Dealing with the circumstances you have, not the circumstances you want

Fall is my favorite time of year to run. The colors of the trees and grasses, and the angle of the sunlight, along with warm but comfortable temperatures, make running outside in September and early October a joy and a sensory delight. As the leaves fall and the temperatures drop, as we move from October to November, I enjoy the crisp air and the cooler temps — and the changing landscape too. I tend to do a lot of trail running in the fall, and my favorite marathon is also in the fall. Running in the fall is just a happy experience for me all around.

I thought about this all as I walked back across campus yesterday on an impossibly warm, beautifully sunny day. A perfect day for a run, especially a marathon training run. Which, according to my plan, was exactly how I’d be spending my September.

Instead, my thoughts centered on how happy I was to stand and teach for 70 minutes without foot pain. And when I’d be able to squeeze in my physical therapy exercises that night.

Yep, I’m injured.

I did 2 marathons within 8 months, the last one being in June. My body, surprisingly, handled the back-to-back training cycles like a champ. I optimistically registered for the Twin Cities Marathon in October — which would have been marathon #3 in the span of a year. I thought I was in good shape. I felt pretty good after the June marathon.

Then I went on vacation, right after that marathon. And walked around Disney World for 5 days.

For those of you who are not runners: this is probably the Worst Marathon Recovery Plan in the History of Humankind.

So, yeah, my body finally rebelled, and to make a long story short, I haven’t run since the end of July. Plantar fasciitis. My original plan to stop running for 2 weeks and “let my foot heal” morphed into “I need to drop out of the marathon” when my foot did not improve. Cue a doctor’s visit, a (thankfully) negative X-ray (no stress fracture!), and a round of PT that just got extended.

The good news is that I’m healing. The bad news is that I am the slowest healer in history. OK, not really. The bad news is that this seems to be a really, really stubborn bout of plantar fasciitis, and that it really does not want to leave my body.

Instead of running down sun-dappled trails, I’m swimming laps like a boss and riding my bike a lot more, including taking up a new pursuit: mountain biking. (At least that gets me out on the trails!) Doing PT exercises like it’s my job. Taping my foot for taekwondo and cursing the fact that the kicks I currently have to master for my next belt are jump side kicks, which involve both a heel strike to the bag (or board) and a heel strike to the ground when I land the jump. Ouch.

And exercising patience like I’ve never had to before, because this injury has no set in stone recovery timeline.

Patience has never been my strong suit, so this has been an especially difficult experience for me. And the stages of being injured resemble the 5 stages of grief. Right now I’ve mostly reached the acceptance stage, with occasional forays into the depression stage.

What’s helped is reminding myself that this is temporary. That the layoff from running allows me time to pursue other things that I haven’t had time to do. I love swimming, but that fell largely by the wayside when I started taekwondo because I couldn’t do the amount of running marathon training requires AND taekwondo several times a week AND swimming. I may now be slightly addicted to mountain biking, and can’t wait to spend the fall exploring new trails and honing my skills (and running into fewer trees). I wouldn’t have had time to develop these passions if I were still training for a marathon. And yeah, it’s not running, but…it’s still fun, and it still restores me.

Dealing with the reality I have, and not the reality I wanted or expected or planned for, is sometimes frustrating. But it’s also helping me accept myself better, and be more forgiving of myself. It’s reminding me that I can’t control everything, and that I’m much happier and better adjusted when I work with my circumstances and not against them. And that, perhaps, is the best lesson I can take away from this experience.

Now, about those PT exercises …..

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Theme(s) for the 2017-18 academic year

As an academic, I recognize two “new years” every year: the traditional one, the start of a new calendar year on January 1; and the academic one, in September when the new school year starts. Both new years present an opportunity for reflection, for renewal, and for a fresh start.

I don’t usually make resolutions. I’m the type of person that doesn’t wait when I want to start a new habit or change my ways, and I’m usually disciplined enough to see it through. But I do set themes.

A theme is an overarching principle that describes how I’d like to live my life and make my choices over the next year. I alternate between picking themes for the traditional new year and for the academic year. Past themes include Defining (2010), Good enough (2013), Self preservation (2015), and Healthy (2017).

