Jeanne Backofen Craig

I'm a wife, mother, pianist, and runner living in Central Virginia.
You can learn more about me at
My videos can be found on my YouTube channel.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Not as Nice to My Husband

One of my favorite things about Fresh Market is their selection of specialty chocolate bars.  I don't shop there often, so when I do, I usually pick up a goodie for each family member.  Yesterday I had 5 assorted chocolate bars in my cart, and I headed for the checkout.  I thought about how much I love my husband and three children and I enjoy being nice by bringing them a treat.

Then something occurred to me.  I flipped my husband's bar over.  It's 2.5 servings in a bar at 190 calories per serving.  Now, these are rather large bars and he probably would eat it in 2-3 servings.  However, he recently got back from a 2-week backpacking trip where he lost a good inch on his waist, and he has mentioned that he would like to keep it that way.

I realized that maybe it wasn't so "nice" of me to bring him this candy bar with an extra 475 junk calories that he didn't need in his weekly diet.

So I said to myself, "I probably shouldn't be quite so 'nice' to my husband."  I put our two candy bars back, and instead bought a little single-wrapped peppermint patty for him and a dark chocolate salted caramel for myself.  The calorie count for that serving was much lower than the chocolate bar.  Plus, once it's gone, it's gone.  No leftovers to tempt us.

I know I could have bought nothing for all of us, but as I said, I don't shop at Fresh Market often, and neither my husband nor I believe in total denial.

In many cultures, providing lots of yummy food for consumption is a sign of love.  However, there are plenty of other ways to love and support our family and friends - including simply providing a little less food!  I'm glad I was able to step back and realize that what I initially thought of as being a "nice thing" to do would really only sabotage my husband's goal.  Hopefully he'll keep his belt on its new notch and I will continue to think twice when choosing treats to bring home.

Monday, July 17, 2017

My Little Portion

If you ever want to feel your blood pressure go down, just spend some time talking to a Franciscan.

A young woman from our church entered the religious life several years ago, and every summer when she comes home for a visit with her parents, I am struck by how calm and happy and worry-free she is.  I've met several Franciscan nuns and friars since then, and they've all got the same serenity.  Last summer, my husband and I spent a few days at a Franciscan retreat center and it was very life-giving.

I'm not unhappy.  I'm happy, but it can be a tense kind of happiness at times.  I guess that's mainly because I'm quite busy.  I've always got stuff going on in the back of my mind, thinking about what needs to be done and also what I'd simply like to do.  I'm sure many others are the same way.

Today Sister said something to the congregation that I have pondered all day.  When you're feeling stressed out, just follow the example of Saint Francis and see what is your "little portion."  You don't have to do everything.  What is the little portion that you are called to do?

I could expound more upon this, but then I think I'd be going beyond my little portion.

So I think I'm simply going to throw this out there and share it in a simple way.

Don't try to do everything.  Let others help.  What's your little portion?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"And Up" - I'm nearly there???

A few weeks ago, I took a Praxis exam to see if I had specific knowledge and expertise to add another endorsement to my teaching certificate.

After I received my (passing) score via email, I got a second email asking me to take a brief online survey to evaluate my Praxis experience.

I finally got around to taking the survey today, as I sit at home, sick.  When I got to the final question, it asked my age.  There was a pull-down arrow, and I expected to see age "groups" - like 20-29, 30-39, and so forth.

I was surprised that the pull-down generated a list of individual numbers.  I had to scroll a while to get to 47.  When I did, I was surprised by what followed.

50 and up

50 and up?

As someone who hopes to be a lifelong learner, I was a bit taken aback, like... do so few people over 50 take these tests that they just lump them all together?  Why?  Are we over the hill, intellectually?

Of course, that's not what it means.  I suppose by the time most people hit the age of 50, they're not looking at career changes.  Therefore, there are probably not many people that age who need to take these tests, and you might as well lump them all together in one category.  But still, it was kind of a shocker to see an age so close to my own being listed as "and up."

