Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Review: Citrus Lane, Month 2

Well, this is awkward. I'm on my second month of Citrus Lane and still no baby. Oh well! It's always fun getting packages in the mail.

This month, the offerings were financially superior to the ones last month. One by one, we have...

The first thing is this long-sleeved body suit from the Tea Collection. This alone is "worth" (meaning, on the website they charge) more than the $17 I paid for the box. Of course, this one is probably a clearance item, but it's still useful. It also includes a coupon for $25 off, but I'm not too likely to use it, since it's $25 off of a $50 sale, which would be about two onesies. Since we have more clothes than we know what to do with, the coupon is going to expire before I'd actually need anything... So if anyone needs anything, message me and I'll send you the coupon!

Dish soap and a coupon. Mehh, but I'll use it, of course. Better than a kick in the butt!

One full ounce of zinc oxide diaper ointment! And, guess what? Another coupon! I guess that's the point. Give me a taste so I'll buy some more of their stuff. It looks like it's worth about $4 per ounce.

This Hape rainbow "rattle" retails for about $13, and it's made of wood, string, and painted with nontoxic paint. James got a little caught up in playing with it this afternoon. He might not share with the baby.

So... all together, this month's haul had both a retail value and a value perceived to me to be more than $17. Averaging it with last month's box, I'd say I'm slightly ahead of the game so far.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Clearview Sudbury School

In reading some articles about "unschooling," I came across blog posts on Psychology Today's website written by Peter Gray. Through those, I came upon a list of "alternative" schools in the Austin area, and was specifically drawn to the Clearview Sudbury School, a democratic school just a few miles away.

I checked out Dr. Gray's book "Free to Learn" from the library, and James read some of it before I had to turn it back in. By the time I was finished, I was sold on the Sudbury School model, and James was extremely interested. For this reason, even though my 12-year-old (almost 13) is not interested in going to school, James and I attended an open house/information session at the school a couple of weekends ago.

Alternative Education in Action from Clearview Sudbury on Vimeo.

We really liked the campus, and absolutely adore the learning model. The way I see it, it is everything we remember loving about school (recess, lunch, hanging out with friends) and none of the bull.

For instance: When I was in high school, the last semester of my senior year, it was compulsory for me to take physical education. Well, it was 1990 and my hair (especially the bangs) took at least an hour to dry and fix after a shower, so I wasn't about get icky enough to need to clean up because I had about 12 minutes to change and get to my next class when we were finished. Instead, I'd either stand on the volleyball court and do nothing or I'd just sit on the bleachers. At some point, it hit me that I was wasting my time, and I asked the coach permission to go to the lab and work on my computer science project. She told me that if I didn't stay for class, I'd get an incomplete grade. So my choices were: Show up, don't participate, waste an hour, and get an A; or do something productive that I wanted to do and end up with a C as a final PE grade (and who gets a C in PE? Answer: I did).

The Sudbury model is based on the idea that given the time and resources and left to their own devices, students (in this case, particularly, kids) will learn what they need to know. Yes, including how to read and how to math and all of those things that are necessary to live a functional life in our society.

There is a lot of information to be gleaned on the Sudbury Valley School's YouTube channel, including interviews with graduates and some insight into what goes on in the school on a daily basis. The channel is for the original Sudbury school, but the methods are pretty uniform across the board.

The schools are democratic, meaning that every attendee and staff member gets exactly one vote on items concerning the school, such as which rules to implement, and how to spend money, and which staff to keep on board for the next school year (that's right; each staff is hired for one year and has to be approved by a majority of votes to be kept on).

There are no compulsory studies, though staff will facilitate and/or arrange for classes based on student request and interest. What is mandatory, however, is participation in the daily (as needed, which is typically every day) Judicial Committee meeting. This is where complaints and issues are addressed and consequences are decided upon by the entirety of the school. If an older student wanted to use the kitchen but a younger student hadn't cleaned up his/her mess and did not respond to the older student's request to clean it, then they both show up to present their sides of the matter and the committee hands down a decision.

