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Archive for the ‘opinion’ Category

Philosophical interlude

I am not a professional blogger.  When I started this blog I wasn’t really sure what my posts would be about, or how often I would post, or how the posts would fit together.  The name of my blog, Knitting a Life, seemed like a good idea at the time; among other things, I am a knitter, and I had a hard time imagining that any blog I authored wouldn’t have some knitting in it somewhere.

To tell you the truth, once I came up with a title for this blog I didn’t worry about it much.  Until a friend told me that he didn’t read my blog because it was about knitting.

That stopped me.  I tried to explain to him that my blog is NOT about knitting, but he was convinced that it was and that he would never read it as a result.

Of course, knowing that one person isn’t reading my blog won’t make me stop writing it.  If I worried a lot about who was reading these posts I would do things a lot differently than I do.  My friend’s comment did make me think about what I mean by “Knitting a Life.”  Not necessarily what I meant when I started this project, but what it has come to mean over the few months I have been working on it.

What is this blog about?  One way to answer that is to look at what I post about.  Knitting, sometimes, but also food and family,

travel and teaching, places and passions.

Is this blog about knitting?  I guess some people would say that, since there have been posts about my knitting projects and about yarn.  I don’t think of it that way, though; I think this blog is about knitting a life, mine.

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Holiday thoughts

I have mixed feelings about the end of year holiday season.  I love the expressions of thanks and gratitude that people are encouraged to make, the way people think about how to make others happy, the gatherings of family and friends, the food, the festive decorations.

I particularly look forward to spending time with my family:  cooking and eating together, sipping wine and talking late into the night, running through my brother’s neighborhood in the cold mornings listening to old favorites on my iPod, reading to my nephew before bed, starting a new knitting project with my niece.

Yet, this time of year I am also constantly reminded of how fortunate I am.   On these short, cold days I shiver uncomfortably when I see homeless people bundled in sleeping bags under a bridge as I drive past in my heated car.  I remember some of my former middle and high school students who, over winter vacation, had one less warm meal to look forward to every day.  I think about the story I heard on the radio about people begging online for gifts of clothing or toys for their children this year.

In the short term, I try to do things that will make a small difference with donations of time or money to the Oregon Food Bank, the School BackPack Program or other worthy charities and services for people in need.

I also focus on my work preparing teachers and others who will work with young people in schools because I believe that is another way to promote change and make the world better for more people over the long term.

Of course people are not only in need over the holidays and the changes we need to make as a society won’t happen if people don’t think about them year round.  Maybe if we start now, during a time of year when we are encouraged to think about others, we will continue during the rest of the year, when our daily busy-ness makes it more of a challenge.

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School lunch

If you read this blog at all regularly, you know that I am very interested in almost everything to do with food.  I spend a lot of time thinking about where my food comes from and how to prepare meals that are healthy, tasty and appetizing.

I am lucky to live with someone who shares my love of good food and of cooking and to have other family members who feel the same way.  My sister-in-law is even a personal chef with two food-related blogs of her own (here and here).

Though I am certainly not a chef, my love of cooking and my concerns about food consumption and production intersect with my professional life, particularly when it comes to thinking about how to help children and young adults learn to eat well and to know more about where their food comes from.  I am also interested in how to more closely link schools with local food sources.

My interest in these issues hasn’t gone unnoticed; today a good friend sent me this link to Ann Cooper’s Renegade Lunch Lady website and that inspired this post.

In my own efforts to address these issues, I’ve been inspired by Alice Waters’s exceptional Edible Schoolyard Project to work with teachers to explore the feasibility of planting school gardens and to develop lesson plans that connect food and nutrition with the content taught in social studies, health and biology classes;

I’ve participated in school-university partnerships working to develop programs that make it easier for schools to buy food directly from local farmers;

and I’ve served on the advisory board for a School-based Health Center that addressed concerns about the kinds of snacks and drinks available for purchase in school vending machines.

There are many challenges to this kind of work:  changing kids’ attitudes towards food, making it possible for schools to utilize local food sources instead of relying solely on federal subsidies, enlisting the help of school lunch personnel and finding ways to involve parents and community members in these efforts are just a few.

Given what’s at stake they seem like challenges worth overcoming.

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Last week one of my heroes died.  Ted Sizer was an educator, author, school reformer, and the source of much of what inspired me in my own work in schools and with teachers.  That may seem like a funny start to a post about what keeps me going, but it actually makes sense.

