Monthly Archives: January 2013

Poetry at Work Day

Did you know?  Have you heard?  It’s Poetry at Work Day!

Of course, I’m spending the day partially in a Nyquil fog, trying to shake off the worst of the flu bug that struck me over the weekend.  But I can’t pass up the chance to observe this particular day.

There’s not much that’s poetic about my work:  data reports coming and going, technical specs and dependencies, constant testing and assessment, reassessment.  For some, the unending challenge of data analysis, projections, systems, and processes provide quite enough satisfaction in their work.

But for me–a student of the humanities–it is the human element of my work that gives it meaning. In fact, I rarely describe or think of webmy work in other than human terms.  Rather, I talk about the way everything we do–when we do it well–connects students to the people they need in order to progress through their programs.  The information we provide supports the development of good advising and teaching relationships.  Data and process serve the human–not the other way around.

(In some corners of my field, this is downright revolutionary. Rebel talk.  So be it.)

There is one particular moment from fairly early in my career that has stayed with me, has been distilled through long memory into the essence of my work.  I share it here.

Where do you find poetry in your work?

World Wide Web

So, before coffee had connected me to the world
or screen and keyboard to my work
the knock came, tentative and insistent as spider silk
in the darkened outer office of cubicles and cubbies,
cups and courage.

She spoke only halting English, but better at that
than I might have offered in her native Korean—
exchanging one life for another for a time, finding
her place in this new place, all swirl and hope and exhaust.
She brought with her,

leading him by the hand—an untimely young mother
to an oddly-aged son with scrofulous beard—
the visiting math professor from Russia.  His English
added up on whiteboards and datasheets,
but few places else.

She needed—what did she need?
A seat in his class.  A chance.

I translated her brokenness
into my flat syllables for his grasping, reshaped his struggling
into a way forward for them both.   I at the center, the hub,
weaver finding form, magician making visible the invisible,

stretching forever, if needed, to connect
one bright fragile line
to the next.



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The Gospel of Food (according to me)

I am in my first week of teaching kettlebells–at the local parks and rec center, and in my home–and already the question of nutrition has come up.

Caveat #1:  I’m not a doctor.
Caveat #2:  I’m not a nutritionist.
Caveat #3:  It’s only been in the past two years that any of this has mattered to me, so in every important way, I’m still learning myself.

But. The question came up anyway.  So here, in a nutshell, is my Gospel of Food, which is so basic and common-sense that I’m almost embarrassed to post it!  But here it is:

  • Don’t focus on dieting.  One thing I can promise my students is that I will never suggest that they go on a diet, of any kind.  Ever.  There is lots of research out there showing that time and again, the people who “go on a diet”–with the focus on a short-term quick fix, usually involving an unnatural and unhealthy restriction of calories–almost always end up heavier than before.  Heck, forget the research.  I’m twenty-plus years of proof.  Don’t make me show you the Jabba D. Butt picture again!!  Instead, let this be your focus: improve the quality of the food you put in your body.  That’s it.  See? Who could argue?  How does one do that?  Read on . . .
  • Learn to recognize and prefer real food.  Signs you can look for:  it is itself.  No processing, minimal packaging.  One-ingredient foods.  Butternut squash.  Kale.  ImageSteak. Clarified butter (yes, real butter!). Fish.  Almonds.  Combine them yourself as you like, in wonderful concoctions as often as possible, and in as great a variety as possible.  But the KISS principle applies to food, too:  Keep It Simple, Silly.
  • Learn to recognize and minimize non-foods masquerading as food. Listen up.  If it comes in lots of packaging, with a long list of ingredients that you can’t pronounce and don’t know what they are?  It ain’t food.  It’s a chemistry experiment in your pants.  I believe we are learning more and more–and will understand better before long–the connection between the standard American diet, consisting of lots of highly-processed, chemicalized food products, and the soaring rates of cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other ills.  Again: keep it simple.
  • Once you’ve gotten the nutrition side sorted out and simplified, you need to move, and move in a way that makes you strong. Long hours of steady-state cardio have their place, but nothing gives you the bang for the health buck like lifting heavy stuff.  Do it safely–find a qualified instructor–but don’t be afraid to grow some Imagemuscles.  They are more active metabolically, meaning that they continue to burn energy even when you’re done exercising.  They take up less space in the body than fat, so (women, ahem!) everything gets tighter and smaller and firmer.  (Ahem, I say.)  The persistent and long-mistaken fear women have of “getting bulky” has less to do with too much muscle (which is hard to develop even if you’re a guy) than it does with continued poor nutrition choices, which keep a layer of (bulky) fat over the (sleek) muscles.  Combine good nutrition with heavy lifting–oh my.  Your body will thank you.  Your pants will thank you.  Whoever’s walking behind you will thank you.
  • You’ve likely heard this before, and if you have, you know it’s true. You can’t out-exercise a poor diet.  Purveyors of popular fitness methods, tools, and get-slim-quick fixes love to tell you that if you invest the time in their product, you can eat whatever you like and still meet your goals.  Let me put this bluntly, because we’re all adults here: Hogwash. Malarkey. Baloney.  Garbage in, garbage out–that simple.  Your body needs good nutrition, real food, especially if your body is at work with strength or bodyweight training.  You will not enjoy the full benefit of the work you’re doing if you are not being just as careful and mindful about nutrition at the same time.


