Category Archives: Life

Musical Memories

We woke to the news that Jimmy Buffett had died. We were fortunate to hear him in concert. My husband introduced me to sailing, and we would listen to Buffett at some point during our excursions. I have read a couple of his fiction books and found them as upbeat as his music. “Pencil Thin Mustache” is one of my all time favorite songs, and I was able to find a live version.

I failed to mark the passing earlier this year of probably our favorite musician: Gordon Lightfoot. We heard him several times over the years and were never disappointed. I love many of his songs but my favorite is “Song for A Winter’s Night,” a quiet love ballad that he originally recorded in 1967.

Farm Life

Our first planting of corn has been producing for almost a month! Eating fresh and freezing as much as possible.

In Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, about her family farm in southwest Virginia, she describes the extensive preparations they took to protect the garden from weeds and critters before going away for a week. I was away for two weeks at the height of the growing season with no time for preparation, and my gardens, both vegetable and flower, were busy both producing and returning to the wild when I returned. I was able to wrestle back some control from the weeds while also harvesting corn, green beans and tomatoes for consumption and preservation. My freezer is slowly filling up with bags of beans and plastic containers of corn and tomato sauce. It will be a delicious winter.

The Pear Orchard
The pear orchard with six trees and lots of delicious, eat-off-the tree pears.

I have also been canning pear jam with the bounty from our six pear trees, all of which have produced amazing fruit this year. I am using this great recipe from Practical Self Reliance; it makes a beautiful, chunky but spreadable jam. My only hack is that I use my pressure cooker to cook down the pears as it requires less tending than the stove top.

The world of “real” work is calling, and in between gardening and cooking, I got started on a couple projects for the fall semester. I was worried that, after feeling very retired for the first months of 2023 and especially while I was hanging out with my parents and then digging into my part-time farmer life, I wouldn’t have the energy or motivation to deal with timelines and deadlines and other people. Fortunately, my skills at prioritizing and focusing kicked back in but with a better sense of balance. I was able to integrate work without it overwhelming the rest of my life the way it might have in the past. Plus, it has been a great time to learn new tech skills: I am incorporating AI into both my edtech courses and have been having fun learning about and experimenting with ChatGPT. More on that later.

For now, I’ve got pears to prep and tomatoes to pick, and I might even take a bike ride on a Monday morning.

Pears hanging low on the branches

Life Changes

I have put “write a blog post” on the to do list every day for the past three weeks but haven’t been able to bring myself to face the page as I try to process the life changes that have taken place in that short time.

On June 18, not long after I posted about my circuits workshop, our beloved, 12-year-old beagle Major died in our arms. It was a shock as, after struggling with some health issues through the spring, he had gotten much better and was back to his happy-go-lucky self. We took a long walk that morning, but late in the day, he suffered seizures and a stroke. My husband and I put him in his bed where he went quickly and peacefully.

Major was born on the farm and loved living there. Because of his diabetes that required twice daily insulin shots, our schedule, indeed our lives, really revolved around him, and I found myself at loose ends after his death. I’ve been working on new routines such as riding my bike in the mornings in place of our walks. But, even now some three weeks later, I still look at my watch thinking it is time for a walk, a meal or medicine. We have had five dogs over the past 28 years, and there is definitely a hole in our lives. I am not sure I want another dog. Our first dog was the only one we actively acquired. All the rest came to us through friends or the farm. Time will tell.

Last week, we escaped to southwest Virginia together where I did my workshop, and we explored the mountains that we both adore. It was good to see old friends and share my passion for tinkering with educators. Then we got the call from my older sister: my 88-year-old father had collapsed in a store and was taken to the hospital. He was alive and alert, but they were talking about gallbladder surgery. I did the workshop, we headed home early, and the next morning, I drove to Pennsylvania where I am spending the week with them. Dad doesn’t think he should drive, and Mom, also 88, hasn’t driven for years. Fortunately, they live at a retirement community that has services, and they have lots of friends as well. We’re meeting with doctors to plan the next steps, and I suspect I will spend more time here this summer. I am grateful to my husband for his support as he holds down the fort at the farm and also glad I made the decision to retire when I did so I can take this time to be with them.

