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The competitive spirit July 24, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, younger son.
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I have often joked to the older son that I learned, far too late, that I didn’t have to do everything perfectly: I just had to do it better than everyone else.

While that statement reeks of hubris, it comes with an extremely large side of truth.  More importantly, it was something that enabled me to get over my perfectionistic tendencies and just get things done…because I would never find out if I did it better if I never did it at all.

That never-doing-it-at-all thing is something that keeps showing up with both of the kids.  Both of them have this huge fear of not doing things perfectly, and it will keep them from even attempting.  I do realize that both of them grew up comparing themselves with the adults around them as reference points, and knowing they can’t do things as well as much older adults has had a pretty lousy impact on what they perceive as success.  That is, no effort will ever be good enough to compare to the adults, and they want to give up before starting.  (I have wondered if this would be different had they been closer in age, but that’s an experiment for an alternative universe.)

I discussed earlier how the older son is fighting with perfectionism in his classwork.  The younger one has had a related set of challenges.  His, however, center around sports.  He is in two somewhat related sports, the second one showing up as a desire to improve his skills in the first.  Earlier this year, he was told he could move up a level in the first sport.  He has repeatedly told me he doesn’t think he wants to because he wants to get the current level “perfect.”  Once I heard the word perfect, I decided it was time to move him up.  He has no idea that he’ll never really get it perfect, and that sometimes the practice to get better comes from starting to master more advanced skills.  Given he has complained about going over basic skills that he knows inside and out, it’s definitely time to move on.  I’m just waiting for the complaints, however, that the next class is too hard.  He often forgets that the hard things become easier with practice.

In the second sport, we started looking at another training facility, and someone asked about evaluation for the competitive team.  The younger son immediately said, “I’m not competitive.”

I’m going to be honest: I’m a pushy mom.  I’m not one of those moms that expects their kids to be perfect at everything.  I’m not one of those moms that signs her kids up for everything regardless of their actual interest. I am, however, one of those moms that wants her kids to push themselves.  This, to me, was bald-faced fear that was going to prevent younger son from even trying.  He was afraid he wasn’t going to measure up to the other kids, so he wasn’t even going to try.  In doing so, he’d never learn to push himself.

Unacceptable.

However, forcing him to go through the eval without any interest is not the solution, either.  He would intentionally flub it if he didn’t absolutely refuse to do anything at all.  (It doesn’t take much to figure out that would be the end of it.)

I spent a lot of time thinking about how to discuss this with him, and I finally settled on telling him a couple things that I wish I’d known when I was younger.  I suspect it would’ve completely changed my view on sports, as well as academics…and, well, on life.  (And it’s a much healthier viewpoint, IMO.)

First, I said that if the coaches think he’s good enough to be on the competitive team, he really ought to try and see how it goes.  If he has a talent that he’s interested in developing (and he has expressed the desire to learn to do this stuff really well), then he will move a lot farther along with some good coaching.  I also told him that the coaches are the best judge, and if they don’t feel he’s good enough for the team, that’s okay: he can still go to lessons and keep learning.  He just won’t get in as much time to develop this skill as if he were able to make the team.  If it’s still fun, he should keep doing it regardless of what the coaches think.

Second, and far more important, is that being on a competitive team does NOT mean that I expect him to go and win awards and beat people all the time.  Being on a competitive team means that I expect he will work hard to improve his skills.  The only person he’s really competing against is himself.  If he happens to win awards doing it, that’s great, but that’s not required.  He just has to want to work hard to improve himself and to keep improving.  It’s about learning how to work hard to become better at something.

I know that coaches are evaluated on how many of their protege do just that.  Unfortunately, that’s reality, and so I think coaches are smart enough to spend time on people who they know will be able to become really good.  Therefore, if they don’t see the talent, I doubt they’re going to want to spend much time on that particular student.

I also know that, in the back of my head, there are people who think competition is beating everyone else.  I’ve seen the uber-competitive parents at various sports throughout the years, and they bug the heck out of me.  The idea that it’s about winning is a thought that robs a lot of people of the joy of doing things and making them better people.  I did a triathlon a few years back that brought that front and center: if I had done it to compete, I would’ve never started training.  After I finished, dead last, no less, not only did I not care that I didn’t place, I didn’t care that I was last.  I accomplished my goals and did something that I’d never done before (and that many people thought was extremely crazy to attempt), and that was far better than winning an award.

