Monthly Archives: March 2013

Four years ago, March 31, 2009, I started this recording this wild, new journey of “living locally.” It is good to revisit that first step. Here it is, for new readers and longtime supporters. Thank you, everyone.

Localista

Dear Reader:

It is the end of March, and even here in chilly Maine, spring is peeking up and taking  a look around.  Every day the snow recedes a little more from the edges, revealing the copper-colored beech leaves I didn’t get a chance to rake before the first snowfall in November.   Syrup buckets still hang on the sugar maples here and there, testimony to the cold nights and warm days of sugaring season.  Two fat, gray, spotted mourning doves waddled around the front yard yesterday morning, and today a lone Canadian goose honked as she flew south over my house.  The dirt road is rutted with potholes but not soggy with mud–at least, not yet.  Soon the grass will green up, the daffodils will bloom, and the trees will bud out in delicate pinks and greens.  It is the season of renewal, rebirth, and new hope.  Finally.

It’s been a long winter…

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Between the Ears

Cool School

If Our Current Education System Implodes: A Radical Idea for A Local, Sustainable Alternative.

A letter to our local school board was sent out this week from our superintendent. Basically this letter talked of the dire budgetary issues the school district is facing, the major cuts in funding from the state, and the need to reduce staff and increase class size, cut already strained programs and services, and further erode our school’s ability to educate our children.

If this trend continues, we may be forced to look for alternatives–and soon.

I have a radical idea for education in a local, sustainable community if the time comes that we can no longer afford the system we have today. I suggest that in addition to parents teaching their own children at home, teachers also open their own small schools in their homes similar to the daycare centers and preschools that are so ubiquitous in our society now.

Granted, I haven’t asked any teachers if these ideas could ever work, but if we can educate our pre-schoolers at small, home-based schools, why not elementary-age students? Why not teenagers? There could even be a certification process, for the ease-of-mind of those parents who don’t trust their own judgement.

Here’s what I like about the idea: Self-employed teachers, greater school choice, walk to school choices (as the small-schools would be scattered throughout many neighborhoods), leverage to kick the trouble-makers out if they chose not to behave and learn, smaller classes, and greater flexibility. Teachers could choose to focus on the kind of education and populations they are most interested in serving. They could, if they wished, coordinate activities and lessons with other small-schools in their area. And the best teachers could command the best salaries. And the best students would be wooed by the schools. And a parent wouldn’t be hindered, necessarily, if he or she did not have money. Agreements for bartering and exchange of services could be worked out or parents could simply chose to educate their own children.

With internet and iPads and curricula out there, do we really need to shove our kids into sprawling industrial-era school buildings for six hours a day? Do we really need to spend all that gas money hauling them back and forth five days a week?

I think this could certainly work for K-8, but school would not necessarily be organized according to age or grade. Students could learn in multi-age classrooms.

Maybe high school could be in the former elementary buildings with sign-ups for classes and open campuses, similar to the way adult education is organized now? Maybe there could be internships and apprenticeships and pick-up softball games and/or a bunch of intramural teams that get together at the community fields/elementary gym to play games instead interscholastic sports? Of course teachers could offer music and art lessons–or just about any kind of special interest out there. Jewelry-making? Why not! Animal care? For sure!

How about converting some of the sports fields to school gardens? What about a school-run vegetable stand or Community Supported Agriculture program? Students could have even greater educational opportunities in the areas of agriculture, cooking, marketing,retail management, accounting, and more.

I’d also be inclined toward voluntary but rigorous exit exams, providing motivation for those who wish to enter college.

How would we pay for this kind of education system? Well, how do we pay for daycare and preschool? Charitable organizations and churches would, probably, offer to subsidize some schools that fit their mission-statements. Those with means and inclination may offer scholarships.

Perhaps there could be some assistance via local taxpayer money for those families who cannot afford the cost, but with all the savings in retirement, benefits, heating, gas, building maintenance, state and federal mandated programs, etc., and with all the choices that would be available, we could probably afford it.

I’m not saying this is ideal, but it can’t be much worse than what we are looking at if budgets continue to take hit after hit, year after year. Teaching, as a profession, will be radically different, but I hate to see teachers lose jobs and our students continue to lose the opportunity to learn from talented individuals because those teachers are let go or choose to leave for more lucrative, stable professions.

Some teachers might see this as an opportunity for self-determination in their careers, and I think the earning potential could be similar to what it is today (which isn’t great, let’s face it). If a teacher had space for fifteen students at $200 per week, that’s $156,000 a year gross.To compare, average daycare costs in the U.S.A. are $11,666 per year or $972 per month.

Hefty tax deductions for parents with children in school would make sense, as well.

All this is very radical, but not that long ago in our history, one-room schoolhouses were the norm. Prior to that, children were taught at home by parents or tutors. In ancient Greece and Egypt, teachers gathered a group of students who learned, literally, at their feet.

All this underscores my fundamental belief that education takes place in one space: between the ears of the student, most times with the guidance of a teacher or teacher-parent. You don’t need a sprawling building with little boxy rooms and a gymnasium and a cafeteria for learning to take place. A kitchen table can work just fine.

The Value of Silence

silence

Here is an odd idea for a blogger: silence.

I mean silence in the larger sense, a practice that includes not only verbal but also written communication.

Expression. Express yourself. Talk about your feelings. We are told this is the key to feeling empowered, understood, and self-actualized.

My friend, Laura, who is a Reiki practitioner and creator of her business Reiki Fusion, once told me that expressing yourself can be seen another way–like popping a boil. You don’t want to express yourself all over someone else.

