Blessings by the minute, from the playground into sleep

By school pick up time—around 2:30pm, so hours before many people even think of finishing their days—my reservoirs of energy are nearly empty. What used to be an afternoon lull is more often, now, my afternoon collapse. It’s the most persistent and insidious symptom of my autoimmune condition.

Afternoon delight? Fugeddaboutdit!

The work of a stay-at-home mom may include some flexible hours, but school pick up time is not among them. The kids are done when they’re done; someone needs to go get them. There are a few dads driving up in the daily rotation, but most chromosomes in the car pool lane are XX.

Add me to that list of who’s who.

playing outside - 3

Outdoor “play equipment” doesn’t have to be expensive or complex

One of the things I like best about my son’s school is the emphasis placed on time spent playing and learning outdoors. They aren’t quite as adamant about it as our preschool was—there, kids went out, rain or shine, unless there was a truly bitter freeze or risk of lightening strikes—but the value of free time, active play, and exposure to fresh air and sunshine is respected.

So, while I’m often running on fumes by 2:30pm, I bring a book, I pack a thermos of tea or an appealing snack, and I just generally prepare myself for a comfortable wait so my little guy can stay longer with his friends and play even more after school. It may only be a half an hour, but what a precious 30 minutes for a kid.

I’ve read that child’s play is currently endangered. I tend to agree that this is a grave loss for the kids in question and society overall.

On a beautiful spring day, it isn’t much of a sacrifice to allow this time for my child to release some of that seemingly boundless energy. My arthritis doesn’t flare as often on moderate days, lessening the cost of pain. In the absence of rain, I can move around and avoid getting stiff from sitting in the car. I get to socialize today, too, with other moms and some lingering members of the school staff, all of whom take advantage of the beautiful weather to linger outside.

DS2 and his knot of friends are involved in a complex dance of running, falling down, enacting simulated agonies, then jumping up to do it all over again. Some of the girls join in at times, weaving themselves into the game, then drifting away to huddle under a different tree, whispering their own solemn secrets. They start a new adventure by climbing a large, horizontal tree.

playing outside - 2

An admittedly awesome tree, some string, and a lot of imagination sparked this adventure

“Watch out for that poison ivy,” they advise me when I come closer to take a picture. After confirming I’m not there to take my son away, they quickly re-submerge in their play. They stop only when a preponderance of mothers appear, all ready to go home.

There seems no possible sweeter moment for me, as a mother, than this one, until later, after a tick check and bath, after dinner, after fun, when the little guy is lying asleep nearby and I’m restless and reflective. His breathing is deep and even with no sign of the nocturnal asthma that sometimes harries our nights.

No doubt the fresh air and tree climbing contributed to his deep, peaceful slumber, even as the memories of the same disrupt mine.

He’s so big, now, my little boy, but still so very small. My love for him swells in my breast like a wild thing rearing up to escape its confinement in a cage. It is ridiculous how much I adore this child. I’ve always found it easier to really notice this while he’s quietly sleeping.sleeping - 1

The night air drifting in the window is still soft and smells of spring. Many hours remain for slumber, and there’s more play in store for tomorrow. It’s time to tuck this unbridled passion for a silly little boy and his winsome ways away, and attend to my own dreams.

A cold shoulder was my shorthand for “I hate it when you leave”

We all have behaviors that we’ve not so much chosen as assumed. One of mine was pointed out to me years ago by my beloved spouse.

DH observed:

“You always pick a fight with me before I travel.”

He was completely right.

Once this behavior was drawn to my attention, I gained a measure of control over it. Now, on the evening before DH leaves for a business trip, I don’t pick a fight about how one ought to load the dishwasher or the correct position for the lid of a toilet not in use.

Instead, I cling to him almost desperately, and whisper sadly:

“I hate when you go. I want to punch you. I love you.”

Note: These are just words of frustration. Families should not hit each other.*  If your family hits you, please get help. Call the police.

Even wallowing in awareness of my reluctance to part, and fully cognizant of my tendency toward easing the transition through verbal aggression, I still need to express it.

At least now, this expression has joined the ranks of our commonly understood, odd, humor-filled scripted interactions.

“I’ll miss you, too,” DH says. “I wish I didn’t have to go.”

