Category Archives: learning

Hacking Hobbies

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 Babka Bread Puddingthat 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?

Crochet BlockI 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.

Toolkit for Meditation Practice

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.

Begin Again: On Challenges & Change

YourselfAs 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.

Reconsidering How Work and Learning Happen

Avatar workingI work hard doing work I love. I am fortunate in that. And, I get to mostly do it from home which takes away a lot of the daily stresses (clean clothes, lunches, commutes). And yet, without the guardrails of regular work hours and employer expectations, it is easy to start to work all the time. Maybe not for hours on end but in bursts and starts that eventually take over the whole day. Work is always the focus.

Checking email is the worst culprit: quick glances throughout the day and following up with minor issues that didn’t need same day responses. (I get lots of “wow, thanks for getting back to me so quickly,” replies by way of example.)

And then, I had my hip replaced on December 11, 2019, and made a promise mostly to myself to just let it all go. Put up an out of office and go on leave. And, miracle of miracles, I did it. At first, it was because I really was in recovery, but after ten days, I was doing well both physically and mentally and would have been easily able to dive in. Yet, I didn’t even as I saw the number of messages ticking upwards in the app. Life could and would go on without me.

What did I do instead? First, I didn’t go offline completely. But, I did redirect my time. I tried to get engaged in Twitter more deeply than just retweeting and liking. I had a little success with some conversations. I also got more involved in LibraryThing and continue to make that community my priority for online interactions.

Offline, I read, played the piano, and crocheted, finishing up some of my Christmas gifts and then diving into my first piece of crocheted clothing: a sweater vest for my dad. It took a couple tries to get going but it is coming together nicely. I am a little worried that it is going to be too big but I guess that is better than too small.

So, as with many of you out there, this morning was something of a shock to the system. Honestly, the email was easily dealt with (mostly spam and promotions and updates), but after 90 minutes of reading and adding to the task list, I was tired, longing for the freedom of the past three weeks. And, I thought, there wasn’t any reason not to close out and take a break. So, that’s what I did. Took a break. Read a book. Wrote this blog post. Had lunch with my husband.

And, tried hard not to feel guilty that I hadn’t immediately put my shoulder to the proverbial grindstone the way most of my colleagues are doing at this very moment. From break to work without any kind of real transition. It’s tough for adults and probably tougher for the kids. Learning to put work in perspective, learning how to create a humane schedule, learning when you work best or when you need a break. All of those are lessons that, evidently have taken me 20 years and a new hip to learn. I wonder how we might help our children learn them along the way?


The Origin of Wicked Problems

I learned about Rittel and Webber in my policy course in graduate school. The identified 10 characteristics of wicked problems in their article Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, published in 1973. You are fortunate as it is available for free online. If you don’t wish to dive into the article, here is the abstract:

The search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail, because of the nature of these problems. They are “wicked” problems, whereas science has developed to deal with “tame” problems. Policy problems cannot be definitively described. Moreover, in a pluralistic society there is nothing like the undisputable public good; there is no objective definition of equity; policies that respond to social problems cannot be meaningfully correct or false; and it makes no sense to talk about “optimal solutions” to social problems unless severe qualifications are imposed first. Even worse, there are no “solutions” in the sense of definitive and objective answers.

And, you’ll be relieved to know that Wikipedia has the Cliff notes (or Spark notes, depending on your age).

I share this research with the classes I teach, including a project management class, where they are generally doing planning in the social sciences, and with my Master’s in Ed students who will become school divisions leaders, often tasked with doing planning. The concept continues to be timely.

In fact, I just started reading a book that uses the concept as a theme. The author attributes is understanding of the concept to a professor but makes no reference to Rittel and Webber. I wonder if it is because the research is so old? At some point, does a concept become commonly understood, an accepted part of the vernacular, so that it is no longer required to cite its creator? I think we need to at least give a nod to the origins for those who might want to learn more and explore the thinking behind the concept.