Learning 101 with Ananda and Ben: Role Reversal

My Pilates instructor is a spring chicken, and my writing coach is young too, just thirty-nine years old, younger than either of our children. Still, They are teaching me.

Since childhood, we have been conditioned to think of our teachers as older than we are. Such a perspective probably was formed in elementary school when our teachers were the age of our mothers or fathers. And then in high school, if we’re honest, some of those 45-year-old faculty looked absolutely ancient to us. I imagine I was viewed as an older sister when at Lancaster Mennonite School I was a mere four years older than my senior students. As I aged in my teaching profession, in my students’ eyes I may have passed for a mother or aunt, and later, in my sixties, students at the college must have viewed me as a grandmother or great-aunt.

Now after more than forty years in education, I am well into an encore career as a writer. To support such a sedentary life-style, I need to get off my duff and twist and turn, bob and weave, flexing muscles that get very little use otherwise as I finger the back-lighted black keys of my laptop, warming a pillowed chair. Ananda at Bailey’s Gym helps me do that. On her Pilates mat in front of a class of middle-aged women, she is as flexible as a rubber band, inviting us into poses of bold bends that I can at best only approximate. Gentle and petite in nature, this native of Colombia helps me correct my efforts.


“Ma-ri-ann, eez this way . . . extend your left leg a lee-tle further.” And so, I adjust my appendages to comply with her instructions, but not without cringing a little. Yes, though Ananda is ever so easy-going and gracious, I do chafe at being singled out for wrong moves. After all, she called out my name. Everyone else heard that I messed up! Still, I know I will bring out my exercise mat next week and sit for another session with her gentle but precise guidance.

Then, there’s Benjamin, my writing coach. A poet, gardener, and memoir-writer, Ben Vogt is my writing teacher in an online course entitled All in the Family: Research and Write Your Family’s  History. He too is gentle, introspective, always affirming. But he is also incisive, biting into the scripts I send him with loud barks in return, always in caps: HOW BIG IS MEDIUM? YOU’VE GOT TO BE FAR MORE DETAILED AND DESCRIPTIVE FOR US . . .


And on the next page, I see more yelling in loud crescendo as I notice I have missed the mark trying to describe what my Mennonite pastor was wearing: LET’S SEE THE WARDROBE WITH MORE DETAILS – NAME THE CLOTHING PARTS MORE, SHOW SHOW SHOW! To be fair, every once in a while I see that I have succeeded: “GREAT PARAGRAPH!” he shouts in all caps. He is thrilled when I use sensory detail (All five senses now!) to properly develop a scene instead of resorting to flabby adjectives. Then I’m both surprised – and pleased.

What is the point here? I am submitting to tutelage because I want to. I believe there is way more for me to learn. I’m not a finished product, and probably will never be, so I need more priming and polishing from folks expert in their fields. Why? Because I don’t have the insight to see how or where my efforts have gone awry. And, yes, these tutors can be younger, way younger, than I am.

Have you learn’d lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you?

Have you not learn’d great lessons from those who reject you, and brace themselves against you? or who treat you with contempt, or dispute the passage with you?

Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass

Of course, neither Ananda nor Ben have ever rejected me or treated me with the slightest bit of contempt, but each has sought to “dispute the passage with [me],” and though it is uncomfortable, even painful at times, I have benefited from these lessons. Indeed, I am learning lessons from them and others. Learning. Still.

Still learning.

Are you are lifelong learner? How or when have you learned from “teachers” of any age? Inquiring minds want to know . . .


Coming next: Faraway Friends: Kitsa & Lydia


The Longenecker Sisters’ Road Trip, Part 2

We pile into Heidi’s shiny black Toyota 4Runner in Jacksonville and off we go, zooming across state lines, first Florida, then Georgia, and finally South Carolina, our voices twanging to Doo Wop tunes of the 50s and 60s: All Good Vibrations as miles melt away.

Bouncing along with our luggage are my sisters, Janice and Jean and our daughters, my niece Heidi and daughter Crista, who have masterminded a Mother’s Day retreat for mothers and aunts.

Our faces reflect the weather, begun sunny, a patch of rain, and then bright sunshine again.
Our faces reflect the weather, begun sunny, a patch of rain, and then bright sunshine again. Left to right: daughter Crista, sister Jean, me, sister Janice, niece Heidi


Waiting for us in Charleston are historical venues and shops, restaurants oozing Southern charm, and a rented house in Mt. Pleasant on an island close to Charleston where for four days we’ll relax, exchange stories from the past and enjoy the sites.




There is a separate bedroom for each sister/aunt and a blue attic loft with two single beds and play table and chair, a little-girl hideaway for Crista and Heidi, wives and mothers themselves.

We enter the city in a downpour: flooded streets and a 4-day weather forecast fit for ducks. (I’m talking over a foot of water in the streets grazing the belly of our car!) Fortunately the weather system soon bubbles away into the Atlantic, and we roam the city without umbrellas. A miracle!

The Architecture


Property taxes were calculated by the number of feet on frontage of the house. Thus, modest homes like the one above were narrow and tall. Fancy, opulent ones were also long, narrow and usually three stories high.


Window boxes offer extra garden space for historic homes that don’t have large front lawns. Simply glorious on our first cloudy day.



Charleston with many Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic churches, along with Jewish synagogues, is called the Holy City because of its large number of houses of worship.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Charleston, SC  Open filigree spire to withstand hurricanes, tornadoes.
Church of St. John the Baptist, Charleston, SC
Open filigree spire design built to withstand hurricanes, tornadoes.


How We Saw the City: Horse-drawn Carriage and Rickshaw Ride


Our storyteller/guide with a salty Southern drawl says, “Our horse, Big John, has been imported from an Amish farm in Ohio.” We believe him though we don’t buy his line that he’s originally from The Bronx.

*  *  *

Our handsome bicycler hunk muses, “These ladies look loaded. What’s my tip gonna be?”  (Charleston Rickshaw Company)





The former plain girls’ stash of jewelry and scarves from the Charleston Market on Market Street

Mt. Pleasant Mall on Mother’s Day


“Are these my colors? my sisters ask each other . . . Then I hear: “Remember when we played dress up with Mame Goss’s hats? Or Wedding under the Willows?” Ha ha!



Time to Eat


Mother’s Day brunch at Five Loaves in Mt. Pleasant with (below) a clearly scripted reminder to reflect and share our bounty:

"There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread."   Mahatma Ghandhi  (Also the mission of Samaritan's Purse and other charities.)
“There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” Mahatma Ghandhi (Also carried out in the mission statement of Samaritan’s Purse and other benevolent groups.)


Magnolia Gardens



A magnolia bloom (with Janice), foxglove stem and a peacock about to unfurl fan feathers . . .  in the gorgeous Magnolia Gardens

A Smidgeon of History from Charleston SC, A Photographic Portrait

Founded by English colonists in 1670, Patriots fought–and won–the first decisive battle of the Revolutionary War here [Charleston] . . . .

Decades of growing strife between the North and South erupted at Fort Sumter in April 1861, launching the American Civil War:

Four cadets from the City’s military college, The Citadel, were among the soldiers who fired the first shots of the Civil War across the Charleston Harbor.

The city has also sustained more than one fire and an earthquake.

Good Vibrations





Many thanks, you two!CristaHeidi


Research shows that sibling relationships are the longest-lasting relationships any of us will have in our lifetime. In the natural order of things, our parents will die before we do. We can lose partners and spouses through death or divorce. Typically, our siblings remain.

Road trips, siblings – your comments welcome!



Coming next: My Dad’s Bachelor Trip to Florida