Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Resolutions?

Should I make resolutions for next year?

When I first started this blog, I was all about it. I broke them down into different categories and reported back periodically on my progress. Not because I thought anyone was really that concerned, but to keep myself honest.

And then, Eleanor was born. All that went out the window. My goal for 2008 was pretty much to just still be alive for 2009. Success!

In 2009, things improved a lot. Eleanor is becoming more independent all the time, allowing me to still bits of time here and there to get things done. I switched to teaching part-time (or professoring, if you prefer), which offers a good schedule and that I enjoy.

Most importantly, in 2009 I've worked a LOT on calming down, going with the flow, not being so hung up on my to-do lists. I need to learn to accept that days don't always go as planned, and it's okay if sometimes my to-do list is barely touched, much less finished. It doesn't make me incompetent or lazy or a bad person. It's life.

This is a big lesson for me to learn, but I'm getting there. So, in the spirit of that lesson, I think I'm going to forgo the New Year's Resolutions. I definitely have some ideas in mind: about fitness, about writing, about leisure. But I am going to resist the urge to write them down and then see them as set in stone (absolutely must happen!) in my mind.

Maybe, at the end of 2010, I'll let you know, generally, how I did on achieving my goals. And you'll just have to believe me!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

In my opinion, there's two types of people. Either you look forward to Christmas Day, or you live for Christmas Eve.

I love Christmas Eve. I love the anticipation. You could be getting anything you've ever wanted—or the best present you've never even thought of. But once you have it, you'll know it's perfect. It could still be a white Christmas, no matter what the meteorologists say. Everyone could wake up happy and at peace with the world and it could be the best Christmas ever. The Christmas Eve gathering is a big party, filled with excitement and expectations and giddiness. Anything could happen!

Compared to the anticipation, the reality can never live up to that. Christmas is just a day. One filled with presents and much loved family, it's true. And one (almost entirely, I did try, but I don't want to forget to bring anything to my parents!) devoid of to-do lists. But it is a day. You will never get EVERYTHING your heart ever desired, or those perfect gifts you never knew you wanted, but will forever cherish. Nor should you get everything, because then what? You eat a lot of good food, and then feel a bit ill from too much indulging. You still need to clean up after the presents have all been unwrapped, and that laundry isn't going to wash itself.

So now that I'm writing this, it sounds really depressing. But that wasn't my point. My point is that I entire the Christmas season as a whole much better than just Christmas Day. Which I think is a good thing, because it means I get to savor a month of preparations and decorations and gift wrapping and Christmas movies, instead of enjoying just one hour of opening gifts on Christmas morning.

I hope that it can be considered a key to how I approach life. I would like to think that I have that kind of attitude, anyway. It's not the destination that matters, but the journey. Appreciating the preparation, whether it be education or pregnancy or saving up the money to buy a house. The journey has endless possibilities to be explored, while there is just one singular destination. Where's the fun in that?

Let's all enjoy the journey. And Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Not Santa!!

As suspected, Eleanor was not a fan of Santa. She fell asleep in the car on the way there, and was still half asleep when we got there. The American Legion was PACKED with kids and parents and grandparents. It was noisy and crowded, and she just wasn't sure how she felt about it all.

She made her feelings about Santa clear, however. We went up to put Eleanor on Santa's lap and she flipped out. She gave a few short warning screams when we were milling close by, but as soon as I made a move towards the big man in red and he waved his bell at her, the scream became much louder, longer and more urgent. Get me away from him!!!!

So, no pictures with Santa this year. But we did collect a present, which she opened in the safety and calm of Grandma and Grandpa's house. It was not one, but two! baby dolls. She carried them around the rest of the day, clunking their heads together, dropping them, carrying them upside down .... doing everything a caring mother does. I suspect that they are just the beginning of a much bigger collection.

Hopefully she's starting to associate Santa with presents. And next year she will be happy to sit on his lap, tell him everything she wants, and hold out her hands for her gift. For this year, I can't wait until she opens the doll stroller we got her and she can take those babies for a ride! In the meantime, maybe we can get a picture of her holding a Santa ornament?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Visit with Santa

I can't believe this was Eleanor on Santa's lap last year. She looks so tiny!

We are going to visit with Santa again this weekend. I hope that she enjoys it. We've been reading "The Night Before Christmas" and she recognizes Santa now. She even chants (an Eleanor version) of "Ho, ho, ho!" when asked what Santa says. Which means it sounds more like "Ooo, ohoooo, oooo," and she repeats it about eight times, instead of three.

She is much more involved in everything Christmas this year. We have three old Advent calendars that we display on the dining room windowsill. One is a "repurposed" calendar of Santa in nature—a snowy woods scene, where he is followed by a moose, squirrel, wolf, and other animals of the forest. When you open the doors, however, my Mom has replaced the original pictures with pictures from throughout my childhood, and made up her own rhymes about the family (the cats play a particularly prominent role). She gave these calendars to me and my sisters one year, and I always enjoy looking at it.

The other two aren't as personal, but still memorable. One is a very modern style calendar, featuring Santa and the elves at a Christmas feast, that Keith and I bought the last time we were in England. The other is a glittery, snowy scene of old half-timbered buildings that my parents brought back from their trip to Germany.

Anyway, point being: every morning for breakfast, Eleanor looks at all three of the Advent calendars and enjoys opening all of the doors. It's amazing how much she has changed since last year. She has adopted a stuffed snowman; she carries him around, puts him on a chair at the table, covers him with a blanket to go to sleep, and hugs him profusely. I wish I got half as many hugs and kisses as the snowman!

It is so much fun to have a child at Christmastime. It makes me feel like a kid again. The season is so much more magical.... But. We met Erin and Gavin at the mall today. Most of the time, Eleanor was excited to look at the people and the stores and the decorations. After getting pretzels at "an autonomous unit for mid-mall snacking," we stopped at a playground. Gavin immediately loved it, and started playing. But Eleanor was a lot more fearful of the unknown equipment and the oversized turtle. She needed Mama to play with her on everything once before she was okay, and even then she still had moments of panic where she looked for me or Erin.

And it made me wonder about how her visit with Santa will go this year. She is very friendly and outgoing, but in large groups it can take a long time for her to warm up. I'm actually guessing that it's not going to go well. I don't think we'll have another picture like the one above. If she stays on his lap long enough to get a picture at all, I think it will be one of a toddler in abject misery.

Maybe she'll prove me wrong. And I know that, by next year, she will probably be throwing herself at Santa, reciting her Christmas wishlist before she is even on his lap. We'll see what happens this year, though. The fact that she is so much more aware and involved, but not yet talking or understanding everything we say can be a mixed bag.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Free at last .... to worry about next semester

Well, this afternoon is the final exam for this semester. Not too many students have availed themselves of the opportunity to turn in the essay early via email, so I'm expecting to see quite a few in person this afternoon.

Ever since our trip to Costa Rica, I have been fantasizing about my Christmas break. A whole month off! Classes done by Dec. 7! I imagined myself taking the time to relax and enjoy the season.

I know this will surprise no one who knows me, but I haven't been as relaxed as I'd hoped—so far, anyway. There's plenty of holiday-related errands and chores to do. But mostly I am getting worried about being prepared for next semester. I've felt like this semester, I was always working so hard to stay one step ahead of the students because I got hired at the last minute. I promised myself I wouldn't ever let that happen again, and that next semester I would be better prepared.

And yet .... so far, I haven't found much time to get ready for next semester. I'm teaching two new classes (new to me, anyway), so that means entirely new syllabi and texts and quizzes and exams. All of which is in a very early state of preparation. Suddenly, this vast break is starting to look a lot shorter and more crowded.

But, I need to keep in mind that the worst-case scenario is that I'm staying up late a few days before the semester starts to finish my syllabi and get them to the copy center for the first day of class. Just like I was this semester. But even if that happens, I will still be better prepared than I was last semester. Because now I will have the experience of teaching and creating lesson plans and the reassurance that I do know more about this whole process than I gave myself credit for a few short months ago. So, even in the worst-case scenario, I'm still better-prepared than I was for this semester. And that's a relief to know.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Angie's List

I don't think I blogged about this before, but it's been coming up in conversation lately so I thought it was worth mentioned. We have been members of Angie's List since we moved to Cleveland 3.5 years ago, and have found it invaluable.

The theory behind it is that the list gives consumers an opportunity to talk about horrible and wonderful contractors, and also gives other consumers a better sense of whether they should hire a contractor or not.