He hugs me tight and gives me the reassurance I’m tacitly requesting.

DH doesn’t always speak my language, but he’s gotten pretty good at interpreting it.

Someday, perhaps I will evolve even further. I may yet grow into a kinder, gentler person who doesn’t feel angry—and find a need to express that anger through nitpicking fights or unpleasant words—when confronted by the temporary loss of my love.

He’s my best friend. I hate it when he goes away for even one night.

That’s probably what I should learn to say instead.

 

 

*There is some physical contact that is perhaps best described as martial arts practice in our family. That requires the explicit, stated participation of all parties, and is only supposed to occur in our exercise room. None of the men in the household seem capable of confining their wrestling to the gym, but it is the rule, for the benefit of the furniture as well as the safety of the combatants.

Books by my bedside 2017/05/23

I’ve noticed that I often bring up in conversation one or more of the fascinating books I’ve been reading lately, only to fail utterly at recalling titles or authors’ names. I’ll take this opportunity to at least have a handy reference available for anyone who cares to follow up on something I’ve said.

Just check my blog!

Non-Fiction

Economics, history & politics

Why Nations Fail : the origins of power, prosperity, and poverty by Daron Acemoglu

Gaming

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set Rule Book

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set: The Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure book

Language

German I by Pimsleur (audio CD)

Math & technology

Gödel, Escher, Bach : an eternal golden braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

Fiction

The Great Passage written by Shion Miura, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter (note: this was a freebie from Amazon for being a Prime member)

My Kind of Crazy by Robin Reul (Young Adult title)

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (Young Adult title)

Reading Notes:

Preparing for a role playing game is all consuming

I found a few sleepy moments to finish the latest installment in my before bed brain candy mystery habit (J.D. Robb’s futuristic series about Eve Dallas), but managed very little additional pleasure reading this week.

I haven’t found the motivation to finish Thirteen Reasons Why, but I started My Kind of Crazy. I was hoping it would be a little more cheerful. Young Adult and Children’s titles can be very relaxing, but these both tend more into “youth at risk” territory. It takes more energy for me to read something distressing.

My Kind of Crazy feels like it could get amusing, but it isn’t yet. It also read like a book about a boy written by a woman. I checked the author’s bio, and, yup, Robin is a woman. I’ll keep reading and see if my opinion shifts.

Starter SetMost of my free time last week was spent prepping for running a Dungeons & Dragons game session that morphed into two evenings of play. It’s not strictly reading, though there are about 100 pages of information with which the leader (DM) should be familiar. So I read through it, then made some notes, then read some parts again. After the first few hours of game play, I also printed out some cards to help me keep track of every individual character.

Thus far, my experience as a D&D DM feels like an exercise in office supply logistics.

Mom is my Dungeon Master: D&D role playing games as family hobby

Full-time Mom, new blogger; add Dungeon Master to my illustrious titles

I avoided doing any housework this weekend. I also missed making a daily post to this blog for the first time in nearly two months. Why? I am now the Dungeon Master (DM) for the D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) Starter Set adventureLost Mine of Phandelver.”

Most of my free—and some rather expensive—minutes for a week and a half have been spent on this endeavor. Even with a ready made campaign, being a DM doesn’t come cheap in terms of time. I hadn’t even played a game of D&D since the 1990’s. The learning curve was steep!

Phandelver game DM view of cave Wolf room 3

Spoiler Alert: Don’t look too closely if you’re planning to play Lost Mine of Phandelver as a PC

What’s a Role Playing Game (RPG)?

Not sure what a role playing game (RPG) is, exactly? Wikipedia and others can explain them in greater detail, but start by imagining a shared group storytelling experience that follows a set of rules to impose some structure and some interesting randomness on the proceedings.

The person conducting the story and acting as “referee” is the Dungeon Master (DM); every player contributes to the overall story by describing what their player character (PC) does in the context of that story. The DM can use a “campaign” (story) written by someone else like I did this weekend, or she can create a scenario, world, or universe uniquely her own.

If you are imaginative and enjoy other table games, RPGs could prove a similar source of fun for you and yours. It is time consuming, though. I spent ten hours this weekend around a table—during two evening sessions—with my family and some good friends. That’s in addition to the hours I spent preparing earlier in the week.

