Graduation: It’s kind of a big deal.

Today is my would-be graduation day. Scratch that. Today IS my graduation day. I’m not going to graduation (because it’s too damn expensive and my kids are at their dad’s this weekend anyway) but it is still my graduation day.

College, bitches, I did it!

As of Thursday afternoon when I handed my completed final to the professor and walked out of my last undergraduate class, I have completed my bachelor’s degree. Logistically I may need to check on the status of a form and complete my loan “exit counseling” to actually get the piece of paper but all the real stuff, the classes and course content, that’s done.

I can now say that I’ve got a B.S. in General Biochemistry.

I’m not sure how this changes anything or what it really means for my family and our quality of life but, regardless of what may or may not happen now, I am super fucking proud of myself! I understand that getting my degree is not some magic pass to a better life; I get that nothing changes now unless I work hard to make it change. (I’m a single parent running a one adult household so that’s pretty much the story of my life. The wheels don’t turn themselves, something has to drive them. I get it!) But, still, graduating from college is a big deal. At least for me it is; it’s been a long road and I worked hard for this!

I didn’t realize how I felt about graduating until I was leaving my final on Thursday. All week I was oddly emotional and off kilter. I blamed stress, hormones, and lack of sleep. The usual suspects. But as I walked out of class and down those five flights of stairs I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride, a feeling of accomplishment, and a little bit of that “Oh shit what now” fear. Emotions, strong ones but mostly good.  glass case of emotions

As usual they took me by surprise. Before that point I thought that finishing, graduating, was just kind of…meh. I mean, (hopefully) this isn’t the end of my education and I’m not taking part in all the pomp & circumstance, no cap and gown for this girl, so it’s just a box checked off this list of things I need to do to get to the big thing I want to be doing (Hello Dental School!) I’ve been downplaying this and not even realizing I was doing it; I’ve failed to acknowledge that graduating really is an accomplishment. It’s also a big status change for me. I’m no longer a student. I no longer have to check the “some college” box under educational status.

With finishing my bachelor’s degree I accomplished a long term goal and that is something to celebrate. I worked hard to do this thing and I did it well. So while my eyes are still trained on what’s yet to come and there is no time to take a break if I’m going to do the next hard thing and keep propelling my life forward, I’m going to revel in my accomplishments and be unabashedly proud of myself this weekend.

kind of a big deal

Holiday Baking (despite the craziness)

This weekend, my weekend with the kids and a holiday weekend, we’ve done yard work, had a family outing to an old school arcade, colored Easter eggs, baked (Well, I  baked, the kids not so much.), did the Easter basket tradition, and are about to attend Mass and head to a big family dinner. Yet it somehow feels like I haven’t accomplished enough. Final exams loom, I’m about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry…but I’ve got one more lab write up, a homework assignment, and a final to get through first. That’s the cloud that hangs low and heavy over this weekend. (And my fairly legitimate excuse for the terribly infrequent postings around here.)

Balancing working enough to support my household of six, meeting ALL the needs, and giving time and attention to my classwork is a massive challenge, one that requires constant focus and re-calibration. Somehow I’ve gotten this far and done decently well at it. Most the time. Sometimes it makes me a less than enthusiastic parent. I’m not fostering the pre-holiday excitement or planning fancy coordinated outfits for my five  (not so) small ones like I once was. But there is one holiday tradition I’ve managed to maintain, one of my favorites, the holiday baking.

I know it seems like baking holiday treats is something I do for others…It’s not. Don’t be fooled. It’s a totally selfish thing I do. I bake what like for holidays and don’t do other things so I can get the baking I want to do done. Baking has always been a comfort thing for me. It’s a soothing ritual when I’m stressed or upset and a productive distraction when I’m bored or anxious. I think this (past) weekend I was all of the above. So I baked.

This year the emergent theme of my holiday baking was fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry though, it wasn’t healthy. I made pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake, and that blueberry cheesecake from last Easter.

Pineapple upside down cake is one of my mom’s classics. She makes it in a cast iron pan with this amazing gooey brown sugar goodness crystallized on top just under a layer of juicy baked pineapple rings. My mom usually makes this at Easter but decided we probably had enough desserts without it this year. I noticed fresh pineapples on sale on one of my many weekly grocery store runs and had seen a bundt cake pan version of the old cast iron classic that I wanted to try. And thus pineapple upside down cake was added to my baking list.  Like I said, this is selfish baking here!

