Summer dreamin’

Yesterday, as I walked to a meeting with a colleague discussing our end-of-the-term schedules and to-do lists, I remarked that this point in the term, and particularly Spring Term, is like Mile 20 of a marathon. You know that the race is almost over, but you also know that the next 6.2 miles are going to be somewhat unpleasant and painful.

Classes ended Wednesday, finals start Saturday and go through Monday, senior grades are due exactly 35 hours after the last finals period ends (ugh), graduation is on the 10th, and the rest of the grades are due the 14th. The last couple of weeks, and the first half of June, are full of all of the end of year events and receptions and picnics and oh-wait-we-need-to-hold-this-meeting-before-everyone-scatters. And, of course, the grading, the grading, and the grading.

It’s….a lot. And that doesn’t even factor in all of the end of the year events and projects and concerts and finals and wait-how-many-assignments-are-missing? conversations for my own kiddos, whose last day of school is next week.

Any of these things individually are at the very least not bad, and at best very fulfilling. (Even grading, I swear, is fulfilling. There’s just way too much of it.) All of them together? Exhausting.

I find myself thinking ahead to the finish line, when grades are submitted and the term is officially done. I’m hoping to get some summer planning done this weekend, as a break from grading. There are some family logistical things I need to finalize, and of course I want to think about how to spend my time and energy this summer, work-wise.

Most importantly, though, I decided that after grades are in, I am taking 2 weeks completely off, giving myself the break I’ve so desperately needed for several summers now. I will read and craft and do the puzzle the Resident 10th Grader got me for my birthday. I will cook recipes from the cookbooks both kiddos gave me for my birthday. I will go to the beach every day, something on my 23 for 2023 list. I will spend quality time on my kayak and on my bike. I will nap on my porch. I will train in earnest for the Aquabike race I’m doing in July. I will spend as much time outside as humanly possible. And I will not think about work, at least not on purpose.

Just anticipating this precious break from work is energizing me to make that final push to the finish, to slog with purpose through miles 20-26 and prepare for the last .2 sprint over the finish line.

What summer dreams are energizing you right now?


Spring term starts with a (YAWN) is it bedtime yet?

Spring term started on Monday this week, after a shorter-than-normal spring break that wasn’t really a break. I knew going in it would be a tough term workload-wise — 2 full courses plus an every-other-week colloquium plus my research group plus FPC plus wrapping up my leadership of the cohort program I coordinate. I was somewhat prepared for that coming in to the term, although I am still a bit alarmed at the lack of whitespace whenever I open my work calendar. As I told my therapist at my last session, the second course is a multiplier in terms of time added to my schedule, not additive. More time in the classroom, more prep time, more students in office hours, more staff meetings to coordinate, more things to keep track of.

I was not, however, prepared for the sheer level of exhaustion every single day.

My “tell” when I’ve reached my limit is that everything becomes intolerable. Everything is too loud, too messy, too chaotic. I want everything to be quite, calm, and orderly. When you live in a house with teens / tweens, multiple pets, and an extroverted partner who works from home, calm / quiet / orderly is non-existent. I have been an absolute nightmare to my family the past few nights because they’ve had the audacity to exist and be their usual boisterous selves. I may have threatened to move out at least twice last night at dinner.

Paradoxically, I can’t wind down at night either because I’m so keyed up from exhaustion and from all the things from the day. I’ll try to do something sensible, like work on a craft project, but then get caught up in a Pinterest rabbit hole trying to figure out what the “best” thing to do with my leftover yarn is, or what yarn might be the closest match for this other pattern I want to make because the original yarn doesn’t exist anymore….and then it’s past my bedtime and I never actually got around to doing the craft project and now I’m both frustrated and exhausted.

I recognize that things will likely improve soon. I’ll get used to the rhythms of this particular teaching schedule. I’ll get to know my students better, which will remove the layer of exhaustion caused by interacting with people I don’t know well and trying to figure them out. The startup costs of a term are real, and those will subside and be replaced with more predictability. And, most importantly, I will get a bit of a break this weekend, something I haven’t been able to say in a long time.

And maybe, in the interim, I’ll find a teeny slice of whitespace in my calendar and put my head down on my desk for a few minutes, so that I’m not always bringing my absolute worst self home to my family.