Everyone was fully engaged and having fun, including a pair of middle school aged kids playing with their parents. That’s a coup according to this mom. Aside from getting to bed late on a school night (oops!), this first family foray into RPGs proved a great success.

I can’t really take the credit for initiating the game, though. I do, however, emphatically accept the kudos for working my butt off to give everyone a good time.

Read on to find out what got us started. Continue reading

Mending: sustainability, minimalism, and one likely repercussion

Recently, I’ve been enjoying a few interesting blogs, including one by a young woman who writes primarily about minimalism in her wardrobe, and another that tends to focus more on sustainability in overall lifestyle and particularly her finances (though she blogs on many topics.)

I found myself musing about a less than obvious relationship between these two sets of writing as I was ensconced on the couch the past few evenings working on a necessary repair project. If your lifestyle and values dictate buying fewer items of better quality, you are going to have to learn how to mend (or employ someone to do it for you.)

linen-duvet-mending-1.jpg

Linen is strong, but brittle when dry. Here’s what can happen in the dryer when someone else launders the bedding and doesn’t know when to be extra careful with the linen duvet. Linen sheets can easily outlast cotton ones, but they require proper care.

Mending is a skill that was once ubiquitous. Before the Industrial Revolution, things (man-made objects) were quite costly and labor—especially that of women in the home—tended to be cheap. Even after the advent of affordable and readily available machine-sewn, purchased clothing, many people retained the sewing skills to make repairs and simple alterations.

Today, a t-shirt is so cheap, we treat it as disposable. We don’t own just a few outfits; even the poor in a developed country can own a wardrobe rich in variety. When we stain a garment, or it rips, it “costs less” to buy a new one than to spend time remedying the problem.

Yes, we launder our clothing, but often with little care, because individual garments have very little intrinsic value.

This ceases to be true when one invests in sustainable products. Organic, locally-sourced, fair trade, and high quality typically equate to expensive. If I’m willing to pay someone of my social class in my rich nation to produce my clothing or housewares, I’m going to pay more than I would for equivalent items made by impoverished factory workers under exploitative conditions.

I’m going to have to do some work to make these products last longer, because I can’t afford to replace them frequently.

My values also dictate that I shouldn’t be replacing, I should be repairing, re-purposing, and, at the very least, recycling my no-longer-useful-to-me discards.

Fortunately, an artisan-made product is likely to be better constructed of higher quality materials than the mass market equivalent. Sturdy trousers in a sensible fabric with a full lining will neither wear out nor require cleaning as often as thin, cheap cotton pants. Worn or soiled linings are quickly replaced. Good construction techniques mean the possibility to let out or take in a waistband that no longer fits.

Unfortunately, the world at large doesn’t always make it easy to act anachronistically. I am the only person in my household who understands the details, and importance, of my rather sophisticated laundry sorting process. When someone helps with the laundry, invariably, a delicate (expensive!) item ends up going through the “wrong” wash.

There have been tragic losses: a darling pair of organic wool overalls that went from size 6 to a toddler 2/3 after a trip through the dryer. Sigh. Luckily, we had a young friend who got to enjoy those for another year.

There have also been signs of remarkable resilience. I don’t recommend repeating this test, but, if your child throws his good trousers in the big hamper of regular wash and dry laundry, they might come out of the dryer just fine. These wool blend dress pants from Nordstrom held up to a full cycle of warm water wash and hot dry. They didn’t even shrink! The child was allowed to live.

The example I opened with is my Linoto linen comforter cover  (a.k.a., duvet.) If you want gorgeous, 100% flax linen bedding made in the USA by people who will go above and beyond to make you happy, I recommend Jason at Linoto as your source.

I also own flax linen bedding sold by Coyuchi and cotton/flax blends and hemp linen sheets from Rawganique in Canada. I’ve even sewn some specialty sized linen pillowcases myself using fabric purchased here or here.

If you follow the care instructions, you probably won’t need to do the kind of repair I’m undertaking right now.

linen duvet on bed - 1

Linoto duvets (two twins) with Coyuchi linen sham and skirt

Then again, if you live in a busy household with a family that is sincerely helpful but not particularly educated or enthusiastic about specialized laundering, I can also reassure you that your expensive linen sheets will still survive for years, and probably not tear like mine, if you just keep them out of the dryer, especially with other, heavy linens.

