Flavor #19 - Start One Day at 4:00 am On Purpose

Start one day at 4:00 am, on purpose - Catherine Ramirez, Houston TX

4:00 am
I awoke with squinty eyes and a grouchy scowl on my face. My body was NOT done sleeping. I slapped the snooze on my alarm and laid there in the dark. There was no sound but the birds chirping outside and a few voices of those who were either leaving for work or just coming home from the bar.

This was not natural.

I awkwardly propped myself up, held the position for a few seconds, then with a groan, flopped back into my pillow. Flashbacks of delivering newspapers on Sunday mornings, in the dead of the Idaho winter, darted through my mind. It had taken me years to forgive my parents for putting me through that torture, and several more to retrain my body to sleep in on Sundays, so why was I doing this to myself on purpose? I took a large breath, mustered all of my will, and tried again. My back clung to the mattress in defiance, but somehow I managed to roll out of bed onto my feet. I knew from several recent spit baths that if I laid there any longer, I would fall back asleep.
4:20 - 5:00 am
The house itself seemed to still be asleep; not even my roommate's cat was up. I splashed cold water on my face and slipped back into my room, acknowledging the day with a flip of the light. With all of this extra time, I figured I better start the day off right. With a sigh, I tumbled to my knees and thanked God, as I've done so many times this year, for my 31 Flavors and the opportunity to learn so many new and interesting things. After this 30 second formality, I proceeded to the more enthusiastic part where I rattled off the list of needs and wants. Spiritual quota done for the day, I was about to jump to my feet, when it occurred to me that it was four in the morning and there wasn't anything to rush into. And because there was no bus to catch, no job to hurry to, there was certainly no excuse for another generic prayer. Sheepishly, I turned back towards my bed, and once again bowed my head. I don't know how long I sat there, truly reflecting on my life, the people I couldn't imagine being without, the person I was and the person I wanted to be. I opened up my heart and started to fill it with thank yous for the amazing journey that I was apart of and the inspiring people who have supported me along the way. My heart swelled with gratitude until spilled over, flooding into the rest of my body and making me feel more centered and happy than I've felt in a long time.

Prayer and meditation done, I cautiously returned to my bed and propped my pillow against the head board; I figured I should make a rough draft of the day's schedule, otherwise I might be tempted to nap by 9 o'clock. Balancing my notebook on my knees, I scribbled my goals for the 19 hours I had left. The pencil scratching across the paper was almost deafening against the surrounding silence.
5:00 am - 6:00 am
After working on my insides, I felt that needed to do a little maintenance on my outsides as well. Pilates was the exercise of choice because I didn't want to wake my roommates, or the downstairs neighbors. It was odd doing my hundreds and single leg stretches in silence; usually I like to try to make my mind forget that I'm exercising by drowning it in music. This morning, I was forced to listen to my body instead, and continue the inner reflection that I'd been enjoying. As I was lying on my stomach in the swimming pose, my box turtle, Epoch, came out of his hiding place as if to say, "What are you doing up?" My arms and legs stopped their syncopation, and there we sat, face to face, blinking at each other. I smiled and affectionately stroked his neck. My mornings and evenings have been so rushed lately that I had failed to connect with him in quite a while.
6:00 am - 7:30 am
Because I was already being active, I decided to tidy up my room. I'm a pretty neat person, but my 31 Flavors had definitely taken its toll on my living space. Because I had some extra time, I decided to sweep my floor, which turned into sweeping the bathroom floor, then the living room and kitchen floor. The crisp whooshes of the broom and creeks of the floorboards were my only company.
7:30 am - 8:30 am
After cleaning the entire house, I decided a long, leisurely, shower was in order. My typical morning shower is about 10 minutes, just enough time to soap up and rinse off. This time I just let the water rain down on my head, penetrating my skull and drowning any thought of what I needed to accomplish. Reluctantly my inner timer collapsed along with my eyelids, and I just stood there, absorbing the heat. That tranquility lingered as I thoughtfully put myself together: clothes, makeup and all.
8:30 am - 9:30 am
Usually I grab a bowl of sugary cereal at work and gobble it down while juggling the phone, mouse and keyboard. Today I cooked a healthy tofu omelet with squash, broccoli and peppers. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from creating your meal from scratch. I casually chopped all of the vegetables and put them in a skillet; the sizzles and pops were a rare, pleasant, morning sound. Appreciatively I scooped my healthy meal onto a plate, and then did something that I never do: I sat down and ate at the kitchen table.
9:00 am - 10:00 am
I had already accomplished quite a bit, but I actually felt like the day was getting away from me, so I quickly fed Epoch, and gathered all of my things. On the way out the door, I ran into Kristine, my roommate. I was about to throw a quick goodbye over my shoulder, but decided instead, to linger in the hallway for a pleasant conversation. My rushed mornings very rarely consists of complete phrases, so all of this felt very foreign to me.

I took my time walking to the train. I may have even strolled, which confused my inner, city girl, pace. In the station, when I heard the familiar roar of my train arriving, I didn't charge up the stairs to catch it. There would be another train along soon enough.
10:00 am - 11:30 am
I arrived at the library at 10 o'clock on a Saturday. This little fact was nothing out of the ordinary, but the fact that I'd already been up for 6 hours was an amusing thought. All of the practice rooms were already in use. Normally this would annoy me, but today I had time to wait. I sat outside the music center with a content smile on my face. I felt like I had a secret that no one else knew: "Look at me! I am a morning person!" Oddly I felt a sense of importance, like my triumph over early morning hours lumped me in with Pulitzer Prize winners and Olympic Gold Medalists.