There is also a weekly school meeting which can be attended by all students and staff that decides things like what insurance to buy, where to appropriate funds, and more intense matters referred by the Judicial Committee (like whether or not to suspend a student).

The students are not separated by age. They're not separated at all, except as they choose. Unless requested by the student, they're never formally evaluated. In other words, there's no comparison to what is considered normative for, say, all 12-year-olds. They're not expected to learn/perform for tests/teachers. They're expected to be responsible for themselves, to make decisions, and to live with the ramifications of those decisions.

After the tour, we were given some paperwork and a wonderful little book called "Like Water" by Mark McCaig. The book is a collection of stories, poems, and essays about Fairhaven, a Sudbury model school in Maryland.

My favorite handout we received was this delightful comparison of the Sudbury model to Montessori, Waldorf, unschooling, etc: "Okay, so you're sort of like..."  One of the contrasts to homeschooling that it contained really struck me: "Children and parents have complex relationships and interdependencies which make it harder for children to discover true independence within the family. In the environment of a Sudbury school, children face direct personal responsibility for their actions, without the emotional baggage that family-based accountability can sometimes carry. In addition, children are more able to develop some important social skills in a democratic school — the ability to tolerate diversity of opinion, to speak out against inappropriate behavior, and to develop and carry out group projects, for example."

My favorite chapter from the book was a stream-of-consciousness piece celebrating ten years of the Fairhaven school, and containing the longest and most beautiful run-on sentences I've ever read, reproduced entirely here:

"When the school's neighbor who owns the soybean field across the stream told me a nudist colony used to occupy this hilltop campus, I thought, of course it did. Freedom runs deep here at Fairhaven -- nowadays people can go barefoot, but not naked; people can talk about sex and drugs and rock and roll, but not do them; well, except for the rock and roll, and I'm cool with that, just ask Robert, or Matt, but some days I feel like Uncle Billy in 'It's a Wonderful Life,' and I've dropped 8 grand in mean old Mr. Potter's lap and he's just waiting for the bank to shut us down, then five o'clock rolls around and we're still here, and little Sunshine and I have just buried her dragonfly after trying to revive it in the sun, and she's asked it to say hello to her cat Lucky, in heaven, and aside from the dragonfly, at day's end nobody's hurt - well, not too bad - and nobody's sued us, and they all do learn to read, and much more, actually, our students are ethical, bright, shining gifts to the world, just talk to them, because now they're coming back to visit as grown-ups, with shoes on their feet, though they might kick them off when they're here, and, like I said, it's five o'clock and my colleagues and I are dancing around the office like George Bailey and Uncle Billy after the bank run and we're holding up our two dollar bills and kissing them cause we're still open, dammit, and the next morning we'll be here and the morning after that and the morning after that and now I'm unlocking the door and it hits me that it's been ten years of dollar bill dances and pristine openings just like the very first morning, ten years of holding miracle water in our hands, water that never disappears, cool water that's clear but if you drink you taste the clay and the greensand, you taste the salt and maybe just the slightest hint, I swear to you, of chocolate.
"So I'm leaning on a porch rail explaining to Ricky that only dictators erect solid gold statues to themselves, therefore, no, I won't be supporting his motion at School Meeting, when I smell the sugar cookies baking and two girls run by saying the Kitchen Corp's taking IOUs and lord almighty what's that sound? It's the echo of billions of footsteps taken in liberty, and I know it's over a billion because Diana has counted hers today and she pokes her head out from the back seat of the red coupe on the way home and says one thousand, five hundred sixty-seven, and I know we'll extrapolate Monday. That's when I decide, Sunshine, that the ghost of Lucky the cat must sometimes leave heaven to join the ghosts of nudists prowling this very campus, that Lucky must rub up against our legs, keeping us open these ten years, and it has never mattered what they do, just that they do it, from Alex's juggling to Chloe's drumming, and you've never seen people who stand so straight up, so true, as these students, never perfect, always perfectly who they are, and that, my friends, is what I'm talking about, this is what we're celebrating, this little haven of big ideas, this is what I appreciate, all of you who've trusted us, who have trusted your children, all you students who have believed in yourselves, you barefooters who will soon commence your tenth season of chasing windblown leaves, yellow and red, who create for me all these days of wide-eyed amazement, and, yes, rock and roll, who spark these incandescent mornings, you brave pioneers who have given me this daily buzz of ten thousand dragonfly moments."

