Monday, June 13, 2016

I've MOVED!!!

Have you wondered where my blog has gone? Do you ever sit back and say to yourself- "Is Stephanie still writing? Wasn't she going to write a book or something?" Well, I moved it to Patreon. Patreon is a great site that is run BY artists FOR artists. While I am still posting some material straight to the public, much of my writing is going directly to my subscribers. They're an elite bunch- big spenders, I tell ya- paying $1 a month to read all of the latest posts from me!
My goal in setting up this Patreon is two-fold. First of all, I am using it as an accountability tool for my book. I've written more in the last month than I have since my dissertation, and unlike my research into the effectiveness of STEM initiatives, you might actually want to read what I've been writing lately... My second goal in establishing the Patreon is to allow myself to identify as a writer- and to earn a little bit of money while I write. I'd love to be able to earn enough while working on this book that I can make a nice dent in my lovely student loans....
I would be truly honored and amazed if YOU would join in my subscribers. Subscribers to my Patreon account can also receive other perks besides just reading my musings... Let me know if you have any questions!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

May 11/18- The tale of the elephant graveyard

Come, my dear. Let us take a walk. The sun will not set for a little while, no. There will be plenty of light. And if you walk with me, you need not fear the noises in the grass nor the haunting notes of the bird calls. 

Walk with me, I want you to see something.

Ah, this is a beautiful evening, isn't it, little one? The warm air just barely moving, you can feel it tickling the hairs on your skin, can't you? Just like the tops of the grasses, so long and green, waving just a bit. Oh, the grasses are so green this season. We can be grateful to the rains for the verdant colors in the grass.  Feel how lovely this grass is! Roll around in it! Stomp your feet! See how it springs right back into place? Try a bit. A mouthful is moist and crisp. These grasses are good. You've not yet eaten the brown grasses of the dry season. Those bites are brittle and powdery. They aren't tasty, and you will never feel satisfied. Hunger is the constant companion of the dry season. But that is not what I wanted to show you today. Come along with me.

Ah, here come the oranges and purples of twilight.  No, it is not time to turn around yet. Listen to the birds calling to one another.  They are still singing their daytime songs.  yes, I do notice that the birds accompany us when we walk! I think our voices and footsteps make the bugs of the earth curious, and when they pop up to see us, the birds feast!  No, I do not mind when the little birds alight upon my head and shoulders. Birds are good company, sometimes it is good to have their voices in your ear.  Besides, the birds can see quite far across the grasses and sands. They are excellent travelling companions.

Ah- you have found the watering hole! Did you know that your aunties and I made this place? When I was quite young, I came here with my mother and my aunties, and we played and stomped in the dirt. The mothers encouraged us to roll around and scrapple in the hollow each day and then one day we woke to a wonderful surprise! It was raining! And in the hole we'd made with our feet, the rain collected and made this lovely pool.  It was a cool place for drinking and splashing and bathing in the hot sun.  This watering hole made the dry season bearable.  We were happy to share this place, too.  The fleet brown gazelles, tan as the summer sand, would come drink here in the twilight. The long necked birds gracefully arrived. When the lions would come, though, we would allow them to have the pool all to themselves. Not one of us much liked sharing with the lions.

Do you see how the grasses are longer and greener around the edges of the watering hole? How these trees grow, spreading their branches out thickly at the edge of the water? Even in the dry season, these grasses and trees are fortified by this hole that we've made.

Come here, nearer to the trees. This is what I wanted to show you, little one. Do not be afraid.

These bones, here, are the bones of my mother, your grandmother. you may touch them. You may pick one up. Here. This was once her leg. She walked many, many lengths on this leg.  It is okay. It does not hurt her for me to pick up her leg. She does not mind it. In fact, her bones have stories to tell.  That is what I wanted to show you.  Every time I come here, to this watering hole, I visit her bones. I pick one up, and listen to the story she wants to tell me.  Today her leg bone is telling me a story about how even though she walked many lengths on this leg, and she has been bones for many seasons, these bones are still strong. I have the same bones in me, so I need not worry about growing weary on our next journey.

Yes, it is getting darker. We will turn back and return to your aunties soon, for a good sleep. But you need not fear this place! Do the bones of your grandmother frighten you? Ah- you are frightened of the other bones- those that do not belong to your grandmother?

That is true. There are other bones here. But look! They are all bones like us. What cause have you to be frightened? Do you think that we have come here to die? Do you think that we must now become bones because we have visited this place? Oh, little one.  This is not true.

Your grandmother did not come here to die.  Neither did any of the others here of our kind.  Look around you! What have you noticed today? This is a place of life! There is a watering hole. There is lovely green grass, and strong, shady trees. There are birds, and friends. There is life here. During the dry season, you will find that sometimes life contracts to this point. Dry, summer grasses out on the plains are brittle. My grandmother did not come here to die. She came here to live.  Each one here came to live, but could not. That is a cause for sadness, yes, but not for fear.

