Saturday, October 30, 2010

A thing of beauty

There I am on a break from my ride, on a gorgeous autumn day.

In that photo I can't see my age, my weight, my creaky joints, my failure to make my bed every morning, my retirement account, my procrastination, my worries about Alzheimer's, my frustration with the state of higher education at the hands of legislators in The Great State of You Are Not the Boss of Me, my disgust with the political system above the level of neighborhood association, the dirty dishes in my sink, or the sad fact that my dogs refuse to be fully house trained.

I just see me, having a good morning on the bike. Am I not beautiful?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Every once in a while...

...I'm reminded why I love teaching. Actually, I love teaching nearly 80% of the time (the remaining 20% has to do with grading and/or students who push my buttons). I don't always love my job--which is suffering more and more under the assault of outside forces--but I do love the teaching and learning. In fact, if I couldn't teach, I'd be out of here faster than a duck on a June bug.

Anyway, yesterday the Literature of Place class and I rode our bikes to the Depot District, a part of downtown LBB that is being revived as an arts/entertainment place. It was one of four different visions of "Main Street" that we're exploring (which include two essays, one movie, and our own observations).

While we were riding around, we passed McPherson Cellars, a local winery. On a whim, I stopped in to ask if we could take a look at their courtyard, which I knew to be funky and inviting. They were not only gracious enough to let us do that, one of the employees actually took us on a tour of the winery itself.

But here is why I love teaching:

This is Neil, standing beside the machine that puts labels on wine bottles. He's a pre-med major. He signed up for this class not because he needed it to satisfy a requirement on his degree plan, but because it sounded interesting. Wouldn't you want to go to a doctor who thinks "The Literature of Place" sounds interesting? Wouldn't you think that a doctor like that would understand about things like...oh I don't know...quality of life, and compassion, and community? Wouldn't you think that is as important as knowing math?

My students make me hopeful for the future.

And now, from the "Department of Other News":

It may be the craziest thing I've ever done, but I'm running for the position of president of our neighborhood association. I'm doing it for two reasons:

1) I love my neighborhood and think it's time to give something back to it.

2) We have some rising Town/Gown tensions here. I think the answer lies not with escalating hostile reaction (i.e., calling the cops on parties, trying to get the city to enforce codes, etc.), but with vision. We need to address the natural tension between these two groups with long-term thinking, not bandaids. What we need is to figure out a model for a neighborhood that is cohesive, inclusive, and most of all, respectful. I have some ideas for how to make this happen, though I am not kidding myself by thinking it will be easy. It will take some real effort and time to change the culture. I believe it can be done, however, and it is certainly worth a try, since what we're doing now is not working.

3) Nobody else wanted the job (I mean really, would you?). However, just because I'm running unopposed doesn't mean there won't be opposition to me at the meeting this evening. In fact, potentially there could even be an opposition candidate nominated from the floor. So if you read this blog and you live in Tech Terrace, come on out and vote for me if you're so inclined.

The meeting is tonight at 5:30, at JT Hutchison Middle School cafeteria.

Ciao, y'all.

Monday, October 25, 2010

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for this public service announcement

I think we need to boycott marijuana. No, this is not a joke.

First, my disclaimers: I have never smoked pot. Yes, you read that correctly. Not once, not ever in my life. This is not because I have any moral qualms about it. In fact, the opposite might be true. I think marijuana is probably no more harmful than alcohol, and in fact, it has proven medicinal benefits. I think it is stupid and political that it is illegal.

The reason I've never smoked it is for the same reason I've never smoked a cigarette, which is that just the mere thought of inhaling a foreign substance is enough to trigger a little gag reflex in me. I'm kind of grateful that this has always been the case since, given my complete lack of will power in other areas of my life, had I ever started smoking, I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to stop. Old man RJ Reynolds would have owned me, lock, stock, and reduced cardio capacity.

I just wish I could find a way to trigger that same gag reflex for salty fried fats.

Anyway, about the pot thing. There is a war going on in some of the border towns in Mexico. In case you've been sleeping under a rock, here are some news reports to fill you in:

Listen, I'm getting ready to run for neighborhood association president, and it worries me a little because I know that if elected, sooner or later someone is probably going to write me a nasty email complaining about the noise in the park.

In Mexico, however, the leaders of the country, the same people that you and I depend upon in our own country to help keep anarchy at bay--mayors, police, journalists, members of the army--are being assassinated, in some cases, almost as soon as they take their posts. But in spite of this, there are people among them who posses the bravery it takes to serve their communities.

