Friday, November 29, 2013

Lost and Found

I’ve been discouraged lately.  My work with Classical Conversations has been hard.  It has left me feeling that I have too little time to work with my own children in their studies.  I’ve been overwhelmed and ready to quit.  I have questioned whether this is really the model I want us to follow.  It takes so much time to study all the various parts of the curriculum.  We are rarely fully prepared for our seminar days.  I don’t like constantly feeling behind.  Even though we all study hard, it feels like there are not enough hours in the day to get it all done.  Honestly, I have been ready to build an exit plan and try something else.

The questions have rattled my brain:  Why am I, why are we - doing this? Why are we doing this, this way?  I don’t want to spend eight hours a day studying.  I don’t want my children parked at a table all day studying.  Where is the creativity? The inspiration?  The love of learning?  This has been the running dialogue in my head for weeks.

My children are all very artistic and creative, but a couple struggle with mild to moderate dyslexia.  I’ve read a lot about learning styles and individualized plans to help work with the strengths of divergent learners.  I recently even explored a local educational option that works specifically with teens who “don’t fit the mold of standard school”. I was looking for something different, maybe even "easier", because what we are doing is very hard - for all of us.  We have never used “standard school” but the past three semesters of Classical Conversations have felt more school-ish than anything else we've ever done.  I joined primarily to find community and accountability for my oldest son.  We were planning for his senior year, and while he wanted to continue homeschooling, he also wanted something different for this final year.  It was a good experience.  He learned.  We all learned.

This year, however, I am also tutoring a Challenge II class - the equivalent of 10th grade.  I have had to put in so much study time to support my tutoring that it leaves little time for the other study I’d really like to be doing. (namely, on nutrition, fitness, entrepreneurship, gardening).  I’ve become resentful of the time required to prepare for my job as tutor.  I want more time for my own stuff.  I’ve been whining.  At first just to myself.  Lately though, I’ve whined to my family and even to my students.  Not cool.

Then I ran a marathon.  

That day stands out as significant on many points. I will write a post on the other factors later.  The part that matters here though, is that running that marathon was a huge breakthrough for me physically and mentally.  Never in my life - ever - had anyone suggested to me that I might be a runner.  For me to run my first 5K was a departure from the normal course of my adult life.  The marathon took this to an entirely different level.  It taught me that setting a high goal matters more than I realized.  If I had never set the marathon goal, I never would have accomplished all the smaller goals I met in the process of training.  By putting that marathon goal out there, I had to dedicate time and attention to preparation.  Long hours of preparation.  Changes in schedule.  In lifestyle.  In priorities.  Somewhere along the course that day and over the hours following the race, I realized how the same training model relates to our family’s educational process.  If we don’t set high, difficult academic goals - we may not even meet the shorter smaller goals that we’d rather set.  Those long hours of study actually make me crave the physical work of running and cycling.  The study also makes me crave creative outlets of music, art and cuisine.  If I take away the challenge of study, do I risk losing the impetus for the other pursuits?  A change in expectation, by changing our curriculum may prove to be more compromising in the end.

I could say, I’ve come full circle and am ready to start fresh with CC.  Really, this was more than full circle, more like climbing a winding mountain road and having my perspective shift and change through the journey.  This exploration of intent and content has taken me to a more solid platform than just a mental do-over.  I have a high regard for the wisdom of those in CC who have gone before me as parents educating their children at home.  It is right for me to be attentive to their words, and to yield to this process of being both a parent/teacher to my own children and a tutor/mentor to the students in my class.   

 Some days, I haven’t even wanted to want to do well with school.  I’ve been that disheartened.  The desire has been rekindled now.  I am ready to submit to the work it will take to finish this year well.  Kind of like my marathon goals: don’t quit, don’t get hurt, finish strong... and smiling!

November 24, 2013  Finished smiling!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Rethinking. Reevaluating. Reality check

"Trying to 'detox' with a warm mug of nuun..."