It seems that is the story grandmother's bones are telling you, little one. Seek life. Do not fear it. Do not fear death, either, as long as you are seeking life.

Author's note: An elephant's graveyard is often used in literature as a metaphor for a scary place where large things go to die. Researchers initially believed that elephants would go specifically to one place to die because often, multiple elephant skeletons were found in the same location. Now, however, researchers believe that elephants are merely traveling to the last known place of affluence.  
In addition, elephants have been observed mourning a fallen elephant, standing vigil over a recently deceased elephant, or even carrying elephant bones around with their trunks.
Clearly, we have a lot to learn.

Photos taken by Deb McCaslin (my MOM) in Zimbabwe, 2011

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

May 17- Hymn mash-up

For years, each time we've visited my parents in their hometown for Christmas, she enlists each of us to sing in her church choir. Frequently, she asks my brother, Jeff, and I to do a duet with him playing the guitar and me singing lead vocals.

The piece she'd sected was a Spanish hymn. Alaru, alame.

She sent us to the music room to practice, but we kept getting distracted, jamming out with classic rock covers. Each time she'd come give us the fisheye, we'd pretend we were working on harmonies and descants.

The day came, and Jeff and I took our places. Jeff played the very identifiable opening five chords of Tom Petty's Free Falling. Then I started to sing, the Spanish words of her hymn. They mashed beautifully together.

Mom pretended to be mad, but she was secretly really pleased.

That's what kind of family I grew up with. We were always singing. Except during dinner. There was a rule: no singing at the dinner table. Of course, a second dinner time rule was that we weren't allowed to pretend that the backs of the kitchen chairs were harps to be played, either.

We never followed either of these rules.

Monday, May 9, 2016

May 9- A good woodsman

I'm currently reading Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, and came across a phrase today that struck me.

A good woodsman has only one scar.

The underlying lesson behind this phrase in the story is that we should learn lessons quickly, and not continue to persevere in self-harming behavior.  In this thought, the woodsman learns his lesson and never again allows himself to be harmed.

You've got to know your limits. Once is enough, but you've got to learn. A little caution never hurt anyone. A good woodsman has only one scar on him. No more, no less.

As someone with several scars, I wonder about this thought.  Surely, as I've gotten older, I have become more cautious.  As a parent, I've exercised more caution than I did as a single. But is every one of my scars a result of not being cautious enough?  What if I have scars that I've earned through endeavoring to become a better human?   What if I have scars that I've acquired via putting myself in harm's way to protect another?  Does that not make me a good woodsman?

Dorothy knew a woodsman once.  He had several scars.  Because he loved the wrong girl, the witch caused his axe to slip several times, making him a hollow-bodied, heartless tin man.  But very quickly, Dorothy found out that the tin man was gentle and kind.

Scars are interesting.  People either love or hate to talk about them.  I'll happily tell you about the scars on my hands and arms. It's the scars we have inside us, the invisible scars that are much more personal.  Every time your heart breaks, you develop a scar.  Every time you lose someone or something, a missing place scars your soul.  But these scars are what makes each of us more unique, they give us a back story, an air of intrigue.

Kintsugi is the practice of repairing broken pottery and ceramics with gold, and is thought to make the object more beautiful.  Our scars mark us like broken pottery, but when we inlay them with gold, we make ourselves more beautiful, more precious, more unique.

(Image taken from

Sunday, May 8, 2016

May 8- A post refusing to be

At first, this wanted to be a post about modern art, and specifically the conceptually-driven work of Robert Irwin.
But that wasn't working.

Then, this wanted to be a sappy bit about the overall lessons my mom taught me...
But that didn't work because I got distracted with my own writing. You see, in reviewing important lessons, I wanted to claim that I could still tell the difference between Poulenc and Ravel. But then I had to test my claim. I think I've still got it.

By then, I realized that I essentially quizzed Mia about more modern music. I'm pretty sure she was the only 5th grader that knew that Ginger Baker was the drummer of Cream. So then I thought about writing about the lessons I gave as a mother.
But that one didn't flow well, either...


Sorry readers!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

May 7- Finding the zen of mathematics on a meditative long training run

Note: I anticipate that this topic will be a chapter in my forthcoming book. I have lots to say about math and running, so when my book does come out, instead of grumbling about how I have shared these ideas before, think of yourself as special, because you right now are part of the process and get to hear these ideas first! <3

I have grown to love long run training days.

When I started running, which I did only a couple of years ago, I did it just to see if I could. I figured I'd try to run a 5k, and took up one of those couck-to-5k programs.  Little did I know that a sport that I once detested would become part of who I am.

