Thursday, February 28, 2013

Thinking Deeply About Coffee

This week I had a wonderful conversation about coffee. It wasn't with another coffee drinker, my wife, or a barista, but with a curious 8th grade boy. I know, adolescents really shouldn't be drinking coffee, and I told him this right off the bat. He acknowledged the issue with a smile, told me he only drinks coffee on occasion, but continued on with his points anyway. He was excited to tell me about his analysis of two different well-known coffees - Peet's and Starbucks - and give me some insight about their "power." Unequivocally, he stated Peet's had more punch due to it's higher concentration of caffeine in each cup. I asked how he knew this to be, and he went into a hilarious description of how he felt after drinking a cup of Peet's vs. Starbucks. There was no real quantitative data, just typical adolescent-based emotional evidence derived directly from experience. As he recalled his experiment, he used lots of outrageous facial expressions and over the top descriptions of what happens when you drink the two coffees. It was amusing and enlightening to watch. I noted his opinions, thanked him for giving me the head's up, and then steered the conversation over to more middle school appropriate topics. 

This morning when I went to get an Americano at a trendy cafe in town, I got involved in another talk about coffee with two baristas about the origins of my drink. Apparently, the Caffe Americano can be traced back to WWII. The first Americano is known to have come from Europe after American GI's wanted to find a way to make their espresso appear and taste more like their home brewed drip coffee. To assist the Americans, the European baristas decided to dilute the shots with hot water, helping create a great coffee substitute. The young man who made my drink went on to talk in great detail about the variety of tastes and attributes within the Americano, which makes it a beloved drink for many coffee  aficionados even today. As he spoke, I noticed he communicated with that same curiosity, humor, and interest of the 8th grade boy I met earlier in the week.

There is some commonality in these two conversations. Yes, they were both about coffee, but the real similarity was how the 8th grader and the barista showed a deep desire to learn. They were curious - and I bet are curious about many things - and probably find all types of subjects and topics fascinating. This curiosity leads to exploration and discovery, two things that are required for real, deep learning to occur and are key characteristics in all future problem solvers. 

Don't worry parents. Coffee - though studies show is helpful for focus, pain reduction, and weight loss - is not required. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

What's in a number?

When I was a boy, I loved to sign my name with the #16 in the middle of my big, sweeping letter J, my first initial. 16 was the number of Dwight "Doc" Gooden, the 80's pitching prodigy on the NY Mets. I would fantasize about being a player on the Mets, like Doc, and of course, I needed to have a pretty cool autograph. I identified with it and what it represented - excellence, fame, heroism, and a blazing fastball. I wrote 16 on everything I owned - notebooks, shirts, my locker, the back of my algebra tests. That number signified something for me and I wanted the world to know about it.

This morning I noticed my son had placed #44 on his gym shorts. When he was four, we moved to Syracuse, where he was introduced to that number when I bought him a Syracuse football jersey. I remember him asking me, "why 44?" So I looked it up. In fact, it had an important history in S.U. athletics.  Since 1954, 11 players have worn the number and three earned All-America honors.  The three most famous #44s, Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little, rank among the finest running backs to ever play the game. And the town is crazy for the number too. Proof? The university zip code was changed a few years ago from 13210 to 13244.  In 1988, when the university changed phone systems, the exchange was changed from 423 to 443.  

As the University states, "Number 44 not only has come to represent greatness on the football field, it has become a part of the university’s and the community’s identity." It is much more than a simple number. It is about who we are and who we want to be, which is what I was seeking as an emerging adolescent with the #16, just as my son is now that he is a middle schooler with #44 - identifying with something great, something bigger than oneself. As parents and educators, we need to honor and respect these symbols - a number, a baseball hat, a backpack, a team jersey - that adolescents use to show us who they are trying to be. And most often, it's something fantastic.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Holiday re-reads: as good as I remembered.

Over the holidays I had the good fortune of returning home. Home is Upstate New York, and winter means snow and lots of snow means a good deal of time in the house. Our beautiful home has no TV, no internet, and no stereo right now - to my kids consternation - and it can be challenging when the white stuff comes hard and fast. But we do have the ability to make coffee, and the opportunity to dive into many, many great books. 
I took time to get into a few reads over the holiday that I had enjoyed before. A great book given to me by a dear friend a few years back titled The Boys of Everest, about famed British Alpinist Chris Bonington's escapades on Everest, proved again to be gripping stuff from the alpinist's canon. I also pulled off the shelf Jim Collins' book on leadership in the non-profit world, Good to Great in the Social Sectors. In October I had a chance meeting with Jim in Boulder while running some trails in the Flatirons and in our brief conversation he and I spoke on how important the building leaders are in each school. Jim feels they are essential to our countries educational success or lack there of. I am a devout reader of the Dalai Lama's writing and his guide book for the 21st Century, Ethics for the New Millennium, always reaffirms my faith in what is possible for our planet. I also picked up his latest, Beyond Religion, where he advocates for a system of secular ethics that transcends religion in order to call for a world based on mutual respect and tolerance. Finally, I came back to a great parenting book by Wendy Mogul, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, which uses the Jewish teachings to raise self-reliant children. As a parent of kids who are rapidly moving toward adolescents, I always value Mogul's affirming advice and wonderful sense of humor.
Are there books you picked up over the holidays worth a second read? I would love to hear about them.