Sunday, October 12, 2014

I'm engaging in lots of avoidant behavior, recently. Having trouble writing back to all the folks who very kindly, sweetly expressed their sympathies about Grandpa, because... I guess it's just too hard to sit with the thoughts long enough to write something, so I just keep putting it off. Watching a lot of TV. Eating a lot of carbs (potatoes and rice, mostly -- I'm not that big a fan of sweet stuff -- but today we're having a Fry Day, complete with donuts and apple fritters). Wishing that I had the same sort of cozy online community I used to, in pre-FB days (some mailing lists, some earlier blogs).  It seems when I come here, half the time there's a problem with the system so it can't show me the journals I've subscribed to.  I'm not sure how to recreate that coziness.

The home improvement project is proceeding slowly but steadily. We have a work day planned on Saturday (Linda and Joe are really awesomely organizing it for my birthday), so we're working on prep for that today (and, really, all this week). The first step has been getting things back to civilized in general, in the house. I hear that it's pretty normal for housekeeping to fall by the wayside during grief, so I'm not beating myself up about it, but I'm very happy to be getting things back to civilized. We picked up supplies at Home Depot, yesterday, and today we're deep-cleaning the kitchen, doing some yard work, and doing a solid block of decluttering.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


There are other things on my mind, which I'm sure I'll find the words to write about, soon. But today what I want to write about is this:

I don't love my house. I love coming home because of the people in it, and because of what it represents -- a space set apart just for us, for our little family -- but the house itself... Stresses me out. That fact has been bothering me for days, weeks, months, years. But it's weighing on me especially heavily this last week or two.

My Grandpa died on Friday. I know I've written about him here at great length. He was... When you do metta meditation, you start by sending good stuff, good thoughts, to yourself, and then you send good stuff to people who are easy to love (before moving on to send good stuff to neutral people, and then more challenging people, and then the whole universe). People who are always on your side.  People to whom your compassion flows without even conscious effort. When I do metta meditation, after Sarah and Joe, Grandma and Grandpa are always the first people I think of. The first ones to whom my compassion and love flow without any conscious effort on my part. I value my parents so much, and I appreciate so much of their legacy and so many of their lessons to me. And my sister and aunts and uncles and cousins and my entire extended family. So many rich traditions and loving connections. But my grandparents are in a class by themselves. Have been in a class by themselves.

I grew up around the corner from Grandma and Grandpa. They watched us before and after school every day from Kindergarten through 5th grade. Eating farina or oatmeal in the morning at their diningroom table; doing homework after school; watching The Amazing Spiderman or Grandma's shows after school; having chicken noodle soup or stuffed shells or a casserole for dinner while waiting for our parents to get home. Drawing on the scraps of blank newsprint Grandpa would bring home. When I walked Patches at night, from the time I was 15 until I left for college, any time they were out in their yard I would stop for a bit, sit on one of the folding chairs and have a glass of iced tea and listen to the radio with Grandpa, or walk further back into the yard with him so he could show me the stars, and tell me about the planets that were visible that night. When I was 19 he taught me to drive and in return I started mowing their lawn every week. A job that remained primarily mine until just a few years ago (I took a break the summer after Sarah was born, and the last few years the job has fallen to other family members and neighbors, but most summers for the last 23 years found me in their yard every other week, mowing that lawn under Grandpa's watchful eye). After Sarah was born, she and I fell into a tradition of visiting Grandma and Grandpa once a week. The years we've been involved with one school or another, our visits fell to one every month or two. But for most of the last 13 years, it was every week like clockwork.

He advised me, over and over through the years, to pray for my vocation. He talked about how lucky he was to stumble across the job he held for most of his life, as a typesetter for the New York Times. He never said it explicitly, but he made it clear through the life he lived that a good job is one that gives you the time and space and resources to make a good home. To have a place and have the time and the resources to focus your life on friends and family, music and good works and a connection to the earth and to, as he would have put it, the Good Lord. A connection to the Universe, to the Divine, to your best self and the highest good of those around you.

Turns out I wound up writing about some of those other things on my mind, after all.

I hadn't intended to write about it today, I didn't think I was ready to put it down in text, but obviously it's Grandpa's legacy, and his connection to his home and his land, and my connection to his home and his land, that have me feeling so deeply compelled to do something about the state of my own home and my own land.

