Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"I teach them to learn with their feet"

On my last morning in Colorado I woke up to a dusting of snow.  How many times over the years I’ve woken up in that very same spot to the sunlight cutting through the windows. And every time, when I wake to see snow I can’t help but have the same of feeling of wanting right then and there to get outside to play. Snow is exciting. I put my coat over my pajamas and looked at my shoe options. The rushed packing for the short trip provided limited options: running shoes, strappy sandals, black danskos.
Damn my feet were going to get wet; I stepped into the danskos, their winning element over the running shoes: an inch platform and no ventilation holes.  Walking out the door, I remembered a pair of too large plastic boots that I had shoved into the back of a closet some time ago. Hoping to find them in the place I remembered, I rummaged through the closet in my old room. Sure enough. Out with the danskos, into the rubber boots.

Single sprigs of green grass poked up out of the layer of snow here and there. The sun had begun to melt the light layer as it warmed the trunks of the trees and rocks. Outside it was beautiful. There is something about sunshine, newly fallen snow and chilled air. My sockless feet felt the cold through the thin rubber boots. I turned to see nothing but my footprints leading from the house, to the barn, to the garden…. My trail in the snow.

I thought about a conversation that I had back in Oregon some weeks before. Halloween night actually. We were at one of Corvallis’s classic dive bars, amusing ourselves with the horrible karaoke, $1 PBR, and creative fashions that emerge one night out of the year. Walking back from the bathroom, I crossed a guy sitting by himself on the stairs. No costume, no drink. As I walked by, he softly said “I like your wings.” Now normally I would smile, nod and keep walking. Instead I stopped and replied “where is your costume?” he answered “eh, I wore it last night.”

He asked me what I was doing in Corvallis; I explained my master’s program and very quickly a conversation evolved not about costumes, not about the bar, or of OSU; but about teaching people. He was passionate about teaching and showing people new things. From my years of doing the same, I’ve learned to see passion in teachers and in students. You can see it most in their eyes. When a person is truly passionate about something, their eyes change when they talk about it.

I’ve come to believe that it is not content that matters most in learning situations but instead it is the experience and it is what that experience invokes in each of us that weighs the heaviest. “I make them take off their shoes and feel the ground” He said. We are so accustomed to walking but how often do we actually take the time and feel what is under our feet? It was brilliant idea. He taught his science by feeling. He had people walk over objects and surfaces and explore what it felt like to the skin on the bottom of their feet. Through this process, he taught about marine life, and forestry and soils all by having people walk across them.

So I thought about this as I walked through the snow, it was so very cold; the idea of taking off my boots was not appealing but even still as the cold seeped through the thin rubber of my boots I thought about the concept of learning with my feet. The tools that we use to teach one another, so many, sometimes on purpose but other times we pass along learning experiences without ever even knowing we’ve done so.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

easier through a lens

Beauty comes in many forms. I'm not sure why but sometimes it is much easier to see through a camera lense.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Making Churchela

 I'd like to lay claim to making the time these days to undergo such a project without an ulterior motive; but alas this not such a project. Turns out adding in a "for fun" 4 credit course is not maybe the best idea when trying to balance out an unusually hectic fall but needless to say a anthropology of food class has provided some interesting learning opportunities. Spending a Sunday afternoon making  Churchela with a group of lovely ladies from my class proved to be quite an experience. Churchela stems from Georgia among other places. The most simplistic explanation: a string of nuts dipped in a condensed grape juice left to dry which creates a sweet, candy-like treat.

I had been on a ankle rolling endeavor to collect the walnuts hidden among the grass in S's front yard and they turned out to come in quite handy for this project. Another one of my churchela comrades collected the end of the season grapes from a neighbors yard. We dug up string and needles and the project commenced. 

We mashed the grapes down in a big pot, bringing it to a boil until the liquid began to thicken. Straining out seeds and skins, we returned the liquid to the pot and put it over low heat until it reduced itself to a near 3rd of what it had been. The meantime found us cracking and stringing walnuts (and attempting go- they broke and ended up in bellies instead of on strings)  

When the grape juice was ready, we thickened it ever so slightly more with a handful of flour. The best part then: dipping the strings so they became gooey messes. Finally hanging them to dry for a few days and va-la Churchela. We had four of us working on the project and we figure that we spent somewhere in the realm of four hours to make our ordeal; in reality the project required something like 16 hand hours to make. Probably not something I'd just whip up on a whim but pretty damn cool to see the process through. Our first crack at the time-honored Georgian treat looked not so much like the pictures I pulled up on the internet; we later determined we needed the grape liquid to have reduced even more. Even still, the best part came in the process of making, the wine drinking that paralleled the project and the conversations.

