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.