Saturday, May 04, 2013

moleskine hack

I love my Moleskine, but I don't love it's lack of a pen holder. And and my favorite Stabilo pens don't have a clip on them, which complicates things a little. Inspired by several great Moleskine hacks here, I made a fabric sleeve for my pen today. Here's how:

1) Cut a strip of fabric 2-inches wide by an inch longer than your notebook (instructions are for the 8.25-inch size).
2) Sew a thin rolled hem about an inch long, around 7-inches from the bottom of your notebook.
3) Cut two pieces of 1/4 inch elastic (or narrower) ~5-inches long (this will vary with different elastic) and pin them to the end that's furthest from your rolled hem. Position them with one edge at 1/4-inch from the raw edge and the other edge at 1-inch (the half-way mark of the fabric width).

4) Fold the whole ensamble right sides together lengthwise with elastic on the inside, and sew from the folded edge with the elastic to the rolled hem. Use 1/4-inch seam allowance and sew over the elastic end several times to make it sturdy.
5) Turn the tube right side out (I use a chopstick) and trim the opposite end to 1/4-inch beyond the length of your notebook.

6) Pin ends of elastic to the raw end of the sleeve as you did in step 3.

Fold the right sides together again and sew from the folded corner to the rolled hem. Don't forget to sew over the end with the elastic several times to make it sturdy.

7) Roll it right-side out and slide it onto your notebook.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

It's not selfish, it's self care

I have a little milestone. I've been running for a year. Last year at this time I was tired of getting heavier and not eating healthy and I no longer had (as many) excuses to prevent me from taking care of myself. The biggest change is that I was finally somewhat in control of my own schedule. No more nights and weekends to show up and punch in. I work more now than ever before, but I get to pick the timing (mostly). I realized that I could use my daily 2:00 pm crash as a chance to be active. I am not ready for a marathon, or a half-marathon for that matter, but I can run for 30-60 minutes any day and feel good. Goal achieved. Endorphins boosted. Success.

On Friday a fellow PhD student came to my office in athletic clothes and announced that she was going to the gym and it was my fault. I smiled and said, "You're welcome." In reflecting on this moment I realize that it's not my fault in the sense that I nag her to take care of herself. Instead I sent an email last February to several of my lab mates and friends offering that I would be running nearly every afternoon and they were welcome to join me. I had no takers.

Five years ago I first heard the phrase, "It's not selfish, it's self care." The notion of self care is pretty new to me. I have learned that I am the only one who will take good care of me. Although that's true, reaching out and having a network pays off. My fellow PhD student knows that I have been taking care of myself. I don't talk about it, and it would be rare for her to see me in my running clothes, but perhaps she can see that I'm two sizes smaller than I was when I began my program 18 months ago. She doesn't work closely enough with me to know anything about my energy and focus, but they are better.

I have been quietly taking care of myself with plenty of paybacks, but I have had one person stick with me through the entire year. She has a network of people who run with her, and we get her moving what seems to be at least three times each week. One time is with me. And we haven't run together a perfect 52 times. It's been at least 30 times, and the consistency has been great for me. Some weeks that Sunday run was my only run. I have a group of friends who let me know when they are going to the YMCA. My husband is looking into a membership. I have started running with another friend at work.

But sometimes the paybacks are unexpected. When my fellow student was rejected by the gym (student services fee issue), we ran together. This is a wonderful self care reward. I wasn't going to run on Friday, but she pulled me away from my desk. And it felt so good to break out of what had been an unintentional finals-holiday break for me. Although I could not depend on anyone else to get started, I am beyond thrilled to see my little "care network" (if you will) expanding.

I have always scoffed at the notion of a New Year's resolution. Always. But I am glad I resolved last year.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

corner turning

Corners are sharp and hard to see around. Sometimes what lies around them is dark or hidden. One can easily pass by them or miss them. Turning a corner may be a good thing, or it may not; it may be neutral. Sometimes we need to ignore the turns and keep going straight, to not look around the corner. Sometimes we need to turn, which is a point of change in acceleration (even when velocity does not change... one of the few concepts I absorbed from physics). I recently turned what I would describe as a corner, and now that I have defined corners, herein lies my attempt to describe that turn.

I am not sure if my location of the other side of the corner is lighter or darker on the brightness continuum, but on the weightiness continuum, it's a lighter place. And this type of lightness is most welcome. Nothing has changed with my circumstances; only my position has changed.

This makes me think of the statistics presented at the beginning of The Happy Movie ( Half of our happiness is hard-wired, dependent on our genetics. Ten percent is a function of our circumstances, our job, income, social status, etc. And here's what I think is the good news: 40% of an individual's happiness is their choice. As one coming from the hard sciences, I have no idea how sociologists arrive at such statistics, but I find them interesting. And when there are storms brewing in the 10% fraction, I find encouragement that I can still make choices about my happiness and have some control in the 40% fraction (like healthy coping mechanisms... creativity, exercise), even if one's genetics do not favor good mental wellbeing (whatever that means...).

