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December is half over and I have had too little farmy fun to show for it.

My work life this semester was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.  For starters there were over 800 preschoolers involved.  I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not. I stopped counting at the beginning of November when we were at 786. Add to that my little afternoon friends who I visit, the usual weekly yoga classes, and a new teaching gig: a university course called “Piyo.” When I was asked to apply for the job I had no idea what “Piyo” was or how univeristy physical education courses worked as I had never taken any as a student. Piyo turned out to be a blend of Pilates and yoga, and I invented the curriculum as I went. After chaotic mornings with preschoolers, Piyo was my saving grace. The course turned out to be the most fun and authentic teaching experience I’ve ever had.  I got to completely nerd-out on anatomy and delve deeply into somatic learning. And while I have taught several college courses, I have never before taught one barefoot.  After teaching the course barefoot all semester, I’ve come to the conclusion that shoes change everything about the teaching experience.  Shoes make your feet all claustrophobic and rob you of sensation and connection to the environment. They make you teach like “I’m somebody wearing shoes”…which is to say all formal and like you have somewhere else to go or like you’re going to step on something disgusting or dangerous.  Who knew?  Anyway, it was just awesome to not have desks, to kick off shoes, to cut the lights and learn cool stuff. The students, freshmen and juniors, were the youngest college students I’ve ever taught and they were unexpectedly fabulous.  They were an interesting, smart, fun, diverse, and engaged group that gave me much hope for the future.  It was such great experience.

Today I finished grading, posted grades, and completed an article review. Tomorrow I meet the last of the preschoolers for 2013, write recommendation letters, and then I’m free from university obligations for this year and I intend to get back to farmy fun and hopefully experience some goaty goodness.

Title: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Author: Sheryl Sandberg

Synopsis:  Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, gives women career advice. She also discusses the problems women face in getting leadership roles and how to overcome them.

Why I Read It: Someone at a convention raved about the book during a talk.

Full Disclosure: My opinions may be biased by my dislike of her employer. I don’t do Facebook; the whole phenomenon seems at best a waste of mental resources, and at worst a dismaying invasion of privacy.  All that said, I read the book because Sandberg is an accomplished woman writing on a topic, women in leadership, which is interesting and relevant being that I’m a woman and all.

Highlights: It was a quick, easy, well-organized read. Every chapter is concentrated into its one sentence essence (so tidy!!), which made the content memorable. There were a couple of these that stood out:

  •  Don’t Leave before You Leave, in which she discusses the problem of being focused on some future event rather than on your present job, and
  •  It’s a Jungle Gym Not a Ladder, in which she discusses the trajectory of a career and how it’s ok to move laterally and all around instead of constantly climbing up, up, up.  I appreciate the playfulness of this metaphor.

Lowlights: I had a hard time relating to Sandberg. First off, I am drawn to work that is academic and not corporate. My fields are already dominated by women. I’ve been mentored by women, promoted by women.  Likewise, I teach women and promote them.  As a result, sometimes the issues she wrote about seemed remote.  Secondly, her writing style was safe and overly-processed….a little too polished.

Recommended to: 1.) Men – every last one of you should read it.  2.) Working women with children. 3.) Ambitious women just beginning their careers.


If You Liked This Book You Might Also Like: Leadership by Rudy Giuliani, which I reviewed (very briefly) here, and which I found equally as helpful and more compelling.

Best Quote:

“It’s not about biology, but about consciousness”

–Gloria Steinem

If you want to learn more here’s a Ted Talk she gave on the topic.

Pioneers final

Elizabeth Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, & Lucretia Motts

Would you be willing to trade part of your anatomy for the priviledge of going to school?

For Kakenya Ntaiya, this was not a hypothetical question. It was her reality. She tells her astounding story in the Ted talk below.

 

Just the expressions written on the faces of those children, before and after, tell the story. I replayed that footage again and again. 

It made me deeply grateful for the myriad of choices available to me, for the brave women who laid the groundwork for such freedom, and for the presence of strong women in my life — my family, my friends, my professional mentors.

Yesterday was Labor Day. It was a day to reflect on the work we do in this world and the impact it has on others. It was an opportunity to consider how we are supported and sustained by the labor of others.

