December 7, 2011
“Now we can understand the words of [St. Paul], that all is nothing unless there be love. Love is more than the electricity which lightens our darkness, more than the etheric waves that transmit our voices across space, more than any of the energies that man has discovered and learned to use. Of all things love is the most potent. All that men can do with their discoveries depends on the conscience of him who uses them. But this energy of love is given us so that each shall have it in himself. Although the amount given to man is limited and diffused, it is the greatest of all the forces at his disposal. The part of it which we possess consciously is renewed every time a baby is born and even if circumstances at a later stage cause it to become dormant, we still feel for it a fervent desire. Therefore, we must study it and use it, more than any of the other forces that surround us, because it is not lent to the environment, as these are, but it is lent to us. The study of love and its utilization will lead us to the source from which it springs: The Child. This is the path that man must follow in his anguish and his cares if, as his aspirations direct, he wishes to reach salvation and the union of mankind.”
- Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, 295-297.
November 7, 2011
Yesterday was an unusual day in the perceptually sunny state of Southern California. A brisk cold, ushered in by November, brought a weekend of rain and chilly air. I spent the better part of Friday and Saturday inside. After becoming accustomed to my daily dose of outdoor air, Sunday invited me out, and to the Farmer’s Market, despite another forecast of rain.
The Hillcrest Farmer’s Market has become my favorite among all the ones that I have been to thus far. It is a Sunday experience. People of all types walk to the bustling market, where children run circles around their parents feet, samples are bountifully offered, live music provides a soundtrack, and there is both prepared food to enjoy while perusing, and a colorful array of produce vendors. Though the conditions were not ideal, the faithful makerters walked the aisles, collecting fruits, vegetables, cheese, and flowers for the week ahead.
I met a friend, and we both had objectives – she wanted a whole chicken, and I had mushrooms on my mind. We went straight to the farm vendor where we hoped to find the chicken. The rain turned from a drizzle to a steady pour as we ducked under his tent. As we inquired about the bagged birds sitting on the table between us, he graciously answered all of the pressing questions we had about what sort of life the chickens had lived. His calloused hands gestured how the chickens had run around freely, and had the liberty to eat bugs. He told us that he himself had killed and cleaned each of these chickens – it is his Friday routine. And at the end of it all he assured us, “This chicken actually tastes like chicken.” Assured we were. Chicken in tow, we pressed on.
The mushroom farmer was a lovely woman with wild reddish hair, a kind smile, and middle-eastern accent. She happily bagged up a mixture of porcini and white mushrooms at my request. I told her that I was considering making a soup with them on this dreary day. She responded by telling us about a simple lentil soup that she loved to make in her home country of Iraq. I paid and thanked her, so satisfied by the mushrooms, and by the glimpse into the story of this woman’s life.
All that to say, I had been considering a cream of mushroom soup, but I fell across some great recipe ideas for creamed mushrooms on toast. Butter, mushrooms, creme fraiche, and bread? Sold. Really simple, and just as the chicken farmer felt about his chicken, I experienced too with the mushrooms – they taste like mushrooms! This is the beauty of shopping at the farmer’s market. The food is so fresh that your preparation can be pared down. The food tastes as it is supposed to and does not need excessive sauces or spices. This simple way of preparing the mushrooms was earthy, warm, and satisfying all at once. I ate them on toasted french bread, alongside a simple salad of spicy greens dressed only with olive oil and pepper.
Farmer’s Market Mushrooms on Toast
Clean the mushrooms with a paper towel, just to knock off the dirt. Slice mushrooms lengthwise in 1/4 inch pieces.
Melt the butter in a skillet on medium-low heat. Add the garlic and saute until lightly fragrant.
Add the mushrooms, turning the heat up a bit. Allow the natural juices to come out, stirring occasionally. Let them cook until your desired tenderness. And as Julia says, “Don’t crowd the mushrooms!”
Let the mushrooms reabsorb their own juice and add the creme fraishe. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve on toasted bread. Enjoy immediately.
