Thursday, September 21, 2017

Reading is Power

I walked into my former employer's middle school, where I happily taught for 5 years before I moved out of my element into high school journalism, full well knowing that it was not only a tricky job, as most high school journalism teaching jobs are, but also because the high school was affectionately known as "the shark tank."  Here I was leaving the friendly waters of my confines of teaching gifted kids and working with reading teachers in a coaching model - where I had it safe, where I had it good, and where I could balance my life a bit.

I took this job so that I could stretch myself, be stimulated, and grow as a teacher.  Little did I realize how I would be begging for approval, all over myself - from my family, my ex husband, my kids, my principals (and there were many) and the parents of my students.  I was reminded of this, when, in my trepidation thinking about entering that building, and hanging my head low so I wouldn't be recognized.  But alas, I could not hide my face, my mannerisms, or who I was.  One by one, as dismissal was proceeding, and I walked with my eyes focused on the cracks of the sidewalk, on every blade of grass I passed by, my former colleagues greeted me with a smile, a wave, a greeting and hugs.  

At first, I looked up at them as if to earn back their approval, but as I looked in their eyes, I realized I already had it.

And as I walked into the cafeteria, and greeted reading specialists from all over the County, some
familiar, some not so familiar, I realized I was back in my element.  I was fortunate enough to listen to Yaris and Burkins about the very same philosophy of teaching reading that I espouse - let the kids do the work.  It shouldn't be the teacher doing the rain dance around them while the kids point and have their hands out waiting for the spoons of information and "right" answers we feed them in order to think we're making a difference.  Their books, "Reading Wellness," and "How to Say Less so Kids Say More," are great reminders of the metacognition that has to go on in kids' heads when they read.  Self-efficacy is more than half the battle with struggling readers.  

So, I became enthused and invigorated and renewed by what I heard, and although most of the crowd were elementary reading specialists, I realize the value of their advice applied to not only beginning readers, but those in middle school who word call, and those in high school stretching to understand "Beowulf" and Shakespeare, and those in middle age who still struggle with life in general.

And then they closed their talk with the reference to the blog entry about P.D. Eastman's book "Go, Dog, Go."  Now, that brought me to my own a-ha moment, my revelation, my own metacognition about my struggle.

Not only was that story so bittersweet to me in my reminiscent mood that I was already entrenched in -- because it was one of the only stories, if not THE only story, that my youngest son, Jack, would have me read to him - over, and over, and over, and over again --  but because of the underlying message that I never got, even though I reread and reread and reread this book umpteen times.  By the time he was in 1st grade, I was "Go, Dog, Go"'ed out.  I told myself if I never saw that book again, it would be too soon.

But no - I didn't see the female dog, begging for attention, so desperately seeking approval from one lone male dog, who lorded his superiority over her, and so crassly and carelessly, without filter,
dismissed her.  I didn't see her outrageous attempts for attention, her desperate cries to be worthy, to call out and seek recognition and validation.  Until.....Yaris and Burkins brought that blog post up in closing.  

You see, you can be 5, and you can be breaking the words apart, segmenting and blending, but not understand what you are reading, and you can be 8, and concentrating so hard on the words that you miss the picture that is giving you the clues as to the meaning, and you can be 13 and looking to your teacher to ask, "Is this good?  Is this right?" and you can definitely be 16 and completely skipping the
reading instead turning to Cliff's Notes for the abridged version because you just don't "get" it.  Or you can be 52 and realizing for the first time that you don't need to wear some crazy version of a party hat to fit in and that any male dog that treats you like crap shouldn't faze you.  Or for that matter, any dog at all. 

So, you go, girl.  You wear ANY hat you want, and don't you beg for attention, don't you beg for approval. You are in and of itself the epitome of just enough.  

Reading is power.  Rereading is more power.  Even when you're 52.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Resuming the Blogging Life

After many years away from my blog, I've decided to return.  Why?  You might ask.....

Well, the title of my blog says it all.  It was a phrase from my most favorite (yes, I used the superlative form) book in the whole wide world.  It spoke to me as an impressionable sophomore being taught, at that time, by a not-so-aging hippie English teacher (you know who you are, lady, and you were so, so, so influential in this woman's life) who seemed to have Bob Dylan hanging off her lips and the fresh draggings of the Woodstock earth off her bell bottoms.  I thought she could be my sister; she was the ying to my own mother's yang.  Combined with many other influential women of the English Department of Crystal Lake Central High School, who complemented her free spirit thumbing-in-the-face-of-the-man laissez faire teaching of Salinger and Fitzgerald, and even Flowers for Algernon, I learned to care about people.  I learned that language and communication was the way to heal people.

And so here I am again, trying to make this a consistent habit.  I never seem to be good at "habits."  Either the habit gets the best of me, or I don't get the best of it.  I guess it's my prolonged day-dreaming, my ADHD as my critics would define it, that keeps me from consistency.  For me, in my own little world, I just like to try new things.  I get bored.  I get listless.  I get wanderlust.  For everything - sometimes even people.  In any case, I'm trying to get grounded. I'm trying to stick to a few things and get better at them, instead of being a "Jill of all trades."

One thing I think I am really good at is being the catcher in the rye.  I'm so good at it that it's even come to hurt me, to haunt me, and to rule my own existence.  I can't help it.  I was raised by an adult child of an alcoholic and a dry drunk.  I'm not so new at addictive relationships.  Heck, domestic violence was the modus operandi by which I grew up.

So I tried always to be the champion of the underdog, the "mother hen" of everyone.  I don't think I was bossy, but I became so in my later life, in attempts to grasp at control, and in attempts to remain in control of my own life.  Some way, I got pinned with being an angry person, which if anyone truly knew me understood that was just a mask for my wall I put up that was supposed to communicate, "Don't tread on me."

I hope to write about my story, my life and my yearnings here.  And I hope to communicate to heal.  You might read angry ramblings of my disappointments, my failed relationships, my wounds of inner childhood, but you also might read my blabbering of my successes, my aha moments, my winning the war against myself, and the thrill of victory of my own accomplishments.

