Dandelion Effect Podcast - Tim Sloffer: A Teacher's Guide to Lifelong Learning

Tim Sloffer: A Teacher’s Guide to Lifelong Learning

Tim Sloffer happened upon the Ranch last year while he was applying for a Lilly Teacher Creativity Grant from the Lilly Endowment, a program that began in 1987 as a way to help Indiana elementary and secondary educators renew their commitment to teaching. To give you an idea of the scope of this program, the foundation awarded 103 grants, each totaling $12,000 for 2022. And, what’s amazing about this grant is that teachers can apply to be covered for all kinds of experiences that will enhance the their understanding of themselves and the world at large: studying foreign language, natural resources, photography, chess, quilting, zoology—the list is endless. If you can write it up to show that it will expand and improve you as a person and as a teacher, it’s considered.

With zero background in yoga, but a desire to learn how to take better care of himself, Tim Googled “wellness retreats” and found the Feathered Pipe Ranch. After looking through the summer schedule, he realized that he could spend five weeks participating in five totally different workshops covering wellness from many angles—and so the grant was written and awarded.

In this conversation, we explore Tim’s upbringing in the small town of Huntertown, Indiana, the road that led him to following in his mom’s footsteps as a teacher, his journey through college as a teen parent, and the challenges and joys of raising three kids.

He reflects on his time at the Ranch, what he learned from each retreat, the growth moments that invited him out of his comfort zone and the ways that he settled into the rhythm of life as a long-termer. On Tim’s last night, we presented him with a cake and celebrated the time he spent with us on Bear Creek Road, and today we get a window into how the lessons of last summer have trickled into his everyday life.


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Episode Transcript

Tim Sloffer  00:01
I don’t know what all my connections are or who I’ve influenced. I can talk about people who have said something that stuck with me and changed my perspective. Maybe I’ve said something at some point in time that stuck with a kid, student, athlete, or one of my kids. As we keep making those connections, it’s just knowing that you’re not alone. That you’re in a community.

Andy Vantrease  00:42
Welcome to the Dandelion Effect Podcast, a space for organic conversation about the magic of living a connected life. Just like the natural world around us, we are all linked through an intricate web, a never-ending ripple that spans across the globe.

Here, we explore the ideas that our guests carry through the world, remember who and what inspired them along the way, and uncover the seeds that helped them blossom into their unique version of this human experience. This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, whose mission is to help people find their direction through access to programs and experiences that support healing, education, community and empowerment.

If you’ve been listening to this podcast, you undoubtedly know by now that the Feathered Pipe Ranch is a very special place, to visit, to work, to study, to teach, to be human. Many of our podcast guests have long-standing relationships with the center and its people, and their perspective on its magic is different than that of, say, someone who is visiting for the first time.

Today’s guest, Tim Sloffer, happened upon the Ranch last year while he was applying for a Lilly Teacher Creativity Grant from the Lilly Endowment, a program that began in 1987 as a way to help Indiana elementary and secondary educators renew their commitment to teaching. To give you an idea of the scope of this program, the foundation awarded 103 grants, each totaling $12,000 for 2022. And, what’s amazing about this grant is that teachers can apply to be covered for all kinds of experiences that will enhance their understanding of themselves and the world at large: studying foreign language, natural resources, photography, chess, quilting, zoology—the list is endless. If you write it up to show that it will expand and improve you as a person and as a teacher, it’s considered.

With zero background in yoga, but a desire to learn how to take better care of himself, Tim Googled “wellness retreats” and found the Feathered Pipe Ranch. After looking through the summer schedule, he realized that he could spend five weeks participating in five totally different workshops covering wellness from many angles. So, the grant was written, and he was awarded $12,000 to come to the Ranch for five weeks.

In this conversation, we explore Tim’s upbringing in the small town of Huntertown, Indiana, the road that led him to following in his mom’s footsteps as a teacher, his journey through college as a teen parent, and the challenges and joys of raising three kids.  He reflects on his time at the Ranch, what he learned from each retreat, the growth moments that invited him out of his comfort zone and the ways that he settled into the rhythm of life as a long-termer.

On Tim’s last night, we presented him with a cake and celebrated the time he spent with us on Bear Creek Road, and today we get a window into how the lessons of last summer have trickled into his everyday life. I’m Andy Vantrease and you’re listening to the Dandelion Effect Podcast with our special guest and friend, Tim Sloffer.

Andy Vantrease
Part of one of the things that I can’t get enough of is finding out how people became who they are today. The Tim that I met last summer, how is it that you came to be this person and all of the things that happened along the way? I know you’re from Huntertown, Indiana, which is not far from where Eric Myers grew up, so you have the Midwest connection there. Tell me a little bit about your upbringing and your childhood.

Tim Sloffer  04:21
Like you said, I grew up in Huntertown, Indiana. Mom’s a teacher, dad’s a farmer. I’ve got an older brother and an older sister. We were part of The United Methodist Church, and I have good memories of all of that. I think those are big things that shaped me growing up—the church, my family, and wrestling. I started wrestling in the first grade. My mom taught, and a lot of times I would go to school with her. Or since my dad farmed, which was really nice, he kind of had his own schedule, so sometimes he would drive me to school, so I didn’t have to ride the bus. There was a restaurant across the street from the school. I forget the real name of it, but everybody called it “Sweaty Betty’s.”

