In the midst of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, lives have been turned upside down and it SUCKS. There’s a lot of fear and anxiety in the country right now across all age populations. People are being told to work from home and avoid and/or minimize social interaction. Trips, conferences, concerts, large (and small) events, and weddings are being cancelled or postponed. Church services are being offered online rather than face to face. Not a single roll of toilet paper can be found in the stores. Bread aisles are empty. Eggs, meat, and milk are scarce in grocery stores. Restaurants are being forced to offer take-out or delivery only. Small businesses are being hit HARD. Schools are closed. Rush hour traffic isn’t even a thing anymore (I experienced it firsthand today). Public “curfews” are being set. Every single corner of our lives is being impacted.
I get it. This is a scary time. What’s most scary about all of this is we can’t see an end in sight. We have no idea how long students will be out of school for. We don’t know when (or if) restaurants will be able to open back up anytime soon. Nobody knows when social distancing recommendations will end. Families don’t even know when they’ll be allowed to visit their loved ones in assisted living communities. Nobody knows if high school or college graduation will happen in upcoming months. There is so much unknown and that’s frightening.
There’s no good timing for a public health problems. There’s no good time for events being cancelled. There’s no good time for business owners taking financial hits. Simply put, there is and never will be a good time for anything like this.
As I reflect on what this last week has been like for myself, my family, my peers, and my community it’s hard not to be fearful of what could happen in the next 24, 48, or 72 hours. So much has happened in a week that even the best of fortune tellers couldn’t predict what’s to come.
My semester – the final of my semesters in grad school – has been turned completely upside down. The remaining weeks of this semester will most likely be spent virtually. There’s only so much you can learn through a computer when your future career is entirely hands-on with clients. Fieldwork placements have been cancelled, halted, or postponed and that’s the one thing we all need to complete our degree. Will my cohort still remain the “class of 2020”? I’m honestly not sure. Would there ever be good timing for any of this? No.
My family…. I’ve spent time offering a helping hand to my grandmothers. Offering to go grocery shopping seems like the littlest thing I can do to help them out right now. Our family business has had to adapt to the changing regulations for human interaction. We are now operating on a 3-person limit in the store at a time with offers for curb-side and pick-up services. The topic of filing for unemployment has come up in conversation with my family and Josh because of the ever-changing rules. My cousins are missing out on sports seasons, senior year joys, and all the other fun (and responsible) stuff you do as high school and college students. My heart aches for the high school, NJCAA, and NCAA student-athletes who aren’t able to complete their seasons, especially for those seniors that have been working so hard to go out with a bang. Would there ever be good timing for any of this? No.
My peers…. let me start off by apologizing on behalf of all the young adults who didn’t take responsibility for warnings for social distancing this past weekend by going to bars, clubs, and other large social gatherings. These people may be the reason we now have curfews, that restaurants/bars are only permitted to offer take-out/delivery. You may not be in the age-bracket as a “vulnerable population” but you sure as h*** can carry it to someone that is. It is embarrassing that people didn’t take this seriously. Because of such irresponsibility, along with the developing guidelines by the CDC, our country has essentially been forced into a lockdown.
The community…. living in a South Jersey county in which everyone knows everyone somehow or another is a blessing in these trying times. Businesses are working hard to support each other. People are working hard to support businesses. Facebook groups have been established to enhance connections within the community. I have personally started working on getting large amounts of letters/cards to be delivered to the seniors in the community who now face significant social isolation. Community events have been postponed. Fundraisers and social gatherings have been stopped. I think if we find a way to band together, in which ever community you’re from, we can make it through. Would there ever be good timing for any of this? No.
So here’s to hoping that social distancing, “curfews”, and whatever else the world will throw at us in the coming days will help quicken the progress back towards normalcy. Here’s to hoping that high school and college graduations can still occur. Here’s to hoping that our family members, close friends, neighbors, and peers stay healthy. Here’s to hoping that the community can unite to ensure everyone is taken care of and that small businesses can serve the community for years and years to come.
Would there ever be good timing for any of this? No.
Is there a good time to start making any of this better? Yes. Go do it.
We’re nearly a week into 2020. The past six days have honestly been a blur. For no real reason in particular. Just a blur.
I’ve been bustin’ my butt to make some money over break. Between promoting the race Josh & I are directing in 12 days and restarting work as a classroom aide, there really hasn’t been a dull moment. I’m fairly certain 80% of my classmates are either vacationing or binging Netflix over winter break – honestly, neither of which I would prefer that I was doing. I’m not the person that can sit still and have things handed to me. I just prefer to go go go.
There’s no denying that as a graduate student, loans are adding up and my bank account is dwindling. I feel like I’m floating in the middle of an ocean holding onto an inner tube that is slowly leaking.
I told Josh on New Year’s Eve night that one of my goals for 2020 is to not run out of money. As hilarious as that sounds, it’s a real fear of mine. I know I know I know I KNOW that money doesn’t define happiness, but it sure does seem like it defines survival.
How ironic was it that less than 24 hours after I announced one of my 2020 goals that we discovered one of my car tires was basically flat? Two months ago I replaced all four tires because they were bald. Now, here I was at the mechanic shop praying I wouldn’t have to fork out too much money. It wasn’t that bad at the end of the day (I honestly feel like the guy cut me a break when I told him I’m a college student).
I only spend money on things that I absolutely need – food, gas, car oil, textbooks (UGH!). I don’t buy clothes willy-nilly. I never go on extravagant winter/spring break vacations. I don’t have a Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime account. I don’t go out to clubs or bars every weekend (or ever for that matter). I don’t sign up for races every weekend, every month, or even every other month. I am blessed that Josh will meet me half way between his house and mine so I don’t have to add miles to my car or spend more money on gas.
I am trying to live as inexpensive as possible for the next 12-15 months until I get a job that provides me with a steady income.