I'd been thinking about it already, before hearing about Grandpa on Friday, that I'd like to spend the next year-and-a-litte-bit preparing a birthday present for myself, for the birthday after this one -- to make my home somewhere I actually enjoy spending time. Trying to do something, anything, toward that goal every day.

Today I spent half an hour tidying up (things have been hectic, this last week, and the house is showing the effects) and half an hour decluttering. I decided to start by focusing on the hallway upstairs, where we've fallen into a bad habit of stashing things that have nowhere else to go. So nice to see what a difference half an hour makes...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I started the following post right before school started, ran out of time to finish it, and then dumped water on my laptop turning it into a very expensive paperweight. I totally forgot that of course the site would have saved what I'd written up. So consider this the perspective of the very start of September...

Last week was Staff Enrichment Week. We practiced mindfulness techniques, reflected on last year, went over and updated a variety of staff policies, gave each other workshops on different tools we learned about at various professional conferences last year, practiced our conflict resolution skills, planned the first week of school, discussed the feedback we'd gotten from students and parents last year, had a workshop on how to be more awesome mentors and how our mentor program will change this year... Oh, and got certified in first aid and CPR.

We ended the week with a quick and dirty brainstorm of everything else that needs to be done or decided before the first day of school, and I'm going to be spending the next couple days getting my part of that gargantuan list taken care of

Friday we managed to fit in a really lovely interlude with a group of our homeschool friends. A picnic at the park, sitting under the trees by the water -- moms at one table, teens at their own table, having their own conversation, sometimes wandering off to other parts of the park. Such a very different experience from when we all started hanging out, 8 or 9 or 10 years ago.

Saturday was a coming of age ceremony for a young friend of ours. It's the third one I've attended, and the first one I didn't lead or help lead. I love that every one has been so different, reflecting the personality of each individual young woman, and the traditions of each family.

I'm working almost every waking moment, right now. That should end with the first day of school, and I should be able to shift into the rhythms and daily routines I've planned out. I hope.

This work is... It's the thing I want to spend the rest of my working years doing. It's deeply satisfying and meaningful to me. But I'm really done with it taking over my waking hours.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Today was full of blessings and opportunities for acts of service and love.  I had the opportunity to make scones for my grandparents, and my grandma asked me to cut her hair which gave me the privilege of making her feel better and more put together, and gave me the opportunity to offer gentle, loving touch, and Sarah went food shopping with my mom, which was the opportunity to offer a bit of brightness and cheer in the midst of a pretty sad, hard time.  And I had the opportunity to write to Grandpa a little about our trip to Roadside America and Knoebel's Amusement Park and the picnic we had, last month, and to show him all the postcards I got while we were there.

23 years ago, last month, Grandpa taught me to drive, in return for mowing their lawn.  Every Saturday I would walk around the corner to spend a couple hours mowing the lawn, using the edger, using the weed whacker on the spaces between the rose bushes...  After each section of the yard was done, Grandma and Grandpa would encourage me to take a break to sit in the shade and have a glass of iced tea.  To sit and enjoy the breeze and the birds and maybe eat a few mulberries.  And then a few afternoons a week, Grandpa and I would drive over to the factory section of Maspeth and I would drive in circles for an hour -- left turn, right turn, parallel park; stop light, stop sign, parallel park; K-turn, merge, parallel park...  And any time anyone behind me got cranky and beeped at me, he encouraged me to shrug and say "ah, blow it out  your ear!"   So many important lessons, that summer.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Planning our season

This essay by a new homeschooler about her Learning Plan Meeting with her four year old daughter is one of the sweetest things I've read this week.  It brought back our early days of homeschooling so vividly.  When we first started homeschooling Sarah was 3 (we'd had her in preschool for a miserable 9 month experiment, and I needed some sort of gentle rhythm to our days to replace the rhythm school had forced on us, and needed a homeschool philosophy to prepare me to answer the constant questions and challenges from strangers, friends, and family, otherwise we probably wouldn't have officially started homeschooling until a few years later).

In those early years we "played school" every morning -- we'd sing a few songs together, then we'd each pick out one or two books for me to read aloud, and then we did an activity together -- an art project or a science experiment or a game.  Slowly, slowly over the course of the next 3 years, we started planning things out a little more -- first by each picking one subject we wanted our Playing School time to focus on for a week at a time, then for a month at a time, and finally for the whole season.  The last few years she's worried about covering the basics and so I put together a curriculum each season, and would bring it to her for consideration and approval.  Usually something in history, something in science, some sort of math and spelling, and something extra -- maybe history of classical music, maybe mythology, maybe a tour of some literature or some world culture.

