Sunday, July 14, 2013

getting older... my grandmas and I

Most summers our family trip to Michigan includes going to visit my grandmothers.  Seeing them only once a year, makes their aging and my own so much more present for me when I am with them.  Listening to my kids talk to their great grandmothers about our family history, looking at old pictures on the walls and spending time in the same houses I spent time in as a kid makes me feel that life is ephemeral, fleeting... before I know it, they will be gone and this part of where I come from won't be there any more.  How can I stop time from barreling forward?  Enjoy my kids being young, enjoy my pain free body and my husband at my side.  I am sure that my grandmothers cannot believe that they have lived for almost a hundred years.  When I spend time with my grandmas, it makes me feel like I should slow down, worry less about meaningless problems and call and write them more often.  I ask them a lot about their life stories because I want to remember.  I want to hear it from them.

My Grandma Jacqueline Cotney is 88 years old (top photos).  She is my mom's mom and they share a birthday.  She was an only child and so is my mother.  She was raised in Port Huron, Michigan surrounded by extended family.  Her mother worked as a seamstress and was a single mother until she married my grandmother's stepfather.  Her family relocated to northern Michigan. She came to Detroit to work where she met my grandfather downtown.  He worked as a heating and cooling technician and eventually got a job at a General Motors parts factory where he worked his way up to being a foreman.  They had my mom, moved around a bit and eventually ended up in Westland, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit.  After my mom was married and had my brother and I, they moved to Algonac, Michigan into a house that my grandfather built himself.  It is on a canal that connects to Lake St. Clair.  My grandmother still lives in that house.  My grandfather passed away a few of years ago.  My grandma is involved some local community groups and depends heavily on friends and neighbors for assistance since she has no family nearby her.

My Grandma Juineta Glenn is 92 years old.  She is my father's mom.  She was born and raised in St. Mary's, West Virginia near the Ohio River.  She married my grandfather when she was 17 years old and had four kids.  My dad is the youngest.  They moved to the Detroit area where my grandfather worked drilling wells and eventually became a master plumber.  They lived in a low-income part of Farmington Hills called Hell's Half-Acre which had large, almost rural lots (the neighborhood no longer exists).  They always had a garden and lots of undeveloped land to roam around in.  They relocated to Howell and then eventually to Gladwin which is in northern central Michigan.  They bought a cattle farm and raised beef cattle and hay to feed them.  The farm has a forest in the back where my dad has hunted deer since I was a child.  My grandfather passed away last year after being with my grandmother for over 70 years.  My grandma Glenn still lives in this farm house and rents out the farm fields to other farmers.  She drives, bakes and makes a lot of quilts.

I am grateful that I get to see my grandmothers but I wish I was closer so that I could see them more often and help them.  When I was younger and could have spent more time with them, I didn't realize how important it was. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Our Science Expo and why public schools can be a wonderful place

The last two weeks have been filled with a lot of excitement at Jove and Miranda's school: author's celebrations, a Mother's day breakfast in Miranda's classroom and the Spring Showcase (Science Expo, Art Show and Book Fair).  I organized the Science Expo part of the Spring Showcase and so, in addition to helping Miranda and Jove with their projects, I have been busy finalizing preparations for the Big Event all last week.  I am a little tired, but very happy.

The Science Expo was a roaring success: so many families came out, we had over a 100 students do science projects, their were live animal and mineral displays, Jupiter's amazing chemistry show and a make-and-take area with slime and UV bracelet making.  When we came into the school last year, I had the dream of reviving the school's science fair and with help from other parents and administrative support my dream became reality and exceeded everyone's expectations.  Which means, of course, it will become an annual event. Yay!

After working in and around my kid's school this week, I am even more convinced that it is a great place to be and excited to be a part of the Roxbury community.  I feel like people disparage public schools and their teachers, and, interestingly, some of these people don't even send their kids to public schools.  Both the school system where I work and where my kids attend are very socioeconomically and ethnically diverse which means they are subject to scrutiny that no mostly white, all (upper) middle class school would ever receive.  Please, don't ask me if the school my kids go to "is a 'good' school or if it is 'safe'?" because all it shows is your own bigotry (and yes, I have been asked these questions too many times to count).  We chose Stamford Public Schools because the schools are racially integrated.  We believe in integration.  I believe the only way that equality will thrive is to stand side-by-side with all people. 

I know as much as anyone else that there are some very ugly (and ridiculous) trends in public education like the focus on high stakes testing and punishing teachers who are committed enough to teach struggling students, but these trends have little to do with how teachers or principals work, what they stand for and how they view students.  Many of us in the school system feel as critical of these trends as the people that criticize public schools.