This whole project was brought on by the visit of Ken Albala, a do it yourself food advocate. I picked up his book "the lost art of real cooking" which offers some great recipes that connect the maker back into the process. Albala's Blog covers a whole array of projects and recipes and is more than worth the visit.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I was first introduced to the Art of Spinning in Scotland. Staying with an amazing couple in Penicuik, they introduced me to a family friend that spun so much wool that the shelf lining the entire living room was full of spindles of beautifully spun fiber. literally hundreds of spindles. Over the course of an afternoon I got the crash course on how to prep the fiber;  washing, picking, carding and drafting. And then came the best part, the spinning. She loaned me a hand spindle "to learn on" while I stayed in Penicuik. Well....I learned that the art of spinning is quite a challenging one. And at the end of my day, 11pm would find me standing as high as I could possibly get on a chair or table or bed, the higher I could get, the less I had to stop my handspindle; I could let the yarn keep growing and growing. BUT I learned that it sure is disappointing when your yarn busts off at the mid-section  and then all the rest of it uncoils itself. Yes it is truly an art. So in leaving Scotland, I took something like 40 feet of yarn with me, only that forty feet took me almost a week to produce.

I really think that sometimes in life you're just supposed to learn things. And life will just keep pitching those opportunities at you until either A.) you accept or B.) you throw your arms up in the air and run like a bat out of hell. So a year later found me living at the the end of the road, deep in the heart of the Chugach Mountains. A winter care taker at the Eagle River Nature Center. Alaska is different in the winter. It is not like the summer where every place you look there are visitors. No, the people that survive the winter really want to be there, especially those that are willing to make the drive back into the valley in the depths of January. we would get the fire started early. At 10am they would come, a guild  of lovely ladies (and sometimes a fella or two) to spin wool. Bags of fiber in tow they would daintily position their wheels in a semi-circle around the fire.  For two hours, their hands would pull and turn. They welcomed me into their circle and taught me the beginning ropes to the wheel. Now I thought my hand spindle was impressive, but damn if the wheel didn't spin out yarn 50 times faster than my own hands could do it. And so it went, one weekend every month they came and each time I would learn something new.  "Someday" I told myself.

I got a phone call from my mom about 2 weeks ago. She had returned from an amazing trip into the mountains of Colorado. "I got you the best gift ever" but she wouldn't tell me. She left me hanging, I'd just have to see it the next time I came through Colorado. And circumstances played out, Colorado came sooner rather than later and I found myself there this last weekend. I walked into my old room and what sat in the corner? Well a spinning wheel of course. An antique wheel that fits me just perfectly. It's going to require a little doctors visit (I think there has got to be spinning wheel doctors, right?) I'm in love. another hobby. the going joke around these parts is that I need a "dork shed." Yes it is going to contain all my strange hobbies- growing mushrooms, microscopes, my baking experiments........ and now the spinning wheel. I think the dork shed is just going to have to be a yurt.

Monday, October 17, 2011

In Passing

When your footsteps walk a path day in and day out, changing that path can be the most challenging of times. We are learning this. The learning process is hard. But, I think in passing we are also learning what it means to lean on others especially when your legs don't quite feel as sturdy as they always have. We are learning the importance of stories; and the importance of listening.  Who ever claimed that "laughter is sometimes the best medicine" really was onto something. Still, I think it is also important to remember that medicine also comes in the form of letting your eyes rain, especially when you can let them rain with others. Nothing would grow if it never rained. And with the close of a day brings the changing of seasons, and of chapters, and of times. You never know what you'll find when you leave the beaten path.                                           

Monday, October 10, 2011


Four years ago found me deep in the Sierra foothills of  California, not far from Murphys. Here I believe fostered my appreciation for wines. Murphys is a quaint town which offers some of the most amazing small scale vineyards, shops and beautiful surroundings. It was here that I discovered my liking for port, and have not since discovered one I like as fondly as the small lots produced by Zucca Mountain Vineyards. But now, as life has moved further north, my palate has shifted to pinots, and rightly so as it is the heart of the Willamette Valley. A whole new perspective has been blessed upon my dinner table, a diversity in a single varietal that I never could have wrapped my mind around any other way than living in just this place. This past weekend, in fine celebration of M's engagement, we brushed the surface of the local wineries, a craftily chosen five of over 400 located here in this region. A favorite of the bunch, Brooks, which bestowed upon us a private tasting, an amazing host and a flight of wines that would please any connoisseur. A Lovely way to celebrate, enjoy and experience....

