#IWSG November Post — Creativity

Note: I wrote this, and then I forgot to publish it until I got the email about the December topic. Doh! Well, here’s November’s post, a month late!

The topic for November’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group is, “How has your creativity in life evolved since you began writing?” After spending a little time thinking about this, I don’t know if my creativity has changed in any way, but I feel like my imagination and desire to write has increased dramatically. As I’ve found (or created) time to write, I find myself wanting to write more — writing begets writing! And because I do more writing, I see potential things to write about everywhere — in personal experiences, in local or world events, in songs, in my dreams, in conversations with other people. My biggest obstacle is that no matter how much time I find or create for myself to write, it’s never enough. Hey, I absolutely love my teaching job (especially because I DO get to do some writing for it!!!), but I am looking so forward to the time when I can retire so that I can spend my days writing, writing, writing!

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2019 Running — Help Me

I have been talking a lot lately about putting my name in the lottery for the 2019 Chicago Marathon. Working the aid station at the this year’s marathon a few weeks ago really got the urge up again. Plus, I have also been known to tell people that even though I crossed the finish line in 2017, I feel like that marathon ran me instead of me running that marathon. I feel like I could do better than 8 hours, 7 minutes, and 21 seconds. I know I shouldn’t care about the time; I crossed the finish line, and it wasn’t easy to do. The training was hard; the race was hard; but my desire to finish caused me to push all that hard stuff to the side.

Another reason I keep thinking about running again is that I am in better shape now than I was when I ran the marathon. I am 20 pounds lighter than I was when I did the marathon (and I hope to be be down another 20 – 25 pounds within a year). I cross train regularly through my boxing class — my overall physical fitness level is improved. I have core strength and my knee is noticeably stronger than it was when I did the marathon. And when I finished in 2017, I didn’t get to run through the “regular” finish — I had to go through a small, temporary finish off to the side on the sidewalk. I want to know what it’s like to cross that regular finish line.

I had my mind all set to apply to run Chicago next year when one of my running friends suggested I check into the Grand Rapids Marathon. I did — and it sounds like a fascinating race to run! The FAQ page is an absolute selling point — it is HILARIOUS! Some highlights that make this race enticing: they have an earlier start for people who are “velocity challenged” (read: slow). They will keep the course open until everyone finishes. They had aid stations every 1.5 miles. And it looks like no lottery. Just pay your fee and run. No whining allowed (see the FAQ page). Running Chicago is an exceptional experience — and I experienced only part of it. Trying to run Chicago again means I am taking some risks if my time ends up being not what I want it to be.

So now I’m in a conundrum. Do I attempt to face my old nemesis, the Chicago Marathon? Or is my nemesis the distance and the proving ground is irrelevant? My husband asked me, “What does a ‘win’ look like?” and I’m honestly not sure. I think a win looks like crossing the finish line in less that 8 hours, 7 minutes, and 21 seconds. Ideally, I’d love to finish in 6 1/2 hours.

My plan is to continue with my boxing as cross training 2 times a week and running 3 times a week (2 short runs during the week and 1 long run on the weekends); use a longer training plan (last year was 20 weeks, but this year I want a 32 week plan); and I am seriously considering using a training coach.

But I am seriously unsure of what to do. I need your help. If you’ve read this and you’ve got an opinion to share, maybe you can tell me which option you like. I’m like Johnny Number 5 — I need INPUT (my age is showing with that allusion!!!).

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Aid Station 10 — Chicago Marathon 2018


Me, Jim, and Lucy (and another volunteer from PepsiCo/Gatorade) before the course opened.

Today, as I get ready to celebrate the one year anniversary of my own running of the Chicago Marathon, I spent the first half of my day volunteering at an aid station. My sister-in-law Lucy works for PepsiCo and they always have a crew of volunteers work aid station 10, which is at the halfway point of the race, at the 13.2 mile mark. I asked her if this year, my husband Jim and I could work the aid station with her PepsiCo crew handing out Gatorade Endurance Chews.