So why does it seem that everyone else is relaxing on winter break and I’m busting my butt so my bank account will never read $0.00?!?!
I’m not here to throw myself a pity party. I’m hear to remind myself (when I look back on this one day when I have a full-time job with benefits) that I’M DOING WHAT I HAVE TO DO. It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing or where they’re going or how they’re spending their weekends. This is what I NEED TO DO. I need to do this for myself. I need to do this so I don’t have to ask anyone for money. I need to do this so that I can get to December 31, 2020 and still have at least one penny to my name.
I feel guilty regularly that I can’t help Josh buy food for our weekend meals together. I feel guilty that I can’t help my parents buy groceries. It is a mental battle for me to accept this type of financial help – on things that are a necessity. I keep promising myself that once grad school is done and I have a full-time job that I will be able to help with groceries or that I will be able to go out for dinner on a Friday night guilt-free. This financial guilt is temporary.
So here I am. I will shamelessly self-promote the race I am directing every day until race day. I want people to have fun and put their trust in me that all my planning and logistics will give them an amazing experience to start of 2020. I will say “yes” to every classroom aide opportunity presented to me in the next two weeks even though I’ll have no idea what classroom of students I will have to work with.
I will work. my. butt. off. so that come December 31st, 2020 AND the day I say “yes” to a full-time job every damn sacrifice will have been worth it.
Here we go again! The annual yearly review. I feel like this year has flown by….yet it has also felt like a lifetime. A lot of things happened but because grad school has consumed my life I feel like my life is mundane. Perhaps composing this post will help me reflect on all that HAS happened. If it doesn’t help me this year, I’m sure that in the future I can look back on this post with some appreciation. Let’s begin.
Josh & I kicked off 2019 with a trail run at Brandywine. Typical us!
I was accepted as a member of the Altra Red Team for the 3rd consecutive year! My favorite Altras are still the Superiors and the Escalantes.
I did a chocolate tasting with my mom, granny, and mommom. The chocolate was so so good!
My second semester of grad school started and I faced two pediatric courses, neuroscience, research, a mental health course, and my first Level I fieldwork. Yikes!
Sneakers & Spokes had some great nighttime group trails runs (even in cold temps!)
Michael & Savannah got engaged.
Emily, Megan & I planned a fun Bachelorette weekend for Bridgette! I took the train into Philly, met them at their Airbnb, walked around the city searching for brunch, and then surprised Bridgette with an Escape Room experience! Let it be known that we did indeed escape the Thai prison!
A week later, Josh got to experience an Escape Room for his 30th birthday. This time around we escaped The Lost City! (pretty sure the guy gave us wayyyy too many clues though)
It snowed frequently in January & February so I got a lot of fun snow runs in solo and with Gwin. Gwin loves running through the snow!
I volunteered first to led an adult behavioral health group (to get it done & over with) but it snowed on the day I was supposed to present so my presentation got pushed back 3 months (THREE MONTHS!) which I was extremely unhappy about.
I ran 10 trail miles on the first Saturday in March and woke up feeling horrible on Sunday.
On Monday, the doctor told me I had the flu after sticking something up my nose (thanks, classmate). The doctor advised me not to go to school for a week to prevent spreading the flu to my classmates. Despite knowing I would miss an entire week of class and lose an excessive amount of points on a research quiz, I obliged because I myself am considerate towards others.
Josh also got the flu a few days later because I spent the majority of the weekend with him. (forever guilty)
I quarantined myself in my room for six days because my parents were flying out to Utah the following week for Michael’s wedding. I would only leave my room to walk 3 steps into the bathroom. My mom would hand me food when I cracked open the door. Tamiflu is the WORST medicine – my stomach hurt every time I had to take it and I had no appetite. Flu week was the worst week!
Flu week was followed up with mid-terms week. My parents were in Utah with Michael for the wedding so Josh stayed over a few days to keep me company.
Michael & Savannah got married.
Spring break came along. I hosted an Altra demo day with NJ’s awesome tech rep, Luke.
Just like last year, I craved ultramarathons.
Bridgette & Bryce got married! Josh & I got to celebrate at her wedding with Emily and Megan and their men. After the wedding we went to a bar in town and just hung out for a while. It was so much fun and so refreshing to be back with lifelong friends!
Level I fieldwork in the school-based setting went smoothly. My FW educator was nice and I enjoyed getting to know the kids she worked with. I don’t envision myself working in a school-based setting though.
My birthday landed on the same day as a lab regarding feeding for the pediatric population. Jess fed me a spoonful of pudding on my 25th birthday.
The S&S red, white, and blue van was brought into the world.
Josh took me out on some White Clay mountain bike adventures. I snagged some segment PR’s as my confidence grew.
Josh & I went on many double dates with Brianna & Luke this year. It was always a fun time!
Neuroscience and research was killing my cohort slowly.
We took Mom axe throwing on her birthday. We were pretty good at it even though none of us won the tournament.
Josh & I both finished as the 2nd place male and female, respectively, at the Sasquatch 5k.
I brought Gwin with me to the FACES 4 Autism Walk which was chaotic because the walk ended up being inside instead of outside…. apparently people melt if little raindrops fall on them.
I published blog posts for the “ABCs of OT“. It was tedious but I hope people learned something from it!
My research group “presented” research on the effectiveness of alternative and augmentative communication systems for facilitating functional communication in children with autism. I feel like nobody but students attended the research symposium so there weren’t really people to present to….. oh well!
I finally led the behavioral health group I was supposed to lead three months prior. I stressed so so much after I failed to conclude my group as instructed. I felt so angry and frustrated after this and cried to Josh on my way home…… plot twist: I still got an A.
Instead of studying for exams, I went for a run during a tornado watch and severe thunderstorm warning. YOLO.
I finished my second semester of grad school with four A’s and an A-.
Josh & I celebrated three years together by going for a mountain bike ride at Fair Hill. Josh cracked open a beer at a stream stop. It truly was the best way for us to celebrate together!
