August 2010

My newly three comes into the kitchen and climbs into my lap while I do the Food Program Training, my homework to her. She burrows in and we talk softly and cuddle and as we do I remember a conversation at lunch about which teacher kids will have this year. One girl’s best friend from the beginning of kindergarten had begun crying when class placements were announced and the two girls were to be in separate first grade classrooms. “I was allowed to touch her head for a little while. Even though the rule is no touching other people’s bodies. It helped her stop crying. She was crying so hard.”

Touching is important. We all need to question rules against it. Enough said.

The girl is still here in my lap. I don’t think I could work with children in a place where touching wasn’t allowed.

This weekend my kids are back after having been away for nearly a week, loved by other people while I worked and played without them. Now they’re home, we’re in back to school mode. School shopping yesterday, trying stuff on and doing kitchen fashion shows today, and thinking about fall things, playing in the house, making music with friends back from camp and to Target to search out a Ken doll so all the games with Barbie don’t have to involve fathers who are dead, divorced, or on a business trip, so all the teenage girls don’t have to be love lost, and so moms can have a partner. How can I say no? Apparently the boyfriend/dad/husband in today’s story is in prison. If all goes well at Target and the Ken Fashionista doll is there, featured on the web as one of only two or three available Ken dolls in the current world of Barbie, talk about a skewed population, when we come home, they can go and get the guy out of jail and make the family whole. Then I’ll traipse around town with my boy in skinny jeans and manly man shirt (white button down with scrolled white embroidery down the front, just right for the bass in the band) and follow up on his Craigslist lead, money saved by both kids a long, long time, going to be spent today or else, and we’ll buy a drum set, which will go in the newly cleaned bedroom for now, down the line, if the boy gets ambitious, in the to be cleaned basement. This year could be the Year of the Band or the Year of the Boy/Man, depending on who you talk to in our family. Or the Year of the Bike, purchase we need to make for kid number three, whose vintage road bike seems to be on it’s last wheels.

Good to have the kids home. They make me smile and laugh and do all kinds of things I would never do without them.

Love those G’s. Yard has gone to pot over the last year and more. For my day care graduation present to myself, I went to Wilson Farm, am home with a van load of goodies for the garden, cocoa hulls for the front yard, pine mulch to cushion the ground beneath the climber, salt marsh hay to go around the stumps, and two big trellises, half off at end of summer, to hold the roses that have been in the driveway a long, long time in spite of massive neglect. The red one was  a gift from my brother-in-law when we bought the house nineteen (?) years ago next month, planted in the fall and survived over many seasons, till it now produces roses I can see over the sill of the day care kitchen window, grabbed a few shots between washing dishes, through the glass and screen, wondering if the trellis will block the window, never know, and the other rose one of a pair we bought when we took up the asphalt a long while back, before our street required resident parking stickers, before my father-in-law and his big black Texas truck moved in, before we had a minivan, before Liana worked with us and needed off street parking for her car. Asphalt never returned, garden never grew, except the rose, which will now hang proudly on the trellis rather than precariously into parked cars.

While I was at the counter paying, I saw the sign at Wilson’s advertising pea stone by the yard, delivered to your door, along with mulch (which I may need for relicensing in October), stone dust (which the bricks need to stop making their crevises home to dandelions and other happy weeds), and other garden things. Got a price, thought to get some pea stone for the drive, five hundred dollars is my budget, down from the thousands we thought we’d spend on bricks, pile still there at the end of the drive, no money or time or talent to lay them, nor budget for grading and stone dust and edging, all the stuff anyone who knows anything about driveways has told me I need to do it right. This time, I’ll call the guy my friend the gardener extraordinaire has used, who will give me an estimate of how much pea stone will cover the driveway, who will deliver and spread it if I wish, or if I am unable.

We’ll start the new year with fresh mulch, fresh hay, a layer of pea stone to cover the dirt and grass and weeds, hope the ruts don’t get much deeper and the pea stones are decent coverage, easy on the eyes, don’t sink completely into the ground year one, another year down, hoping for many more to come in the world of two family houses in Somerville, family day care, and life on my own. Tah-dah!

Happy Graduation…now time to write about my boy, first to graduate the day care at five and stay on for homeschooling three mornings a week, another milestone worth noticing and celebrating, along with another terrific kid.