I have worked the start line in the past, and it was really cool. But after running this race last year, I developed a soft spot in my heart for the aid stations. They were awesome, and I think that’s part of the reason why it impacted me so significantly when I lost my course support last year — I lost an energy source, both physical and mental. So I really wanted to help runners this year by being part of an aid station.


Me and the hubs before we got all wet and tired.

Some of my most memorable moments:

  • The wheelchair/handcycle athletes are total beasts! Being able to see them up close in action is jaw-dropping!
  • The elites are so fast! It’s a thrill to be momentarily in the presence of these super-human athletes whose bodies clearly don’t operate like the rest of us mere mortals!
  • The front of the pack runners are WAY intense — the back of the pack runners are more laid back. When the front of the pack runners come through, I know they are uber-amazing athletes who are driven by goals, BIG goals, and it shows. They take their running seriously, and when they want those chews, they want them BAD! They don’t stop or slow down. The grab those chews from your hand at top speed and with force. I’m actually surprised I don;t have any cuts or bruises on my hand! The back of the pack runners might still be running or they might slow down to a walk, but they aren’t anywhere near as forceful with grabbing the chews. Some of them want more than one pack for later in the race (no problem — take as many packs as you can carry!). Some of them grab one flavor and want a different one (the front of the packers aren’t as picky about the flavor). Many of the back of the pack runners say, “Thank you,” or, “Thanks for volunteering,” as they come through the station. It’s so nice of them to say that because I expect no thanks at all. I wanted very much to be there for those runners today. It was truly my pleasure. And I’m not implying anything negative about the other runners at all. I expect all the runners to use their energy for the race, not for thanking me.
  • There is guilt involved with doing this job. I felt guilty every time someone tried to reach for a package of chews and I missed their hand — happens a lot! I knew that they only had one or two more people behind me with the energy chews and I didn’t want anyone to miss out on a fueling opportunity. I also felt guilty for not being as much help to some of the runners as I wanted to be. I used the Gatorade Endurance Energy Chews last year, and I liked them a lot. But the one big flaw is with the packaging. They are hard to open up, even when you use your teeth, which is the easiest way to do it (grab the perforated end and rip or bite the package under the first chew). Some of the runners would get chews from us then ask for help opening them. The runners were tired and/or cold and/or wearing gloves and/or their hands were wet. The problem was my hands were cold and wet, and the packages were wet, too, so I felt terrible wasting these runners’ precious time trying to help them open their packages of chews. And then the guilt of leaving while there are still runners on the course. I had my own horror story of coming through an aid station and watching as an entire table of Gatorade was dumped onto the street to be cleaned up. It was demoralizing to have people who had helped me at other aid stations now “turning their backs” on me. It was the final nail in my mental coffin last year. I ended up relying heavily on my family, friends, and Team in Training coaches to get me to the finish line. I didn’t want to abandon any runner while I was out there today. But when it’s time to clean up and go, I have to. I stayed as long as I could. I’m sorry, runners who I left behind. I really am.


    Jim surveying the tables of Gatorade Endurance Chews once we got them all opened up. There are tables behind me and across the street, too, that are just as full. That’s a lot of chews!

