Personal Sustainability: Self beyond the "Selfie" & Physical Education

SUSTAINABILITY. The combination of my undergraduate studies (Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Living), brief stint in a Master of Architecture program, and work as a coach and PE teacher has led me to a deep re-evaluation of how I interpret and interact with the term. To me, to be “sustainable” is to take care of ourSelves, to be mindful and aware of our surroundings, both interpersonal and environmental...and, based on this, cultivate and nurture only those relationships and habits that truly serve the best and most authentic aspects of our very beings. To become a sustainable global community, we must individually commit to inhabiting a world (mental, emotional, and physical) where we are continually inspired and encouraged to be exactly who we are and where we need to be.

While this train of thought can easily lead me into so many different conversations, I'm going to focus this post on a project that I began last spring: the beginnings of a plan for a radically different Physical Education curriculum. Upon updating my resume between jobs, the words “Physical Education Teacher” suddenly burned into my awareness. I found myself wondering, all memories and preconceived notions aside, what would I want and expect out of a class called “Physical Education”? While the opportunity to lazily walk around a track, gossip on the mats, or pummel each other with rubber balls for 45 minutes a few times a week may appeal to most students, the structure of a typical PE class these days leaves so much to be desired. Sitting in a state of dissatisfaction, a plan started to take shape; I devised a project for my middle school PE class: a one month March "Challenge", created together as a group, linking social media to the act of learning about health, fitness, and overall well-being. 

The foundational concept and starting point:

"Change begins within."


The first week of this challenge focused on self-awareness and the development of a more authentic inner dialogue. We bought special journals and started to free write, stream-of-consciousness style, for a few minutes every day. We began to take note of our social media habits. We made goals for ourselves, both big and small. At the end of the week, to turn awareness back out into the world, I instigated a Random Act of Kindness Challenge, shared through Instagram and Facebook. 

The rules are simple: perform a random act of kindness, photograph or film some aspect of your process, upload it to Instagram and Facebook with the hashtag #actofkindness and tag at least one friend, challenging them to do the same! 

My deed of the day: As made painfully obvious by the food porn that is my newsfeed, I work as a baker for two local businesses, @earthwatertea and @thegardensiowa . Inevitably, many recipes tend to make a liiiitle bit extra...the best excuse for some pre-breakfast "quality control"  Why not add a little sweetness to someone else's day? I wrapped up this little Candied Rose Shortbread with Dark Chocolate & Pistachio and am planting it somewhere special on my way to work this morning. 

To start this round, I'm challenging one girl that I've coached from each grade. 9th: @givemetacopizza 10th: @jasmin232323 11th: @diahuggins 12th: @hifza101 and my graduated ladies: @chosie and @minna244  team efforts are allowed and enouraged. Get creative. Get inspired. GO!

The results that popped up on my news feed completely melted my heart. Care packages were sent to friends overseas, free brownies left at the library, snowy sidewalks shoveled, flowers given to a local restaurant owner, kitchens cleaned for mom "just because", and personalized uplifting messages sent to Twitter folks who had hashtagged #havingabadday. I had seen this being a fun little project, but by the end of the first week I was blown away at the depth of these young women and the power of engaged learning.


The second week was centered around nutrition, stepping into the sensitive area of diet and the precarious eating habits that come along with being a teenage girl. We took note of our meals and snacks in our journals. We started to follow healthy food bloggers and instagrammers. We talked and drooled about our favorite recipes. At the end of the week, we each had to plan, cook, photograph, and eat a healthy meal of our own: made with mostly local, seasonal ingredients, containing at least 3 colors and an adequate source of protein. I encouraged them to go to the farmers market, ask supermarket employees which foods are locally-sourced, and read the labels on any ingredients that weren't bought fresh...noting distribution locations and aiming to stay as regional as possible. Here's my project entry:

My buy-local weekend

1. Walk downstairs in slippers to the best coffee shop in town for the necessary latte: locally-roasted beans and local, organic Radiance Dairy Milk. 

2. Thank God that it's finally above 20 degrees. Walk 3 blocks to the indoor farmers market. 

3. Peruse the produce. 

4. Talk to the farmers! They're wonderful and will probably be very excited to have you taste-test some greens for recipe planning.

5. Have your life changed by the discovery of hickory syrup. Talk to the cutest old farmer about Aronia berries. (They're in the apple family!)

6. Start scheming; find inspiration! Turnip greens, baby chard, creole & sweet potatoes, aronia berries, and hickory syrup...

7. Peel and dice. Toss in olive oil, sea salt, pepper, chile powder, and a hint of cinnamon. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes, until tender with a slightly crispy coating.

8. Heat oil in a medium, nonstick pan. Toss in minced garlic. Add greens, smothering in lemon juice, and begin to saute until they begin to wilt. Remove from heat.

9. Soft boil an egg (from a farm 40 miles north of town)! I've struck gold at 5 minutes and 40 seconds, dropping the egg in barely before the water reaches a rolling boil.

10. Feast!

For dessert:

In a small blender, mix aronia berries, peaches frozen from last season's harvest, Radiance Dairy milk, and a few tablespoons of hickory syrup. 

Most importantly, enjoy in good company :)

Money spent: $16.50 

Farthest food source: 40 miles

Closest food source: .5 miles! (greens are grown in a greenhouse a few blocks away from my apartment! I had no idea.)

Main protein: soft-boiled egg

Colors: 5

Next post: Weeks three & four. Environment, physical fitness, and more than a few shenanigans ;)