the local food challenge continues… make fresh cheese at home with no special equipment or ingredients

Quark?? What’s Quark?

Quark is a traditional cultured or soured-milk soft cheese enjoyed all over Germany, Poland and Austria. You can eat it straight like cottage cheese, as a spread on bread, for dessert with fruit and you can bake with it.

It’s great sprinkled with cinnamon & drizzled with honey, or mixed with fresh herbs & drizzled with olive oil or as an ingredient replacing sour cream, yogurt or mayonnaise in dips, dressings and spreads.

Quark can be made either low-fat or extra creamy by adding cream back in at the end. I like mine best made with whole, non-homogenized (cream line) milk.

Quark is a great cheese to begin with since it’s so easily made with simple ingredients found in any kitchen. The culture which causes the milk to sour & thicken is in the buttermilk so be sure you buy buttermilk specifically labeled as having live cultures or you will get the wrong kind of bacterial growth.

We began Monday with a quest to find some non-homogenized (or cream line) milk produced here at home.  Not to worry if you missed that part, you can still make Quark with your regular milk, but the yield and the curd may be negatively impacted. To learn more about the best milk choices for home cheesemaking and how to adapt when the best choice isn’t available, this is an excellent article from our friends at New England Cheesemaking Supply.  They wrote the book on home dairy, literally.

Better yet, you still have time to complete the first part of the challengeget out there and find some locally produced cream line (non-homogenized) milk – that is the point, remember?

Quick Overview of the Process:

  • Heat the milk and add the culture (15 minutes)
  • Allow it to sit covered (12-24 hours unattended)
  • Drain the curds (15 min. of your time plus 4-8 hours unattended)

What you need:

  • 1 gallon milk – whole, 2% or skim. Not ultra-pasteurized. Non-homogenized Cream line milk is the best.
  • 2 TBS – ¼ cup cultured buttermilk – this is the culture
  • Stainless Stock pot large enough to hold a gallon of milk
  • Kitchen thermometer
  • Spoon or ladle
  • Colander & clean tightly woven cloth. This can be an old pillowcase, dress shirt, paper coffee filter (for smaller batches) or non-terrycloth dish towel. Nylon Tricot from the fabric store also works well. What does not work well are the packages of cheesecloth you can buy at the grocery store.
  • Large bowl to nest the colander in – be sure there’s some space between the colander and the bottom of the bowl or the cheese be sitting in the whey and won’t drain.

The everyday, mundane cheesemaking supplies in my kitchen – nothing scary here

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Before you start:

  • Clear space for your bowl & colander in the refrigerator
  • Wash your equipment in hot, soapy water rinsing thoroughly
  • Wipe down your counters & sink with 2 TBS bleach in 1 gallon lukewarm water
  • Wash your hands well with soap and warm water

Heat the milk to 86ºF. You do this by placing the pot of milk directly on the burner. Make sure to heat the milk slowly and stir it gently as it heats.  Pay close attention at this step – it’s not exciting, but burning the milk will flavor the cheese and not in a good way.  Once the milk is at 86º, stir in the buttermilk and remove from heat.

Find a cool, quiet place in your house that’s not too humid or too damp and be aware that any powerful odors will be absorbed by the milk.  Leave the pot of milk covered and undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours while the culture in the buttermilk works to produce acid and coagulation of the curd. The temperature should be allowed to slowly drop to 68-71F during this time. 
The actual amount of time will vary depending on your milk, temperature & humidity  and how firm you want your final Quark. Note the time you started – I just write it on a post-it and attach to the lid of the pot.

You can tell when the curd is right when one or both of these happen:

  • A thin layer of yellow liquid (whey) forms on the surface and the curd begins pulling away from the sides like soft gelatin.
  • When you insert a knife blade flat side up at a 45 degree angle into the curd and lift up gently, the cheese will split & break cleanly, like softly set gelatin.

The curds can now be transferred to a colander lined with butter muslin. Simply pour the contents of the stock pot gently into the cloth-lined colander.

your quark will drain from this xxxxxxxxto this: as soft or stiff as you like

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The 4 corners of the cloth are brought together and tied off to form a draining bag. If you like, this can be opened at intervals during the draining and the curds scraped from the cloth to the center for better draining although I rarely bother.