When we moved to the East side of Cleveland, we didn't know anyone on our side of town and couldn't get any personal recommendations for plumbers, carpenters, etc. So we signed up for Angie's List to see what contractors other Angie's List members either recommended or suggested we avoid.

We have used Angie's List to find our plumber, who is great, and the roofers from last year (pretty good), and some others. We have never been displeased with a highly recommended contractor on Angie's List. Conversely, we did NOT find our window contractor on Angie's List because he was recommended by a local restoration society. And we had to take him to small claims court to get him to finish the job.

I was just reminded of this because I was talking to a friend who got screwed over by a moving company. I told her that, for future reference, Angie's List might be helpful. And that made me think that I should mention it to all of you! So if you're looking for contractors and don't know where to begin, I highly recommend Angie's List!

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Winter Treasure Hunt

I don't always like the cold weather. I resent bundling up every time I go out the door ... or even get out of bed. During the cold months, it is rare that my toes are ever bare, because my feet turn into icicles (just ask Keith). I have a slew of scarves and have been known to wear that one particularly thick, chunky sweater for an entire week if the temperature stays below 20 or so.

But there is one part of winter apparel that I enjoy. And that's getting out all of my winter coats, and checking the various pockets. I always keep lip gloss in my pockets throughout the winter, because my lips are as dry as my feet are chilly. So I always like to be prepared. And then, when warmer winds blow and I gladly put away my winter jackets, I forget all about them.

Until this time of year comes around again. In the past week, I've found a tube of Vaseline lipcare, shiny Neutrogena lip gloss, and even a dark-hued Burt's Bees lip gloss (a big splurge for me). Typically, I don't use or carry many lipsticks, but rely on the cheap and tasty Bonne Bell Lipsmackers to get me through the winter. I think I've found one or two of those, too .... it's sort of like an early Christmas present, from Winter 2008 me!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Free at Last!

Class and tutoring are over for the semester!! I have finals next Wednesday, but that's it. I feel a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders!

My first semester teaching has been a real challenge. I always felt a step behind, having only been hired a week before classes started. I would sit down on Sunday and plan the coming week's classes, then do it all again the next week. The only time I was much further ahead than that was when I had to get everything ready for the sub during the Costa Rica trip; and that meant a night up until about 4 am to get it all together.

I also spent a lot of time wondering whether I was doing the right thing or not, in certain classroom situations, with grades, with assignments. Are they really learning what I'm teaching? Is this helping anyone?

But at the end of the day, I think it went pretty well. Some failed, but some passed. Some seemed to really improve their writing. I made plenty of mistakes, but I hope that I learned from them, and next semester will be smoother.

Until then, I'll be glad to take a break from grading and teaching. I still need to plan for next semester, but at least I have a few weeks this time, instead of just one!

Friday, December 04, 2009

And extra exercise!

Since passing out from dehydration in Costa Rica, I've renewed my vow to drink "enough" water. I feel like the numbers are always being debated, but generally I do aim for 64 ounces a day. I think this may be a bit of overkill, considering how much tea I also drink, but better safe than sorry.

The week of Thanksgiving, I didn't do a very good job of it. It's only been in this past week that I've met my goal or come close most days. So it's only recently that I've been peeing about 20 times a day.

When not well-hydrated, I always forget about this "side effect" of proper hydration. But it's encouraging to think that I'm not only better hydrated, but also burning more calories with my frequent trips to the bathroom! That's serious multi-tasking. Now if I just get a pair of those ridiculous Shape Up Walking Shoes, I'll be set.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Real Love

You know how I know Keith still loves me, even after all these years together?

He, like most sane people, is driven crazy after a few minutes of listening to sappy, repetitive Christmas music. I, on the other hand, can't get enough of it and usually listen to it nonstop from Thanksgiving evening until New Year's.

And yet, knowing full well what he was in for, he voluntarily programmed the living room tuner to the 24/7 Christmas music light rock station. The tuner that is hooked up to 4 SPEAKERS.

That's love. Selfless (self-flagellating?) love. Thanks, Keith. You can talk to me about Fantasy Football statistics all day on Sunday, and I will do my best to follow.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Holidays Are Upon Us

I can't believe how quickly Thanksgiving snuck up on me. First we were preparing for the half-marathon on Nov. 1, then the trip to Costa Rica followed just a few days after. Once we got back from Costa Rica, I had barely dug out from class paperwork before we were jumping in the car, heading to Cincinnati for Thanksgiving.

And now, tomorrow is December 1. I feel like last year the holidays were a blur. For example, in November AND December last year, I posted 11 times, which is the same amount I posted in November alone, this year. I did all of my shopping online; partly because I enjoy it, but mostly because I didn't have any time or energy to wander the shops in person.

Eleanor has changed a lot since then, and I have made a lot of progress in my quest to accomplish the work of someone with five hands and two brains. Motherhood takes multi-tasking a whole new level, but that's a different story for another time.

The biggest difference for me this holiday season will actually be job-related. At this time last year, I was struggling to work about 25 hours per week (15 hours of office work at home, plus 10 hours of online tutoring). In contrast, this is my last full week of teaching. Next Monday is the final day of class, and then the final exam will be on December 16. I see December spreading out before me, filled with long naps, getting lost in books, and fitting plenty of cooking, cleaning, and organizing into all those many spare minutes I'll have on hand.

I know I need to take a step back and realize that reality NEVER matches my fantasies. I will not have nearly as much time as I imagine. But still ... it will be more time than I've had since Eleanor was born. I didn't work at all the first 6 weeks, but I still had my hands full. Now we have a manageable schedule, the house actually has been cleaned relatively recently, and the pile of mail hasn't migrated from the mail slot to the coffee table onto the floor.

And I've gotten a lot better at giving myself permission to take 5 or 10 minutes and relax. Read a book, nap with the cat, or watch TV. Even if everything on my to-do list isn't checked off yet, I have accepted that I am human and relaxing is a necessity, too. So even though we all know that I won't get EVERYTHING done that I would like to during December, I do think that a lot of it will get done .... and a few books will be enjoyed, too.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Day 8: The Aftermath

After the wedding ceremony, Keith and I stood and looked at the sun setting over the ocean. Eleanor was asleep on Karen's shoulder nearby.

"I think it's been worth it," Keith affirmed. (Of course, this was before the whole passing-out incident.)

I nodded. "I'm glad you think so," I said. "I'm not convinced yet."

We've been home for a few weeks now. During the trip and after, I've been asking myself that pointless, unanswerable, yet unavoidable question: If given the chance, would I do it over again?

I do think that it was the right decision to go. We wanted to be there for the wedding, and I also want Eleanor to experience travel throughout her life. I firmly believe that travel both makes us appreciate what we have, and what can be. It keeps us from getting too complacent in the quotidian details of our lives, and also reminds us of the excitement of both new experiences and meeting challenges head-on.

As a child, I traveled around the country with my family. Not counting Canada (because it's closer to my hometown that a majority of the U.S. and because it doesn't present the culture shock that I associate with foreign travel), I didn't travel abroad until I was 21. I loved our family trips, and I look forward to doing many more with Keith and Eleanor. But if I can, I also want to give her the opportunity to experience traveling abroad at a younger age. I hope that, through travel (among other things), she will see her world without boundaries, and her potential as limitless.

So yes, I am glad we chose to travel with her. I would do it again, and I do hope to do it again. Conversely, this experience actually makes me eager to travel again with Eleanor. I want to prove to myself that traveling with Eleanor isn't always going to be so disastrous. It was just bad luck.

In the meantime, we have a lot of good memories and entertaining small talk from our trip. I like to imagine we'll go back to Costa Rica someday. Maybe in five years, or 10 years, or maybe for Keith's and my 25th wedding anniversary. Whenever it may be, we'll go back and have a fabulous, illness-free time. And we'll laugh about the misadventures of our first trip to Costa Rica, but also talk about the rich experiences and new ideas that travel has given us.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Days 6-7: Taking It Easy

After Eleanor was sick, and I was sick, and THEN I passed out, our motto was "take it easy."

On Monday, Keith's entire family went on an all-day tour around some islands. We barely left the house. We spent a lot of time on the bed pictured on the left—aka the biggest bed I've ever seen. I don't know if it comes across well in that picture, but it's far bigger than just a king-sized bed. On the first night, we laid Eleanor down to sleep in the middle of the bed. Then Keith and I "squeezed" in together on one side of her, rather than risk moving her. We still had plenty of room.

