What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I had lunch with a friend a couple of weeks ago who asked what I’ve been doing with my time since I haven’t been working.

A fat lot of nothing. 

Riiiiiiight. (You didn’t really believe that did you? Not even for a second.)

What I’ve been doing with my summer vacation. Which basically started with Memorial Day weekend…

Went to ATL for the 2013 new baby tour. It was a road-trip that started at 9:00 PM on a Friday with decaffeinated me behind the wheel. It was touch and go until Suit and Tie came on the radio–and then it was a three hour dance party in the driver’s seat from Gaffney, SC to Suwanee, GA. We rolled in at 2:30 AM. Hey. Whatever works. (Also, WHY ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE ON THE ROAD, TOO?) But those babies are super sweet. And their parents are managing well–all things considered.

Worked on putting documents together and obtaining a passport for my Ukrainian born child to deal with citizenship stuff and learned that bureaucracy is bureaucracy regardless of the nation’s government. When Boy #1 says “This is like being in Ukraine” as you run all over the county in which you live to obtain the right forms and this one government agency only works 8:00-3:00 and you show up at 4:30 and realize you’ll have to make the trek back downtown the next day, you realize that (a) perhaps you picked the wrong line of work (I mean with hours like 8-3, come on) and (b) this mess really is crazy

Took a random, spontaneous trip to the beach with my best friend and her family while the hubs drove my new car home from Ohio and in and around Raleigh until I got home two days later. He hasn’t sat behind that steering wheel much since.

Hubs and I took the East Bloc Boys (our collective reference to the teenage boys living under our roof) to DC to deal with the Ukrainian’s citizenship and–when we realized that wasn’t going to happen without a US passport–proceeded to spend a few days playing in DC instead. Museums, metro stops, and food trucks, oh my!

Attended the graduation of my Hungarian born child (Boy #2 who moved in in April) and sent him off to his first day at a new job

Received the report card for Boy #1 and was more than a little frustrated with the results

Learned that Boy #1 was going to be fired–primarily due to complications with some faulty brain wiring that is beyond his control but increasingly becoming a hindrance–and started planning for the possibility of meds and more testing to see if there’s something more or better that we can do. Also became a little afraid of his options for the future. Meanwhile, he didn’t seem to be too concerned about anything in his world. And then frustration set in.

Interviewed for a job. Was offered the job. Didn’t know at that point where exactly the job would be. But I’ll have a job.

Left the kids at home while hubs and I went to the beach for a few days. Alone. With no agenda. Glorious.

Opened our home for weekly game nights with the youth. Their means of world domination via board game was pretty entertaining. Also, the secret is out about the awesomeness of my cookie dough dip.

I got more creative in the kitchen, making up recipes as I went–often inspired by road-trip snacks and/or food truck experiences. And those culinary experiments generally were successful.

Temporarily found some really good body confidence–long enough to sport a bikini on the beach. For the first time. Ever.

Helped a friend pack up his office to move to a new job after 13 years.

Celebrated a friend’s 30th birthday and another friend’s family adopting a child they’ve tried to bring home for far too long

Opened my home and my dinner table to countless people (we finally had to break out the leaves for the dining room table and USE ALL THE CHAIRS)

Had lunch and/or coffee with people–for more than 15 minutes. Those conversations often stretched over two hours.

Brought a third teenager home to live with us–this time a girl.

Realized once again that my life is a circus and I’m the ringmaster. Until the inmates run the asylum. And then I just leave.

Had beautiful conversations with family and friends

Was truly honored to be invited into some of the most important moments and conversations in others’ lives

Got a job assignment that was totally unexpected but has made me incredibly excited the more I sit with it.

Got thoroughly pissed off with the state government and was ready to junk punch some politicians–or a wall. Supported Moral Monday from afar–lest my anger push me to do something stupid before this job thing really came through.

Started scheming ways to take over the world–in a good way.

