The Calm After the Storm

Based on the look of our yard this morning, last night's rainstorm was as intense as it had sounded.  Our patio chairs were blown off our porch and broken branches were swept across the yard.

Still, by morning, calm had settled.  The whipping winds from the night had been replaced with a lushness that can only come from a good spring rain.  As I walked to my morning class, I absorbed the full scene across campus: the puddles, the scattered debris, but most of all, the freshness that lingers once a storm has passed.

Like our weather, this past week we experienced a few unexpected storms.  Pesky irritants cropped up that disrupted our schedule.  Our minivan door broke one afternoon, which required an unplanned trip to the car dealership.  The next day the ice maker in our freezer malfunctioned and flooded the freezer with water, which, of course, then froze.  (Freezers are funny that way.)

Essentially, all of our frozen foods are now entombed in large chunks of ice:

And sometimes, on a Thursday afternoon, you simply don't feel like you have time to deal with a broken van door and an odd stockpile of really FROZEN frozen foods in your freezer.

But then Friday morning comes, and you realize that all storms pass.  Van doors eventually get fixed, and schedules fall back into order, and you accept that frozen foods don't mean that much in the grand scheme of life.  Plus, sometimes, the storm makes you more aware of your surroundings than you would have otherwise been, like how I kept encountering this refrigerator artwork each time I chipped more food free from its freezer encasement.

Yes, storms pass, and in their wake, there's often some refreshment.

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One Small Improvement Changes the Whole Routine

Each morning this week I've witnessed a battle: spring and winter have faced off in a seasonal tug of war.  Yesterday I woke to a light snow that had dusted the crocuses and daffodils pushing up through our mulch.  This morning when I checked my thermostat before leaving for work, the temperature hovered below 30 degrees.

Spring is ultimately going to win, but for now, remnants of winter still cling to these early morning hours.

In the midst of this lingering cold, I noticed that my neighbor has continued her winter practice of warming up her car before she leaves for work each morning.  It's a standard sight: for a few minutes, her car idles in her garage, exhaust lightly wafting away from her open garage door, before she actually leaves.

I imagine how much more pleasant it must be to settle into a warm car versus a frigid one, and today -- this third day of spring -- I do the same.  I slip on my shoes, dash to my car parked on our driveway, start the car, and then return inside briefly to pack the rest of my belongings.  Once I step outside for real, fully bundled and prepped for the day, the car's temperature is pleasant.

Why have I not been doing this every day?

I'm reminded that sometimes the smallest tweak makes a real improvement.  Better yet, I'm reminded that it's not too late to make those tweaks.

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Lessons from Running (13.1 of them, in fact)

On Saturday I ran my fifth half marathon, which is evidence that either a) this running hobby is genuinely sticking, or b) when signing up for new races, I have selective memory that glosses over the pain and effort involved.  (I'm not sure which.)  Still, over the years I've learned valuable lessons from running -- many of which are also applicable to general life -- that I'd like to share with you today.

1) Running is more enjoyable when you're not uptight about the results.  My husband caught me off guard when he asked if I'd like to sign up for this particular race.  You see, we're training for other races that will be held in May, which means that we're still weeks away from peak race shape.  "We could treat it like a long training run on a nice course, not a race," he began, before adding, "I could ask my parents to watch the girls for the day."

What I heard from his spiel: His parents would watch the girls while we'd take a day trip by ourselves.  What I chose to ignore: We'd run a combined 39.3 miles to make this trip without children actually happen.

Regardless, I was persuaded.  I went into the race with no performance expectations.  I didn't set a goal time, I didn't measure my time or distance on my watch while running, and I didn't stress.  I simply ran.  It wasn't my fastest race, but upon reflection, I realize that it was my favorite race.

There's something to be said for doing something for the sheer experience, not for results.  (As a goal-oriented individual, I'm mulling over this observation in light of the other facets of my life.)