We napped and read and played with Eleanor. We sat on the edge of the pool and dipped our feet in, but I don't think we even went so far as to actually swim in it, and it's just 15 feet behind the house.

Oh, and we drank lots of water. Lots and lots of water.

On Tuesday, we were heading out. Rather than do the entire trip in one day again, we split it up. Tuesday we drove back to San Jose and stayed in a "boutique hotel" there overnight. Our flight left early Wednesday morning.

There was time for a surfing lesson early Tuesday morning. Keith, Jeremy, and Anna took the lesson. Jessi and I went along for the ride. We did take the ATVs into town. I was glad to get to ride them one more time. I'd had so much fun on the way into dinner the other night and, for obvious reasons, didn't get to ride it back home.

We left the ATVs parked next to the surf shop and walked with the instructor down to the beach. As soon as we hit the shoreline, he turned and started walking up the beach, back towards our house. By the time we all stopped walking, we were closer to our house than we were to the surf shop.

As Keith and Anna and Jeremy surfed (or attempted to), I tried to decide if I was sorry to be missing out. When surfing lessons were originally mentioned, I had definitely been interested. But those were not gentle waves. At least the passing-out incident took the decision out of my hands, so I could still pretend to be wild and courageous at heart.

After the lesson, everyone was checking bags and pockets for money and keys. Keith couldn't find his ATV key anywhere. He looked at me.

"I may have left it in the ATV," he confessed. "I don't remember taking it out."

And suddenly I realized that the other shoe had dropped. This was the final nail in the coffin of our cursed trip. The ATV would be stolen, and we were going to have to buy an ATV in Costa Rica. I started wondering: how much do ATVs cost? What's our credit card limit? How, exactly, would this work?

Jessi and I walked down the beach to our house, leaving Keith, Anna, and Jeremy to return their surfboards and pick up the ATVs. When we got back to the house, I don't think either one of us said anything about the possibility of an ATV going missing. I know I didn't. I figured whether it was gone or not, it would become apparent soon enough. So no point in worrying anyone else until we knew.

Finally, the others returned. Keith had left the key in the ATV. And yet it was still parked exactly where he had left it. Some good luck, for a change!

And the good luck continued. The trip back to San Jose was uneventful. We had a delicious dinner in town that evening—Indian food, of all things. The flights back were fine and we were back home on Wednesday evening.

Although I had been imagining sleeping in my own bed ever since the first day of the trip, it was even better than I could have possibly imagined. Eleanor was fast asleep in her crib across the hall. I felt Keith's arm holding me close, and the softness of our flannel sheets. We warmed up under the covers, especially once Beckett curled up at our feet, as the night air in the room grew chilly. It was quiet; no need for a noisy air conditioner like in Costa Rica. Even with my eyes closed, I could still picture every piece of furniture in the room. It felt familiar and comfortable.

I was so glad to be home.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Day 5: Surprise!

Okay, it's now Sunday. On Saturday was a beautiful wedding and a fantastic reception. The food was amazing, the music was fabulous, and of course, the location was one-of-a-kind. It was a great wedding.

But now it's Sunday. The wedding is over, and we're ready to really have a good time. Up to this point, we've made it to the beach one time for an hour or so. We're want to really enjoy our vacation!

From the beginning of the day, however, it seemed that things—again—were not going to be according to plan.

Eleanor woke up early and went down for a nap again by 9 o'clock. At home, her schedule was very regular. She always slept on her own, in her crib, and she was down to just one afternoon nap a day. But with the traveling and the sickness, anything went in Costa Rica. Until Sunday, every time she had slept had been with me or Keith or Karen, either in the bed, in the hammock, or even just in our arms. We could tell that she was still tired, but it was hard to convince her to nap properly when there was just so much going on.

Finally, her Sunday morning nap was on her own, in the Pack n' Play. Everyone else left for the post-wedding brunch from 10-12, but Keith and I stayed behind. Eleanor was finally sleeping, and I was not going to let anything interfere with that.

So we read and napped. We snacked and waited. We were planning on taking a Zip-line tour with the rest of the family and Cousin Anna, while Grandma Karen graciously offered to stay home with the baby. But Eleanor's fabulous nap meant that everyone else left while she slept on, and Keith and Karen and I hung around the house.

But it was worth it, because when she woke up she was finally herself again. So happy! We again went through the extensive preparations and set off for the beach. This time, you would think that Eleanor had been born near a tropical beach. She played in the sand, and she even let me put her down in the water for a few moments. Real progress!

Then Karen and Aunt Lily sat with Eleanor and let Keith and I go play in the waves. I can't really blame Eleanor for being scared of the waves; I got knocked off my feet a few times, and it was definitely alarming to be ass over teakettle, and we weren't very far into the water at all. I have only been to the ocean a few times in my life, and it is always exciting and frightening to realize how powerful the waves can be.

Meanwhile, Eleanor played and snacked on the beach. She did not let a bit of sand and who knows what else deter her from her goldfish and Yogurt Melts. She dropped food and immediately picked it back up to put it in her mouth. Delicious! Plus, she contaminated our one water bottle with regurgitated goldfish, so after a few gulps she no longer had any competition for the water.

Aunt Lily left, and we headed back to the house. Eleanor fell asleep on me while we were catching up with the Zip-line crew and talking about our days. We had glasses of white wine on the veranda and shared our stories. Keith got Eleanor settled in the Pack n' Play (her second time sleeping by herself that day!) and cousin Anna mentioned that she, along with some wedding guests, would be heading into town for dinner that evening.

I'm not sure if we were invited or not—it's entirely possible she was just talking about her plans. But we were in! Keith and I jumped at the chance to be out of the house and doing something. Since Eleanor was already asleep, we just wore what we had on and raced out the door.

In getting to the Zip-line tour, everyone had decided the easiest, fastest way to get over the bumpy dirt roads would be to rent ATVs instead of dealing with taxis or cars. So Keith and I got to ride an ATV to the hotel to meet Anna and her friends and then into town. It was awesome! I had a stupid grin on my face the entire time. I felt the wind past my body, I held tightly onto Keith, and I could feel the heavy weight of responsibility lifting off my shoulders.

Dinner was nice. We ended up at an Israeli restaurant, of all places. Over hummus and pitas, we got to know Gene's friends. I was glad to see that Dr. Nick was there, since he was one of the witness to my initial meltdown over Eleanor's fever. I was glad to have a chance to show that I wasn't always the neurotic, overprotective, underprepared mother. I also talk about work and culture, I swear!

Things were going swimmingly until, oh, about 5 minutes after the meals arrived. Many of us had ordered a plate of traditional Costa Rican food. Each plate had several small servings of things like white rice, black beans, salad, cole slaw, and french fries. (Random, I know.) I knew not to eat the salad, because of concerns about the vegetables being washed in water that would make me sick. Instead, I started with the cole slaw.

"Hey, has anyone tried the coleslaw?" Dr. Nick asked the table at large, after mine was pretty much gone. "It looks like a G.I. tract nightmare. I give it 50/50!"

I swallowed hard. I was already starting to feel like this trip was cursed for us, and this confirmed it. At that point I knew: I was absolutely going to get violently ill and be in bed for the rest of the trip.

I whispered my suspicions to Keith, but otherwise kept quiet. Throughout the rest of the meal, I kept feeling worse and worse. But it was all in my head, right? Right?!?

When we got up to leave, my suspicions were confirmed. I felt AWFUL. I was dizzy, and sweaty, and pretty sure I was going to throw up. We were walking down the sidewalk, leaving the restaurant, and I called to Keith who was a few steps ahead of me.

"I really do not feel good," I said. "I'm going to go back in to the bathroom. You can tell everyone to go ahead if they want," (because I might be awhile is the part I didn't say) "but I can't leave right now."

Keith looked very concerned, but nodded. I turned to go back inside .....

.... and the next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground. My toe hurt. Dr. Nick was looking down at me. I was seriously confused because, during the few minutes that I was passed out, I had thought I was back at home. So all I could think was, Where am I? And that's the guy from Costa Rica--why is he here?!?

So yeah. I didn't fall victim to the coleslaw, but I did pass out. Apparently from dehydration, according to the Costa Rican doctor that I saw at the local emergency clinic. He made me drink about 20 gallons of water and an electrolyte drink. Finally, after getting my pulse checked many times first by Dr. Nick and then by the Costa Rican doctor, drinking more than I ever thought my body could contain, and passing the very official test of being able to stand without swaying, I was released to go home and rest and keep drinking.