Starting last year, though, as we immersed ourselves in the school, she wanted to let go of having a plan for the first time in our homeschool relationship, and to just learn through living.  I've been impressed by both the research behind that approach and the results I've seen in the unschooled teens I've known.  But it is still one of the scariest things we've ever done.  Still, trust the captain, trust the crew.  Wait, no.  That's something else entirely.  :)  But honestly, I trust my kid, and I trust human nature to be what it is -- curious, creative, inventive, exploratory...  So I took a deep breath, and another, and put my money where my mouth was.  And we had a really great, laidback year, in which she did only a handful of traditionally academic stuff but learned a whole lot and matured in leaps and bounds.

This summer when we talked about whether we wanted to play school, she said that because she hadn't done much academic stuff this year, she really wanted to go back to playing school in the mornings, but in a nice, laidback way.  So most weekday mornings we've sat together, listened to a little classical music, then she's read some history, spent a few minutes telling me about what she'd read, and then she's done some math -- either reading Life of Fred to herself or doing some Khan Academy videos.

This afternoon, inspired by the article above and by the looming start of the school year, we had our Season-planning meeting over tea and croissants at our favorite cafe.

Sarah's overarching plan:
- keep doing the laidback Playing School approach we've taken this summer
- do more independent research and learning -- studying her own interests at her own pace, accountable only to herself, outside Playing School time

More specifically:
- continue focusing on history and math
- try out Aurora's science videos and either order one of her classes or start reading The Story of Science again
- have a gentle intention of one field trip a week (LSC, Montclair Art Museum, AMNH)
- make a point of spending some time connecting as soon as we get home from school on M and W
- make a point of working on her room, making it somewhere she enjoys being
- more time gaming
- more time with friends (E&S, cooking with O, Hetalia sleepover with B&S, lunch and movie with P)
- more baking (pavlova, triple chocolate chip cookies)
- activities: DIY club, Country Day, Girls' Discussion Group, Art class, Team Challenge, Documentary Discussion Group, the RPG

Monday, August 18, 2014

The year has been an exciting one, with the first year of the school going really phenomenally well (nowhere near perfectly, there are so many ways I'd like to see us improve, but for the first year of a democratic free school, with all the messiness that self-directed learning and fully participatory democracy tend to entail, our year was easypeasy compared to many), and I've been making great strides on the home front -- decluttering, organizing, getting routines in place that support our family priorities.

I've been missing the sort of slower, more reflective pace that blogs encourage.  The way they feel a little bit as if I've settled in for a visit over tea and scones.  FB feels more as if I'm running a gauntlet, with folks shouting at me from every side.

So I'm back here, inspired by a few articles on quitting FB, and a few friends who've been posting about their plans for the year ahead.  September has always been the start of a new year, for me, and now that I've finally given in and accepted my place in the teaching tradition, I expect it always will be.  I like the idea of coming back here now, feeling like the first page of a brand new notebook.

This year we'll be continuing to spend 2 days a week at the school, and I'll be working an additional 6 hours a week on school administration.  I've shifted to an admin position, but I'll be continuing to offer one class per session (I was pretty tickled that the kids felt so strongly about me continuing to offer classes.  Nice to feel appreciated).

Sarah and I were doing what we call unschooling during the school year (although our approach is always child-led, it's often more structured ("hey, Sarah, what do you want this season to look like?  What do you want to do/learn/focus on?" and then we make a plan and try to stick to it)) -- to me, since it's always led by her interests/priorities and it never involves grades or formal curricula, it's always unschooling, but we only *call* it unschooling when we mean "we're going to fly by the seat of our pants this month, and just follow whatever our whims of the moment are".  Which tends to involve more classes, oddly enough, but not a lot of "playing school".  

