terraria's eye

practice matters: three years of drawing progress

Some say 10,000 hours of practice will give you a shot at mastery, and, well, Sophie has been putting in her hours.  But she and I didn’t  realize how much she has leveled up, and how quickly, until we ran across a couple of older drawing of the same subject and put them side by side.

Quick backstory: Terraria is a game she and her brother have played together since it came out in late 2013.  At the time, Sophie was nine and Luc seven and they got really into their characters, Frederick (Sophie) and Terraria (Luc, and, no, I don’t know why his character was named after the game). Here are these characters, as they exist on the screen.

terraria and freddy 1

That’s Freddy on the left with his spiked armor and Terraria on the right wearing a crown.  As part of the fun, Sophie-back-then drew a portrait of the two of them, just like they are here, only, “like they are in my head.”

freddy & terraria 2013

She was nine.  I remember her being pretty stoked at her first attempt at armor.

A year and a half later, then eleven years old, she ran across this drawing in her stuff and thought, I can do better now.  So she decided to redraw.

first terraria pic re draw 450

Already so much change!  She did this one with pencil and paper, scanned it in, and colored it on Photoshop.  You can definitely see the influence of manga comics, which she was reading a lot then, and indeed, she did several comics with these characters. I like how she added the life-stats bar over each head.

Which brings us to the present, it’s a year and a half again later, she’s twelve.  She stumbled across both drawings and once again thought, I can do better now.  She doesn’t play Terraria as much anymore, but still, a redraw of this now iconic portrait seemed in order.  Updated with her current skills and this time painted fully on Photoshop, of course….

terraria re draw 3 500

Not too shabby.  That’s a heck of a lot of improvement in three years.  Sophie works on her digital painting several hours a day most days.  Which makes me ask myself, what am I spending several hours a day getting better at?  What do I wish I was spending several hours a day getting better at?  Not watching tv or doing dishes, that’s for damn sure.  I wish it were as easy to see progress in novel writing, but it’s not so obvious.  I’d like to think I’m getting better.  I hope I’m getting better.  Sometimes I’m pretty sure I’m just spinning my gears, getting more bitter and less brave.  It’s easier to create art when you are young and haven’t gotten kicked around so much, isn’t it?  Or maybe that’s bullshit.  Maybe it always seems easier for someone else.

I asked Sophie if she wanted to say anything about the drawings and she said, “Any artist starting out has to get that no matter how crappy you think you are now, as long as you’re practicing, you’re getting better.  You can’t see it happening, but when you look back and compare, the results are night and day.”  She’s so wise. I love how she doesn’t hesitate to think of herself as an artist, and why wouldn’t she?  She’s doing the work.

freddy close up

sophie's brace 2:11:16 450

you can be too flexible: treating scoliosis with a rigo-cheneau brace, schroth, and postural restoration

Last fall, my daughter was bestowed a diagnosis of scoliosis.

I’m not talking about a little bit, the kind where you ignore it and go on with your life, only a bit more crooked.  I’m talking about the kind where the doctors look you in the eye and say your kid needs spinal surgery.

I was gobsmacked.  There had been no sign, she didn’t look crooked, no way, how could this be?  I went into hyper-research mode (beware a mother with an internet connection) and read studies, forum discussions, doctor reviews, journals from international organizations, even made myself rather sick looking at x-rays of severely distorted spines.  Basically, if you have a curve with a Cobb angle of less than 20 degrees most American medicals will say “wait and see.”  Over 20 degrees, they say, “let’s look at bracing” to keep the curve(s) from progressing until the kid’s growth period is over (and then, maybe that’s it, or maybe it’s surgery anyway).  But if you’ve got a Cobb angle over 50 degrees go straight to surgery, do not pass go.  Doctoring by numbers.

Sophie’s thoracic curve was 55.

The reason we hadn’t seen it before was that she has an S shaped curve with the bottom curve being about the same size as the top, creating a symmetry that means she looks straight.  If she bends over, you see a bit of a swell on the upper right and the lower left, but it’s pretty minor.  She looks like a gorgeous, athletic kid.  Until you look at the x-ray.

sophie 9:16 225

This is from September.  I fell out of my chair when I saw it.

Long time readers will remember all those pictures of young Sophie popping into advanced yoga poses (to my great jealousy) kapotasana on a whim, dropbacks like eating candy, my super-bendy girl.  Turns out there is a very high correlation between super-bendy girls and scoliosis.  Not CAUSE, correlation.  Gymnasts, ballet dancers, etc, are statistically more likely to get it.  Whatever makes them so able to do the extreme moves that make them great at their sports/activities, that thing also carries a risk of bones and/or connective tissue that aren’t holding up under gravity.  Turns out, being bendy isn’t always a plus.

Right away, given Sophie’s remaining growth (an educated guess about it, anyway), there was the suggestion from the docs of getting her into a very new, high-tech surgery involving tethering the vertebra with a wire (like getting braces on your teeth except it’s your spine being wired up) where the tethering would cause her spine to literally grow the curves straight.  It’s so new, however, that long term outcomes are unknown.  Avoiding surgery, if at all possible, seemed like the way to go to me because side-effects and complications are real and come with that roll of the dice all too frequently.  More importantly, Sophie didn’t want it.

However, because that kind of surgery is growth dependent—unlike the much more invasive, tried-and-true surgery where they install titanium rods along the spine—there was a limited window of opportunity.  The surgeons gave us six months tops, to decide.  Pressure.

But we decided to take the risk, and with that uncertainty and time pressure hanging over us, we put together a team of an orthopedic surgeon who is a specialist in scoliosis, an orthotist (for a brace), and a highly specialized physical therapist.  The brace we went with was the Rigo-Cheneau brace, custom made by Luke Stikeleather (one of the only people making them in this country), and a combination of Schroth and Postural Restoration physical therapy.

