June 29, 2014

Life Lately: Summer Edition

Hi friends!  Can I just say how much I love summer?  Love it so much.  I haven't been blogging much these days because I haven't felt like I have too much to say, but I thought I'd share a little bit about how I've been spending my days...First, there have been lots of naps.  So. many. naps.  Saturday I took a three hour nap in my sweaty running clothes (ew, I know, I'm disgusting) after almost falling asleep at the wheel on my way home from a training run.  The run was only six miles too--god help me when we get up in higher mileage!  There may not be enough hours in the day for all of my napping!
Speaking of training, that's the one non-lazy thing I've been doing with my time!  I am in week 4 of training for the Milwaukee Marathon.  Now that triathlon season is over (for me), it's nice to have just one big goal to focus on.  I'm following Hal Higdon's Novice plan again this year and training with CARA (Chicago Area Runner's Association).  I love my CARA group--I made such great friends in it last year that I couldn't wait to be back to regular Saturday morning runs with them again this summer!  That being said, I'm still adjusting to the early Saturday wake up calls.  In fact, starting THIS WEEK I am instituting a no going out and absolutely no booze on Fridays rule.  Just in time for the Fourth of July...oh well.  No one said training for a marathon was fun and easy, right?
Taken before last year's 20 miler--love these ladies!

I have managed to squeeze in some fun outside of training.  Of course I've been spending a lot of time reading on my balcony...

Obv had to reread before the movie...during which I think I became dehydrated from excessive sobbing...
And laying around here...

And watching way too much Food Network and ABC Family.  Oh ABC Family, you and your trashy/addicting shows!  Ahem Switched at Birth and Pretty Little Liars...

I saw two great plays in the last few weeks--The Last Five Years and Avenue Q.  Last Five Years was beautifully heartbreaking, and Avenue Q was nonstop laughs.  Both wonderful and highly recommended.
Last week I got some teacher friends together for a backyard yoga class.  I absolutely fell in love with teaching my informal after school "teacher yoga class" during the last few months of the school year, and I was excited that some coworkers were up for meeting me to do some summer yoga.  This just in--it's hard to chaturanga on grass.  But listening to birds sing during savasana is bliss.  After our hour-ish of vinyasa flow, we soaked up the sun and enjoyed breakfast, coffee, and company.  Can't wait til our next yoga day!

Oh, and Friday night was my monthly book club.  This month we read My Life in France, Julia Child's memoir.  I really enjoyed it, but it kind of dragged for me.  It was wonderful to enjoy book talk over French yummies and wine at Katie's house.  Can't wait until next month's meeting!
Source: Katie's Blog FB Page :)
All in all, summer is shaping up nicely. :)  Looking forward to a couple of outdoor concerts this week, some time with friends, and a pool day for the Fourth.  Have a beautiful week!

What summer things are you loving these days?  Any big plans this week?