Mine were in constant use for five years before tearing. Here’s what happened:

If you’ve ever had a load of sheets in the dryer with a comforter cover, you’ve probably experienced the “giant wad of linens balled up inside the duvet” phenomenon. I can’t explain the physics, but it always seems to occur. Maybe its related to the knotting of agitated strings.

When I’m feeling well and managing the laundry myself, I carefully redistribute the linens midway through the drying cycle to separate these and the pillowcases that get wedged inside the elastic corners of fitted sheets. If I’m feeling really well, I hang up my linen items after a few minutes in the dryer to soften them up.*

None of my helpers remember—or bother—to do either of these additional steps.

More than once, a heavy ball of wet cotton has been caught inside my delicate when dry linen cover. More than once, someone has helped me empty the dryer and yanked on this heavy mass without supporting the linen piece from the strain. Eventually, the fabric wore near the top seam that always caught this weight.

Instead of fixing it immediately when I saw the signs of wear, I put off reinforcing this area… and, recently, that’s where the fabric tore.

I am not at all expert in mending, but I do have rudimentary sewing skills. I have needles and thread in the house, and I’m not afraid to use them. My cover won’t look perfect when its repaired, but the tearing and fraying will stop, and it will still be usable as bedding. Luckily, a duvet has two sides, so I’ll put it on the bed mended side down.

Minimizing your possessions to just what you need and buying sustainable, ethically sourced goods are great ideas, but you may have to adjust your lifestyle to fit. If you can’t get every household member on board with these adjustments, prepare to learn some new skills.

Today, mending! Tomorrow… darning socks?

Good thing I know someone who knows how to darn. Maybe she’ll teach me.

This is how we all take part to make the world a little better than we found it.

 

*My husband dislikes the texture of line dried laundry, so, when it comes to longevity vs. softness, I’m going to choose marital accord over more sustainable laundry practices. Personally, I love the crisp, dry hand of air dried linen.

Men, consider trying a tunic or dress before you fall for the romper trend

Rompers—or, the specifically male garment being promoted on KickStarter as the RompHim™— should not become the next hot trend in men’s clothing. Elle magazine posits that I’m not accepting of this trend because of my underlying sexism.

Am I disturbed by men in traditionally feminine clothing?

Nope. Quite the opposite. I believe in function first for clothing.

Some of humanity’s first articles of clothing were tunics, clearly the precursor to the modern dress. These are clothes for “humans,” not for men or for women specifically. They do a great job of protecting sensitive skin from sun exposure, and they simply and serviceably provide as much modesty as one prefers.

playful boy tunic

Put a baby boy in a tunic, and he’ll just keep playing like a comfortable little boy

Kilts predate miniskirts, and were designed for men when women wouldn’t dare to show so much leg. And that beachwear? Does the bottom really need to be called “bikini,” or is it just a reinvention of the loincloth?

Dating back to my teenage discussions of school dress codes, I have always advocated that the only fair policy allows all students access to all pieces of the accepted uniform, including girls in pants and boys in skirts. Anything else is inherently unfair.

Our noun, uniform, obviously relates to the adjective and its definition of “sameness.” Where there is no practical reason discernible for variations, it’s fair to assume they are derived from social constructs of questionable value. Next, ask the question: do we need to differentiate this piece of kit for males or females?

If the article of clothing doesn’t specifically encase a body part (brassieres and athletic cups being the obvious examples), I personally reject any notion that the object is sex-specific.

People should wear clothing that suits their need for comfort and personal expression within social standards for professionalism, modesty, and hygiene. Let the naturists bare their skin in accepting company. But please, if nudity is allowed by law, include a provision for mandatory towels on shared seating surfaces…

The man isn’t the problem; the romper creates problems

My problem isn’t with the man in the romper. I object to the wearing of a romper by  adults who have productive work to do. They are fiddly garments to manage in public life.

I speak from experience. I bought a chambray romper in the 1980’s, when I was a young teen. Wearing it generated more thinking about what I was wearing, allowing less time for useful activity. I thought it was cute, but it wasn’t very practical.