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My first teaching job (somewhat by accident) and my second (completely by design) were both at schools associated with the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES), the school reform network that Ted Sizer founded.  Connected by a set of Common Principles (there were originally nine, now there are ten), teachers and administrators in CES schools strive to help students do meaningful work, to develop equitable school practices that acknowledge and support all students, and to allow students to demonstrate their understanding in ways that honor both what has been learned and the uniqueness of the individual who has done the learning.

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That is the context in which I learned to teach, and in which I developed my beliefs about what it means to be an educator.  Although I no longer teach in a CES school, those principles guide my work still.  I share them with my current students, and I keep them in mind when I plan and teach my university classes.

Talking about making schools better is popular these days and just about everyone has an opinion about what to do.  Ted Sizer’s opinion, and his work, represent what I think is a good start — one that respects teachers and what they know, that asks us to listen to our students and that places a value on meaningful learning that helps children develop into caring, thoughtful adults who can make society better for everyone.

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I recently heard a story on National Public Radio about farmer, philosopher and environmentalist Wes Jackson that ended with this line:  “If you’re working on a problem you can solve in your own lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.”  That’s how I think about my own efforts to change public schools for the better, and Ted Sizer’s life and work inspires me even though I know it’s a job that isn’t likely to be solved in a lifetime.

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dinner at clarklewis

Since moving to Portland S and I have made it a habit to take each other out to dinner most Thursday nights.  It’s a good night to explore the impressive local restaurant scene; near the end of the week, but a little less busy than the prime restaurant nights of Friday or Saturday.

wineglasses

Last night we went to one of our favorite restaurants in Portland:  clarklewis.  Since our first visit there in the spring before we moved here when our waiter gave us a postcard on which he had listed all the sights he recommended that we explore in our soon-to-be new home, to the special tasting menu chef Dolan Lane prepared for my most recent birthday, this restaurant has never failed to delight.

menu

Last night was no exception.  When we arrived we were seated at a table overlooking the street; the garage door style windows were fully raised and the late afternoon breeze gently lifted the edges of the craft paper that covered our table.

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We began our meal with cocktails:  the Gentry for S (Medoyeff vodka, basil, cucumber, Pimm’s and soda), and the Honey for me (tequila, fresh grapefruit, lime and honey), drinks that set the stage for a meal that featured fresh, local ingredients and that lovingly highlighted the flavors of late summer.

glasses

As hard as it was to choose among the extensive list of starters and salads, S decided to begin with the exquisite Semolina dusted halibut cheeks, and I settled on the Viridian Farms roquefort beans with cucumber, baby tomatoes, red quinoa, pine nuts, ricotta salata and mint vinaigrette.  Both dishes were appetizers in the truest sense of the word: flavorful, creative dishes that whetted our appetites for the courses to follow.

pinenuts

For his entree, S chose the Pacific troll Chinook salmon, largely because the artichoke hash that accompanied the dish sounded too good to pass up.  The hash was perfect; chunky and fresh, and with the wild watercress and sauce gribiche, an ideal accompaniment to the rich salmon.

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I had the Hearth roasted Carlton pork shoulder and I don’t think it is too much of an exaggeration to say it was one of the best dishes I have eaten in the past year.  The pork was flawlessly cooked and rested atop a bed of achingly fresh sweet yellow corn, treviso, grilled figs, and roasted hazelnuts.  It was as if all the flavors of late summer were brought to life on that one plate.

hazelnuts

For dessert I picked the Peach brulee with blackberries, sweet corn ice cream and almond ossi dei morti (or “bones of the dead,” a traditional Italian almond cookie), and S ordered his favorite, the cheese plate, accompanied by a glass of Clear Creek pear brandy.  The crunch of the caramel crust on the peach was perfectly balanced by the infinitely smooth sweetness of the ice cream and the tang of the blackberries; combined with the cheese and brandy this course brought our leisurely meal to a perfect close.

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The abundance and variety of good restaurants in Portland is well known and makes choosing where to eat, and identifying one place as a “favorite,” a delightful, but sometimes overwhelming, challenge.   Despite that challenge, clarklewis, with its inventive menu, perfectly prepared dishes, and thoughtful, attentive service, has found a place at the top of our list and last night’s dinner again reinforced that view.  We’ll be back there soon.

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