Democratic/Free School Ideas


Today I’m in my kitchen. The dishwasher is running, already full after less than twenty four hours at home. Last night we ate homemade soup with salad, bread, and cheese, left in our kitchen by Liana as a welcome home gift. Today I’m here, making albondigas, meatballs in three stripes, regular, sans gluten and lactose, and vegetarian, for the ones I love. Tonight, as I hoped, my two kids and one gal will join me for dinner. Richard’s gone home, after over two weeks away, Somerville, France, Spain, Somerville. The house is quiet, save the noisy “quiet partner” dishwasher, misnamed from the beginning, noisiest machine ever, but a sound that is familiar, here in this house these twenty some years with me, noising it up.

Frances the cat was lonesome I believe. She tore small holes in the living room upholstery, left twisted strands of fur on the ottoman, coatings of white fur on several chairs. When we first arrived, she stayed on her belly under the dining room table for awhile, til I called to her, gave her some love with the comb. Then after dinner, as I waited for the bread machine to do its thing, she came to visit on the couch, more petting, more love.

I took quite a lot of pictures while in Spain, even while in the air returning home. I didn’t write much at all, something small day one in the notebook I brought thinking I’d write more. I didn’t read much either, in spite of traveling with my usual pile of books. I came home with a new book I love, which I read for an hour or so at the end of the flight. It’s from an exhibit on playgrounds which we visited at the Museo Reina Sofia, museum we could see from the bedroom window of our apartment in Madrid.

The right stuff found us this trip. I feel like I’ve been away and I’m happy to be back, letting it all soak in.

Once upon a time I thought I had been born in the wrong time and place. I should have been a hippy. I should have been born in a country whose diet was based on rice. I should have stayed in New York City and taught in a progressive public school when progressive public schools existed. Thoughts like that have captured my imagination and stuck. These days I’m accepting child of the world status, learning to take in the times and places when things were different, wondering when things might feel right again, when children and the right to play will have the respect they deserve, when rich and poor won’t live such different lives, when shiny and well-loved will take their proper places, when the artists’ and farmers’ and mothers’ and elders’ voices will be heard. All that occupies a mind on vacation in Spain in 2014, a place of economic crises, class divides, great art, a circus festival in a walled city and a new school on the edge of the view, sun streaming in through newly installed windows on extra shiny toys, color and white and wood and sand and stone each taking their place in the child’s world with bureaucracy, anger, love.

I don’t think I’m ready yet to make sense of what I took in in a way you’ll understand. I’ll share some photos soon. That may help. Or not. We stayed with fine people, were hosted by another in a lovely air b and b. We walked the streets and parks and even el campo, sat in our friends’ patios, shared meals in cafes, visited more exhibitions of art in one week than I have since I visited Paris and Barcelona nearly thirty years ago, drove between Madrid and Torrelodones, Moralzarzar, Segovia, Avila, and back, rode subways and trains and cars, walked miles over stone and concrete, dirt and tiled floors, cooked a little bit but mostly ate out or were fed.

So today, its a good day for home, for cooking for my kids and man, for washing dishes and clothes, for paying bills and depositing checks, for unpacking if I’m ambitious, for writing a few minutes here, for a short walk around the neighborhood, later for dinner and a grocery shop, maybe television before bed. As always for me, it’s great to get away and it’s great to come back home. Hugging my kids and my guy feels good no matter where we are, but at home it feels just right.

Here is a link to the Reina Sofia exhibit, Playgrounds: Reinventing the Square, which includes a podcast, video, and description of the book I bought, as well as a little explanation of the exhibit that I loved. Lucky me to see it just before it left:

http://www.museoreinasofia.es/en/exhibitions/playgrounds

And here, at the request of my daughter, at long last, is the recipe for tofu albondigas, just for you, or anyone you know who likes tofu in a meatball. So far, all of us do:)

Start with:

1 pound tofu, mashed with a fork in a medium bowl

Add:

Two eggs, beaten
1 cup bread crumbs (I make my own by putting stale bread in the blender. Good bread a bonus)
1/2 cup parmesan
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon minced parsley (we are out, so meatballs won’t get cooked until after I run to the store:()
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 clove garlic, minced

Mix together with a fork. Preheat broiler. Roll meatballs and place on broiling pan. Broil until lightly brown, flip, broil other side. Serve with favorite tomato sauce and pasta. Currently my gal loves rice pasta, but whatever you like will do. Tofu meatballs are also pretty good on their own, sort of a falafel sized piece of protein with a yummy cheesy garlic taste.

