Catching my breath.

When you wake up not sure what day it is, I think that’s a sure sign you’re about to recover from a drunken stupor.  However, in my case it’s a sure sign that I’ve definitely overdone the piling of my plate.

Call me a glutton for punishment.  At the end of the day I actually think I love what I’m doing.  I don’t know how much I will love doing it once October 5 rolls around, at which time one more thing will be added to my plate, which may tip it over completely because it pertains directly to grad school.  However, right now I’m surviving.

So I decided to take a job as a tutor at a nearby college.  This is where I had completed all my science prerequisites for grad school.  This is where I also, somewhat on a whim, decided to enroll into the culinary program because I figured it would give me something challenging yet not too science-y to do as I complete the last few quarters of grad school.  And it’s related to the whole nutrition/wellness/healthy interventions thing I’m hoping to focus on when I’m set free from academia.

My former Anatomy and Physiology professor caught wind of my presence on campus and the next thing I knew, I was hired as a peer tutor to lead guided study groups for her classes.  The first few weeks have been a bear, as I’m trying to get used to office dynamics (politics) while reacquainting myself with the human body.  I am a little surprised that it has all come back with relative ease.

However, I’m still trying to figure out the office dynamics part, which will likely never happen because unlike the “me” of my 20s when I cared about what people think, the “me” of my 40s doesn’t really care.  Or really, I probably just don’t have time.  Along with A&P, I also do math drop ins, and I have a handful of appointments related to everything from Biomedical Terminology to Developmental Psychology.  Granted, I do think the drop ins and appointments have more to do with showing students study techniques and ways they can organize the giant heap of information they have to learn.  At least I hope so because I don’t have that much brain capacity.

In addition to all of this, I was unexpectedly hired to teach Bodypump at a nearby gym, an opportunity I jumped at immediately because in all my 9+ years of teaching group fitness classes, I have never taught any Les Mills program within such close proximity to my house.  The only problem is, the times they need me conflict with the tutoring gig, except for every other Saturday.  I’ll take it.

So in a nutshell, this is my current laundry list.  And I am only writing this all out to remind myself to not do this ever again:

  1. Grad school (online/independent study)- Advanced research study with children and weight perception/diabetes prevention.  With a group, thankfully.
  2. Tutoring – A&P guided study groups, math drop ins, appointments.
  3. Culinary Arts – Intro to Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management (online).
  4. Group Fitness – Bodypump and Bodyjam.  Nothing more.  Nope.  Just say NO.  Seriously.  Even though it’s fun and the participants are awesome.
  5. Marathon training – Chicago Marathon, 10/8.
  6. Grad school – Research Methods in Nutrition, begins 10/5.
  7. Parenting – which I am trying not to suck at.
  8. Oh yeah, ACSM personal training certification, which is totally on the back burner even though I’ve been “attending” (sleeping through) the weekly webinar.

Somewhere in the mix is my husband, injured so he hasn’t been running with me.  But he gladly does the laundry, makes me coffee, and carries all 200 pounds of textbooks, gym gear, and/or culinary tools out to the car for me, depending on where I’m heading off to.  Next semester that list will be reduced by more than 150%.  Seriously.

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Endlessness.

Unbeknownst to me year ago when I was newbie to the MPH program, I opted for online classes to ease into grad school life.  I also did not know that there were no breaks between quarters.  When one ended, the next one would begin the following week.  This was even more of a challenge because I was still finishing prerequisites at the junior college, so I would not have had a spring break anyway.  In hindsight, I don’t know how I survived that craziness, though I credit blissful ignorance more than anything.  The 2015-2016 school year was indeed a blur.  I forgot many things which were unrelated to school.  I lost some friends.  And I just decided I needed to put on blinders, shake off the guilt, and keep going.

Fast forward a year and I’m a little wiser.  Research and writing don’t take me nearly as long and I somewhat know what professors expect.  I figured out my passion, though I also realized students in the Nutrition program are very different than students in the Public Health program.  The former makes me feel old and a little awkward, while the latter has an interesting mix of people from many different disciplines.

And despite the lack of a break a year ago, I find myself taking an online class once again, which overlaps the on campus classes, one which is about to end in a few days, and another which will start sometime mid-June.  I just need to get this stuff done so that my final year of grad school, with a research project/dissertation needed to complete my MS, and along with an internship needed to complete my MPH, isn’t a total bear.