I'm just a regular person, but I've had some irregular situations happen to me.  Rather than wallow in the bowl of the pits of cherries, I'm taking control and decorating my bowl the way I like it.  Yeah, there might be some pits.  But I'm going to clean them off, paint them with my colors, and make them to shine like the sun and hold them up for everyone to see.

I hope you learn something. I hope I can inspire you.  And I hope that this will continue to heal me in hearing my words.  Hopefully, I'll can really be my own catcher in the rye.

And while I've been "around the [proverbial] block a few times," the Pollyanna me, the Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm me, the me that wants to love and catch everyone, resists using the winning strategy.  Maybe, just maybe, yes, I do still want to keep all of my kings in the back row.  One thing is for sure, I'm not a phoney.  And yes, maybe by telling the Interwebz, I'm not really telling anyone, so I don't start to miss anyone but my true self.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Deals Made With THE Devil

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,  
And sorry I could not travel both 
And be one traveler, long I stood 
And looked down one as far as I could 
To where it bent in the undergrowth.   
The other day (yes, I should have blogged about this earlier, because now, I have like two to three blog posts melding in my head - I can't shut myself up - which the family will tell you is not unusual), I made a deal with myself.

It was like making a deal with the devil.  Seriously.

Those of you who know me personally know that I took a new job this year - a job that I love immensely (well, 3/4 of it), and for a district that I really feel good about.  It's been 15 years since I've been back in the business of publication advising.  I left for three good reasons, and those reasons have been kicking my butt for 19 years (the college aged bitter daughter, the Mama's Boy [and don't get me wrong, I love him dearly], and the PITA).

I loved put in my time at home raising them while they were young.  I loved survived teaching middle school, but I've really missed teaching A) high schoolers, and B) English, and most especially Journalism.  I also reentered the workforce when PITA was almost 4, too quickly, but again, at the right opportunity's knocking.  I've been back to work full-time now for 10 solid years, and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it doesn't involve sitting in a rocking chair.

Sometimes (okay - a lot of the times), I question my stamina as to why I ever left the professional industry of journalism in the first place in order to teach (see reasons in the 3rd paragraph again) and my reasons for even wanting to be a mother (was I good at nurturing?  Many times, I don't think so; certainly, the college aged bitter one tells me that daily when I don't allow her to stay out all night, drink beer excessively in front of me, or play that nasty Nikki Minaj stuff endlessly through the house).  Really, I feel comfortable playing around with words, writing to make a point, exposing things by asking a ton of questions - why did I leave journalism again?
"Then took the other, as just as fair, 
And having perhaps the better claim, 
Because it was grassy and wanted wear; 
Though as for that the passing there 
Had worn them really about the same....
So last year, when my predecessor retired, I quickly made the decision (and I mean within seconds of hearing the news) to return to the high school.  After living through my 20s and 30s and now rounding out the 40s, I've learned that what is meant to be will be, and what isn't meant to be will not happen, and you live with either consequence.  I was happy at the middle school.  I had esteem in that position, and I enjoyed the students and the clientele.  I could deal with either decision.

I've certainly learned in my "old" age that your life is your life.  Hoping, wishing, praying (most times), and manipulating situations doesn't just "make" things happen.  You have to indicate your wishes, kick in that desire and ambition, prove yourself, and then settle when something doesn't work out your way, in the name of fate.  I've really learned to accept fate.  Not that I don't keep trying to change it, mind you.

But that's the purpose of this post really.  Tempting and changing fate.  I guess I've been pretty good at that my entire life.
"And both that morning equally lay 
In leaves no step had trodden black. 
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way, 
I doubted if I should ever come back...
But this year, even with the job I love, and the desire to prove my worth, I just entered the school year with the attitude that my life was sacrificed to this job, of being other kids' parent, of selflessly giving of yourself, your time, your energy, your wit and humor, of being "on" 24 hours a day, it seems, that if I give all I have to give to this one aspect of my life, there will be no Jill, no human left to give to anyone else.

My three kids and the husband probably would say so.  My whole family would probably say so.  It was time I didn't say so.

So on Tuesday, the day after everyone in the household returned to work from the holiday festivities, I should have poured myself into my backlogged grading (and I have a boatload, believe me).  I should have knocked out a lot of things - laundry, cleaning this cluttered mess I call an office and a house, but instead, I heard the outdoors calling me.  Plus, I also heard several other little voices of guilt calling me - called Christmas cookies, and a whole lot of other little nagging souls telling me I'd better get out there and run.

Besides that, I really had not stuck to my routine the week prior because I was trying to clean up my classroom, turn in 35 pages to the yearbook printer, and help a dozen students pass Personal Finance because they aren't really ready for that kind of class as a sophomore (don't get me started on this personal philosophy - that's a whole ANOTHER blog post)!

For those of you who know me professionally, you know I absolutely hate to grade.  I'm on the constant search for true authentic assessment techniques that really help me get a wholistic evaluation of a kid rather than a snapshot in time that you might interpret as your kid being a failure or on top of his world at that moment.

This causes me major stress in my professional life so much so that I change my methodology mid-stream grading or while I am teaching so that I redesign EVERY assessment and sometimes throw the baby out with the bathwater.  I spend so much time agonizing over how each score will look reported and how it will reflect on the student performance, and if this assessment truly reflects what the kid knows, what I've taught, and what is essential, that I perfectionistically (yes, I just made up a word) stop productivity in its tracks.

So once I have stacks and stacks of paper backed up, and I sit down and begin to look at it in perspective, I come up with a better way - a more thorough way - I dunno - a totally new way of looking at it, which I try to wrap my head around and then report in a grade-like fashion.

Thus, this causes me to be untimely in feedback, and of course, totally backlogged.

And therein lies some of the cause of my previous weight gain and stress and just giving my life over to this job.

