All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is
given us.– J.R.R Tolkien
Last June I wrote a post stating that I wouldn’t be spending the summer learning how to become a better teacher. After all, I already spend 10 months a year immersed in professional learning. The past couple of years I’ve come to a place where I want my summers to be about more than being a teacher. Partially because I want my life to be balanced, but also because I honestly believe the most important quality I have to offer my students is being an adept and critically evaluative learner. Alvin Toffler states, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” My summer will be devoted to some of each.
My first summer challenge is developing a life of gratitude. What? I think most people are great at being thankful when it’s slotted on the calendar, like Thanksgiving day, but in my regular day in and day out life, it’s easy for me not to be grateful for all I have.
So although I’m not a journaling person, at least not in the traditional sense, I’ve started a list. My goal is to write down 1,000 things that I love. Things that I’m incredibly thankful for that make my life rich and enjoyable. The thing I’ve noticed so far is that the items on my list don’t tend to be “big” things. Most of them cannot be bought. A few examples:
6) The feel & smell of the cool earth as I garden.
18) Freshly picked strawberries –warm from the sun.
4) The freckles on my 4 yr. old daughter’s nose.
19) Driving to work past cows, fields of golden wheat rippling in the wind & expansive skies of blue.
I admit, at this point my list isn’t very long. I’m still in double digits, but it’s a work in progress. I write things down as they come to me, or more often, as I notice them. And I think that’s how it’s been most helpful; it’s helped me to stop and notice all that I have. I’m learning to pay attention.
My second challenge is learning about global and ecological economics. Not the stuffy, academic, theoretical kind — the practical, why-this-matters-to-everyone kind. I took a few economics classes in university, and haven’t really learned much about it since. However, with everything that’s going on globally, it’s pretty fascinating, and with what might be looming on the horizon, I also think it’s pretty important. Ecological economics looks at the true cost of all we produce and buy. Global economics looks at the intricacy, and quite truthfully the fragility, of our entwined economies. I’m learning that what I do, what I buy, and what I take for granted matters and affects lives other than my own.
Finally, my most difficult challenge is figuring out if our family can actually eat locally. Seriously. For me, the whole organic, sustainable and local thing really matters. I’ve read numerous terrific books about it over the past couple of years. And it’s something we’ve dabbled in, going to farmer markets during the summer and shopping occasionally at local organic stores. We’re also pretty fortunate that we already have local, sustainable sources for our beef, pork and chicken.
But now I’m talking the full deal. Everything local, organic, sustainable. Here’s the thing — I live in Saskatchewan. And for at least four months of the year, the climate is like frozen tundra, which means salad is off the table for almost half the year and bananas are out of the question. So over the next two months I’ll try to figure out what does it really look like to eat like this? How do we do that year round? What are the sacrifices our family will have to make and are we willing to make them? These aren’t easy questions, but to me they’re important ones.
So that’s what I’m doing this summer. I’m pursuing the questions that matter most to me. I’m learning, unlearning, and relearning, and likely failing a lot, too, along the way.
Shelley, good luck with your local eating.
I think it’s a great idea. It’s really only in this last 50 years or so that we’ve all had fruits and vegetables available year round because of global markets. In my youth, fruits and vegetables were seasonable. You didn’t get them all year round and there was something magic about that very first meal of new potatoes and new peas every summer. How we looked forward to it. And in autumn all those beautiful apples that you rarely see today because they don’t last well.
You might find, after your 4 months of winter that you’ll be spending next summer, freezing, bottling, and preserving in many forms all that fresh local produce!
The way you grew up sounds a lot like the way I grew up. My parents had a huge garden that supplied all of the vegetables we ate year round. I remember my mom freezing and canning things like crazy in August & September, so that we would have vegetables and fruit during the winter. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until recently! I want my kids to have the same experience, so I imagine I’ll be freezing and canning things like crazy in the fall!
Shelly, You’ve hit another home run (or should I say three?). Good luck on your summer ventures.
I’ve just returned from Ireland. I spent the entire 8 days looking at Irelamd though my photography lens. I captured the simplest of things; coloured doors, grass, plants, trees as well as building. Today as I drove around my own community, I took the time to notice the beauty that exists right here: farms, fields, buildings, houses and of course our lake. I’ve decided to take time to really look and enjoy my surroundings. Best of luck with your list. We all need reminders to slow down and enjoy the little things in life.
That’s a superb idea – spending these next few weeks “developing a life of gratitude”, and compiling a list of things you love. Very inspirational.
