Tag Archives: New Jersey

Spartan Beast – Vernon, NJ 2017

The Race:

I went to Vernon, New Jersey this past Saturday for the Spartan Beast.  My boyfriend, AJ, and I drove up to the race early Saturday morning and then we met up with my friend, Jayme, and two of her friends.  While registering, AJ met a guy he knew from high school who was also at the race.

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Me & Jayme

I had completed four previous Spartan races back in 2014, but this was going to be my first one since then, so I was feeling a little nervous. (Previous races: Sprint in Uncasville, CT; Super in Vernon, NJ; Beast in Killington, VT; Stadium Sprint at Fenway in Boston, MA)

I had injured my shoulder about two months ago, so although I had increased my strength training early on this year, I had to cut back tremendously in order to rehab my shoulder.

I knew that I was in good shape in terms of running, but I was curious how I would do with the obstacles.

Our start time was 9:45am, but the race was delayed since there had been thunderstorms that morning.

Once we started, the race went straight uphill.  I knew from previous races that hills are meant to be walked.  A Spartan beast is over 12 miles.  They told us that this one was mapped out to be 13.8 miles (though their mileage doesn’t account for obstacles, so it was probably actually between 14 and 15 miles total).  That’s more than a half marathon, plus crazy hills and obstacles.  If you try to run up the first hill, I can almost guarantee that you are going to use up too much energy.

The hills seem almost endless at times.  Before even getting to mile two, my quads were already burning (despite how often I had been running and climbing stairs before the day of the race).  I was actually feeling a little bit nervous at that point, knowing that I still had over 10 miles left, yet my legs were already feeling sore.

I tried to run or at least jog every time the race became flat or downhill.  I’m really good at running downhill.  Some people step very gingerly when going downhill, but I find that I do better letting my momentum take over.  There were many times when my legs felt tired to walk, but once I started running or jogging, they felt less fatigued.

Even going down rocky slopes, I still usually jogged, remaining confident with my footing so that I wouldn’t slip.

There were a total of 32 obstacles.  Here is a review of some of them (in no particular order):

Walls

In any Spartan race, there are a number of walls to get past.  Some are short and I can easily jump, push myself up on my arms, and climb over.  For the 10-foot walls, I definitely need someone to help give me a boost.  Racing with AJ made these walls a lot easier since he could give me a boost whenever needed.

There was also a wall in the water.  For this one, we had to swim under it.  I didn’t mind going under the wall, but the water is brown and muddy, so some people don’t prefer submerging themselves.  I just felt for the bottom of the wall at first, to make sure that I knew how deep I had to go underwater.

After coming out of the water, there was a slanted wall with ropes on it.  We had to hold the rope to pull ourselves up.

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AJ coming out from under the water at this wall

For obstacles like this, the type of sneaker you are wearing makes a HUGE difference.  Lots of people were slipping all over the place.  When I tried, I didn’t slip at all.  I just held onto that rope and pulled myself up, one step at a time.

I prefer racing in trail shoes since they have a strong grip on the bottom.  Lately there are a lot of running shoes, especially Nike ones, that are very flat on the bottom.  They have little grip and although their lightweight nature may be nice when running, they are not the best option when grip is needed.

I have Adidas trail shoes that I have used for the past three or four Spartan races and I swear by them, rarely failing at an obstacle only as a result of my shoes.

Water

There are a few times when you have to walk through water.  This time, there was no swimming obstacle, but for one part of the race, you had to walk through water.  I’m 5’2′ and eventually the water was up to my chest.

I expected the water to be really cold since it was only April, but surprisingly, it wasn’t bad.  It was actually pretty refreshing.

I really like the water, so I enjoy the water obstacles.  The hardest part is that you can’t see where you’re walking, so sometimes you trip on stones or branches.  In Vermont, I cut up my shin quite a bit because I kicked a rock that I didn’t see.

This time, there were some times when we had to cross a stream.  One time, I jumped into the water and tripped as I went to take a step.  I fell onto a rock and cut my knee.  I saw the blood coming down my sock and soon after, we were walking through deep mud.  It’s never ideal to get a bunch of mud into cuts, but that’s what happens during this race.

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Memory

I had forgotten about this, but there is a memory component to the race.  You get to a wall and have to memorize a certain word/number combination, based on whatever the last two digits of your bib number are.  My bib number was 12517, so I had to memorize “Romeo 213 1089.”

When looking at some YouTube videos, I can see that some racers did have to tell a Spartan volunteer their number at some point.  If they couldn’t remember, they would have to do burpees.  But somehow we never had to do that.  I don’t know if we somehow ran past the people asking, or if they stopped asking.  But after finishing the race, I was so frustrated that I had remembered my number for nothing.

Z-Wall

I love this obstacle.  It’s a wall with wooden rectangle hand and foot grips.  I’m usually pretty good at it; I think it helps that I’m small so I can more easily rest my feet on the rectangles and grab the hand pieces with my whole hand.

For this version, though, the wall isn’t just flat across.  It is in the shape of a Z.  I had made it 2/3 of the way across and AJ was standing behind me.  I told him to just spot me in case I needed help.  I got to one of the corners and I couldn’t see the other side of the wall. I tried to reach out my foot to feel for the next wooden rectangle, but I couldn’t reach it even with my leg fully extended.  The same was true with my arm.

So AJ put a hand out for me to step across since I couldn’t reach and I got my foot on the rectangle, but I still couldn’t reach with my hand, so I suddenly slipped and hit the ground.  I was so frustrated since I was so close to the bell.

I forgot that I could have tried again, but instead I went and did the 30 burpee penalty while AJ crossed the wall.

Log Carry

Men get a larger log and females get a smaller one.  You must carry it up and down a hill.  The logs are pretty heavy, so although they don’t feel too bad in the beginning, it gets tiring by the time you carry it up.

I like to carry the log on my head because I find that to be the easiest option while walking uphill.  Not too many people do it this way, but it works for me.  Most people carry it on one of their shoulders.

On the downhill, I carried it horizontally across my stomach and that wasn’t too bad.

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Spear Throw

I hate this obstacle.  It’s so hard to get the spear to actually stick into the hay.  So many people have to do burpees at this obstacle.  AJ was able to complete every obstacle without assistance except for this one since he missed the hay.

Sandbag Carry

The females and males have different weights to carry.  Just like the log carry, you walk up and down hills, over some branches, and through a little bit of water.  Some people carry it on their shoulder or behind their heads.

I carried mine on my head and later kind of hugging it in front of me.

Monkey Bars

These are my major weakness.  I just can’t do the monkey bars.  But one day I will be able to.  They have normal monkey bars…well, as normal as the Spartan race will have it.  They’re still wider than normal monkey bars, so they’re really difficult to grip with my small hands.

They have monkey bars that have a long metal piece that you must get across, followed by different chains, baseballs on rope, and grips that you have to cross.

They also had ones that spin around while you’re trying to reach the next one.  AJ completed each of these obstacles with ease…me, not so much.

Atlas Carry

They have these big cement stones on the ground.  You must pick it up, walk a few yards, drop it, do 5 burpees, pick it up, walk back, and then drop it.

Picking it up is the hardest part.  Looking online, I can’t find a definite answer about the weight, but it seems that most people agree that it is somewhere between 40 and 60 lbs for women and 80 and 100 lbs for men.

40-60 lbs doesn’t sound terrible, but the size of the stone makes it difficult to get off of the ground.

I squat as low as I can to the ground and try to push it against my stomach to get it up.  Looking at tutorials online, some people roll the stone up one of their legs while the other leg is in the squatting position.  That way they can get it up against their stomach/chest more easily.

Once it’s up, it isn’t too difficult to walk with the stone, but picking it up is the tricky part.

Gravel Bucket Carry

This is an obstacle that most people hate.  It’s brutal.  It always comes towards the end of the race.  In the Spartan Beast in Vermont, this obstacle occurred twice.  You have to fill a bucket with gravel.  It has to be filled up to the line, which is a little bit lower for women than men.

Then, there is an extremely steep hill that you must climb while holding the bucket.  If you drop it, spilling gravel, you have to start all over again.  This is an obstacle that anyone can finish, but not quickly.

This was at the end of the race.  My legs were so tired from all of the previous running and obstacles.  Every step was difficult.  I hugged the bucket in front of me, slowly putting one foot in front of the other.

