Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chewing sponge

Questions infect my mind these days.  What is my purpose in life, for example.  More specifically: what job would suit me, and still allow me to support my family?   I wonder if I have guts and endurance to do those scary, tedious things necessary for changing career. For several stressful months, I have actively sought, googled, conversed, and outlined. Now, in honor of the first full day of winter vacation,  I have decided to leave questions alone.  Instead, I shall focus on one of my favorite rituals: teeth cleaning.

 In Ghana, our hosts used toothpaste and toothbrush, but many people still use traditional methods to maintain oral hygiene. Near the toll booth on the way from Tema to Accra, we saw several vendors weave through motorway traffic with baskets of chewing stick . I never tried chewing stick, but have developed a chewing sponge habit.

   A friend gave me a large quantity of chewing sponge, or kotsa.  I  chew at night when I have more time. Chewing sponge has become a favorite ritual.  At first the stuff has an unpleasant, acrid taste, but the meditative process of chewing and spitting is enjoyable.  If I skip kotsa for too long my teeth go back to feeling weak, and overly sensitive.  The toothpaste/toothbrush method requires less time, but  doesn't make my teeth feel as clean: it's also a ritual, but not one where I have time to get lost in thought.

   I believe that rituals, like dreams, have power to silence nervous minds, and open space so that truth may speak clearly.  So, here's my winter vacation experiment. This week I'll do no active work toward answering  questions. Time will be for daughters and for winter rituals like scraping ice, stamping down snow with boots, knitting through old movies, and chewing sponge.  I believe that answers, or at least solid new insight, will appear by the new year.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New season

Walking across an empty lot into biting wind, I saw the man who lives in the woods near our school.  The man stood alone talking, but moved outside of himself to say hello to me.  I recognized myself in the way he pursued his conversation. Sometimes, I talk to myself  too.  I bought us both coffee and doughnuts at the 7-11, then walked into a warm, still viable (at least until June) classroom.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Way Opens

Way opens:  When a certain action is felt to be necessary, but no clear path to accomplishing the task is yet known.

Three years ago our school was optimistically building. Now we are struggling to stay open until December. Another sign of the times. We have the lowest private school tuition in town, but not low enough to retain families struggling with job insecurity or loss.

 J went to this school for six years. This is Tzip's fourth year, and my tenth. Working here has given me the chance to work outside the home, and still be near my children. I have had the freedom to develop a curriculum based on international Montessori standards, but incorporating my own interests. It has been a great place to work. With so many emotional ties, and memories, it is hard to imagine the school closing.  It is closing, though. 

I'm sad, scared, but also invigorated by possibilities on the horizon. Last night I signed up to take the GREs again.  I have an interview tomorrow, and several ideas about new career direction.  Quakers have a favorite saying: Way opens. With that in mind, I'm paying attention to all potential doors and windows.  Which way next?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Eat stone until monotony
bleeds up flavors
 stronger than the season could,
until sun lights and burns
the guts and handfuls of that meal.

I joined such an army.
They gave no pay but beatings.
Killing grounded us
No less, no more,
 than an evening meal.
Blood lust didn't drive us.
Perhaps motherlessness did,
but we didn't want a mother.

Naked we prayed;
We spared stark words;
We slept on dirt;
We ate only stone.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cosmic workplace

Like Montessori elementary teachers worldwide, I start the school year with creation stories.  I have favorites: Phan Ku, WulbariOdin, Vili, and Ve..., but each year I select ten fresh stories to share with my students. The last story that I tell each year is always the creation story told by scientists, also known as The Big BangNot knowing complete truth concerning creation, I don't dispense answers. My goal is to draw the child's attention to the universal nature of the question: How did I get here? 

How did I get here? What is my purpose? and Where am I going?  These are three aspects to the question: Who am I?   Just as all humans share the same fundamental needs for food and shelter, we also seek answers to the same cosmic questions. Our answers, however, in the form of cosmogonies, differ enough to cause tension between cultures, even war.  At our heart we are brothers and sisters.  In practice we burn churches and Quorans, force religious conversion, and commit genocide.