Andy Vantrease  05:03
That was just the restaurant’s nickname?

Tim Sloffer  05:05
Yeah, and it was basically a gas station right across the street from the school. When I was little, I’d go to Sweaty Betty’s with my dad before school, and I’d get a cheeseburger and a coke. I’d always want to look at the sports page and look up how many points Michael Jordan had the night before. I was really interested in that. A lot of the local farmers also sat there. Mom could always tell, though, when I went to Sweaty Betty’s with dad in the morning, because then I’d walk over to school. I’d walk across the street to her classroom and wait for the day, but I’d smell like smoke. That’s kind of the small town that I grew up in. Now, since then, it’s really grown. It’s more of a suburb of Fort Wayne. It’s kind of hard to tell where Fort Wayne ends and Huntertown begins.

Andy Vantrease  05:50
Did you grow up working on the farm with your dad?

Tim Sloffer  05:53
A little bit, but I’m probably the worst farm kid ever. I could drive a tractor, but I was always tiny too. I was a tiny runt. I had chores and things, but some of the bigger farm jobs, my brother probably did a little bit more of that. And dad would give me a job, and then he’d get busy in doing something, and I’d sneak off. He’d find me shooting baskets or playing some other game. A lot of times, my job was just to hold the light. I’d get a flashlight or something, and I’d have to hold the light exactly where my dad wanted me to hold it. And that’s it; I’d stay in there forever. I’d try to find ways to put the light where he wanted it, and then sneak off without him noticing. Then I’d be shooting hoops, and I’d hear him yell because he needed the light moved. It’s funny because I live next door to my dad still. Sometimes he needs help with something, and that is still the job that I have, like, “hold this light, hold this light.” And I’m just right there holding. My oldest son sometimes helps him too, and it’s the same thing. It’s probably why I need my dad to do everything because I never actually learned how to do any of this stuff. My dad can fix anything. Just being a farmer, we didn’t have all the nice equipment. He fixed his own stuff to keep it going. He’s pretty competent in a lot of areas of being a handy person. We did a lot of fixing up when we moved into the little house next to the farm where my dad is in. I’d tell people, “Oh yeah, we’re fixing this up. We’re doing this, we’re doing that.” But when I say we are fixing it up, it’s actually my dad’s fixing it up, and I’m handing him the tool.

Andy Vantrease  05:53
You’re holding the light. That’s really funny. What were some of the other things that you remember escaping to go do? What were your curiosities? What were your hobbies?

Tim Sloffer  07:42
At one point, we had a computer, an old Commodore 64 type. I remember being fascinated with that and thinking that was pretty cool. Our family was also really into movies, and we had this disk drive where you’d put in these giant disks. I think we had four movies, and Star Wars was one. So, I like books and movies. I know at some point there was a Nintendo that my brother and I would fight over who got to play. And we had BB guns, so we got in a lot of trouble with those. I think we shot out every window in the barn one year. We lost the BB guns after that.

Andy Vantrease  08:22
Yeah, when you start self-destructing on the farm, I’m sure dad’s not too happy. Just from talking with Eric about his childhood growing up nearby, it seems like there’s almost an expectation for boys to follow in the footsteps of their fathers as farmers. Just from what he has told me, it sounds like it can be a little bit hard to deviate from that route. Was that an experience that you had at all?

Tim Sloffer  08:51
Not really at all. I almost felt like if you asked my dad, he would just laugh at the thought of me being a farmer. I just don’t know if that’s in my skill set. And I don’t know that my brother was ever that interested in it either. I don’t think there was much of a pressure to do that. My dad retired from farming just this past year, and the neighbor boys farm it. They’re farmers, and they cash rent and farm the ground, so it’s not going to waste.

Andy Vantrease  09:21
Yeah, I’m glad to hear that. I feel like sometimes whatever profession it is, or whatever lifestyle it is, kids can get stuck in expectations to follow in certain footsteps, but it sounds like you were given free rein to be who you were and have that nurtured and nourished. What role did your mom play, being a teacher? Having parents as teachers is a really interesting thing. They seem to have an understanding of different ways to learn and nurture people’s innate talents.

Tim Sloffer  09:59
Yeah, she was an encourager and probably my biggest fan. I mentioned books—she’d always get us a lot to read. I think there was some pressure to do well in school, especially in elementary because mom’s a teacher. But in my elementary class group, there were four or five of us who had moms who taught in the school. I never thought that was a big deal until later on when I became a teacher and started talking to some of the teachers who were there when we were there. And they were like, “Your class was some something else.” We were just very comfortable in the school. I always liked having my mom in the building. I remember how you’d have to get things signed by your parent, and if you didn’t turn it in on time, you’d have to sit on the wall for five minutes or so. I’d always forget, but I never got in trouble because I’d be like, “Oh, I gotta go to the bathroom.” And I’d grab that paper and run up to my mom’s classroom, up the steps and say, “Mom, I need you to sign this real quick.” She’d sign it, and I’d sprint back down and turn it back in.

Andy Vantrease  11:04
Yeah, act like you had it all under control. That’s a good advantage. I never would have even thought about that.

Tim Sloffer  11:10
Yeah. I remember doing that a lot as a kid, actually.

Andy Vantrease  11:16
I really appreciate these conversations as a chance to reflect and look back at the events, moments, and people that shaped you, and had a big impact. Your mom passing when you were in high school being, of course, an extremely pivotal moment in your life. When you look back on that age, and that happening, what comes to mind? And how did things unfold for you and your family in that time?