Going up the hill, every time I needed a break, I put my right leg in front of me, up the hill.  I would rest the bucket on my thigh.  That gave me the break that I needed so that I could catch my breath.  Many people rest by putting the gravel all the way back down on the ground, but that seems to waste a lot of unnecessary energy since you have to bend all the way over to drop the bucket and then lifting it off of the ground is much more difficult than lifting it off of your thigh.

At the top of the hill, it was flat, so I was sure to rest before the top and then after the flat part.  I knew that if I rested at the flat part, I wouldn’t have a hill to position my right leg on in order to rest the bucket on my thigh.

I expected the downhill to be more difficult, but that was not the case.  The downhill was definitely easier, but I was still very careful with my steps.  Parts of the hill were very steep and had quite a bit of spilled gravel.  I didn’t want to risk falling and dumping out my gravel since I would then have to start from the beginning.

Rope Climb

I’ve still never been able to climb the rope in the race.  Usually, the ropes are over water.  This time, the ropes were over foam mats.  And for the first time, I am able to climb a rope at the gym.  However, this obstacle was the last one in the entire race.  My body was entirely drained, especially from the gravel bucket carry which I had just completed.  I hopped onto the rope and although I thought that I might be able to get up partway, I could tell that my arms just didn’t have the strength to get me all the way up and back down without just falling.  I opted for the burpees.  Again.

Here’s a nice video that someone took of all of the obstacles:


Results

I finished in 5 hours and 3 minutes, which placed me 9th in my age group (out of 280 females ages 24-29).

I was 27th out of all 1374 females.

AJ and I both finished at the same time, so we were 299th out of 4,200 total competitors in the open division.  Not too bad!

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Women’s Clothing:

Tops: I like to wear a sports bra with an athletic tank top.  I avoid cotton, t-shirts, and loose-fitting tank tops since they become heavy when wet.  Some girls just wear a sports bra, but I don’t want my stomach and back to get cut while crawling over walls and under barbed wire.

Bottoms: I wear spandex shorts, or capris with long socks.  If it’s around 55 degrees or warmer, I’ll go for shorts because I don’t like to feel too hot while racing.  If it’s chillier, I’ll wear the capris.  I opt to just wear the spandex without underwear so that there are fewer layers of fabric, but that’s a personal preference.

I used to wear shorter socks for my first few races, but then at the Beast in Vermont, I cut up my heels pretty badly since my socks were too low.  That was pretty painful.  I was running at last 10/17 miles with bleeding ankles.  They especially hurt when I had to do the rope traverse obstacle, dragging my bleeding heels across the rope.

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Those were my bleeding ankles in Vermont.  Ever since then, I remember to wear tall socks to avoid that unnecessary pain.

I tend to get blisters on my toes when I run, especially if my feet are wet, so I wear Injinji toe socks:

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Shoes: I always use trail shoes because of the grip.  These are similar to the ones I have:

I noticed that there were a lot of people slipping on the wall that we had to climb holding onto a rope.  We went from water straight to this wall, so it was pretty wet.  Thanks to the grip on my sneakers, I didn’t slip at all.  Most of the people who slipped had sneakers with flat soles that might work for running, but not obstacle racing.

Hydration pack: I prefer to race without a hydration pack, but I learned that it is almost essential on the beast.  In Vermont, there were times when I was so thirsty that I considered asking a complete stranger for a sip of their straw.

I have a small Camelbak.  It’s called a mini-mule and it’s actually a child’s size, but I found that the adult ones were larger than I wanted when I went to buy one a few years ago.  This is mine:

Even better than the fact that it held water was the pockets in the Camelbak.  I brought 8 GU gels to the race: 4 for AJ and 4 for me.  We ended up having 3 each.  In the past, I have stored my GU gels in my sports bra, but sometimes I end up with cuts between my breasts as a result.  It was nice to just keep them in the pocket of the Camelbak.

I also kept our headlamps in another pocket.  We didn’t need the headlamps in the end, but we had them as a precaution because you get kicked off of the race if you don’t have a headlamp after the sun begins setting.


 

 

After the Race:

Upon finishing, they give you your medal, a banana, and a protein bar.  Then you can grab your T-shirt.  I was happy that the T-shirts were specifically for the Spartan Beast this year.  In 2014, all of the shirts were exactly the same, regardless of whether you ran the Sprint, Super, Beast, or Ultra.  I have 4 of the exact same T-shirt since I ran 4 races that year.

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T-shirt, headband, and finisher’s medal

 

I tried to walk around a little bit after the race because I knew that my legs would tighten up once I sat down.  I was pretty dirty, so I rinsed off some of the dirt before getting on the shuttle back to our parking lot.

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Dirty face after the race

After the two-hour car ride home, my legs were super stiff.  AJ and I were both super tired and sore, so we just went out to get dinner and then had a lazy evening.  Sunday was another lazy day.  They suggest running a slow, short jog the day after the race, but my legs were already so sore that I don’t think that I could have gone for a jog.

If I had, maybe that would have helped my sore legs.  I’m not really too sure.  I can’t even describe the pain I felt with each step.  It felt as though my quads and calves had been torn apart and were unable to support my legs.

Stairs were my absolute enemy.  I have had sore legs after running full marathons, but I think that I was more sore from this race than from the marathons.  My right knee was locking up every time I stepped because my muscles just weren’t firing accurately.

We were finished with the race around 3pm on Saturday.  Sunday and Monday were the most painful days in terms of my sore legs.  Tuesday was still pretty rough.  Wednesday I was almost walking normally.  Thursday was normal other than steps.  Finally on Friday I could walk up and down steps normally (though there was still some soreness).

After the race, I had rolled out AJ’s legs, but mine were already so sore that I told him that I didn’t want it.  Maybe it would have helped.

I was also really sore in my inner arm.  I had bruised it when getting up and over one of the 10-foot walls.  I had an immediate bruise during the race, which just kept getting darker after the race.

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Bruised arm

Anyway, I’m really happy about the race overall.  I wish I could have avoided my shoulder injury so that I could have performed better at some of the obstacles that require mainly upper body strength, but I guess that is what next year is for.

Here’s another medal to add to my race rack:

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Until next time, AROO!

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2017 USMC Educator Workshop

Tuesday:

On Tuesday, I was picked up at 4am (along with a coworker of mine) by a Marine recruiter and driven to Newark airport to hop on a plane to Atlanta, Georgia, and then another plane to Savannah, Georgia.  We then boarded a bus with other educators from the state of New Jersey and headed to our hotel in Beaufort, South Carolina.

This was the first leg of our journey to the United States Marine Corps 2017 Educator Workshop and we had no idea what to expect.

We were given no itinerary.  Our short packing list included just four items: sunscreen, bug spray, comfortable clothes, and a business casual outfit.

Some of us (like me) had watched a fewYouTube videos from previous educator workshops, so we had some vague expectations.  My roommate and I knew that we would be yelled at, but we didn’t know when that would happen.  As we rode the bus to the hotel, we just held our breath in anticipation of when the yelling would begin.

Upon arriving at the hotel, the Marines were all very kind to us.  We checked in and had free time until dinner, so I went for a run to see some of the area.

When we piled back onto the white buses to head to Parris Island for the first time for dinner, we were again nervous, waiting for the yelling to begin.  We eventually realized that none of that would happen until Wednesday morning.  So much worrying for no reason.

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Entrance to Parris Island

One group of educators (28 of us) was from Recruiting Station (RS) New Jersey and the other group was from RS Pennsylvania (30 of them).  We had dinner together, along with some of the Marines.  We were able to ask any questions that we had while enjoying our meal together.

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Dinner on Tuesday night

After dinner, they told us to expect Thursday to be the physically active day.  For Wednesday, they just made it clear that we would experience the wrath of the drill instructors.  Uh oh.

We rode the bus back to the hotel.  I went swimming in the hotel pool, and then hit the sack early since breakfast would be from 5-6am the next morning.

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Pool time!

Wednesday:

After an early breakfast we loaded onto the buses toward Parris Island.  Immediately upon arriving, a female drill instructor boarded the bus and started screaming at us.

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Ready to find out what day two holds for me

She ordered us to get off of the bus and run onto the yellow footprints, leaving no empty spaces between the members of our “platoon.”  Even though we knew that we were not actual Marine recruits, the drill instructors were still quite terrifying.  The yellow footprints are a significant tradition at Parris Island.  Every new recruit steps onto these footprints upon arriving, which means that every Marine who has ever lived has stood either on the footprints in Parris Island, South Carolina, or those in San Diego, California.  (Recruits from the east of the Mississippi River head to Parris Island while those west of the Mississippi head to San Diego.)

