Monday, January 31, 2011

Investment Answer: Comfort Food

Last Wednesday, I was driving home from work, listening to Robert Seigel.  Seigel was reporting that investment banker Gordon Murray had succumbed to brain cancer.  Murray authored a successful book called, "The Investment Answer."  After receiving a terminal diagnosis, Murray had committed to writing this helpful book about basic investing for regular people.  His motive sounded pretty altruistic.  Seigel played a clip from an interview with Murray, just after he was diagnosed.  Murray:  "I was surprised how meaningful it was helping other people, and that I really got great joy from that.  I, in fact, I tell my kids now, if you start to feel sorry for yourself, just do something for someone else."  This brought tears to my eyes.  Not because I'm familiar with Murray or give a hoot about investing, but because I had been on the receiving end of a great act of kindness.  Someone did something for me, and it was a thing of real, but ephemeral beauty:  a delicious homemade meal. 

Jennifer is the parent of Syrie, a student in my classroom here at Dodge.  At holiday time, Jennifer approached me and my colleagues, saying she would like to cook lunch for us later in January.  It was a bit humbling to accept such a generous offer and set a date.  Time passed and we were pleasantly surprised one bleak January day to realize that the lunch date had arrived.  We wrapped-up our morning class and hustled toward the staff room with greedy bellies.  We swung open the kitchen door and stopped in our tracks.

Our repast was laid out on a hand-quilted runner with lovely handmade votives, flickering candles, silverware, napkins and a carefully typed note & menu:

A Winter Lunch

I have to admit this lunch was a bit more challenging than usual!  I loved the opportunity to try and satisfy a cheese lover, a vegan and a woman with a volatile relationship with the dairy group.  I took the theme of comfort foods...I hope you will be comforted by the gift of this meal.  Please know how much your many talents and efforts are appreciated.  All of you have played an important role in the life of Syrie and our family.  Thank you for nurturing Syrie's sense of self and for giving her amazing opportunities to embrace the beauty of the natural world around her.


Home-baked European Peasant Bread and Herb Butter

Winter Salad with Spinach, Red Grapefruit, Avocado, Red Onion, Pine Nuts and Honey Lemon Dressing

Vegan Macaroni and "Cheese"

Berry Bowl

Nan Nan's Depression Era Chocolate Cake

The meal was thoughtful, beautiful, delicious and inspiring.  And the peasant bread was utterly humbling.

We all know that food is a catalyst for growth, both literally and figuratively.  Food brings us together.  We can be alone in the kitchen, but often, even if we are, we are preparing a meal for others, for people we love.  Together, we talk, or commune in silence, over food.  We sit with food at our own tables, at staff tables, in cafes, on blankets or in cars.  Food goes wherever we go.  Food follows us.

At Dodge, food is a part of the landscape, literally and figuratively.  The Preschool gardens remind us where food comes from and teach us how to work with the earth.  Ripe beans on the vine are instant food.  Edible perennials scape our playground.  On the trail, wild edibles provide forage for wild animals, and for children learning about flora and fauna. The Dodge barn is full of food:  chickens, hogs, sheep, goats, hay and feed.  The Community Garden brings local gardeners together every all-too-brief summer.  Even the scum on the pond is food for fish and geese and creatures we cannot see with the naked eye.  Even the mud under our feet is food.  At the Preschool, we cook with children and develop menus with their needs in mind.  We consider their cognitive and developmental needs as we design hands-on cooking projects for them.  We consider their health and wellness as we omit allergens.  Together we sit as another version of family, chatting with peers and teachers, children serving themselves and friends.  Food is a catalyst for social growth.  We teach children to have nice manners and also how to be good stewards, growing organically, reducing waste and re-using compost.

My colleagues certainly recognize that food is a wonderful and delicious teaching tool, and they would  be the first to tell you that cooking for a group of people creatively and meaningfully is challenging, rewarding and sometimes exhausting.  When Jennifer cooked for us, she turned the tables on us and taught us something more:  we are partners in this endeavor.  Call the endeavor "school," "teaching," "cooking" or just plain, "life," but here we are together in it.

Parents and families are always at the Preschool.  Parents volunteer in and out of the classroom.  They bring their kids straight in to school, and often they stay.  Visitors to Dodge sometimes mistake parents for teachers, and rightfully so, we learn a good deal from parents-- they are our partners in teaching their children.  Jennifer's daughter, Syrie, helped plan and prepare our lunch.  When Jennifer cooked for us, she taught us, and Syrie, a most basic and important lesson:  there is joy and meaning in doing for others.  Hers was a lesson of selflessness, real generosity and personality.  Now if I can just get Jennifer to teach me how to make bread...

My husband pointed out that giving a gift card is a whole lot easier than what Jennifer did.  And so it is-- that's the gift I usually give my daughters' teachers.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bud Formation

Mid January.

My alarm goes off at 5:30 and I hit the "snooze" bar once, twice...maybe three times.  My morning walk is going to be cold, and dark.  I go to work in the dark, and I come home in the dark.  These are the mornings I wonder, "Why on earth do I live here?" Do I really need to experience the privations of winter in Minnesota to appreciate beauty, wonder and complexity in life?  Well, yes.

This is my inaugural posting for The Catalyst.  And today's date does not seem incredibly auspicious for launching a new partnership in discovery.  May 1 would seem more hospitable.  But then again, we've had the pleasure of snow and sleet on May Day here in the Frozen North.

A few days ago a colleague commented on the seemingly sudden appearance of buds on a tree here at Dodge.  "Why is it budding in the middle of winter?"  The short answer is:  It's not.  It just looks that way.  The long answer is more interesting, and complicated.  Most buds form in late summer and then they go dormant along with the entire plant.  Somewhere around June 21st, the longest day of the year occurs, and after that day, all the days get shorter as the Earth tilts away from the sun, until about December 21st.  Plants need this period of darkness and rest in order to gear-up for growth and eventual flowering.  After December 21st, our part of earth tips back toward the sun, days start to get longer and plants begin the long process of using sunlight to grow.  Temperature is a factor too, but sunlight is the biggest catalyst for growth.  So darkness and light are essential to growth.  Without this long, inexorable winter would June be so glorious?  I dunno, ask a Floridian.

Well, without sun, we'd have no plants, no air, no food etc.  The sun is our most important catalyst too.  It is interesting to note that a catalyst, by definition, is not changed by what it effects. At Dodge, Nature (with a capital "N") is our catalyst for learning.  We go out into Nature seeking inspiration.  Holes in the ground, ice in a creek, scat on a trail-- all of these things inspire questions, observations, poking and prodding.  Children grow in response to such interactions with the world around them.  But is the world around them affected by this activity?  Yes.  I would have to say, "Absolutely!"  Nature is better off for all their poking and prodding.  Perhaps they pass through the prairie and seeds attach to their clothing, as to fur, and they end up being Nature's messenger.  More often they are learning how to get along with the world around us, how to respect it and care for it.  They are learning that the world has value and this is perhaps the greatest insurance policy we all have for a healthier future.  Nature is a catalyst, but also a partner.

Think Spring!