Your draining bag can now be suspended from a hook or even from your faucet.  Make sure you hang the bag over a pot, sink or bowl to capture the draining whey. Confession: I rarely hang my draining bag anymore.  It is messy and awkward so I just empty the whey bowl early on – it fills quickly, then slows – leave the colander nested in the bowl, fold the edges of the cheesecloth over the top, weight it with a small plate and leave in the fridge. It is slower, but tidier and I don’t have to adjust my schedule to check on my cheese.  If you want to get a sustainability gold star, save your whey for fermenting, add to soups, breads, or baked goods. It’s got about half the nutrition of the original milk, so it’s a shame to pour it down the drain…

Allow to drain for 12-24 hours (or longer if you like your cheese really stiff) in a place where the temperature is at 68-72F.  If you drain in the fridge, it may take longer, but will still get there. The actual draining time will determine the dryness of your final cheese.

Eat quark!  spread on bread, top with olives & drizzle with olive oil or go sweet and sprinkle with cinnamon & drizzle with honey. Good with fruit or crackers.

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The beauty of making your own cheese is that you can make it exactly the way you like it.  Choose a buttermilk you enjoy to use as a culture, because your cheese will taste like the buttermilk. If you drain it longer, your cheese will be drier. If you use low-fat milk, your cheese will be more tart and yield less.

Quark does not traditionally have salt, but since it’s my cheese, I can make it any way I want.  I stir in ¼ – ½ tsp kosher salt before storing my quark in a recycled 32 ounce yogurt container.  The container is usually nearly to very full.

One gallon should yield a nearly full 32 ounce container, although yield will be affected by the firmness of your curd and the amount of fat in the milk (higher fat content typically yields more cheese).

Quark also has a slightly lumpy texture – you can whip it smoother if you prefer.

Aside from the fact that you should be very proud of yourself for having made quark, if you’d like to win prizes for your effort, here’s how to complete your challenge:

Visit us here and leave a comment and register to win a $25.00 gift certificate from our friends at the East End Food Co-op – a perfect place to visit when you’re on a dairy exploration mission!  To be eligible, comments must be posted by midnight Sunday, September 16.

What do we want to know?

  • How did your quark making go
  • Did you learn anything valuable we can all benefit from
  • How did you use your Quark
  • Flaming failures are always entertaining
  • What did you think of the money savings and/or quality difference.
  • Anything else you found interesting and relevant

Okay, people, you have your mission:  Get Quarking!

walker or talker – which are you? meet a bona fide walker: Chris Guillebeau

“There are two types of people: those that talk the talk and those that walk the walk. People who walk the walk sometimes talk the talk but most times they don’t talk at all, ’cause they walkin’.  Now, people who talk the talk, when it comes time for them to walk the walk, you know what they do? They talk people like me into walkin’ for them.”

-Hustle and Flow, 2005

I have to tell you my nerves are raw already from another presidential campaign – I don’t know if I can handle any more flippant, contentious commentary or sensational soundbites this month, let alone endure it ’till November.  If you haven’t already figured it out, the political circus tends to serve as a screen, or distraction rather than an inspiration to meaningful action.

Action is called for, but the only action politicians want from us is the passive kind where we continue to accept the program and simply focus our attentions to helping our guy/gal to win the election.  People watch, argue and even fight to defend their candidate or views, but on a private, personal level, what personal actions are being taken?  Are we holding up our grassroots duties of citizenship end of the bargain?

Sure, we talk a good game, but do we walk our talk?

Change isn’t happening from the top down.  It can only happen from the bottom up.  We think that voting in the right candidates will make us better. Backwards folks.  When we are better, the candidates will become right.

Don’t believe me? Well, if you’re not already acquainted, you need to know Chris Guillebeau. Chris has been  a real source of positive encouragement to me in the dark fear-filled moments of my oddball journey.  What’s Chris Guillebeau got to do with cows, food and farming? Absolutely nothing and every single thing.

Meet Chris Guillebeau

One of the reasons I started this farm was my discomfort with the chasm separating my words and my deeds.  I realized that while I was busy being a cog in some wheel expecting BIG change to be decided upon by politicians and CEOs, I was busy pointing fingers, but wasn’t minding my own business.

My actions continued to support many things I vehemently opposed and I was failing to act on the many SMALL changes I could control. In other words, MY OWN BUSINESS.