If you are a meat lover, you can make the same meatballs with meat! Instead of the pound of tofu, use 3/4 pound ground beef and 1/4 pound ground pork.

If you are lactose intolerant, use lactaid. If you are gluten free, make bread crumbs of your favorite gluten free bread. For my guy, I do both, and the meatballs are equally delicious. Yum. I can hardly wait til dinner. It’s been awhile since I cooked a real meal.

Yesterday was a day to get ready. Vacation ended Sunday. My kids and I returned Sunday afternoon and evening, back from a Hingham wedding for me, following two weeks wandering New England, from Dad’s for my boy, after hiking in New Hampshire, two days on the Cape earlier in the week, Ashfield the week before that, from a week of Maine camping, preceded by a week in Ashfield, before that a week at summer camp for my gal. Sunday evening I made a nice dinner, and that was about it..Can’t even remember what else I might have done. My suitcase is still in the tv room downstairs, unopened.

Yesterday the day care reopened after two weeks of vacation. Anne began her work with us. The day care kids came back, some older ones here just for a day or week. Everyone seemed happy to be back, save the youngest one at first, but even she adjusted. From start to finish yesterday I was doing transition tasks, updating files, schedules, contracts, sorting out tuition, policies, bills, making sure Anne knew the lay of the land, while she and Liana were the teachers with the kids. My boy was off to work, his older brother started classes at college, my gal and I made it as far as the bank up the street before turning back on our errand mission, due to heat and exhaustion and ennui.

Near bedtime, I realized my boy, nineteen, starting his junior year, had moved his own stuff from summer sublet to college dorm apartment, had started classes and semester without a bit of help from me or his dad, not even a call or text from me. Made me feel sort of lousy on one hand, that I hadn’t been more helpful. Also made me realize how far a kid can come in two years, from living at home and having his mom help him organize his stuff and drive him to college, full of angst, to doing it on his own, without a word.

Today my gal is off to babysit across town. She’ll babysit closer to home the two days after that. My son will be off to work in Framingham, at school, where he’s worked most days this summer when he hasn’t been away. I’ll be back to work downstairs with children and Liana, still getting ready for fall, also enjoying the last days of summer. 

The heat caught me off guard yesterday. Over vacation we had an electrician here, updating and installing outlets, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, replacing broken fixtures, redoing the kitchen lighting. He removed a ceiling fan in the kitchen that was heavy when I took it to the curb on my brother’s advice, so the metal collectors could have it next. They carefully removed the fan blades from the motor, laid them in a pile on the curb. I picked up the fan blades and brought them to the day care, to be bases for wood sculptures down the road. Last night I made dinner in the hot kitchen, broiler on for tofu balls, stove cranking for pots of pasta, sauce, and broccoli. By the time my daughter was working on the dishes after the dinner we ate on the porch, she was bemoaning our long lost friend, the ceiling fan. It was ugly, we both agreed. We’re hotter now, and a little bit of regret set in. Out with the old, in with the new, always a challenge.

Time to rise and shine and shower and wake the kids. Feels almost like school is starting, but for my kids this week it’s work, not school. Next week the day care shifts to our school year schedule. The following week my own kids return to school. That week I’ll be in Spain. Hard decision for me, that trip. Not yet used to so much traveling without my kids, or to not being around this time of year. Still a mom and a teacher, and most of those will be close to home and school this month.

Haven’t written in awhile. Needed to get back in the swing. Not flowing out of me as it did for a long while. This fall will be the sixth anniversary of this blog, started when I thought I’d be starting a small school, before the Charter School attempts, before my year at SVS, before divorce, before my oldest went to college, before my youngest two went off to SVS. A lot has changed in six years. A whole lot. Funny thing is I’m just starting to find a new normal. As different as things are, they’re beginning to feel right again, day care and family holding together just fine after lots of changes, kids and I all doing well, new guy a fine fit, if far away in Western Mass sometimes, house not tumbling down, bank accounts holding up, Ashfield place still shared, travel and new clothes and dinners out and house projects not eliminated from our lives, though all done with greater care on a budget held up more by one than two. Out with the old, in with the new, keeping some parts for the next project, letting others go.

