Thursday, March 25, 2010

Front Porches and Small Lots Build Community

As the warmer spring weather allows for more time spent outdoors on my front porch once again, I look forward to the daily interactions of my neighbors. As I stand on my porch and look toward the corner, I find myself peering onto a tunnel of porches extending out from each of my neighbor's homes. At times, when the weather beckons everyone outside, it can almost feel like we are all in each other's living rooms- kids running to and fro, the adults talking to one another from across the street or just next door. Sometimes we even have free entertainment when the family across the street throws their windows open wide and sings along to their karaoke machine. A parade of people walking their dogs just steps away on the sidewalk adds to the fun.

I have lived in this neighborhood just nine months and already I know most of the folks up and down the street. It is hard to not know them given how close we live together. We wave hello as we go out to get the mail, walk to town, or come home from an errand. Due to the closeness of our homes, I can even watch their televisions from the window of mine, or listen to their household conversations wafting through their open windows.

I lived in Illinois for five years and only really knew two of my neighbors- a friendly older man from across the street, and the mother of my son's friend. The rest of them I rarely saw, due to larger lot sizes and lack of front porches. Granted, I did see them peering out at me through the windows of their cars as they drove into and out of their attached garages. All my life I have been in search of distance away from neighbors and the privacy that comes with it. But something always seemed to be missing.

As I make myself at home in this tightly packed neighborhood, this place reminds me of the days long ago when neighbors hung out on the steet together talking, building community in the process. I feel fortunate to be a part of this neighborhood and to discover that this place feels right to me even though it doesn't involve large lots offering privacy. Now that I am here surrounded by lots of people, I am discovering that a sense of community is what has been missing in many of the places I've lived.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Almost Spring in Central Park

With my son's school still closed due to storm damage and power outages, we decided to take advantage of the beautiful spring day and head out to Central Park.

With temps in the upper 50's and the day glorious, we decided Spring had officially started, even though it was actually still a few days off.

While the boys played a game which involved batting a Koosh ball between two Frisbees,

getting a huge dose of fresh air after a weekend spent cooped up due to the storm,

I sat on the rocks in the sun, soaking up some well deserved sunshine, snapping lots of pictures.

We were not the only ones taking advantage of this fantastic day!

I am always amazed how quiet it is in the park, despite being located in the heart of such a big city. These trees and many, many others help to buffer the noise of the city from the quiet of the park.

With schools closed again tomorrow and the forecast calling for even warmer temperatures than today, I look forward to spending the day outside again.

Just a few more weeks until the ice rink in the above picture is removed for the season. Goodbye Winter!

Monday, March 15, 2010

In Search of Power, 48 Hours Without it...

The power went out on Saturday, during the height of a huge Nor'easter which brought high winds and rain, causing trees to topple onto power lines. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, my world went from one filled with phones, computers, and cable TV to a much quieter, less busy place. On Saturday night, my family and I embraced the change and played the board game "Apples to Apples" in the glow of our camping lantern, but by Sunday morning, we were ready to get back to our lives and went in search of power.

Like everyone else in our town, we seemed incapable of going even a day without the conveniences of modern life- our cell phones and laptops. The morning dawned gloomy as we ventured into Starbucks, the need for power pulling at us. My boys and I plugged into power strips and essentially plugged ourselves back into a life I didn't really realize had such a pull on us.

While the storm had stripped us of lights and heat and the ability to cook, the thing I missed most was the communication factor. I hated that being without power made it impossible to communicate with the outside world or hear what was going in the world beyond my neighborhood.

Lucky for us, we were able to make contact by hanging out at Starbucks and for awhile, that was enough, but slowly the fact we didn't have hot water, heat, or the ability to cook began to wear on us. With our house dark and cold, the only thing I could think of to do at home was wrap up in a down blanket and read and that didn't seem appealing at all. Most days I would give anything to sit around and read all day, but the forced nature of it, made it feel more like a chore. So I sat around at the library and the coffee shop and swapped storm stories with everyone else held captive by the lack of electricity.

Everyone had a story. One couple I talked to spent Saturday night with strangers because they couldn't get home. Trapped in both directions by fallen trees, they banged on the doors of houses until someone was kind enough to put them up for the night. Another family had gone out for dinner on Saturday night and had to stay in a hotel because trees blocked their route. We all wondered when the power would come back on and when the kids would head back to school. The coffee shop became like a local community center, everyone sharing what the storm had brought their way.
My husband and I's story was that we had spent all Saturday night and into Sunday morning monitoring our basement and making sure we didn't take on water. With the sump pump not able to work due to the power outage, we watched as the water crept higher and higher and began to seep along the outside wall of the basement. In preparation for what we were sure was to come, we moved many of our things to higher ground. With no room left to spare, the water stopped rising.
While we all had different stories regarding the storm's impact, we shared one thing in common, a desire to get things back to normal. Seeking out power seemed to be the one thing that could bring us all back to our comfort zone. Looking for ways to recreate the lifestyle we had temporarily lost.
My family and I spent last night watching a movie on my son's laptop. Another family I heard of sat in their car and watched a movie on their car DVD. Everyone in search of some semblance of normal. Nobody looking to become like those families in the olden days gathered around the fireplace telling stories while the women knit and the men sharpened their tools. In a way, it made me sorry that we have all moved away from that place of long ago and embraced what modern technology has brought our way. It made me sad to notice how much I crave what power brings my way, especially when I try my best to bring slower modes of entertainment into my life.