June 24, 2014

Race Recap: Pleasant Prairie Olympic Triathlon

Well, I did it.  I tackled one of my "Big Goals for 2014" and completed my first international distance triathlon Sunday!  Phew!  Last June as I was struggling through the swim of a sprint tri, I vividly remember thinking to myself, "I will NEVER do an Olympic distance!"  Never say never, I guess!  Here's my six word recap:
Through fog, wind, mist--didn't quit!
The race got off to a bit of a rough start.  For starters, I did not get NEARLY enough sleep before my 3:30am wakeup call.  I had to be up at that ungodly hour in order to give myself time to drive up north to the race, set up my transition area, and have plenty of extra "just in case" time before the race's 6:30am start.  (Holy early.)  However, it became very clear on the drive up that weather might be an issue!  It was ridiculously foggy out--so bad that there were times when I could barely see the road.  YIKES!  
I was so pumped to discover my race cap matched my tank AND shoes!
Shortly before the race start, the director announced that they were postponing the start time due to fog.  Not only could you not see across the lake, but all of the buoys were basically invisible in the thick fog making it both impossible for swimmers to see the course and for lifeguards to see the swimmers!  Then the start was postponed again, and again...two hours later, I was finally lining up with my wave.  They ended up changing the swim course for the international distance and had us swim two loops of the sprint distance course instead of swimming further out to the still fog-hidden international buoys.  This was kind of...confusing...but I was just happy that they didn't switch everyone to a sprint!  After all my training, that would have been such a let down.  By this point, I had adopted the attitude of, "If I don't get in that water and get this over with soon, I want to get back in my car and take a nap!"  Nothing like a great race-day mindset!  
Finally, finally I got in the water.  The air was cool, but the water felt great, albeit a little choppy.  I struggled with my breathing a little at first, but stayed calm and got into a rhythm fairly quickly.  I swam the course without any real issues and finished the swim in 41:51.  Not fast by any means, but I'll take it!
I felt like a mess during T1--for starters, our bikes were racked by bib number, and I kept thinking my number was 175.  Needless to say I was confused when it wasn't on that rack or the next one over...turns out I was 157.  Eventually I glanced at my body marking, realized my mistake, and found my bike.  Even with the mistake, I made it in and out in 2:03.  Again not fast, but I felt like I was in there for much, much longer!
The bike leg was pretty brutal.  The fog had settled in again, bringing with it plenty of wind and a nice damp mist.  Lovely biking conditions.  The course was *slightly* hilly (for this Illinois girl, though, slight hills feel like the Rockies...), and during the first half I literally did not pass one single person.  Oh well!  I wasn't in this race to win!  Most of the athletes that passed me were rocking fancy tri bikes, so I didn't feel too bad!  They ended up cutting the bike leg short by 3 miles when they delayed the start due to roads that couldn't remain closed, but trust me there was nothing short-feeling about it!  I was super hungry by this point because the late start meant it had been HOURS since my breakfast, so I devoured a pack of Chomps during the ride.  Chomps have never tasted so good!  When I finished the leg, I was so relieved and ready to get into my running shoes.  
I finished the bike leg in 1:17:34 and made it in and out of T2 in 1:31.  The run was where everything fell into place!  The sun was FINALLY out, and it became a beautiful (warm!) day.  I loved every minute of the 6.2 mile run around the lake and through beautiful farmland.  Even though I was pretty warm and my legs were obviously tired, it passed quickly!  Based on my watch, I was averaging 10 minute miles, no easy feat for me on a good day much less in the third leg of a tri!  I zoned out a little bit around mile 4, and when I noticed the mile 5 marker ahead, I was shocked to see it come up so soon!  What a great feeling.  I managed to speed up my pace a little towards the end and finished strong and smiling!  My 10K run time was 1:02:11, for a total race time of 3:05:09.  

After the race, I felt great!  So proud of my accomplishment and happy it was over, but also I physically felt decent.  In fact, I wondered if I should have pushed myself harder because I definitely still had gas left in the tank!  (I reconsidered that thought later though when the pain from my crazy sore legs woke me up mid-nap!)  All in all, I'm so glad I took on this new challenge this year.  Again, I have shown myself that anything is possible!  Never in my life did I think I'd be able to do a triathlon at all, much less this distance.  Now, I'm thinking I'll do this race again next summer!  (Don't ask me when I'm doing a half iron though--that is NEVER GONNA HAPPEN!!)
Mandatory post-race activities: Gatorade + salty snack + Netflix
Bragging time--when have you shown yourself that anything is possible recently?

What is your next big goal? From here on out, my summer focus is going to be getting myself to the starting line of the Milwaukee Marathon with strong, healthy legs.  :)

