Summer’s End

summer's end

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The silver curtain has fallen. Summer is over in Shelton. Outside resembles a November storm. Temps won’t even hit 60 today. Leaves fall and the light has shifted. Plus, pumpkin spice. So, yeah. Summer, we barely knew ye! Please come again.

But there is good news. The summer term of Capella’s master’s program is over. It officially ended last Friday (the 13th). The infamous Dr. P of Ethics in the Public Sector sent out several emails. Wanting to finish early, I turned in the last of my work for that class on Saturday, September 7. Every time I got email, my heart would leap. It leapt very high when he created a new running calculator in Blackboard based on all the class assignments, not just on the ones that were graded. In other words, taking points earned divided by total points possible. That put me at a 69.9% in his new category called “final grade”. My heart plummeted into my socks. Still not sure why he did that, since Blackboard, the grading system, runs a current tally all the time based on submitted work, not all the assignments for the class. I did not respond to this email either, because his creating that category seemed unnecessary busywork and would cause more problems than solutions.

Maybe the emails would stop? But alas. “You should consider taking this FEMA training” with 14 paragraphs on how non-emergency management personnel needed the free seminar. Or “Capella offers these writing classes focusing on different areas”. Delete. And of course, “the class ends September 13. Here is every policy in the world Capella has for courses and grades”. Delete. Next up, “just touching base with everyone. Do you need anything from me?” Sigh. Maybe grade something?! Delete. Lastly, “here’s my personal email. I’m available outside the courseroom”. I emailed him a thank you because that needed a response. Not quite lastly, I guess, since 2 more emails came extending due dates because of Capella’s website conking out on folks.

Then nothing for 3 days. The last assignment for week 10 counted as 30% of my grade. It could still tank my GPA. I waited. I stalked the gradebook several times a day. Crickets.

Then last night, another email. “An attempt has been graded for 10A1”. Eek! I clicked and clicked to get to the grade. I got a….drumroll, please…99! I about fainted. Then I danced awkwardly because I could and it was dark. His feedback said the work was “outstanding” and “well thought out”. Yippee!

I breathed a sigh of great relief. Thank you, Lord. Let the break begin! Can we rewind summer?!

 

 

Unfrozen

The snow is finally melting off. What’s left borders roadsides and sidewalks. It’s the consistency of sparkly, crunchy, stale marshmallows minus the stickiness. It contorts itself into shapes like rising fists or the Loch Ness Monster.

Loch Ness Monster

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It’s eerie. But it fascinates me how things change consistency over time. Snow falls and it creates this cold, white blanket. Then it freezes and melts and freezes again. The berms of plowed snow in the parking lot of Ruby’s school are so large, they may last until June. The kids carved a slide on one.

The other news is schooling. I am 8 weeks into my first class for the master’s degree. Part of the requirements for this class is meeting with a writing coach. She gave input on my paper in week 3, which I finally got. Then she will give it again for week 7.  Her feedback to me was harsh. “You may have been able to write like this in high school…” one of the comments began. I had to stop reading. It stung. I consider myself a decent writer. I didn’t realize how much it was a part of my identity until that moment. I’ve been criticized before, but this felt different. In contrast, the class instructor has praised my submissions. This came out of left field, like a shrike out of the sky. I didn’t want to meet with her. I didn’t need any more input, thankyouverymuch. I’ll take my ball and go home. So there! Needless to say, I had forgiveness homework and I did it.

But the virtual meeting is part of the requirements. She only works 12-6 p.m., Monday through Friday. None of those times really work for me due to the time difference. I made an appointment for February 18, a holiday. I got into the virtual meeting room early, fiddling with the uncooperative web cam. Is it just me, or do web cams always feel a bit sleazy? Anyway, I never got it to work. Didn’t matter, cause she didn’t show up. I waited a half hour. Then at 45 minutes, I messaged her. Never heard back. After I emailed her in the courseroom, she responded. “You were an hour early. I am in Arizona.” My bad. I just assumed she was in Minnesota like the rest of Capella and subtracted 2 hours from my time. I sighed.

Fast forward to yesterday, the rescheduled meeting time. I drove to an open conference room and got set up. I braced myself for the worst. Then, a phone call came in. I answered it.

“Hi, this is Dr. Jones, the writing coach. Can we push our meeting a little later?”

I told her I couldn’t. I had rescheduled my lunch to make time.

“Oh, okay, ” she replied. “This won’t take long.”

