24 October 2006

Black Box Theory

In browsing information about sailing, I have come across the works of John Vigor. I've got a few of his books on order from Amazon, and will blog about them later. But for today, I want to talk about the Black Box. In his article, John tells us:

In 1986, when I started fitting out my own 31-footer, Freelance, for a voyage from Durban to the United States, I reduced the Fifth Essential to a simple system of accident prevention. In the Freelance corollary to the theory, every boat possesses an imaginary black box, a sort of bank account in which points are kept. In times of emergency, when there is nothing more to be done in the way of sensible seamanship, the points from your black box can buy your way out of trouble. You have no control over how the points are spent, of course; they withdraw themselves when the time is appropriate. You do have control over how the points get into the box: you earn them. For every seamanlike act you perform, you get a point in the black box. Points come in so many ways it would be impossible to list them all. But I can send you in the right direction. Let's say you're planning a weekend cruise down the coast, and time is precious. You have been wondering for some weeks if you ought to haul out the bosun's chair and inspect the masthead fittings. It has been a couple of years since you checked everything up there, but it would mean delaying your departure by an hour, maybe more, should you have to change a shackle or something. If you finally give in to the nagging voice inside you and go aloft, you earn a point in the box. If you don't take that trouble, your black box will stay empty. If you sniff the bilges for fumes before pushing the starter button, you'll score a point, just as you will for taking a precautionary reef at nightfall or checking the expiration date on your rocket flares. Thinking and worrying about what could happen is also a good way to earn points - if the wind started blowing into your quiet anchorage at 40 miles an hour and the engine wouldn't start, or whether you should put a couple of reefs in the mainsail before you climb into your bunk, just in case. No matter how good your seamanship, there are times when there is nothing left to do but batten down the hatches and pray. If you have a credit balance of points in the box, you'll be all right. People will say you're lucky, of course. They'll say a benign fate let you get away with it. But we know better. That luck was earned, maybe over quite a long period.
In a boat, of course, this makes perfect sense. But it also makes sense in the rest of life. Jason and I have started referring to tasks as "black box." Do you fold the laundry out of the drier, or just toss it on the bed? Black Box. It gets folded. Do you wash the dish you just used, or do you set it, crusty food and all, on the counter for someone else to do? Black Box. It gets washed. It's interesting to see our attitude to our home and our stuff change. And it's interesting to feel the energy change. When more is done, more is do-able. It's like all of a sudden, it's all more manageable. I'm not sure how that works, or why, but I can tell you that I'm feeling mighty fine about the state of the Black Box.

17 October 2006

Creative Space: The Work Light

I have this weird tradition of always taking a desk lamp before I leave a job. It didn't start that way. Taking, I mean. The second-worst job I ever had, I was doing desktop publishing for a graphics software company on the long slow slide to obsolescence. Tempers were high, drama was higher, everyone behaved badly. And when I left, someone suggested I take the green glass banker's lamp that had been in my cube, I think to assuage their guilt at their crappy treatment of an employee. Fine by me; it's Rowan's reading lamp now. The longest and goofiest contract not-a-real-job I ever had, I ended up with a cheap blue plastic torchiere lamp. It's in the playroom, because it's blue, and goofy. The very worst job I ever had, I was the Production Manager for a children's software company. When I left that job, I did my entire exit interview in Dilbert cartoons. It really was that bad. And with me came an industrial art graphics lamp with a high-intensity 100-W halogen bulb. Really puts the spot on things. I adore that lamp. It sits on my desk, keeping my efforts as high-intensity as its light. And last week, the bulb burned out. It's no ordinary bulb, it's this weird frankensteinian thing with bolts at the bottom. Home Depot didn't have them. No other local hardware had them. But this morning, my charming and talented hubby dropped by Lowe's, and sure enough, they had my bulb. It's interesting, but having my lamp back makes all the difference. The overhead room light didn't do the job; it had to be my art lamp. So now that I'm perking away under its bright and warming light, I find myself thinking that using this real art tool makes my work more like art. Gives me more credibility within my own head. And that internal boost results in an external product of higher quality. And yes. We bought spare bulbs.

16 October 2006

Getting Brave: Gearing up for NaNoWriMo

After much musing, pondering, and many well-timed kicks with steel-toed boots from my pal Angela, I have decided to take a leap, and participate in NaNoWriMo next month. This is, in a word, terrifying.