Fashion isn’t inherently a bad thing, but most of us have to balance style with getting things done. Most of us should be thinking about more than how we’re wearing our clothes.

A Kardashian or fashion model has time to wear a romper. All that’s required of these professions is showing off the garments worn, presumably generating interest in the consuming masses.

James Bond/Sean Connery wearing a romper (Goldfinger, 1964) in his down time also seems reasonable. We all know his romper’s going to come off the minute the Bond Girl walks in. (You can see Connery sporting his baby blue knit romper with gold belt buckle in the Elle article I mentioned in paragraph one.)

But rompers are ill-suited for people who need to, say, take care of their own bodily functions in public restrooms. They  actually present less challenge to men than women in this regard, because many men don’t fully remove their lower garments to urinate.

A man who never needs to defecate, however, doesn’t need a romper; he needs a doctor! Does any man really want to wear clothes that will have to come all the way off—or puddle in their entirety on that dubiously mopped subway station floor—in order to take care of his necessary business?

baby doll diaper

Rompers for baby

Without snaps at the crotch, a romper is an impractical garment. With snaps at the crotch, the degree of infantility becomes creepy. Tear-away clothes should remain the province of strippers. A snap-crotch should be ensconced beneath another layer of clothing, like on a bodysuit, lest a wardrobe malfunction make one the next viral video sensation.

“Whoops! There go my romper’s crotch snaps!”

It sounds like something former congressman Anthony Weiner would do. No one wants to be that guy.

Rompers, jumpsuits, and coveralls share similar traits. There’s a reason they are best suited as over-layers to protect regular clothing beneath, removed once the messy work is done. They also have a place as specialty garments like spacesuits (with toilet built in!) or formal wear (which isn’t designed to be practical anyway.)

Try a dress before you buy a romper

Men, if you want the freedom of a garment that extends from shoulder to hemline, consider just wearing a dress. Call it a tunic if you don’t think men should wear dresses. You can buy one for a lot less than $119 (RompHim™ suggested retail) and you’ll have more fabric options.

Romper man mayhem sketch

Make sure a romper fits this crucial measurement

As most women have discovered for themselves, if your thighs rub or you want more coverage, it is far more comfortable to wear leggings or fitted shorts beneath a dress than to bind up the skirt of one’s dress into a romper. Be aware: the crotch length on a romper is often not quite a perfect fit for one’s body, so you might feel an annoying seam in a sensitive place. Ouch!

It isn’t a sharing of our feminine freedom to make men discover these romper facts for themselves. Women who’ve worn them are being selfish by not sharing the reality with men considering buying them. Or, maybe, a lot of women do find this idea funny, because of sexism or a bit of cruelty.

There’s a reason romper trends in women’s fashion drift in and then go away. Wearing a romper is inconvenient, and they aren’t really cute enough to make up for it.

If rompers were so great, they would remain popular over time, like wearing pants. Surely everyone can agree that women, once “allowed” to wear trousers, have never shown the slightest inclination to give up these most practical garments.

Supporting men in their desire to wear rompers feels to me like convincing men they should try pantyhose. That would be mean, because pantyhose suck. They’re expensive and disposable, because they run (develop holes) with normal use; they don’t breathe so they’re unhealthy for your body; and they can be downright painful to pull on.

Gentlemen, I support your right to wear a romper, but I sincerely hope you’ll try a nice, sensible dress first, for your own sake.

Artist Sherrill Roland and his Jumpsuit Project

Today, I read a news story about a young man named Sherrill Roland. As he was about to begin graduate school as a fine arts student, he received a call from a detective with a warrant for his arrest. He was asked to turn himself in for crimes he didn’t commit.

The young man was tried, convicted, and spent 10 months in jail for crimes he didn’t commit. A year later, new evidence proved his innocence.

My reason for sharing this isn’t to repeat or attempt to fully reflect upon the shameful statistics about young black men—even innocent ones—and the American criminal justice system. What I feel compelled to share about this story is how this young, black man chose to respond to what happened to him.

Sherrill Roland is an artist.

He found a way to share his talents with other inmates during his time in jail:

“I drew for other inmates ― portraits of their families that they could send as gifts. … We on the inside did not have anything to give. It is really powerful creating something …, helping them get a gift from someone who can’t obtain one any other way. I was willing to make things as long as they meant something.”

