Things Teachers Taught Me

For a long while, I’ve had this idea of authoring a book (I have many ideas for books…) about inspirational things or solid advice that past teachers or life experiences have taught me.

Throughout my career, I have had some great (and some dreadful) teachers and some equally outstanding life lessons both bitter and sweet. Recently, I was chatting with a friend who asked if I would want to be 20 all over again, and was surprised when I said no, I wouldn’t. Which got me thinking: I really have very few regrets. All of the worst moments of my life, and the most difficult challenges have equipped me to handle just about anything. The confidence I have earned was not born, it was bred… and is a hard-won patina earned through wounds and scars.

Similarly, a few years ago, I had a bit of an epiphany. I have a few friends that are more than a few years younger than me and I often find myself mentoring them on big life decisions. NO!, I would think… DON’T do THAT! Because my age and experience gives me a reasonable gauge of how THAT experience might turn out. My intent had always been to save my friends the hurt and anguish of making a bad decision with an outcome made more clear by age and wisdom. But, I realized, it is exactly the many poor choices followed by hurt or misery that fortified me and made me who I am today. Sparing them hurt would be disabling their ability to build coping mechanisms and confidence. Perhaps that is the teacher in me. Perhaps not. Scandinavian parents have an adage: Telling a baby not to touch a hot stove means nothing. However, when a child touches a hot stove, he will feel the burn. He will learn on his own not to touch the stove again. Certainly no parent of the year award there, but some pretty powerful psychology nonetheless.

So further to my goal of writing a book of good advice, here is my top 15 list of things I’ve learned from great teachers:

1. Always ask nicely and acknowledge that people are busy and don’t owe you an answer. When you get an answer, be grateful and say thank you.

2. It is indeed lonely at the top.

3. You pay a price for being a smart person in a stupid world.

4. Communicate. In a communication vacuum, people will make up their own details… which often will be worse than actuality.

5. Success is more often celebrated with a stab in the back than a pat on the back.

6. There is a big difference between being cordial and being friends.

7. The past is not the future.

8. Leadership is about doing the work for others and letting them get the accolades and credit for it.

9. Read everything you can, but read it carefully. Most people don’t read carefully.

10. People learn differently. People think differently.

11. Uniformity and conformity are so powerful they usually self-extinguish.

12. Organization is the key to simplicity.

13. Wealth is relative and ultimately unimportant.

14. Noble aims are unsupported by broken means.

15. Karma is for real.

Homemade Headboard

Molly and I made a headboard last week. We also made some pillows to go with it. I have been searching for a headboard for our guest room, and actually found on at Marshall’s, but wasn’t thrilled with the $300 price tag on it. I thought: I can do this cheaper, better, and on my own. So I did.

The finished headboard and pillows.
I bought 3 2×3’s at the hardware store for $6. My parent’s neighbor, Mike, cut a scrap board to perfect size. I used some old decking screws to assemble it.
Meanwhile, Molly helped out by inspecting the polyester batting.
I used 3M Spray 77 adhesive (one of my go-to products) to affix a piece of foam to the headboard. It was slightly smaller, but that’s OK.
Then I swaddled the whole thing in polyester batting, and stapled it using my wonderful new staple gun from Aldi.
I had a great piece of Irish linen left over from my curtain project, so I stretched that over the headboard, tacking it N, S, E, and W.
Then, working my way around, using my staple gun, I tacked around the backside of the board.
This is how it looked from the back.
Molly and I added some cheap interfacing to the back (to cover up all the rough edges and staples.
And some little felt things to make sure the board didn’t scratch the floor.
I finished off with four hand-made wooden buttons that I bought in Estonia, that I tied through and affixed with wire.

Total cost was about $40.

Curtains!

My Airstream Bambi came with some stock white curtains that are sufficient but a little institutional. Shortly after buying and cleaning out Florence, I resolved to make new curtains. 

That was two years ago!

About a year ago, I purchased some great white fabric and all the hardware to make new curtains. I made one panel and just didn’t love it. The fabric was too stiff and didn’t hang right. 

Then, while I was traveling in Europe this summer, I found a source for this beautiful grey Irish linen fabric. It has a fabulous “hand” and seems durable. Best of all the color is neutral but not boring. Sort of a warm grey. Best of all, it’s the same fabric that my new duvet is made from!

So last week, I got to work cutting panels and outfitting hardware. Last week, I did a test fitting, this week I made one more panel and put on the final touches and… voila! New drapes. I made some Velcro tie-backs for the curtains during the day which is an upgrade from the original set. They look really great and much less harsh than the white curtains. 