This year, I decided no, I wasn't going to do that.  However, since I can't shut my brain off from thinking, and I know my first year in any new position or new school is a learning, listening, looking year - and that I would make mistakes and have to redo my assessment system anyway, I didn't stress about getting all the grades done that I should have.  And now, I'm left with an insurmountable amount of grading (that I still want to rethink, but don't have the physical time to anymore) to complete.

So rather than procrastinate - which I also do quite well, thank you - I decided to make a deal with myself, and that devil of grading.  I did pretty well Tuesday.  Let's not go to the rest of the days of the week so far, although I'm about to invoke that soul selling deal-making again today.

I told myself if I finished one set of Personal Finance tests (the ones I had been working on for SOOO long), I could go out and run the Al Foster trail.  And so I set a time limit.  I said at 1:45, if I had finished the tests, I would get dressed and go.

That I did.  And I'm not sorry, and I'm not feeling guilty.  I need to NOT give up on my personal goals this year, or I will be all-consumed, swallowed whole, by this job.  And at 46, it just can't happen, or I will cease to exist.

I tried to make the same deal with myself yesterday, Wednesday, but I put too many things in my basket - going to finish the last of my Christmas shopping (yes, you heard me) and solving my Creative Memories Studio login issue finally (problems I've had since September) AND trying to attend a crop all day yesterday, PLUS, shower and ready myself for my first Fleet Feet social group run (another post later - tomorrow).
"I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- 
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference."
In typical Jill-fashion, I try to do too much all at once (including getting this blog post finished).  And it gets the best of me.

This year, I'm not letting it get to me.  If I get complaints, I get complaints.  I'm going as fast as I can.  And I'm not sacrificing my life, my running, my sanity, and my love of the outdoors.

I loved being out on the Al Foster Tuesday.  And today, I'm going to love being out at Creve Coeur Lake when I get my patoot out there.

Soon, I might just not be able to run.  I don't want any regrets.  I love teaching, I love my students, and I love the parents where I work, but I also have to love myself.  Nature is my spirituality, running is my solace, and if I neglect that to get higher productivity, then what is it all worth?

For this diabetic runner in her mid 40s, it's not worth coming out on top of the heap professionally anymore.  I don't want to be untrue to my students, but I also can no longer be untrue to my self either.

Happy running, you devil!
"The woods are lovely, dark and deep. 
But I have promises to keep, 
And miles to go before I sleep, 
And miles to go before I sleep." 
~ Robert Frost

Monday, December 26, 2011

Nana Would Be Proud

One of my latest passions (stick around long enough, and you'll find I flit from one thing to another) has been to reclaim my Norsk heritage and help my mom with a search for her ancestry.  Two years ago, she treated me and the college-aged bitter child (daughter) to a trip back to our homeland, where we met our two long distance distant cousins, Rebekke and Marthe, with whom I still correspond on Facebook today.  My mom took my middle sister and her eldest daughter this past summer.

Someday soon, I'd like to take my husband and my sons there to show them all the splendors that is Norway, the fjords, the fishing, the outdoors, the slim diet (except for the bread and muesli), the rustic nature of it all, but I hope my husband does not notice the economical clean part of Scandinavia that I did not inherit at all.  I mean, I like a nice sparse wood floor and all, but my definite clutter habits make me a very poor Norwegian housewife.

I joined the ranks of organizations such as the Norwegian Society of St. Louis and Daughters of Norway, even though St. Louis is certainly not the hub-bub of Scandinavian activity.   I mean, heck, we don't even have an IKEA here (not for lack of wanting, though).

When I went to Norway, I remember feeling completely at home with mannerisms of the people there - often times flooding me with memories of speech patterns and habits of my mother's mother, Nana.  From the little breaths in as they say, "Ja," acknowledging your comments and participation in conversation to the Oy yoy yoy's or Huff Da's as they remark on something unremarkable to the diet they follow to the traditions they celebrate to their consummate love of the out of doors, I knew that I was amongst these people from the moment I arrived.

When we ate a home cooked meal from our new found relatives, we saw in our own traditions similarities and knew now where these might have been passed down from.

No one was better at these little traditional idiosyncracies than my mom's mother, Nana.  All the kids in her family had a first name and a middle name, and they were called by their middle names, a Norwegian tradition.  My mother's mother was Agnes Florence, but everyone called her Flo.  So for years, she was Nana Flo.  She had a sister named Alma (a popular Norwegian name) and a sister named Gladys (but for the life of me, I can't remember their real "first" names).  She also had brothers, Sig (short for Sigurd) and Rass (Clarence - but our family name was Rasmussen, so he was called that after his father), and Lloyd.

My nana told me how she used to be embarrassed by her mom, who spoke Nisse Engelsk (Norsk and English - or broken English), so she would never tell her when school events (and my nana was the first in her family to graduate high school) were so her parents did not have to attend.  Whenever I asked Nana why we ate herring on New Year's Eve or what Glaedig Jule meant or why we say Huff Da or other expressions and mannerisms she did, she never could tell me the Norwegian part of it, just that it was how her parents did it, and that's how we were going to do it.

And so began the tradition of eating dense sweet spice-like bread called Yulakaga - or that's how I thought it was spelled and SAID all throughout my years growing up an Norwegian.  I never asked about lutefisk or ligonberries or anything else.  I just ate them and figured everyone else was eating them, too.

And that's also how I felt about Christmas Eve, with no Santa Claus, and singing Glaedig Jul and singing the Norwegian Table Prayer and growing up with toe-headed fair-skinned blue-eyed cousins and a stoic matriarchal Aunt Annette who made awesome Fatigmann cookies and almond cake, and uncles who said "yoost" for just and "Wikings" for "Vikings."

So now as I rekindle and learn about my heritage, I've tried to bring back those memories by cooking things I never got recipes before Nana died.  I never got Nana's stories about anything - that's just kind of the Norwegian way.  It's not that we're a cold people - it's just that it's just life, and move on - at least that's what Nana Flo taught me.