2) You'll have the best conversations in line for the restroom before the race.  I don't know why this occurs, but I meet the most interesting people while waiting to use the restroom.  (To the two woman who stood in front of me, I have no idea who you are, nor do I have any idea how we ended up whistling the Hunger Games theme song together as if we were plotting a District 13 uprising, but thank you for your brief, yet wonderfully pleasant, pre-race companionship.)

3) Disable your camera function when your phone is zipped in your jacket, or you, too, like my husband, might end up with 884 pictures of the inside of your pocket that will look just like this:

You will need to delete each one individually.

4) Don't try anything new immediately before or during a race.  I think every running article ever written has dispensed this advice, and yet, I somehow didn't draw a connection between it and the brand new shoes I wore the day before the race -- those new shoes that rubbed my heel and left me with a limp-inducing blister.  Let me speak from experience: don't try anything new right before a race, including shoes.

5) Music boosts morale.  Part of the beauty of a Rock 'N' Roll race is that every mile or so, a new band is stationed to play live music.  As I ran, I passed nearly a dozen live performances, including the Howard University marching band drum line.  It almost makes you want to stop running so you can listen.

6) It's good to reach mile six and be pleasantly surprised that you're running.  Before I ran long distances and experienced it myself, I never would have believed people who claimed that if you run long enough, your body eventually falls into autopilot, but it's true.  When you pace yourself intelligently, it's entirely possible to have multiple miles under your belt and have an epiphany: "Well, whaddya know?  I'm running!"

This is much better than pushing yourself beyond your capacity, reaching mile six, and having the reverse epiphany: "Oh. My. Goodness. I am running.  And I am dying."

7) Weather makes or breaks a run. They're few and far between, but when you run on a perfect day -- temperatures neither too hot nor too cold, sky neither too sunny nor too overcast, air neither too breezy nor too still -- you'll rejoice.  This past Saturday in Washington, DC was such a day.

8) Ditto for scenery.  If you enjoy nature, or architecture, or even people-watching, running provides an opportunity to view scenes you'd otherwise miss.  I've driven through neighborhoods in my town countless times, yet I can discover something new and charming when running along those same streets.  Saturday's course took runners past monuments, through character-rich neighborhoods, and alongside blossoming crab apple trees.  You can't absorb these scenes as well while driving past them.

9) People who cheer for runners deserve high fives, too.  Most of my running is a solitary affair.  I train early in the morning or tuck in runs before my children come home from school.  There's no fanfare involved in training.  But on a race day, people come out of the woodwork: offering high fives, holding signs, and cheering.  I can't imagine watching a worse parade than thousands of runners streaming past in sweat-wicking paraphernalia, but there they are.  Race-day cheerleaders, you deserve high fives, too.

10) Training on hills minimizes the effect of hills.  In my public speaking courses, I often encourage my students to practice in the manner in which they want to perform.  It always pays off.  Similarly, when running, always add a hill.  When you've practiced hills when they don't count, you can tackle them when they do.

11) It is better to pass than to be passed.  In my first half-marathon, I started at a pace that was too fast to sustain, and I suffered for it.  It's far better to start conservatively, get your legs underneath you, and pick up speed during the latter half.  (It doesn't hurt your motivation to pass other runners in the final miles, either.)

12) You're not finished when you reach mile thirteen, or, if you're a full marathoner, when you reach mile 26.  You'll see the final mile-marker sign before the finish line and prematurely think, "I'm almost there!"

And then you will run the longest fragmented stretch of a mile that you've ever run in your entire life.

13) Ask the right guy to take your post-race pictures.  If you ask the friendly guy who has bad timing, you might end up with a picture like this:

It's a non-action action shot.  Still, you'll you'll have fun writing captions for it.

Joel: Did you realize that I'm wearing a shirt?  I'm wearing a shirt!  Look, there are even words written on it.
Robin:  Yes, you wear shirts.  That's funny; I do too.  And, guess what?  I have hair.

13.1) Take a few post-race selfies anyway, just to be safe.  Because you'll certainly want to capture those endorphin-filled post-race celebratory moments so when you look back on your experience, whether days, weeks, or months later, you'll remember what a good time you had.