  • There are some things that leave me shaking my head. Like the runners who had a choice to make: either run today’s race in sopping wet shoes and socks and risk horrible blisters or run barefoot while carrying their wet shoes and socks. And I saw enough of the latter to leave me slack-jawed. I have to think that had I been faced with that choice, I would have chosen to quit. I don;t think I have the guts to bear the blisters or to go any part of that race barefoot. I also had to wonder about people who asked what the chews were and seemed perplexed. I can’t imagine a long distance runner not knowing what those energy chews are — even if they don;t use them or don’t like them. And then there are some people who don’t seem to really be serious about the race. I saw these people at the end of the shift, maybe around noon or so at the halfway point. Some people just strolling and talking and laughing while on their phone. Another couple just walking and holding hands and talking the whole time. It seems like they had no idea they were on a marathon course. I wanted to ask, “Did you actually pay the three digit entry fee to stroll through this race like it was a 5K and likely not finish it?” But who am I to judge, I suppose. But it left me scratching my head.
  • I was so cold and wet and my back hurt, but I was not going to voice that out there at the aid station knowing full well that my pain and discomfort was noting compared to the other 40,000 people who passed by me all morning! And a quick shout out to KFit Boxing in Minooka, my boxing gym — if it weren’t for “Small Weight Wednesdays” and all the milk the cows and small arm circles, I would not have been able to keep my arm extended to runners for hours on end like I did today! Thanks, Anne!
  • I remembered how much the encouragement and the energy of those aid stations helped my, so I vowed to to give that to all the runners I saw today. I shouted support and cheers to everyone the whole time I was there. My horribly raw throat is a testament to how dedicated I was to passing that energy on to the runners!

If you’ve ever thought about volunteering at the marathon, In highly recommend working an aid station. If you’re not afraid to work hard for a long time and transfer all your energy to the runners you encounter, then you will find it a highly rewarding experience, guaranteed.

As for the inevitable question, “Are you going to work the aid station again next year?” The answer is

Not if I decide to run the race again myself!

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#IWSG — Life Events

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeThanks to a post I read tonight by Jacqui Murray, I stumbled upon the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! I signed on right away and thought I’d take a stab at this month’s topic even though I’m a few days late because when I saw it I was like, “Yeah, I’ve got something to say about this!”

My best writing has always come from major life events. Major life events are what inspire me to write. Those events can be both positive or negative. But whatever they are, it’s the emotional connection to the event that compels me to write.

When I was younger, it was negative experiences that drove me to write, and it was usually in the form of poetry. Bad poetry.  As I have gotten older, my emotional processing has turned into blog posts. Sometimes I still crank out a poem, but it’s not too often, and if I’m being honest, sometimes it’s so personal that it’s hard to figure out what exactly I;m trying to say without knowing the event that inspired it.

But as long as I keep having life events, I suppose I’ll keep writing 🙂

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Note: this post contains information about sexual assault. While it is deliberately not graphic, it still may be detailed enough to be disturbing or upsetting. It is also a huge risk for me emotionally to share this information, but I am trying to add my voice to the many other brave voices out there trying to explain why it is not uncommon not to report sexual assault.

Tweets like this compel people to do things they never thought they would have to do:

Sounds to me like POTUS is implying that there is some level of BS because Dr. Ford didn’t report her sexual assault when it happened, which has prompted responses using #WhyIDidntReport.

I shared on Facebook this week that I have been sexually assaulted twice in my life, and I reported neither of them. Here’s why.

Assault #1: I was approximately 10 years old, and I was spending the night at my friend’s house, like I had done many times before. This night, I woke up not feeling well. I told my friend and she woke her parents. Her dad came in to sit with me. We were sleeping in the family room, my friend on the floor, me on the couch. My friend’s dad sat on the couch at my head and was kind of patting my head and hair, which was a little weird to me, but it didn’t feel bad. Eventually he worked his hand down the front of my nightgown, and I’d prefer to not go into specific detail beyond this. When he did this, I froze. I didn’t move. I tried not to breathe. I thought maybe if he thought I was asleep he’d leave. I was scared. It felt weird. He eventually stopped and went away. I told no one. Here’s why: I had no idea how to tell my parents what happened. It would have been embarrassing. I wasn’t even sure that I was right to feel weird about it. This was my friend’s dad, a man I knew who had always been nice to me. Maybe this wasn’t a bad thing? Maybe this was how he helped his kids feel better? It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that what this man did was one of the most wrong and violating things a person can do.