This was turning out to be less than the dream vacation we had pictured. But I was actually very lucky that Keith caught me as I fell, or else I think I could have done a lot more damage.

We got back to the house a little after midnight. Keith's parents were excited that we had been gone so long, happy that we were finally getting to enjoy ourselves. Eleanor slept the entire time we were gone.

She did wake up as we were brushing our teeth, however. From the bedroom, we heard rustling and then a very distinct call of, "Up!"

She was in a great mood, well-rested and happy to see us. We just wanted to go to bed. We eventually compromised by all ending up in bed together again.

Even though they told me to rest, I wasn't sure if I was ever going to fall asleep. First, I was getting up every other minute to go pee. Second, I never sleep as well when I'm Eleanor's mattress. And third, I was still worried. What if it wasn't just dehydration? What if it was something more serious? The nearest hospital was a two-hour drive and one-hour ferry ride away. But I had it on good authority that it wasn't a very good hospital—if I really needed a hospital, I would want to go all the way back to the capital city, San Jose, which was a 7-hour trip over land, but only 20 minutes by air.

Just how badly jinxed was this trip? Was passing out from dehydration bad enough? Or was it going to get worse? I guess I didn't do a very good job of showing Dr. Nick or any of Gene's other friends that I can be a normal, funny, intelligent person. I was so tired, and I wanted to fall asleep. But there was also a part of me that was afraid that I wouldn't wake up. I haven't had many health scares in my life, and being in Costa Rica for this wasn't helping any. I couldn't imagine anything better than being safe in my own bed at home, or anything that seemed further away.

As I decided I would never be able to sleep and would be in even worse shape the next day, I blinked and realized it was early morning. Apparently I had made it through the night. I still wanted to be home, but I felt a little more certain that I would get there eventually.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day 4: Wedding on the Beach

Finally, a sickness-free Saturday dawned. Eleanor was all better. My stomach was still tender, but the throwing up seemed (fingers crossed!) to be done.

We awoke to torrential rain. As I think I mentioned, we were in Costa Rica for the end of the rainy season. So it rained at some point on most days. But this, the day of the wedding, it rained a LOT. It rained first thing in the morning, and it poured again later in the day, leading up to the planned sunset beach ceremony.

But in between, we finally made it to the beach. The beach was only a few minutes' walk from our house; at times we could hear it as a faint roar when sitting on the back porch. However, with all the sickness Eleanor and I had barely been there for more then a few minutes since we arrived.

Once the sun broke through we, decided today was our day. And a mere half-hour later, after getting everyone into bathing suits, lathered in sunscreen, and all beach towels, hats, water, snacks, etc. packed, we were on our way.

In our earlier, brief jaunts to the beach, Eleanor had liked the idea of the ocean, but didn't want to get too involved. She made the excited face and pointed as we approached, but cried if we tried to wade in at all and held onto my neck with a death grip. I did set her down in the wet sand for a bit, and she spent the entire time holding onto my finger with one hand, and using the other hand to try and brush sand off her feet. She'd pick up one foot and brush futilely at the wet, gloppy sand. Then she would put that foot down, and try to clean the other one. Repeat.

However, on this day we did manage to convince her that playing in the sand was enjoyable, rather than something to be dreaded. Eleanor and I sat on a beach mat while Grandpa Jim piled sand in front of her. First we buried my legs, and then Eleanor started knocking down Jim's sand pile. As Eleanor got sand between her toes, on her legs, in her bathing suit, and under her fingernails, her delight grew.

"Ha-ha!" she laughed with glee as she knocked down another of Jim's sand piles. We buried her legs and she helped uncover them. We didn't manage to change her mind about the ocean, but it was time to head back to the house and get cleaned up for the ceremony.

While we were back at the house, and driving to the ceremony at a nearby hotel, it was still pouring down rain. Everyone anxiously watched the rain as the appointed hour grew near. About a half-hour before the ceremony was to start, the skies suddenly cleared for a beautiful sunset wedding.

Eleanor was supposed to be a flower girl, but that wasn't happening. I tried to set her down at the end of the aisle and the closer my arms got to the ground, the further up her legs curled so there was no way she was going to voluntarily stand and walk. I gave up and we went to our seats.

Once we were at our seats, Eleanor was perfectly willing to stand on her own. I set her down in front of me. She looked down and then looked up at me with big eyes. There was more SAND down there!!!

She spent the entire ceremony digging in the sand, getting it all over her wedding dress and eventually on me, once I picked her up. But she was happy and quiet, and let the rest of us enjoy the ceremony. So I was glad that we had made it to the beach earlier in the day and turned her into a sand-o-phile.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Days 2-3: Sickness

Once we were done traveling, we had thought the worst was over. We were wrong.

On the ferry, I had noticed that Eleanor was starting to feel warm. I told myself it was just from traveling, and she would be fine in the morning. But she wasn't. She definitely had a fever and was miserable.

The night we arrived, the groom (Keith's cousin Gene) and his mother stopped by to say hello and help us get settled. Wonderful people they are, they brought us food and potable water. Gene, who also happens to be an ER doctor in New York City, mentioned that he was surfing at 7am the next morning with his friends, and anyone would be welcome to join him.

Well, Eleanor woke up at 5.30am, crying and feeling like she was on fire. We groggily got up and did the best we could to appease her, but she was clearly very unhappy.

And we were also unhappy. How could she be sick already? And how could we forget to bring a thermometer and children's Tylenol?!? We were so focused on travel-specific items like getting her Hep A shot, and filling a prescription for diarrhea medication (just in case!), and bringing plenty of sunscreen, band-aids and Neosporin .... we completely forgot to be prepared for the usual baby illnesses. I felt so worried and like a horrible mother, because I wasn't prepared.

After worrying myself into a serious funk, Karen and I walked to where Gene was staying, just one house further down the beach. The house looked completely quiet, but we figured someone had to be up. Right?

Finally, on a bench behind the house, facing the infinity pool and the ocean (which I barely even saw), we found Gene's two surfing buddies. Who are also ER doctors with him. I couldn't be bothered to learn their names or introduce myself before launching into "My daughter is sick and I don't know what to do!" I even found myself getting choked up as I talked. As I tried to hold back the tears, I thought about how embarrassed I was to be this crazy stranger-lady who is having a meltdown in Costa Rica, and they just want to go surfing. It only got worse when their medical advice was to give Eleanor baby Tylenol, keep her hydrated, and keep an eye on her ... and I had to admit I was also a bad, unprepared mother because I didn't bring any baby Tylenol.

By this time, Gene had shown up so he offered to run over to his sister Teresa's place. Teresa has two young daughters and is also the most organized, efficient person in the world, so there was no doubt that she would have a thermometer and medicine that we could borrow. I thanked him profusely and retreated back to our house, to hold Eleanor and apologize again for being such a terrible mother. I'm sure the doctors sighed with relief, and hopefully went surfing.

As promised, Gene delivered the medical necessities, courtesy of Teresa. Once we had the thermometer and the Tylenol, I calmed down a bit. We spent most of the day relaxing in the bedroom or swinging in the hammock. We briefly attended the rehearsal dinner that night, but there was too much heat and noise and people, so we left before dinner was even served, and long before the party really got started.

By the next morning (Friday), Eleanor's fever was waning. After much discussion and debate, more logical minds prevailed and we all agreed that there was no way she could have gotten sick in Costa Rica, since she was already feeling warm within a few hours of our arrival. Maybe she could have gotten something on the plane? But even that would mean an incubation period of less than a day between getting infected and showing symptoms. So was the most likely explanation that she was actually sick before we even left Cleveland, and it was just poor, dumb luck that she got sick on our trip? Somehow, that seemed like the most far-fetched yet logical explanation.

So by mid-Friday morning, I could stop worrying so much about Eleanor and concentrate on me, because I felt horrible. Jeremy had brought back some champagne from the rehearsal dinner the night before, and I decided to have a mimosa. There'd been some rumblings in my stomach area during the night and early morning that I had tried to ignore, but somehow the mimosa brought these minor cramps to full force. I went to the bathroom and puked up everything I had eaten so far that day.

Instead of laying in bed as Eleanor's mattress, I laid in bed of my own accord. Keith made Costa Rican style "gallo pintos" for lunch—black beans and rice. I had really been looking forward to trying it when he started soaking the beans the night before, but at this point I knew it was not a good idea. I took a few antacids that were helpfully included in the wedding bags and curled into a ball on the couch. Was it something I ate? Did I catch a bug on the plane? Had all of my worrying from the previous day actually turned into physical illness? I didn't know what I had; I just knew I was tired of feeling like crap and wanted to actually start my vacation!