You think I am over-hyping the bravery? Take a look at this.

I am not sure I would ever have that kind of courage. Brothers and sisters, it fills me with awe.

And it shames me, because unless you know for a fact that it was not grown in, processed by, or traveled through Mexico, pot has the blood of these brave people on it. The fact is that the drug cartels are in business because we who live across the border are their market. It is that simple.

I don't care how you rationalize it. I know that boycotting pot probably won't change a thing. I know that  the violent drug cartels are responsible for their own actions. I know that all of this is very complicated and has to do with governments and politics and world economies and legalization versus illegalization and blah, blah, I can't be blamed blah.

Pot from Mexico has blood on it. How can we ignore this?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

I don't often do Wordless Wednesday because I'm too scatterbrained to remember, but this salvia caught my eye at dusk yesterday:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Bike Saddle Review: Selle Italia Diva


Note to the FTC: I received no remuneration from Selle Italia for this review.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The training table starts today

I'm about seven pounds over my training weight, which in the grand scheme of things is not a lot. It's also only a number. I feel fine, and while it's true that I've gone up a size in my jeans, I'm not really all that concerned about how I look, because the truth is, if you ignore the neck, I look pretty damn good for a 43 year-old woman.

Which is a neat trick, since I'm 53.

What bothers me about the seven pounds, however, is what they represent, which is a year of general fitness slackitude--a year in which I not only didn't exercise regularly, but one that had more than its share of cheeseburgers and pumpkin pie. My recent return to the bike commuter life, though, has kick-started my fitness again, and as I was rolling around yesterday on a real, live, actual training ride, I was reminded that I derive great satisfaction from training. Aside from the usual general health aspects, being fit makes me feel alert, more on top of things, more...keen in a world that often seems especially designed to pummel me into a dull lassitude.

But at my age, simply getting out on the bike or running a few laps around the park is not sufficient to propel me into optimal fitness. The nutrition has to be there, too.

I'm not talking about a diet. I don't really believe in diets. Dieting is a short-term thing, and unrelated to fitness. Rather, I'm talking about cleaning up the fuel I'm putting into my body and letting nature take over from there. And since posting my commuter miles on the blog sparked my interest in riding again, I thought maybe I'd post an occasional report from the training table on these pages as well. (I'm also a bit of a nutrition wonk when I'm in training mode, and can't resist the chance to bore you with victualary esoterica.) So here's the first:

Today I have to go to a breakfast for potential Honors College recruits. I have no idea what is going to be served, and past experience teaches me that it might leave me vulnerable to a less than optimal meal--it could be anything from donuts to bacon to cheesecake. Now once in a while, this isn't a bad thing. The trouble is that these opportunities to indulge don't come around once in a while, do they? They seem to come around four or five times a week--and it's only going to get worse now that we are about to launch the eating season with Halloween parties. To compound matters, I have no discernible will power to speak of. Simply put, I am weak in the face of fats, especially if they are salty and fried, and available in unlimited quantities. And sprinkled with sugar.

So to head off the temptation to load my plate with a slab of bacon the size of a '57 Buick, I'm eating before I go. I'm having black tea (unsweetened), a toasted whole wheat* bagel with whipped, reduced fat cream cheese, and a serving of yogurt sprinkled with chopped pecans (for the "good fats" factor** and crunch).

I'll let you know if it works.

UPDATE: At the talk, I managed to skip the food line altogether, and deliberately did not look at what was available--which was good, since I saw cottage fries on a student's plate and I would not have been able to resist that. (By the time I saw they were available, I was already on the dais waiting to speak, so I was saved from myself.) I did spy some yogurt as I walked in, however, and grabbed a serving of that so that I could join in the festivities. Finally, I ate a handful of gorp when I got home to complete what turned out to be a progressive breakfast.

*Whole grains slow absorption in the gut, are less likely to "spike" our blood sugar levels, and help us feel full longer.
**So-called good fats (monounsaturated) are not only nutritionally beneficial (especially for brain health), they help us feel full. Examples include nuts, avocados, and some oils, like olive and canola.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

An autumn ride with a bonus

Well, my usual training buddies Jill and Homicide Dick Dave were both unavailable for a Sunday ride, so I had to go out by myself. It was still good, though, as it was a gorgeous October morning, with only light winds. Plus, I ran across this at the windmill museum:

A tractor show! The nice people running it waived the entry fee for me and I went in and wandered around. In addition to rows and rows of restored, classic tractors...

