Saturday, June 28, 2014

And Then I Pedaled Off into the Sunset

Yesterday was not a good day.

It started on a good note.  I had organized my schedule the night before so that I’d be able to get everything done: a morning tutoring session, a visit to see a car that Paul and I might purchase, and then lab time to get something done that I had started on Thursday.  I woke up early to shower and eat breakfast before I had to start my on-line tutoring session.  I felt awake and ready to tackle the day.

The not-good part started when a tutoring student canceled on me at the VERY last minute.  I really hate when students cancel.  It’s not so much about the money or getting paid as it is about wanting to be useful, and if I’m not actually tutoring?  Then I’m not being useful.  I don’t like that.  I’m not sure everyone appreciates how frustrating it is to not work when you really WANT to be working.  We focus so much on the money, but as much as I want or need the money, I’m still bummed when someone cancels yet volunteers to pay for the session that they had booked with me.  This feeling is how I know that for me, freelancing is not equivalent to “slacker who doesn’t want to work.”

After the tutoring cancellation, Paul and I never heard back about the car-for-sale, so we never went to see it.  On the bright side, I was invited to lunch with my old lab, the lab where I worked for three months before being laid off.  “Yay, lunch!” I said to Paul, so of course I went.

Lunch made me sad.  Having stepped away from an employment path in academic science, I felt deeply self-conscious about my status as a freelancer.  Three of the four other people at lunch, including my old boss, had found new, seemingly stable jobs.  And while I’m happy for them, I also felt like I had little in common with them any more.  When we talked about my upcoming move to Austin, they made it sound like living in Austin is my life’s dream, as though when I get to Austin, my work is over because I’ve achieved my dream.  And I couldn’t articulate the fact that no, once we get to Austin, my work has just begun.  But getting out of College Station will be good for me, this town that has been my home through so much heartbreak.  I want the fresh start.

When my old colleagues did ask me about my work, they asked about my lab job, which is a way to pay the bills for six months.  It is NOT my passion and not something I am deeply invested in.  I’ve tried to do a good job in that position, but I’ve struggled with my unhappiness in it.  I resent that I needed that job at all, after being promised a yearlong position and being laid off three months into it.  And I feel bad that I am resentful, because my current boss has been fair and generous with me.  Sometimes I feel trapped, like I just can’t win.  I need want the money, so I have to suck up all these negative or ambivalent feelings and just DO THE WORK.

Finally, I was upset about something that happened in my lab job yesterday, the details of which I won’t share here.  Suffice to say, by the time I got home, I was so disappointed that I wondered why I got out of bed at all.  But I hadn’t exercised yet that day, and while I could have gone for a run, instead I decided to hop on my bike and make the most of my evening alone.  (Also sad: Paul has been house-sitting across town all week, and Lu and I have been missing him.  She goes into his room and yowls in despair.  I’m glad he’s coming home tomorrow.)

Before the bike ride, my spirits were lifted by a Facebook chat with my future roomie, who listened to my sad day and sympathized.  Then I made a smoothie, topped it with Grape-Nuts and peanut butter, and watched an episode of Parks and Recreation.  It was tempting, at that point, to stay on the couch for the rest of the day.  But there was still sunlight, and a bike ride for fun is a surefire way to feel better.  So I pedaled off, feeling lighter and happier already.

Why is it that being literally in motion feels so healing?  With just my keys tucked in a cross-body purse, I felt like I could fly away from all the bad feelings, the disappointments, the insecurities, everything that had come up during the day.  It was just me and the bike and that big blue Texas sky, strewn with white clouds and the fading light of summer sunshine.  As long as my health was good and my legs were strong enough, I could count on that bike taking me away from the daily struggle and the feeling that I’m just waiting for the next chapter of my life to begin.

