Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Des Plaines River Canoe Marathon Recap

I got my patch.  (And my 18.5 mile sticker.) I earned my very own patch. And Maria earned her patch. We conquered the Des Plaines River Canoe Marathon together.

My first canoe patch!
I grew up in a canoeing family. My dad has many, many of these patches. That is one of the reasons this patch means so much to me. We canoed Boundary Waters on the US side. We canoed Quetico on the Canadian side. We canoed on vacations in Wisconsin. Here are just a few of the memories that I have about canoeing as a youth:

  • Watching my brother and his friend canoe into a waterfall thinking they would be shot out just like on the cartoons. Oops. Foiled by physics again.
  • Having a competition to see whose intestinal system could be stopped up the longest on a trip and losing by a day to my brother's friend. 
  • Being mocked by my nephew about how I couldn't portage/canoe because I was a girl until he lifted my pack. Boom.
  • Being in the canoe when my other brother stood up to show off to his now wife and have the canoe tip over.
  • Wearing rockin' flannel button downs, Converse All Stars and out of control naturally occurring BHS (big hair syndrome). There are pictures. Awwe yeeaaah.
I paint a lovely picture. My memories are fond and humorous. That is why when Maria asked if anybody wanted to do the Canoe Marathon with her I thought, "Why not?" Neither of us had been in a canoe for 20 years or something, so why not do 18.5 miles in one shot. My parents were not doing it this year so I asked to borrow the canoe. Thankfully, we tried the canoe out for about an hour the day before the race so we were definitely ready. 
Our faithful steed
There was talk about postponing the race because it had rained so much during the week. The river was very high, and the current was strong.(These actually helped us) We had to sign a waiver that asked if we were prepared to handle such situations appropriately, like swimming to shore, bailing on the canoe and helping others in need. Sure, why not?

Canoe dropped off. When we came back, every spot was taken.
We were supposed to arrive early enough to put our canoe at the start, drive down to the finish, park at a lot, take two shuttle buses back to the start and be ready an hour before our time to go. We did all of them except we arrived at the start at our time to go. And we didn't know what to do exactly because we hadn't done it before. When we left our canoe to park, there were 20 crafts in the starting area and when we started the race there almost double. After accidentally cutting in front of some kayaks, we were waved through the start (because we were late) and off we went.

Pre-race selfie
It was a beautiful day. The current helped us move along as we had some zig and zag. I would find myself only paddling on one side because I got distracted. We didn't have a particular rhythm. Go forward. Our goal was to enjoy our time, to eat chocolate to stave the h-anger (peanut butter m&ms to the rescue) and to finish.

And to take Chewbacca on a ride.

At the start of the race we worried about the warnings. About a half a mile in a man in a single kayak tried to pass us on the left in a narrow portion and hit a branch that was reaching out into the water. He got stuck and was grunting/gasping for help. We tried to back pedal a bit to see how he was doing and, thankfully, another canoe was able to keep him afloat until help could rescue him. It was a grim image to the start of our race. 

I had a grand time. The day became warmer than we expected and both of us went to short sleeves with no sunscreen. I have a great tan line at my wrists because I wore my yoga gloves for most of the race. That's the handiest they have ever been. There was wind but since the river was windy we would have stretches where we would have to work hard and stretches we would could take it easy. The wind only caught us off guard once where we were pushed hard to the bank. It was a bit surprising, but we got a hold of ourselves and continued on.
Beautiful. Just beautiful.
We got passed a lot. People are serious out there. There was a canoeing couple in which the husband would grunt when it was time to switch sides. There was a couple rowing to a four count. The kayaks flew by. One set of guys told us to look out for another canoe and tell them they would have dresses waiting for them at the end. Long and flowy. A Boy Scout leader had bet his scout. We were able to pass on the message.
One of the things that really struck us while canoeing as runners and riders was the lack of communication in passing. As a runner or a biker, "On your left' is a common phrase. Boaters would just fly up past you without warning. Maria and I both had opportunities to smack another boat if we had not noticed as they came close unannounced. That became a little unnerving. Communication, please.

So in the end it took us just over 4 hours to paddle our way down. That's decent. Both of us had to go to the bathroom sometime along the way and we held it because trying to get out at a flooded bank and get back in seemed like a lost fight. Plenty of people did stop. When we got to the end I was pretty zonked, and we had to get the car and load the canoe. Loading the canoe again was brutal. We were both sun burned. Unloading the canoe at my parent's house was also brutal. Would I do the race again? Yes, but the conditions would be hard to beat: great company (Thanks Maria!), swift current, beautiful day and lots of peanut butter m&ms.

We did it! Post-race selfie!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Holding my breath

I want to tell you that we are booking our tickets to China and picking up our son, but I can't.

I want to tell you all I know about him and how excited we are to meet him, but I can't.

I want to tell you how our lives are all abuzz about preparing for him and my wacky nesting habits, but I can't.

I just can't.

Because I'm holding my breath. Waiting. Wondering. Hoping. Praying. Distracting myself. Guarding my heart. Still holding my breath. Feeling helpless. And I'm getting a little blue.

See, we're in limbo. A few months ago we would have called it the 'Waiting Time' between matching us with a child and getting all the travel paperwork together, the last stages of paper pregnancy. However, the Chinese government changed their policy the week after we made our match tightening the timeline of when we have to get our US paperwork together. Our matched child happens to be a few months younger than our home study age range. This is not uncommon, and our home study simply needs to be updated to include his age. Sounds simple.