So, as Gandhi said,  be the change you wish to see in the world.  If you want public schools to be better, make them better. Public schools, as a social institution, reflect our collective values and desires and if we have two unequal school systems, based on social class and race, what does that say about us?

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.     

 From the Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

 Outtakes from the Mother's Day Breakfast in Miranda's class with the best kindergarten teacher in the world.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

family life.... fall 2012 until winter 2013

 Miranda: loving kindergarten, excitedly losing teeth (6 so far and another is loose as we speak), singing and dancing all the time, reading all over town and proudly moving on to more complex books, dancing ballet, swimming and doing gymnastics, loves to make art and crafts (her "go to" activity), helps me cook and bake, Jove's constant companion on woodland adventures, full of hugs and cuddles and makes us all laugh and smile all the time

 Jove: rocking third grade, reading a lot of complex books about science (doing his famous person project on Darwin!), into drawing, tired out most evenings from kickboxing, grappling or gymnastics, learning piano, loves math and puzzles, cultivating good friendships with some very nice boys, spending many days building a fort in the woods near our house, he has a big heart and is a very good big brother and friend
 All of us: Most of our family time is spent together outside on hikes or outings, enjoying our home and yard, getting together with friends and family, eating good meals, learning together: reading, doing projects or experiments.  
We stayed home for Christmas and my parents came to visit.
We had a few great days in the city the past few months: we took Jupiter's dad to the Natural History Museum in September, in December we took the kids and Tati to their first Broadway show The Lion King and in January we went to see a Beatrix Potter exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum, the main library of NYC ( I love libraries!!) and Bryant Park.  I have mostly overcome my aversion to the crowds of New York City and learned to appreciate all that the city offers.

Darwin: our mini-Australian Shepherd.  The day before Hurricane Sandy hit last October, we drove up the Berkshires in MA to get him from his breeder.  He is now five months old and getting bigger.  We had a scare a week ago when he suddenly became limp and listless and he was been diagnosed with Lyme disease.  He is one the mend (and medication) and back to his rambunctious self.

Mama: my time is spent enjoying my family, feeding all of us and coordinating our family life.  I am teaching two biology classes and one section of AP Environmental Science this year.  I often grade in the middle of the night or wee hours of the morning which means I am pretty tired most of the time.  I love coffee a little too much.  I am not sure how other moms who are teachers deal with all of the work but I find that the day is not long enough to do everything that needs to get done.
I am really grateful for my extended family and friends: my parents (across the miles), my mother-in-law, my brother, my husband's family, my best bud Sara and her family, our neighbors, school friends and growing connections in our new town.  I feel very lucky.
    I have earned 9 credit so far this year bringing me up to 27 credits towards my 30 credits beyond my Master's and I have re- realized how much I love school. Only one more class to go this Spring.  I love field ecology and science in general.
I run and go to Zumba class once a week. I haul wood every morning, stoke the fire, take out ashes and compost, let the dog out, feed the bunnies, etc.  I read the New York Times every weekend, listen to NPR in the car and read a lot of non-fiction.  I have a pretty big passion for children's literature and spend a lot of time exploring libraries and books with my kids.  I hope/plan to write books for kids when I retire and I have been working on my ideas.  I also think about teaching college...


Papa: Always searching for the best and most convenient devices and products to enhance our quality of life (he could work for consumer reports), taught Jove basic construction skills building our tree house, always chopping and hauling wood,  running and interested in barefoot running, teaching AP Chemistry for the first time, busy being super dad, making homemade pizza, enjoying his craft beers, surfs Reddit and keeps me informed of all important or hilarious trends.

Jupiter in the apple orchard with our good friend

My brother Jason (or Tio Jason as he is known here).  We are happy to have him with us.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

taking a break

It seems almost silly to post that I am taking a break from blogging since I have been taking a break for some time now.  My parenting, teaching and homemaking are using up all of my time and energy.  So, I may pop in occasionally to write something, but right now, it is hard to imagine having the time to do it.  Next summer for sure....

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Our trip to the Domincan Republic

The summer of 2011 we traveled for 5-6 weeks of our summer and we loved seeing people we love and new places, but this summer we intentionally decided to reduce our traveling and be home more. It was Jupiter's idea and he was right. Our home feels like a vacation home to us and we want to enjoy it. So, besides a few day trips and a weekend of camping in Cape Cod, our only big trip was to the Dominican Republic.