Since July I have been slightly obsessed with the idea of eating wheat free.  I dabbled with it for a few weeks, but then fully committed to a month without wheat in August.  It was a tricky proposition.  At the end of the month I ate a small serving of pasta.  I noticed no profound affect.  Even still, I wasn’t ready to return to my previous level of wheat consumption, so I continued with the wheat free experiment - and even stepped it up a bit by reducing how often I was eating other grains.  A few weeks later I chanced a taste of baklava at the Tulsa Greek Festival.  No reaction. I still had no strong indication that I have a physical reason to avoid wheat.  Mostly, it was just a nagging mental question of ‘I wonder if I should’.

This weekend I was pondering the grain issue again.  I began to wonder if it was even worth it.  Why should I be wheat free?  My weight hasn’t changed.  My bust/waist/hip measurements haven’t changed.  I’ve been wheat free for over three months - with nothing substantial to show for it.  I had already lost 30 pounds over a year ago, but I thought I’d at least see a noticeable change in my body composition.

This past month my husband and one of my sons joined my wheat fast.  I must say, it was delightful not to be the only abstainer in the house.  We were fully a half and half household - three wheat free - and three wheat eaters.  By week two, my husband was already talking about how he wanted a pasta meal on November 1st to break his wheat fast. 

I obliged. Last night, I made a batch of my favorite tomato sauce.  I also sautéed mushrooms, steamed fresh green beans, wilted spinach with garlic, baked meatballs --- and boiled the water for a big pot of pasta.  All the while, I was giving my husband a small rant on how I’ve had no positive affect from going wheat free.  “Over THREE WHOLE MONTHS and nothing!  I thought my last bit of fat layer would melt away! I thought I’d feel so much different!  I thought there would be more to go on, so I’d know it had been worth it!!”

Then we sat down to dinner.  And I ate.  Pasta.  For the first time in months.  My first thought was “this is not nearly as satisfying as the zucchini noodles I’ve been substituting on spaghetti night”, but I kept that thought to myself because the rest of my family was obviously happily enjoying their meal.  

About four bites in, I was already feeling full.  I had only taken a small portion of pasta, knowing I would go back for more if I was still hungry.  I ate a few more bites and then an achy, full feeling made me stop.  I felt like I had just finished a second plate of Thanksgiving dinner.  Stuffed.  From a one cup portion of linguine with tomato sauce.  Ugh! For the rest of the night I was holding my stomach.  I was in pain, not just bloated.  I haven’t had such a strong and immediate reaction to a meal in a very long time.  

Even though I had pasta about thirty days into my experiment, it didn't give the same reaction that a longer fast enabled.  I still can’t believe it.  I thought there wasn’t a strong reason (for me) to become what free.  I think I found my answer.  This morning my stomach still hurt, my head is groggy, my joints achy - like a mild flu.  

Not. Worth. It. 

I’ve eaten wheat my whole life. There was a season in my teens where I ate pasta with butter and parmesan every day.  I ate bread every day too.  I loved bread. I never would have guessed that it was creating a reaction in my body.  It took giving up the one food I ate the most to discover that it can no longer be my standby staple.  

As much as I hate feeling the way I did last night and this morning, the reaction brought me to a very important crossroads.  If I hadn’t made the choice to eat the pasta, I wouldn’t have known the answer to a question that’s been chewing on my brain for months. No book could have given me such a definitive answer. All my research was just conjecture until my body gave the final vote.  

My one small risk led to a place of clarity and resolve.  

Friday, November 1, 2013


When I started this blog, I thought I knew exactly how it would move forward.  It hasn’t followed the path I anticipated though.  For one thing, it’s hard for me to be consistent with posting.  Blogging takes real work.  I have a new respect for those writers who post every week.  

I also think I edit ideas so much in my head that not enough ends up on the page.  I talk myself out of some posts because I don’t think they matter enough to be made public. I am my own worst critic and not a very good team player on my private brainstorm committee. 

I’m still trying to find my voice; find what it is that motivates and inspires me enough to put in the work of writing.  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tulsa Run 2013 -- Pushing Hard to the Finish Line!

I'm the runner in blue...

On October 26, I completed my second Tulsa Run 15K.  It was a great race.  I was excited to be running a course I've run before. My finish time of 1:26:14 was over 12 minutes better than last year’s event.  I've only been running for 18 months, so these trackable improvements mean a lot.

