Ring in the new.

And just like that year 6 began. After a summer spent running, visiting, holding the best baby, and painting I was ready to start, like a strong man to run a race. Oh and I watched just about as many hours of Olympics as humanly possible.

I have always loved schedules and play-by-plays. Truly no minutiae is too small for me to enjoy. So instead of my usual “resolutions” post, I thought I’d try to flesh out a “day in the life” of a 6th grade teacher. Sadly, I can’t really do much in the way of pictures. Gotta respect student privacy..

5:45ish… Wake up and think about running. It is pretty dark outside, but the energy I have the rest of the day is the best. I stumble out the door and am rewarded with a lovely sunrise as I lope home.

6:20ish-6:50ish…put on clothes, blow dry the sweat out of my hair, make-up, shoe crisis (I can plan outfits like no one’s business, but I often fret about my shoes), pack lunch and breakfast, and scoot out the door.

6:50-7:30… On the drive to work I pick up coffee (usually Starbucks, but I try to frequent two independent coffee shops close to my school). I also listen almost exclusively to classical music. Until this election is over, I will be enjoying “Back to Baroque” which starts at 7:00 a.m. Without a doubt the most challenging part of my day is waiting in the carpool line. Our school’s campus was built before the school got big. At this point we have over a 1,000 students coming into the school over the course of a 40 minute window. And there’s only way into the school. These days it’s just built into my commute time.

7:30-7:50…At this point, I get into my classroom, check my email, answer 3-4 emails, pick a song to play for the day, and make sure details are ship-shape.

7:50…Welcome the kids into the classroom with a firm handshake, eye contact, a smile, and a “good morning.” A veteran teacher told me that she did this years ago, and I’ve always like the tone it sets for our morning. All four 6th grade teachers welcome our kids together. Then we have a communal moment of comparing outfits (we match accidentally an eery amount of times) and a brief “Good luck; see you at lunch!”

8:00…Life music plays over the intercom while students read and I hiss dire warnings about what happens to students who don’t order lunch on time! Then we say the pledge and they go to art or Spanish or music. I barely know their schedule at this point. I just know that they go away, and I have a precious hour to get all of the work done!

8:05-9:05…In this hour I either get everything done or nothing done. There is no happy medium sadly. On the days when I get nothing done I’m usually chatting with the ladies. On days when I am a beast, I can answer multiple emails, grade, enter grades into an online gradebook, lesson plan, research a new way to teach deserts, find more art books to order on amazon (always looking for kids appropriate art history books, y’all).

9:05-10:00…I think of this time as our class power hour. In the morning we hit it hard. I do like to give them some modicum of choice in their days (so much is out of their control), so often they get to decide whether to do grammar, some literacy testing, or writing first. Writing is universally the least favorite topic. The writing curriculum is very structured, and often I feel as though I’m speaking in code. I might say things like, “After you write your KWO, I want you to choose three dress-ups to include in your paper as well as all 6 sentence openers. You don’t have to worry about decorations in this paper, but you can’t double up on your dress-ups and openers.” Super jargony. And yet, they usually know what I’m saying. Just kidding. They ask for directions to be repeated a hundred thousand times. Nothing says “I respect you and listen to you” more than asking someone to repeat something she’s carefully explained multiple times. I breath and remember that they’re 11/12.

10:00-10:05…Snack. Preferably something healthy. Bare minimum…no candy. Then I time them to see how fast they can throw their trash away and sit down quietly for read aloud. Our record thus far is 29 seconds.

10:05-10:20…Read aloud. I really like to think that we all enjoy this little break. If there is one sacrosanct part of the day, it’s read aloud. There are days when grammar or writing get the shaft, but never ever read aloud. Currently we’re reading The Land I Lost about a little boy’s childhood in pre-war Vietnam. Not a book for vegetarians or animal lovers, but most kids love it.