I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting this summer more generally on what I want my post-sabbatical life to look like. How do I contain the chaos so that I am more present at work and at home? How do I not let myself get overwhelmed with the sheer volume of work? How do I make better choices about how to spend my time? As I reflected, two themes emerged, and I realized that they are in fact linked.

So this year, I have a dual theme for the academic year: Meaning and Challenge.

THEME #1: MEANING

Meaning, to me, encompasses 2 parts:

  1. Doing important and relevant work to improve the world/my campus/my communities. I have a limited amount of time and energy, and I want to spend both in ways that “count”. I want to make sure that the projects I choose, and the actions I take every day, fit my core priorities: broadening participation in computing and STEM; integrating civic engagement and “computing for good” into computer science classes; empowering girls to become leaders; working for justice and equity more broadly.
  2. Working with purpose and intention. Sabbatical, and its relative lack of distractions, allowed me to be present and mindful in my work, and this is one of the things I enjoyed most about my sabbatical. I want to make sure to carry this mindfulness over to my post-sabbatical work days. This will be more challenging given the increase in the demands on my time and the number of distractions I’ll face (no more hiding out at home ignoring the world for hours!). Working with purpose and intention also means setting, and honoring, my priorities, particularly when it comes to deciding when I should say “yes” to an opportunity, or how I decide what tasks to work on during the day.

THEME #2: CHALLENGE

Working with meaning and purpose means getting out of my comfort zone, and doing hard and uncomfortable (and possibly unpopular) things. It means being brave enough to stand up for what I believe in. As a newly minted full professor, I believe I have a responsibility to do so — to be brave enough to use my power and my voice to improve my communities. I don’t like being uncomfortable, so this will definitely be a challenge for me.

But I also want to pursue the fun parts of “challenge” this year by taking new risks and testing my limits in new ways. I’ve thought about doing a triathlon for a while, and I think I’m going to plan for one for next summer. Taekwondo continues to be a fun challenge for me (particularly now that we are sparring in class!), and I might try competing in a tournament this year.


 

I’m very excited to see how these themes play out this year, in my work life and my home life.

What are your themes for the year, readers? I would love to hear them in the comments.

Summer plans

Well, it had to happen eventually — my year-long sabbatical is now over, and I’m officially into summer. Which means it’s time for summer plans and setting summer goals.

Since I’m a visual person, this year I decided to make a big ol’ summer calendar and write/draw out all of my responsibilities, goals, etc. on it. I found this exercise immensely helpful — and as a bonus, it helped me figure out which weeks the kids have various camps. With 2 kids in 2 different age groups (for camp program purposes), you can imagine how complicated this becomes. In fact, there are only 4 weeks this summer where both kids are in the same camp/location at the same time.

Summer calendar

Summer calendar, in progress last week. It is much more filled in now!

We also decided this summer to purposely not schedule the kids for the entire summer. So there are weeks or partial weeks where the kids are hanging out at home with me. After a disastrous day last week where I spent more time dealing with kid shenanigans (my own and the neighbors) than on the work I needed to complete, I came up with a daily task list for the kids to complete on the days they are home with me. So far it’s worked really well.

Summer to-do list for kids.

Thank you, Pinterest, for inspiring the entries on this list.

What’s also worked is setting a strict time limit on my own work for the day, letting the kids know how much time I will spend working and when I plan to be done. And reminding them that every interruption moves that time back. And scheduling fun things to do together after I finish working, like going to the pool or playing games. (I’m not sure who looks forward to that time more, my kids or me!)

We have a couple of shorter trips planned, plus like last year I blocked off the entire last week of August for Mom’s End Of Summer Fun Camp, which was a big hit with the kids. And I am back to teaching in our high school summer program, after a year off from that. Having those sketched out on the mega-calendar helped me visualize the time I have available to work on other projects.

