Endings/Beginnings: Living in Liminal Spaces

The Lebanon Valley rail trail near Cornwall, Pennsylvania

Summer is on its way out with a few last hot, humid days. Metereological fall arrived September 1, and the Equinox is tomorrow. Autumn is my favorite season. I love watching as it slides into our lives every year, chilly mornings and foggy fields reminding us, as Robert Frost once did, that nothing gold can stay.

With summer gone, I find myself nesting, decluttering and organizing my studio, making lists of fall projects, and taking some time to explore bullet journaling and planners. It seems as though everyone has a planner to sell. As I explored the options, it occurred to me that I could just make my own planner/journal, the goal being to use it for both planning and reflection. I have always been intrigued by the Daily Examen, a spiritual practice based on Ignatius Loyola. Loyola’s practice was based in Christian imagery, of course, but I think it is possible to take it as a more general approach to ending the day with intention. Actually, my Apple watch even suggests a bit of mindfulness as a way to wind down at the end of the day so the practice has certainly entered the secular world.

Even as I work on my organizer, I continue to drift along a bit. There have been endings: my retirement, the loss of Spot, the last of the vegetables from the garden. And there is the usual beginning as I head into the fall semester. But, for now, while there are a few glimmers of new opportunities, there is no clearly marked path. Astrologer Chani Nicholas mentioned the concept of liminal space in past two weekly readings, and the concept resonates with my current state. As I understand them, liminal spaces, from the Latin limen or threshold, are the spaces in between the endings and beginnings of practices and lives, its roots in anthropology and rites of passage. It is considered an uncomfortable place, and there are days when I wonder if I am living it right.

Joseph Goldstein, in the Ten Percent Happier app’s Common Questions course, commenting on what might happen at the beginning of your practice, says with a chuckle, ” The beginning can be the first twenty years.” I have only been exploring my own new beginning for a couple months so maybe I don’t need to worry too much and just allow myself to experience liminality for a little while longer. I created the image at the beginning of the post, using my own photo of the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail.

Getting My Reading Mojo Back

Dailyish blog writing went to weeklyish blog writing as I headed into fall: I took one last trip to Pennsylvania, mourned my boy Spot, finished teaching a summer course, and got two fall courses up and running.

With that initial busyness behind me, I am facing a fall with more free time than I have had for decades. Seriously, decades. And I want to make sure I am finding the balance of chilling out and stepping up. One thing I am doing is learning to relish my reading life again.

A painting of a woman reading a book outside by Camille Corot
A Woman Reading, Camille Corot

A long time ago, before you were born*, when I was still single, and life was great (it’s a song reference..google it), I used to get up on Saturday mornings, pour fresh-brewed coffee into the thermal pot, add it to a tray with mug, cream and something sweet to eat, and retire to bed for the morning with a book and a cuppa. These were my hours to read and sip and rest after a long week of work before whatever chores and activities the weekend held. Depending on the book and the weekend, morning might stretch into afternoon, and I would find myself sprawled on the sofa at sunset, probably with a glass of wine, mourning the end of yet another book. I know I had responsibilities but somehow they had not come to weigh on me. The *shoulds* had yet to take control. (As in, you should do laundry. You should clean the bathroom. You should call my your mother.)

Somewhere along the line, I lost that reading mojo, as a friend of mine on LibraryThing calls it. That ability to just sink into words, to lose track of everything except the book, to be able to ignore the voices, including your own, that suggest you should be doing something more productive than “just reading.” Was it some combination of graduate school, tl;dr social media syndrome, and life in general that made it a challenge for me to do more than a chapter or two of even the best book?

If you look at my statistics for the years, numbers wise, I read and listened to a lot of books. But, distraction definitely kept me from sinking into a book the way I once could, and I read in bits and pieces except over the summer when I escaped to the pool and floated and read, no devices allowed.

Lately, I have found myself working at getting that focus back. For instance, I take only the book or device from which I am reading to the porch or bedroom recliner, two of my reading retreats when the pool is closed for the season. As for choice of device, I am inclined to take the old school Kindle with me as it offers little in the way of entertainment. It is solely an e-reader, and sometimes a single use device isn’t a bad thing.

I have also disrupted my morning routine, because I have found that early mornings are still a favorite time to brew a latte and slip back in bed with a book. I do love reading at night with just the book light for illumination but, sadly, one of the perils of getting old is falling asleep easily and I wake with the impression of book and light on my cheek. Enjoy those late night reading binges while you can, my younger friends. Now, it takes quite a book to keep me up.

*Seriously, I know how old some of you are, and it was before you were born.

Travelogue: Favorite Places

My parents live in a retirement community in Cornwall, Pennsylvania, a former mining town in Lebanon County. The iron furnace was the main economic driver for hundreds of years. The homes in the miner’s villages are made of thick cut stone, and the rail trail that runs through the community passes piles of rocks dotted with ferns. I have fallen in love with the place along with its neighboring town of Mount Gretna, a religious and arts community that I will write about on another day.

Having grown up in the farming flatlands of southeastern Pennsylvania, less than an hour south of Cornwall, the rugged landscape and architecture are always a surprise. I walk every day when I am visiting, exploring two routes through the community.

The Lebanon Valley Rail Trail runs right behind my parents’ townhouse. It is so easy to access that I haven’t explored any other sections but would like to this fall. It is well maintained and gets lots of use.