Gulp.

“Well, I don’t have much to say. You have a really great style. Your writing is logical and it flows well. Your APA references look good. Just a couple of things to work on…”

I breathed out. She liked me. She really, really liked me! I took notes. Don’t use contractions. Use less personal pronouns, even when given permission. Check.

“You should also check out Capella’s writing resources. You have 163 minutes to use, and you paid for them. Especially since you’re a doctoral candidate.”

What?

“Uh, I’m not a doctoral student.”

“Oh.” She paused. Then went on. I couldn’t decide whether to be flattered at the inclusion or sad that she didn’t know what degree path I landed on.

I started out talking about snow. It started out as one thing, flaky, white and cold. It covered the earth in silence. Now, it’s hardened and melting daily as the season inches into spring. Our relationships change shape constantly, with the option to melt or freeze. We can forgive and move into a greater understanding of others, if we are open to it.

End of an Era

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Last night, our kettlebells instructor, Helga to you, taught her last class.

“Hi everyone. I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and I’m quitting.”

She set her bag down and explained. She told us about the near-constant searing pain in her shoulder. She’s battled it off and on for the last 2 years. She’s had massages, chiropractor treatments and cortisone shots. She’s had X-rays, too. Nothing seems to totally get rid of it, save possibly complete rest. She got a full-time job a few months back. Making it in to teach night class has become increasingly difficult as well.  She’s taught for 6 years.

While out on a run this morning, I thought back over the classes I attended. I remembered learning how to swing correctly. Trust me, that took more than a year. Morning classes I didn’t bother to put on makeup, except for maybe lipgloss or lipstick.  After breakfast and coffee, I threw on clean workout clothes and drove up the hill to the gym. Over time, I acquired callouses. They peeled. Sometimes they bled. I got bruises on my forearms and sometimes my legs, if I knocked myself with a bell. I took on larger weights as I mastered an exercise. Sweat ran into my eyes. We did innumerable jump squats, reaching for the sky like frogs on steroids. I found muscles I didn’t know I had. We passed large balls from outstretched legs to outstretched arms, like a band of Cirque du Soleil rejects. All of this set to the lilting background music of Ozzie, AC/DC and Guns N Roses.

And I loved every minute of it.

For now, us merry few who are regulars will take turns teaching the class. But it won’t be the same. Each of us came face to face with the limits of our inner resilience under her instruction. We pushed past them and found new levels to play on.

“You know,” Helga said to me with a smile as we stretched out at the close of class, “you guys are the reason I kept coming back.”

She’s the reason we kept coming back. She made us feel like we could take on the world. Thanks for everything. So long, sensei.

 

 

 

 

 

Inclusionary

circle kids(source)

I taught in the schoolagers class at church last night. Suddenly, a flood of tiny people approached me. They looked way too small to be in regular school.

“How old are you?” I asked one little girl.

She held up 4 fingers.

“Uh…you need to be in the preschool class.” Turns out several of the new little ones wandered down to the wrong room. My super assistant escorted the rogues to the correct location.

Yet one stayed behind.

“I don’t wanna go!” one little boy protested. He stood no more than 3 feet high in his baggy t-shirt and shorts

“You’re not in school. You’re only five,” his big brother reminded him, smirking a bit.

“I’m five!” the boy told me, tiny hand held up with all fingers in view.

I hesitated. He seemed like he’d be a handful. I wondered if I wanted to deal with behavioral issues. His bottom lip quivered. He desperately wanted to be big. Little Jimmy needed to be included with the big kids. His older brother would have liked nothing better than for Joey to get gone. I’d missed something, though. It’s summer. I’d forgotten kids get promoted to the next grade after the school year ends.

I leaned down to Jimmy. “How about we try it tonight?”

Jimmy nodded, his face lit with anticipation.

I flashed back to earlier in the week. I called a meeting to talk about purchasing procedures at the city. We’ve had some conflicting policies, and I wanted to hash it out with all my bosses in the room. We discussed what the state laws dictate and what the city allows. Granted, we got off on a tangent about sidewalks and asphalt and how best to repair them, but that’s beside the point. We acknowledged the problem and came up with some solutions. Then…

“We need to get the attorney involved. She’ll know just what the thresholds are for purchasing and projects. I’d like the three of us there,” said the director.