What I’m working on this term

Winter Term started exactly one week ago, so we are now officially in the swing of things. I’m teaching 5 days a week this term, which is great in terms of spreading out the workload but also means I don’t really have a “down” day where I can work from home and crank things out that require deep thinking and concentration. It’s also the first time in a while that I’m teaching a full 6-credit course — my course releases for my leadership role and my service on our tenure and promotion committee meant that I had a lighter teaching schedule in Spring 2022 and Fall 2022 (Comps and the Science Fellows Colloquium, both terms). It took me a few days to get back into the rhythm of a MWF class!

Winter is always a busy term for me, and this year is no exception. So, what am I spending my time on this term?


My big research deadline / push actually happens early in the term, so I get it out of the way right away — I have a conference paper deadline this weekend. The working draft is currently a bit rougher than I’d like, but definitely in a state that can be tweaked by the deadline. I also fully expect that the paper will be rejected, since I’m aiming high, so that takes a bit of the pressure off to get it “perfect”. The paper is on an experiment we did in Spring 2019, so I’m relieved to finally be getting it out for review.

For the rest of the term, my goal is to take a look at all the other work-in-progress and determine what to write up next. I didn’t realize while in the thick of campus leadership just how much mental energy that role took up, and how much that mental energy overlapped with the mental energy required to do deep thinking and writing about my scholarship. I’m looking forward to having some of that mental space back.


I’m teaching Software Design this term, a course I regularly teach. A few years back we revamped the course, and I’ve pretty much followed the same order of topics since then. I’ve had a bunch of conversations with one of my junior colleagues about the course, in particular about where our students struggle, and based on those conversations and their experiment in moving topics around, I’m playing around with a different order of topics. I think this reordering will give our students more solid footing in some of the backend development, and better prepare them to work with web frameworks. I worry a bit that they might miss some of the messaging around user-centered design, since I’m not leading with that anymore, so we’ll see what happens.


Winter is by far my busiest term as Summer Science Fellows director. I need to select a new cohort and place them into research labs on campus, and help our second year cohort find research positions, too. There are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of. I developed a pretty decent workflow using Trello last year, which I plan on using again. In addition, I’ll be searching for my own replacement as director, since I’m stepping down at the end of this year.


I test for my third degree black belt in taekwondo in mid-March (eek!). I am confident that I will pass, but I’d like to try for that elusive perfect score on the form portion of my test. (I’m pretty close, I think!) My taekwondo studio puts on a mini-show twice a year with the black belts, and last year I took over organizing and directing that. Our next show is in April, so I will be spending time this month putting together routines, and then after that running once a week practices up until the show.

Looking at this list, there’s certainly a lot in play, although thankfully I don’t think it rises to the level of requiring a self-care paper chain. And there are things not on this list — the end of Comps at the end of the term, my work on the tenure and promotion committee, stuff at home — that are also ongoing. But I’m mindful about my limits and am working hard to ensure that I keep everything within comfortable boundaries so that I don’t completely exhaust myself.

Currently reading: Unraveling Faculty Burnout: Pathways to Reckoning and Renewal, by Rebecca Pope-Ruark.

2023 goals and one word theme

List of 23 goals for 2023

After eschewing yearly goal setting in 2022, which went fairly well, I decided to bring back my yearly goals list in 2023. I created a 23-item list that reflects the type of person I want to be this year, with a mix of “projects that will bring relief once I complete them”, adventures and experiences, and a few challenges. And I chose a word to center my actions and intentions for the year, as I do almost every year. (Past words and phrases include “defining” in 2010, “healthy” in 2017, “foundation” in 2019, and “gentle serendipity” in 2022.)

So, where did I land this year with my list and with my theme?

Theme for 2023: NEXT

I’m definitely in a transition period in various facets of my life, with more questions than answers. What do I want the next phase of my career to look like? Do I want to stay in academia, go academia-adjacent, or do something entirely different? What does it mean to be an athlete in my 50s, and what role (if any) does running play in that? How can I best support my kids as teenagers, as they figure out who they are and become more independent? How do my partner and I navigate this new stage in our relationship, particularly as our kids grow up and go off to college? How do we navigate the challenges of aging parents who live far away? This year I want to take a step back and give myself the time and space to think carefully about what’s on the other side of all of these transitions — and figure out what’s next for me.

My 23 for 2023 list

I categorized my list this year into 5 areas: home and family, health and wellness, work, adventure and fun, and sports. And I left some items open, so that I can add them throughout the year (in my quintiles!).