Having never made my mom’s version of the cake I’m not sure how close this one was but I used a recipe found online. The melted butter and brown sugar went into the bundt pan first and then pineapple slices and cherries (which my mom never used). The cake batter gets poured over that, it’s all baked, and then flipped out. Easy peasy!

No really, this was quite easy to make. I’d recommend it. The only changes I made to the recipe were using fresh pineapple which I mashed up real good and, because I was concerned about the moisture level of the batter, an added splash of rum. I only had coconut oil on hand so rum seemed like a good balancing liquid. One of my sisters commented that the cake had a vague pina colada taste….maybe next year I’ll be sharing my magical upside down pina colada cake recipe with you all. We’ll see. 😉

Unlike pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake is one of my favorite desserts to make (and to eat too). I started making it back in my early twenties when I was married. And, actually, carrot cake is responsible for my cheesecake baking obsession too.

My ex-husband’s birthday is in December. The first year we were married I wanted to do something fun and special for his birthday. I got tickets to a Piston’s game and planned to make his favorite dessert…but I didn’t know what that was so in the weeks leading up to his birthday I asked what kind of cake was his favorite. I swear he said cheesecake. Swear it! I had never made one before but had seen my mom make a classic New York cheesecake every year at Christmas for as long as I could remember. It never looked that hard. So I pulled out a cookbook, scanned the recipe, bought ingredients, and started a cheesecake a half hour or so before we had to leave for the game. I thought I could just whip it up and bake it real quick before we left so it would be cooled and ready to eat when we got home. It was going to be great and he was going to love it!

Except it takes way longer than half an hour to bake a cheesecake. Apparently my reading ahead and planning skills were even worse when I was 20 than they are now.

The result was a soupy mess of a cheesecake AND then, come to find out, my then new husband didn’t even like cheesecake very mush. He says he told me carrot cake was his favorite. There is no way he said carrot cake. Maybe he meant carrot cake but he said cheesecake. After that fiasco I decided I was going to master the art of cheesecakes. I’ve made many successful cheesecakes over the past sixteen years. I think I’ve succeeded. At some point after that I got a great carrot cake recipe from a co-worker and got pretty good at that too.

 

I consider it a win-win…at least as far as desserts are concerned.

 

As for the aforementioned blueberry cheesecake, I used the same recipe as last year because, despite my poor judgement on ingredient substitution, it really was a good recipe. This time I still didn’t find friache but I did use a better quality substitute: plain Fage Greek yogurt. It’s rich and creamy with a slightly sour taste and none of that cheap vanilla Greek yogurt overpowering after taste. It was super yum!

 

Oh, and I did get all my kids to dress up even if they weren’t in coordinated outfits. With a group of mostly teenagers that’s as good as it gets.

Running at 1 mph…

…hour of sleep that is. As in I ran one mile per hour of sleep that I had gotten the day I started thinking about this post. Which is surely at least three days ago now but probably a week considering my recent rate of writing and posting.

Yes, this is from late October but not much has changed with my sleep patterns. I just stopped tracking them as much.

As you can see my Garmin tells me that I  may not be getting enough sleep, that 100% of people in my demographic sleep more than I do. That’s all of them. All the people my age and gender sleep more than I do on average! That can’t possibly be true. I mean, I know I’m exceptional but they don’t know how all the people sleep.

Back around the first of the year I set some running goals. Well, one really: to log 1,000 miles in 2017. I’m sure there will be some races and at least one half marathon in there too but I’ve got nothing  (other than a fun beer run in early May) on the schedule yet for 2017. Mostly I’m just trying to keep up on life and get regular runs in where I can. So far I’ve gotten 120 miles in for 2017. A little more than 10% of my goal. It’s not great but the first couple months usually are lower mile months due to the cold and dark.


Even though this winter has been exceptionally mild with some weeks in the 50’s and even 60’s already we happened to get a little of the white stuff on one of the two days I managed to run last week. I still got 4 miles in…one for each of my 4 hours of sleep that day.

I’m now one of Those runners. 🙂

I got a Garmin Forerunner 230 back in January. It was a Christmas gift to myself  (and I still had a gift card from my cross country team to use). I’d been wanting some kind of run tracker for a while and decided it was time.


And I’ve got no regrets on this one. I’m probably not using this thing to its full potential but I rather like glancing down mid run and seeing my up to the moment stats. The Garmin app that it syncs with has a lot of features and information too (like the above estimated sleep tracking). I could see myself getting into some super nerdy running stuff later this year, things like cadence and heart rate monitor training.