Wildflower Lane runs from their neighborhood to the main campus. My parents’ next door neighbors have adopted the trail and done lots of plantings in the past year, carefully marking the various flowers. The lane takes a left turn towards campus passing a platform that looks out over wetlands. The last time I was there flocks of birds–cardinals, catbirds, red winged blackbirds–soared over the grasses and among the trees. There are benches, and it is a peaceful spot to sit.

From there you head up onto the main campus, past the lovely old greenhouse, the chapel and towards the main buildings including the ironmaster’s home called the Buckingham Mansion. There is a small round building that serves as a meditation room and the Paymaster’s Building that is used for an art studio.

If you stay straight at the fork, you head into a wilderness area that parallels the road. Eventually, you can turn left into the meadow area. It is part of the manor and has birdhouses, benches, and a lovely bridge over the stream. I snapped the picture below one morning during this past visit. The beams of sun reminded me of an old hymn.

Beams of Heaven in the Meadow at Cornwall Manor

Cornwall Manor has religious roots as does Mount Gretna, and I have a general sense of peace when I am there. I attend the local church–an historic stone building of which I don’t seem to have a picture (it’s on the list for the next trip this fall)–when I am there and its solid presence speaks to something deep in the soul that goes beyond orthodoxy and evangelism.

I compiled a few photos from this trip and others to give you a taste of Cornwall, Pennsylvania, one of my favorite places.

Cornwall Manor Over the Years

Saying Goodbye

Spot in recent years

Last week was bittersweet. Even as I traveled to Pennsylvania to celebrate my mother’s 87th birthday, our old dog Spot was leaving us. He went downhill so quickly, from doing fine to not eating in a matter of a few days. An X-ray showed a large mass between liver and spleen, and there really wasn’t much we could do. My poor husband was with the vet while I was on the phone as we said goodbye.

We were Spot’s third family. He lived next door to us in Williamsburg and would come over to the fence for a scratch and a chat. He chased my chickens when they hopped that fence. When it became clear his current family couldn’t handle him, we adopted him. We had just moved to the farm where he has lived with us for the past 12 years.

Spot was a dog’s dog who loved to find ways to sneak out of the house and run for the sheer joy of it. We clocked him with the truck at 25 miles per hour in his early years. We were his third family. While he would have been happy to be a single dog and spent most of his waking hours within three feet of us, he accepted Major the puppy and then, to my real shock, Circe the cat, who arrived in 2020 and insisted on moving into the house.

The Crew on the Porch
Enjoy some pictures of Spot and friends over the years

It was hard to come home to a house without Spot. He had his favorite spots to sprawl in each room, often forcing us to step over him as we moved around. I may be able to sleep through the next thunderstorm rather than having to crawl out of bed and comfort him.

Bob and I have said goodbye to a few pets over the years and it does not get easier. We are comforted that we gave Spot his best life and did not allow him to suffer at the end.

Once a Teacher

A poster called Choose Your Own Adventure in Technology Land with four items: Making and Makerspaces, Hour of Code, Augmented, Virtual and Virtual Worlds, and Edutainment.
Choose Your Own Adventure in Technology Land poster

My twitter feed is filled with pictures of my K-12 teaching friends as they begin the year, eager to connect with their students. I am excited for them and, even after decades of being out of the middle school classroom, I always have a pang of regret that I took a different path in 2001.

That unconventional path has provided me with a variety of opportunities to work with educators across the country. But, I don’t necessarily think of that as teaching. I was engaging in professional development, which to my mind has a different quality than teaching. I have continued to teach, however, working with students in a formal setting where we have time to develop relationships, explore curriculum and create knowledge together.

This fall, I am teaching two courses, one for Old Dominion University and one for University of Richmond. Both are graduate courses related to instructional technology for a mostly K-12 educators. The two courses represent the ends of the spectrum in terms of how teaching and learning is done in higher education.

The Old Dominion course is designed for career switchers, people with degrees in other fields who wish to become teachers. It is always a wonderfully diverse mix of individuals as they come, in some cases, from all over the world. The course is completely online and asynchronous. But, we still create community using tools like Flip and Padlet to share and explore. I don’t have a lot of leeway with the content as the course is taught by multiple professors, but I am able to bring my own personality and practices to teaching online. But, it is a still a very different relationship than my face to face course.

At University of Richmond, I have taught School Technology each fall to students in the graduate education program for many years and it is most definitely MY course. Pre-COVID it was fully face to face with perhaps one virtual meeting to give them a flavor for learning online. I revisit the content and curriculum each year as well as the way I deliver the course. We have been almost completely online for the past years. This year, I am experimenting with a hybrid format that allows for us to connect as a whole group and then give students time for their own exploration and work.

Basically, I have front loaded the content into September. We work together on campus until fall break. Last year, I began using a textbook: the small but impactful volume, Closing the Gap: Digital Equity Strategies for the K-12 Classroom. I am continuing with that this year as the authors cover the big picture with the lens of equity that helps connect various topics in a useful way. They also provide a framework for students to consider their own problems of practice that lead to their final, individual projects, which they work on in November.

In between, October is given over to the students to explore on their own. I created a Choose Your Own Adventure activity that focuses on four different areas of ed tech that I don’t have time to cover in any depth. They learn a little about each one and then choose one to explore in more depth, with the goal considering how they might roll it out in their schools. A secondary objective is for them to think about how they use technology to research, reflect and report. What tools do they for curation? Collaboration? Communication?

We meet tonight for the first time and I am a little nervous, as always.