Assault #2: I was 14 and on vacation with my friend. We went to a campground where her extended family was vacationing. I met her 17 year old cousin who I thought was cute. I flirted with him. I was a boy-crazy teenaged girl. He flirted back with me. One night we went for a walk out into the nearby woods. I remember hoping he might kiss me. He did. And more. Both over and under my clothes. Again, I prefer not to go into the specific details. When he started to put his hands under my clothes, I asked him to stop. More than once. He did not stop. He ignored me and was forceful. I didn’t tell anyone about this. Here’s why: I was embarrassed. I was afraid I’d get in trouble for doing something sexual — I didn’t want adults to know I ever did anything sexual in nature, especially my parents. I was afraid I’d be called a tease. After all, I flirted with him. I wanted him to kiss me. I sent him signals that I liked him. I felt like it was my fault that it happened. I was afraid my friend and her family wouldn’t believe me, and I was at their mercy since I was on vacation with them. I seriously didn’t think this was sexual assault until probably a year ago or so when #MeToo really started to gain momentum. It was then that I realized that this event (as well as the other) was indeed sexual assault.

I had never shared any of this with anyone except my husband, and even then, I didn’t tell him about sexual assault #2 until a few years ago. To be quite honest, I don’t really want to share any of this with anyone now, either, but I am sick of people doubting women’s stories because they didn’t report it. I’m not necessarily sorry that I never reported it, except for the fact that I’m sure these two men also went on to sexually assault other women or little girls, as might be the case from my first account. I feel terrible that my inaction might have caused harm to others. But I can’t change the past. All I can do is try to help by enlightening others as to why people don’t report. It seems to me that Dr. Ford had plenty of reasons not to report what happened to her. If that had been me, I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to know I was doing anything sexual, and I wouldn’t have wanted my parents to know I had been drinking or that I was at a party where there was booze. I would have been scared about what other kids at school would think or say (which is a legit reason if you understand anything about the value teens put on the opinions of their peers).

Women have little to gain personally by reporting a sexual assault. It won’t negate what happened. It won’t remove the damage that was done or heal the injuries that were caused. All it does, at best, is prevent someone else from going through the same hell, and at worst, drag the woman’s past and reputation through the mud and paint her as some sort of slut who deserved what happened to her. In Dr. Ford’s case, she has absolutely nothing to gain by reporting it now and much to lose.

To me, this story has transcended whether or not some man gets to be nominated to the Supreme Court. It has become another story trying to explain to the world why women don’t report rapes and sexual assaults. It’s not easy to do — at all. I beg people to please try a little empathy. It might just help you be able to help others.

Posted in Emotional Outlet, Rants, Social Issues | Tagged | 1 Comment

How do You Define Success?

In July, the boxing gym I attend (K-Fit in Minooka) posted a July fitness challenge, which you can see below. Because I am in love with all things K-Fit, I decided to take on the challenge. But I knew the following things before I even started:

  • Some of the exercises I knew I would not physically be able to do.
  • I would not be able to do this every day for 31 days in a row.

But none of that stopped me.

I added the following exercises to make up for the ones I could not do:

  • Regular plank
  • Regular push ups
  • Push ups from knees

When I started on July 1, I had to break exercises up into 3 sets of 10. I could hold a plank for 30 seconds. By the time I was at July 31, I could do most exercises in sets of 30 or sometimes in 2 sets of 15, and I could hold a plank for 90 seconds.

Here is a rundown of what I did in July:

  • Basic squat: 771
  • Russian twist: 488
  • Sumo squat: 570
  • Bicycles: 500
  • Mountain climbers: 360
  • Narrow squats: 570
  • Squat, hop, feet in: 330
  • Flutter kicks: 541
  • Plank jacks: 37
  • Plank twists: 30
  • Push ups from knees: 400
  • Regular push ups: 62
  • Regular planks: 14

That means I did a total of 4,673 activities in July — not including my boxing classes or running.

I fell well short of the 10,000 activities, and I couldn’t actually do all the activities on the list. Did I fail the challenge?

Hell no.

Because I have a sneaking suspicion this challenge wasn’t about doing 10,000 things — it was about being as healthy and active as you personally could be. So that means success.

I was able to see my improved endurance when doing these exercises. So that means success.