Clean eating–sometimes a jargon-ey phrase, tossed about by fitness and nutrition folks who mean well. But for me, it’s really boiled down to the items I’ve listed above.

Here are some links that might serve as great reference points for you, if you’re ready to improve in any of the areas above:

Lifting heavy for women will NOT make you big and bulky. (Nia Shanks)

Focus on eating real, whole, simple foods: It All Starts With Food and the Whole30 challenge. (D and M Hartwig)

A great way to move:  kettlebells, baby. (Pat Flynn)

Go strong, friends.

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HKC Reunion, Part Two: The Interview!

Just before Janelle started packing up to head home to The Burgh, we found time to do the HKC interview.  Read the first part of the reunion story here; read Janelle’s account hereImage.  Read HER interview of ME here!

Here we go!

TS:  You are on a ship, and it begins sinking.  You have to make a choice about the ONE fitness tool you can bring with you–and it CAN’T be a kettlebell (that would sink the raft, of course).  What tool do you choose to bring with you, and why?

[This was the first–but not the last–funny look I got from Janelle during the course of the interview.  Really, it’s a serious question! I wanted to see how she set priorities and found alternatives, and where her other sources of strength might be. Frealz.]

JP:  I would grab my portable pull-up bar–it’s a great all-purpose tool for building strength by mastering bodyweight.  I’ve been experimenting with lots of more specialized moves lately, like skinning the cat, one-armed pulls, etc.  My goal is eventually to master the muscle-up, which is some serious strength business.

[Janelle, practicing her skinning the cat moves]

TS: Same question, but with food.  What would you grab to take with you if you could bring only one item?

JP:  Almonds, no doubt!  They provide the body with healthy fats, some protein, and will curb your appetite for a while (which is good if you’re stuck on a life raft).  They won’t go bad, are easy to stash (again, important on a life raft). . . . what’s not to love?

[You can read more about Janelle’s adventures with food and health on her blog. She has an amazing story of transformation by way of nutrition.]

TS:  You know my story.  What would you say to someone in the same place as I was 2 years ago–dangerously overweight, feeling sick and stuck, feeling like things will never get better?

JP: I discovered kettlebells randomly while in grad school in 2010, with the simple goal of getting in shape.  But a sudden and very serious career change sent me spinning out of control–I was wrecking myself because I didn’t know what to do with my life, or how to make it better. At some point I realized that I couldn’t stay “stuck”–I had to do something, even if I didn’t really know what that might be. I picked up that kettlebell again, and this time started working seriously with it.  In the process, I discovered a community that wanted me to succeed–was absolutely committed to helping me succeed!

To those who feel stuck, I would say:  know that even just making small changes will help.  The hardest part is not finding the fitness routine that will change things for you–it’s believing that you can change to begin with.  That’s where a support community helps the most.

TS:  I know you primarily through our connection with kettlebell training.  What are the other parts of your life that fulfill you, keep you sane, make you who you are?

[Cue second funny look.]

JP: I don’t do much right now outside of kettlebell training, just because I’m in preparation for RKC.  But just recently, I’ve reconnected to a local faith community called Hot Metal Bridge.  They’ve helped me get grounded again spiritually, and that’s been really important to me.  The community meets and really builds each other up through regular group meals and networking.  I also participate in community outreach programs sponsored by Hot Metal Bridge.