There is an inherent satisfaction that comes with mastery of a particular skill that has absolutely nothing to do with what other people think or compare.  Pushing yourself within healthy limits and without regard to what the rest of the world thinks is very rewarding, and, to me, makes almost any endeavor worthwhile.

“I’m busy” is a euphemism July 22, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, family, grad school, personal, work.
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I’ve read a couple articles about how we all get caught up in being so busy.  A lot of them talk about how we need to escape the busyness spiral.  Xykademiqz expressed frustration with people who are always busy.

I guess I’m coming at it from a different angle.

I’ve come to realize that the phrase “I’m busy” is just a polite way of saying, “My priorities are different from yours.”  That is, the requested action is more important to the person asking than the person who is supposed to perform the action.  Particularly relevant to my personal situation, it’s also a way to avoid saying, “I need time to work on my thesis.”

Because I’m starting to find that pretty much nobody cares if you need time to work on that.

“Aren’t you done with that yet?”

“You sure have a lot of time off.”

“I’m sure you can do that some other time.”

“Can’t you put it off for just one day?”

Except I’ve been asked to put it off more days than I even have available to push it off from.  As much as I hate telling people I’m busy, I hate even more that people won’t respect my schedule.  Part of the issue is that I am technically only part time at my job.  If you’ve ever had to work part time at a job without a very explicit schedule, you can forget that.  People want things done on their schedule, and when you’re gone you’re taking “time off.”  Apparently raising two kids and a PhD is “time off.”  I’m jealous of those people who actually get to take vacations on their time off.

A lot of times the outright rejection of working on a dissertation isn’t verbalized.  Kids, in particular, really don’t get that you have other things to do besides take care of their needs night and day.  Not that I can blame them as I sure wouldn’t mind if my mom showed up to clean my house once in a while.  (I know, Mom…you’re busy, too.)

Admittedly, doing all of this is a choice.  It’s just unfortunate that a lot of people don’t respect that choice.  It’s particularly frustrating when people want you to do things that they’re capable of doing but are “too busy” to do themselves.  It seems that rather than get into a verbal sparring match with them about how they disagree with my priorities, it’s just easier to say, “I’m busy.”

no jinx July 19, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in Fargo, personal, running.
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I didn’t want to post about this until I knew it would happen.  I’ve had bad luck with my training in the past: I’ve attempted twice to train for a half-marathon, both times being unsuccessful for health reasons.  (One was directly related, but the other was not.)

Today, however, I have managed to cross that item off my list.

becky_perham

The lovely lady on the left is my friend Becky.  Becky started running shortly after I did, but has gone on to be a much faster runner and has left me behind in terms of distance.  I kept saying that doing a half was still on my bucket list, and so we talked about doing a race together.  Because I’m so slow, a lot of races have cutoff times that were below my estimated finish times.  Also, I would need to find a race that Becky wasn’t planning to try to PR on (like the Fargo marathon, being so wonderfully flat).

We decided to do a small race in a cute little town about an hour east of Fargo called Perham.  The race had a four hour time limit, so I hoped I would be able to handle it.

I was so worried about things getting derailed again.  I ended up learning a few things, like that I did not used to consume sufficient electrolytes when exercising.  I also learned about the joys of sports tape:

taped_feet

See how I taped the foot on the right with less tape than on the left?  I found out at the end of the race that while no tape is best, less tape is really, really bad.  I ended up with blisters on both feet, but the one with less tape ended up with a nasty blister from tape rubbing.

I find it ironic that I use tape and compression sleeves to immobilize my legs…in order to run.

The race itself was very small, very quiet, very uncrowded.  It was great in that there were aid stations and port-a-potties available every 2.5 miles.  The down side is that there was a stretch of gravel that really wreaked havoc with my left knee.  Becky, as I mentioned, was faster than me, but she also has a lot more experience running on gravel, so she was in better shape.  There were also hills.  Not that they were horrible, but coming from Fargo, hills are a thing to be scared of.