Josh and I planted our garden for the third summer in a row. We hoped for lots of cucumbers, crispy bell peppers, tolerable long hots & jalapeños, tasty tomatoes, and refreshing watermelons!
I worked wine festivals again. Drunk people are…. interesting.
We also attended a wine festival with Josh’s family. Wine is good!
Our two-week summer class was basically a waste of time but my groupmates made a pretty cool story spinner for our project. Unfortunately, the attendees of the fair weren’t as impressed. Oh well.
Josh & I raced the Race to Save the World 10k at White Clay. I finished as the 4th overall female and Josh finished as the 1st overall male. After, we got brunch on Main St and then went mountain biking with a group of S&S folks! What a day!
I accompanied Josh to many mountain bike races as his crew member. I perfected water bottle hand-offs and cheered loud for him as frequently as possible! Pride filled my heart every time he stepped up on the podium (which was frequently because he’s amazing).
I ran to the Elmer Memorial Day parade to see my parents driving in the S&S van. Then I hustled off to work at the winery.
Uncle Eddie passed away. He was remembered through a beautiful military ceremony with the Fraser’s remembering him as a strong, resilient, and caring human.
Josh & I camped at Lums Pond for a night. We mountain biked and went to Grain for lunch. This was the only time we camped this year but it was fantastic!
Gabriele Grunewald passed away and the running community grieved. I did mile repeats for Gabriele and Justin (#BraveLikeGabe) a few days later using their strength to push me along.
I decided to register for a duathlon – my first duathlon ever – so that I would be motivated to train for something.
Michael & Savannah came to NJ to celebrate 4th of July! We went blueberry picking at Mood’s. We went to the boardwalk and played mini golf. We went to a mountain bike race (where 95% of Team S&S got lost – it was not a good day). And we celebrated 4th of July with fireworks.
I raced the Pitman 4 Miler as usual. It was tough but I didn’t throw up. Afterwards, Josh & I got to the Woodstown Parade to ride along the route with the Reactors and the S&S van. It was so so so hot out (cars were overheating) and everyone was drenched in sweat.
I started working as a classroom aide during extended school year at a special services school nearby. You can read more about that here.
Josh & I made friends with a neighborhood cat he decided to call Milford. Milford is a lovebug!
I tried racing a mountain bike race at Granogue – I walked my bike for most of it….
The morning of one of Josh’s mountain bike races, I spotted a dog abandoned and tied up to the gate of an animal shelter (which wasn’t open yet) which made me both extremely sad and angry. We tried calling the county police (who weren’t helpful) and then left a message with the animal shelter (who had opened 30ish minutes later & had taken the dog in). That same morning my mommom’s dog passed away sending me into even more devastated tears. Josh had a rough race that morning and ended up breaking something on his bike. It was just a really rough day.
Our garden produced great cucumbers, iffy bell peppers, lots of long hots & jalapeños, and…. no ripened watermelons.
I logged several 50+ mile bike rides throughout the summer which was AWESOME!
Josh & I had date night at Auburn Winery while Lauren Hart performed. It was a perfect night of pizza, wine, and great music!
I made it my mission to strengthen the running community in Salem County and initiated group runs/walks and 2nd Saturday trail runs.
Training was going great for the duathlon I signed up for. I was feeling strong both running and biking and was practicing transitions weekly.
I stopped using Twitter. I started unfollowing accounts on Instagram and defriended some folks on Facebook. It just felt like it was time to simplify and declutter my social media accounts. Living in the present, not attached to the phone, is so much more enjoyable anyways.
Sneakers & Spokes celebrated its four year anniversary!
Hope passed away on August 23rd after 15 loving and playful years. This was by far the hardest day of 2019 and I miss her everyday.
Josh & I started making rice bowls together which are so delicious and (relatively) healthy!
I started my last year of grad school and had to tackle adult classes, clinical research, foundations of OT, an assistive technology course, and my second Level I fieldwork (in hand therapy…)
I ran the 9/11 Memorial Run with runners from Sneakers & Spokes and other runners from the south jersey running community.
Josh & I continued our tradition of attending Oktoberfest together. It was fun as usual!
I completed my first ever duathlon finishing as the 3rd overall female. Team S&S also won 2nd overall team. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the challenge! I am grateful for the team I got to do the duathlon with. I hope we conquer more dus together in 2020!
I organized a Ride & Wine with Monroeville Winery. It was successful but improvements can definitely be made.
I volunteered at the “calf-way” stop at the Cow Run 10 Miler with S&S. Two skunks decided to cross through our water stop just as the first few runners were passing through. It was terrifying.
I raced (and volunteered) at the Shred the Edge MTB race for the second consecutive year. This year I bumped myself down to the novice race and finished as the 2nd overall female following a sprint finish. Grad school legs and lungs did me in. I helped with registration and timing too – it was a fun day!
My mom started fostering animals from South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter. The first dog we fostered, named Cookie, we ended up adopting (#fosterfail). My mom renamed her Zoey and she has been with us since the end of October. We have also fostered one kitten and two dogs (Sheepy & Douglas). All of them have since been adopted!
In my assistive technology course, we got to work with 3D printers. My group designed a bottle cap opener with a built up handle for individuals who have difficulty pronating.
Patti, Colin, & Tammy visited from California. We went out to eat and a magician (who will be on AGT this summer) visited our table. I hate magicians yet somehow I ended up being the person chosen for all the tricks.
I miserably raced the Ghosts of Granogue 5k. That’s all I have to say about that.
My assistive technology group also designed “The Mailman’s Basket” for an individual with a C6 SCI who worked as a mailman at a university. We designed the basket to swing to the side from behind the wheelchair for him to easily deliver mail. We presented our assistive device to students in Colombia, South America who also designed assistive devices from the same case studies. This project was a lot of fun!
