December 2012

Yesterday at the show as I watched the kids perform

my smile felt like the same one I smiled as a kid.

Inside I might as well have been twelve or six or four or two or one.

This morning in the shower I remembered that feeling

of walking in the rain peering at the world through my smiley face umbrella

smiling that smile.

Smile muscles remember and remind the brain

what it’s like to be a child and to see the world

that way.

Kids making music together at school

remind the goose bumps to tingle and the smile muscles to smile.

Seeing and hearing my kids on stage and their brother nearby

surrounded by people who know and love them for just who they are

is about as good as it gets for me.

Not a poem exactly, but not a long story either.

Just moments in time worth remembering and reliving.

This morning I read a post that gets a lot of readers on my blog. The poems I shared there feel just right now. Here they are again. Poems, rather than lessons, to live by, found once when I needed them, here again to share with you today. Happy Holidays, whatever that may mean for you. I wish you some small moments like these which make you feel just right.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

~ e.e. cummings ~


“We do not believe
in ourselves until someone
reveals that deep inside us
something is valuable,
worth listening to,
worthy of our trust,
sacred to our touch.
Once we believe in ourselves
we can risk curiosity,
wonder, spontaneous delight
or any experience
that reveals the human spirit.” – e. e. cummings


‎”Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.” — Mary Oliver


My boy is home. He arrived near nine last night off the road with his dad. His room is full of his gear, and him. His gal is here, too, so the house was full last night from 9 to near 11 with talking, laughing, hugging, smiling, eating, youtube. The energy has returned. He got some whopping good grades at school, came home proud and eager to return, lots of money still in his bank account and plans for his vacation.

Hard to believe last year at this time we were in the midst of college applications and that in spite of a few bumps in the road getting to college, the first semester was near bump free. My boy was made for college. Folks have been telling him that since he was a small boy. He loves math, adores physics, is a natural at computer science, and made his way through econ. Now it’s on to applications for summer jobs, some snowboarding with his gal, holidays with the family, time to eat me out of house and home. He’s as hungry as ever, my boy who exercises more than most, ate a dinner and a peanut butter milkshake on the road at seven, a huge bowl of greek yogurt near ten, and I find the makings of eggs on the kitchen counter when I rise at seven. Life has returned to some semblance of normal, all four of us, plus one, under one roof.

Now it’s time for school, where his sister and brother will perform in the Winter Show his brother has produced. Better get my act together. It’s going to be a very busy day:) Let’s just say my boy’s four years at SVS did not hold him back when it comes to making it in college. For all the doubters in the world, it’s quite possible for an intellectual person to make the path from figuring out how to spend their days at school to performing with the best in a rigorous college environment. Not clear how it all happens, but possible and doable for those who find their own way.

This morning I’m in a coffee shop after a full weekend with friends and family, Quaker Meeting for the first time with my kids yesterday morning, party with friends and family Saturday, with school staff on Friday, online shopping and delivery pizza and quiet time at home yesterday afternoon and early evening, with a break to buy more wrapping supplies mid-evening.

Everywhere I go, folks are trying to make sense of the school shooting in Connecticut on Friday. Reading, talking, listening to others speak about it, letting my mind rest and float over it all do their parts. So do poems. This morning I browsed the used book section of one of my favorite bookstores, found gifts for friends of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, hoping they’ll be just right. Then I stop here for a cup of coffee and a cup of soup, before going off to spend more cash on things we may or may not need, to take a break in the midst of the flurry, and my guy has reminded me to read Writer’s Almanac, and it is just right, for this day before the holiday, for this time in life in between, for this time in history, when we all sit and wait and wonder on the whole wide world.

One speaker in Quaker Meeting reminded us that in all stories, even in the Christmas story, there is tragedy as well as glory, the slaying of the infants of the land and the birth of Christ, and that the only way forward is in love. Then she reminded us of a holiday celebration for those who have experienced loss, who cannot hold the holiday without this piece of their experience. It’s called Blue Christmas and all are invited to come. Who has not experienced loss is all I could think? Who would not be welcome?