My mother and I have run races together for the past two decades.  I'm now in the age group she was in when we did our first one together.  So we've been slowly moving up through the age groups over the years.  This weekend, if I'm well enough, we will do another 5K race together.  I'm in the 45-49 age group and she is, for the first time in her life, in the "70 and up" category.  It's a strange feeling, knowing that she's part of such a small group of people that they lump them all together as "and up."

If you look at my mom, you sure don't see some feeble old woman on the decline.  If you look at any of the local 65-69 ladies in these races, they look just as good.  I try to remember how many women were racing 20+ years ago in my current 45-49 age group.  Maybe there weren't as many, and I bet they weren't as fast as the women in that group today.  Did the top age group used to be 60 and up?  It may have been, as I know my mother once won an award years and years ago for being the oldest woman in the race.  She must have been around 60.

There is a saying now that "50 is the new 30."  I think there's something to that.  I remember my grandparents at 70 and they were nowhere near as active as my parents.  Maybe if we all stay active as long as we can, mentally and physically, we can keep moving that "and up" category further out.

A quick Google image search yielded this book, so apparently the "Dummy" people believe there's enough of a market to publish a book on changing careers later in life.  Never stop learning and growing, forever onward and UPward!!

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Hardest Work of All... REST.

A few weeks ago, on the morning of the semi-finals of the Boston competition, I woke up with a horrible, itchy rash all over me from the neck down to the mid-thigh.  Here's a small sample of what it looked like.

Fortunately, many amateur pianists are also doctors.  They thought it looked like contact dermatitis, and I *had* been using a different soap for the past three days, so it seemed logical that that was all it was.  However, there was also this problem, which looked like something completely unrelated:

Long story short:  I was given prescriptions for prednisone and Augmentin.  I figured in a few days, I'd be fine.

Well, now it's over two weeks later.  The rash has faded quite a lot but is still there, and still itchy (although the itchiness might be a little better each day.)  The things that looked like infected bites on my arm are also faded somewhat, but still there.  

One possibility is that I contracted some virus that caused my rash.  However, throughout all of this, I have felt fine... until this past Friday.  I woke up not feeling right, like I was fighting a bug.  I couldn't really put my finger on it, and I wondered if maybe it was just anxiety, worrying about why my rash wouldn't go away.  I didn't run that morning.  I just walked instead.  Saturday, I felt better.  I did a shorter run of only 4 miles.  Then by Sunday afternoon I was not feeling well again, and this time I had some stuffiness/runniness in the left side of my nose.

I woke up at 3 AM today with a stuffy/runny nose and a headache, and now here I sit at the computer.

What's the first thing I think of?  My exercise.  I've been doing really well this spring and summer, getting back into shape.  I've got a SparkPeople "streak" going.  I don't want to break my streak.  I'm doing the local fitness challenge and I don't want to see my mileage stand still.  I've got a 5K this Saturday (the 6th race in a 7-race series), and I want to continue to work toward my goal of running every race in the series as hard as I can.

The logical part of my brain tells me, "Girl.  Stay home from work today and rest.  Call the doctor.  Go in and get some tests done so they can figure out what's going on."

The goal-driven part of my brain tells me, "It's still probably something totally non-serious that they can't do anything about, anyway.  You probably just caught a cold on top of whatever you have.  You'll be fine.  Go for an easy run.  You always feel better when you run.  You have obligations at work today and for your volunteer gigs tomorrow.  You've bothered your doctor enough.  Don't be such a wimp.  You are Wonder Woman!"

I know what I need to do, but I'm finding it really hard to do it.  I'm sure I'll get support from the SparkPeople community in the comment section, and that will help.  My guess is my mother will be one of the first to chime in!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


This past Saturday I ran the fifth race in our summer race series.  Only ten hours earlier, I had arrived home on a train from a 10-day trip to Boston and New York City, so I was tired.  The sticky heat of Virginia seemed oppressive.  And here I was, standing at the starting line of a 5-miler in the early morning, remembering my goal:  to run all seven races in the series and to run them hard, to the best of my ability.

