Nature, Meditation, and Cooking

I hope you like my featured photo.  I took it on my way home from Nebraska in 2017.  We had traveled there to witness the total solar eclipse.  Of course it was incredible, and luckily, the sun set that day with a spectacular view in Western Kansas.

I have a list of topics on which to write in my series of blog posts.  One thing I thought of was the joy of camping.  My Father used to take us camping when we were young. Of the seven children, all of us continue to enjoy nature and all it has to offer us.  My best memories of camping with my father and siblings were the nature lessons on edible plants, astronomy, mushroom hunting, and fishing.  Cooking what we caught and gathered was the best part, and eating all of the food we prepared was the bonus.  My father used to sing to us while he cooked our camp meals.  Today, our camp sites are a place for gathering (Pre-Corona Virus times), conversing, and enjoying each detail of the natural world around us.

My Father’s favorite and best meal was, “Sheepherder’s Delight.”  Basically, it is a one-pan meal, and was cooked over an open fire.  It was a favorite of Dad’s for camping trips since it was a staple meal for sheep herders who lived in the mountains of Colorado with during the summers, as was my Father’s life as a young boy.  Today, when my family goes camping, we prepare the meal the way Dad did, but when we make it at home, we change it a bit.  Here’s my Father’s recipe for Sheepherder’s Delight prepared in one large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven:

1 pound (0.45 kg) of bacon.  Cook until crisp.  Remove cooked bacon, and set aside.  Cube two to four potatoes, depending on the number people that you will feed.  Figure about one small potato per person or two people for a large potato.  Place the potatoes in the hot bacon grease, and fry until soft with crisp edges.

Next, open a can of prepared baked beans, pork and beans, or beans in tomato sauce.  Pour the beans over the potatoes, and add the cooked bacon.  I don’t have a picture of it, but it’s best served after a hard day of hiking, fishing, mushroom hunting, or what ever you do to enjoy nature.  We have a slightly different take on Sheepherder’s Delight when we’re at home.  We change up the ingredients:

1 pound of ground beef (453.592g) I’m sorry if my metric measurements are not quite right.  I look them up on the web for the conversions.  Cook the ground beef with some diced onions, salt, and pepper.

Prepare the potatoes for oven baking.  I cut mine into strips, and toss them with salt, pepper, some oil, and some malt vinegar.  Bake the potatoes in an oven set at ~365 degrees Farenheit (185C). Bake until brown and crispy at the edges.

While the potatoes are baking, finish cooking the ground beef.  Drain of any extra fat.  Then you’re ready to add the canned baked beans, pork and beans, or with what you’re familiar.  It should look like this.

Now, to assemble this wonderful comfort food, bring the potatoes out of the oven.  Arrange some of the potatoes on your plate.  Then serve the bean-meat mixture over the potatoes.  We make this for camping trips.  We use one pan by cooking the potatoes first.  Set them aside while you cook the meat.  Add the beans, and serve over the potatoes.  I forgot to take a picture of the finished product until I had but one bit remaining.

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Another thing we do to enjoy nature is hike up to my Father’s fire circle.  It’s in the same mountains of his childhood and that of his children, grandchildren, and the “Old Ones,” our ancestors.  The Fire Circle is a place to drum and sing our songs, and honor our beloved ancestors.  The hike to our sacred fire circle is about two miles from the main forest service road.  We pass stands of quaking aspen trees, scrub oak, pinon pine, and Ponderosa pine trees.  The fire circle overlooks a canyon where my people hid when the U.S. government was removing them from their ancestral lands to reservations in the 1800s.  It is a very sad time in American history, that is not taught in the schools today.  Here’s a glimpse of those lands.  Our grandson enjoys his time there.

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Speaking of “Indian Removal,” there is the reality that the people were moved away from their hunting and gathering grounds, so there was no way to raise their food.  So the government provided commodities, food surpluses, which included white flour, powdered milk, lard, and a variety of canned meats and vegetables.  The food was highly processed, and we can trace obesity and diabetes back to this down turn in our physical health and food sovereignty.  Having only white flour, dry milk powder, and lard, fry-bread was born, out of necessity.   Though it is a symbol of a bad time for my ancestors, we use it today to symbolize that we are resourceful, and we are still here!  Here I am frying bread at my Father’s fire circle.  My grand nephew was learning how to roll out the dough.  It’s never too early to teach the “younguns” as my brother would say.  He was the one hauling the cast iron Dutch oven up to the circle.  The elevation is ~8,000-plus  feet above sea level.  The beauty contributes to the meditative state in which we find ourselves when we visit this place.

It was a good day to be alive and a good day to honor our ancestors while celebrating the children.

