Better Living Through Sleep

Annie Spratt

When I was nine, my house burned down. For the next two or three years, it was hard for me to fall asleep at night. I would stay up all night reading and going online and listening to Harry Potter audiobooks and listening to NPR. “It’s five o’clock GMT, and you’re listening to the BBC World News Service” was the siren song of my tween years.

I’m a person who likes to do a lot of things all the time, and while that is rewarding for me, it can sometimes cross into overwhelming. This happened in my senior year of college, where I was working three jobs and doing an honors thesis on top of my classes. At that time, I was getting very little sleep and generally not doing a great job taking care of myself, and it took a toll on my health. I spent the spring semester putting much more work into my health than before. One major piece of that was sleeping more.

Since college, I’ve done better with sleep than I did in college, but I’m still not doing it perfectly. I have visions of waking up rested, without an alarm, every single day, but I still have some room to grow there.

The two biggest sleep challenges for me are getting to bed at the same time every night and having a pre-sleep ritual. Those are the focus this month.

I’m going to get in bed at 9:00 every night. I know that seems very early, but I’m going to the gym at 5:30. If I go to bed at 9:00 and wake up at 5:00, that gives me eight hours, which is what I need.

I’m going to get into a pre-sleep ritual. I’m going to stop working at least 30 minutes before bed, and then allowing ten minutes to read or write in my journal. This is just to give me some time to unwind so that I can get to sleep when I go to bed.

I remember my dreams pretty rarely – once in a long while. I was in a car accident in January, and ever since then, I’ve had nightmares about car accidents, which has me waking up in the middle of the night. Hopefully working on other aspects of my sleep routines will help with the nightmares, but we’ll see how it goes. In the comments – any ideas on how to stop nightmares?

Mississippi River Half Marathon

I ran the Mississippi River Half Marathon today! I’m very satisfied with how I did, but also…

I’m trying to smile here, but it’s hard because I am concerned about hypothermia.

I did not anticipate how cold it would be – I was expecting high 40’s, given the weather forecast. I brought tights to Greenville just in case, but I really don’t like to run in tights – I much prefer shorts. While I was on the bus and waiting for the race to start, I was wearing a fleece jacket on top of what I’m wearing above, and I considered keeping it on, instead of dropping my bag off to get at the finish line. I’m glad I took it off, though – my upper body wasn’t that cold once I got moving, it was mostly my face, feet, and legs.

While I was on the bridge over the Mississippi River, I regretted not wearing leggings – it was incredibly cold and windy. I briefly thought about getting out my phone to google “symptoms of frostbite” because I couldn’t feel 80% of each foot, and my legs were bright pink. It got a bit better later on, once I was off the bridge and there were trees to shield me from the wind.

Mile One – I barely noticed this mile passing, it was nice and easy. I was way more focused on how cold it was. This was tied for my second-fastest mile at 11:31.

Mile Two – This is where I was really struggling with the cold – I couldn’t feel my toes, or the balls of my feet, and my legs were incredibly cold. I was very glad to have worn gloves at this point.

Mile Three – This was tied with mile one for my second-fastest mile and I was off the bridge, so that was good. At this point, I was feeling pretty good and thinking that I might finish the race in under 2:30.

Mile Four – I was still feeling great here, and I was pretty amazed that I was a third of the way through the race and not feeling tired or sore at all. I stopped at the beginning of mile four to have my first Gu and drink some water.

Miles Five to Eight – I was feeling pretty good throughout this. I was taking short breaks to walk, but otherwise feeling pretty strong. Towards the end of mile seven, right around 1:30, I had another Gu.

Mile Nine – I got a snack from the aid station (peanut butter on cracker sandwiches) and stopped to use the restroom. Right here, I told myself “It’s only four more miles. You can run four miles without walking.” and I did not stick to that, but the thought was nice.

Mile Ten – This is where I started to feel more tired – I checked my watch, debated my pacing and time goals, and I stopped and started running a lot.

Mile Eleven and Twelve – This is where it became physically painful. My right glute was in pretty significant pain and I pushed through, still running most of this.

Mile Thirteen – I was in downtown Greenville now, and I had a sense of how close I was to the finish line. I ran the entire mile, and picked up the pace. My mindset here was very centered on passing people – I would pick the closest person ahead of me, then tell myself that I could beat them. I passed two or three people with that thought, and I picked up the pace in the last .1 to the finish line.

