Category Archives: Digressions

Streaking into 2015

No, I did not run naked down the glorious lawn at my beloved UVA or across our neighborhood, which would have probably resulted in me writing this from the warmth of a jail cell. I decided to take Runner’s World up on their challenge to start a running streak, which requires one to run at least one mile per day starting on Thanksgiving and ending on New Year’s Day. That is 36 days straight of running. Sounded like something I could do.

And I did. Today I ran a 5k to finish up the streak in style. I’d like to say it was easy, but that would be a lie. Even though I kept my daily mileage to about 2-3 miles per day (with a few one mile days thrown in just to make the day count), I did struggle some days to get it done. Now, I have had times in my past where I worked out 5-6 days a week, during track season or at the height of crew training, and my days were much harder than a one mile run, but (1) I was MUCH younger and (2) I still got a day off once in awhile. This streak proved to be a real challenge for me.

Some thoughts on my 36 days on the road:

Day 1: Thanksgiving day. Never a bad idea to run a few miles before eating a big meal. We didn’t travel this year so finding time to run was easier than it might have been.

Day 5: Had to try the treadmill during a nasty cold snap in the area. I truly, deeply, passionately hate the treadmill. Really. But we have one in our basement so downstairs I went. I guess the poor thing hadn’t been used in awhile (like, since last winter) and it is getting old (over 12 years now) so it was a little rusty. I ended up completing a fartlek run as the stupid machine kept speeding up and slowing down without warning. I got a good arm workout, however, as I kept my tense hands poised just above the handrails to grab on quickly and not get shot off the back as it sped up. Run complete!

Day 7: A tough day for scheduling the run. I teach at two different colleges and I had classes all day (from 8:00 am until 9:30 pm) without a break at home or near a place where I could clean up easily. Still, I managed with one of my one-mile days. I brought my sneakers and a change of shirt and became one of “those” people who goes out running in jeans. Fortunately, it was a cold day so I didn’t sweat too much and thus did not require significant “touch ups” to look presentable for my last class. Not that I am any sort of glamour queen, but…

Days 15-17: Hit the wall here. Legs felt heavy and I really wanted to not run. But I had promised myself that I would do this and so I did. I never really advertised my streak – it was something between me, myself, and I, just to see if I could do it through mainly internal motivation. I like to run alone and this running streak was something I wanted to do on my own. These few days were a test.

Day 18: Ugh.

Day 19: Got the confirmation email that we are in again for the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler in DC in April. Guess I know what I’ll be doing after this running streak ends. Running more.

Day 20: Probably the lowest point so far. Cold, rainy day, not much motivation, and absolutely NO way I could face our treadmill (have I noted how much I DESPISE that thing?). So, I put on my rain gear (I did buy this stuff for some reason) and hit the road. After a few minutes, I felt okay, except for the rain pelting my face and the hood of my jacket rubbing awkwardly against my face as I kept cinching it down to keep the rain out. Run complete.

Day 22: Legs back. Enjoying my runs again.

Day 27: Travelled to visit family up north for the holiday. Faithfully packed my gear because I knew that after a long drive home that day, I would not be able to make myself run. Got out in the misty drizzle and ran the only route I am familiar with around there. Found out they built a new soccer complex at the park. Guess it’s been awhile since I ran around there.

Day 32: Ran with our dog. Our little Chihuahua/terrier mutt. Did I mention it was raining and I had a post-holiday cold going at the same time? Another one mile run day. To her credit, she did keep up pretty well on her little legs.

Day 33: A good run kinda day. Still dealing with a chest thing but despite uneven breathing, I managed a decent run. Only 3 days left – I can see the light at the end of tunnel.

Day 36: TODAY! I ran the 5k with a friend and we did just fine. It was cold and a bit windy and the course had some tough gradual uphills, but we kept a decent pace and finished strong. Found out later that we ended up in second place for our age group! Gotta love small races.

So, what have I learned from doing this? One, I can finish what I commit to do, even if that commitment is simply an internal one. Two, running every day, even if only a mile or two, did counterbalance the holiday eating and kept off the pounds. Three, my body could not handle running every day if I did more mileage. I am prone to foot and knee problems that flare up when I up my mileage. They only slightly started to bother me by the end of this streak, but now that I have to increase mileage for the spring race, I will need days off and walking days to make it through injury-free. Four, while it is difficult some days to fit a run in, it is not impossible. Get up a little earlier, plan your day out in advance, accept that a run is going to happen and it does. No excuses.

Will I do this again? Sure. It really wasn’t horrible or beyond my abilities. I could do it again.

After I take a day or two off, that is.

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Give It Your Best Shot

Photo by Michael Maggs, Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Michael Maggs, Wikimedia Commons

I had an interesting conversation with my son in the car yesterday (which is where we tend to have most of our more intriguing talks). We were coming home from a cello lesson and he was lamenting how difficult and boring the music is that he has to learn for an upcoming required audition. He wasn’t so much concerned about learning the music, however, as he was about the audition itself.

The issue? He doesn’t want to do well.

Ever since he started playing 3 years ago, he has enjoyed it and shown an aptitude for music. He learned to read music very quickly and started listening to songs he liked and figuring out the notes so he could learn to play the tune. He improved a lot during 6th grade and ended up making it into the advanced orchestra in middle school. While I think he was pleased to have been placed in the Sinfonietta, as they call it, he was also a bit dismayed. His concern all along has been that, while he likes to play the cello, he doesn’t want to “play cello like he plays hockey,” meaning he doesn’t want to invest as much time and energy and spend every day practicing for hours.

I get where he is coming from. While he has musical talent and might be able to be a fairly good cellist, he really plays because he likes it. He likes to figure out the music and learn how to hit the right notes and he gets pleasure from playing music that challenges him. He does not want his cello playing to be high pressure – I think that if it gets to be too intense, that is when he will give it up. We have tried to keep things low pressure over the past few years to keep him interested. He has to practice, but only for 20 minutes or so at a time. He has a private teacher, but she is a college student who is very helpful but isn’t requiring him to learn additional music above what he has for school and doesn’t keep track of practice time. He loves working with her and it has been a great fit. And, so far, he has stuck with it.

Now, however, he sees this audition as that high-pressure “stuff” he doesn’t want to do. And he’s trying to figure out how he can blow the audition so he won’t make it. This is what led to our discussion in the car about giving it your best, no matter what.

I told him about how my belief is that you should always try your hardest, even if you aren’t particularly motivated to be successful. Not doing so cheats you and, in this case, cheats his teacher, who has the belief that he is good enough to be in this advanced orchestra and has a chance, like everyone else in his class, to get a spot in the District Orchestra. We talked about hockey and how, even though he does well in goal and could rest on his laurels and remain a decent goalie at the house or lower travel level, he continues to keep working hard and trying to get better. He has some natural talent, but he doesn’t stop there and keeps working to improve. Playing the cello should be no different – he has some natural talent and, since he has committed to play in the orchestra at school, he owes it to himself and others to put the work in and give this audition, and every song he plays, his best. To do otherwise just lets him and others down.

I asked him how he’d feel if he didn’t practice the song and went into the audition and completely bombed. Being his stubborn 12-year-old self, he initially said that if it meant he didn’t have to be in the other orchestra, he’d be happy. However, after we discussed it some more, he admitted that he’d be a little embarrassed and probably not feel to good about himself. He also said that if his teacher saw that, she’d be upset that he didn’t try (as someone who gets a lot of my self-esteem from knowing that others are pleased with my effort, I understand how disappointing his teacher would bother him).

In the end, I am hopeful that he took some of our conversation to heart and will view rehearsing for the audition more positively. He still may not like the song, and he still will not want to make the orchestra, but he might just learn a lesson about how it feels to know you gave it your best shot and didn’t let yourself down by “phoning it in.”

Because a sign of a life well lived, in my opinion, is being able to reflect back and realize that you did your best with what you had, in the situations you faced, and can be proud of what you did and who you are. We can’t ask for much more out of ourselves and others than that.

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Go Old School – Write a Note

I came home today from work and found the following folded up on our kitchen counter with a “To: Mom” written on the outside:

revised letter copy

I have no idea why my son wrote this and he just said “I Dunno” when I asked him (after hugging him and trying not to cry a little, lest he get uncomfortable and never do something like this again). But it got me thinking about the power of a simple hand-written note.

Now, I know this doesn’t necessarily fit into the “theme” of this blog, but he did actually cite taking him to practice as one of the things he is thankful for, so I am going to go with it. Now that I think about it, he wrote about food and hockey – two things that he literally and figuratively cannot live without.

Growing up, my mother always made sure that my brothers and I wrote thank you notes for EVERYTHING. And we grumbled and groused, but we wrote them. And, after awhile, it sunk in for me that it truly is important to thank people for doing something nice. I recall getting a birthday card or something like that from my grandmother’s friend and she wrote in the note, “no need to send a thank you.” Of course, that only motivated me more to write a nice note of thanks because that is what you do when someone does something nice for you, regardless of whether they want the thanks or not.

Nowadays, I still send thank yous (I hope all the time but with my crazy schedule and my flighty mind, I fear that I miss some now and then) and I “force” my son to write them, too. He grumbles and grouses, although not too much, for which I am thankful. I do tend to give him tips on what to say and he prefers to write the bare minimum, but he does write them. And it is cute when he adds something on his own to the notes, like “thanks for the money. And the cake.” as he did in a recent note to his grandmother, who made him his favorite cake for 6th grade graduation.