Tim Sloffer  11:48
Obviously, it was a really difficult time. And probably the first time in my life that I dealt with a really adverse thing. Up until that point in my life, it was like, “Oh, I lost a wrestling match, or oh, this happened.” I don’t think I knew how to deal with that, but I lived in a small community. My mom was this beloved person in our church family, in the school family, and in the town and community. As I look back on that, as much as I screwed up after that point, and learning to deal with grief and all those things as a kid, I was surrounded by so many people that were looking out for me and doing things that were helpful and kind—sometimes without me even realizing it at the time. There’s a lady from our church who would just randomly show up with a card or some cookies, and always a stick of Carefree gum, with a little positive message or something. There were a lot of people in our community that were really kind to us and just kind of helping.

Andy Vantrease  12:55
And you were 16, you said?

Tim Sloffer  12:58
I would have been 16, yeah. I was a sophomore. It’s been over 26 years and I still have a hard time. It’s still not an easy thing to talk about, which is crazy to think about.

Andy Vantrease  13:08
I don’t know how it ever gets much easier. It’s your mom.

Tim Sloffer  13:13
And I’ll still have people to this day who will come up and tell me a story. When I was teaching, I remember one time a teacher coming up and saying, “You know what? One thing your mom told me one time about what she does,” and it was something about when she has a really tough kid or a kid that’s just having a really hard time. She said that she would just go and sit in their desk and try to see from their perspective, and pray and that kind of thing. And just think about that kid. And she said, “That just really helped me to try and to see the kid as a kid, and not just as the student that’s not turning in their homework, or the student that’s acting out.” I think that’s part of what made people love her as a teacher.

Actually, my brother, within the last month, said that he was out walking his dog, and a guy came up to him and said, “Your mom was my teacher.” He was a kid that got in trouble a lot. And he had kind of had a rough time in school up to that point. He said that he started wearing glasses to school and doing a lot better and was doing well, so mom called just to talk to the family and say, “Hey, he’s really doing a great job.” Making that a positive phone call home, because sometimes we just call home when things are bad. It’s nice to make that positive phone call home, and I think that’s maybe what she was doing. But he said that she said, “Ever since he got his glasses, I’ve really seen an improvement.” Well, the parents said, “What glasses?” The kid didn’t have glasses. He had taken some shop glasses from his dad’s garage, put those on, and when he wore his glasses, he’s like, “I’m the good kid now.” I don’t even know if that’s necessarily a story of anything that my mom did there, I just got a kick out of it. It happens probably a few times a year where somebody says, “Hey, I have this memory of your mom or something that she did,” which is pretty cool. The elementary school where she taught has a big bookcase in the library that’s dedicated to her memory. It’s been so long that a lot of people may not remember, but it’s neat that that’s in there.

Andy Vantrease  15:19
Yeah, and so you’re 16 when your mom passes, but she was fighting cancer for a year and a half. And then your sister was off to college, and then your brother was off to college. All of a sudden, this household of five was down to just you and your dad for your last two years of high school. And then you meet your wife senior year of high school, and a baby comes really soon. And marriage comes really soon. All of these things happen—it’s such a classic example of everything happening at once. Take me back to that senior year of high school. I’m curious to hear the story of how you met your wife, and I also want to talk a bit about you having your first son and going through college.

Tim Sloffer  16:14
Gosh, I got with a group of buddies my senior year, and we decided we were going to fly to Florida on our own for spring break. And that’s what we did. I remember my dad being a little skeptical, like, “I don’t know if this is a good idea.” But we went and had a good time. Probably too good. One of my buddies that was in that group, his girlfriend, who is now his wife, was doing the same thing. They had a group of friends, and they all flew down for spring break, too. We were kind of close to their group, and we probably hung out a lot that week. Then I met my wife through his girlfriend’s set of friends. We met each other and hit it off. After spring break, we kept in touch, obviously, and then started dating.

Andy Vantrease  17:03
She was from your town?

Tim Sloffer  17:04
She went to a different high school in Fort Wayne, but she lived 10 minutes away. It wasn’t a faraway school or anything, so we went to both of our proms. That summer, she was pregnant. So, that was obviously a huge life moment. I had planned to go to University of Indianapolis, and I ended up going for one semester. Jasmine would come down and visit me because U-Indy was an hour and a half to two hours away from us. So, we’d still see each other quite a bit. Travis was due in February, so I came home for that winter break, and I thought, “I think I’m just going to stay here.” And I went to IPFW, an Indiana Purdue campus in Fort Wayne. When Travis was first born, we lived with my wife’s mom for a little bit because her mom helped while Travis was just a baby there. And then we lived at her dad’s for a little while, which was a little closer to where I lived in Huntertown.

We got married in May of that year, and then moved into a little place in Fort Wayne. I did school, but Jasmine didn’t do school right away. She would take a class at a time. And she wasn’t really sure what she wanted to do yet anyway, so she would get all of the basic classes out of the way. And then she served at Don Pablo’s restaurant in Fort Wayne while I did school full time at IPFW. For a little while, I worked at a furniture store in the mall. And that was a weird job, because nobody really goes to the mall to buy furniture. I would work in the evening, and I’d be the only one there so I could get all my studying done. But every now and then I’d sell a couch, and I’d just sell it off the floor. I’d be the only one in there, so I’d have to wrap it and then put it on a cart. And then I’d have to carry it out through the back of the mall, and wheel it down. I’d load the couch up for them. We also had a pretty cool guy—I forget his name—but he was a pretty handy guy. He did most of our deliveries, so occasionally I’d go with him on deliveries. It was a small family business. Occasionally the lady that owned the business would just have me go mow her lawn, so I’d go mow her lawn. It was interesting.