Thank you for reading.

It’s Geography Awareness Week!

Every year, around the second or third week in November, National Geographic Society celebrates Geography Awareness Week (GAW).  As a National Geographic Society Explorer, I have made it one of my missions to promote the study of geography in the class room.  In the U.S., the study of geography is not mandatory.  This sad reality means that many young people, mostly our Anglo students in the U.S.  have no idea that they  possess culture or are part of the human continuum that we call, “diversity.”  Geography teaches us that our respective cultures become part of us as we mature from infants to adulthood, gathering preferences, inter-sectional identities, belief systems, and ways-of-knowing, depending on what part of the world we call home.

It’s a great honor to be part of National Geographic Society as an explorer.  While I don’t get to travel to the far reaches of the globe, I help students look at the world with geo-spatial lenses.  I teach them to ask questions, which we call, “geo-inquiry.”  I have an example:

  • Ask: Framed question from a location-based perspective so that you understand the challenge
  • Acquire: the resources needed to study the question further, such as research data
  • Examine your data, and watch for patterns that begin to emerge
  • Analyze the data to see which factors influence other factors
  • Act on your knowledge to determine a problem-solving approach

–Develop your message for your intended audience to create visuals to communicate information

Let me break this down even further.  Suppose I parachute out of a plane, and I don’t know where I am.

  1. Where is this place? (Ask)
  2. What is the topography? What is the climate?  Am I surrounded by mountains?  Can I see snow on those mountains? Why am I surrounded by a treeless sandy plain but I can see mountains about 25 miles (40.2 km) in every direction? What else can my surrounding tell me? Have I been to a place like this previously?  (Acquire data)
  3. After I take in all this data, I can begin to examine it to create a hypothesis on my location. (Examine)
  4. Analyzing my data, I begin to realize that I am somewhat familiar with the surroundings.  About 25 years ago, I remember that I climbed Blanca Peak, a 14,000 Feet (4267.2 meters) peak at my 11:00 o’clock as I face south.
  5. I can now act on my knowledge to find my way to the nearest town in this valley.  Where am I?  I am at the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, United States.

Geography asks us to consider all our surroundings and to recognize how we humans interact with our environments.  It asks us to consider place and what makes place important to us.  Here are some other questions we ask through geography:

“What is?  or Which is?

“Where is?”

“What has changed?”  “Since when”?

“How has it changed?”

“Which spatial patterns exist?”

“What if?”

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My students pointing to their places of origin!

Here are some other geography “tid-bits.”

  • Did you know that Geography is considered the “Mother of Sciences”?  Geography’s study field embraced the entire universe and later bore many children, among them astronomy, botany, geology, and anthropology.
  • Did you know that Climatology is the study of how climates are created and what they do the environment?  Climatology is a long-term study of the geographic world.
  • Did you know that Human Ecology, the study of humans in their environments, is a unique field of Geography?  This form of geographic inquiry aims to clarify the relationships between natural environments and varying activities of humans.
  • Did you know that geography explores human systems, which include culture, economics, migration, and politics?
  • Did you know that geography explores physical systems such as land forms, climate, and rivers?

Geography is wonderful!  Some people think that technology, such as map programs, will do away with maps and atlases.  I hope not.  The joy of exploring the world through maps remains a great excitement for those of us who grew up with maps.

If you would like to hear geography linked  with music, listen to High Plains Public Radio, online at hppr.org.  Silver Rails: Music of the World in the Folk Tradition airs Saturday, November 9, 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Central Time.  Lynn Boitano and I will be your host for music, geography trivia call-in, and lots of geography information.  We will be celebrating Geography Awareness!

Thank you for reading!

 

The Wonders of Traveling to the City – Los Angeles

We landed at LAX, the international airport of Los Angeles, California today.  I love traveling.  Yes.  There are delays, many personalities, and some inconveniences.  Those little “bothers” dim when compared to the phenomenal wonders of witnessing the human experience in the process.  There are those who are laid back, as I tend to be, because we know we cannot hold back the tide, such is air travel.  There are those who appear to be stressed and uptight, perhaps, because they have no control over time and space, such is travel.   And there are those who appear to be oblivious to the process of travel and other life realities, in general.   

On the flight from Colorado to LAX, I had the pleasure of observing all three.  First, there was my seat mate who was traveling to LA to meet up with friends at Disneyland.  She amused me, not because she was unaware of direction in her home town of Colorado Springs (I mentioned that Cheyenne Moutain is always on the west, and if she faces it, her right would be north, and her left would be south.  To which she replied, “I don’t know what that means”.  Okay.  I get that, I think.  She appeared to be a nice young lady, no matter how unaware of her surroundings.  The great perplexing thing was that, once we landed, she did not know how she would get to Disneyland.  She thought of taking an Uber or Lyft for the 35 miles to Disney.  I suggested public transportation.  We were glad to help her get there, through a little research.  I was glad to help an elderly lady get her three big bags to the curb queue for waiting on family to fetch her. 