I was able to do some exercises at the end of the month that I couldn’t do at the start of the month (plank jacks, plank twists). So that means success.

While in the ring with my instructor during one class, she said to me, “Your arms look great! Have you been dong push ups?” (SQUEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!) So that means success.

It’s easy to see something and say, “I can’t do that,” and not even try. It’s easy to give up when you fall behind. But it’s not easy to try things you don’t know if you can do, and it’s not easy to keep going when you want to give up. But by persevering, you experience success, and it looks different for everyone.

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I Earned This

I got an email this morning from TRS (Teachers’ Retirement System). Here is what it says:

In recent weeks, a new website identifying 30,000 TRS members as a “$100,000+ Salary & Pension Club” has been circulated via social media and several news sites.

The website was created by the OpenTheBooks.com watchdog organization. In Forbesmagazine, the group said that Illinois is home to “the most out-of-control” and “corrupted… education pay-and-pension systems…”

However, a closer look at the numbers shows that membership in this “$100 K Club” was the exception for Illinois teachers, not the rule.

TRS provided the group with records through a Freedom of Information Act request. There were 30,492 active or retired TRS members in 2017 who either received a salary or a pension of $100,000 or more.

But here’s what OpenTheBooks.com chose not to mention:

  • There were a total of 268,608 active and retired TRS members in 2017. Therefore, the $100 K Club comprised just 11.4 percent of these TRS members. In other words, 88.6 percent of active and retired teachers in Illinois were not members of the $100 K Club.
  • School districts throughout Illinois paid 18,760 teachers a salary of $100,000 or more in 2017, out of a total of 160,488 active members.
  • There were 11,732 retired members receiving a pension of $100,000 or more in 2017 – out of a total of 108,120.
  • The average active TRS member salary in 2017 was $71,773. The average TRS pension in 2017 was $54,180.
The website created by the OpenTheBooks.com enables anyone to search a map of Illinois and pinpoint all TRS members who received either a salary or a TRS pension of $100,000 or more in 2017.
TRS did not provide OpenTheBooks.com with any member addresses or other personally identifiable information, but was required by the FOIA law to sort member salary and pension information by the school districts where active members were employed and by the last districts that employed retired members.

I didn’t see the post on social media or see the article in Forbes, but I’m willing to bet the point of it was to demonize those people in the $100,000+ range.

So, not that this is any of your business, but it is public information since my salary is paid using taxpayer dollars, I’m going to give you some salary information about me. My current salary is in the 90’s. There are 2 years left on our current contract. I am currently in the master’s + 15 column and on step 29. I have 18 hours beyond my master’s degree. The next column on the salary schedule is master’s + 30. I’ve set a goal to be in that column when we start the final year on the contract. I’m taking a grad class this summer. I’ll take one this fall. I’ll take one in the spring. And I’ll take one next summer. That will get me the 12 hours I need. Why do I want to be in that column so badly at step 31 (which means number of years of teaching experience, BTW)? Because at step 31 in the column where I have a master’s degree and 30 graduate hours beyond that degree, I will hit the $100,000 mark. Which means I’ll be part of that “club” that is apparently the root of all financial evil in Illinois. I call BS. I’ve earned that salary. I’ve worked diligently for literally decades for my district and I’ve developed myself professionally to get to that point. Nobody can shame me for that salary. I deserve it.

Now, the pensions? Well, let’s operate from an assumption that those retired teachers got those $100K pensions through high salary bumps and double dipping instead of hard work and dedication. Loopholes in the laws allowed those high salary bumps and double dips. When offered a loophole, were these teachers supposed to say, “No thanks”? Would YOU? You’re five years from retirement and someone offers you a legal way to noticably ramp up what you’ll get when you retire, do you say no? If you don’t like the loopholes, fix them. Find the laws you don’t like and pressure your legislator to change the laws. Some loopholes have already been fixed, like salary bumps. Not sure about the double dipping, though. I’ll do my research, though, and you can, too.

