Monday, May 31, 2010

Asheville Craigslist Farm Pages

It is evening here at the house.
I lived an appalachian epic today through the rain and the first line of it was Asheville Craigslist farm pages, one that read: "SHEEP. Can go in freezer or be used as pets."

The refrain was something about driving ethereal Appalachian back roads because 1.the school (insert the I) wants farm animals and 2. I (with no other pretense) have been craving the kind of adventure that took me alone along drizzly fields and ridgelines Kurosawa couldn't have dreamed up while crossing switchbacks with names like "Papaw Elmer's Drive." The kind of adventure that would have me chasing castrated sheep across barnyards with a pregnant teenage mother,(whose parents were watching TV in the trailer), and quieting them with WWF neckholds while she explained that their testicles had not fallen off yet, but they would, and she hoped the children would not be too scared by that.

The stanzas were about a hitchhiking mother and toddler on the back floor of the van after they had gotten caught in the downpour still far from home, farmers' directions that read like Rumi, "sweep to the left," "keep following straight then sweep right," "there's a curve then it straightens and it curves again. Follow that." Bawdy black rams, skittish white ewes, fleeces sticky and damp having just come in from pasture, red hens, (lay real well and right personable too), the rabbit breeder's wife who smelled like sage leaves after the rain and whose face was a summer peach, all sweetness from inside. She couldn't have been more than 19, I thought when I first saw her, but no, her children were as old as mine.

I lived it all and saved it all like a child collecting pebbles at the shore, pockets wet and heavy on the ride home. Like James Herriot making tea over the aga stove, watching unpredictable weather pass over the moors.

The epic is wrapping up something like this:
in the wood living room of the school

baby rabbits in a box
by the fireplace
nursing goats' milk from an eyedropper.
a lost turtle,
the sheep in my heart but maybe not in my budget,

a tiny white moth with threadbare wings
I found barely alive at the end and have kept right beside me
on his deathbed where I type:
an old mottled brown copy of Whittier's poems:
“Oh, the outward hath gone! - but, in glory and
The SPIRIT surviveth the things of an hour;
Unchanged, undecaying, its Pentecost flame
On the heart's secret altar is burning the same !”

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The first big night

We had an incredible evening here tonight. In the mix were bright, intuitive and engaged Asheville friends, a great concept with lots of room for dreaming and discussion, a beautiful evening on a big covered porch and great food and - if it continues this way it's gonna be the sweetest little ditty being crooned anywhere near these parts. I am multi-dimensionally full. Will write more about it tomorrow. I have also been reunited with my camera, so pictures will be on the way.
In the meanwhile, here are some of the details about the program and space. It represents the basics of what we envision while being open and malleable. If you are still free Tuesday or Friday and haven't RSVP'ed yet, we'd love to have you in on the fun stuff.

What we are...
Free Range Childhood is a non-coercive learning environment which supports students becoming active participants in choices which affect their lives and communities.
We do not adhere to a traditional formal classroom structure. Instead, our “open classroom” consists of a fluid home-like environment where hot meals are being prepared in the kitchen, people are working in the garden, projects developing and art happening, walks being taken, books being read and questions asked and explored on an ongoing basis which the child may flow into or out of at any time. We value the natural rhythms of home life and of the child. Often in the afternoon there will be large outdoor games on the lawn or children will have extensive time to explore and run free or have down time to themselves. While the students and staff will be expected to participate in the daily upkeep of the house, garden and farm animals, we facilitate as much freedom, space and personal choice inside that structure as possible.

In addition, there will be daily and weekly optional classes in outdoor and life skills, dance and movement, music, environmental science, foreign languages, etc. We will also offer more traditional academic tracks and tutoring as desired by students and families involved.

There will be no grades, testing or other formal evaluations. We consider ourselves
co-pilgrims alongside each individual's personal growth and learning journey. Because of that, we will have regular child/adult "school" meetings in which all ages will democratically take part in decisions which affect the group and themselves. We value open and positive communication and will assist and empower students in their own interests while facilitating a respectful and mutually encouraging environment.

Summer Program Hours
The summer program will run weekly from June 14 until July 9, take a week off , and run again July 19 through August 13.
Full-time and Part-time scheduling available.

Membership to the commons, $5 per month
Summer program, $25 per day, (discount for multiple children)
Drop in, $30 per day (less than a week advance notice)
Fees must be made in advance.
Part of the cost can be offset by work-exchange for “commons currency”

Commons Currency
Commons Currency is similar to a barter and trade system. It will allow members to track hours of service and other contributions to The Commons and Childhood Program and apply the credit to membership and tuition fees.
Commons Currency is based on reciprocity and will be determined by hourly rates or mutually determined value of resources.
The Commons will also be working in conjunction with local alternative currencies such as Asheville L.E.T.S. to create sustainable means of lifestyle enrichment and educating our children.