It’s good to do more, be known for something outside your work, to broaden your horizons.  I drink way too much coffee at the Beehive . . . though my trainer disapproves, I love to go skateboarding around the Southside neighborhood of Pittsburgh.  Every Monday, I hang out with a group of people to kick back, watch movies, sing some tunes and talk about where our lives are going. I like to be part of the Pittsburgh community as much as I can, and will do more in the future as things settle down for me professionally.

Basically, I am an all-around goofball who enjoys good company. I can talk your ear off about philosophy, psychology and theology as those are the subject matters I studied throughout college and grad school. Ha! I’m a nerd.

In my spare time I also rock out my keyboard (been playing piano for 22 years now) and I also lay some tunes down on my guitar.  What can I say? I wanted to be a rock star at one point!

[See Janelle sporting her best rock star duds here!]

TS:  Where will you be, and what will you be doing, in 5 years?

JP:  I’m certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine for personal training (taking the exam this month!) The significant health problems I’ve been through (auto-immune disorder, depression, substance abuse) have made me really want to help people take a stand for their own health, as I did.

I’m certified by DragonDoor for the Russian Kettlebell Challenge instructor certification (April 2013).  This certification has been my dream since I started getting involved with kettlebells and the RKC community.

I’m a full-fledged kettlebell instructor, whether for athletic types improving their performance, or for regular people working their way back into good health.

I’ll be working on other certifications to enhance my professional profile and to improve my work with clients:  the Functional Movement Screen, Primal Move, etc.

TS:  What has been THE MOMENT, the highlight of the work you’ve done with kettlebells so far?

JP: True story! Back in 2010 when I started with kettlebell training and I was looking for instructors, I found that there were some important trainers right in Pittsburgh (Brett Jones and Kerry Swick, for example) in addition to those I was following online (like GiryaGirl Adrienne Harvey and Sharon Shiner RKC).

This became kind of a pattern:  I’d post my workouts online, would get contacted by these folks with encouragement and suggestions for my training, and then suddenly I’d get a chance to meet AND TRAIN WITH these wonderful people I had learned about and looked up to way back in the beginning!

Even better, some of them have become my friends, and now I have a new pattern of traveling to meet, train, eat, and hang out with them:  Florida with Adrienne, New York City with Marshall Roy, West Virginia with you, next Boston with Sharon Shiner RKC!

It just goes to show you that dreams really can come true!  You gotta have the faith to get started–and then just keep going.

[Read more about Janelle’s Have Kettlebell, Will Travel adventures on her blog.]

Thanks to Janelle for her friendship, for her example of strength and perseverance, and for a fabulous weekend!Image

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An HKC Reunion, Part One

First of all.  It’s important for you to know that–despite a widening circle of online friends via Facebook, Twitter, and a site where I log my kettlebell practice–I have a relatively small circle of close friends.  My sweet babboo and I are quiet folk, homebodies, and can happily spend a weekend cocooned in our house, never seeing or talking to anyone else until Monday morning.

Within that small circle, though, there is an amazing variety and diversity that nourishes me and provides a beautiful backdrop to my crazyplate life.  My friends range from deeply spiritual to deeply skeptical (and sometimes both); from credentialed and highly-educated to practical and well-schooled in life (and sometimes both); from creative, artistic types to left-brained keyboard monkeys like me; from liberal to conservative and every flavor in between.  I love and appreciate all of them–so enjoying friendship with someone different from me is not really a surprise.

However. Even I was surprised by the friendship that has developed with 20-something social media maven and kettlebell strongwoman Janelle Pica over the past year!

We met online as mutual Twitter buddies of Adrienne Harvey, aka GiryaGirl.  Her funny, encouraging, high-energy updates online never failed to make me laugh and send me back to my work better than I was before.  We became friends, and then to my surprise (again!) our training goals began to align with the announcement of a DragonDoor Hardstyle Kettlebell Certification course to be offered in September 2012 at her gym in Pittsburgh.

ImageMutual encouragement and general hilarity ensued, culminating in the historic meet-up in Pittsburgh for the cert weekend, which I have chronicled elsewhere.

Fast-forward to 2013:  we are both DragonDoor-certified HKC instructors, and have continued to correspond and support each other.  Recently I invited her to our home in West Virginia–mainly so that she could take her brand new car out for a ROAD TRIP–but also for the chance to do some fun iron play, feed her some venison, and hang out with a great training partner and friend.

