Monday, February 27, 2017

Breaking Up with Dr Pepper (making one better choice each day)


I have a confession to make.  I once nursed quite an infatuation with Dr Pepper, but I cut it out of my diet a year and a half ago.  Originally, the separation left quite a hole.  During the early days after the break-up, I noticed the absence of sweet cherry fizz in my life as acutely as I notice the missing period after the "Dr" title.  (Seriously, where is the period?  My inner grammarian cringes at this omission.)

Jealousy used to surface when I saw others with a cold Dr Pepper.  I'd remember the good times we once had together.  I'd glamorized how full of life and energy the good doctor made me feel.  In moments of weakness -- late nights, dull afternoons -- I contemplated going back, whispering to myself just this once.

But I held firm.  As more time passed, my cravings diminished.  I could tolerate being in the same room with another person holding a Dr Pepper without obsessively staring or longing.  As weeks turned into months, I felt downright Taylor Swift-y about it.  I made a declaration: Dr Pepper, we are never, ever, ever getting back together.

And that's where I stayed: living a resolute Dr Pepper-less lifestyle for over a year.

But then there was last week.  On a day when I felt especially deprived of sleep and burdened with a heavy workload, I was given a coupon for a free Dr Pepper.  It was the worst possible alchemy.  I realized that I was flirting with danger by keeping the coupon instead of immediately trashing it, and as expected, the temptation proved too great to resist.

I won't lie: it was wonderful.  I savored every drop as it went down.  I still enjoy a Dr Pepper fling, apparently.

But here's where I differ from my past self: I didn't wallow this time around.  I didn't throw my hands up in the air, exaggerating that I had ruined everything by falling off the wagon.  I simply moved on.  I filled my water bottle the next day and got back on track.  This reminded me of three premises for better health:

1) Little actions lead to larger habits.  I like to pretend that my small dietary choices, good or bad, don't have actual consequences.  It's just a Dr Pepper, I rationalize.  It's just a milkshake, and I deserve a milkshake after this week.  It's just an entire box of Girl Scout cookies, and Thin Mints only come out once a year.  It's just one apple, and does one apple really help that much?  But these small choices, when repeated, can form habits, and habits, when entrenched, have impact.

2) Don't let one bad choice derail you.  Although repeated small choices do lead to habits, I've found that it helps when I give myself grace.  A bad choice doesn't mean that I'm entirely undone.  Sure, I broke my year-long Dr Pepper-free streak, but I didn't buy a whole case and drown my sorrows with more Dr Pepper to numb my regret.  I can chalk it up to a bad day (or week) and move on.

3) Make one better choice each day.  When I think about my diet or exercise restrictively -- mulling over what I shouldn't do or shouldn't have -- I grow more fixated on those things.  Instead, I've found that it's helpful to get so busy doing the right thing that I don't have time to do the wrong thing.  (This is good for life in general, not just health.)  If I concentrate on one simple premise -- Robin, just make one better choice today -- I'm more prone to take the steps rather than the elevator, or eat a little more broccoli instead of a little more pasta, or skip on a second scoop of ice cream.

This repeated choice to do "one better thing" each day leads directly back to my first tip.  My little healthy actions lead to larger healthy habits.  Those larger healthy habits, in turn, ensure that my bad choices are more of a rarity than the norm.

I'm sure I'll drink more Dr Pepper in the future, and since I'm being honest, you should know that I still hold a more romantic view of sweet tea than I ought.  And if you hand me a theater-sized box of Dots, it would be gone in a day.  And don't get me started on freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. 

But I'm working on it.  For me, one better choice each day means I carry a water bottle at all times.  After all, I simply don't have enough room for sugary drinks when I'm downing two or three 32-ounce Nalgenes of water each day.

If you've every struggled like I have, I hope these tips help you make one good choice today.  (Just one. You've got this.)  And even better, I hope that today's good choice will help to kickstart a good habit tomorrow.
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Ever kick a bad habit?  Have any tips for us?  Leave a comment: we're all ears!