I think you’ve also hit on something very important when you say you’d like a better understanding of global economics. There are millions of people reeling and suffering from the effects of the global banking catastrophe, and yet very few of us assume we have the capacity (or need) to properly understand how it came about and who was responsible for it. Clearly there are various opposing schools of thought within economics, and it’s difficult to establish a single verifiable ‘truth’ about the effects of financial deregulation and globalisation, etc, but that doesn’t mean we should just sit back and leave everything to politicians and economists. A good starting point for many people who want to see the bigger picture and understand how the pieces fit together is Naomi Klein’s brilliant book “The Shock Doctrine” (The Rise of Disaster Capitalism), which explains very clearly how the Chicago School of neo-liberal economics came to be so dominant and why Milton Friedman was so important for neo-conservatives worldwide. Naomi’s website is also well worth a visit.
Wow, I hadn’t heard of this book, but it’s something I’m really interested in learning about. Thanks for the resource!
Way to go, Shelley. sounds like we are on similar journeys. Mine’s been partly provoked by a “one word challenge” year. I chose “deepen”, and one of the things we’re deepening as a family is our understanding of where our food comes from. My mom’s husband is a farmer, as are friends, and this summer we have truly made the connection between weather, food and economics. When I paid A LOT more for my 10 pound pails of sour cherrries to freeze for this winter, we talked in our family about the fact that the Niagara cherry crop was 10% of usual, due to the warming we had this spring, and the mild, little-snow winter before it. supply and demand demonstrated perfectly. Driving around rural Ontario this week, and knowing no one’s getting a second cut of hay, we know this will mean people having to sell off cattle they can’t feed, and that will drive prices down. I don’t think my own kids have ever been more aware of how precious last night’s all night rain was on Nana’s farm, and I’m so glad they have that awareness.
Next step, sharing this with my small-city students, who will be revelling in this hot, dry summer.
Good point about local but I wonder about the importance of the Kenyan green beans in my local supermarket to the life of farmers there. The sums are more complex than air miles
I agree. In some instances, it’s not just about geography. We always buy sustainable, fair trade coffee & tea. We definitely can’t grow either of those here!
Thanks. This post is so timely. I found out this week that they are terminating my position at work. I am GRATEFUL that I have the choice of two different positions that pay the same as my last job. I am blessed in so many ways. I am choosing to look at this event as a huge opportunity to make a difference in a different way. Dream a new dream.
Great attitude! So often we look at the bad things that are happening, rather than the new possibilities change can create.
Thanks Shelley for motivating me to think about the 1,000 things that matter to me most! Too often I get caught on the treadmill of life and forget to get of and enjoy life. Good luck with your challenge of eating locally. We too believe in that as well but also struggle with fruits and vegetables during the winter months….I can’t say I’m ready to give up my spinach salads yet however if I had a tasty replacement I just might! Here’s to unlearning, learning and relearning!
Hi, Shelley, I happened on your site through a Web 2.0 course, and I have to say that I really enjoy what you have to share about teaching and life in general. My husband and I listened to Animal, Mineral Vegetable on our honeymoon drive to Halifax, Nova Scotia, five years ago, and we were really struck by the idea of local eating. Even though we live in New York city, my husband is fortunate to maintain a large garden at his dad’s house in the country, and we do lots of bottling, jamming, pickling and preserving all summer and revel in eating food that is only a few hours old when it gets to the table. Needless to say, our friends think we’re kind of nuts but fresh food in season has no parallel, nor does the sight of my two-year old, covered in dirt, eating tomatoes fresh from the vine. It accounts for several of the things I am grateful for. I wish you all the best in your journey, and thank you for your thoughts.
I read that book last year, and absolutely loved it! Some of our friends have the same sentiments as yours, but I agree. Store strawberries taste nothing like fresh ones! It encourages me that you can do this in New York. I live in rural Saskatchewan. What we can grow, we can definitely buy from a farmer’s market. Thanks for reading!
I am a teacher educator, and a student of mine gave me the link to your site as she thought we would have much in common. I have read your thoughts on being thankful and thought you might be interested in knowing that I have recently published a book on this topic:: Howells, K. “Gratitude in Education: A Radical View” (Rotterdam: Sense). Gratitude can indeed lead to transformative learning and teaching.
Kerry (from Hobart, Tasmania, Australia)
Thanks for letting me know. The concept of gratitude in education is both novel and exciting. I’ll definitely take a look. Thanks!
How about a mini-greenhouse to supplement your green veggies (or herbs) during the winter?
I started reading your “The Flip: End of a Love Affair” and then moved onto this site. I enjoy your ed writings as I’m detached from actual teaching, having been in the IT dept. of a small university in the US for about 17 years.
Not sure if you or your students have ever used WordPress for sharing info/collaborating, but it makes a great communications tool. Using a free wordpress.com site, you can set it up to “publish via email” and/or “publish via phone call”. Once you’ve done that, almost any device (e.g. smartphone, iPad, Chromebook, laptop or PC) can be used to publish quickly to your WP site by sending an email. The “publish by phone” feature means you, or your students, can call a number and create an audio posting easily. Then, go back later to add text or photos, or link to videos for richer content . *I’ve also thought a WP site would be great for study groups.
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