The first thing we did was head into the first building that the new recruits would enter.  We each sat in a small metal desk while we learned about the intake procedures.  Each recruit gets just one phone call home to let their families know that they have arrived safely.  They get three attempts and if they are unable to reach a loved one, they will try again each day until they are able to relay the message of their safety.  After that, there is no contact with anyone from home (other than letters) until the day before graduation (12 weeks later).

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After learning about the intake, we asked some questions and were then released back into the hands of the drill instructors.  For RS New Jersey, we had Staff Sergeant King and boy, was she intimidating.

“Roust that march!”  “Ay, ma’am!”

“Sprint!”  “Sprint, ay, ma’am!”

“STOPPPP!”  “Stop, ay ma’am!”

She had us lining up in formation, sprinting forward, then turning around to run back to the footprints to line up again.  Every time she spoke, we had to scream a response.  If it took too long to get back into formation, we ran another sprint.  If someone didn’t scream the response loud enough, we would run another sprint.  If someone scratched their face, we would run again.  “Did I tell you to scratch your face?” “No, ma’am!”

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We also had to learn how to count off.  So after she yelled some commands, we would kneel down one at a time while calling out our number.  There were 28 of us, so whenever the last person said “28,” all of us would yell, “28, done ma’am!”  Unfortunately, people kept messing up with the counting and kneeling and yelling back commands, so we went up and down a ton of times.  All of us had sore legs and butts the next day.

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Then she had us run into the pit.  It’s a box of dirty, sand flea-filled sand where the drill instructors command the recruits to go through a series of exercises: running in place, running in place with arms lifted and high knees, push-ups, crunches, mountain climbers, you name it.

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We were probably only in the pit for 5-10 minutes, but we were exhausted.  People were dripping with sweat.  Thanks to the combination of sweat, sunscreen, and bug spray, the sand/dirt from the pit stuck to any exposed skin.

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My dirty arm

“I need to text my wife and tell her how I don’t know what to expect for the physical day if this is the non-physical day,” said one of the teachers who was regretting his decision to wear jeans on Wednesday.

We then went into one of the barracks to hear from more drill instructors and to ask questions.  Most people were hesitant to ask questions around the drill instructors since they were so intimidating when they were yelling at us.

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Later, we went into an auditorium, where we would be learning more about the Marines.  They explained that we had 5 minutes to “make a head call” if we “desperately” needed it.  They use the term “head” to refer to the bathrooms.

I opted not to go to the bathroom since I wasn’t desperate, but then I was soon nervous, wondering when they would offer another head call.  I quickly learned to try to go to the bathroom any time they offered it since we never really knew how many hours it would be until we had another chance.

During the presentation, I learned so much about the Marines that I previously had no knowledge of.  We heard about the qualifications and how 71% of current high school students are ineligible, for a variety of reasons which may include:

-drug history

-incidents with the police/law

-tattoo placement

-medications

-health issues

-low ASVAB scores

-lack of a high school diploma

I had no idea how tough it was to get into the Marines.

We also heard from a woman who explained the educational benefits of the Montgomery GI Bill and the 9/11 GI bill.  And we heard from a man who told us about the musicians who are in the Marines and the requirements to enter that program.  I had never considered mentioning that as an option to some of my students who are musically inclined, but there are some Marines who are responsible for playing in their bands at various celebrations, ceremonies, and other gatherings.

After that, we had lunch.  We got to eat with some of the Marine recruits.  It was really nice to be able to speak with them and to ask them questions about their experiences.  The Marine who was sitting across the table from me had finished his Crucible a few days prior.  He had received his ring and his new uniform and he was very excited to graduate on Friday.  His girlfriend’s graduation occurred three days after he started boot camp, so we hadn’t seen her in about six months.  He was clearly proud of their accomplishments, yet very humble at the same time.

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After lunch we went to learn how to shoot the M16 rifles.  First, we tried it indoors on the virtual version.  The gun was much heavier than I expected.  The Marine who was helping me asked me if I was a lefty or righty.  I told him that I wasn’t sure since I do some things lefty, others righty, and I’ve never held a gun before.

He then asked me which eye is my dominant eye.”  “Um…I don’t know that either.”

So he told me to squint.  Because I immediately shut my right eye, he said that meant that my left eye was my dominant eye.  Learn something new every day.

Then it was time to practice shooting the target on the screen.  The gun was pretty heavy and my right shoulder is a little bit injured right now, so I took my 3 shots and then gladly put down the gun to pass it off to the next person.

After everyone practiced shooting, we went to the firing range.  We learned about safety and then each of us was able to take a turn shooting the real M16.  We had the option to shoot standing, kneeling, or prone (laying down).  I opted to shoot prone so that I didn’t have to worry about my shoulder and lifting the heavy gun.

We each got to fire 10 shots.  There were targets placed in the field anywhere from 100-500 meters away.  The first shot I took was a miss, but after that, I did really well, hitting the next shots on targets between 100 and 300 meters away.  Once I tried the 400 and 500 meter targets, I missed again.

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Shooting the M16
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Shooting the M16

Most people were really excited to fire the rifles.  I’m not really interested in guns, so although I was happy that I performed well, I don’t really feel the need to ever shoot a gun again.  We were in a competition between RS New Jersey and RS Pennsylvania to see who could get the most hits.  RS Pennsylvania won.

We left the firing range and then headed over to the pool to learn about the swim test.  We heard from the MCIWS (Marine Corps Instructors of Water Survival) team.  For many recruits, this is the scariest part of boot camp since they don’t know how to swim and may have never had the opportunity to try to swim before.

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They said that if a recruit cannot swim physically, that is an easy fix since they just teach them flotation techniques.  What is more difficult to overcome is those who cannot swim psychologically because of their fear of the water.  If a recruit is unable to pass the test after multiple attempts, he or she will not be able to become a Marine.

The recruits don’t really need to know how to swim well.  It’s more about survival than actual swimming.  They have to be able to float for a certain amount of time while treading water.  They have to be able to remove their gear in the water.  They learn how to tie off their pant legs and inflate them with air as a makeshift life vest.  It’s not like they are training them to swim laps.

They told us the story of a Marine who fell off of a ship and nobody noticed when it happened.  He ended up floating in the middle of the ocean for over two days, surviving as a result of his Marine training and because he was able to inflate his pants to use for flotation.

Then they let us watch instructors go through the tests that the recruits experience.

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They also showed us some extra games that the MCIWS instructors do together to try to push themselves and to have a little fun.  One guy took two 35-lb kettle bells, jumped into the water, walked all the way across the bottom of the pool and then back to the other side in just one breath.40

After that, we drove the buses over to the aviation part of Parris Island.  We heard from some Marines who work on the fighter jets (mainly the F18).  They also told us about the new F35.  Two of the pilots also spoke to us and then they brought us outside to look at the jets.

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One of the pilots with an F18

They let us put on a helmet and climb the ladder to look into the F18, but we weren’t allowed to take any pictures up there.

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After that, we went to have dinner.  It was a crazy long day, with every minute accounted for.  By dinner, I was pretty tired and REALLY hungry.  Luckily there was delicious eggplant lasagna as one of the buffet options for dinner.

Many of the teachers wanted a drink, so they were excited to learn that we could go to the officer’s club for drinks.  I was tired (and I don’t drink), so I was just ready to get back to the hotel and go to bed.

Thursday:

On Thursday morning, we again had breakfast from 5-6am and loaded up on the buses.  I was simultaneously excited and nervous for the day’s activities since I knew that it was our physical day.

First, we got to see the Marines who would be graduating the following morning as they took their motivation run.  This was their last workout before graduation and also the first time their families would see them.  Since there are so many Marines and they all look very similar, most families probably couldn’t pick out their son or daughter, but the energy was vibrant.

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Motivation run

We took a group picture and then we went to the visitors center.  I had a chance to speak to the chaplain, which was interesting.  She said that they have quite a few conversions because some of the new recruits end up finding their faith as a result of trying to cope with the difficulties that accompany boot camp.  She said that she would be performing seven baptisms later that day.

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After that, we went to the Marine museum.  Then it was time to go to the obstacle course.  I was excited for the obstacles since I would be running the Spartan Beast soon after heading back to Jersey.

