Tom Carter Update

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Thank you to all the friends and family who have sent their love, prayers, and thoughts to Tom during his illness.

Tom was struck ill in Berlin while on the latest Charalambides European tour.  He is still in the hospital, but is getting stronger every day.  His mom, Lorena, is there, looking after him and learning how to make her way in a foreign country that she really wasn’t planning to visit this year.  I am so proud of her!

Lorena and Tom, Christmas 2007

It’s hard to express how relieved we are that Tom is on the mend.  Now we can focus our energies on making sure he can manage things once he gets home.  To that end, Tom’s bandmate Christina has established a trust fund to accept donations on Tom’s behalf.  Donations will be used to cover Tom’s current and future needs as he focuses on regaining his health.  Please check it out at www.HelpTomCarter.org, and give if you are so inclined.

Friends of Tom’s are also offering benefit events you may be interested in attending.  The next two are July 16 in Easthampton, MA, and July 20, in Philadelphia, PA.  Click here for more information.

I would like to recognize all of Tom’s friends for being so generous with their time and talents to help Tom out.  Of particular note, I would like to recognize Christina Carter. Your giving spirit has been a bright light in a dark time.

I will close with another picture Tom — from the same time as above, modeling the socks I knit him.  It’s hard to think about wool socks when it’s eleventy hundred degrees outside.  But I am really looking forward to knitting a new pair, and seeing Tom wear them in good health.

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My Addiction

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Our first spring in our Baltimore house, and my gardening addiction has re-emerged. Every day when I get home, I head directly to the back door to get a quick fix by scrutinizing every single tree and flower and shrub in the backyard.  Then I head upstairs for another hit, reviewing all the potted herbs and veggies on the deck.  When I’m out and about, I constantly scan my surroundings, examining tree boxes and sidewalk planters for signs of addicts like myself.  My observations and commitments to others cannot be trusted, as I am merely parroting what I think will get me through the conversation most quickly, and free me to return to the privacy of my backyard.  My husband sees the dirt under my fingernails, and averts his eyes.  He talks of hard drives or mortgages or window renovations, then falls silent, realizing I’m not listening at all.

From the looks of it, I’d say that someone started landscaping this yard about ten years ago.  There’s a beautiful Japanese maple, a large azalea, and three hydrangeas of varying size. I imagine that the smaller two grew from cuttings from the first, which is crazy tall.  However, it appears that the yard had been neglected for a few years before we arrived.  When we first moved in, the ground and raised beds were overgrown with ivy and other vines.  The rose and the hydrangea had not been pruned in several seasons. The baskets hanging from the fence were empty.  And there was a bathtub near the back of the yard, doubling as a mosquito sanctuary. We figured out that the tub had once sat against the back wall, where it combined with the pipes and whatnot to form an artsy water feature. But the pipes had obviously burst at some point, the water had been cut off, and the tub was somehow dragged away from the wall.

I did only basic cleanup this past fall. I pruned the dead growth off the hydrangeas and the rose.  I pulled most of the ivy off the ground to reveal a brick path leading from front to back. We turned the tub onto its side to drain the water and displace the mosquitoes.

But this spring, the real work began.  I pulled out the rest of the ivy.  I bought a bunch of annuals to bring some color to the yard. I planted a few shade loving perennials: astilbe, wood foam, bleeding heart.  I turned the bathtub into a planter. I even put an impatiens in one of the old components of the water feature.

I could stop there, but I don’t think I really need to.  I mean, what harm could there be in planting a few more hostas and ferns, tacking some more pots to the fence, and tucking a few more flowers into the raised beds?  Then I’ll be done with the garden and go back to my other responsibilities.  I mean, except for taking care of the pots on the deck.  And keeping an eye on the back yard.  Any maybe refreshing a few of the annuals.  But then I’m totally done.  I promise.  You can trust me.

Mind Maps: Capturing and Sharing the Windmills of Your Mind

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Do you use mind maps?  Mind mapping is a technique for organizing ideas by arraying words, phrases, or pictures in bubbles around a central idea.  You then use lines to connect different ideas to each other, creating a map of what is on your mind at that moment.  The point is to avoid listing your thoughts out in linear fashion, which can constrain creative thinking and discourage the identification of patterns.  Remember the mind map I showed you of my notes from the Sloan-C conference?

When I was first introduced to mind maps, they were the handwritten kind.  The problem with pen and paper mind maps, however, is that it can be hard to change your mind or re-organize your thoughts once you’ve committed them to paper.  The old school approach to that problem was to use post-it notes, which you could then move around at will.  But that starts to be a production, and it’s not easily portable.  While I encountered several people who taught the use of these kinds of mind maps (e.g., for planning curriculum), I never knew a single soul who actually used them.

Enter the legion of mind mapping applications for computers and electronic devices!  Suddenly mind mapping became a genuine tool for creativity and organization.  With a mind mapping application, you can drag and drop your ideas to group and re-group them in various ways.  You can also expand and collapse individual branches at whatever level you choose in order to focus on a specific sections and make your map easier to read.