As I stood there trying to muster up enthusiasm, I couldn't help thinking, "You know, I couldn't have simply decided to DO the series?  I had to say I'd race it hard, too?  I had to set that extra hard goal??"

It took a lot of self-discipline, but I ran as hard as I could and thus, stayed on track to achieve my long-term summer goal.  I ran a 40:05, for an average 8:01/mile pace, and I am proud of how hard I worked for it.

Today as I practiced piano, I set a new summer goal for myself:  to learn all the notes of Liszt's B minor Sonata by the end of July.  I think it's an attainable goal, but it's not an easy piece and I will have to be very disciplined to get it done... just like with the race series.

After I finished practicing for the day, I posted my latest goal on Facebook.  One of my pianist friends made a comment about my BHAG and wished me good luck.  I had never heard this acronym before, so I googled it.  BHAG stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal.  It's "a long-term goal that changes the very nature of a business' existence."

I think SparkPeople might just be the largest online community of BHAG-setting people.  As I peruse the community feed or member blogs, I am struck by how many people have made or are in the process of making huge changes in their lives.  Some people are trying to lose a lot of weight.  Others are trying to cut out a bad dietary habit.  Others, like me, are trying to raise their fitness level.  Even though we all have different goals of varying degree, there's one thing that's all the same.  We're trying to change for the better the very nature of our existence.

Let's all embrace our BHAGs!  We can do it!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Lightening My Load

A little over a year ago, I started having problems with pain in my right elbow and arm.  It was so bad at times that I couldn't play the piano or pick up my backpack.  Several things were causing this, but today I'd like to talk about one thing in particular... something that was rather easy to change.

After the physical therapist had given her diagnosis, I thanked her, stood up, and slung my purse over my shoulder.  She cocked her head with a "hmm" kind of look on her face, and asked, "Do you always carry that purse like that?"

I have carried a purse since I was in the 8th grade.  My purses have held all kinds of things that I think I might need during a typical day.  Of course there's the obvious things, like the wallet, cell phone, and keys, but also other things - an assortment of OTC meds (Benadryl, Sudafed, Ibuprofen,  & Immodium), cough drops, allergy eye drops, contact lens solution, nail clippers, lip balm, hand lotion, hairbrush, hairbands, etc.  I remember once cleaning out my purse and I even had a clean pair of socks in there.  What the heck was I carrying those for everywhere I went?

The PT's question caused me to remember something my daughter once asked me when she was in preschool.  We were shopping for summer shorts for her.  She asked, "Mommy, why don't girls' shorts have good pockets?"  She was used to seeing her dad and brothers wear cargo shorts.  I thought a moment and responded, "I guess because they want us to buy purses, too."  Just like our personal possessions seem to expand to fill the available space in our homes, so it was with my purse.

It wasn't really all THAT heavy, but the way I wore it on my shoulder caused me to tense that shoulder and back muscle the entire time I carried it.  This particular purse also had regular handles in addition to the shoulder strap, so I decided to try two different things - carrying it by the shoulder strap across my body (instead of hung on the right shoulder) or carrying it by the handles instead.

That change (plus massage to help loosen my tight muscles) did help, but then one day I thought, "Why AM I carrying all these things around on my person?  When is the last time I really needed most of these things immediately?"  I realized I've probably only used my hand lotion once in 5 years.

I pulled every last thing out of my purse for evaluation.  I asked myself, "If I were traveling, which of these things might I need at a moment's notice that I couldn't go back to the car to get or that I couldn't buy at a nearby store?"  When it came down to it, the only things that made the cut were my driver's license, credit card, health & car insurance cards, AAA card, and cash - pretty much what my husband carries with him in a wallet in his pocket.  HE doesn't carry all that extra stuff.  Why did I?