In the meantime I’m plugging away at those miles as best I can. Some weeks I hit 20 miles and others it’s less than 10. My new rule is that I have to have at least one hour of sleep per mile of running for any given day. With my ever changing crazy work schedule that can be limiting but I really am trying to take care of myself…at least until the end of May when I retake the DAT. After that it’s running time!

By May this crazy Michigan weather should be a little more cooperative.

Running from the Black Dog

I don’t remember my dreams or even having dreams very often, never have. Maybe I just don’t dream much. There is one dream though, really more of a nightmare, from my childhood still hangs around in my memory. I remember waking up from it a couple times in the early to mid elementary years. I even remember being in the dream and starting to recognize the events that were unfolding, thinking “Not again. No! Not again.” in a dreamy panic but the details are fuzzy. There was a large black dog, clearly vicious, chasing me through an orchard full of gnarled apple trees. It was dark or getting dark and the snarling dog would chase me getting just a little closer as the chase ensued. The fear was visceral. I remember the running, the chasing, tripping and falling down. Knowing the black dog was about to reach me…and then I’d wake up in a sweat, heart pounding in my chest. Thump thump thump. That palpable fear; your body doesn’t care that it’s not real when your mind says it is.

The other day I stumbled across a blog post that talked about the come down after finishing a big race or event. It used the metaphor of the black dog. The author wrote about how the months of training change you, the intense focus it takes to succeed and the purpose that gives you, and the demons everyone who is doing these things are chasing. (Oh the demons!) We train and we chase; we pour ourselves intensely into this one goal, making not only our bodies but our whole selves stronger and more capable. And then the event we’ve been working towards arrives. And we do it. We push through, falling back on our training in the tougher moments, and we succeed. And it’s great. It’s so awesome…for about ten minutes. But then it’s over. And the Now What sets in. It lurks around the edges, like a black dog, hanging about and stalking. Waiting to give chase.

Lately I’ve been in a bit of a funk. It is the time of year for that. At least for me it is. The dark days of February, not as dark as they were a few years ago, are still not the best. It’s not just that though. A couple weeks ago (actually, well over a month now) I got the official email informing me that I did not get into dental school. I hadn’t even gotten an interview. Throughout the process of applying I struggled with a fear of failure that I had never realized was present, let alone so deep seated. And here it was in one email, the fear now a reality, staring me down in a generic, formally worded email:

I’m sorry but we have thousands of qualified applicants and only a couple hundred spots. We have to crush someone’s hopes and dreams. This year it’s yours. Best of luck in all your future endeavors.

Sincerely,

Dental School.

And that was it. Failure.

Any small shred of hope I had been hanging onto was gone. Obliterated. Smashed to bits in a few typed lines… I tried and I failed. I thought I was good enough, had done enough, but I wasn’t. And I didn’t.

All I could think was: Now what? What do I do?

And I did nothing. I didn’t quite wallow, it was more of a slumped. A passive sinking into the ground, somewhat less active than a full out wallow. I pretended I was okay with the rejection. After all I did see it coming. And on paper (hypothetical paper, not actually written down. That would be taking at least some action.) I had a plan. A regroup and recharge strategy in case this happened. Time was of the essence in this plan…but all I could do was…Nothing. I just floundered. I sunk into indecision, slumped, and I wavered.

The inclination to settle where I am started pulling like an anchor around my ankles. I questioned my goals and lost direction, not so sure anymore that this hard hard thing is right for me. There are a lot of reasons it might not be. Fresh upon this rejection they seemed pretty valid.

This past summer was consumed by an intense push to finish my dental school application. Cramming for the DAT, the pressure of getting a decent score with only a sad sorry month of studying under my belt, the hundred shadowing hours squeezed in between the demands of my constantly crazy life, the struggle to convey who I am and why I want to be a dentist in 4500 characters. It was a rush, there was a sense of urgency to reach the goal. And then I did, very early one morning  (late one night, really) in August. I submitted my dental school application and felt relief, the swell of victory that comes with accomplishing something challenging.

After that the waiting began. Sometimes it was itchy and uncomfortable but mostly life kept me distracted like it has a way of doing. September and October rolled around, interviews were scheduled. Still no word. November and then December. The chatter was that there were two more interview sessions in January after the initial wave of acceptances. There was still hope. And then January. The first week…then the second…no word. Chances were so, so slim now but the official email still brought a heavy sense of disappointment.