Did I mention that all these appointments were out of state??  Except the PT, thank god she is just one city over.  What an exhausting fall we had.

Anyway.  Cheneau braces are custom designed to work with a specific person’s spine and curves.  Luke built Sophie her brace with a rather fascinating process of 3-D printing her body, making the therapeutic adjustments to the cast shape, then draping hot thermoplastic over the cast.

brace 1

Luke on the left, helping to lift the 400 degree sheet of plastic up to drape it over the cast of Sophie’s body.brace 2

Here they are closing up the front and turning on the vacuum suction that draws the plastic into the body shape:brace 3

They have to do this part very fast before the stuff cools down.brace 4

Then they cut it off the cast, cut off all the extra, and attach straps.brace 5

Finally a long fitting process begins where he cuts and trims and files and reheats parts with a blow torch to relieve pressure points.  Internal straps and pads are added to increase the correction on the areas that need more pressure (the convex places in the spinal curves), with spaces left in the concavities that breathing can fill.  Then the kid goes back to the hotel to sleep in the thing for a night to find revealed problems, sore spots, areas that rub, etc, and more fitting the next day.  Luke really, really wants to get it right.  He is fantastic, generous, kind, and extremely dedicated.

The result is a bit like a steampunk corset, or maybe body armor, although it is asymmetrical, high under one arm and lower on one hip.  Here is Sophie’s brace:

sophie's brace 2:11:16 450

And here is Sophie’s spine in the brace.

sophie in brace 11:16

Better.  Still very crooked, but better.

We ended up also having Luke make her a sleep brace, because lying down is a totally different gravity picture from upright, and more specific and aggressive correction could be done in either position, if he wasn’t trying to cover all the bases with one brace. Her curves were advanced enough that it seemed prudent to go for as much whammy as we could get out of “bracing” as a therapeutic choice.  So a long, agressive brace for lying down and a cut-down, shortened brace for sitting (where too much length would keep her from being able to comfortably bend her legs, or lower her arms) for day.

Success with bracing depends on wearing the thing as much as possible, and studies indicate the best success when it is worn over 21 hours a day.  That’s a lot.  “I live in a plastic box,” Sophie says.

To balance all that non-movement, and to come at the problem from a different direction, we added physical therapy.  Schroth PT offers a lot of lengthening, stretching out the curves, and breathing into the compressed areas. Relief. Postural Restoration offers exercises chosen for Sophie’s specific curve patterns to strengthen the muscles (again, asymmetrically) so they can support the spine in a better position.  The stronger the muscles get, the easier it becomes to hold a good position during daily life—that is, the muscles start to do internally what the brace does externally.  Hard work, but doable.  Combined, Sophie does about 30 minutes of exercises a day.

Scoliosis is such a weird thing to deal with because it looms so large (especially the extreme cases) as this potentially terrible thing, deformity, compression of organs, pain etc…but my kid was right in front of me with no symptoms, a gorgeous, strong body, no illness.  So all the worry—and I had tons, keeping me awake at night—is for something that hasn’t happened yet.  And that worry takes up your personal bandwidth, you know?  I couldn’t write, I quit yoga for a while, quit blogging (y’all might have noticed), quit everything but dealing with this for a while.

I mean, if your kid gets, say, cancer (and I am so grateful that the Medical Problem Card we drew was not cancer!!), your kid is legit sick right now, it’s terrifying, it’s a crisis right now.  Scoliosis, on the other hand (at the level we are dealing with), is a borrowed problem from the future.  It’s a scramble to play the probabilities in treatment paths that may or may not lead to a good result with the fewest side-effects.  It’s seeing a storm on the horizon, not knowing how bad its going to be when it gets to you, and trying to decide whether keeping an eye on it, getting in the cellar, or driving away is the best choice with the least disruption.  You get informed, you make your choice, but no guarantees.  But whatever choice might lead to a bad outcome.

But hey, Sophie is not currently sick, and that’s GREAT, that’s my kid not suffering, not ill, hallelujah, and I hold onto this gratitude with both hands.  She’s fine, she’s safe, seriously, right now she is fine—thoughts like this would help me sleep, especially in those first few weeks when I didn’t know what to do, and was researching till it felt like my eyes were bleeding.  Being a parent is having your heart walk around outside your own body, isn’t it?

Back to the story.  As all this was happening, I was very open with Sophie about everything I was learning and about what doctors said about her situation, without being alarmist or freaking her out any more than I could.  I told her what I learned, what I thought, and gave her room to make her own conclusions. After all, this is her body, her life we’re talking about.  I wasn’t about to make a decision about it without her being fully, 100% on-board, that is, without it being her decision, too.

As a result, when we decided no surgery (for now), she was committed to the brace/PT path because it was How She Would Avoid Getting Cut Open.  Her doctor was, as he put it, “all in” with a trial period of The Plan, and frequent reevaluations.  Every day (pretty much) she did her exercises.  Every day she wore her brace, tracking how many hours out of it for different activities (aikido, running, bathing, fun, etc).  About her exercises, she might say, “I don’t want to, you have to make me do it.” And I would say, “do you want me to be a drill sergeant? Or maybe offer you chocolate rewards? Or use logic?”  And she would frown and say, “Chocolate.”  Or, “You pick.”  Or, “I hate everything.  Poop.”  Other days she went off on her own.  “You need to do your exercises.”  “I already did them.”  “Most excellent.  Have a cookie.” But my basic message on her hardest days is always, “If you think it’s worth doing, you have to do it for it to work.  If you don’t think it’s worth doing, then we need to figure out another treatment plan.”  Just the simple fact of the situation and that I will listen to her if she doesn’t think it’s working.  (“I know, I know, I’m going….” she says.)

But those days have been rare.  She is on it.  And anyway, occasionally, fuck it, she gets a day off.  Because she works really hard at this, and she’s a kid.

