Friday, September 13, 2013

What is a Good School?

Last week Gabrielle Blair at Design Mom blogged about sending her kids to a public high school in Oakland that has a rating of "2" on the Great Schools website. It heartened me because this week we sent Charlie off to kindergarten at our neighborhood school that currently has a rating of "1" on that same site. We made this choice intentionally, although, we may never have done so had the district not made sweeping changes to its school choice policies this year. As much as I hate to admit it (because the bureaucratic dysfunction and apparent lack of service ethic at the district often has me wiping my brains off the ceiling after my head explodes with rage), I am grateful that we were given the opportunity to get away from the test scores and white middle-class parent rumor mill method that seems to be the primary way of defining what a good school is these days.

Last winter, when it was time to apply for schools for Charlie, it became apparent with all the changes afoot that the likelihood of us getting into any of the schools with good test scores and good reputations available to folks living in our area of the city was very low. Once coming to terms with this fact, I decided to explore the option of doing what the district seemed to want us to do, which was go to our neighborhood school. I emailed the principal with a bunch of questions based on what I knew at the time were indicators of a successful school and the seeming ways the school didn't measure up. I told him I was scared. He responded to me with the most intelligent and well-reasoned communication I have ever received from anyone in the district. I got excited. He invited us to come tour the school. We went and the experience completely dismantled everything I thought I knew about what a good school is. The staff were friendly, invested and clearly talented. The students (mostly kids of color) were highly engaged in their work. There was a quiet order to the way the place functioned that still had plenty of warmth.

Honestly, I was ashamed of myself. I had so easily fallen into the trap of conventional thinking with a very deep white privilege bent to it. While the principal was telling me that the makeup of the school would likely change as it transitioned from magnet status to neighborhood school and many of the current students would lose busing, I felt like a jerk because I had clearly come across as someone that needed to be reassured. I found myself hoping that it wouldn't change too much because the community that I saw had such integrity.

So, what is a good school? Charlie is a week into kindergarten and we're all feeling pretty happy about it. I have found that the kindergarten team has been high-touch and incredibly responsive with any challenges we've had in the transition. Charlie talks a lot about school and he seems to be getting a level of stimulation that is good for him. I love walking to and from school with him everyday, burning no fossil fuels and feeling no road rage (maybe I'll even love it in January). I'm sure there will be bumps along the way, but I have plenty of school-related trauma from negative experiences with Ellis that happened in schools that have full "good school" endorsement, so it will take a lot for that to dismantle my good feelings after I've let the rational part of my brain examine them.

I guess what I'm saying is that I wish that we would all stand down from the current hysteria about public schools. Decisions that are based on fear are not the best decisions, and I think those of us that have had the luxury of choice in this country in the past decade have made a lot of decisions through the lens of our collective anxiety. I'm hoping that more of my neighbors will fully embrace the school that is right here and that we don't end up losing it because there's not enough interest from the community to keep attendance up. There are a terrific administrator, great educators, and great kids there. While right now it lacks the full kit of specialists (music, art, etc.) and organized parent involvement found in more affluent schools, these are things that can be built around the strong core that is there. Maybe we're ready to create change in education that looks less like a battle being waged and more like a community being built.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Helping My Plants Get Busy (Fun with Hand Pollination)



I have always felt envious and curious of all those people who talk about having more zucchini than they know what to do with. We've had a problem the last few years with our zucchini where we grow beautiful, healthy plants that produce big yellow flowers but yield no fruit. Knowing that there is a serious problem right now with a decreased number of bees thanks to "human enhancement of the environment,"we thought we'd help things along this year by trying to hand pollinate our plants. 

Thanks to the amazing Internet where you can type in "hand pollination of zucchini" and then watch several videos of really cool gardener dudes teaching how to do the deed (aka: garden porn), we learned how to identify the male flower (see above) with its single stem and the female flower with its bulgy potential baby zucchini like so:


Once you can tell that difference, all you have to do is wait for the flowers to open up, which is their way of saying, "Let's get it on." I have found the morning is often the time when the flowers are ready and they look all sultry in their raised beds. From that point on, it's all pistils and stamens.


