Saturday, March 27, 2010

YouTube on Peeling Tubers

Do you say potayto or potahto? Either way, here's a great video on peeling potatoes (tubers) AFTER they're boiled:

Aside from its practicality about how to peel potatoes, this video resonates with me because of its reference to a show that mystified me as a child: Gilligan's Island. I loved the relationships between its quirky castaway characters, their myriad of failed attempts to leave their existence on a deserted island, and the way the show positioned itself so that you always knew that these castaways had it way better on their island than in any civilized society. And now I love the way "Marianne" shows us how to peel a tuber in true Gilligan's Island style!

Cat Mewsings

Who was it that said "How can you feel stressed while petting a purring cat?" I think I read that in Pamela Wallin's The Comfort of Cats. We three humans share our home with six cats. You could say we are outnumbered with two cats per human being. Our son calls us crazy cat people. But honestly we aren't! They just came to us. Anyway, I've heard that our pets choose us. Each of these cats came to us as a refugee. We had them neutered and we keep them indoors. It's our way of not contributing to the ever-growing issue of stray cats resulting from unwanted litters and people moving away, leaving their 'pets' behind. But I digress...

At any given time, I share my office/writing space with one or more felines as they languish on the daybed or sprawl across my desk while I work and write. The greatest challenge is when Guini--short for yes, the pasta, Linguini--a feisty little female, decides to chase the cursor as it moves across my screen. Talk about a game of cat and mouse! Sometimes one of our cats will come dip a paw in my water glass--ewwww! Linguini also likes grapes--to roll them around or to chew them until the sweet juice is extracted. If I have a bowl on my desk as I work, I end up with a sticky mess while trying to wrestle lost grapes from the floor around my feet. Our newer cat, 8 month old Boo, steals writing implements off my desk. I find pencils with chewed erasers littering the house. Then there is the problem of cat hair in my keyboard!

But I'm not complaining. No. Because as I sit here writing, preparing lessons, or working on something that has me stymied as to my next line or layout, my hand reaches out to pet a purring cat. I am so fortunate to have a work life that involves the cadence of those soft, low purrs emanating from a contented cat sprawled across my desk!

* Above, Kiwi lying in the sun and below, Linguini, chasing the cursor on the computer screen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Writing Right

Writing is recursive. This three-word line has stuck with me since graduate school when a writing prof wisely told us that we need to write, revisit, and rewrite many times before we can call a piece finished. I love it! I love it because I can put words to a page without committing. Yes, you heard that right--committing. Even in these blog posts, I can go back and edit at any time. That is powerful don't you think? How often have we sat there facing the discomfort of our own writer's block, picking up the pen, or opening the computer, typing a few words, only to screw the paper up in a ball and toss it or in the case of modern technology, just press delete? How often have we told ourselves that we cannot get those words down? Well, if I have learned one thing in all the years of writing since the age of 9, it is this: I can write something and always come back and change it! And that is what makes writing recursive. We often need to revisit, with fresh eyes, what we have written, and we may need to do this many times!

Sometimes it helps to show someone else our writing and get their feedback. I am blessed to be part of a wonderful writer's group, including three other ladies, who share my passion for writing and who are willing to lovingly give feedback. Aside from telling each other where to dot the i's and cross the t's, we help each other by providing another perspective. I just love how I can be struggling with a play and then hand it over to my writing group where someone comes back with: "Have you thought about ...?" Then I can return to my writing with renewed enthusiasm and more ideas. The next draft inevitably turns out to be much better.

Writing right mean rewriting. Don't let this scare you; embrace it and go with it. Let the writing process flow through each revision. You'll be pleased that you rode the wave and let yourself be carried through to that final product that has you saying: "This is it, time to birth this piece." and do just that, so you can move onto your next creative endeavor.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wear RED!

She wore red, bright exuberant red, signaling an outward confidence she did not really feel inside, as I soon learned during a conversation with her.  She was an adult learner in my class, returning to school to retrain after many years of learning through raising a family, running a household, teaming up with her husband in business, doing volunteer work. Her verbalized struggle to gain self-confidence brought tears to my eyes because the story is all too familiar, and as a woman, I can relate, having had gaps in my own employment.

As women, we choose to have children, a very biological need, it seems, and yet, this choice often comes with a sacrifice of a woman's self-esteem when she chooses to stay home and raise her children. Eventually she feels the need to change, to return to the workforce, to get back her own life. They come from all walks of life, women starting over, transitioning from one way of living to another--usually making the big, bold step from dependency to self-empowerment. It's amazing to watch these women accomplishing their academic goals, achieving career success in the face of such self-doubt and fear. They self-actualize and ultimately realize that they are worth it (they always were, in fact!), that someone will indeed pay them to accomplish the very tasks they once took for granted as homemakers and unpaid volunteers.