I was pleased to get Practice room C; it had by far the best piano. Touching the keys is always a beautiful experience, one that unfortunately doesn't happen as often as I'd like because I don't have a piano at home. I belted out some of the past songs I had written to get me in the creative mood, then moved on to the song that my sister and I are collaborating on. Up until then I'd been trying to imagine the harmonies by plucking notes out on my iMac, but nothing takes the place of a full keyboard. Without the pressure to figure things out quickly, my fingers lovingly explored the black and white playground and let the harmonies unfold naturally.
11:30 am - 1:00 pm
I jumped on the train and took it all the way around the loop, taking time to gaze out the window and revel in the splendor of the buildings around me. I wasn't in a hurry, so when the train stopped, I patiently let others get off before me. Thoughtfully I strolled across the bridge to my office, taking in the view of the river winding down the business district. This may have been the first time I didn't throw worried glances at my watch or look for ways to cheat traffic.

My office was dark and unusually quiet. I left the lights off and basked in the eerie glow of the computer. I located the flash drive I had accidentally left there the day before and churned out two resumes for some upcoming theatre auditions. An inconvenient trip to the office might have bugged me on any other day, but today it was just one more hour, of which I had plenty.
1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
The next few hours seemed to pass by like minutes. I stopped at State Street to soak up the brassy sounds of the Memorial Day parade, bought some sunglasses, boarded the train back up north, returned something at the Container Store which conveniently was having a sale on travel items, bought the perfect purse for my trip to Germany, dropped by the pet store and picked up some worms for Epoch, and walked home.
4:00 am - 5:00 pm
When I got home, It was hard to accept that it was officially still the afternoon. It was light outside, although my body passionately disagreed. I put my dinner in the oven and actually sat down for a while. I considered finishing the nap that I had started on the bus, but I resisted. I'm not very good at taking short naps on a regular day, so apart of me knew once my head hit the pillow, I would be down for the count. Once again, I sat at the table and ate a lovely dinner of Salmon, Couscous, and a garden salad. It's amazing how healthy you can eat when you're not constantly on the go.
5:00 pm to 6:30 pm
My energy dwindling, but my goodwill strong, I once again emerged from my apartment and hauled some clothes down to the Salvation Army. This process of lugging large bags onto the bus is a tiring process all by itself. The fact that I had been up for 13 hours and my body considered it to be 9 o'clock at night, made the trip that much more fun. To reward myself for being so charitable, I stopped by my favorite candy shop and let two scoops of Elephant Stampede and Mint Chip accompany me home.
6:30 pm - 10:00 pm
I have trouble remembering the next few hours. The evidence suggests that I worked on my blog. Surprisingly, the entry actually makes sense. I do remember attempting some German but my mind barely computed die Worte, so basically, I relaxed with some TV because I could do nothing else.

When my head hit the pillow, I was surprised to find that I still felt like there there wasn't enough time in the day to get everything done. It also occurred to me that maybe I had spent this day all wrong. Maybe I should have used my 19 hours to achieve something more exciting, like taking some sort of road trip, or having a day of leisurely fun. Then I thought of Cathy, the past roommate of mine who suggested this flavor. When we lived together, Cathy was always the first to rise. While I ripped like a tornado through the house, Cathy calmly started her day, the right way. For her, it wasn't about fun, it was about seizing the day and accomplishing everything she wanted to.

Before drifting off into the deepest, most satisfying, sleeps I've had since college, I concluded that my day truly had been seized.

Cathy would have been proud.

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Flavor #18 - Learn to Play Golf

Learn to Play Golf - Bob McGuire, Oswego IL

I was pleased that the Diversy Driving Range was within walking distance from my apartment. At that point, that was the only thing I was pleased about. I was on my way to my first golf lesson, and I was pretty sure I was going to hate it.

I'd played some miniature golf; I'd even hit a rather complicated hole-in-one (by complete accident), that I bragged about from time to time; however, these encounters were brief and usually involuntary. The truth is I had no desire to watch the game, and even less desire to play it. But, the whole point of my 31 Flavors project was to explore new things, so there I was, at the Chicagoland Golf Academy, "exploring."

The women of Women in Golf 1 were huddled just outside of the main office. A man with a gold name badge and crinkly eyes introduced himself as Ed Oldfield, our instructor. He handed me a left-handed iron and a paper badge to write my name on. It was about this time that my foot started cramping and would not let up.
Even my body seemed repulsed by the idea of playing.
After the rest of our class arrived, Ed asked us to gather on a little patch of lawn outside of the actual range. I forced a smile and limped over to join the circle of about 10 women. Ed welcomed us with a warm smile and an brief introduction. He had played golf most of his life and had been a golf instructor for much of the latter portion of it. Turns out his dad was also golf instructor, so you could say that golf was in his blood. His list of clients was long and varied, one of his most famous being Ronald Reagan, whom he taught for 3 years.

He went around the circle asking our name, age, job, and why we were there. Ages ranged from 22 to 68 and backgrounds varied from Event Coordinators to Stay-at-home Moms. Most of the women had a husband who played, or wanted to use the skill for networking. One girl, Danielle, admitted she was single and was using it as a way to meet men. I liked her instantly.

Ed announced that we weren't going to do any hitting today. Instead we were going to start with The Address, or set-up position. He explained that 3/4 of the golfers out there don't know how to stand properly, so if we got this part down, we were already ahead of the game.

He went on to explain how the grip and stance effect the angle of the swing. Most right handed players tend to do a swing called a slice, where the ball veers to the right; a swing that veers to the left, is called a hook. If you veered too much to the right, most likely your ball would end up in the trees, so Ed made a joke, a little too loud, that it was better to be a hooker. The type of swing we wanted was a right-to-left swing called a draw.