What I enjoyed the most, was the train ride to Pasadena.  Los Angeles has a very nice light rail.  On the ride, I spoke with homeless people who rode the rail for most of the day.  I interacted with some who were suffering from untreated mental illness, and with hard-working folk who toiled long, hard days to support their families in jobs that contribute to the economy, put food on our tables, and tend toward jobs that most of us do not want to do, nor do we raise our children to do such jobs.   

On the train in LA

I loved watching a little girl explaining to her mother, in Spanish, about her Russian Nesting Dolls, which she received as a gift from her teacher at school in the first day.  The little girl explained to me, the origins of her gift, in perfect English.  She was about 9 years old and very bright.

Little girls with nesting dolls on train

The first train from LAX takes us to Union Station, built in 1939 as a Passenger Terminal.  Called the “Last of the Great Railways, LA Union Station gained notoriety in 1980 by being place on the National Registry of Historic Places.  When we took the train from Kansas City to Los Angeles two years ago, we had the pleasure of departing from a great Union Station and Arriving at an equally great Union Station.  If only the walls could speak! 

The ride from LA Union Station to Pasadena afforded the observer with great contradictions.   Hibiscus “hedges” lined the streets while on those streets were small microcosms of tent “villages” inhabited by homeless people.   My heart breaks for the many circumstances that render one homeless, , and I believe we can learn much from them, because I witnessed great survival skills and resourcefulness in those with whom I’ve interacted.   

By the time we reached our destination of Pasadena, CA, I had spoken to 15 people each with a story to tell.  If we, but, listen, the voice of humanity shines, and we walk away a little smarter for the experience.   

Not only does the city offer the continuum of the human experience, I like to go to grocery stores to see what the locals purchase.  I like a well-stocked grocery with a wide array of ethnic ingredients, and Los Angeles does not disappoint!  Opportunities for dining out are fabulous!  One of my favorite hamburger spots is In-n-Out Burgers!  Opened in 1948 by the Snyders, the franchise boasts that it has no freezer or microwave.  Each “store” provides a viewing window, where we wait and watch each burger assembled.  The “double-double” has two freshly cooked patties that are place on buttered-toasted buns, freshly sliced onion and tomatoes and a chunk of lettuces pulled from the freshly broken head.  The fries come from a potato placed in a chopper directly into the hot oil.  All this is washed down with a sparkling cola.  There are even items from a “hidden” menu such as “animal fries” and a patty cooked for your dog! 

In and Out

After sitting with my brother-in-law, as he received chemo-therapy infusion, we treated ourselves to a snack of “inari-sushi” from a “stand” that has been in existence from Dale’s (my spouse) childhood. He’s 69 years old, so that Inari-Sushi stand has been around for a while.  One orders from a window, and the person brings the order to the car.  Inari-shushi is sushi rice, sesame seeds, with seasoned rice vinegar tucked into a tofu pocket.  Eaten with soy sauce and pickled ginger, it’s a taste explosion you won’t soon forget.  Now, I’m on the hunt for recipes on making the tofu pocket!   

Thank you for reading.

Regional Foods of Patabamba – Peru

A few years ago, I went on a study trip to Peru.  I wrote about it previously.  Of course, I’m always up for a new adventure in eating, though I love interacting with people with different backgrounds from my own. (Which is every day, really!  I don’t have to go to another country to do that!). My study group and I took many trips in-country, so I will talk about those from time to time.  This story begins in Cuzco, and it includes food, too!

The Cuzco church bells pealed at 4:00 a.m.   We ate a lovely breakfast of ham, cheese, eggs, fruit, granola made with puffed millet in place of our traditional oatmeal, liquid yogurt, and hot espresso.  Espresso is the only type of coffee served in Cuzco!  Having only been a consumer of coffee for a few years, this was strong for me, but it proved to be beneficial in the high altitude.  Cuzco is considered the Peruvian Andes and is 11,152’ altitude.  Coming from a mountainous region in Colorado, I adjusted quite well.  As for the espresso and any coffee in Peru, I must say that there was no such thing as a bad cup of coffee in Peru.  After a lovely breakfast, we chewed on some coca leaves for good breathing, and then, we boarded the bus to Patabamba.