Last week was a tense one at my work place.  Everybody is asking:  How can we save this school?  There are three aspects to this question: Where did we come from? What is our purpose? and Where are we going? As of Wednesday, our answers differed enough to cause raw feelings, and entrenched factions. Our head of school quit. People whispered in small groups.  Tomorrow we will try to answer the question together, hopefully from one heart.  Each of us wants the school to survive.  

Sunday, September 5, 2010

First day of school

Last week, a hot, dense singularity expanded releasing matter, space, and time.  Matter, mostly hydrogen and helium atoms, streamed from the origin.  The atoms were destined to travel in straight lines forever, but inhomogeneities developed.  Instead of following the crowd, these irregularly clustered atoms wiggled slightly off course, throwing the emerging universe  into a tizzy.  Atoms slammed into each other.  Then an attractive force called gravity, or love, pulled them together.  Matter accreted;  soon  nebulas, stars, supernovas, and a planet swarming with life came forth.

Last week, I wore universal chaos down, and brought forth light. That's exactly how it felt. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Camp Opequon Cooks

The cooks for the last session at Camp Opequon were fabulous.  Two cooks are not pictured here. 

                                      We used fresh, and local ingredients whenever possible.

                                 Young newlyweds enjoy their time in the Camp Opequon kitchen.

Birthday brownies for a camper....

Campers wait to take food to the tables.

Nothing beats standing in front of a convection oven in early August.

The chicken pot pie was beautiful and tasty.

Campers form a quiet circle before each meal.

We offered a delicious option for everyone: vegetarian, vegan, gluten or dairy free...

Taking a break between meals is also nice.

In case you can't read this hand drawn tattoo.... 
It says, KISS THE COOK!!!

Tattoo artist, and daughter of Opequon cook

Monday, August 9, 2010

Camp Opequon Magic

Just came home from Camp Opequon. This is my fifth year cooking in the camp kitchen to help pay J's camp tuition. This year J also worked to help pay her way to Teen Adventure. While we worked, Tz ran around like a wild child. She had a great time, and even made $1.07 selling homeade jewelry from a table outside of the dining hall. She lost her second tooth to much public acclaim.

At camp many capable hands work individually to create a love event also known as breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The cooks are quiet. The cooks talk, sing, and generally support one another. We occupy various states of being found through chopping ginger meditation, icing scones meditation, or other given opportunities to focus our minds. Each year small miracles happen. Consciousness may shift between the first cracked egg and the ninetieth. A cranky, lonely journey with yellow onions, may become community celebration with the added support of peppers, tomatoes, and garlic. Loud singing and joking may turn inward through the repeated action of frying falafal. Each year the cooks change; the miracles happen just the same.

This year, however, was the best, because J and I worked together. Wow. Observing her interact with other cooks, voice opinions at meetings, and work steadily made this week at Opequon one of my all time favorite weeks. Even knowing that she is competent, and capable did not prepare me for her confidence, and super work attitude. Thank you, BYM camps for a wonderful mother-daughter bonding experience.

Now we're gearing up for the school year. Without the shared purpose cooking, tensions will reemerge. We'll work against each other at times, but something crucial has changed. My perception of J has shifted. This week I truly acknowledged that my daughter walks capably down her own path. She is growing up. Yes, I had an idea that it was happening. Now I'm sure -and glad- that it is.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Door With No Handle

Walking in Accra, patterns of light and shade against concrete walls tricked me. Suddenly I was a calm-eyed kid, observing downtown Austin, Texas. The whole time in Accra, I kept flipping eight years old. Where was the portal? How did a combination of energy, cement, oleander, and heat become summation of all childhood peace, and well-being?

