knee-deep in higher learning

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Food of The Future: Part I

Don't mind me, 

I'm just browsing photos of historical buildings in Colombia, thinking about the future. 

What comes to mind when you think of "the future"?

Who knows whether we will need to operate ever more minuscule and intuitive technology, or fight the roving hordes who come running when they smell you roasting a radioactive squirrel in a hubcap oven? Or both?  It's the stuff of stories, and really, it's anyone's guess.

Except, I am going to make a wild-eyed prediction about the future. Something I say with all the zealous certainty of a tin foil cap wearing conspiracy theorist, or an old mom who took too many years to realize that dinner is a thing you really do have to make daily: in the future every living human is going to eat or try to eat, maybe even several times, everyday.

I know, kooky, right? But, I am willing to bet on it, which is why I believe in feeding kids well, and equipping them with the values and skills they will need to feed themselves and others as they grow up, because whatever the future looks like will be a result of what they do. And, what they do will be, in part, a result of what they learn now.

Whitney Houston was right!

"I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way."

So was Albert Camus,

"Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present."

The present is where I find myself, currently typing out this blog in Colombia, a country with a sensational food culture which comes from its vibrant history. When I consider what I wish the future of all the little food eaters would hold, I can't help but think of the past.

It seems that, in order to follow the teachings of Mrs. Houston and Mr. Camus, now is the time to strengthen the link between yesterday and tomorrow. For my friends and me, that is the purpose of today.  Well, this month, really.

Meet my friends, Juan Camilo and Marcela. We may just look like three dorks with a Subaru and a selfie stick, but in our minds, we are a gang of food rebels, trying to infuse the food of the future with, perhaps fading, skills from our past.

Thanks to an opportunity granted us by the Fundación Niños de Los Andes, here in Manizales, Colombia, 25 kids will be participating in a comprehensive workshop, where they get their hands dirty, sticky, and covered in paint, all in the name of eating better in the years to come.

Like the legs of a dining room table, this workshop has four principles upon which it stands.

1. Plant dinner: Dinner doesn't really start in the kitchen, or at the store, it starts with the soil.

So that's where we started, with rich soil for seed-starting and transplanting.

It makes sense to want our food to eat well too.

2. Intergenerational Culinary Instruction: that's just my lofty name for kids learning kitchen skills from adults.

Without hands-on familiarity, something like the lettuce we just planted seems pointless, and bread? Well that's just magic. Who can make that? While I would love to spawn a whole generational of crusty little artisans, that is not the goal here.

We want to spark who knows what in all the little brains by showing them that these skills are easy, well within reach, and too valuable to lose. What else might be possible?

3. The Art of Presentation: they say you first enjoy food with your eyes, which is why the best-tasting stuff will be passed over if it looks unappetizing. Not important when you're feeding yourself, but what if you want to enter the food system as a producer?

Aesthetics matters, so all Food of the Future participants are taught basic plating principles and invited to photograph their dish in our Caja de Luz (light box),

to diffuse light and bring all that high res yumminess into crystal clear focus.

4. To Market: later this month, we will complete our lessons with a day at the local farmers market, selling fare produced in our workshop. Participating kids will interact with the wider community, describe their work, and hopefully see some glimpse of the potential they possess while helping man a table for a Saturday.

We have just started, and already enjoyed many rewards from our first couple of classes. As we look forward to the days ahead, planting seeds and skills from the past in this fresh crop of people, we plan, prepare, involve, include, communicate, and share.

So keep watching this space, because who knows what wonders may grow!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Son Shine

The year was 2013, and my son and I were plotting the day's activities.

Me: George is studying space. Let's make a paper model of the solar system.
Henry: Okay, but it better be completely accurate. None of this, "The sun is the same size as Jupiter" business.
Me: Then the sun would have to be the size of a basketball, and the earth will still be minuscule!
Henry: I will not have a false model in this house!

And so, it started innocently enough, like most things around here. Our love for playing with art and science, and making messes, coupled with a zeal for accuracy that can only be described as Really Nerdy, led to us making our own physical representation of the corner of the universe we call The Solar System.

We finished all of the planets on day one, but the sun had to be just so.

It needed to be big, with rays and flares jutting off in every direction. Painting and gluing and painting tufts of tissue paper over every square centimeter of our orbited star, in our insatiable quest for accuracy, plus having lots of other stuff to do all the time, resulted in the sun taking over a year to finish. But finish, we did.

As I took photos of the result, quick and resilient in my determination to find a reason to gloat, I said, “Well, it taking so long is okay. Now it’s to scale in size and time!”

