follow suit. I knew I had to do it in steps, though, or I was going to fail. My plan was to start with caffeine, which meant I had to give up not only coffee but also colas. I went cold turkey with that in October. I was still drinking sodas, just not any with caffeine. A little over a month into no caffeine, I gave up all sodas. After reading about the amount of sugar in one can of soda (8 teaspoons), I said enough. Now that I'm almost a month into no sodas, I'm ready to nix the rest of the sweets. I've created the foundation, and now it's time to build upon it. Slowly. With determination. And it's definitely entertaining having Funny Delightful Son supporting me in kicking my bad habits.

With steps one and two well underway, I started step three last week: exercise. When Funny Delightful Son took up swimming (only to be put on the diving team), he found running stairs, planks, and lots of sit-ups were part of the deal. Now he's seeing muscle definition happening, especially in the abs. Every day I'm subjected to him pulling his shirt up and rubbing his abs, a smirk gracing his face. I thought since he's seeing such awesome results with the whole no sugar combined with regular exercise, I might, too (wishful thinking for a nearly 50, menopausal woman!). So I set up the bike on the trainer last week and have begun spinning. I'm only going a half hour right now, but it's a start. Something is better than nothing, right? I have no goals in mind other than to just spin each day for at least a half hour.

Where I used to be the only one in the house who worried about consuming bad-for-me foods, I now have an ally who is supportive and encouraging. It's way more fun giving things up with someone than it is alone.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Brightly Colored Happiness

There's just something truly satisfying about working with wool roving and soap. I think it's the patience factor--wrapping the soap takes patience, allowing the wool to dry takes patience, and creating the decorative image takes patience. Being forced to slow down, to not rush through the process is akin to how to live a full life: slowly, savoring it, examining it carefully along the way.

As I was working on the three pieces of felted soap this morning, my thoughts turned to my mom. Today marks two years since her death. I think about Mom nearly every day, but my thoughts have been full of her since November, the anniversary for her collapse and subsequent health decline. I didn't fully realize how sad I was feeling during the last few weeks until a friend messaged me via FB, saying she was thinking about me and hoping I was doing okay. The tears came so easily when I read her note, and I finally let them have free rein. Giving in to the sadness felt good, cleansing. Maybe that's another reason I'm so enjoying working with the felted soaps--creating a beautiful  as well as a happy way to cleanse oneself.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

From Infused Salt to Felted Soap

Want to feel like a kid? Get a bar of soap and some wool roving and you're on your way.

I'd never heard of felted soap until a student wrote about conducting a 4-H workshop on how to felt soap. I had no idea what she was talking about, so I turned to the internet to find out. After reading a couple of how-to's and examining some pictures, I knew this was an activity I really wanted to take part in. Being the anti-washcloth, anti-sponge person that I am, felted soap is exactly what I've been pining away for most of my life. Why it took me so long to learn of this amazing product is a mystery.

Once I decide to do something, nothing will stop me following through. I knew I had a couple soap bars languishing on the closet shelf, so that part was easy. After reading many of the how-to's, though, I knew I had no wool roving. Some of the articles suggested using wool yarn. I don't even have that around. Some suggested using an old wool sweater. I don't own a wool sweater, and even if I did, I probably wouldn't cut it up to make felted soap. So, after some thought, I pulled on the thermal leggings, a pair of jeans, two pair of socks, a sweater, my wool scarf (gasp! I have a wool scarf . . . . but I can't cut it up), boots, coat, hat, and mittens and set off for the thrift store.

I knew the walk would be difficult. Our town doesn't shovel sidewalks, which made me furious with each step. Some homeowners did clear the walk in front of their homes, but many haven't, making walking anywhere around here labor intensive. I finally said screw it and walked in the street. The whole motorist centric thinking really gets me going, but that's a discussion for another time.