Makes: 1 large serving or 2 small servings.
November 5, 2011
One of the most attractive aspects of the Montessori philosophy to me is the emphasis on the development of the senses. When the senses are actively engaged from such an early age, the human mind has a greater opportunity for perception. Aristotle said, “There is nothing in the intellect that was not first developed in the senses.”
The senses are the way that we experience the world around us. It is through the refinement of touch, smell, sound, taste, and sight that the human condition is made known. Without them, we would lack meaningful contact with people, food, nature, work, and rest.
Montessori writes, “Each of the Sensorial Materials – when properly used – opens up new vistas of experience, revealing new wonders in the world around, wonders which have always been present but have hitherto remained unnoticed.”
The materials are scientifically designed to isolate aspects of each sense, such as the color, size, texture, etc. As the child repeatedly manipulates the materials, he comes to form clear ideas about abstractions. What can not be explained by words, the child absorbs through a sensorial experience. The ingenuity of the material lies in its objectivity, simplicity, and ability to be self-correcting for the child. It also acts as a foundation for everything else that the child will experience in the learning environment concerning language and mathematics.
An example: Pictured above are the color tablets. Before the child is given the language of these common colors, he is invited to match corresponding tablets, exercising the ability to discern the difference. Once the child has mastered this visual sense, he is equipped with the language needed to communicate about the colors. In this way, the colors become concrete parts of who he is, before they are given the arbitrary identifying names. In many traditional settings the child first learns, “This is blue.” This limits the child’s understanding of the color as a meaningless term given to a pigment. Allowing him to visually engage the color first, matching like shades, engrains the truth of the color in his experience. The hope is then that this child has a greater understanding of color, which will manifest itself throughout life.
When the child is invited to marry his hands and his mind, he is given the opportunity to unlock the world through his senses in a concrete way. The physiological develpoment of senses makes way for the development of psychological senses. It is worth wondering – if a child is given the tools to be perceptive with his senses at such an early age, will he also be that much more able to be perceptive about greater things as an adult – relationships, politics, religion, the world, etc.? We may never know. But it is reason enough to propel children towards meaningful sensory learning.
October 24, 2011
My program afforded me the opportunity to go to San Francisco for a week of in-class observation. I spent my mornings at Pacific Rim Montessori School in a bilingual Chinese/English classroom, and spent my afternoons exploring the bay area. The people, public transit, food, and landscape were inviting and inspiring, to say the least. I utilized friends’ suggestions as well as 101Cookbooks’ post on her hometown favorites.
Muir Woods in the morning was a sanctuary of light and redwood trees – so quiet it was unnerving.
A dear friend of mine from college works at the de Young Art Museum – where I got to expereince their Chamber Music Day, and roam their vast galleries. It is always so gratifying to see work that I studied in school, as well as be inspired by new work. He also took me to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art where we saw Richard Serra’s Drawing Retrospective. It was incredible – simple in its black and white color palate, large in size, and borderline installation art. The immediacy of the hand and the intimacy of the work contained it as drawing.
The Modern had on its rooftop gallery one of Blue Bottle coffee’s shops. Super clean design and excellent espresso.
The infamous, yet unassuming Tartine Bakery. Famous for its fine pasteries, I joined the line that wrapped around the building to hold in my hand one of their buttery croissants. So good!
Also loved Four Barrel Coffee. A sweeping warehouse shop and roaster, with warm wood bars, bike racks, and solid espresso.
I also had to touch the door of Chez Pannise in Berkely. Unfortunantly, I was not able to savor a meal here this trip… someday.
There is so much about this city to fall in love with. But as with every trip I take, I find that regardless of the innovative food, excellent art, established architecture, natural beauty, colorful farmer’s markets, etc, etc, etc… it is the interactions with people that make the places so dynamic: the strangers who helped me find my bus route, the friends of friends who hosted me, the people that I met in restaurants, at cash registers, standing in line, the old friends that I got to reconnect with, and the beauty of newly cultivated friendships. It is the people that make this beautiful backdrop of a city come alive. Many thanks.