(I invite you to read her account of the weekend on her excellent blog, The Primal Burgher.)Image

We decided that sometime during the weekend–in between the massive feasts of venison and other deliciousness, the training and testing sessions with kettlebells, and the hilarious evening out at a local limoncello distillery— we would interview each other.  We were hoping that my fabulous RKC trainer, Jamie, would be able to join us in the interview, but unfortunately she had other obligations that kept her away.  Another time!

Coming tomorrow on the CrazyPlate blog:  my interview with RKC-in-training Janelle Pica!Image

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Watch This Space!

On tap for tomorrow: a re-cap of my recent reunion with HKC partner Janelle Pica, aka “The Primal Burgher“!

See us engage in feats of strength! (Well, that would be Janelle, mostly.)

Stand in awe as we consume ungodly amounts of venison!

Hear us make odd sound effects–“ppppppt!”–as we clink little tiny cups of limoncello with a neighbor!

Watch in horror and wonder as I interview Janelle with questions that make her  go, “Is this really a serious question?”

All here in this space. Set your watches now, folks.


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Three Kings Day 2013

20 + C + M + B + 13*

The three Wise Men,



and Balthasar,

followed the star of God’s Son,

who became human two thousand and thirteen years ago.

++ May Christ bless our home++
++ and remain with us throughout the new year. Amen.++

*It is traditional on the morning of Three Kings Day, Epiphany Sunday, to mark this on the lintel of the home, and pray blessing on the home for the coming year.

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Christmas continues! Days 9-12

(If you are catching up, please see the original post, and the first four days of Christmas, here.  See Days 5-8 here.)

Christmas, Day 12–““In front are the singers, after them the musicians; with them are the maidens playing tambourines (drums).” Psalm 68:25

Again, the distances between modern instrumentation, that of the carol writer, and biblical instrumentation (and translation) leave us with a bit of a disconnect.

According to the New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, the Hebrew word that gets translated as “tambourine” or “tabret” is toph, which was a frame drum–goatskin, typically–stretched over a wooden hoop, and jingle-less:

  • “The modern tambourine is a “jingle” percussion instrument, commonly without a skin, and often half circle or crescent shaped, (although the round, skinned types are used in Latin ensembles and for other more grass roots styled groups). It would appear that the tambourine we find in the Bible was not a tambourine (as we know it) at all.”  (via

As well, they were often played by women. (As an aside, with a bit of a harrrumph, why are the women counted separately from “the musicians”? But let’s not go down THAT road.)

So the usual image of the 12 (male) drummers drumming on snare drums in procession has it wrong on at least two counts, from a12drummers strictly scriptural perspective:  it coulda/woulda/shoulda been women in procession, drumming on small hand drums.  But perhaps for the carol writer and that time, it would have been more likely to see men drumming, as on the field of battle–and much less likely to be able to round up 12 women with no obligations and no qualms about being handed over to the True Love for Christmas!

All of this aside, I confess:  I love percussion.  I love hearing it, I love playing it.   I learned long ago that the English handbells I began ringing while in college were considered a percussion instrument.  I began ringing the small melodic treble bells at the high end of the scale, but over the years found myself (by preference) gradually moving down the scale to the large bass clef bells that provided the more percussive foundation for the rest of the ensemble.

Then, in the context of playing a handbell piece, I first heard the bodhran, the traditional Irish frame drum.  My ears perked up, and I fell in love with the instrument.  Eventually, my sweet baboo gave me one as a gift one Christmas, and I began working with an excellent teacher online.   I play whenever I can!

Here is a great little ensemble–with a female bodhran drummer, which I love:

Then came the djembe.  Enjoy this video of a local drum circle that plays in Frederick, Maryland.  This was an occasional gathering of community on lovely days in the local park:  the Baker Park Play Down.  I’m in there, playing both bodhran (1:22) and djembe (12:01, 12:50, 13:06)!

I don’t know what drives me to pick up all these weird things–handbells, kettlebells, bodhran, djembe–and either swing them, ring them, or bash them–but they’re all wonderful parts of my crazyplate life.  Each becomes, for me, an expression of joy, given as a gift by the One who came at Christmas, and returned as gift to Him. 

