Archive for the ‘life’ Category

Teachings on teaching

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Nearly all the folks who were on the retreat are yoga teachers. In addition to Angela, one has her own Mysore program, at least two assist at Angela’s studio, four teach led classes in a variety of venues, and another is in a teacher training program. So, part of the discussion during the week focused on cultivating the teaching practice as an extension of your personal practice. While teaching yoga remains in the realm of when-I-abandon-this-ridiculous-academic-career activities, the discussions on teaching were still relevant.

Angela presented two ideas that resonated with me. The first is cultivating a team of mentors who you trust, who can call you on your b.s., who push you to do better, and who contribute different areas of expertise to your teaching practice. While I have had mentors at various stages of my career, I haven’t cultivated those relationships as well as I should have. I have let many of these relationships drift because of my fear of disappointing people that I respect and admire, unconsciously assuming that their criticism will be as harsh as my own. This reminded me to re-establish those connections to help me feel more secure and, therefore, more able to give.

This, then, relates to the second idea: poverty needs versus abundance needs. Poverty needs are, most basically, food, shelter, safety, and relationship. These are basic needs that must be met. When they are not met or — more relevant to the folks on this retreat — when you consciously or unconsciously don’t believe them to be met, you will act in a way to fulfill these needs to the disregard of others. The position of ‘teacher’ can provide opportunities for money/sex/power/etc that may be exploited in response to poverty needs. (thus, leading to yoga scandals!) This is in contrast to abundance needs: intimacy and efficacy. Abundance needs are things you need to feel fulfilled, once your poverty needs are met. These needs are, at least to me, the kind of fulfillment you feel when serving or working closely with others toward a productive goal. So, in my world, mis-assigned poverty needs are evidenced by professors who claim students’ work as their own or take advantage of their position of power to demand favors or special dispensation. And abundance needs are met in effective mentoring relationships and building collaborations on exciting projects. This kind of discussion of mentoring doesn’t really go on in my world, despite the fact that effective mentoring is the core of graduate student training.

For me, I can see how I act out of poverty needs in mentoring relationships when I fear for (or burnish) my own reputation through my students or use my position to demand their approval. That said, this is the part of my work that I find most satisfying because it meets my abundance needs, as well.


Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

July 24, 2012

Morning on the isthmus between Mid Moll and South Moll Islands. There is good beachcombing here and relatives of my dissertation crabs.

After he made his suggestion, a butterfly caught the light, fish erupted from the water, and two dolphins surfaced nearshore.

I thought it was a good idea, too.

To Cali

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

I head to California tomorrow for two weeks. Not vacation, really, just playing house (and work) from another venue. I am anxious to see H, visit the strawberry stand, and avoid the string of meetings that have obliterated the last several weeks.

As you head west out of Davis, there is a small field and strawberry stand at the corner of Covell and Pedrick. The stand is run by southeast Asian immigrants who have, I hope, profited greatly from my strawberry gluttony, and sent their kids to college on strawberry proceeds. It’s hard work of rice-paddy hats and fingers stained red all summer. It a wonder that this little plot remains on the edge of a town where land values resisted the recent downturn. They grow Chandlers and Seascapes, which are small, sweet, flavorful, and spoil quickly. Davis is a college town, originally the ag campus of Cal. Those big, unbruised, and flavorless beauties in every Safeway and Kroger that need maceration or a coating of chocolate are likely Camarosas and were developed on campus. Now, few souls know of the delicate possibility of any other varietal.

But the Wombat knows. And she plans to eat a lot of them.

Pincha and Renunciation

Friday, May 6th, 2011

I woke up this morning to discover some new muscles! I think they are the holding-the-rib-cage-down muscles. They are sore. I think it must be from this week’s introduction of pincha mayurasana. What fun! Wombat likes inversions! And Wombat’s handstands are improving, too.