The thing I liked most about the Quakers this weekend was their ability to sit with one another and to experience and think and feel the full range of experience and emotion and impetus in the room, from the peace movement to the tragedy of lost children, to the fear of guns, to the empathy we must also feel for the mother and grandmother of the teacher and her son at the center of the tragedy, a neighbor of one of the women at Meeting, whose pain must surely be as deep as anyone’s. After Meeting the conversation around the tables of coffee and tea and food and treats and knitting and literature was deep and wide, documentary film, puppetry, democratic schooling, the admiration for the children and elders in our midst. I couldn’t have found a better way to spend the hours. Even my kids, reluctant in their first visit to the Meeting, seemed to have come away enriched. As the Meeting leader said to my son when he rose to introduce himself as a newcomer to the Meeting, cross it off your bucket list. I don’t know if my son or daughter will return to Quaker Meeting. I do know it’s becoming a time I crave and that I’ll invite them again. At the very least, they now know of another group of people striving to do right, to look after one another, to question their beliefs and to live the life they’re given as best they can. Can’t hurt.

Enjoy the poem, however it feels to you:

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Dec. 17, 2012

The Writer's Almanac with Garrison<br />



by Jim Harrison

Most of my life was spent
building a bridge out over the sea
but the sea was too wide and it didn’t
go anyplace. I’m proud of the bridge
hanging in the pure sea air. Machado
came for a visit and we sat on the
end of the bridge which was his idea.
Now that I’m old the work goes slowly
but the material keeps coming as I hang
here in the air. Ever nearer death I like
it out here high above the sea bundled
up for the arctic storms of late fall,
the resounding crash and moan of the sea,
the hundred foot depth of the green troughs.
Sometimes the sea roars and howls like
the animal it is, a continent wide and alive.
What beauty in this the darkest music
which imitates the sky’s thunder
over which you can hear the lightest music of human
behavior, the tender connection between men and galaxies.
So I sit on the edge, wagging my feet above
the abyss, the fatal plummet. Tonight the moon
will be in my lap. This is my job, to study
the universe from my bridge. I have the sky, the sea,
the faint green streak of Canadian forest on the far shore.

“Bridge” by Jim Harrison. Reprinted with permission of the poet.

This weekend, two weekends before Christmas, my shopping list looms large. Two events were on the calendar which require me to cook. Just as well. Last night I shared my favorite fall and winter salad with the folks from work at a holiday staff party, the first to which I’ve been invited in my years of work. It was a pleasure to make and share the salad there and I’ll share it again today with friends and family in New Hampshire, along with two cookies from my childhood, my grandma’s Christmas cookies, and Peanut Blossoms, made in part by me, and in part with the kids who will be there today, my own, my beau’s and his niece and nephew. There were many staff children at the party last night, too. My daughter was allowed to roam the house looking at old photos and hearing stories from the host about her family. My son was in the middle of the children and adults, finding his home in this new place. I was there with my beau, bringing those worlds together, personal and work, in a new way. Food is a good bridge for these things. I loved hearing about, anticipating, and experiencing the culinary expertise of my co-workers, vegetarian, family friendly, gourmet, and was aesthetically and gustatorially (?) impressed, learned something new about each one from the food they brought, homemade, storebought, or a combination of the two.

I better get started on the cookie dough. I usually chill it overnight, but didn’t plan ahead enough this round, and need to get it in the refrigerator soon so the kids can work it late this afternoon.

I’ll type the recipes here when I get a minute in between making dough, preparing ingredients for the salad, laundry, dishes, and holiday preparations of the giftier sort. Busy time of year. Cooking helps me keep my head on straight and everyone happy.

Rather than retype the Grandma Petrie’s Christmas Cookies, I’ll cut and paste the link from an entry from 2010 which includes a fair amount of detail:

Here is a piece about democratic schooling with lots to say about Sudbury Valley, where I spent my day today with kids and adults, all busy in our ways. It’s a fun, fun, fun place to spend my days, as well as a fascinating place to think about education, learning, people, and many other things, including making things with kids.

This week lots of folks worked with beads and clay and I assisted and watched a lot. Tomorrow I’ll work again with kids making gingerbread structures, as I did last Friday. Today I watched as kids from nine to eighteen designed fancy variations of the gingerbread house, including The Eiffel Tower, The Empire State Building, a church, a tent, and a pagoda. Designs have to be approved, then kids make templates of the shapes they’ll need to cut from gingerbread to construct their designs. Tomorrow we’ll roll and cut and bake and recut and decorate and put together the gingerbread into all these things and more.

I am also learning to display all kinds of things in the school, which dovetails nicely with my work with the Documentation Studios group at Wheelock College. Yesterday I attended the Library Corp meeting, where we talked about reorganizing and relabeling the school’s collection of books. Later in the day I helped prepare and organize framing materials for a show of student work due to go up in January. Today I helped create a collage of photos from a student trip. In school meeting we debated the proper way to sign off on a motion which is to be recorded in the School Meeting Record. All these things reflect upon and create the environment of the school, and all are up for discussion, input, and debate.