Patabamba, in Quechua, means “upper flat.  Originally, it was Patapompa, but the Spanish colonizers changed it to Patabamba.  From what I could gather regarding Quechua, it is a complex language, which was largely replaced with Spanish after Spain’s invasion in the 15th Century.  Many of the remote villages around Cuzco are functionally monolingual speakers of Quechua.  It is a beautiful language with only three vowels (i, a, u), and in some words the vowels are completely devoiced (silence, a stop, or a sort of throaty sound).  I was able to observe the language in action when village members relayed instructions to one another as they prepared our most sumptuous and interesting meal of the whole trip. At first, I did not understand that the, aforementioned, stops, hisses, and throaty sounds were part of the language.  Then after, I learned to listen for the “devoiced” part of the language that is Quechua (Ketch-wah).

Our menu of lamb, chicken, llama, potatoes, sweet potatoes, lima beans (cooked in their pods), plantain, and blocks of farmer cheese were baked in a rock “oven” especially built for the occasion.   We watched as the hole was dug, and then lined with the rocks.  The most impressive was the dome built by the large stones leaning against each other. The crowing touch came when the “keystone” was placed in the ground oven.

Peru Oven

The domed rock oven was filled with wood fuel and burned until the rocks were hot.  When the rocks reached the target temperature, the dome was deconstructed by first removing the cap stone which held all the stones in place.  The rocks that made the dome were removed, and the raw foods were placed on the hot stones.  The cheese was wrapped in brown paper before being place on the other ingredients.  When all the food was in place, green branches with yellow flowers still in place, were spread on top of all the foods.  Then large sheets of heavy plastic were laid out on the green branches.  Then the moisture-rich soil dug to make the cooking pit was spread out on the plastic until nothing, but soil was visible.  The food stayed in the “oven’ for 35 minutes, and voilà!  We ate the most agreeable meal with cups of coca tea to wash it all down.  The meats, plantain, and vegetables cooked to perfection.   We ate with our hands.  I ate my potatoes with the peelings still intact, and I noticed that the villagers peeled their potatoes.   It was my favorite meal of the trip.

Peru cooked in Patabamba

While the meal was cooking, my fellow travelers and I met the elders of the village.  The elders, male and female, invited us to try on their beautifully dyed and woven dresses, ponchos, capes, and hats for photo opportunities.  One of the featured photos in a past blog was me and one of the elders.

After interacting with the village elders, we went for a walk to gather plants and flowers.  That was followed by a lesson on the plants used for dying wools for weaving.  The flowers gathered that day became the dyes of brilliant reds, yellows, and blues from which all other colors were made.  After spending a fine luncheon with the villagers, they set up a store for us to purchase handmade clothing, wraps, and hats.

What struck me most was the happiness of the people.  They seemed to be quite contented.  As they told us about their plans for promoting the village for tourism, which includes home-stays, I wondered if the influences that would inevitably follow would interfere with the peace they appeared to possess.  I wonder how they are faring these few years later.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

Pizza: Origins of the “Humble Pie” and Whipping up a Pizza After Work!

According to the History Channel’s website, there’s a great history of the pizza.  In the town of Naples, in the 1700s, the working class devised a way to get eat large amounts of calories in an easy way: flat bread with oil, cheese, and other toppings.  It was an inexpensive and portable meal that could be consumed in haste.  Seen as a food for the lower classes, pizza became popular when Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889, and fell in love with the “pizza mozzarella”, which now bears the name of the young queen. Word has it that the queen, especially, liked the fact that the pizza bore the colors of her country’s flag!

Pizza can be made quickly, after work, for a delicious and special meal for you, your family, or for friends. You don’t need fancy ingredients, just be creative with what you have.

A few days ago, I told you about my windfall of basil and about dehydrating veggies for use as seasonings in my cooking and baking.  Last evening, I fixed yummy pizzas after work.

Pizzas from scratch are quick and simple, and the activity can easily contribute to a fun party with guests.  All you have to do, is make the dough, and seal it in a large bowl, for up to an hour, until you’re ready to divide it for your visiting pizza makers.

For my pizzas, last night, I made a pesto and added extra ingredients to make it more zippy, than usual, for the sauce.  It was delicious for lunch, today, too!  We ate it cold!

Pesto Pizza Sauce:

One bunch basil (about 1 cup of leaves)

¾ cup olive oil

¼ cup parmesan cheese

¼ cup of ground hazel nuts with two juniper berries (I did not have pine nuts, so improvised)

3 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon of dehydrated onion, celery, tomato, and chili peppers

Blend to a liquid consistency – set aside

Pizza dough:

2 cups flour

Warm water

¼ cup Honey or sugar

Mix and wait until bubbly

When it’s bubbly, add 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp salt, and 1 TBS oil

Add enough flour to make a thick dough – let rest

Knead and add enough flour to make a nice dough

Roll out flat and place on your gas grill to set the pizza dough – turn over to slightly brown on the other side. Grilling the dough also gives it a wonderful, smoky flavor.