Andy Vantrease  19:29
Yeah, I think about all the things that you do in phases of life like that, to just make it happen. We have this new baby, I’m in college, somehow I have to make money, and study, and be there for my family. You being from such a close-knit community, everybody knowing your parents and I’m sure your grandparents, and now knowing you and your new wife. How did the community show up for you at that time? Did it feel like it was that village around raising a kid?

Tim Sloffer  19:59
We stayed active in the church that I grew up in for a pretty long time. Everyone there was wonderful. Jasmine was in mom groups and things like that. I don’t know if it was a big scandalous thing in a small town, but it never really felt that way. I think we were loved and supported and all those things. We had a lot of support from the community and obviously family, so that was good. But I was going to say, after the furniture job, Wells Fargo at the time had a 24-hour phone call center. So, I’m hearing about this job, and at the time, it was really good pay, and it included full benefits. I heard they were hiring and that there was a new class of hires starting. And I had gotten my name in the job pool, but I wasn’t in this first class of hires. When a friend of mine who had known about the job said that they were starting this class on Monday, I just showed up. I just showed up, and I said, “Hey, I’ve gone through the process, and I’ve been accepted. I don’t think I’m supposed to be in this class, but is there any way I could just start with this group today?” And the guy laughed, because at the time, apparently, there were some other call centers that were having a hard time getting workers when he had people just showing up.

That was huge for our family because it had health benefits. I got 30 hours, and since it was a 24-hour call center, I was able to work 4:00pm to 10:00pm five nights a week. It was really a good gig. Once I finally got an actual teaching job, my wife started going to school, taking a few more classes at a time. She’s a teacher now, too. She teaches middle school social studies, but she timed it to do her student teaching when our youngest son, Ben, was ready for kindergarten. When he started school full time, she got her first actual teaching job.

Andy Vantrease  21:58
Okay, and you guys have three kids that are all three years apart?

Tim Sloffer  22:04
Travis is 23, Olivia is 19, but she’ll be 20 in May. And Ben is 17. He’ll be 18 in July.

Andy Vantrease  22:11
What’s been the most unexpected joy of being a parent?

Tim Sloffer  22:18
When I was younger, as a parent, I was always self-conscious and very aware of the fact that we were really young parents. I always felt like I had to prove that we were going to be good parents. And if my kid is the one screaming in the cart at Walmart, I’d feel that kind of intensely. People would look at you like, “Oh, well, of course.” We were babies ourselves, and that’s my kid. Nobody ever said anything like that to me, but I felt that for some reason. It was probably just more my own internalizing that, but we started from maybe not the ideal plan that people would typically have. Seeing that our kids have been successful, and that they’re finding things that they enjoy, and getting a lot out of the lives that they have is nice to see.

Andy Vantrease  23:05
Yeah, I’m sure massive challenges along the way. But you guys have raised three amazing kids and everybody’s doing well, so it’s certainly something to be proud of.

Tim Sloffer  23:17
Yeah, and my oldest, Travis, he was not a pleaser. For him to be our first was tough because he had a hard time in elementary school. He would just escape into books. I remember asking him about a school day, “Well, how was your school day?” And he’s like, “Oh, it was fine.” “Well, what’d you learn?” “Nothing.” “Well, what did you do?” “Well, I read this entire book,” and he would have read, in second grade, an entire Harry Potter book in one day. And I’m like, “If you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing in school, I don’t know that you should get that far.” And he’s like, “It’s fine.”

I remember having conferences with his teachers, and the reading became a problem for him. It was one of his biggest strengths, but also a problem. The teacher would literally threaten to throw his book out the window. He was content to be in his desk with a book all day, but in conversation, you could never be quite sure what he was going to say to you. You might not like it. And then our youngest, Ben, he’s easygoing. He doesn’t particularly care a lot about school, but he does well enough. He’s trying to be a professional paintball player. That’s his goal right now, which I always thought was kind of bizarre, but it actually has opened some doors. He’s been traveling all over and doing things because of this. It’s neat to see, and all my kids have traveled. I think I’ve mentioned this to you before, but 90% of my life I’ve lived in a four-mile radius of my home. Well, my school is about six miles away. Most of what we do is either at my dad’s house or my sister’s house right next door just in Huntertown.

But my kids have all traveled a little bit. Travis did a study abroad. He actually went to his undergrad at a little liberal arts school in Grinnell, Iowa. One of the reasons he chose that was they had a high percentage of students that do study abroad. So, he did a study abroad where he was in Copenhagen. In Europe, I guess it’s really easy just to jump around country to country once you’re there. And so, he did all of that. Unfortunately, it was the right when COVID hit in 2020. So, it got cut short, and he had to come home then. And then my daughter, she was a high-level futsal player. She played soccer as well—she was a goalkeeper, but futsal was her favorite. It’s played indoor with a little bit harder of a ball on a basketball court. It’s five-on-five, I think. She played futsal at a really high level and got to play with a national team. They went to Costa Rica and Argentina, and she got to do some trips like that because of futsal. And now Ben with his paintball, he was supposed to go to Paris with a national team, but that got canceled for COVID. He did get to go to Guadalajara, Mexico for a paintball tournament, and he’s got a couple of teams he plays for that travel quite a bit. My wife usually goes with them. She likes to go with them on some of those trips, but I’m usually more content just to stay home.