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I'm convinced. One of the finest joys in life come from watching others. One of these days I going to make someone very angry with my camera. not on purpose of course. but yes the day will arrive that the person I take a picture of will actually not be so stoked on the notion. they will tell me about it.  But that is okay. People are at their very finest when they don't realize they are under the lens, When my picture is being taken, it makes me feel like i'm under a microscope too. I understand. yet I think the idea of pictures, a moment frozen in time, are invaluable. they capture what our memory cannot always contain and what are eyes sometimes fail to recognize.

There is a man at the market that plays the fiddle. He might just be my favorite. Maybe not so much because of his music. no, I think more so because he is he. At that very moment he is perfect. The other night, riding home late on bikes I came across a scene I longed my camera for but accepted the memory as a close second option. I watched a woman in a white dress soulfully play a violin. barefoot, she moved only to the changing of the pitch. In front of her stood a man. black suit and tie. two feet in front of her. nothing else mattered at that moment. The moment was perfect. It defined every essence of beauty I could possibly dream up. Take time out of your walk, your busy day. 10 seconds. stop and look around you next time you are in a crowd of people. you never know what your eyes may see.  

Saturday, September 3, 2011

the love-love situations

                                        Oregon Wheat Fields

Some people have cats and dogs; I have ladies.  Still some days off from laying; soon.... They were Easter babies, hand picked out from multiple smelly bins of fluffy tufts that ran around on spindly toothpick legs. they slept in the bedroom for the first few nights until it was quickly determined that sleep+light+peeping babies is not an equitable formula. So out they went to the laundry room where they lived until the Rubbermaid nest could no longer contain them. Home now? a backyard wilderness of sorts complete with red chicken coop. perfect. So this is another one of the projects that so heartily fills the Corvallis time. What's more... I wrote not long ago about the wonder of the appearing plums in the backyard. oh they only scratched the surface of my backyard explorations. What could possibly be better than 100's of mini plums? Why a fig tree of course. I had never in my life eaten a ripe fig off a tree. Turns out when your neighbor's tree overhangs your fence and they  show minimal interest on the horizon in the plump round ripening green orbs, well now life is in your favor. damn fresh figs are good. I gave myself a belly ache three days in a row to the point I had to actually physically remove myself from under the tree for lack of any self-control over fig consumption. A love-hate (read love-love) situation.  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Monday, August 8, 2011

Waiting for them to fall

 Another step in the year of food preservation... what excites me almost more than these blueberries? We got a deep freezer! translation = hand picked food for the winter & no more booby traps set as we open our months stuffed small indoor freezer. I recently brought back fish from my month up north and had just about pushed the three shelved wonder out of commission. but no more.

Often I'm asked "how do you like Corvallis?" my response 7 months ago was very different than it is today. It is like a bit of a treasure box. you have to keep your eyes open and that is when you start to find all the secrets. The day I got home T send me out back to our patio and told me to look around..... Nothing other than confusion. "take two steps forward and look down" still confusion. "look harder." what sat there but a small red round ball. "pick it up and eat it" T told me. It was a wee plum. Our tree out back had started to fruit these amazingly tasty little bits of yumminess. About twice a day we go out and are greeted by 10 new plums that are perfectly ripe and sweet which have made their way from the high branches. We look like monkeys outside collecting them. Even the dogs are getting down on the action. We joked last night that we have 5 competitors for the goods. I'm a pretty savvy one, I even monkeyed my way up the tree in my dress and shook the branches until I got so entangled I was forced back to the ground or would have donated my dress to the tree as a peace offering. I guess I'm impatient.

Saturday found C and I at a organic pick your own blueberry patch just a few miles from my house. I'd never seen it before. In 45 minutes we had managed something like 20 lbs of blueberries. The giant berries were literally falling off the bushes. We continued our weekend excursion to a few local wineries. Many out here are family owned and located on a farm of sorts. They are just lovely. We debated trying to visit all the Oregon ones in the next year to come but were quickly shut down by the realization that there are over 450. We'd really be lushes. C picked up a winery tour map and we've compromised our original plan to hitting up a few in each location. A more manageable endeavor. The day continued to a friends house to try their newest home brew experiment. "We gave this one a protein rest" they happily explained. Oh how I love living amongst fellow scientists!