I have a few projects that I’m working on this summer:

  • I received an internal curricular grant to get things up and running for my HFOSS Comps project. I’m going to spend that time getting involved in the developer community and making connections; figuring out how to contribute to the project, and how my students can contribute; and creating/modifying learning activities for and from the foss2serve community.
  • Starting to conduct interviews for my interview project. I’m a couple of months behind on this because some other projects consumed my time this spring, but I hope to get at least 5 interviews completed this summer. I’m hoping to load these up in the weeks that the kids are in camp/summer programs.
  • Continuing my state diagram/model project. The paper continues to evolve, the modeling language is mostly complete, and now I need to get the event/transition part of the model working in simulation.  I don’t expect to finish this over the summer, but I hope to get the bulk of the design done so I can finish coding it up in the fall.
  • Prep for fall term. There are some minor changes I want to make to Software Design, which I’m teaching this fall and winter. I’ll need to touch base with my community/campus partners for the other 2 Comps projects I’m supervising. I need to update my website. I’m also taking over as mentor/director of the Summer Science Fellows program at Carleton, so I need to figure out what happens when with that program and figure out what to do in the fall seminar I’m leading for this summer’s fellows, along with some other logistical things.

My main goal this summer, though, is to not stress about the things that don’t get done. There are only a few things that need to be completed this summer, but for the rest, the world will not end if I fall a bit behind. I need to make sure I am relaxed, refreshed, and ready to tackle the academic year, and that is really my number one priority this summer.

Reflections on marathon training

This coming weekend, I will be running my third marathon. This is the first time I am running a marathon other than Twin Cities (although I will also be running that again, later this year!) and my first time traveling to a marathon.

It’s also the first time I’m running a spring marathon.* This, along with being on sabbatical for the entire training cycle, made this marathon training experience much different from my two previous training cycles.

Training through winter and spring and into unofficial summer meant temperature and weather extremes. The week before I started training, in mid-February, I ran in wind chills of -15. During my last 15 miler, 2 weeks ago, temperatures soared into the 80s. Lashsicles and heat exhaustion in the same training cycle! I’ve run through snow, gale force winds, driving rains, fog so thick I could not see my hand in front of my face**, black ice, and blazing sun. But, luckily since I HATE the treadmill, the weather only forced me indoors a couple of times.

Temperature extremes while running.

From negative temps to heat advisories…

Spring is notoriously windy around here, and that I found was the most challenging part of this cycle. The worst run was a 14 miler with hills, where the 2nd half was pretty much all uphill but the first part of the run was into 20mph headwinds. I have never been so tired after a run in my life! I usually tried to plan runs so that I’d have the wind at my back at the end of the run, but this was not always possible. Grandma’s is a point-to-point course, though, so at least this was good training for potential unfavorable winds on race day.

When I train through the summer, I plan long run routes so that I hit water fountains at key points to refill my water bottles. Up until the end of April, though, the water fountains around here are turned off. This made planning long runs logistically interesting. Instead of doing big loops or long out-and-backs, I planned shorter loops so that I could circle back to my car or house and refill my bottles. (Bonus: I could also shed layers if I was too warm or add layers if I was too cold.) I enjoyed these more than I thought I would — in fact, my favorite long run was the first (of 3!) 20 milers, which I did as 2 hilly 10 mile loops around my town.

When planning running routes in the winter, I also had to be cognizant of which paths were plowed, which streets were likely too icy, etc, and be ready to reroute on the fly if I guessed incorrectly. Which I often did.

Being on sabbatical meant that I had more freedom in terms of scheduling my runs, which meant that I ran later in the morning than I usually do (usually after getting the kids on the bus). This also meant that I had time to go explore new-to-me running routes, and I found a few nearby that I hope to keep in the rotation as I train for marathon #4 this summer and fall.

Minimum maintenance road.

Adventure is calling!

I ran more in Minneapolis too, doing 2 runs (20 and 21 miles, respectively) around the Chain of Lakes/Lake Nokomis, and several runs in the Minnehaha Falls area (discovering a new-to-me path in the process!). Minneapolis runs will be tougher to work into my schedule this summer and fall, but hopefully I can make it up there once or twice this summer.

I decided to use a more aggressive training plan this time around.*** I ended up doing 504 miles (not counting the week leading up to the marathon) total. The training plan was tough but manageable, and other than a bout of bronchitis that sidelined me for a week, I got through it injury-free!

Miles run per week, June 2016-2017.

Graph of miles I’ve run this past year, by week. Can you tell which 2 weeks I took off from running post-marathon #2 and which week I had bronchitis?

The plan called for some strength training exercises, which I was mostly good about doing. I also found that doing taekwondo 2-3 times a week really helped my running — it improved my core strength and balance, as well as my overall strength and mental toughness, and likely kept me injury-free. Plus there is nothing more therapeutic than taking out your aggressions on a punching bag!