Today I am thankful to get back to the work.

9-3-13 004

Picture3

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This post was my submissions for Kozo Hattori’s Monthly Peace Challenge for September: “Let’s inundate the internet with a peace collage of powerful words and images.”

b4peace

commute

Old Commute

What a difference a year makes.

Last year I began taking steps to turn my work life into my life’s work. This was a subtle, but powerful and life-changing shift in perspective that was inspired by a number of awesome books I’d been reading and by a yoga teacher training course that totally rocked my world.

 While I enjoyed my work – professoring – my work life itself had become a major ordeal. Just getting to work seemed an epic struggle fraught with peril.

commute2

Old Commute Detours

commute5

Old Commute Floods

Old Commute Snow

Old Commute Snow

No doubt that peril was made greater by the crazy woman behind the wheel weilding a camera.

Really not my brightest moments on display there, folks. 😀

On a good day it took 2.5 hours just to get to work.  As you can see, there were many not-so-good days.  That commute was quite a drain on the resources (time, money, fossil fuels, etc.).  When I look back at those pictures I wonder: What was I thinking??

I think my logic was something like, If I’m working hard and struggling, I must be doing something worthwhile, right?

Hm…not necessarily so, sayeth my gurus.

One tells me repeatedly: “Keep the pose. Relax the grip. Take the struggle out of it. Good, now go apply that off the mat.”

It all gets easier when you learn how to relax.

My commute to work looks a lot different these days….

july9 2013 013

New Commute Detours

It’s about a one minute walk.

New commute flooding

New Commute Floods

New Commute Snow

New Commute Snow

I can make the commute stretch to about 15 or 20 minutes on a good day.

Overlapping Seasons

It is spring again.  The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart. 

–Rainer Maria Rilke

It snowed this weekend…right atop the autumn leaves, budding roses, and daffodil blooms.

snow

Fall leaves, winter snow, spring daffodils

Fall leaves, winter snow, spring daffodils

The Duck Report

mallards

mallards

We lost one of our ducks, Baby Gold, to a raccoon who found a breach in El Diablo’s Duck Defense System (DDS).  The perp was apprehended and sentenced to exile.

The seven remaining domestic ducks have been joined by three mallards (two males and a female) who have taken up residence in the pond. Not to be outdone by P. Recious Rainbow, Kiki Duck is now nesting with a *crazy* number of eggs beneath her feathers.

Project Moon Pie

We’ve introduced another label (ball) and another action word (touch) to Moo Moo’s repertoire.  The ever-determined Moo Moo has taken to watching videos of her performance trials to improve her skills.

Moo Moo the Genius

Moo Moo the Genius

…and speaking of improving performance, here is:

Good News for Crazy Cat Ladies

Thanks to researchers in Japan (of course) we now have scientific evidence that looking at cute kitten and puppy pictures/videos facilitates performance in dexterity and focus tasks.  I am not making this up…click that link and you can read about it for yourself.

 This is exactly why you should read my blog. I post cute baby animal pictures regularly. I can help you at work. I bet you’ll even snag a raise.  Subscribe today!

Hello!  Welcome to part two of your virtual tour of the new office.  We have finally completed rennovations to another room of the practice, which by the way is officially up and running!kitchen

It took six months of cleaning, painting, tiling, shopping, moving, arranging, rearranging, nitpicking, and tweaking to get it just right.

Groovy light fixtures

Groovy light fixtures

As I mentioned in my first post on the topic, Space to Work: Office Design, the “Man Cave” had a lot of potential, but it was a mess.  The linoleum tiles in the ‘before’ picture were stuck directly to the concrete. There was a mysterious brown, sticky substance embedded in the spaces between them and they were stained, torn, and in some places missing. We pulled those grimey things up and the Angry Russian laid new porcelain tiles at a jaunty 45-degree angle.  He chose Navajo White grout to make the tiles “pop.”  He also hung a new smooth ceiling to get rid of the old one sporting nicotine-encrusted stalactites. We hung new fixtures for a finishing touch.

El Diablo painted the cabinets white and the hardware gold with an overcoat of clear gloss. The whole room was painted a softer, creamy shade of yellow.  We added a couple of new light fixtures. And Voila! The Man Cave disappeared and the “Princess Playhouse” (as El Diablo refers to it) emerged.