In the professional sphere, I use mind maps in a variety of ways, which I have tried to summarize with (surprise!) a mind map:

Created with MindManager 2012

I also use mind maps in my personal life.  Here is a mind map showing that:

Created with iThoughtsHD

There are many, many mind mapping applications out there.  Here is a website that reviews them and also offers ideas for various uses.  I rely principally on two mind mapping software packages:

  • MindManager by Mindjet.  This appears to be the most robust application for use on the PC.  It offers full integration with the Microsoft Office Suite.  Mindjet has offered numerous successive releases of the software, which by now is fairly mature and offers many features.  Mindjet also provides a user discussion board and access to tons of templates and sample mind maps.  Sadly, MindManager for the Mac is just not as functional.
  • iThoughtsHD.  This is the application I use to create mind maps on my iPad.  It appears to be the most feature-rich tablet app out there, which is why it’s also the most expensive ($9.99), I suppose.  The app was just recently updated with enhanced navigational features that I am still learning.

If you’re curious about mind maps, there are several free, downloadable applications out there.  Xmind for the Mac comes to mind, but there are others.  The tablet apps are all relatively inexpensive.  And although MindManager is kind of spendy, you can download a free 30-day trial just to play around with mind maps and see if mind mapping would be a good tool to add to your productivity and creativity repertoire.

Chronicle of an Amateur Stripper

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There are so many details to think about when you strip.  Much more than the average viewer might assume.  What to wear? How long do you wait before you take it all off? Queuing up the music you want to strip to.  Gathering your accessories and making sure they’re staged exactly right so you can reach them even from a compromising position.  And of course, every smart stripper takes precautions to ensure her personal safety.

For my own stripping experience, I decided to go with a specially selected ensemble that provided “strategic coverage,” if you know what I mean.
In selecting my musical accompaniment, I departed from the tried and true options from my own mostly ordinary music collection that I have stripped to in the past.  This time I decided to really get my freak on and picked a few CDs randomly from Bill’s very extensive and eclectic collection:  Richard Hell & The Voidoids, Los Super 7, Matthew Sweet.  Richard and Linda Thompson?

Frankly it had been so long since I last stripped, I was pretty nervous, and I experienced a few false starts.  I limited myself the first day to a few easy maneuvers, just to get my stripping groove back.  After that, I moved on to a few positions that strippers find more challenging—including upside down (no poles, though).

One thing I’ve noticed is that the more nervous I am about taking it off, the longer I take.  But the outcome is often better that way!  As every stripper knows, it never pays to take it off too fast.

But, if I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit that stripping has lost its allure.  Fortunately, there’s someone who is prepared to strip on my behalf.  I can’t say he exercises the same finesse and care for detail as I might, but he gets the job done.  Which is, I suppose, representative of what has become of the nearly lost art of stripping today.

Baby Knitting Blues

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Knitting for babies is an important sub-genre of the larger knitting field.  Booties, hats, blankets, soakers, toys, sweaters, and so on.  Movies and tv shows from the 1950s suggest that knitting baby booties was a popular way for a woman to tell her husband that she was expecting. These days, many knitters love knitting garments for babies and children because a smaller item can be knit more quickly than its adult-sized equivalent.  And let’s face it:  baby stuff is so freaking cute!

So don’t get me wrong. I love the babies and all their tiny baby things.  But I cower at the prospect of knitting something for a baby.

First of all, unless there is an actual baby in the room, their dimensions mystify me.  Is this sleeve too long or too short?  I have no idea!  Babies are all head and tummy, with oddly foreshortened pudgy limbs.  Their bodies make no sense to me.

Second, they grow!  So I have to estimate how long it will take me to complete the garment, what size said child will be at that time, and how long he or she will stay that size.  This multi-variate calculus is beyond me!

Finally, there is the whole seasonality issue.  When I make myself a sweater, and I don’t finish it until July, it’s really no big deal.  I can wrap it up in storage then debut it to all and sundry in the fall.  When knitting a child’s garment, I struggle to meet an impossible window of time when the season, the child’s size, and garment’s completion will come together in a brief yet magical moment.  I often fail.

Which my wordy way of getting around to making a long-overdue apology to young Jake, and his parents Jeff and Pauline.  I committed to making Jake a sweater when he was a wee tot.  I started it, and I nearly finished it:  a jaunty green number with white trim.  Then I got confused about how to knit and attach the contrasting neck trim.  I read and re-read the pattern, but could make no sense of it.  I put the sweater away for a little while, hoping my brain would work on it “in background,” and I could come back to it fresh.  Sadly, that never happened.  Jake’s sweater has languished in the bottom of my knitting basket, 90% complete, taunting me.  Jake is three now.  I missed the window about 2.5 years ago.  Sorry about that, Little Dude.

Jake's Sweater sees the light of day for the first time in several years

While I’m not denying my debt to Jake, I am proud to declare victory in my latest battle with the baby knitting demons.  Behold Rolly, knit to adorn the personage of the Exalted and Almighty Micah.