Ed said there were three kinds of grip that were most commonly used in golf: the Baseball Grip, the Overlapping Grip, and the Interlocking Grip. In order to get the draw, Ed recommended the Interlocking Grip. I was the only left hander in the group, so I had to transpose everything in my brain.
The Grip:

Grip handle with right hand, v between thumb and pointer finger pointing towards left shoulder.
Grip left hand just below right hand, left pinky finger interlocking with right pointer finger.

The Stance:
Inside of heels same distance as outside of shoulders.
Foot closest to target (in my case, my right) pivoted outward
Back foot (my left) square.
Ball just a little left of center
Knees slightly bent
Body weight on the balls of your feet
Flat back
Bottom out

He tactfully commented on two things that men don't have that women aren't quite sure what to do with, and said that we needed to play over them.
The Address:

Ed had each of us take turns stepping to the middle of the circle, to present our newly learned address, and receive feedback from the rest of the group. It was easy to spot the narrow stances and rounded backs on others, but correcting those flaws in your own stance was more difficult.

When it was my turn, I felt that I was doing everything he had instructed and was surprised when he said I needed to bend my legs more. When I bended them as much as he wanted, I felt like I was squatting. Years of dance have instructed me to keep my pelvis tucked, so sticking my bottom out felt very foreign and silly.

Once we had the stance down, Ed decided to quickly touch on the swing, without using any balls.
The Swing:
Start in Address: interlocking grip, head inline with spine, iron next to ball
Wind up, twisting upper back away from target, transferring weight to left foot and swinging club over left shoulder, almost parallel with the ground
Untwist, driving club downward to make contact with ball
Follow through, pivoting the back foot and transferring weight to front foot, as swing continues over right shoulder

Again we each took center stage and attempted our own version of the swing. Most of what I observed was that some of the women weren't bringing the swing back behind the head and parallel with the ground. Ed joked that he wouldn't want to be standing next to Danielle during a lightening storm because her rod was vertical instead of horizontal.

When I stepped to the center, I had the same difficulties as some of the other women. Maybe

it's all of the years playing softball, but after unwinding, my club didn't want to go back behind my head; it just continued outward like I'd hit a ball to right field. After correcting the final position of the club, he worked on the rest of my body, prompting my pivoted back foot up farther, forcing me to transfer my weight to the front foot, and squaring my hips so that my belly button faced the target. Within two minutes my body was already memorizing the movement.

The lesson was over and I had survived. As I walked back home, I reflected on all of the rules I had digested in 90 minutes. The trick, as I had experienced, would be to incorporate those rules into my body. The reason Ed had asked our ages, was because golfers usually play into their 80s. So, it turns out that I had another 50 years to perfect my squat.

Ed had mentioned this was one of the hardest games you could play, and I believe him; however, I wasn't as miserable as I expected. While I'm not eagerly anticipating the next class, I'm not dreading it either. We'll see how I feel after actually hitting the ball.

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Flavor #17 - Take a Helicopter Ride

Take a Helicopter Ride - Jon Moran, Elmhurst IL

The traffic had been grueling and we were a 1/2 hour late, but we had made it. Nick may or may not have driven the wrong way down a one-way traffic detour to get there, but we had made it.

The GPS guided us up a circular driveway to a brick building. For a moment, we questioned if we were in the right spot. The GPS said we were at Schaumburg Regional Airport, and just beyond the building we could see a variety of planes, but the sign on the building read, "Pilot Pete's: Steak, Seafood, Pasta."

After confirming with Chris, our Bachman Aero contact, that we were indeed in the right place, we entered the building and headed downstairs to where a man in a black baseball cap and green coveralls was waiting for us. He introduced himself as Tony, our pilot. I must have had an anxious look on my face, because Tony assured me that there was nothing to worry about. As he led us out onto the tarmac, I informed him that this whole thing had actually been my idea, but I don't think he believed me. We hopped into a doorless jeep, and zoomed across the wide field of cement. Scenes from several Air Force movies flashed through my mind, and silently I wished for some inspiring patriotic underscoring.

Within seconds we approached the sleek, compact bubble that was our helicopter. Chris welcomed us, and took us into the hanger to go over some standard rules and to sign something that basically stated that if we died, it wasn't their fault. Once all of the legal stuff was taken care of, Chris led us back out to the tarmac. Tony was already in the pilot seat. We approached the helicopter from the left, crossing in front and around to the right. Chris emphasized that you never want to enter or exit toward the tail rotor, because even though it was red, it was hard to see when it was moving.

We had decided that Nick would be the first to fly. I smiled as he folded his 7 foot frame into the two-seater cabin, like a clown cramming his way into a clown car. Quickly, I snapped a couple shots, then followed Chris off the tarmac next to the hanger.

The helicopter sat silent, so I kicked back in one of the chairs and lifted my face to a couple planes zooming through the first patch of blue sky we'd had in weeks.

Suddenly, the main rotor whirred to life and the three blades dissolved into a noisy blur. I watched in awe as this hunk of metal cautiously let go of the launch pad and crept upward into the air. As it balanced there, so graceful, it reminded me of a dragon fly hovering over a pond.

Then unexpectedly, the "dragon fly" banked to the right, halted, stumbled backwards, and halted again. It looked as though it was having trouble making up its mind, and it finally occurred to me that Nick had probably taken the controls. To my surprise, swung around to face me and through the tinted glass, I could faintly see Nick's goofy wave.

After a few more minutes of flight instruction, the movement became more fluid. Eventually it turned back to the runway, and with a exaggerated rev of the engine, took off into the distance, slowly climbing until I couldn't see it anymore.

Nick was the perfect guy to share this kind of experience with. He was quirky, clever, and had a way of making crazy situations sound fun. This knack for persuasion made his job as an Internal Sales Rep very fitting. In fact, it was he who had sold me on the idea that taking the controls, if only for a moment, would be much cooler than a cramped view of the Grand Canyon.