Realized that this whole youth ministry thing I started on the summer before college has come full circle. I learned along the way that there are many ways to do youth ministry–and often outside of church. I also made the statement at one point that once I became a youth minister, I’d have a psychologist in my back pocket as a resource. Then I became that psychologist.

Pulled together a stack of books classified as thematic professional reading that I’m slowly making my way through

Seriously considered getting the “Mom’s Taxi” for my car because it’s true. Especially the week of youth camp when I’m the only licensed driver in the house and have two teens to care for.

Tried to let it sink in that I have finished school and have a PhD. Definitely became increasingly thankful for the training, experiences, and opportunities I have had along the way.

Stalked one of my favorite people from a parking lot into a bookstore to make sure it really was her–and then had an hour and a half long conversation standing around another store in the same shopping area.

Became a stand-in on-call fake doula for a baby who was born about two weeks later (and the daddy was home for the whole thing…which meant I could celebrate with the announcement text). 

Consulted on emerging adult male/female relationships

Provided unofficial parenting consultation

Fell madly in love with US Marshall Raylan Givens as I became addicted to the show Justified.

Worked out in the sweatbox that is my garage–sometimes twice a day. Just because I could.

Met neighbors I hadn’t met before because I started walking the dog more after a redistribution of household responsibilities

Seriously considered a new blog about DIY furniture and house projects–to be called pigtails and power tools. This after having to supply my dad with a drill or two after the battery in his cordless died as he was trying to put together a new bed. (Note: one of those drills was the same electric drill he handed down to me years ago when I moved out; also, that old faithful Black and Decker has helped us finish projects the battery packs on the cordless just couldn’t. Moral of the story: well, I think you know.)

Filled up a social calendar like never before

Received beautiful and powerful words of affirmation and hugs from people who’ve watched me grow as a person and professional over the past X number of years

Went back to yoga (kinda) and ate more fresh veggies. (Olives dipped in hummus, y’all)

Loved bigger because hubs does.

Realized that children stuck in rough family situations are my kryptonite

Struggled against having so many people in the house and this basically became my mantra about half the time. 

Saw some movies. In the theater. Even when I kinda didn’t want to. (Side note: Pacific Rim = Godzilla + Iron Man(steroids) + Independence Day speech + Armageddon)

Worked on my licensure application and found that I still had some brain matter that could ooze out of my ears. It’s just about finished though. The application, that is.

Survived monsoon season in NC this year–WITHOUT an Ark of my own

Drank the Candy Crush Kool-Aid (Note to Kool-Aid: new flavor idea!)

Finally was invited to new employee orientation and can for really real get this job thing going.

Ran outside. On some big hills. Early in the morning. And usually thought I was swimming instead. #NChumidsummers

Doled out resources in the form of book titles, notes from books I’d read, links to really great articles, and just putting some thoughts on paper

Read a few really good novels.

Squeezed some babies

Baked. A lot. And apparently even my cookies are therapeutic.

Survived #singleparentweek2013 while Al and Ryan were at camp.

Celebrated some more birthdays. Ran with my girls. Enjoyed some group therapy on a screened in porch. Celebrated new jobs with my people.

Scheduled at least half a dozen meetings/appointments to take me through my last full week of no paid work. What vacation?

And then I went to that orientation, got my shiny new ID badge, signed a bunch of forms and forked over a voided check. This job thing is official. I start Thursday.

 

The Cat in the Hat Comes Back

Today is Dr. Seuss’ birthday. The first Friday in March is Read Across America day–a way to celebrate Dr. Seuss and reading. There usually are a variety of reading-related or Seussical events around this time of March. 

And so…

So…

     So…

          So…

I dressed up as The Cat in the Hat and read to all of the kindergarten and first grade students at school yesterday. I floated the idea past the first grade teachers a few weeks ago and the kindergarten teachers on Wednesday, and they were all about it. It wasn’t until about Wednesday this week that anyone even bothered to ask why I possessed a Cat in the Hat costume.