And then you'll sign up for another race.


Sometimes Spring Comes to You

Our family is back to our regular routine after last week's Spring Break, and I'm already thanking my past-tense self for diligently pushing through my grading despite the temptation to slack off.  Let me tell you, if felt good to walk into my classrooms this morning, pass back assignments, and leave with a much lighter bag on my shoulder.

Good job, past-tense Robin.  You persevered, and now your  present-tense self is reaping the reward.  (I'd high five myself in celebration, but that would be even odder than splitting myself into tenses.)

But that's not what I want to tell you today.  Today, I wanted to tell you how spring came to visit in the middle of the week.  Yes, on Wednesday, which happened to be my 38th birthday, the temperature rose to a gorgeous 75 degrees and central Pennsylvania saw the finest, most refreshing, most glorious, bluest-skied, calmest-breezed, happiest March day that it likely ever has seen.

It was the kind of day that makes you thankful to be alive.  It was the kind of day that reinvigorates your will to be a productive, energetic, and good-natured human being.  It was the kind of day that makes you think, especially if it's your birthday, that God must be very fond of you, indeed.

Sometimes Spring Break comes and goes and you simply stay at home, grading for hours and living normal life.  But, on a special day, sometimes spring goes out of its way to come directly to you, just to say hello.

Image compliments of Doug Chapman.

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Let's Chat: Spring Break Edition (It's Time to Catch Up)

My dear readers, it's high time that we catch up!  Pull up a chair and get comfortable.  Go on, wrap your hands around a mug of coffee, or tea if coffee is not your cup of tea, or Diet Coke, or whatever favorite beverage you're drinking these days.  Let's have a chat.

Spring Break Has Arrived.  After eight weeks of the semester, we've officially reached Spring Break.  (And all the people said amen.)  Over the past eleven years, I've accepted the fact that Spring Break in central Pennsylvania is neither characterized by spring, as temperatures still are crisp, nor a break, since there's a visible reminder of Work That Must Be Done sitting on my dining room table.

Elementary School Recycling Unit Goes Awry.  Ever since my second grader completed a unit on recycling, she's taken great pleasure in "rescuing" items from our recycling bin and repurposing them into craft projects.  Nothing ever actually gets recycled in our house now, but we do have an entire army of Bottle Robots gracing our kitchen table.

Great Wall of Solo Cups.  Have you ever walked away from your children for ten minutes and, upon your return, discovered that they've redecorated?  I don't know how my children stumbled upon a super-sized pack of red Solo cups in our pantry, but stumble upon them, they did. 

If You Give a Child a Waffle.  If you give a child a waffle, she will want syrup.  If you give her syrup, she will manage to get her hair sticky.  If her hair gets sticky, she will find scissors and cut out a five-inch long chunk of sticky hair instead of, say, just taking a bath.  If she cuts out a five-inch long chunk of hair, you will visit the local salon where a friendly woman with purple hair will give your child a haircut to "even things out" a bit.

The Right View Will Change Your Perspective and Day.  I'll admit -- with the stack of assignments glaring at me from their perch on my dining room table, and the clutter of recycled robots on my kitchen table, and the Solo cup fortress in my family room, and the unexpected trip to the salon after the syrup incident -- I felt frazzled yesterday.  It's "break," but there's no visible reprieve.

Given this, in the middle of the day I was grateful to steal an hour and return to one of my favorite running paths.  With each mile, I felt my tension lessening.  There's something to be said for changing your scenery and immersing yourself in beauty, even if just for a brief escape.

I came back to the same house -- same work to accomplish, same sticky messes -- but I was more able to handle it.

Even though I can't see it yet, I know that spring is coming.  I can feel it in my bones: the tulips will bloom, the grass will revive from dormancy, the temperature will rise.  And when that first "garage sale" sign is spotted (the truest marker of spring and pending summer), I'll know that we've truly arrived.

It's coming, my friends.  Spring is coming.

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