Rolly

Rolly is a dress now, but I hope it will last long enough to serve as a top as Micah grows.  Micah reigns from Florida, so I had a whole different seasonality problem to solve:  what sort of knitted garment will work in a hot climate?  I went for a cotton yarn and a breezy pattern with a cap sleeve.  And see the wee ducky buttons?  They turn my brain to goo!

The wee ducky buttons! They are killing me!

Here is Micah in her new raiment.

Confidential to Jake:  I O U 1 sweater.  Ducky buttons optional.

Doesn't he look cold?

Walking and Listening

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The other day, Bill pointed out to me that I am now walking over 12 miles per week.  I

Tableau of essential winter walking accessories

knew I was walking a lot, but for some reason, I hadn’t thought to do the math.  12+ miles a week is probably 10+ more miles per week than I walked when we lived in Washington.  And I love it, even on cold days.  So much so, that I just bought myself some comfy over-the-knee socks for those extra-cold days.  I hope to knit a pair as well, but I needed these NOW.

An important part of my walking routine is listening to various podcasts.  A podcast, in case you’re not sure, is a digital audio or video file that you can download from the internet to an MP3 player.  I use my phone as an MP3 player, and listen only to audio files when I’m out walking.  Most of the podcasts I listen to are episodes from radio shows I really enjoy, but a few are instead produced strictly for upload to the internet (i.e., they are never broadcast on a radio station first).  I subscribe to my favorite podcasts, which allows me to download the most recent episodes with a simple mouse click.

Here is a list of the podcasts I am currently subscribed to:

What radio programs and/or podcasts do you regularly listen to?  I’m on the lookout for a good program on leadership and management, but I’m interesting in any suggestions you have for my Listening Buffet.  Share your favorite programs and podcasts in the comment section below.

The Best Laid Plans

This the glass of sparkling wine I enjoyed at Vino Volo in BWI airport Friday afternoon.  I had just called my mother to tell her we were making a surprise visit to Florida for her birthday.  Instead of having dinner with her sister and nieces, she would be dining with her daughter and son-in-law.  There was also a whole Skype-with-your-son surprise embedded in the plan that I had not yet revealed to her.

This is the bottle of wine I bought for Mom at Vino Volo as a special birthday gift.  Their wine is a bit pricey, but that’s the premium you pay in order to be able to carry it on board a plane in these days when airline security deems all liquids a threat.

This is the book I was reading as our plane taxied away from the gate.

This is the book I switched to as our plane returned to the gate so the mechanics could check out some ominous indicator lights about our left engine.

This is the magazine that a complete stranger gave me when she saw me becoming distraught over the fact that we had sat in the airport for several hours with no resolution to our malfunctioning airplane situation.  I was distressed at the thought that my mother had awakened that morning looking forward to a pleasant birthday dinner with her sister and nieces, and instead was getting no dinner at all while she waited to find out when/if we would be showing up.

This is how my father responded to a profanity-laden email intended for my brother but accidentally sent to him.

This is my mother.  While she hasn’t said so explicitly, I’m guessing that Friday was not her Best Birthday Ever.  But she handled it all with good grace, like the graceful lady she is.  Our silver lining is that AirTran* awarded us free round-trip tickets as compensation for our inconvenience.  Hopefully we can put them to good use and give Mom a nice Birthday Supplement soon.

*Note to AirTran:  I issued a few uncharitable tweets in your name in the midst of this Friday disaster.  I was wrong to do that.  AirTran staff did everything appropriate to ensure the safety and comfort of its passengers, and I am truly appreciative.

Chance Encounters

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Have you ever walked into a bookstore to discover a long, lost friend, signing books at their own book signing? Well I have!

This is P.M. Forni, who was signing the latest copy of his book (The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distraction) at the Towson Barnes and Noble Saturday.  You can catch his recenti(-ish) interview with Dan Rodricks here.

But get this:  he was my dissertation advisor!  I feel sort of famous by association.  And tremendously grateful to Bill for recognizing Professor Forni’s name and pointing him out to me.

I guess it’s true:  they don’t call it “Smalltimore” for nothing.

Small Blessings

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I finally finished the Blesséd Socks, which I started in August.  Non-knitters, take note that it usually does not take four months to knit a pair of socks.  Life just got REAL busy here at Chez Bmore Sara — including the relocation of the chez in question.

But now both socks are finished, and extremely soft and cozy.  And this is the perfect season to wear them.  I also love the combination of colors in the yarn and am seriously thinking of reproducing that very combination in my office/fiber room.

Calling them my “Blesséd Socks” prompts me to count my blessings.  I won’t enumerate them all right now, but here are a few just from today:

  • It was very foggy this morning.  While my window was open, I could hear a fog horn.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard one in real life before.
  • My iPhone 4S arrived today.  Wow.
  • We are making progress in getting our living room painted and decorated.
  • My daily walk inspired me to create a Walkabout Playlist, about which I hope to write more next week.
  • This morning I noticed my dress didn’t seem quite so tight as the last time I wore it.

Of course, there are the ongoing blessings of family, good health, economic viability, freedom, and beer.  None of which I take lightly.  But, when you focus on the big blessings, you risk losing sight of the small ones.  And seriously — I heard a fog horn this morning!  Why would I ever want to overlook that?