I rode my favorite neighborhood loop but took a detour to visit a favorite park.  There, I hopped off the bike to do a lap.  Halfway through, I thought of my friend Amber and her endlessly playful spirit, and I ventured off the path into the grass.  I was fully present in that moment, the texture of the grass under my shoes, the warm air on my skin, the feeling of being alive in this body of mine.  I did some gymnastics that I learned years ago, when I was more flexible.  Putting both hands on the ground, I stepped into an inversion, one leg straight in the air, the other bent with foot touching opposite knee.  I did that several times, trying to do it better each time, with a straighter leg and more grace.  Then I tried something harder, a cartwheel, and promptly got thistles in my fingers, one of which drew blood.

I stepped back on the path and continued my walk.  My thoughts took me back in time, to being 16 and 17 years old, a simpler time in my life.  My work seemed so much simpler: getting good grades, baton twirling and coaching, making a little money doing manual labor.  Pick some colleges, apply, receive acceptance letters.  I worried about paying for college, yet I marched toward attending a school that I really loved, undaunted by price tags.

At that time in my life, I didn’t carry the weight of professional disappointments and deep personal loss.  I’d never been in love.  I had yet to grapple, really grapple, with my inner demons.  I was self-centered in a way that was not only allowable, but really perfect for that age.  I hadn’t walked through the fire of graduate school, an experience that would forge me into the person I am today.

And yet.  Despite all of that, I was able to transport myself back to a younger age and feel the lightness and hope of age 17.  That’s such a blessing.  It was restorative on a night when I desperately wanted to shed all those bad feelings.  But now it also reminds me of how much I want to work with students who are in that stage of life.  I want to tutor high school students who are just now learning about chemistry.  I want to work with undergraduates who are struggling with genetics or cell biology, trying to see the big picture from inside the fog of facts that float in front of them.  They are the people who inspire me to want to be better at what I do.  They’re the ones I’m trying to serve when I write about research and graduate school, trying to offer advice that is encouraging, useful, and realistic.  Working with those students isn’t about revisiting my youth per se—it’s about being a bridge from a place of uncertainty to the next step in their path.  It’s about being a tiny part of their journey to adulthood.

And after all that thinking, I hopped back on my bike, pedaled home, and resumed my spot on the couch with Parks and Rec on the television.

It was a good night.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Seeing a Pattern

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Hello and happy summer!  It’s been a while, but here I am.  I’ve been writing on my personal blog and my professional site, and this one kept slipping off my to-do list.  Let’s chat!

May was all wedding and Michigan, and it was wonderful.  I’m feeling all talked-out about May, so I’ll let the pictures speak for me here.  After we came back from Michigan, we had a visitor and a trip to Austin, where we signed a lease for a new place to live.  Since then, things have been quiet.  Paul moved in with me, and we’ve been learning how to be domestic partners.  I have to say, it’s been a pretty easy transition for us.  Paul is a kind, thoughtful partner—he even bought a piece of art from a friend of ours because he knew I’d like it!  So sweet.  Our domestic partnership has got me thinking about what exactly constitutes partnership and fairness.  It’s a contemplation—I’m not upset or annoyed.  I keep thinking about the idea that the person who cares the most about something should do that thing…but the policy that works well for Paul and me is that if you want something, just ask.  So far, so good!

Fitness-wise, I’ve been trying to do something every day.  I made myself a star chart, and after a few weeks, I’m seeing a pattern.  Do you see it too?

Star Chart Through June 9

Squeezing that third run into each week hasn’t happened yet, but I remain hopeful.  On Sunday, I went for my longest run in a while, a whopping 20 minutes.  I know, right!?!  (As for yoga, what’s that?  My yoga consists of doing some stretches before bed.  I don’t know if that counts.)

I’m going to get back into the habit of writing weekly blog posts for tracking my exercise.  I’ve let myself slack A LOT in the fitness department for the past year or so—I have no excuses, it’s just me being busy and not making exercise more of a priority.  I’m getting a little nervous that my slacking is going to erode my cardio and strength ability, and it was that fear that got me out the door on Sunday for a longer run.