I had every intention of making Julekake or more like Julebrød the day before Christmas Eve so I could let it proof in time and then bake it early Christmas Eve so I could give a loaf away to my husband's family and have some warmed in time for Christmas morning with butter and Gjetost (another weird thing that Norwegians like - brown cheese.

It really tastes like caramelized sugar spread, if you ask me.  My mother loves it), but I didn't quite make it there, since Christmas Eve is always reserved for my PITA husband (like father, like son) to run around and get last minute gifts since he feels guilty about not buying anyone anything before then.

So I woke up pretty early Christmas morning, considering I went to bed at 2 am having just put up the tree then, to start my Julekake.  This is the saga of that Julekake.

I thought I was doing myself a favor by buying unbleached bread flour by King Arthur because earlier, for the Norwegian Society Julefest, I had made an almond cake (mandelkake) with their cake flour and baker's sugar, and it turned out very moist and fine.

Perhaps though, it wasn't really what I should have purchased.  I also bought Hodgson's Mill's yeast for multi grain bread dough (although it said it would work with any flour), and perhaps that's why this Julekake was unsuccessful in my own terms.

It wasn't that it wasn't moist - because it was.  And it was dense; but it did bake all the way - it just never rose to the height I thought it should.

I remember Julekake being not really fruitcake-like texture, and in a flatter round shape, which mine was, just a little more saffron-y in color and a little lighter.  Mine was more like rockakake, as one of my fellow Nords from Daughters of Norway said happened to her mother one year.

There are many variations of this recipe, but I took mine from a pretty authentic Norwegian girl's website, whose recipes have been successful before. However, perhaps I didn't scald the milk enough or too long. Perhaps it was the yeast, or the flour, or both.

Or perhaps I kneaded it just a little too long. It did creep like a vine up my trusty steed of a stand mixer while I was using the bread dough hook in hopes of having to work out my tris and bis a little less. After all, when this was proofing, I was going to get in that 6 mile run with PITA.

When I came back from the run, I peeked inside my oven which I kept on warm, and maybe that was the problem, too. I had the husband turn off the oven after 20 minutes, and so the dough was rising in a heated oven but not hotter than 150 degrees. It still had not doubled in size.

But we were running short on time, and I was going to put one in a stoneware ring mold and bake it and bring it to my husband's mother's house, so I had to get it going.

Although I was supposed to divide the dough into three loaves, I was not able to do so without getting enough that would rise.  I settled for two instead.  And still, they did not rise double in size, so I had to start the baking process.

They baked pretty quickly, and despite the instructions to grease the pan, I did not grease stoneware, and they stuck to the pan.  Upon taking them out, I knew this Julekake was going to be pretty chewy, so I made some quick Confectioner's Sugar glaze to drizzle over the loaves.

My mother-in-law, as usual, forgot that I had brought the Julekake, so we didn't even eat it overthere, even though I had mentioned it three times. (My family hates raisins, so no one was looking forward to eating it.) But I still had my trusty round loaf at home.

Of course, I tested a piece before I brought it over there last night, and it really wasn't all that chewy as I thought it was going to be. And so this morning, with my coffee and cream, I had my Julekake, not half bad at all, and all my memories returned. Even the husband said he'd eat a piece (and then proceeded to eat two or more), although he did say it would stick with him for quite a while.

God Jul, everyone!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Running Saga Continues

So, remember yesterday, when I said I would have to do the Christmas Virtual 5K in two parts, since yesterday's Christmas Eve Frostbite Series short course race was only 2M.

Well, who could have asked for a more perfect Christmas Day to run in?  My computer said 48 degrees when we left, but my car said 52, and my body definitely said it was 60s.

I had spied this route driving in and out of Fenton, and I decided that it would be a perfect day to try it, although, when I went to Fleet Feet in Fenton to get Boy #2 (PITA) a jacket to go with his tights and gloves, I discussed this route with the sales guy there, and my husband thought it was Simpson Park, but the sales guy said no, but couldn't remember it.

Even though, the route was a little different than I had planned it in my mind, as I thought that there would be trails the entire route on the river side of the road, if I just parked my car under the Route 30 bridge over the Meramec and then ran all the way up past under the Hwy 44 bridge over the Meramec and into this "park."

A lot of the route, we had to run the side of the road, but it being Christmas Day, traffic was light and people were merry.  No running anyone off the side of the road like in other routes I've experienced (my usual up Summit Road route).

When I say we, I mean the PITA boy.  For Christmas, Santa brought him a new MacBook Pro laptop, mostly out of his commiseration for PITA's parents, who are driven crazy nightly by the Skyping late-night hours of PITA and his server-running-entrepreneurial shenanigans that are conducted on the family Mac Mini on the kitchen desk.

Yes, before you say something, I realize that we should not allow our young freshman to entertain online guests in his room, but he is our last, and we made that fateful mistake with our other two.  What the heck - why not pay for therapy for all three - even it out and make it fair playing field for all of them.

Most of all, it will really keep my husband's sanity on production late nights for the publications, and we actually might get to reclaim the 60" big screen television that is now host to trashy television and Lord knows what late night sessions go on there, since we often find PITA, and sometimes his Jack Sprat-wife big brother, asleep on the sectional we had to buy so there was an appropriate amount of lounging-around space for all the big people in the family.

Anyway....I digress.  But the genius thing I did as a parent this Christmas morning was to tell him he could not set up this computer until he came out and ran 6 miles with me on this route.  I tried to tell him that Dad did not want me running this route alone, and that it would be good for him, and that we had quality Mom-Son outdoors time, but I really didn't have to twist his arm much.

That is until we got 2 miles out past the 44 bridge, and he said, "How much longer?"  I, having my headphones in and blasting my customarily loud 70s and 80s music, thought he said, "I need to pee on a log."  And I told him to go right ahead.  He looked at me like I was whack, and of course, he continued ahead of me all the way through. When we first started, he was poking me, poking me, poking me (not in the Facebook sense of the word either - like literally and physically).  And this is where I started to question my genius parenting skills.