And the now what.

That black dog hanging around, lurking, stalking, waiting for its moment to take me over. It’s the same dog of my childhood nightmare. Appearing less aggressive but really it’s just a little wiser and more patient now.

I know what I should do. This situation calls for perseverance, pick yourself up and try again. Resilience. It’s a thing (a skill?) I’ve developed and honed. It should be fine tuned, sharp and ready, especially after the past five years of my life. But my instincts to grab onto and wield it are sluggish and I’ve stayed slumped. I let the black dog come in too close and thought that was it, the end. It’s not though. Slowly, oh so slowly, the regroup is starting. I put the plan on paper and started the slow, hard trudge of big test preparation..because, in the words of Chumbawumba, “I get knocked down, but I get up again…” Sometimes it just takes a little longer than it should.

(And now some memes to drive the point home…or possibly water it down. Whichever.)

micheal jordan failure meme.jpghenry ford failure meem.jpghomer failure meme.jpgbatman failure meme.jpg

Another Year, Another Resolution

As I’ve previously mentioned, as in a year ago and the year before that, I really like a good resolution. A change on the calendar marking a fresh start is just invigorating.

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This past year didn’t mark changes the way 2015 did. It was sort of a maintaining, just have to get through it type year. Don’t get me wrong, I made progress but the changes were already in motion. I maintained nursing school and I just put the finishing paint touches on the guest room I’ve been working on since 2015.

So what changes does 2017 have in store. Quite a few I hope and the completion of several long term goals.

changes

I only have one resolution this year but I watched a Ted Talks video that says I shouldn’t share it. Goals that you keep to yourself are more likely to occur.

I support all you resolution makers out there. New year, new opportunities! Just remember, don’t tell!

possibility

Traveling Forward

 

It’s about 11:30 Sunday night and I’m not looking forward to Monday morning, this one more so than usual. It’s an After-Break-Monday. Not only did we have the weekend off but the kids have had a whole week off school and I had half a week. On top of that we went on a vacation, a real live, legitimate vacation. Well, as close as it gets. We left Tuesday evening around eight-thirty and drove 11 hours overnight to get to Georgia where two of my sisters, a brother-in-law, and a two-year-old nephew live. My parents started down Monday with two of my kids, my youngest sister and I followed with the other three. On Wednesday my youngest brother flew into Atlanta as well. It was basically the traditional family Thanksgiving displaced by five states. Maybe just a little smaller. I think we only had fifteen people at dinner. That’s small for my giant family.

So we went on vacation and celebrated Thanksgiving but come morning it’s back to reality. Reality has been stressing me out lately; I’m tired of reality. Life seems to be in one of those weird flux states where major changes are on the horizon, possible paradigm shift level changes. Except it’s not clear what those changes are going to be or what I should be doing to make them happen. Like most changes, this one (or maybe these ones) are driven by discomfort. Nothing really changes when everything feels okay does it?

For one, I’m almost done with school. The Bachelor’s degree part of it at least. Still no word on dental school (other than that they’ve received my application but that’s old news). I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t driving me a little crazy and stressing me out quite a bit. It’s at the prepare for the worst while hoping for the best phase now. More than half the interview sessions have taken place; realistically I need to be looking at what to do to improve my chances when I apply again in the next cycle, such as retaking the DAT. Jeez, why can’t I just get invited to interview already?!? I really don’t want to take that again. (said in an appropriately whiny voice) And I’m not sure I can afford to retake it. I mean, I can’t afford not to but i have no idea how I’m going to pay for it….which leads me to the next area of stress and uncertainty in my life: my job.

I’m still chugging away at the same third shift, part-time job that I’ve had for the past five years and it’s fine, but I’ve only got one class this coming semester. It’s the last two credits I need to graduate and I’ve decided to pay out of pocket for the class instead of taking another extra class to qualify for financial aid. On paper it’s a smart move but my pockets are a little empty right now. I’ll only have one day a week of classes starting in January, it’s time to either bump up my hours at work (if that’s even a possibility) or look for a new, full-time job. Maybe one in the field I’m graduating in. I have no idea how that process works though and if, on the very off chance, I do still get into dental school this year I’d only be working for a few months. However, if I don’t get into dental school I’ll have to start paying on my student loans in June(ish)…It might be time to pay the piper and that’s a scary thought.

Heck, the whole new job idea is scary!