End of summer blues or end of summer peace. Hard to tell sometimes when the sky is so gray all day you never see the sun, after a summer of hot and sunny days. But the golden beet at dinner tonight, alongside it’s sauteed greens, cooked two nights ago, soaking two days in the fridge in their brine of vinegars, lightly coated with butter, is a high, with flavor I delight in but can’t describe. Last night it was the patty pan squash, oddball shape, variegated green and white and yellow skin, pale insides, near translucent seeds, bursting with the flavor of the garden at Atherton farm, a taste again I don’t have words to describe, subtlety in fresh local produce touches my palate in ways I can only taste, not articulate.

What do we lose when what we mostly eat is from the supermarket, often frozen, or on the shelves under controlled conditions so very, very long? This is not the food I serve my day care kids, the golden beet (which by the way is striped inside like a candy cane when you slice it raw before cooking, so gorgeous in magenta and snow bright I have to walk the house and show the slices off to my boys at their computers, the wonders of in person, rooted things so far from the world of the internet they barely look up, but when they do, they are impressed), nor the greens, nor the pattypan, nor the zuchini, nor the summer squash, nor the fresh green bean, nor the collard or the rainbow chard, nor the lemon cucumber nor the butter head lettuce nor the orange tomato.

What are these kids missing? Would they eat these delicious foods if I offered them? Will they eat them when they grow up, or will they be like some I have known who prefer their vegetables canned, their fruit preserved, fearing variety and sublety and knock your socks off flavor, in favor of the institutional, the uniform, the predictable, the no fear types of foods, processed pastas, white rice (cook in a bag, Minute Rice, Uncle Ben’s), plain bagels, cream cheese, Cheerios? All those foods you can count on not to surprise are the ones which many love.

Give me golden beets and patty pan any day. Best day of all though is mid to late August, when the weather is less than fine and the flavors are at their peak. How not to appreciate the end of summer when those flavors are in your mouth and the wool socks are on your feet?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the next direction to head, the next place to put my energy, the next place I might find my niche, my path, where my inner self will meet the outer world. Summer time and the living is easy, and all the vacation and time with school age kids, even the not so relaxing bits of the overwhelming scheduling and record keeping tasks of making our mixed age, year round family day care program work, bring me to the irreducible conclusion that the thing I have cared about the longest, about which I feel most passionately, for which I will put in the greatest effort and refuse the least compromise is the right to live and learn in mixed age groupings.

We work very hard to make this a reality in our family day care. One example that hit home today is that we have 32 children enrolled throughout the year in our program, which has a licensed capacity of ten. This doesn’t mean we are ever overenrolled, it just means we have kids with us on many part time arrangements, from morning child care and homeschooling support to after school care to school vacation care for school age children. At the park today I was talking to other providers about the overwhelming amount of paperwork and record keeping we have at this time of year, updating enrollment forms, directories, food program forms, files. The other providers have about 12 or 13 kids enrolled at a time. No wonder we feel overwhelmed. But we value our mix of ages so much we put in the effort it takes, and risk the financial losses we may incur if we don’t fill the many part time slots that are required to make this sort of program work, with morning and full day child care, after school care, school year only and full year and summer only and even summer daily slots to allow our alumns and siblings to keep on returning as they get older, and to join their younger siblings, keeping families together and our age span as broad as it can be.

When I think of how I can fight for the right to live and learn in mixed age settings, I wonder how many places there are in the world these days where older kids can care for babies and toddlers and preschoolers, where playing school with younger kids gives older kids the chance to try out being teacher, where kids can maintain relationships with younger and older kids over time, in our program for sometimes ten or twelve years, where siblings can be together, share friends and playtime and meals, while parents are at work.

When I thought of expanding or shifting from family day care to something else, whether day care center, after school program, or camp, or independent or charter School, the inability to do this legally while maintaining a mixed age group held me back. I love working with the full range, see it as our nitch and our gift to our kids and families to provide a place for true, wide, mixed age grouping. I hate to see it go, as much as I would love to serve more families, to serve a wider socioeconomic range of people, to work with a slightly larger staff, to provide more slots of high quality programming to my community, to create more jobs, I can’t give up the mixed age grouping model, including kids under four, which even the Sudbury model schools can’t do, though they allow more age mixing than almost any other model of which I have heard, where students from four to adulthood and staff to mix freely throughout the day.

