Vicarious perspective

I have been meaning to type in this box for a long time. For a year, in fact.

I see that the last time I wrote, I asked 2014 for more quietness. I will not ask the same of 2015.

I started my New Year’s blog yesterday, carefully laying out the excuses valid reasons for my absence from writing. The theme of yesterday’s blog was intense, as in, 2014 did NOT deliver a more mundane year. It was a crazy chain of events, both self-inflicted and bestowed upon me, that has left me mentally exhausted. AND my feet hurt. In yesterday’s blog, I wanted wit, insight and yes, an ounce of sympathy for my weary soul, in 300-600 words.

During my whining musings, I got a Skype call from one of my closest friends. She recently returned from her Doctors without Borders assignment in South Sudan. Her husband is currently in Liberia. His only Christmas wish was that we pray for the lives of 4 children in the treatment center who fell sick after watching their father die.  Talk about dumping a truckload of perspective on my Christmas wishes; two uninterrupted days without plans or kitchen time; winter running tights, more coconut Lindt balls…

I reread my words through critical eyes. They tell me that despite mental exhaustion being relative, I’m barely scratching the surface.

I think back on 2014. To a year’s worth of conversations with tired, angry employees who kill their knees standing 8-10 hours on hard, cold concrete; pissed that their socioeconomic status clumps them into that category of “well, clearly you’re just not working hard enough”. …to conversations with quiet men who are watching the light quickly leave their wife’s eyes…with women who don’t know how to leave. Staring at nicotine-stained fingertips, wondering why they pick another carton over heating their house.

I see a picture on Facebook of an old friend with her sister, the one she lost two years ago today. What would that year be like? I stop my brain from going there…

Conversations, images that leave me numb. And humbled. Vicarious learning that prevents me from declaring, “Holy shit guys, have I had an INTENSE year!!”

I’ve had a busy year. I’ve had some incredible moments, chronic challenges and a few painful episodes. But I realize most of us (I am not alone in this) tend to exaggerate what is truly “intense” and ‘mentally exhausting” and what actually, really sucks. I look back on 2014 and know that I have a good life. I hit bumps in the road, but it’s fairly well-paved.

I will not ask 2015 to be gentle, I know better. I will ask myself  to stay open to perspectives that keep my self-induced chaos in check.

I end this year with a lesson in hope and prayer. My friend in Liberia got his Christmas wish. Statistically, this is miracle, but all four siblings are Ebola-free and with their mother.

May this new year find you healthier, happier and sometimes, humbled.


Sweet Baby New Year

To say 2013 was a banner year is an understatement. In the span of 365 days I started a new job where I coached and consulted over 700 employees, saw my son hit double digits, lost my most loyal companion, moved into a new home, got a new kitten, had multiple visitors from afar, ran a million miles, covered 15% of my body in poison ivy hives and walked the Vegas strip. (yes, walked… not worked.) It is not with quiet reflection that I look on this past year, but with a chaotic, hit upside the head sense of what-the-hell-was-that?!

So baby new year has some pretty big boots to fill. Actually, I’d much prefer 2014 slide into a pair of slippers and let us settle in a bit. I’m actually hoping for more mundane this year.

That said, I should set some underwhelming resolutions. Heed the warnings to be realistic…specific. I will clean one junk drawer by April. I will reduce my sugar intake by 2%. I will channel my impatience with slow, repetitive conversations into constructive, positive suggestion 2 out of 5 times, thus reducing heaving sighs by the end of October.

But who am I kidding. I am a sucker for that Day One, fresh-start mentality. I can tell you how realistic I’ll be. I will even encourage you to do the same. Be gentle on yourself when setting goals. Focus on one area and break it down into small, manageable steps. But in the dark recesses of my brain, I am so very lofty. In this little monkey mind, I will be BETTER, STRONGER, VIBRANT, ORGANIZED AND SMASHINGLY BRIGHT in 2014. I will finally, for the first time in my life, achieve both athletic prowess AND effective communication in all relationships. I will completely overhaul my physical body, mental clarity, the ability to both relax yet maintain energy AND CLEAN ALL JUNK DRAWERS.

I know it ain’t all happening. Especially not those junk drawers. But if I’m going to be a realist, this IS my reality. I think big in the beginning. Why deny this is what I do? It’s about learning how to edit and bend during the year when those lofty goals start to dim.