My time last year was 2:57:34, so this year’s time, 2:38:12 is a nineteen-minute improvement, which I am incredibly proud of. Last year I set a goal of running this race in under two hours, but in retrospect that was totally unrealistic – I didn’t have any concept of how much training my body would need to get that fast. In training, I did my long runs at a pace slower than 12:00/mile, somewhere around 12:40 or even 13:00 for most of them.

I trained a lot more for this race than I did last year, which is the number one thing that made a difference. All those sweaty, it’s-so-humid-I-can’t-breathe runs from June and July felt very worth it today. Two other factors that really helped were hydration and nutrition. Last year, I didn’t even eat breakfast before the race, and I didn’t drink water that morning – I wasn’t that thirsty and I didn’t want to have to stop and use the bathroom. This year, I drank a liter of water before the race, and ate a bowl of cereal and a muffin. I also had my Camelbak and Gu while I was running, which I had trained with, so I knew how to use it effectively and not feel like it was sitting in my stomach. I think there is also a mindset piece – this year I knew I could do it going into it, so there was no question of finishing, just a question of how fast I could finish.

January Reads

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

I did not like this book that much. I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was a freshman in high school, and I thought it was pretty good. In Go Set a Watchman, Scout/Jean Louise is an adult, living in New York, who comes home to visit her father. Her father, shockingly, is no longer the white knight she idealized when she was a child. Jem is dead and Atticus sees no problem with getting involved with the KKK and is actually quite racist. Moral of the story: Your parents are humans who have flaws, some of those flaws are very significant. Most of us realize that sometime before we’re 26.

Also, let’s not leave out the part that the book was published when Harper Lee was 88, in a nursing home, and potentially not fully capable of advocating for herself and making her wishes regarding the book known. When I’m old, I hope that nobody goes through my unpublished blog posts and publishes them when my consent to that is highly questionable.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

I freaking loved this book. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people talk (or don’t talk) about death and loss, and how that all ties together in our understanding of how we should cope with loss when it inevitably occurs. The Year of Magical Thinking was a beautifully written account of Didion’s life in the year after her husband died, and how that loss impacted every part of her life. Didion was incredibly artful with how she wove together the present of her mourning her husband, along with the ways that she revisited their relationship at different times. I want to read more of her books this year.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

This book was a kick in the pants, but a relatively gentle one. I’m no stranger to setting goals (ahem) but this was very rooted in concrete habits. It’s really pushed me to evaluate how my daily actions are pushing me (or failing to push me) towards the big picture goals I have. Also, it makes me consider a lot of smaller decisions as a vote for the kind of person I am – am I a person who goes to the gym before work, or am I a person who tumbles out of bed and dashes out the door? Am I a person who washes all the dishes in the sink before they go to bed, or am I a person who perpetually has a few dishes in the sink? After reading this book, I see those choices less as one-off decisions and more as a larger set of habits.

Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson

I did not expect this book to be as scientific as it was, but it was good. It’s much more of a researched, historic book than a “how to have good, creative ideas” book, which was sort of what I expected. A lot of the good ideas Johnson discusses are scientific discoveries: DNA, natural selection, and the telegraph amongst them. Johnson organizes them in a way that helps the reader draw connections that I would have missed out on otherwise.

Better Living Through Time Management: An Update

For January, I dedicated myself to working on time management. At the beginning of the month, this is where things were.

Right now, I often take work home with me – grading, entering merits and demerits, and calling parents are the tasks that I’m frequently doing at home. I sometimes stay late after school as well. In December, I experimented with coming to school an hour early to prepare everything for the day, which helped, but I ended up spending eleven hours at school every day, which is unsustainable for me.

I have been spending fewer than eleven hours at school every day, which is good. I’m calling and texting parents from home, but I’ve reduced the amount of time I spend grading at home. A major improvement is having a student enter my merits and demerits. I’ve taught three students in my homeroom how to enter them. Now, I have students handle this during AM homeroom and PM homeroom. I’ve also been trying to stress less about entering every single merit and demerit – I’ve come to realize that merits and demerits are not the number one factor in student success, so that’s fallen lower on my list of priorities.

At the beginning of the month, I set two priorities for myself in improving my time management.

First, I will plan out my lessons further in advance. In the first half of the year, we had numerous curriculum changes, and we were often planning the night before we were teaching a lesson. This is ineffective as both an instructional planning strategy and in a time management strategy. This semester, I will plan out the following week of lessons before I leave school on Friday, which will give me more time to make my teacher copies and have more effective planning for each lesson.

