Wednesday, June 6, 2012

When gardening conflicts with social exercise

I found this draft here from June 2012 and found it complete enough to make a point. It reminded me of why I stopped blogging and gardening. More on that at the end of the article. 

I have been having a lot of fun in my gardening adventures so far.  I recall thinking last January that the reason I didn't do more gardening the previous summer was that my new job drained me of any off-time energy.  Then I started the running clinic again this year and remembered that I just didn't have time to garden.  Spending two evenings a week away from a brand new garden is taxing when you look at the sunlight lost.  In addition to the running clinic, I also volunteered for my work's bicycle team for the Tour de Rock.  There went my Saturday mornings along with more weeknights for bike workouts.  Thus March, April, and May found me with very little time for gardening (or writing).  I managed to make time for watering garden and lawn in the mornings so that when I could dedicate evening time again, the plants would still be alive and not completely choked with weeds.

I will not be so quick to volunteer for group events next year.  It's not just the time investment that bothers me.  What really bothers me about volunteering is that my passions and talents were not aligned best with how I was spending my free time.  I volunteered for the running clinic this year as a group leader because I really enjoyed it last year as a participant.  I volunteered for the bike race team because I just bought a new bike and wanted to see what it was like to ride with other bikers.  I'm not much of a pack member.  I would describe myself as more of a lone explorer, not because I don't like people, but because I tend to wander off on my own rather than be led down a path by someone else.  

This Saturday is the big bike race.  Next week I have to travel for work (grr...).  Then I can stop pining away over what I might do with my time and start taking action.  For the moment, I have some time to contemplate the big picture of why I want so desperately to succeed in my gardening endeavors.

Well here it is November 2014 and I have not gardened since I wrote that article. After my business trip, work became so stressful that I had to find another employer. My new workplace is much better, but I did not learn my lesson here and joined a gym and signed up for personal training (contracts are evil).  Then I got pregnant and had a baby. While I was pregnant I became obsessed with early retirement. What I learned has changed my perspective on everything   So between parenthood and a financial epiphany, my priorities have changed. Eventually I will garden again, but it is not my main focus now. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Digging as a Philosophy

I ate my first homegrown tomato (beefsteak) last week and I have been craving more.  I managed to get 2 more tomatoes since then and one more very close to ripe, but after that there are no more.  That's what I get for only having one tomato plant.

First tomato! What it lacks in size, it makes up for in flavor.

I started digging another garden plot Saturday. However, I did not get very far despite spending a day digging. I found that the area of my yard where I decided to plant my garden is full of rocks. Big rocks. There were also lots of little rocks that seem like one big rock until I dug one after another. I would say that this particular area was 90% rock, 5% dirt, and 5% weeds.

My first shovel strike found this big rock.

The rocks take up most of the space of the hole I dug.

Since it took so long to dig around these rocks, it left me plenty of time to think about how much of a metaphor digging around giant rocks is.

You can only see what's on the surface. It's the same with icebergs: you can't see how deep that rock is until you've dug it up. There is no way to tell how long it will take to get around it. I come across problems like this in software programming all the time. What first appears to be a small problem slowly reveals itself to be a rather large immovable obstacle with no way around it. It simply takes patience and perseverance to keep digging around this obstacle until you find an edge you can use to leverage it out of the way. Trial and error is often the best approach here to narrow your choices of how the handle the obstacle.

Sometimes it seems there is one big rock, when in fact there are two or more. This can confuse things when you think you can go around it. The answer may be to explore the obstacle more to find the seams where it can be readily broken up into manageable pieces. Often when I find a rock cluster and liberate one from the ground, the others loosen easily.