I did not enjoy my fieldwork in hand therapy and I don’t foresee myself ever working in this setting. It’s just far too redundant and unexciting.
Josh & I made tater tot nachos for the first time ever and they were DELICIOUS.
Gwin & Zoey really loved snuggling together. They’re so precious!
I celebrated my 6th year of being a vegetarian.
I submitted both my case studies before Thanksgiving break. The first case study was 29 pages which I spent 21 hours on. The second case study was 31 pages which I spent just over 10 hours on. These case studies challenged me beyond belief but all the determination paid off as I got 100s on both of them. HOOZAH.
We had our annual Thanksgiving weekend nighttime trail run. It was freezing that night.
My research group presented on ayurveda and chronic pain. I hate ayurveda and don’t want to say anything more about it.
I finished my 3rd semester of grad school (THANK GOODNESS THE END IS GETTING NEAR) with four As and one A-. It was a tough semester. Practicals stressed me out. Research stressed me out. But there’s only one more academic semester to go. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting slightly brighter. I can’t wait to be done!
Josh & I ran our 2nd annual Christmas lights run through his town. We saw a lot of greatly decorated houses!
Angela came back to visit NJ and we got in a lot of good runs together! I am extremely grateful for the miles we got to share!
My parents took Granny & Mommom on a Christmas lights tour. We visited the Griswold house in Mickleton which was awesome!
I directed the S&S Santa Run with a mission in mind – to collect as much dog/cat food and litter as possible to donate to SJRAS in memory of Hope. This was my way of paying it back to the shelter that gave me Hope for 15 wonderful years. This was my way of paying it forward to the animals still looking for their forever homes. We collected 1,426 pounds of food to donate. My heart is still so so grateful for the generosity of the running community.
For the second consecutive year, my family cut down our Christmas tree from the front yard.
Christmas Eve and Christmas day traditions remained the same. The Palmieri’s tricked my family into believing we were calling NORAD when in reality it was Micheal pretending to be NORAD.
I got to reunite with Bridgette, Bryce, and Megan during Christmastime. It was so nice to catch up with them!
I ran 6 miles in under 50min to close off the 2019 running year. Four of those miles were with Zoey (Gwin wouldn’t get out of bed), averaging 8:30/mile. Zoey loves to run!
Running Stats of 2019:
Total miles: 1,025.1 miles
Highest monthly mileage: May (103.5 miles)
Three trail races: Sasquatch 5k, Race to Save the World 10k, Ghosts of Granogue 5k
One road race: Pitman Freedom 4 Miler
One duathlon: Parvin Anniversary Duathlon
Shoes worn: Altra Superiors & Altra Escalantes
States I ran in: New Jersey, Maryland, & Delaware
Cycling Stats of 2019:
Total miles: 1,111.7 miles
Highest monthly mountain bike mileage: May (93.5 miles)
Highest monthly road bike mileage: August (287.9 miles)
Highest monthly combined mileage: August (325.4 miles)
Total Road Bike Miles: 739 miles
Total MTB Miles: 372.7 miles
Mountain Bike Races: Fair Hill Classic, Escape Granogue, & Shred the Edge
One duathlon: Parvin Anniversary Duathlon
Total woman-powered miles: 2,136.8 miles
2019 brought fewer running and cycling miles; however, I am proud of what I was able to accomplish while balancing the demands of grad school. Squeezing in runs mid-semester has been challenging but I’ve learned to adapt in order to overcome.
Because running is such an integral part of my overall physical and mental health, I have come to recognize its importance in keeping my stress levels in check.
I learned that I am more likely to run if I run before the demands of the day begin. Throughout the fall semester I would head out the door at 6 AM with my headlight on and log 3 miles. I hated doing this but the rest of my day tended to be better because my run was done and my stress was manageable.
The races I did weren’t at optimal fitness. My grad school lungs often limited how fast I could go or how much I could push myself. I still miss ultramarathons like mad and I hope that in the coming year or so I can make my ultra comeback.
A year from now, my yearly review should say “finished grad school” somewhere in it. I can’t wait to start the next chapter of my life in 2020 when school is officially done done done and I can start working towards an established career.
Another year has come and gone. It’s been a year of highs and lows. It’s been a year of new and old running friends. It’s been a year of academic stress. It’s been a year of falling in love with so many dogs. It’s been a year of learning to simplify and balance all that life throws at me.
I hope everyone can find joy in the coming year. Reflect on what you have accomplished.
Set goals that scare you. Set goals that will make you stronger.
Wishing you a happy and healthy new year (and decade).
I am no longer a first-year. Do you know how great it sounds not being called a “first-year”?! Do you know how great it sounds being called a “second-year”?! Being called a second year is like an initiation – you survived your first year of grad school, now all you have to do is survive one more.
Easier said than done.
I will try to be as transparent as possible in this blog post so that in the months to come I can reflect back knowing full-heartedly that all my fears, worries, and anxieties were just that – fears, worries, and anxieties. I hope to reflect back that the fears, worries, and anxieties didn’t keep me away from my goal. Instead, they fueled the goal. They kept me going.
There has been SO many instances this summer where I wished we never had a summer break. I wished that I could just continue on with the progression of the program so that I could be THAT much closer to being done. By the end of this year, I will have spent 19 years of my life in school. NINETEEN YEARS. I am ready to be done. Forever.
But it’s not that easy. Trying to figure out how I will get through two more semesters of grad school is the equivalent of me trying to solve a Rubix cube – I can’t. I’ve already viewed two of this semester’s syllabi and my brain wants to explode. I can’t even figure out what is due on the first day and what needs to be printed or what textbooks I’m supposed to bring. That’s where my worries come into play. If I can’t even figure out the syllabus, how the heck am I ever going to learn actual occupational therapy material!? It literally hurts my head trying to figure it out.