...they were having tractor games. Here the tractors are waiting in line to take turns at balancing on a big steel plate. The one that balances in the shortest amount of time wins:

The person in the lead at the point I took the picture, the grandson of a woman who was explaining it all to me, was going on to the national tractor championships later. Who knew they had a national tractor championship?

And as a bonus, my Specialized Ruby once again found her color soulmate:

The only thing that could have possibly have made it more festive would have been some grilled sausage and fried pies.
My dad loved tractors. I wish he could have been there to see it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thank you Austin, and good night!

I had a terrific trip to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for my reading and book signing. The crowd was small, but attentive, and we met in the auditorium, which I had never seen before. It is a gorgeous structure:

There were, um, more people at the talk than what you see in the photo. 
While there, I met some old friends and new: 

Saw the Center in all its wonderful autumn glory, and scored some plants I've been coveting for the garden, like this Gulf muhly on display in the courtyard:

Later in the afternoon, I learned some new tricks, like stand-up paddling on the San Marcos River:

(That's some pretty fab hat hair I have in the photo...)

But best of all, I got to do some good old Sunday morning countryside porch sitting with my old pal Kambra:

Many thanks to the LBJWC for inviting me to participate in their Fall Festival. It made for an enjoyable, relaxing weekend.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Habits 2

My shop is very tiny. I'm always bumping into things whenever I turn around and having to move this to get at that. But I don't really mind. Rather, I sort of relish the challenge of working in such a small realm. It feels a bit like I imagine a sailboat to be: It's a lot of living in a tightly confined space, but oh, what an elegant space.

The shop is probably the only place in my life where I am truly organized, and it is by necessity. There simply isn't any room for chaos. Chaos, in fact, is not only frustrating, it is dangerous when power tools are involved When I am in the shop, I try to move deliberately, and that won't work if things are disorganized. So over the years I've developed some habits to help me keep things squared away. Here are three that I've found particularly useful:

1) Each day I go into the shop to work, I spend the first few minutes cleaning up. I sweep the floors and tables, and put anything away left out from a previous work session (or from the general devolution that always seems to occur when I've been absent from the shop for long periods of time). Aside from the organizational benefits, I think of this time as a meditative warm-up to the day.

2) I put things away as I go along. Constantly. Sometimes it means I put a block plane back in its cubbyhole only to get it out again a few minutes later--and I do it over and over throughout the day. No matter. I know where it is at that moment I need it. Even so, it never fails that the second law of thermodynamics eventually kicks in and order starts to dissolve when a project is under way. Soon enough, the block plane doesn't get put away, the tape measure has walked off to the other side of the room, and my pencil is not to be found, even though I just had it in my hand. So about once every two hours, I stop working and put everything back in its respective place. Instead of being an interruption, it makes for a refreshing break in the action.

3) Finally, I do one thing each session to improve something about the shop. It might be as big and involved as making a jig for the table saw, or as small as cleaning the windows. The important thing is to keep myself in a maintenence frame of mind. Beside the obvious benefit of not getting so far behind in my chores that I never want to work on them, this daily maintenance is a form of giving back to the shop, which over the years has given so much to me. Today it was cleaning and re-sharpening a scratch awl:

In a disorderly world, this routine settles me.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Naturalist's Notebook/Bike Garden is coming to Austin

Y'all know I love the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. I mean, just look at that lovely little Tejas garden vignette in the photo above. And what about that soothing well-spring tableau down below? What's not to love?

Well, lucky me, I get to bask in the excellentness of it all again when I participate in their Fall Festival and Plant Sale this coming Saturday, October 9th. I'll be there giving a public talk at 11 AM, and signing copies of How to Keep a Naturalist's Notebook afterward in the store until 2 PM.

The talk will be short, I promise. I have no idea yet what it will be about, but I'm thinking maybe something about drawing trees...

If you are free that Saturday, come on out. If you have a copy of How to Keep a Naturalist's Notebook, be sure to bring it and I'll make my mark. Or, if you don't already have one and want to buy a copy, I believe they are going to have some there for sale at the Center. But you don't have to bring or buy anything as far as I'm concerned. I'll just be happy to meet up with you and say "hey!"

Fair warning, though: Book or no book, you'll probably want to keep plenty of trunk space open in your car for the plants you'll be carting home.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a talk to figure out. See you Saturday!