Remove from heated grill and spread pesto pizza sauce on browned pizza dough, add cheese and other toppings.  Place back on grill until finished.

Enjoy with a nice salad and a glass of wine.

Thank you for reading.

Reference:

Turim, G. (2012). A Slice of History: Pizza Through the ages. Access date: August 10, 2018,

https://www.history.com/news/a-slice-of-history-pizza-through-the-ages

 

Traveling Alaska with Friends and Granddaughter!

About four years ago, we set out on an adventure to travel Alaska in recreational vehicles with a total of 16 travelers, one of whom was our, then, 6 year old granddaughter.  I will call her “Ditto”, since she will play an important role in this story.

Well, we have some close friends with whom we have traveled to Mexico, the Texas Gulf Coast, and other place not-so-far-away.  The trip to Alaska was about a year in the planning.  My friend, Kathy, has a knack for organizing trips, for which I”m grateful since I don’t like that kind of detail.

All but four of the travelers flew to Alaska.  The other four drove to do some sight-seeing along the way.  Our flights and car trip converged in Anchorage, where we rented the recreational vehicles and began the drive across the state, as best can be done in two weeks.

This story focuses on our first stop, from Alaska, was the Kenai Peninsula and Resurrection Bay.  It was overcast and cool, which was a nice welcome coming from July the Midwest.  July in southern Alaska was wonderfully wet, and the air smelled fresh and moist!  Part of the group went fishing for halibut and salmon, which was prepared in the smoker that Mark brought from the “Lower 48” in their SUV.  We enjoyed the freshness of the fish prepared other ways, too!

One of the most exciting activities we shared was that of teaching “Ditto” how to harvest mussels during low tide.  After gathering the bi-valve moluscs, we cleaned and “de-bearded” them.  Inspecting the mussels before cooking is important.  Any that are open already, should be discarded.  That indicates a dead organism.  When your mussels are cleaned and inspected, set those aside.  I like to soak them in fresh, cool water as I’m preparing the “soup” in which I cook them.

Put a pot on the stove, saute four cloves of garlic in 3/4 stick of butter.  When the garlic is soft, add two cups of white wine.  Once the wine, butter, and garlic are simmering, add the cleaned mussels to the broth.  Put a tight fitting lid on the pot, and let the mussels simmer for 10 – 15 minutes.  Remove the lid, and you should see that all the mussels are opened to reveal the steamed moluscs.  Discard any that did not open.  That means they are not edible.

Eat the mussels with crusty French bread, which sops up the broth!  Our granddaughter is now 10, and still loves having mussels as a treat when she’s with us.  “Ditto” is seen in the feature photo enjoying her third bowl of mussels of the trip.  I love cooking and camping, especially when I get to do those with the people I love.

Thank you for reading.

Another Exciting Day in Peru

Yesterday, I introduced the topic a trip I took to Peru as part of a leadership program focused on agriculture and rural life.  Our first stop was Lima, which was the central travel point to each part of our journeys across the country.  So, from Lima, we departed to Chincha by bus, to Tarapoto (the jungle region), by airplane, to Cusco (the high Andean region) by plane, and back home, by plane.  Those trips will be outlined in due time.

As previously mentioned, our first day included a U.S.D.A. country briefing at the U.S. Embassy with Ambassador Rose M. Likins and her staff.  After the briefing and tour of the U.S. Embassy – Peru, we departed for lunch at the Casa Andina.  We were fed one of Peru’s favorite dishes, chicken. We ate chicken in many dishes.  This was a delicious baked chicken place atop a sautéed vegetable medley of onion, eggplant, zucchini, and sweet red pepper all lightly touched with a savory butter sauce. A baked and quartered potato accented the dish, which we washed down with Inka-Kola, a cotton-candy-flavored cola (caffeine) drink.  This dish is my featured photo today.

We departed for the Corgono S. A. flour mill in Callao.  It was a fascinating tour.  It made me think of the sugar factory at Ayala, in the state of Morellos, in Mexico where very old equipment was handled with the most care and “babied” to get the most out of it.  Similar to that sugar factory, the flour mill in Callao ran three shifts per day, and one shift was set for maintenance of the milling machinery and equipment.  Otherwise, the grain went through all of the steps that one might imagine in any flour mill.  Before the tour, we were asked to wear long pants, no open-toed shoes, and to bring no cameras.  Apparently, I didn’t take copious notes as I look back to my journal.  I do remember great pride that each person had in his work at the mill.  It was very loud, and there were no women employed on that day.  One wondered if that was the rule for this mill.  I neglected to ask.