“No, we’d need a few million years more for that.” Henry said, lancing my puffed up falsehood.

“So then, we’re ahead of schedule!” I landed, sunny side up, triumphantly.

But, what were we going to do with all of these paper orbs? Make them all to scale in size, but then just string’em up on a clothes hanger, letting’em bump into each other like our solar system doesn’t do? No.


They would have to be to scale, in spaaaaace. But how? To the mathematician (aka “Dad”)! Who calculated the physical distance we would have to put between the sun and planets, in order to get some of that sweet sweet accuracy we’re always jonesing for.

The numbers were crunched, and the ‘rithmatic ciphered.

Physical Distance Necessary Between Each Planet and the Sun, To Maintain Accurate Scale

Mercury 26’ (as in FEET)
Venus 48’
Earth 67’
Mars 102’
Jupiter 350’
Saturn 641’
Uranus 1288’
Neptune 2022’

It was determined that we would need to take a family trip to the beach. Great.

I mean, I love to go to the beach with my whole family, and have done it many times since then, but managed to bring along the paper solar system exactly zero times in the three years since that realization. The celestial bodies went into a cabinet and we got on with other things. Many other things for a long time.

But three years is but a blip when talking about the vast stretches possible in time.

So is eighteen, if you’re me, today. Yes, those long days and short years of parenthood have culminated in the best possible scenario: the oldest of the youngest BU students is an alum, graduating, flying the nest, taking the world on, and figuring out what is next for him. He’s left home and he’s going to do great.

But first! To the beach! With! The Most Accurate Homemade Solar System Ever!

That’s right.

Gordian Knot? Anyone?


There is a lot of space between e v e r y t h i n g .

Here’s where I should say that, no matter how far my son goes, my home is always his home. Because it is. But it’s not. He wants to be on his way and grow up. It made him happy to plan his adventure, and it made us happy to help him make it possible.

Things ending can be sad, but that sadness is overwhelmed with gratitude for having experienced them in the first place. Saying good-bye, good luck, I love you and require frequent updates with photos and video whenever possible wasn’t easy, but we all know he has more learning to do, in the wider world, within and without. He also has five of his biggest admirers back where he came from, beaming in his general direction.

This is a tale as old as time, but it’s the first time it has happened here.

It feels pretty epic, to use a rarely appropriate term. Like countless mothers before and around me, watching their kids grow up and clock milestones, my mind flashes back to the beginning: discovering I was going to be a mother, hearing his heartbeat, choosing his name, meeting him and looking into eyes. Changing, becoming more like the person he needed me to be, more of the time. I marvel at all the years between then and now. To know a person so well, to value him so dearly, has been my model for how to view others.  

He and his parents have taught each other over the years, and now can stand strong in different places, which are actually, relatively close.

After all, when I think about how far the earth is flung out from her sun, it feels like we can never be that far away from each other if we’re on the same planet.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Some March

Imagine pitching this idea to a publisher nowadays: A book for kids, about a girl and a pig and a spider; and life and art and death.

Yeah, no.
Thumbs down
Get out of my office.
Give up writing altogether. Clearly, you have no idea how to make good CGI movies, I mean juvenile fiction.

These are among what I suppose would be the hypothetical responses to first hearing about a story that mostly takes place in a barnyard and hinges on one’s pig’s panicky journey toward accepting how life works. Namely, that it is enriched through creativity and ends for all who experience it.

This isn’t an E-I-E-I-O kind of kids’ farm story. It opens with

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?,’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast."

An innocent, awakening to death as an order of business, is sentence one. In a kids book.

There’s nothing villainous or evil in E.B. White’s portrayal of the fact that Fern’s father plans to cull the runt of his most recent litter of piglets. John Arable is just starting his day the way many farmers have started many days: humanely ending a young life. He is doing what is necessary to preserve the integrity and efficiency of his home, his legacy, his farm.  

The first chapter of Charlotte’s Web makes you reckon your romantic notions about country life with the reality that there are no freeloaders allowed at the farm. If you won’t fetch a fair price, provide healthy offspring, or make a good Christmas dinner, you will be swiftly removed from the gene pool as soon as you show up.

Yet, something stops him. Fern, doing what many farmers’ daughters have done on many cold spring mornings, empathizes with the piglet under the ax, and pleads with all her heart for his life to be spared. At that moment, John Arable sees and hears Fern differently, knowing that what she is proposing is no way to run a farm.