There is so much going on, it will take me a long, long time to figure out where I belong or what my long term purpose at school might be. For now, I’m enjoying the chance to be part of things day by day, to get to know the staff and students, and to expand my understanding of what democratic schooling is and how it works in practice in a real live, well established school.

Enjoy the article. The comments section is long and cantankerous. I won’t contribute to that back and forth, as it’s not my style. It’s a school that works for my kids and fascinates me. Beyond that, I am aware that many others have different opinions, from curiosity to studious interest to passionate allegiance to disbelief to disillusion to distrust.

The last few weeks I’ve heard and seen so many things which worry me. Sometimes it feels too personal to share other people’s experiences with difficult things in their schools or child care centers. Sometimes my own experiences feel too redundant to share..Yesterday’s homework in after school is one of those things. The infamous spelling worksheet based on word scrambles and matching the scrambled words to words first and second grade children are unlikely to know or use..In this case, hys scrambled and meant to match to the word bashful. What kid these days uses the word bashful? Why is matching that to hys unscrambled as shy a better use of my seven’s time than playing with her friend or reading a book of her choosing or watching the younger ones play? It’s the nonsense of it accepted as sense that gets me down.

Another family of a young boy was recommended at parent teacher conferences to take their child to a doctor, code as the mother understood it for get him on medication for ADD. This child is not the first or the last to be told to take drugs to be able to cope with the environment of school. It’s so boring, the poor guy says, explaining how hard he tries to sit still in class. Meanwhile, other friends of older teens dose their children with ADD medication in order for their boys to cope with intense private school environments and their heavy demands.

In another school a kindergarten teacher is showing our graduate how to respond to social difficulties by encouraging the class to put one hand on a hip, tilt the head and hip, and say Nah, nah, nah, nah.

These stories are endless. Families and kids cope, or don’t. I am reminded again and again and again why I do the work I do, not for the money or the prestige, but as Parker Palmer said in a recent Sun interview about his dedication to living in a Quaker  community with his young family, because I feel I must.

Kids these days are being denied the essence of their childhood, freedom of movement and thought, the right to play, access to the outdoors and down time. Teachers and families are doing what they must feel they should do to get kids where they think they need to be, sitting still, reading, quiet, paying attention, focussing on certain tasks. It makes me sad. And scared.

Meanwhile at the day care and at Sudbury Valley the kids barely need us much of the day. Kids are so completely full up with ideas and creativity and energy and motivation and inner desire to be and learn and do, it sometimes seems all we need to do is to step back and allow them the freedom to be themselves in a kind and caring community. It helps that we have lovely books and materials, comfy couches and decent spaces and access to the outdoors, but often I feel that even these are superfluous in some ways, that kids on a beach or in the woods or in a simple structure would be as creative, open, and happy.

So, why not try this in more places, with more children, with more openness to see what the children will do?

As much as I love my work with kids in the day care and have figured out how to explain our place and welcome new families enough to fill our spaces each year, I haven’t figured out how to do the same thing for older kids full time. We do a fine job with after school and vacation care. We’ve hosted a few home schoolers.  Our attempt to provide a real alternative for school age kids failed. No home school group as alternative school for WFDC. No SPCS this round or last. And, as much as I love my work at SVS, as happy and successful as I feel my own kids have been there, as proud as I’ve been to introduce others to the place, I still can’t figure a way to explain the place as a longterm, large scale commitment to educating the full range of kids in a community. Families I talk to who are unhappy with their kids’ experience are curious, but other than a small group of my middle sons peers who came for a short time, its not a place most families I know will see as a place for their kids.

Still thinking on that. It’s my goal to figure it out.

Today we let our Arlo go. He was a fine cat and we loved him very much. We’ll put him in the yard in a cardboard box with the food dish he loved. It travelled with him from Three Rivers, Michigan. I found him there with his sister as I returned reluctantly from my first Gilchrist retreat to the home my husband was soon to leave.

This morning as we drive to the vet where we did not expect to say good bye Arlo cried as we drove just like he had as a kitten each time we crossed another border all the way to his new home in Massachusetts. I remember how he kept me company all night long and through the day. I drove straight through to Ashfield where we spent the night.

He’s kept me company through the last three years of change. My boyfriend is here to dig the grave at the end of a very long day. We’ll miss you, Arlo. Like so many good souls you were much too young to die.

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