Andy Vantrease  26:23
It’s really funny for me to hear that you have a six-mile radius and 90% of your time is spent at home, because I met you on this extravagant, epic adventure to Montana that you had last year. I want to hear about what your internal process was of choosing to spend this grant opportunity that you had gotten at a place like the Feathered Pipe Ranch. Can you tell me what type of opportunity you were looking for and how you happened upon it?

Tim Sloffer  26:58
It’s a Lilly Teacher Creativity grant. It’s for Indiana teachers, and you can read about the things that people are doing. They’re all so different. There’s a lot of cool things that they’re funding and making possible. I knew that I wanted to write a grant for the Lilly thing. A lot of times what I’ll do is I just start thinking, like, what’s something that I would like to do that I would never do on my own unless—

Andy Vantrease  27:23
It’s paid for.

Tim Sloffer  27:24
Yeah, basically. And so, I started thinking about things that I enjoy. At one point, I was like, “Maybe I’ll do something with pickleball.” I get these weird, random things. I’m like, “How can I make pickleball sound exciting?” And then with COVID and just being stuck indoors, I just started feeling “blah.”  I was reading about yoga and wellness and those kinds of things. As a wrestling coach, I dealt with some things when I used to wrestle around with my oldest son Travis in the room when he wrestled. I was his coach his senior year, and I’d been less able to do that just because of aches and pains and back issues. And like I said, athletics was a big part of my life. I felt like I was losing some functionality and mobility. It’s kind of disappointing when you’re growing old, and you can’t enjoy physically some of the things that have been a big part of your life to that point. I’ve been able to find other things that I enjoy that are less physical than wrestling.

So, I was just trying to think of ways to figure out this body, and Googling things like wellness retreats, yoga retreats, and outdoors scenic places. A lot of different places popped up, but when the Feathered Pipe popped up, I was like, “Oh, this one looks kind of neat.” I’m reading about it, and then I look at the retreat and realize that it wasn’t just one thing, but rather a place that’s hosting all these experts in their field to present. When you write a grant, at least for me, when I write a Lilly grant, I’m trying to think of something that I can sustain. It’s not meant to be a one-week thing or a weekend vacation. It’s supposed to be a big deal, like a life-changing experience. And it should take a lot of time and have a lot to it. I thought about going to some different places, like a yoga retreat here and one over here, but I got to the Feathered Pipe website and was reading about it. I’m thinking, “Boy, I think I could write this in a way that shows that I’m going to see all aspects of wellness, and I’m going to be surrounded by this beautiful scenic place. And this one spot can hit the whole thing,” which also is nice because then it lasts even longer since you’re not paying for multiple flights. You’re there in one place. So, I started putting that together, and reading about it, and looking at the schedule. I found this five-week timeframe that worked for me.

Andy Vantrease  30:01
Tell me about the five programs that you participated in—lay out some experiences that you had at each one. What did you learn from them?

Tim Sloffer  30:11
I started with Functional Medicine, which was awesome. If I’m looking back, as far as actual changes in my lifestyle that I’ve made, that included some blood work that I did ahead of time, and then sat down with Dr. Lamb and Dr. Stone to talk about some things. He gave me some advice on some supplements or vitamins that might be helpful, as well as small nutritional things I’ve applied. I think they’re making a difference. I haven’t done new blood work again since then, but that was a neat way to start. And I think it was actually their first time doing that one.

Andy Vantrease  30:45
It was.

Tim Sloffer  30:46
All the groups are so unique and interesting. I kind of learned that as I was there, just the flow of the week and how it goes with the guests. There’s that feeling-out period, and then there’s the time to explore the Ranch, and maybe an activity where you go out and do something. By the end of the week, everybody’s just in tears because they’re going to miss everybody so much. And you keep going through that flow over and over again.

Andy Vantrease  31:12
Yeah, you were probably on an emotional rollercoaster, making all these new friends and then they leave and you’re still there. Then more friends, and then they leave and you’re still there. That’s how we feel as staff.

Tim Sloffer  31:24
Yeah, there were a lot of discussions that were intense things, dealing with trauma and how that presents in the body. It was neat stuff to talk about and to learn about. Then I did the Iyengar Yoga with Marla Apt—that was the next one. I didn’t have a lot of yoga experience, but that was very different than any experience I’ve ever had with yoga. I really liked it, but it was so intense. It was two sessions a day, and each session was multiple hours. I just remember, towards the end of the week, going into that evening session thinking, “I don’t know if I can do it again.” But that’s about the time they let you do a restorative pose so you can kind of rest up. I think that’s the week that Heidi told me, “You don’t have to do at all. It’s okay.” That’s probably the other biggest thing that I’ve taken away—when Heidi brought that point home with me about listening to your body, and how you don’t have to push. In fact, that was a big thing about yoga, and how it’s okay to challenge yourself but you don’t have to push. My experience with athletics and the physical aspect of my life has always been about pushing harder. And I think that’s been what has gotten me to the point where I do deal with some injuries, because it’s always like, “You just got to push harder.”