Who wouldn't want that? I mean, I'd love it for me, but since I'm not the demographic, I'd adore it for my daughter.

Here in Austin, the Clearview campus is actually at a church, and located strategically next to a park. It is also across the (very busy) street from Mueller Park and everything new that's being built over there, like the Thinkery (children's museum), a food trailer park, and a bunch of shops. Parents can elect to permit their kids closed campus, extended campus (which includes the parking lot and the adjacent park) or open campus permissions. One of the staff said that lots of students use the open campus option to walk to Starbucks during the day.

In fact, the house that James and I looked at (the one that's still pre-market, marked below with a green oval) is just as convenient to the campus as Mueller.

If you're ready for more information, there are four upcoming opportunities to attend informational meetings; two this month, and two in October. Also, you can contact the school to schedule a visitation day. More is available on their website (click below).

Even if it turns out that my daughter never wants to attend school here, I'm pretty sure we'll end up enrolling the soon-to-arrive kidlet as soon as that's an option. I'm so glad I stumbled upon this information and so grateful to know such a place exists. Check it out!

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Denizens

Wednesday night when I got home from buying groceries, it was about 8:30 and had just gotten dark. There was quite a bit of foot traffic on the street, and as I was making my second trip to haul bags from the rear of the van to the porch, a blind guy was walking past. He was on the street instead of the sidewalk (which is probably a good idea given how much the trees have grown over the sidewalks this summer) and called to me, asking if I could help him find Chick-fil-A.

I said, "Yes. You're almost there. See -- ehh, feel this curb on your right? It's about to end, and you just turn right there into the alley--"

"Just walk with me, can you? I'm blind."

Um. Okay. Sure.

James had come out to get some bags and I thought he saw me walk around the corner, but apparently he hadn't.

The guy both apologized for bugging me but kept up a very petulant manner, telling me that he was trying to find the School for the Blind and saying that since Chick-fil-A is "a Christian institution," he was hoping someone there could help him.

He tried to veer toward the restaurant through the Taco Cabana parking lot, but there are both curbs and a waist-high rail you have to climb over (or under, but he was more than 6 feet tall) to take that "short cut."

I told him it would be better to walk further down the alley before turning, and he complained, "How much further is it?"

"It's no further. It's just easier."

Meanwhile, I noticed that Carol, who had darted out the door when I'd left to go to the grocery store, was following me, meowing maybe angrily or worriedly about both how far I was walking away from the house and how far she was having to venture from the house.

"My cat's following us. Can you hear her?" I laughed.

"Are there people standing around outside?"

"Yes. The whole restaurant is outside. They don't have an indoor dining area."

"Are there any employees outside?"

I looked. There weren't. There are typically employees outside during the lunch rush, taking orders before the cars get to the official order speaker. I guess it goes faster that way, because it gives the kitchen more time to prepare the food, although it seems like it would have made more sense just to put the order speakers another 25-30 feet closer to the front of the building.

"But there are people out there?"


Finally we were close enough that I said, "You can just turn left here and walk up that ramp, and you'll be there." I was mildly concerned that he was going to insist I go further, but he didn't. He walked away without saying anything else.

On the way back to the house, I looked for Carol but she had disappeared. I remembered that James had had an encounter several months ago with a man who said he was looking for the School for the Blind. The man told James he could custom-build shoes and asked James' shoe size, promising to craft him a pair of super comfy shoes to bring him later. James ended up driving him somewhere, and don't worry: that's not something I, as a woman, would likely do, especially when it's dark outside and I've already been fantasizing about visiting the little girl's room for like 20 minutes.