Still, I managed to finish and much faster than my anticipated time.  I fully expected to show up at the four hour mark….or maybe a little after.  As it turns out, Becky’s faster pace pushed me during the runs portion of our run-walk intervals, so we made it in just over 3 1/2 hours.  I was dead last – but that’s okay.  Most people think about getting first, second, or third.  However, last place is the one everyone who isn’t a contender for first, second, or third think about.  Therefore, I appreciate being the one to come into the fourth most frequently discussed place.

Also, I got bling:

perham_medal

After getting back, I got to spend the evening at a baseball game.  I’ve determined that baseball games are really great after long runs as I can sit there and eat junk food that I normally wouldn’t eat and also recover.  It’s one of the few times I don’t feel pulled to be doing something work or dissertation related.

Anyway, tonight’s baseball game was a special treat as I got to meet the mascot:

hawkeye

And now, I think I’m going to collapse.

 

Doing the victory dance…on my own July 14, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research, work.
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Over the past couple months, I’ve been putting insane amounts of time into a project in preparation for some field testing.  Once the widget was deployed, I was fully expecting to feel this great sense of accomplishment.  In particular, this was something that some people were skeptical would work, so getting working widgets out for use is a big deal.  Even some people who advocated for the widget were probably not expecting I’d be able to get it to work as they seemed surprised when I informed them I had finished.

One would think I’d be overjoyed.  I should be waiting for people to pat me on the back.  I should be intensely satisfied that I can tell the doubters, “Told you so!”  I should feel vindicated and totally kick-ass.

Except, I don’t really feel that way.  I just feel a huge sense of relief that the crunch in over and maybe I can actually sit and focus on finishing the never-ending dissertation (aren’t they all?) for a while.  I can disappear for a few days and not have constant distraction.  I don’t have to field questions and phone calls and emails even in my off time.

It’s not that I even want to go on a vacation or do something like that.  I’m okay with working…I just don’t want it to be around other people.

This, friends, is success for an introvert: being left alone for a while.  But I’m dancing on the inside.

dilbert

Kohlrabi Catcher July 11, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in food/cooking, pets.
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I got this very weird vegetable from our CSA:

20140711-074758.jpg

I wasn’t sure what it was at first, but it’s apparently kohlrabi. I’d heard of it but never eaten it. After asking on Facebook and searching the Internet, I now have a million ways to prepare it but opted for throwing it in some tikka masala sauce for a first go round.

20140711-075054.jpg

Whenever I cook, Teradog and Gigadog hang around the kitchen. Or maybe it’s more appropriate to say they consume the entirety of the kitchen floor space. They know the command “out,” something I came up with after many near-death kitchen catastrophes. However, I still like to provide them with samples of my cooking as much as possible because they’re a quite appreciative audience. Through their sampling, I discovered that Teradog likes pretty much all vegetables except romaine lettuce. Since I was dicing the kohlrabi, I decided to see if he’d like some, as well.  (Just so you know, throwing food and videotaping simultaneously isn’t all that easy.)

Gigadog also liked the kohlrabi, but if you try to play ‘catch’ with her, it bounces off her nose and she looks annoyed at having to wander over to its landing spot.  I guess some food isn’t worth it.

Real men… July 3, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, family.
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real_men

Mike spent all day at work waiting for some smart-alek comments to his shirt.  Nothing. Apparently we both thought the shirt was much funnier than everyone else.  Regardless, I’m still giggling.

Rhubarb, white, and blueberry muffins (gluten-free, dairy-free) July 2, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in food/cooking, photography, younger son.
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No one in our house likes rhubarb. It’s one of those things that all the German grandmas would bring to church potlucks, and my parents would say, “Isn’t this great!” Meanwhile, my face is about to implode from puckering.

My worst experience was in high school. I had a crush on someone, and when I went to visit him, his mom made rhubarb bars. I had to impress this boy’s mother, so I didn’t say how much I hated it. No, I suffered through the whole bar, eating every last bite. Later, he decided he didn’t want to date me, and I realized that if he couldn’t appreciate how much I’d suffered, he obviously wasn’t the one for me. No man is worth eating rhubarb for.

I was glad, therefore, when I met Mike, and in one of those deep, get-to-know you conversations, I found out he disliked rhubarb as well. He comes by it genetically: his dad hated it so much he would change oil over the rhubarb plants in their yard.

