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.
I have known about and flirted with meditation for a very long time. In fact, my high school research paper–the one where I learned the 3X5 card research technique–was on transcendental meditation. I have no idea where I even heard about it or how I managed to get a copy of the book or enough print-based resources to write the paper. Certainly it was not widely practiced in the 1970s in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the heart of Amish country, where I grew up. But, that was my topic. I don’t remember much about my conclusions, and it did not immediately convince me to meditate every day.
Over time, I have dabbled with the usual fits and starts but connecting with Dan Harris and 10% Happier was the impetus for this current journey. His books tell his personal story of discovering meditation, how that discovery changed his mind and his life, and how he traveled the country to get the word out. The app is an inclusive introduction to meditation with courses taught by well-known teachers like Sharon Salzberg and Sebene Selassie. They teach the basics as well as different types of meditation. Salzberg’s main focus, for instance, is lovingkindness.
The challenge that is on right now highlights different courses and teachers each day to give a good sense of the full range of the offerings.
The only drawback is that the app has only limited offerings for free. A subscription is $99/year. In a world of free, that may seem like a lot but it is another encouragement to actually open it up and explore. But, if you want to explore meditation for free first, consider Sharon Salzberg’s #RealHappiness challenge that takes place in February.
As at least one nice person noticed, I have been blogging regularly for the new year. I do personal writing every day but have never developed a public practice. For now, my goal is to post every day, but I am giving myself lots of space around topics. Just post.
I did miss yesterday and didn’t even think about it until I was tucked in bed, too tired to do anything about it. So, today, I begin again.
Begin again: Those two words come up often in the other practice I am establishing: meditation. I signed up for the 10% Happier app challenge that started this past Monday. The goal is to meditate 15 out of 21 days, but I am working on finding time every day. I want this to be more than just taking ten breaths, though, but a real meditation practice that helps me understand how my perspective impacts my world.
The basic lesson so far has been that meditation is not about emptying the mind, as that is impossible, but about getting still and seeing how the mind works, the ideas that appear and disappear, the paths we wander down and those we ignore, the emotions that arise and their impact on our thoughts and body. There’s a lot going on when we are sitting quietly with our eyes closed. And we should view all of it with self-compassion and a sense of curiosity.
I know schools are adding mindfulness activities and training to the curriculum and am interested in learning more about how they work. I plan to make this a focus of my reading and research this spring. It would be possible, I think, for this to do more harm than good depending on the approach. But, at a basic level, learning to be able to identify your state of mind and use mindfulness techniques to connect and tinker with that state could be a useful skill in a stressful world.