I’m going to keep working on that “run 3x a week” goal.  In the meantime, how about a photo of Lucy with the new-old camera that Paul bought from a friend?  It’s our newest toy, and as soon as I can figure out all the software we need for it, I’m sure I’ll be sharing some photos from it!

Lu with New-Old Camera 

How is your summer so far?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Catching Up + A Simple Summer Running Goal

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Hello, hello!  Long time, no write on this blog!

April was one rocket ship of a month, barreling forward with all the momentum of a semester coming to its end.  It was a very successful month, income-wise, and I’m grateful for that.  My wallet and I needed that boost!

Rather than doing a really tedious week-by-week listing of my fitness pursuits, I’ll summarize April by saying that I walked.  Nearly every day, I forced myself to step away from the computer to get outside for at least a 15-minute walk.  Some days I ran, but more often, I walked.  It surprised me how hard it was mentally to set aside my work or other tasks so that I could get some exercise, but the discipline was good to enforce.  Also, once I had a 10K on the calendar, I felt compelled to kick up my efforts a notch.  Moving into May, my longest run before our 10K was 40 minutes (about 4 miles, based on my pace estimate).  My niece and I did this work-out together: she rode her bike ahead of me.  I pushed her to ride a little further than perhaps she would have done on her own, but she did great!  And she was so proud of herself too, which was adorable.  Then we both promptly came down with a nasty cold, and running was not an option. 

I was able to rally for our 10K race.  It turns out that JD and I are both out-of-shape runners, which is to say that we aren’t at our fittest right now.  We decided that this is okay, that it wasn’t something to get anxious or upset about.  I think over the course of our respective running careers, we’ve experienced peaks and valleys in our fitness—JD was very well-trained for the Detroit Marathon that we ran together in October 2013.  In recent years, I have been at my fittest right before running my annual March half-marathon.  I know what it feels like to be in really good running shape, and I’m not there right now.

While I think it’s okay to participate in running events even if you aren’t at your fittest, I’m feeling tired of not being more fit.  I feel caught between compassion and self-acceptance (telling myself, “Your life has been busy and chaotic, running hasn’t been a top priority, having a set of healthy habits is more important than running, etc.”) versus feeling like ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!  The time has come to reclaim my running life.

And really, the time could not be better than now.  I’m down to one job for the summer (unless I can pick up some summer tutoring…), Paul and I aren’t traveling much, and I don’t have any special events on my calendar until we move in July.  In short, I have time to reclaim my athletic life.  My goal for the summer is to establish a habit of running three times a week.  Minimum distance is one mile (or ten minutes) of running.  It’s a modest enough goal that I feel good about setting it.  Maybe I’ll even bring back the star chart to visually track my progress!  That would be fun.

What are your summer running goals, friends?  Any races on your calendars?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Back to the Usual

Inside today…

Recipe Notes

New Sleeping Spot

…and outside.

Patchwork Clouds

Week of April 14, 2014:

Monday: Walked 15 minutes

Tuesday:  Running work-out.  20 minutes total with 10 minutes running

Wednesday: Walked 24 minutes

Thursday: Walked 19 minutes

Friday: Biked to and from Shiraz for a lunch date + walked 23 minutes

Saturday: Running work-out.  29 minutes total with 20 minutes running

Sunday: Walked 22 minutes.

Total minutes walked/ran: 152.  Estimated miles: 11.1.

Now that there’s a race on the schedule, it’s back to the usual weekly updates…or at least that’s the goal.  I’ve had a really lovely weekend.  Paul and I went to his family celebration yesterday, where we ate and laughed and relaxed for a few hours.  His mom made a pan of absolutely delicious vegetarian enchiladas, which we loved.  She’s relatively new at cooking for vegetarians, and I’m so touched by her efforts to feed us well.  I’m hoping we can visit his parents this summer before we move to Austin.  (And just for the record, we like to feed them when we visit, so there will be lots of kitchen love, I’m sure.)