After about 20 minutes the helicopter returned and it was my turn. Nervously I grabbed onto the side of the door and pulled myself into the cabin. Chris buckled me in like a toddler, and I put on the headset, immediately hearing Tony's magnified voice in my ear asking if I could hear him. My voice replied back to him in clips that seemed far away.

The cabin was a like something from Star Wars. Glass boarded the fronts and sides and in the middle was a panel full of complicated looking dials and other instruments. Directly in front of me was a very large joystick called the Cyclic Control. Tony instructed me to rest my right arm on my right leg and lightly grip the controller. As I felt him barely shift it from side to side, he directed my attention to the rotor. Squinting I could faintly make out the gray edge of the blades responding to Tony's subtle movement.

Tony increased the torque of the rotor and we levitated off of the platform. The sensation reminded me of a ride at an amusement park, but unlike a ride, we were completely

unattached and weightless. After some instruction and much needed encouragement, Tony removed his hand from the control. In that instant I understood the delicacy of it all and forgave Nick for his shaky attempt. My hovering was nothing like a dragon fly. Instead, I'm pretty sure it resembled a June Bug, bouncing and
dipping through the air. It was so easy to over correct, and although we were just a couple feet off the ground, it was nerve-wracking.

Gratefully the hovering lesson only lasted a few minutes, and we realigned ourselves with the runway. After Tony made a quick call to the tower and looked behind him for traffic, we were off. The takeoff wasn't like on a plane with that crushing force pulling you backwards; instead it was a steady drive upwards. As the houses and trees grew smaller and smaller, I had to remind myself that I wasn't on a ride at a theme park; this little bubble called a helicopter was actually climbing into the sky.

Schaumburg isn't a volcano in Hawaii, but from the air it was quite beautiful . The neighborhoods looked more like villages, made up of multi-colored patches, boarded by a ribbon of winding asphalt. I gazed out the window, soaking up the lush green fields and Tony commented that it was a shame that not very many people had the opportunity to see Illinois from his point of view.

We were on our way back to the airport, when Tony mentioned that Nick had steered for a while in the air. The competitive side of me kicked in and though I really didn't want to, I decided to steer as well. The idea was the same as the hover, except, tilted every so slightly forward to move the helicopter through space. A couple times, the wind rocked us, and my heart jumped into my nose, but for the most part the ride was smooth and breathtaking.

As we landed, I felt a mixture of sadness and relief. It was so calm and serene up there with the birds, but I was also a little nervous the entire time. Unlike an airplane which is basically a bus flying 30,000 feet above sea level, the helicopter, which was 1500 feet, made me feel more connected to my surroundings. And it was that awareness that made me feel more vulnerable. There wasn't a whole lot between me and the open air, and after the hovering, I was very aware that one drastic move could send the whole thing crashing.

Nick and I bid farewell to the Bachman Aero crew and returned to the building. We decided to check out Pilot Pete's which turned out to be a hopping place. With all of the adrenaline coursing through our veins, it was hard to figure out what we wanted to eat, but finally I settled on a salmon sandwich and Nick, a meatball sub. As we munched on our food, we dissected our adventure, contemplating things like how it must be to fly a combat helicopter, when it was so hard just to try to stay still.

Outside the window to our left was the tarmac filled with several planes of all shapes and sizes. Watching them take off and land, I found myself asking, "What prompts someone to become a pilot?" I, like most kids, used to wish that I could fly, but flying like Superman and flying a hunk of metal are two very different things. Today, for a few minutes, I had the chance to fly a hunk of metal, and what it comes down to, is that I am content to be just a passenger. I'm very grateful for the experience and would love to do it again over the Grand Canyon or a Volcano in Hawaii, but I'll leave the flying part to the birds or someone with more nerve and less nerves than me.

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Flavor #16 - What's Your Flavor?

What's Your Flavor? Campaign

Dear family and friends,

Today marks 31 days until I turn 32. I can't believe that my 31 Flavors project is almost over. It's been one of the most interesting, frustrating, rewarding, years of my life, and I'm so grateful to all of you who have supported me in all of my quirky ventures.

Though I'm a tad behind in my writing, I'm actually pretty close to finishing. To date I've completed 18 flavors and I'm in the process of completing 6 more. That leaves 7 other flavors to accomplish in 31 days, and I'm determined to make it happen.

Even if I don't quite make it, this year has changed my life forever. Now, juggling lessons may not seem like life-changing material, but it's small triumphs like that, that have taught me that unexpected things are possible, and that it's never too late to explore knew things.

The fact that I had people like you choose most of those learning experiences for me, forced me to step outside of my boundaries and see things from another point of view. Because of you, I've found joy in things that I never expected...and harsh confirmation that I'm truly not meant to do other things...like unicycling.

Learning truly is living, and in the spirit of never being too settled or too timid to try something new, for my 16th flavor I'd like to give you a tiny lick of what I've been experiencing over the past 11 months...

In the next 31 days, I challenge you to accomplish a flavor of your own, and enter your flavor in my "What's Your Flavor" campaign. I'll review all of the submissions and decide which flavor is the most amusing, inspiring, etc. The winner will receive a $31 Baskin Robbins gift certificate from yours truly.

To enter leave a comment on this posting "Flavor #16 - What's Your Flavor" with your name and a short summary of the new flavor you tried.

The deadline is my birthday, JUNE 11, 2010.

Much love and thanks to you all!