Today I have a full day at home on my own. My children and I returned last night after days and weeks apart, after long drives, traffic, a scene that required more of us than expected. This morning when I woke shortly after 6 the scene replayed and I got up to start the day, to cover the brand new outlets installed in the day care while we were away, to drag the trash and recycling accumulated from the last week of day care to the curb, to put our kitchen together, to drink a cup of tea and answer e-mail, to install a new to us air conditioner in the day care window above the outlet the electrician installed just for it.

As the kids were about to leave the house the rain began. I searched out raincoats from the pegs and basement and sent them off and then the rain began in earnest. It came down hard and fast and when I looked outside, there was a flood and then there were my children driving through it in our new car. I screamed as I had last night during the scene I won’t describe here, this time at my son, who couldn’t hear me through closed doors and hard rain, but soon they were through the flood and parked in front of the house. Later they were back on the road and the house was quiet upstairs, full of kids and day care teachers below. 

More desk work all morning, and laundry, and now I’m restless as can be. Time for ratatouille, first batch of summer, inspired by my favorite table at the Northampton farmers’ market this weekend, offering baskets of ripe tomatoes, mixed peppers, french squash, small potatoes. It’s cooler and less humid than it was when I woke up, though the storms are predicted to return. I’m listening to Krista Tippet interview a young artist for On Being, feeling good to be up from the table where I worked a long while, hoping the batch of ratatouille will be a good one, if a bit small, that it will be a fine meal for my kids and me tonight, second dinner of the week, last week we’ll be together at home for awhile, planning to make the most of it, fridge full of local produce, blueberries, veggies, eggs, mind less full of plans for cooking than of hopes for meals together, conversation, companionship, kindness, family in my home.

Here is a photo of the flood on our street, along with a link to the Krista Tippet pod cast with Dario Robletto, and if I am ambitious, the recipe from Moosewood for Ratatouille, should you be hungry, too.

I’m not able to cut and paste the recipe, but if you google Moosewood and ratatouille, you’ll be all set:)

And now I can’t do the photo, either..but here is a link to the podcast! I’m technologically challenged today. Time to go back to the chopping board, hands on learning where I’m at. Well, even the podcast link won’t copy..ugh..maybe later it will. Google Dario Robletto On Being and you’ll be all set:)

This morning I wake up to find a song shared via forwarded e-mail via Youtube which stirs up feeling that take awhile to untangle..from my swimming buddy via his, close friend of his and of the woman who used to be his wife, now gone. All of life is like that these days, midlife full of memories and connections to untangle and sort through. This past weekend I was in Western New York for a class reunion and to introduce my beau and swimming buddy to the places I grew up, hometown, parents’ birthplaces, Letchworth State Park and its gorges, high school friends and a relative or two. Not one of us is getting younger, and with each passing year, there is opportunity for struggle as well as triumph, and both show through. Two weekends ago I was in Western, New York with my kids, no beau, as he was with his own kids in New Hampshire, celebrating a past birthday, on a delayed, long-promised trip, and my kids were due to be in Texas during the class reunion weekend with their dad and stepmom and his family there, and when the family picnic date came out it made sense the kids and I would be do a visit home that weekend instead. Its like that these days, family trips come in many forms. Last weekend it was me and my gal and my guy in Northampton, skipping our trip to Ashfield to keep things simple, missing the swim in the lake and hitting the pool in Florence just before we left, rain drops coming down and only us three in the water at one point, taking over the diving board and talking about our jumps.