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Dr Pepper image adapted from cyclonebill.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Five Stages of Essay-Grading Grief: An Illustrated Guide

"Well, it's your problem now."  
- Words said to me by a student upon submitting his essay. Truer words never have been spoken.

The Five Stages of Essay Grading Grief: higher education, just funnier

After teaching for over a decade and a half, I've carried a hefty stack of freshly-stapled essays out of a classroom enough times to recognize a distinct cycle of essay-grading grief, a cycle through which I progress with textbook-like consistency.  The struggle is real, friends.

Stage One: Denial

The Five Stages of Essay Grading Grief: Denial

The classic defense mechanism rises up immediately.  I downplay the fact that I've collected 300 pages of student writing that I must read and evaluate in a thorough, yet timely, fashion while all other work and life responsibilities continue at their regular brisk pace.  I set the stack on my office desk or dining room table, glance at it warily, prod it periodically, or perhaps even alphabetize it -- just enough to engage without actually accomplishing anything.

Then I promptly check my email, immerse myself in an unrelated work task that's not due for another month, find a new way to arrange the envelopes in my desk drawer, or decide to clean out my refrigerator and dust the tops of my ceiling fans.  Anything to feign productivity is fair game.

This stage lasts anywhere between a few hours to a day, so it doesn't waste much time, except for that one stretch when I sink to reading about 25 celebrities who have aged badly.  Still, my newly-organized inbox makes up for it.

Stage Two: Anger

The Five Stages of Essay Grading Grief: Anger

Inevitably, reality sets in when the grading begins in earnest.  I carry smaller stacks of essays with me at all times -- to a waiting room, to the sidelines of a child's soccer game, to home and campus and back again.  The physical presence of the stack looms heavily, making its weight both literal and figurative.  Resentment brews.

I grow irritated with a bad stapling job, and downright agitated over a careless dog-eared fold-over.  I begin muttering to myself.  Thesis-driven?  You call that a thesis-driven argument?  In the far recesses of my mind, I recall once being told that comments written in red ink can appear harsh, regardless of what's being said, and in this stage, I don't particularly care.  I like red ink.

Stage Three: Bargaining


The Five Stages of Essay Grading Grief: Bargaining

Resentment subsides and I redirect my energy.  Each time I finish an essay, I count the remaining ungraded papers in the stack, even though I intuitively know the remaining tally.  I attempt a new strategy by criss-crossing essays into smaller piles of five, hoping that this altered layout will entice me to reach incremental goals and trick me to grade faster.  It doesn't.

At this point, after wondering whether Sheetz is hiring (I'd make amazing made-to-order sandwiches), I imagine assigning essays that students can complete like a multiple choice exam.  Choose the next best sentence: A, B, C, or D.  You picked C?  Why, that's correct.  My work here is done.  My rationale side, which already is compromised, sends up a weak flare to alert me that a multiple choice essay prompt would be a cop-out.  Think about how originality and voice would be lost.  How critical thinking would be diminished.  How depth and analysis would be shortchanged!  

I dismiss those concerns, of course, because I just want the essays to go away.  It's all been a horrible mistake.  None of this ever should have happened to me.

Stage Four: Depression

The Five Stages of Essay Grading Grief: Depresson

There is no longer any semblance of hope.  Wearing yesterday's clothes, I lie on my family room floor, surrounded by a pile of papers.  I eat chocolate, rock back and forth, and softly whimper.  My family no longer makes eye contact with me.

Stage Five: Acceptance

The Five Stages of Essay Grading Grief: Acceptance

A new day dawns, and with it, the realization that I've graded more essays than I still have to grade.  I've passed the halfway point.  As if I'm a marathoner running negative splits as the finish line draws nearer, my pace picks up.  I can feel it in my bones: my feedback is articulate, my evaluations are fair, my job is nearly done.  At the very least, I'm now convinced that I no longer will die.