Flavor #14 - Use Only One Hand for an Entire Day

Use only one hand for an entire day - Joy Crenshaw, Chicago IL

April 13, 2010
I woke up to the piercing prodding of my alarm clock. In defiance, I rolled onto my stomach and reached through the layers of sleep for the Snooze Button. Just as my right hand grazed the dial, my mind slapped it away. There would be no "snooze" this morning and more importantly, there would be no right hand. Today for Flavor #14 I would be using only one hand for an entire day, and I would need all the extra time I could get. With a groan, I turned my alarm off with my dominant left hand and rolled out of bed.

I had purposely not washed my hair the night before so I could experience the full inconvenience of scrubbing and lathering one-handed. I squeezed the shampoo directly onto my head, as opposed to my palm, and attempted to sense with my scalp how much I'd actually distributed. This brilliant idea resulted in at first too little, and then too much shampoo. Unimpressed by my latest technique, I decided to use my raised thigh as a pallet for the conditioner and body wash. This was definitely more successful, though I never did resolve the issue of how to wash my left arm.

It may have been this familiar awkwardness that made me recall that I broke my fifth metacarpal in high school. Even though I had a removable cast, technically, I had spent nearly two months using only one hand. So, in an attempt to up the stakes, I resolved to not use my right arm, at all.

Well, this definitely increased the difficulty. Just getting the towel around my body required some awkward maneuvering. It was around this time that I noticed that my right hand was actually hurting. When I looked down I could see that it was swollen to a puffy tightness. Perplexed, I flexed and stretched my fingers and realized that although I wasn't going to use my right hand, I'd have to at least move it from time to time keep the circulation going.

Warning: This is blog entry is about to get PG

I had chosen fairly simple, button-free, clothes to wear to work that day, but there was one item that had suddenly become the most complicated contraption on the planet: the B-R-A. I stared at the two cups in bewilderment.
This is why I hadn't allowed myself to hit snooze.
Clumsily, I attempted to wrangle the elastic band around my waist, but every time I came close to hooking the clasp, one of the bands shot out of my hand. For a second I considered cheating, but brushed the thought quickly aside. Vowing it would not defeat me, I once again gripped it by the reigns and finally slipped the hooks through the clasps. Triumphantly, I shifted it around, only to find it was upside down. Not willing to relive the hook drama, I waggled it over my hips, flipped it right-side-up, and shimmied it back to its proper place. This process which usually takes under a minute, took about fifteen. I've heard a few men brag that they can unhook a bra with one hand. Well, I'd like to see them try the opposite.

The rest of the morning was a boxing match between my rational brain, and my irrational project. While blow drying my hair, my nose began to itch, so instinctively, my right hand reached up to scratch it. I quickly intercepted it before making contact. A few seconds later, as though it had a mind of it's own, it reached up a second time. When I restrained it yet again, I could feel the confusion in my head. It was as though my brain was saying, "You're not hurt, so why on earth aren't you using a perfectly good arm?".

On the train I was surprised and delighted to get a seat; there were so many thoughts that I wanted to get down on paper, and there was no way I could write and hold my notebook at the same time. My right hand pouted by my side while my left attempted to juggle everything by itself. It occurred to me that even if hadn't been lucky enough to get a seat, at least I was just a passenger and didn't have to steer a car. My mind flashed to my co-worker Joy, who at the moment was probably doing just that. This flavor had been her suggestion, so she had volunteered to share in the struggle with me. When we had approached Bob and Jon, the other members of our team, about the idea, they had also willingly accepted the challenge (provided it didn't interfere with the quality of our work).

When I arrived at the office, they were all chatting enthusiastically about their experiences so far. Jon recounted the inconvenience of getting a wallet out of the opposite pocket, Joy the difficulty of using one hand to fasten her seat belt, and Bob, the impossibility of tying his shoes.

We were all amused and somewhat relieved to find that each of us had raw and swollen hands.

After this quick briefing on our plight, it was time to get to work. Suddenly the humor in the situation fizzled.
For the next 8 hours this was our reality.
With a sigh, I switched the mouse to the left side and started the day. Because I was actually getting paid to work, I had set aside projects that would be easier to accomplish with one hand, but even the act of clicking the mouse with my left took some getting used to.

In the beginning the constant adapting was truly draining, but I found that when I just settled into a neutral mentality and finally accepted the three rules below, the situation didn't frustrate me as much.

Plan ahead: If I was going to get a bowl of cereal from the cafe, I had to figure out how to juggle my milk as well.

Collaboration is key: Other body parts had to creatively take the place of my right hand. My thighs stabilized the carton of milk, while I used my left hand and teeth to open the tab.

Forget Multitasking: Using one hand required that I give each activity more focus. If I was going to answer the phone, I had to actually put my spoon down.

The day dragged on painfully. Every time my right hand would to try sneak in, I'd scold it and it would retreat back to its corner. Exasperated sighs from the other offices, indicated that my coworkers were frustrated as well. From time to time we'd check in with each other to gripe about a particular inconvenience, or to give each other encouragement.

Unfortunately, around noon, for the sake of his work and sanity, Jon gave up the fight. I'll admit that as I saw him use both hands to type, I envied him. The idea of giving up was tempting, but Bob, Joy and I resolved to stick it out.

Finally 5 o'clock rolled around. We celebrated by taking pictures of each other holding up the "one hand" we had used and sharing an insight or annoyance about the day.

Tying your shoes with one hand is absolutely impossible! Try it! (And typing this with one hand was no walk in the park either.)

-Bob McGuire

What I learned:

1. Ask for help! (Thanks Joy! - My wallet)
2. Need to be creative! - Eating my strawberries and yogurt

-John Moran

Only a woman would know how hard it is to put on a bra with one hand.
- Joy Crenshaw

I awkwardly shrugged on my coat and bid farewell (with my left hand) to my dedicated coworkers. The work day was finally over, but as I was walked to the bus, I realized that maybe the real hardship was just beginning. I'd just been sitting at a desk all day, but now I had to function in the outside world. To make things more difficult for myself I decided to have a typical day and do things I would need to do if this wasn't a special circumstance. One of those "typical day" things, was grocery shopping. I browsed the aisles and picked out various items, one at a time, careful to only buy what one hand could carry. Even though the movement was still awkward, and small things like twisting a tie-twist were still challenging, I was getting better at it.