Andy Vantrease  32:52
That’s such a mainstream narrative to anybody coming from an athletic background who has usually been taught that mindset of “No pain, no gain. Push through it.” It’s such an interesting dynamic, because your body is the vehicle with which you’re doing the sport, but you’re almost told to not listen to it. That’s such great advice from Heidi. And that type of advice from yoga teachers, in my experience with yoga, is always really helpful too, because I think it even helps those of us who are people pleasers or want to be the “good student.” There’s even part of it where, if the teacher, coach, or somebody who is in some form of authority is telling me to do something, I’m going to try my best to do that. And with yoga, that same thing that happened to you also happened to me where I started to actually be taught to listen to myself. That has been a practice that has really helped me in a lot of other areas of life, not even just with the physical side of things—definitely that, but also the ways that I go, “Well, where am I not listening to my body? And where am I not listening to myself in other parts of life?”

Tim Sloffer  34:15
Right, and just being able to communicate what I’m experiencing too. Marla was amazing, because she’d be like, and this is an exaggeration obviously, but she’d be like, “Well, just kind of move your fourth rib to the left.” She’d describe in such great detail, and I can’t imagine even having that kind of body awareness and control. I could try to describe to her what was going on, and she would always have the right prop or thing to help me get the most out of stuff. I remember after that week, just feeling like that made a difference. All of a sudden, I’m walking with my shoulders back. It was good. I really enjoyed that yoga, but I also enjoyed knowing that I can rest some or I can sit some poses out.

Andy Vantrease  35:02
Right, and that’s okay. It’s more than okay. What teachers want students to do is be in-tune enough to know exactly what you need, and to ask for it. Even that communication is so interesting too, like having that relationship with a teacher just to be able to say, “Hey, this is what’s going on with me, do you have any advice?” And also, you are totally in control of what you do. So, you did Functional Medicine, you did the Iyengar with Marla, then you did Bhakti yoga with Nat Kendall. What was that experience like for you?

Tim Sloffer  35:39
If I’m being honest, that was the one I was most wary of. When I read about it, it said they were going to do chanting. I remember when I first got the notification that I received the grant, I was sharing the idea with some of my students. This was when I was teaching seniors, and one girl in the class was like, “I’m gonna look this place up, Mr. Sloffer.” She’s looking it up, and she goes, “I don’t know about this place, Mr. Sloffer. There are zero negative reviews of this place.” I say, “Well, that’s good, isn’t it?” And all the kids start shaking their heads. They’re like, “No, that’s not good. There should be at least one person.” And they’re all worried, saying, “Is this some kind of cult, Mr. Sloffer? Are you going to come back to us?” It’s different to them, and to me, too. These aren’t things that I’ve really experienced a lot of before.

Andy Vantrease  36:26
Did it feel like a religious thing?

Tim Sloffer  36:29
I just wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was so pleasantly surprised with the whole experience. It was awesome when we would do a session in the morning. And then he would end that with doing the—and I’m probably going to say this wrong—but the Hanuman Chalisa. He would do that, and I remember just sitting there on that yoga deck with the mountains and the lake and everything right there as he’s playing that. And it’s beautiful. He did it every morning. I think I stayed for it every single time because I thought, “This is something I’m going to miss,” so I wanted to hear that. I’ve looked for recordings of that, but none of them sound like him. I found maybe one recording of him doing it. I really enjoyed that.

Andy Vantrease  37:15
He’s incredible.

Tim Sloffer  37:16
But then also, in one of the first sessions, we’ve kind of done our thing, and he’s starting to do the back-and-forth chant. I didn’t feel like it was a religious thing, but it did remind me of when I’m a kid at church camp or Bible study where the kids are singing back-and-forth. It didn’t feel that unfamiliar to me. We’re sitting there, the music’s cool, everybody’s vibing to it, and it’s neat. And then I’m barely able to pick up exactly what to say, and he’ll do one and then he’ll look at somebody in the group. All of a sudden, that means they’re going to do a solo with him next. They’re going to sing that back to him. And I’m just like, “Oh, boy.” And then next thing you know, he’s looking right at me. And I’m like, “Oh, this is going to happen. I am going to sing back.” And that happened, and I got through it. And I was like, “You know what? That wasn’t so bad. I can handle this.” But that was totally out of my comfort zone.

Andy Vantrease  38:18
I always close my eyes when that starts to happen. If I can’t see him pointing at me-

Tim Sloffer  38:24
Then he can’t expect me to do it.

Andy Vantrease  38:27
It is nerve wracking, but it’s also really liberating.

Tim Sloffer  38:31
I was there to get out of my comfort zone and learn new things. And there was a good connection with the group. Nobody was like, “Oh my gosh, that was awful. We won’t call on him again.” You never felt like that. Everybody was uplifting and kind, and it was cool. I really enjoyed it. It was something that I was a little bit wary of—I don’t know if afraid of is the right word—but something that I just wasn’t sure about ended up being one of my favorite things. So, the next week with Mindful Unplug, and the drum circle, that was awesome. Everybody’s connecting. All the groups are fun, but that group felt to me like they were all old friends. Like there were a lot of them who had been coming to this particular experience multiple times.

Andy Vantrease  39:16
Yeah, there are a lot of regulars in that group.