Day One. Go nuts. Go big, be realistic, be what you want. But take advantage of that fresh-start feeling. It is so fleeting but it is so refreshing. See how long you can make it last.

Happy New Year!!!


The Next Chapter

Where in the hell have YOU been, Local Bites? You post in January and then we have to wait six fricking months for a new blog? You never call. You never WRITE!?

What kind of writer are you?

I’ve got fistfuls of excuses.  Good ones, too.

First and foremost, family goals trump personal ones, and I have packed my freelance bags. It was a nice trip. I learned a few things. But not as much as this person is going to learn.


whistle around my neck…Badger fight songs pumping out of my office

Seriously, I am grateful to have landed a health coach position in a large manufacturing plant as part of their employee wellness program.  It’s an amazing opportunity to marry my professional skills with personal interests to preach beyond the choir. GMO labeling awareness flies straight out the window during that 4:45 a.m. cup of joe with a third-shift employee who’s dogs are seriously barking. I am truly learning more than I am teaching.

And a new job helped lead to this welcome upheaval:


I don’t just love my new home. I am IN love with my new home. Like, can’t-stop-thinking-about-you-don’t-ever-go- away- love.

new yard

Like, how-much-potential-do-we-have-to-GROW-together love.

future garden



Big dreams for this property. Growing herbs, vegetables, fruit…chickens?

chicken coop

My one lament from the past few months is that she didn’t make it here.

my sweet girl Sophie, you would have loved it here

We leave her memory at the last home. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about how many balls she would have gladly chased on these acres. This should have been her yard.

But I toot my own horn loudly from the new Local Bites ranch. I am so proud of us. I am so happy for us. We finally have a comfortable space for family and friends. A kitchen that invites serious creation. Land that can, and will, nourish us.

Oh, the writing may trickle in more slowly these days, but I’ve got inspiration up the yin yang. The potential for stories of health, growth, challenges…and poison ivy remedies…almost overwhelms me.

Stay tuned for the next chapter.

Why You Pay for Namaste

Mind Body Green is a website I frequent. Betwixt the sometimes poorly written ramblings of unpaid contributors and photos of beautiful white women holding windblown fabric, there are kernels of useful information about medicinal teas, getting back on the wagon and other pragmatic goodies.

Yesterday I was lured in by “Why is Yoga so Expensive?” It’s a common question, not just about yoga, but about many “healing arts”, wellness products and organic food. Go on, read it. But come back, because I have some answers.  

The author makes some solid points. Yoga is preventative medicine that cuts costs in so many other areas. Prioritizing (and paying for) your health might seem selfish on the surface, but the benefits go beyond you. More people need to do it if we want to reduce health care costs. I wholeheartedly agree that yoga is a sound investment of both time and money.

Here’s my beef. The author spends her two cents defending a personal decision to spend up to $240/month on yoga classes. It’s not expensive, it’s simply a choice. I respect and agree with her choice. But for me, it’s SIMPLY EXPENSIVE and NOT a choice right now. The article and comments cover a lot of abstract discussion about priorities and paying for what you value. But no one really answers the question.

Let’s clarify. Yoga IS expensive, IN STUDIOS. Why?   

Insurance is expensive. Most instructors carry liability insurance.  Running a studio, having employees and hiring independent contractors just add to the bill. Some yogis argue that a wise instructor will do no harm and don’t need insurance. I say in this litigious country, that’s just crazy talkin’. Any instructor working with bodies needs to cover their ass and has to recoup that cost. Besides, if you don’t own a studio, most facilities won’t even rent you a space without insurance.  

Facility costs. Owning a studio space comes with A LOT of overhead. Most studios are in larger cities where costs are higher. Even renting ain’t cheap. I am trying to set up wellness and cooking workshops in my tiny town. Holding a mere discussion will cost me $25-$40 per class. In metropolitan areas, it’s not uncommon to pay $100 per class to rent a yoga studio space.

 Yoga training and certification doesn’t come at a slash rate of $89.99. Looks like it’s over $2-3K for basic training. This does not include travel, lodging, advanced training and continuing education.  

Marketing and promotion cost money. If you don’t make that investment, you don’t get customers.