Achieving real change sometimes seems so futile, but it’s really not. Individuals do have the power to command the attention of the powers that be, but somehow we think the powers that be pay attention to our words.  Big mistake – they pay attention to our deeds.

Our future is not going to change itself.  Oh sure, there’s lots of talk, but what we need is for ordinary people to extend themselves just a bit.  What could be possible if we took the bull by the horns and, without some government program, created our own work, got involved with our own food supply, retooled our consumer habits, spent time mentoring and feeding our own neighborhood children and reclaimed our brainspace from media? WHAT IF??

And that’s really what The $100 Startup is all about. It’s not just follow your bliss kind of wishfulness; it’s practical, nuts and bolts, scrappy can-do action.  A positive breath of fresh air.  Life hands you lemons? Make lemonade sort of stuff – but it’s not Pollyanna either. Just an acknowledgment that just because “they” say so, doesn’t mean you have to accept it. It’s your life, own it.

The $100 Startup applies to you even if you love your job or simply would never leave it because you hate the idea of working for yourself. This book isn’t really just business advice, it’s a mindset for your life that will serve you anywhere, anytime, anyplace.

 In particular, I love this idea:

 “When you’re presented with an opportunity, don’t just think about its merits or how busy you are.  Instead, think about how it makes you feel.  If you feel only so-so about it, turn it down and move on.  But if the opportunity would be exciting and meaningful – so much so that you can say “hell yeah” when you think about it – find a way to say yes.”

Are you living a hell yeah kind of life? I can’t think of a better rule for sorting priorities…

By nourishing a can-do community busy finding ways to build intentionally small, resilient businesses from resources they already have, Chris is building a literal empire.

On his website, Chris says,

“I write a lot about legacy projects, and what I believe is a core need to focus on what we’ll make with our lives. The related theme to this is urgency, the need to seize the day and make our time count for something.”

The best part is that through his focus on the actions and relationships required to execute his projects, and by sharing so much absolutely free, Chris has created a loyal following for his products making it possible for him to pave his own road and stay true to his personal values.

And  I’m not talking about manipulative I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine sort of helpfulness. Rather, by spending his time focused on the “hell yeah!” projects and people who energize him, Chris is in turn rewarded with success on his own terms.

But there is a catch – ACTION. No action, no results. This is not the sequel to the Secret

It’s hard to feel empowered and hopeful on a steady diet of mainstream news and media.  It has always been and probably always will be true: most people will always pay more attention to the negative and sensational.  Why? Who knows.  But I don’t have to be one of those negative people, and neither do you.

One thing that gives me hope? People like Chris Guillebeau and the swelling number of worldchangers they encourage. The packed audience at a recent book signing proves hope, desire and legacy building aren’t limited to a single demographic.

Can I ask a favor?

Whenever I find a heart-driven mission/product like this, I always do my best to support it, even when it’s not the most convenient option for me.  For-profit small businesses with soul are one of the greatest sources of positive change and supporting them is an easy way be part of a striving community of proactive, change-manifesting people.

If you only have time for one quickie action, buy this book. Then, when you’ve finished reading it, donate it to your local library.  First you get a shot of energy and a scrappy idea or two for yourself, and then you spread it around.

Let’s elect ourselves to be the Johnny Appleseeds of attitude.  Will you do it? 

Are you ready boots? Start walkin’….

time and context: a radical shift

Guess what? If you compress the history of earth into the context of a 24 hour day, we don’t even show up until mid-afternoon. And that’s just the cavemen… modern culture doesn’t begin until just before midnight. mere seconds…has it really been long enough for us to be so confident about the effects and sustainability of our modern lifestyle?

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I’m guessing you probably don’t read books about raising grass-fed cattle. I can’t imagine why ever not, but I won’t hold it against you.

Since you aren’t likely to stumble across this in your reading travels,  I want to be sure you don’t miss this bit o’greatness.  It’s from one of my favorites, Grass-fed Cattle, How to Produce and Market Natural Beef  by Julius Ruechel.  I love this book for lots of reasons, but mostly for logic like this:

 “Our seemingly arrogant preoccupation with our technological solutions and human-contrived cattle production philosophies and our lack of trust in nature’s answers to our production challenges can be traced directly to our biased views of evolutionary time.  We mistakenly believe that we are central to history, that we are the glorious end product of a long, linear progression of events. We believe that we have been around for a very long time; we even call the time before the evolution of modern humans prehistory as if it is less important because we weren’t part of it. Yet this pre-historical period stretches back through vast spans of time; our human history is but a blink of the eye in comparison.”