Finest vacation in awhile, go figure, never, ever know what life will bring…happiness in all sorts of forms, awe, wonder, rest, peace, connection, solitude, togetherness, physical, emotional, visceral, sensual, intellectual, all those things a body needs to be whole, restored to oneness, coming together at last….long dark night may be ending, just in time to end the summer, host graduation, prepare for fall, new year dawning, year one post separation down, new life beginning to emerge, even looking forward to fall and winter, while swimming the last cool swim in the lake near dinner time with my girl, floating on my back in the darkening water while she lay on the beach atop her towel and beneath mine, chilly on a beach for the first time all summer.  I floated and looked at the sky, looked at the inside of my eyelids, felt the water hold me up, wondered at the melting of my body into the lake, held the Donald Hall poems in my mind, just read on the beach, collected from the yard sale in town, held by the folks at St. John’s, a tradition, buying their used goods, happy to find Donald Hall there in the box, among other treats and treasures, happy to be home again in my body and my soul, never know when you might depart, when you might return. Wait and wonder and hope.

And now back to the mundane. Read the mail. Boys brought the bags in from the van. Time to put away the local food, to wash the clothes, to ease my mind and body back to work. More work tomorrow. And as always, I’m looking forward to it, very lucky in my job to have it as a world of wonder, kids back from their vacations, too, with stories and feelings and bodies needing to share and care and to be looked after and loved. How much more could I ask? Make the bread, cut the melon, butter the toast, pour the milk, talk the talk, walk the walk, watch and wonder and they’ll make their little worlds anew, time after time after time, right before our eyes, in our arms, all around us, day after day after day. Hard to know what work would suit me better. Home again there, too, years of angst about making a new place, moving on, brought me right back here, surer I want to be here and wondering as always, what next, what next, what next, only this time thinking mainly of our little world, letting the big world take care of itself for awhile while we hunker down and figure out again what it is that makes this little one just right.

Deep vacation mode. Conversations and meals with lots of friends and family, most restorative thing I know, plus tasty food when hungry, long walks, naps, good books, what more could a woman want?

Tonight, while putting away groceries for next week’s day care crowd, before a late night walk to the bank to deposit tuition, and a return to get the fall schedules and tuition and contracts in order, I’m roasting tomatoes. It’s hot and muggy, and a four hundred degree oven may not be what the doctor ordered, but it’s vacation and the tomatoes are in their peak and my friend the hostess and gardener extraordinaire has given me directions for roasting which I can follow step by step to ensure success. Then, as she suggests, I’ll put them into ziploc bags in the freezer, for a taste of summer midwinter. If I get the time, I’ll make pesto from the basil, put that down to rest beside the bags of roasted tomatoes, so fall and winter will have a little homegrown goodness to lead me on to spring, round and round and round we go, till we’re back again, home and home and home again, where we stop nobody knows.

Roasted tomatoes

For this batch, I went to Wilson Farms, where I bought a peck of roma tomatoes, each one perfectly red and taut, for only 5.99. Can’t beat that for a bargain.

According to my friend Ferriss, here is how to roast these gorgeous babes:

Slice each one down the middle lengthwise. Lay them out on a cookie sheet. No olive oil or salt and pepper or garlic or onion needed, though I am tempted. Roast at 400 degrees for about half an hour, till the skins begin to crinkle. Take them out and let them cool. After a little while, pull the skins off with your fingers, exposing the luscious flesh. When they have cooled a bit further, enjoy a taste, yum, and put the insides into ziploc bags. Freeze till you need a taste of summer, somewhere in early November is what I’m picturing, when the fall foliage has dropped to the ground and the skies are gray, the table will hold a plate of pasta with roasted red tomatoes, green, green pesto, and smiles all around.

If you want to be even happier while you roast, listen to Kate Wolf, Give Yourself to Love. Not on youtube because she died before all this technology was invented but you can spring for it on itunes and feel the love thing on lots of levels, beginning with a tomato and a song.

And if you want to go one step further away from your troubles, read the poem below before you put away the groceries or wash the dishes or go to the bank.  A little poetry break never hurt anyone.

From Writers’ Almanac, March 10, 2010. I’m not sure the tomatoes will make it to March, but you never know:)


by Michael Heffernan

Before I gave up wondering why everything
was a lot of nothing worth losing or getting back,
I took out a jar of olives, a bottle of capers,
a container of leftover tomato sauce with onions,
put a generous portion of each in olive oil
just hot enough but not too hot,
along with some minced garlic and a whole can of anchovies,
until the mixture smelled like a streetwalker’s sweat,
then emptied it onto a half pound of penne, beautifully al dente,
under a heap of grated pecorino romano
in a wide bowl sprinkled with fresh chopped parsley.
If you had been there, I would have given you half,
and asked you whether its heavenly bitterness
made you remember anything you had once loved.

“Puttanesca” by Michael Heffernan, from The Night Breeze Off the Ocean. © Eastern Washington University Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

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