There is more that could or should be said of this day, but I consciously tried not to overemphasize the race in my mind.  In the larger context of marathon training, it was really only a Saturday long run.  I still have miles to cover before my bigger goal is reached.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Embracing Latin

Part of my role as a Challenge II director with Classical Conversations is to tutor my
students in Latin. Up until about a year ago, I had never even browsed through a Latin
book. Over the past twelve months, I've dabbled in a bit of Latin. I completed 16 or so
exercises from Henle Latin Book I with my sons as they studied Latin for the first time. I
learned worked on the noun declensions with my Foundation level students last year.
This year however, I am responsible to lead weekly Latin discussions for my students.
Many are new to the course, like me, but several have spent two or more years studying
Latin. I am really not equipped to guide these discussions.

I've struggled with this reality. I've tried to catch up quickly in order to be prepared. Ive
discovered something; learning Latin is not to be rushed, but it should be embraced.

I've spent the past month looking for shortcuts to learning Latin so that I can get ahead
and be able to instruct my students better. Shortcuts aren't helping. During a
conversation with another tutor this week, I heard her mention the memorization she
expects from her level B students. I tucked that thought away for later. I have been
diligently memorizing vocabulary, but I really don't know my noun endings well enough
to complete my exercises without looking at a declension chart. This really slows down
the process of learning. It's not unlike having to look up your multiplication facts while
trying to work Algebra equations, or having a fingering chart nearby while you try to
learn a piece of music. I was missing a core concept; to gain fluency in any new
subject, one must submit to memorization of basic facts. The mind cannot draw from
that which has not been absorbed through memorization.

For the past five days I've put myself through drills on the noun endings - several times
a day. It's tedious. Can I say boring? It requires work to train the brain. Just like it
takes work to train the body. Immediate results are not possible, but discipline over time
yields results. Thankfully, I didn't have to wait weeks and weeks to see the fruit of my
learning labors. In Latin the endings of the words tell you the part of speech it holds.
Knowing the endings, and therefore job of each word, is the key to accurate translation.
I thought I would be able to just pick it up over time. That somehow, by looking up each
ending as I went along, I'd still accomplish the memorization. It's not working. There is
something different that happens in the brain when you are actively attempting
memorization. You are intentionally putting information in storage for the specific
purpose of retrieving it again and again. With my "look it up as I go" method, I was only
solving the immediate problem of answering a specific question in an exercise. There
was no intent to fully engage with the knowledge. To get different results, I had to
change the way I approached the subject. My first change was memorization.

Last night, once again, I sat down to work through another set of Latin I exercises. I first
drilled my noun endings. I still don't have them perfect, but I discovered something
wonderful when I moved into the next lesson. I understood. I was beginning to see the
language and to translate. I could access that noun ending chart from the image of it
stored in my brain. It was there for me to use because I put it there through
memorization. A small victory yes, but one I can continue to build on as I surrender to
the necessary components of learning Latin.

So, what's the point? To what end am I studying Latin? Some people ask me the same
question about running and cycling. Why do you run? Why would you ride 100 miles in
a day? What do you hope to achieve? Part of the answer to each of these questions is
very similar. It's about pushing myself to use my body and mind beyond what I
previously thought possible. I am testing my limits. (It's also about stewardship, which
will be the topic of a future post.)

Running and cycling have taught me the benefits of training my body. They demand the
discipline of consistent physical work over time. This training has also made me aware
of the need to harness my mind. Distance running and cycling require as much mental
effort as physical. Studying Latin is showing me how to challenge my mind in an even
deeper, yet complementary way. I am attempting to stretch the definition of crosstraining
beyond its common meaning. I am training my mind and training my body. I
believe this same mental discipline I exert in Latin will also enhance my workouts. I
know that the physical work of endurance sports sharpens my mind.

This is only a partial answer to why I am studying Latin. I'll save the rest of the answer
for another time. Suffice it to say, the benefits outweigh the work; and it is work. The
effort is like the intentional time required to grow in any other activity or to develop a
relationship. I cannot gain all there is to be gained from this study unless I respect the
work required. To this end, I embrace the Latin.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

It's Working -- But, what is it?