I felt like I ran slower this cycle, but looking back on my long runs, they were on par pace-wise with those in my last training cycle. I did do my easier runs at a much easier pace than I normally do, which was probably the right decision, since I tend to go out too fast and too hard on easy runs.

Finally, this was my second time training with a virtual group, and I have to say that this was the best part of my experience. I’ve made some friends through these groups, and am hoping to meet up with a few fellow group members this coming weekend! It’s inspiring to read others’ race reports, and helpful to commiserate with others who are slogging through the same training runs while juggling work, family, kids, and the rest of the shenanigans life throws at you. I’m so very grateful for this online community. And I’m so very grateful for my family, who have always supported my crazy training cycles and who encouraged me to try 2 marathons this year when I was debating doing so.

I have no idea what this weekend will bring. I deliberately did not train with a time goal in mind knowing that the weather in June in Duluth can be quite variable. But I know that I’m ready, I’m well-trained, and I can’t wait to see what marathon #3 has in store for me!

* Technically it’s still spring!

** I wisely aborted that run 2 miles in. Too dangerous!

*** The plan called for 5 days/week of running. I dropped 1 day per week (the easiest run/shortest mileage) because I didn’t want to risk injury or burnout.

 

Uniform

astronauts

The power of the uniform!

I recently listened to a podcast where the hosts talked for a bit about adopting a uniform. The idea behind a uniform is that it takes out some of the decision making we do every morning by reducing the number of options: if we basically wear the same thing every day, there are fewer decisions to make about getting dressed, which means we’re not drawing down our cognitive resources early in the day.

I’ve actually been thinking about this idea lately, although it wasn’t until I heard the podcast that I assigned it the label “uniform”. Since I largely work at home this year, I mostly wear one of two outfits: jeans, a t-shirt, and a cardigan; or leggings and a sweater. There’s a bit more variety in my teaching outfits when I’m not on sabbatical, but I’ve come to realize that I’m most comfortable in a “uniform” of a dress and a cardigan. And on non-teaching days I tend to wear jeans, a nice shirt, and a cardigan. (I guess I love my cardigans!) I’ve been thinking about paring down my wardrobe to the pieces I wear most often and letting go of the rest to reflect the reality of how I dress. (Do I really need 8 pairs of dress pants if I only wear 2 of them on a semi-regular basis?) Of course I haven’t actually done anything about this yet, but the idea intrigues me.

This got me thinking about other “uniforms” I’ve adopted in my life to make my life easier and remove some of the decision fatigue:

  • Breakfast. I go through phases on what I eat for breakfast on weekdays, but I realized that I basically switch between two meals. Right now those are a smoothie; or eggs, avocado, and spinach on toast. Given that mornings are chaotic trying to get myself and the kiddos ready for the day, it really helps to just decide “sweet or savory?” and go from there.
  • Moodle course pages. Moodle (our course management system) can be overwhelming for students and faculty alike (so many boxes! so many links! so many things vying for attention!). About 4-5 years ago I came up with a “template” for my course Moodle pages that I’ve been using ever since. I tweak it a bit every year, but the overall structure remains the same: content boxes in the same places, content each week organized into the same categories, etc. It’s one less thing I have to think about when putting course content together. And if students have taken a class with me before, they (in theory) know where to find everything associated with the class. Now, it would be SOOOOO nice if Moodle actually allowed me to save my “template” so that I didn’t have to re-invent the wheel every class, every term…..
  • Comps (capstone) projects. Next year, all three of the Comps projects I’m supervising are academic civic engagement projects. Even though they involve very different campus/community partners, they all entail the same main tasks and have the same structure. This has made conceptualizing and planning the projects much easier, because I’m doing basically the same tasks, just with three different partners. In theory, this will also make managing the projects easier, because each team will be performing the same tasks, just at different times and in different contexts. Unusually for me, I also have a few project ideas on the back burner for next year — so the existence of this pattern makes it easier for me to generate project ideas, too.

What uniforms have you adopted in your own life? Do you wear a “uniform” in your day-to-day life?