Because the whole of history is too vast for us to wrap our brains around and establish context, Julius Ruechel graphs all of history beginning at the early development of the ancestors of our modern livestock in the context of a 24 hour day. It’s kind of paradigm-shifting:

 History of Modern Livestock Compressed into 24 Hours

  •  12:01  just past midnight – Ancestors of cattle and other livestock are developing
  •  3:00 mid-afternoon – first humans start scavenging meat as small part of their diet
  •  4:45 the most recent cycle of great ice ages begins
  •  5:42 almost dinnertime – Humans learn to hunt and become active predators; meat becomes a significant part of their diet
  • 11:51 PM –  First modern human ancestors (Cro-Magnons – early Homo sapiens) paint on cave walls in France
  • 11:57  Last ice age ends; glaciers retreat; mammoths go extinct
  • 11:57:50 just over 2 minutes till midnight – Earliest known domestication of cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, and grains; transition from hunting culture to pastoralism and agriculture, from predator to shepherd and farmer
  • 11:59:58.25 the last 1 ¾ seconds – Industrial Revolution; petrochemical industry, antibiotics, vaccines, pharmaceuticals, synthetic fertilizers, grain surpluses become animal feed, the feedlot industry emerges.

Note: Strike-throughs and bolds mine.

You see, while Julius Ruechel is speaking of cattle management solutions, what he says is true without exception of every single man-made system, culture and philosophy.

Wait, there’s more:

“Mind boggling, isn’t it?  Our livestock has been domesticated for only 2 minutes and 10 seconds of their 24-hour history. Our modern farm practices have been around for only approximately 1.75 seconds of this 24-hour history.  Still, we naively believe that the solutions to our farm and livestock’s health, productivity and production problems lie in technology, biotechnology, petrochemistry, and pharmaceuticals that have yet to stand the test of time.”

It surely is mind-boggling.  I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little insignificant right now.  At the rate we’re burning through resources, what will the world be like after we’ve had half an hour?

Yikes…

in which we chop water, carry wood

Oh, all you internet mistake police thinking I got my quotations mixed up, relax.  At Auburn Meadow Farm, water gets chopped. At least in the winter if you want your cows to drink…

The water troughs every single frigid morning and evening. The cows wait for me to chop it open for them – could you let them down?

Life is far from glamorous around here.  If there’s ever been a profession where you can’t hide from yourself, it would be farming.

Because I wasn’t raised on a farm or in a manly home, I didn’t learn much that’s turned out to be useful in my actual workday. Growing up in a small all female household, I learned about fashion, food and trying to being pleasing and respectful.  Our tool box had a tiny hammer, one pair of cheap pliers, a screwdriver or two and some masking tape & glue. Maybe some hangers for pictures and decorating stuff.

Today, I struggle with not knowing how engines and electricity work. One day, after installing our first electric fence, I remember standing frozen for an embarassingly long time because I needed to disable the battery and I was afraid to touch the wrong wire. Silly girl.

And I never appreciated what an admirable skill it is to be able to drive a nail properly and from all angles.

Getting un-stuck (better yet not getting stuck in the first place), jump starting engines, driving tractors, installing fence, digging fence posts, changing tires – all foreign territory.  But amazingly, today, all things I can do by myself. Most of the time….

Today, my manicures are much more likely to include gasoline or GOJO than OPI. And my shoe fetish, well, let’s say it’s changed. I’m a girl fond of her high heels, a lover of ankle straps and bows.  Today my shoes are most often muck boots ornamented with bows of manure and ankle-deep mud.

Old shoes, new shoes and another very important accessory – good work gloves that fit. Who cares if they match?

Once, people gave me gifts like watches, perfume, fancy sweaters and books. Things I loved and appreciated. Today, people give me things like axes, home raised eggs, power drills, gates and headlamps. Again, things I love and appreciate.

Kristin Kimball says it best in her book The Dirty Life:

“I had never in my life been so dirty.  The work was always dirty, beyond what I’d previously defined as dirty, and it took too much energy to keep oneself out of it.”