After that, I risked eating a few tortillas chips because they were the only things that didn't make me want to vomit as soon as I looked at them. Just kidding! I still threw them up a bit later.

By the evening, I was still feeling shaky and weak, but not as vomitous. Cousin Teresa and her husband Nic had arranged for a chef to prepare a meal at their rented villa, and close family was invited to eat and spend time together. So I did manage to eat that meal and keep it down. I hoped that meant that the sickness was passing.

I went to bed that night feeling sick and incredibly irritated. We had made it all the way to Costa Rica, we were only there for 6 days (not counting travel) .... and I had spent the first two days in bed. Time was running out for the vacation of my dreams!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Day 1: Travel

Before the trip, both Keith and I had been pretty anxious about all the travel. First hurdle: two legs of a plane trip from Cleveland to Houston, and Houston to San Jose, Costa Rica. Each leg was about 3-4 hours, luckily we were meeting up with Keith's parents, sister, and brother-in-law in Houston for the flight to San Jose. We told ourselves that we just needed to make it through the first leg, and then we would have reinforcements.

After the flights, all six of us hopped into a large van. We drove for about two hours, then waited an hour for the ferry. The ferry ride (pictured) took another hour, and then we had about another 2-hour drive once we got off the ferry. The last couple of hours in the van, in particular, took a lot longer then we had anticipated. The "roads" were not in good shape. "Pothole" doesn't even begin to describe the massive craters our driver gingerly edged around and through—particularly once the road changed from paved to dirt. It was at the end of the rainy season, and so my guess is that there's not a whole lot of road maintenance done during the rainy season. So these roads were probably at their worst, all year. Lucky us! The final 11km (just under 7 miles) took an hour. We were so ready to be done.

But really, the travel itself isn't what made us so nervous. We figured, one way or the other, we would reach our destination. We were concerned about how Eleanor would do, particularly in the confined space of the airplane. How would she handle not being able to run around and play?

She was amazing. She was a much better traveler than I am, all smiles and excitement. We ran her around the Cleveland airport as much as possible before boarding the first plane, but that was about the only time we could do that all day. For our layover in Houston, our second flight was already starting to board when we got off the first one so we went to the bathroom and straight back onto the plane. In San Jose, we literally walked out of the airport and straight over to the van. On the ferry she could move around some, since we got out of the van and sat on benches on an upper deck. But there was still plenty of trouble for her to get into, so we had to keep a close eye on her. For her, the close confinement of the car seat (as opposed to the airplane, where at least she's sitting in someone's lap) was the worst. But even then, she wasn't bad.

As soon as we boarded the airplane, I felt like all the passengers' eyes were on us, willing us NOT to sit near them, so they wouldn't have to endure a screaming baby. When we did find our seats, Eleanor's first order of business was to make friends with everyone around us. She smiled, she waved, she played peek-a-boo behind the seats. She did her very best to put everyone in a good mood, so that once she started screaming on the flight, they didn't get annoyed quite as fast.

But the screaming never started. She had a few fussy moments, but we either managed to distract her with a different book or two, or she passed out. And it was the same on the second flight. She also spent some time with Grandma and Grandpa, looking out their window and seeing all the toys and books they had brought to keep her entertained.

Both on the way there and on the way back, she traveled exceptionally well. She was born to travel! We were so proud and relieved.

After getting up at 3:30am to get to the airport, we finally rolled into our rented house around 7pm, I think. I did lose track of time a bit, especially once the sun went down. But no matter: we had been traveling for a long time and were very happy to be done. The worst is over with! We congratulated ourselves. Now we can enjoy our vacation!

Friday, November 13, 2009

We're Back!


We are back safely from Costa Rica, and very glad to be home. Everything is, of course, a bit out of sorts. We're washing piles of dirty, sandy laundry and trying to figure out where all this STUFF that came from the suitcases normally resides.

And our usual schedule is nonexistent. Before the trip, Eleanor had pretty much made the transition from one nap a day to two. During the trip, she took at least two naps a day. And now .... who knows? As you can guess, maintaining the level of excitement you see in the picture is hard work, and she was that excited about a lot of things. She didn't sleep great our first night back, but last night she conked out. She was in bed between 7.30-8pm, which is right on schedule. The weird part is that she's still asleep, and it's nearly 10 o'clock the next morning. This is BY FAR a record for Eleanor. I'm fast approaching the point where I unglue my ear from the baby monitor and just go in the room and watch her sleep, making sure she's still breathing and okay. She's really weirding me out.

Anyway: more about the trip coming soon!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Preparing to Fly the Coop

I don't know if I've mentioned it much here or not, but we're going on vacation. Keith's cousin is getting married in Costa Rica, and we're all going! By the time you read this, we will probably be on the plane, headed South to warm weather and gorgeous sunshine.

We haven't traveled outside the country for a few years, and definitely not since Eleanor was born. The furthest we've traveled with Eleanor is weekend trips to Cincinnati. So we are a bit apprehensive about what traveling for an entire day with a 15-month-old will be like. It will involve getting up around 3 o'clock in the morning, two legs of airplane journey—each lasting about 3-4 hours, followed by a shuttle van trip from the airport to the small town where we'll be staying, which will also be at least 3-4 hours.

I love traveling. But preparing for this trip has been so different. One of my favorite parts of traveling is all of the planning that goes on beforehand. Learning about the countries, its customs, places to visit, makes the trip more real and exciting.

This time, I did no research at all. We were lucky in that the bride and groom took care of so many arrangements for us. Obviously, they had chosen a location for the wedding so our final destination was set. Plus, they gave us information about how to get there, and where to stay once we're there. All we had to do was send a few emails and our reservations were made.

Typically, I would also like to make plans for day trips to visit areas outside of the perimeter of our housing. But I've been stressed out lately. Learning how to be a parent (or trying to be a good parent, at least) is hard work. Plus changing jobs and the other bumps and hiccups of daily life makes me loathe to create additional plans and work once we're on vacation. I just want to be On Vacation. Maybe once we're there I'll be tempted by a trip to the jungle or surfing lessons, but right now, all I want is to hang out with Eleanor and Keith and the extended family. I want to sit in the sun and read for hours at a time. I want to have long conversations over bottles of wine and catch up with everyone. I want to nap in a hammock. I don't want extracurricular activities and, therefore, have planned none.

This trip is also different because, well, there's Eleanor. We had no idea what to pack. I have this image of us as pack mules trudging through the airport, slowly bending under our ridiculous loads of baggage, toys, books, diapers, and baby food until we collapse under the weight.

The reality, so far, seems much more reasonable. We think we have most of the items that we'll need, and are still only planning on 2 small carry-on bags, plus two larger checked suitcases. (It helps that we're going to a tropical locale!) I am fully aware that, after the trip, I will probably write a post entitled "These Are All The Things I Failed to Take Into Consideration Before the Trip." There will be a learning curve. But hopefully we can at least make it through the airports and onto our final destination without collapsing beneath the weight of our most-necessary possessions.

After all this complaining, let me be clear: I'm very excited about this trip! Our first family vacation—hopefully the first of many. I know that traveling with a child is going to be much more complicated. But I am also looking forward to seeing her eyes as she drinks in all of the new experiences. We're going to have a great time, and a lot of good memories.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Race Results

Well, it's over. And I finished! Let's start with that.

I finished, but it wasn't pretty. I ran with my mother-in-law, Karen, for the first couple miles. But they were both under 10 minutes per mile and I knew I wouldn't be able to maintain that pace, so I bid her farewell and slowed down.

Like with my 12-mile training run, the first six miles were pretty good. I sped up one mile, slowed down the next, but I averaged just over 10 minutes / mile, because at the six-mile mark my watch said 61 minutes and change.

Unfortunately, I had 7.1 more miles to go. I don't know exactly what happened. All throughout my training, I kept wondering if I was doing enough—putting in enough miles—to be truly prepared for the race. In the end, I don't think I was prepared. From mile 8 onward, I kept slowing down. It was just as much of an effort to do an 11-minute mile as it had been to go at a 10:15 pace a few miles back. Everything started to ache, and then my stomach cramped up again around mile 10.