It is not about fixing these women; it is about working with the very baggage they have--the multitude of skills, experiences and expertise they have acquired as women so used to multitasking. They have succeeded in raising children, assisting in or downright managing family businesses, organizing community events, and generally doing so for little or no money at a time when women still purportedly make 65 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts!  And most baffling of all is that these women fail to recognize the immense contribution of skills and knowledge, however unpaid, to our society! They enter a career program with lots to give and not yet knowing it because for so many years their participation in anything has not been remunerated or even validated.

The real test is when we come to the job search process, a course where these women build resumes of their abilities, skills, knowledge and experience. We talk about what constitutes experience and how to reflect this in their resume. And it is a daunting task for these women who have so skillfully organized their families' schedules and lives, fund-raised for their childrens' schools and balanced household budgets, to name but a few of the imminently transferable skills they possess. Their resumes begin to take shape as confidence grows with the bridging of new learning with old knowledge.

And then they flourish…slowly at first, subtly, yet consistently these women hone old skills, transfer previous knowledge and get back into the swing of school learning. They follow all the steps in designing a new plan for their lives and they ultimately create their success, like a butterfly unfolding from its cocoon. I witness this transformation in the student now working at Bell Canada, holding top sales in her team; she glows with self-assurance when she visits the new group to talk about her success. And I see it in another student who excitedly calls to tell me she has just found her dream job; she moves from social assistance to a healthy weekly paycheck from an employer who feels grateful for her skills and experience. The many colors appear slowly, subtly, until red dawns and glows brightly. The self-confidence that often comes from achievement begins to form from inside, glowing outward. The red outfit really fits, representing what this newly recreated, self-made woman now feels. She takes wing and flies forward from the program and toward self-empowerment. She can now wear any color she pleases for the real color is on the inside.

To all my students: you are achieving the light within you to the degree with which you believe in your own power. Let the light shine from within, as Shakti Gawain says, for it is this light that will guide your path, not the light of someone else's beam. Create that light for yourself, not asking permission, but taking the lead, for it is this lead that you own and that guides you forward. Wear RED!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Customer Approach Starts with Acceptance

A strept throat infection threatened to take me down this past week. In fact, it did as I was forced to rest, and really all I could muster was writing. Now that doesn't sound so bad, to be so ill that all I can do is write! Imagine! What a treat! My voice has been seriously compromised by the strept infection and I sound more than a little hoarse, but nevertheless, I dragged myself to my first class with a new group at College de Rosemont late this week after having to cancel the first one on Tuesday. It truly energizes me to meet new students and embark with them on their learning journey. I am always awed at the way adult learners rise to the challenge, and I absolutely love facilitating their learning and growing through change! 

The course is The Customer Approach. This course is experiential and helps students learn strategies about how humans relate for the benefit and profit of an organization. While discussing the issue of corporate culture and the values a company displays, one group provided a key teachable moment. The word "tolerance" appeared in the list of desirable company values on their large group brainstorming sheet. I told them that I dislike the word "tolerance" and could they imagine why? Someone then defined tolerance as the act of tolerating or putting up with something or someone. Yes! It strikes me that the word "tolerance" finds its way into too many political speeches. The word is thrown around like some badge of honor, when in fact, tolerance is a dishonorable way to approach how we relate to others, especially to those whom we view as different from ourselves. So I then asked my learners what word aptly replaces "tolerance." We finally arrived at the word "acceptance." Yes! I was doing the stir dance in my mind. You see, my group is not a homogeneous group of adult learners, but rather, its participants represent the many colors of the globe: Haiti, Algeria, Colombia, Morocco, to name a few. It makes me wonder if it isn't our prime ministers and presidents who really need to attend a lesson in the differences between "tolerance" and "acceptance."

The most gratifying moment came after our second class together just this morning when I did a spot evaluation of how my learners like the course so far and what they don't like about the course. They like the course and they don't like my voice! Or the one I barely have. So I was instructed by them to rest and get better this weekend. Thank you, Group 38271--I really enjoyed our first two classes together and look forward to working with all of you!

Monday, March 15, 2010

InCONTINEN(T)ce: Putting the urge to pee back on the map

Okay so I had said this blog was rated G…It is. But an urgent need has arisen. Don’t let your under 18’s read this. Sorry kidlets! In fact, this is for over 40’s! On a recent car drive one sunny afternoon, along a winding scenic mountainside road (You know, the kind where you see water glistening on the rock), a plaintive voice in the car broke through the lull in conversation: “Stop. I have to pee!” Uh oh! But it wasn’t coming from the back seat. It was from the front seat of a fully-loaded passenger vehicle. And it was Mom!…Mom? “Are we even close to a bathroom yet?” (Are we there yet?) No. Better pull over. Mom has to pee. Normally we do this unquestioningly when one of the little voices sounds out the pee alarm. But Mom? Can’t she just hold IT? No. Somewhere amidst all the singing and laughing and bad joke retelling, Mom decided she could no longer hold it in--her pee. And it’s not funny…er…don’t laugh or even get Mom laughing. In fact, this is no laughing matter! It’s called incontinence and now we’re going to put it back on the map!