It’s been a little weird how constantly the medical people we have encountered have talked about how hard it is to “get kids to comply.”  Comply, comply, such a yucky word, who wants to comply?  It’s like giving up your will, it’s submission, I can’t believe they use that word.  But when an x-ray tech, or a doctor, mentions how unusual it is to have a kid “comply” Sophie and I just look at each other in confusion.  In Sophie’s mind, the best medical care we can find says that this is what she needs to do to get well.  It’s in her highest interest to do it.  So why wouldn’t she?  Compliance has been a non-issue with her.

At Luke’s brace clinic, a gal comes in and does a kind of counseling/information/orientation session where she talks about how much to wear it, how to clean it, yada yada, with an obvious slant towards convincing the kid not to take it off, not to “cheat.”

“Why would I do that?” said Sophie.  “I want it to work.”

“Well, for example, some girls are worried about how it looks and what their friends will think.  Are you worried about that?”

“No.  My friends aren’t jerks.”

End of counseling session.

Back at home, gradually, we fell into a routine.  Stress lowered to a bubbling simmer.  We had the incredible luck of finding a Schroth/Postural Restoration specialist, Susan Henning, who has been fabulous.  At first I had her teach me as much as she was teaching Sophie, because then I could be the Susan-in-absentia as best I could between appointments.  Later, Sophie got it down and didn’t need me as much.

She has gotten so strong, it’s crazy.

Of course, always the fear that we made the wrong choice.  That this whole plan wouldn’t work, that the PT, the brace, none of it would be enough.

And the expenses.  Jesus Christ, don’t get me started.  ZERO of this very expensive medical care was paid for by our crappy insurance.  Zero.  High deductibles, out-of-network providers (as if some other PT would be interchangeable with Susan’s in-depth, specific training! as if any-old brace would be as effective as the one Luke built her!).  I curse Blue Cross Blue Shield now when we drive by their building.  Sophie’s brace is now the most expensive thing we own, second only to our house (we kind of have crappy cars, but still).  This is crazy! /endrant. Thank goodness for generous grandparents or I don’t know what we would have done.  Thank you grandparents!!!

Fast forward five months.

September to February, passing in a blur of stress and travel, then boom, it was time to head out-of-state once more for our fancy schmancy scoliosis expert doctor appointment and a new x-ray—this one taken with Sophie out-of-brace for 48 hours—and this is what we found:

sophie 9:16

sophie 2:11:2016 225

Look at the bottom curve!  From 45 degrees down to 29!!  And the top is down, too, if only 5 degrees, still, it’s 50, not 56, that is, NOT GETTING WORSE. The doctor, this mild-mannered, intensely smart man, came in with a bit of wonder and said in near deadpan, “Well, your progress is spectacular.”

Here’s the thing: remember I said she looks straight? She looks great.  And scoliosis is a cosmetic issue up to the point of organ pressure and we’re not there.  Sooo…if she holds, even as crooked as she is, she’s golden.  Holding was the minimum effective result we were looking for.  The curve not progressing.  Holding.

This was so much better than that!

We were jumping up and down and hugging.  Surgery is off the table for the foreseeable future (although it remains a possibility years from now depending on how things go).  Sophie did it!  She even grew two inches—some of which was coming out of the curve, some of it regular growth, but that was growth UP not sideways.  More indication that the curve is not progressing.

So.  Much.  Relief.

We chose a path, and so far it’s working.  We’ll keep doing what we’re doing (what she’s doing, mostly, I’m just the driver, cheerleader, and bill-payer at this point), and we’re to check back in in six months.

Of course, of course, these are still some big curves.  It’s a brace and daily exercises for Sophie for probably years.  It’s the much-better-than-the-alternative but still the not-very-great option.  In fact, it’s kind of the sucks-a-lot option. But it’s the best she’s got at the moment.  There’s a long way to go.

Everyone gets a pile of shit they have to carry in their lifetime.  This is part of Sophie’s pile.  I wish I could carry it for her, I do everything I can, but ultimately, she’s the one in that body.  This is her life.  But she’s been taking this head on.  She’s amazingly strong inside, as well as out.

She impresses the hell out of me.

I wanted to write this post because when I was in full-on research mode I so appreciated any family-accounts that I could find.  Reading the studies, full of statistics and faceless girls (it’s mostly girls) is one thing (and important).  Hearing real people’s stories is another, and so needed.  Especially good stories.  I’ll update this post as Sophie’s story progresses.  I fervently hope it continues to be good news.

Sophie in her brace, betcha can’t tell, she’s a master of bending fashion to her will (peplum coat, pinstripe vest, combat boots….):sophie in her brace, a stylish



David Swenson’s new dvds are terrific!

For various reasons I ended up taking a few months off of yoga this fall.  I never quit entirely–a practice a week or every other week.  I watched my backbend go, then my lotus, then my forward bend.  Pretty scary how fast it happened.

I came back with just surys, gave myself permission to quit at any time once I’d done those, started adding standing.  I’m doing about 4ish half-primaries a week now, so I’m back.  It’s hard, even after a short break, when you are 44!  More reason never to take breaks, I guess.

Swenson Digipak 6 Panel (Half Series)But thinking I could use a boost, I started poking around a was stoked to discover that David Swenson, one of the old school Ashtangis, has put out two new dvds!  One is a full primary, the other a 1:08 (108 being an auspicious number in yoga, the number of beads on a mala, among other things), that is 1 hour 8 minute HALF PRIMARY.  Oh, hell yeah!  Here, take my money, David!

David’s older Primary dvd (the one with the crazy purple tank and the mood furniture) was one I cut my teeth on six years ago as a baby ashtangi (along with his book) for one, beautiful reason: VARIATIONS.  He’s so supportive and friendly, do what you can do today, try these variations and find one that works for you right now, no worries, enjoy your practice.  No judgment, no competition, no stinginess, just do what you can do today.  He’s the best.