This summer she asked to shift back to "playing school", which is what we call it when we sit together for a couple hours every morning to read together or to watch Khan academy videos or watch documentaries.  This week we'll have our Back to School talk, to figure out which approach she wants to take this upcoming year.  I have to admit I hope we stick with playing school -- it's such a cozy routine -- but I'm pretty comfortable with whichever approach she chooses.  Seeing her grow in sophistication and independence and in her critical thinking and communication skills, this year, even as she's done very little mainstream academic stuff, helps me remember that I trust her -- trust her curiosity, her desire to engage with the world, her ability to plan for her own future.  Makes it a lot easier to go with whatever's working for us right now.  (I was so proud of her work on the hiring committee, this summer -- watching her learn to hold her own in serious conversations with adults is so much of what free schools are about, to me, but it's even more meaningful getting to see it happening.  And I absolutely love the friends she's making at the school -- such a perfect counterpoint to her homeschooling friends (the homeschool friends tend to fit well with her more dreamy, reflective side, and the school friends tend to fit well with her smartass side).)

Monday, March 24, 2014


Okay. Reflux is on an uptick, Anxiety is on an uptick. I've known I needed to slow down and simplify, a bit, and I made a start but I didn't stick with it. Or maybe I didn't take it far enough. I'm not sure.

There are a few things that are stressing me out that are beyond my control. The cold (I *hate* the cold. It gets into my bones, and makes it impossible to relax), some worry about different people in my life... But there are a lot of things I can control. I can make little changes, or big changes, or remove myself from situations, or I can use CBT and visualization to change my response to the situation.

I can also increase my resiliency by increasing the incidences of things that make me really happy, or that help me cope with stress.

For 2 weeks I'm on an extremely gentle eating plan, as part of the healing from reflux. I'm feeling grouchy about that. Things like a cup of tea or a square of dark chocolate or a bottle of hard cider or black beans and rice smothered in avocado and tomato or bread&butter&pickles are so much a part of my self-comfort. And those are all either off-limits or seriously redesigned, for the next two weeks (no onions, tomatoes, limited fats like butter or avocado, limited wheat).

Today I ate steel cut oats with honey, black beans and rice (with a tiny bit of onion, because I reheated some of yesterday's black bean dish and added a bunch of plain black beans to it), and some oat bran muffins (homemade -- they've got apples in them, which I'm supposed to avoid for these 2 weeks, but I was too tired to cook and they were the most on-plan food I had in the house).

I also did my breathwork, morning chanting, ate lunch out in the car (instead of in the midst of the busy school), and a little mindfulness meditation tonight. Watched TV and screwed around on FB as a way of "relaxing".

Spent a chunk of the afternoon doing admin work instead of being in school (by previous arrangement with coworkers). Had significant reflux symptoms during staff meeting after work. (those things are unrelated, IMO -- more admin work tends to mean lower stress, for me)

I can see many things I could be doing differently, but I'm resisting making a list. I'm just being present and mindful.

Reflux: on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is can't-eat-solid-food, I'd say I'm at a 7
Anxiety: 7/10

Friday, January 10, 2014


Sarah and I have spent the last couple days taking a vacation from our vacation.  We jumped back into our school routine on Monday, because that was when school started back up, but we really weren't ready.  Really, really weren't ready.  So yesterday and today we just let go of any goals, any good habits, any expectations beyond just letting ourselves rest.  And oh what a relief that's been.  Comfy clothes, blankets, some reading, some silly TV shows, some quiet talking.  Precisely what we needed.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Thank you, Shirley, for starting me back down this road!

Ode To Wine

Day-colored wine,
night-colored wine,
wine with purple feet
or wine with topaz blood,
starry child
of earth,
wine, smooth
as a golden sword,
as lascivious velvet,
wine, spiral-seashelled
and full of wonder,
never has one goblet contained you,
one song, one man,
you are choral, gregarious,
at the least, you must be shared.
At times
you feed on mortal
your wave carries us
from tomb to tomb,
stonecutter of icy sepulchers,
and we weep
transitory tears;
spring dress
is different,
blood rises through the shoots,
wind incites the day,
nothing is left
of your immutable soul.
stirs the spring, happiness
bursts through the earth like a plant,
walls crumble,
and rocky cliffs,
chasms close,
as song is born.
A jug of wine, and thou beside me
in the wilderness,
sang the ancient poet.
Let the wine pitcher
add to the kiss of love its own.

My darling, suddenly
the line of your hip
becomes the brimming curve
of the wine goblet,
your breast is the grape cluster,
your nipples are the grapes,
the gleam of spirits lights your hair,
and your navel is a chaste seal
stamped on the vessel of your belly,
your love an inexhaustible
cascade of wine,
light that illuminates my senses,
the earthly splendor of life.