After the flour mill tour, we boarded two buses to Chincha Province.  Our bus journey was along the coast line running south from Lima.  Interestingly, the coast line was dotted with what looked like chicken houses.  Remember, Peru eats a lot of chicken.  Also memorable was lots of eating establishments named for their proprietors: Restaurant Betty, Restaurant Oscar, Restaurant Wilbur, etc.  I delighted in the entrepreneurial spirit of the Peruano (How they refer to themselves.  We had been saying, “Peruvians’).  We stopped for snacks at a gas station along the way.  One could buy a bag of puffed corn, sweet potato chips, or lima bean “nuts” (similar to Corn Nuts) with a bottle of beer.  That was interesting, so most everyone availed themselves of the opportunity.  Our scheduled two-hour bus ride took a bit longer as one our buses had a flat tire.  I didn’t mind.  It gave us time to get out for a look about.  We watched automobiles and “Moto-Taxis” whiz by.  The salt-filled air was comfortable, and many aromas arose in the evening air.

We made it to our hotel in Chincha that evening.  We cleaned up and stayed in for dinner at the hotel. We ate lovely chicken or beef dishes and drank Pisco Sours.  We were first introduced to the Pisco Sour when we had visited the Embassy of Peru in Washington, D.C. the previous year.

I hope you found this story interesting.  Thank you for reading my blog.

 

 

 

 

Travels to Peru

I had the great fortune to travel to Peru a few years ago.  It was part of a leadership program that focused on agricultural and rural living.  I did learn a lot while in the two-year program, but I felt like it was more like conservatism 101.  I am grateful for the opportunity, however.  It was an investment made in my by the institution for which I am on faculty.  So, I will tell you a bit about my trip.  When I’m not trips, I take copious notes, so my plan is to share those with you, sporadically.  I should tell you that my journal notes were mandatory reading for a U.S. Army Command who had an assignment in Peru about three years ago.  That was very exciting!

“If you smile at me, I will understand; ‘cause that is something everybody, everywhere does in the same language.”    That is David Crosby’s first line of his song, Wooden Ships, and it was my greeting to security at Wichita Airport, and thus began my 4,234-mile (one-way) adventure to Peru.  The quote was on the paper liner in the plastic boxes where travelers put their personal items to go through x-ray while they step through the metal detector.  Other than being greeted by one of my all-time-favorite songs,  I thought, “What a perfect way to begin a trip!”

My philosophy of travel is to view every experience as an adventure, and I’m always grateful for whatever happens.  I think it’s important when visiting other countries to go without expectation and to leave the lenses through which I see my middle-class life at home.  If I expect that every part of the world should be just like home, then I should stay home.  What would be the point of travel?

With that said, I must say that Peru was absolutely delightful.  The food was marvelous no matter what part of the country we were in.  The people were beautiful, happy, and welcoming.  They were eager to share their culture, their food, their drink, and mostly, their country.

I will use this space, occasionally, to tell you about what I learned in Peru.  We were greeted at the Lima (the capital of Peru and its largest city with 9 million people) airport by many people waiting for loved ones to return from trips.  When we loaded the bus, an ambitious young man helped us load our luggage.  I appreciated his ambition, and I was glad to offer a tip.  You see, Peru is a country of working poor.  One-third of the population lives in poverty.  Most affected are rural and inner-city people, so one becomes ambitious and entrepreneurial at a young age.  Nationally, poverty is measured at 100% when a family of three earns the U.S. equivalent of $2,640 annually.  Compare that to U.S. where a family of three is at 100% of poverty earning $19,530 annually.  However, we must remember that poverty is relative to average earnings in a country.

In Lima, we visited the U. S. Embassy, where we heard from the Ambassador and had a USDA briefing.  In the years since the horrors of Alberto Fujimori’s “reign”, Peru has seen a 6.4% annual growth in its gross domestic product, and it’s had a 1-2% budget surplus.  Poverty is pervasive, because many people are still not convinced that democracy and prosperity are real.  Right now, the Peruvian currency is appreciating against the U.S. dollar.  The greatest booming economies are agriculturally related.  Right now, the U. S. is not exporting as much wheat as usual because of the drought.   Peru has a moratorium on genetically modified organisms, so that hurts some U.S. exports to Peru, too.

I am sharing a photo of a moment I share with a lady in the village of Urubamba.  The people there still speak their native language, Quechua.  Luckily, the village escaped colonization by Spain those centuries ago.

Financial Opportunities and Micro Loans

Some friends and I were discussing building financial opportunities for women.  It made me think of the micro-loans that were championed by the Grameen Bank many years ago.  One of my colleagues, a Bangladeshi engineer, was personal friends with Grameen founder, Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate.  The concept of micro-credit and micro-finance has worked in many places to help people build financial security.