My mom was a reading specialist. Not only was she incredibly gifted at teaching children to read, she made them fall in love with it. And she would dress up as book characters from times to time and read to her students. Her longest standing character was Ms. Wishy Washy. I have no idea when she acquired the Cat in the Hat costume. I do know that after her death, I just couldn’t part with it. I wore it for Halloween a time or two. Mostly, though, that costume has stayed in the bag in a closet wherever I’ve lived since Mom’s death. 

By about October, when I realized I’d fallen in love with the elementary school at which I work currently, I decided the costume needed to come out again. I waited until a few weeks ago and offered to wear it while reading to the students–just like Mom used to do and likely would have done again this year. As this week progressed, I wasn’t sure how it would go or how I would feel. I did go on a search for the pictures of Mom dressed as the Cat–and Ms. Wishy Washy–and finally found them at Dad’s house. In the process, I came across some of the cards handmade by some of the students at Mom’s school when she died. They were still beautiful and still heart wrenching. By the time Friday rolled around, I was at once nervous and excited to read to all of these little friends. I donned the costume early in the day as I was scheduled to read to first grade as soon as announcements were finished and all of the students gathered into one classroom. They were so excited and seemed to enjoy hearing The Cat in the Hat read by…well…The Cat in the Hat.

I changed between reading to first grade and reading to kindergarten…mostly because I had legitimate work to do in between. Also, I had a different Seussical outfit to wear. There is also an administrative intern at my school and we’ve become self-proclaimed Team Intern. After some shenanigans with the Assistant Principal on Thursday, we dubbed ourselves Intern 1 and Intern 2 and made t-shirts for ourselves for Friday. I swear, the kiddos were just as excited about that. We had some serious celebrity status on Friday. 

At the end of the day, the principal thanked me for doing all of that. I told him it was my pleasure. And I meant it. That experience did more for me–I think–than it did for anyone else. Because it put me in touch with Mom in a very different way than I’d experienced previously–and in a way that would have surely made her smile. 

 

I’m headed into spring time–and one of those 6 week stretches in the year that can be very difficult. But Dostoevsky once said, “The soul is healed by being with children.”

And so it is. 

Finding the “Break” in Spring Break

For your average grad student (and many undergrads), Spring Break is a misnomer in every sense of the word–assuming you live in, to the north, or the west of North Carolina. It is most assuredly NOT spring right now (it’s 40 degrees outside). And most of us grad students have yet to find the break because the to-do list doesn’t stop during this week. In fact, we stand a chance of at least crossing some things off the list this week, thanks to not having to show up to the many places we ordinarily do.

I spent the first half of the break in the office, along with a friend, both of us working on our respective dissertations. I am pleased to announce that by Wednesday afternoon, my friend submitted her final draft to her committee for her defense. By Tuesday afternoon, I sent an outline to my advisor. By Wednesday afternoon, after working on prep for my oral prelim in now less than two weeks, I was fried. (When you have to ask “The predictor variable is the independent variable, right?”…you need a break.)

We both left the office mid-afternoon on Wednesday. I came home and decided to try to clear my head by breaking in my new meditation cushions. I learned it’s a helluva lot easier to meditate when your brain is smoldering–it doesn’t want to think about anything anyway. Fifteen minutes later, I was in a better state. You see, not only was my brain fried from the past…25 weeks?…of work, but my anxiety was jacked by my upcoming oral. I reached a point where I felt like I knew NOTHING. At all. Whatsoever. Not good when you will have to account for any and every thing you’ve learned in 3.5 years in 2 hours’ time. The meditation helped bring down my anxiety level. So did the realization that I HAD to take a break this week. I HAD to step away from the schoolwork. Or I was going to implode.