Home and family

  1. Finish our will. Honestly, we have most of the pieces in place; we just need to finalize the damn thing! I’m confident this will get done this year.
  2. Assemble an “on the occasion of my death” folder. I don’t have any plans to leave this mortal coil anytime soon, but I am … not young. I view this as a complement to our will, so it makes sense to at least start assembling this type of thing now while we’re planning for the future.
  3. Develop a focused charitable giving plan. I want to do something less haphazard to make a real difference in 1-2 areas.
  4. Do solo trips with each kid. Both kiddos campaigned for this to be included on the list — and I’m more than happy to oblige.

Health and wellness

  1. Get a colonoscopy. Not fun, but definitely necessary given my age.
  2. Get my shingles vaccination. See above.


  1. Make time and space for regular writing. I want to blog more regularly this year, and I want to get more of my work and my ideas out into the world. Also, writing brings me joy and enjoyment, and I could use more joy in my work life!
  2. Submit 2 academic articles. I have one conference deadline I’m aiming to make in mid-January. I also have a bunch of work-in-progress that I’d like to get into the review pipeline sooner rather than later.

Adventure and fun

  1. Do a day long hike. I’d hoped to do this for my 50th birthday, but injuries put the kibosh on that plan. Fingers crossed that I remain injury-free this year!
  2. Go on a solo trip. I enjoy these so much. I think I might secretly be a hermit.
  3. Visit 2 new-to-me state parks. I’d like to visit all of the Minnesota State Parks eventually — I think I’ve hit 28 so far (out of 66). I might be able to pair this with goals 10 and/or 4 — the Resident 6th Grader was very interested in this particular goal.
  4. Kayak a new-to-me lake. I barely got out on my kayak last summer (shame!), and definitely didn’t explore any new terrain. I want to rectify that this summer.
  5. Bike a new-to-me trail. I could possibly do this 4 ways: paved, gravel, mountain bike, fat bike. Maybe I should award myself bonus points for each type of trail I do!
  6. Read 30 books. I honestly don’t know how many books I typically read in a year. I think I probably read about 2 a month, so 30 seems like a comfortable stretch.
  7. Visit 2 new-to-me coffee shops. I love reading in random coffee shops, yet almost never do so. I’m hoping this goal, and goal 14, will encourage me to schedule time to do so.
  8. Go to a beach every day this summer. There are so many beaches near me, and I absolutely love beaches….and I almost never go. I’m curious to see if I can keep this up, and what creative ways I’ll find to meet this goal. (Coffee at sunrise at the beach? Reading in the evening at the beach? Open water swimming instead of pool laps?)


  1. Earn my 3rd degree black belt in taekwondo. I test in March!
  2. Become proficient at flip turns in swimming. Turns out they are not as scary as I’d made them out to be, although they are very hard to get right. I’m hoping to get to the point where they’re more automatic and I don’t overthink them every time I approach the pool wall.

Open items (to be added throughout the year)

These time periods match up with my “quintiles”: Winter Term (and spring break), Spring Term, Summer, Fall Term, and Winter Break (Thanksgiving through New Years Day).

  1. TBD: Winter. I’m leaning towards “go cross country skiing twice”, but I want to see how the first week of Winter Term goes before I finalize this one.
  2. TBD: Spring.
  3. TBD: Summer.
  4. TBD: Fall.
  5. TBD: Winter Break.

Compared to lists I’ve made in previous years, this year’s list is fairly gentle and very accessible. Some years are for challenges and stretching oneself, but every year doesn’t have to be that way. I’m looking forward to a year of kinder, gentler exploration and adventures, and to goals that nurture me and build up my confidence.

What’s on your goals list this year?

5 things that had the biggest impact on my happiness this year

As I’ve worked this week to put the finishing touches on my 2023 goals (yes, I decided to go back to my goal-setting ways this year, albeit with a lighter touch), I’ve spent a lot of time looking back on, and dissecting, 2022. In examining the ups and downs, the accomplishments and setbacks, the messiness and the serendipity, I discovered a number of small things that had an outsized impact on my overall happiness and well-being this year. They range from the truly mundane to the take-a-leap-way-outside-my-comfort-zone, but they’ve all had a profound effect on me this year.

Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Masters swimming. I’ve come a looooooooong way since showing up at my first practice in May. I’m a much stronger, more efficient, and more confident swimmer. Some days I actually get through the entire workout! (And if I don’t, that’s ok, too.) I’m currently attempting to learn a proper flip turn. I signed up for extra coaching with a smaller group once a week. I watch swimming videos on YouTube for fun. I crave the challenge that every day in the water brings, and I love the new community I’ve found of people who willingly get up at bonkers early hours to jump in the pool.
  2. My morning ritual. I always start my day with a cup of coffee, writing out my intentions and to-do list for the day, Wordle, and a bit of reading. Mundane? Very. But whether I spend 15 minutes or 45 minutes on this small and basic ritual, the quiet time to myself where I get to ease into the day sets me up to successfully face the rest of the day. Even (especially!) if the day goes south, at least I had this bit of solo time.
  3. Planned / effortful fun. Fun fact: I participated in the study that formed the basis for the book Tranquility by Tuesday. One of my biggest personal takeaways from the experience was that it pays to be thoughtful and deliberate about how you spend your leisure time. (Sort of a mix of the rules “effortful fun before effortless fun” and “one big adventure, one little adventure”.) So now, instead of thinking “wouldn’t it be nice to go to the art museum again someday?”, I’ll check the calendar to see if we have a few free hours in the upcoming weekend and schedule it in. I’m more likely to pick up a book and read a few pages, or pick up my latest crochet project and stitch up a row or three, rather than scrolling social media when I’m bored. The study experience primed me to think more specifically about my free time, and my free time’s been much richer as a result.
  4. Teaching taekwondo. I started teaching once a week at my studio this spring, and I also teach a special black belt weapons class once a week. It’s fun using the teaching skills I’ve honed over my career in a different context, and fulfilling to share my joy and passion for taekwondo with others.
  5. Scheduling the thing before you leave the thing. I am notoriously bad about calling to make an appointment, whether for doctor visits, haircuts, or what have you. I just hate talking on the phone! I’d already gotten in the habit of making my next dentist appointment at the end of my current dentist appointment, and this year I started doing that with haircuts, too. (Which is important because I have short hair that grows fast so I really do need to go in every 8 weeks.) Sounds trivial, but it’s made such a difference — I don’t spend mental energy wondering when my last haircut was and stressing about calling to get in before my hair gets truly shaggy and unwieldy. And it’s a bit of regular self-care for me, too.

What’s had an outsized impact on your happiness and well-being this year?


Goal-setting page from a planner.
Starting the day with intention setting…of course!

Today I celebrate a milestone birthday!

Maybe I’m weird or unusual (those of you who know me in real life can now stop snickering…of course I’m weird, ha ha, thank you very much), but I actually look forward to getting older. Aging intrigues me rather than scares me. Maybe it’s because I’ve felt more powerful, more brave, and more centered the older I get. Maybe it’s because I don’t view wrinkles or gray hair or gaining weight in weird places (thanks a lot, periomenopause) as some sort of personal failing. Maybe it’s because I’ve found a way to keep having new adventures and try new things each year.

Or maybe, as I told my physical therapist last week, it’s because I’m “aging up” and get to set a whole new collection of running PRs!

Whatever it is, I’m really looking forward to what my 50s have in store.

I’ve actually been mulling over my intentions for the year for a few days now, so I need to get those on paper. Reflecting back on what I wrote at 49 was really interesting — and I was surprised at how many things on my intention list I ticked off over the year. A few things that will appear on my list:

  • Returning to running — and hopefully a few races! I was cleared yesterday to start the return to run program after over 6 months off of running, and I’ll do my first workout tomorrow.
  • Figuring out what’s next career-wise. This was one of the few intentions I didn’t check off last year. I do think I’m in a better place now to do this kind of work, and have a better sense of what I do and don’t want to do.
  • Leveling up in taekwondo. I test for my 3rd degree black belt next March! In the meantime, I’ve started teaching once a week at my studio, and I am in the process of learning all of the weapons forms well enough to teach them. This is something I’ve wanted to do personally for a while, and something I need to do to earn my full instructor certificate.

Today I plan to bike one of my favorite long run / marathon training routes up in the Cities, treat myself to a lakeside lunch at the end of said bike ride, teach taekwondo, and eat cake. My mom and one of my sisters are flying in this weekend, so we’ll have more celebrations (and hopefully more cake!) then. I haven’t seen either of them since my brother’s wedding in 2019 (!!), so honestly just being able to hug them and be in the same physical space as them is the best present ever.