I also realized, however, that most of the people pursuing both degrees work full time.  I do not, unfortunately, and my teaching schedule has whittled down to just 2 classes a week, 3 for the summer with the addition of a dance class on Sunday.  It’s given me more time to really focus on school, but I also find myself yearning for a hands-on challenge.  Hours sitting at the computer researching topic after topic has it’s ah-ha moments, of course.  But perhaps the art major in me needs to go out and create something, even if it’s extracting DNA from squished strawberries (Biochemistry, Spring Semester 2016).

So, on somewhat of a whim I decided to enroll in the culinary arts program at the junior college where I just recently completed my science prerequisites.  I figured, there is no set pace.  I can put it on hold if I foresee a session-from-hell.  I get to make stuff in a kitchen the proper way, and perhaps this will give me the necessary skills to teach others how to create healthy meals on a budget.  With a graduate degree in Nutrition, this ties in perfectly, for I’m not able to work as a registered dietitian unless I decide to go backwards to pursue that path (but would need to take Chemistry II and Organic Chemistry first… ugh… no).  Along with an MPH and my plans to become a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES), I believe culinary skills will help with intervention designs, especially if my focus will be obesity prevention.

But as with everything I decide to jump into, we shall see.  This summer I’m taking two online classes:  Sanitation and Intro to Hospitality.  They’ll be a bit accelerated because a regular 16-week course is compressed into 8 weeks.  But I should be used to this by now since that is exactly what online graduate courses are like, which was another thing I figured out the hard way when I was a grad school newbie.

I think this will be a fun, no-pressure distraction during this final year of graduate studies.  I’m looking forward to distractions, in an academic sort of way anyway.

The Queen of Procrastination.

My sister, who is an excellent therapist, shared some tips about procrastination.  Though they were meant for the Teenager, who is currently struggling with time management, I can certainly benefit from most of these tips myself.

This quarter my plan to take a grueling 16-credit load went from 12 credits to just 8.  This was likely divine intervention because I’m finding half way through the session that 2 courses have given me enough to juggle.  I’m not sure if I’m just burned out or if the courses themselves are challenging (Advanced Metabolism: Carbohydrates & Fats and Health Policy).  In my dual masters program I’ve completed 50% more classes on the MPH side than the MS in Nutrition/Wellness side, and for good reason.  The science end of it is kicking my butt.  Not that policy and law is any less tedious, but it’s a different kind of challenge that entails the regurgitation of knowledge and then some.  If that makes any sense.

Okay, so maybe it isn’t me.  This is just some really difficult shit.

I was actually very disappointed when I realized I may be taking much longer to finish grad school than I had initially planned.  I contemplated dropping the Nutrition component which would have allowed me to graduate this spring, with the MPH internship pending for the summer.  However, in my undying search for the “why” behind everything related to health and fitness, I decided to stick to the dual masters.  On top of that, my Nutrition advisor recommended that I take my time so that I don’t become too overwhelmed.

Blah.

But she was right.  The first year of grad school was a whirlwind.  I need to take this all in so that I know I’m ready when this milestone is behind me.  Right now many things are up in the air, simply because there are so many options.  And that is a great thing.  I never thought in a million years I’d be contemplating a doctorate but that may very well be the next step.

We’ll see.  For now, it’s time to bury myself in academia once again.

As the second year begins.

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since I started grad school.  Granted, during half of this first year, my other foot was still at the junior college completing prerequisites necessary for the second component of my dual masters program. Life during this time was so hectic that I think I successfully blocked it out of my mind.

Once the fog started to lift, I realized I had forgotten important appointments.  It had been 2 years since my kids last visited the dentist; this March will mark 2 years since my last ob/gyn checkup.  I was supposed to get a mammogram sometime as well, but I’m not even sure when.  The icing on the cake occurred while sitting in my Bioethics class and I received a panicked text message from my daughter that she couldn’t try out for the basketball team because her sports physical had expired.

But wait, didn’t we just do that?  They must be wrong.  They must have misplaced the most recent copy.  Or maybe she forgot to turn it in.

Right.

The irony is that one of my degrees is going to be in public health.  I should be on top of preventative health measures for those who are near and dear to me.  Grad school has made me a hopeless flake.   Not to mention more sedentary, with stiff hip flexors from sitting too long along and an annoying shoulder impingement from poor posture while typing endless papers and discussion posts.