Sunday, June 6, 2010


I lost a ring while body surfing in the Atlantic Ocean. My grandfather made mostly turquoise jewelry, but for this ring he used turquoise blue malachite. He scratched two names into the silver back: mine, and J's. Beyond its small monetary worth, I valued the ring. It reminded me of my grandfather; it represented family love. I also thought it looked pretty on my hand. How long did I wear that ring? My ring finger feels more vulnerable now than it did when I removed my wedding ring.

I lost a ring, not a friend, or job. The Five Stages of Loss are present, but in an observable, relatively lighthearted form. Denying reality for a moment I considered combing the beach for the small band of silver. I was angry at myself for wearing the ring into the ocean, but my blood pressure didn't accelerate. I also experienced low intensity bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

I'm sad to lose what my grandfather made for me, yet invigorated by the loss. The recklessly joyful undercurrent may make less sense than the sorrowful one, but joy is clearly in the emotional mix. Loss opens a door to new chances, shakes up everyday expectation, and creates a more dynamically charged environment. I was loyal to that ring, and wore it always. Now that it's gone I can try other things: bare fingers, perhaps snazzy, new jewelry. It's not much of a revolution, but even small possibilities can liberate.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Three Day Weekend

School ends on June 9th; we go to Ghana on the 13th. For weeks I have been juggling everyday life things, and also looking for a second job. I've had headaches, sore-throats, and low energy level, without ever becoming sick enough to miss school. Naturally, I'm pleased to have this three day weekend.

A friend invited me to a concert last night, tonight another friend invited us to supper. I chose to stay home both nights. I don't even want to leave the neighborhood. I have a list of errands, and chores to do. I want to do them with a minimum of madness. Yesterday we got traveler's checks, and cash for Ghana. We bought imodium, sunscreen, and other necessities of travel. Today I planned to do similar things, but that is not what happened.

Instead, I slept until five. I left bed to cut a watermelon for the girls, and to take more benedryl for poison ivy. I listened to my favorite sephardic music, then got up to change the music to Skip James. Other than that I stayed in bed; I don't think that I even dreamed. At five I mowed the lawn, and went on a short walk. The children came home from playing in the neighborhood. I bought a camera, and some popsicles.

The three day weekend is off to a rollicking start. Over the next two days, I shall clean house, and finish lesson plans. I'll make sure that J's camping stuff is completely packed, so that we don't have to stress about that in the three days between Ghana, and camp. I'll make sure that I have enough paper bags to make the school bathroom into a cave for Cro-magnon day. I'll look in the garage for my atl-atl. I'll borrow one more suitcase for Ghana. Maybe I'll have to make a new atlatl. I have an entire weekend left to do all of these wonderful things.

Now, I shall take some benedryl and crawl back into bed.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Promised Land

In a few minutes, while the turkey roasts, I'm going to the garage so that I can paint. I'm repainting a canvas for the fourth time. It's a nice sized canvas, taller than me, and wider; I stretched it myself almost twenty years ago.

The first painting on that canvas was a dog howling at a lady draped erotically over the moon. When J was 4, I repainted the entire canvas Ochre yellow. I worried that the naked, arching lady would emotionally scar J. The third painting was never finished. It was of J, age eight or nine, sitting on an old mattress. I stopped painting that one when I got pregnant again. I didn't want to expose Z to the brain-altering smell of paint thinner, besides, I had no energy to spare.

Five years later I've decided to paint again. This time the canvas shows a troubled lady refusing to leave Mitzrayim, or that which enslaves her. Start painting during Passover; this is what you get. Anyway, I'm painting again, and that makes life better.

Teaching requires constant creativity. Each day is different. I can't approach the same subject in exactly the same way twice. Taking into consideration class, curriculum, and current events, I strive to create something gorgeous. It must help children learn, make families stronger; it must also resonate with me. It has to be honest to my vision. In order to create this artwork known as a classroom, I must interact with children, their parents, co-workers, and the community. As pleasant as this can be, it also drains energy from an introvert like me.