Our discussion centered on ways to help women, specifically, to build financial security.  It made me think of a study trip to Mexico, a few years ago, when I was able to learn from people who were using micro-credit to run very small farms called, ejidos (Eh-hee-tho).  Looking back at my journal notes, I will describe their process for growing tomatoes (tomates).

We visited several farms in the county (municipio) of Ayala.  An ejido farm can be compared to a parking lot. When you go to a parking lot, you just know there will be a place for you to park. And as long as you do not abuse your parking privileges, you can continue to park in a spot in that lot. An ejido farmer does not own his/her “lot”, but as long as he or she wants to farm there, and as long as it is used properly, the farmer can be on the land indefinitely. Like paid parking lots, there are only small fees to be paid, or food can be supplied to municipios.

My colleagues and I visited a wonderful tomato farming operation, which had been in production for about five months. It took about one month to begin to produce significant quantities for sale. Before entering the facility, we had to step inside a sunken, concrete box holding chlorine bleach.
Situated on approximately one-fourth hectare, which is about 2,500 meters, which is about .62 acres, is a screen-enclosed structure holding about nine-thousand tomato plants. The plants’ soil and root systems sit inside heavy, pliable, black plastic bags, which are approximately 13 inches in diameter and 14 inches high. The stems of the plants are three to six inches in diameter. The plants vine up strings rising 12 feet above to horizontal wires running parallel to each row of plants. The tomatoes nearest the bucket-like bags, holding the dirt and root systems, ripen first. As tomatoes are harvested, the green tomatoes nearest the horizontal wires are lowered to run more parallel with the ground. Then the top of any given plant will be hanging over buckets 10 spaces away. Every 15 days, the strings are lowered, and the tomatoes nearest the ground ripen first. This Loreto-variety of tomatoes takes a lot of nitrogen, we were told. If you want to see pictures, please let me know. You would love seeing this operation.
The plants take 20-thousand liters of water a day, which is about 5,265 gallons. The farmer harvests 200 boxes of tomatoes per week. The boxes held about two bushels, which is about 106 pounds. There is not much exporting, but this operation supplies several grocery stores (tiendas) weekly. The picked fruits are sold to the stores, and the fallen fruits are sold in the barrios (neighborhoods).
The producer told us the next thing to be learned is composting so that something useful can be done with the organic waste, which is one other by-product of this operation.

All this was built from a micro-loan, and the farmers told us they thought they’d begin to see a profit just after the second round of purchases.

Here’s another:

“EJIDOTARIAS” (EH-HEE-THO-TAR-EE-AHS)
Don’t forget to roll the “Rs”.  Okay, so I already introduced the ejido farm producer. The community or municipio owns the land. You stake a claim, of sorts, to some land, and you farm it. As long as you do not abuse the land or other farms around you, you can work that land as long as you like. There is a small usage fee to help the community. The county (municipio) government usually helps with initial seeding, reclamation, and improvements.

We visited the farm of two women near the minicipio of Ayala, state of Morelos. The señoras farmed their ground together. They produced corn, green beans, squash, and sugar cane. Their corn seed came from the U.S., and they grew both grain (maiz) and sweet corn (elote) – pronounced “my-eese” and “eh-lo-tay.”

Farming 3,000 feet above sea level, the ladies planted, irrigated, and harvested by hand and with the use of oxen and horses. Small irrigation ditches ran through the land. It is up to the farmer to flood her fields from the ditches with dams and canals. They farmed four hectares (about 10 acres) per year. It costs about 5,000 pesos per hectare (2.48 acres) including 200 pesos for fertilizer and 350 pesos for insecticide. They pay their water usage annually. The ladies gave us an estimate that it took about 29,000 pesos to get their produce to the market. That is about $2,900.

In the ejido system, producers help one another plant and harvest. For example, the sugar cane was harvested with a machete. It takes strong arms to swing a machete. The crops go to market in Mexico City. Visiting this particular farm held a few contradictions. Everything was done by hand, which took us back in time. The power lines above had electricity surging through them, audibly. That brought us back to reality.

Thank you for reading.

In and Beyond My Backyard: Cultural and Arts Observations in Daily Life and from My Educational Travels

We learn much about a people when we live among those who are not like us.  As a Native, not living on the reservation, most people with whom I interact daily are not like me, culturally and ethnically.    As a young person, I didn’t get to interact with a lot of people outside my developmental sphere with the exception of the kids at school.  As an adult, I think I’ve made up for lost time.  I live in an area of Kansas known for its cultural and ethnic mixes.  Of the 26 counties that make up Southwest Kansas, the three population centers (densely-settled rural) and one frontier-rural are Minority-majority.  In our region, we have about nine African, six Asian, 12 Latin American, and about three Caribbean countries represented. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some.  It is a lovely mix of varying faith beliefs, foods, dress, folkways, and mores.  I’ve made this area my home and my work as a researcher.