I came home, mentally exhausted, and found my room in the disaster I left it in. The night before, it seemed like a good idea for me to experience the hardship of unpacking my suitcase, sweeping the floor and hanging up clothes. Now, I just felt like throwing everything in the closet and watching TV in bed; that way the most work my left hand would have to do was work the remote control. Reminding myself that others don't have that option, I forced myself to slowly pick up my room, one item at a time. Hanging up clothes proved to be more difficult than expected. I especially had a hard time with my skirt rack, trying to squeeze the clip and insert my skirt at the same time. Using a dust pan was no picnic either, but the one thing that was nearly impossible was washing dishes. I had to lay the dish down and scrub towards myself to get any sort of resistance. This process was very noisy and extremely clumsy so I didn't even attempt the nice crystal glasses. Every gripe I'd ever had about doing the dishes seemed spoiled and silly to me now.

By the end of the night, it seemed as though my mind had finally accepted that I wasn't giving in. As I typed in my blog, my left hand took full responsibility of the keys while my right hand laid quietly in my lap. The nighttime ritual felt easier than my morning ritual; the toothpaste cap didn't give me as much trouble, and putting on pajamas was definitely easier than slacks. As I fell into bed and wrapped the covers around me, I felt a tremendous relief that the day was over and tomorrow would be back to normal.
April 15th
Most of us would consider taking a break a good thing, but today my right hand seems extremely grateful to be included in even the most trivial of activities. I've always known my left hand is important, because it's my dominant hand. But this project has definitely given me a greater appreciation for both of my hands, for what they accomplish separately and together. I've also come away from this experience with an increased love and appreciation for my coworkers. They were such great sports and I realize how lucky I am to work with such supportive people.

One of Jon's insights was to ask for help. I got to thinking about how pride often prevents us from accepting charity from others, even when we desperately need it. That's a shame because I truly believe that one of our greatest callings and blessings is to lighten each other's burdens. That means that we should not only give help, but receive help as well. I am so grateful for the times I've been carried by others, and I hope to be more mindful of those in need, because physical disabilities or no, we all need a hand from time to time.

* This blog entry, I am grateful for those who work to make people's lives better by inventing prosthetics. Because today is Armed Forces Day, I am also grateful for those hands that fight to protect our freedom.

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Flavor #13 - Build a Piece of Furniture with your Dad

Build a Piece of Furniture with your Dad - Dale Shearer, Idaho Falls ID

Friday, April 2, 2010
I sat looking through my dad's huge stack of wood working magazines, hoping for something to catch my eye. I had only been home in Idaho a couple hours, but I wasn't wasting any time. Flavor #13 was "Build Something with your Father" and I had no idea yet what that "something" was.

My mother helped me sift through the countless pages of wooden art, combing over everything from jewelry boxes to gazebos. I had somewhat settled on a cabinet of some sort where I could house little mementos of this crazy year, but while all of the curios that we came across were beautiful, they seemed too polished, too generic for me. I was looking for something completely original.

Of course if I wanted something original, I'd probably have to design it myself. When my dad got home from work, we resulted to searching online. Google turned up a variety of picture boxes and shelving units, but it was a red box with a cheery yellow sunflower on the cover that caught my eye. Turns out it was a key holder. My mind removed the little hooks and began to envision compartments like one of the curio cabinets I had seen earlier; then, it chipped away at the sunflower on the door to reveal a peek-a-boo to the inside; finally, I recalled small drawers I had seen on the base of one of the cupboards and decided it would be interesting if you could pull a keepsake drawer out through the center of the box.

After doing a few sketches, we needed something to help us envision the dimensions. I searched my dad's office and ended up finding a cardboard box that was perfect, as well as some sort of computer part that served as the drawer. The size of the drawer was important, because all of the compartments would branch off of that. We mapped out everything on the box and figured out how much wood we would need. Then it was off to the hardware store.

The Materials:
2 boards of pine: 1" thick, 4" wide, 6' long
1 board of poplar: 1/4" thick, 4" wide, 4' long

The Home Depot smelled like freshly made saw dust. My dad and I winded through the aisles of tools back to the wood section. Because I was planning on painting the box instead of staining, we opted for pine for the box and poplar for the shelves. This wood was softer and easier to work with. My dad checked to make sure the boards weren't bowed and didn't have any knots (knots could affect the integrity of the wood) and we made our purchase.

When we returned to the house, we turned on the heater in the shop and enthusiastically sat down to my mother's home cooked dinner. I ate my fill, uncertain of when I would again see the light of day. The last bite came too soon, it was time to get to work. I borrowed a raggedy sweatshirt from my mom and my dad and I walked briskly through the Idaho cold to the now toasty shop.
The Box Frame:
The first thing we needed to do was cut one of the pine beams into four, 16" long, pieces. Introducing the dual compound sliding miter saw. My dad placed the beam on the bass of the machine, matching the measurement we had marked with the blade of the saw. He then scooted a sliding panel until it was flush with the end of the beam and locked it down. Because we wanted all of the pieces the same length, we could use this stopper as a guide. Like a pro, my dad started the blade, and within seconds we had our first piece.

