April 20, 2014

Manifest Your Destiny

Good Teacher. Bad Student.
I am a good teacher but a hopeless student.

But that ends today, for I have recently given my students an excellent assignment. And I intend to do it. My seniors, in their last month on campus, have been tasked with writing their own manifesto, a document that will elucidate their goals, specify their values and lay claim to their destiny. I too am writing such a document. I do this to model for them, but primarily for myself. The assignment is so good, that I deserved to ask myself the same questions and draft a template for my existence.

I hereby do declare, by the power vested in my by God, the lightning and the universe, that my life will serve the benefit of others. As a teacher, a woman, a healer and a friend, I will bring the lessons I have learned to fruit to nourish others. I will practice what I preach and when I cannot, I will be silent. I will practice kindness and gentleness with myself. Daily, I will nurture my body and my spirit as my greatest treasures; I will lavish myself with loving care that previously was allotted only to dear friends, pets and lovers. I will ask for what I need from others and from the world for I know that asking yields the greatest potential for receiving it. I will live gently on the earth with attention to my choices and their impact. And I will love.

I will be open to and reflective of love in the world, sharing that gift of appreciation and symbiosis. I will embrace the courage to be who I am under all circumstances and under any conditions. From there I will love myself and be able to love all and any in return. With a confident and well-tended heart I will grow the strength to be vulnerable and the willingness to be imperfect in a world of increasing expectation. I will practice devotion, gratitude and kindness. I will practice unyielding appreciation for the gifts, physical and metaphysical, bestowed upon me and earned. And in every way possible I will cultivate and nurture a passion to live gently, a desire to be honest and a practice of curiosity first within myself and then in individuals and societies.

This is my declaration as a student, as a teacher, as a woman, as an artist and a cook and an explorer. This is my Manifesto and it is with this intention that I set out on a year of curiosity, discovery and self-nourishment. But as with every great endeavour it takes time. Like the garden my father planted and his father before him planted, I need to cultivate the soil, select the best seed, plant and tend the young sprout and let nature take its course. I can control a great deal of my destiny but the rest I have to leave in the hands of fate, good hands to be in.   

April 19, 2014

The story starts here: Love of my life

March 22-2012

I grew up resisting /fighting  the dreams my mother chased. A familiar story .

But after not believing in prince charming, falling for the line that I need a man to take care of me and make me happy and to looking for the love of my life, I came to discover something remarkably unexpected.

Today after retrieving my adopted dog from a 3 day emergency stay at the vet, taking her on a walk after dinner and then wandering to the market for an ice cream cone, I had a moment to sit. As she stared up at me with falsely expectant eyes, waiting for a drop or crumb which I am too meticulous to let fall, I realized that the love of my life already exists, and not as you may be expecting. Although I love her tremendously, this creature, this adoring dog is no the love of my life.