I actually made a slide show on my ipod, back in the day, from pics I took of the variation I needed for each primary series asana, from the photos in David’s book.  I used that back when I was brand new and needed a cheat sheet to help me remember what to do next. And his dvd was great, full of options that let me get through a practice when so much of it seemed impossible.  I feel I owe him a lot.

His new dvds have plenty more of this generosity!  Only now with inset vids for variations, and a separate variation section for more detailed explanations.  They also have a streamlined aesthetic (black on white), high production quality, multiple camera angles, and David’s clean, effortless-looking practice.  There isn’t a count, but he talks you into each pose, easily giving a few bits of info about each asana, while still leaving some silence and space.  His personality comes through the most in the variations section (especially the vinyasa section with a half-dozen options to choose from, a great section), funny and warm.  He has such a great sense of humor and you don’t get that in the clean main practice section, so I was glad to see it show up somewhere.

He also has a little “five elements” sections talking about vinyasa, gaze, breath, etc.  Actually, breath is a huge theme he returns to repeatedly, not alignment (he does some of that), not perfection in poses, but breath.  “Think of your practice as one big breathing exercise.”  He talks about the “inner practice” (breath, your mind, bandhas, the invisible things) being where the goodies are, not the outer-practice of asana.  It all feels very grounded and doable, without a bunch of ego.

I highly recommend these videos to anyone who wants to learn the practice, or who, like me, would like a led practice every now and then, with not-too-much talking.  Excellent videos, really good.  Don’t hesitate.

Oh, but here’s one nitpick: I couldn’t decide between the two, so when I saw that there was a discount if you got both, I did that.  I was disappointed, however, when I realized the 1:08 vid is exactly the same as the full primary, minus the second half of seated and the applicable variations.  Said another way, getting the Full Primary disk gives you all the content and you can just fast forward from navasana to backbending. The 1:08 is a repeat.

On the other hand, if you want to be able to just ride through without fiddling with fast-forward, the 1:08 vid is great.  It’s the one I’m using right now (actually I ripped it and put it on my ipad, but same thing).  I just would have liked to have known more clearly that they were the same.

On the OTHER, other hand, is the second half of seated (and its variations) worth an extra $14 bucks?  Well, absolutely.  David is a master and this is a top-notch production.  So yeah.  Get’em both.  Get the Primary because, duh. And get the 1:08 if you like half primaries sometimes (or haven’t worked up to the full primary yet) and for the convenience.

Thank you, David Swenson!

And here is one my favorite videos of David demoing Intermediate series as performance art, or possibly stand-up comedy.  If you ever come to North Carolina again, David, I’m there.


remembering knitting 4

apparently i’ve forgotten more about knitting than most people ever learn

Muscle memory is an amazing thing.

Somehow it came up the other day that I love Icelandic knitting.  Sophie was all, whazzat?  So I did what you do in 2016 when you want to explain something, I google-image-searched it.  Because a picture is worth a million words and a million pictures pretty much says it all, only don’t scroll down too far, because that’s where things get weird.  Here is what we found:

knitting remembered 1Oh, pretty, she said, but I pointed at one moody, Nordic dude (see arrow above) and said, “I know that sweater.” And then, “Seriously, I think I’ve knitted that sweater.”

“What?” said Sophie, doubtful.  “No way.  That’s like, a really fancy sweater.”

Off to the depths of my closet and the basket that some part of my brain tells me holds my old knitting stash (like a druggie’s stash, only with more yarn).  “No, I think I did, that sweater is strangely familiar, I’m not kidding—”

And sure enough, rooting through the bags of wool and abandoned projects, I find:

remembering knitting 2

That very sweater.  Completely forgotten by me.  And abandoned only five rows from completion.  Five rows!  Okay, five rows of fancy, double-stranded colorwork knitting, but yeah, a tiny—nay, insignificant—amount of knitting left.  This poor sweater sat in the closet nearly done for probably ten years.

That is so….lame.

I decided on the spot to finish it.  Only, I had no idea how to do double-stranded colorwork anymore.  This entailed digging through many bookshelves to try to find the book I learned it from.  Which I did find.  (I don’t know why I didn’t just go to youtube, I guess it was a moment of returning to one’s roots.)  The diagrams in the book were cryptic.  I looked at them and though this is hopeless.  But then, I picked up the needles and yarn and INSTANTLY STARTED KNITTING.

Just so you understand, I’m talking about a different color in each hand, weaving them in as I go, fast knitting.  I was watching my hands do this thing that my brain had zero conscious knowledge of.  It was magic.  I finished the sweater in about an hour.

It is ENORMOUS.  Which reminded me how gauge used to really be a problem for me. Cough. Here we are, reunited after all these years (and I had to really search to find the pattern book, but find it I did).  This guy and I have traveled far together:

remembering knitting 3

Okay, I tried to take the picture with me making the same expression that Sweater Guy is making, but man oh man, Sophie and I were cracking up so hard she couldn’t get the picture. Really hooting, that gut-level laughter, you know what I mean, totally incompatible with me trying to look like Cool Blue Steel Dude.  Now that was fun.

Look at that gorgeous colorwork though!  I can’t believe I ever knitted that. Mad skillz!