June 13, 2014

Five on Friday

Happy Friday!  Although let's be real--now that school's out, every day feels like the weekend! :)  I was shopping yesterday, and one of the sales girls asked if I had the day off from work.  My reply: "Oh, I'm a teacher, so I have EVERY DAY OFF!!!" Gosh I love summer. :)  Okay, down to business..
Okay guys, this is a game changer.  If you like drinking iced coffee in summer, have you tried making coffee ice cubes yet?  If not, stop reading this post, go brew a pot of coffee, and fill an ice cube tray with it.  I've been freezing leftover coffee in ice cube trays for the past few weeks, then making my own delicious iced coffee beverages with the cubes, fresh coffee, almond milk, and stevia.  So. Delicious.  And no watered down coffee when the ice starts to melt!
Heart shaped ice tray not required, but it does make it more fun! :)
Yesterday afternoon I drove an hour up north to Pleasant Prairie, WI for an open water swim at the site of my next tri.  I know it probably seems a little crazy to drive so far, but they offered one group swim for free for tri participants, I needed another OWS practice, and I knew that swimming at the race site would calm my anxieties about the race itself.  
The swim went great, and I made it a mile with no panic attacks (yay!!), but my god that water was FREEZING.  Seriously, it may have been the coldest water I've ever swam in.  I was swimming without a wetsuit, and now I'm thinking I may want one for the tri...hmm...
Sandy feet!
One thing I love about summer (one of many things) is that some of my friends who are still in grad school come back to town.  It's always a special treat to see them!  My college roomie visited Wednesday, and we took a trip to Ikea.  In college we would go there together anytime we were home on a break, and we'd call them Ikea Dates. :)  
We were so excited to have an Ikea Date Wednesday--lunch at the "cafe," shopping, and sitting for at least a few minutes in every single living room set up.  Perfect.
I started taking a sign language class at the community college this week!  Confession: I was actually super nervous before the first class.  Not about the sign language, but just about being back in school in a new setting.  That probably sounds dumb, but I was nervous about parking in the right lot, finding the right building, finding the classroom...so silly, but as a grad from a college of 2,200 students, navigating new campuses (even little community ones!) is intimidating!  Luckily I found where I needed to be.  PHEW! 
 While I already have a decent base in sign language from all my work this past school year, I am loving the class.  It's taught by a Deaf teacher, and I'm learning new things already!  It's also a great chance to continue practicing my signing all summer.
Marathon training started this week, and tomorrow morning is our first long run.  While I'm not excited about the 5:30 am wakeup call (the run starts at 6:45, and I have a little bit of a drive), I'm excited to be running regularly with my group again!  I also kind of love the training routine...maybe it's just my old soul, but a quiet Friday night and a hard workout Saturday morning is the perfect start to the weekend IMHO!

What have been the highlights of your week so far?
What are you looking forward to this weekend?

June 12, 2014

30 Before 30 Update

So you guys, I have a confession to make.  Right around my birthday this year (I turned 27 in April), I started feeling a little bit...old.  I'm not sure why 27 felt so much older than 26, but it did.  Now I realize I am definitely not old, but 27 at least felt close to thirty!  In any case, it prompted me to take a look at my 30 Before 30 List.  I made this list a few years back, and when I did so I gave myself permission to edit it at any time.  I figured as my goals changed over the years, there was no reason to keep items on the list I was no longer interested in.  In the past two years or so, I've been able to cross off quite a few items...

I finished my masters and learned to apply eye liner (yeah, I know...took me long enough, right?  I blame this on not having a sister)...
I set my 5K and half marathon PRs, finished my frist tri (and second, third, and fourth!) and my first marathon, and raced for charity...
I started a running club at school and took a sign language class...
I got Lasik and got a tattoo...
This past weekend my brother helped me cross off two more items.  The first item on our agenda: Learn to Parallel Park.  I know, this is another thing that I am late learning.  Whoops.  Blame it on growing up in the suburbs and literally never needing to parallel park in my first several years driving.  However, when I find myself in any city, things can get dicey.  I frequently have friends hop in the driver's seat and park my car for me when a parallel parking necessary situation comes up!  My brother is not always patient, but he is knows how to give clear directions and definitely tells it like it is.  He was also the first person who ever took me out driving, so it was fitting that he would continue my driving instruction 10 years later!
I did great with him in the passenger seat talking me through things, but not so great my first few independent tries.  However, after a few practices, I was able to successfully parallel park!  Sloooowly and nervously, but I did it.  We'll see if I ever actually try this "in the wild," but I think I can cross it off my list!
After our driving lesson, we headed down to my parents basement to watch Schindler's List.  This was another weird item on my list, but I had never seen the movie.  I had been talking about wanting to watch it for years, but really there is never a "good time" to sit down and watch three hours of the Holocaust.  That being said, it's an important movie, and I felt like I needed to see it!  Dave and I put a date on the calendar and finally watched it together.  Yes, we were both sufficiently depressed after, and no, I probably never need to see it again, but...wow.  What an amazing movie.