  1. I have never written fiction. Ever. Stretched the truth a little creatively here and there? You betcha. But never have I set pen to paper with the intent of creating a tale of my own.
  2. I have never committed to such a hard deadline. Those are two very real numbers, 50,000 and 30 Nov 06. You either make it, or you blow it. That's a lot to face up to.
  3. If I do this, then I am a writer.
That last one is the toughest of all. I mean, sure, I write here, for y'all to see what's up with me, the Boyos, and come along on this wild ride of a life. But somehow, being a writer is a different animal. It's more committed, somehow. It's claiming an identity that I've always aspired to and always allowed the stream of life to carry me away from. I'm taking November to reclaim a bit of myself. Jason's being a gem about it, and already planning ahead for how he can arrange household duties to give me the uninterrupted time it's going to take. I think he sees, even if he can't enunciate, what a big deal this is. Even if I downplay it. And of course, by telling all of you... my feet are really held to the fire. I have to make it, right? I must focus, I will accomplish. And maybe if it isn't complete drivel, I'll let y'all read it. =)

12 October 2006

New Post on LWOS -- Sailing With Rowan

Just a little shameless self-promotion. See it here: http://lifewithoutschool.typepad.com/ or if it takes you a few days and it's scrolled down in the posting queue, go here: http://lifewithoutschool.typepad.com/lifewithoutschool/2006/10/sailing_with_ro.html

11 October 2006

A Little Light Birth Activism

Yesterday was the day for a little light birth activism. Three vignettes, for your amusement: It's Open Enrollment time at my company. For those of you not familiar with corporate-speak, this means it's time to pick heath plans. We have the option of five different plans. I spent this morning looking at the material they put together for us, and then at their non-branded websites. And since none of them answered my #1 question, I started making phonecalls. And asking them if they covered homebirth midwives. I am not pregnant or anything; I just really feel that change in the medical paradigm has to be driven by consumer choice. You would have loved the reactions I got. Spluttering. Coughing. Denial. Shock. One woman told me that "you can't give birth at home." "Oh," says I, "but that's how I did it last time." Stunned silence. Then, "but it's not safe to birth at home! What if your baby dies???" I couldn't help myself. I laughed. Said "oh, honey, I'm so so so sorry. How did that red pill taste?" and then quickly, before she could recover, said "I bet if you ask your grandmother, or looked at your family genealogy, you'll find that everyone in your family from all the way back was born at home. It's your *heritage*." Silence. ::sigh:: I didn't get through, I know I didn't. But man, it felt good. For the record, none of the insurance companies will cover a homebirth midwife. Including the one that did, in fact, pay for mine, 16 months ago. So basically, the rule is, they will, if you lie well enough. Pretty depressing. And demoralizing, right? So I walk away from my computer to hit my chiro appointment. My chiropractor's billing person is 9 months pregnant, and ready to be done. She asks me, "you know about birth. What's a safe way to induce?" I reply, "Well, considering you go into labor when your baby's lungs are ready, there isn't a safe way, as far as the baby's concerned." She says to me.... ...brace yourselves... "My doctor never told me that!" I could scream. I could weep. I could do both at once. But at least she's now going to wait for her baby. It's a start. Finally, I ran into an old friend. She's 46, and discussing having a baby with her new man. He's been told he "can't have children." Because of... get this... "low sperm count." I ask if she's familiar with the research about such things, and she isn't. I ask if anyone's ever explained to him the difference between sperm count in a test tube and the real thing. They haven't. I ask if it's no sperm, period, or just low. She says, just low. Where, my friends, in what world, is "low" the same as "none"? It only takes one, last time I checked. We're going to have coffee later this week, and I'll bring her the research links to take a look at. All in all, not a bad day. But how did so much disinformation, disempowerment, and downright FUD get out there in the world? Makes you wonder.

04 October 2006

Back in Shape

I have been asked, in all genuine care and curiosity, when I am going to "get back in shape" after pregnancy. Back. In. Shape. It's been four years since I had Rowan, 16 months since Kestrel. Before Rowan, I was a total gym dog and powerlifter. I was actually recruited for the gym's bodybuilding team. I was like that, back then. But now? I will never "get back in shape". Because before, I was a Maiden, and after, I was a Mother. Forever afterwards, I am mother-shaped. The four-pack abs are gone forever. Which is biologically as it should be. I was lucky enough to be able to breastfeed. That keeps poundage on, since biologically, you're supposed to retain fat, so that if there's a food scarcity, you can keep feeding your baby. That fat? That's there for survival of the species. I think I have better endurance now than I ever had before. But then again, caring for a small being is incredible 24/7 exhausting work. I am not model-thin nor am I muscularly toned. But by god, I can move mountains. Of laundry, of dirty dishes, of toys, of odds insurmountable for my litte tribe. My body is working the way it's supposed to, to be a mother to the race. And there is something incredibly powerful about that. More powerful than my gym-induced weightlifter body ever was. Because this body is formed this way not only by purpose, but by the evolutionary pressures of the ages. The pressures that I am the successful result of. A few weeks ago, I was laying on the bed, and Rowan came over to tickle. My shirt got pulled up, and he sat back and started tracing my belly stretchmarks (most of which came from my pregnancy with him). Got this huge smile. And then said "Mama, you are so beautiful." I would not trade that for my old four-pack abs. Not in a million years.