Painting restores me. It is the same as teaching, except that the energy flows in a different direction. Rather than giving, I take. Instead of converting information from my brain into understandable lessons, I find my own voice mixed in with the Universe and let it speak. There are other selfish activities that help me regain balance after a long day. Embroidery, cooking, and writing are three. Doing any of these makes me a better teacher, mother, and friend.

So the woman in my current painting: what's she holding on to? What is her Mitzrayim? That's the question for us all, isn't it?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cards on the table

Speak or shut up? No question consumes me more than that one.

Ask anyone. I am not by nature circumspect. I am more likely to say more than less. I want you to understand me; I'm sure you'll like me better the more that you know about me. I like information to flow. The world will improve when every card from every deck is laid face-up on the table.

On the other hand, some things are better left unsaid.

Today Z asked what her father and I fought about. It is difficult enough for a child to witness parental fighting. Does one magnify this burden by asking her to join the fight at any level? Daddy and I fought about grown-up things. You didn't cause it; it's between the two of us, and we shall take responsibility for our stuff.....Does a five year old really need to know any more?

If I confide to Z the reasons why her dad and I fight, I imply that our issues are her concern. I give her truth, but she hasn't developed the life context through which to understand it. My children need honest information in order to best evaluate, negotiate, and thrive in this world. They also need me to withhold information that interferes with their secure development.

When emotions run strong, and I have to unload, the most likely person to be within earshot is my 14 year old daughter. I've often shared too much, but I've learned to be more careful, and considerate. I want both girls to possess the security needed to face age-appropriate challenges; how can this happen if they are coerced into my drama by what I choose to share?

A blog is not quite a journal. Not this one anyway. Even as I record thoughts close to my life, I keep essential parts out. And there are things that our children simply do not need to know.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Kale blogs of note

Low to the ground, and with modest coloring, kale is easy to overlook. I named this blog on a lark, but the more I find out about kale, the more inclined I am to join a Kale Cult should one materialize. Who knew, for example, that kale has the highest nutritional density of any food group? And good news for gardeners: kale grows in the lousiest of soil,and is largely disease resistant. I googled kale and came up with tons of information, but also some other Kale blogs. Here I share three Kale blogs of note with you.

I love Diana Dyer, MS, RD's blog: 365 Days of Kale. Her blog focuses on Brassica vegetables, with an emphasis on... kale. Dyer's blog includes recipes, nutritional information, gardening information, and research about kale and other brassica vegetables.

I am interested in making her Brassica Tri-fecta stir fry , but
not quite ready for the kale smoothie . I like this blog a whole lot, though. The pictures are fabulous, and the information about kale is bountiful.

In another outstanding kale oriented blog, Lettuce eat kale., food writer Sarah Henry shares her musings on food, family, and growing greens. She writes about both the pleasure, and politics of food.

There are many creative approaches to giving American children access to healthier lunches in the news lately; school lunches are an important focus on her blog. Seven reasons why the times are right for school lunch reform and Jamie Oliver: School food revolution or reality tv rubbish? are two recent articles. Nothing about Alice Waters. yet, but I'm patient.

Henry also posts information about food related events like What's on Your Plate which documents two Nyc middle schoolers, Sadie Rain Hope-Gund and Safiyah Kai Russell Riddle, who track down a meal to its source.

Finally, to my great delight, I found a blog called Eat more kale. As inspirational sayings go, could it get any better? You can also buy t-shirts that say Eat more kale from this site. I want one!!!
Also if you email him at, he'll send you free EAT MORE KALE stickers.


Analyzing through rose-colored glasses

When I'm not in a cynical mood, you'll find me under a sky hung with violins wearing my rose-colored glasses.

I really do mull things over. Exhaustively, tediously, and to the irritation of everyone close to me, I weigh this side against that in irrelevant detail. Blame my moon in Gemini.

Sometimes an idea comes my way. It comes like a flash. My heart adopts a hungry, attentive rhythm while I pursue the idea. I check things out. I mull, yes I mull. But my mind is made up. This seed will be planted. I am confident that it will bloom.