“My new life was marking me. It was happening so quickly. There were intermittent spells of resistance, during which I’d pluck and moisturize and exfoliate, and then there was a period of grieving for my old self, who seemed to be disappearing toward the horizon, and then I relaxed into it.”

But my new life has marked me on the inside too.  It’s not easy being a somewhat successful and competent adult struggling to be as useful as a 12-year-old farm boy. I have a new-found context to define just how capable and important I really am.  And I can’t use office busyness to hide from myself or the chatter in my head.

Spending hours by myself walking, shoveling manure, mending fence and riding a tractor,  I’ve made friends with silence and now prefer to be without TV, radio or iPod noise most of the time. That doesn’t mean the crazy lady in my head doesn’t chatter away– I’m still trying to find the “off” button for her.

Old Blue does her share….

I’m also spending plenty of time on my back or belly in the dirt trying to replace blades on the mower, attaching the plow or repairing something that I broke.  Thank goodness for my farmer friends who have taken me under their wing and so generously help and take time to explain so I will learn.

Of course it takes a willingness to be humble.  I’m embarrassed to say how many times I’ve had to go back to the dealer when my weed wacker wouldn’t start. Actually, that’s a lie. Not the part about the weed wacker not starting; the part where I said I was embarrassed. I’m no longer that easily embarrassed.

And did you know weed wacking was such an important job on an organic livestock farm? I didn’t really plan for that…   And the chainsaw?  Let’s just say I haven’t quite mastered that one yet, though I will.  The chainsaw scares me a little more than the other equipment… my fingers may have dirt under their nails, but they’re still all right where they belong.

Farming’s been humbling. And frustrating. Irritating, challenging, uncomfortable and empowering too. I have a fresh appreciation for just about everything.  And, as long as I farm, I can only make one guarantee: I will never know it all or lose the pleasure of wearing egg on my face.

in which we submit our plea

We need to talk to you.

We need your help James Chartrand. We heard about your Damned Fine Words Writing Contest and we want to win.

Here’s why winning your contest is so important to us.  We need to cut through the media clutter and touch people in a way that leaves them still thinking about us days, weeks, maybe months later. Then we need them to start to look differently at the way they buy food. We don’t need drastic changes – small ones really do make a big difference.

We have a small farm in Western Pennsylvania where we raise Heritage breed American Milking Devon cattle. Our little herd of old-fashioned cattle has the kind of DNA capable of reviving an ailing livestock gene pool, which, most people have no idea, is a real problem in today’s system of industrial agriculture.

Our cows are scrappy. Survivors. Tough. The kind of cows who will be just fine when farmers can’t afford to feed those bovine CAFO hummers our beef and dairy industries are reliant on today.

Our work is all about preserving the knowledge of the past and putting it to use in a modern way. Not because it’s charming or trendy, we do it because we believe it is critically important to retain this knowledge and biodiversity. But our effort falls short if we can’t financially support ourselves or get people engaged in our outreach.

Today, it’s a little easier to find information about real food and the importance of small, diversified farms, but you still have to actively work at it. Mainstream media offers corporate greenwashing and incomplete, sensationalized information and the contradictory stories tend to be more confusing and polarizing than helpful.

We also worry that since so many of the artisan and DIY food & farming conversations take place in a rarefied “foodie” atmosphere, many people won’t think the work of farmers like us is relevant or affordable to them. We need them to know how wrong they are; small, diversified farms provide important food insurance for everyone.

We want everyone to know they can afford quality food.

There’s an overwhelming flood of critical issues generated by our industrial food and farming systems these days. And so many small actions people could be taking but are not  either due to misinformation, or complete lack of awareness.  There are many, many painless and affordable actions which if adopted by enough people, would create huge improvements in the health and welfare of people, animals, the environment and the economy.

Auburn Meadow Farm has much more to say than our audience’s attention span can possibly bear. And we won’t browbeat or frighten people with misleading or sensationalized information. Instead, we want to inspire people to action in an upbeat, proactive and positive way.