The first obstacle was a series of logs across other logs.  You had to jump on the first horizontal log, then up to the next, and finally up to the third, before bear hugging it, rolling over, and jumping down.  This is what it looked like:

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Then, we had to run and jump onto this rope and swing across the gravel area:

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Then there was an inverted wall.  Here, one of the Marines is helping me to get my leg over:

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There were also monkey bars and then this balancing log obstacle:

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After the obstacles, we had lunch with more Marine recruits.  Then it was time for the 50 foot rappel tower.  I’m not scared of heights, so I wasn’t as scared as many of the other people in our group, but the tower definitely looked pretty tall.

First, they taught us how to tie the knots for our harness.  The Marines checked to make sure that each of us had tied the harnesses properly and then we walked up the steps to the top of the tower.

I stayed close to the front of the line because I didn’t want to have to wait too long for my turn.  I knew that the longer I waited, the more nervous I would feel.  They ensured us that even if we slipped, we wouldn’t crash down to the ground.  Worst case scenario, we would flip upside down, still attached to the harness.

When it was my turn, I intentionally just stepped backward toward the edge of the ledge, not looking at the ground below me.  I knew that I would be more scared if I saw how far the ground looked.

When the Marine told me to, I slowly leaned back, still not looking down.

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We were told to keep our legs straight.  If we bent them, we might end up flipping over.  Our left arm was supposed to hold the rope loosely while the right arm was supposed to hold the rope tightly since it was our break hand.  As we let go with the right hand, we would start rappelling down.  The Marines would rappel really quickly, almost running down the wall.  I didn’t want to go that fast, so I never loosened my right hand too much.

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I slowly made my way down the wall and it was pretty fun.  I’m happy that I went early on because after me, there were a few people who slipped.  I saw at lease three or four people flip upside down.  I would have been absolutely terrified if that had happened to me and I was hanging upside down at the top of the tower.

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After the tower, we went to the gas chambers.  First, they asked who wore contacts.  I raised my hand.  They said that any of us with contacts would have to close our eyes as we walked through the gas chamber.  Otherwise, we would get these crystals stuck under our contacts and they said it would hurt even worse when they did whatever was necessary to clean them out.

I had an immediate stomachache because I was so nervous about going into the gas chamber without my eyes open.  I had to hold onto the shoulders of the person in front of me.  I tried to hold my breath for as long as I could, but I eventually had to breathe.  I breathed in through my mouth and immediately felt a burning sensation in my throat and lungs.

We were probably only in the gas chamber for a matter of seconds and I probably only took 2-3 breaths while inside, yet all of us were immediately coughing the moment we exited.  People without contacts probably had it worse because their eyes had been open, so they were burning in addition to their noses, throats, and lungs.

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They told us to walk around to get fresh air.  The gas chamber was pretty painful and the gas wasn’t even on.  They said that it was worse for us because it was such a hot day, so the brick building was hot.  The gas gets stirred up by people walking through it, so even though it wasn’t on full blast, it was still pretty strong.

The Marine recruits enter the gas chamber with gas masks on.  Then they eventually must break the seal, letting the air into their masks in order to get used to training in a chemical situation and not just freaking out.  I can’t imagine how strong the gas must feel when it’s on full blast.

After that, we went to see part of the Crucible, the last event that the recruits have to endure before becoming actual Marines.  It’s a 54-hour culminating event. We got to participate in more obstacles there.  These were team-building obstacles that required everyone to work together in order to accomplish the tasks.

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We also got to see the recruits doing some sparring during the Crucible.

From there, we went to a dinner that they were having.  Some of the families of the Marines who would be graduating on Friday were there.  After dinner, we went to a shop that was on the island and then back to our hotel.

My roommate and I went on a 6 mile run with one of the Marines.  The rest of the group had a karaoke night at the hotel bar.

Friday:

Friday morning we had breakfast and then went to the ceremony where they raised the flag.  From there, we went to the graduation ceremony.

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Graduation ceremony

It was amazing to realize that they have this same ceremony every Friday for a new group of Marines.

Then we went to the auditorium to talk to the General.  We then took pictures with the Marine dog, Legend, and with some of the Marines we had been working with during the workshop.

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Legend with two of the Marines we had been working with

This woman, staff sergeant King, was the drill instructor for RS New Jersey.  By Friday, she was nice to us and speaking normally, but on Wednesday morning, she was completely terrifying with all of the orders she was yelling at us.

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We then got some boxed lunches and hopped on the bus for our flights home.  I flew from Savannah to North Carolina and then from North Carolina to New Jersey.  At Newark, I was picked up by my local Marine recruiter and then brought back home.

Overall, the experience was really awesome.  I learned so much about the Marines.  I definitely feel better prepared to give advice to some of my students who may be trying to decide whether the military is right for them.

I actually have a student who just told me this week that he signed up for the Marines and he was asking me questions about my experience at the workshop.  I like the fact that I can now better understand what he should expect in terms of enlisting and eventually heading off to Parris Island for boot camp.

I would definitely encourage any educator, principal, or guidance counselor to attend the Marine Educator Workshop if they have the opportunity.

2016 Year in Review

As I’ve done for the past two years (2014: My Year in Review, 2015: My Year in Review), here is my 2016 year in review.  Everyone seemed so eager to see the passing of 2016, but I don’t feel that way at all.  While I am excited to see what this next year of life brings me, I am content looking back at all that happened in 2016.  I feel beyond blessed at how different my life is today, January 2nd, than January 2nd last year.  There are so many people I didn’t even know last year today who I am now happy to call my friends.  I had a great year and I look forward to an even better 2017.

January:

-I started off the new year in San Antonio, Texas, watching fireworks exploding all over the place at the passing of midnight and playing lots of games like jumbo Jenga before flying back to Jersey

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-Annual trip to Frost Valley in Claryville, NY

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Posing with the snowman and my cousin
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Hiking to High Falls with painted faces
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The crew

February:

-The end of my last relationship

-Caidin came to visit and we went to Twin Lights in Highlands

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-My mom traveled to Israel / Tel Aviv / Jerusalem / Bethlehem / Rome for her birthday pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  She got to renew her baptismal vows in the Jordan River.

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March:

-I traveled to Brazil for Spring Break.  First, I was with my sister, Vanessa, and my brother-in-law, Carlos, for Easter.  We went to see an amazing waterfall.

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Swimming by the waterfall with my brother-in-law, Carlos

-Then I went to Manaus for my grandma’s 99th birthday.  I am so thankful that I got to go and spend some time with her because that was the second and last time I would ever see her.

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I also got to see lots of other family members while there and I went swimming with river dolphins with two of my uncles.

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-My mom’s 60th birthday

April:

-Although my mom’s birthday was in March, we had a family party for her in April

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May:

-My cousin, Dan, graduated from UConn

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-I ran the Run the Hook 10k in Sandy Hook, NJ

June:

-I went to senior prom to see my students

-Finished my first year teaching in New Jersey

-Traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, to grade AP English Language & Composition exams with my friend from DHS, Elise

-While in Kansas City, I also got to see my friend, Kristin, from high school, who is now a zookeeper at the Kansas City Zoo

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-Ran the Fairfield Half Marathon and set a personal record of 1:55

July:

-Went to Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday party

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-Ran the Belmar five miler

-My friend, Juan, came to visit me in Jersey

-Met on Monday nights with the Belmar Area Catholic Young Adult group that I helped run

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-Through the Belmar young adult group, I met my friend Gabriella, and through her, my Bible study, which has been such an amazing blessing and has brought me so many new friends

-Went to the sand castle competition in Belmar

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-Went to Long Beach Island for a week with my mom

-I turned 28 in Long Beach Island

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Birthday lunch

August:

-Ran the River to Sea Relay race with an awesome group of people to raise money for Covenant House

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-I started riding my bike all around the shore

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Riding my bike through Avon by-the-sea

-Traveled to Nicaragua with Living Water International

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My amazing team

-We helped to drill a well to bring clean water to a rural village

-We also taught hygiene lessons and Bible stories to the women and children.  I helped to translate.

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The community with their finished well

-My friend, Lizzy, visited since she was in Philadelphia for vet clinicals, so we had a beach day

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-Worked on improving my yoga and handstands
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-Hung out with new friends from Bible study14212800_931558857870_9142389201927948083_n

September:

-As of the 1st, I have officially lived in New Jersey for one year

-Started my second year of teaching in New Jersey

-My Brazilian grandmother passed away right before her 99 1/2 birthday

-Went to the Philadelphia Zoo with my friend, Adam

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-Went kayaking with my friend, Adam

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October:

-Ran the Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook

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-Tenth Avenue North concert with my friend, Amanda

-Went to Catholic Underground in NYC with friends from Bible study

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-More kayaking with friends

-Ran the Atlantic City Marathon.  My mom and my friend, Adam, came to cheer me on

-I saw whales a few times from the beach in the fall

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-I went swimming in the ocean the day before Halloween

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November:

-I hosted our weekly Bible study once at my house in November.  It was tight to squish in 15 people, but we managed.