10:20-10:40 I really have no idea what happens here…I think they usually finish up writing or grammar. Sometimes we go over important stuff, like what to wear for picture day or bringing sunscreen for field day.

10:40-11:40 History 1 and 2. I teach the same class 4 times in a row. I like to think of my first class as the guinea pigs, and I always wonder if the last class feels a little staged and stale. Never mind. I love teaching history. Sadly, I am currently teaching geography. When sassy people ask why we’re doing a geography unit in history class I have stopped trying to come up with a clever answer. I now just admit that they are correct, it doesn’t fit well, but they need to know this stuff and history was the only place it would fit. We just colored a map of the USA using only four colors (none of them can touch! 4 Color Theorem!), and, Lord have mercy, that was a challenge. I also don’t love these kinds of puzzles so after being asked to check maps multiple times for correctness I mentally decided to make the assignment a completion grade. Ain’t nobody got time to scrutinize 80+ maps of 50 states to see if any states with shared borders were the same color. Before they started, I carefully instructed them where to start (TN) and how to plot out their colors (little dots rather than coloring in completely). Bless them. They all started with California and blithely colored in as darkly as they possibly could. Then of course there was the wailing and gnashing of teeth when they realized mistakes had been and colored pencils will never ever erase well.

11:45-12:15 Lunch with adults. We always eat together as a team, and when I read that the Supreme Court Justices do the same thing when in session I knew there was a method to our madness. There is truly something very communal about eating together and making conversation. Sometimes we talk about kids, but usually the topic veers towards other interests like Hamilton, salt and pepper potato chips, politics, books, and the latest shoe finds at Nordstrom Rack.

12:20-1:20 The afternoon history classes are mostly the same, and sometimes they wrap up and I don’t really recall much of what happened in the last hour.

1:20-2:00 Literature. We’re reading a book I adore, The One-Eyed Cat. It’s character rather than plot-driven. This means it is slow. But the writing is exquisitely beautiful (reminds me of Willa Cather and a Dorothea Lange photograph). For this book we make lots of predictions about what will happen next (not sure why no one ever cheats and reads ahead). I also try to ask them to relate what’s happening in the story to their own lives. This isn’t super deep, more like, “Have you ever been unable to sleep and wandered around the house in the dark?” And of course everyone has a story to share (or they make one up real quick-like). Twenty personal narratives later we’re back into the chapter. I love literature at this age, because we’re basically reading a book and discussing it to death. This is more or less what I do in my free time, so I could just play all day.

2:00-2:15 Recess. I monitor sporty pod, our soccer/football, basketball court combo. At any given time, there are three games being played simultaneously. No one gets hurt, but everyone cheats. I refuse to referee unless people are crying.

2:15-2:45 On the day I’m recapping the kids were in computer class. Another half hour of silence to frantically get all the things done.

2:45-3:10…Study Hall. Surprisingly, they are super quiet and diligent for this last part of the day. I wish someone would enforce a “study hall” in my life. Think how much you’d get done if you were given 25 minutes to just silently work. During this time, I’m usually answering writing questions or talking to the rogue history student from another homeroom.

3:10-3:15…We wipe desks with lysol wipes, someone cleans the board, the plants get over-watered, and everyone packs up. There are high fives at the door and the day is done. I’m still not back in school shape, so these days are truly exhausting. I was trying to express to my mom how you have to be so “on” the entire day. I love being the boss, but somedays it’s crazy being the professor, party planner, police force, first responder, counselor, and lady of letters. Teachers wear many many hats. But I always come back to the fact that I am never ever bored. And I am moved when year after year, former 6th graders come creeping (0r running) back for hugs, to gush about life as a junior high kid, and maybe for reassurance that they’ve got this middle school thing. In the end, my hope for my students is that they know they are loved, respected, and heard. All the rest is just gravy.

 

Marathon Recap

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Post-marathon selfie. I think I thought I was grinning. 