This has been challenging. I haven’t known what I’m expected to teach two weeks out, which has made it harder to plan in advance. I’ve at least had an idea of what we’ll be teaching a week in advance though, so it’s getting better. Planning is still not where I would like it to be, but at least I’m not planning the day before I’m teaching something.

Second, I will prioritize working on grading exit tickets and creating my teacher copy for the next day during my planning period. It’s reasonable for me to complete my first class of exit tickets during my first planning period, while still having time to get a cup of coffee and eat my lunch. In my second planning period, I should have time to complete my second class of exit tickets, then create my teacher copy for the next day. If I’m done with both of those tasks, I will enter merits and demerits. I will enter my merits and demerits, and call parents right after I get off dismissal duty, and I’m setting a goal: Leaving work by 4:45 every day. If I need to call some parents from home, that’s okay, but that should be the only thing that I’m taking home with me.

This is a work in progress. I’ve been leaving school earlier, and I’ve been making good use of my planning periods – pushing to get things done rather than treating them as a time to decompress.

An additional piece is going to the gym in the mornings, before school. I was not thinking of this at the beginning of the month, but I’ve been working on it for the past two weeks. I’m running a half marathon in -gulp- ten days and I needed to get some more mileage in. I was trying to run after school, but it gets dark early, and I also have to deal with a lot of other things after school. I figure that if I can make it to the gym and get a few miles in before school, I’m starting out my day with a win and I’m making time to take care of myself, before I tackle work. The most challenging part of this is going to bed early enough. Ideally, I would go to bed at 9:00, then wake up at 5:00 and go to the gym. It’s hard to get into bed at 9:00 every night, though. It is still very much a work in progress.

Better Living Through Time Management

unsplash-logoMajid Rangraz

I am someone who generally stays busy. I like it that way, I get bored if I don’t have much to do, and there are a lot of things that I want to do. I’m teaching full time, and I’m doing my master’s in Elementary Education. As a TFA Graduate Fellow, I’m also pursuing Creative Writing Club, which I organize and lead once every week. I’m also training for a half marathon in February. That sounds like a lot of things going on, but I’ve been able to hold it all down so far this school year.

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2018 >>>> 2019

unsplash-logoEmile Guillemot

This year has been a big one for me. Here are some of the things I did, in no particular order.

  • I ran a half marathon.
  • I ran a DIY half marathon.
  • I quit drinking alcohol.
  • I ran 541 miles.
  • I went to Birmingham, Alabama for spring break.
  • I went to Seattle, Washington over the summer to meet up with my friends from high school.
  • I went on a weekend retreat in the Delta as part of my graduate fellowship.
  • I started my Master’s in Elementary Education program.
  • I got all As in my first semester of my Master’s program.
  • I got a new job, teaching a new grade level.
  • I drove to Michigan and back three times.
  • I watched three of my friends get married (congrats!)
  • I started Creative Writing Club at my school.
  • I bought a house and moved.
  • I became an adult who bundles their homeowners insurance with their car insurance to save money.
  • I finished Teach for America.
  • I taught summer school.
  • I helped plan and promote a local event that is, honestly, the best new thing going on in Jackson.
  • I ate poké for the first time, then several times after that.
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Labor of Love

One of my favorite places in Detroit is the Detroit Institute of Art. I went there as a kid and fell in love with every bit of it, and I’ve been back again and agin.

The special exhibit they have right now is Ruben & Isabel Toledo: Labor of Love, and I was lucky enough to see it today. Before I even entered the exhibit, I saw these new pieces in several galleries. Isabel Toledo created them in response to the art in each of those galleries. It reminded me of Steal Like an Artist, in that she’s taking these influences from other works of art and riffing on them.

The works below were large scale, taking up the entire walls as visitors entered the gallery. They are a response to the Diego Rivera frescos that are in Rivera Court, in the DIA. I love the Diego Rivera frescos, and it was exciting to see another artist’s interpretation of the subjects.

I was so excited to see this – it’s a drawing that Diego Rivera used to plan out the frescos in the DIA. In all the years I’ve seen the frescos, I’d never seen any of the planning put into them. It was exciting to see that connection between the finished piece I know, and the process that came before that.

The dresses, to me, were the heart of this exhibit – they were based on current political themes, and demonstrated how fashion relates to the political climate.

