Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Post Part

Running, researching, sabbatical-ing, brain shunting, and kid-dragging to the ER. It's been busy since my semester has ended.

After I ran my half Sunday, I thought, I'll need to follow-up on my last blog post. It was going to be titled "Post-Race." As I settled into my week of undergraduate bench research and leaving sabbatical time, I made a mental note that I wanted to write more about the work I did on my sabbatical and what the next phase of research looks like for me. Post-Sabbatical. After witnessing hospital drama that was reminiscent of Grey's Anatomy and Mom getting a shunt put into her head Thursday, I needed some sort of Post-Brain Surgery blog entry. Finishing up the week single parenting that included a trip to the ER, I realize how full it's been this week. And how many reasons I have to be thankful.

I ran about five miles with a girl from Nebraska.
The running community is always so encouraging.
I'm thankful I got to run a week ago in the OKC Memorial Half. It was some of the best weather we've had in a few years, especially for the halfers. It got pretty hot for the full marathoners and relay runners in the last two legs. I was pretty sure by mile 6 or so that it wasn't a PR race, but I was able to finish with a 2:08 so I was satisfied (kinda). As always, the crowds were great and it was awesome to see my friends Jaryn and Tasha several times along the route cheering. Especially because I was tired. I think doing three half marathons in 8 weeks was a neat experience, but it wore me out. I have plans to keep plugging away this summer, trying to get my speed up, and I'll hit another half marathon at the end of the summer. 

Over the past year, I've begun thinking about new ways to try to grow professionally. I've never supervised undergraduate bench research, partly because bench research has always been challenging for me, and it seems so daunting to come up with the original ideas. The other reason is that I've taken the summers off completely until the Oxford program a few summers ago. Last year, with the kids older, but I wasn't spending a month away, I decided to work part-time in the summer trying to get some reading and writing done for my philosophy of science research. Josh and I found a great nanny who is still with us, helping with after-school pick-up now and soon more summer days. Part of the sabbatical magic was that I had the headspace to tackle a bench research project idea. I spent some time at the beginning of my sabbatical reading and writing a proposal for undergraduate summer research. I received institutional funding, hired an undergraduate research assistant (RA), and we started on the project two weeks ago. The project isn't anything too elegant, but I'm hoping it can be developed for one of my classes I teach. We're hoping to extract a certain chemical from sugar beets and sugar cane that is used in self-tanners. I've been pleasantly surprised that I didn't hate writing up the proposal (I actually kinda liked it), and so far, it's been a good experience thinking through ideas with my RA. If someone could have told graduate school Amanda that she'd one day be supervising an undergraduate on a bench research project, she probably would've laughed. Hopefully, my RA and I will have success on the project (aka that the science works).

Books, notes, and chocolate.
What more could a sabbatical desk need?
I just took my auto-reply off my work email. The one that told anybody who emailed me that I was on sabbatical so I would be delayed in responding. I'm sad my sabbatical is coming to a close. It's not quite all over yet, or rather, I’m not ready to completely lose it yet. I'm viewing the summer as a continuation of the sabbatical life, just on a smaller scale, reading and working on the writing projects.

Three kids @ a hospital are crazy.
They're fighting over the "good chair" here.

One kid @ a hospital. Much calmer.
H and I visited Immie before ballet.

I'm thankful for running and the work I love. Especially when other parts of living an adult life are not quite as fun. Mom ended up back in the hospital two weekends ago after she had another cerebral fluid leak (she was about one week post-brain surgery). While Mom has a great medical team, hospital life still isn't perfect. It was hard on Mom not being in her own bed and having to eat hospital food for a week.  Residents and an on-call doctor with a slight God-complex made for some moments that were reminiscent of Grey's Anatomy. I did feel the love from family and friends that week who continually sent texts, called, and visited. But I sure am glad Mom is home now recovering. I know we are all ready for her to be feeling well again. We are praying that the shunt will do its job, and there won't be any more brain surgeries in her future.

Spring brought shelter-cleaning (thanks Josh!)
and weather-watching.

