It's been seven, count them, seven months since I last wrote anything of substance. Inexcusable, I know. Especially when you consider how seven months ago I wrote the words, "You all will be hearing a great deal more about my teaching adventures in coming posts (which will be much more regular, henceforth)." Ha! But remember what else I said seven months ago, about how we're finding our way? Well, over the past seven months the way is finding its shape in some pretty awesome ways. We are shaping what we want to do with our lives here. It's no small potatoes and these things take time. Ross and I have been some incredibly busy bees with big, bright plans. Let's dive in, shall we?
I will begin in January: On January 20th, two very important things happened: we got a new president, and I got to work. I watched the inauguration with some 20 high school students on my first day of my teaching internship. This internship is largely to blame for the long absence of posts. I've never done so much, so fast, in such a short space of time in my life. To call it draining would be an understatement. For 10 weeks I got up at 5:00am, taught three 90-minute class periods of English, finished up around 4:00pm, went to class twice a week until 7:00pm, and often did not get home before 9:oopm, in time to grade papers and revise lesson plans. Fun, right? I was exhausted by the end of it. The first thing Ross said to me when I finished was that I was never allowed to do anything like this ever again. He's right, and I won't.
Throughout my masters programme, I learned a huge amount about teaching, what children need in order to learn and grow, and they myriad ways they are and aren't getting those things. But what I learned about myself was equally important. I cannot work a "day job." The parameters of normal employment, and frankly working for someone else is simply not my cup of tea. I don't do well with other people's rules and expectations when those rules and expectations don't make any sense. It drains my spirit. I often joked during this internship that I was loosing the will to live; but really, it was only a half-joke. The moments I had with my students that really lit me up inside did not outweigh how sad and disheartened I am with the whole framework of how we educate. Don't misunderstand me, there are brilliant teachers and terrific schools; I am the product of both. But it seems to me that there are better ways. To put it more simply, in this programme I was handed the box and told how to get inside the box. I was not told how I might get out of the box and take as many kids with me as I could. . . which is what I want and what many of them need.
The point is, I came home every day and felt deflated, no matter how awesome the lesson went. Maybe I missed some key aspect of the art of teaching, maybe the skills to find they ways to love it every day in this context would come with practice over months and years, but I'm making other plans.
Sheep. Let's talk about them. Antoine de Saint-Exupery (yes, that Antoine de Saint-Exupery) said, "If someone wants a sheep, then that means that he exists." We agree. There is something about them that just feels good and right. Plus, they taste good, and more importantly, so does their milk: so we're gonna make cheese. When I start talking with folks about these cheesemaking plans, I typically get one of four reactions: 1)wow, that's awesome, I love sheep's milk cheeses! 2) You can milk a sheep?, 3) There are sheep's milk cheeses? or 4) Oh, so you're going make goat cheese! That's awesome!
In point of fact, the best cheeses in the world are made with sheep's milk cheeses (Roquefort, idiazabal, manchego, roncal, ricotta, feta, shall I go on?). Sheep's milk has the highest butterfat per litre content of any ruminant. Therefore, sheep efficiently turn grass into the highest quality of the stuff you need to make cheese with the least amount of waste (whey). Also, because of the high-quality and rich taste of most sheep cheeses, they fetch the highest prices. Plus, lamb, the natural by-product of dairying, is delicious.
At the advice of a fantastic cheesemaker in New York we met at ALBC a few years ago, Ross and I have been attending cheese school up at the University of Vermont's Institute for Artisan Cheese, meeting all kinds of farmers and cheesemakers, business planning, researching, and experimenting in the kitchen. We know a lot about milk chemistry now, and we're pretty darn excited about it.
However, at this point, I feel the need to add an explanatory note. A lot has been happening over the past few months and years that to an outsider, may seem like an odd trajectory; that somehow, Ross and I are scattered or directionless; winding along a meandering path of un-connected dots. All this, this is a winding road: me the medievalist and English major turned camp counselor for a wilderness school turned farm intern turned teacher, now writer, entrepreneur, farmer and cheesemaker; and Ross, who appears even more disconnected: the computer geek/ technical theatre buff/ urban designer/web-content consultant and trainer/farmer. Every time I tell my story to a passer-by I feel so self-conscious; I feel like I look scattered to them, directionless. Quite the opposite. I want to make good food, and I want to teach through that context. I want to think every day, make connections, solve tremendously complex problems, and remain, as ever, deeply intellectually and spiritually stimulated. And yes, this is a very medieval thing to do. My friend Brandon, an intern on the farm here for the year issued a similar complaint to my own. When he told one friend his story of how he came to want to be a farmer, the friend told him, "You are a polymath." For Brandon, that makes him feel, not directionless at all, it makes him, "feel like a farmer. "
Lately, I've been feeling a push to explain what I'm doing to folks, to somehow make my choices, hopes, and aspirations into something that makes sense to them. Really, the path I'm on, my way, it's mine, and to quote Brandon, "it makes sense to me."