But listen, I pawed through the rest of the yarn graveyard knitting basket and found:

  1. green chunky alpaca sweater done except for one arm.
  2. two attempts at knitting red wool into sweaters (a cardi and a cabled cardi, yes I could once knit cables) both abandoned mid-body.
  3. THREE sweater starts in a black silk/wool, 1-plain 2-cabled, and 3-SUPER AMAZING CABLED.  That section is GORGEOUS.  I have no memory of knitting it.  All abandoned.
  4. An entire indigo rayon sweater in pieces, waiting to be sewn together, yes, that’s an entirely completely knitted sweater, just waiting for finishing (that’s what you call the last bit, the blocking, sewing, buttons, that sort of thing).  So sad.
  5. A pair of Koigu socks, knitted to the heel flap, because I apparently, at one time, knew how to knit two socks at once, which is just a magic trick, if you ask me.  Abandoned, just these colorful toes, waiting for their heels….

It’s like the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi or Roanoke Island or the rapture, all these projects just left behind and forgotten.

Until now.  I’ve decided I’m going to finish all of these or die trying.  2016 is going to be the year I BUST MY STASH.  I am not allowed to buy any yarn or start any new hobbies.  If I don’t finish a green, a red, a black, and a blue sweater, plus a pair of handpainted Koigu socks by Christmas 2016, I have to GIVE ALL THIS YARN TO A MORE DESERVING KNITTER.

To that end, here is the NEW new start of the red sweater, one for Sophie, a top down fitted pullover.  We’ll see how it goes.

remembering knitting 5

It’s funny though, how much my fingers know about knitting that I can’t remember.  I’ll say, “I think there is some way to close off this armpit hole, but I can’t remember how you do it.”  So I go poke at youtube, think I’ll give something a go, it sounds vaguely familiar, pick up the needles, and BOOM my hands start going crazy, Kitchener stitch, no problem!  Long tail cast on, no problem!  My hands are flying and I’m watching them, bemused, saying, “I think I may have done this before….”  I really feel the current-me can’t take credit for anything I knit at this point.  It’s all previous-me that figured it out, trained my fingers, and installed the Knitter Software(TM) into my brain that apparently runs without any intervention from the current finger’s occupant (me).  I plan to take advantage of this, none the less.

P.S. Just noticed that I actually blogged about the two-sock knitting thing about three years ago.  I do kind of remember this.  The Icelandic sweater though, that’s from some other lifetime.

christmas tree closeup

when it rains it pours…ipads

Nearly 80 degrees on Christmas and we opened presents in tank tops and shorts: weird.  And this week it is flooding.  Like, literally flooding.  Roads are washed out.  The creek along the back edge of our property, usually about 20 feet across is easily triple that, past its banks on either side with water hip deep at the edges of the creep and a racing over-my-head current (not that I’ve tried) in the middle where the banks are usually twelve feet high.  It’s starting to look biblical out there, is what I’m saying.

Here is our big creek a couple of summers ago, almost no water.  Sophie and Henry are down in the dry bed.  Occasional puddles were all that was left.

2011summerwalk6Same creek today:

big creek floodedThe trench she is standing in in the first one is somewhere in the center of the second one, over where those bubbles are towards the right—that’s where the fasts moving stuff is.  Really fast.  Holy crap.

And did you hear that it got up to almost 40 degrees today AT THE NORTH POLE?  And the sun isn’t even rising at all there right now.  Plus: it was 45 in Los Angeles—glamorous people were dressed like it was the tundra, kind of funny.  Except that LA should never be nearly the temperature of the North Pole.  Not ever. Those should never be even close.  This is freaking me out.

But listen to this, distract yourself with our tale of absurd accidental Christmas abundance.  Our iPad 2, a Christmas gift from Grandma back in 2011, has been on its last legs, limping along.  We also got an iPad Mini the following Christmas, 2012, but it got wet last year and started acting like it was demon possessed, randomly zipping through websites and apps without anyone touching the screen.  I thought fixing up the big iPad would be a nice Christmas thing, reset it, update it, clear out the photos, etc.  Whatever.  So I fixed it up.  Wrapped it.  Put it under the tree.

Unbeknownst to me, Supercoolhubby had also identified the iPad as a Christmas-upgrade-needed situation.  Only he went the refurbished route and found an iPad 4 for $200 bucks.  (Score!) He didn’t, however, know I’d fixed the other one.  So, new-to-us iPad.  Wrapped.  Under the tree.

At the same time, my sister won a brand new iPad Mini in a raffle and didn’t need it.  She’s sensible and realized that one person only needs one tablet, and she already had one.  So she gave the mini to us.  Wrapped, under the tree.

Plus I got Sophie a phone this year, her first, Moto G (its water proof!), Republic Wireless, $10/mo for unlimited talk and text, seamless wifi-to-cell hand-off so you use way less cell data, no contract, in other words SUPER CHEAP phone, yay!  Wrapped, under the tree!  (I’ve been with them since the summer, fabulous, I highly recommend checking them out.)

So.  Christmas morning.  We just. kept. unwrapping. iThings.

And then old iPad Mini started working again!  Out of the blue!  Luc says he did an exorcism on it.

Are you keeping count?  That means Christmas day we went from two mostly broken iPads to FOUR working iPads.  Plus three phones, four computers (the two the kids and I built, and two Macbooks), and oh, Luc and I have old iPod Touches we still use for certain things…and a partridge in a pear tree.

See?  See?  Absurd!  We were cracking up, as it went on each present, no matter its shape, we started expecting iPads.  Another one!  And another!  We just stack ’em up like firewood around here.

ipad assortment(The hole in the upper right would be for my phone, which I used to take the picture.  Plus there is Husband’s old iPhone 3 that Sophie still uses as an ipod sometimes.  We didn’t bother to go through the rain to get it in the Noah house for the photo….)

Actually, we need some firewood, supposed to get cold next week.  My great aunt says thunder in winter means snow within ten days.  One of those old weather folk-sayings.  It surely was thundering today.  Maybe it will get cold again at the North Pole?

Either way, I can now check the weather on four tablets, three phones, two pcs, two macbooks, or two ipods. Honestly, I don’t know how this happened.  It’s embarrassing.  Accumulation over years.  Generous relatives. And I guess we’re good about not dropping them.