Josh had professional training out of town last week so of course that's when Liam fell carrying a glass jar of marbles. I walked into the living room because C was yelling for me (he was in an intense game of Fortnight and couldn't stop apparently) and H had come to get me out of the toy room. I saw a frozen Liam screaming, broken glass, blood dripping, and marbles rolling around everywhere. I figured we needed to go to the ER when I saw how deep the gash was, and I'm no medical doctor, but it seemed to be bleeding a lot. I loaded everybody up and started driving. Liam was calming down, but saying, "I don't want stitches!" That's when big brother offered his words of wisdom, "If you don't get stitches, it'll get infected, and then they'll have to cut your WHOLE arm off!" As the nurse practitioner was about to start on Liam's stitch, H decided it was a good time to share her surgical skills with the room based upon a superhero doctor game she plays. She acted out in large movements and dramatic voice how to use a scalpel and then sew somebody back up. I told her to be quiet when I saw Liam's face go green as he's preparing for the stitch with no anesthesia (since he only needed one stitch, and would've needed two shots of anesthesia, we didn't go for for the shots). I was glad the accident wasn't worse, and I was especially relieved when the kids were in bed asleep that night.

Post-stitches: tough boy
While I'm sad that my sabbatical semester is over, I'm glad we're done with some of these post-parts of recent life events. And I love this time of the year. Campus seems to be recovering from the semester like all of its employees: quiet and reflective. Summer days are arriving. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Running the Seasons of Life

When I first began this blog post two weeks ago, it was titled something like, "A New Running Season." But then Mom had her second brain surgery in four months, and the running post became a post about a little bit of everything including running.

I think a lot about life in terms of seasons. H turned four last year, and I feel like it's a new season. All three children are now pretty independent, and it's not crazy to think, Hey, let's have a relaxing evening of games and quiet time. And maybe even some picking up the house where everybody pitches in. While I have good memories of snuggling my babies, I'm okay not being in that season anymore. That season of needy little humans that drain you dry. When I look back on that time of my life, there are gaps in my memory. Mainly during L Child's first year (C was 2) which were probably caused by exhaustion - both physically and emotionally.

There are also times in my life that the best thing to do is take a break. Rest and refuel. Say 'no' to requests and take care of myself. I think I got better at this after my miscarriage and the faith struggle that ensued afterwards. A season of grief can force you to step back and be quiet in life.

There are different seasons of friends. While there are the special friends that stay close, even across distances, I think that's a fewer number of all the friends one might have in her life. I've tended to not think in terms of 'losing friends,' but friendships ebb and flow. Sometimes you're close - maybe due to common circumstances like when I was in graduate school. I fondly think about the couple friends Josh and I made that were in the same time of life we were: early years of marriage, graduate studies or first jobs, and no children or just beginning a family.  While we've stayed in contact with our friends and when we see them, we can easily pick up where we've left off, the miles don't allow us to babysit each other's children or hang out on Friday nights. I also think about the past best friends, and while we are more classified 'acquaintances' now, I'm thankful that I had those best friends during a past season of my life. Where would I be without the support and laughter from friends?

There are other types of seasons of life. I've been thinking about the current teacher walkout here in Oklahoma. After a decade of defunding public education, it's the season to stand up and demand adequate education and educator pay for our citizens (of course, I wish we had done it earlier, but it's definitely called for now). There's also the season of caring for parents. I'm thankful that Mom has had two successful brain surgeries and seems to be recovering the second time just as well as the first. Among the gratefulness, there's still extra time needed, stress, and fear, and that's why it's the season of saying 'no' where I can and relying on friends and family to manage.