What’s the bigger lesson here? Life changes. It is easy to get comfortably settled into daily life, those routines that structure our days and weeks and years. But, change will come, often as with Major and my father, without warning. My meditation practice has taught me that the only thing I can control in the midst of change is how I react. So, we grieved and continue to grieve both the loss of Major and the possibility that he was our last dog. We are still blessed with our cat, Circe, who is a constant companion. I have put aside the daily routines I had established to hang out with my parents: running errands, playing games, sharing memories. Tears come at odd moments as I think of both the past and what the future may hold, and that’s okay. But, I try to live in the present as much as possible, reminding myself myself to be grateful for all the good in my life. And, that is my advice to you, dear readers: look for the good, live in the moment, love with all your heart.

Here is a favorite picture of the whole crew: Major, Spot, and Circe.

Gratitude Day

I started this blog post last Thursday and then abandoned it. I know how problematic Thanksgiving is…after all, I grew up with the Peanuts version of happy Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down together, a national myth that glosses over the facts as well as the history of colonization.

However, taking a day to express gratitude seems a positive practice. This year, we spent the evening with a group of new friends, and I watched The Last Waltz while I made sweet potato pie and lemon bars. I tear up every time when Bob Dylan starts his set with “Forever Young”. This, for the reader(s) of this blog, is my wish for you and know that I am grateful for you.

Living with Weight Loss

outline of person meditating

Between 2019 – 2021, I lost 70 pounds. How I did it–both the good and bad practices–is a story for another day. I have kept the weight off for 15 months, a milestone in itself since the statistics related to regaining weight are discouraging to say the least. Losing the weight was finding the resolve to follow the directions given by my coach and establishing weekly check-ins to support accountability. His recommendations for nutrition and exercise worked as he predicted, and I made steady progress. Even after I reached my goal, I kept following those guidelines fairly closely as I knew how easy it could be to slip back into old habits.

After the first year, though, I was ready for a bit more normality in my diet–spaghetti and meatballs, french fries, ice cream. And, I was finding it harder to muster motivation to get on the treadmill despite the Apple Watch with its monthly challenges and helpful reminders. Yet, part of me understood that I had established a “new normal” as they say, and while I could be a bit more liberal with my food choices, I couldn’t go back to the old ways.

What I wasn’t prepared for, perhaps, was the fear of regaining the weight. The longer I am able to keep it off, the worry eases a bit as I think I have found a balance, but there is still a bit of anxiety on weigh-in days. And, if there is a pound or two extra, the old tales of failure and recrimination begin to spin themselves.

I am not willing to live with fear and recrimination on a daily basis and am working through the negative patterns to find solutions for dealing with them. Meditation helps as I can more quickly and easily (sometimes) recognize the states of mind and the stories…notice, name and stop the narrative before it gets too far. Begin again. Accept without judging.

I know, just as during meditation I can refocus on the breath or the body when my mind wanders, I can begin my healthy practices again. But, I must do so in a spirit of tenderness towards myself. Joseph Goldstein makes a beautiful distinction between acceptance and resignation. We must purse the first in the present, but it doesn’t mean we can’t also pursue change in the world. We are not helpless.

This article from the Medical Clinics of North America describes the problems associated with maintaining weight loss long term and has tips for medical providers for supporting those who have lost large amounts of weight. They are clear enough for regular people to understand as well. Their opening case study and their descriptions of the thoughts that go through your mind (were they reading mine somehow?) certainly resonated with my experience. It was actually a bit of relief to know that I am not alone.

One of their fundamental recommendations is providing people with specific training in maintaining their new weight, something I think I stumbled upon on my own. They have practical, research-based suggestions from eating breakfast to getting regular exercise: no real surprises, honestly. They also suggest helping people create risk-management plans along with ways to deal with lapses, pretty standard behavior management strategies, briefly mentioning mindfulness practices as potential coping mechanisms, lumping them in with hobbies.

At least mindfulness got a mention and I think it deserves more exploration as meditation connects with several of their other suggestions. It has certainly helped me with what they call cognitive restructuring, learning to recognize and redirect the negative patterns of thought that I described above. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to take changes or lapses in stride. We aren’t going to be perfect and setting all/or nothing goals is the first step on the road to failure. It is, in meditation terms, the ability to begin again, strengthening our skill and commitment each time we do so.