Skattur provided the plate beneath the cabinet (a find she scored at the Goodwill) to dress up the wall.  And see the little guy in the windowsill up there?  Another of Skattur’s Goodwill finds.  Here’s a close up:

owl with succulent ears

owl with succulent ears

How ridiculously cute is he? His name is Owlfred E. Jennings.

I decided to go for a 1940’s vibe with the decor. Several years ago I inherited a massive stereo console from my grandparents.

the stereo console

the stereo console

It’s a beautiful piece of furniture and though I have never had the space for it, it’s a relic I had to keep. It gives me warm, fuzzy memories of a childhood spent sneaking into the forbidden living room to bother the big kids while they listened to records…

sitting area

sitting area

There I would find them inclined on the orange corduroy speaker pillow (which I also still have) staring into the depths of an album cover as if it contained the answers to life’s mysteries.  Around the holidays, Elvis crooned Christmas songs from the speakers accompanied by the snaps and crackles of needle to vinyl.  In short, the console has good mojo. It served as the foundation piece for the room and inspired me to go retro with the furniture for the waiting area.

I got a great deal on two reupholstered vintage chairs from an antique mall. They are comfy and they have wheels! Then I paid too much (even with the 40% off coupon) for the table and lamp from Hobby Lobby.   Nanook gave me the picture above the lamp.  It belonged to my grandmother. The two sconces belonged to Skattur.  She donated them to the cause because they were scrolly and yellow. And because she’s awesome.  I picked up the rug from Target.

And finally, you might wonder what’s up with that little picture to the right that looks a bit out of place.  It  hangs right near the doorway to the therapy room and serves as a daily reminder to get my brain on straight before going to work:

note to self

note to self

I hope you enjoyed today’s virtual tour. There are two rooms  left – the bathroom and the therapy room.  I  will get pictures of those posted eventually.

The more I teach and read about teaching, the less I seem to know about the topic. Three books I read in 2012 about teaching taught me quite a lot…and left me with many, many more questions…

In Teaching with Your Mouth Shut, Finkle invites us to recall our most significant learning experiences. Only one of the

Teaching with Your Mouth Shut

Teaching with Your Mouth Shut

three I recalled happened in a classroom, which supported his point – most of our learning happens outside the classroom. Finkle contends “good teaching is the creation of those circumstances that lead to significant learning in others.” This focus takes the sage off the stage and brings learners front and center.  In his model of teaching, learning occurs by first engaging students with problems to solve and then through the process of mutual inquiry and discussion.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and I applied his advice about teaching in the classroom by reducing lecture time and providing students with case studies to contemplate, research, and discuss. After two semesters of experimenting with this in three different classes, I came to the conclusion that the majority of my students do not particularly appreciate this form of learning. Some do (mostly honors students), but most expect the structure and predictability of classroom lectures along with the opportunity lectures afford to tune out and covertly text under the desk.

Ultimately, I was left with more questions than answers from Finkel’s advice about teaching: How do I meet the needs of such a wide array of learners? Should we give students what they want or what we think they need? Can I strike an effective balance between the two? Is the Socratic method of teaching still relevant in this era of edutainment? Why do students write such horrible things in their course evaluations? Is it because I am a horrible teacher? How good are students at evaluating what they have learned? When should I practice “tough love” and when should I show compassion? And when is that tough love and compassion the exact same thing? What in the world are we even measuring with course evaluations — my teaching ability? Student perceptions? Teacher popularity?

…and just as I was having this existential crisis in my teacher’s heart, two more books came along to guide me through it:

Push by Sapphire

Push by Sapphire

 Push is the debute novel by Sapphire, on which the movie Precious is based. I have yet to see the movie, but I experienced the story via audiobook. The audio version was a good one —  I enjoyed listening to the music and rhythm of the dialect.  The story itself was one of the most disturbing I have come across. In the words of Precious, the main character,

“I don’t know what “realism” mean but I do know what REALITY is and it’s a mutherfucker, lemme tell you.”