With all my hopes and dreams for summer swimming, things of late have petered out. The last four weeks I’ve logged two short trips to the local MDC swimming pool on Thursday morning and evening with my daughter, a quick drip in between chores or after work to break the heat, and two trips to Richard’s pool in Florence, one with only Richard and one with him and my gal, not a single dip in lake or pond or ocean, no fresh water for me. I could use a long swim in deep water, more than laps across the pool, and I’m hoping this weekend to be in Ashfield Lake again, swimming with my guy and my housemates there, kids off to Woolman Hill, where I used to be, won’t be this time, where they’ll likely jump off rocks and swim in a river with friends who used to be mine, but who I now see mostly dropping kids off and picking them up from events where I no longer belong. This time the kids will drive their dad’s car, stay on their own, be looked after some by various adults, mostly look after themselves. The problem with this, as my daughter explained, is not having food for snacks and Saturday lunch, and of mooching off others when they are at the river. To solve that problem, I’ve asked her and her brother and dad to make sure the kids bring some groceries, another way it seems they grow up too soon, but of course they can do it, as I can, manage this separation in weird stages phase of our lives, when our family combines and reconfigures nearly every other day into some new shape to which we try to adjust as each of us carries on.

Tonight is day care graduation, which I now want to call our Moving On Celebration, as this round we have only one true graduate heading off to school, and even he is not heading off to kindergarten in the traditional sense, but to a Sudbury school in Colorado, where there aren’t any grades, and the other two are heading to preschool programs, one in town, one far away, and the third one to be celebrated is Alice in her retirement. It’s another mix of tangled emotions as we round out a tricky year of shifts, of my return to full time life at WFDC after several years of working on the charter school and trying out the idea of a career there, then at SVS, where I worked a year, going to school three days a week with my children, balanced with two days running and working in the daycare, a full life I enjoyed, but which at times wore me out, of Jen moving on to another school part time and staying with us two afternoons a week, of Alice’s retirement and our summer working with a sub, my son’s gal Michaela, who stepped in at a moments notice and has been a fine example of how to do it right, a pleasure for me and Liana to get to know her as a young teacher learning more about the little ones we love, and of our year of working with infants and toddlers and twos, very few preschool-age children in the mix, first infant we have taken in many years leading to another young one this summer, taken on when the first one was away, and soon to be the year we begin to work with Anne, our new hire, middle aged mom of young kids, returning to the work force more substantially after time away from classroom teaching, easing her way in via Jen’s coop program, where she’s worked as a parent helper and a sub, to our place where she’ll become our next WFDC teacher.

Now it’s time to start my day, first a trip to the vet for my kitty and me, so long as I can get her in her crate and out the door on time, then chores around the house to prepare for the graduation/moving on event, tidying the yard, counting heads for pizza, laying bright clothes over the counter on the back porch to make a buffet table for the offerings families will bring, sweeping off the porch and looking for paper goods, setting out some chairs. The families and teachers will do the rest today, and Richard when he’s here. My kids are back from Texas as of late last night, won’t likely make the party as they used to do, disconnected from this group of kids and families, living their teenage lives of work and friends and travel and adventures about time balanced with quiet time at home and in their rooms, most likely staying at their dad’s until the weekend, avoiding another shift. Alice’s husband will be with us. Afterwards they’ll celebrate on their own. Liana and I, who used to have our children in the group when we first began our work together thirteen years ago, will tidy up the day care and the yard when the families go home, maybe with some help, though so far, the only line on the sign up sheet not to be filled is for the clean up helpers, families of young children knowing, I imagine, how long the day will be and how much they’ll need to get their small ones home to bed, and Richard will be here for the first time, to see what this graduation/moving on ceremony is all about, and then we’ll all start the day tomorrow, work or pleasure, on some level it would be nice if they were all the same, if the divisions between paid work and retirement, between work and leisure were a little bit less clear. Some days for me, that’s true. Yesterday, for example, we paused on our hot and humid walk to the park beneath a big old tree at Matignon. There in the High School parking lot in the middle of the day we felt the breeze. The children removed their hats from their sweaty heads and we all looked up at the leaves blowing in the wind and felt the cool air come down to cheer us up. It worked and we waited there to share the spot with Liana and her group and later when we were walking home and talking about something or other, one two wondered if someone we were talking about might be enjoying the breeze. Memory is like that, rooted in experience that returns, whether good or bad or tangled up or in between. I remembered that breeze and it’s remembering last night at Sharing Circle as we sat in the community room at Quaker Meeting on a hot night and the breeze came in the window as we closed, and I remembered it this morning when I woke up and the heat had broken and the breeze came in the window, and I could see the leaves moving in the trees outside, and I was inspired to write this morning, in part with that memory at the core, and even though I lost the thread in the beginning of this piece, it found its way back to me, the cool, cheerful bounty in the world, which finds us often in our moments of struggle, and echoes on in memory long after that.

