April 2012

I’m listening to Townes Van Zandt Pandora after a lovely weekend, after a lovely week. I was visiting Sudbury Valley, a world away. Before that, my kids and I had nearly a week and a half together, visiting colleges and enjoying school and day care vacation. I haven’t been with the day care kids in nearly three weeks, except for a half an hour at the end of the day on Wednesday. The place runs without me, which is a good thing to know after seventeen years of making it go.

This morning I attended Quaker Meeting in Cambridge, my first time there. A very old friend was there, a Meeting member, and we spoke afterwards. When she told me her daughter and stepdaughter were forty, she noticed my eyes began to water. When we met this friend her girls were in college. “We were so young” I couldn’t help but say out loud. My friend agreed. A lot has changed. Her hug was warm and generous as ever. Spirit is like that if the first to speak in Meeting today is right about the messages we carry from those we’ve met, those we’ve heard, those we’ve read. They stick, they travel with us, we carry them and pass them on. If she’s right, this is as good a definition of spirit as anything.

The same speaker told a story of a man from MIT who had come to Meeting once and who had spoken about how difficult it had been for him to believe in such a thing as spirit, which he couldn’t measure or quantify. Then, after some time, he had realized that love was as real as anything, and that if he was so sure of love’s existence, perhaps he could allow that spirit existed, too. I was struck when I heard this story that my own path back to some sort of belief followed the same course, first an awakening to love, then a wondering on spirit, soul, transcendence, grace, god, then a retreat to Gilchrist, then two more, now Quaker Meeting, third time today may be the charm, a habit, routine. Ironically, this evening I was denied my fourth request to visit Gilchrist for this summer’s Teacher Retreat. I had come to nearly expect it, though not to take it for granted. This year there were more applicants than spaces for the first time since I first applied. Those who have been before were passed over for those who have not. Fair outcome, more to wonder upon..

The week at Sudbury Valley has me thinking night and day, throughout much of Meeting today, and during the walks I took with a friend, during the early morning and late at night when I wake and when I wait to fall asleep, those transitional times when dreaming has nearly begun, conscious thinking has yet to cease. It’s a place to which I crave to return, not at all unlike Gilchrist, so in a way I feel I’ve traded one for the other, fairly. It’s hard to describe either so another can understand. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t written all week long. I was afraid to misrepresent it, afraid to breach the privacy of the place and the people there, afraid to distort my own experience of it by sharing it with the world. I still am, I suppose, though I write about it in my mind, fully anticipating that some day soon I’ll feel ready to write about it here.

Time for quiet time, a little Mad Men, then some reading. The book I can’t wait to get to, oddly perhaps, perhaps not, is one Gary Taubes’ Why we get fat: What to do about it, recommended to me by two men named Michael/Mikel, one who is a long term day care park friend, the other who is a staff at SVS, both who are eating lots of protein and getting their slimmer figures back. I’ve been hooked by the ideas these two shared in the generous spaces allowed day care providers in the park and staffers at SVS to talk amongst themselves about things of adult interest. I’ve begun to change my thinking and my habits. I brought nuts each day after hearing Mikel’s thoughts on Monday, and heard others talk about trying to make changes of their own. Today I ate an egg for lunch, sausage for a snack, filled my shopping cart with as many proteins as I could, for me and James and for my kids, anticipating shift. I read the book on the bus back from Harvard Square last night, after a long, languishing walk from home, a slow, delicious meal at Sandrine’s, thanks to Groupon, and a few minutes before closing time in the bookstore to grab this book along with Born to Run, another park/SVS connection, and Louis Sachar’s The Card Turner for book club this coming Sunday. Circles of thought, ideas on the move, fun for me to watch myself learn new things, to watch learning travel in the world in new places and with new people. Time for reading, good to be back to the blog. I missed writing terribly, couldn’t find the time, or wasn’t ready, not sure which.