Therefore, when I opened our CSA box last week and saw three pounds of the stuff, I thought, “Oh, crud.” Actually, I thought something else, but I’m too polite to say it in a blog post. I tried to pawn it off on my parents, but no luck.

Anyway, I spent some time pondering and decided to at least try it. I won’t eat tons of it, but I concocted a recipe that uses a tolerable portion. And the rest of the muffin is so good that I don’t mind eating around it. I also discovered that the smaller the pieces that you chop it into, the less intense the flavor. (Now, if you really like rhubarb, cut it into big pieces and substitute a half cup of rhubarb for the blueberries.) I figured it must be okay since the younger son, who is the food critic of the house, really enjoyed them.

And since the Fourth of July is coming up, it seemed appropriate to give it a patriotic theme.

Rhubarb, white, and blueberry muffins

Rhubarb, white, and blueberry muffin

Rhubarb, white, and blueberry muffin

Makes 12 muffins

Dry ingredients

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups gluten free flour (if you like to blend your own, I’d use 140 gms or 1 cup white rice flour, 46 gms or 1/3 cup potato starch and 26 gms or 1 tbsp + 2 tsp tapioca flour)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum (leave out if using a flour mix that includes this)

Wet ingredients

  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp butter (for dairy free, use coconut oil)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk (for dairy free, use 1 cup full-fat coconut milk from the can (I like Thai Kitchen brand) + 2 tbsp lime juice)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup diced rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup blueberries

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Place muffin papers in muffin tray or grease and flour muffin tray.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine thoroughly all dry ingredients except sugar and set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, cream butter (or coconut oil) and sugar together. (If using coconut oil and it’s liquidy, I suggest sticking it in the fridge to let it solidify. Cool coconut oil works much better for this. If you’re still not having much luck, go to the next step, using cold eggs, but mix for much longer and it will cream.)
  5. Add eggs and mix for another 20-30 seconds.
  6. Add buttermilk (or coconut milk and lime juice), vanilla, and dry ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined.
  7. Add rhubarb and blueberries and stir until evenly distributed. (Note: I prefer using fresh blueberries because frozen tend to ‘streak’ the muffins. If all you have is frozen, though, pull them out right before you’re going to add them and toss to coat them with some potato starch.)
  8. Distribute batter into muffin tray.
  9. Bake for approximately 28 minutes.
  10. Let cool in pan for about 10 minutes and then move to cooling tray.

 

Double your fun, double your standards June 26, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, feminism.
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I had an extremely bizarre experience recently.  I’m sure others have had similar experiences, but I still can’t help but wonder what surreal world I’ve stepped into.

It’s basically dealing with an optimization problem.  All of engineering really is that, of course.  In fact, much of life is.

I’ve been trying to understand all the factors that deal with a particular widget, and one of my colleagues has spent a lot of time trying to basically tell me that I’m overblowing something I saw as a concern or potential problem.  They broke it down numerically for me (making sure to be rather condescending in the process).  After enough time, I became convinced that this thing I initially thought was important was not and most certainly not worth the brain power I might waste on it.

At least, it wasn’t important when I thought it was important.  In fact, the more I thought about it, the more silly it seemed when someone else would bring it up as an issue.  Based on this information, I made a decision about how to deal with this issue with the underlying assumption that the factor we’d been discussing was not important.  Isn’t that what this colleague was trying to get me to do?

The result was that this colleague got very upset with me about this decision, implying (though not directly saying) that I’d made a big mistake.  How could I have been such an idiot?

It was bizarre for me to have to repeat this person’s arguments back to them to explain the basis for my decision.

This has left me wondering, though, what happened.  Why did something unimportant suddenly cause so much uproar?  One potential explanation is that this was because I made the decision and not this other person.  It’s quite possible that this person is a control freak.  However, if they are not, this leaves me feeling like the more probable cause is that there is a double standard.  This factor may or may not be important, but its importance depends on who is bringing it up.  The times I’ve brought it up, it’s been downplayed multiple times.  However, when it came up this last time, it was someone else who brought up the issue.  When this other person brought up the issue, suddenly it was of high importance and, because of that, I’d made a bad decision.