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:STS-133_Astrovan_pre-flight_photo.jpg

Non-academic pursuits during sabbatical, part 3: Playing outdoors

Continuing in the series on “what I’m doing on sabbatical other than work” (parts 1 and 2 here), in today’s post I’ll talk about the athletic stuff I’ve been up to this year.

Physical activity has always been vitally important to my well being. As I’ve discussed on the blog before, it’s a really important strategy for helping me manage my depression and anxiety. It also helps me focus and, many days, is the only time all day I can count on having all to myself. What’s different about physical activity during sabbatical is that I have more flexible time to devote to the activities I love, which allows me to explore them in ways I can’t often do.

I’ll focus on three activities here — two which I do already, and one which I started this year.

Running

running clothes and bib number

Flat Amy the night before the 2016 Twin Cities Marathon.

Long time readers of this blog know that I love to run, especially long distances. I ran my first marathon in 2014 and immediately upon finishing said “I can’t wait to do this again!” I ran marathon #2 last October, which meant that I trained through the summer and the first few weeks of fall, when my schedule was light. While I found the training in 2014 to be manageable enough even with my summer schedule and fall teaching, it was really nice to have a pretty free schedule for this round of training, so that I could, say, do my long runs on weekday mornings and not have to spend a few hours away from my family on a Saturday or Sunday.

I’m currently training for marathon #3, which I’ll run in June. Again, it’s nice to have the freedom to do my long runs during the week, so that I can spend time with the family on the weekends. Training through the winter has been challenging — black ice! strong winds! cold temps! — but thanks to the relative lack of snow, I’ve managed to do most of my training outside and avoided the dreaded treadmill.

File_001

One of my favorite nearby trails.

One aspect of running that I’ve really indulged in, taking advantage of my flexible time, is trail running. I am lucky in that I have a number of great trails minutes from my house. Trail running in the fall is one of my absolute favorite things, and I made sure to do quite a bit of it this past fall (after the marathon, of course!).

Mom and daughter trail running.

My occasional running buddy. I introduced her to trail running this year.

My kiddos are starting to catch the running bug, too. My daughter and I have run two 5Ks together, and she’s on my case to run another one together this spring. (She’s between sports right now — basketball just ended and swimming doesn’t start up until April — and wants to run more with me in the interim.) My son asked us to sign him up for track this year, which shocked us since he usually fights us on any attempt at organized sports. It will be fun to see how this goes.

Cross-country skiing

My philosophy about winter is, if you’re going to live in a cold climate, get out there and enjoy it! (And bundle up!) So after living here for about 6 years, I learned to cross-country ski. I started off with classic but eventually switched to skate. Which is hard and frustrating but fun and beautiful all at the same time.

Unfortunately, we’ve had a string of mild winters so there hasn’t been much snow worth skiing lately. Luckily one of the parks nearby makes their own snow, so this year my better half and I sprung for the “all parks” pass so that we could ski whenever we wanted. (I still didn’t get out as much as I’d hoped, but at least I got out there a few times.) One of these days I’ll get the hang of it enough so that I won’t feel like Drunk Frankenstein while skiing. Maybe.

Taekwondo

We signed our son up for taekwondo this fall. He’s not into playing team sports, but we wanted something that would give him some exercise and also help with his focus and self-control. I ended up taking him to class most of the time, and sitting there watching him. It looked like fun. In December, his studio let parents practice for free. (Genius, right?) So I thought, why not? I could sit here and watch, or participate. So I participated.

Mom and son showing off their orange belts.

Newly-minted orange belts!

Well, their marketing ploy worked, and even though I swore up and down I didn’t have time to pick up another hobby, I jumped in. Now my son and I take classes 2-3 days a week together. We’ll earn our yellow belts in May and by mid-August will be camo belts. (And then we’ll start SPARRING in class! Woo hoo!) It’s been a fun and interesting challenge — as much mental as it is physical. I treasure the fact that this is time my son and I get to spend together. I like that I’m modeling behaviors for him like perseverance, dealing with failure, etc. And I like that I get to show young kids that moms/women can be powerful and strong, too!*

Taking part in these activities — particularly the outdoor ones — reminds me of the importance of “getting outside to play”, as I call it. While I’ve always found ways to fit physical activity into my busy schedule (pre-dawn runs, anyone?), it’s been a real treat having the choice to, say, run at mid-morning when the sun is up and it’s a bit warmer, or ski in the afternoon before picking up the kids, or explore new-to-me trails. I’m encouraged to find ways to continue to incorporate these activities into my life after I return from sabbatical next year.