Definitely worth the wait. 

The Cultural Implications of The Great British Bake Off 

This is not my post, but a re-port of a fine article that captures not only the success of this great show, but the cultural reasons for it… it’s the sort of post that piques my American Studies background in a curious manner.

From the original post from Luke Dempsey at The Kitchn:

Tonight PBS airs the Season 3 finale of The Great British Baking Show, the stupendously popular show that taught Americans the meaning of a proper sponge, and introduced them to the steely gaze of Paul Hollywood and cool evaluation of Mary Berry. To mark the occasion, we asked English expat Luke Dempsey to explore his complicated relationship with England past, present, and fantasy. If you had a happy early childhood, as I did, The Great British Baking Show takes you right back to it, to a place where people are uncomplicated and kind and careful of each other. There is no ego, only fun for the sake of it (and there’s a lot of sugar). Set in the grounds of a stately home, in a big tent reminiscent of those used for a local fair (note, there has to be a tent—this is Britain, where the climate is made up of weather, not seasons), the show reeks, to some, of a halcyon time that never existed. Which is why it’s so powerful.

Read the entire original article at: My Complicated Relationship with The Great British Baking Show — Feature Story | The Kitchn

The Broken Tangerine Crate.

About 10 years ago, I took knitting lessons from my friend Dorothy’s 90+ year old mom, Ruth. She not only did the impossible (taught me how to knit), but also imparted many interesting stories about the depression and scarcity during World War II. I remember, one night, she offered me a clementine tangerine, and then smashed up the little wooden crate (before my very eyes) and placed it into her fireplace.

My very first instinct was to think: “That’s odd.”

Then I paused for a beat, and thought… “No! I’m odd for thinking that’s odd.”

I mean, how absurd is it that we wouldn’t burn scrap wood for heat? How much more absurd is it that we would put it in the trash to be hauled away to be buried and take decades to decompose.

That seemingly insignificant, inconsequential moment had a huge impact on me.

Ruth also saved seeds from the fruits and vegetables she ate and grew lots of seedlings in her kitchen that, each summer, were transferred to her garden in the back yard.

Again.. why wouldn’t we do that? Why don’t we do that?

About a week ago, I was listening to some NPR story about Monsanto and how Monsanto forbids farmers from saving seeds from year to year. The story recounted how a farmer had saved a bushel of corn (that he grew) and planted it (with the plan to use it to donate to a local food panty) and Monsanto sued him for millions of dollars. Naturally, Monsanto won.

Out for a run the other day, I watched some Laotian immigrants in Buffalo fishing in the Niagara River. My first thought was “Oh my, that’s disgusting.” But, really it isn’t. It’s responsible and sustainable.

It’s strange: we have been so conditioned by big-corpra: big parma, big agriculture, big everything; that only food grown doused in chemicals is safe, that only drugs made by huge factories are safe. When, in actuality, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m skittish when thinking about plucking an apple growing from the tree in my local park, but not skittish about eating an apple that was grown 7,000km away in Chile, its natural protective skin burned with acid then rolled in wax, stored in an oxygen deprived chamber for 9 months, and then shipped to my supermarket where countless people touched it as they rifled through the “crate” looking for a “fresh” apple.

Who knew that Ruth—saving seeds in her suburban kitchen—was a rebel pioneer like the corn snubbing Monsanto farmer? So, inspired by Ruth, I made a resolution earlier year to start to be more sustainable. Rather than buying pickles, I’ll make my own facto-pickles (I learned to do this in Estonia this past summer). Rather than buying dried plums imported from Turkey, I’m making my own in my dehydrator. Rather than buying herbs and spices, I’m drying my own. I made my own tomato sauce this past weekend… which, was a lot of work. It’s all a lot of work.

I stopped shopping at the überbig supermarket chains, and I source my food from farmers markets and from Aldi (which has fewer choices and less distractions with impulse junk that I don’t need or really want.) I buy less, store, freeze, and can more, and seem to be making more adventurous and inventive food.

My thinking is this: if I have to work hard to make my food, maybe I’ll appreciate it more. Maybe I’ll eat less of it and maybe I’ll make healthier choices.

I know one thing for sure: it has made my relationship with food much more complicated, and much more satisfying while at the same time simplifying the amount of choice available from my kitchen.

I’ll keep you posted… what about you: how has your relationship with food changed over the years?

Happy New Year! Resolutions for 2016…

Happy New Year, everyone!

