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Creative Play or Procrastination?

I am thinking about writing about teaching, and how I always return to it in some way or form. I know that it’s in my veins. There’s more to think about, so in the meantime, I’m talking walks, spending sometime at the beach, doing yoga, knitting, baking cookies, taking photos, teaching yoga and knitting… and thinking about teaching. Hope you enjoy this walkdoc while I keep thinking about writing my next piece.

 

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Yoga- Next Chapter

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photo 1I have been joyfully practicing yoga for fifteen months, and am a different person because of this practice. It’s true that I no longer have back pain, can actually hold a plank for several minutes, and can do a headstand (sort of, it would be nice if I could keep my legs together, for the nuns’ sake!) I know more poses than I ever thought I could remember and can actually create a fluid sequence using them. Ah…Vinyasa Yoga…I love it!

A month ago, the studio I belong to (Innerglow at Mashpee Commons) announced a three week Intensive Teacher Training course. The class description says it leads to a deepening of one’s practice and a certification to teach yoga. When I first heard about this offering, I wondered if it might be for me. I’ve been a teacher “of something” all my life; did I want to teach yoga, too? Was I proficient or experienced enough to take this class? Did I need to get into even better shape before embarking on this adventure? Do I want to teach or just live a life with a very open, flexible schedule? So many questions, but I know I feel a driving passion to keep doing yoga.

As is often the case, I must have been ready to learn, and the teachers appeared; Sheryl Light and Michelle Itzkowitz work their magic on me and the six other yogis in our class. For the past three weeks, we have been present, working, thinking, learning, sweating, and laughing 10 to 12 hours per day. I don’t think I’ve ever used so many muscles or thought so much about the connection of breath, mind, and body. Yoga is more than poses and wearing LuluLemon pants. It’s meditation in motion and linking body and breath while clearing the mind of clutter.

In short, this intense class is one of the wisest and kindest acts I’ve done for myself in a very long time. Yes, it is a challenge physically, but also mentally. The physical exercise is only one part of the entire process. Landing on my mat and emptying my mind of chatter, to do lists, real and/or imagined worries, and the urge to find perfection is wicked hard. “Quiet your mind” says the teacher…Then like the shot at the beginning of a race, my mind starts to run…Oh, did I put the clothes in the dryer? Fish or pasta for dinner? Remember to call the vet for Blackie’s test results (he’s fine- don’t worry). Did I lock my car? When are the real estate taxes due? I am learning to listen to these mental interruptions and then release them instead of letting them lease space in my head rent-free.

One by one, I let them go and listen to what a silent mind sounds like. It’s quiet, and all I think about is my breath: inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. Move my body with my breath, not in opposition to it. Good stuff starts to flow and come together. Then I learn that the word “yoga” means “union” and it all starts to fit together.

At the end of our three-week program, I’m in awe of another “union” that has been created. There are seven of us in class and two teachers. We’ve formed a family of our own. In this short period of time, we have created “siblings by choice.” What a gift this is, and it is completely unexpected on my part. My guts tell me that these women will be good friends for life. Yesterday was our last class together—and graduation. It was bittersweet.

On the mat and off the mat, I notice the lessons learned in this class with these people. In so many ways, it is a gift that keeps on giving. I’m very grateful for it all and will be teaching my first community class on Saturday, August 30(Labor Day Weekend) at 4 PM at Innerglow Studio, Mashpee Commons. The fee is a donation that will be given to Heroes in Transition—a wonderful non-profit that aids veterans by providing appropriate assistance to those with special needs in four key areas:

Home modifications for disabled veterans

Transitional Support Group Therapy

Financial support for service families

Assistance dogs for veterans.

 

Everyone is welcome. Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

Green Sprouts

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Some spring days try to fake me out into thinking it’s summer. That has happened recently. The sun shines brightly on the deck, the chairs look warmed and cozy, and there’s an ever so gentle breeze that bends the trees. It looks like it’s perfect for an afternoon with a book and a lemonade.

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However, once out there, my feet are cold, I need a sweater, and I’m saying “Screw the lemonade, I need some hot black coffee.” So having donned woolen socks and sweater, grabbed a cup of steaming java, I persist in moving the chair around the deck to catch the most direct rays of the sun. Yes, I know, I’m pushing it. Jumping the shark or something like that. But I do long to bask in the sun with a good book… it will happen, just with layers for awhile.

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Today a walk to the beach was truly an aerobic exercise in staying vertical against the wind. It was “refreshing”— ok- it was nippy, and I walked fast because if I stood still, I’d complain more. At WoodNeck, the windsurfers were out in full glory. Sails, black suits, full beards and huge smiles. One energized 60+ year old said the water was 50 degrees and the air was 50 degrees, so that makes it 100. I bitched about nothing after that.