My colleague, Myra Siminovitch, Physiotherapist, treats conditions such as osteoporosis and incontinence. She tells us that many adult women and men suffer from incontinence. No, this is not some kind of geographical displacement, although it certainly feels like it when you can’t find a bathroom! Rather, it is the involuntary loss of urine (pee). This can happen when we cough, sneeze, laugh, jump, run, laugh (Did I already say laugh?) and it often catches us off guard. We suddenly feel this warm leaky sensation that is not a heated car seat (By the way, have you ever second-guessed yourself when the driver has quietly activated the electric leather seat warmers in her new Volvo?).

It’s just awful really…in our 40’s we are done with diaper changes! So what is this all about, this sneak attack of the bladder, reminding us of its presence in an oh-so-inconvenient way? I mean, what karmic burden is this about? I wonder as I think back to any lag in response times changing my son’s diaper so many years ago. But I digress…Never mind, I might as well just wait for some information leak to find that answer! Oh and it is important to note that men suffer from incontinence too! Prostate surgery can lead to incontinence in men. The whole mess is just that: messy…and distressing, and embarrassing, not to mention putting a damper on your quality of life!

There is good news, a silver lining in that rain cloud if you will. You can do something about incontinence. First of all, Myra says void completely when you pee (Funny thing is I do that when I laugh!). Didn’t we tell our kids that way back? Okay, check! We can wear discrete pads. Myra recommends TENA pads for their specialized absorbency and minimal environmental footprint. Check! Although Myra says that pads should not be our first line of defense. And finally, remember those Kegel exercises your Gyne prescribed after childbirth, the ones we said “Yeah. Yeah.” to as we shyly took the explanatory paper with no intention of ever doing those things (What are they anyway?) and never did them, or felt the need to do them. And anyway, how many men get sent home after childbirth with that directive?

But now we’re in a different territory, on a different continent called Incontinence. So we scrabble around in our boxes of baby memorabilia to find that magic formula…or we just hit Google and type “Kegels.” But wait! This is an exercise that you can do very discretely while waiting in line at the bank, or at the grocery checkout or in your doctor’s office (See my first post called Wait Mode—you get the picture!). Kegel exercises involve the deliberate tightening--now cover your eyes, all you minors!—of the sphincter muscle of the anus while standing. They help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, and lo and beHOLD, stop the involuntary release of pee!

First we have to locate the place of these pelvic floor muscles. Myra suggests contracting your pelvic floor muscles as if you want to hold gas or as if you want to stop the urine flow. Now you try it! It’s easy…when you commit to doing them. And yes, you can do them sitting or lying down, but Kegels are most effective if you do them standing. The thing is you have to do reps with these! Yes reps! No, you need not run out and renew your lapsed gym membership! Hold for 5 seconds; relax for 10, repeating 10 times in a row. Do your Kegels 6-7 times a day.

As previously mentioned, you can do Kegel exercises anytime and anywhere. Remind yourself to do your Kegels during television commercials or at red lights or even while walking Rover, who ironically stops to pee on just about every tree you pass! Do not do them while peeing! You don’t want to stop that stream; it's not good training for those muscles. You should begin to notice a difference after a week or so. BUT, you can never stop. It’s like taking your calcium or brushing your teeth (Myra suggests doing Kegels while brushing your teeth!). You just have to do them because as we get older our pelvic floor muscles weaken. So now you know how important Kegel exercises are…especially if you leaked while reading this!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Adult Learning is Child's Play

You walk into a session on stress management and 15 adults are pelting one another with sponge balls. A closure activity for a vocational group consists of throwing a ball of string to participants standing in a circle, weaving a web of positive feedback about the course. A communications course has students tossing a smiley-faced hackey sack back and forth, granting group members permission to speak. And a team-building session involves half the group blindfolded and being verbally led around the outdoors by their partners.

Is this learning or playing? The answer is unequivocally…both! We learn through play. We may well have forgotten that as children play was our mainstay and thus, our learning. This never really changes; the games just became more sophisticated, involving more complex rules. I begin all my groups with the statement: "For learning to happen, it must be fun."

So, how do we make learning fun? How do we design a session that has our participants hungering for more? Integrating play effectively enables this. In our adult lives—so busy, so responsible, so bereft of play—we forget how to play, that spirit of play that gets us laughing hard, using our bodies, engaging in that high pitched squealing with delight so characteristic of children at play (Remember?), a fading body memory. Facilitator, Vivian Wiseman, did this beautifully and expertly during a Quebec Association for Adult Learning (QAAL) board planning session a few years back, as we introduced ourselves using a positive word beginning with the first letter of our first name while gesturing it out at the same time. The ensuing laughter energized the group while making us comfortable with each other.