Here is today’s poem from Writers’ Almanac, just right, as I sit on the couch while my daughter watches her morning ritual episode of Psych, her teenage brothers sleep, and I read e-mail and check facebook, anticipating the end of vacation and the beginning of the work and school week. This week I won’t be working in the day care. I’ll be visiting Sudbury Valley. The prospect of all the driving and rearranging life around the visit has been enough to occupy a piece of my mind, but mostly, I wonder what the visit will be like, what I’ll see, what I’ll feel, what I’ll do, who I’ll interact with and how, what impact the visit will have on me, on my kids, on the day care, on the school. Feels like a leap off a high dive or a cliff or bridge into water, and I’m excited and scared, would love an hour in Quaker Meeting or in St. John the Divine or in my little cabin in Gilchrist to calm my nerves, settle my mind, hold my heart. Not this morning. I’m choosing one more full day with my kids, being present as much as I can. Instead, I have Writers’ Almanac. The poem today works. I’ll read it again later when I need it. For now, it’s checking things off the list that will get me through the morning, a cup of tea, a piece of toast or bowl of oatmeal or cereal, maybe a piece of fruit. Tomorrow we’ll get up early, so I can be there a full seven hour day and be back in time for an evening commitment, drop the kids off at their dad’s first, see them again the following day. That alone will be new, but only the beginning.

For now, enjoy the poem. I’ll read it one more time, then do more chores. I do love an hour in a quiet Cathedral, for me, another home in the world which makes me feel less alone, more connected, grounded and held up, contemplative, and, if things go well, at peace.


Everything but God

by Anne Pierson Wiese

In Europe you can see cathedrals
from far away. As you drive toward them
across the country they are visible—stony
and roosted on the land—even before the towns
that surround them. In New York you come
upon them with no warning, turn a corner
and there one is: on 5th Avenue St. Patrick’s,
spiny and white as a shell in a gift shop; dark
St. Agnes lost near a canal and some housing
projects in Brooklyn; or St. John the Divine,
listed in every guidebook yet seeming always
like a momentary vision on Amsterdam
Avenue, with its ragged halo of trees, wide stone
steps ascending directly out of traffic.

Lately I have found myself unable
to pass by. The candles’ anonymous
wishes waver and flame near the entrance, bright
numerous, transitory and eternal
as a migration: the birds that fly away
are never exactly the same as those that return.
The gray, flowering arches’ ribs rise
until they fade, the bones so large and old
they belong to an undetected time
on earth. Here and there people’s small backs
in prayer, the windowed saints’ robes’ orchid
glow, the shadows—ghosts of a long nocturnal
snow from a sky below when we did not yet
exist, with our questions tender as burns.

“Everything but God” by Anne Pierson Wiese, from Floating City. © Louisiana State University Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Wednesday evening we rode our bikes from our house into Davis Square, stopped to pick up crepes for dinner, ate them in the park. The playground was full of young families, children laughing and shouting and climbing and swinging all over the place. We sat in the grass beside our bikes and enjoyed our food and our Orangina. My gal took a turn on the swings, returned, and we rode home, looping back to the path from the street across from the park.

Last evening we went out after dinner, just as the sun was setting. We crossed Alewife Brook to the new path there, followed it along where it now connects up to the Minuteman Bike Path, chose to go left around Alewife T Station, and to loop back on the path through North Cambridge to Mass Ave, where we crossed and joined the world we’ve walked and biked for years, just where the day care kids, once upon a time including my own, spend their mornings.

On the way home, my boy wondered where was the street where the tree ate the sign. He remembered aloud for the first time in my recent memory, walking by that tree on the way to the library with his best day care friend, now a facebook friend, mom a facebook friend of mine, not seen in real life for many years, and I remembered it clearly, too, that tree and sign. My girl had never heard of it and he tried to explain the amazement and wonder of his four year old brain at a tree that could eat a sign, could describe it perfectly well visually, worked harder to explain the feel of the thing on his person. I wondered for the first time if maybe a kid would think that a tree that could eat a sign might also eat a person, and it seems he did wonder just that, or at least upon recollection, it seemed possible.

My children are near grown up. Their friends don’t come to day care anymore. We ride our big bikes on the paths and streets, and I show them the ways I’ve ridden and walked when I haven’t been with them. It amazes me now how many times that’s been. When they were small, it was all I could imagine to be away for an hour or two. All three of my kids were exclusive nursers. Not one took a bottle, all drank from a cup fairly early, and ate solid food, but the nursing was the thing. I held them to sleep most every nap and night time. Only when they began to not need me so much did I leave them with their dad to go off to a meeting. For many years, I would hold one in my lap and talk with the adults if I needed to be out. They came with me to doctor’s appointments and sat in the chair beside the examination table when they were older, lay in their car seats when they were small. We spent our days together until they went to school, and then we were together after school, evenings, weekends.