If weird climate change is linked to ipad possession, I hang my head in shame.

santa run 2

2015 winding down, a 5k, state of the next book

The presents are under the tree tormenting Luc, 10, who struggles with waiting (don’t we all).  In the meantime, I haven’t been around the blog for a while, can’t even say why.  Busy life!  I have started a bunch of posts these last few months, the essay-ish ones, when my brain is chewing on a thing.  But then I don’t finish them, or my life moves on before I do.  Will I get more organized in 2016?  We shall see.  For now, though, gotta get through Christmas.

But, if I was posting regularly, I certainly would tell you about how I ran my first 5K race last weekend.  (The zombie-mud run wasn’t a race, as it was not timed, walking and obstacles, not a run run). A Santa Run! Everyone in Santa hats, reindeer ears, grinchs, elves, bells on toes, people in full costume or just funny Christmas t-shirts.  Best shirt: “Santa, stop judging me!”

I can’t believe I ran an actual race! Even a year ago I NEVER would have thought I could.  But I did.  I ran it in 38 minutes—SLOW—but so what, I did it.  Sophie, 11, ran it in 31, Supercoolhubby right behind her.  We were a little team!  So cute.  The fastest dude did it in 18!  I saw him hoofing it back in when I was still going out.  Amazing.  The whole thing was really fun, lots of cheering, lots of smiling people.

santa runHere I am crossing the finish line.  Photo taken by Luc.  Go me!  I’m carrying my Santa hat because I got too hot.  500 Santas finished that misty morn.  I really, really can’t believe I was one of them.  Bodies can change, even at 44 you can pick up a sport and become an athlete.  Nerdy, bookish me, running a race, it’s shocking, I tell you.

In other news, nerdy, bookish me (I may be a runner, sort of, but I haven’t changed that much) is here to report I am halfway through writing first draft of the next book.  Hoping to get the first draft in the can by the end of January.  I’m at that point in drafting where I’m pretty sure I hate it, it’s stupid, I should definitely quit, in other words, situation totally normal.  Still, I’m showing up each day, getting words.  So that’s all right then.

But the important thing!  I can’t wait to see the kids open their presents in a few days….


and now for something complete different: ZOMBIE MUD RUN FTW!!!

Sometimes you just have to shake things up.  So this weekend the kids, my two sisters, and little ole me, ran a ZOMBIE MUD RUN.  No, seriously.  We did.



What is a zombie mud run, you ask?  You map a 5k through a forest, you sprinkle it with 20 crazy obstacles (many involving a crap-ton of red, North Carolina mud), and then you stock it with zombies who chase you, BRAINS!  BRAINS! and freak you the fuck out.zombiesThe zombies were terrific.

No, really, it’s fun!

Here is most of our team, waiting in the line for our wave to start:

zombie getting ready 300Let me remind everyone that I am a middle aged woman, that my sisters are eight years younger than I am, and that I am, at heart, a total wuss.  What the heck was I thinking, right?  Clearly I had a moment of insanity when I came up this plan.  I blame my sister who is cursed with FOLLOW THROUGH.  I was kidding, okay?  I never meant to actually do it….

But there I was, waiting in line for my turn to be eaten.

Okay, I wasn’t doing this totally cold. I have been running 3x a week since spring (woot!) I can run a 5k without dying. I’m not a complete push-over. (That’s a lie, I totally am.) But still.

Here is the first obstacle:


That’s me in the middle on the right with the black shorts and the red flag hanging over my butt, hauling myself up that slick surface while calling out to my sisters, “Okay, it occurs to me at this late juncture that perhaps this was a bad idea. Upon consideration, I may have made a mistake. I don’t think I can actually do this, without injury I mean, I’m really very weak you see,  I’ll just let you kids go on ahead…..”


Luc, 10, is cresting the climb in the blue shirt in that pic.  Luc would like it to be known that he did all 20 obstacles, did them barefoot (he lost his shoes to deep, sucking, mud at the second obstacle), and that he finished with all THREE of his flags (the zombies try to steal your flags and if you lose all three, you are INFECTED, too bad for you).  He is, officially, a hero.  No question.

[Photograph note: The first few obstacles were up close to the start, before the forest, and so my mom, who was our official cheering section, was able to get some pics of her crazy daughters and her gonzo grandchildren wallowing in the mud.  Thanks, Mom!]

zombie 4Here’s another obstacle, and again, me at the top waffling, “Oooo, I don’t know, it looks kinda scary, maybe I’ll just stay up here on top of this hill, the view is really very nice here….”  Later in the run my monologue became, “GO ON.  SAVE YOURSELVES.”

I did manage to keep up, though, as I did 15 of the 20 obstacles (you could walk around if you had to, invoking only slight shaming, it was a fairly supportive crew), that’s right, 15, uh-huh, including fording a lake, walking across a rope, jumping logs, etc.  I even finished with a flag (that is, UNinfected, thank you very much), although I had to perform 20 pushups (chaturangas, actually) for a “medic” in order to get a replacement flag after I sacrificed myself to a zombie so that my children could tear past to safety.  It’s what mothers do.

Here is some of that action:

me running from zombie 1 400 me running from zombie 2 400 me running from zombie 3 400See Sophie scooting past in that third shot?  See me cracking up through the whole thing?  I finally got past this guy by saying (between my screaming-like-a-girl hoots and my panting) “Your wig is sooo hot.”  He cracked up, too, and I was able to dart past him, finally.

Or as my sister said, Not today, Mr. Zombie.  Not today.

That red color on my legs is red mud.  By the end, we were covered in it.

zombie covered in mudPower Walk, With Mud.

