Saturday, March 18, 2023

Life Is Good | My Job

"The beauty of mathematics shows itself only to more patient followers." -Maryam Mirzakhani

* * * W A R N I N G * * *

The following images may be shocking, disturbing or downright triggering for certain math-phobic individuals.

I, however, find them delightful.

^ This is a distance problem, closely related to the iconic "two trains left the station, one traveling north and the other going south" style of problem. In this story, Charlene has been handed a 20-mile head start on Larry who, apparently some kind of speed demon, eventually catches up. I call this a Robin Hood-style problem with mad respect to the Disney movie of the same name, in which the characters are constantly chasing each other to and fro.

^ Welcome to the glorious world of trigonometry and yes, we are finally going to bust out the calculators! Though I'm vehemently opposed to using calculators for almost every other form of high school mathematics, solving most trig functions simply can't be done with pencil and paper. Here we unlock the secrets of pushing the buttons in the proper order.

^ Let's start with two similar triangles and solve for the missing parts a, b, and c.

^ Thankfully, we have a number of tools to throw at the challenge and each variable requires a different strategy.

^ This problem cheerfully integrates geometric reasoning with some algebraic chops and in my mind, serves up the best of both worlds of mathematical thought. 

* * * * * 

Four mornings a week, I roll out of bed and set my feet on the floor in delicious anticipation of another busy day of math.

I love teaching math.

I delight in breaking open the secrets of two new lessons of Saxon Math in an hour of face-to-face time with my homeschooled high school students, usually while comfortably seated at their dining room tables. Sometimes, their dogs sleep at my feet while we work. 

I enjoy sharpening my students' wits with a weekly review problem, which gives them a chance to prove their progress to me, and reveal how their mathematical reasoning is coming along. 

But most of all, I adore answering their questions. Throw me any ol' problem from the hundreds provided for homework, and give me a chance to wrassle it to the ground.. My adrenaline surges as I stare down a challenging problem, and do my best to not just stumble through it, but clearly and articulately narrate my journey, because after all, my task is to teach. 

Often, just as our time is expiring, one of my students will say, "Umm I actually have a few questions on the homework..." And with some trial and error over the years, I've learned that the best response is to quickly gather up the specifics of which problems are causing the confusion, bid the student adieu, then go home and work through the problems on my own. Once I finish, I snap photos of my work and text them off to the student in question, who can usually then find their way through to understanding what's going on.

We compare notes when we meet again, just to be sure.

My students often apologize for asking me these questions. But they don't understand.

Answering their questions is about the most fun I can imagine.

And I'm insanely thankful for my job. 

* * * * *

Life is Good Challenge: A series of photos that depict joy in my life. No words or explanations necessary, but I really can't help myself. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Life Is Good | Fresh Air

"I love the feeling of the fresh air on my face, and the wind 
blowing through my hair." - Evel Knievel
The calendar says mid-March, but those misty Pacific Northwest skies 
send a different message. And we don't mind one bit. 

I could easily rattle off hundreds of reasons why I love having my girl, Gracie, in my life. 

But easily in the top five is this: fresh air.

Yes, a dog as energetic and playful as my Irish lass needs exercise every single day. Without it, she - and therefore, I - would feel cooped up, over-excited, and done in with cabin fever. Not only does a dog like Gracie crave physical action but her hunting-bred brain longs for the varied scents and visual stimuli of the greater world. 

In other words, it's essential to get my redhead outside every darn day.

So we walk. 
Every darn day. 
Rain or shine, snow, sleet, or hail. 

Now I have no complaint with our daily walks. Because I need that fresh air in my life too. Especially in the gloomy, wet months of the year. Sure, there was a time many years ago when I was tempted to cut our walks short if:

the rain was falling hard, 
or the winds were gusting, 
or the heat was overbearing, 
or the snowplows had once again buried the sidewalks in a layer of icy mashed potatoes.

All it took was a mental reset: one day, I simply decided I owed my dog and myself a daily walk no matter what.

And with that new attitude and a bit of thoughtful dressing, I am now ready for anything.

Gracie always wears her same fur coat. She's not fussy about the weather.

So the two of us make a great pair. We are always up for a good time, and our best adventures happen when we are out in the fresh air. 
* * * * *

P.S. For safety's sake, there are a few conditions that even we do not take on.