I have traveled and wandered and fled and escaped and wandered and traveled some more to finally have a resting place in the most unlikely of places. But it is in this twist of fated location that I believe that I come to realize that the love of my life is my work, my students, my career, my pursuit of understanding, for myself and the exploration of that learning in others. The love of my life is the people I meet, the humor, curiosity and resilience in youth around the world. They are tremendous; from rural Vermont to urban San Francisco then to Shanghai and on to a sleepy little city in Colombia, that no one has ever heard of.
It is here among these sounds and the people and in this remote and destined location that it has come together. And that I have found the love and the comfort and the satisfaction that I have been looking for.
It does not come on a horse or with a perfect soundtrack. It does not come in a tall, dark or handsome body. It does not come as I had expected and then never expected, it comes slowly and seeps in. Latching on to parts of my soul like a parasitic infection—one that I could never remove, medicate or operate. Nor would I ever want to. It is in this life that the strangest things some.
And it is completely true that this love is not all encompassing and it does not satisfy all my needs… but I don’t think any love should. We all need balance and diversity to maintain a healthy body and mind. So the love and passion I have found in my work inspires me to find more in other parts of my life.
I spend my days with teenagers who are energetic, ridiculous, sponges of eager intellect. They wait and sometimes don’t wait to learn and engage and interact.
They respond to encouragement , nurturing and tough limits and high expectations. They respond to logically explained reasoning and humor in return.
They adapt and they thrive.
The love of my life is in my classroom. The questions, the dance of neurons and the process of looking for answers even when there is no single right answer or dozens.
It is the desire I feel to find the understanding I seek, to help guide and show these open faces how to look for the answers they seek in their own lives.  This passion drives me home in the afternoon. It fuels late night reading and investigation sessions.  It challenges me and nourishes me.  When this kind of intense work should drain a person, I feel motivated and hungry for more.
The neglected intellect I carried around with me through my own educational years is hungry and finally ready to absorb and navigate all those unexplored pathways. Maybe if I had been a better student I would not have the curiosity that now overwhelms me.  I might be satisfied with what I know about the world, but now… now I am ravenous and it is the hunger and the feeding that motivates me. It is the pieces of puzzles that work 3 dimensionally and then more through time and space that allow me to make more and more sense of a less and less straight forward world and age.

Will I ever get married and get the table setting for eight? Will I ever wear a white dress and obsess about flowers or … I don’t even know what. Maybe the passion will only reside in this part of my life. I cannot see past next year. I imagine that year to be very much like this one and similar to last year. In a years time I cannot imagine wanting anything different from another year like this, again. If I do, I am sure I will pursue that direction. But for now, this is it. This is the love of my life and this is what I wake up early for (very literally). This is what keeps me up at night. It brings me home in the afternoon and it (and the dog & cat) that keep me warm while I sleep.
I learn.
I wake up to learn more and the impulse to share that… and explore the intricacies and complexities of the world along side my students is enough.

Maybe they will only remember a fraction. A sliver. Maybe they will only the same amount that I remember from high school, which is not much. But I used to say that more than the content I teach, I wanted my students to learn how to learn so they can learn and pursue what THEY are passionate about. Other than that, learning to be good to each other is all I can hope for. If they have a good time and they remember that, then we are ahead of the game.

I learn so much from them. We are engaged in an exchange of ideas and it is in this that we are equal participants in curiosity.  
I may well be a better teacher than story teller, but I truly believe that they are one in the same. The stories I tell all day long are the constructions of history that I have gathered and gleaned. They are the mixture of all the sources I have ever encountered and the belief structure of my parents and influential friends. The history I teach is the history I have lived and the story I tell is as much a part of me and anything else.
For example, I could no easier extract my DNA from the class I teach than travel back in time on a field trip.
Who I am is entwined with the story I tell, the classes I teach. Some would clearly and justifiably argue that teachers should be impartial and that there is no room for perspective and opinion in history. I will argue the negative, in that the  danger in history is believing that it is just that, neutral, unbiased and therefore fact and indisputable. I challenge my students to form their own perspectives, by illuminating mine. I expose them to ideas of bias and interpretation, for history can be unwritten, rewritten and without a keen eye to identify the multitude of messages in the “facts” that we are learning we are doomed to become  victims of them. This is the antithesis of the reason I teach.
It is much less about what my students think and believe and more about that they are critically analyzing the world around them and the information they encounter. It is not about agreeing with me. In fact it is much more interesting when there is disagreement, it is however about engaging and evaluating. This is what makes us ……… 

A story deep inside

I have a story deep inside me. It moves like a hibernating dragon.  Slowly breathing in a roar. Randomly twitching like a sleeping dog chasing a rabbit through Andalucian dream fields. And then going silent until it is forgotten. But this story, like a body bag, drags behind me when I travel, sits on my chest as I sleep and whispers in my ear when I am eyes are closed. It tells me lies and for so long I have been listening without realizing that it is time to break up with this story. It needs to be set loose in greener pastures.