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It’s true that the daffodils have bloomed and the azaleas and forsythia are full color. Periwinkle and all types of short wild flowers have started to open. Spring is really happening, just a little late and a little slower than usual.

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I’ve also noticed that I’ve got a couple of “anniversaries” that are happening right about this time. I’m marking the beginning of my fourth year of retirement from teaching at Bentley University. This is the first year that I was completely unaware of semesters, final exams and last day of classes. I’m having a blast doing exactly what I want, when I want to. The freedom is exhilarating and my list of “want to do’s” grows each day—in a good way. I’ve had the opportunity to read from my stacks of collected books as well as raid the library for some unexpected delights. I love the lack of curriculum and the full range of opportunities.

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On a similar note, I’m celebrating my second blogiversary of http://www.yarnsista.com. Two years of writing generated 99 posts, almost 6000 views and a tremendous amount of fun and satisfaction for me. It’s a place where I can write about my passions: the Cape, my life, my books, my fun with fiber and anything else that captures my attention. Taking photographs has been a new skill to work on. The iPhone camera is a blessing. It makes learning by trial and error plus lots of practice very attainable.

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I also just celebrated my first year of doing yoga. Now that is a very big deal. With the help of many compassionate, wise teachers, I have begun my practice and continue to expand it. My back no longer hurts me; I can move without aches and pain; I’ve lost weight and am much healthier than ever. All of this is exceptionally good news because I’m about half way to 122 years old, and I’d like to be flexible and balanced right up to the last breath. Three yoga classes and one Pilates class per week should help me get there.

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So all of this spring/rebirth/new growth stuff is working. I have no complaints and am looking forward to it all. Life is good.

 

Nose in a Book: January 2014

The New Year has added fuel to my yearning to burn through some terrific books that have been waiting all too patiently for me. It has been almost two years that we’ve done away with television and cable, so there’s more time to get lost in books.

My current books in progress are quite an eclectic collection:

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling  audio book from audible.com

Moby Dick by Herman Melville, the Norton Critical edition

Manage Your Day to Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind  edited by Jocelyn K. Glei

The Last Elf by Silvana De Mari

I’m sure that all four aren’t are anyone’s college syllabus, and I love the variety and experience each is providing.

First, The Casual Vacancy is a J.K. Rowling book for grown ups that I struggled with when I had the hard copy in my hands. Nothing seemed to stick– not the characters– not the plot– not the book. I put the book down and decided to “let it go”. The plot thickens: my daughter Kate gave me a subscription to audible.com for Christmas. I hungrily grazed over the long list of possibilities and started my wish list. I put The Casual Vacancy on it because I just couldn’t believe that I couldn’t engage with that book. This was the author who kept me and half the universe mesmerized with Harry Potter. Maybe the audible format would change my perception of the book. I hadn’t used books on tape/cd’s/etc before and thought it would be a good experiment.

Well, I’m hooked. I downloaded the text, plugged in my ear buds and asked the rest of the world to leave me alone as I listen. Maybe it’s the lack of distractions or the newness of the toy, I don’t know. I’m now three fourths of the way through the book and want to see what happens next. I’m not sanctioning the novel as great literature, but it’s an enjoyable, adventure into the life of a small town with many degrees of dysfunctional characters. I listen while I knit and can manage to multi-task and do justice to both endeavors. I plan to listen to one book a month this way.

The next book is a tome that has been on my “to read” list for years: Moby Dick.  My Norton Critical Edition dates back to 1967; I was in high school from 1966-1970. The pages are yellowed, it cost only $1.95, and it contains not only the novel, but reviews, letters by Melville, analogues and sources as well as criticism. It’s a megillah and remained unread until this month when a friend of mine, Stan, mentioned that he was reading it. We volunteer together at the cat shelter and every time I saw him, he had something interesting to say about Moby Dick. He talked about the allure of the sea, the whaling industry, New Bedford, Nantucket, and crazy characters. Living so close to it all was another reason to jump in. Before I knew it, I was turning the pages and scribbling notes in the margins. Stan and I continue our discussions about the book and the narrative comes alive. I find myself reading and re-reading sentences that resonate; there are many. I also give myself permission to skim the passages that are dense and numb my skull. There’s no pressure– no quiz– just an exciting adventure at sea.  I notice patterns and think about what message might be intended, but that comes automatically to this geeky retired professor. A friend from my knitting group heard me talking about the book and said she wants to start reading it too.  It’s a movement!