I have three years and 10 items left on my list...I think I can do it!

What's on your 30 before 30 list or Bucket List?

June 10, 2014

What My Students Learned from our Last Read Aloud

I have written so many posts professing my love for Read Aloud.  This year, one of our read alouds definitely deserves a post all of its own!  Besides helping my kids fall in love with reading, I try and select read alouds that will allow for interesting class discussions and help expose the kids to topics and themes they may not be familiar with.  When we read Wonder, we talked about what it means to be brave, and how sometimes it means standing up for what is right even when it's not easy.  When we read The One and Only Ivan, we talked about the rights of all living creatures.  When we read Because of Mr. Terupt, we talked about how sometimes when bad things happen, we blame others or ourselves.  When we read How to Steal a Dog, we talked about right and wrong and the gray areas in between.  So many deep and beautiful discussions.

This year, I decided to choose Out of My Mind for our last class read aloud.  Here's the goodreads summary in case you're not familiar with this wonderful, thought-provoking book:
Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. Her head is like a video camera that is always recording. Always. And there's no delete button. She's the smartest kid in her whole school - but no one knows it. Most people - her teachers and doctors included - don't think she's capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again. If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows . . . but she can't, because Melody can't talk. She can't walk. She can't write.

Being stuck inside her head is making Melody go out of her mind - that is, until she discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever. At last Melody has a voice . . . but not everyone around her is ready to hear it. 

I chose this book because I wanted to help open my students' minds and challenge them to think differently about individuals with disabilities and special needs.  Because of the way my school clusters our students, and because I have the ELL cluster in my room each year, my students don't have many opportunities to interact with individuals with special needs.  I decided to read Out of My Mind to start some conversations about the topic, and hopefully help them see that there is so much more to everyone than what we can see on the surface.  We talked about special needs, Cerebral Palsy, and communication devices like the one Melody eventually gets that allows her to finally share her voice.  We watched youtube videos of kids using communication devices, and our speech path even brought in a couple for my students to try.

One conversation that we had to have right away was about the R-Word.  Melody occasionally refers to herself as "retarded" when she is feeling frustrated and angry about her situation.  Doctors also use the word in Melody's presence.  Like most teachers, especially those who have fallen in love with students with special needs over the years, I hate this word.  At first, I was skipping the word or substituting something different.  A few of my kids who had gotten the book from the library to follow along noticed, though.  One came up to me and mentioned something.  Here's how our exchange went:

Student: "Miss Teacher, I noticed something as you were reading..."
Me: "Did you notice I was skipping a word?"
Student: "Yes."
Me: "You're right.  I did that because I really don't like that word.  It makes me uncomfortable to say."
Student: "What if the kids are confused though later in the book because you skipped it?  What if it's important?"

So, since my job as a teacher is about so much more than math and literacy, I decided to use this as a teachable moment.  I told the class that I had been skipping a word because it made me uncomfortable.  I shared what it was, what it meant, and its unkind connotation.  We talked about why the author may have chosen to use this word even though it is unkind--does the author think the word is appropriate?  Is there another reason?  In the end, it was a powerful, positive conversation that reminded me that so much of the unkindness in the world is due to ignorance.  As teachers, one of our jobs is to fight ignorance with knowledge in the hopes that our students grow up with open minds and hearts.  It can be hard to find the time to teacher these things in the midst of standardized testing and the Common Core, but I will always find time during read aloud.