We went behind the Soccer Park and up to Unger Park, the name of which we had all forgotten, which turned out to be a real treasure of a tucked away nature preserve.  It was me and PITA, and some dude, who told PITA it was the only place he could be alone, and appeared to Mom to be imbibing on some adult beverage out of a steel Thermal water bottle.  But he left us alone, to our own devices, and I made a mental note to come back and explore this park.  At that point, we were 3 miles out, and I needed to honestly tell PITA it was time to turn back or he'd really start to hate me, but that place was cool, and if it's nice, I'm actually thinking of going back tomorrow to run just a mile farther than we did today.

At about 3.5 miles, PITA stops to say he's dehydrated and that we both should take a break.  I give him some water and electrolyte stuff I always carry on an hour long run or more.  He guzzles it, and says, "Well, if you're not stopping, I'm going."  He mutters something about me training for this and him not.

We finally make it back to civilization, and now we're joined by another female runner, who is way bundled up inappropriately, and a couple couples walking big dogs.  He walks slowly over the footbridge to the car, stretches, and notes that he has blisters on his toes.

And then says, "Now are ya happy?  Can I just go home and use my computer now?"

Still got in a recovery paced long-ish run on Christmas, with my son, and completed the Virtual 5K, maybe not with the fastest time, but the certainly with the best partner.

Yes, PITA, Mom's happy!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

My Triumphant Return

So many of you might have noticed that I haven't blogged in several years. There were two factors that kept me from returning here, mostly the fact that Google kept telling me something was malicious with my page.

I migrated all my content over to Word Press, and then I didn't know how to work Word Press, until I started having to teach my students how to use Word Press for our online news site, and then I read over my previous entries, and thought to myself, "I'm not half-bad as a writer; why did I stop blogging?" And thus, I decided to make 2012 the year I start back on my blog.

I'm starting my first and kind of my last (because I intend on making some more blog posts before the 31st) entry about my reentry into the running world.  I promise you I'll try to update here more often and give everyone a chance to reflect on his or her own personal motivation and inspiration.

Some of you know that diabetes really kicked my overly developed luscious booty the past several years, including giving me the gift of diabetic neuropathy, which disabled feeling in my feet the past three years. That's when I decided to get off that so-called booty (which I truly am thinking about getting in shape with some sort of Brazilian Butt Lift program, an informercial for which I watched continuously one night that I couldn't sleep), get back into running, and lose some weight.

I successfully lost around 70 lbs with the HCG diet in two rounds (and believe me, I couldn't do another single round) and started back running. I gained 20 lbs back over the summer, with traveling and eating processed foods, but quickly just lost all that since October 30 with Medi-fast and a dietician. I'm 15 lbs over my lowest weight, my goal, of 150. And I'm trying to make it there again by April, when I run my SECOND (yes, you heard me) half-marathon at the Christie Clinic University of Illinois Marathon the last weekend in April.

I ran the Rock N Roll St. Louis Marathon in 2:51:13 on October 23, 2011, to add that accomplishment to the list of crazy arse goals I set for myself before 50 (and the time is a ticking away, believe me - I still am upset I never reached my first goal before 40 - skiing the bikini slalom - yes, seriously - and at that time, I was in shape to do it!).

Yes, I completed 13.1. And I can now wear proudly those obnoxious stickers you see on runners' cars (and you bet your sweet bippee I got one immediately after the race!).

I was certainly undertrained for this race, only having run 6 miles, and not even straight, but on a dare, I did it, and I finished. I even lost my first toenail, christening me as a real runner.

And so, not letting anything get the best of me, I decided, much like after childbirth, that yes, indeed I would do this again, but this time, do it even better. So I finished the C25K program and signed up for a bunch of 5Ks with my son. I vowed to feel better than I did before after running a half marathon, and to that extent, I signed up for the Fleet Feet Training Team this winter and will start January 21 at the kickoff meeting.

So in an effort to force myself to keep running in the winter, I've spent beau coup money on cute running clothes and all kinds of gear to keep myself running in the winter. I even teamed up with several journalism teacher friends to keep track of our runs online (#runningondeadline). So far, so good. I've seen so many neat (and pretty weird) things on my weekend runs, which usually take place at several locations: Katy Trail, Grant's Trail, Creve Coeur Lake Park, Meramec Greenway by the river, you name it.
#runningondeadline friends at the JEA conference in Minneapolis

The best part of this is competing against myself for better times. I have improved, even if I can only run a little over a 9 minute mile (7:25 is my PR for a mile - how the heck I did that, I do not know).  These guys and gals, some of them marathoners, helped pace me to a 5K PR of 27:37 that cold day at 6 am outside the Hilton.

But as a side, I actually like running with my sidekick resident PITA, even if he does poke me the whole way through races (yes, he literally pokes me and sacrifices his time). It's been the one thing he and I can do in common that unites Mother and Son (even if he'll always finish with a time that beats the pants off me). And today was no exception. We've raced every single Saturday now since Thanksgiving Day, and we intend on doing it all the way through the Saturday I have my first training team. Most likely, he'll be on the sidelines helping me run a race effort at that training team expo, but it really has helped me to know he wants me to do better, even, as I've said before, he talks non-stop during the entire race. (I believe his favorite phrase is "Open up, Mom, c'mon, open up." Like I'm some sort of race car.

Today, we wore our Santa shirts from our St. Charles Santa Dash race on December 10, where there were 1K Santas racing through Historic Main Street in St. Charles. That was a fun race, but the beards kinda cramped our style. And last weekend, we ran the Reindeer Run 5K in Tower Grove Park just to keep up the spirit. Today's race, even though it was only 2M, was no exception to time. I plugged along at a 9:15 mile to finish just under 19 minutes. Son #2 (affectionately hereafter called PITA), of course, finished before me. He's tired of sacrificing his milage and time to me.

