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Pi ‑ and pie ‑ help make life’s challenges easier

I riffled through this month’s cerebral images, considered my latest interpersonal interactions, and perused the “National Days” calendar in an attempt to overcome some writer’s block. Like the alignment of Jupiter, Mars and Venus, there was a grand conjunction to awaken my writer’s muse.

Math has always been a hard subject for me. Years ago, when my dad tried to help me with my math homework, I often found myself leaving the table in tears or a cold sweat. Even getting A’s on university homework assignments did not ease my panic attacks during test time.

Trying to overcome math anxiety in my 40s, I even resorted to a bio-feedback therapist. That was a total bust as he explained that he would start the session by asking a simple math question. Then he queried, “What is 3+5?” Instantly my bio-feedback reading bolted off the chart. He spent the remainder of the hour trying to talk me down — unsuccessfully. So much for that breed of cure.

I bake, I sew, I paint. Each day we all use math in tasks and hobbies. Working up original recipes or adjusting serving sizes requires working with fractions. Even placing a pie crust in a pie plate requires some mathematical forethought.

Then there is sewing. While crafting with a friend we decided to cover Styrofoam balls with fabric. We tried to figure out how large a ball we needed; they are sold by diameter size. We had the Styrofoam balls, but measuring the outside of the ball gives the circumference, not the diameter. Give me a ruler and I can measure, make me use an equation and I drown. So I guessed.

And painting a piece for a geometry-lover is far different than for someone who loves landscapes and golden scrolls. I am working on the hardest piece of my life as I attempt to incorporate the beauty of this world in a mathematical motif. Yet, in doing some research on pi, I just learned the relationship between circles and polygons — critical for my current painting. Now, maybe I can make some progress on that project.

Amidst all these projects intertwined with my phobia, discussions with my daughter this month are replete regarding the completion of her master’s degree. Committee meetings and critiques of her project are pretty much done. The only thing left is her official Project Defense, a statistical comparison of pre- and post-test student assessments. Yes! This math-phobic birthed a math genius. How does this happen? I can review and edit her papers, but when it comes to the equations within them, she is on her own. I do words, she does the math.

Long ago, I encouraged my daughter to be a better person than I am. To be smarter, kinder, more educated, more impactful on society. She has done so in spades.

Math did not come easy for her. Three consecutive years of math substitute teachers in middle school did not help. Despite a mother useless as a math tutor, she tackled the subject. She realized that no one can succeed in this life without a working knowledge of math and recognized that at-risk kids are the least successful in achieving this goal.

She is now a dedicated teacher of junior high math in an at-risk school. She is smart and kind, gaining her master’s in math education, and is reaching gang leaders and kids who live out of cars. She is touching their lives, changing them for the better, and letting them know they can succeed in math and life in general.

As in any family, overcoming challenges is a big deal in our family. For me, the answer to so many of this month’s challenges is pi! Pi and stick-to-it-tive-ness. We all face challenges. We all have imperfections to overcome. Resolving challenges or overcoming imperfections takes work on our part, but both develop our character and help us mend the chinks in our potential.

Like pi, life can seem irrational and challenges can seem infinite. But, also so like pi, fully understanding the problem and finding the interrelationship — the conjunction — can make the job of life easier, far more stable and ultimately beautiful.

National Pi Day is this week (3-14-15), the first 5 digits of pi. It is a fun celebration in our family, usually spent eating pie. March 14 was selected as pi day based on the Greek-Roman scientist Ptolemy (ca. 150 A.D.) determining the value for π as 3.1416. Indian scripts of the same era also use a similar value. The earliest written approximations of pi are found in Babylon on a clay tablet dated 1900–1600 B.C. and an Egyptian papyrus dating back to 1850 B.C. uses pi in a formula for the area of a circle.

By the way, to estimate the diameter of a ball just take a thread, wrap it once around the sphere, measure it and divide that by 3. It may not be exact, but working out the decimals to 40 digits (or obsessively to 67,000 digits) seems irrational to me. And since π is an irrational number, that is all the excuse I need to evade more math calculations!

So, grab yourself some pie and celebrate National Pi Day this Saturday.

Cat Trico has been a resident of Boulder City since 2003 and is a past president of the Senior Center and co-founder of the Decker Lake Wetlands Preserve. As an author and editor, she contributed to “Rights, Responsibilities, and Relationships” for youth. She can be reached at cat.circa1623@gmail.com.

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