The next book is Manage Your Day blah blah blah. Someone should have better edited the title, in my humble opinion. It’s another one of those books that I have a tendency to buy and then wonder why I did. The lessons are pretty straight forward: eliminate the distractions and make time for all that’s creative. Do the important stuff first, then fill in with the trivial tasks. I do like the advice to indulge in “unnecessary creation”; that’s using personal creative projects to explore new obsessions, skills or ways of working in a low-pressure environment. My photography, socializing cats, colorwork knitting, reading Moby Dick… are examples of ways to stretch beyond my comfort zone and try something different.

The last book on my January list is a treasure. My daughter Molly gave it to me for Christmas and described it as a book like the ones we read together when she was younger. The Last Elf is just that… I’m enjoying it as a novel, but also using it as a delightful vehicle to remember when we shared the Narnia series and so many other memory making books. When I see her, we’ll pour a cup of tea and gab about this for quite awhile.

I often think that there are so many books and so little time. I’m making more time to get lost in books, and it’s a fine way to start of the new year. I haven’t thought about what books I’ll tackle in February, but there’s no rush. They have a way of choosing me.

Fostering Chili

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A few short weeks ago I took on the adventure of socializing a ten-week-old feral kitten, Chili. He taught me more than I ever expected. Here’s a brief run down of my light bulb moments.

  1. Chili is a cat, not a human. Listen to the cat and let him be a cat while you help him learn to trust a few humans.
  2. It takes a lot of time and a lot of one-on-one attention to make the smallest bit of progress.
  3. Celebrate the small steps or you’ll lose your mind. Hurray, Chili didn’t hide under his blanket when I entered the room. He peed in the litter box! He didn’t spit today! He rubbed his head against my sneaker. He purred. He sat on my lap! He gave me a kiss, and I didn’t have tuna on my hands. He ran to greet me and did figure eight’s around my feet.
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  4. Food is the way to a cat’s heart… a little food builds a lot of trust. Probably true for humans too.
  5. Giving Chili more open space AFTER he was secure in his closer surroundings was the right thing to do. I gave him access to a secured spot in my studio and held my breath that he wouldn’t go hide or freak out. He did fine; I needed a drink.
  6. Time seemed to slow down while working on socializing Chili. I sat on the floor with him, had all types of conversations, yes, I even sang. No rushing, just slow, and steady consistency and love. It felt good.
  7. Quiet time with him on my lap, purring, giving a few kisses was better than any product I could have purchased… any “thing” within or beyond my grasp.chiliphoto
  8. Separation and good byes have never been my strong suit. At first I was incredibly conflicted because my goal was to socialize Chili and enable him to be adopted by a loving new family; yet, that meant letting him go. Ugh, this is like parenting…But somehow it clicked that Chili was ready for his next adventure, and I’d be able to be happy about it. He was ready, I could learn something here.
  9. On adoption day at the shelter, a dad and his daughter came looking for a kitten to fall in love with. Chili settled very comfortably in the little girl’s lap.  It was love at first sight. Yes, I teared up a bit, but I wasn’t sad.  I was part of the process, and it was very good for both Chili and myself. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

    Chili

    Chili

The Zen of Pointy Sticks

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What A Hoot Mittens

What A Hoot Mittens

My name is Diane, and I am a knitaholic. Yes, it’s true. Give me a set of needles, a skein of wooly goodness and I’ve got happiness. Why????

Another Way Scarf/Stole

Another Way Scarf/Stole

Good question, I’ve been wondering about this addictive craft/art form. There is magic in being able to create something out of what seems like nothing. Every knitted creation starts off the same way: string finagled around a stick. There are two stitches—just two—knit and purl. Everything else is a combination or machination of these two simple actions. That, in and of itself, is exciting and infectious. It’s the complexity and pattern generation that results from repeated application of a simple rule. My hubby is exploring the same idea, but applying it to the universe. I love the connections but stick to yarn. Knitting is a big, fun puzzle with infinite solutions.

Vignetto Shawl-- lace, lace, lace!

Vignetto Shawl– lace, lace, lace!

Then, there’s the Zen element. The needles gently tap each other and create a soft, soothing tick tick tick. The stitches interlock one at a time to what has already been created… and it grows like cells. A new design requires attention to detail, and I sometimes speak the pattern as I’m knitting it:  “Knit 3, Knit 2 together, Yarn Over, Knit 1.” After a short while, muscle memory often takes over, and I’m in the “zone”. Knitting is like being in a trance.

Colorwork Hat

Colorwork Hat

Another aspect of this work that causes addiction is borrowed from Woody Allen:  “I like the eggs.” I like the product as much as the process. Having yarny creations that are one of a kind, made by me is a gift to myself. Lacy shawls wrap around my shoulders and provide warmth and so much more. Handmade socks feel a zillion times better than commercial socks; they’re hugs for your feet. My latest adventure on this woolen trip is to knit a handmade sweater that actually fits—and looks fabulous. The challenge has been a bit intimidating, but serves as another way to push through my comfort zone to find more comfort.