When I run it runs faster. When I sleep it watches me. When I dream it thwarts me.

So this story is not of me or for me. Like a cancer it has been thriving and resides inside my rib cage. It is time to start cutting and scrapping.

The only problem is that it means I have to go back to all those places I left and swore never to return to.

March 16, 2014

What My Cat (and My Dog) Taught Me About Being a Better Person

Love & Affection & Devotion might all be the same thing. There are innumerable ways to express these emotions. My cat and dog have been instructing me in the ways of devoted affection. While they are still arch rivals and bitter enemies, they do seem to cooperate in one thing, loving me relentlessly. These lessons have taught me that love comes in all shapes and sizes. My pets have taught me how to have the life I want. Here are there lessons.
Sleep is good. Get plenty of it. Sleep at any time of day or night and in any position that seems comfortable, the funnier the better as long as you are comfortable. Devote yourself whole-heartedly to being adorable and accept willingly the outcome. Sleep revives the body and spirit for enthusiastic play in the future. Sleep encourages cuddling. Do it often. You won’t regret it.
 Work “It is not as important as you think it is. So stop worrying about it and pet me,” my cat tells me. He is consistent in his behavior. If I am working on the computer or have papers spread out on the table, he hops up and makes himself comfortable. He has an uncanny ability to discern exactly what I am working on and plunks himself down directly on top of that. If I am engrossed in writing something he arrays himself, just so, so his head covers a third of the keyboard and more often than not hits random keys making my flow a bit less smooth. (He is unfortunately not responsible for ALL my type-os and incongruous thoughts.) But it is with subtle determination that he urges me to not work so hard and take a moment to pet him which suites us both.

Importance of time together: All problems can be solved with a little snuggle time (or a walk, Did you say WALK?!?!) Eating, sleeping, watching the sunset, doing the dishes and even taking a shower are all better when done together. This is the philosophy my pets indoctrinate me with. We are co-dependant in the most adorable way. This is because we are better together.

Eating: Food is good. Enjoy it, but remember that it is better to eat in the company of others. My cat will not eat with out my company. He often meows until I accompany him and pet him while he eats. It is a pampered life style, but who wouldn’t benefit from similar pampering or affectionate care?

Forgiveness: When you are angry, be angry. And as soon as you are done, be done.  If you make a mistake ask for forgiveness, in any way you know how; my dog prefers apologies of the tongue, licks. Emotions are grand. Have them. Resentment, however, is for complicated minds and only breeds misery, so skip it. Forgive and move on to more snuggling. 

Communication- Sincerity is essential in all that we do. Ask for what you want and need in any way you know how. It significantly increases your chance of getting it. Sometimes people can’t read your mind or are too wrapped up in their own to notice what you think should be obvious. So ask. My cat communicated even when he is not sure what he wants, but chances are it is food. He uses his words, his actions, his licks and his claws. There are a million things to communicate and even more ways of communicating them. My dog makes it abundantly clear when she wants or needs to go out for a walk. I need the reminder. And there are times when I have to communicate too. But with all things we learn how to express ourselves and have ourselves understood.

Commitment- Take care of each other as best you can. And stay together as long as you can by following the lessons above to the best of your abilities.

When I find myself in alignment with these principles I am closer to being the person I want to be.

February 16, 2014

Eating Well, Means Living Well

Finally I learned how to make my favorite Colombian soup: Ajiaco Santafereño.

Last weekend my adoptive mother taught me how to make a soup that can solve all problems if given a chance. Potatoes, chicken, corn on the cob, and a hand-full of things I am not sure how to translate into English.

Cook, serve with rice, avocado and of course a glass of freshly made fruit juice.

I will post the recipe here one day soon. In the mean time, I will just taunt you with the pictures.

 Inspired again to cook, after two weeks of not even walking due to a fractured heal bone, I am back in the kitchen, with a vengeance.