Sometimes when tackling a problem, it seems easiest to blast through it all and break those big rocks. Sure, those rocks are in your way, but even obstacles may have value when handled with care. I found one rock that I finally had to lift out with a rock bar because my shovel couldn't budge it. That rock weighed about 30 pounds and was very big and round. It will look great somewhere in my landscape when I get done digging holes. If I had opted for a pickaxe to get the rock out, I would be left with a bunch of jagged rocks of non-impressive size. Dealing with a life problem by brute forcing through it may seem like a good idea at the time, but often the graceful approach is worth more in the long run since you not only deal with the problem, you learn from the experience. Knowing how to solve such a problem can be worth a lot to people who have been battling the same problem. One example would be someone who spanks their dog or child to make them obey (brute force). A kinder though slower approach to dealing with the unwanted behavior would be to learn what that dog or child wants and use that as a reward for good behavior along with practicing restraint so you can ignore the bad behavior. This will not be a fast or easy approach to achieving the goal of obedience, but you will gain not only obedience but also respect, friendship, and self improvement. You could market this skill of gentle discipline or just enjoy the benefits of your efforts.

I am still working on digging my new garden plot. I may wind up working on it all summer. It is hard work with no shortcuts, but when I am done, I will have the perfect space to put good earth and grow more vegetables. I'll also have plenty of rocks to line the garden bed.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Caffeine lowers Consciousness

Caffeine lowers the level of conscious awareness.  In some cases that's a good thing.  Not always though.  Caffeine inhibits creative thinking.  So far this year, I average about one cup of coffee a week.  When I fix coffee at work, I make cocoa-coffee since my office is stocked with Swiss Miss packets and bad tasting coffee.  I started this trend because coffee was just as readily available as hot water, and the flavors blend well.  Now I've cut back to half coffee, have hot water with my cocoa, and it tastes about the same.

Lately, I've been trying to up my work output.  I tried doing this before by increasing my overall energy level through healthy diet, regular exercise, and the occasional extra nap.  However, the stress at work is too overwhelming for natural cures.  A couple weeks ago, I tried to jump start my Monday with two full-blast cocoa coffees.  Not only did that make me nauseous and cranky, but it also kicked off another polyphasic sleep trial.  The trial didn't last since I don't drink caffeine when I follow that schedule.  The lack of sleep eventually counteracts the motivation that inspires it.  That, and I run out of things to do at night since I am not very creative during those hours.  This week I tried half-coffee cocoa, and the headaches and nausea returned.

The benefit I get from caffeine is a couple hours of mindless drone mode in which I can do really boring tasks without being annoyed by how annoyingly boring they are.  Even after the euphoria is gone, and I'm left with headaches that make me want to tear people's heads off, I am still in mindless drone mode due to the inertia of having done the same thing all morning.  This makes task switching very difficult.  Meetings are also not a good idea at this time because I'm more likely to tune everyone out and keep doing whatever I was already doing.  I get really impatient with people for stopping me and treat them like imbeciles for asking me questions so ridiculously obvious that I can explain it in one cynical, sarcastic response.  If I have more coffee after lunch, it doesn't usually give any more energy, but it does make me more nauseous and cranky.  By the end of the day, I am really rude and callous which causes problems with socializing with friends and family.

When I was going to college for my computer science degree, I was seriously addicted to Mountain Dew.  There was a vending machine in the computer science department which had a whole row of the green-bottled go-juice.  In fact, one of my classes (Database with Relational Algebra) was so stressful due to tests that would take upwards of seven hours to complete, I would come in early with a two-liter of Mountain Dew to study, and by the end of the day, I would have finished that and had one or two twenty ounce bottles from the vending machine.  Hmm, how much of that class do I remember?  Not a lot.  I also did really terrible in all my other classes because I was too tired to do the homework or study.

It had not really occurred to me until after going for several months with minimal caffeine that using caffeine to further my career only creates a codependent link between a successful career and bad health.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Minimalist vs. Barefoot

I tried the barefoot shoes in January.  I made the mistake of buying Fila.  Rule number one of buying a new type of shoe: Don't Buy Cheap!  They were still more expensive than normal running shoes, but they were obviously cheaper than a quality brand like Vibrams.  I would wear them on a run, then I would have to switch back to my old shoes for the rest of the week.  I tried wearing them at my running clinic that started in March.  It is a fun conversation starter to wear shoes with toes, but it is still embarrassing to run around in something that will skin your heels.  I went back to my old shoes for a while, though they felt clunky and unnatural.  The barefoot shoe was fun because I felt like I was running with my whole foot, not just running on stumps.  I enjoyed the feeling of grabbing the pavement with my toes and hopping around like an elf.