But, as I said, I finished. Two years ago, I ran my first half-marathon in 2 hours and 13 minutes. Best-case scenario for this race was to be near to that time. Second best would be to finish in under 2:20. Third best would be to at least finish in under 2:30. So I did manage that part—I finished in 2:25, averaging just over 11-minutes per mile.

I think I'm glad I did it. I know that I couldn't have done any more; I felt awful after the race was over. Dizzy and ready to throw up. I was completely out of commission for several hours, and just curled up in a ball on the couch and fell asleep until I felt a little better.

So, overall, no regrets. I didn't know how it would go, but it was important for me prove to myself that I could do it again. I'm glad I set that goal, I enjoyed doing the best I could with the training, and I did finish the half-marathon.

However, in the future, if I'm not sure how much time I can devote to training, I think I'll stick to 5ks and 10ks. My opinion now is that you can kinda "fake" a 5k or 10k and muddle through, but you can't fake a half-marathon. My body wasn't fully prepared, and it showed.

Now we're headed off to Costa Rica. I'm ready for a break! I'm not packing my running shoes; if I want to get in some exercise, I'll swim in the gorgeous, warm ocean waters.

But once we get back, there's a 10k Thanksgiving Day Race in Cincinnati. I have been doing a lot of speedwork and tempo runs during my half-marathon training. Currently, my 10k PR is a 10:21 min/mile pace from the Flying Pig 10k in 2007. If I finished a half-marathon at an 11:04 pace, maybe I can set a new 10k PR in a few weeks....

Monday, November 02, 2009

Presenting the Sushi Chef

I am proud to introduce Eleanor, Sushi Chef Extraordinaire!

I really wanted to sew Eleanor's Halloween costume this year. I have many fond memories of costumes that my mom sewed for me and my sisters over the years. It was a million times better than getting a store-bought costume and looking like everyone else (except for those few middle school years, when all I wanted was to be exactly like everyone else). We would go to the fabric store and look through the pattern books to find the perfect costume. Then I could pick whatever colors and fabrics my little heart desired. After we got home, I watched the costume turn from weird, unreadable patterns and bolts of fabric into the finished product, just as I'd imagined it, through my mother's skillful hands.

I've always wished to be better at reading patterns and sewing, and now I want Eleanor to have the same wonderful, personal experience I had with my mother. So I picked out a chef pattern and roped my mom into being my sewing mentor. One Saturday my Mom, Eleanor, and I all went to the fabric store and chose various fabrics, notions, accessories for the costume. The best part was picking out a fun pattern for the pants. Obviously, it would be something food related. But what?

As soon as I saw the sushi pattern, I fell in love. We got orange accents for the jacket to match the splashes of orange on the pants, and stuck with the traditional white jacket and black buttons, otherwise.

I have to confess: My mother did most of the sewing. We worked together for an entire day, cutting and sewing. She was teaching me a lot about reading patterns and using the sewing machine, but we just ran out of time. We had only finished the pants and part of the collar before we had to quit for the day. She finished all the rest of the sewing, and I just added the black buttons on the jacket and ironed the collar.

Hopefully next year I can do more of the work, and my mom can be more of a supervisor. I was halfway tempted to go to the fabric store today and see if I could get a pattern on super-duper post-Halloween sale. But then I remembered that, next Halloween, Eleanor will be over 2 years old. Maybe by that point she'll have an opinion on her costume!

Thursday, October 29, 2009


We finally got around to buying a pumpkin this past weekend. If it gets carved, it will happen on Friday night .... but I don't think anyone here is holding her breath.

Really, for Keith and me, it was about the experience of going to the farmer's market to pick out a pumpkin and enjoy a beautiful fall day. We really wanted to go back to the same place we had gone last year: Szalay's Sweet Corn Farm in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The farm sits immediately next to the Towpath Trail, so last year we wandered around the market, bought a pumpkin and a few other fresh produce items and baked goods, and wandered up the trail a bit. It had felt like a moment out of time, with nothing to worry about . We just enjoyed the fall weather, each other's company, and counted our blessings.

We definitely wanted to go back there. And this year, Eleanor was going to be so much more excited! Last year, we tried taking a picture of her with the pumpkins and she started crying. But this year, pumpkins are her very favorite thing. A neighbor a few doors down decided to grow a few pumpkins in her front flower garden, and Eleanor is constantly heading in that direction on walks. She likes to pat the pumpkins, marveling at their size and thickness. (At least, I assume that's what she's doing.)

And, on Sunday, she did not disappoint. That expression in the photograph? That's the expression of excitement and wonder that she wore most of the day, combined with a triumphant laugh as she looked around at Keith, me, and anyone else passing by. She would stare at all of us, as if challenging us to admit that THIS is the best life can be. Did anyone know it could be so good?!?

I was afraid that we would be at the farm for hours, because it appeared that she just might need to touch every single pumpkin on display. Eventually, though, we did purchase one large pumpkin for potential carving, a small pumpkin and gourd perfectly-sized for grasping baby hands, and some pretzel bread that was delicious. We dropped everything off at the car and headed over to the Towpath for a short walk.

In this, as in everything else, Eleanor was absolutely delighted. Look at all the people! And the leaves! And the puppies!! She was like the ambassador of the trail; as runners or walkers approached, she would plant herself in the middle of the trail and wait for them to notice her. Once they did, she would smile and pretend to be shy, but then wave enthusiastically. She loved the crunch of the dry leaves under her feet, and spent many moments stopping in place on them.

I have always enjoyed the Fall, and Halloween. But they have never been this exciting or filled with wonder before. Eleanor just makes everything better!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

100% Chance of Being Wrong

For a while, my running was sporadic. First I was sick, and then it poured rain for a week straight. Not just drizzled, but miserable, cold, relentless downpours.

I decided I really needed to get back into the swing of things, and recommitted to doing all of my workouts in the final weeks before the half-marathon. Immediately after deciding that, I checked the weather forecast on Wednesday evening to see what I needed to wear for my Friday morning run. It was going to be in the 30s and was going to rain. Not just maybe. was boldly proclaiming that the chance of rain was 100%. I had never seen such a thing before!

I went to bed depressed. I had just promised myself to be faithful and really stick to the schedule, and I was going to skip my workout. Because there was no WAY I was getting out of bed at 5:00am when it was freezing cold AND raining. I may be crazy, but I'm not that crazy.

Keith, wonderful, supportive guy that he is, talked me down from the ledge. He reasonably pointed out that I just shouldn't worry about it because it was out of my hands. Get ready to run in the morning, assume I would run in the morning, and then reassess when my alarm went off.

The next morning, I prepared to hit snooze and snuggle down into bed, listening to the rain pattering on the windows. Instead, I heard nothing. So I dragged myself out of bed and took Beckett for our run. It was a fantastic run, and it didn't rain the entire time we were out there.

Why am I thinking to tell you this now? Because I just checked the forecast for my run tomorrow morning, and again predicts 100% chance of rain during the 5 o'clock and 6 o'clock hours of the morning.

But this time, I'm not scared. The race is this coming Sunday, so I'm extra motivated to get in my last few runs. And I only have to do 4x400s, so it's a quick run. Even if I hear rain pounding against the windows and overrunning the gutters, I'm heading out for my run. I think.

And if the rain deters me, well, at least the forecast was right for once!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Put this in the "Con" Column

There's a lot of reasons why I like being a professor. (Ha! I'm a professor.) I like the hours. I enjoy the interaction with my students, and watching them improve over the course of the semester. I enjoy talking and thinking about writing and literature.

But I've discovered a large downside. It is not a good idea for me to have the kind of job where I work at home. This past weekend, I made myself completely stressed out about work. I wasn't stressed about anything at home—only about grading essays and writing up lesson plans. So instead of having a relaxing, enjoyable weekend, I continually felt the knot in my chest tightening as hours slipped by and my work to-do list remained undone.

Eleanor—bless her fabulous little heart!—actually slept in on Sunday until almost 9:30. This should have been an occasion worthy of parades and celebration. Instead, I laid in bed from 8 o'clock onward, refusing to get up because I was afraid that creaking floorboards outside her door would wake her. But I didn't fall back asleep; I just spent an hour and a half winding myself into a tight little ball of nerves, thinking about how if I had gotten up for my run at 7 o'clock, like I meant to, I could be done and ready to start our day's activities.

Instead, I didn't really leave for my run until 10ish, and we didn't head out to buy pumpkins until noon. By the time we got back, we had to make dinner and get Eleanor to bed. That is how I ended up finally getting to work about 10:00pm, and staying up until 5 o'clock Monday morning to slog through everything I needed to have done for this week.