Most yoga instructors teach because they love yoga. They want to share its benefits. I doubt a lot of them are charging higher rates to show up on the Fortune 500 list. In discussing “donations only” classes, yoga powerhouse Bryan Kest finds that the average donation is $5.50. The suggested donation is $15. It is not uncommon for teachers to actually lose money.

But I do think lots of well-intentioned yoga instructors and other wellness professionals gloss over the issue of cost and inaccessibility just as much as those who complain about cost ignore the abstract but important concept of investing in and prioritizing health over other purchases.

As with most health topics, I suggest a marriage between personal responsibility and industry advocacy.     

  • Understand that yoga is expensive in certain places. Just like haircuts. Seek classes outside of studios and urban areas. Look in small towns, community centers, hospital wellness programs and continuing adult education courses.  
  • Start a home practice. Check out free DVDs from the library or swap with friends. Invest in ones you like.   
  • Spread the word. Invite friends over. Introduce kids to down dogs.
  • Ask for classes for birthday and holiday gifts instead of material goods.
  • Save those pennies you spend on items you don’t really need and splurge on a class. Nothing beats face-to-face instruction to improve poses and build that sense of community.
  • If you join a yoga studio, shop around first. Many offer free first sessions and invite you to check  out the space before buying. Don’t jump at the first beautiful space you see, you may pay more for that beauty.
  • If you ARE making a profit from studio classes, occasionally pay it forward by offering less expensive or “donations-only” classes at locations where yoga is not readily available.  
  • Acknowledge the price, rather than minimizing or defending it. Lose the assumption that people don’t have their priorities straight if they don’t spring for the studio class or the $20 bottle of Chinese herbs to supplement their $75/session acupuncture. Phrases like “it’s not expensive, it’s simply a choice” or “don’t you think you’re worth it?” are messages that actually turn us off. They discount the fact that cost IS a huge factor, the service IS expensive and we might choose to prioritize elsewhere.   
  • Help make the abstract more concrete. Give customers tips on how they can work classes into their budget. Compare your rates to the cost of other products people use to for self-improvement. Educate us. A little bit of teaching on your part can mean a larger, dedicated customer base for you.
  • Offer payment plans or sliding scale fees.

Do you think you pay through the nose for yoga or pilates? How do you cut costs elsewhere?


Screw March 20th

Today is the first day of spring. I’m not waiting two more weeks for my stupid calendar to officially declare the vernal equinox. It’s today. 

It’s one of those days where undergrads will prematurely wear shorts, pull out the grill and send their 21-year old friends out for unprecedented Tuesday night cases of Huber Bock. Where grad students will completely ignore the remaining snow, albeit melting, and enjoy their beverage on the Terrace instead of inside the Ratt.

Come on students, you know it’s true.  

It’s one of those days where you take the dog for a spin around the block instead of letting her out in the back yard.  When you throw a little China Cat Sunflower on the iPod for that walk.

You know it Deadheads…You know that song fits days like today.

It’s one of those days where, if you are in an office, you sigh heavily and envy the pink on that passing bicyclist’s cheeks. You start planning an early departure. Isn’t that a headache you’re feeling? You should leave by 3 to take care of that. You should join your friend on the Terrace.   

Yep, harried employee, it’s that day.

hurry up..get that sun! photo by eddie coyote/flickr creative commons

The day you leave the treadmill in the garage and test out shaky legs on a country road. It’s not the same. You run more slowly than your fastest power walk. But back Flo Rida up with a little Pat Benetar, and you make it through.

Sweaty and awkward perhaps…but your mental clarity shoots through the roof and into the warming sky, reminding you why you started exercising in the first place. This moment of zen. This sun on your face. 

It’s a day for unabashed clichés. Because I don’t care. A sunny moment for optimism and energy. To anticipate shoots and sprouts, longer runs, brighter days. 

A day to play overplayed songs like this.  Turn it up. 

Yep yep yep. It’s official. Spring has sprung in these here parts. Wisconsinites rejoice, get outside and shake what the good lord gave ya.





Ode to a Musher

For the first time in my life, I’m following the Iditarod. It’s less than 23 hours away, FYI.   

Q came home with a class project. Each student picked a musher on which to follow and report. Q picked Brent Sass, much to my amusement, simply because the last name makes me Z-snap. You GO Mr. Sass!