I ran a few little races, and found I really liked the 10ks better than the 5ks.  The 5k races were populated by so many fast runners, I always felt so sluggish. The 10k races didn't have so many sprinters, but people more like me, who paced themselves. 

I ran my first half marathon a little over two years ago, and loved it.  When you run a half marathon, it isn't about winning, or being fast, but you are amazing if you finish!  My first goal was to finish before the sweeper van picked up stragglers, which I did!  I also found that running these longer races was different in that people who ran had dedicated months to training, and often still had energy to dance at the after party! This was my jam.

But even more than the actual half marathon races, I found that I absolutely fell in love with the training.  The rituals of it, the rhythms, the long runs, this is what I thrive on.  Here's how you train for a long run: You start at least three months out.  You start by running three-five times a week.  You need some shorter runs, some speed/hill training runs, and always one long run a week.  Long run days are my absolute favorite day of the week.

Because I work in academia, I rarely work on Fridays, so generally long run day is then (although these last few weeks, I've had to shift to Saturday or Sunday).  Oh, what bliss.  I wake, have a light breakfast, grab my running partner (Copper), lace up my shoes and head out. 

My friend calls her long training runs "Meditative runs" which I think is a great name.  During a long run, I generally contemplate everything that has been on my mind.  I have conversations with myself, and with the dog. I make plans, and promptly forget them.  I find incredible peace in the beauty of the nature around me.  I look for birds, I save turtles, I smell the plants, I feel the wind, the sun, the rain.  Sometimes I listen to audio books, sometimes I listen to music, and sometimes I just listen to the sound of my breathing, my feet hitting the ground, and the wildlife on the trail.


One thing I always think about through my meditative run are my running statistics.  I have a Garmin watch which calculates data for me.  My distance is calculated with GPS.  The watch also tallies my average pace per mile, and my steps per minute.  Plugging it in at home, I can also see other data, like temperatures, elevations, fastest miles, etc.  I love seeing the data collected while I run.  I constantly do little math problems along the way.

If I maintain this average pace per mile, what time will I finish my run?

If I increase my steps per minute, how does that affect my pace per mile?

If I increase my stride, how does that affect my steps per minute?

Lately, Rob and I have done a number of long training runs together.  He's finally agreed to run a half marathon with me, and has been training for the Wilds HM next week with me.  When I run with Rob, I don't listen to music or audio books, and I don't think quite as much, but we do have a great time talking about everything along the way.  I was super tickled today to learn that he  likes to do running math, too!  I thought it was just something nerds like myself did.

Maybe math isn't as nerdy as I thought...

Friday, May 6, 2016

May 6- You know nothing, Jon Snow

I have a confession to make. I am 41 years old, and I have never bought a tv.

People sometimes look at me like I must be crazy when I tell them that, but it's true! Now, I guess I have owned a tv or two, but I've never bought one.

I've had several versions of sets wherein friends or neighbors have bought a new one, shifted their old one into the basement, and given us the basement model. Which is great by me. I don't watch a whole lot of tv. I prefer books. It's been years since  we've had cable. And though I've been known to netflix a series or two, the condition of my tv has never concerned me.

Since we don't have cable, we're always a season or two (or seven) behind everyone else. Not only that, but since we are bad tv watchers, we often get distracted and way behind. Sometimes so far behind we give up. For instance:

We still havent "met your mother"
We just found out it was "Not Penny's boat"
Castiel is in the lake.
The gang is trapped in a boxcar at Terminus
Diane still works at the bar.

This last year, we started watching Game of Thrones. I'd read the first few in the series and enjoyed them, but GoT took some extra effort. It's not on Netflix, so I have to go super old school and check those out of the library on DVD! Through the fall & winter, we got through the first four seasons, and then deliciously/terribly had to wait. Not just wait for season 5 to come out on DVD, but also wait for it to come available at the library. Even though I put my name on the request list on March 1 (before the discs were released) I was still 15 down!

Today, hooray! I got the call that my copy was ready for me. With just a few minutes before the library closed for the evening, I hustled across town and checked it out.

To make the evening even better, Rob called and said "I know you've probably got something planned for dinner, but how about takeout Chinese?"

Sometimes life is pretty great.

Anyway, there's a lot of hubbub this week about what's currently happening in season 6 on GoT. Some people hate knowing spoilers like that. I guess I don't mind so much, probably because I am used to always having read the books before seeing movies (by the way, the books are better, 98.5% of the time!). It doesn't bother me in knowing plot points, as long as the story along the way is good.

But some people really are offended by that! And that's ok. So, I'm not going to say anything more about it.

I know nothing, Jon Snow...