I know that spending the entire weekend making myself anxious about work was not helpful. I would like to believe that it was a one-off, because I had so much to prepare for the time we'll be on vacation and immediately after coming back. But part of me thinks that, if it weren't that, it would be something else. Maybe, now that I know what classes I'll be teaching next semester, I can start worrying about getting those syllabi and assignments figured out.

It makes me long for a job that only exists while I'm at the office. And even if my office job was stressful (and it was), it all ended when I walked out the door at the end of the day. Now, I am constantly bombarded by the need for lesson plans, grading, and creating quizzes and essay questions.

I'm not very good at drawing boundaries and knowing when to quit. Just stop thinking about the job and relax. Because if I had just stopped worrying about work and enjoyed the weekend until 10 o'clock Sunday evening, the same amount of work would have gotten done, but I would have been a lot happier.

Maybe it gets easier with experience? Or, at the very least, you end up with a stack of lesson plans to fall back on.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

About that Long Run

As I've mentioned before, I've been training for the Inland Trail Half-Marathon. My training has been sketchy, at best. I kept telling myself to do the best I can, to get in as many runs as I can, and just see what happens. I figured that my 12-mile training run would let me know whether I'm ready or not.

That training run took place this past weekend, and it was a nightmare.

The first six miles went fine. I was feeling good, on pace, happy about my half-marathon prospects. But, alas, the half-marathon is much longer than six miles. Keith and I had gone out to the Inland Trail itself, and ran straight out and back to the car to re-familiarize ourselves with the course. So at six miles, I turned around and headed back in. I walked for a few minutes, eating jelly beans and drinking water.

This part is important. If you're a runner, you might assume I had the Sport Beans, which are "specially formulated with sports performance in mind. Sport Beans provide a source of easily digestible carbohydrate for fuel, the electrolytes sodium and potassium for proper fluid balance, and B1, B2, B3, and C vitamins for energy metabolism and good health."

That would be a sensible guess. But unfortunately, we'd run out of time the day before to purchase either Sport Beans or my preferred Shot Bloks (cran razz is my favorite). So I decided to wing it, and just use normal jelly beans. How different can it be?

In summary, I was doubled over by mile 9 and walked most of miles 10-12. I completely imploded. Pretty much my worst-case scenario, especially when hoping that the 12-mile run would prove to myself that I was ready for the half.

So, now what? In the end, I'm still planning on signing up for the half. I know that I've done enough training that I should be able to go the distance. And if I didn't sign up, I would always wonder whether I could have done it or not. After weeks of time and effort, I would rather try and fail than not try at all.

To get myself in the right frame of mind, I'm placing all of the blame for my horrible run this past weekend squarely on the jelly beans. I'm assuming that my training is fantastic, I'm completely up to the task, and if I don't eat jelly beans the day of, I'll be fine.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chill Out

I think the universe is telling me to chill out. In the past week, I have heard several Bob Marley songs—at least 4, I think?—on different radio stations. It seems like every time I get in the car or listen to Woxy, Bob is there. And Dooce even posted about the therapeutic effects of Bob Marley just the other day! Such synchronicity.

I have been thinking about and dealing with anxiety a lot lately. I absolutely agree with the universe that I need to chill out more. I let every little thing get to me, and I'm always trying to do too much in too little time. I can't ever tune out the To Do List and just have a good time.

But I need a bit more guidance, cosmos. HOW do I chill out?!? How do I stop letting the anxiety rule my life? Is the key really just to listen to Bob Marley?

I'm off to Lala for some Bob Marley relaxation, day one .... if you notice my posts become more rambling and relaxed, you'll know why!

Photo credit:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Travel Budgeting

Just FYI ... in case anyone who reads this lives in the U.S. and is "covered" by health insurance and thinking of a trip to Costa Rica ..... remember to budget $300 per adult for vaccinations such as Hep A that your insurance probably won't cover.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Substitute Teaching

I have had my first experience substitute teaching, and it was ... challenging. I felt like the class make-up was similar to my own—there's the class clown, the ones who don't really think they need to be there, and the majority of the class is ready to listen and learn. And yet ... just 3 or 4 disruptive students is all it takes to ruin a class, I've learned.

No matter that discipline isn't an issue in my class. This wasn't my class, and the minority was determined not to listen to me. One student kept texting on his cell phone, two others wouldn't stop talking, another kept in his headphones so he could listen to his MP3 player (loud enough that I could hear it) through the entire lecture. I had to ask one student to close out of Facebook during an in-class, graded essay. Twice.

I treated them as if they were my class in that I didn't accept any of that crap. In retrospect, it might have been easier if I had left alone the ones who were not disrupting the class, but only their own education. Instead, I put my foot down about all non-class activities and took a stand.

The first two days did not go very well. Lots of time wasted on arguing with recalcitrant students and not nearly enough time actually spent on lessons. The night before the third class, my stomach was tied in knots. Should I keep up my strict policy? Should I back down and just try to make it through the last two classes? What if the regular professor never came back from jury duty?!?

After talking it over with some other professors and family, I decided to stick to my guns. I would keep the same policies, but with definitive repercussions for breaking any rules. The first instance would get a warning and point deduction. The second instance, a student would be asked to leave class (or escorted out by Public Safety, if necessary). My goal was to spend as little time on discipline as possible, and focus on actually teaching.

I tossed and turned all night. The next morning, when I wrote the old rules/new consequences on the board before class started, my hands were shaking a bit. I figured it would all turn out fine .... or go terribly wrong. And I had absolutely no idea which. I turned from writing on the board and began the lesson a few minutes later without ever discussing what I had written.

And it was fine. The last two days, it felt like I was in charge of the class. We did focus on the lesson and not on arguments about cell phones and headphones.

I still don't know if I made the right decisions the entire time. Maybe I should have been more lax from the beginning and only focused on the students who wanted to learn, disciplining just when the entire class was disrupted .... I'm sure there's many things, both small and large, that I could have done differently. But in the end, I think it turned out to be a good experience.

Wednesday night, after my in-class success, I got an email from the regular professor, urging me to call his cell phone ASAP. My heart sank. Was he on a jury and wouldn't be coming back until Thanksgiving?!? I swallowed hard and dialed.

Actually, he was just calling to say that he had been released early from jury duty, and could take the Thursday class if I wanted him to. I smiled and declined his offer; I wanted to finish out the week, as intended. I was happy, however, to inform his class at the end of Thursday's class that he would be back next week, so this class was my last with them. I wished them all well, and suggested that I might see a few of them in my own class next semester.

I think that could be the most telling measure of my success— if any of those students choose to sign up for my class next semester, then I think I will have been truly successful in my substitute teaching. But even if they don't, I made it through with my dignity (mostly) intact. That is also a measure of success, in my book!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Survival Week

I'm so happy to be on the other side of last week. It was a rough week for three reasons:
1) We had been in Cincinnati over the previous weekend. It was a wonderful trip and we saw lots of great family and friends (like you, Jan!;) ... but we didn't get home until 11 o'clock Sunday night. There's certain things I need to get done over the weekend to make the week's tasks seem bearable. By Monday, I like to have major housecleaning, meal planning, and grocery shopping off the list. Not usually hard to accomplish over the weekend, but if it's not done when we're both home, we're living in a filthy mess and scrounging for food the rest of the week. Plus, I wasn't prepared for classes yet so I stayed up until 1 o'clock to do lesson plans.

2) Part of the reason I wasn't ready for the week's classes is because I was substitute teaching for a co-worker who got called for jury duty. It's the same class as mine, but four days a week instead of three, with shorter class periods. So although we would be covering much of the same material, it needed to be reworked a bit to fit their schedule. Plus, it was a very .... eye-opening experience. But more about that later. In the big scheme of things, doubling my teaching time meant that I had even less time to get things done at home.

3) Keith left straight from work on Thursday afternoon to run the Bourbon Chase relay race on Friday and Saturday. Originally, we were all going to go and Eleanor and I were going to cheer Keith, Karen, and the rest of the team on. But once I started teaching, taking a day off wasn't an option. Instead, I was home alone and IN CHARGE. It was very frightening.