While most people see the new year as a new beginning, I tend to view “the year” based on the school term.  Indeed 2015-2016  was great because I started a new chapter in my academic journey, though I wasn’t sure what direction I was going and the sheer amount of thinking rather than merely regurgitating knowledge was an adjustment, though a refreshing one.

I finally found my focus and this is what’s going to carry me through to the end of this leg of the journey.  Hopefully this newfound focus will trickle into the other aspects of my life which seem to run on autopilot, thankfully.

Although this short break between sessions has given me time to evaluate and improve, I have to remember:  No one was sick, injured, or felt deprived, as far I could tell.

We survived, and we’ll just keep going.

A teeny tiny break.

I was looking forward to a 6-week break in between sessions.  It would have given me time to just sit and BE, which usually entails learning new choreography for my classes and binge watching something on Netflix.  After all, the kids are starting school in a few days, the hubby will be at work, leaving my most productive hours in the day completely free.

But 6 weeks is long.  Way too long.  I was fortunate in that the two classes I took over the summer ended early thanks to enduring much pain and suffering in the final weeks, some of which involved working on some massive projects while my husband drove us through the Mohave desert twice while on “vacation”.  My poor mother sat in the back seat in complete silence for fear of causing distractions, unbeknownst to her that when I’m under stress there is very little that can distract me.  Needless to say, 16 hours of drive time from Vegas to Northern California and back were extremely productive.  I earned my pool time and the seemingly bottomless mojitos.

In pursuing a double graduate degree, my total credit requirements went from 64 to 96.  After 3 sessions, I’ve completed 28, which is not quite one-third.  It would have made the most sense to start in the Fall, since that seems to be when people start new things, academically anyway.  However, in keeping with my heightened productivity while under stress, I decided ASAP was a better option, prompting me to begin grad school immediately after acceptance into one of the two programs.  Why not?  Perhaps I’ve actually fallen in love with the rigors of academia because if given the choice between binge watching Game of Thrones and cranking out papers for public health ethics, both of which would require some serious commitment, I would honestly choose the latter.

A year later.

Lately I started thinking about this blog and it might very well be because the year anniversary of its inception is coming up in a few days.  Or it could be because I haven’t exactly been keeping up with this the way I had intended.  As each semester or quarter ends, I get excited and look forward to a lull in academics for a short time, but I realized since starting grad school that the way I’ve gone about my classes has resulted in no real break in between sessions due to some of them overlapping each other.  This is what happens when you pursue something big and decide to just jump right in for fear of giving it too much thought and chickening out.  Needless to say, I jumped, I didn’t chicken out, and life has taken on a whole new level of “busy”.

A year ago I was doing some soul searching because my plans of becoming a physical therapist were fizzling.  I was getting that gut feeling that was easy to ignore when I first decided to go back to school, and earning top scores in my life science courses convinced me that this was the path that was meant to be.  A year of volunteer work, as fulfilling as it was to work one-on-one with rehab patients, helped me realize that I loved the people interaction, but hated the seemingly endless time spent on the computer doing paperwork.  It seemed very boring and tedious to me. However, as stubborn as I was, I decided to just keep going because ultimately I knew I had to make a decision with what I was going to do with all this schooling under my belt.  How on earth could I choose a different path when I hadn’t considered any other detours?

Ironically, a physical therapist was a frequent participant in one of my Bodypump classes, and she asked me if I had considered going into Health Education.  This immediately made me think of my days in high school, muddling through health class half asleep, and I walked away from that conversation wondering why she would think I could be a teacher.  But a little bit of research brought some enlightenment, and I found a graduate school which offered a dual program in Nutrition and Public Health, with (get this) an option to pursue a concentration in Health Education.  What’s even better is that this school is down the street from me, and I realized a friend I had met randomly through other friends a few years ago was the department chair of one of those programs at this university.

If there was ever a time in which things were meant to be, this was one of them.  It was a though there was a giant neon sign placed in front of me that said, “THIS!  DO THIS!”  And indeed, it is what I have been doing since September 2015 when enrolled in one more year at the junior college to take three additional prerequisites for the Master of Science in Nutrition and Wellness Program, but I decided to get a jump start on the dual degree option and begin the Master of Public Health component in January of this year.

And so, January was my last blog entry, when I was giddy about finally being all grown up and in a different stage of academics, but at the same time trying to get used to a new way of thinking.  This was no longer memorization and regurgitation of facts but the endless assimilation of research and analysis in weekly discussions and papers.  In June I was accepted into the MS in Nutrition and Wellness program, which gave me the green light to keep trucking through the summer with two classes, one online and one on campus.