Roland is now sharing his experience of incarceration and its effects with the rest of us via a performance art piece he began as an MFA student: the Jumpsuit Project. He wears an orange prison jumpsuit in public spaces, engaging with his “audience” according to their response to him.
In the article, he said:

“It’s not always about jail itself, but about overcoming things. Sometimes it’s just about getting through a struggle.”

He could have emerged too bitter to speak with us. He might have lashed out or given up in the face of a system willing to jail innocent black men. Instead, Sherrill Roland is making something that means something, including conversation.How many of us can claim to have wrought something so elevated from such base injustice?I hope I’m making a small contribution to Roland’s conversation by sharing it with you.

Being good at math, also female, and why I must talk about that

We all tend to repeat our favorite stories, and I thought I’d told this one to everyone I know. Naturally, my verbal shorthand led to offense. Again. Oops!

I’m good at math; my conversational skills could use work

I’m not always great at talking to people. That’s one reason for the blog. I like taking the extra time to clarify myself in writing. One major risk factor for my verbal missteps is that I routinely take great mental leaps during the conversation without bringing my audience along.

Lots of things are “obvious” in my mental space, but require explanation when I want to discuss them.

I’ll begin by stating what I thought was crystal clear to everyone I’ve ever spent more than a few minutes with:

I’m good at math.

When I say “good at math,” I mean, “I successfully completed an undergraduate degree at a competitive US college with a major in Mathematical & Physical Sciences concentrating in Computer Science.”books math texts - 1

I have studied advanced math at the university level. I succeeded in those classes, often earning good grades. I have some innate talent in this area, and I applied concerted effort to developing these skills.

All of this “my own horn”-tooting is to make clear what I mean when I say, again:

I’m good at math.”

And now we’ll carry on to the meat of this story.

We were out to dinner with friends. Being a pair of introverts 15+ years into marriage and with a couple of kids at home, we go out like this around four times per year. Usually, we invite friends over and order pizza (because I’m bad at cooking; this post is not about how totally great I am.)

Sitting around the table, waiting for appetizers, I started telling a story about home schooling my oldest son. It’s an uncommon thing, so people often ask questions about our daily activities. Many academically inclined friends are sincerely curious: What is it like, going “back to school,” in a sense, by doing it all over again with one’s child?

I was going to tell a story about helping a friend’s daughter with math.

So I began:

“In high school, because I was a girl, naturally, I was bad at math…”

I should have used the mortifying—but edifying—air quotes gesture. This is when my friend freaked out.

“Not true! It’s nonsense! Girls are perfectly capable of…”

Right! Of course! That was my point, too, but I went into the story all wrong. I can see now that I took liberties with my audience. Hopefully I fixed it with my friend, at her birthday dinner, no less. Sheesh. Way to go, me.

Let’s call this a teachable moment. I needed a reminder of something I’ve come to take for granted.

Even though I’m sure I’ve told this story before; even though it is obvious to anyone who’s ever worked with me; even though it should be clear to any person with whom I’ve held a conversation about education.

Let me reiterate that I:

  1. am good at math
  2. worked as an engineer in the (logic-based, i.e., “math-y”) field of computer technology
  3. lean technocratic and abhor non-objective criteria for advancement of platforms or people

In spite of all this, I really can’t tell a humorous yet informative story about being “bad at math” without the usual lead-up. I must always preface this statement with the fact that I erroneously believed myself to be “bad at math”…

because society;

because gender roles;

because socialization.

I saw through part of the illusion in high school, but it took years before I really got it. I believe most people—men and women—who claim to be bad at math are really the victims of poorly implemented math instruction.

Realizing math instruction was bad, not my math ability

High school was mostly boring. I was there doing time and ticking boxes so I could get into a good college to begin my real education. I wanted to be excited about school like I was about learning, but boy did the system make it tough.

I realized that science classes were more challenging to my logic-oriented brain, and I craved real learning of the sort that revved my engine.  I registered for as many science electives as I could squeeze in, graduating with eight science credits on my transcript. I was proud of that!

And yet…

…even with eight science classes on my transcript, by the end of high school, I was failing Calculus and more convinced than ever that I was “bad at math.” I could no longer conceive of being good at math, though I “knew” this fact in grade school.