Anyway, I was thinking about the encounters we've had here with locals, both transient and more permanent. When you read heart-warming stories about people's interactions with the homeless or orphans or the emotionally needy, they usually have a story arc or some point. Our experience with the interesting assortment of characters with whom we've come into contact here tend to be fleeting. There are only three or four people we see on a regular basis.

The first is "Grandpa," who lives in the crawl space of an attorney's office a couple of blocks away. The first time I noticed him, I was waiting inside Taco Cabana for a 12-pack of their breakfast tacos (because I had a coupon, of course). He came into the restaurant, got a complimentary cup of water, and sat in the main dining room to watch television. He looked "normal," like my dad, except appeared a little scattered and the bottom of the leg of his pants looked like he might have stepped in a creek at some point. His face was also a little scabbed up.

I watched him drink the water, then go back and get more water, some lemon slices, some lime slices, and sugar, then go back to the table to make lemonade. At that point, I started praying he'd stay long enough for me to get my food. When I did, I went over to him and offered him one of each of the 4 varieties of breakfast tacos, which he gladly accepted.

Speaking of Taco Cabana, I have to give them a shout-out because I see homeless and transient people in there all of the time. The McDonald's across the street has signs posted on their windows about how dine-in visits are to be limited to half an hour, a policy I am certain is designed to keep these same people from camping out in the climate control. However, Taco Cabana doesn't seem bothered by them. I've seen people wander in with cups from other restaurants and fill them up at the soda fountain, in full view of the employees, and no one gives them a hard time. Right on, Taco Cabana!

Since first seeing him, we've taken Grandpa food at "his" house (on the weekends, he hangs out more on the porch), kept food on hand to give him when he makes his morning walk-by, and have seen him several places in the neighborhood. He tends to get up and walk from the attorney's office toward campus every morning, and I don't know what he does all day, but he has an apparent schedule.

There are times that he's very "present" and will engage in light conversation, and there are times when he seems very out of it... and those times, he usually looks rougher, too, like he was in some kind of altercation or fall.

Also, one time he called to me when I was riding my bike past the office and asked me to come over there. In that moment, I didn't feel moved to detour, so I told him I'd be back in an hour and would check on him then (after I'd had James join me). When I returned, he'd moved along to somewhere else, so I never found out what he wanted.

Another person we see a lot is this guy whose hair is longer than James' and is all matted into one thick, long dreadlock. I'm not sure where he usually crashes, but he seems very strong, fit, and one of those people who has probably actually selected homelessness as a lifestyle. He is always visiting with people, and doesn't usually have the affect of someone with the same mental disconnects that present themselves so often with...

Crazy Guy. This morning, I mentioned that I haven't seen (read: heard) him in several months. James said he has seen him recently, but that he likely moved on a bit and doesn't stay in the alley behind our house anymore. We used to start every morning with a chorus of him hollering swears out back, but that hasn't happened in some time. It's funny, because we'd also see him very frequently on the sidewalk out front or walking past the Taco Cabana, and when he is in his right mind, he's extremely personable. He will ask how you're doing, and always follows it up with a "Jesus loves you." He also seems mildly offended if you acknowledge that too passively. He insists, "He does. He really does. I'm serious. Think about it and believe it."

There is also a very thin older woman (not to be confused with "Grandma," the lady who walks with her walker past our house several times a week; she actually has a residence here in the area, but I love to see someone of her age and perceived impaired ability getting exercise so regularly) who seems to have some connection to our house. The first time she walked by when I was out on the porch, she'd turned to look at the house. I explained that we'd just moved in, and when she realized there was someone outside and talking to her, she mumbled nervously, apologized, and walked away.

One night, well after bedtime, we were awakened by someone on the porch. I couldn't see out very well, but James could and said it was her. I don't know whether she'd knocked on the door or had dropped something or had moved a chair, but she was sitting down until we looked out and started making noise, then she disappeared around the corner.

One morning just as I got out of the shower, there was a light knock on the front door. It took me a few moments to put on my bath robe and make it to the window, but at that point, she was walking away. She very often stops as she's walking by, and looks at the house, and in the windows, as though she knows someone here or is looking for something.