He decides that her passionate compassion is more important than business as usual. Face to face with true conviction, he recognizes it must be cultivated, unlike apathy which seems to grow like weeds. Rewarding Fern, who “...was up at daylight, trying to rid the world of injustice.” shows that, without fully agreeing with her, he places her right to change things above keeping things the way they are.

Consider this our “Why we marched,” post, because who really cares why we chose to participate in the Women's March, which turned out to be the largest worldwide public demonstration in recorded history?* Isn’t that what the signs are for?

*JKLOL free press, immigrant rights, all kinds of equality, black lives matter, public education, art, science, general civility

Much of the post-march blogtivity has criticized those who participated in that very vocal We Aren't With Him from every thinkable direction. Too idealistic, too safe, too inclusive, not inclusive enough, silly hats, you've probably read it all. As for this blog, why we marched is less important than respecting each other’s right to that very rudimentary expression of values- shouting slogans in the street with a bunch of strangers.

Even, no..especially if you don’t agree with the shouters, consider their noisy presence a vital sign of something so much more important than the farm.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Nonstop Inspiration

His hand hangs on my wall.

When I came to his home, about a year and a half ago, with five cameras to share, he made sure I knew he was interested in participating. He was usually front and center in the group of kids hanging around me, listening intently. He even accompanied a group of us around the grounds before ever holding a camera, planning shots, just eager to be a part of the project.

The Fundación Niños de los Andes cares for young people through most of their teen years, and he was one of the older boys there; slightly shorter than me, thin, muscular, with a delicate smile, long eyelashes and his short hair shaven to the skin on the sides of his head.

He got his turn with the camera the next day, and proceeded to break my heart with it. Looking at the images he captured later, I wanted every photo of his to be in the show. His hand behind the mesh and this one are the ones that made it in.

Here are a couple that didn’t.

Like the girl who started all of this, two years prior, his work inspired in me a deep sense of purpose. I wanted to make find more possibilities for him. Luz y Sombra's first show in Manizales, Colombia, came together, all the while my friends and I tried, without success, to find some opportunity for this talented artist to learn or work with other artists nearby. He and I friended each other on Facebook, hugged, said good-bye, and never saw or spoke to each other again. He had moved on to the next part of his life by the time I got back to the FNDLA a year later.

That return to FNDLA was just six months ago. When Henry and I came home from that adventure last July, all 100 printed photos of the photography show, Luz y Sombra traveled from Colombia to Oregon in my carry-on luggage. Things got really interesting around here when, about a month later, two Colombian chef friends came to visit our humble locale and infuse it with sabor.

Together, we put on a September-long, first time in the USA, Luz y Sombra show/photo sale at the steadfast Bay City Arts Center, complete with two foodtastic events.
It was tons of fun, but I was also on a serious mission, fueled by memories of my young friend shyly telling me he'd have liked to continue exploring his artistic talents, had it been a possibility. Pursuing study in the arts is about as practical a path for a Colombian street kid as it is for any person anywhere who wants to pay their bills. While taking pictures with me is fun, self-expression couldn’t be a future. Or could it?

Here’s where I want to high-five that hand, because I get to find out next summer. Thanks to the money raised at the Arts Center, I plan to return to Colombia with two art scholarships.

The money raised from that work and those kids' photos will pay for two big kids from the Fundación Niños de los Andes to attend one visual arts course each, at any of the city’s many schools. There is enough money for tuition, supplies, and transportation, so that creativity can be more than a childhood hobby for the older youngsters who have more to share.

There's no reason this can't keep going. Feel like taking part?

Starting on December 1, 2016, the rest of the photos for Luz y Sombra will be shown here, and on Facebook, and will be available for purchase. All proceeds will go to art scholarships for more kids from the foundation.

These particular printed visions are very special for another reason, but I'm going to wait until the day the show "drops" online to write more about that. December 1, see all of Luz y Sombra's photos, buy any of them, and make some dreams come true.

This one is no longer for sale though. It’s mine, along with the inspiration its young creator ignited within me, to see big kids chase their artistic side into adulthood.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

In Defense of Other People

Hola, world! It's been a while, no?

Yep, I'm back in Dreamland, aka Colombia, and have been for a couple of weeks, only this time I'm not alone. My oldest son is with me, experiencing all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of this wonderful country.

We have gone high, we have gone low, we have been apart from familiar faces, and we have come to visit friends who are practically like family. Naturally, we have taken so many pictures. How could you not? This really is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Mountains, rivers, flowers, fruit, yada yada yada. 