Now they not only live with their dad half time, they also go to school an hour away, leave in the morning, come home near time for dinner. Their friends come by occasionally, but it’s rare. Kids who go to school an hour away from us might live an hour in the other direction from school. It’s a long way to go in the evening or on the weekend to visit with a friend.

Today we’ll visit my sister and her kids on the Cape. We were meant to visit my brother and his family in the Adirondacks, and to spend a night in Montreal, but we needed more time at home, kids having been to Texas and back with their dad last week, all of us having been on the road the five days after they got back. Instead we’re ending our week at home, with a day trip to the Cape, bike rides around town, dinner in the park or on the porch. My gal went to the grocery store with me yesterday, first time in a long time she hasn’t been too tired or preferred to stay at home. Our house was clean a few hours on Thursday when the cleaners came. Other than that, it’s been a living, breathing organism. My gal and I have tried, and even the boys, to get things organized, to tidy up, to do the chores. Evidence shows the best way forward is to get away from the mess after dinner by going out on our bikes to see the world, coming back for a little tv before bed, getting up in the morning and starting again. Here I go to tackle the dinner dishes and yesterday’s paperwork piles on the dining room table, the laundry and cat boxes in the basement, before I wake the kids and we get ready for the Cape, all except the oldest guy, who has got his own life and plans now we’re home, finally, as my gal noticed yesterday, living the life of a real teenager, girlfriend, ultimate frisbee, college homework, graduation thesis on his mind.

As my mom reminded me when they were small and achieving some milestone, which I was lamenting, every age is good.

Last evening my son wondered if we had a harmonica in the house. I thought we did. Turns out what we had wasn’t great. We went out to the music store and came home with a decent one, and a how to book.

This morning I was up early attempting, again, as always, to put my life in order. While I make mac and cheese, wash dishes, do laundry, my boy plays on his new harmonica.

My nephew, who is two, played harmonica for the world awhile back. My sister-in-law, a singer songwriter, posted him playing and singing on facebook. His tune is called Happy, Sad, Grumpy Song. When I watch and listen to him play, I feel it all. Same when my boy plays his instrument from his room, behind closed doors. It all comes out.

Last night around 10:30 I finished a book I’ve been aching for of late, by one of my favorite writers, Kate Chopin, though she hasn’t written much that I’ve read. This was my second or third pass at The Awakening, first time I finished. There is music there, a good deal of it, and the sea, and food and drink and flowers on the table, a vacation, a mansion in the city, a small home of her own, an apartment where her friend, a single musician lives. Ending the book made me melancholy. Hearing the harmonica does, too, sunny day or not.


I’m in a quiet house today, ripe for the article I come across while taking a break from some data entry work I’ve been needing to do. I’ve subscribed to The Atlantic for awhile, as one of those free subscription deals I should have known better than to accept, and rarely read the articles. Since I’m on vacation this week, I have time..and the article I read, Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? hits home.

We’ve been away several days, my three kids and me in the van for lots of hours driving to my mom’s, to our shared place in Western Mass, home, visiting my mom, visiting colleges, visiting friends. For the last five days, I haven’t been alone at all, which is a treat for me. Today we’re back, and my kids and I find our quiet places in the house, my daughter goes off with friends midday, my son goes  off to his physics lab soon after, third kid is doing the computer and guitar thing in his room most of the day, except for breaks to make us all latte, to make his breakfast, to make us tuna sandwiches this afternoon. I find time to do the work I never find time to do during regular work weeks, to enter the bank statements into Moneydance for the day care and our personal financial records and tax purposes. This is dull work, not social at all, and I have to force myself to do it on a sunny day with kids at home. My son sits across from me awhile working on his things. My girl comes to visit for awhile before going off to watch tv.

When I take a break to read The Atlantic, the article on loneliness and facebook makes me shiver a little..the author describes the increase in loneliness our society has been experiencing, some of the causes, and studies folks have done on  use of the internet, and facebook specifically, and it’s relationship to loneliness. I find I am one in a growing number of people in the US living alone, though for me it is a part time thing, that I am like many others in checking facebook once a day or more most days, that in commenting on people’s posts, rather than passively reading them or somewhat less passively liking them, I am helping my facebook connections to feel less alone. I also find that those who use facebook to arrange in person connections are less lonely than those who use facebook only to connect online.  There are lots of other pieces of information and claims in the article which make me think and wonder. Somehow,  I feel somewhat less alone in reading it, but, as the article might predict, I feel a whole lot less alone when my son comes out of his room and we talk over our tuna sandwiches, or when my son comes back from class and we talk about his physics lab, and I weigh the options of going out this evening on an e-mail arranged outing with friends who met via an online group or staying home with my family. It really is often about how to be less alone..or how to be alone in a way that doesn’t feel disconnected. As the article points out, how to be in solitude in a way that replenishes rather than depresses us is a challenge for our age.