This past academic school year also involved many changes for my kids, with one starting high school, another starting middle school, and the youngest being by herself for the first time in grade school.  I must say they had a good school year of “firsts”; my older daughter played on the basketball team, my son loves playing the clarinet and had a role in the school musical, and my younger daughter continues to hold onto her innocent, spunky sweetness even though she is growing up a little too quickly for my liking.

And then there is my husband.  A few years ago he was a single guy living in a quiet little apartment.  His life was simpler then, I’m sure.  He did his own thing and I doubt anybody got in the way of anything he wanted to do, whether it was travel, train for and compete in triathlons, hang out with the guys, or just be in a state of peace and quiet.  And then he met me and within a year of getting married I decided to go back to school.  I keep waiting for him to complain or say something negative about what I’m doing because it does seem like it’s gone on forever and I don’t see an end in sight.  My time is spent studying, and when I’m not studying I’m learning choreography and teaching.  Yet, through this craziness, he has been my rock.  Sure, it gets frustrating.  My teenager can be difficult, with the my preteen son in close second, and even though my youngest child is so independent and care free, there are always the pangs of guilt that make me want to take care of everything, from folding their laundry to making them dinner.  But my husband has been there, doing what I can’t do in the best way he possibly can.

So onward I go, now as a bonafide graduate student.  Summer quarter is well under way and Fall quarter is already planned.  And if I’m not mistaken, I may actually have a month off after this quarter, which I am hesitant to get excited over because I don’t remember what it feels like to have a break.  What on earth will I do with myself??

Oh yeah.  Marathon training.  Gosh, I do have a lot to write about.

The Period of Unthinking.

In 2013 my return to college after a 19-year hiatus was full of wide-eyed curiosity and motivation.  I had no idea what to expect, but unlike the 17-year-old freshman of years past, I was excited to be back in the classroom and ready to take on the prerequisites for the doctor of physical therapy program.  With a bachelor’s degree in art, this meant a very long list of math and science courses, some of which were prerequisites for the prerequisites.  Needless to say, in Fall 2013 I felt like I would never get to the end of that list.

Yet nearly two years later, unbeknownst to me, I earned an associates degree in science, and with honors to boot.  The only class that gave me trouble was Physics, which is why I dread registering for my final prerequisite:  Physics II.  To be perfectly frank, I would rather gouge my left eye out with a safety pin than prolong the torture.  Physics was far more interesting than Chemistry, but it was a tremendous amount of work, eating up all my time and energy in the form of online homework for the previous chapter, online reading homework for the upcoming chapter, lab homework, weekly quizzes, and daily “clicker” questions.  I felt like I sucked so badly that I needed to take the class over again, but the professor thinks I should just move onto the next class and simply review Chapter 3.  Hurray, that sounds completely doable, not to mention I feel a little bit of redemption knowing the professor doesn’t think I’m a complete Physics imbecile.

But the problem is, I really don’t feel like doing it.

Alas, the burning desire to become a Doctor of Physical Therapy came and went, much like the equations for 2D kinematics going in one ear and out the other.

After finals, I felt as though I was suffering from some sort of post traumatic stress disorder related to academia.  I couldn’t relax and enjoy my much needed time off because I had this constant nagging feeling that I had something due at midnight.  Now that the break is half way over, I’ve eased into summer laziness, though most of this was imposed upon me in the form of metaxalone and tramadol, the lovely cocktail prescribed by the urgent care doc after my back injury.  Throw in a whole lot of boredom from the absence of children and a weeklong teaching hiatus, and I am now in a state of Unthinking.

Unthinking might just as well be the opposite of overthinking, in which I overwhelm myself with what I’m supposed to do next, clouded by all the what if’s, what not’s, and whatever’s.  Maybe I should complete the application for the DPT program, which is due in the fall.  Maybe I should register for Physics II, and unregister if I change my mind.  But when I really think about it, right now I really don’t have to do anything.

So maybe I should just vow to forget about school for a month.  Start taking photos again.  Go on a long walk.  Cook an elaborate meal or two.  Just unthink.  All this stuff will still be here when I return, and maybe in a month’s time, everything will be perceived with much more clarity, hopefully without metaxalone and tramadol.

Note to self:  The next time I find myself in urgent care with an injury, I need to ask the doc for something that doesn’t cause so much mental dullness.  Maybe he will just tell me to forget the drugs and drink more vodka.