Oh sorry, I don't mean to sound "over it" but we are lucky enough to live on the Oregon Coast, so we enjoy those things regularly, even if their intensity is muted by being so far from the tropics.

Instead of the impressive vistas, the aspect to traveling in Colombia that takes my breath away is the beautiful friends, some of whom I had the good fortune to meet in my previous travels, and who have welcomed us warmly in this one. Anyone can buy a ticket, make a hotel reservation, arrange a tour, and buy knick knacks. It takes something special to feel at home, so far from home. It takes other people. 

It has been my experience that people get kind of a bad rap. I get it, they're capable of some pretty ugly acts. I spent most of my youth seeing myself and my fellow human beings as fallen creations whose best moments were equivalent to filthy rags. Later, I embraced a very anti-social view, something like one sees on T-shirts. Others were foolish, aggravating, and inspired little more than eye rolls from me.

Sartre would be so proud.

Funny how motherhood can push a reset button in a person. The arrival of this boy, who is now my travel companion, made me feel more compassion towards others. I think he might have been the first person I met who was truly precious to me.

He was a little human sprout, so vulnerable and full of promise. The more time I spent with him, the more I saw the adults around me as babies, just further down the line. Even the harmful ones. 

But that was just one step in the journey. See, it's easy, actually downright primal, to love your child. He wasn't exactly an "other person." he was part me, and part the guy I love best in the world. 

Knowing and loving him was very much a celebration of my own self, even as it made me less selfish.

As the years and experiences have rolled by, I have come to believe that it is the otherness of other people that matters most. The more "other" they are, the more impressive a feat loving them is. That is to say that, the most inspirational journeys I have witnessed are those in which feeling love for another person isn't supposed to happen, but it does anyway. When those things that should separate us effectively don't, due to our determination to find a way to reach and care for one another.

You are probably familiar with the labels we put on ourselves help us identify similar souls, usually revolving around strong opinions, nationality, gender, race, orientation, deeply-held beliefs or lack thereof;  but these monikers also make us feel like we have little in common with those who wear the opposite brand. Our ancient tribal tendencies kick in and we pack up, in some cases clashing with what we see as opposing tribes.

That's when finding ways to love our ideological counterparts is almost an act of rebellion. It goes against our nature, which is what makes it so punk rock.  I am frequently on the receiving end of such defiant humanity, in this land where my son and I are a blond blue-eyed foreign assault on the locals' expectations. Before they know us, before they know how we will act, and whether we will be cold or rude, they reach out with generosity and kindness that completely negates everything I used to think about other people. 

In this country, they refer to it as "calor humano," or "Human warmth." It is most evident in the tendency to greet one another with physical contact, either with a handshake, a hug, a kiss on the cheek, or all three. It is most effective in the tendency to invite strangers into their homes, offer them a cup of something warm to drink, perhaps with something sweet to eat. It is most enviable when presented as a regional virtue. People I spend time with here ask me, "Have you seen how we are? How we take care of each other?"

It's impossible not to see it, as I am swimming in it. It's something I miss when I am not here. It's why, after a lifelong journey away from my earliest assumptions about mankind, I can and do dole out frequent hugs and I Love Yous wherever I am. Because I can't unlearn what Colombians have taught me: how wonderful life is when we err on the side of being less cynical and more affectionate with one another.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


A couple of packages came in the mail today: a book and a soccer jersey for my two oldest boys. I'm stockpiling little treasures with each paycheck, getting ready for the big smooshfest* that is Christmas.

*Smooshfest is a word I just now made up which can be applied to pretty much any and all celebrating we do as a family.  It is appropriate because whatever revelry we're getting up to is usually a crazy quilt of customs, some of which are rooted in shared observance or family traditions, some of which are completely invented by us, to be abandoned or changed at whim.

Case in point: when I asked George and Mae what we should make sure to include in our Thanksgiving day celebration, they suggested muffins and fireworks, respectively. Sounds fun! We'll see.

Anyway, back to today's mail, which arrived around the time the "Why didn't all the profile pics change when X tragedy occurred?" talk started on Facebook today; a reaction to the global reaction to a massive, heart-breaking terrorist attack in Paris, France, last night. Of course, that conversation needs to happen. But does a big bustle of clicktivism retroactively diminish the humanity of others who have suffered something similar? 

Why do people seem to care more about some things than others? I mean, we can say we care, but when do we really hurt along with someone else? Easy, when it feels closer to us. 

The whole world is welcome in this house, as long as you don't track in too much mud. We love art, food, ideas, and sports from all the places. Still, as my son and I watched the terrible news yesterday, the pain we felt was closer to our hearts because it was happening to Paris. 