When we speak of culture, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve asked a group of Anglo, U.S. Americans to tell me about its culture, individually.  I become sad when people say, “I don’t really have a culture”!   So, I have to ask about their family traditions, foods, behaviors pertaining to their families, holiday, etc.  Then a light comes on about their own cultures.

So, what is culture, in the non-bacterial sense?  We social scientists might say it’s our attitudes, our customs, and our belief systems.  Humans build their cultures from the influences of place, time, socio-economic status, education, and belief systems.  Our cultures set us apart from one another in the fabric of humanity.  Every human population has a culture. We transmit our cultures through artifacts, language, rituals, and through the creative arts.

Think of your favorite artist.  Perhaps you have favorite artists across many disciplines: music (within or across genres), visual arts (within or across media), written word, and spoken word.  I know I’ve omitted a medium, but you get the picture (no pun intended!).

What have you learned from observing, listening, performing or, perhaps, owning a work of art from a culture different than your own?  Though I graduated high school 40+  years ago, I continue to be influenced by my high school music teacher, Mr. Bauguess.  Because of his talents as a teacher, I learned other languages, like Latin: by singing masses by Franz Schubert and Antonio Vivaldi; learned German by singing folk songs by Johann Sebastian Bach, and we learned French singing the music of Guillaume DuFay.  Learning those languages also sparked interests in me and my fellow students to learn more about the cultures of those composers who were touching our lives some 100 to 500 years later.

A perfect example of transmitting culture and chronicling history reaches way back to medieval Spain, then called Castile-Leon.  King Alfonso X ruled his kingdom by laying down laws and teaching morality through more than 420 songs/poems (written and commissioned by the King, himself) and corresponding works of art based on the teachings of the Virgin Mary.  He used the fine arts to teach a largely illiterate kingdom how to behave “properly”.   Fast forward to early 1800s to England, Scotland, and ultimately, Boston.  Harvard professor Francis James Child collected his “English and Scottish Popular Ballads”, some of which were broadsides, a sort of news clipping of the day, to tell the stories of broken laws, love, betrayal, and current events.  To this day, musicians and performers are still telling the stories collected by Child.  We call them the “Child Ballads”.  You’ve heard of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair”?  Child called it the “Elfin Knight”.  Do you remember Led Zeppelin’s “Gallow’s Pole”?  They used the same name as it was collected by Child.  We learn much about a culture from its music and other forms of art.  Even more contemporarily, think of how music and other forms of art are used to express political views.  We can learn a lot from the arts and culture of others, and we transmit our own beliefs to our children and grandchildren.

I am working very hard to make sure our grandchildren know their ancestries. After all, they reflect the pluralistic society that demographers predict for the U.S. by 2040.  My wish is that we keep teaching our cultures through the arts and other forms of creativity and intellect.  The more we know about each other, the more it fades to lines of “difference” that separate us (humans).

If we do not have the luxury, or the good fortune, to live among those who are not like us, then the next best thing is to visit with an open mind, a sense of adventure, and without judgement.  In other words, leave your back yard at home!

I have had wonderful opportunities to travel with work and with my work-related organizations.  These include a cultural geography trip called, “North Plains to The North Woods” arranged and executed by the Kansas Geographic Alliance.  Seven educators, with two leaders, made up a microcosm in a Kansas State University van traveling 4,106 miles during a 10-day span.  We studied flora and fauna (my assignment), culture, Lewis and Clark (It was the 200th anniversary of the Expedition), food, art, history, and some architecture. Why did we do it?  To learn about other people who have a different story than each of my fellow explorers.

Why does anyone travel?  I travel because I am curious.  I want to know how other people function in their societies.  I want to know how other people interact with their environments. I want to learn from them.  I want to eat their foods.  I want to hear their music. There is so much to learn from other people in other cultures, other socio-economic backgrounds, and of other ethnicities.

My plan for this blog, is to intersperse my extensive journal notes from some of my travels.  I hope my notes and writings will both enlighten and entertain.  Though, I have not traveled widely, I do take notes on my observations, experiences, and activities. To this point, my writings will come from my educational travels to Canada, Spain, Gibraltar, Mexico, Peru, and Alaska.  I’ve even taken notes on some of the simple travels across the U.S. I learn something everywhere I go.  Stay tuned!