When I first saw the Minimalist shoe (Nike and New Balance's solution to barefoot running), I scoffed at their toe-less unsophistication.  I had my heart set on wearing toe shoes and I did not consider a shoe to be in the "barefoot" class of shoes unless they had toes.  I have learned since then.  The Fila toes really did not add much to the experience.  The whole point of barefoot shoes is they lack the cushion that normal running shoes have in excess.

There is a New Balance store near me.  I went there to get minimalist shoes since the old shoes just don't do it for me anymore.  This store has sales people that have to explain how these shoes work and make sure you don't get injured from buying the wrong shoe.  I only had to repeat to the guy about 10 times that I have experience in barefoot running.  He tried to sell me the Minimus 10.  I insisted on the Zero.  I don't need a stepping stone.  At first I tried to pick out a "casual walking" shoe because I was going for uber minimalism.  The sales guy gave me a funny look and explained that those shoes wouldn't hold up for running.  It occurred to me that they would probably shred faster than running shoes.  Then I picked a "cross-trainer" and got another funny look.  Finally I just told him to point out the running shoes so I could get on with my life.  They didn't have a huge style selection, but I was still fortunate enough to get a non-yellow pair.

The minimalist shoes feel just as good as the barefoot shoes for running with the added bonus of being able to wear socks to prevent blisters.  I can even wear them while riding my bike, something I couldn't do with my Fila shoes because there was no extra room past the toe.  I'm barely tall enough for my bike with regular shoes.

Minimalist shoes are no nonsense primal footwear.  I know several people who have Vibrams toe shoes and love them, but Fila is a brand to avoid like the plague.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Dvorak: Not the Thrill I was Seeking

Sure I could get used to driving on the left side of the road, or sleeping during the day while staying awake at night.  But would it really help anything in the long run?  I learned the Dvorak keyboard layout.  I got frustrated at my inability to learn it faster.  I was so excited when I got up to 30 words per minute, but after sleeping and trying again, I still tried a garbled mix of Dvorak, QWERTY, and some utter foolishness in between.  Free writing was even more painful than taking typing races.  I could memorize a reflex when I saw a letter on the screen, but when translating from thoughts into letters, I wanted to rip the computer apart with my bare hands because the slowness was excruciating.  I finally switched my computer back to QWERTY, and there were relapses to Dvorak (such as typing "the" as "kjd"), but muscle memory goes back much farther than my Dvorak training.

I thought learning a new keyboard layout would be a good exercise in personal development.  It was.  It took typing at 12 - 20 words per minute to I realize what a good typist I normally am.  I did learn how to type without looking at the keyboard.  Previously that was a big slowdown.

One of the things that made the transition difficult was the iPhone.  Sure I can type QWERTY with my thumbs and not mess with the patterning of the rest of my fingers.  But seeing the layout daily was hindering my ability to forget the old and learn the new.  Apple has no plans for implementing a Dvorak layout on either the iPhone or iPad native interfaces.  I would think that since it's all virtual keys it wouldn't be so difficult compared to physical button changes.  I guess they are that lazy.

So I practiced the hell out of Dvorak, but ultimately I asked "why the hell am I doing this?"  The answer "because I can" was not a sufficient reason to continue the torturous exercise in bringing my communication to a screeching halt.  Why switch back to QWERTY?  Because I can type nearly as fast as I think, and it doesn't take thinking to type.  I like to do things my own way, but if that way does not make me better at things I can already do or make it possible for me to do more, then there's no point in changing.  Being different for the sake of being different is not enough.  There has to be something in it for me.  Maybe I would need to switch to Dvorak to type faster than 100 words per minute.  But I don't need to type that fast.  If there ever comes a time that I do, I will sequester myself away from the world for a month and dedicate myself to learning it with no distractions or Apple products.  In other words, that change had better be worth the effort to make it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Small creature rescue

Saturday morning I heard what sounded like a bird stuck in my roof gutter: lots of chirping and scratching against metal.  When I went closer to the sound, I found it was coming from downstairs.  I opened the front door and saw a neighborhood cat trying to get something out from the spout of the rain gutter.  Once the cat saw me, it took off running.  The bird was still too scared to come out of the pipe.  I crouched down on the walkway and peeked inside the pipe.  I expected to find a baby bird, but instead I saw a bushy tail. I don't mess with squirrels.  Anything that scales trees that easily has claws I would like to keep a healthy distance from, especially if the squirrel is rabid.  At this point, my solution was let my paranoia win out for a while and wait for the squirrel to leave the gutter on its own.  It was quite clear that it could not climb up the vertical part of the pipe.