Treats for the Feets

Treats for the Feets

Unlike my years in Catholic school, there are no mistakes in knitting. You always get “do-overs” and can undo what you don’t like. There’s no punishment, no guilt. You just get to undo the stitches and then stitch some more. I also make it a point to learn something new from each project: a new technique, different color play, something more complicated, or a remake with improvements. I just figured out how to make a warm mitten that has an opening for one finger to do texting. I’ll be publishing the pattern soon.

Sheep Texting Mittens

Sheep Texting Mittens

My usual menu of what’s on my needles includes a pair of socks, a shawl, a sweater, a hat, blanket, and something that will be a gift. I know—why so many?  Because I like them all and can’t do just one thing at a time. All of these projects sit delightfully in their bags on the living room floor next to my chair. It sometimes get out of hand, but who cares, it’s all part of creative chaos.

Hitchhiker Shawl in progress

Hitchhiker Shawl in progress

I’d love to write more, but I really have a yen to get back to my knitting.

Yep, that's me!

Yep, that’s me!

Book Groupie

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Often my reading habits follow criss-crossing lines with unexpected, often interesting, consequences. This is definitely the case these past few weeks.

I’m continuing to read Academically Adrift and appreciating the hardcore research on the academic behaviors of college students. In short, students are under-prepared and universities are failing to meet most needs. This research is validating my observations in the field. I routinely confronted these issues firsthand when teaching in the classroom, and now I’m writing a book that includes my observations and remedies to these problems. That is happening, slowly, but surely.

Next on my nerdy agenda: I joined a new book club because I needed more literary oxygen and book talk. It’s the Non-fiction Book Group at Falmouth Public Library. Wow—what a smart group of well-read, articulate folks. We just finished reading and discussing a book I probably would never have read on my own: The Road to Ubar by Nicholas Clapp. It’s a fascinating account of Clapp’s attempt to discover ancient ruins whose existence waiver between myth and reality. This book shows the power of intellectual curiosity and the rewards of the inquiry method in practice. Clapp, a documentary film producer, has a fire in his belly to learn all he can about this ancient community. It encouraged me to push beyond the text and check out other resources. The book, itself, was an adventure. And best of all, the book group members are a most welcome addition to my literary life.

This begs the question: “So what do I really want out of a book group?” I want to read a text that is challenging and have bright folks engage in a lively, smart discussion ABOUT THE BOOK. I don’t want it to be a food festival of recipes that are vaguely connected to the title and devoured by a book group that never cracked the book. Also, I’m finding that I want our monthly selection to be more than a leisurely beach book; I need it to stretch and expand what I can already do on my own. So, I’ve joined two new book groups—one non-fiction and one fiction—both run by my local libraries. The non-fiction Ubar selection was great—fingers crossed for the fiction choice which is Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. I start that next week.

One literary device I really hate in books is cheap trickery. I found this to be the case in Barbara Shapiro’s, The Art Forger. This “novel” focuses on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist. It reads as an interesting mystery that I thought was based on actual fact. Here comes the problem: the blurry line between fact and fiction. The author says it’s a novel, but includes so many “factual” details and references to reality that it reads like a true narrative of an actual event. It is about forging art, and the book itself is a forgery—how clever, no, how annoying. The end of the book reveals that most of what the reader thought was true, is not. Even the Boston Globe article that looked so authentic, is faked. Needless to say, I didn’t find it effective or satisfying. The last time I remember getting so irritated at a cheap trick was after I finished reading Memoirs of a Geisha and found out that the “geisha” was really a young man from Brookline, MA, not even a geisha in the family. Ugh!

My irritation about The Art Forger was not in vain. Several months ago, David and I made a day trip to the Outer Cape and back again. We stumbled upon Parnassus Bookstore, and I asked my favorite question: “What should I not leave today without buying? The wise salesclerk put a copy of Mrs. Jack by Louise Hall Tharp in my hands and said “You’ll love it.” Mrs. Jack is a biography–to my surprise–of Isabella Stewart Gardner: a smart, feisty, accomplished Boston woman who created the Gardner Museum. I am more than half way through this book, and it is unadulterated joy. Her life is worth reading about; the author’s voice and style are addictive. I try to read just one chapter a night before I go to sleep, and that is impossible…like chocolates, just one more, just one more. What a refreshing change from The Art Forger. I must revisit Parnassus Bookstore and ask for another recommendation.

Life is short. So many books, so little time. Be picky.