I have been binge watching the PBS series Craft in America. It features American handcrafters and is the creation of a nonprofit in Los Angeles. Many of the artisans who are featured were doing the work as a hobby but eventually found ways to make it the focus of their lives. The series features a wide variety of crafters from sculptors to violin makers. Individual programs are organized around themes such as memory and community.
As I pursue my own crafting more deeply, listening to these artists talk about their process and progress has helped strengthen my commitment. I was initially a little frustrated with the box making instructor as she seemed to take a long time to get to the box making. But, I realized, as I settled in to listen, that she was discussing her creative process in developing the box, showing the iterations that led to the current product. She was inviting us into that process. We were doing more than just following directions.
I spent two hours in back-to-back Zoom meetings this morning and feel refreshed and inspired. Yes, you read that correctly. Refreshed and inspired.
Online communities have been forming even before the Internet as we know it existed, with their roots in the early bulletin board systems. This fall, I have joined two groups with two very different purposes that represent my current professional and personal interests. They both met this morning so I moved from a task force discussing AI with colleagues at my university to a meeting of the Handmade Book Club.
The AI group is blended with attendees both face to face and online. I appreciate the online option being offered as I otherwise would not make the hour-long drive to the city to participate. The monthly group is loosely led by one of the faculty development staff, but three people signed up to talk about what they have been doing with and learning about AI. I am on for December and plan to talk about my experiments with my students as well as finding ways that it can support my assessment and evaluation course. For now, I am spending time with MagicSchool. We also have access to a ChatGPT clone with a small balance so I’ve been exploring that as well. Report to come.
The Handmade Book Club is fully virtual as there are attendees from all over the world including two women today from Ireland and the UK. They meet every Friday morning to discuss various topics. The last meeting of the month is where members share the books they made for that month’s challenge. This month was Pamphlet Palooza, and we made books with long “pamphlet” stitches that could then be used for weaving. The books they shared were reflections of their lives and interests with many including handmade paper and fabric. My own is fairly simple although I did include pages from a coloring book as a personal touch.
One question that was often asked was what they planned to do with the book. Some had an answer: one woman had started a common place journal while another planned to use it as a daily art journal to keep track of her work. But most really didn’t have an answer: the joy for them was in the making. I know how they feel as my own pile of handmade books continues to grow. I can’t wait to find out what the November book is going to be!
I took an extended road trip to Pennsylvania to check in on my parents and spend a few days with one of my oldest friends. I was able to connect with the whole gang (dare I say coven?) of retired educators known as the OEBs* for lunch and the local library’s book group with whom I have communed over books before. The had read the same book my own group read: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner. Both groups enjoyed it. All in all, it was another chance to really sink into retirement as I had little or nothing of any responsibility since it is fall break for the universities.
Now that I am back, I am diving into a new project that has been brewing since late summer. It is new enough that I don’t want to give specifics, but the general idea is that a small college is relocating to Waverly, Virginia, my small town. Its campus will be literally across the street from me. It offers a religious studies degree and is recognized by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. I am helping the president and the Board of Trustees work towards accreditation offered by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. In addition, I will teach a couple courses.
One of them begins next Thursday, a six-week Computer Technology course that will include students, faculty and staff. I did a pre-course introduction for a few colleagues last evening. It went well, and I woke up this morning realizing I am seemingly suddenly starting down a new path after a summer and early fall of drifting along. I have colleagues and students and a course to create. They are using Google Classroom, a tool I haven’t used before, so I am looking forward to learning new skills. I want to keep the course fairly flexible so we can be sure to meet their needs, but the focus at the beginning will be Google Workspace. From there, I want to get them into Canva and Wakelet as well.
I am excited about this new journey and will share more details as we move along. For now, I am teaching and that always makes me happy!
*OEB stands for Old English B****es. It was bestowed on the veteran English teachers by one of their younger colleagues and overhead at lunch by my old friend. Rather than being offended, my friends adopted it as their gang nickname and now meet twice a month for the OEB birthday lunch and book group. I am an honorary member and try to participate a couple times a year.
I was coming of age in the late great 80s just as the aerobics movement, led by Jane Fonda, was getting started. I may still have a vinyl copy of her first workout album in the days before everyone owned a VHS player. Live classes were everywhere. My mother and I took a class at the nearby community center. The cable access channel hosted a weekly workout led by a local gym instructor. I could set the VHS to record it so I could do it on my own time…an early version of streaming, I suppose.
I haven’t done these kinds of workouts for a long time, preferring my treadmill, Wii and working and walking outside. But, with the demise of my Wii and my need for a bit of excitement beyond the treadmill, I went exploring online and discovered fitness guru Leslie Sansone. She was a contemporary of Jane Fonda, and her signature exercise was simple: WALK. There are a few different steps, but mostly the goal is to keep moving.
I explored her YouTube channel to start with and then downloaded the app and paid the subscription. Leslie is my age, and her upbeat approach was immediately fun and nostalgic. I found myself wishing I had a unitard and leg warmers! One of Leslie’s claim to fame is that she was the first live on-air guest on QVC. I got to know her colleagues and enjoy the wide variety of walking workouts. As COVID moved in, they began streaming live workouts from their studio in Pittsburgh.* They have also added some strength training workouts in the app.
There are plenty of videos featuring Leslie in the app, including archives of some of her original workouts. But, according to Wikipedia, she hasn’t been featured in any videos since 2020, and there is some mystery around where she might be and her current involvement with WALK. There is some speculation on Reddit but otherwise no one seems to know. Hmm…sounds like podcast fodder to me!
*Part of my attraction to Sansone was her ties to Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh.
I wrote about the continuum of practice in crocheting, creating a dichotomy between easy and challenging. But, I missed a dimension, I think, that I was reminded of last night as I contemplated the end of a stale loaf of home made chocolate babka and the proverbial light bulb went on.
Bread pudding. It was just enough for two and that was all I needed. I skipped the Internet on this one: milk, eggs, some cinnamon poured over the bread and life was good. I baked it until the custard was set and then, thinking it needed a little more sweetness, put together a quick glaze with confectioner’s sugar and milk.
In this case, I knew enough about bread pudding and baking that I could just make it up and be decently confident that it would turn out alright. The real unknown was how long to bake it and that was just a matter of checking and having a good idea of what done should look like. Where did I learn all this? I did learn some basics in home ec and from my mother and grandmothers, but most of it just came from awareness and experience. Would it have tasted better if I had found a real recipe?
I am doing a little hacking with my crochet as well. I did a twist on a granny square that begins in the corner and uses three colors to create some drama. From there, I put them together to form a larger block with the corners now forming the center of the square, giving it a quilt like quality. I have two blocks now and am wondering where to go from here: a bag? or more squares for an afghan? I can do either of those without a pattern or even a YouTube video!
Once we get the foundation, then build our skills with support, we can often move away from the directions or the recipes or the patterns. We move beyond skills to imagination and application. I often see the final preparation–whether it is made of food or yarn–and then work backwards to figure out how to do it.