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might . . .  (Eccles. 9:10) On this final day of Christmas, celebrate the Gift-giver who came to give us joy.  Whatever gifts you have been given, use them with “all your might”.  In this way, too, we worship, returning our full-hearted  joy as gift to Him.  In the words of the great Rosetti poem and Christmas carol:

drummingWhat can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him–
Give my heart.

Merry Christmas, friends.  Go strong.

Christmas, Day 11–“And all the people came up after him, and the people piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth rent with the sound of them..” 1 Kings 1:40

eleven piper piping

Musical instrumentation in biblical times and lands was not a complicated affair; but making connection to modern instrumentation is.  The images for the 11th day of Christmas have various of kinds modern wind
instruments as the “pipe”–I see trumpets, flutes, piccolos, Highland bagpipes, fifes . . . it is not clear to me what kind of pipes the carol-writer had in mind, and even less clear what the pipes of 1 Kings 1:40 might have looked or sounded like!

But we know that, like dance, the music was a full part of the worship of the people.  I like that.

My sweet baboo and I went to a most excellent small liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian church, Lyon College (or Arkansas College, when we were there).  As part of its recognition of the Scottish roots of that denomination, the college celebrates all things Scottish, including hosting annual Highland games and fielding an excellent pipe band, complete with drummers and dancers.

I had good friends in the pipe band, and learned to love that powerful, skirling sound, which was incorporated into all of the community and academic events of the campus, including worship!  Our annual Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans re-enacts (apocryphy alert!) the times under English rule–when England had banned as treasonous both the wearing of tartan and the playing of bagpipes–when the quietly rebellious Scots would bring swatches of their family tartans into their churches.  They were “kirkin” (churching) their tartans, embracing their traditions and asking God’s blessing on their families, even under an oppressive rule.

That annual commemoration includes the bagpipes, which are heard playing from far outside the Chapel, moving closer and closer, until finally the entire ensemble bursts inside–and the very walls vibrate! Even now, I can get a little weepy and homesick hearing and seeing a good pipe band in action, especially Lyon’s.  (Hearing a bad pipe band in action brings up a different kind of emotion.)

Enjoy this Youtube video of the Lyon College pipe band–and crank it up!

Can you hear the joy?  I can.  Be joyful today, friends, on this lovely 11th Day of Christmas.

Christmas, Day 10–“The voice of my beloved! behold, he comes leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.” Song of Solomon 2:8


Another stretch? Not too much.  We celebrate the tenth day of welcoming the Lord of lords coming into this sad old world of ours–who would not leap for joy?

And see this?  Here’s what blows my mind–

what, in the words of the poet, is “the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart“–

Our Beloved has come to us, not just willingly but eagerly–

“leaping” and “skipping” toward us–

pursuing us with a fierce and determined love.

Why?  Why would this be so?  Why would He come leaping across a cosmos to live this ragged life with us?

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” 

Think on this question, this 10th day of Christmas, and see if your heart doesn’t engage in a little leaping of its own.


Christmas, Day 9–”Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” Jeremiah 31:139-ladies-dancing

I love all the references to dancing that took place in the Old Testament! Dance was worship; worship was dance. Miriam and the women of Israel danced to honor the desert God on the shores of the Red Sea; David danced before the Lord in the temple.

I myself have been known to recuse myself from opportunities to engage in “body prayer” or liturgical dance–my decades-long lack of confidence in my own body holds me back. But it is hard to describe how deeply moved I am when I see dance, and particularly when offered as worship.

I have recently learned some very basic forms of qigong, a healing martial art related to tai chi. The movements are gentle and flowing, and have become part of my daily routine. One in particular–Looking for the Moon in the Sea–had me in tears as I was learning it.  For this form, I raise my cupped hands to the heavens, form a frame through which I look for the moon, then draw the circle of the moon with my hands.  I then follow my hands down into a deep bend, where I draw the same circle of the moon “in the Sea”.  I cup the image in my hands once more, raise them to the sky, and the form begins again.  This is a very slow, rhythmic motion, and has become for me a kind of devotional dance, a form of worship.

I am looking not for the moon, high and remote, but for One who is closer than a brother–who dances with me through the raging sea.  Was there one who danced before the holy Child, seeing in the manger God’s answer to the years of sackcloth and sorrow?

I like to think so.

On this 9th day of Christmas–as we return to work and school–don’t forget to dance a little.  Rejoice and be merry!


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