Now it was my turn. I lowered my safety goggles and approached this rather large and impressive machine. One hand steadying the board the other gripping the handle, I pushed the red safety in with my thumb, and squeezed the starter button with my other four fingers. The blade responded with a harsh whir. I then pulled down on the arm, bringing the saw horizontal, and drove the blade forward, cutting into the wood. In that instant I got a tiny glimpse of the whole tool obsession. Soon we had four, 16" long, pieces making up the top, the bottom, and the sides of the box.

Next we needed to connect the corners together by creating an l-shaped groove called a rabet on both ends of the side pieces.

We did this so the top and bottom pieces could fit into the groove, making the joint less visible and stronger.

To create the rabet we used a jig that my dad had fashioned himself. He said that he had seen it in a video and thought it was a good idea. That's my dad: he sees something he likes and figures out how to make it. The jig looked similar to the Roman numeral II: two parallel pieces of plywood capped by two thinner strips. The left parallel piece was stationary; the right piece contained bolt that could slide along grooves the strips, allowing you to adjust the gap between the boards. We wanted the rabet to match the depth of the adjoining boards, so we set the gap to an inch, then slid one of the side pieces under the jig, exposing the end we wanted to cut, through the gap.

To create this L-shaped groove we used a plunge router, which does just that. This spring-loaded contraption requires you to you grasp both side handles and press downward, plunging the bit into the wood. The bearing above the bit rides along the edge of the jig so that you won't go outside the lines: kind of like a stencil. After adjusting the bit to cut half an inch deep, my dad made the first rabet. Then he removed the piece, so I could do the other end. As I traced the bearing along the gap we'd created, I was fascinated at how the wood seemed to dissolve before my eyes.
The Back:
The top and bottom pieces fit into the rabets perfectly. Now it was time to create rabets lengthwise on the backside of all four pieces so that the backing of the box could set inside the frame as well.

Because these rabets would be significantly longer than the first set, we decided to do them with a table saw. First we matched the height of the adjustable saw blade to the thickness of the plywood backing, so that it would cut the right depth. My dad lined up the first piece against the table guard and ran it lengthwise down the blade.

After observing him for a couple boards, I followed his example and did the other two.

Next we rotated each piece and cut ran the blade up the backside of the board to meet the previous cut.I'll confess I was

slightly intimidated by the table saw. Even though I used a driving stick to drive the wood across the blade it was still a little nerve-wracking. My dad cautioned me to keep my eyes on the blade the entire time, and I respected that advice. That blade could do significant damage.

The long strips of wood fell away and the result was a rabet that bordered the backside of the entire box.

The Compartments:
We clamped the box frame together, and plotted out compartments in pencil on the backing. I was amazed at my dad's ability to add measurements so quickly. It seemed that while I was still figuring out which mark on the tape measure was the 1/8" mark, he was already sawing. Using the Miter Saw, we cut the poplar into the different dimensions.

In order to make the compartment seams stronger we decided to use a dado, which is like a rabet except the dado is a u-shaped groove because the cut is made in the middle of a piece of wood instead of on the end.

To create a dado, we marked where the piece of poplar intersected with the frame, then used the laser guide on the Miter Saw to create consecutive little cuts until the groove was big enough. After all of the dadoes were complete, we reclamped the box frame and inserted all of the poplar pieces.

After verifying it was square, we glued the frame's rabet joints together with wood glue and reinforced it with finishing nails. The finishing nails purposely don't have heads on them so that they'll sink into the wood. To drive them below the surface, we used a brad nailer, which you place over the top of the nail and hit with a hammer.

After the frame was solid, we added the backing. We used regular nails for this job because the backing would need more support, and the heads wouldn't be seen from the back. We no longer needed the blueprint, so we decided to flip it to the back so that I could keep a memory of how we designed it.

It was getting pretty late, but we decided to try to glue the little compartments. After inserting all of the pieces in the little slots, we noticed that some of our angles were slightly off. The box was square, so that meant that it had to be the actual compartments; if just one of the vertical pieces was too long or too short, it could affect the angle of the horizontal pieces. By that time our brains were fried, so I convinced my stubborn dad that we should go to bed and figure it out in the morning.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The next morning our brains were fresh and we were able to look at the shelves with rested eyes. In examining the compartments, we discovered that one of the upper left vertical pieces was too long and was pushing the intersecting horizontal piece downward, so we shaved just a smidgen off of that piece with the miter saw. Fixing that problem resulted in one of the other intersecting pieces being too short, and since we'd used all the poplar, we had to return to the home depot.

While we were there, we stopped by the hardware picked up a magnetic latch for the door. We also looked for knobs for the drawer and door, but I didn't see any that I particularly liked. I figured that I would have to search online for a knob at a different time.

After remedying the piece that was too short, we measured again, and the angles were correct. We quickly and carefully glued all of the compartments in place and clamped a few of the walls to ensure they stayed put. Just to verify it was square we cut a block of wood the size of the drawer and placed it in the middle of the drawer slot.

The Drawer:
My dad picked out a block of wood, about 3/4 inch thick, to act as the front of the drawer. It seemed too thick to me, but my dad explained that half of the thickness would act as the face of the drawer, covering the outer seams of the slot, and the other half would be rabeted to inset the sides of the drawer.

After we cut the out the drawer front, I used a table router to round the edges, giving it a more polished look. A cool thing about a table router is that it shaves on the bottom, so you only see the product after you flip it over and it has magically transformed.

The drawer front measured 5" wide by 3 1/2" tall, allowing for the slot edges, which were about 1/4" thick. We then cut the sides and back of the drawer out of poplar about 1/4" thick, and cut the bottom out of a piece of melamine about 1/8" thick.

We ran the drawer front down the table saw one way, and then the other, carving out 1/4" rabet on the top and bottom to allow for the slot edges, and 1/2" rabet on the sides to account for both the slot
edges and the sides of the drawer.