Lightning storms. 
High winds capable of blowing branches out of the trees. 
Dangerously high levels of wildfire smoke in the air. 

We're adventurous but never reckless. 

* * * * *

Life is Good Challenge: A series of photos that depict joy in my life. No words or explanations necessary, but I really can't help myself. 

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Life Is Good | Light

"The sun is gone but I have a light." -Kurt Cobain

Day begins
Hope soars
Smiling and optimistic
We feel light.

Day ends
Contentment soothes
Relaxed and satisfied
We feel light.

Troubles come and go
Panic rages
Fighting for breath
We seek light

Choose peace
Settle into now
Daring to trust
We become light. 

* * * * *

Life is Good Challenge: A series of photos that depict joy in my life. No words or explanations necessary, but I really can't help myself. 

Thursday, March 2, 2023

It’s What’s For Dinner

I wish I had a nickel for every time a member of my family has asked me, "What's for dinner?"

I mean, shoot. I wouldn't mind a nickel for every time I've asked myself that question.

In either of those cases, I would be a very rich woman who could gratefully pay a staff of nutritionists and chefs to take this daily and desperately onerous task off my hands. 

But then again, I'd probably miss my forty-year foray into meal planning if it was gone. So instead, I've found the next best thing.
My daughter's copy. I may need to buy another for myself. 

It's a cookbook.

Scratch that. 

It's a really well-designed and incredibly practical cookbook. 

I bought it on a whim for my fourth-born's Christmas and we've been putting it to hard use for the past two months. 

Christopher Kimball is a world traveler, Vermont native, chef, and media personality who believes that cooking is community, and food brings us together. Milk Street is his brand, named for the building's actual street address in downtown Boston, where Christopher and his team hold their cooking school, record television and radio shows, and presumably, write killer cookbooks. The New Rules references Christopher's conviction that the world's ordinary home chefs have a lot to teach us that we may not already know. 

The book is peppered with tips and techniques for upping your own dishes from good to great. For example, Christoper patiently reminds me not to fuss with or start flipping my fried potatoes until they have had proper time to brown. K this is not rocket science and I do know better, but I confess to a trigger-happy spatula hand and I appreciate the reminder to lay off. 

I love that The New Rules is filled with varied and interesting recipes on a world-flavor theme. Sometimes the ingredients are a bit out there - uh, pomegranate molasses?! - but honestly, that's been part of the fun as my family helps me comb the shelves of our local grocery for these elusive items or perhaps quickly Google for impromptu substitutes as dinner is coming together. 

Spoilers: In a pinch, lemon juice and honey can stand in for the aforementioned pomegranate molasses. Who knew. 

But what I love most about The New Rules is that the vast majority of these recipes - all of the dozen or so that I've tried so far - come together fast. Thirty minutes max of hands-on prep and cook time is pretty typical, and for banging out a high-end, full-flavored entree, that is darn fast. 

In fact, our meals have been sliding onto the table so quickly that I have not had time to snap my own photos of these creations before the others start loading their plates. So let me lean into the gorgeous photos from the pages of my new favorite cookbook to show you just what I mean. 

* * * * *

All food photos are the property of Christopher Kimball's Milk Street The New Rules cookbook.

^ Stir Fried Green Beans with Pork and Oyster Sauce 

This was the first dish we tried, and we raved about the rich, tangy flavor - thank you, oyster sauce - and the dish's versatility as a vegetable-heavy entree or a protein-enhanced side dish. Win/win.

^ Spaghetti with Cilantro Yogurt

Several of my daughters are dairy sensitive so I have to be careful with cream-laden pasta sauces. But this one gets its smooth rich texture from yogurt, which they find much easier to digest and honestly, I find much more fun to work with and just ridiculously yummy.

^ Toasted Pearl Couscous with Chicken and Chickpeas

We eat chicken on the regular, but even though I keep them on hand, we don't often dip into our couscous and chickpea pantry stock. This dish changed all that, and reminded me of how easy it is to introduce some fresh shelf-stable ingredients into my old tried-and-true recipes.

^ Flatbread Pizza with Pancetta, Fig Jam, and Blue Cheese

This flatbread pizza dough requires a bit more lead time, but we are regular yeast people who subscribe to the theory that the extra steps are worth the delicious fresh-rise flavors of homemade dough. The toppings are fresh and creative, though we would do with a bit less fig jam and a bit more pancetta. Those fresh sage leaves, however, are to die for and just the right touch to make our Friday night movie pizza just a bit more swanky than usual.