To finish out the exhibit, there was a collection of comics drawn by Ruben Toledo, parallel to comics drawn by Diego Rivera, both of which were critiquing society in different ways. This felt disjointed from the rest of the exhibit – we had all the dresses throughout the museum, and it was based on the Rivera works already in the museum, and then these comics were thrown in, feeling like an afterthought.

The Last Days of California

It’s Christmas, so that means one thing: It’s time to read books about the end of the world.

Of course, The Last Days of California isn’t about the end of the world, not really. It’s about a family and the lies they tell themselves and each other, and the complicated, broken way that they’re holding themselves together.

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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

My friend who is the source of 90% of book recommendations, Kaitlyn, has been telling me to read this book for years. I finally had some free time after finals. I remembered that I enjoy reading books, and that I should, ahem, read a book.

The Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is a memoir about death. The author, Caitlin Doughty works at a funeral home in the crematory. Her reason for taking this job is a fascination with death, rooted in a horrifying childhood experience with death.

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Checking in on Goals

Luke Stackpoole

I set goals in the beginning of 2018, and I reviewed them mid-year. It’s the beginning of December, and I think December offers us an interesting moment as we relate to goals and New Years Resolutions. It’s the point when we start to think about next year, but we still have the chance to make a difference in our goals for the current year.

Health

1. Maintain my current level of fitness and make progress throughout 2018.
I have been consistent with this goal – I can run faster and further than I could six months ago, and I successfully completed my first half marathon in February. I have hit PRs in my one mile and 5k times this year, and I’m running a 5k on Wednesday. Depending on some variables in my life this fall, I may or may not be running a second half marathon in the fall, and I’ve registered for the Mississippi River Half Marathon in 2019.

This is the goal that I have met with the most success. I’m on track to run the Mississippi River Half Marathon in February 2019, and I did run a second half marathon in November – I did what I call my “DIY Half Marathon” which means I filled up my Camelbak, stuck some Gu in my pocket, loaded up an audiobook and ran 13.1 miles on my own. It was hard, but it was also faster than my first half marathon.

 

2. By the end of 2018, I will drink 68 oz. of water daily.
This is harder in the school year than it is in the summer. On a majority of the days this summer, I’ve been drinking 68 oz. of water – it’s so much easier in the summer because there’s more motivation. If I’m not well hydrated, running will make me feel like death because it’s 95 degrees outside.

I’m still working out how, exactly, to drink a bucket of water every day and also teach all day. It looks a little bit like drinking water first thing in the morning, then using the bathroom before school starts, then drinking a ton of water after school.

3. I will floss every day in 2018.

This is going well and I have also become a low-level flossing evangelist, which goes over really well at parties.

I’ve started using HabitBull to track my health related goals, and I highly recommend it.

I stopped using HabitBull for no particular reason, and my flossing has waned a bit. When I went to the dentist in November, I had two cavities that were between my teeth, and the dentist told me that I need to be flossing more effectively – making sure to get all the way between my gum and tooth.

Blogging

1.Write two blog posts every month.This one has not happened with consistency. I’ve met this goal in 2/6 months, in May and June. A major challenge for me has been finding time to devote to blogging, and finding ideas to blog about. I’m not great about keeping up an editorial calendar, which is silly – I have a degree in PR and I ran my college newspaper, I know how to do this. It just wasn’t a priority for me earlier this year.

I feel like I’m still in a similar place with this goal – it’s been hard for me to plan blog content out in advance, and while school is in session, teaching and grad school take priority over blogging. I’ll be super transparent – I’m writing this blog post over Thanksgiving break, and scheduling it to post in December. Maybe that’s the key – writing blog posts in a huge burst over breaks, then scheduling them to post months out.

2. Write one book review every month for the blog.
This one is embarrassing – I’ve written 1/6 book reviews, and I have another draft of a book review in Google Docs. Reading is lower on my list of priorities during the school year, and as a result, the book reviews haven’t been happening. Coming up soon will be reviews of a few nonfiction books I’ve read over summer break.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what book review I had drafted in Google Docs. I looked back through my Drive, and I cannot find anything, which is so frustrating. I read Ghost, and reviewed it last week. I have read The Book of Essie and Little Fires Everywhere, both of which were excellent, and both of which I need to review. I also read The Book Whisperer, and I can write reviews of all those books. I’m currently reading Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, which I can also review. It’s a matter of finding the time and making it a priority, both of which have shown to be a challenge for me this year.