Today I alternated work time with fun time: general chemistry for the former and lots of my favorite things for the latter.  My friend Tonya came over today to meet Lucy; Tonya wanted to meet the kitty before agreeing to cat-sit for me next month.  It was nice to catch up with her just the two of us; it’s been a while since we did that.  For our coffee date, I made these cookie bars, and she brought over strawberry cake.  I brewed us a French press’s worth of coffee using beans from What’s the Buzz, our local coffee roaster who makes freakin’ fantastic coffee.  As I was telling Tonya about giving her the wireless internet password for my apartment and letting her know she was welcome to anything in the kitchen, too, I mentioned the coffee, and she said, “Well, in that case, I definitely think I’ll be happy to take spend some time here!”  So it turns out that really good coffee is the thing to offer Tonya when asking for a big favor.  I love that!

Work-out-wise, my efforts have been focused on daily walking.  It’s hard for me to tear myself away from the computer, but I’ve been very diligent about getting at least 15 minutes of “leisure” walking into my day.  (Leisure = not work- or errand-related.)  It’s a great healthy habit to cultivate, and I never regret going for a walk.  Running-wise, I can only hope to keep up with JD when we run our 10K together.  I saw on Facebook that he ran nine miles yesterday, while I ran…um…two.  We’re not exactly in the same place, training-wise.  But it’s okay—I’d love to be able to run that 10K with him; it is not, however, the end of the world if he finishes before me.  We’re out there to have fun and enjoy our sport.  My real running goal for the next year?  To beat my marathon finishing time (4:56:50) when I run Toronto in 2015.

The Toronto Marathon is a long way off, so until then, it’s daily walking and a few runs each week and (maybe, just maybe) a running habit that sticks beyond race day.  It’d be nice to stop being such a yo-yo runner (you know, like a yo-yo dieter, but with running instead).  I have forgotten what it’s like to have a regular running routine, which makes me sad.

 Until next time, sweet readers!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

From Couch to 5…No, 10K!

At Lake Bryan

About two weeks ago, I started doing the Couch to 5K (C25K) program.  It seemed like a nice way to ease back into running after more than a month off.  Plus I have been walking as a form of exercise, and C25K seems like a perfect transition from walking into running.

I was perfectly content to do my C25K program as spring gives way to summer here…until my friend JD suggested we do a 10K when I’m in Michigan next month.  JD is my favorite running buddy and a great friend.  When he found the Heart & Sole Run/Walk in Chelsea, Michigan, I couldn’t say no—he’d found a 10K for us on the one weekend that I was available for a running event.  Perfect.  So even though I am most definitely NOT in 10K shape right now, I will be in 3.5 weeks!

How does one safely go from 0 to 6.2 miles in such a short span of time?  Well, I’m hoping that my overall good shape (lots of walking and biking these days) will be enough to support my running burst.  I’m planning to do two “long runs” each week, adding a mile to each long run and then doing whatever work-outs I feel like on my other days.  I think I can get away with this without injury because I’ve been running for years, and my body adapts well to running stress.  Plus it’s only a 10K—it’s not like I’m trying to run a marathon on a whim.  Right?  Right.

Tonight I went out for my first “long run”: one mile of running, plus walking warm-up and cool-down.  Not surprisingly, it was fine.  (I’m not that out of shape!)  Still, it was nice to return to running, and with a goal in mind, I think the motivation will get me out the door pretty easily.

Have you ever run a race just to run with a friend?  Tell me about it!

Happy running! 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spring Forward

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Whoa! Look who’s back after disappearing from this space for a month.

March was, in a word, ridiculous. It started with the Armadillo Dash Half-Marathon (complete with awesome medal, which you can see above!), included a trip to Dallas, another trip to Michigan, and nailed me with one of the worst colds I’ve had in my life. It also included some pretty significant personal growth, which rattled me quite a bit but is, I think, ultimately preparing me to be a better partner and a better provider to those who depend on me.

