Sunday, January 17, 2016

Carving Out Time

I've blogged about how I loved the focused time I had in Oxford: where I had the luxury of being able to concentrate on one thing at a time. One of the challenges this school year is carving out the time for my non-teaching work.

I'm sure all professors can attest to the fact that there's a lot of working that happens outside teaching. I'm not referring to the activities directly related to teaching like class preparation and grading, but to service and scholarly activities. Though my experience is at a small private Christian university, talking to colleagues at other larger public universities, there's a common theme of non-teaching work.

Club Sponsoring at Induction Night in the Fall
I remember being surprised my first semester of teaching with the amount of work it took to build a class. Especially when you're an inexperienced, naive professor. Then I felt overwhelmed the first few years of teaching as I was expected to do more than just teach. Fresh from graduate school, I wanted to 'just teach.' I didn't have the talent or desire to pursue a 'publish or perish' career. I didn't know much about a world of research that didn't fit the model I saw at a Big 12 state university in graduate school. I thought that since I didn't want to be that type of professor, my option was to only teach. Thankfully, I had strong encouragement from my VPAA and dean during this time to work on scholarly projects especially to get rank and tenure. Along the way, I discovered that I liked working on non-teaching writing. Currently, I carry a full teaching load and sometimes might be over an hour or two during some semesters. A few years ago, I started scheduling time for me to do scholarly work into my week. It helped, but as a semester gets busier, it's hard to protect that time from meetings, class preparation, and students.

Casen is a planner like his mama. He had already used all of his video game time one night, but he was concerned about remembering what he wanted to do on Minecraft during his next video game time. So like any good planner he made a list. Except he actually drew his list out.
Coming back from Oxford and preparing for next summer, I have work to do on my project. The project has multiple parts. I have funding to get a science and religion club started on campus. I have an RA through the program that helps with this task (along with a few other students we've recruited).  My RA is also helping me with literature review and working on a paper herself. The biggest part of the project is my writing about aesthetics in science related to molecular symmetry and getting it published. I need to show progress on the project, but there's also the expectation that it continues after this summer. This past fall was a challenge to get much work done on the project. With the Oxford experience, I'm having the opportunities to speak on campus which is time-consuming, but definitely worth the time. Between my other projects this year and teaching pchem, my fall time was limited.

Some of the pchem grading I did last semester.
There's something about a page full of equations that I find beautiful.
I get a course release this spring as part of my Oxford program so that will help free up some time to write. I also have no new classes or any major overhauls (e.g. different textbook) this semester. Those things will help, but like last semester, I will end up working more hours in order to meet deadlines and make some headway on my project. Working nights (many times after they're in bed) or part of the weekend is getting to be part of the routine. I've gotten some practice holding kids in one arm while I'm typing out a response to an email.


One thing I discovered from my time in Oxford was that I really enjoy this new challenge. I'm a better professor, too. I don't feel burned out like I was beginning to feel last year. As the new year begins, I'm mindful of trying to balance between work and the rest of my life.

L Child played DJ with Spotify while I worked.


Monday, November 30, 2015

This Girl




This girl brings me so much joy. Part of it is her age. 
Though two can be challenging, it's also a wonder to watch her discover the world.




Part of it is simply her. Immersed in the world of little boys for over five years before she arrived, maybe that's why I notice the gender differences. While she can wrestle and holler with the boys, she also has this girly attitude that fascinates me. 


It's more than just stereotypical female characteristics. All three of my kids possess qualities that can be generally assigned to the opposite gender. 


Maybe it's because I'm aware of the challenges that this little girl is going to face because she's a female. It's been on my mind quite a bit this semester due to conversations I've had with female students and peers.


I was recently reminded of an article I read that recommended reminding our little girls that they are pretty when they are active - not just when they are dressed up. I had just put a dress on H. She looked down at herself and exclaimed, "I'm pretty." 

I said, "Yep. You sure are. You're also pretty when you run. Really fast."

She smiled as we talked about other moments when she's pretty.

She can now tell you when she's pretty: when she runs (she pumps her arms in place), when she laughs (including big laughs), and even when she's sad.

Maybe in a decade she'll remember this conversation when there's pressure to look a certain way.
Maybe it'll help us have more conversations about being female in this world.

I'm looking forward to conversations with this girl as she is navigating the world.

And maybe just maybe I'll get another runner out of the bunch.



Friday, November 27, 2015

Running Update 2:03:10

I ran my fifth half marathon this past Sunday in Tulsa. It was a good experience all around: the race itself and a road trip weekend with a friend. Stephanie and I drove up Saturday afternoon in time to go by the expo to pick up our race packets and jackets.


Here are the memorable things about the pre-race:

1. We stayed at a hotel that was part of the Route 66 Race so we would have a shuttle to the race. This was definitely worth the discounted price. After we checked in, we ate at the pasta buffet at the restaurant. It was a good idea: we didn't have to drive anywhere AND it was yummy!