Find yourself a male flower, which will have lovely yellow pollen all over its stamen. You can pull the flower off and pollinate by rubbing the stamen on the pistil of the female flower, you can use a q-tip, or, if you're like me, and have an O'Keeffian obsession with flower parts, you can just use your fingers. Mmmm....pollen...


Find the female flower (or flowers if you're lucky) and use your favorite method to place the pollen into the pistil. Hello, you sexy thing...

Then you can dream of delicious zucchini babies that will born from the union you just fostered. This same method works with other plants that require pollination. We don't seem to be having a problem with our cucumbers and there are certainly bees and wasps around our yard thanks to our pollinator friendly native plant garden, although I've definitely noticed reduced numbers. I've tried to make the best of a bad situation by seeing it as an opportunity to take my relationship with my plant friends to a new level.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, June 20, 2013

High Five!



Who's five years old today? This guy.


I've taken to calling him Chuckles (which is cool because he conveniently has his own candy that I was able to procure as a birthday present), and it's true that he's always good for a laugh even when he makes you want to cry sometimes. Our man, Charles is hard core. Last night as Ellis and I were attempting to stealthily wrap his presents, he stood outside the door telling us exactly what we should write on the wrapping paper. I think the phrase I hear most from him is, "That's not what I want." Sometimes makes me think we should have named him Will.

But that's not the whole story, because the other phrase that I hear from him most is, "Mom, you're so beautiful," as he slathers me with kisses and tells me he loves me so. Kid's smart enough to know that he needs to have good credit if he's going to make so many darn withdrawals.
 
Happy birthday to the dude who never fails to notice the way everything is and always believes that he can change it into what he wants it to be. I admire your spunk, kid, just try to take it easier on your old mom this year.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, June 14, 2013

Growing Things


Everything has been a bit later this spring than usual. First it was cold and now it's been rainy so the usual flurry of activity that comes with spring planting (and gathering - hello, morels!) has been drawn out over two months. Is it really mid-June?


Last year's drought killed off a good portion of our front lawn, which because we fancy ourselves urban farmers, was actually a gift from mother nature. Why not replace the grass with a couple of raised beds in the front yard where we have that glorious southern exposure (when the sun actually shines that is)?


So, in between storms, one got built and filled with a bunch of free compost from the Ramsey County Yard Waste Collection Sites (tax dollars put to excellent use). Will we build the second? I think so, although we may actually have to buy the dirt this time (gasp!) if the county's all out of the premium rich black stuff. Maybe I'll even plant some pepper plants in it on the summer solstice and cross my fingers that they'll grow like crazy if it ever warms up this year. Even with this wonky weather (on the bright side, at least the almost daily rain will save us money on watering the crops) we'll surely have some delicious eats by harvest time. If our first frost doesn't come by Labor Day, that is.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ellis Jokes

"Some say revenge is a dish best served cold. Some say revenge is sweet. So basically, revenge is ice cream"

"There are three kinds of people in this world. Those who can count and those who can't. "

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Some Dirt on Me


In the seven or so years that I have been gardening, I have learned that the most valuable quality a gardener can have is patience. Therefore, gardening is the perfect hobby for me, not because I have patience, but because I need to cultivate it as a quality in myself. In this way, the plants provide much more care for me than I do for them.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Queen of the Work-Around



I baked Isaac's birthday cake on Friday morning and left it to cool in the pans while I went to run errands. When I got home, the cake was completely stuck and as I tried to jimmy it out, it fell apart. It broke so badly that I couldn't do my normal fix of a healthy dose of frosting spackle. Luckily, I enjoy making something good out of a bad situation - the trickier the better. I made some vanilla pudding and layered the cake with it and the berries and fruit I had on hand. Instant trifle! The best part is that it was more decadently delicious than plain old birthday cake would have been. Score one for the Queen of the Work-Around.

Of course, things may have gone even better in the first place if I had followed Charlie's cake recipe and used "blour" and baked it for 18 hours.

 
Posted by Picasa