Here’s to a new decade of adventures!

New month, new adventure

2 yellow flippers, a pull buoy, and goggles laying on the floor
Still life infused with chlorine

While I don’t completely live by the phrase “Do one thing every day that scares you”*, I do try to do things on a regular basis that stretch me outside of my comfort zone. Some of these are big adventures — moving across the country to a state where I knew no one — but many are smaller — becoming a regular blood donor again after a bad incident drove me away for a decade.

I’d hoped to do one such big adventure for my 50th birthday, coming up later this month. I pondered hiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, a several-day trek on the Superior Hiking Trail, or some other solo outdoorsy trip.

Then I got injured, started the never-ending cycle of physical therapy, and put the adventures on hold while I healed.

So I started to look for something smaller, something that still made me nervous but that I could do while inhabiting my healing body.

And that’s how I landed on Masters swimming.

We gave up our family gym membership a while ago, and along with it access to a pool. I swam competitively up until 8th grade; worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor through high school, college, and grad school; and basically grew up in and around water, swimming every chance I could get. I enjoyed getting in the pool every once in a while and peeling off some laps. I missed that when our membership ended, but not enough to seek out opportunities to swim, since I was doing so many other active things.

As my injuries dragged on and as my return-to-running date became fuzzier and further out, I contemplated a short-term gym membership somewhere with a pool, but the options weren’t great. And I realized that not only was I missing cardio, I was missing the structure of a plan. I wanted someone to tell me what to do, to create some accountability, to push me out of my usual habit of swimming leisurely and only doing sets I enjoyed.

It took me a few months to work up the courage to actually sign up and show up. At my old gym, the Masters group that swam in the early morning was a total Bro Fest — loud, brash, and completely unwelcoming. I worried that I’d end up in a group just like that — fast, former collegiate swimmers who’d be annoyed at me for being so slow and bringing down the caliber of the group. I worried about getting back into the pool after a long absence, of not being able to complete the sets, of failing at swimming.

I ended up signing up for the Masters group run by my elder kiddo’s swim club. I figured, for better or worse, I knew the coaches, and surely they wouldn’t make too much fun of me knowing that I’m Resident 9th Grader’s mom, right?

I was terrified to attend my first practice, which was on Monday. I had trouble falling asleep, and checked and rechecked my swim bag the night before.

But as soon as I walked in the door, someone recognized me as a newbie, and came up to say hi. And introduced me around. As it turns out, Monday is a more lightly-attended workout, so I didn’t even have to share a lane (and “drag down everyone around me”, another fear of mine). No one cared that I didn’t do all of the sets, or that I put my flippers on for the kick drills because I’m more comfortable doing so. Parts of the workout were challenging because I was out of practice, but I did way better than I expected. The coach even noticed a small thing that was affecting my stroke that I’ve never been able to diagnose, and correcting it has already made a difference in my endurance. I went back on Tuesday and did even more of the sets and it was still challenging but more doable. Circle swimming was not as hard as I remembered, and as it turns out my swimming speed was totally on par with the other two swimmers in my lane. And I met even more people who went out of their way to welcome me and engage me in the conversation of the group.

And the coaches didn’t make fun of me, either.

I’m still not sure if this is going to be a one-month-only thing, or if Masters swimming will be something I incorporate more regularly. I do know that this group does not swim in the summer — but I’ve heard rumors that my younger kiddo’s swim school might be starting a Masters group for the summer….

What’s one thing you’ve done recently that’s scared you?

*Which, contrary to popular belief, was written by Mary Schmich, and not Eleanor Roosevelt. If you’d like to go down the same rabbit hole I did regarding the history of this quote, start here.

A time to rebuild

I haven’t run since October.

I’ve spent the better part of the last year in and out of physical therapy. A sprained ankle from spring 2020 that never quite healed, then another sprained ankle (the other one, at least — equal opportunity injuries!). Muscle imbalances and tightness. PT would “fix” one issue and another would pop up like a game of Injury Whack-A-Mole. I’d build back up to running, and then have to stop. My last run, in early October, ended with me hobbling with achilles pain and one really specific painful spot in my hamstring.

When resting and yoga and foam rolling and strength training and pleading to the running gods for several months to just let me run again already, please didn’t work, I broke down and scheduled an orthopedic visit. And ended up back in, this time, pretty intense physical therapy. “Postural therapy”, as my chart puts it.