Communication, however, is a two-way sporting event. Volley and serve. Listen and speak. Give and receive.

Lately, I’ve been expressing myself all over everything and everybody. Like I’m addicted to it. Like I have this (wrong) belief that if I somehow get my thoughts and ideas and opinions out there in a large enough volume, I will make a positive difference in the world. I’m beginning to see that perhaps a little opinion goes a long way.

Like salt. A pinch is good on your potatoes. A cup would be disaster.

It doesn’t help that I’m finally getting paid for producing words. Instead of using up my expression/communication energy, my job seems to be feeding it. So now I seek balance. I am trying, struggling really, to curb my addiction to voice. It is hard. I fail often. I remind myself to just stay quiet, to let the ideas and feelings stay inside my brain and heart or else find other, non-verbal outlets for releasing the pressure. Dancing. Meditating. Walking. Creating images. Still, the words come. Here I am, right now, producing words, words, words.

I am drawn to the idea of taking a vow of silence. I now see the value in such a commitment. A week of silence. Even two days. I long for a vacation from the sound of my own voice.

rumi

“In Silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.”
― Rumi

Sequester Savings #1: A Running Tally of How the Sequester is Affecting My Spending

dumpster diving photos 001

So, the sequester has the talking heads buzzing about how much, if any, effect the sequester budget cuts are going will have on the economy.

As a family whose income is going to be reduced 20% for five months starting sometime in April, we are already working on our family budget and figuring out how to “not spend” that amount–because we don’t think we should have to sacrifice the savings we already have (or even the savings we were planning on putting by) to the cowardice of our legislative and executive branches of our federal government. Cowardice, yes, because the brave move would have been to tell the people of this fine country, honestly, that we are in a mess and we need to cut spending and we need to raise taxes, both. Instead, they chose to “let the sequester happen” and take zero responsibility for their failure to govern or lead.

So, they won’t get a penny of my savings account. We will instead withdraw that money from the economy.

My plan is to post regular Sequester Savings entries. I won’t be able to keep an exact tally. How to account for “what I didn’t spend” as opposed to “what I did spend?” You don’t get receipts for NOT spending. Unless you create one. Like today.

Daughter: Can you go to Waterways (a local coffee shop)and get us some lattes?
Me: We can make coffee at home. We are saving money.

Total savings: $7.50 directly OUT OF THE LOCAL ECONOMY.

I’m also in the middle of baking a loaf of homemade bread. My usual loaf of 12-grain bread costs about $4. A quick search on the internet shows a loaf of white bread homemade costs between 36-45 cents a loaf. Huh.

It will be interesting to compare grocery totals for months pre-sequester to months post-sequester. I’m counting March as post-sequester since we are starting the economizing now.

This is list of things I’m cutting out:

$ coffees and lattes anywhere but home
$ breakfast out once a week at local restaurant
$ books–kindle, Amazon, bookstores
$ pizzas from pizza shops (making my own instead ALL the time)
$ lunches and dinners out–take turns making lunches at home, peeps?
$ clothes for me for the next five months; I’ll make do with what I
have
$ theater, movies, or a concert unless it is free
$ entertaining at home, i.e. parties–unless it is potluck it isn’t happening!
$ jewelry, makeup, shoes–almost goes without saying, right?
$ extra trips that burn gasoline

You may wonder if I plan on having any fun at all. Sure. Libraries have books last I checked, so I don’t need to buy them. Coffee at home is fine. My homemade pizza and bread–yum and fun to make. A game of cards of mah-jong with friends down the road is fine entertainment. Scrabble anyone? How about a walk, bike ride, swim?

On the other hand, I’ll miss eating out, I really will.

But the main point is this, Federal Government: I’m not bailing you out with my savings. I hope the economy feels the pinch. I hope, finally, you duly-elected officials start doing your jobs, work together, and figure out how to balance this budget, starting with entitlement reform and ending with closing the most egregious tax loopholes.

Oh, and raise the minimum wage while you are at it. Have you seen the stats on wealth inequity lately?

Rodeo Girl

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Rodeo (Row-dee-0h) Drive Skirt. Photo by Brenda Morrill.

Dear Reader:

Localista find of the week.

Every Wednesday, a few community women get together at the Redneck Studios in rural Newfield, Maine to learn belly-dance and yoga moves. To laugh. To celebrate female energy. To exercise and stretch and grow stronger. Redneck Studios is much like it sounds–unpretentious, down-home, low-key, fun.

Proprietor Brenda has also started up a clothing and home furnishings business, up-cycling skirts and shirts and pants into blingy items suitable for belly-dance and beyond, as well as sewing custom orders for quilts and shower curtains and pillows and more.

She calls her biz Rodeo Drive. Like a cowgirl, not Beverly Hills.

So before belly-dance class the other day, I picked up this richly-textured chocolate velvet skirt, the middle tier embellished with thick-thread embroidery lines with tiny sequins and a flower button or two or three scattered around. The velvet contrasts nicely with heavy cream fringe. I was just taken with it–the texture, the color, the way it reminded me of the “Prairie Look” from the early 80’s.

Later that evening, I wore the skirt to a high school concert with my green Goodwill micro-cable sweater (simple enough to lend interesting contrast to the frou-frou of the ruffles),a hand-knit chunky scarf in browns and golds and cranberry, and ruffled velvet boots.

rodeo drive skirt

I felt bohemian. I felt Redneck. I felt like a Rodeo Girl.

What are your favorite hand-sewn or up-cycled or re-purposed home or clothing items?