I was not among the Big Three. Those included my immediate boss, the superintendent and the director himself. I felt a little left out, since I’d called the meeting, brought up the problem and provided some solutions. I wanted in on that discussion. It affects how I do my job. I don’t like getting pertinent information second hand. It can get diluted along the way.

So I felt Jimmy. Everyone wants to be included, to be part of the group. And you know what? Jimmy did just fine. He threw rocks once, which I discouraged. He tried to take balls from other kids. Discouraged that, too. He ran around and chased balls instead. He rode down the slide. He fell face down in the pea gravel once.

“Somebody watch me! Teacher, watch me!”

“I’m watching!” I called.

Jimmy spun around a pole. I smiled. I see you, mister. We all have to start somewhere. We can make mistakes and learn from them. You’re going to be just fine, picking yourself up and growing along the way. So am I.

 

Comparative Religion

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I went to Ruby’s 4th and 5th grade end-of-the-year class picnic yesterday. The clouds couldn’t decide what they were doing. It was sunny, with a cool breeze, most of the time. Hordes of kids chased a soccer ball. Others queued up for the swings. One white Maltese got walked, a lot.

I found Ruby at a picnic table. She’d already started on her pre-packaged pb&j, courtesy of the hot lunch program.

“Hey, Ruby,” I said as I started to sit. I nodded hello to the sandy-haired boy across from us.

“Hi,” he said, shooting up and sticking out his right hand. “My name is Peter*,”

I blinked a couple of times. Huh?

“Hi, Peter,” I said, taking his hand. Couldn’t leave him hanging. “My name is Susan.”

“Nice to meet you, Susan,” he said, smiling. “I’m the son of Peter Johnson, of Peter Johnson Realty.”

“Oh, right. I know who he is.”

We both sat down.

“I like your manners,” I said to Peter. Highly  unusual in 10 year olds, I thought. What’s the angle? Is he into Ruby and trying to make a good impression with her mom?

“How’s your day going?” Peter asked me.

I smiled to myself. Good manners, part two.

“It’s going well. And you?”

“Good, so far,” he said.

We ate in silence for a few minutes.

“So,” Peter broke the silence. “What do you do?”

Um. I swallowed my bite of egg sandwich.

“I work for the city.”

“What do you do there?”

“I’m in public works, “I said. I explained about the water utility (briefly) and the roads, garbage service and the like.

“Oh,” he said. He paused a minute, chewing his sandwich. “Do your guys pick up the bags of trash by the side of the road, the ones picked up by the community service people?”

“No, “I said. “That’s all part of the court system, I believe.”

I chatted with Ruby about her lunch. She liked the cookie but left the carrot sticks alone. Somehow, she’d gotten too many of them in her young life. She may never eat another.

“What does your husband do?” persistent Peter asked.

“He works from home,” I said, hoping to shut this down. It was getting a leetle awkward. He wasn’t asking anyone else questions.

“Oh, “he smirked, “so he does laundry and cleaning. A house husband. Like that?”

I laughed.

“Oh no, baby. He’s got a doctorate. He works for a university, just does it from home.” So there!

Insert uneasy pause here.

“I have kind of a personal question,” he hedged.

What now, Pete, my boy?

“What religion are you?”

Wow.

“Oh, I’m a Christian,” I said. Then added, “You know, in a couple of years, you won’t be able to ask that,” I stated, Mom warning face on.

“I know, ” he said, then sighed. “My parents told me talking about religion and politics make people uncomfortable.”

Indeed, Petey.

“You’re Mormon, right?” he said to the Hispanic boy on his left. The boy nodded.

“I’m a Christian, too, ” said the small boy in a hoodie balancing on a ball to Peter’s left.

So much for that.

“And you, Peter?”

“Yes, I’m a Christian, too. I attend Valley Christian Church,” he affirmed.

OK.

Ruby and I went off to check out the dogs at the dog park. But I wondered about Pete. Why all the questions? Is he an only child? Maybe the youngest in a long line of children, raised on grown up conversation? Future journalist in training, or simply precocious?

But really. What’s the fuss, after all? Can’t we ask questions and get to know each other’s true selves without freaking out? I don’t have to agree with what you believe or how you practice. But I don’t have to be a jerk about it. Heck, we could even become friends. We can say what we stand for and be accepted; no subterfuge required. Just ask Peter.

*Name changed to protect the curious.

Kettlebell Evangelist

kettlebellsLast week, I attended my first kettlebells class in, oh, 10 months or more.