Because I'm competing in a Christmas Virtual 5K (and, of course, her NYE Virtual 5K), I have on an extra bib, and I'm linking this post to one of the running blogs I read - Daily Vitamin F (here on Blogger as well). Because I'm short 1.1M, tomorrow morning, in the still of the morning, I'm going to attempt to wake PITA up and run a short pre-Christmas run of 4-5 miles by the river, in order to make sure I get the milage in for the contest. On New Year's Day next week, we'll be running the streets of University City in the Snowball Classic New Year's Day Run, where the race is capped at 150 because the UCity police want the day off - can you believe that? :-)

So - why don't you come run with us? I started running years ago to find a place my children could not bother me, and years later, I'm finding a place where my children like to run with me. Even the older college bitter child and the middle asthmatic ran the Reindeer Run 5K last weekend. Now to work on the patriarch who says his knees hurt when he uses the elliptical at the gym.

I guarantee - Linda Brady - my old PE teacher at Crystal Lake Central - is turning over in her grave right about now. Who would have thunk it - Jill Miesen, the girl who walked and came in last so the other girls who couldn't run wouldn't feel bad - would take up running? There are many reasons I run. I need to start blogging to list them here, and when I have a shin split, like I do today, or it's freezing out there, and I don't feel like freezing my fanny off (like the past week), or I just ate too much, I can look back on posts like these and remember why I run. And why I can't stop.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Remembering Wally, Part Deux

In direct comparison with my son's words, my husband, separately and alone, wrote a eulogy that came from his heart, too. What follows is my husband's speech given to attendees of Wally's funeral a little over one month ago.

Dad, the Hero Next Door

Many of you may have heard the story of the millionaire next door. The man who quietly goes about his day, not dressing the part or acting the part of a millionaire, while quietly enjoying the financial reward of his his hard work. Today, I would like to talk about the hero next door, My dad, Walter Proehl. He did not wear a cape, and he did not fly over buildings, but he was indeed a hero to many.

One of the things that made Dad so extraordinary was his ability to make every person he encountered feel important. His smile and grace were infectious and brought a ray of life to every person he met.

I would like to relate some of the qualities that I remembered about Dad. If you remember him or these or other qualities, I hope they bring a smile to your face and a joyous memory to your heart as they do for me.


Dad was a teacher. At a young age, he taught me to have pride in our name, telling people when they pronounced it incorrectly (it is not PRO-EL - it is PRAYLE).

He taught me charity as we delivered food to the needy at Christmastime and fixed lamps for little old ladies who could not afford to buy new ones.

He taught me the importance of doing the job right. To this day, I can still see examples of his work in many places: wrapping tape around your wires just so, placing the holes for the wire straight and at the proper height.

Dad selflessly shared what he knew with anyone who wanted to learn. When Dad did not know how to do something, he found someone who could teach him.

Dad was thrifty. He knew the value of hard work, and he knew how to save a dollar, whether he was buying a car or a Christmas tree.

When you asked Dad how much something cost, he would always be able to tell you the cost, which was great. But when you got to hardware store, you realized that sometimes that prices he quoted you were in 1950 dollars.

Dad was patient. There are ten years between my sisters and I. For ten years, Dad waited for his son, and as I gre, he taught me how to check your parts and read the directions before you start.

Dad was strong, his muscles firm from years of turning screwdrivers and climbing ladders.

Dad could fix ANYTHING. When yo asked Dad to fix something, he would take a small notebook out of his pocket and write it down. He would methodically work through everything on his list until it was done. It was not until a few years later that I learned that Dad had more than a few notebooks in his pocket.

Dad appreciated a party, and he was never afraid to be on stage. As a teenager, I found it a little embarrassing, but as a man, I wondered how I could even get a small sliver of that charisma.

Dad was faithful; he loved the peace he felt in church and drew comfort from the prayers that he said every day of his life.

Dad showed the world how to love, as he walked through life hand-in-hand with Mom, even arranging for her to get flowers as he lay in the hospital.


In 8th grade, for my science project, I decided that I wanted to make a demonstration of the hydrological cycle or the life cycle of water, if you will. When I told Dad my idea, he never showed ay doubt as I described what I had in mind. As was his way, Dad rolled up his sleeves and worked next to me several evenings for the next week. When I walked into school the morning of the science fair, I had a two-foot-by-four-foot box that had a desert, mountains, an ocean, and clouds that actually rained.

No matter what I wanted to do, Dad never said, "No." Instead, he said, "Let's go." Dad was not a big outdoorsman, but when I wanted to go shooting, he took me. When we went fishing, and there wasn't much biting, he knew that sometimes a twelve-year-old boy has as much fun driving the boat as watching the bobber. When I wanted to try hunting, he took me. Even on days when we got nothing, he took joy from spending a day in the woods with his son.

When I joined Boy Scouts, he bought a tent, and we went camping. Dad was there even when it meant going when it was 12 degrees outside.

When my sons joined Scouts, and no other adult stepped up to help, it was Dad who spent a week with me at summer camp. We slept in tents, went for hikes, and walked about a quarter-of-a-mile each way three times a day for meals in the heat of St. Louis in July. Did I mention that Dad did this when he was 76 years old?


Dad was a gentle man, and all of you who knew him saw this in his actions and in his words. Dad was never one to use foul language. This does not mean that Dad never uttered a bad word. On a couple occasions, he would get really frustrated with something or someone and let loose. Mindful that there may be young children around, Dad would harken back to his German roots, and declare, "Scheisst!"

The other occasion when you might hear Dad say a cross word would be when he was driving. Dad has never been qutie as heavy footed as Mom, and as with many aspects of his life, Dad was pretty deliberate in his driving. Sometimes in our travels, we would encounter that rare breed of drier that even wore down Dad's patience. It was at that point that he would declare that person to be a "JACQUES."