Spring break is great for getting work done. No question. But when you’ve been working under the gun for as long as most of us have, you gotta stop for a minute. By Thursday, I stopped. I did zero work. And meditated. And brought the anxiety back down. This morning, I got a massage (so now my neck moves in all directions again). This afternoon, I started looking over prelim stuff again. And I was fresher and more ready to integrate and prepare for the firing squad.

A funny thing, that spring break. By the time it gets here we so desperately need it. Yet so often, we keep pushing through. And that’s only good if you can truly be productive. But for me and my people from school, we aren’t productive at this point. We’re just tired. And we really really should take the advice we so often dole out and rest. Even if it’s just for a day.

Running is Cheaper Than Therapy

I started running–really, seriously running–the same time I started this PhD thing. Well…really it started that summer when I incorporated more running into my workouts. It escalated when I was sitting on a balcony in Mexico with Robin and a copy of the Endurance Magazine. She looked up from the article about the City of Oaks marathon and said, “We could totally do that.”

It was August. The race was the beginning of November. I was about to start a PhD program. T minus three months to race day.

Sure. Why not?

A few weeks later, I discovered why not. There was no way in hell I was going to be able to train for a marathon that semester. I was barely doing long runs on the weekend. In fact, I did one 8-miler…on a treadmill. (Have I mentioned that it’s blazing hot around here until Thanksgiving?) I was putting up 12-14 miles during the week (also on a treadmill). But we opted to switch our registration to the half-marathon.

***It should be noted right here that my husband opted to keep the marathon registration and get ready for it anyway–since it was a mere two weeks before his 30th birthday.

Anywhoooo. I ran most of that half-marathon and was hooked. So I set a goal for another one. It happened in March of 2009 in VA Beach. While sitting in the hot tub after that one, Robin again looked up and said, “I’m doing the Disney marathon next January.” She even spit out the date. “Who’s in?” This time, she meant business. And the people in the hot tub with us were not ready to be outdone. It was kind of an all or nothing thing at that point because we all wanted to do it together. And Robin was in. And so were the rest of us.

If you’ve read this blog for any time at all now, you’ll know that I like racing. And I LOVE a good half-marathon. Especially when there’s good beer at the finish line. (Good swag helps, too.) As I keep rolling through this PhD program, I can’t help but draw some parallels.

Getting a PhD is a (perhaps THE) test of perseverance. It’s an endurance contest…a marathon…at times a Warrior Dash. In both arenas, you have to train…hard…and then trust your training on race day…or proposal or defense or prelim day.

For me, one doesn’t necessarily inform the other…it’s the running that gets me through school. It’s the running that helps me process the events of this semester–just as it has in semesters past. It’s, in part, the long runs on the weekend that are keeping me sane as I keep hitting bumps in the academic road. It’s the running that helps me stay healthy and sane most days of the week (and when not running, it’s yoga).

Running is cheaper and more accessible (i.e., can be done at 6:00 AM) than therapy.

Because let’s face it. This getting a PhD thing is bananas.

You, too, can survive prelims

Last night, I finished the written part of my prelim exam. Basically, the prelim or comp or qualifying exam is the ultimate pass/fail test. You work your tail off for two weeks writing non-stop. Then a couple weeks later, you sit before your committee as they fire questions at you–partly about what you wrote, partly about anything else they deem important. If you pass, you get to continue to jump hurdles. If you fail, you either have to re-do part of it, or they thank you for your time and wish you a nice life.

But fear not, dear reader. It can be done. Well, the written work can be done. Of course, I have no idea how I’ve done on my responses–and it’s hard to judge when you’ve proofed your work with very little brain matter left. But, hey. It’s over. And for your entertainment (and for some of you, encouragement), I thought I’d give you a little recap to my two weeks of writing.