I was privileged, and smart, and relatively enlightened. Still, it was that difficult to perceive the reality of what math was, how I could engage with it, or why I should.

Failing Calculus had more to do with not doing my work than a failure to grasp essential concepts, but I didn’t clue in to that until I repeated it in college. You see, I was interested in science and computers, and spoke about these subjects at college interviews, but I doubt I ever mentioned math.

“Math” was a hurdle I would have to clear to get to these fascinating, juicy fields of study. “Math” lived in my consciousness as a threat to be avoided.

Our K-12 system gives a very poor illumination of the field of mathematics

Math is presented in our schools as a skinny, rigid ladder to be climbed. There is one straight path from ignorance to Calculus, and success is measured by computational accuracy.

Almost no effort is made to highlight the diversity of thinking in math, the creativity that goes into the work of real mathematicians, and the awesome power of mathematics to solve real world problems.

books math texts - 2Ostensibly, Common Core is fixing this problem. In practice, I have grave doubts.

I read a fascinating book about a year ago before I kept a handy reading list like I’ve posted on this blog. I think it was Jo Boaler’s What’s math got to do with it?. The most important takeaway I got from that book had to do with a learned, innate fear of math that pervades American society, and female Americans in particular

And guess who’s teaching our children math? In 2011-2012, 76 percent of public school teachers were female. Women sure as hell can do math, but teachers with unaddressed phobias often unwittingly pass them on to their students.

For decades, I’ve repeated something I heard and find powerfully telling:

Americans feel perfectly comfortable admitting that they’re bad at math. Women, especially, feel free to flaunt their innumeracy.

“Tee hee, titter, titter, I’m so bad at math!”

How many people are equally blasé about their illiteracy?

Virtually none.

Teacher training can make a huge difference in breaking this pattern. Vocal and visible advocacy by female mathematicians and engineers make a difference, too. I talk about my enjoyment of math, logic, and puzzles more often than I probably should, but I want people to hear me. I’d like to be one more pebble in the pile of evidence it takes to make a self-evident mountain.

I’m good at math. I’m female. I’m going to keep talking about that.

What I eat affects how I feel: consider an elimination diet for chronic pain

The Internet is full of dietary advice, much of which has as much basis in opinion as fact. I won’t try to define for you what constitutes healthy eating, but I can share an effective strategy for testing your own diet that could potentially improve your health and well-being.

You could feel healthier within weeks, and it is free

Twice in my life, I have undertaken “elimination diets.” I credit this process with measurably reducing symptoms that were severely impacting my quality of life. In my case, I was able to reduce migraine headache symptoms from daily to just a few episodes per year. More recently, I shifted constant, debilitating joint pain and fatigue associated with autoimmune disease to a still regular, but less incapacitating, condition.

In both cases, I was able to stop taking some preventative prescription drugs and take fewer pain relieving drugs (an objective and measurable result.) I also made myself feel better (a subjective improvement in my well-being.)

You don’t need to spend an extra penny to try it, and you should know within a month if it is going to work for you.

What is an elimination diet?

An elimination diet is not designed to eliminate weight and/or fat. This isn’t a weight loss diet. I think of it as a health gain diet; you could also consider it a symptom loss diet. I prefer to focus on the positive.

Reduce foods you eat to a “safe” list

Put simply, an elimination diet involves first reducing your diet to a limited list of foods known to be inoffensive. By inoffensive, I mean foods that are not commonly allergenic or irritating to the system. At this stage, you would eliminate any food you think might be triggering your own symptoms.

Re-introduce different foods one at a time

After a period (typically around three weeks) on the very restrictive diet, you re-introduce new foods one at a time into your meals and see if symptoms recur or increase. If you feel worse, you remove the offensive (or “trigger”) food again and go on to the next test food. Ideally, you wait a day or two after being “triggered”/negatively affected so your body can return to a neutral state.

Continue this process until you have tested the foods you prefer

You continue this process until your diet includes everything you prefer to eat (excluding trigger foods!) Speaking again from my own experience, it took me a few months to recover from almost daily migraines; I experienced profound relief on day four of my elimination diet for autoimmune disease symptoms.