In the final installment of this series, I’ll talk about travel: what I expected, and what actually happened. (Spoiler alert: even with flexible time, when you have young kids at home traveling is hard.)

*For most of the time I’ve been practicing, I’ve been the only mom in my class. But recently, two other moms have started coming to classes. I don’t know if seeing me practice influenced their decisions at all, but it’s nice to have more adult women in the class.

 

Non-academic pursuits during sabbatical, part 1: Volunteering

Most of my blog writing this year has been about the academic parts of my sabbatical. Part of the beauty of sabbatical, though, is the time to pursue other things in the spirit of rejuvenation. I realize I haven’t talked much about this aspect of my sabbatical, so in the next few posts I’m going to write about what else I’m doing with my sabbatical time. Part 1 (this part) focuses on volunteering. Parts 2 and 3 will focus on reading and physical pursuits, respectively. And in Part 4, I’ll talk about travel, which disappointingly has been more about work than about fun….but more on that later.

So….volunteering.

Longtime readers of this blog, and those who know me IRL, know that it’s part of my nature to pitch in and help out. Which means I often end up overcommitting myself…but hey, I’m working on it and getting better about setting boundaries!

I think it’s especially important to volunteer in my kids’ school and activities. Selfishly, it helps me keep tabs on what’s going on in my kids’ lives, what the social scene is like, etc. (This was really, really valuable when my daughter was the target of Mean Girl behavior a couple of years ago.) More importantly, it signals to my kids that their pursuits, and their education, is important to me, and it allows me to give back to my local communities and serve as a role model to other kids.

This year I’m volunteering each week in my son’s kindergarten classroom. I spend 45 minutes every Monday morning reading one-on-one with kids. The kids’ reading skills range from those who still struggle with the very simplest of words, to my son who is reading at least at a second grade level, if not higher. Most fall somewhere in the middle, and at this point recognize quite a few “sight words” and are using multiple strategies to deduce words they don’t know (sounding out, using context/pictures, etc).

I’ve been volunteering for a few months now, and many of the kids I’ve read with have progressed quite a bit. Many of them get very excited when they figure out a new word for the first time, and we share high-fives with those successes. Some of them have very strong opinions on the books and are picky about which book they select. One little girl (am I allowed to say she is my favorite?) has opinions about every book we read, and is unintentionally hilarious about sharing them. She is not happy with the books at her current level. She complains that they are too repetitive (they are), and one week in protest she provided running commentary on the book, summarizing the plot, rather than actually reading the words. (I thought about redirecting her, but her commentary WAS better than the book, and because summarizing/synthesizing is a valuable reading skill too!) This week she pointed out that she wished the book we were reading, which swapped out the harder words with pictures, included the word under the picture so that she could learn what the word looked like. (I found a piece of paper and wrote out the word — “squirrel” — and we talked about the word’s structure and patterns she saw in other similar words.) It’s a fun kind of challenge: figuring out when to let a kid struggle with a word and when to step in and help out; coming up with appropriate questions to see how much they understand what they just read; and keeping the wiggly ones focused on the task at hand. And of course my son thinks I’m a rock star for coming to his class each week.

I haven’t had many opportunities to volunteer in my daughter’s classroom, but I did get to go on the class field trip — snow tubing at a nearby ski hill. I am, however, still co-leading her Girl Scout troop. There are a bunch of new faces in the troop this year, and some long-time members decided not to continue, so it’s almost like leading a new troop. In addition to the normal Scout-y things like camping, leadership, and community service, we’ve spent some time casually talking about peer groups, “popular” kids, and self-esteem. One of my goals as a Girl Scout leader is to help the girls acquire and practice the skills they’ll need to successfully navigate the social aspects of middle school and high school while being true to themselves, and I feel like this year is a crucial year for setting the foundations for that.

Of course, volunteering is not something I only do when on sabbatical, but having the time and space to concentrate on volunteering is one of the aspects I enjoy about sabbatical. As I start to think about returning from sabbatical next year, I hope to find ways to continue to engage with my kids’ education and activities, even as my schedule fills up.