So I’m a marathoner now. As in, I finished a 26.2 mile race before the cut-off time. I didn’t feel strong or fast at all. And either I never hit the wall or the whole race was the wall. I’m inclined to think that the entire race was the wall.

One of the things that I’ve written about here before is the riskiness of hard work. It is terrifying to think that you can put in all the hard work and still fail. In the track and field olympic trials this past week, I saw this anguish again and again. Training so hard and missing by a hair seems tragic. Failure is painful. And yet, so much of what happens is outside of our control. At the trials it was hot for a few days and rainy for others. The weather alone can make or break a race…speaking of weather…

It was really hot and really humid on the day of the race. Not just 30% humidity which is apt to make whiny Coloradans complain about how muggy it is, but 80+ the entire race. It was bright sunshine with nary a cloud in the sky. Shade was non-existent.

I had known all week that it was going to be warmer than usual. Looking back, this might not have been the smartest choice of race for me. Sure I train at altitude, but that advantage was easily cancelled out by the heat and humidity. I trained from February-May. Basically, I ran through the winter for a summer race. We had a particularly cool spring which meant that  I could count the days I’d run in temps over 70 degrees on one hand. And even if I had run in warmer temps, 70 in Colorado is unlike 70 in the Midwest. I have absolved myself of not preparing better. I don’t think there’s anything I could’ve done to prep for these race day conditions.

My time was slow, much slower than I thought it’d be. That was a disappointment. Training for a marathon is a time commitment, and while I hadn’t felt particularly strong or particularly fast this training cycle, nothing really prepared me for missing my A and B goals by that much. I still beat my C goal which was of course to finish on my own two feet.

But I am so proud that I did this. There aren’t many things that I do in my life that have such a clear goal and such a clear path to attaining that goal. It’s startlingly simple. I wanted to run 26.2 miles, so I spent months practicing to run 26.2  miles. In a summer of weddings and babies (both of which make me so happy), this was my way of celebrating myself and my life. If I ever change careers, get married, have kids, or somehow lose my health, I think I can look back on this experience and feel proud that I used this time wisely “to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.” I may not always have this kind of free time to train, and now I never have to wonder if I could’ve run a marathon. Already done.

I don’t feel triumphant the way I thought I would, but I feel a little glowy when I think about my race. It’s a quiet pride for myself and all those cold, early weekend mornings and all the days of rushing home from a full day’s work to change and get in 8 miles before it got too dark. I did it.

Taper

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This little fox was my running buddy for a hot second.

And just like that, the hardest training run is completed, and I’m tapering now. The next three weeks entail running enough to keep up my aerobic fitness, but the mileage drops significantly.

I’ll be honest, I don’t  recommend the training plan I used (Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 Marathon Plan). It didn’t really give me a good idea of what I was working towards, and I think that I ran way too slow on almost all these runs. I’m by no means fast, but I’m capable of sustaining a sub 10 minute pace for a 10k or so. But there’s no speedwork involved here except for “pace runs” on Wednesdays. But because I’m a pretty slow runner my marathon pace isn’t significantly faster than my normal pace. If/when I run another marathon, I will be sure to choose a training plan that has more track workouts and more tempo runs. A lot of times I felt like I was just running slow mile after slow mile without feeling particularly strong. But the proof is in the pudding. We’ll see how it goes June 18. I’m not expecting great things at all. Just finishing will be enough.

So far the biggest problem was when my iphone 5 started shutting down repeatedly. I could get it to power up when it was plugged in, but running in complete silence was tough. I felt panicked at the thought of 20+ miles without podcasts, audiobooks, or music. I even started splitting up my longer runs, so that I’d only run a few silent miles at a time. I tried hard to be meditative, but without the distractions of my stories I found myself stopping suddenly for no apparent reason. Also, I apparently breath really heavily, stomp as though I were wearing steel-toed boots, and I’m not sure if it’s my thighs or shorts swishing together.  I finally got all my ducks in a row and got the iphone 6s. Big and a little bulky, it powered me through my run yesterday. I stayed hydrated, for the most part, and dutifully ate my jelly beans. Those last few miles weren’t pretty, though. I didn’t feel strong at all. I felt really bored and really slow. Surely adrenalin must kick in the day of the race. Please?