We have been told by people who have been in the area a long time that this house, especially the giant front porch, was used regularly by homeless people in the months that it was vacant. Maybe this was "her" house just like the attorney's office is Grandpa's house.

Besides those "regulars," we occasionally have the chance to talk to people who are wandering by and just seem to need an ear.

Once, I came home from church on Sunday, and James was siting out on the front steps talking to a man who, during the conversation, pulled out a small notebook with schematics for some kind of deep-space propulsion system he'd designed. He said he was trying to make his way to Boston College to meet with a professor there to show him the plans. He explained how it would work, but that totally went over my head.

Another time, before I moved into the Nuthaus, James met a couple expecting a baby. Since I was getting ready to move out of the RV, he had me call them to see about maybe giving them the RV. After I met Kenneth and Vanessa (and her brother, and their dog) and spoke to them, it became clear that owning a $20,000 mobile home would probably have been more overwhelming to them than a blessing. They'd have to qualify for the rental space where I was parked, and he'd just started a job. Then if something happened that they couldn't pay rent, they'd have to move the RV or lose it. Then there's the insurance. We ended up referring them to Mobile Loaves and Fishes, since they know what they're doing, and I think MLF referred them to LifeWorks, which specializes in helping young families.

Then there was the morning when I was getting ready, actually, to go see the attorney whose office is also Grandpa's house when there was a knock at the door. I opened it, and there was a man standing there who said, "I'm sorry. I... this is going to sound weird, but I just feel like I'm supposed to be here. Does that sound weird?" I told him it did sound a little weird, and asked him how I could help him.

"Do you need anything?" I asked.

"I need a lot of things. Need to get off of drugs. Need a job. Any ideas?

I told him about the ReWork Project, and he asked for the contact information. I was going to write it down for him, but he asked if I had an Android charger so he could get his phone back online. It happens that James has an Android, so I got the charger and said I was getting ready to go out for the morning so he could only have about 15 minutes. I plugged his phone in, he put in the ReWork contact info (to date, I don't believe he's contacted them), and promptly fell asleep on the couch.

When it was time for him to go, I was a little nervous about leaving the house with his knowing I was going, but several minutes later when I did start up the road, he was again asleep on a neighboring porch, a house that was vacant at the time.

One night when I was making dinner, James was on the front porch reading, a lady walked by and started talking to him. Here's a thing I love about my husband: He closed his book, stood up from his chair, and went and sat on the steps so she would know she had his full attention.

I asked Daphne to go tell James that it was time to eat, but she didn't want to interrupt the conversation. I went out to get him, and he invited me over to hear the woman's story. She told me that she was really worried because there were a bunch of "bad guys" down at that house, "You know, the purple one? The one that McDonald's owns?" (Nope and nope.) She said that they were talking about getting lighter fluid and setting some guy on fire. She said they wanted to get arrested because one of them wanted to get into the jail because that's where their intended victim was. She said they had also threatened to stab someone else, and that "they have one of those things you do yard work with, you know that you break up the dirt with the blade? A hoe. They're going to do a Southern-style attack."

She was extremely agitated and said, "I just don't want no one to get hurt. Can you call the police for me? I'd do it myself, but they have my phone."

Of course, I wasn't going to call the police on her behalf, but it occurred to me:

"There's a fire station right there. If you're worried about someone committing arson, they'd be interested to know."

James, too, encouraged her to walk over and she got even more agitated and said, "No, but. Thanks. Thanks for... I have to..." and she wondered off. I could see in James' eyes his hurt for her and frustration about not being able to *do* anything... but we can't. Not in a "big picture" way, anyway. I think the best we can do is to try to be good neighbors during the times we have those opportunities.

P.S. This morning, James said it was kind of funny that we know some of the homeless people better than we know our actual next-door-rental-neighbor. It's true. When he got home yesterday, I happened to be outside seeing a friend off, and while I recognized his car as the one that's always parked in the drive, I thought, "Is *that* what that guy looks like?" I think I have been imagining the previous renter, and honestly have no idea when this guy moved in. James and I had noticed that there are fewer arguments than there used to be.