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-Bar Crawl in Asbury Park to raise money for Covenant House

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-Did some November stand up paddling and kayaking in the ocean in my wetsuit from my uncle

-Kayaking Shark River with my friend, Kate

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-Home to Connecticut for Thanksgiving

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December:

-Went to see the ice sculptures in Tinton Falls

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Mimicking the ice sculptures

-Out in Asbury for my friend, Stacy’s, birthday

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-Weekend in the Poconos for Sway’s 25th birthday

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-New relationship with AJ on December 11th

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Climbing a tree in the Poconos

-Graham cracker gingerbread house building with AJ

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-Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house

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-Christmas day at my aunt and uncle’s house

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-Devin & Elise’s New Year’s Eve wedding with AJ

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So here is goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017.  This year should be another great one, filled with more adventures!

A Weekend Full of Adventures

This fall, I have seen whales multiple times off the coast.  I’ve seen them while walking, running, and biking, and I hoped that one day I would be able to get out there on my kayak while the whales were there.

Saturday afternoon, I went ocean kayaking.  I didn’t see any whales or dolphins, but I got to try out my wet suit from my uncle.  The weather was nice.  It was sunny, low 50s, and the wind wasn’t too bad.

Here’s the video I made from Saturday:

 

 

On Sunday, I planned to try out my stand up paddle board in the afternoon once it got warm out, so I went to hot yoga in the morning.  I got home around 10:30.  While I was on the phone with my mom, I saw online that someone was posting about seeing whales off the coast of Belmar.

I told my mom that I would call her later that afternoon.  I rushed into my garage to take out my stand up paddle board (which I had not ever used before Sunday).

It’s an inflatable paddle board, so it took a little while to pump it up.  I was so excited to go out into the ocean.  I got it pumped up, put on my life vest, and headed down to the beach, happy that I could carry the paddle board.  It’s a little trickier and more time consuming to get my kayak down to the beach since I need to tie it onto the wheels and roll it down there.  I probably got out there by around 11:45.

I went down to the ocean, which seemed really calm, jumped on the board, and quickly paddled out deeper.

I had my GoPro stuck into my life vest facing outward.  I thought that I was videoing the whole thing.  Only later did I find out that for the first half of kayaking, it was set on photo mode, so I didn’t really capture any good footage unfortunately.

At first, I didn’t see any whales.  Then I saw one farther north, so I started paddling that way.  Then I saw a different, closer one, behind me, so I turned around and started paddling in the opposite direction.

It was really exciting, but really scary at the same time.  I wasn’t ever super close to the whales because I didn’t really know what would happen in the event that one breached right by the paddle board.  I don’t think a whale would be dangerous to me, but I didn’t really want to fall off the paddle board right next to a massive whale.  They were huge!

I think there were two whales.  They kept going back and forth, eating fish.

I saw tons of fish jumping out of the water all over the place.  At one point, I saw a big white something underneath me.  I think it was a school of fish, but it could have also been the underside of a whale, I’m not too sure.

At that point, I realized that I had drifted really far out into the ocean.  I was so excited about the whales that I just kept following them.

This was only the second or third time in my life ever using a stand up paddle board, and my first time using one in the ocean.  I forgot that it’s harder to paddle one into the wind than a kayak.

So I decided to try going closer to shore and I was really struggling.  It felt like I was paddling and not moving forward.  I was getting a little more nervous, though I knew that I could paddle more easily on my knees since there was less wind resistance.  I had to do that a few times.

I also knew that I could lay on my stomach and paddle with my hands like it was a surf board if I needed to.  However, my hands and feet were pretty cold when I went swimming in my wet suit on Saturday, so I didn’t want to do that too far from shore in case my hands went numb.

I eventually did make it back closer to shore, so it all ended up working out just fine, but there were definitely a few moments of concern.

Then I decided to do some yoga practice on the paddle board since I’ve seen videos of that online before.

Let me tell you, it is REALLY difficult to do yoga poses on there.  Even a simple lunge was really hard since the board is floating.  It was fun though.

I’m just disappointed that I didn’t capture the whales on the GoPro.  I could have had awesome video footage, but I don’t.  Next time I see whales, I think I’ll go get my kayak because I can paddle much more quickly and if it’s a little windy, I feel like I have much more control than on the paddle board.  It’s also easier to balance, so  I don’t feel nervous about falling out.

Here is my video from Sunday:

And at this link, BelmarDays.com, there are some awesome whale pictures that someone took yesterday.

It was a really awesome weekend.  I love living here so much.  I definitely utilize the opportunity that I have in living so close to the beach.

God is so Good

I’ve been wanting to write a blog regarding my recent joy and gratitude for a while, but because I’ve been so busy (doing a bunch of awesome things), I just haven’t had the time.  So here are some of the things that have been taking up my time:

Bible Study

I am so incredibly thankful for the new amazing Catholics that I have met in my area, mainly as a result of attempting to start a Catholic young adult group here.  Through that, I met a great new friend and through her, I learned about a Bible study that meets each week.

Basically, we meet at a different person’s house most Thursdays for dinner and Bible study.  We share a meal and then study the Bible together.  The first time I was invited, it was a group of 6 or 7 of us.  This was some time in July.  I thought that these people had been close friends for years.  Only weeks later did I find out that their Bible study had started recently and some of them didn’t really know much about each other at all.

Since then, our numbers have continued growing.  Now we also have once a month Thursday holy hours, holding them at a different church each time.  I had been praying to find local Catholic friends basically from the moment I graduated from Franciscan University in December 2009.  It took a while, but I am currently so blessed in that I have met so many amazing passionately Catholic young adults.  And what is crazy to think about is that I didn’t know any of these people before June.  Most I’ve only known since July or August.  It’s interesting how quickly life can change in such dramatic ways.

This past Thursday, I hosted Bible study in my apartment.  We had 15 people there.  It was a little tight since I have a small apartment, but that was a great problem to have.  We just keep growing and meeting more amazing Catholics who desire to grow in their faith.

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Bible study

Kayaking

I lived here for almost a full year before getting to use my kayaks.  It was tricky getting my ocean kayak to the beach by myself.  There is also a river where I can kayak, but I can’t get either kayak on my car alone.

Toward the end of the summer, I used my kayak twice in the ocean.  Then I figured out how to get both of them to the river by putting one in my trunk and one on my roof rack.  I’ve gone kayaking there 4 or 5 times since September with two of my friends.

I love living in a place where I can walk a few feet and be at the ocean or drive a few blocks and be at the bay.  (They call it a river, but to me it seems to be a bay since it’s connected to the ocean.  I don’t know).  It’s pretty awesome.

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Kayaking Shark River

It’s also great that I have a job where I can finish a full day of work, be home by 3, and still get a few good hours of kayaking before it starts to get chilly.  It has been a nice autumn because the weather has been pretty warm even into November.

Here’s a quick video of getting to see the train while kayaking and also seeing the drawbridge:

Tenth Avenue North concert

I went to this concert back in October and it was just amazing.  They are my favorite Christian band and I had never seen them live before.  It was just what I needed at the end of a great, but long week.

This is my video of compiled video clips from the concert:

I am so happy that my friend Amanda invited me because I would have never known about the concert if it hadn’t been for her.  She is another friend who I met as a result of trying to start the area young adult group with my church.

At the concert, the lead singer for Tenth Avenue North talked about Compassion International, which is the organization I found in order to sign up to sponsor Patience, my sponsored child in Rwanda.

I know from my own experiences in meeting Patience back in August 2015 in Rwanda that Compassion International seems to be doing great things across the world, but hearing even more accounts about it solidified my view of the organization.

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With my sponsored child, Patience, in Rwanda

What is great about Compassion is that they don’t bring in Americans to do the work overseas.  Rather, they use local churches and hire people within each country to oversee the program.  In some places where other sponsorship organizations were denied the opportunity to work in some dangerous areas, Compassion is allowed since they are based out of churches  that already exist in the community.