We remember best what we do, and play provides this opportunity. When we engage in a learning activity that is further supported by some form of play, we remember the good feelings that it brought forth in us. At first, we might not want to join in the game. It feels funny, almost guilt-producing: should I be having this much fun? What if others see me having fun? What will I look like? I feel vulnerable like a child, self-conscious even and more aware of my reactions. These are normal responses, and you, as facilitator of playful learning, might not get everyone immediately into it, but that doesn't mean you should abandon the idea either. There will be some learners so uncomfortable with play that they may not participate. Try to draw them in carefully but without pushing too hard. Don't compromise the fun of the group trying to coax those who are reluctant. There will always be "children on the sidelines" who have trouble joining in. Acknowledge them and move on. They may come to see the benefit and eventually join the group.

How can you inject the spirit and joy of play into your adult learning sessions? Perhaps you teach math. A former colleague developed a math jeopardy game for her adult learners and they loved it. What about math bingo? If you teach language arts, what can you do to add the element of play? Have you ever thought about using puppetry, relaxation/meditation exercises, games, skits, plays, singing…the list goes on.

Howard Gardner talks about our multiple gifts, yet we must also realize that each of us also has multiple gifts of play. If we like to sing, why not sing that essay or brainstorming exercise? If we are good with nature and classifying nature, why not work in a group and produce a skit? When we have a special gift or talent, it often manifests itself as play for us. It doesn't even feel like work. So we bring to the learning activity a sense of play because the learning is viewed as fun.

I love walking around my classroom, noisy and busy with laughing adults at play, stopping at a particularly engaged and jovial group and saying: "You're having way too much fun here! Are you sure that you're learning?" The answer is often a clear and resounding "Yes!" as their faces beam. The end result always amazes and delights me for I know that these learners are learning by doing and by playing. And for a brief time, I forget that I am among adults. For a brief moment it feels like a room full of children in grown-up bodies, expressing ourselves as we were meant to.

Friday, March 5, 2010

It all begins with One Word...

One where it starts...slowly. It begins with an idea that grows into a pressing need to express oneself, and from there one word, then another, then another. Welcome to One Word Pundit! Follow me on this journey of unknowns--of ideas that meld together from random reflections to form some coherence as I write. I want to share here, an article I wrote almost 10 years ago for Linking for Learning (Quebec Association for Adult Learning's newsletter). It completely sums up this waiting that has germinated into a blog:

Wait Mode

Have you ever watched people waiting in line? Next time you stand behind someone, anticipating your turn to be served, observe this curious social phenomenon I call "wait mode." Wait mode is an altered state of consciousness characterized by a glazed-over, vacant facial expression, and accompanied by an inert posture firmly planted on a designated place in line. Your feet shuffle forward and your body moves up one painful spot at a time. And you do this mechanically.

Notice the zombie-like state of humans in wait mode. See how they stare blankly ahead, even while their children ask them questions or "misbehave." And cognizant that you are in wait mode, those keeping you waiting--clerks, salespeople, professionals and slow motorists--don't care because they know that your altered state has reduced you to a zombie. It doesn't matter to them because in this zombie-like state, you are a non-entity. However, every once in awhile, you snap out of wait mode to experience some discomfort and impatience, only to be reminded by the gatekeeper that your turn will be "soon." Placated by this simple pleasantry, you return comfortably to wait mode.

It has been said that by age 60, we have spent approximately 6 years of our lives waiting: in checkout lines, at doctor's offices, and in traffic jams (not to mention in front of the television!). The social conditioning leading up to wait mode is profound. Children don't go into this zombie-like state of consciousness as readily as we would like them to. In fact, they spend most of their childhood just learning how to wait for things. And school is the perfect training ground for this social phenomenon. Recess line-ups are mere grocery line simulations, without the added baggage. The school bus scene is a traffic jam simulator given the involvement of a vehicle. And waiting to see the Principal is preparation enough for your later encounters with any highly paid professional who will keep you flipping through outdated popular magazines to help pass the time.

The tenets of effective time management remind us that we have many options while we wait: strike up a conversation, read a book, plan ahead, do physical exercise (Imagine doing jumping jacks at the grocery checkout or sit-ups in the doctor's waiting room!). Yet somehow, we slip into wait mode as a preference, seemingly unaware of the infinitely more stimulating alternatives. This is because of the effective and ingrained social conditioning we underwent during our formative years.

Wait mode is a vast and multifaceted topic, too broad an issue to cover in one short piece. So I am preparing another article continuing the discussion. But you will have to wait for it...