Slice of Slovenia

A Slice of Slovenia

Slovenia was not a country I expected to visit, but thanks to a grant from Mary’s Pence I attended the international educators’ conference “To Teach is to Build” at the Biotechnical Center in Naklo, Slovenia in October. Educators participated from Austria, Italy, Germany, Norway, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain and the United States.

My paper entitled “Curriculum Development: Political, Subversive, Dangerous,” explored the social justice implications of designing school curricula. It also included fast, easy classroom exercises to help students develop more compassion and empathy. After submitting my paper, the conference organizer Professor Sandra Žvagen, invited me to be a plenary speaker and conduct a workshop. Meeting with other educators and attending their workshops taught me so much!

The Biotechnical Center is a holistic school that fosters curiosity and a safe space for over 600 students from various backgrounds – both rural and urban. Students can learn how to run a dairy farm in a way that is organic and cares for the environment. Other students focus on forest, wildlife and wild animal management. Many of the products students make such as cheeses, dairy products, produce, juices, local teas, floral arrangements and more, are for sale in their store and used in the school’s cafeteria.

Andreja Ah?in, principal of the Biotechnical Center with twenty years of education experience at the school, explained that she and her staff worked to design a curriculum that fosters a holistic integration of the student. This means integrating students’ values with their education and life work while understanding its impact on the environment and the community. This is the same reason I teach theology – to help students explore these fundamental questions; Who am I? What is my purpose? How will I make the world a better place?

My experience also included meeting with instructors and with students in the classroom. English class students were designing their own crossword puzzles, art students were using refurbished typewriters to create amazing pictures with meaningful words and other students were baking cakes and breads to use at school events.

Demonstrating their reputation for hospitality, school faculty drove us to the Lake Bled area in northern Slovenia near the Alps. We toured a green hotel, Garden Village, where all the landscaping was beautiful, edible and used in the hotel! Teachers Sandra Žvagen and Simona Zabukovec took me hiking in scenic southern Slovenia by the Adriatic Sea. Tina Križnar, who oversees adult education at the school, gave me a tour of the capital city of Ljubljana, existing since Roman times. Prior to working at the Biotechnical Center Tina was a tour guide for Russian and English speaking tourists so she knew well the city and its history.

The conference was an unexpected and amazing experience of another people, country and culture. Thank you, “hvala” in Slovenian, to the Biotechnical Center, conference participants and to Mary’s Pence for making it possible.

Walking in the Rain

Today it is softly raining and autumn colors are just beginning to show. Time to throw on a raincoat and go walking in the woods . . .

Photo A. Meshar

Photo A. Meshar

Photo A. Meshar

Photo A. Meshar

Photo A. Meshar

Photo A. Meshar

Photo A. Meshar

Photo A. Meshar

A bit like finding yourself in the middle of a Monet painting – nourishing eyes, heart and soul.

Endlessly Connected

prairie & smoothies 007These last few days of summer vacation before school begins allow for some relaxation and reflection. Recently the prairie in our development was mowed. While it was growing, we could see how butterflies, fireflies, hawks, chipmunks, rabbits, and birds of every color made the prairie their home. Until the prairie returns I’ll miss its color, scent, green coolness and soft textures. The prairie was an entire ecosystem – all interconnected and interdependent – the way our planet is interconnected, but in miniature.

We are a part of this interconnectedness and interdependence. Our health depends on the health of the planet and all the species who exist within its biosphere.

The lie of our culture is that we are somehow separate, competitive individuals. Ancient wisdom and modern science tell a very different story. Greed and violence happen when we are less than human. We are all interconnected and interdependent. Our natural inclination is to cooperate, to support, to care and to collaborate. This is what indigenous cultures have known for thousands of years. This is what the world’s major religions teach.

Because we are interconnected, those who suffer elsewhere on the planet are a part of us. The suffering of others hurts us in ways that we don’t yet understand – but nevertheless it hurts us – even if it is because we may become callous to its existence, our hearts hardened.

Our inability to care for ourselves, each other and the entire planet happens when we are less than who we are meant to be. This inability to care is the root cause of violence on every level – verbal, emotional, psychological, spiritual and physical.

Love and care begin within. Health begins within. We must learn to speak kindly to ourselves within our own minds. We must learn to fully respect our bodies and minds. Eat and drink only what brings health to every cell. Watch and participate in activities that inspire, delight and challenge.

We can endlessly shape and change our minds, bodies and relationships. One practice is to start each day by making just one choice that is healthier than before – either physically, emotionally, spiritually or mentally. After just two weeks a change can become a habit. Justice begins within.

Those made poor also offer us a chance to open our hearts and grow. They offer us an opportunity to change – to become engaged, to learn about how we create poverty. Those made poor offer us a way to become healthy by becoming more connected, more compassionate, more fully human.

 

 

 

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Lately, because of traveling and other commitments I haven’t been able to post very often. We’ve been enjoying outdoor concerts, grilling farmers’ market vegies and gathering with friends. However, in spite of and in the midst of everyday living our garden is doing surprisingly great. With all the rain we’ve had and some extra help from my friend L, my flower pots are having a banner year. She gave me a formula (“thrill, fill, spill”) for planting the pots and introduced me to some plants I’ve never used before. It was really a fun experience working with her and discovering new textures, sizes and plant colors. They provide amazing color, scent and beauty every day. Take a look – enjoy!

FlowerPot1

FlowerPot2

FlowerPot 1-13

 

ZenGardenEven our Zen garden – with its herbs, scented flowers and native grasses is happy and content. Plus the wood is getting a nice weathered patina that I really enjoy.

This quote, also sent to me from my friend L, says something about what flowers and all things beautiful can bring to our lives;

26 Iyar 5773 | May 6, 2013, 41st Day of the Omer

Beauty takes us beyond the visible to the height of consciousness, past the ordinary to the mystical, away from the expedient to the endlessly true. Beauty sustains the human heart in the midst of pain and despair. Whatever the dullness of a world stupefied by the mediocre, in the end beauty is able, by penetrating our own souls, to penetrate the ugliness of a world awash in the cheap, the tawdry, the imitative, the excessive, and the cruel. To have seen a bit of the Beauty out of which beauty comes is a deeply spiritual experience. It shouts to us always, “More. There is yet more.”

Joan Chittister, Illuminated Life

 

Summer Arrives

Photo R. Meshar

Photo R. Meshar

Today it finally feels like summer may arrive. Brilliant sunshine pouring in through bedroom windows this morning woke me up. Nice way to awaken!

Lately it feels like we’ve been living in an eastern location of Seattle – too many cloudy days. The arrival of sunshine energized me to get outside, head to the Farmers’ Market – which I did yesterday – and prepare our living space for summer. I think it’s important to mark the seasons in what we eat, and how we live. It anchors us to the earth, its cycle of seasons, and to the place where we live.

Farmers’ Market vegies have encouraged me to grill a number of meals so far. Grilled potatoes, corn, onions, parsnips (wintered-over), tomatoes, sweet potatoes, fresh pineapple and asparagus are just a few of the vegies that have made it to our grill so far. Finish with a light gyoza sauce and they’re ready to serve up.

Yes – summer is on its way. . .