Catholic Underground

For Catholic Underground, a group of us from our Bible study drove up to NYC.  The church we went to for adoration was completely packed.  They had confession and praise and worship music during adoration and then there was live music downstairs afterwards.  It was an awesome experience, and great to get to know some of the people from my Bible study a little bit better through the long car rides.  I am so thankful for all of these new friends, even though I have only known them since this past summer.

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Some of the people from our Bible study at Catholic underground

I’m also excited about Catholic Underground because I met a guy from Connecticut there who also has an interest in overseas volunteering.  Through him, I might be able to find a connection to Catholic volunteer organizations to potentially serve with in the future.

The beach

It’s so simple, but I just love the beach so much.  I never expected this fall to be so warm that I could continue swimming so late into the year, but I’ve been lucky.  Maybe it’s a sign of global climate change, but for now I’ll just be thankful for the many beach days I’ve had since the end of the summer.

I’ve gone out for many morning beach walks, looking for beach glass and seashells.

I was even able to go swimming the day before Halloween!

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And THEN there was a whale at the beach on a few separate occasions.  Most recently, though, the whale was really close to the shore and it was feeding, so it kept leaping out of the water.  It was so incredibly exciting.

There is a person who lives in a house that overlooks the ocean and early last Saturday, I saw that he posted a live video of a whale.  I could tell it was right by my house.  I was still wearing pajamas, so I pulled on some leggings, threw on a jacket, grabbed my camera, and ran outside.

It was incredible.  The whale stayed in the general area for over an hour.

The picture below is just amazing.  I didn’t take it, but I did see the whale doing that multiple times.  The picture was taken by the guy who lives in the house right by the beach.

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Who needs to pay for a whale watch when you live right by the ocean and can watch them swimming on a random Saturday at 9am?

Here is my video of the whale:

Atlantic City Marathon

Although I’m not completely satisfied with my result since I had an injured achilles tendon and subsequently didn’t beat my previous marathon time of 4:20 (I finished this one in 4:29), I’m happy that I have gotten my health back to a place where I’m even able to attempt (and finish) a marathon in the first place.

When I first moved to New Jersey, I was pretty healthy, but then I quickly started experiencing my Lyme symptoms again.

Last February I started going to hot yoga and that has helped a lot.  Last March I started running again for the first time after almost a year off.  In that  year I did go running, but never enough to actually train for any races.

I also found that I love yoga…something that I had never expected.  I always looked at yoga as glorified stretching, but it’s definitely more than that.

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Backyard yoga practice

I think that yoga helped me to get back into running.  It also seemed to make me faster.  I ran a 10k in May in Sandy Hook, a half marathon in June in Connecticut, a five mile race in July in Belmar, a relay race across the state of New Jersey in August, a half marathon in Sandy Hook in October, and a full marathon in Atlantic City in October.  I had a full year off from running, completing no races at all in 2015 and then I was able to compete in 6 races in 2016.

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Now that I finished the marathon, I have to take a few weeks off from running to rest and heal my achilles.  I know that I would have done better if it hadn’t been for the injury, so I need to make sure that I don’t get back into running too quickly only to re-injure it.


I’m so incredibly thankful for my faith.  It’s not easy.  Sometimes I wish I learned about my faith about an older age.  But right now, I’m so at peace with my life in general and I think that a huge part of that has to do with my faith.

I know that God has a plan for me.

It’s really interesting because it’s the first time I’ve been single in five years.  I’ve been single now since February.  Back when I was in my last two relationships, I really thought that I was happy…especially in my more recent relationship.

Was I happy?  Sure.  But now I feel so much more peace and joy.

I have never been the type of person who needed a relationship to give me confidence in myself, but at the same time,  I liked being in relationships.  They were comfortable.  As a person who likes routine, I liked knowing what to expect each weekend.

But I realize now that both of these relationships were holding me back.  Yes, I was Catholic, and my exes were Catholics as well, but I wasn’t being pushed to grow in my faith.  I was remaining static.

Upon finding myself single last February, I started focusing more on God.  When I prayed, I kept getting the same message.  “Wait.”  Through the entire spring, I just kept doing just that.  Summer arrived and I was still without local friends.  I was still just trying to follow His advice, but it was hard.

I turned to God and running to maintain some sanity.

And then, without even realizing it at the time, things started changing.  I started to meet new people who have turned into new friends.  I found out about Bible study, which has led to many other events.  I found out about the race across the state which led to other new friendships.

Here I am now in November.  I’ve been single for almost exactly 9 months.  And I feel so incredibly joyful.  I feel like my life is exactly where it needs to be right now.

I am healthy.  I am running and going to yoga.  I have awesome students this year at my job and I’m getting to teach the AP class that I love so much again.  I’m living by the beach going for walks, bike rides, and kayaking.  I just got a stand up paddle board this week.  I have amazing friends and Bible study.  God is a main focus in my life right now, and I just feel so blessed.

I didn’t know how to word this post because I know that other people are facing more struggles than I am right now, so I don’t want to sound like everything is sunshine and rainbows.  But at the same time, I can’t contain my gratitude.

I literally drove to work this week with a smile on my face, just thinking about the place I am right now in my life in general.

So if you’re a person who isn’t yet in a good place, you need to turn to God first.  None of my happiness found me until I left it in God’s hands, waiting for things to fall into place.  I was on my knees in tears at adoration.  I was at Stations of the Cross on Friday nights with no other plans for the upcoming weekends.  I was at Mass by myself each Sunday just praying and trying to be patient.

Things do get better.  It may not be according to our own timeline.  God’s timing may not be what we want.  But I don’t think that the joy I feel now would be the same if I hadn’t had the difficult times last winter and spring.  I needed that to now see the dramatic shift that my life has taken.

I don’t know where things will go from here.  But I am content in my belief that God has good plans for me.  He is in charge of my life and I am trying my best to make choices that reflect His will for me.

And right now, it all seems to be working out.  I am joyful, I am thankful, I am blessed.

Whale Off the Coast of Belmar

This was by far one of the best Saturday mornings, and it was completely unexpected.

I was actually feeling a little sad about the colder weather this morning, and along with it, the end of race season.  I love running and training for races (but I’ll save that for another blog).

I was just sitting on my couch grading some of my students’ journals.  I took a little grading break to log onto Facebook.  I clicked on the Belmar Facebook page because I remembered that a friend told me that he saw a whale off the coast one night this week.

Once I opened the page, I saw live video drone footage of a whale.  From the video, I could tell that it was right outside of my exact street!

I was still in my pajamas, so I quickly took off my pants and put on some running leggings.  I didn’t even change my shirt, but just threw a jacket on top.  I took off my socks and ran out the door.

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The videos and photos cannot do it justice, but the whale was so close to shore and it was just amazing to watch.  I walked up the beach, following it while it slowly swam around, leaping every now and then to catch fish.  I could also see fish jumping all over the place.  Surf fishermen and fishing boats started coming out in droves.

I didn’t get any great footage of the whale leaping to eat fish, but watching it in person was simply amazing.

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It was such a beautiful morning by the beach.  It was sunny and the ocean was super calm.  I was probably out there for over an hour, just following the whale, watching it, taking pictures, and chatting with all of the other people who also came down to watch.

This is a really awesome photo.  I didn’t take it, but I did get to see the whale breaching like that with its mouth open and it was amazing!14900389_870353719732279_3700921162615339114_n.jpg

Here is my compiled video footage:

His Perfect Timing

I really believe that everything happens for a reason.  I find myself repeating that line over and over in my conversations, especially with my students.  But sometimes it’s so difficult to actually heed my own advice.

I can’t say that I love the fact that I have Lyme disease, but it has forced me to grow in so many ways.  If it had not been for Lyme, I might not be a runner right now, something that I love so much.

Upon graduating from college, my goal was to move to the Jersey shore.  Things didn’t work out initially and I had to work in Connecticut for five years, but I had amazing experiences at my job there and I had the opportunity to meet some awesome students and coworkers.

Two years ago, I met a man who I really thought I was meant to be with and when he suddenly ended the relationship, I was lost and confused.  I felt especially lonely since I was living in a new state.  But looking back, I think that he was the reason why I had the courage to take the leap of faith that required me to pack up my life and move to New Jersey.  If I had been in a relationship with someone in Connecticut, I may have second guessed myself.  Or if I had been single, I may have simply been to afraid to move somewhere where I didn’t know a single soul, leaving behind my job, apartment, friends, and family.

I could go on and on with examples of other times when, looking back, I can see God’s work, but the most recent occasion happened last night.