2. Then we just hung out in our room watching SNL clips until it was an acceptable hour to go to bed. I don't think either of us slept great; I think we had pre-race jitters.

3. The hotel provided a box breakfast for all runners. It had a variety of food so we both got to eat something that worked for each of us.

4. I realized how cold it was on the shuttle. As I waited for the race to begin, my hands and feet went numb. A woman at the start line told me this year was much colder than the prior year. A man gave me one of those warming packets you hold in your hands. I used it the first few miles alternating it in my hands warming them up. Then I stuck it in my pocket. Good thing. At the finish, it was still warm and helped to warm my hands up again while I waited for Stephanie. 


During the Race...

1. It took about 3 miles until I could feel my feet again. This was the coldest temperature I had ran a considerable distance. At the end of the race, I was coughing a bit from the cold air, but it wasn't too bad. 

2. I realized about a kilometer in that my watch was set on kilometers. I had done a speed work out on my last run and forgot to change it back to miles. This actually might have been helpful for me. I paid attention enough to know I wasn't going too fast at the beginning watching my kilometer times. I would see mile markers and check my overall time, but I wasn't obsessed too much about the time. Mainly because I couldn't convert km pace times to mile pace times effectively in my head while I'm running a half marathon!

3. Around mile 6 I was feeling good. I could tell my training was paying off. I was handling the hills just fine. Six months ago, those hills would have really slowed me down. 

4. I had this ankle-calf cramp off and on the entire race. I think it was from the cold. At mile 10, I was tired. And so cold. And hurting. Not as bad as I was during my last half marathon, but still ready to be done. This was the point of the race that I start to have these thoughts:

What the crap was I thinking when I thought running hills in the cold was a good idea?

Why in the world did I think I'll ever want to run a full marathon? There's no way.

I think I'm slowing down too much. There's no way I'm going to make my two-hour goal.

I have discovered that part of running is the head game you have to play with yourself. I started reassuring myself that it was almost over and that I had this. Towards the end of the race, other runners are even more encouraging. I had a nice female runner yell out encouraging words as I passed her on the road. I was actually surprised when I crossed the finish line and saw my time.


 Though I was hoping for a two-hour time or less, I was happy with my PR. It was a rough course that morning: rolling hills and cold temperatures. I could tell my training had paid off. 

Recently, my fast friend Pam told me, "I run because it isn't easy. It's about getting out there and doing what you can with what you got."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I Love My TA

So I'm pretty sure I have the best TA. I've managed to hang on to her for the last couple of semesters. She's great with students and gets her work done quite efficiently. She even wrote a lab for my engineers about making ice cream and colligative properties. Her enthusiasm for chemistry is contagious.

But she set the bar higher last week when she wrote this on the board in lab:


That's right, folks. My TA made a new lab rule: No YOLO in the lab. You don't get to take risks in chemistry lab. (The other rules written on the board are basic lab rules especially when you're doing a titration and reading a buret.)

And thanks to our lab coordinator (who has a teenage daughter) and my TA, I learn a new word each week that I have to look up on Urban Dictionary. Today was "fleek" as in, "Your eyebrows are on fleek.

And yes, we are super cool over in the chemistry labs.








Monday, November 16, 2015

My Running Journey Continues

I've been writing about my running journey over the last year and half (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). I had done two half marathon races the few months before I left for Oxford; the second one was pretty rough. I was needing some consistent good running.

One of the things I loved about my time in Oxford was that I got to run almost daily. It was cool weather for running compared to Oklahoma July heat. There were other people in my group that ran, too. I usually ran with Myron and sometimes Patty or April joined us. It was helpful to have someone to run with most days: more accountability to get my butt out of bed early before breakfast and classes. My college was near the University Parks which had running paths, but I also ran through town or on a country path along the River Thames. The University Parks weren't always open that early so we would jump a wall to get into the park. Looking back, that probably wasn't the smartest. It would have been awful if I had twisted my ankle or something jumping down. I preferred running on the country trail. I always saw lots of rabbits hopping about the trail. I got to see crew teams practicing on the river. I had heard about how it's common for English people to take a quick swim. It's true: I saw some English runners stop and take a dip in the river (clothes and all).

The first couple weeks I averaged about 3-4 miles a day, probably getting over 20 miles a week. By the third week, we started upping the mileage and went on some longer runs. Myron and I got lost on our last long run (we are both directionally challenged), and our 9-mile run turned into about a 12-mile run: almost a half marathon. A group of us are hoping to do a half marathon next July when we are back in Oxford.