Unfortunately, the whole scenario reminds me too much of the experiences I’ve had where I’ve said things and people have ignored me, but as soon as a male says them, everyone will agree and jump on board to accomplish or deal with whatever it was.  (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, you can read about it here.)  It doesn’t matter what the topic is or how technical the issue is, it happens all. the. time.  The only thing I’ve noticed is that some individuals are much more prone to doing this than others…and the one who did it this time has done it to me frequently in the past.

This leaves me with a quandry: how does one work effectively with people who obviously don’t take you seriously and probably never will?

I smell a (lab) rat June 25, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research, work.
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There are times in one’s life when we have to reinvent ourselves.  This has been one of those times for me.

I’m turning into a lab rat.

I’m much more comfortable in front of a computer, designing simulations.  I vastly prefer debugging programs to troubleshooting hardware.

ESD jackets look fugly on me.  (Okay…I know they aren’t flattering on anyone, but it’s yet one more annoyance with the whole ‘working in the lab’ thing.)

I hate taking data.

However, whether I like it or not, I’ve been stuck in the lab for the better part of a month.  My student left a month ago, and that leaves me to do a lot of the testing and troubleshooting on the latest project.  I had hoped she’d be here through the end of the month, but she decided a post-graduation job was more important.  (I can’t say I blame her.)

I really miss running simulations.

I walk the line June 24, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son.
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I’ve been watching the older son grappling with his courses for the past year.  He was taking courses through an independent study organization to finish up some credits he needs to enter college.  I didn’t feel comfortable with some of these (especially literature classes), so we decided to go this route.

In doing this, I’ve discovered that the older son has a deadly combination of issues: ADHD and perfectionism.  I didn’t quite understand how the two fed into each other, but I can definitely see it now.

The older son also had the disadvantage of not working in the classes with peers.  The first few he did were in print rather than online. He would struggle for days to complete a single assignment, and it didn’t make sense to me at first.

Another thing I found odd was how one of his teachers was initially very abrupt with him.  It didn’t take long before she had completely changed her tune and was being incredibly nice and encouraging, which I thought was odd.

The second set of classes have been online and part of the assignments involved discussing things in a forum, so the student could see what the other students had submitted.  This was an eye-opening experience for me.  It also helped me make sense of his teacher’s dramatic change in behavior.

After watching him and seeing what other students have submitted, I realized three things:

1 – He can easily and quickly finish things that are simple.

2 – When things appear to be more difficult and/or time-consuming, he has difficulty concentrating and finds himself unable to stay on task.

3 – Part of the reason things are difficult and/or time-consuming is because he has seriously high expectations for himself that are way beyond what is often required.

I’m not saying he doesn’t have ADHD, because he most certainly does.  We tried for years to forego medication.  One day, he came to me and said he couldn’t even concentrate on projects he wanted to do for fun, so we opted at that point to look at something to help.  (He does take meds, but it’s the lowest dose that’s effective.)

However, in homeschooling him, neither of us had a reference for what a ‘typical’ high schooler should be doing in his classes.  He would give me an assignment, and we would spend a lot of time revising it.  He worked very hard, but progress was slow.  In one or two cases, he would hand things in half done because of lack of time.

What surprised me is that even the items he handed in half done or that were rough drafts often came back with exceptional grades.  I remember one assignment full of rough drafts of short essays which he aced.  I couldn’t figure it out.

The problem is that both of us really expect a lot out of him, and I learned, after seeing work that other students were doing, that it was likely too much.  Far too much.  While he was going into a detailed analysis of similarities because characters from two different novels set in two completely different cultural and temporal reference frames, it appears his fellow students who likely are trying their hardest, are writing something much more simplistic.  They are being told to elaborate, and he’s being told to eschew obfuscation.

The thing that has me concerned is that college is around the corner, and I worry that he’s going to continue to hold himself to those standards, even when it is so obviously working against him.  He struggles with the idea that it’s better to just hand something in, even if incomplete (by his standards), than to turn it in late, though perfect.

A lot of perfectionists deal with this.  I have told him that it’s not a bad trait, but that he needs to save it for the things that are really important to him.  If he wants to write the Great American Novel that people will pore over and debate and analyze, that is the time to be a perfectionist.  If he’s handing in an assignment that fulfills the requirements laid out by the teacher, who likely will spend ten minutes skimming the entry, being a perfectionist is really not going to help.  He needs to learn to walk that line.  To some extent, we all do.

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