As much as I want to be done grad school, there is part of me that knows the next three months before winter break will require so so so many sacrifices. Last year it was extremely tough for me sacrificing so much of my running passions. Every ounce of blood beating through my heart wants to run an ultra. Some days I miss ultra training so much that it crushes me. I just want to run up east coast mountains and be immersed in a 20-mile training runs without distraction. I selfishly envy every runner who has an established career and isn’t bogged down by lectures, readings, and 24/7 studying. It pains me knowing I haven’t ran an ultra since 2017.
It’s also extremely difficult for me to sacrifice time with loved ones. I so badly want to watch Eagles games with Josh without having my laptop open, searching databases during commercial breaks. I want to be able to spend time with my family without worry of the chapters I have to read in my textbooks or the online lectures I have to listen to before an upcoming class. I just want to be DONE so that these things aren’t what’s preventing me from living a life of guilt-free football or family time.
I’m not looking forward to the 55-minute commute (one way) four days per week. I’m not looking forward to stopping at the gas station every 2-3 days so my gas tank isn’t reading “E”. These instances are the instances in which I truly, with all my heart, miss Bloomsburg. I never ever ever thought I would miss Bloomsburg but, like they say, you never know what you’ll be missing until it’s gone. I miss the four-story library (SU’s is a pathetic two). I miss having a picturesque view of the rolling mountains of PA every single morning. I miss my close friends, meeting up with them for dinner, or late night walks from Main St back to upper campus. I miss the cool fall air at the beginner of the semester (I do not miss the freezing cold winter mornings though). I miss runs straight down to the river. I miss it and I have tried finding every excuse to go back to that area this summer (none of which came to fruition). [end rant]
Classes start on Thursday and it’s really hard knowing that the next few months are going to be stressful. I’ve worked hard this summer to lose my first-year-grad-school weight and to gain my cardio back. I don’t want the weight to come back and I surely don’t want to lose my cardio. Time will tell. It’s hard for me knowing that my life still seems “on hold” because I’m stuck in the natural progression of this program.
It’s hard knowing that I still don’t have a steady job like most of my people my age or that I still live with my parents or that I have a car with 312,000 miles on it. It’s hard for me knowing that other people have health benefits through their employer and that if I don’t get approved for health insurance within the next few weeks I’m screwed. It’s hard feeling like my wallet is always empty and that my bank account is dwindling. There’s a lot of external stressors that add to the stress of grad school as a whole. It’s hard.
I know that one more year of grad school is such a small amount of time in the grand scheme of things.
I know that the sacrifices and stress will be worth it when I become a practicing OT.
I know that I have a strong support system who will help me when I need help.
I know that there are SOO many things out of my control and that I need to focus on the things that ARE in my control.
I know that stress is inevitable; afterall, it’s grad school.
I know that I should never compare my life to others around me or on the Internet.
It’s convincing the internal Lyndsey that these are things she should know and embrace and remember and live by.
With another semester looming over my head, I can only hope that each day that passes by will seem like I am one day closer to accomplishing my goal. That’s the hope I need to hold onto. Tight.
For the past six weeks, I’ve been working as a teacher’s aide at a special education school district in their extended school year (ESY) program. Within this position, I’ve been in a classroom of five students between the ages of 9-11 years old. I have learned a lot in the past six weeks and I’ve been able to apply an occupational therapy lens to my interactions with each of the students. I want to take this time to reflect on my learning experiences in hopes of looking back at this summer with a full cup of knowledge.
To begin, I’ll describe the type of classroom I was placed in (with anonymity for privacy’s sake). Four of the five students were non-verbal. All five children wore diapers. Two of the children required feeding tubes. One of the children needed every meal to be pureed. One of the children carried around a bucket for frequent incidences of throwing up. One child recently learned to walk and wore MAFOs (modified ankle-foot orthoses) for gait support. One of the children wore hearing aids. One of the children grinded their teeth continuously throughout the day. One child frequently hit, pinched, and grabbed hair.
All children were mobile without assistive mobility. All children received PT, OT, and speech. Four of five children loved tactile play (i.e. sand, slime, shaving cream, water play, etc). Four of five children fed themselves – the other is feeding tube limited. Four of five children completed lower body dressing with verbal cueing.
Upon arriving in the first week, our classroom faced a huge learning curve. The teacher had a new class of kids as they had moved up to the “big kid” classrooms/teachers; therefore, all four staff members assigned to the classroom had to learn the children quick. On the first day we had a field trip (that’s one way to learn quick) to a nearby sprinkler park. Within the first week we started to learn what the kids liked/disliked to eat, their sensory needs, their behaviors, and their weakness and strengths. I remember feeling slightly overwhelmed trying to learn their personalities and abilities. With time, the overwhelmed feeling started to subside.
I not only had to learn about the children but also the teachers’ expectations. Every teacher wants their classroom ran a certain way and their students to behave in a certain degree of discipline. Expectations became pretty obvious within that first week!
I started to apply an occupational therapy lens once I started feeling more comfortable with the kids and expectations of the children. I tried turning our everyday routines into opportunities for occupation-based interactions.
During the first week of school it was obvious that one child (named, “P,” for anonymity’s sake) had no clue what to do when they got to a closed door. So, for the first few days I showed P how to open the doors (push the bar in and push, or rotate the handle down and pull) with hand over hand assistance and verbal cueing. There were many instances throughout the day in which we could practice this task (walking into the bathroom, walking down to the nurse’s office or to get lunch, walking out to the buses). Within a few days, hand over hand assistance was faded. Verbal cueing remained, but eventually P learned that upon approaching a closed door, P could open it.
For the weeks following, we tried teaching P to hold the door for the people behind them (this is something that still needs to improved). My suggestion was to have P be the line leader but then hold the door for everyone else in the class as they pass through the doorway. Again, this is still something that needs to be worked on once the 2019-2010 school year commences.