Ultimately, I know this blame game is because the pension system in Illinois is the hottest of hot messes. Again, not the fault of the teachers. We’ve paid faithfully into TRS every paycheck of our careers. The pension funds were raided by the state itself. But somehow the teachers keep getting blamed. It’s ridiculous. I am so sick of being seen as overpaid, underworked, pampered, and privileged because I’m a teacher.

I EARN my salary. And when I retire, I will have EARNED my pension.

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That’s Gonna Leave a Mark

Ever since I saw the musical Hamilton, I’ve started thinking a lot about my legacy. The mark I want to leave on this world. I’ve come to realize that one of the ways I am attempting to do this is through my writing. That’s why I want to write a novel or some other book. It’s a tangible piece of me that gets left behind when I am gone, something that might live on beyond me. That’s probably also why I write a blog. Or I should say blogs. I’ve got three of them. There’s this one, which is a mish-mash of the thoughts that run through my head at any given time. Then there’s my personal education reflection blog, one that I’ve not written on for a while. Then there’s another education blog I write that is part of my job that I gear specifically toward trying to help the teachers I work with. So if you care about my ideas on anything, feel free to follow me on any of these blogs 🙂

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Z is for Zero Inbox

ZHello. My name is Renee, and I have an inbox problem. I am unable to maintain a zero inbox at the end of every day.

I used to be a zero inbox kind of girl. I have three email addresses, and every night, each of them used to be empty. Then I started the job I have now. I used to be a traditional classroom teachers, teaching 7th and 8th grade language arts. I had a typical teacher workload. But five years ago, I transitioned to being my school district’s instructional technology resource teacher and my work load changed. In some respects, it got easier — no daily lesson plans to write, no stacks of papers to grade. But my work didn’t get easier, just different. I still had lessons to plan, usually at a teacher’s request to integrate a new technology-based learning tool in their class. I had research to do to be able to share trends and tools with teachers. I had tech support duties to perform. I had meetings to attend. And I got LOTS more email. Instead of being on one email distribution list at my home building, I was put on the email distribution list for all 4 buildings in my district as well as the email list for our district office. Instead of occasional emails from teachers outside my building, I started getting them regularly from teachers all over the district.

And that is where the trouble started. I started getting a LOT of emails. From within the district and from outside as well since I had subscribed to some email newsletters that would help me keep up with all the trends I needed to keep up with to help our teachers.

Now, zero inbox is a thing of the past. Here is what my inboxes look like tonight, and this is typical:

  • Work email: 128 unread emails; 410 emails total.
  • Personal email: 329 unread emails; no other emails.
  • Personal email I use for shopping: 7407 unread emails; no clue how many other emails there are.


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Y is for Millenials aka Generation Y

I’m playing fast and loose with the letter Y (much like I did yesterday with the letter X). I’d like to share some quick thoughts on Generation Y, also known as Millenials. These are commonly accepted to be people who were born from 1980 – 1994 (my own daughter fits into this category being born in 1994). Millenials get a bad rap. They’re criticized at the generation of selfish, disconnected with people but umbilically connected to their technology, self-important because of their participation trophies, lazy, do-nothing group of dregs in society.

In the words of some pretty rockin’ Gne Z’ers, I call BS.

I know plenty of Millenials, and there are a small number of them who are lazy, unmotivated, social media narcissists. Most of them that I know have graduated college and have jobs — maybe not traditional office-type jobs, but they work and support themselves. Some do have office-type jobs, but they also try to do work that will somehow better the world — they work for non-profits or work in education. Some joined the military, and some do philanthropic work.

I find it distasteful to blame a generation for their faults. Most generations don’t raise themselves — they are raised by their parents. So if there’s a crop of young adults out there who ARE lazy, unmotivated, social media narcissists, maybe they can’t be 100% blamed for turning out the way they did.

Like this guy’s video that went viral — makes me see red. Nice way to malign an entire generation.


I don’t hate Millenials. Sorry not sorry.

Posted in Blogging A to Z, Rants, Social Issues, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments