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?