Tim Sloffer  39:19
Right. They kind of took me in. Donna and Diane, if they listen—hello! I miss those ladies. They were a lot of fun, and they kind of took me in. Although I told myself I wasn’t going to try to say a lot of names because I just don’t remember. I don’t want to forget somebody, and I met so many people.

Andy Vantrease  39:37
What was it like for you socially? Although there’s only one retreat at a time at the Ranch, and it’s not a huge place, it’s still 20 to 30 new people each time. I know for me, I have to get in a pretty good rhythm with, like, when is social time? When do I have my ‘me’ time? When can I decompress after I do my Storymapping sessions? Things like that, because when you’re there for a week, you can kind of say yes to everything. Yes, I’m going to go for this hike to see the sunset, or yes, I’m going to stay up and drink wine all night with these people. And it’s just a week, so you can do whatever you want. But when you’re there long enough to settle in, it becomes a little bit of a different rhythm and a different balance.

Tim Sloffer  40:22
Yeah. I remember when I first told my brother I was doing this trip and explaining how it was going to work, and he was like, “You’re going to meet a lot of people.” I didn’t think about that, but it was definitely a part of it—just meeting so many new people and telling them, “Oh yeah, I’m here because of a grant. Yeah, I’m the guy that’s been here for five weeks.” And retelling that over and over again. I’m not a super social person either. Not only is my radius small, but I have a few friends that I like to hang out with on a regular basis. It’s mostly family. And I think I’m introverted, in that I get my energy a lot from downtime.

Even with so many people, there’s still so many opportunities for solitude on the Ranch because it’s so big. And if you want to go off on your own, you can go off on your own and find your time. But I almost feel guilty now because I feel like I made all these great friends. I’m not one for keeping in contact or writing. I don’t do Facebook or any of that stuff, so it’s not like I’ve really kept in contact with anybody. I think by the end, I kind of felt like I was part of the actual Ranch and not one of the guests. I was hanging out with Sam in the kitchen, or I’d ride with Sam to pick up vegetables or whatever he had ordered that that week, or we’d meet the guy in the truck at the bottom of the hill, and ride into town with Matt and Howard to get Howard a case for his phone, or that kind of thing.

Andy Vantrease  41:53
You totally became part of the core crew.

Tim Sloffer  41:56
Because those were the people that stayed the whole time. I was playing tag or ball or whatever Zia was interested in at the time. It was great being able to see her energy and interactions at the Ranch, and there were just a lot of special things going on.

Andy Vantrease  42:13
Yeah. And for those listening, Zia is a three-year-old—Crystal’s daughter. You became her best friend last summer.

Tim Sloffer  42:23
Well, it just depended on the week because I know one week there was a mother and daughter there and—

Andy Vantrease  42:28
Oh, yeah. She loved that girl. She didn’t care about any of us that week. She was over us. She had a new friend. You ended with Judith—what was that last week like? Did that wrap things up for you in a good way?

Tim Sloffer  42:44
Yeah, it did because I love just laying there. And I know that’s not, like, all that is. I’m pretty sure I snored a few times, so I wasn’t necessarily doing it right. But I liked the different positions that she would have you relax in, especially after some of the more intense stuff that we’ve done.

Andy Vantrease  43:03
Yeah, I love Restorative yoga.

Tim Sloffer  43:05
Now I will say, again, as I was getting closer and closer to the end, I was getting a little more homesick and feeling a little more like I was ready to go, but not wanting to rob myself of the moment in Montana either. I wanted to be present at the Ranch while I’m there, but also, I can feel my mind wandering to, “Okay, I’m ready to be home. I’m ready to see the family. Oh, yes, school starts next week.” I feel like a lot of that Restorative stuff was just the breathing and the meditation. And to me, those are good ways to deal with stress and that kind of thing.

I think I mentioned this to you the other day that—I can’t remember if I came home on a Friday or Saturday, but I think it was a Saturday. And then that Monday was my first work day. There weren’t kids at school yet, but it was a work day, and Tuesday was the first day of school. I was on a new assignment this year: I went from teaching in the 10/12 side with mostly juniors and seniors to a new assignment with freshmen only. I was in a new room, and I hadn’t set anything up in my new room yet, and my technology wasn’t working that first day when I’m trying to get everything ready. I lost it. I swear, I lost it on that Monday, and I kind of snipped at one of our technology guys. He’s a great guy, and he’s super helpful, and I walked down later and apologized to him. In thinking about it, I’m just like, “You got to remember how to deal with stress!” You spend five weeks in a place where everything is wonderful, and you don’t have a lot of stressors on the Ranch. When you’re a guest on the Ranch, everything’s taken care of, from food to whatever you feel like doing. It was a, “rip that band aid off and jump right in” kind of thing.

Andy Vantrease  44:58
Wow, you just gave yourself one day to acclimate. Any kind of retreat like that is allowing your nervous system to shift into that ability to relax, which is really important for your body to do all of the healing internally that needs to happen when you can sleep well, eat well, and not have that stress. But then we go back to life. We go back to our jobs, and our families, and the responsibilities and the duties that we have, and the stresses of regular life. A huge part of what we talk about when retreating is the integration back into whatever your current reality and schedule is. So, I want to ask, what have been some of the big takeaways for you, or what have been some of the lessons that you’ve been able to apply from all of those really different workshops to your life? How has that showed up in the last six months?