I have talked a lot about what rounding this corner is not for me. On the affirmative side, rounding the corner has given me a release from some of my hang-ups. I feel a little more comfortable in my skin, able to see clearly that others' perceptions are not necessarily reality. This bend in the road may not change the destination (oops, another not), but it may make this segment of the journey a little easier.

I doubt that Seeger had corners in mind with his turning. I realize he was thinking about peace as absence of war between nations, but the good passage he uses from Ecclesiastes applies broadly, as does most good verse. And I am glad it's not too late.

(Postscript... If you need to hear it, too, you can find Seger's slightly off-balanced version here. Or if you must, here are the Byrds.)

(Postpostscript... I do recommend The Happy Movie. Frugal-me even forked over the $9.99 to get it on iTunes... but only after not finding it in the entire Minneapolis or U of M library system, or by inter-library loan, or by Redbox or Netflix. It's absence in these places is not a happy thing.)

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Sometimes the right picture comes along after the fact...
Every day the campus connector takes me on the university's transitway on my way to school/work (or is it play?). The transitway is a shortcut that can only be used by campus buses and emergency vehicles.
On the route there are a bunch of old industrial buildings that are basically in ruins. I do not think they are very visible except by those on the transitway. Curb appeal is definitely lacking in these buildings (read... they are condemned), although I would not mind doing a photo shoot of the rough and interesting details.

Recently as I went by the industrial wastelot I was thinking about the options for these old brick structures. There is currently a lot of appeal for renovating urban lofts. Exposed brick walls on the interior, worn wood flooring with loads of patina (ahem... stains and holes), giant windows (with horrible R-values), open floor plans, etc. The history that is held in the details is part of the appeal, I think. But there's often quality as well, such as hardwoods and fixtures that are real and sturdy and built to last.

Contrast the sterile newness of a brand new building, residential or industrial. Everything is clean and new and can be very nice and comfortable. But the history is missing.

I pondered the decision to salvage and renovate versus tearing it all down and rebuilding. The first consideration is whether or not the foundation is good; sometimes there is not enough structure worth keeping. The last time I was a part of a home renovation was 25 years ago, so I cannot claim to know the ins and outs of the process. However, I can see that both approaches have their hard places and require a lot of work.

I thought about this in the context of life. When do we renovate and when do we start from scratch? There's no algorithm for this type of decision; no formula can quantify or even simplify such decisions. It has to be a case-by-case, situational decision.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

hilly terrain

hills... give you tools for the next hills...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

sustainable pace

I have been thinking a lot lately about keeping a sustainable pace. The last few years, largely the time I've been absent in the blogosphere, I have been working in retail and networking and looking for opportunities that would help me get back on track in my geoscience career. Last fall I started graduate school and I absolutely love it. The period of waiting was difficult on numerous levels, but on this side of the waiting I can say that my program was worth the wait.

I found the pace of retail extremely difficult. I resented working different shifts throughout the week and different days of the week. I have a lot of respect for people who can find a healthy rhythm in the retail life; I did not.

My advisor's expectation for my schedule is that I am in my office from 9-5 daily, Monday-Friday. This is an ideal schedule, especially after years of retail. Apart from set class times, I choose how I structure my day. I can be flexible with this schedule, yet I respect my advisor's wisdom that keeping this structure protects time with my family in the evening.

I have been making excuses for years that the rhythm of life has not been conducive to a regular exercise and self-care routine. I could continue this excuse because the intensity of grad school is not conducive to such routines. I have watched plenty of grad students and professors burn out, so I have been thinking a lot about establishing a sustainable pace. There's always more to do, write, read, etc.

One week ago I added one more thing to my learning curve: running. I have never been a runner (well, there was that one summer...). I understand the paradox that running is one of the simplest sports, foundational to most every sport. Yet running in a Minnesota winter involves a learning curve, and running in any context requires more learning than I realized in the past.

I have a Delightful Neighbor who is a generation ahead of me who responded to her diabetes diagnosis by choosing to exercise and take care of herself. Now she runs marathons, half-marathons, 5K's, etc. She inspires me. I reached out to her for advice, accountability, and the chance to get to know my neighbors a little more. Little did I know that she was a part of a 100-day challenge that seems to be populated by folks from our 'hood. I told her my fears (notably omitting failure) and asked for her advice and if she had a free day in her running schedule to teach a novice (little did I know she would also have dissertation-writing wisdom to impart!). On Sunday, 5 runs into my new little training program, I ran 5K with her while I huffed and chatted and she imparted wisdom about things like pace.