Roast chicken, potatoes, apples, celery and HERBS, lots of herbs.
A treat every night, and sometimes when ever I have a hankering:
Homemade yogurt with Maple syrup.

I have been making yogurt since I moved to Colombia and couldn't find plain yogurt (without the fruit and added sugar etc). So I learned how to make it... very simple and comforting. Delicious too.
 It may not look like much, but that is why we don't eat pictures of food, we eat the food itself.
 Chicken last weekend was such a hit, that is was time for another this weekend.
During the week I don't always have the time to cook and this week, in particular will be hectic getting my photo exhibition printed, hung, publicized etc. So I thought in the quiet hours of my Saturday afternoon and my lazy midday Sunday that I would cook up a storm, so I can fuel my week well.
I know the junk that I eat when there are not enough homemade options. I know how I feel when I eat that. And this is not a week for that. This is a week for hard work, celebration, self-care and good eats.
Saturday I roasted some potatoes that have already served as all or some of 4 meals and I have one more portion to repeat this (Sunday breakfast) for Monday Lunch.

And so the cooking continues: I have to get myself through Thursday without making another meal besides my morning fruit smoothies (which I indulge in because I live in a tropical climate where fresh, local, delicious fruit is in abundance).

So one more meal came about because of what I had in my fridge.
Broccoli Goat Cheese Quiche- crust made from scratch
I made the goat cheese last weekend- that is remarkably easy too. Another post forthcoming.

So 45 minutes later (from start to oven) I have a
dish that will feel me for the rest of the week. This is what it looked like on the way into the oven...

it is cooling now. The sun will set soon and my afternoon ritual of eating dinner on my balcony to watch the day end will be hosted by a delicious slice of this.
* For someone who speaks so disparagingly about "food porn," at least in this post, I may well be guilty myself.

Roads to Nowhere: Photo Exhibition

Announcing: If you are in Colombia this week, please come and enjoy the show, the live music and have drink with us. 
 If you can't make it to the opening, the exhibit will be up for 14 days. 

When so much of life is achievement and so much of travel is destination, it is easy to lose sight of the magnificent beauty along the way, on the side of the road, down some alley or that which we see ever day. The exhibition of photographs, "Roads to Nowhere" pauses to glimpse and capture moments in time from the Mediterranean coast and more. Relishing the simplicity in the moments that accumulate to equal a life. 
"Well we know where we're goin', but we don't know where we've been and we know what we're knowing, but we can't say what we've seen." - Talking Heads

En Medio De / Gallery / Cafe / Cinema 
CALLE 58 NO. 32-66 / 657-2727 
Bucaramanga / Colombia 
 FREE Admission * Pictures and posters will be for sale* 

La primera exposición de una colección de obras de Sierra Melcher (viajero del mundo, Couch Surfer- y maestro). Por favor, ven y disfrutan del espectáculo, la música en vivo y han de beber con nosotros. Entrada gratuita Si no pueden asistir a la apertura, la exposición estará hasta por 14 días. 

"Cuando gran parte de la vida se convierte en buscar el éxito y gran parte de los viajes sólo en llegar a un destino, es fácil perder de vista la magnífica belleza que se encuentra en el camino, ya sea al lado de la carretera, por algún callejón o en lo que vemos todos los días. La exposición de fotografías, "Roads to Nowhere" hace una pausa para vislumbrar los momentos capturados en el tiempo de la costa mediterránea y otros lugares más; disfrutando de la sencillez de los momentos que se acumulan y que se equiparan a una vida." 

 “Bien sabemos dónde vamos a ir, pero no sabemos dónde hemos estado y sabemos lo que estamos conociendo, pero no podemos hablar de lo que hemos visto.” - Talking Heads 

 This picture is a teaser for my next show:

July 5, 2013

This is what it looks like

Photo. Herceg Novi, Montenegro.
PHOTO. Kotor, Montenegro.
PHOTO. Kotor, Montenegro.