But we all made it through in one piece. I thought about making this a post about what it felt like to be a single mom for a day, but quickly realized that would be completely wrong and inappropriate. I still have no idea what it would be like to be the sole breadwinner, parent, role model, cook, cleaner, and boo-boo kisser. I do feel certain that I wouldn't be able to handle it. When I was home by myself, I knew I only needed to make it a few days. Eleanor and I even went over to my parents' house on Saturday and spent the night, so my time as sole responsible person was cut in half. And my friend Emily came over Thursday and Friday nights, so I didn't have to entertain myself much either. I only worked a few hours on Thursday and Friday .... because I don't need a full-time job, thanks to Keith.

I did what I needed to, to get through last week. But I knew that I could push off anything not urgent, because Keith would be back and this week would be less hectic. I shudder—nay, curl into a ball and weep—at the thought of being responsible for all of it, all the time. I get so caught up in worrying about all the things I want to get done, and how I could be doing things better, that I don't think I give much credit where credit is due. I have a fantastic support system, from Keith to my family (blood relatives and in-laws), to in-person and virtual friends. Although the thought of being in charge of EVERYTHING all by myself is frightening, in a way it's also comforting because I know that will never happen. I have you, and that means a lot!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A Great TV Experiment of a Different Sort

When I was pregnant, I sat Keith down for a serious talk. I had been doing massive amounts of reading to prepare for Being a Parent (as all pregnant women due, even though it's mostly a futile effort), and I had concluded that our child should not be exposed to TV before age 2.

The American Association of Pediatrics had determined that there may be links between watching too much TV at too young of an age and attention deficit issues .... or that TV under the age of 2 could just generally stunt brain development. Although there weren't a ton of studies, just the suggestion was enough to make me decree that our baby would not watch TV until after age 2.

Alright "exposed" might be a bit too strong. That's not to say that she's never seen the TV. It just means that, generally, we turn off the TV when she's around, and we definitely don't spend any time with Baby Einstein videos or Elmo.

What I've been surprised about lately is that I don't feel like I've come across many other parents who share that point of view. I didn't think it was that far out of the norm. Now do I need to be concerned that, when she starts preschool, she will be socially behind because she won't get toddler pop culture references like Elmo and Guy Smile, etc.?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Day at the Farm, Really

After our initial adventure, the day became much more pedestrian, and eminently more enjoyable. We took the horse-drawn wagon ride to the far reaches of the park, where Eleanor pet sheep and pigs. We then walked from the Well Bred Shed over to the corn maze behind the greenhouse. I love corn mazes, and I was excited to see what Eleanor thought of one.

To be honest, she didn't think about it much. We were at this beautiful place, with so many new and interesting things to see. What did she like the best?

The rocks in the middle of the road. In the picture above, we were on the way to the corn maze. It took us about 20 minutes to walk 100 yards because we had to stop several times as Eleanor exclaimed over rocks. More rocks! What wonderful rocks! She sat in the dirt and picked up and put down rocks. She carried rocks in her little fists, and debated when coming upon new rocks. Which to keep? Which to put down? Could she possibly carry them all?!?

By the time we finally got to the corn maze, Eleanor was fussy and ready for her afternoon nap. We made a beeline for the center of the maze and came out again in short order. Eleanor was passing out in my arms.

The day may not have gone as I had expected. But we had a great time. I was so glad for an opportunity to get out of the house, away from the regular chores, and just enjoy spending time outside with Eleanor and Karen. Karen, when are you coming back?!?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Day at the Farm

A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law, Karen, came up for a visit. One of the many reasons I enjoy Karen's mid-week visits is that it makes me focus less on my to-do list and take a day out. If Karen hadn't been visiting, I'm sure the day would have been filled with laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning. Instead, Karen, Eleanor, and I spent the day at Lake Farmpark.

It was a gorgeous, sunny, crisp Fall day. I had never been to Lake Farmpark, but my friend Heidi had raved about how wonderful it is and how much her kids love it, so I was eager to visit. We packed a picnic lunch and headed off around lunchtime.

The trip there took a bit longer than I had expected, so by the time we had arrived, Eleanor had already eaten as much of her lunch as was possible from within a car seat. Karen and I, however, were still hungry; we decided to eat lunch first and then really spend time at the different activities.

I could see a picnic pavilion from the parking lot, but it was surrounded by fences. I surmised that we would have to go in and pay first, and then be able to access the picnic area. As we approached the welcome center, we saw a group of elementary school kids getting onto buses at the end of their trip. They pointed to the adorable baby, who smiled and waved back. They were cute and all, but I was secretly glad they were leaving so we wouldn't be bumping into a large clump of children everywhere we turned.

We went to the counter to pay. Eleanor, as usual, had declined to actually ride in the stroller. Instead, I was holding her and the cooler had taken the place of honor in the stroller seat. The woman working the cash register peered over the counter and said, "You're not taking food into the park, are you?"

"Of course not," I immediately replied. I couldn't help myself. I didn't want to get in trouble! Karen looked quizzically at me, but I figured we'd pay our money and then figure out for ourselves where we could eat lunch.

But of course, that hastily-thought-out plan backfired. We walked through the park to the picnic area I had seen from the parking lot. Um yeah, there's no way to get into it from the park. From our vantage point on the far side of the picnic area, I could see that the entrance was, indeed, from the parking lot. But it was right at the beginning of the parking lot, so by the time we had parked and I had looked, all I had seen was fences.

It was all starting to come together, as we stood on the outside of the fence. Apparently, if people wanted to bring their own food, they had to eat in the picnic area and THEN enter the park. Hence the pointed question about bringing in food when we paid our admission.

This was good to know, but wasn't much use to us at the current juncture. We could walk another 10 minutes back through the park to the parking lot and into the picnic area .... or we could just jump the fence where we were at. I mean, who was watching, really?

When I suggested it, Karen looked at me like I was crazy. But I persisted. Who was to know? And it's not like we didn't pay admission. We were getting out of the park, not in.

I managed to strong-arm her into cooperating with my crazy scheme. Who knew her daughter-in-law would be such a bad influence?!? She went over first, I handed over everything (Eleanor, lunch, diaper bag, stroller) and climbed over after. Success!

We enjoyed a delicious lunch. As I sat, munching on salad, I looked around and came to another realization. The only way back into the park was .... through the welcome center. Past the no-food lady. Huh.

I tried to convince Karen to scale the fence again, but she had reached her rule-breaking limits. A wiser head prevailed, and we returned the leftover food to the care and headed towards the welcome center, prepared for a well-earned tongue-lashing.

This time, we saw the very small, unobtrusive sign saying "no outside food in the park. eat at the picnic area first." We realized that, on our first time in, the sign had been hidden behind the clump of schoolchildren waiting to board their bus.

But the gods smiled upon us, and we got lucky. When crossing from the parking lot, we ended up behind a group of two women with several children. Upon entering the building, they went directly to the admission counter. We went to the far left side of the entrance area (what would typically be used by people leaving) and pushed on through with a wide smile of greeting for the confused counter ladies.

I, personally, didn't really start breathing until we were outside again. I resisted the urge to look behind us and see whether we were being chased. (We weren't.) We walked quickly to the main path, and began our tour of Lake Farmpark all over again. Hopefully on the right side of the law, this time.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Mostly in Training

Trying to train for the half-marathon has been a challenge. Both in terms of motivation and opportunity, I have been somewhat lacking.

Last week, I missed my mid-week runs because I had some kind of food poisoning or other stomach ailment, and I was not fit for rolling out of bed at 5am to run. I did, however, manage to finish my 10-mile run over the weekend, and I was happy about that.

Then yesterday, I was determined to get back on the horse and get out first thing in the morning, so I didn't fall out of the habit. I did drag myself out of bed not too long after the alarm first went off. I was only halfway through getting dressed, however, when I heard rain beating against the windows and bolstered by a cold, brisk wind.

I immediately scurried back to the bedroom, threw off my running clothes and slipped back into my pajamas and still-warm side of the bed. And then I worked until 7 o'clock in the evening yesterday, followed by errands, and didn't get home until 8:30. So running in the evening wasn't an option.

I just don't know what to think about this upcoming race. And it's coming up sooner than I think—just a month away. Am I going to be prepared for it? Am I going to be happy with my time? I'd like to think that I'll be happy just to finish .... or even just to get to the starting line ..... but I'm not convinced. I tend to be a rather competitive person; I'm not sure if I'm capable of just being happy to be there.

Hopefully I can do my tempo run tomorrow morning and my 8-mile run goes well this weekend, and I'll feel like I'm back on track. In 2 weeks, I am doing my longest run of the training—12 miles—and if I can do that, I will feel confident that finishing the race is within my grasp. But is that enough?