However, I live in a state that does its paperwork very very slowly. In the paper race between the Chinese government and the US government, my state cuts Achilles tendons. Due to delayed US paperwork, a family has lost their referral, their match. Our agency said this is a first. I do not know if this family was from our state. At first we simply guarded our hearts because neither paperwork had come through so there was nothing to worry about. Or at least nothing to really worry about.

This week however, the Chinese government won this leg of the paper race. And still we wait on our state. We know that it is truly out of our hands. We have done our part until we need to do our part again. We have to wait for others to do their part.

We sincerely wish we could say that it will all work out, but we can't.

We will hold our breath, rub a nose for good luck, and hopefully have some news soon.

For luck.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Women, Education, STEM and a Masculine Mind

"Let it not be said, whenever there is energy or creative genius, 'She had a masculine mind.'" - Margaret Fuller

A few months ago I had an older student ask, "Why aren't there very many women in math?" It was a good question. I've been pondering it, and I think in light of the kidnapped Nigerian girls, I'd try to answer it to my limited ability. I don't really have a complete answer as I am one woman with a limited exposure in math and science, but I have thoughts. Buckle up.

First, I'd like to open up the question to "Why aren't there very many women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)?" In college my biology classes were full of women. (The soft science) In chemistry the numbers got lower (The semi-hard science or the semi-soft science) and in physics (The hard science), even fewer. I took engineering physics at one of the top engineering school in the nation. I remember being one of two women in a lab class. The other woman was all, "Girl Power! Let's best these guys!" And I was definitely, "I just want to pass." The numbers of women in my math courses also decreased as the courses became more complex . What's up, Ladies? Where are you?

As for my personal experience, I grew up in a science house. My dad and mom were scientists. I remember dinner conversations that were scientific and completely beyond my understanding. Boy, these peas taste great. Having a science family helped create an encouraging math-sci environment for me. My parents, particularly my dad, believed in equality of the sexes. That helps even more. My dad says with regularity that he grew up in one of the most egalitarian societies in the world. No, it's not here. The only person who told me that I couldn't do something was me. I'm awesome at thwarting my own efforts. Thank you very much. My family, my micro-community, easily negated social messages that said science is for boys or that math is hard. Oh Barbie, even you can learn.*

Educating women is fairly historically new, and it's definitely not global. #bringbackourgirls. Unfortunately, when women have gone against the social grain historically there has not been a celebration or a warm reception. The seas do not part. There is often hostility. It is like cutting a new path through tall grass with a machete. Tiring. Sweaty. A horrible stink. Putting forth great effort often looks like a hot mess. You have to be ready for a pretty crappy time. I am not a trailblazer, nor did I sign up for it, but I find in just moving forward in math and science that the path is not well worn by women. I am so thankful for those who I can look ahead and see, like professors and scientists. What about the women who are themselves pioneers and can not see other women ahead of them? Women around the world being the first to get an education in your family. You are amazing. Take my strength. Don't lose heart.

So I am quoting Margaret Fuller all over the post today. I was introduced to Margaret Fuller in a U.S. literature class in college. She said some pretty profound things in the 1840s. Almost two hundred years later, her quotes resonate. She was an American Transcendentalist who basically said that, of course, every person wants to be an enlightened man; no enlightened man wants to be a women. Why? Because the social position of women has been wife, mother, cook and housekeeper. There was little room for books, philosophy, science and mathematics which involve extended time as well as thought and often a good housekeeper. She was a voice outside of the men's philoshophy club that said, "Hey, I can't find the door." It looks great for the people inside thinking about greater society but what about the greater society that isn't allowed in.

"In order that she may be able to give her hand with dignity, she must be able to stand alone" - Fuller

So back to the question, "Why aren't there are more women in math and science?" There is definitely not one answer. And the factors work together even though they don't plan to. There are collective forces. To name a few...

  • Straight up sexism. Just a girl. I'm just a girl in the world.
  • Social pressures. Women are marketed for their parts not for their brains. Seriously, marketing parts.
  • Gender education. Girls play with dolls. Boys build things. 
  • It's challenging. Some sciences are physically challenging as well as mentally challenging. Math is so mental. Letters and numbers, come on.
  • Discouragement. Possible and probable failure. Struggling for success is tiring.
  • Loneliness. 
  • Feeling or looking 'different.' Nerd. Geek. A masculine mind.
  • Role models overshadowed by fad models. I love you Mayim Bailik and Danica McKellar.
  • People, influential people, telling them the can't or shouldn't. People say dumb things. I am everyday people, btw.
  • Thinking how teachers or influential people think about them. Women emote and are empathic. People say dumb things or look us in a way that we take to heart even if they are not true. And it collects in our minds and beings.
  • And of course, the tyranny of the urgent. Somebody has to cook, clean, and help fulfill all the other lower properties of Maslow's hierarchy.

There are barriers both real and imaginary. The barriers are internal and external. Thankfully, times, they are a changin'. Let me be clear, not every girl should grow up to be a scientist or a mathematician, but they should have the opportunity to do so if they wish. If they have the talent, we should encourage them and applaud their development. And it shouldn't be so hard for them to find the door. So, Ladies, young and old, if you want to pursue math and science, getting all STEM like, I'll try to clear a path for you.

"We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to women as freely as to men. If you ask me what offices they may fill, I reply ---any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea captains." - Fuller

Smart girlios...stay clever.

*Do you want to encourage some science and math in your home but don't know where to start? Try GoldieBlox or Snap Circuits. Buy a microscope or a telescope. Investigate.