TL;DR: my body is pretty darn broken.

Through PT, I’m slowly retraining my body to support itself properly, to undo years of overcompensation for muscle weaknesses and realign everything back to where it’s supposed to be. It’s hard and maddeningly, maddeningly slow. Understandably, my body’s fighting the changes — it’s difficult to unlearn habits honed over a lifetime! If PT doesn’t ultimately help, I’m not sure what the next steps are.

The hardest part, of course, is not running. Sure, I do other active things — my fatbike and snowshoes saw a lot of action this winter, and the taekwondo studio is my home away from home. But running has always been my go-to, my most satisfying workout. And it’s a key, key part of my mental health toolkit. Walking is great, but it’s not running. I’ve been mourning the loss of running (even if it turns out to be temporary and I’m back at it someday) as keenly as any other loss. I’ve had to mourn the loss of running, so that the thought of possibly never running again doesn’t consume me.

I find that I’m not just rebuilding my body right now — I seem to be in a state of rebuilding. I’m rebuilding my mental health toolkit to make up for the absence of running. (Yoga, which was my go-to for a while, is off the table for now too, until my body gets in a better, supportive place.) With the end of my tenure as STEM Director approaching at the end of the calendar year, I’m rebuilding my career goals and figuring out what I might want to do next. I’m rebuilding connections to community partners, to jump-start collaborations that went dark during the pandemic. And I’m looking to rebuild my relationship to my work in general, so that it doesn’t leave me so burned out and demoralized.

The trick with rebuilding is that nothing is guaranteed. I may indeed need to let go of running even if I do get my body to a better place. My career goals, and community collaborations, may not pan out. Given the state of the world and the still ongoing pandemic, continuing burnout seems likely. But even if rebuilding gets me to a different place than I’d hoped, in any or all of these realms, I still believe that I end up ahead — and that’s worth the risks and the costs.

“x, y, z. Pretty close.”

My family and I spent a week with my brother, sister-in-law, and niece at the end of my winter break. My niece is a year and a half old, and unintentionally hysterical in the way that really young kids are.

My SIL recently taught my niece to recite the alphabet. As my niece practiced saying the letters and repeating the order, my SIL encouraged her by saying, “Pretty close!” My SIL used this phrase often enough that now my niece ends every recitation of the alphabet with a hearty “Pretty close.” To her, “pretty close” IS part of the alphabet.

(The alphabet recitation happened many times during our visit, and it never got old.)

I’ve been thinking about this scenario and how it relates to how students form mental models of course content. I recently introduced my Software Design students to git and GitHub. Students often struggle to learn version control — the workflow and the commands — and don’t develop great mental models as a result. Particularly at this point in the term, when they’ve only done two short labs introducing them to the key commands and ideas, git seems to consist of a series of magical and confusing commands you issue in hopes that your code will be saved in your local and remote repositories (as illustrated beautifully in this xkcd comic). It’s hard at this point for them to figure out which commands are “alphabet commands” — necessary to complete the task at hand — and which commands are “pretty close commands” — not necessary for the current task, but they’ve heard them in conjunction with the other commands and figure they must play a role in completing the task.

Eventually, my niece will realize that “pretty close” is not the last letter of the alphabet, as she gains more understanding of and fluency with language and has more opportunities to practice the alphabet with feedback. And eventually, given enough practice and repeated exposure to the workflows, most of my students will be able to cut out the “pretty close commands” as their mental models of git shift. My role, to help them get to that point, is to provide them with plenty of opportunities to practice various workflows, while providing an underlying model of what’s happening to the repositories as they issue and execute those commands and providing appropriate feedback to help students figure out what parts of their models are correct and which ones need refining.

What I’m reading: The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir, by Sherry Turkle.

What I’m listening to: The audiobook version of No Cure for Being Human: (And Other Truths I Need to Hear), by Kate Bowler. (Apparently it’s Memoir Week around these parts!)

Squeezing in some summer fun

Most years, I try to preserve time in August for relaxation and rejuvenation. I opt to start working with students right after Spring Term ends so that we’re wrapping up by the last week of July or first week of August. We don’t sign the kids up for camps or other activities. We take our family vacation. I spend time with the kids. We go to the State Fair (although not this year, with the lack of masking / vaccination requirements). I often end up doing some work, but I try to limit this to a few hours a day if I can.

