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.