Jove and Miranda had never been to DR and I had ten years since Jupiter and I went there when we were dating. It was an amazing trip and I hope we can go on a regular basis. We spent part of our time with Jup's aunt Lana and uncle Victor who live in the capital, Santo Domingo. Victor runs an auto mechanic shop adjacent to their house and the house and shop are a very busy and entertaining place. Two of Jup's cousins also live there and one of their sons is Jove's age. We went to various attractions in the capital: the Botanical Garden (an amazing place), the Amber Musuem, the colonial zone (Sto. Domingo was the first city in the Americas and Columbus' son lived there for many years), the Musuem of the Dominican Man and the Malecon (beachfront boardwalk) and parks and restaurants right on the Caribbean Sea.
It was very interesting to contrast the historical lens you looked through at the Alcazar de Colon (Diego Columbus' river front fort/mansion) and the exhibits at the Musuem of the Dominican Man which try to have a critique of colonization and represent the history and culture of the of indigenous people and Africans on the island. But, DR has a long way to go to accept and celebrate its African roots. The day after we went to the museum, Jupiter and I were discussing the lack of awareness of history and identity in the country and I showed him a newspaper article where a Dominican sociologist claimed there were seven "races" in DR. Three of these racial categories had the word "Indian" in them. The day before at the museum, we learned that the entire indigenous population was gone within decades of the arrival of Europeans on the island. Sounds like denial to me...

The city is being developed quickly with a lot more stores, roads and businesses than a decade ago, but it suffers from security issues. There is a tremendous amount of petty crime. The neighborhood that Jupiter grew up in, Villas Agricolas, isn't safe, so we were only able to drive through and briefly stop to show the kids where he lived. People in Jupiter's family and some friends have been telling us for years how bad it has become and we know a lot of people that have been attacked or robbed when they go to DR. The common belief amongst Dominicans is that it is the influence of US criminality on DR and when people are deported after a sentence here, they take back a lot more sophisticated criminal behaviors. These neighborhoods have always been poor, but not dangerous. The childhood that Jupiter had roaming around free isn't possible anymore. And here is the kicker, the underpaid police force isn't going to help you, if fact, you need to avoid them too. The police are so corrupt that if you are stopped in your car, you would expect to pay some money to be allowed to go on your way. We were only stopped once the day before we came home and at this point we were so relaxed about it we were able to continue driving without bribing anyone, we confidently talked our way through it.

When we left the city to travel to Jaragua National Park in the Southwest part of the country near the Haitian border, we drove through beautiful countryside. Most of DR is either tropical lowlands (think sugar plantation), lush mountains, or beaches, but this part is a drier and cactus-filled because it is on the leeward side of the mountains. We drove through scrub desert with only a few small towns where people line the main road with tables selling mangos, green plantains and empty beer bottles filled with gasoline. We stayed at a small hotel called Pirates of the Caribbean in Paraiso (Paradise). One of the funniest moments of our vacation was when we drove to this hotel. Jup had downloaded maps of DR so we could use GPS to navigate and we knew the hotel was near the water at the end of this main street in this small fishing town. So we drive all the way down to the water and see a hotel that looks very run-down and like it is under construction; there were guys putting up the palm thatch roofs around an empty swimming pool. We are a little deflated at this point and wondering how bad it will be and so Jupiter gets out of our rental car to ask the palm thatcher guys if this is the hotel we're looking for and they direct us back a little towards a wall that has our hotel inside of it. Whew!!! we don't have to drink invisible drinks around an empty pool... The real hotel (really a large house with 4 guest rooms) was breezy and had lush gardens filled with fruit trees and singing birds and a big locked wall around it. The owners were two super-friendly ex-pats from Europe who love their job.

It was late afternoon when we arrived and we were looking for something to do before dinner and they recommended a nearby freshwater swimming hole. The Balineario los Patos (Ducks Swimming pool) was the most unexpected little excursion of our trip. We don't have any of our own pictures because we tended not take the big camera to places if we weren't sure about crime. This spot is beautiful, a very clean river empties into the sea and forms a natural swimming pool. The cold, fresh water was beautiful and felt so refreshing on a 90+ degree day. All of the tourists here were Dominicans and there were small plastic tables set up at the water's edge and you could order a drink and some food. If you waded through the river for 200 meters you got to the Caribbean Sea.
Taking a chartered bus trip (a gira) to visit a countryside spot of natural beauty is the most common form of internal tourism in DR. Tati, my mother-in-law, loved this spot and it brought back a lot of memories for her of trips she went on with Jupiter to swim in rivers in the country when he was young.

The next day we drove across a peninsula to one of the farthest west parts of DR. The land here is mainly ranchland and at various points we had to stop and wait for cattle or goats to move off the road. The poverty and harshness of life here was omnipresent. In the dry and hot (over 100 degrees F) conditions, we saw young children walking along the roads with little to no clothing. Often when we stopped the car in this part of the country, children, and sometimes adults, would beg for food or money. The DR-Haiti border is porous and a lot of people come from Haiti and squat in lands in this part of the country. Jupiter and I feel strongly that we want our kids to be aware of living conditions in the developing world and this part of the trip changed them.