As the kids get older, this prolonged August break gets harder to pull off. The Resident 9th Grader plays a fall sport, and we learned that practices start early-to-mid-August for these. (School starts after Labor Day in our district.) The Resident 5th Grader had 2 weeks of “band camp” this year to prepare for 5th grade band with a new-to-him instrument. School orientations and assessments dominate the latter half of August. Next summer, the Resident 9th Grader will likely be working. Squeezing in a vacation amidst all these moving parts starts to resemble a Tetris game.

"Welcome Parents Class of 2025" slide projected on an auditorium screen.
Not quite sure I’m ready for this.

I also waffle as to whether I’m better off front-loading my prolonged break in June and working into August, which seems to better match the reality of our schedules. On the one hand, I like having a break heading into the new academic year. On the other hand, if I’m already burned out at the end of Spring Term, summer feels like a slog.

Regardless, this summer we stuck with the August Break schedule, even though it meant the Resident 9th Grader missed some sports practices. And despite the pandemic, I managed to take two short, fun trips.

Trip #1 was a family vacation to a mountain biking mecca in our state, a transformed former mining area. My partner is a HUGE cyclist, and has never met a bike he didn’t like. A few years ago, he got me a mountain bike. I’d done some mountain biking since then but never felt really comfortable on the bike or the trails. This summer, I saw an ad for a local women’s mountain biking class and signed up. BEST DECISION EVER. I learned so much and, more importantly, gained a ton of confidence in my abilities. So I was excited to try out my new skills on our trip.

We rented an acquaintance’s airbnb. Our kids were not really into the biking aspect of the trip, so my partner and I rode in the mornings, and we all swam in various local lakes in the afternoons. (Some of which are former quarries, so they are deep, clear, and cool.) We played lots of board and card games, read a lot, and sampled the local coffee and ice cream.

The classes made a HUGE difference in my mountain biking. I felt braver. I embraced speed rather than panic braking. I took more calculated risks and embraced failure (and also succeeded more times than I expected). Biking was a lot more fun! And, much to my surprise, I am now seriously considering getting a fat bike so that I can continue riding the trails in the winter.

Red dirt mountain bike trail in the woods.

Trip #2 came straight off my 21 for 2021 list. The Resident 9th Grader and I escaped to Chicago for a few days. We planned this trip before the pandemic took a turn for the worse, so we were both a bit wary about the plane trip in particular, even though we are both fully vaccinated. But I’d accumulated enough miles to put us both in first class on both flights, and we also double-masked on the plane and in the airport. So it was a bit unnerving, but mostly ok. Chicago has a city-wide mask mandate in place, which made us feel safe-ish when we visited museums and stores. We did mostly takeout, with some outdoor dining. And we spent a lot of time outdoors, even though it was hot and humid for much of the trip.

I lived in the Chicago area in grad school, so it was hard not to Do All The Things!, but I kept our plans mostly in check: one scheduled adventure per day to leave time for relaxation and spontaneity. We visited the Art Institute and the Field Museum. We took an architecture boat tour. We visited some of my old grad school haunts and the Northwestern campus. We went thrifting. We rode the ferris wheel at Navy Pier. We swam in Lake Michigan. We rode the L and walked for miles. And we saw a really cool art installation.

View of Chicago Skyline from the mouth of the Chicago River.
I’ve missed this skyline.

Mostly, though, we just enjoyed spending together. Middle school is rough in the best of times, and, as it turns out, particularly rough during a pandemic, and high school brings a host of new challenges and adventures. So it was nice to have the time and space to hang out in silence together, to share experiences, and to talk without interruption about the mundane and the important.

August was mostly frenetic and involved a surprising amount of driving people around, but these two short getaways provided a much-needed reset going into what is sure to be another challenging year. While I didn’t take as many day adventures as I’d like, I’m grateful for the time off I managed.

Did you take some time off this summer? Do you front load, back load, or spread out your breaks? I’d love to hear how you think about taking time off in the summer.

What I’m reading: A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload, by Cal Newport.

What I’m listening to: Back in the day (way back in the day), when I was finding my way as a new mom, I discovered the Manic Mommies podcast. They retired in 2014, but un-retired during the pandemic. I discovered the reboot just before they re-retired, and I’m now working my way through the pandemic episodes. Listening to the unfolding pandemic through the episodes and re-living the last year and a half through their eyes is an interesting and sometimes surreal experience, but always laugh-out-loud funny.