As I often do, I think as I read the article on Facebook and loneliness what this piece says about schools and schooling. I feel lucky for my kids to be in a school, Sudbury Valley, where connection and conversation and in person contact are so important. I wonder how this model of connection could serve the broader world. I remember being a girl and all the visiting we did, how much of our lives were devoted to maintaining in person social connections, and I think in many ways, schools at their best are working to maintain these social networks, whereas so many of us in our adult or out of school and work lives, spend a great deal of time alone, or at least socially disconnected, either on facebook or e-mail or wordpress, or with our television or our book. What’s the difference between that sort of connection and a more physical solitary connection with the world in pursuits like making music or art or tending gardens or walking in the woods?

Liana shared this Youtube video with me this morning. I loved it. Made me smile down deep and leak tears. I recommend it. It’s all about a 9-year-old boy, Caine, and his dad and a filmmaker who finds them in dad’s auto parts store, where the film begins to take shape with the magic of Caine’s cardboard box arcade, and no doubt, his contagious energy and enthusiasm.

The video makes me wonder on the cardboard box, on all the creativity that lies in that humble piece of trash/recycling, after the package is out. When I was a girl, it was the shell for our Barbie Doll houses. My mom gave us space in the basement for our creations, as did my best friend’s mother in their basement. One of those boxes is still in my house, a Girl Scout Cookie box turned little girl’s bedroom for my favorite non-Barbie Barbie, Angie, a small plastic bendable doll with a beautiful face and short cropped brown black hair who was just the right size to be a Barbie Doll’s kid. I lined the box with blue gingham fabric and wallpaper or carpet, amazing I can’t remember that, made furniture and accessories out of trash from around the house. Kids have been doing this a long time, longer than the cardboard box, but the cardboard box is an underrated medium for kids’ creative pursuits. No wonder I have a house full right now, waiting on the creative kids who live and play and work here to make them into something of their own.

Smile, laugh, and cry with Caine. The part that makes me feel old is the film maker and the youtube. No way that would have happened when I was a girl, though the Corn Palace of my youth and the signs and hoopla leading up to it showed the way for us earlier seekers of creative oddity gone wild, and my sister and I, lovers of the cardboard Barbie house, could hardly wait to get there.

While I cut and paste the link, I remember how much I also just loved the film..the music, the voice of Caine’s dad, the gorgeous light and color and energy and smiles captured by the filmmaker, the understated/polished feel of the thing that makes me think my boy could make one of these some day, or maybe not..the digital camera, the computer, the internet are making the world a place I hardly know that I can peek into at any time of day or night from the comfort of my own home.

Don’t you also wonder what this kid does in school all day? What’s he like in the rest of his life?

The youtube video I posted here originally has been taken down. Here is a link to the Caine’s Arcade website, with a link to contribute to Caine’s scholarship fund. Enjoy.



Here is a youtube video shared by ExchangeEveryday. It so inspired Macky that she wrote to our park group of family child care providers to see if we wanted to contribute to our own scrapstore playpod at the park, a mobile version, as we don’t have a shipping container to hold the stuff or the right to put one at the local park where we’ve gathered with our kids each day for many, many years.

This afternoon I was in the day care with kids from three to eight. The seven and eight spent their afternoon in the yard, nestled in the hay of the tree house, on the platform of the climber, and laying a pathway of loose bricks from one end of the year to the other, ending at the base of the tree house ladder.

Later, one dad and his brother, both in their fifties, came to pickup their girl. They admired the tree house where our three year old children were then gathered, and remembered the yard of their childhood, with rope walks twenty feet off the ground connecting platforms high in trees with no railings. Our tree house by comparison, is very tame. The Scrapstore Playpods in this video give kids a chance to invent with castoffs in a way these guys in their fifties did when they were kids. It’s a lot of fun to watch and easy to imagine setting up all around the world, if kids had time and space to use the materials, and adults had the interest in making it happen. What do you think? Watch and admire the kids and their creativity. Things like this could happen every day if play and happiness and children’s natural selves were granted the respect they are due.



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