I have not eaten wheat in three and a half weeks. Over the first 10-14 days I noticed no physical changes - only cravings.  But then, last week I had some of my best workouts ever. I had speeds on the bike that have been elusive before. I set PRs in my running.  In fact, my base pace for running has improved by :30 - :45 per mile.  So, what's working? Is it the wheat free diet? Is it that my fitness has has hit a new level of strength? Is it because I've started pre-fueling my long workouts differently? How will I ever really know?

I've only gone wheat-free, but not grain free. I've still eaten some oats, rice and corn; just not every day. I chose to drop wheat because it is indicated as a cause of joint inflammation and pH acidity - two things that are counter productive to health and fitness. Overexposure to wheat can also create irritation in the digestive tract, which can lead to malabsorption of nutrients and other undesirable affects.

My diet was already free of most highly processed foods -- we keep a whole food kitchen rather than stocking packaged, manufactured items. Dropping the wheat meant eliminating things like pasta and homemade bread, not convenience foods (cereal, crackers, croutons, cookies, etc).  We dropped the convenience items a long time ago for various other reasons. So, I wonder if the last remnants of wheat in my diet are what is making the big difference in my athletic performance.

My fitness routine is a fairly recent discipline. I've only been regularly exercising for about eighteen months. It is possible that I've hit a new level of strength based solely on the consistent physical work I've done every week for a year and a half. I don't have a prior experience to compare this to. I've never been as active in my entire life as I am right now. I'm forty-five years old, and I know I could out-perform my 20 year old self! But, is a solid base alone the facet to credit for this sudden improvement in pace and strength?

Recently, I've been reading more about proper fueling pre-workout. I started experimenting. I already fuel strategically before my long runs by eating some light, but quick energy, choices like dates and nuts, or a small glass of carrot juice. Last week I decided to switch things up by including my usual post-workout dose of Emergen-C with my standard pre-fuel. It was on a riding workout day. I set a personal record for my favorite 15 mile course and records on several segments within the course. I was impressed - but not sure what had made the difference. Next day I included the Emergen-C again, this time before a run workout. Again I set personal records -- my fastest mile ever. Maybe it was still a fluke. But I do think I've been placing such heavy demands on my body this year and my nutrition had not necessarily been keeping pace with the output. I'm still tweaking my diet and focusing on the proper intake before the workouts and in the recovery period following the workouts.  It's a work in progress.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Wheat Free Living

It is Day 10 of my current no-wheat experiment.  In previous attempts this was my "fail day".  To me, making it past ten days is an important juncture in seeing if wheat free has merit for my body composition.

I am also really struggling with an attempt to add in animal protein.  My research into wheat free eating led me to the books and articles on the 'ancestral diet'.   For over a year, I've been reading about the paleo or primal lifestyle which includes animal protein at every meal.  I've never been a big meat eater.  Ever.  But, since this concept also avoids wheat (actually all grains) I wanted to take a closer look. I've been very intrigued by some of the claims and concepts of this ancestral eating plan.  In July I tried to switch from a six month total vegetarian experiment to a paleo menu.  So, overnight I nixed all grains and beans and switched to just animal protein and plants (veg and fruit).  I was amazed that I started losing weight.  Every day my weight was dropping by close to a pound.  I really didn't need to lose weight - but it happened anyway.

I only lasted with Paleo for ten days before I "slipped up" and ate some beans and rice.  Then I ate some pasta.  My experiment cratered after that.  The trouble with me and Paleo is that, I really don't like meat.  I've tried.  Really.   I just can't seem to choke it down so frequently.  How can I possibly do Paleo if I don't even like meat?  I don't even eat eggs well.  The meal plans make me feel stressed from  trying to eat meat even once a day - let alone three times.  I did find an interesting article on a vegetarian version of Paleo.  I'm not sure I could manage this either for a long term eating plan.  I do like grains.  I believe my body relies on them for fuel for my active lifestyle.