The class itself incorporated exercise balls, passing the ball back and forth between feet and hands while lying on our backs. Ouch. Oh, and I can’t forget get-ups, five on each side. I wobbled on weak legs for the last one.

One of the class regulars said, “This is all your fault, Susan. We haven’t worked out like this in months.”

I had to grin. I knew it to be true as sweat dripped off me. I was sore for several days afterwards. Welcome to the jungle, we’ve got fun and games…

Going back to work in 2015 put the kibosh on morning classes. They got cancelled, anyway, due to low attendance. Night classes, right after work, tugged at my heart. I wanted to spend that time with my family. It seemed indulgent, driving up to the gym instead of going right home after the 8-hour slog.

But now, something’s changed. Things have settled down at home. And I need more fun in my life. You might argue sweating to 80s metal rock while swinging a heavy cast iron cannonball with handles sounds more like a torture technique. Well, yes, there’s an element of that. Yet pushing to the outer limits of my strength and stamina brings a great rush of joy. You could claim endorphins. Sure. I don’t deny that. Endorphins keep us coming back for more.

I think it’s more, though.  For me, chasing excellence in any form fuels my spirit. I don’t ever want to settle for good enough. I’d like to see what else I can do. I want to feel my best every day, strong and happy. That said, I’ll never be the skinniest girl. I like food. Probably won’t be the fastest or strongest, either. But I can be the best me, with energy and joy enough to go around. So call me a kettlebell evangelist. Moving your body can change your mindset. Come one, come all, to the house of sweat and pain. You’ll uncover a better attitude as you transform your body.

Kettlebell Holiday

I taught kettlebells again today.  I hadn’t planned on it, as it’s July 4, but some folks expressed interest in getting a workout in before the evening festivities began.  Of course, those folks didn’t show up for the class.  But a good friend and I did.

I made up a hybrid workout.  Wanna know what we did?  Here ya go.

The Power of 10 Workout

Two-handed swings
Figure 8 to hold

Do 3 sets of the above 2 exercises, 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off between each move.

Then, ladders.  This is a series where you do one exercise, rest a few seconds, then start at the beginning again.  So first up, high pulls.  We did 10 per side, right and left, and rested.  Then we did the set of high pulls again but this time added on the next exercise, which was racked forward-and-back lunges.  Rest, then start at the top again, adding a new move at the end. I think of this like a progressive workout, similar to the old game of “telephone”, where each person adds something to the original secret going around.

10 High Pulls – right and left
10 Racked forward-and-back lunges – 5 per side, right and left
10 Goblet squats
10 Hip raises
10 Pushups
10 Dead lifts
10 Cleans – right and left
10 Triple crushes
10 Chair squats
10 Sumo squats

10 Half get-ups – 5 per side, right and left
10 Crossed-leg hip raises – 10 per side

And to be completely honest, we didn’t get through the last rep adding the sumo squats.  My hand opened up. Well, more specifically, a callous on my left hand.  The skin peeled back like an apple. I didn’t fancy bleeding all over the mat and bells. Because that *can* happen.  I’ve heard.

“I think this’ll be our last round,” I told the other attendee.  “My hand is shot.”

He grinned and nodded.  He was only too happy to be close to done.

Even cutting the ladder workout short, it still took up about 30 minutes of class.  Not too shabby for planning on the fly.

I have some thoughts after teaching my 7th class.  Teaching the class keeps me accountable.  I can’t slack off and use baby weights.  I must be careful to use correct form.  I also need to gauge the amount of effort expended in the room.  Can the class do the work?  Where is it hitting their ability level – too easy, too hard or just right? I’m also learning to tailor the class to fit the needs of the group.  What I want to do might not be what they are up for.

And so it is with most of life.  In relationships, we pay attention to what edifies others.  How we speak and our actions can help or hinder others.  Sometimes, I make things too hard. I put up obstacles and talk myself out of good things. I would say I’ve got a varsity letter in making my life too hard.  I hope I haven’t done it to others.

We ended today’s workout with a 2-minute high-low plank, my friend’s choice.    Boy, that plank challenged me; my body shook during the last 30 seconds. The give and take of life can make it richer and broader. Often, stepping back and letting others offer input makes sense. I don’t have to have all the exercises or all the answers, carrying it all.  I just need to show up.

For those of you subscribers, I apologize for the bizarre post of yesterday.  WordPress has a new interface and I’m still getting the hang of it.  Onward and upward.