My other sister, one of the sweetest people I know, would call back to each batch of zombies that we made it past, “Thank you zombies!  You were great!”  She is adorable.  They would wave and call back, “Sure, you were great, too!  Have fun!” while their spooky zombie wounds oozed gore.  Or sometimes they would growl and drool, if they were really in character, but it meant the same thing. Everyone was having a good time.

Especially Sophie, 11,  an amazonian BAD-ASS.  She was amazing.  For example, take a look at this obstacle:

zombie run obstacleThat’s not her in the photo, those are some other intrepid zombie-avoiders.  Sophie wouldn’t simply climb over like these mere mortals are doing.  Oh no, she WALKED up one of the vertical boards, like it was a balance beam, up over the top, and then down, smooth as silk.  I mean jesus chirst, the middle was 8 feet up! I, on the other hand, hands-and-knee-ed it to the top and then completely froze up for a couple of minutes before I found my ovaries and was able to inch my way back down.  It was interesting how it was doable until it was 8 feet in the air.  Turns out 80% of a zombie mud run is psychological.

I was shaky (but pretty pumped) by my success on that one. In comparison, Sophie was all, “WHAT’S NEXT!?!” She ninja-ed over logs, hauled ass up ropes, balanced on her toes on the rock-climb section, fell fearlessly into the mud (everything was slick as spit with red clay by the time our wave was moving through), wearing a giant grin the entire time.  “This is AWESOME!” was her comment, and, “Next year, I’m going to be a zombie!”

(Next year?!?)

Here she is doing the monkey bars while zombies wait on the other side to eat her:

zombie monkey bars 400She finished with all three flags, too.

Something that surprised me was how primal being chased felt.  Despite knowing I was completely safe, that it was all a game, that the zombie-look was all make-up…once a zombie started coming after me my heart thundered, adrenaline flooded through me inducing tunnel vision, cold sweats, involuntary screaming, the works.  It was all instant and automatic, like when you see a spider and jump back, only times 100.  I haven’t run so fast or so hard in decades.  Apparently we have spinal-cord instincts to avoid zombies, too.

The day after, I couldn’t lift my arms.

But I survived.  And I bet years from now we’ll all remember this Saturday afternoon, unlike most quiet Saturday afternoons that all meld into one another in memory.  There’s nothing wrong with a quiet Saturday afternoon (I adore them, no prefer them, I admit it), but perhaps too much of the same dulls the point of life.  Nothing like some zombies and a 10,000 gallons of mud to wake me the fuck up.

Luc proudly wore his finisher’s medal for two days.

bedroom exterior

in which the nearly-finished bedroom is gorgeous and we do some final swimming

Long time readers will recall that our “house” is really more of a compound of small buildings, clustered around the yurt.  It’s bizarre, really, a strange way to build a house, but what are you going to do.  We’ve bootstrapped this thing and our mortgage is tiny, so there is that.  Unfortunately, this method of building is also long and drawn out and our primary builder has had to slow down over the years due to such setbacks as gradschool, old-freaking-age, and just being sick to death of building preferring to “sit in my leather club chair and watch tv for godsakes.” (He’s not that old, I jest.)(He is old-er, though. Forties is definitely not early thirties.)

Nevertheless, Supercoolhusband had a break from grad school a few weeks ago and got some work in on the bedroom.  Yay!  And I’ve got to say, it is looking so good!  It’s very close, now completely closed in, waiting only on the closet, the heater getting finished up, and a tiny bit of trim.  But look at that beautiful picture up there!  The front door is in!

And it’s a seriously amazing door, five feet across, stained glass, pretty damn cool.  He got it for nothing—he can’t remember, guesses $20 bucks—used, of course, and so cheap on account of a couple of cracks we can fix with freaking duct tape if necessary, because dude!  Door!  Someone threw it out rather than fix it!  He’s a master of the salvaged treasure, if you ask me.

He’s also a master of beautiful trim work.  Look what he did around the casement windows (also used, for cheap):
bedroom 2I suggested bead board for that section below the window, he went with a similar effect with cedar wood.  So pretty.

And look at this beautiful piece he did over the door.  Another used leaded glass window (with cute diamonds!) that was given to us when a friend was cleaning out his basement:

bedroom 3Here’s what it’s like when the door is closed:bedroom 4It’s still a construction site, as you can see in this corner where the rocket mass heater isn’t quite done.

bedroom heater areaBut it won’t be long now.  Something on the floor, rugs, sisal mats, something like that.  I’d love wood, but we can’t afford it right now.  Maybe later (which probably means never, haha, once the bed gets moved in, it’s all over).  It’s been a long time coming (first post where I mentioned it in 2012 in post on rocket heaters, but he had already been working on it for a year or two by then).  I’m kind of nervous about moving in.  What if I can’t sleep in it?  I’ve gotten used to the yurt!

Just kidding.

But look, here’s a couple of shots of one of sthe last swim of the season (probably, unless there’s a heat wave) just because they are awesome and because I am total denial that summer is actually over.  Where the heck did August go?? I mean, what the heck?!

luc jumping sophie jumpingThey’re such a couple of goof balls.

sophie says byeBye!


2015 swimming

deep in the heart of summer

We’re cooking now, boy.  Daily swimming, lying around in the air conditioning reading fat books while waiting for it to get cool enough to move, tomato sandwiches, being night owls because the heat isn’t so bad in the dark.  Eating peaches over the sink.  Cicadas.

In contrast to the pleasures of summer, though, I struggle with stomach-dropping fear about climate change.  You know that feeling?  About which I generally feel quite helpless?  I try to give myself breaks, think about other things.  But all this hot weather (we had the hottest June ever on record and July has been crazy, too, 98 degrees, 98% humidity most days) keeps it in my mind, in the back somewhere, simmering away.  It wrecks my full summery-enjoyment.  Which sucks.

[Whoa, hang on, isn’t this a light, up-beat blog???  Yeah, I thought so, too!]