And now I'm contemplating the season that began this blog post: my running. I look back wistfully on the fast season I had before my full marathon training. I can also remember the first time ever I ran five miles and how much that hurt (and how slow it was), and it's encouraging to see progress over seven years. I feel like my current season of running is slowly recovering from the slow-down (and weight gain) of marathon training. I've gotten to do a lot of races recently, and there's nothing like a race, to access your current fitness level. I was hoping to PR at the San Diego half marathon, but I was five minutes too slow. I discovered that I've got to figure out a way to do better hill training if I don't want non-Oklahoman-flat geography to affect me when I'm running elsewhere. Two weeks later, I paced a half marathon here in OKC for the Go Girl Run. It's a fun route through the downtown neighborhoods, and much smaller than the crazy huge OKC Memorial race. I had a fun time pacing, getting to run slower (I did the 2:30 pace group), and visiting with a new friend (my pace partner). Of course, while slower, the length of time got to my feet and hips. I ended up taking a week off from running, and I'm still showing TLC to my right hip. Pam and I did a 10K right before Mom's surgery, and I was able to run faster than I have in a long time. The speed work and miles I've been putting in this semester are paying off. I'm hoping I can cash in that hard work in a week at the OKC Memorial half. But as Pam says, "OKC is a crapshoot." And as last year taught me, I'll show up to run.  I'm hoping this is the running season of PR.

But whatever the season is in life, I'll run with what I've got.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Engaging with Philosophy of Science

I'm about a month into my sabbatical, and while it seems to be going fast, I'm happy with my progress. Some of my projects are in the field of philosophy of science. I was formally introduced to the field when I began team-teaching an Honors course that explores how science and the Bible interact. Philosophy of science is a discipline that explores what science is, how it works, and what it means in our lives. A large part of the philosophy of science in the course curriculum I was teaching centers on how science works. This not only includes the way scientists think, but also the scientific enterprise as a whole. I was (and still am) intrigued with philosophy of science for a few reasons.

1. It makes me evaluate the way I have been trained to think as a scientist. What confidence do I have in our current scientific models and theories? (I do, by the way, but can I articulate a good reason why I believe that is so?)

2. It makes me take stock of my own teaching. I'm having to figure out how to explain chemistry to non-specialists in the bigger framework of how science works. That lends itself easily to teaching undergraduates and being part of the larger science and religion dialogue within my communities.

3. It gives me language and tools to talk about ideas that science has spurred. Ideas that have foundations in science, but are philosophical in nature.

The research proposal that brought me to Oxford a few years ago is a part of reason 3. I remember the first time I learned about molecular symmetry theory. I was in my fourth undergraduate year nearing graduation. I learned about how chemists classify molecules based on their symmetry and as a result, can explain certain chemical behavior. I was enthralled thinking about the beauty of molecules and how that beauty can describe why molecules behave the way they do. Years later, I found myself teaching a course with a Biblical studies/philosophy professor about science and the Bible, and molecular symmetry came up again. This time though, it was in the realm of philosophy of science. I soon discovered that there is a wealth of philosophy written about aesthetics in science. Along the way, I also realized there are other questions philosophy of science wrestles with; questions that are some of the same ones I've thought or been asked about. Little by little, I'm gaining the knowledge and skills to be able to contribute to this discipline, and figure out the best ways to impact my own teaching of science. A good chunk of my sabbatical will be spent researching and writing papers in philosophy of science. As the semester goes along, I might blog more about those topics. That is one reason my sabbatical is so timely. I have the time to improve my philosophy of science knowledge, and also contemplate ways to implement it into my teaching. I mentioned before about how a sabbatical brings time to think.
It's true.
And I'm loving it.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Winter Running... pretty awful.

And I know I have it good living in the south. Our winters are short and mild compared to many other places. But I'm over winter running.

It's been colder here than usual, dipping way below freezing. There's been no snow or ice so that's helpful, but these temperatures still aren't conducive to running outside. I did a long run Saturday with the running group. Because there are over hundred people, it's usually lively along the route. Lots of conversations and laughing, but not Saturday. It seemed everybody felt like I did. Drudging along in silence. No stopping to drink water. Silently cursing the wind. Constant inner dialogue about why it's important to get the miles in. Realizing around mile four that I still hadn't warmed up. Then again at the end at mile eight. I felt pretty awful all weekend. I was dehydrated and cold and draggy. Some things I learned about that experience:

1. Even though I had on winter gear layers, it wasn't enough. I needed another layer (top and bottom) on when the temperature is single digits.