I tried to ignore it, but then I thought, "What if the cat comes back?"  This changed my plan from wait-and-see to scare-it-out-with-loud-noises by tapping and scratching on the pipe at the top to try and scare it out the opening.  All I did was terrify the poor creature further.  The scare tactics only made the squirrel more resolute to stay put.

Then I got the brilliant notion that I could force it out with a flood.  While I had no way of reaching the top of the gutter, there were small openings where the pipes pieces were joined together.  I poured a pitcher of water into the front openings which served very well in making the squirrel move around a lot, but it was still able to stay inside.  Now the poor critter was all wet so I could not let it stay in there and freeze.  Since a little bit of water was not a deterrent, maybe a lot of water would be.  I hooked up the sprayer to the hose and turned it on.  I was humane and pointed the water spray at the floor of the gutter, not directly at the squirrel.  My plan was to create a big enough gush to make a water slide that would force the squirrel out of the pipe.  This came very close to working.  The tail would come out of the pipe, but those claws held their ground.

I knew the gushing water must have scared the tiny critter so now it was really not coming out for a while.  I gave up on forcing it out.  Since it was not going anywhere, I felt the need to offer sunflower seeds while it cowered in fear all day.  I put a few on the edge of the gutter and a big pile on the ground in front of it.

I went inside and waited.  Having been obsessed with this squirrel all morning, my mind could not let it go.  I remembered my pleather gloves that I used in winter.  They were likely to be thick enough to protect me from teeth and at least minimize claw damage.  Now with bolstered courage and a new plan, I was ready to try again.  At first, my plan involved scaring the squirrel just right so that it would fall to the opening and either fall out or run away with its tail facing me when I grabbed for it.  It never fell out, and it darted back in before I could nab the tail.  Fortunately, the pipe was only barely big enough for my hand so that the squirrel could not get past my glove to bite or scratch me.  I finally just reached in and felt around until I found the tail.  Then I dragged it out only to find out that it was not a squirrel at all.

I marveled for an extended moment as I held by the tail the chipmunk that I had rescued from my rain gutter.  Awwwwww!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  All fear melted into sweet adoration of this incredibly cute chipmunk.  I set him down on my other hand and he dashed off.  I probably won't see that little guy around again, but I do hope to see more chipmunks in my neighborhood.  They are much more rare than squirrels around here.  And tons cuter!  I was glad I could rescue the poor guy from both the cat and the rain gutter.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Dvorak is a delightful distraction!

I've been messing around with Dvorak keyboard layout on my Ubuntu machine.  I must admit, it's hard to keep from grinning because it feels like a game.  I found out about the Dvorak layout from Wikipedia when reading about speed typing.  I found a great tutorial at  I made it through about 5 lessons before I just had write down this ridiculous excitement I'm feeling.  I can already see how Dvorak is easier to type than QUERTY.  However, it is excruciatingly frustrating to type so much slower than I think.  Once I get the key translations down, I can handle the typing.  But I keep finding the sags in my concentration where I catch myself reaching for the old key (punctuation is tricky enough--try to cut, copy, paste when the x, c, and v keys are in different places).  That's why this transition has to be done slowly, increasing practices just a little each day.

I really love how I can learn this method of typing without any special equipment.  Dvorak uses a standard keyboard.  I could put stickers on my keys, but that would only teach me to look for the keys.  My aim is learn to type faster, not waste time looking back and forth between the keyboard and screen.

If you want to find out more on this crazy Dvorak layout, go to or read the Wikipedia article.