02 October 2006

Self-Limiting: The Saga of the Flower Cake

Last weekend, we had HVAC installed in our house, and so to both get out of the way of the tradesmen, and to take advantage of the gorgeous weather, we headed north to Napa. One of our favorite stops there is the V. Sattui winery. Not only are their wines fabulous, but as far as wineries go, they are very child-friendly. Many wineries are so interested in adult appeal that they forget that frazzled parents may be some of their best repeat customers. V. Sattui has a very nice deli, for the purchasing of lunch, and a big, grassy, wildlife-filled picnic area, for the kids to burn off of energy and general enjoyment of the outdoors. The deli is packed with little containers of amazing gourmet food. It's a dazzling array of shapes, colors, textures, and smells, many of which are at reasonable eye-level for a four year old. We moved very slowly through the aisles and displays, having long discussions about the various food items, why some things were more expensive than others, what things tasted like, why different people have different tastes, which things might make for a good lunch. The discussion naturally ranged over topics of human sensory capability, cooking techniques, colors, numbers, economics, sustainability. an amazing smorgasbord of conversation, set off by little jars of gourmet mustard. Rowan has a corn allergy. Consumption of corn, which is nearly ubiquitous in the American diet, turns his generally thoughtful and four-year-old appropriate behavior into uncontrollable fits of flailing and screaming rage. It's a dramatic transformation, and one that we've been observing, and teaching him about, since he was two. We've considered several approaches to dealing with this issue, and we have come to trust Rowan to feel what's happening in his own body, and to limit his intake of things that "make him crazy." Not only has this served to teach him about himself and give him sovereignty over his own body and his own decisions, it's laying excellent groundwork for the future. A kid who can control exposure and face temptation at age four is a kid who can navigate the murkier waters of adult temptations later on. Rowan knows to ask if a thing has corn in it, and to come up with a plan for managing his behavior, should he "get crazy." Usually, that plan involves wrapping himself around me or his Papa, and hugging until he stabilizes. At V. Sattui, they have a dessert case. Gorgeous, gourmet little confections, tiny works of art in sugar. So I was not at all surprised when the case caught Rowan's attention, and he stood there, overwhelmed, trying to choose. He asked about corn, and I confirmed that yes, chances were high that every single morsel in the case had some form of corn in it. He walked away. And walked back. For about fifteen minutes, I watched my son take two falls out of three while wrestling temptation. And finally, he asked me for the flower cake. The flower cake was a single white cupcake, fabulously covered with sugar frosting flowers in an array of primary and pastel colors. It was a delight, and someone in the bakery staff had obviously put a lot of energy into it. Also a lot of artificial coloring, another problem substance. A quick consult with the woman at the counter confirmed the presence of both cornstarch and corn syrup. We had a quick huddle, while I explained all of this to him. He nodded with each item, but still insisted that he wanted that cake. He confirmed that "hugs are for when I get crazy", and seemed totally prepared to take it on. I mentally rearranged my itinerary to allow for dropping everything and heading home when the inevitable meltdown occurred. We sat down at the picnic bench, and devoured our lunches. Rowan took out the flower cake, and with a plastic fork, carefully, delicately, with the care of a professional surgeon, removed one small flower from the top of his cake, and ate it. Savored it. Let it melt on his tongue, leaving a glorious purple streak in its wake. And then replaced the lid on the container. "Are you sure you're finished?" I asked him. With the blissful look still on his face, he replied "yes, I'm sure." He only wanted the one flower. There sat a confection to entice gluttony from the most staid of souls, and my four-year old limited himself to the one flower. Back in the car, more stops, more errands. And the return home. Whereupon he asked for his flower cake again. Again, the ritualistic removal of the container lid, the surgical removal of just one sugar flower. Which he presented to me. "Thank you, Mama. Have some flower cake." His Papa and his baby brother also received single gorgeous sugar flowers. And then the lid went back on. That cake has been in our refrigerator for over a week. Every day, a little more of it gets eaten. But only a little bit. If there's someone in the room with him, he offers to share a bite. And then carefully, back into the fridge it goes. My son still reacts to corn. But he also reacts to autonomy, to faith, and to trust. Here. Have some flower cake.