So I made it to the thrift store. While there, I found bright green virgin wool yarn and some wool socks. I threw in some knitting needles just in case I decide to try and knit (which I was told by Funny Delightful Son is a sign that I am now officially old) and a knitted hat since one cannot have too many winter hats. All of this came to less than $10. The wool socks alone are worth more than $10 because they kept my feet toasty warm all evening. I won't be using them for any crafts project.

After I returned home, I sat and unraveled the yarn for an hour or so. At the rate I was going, getting enough wool to wrap the bar of soap would take a couple of days. I'm not that patient. I ended up going to the hobby store and buying some wool roving. Looks like the yarn just might end up being used for knitting after all.

In the end, I created two felted soap bars. They're not the best, but I'm pretty sure they'll get the job done, freeing me from having to use a wash cloth. Plus, I know I have more bars of soap stuffed in the back of drawers, and I'm eager to make some designs with the wool roving, so there will definitely be more felted soapmaking happening over the next few weeks.

Felted soap

Monday, December 16, 2013

Inside Projects

The end of the semester brought snow our way, nearly six inches. The boys were unhappy the snow began falling Friday evening and continued overnight, into Saturday. They'd like to see a snow day happen soon. I'm happy to see it. Puts me in the holiday spirit and gives me an excuse to stay inside to work on projects for the house. Like infused salts. And a sugar scrub.

Sugar scrub, dried thyme, infused salts
I have lots of herbs from my garden, so I did some research and found making infused salts is actually quite easy. Why go buy a jar when I can do it myself? I went the route of citrus infused salt and rosemary infused salt. My plan is to combine some rosemary and thyme for another batch sometime this week. I'm out of the little jars with cork stoppers, so I'll have to get a few more of those, maybe see if the thrift store has any on its shelves.

The jelly jar is my sugar scrub. I'm looking forward to using it in the shower today. I read lots of articles about making sugar scrubs and how they make the skin feel really soft. With our dry air right now, my skin is begging for some moisture. I used olive oil for this scrub, hoping the oil will be just the moisture I need. I'm thinking I might try other oils to see how they work, just for giggles.

The only dilemma I ran into while making the salts was how to get the citrus zest in smaller pieces and how to grind the rosemary. I tried the food processor. Epic fail. I tried the blender. Fail. Then it occurred to me that I still had the coffee grinder in the garage. Since I no longer drink coffee, I had set it out there for our garage sale we had in August. While I was sitting at said garage sale, I was reading an article online about using a coffee grinder to blend together herbs. I quickly grabbed the coffee grinder and set it aside, thinking I would be able to use it for other things besides grinding coffee beans. Turns out, it works great for herbs. Problem solved.

Now I'm trying to find a recipe for dinner tonight, one that I can use one of my infused salts in. I'm definitely going to do mashed cauliflower. I'm thinking the rosemary infused salt will work great with the mashed cauliflower.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Letting Go of Attachments

Every day, when I sit down to have breakfast, I do two things: turn on the weather channel to see what's going on outside even though I can look out the picture window of the dining room and see exactly what's going on, and read the daily quote offered from the Dalai Lama to start my day on a positive note. Many times, after I've read the daily quote, I think about what I read throughout the day and even days later. Yesterday's quote was one that resonated with me, and I'm finding one idea from the quote is randomly popping into my thoughts: letting go of attachments.

Last week, during final conferences with students, I was realizing how attached I am to what I believe is A writing, B writing, C writing, etc. While I don't want to simply pass a student for being a warm body that has attended class all semester, I do want to let go of the attachments I have to the criteria I've always used to assign final grades. Every time I go into a student paper, the criteria is constantly at the forefront, creating a barrier between me and the student and even a barrier between me and what the writing itself. Most often the barrier carries negative feelings with it, further hindering the overall experience of reading what the student has written. Instead of really reading each word, taking in the ideas, I search for what's "wrong" with the paper in order to come up with a grade. I've reached a point where I believe the criteria hinder the conversation about good, effective writing. I want to let go of my attachment to the criteria, but I wonder how I can and still be completely fair and honest with my students.