I do know that several athletes that I admire have taken wheat out of their diets.  There seems to be a connection with wheat and slow muscle recovery, inflammation and a more acidic body pH level.  This  research is what has led me to begin my "no wheat experiment" again.  I've committed to staying wheat free for the whole month of August.  I'll make my final assessment of any personal benefits after that.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Tally of the Day - Monday style.

Today's breakfast was a spontaneous creation inspired by my craving for bread.  Those who adopt a paleo-grain-free-diet do not encourage such baking - especially at the beginning of the journey - because it does not change one's mindset about food.

I ignored all that advice this morning and made a wheat-free-carrot-walnut-spice-coffee- ___.  I was going to say coffee cake, but the texture of the finished product was anything but cake-like.  My kids had to spoon honey over it to make it palatable.  They resorted to making cinnamon toast with some whole wheat tortillas we still had.

Here is today's morning kitchen experiment:

I ate it.  It wasn't terrible.  It wasn't great either.  Wheat free baking is tricky business.  Especially since I made up the recipe by adapting two other recipes from a favorite cookbook.

Lunch refuel was a little sketchy. Just some blueberries and bacon, before getting the kids to an afternoon social event at church.  We grabbed peanut butter Clif Bars afterward; then came home and snacked on peaches while I made dinner.

I made a pot of (gluten free) Taco Soup for dinner -- complete with a pan of corn bread for my still-wheat-eating family.

Today's training consisted of 40 minutes on the spin bike at the gym, followed by 45 minutes of yoga/pilates/barre.

I didn't get much done on the tutor prep front today.  I was able to connect with the parent of one of my students and walk through the Challenge II guide a little.  I located a youtube of Beowulf to listen to.  [ ].   I won an ebay auction for a set of prepared slides for Biology.  I also had a parent orientation meeting for one of my sons tonight.  He'll be a Challenge IV student this year.  This is his senior year of school.  I love going to meetings hosted by other tutors.  I gain so much from hearing the perspective of those who have been in Classical Conversations longer than we have.  It also makes me realize what a difficult task I have ahead of me as a Challenge II tutor.

Still, it was a very good day.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

August 4, 2013

August 4, 2013

Sundays are my “rest days” from training.  I did still sneak in 50 squats and 20 push-ups before my shower this morning though.  Last Sunday I began a wheat-free-month.  Again.  I’ve been curious about the affects of wheat on my over all body composition.  Many athletes I admire have dropped wheat from their diets, and so I want to examine what my body does without wheat.  I’ve been poking around in several paleo cook books off and on for the past year.  Interesting concept.  I just don’t know my way around meal prep that doesn’t include some sort of grain-based side dish.  I am trying to learn.

So, I began my new wheat free experiment eight days ago.  I was doing pretty well with it -- until this evening.  My brain was craving something baked and sweet.  I tried baking a pumpkin soufflé from  It was delicious, but didn’t cure my craving.  I ate a bowl of frozen blueberries.  Good - but not quite “it”.  Next, I reheated the leftover hashbrowns from breakfast.  Getting closer, maybe.  Finally, I made a berry sorbet with strawberries, blueberries and coconut milk.  I’m full now, but not satisfied.  My brain wants something else.  

I’ve read that refined grains hit the same brain receptors as drugs, and alcohol.  They create an addictive craving.  I really didn’t believe it.  Now I am beginning to wonder if it’s true.  

The main benefit I’ve seen in my previous wheat free attempts has been that each time I nix the wheat, my body begins to get lean quickly.  I lose nearly a pound a day.  The trouble is - I like bread.  No really, I love bread.  I love baking it and eating it and sharing it.  I baked my first loaf of bread when I was only twelve.  It was on a Saturday, after watching an episode of The French Chef in which Julia Child demonstrated pan de mie.  My life changed that day.  I became a baker.  People who know me know my bread.  Baking bread has been part of what defines me. It is with great struggle on several levels that I attempt a respite from all things wheat.  It tampers with a sense of identity.  I am currently displaced in my own kitchen because of this experiment.  I’ve entered an unfamiliar culture.  I am working to adapt so that I can learn something about myself - or at least about my metabolism.