2. Even though I'm cold and don't want to drink, I need to drink water before, during, and after the run.

3. All that to say, I probably won't run in temperatures (single digits with wind chill) again. It was too hard on my body.

Because winter running is pretty awful, it's good that New Year Resolutions are smack dab in the  middle of winter. My big goal for the year is to get faster. I want to be able to consistently run a sub-two-hour half marathon, but that's going to take weekly mileage goals and regular speed work. My fast friend recommended some speed work on the treadmill since it's so cold and windy outside. Treadmill speed work was surprisingly really helpful. I run faster and do more reps since the treadmill can be set on a speed inside a warmer environment on a flat surface. Last week, I ran twelve 200s with them separated into two groups. I'd sprint a 200 m distance, walk for maybe 20 seconds, then sprint again. After four sets of 200s, I walked for a couple of minutes or so and drank some water. Then repeated another set of 200s with little breaks in between each one. With a warm up run and cool down, it wasn't a bad work out. This week I did ten sets of 150s, sprinting faster than last week. I broke it up in a similar fashion, but I managed to jog on all the short recovery periods. Treadmill speed work can build confidence, too. I didn't know I could run so fast until I saw the speed on the machine. It pushed me more than when I'm running with my Garmin by myself.

Sabbatical running is counterbalancing this awful winter running. My schedule is more flexible so I'm managing to run with people more often during the week. I'm more motivated and faster if I can run with somebody.

Hopefully, there's only a few more weeks of this winter running.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018


When I was in eighth grade, I was at a family Christmas reunion when I first heard the word, sabbatical. My cousins' uncle (do you have family that you're not technically related to?) is a professor, and I heard during the break that he was going to be on sabbatical. I asked somebody what that meant, but that person didn't know. I was too shy to ask Uncle Tom, and it wasn't until graduate school that I learned what a sabbatical was. The concept of a sabbatical still seemed far removed though, and if someone had asked me ten years ago what I would do for my sabbatical, I would have looked at them blankly. So I get it when I've heard similar things the last couple of months when I try to explain what a sabbatical is...

" you're off a semester?"

"...but you still get paid?!"

"So you'll be watching a lot of Netflix."

I heard a colleague describe a sabbatical as the time to focus full-time on one of the three roles I play as a professor. Professors typically have three areas they work: teaching, service, and research. Depending on the type of institution, the percentage of time spent on each area will range. A sabbatical gives release time from the teaching and service so all the work time can be spent on research. My sabbatical proposal included getting some of the papers I've worked on over the last couple years out the door for publication. While yesterday was the official start of my sabbatical, I got started last week. I am excited that one article has been sent off for review, and I'm working on reviewer comments for another paper this week and next. I made a weekly objectives schedule as well as a daily schedule to help me stay on task the next several months.

Sabbatical means rest or a break. And I'm definitely looking forward not only to the writing part of the sabbatical, but the reading and thinking I'll have time to do, too. I'm anticipating that the rest I'll get from teaching and service will be refreshing and get me ready for next fall when I return to the normal gig.

I pulled up my blog today and was surprised to see that the last time I wrote was six months ago. I had thought a few times last semester about writing a blog entry, but it never made it to the top of the list of things to do. Maybe that's a sign that it really is time for a sabbatical. Slow down a bit. Write some. Read a little. And think.

Looking forward to the next several months.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

After the Marathon

Being on the other side of my second full marathon, I've learned a few more things about running. The OKC Memorial Marathon was a rough race for me.

I started crying after I finished. Not because of the glorious full marathon feels, but because I was so unhappy with my time (5:18 compared to my 4:35 in the fall). After I got over it though, I made sure to stop and pose with my medal.

I'm happy because I'm no longer running.
Here are some things I've thought about since April:

1. Training through the winter and spring was not my favorite. 

When I was first thinking about training for a full, running friends advised me to NOT run the OKC marathon for my first full. They told me that training through the winter and spring is difficult. I'm really glad that my first full was in October. Training through summer and fall was much easier.