Here’s the swimming song. Hoping to return to fresh water this weekend. Wish me luck. Now time to deal with Frances the Cat.

This past weekend Richard and I took Isabel to the bike store, in Northampton this time, after our bust visit to the Somerville shop. There, of two possible options, was my gal’s dream bike, tan and brown, like the ten speed I bought at age twelve, but unlike my boys’ ten speed racing bike, my gal’s city cruiser exudes elegance, a bike not for a gal riding miles on open country roads, but for a city kid heading to Newbury Street and beyond. The bike is a women’s bike, as my gal loves skirts, which I never wore on a bike until I met her. The handle bars ride high, so she can sit upright, enjoying the view, whereas I’ve always preferred to ride bent over. The thing has fenders, something I haven’t had since about age six, so no rain or mud will splash on her clothes. We added a new helmet, a water bottle holder, and a Northampton Bicycle water bottle, all accessories I never knew of in my day. Today we rode to Ace Wheelworks in Porter Square, with my gal out front and me behind, and added a heavy duty lock, two lights, and a bell, all things my adolescent self never needed in my country life . The baskets in stock didn’t suit her, wire and wooden baskets on the shelves when what she wants is white and wicker.

We pedaled on to Porter Square Shopping Center for a trip to the artist’s cooperative and the book store, where we bought Divergent for her, birthday cards and gifts for my guy and my brother-in-law, both celebrating this weekend, then a quick peppermint soda and three Vietnamese spring rolls, none of which could have happened thirty four years ago in Leroy, New York, where I’ll return this weekend for my thirtieth class reunion while my daughter flies off to Texas with her brother and stepmom, to meet up with her Dad’s family in Houston, where my city loving girl had wanted to go, rather than to the Texas Hill Country place her granddad shares with family when they return from China, Australia, Massachusetts, and Houston, city dwellers all but him.

I follow my girl back from Porter Square, watching her weave in and out of traffic, stop behind a Harley on Mass Ave, wave her hand in front of her nose at the exhaust, stop on the sidewalk to tighten the strap holding the lock to her bike rack, weave back into traffic, then onto the sidewalk, then back onto side streets, coming home just ahead of me. My gal is tall and strong and straight on her bike, all confidence and calm. Behind her I feel the same, whereas last time I was out riding on my own I felt small, unsure, and weak. Funny to be in this position, nineteen and a half years after becoming a mom, to watch my kids bike and drive and move away, one by one, and to see the paths they take, whether off to a radical school like SVS for all three, to RPI for college and summer work for my older son, or to Newbury Street on her own for my baby gal last week, when she rode there from the house she shares in Cambridge with her dad. Makes a mom proud, if a little wistful, to be the one trailing behind as they all go on ahead. 

Today as we were walking to the park, me in front with five kids, Alice and Liana behind with five, my group was singing. First one young two invited her friend, another yought two, to sing Abiyoyo with her. Then the seven, who is back visiting for the summer after two years at school, wished the group would sing You are My Sunshine, because she didn’t know Abiyoyo. Then they all just began to sing, Abiyoyo on my right, You Are My Sunshine on my left, turning to I’ve Been Working on the Railroad all around, and then the seven even remembered that at her school she had learned another version of Abiyoyo and she sang that an the others picked that up, too.

The kids wondered where Alice and Liana had gone. They were only a few steps behind. In that moment, my life was absolutely, terribly perfect.

These moments happen in family day care. The horrible monsters, the missing ones we love, the songs from our earliest childhood memories all come together as we walk to the park, all exist in our shared memories, all mean something to each and every one of us.

And the children’s voices are lovely. They are pure and sonorous and the sound of them wafting through the air to our neighbors reminds me that the children are all of ours, and that just by being here in this neighborhood all these nineteen years we’ve brought some joy. Also our fair share of monsters and tears, but joy above all.

Alice visited today after a tricky leave taking, a retirement begun more prematurely than any of us expected. The visit, however, could not have been made with more care. She brought photo albums she had made for the children of pictures from our year. She brought Miss Rhumphius, a book her day care parents had given to her when she ran her own program, a story that was one of my favorites in my young days as a public school teacher, and now, I realize, a perfect tale for explaining her retirement to the children, as it tells of the life of a strong, artistic, adventurous, nature loving woman named Alice from childhood to old age.