You may see me jumping off the cliff into uncharted waters, but I have done my soul-searching, and analyzing. I know that I will land safely.

It was like this when I decided to give birth to JJ. This was a hare-brained idea from a certain perspective, but led by some mysterious force, I made a sure decision. I examined what I then considered exhaustive lists of the pros and cons of raising a child alone. At times I doubted/doubt my ability to mother, but I chose motherhood in an inspirational flash for which no words exist. It was the same way when I decided to travel to Boulder for Montessori training. I took out a loan, and planned logistics in about two months. I had no Montessori job waiting. I had a four year old child... Was I rash? ill-advised? Definitely. But it was also one of the most worthwhile, and even healing things that I've done in my life.

I used to go to Quaker meetings. There one sits in silence until moved to speak. When I am moved to speak, the air around me changes. My heart pounds. It is time to talk, and my words are true. Without this feeling, no matter how much I want to speak, my words come out wrong.

When I deliberate over which path to take without the benefit of inspiration, results vary. I got married and that didn't work so well. I listed pros and cons, but never had that inspirational flash signifying that I must go forward. On the other hand, getting a credit card has been a positive experience based on the same deliberation without inspiration.

I have been called naively optimistic, probably with some degree of accuracy. I tell you though, when the spirit calls me to take action, I have not yet been disappointed.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Passports in order

I just spent two days in DC with my 14 year old daughter. We took Amtrak, and stayed with the wonderful parents of one of my college roomates. Our main trip objective was to get Ghanaian visas, but we were able to spend time with friends as well.

The travel adventures have begun. Everything concerning Ghana makes us smile. Even getting yellow fever vaccinations was an exciting reminder of our plans. We are going to stay with a lovely lady whom I met through Model United Nations (My class represented the Republic of Ghana). JJ will go to school while we're there; I will observe. My five year old daughter will stay with her grandparents.

It has been a long time since I've been out of the good old USA. I look at my old passport, and can't relate to the skinny young lady in the picture. We go to DC fairly often: No war in Iraq marches, friends to visit, Obama's inauguration...but never over the big ocean. We've spent summers in Boulder,and in Silver Springs while I got different Montessori certifications. We go to camp each year in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There's something satisfying about going somewhere that requires a passport,though.

The opportunity to travel with JJ, without her little sister,Zip, is also sweet. Zip doesn't want to go to Africa anyway...too many shots. Having studied Abraham Lincoln at school, she wants instead to go to the Lincoln Memorial. No shots, or passports required for that. So toward the end of the summer, Zip and I will go, without JJ, on our own excursion.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Head of Household

I'm not crazy about the term single parent. I like Thorndike and Barnhart's definition #9 for single: unique; singular; unmatched; unusual. However, when SINGLE modifies MOTHER, all bohemian sensibility is lost.An aura of isolation, and incompletion surround the term. Furthermore, when children breathe down my neck I don't feel single. With a supportive family, and community I am certainly not raising these two children without help. I am no more alone than any other individual looking out into the multi-billion starred Universe. I am unmarried. I am a parent. I do what I need to do with varying degrees of success, and elation. There are also more precisely worded terms than single parent; my favorite is Head of Household.

But let me get down from my high horse. Clearly there is a place for the term single parent. It is a quick, and convenient label. It has all of the condescending connotations that we as a culture give it, but because it is easily understandable, I use it. I continue to search for a mellifluously precise epithet for my domestic state-of-being, because I like word games, and clarity. In the doesn't wait for labels.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Early April Kale

In this blog I'd like to record my experience as a parent, raising children without a partner, within the context of a supportive family, and community.  This blog reflects my ongoing struggle to find equilibrium amidst  the conflicting desires, actions, and states of being comprising LIFE.

Kale? I like Kale. It tastes good, and is rich in everything wholesome. It has a frilly edge, but it's hardly frivolous. Gutsy kale outlasts winter with admirable posture, and decorum. I love it, and so do fifty percent of my children.