The next morning we get up to drive across the peninsula; at the end of this long dirt road, there is a palm thatched restaurant at the edge of a turquoise sea. You park here and hire a small boat to take you to the Bahia de las Aguilas (bay of the eagles) which is a beach inside Jaragua National Park which is only accessible by boat. After a fifteen minute boat ride zooming by limestone cliffs, you arrive at the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. We spent the day here swimming and looking for critters. I ran down the beach and would dive in every so often to cool off. The color of the water and the heat gave this place a dream-like quality.

The next day we went to Laguna Oviedo on the eastern side of Jaragua Nat'l Park. This salt water lake is three times saltier than the ocean and is the remnant of an ancient sea that covered this whole part of the country. We visited the recently constructed ranger station and hired the biologist/park ranger and boat to take us out on the lake. The lake has 24 islands and many of them are nesting spots for birds. We saw juvenile flamingos, roseate spoonbills, great white egrets, terns, ibis and may more species. One of the cays is known for its rhinocerous iguana population. Our guide had done his thesis on the rhinocerous iguana so we learned a lot about it. We disembarked and hiked around the island. The mangrove trees were fruiting, so the kids picked the fruits and gave them to the iguanas. My mother-in-law who is not a huge fan of reptiles had to be convinced that iguanas are harmless and vegetarian. There were a lot of iguanas and you could hear them walking through the dry leaf litter before you could see them. We climbed a observation tower to look out over the lake and its islands.

The National Park participates in a sea turtle conservation program. On a beach just over a little spit of land from Laguna Oviedo, three species of sea turtles build nests. A park guard goes out every night during nesting season and when a sea turtle lays their eggs, the nest is excavated and brought back to a protected area to allow hatching under watchful eyes. The day we were there, baby leatherbacks had hatched that morning and we were able to hold them before they got released that night.

After our wild west adventure, we headed back to the city for a day and took a day trip to a country house with Jupiter's dad before heading east to a resort in the Punta Cana area. We have never stayed in a resort before and I had always assumed that I would get bored after a couple of days... but, I didn't. It was the most relaxed I have felt in a long time. We stayed at Natura Park Resort and got a great deal. We brought Jove and Miranda's cousin with us. We spent our days in the ocean, swimming and snorkeling. The resort had activities for kids and our kids made some friends for us. The kids all loved the games, classes and performances they got to participate in. The guests at the resorts were mostly from Spain, Portugal, Russia, Germany and there were a few people from the US, mostly Latinos from the New York Area. The kids continued to use Spanish at the resort because it was mostly Spanish kids that they played with. Miranda spent an entire afternoon making "albondigas" in the sand with her friend from Galicia and I asked her if she knew what albondigas are and when I told her they were meatballs, she laughed. Miranda is a staunch vegetarian who can barely handle walking through the meat section of a supermarket.
The resort had evening entertainment which included two dance performances, one was Dominican history though dance which was amazing. Since we had built in babysitting, Jupiter and I were able to go out and dance and have some alone time.

So, for our first true international trip with the kids, we are pleased that everything seemed manageable and enjoyable. We may try the mix of more adventurous travel followed by pampering again and when the kids are a little older we hope to introduce volunteering to our trips.

Monday, July 2, 2012

horsin' around in Stamford

Every year the city of Stamford commissions artists to paint sculptures that will be displayed on the downtown streets.  When we first drove around Stamford to see if we wanted to move here there were cat and dog sculptures everywhere.  This year there are horses everywhere.  There are at least 40 and some are related to their location (like the horse book ends in front of the library!!).  I love Stamford for so many reasons and the public art is one of them.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kindergarten here she comes...

Miranda has completed her Montessori preschool tenure, three years which have taken her from toddlerhood to a reading and writing, singing her heart out, sassy outfit wearing, little girl. Next fall, she will join Jove at our local public school, which may be a bit of a let down after having two teachers for a class of only 5-6 kids, lessons in music, foreign language, etc. I have convinced myself that the elitism of private school is somehow more permissible for little pre-schoolers than older kids. She has had an amazing pre-school experience and I was choked up when we left on her last day knowing that all of the people that were such a big part of her life won't be a part of her life anymore.
Miranda's pre-school graduation was equal parts ridiculously cute and ridiculous. Caps and gowns and speeches by five year olds.... Oh my!! My favorite part was the kids singing and playing instruments, they were happy and free and not so focused on "graduating."