I’m having trouble even fathoming what hours I’m available to work and what I’d like to do or maybe, more practically thinking, what I’m qualified to do. Not to mention how one even goes about finding a “real” job. Agh, so much unknown! Hopefully I’ll find something that will support my family a little more comfortably than we’ve been (it would be nice to actually pay medical bills when they come in instead of saving them all for tax time), something during day time hours that doesn’t require working the whole weekend every other weekend. That would be ideal…but even that’s intimidating. There’s a part of me that worries finding a normal, 9-5ish day job will make me so…so…I don’t know, ordinary?

My schedule has been pretty damn insane for the past five years. I went from working 74 nighttime hours in seven days and having seven days off to working 40 hours over the weekend every other weekend so I could go to school Monday through Friday as needed. When I went part time three years ago I was so relieved not to be working the seven days anymore, that’s a good sign that I shouldn’t just settle back into something like that again. I’m burned out on working nights and weekends but I don’t know if I know how to have a “normal” job and manage my life. It would certainly be very different for me. I’d have to run in the evenings or *gasp* early mornings  like all you other poor schmucks. I’ll have to grocery shop on the weekends or late at night. Weird! So weird!

It’s time to move forward, to transition and adapt. It’s a good thing. Having free weekends would be downright amazing. Not being overly stressed about paying my bills would be a giant relief. I just need to wade through this mess of fear and self-doubt that’s anchoring my feet to the ground, immobilizing me in my tracks. It’ll happen. I’ll get there one uncertain step at a time. In the meantime I’m avoidance cleaning today. I got a new vacuum cleaner and it’s amazing! So there’s that.

And to wrap this somewhat distracted but of drivel up, here are a some more pics from the trip to Georgia including Stone Mountain and a Thanksgiving day “Gobble Jog” fun run in Marietta.

Why am I doing this?

wtf meme

I keep asking myself this but I haven’t gotten an answer yet.

Today was my first day of classes for the new fall semester. I was slightly wary going into it, my class schedule is really not the greatest. Especially for me. I’ve got on-campus classes two days a week, Tuesday and Thursday, one in the morning and one in the evening with four and a half hours between them. (And of course the evening class makes it so I’m not home during divorced-parent switch time. That raises the stress of my schedule exponentially.) I’m still not sure what to do with myself in those four and a half hours. I also don’t understand why that one last chemistry class I still need to graduate doesn’t fit nicely in that space. I mean, it would but the university either didn’t realize or completely missed the memo on that one.

Really I should have picked up some easy bullshit class to fill the time and ,in doing so, avoided fucking up my financial aid. Of course I didn’t realize the financial aid was effed up until two days after my overages were supposed to be deposited into my account so I could buy books. In case you missed it, they weren’t. I’m sans student loan money until mid-September. And even then it’ll probably be less than I actually need and have gotten before. I could look at my student account and see what the adjustment yielded but I’m a little afraid to see what I’m dealing with. Which brings me to the main point of this ramble…

As I walked out of my first class (which ended less than an hour after I got there) feeling a mix of excitement, relief, and trepidation I began to wonder why I’m doing this whole school thing. Later, sitting in the three hour biochemistry lab marveling at how much I forgot since May, that thought popped back into my head: Why am I doing this? Wouldn’t we all be better off if I just worked more at my job or picked up a second job?

Things have been a struggle lately, specifically financial things. They’re piling and piling and I’ve got no exit strategy. And here I am during perfectly good working hours sitting in class accumulating student loan debt. Why? It’s supposed to make life better but I’m not sure this whole college thing is doing that. I’m happier but only when I don’t try to fathom how I’m going to pay for this education I’m (according to some people) selfishly acquiring. And, really, am I making my kids lives better by not being there when they get home from school, by constantly scrambling to patch together rides home from school and cross country practice? I’d like to think, yes, that it does do something, that it is and will continue to make our quality of life better. Maybe I’m operating on sunk cost premises here and maybe this is my competing fears of both failure and success but I if I quit now ,like I’m occasionally so tempted to do, there is no gain. Nothing at all.

I’m  ninety-percent sure this is all self-doubt and beginning of the school year angst. Tomorrow I’ll review protein chemistry and be happy to be learning new things again. I’ll remember that I really do want to be a dentist and have for a long time. I’ll think about all the cool things I’ll do for my kids and others when I am. I’ll find a way to work a little more this term and still be awesome  acceptable at my studies. And I’ll, once again, convince myself that it’s part of the process. Eggs breaking and omelets and all that.

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My kids are super thrilled about the start of a new school year too.