I haven’t had as much time to write since I started working this year. As a part-time freelancer, time management is something I’m learning all over again: how to manage my time with an uncertain work schedule and much more freedom than I’ve had while employed.

How about a few highlights from Ridiculous Rainy March?

* Paul and I spent an AMAZING weekend in Dallas with our friends Amber and Jeremy. They are always wonderful company, but before that, we met my professor friend Cliff for a fantastic day of food and science. Cliff taught me organic chemistry when I was an undergrad, and by now, he’s probably taught well over a thousand students that carbon has four bonds and oxygen will attack a nucleus.  It’s been more than ten years since I was his student in the proper student-professor sense of things, and now I consider him my friend and mentor.  While he was in Dallas and escaping the bitter cold of Michigan, we visited the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.  As Paul said, it was a very cool space in which to have hours of conversation about science and engineering.  With the exception of the crystal hall, we didn’t spend much time examining the exhibits; instead, it was more like the exhibits served as inspiration for our discussions.

On top of the fun of seeing the museum, Cliff got to meet Paul, which I loved.  They totally hit it off!

* After the weekend in Dallas, I flew to Michigan for my sister’s bridal shower.  Getting to Michigan turned out to be an unwanted adventure, but being there for the weekend was awesome.  Theresa and I got to spend an afternoon with our niece, and we celebrated the surprise marriage of my brother to his partner Thom.  The bridal shower was very fun and friendly.  Theresa’s future mother-in-law did most of the work, and it turned out beautifully.

* Even here in Texas, March was a cold, rainy month.  I got to enjoy a new pair of gray boots, and I’m so glad I decided to buy new boots because my old ones get wet really easily on rainy days.  With my uncertain income this year, I feel a lot of pressure to be very mindful of how I’m spending money.  New boots add so much to my overall comfort on a day-to-day level that I think they were totally worth the money.

* Did you guys catch the Ironman article in the April issue of Runner’s World?  I love Dimity McDowell’s writing—she’s funny and helpful and the kind of woman you’d like to call a friend.  Her Ironman experience was such an inspiring read.  (If you missed it, they published it on-line too!  Yay!)

* Speaking of exercise, I took it easy in March.  I wasn’t injured or anything, just super-busy and feeling too stressed to fit running into my days.  Instead, I made it a goal to walk every day…and then failed at that.  Sheesh.  This month I’m back at it, fitting at least 15 minutes of walking into each day.  (Though today, I think I’m counting my short walking commute to tutoring as my walk…that plus my bike ride to and from campus feels like enough for one day.)

* Finally, I’ve been doing some deep thinking about my relationships to money, work, and Paul.  I’m writing about my thoughts over on my other blog, if you’re interested.  Here is my latest post about two ideas that are giving me good reason to reconsider my money anxiety.  Enjoy!

Up next: my plans for April!  Have a great week, dear friends.  I’ve missed you and this little blog.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

“Forward is a pace.”

Eighth Annual Armadillo Dash

Medal Closeup

Watch Time

Today I completed my sixth half-marathon and fifth Armadillo Dash!  It was a humid, rainy morning, and I was undertrained for the race.  But I showed up, ran a decent 13.1, and earned a cool medal at the end.

My finishing time was 2:02:52, about ten minutes slower than last year’s race.  I expected to feel disappointed about this, but thankfully, I’m not.  I feel really happy about participating and not letting perfect be the enemy of good.  Today is the first time in several years that it’s taken me more than two hours to complete a half, but you know what?  That’s two hours I got to spend on my fitness, on my health, on my physical and emotional well-being.  It’s two hours that were well-lived. I love a PR as much as the next runner, but it makes sense to me that some seasons of life are more conducive to PRs.  Whether or not I’m setting PRs, running keeps me grounded and sane.  And apparently, I’m so innately appreciative of running’s benefits that a non-PR race day is A-OK with me.

Today’s post title came from one of the race signs.  It’s a good one, don’t you think?  I’m keeping that in mind, both on the course and in my everyday life.

Run on, friends!  And happy March!