Dad loved to travel his whole life and was fortunate to see all 50 states and many foreign countries. A vacation with Dad was sure to be an experience you will not forget. Dad was not able to sleep late or lay on a beach all day. He was up at 6 in the morning and ready to roll; there were places to go, and things to do, and he did not want to miss a single thing.

When we traveled to San Juan Capistrano to see the swallows and got there to find the gates locked, Dad climbed the fence. A few years later, when Dad and Mom went to Campobello Island in Canada, the home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dad clambered out on the rocks to get down to the beach. Although his trip proved a little more eventful, not even a broken arm could slow down Dad.

I am so fortunate to have my own family that continued the tradition as we have crossed the country seeing the Grand Canyon, the sands of Myrtle Beach, the monuments of Washinton, D.C., and the geysers of Yellowstone. What a beautiful world that Mom and Dad showed us.

For Those That Are Still Here

For Dad, his journey on this Earth is over, and he has been set free. For those who are still here, I would like to share one part of a short homily I heard a few years ago.

In 1982, two friends set out from Baltimore, MD for Albuquerque, NM on a 9-month sabbatical from teaching. These friends had lived in Baltimore all their lives and wanted to go someplace where they could look out the window and know they weren't on the East Coast. And if you have ever been to Albuquerque, you know you aren't on the East Coast. You are barely in the US. One friend followed the original plan and went back to Baltimore after 9 months. the second friend had a 5-year journey in the high desert of New Mexico. "I learned that there are more shades of brown that you could ever imagine. I did not see the different shades at first. I thought the whole state was just brown. But after a while, I started to see the nuances, the different shades of brown into green. The desert requires careful attention to detail. I learned that the desert blooms, and blooms amazingly after a rainstorm. Little buds and blossoms and flowers and insects and animals come out after a storm, for a short period of time, often not to be seen again, until the next rainstorm. They survive on those droplets of rain. I learned that water is both powerful and precious. The ground is so hard and dry that the arroyos and ditches and intersections flood quickly in a rainstorm. Children in New Mexico learn at a young age to move to high ground as soon as a drop of rain falls, because otherwise, it might be too late. Water is so precious in the Southwest. I saw amazing efforts to conserve water because it is so scarce. And I learned that while some things are essential for survival in the desert - food, water, shelter, blankets (the desert gets cold at night), gas (one of the first things I learned in Albuquerque - make sure you have a full tank of gas when driving through the desert) - other things just weigh you down, are excess baggage, are unnecessary. The desert is a place of stripping down, of embracing what is essential, of identifying what is necessary. A time to name what I needed to let go, and what I needed to hold dear. I ask you to remember the story of Moses and the Israelites in the desert. They had left a familiar place (even thought it was an oppressive place, it was still familiar), and they were wondering if their dreams of a Promised Land were worth the trouble. They were hungry, thirsty, frustrated. Maybe we should go back. Maybe this isn't worth it. What does God say to Moses in the midst of this crisis? God says, "Moses, you are in a hard place, and I want you to find the hardest thing in this hard place - a rock in the desert. And I want you to touch this rock and believe that living water will flow from it." And Moses does, and water flows. It was just enough for the Israelites to continue their sojourn through the desert. They learned that God is in the hardest place in a hard place. And I think about us. We are on a journey through the desert, in a kind of hard place right now, wondering whether our dreams are worth this trouble, this stripping down. We are thinking of what is essential, what we need to let go, and what we need to hold dear. Like Moses and the Israelites, God is asking us to believe that God is in the hardest place in hard place - to believe that living water will flow if we but touch the rock in our desert. Remember, Moses had to do some work - he HAD to touch the rock.

Dad is done walking in the desert. For all of us who are still here, when you think of Dad and you start to feel a little sad, I want you to remember, he has left the familiar place and gone before us. Like Dad did his whole life, he has done the hard work, and he was the living water. Dad has touched the rock, and water has flowed. We should all be so lucky to drink from that water!

And that, my friends, is such good news that we ought to say a resounding Amen.


Dad was never in doubt about his priorities in life. He had an incredible integrity demonstrated as he showed his faith to God, Mom, family, and country.

I could write many more pages, describing the qualities of this wonderful, caring soul. I could write many more pages filled with the stories that each of us shared with Dad.

But today, I can think of no better way to conclude than with this thought: Dad, thank you.

I can think of no better higher compliment than could be given that to say, "He was like his father."

Remembering Wally

I guess because I watched the movie Fireproof with my husband Friday night, in which a man's father features a prominent role as an advisor to his son during his troubled marriage, and because I am about to visit my sons and their father, my husband, at Boy Scout Camp this coming Thursday during Parents' Night, during which either Wally was always there or I accompanied him, I am thinking about Wally's influence on my life, and how I will miss his influence on the lives of my children.

I miss him. I also owe readers and him the blog I promised I would write - detailing my youngest son's impromptu speech about his grandfather at the funeral. My husband also wrote one, which will be featured in the second part of this entry.

In comparison, these two men approached their task very differently. My husband, who is often at a loss for words, took almost four days to write this speech, putting final touches on it as the limo drove to the cemetery for Wally's final resting place. My son whipped out this piece of paper and thoughtfully crafted it as he reminisced about his grandpa the night before the visitation.

Either way, the true spirit of Wally's personality lies in these words. I strive every day to live in honor of Wally, to see Christ in everyman, like he did, and to live as he did, forgiving those who trespass against me.

Here is the text of my youngest son's speech:

When I was born, I hadn't yet witnessed the fortune I had. I am John, the third and last grandchild. My grandfather, Walter Proehl, was my idol, not Vincent Van Gogh. Besides, why would I want my idol to be some guy who cut off part of his ear. No, I wanted my idol to be someone courageous, someone kind. That someone was my grandfather. All through my life, he has helped all; if a light needed to be fixed, he would repair it. Task by task, he was even fixing the world. An enemy to none, but a friend to all. He was a joker, but never hurt a single feeling. I remember him taking my brother, Drew, and I to go fishing. We never caught anything, but it was exciting just being out there. When my brother and I would fight, he would make us so happy we would just forget. I learned a lot about him when I had a school geneaology project. He gave me all the information. The entire time I have spent with him I have never seen him frown. He always made time to play with us even so we lost several ping pong balls under the shelves of his work shop. He was my grandmother's best friend, a wonderful mentor to my father, and an idol to me. A wonderful man, there was nothing else to ask for. May he reflect on us all, so we can be just like him.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Too busy driving to get gas!