Last Sunday, I joined a monthly satsang that started at the yoga studio. The theme for the first meeting was attachment, non attachment, and renunciation. Laura and Yoko are leading the satsang, and Laura posts about this month’s theme here ( Having not participated in such a thing before, I was a bit leery (the closest thing I have participated in were “small groups” we used to do at church in HS and college, which can be a bit intense, thus my leeriness). But it is nice to connect with some familiar faces from the studio, whom I smile at each morning but never speak to.
So, considering that one way to discovered just how attached you are is to renounce something, I decided to turn off the audio for this month. Usually, my morning alarm is NPR news, which I listen to until I get to practice. After practice on my way to work, I listen to more NPR news or Talk of the Nation, depending on the time. After work, I do the same thing on the way home, and listen to the news or a podcast of Fresh Air, or some other show while I cook dinner and sometimes through until bed. Sometimes I only turn it off when I am on the phone with H. And while you may think this is the same as having the television on all the time, let me assure you, the Wombat declares haughtily, that is it not! Oh no! This Wombat listens only to educational, informative, or properly intellectual programming! No Housewives for this Wombat! And, the Wombat can do other *productive* things at the same time! Like cook or clean or practice handstands! (Well, the Wombat admits, it might be just like having the tv on all the time, but she lacks a tv, so she wouldn’t know…). The Wombat likes to rationalize her listening.

So, I depart the satsang, quietly deciding to turn off the audio until next month. I get in the car, catch myself turning on the radio, sigh, and turn it back off.

The initial effect was increased anxiety. The radio is one way that I turn off negative thoughts.
Since I can’t turn the radio on, I have to let them pass without distraction. I had a couple bad nights of sleep — waking up in the middle of the night for a couple hours, which is typical when my anxiety increases.

I also find that I don’t really want to cook dinner without some entertainment. That is a bit difficult and has resulted in some cereal-for-dinner nights. I think I am a bit calmer talking to H in the evening, which is probably good because he is 3 hours ahead and usually winding down, while I am still up. But I also feel bored, which is its own kind of anxiety that I have to sit with.

Speaking of sitting, I’m thinking that sitting practice might be a nice idea before bed. But let’s not get too ambitious…

Hopefully, the Wombat won’t tear her fur out before the end of the month.

New Toy

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

H’s visit seems a long time ago now, although it hasn’t even been a month since he departed. After some low days, I seem to have gotten back into work mode. Work mode is busy, not feeling too much, pleasure from task completion, underlying anxiety about many undone tasks, pleasure from social interactions but an underlying slight social awkwardness that comes from feeling disconnected and, therefore, self-conscious. Although I am well-practiced in this state of affairs, it’s not particularly good for me. Everything is a bit more fun with H around, and I feel more at ease. Working on plans for my next trip to CA in May. Maybe I’ll get back in time to use the *new toy* that H got me yesterday! There was a gear swap and look what he found! Such a thoughtful fellow.


I had a good week of practice and, as anticipated, I am now working through Titibasana. My body can make the shapes, but oh! the quads! they burn… CL said that mula bandha was particularly important here or you lose all your energy. I think I must have forgotten it yesterday because I turned into a little puddle after exiting from C.

But tomorrow is Saturday! And I have still uninitiated bike pedals that I got when H was here. So, it is high time for a bike ride.

A new year

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

I have been listening to Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God for the past several days. There are a few themes running through the book that have resonated, but here is one for now: “belief” in god has historically not been about belief in the way we mean today, but about practice. The shift to intellectualizing (and, then, anti-intellectualizing) belief is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the context of several traditions, she discusses how practice precedes belief, rather than the other way around. Do your practice and all is coming, eh? While much of the book is on the three main monotheistic traditions, the first couple chapters have really interesting thoughts on prehistoric (think cave paintings in France 30,000 ybp) and animistic practices and on early aescetic yoga practices.

Speaking of practice, I don’t do it much when I am traveling, which makes it painful upon return. Ugh.

Feynman is hanging in there. He has responded well to his hospice care and to H’s close and kind attentions. We laid low over the holidays to hang with kitty, and he came with us to LA for a week. I hope he will still be there with some purrs when I return to CA in Feb.

Should I admit that I haven’t added an entry lately because I accidentally took the admin link off my page and couldn’t remember how to get in? Silly Wombat. Plus the Wombat has a new toy – an iPad – and is adapting to this new technology. Perhaps this new toy will ultimately result in more posts. Oooo, just started editing this on the iPad with the WordPress app. Very nice.

Thanksgiving Report

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

We arrived late to H’s sister’s house on Wednesday night. My fault… I had to send off a page to a collaborator for a proposal, and it took a while to get it done. Doesn’t it always?

Upon arrival after 11pm, we did three things: boiled some cranberries in simple syrup in preparation for candied cranberries, soaked stoneground cornmeal for cornbread, and disassembled four pomegranates.

We started early on Thanksgiving day.  As I put the pomegranate seeds through the food mill, H’s sister joined us in the kitchen.  I sweetened the juice a bit, then heated it to dissolve agar flakes.  Once set, these would be pomegranate cubes for chocolate fondue.

Fondue is a food favored by my family, though we haven’t had it in a long time.  My parents received two fondue sets when they were married, but we always used the red enamel one with four long forks heated by a small can of Sterno.  Bread dipped in winey cheese fondue, or apples, bananas, and Sara Lee poundcake cubes dipped in chocolate.  Ahh.  Needless to say, we had never tried pomegranate agar when I was growing up!

H’s mom starts on our first round of dirty dishes.

Next I made the persimmon cranberry sauce.  I love to make cranberry sauce.  It’s incredibly easy and everyone loves it.  It can be as sweet or as tart as you like.  (Mmm, I just picked up more cranberries at the market today so I could have more!)  Meanwhile, H is setting up Sousie in the laundry room, where the hands of children are less likely to find the exposed wires.

Next I boil the corn for the cornbread, cut it off the cob, and start assembling the dry ingredients.  Oops — I have forgotten to let the soaking cornmeal come to room temperature.   On to the pumpkin chiffon pie!  Hmmm.  I need to crush ginger snaps (TJ’s Triple Ginger Snaps) for the crust.  We didn’t bring a food processor, H’s sister does not have a rolling pin… but H finds a MagLite and a plastic bag.  This performs nicely.  Pie crust goes in the oven briefly.  I also start roasting the beets for a salad.  I dissolve some gelatin in warm water, then cook the pumpkin-egg yolk base for the pie filling.  By the time this is done and starting to cool, my gelatin has set.  I gently re-dissolve in the microwave, then fold it into the yolks.  I start digging through the cupboards for an electric mixer.  Eventually, H’s sister finds it for me, and I beat the whites in a double boiler (Italian meringue-style), and fold these into the cooled pumpkin-egg yolk mixture.  This goes into the fridge to set.  By now, H has the cornbread in the oven.

H’s mom is on the second round of dirty dishes.

By now, H’s nieces have joined us.  H’s older niece, S-N, has now begun to act like a teenager.  While still eager to please, she cops a little more attitude this year.  We try not to make fun of her too much.   H’s younger niece, I-R, is at a great age to help now.  A bit more coordinated than last year, I am less petrified by showing her how to use a sharp knife, and she is interested in what we’re doing.  H starts mise-en-placing for the chard dish (a riff on this – with dried cranberries and no bacon).  This will a last minute saute, so everything has to be ready to go.  I-R helps him tear the chard into big chunks, but gets a bit bored.  I entice her first into completing the candied cranberries — rolling them in sugar — and then into peeling the roasted beets.

Parsnips.  H’s sister comes in periodically to ask if she can help.  I set her to peeling and cubing the parsnips for steaming.  I cook a few sage leaves for sage-infused olive oil.  H fries some more sage leaves for garnish

H starts on the sweet potato soup.  He puts the turkey breasts into Sousie.  I start boiling the wild rice for the stuffing.  At this point, I’m onto chopping things.  Lots of fruit to prepare for the fondue (kiwi, oranges, apples, bananas, and persimmon), and chanterelles, garlic, and shallots to prep for the pasta with mushroom sauce (a riff on this and this).  For the beet salad, I dice the beets and toss them in an orange viniagrette, section three oranges (sectioning citrus is my specialty!), thinly slice half a sweet onion, and cube up some slightly overripe kiwi.  I also toast and chop some hazelnuts for garnish (Have I mentioned before that I am on a rather expensive hazelnut kick right now?  I ate handfuls of them at work today.)  H finishes the wild rice stuffing.  H starts on the fresh egg pasta – the semolina flour needs to hydrate for a while.