Since moving to New Jersey, I have been hoping to meet some like-minded, Catholic friends.  I don’t want to be picky when it comes to friends, and I have met great people at work, but I want someone who really gets me and understands why I am the way that I am.

I was so fortunate to have attended Franciscan University, where everyone is Catholic and it is so easy to find people who will push you to be a better person.  Out in the real world, things aren’t quite that simple.  I want a friend who I can talk to about my faith without them thinking I’m too hardcore, or some sort of Jesus freak.

So about a month ago, I was reading the church bulletin, hoping to find something geared toward people in my age group.  I saw a little blurb asking for young adults in their 20s and 30s to try to start a CORE team for Theology on Tap.  I immediately sent an email when I got home to say that I was interested.

We ended up meeting at a place in Belmar a few weeks ago, but the turnout was not great.  There were 5 of us, and only 2 of us were actually from the parish.

We had a nice time, but I was not looking too optimistic about this group, considering that there was only one person who was actually from my church and in my age group.  So we met again the following week and this time, there were only 4 of us.  It wasn’t looking very promising at that point.

In trying to think of possible future activities, we decided to go to a place near St. Rose for dinner at 6pm and then walk over to adoration (my church has Eucharistic adoration from 7-8pm on Monday evenings).

Last night, to my surprise, there were 8 of us at dinner!  I was so excited that it was more than just the four of us.  I ordered my typical water without ice and then I heard the girl across from me, Gabby, order the same thing.  I know it seems totally random, but most people think it’s strange when I order water without ice.  When someone asked us why we don’t like ice, we immediately responded with the exact same sentence at the same time about how it makes the water too cold.

Then I was talking about my previous day’s 11.5 mile run and I found out that Gabby also runs and that she’s done a half marathon before.  I was really excited, thinking that maybe this was finally someone who I could get along with well.

I had a great time at dinner just talking with everyone and getting to know everybody’s back story.

Then we walked over to church for adoration.  A few people had to leave due to prior commitments.  During adoration, I usually pray the whole time, read a book, or do something else that really requires my full thought.  I started off that way, praying about the things on my mind, but then I just felt like being still and trying to listen to God, knowing that He has a plan for me.

I didn’t feel particularly inspired, but I left church feeling happy that I had left time to be with God on my busy Monday.

As we were walking outside, I saw Gabby approaching us in running clothes.  She was trying to get back in time for benediction, but she had just missed it. She asked if I wanted to go for a run since she was headed to the boardwalk.  At first, I didn’t really want to since I had eaten a BLT and fries for dinner and I never run that close to eating.  But how could I turn down the offer to finally have someone to run with?

So I drove her to my apartment and changed into my running gear, and then we went for a short jog on the boardwalk.  I couldn’t believe how many things we had in common.  My birthday is July 20th and hers is July 16th of the same year.  She’s also left-handed.  Obviously those are pretty insignificant things, but I felt like we could have talked for hours.  We talked about relationships and the struggle that it is to find a guy who is actually committed in his Catholic faith.  How it’s easy to find nice guys, but that nice isn’t good enough.

I sometimes feel like I’m too picky when it comes to guys, but I don’t just want a nice guy.  There are plenty of those around.  I want a nice guy who loves God and who loves his Catholic faith.  And being Catholic alone isn’t really good enough.  If a guy simply goes through the motions of attending Mass, that’s still not really what I yearn for.  I want someone who is passionate in his love for the Lord, someone who makes his faith a priority.

Yet while I want someone who is passionate, I also want someone with other interests, someone who likes to do things outside of church as well.  I have looked at guys on Catholic Match before, trying to see if there was anyone who I was interested enough in to actually pay for the subscription, but I don’t love the idea of paying to find a relationship.  And many of the guys who I’ve been on the site are one of two options:

Option 1: They’re Catholic in name only, mainly on the site to meet nice women, but they aren’t passionate about their faith.

Option 1: They’re passionately Catholic, but they seem to lack social skills and they don’t share common interests with me.  It seems that all they do is related to church.

And this is why I sometimes feel too picky.  Yes, I want a Catholic guy, but despite my love for my faith, I have many other interests.  I don’t want to spend the entirety of my weekends in church.  I love running, kayaking, hiking, going to the beach, mini-golfing, and just being outside in general.  I want someone who can share those interests.  Is it impossible to find someone who shares these feelings?

Looking back on my relationship with my ex, I really thought that we were headed for marriage.  We had talked about engagements and future plans.  I was confident in us.  But I see now how I was still settling.  Yes, he was Catholic, but he refused to say grace aloud at a restaurant because he didn’t want people to look at us.  He didn’t want to go to Mass on holy days.  He went to church with me every Sunday, but he didn’t mind missing Mass here or there.  He was always complaining about the homilies.

He didn’t really like going to do outdoor activities as much as I did and was very happy to watch TV or movies instead — something that I only really do on a rainy day when I have no other plans.  He loved going out to watch movies at the theater, while I would rather spend my money going to a nice dinner and watching a movie at home.

He had no desire to travel  — something that I am so passionate about.  Yet I was okay with that.  I thought that our relationship was worth sacrificing travel for.  And it wasn’t even his refusal to go on mission trips with me…he wouldn’t even go on a day trip to another city.  I had accepted the fact that I would probably just continue to volunteer overseas alone, while he stayed home to coach football.  Football was his passion and although I learned a lot about it, I really don’t care at all about the sport.  He was a great guy, but he was probably right when he eventually decided that we weren’t right for each other.

Maybe it could have worked out just fine.  But I am still hoping that God has something even better in store for me.  Maybe, once I meet the right person, I won’t have to sacrifice some of my passions.  I know that any solid relationship requires some sacrifice and compromise, but it’s tough to decide how much is acceptable. It’s difficult to know if I’m giving up too much of myself in order to be in a certain relationship.

Gabby has the exact same feelings as me, and similar situations with dating.  If it wasn’t a work night, I am sure that we could have just talked for hours.  And she said something that really resonated with me, about listening to the desires of my heart.  If there is something that I really seek in a man, that is something that I shouldn’t give up on.

I know that if I had to choose the perfect person for me, he would love God above everything else, but also enjoy being outside and staying active, and be eager to travel with me.  I don’t want to have to compromise on any of those three things.  If I did compromise and find myself in a marriage with someone who didn’t fit those criteria, I think I would be always curious if I could have found a better person if I had waited it out.  And that is what would lead me to a divorce.

Do we necessarily need to enjoy all of the same outdoor activities?  No, but some should overlap.  I’m not expecting or even seeking a guy to accompany me in marathon training.  But I hope I can find one who will cheer me on at the finish line.  I don’t need a guy who loves kayaking, but maybe instead he enjoys hiking.  He has to enjoy some of the activities that I enjoy.  Does he need to jump on a plane for 14 hours to go trekking with gorillas in Rwanda?  No.  But going on a drive to the Baltimore Aquarium, or flying out to see the Grand Canyon would be awesome.  And he would need to be supportive of the mission trips that I go on, not upset with me for leaving for a week or two.

So Gabby and I chatted about jobs, relationships, dating, our faith, and friends over our 2.3 mile run.  She told me how she loves going kayaking and stand up paddle boarding on a river that is close to where her sister lives.  She also enjoys running and the beach.  Although I don’t drink, she assured me that I will enjoy going out with her to experience the Belmar night life with her and some of her other Catholic friends.

I drove her back to my car, we exchanged numbers, and I left feeling so excited about the way the night had played out.

A few hours before, I had come home from work, went to the beach, and I was actually feeling a bit frustrated knowing that I would have to leave the beach early to shower and go out to dinner.  But I am so happy that I went.

I have no idea what will come with this young adult group or this friendship, but I am absolutely thrilled to find out.

I couldn’t even fall asleep last night because I was just in awe of the way God works.  My relationship ended in February and I took time to work on myself.  During Lent, I had been going to adoration every Monday and Stations of the Cross every Friday.  I went to Mass every Sunday and I went to confession twice.  I was reading my devotional daily and trying to pray more than I had been in the recent past.

I also worked on restoring my health, through hot yoga and running.  I needed to be alone during the past few months to get to where I am right now.  And maybe He now knows that I’m ready for more, whatever comes from all of this.

They always say that things happen when we’re least expecting them and I think last night was a perfect example of that.  I went to dinner expecting there to be four of us, maybe five max.  But everything fell perfectly into place.

I wish that I was better at waiting patiently and trusting in Him, but I get so impatient when I feel so alone.  I need to remember that He truly has the best plans for me, even if they don’t happen as quickly as I think they should.  Waiting is key.