And boy, did she. Precious’ reality was a bleak place of incest/rape, abuse, ignorance, and disability. It is definitely not a tale for the faint of heart. There was all sorts of darkness in her story that I did not want to face. There was also a small, but persistent ray of light: the power of compassion and education to propel us through the abyss. It was a much needed reminder.

The Courage to Teach

The Courage to Teach

And finally, Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach found me and forced me to break out the journal and take notes. Palmer’s writing is masterful. He illuminates a wide range of subjects – social constructivism, empiricism, epistemology, genetics, spirituality – with simple and beautiful language. He confirms that:

“Good education teaches students to become both producers of knowledge and discerning consumers of what other people claim to know.”

He writes of the importance of conflict in teaching and of holding open spaces where we can grapple with paradoxical tensions.  In this space of turmoil – in this tension of opposites there is:

“a power that wants to pull [the] heart open to something larger than itself.”

And “suffering is neither to be avoided nor merely to be survived, but must be actively embraced for the way it expands our own hearts.” He writes of pulling both teachers and students from center stage and putting “great things” at the center, then teaching and learning those great things from a place of humility.

“We experience humility not because we have fought and lost but because humility is the only lens through which great things can be seen – and once we have seen them, humility is the only posture possible.”

I cannot say enough about how good this book was.  I will definitely be reading all of his works in the coming year.

So as this year winds down and a new one begins, I resolve to embrace my teacher’s heart crisis and learn what I can from this “great thing.”

When you get to the end of all the light you know and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.

–Edward Teller

In the past two months I have…

  • Sold a house
  •  Moved the contents of the old house to the new house
  • Made weekly trips to the Goodwill, Salvation Army, and recycle center to get rid of the stuff the former owner left behind (we’re talking a lot of stuff here)
  • Spent countless hours in the yard feeding the mosquitoes
  •  Talked to grasshoppers and tree frogs

  • Bowed submissively to bumblebees

  • Chased butterflies
  • Acquired the limbs of a nine year old tomboy, adorned with scabs, scrapes, scratches, and stings
  • Made mud pies
  • Bled over the ferocious rose bushes

  • Engaged in warfare with wasps
  •  Ran from a mouse
  • Pulled an odd assortment of things from the dog’s mouth (including a dead mouse)

  • Pondered the meaning of the closet witch the former owner left behind

left behind to guard the attic door…?

  • Reveled in the Goaty Goodness the former owner left behind

Former owner left this – a blessing of Goaty Goodness!

  • Resigned from my out-of-state professor gig – it was just too impossible to go back to all that after all this.
  • Moved the contents of the out-of-state apartment and office to the new house
  • Began taking steps to integrate my worklife into my life’s work
  • Found myself overtaken by tearful fits of gratitude and joy

The world of academia is as weird as it is wonderful.  I’ve certainly had my share of interesting jobs over the years, but I’ve never been through a process remotely akin to what I’m currently experiencing.  This semester I’m up for mid-tenure review.  This basically means a group of colleagues will evaluate the work I’ve done in the past two and a half years. At this stage in the game, I must articulate my teaching philosophy, detail my professional development, and summarize my scholarly accomplishments in narrative form.   Then I fill a giant notebook with evidence supporting all the things I had to say about myself and I’ll set goals laying out all I wish to accomplish in the next two and a half years when I have to go through this whole process again.  At that point the folks I work with will decide if I they want me to stick around for the rest of my life or if I’m fired. 

Does all that sound weird to you?  It does to me.  But that’s pretty much how it all works.

As a result, I’ve spent a great deal of time lately sitting around contemplating the complicated task of teaching and the messiness of learning.  Quite honestly, I have had no great revelations.  Teaching still seems like the great three-ringed circus it was when I first started.  In this ring, we have a clown juggling individual students’ needs with the needs of the class and the needs of their clients who they will be serving in the future. Step right up to see the enchantress magically transforming information into knowledge. Witness the aerialist performing anxiety-provoking feats as she walks a tightrope stretched between turbulence and order.  Here come the acrobats alternating between collaboration and autonomy as they balance on horseback in an act combining strength, flexibility, and perseverance.

 Did I have a hand in creating this or am I simply just a part of the show?

Maybe a bit of both, who knows.  At least it will be interesting to see what happens next.

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