Here, have a Yotsuba, just about my favorite manga series, ever.  I just read this one to the kids, who are not too old to enjoy, thank goodness.  LAUGH OUT LOUD for reelz.  yotsuba 11

Ahhh. Yotsuba calls it Glow Ball warming, which is adorable.

In other news, we’re still running (can you believe it? Nor can I), 2-3 miles, 3x a week.  Sophie and Paul chat as they lope along while I pant and moan behind them, flailing weakly in their direction, “…go on…save yourselves….”  Sometimes Luc comes, too, although he is, shall we say, less committed.  “I want running to be my hobby, not my religion.”  He really said that!  He’s NINE.  Freaking smart-ass, hilarious kid….

Unfortunately, every time we see something cool (a double rainbow! Llamas! A cool black and yellow snake!) I don’t have my camera, while, if I lug it along, it’s guaranteed there will be nada but asphalt and sweat.  So, no photo for you.

Ooo, but this is fun: I start drafting on the new novel in ONE WEEK.  I’m halfway through my scene cards.  We’ll see how well they work this time.  Last book’s scene cards were pretty much a failure.  First feelings can be deceptive.

scene cards for precog book

See how the top 8 are super cramped with itty-bitty writing going up the sides? And how the bottom 8 float in a sea of white space?  Yeah, I’m still working on the bottom 8.  Trying for a shorter book this time, 16 scenes instead of the 30 (I think it was?) in the last one. Two pov characters instead of three.  A more streamlined plot.  We’ll see how that all works out.

Planning is fun!  Planning is when I haven’t fucked anything up yet!

Drafting set to begin August 1.  One more week to finish up the scene planning, where the chant is: protag with a need, in conflict with an antag with a need, in a setting, leading to a unique TURN that upends expectations.  One turn per scene, every scene must have a conflict and an antag, no exceptions, plus note down any funny beats or Points of Interest along the way.  Inciting incident, set-up, three trial-cycles, mid-point, final ramp up after failure of third, big confrontation tying up both inner and outer arcs, conclusion, denouement, yada yada yada.  Gotta love CRAFT.  I mean, I fucking got this, right?

I’m always so full of hubris before the novel breaks me into little pieces.

Happy mid-summer everyone!  (Try not to think about glow ball warming too much…).

girl with all the gifts

review: The Girl With All the Gifts

For a long time, zombie stories focused on the human survivors trying to get out of a zombie infested territory to safety.  But lately, zombie-as-protagonist stories have shown up, like iZombie the graphic novel by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, or My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland.  The Girl with All the Gifts by Mike Carey is one of these—only with more literary chops, complex characters, fascinating science, and freaky-horrific world building than a dozen lesser zombie titles combined.  Add in a super compelling voice and you’ve got a sci-fi/horror/literary bomb to blow your mind with, even if this isn’t your usual genre-taste.
Melanie is the ten-year old protagonist, a genius in a strange boarding school where she is muzzled and locked up at gun point at night, along with the other children. Although it doesn’t seem to bother her much—she’s more focused on the adoring crush she has on one of her teachers.  Her bright, inquisitive mind makes her extremely likable, and indeed, one of the most amazing parts of this book is Melanie’s arc, what she retains of her idealistic and open-hearted beginnings, and what she lets go of as she faces the truth of her world and her nature.The middle part of the book is the classic “road trip through zombie country” but the book is never a series of action-sequences or feats of bad-assery. This isn’t that book.  The moments of violence and conflict are terrifying and desperate, with mounting stakes and hopelessness that make the intensity of the reading almost too much to take by the end. I kept having to take breaks, just to get my breath and get out of my own stew of stress-chemicals.  The point isn’t the fight.  The point is how the characters endure, or not, and what it means to survive all of this.  Or not.The science is fascinating.  Not a tacked-on “reason” for zombies, but a thoroughly believable scenario, terrifyingly depicted.  Carolyn Caldwell is the scientist trying to understand what has happened and save humanity—making her hunger to dissect Melanie’s brain to understand why Melanie is a thinking, feeling zombie (and not a cannibalistic human-shaped husk) compelling and understandable.  Although, in that way, Caldwell is more of a brain-hungry zombie than Melanie.

But could Caldwell’s brutal practicality save the human race?  And does that justify…anything? How about the live-dissection of children?  But why ARE Melanie and the other children the way they are?  Is it partial immunity?  Perhaps a cure, or a vaccine, could be created, if only Caldwell can finish her research.  Which you can’t help but hope for, even as you detest her methods and want Melanie to win.  Conflicts like these are the meat of the book.  No easy answers, no black/white.

Miss Justineau is Melanie’s teacher, and, for her own reasons, determined to keep Melanie alive. But perhaps compassion is the wrong feeling to have for the infected.  Is it just a knee-jerk, foolish reaction to the appearance of a “child”?  Trying to hold onto her own humanity—and the way she offers what she has to Melanie, from kindness to Greek mythology—might be the thing that saves Melanie, or it might be too little too late for this world.  Sgt. Parks, the soldier who tries to keep the rest safe with his single-minded focus on security, certainly thinks so. His arc, more subtle than Melanie’s, starting from monster-soldier, is deeply moving.

The strange world of the zombies is revealed layer by layer.  But the remnants of our destroyed society, now shaped by profound fear, is possibly more horrific than the zombies themselves.  The strange hope that springs out of the Melanie’s final choices is simultaneously devastating and transformative.  Like Caldwell, it is equally balanced between poles: terrible and hopeful.  Disturbing and compelling.

I’ve been feeling the echoes of the book for days.  For example, I keep catching myself marveling (in a kind of terrified and disgusted way) at my frivolous caring about things like lipstick or cell phones or tv shows while the environment is degrading around us as a rapid rate. Heavy stuff. It’s a book that can make you take stock.

Highly recommended.