And the idea of waiting reminds me of a blog that I wrote on February 11th, about The Difficulty of Waiting.  At the time, I was just frustrated that I had to wait to see how life would unfold, but now, in June, I am starting to see the fruits of that message in my devotional about waiting.  It had said this:

“Your path is difficult.  There is no work in life so hard as waiting, and yet I say wait.  Wait until I show you My Will.  Proof it is of My Love and of My certainty of your true discipleship, that I give you hard tasks.

Again, I say wait.  All motion is more easy than calm waiting.  So many of My followers have marred their work and hindered their progress of My Kingdom by activity.

Wait.  I will not overtry your spiritual strength…

All your toil in rowing and all your activity could no have accomplished the journey so soon.  Oh, wait and trust.  Wait, and be not afraid.”

Four months later, and maybe the waiting has finally paid off.  I am eager to see what unfolds next.

God is so good and I am feeling incredibly blessed.

 

Will Standardized Tests Make Americans Compete in the Global Economy? I Think Not.

You’ve heard the statistics – American students are less intelligent than those in countries like China and Finland.

In America, we’ve decided that the way to combat this issue is to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and to create a national test so that students in every state are assessed on the same material.

Although that’s already been quite a bit of a failure, we’re still pushing forward.

As a high school English teacher,  I don’t mind the CCSS.  Most of the high school standards seem reasonable.  I have heard complaints from English teachers in lower grades as well as math teachers, but for my students, the standards seem appropriate.  I do, however, have a strong dislike for the standardized tests like the SBAC and PARCC.

I worked in Connecticut last year when the SBAC was being given.  In a school with over 500 juniors who were supposed to take the test, we had fewer than 100 of them actually take it since so many had opted out.  The test was an abysmal failure.

It wasn’t just my school where the test failed.  Most towns either experienced high opt-out rates, or low scores since many students simply clicked through the test without trying.

So Connecticut is considering getting rid of SBAC completely, or shortening it.  According to a Connecticut Post article from February 26, 2016, the SBAC that was set to be given during this current school  year was trimmed down from the one that was given last year.  The language arts section was cut in half.

Many districts in Connecticut did away with the SBAC entirely, opting for the SAT to assess student achievement.  This makes complete sense.  After all, with CCSS, the country wanted a national assessment to assess students from every state.  We already have the ACT and SAT, so why not use one of those?

Instead, we had two companies create tests that were specifically aligned with Common Core.  Thus, the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) and PARCC (The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).  But this still didn’t solve the problem of creating a national test because different states opted for different assessments.

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http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2015/02/a_map_of_states_2015_testing_p.html

SBAC states include: Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and California.

PARCC states include: New Jersey, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Colorado.

Many states opted to keep their own tests or use other alternatives.  These include: New York, Virginia, Texas, Florida, and on and on.

So take a small area as an example.  If a student moves from New Jersey, to New York, to Connecticut (not a long distance to travel), he will face three different state tests.  This is exactly what we had before CCSS existed.

So Common Core definitely did not achieve its goal of creating a national test.  National standards?  Well, mostly.  Except for the states that opted out and those that continue to opt out while these tests continue to fail.  The map of states that have adopted Common Core can be viewed at that link.  While most states are using CCSS, some that are not include Texas, South Carolina, and Virginia.

But anyway, back to the reason I decided to write this blog: the chaos that was PARCC testing here in New Jersey on April 20, 2016.

Monday and Tuesday were the first PARCC testing days in our school.  We were scheduled to have 4 total PARCC days where the test would take place in lieu of classes.  One could argue that the 4 days of lost instructional time is too much, but that was the schedule, until today’s chaos ensued.

Monday and Tuesday passed with just a few glitches.  Students took the computerized test.  Hopefully most of them actually tried and put their effort into it.  We’ll know better when we see the scores next year.

Today, however, was a bit different.  When signing out my materials to bring to my room, I was told that I should keep refreshing the Pearson website since it wasn’t yet working.

All of my students got situated.  I passed out the necessary materials.  I repeatedly clicked “refresh” on my computer, but nothing was changing.  Students were starting to get antsy.  After all, they’re not allowed access to much of anything during testing.  No food, water, cell phones, internet.  They just had to sit there while I clicked “refresh.”

Today’s test called for two 110-minute English sections.  As the clock kept ticking, it was clear that it was going to be impossible to give those two sections and still release the students at 12:30pm.

Eventually, our principal came onto the intercom and cancelled testing since it was still not working at 9am (students get to school at 7:30am).

So I had the pleasure of sitting with my class of students for the next 3 hours while we waited to be dismissed.

This is what I learned about today’s testing fiasco from a NJ.com article:

-The problem was due to the Pearson website

-Pearson is attempting to fix the problem (key word: attempting)

-We are told that testing “should be up and running” by Thursday

Well that sure gives me confidence that tomorrow will play out differently than today.  (Don’t mind the sarcasm.)

This is what happens when we fully rely on technology.  As a teacher, I know how technology can fail.  Projector lightbulbs die out, internet connections cut out, power outages happen.  It’s expected.  In those situations, we think on our feet and adapt our lessons so that we don’t waste entire class periods.  This is what is expected of us.  If we are having a lesson observed by an administrator and the projector won’t work, we can’t just say, “Okay, class, just sit there and I’ll try again to teach you tomorrow.  Maybe by then the projector will be working.”  No, I’m expected to be flexible and figure out a plan B.

With PARCC, there is no plan B.  It’s a computer-based test.  If the website is down, then no student in the state of New Jersey can take the test.  The test is given to all freshmen, sophomores, and juniors.  There were hundreds of thousands of students scheduled to test today, but oops!  The website was broken.

Now don’t even get me started on the fact that students must take this test for three years of high school.  I already believe that these students are over-tested.

But if you cannot guarantee that this test will work, then you are wasting my instructional time.  Today was a complete waste.  We were supposed to resume a normal schedule on Friday, but thanks to the glitch, Friday is now another day of testing.

Students have lost 5 school days for the PARCC test, plus portions of the school day when we had 2 prior practice sections to get ready for PARCC.  Plus, we could potentially face more if the website is not fixed by tomorrow morning.

What about this situation makes anyone believe that standardized testing is going to fix American education?

AP exams start the first week of May.  So while teachers could have been preparing for those tests that can really help students for college, they were instead babysitting students today who had nothing to do.

The problem is that many of our lawmakers and politicians who make decisions about education in America have no background in education, minus their own experiences as a student.  They don’t consult teachers before making these major changes.  They let companies like Pearson monopolize the testing, but Pearson’s main goal is not to improve American education.  They are a for-profit organization that wants more states to choose their test.

If we want to improve education in America, we need to listen to the teachers who have their hands and feet inside a classroom every day.  The teachers who know that forcing a student to sit at a computer for hours on end, answering questions about slope and possessive pronouns is not the best way to assess each of them.

I’m not sure if today’s failure will prompt any changes to take place, but gosh I hope so.  Increasing standardized testing is never going to help our students to become more college and career ready young adults.

Snow Days are Fun for Teachers, Too!

This morning I woke up at 5:31 as usual and it was snowing.  But it had been 54 degrees outside yesterday.  The snow couldn’t really be sticking, could it?

I was eating breakfast when I got the phone call from my school district that we had a 2-hour delay.  The recording said that they would call again at 7:15 with an update.

I usually leave for work at 6am.  By 7:45, I had received no call, so I started cleaning off my car.  I had gotten dressed, packed my lunch, the whole routine.

I got in my car to drive to work, but I realized that my side mirrors still had snow on them, so I got out of my car one more time to clean them off.  The moment I sat back down, I got the text that school was closed today.

Initially, I was frustrated.  I was already dressed and in my car (though some teachers were already at school) and now that we have a snow day, our extra day off next weekend gets taken away.

But that’s when I realized that it was snowing pretty hard.  I looked down the road and I could tell that it was even snowing on the beach.

I have never been on the beach before during a snowstorm, so I put on my snow clothes and walked down to the beach.  I was running around, having a good ol’ time, taking pictures and videos with my cell phone.

That’s when I remembered that I now have a GoPro.  I really didn’t want to ruin my phone by getting it too wet from the snow, so I went inside to get the GoPro before going back out for quite a bit of more fun in the snow.

I had planned to get a lot of grading done today.  Instead, I just had a fun time outside, shoveled my driveway, and then went outside again.  I’d say it was a pretty great snow day.

My snow day, for your viewing pleasure: