Fresh Peaches

Today a friend showed me her peach tree and told me to help myself. She plans to harvest all of the peaches this weekend and will have more than enough. Immediately, I started planning juicy peach slices for lunch followed by an afternoon of making pie. The peaches are currently ripening in a paper bag.

My own garden is bursting with delicious food. I so enjoy watching and waiting for the tiny seeds to turn into sprawling plants, full of tasty, nutrient-dense food for my family.

As a kid, I wasn’t a fan of tomatoes. I converted to a tomato connoisseur a few years ago after tasting garden-ripe tomatoes. It’s hard to believe I lived most of my life without realizing such tasty tomatoes existed. I continue to avoid bland grocery store tomatoes all winter and wait for my garden in the summer.

Home gardens are not the only way to access delicious fresh produce. A few weeks ago I attended the Iowa Food System Conference. Iowa has incredible soil, farmers, and communities, yet the vast majority of our food is imported. A better way is possible.

It has been a pleasure do this work with the Iowa Farm to School Coalition and local districts like Waukee Schools and Des Moines Schools. School gardens, food education, and institutional buying of local foods are all moving us in the right direction.

This is hopeful work. Get involved.

Storytelling with Drake Students

Martha and I bundled up on a very snowy morning in early January, and drove to the Hotel Pattee in Perry Iowa. Lopso, the resident dog greeted us warmly at the back door. His name complements the fact that he had three legs, making him lopsided. He became a caring presence to us and the students. Lopso wandered in and out of our session, and paused only for his hotdog lunch.

Carol Spaulding-Kruse had asked us to facilitate three hours of yoga with Drake students during a J-Term class, focusing on the intersection of yoga and writing. We focused our session on Hanuman, the monkey-faced god of the Hindu myths. Even though Hanuman’s story is centuries old, its lessons are still relevant today. The Ramayana is one of India’s most popular myths. In it Ram asks Hanuman to complete several difficult and challenging tasks, that he believes are impossible. Each and every time, Hanuman tells himself that he cannot accomplish such enormous tasks, and yet, he always does. He’s been telling himself a story that simply wasn’t true.

Lopso the three-legged dog at Hotel Pattee
Sweet Lopso approved our message, however he stood firm that he could not skip his hotdog lunch.

As we told Hanuman’s story, we asked the students to consider the stories they tell themselves. Martha and I urged them to note which stories are true, and which are not. Sometimes in our minds, we tell ourselves stories like, “I’m not funny” or, “I’m too shy.” Because the stories aren’t always true, necessary, or helpful, they limit our capacity to experience our full humanity. We told the Drake students some stories we’ve told ourselves, and how they’ve not always been helpful, true, or necessary.

Yoga asks us to occupy space, to relish in the full capacity of our humanity. Hanuman reminds us we can do hard–even impossible–things, even when we’ve been telling ourselves we can’t.

Covid–What Can We Do?

…a sense of belonging is one of the most essential needs of humans. We also need to feel power over our lives, belief in our own abilities and a sense of generosity. Seems to me Covid has challenged our ability to satisfy all of those needs.

Reach Out and Connect

I spent Thanksgiving weekend with LucyKate in New York City. We took the Metro to Noho, walked through Soho, the Bowery, and Washington Square. After a ramen lunch in St. Mark’s, we heard people shouting our names, and finally turned around to find the Kerman girls & friends, running to catch us. AMAZING to connect with people from home in the US’ busiest city. But it’s the second time it’s happened to me. Last time I was here, I ran into Duane Halbur outside Grand Central Terminal!

November and the holidays are all about reaching out and connecting. This time of year does bring up some stuff, as do sickness and loss. A couple old friends and I broke china, shouted, and got past family resentments so they can connect with their father, who has cancer, and needs to tell his story, forgive, and ask for forgiveness over the next couple years. They want to mend their family connections, and are working hard to do it.

When I reported on Healthy Polk 2020, Priority #8, to the Polk County Board of Health, I emphasized connecting and reaching out. Few people on my expert team were connected before. They weren’t the “usual suspects” who guide community action in central Iowa. I interviewed each of them before we met, and used each unique perspective throughout the process. At the first meeting I put toys out, used computer key intros, played “Get on the Bus.” They shared their bios to ensure connection beyond the task at hand.

At the Iowa Non-Profit Summit, I facilitated a panel of Gerry Schnepf, Elvin McDonald, and Jan Herke. When Elvin began as Director of the Friends of the Botanical Center, the Board complained of littering and vandalism on the grounds. Elvin reached out to the school up the hill, and now the Boys & Girls Club brings kids down every week to garden 20 ten-by-ten-foot raised beds. They pick up litter on their way, and vandalism has not been a problem since.

Jan talked about Youth in Parks, a program that’s been going strong since I worked with Urbandale, West Des Moines and Ankeny on a partnership that continues to plan, train and evaluate the program together. They connect hundreds of middle school kids with service opportunities in parks, nursing homes, and day cares.

Gerry talked about how service learning connects kids to communities, so much that some research indicates they’re more likely to stay put when they’re grown. Keep Iowa Beautiful is developing Teachers Going Green, based on service learning and place-based education. Both of these approaches connect kids and schools with the communities around them.

LucyKate is studying Independent School Leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University. Over the holiday, we talked about education and relationships a lot. We watched this wonderful TEDx video with Brene Brown. Could vulnerability really be the key to connections? What do you think?


Get Healthy

Driving to Florida for vacation, we listened to three books–Connected, Thrive, and Switch. I learned about all of them when I worked with Healthy Polk 2020 last summer. My task was to gather a group of experts around the priority, “Empower more people to take more responsibility for maintaining their health.”

My team thought the wording of the priority judgmental. They took out “responsibility” and raised the bar from “maintaining” to enhancing. Their proposed priority reads, “Empower more people to enhance their health.” By building on strengths, people can leave stymied life roles behind, and move forward through trust-based relationships.

Of the ten Healthy Polk 2020 goals identified in 2009, this is the broadest, and the only one that addresses lifestyle and behavior. That’s where Switch comes in. It’s by Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick, a book I’ve loved, shared, and used as reference for several years. Switch frames research about how change happens around a metaphor of elephant and rider.

All that Priority #8 of Healthy Polk 2020 seeks to change is, well, just the way we take care of our health, not just our physical health. My expert team defined health in broad terms, not just metabolic risk factors or healthy weight, but in terms of mental, spiritual, cultural and financial health. That’s where Thrive comes in.

Dan Buettner has conducted research all over the world, traveling to communities where people live the longest, happiest lives. One result is Thrive. Another is the Blue Zones Web site where it’s easy to spend a chunk of time, learning about yourself, and the things you can do to be healthier and happier. The Expert Team aligned their definition of health with the research of the Blue Zones project, addressing community, flow, meaningful work and other life style choices.

One of the cool things that happened with my Healthy Polk work is that about the same time we were wrapping up our work, Governor Branstad launched the Healthiest State initiative, and Wellmark announced funding for the Iowa BlueZones Project, through which ten Iowa communities will be able to develop tools and programs to live longer, happier lives.

Another gap my team identified was that neighborhoods and communities are not empowered to support and promote health. The action needed to close this gap needs further definition, but the vision is for churches, schools and neighborhood associations to develop networks that support healthy habits. Which is where the third book comes in. Connected explores the profound effect that our friends have on us. The research that caught my eye first is that people who hang out with obese people tend to gain weight. It makes sense, but surprised me nonetheless.

As my team discussed what “more people” meant, they envisioned a ripple effect, beginning with us, and spreading through our community organizations and friends. What do YOU think we need to do to start that ripple? Do you want to be a part of it? Let’s do it!

Mind the Gap

“Mind the gap” was the theme of the John Friend yoga workshop I attended a couple weeks ago. The message is that what happens between, is what’s important. Between inhaling and exhaling. Between the busy-ness and the being-ness. Between the effort and the letting go. The subways in London warn you to “Mind the Gap.” In NYC, you are to “Watch the Gap.” Not nearly as poetic, nor as relevant.

Watching implies seeing, but if you mind something, you do more than just see it. You pay attention. You listen. You ponder what it means. You take responsibility. You mind the children. You mind your parents. The dictionary says you “regard as important and worthy of attention.” That’s exactly what Friend had in mind at “Dancing with the Divine.”

I’ve been practicing yoga at Shakti Yoga Shop for nearly two years. It is an Anusara shop, and John Friend is the founder of this particular branch of yoga. His visit to Iowa was a chance to learn from the guru. I went with a certain cynicism. My expectations were low, but he was amazing, and far exceeded those expectations.

Friend has a quirky sense of humor, and a depth of knowledge about a broad range of astrophysics to zoology. One of the funniest bits was when he gave us a physical demonstration of how humans are the only critters with shoulder muscles. The message was clear. We’ve got them so we need to develop them. He talked quite a bit about what we do with our bodies has a nearly immediate effect on evolution. Our genes remember our behavior.

On that Saturday afternoon, Friend talked about the increasing weight of the self-help book section addressing mindfulness. It’s a good thing, but these books usually focus on minding what you are doing or what’s happening. If you’re minding the gap, you’re paying attention to what’s not happening. On the resting. On the being, not just the doing.

Friday morning when I called my mentor, I was in a dither. The condition of the house was interfering with my serenity in a big way. She told me “go outside. Not to do something, not to make a list of what you need to do, just to be.”

I sat down in my hammock, with my phone still to my ear, and immediately felt the weight lift. Pat said she felt tears come to her eyes, hearing the relief in my voice. I minded the gap. First I had to create it. Then I paid attention to it. I lay down and looked up at the bright blue gap between the Locust and Pin Oak trees above me. And I minded it.

Afterwards I was able to return to the busy-ness of the day, to put things away, organize the house. And I was able to find some more gaps and mind them too.