All the whining and anxiety aside, training for this race has been one of the grittiest things I’ve done. I haven’t flaked on my workouts, and I’ve enjoyed all the support from friends and students. I love telling people how many miles I’ve run and seeing the look of astonishment on their faces (this works best with my students who complain tirelessly about running a mile once a year in P.E.). And I eat just about whatever I want (within reason). I’m going to miss wiping out the week’s dietary indiscretions in one long Saturday run.

 

 

 

5 years

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Year five is done, more or less. My plants remain in my windowsill, but the children are gone. This was the first year that I didn’t feel utterly exhausted at the end of May. I could’ve gone a few more weeks.

My class this year was great. Kind and easy-going and smart, they made this job feel easy. I don’t always say this. Year 1 was type-A. Year 2 was my party class. Year 3 was probably my absolute favorite class forever. Year 4 was a challenge. Maybe Year 5 felt easy because Year 4 was so hard. Who knows what Year 6 will look like?

And now it’s summer, and travels and running and babies and weddings are upon me. But the project I’m most excited for is learning Latin. We’re switching from our regular spelling curriculum to a Latin-based vocabulary program next year. I was all but rubbing my hands together in glee during our in-service Friday. At last all my language knowledge will come in handy. Here’s the deal, if you haven’t studied another language in-depth grammar really doesn’t make sense. The best way to learn English grammar is to learn French or Spanish or Latin. Now four years of intense French study are helping me to learn Latin. I already bought my Latin textbook which I intend to work through this summer.

 

 

Marathon Training

I just finished the 4th week of marathon training. The mileage isn’t too time consuming yet, and every time I have a bad run or just don’t want to go out, I remind myself that I get to train for a marathon. Not everyone has this kind of time or health, and I don’t want to take it for granted. It’s a mixture of feeling #blessed and #girlpower. I am disciplined about my running and willing to put in lots of time and hard work, but I also try to remember that I’m pretty lucky to live in a time and in a place where women get to do this.

Here are things that are inspiring me while I’m running these days:

  1. I regularly listen to the Happier podcast with Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft. They are sisters and Gretchen is the author of the Happiness Project and Better than Before. Although I’m glad I’m not her daughter or sister, I have used so many of Gretchen’s suggestions for life over the past few years. One of my favorite things that she’s said it something along the lines of “You don’t take a break from a good habit.” This has been especially helpful with my running. It makes me feel so much better physically and mentally even if it’s not always the most fun thing to do. And so I just haven’t taken a break from running in the past three years.
  2. I also listen to the Bachelor Party podcast with Juliet Lipman. I’m watching The Bachelor this season and have greatly enjoyed all the additional witty commentary to be found. I also think that if people in other countries/cultures saw this show it might represent everything that is abhorrent about American culture.
  3. And I love Another Motherrunner. I know I’m not a mother, but Dimity and Sarah (podcast hosts) are just so likeable, and it’s definitely a club I’d like to be a part of someday.
  4. When the going gets tough, I have my classical music that I can bust out. My love of Beethoven’s 9th is well documented here. I also love this one transition in Bach’s Mass in B Minor. I think it’s in the Credo (all in Latin) but it’s from the lines of the Apostles’ Creed “I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins, and the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come.” There is brass and a dramatic tempo and key change. I always fist pump and bounce along. It is truly a happy, happy song.
  5. The nod. Most runners get this. When you pass a runner headed the opposite direction you nod, smile, and wave. Doesn’t matter how fast you’re going or how slow. It’s the code for, “Hey buddy, keep up the good work.”
  6. I have my mantras that I repeat. When I feel my “form” break down, I start mentally repeating “short quick short quick short quick” to remind myself to pick up my feet and stop over-striding. When I run up a hill I tell myself, “It’s just a hill. Get over it.” And I was trying to hold to a certain pace this past week, and it was really tough. I literally told myself, “Keep going, little soldier.” I’m also a huge fan of Tom Brady’s “We didn’t come this far just to come this far.”
  7. On a negative note, my biker hate has come back in full force. There’s nothing like being 10 miles in to a 15 mile run and getting passed by some chubby middle-aged guy on a bike wearing spandex thinking he’s working so hard. He probably is working hard, but bikes move so fast with so much less effort than running takes. Today I found myself in the middle of not one but two St. Patrick’s Day fun rides. I had to work very hard not to lash out when biker after biker flew past me without so much as a “on your left.”