I guess what I most want is choice and balance. To be able to hop on the computer when need be or read a book when I want to. To balance the busy parts of my life with the slow parts. Fast and slow, ebb and flow. This experience has caused me to discover that I hate being restricted from spending my time the way I would like to. When I am in the mood to sit quietly and think, being able to do exactly that sounds good. But don't make me spend time sitting and thinking because it is my only option.

The power came back on a few hours ago, shocking my son and I into action as we sat talking about all of the things we could be doing if the power was on. It was almost like the gods were listening and said, "OK, fine, go do those things you want to do". We each rushed off in different directions, me to load my storm pictures onto my computer and he to play a video game. Later, I will rush out to the store to pick up some things to cook for dinner and take a hot shower.

Did this experience teach me to be more prepared for the next storm? To purchase a generator to run at full tilt, drowning out the chorus of spring birds with its thundering rumble, as it sends the drug of power my way? Nope. I enjoyed being forced into the coffee shop, enjoying the camaraderie of others dealing with the same situation as I. The companionship found as I sat elbow to elbow with others, charging up our phones and laptops was reassuring. Finding common ground with others and discovering we are all basically looking for many of the same things in life. Hot coffee, power and a good story to share or listen to.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Somewhere in the Middle, Advantages of both Home Schooling and Public Schooling

I am finding I don't rest in either the home school camp or the public school camp because I see pros and cons to both situations. Kids are individuals with unique needs and I am beginning to see how these needs are difficult to meet by choosing one type of educational method over another. When I home schooled my son, I loved having the freedom to tailor a curriculum to his interests. But now that he is back in public school, I am seeing how he thrives on the energy found in a classroom comprised of his peers, even if it means he has to study some things he may not be interested in initially.

Each camp holds their reasons for choosing one method over the other dear, so I am going to list only the advantages of homeschooling and public schooling as I have experienced them, and try not to tread on the disadvantages.

Advantages of Home Schooling

-Allows freedom to tailor the curriculum to a child's specific needs and interests.

-Lots of opportunity for experiential learning through museum visits and other centers of learning.

-Opportunities to meet other home schooled kids through home school support groups which allow for social interaction.

-Kids and parents form close bond as they spend lots of time together.

-Teens are able to get involved in volunteer opportunities or have adults mentor them in areas they are interested in.

-Typically shorter school day allows for lots of free time to pursue outside interests and passions.

-Parents have stronger influence on who their children associate with. Ability to hand pick friends and avoid bad influences.

-Ability to avoid school violence or other negative influences found in school such as behavior problems or swearing.

-Many problems with school are avoided such as wasted time, studying senseless subjects, peer pressure etc...

Advantages of Public Schooling

-Ability to meet many different types of kids from various backgrounds and figure out your niche. Have a greater appreciation for the many kinds of people in the world.

-Learn to work with many different types of adults and learn how to meet their expectations.

-A feeling that "learning is contagious" as one picks up on the energy of the group as they get involved in what is being studied.

-Work with teachers whom have experience in their chosen field of study and who can bring a high level of learning to the classroom through projects and experiments.

-Exposure to many different types of subjects that may not be investigated otherwise and which could lead to a lifetime of interest.

-Time management skills as one learns how to juggle the needs of different classes.

-Conflict resolution skills or interpersonal skills as one learns how to get along with many different kinds of personalities.

-Learn how to do things you may not want to do. Understand that everything in life has an unpleasant side.

-Prom, yearbooks, knowing the kids in your community.

From this list, both options have their appeal. I can see how my son has benefited from participating in both home schooling and public schooling, but feel at this point of time that public school is serving him well. It is certainly not a perfect fit, but neither would be home schooling. Each option lacks some things he needs so we just do the best we can with where we are now. I guess that is how all parenting is...doing the best with what is in front of you at the time. I would love to hear from you if I missed some advantages you have found specific to either home schooling or public schooling.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Taking the Natural World Along...

A few days ago, I awoke from a dream in which I was digging flowers from my garden in anticipation of a move. Uprooting my favorite plants to take with me in order to help establish myself in my new home. Soon after awakening, I thought about my dream and it occurred to me that I have been collecting parts of the natural world to bring along with me when being transplanted to each of my new homes.

When a move required I leave behind a perennial garden I had worked hard to create while living in Illinois, I snipped off a few seed heads and tucked them into glass jars. While living in Colorado, I collected pine cones from the trees in my yard and placed them into jars as well. I put these collections around my home, reminding me of the places I had lived and loved.

The prickly seed heads of the Sweet Gum tree were added while living in Georgia. Without fully realizing it, I was bringing the natural world with me to each of my new homes. While I couldn't actually bring the pines from the mountains of Colorado or the trees from the hardwood forests of Georgia, each with a distinct flavor I had grown to love, I could bring parts of them with me. Tucked into jars, triggering memories of the natural world in a place I had once called home.

Far from my real home of Michigan I traveled, following my husband's job as we criss-crossed the country. When I traveled back to Michigan each summer, I collected rocks from the shore of Lake Huron or driftwood from the shore of Lake Michigan, reminding me of my childhood and allowing me to savor those memories within the context of the natural world.

The dream reminded me that I will soon be moving again. It is hard to move. To fall in love with a place and its people and to start again. I have already collected my memories from where I am living now. Sea glass, rocks and seashells from the shore of Long Island Sound. My time spent in nature is what connects me to place and these things I gather from the natural world, allow me to maintain that connection as I move forward, discovering new vistas along the way.