October 13, 2011
In order for all of my classmates to come to know one another better, my professor requested that we each make a collage answering the questions “Who am I? Who do I want to be?” Because storytelling is how we make sense of life, and how we come to know each other, we each took a turn one Friday, sharing our images. We took the five hours of class time to listen, to piece together, to laugh. Because there is such a great diversity among the 32 of us, the stories had great depth, hurt, beauty, and humor. I came to know of people’s odd hobbies, travels, family traditions, and spiritual journeys. Everyone’s collage looked so different – some were hand-drawn, some just words, some on canvas, some on poster-board, some were digital, literal, abstract – all reflecting the intricacy of the human condition.
A friend and I gathered wine, cheese, music, and lots of magazines, paint, and glue – spreading out on the floor as the pacific rain came pouring down. We shared our own stories, quotes, and paths, as we pieced together our collages. Mine is pictured above, and I would like to share.
On the background of the piece is a map of San Diego. It is not only where I have physically come to, but the place where so much of my life has led me to – this place, with these experiences is both a place of arrival, and a place of departure. There are a few literal representations of important aspects of my life – art, biking, baking, working with children.
I chose the ampersand to signify my journey to understand that life is much more about the “both/and” than the “either/or.” (I recall Waterdeep’s song And.) There is much more grey in life than black/white – most specifically when it comes to people. There is complexity and complication which create layers to every story. Giving people of the benefit of the doubt is a great gift. Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. (Attributed to Philo of Alexandria.)
The human heart in the center reminds me of my own mortality. I am mind, body, and spirit – and the continued beating heart, pumping blood, breathing, thinking, feeling is a gift.
The hand holding the seeds says Food as Sacrament. A passion I have been given, and a talent I am cultivating, is the art of food. It is a way to be sustained, to love one another, share goodness, and connect with the earth. It is a daily, tangible experience of gratitude and abundance. I hope to serve thousands more beautiful meals.
The car load full of people speaks quietly to my hope for travel and a family of my own.
The plant life is taken from various California botanical sources. Nature is wise. Its growth is dependent on many sources, and it takes care to regenerate with the seasons.
The Annie Dillard quote says:
I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them.
September 24, 2011
Drawing:: Olivia Jeffries SublimeThree weeks ago I began my training as a Montessori teacher at the Montessori Institute of San Diego. I could not have anticipated the change that would begin to occur in my mind, body, and spirit. I have been engaged in an intense routine of lectures, presentations, reading, writing and practice. I am grateful for my wise professors, and for my fellow classmates, along for the journey.
A sure cornerstone of the Montessori method is the well prepared adult. The preparation not only includes a deep knowledge of the child’s development, but also a paradigm shift of the role of the adult, requiring humility and an open heart. It involves both a practical preparation as well as a spiritual preparation.
Montessori writes, “The real preparation for education is a study of one’s self. The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character, it is a preparation of the spirit.” (The Absorbent Mind)
I am being challenged to identify my own failings and misgivings. Prejudices and judgements have no room in the classroom. In order to view each child with dignity, I must leave negativity at the door, not projecting any of my own expectations. When I enter the environment with open eyes, eager to observe what is true, I can evolve with the needs of the child, serving his developing spirit. True teaching requires copious amounts of daily observation – being plugged into the changes occurring within the child. Love requires knowledge, and knowledge comes through observation.
As I practice this paradigm shift in the environment of the classroom, I am challenged as I return to the world. How do I treat those around me? Do I bring unrealistic expecations to relationships, or project constant judgement on those I meet? Do I truly observe the world around me, taking note of details, emotions, and experiences? As I quiet my heart in this process, I continue to unearth a spirit of pride and judgement that is difficult to confront. This level of self-realization requires a work of the soul.
And I ask, did I sign up for a teacher training course, or a radical process of self-develpoment?
I am eager to continue in this work of preparation, with the hope that I will be an educator who is humble and a willing servant. And also that I would be a citizen of the world, who is eager to love and honor those around me.