 

Question 1:
Arrived at noon on Sunday; couldn’t open until the clock started at 9 AM on Monday
Time allotted to answer: 16 hours
Actual time used: 12-ish hours
Butt status: holding steady
# of pages written: 17?
Brain matter: still fully in tact
Time to compose email and attach document: 3 minutes
Time between composing email and pushing Send: 5 minutes

This question came from my scariest committee member, so I had no idea what to expect. It actually wasn’t that bad and served as a good warm-up for getting into the process. I even managed to squeeze in yoga that evening. My butt thanked me for that.

Question 2:
Arrived at noon on Monday; made the mistake of reading it then. Committee member had lapsed into Chinese. Closed the email and kept hammering away at question 1. Talked with committee member 2 on Tuesday morning.
Time allotted to answer: Him: I really don’t care how long you take. Me: Good. Because I think I need about five days to wrap my brain around this question and to formulate a response. Him: I don’t care if you take two weeks.
Actual time used: 15-ish hours spread over four days
Butt status: fair but starting to protest. a lot.
# of pages written: somewhere around 12. He wanted it short and sweet. I was happy to oblige.
Brain matter: foggy but usable
Time to compose email and attach document: 3 minutes
Time between composing email and pushing Send: 3 minutes

Meta-analysis. I knew we’d have to make friends eventually. I actually really appreciated this question since it was work I was going to have to do at some point regardless. I at least have a sense of how to analyze my data (once I have it all) for my dissertation. And, of course, I was haunted for part of the week by that damn Q statistic.

I should stop here and let you know that I realized I would need to reward myself handsomely for finishing this…experience. So I ordered a new yoga mat (one of those THICK sturdy ones for that hard floor in the studio) and a yoga towel. I even sprung for shipment so it was guaranteed to arrive by the end of the week.

Question 3:
Arrived at noon on Monday.
Time allotted to answer: between arrival and 9PM Wednesday night.
Actual time used: hard to say…it got a little hairy those few days
Butt status: me thinks thou doth protest too much…but I’ll let it slide under the circumstances
# of pages written: 21?
Brain matter: I felt it dripping on my shoulder by Wednesday night.
Time to compose email and attach document: 1.5 minutes
Time between composing email and pushing Send: 1 minute

I appreciated this question, too, since it pertained to my dissertation and I can extract the purpose and rationale sections from it. I think. But I was feeling the crunch of time more so than on any other question. Monday, I was in the counseling center with time blocked to work on it a little. Then the front desk asked if I would take a client for another counselor who was in the midst of an involuntary commitment. Then I had two more scheduled clients. Then Tuesday, I had a doctor’s appointment and then class and then actual work in the advising office which was a little nutty. So it was really 3:00 by the time I felt like I got to start something. I worked until 10:30 that night, missing the SOTU so I could do my references section (my apologies, Mr. President). Wednesday, I opted out of work and stayed home that morning. I needed the mental break and had to go to seminar for the counseling center anyway, so I trekked over to class for that. On the way home, I received a phone call to help with the process for dealing with someone who was suicidal. I connected the appropriate people but remained tangentially connected for the next couple of hours. Thankfully, I was nearly done by that point. Actually, I finished writing, proofed (HA!) what I had, and sent it on in time to get some dinner with my family. It was about 7:00.

Those boxes with my mat and towel arrived Tuesday. They sat in my office and stared at me until…
Question 4:
Arrived at 7:30 AM Thursday. Opened the question at 9AM.
Time allotted to answer: 16 hours
Actual time used: 11.5 hours
Butt status: I. can’t. take it. ANYMORE.
# of pages written: 14
Brain matter: What brain matter?
Time to compose email and attach document: 30 seconds
Time between composing email and pushing Send: .001 second

This question was also not bad and was similar in nature to the first one. I sent it off at 8:22 last night and got an email this morning that said, “You realize you sent this a day early, right?” I’m sorry. When you tell me I have 16 hours, I assume that means I have 16 hours. So I’m done. I don’t WANT to look at it anymore. And I’m not going to. Because I have no brain left. And I have clients to see today. That oughtta be interesting.