So there are 14 weeks left. I’m sure positivity will start to ebb, and at some point my nerves will really set in. Now I just need to start thinking about what to wear for the race…

Snow Days

Water is boiling for pasta, and my umpteenth cup of tea is getting cold. The sun sets on my third snow day. I can’t really complain about the bliss of having three unexpected vacation days, but I won’t be sad to get back to work. Introvert though I be, I do like people, particularly my familiar people that I usually see every day.

Watched: A Little Chaos (about the landscape of Versailles under the reign of Louis XIV, RIP Alan Rickman), Far from the Madding Crowd (the chipperest Thomas Hardy story by far, and the light and landscape are just too beautiful), Wimbledon (oh the technical inaccuracies, also in what world is Kirsten Dunst the number one tennis player; Serena was definitely winning majors when this movie was made), The Painted Veil (because everyone knows the best romance is the one where the heroine falls in love with the husband she hates).

Made: two batches of buttermilk biscuits, braised cabbage (that I braised way too long and thus threw away), orange yogurt cake (to eat with more yogurt for breakfast), heirloom popcorn with butter and truffle salt.

Crafted: the uber long, denim skirt with cross-stitch panels (started in July, finished in February), cast off two complicated knit dish towels (literally, I just needed to cast off to finish these but had put if off for well over a year).

Explored: my park (there’s a whole new upper loop with a hidden soccer field that I at first thought was a frozen pond, but it was like a whole new world was opening up to me. Monument Valley Park is the gift that just keeps on giving).

Read: Daughter of Time (a mystery dedicated to absolving Richard III of the deaths of the two princes in the tower), The Baker’s Daughter (because being the housekeeper for a married, absent-minded artist who is ten years your senior and then being such a good cook he marries you is every girl’s dream), Homecoming (reading this for curriculum choices at school), and Brooklyn (spoiler: it’s heartless to kill off the big sister. The truth is big sisters never get a fair shake in literature. The heroines are always the middle sisters or only children or orphans).

Additionally, I did a lot of yoga, reorganized my books, deep scrubbed the kitchen sink, and dusted my bedroom. Oh, and the hyacinths that I was forcing bloomed, so the whole place smells like spring whilst the rest of the world is buried in snow (except for the trails at the park. Those were plowed before any of the roads).

I probably should have read more and watched less, but snow days are gifts and whims are not to be questioned.

 

Winter Luxuries

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Because a snowy landscape is the ultimate blank slate…

Blame it on my Scandinavian heritage, but I don’t hate winter. I do hate the sun going down at 5:00 or earlier, but that’s a personal safety when running thing. Other than that, I’m good with the cold. I can always throw on another layer, but there comes a point when the heat must be endured. But I also revere/practice the “hygge” concept. Although, if I’m being completely honest, I have no idea how to pronounce it, and I’m all too aware of how hot Scandinavian anything is right now. Whatever. I like trends.

As I’ve gotten older (so old), I’ve learned to enjoy winter even more. Here’s what I’ve do:

Wear the right clothes. In college in Michigan, I was constantly running around in silk ballet flats and bare feet. Insane. Always cold. Now, I wear the proper cold weather clothes. There’s no shame in wearing a hat and gloves with your coat. The same thing holds true for running; the right clothes make all the difference.