C later helped me sort and clean the berries which Sunday operations turned them into freezer packs, dehydrated berries and jars of goodness. T even put up some heady jars of pickles. We've realized once the canner is up and going we best make the most of it. It turns into quite the kitchen process. The experimental batch; a blueberry, plum and honey compote. I have a gut feeling I will be happy with it come December on waffles. 

For my birthday last year my cousin gave me a book called "the complete book of home preserving." I LOVE this book. It has served as a great reference guide to modern canning. Not only does it cover the basics but it also offers new and fun ideas to putting up everyday fruits and vegis. Highly recommended to my fellow crunchy friends out there. I was blessed with growing up in a family that never put down this art. I can remember from a very young age "beet time." you could tell it was summer when the baskets were full of beets and zucchini from the garden and the kitchen smelled of fresh cut vegis and vinegar. This past time has now followed me into adulthood, my mother donating her canning pot to my Oregon efforts. to those who have a desire to learn- there is nothing better than opening up your own jar of jam on freezing cold day of winter and remembering how warm and lovely it was outside the day you put it up.

Friday, August 5, 2011


Sometimes order is Chaos but oh how I love it so.....

Sunday, July 31, 2011

summer is almost dark

Where did the time go? One month. I saw the stars two nights ago for the first time in 4 weeks. And after all of that; I realize how much you can truly fit into 30 days. kayaks and lonely beaches, Microscopes and children, rain and sunshine, yoga and bicycles, alpine and sand, new land. I spent my last night in Alaska with two dear Colorado friends who also will begin their journey south after spending a year in the land of wild. this time was different. I feel like a tourist. Am i happy? indeed. I had never spent a summer on the road systems; following campers and watching people's eyes light up as they pull over on the turnigan arm to take pictures 4 feet from the highway. I feel privileged to have the experience of new places. to share these places. and so off again to Oregon. Another year.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

off the radar

Oregon Sunshine 
Multnomah Falls
     Madison, Wisconsin   

                                                                                              Indiana BBQ                                                    
Homer Alaska 

Off the radar.... summer has began in full swing. A month of travels, of reunions with beautiful friends, of places dear to my heart. For the last 9 months I have lived in Oregon, a second round in the universe that exists around a college campus. I watched Oregon go to sleep over the winter. watched snow fall and explored places covered in moss and lava rock. I've learned what it means to live close to my food, my small community is saturated with farms and local goods. And then the spring came and I watched Oregon wake back up, the foxglove pop up all over the hills, the rivers flow full force. I watched the sun return to the sky and scare away the rains and dark clouds that seemed to exist each morning. Did I mention I am now a bit of a champ at riding my bike in the rain (except when it is dark, stormy and I forget my lights... but we'll talk no further of that one!) Indeed, I experienced a new home. And yet today, again, I write from a place I love so dearly. Someone recently told me that if you are unfinished than you will be summoned back but if your work is done than let it exist as a fond memory. I must not have completed my list because I am finding new adventures and seeing places that I never knew. To have loved and lost? No- to have loved and learned. this time I return  with knowledge of place. I know where to find what I love most- it exists at the lowest of tides.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


In David Arora’s  terms: “demoralized.”
we literally spend hours searching various burn areas; 1st year burns, 2nd year, 3rd year. Disturbed sites, Manzanita and Ceanothis thickets, loams & sands, slash piles…. Nothing.
 We discovered early season mushrooms of all shapes, colors and sizes; even a good number of false morels and an amazingly large conk. But, when it came right down to what we hunted- we found not one.
Not a single that is, until we gave up.  At that very moment what showed up right in-between my feet? A big fat black morel. And then another, and another…. And the story goes.
We ended up in an open forested area and found ourselves spotting them left and right. Morchellas everywhere. So I suppose the term demoralized explains exactly our affliction: it wasn’t until we stopped looking that we actually found what we desired most.
Morel of the story: the best things in life tend to pop up in the most unusual of places & at the times we expect them least. Keep an open mind.