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I’ve been reflecting lately on 2015, for me, it was a quiet and happy year, but for so many around me, it seemed stressful, sad, and fraught with difficulty. I give thanks for my many blessings, and I pray for those around me that their 2016 will be as blessed as mine will be.

Over the past few weeks, I have been considering a number of resolutions for the upcoming year:

  1. Continue to eat better/less/more mindfully.
  2. Continue to exercise more.
  3. Buy less (and buy less impulsively and more wisely.)
  4. Make an effort to become more sustainable.
  5. Simplify.
  6. Slow down.
  7. Support local businesses more and giant global corporations (like amazon) less.
  8. Focus less on “filler” and more on being “fulfilled.

As we march toward 2016, I am excited to be reflecting on my new years resolutions for the coming year. I’ve streamlined them, and amplified them a bit:

  1. Buy less. My goal, as some of you already have read, is to buy considerably less during 2016. I can’t say that I won’t buy anything, but I can say that I will try to buy much less.
  2. Read more. A book a week. I have tried—diligently—to get on the digital reading bandwagon with a Nook, then an iPad, then a Kindle. I just can’t do it… and as a result, I find myself barely reading anymore. The experience of reading a digital book is like reading a website, it’s ephemeral and the content is easily forgotten, at least in my mind. So this year, it’s back to paper for me. (I’ll post each book on this blog, so look for the #bookaweek)
  3. Simplify. I’m reasonably good at keeping life simple, but this year, I will make a greater effort to “cut the fat” (as my friend Frank and I refer to it), by getting rid of time vampires (things and people) in my life, thereby making time for things (and people) that really matter. One thing that I’m going to ax for sure: checking Facebook every day.
  4. Keep it small. I’m going to continue my streamlining efforts from this year. Marching into the new year with a very clean attic, a very clean office, and a very empty home, is making me happy. Now it’s time to crank that up a notch and get rid of even more. Better to borrow than to own, better than to share than to keep.
  5. … and lean. Keep running. I have really enjoyed running (and losing 30lbs) this year. I need to start the year strong and keep near my goal of 45km a week.
  6. Keep learning. It’s time to improve some of my skills: language (good, but could be better), music (nonexistent, but could exist), etc. I need to make time for hobbies and personal expansion.

What are your resolutions for 2016? Add your notes to the comments section below…and thank you for reading. I wish you all my best wishes for a very happy 2016!

Tis the Season!

As we all prepare for the Christmas and Holiday season, we’ll inevitably have to wrap a gift or two in a jiffy.

The wrappers at one of my favorite Japanese department stores, Takashimaya, have perfected the art of quick wrapping (using only two pieces of tape!)

The first video shows the technique, and the second explains how to do it!

Bento. 

I ran across this great blog a while back about a woman who lost 30lbs by eating a bento lunch each day. Now, I should say that the food service on my campus is unparalleled and the quality and variety of what is served is consistently outstanding. Which, for me posed a problem. In my first year, I gained about 30lbs because I just couldn’t pass up a plate of fries and the outstanding soft serve chocolate ice cream.

Until I started my bento box lunch.

First, the bento is really satisfying, and very healthy. As I learned from the JustBento.com site, there’s a method to filling the bento, and it’s centered around not only nutrition but also aesthetics.

I like that the form factor of my bento box is similar to the form factor of my Airstream, and that it keeps my lunch separate, organized, and portable until it’s time to eat it.

Bentgo bento box

I am using the Bentgo grey, which I picked up (of course) at Marshalls for $7.99. I like the Bentgo brand because they are BPA-free made from EU food-safety authority approved all food grade materials. The top container nests inside the bottom one for compact & easy storage, and includes built-in plastic silverware (fork, knife and spoon) with room for a packet of gluten free soy sauce and travel chop sticks.

A photo a day…

This past semester, my students prompted me to take a photo of the beautiful view from our studio room. We decided to take a photo every time we met (twice each week…or at least on those days that I actually remembered to do it) until the end of the semester.

John Mohawk, a professor from my PhD program, would always say: the fall semester begins in summer and ends in winter. It begins in lightness and ends in darkness. Very true. The reverse is true about the spring semester.

The funny thing… the view from our studio is really pretty stunning, though you would never know it from this series of images! We overlook a beautiful hill on the opposite side of the valley. My images always look ugly because the flat rubber roof encompasses 40% of the image! In any case, a curious study of light, color, and change over time and a glimpse into our changing seasons.

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