There is nothing accidentally occidental about our fondness for Paris, that's exactly it. For my son, Paris is home of the team of his favorite futboler, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a Swedish player and son of a Bosnian Muslim and Croatian Catholic. Quite a smooshfest, no? For my oldest son, who has been baking baguettes, teaching himself French, and planning to travel there as soon as possible, this has to feel like someone just attacked the place of his dreams. 

Glittering, gritty, rich, and poor, Paris has been a magnet, attracting artistic souls from all over the world for centuries. Thanks to its daring diversity, it will always be a place where there are no easy answers, and never will be, and how beautiful that is. So many people from everywhere else, living together, and today, grieving together. Nous vous aimons. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Rolling With It: To An Extent

One thing that I love about traveling is you almost never know what is going to happen next. One thing I find challenging about traveling is you almost never know what is going to happen next. It's not all sunshine and fruits here in Colombia.

Yes, it is. 

Usually, it's sunshine and fruits and widely available wi-fi. At least I do my best to make sure it is, wherever I'm staying in this lovely land. Is that because I want to share six million photos of brightly colored houses and trucksful of dangling fruit on a daily basis?

No, that's just a fringe benefit. I need a sweet solid internet connection because I have to, must, feel absolutely forlorn if I don't, talk to my family every night before bed (for me. It's before dinner for them.)

There have been very few nights over the last seven weeks where I intentionally skipped a call. I have this whole thing, where I talk to my best friend in the world, Geza, whatever little people are hanging around the house, say some iloveyous and goodbyes, end the call, quit Skype, and cross the day off of my calendar, with a little feeling of relief that I'm one day closer to being back with them.While it is true that I am having one of the times of my life, it's no coincidence that I made the decision to travel in this modern era I like to call The Jetson Years.

I don't think I could have gone so far from those I love most, for so long, back in The Flintstone Years (aka: all the years before I turned 25)

Come, Climb Molehill Mountain With Me:

Having done a fair amount of work during the first part of my trip, the plan now is to check out something cultural. Last year, I had the privilege of attending the Festival Folclórico en Ibague.

This year, I made arrangements to visit Santa Elena's Feria de las Flores, in the mountains to the west of Medellin. I kissed my host family good by and traveled many miles to a room in a country house I had booked.

It was rustic,



...and the internet was down. It had been down for a week, and fellow farmmates were burning up all of their cell minutes waiting on an automated repair line that kept auto-promising repairmen would come, and guess what? They never came. I managed a couple of messages from the public library's free wifi, to let interested parties know I had arrived safely, then returned to the farm and waited all day, and then another whole day, for the elusive figure who was fabled to make internets where there were none.

I love you Facebook, but I could live without. I love you blog, even though you're called a "blog," but I could live without you. I love you internet, but I must be able to live without you.  When I feel that whiny Gollomesque attachment to <fill in the blank here> (suggestions: internet, ice cream, laziness, hip hop dancing movies) it feels like something I have work on.

Sometimes, you have to recognize that you must be the outside force acting on your own inert self and learn to love the feeling of challenging your limitations.

So somewhere around 24 hours in, I remembered that traveling is a regular plate of  surprises with a warm roll (with it) on the side. I decided to enjoy the situation. After all, I got to saw this wood,

 and hang out with this dog,

on this porch, 

and later by this fire,

 all while reading this book. 

If I had been able to share road pictures and stream episodes of Derek on Netflix, I would have read a lot less of a story I should have read many years ago.

The last line on the page, where Jim says he's rich because, by running away from slavery, he owns himself, is just another example of the fact that Mark Twain knows what's up. I want to see this book turned into a movie, and not one where anyone on the cover is smiling.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, while funny at times, does not flinch in its depiction of the stark realities of slavery, domestic abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and societal hypocrisy. Please see book cover photo, squinty grimacing or get out. 

What with all the drowsy dogs, warmth, and wonderful writing, it was one of the nicer evenings I've had in my whole life; all brought to me by Undesirable Circumstances.

Before turning in for the night, I stood on the porch and watched the moon rise. Gazing at inky clouds turning pearly as they moved across its resplendent face, I felt that peaceful resignation that comes when you realize the internet guy is never going to arrive. That's when I faced facts: Unless I did something drastic, I was about to spend many more nights in the same peaceful, edifying, old fashion, without talking to these faces even once.

So, I booked a room in the closest cheapest hotel I could find and got the heck out of there today.
The End.
 I love you, family.