Thinking about 2014

4th of July fireworks

4th of July fireworks

I read Leo Babauta’s post on Zen Habits yesterday.  It’s about his successes and failures in 2014.  Of course it got me thinking about what kind of year I’ve had.  It’s that time, I guess.  I’ve seen a bit of this already starting around on the blog o’sphere.   People taking stock.

My problem is that I don’t think I had a single “success” all year.  There’s nothing I can point to and say, “yes, that makes me proud.”  I think that’s one reason I’ve felt so burned out.  The distance between my desires and expectations and the actual output has been enormous.  This is weighing heavily on me because, let’s face it, I’m middle aged.

I like to pretend that it’s not true–that 45 is the new 25–but such is not the case.  I’ve got a grown kid and my baby is in high school.  Midnight feels LATE.  I look in the mirror and wonder who that is looking back at me.  Sigh.

So I figure I’ll write 2014 off as a holding year.

And lay out some specific goals for 2015 so that when I get to this time next year, and another year closer to 50, I’ll be able to point to two or three things that I’m proud of accomplishing.

Theo Jansen: incredible creatures

Theo Jansen

Theo Jansen

I’ve been meaning to get back here for a while now.  Been having lots of ideas percolating that seem to better fit here, as compared to the homesteading blog.  In part because the homesteading has become somewhat daily routine, and I’ve discovered that I want a place to capture my more “intellectual” thoughts.  In particular, we have been playing around with the idea of homeschooling and what that might mean for a 15 year old.  It’s gotten me thinking about how I’d like to teach in an ideal situation.

You see, I’ve been teaching college-level classes for 20 years and in all that time, I’ve only taught the way I’d really LIKE to teach a couple of semesters.  There’s this idea that professors have complete academic freedom in the classroom but that is so false.  There are all these expectations of what needs to be taught and how the material will be taught that in reality, there’s little freedom there.  It is almost as constrained as the k-12 system. Ok, not quite but almost.

So given the freedom to engage my not entirely academic child, how would I approach her learning?  In other words, how would I teach if given complete freedom to do so?

I’ve been knocking this idea around for a couple of days and wondering, “why not?”  Why not create some units and see how they work.  And if they do, maybe I’ll share them.

In the meantime, Check out Theo Jansen.  New York Times article here.  Video here.

Wow!  What if they taught physics this way–Jansen’s way?  I woulda liked physics, I think.

Why Read Moby-Dick?

Despite reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s brief little treatise, Why Read Moby-Dick, I’m still asking myself this question.  Really.

Ok, I read Moby-Dick while doing a master’s degree in American Studies.  I get it–it’s a classic and I was doing a degree where reading the tome makes sense.  But seriously, what did I get out of it?  Not a lot.  I don’t think that I “got” the book at all.

But Philbrick’s explanation of the book and its importance makes total sense.  Why didn’t the professor I had THEN make these points about the book?  Maybe he didn’t “get” it either, but just required the text because, well, it’s a classic.

So–do I think you should read Moby-Dick.  Let me recommend to you that you read Philbrick’s Why Read Moby-Dick instead.  Or, if you feel like that’s dishonest, read Philbrick’s little book first.  Or read it afterward.  Or read it WHILE you are reading Moby-Dick.

The whole Moby-Dick thing will make so much more SENSE if Philbrick’s holding your hand through it.

When Famous People Die: Steve Jobs

It’s strange to me that I can be so impacted by the death of someone that I do not know.

For example, when Madeline L’Engle died a few years ago, I cried and cried.  I felt like I had lost the dearest friend.  I have read many of L’Engle’s books, including those autobiographical ones where she details her writing life, marriage, and the death of her mother.  I justified these deep emotions to myself because I had spent so many hours with her through her books.  I really felt like I knew her and I knew that the world was a lesser place without her calm wisdom.

But why have I shed tears for Steve Jobs?  I don’t know him.  I hardly know any details or facts about his life and yet, here I am, crying for the loss of a man I do not know.

Maybe it’s just that I like to think I knew him.  I believed he was a visionary–a man of rare genius who could not only lead a team to create phenomenal new things–but treat that team fairly, kindly, and–dare I say it–humanely.  That’s a rare thing in industry:  to care about the people and the product.  Maybe care about these things more than the profit.  Of course the profit followed for Jobs, but perhaps it was because he place the other things first.

At least that’s how it seems on the outside.  Who knows?  I never knew Steve Jobs.  But to all the millions of us who did not know him, he stood for these things and in corporate America that’s such a rare thing, it’s worth celebrating.

Coming Home to Eat: Your Local Food Supply

I’ve read quite a few things about the local food movement but hadn’t gotten around to reading Gary Paul Nabhan’s Coming Home to Eat until this week.  This is one of the books that kicked off the “local foods” movement and got people thinking beyond organic.  I mean, organic is great but does it really “save” anything if the organic food is traveling 2000 miles to get to your plate?

Maybe you’ve come across (or remember) that phrase that feminists used in the 1960s to describe their conversation about women, domesticity, and politics:  THE HOME IS POLITICAL.

Well, the same can be said of food.  EVERYTHING YOU PUT IN YOUR MOUTH IS POLITICAL.

I love it when my students tell me that they can’t participate (or write a paper) about a political topic because they aren’t political.  I suppose they mean that they don’t know anything about politics, don’t keep up with politics, and maybe not even vote.

I find this laughable because every time they open their mouths to eat or drink, they are making a political choice.  Our current food system is highly politicized–controlled by a handful of large corporations who have invested heavily in the politicians in office.  They own large parts of the government, continuing to control a food system upon which the majority of the population has become dependent.

But what if you want to break out?  Break away from the industrialized food system?  That, certainly, is a political decision, as well as one based on choices of health, finances, or morals.

Nabhan argues that you can break out–but it isn’t easy.  Packaged, processed foods are so easy and ubiquitous. If you want to do this, you are going to be labeled a weirdo and made to feel bad.  But stick with it.  While you are enjoying good health and more money in your pocket, your name-calling friends will be waiting in line at the doctor’s office.

“What if each of us, day by day, fully fathomed where our food comes from, historically, ecologically, geographically, genetically?  What would it be like if each of us recognized all the other lives connected to our own through the simple act of eating?  What if we understood which other specifies were regenerated, and which were contaminated or destroyed by what we choose to eat, by our care or by our carelessness?  The way we garden, gather, fish, or forage can be a communion, or it can become an ecological calamity.  The more we understand where our food comes from, the greater the change there is that we can save the living riches of the natural world.”  pg. 163.

As a side note:  Nabhan wrote this while living in the southwest and he’d scavenge for wild foods frequently.  In particular, he talks about Mesquite bean flour and prickly pear.  I wish he’d gone into more detail here–descriptions for how and when to harvest and how to process.  He talks about doing it but provides no directions or instructions.  So I’ll be digging deeper into this because we specialize in Mesquite and prickly pear cactus on our farm right now.  Not because we’ve chosen to but because that’s what nature has given us.  If you are processing either of these right now, get in touch–I’d love to know how you are doing this!