Do you ever feel like this? I remember doing this myself in my gifted education classroom to demonstrate to the kiddos the necessity of doing FIRST THINGS FIRST - making your priorities. We could translate this into homework, projects, assignments, sports and extracurricular activities as well, but somehow I always got lost in translation.

For the past school year, I was no longer teaching the 7 Habits to my 7th graders, and I missed having Franklin's words of wisdom remind me to "sharpen my saw."

And I felt like a salmon swimming upstream.

Add the little things that I never expected, such as caring for Wally while he was in the hospital, and helping my mother-in-law survive the after-effect of losing her life partner of 54 years, and diabetes control thrown in to my lap, and I didn't handle it as gracefully as this high-powered business woman made judgments as she thought out loud.

This video, shared by another colleague on Facebook, really was shared with me at a poignant time. I've been lounging around, feeling sorry for myself, thinking about catching up on all I've missed throughout the school year, as I often do, but just to extreme this summer.

My house is falling down around me, as it's been one of those little pebbles I tried to take care of first. My health is also falling down around me, as I tried to put out fires that came to me first, rather than fitting it in first which is what I should have been doing.

For anyone who has experienced burnout, this video will definitely set you on the straight and narrow path.

Whether or not I can master this philosophy, I don't know. But I'm sure willing to give it a try and go back to Covey's words of wisdom that I extolled to my own students.

How about yourself? What are your big rocks? What are the little pebbles that are getting in the way of you prioritizing your First Things First?

Friday, June 26, 2009

PSA: CheckUp America (Male)

This is a great video! Even when you're willing to change, it's hard - I won't kid you! It will take a lot of work to "reverse" diabetes, especially if it's in your genes. But don't let this condition do what it's done to me or my dear father-in-law. Step out to help me fight diabetes. Ask me how!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Join me in the St. Louis Diabetes Leadership Institute

I need my friends to help me out on this one. This would be a perfect opportunity for all the St. Louis area diabetics or PWD to get involved personally in advocacy and diabetes awareness.

Thanks to Kaycee Connell, the St. Louis diabetes Examiner, I found out about this free program. It just so happens that my endo, Dr. Garry Tobin, also promoted this program to me in May when I went for my twice a year check up.

What Eric and Garry want to do is create a community of PWD's who will volunteer their time to be educated (ha - like we aren't already) and lead sessions of 6 awareness and education topics in their community. It could be at your church, your synagogue, your school, your sorority, anywhere you can muster up a small group of people. Eric and Garry don't care whether it is 2 people or 20.

This effort is lead by the St. Louis Diabetes Coalition, but is also supported by Wash U's Endocrinology Dept., of which Garry is the head.

I was able to get my husband, Joe, to attend with me - only because I think he felt guilty that he didn't meet me for a happy hour the evening before [:-)], and he tested his sugar on the free Accu-Check Aviva meter Roche was handing out at the event - YAY! He was 106 before eating, and 114 after eating some fruit (1 hour post-prandial). This is the first time Joe has ever tested himself, and he's lived with a diabetic for some 15 years!

With the event of his father's diabetes coming so close to him, I was able to finally get him to get a closer look at his health. And boy, did he ever. He was able to see the connection between his dad's possible loss of his leg and his cardiovascular disease to a less than aggressive treatment plan for his diabetes of 28 years.

Not surprisingly, all the attendees were T2's, with the exception of a couple of caregivers of and one CDE who were T1. We were the youngest in the room by 10 years.

My husband was educated on proper foot care, kidney disease, and nutrition. It was a wealthy bounty of information that was very helpful, sometimes the first time some of these diabetics had ever heard.

Of course, they were able to give us a free lunch, and there will be a free dinner at our next meeting.

Eric, the PhD side of the team, presented to us a nice slide show regarding the growing statistics of diabetes in the Metro area. We, of course, discussed the sensational statistics that T2 diabetes is becoming an epidemic of obese proportions.

Garry echoed that by far his practice was filled with more T2 diabetics than T1's. It was cited that there are over 150,000 people with diabetes in St. Louis - that's Busch Stadium filled during a triple-header.

Of those diabetics, 48% are of healthy weight, 21% are obese, and 31% are overweight. From a public health perspective, the better we manage diabetes, the less expensive the condition can be.

The St. Louis Diabetes Coalition's goal is to bring control up in order to lessen the cost and the burden on the system, as well as improve the quality of life for diabetics.

Only 49% of diabetics here in the area have a controlled bgs Hb A1c less than 7.0, 51% check the bgs at least once a day, and 44% have even taken a self-management class.

One thing Garry said that really rung true to me was the answer to many of the folks' questions about T2 guilt, blame placing and fault at our lifestyles. "I'm a lumper, not a splitter," he said while pointing out that all of us, T1's and T2's and Others face the same symptoms and consequences. "It's NOT which drugs define you," he said - pointing out that NONE of us deserve this diagnosis.

Won't you come with me to the next meeting and help facilitate more education and awareness to some of the hardest to reach people? I challenge you!

Come enjoy a free dinner and some great conversation!

Twitter me @MomsL8 0r leave a comment here, and I'll meet up with you before the meeting!

Click on the link of this blog title to learn more about the St. Louis Diabetes Leadership Institute.

Our next meeting will be in Eric Armprecht's office on the 1st floor of the Salus Center at 3545 Lafayette, (the old Incarnate Word Hospital), St. Louis, MO 63104, on Monday, July 27th, at 6 p.m.

Here's to our health!