Here's how I knew this read aloud was successful: There is a point in the book where the narrator, Melody, is trying out for the school Whiz Kids Quiz Team.  Outside of her family and neighbor, no one in a million years thought Melody could even form a coherent thought, much less learn, so when she wants to take the quiz team test, expectations are low to say the least.  There is so much build up and anticipation in the chapter where the Quiz Team is announced.  As I read the anticipatory pages, I looked out at my third and fourth grade class to find them sitting on the edges of their seats, fingers crossed in eager hope that Melody's name will be announced as a winner.  And when it is--they clapped and cheered.

Another reason I knew my goal had succeeded: My students became irate and angry when Melody was treated unfairly by classmates and teachers and when doctors sell her completely short.

And the last reason: On the last day of school when we found ourselves with almost 100 pages left to read, my students begged me to continue reading aloud, even when I gave them the option of playing games instead, and sat in rapt attention until we finally finished the last page, just 5 minutes before the closing bell.  While I wished we'd had more time to process the emotional ending, I know that this book will become a favorite for my students, and I hope its message is one that stays with them for a long time!

What were your favorite read alouds this year?

June 9, 2014

Race Recap: Esprit de She Sprint Triathlon

Sunday, I raced the Esprit de She Naperville Sprint Tri, my third year on the course and second year of the Esprit de She series.  I think I can confidently say that this is one of my all-time favorite races.   Here's my six-word race recap:
Swam, Biked, Ran with smiling joy!
Six words are nowhere near enough to express my love and joy when it comes to this race!!  I headed into race weekend with excitement and anticipation.  Having loved my race experience the past two years (2012 and 2013 recaps), I couldn't wait to make it a three-peat.  Plus, I have been hittin' it hard lately in preparation for my first Olympic Distance tri in two weeks (eek!), so I was pretty sure I was capable of setting a nice PR at Esprit de She.  My race day began with a 4am wake-up call in order to get me to the race location (a 45 minute drive) in time to set up my transition area and secure a good parking spot before things got crazy.  Success!
Because I was ready to go by 5:30 and my wave wasn't starting until 8:15, I proceeded to nap in my car for the next hour or so.  Keepin' it classy, as always.  Among other things, one big thought in my head race morning was my friend Lauren.  Lauren was the first "normal person" triathlete I'd known, and hearing her talk about triathlon made me want to try one too.  My triathlete inspiration wasn't racing this weekend--she was in the hospital with a Chron's flare up.  :(  I wrote her name on my arm so I could think about her and dig deep for her throughout the race. 
 Eventually I left the warmth of my car--did I mention it was 55 degrees when I arrived??--and headed over to Centennial Beach, the quarry where the swim takes place.  I met up with my uncle and parents who came to cheer me on, and we watched the first several waves together.  Around 7:50, I said goodbye and headed over to the swim start area to get ready to go!

With a chilly air temperature (60s) at the start of the race, the 71 degree water actually felt nice and warm!  I have always started dead last in the group for the swim to avoid the shoving, but today I was feeling calm and confident, so I planted myself in the middle of the group.  I managed to not freak out at all during the swim, but that sensation of the grabbiness during a swim start just reminds me of that scene in the Disney Hercules movie where Hercules is trying to save Meg from hell and the spirits are trying to grab him and drag him back down...yikes.
I managed to get in my own space after awhile, and I felt great!  A year or two ago that grabby start would have totally given me a panic attack, but I stayed calm the entire time.  Success!
 0.5 mi Swim Time: 14:23, 1:55min/100m

After the swim, I raced up the beach and into transition, quickly dried off, and got ready for the bike leg.  After a less than awesome bike leg last year, I was ready to tear it up on the roads.  
T1: 3:02 (waaaay too long...)

I've really been pushing myself to log more frequent and longer distance rides this year, and I felt ready for this leg.  Despite the strong winds, I felt strong and confident--this seems to be a theme of the race!  I kept a steady pace, powered up the baby hills along the course, and passed tons of cyclists.  I ate about 4 Gu chomps and drank some water/gatorade during the bike.  I found the cooler weather meant I wasn't super thirsty, so I barely made a dent in the fuel I'd brought on my bike.  I don't have a bike computer and I was racing without my Garmin, so all I could do was keep an eye on my watch and estimate my speed.  I knew, however, that I was moving way faster than last year! 
13.3 mile bike time: 46:49, 17.05 mi/hr

After finishing the bike, I ran it back through transition to my spot (while simultaneously trying to tear my gloves off with my teeth...again, keepin' it classy), swapped my cycling shoes for my Brooks, my helmet for a hat, and hit the road.  T2: 1:46.  