Tim Sloffer  46:04
One of the big ones is I think I listen to my body better now. Since then, I’ve been getting back into my exercise routine, or my wellness routine. I think I’m more gentle with my body—I’m not pushing as hard. But I also feel like I’m getting better results because I’m focused on things like rest and recovery, and eating better things, and making sure my sleep is good. As far as in the teaching aspect, I think one of the things that I can take from this and have a little bit, but I think there’s more to explore with it, is the idea of that whole Mindful Unplug thing. I’m sharing that more with my students about just how empowering and how healthy it is to turn stuff off and be present. Actually, one of the Mindful Unplug books that Thich Nhat Hanh wrote—they gave us a little book of his—I just made a poster with a quote from him. It’s up in my room. And I don’t even know if it’s the best one because I’m sure that quote is a translation. But, I just have this poster in the room that says, “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.” And that was a quote from one of the things that I read. So I keep that up.

Andy Vantrease  46:04
You have that up in your classroom?

Tim Sloffer  46:13
Yeah, I actually have it up twice in my classroom. I have it up as a poster, but I also have it attached right to my desk at my computer where I just see it, reminding myself to be in the moment and be present, not only for yourself, but for your students—available to what the moment has for you.

Andy Vantrease  47:45
The tagline of our podcast is the “magic of living a connected life.” And I’m curious of what that means to you? Or when you think about yourself living a connected life or being connected, what does that feel like? What comes up?

Tim Sloffer  48:05
I think that’s an important thing for me to think about, because I can sometimes isolate and live within myself, but I feel so much more fulfilled when I’m pushing myself to connect. Obviously, my connections with my family are super important to me. As the kids start to grow older to that point where they’re starting to leave, thinking about, “Well, I hope those connections are strong enough that our relationships stay strong.” And that I keep getting to hear from them, because my connections with my family are obviously my most important connections.

That was a huge thing I realized at the Ranch. There were so many people with so many different perspectives, and so many different thoughts on life. But everyone is so kind and interesting and has so much to share. I think if you’re blocking some of those connections, you’re just missing out. And I think sometimes I might miss out on some things because I was unwilling to get out there and make connections. Something Howard said, that maybe India used to say about ripples: People would come, and the hope was that they’re going to gain something from that experience, and you don’t know what ripples they’re going to have as they go out into the world. I don’t know what all my connections are, or who I’ve influenced. I can talk about people who have said something or that stuck with me, and that changed my perspective. And maybe I’ve said something at some point in time that stuck with a kid, student, athlete, or one of my kids. As we keep making those connections, it’s just knowing that you’re not alone. That you’re in a community.

Andy Vantrease  49:45
I’m glad you reminded me of what India used to say, and that’s kind of how we hope that the programs at the Ranch operate. It’s not even just about the people who get to come there. It’s about what those people then go back, and who they are in their lives. What you’re doing in your life, how you’re changing, and the perspective that you’re gaining, that’s overflowing to everybody that you come in contact with. And then those people are overflowing to everybody that they come in contact with. It’s just this idea that the things that we do matter. It’s even the idea behind this podcast too, the Dandelion Effect. It’s just another way of saying that ripple effect, where something that we talked about today, maybe lands with somebody that’s listening, and they get a new perspective, just like Howard’s words stuck with you, or some of your mom’s words stuck with a lot of people that you’ve heard from. And then they carry that on, and they get to change other people. When you start to think about life that way, I think there’s a lot of really interesting meaning behind living.

Tim Sloffer  50:59
I will get back there someday. I don’t know when, but I hope to get back there someday and maybe bring family—at least my wife. I don’t know where my kids will be at that point. But I will cherish that five weeks that I spent there. It’ll be a big part of who I am. Thanks to everybody there. I can’t wait until I see you again sometime.

Andy Vantrease  51:33
Tim Sloffer. Isn’t he just the epitome of a wholesome midwest guy? Tim’s story is both inspiring and heartwarming, and I appreciate his candor about life and learning. Having him at the Ranch last summer was so fun, and he’s right–by the end, he was part of the core crew, eating dinners with staff and going on ride-alongs with the chef to pick up supplies and produce.

I find Tim’s humor and outlook on life to be pleasantly contagious, and it’s nearly impossible not to feel uplifted and lighter after talking with him. One of my favorite stories was him getting through the call-and-response chanting during Nat Kendall’s Bhakti Yoga retreat, especially after admitting that it was the week that he was most hesitant about. He got out of his comfort zone, embraced the unknown and turns out–it was one of the highlights of his whole Montana adventure! There’s a life lesson in there, for sure.

To learn more about the Lilly Teacher Creativity Grant, visit lillyendowment.org. If you enjoyed this episode, you may also like to hear from Dr. Joseph Lamb, one of the doctors that Tim learned from during his time at the Ranch. His episode, The Role of Spirit in Functional Medicine is episode #11 and you can find it in the Dandelion Effect Podcast archives on any podcast listening platform.

A special thank you to Matthew Marsolek and the Drum Brothers, whose music you hear at the beginning and end of this podcast, as well as Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, who first turned us on to the phenomenon of the Dandelion Effect and how ideas move through the world.

This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, a 501c3 dedicated to healing, education, community and empowerment. If you’d like to help support this project, please visit FeatheredPipe.com/gratitude or leave a review on Apple podcasts and share with your friends. Be sure to tune in to our next episode in two weeks. We cannot wait to share another amazing conversation with you. Until then, have a beautiful day!

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