The children were happy Alice was here and so was I. It’s rare, I realized to take leave from a lifetime career with care and grace, and Alice is doing her best to do that. I’m happy that our family child care made a place for her after she closed her own program and that we’ve had these last many years together, and to know that her life in retirement will be long and rich and that we will stay connected.

And now, to post the photos I took for the parents. As I expected, they don’t really capture the moment. I did try. The singing and walking were better.

Today was quite a day. The kids finally got off to school near ten, when AAA released their keys from inside the car. The day care had been going over an hour by then. Richard then got on his way to Connecticut to visit with his mom. The other end of the day, after all the day care kids went home, I filled with errands, since my kids were spending the night in Framingham, traffic across town to an appointment near Fenway Park, where there wasn’t much parking due to a Red Sox game, work time in a coffee shop nearby, then groceries, banking, carrying in and putting away the food near ten, a smoothie of pureed fruit salad and frozen banana for dinner on the hammock in the backyard, not much of a dinner, but a fine place to dine.

Hammock in the backyard you say? Why, yes. Just because our Somerville garden is the size of a postage stamp didn’t stop me from going to Ace Hardware before dinner Saturday night and coming home with a hammock, a hammock stand, and a car load of groceries..and setting the whole thing up while barbecuing/burning burgers on the grill and commanding the crowd through the preparation of a decent meal, first at home together in a week.

There is something about Father’s Day that pushes my buttons. Probably lots of things. No father for me, no father in the house for the kids for a start. This Father’s Day, to complicate the matter, was supposed to be Mother’s Day, suggestion of my daughter, to avoid having to switch our alternating between mom’s and dad’s house weeks..So, after hammock buying and setting up, and dinner making and eating, and hammock swinging and dishes came Mother’s Day pie baking..a strawberry rhubarb pie, ingredients from the Shaw’s beside Ace Hardware, pie power produced by Jonah my boy the baker and me, mother to be celebrated with the promised strawberry rhubarb pie, or else.

This time there were one strawberry rhubarb pie, made by my boy and me for Mother’s Day, and three tiny gluten free strawberry rhubarb blueberry pies for Father’s Day, for my gluten free guy. Wahoo..Had my third piece about a half an hour ago, around 11, last course in my several course evening grazing…belgian chocolate brioche at the coffee shop while I worked, and drank coffee to pump me up for late night grocery shopping, then smoothie in the hammock around 10, cold pork loin at the table near 10:30, pie around 11, now an attempt at bed near midnight, in the warm third floor, 87 when I arrived, cooling slowly with the ceiling fan and air conditioner, only one running in the house, trying not to feel too anti-green running these machines so early in the year.

The hammock after shopping and errands was a fine, fine thing. Above the hammock I studied the overhanging branches of junk trees, mulberry and Norway Maple, grown enormous in the twenty some years since I arrived, none planted intentionally, all thriving on our neighborhood’s neglect, not a neighborhood of gardeners or lawn enthusiasts, but a place I now feel surrounded by green leaves, whether in my third floor bedroom or in the hammock in the yard.

I’ll need to move the hammock when mulberry season arrives, unless I want to swing in a bed of mulberry mash, which I don’t. I wonder as I lie there if I could trim back all these trees, mulberry branches overhanging the house roof, more overhanging the hammock, maples grown up in the last few years from over the fence where the landlord hardly cares. I don’t imagine I can trim them by myself, nor do I imagine it would be wise to follow the other plan I had this weekend, hiring someone to clean the gutters, and seeing if they would trim back the trees from the house at the same time. It seems I’m going to need a tree service, as well as a driveway crew, an electrician, and who knows who else, to restore order to this place gone wild. Ah, well, the hammock was more relaxing when I wasn’t thinking that way.

It’s been years since my family has treated the yard as it’s own. The back is filled with day care kids most afternoons its not too dark or wet, from April or May through September or October. There are a tree house, a climber, teeter totter toys, buckets, shovels, bubbles, goggles, rakes, brooms, all in child size. What there hasn’t been til this weekend is a hammock. Now there is. We shall see how that goes.

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