I felt great from the first steps of the run--tired, sure, but none of that heavy-legged feeling that I often feel during bricks!  The reason is simple--I added more bike/run bricks to my training this year!  Who knew it was that easy...I felt great on the run and although I had set my watch for the 3/1 run/walk intervals I am always so successful with, I ended up running through many of the walk breaks and walking through water stops instead.  I almost died of shock when at the first mile marker my watch said I'd been running for 8:30.  WHAT???  I have never run an 8:30 mile in my life.  I am still skeptical that this run course was a full 3.1 miles, but if it was I managed to nail a 2 minute 5K PR at the end of the tri...even if it was a short course, I am still impressed!  The three miles passed extremely quickly for me, and I dug deep and considerably sped up my pace as we began to near the finish line.  When I saw that a girl in my age group was about to cross the finish line just before me, I found a completely new gear and zipped past her!  
3.1 mile Run Time: 27:13, 8:46min/mi

When I crossed the finish line, I could not stop grinning.  I knew that I had run a race to be proud of.  Not only had I set a big PR from last year, but I had felt so strong throughout every part of the race.  To top it off, I had run the race with JOY.  My legs were shaking from the sprint to the finish, but my heart was full.  I could not have been more happy with how this race turned out!
Total Finish Time: 1:33:11, a 7-minute PR from last year!

 After the race, I met up with my parents and three of my wonderful teacher friends who had gotten up early to come cheer me on.  I felt so loved!
 I can't wait to continue racing Esprit de She and plan to keep this race on my calendar every June.  I highly recommend it for first time triathletes and veterans alike!

Today marks two weeks until I race DOUBLE this distance in the Pleasant Prairie Olympic Triathlon AND the start of Week 1 of training for the Milwaukee Marathon.  YIKES!  Needless to say, it will be a busy summer.  I wouldn't have it any other way!

June 7, 2014

Celebrating Summer

Happy Summer!  Technically it's not truly summer yet, but I finished my last day of teaching Thursday, so it's summer time as far as I'm concerned!  Based on the last two days, I just know this summer is going to be awesome.
My packed up, ugly, empty classroom.  The good news is that this year I'm not moving rooms, no cabinets are being replaced, and the walls are NOT being painted.  I was able to leave up posters and just shove things in bags and cabinets--no boxes involved!  Hurray!

I kicked off Friday morning by meeting two co-workers for pedicures and shopping followed by lunch with one of my best friends.  In the afternoon, another friend and I headed into the city for some fun.
I have never seen a cocktail menu on which there were so many words I did not know...I tried to use context clues, but...
We enjoyed fancy cocktails and good eats on a beautiful patio, then headed over to a Beer and Film Clips festival sponsored by New Belgium brewery.  We tasted some different New Belgium beers, ate some yummy food from local food trucks, and hung out in the park watching different short films on a big screen.  Perfect!

Me and my high school bestie!  

Today, I met my running buddy Donna for the Esprit de She race expo and packet pickup.  This will be my third year doing this sprint tri, and I can't wait!  As usual, Esprit de She provided some awesome swag:
Again this year the race shirt is a Moxie cycling tank, and I also got a thin cotton tank for registering early!  Love it.  We shopped around the expo for awhile (obviously I bought three headbands in the process...) before meeting our other running buddy for lunch.

Starting the carb loading!  Those potatoes...oh my...

After I finally made it back home, I spent the afternoon packing my triathlon bag and meticulously checking over my packing list.  I think I actually have everything organized and ready to go!  I've been training hard for this race, and I think it should be an awesome day.  Can't wait to share a race recap with you for tri #4!
Hope you're having a beautiful weekend!

What has made your weekend beautiful?
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