H’s mom is still cleaning up dirty dishes.  Really, her constant washing makes it possible to keep things moving in the kitchen all day.  Where’s the XXX?  Oh! Here it is!  Clean, again.

In the meanwhile, we are supervising the nieces who have started on the annual Cranberry-Nut Bread ritual (this is a really great recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.  It’s behind a paywall but a clever google search will find it).  This year, we tell them to read the directions through, ask if they have questions, and make it on their own.  I remember in second grade that we were given a worksheet where the first instruction was “Read all the instructions before filling anything out on your worksheet”.  It then proceeded to give all kinds of crazy detailed instructions (e.g., underline the word “year” with a red pen on line 7), and the last instruction was to ignore all the previous instructions and do one simple thing.  Needless to say, I was not patient enough for this exercise and failed it miserably.  But now I know why our teacher’s did it.  The nieces simply could not read through the instructions and follow them!  They kept asking what to do next, and we would say, “What does the recipe say?”  and they would read it to us, and then ask “What do we do next?”.  Oh dear.  Well, they chopped the cranberries.  That was good.  They zested the orange (H reminded them to zest it before they cut it for juice.  That’s just experience, not in the recipe.)  They measured the flour, powder, and soda.  They juiced the orange.  H taught them about how to read a measuring cup and about the meniscus.  They measured out 2/3 C orange juice.  Since they were doubling the recipe, they needed 1 1/3 C buttermilk — ah! this sums to 2 C!  And can be measured all at once in a 2 C measure!  S-N and I toasted the pecans.  After we burnt them once, we toasted them again, and she chopped them.   Now what? Now what?  Read the recipe.  Read the recipe.  Did you butter the pans?  Did you preheat the oven?  Now can we mix? Now can we mix?  Read the recipe.  Read the recipe.  Instructions on not overmixing the batter.  Into the now-greased loaf pans!  Into the oven!  Nieces disappear for a while…

It is now the calm before the storm.  We sit for a few minutes.  We have extra corn from the cob, and I decide to make the corn pudding that I have been wanting to make but H kept nixing (wrong texture, he says) and look up a few recipes to work from.  H and I make a plan for the last 1-1.5 hours for a 6:30 dinner.  We would have liked it to be a bit earlier, but the turkey breast got into Sousie a little late, so 6:30 is a realistic goal.  It’s about 4:30 now, the cran-nut bread is out of the oven; the sweet potato soup has been blended; the parsnips have been pureed in the food mill; I have sent H’s brother-in-law to get the dining room furniture arranged; H’s sister has set out plates and utensils for our buffet-style meal.  The mises are in their places for the chard, sauteed carrots with garlic and ginger, the mushroom sauce, and the beet salad.  The fruit for the fondue is prepped and plated and chilling in the fridge.

A bit past 5 o’clock and the pace picks up.  I heat up the reduction I prepared on Tuesday for the gravy.  It smells divine.  I make a roux (with unsalted butter — I forgot to reserve the turkey fat), thicken the gravy, and let it sit on the lowest possible setting until ready to serve.   H has taken the newly cooked turkey breast out of Sousie and is using Sousie to reheat another that we cooked the day before.  The dark meat goes into a high roast oven (also a great Cook’s Illustrated recipe for butterflied high-roast turkey).   H starts rolling out the pasta.  I set out the cran sauce to let it come to room temperature.  I whip egg whites and fold then into the corn, yolks, and cream in the corn pudding (H’s sister digs in the garage to find me the right size baking dish).   When the dark meat comes out of the oven, the corn pudding goes in to cook; the parsnips and rice stuffing – both covered – go in to reheat.  Corn bread is cut up and goes to table.  By now I have started on the mushroom sauce.  After a while, it gets turned down to the lowest possible setting, waiting for everything to come together.  H rolls the pasta through the setting.  H takes a propane torch to the sous vided turkey breasts to brown the skin.  I assemble the beet salad and send it out to the table.  I find the remaining bowls we need for each dish.  H cooks the chard and carrots.  They hold for a final spurt of heat.  H completes the pasta, I have water boiling.  Into the water goes the pasta, I reheat the sauce, into a bowl and to the table.  Chard is heated and sent out to table with H’s second sister; carrots heated and out;  reheated stuffing and parsnips come out of the oven and onto the table.  Gravy goes into a bowl and to the table.  H carves up and plates the turkey.  I send twelve soup bowls of sweet potato soup topped with cream, cranberry oil, and a few nuts (H and his toppings!?!).