Additionally, P refused to put their backpack in their cubby upon entering the classroom. With physical guidance and LOTS of verbal cueing, I am happy to say that in this last week of ESY, P can put their backpack in their cubby independently after one verbal cue. What a day that was!
P also started ESY with total dependence for lower body (LB) dressing. P refused to LB undress and dress during toileting and needed hand over hand assistance with verbal cueing. Again, I am happy to say that in this last week of ESY, P no longer needed hand over hand assistance for LB dressing (still required max verbal cueing).
P does not know how to zipper/unzipper their backpack independently. I noticed a lack of pincer grasp development with P. To adapt the backpack’s zipper, I attached a loop of yarn to the zipper in hopes of providing P a larger surface area to grab with an alternative grasp (perhaps a palmer grasp?!). As the summer program ends, this skill is not yet developed for P; however, I am hopeful that the adaptation will promote independence in the future.
Another child (named “R”) would begin to cry when seated if their feet could not touch the floor or could not sit cross-legged (signs of potential gravitational insecurity & poor core strength). During assemblies in which R needed to sit on skinnier and higher lunch table benches, R would cry and repeatedly try to move onto the floor. In the classroom, R could be observed sitting cross-legged on their chair the majority of the day. Upon moving R to a chair of a smaller width or lower height, R would still try to move to the ground to sit cross-legged. R also strongly disliked sitting on the toilet during toileting, requiring staff to hold him securely on the toilet seat. With all of this in mind, I theorized that R had decreased core strength/endurance; therefore, requiring a larger base of support provided by sitting cross-legged or distaste towards seated positions in which the cross-legged position was impossible (i.e. toileting).
Furthermore, R constantly grinded their teeth. In the first week, I theorized that R might be grinding for sensory reasons; therefore, I suggested providing sensory stimulation on R’s cheeks using a vibrating bug. This, however, did not resolve the issue. Still to this day, I am stumped as to how to decrease the grinding. Perhaps, in the future I will learn a method for limiting this behavior. Suggestions, anyone?!
R often enjoyed playing catch with me during our free time. To increase social interaction skills, I would often wait for R to make eye contact with me before throwing the ball back to them. Some times I would wait 30 seconds before R would make eye contact. I simply wanted to promote social skills by playing with R in this way.
Another child (named “D) often hit, pinched, and grabbed hair – especially during instances of loud, sudden noises. After analyzing the antecedents to such behavior, our classroom staff recognized that the hitting/pinching/grabbing was D’s way of communicating they wanted deep pressure and/or that D was startled. After a child hits/pinches/grabs, it is our natural instinct to “restrain” the child to prevent further hitting/pinching/grabbing. “Restraining” results in deep pressure; therefore, D had learned from previous experiences that when they hit/pinch/grab, they will receive deep pressure. To prevent such actions, we integrated a sensory diet of sorts. I often provided deep pressure to their upper extremities intermittently throughout the day. We would put D’s weighted vest on after lunch. I would also take D for walks in the hallways for the D to receive deep pressure sensory input through their feet. As the summer progressed, the hitting/pinching/grabbing became less frequent and we were able to pick up on instances that might trigger such behavior.
Another child (named “M”) was repeatedly observed removing their hearing aids when loud noises were occurring. In response to this behavior we taught M to cover their ears when loud noises occurred. This seems like a simple solution; however, for children with developmental disabilities this is something that needed to be taught and demonstrated. By the end of the summer, M knew to cover their ears; however, there are still incidences when M would remove their hearing aids instead of utilizing the alternative method to reducing auditory input.
At the beginning of the summer, the girls in our classroom did not know how to utilize the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom. With hand over hand assistance and verbal cueing, slowly but surely the girls learned how to operate the paper towel dispenser (push the “lever” in multiple times, then rip the paper towel off). Again, this seems like a simple task; however, it is an essential part of the hand-washing process. All the girls now how to push the lever now and do not require hand over hand assistance; however, one girl still needs hand over hand assistance to rip the paper towel off the dispenser itself.
Throughout the summer, we went on three field trips – the sprinkler park, the bowling alley, and the zoo. At the sprinkler park (on the first day), it was overcast and somewhat chilly. The one child simply wanted to walk the perimeter of the area, barely getting wet. Other children were observed absolutely loving the spritz of the water and various sprinklers. A true sensory experience!
During the bowling trip, our class (and most of the school), utilized the bowling assist ramps. With hand over hand assistance, we helped them carry the 6lb balls to the ramp. Once placed on the ramp, each child independently pushed the ball down the ramp. Some of the kids even had fun in the swivel chairs!
At the zoo, the kids in our class didn’t find much enjoyment looking at the animals even the big animals that were close up. Instead, they found enjoyment feeling the fences as we walked throughout the zoo. Honestly, I loathe the zoo so this wasn’t the best environment for me to keep my occupational therapy hat on. More appalling to me was the crowds within the zoo who weren’t always the most aware of who was walking near/around them. With unsteady walkers, it was important for me as a field trip chaperone to make sure adults weren’t bumping into the kid(s) I was walking with. I wish that people in crowded, public places were more attentive to their surroundings!
Most of the school assemblies this summer were music-based. My favorite assembly of the summer was a sports team drumline. Our one student was frightened each time the drums were pounded so I provided continuous deep pressure to their hands to help calm the child throughout the duration of the assembly. The drumline did a great job including the kids throughout the assembly and even allowed them to use the drumsticks to bang on the drums.
With my occupational therapy thinking-cap on throughout the summer, I also took notice to things that I wish the school would change to better the environment for the students. The classroom I was in constantly had music playing which for some of the kids was a constant auditory distraction. Once the screensaver for the computer would appear on the SmartBoard, a few of the students would instantly become visually distracted by the colorful orbs rotating on the screen.
In the weekly combined gym class (two classrooms, one gym teacher), the gym would be extremely loud causing some children to experience a meltdown because of overstimulation. Some kids wore noise-cancelling headphones; however, I believe more kids could have benefitted from wearing them.