I decided to try carrying only a wallet.  Fortunately, my cell phone fits in most of my pants pockets, so I figured I'd buy a small wallet and carry it in my other pocket.  However, the first ones I saw were considerably bigger and thicker than my phone, and when I tried stuffing one in my pocket, it wouldn't go in.  (I'm sure Kohl's security was probably watching me closely at this point.)

Then I found some wallets with long shoulder straps.  Eureka!  I bought two.  Here's the one I carry with me on trips (because it zips up in addition to snapping shut.)

When I leave the house now, I generally still put my old purse in the trunk of the car with all those little "possible necessities" inside, but that's where it stays - in the trunk.  Upon exiting the car, I only carry my wallet, which weighs mere ounces, strapped across my body.  If I'm traveling by plane or train, I completely leave at home the old purse with all its contents, except the OTC meds, which go in my luggage.

Since making this change many months ago, there have been a few occasions where I had to buy a small package of Ibuprofen or Benadryl while sightseeing, but not many.  Ditching the big purse has turned out not to be a disruption to my life.

If you Google "purse causing shoulder pain," you will find all kinds of articles about how it can tense up those muscles in your shoulder and back.  So if you're carrying a heavy one - or even a moderately heavy one - I'd encourage you to take a step back and see what you really need and see how you might carry it differently.  To be clear, I'm not saying you need to carry as little as I do, as everyone's needs and situations are different.

And who knows... could I start a fashion revolution and start demanding better pockets for women?

Since I'm not known for my fashion sense (I'm carrying a black wallet in June, after all) and you never see me on the red carpet, probably not.  So we'll just have make do with the options we've got.  I have been pain-free since lightening the daily load on my shoulder.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Two Homers!

I write a lot of blogs about the struggle to push onward and try my best in all things.  It's hard to do when failure is one of the possible outcomes.  Who relishes the idea of putting in hard work, only to have a disappointing result?  Of course, we know the victory is in the preparation, in building our skills and/or changing our lives, but still, the specter of possible failure looms over us.

I performed in the semi-final round of the Boston International Piano Competition.  If anybody watched, I want to thank you for your support.  I got many lovely comments on Facebook and in messages, and I can tell my performance made you happy.  That's the most important thing for me - to make you happy, and I especially need to remember that right now.

The reason is... the reality is... I did not play well at all.  Please don't think I'm putting down your perception of my performance, because unless you're a trained pianist yourself, you might not know when anyone playing virtuoso repertoire has a bad day.  The music itself is very impressive.

However, I was in a judged situation.  I knew as soon as I had finished that I wasn't going to advance.

My daughter was in the audience, and of course SHE knew how I typically play and she knew I was upset even before we reunited in the hall (where I confess I cried a little bit.)  I felt I had let down my audience, my family, and my teachers.

All evening, I pondered the nervousness I feel in the hours leading up to a performance and onstage.  Those hours are not fun.  They can be downright torturous.  Fortunately, most of the time, I manage to deliver a good - or at least a decent - performance that I can be proud of, and just like with childbirth, as soon as it's over, I instantly forget all the bad feelings.

But that good result did not happen yesterday, and the bad feelings, coupled with the feeling of failure, linger.  I awoke in the wee hours of the morning and this quote by Homer Simpson came to my mind:

Well, that's pretty tempting, actually.  Would the world miss me if I never played in public again?  Probably not.

However, I realize two things:

1.  I have to remember that by practicing and learning new music to share with people, I'm adding something of beauty and value to my tiny part of the world.

2.  I have to try to focus on how my performance made the audience feel instead of how it made ME feel.

I have to look to another, wiser Homer for inspiration.

Adversity and failure are realities of life.  May we all continue to persevere to achieve our goals and share our talents with the world around us.