What I try to avoid, whenever possible, is the email or text thank you. I may use that as a first stop – the day I get the flowers someone sent, for example, but I try to follow up with a hand-written note. I just think that the fact that you have to work a bit harder to send that note means something. Yes, it is easier and quicker and more reliable (that I’ll actually send it) to fire off a quick email, but there is something about getting something in the mail with your name on it with a brief note inside thanking you for what you did. It just means something.

Back to that nice note from my son. That was even more special because it wasn’t in response to any particular event or gift from me. It was completely spontaneous and, in light of his reluctance to do any writing above and beyond what is required by teachers, out of character for him. It was heartfelt and genuine and I love it.

So, even if he is most thankful for his basic needs – food and hockey – at least I know that he has some appreciation for what I do and realizes, at some level, that it takes work to keep things going day-to-day. And I love that he would take the minute or two that it took to put his feelings into writing.

No matter how bad your handwriting is, give it a try. Write a note and make someone feel special. It is worth the time.

 

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Boys Playing With Phones

Took the boys to practice tonight and my son’s teammate had a new phone. An iPhone, to be exact. With Siri.

Sigh…

Thus my need to unveil the top reasons a 12 year-old boy should NOT have a phone. With Siri.

1. 12 year-old boys do not completely comprehend that the voice they hear is not actually connected to a human being. Thus, asking questions like, “What is your favorite NHL team?” is not going to garner a reasonable answer. Siri doesn’t converse, no matter how much you coax it.

2. To a 12 year-old boy, it is loads of fun to verbally assault Siri with “you’re stupid” or “I hate you!” And they find it hysterical when Siri responds with “Now, now…” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Regardless, making fun of, and yelling at, Siri, passes the time quite well on the way to practice. For the boys, that is.

3. Unrelated to Siri, most 12 year-old boys don’t actually have anyone to call on said phone.

You Can Play

This photo shows the place where the rainbow r...

I’ve always loved rainbows!

I had an interesting experience recently, while teaching my public speaking class. A student in  one of my classes stood up in front of the class to do his informative speech and surprised everyone, including me, with what he had to say.

He stood in front of a roomful of peers and did something I am sure was terrifying – he came out of the closet.

He started by writing a word on the board – GAY. He then proceeded to tell us that he is gay and tried to inform us a little about what that was like for him. He described some of his feelings and some of what he’s experienced from others.

I was blown away by what I was watching – I know many people who have come out and I know how much they struggled to do so and how gut-wrenching it was for many of them. It was an amazingly brave thing to do and I wasn’t exactly sure how to react.

I also was not exactly sure how to grade his speech. He was doing this for a grade and his actual delivery and organization was not spectacular, most likely because this was a last-minute decision on his part and he had not completely thought it through. I managed to separate my personal admiration for the topic from my critique of his public speaking skills and came up with a score. But I made sure to contact him via email after the speech to express my admiration and explain that my grading had nothing to do with the content, which he said later he understood.

He was actually very thankful for my email and said that he was glad he gave the speech. He got the reception he hoped for – no one was upset or disgusted and after a brief round of congratulations from his table mates, everyone went back to their work and nothing more was said. No one freaked out and he felt accepted and relieved.

This happened about the same time as GLAAD’s Spirit Day. I saw purple around the internet and saw videos and pictures being passed around on Facebook. I was also reminded of the “You Can Play Project,” which is a program designed to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender athletes feel accepted and welcome in sports. All of this made me reflect on how difficult is must be to have a secret that you don’t think you can share. How scary it must be to think that people, even your own family, might shun you or cause you physical harm because of who you are. How isolating and stressful it must feel to live a life that is not completely open and honest.

My husband and I have worked hard to make sure that our son understands that everyone is unique and that is okay. We have introduced all types of families to him – divorced, not married, two moms, two dads, single parents – and explained that there is nothing wrong with any of them. He does still react a bit when he hears of same sex couples – when Abby Wambaugh recently got married, for example, he seemed a little startled when I told him how she now had a wife. But I explained it as I would any marriage and he seemed to accept that and move on.

I can only hope that when he encounters a teammate who is gay, he receives him or her just as he would any other teammate – with acceptance and an expectation that this teammate will give his or her best, just as is expected of everyone on the team. I hope that he will give it no more thought than that and respond with a simple “okay” and a “let’s play.”

Because I do believe that if you can play, you can play. As long as you are not trying to hurt anyone else or cause anyone else harm (physical, emotional, or psychological), then you are welcome in any locker room or on any sideline, anytime, anywhere. That, of course, goes for everyone on the team – the rules are the same for all as are the expectations.

I am thankful to my student who had the courage to come out to his class. He gave me a lot to think about all. I just hope that someday it won’t be necessary because it just won’t be an issue. It just won’t matter.

So, if you can learn, you can learn. If you can teach, you can teach. If you can research, you can research. If you can build, you can build. And if you can play, you can play.

Now, get out there and play!

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