I took this entire 6-weeks as a learning experience. I wanted to gain more experience with the pediatric population in a school-based setting as I feel my Level I fieldwork experience was too short to truly get a full understanding working with this population in this setting. Being immersed with the population in a school four days a week for six weeks was highly beneficial to my continued learning and comfort level with this population.
I learned that it takes time and patience to understand how non-verbal children communicate. Observation skills are imperative! I’ve learned to be aware of body language and behaviors that are communicative in nature. I’ve learned that one day a certain behavior might be communicating something different than the day before. It takes patience and persistence to truly understand how a non-verbal child communicates.
I also learned that every child needs to be given a chance to be independent. Before doing something for a child or helping a child do something, give them a chance to do it themselves. If they don’t take action, provide assistance. They might be more capable than you think so don’t jump to conclusions and always give them a chance.
Furthermore, positive praise is critical in some cases but sternness is also essential. I’ve learned that discipline requires a firm tone of voice and consistency. I’ve acquired a “teacher’s voice” in the last six weeks. It’s important to speak clearly when giving directions and setting expectations. Speak firmly!
I’ve also learned that ESY is EXTREMELY laid back. I’ll be honest, not a lot of academic learning has occurred in the last six weeks. A lot of general life skills have been taught but other academic-related things have lacked. It’s frustrating from an occupational therapy perspective to see so many staff members on their phones or distracted by their own personal drama. Most of the days, I found myself playing with the kids trying to teach fine motor skills, play skills, or social skills. I would give the kids puzzles to play with or blocks to build. I would keep them as occupied as possible during the hours they were technically supposed to be learning.
In reflection, I’ve enjoyed seeing the kids progress in their general life skills. I got overexcited the day I saw a child complete lower body dressing without my assistance. I got overexcited when a child independently walked over to the paper towel dispenser and pushed the lever in order to dry their hands. I’ve enjoyed giving a child sensory breaks with the vibrating bug and allowing them to feel the vibrations on their cheeks, head, ears, and hands. The pediatric semester last spring helped shed light on the sensory needs of this population and I am glad I got to apply my knowledge throughout ESY.
I’m still pretty confident that this population isn’t a population I want to work with full-time. In the last six weeks I’ve seen how the school system is “broken”. I’ve seen the drama amongst staff members. I’ve seen how much patience is required to work with this population. I commend teachers and teacher aides for working with this population as a full-time career – it can be exhausting.
This setting and population may not be for me as an aspiring occupational therapist, but the experiences and opportunities from the past six weeks have given me irreplaceable knowledge and learning that I will never take for granted.
I’ll be sad to send these kids off on the bus at the end of the day tomorrow but I will remember these kids for many years to come. I hope that I can read back on this blog post in the future and remember that the little things can be the most critical steps for increased independence – the occupational therapist’s primary objective.
I haven’t blogged in over two months. Mostly because I feel my life is the farthest thing from exciting. I’m working three jobs, barely enjoying running/cycling, and not going on any vacations.
Everyone else right now seems like they’re having the time of their lives on summer break. Here I am dealing with kids putting their hands in toilet bowls and puking. Far from being a glamorous summer.
I spend the weekends working for tips to supplement minimum wage. At least with that job, I’m working with individuals over 21 years old and toilet bowls and puke are kept for the aftermath of drinking too much wine (long after they’ve hopefully tipped me).
The third job is for our family business as I oversee social media platforms. I work tirelessly to promote events, engage a community of runners/cyclists, and bring customers in the front door. It’s pretty easy work but it can get time-consuming.
I’m just trying to offset the inevitable debt of grad school. I question how everyone else can go on week long vacations in far off lands. Maybe they don’t care about debt. Maybe someone is supplementing their bank accounts. Maybe they have some top secret connections for discounted excursions. Whatever it is and however it’s possible for them, it’s not possible for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the days I get to spend with Josh, friends, and family. Josh & I both are simple people so we don’t need expensive vacations or international travels to fulfill our existence this summer. Honestly, we just enjoy taking a half mile bike ride down to the river to watch the summer glow of the sunset, taking a morning to spend out on our favorite nearby trails, or visiting our favorite Main St restaurants during happy hour.
I know it’s imperative to remember that social media is often a highlight reel. If someone else can live so freely that their summer is one never-ending highlight reel, go get it.
I’m going to keep working, striving for supplemental incomes, dealing with toilet bowls, puke, wine, and marketing (not simultaneously though), and enjoying my spontaneous sunset bike rides.
A few Saturdays ago Josh and I raced the Enoch Lee Race to Save the World 10k at Middle Run Valley Park in Newark, DE. A week before the race, while on our way to go mountain biking, Josh and I saw one of those yard signs (the ones politicians usually use) advertising for the race so we quickly Googled it to gather more information. A few days later, Josh convinced me to pre-register for the race as a way to celebrate the official start of my summer break. Although I knew I was no where near in race shape after a stressful semester of grad school, I figured it would be fun. After all, the course looped through some of our favorite trail running trails.
Saturday morning arrived and I ate my typical pre-race meal – peanut butter and banana on toast. The race began at 10 AM so we were able to sleep in a little bit and prepare for the day ahead of us (which we planned out to be a 10k race, followed by brunch, followed by a group mountain bike ride through the same trail system). We departed Josh’s around 8:30AM with race attire, mountain bike gear, and two mountain bikes.
My stomach was a bundle of nerves on our drive to the race. Multiple times I told Josh I felt like I was going to throw up (disclaimer: I never did). We arrived an hour early to the race, picked up our bibs, and waited anxiously for 10 AM to arrive. The morning was chilly and I felt unprepared with the clothing I had packed – shorts and a tank top. I scavenged up Josh’s arm sleeves and swapped out my tank top for a short-sleeve racing jersey. Josh paced around the truck and opened and closed his truck doors 5000 times.