So we paid a visit to the Iditarod website. And lo…a familiar name.  

Trent Herbst and I grew up in the same small town. He was two years younger than me. I don’t believe we’ve ever exchanged words. This wasn’t intentional snubbing from either party. There are many paths that just never cross.     

Trent’s parents were teachers. His father taught me Algebra. His mother taught me how to type. Mr. Herbst was also the only teacher to make me return to school on the first day of summer vacation to finish my final exam for a purely menial infraction. Sheesh.   

But today, I’d like to hang with Trent Herbst.  

This is Trent’s sixth Iditarod. In 2011, he won the Most Improved Musher Award AND First Musher to Halfway Point. Now I’m not sure how I feel about this sport; driving dogs 1,049 miles through crazy conditions. Dogs do die, and that unsettles me. But I suspect the musher who wins Best Dog Care Award and donates any unused sponsor money to dog shelters is one who respects his canine team and can teach others how to do the same.  

I have other reasons to believe Trent is a conscientious dog owner.   

Because it is not his remarkably burly beard and mushing ability that has me waving my HuskyHerbst flag. It is his mad skillz in elementary education.  

He utilizes my favorite type of education…experiential.  Check out his classroom projects. This Pumpkin Chucker video brought me to misty-eyed and caused my 3rd grader to declare we move to Alaska so he have Trent as a teacher. 

The scope of his projects is surprisingly extraordinary. They incorporate math, science, physics, team building, competition…. They teach frugality and independent living skills appropriate for the local culture and climate. There is occasional travel.

 And…POWER TOOLS. To trust a roomful of children operating saws and drills takes perhaps as much patience and courage as a 10-17 day sled journey through the Alaskan wilderness  on equipment and a sled DESIGNED AND BUILT IN COLLABORATION WITH 4th GRADERS. 

The result is a kick-ass experience on so many levels. That’s what I love about experiential education. Holistically it addresses much more than a single product.   

All too often we teach vicariously. We expect kids to learn through watching us. Through lecture, repetition, worksheets and our demonstrations. We prescribe behavioral techniques and pills to reduce wiggles and distractibility so kids can sit up straighter and listen to us.  

Listening and watching are, no doubt, absolute critical skills. But we spend much time on the history, the theory, the research… the Why or Why Not.

We don’t do enough DO.  

I don’t remember anything I learned in 4th grade. I do remember every experience I had in a mere 2.5 days staying at Camp TaPaWingo in 6th grade.    

As parents, educators, child-care providers, youth leaders…we find ourselves surrounded by untapped potential in our schools, community centers or churches. We have that opportunity to turn lessons into large-scale, experience-based projects that take planning, critical thinking, cooperation. That teach students skills they can apply to other areas of their lives.

And that end with a BANG. A final, peak experience that pulls together a sense of accomplishment, a sense of community, and a few hard lessons learned.

Trent and I may still never speak. I could be singing the praises of a total jerk. But my spidey senses tell me otherwise. Listen to the excitement in his classes. Look at their faces. Listen to him.

We should all be so lucky to have at least one teacher like Trent Herbst.

And if I were an Iditarod racing sponsor, I’d put my money on this guy.

Mr. Herbst is not alone. They walk among us. Educators who take risks and stretch curricula to its fullest potential. Not just colorful daily activities but out-of-the-box, hoop-jumping, waiver-getting, resource-scraping warrior projects that can create community and pull out individual magic all at once.   

I would love to hear about amazing educators doing amazing things with students of all ages and abilities. If you know any, send them my way. I could write them an ode.   

But this one is for the musher. Best of luck to you Trent. You have a new fan. Keep on inspiring. 

Common sense cleansing

Eight common sense ideas for choosing a New Year’s cleanse

Click on the link for my first 2012 blurb for Eco-Snobbery Sucks. I discuss the idea of detoxifying after the holiday binge. But I’m not sure those three chocolate Pocket Coffees I ate in rapid succession are considered “cleansing”.

Reality is, yummy leftovers that we paid good money for still linger in our households. Do we throw out hard-earned Pocket Coffees? No, we eat them.

To quote a new blogger I discovered, “Don’t be a January Joiner for two weeks. Be one for life”.

To me, that means not replacing the chocolate. And having a spinach smoothie for lunch. Cleanin’ it out folks.