**Looking for a fantastic fungi reference book that will blow your mind away? “Mushrooms Demystified” by David Arora. Throwing this beast in your backpack feels a bit like a brick so for our west coast outings I love “All the rain promises and more”; I leave the big un at home.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

pied de mouton

    the early arrivals.... the gardens are getting planted and the forest is beginning to bloom once again. Last weekend a small harvest of early mushrooms graced our egg scramble after a quick hillside foray. The season is upon us. The lettuce is starting to appear in small quantities on dinner plates and the spinach and kale has taken it's holding in the garden beds. The fava beans growing larger by the day. The tulips and daffodils have competition.  I sat one morning at the kitchen table, a cup of black coffee in hand and watched T carefully layout and count the new wallawalla onions that were bound for our modest beds. Up until recently the garden attire consisted of rubber boots and dainty steps. The back yard over the course of the winter months took on the consistency of  chocolate pudding; so much in fact that the dogs adapted to skirting the perimeter to avoid the sink. Curious to the project, Huckleberry (the furry foot) repeatedly stepped on the organized shoots. T pushed him back and scolded, but to no avail. I could do nothing more than sit back and smile at the site from my seat behind the glass.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

the power of magic

Magic places; we've all been to the place that you know holds magic because of the way it makes you feel. Sometimes it's under a tree, by a stream, maybe even an old barn or someones home. L and I recently got back from a venture in Kauai. The first portion of our trip, we stacked on packs and hiked our way into this valley. Unbelievable. So unbelievable in fact that on the day we were to depart, we instead spent the morning doing yoga on the beach, bathing in the stream and reading books. A Hawaiian monk seal visited the sands for a lofty nap. For 10 days we slept on beaches, explored trails, watched the sun disappear each evening into the sea. We drank wine, ate unmentionable amounts of chocolate and wild tomatoes. We realigned ourselves with a slower pace of life once again.
 Dreams, Desires, Love, and Exploration.... magic places.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Fava Beans and Compost Schemes

Sandy was my first yoga teacher. Her home sat in the forests of Bayfield outside of Durango. We would make little ventures out to her house on the weekends, winding our way back through the winter roads which remained shrouded in ice from the thick shadows cast by the evergreen trees. I remember most the baskets of beautiful nature artifacts, the crystals that sat on the window sills,  the petunia plants that she brought indoors to escape the killing frosts of winter. I remember the smell, it was earthy; like the woven mats that covered the wood floors. I remember sitting around her kitchen table, each one of us so young at the time, talking about life lists. "The beauty of a list is that you write on it what you want at that very moment. It can be anything" she told us. "When you accomplish that, you cross it off and move to another. If the time comes that you don't want it anymore, than you just take it off. It's that easy." Sandy was my introduction to lists. Now ten years later, I love them, they drive me. I think the best fulfillment of my lists happen when I can cross the items off and smile because I had forgotten that I had written that item there so long ago. I had forgotten that it was just an idea or adventure at one point and now it is reality. My lists today just keep growing but you know what? I find solitude in my list because it tells me that I have time. I have time to slow down and eventually I'll get to each of those items (if even I still want them there). Sometimes life gives you the opportunity to cross off pieces of the list at the best times, and had the opportunity come any earlier it just would not have been right. so what am I working on now? This is the precursor to the "I want a farm" item. I've been working on learning composting. I find myself suddenly introduced to individuals that I am amazed with, those that have tactful, beautiful ways to share that knowledge; I could not have asked for anything more. These particular pictures came from an afternoon of a compost workshop I arranged through the sustainability center. I was fortunate enough to have one of the best soils professors I have ever seen in action teach the down and dirty of outdoor composting. How did he do it? We dug through a horridly rancid smelling compost pile all the while he taught everyone about why it stunk (it had become waterlogged and anaerobic due to lack of oxygen.) He then showed everyone how to re-layer it into a healthy, well balanced C:N ratio lasagna style pile. Hands on work at it's finest. We ended the night by planting fava beans into the student cooperative housing garden beds. "If nothing else gets planted this year, at least they'll have fava beans."

Monday, February 7, 2011


(Tradition) the only explanation this blurry picture needs. I am a fool for these sentiments, however I think many of us really are. This particular tradition part of a Wednesday night, it only lasted a few months but came about just before our many roads shifted directions.
Being part of a community marks tradition, even if it seems like only a small one. Consider a new tradition and pull some people together. Maybe it is with friends, music, gardens, food, outdoors......