What we want is to teach people:

  • How to buy and prepare food that is cheaper, healthier and tastes so much better
  • Ways to gain control over our personal food supply
  • What’s happening behind the scenes of Big Food and Farming and Government
  • How to support small, diversified farms in your community
  • What farm life is really like and why family farms are so important to our future
  • What  joy good food brings to communities

Being so small, and not on the receiving end of farm subsidies and assistance, we need our business to be as scrappy as our cows with multiple streams of income to keep our mission moving forward year round.   We believe developing the quality of our writing and teaching program will create not only a valuable reference for our readers and students, but a reliable source of revenue for the farm.

Our budget is extremely tight and this year does not allow for investment in education. The type of mentoring and community we would enjoy in your course would really help us make this a successful and exciting year.

Regardless of whether we’re selected or not, we thank you for all the helpful sharing you do on the Men with Pens blog. You may not know us personally yet, but you’ve been an important member of our imaginary herd tribe.  But we’re thinking positively and look forward to being an active part of your real herd.

Our hooves are crossed!

We want to join your damn fine words herd!

in which the world can feed itself

Since I began my fascination with our provisioning, cooking and eating habits,  I find often blocking the way are the rock-solid walls inside our collective American mind.

What will it take to penetrate the stone walls of our collective American consciousness??

OK, there you go with the “chick’s goofy” eye rolling again, but here’s the thing. Again and again, in article after article, news clip after news clip it’s present; the gaping omission of alternative thinking. The stone wall every idea is smashed against isn’t an actual insurmountable obstacle, but a determined unwillingness to consider an alternative.

The standard editorial seems to offer two choices. One, we can accept things as they are, or two, there will be a Great Catastrophe.  Simple, black & white thinking that always argues to keep things as they are.

Why organic, sustainable farming can or can’t feed the world is a common target topic these days. Why doesn’t anyone ever ask what I want to know:

Who died and made America responsible for feeding the world?

Somewhere is there is a dictionary translating Corporation-ese to Human?  In it I’m sure “Feeding the World” is really code for “Don’t Rock the Boat”, or maybe “Sit Down and Shut Up”.

Am I crazy to also wonder why no one ever suggests that instead of feeding the world handouts we instead Teach the World to Fish?  Tiller’s International is quietly doing just that, with technology and methods third world countries are actually able to afford and maintain on their own.  Awesome, and by the way, they can use a little help.

Isn’t it just a little arrogant of us to believe these people aren’t capable of  feeding themselves without our help?   There are absolutely special circumstances  where a simple handout of  food is the right thing to do.  But get them out of  a hard spot and help them restore their own sustainable food systems  – that’s a real gift.

Who says non-industrial eating  is elitist?  People who think we have only two dietary options, that’s who. And what are those options?

  1. The Standard American Diet
  2. Replicating the Standard American Diet with its exact equivalent in expensive, elite  foods

The argument that non-industrial food is elitist is true only if you refuse to expand your thinking a bit.  For example, if:

The world aspires to attain the American Dream which includes a heaping plate of CAFO pork chops, boneless chicken breasts, plate sized steaks and all you can eat farmed seafood each and every day, three times

We continue to eat the whim of the day instead of what we planned for the day from the seasonal, bulk ingredients we sourced from real farms

We continue to throw away up to 40% of the food we buy

We never learn how to cook with real, unprocessed ingredients

Nobody grows their own anything, ever

We continue to believe a stocked pantry not filled with instantly eatable boxed packaged food = nothing to eat

Of course, these same rock-solid walls exist every time any argument or idea challenges someone’s personal habits and there is no clear, single, black & white course of alternative action. Climate change, recycling, gas drilling, immigration, parenting, politics, abortion, animal welfare, tea partiers, occupy wall street-ers… you get the picture. Oops – la la la la la – I can’t hear you; bouncing right off that great stone wall in my head.

I get it. We don’t want to change. It’s inconvenient and hard.  We fight to skew circumstances to reflect our correctness. We close our ears to evidence that we may be mistaken. While reading articles that challenge our view of reality, we don’t allow ourselves to entertain any doubt.  Instead, we avoid the message by busying ourselves   formulating witty, snarky and dismissive retorts rather than ruminating on the possibility the article may have a valid point.

I could go on, but I’m sure I’ve already challenged your ability to care if you’ve even lasted this long.

Maybe, just maybe, 2012 can be a year we will allow ourselves to be vulnerable to a little uncomfortable, fearsome, confidence-shattering listening? How about it – are you in?