Around 9:30 we decided to do a 1 mile warm-up. I was still a little chilly and my legs felt unprepared but by the time we ended our warm-up, I had decided to leave the arm sleeves in the truck. Better to start the race a little chilly, knowing I was going to warm up eventually.
Before the race started, the cadets from the University of Delaware (UD) did a flag ceremony and a group of women from a local church sang the National Anthem. It was Memorial Day Weekend so this was a nice touch to the morning. A family member of Enoch Lee, whom the race is memorialized for, made a brief speech explaining that race profits contribute to a scholarship for a biology major at UD. As a broke college student myself, I know how important scholarships can be!
The race started with a small loop around a grassy field before diving into single track. I started comfortably, not wanting to overexert early but also knowing that I needed to beat some of the crowd to the single track. I could see Josh up ahead at the front of the pack – go, Josh, go!
A lot of the race itself was a blur because the trails just kind of blend together. I knew that two women were ahead of me but didn’t have any intention to work to go catch them. The course terrain varied from smooth twists and turns to longer uphills to rewarding downhills. The trails were in great condition!
A local Delaware bike shop was stationed at the approximate half-way point with water and encouragement. It was nice to have people cheering out on the course as most of the course was isolated from spectator view. Trail runs are rarely spectator-friendly. After the water stop, there was a long uphill. It felt soooo long and I could feel myself progressively slowing as the climb continued. I probably could have walked faster, but I trudged along, my breathing becoming increasingly labored.
At the top, we were rewarded with flat, twisty single track. At this point, I was completely alone on the course and I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me and couldn’t hear any footsteps or breathing behind me. I just continued trudging along.
I didn’t recognize where we were in the trail system at this point in time even though Josh and I frequently mountain bike on these trails. The course followed trails we hadn’t looped through in over a year so I was completely disoriented.
Eventually the course landed us on my favorite downhill in the whole trail system. I was familiar with the downhill from mountain biking it and I knew exactly where the course was taking us!
After the downhill we made a left onto a long bridge and one of the race volunteers said “there’s a women not too far ahead of you”. That literally meant NOTHING to me. I was completely gassed. I hadn’t seen anyone ahead of me since about mile 2 and I definitely didn’t have the legs to go catch someone. So, I dismissed the comment and kept trudging.
I heard footsteps behind me and my gut told me it was probably a woman (note: I don’t look back ever during a race so I never know who might be closing in on me). The course crossed a stream (which I ran straight through, soaking my feet – no problem though, I wear the Altra Superiors which have optimal draining capabilities!). The person behind me, confirmed to be a woman once she asked me a question, asked “how much further?”. To this I said, “I have no idea”. Because 1) honestly, I had no idea where the finish line was in relation to where we were currently and 2) I don’t ever look at my watch during a race so I never know what mileage I’m at.
She ran right on my heels for 3/4 of the final uphill. For a second, I tried brainstorming ways I could get her off my heels (i.e. by sprinting up the hill) but I had no energy whatsoever to run faster than I was. I was simply in survival mode. My endurance meter had reached a big fat zero.
She eventually passed me and I felt bummed, knowing I had held 3rd overall female for 85% of the race. But I had nothing in me to try to physically react. So she trotted off, gapping me almost instantaneously. My only intrinsic goal was to keep running, no walking. And that’s what I did. Kept running until I crossed the finish line.
Once I got the finish, Josh offered me a cup of water. I stared at him and said “I’m at zero”. My endurance had expired around mile 5. The last mile was a slugfest. I probably could have walked faster but my own pride kept me running. We replenished with Gatorade we had brought and recapped our races.
Josh finished as the 1st overall male, 2nd place overall (figure that one out for yourself). He also had ran out of endurance which is to be expected considering he had only been running once or twice per week, not exceeding 3-4 mile runs (#naturaltalent). Regardless, I was proud of him. His natural ability to run fast amazes me time and time again.
I finished in 55:38, 18th/58 overall, 4th overall female, and 1/1 in my age group. Josh won a sweet travel coffee mug and a wooden phone holder (which he promises me to video chat with so he doesn’t have to prop his phone up awkwardly). I won a medal and some great S&S exposure.
I am glad that I did this race. Grad school had left me craving trail runs and races and, in a way, starting off summer break with a trail race was symbolic. Grad school requires endurance just like running. This race reaffirmed that I can be a grad student and a runner and be happy. I might not have as much endurance as I did last summer and the trails may challenge me even more so, but they will always be there for me to enjoy and for me to find bliss, serenity, and a welcoming running community.
Zones of regulation is a method for teaching self-regulation skills. It is often used with the pediatric population for children who may have difficulties recognizing and controlling emotions.
There are a total of four zones – red, yellow, green, and blue – each of which correspond to specific emotions. The zones allow a child to identify how they’re feeling, how their behaviors might be affecting those around them, and how to manage/self-regulate how they are feeling.
OTs can teach and enforce use of the zones of regulation for children who may benefit from interventions addressing self-regulation. Teachers can implement it in their classrooms to promote carry-over and parents/caregivers can be taught its benefits to manage behaviors within the home environment.
This is the final day of ABC’s of OT. I hope that you’ve learned at least one thing from reading 26 posts related to OT. As the semester winds down, I hope to post a recap of the semester at some point….stay tuned.
“X” is for Xbox controller – the famous adapted Xbox controller that premiered during this year’s Super Bowl.
If you haven’t seen the commercial, watch it now with the link here. This controller was adapted with the help of an occupational therapist for video game players, of any age. For individuals with limitations in upper extremity range of motion or upper extremity amputations/congenital deformities, the adapted Xbox controller provided an inclusive way for individuals to engage in gaming.
I recommend you watch the video link to get a better understanding of just how important this adapted Xbox controller can be! I’ll let the video do most of the talking today. Enjoy!