^ Smashed Potatoes with Soft-Cooked Eggs and Mint

These flatbread wraps took me back to the streets of Hyderabad, India and while they may not be legit Indian food, they certainly capture the same spirit. Simple, inexpensive food cooked with love and plenty of seasoning. I skipped the flatbread and ate mine off the plate with a fork; still delicious.

^ Omelet with Mushrooms, Mustard and Gruyere

Oh, my word. I wish I could give you a bite. Because what you might be surprised to learn is that this omelet's secret ingredient is whole grain Dijon mustard and it infuses every cheesy, fluffy bite with a tangy kick that made me swoon. If I could convince you to try any recipe in this post, I'd recommend this one.

^ Pan-Seared Halibut with Spicy Mint Lemon Sauce

And this fish dish is what I'm serving up tomorrow. The halibut at my store was astronomically expensive so I'm serving this sumptuous green sauce on fresh cod, but I expect the substitution will work out just fine. 

In any case, at least for tomorrow, this dish will answer the age-old question, "What's for dinner?"

* * * * *

All food photos are the property of Christopher Kimball's Milk Street The New Rules cookbook. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

A Good Night’s Sleep

"Sleep is that golden chain that holds health and our bodies together." -Thomas Dekker

For the past couple years, my husband and I have been sleeping in my mother's old pencil post bed.

Every night, I'd tiptoe into the bedroom, and thrill all over again at the bed's beautifully geometric canopy. I'd run my hand down one of the elegantly tapered posts, and take in the dreamy lines of the headboard. As I pulled back the covers, I'd reminisce about the many nights I slept in this bed at my mom's house, feeling again the curious sensation of comfort and security that one feels when sleeping under their mother's roof.

Then I'd lie down on the mattress and begin another night of hell.

For starters, the mattress was small. A Full XL, to be technical, which was plenty big enough for my mom alone. But pile in two full-sized humans and a lovely large dog who prefers to sleep spread eagle across the entire lower half of the bed, and we are talking very small indeed. And as the last one in, I regularly found myself squeezed onto a remarkably narrow strip of real estate at the edge of the bed, yanking a few inches of the covers out from under the dog to wrap around my teetering self, and hanging on for dear life.

Now, let's address the quality of the mattress. Umm, three hundred bucks on Amazon. Ya feel me?

By the time Christmas 2022 rolled around, my husband and I were both fed up with our nefarious nighttime accommodations. Our sleep quality was miserable and the daily low back pain was pure torture. My husband, who normally avoids major purchases like the actual old time-y plague, demanded that we buy something new.

Which we did.
"Mom, I'm still sleepy. Gimme five more minutes."

Yes, we are now the proud owners of an unabashedly boughie Beautyrest king-size mattress. 

Lying down on this hybrid dream of coiled springs wrapped in memory foam is indeed the stuff of fairy tales, and although it cost approximately half of what I spent on my first car, it has been worth every penny.

But the best part of this bed is what is hiding underneath.
"I love it when you make me into the bed. Dad's pillows are super cozy."

Now let me set the record straight. 

Whenever I've heard people gush about their adjustable mattresses - let alone ones that vibrate, which my mind associates only with sleazy Magic Fingers-type beds in pay-by-the-hour motel rooms - I've been completely turned off. No need for that level of pandering for me, no sirree, I'm far too much of a sturdy, no-frills lady for a wiggly bed, for heaven's sake.

But as the salesman invited us to lie down on a sample bed, and then raised the foot of the bed five inches, I felt a miraculous shift. My knees and hips slipped into alignment with one another, and the pain in my lower back instantly disappeared. Whatttt.
"Alright, I'm getting a little sweaty. How do you people stay under these covers all night long?"

He then brought up the head of the bed by oh, maybe eight to ten inches, just enough to shift my center of gravity from my shoulders to my lower torso. In a snap, my still-aching rotator cuff suddenly felt pain-free, and I felt as if I were floating above the weight of my body. Magical.