We didn't need to tack on another 1/8" for the bottom of the drawer because we were planning on using--you guessed it--
a dado.

We cut 1/8" dadoes into the bottom of the front, sides and back pieces.

Now it was time to put this puzzle together. We lined the edge of the first side piece with glue, applied it to the rectangular of the cover. Because one clumsy swing of the hammer could actually demolish such a delicate box, I let me dad drive the nails while I held it steady. Then we did the same with the other side piece, inserting the bottom piece into the dado slots to add more support. Finally we nestled the back piece in between the two sides.
Beads of perspiration later, we had created what my dad acknowledged as the smallest drawer he'd ever made.

The Door:
I wanted the door to fit together like a picture frame, so we cut the other pine beam into four pieces with 45 degree edges. The rotating base on the Compound Miter Saw made this a cinch.

To join the corners together, we used a nifty machine called a Biscuit Joiner to cut horizontal, crescent-shaped slots in the edges of each piece. We then covered oval shaped wooden disks called biscuits in glue and inserted them in the slot, covering the biscuit halfway.

The remaining other half of the biscuit was inserted into the corresponding slot.

After we glued all of the edges together, we used pipe clamps to hold the door in place while the biscuits expanded and sealed the joints. It looked as though my door was in a straight jacket. There are clamps that are actually made for such purposes, but my dad didn't have one so we had to be a little creative. The convenient thing about a pipe clamp is that one end of the pipe is fixed and the other slides up and down the pipes, so you can adjust it to where you want.

After the door was dry, we sanded down some of the seams with an oscillating disk sander and then used the router table to round the inside of the door's hollow. After the routing, the peep-hole didn't look quite right until my dad chiseled out the corners. I realized that it was those simple touches that turned an amateur project into a finished piece of art.

The Top and Bass:
For the top and bass of the box we decided to use two pine pieces from my dad's scrap pile. The boards were about 3/4" thick, and I felt they overwhelmed the box, so we ran them through a Thickness Planer. This tool was one of my favorites. You set the dial to a desired thickness and this machine actually shaves the board down to that measurement. It reminded me of making pasta and continually running the dough through the noodle maker. Of course, the noodle maker didn't spit out wooden confetti all over the place. When we were satisfied with the thickness, we nailed a piece on the top and the bottom of the box with finishing nails.

The Drawer Pull:
As my dad sifted through the workshop drawers looking for hinges he came upon an old gold-tinged knob, perfect for my little drawer. This shop had been my grandpa's and it was very possible that he had touched this very same knob. I cradled the new found treasure in my hand, taking joy in the fact that my grandpa would now be apart of my memory box as well. After my father put the smallest bit I'd ever seen into the drill press, I cautiously pulled down on the lever, drilling a hole in the center of my tiny little box. I then pushed a screw in the hole from the back and twister it into the drawer pull.

Before our last trip to Home Depot to pick out some hinges, we filled all of the nail holes and other flaws with puddy. When we returned, we used the disk sander as well as to even out the wood as much as possible.

The Hinges:
My dad asked if I would like the hinges on top of the wood or set inside. If they were on top the door wouldn't lay completely flat, so of course I said I wanted it the other way. Little did I know that this process would take more time than the door and the drawer combined. We measured where the hinges would go, and then carefully traced the outside of the hinge on both the box and the door. My dad then lined and filled in the trace with shallow diagonal cuts about 1/32" deep. He explained that the small slits help to control the depth; if you tried to cut the wood in one strip, it would naturally follow the grain and perhaps cut too deep or unevenly. During this process, my father and I both silently agreed that he would do the chiseling and I would watch and pray.

This process would have been hard enough, but the fact that my father's chisels needed to be sharped and we couldn't find his sharpener made it downright tedious. Finally, a disk sander, sand paper, and sharpening stone later, each rectangle was the appropriate depth.

But the drama wasn't over yet. We lined up the hinges and used a center finder to punch a starting point into the wood. My dad prefers manually driving screws when working with hinges so we used a Push Drill to create the holes for the screws. I was impressed at how easily this spring-loaded, screw-driver punched through the wood, but because the center finder was a little off, one of our holes didn't line up with the hinge. So, we had to plug the hole with glue and wood shavings and let it dry and then move the hole over and drill again. This seemed like the kind of fix I would come up with, so I was amused that it actually worked.

After we screwing all of the hinges in place, came the moment of truth. We tried the door and thankfully it opened and closed with no interference from the top or bass of the box. Although the hinges were a nightmare, it was worth it to have the door lay completely flat.
The Final Touches:
Now it was a matter of the little things. We screwed a magnetic latch on the inside of the box, and it's corresponding magnet on the door so that the door would stay closed. For the hanging slots in back, we used the Plunge Router, this time with a special hanging slot bit. This bit enters the wood with a larger hole, then slides upward into a narrow slit so that you can hang it on the wall.

The Triumph:

A little over 17 hours of labor, and my beautiful memory box was finished. My mother came out to the shop and took pictures of our tired but triumphant faces. Though it had only been about 17 hours, I felt I'd learned so much. The rest of the evening, I couldn't help but hold my new keepsake, running my hands over its smoothness and opening and closing the perfectly hinged door.

Even now, I marvel at the beauty of what my dad and I created out of a few beams of wood; a completely original piece that will serve as a reminder of this challenging and fulfilling year. But what makes it even more special is the fact that the memory box itself is a memory that I created with my dad, one that I will treasure always.

*This blog entry, I am grateful for my talented and supportive parents. Especially this last weekend, I'm thankful for my dad's patience and my mom's much needed cupcake breaks. I feel so blessed to have such wonderful examples in my life.

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About this blog:

The Mission:
Try 31 new things before my 32nd birthday
The Deadline: June 11, 2010

32nd Birthday!

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