Today on my run I surprised myself a little bit. I tried to go a little slower than usual and I found that I could keep going and going. I thought about my Delightful Neighbor and her fancy running watch and her discussion about pace. I thought about the other learning curves in my life: learning to be a scientist and an academic. I thought about this slower running pace and how it was more sustainable for my run, and of course I thought about the parallels with my academic life.

I thought about the training required to maintain higher paces, but there are limits to what the human body can do; some run twice a day, but no one can run all day, there must be breaks. I thought about how some must train to work up to a brisk walk, and how we can push ourselves and train to take on a faster pace. I thought about the things that challenge our pace and endurance, like running up hills and the exhaustion at the top of the hill (that string of grant proposals, perhaps). However, amidst the exhaustion there's momentum and if you are able to pace properly, you can keep going and enjoy the downhill for a block or two.

As I receive this amazing gift of the opportunity to go to grad school (with funding, nonetheless!), and the amazing gift of setting my pace and structuring my day, I have been taking very seriously that this pace be sustainable for me, my family, my advisor, and even my friends. I am extremely grateful to be among mentors who value their family lives and balancing work with things that nourish ones spirit.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I tend to be a transparent person. This puts some people off. I have found on this journey that I do not have the time or energy to be anything but authentic. Sometimes this has gotten me into trouble. People cannot always handle the truth (Jack Nicholson conveyed this so well).

Today I went to work to do a little bit of training. Mostly this just meant that I was reading training modules on a computer. Eventually this will lead to some hands-on training, I trust. At one point my boss was in the same room with me and he began to share one of the misadventures he experienced at the conclusion of his (rare and much-needed) weekend away.

I was surprised at the candidness of his sharing. It was almost as if he was bouncing the situation off of me to get my input and advice. We have some common roots in our faith which enables him to feel free to discuss things with me on a deeper level.

I simply listened and affirmed his instincts. He seemed to discern things pretty well. However, the misadventure happened to be a topic that has hit close to home for me, and as the conversation progressed he realized that I was pretty knowledgeable on the topic. (I was supposed to be reading my training stuff, remember... the sooner I get through it the sooner I get a raise.)

I have a feeling the conversation is not over. And sometimes it's hard to know how much to share. I know that I would prefer to not be knowledgeable on the topic of his extended family's misadventure. The knowledge represents a very difficult time for me. But it is a time that I would not exchange for the knowledge I have gained. And when my pain can help another, that somehow helps to make it more worthwhile.

atheism, anger and intuition

Subtitle: some of the nitty gritty of why I haven't blogged much in recent years.

I have spent more of the past few years angry at God than not. Maybe you've heard me say that recently. I won't go into all of the things that have made me angry. But I will admit that the underlying theme, if I admit it to even myself, is that I seem to think I could do a better job than God. In my limited perspective this makes perfect sense, I would make good things happen and avoid some of the disappointments.

I have had the opportunity to engage in discussion with an atheist in recent months and it dawned on me how silly and misdirected this anger must seem to him. I also began to realize how much energy was required by this emotional state. I was feeling drained by all of the stress that was triggering my anger, so I realized that I could choose to relieve some of the drain. One logical response would be to stop being angry at God. Instead, I decided that I would see if I could ignore Him for a while. The stance of my atheist friend seemed incredibly convenient.

In the midst of trying to turn away from God I discovered something about myself. I couldn't do it; in my stream of consciousness I kept talking to God. I felt a bit irked every time I caught myself talking to God.I was driving along in the car one day, listening to NPR (not Christian radio, mind you), and I caught myself distracted from the radio program and talking to God. I tried to refocus my attention on the program because I was ignoring God, remember? In that moment I began to reflect on my inability to to ignore God, but I didn't fully want to unwrap this yet.

A couple of years ago, after one of the most startling discoveries of my life, I had the courage to admit to my spiritual director that I was angry at God. She helped me to see how my anger was a place of intimacy. She helped me realize that we do not get angry with ones that we do not care about.

I have a tendency to direct my anger at God before I direct it at people. I am not sure what this means. Perhaps I hold God to a higher standard and at some gut level, even though I keep trying to take the reigns, I realize that God is in control. I realize that if anyone can change what's happening, God can. I think I get frustrated because God could make things happen in ways that I would see as positive. He could give me the desires of my heart. He could prevent or change how things are. If he is who he says he is....

I felt disappointed that I could not ignore God even when I tried. I eventually realized that I might as well give up the charade and stop being angry with God. Although I was annoyed that I couldn't bring my mind to turn from God, despite my best efforts, I am also comforted that God has become an intuitive part of my being in the 29 years since I came to know Him.

On so very many levels, trusting God right now makes no sense at all. And at the same time it's the only thing that does make sense. Life is full of these paradoxes.