I came back from Oxford stronger and faster. Running consistently had paid off. Not only did I lose weight in July, but my diet was better too. I came back home with a better attitude about food; I had learned some things. I'm hypoglycemic, and have lived much of my life in fear of my sugar dropping. It's awful when my sugar levels drop so I tend to overeat at night, hoping to curve a sugar drop before bed. My room in Oxford didn't have a refrigerator so I only had a few snacks in my room. I learned that if I ate a good, healthy dinner, I was totally okay without having a snack before bed. Even if I was a little hungry, my sugar levels wouldn't drop. I learned to tell the difference when I really needed to eat and when I just wanted to eat. I ate a banana each morning before my run and did just fine. I didn't have a hypoglycemic attack the whole month of July and knew that I needed to continue that at home. I cook more often since being home to ensure I'm eating better. I'm mostly able to avoid needlessly snacking. I've lost more weight (I'm almost down to pre-Casen size!), but most importantly, I have the energy to run and haven't had any sugar problems. When people ask me how I've lost weight, it's just the boring answer: watch what I eat and exercise.

I started cross-training in August regularly. I ride the bike once or twice a week to give my knees and feet a break from high impact. I also started lifting, mainly because I enjoy it. I made a work out schedule to not only have set times I can work out (five times a week), but I also have specific work outs. Each week includes speed work, hills work out, and a long run. I usually have one day that I just run 4-5 miles at a decent pace but nothing fancy.

The consistency and hard work are paying off. I get a PR every few weeks.

My big accomplishment will be when I run a 7-minute mile.

I'm hoping to break 25 minutes for a 5K soon.

I can run faster longer now.
 I'm working to reach my time goal next weekend for the Tulsa half marathon (close to two hours). Every time I tell someone I'm running the half in Tulsa, I hear one of two things:
"That's a really hilly course."
and
"That'll be a cold one; it's always is."

So here's to hoping that I have good news to report in a week regardless of hills and cold!


Monday, November 09, 2015

Reading and Sleeping

The boys have this reading contest at school so they've been extra motivated to read extra. L Child read me "Are You My Mother?" Saturday and Sunday (it's a long one for a five-year-old learning to read so we split it up to two days).


C wanted to get 15 more minutes in so he read on the hard floor. This would kill my knees:


And H? We read at night time usually. I have no pictures, but she was extra cute 
during her nap yesterday so she's in the post too. 
Surprise, surprise.

Yes, that's Elsa and Anna next to her.
She's holding onto the doll that Gram got her at her first Christmas.



Saturday, November 07, 2015

Focus

Shortly after I returned from Oxford, I went on a morning run with Pam. We talked a lot about how studying abroad changes you. It was helpful to process and listen to Pam's own college experience when she studied in Europe one semester. I think the topic came up about what I loved most about my time in Oxford (I was asked that a lot upon my return home). While it's a long list, and I think my answers vary depending on the day, one of my answers is how I could focus on one thing at a time while I was there.

The program itself had clear objectives including equipping professors for S&R research and training them for interdisciplinary work. This objective was played out by the weekly structure.

Three days a week, we had lectures, Q&As, book discussions, and workshops broken up with coffee breaks and meals. Though I was mentally exhausted by the end of the day, there was something invigorating listening to topics and ideas that I'm mostly passionate about ("mostly" because 1) some days I was pretty tired, especially the first week when I had jet lag, or was sick during the third week, and 2) some topics did not catch my interest or was way over my head). Every once in awhile, I'd realize I was in the presence of a great scholar in science & religion. Such a treat.

I had coffee and a pastry probably twice a day during our lecture days.  I tell  friends that England was a magical place. I could eat pastries and never gain weight (thankyouwalkingeverywhereandrunning).
The other two weekdays were study days. I worked on my paper for my tutor or had a mentoring session (or two). These days were more relaxed which met that I usually enjoyed a walk to the library or the SCIO building and might get sidetracked by a museum or a church. I also usually grabbed a baguette sandwich and ate lunch walking somewhere. Lots of quiet reflection and silence which for this introvert was much appreciated after the very social lecture days.

Reading in the Bodelein. Without gum chewing. The librarian at the entrance made me spit out my gum. Across from the library "because there are no receptacles here...because you aren't supposed to have food or drink!"
Evenings and weekends were busy with discussing ideas and life with friends and scholars at a local pub, sight-seeing, and a couple evening lectures that were not part of my program.

Got to walk through the countryside to find this jewel. Pretty view. Good food. Great conversation. 
Whatever day it was, I could just focus on one thing at a time. Learn about the history of science? Done. Research in the library about aesthetics? Done. Listen to a Nobel Prize laureate discuss humanities and science? Done. Share my project and get feedback? Done. I didn't have to grade or answer my daily hundred emails from students and colleagues. I wasn't multi-tasking between preparing a lecture and finding childcare.

When I told Pam the gist of all this, I remember her telling me that it makes sense I loved my time in Oxford. I was the type of person that liked to focus in on one task at a time and get it done. Then move on to the next thing. It's true. One of my struggles in graduate school was having to take care of multiple big projects at the same time: research for my dissertation, writing my proposal, and teaching. I just wanted to focus on one thing at a time.

So the focus in Oxford was part of my experience. Having a month to just focus on my work (and myself) was pretty awesome. I highly recommend it if you ever get the opportunity.