Icy bridge on the route
Winter run
I did use a different training format this time, and I liked it better. While I still had weekly mileage goals, I ran less days and implemented more cross training. I ran 1-2 times a week, did speed work once a week, and had a long run once a week. I focused on strength training the other days.

Typical stormy Oklahoma skies
2. I had a lot of rough runs this training round. 

Long runs proved to be super challenging for me. Since last summer, with the distance increasing every couple of weeks, I got slower. I missed some long runs this past training season due to sickness in the house (the kids or me). Running highs were rare. I had a foot injury. All of this led to...

3. Rough running season = rough race.

If you run slow during training, you're gonna run slow on race day. If you have to walk parts of long runs, you'll have to walk during the race some. Go figure, right?

I thought the OKC course was more difficult than the Wichita course, too. Besides the lake, the hardest stretch is around miles 20-23 where it's a straight shot on Classen Boulevard. By this point, it was hot and windy at times, and the end, or even a turn, is nowhere in sight. I was glad to get off Classen and into the Historic District. 

4. Spectators and support help.

I already knew that (any runner who has done a race knows this), but it was very apparent to me in OKC. This race has such a good turnout from the community. Years after the tragedy, the city remembers and honors the lives lost, but also celebrates the resilience of the city and accomplishments of the runners. It's a touching thing to be a part of every year in any capacity.

I did pretty well the first half or so. The first half is the most exciting for this marathon. Lots of spectators and the excitement of the crowd carries you to Lake Hefner (about halfway).


I got to see my parents and kids around mile 11. High fives and hugs gave me some energy.

Then I hit that wretched lake. I had been warned, and I've ran that lake, but experiencing it on race day after 14 miles was a different story. It was raining while I was on part of the lake path, and the wind was blowing so hard, it was blowing lake waves to the path. I was deeply impressed with the volunteers along the lake route. They were soaked and still cheered the runners on. I kept telling myself to just clear the lake, and then I'll worry about the next part. As soon as I cleared mile 17, I was walking and hurting. I called Josh. He asked me, "Do you need me to pick you up?" I replied, "Nope. I'm gonna get this done, but I just needed to tell someone how truly awful I feel right now." He had done the full marathon five years prior and remembered the lake. He also knew I had been sick (see #5 below).


What got me through Nichols Hills and back downtown were the spectators cheering me on. The crowds were sparse by this point, but any time I reached some, it helped. I remember these two teenage girls in Nichols Hills cheering me on around mile 19. I must've looked bad because they yelled at me for awhile to keep going.
Then Jaryn and Tasha surprised me around mile 21 and again about a mile later. Tasha ran with me for a bit talking to me. Their encouragement helped distract me from the pain and reassured me that I could finish.

Finally, I knew I had friends and family (close and across the miles) tracking me online and cheering me on. That support carried me to the finish. After the race, I read the texts and emails sent to me while I was running. I was touched at the care and support people offer.

5. Getting sick a week before a race sucks.

I got the flu (or some awful similar virus) and was in bed several days the week before the marathon. I ached a lot more during the race than I ever had before during runs, but I'm glad I decided to run the full.
And while the training was rough, the training DID get me to the finish. I wouldn't have been able to finish the marathon without the training. That's for sure.

6. I need to be in better shape next full marathon training season. 

A little more lean and faster. That'll be my next post - how I'm going to get there.

So while my second marathon was rough, I'll probably do another one some day. I'm pretty sure I'll attempt the OKC full again. I've convinced myself that running through the neighborhoods of my city is fun. And I really want to beat my time.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Signs It's the End of the Semester

1. The copier upped its game and is winning the battle.

2. You've lost the battle in your office.

3. A colleague offers you chocolate telling you, "It looks like you need this" after seeing you drag yourself and two boys to your office for extra grading.

4. Extra shots in the coffee. Enough said.

5. You pray for rain and sports cancellations so you can grade.

6. You silently think more than once a day when there's a student in your office, Please don't cry in my office.

7. Your mom sends you texts like this:

8. Dead Week usually coincides with the house being messy. The culmination is that it's the week that our neighborhood lawn patrol publicly shames anybody that needs to mow their lawn.