But you are more than love,
the fiery kiss,
the heat of fire,
more than the wine of life;
you are
the community of man,
chorus of discipline,
abundance of flowers.
I like on the table,
when we're speaking,
the light of a bottle
of intelligent wine.
Drink it,
and remember in every
drop of gold,
in every topaz glass,
in every purple ladle,
that autumn labored
to fill the vessel with wine;
and in the ritual of his office,
let the simple man remember
to think of the soil and of his duty,
to propagate the canticle of the wine. 


I'm letting go of a number of habits and other things that feel like mental and physical clutter.  Some are temporary, others I'm hoping to let go of for good.

Facebook is, I think, one of the temporary ones.  I find myself checking it whenever I'm at the computer, sometimes without even having consciously intended to check it.  Like a muscle twitch.  I don't like that.  And when I was feeling particularly icky, the other night, I went there intentionally, hoping to feel cheerfully social, hoping for a little distraction from my earache and sore throat, and instead wound up feeling stressed and as if people were shouting at me (and I wasn't even in the midst of any conflict-ridden conversations, it was just something about the layout of the site and the headlines that happened to be going around).  And then of course there's been a lot of stress floating around about colds and flus, and I didn't want that floating around my head when I wasn't feeling well.

The effort it takes to remember not to check FB every minute and a half is starting to make me twitchy.

In recent conversations, several friends have mentioned things they do instead of head to FB, when they're feeling social -- sitting down to write personal letters to friends, calling family members, getting out of the house to somewhere like the library or a local cafe (somewhere they're likely to run into someone they know).  I like the idea of riding out the twitchiness and instead making a point of carving out little bits of time for one on one connection, instead of shouting out into the marketplace, hoping to be heard.

So far the experiment's only an hour or so old, and the main thing I've noticed is how much I miss candy crush.  :/  Not that surprising -- I like to do crossword puzzles and logic puzzles and play solitaire while I'm doing other things, and candy crush served that sort of purpose perfectly.  I don't have any games on my chromebook (the only way to get games on it, as I understand, is through google play, and I wasn't impressed with the ones I checked out).  I'd ask for recommendations for websites that might serve the same purpose, only...   facebook is, of course, where I generally go to get those sorts of recommendations.  :)


It's amazing what a difference it makes to have the doctor check me over and say something to the effect of "eh, you're fine, maybe a sinus infection".   Makes it so much easier to have patience with my body's healing process.

It was gorgeous outside, if beyond cold, and just being out in the sunlight for a few minutes also lifted my spirits immeasurably.

I'm finishing up my healing concoction, now (a strong garlic-ginger broth), and then I'm thinking about making something a little more tasty for lunch and settling in with some light reading.  I was going to get back to my science book, today, but I think I'll let myself take the day off from school-prep.


Okay, I've gone through and unfollowed the most prolific and least cozy of the sites and journals I'd been following (mostly political stuff, some fannish stuff), so that perhaps I can actually *find* the posts I most want to read, when I'm here.

I'm fighting off the last bits of a bug, today -- lots of tea, ginger and garlic broth, super-garlicky hummus, gargling with salt water, and napping, napping, napping.  Not how I'd hoped to spend the end of my vacation, but I obviously need the rest.

Happy New Year!

I almost never do resolutions, these days. I prefer to examine my priorities, to see if those priorities have shifted since the last time I sat with this question, and to consider the question of how well my choices reflect those priorities.

But this year, in light of the extent to which I let the school take over my energy, time, and attention, I've decided to make it a resolution to fully embrace my Hobbityness. I am not, and never have been, a career-focused person -- I do my best to do a good job at anything I take on, but when it comes down to it, family, friends, home, my community, an ongoing love of learning, and my spiritual practices are the center of my life.

My official priorities reflect that: health and fitness, a warm welcoming home, community, self-ed, music, competence, adventure.

The Hobbity resolution is really a continuation of the focus on simple pleasures that I'd had going on for a few months, last year. So far this week, I had a nice New Year's Eve nap, a pleasantly lowkey evening playing board games with a couple friends, a holiday feast with my little family, a lovely little New Moon retreat with my daughter, and a really delightfully cozy day of leftovers and quiet reading. I'm gnawing on the question of how to maintain balance and health and simplicity and mindfulness once school is open again.