Elimination Diet food picture - 1

I began with a low-fat, vegan diet of exclusively cooked foods, mostly vegetables. Olive oil was my only fat. I included rice, quinoa, and black beans. I avoided foods that I previously ate the most frequently.

What foods are safe to start an elimination diet?

The first time I did an elimination diet, my primary care doctor gave me a “migraine diet” that I used as a starting point. On my second go ’round, I consulted with a nutritionist recommended by my regular physician to compile a food list for myself based upon a website and a book I regarded as trustworthy.

I used the book, The Elimination Diet by Segersten and Malterre. I borrowed it from my library and read the whole thing, but you don’t need the book to try this technique. This couple does offer many useful resources as free printables on their website, however, and they do a nice job providing a thorough blueprint for those who don’t want to do a lot of planning for themselves.

The point of this intervention is to find out, for yourself, how specific foods affect you.

If you don’t know which foods to start with, begin with a recommended diet from a professional—either your own health provider, or a list from a book or website whose credentials you trust.

An elimination diet is a short-term experiment

Perhaps the most vital thing to know about this diet is that it is never meant to be permanent. I hate the experience of working through an elimination diet, especially those early, very limited weeks, but I like the results enough to commit to a few weeks of deprivation to feel much better.

If you undertake this process and finish up with a long list of foods you plan to permanently eliminate, I strongly encourage you to consult a dietician or doctor to ensure your nutritional needs will be met. In my case, only a few key foods seem to be responsible for a majority of my current symptoms.

Look beyond the usual suspects

Perhaps the most interesting thing I learned in my most recent elimination diet phase was that two common foods I’d barely suspected give me the most trouble. I won’t name them because it’s easy to label foods as “bad” and then proselytize for others to avoid them.

Please do your own experiment and find your own best diet. My two “bad foods” are not any of the foods so popularly demonized these days. (Hint: neither of them is a grain or gluten!)

Your long term diet should be healthy and sustainable

I’ve learned that other foods—some of which are commonly listed as likely triggers—affect my symptoms, too, but they do so in a more gradual, symptoms-building-up sort of way.

For example, I can include some dairy and some organic wheat in my diet and live pretty comfortably. I don’t eat freely of these foods, limiting them to special occasions, but I enjoy life a lot more. Allowing these, in moderation, means more excitement and variety in my meals, which is another factor in long term, emotional well-being.

The myth of “the” healthy diet

My two dietary interventions happened about 20 years apart and resulted in the adoption of somewhat different “ideal diets” each time. The biggest similarity between the two situations was the process.

Did I misinterpret my results the first time I did an elimination diet? Have my needs changed? Has food itself changed? All of these are possible.

It is really difficult to do great studies on human nutrition. To put it very simply, this is because:

  1. There’s no expensive product to market afterwards, so no one wants to pay for long term, well controlled studies of large groups, and
  2. People have really complex lives so it’s hard to design great studies that give straightforward results.

For this reason, I take every bit of nutrition advice with a grain of salt, and I try to stay very open-minded as new research is published. I think it is likely that different people have unique dietary needs based upon lifestyle and genetics, the same way we are susceptible to different injuries and diseases. I think we probably need different nutritional inputs at different stages of life.

I also believe that the adoption of modern, processed foods has likely affected human health in currently unknowable ways. After all, “traditional diets” sustained us for thousands of years, and they differed around the world. What are the odds that one very specific diet could optimize health for all individual human beings?

In the USA, our doctors typically receive little to no training in nutrition. They can advise us when we need to lose weight, or tell us to “eat a healthy diet,” but they aren’t necessarily in a better position than we are ourselves to create a specific blueprint for what we should feed ourselves.

I advocate this particular approach to health through nutrition experimentation because I have personally experienced success with it, twice. It is also free, costing more in time and commitment than financial outlay. You will have to do some planning to successfully undertake an elimination diet.

I don’t believe that we are responsible for every ailment that befalls us. Sometimes, we get hit with an unlucky break, in health as with the rest of life. But here is an opportunity to shift the odds back in our favor by putting in a bit of effort.

If you are suffering, consider trying an elimination diet. The most you have to lose is a little time—and the enjoyment of a few favorite meals—over a few weeks. What you stand to gain is good health.

Have you tried, or considered, an elimination diet? What were your results?