With the subtle flip of his thumb, the salesman then activated the vibration feature, and I all but moaned out loud. As he cycled through a long list of the acclaimed (if medically unproven) healing benefits of vibration - improved circulation, reduced joint and back pain, reduced stress, boosted metabolism - I simply sighed as I felt my entire body relax, and knew without a doubt that I needed this crazy beast of a bed in my life.
"Wait, can we do the vibrating thing one more time before we go downstairs?"

We've had our new bed for about six weeks now, and it's everything I hoped it would be. Each night, as I climb into my cozy nest and begin the fifteen minute vibration cycle that literally rocks me to sleep, I appreciate her anew. 

Sure, I miss my mom's old pencil post bed.

But what I'll never miss are the nights spent huddled on the edge of our old broken down mattress.

Now my dog, my husband, and I all have room to sleep spread eagle on our great big bed, and we are getting the best sleep of our lives. 

* * * * *

To my surprise, Gracie has adapted readily to both the raised head and foot profile of the new bed, and the thrumming sounds and soothing bumps of the vibration cycle. She still spends most of the night sleeping on the floor or in her arm chair, but she seems to thoroughly enjoy the big spread of the new bed. 

And as always, every morning she opts to lounge on the bed as I attempt to make it, which results in either me giving up and leaving the bed half unmade around her, or me pulling up the covers over the top of her, as I did on this particular day. Either way, Gracie wins. 

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Birthday Magic

"I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity." -Eleanor Roosevelt

^ Another birthday for my fourth-born, another wintry adventure in the great out of doors. Here in the Pacific Northwest, that means wet and wild. Temperatures dipped to the low 30s, winds blew in off the Puget Sound, and dainty flurries of snowflakes dazzled our eyes.

^ Our destination was the Skagit Wildlife Preserve's Wiley Slough near Conway, Washington. We hiked on raised gravel paths, winding in and out of swampy, stream-filled slough country. Bald eagles and blue herons, countless ducks and soaring seabirds kept us amazed and entertained.

^ Gracie was granted full off-leash privileges and while she spent most of her time hiking along the soft and dry trails, she couldn't resist a few tromps through the deep mud and nasty brambles of the rough terrain. A hunting dog's gotta do what a hunting dog's gotta do. 

I woke up this morning, the day of my fourth-born's birthday, looked out the window, and gasped in pure delight.

The sky was filled with softly swirling snowflakes. 

They danced through the air, 
gently floating up and down as if they were in no hurry at all to land, 
and filling my eyes with magic.

* * * * *

Birthday magic is a real thing. 

No, not so much for the birthday person themselves, who certainly may enjoy a wonderful day of special treats and good wishes, but more for the mothers (and fathers too) who experience the original Birth Day. 

Birthday magic fills my heart on those four mornings each year when I marvel (still) at the incredible events of my daughters' births: 

the intensity of physically moving them into the world
the sensation of holding their tiny bodies against me
the strange idea of them as little humans now completely separate from me
the miracle of their very beings. 

These memories stir up in me a feeling of lightness, of swirling joy, of happiness suspended in air.

They feel like a sky full of softly swirling snowflakes

And my heart fills, once again, with birthday magic. 

* * * * *

I share these thoughts with loving respect to mothers (and fathers too) of adopted children - magic surely fills their hearts on the days when they first meet their children too. But my experiences, as I share them here, are with giving birth so I simply write from what I know. 

Monday, February 20, 2023

A Valentine From Burt
^ What the world needs now is Valentine's Day spirit, every day of the year. 

No, we don't need another mountain
There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb
There are oceans and rivers enough to cross
Enough to last till the end of time.

My mom bought a new record album.
This was a fascinating and highly unusual turn in my eight-year-old life 
I paid rapt attention.

We drove home from the store.
She lowered the album on the spinning turntable and dropped the needle.
I listened.

What the world needs now
Is love, sweet love.
No, not just for some
But for every, every, every one.

We didn't talk much about love in our family.
My philandering father had stretched that precious commodity to the breaking point..
I didn't dare to ask questions.

But the man who wrote the song on my mother's new album was a great help to me.
His words were simple and clear: everyone deserves love.
I understood exactly.

Last week, just before Valentine's Day, Burt Bacharach died
He left this world for a place full of the love that he explained to me, all those years ago. 
I thank him for his gift.

* * * * *

The album was Reach Out.
The composer was Burt Bacharach
The year was 1967.