Over the years my teaching has evolved in such a way that I try to be as completely transparent as possible with my students when it comes to what my thoughts are concerning their writing. I conference with students one-on-one three times during the semester, and during these conferences we discuss their work. I'll read the paper right there in front of the student, which I've been told is quite nerve-wracking, then begin asking questions about the course concepts and how the student has applied them to his/her writing. Most often, the conversation that develops is one in which the students get a sense of what's happening with their writing and how I, as the reader, am reacting to the writing. I've had more fruitful, satisfying conversations about writing with this process than I ever did when simply reading the papers, marking the papers, then handing back the papers. Most often the students leave my office knowing exactly what's working, what's not, and how to improve upon what they have written.

At the end of the final conference, we work through what their final grade should be by examining the final drafts of their papers as well as everything else connected to the class, including attitude. One young lady this semester was less than happy with the C we came to after our discussion but agreed it was appropriate given her absences and inattention to class work. While she really wanted a B, she accepted the grade because as she put it, "I screwed myself." I try to help this kind of student see what a shame it is the grade isn't truly reflective of her writing abilities. This young woman's final draft was very powerful, definitely A quality, but because of her attitude/behavior, what will show on her grades transcript is that she is simply an average writing student. We talked a bit about why she let this happen, so maybe . . . maybe . . . she'll think about this situation in the semesters to come and not allow herself to slip.

What to do about the criteria is something I'll continue to think about. I have a couple of books to read over break, books that I'm hoping will give me some ideas to consider and maybe even weave into my teaching process. With today's weather forecast being a winter weather advisory indicating possible ice with 4-6 inches of snow following, I'm going to get the fire going, snuggle up on the couch, and enjoy my reading.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Well, Hello December

The older I get the more precious time becomes. Every single minute holds a value far beyond what I can wrap my brain around. When I see the "100 Places You Should Visit Before You Die" and realize I've only visited 14, I feel the urge to pack my bags and get going, or I'll miss out. At the same time, I just want to sit on the back deck steps and watch the sparrows flying in to the bird feeder. I'm completely in love with the idea of slowing down, just standing still, and taking in all that is right here around me. This back and forth pull gets tiresome. I am, however, noticing I'm leaning far more in the direction of slowing down, and I'm finding I'm truly very happy right where I am.

And now December is upon us, a month of hustle, bustle, and generally overdoing everything. Several years ago, I decided I didn't want to be a part of the holiday madness any longer. No big decorating (much to Lovely Beautiful Daughter's dismay, though I'll let her do as much as she wants to do), no tons of presents (just one "I really, really, really want this" for each of us), and no going out for anything Christmas Eve or Christmas day (which meant no more going to Mass). I've not once regretted making these changes. If anything, we've been able to focus more on family and being together because we're not distracted by the season's madness.

This past week, I watched some family and friends get caught up in the Thanksgiving madness, and when it was all done, a couple were so stressed out they could barely function. I feel sad for these individuals. I hope they find peace. A part of me, too, wonders why they allow themselves to feel like they have to put on a show, go the route of "keeping up with the Jones'." We all have the choice to say, "No. I am not going to allow societal pressures to make me feel inadequate." If others don't like us taking a stand against the pressure, that's their problem. That time spent worrying and obsessing over what others will think if the turkey isn't perfect or if the house isn't Martha Stewart approved is time lost, time that can never, ever be gotten back.

I spent my week working in my shop, cleaning up my fruit garden, and building a greenhouse. With Hubby's help, I was able to create a few new items for the next arts/crafts show I'll be attending in a week. Then, after reading up on pruning grapevines, I went to work on my two vines and got them squared away. And yesterday, with the temps in the 50's, I built a greenhouse to see if I can get some lettuce to grow. It's mostly an experiment, just to see if I can actually get something to grow through the winter, so we'll see what happens. I poked my head inside the greenhouse this morning, and because the temps are again in the 50's, inside the greenhouse was toasty warm.

So here's to December. May the last month of the year bring much joy, laughter, and maybe even some lettuce.