Is that it?  Everyone gather round!  Let’s take pictures while the food gets cold!  Everyone over here!  Wait use this camera! Everyone gather around H’s 93 year-old grandma!  And another picture!  Now for the annual description of the food while the food gets cold!  H and I describe each dish to his family.

Later, we make the chocolate fondue, whip cream for the pie topping, and serve dessert around 9pm.

Another thanksgiving.  Photos to come.

Also, here are too many photos from our BC trip.


Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

I am in Cali for Thanksgiving.  For the last three years, H and I have prepared Thanksgiving dinner for his family.  His two sisters live in the same neighborhood of new houses that stretch across the hills east of the East Bay, with large but inadequately equipped kitchens.  Well, inadequate for the likes of us.  We’ll pack the car with half-prepared food, mixers, food processors, and all manner of utensils and head down on Wed.  Last year we taught his two nieces (9 and 12) proper(!)  knife skills chopping cranberries and pecans.  We have word that they are ready to make the cranberry-nut bread again this year.

H is on a sous vide kick this year.  Sous vide is sealing food in a vacuum sealed bag and immersing it in water at the temperature you would like to to reach.  If you want your turkey breast to be 145 degF when it’s done, you don’t cook it in an oven at 325, you cook it in a water bath at 145.  That’s the idea anyway.  So, H has purchased a controller, a immersable thermocouple, some switches, and has disassembled the slow cooker to create… Sousie the SousVider.  Oh my!  We’ll sous vide the breasts, but (after a disappointing attempt at turkey leg confit) we’ll salt rub and roast the legs and thighs.

We went to the Farmer’s Market (and several other markets) on Sunday morning to stock up.  Instead of the university-town, rather expensive farmer’s market in Davis that caters to the locavore crowd on Sat, we went into Sac, where the vendors (some the same) are a bit scrappier (isn’t this $0.75/lb, not a $1/lb?), prices are cheaper, but the produce diverse and plentiful.  We got lots of persimmons, the end of the local grapes, the end of the fresh corn (?! didn’t expect this, but were excited to make a corn pudding or corn souffle), a bunch of kiwi, beets, sweet potatoes, three bunches of rainbow chard, a bag of onions, a spinach-mustard greens cross, apples, and pomegranates.  Whee!  I even got some flowers, including several dark red Gerber daisies, which are my favorite.

H has parted up two turkeys, and I started on turkey stock and the base for gravy this morning.  The house smells of thyme and peppercorns.

Nicer post

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

That last post was a little sad.

Today, I thought I would post a photo from a hike last weekend out to the western tip of Oahu.

In other good news, I sent a final version of a manuscript to my co-authors for the go-ahead to submit.   It’s four years late, but I’ll take it.

And I’m starting to work on handstands for tic-tocs.  This should be fun.

Fearful fearless

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

In my family, I am the fearless one. The one who loves rollercoasters, steep trails with sharp dropoffs, cliff edges, and balancing on any manner of wall. Needless to say, I caused my mother and brother (the sensitive ones) some concern.

Imagine my surprise, then, to discover that fear has become my ruling emotion. Fear of rejection and loss, mostly, but it turns out that it spills into my body, too.  No surprise, there, I guess.

I also didn’t think I was obliviously selfish. (I am.)  Turns out, they are deeply related.

Confronted by H, I am starting to understand the dynamic: how my fear of rejection completely obliterates my ability to listen, to empathize, to be generous. It makes me into a self-absorbed and generally yucky person.   Gee, when did that happen?

Perhaps he’s right that this job has brought out the worst in me. This job where every proposal or paper or lecture or seminar is just another opportunity for rejection. That can generate a lot of fear.

So far, it seems like breathing helps.

Here’s to breathing.