I find an essay that I already know will be good and tuck it at the bottom of the stack, dangling the proverbial carrot for myself, and I work with diligence to reach it as a reward for days of sustained mental labor.  You'll end on a good note, I tell myself, and I do.  When the final essay is finished and grades are entered into the master spreadsheet, I rise from my seat and stretch.  I tap the essays into neat stacks, secure the stacks with binder clips, and regard them one final time.  They look so tame, sitting in their completed state.  Then, I carry them one final time to the classroom, feeling light and free as I transfer them from my hands to the hands of my students.

They've come full circle, these essays: their problem, my problem, and now their problem again.  

In the afterglow as I walk away, my work bag nearly weightless, I momentarily forget the pain associated with the entire process.  Except there's that niggling reminder that I also introduced the next assignment, and with it, the next due date.

The cycle continues.  It always continues.
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You experience essay-grading grief, too?  Connect with me on Facebook or Twitter, or drop me a comment below to tell me about it.  I'd love to hear from you.

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

A post about that one warm-ish day in February


Our weather in Pennsylvania has been mercurial lately.  In the past week alone we've swung from typical winter bitterness with sub-20-degree temperatures, to a surprising high of nearly 60 degrees, to a school-cancelling 6-inch snowfall the very next morning, and back to a temperate day in the mid-50's that currently is causing the snow to melt in steady streams through downspouts and storm drains.

February is having a grand identity crisis.  It doesn't know whether it's winter or whether it's spring.

But this happens annually.  There's always one warm-ish day in February when everyone thinks it's spring and then promptly loses his or her mind: washing cars, wearing shorts, driving with the windows down, and making plans to stow away all heavy winter coats and boots.

It's a nice reprieve, of course, but it's merely a tease.  Winter always returns.  You see, though the shortest month in days, February is the longest month in perception.  It's also the answer to many of my recent questions: Why are my children acting feral?  Why do I feel lethargic?  Why am I contemplating eating my body weight in chocolate?  Oh, I know.  It's February.

But today, on this happily surprising day when the snow melts, and I only wear a sweatshirt when I walk outside, and I dream of outdoor projects, I don't mind it nearly as much.

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Monday, February 6, 2017

When You Don't Do the Heavy Lifting

Last winter we experienced some water damage that stained our bedroom ceiling.  As my family's resident painter, I had intended to paint the ceiling myself.  I convinced myself that while I was at it, I'd also paint our upstairs hallway and stairwell to remove the six-thousand-or-so hand prints that my kids have left over the years.  (Every child's logic: Why hold the railing when you can just as easily touch the wall the entire way upstairs?)

I never got to this painting, though.  You see, we didn't have an adequate ladder to reach the upper portions of the stairwell, and I wasn't entirely comfortable with the height, and while I'm entirely fine painting walls, I'm not keen on tackling ceilings.  So, after a year of good intentions that never led to action, we finally hired a friend who owns a painting business.  In two days the hallway, stairwell, and bedroom ceiling were painted, and everything was put back together again.

I didn't do any real work at all.  Our painter friend painted.  My husband moved the furniture back in place.  I simply hung a few pictures, and in the brief interim when our bedroom furniture was shifted, I vacuumed the scary tufts of dust and debris around the edges of baseboards that hadn't been exposed for a few years.

Yesterday morning while I was at church, I thought about how I didn't do any heavy lifting.  The job was finished by capable hands, and I simply enjoyed the results.  I felt a nudge in my soul, a reminder of all the heavy things that I sometimes carry -- concerns about my children, or work, or whether Facebook eventually will blow up from political divisiveness.

They're not good loads to carry; I don't have the capacity or strength to manage them.

Thankfully, God does the heavy lifting for those who ask.  He invites us to come to him, we who are heavy-laden, and he carries our burdens for us.  Just as the fresh coats of paint corrected the water stains, God is capable to cover our damaged parts, and just as the furniture found its way back in place, God knows how to put our disorganized pieces back together.

Oh, I'll paint again, I'm sure, but for now, I plan to enjoy the benefits and remember that I don't always need to do the heavy lifting myself.


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