Light the candles. I’m all about lighting candles now. As a single lady of a certain age with an intense cat allergy, I was going to lean pretty hard into some weird thing. Candles are that thing. Although, truly, I get this from my father more than anyone else. My favorite smells for winter are anything fir or pine. I got the beautiful candles from Anthropologie, but I’m also a big fan of the slightly cheaper Bath and Bodyworks Fresh Balsam candle. Somehow one candle cozies up the entire space (of my 525 square feet).

Read books. This is kind of lame because I read books through all the seasons, but I seem to buckle down and get serious reading done in the winter. Or at least, I attempt lengthier reads. I’m currently in the middle of my French Revolution novel, but then I’ll get back into Madame Bovary which I somehow missed reading in four years as a French major (but if you want to know anything about 17th and 18th century French lit, I’m your gal). In past years, I’ve read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Forsyte Saga, Our Mutual Friend, Team of Rivals (if it’s 600+ pages, I’m in).

Venture outdoors. Anyone who really knows me knows that I do not get cabin fever. Staying in is ideal, and I rarely get bored or restless. But I do think that I am happier and healthier if I spend some time outside. Most days this looks like running. But when I get together with friends I try to schedule walks instead of coffee dates. This is now sounding like such an obnoxious self-help article, but I am super indoorsy, and my daily dose of fresh air is never something I regret. Except that one time last week when I was running, and I was over a mile away from home and I started to experience some digestive distress. I was inwardly cursing my decision to run. It was an odd experience of needing to run faster to get home to get to the bathroom and fearing that quick movement would dislodge my innards. But I digress, fresh air is necessary for me and for my students (and we all get really grumpy when we’re told to stay inside when the temp hits 20º).

Accept a challenge. I don’t really ever do New Year’s resolutions (I like to make them in August/September), but I love competitions against myself. So I’m on day 18 of a 30 day yoga challenge. I get up early (around 5:30) and spend 30-40 minutes doings my moves. I’m up earlier and my morning is less hectic and I feel so much better all day. Of course, I’ll probably never do yoga again after the 30 day challenge is completed. But these kinds of challenges keep me occupied, and I feel like I’m accomplishing something big.

Nurse hot tea. I bummed this super expensive chai mixture off of my mom all Christmas break before I broke down and bought my own. It’s actually not a black tea at all, but a mixture of ground up spices that you spoon into hot water. I add a squirt of honey or agave and a splash of cream or coconut milk or almond milk (whatever new health trend milk I’m drinking), and I’m all set for an evening of tennis.

Watch the Australian Open. Tennis is one of the best spectator sports to watch. You can be a fan of one person, not an entire team. It’s a very mental sport, so the on-court antics are usually entertaining unless the athlete is relentlessly classy in all conduct all the time (looking at you stoic, Federer). And it can go from hopelessly dull to riveting. I zone out while watching tennis all the time. And then the score gets tight, and I drift back into the game, fixated on a 27 shot rally. To be a tennis fan, the level of commitment is low. If I wanted to really follow college basketball, I’d be blocking off November-March/April. Same goes for almost any other sport. Ain’t nobody got time for that. But every few months, I can handle two weeks of intense tennis fandom. The AO is at the perfect time because it’s January, and life is hard because Christmas is over and Lent is the next big thing on the calendar. But in Australia it’s summer, and tennis=summer. It’s like a warm weather vacation with none of the warm weather. In fact, when I watch I usually end up being grateful I’m huddled over my laptop blasting the space heater. “Look at them toiling away in 90º heat with 49% humidity. I would hate to be playing tennis at an elite level making millions of dollars.” And if you’ll remember how I feel about hot weather, you know this is absolutely true. It’s weather escapism that oddly makes me feel super grateful that it’s winter, and I can wear sweaters and enjoy opaque tight season (and all the non-shaving that that entails).

So courage! Soldier on!