At some point, maybe this evening while I’m home alone, I’ll clear the rubble in my office. Because I have a dissertation to work on. Specifically, a prospectus that should be in my committee members’ respective in-boxes by Tuesday. Otherwise, I can’t reward myself with my Clinique order.

Moral of the story…You, too, can survive prelims.

PS HELLO, yoga mat and towel. I can’t. wait. to use you this weekend.

Eating Your Young

Every so often I get email updates from my son’s teachers. About half of them make me happy. The other half force me to draw on every principle I’ve learned from yoga, Love and Logic, and Jesus (in no particular order) so I don’t eat my child. Today’s emails, yes plural, were the latter.

Apparently my child has neglected his math homework on nights that coincide with wrestling matches. For two weeks running. And cited wrestling as the reason. In spite of his plan to use class time allocated in his ESL class to get his work done.

Apparently my child was in a rotten mood this morning…for the entire time he was at AHS. And let other people know about it.

Mama Bear was the one to pick him up from wrestling practice.

“How was school?”

“It was good!”

“Really?”

“It was OK. (no pause) I have math homework and my English project. I want to do my project tonight and my math homework tomorrow during English” (please refer to the above in which this plan is great…until it doesn’t actually happen).

“No. You can do your math homework tonight and work on your project tomorrow, since you’ll be in English for both periods because of exams. And because you’ve made plans to do your math homework during that time and have yet to do it.”

Proceed with conversation about not getting homework done because of sports and how sports are secondary and how, the evening of the next weeknight match, the homework better be done by time to leave or you’re not going.

Follow that up with “what put you in a bad mood today?”

Eventually, it came down to being mad at oneself over a test and taking it out on others. And then a conversation about how sometimes he’s just not happy in the morning.

“You don’t have to be happy about it, you just can’t be a jackass.”

That kinda got his attention. He doesn’t hear me say things such as that very often.

And it’s probably the parenting line of the night.

As of right now, said child is retrieving his goods from a neighbor’s house (not even sure why they’re there) and doing tonight’s math homework…as well as last night’s homework.

***Also, he was wrongly accused of blowing through his dad’s soda stash…but you know, when you can’t be trusted to be truthful all the time, and your mom doesn’t drink that mess, you can’t help but be the first named culprit. Turns out, it’s probably the neighbor.

Ah, the joys of raising boys.

Initiate Radio Silence

We are two days into the start of the fall 2010 semester.

Holy hell.

You would think at this point in my program that I would have it a little easier. And the reality is that I could have, but I needed some “professional development” that is not otherwise offered through what is required. So. Here’s what I’ll be doing this fall….

-Taking my last required class for my PhD (holler)

-Surviving my last required class for my PhD (because I will seriously have to know: This study published by these people looked at this. In what year was it published?)

-Forming my dissertation committee

-Taking prelims (basically a month long test to see how well I can write under pressure and then talk about what I wrote)

-Proposing my dissertation

-Working in the advising office

-Doing a practicum in the University Counseling Center (professional development and really (hopefully) good experience)

-Figuring out how to transport my child from home to Apex High to the Hill Center in Durham (12:00-3:00) and home again. It takes a village, people. Seriously.

-Trying to maintain my sanity and a workout routine

-Doing one more race this year (a nice, flat 10K)…although my dear friend Robin is trying to talk me into a half marathon in Novermber…

-Trying to still be a good wife, mother, daughter…and hopefully friend

-Celebrating my 5th anniversary (helloooooo Bob Timberlake Inn)

-State Fair, VA Beach for one race, the beach at Labor Day, probably heading south for Thanksgiving with a ton of people

And those are just the things off the top of my head.

So, dear readers, though I have other things about which I need and want to blog, if the blog is awfully quiet for a few months, you’ll know why.

And if you see my dead carcass lying around…well…just step over me and keep on going. At least I’ll be asleep.