Current Needs of the project are:

Daily Program Staff
Administrative Planning and Oversight
Garden Creation
Planning and facilitating adult enrichment program
Teaching children's or adult classes
Building a Treehouse or other handy-person projects
Stream and/or Pond Restoration
Housekeeping/ Cleaning
Property Maintenance
Food Planning and Preparation

The Larger Picture of “The Commons”

The concept of the commons was birthed out of a desire as busy parents, entrepreneurs, artists, activists and educators to live more simply, to have less, to grow more of our own food, enjoy fresh healthy meals regularly and share life with others in meaningful ways - to know our neighbors and have a strong network of "good folk" in our lives and our children's lives. Also part of the mutual dream was living in a large country estate or farmhouse with beautiful gardens, horses to ride and a swimming hole or a natural pool in the summer.
We began to dream of what it would look like to have a common space that would allow us to have a lot of these things through resource sharing. To have our social interactions be more rich and nourishing, to know there's a hot meal with friends somewhere on a busy night or an open green space for our children to run around with lots of other children, pick blueberries, catch fireflies and explore nature freely in the shallows of a pond or while caring for farm animals? Where we can have a place to sit and relax with a glass of wine in the garden while the children's imaginations have room to romp and grow?

Out of these intention-filled desires we created The Commons. Traditionally, a commons is a land, house or resource that belongs to and is shared by a community, that is not owned either privately or publicly. It is that which we hold in common. Our “Commons” is a solutions oriented community that supports healthy, abundant and joyful living through membership based collaborative resource sharing. The Commons will create community gathering spaces that bring back the essence of nurturing relationships, both to each other, to nature and to a simpler and more sustainable way of living for ourselves and our families.

Our first commons is the Hemphill House. As mothers, we naturally wanted our first community gathering space to reflect and be open and inviting space for families.
Hemphill House Commons offers:
Residences held in common with extensive grounds and gardens
Pampering amenities
Farm fresh whole food meals, snacks, beverages
Discussion groups and adult classes
Free Range Kids Program -a childhood discovery program and "open classroom"
adult sports, dance and yoga
holistic and sustainable lifestyle enrichment

Thursday, May 27, 2010

An invitation...

Join us for an inspiring evening of good food, fun and friends as we collaborate on the concepts of The Commons and Free Range Childhood program. The Commons is a solutions oriented community that supports healthy, abundant and joyful living through membership based resource sharing. Our flagship initiative is Free Range Childhood, an expansive learning environment and outdoor classroom which facilitates children and families being directly involved in shaping their own education. We are committed to the belief that all students must be free to develop naturally as human beings in a non-coercive educational environment and empowered to make decisions affecting their everyday lives and that of their community.

Saturday May 29th,Tuesday June 1st, Friday June 4th

5pm-7pm Tours of the Hemphill House, informal presentation followed by a question and answer session

7- 8 Lasagna Dinner featuring local organic salad and Farm and Sparrow bread
Sliding scale adult meal 9-900$ and child plate 5-12years 6-600$

8-9 Bonfire and conversation

We are currently based out of The Hemphill House, a large historic home just 5 minutes from downtown Asheville. Hemphill House is located on two flat acres with a pond and stream backed by 14 wooded acres. The property serves as a commonly held space for classes, dinners, discussion groups, parties, and day-to-day activities.

Our main focus at Hemphill House is a multi-generational, all ages open classroom which allows children and adults to shape and be responsible for their own learning and self-growth while participating in the daily life of a small farm and extended community.

Planned Offerings include:
Experiential Learning
Life Skills
Personalized Academic Options
Animal Husbandry
Wild plant identification and wild-crafting
Fire-building and outdoor cooking
Food preparation and preservation
Art and creative exploration
Dance and Movement
and lots of play...

Address and Directions:
5 Hemphill Road, Asheville, NC 28803

From Asheville, follow 240 to 74 east towards Fairview. GO about half a mile. After you pass the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance, Hemphill Road will be the next road on your Left. Number 5 is the first driveway on the right.

RSVP required email or call Rosetta @ 828-606-7386
How many and dietary choices (vegan, vegetarian, meat, gluten-free)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wednesday in the Evening

Charlotte Mason said that, "Education is a science of relationships."
What that means practically is that we, or our children, have not to know of things, but to KNOW them intimately - to have lasting relationships with ideas, places and people. To develop friendships with good books, with how paint color spreads on wet paper, with pond shallows and stream beds, with the way birds stand sentinel and the greens of the trees deepen as the sun goes down, the way the whipporwill sings right at the very moment dusk falls.
These relationships can't be built within the four walls of a classroom or from reading dry facts from textbooks. They can't even be taught. They need to be discovered and then left with quiet hours for a close relationship to develop.
That is what Hemphill House is about.
And it's not just the children. As I personally have gone through many life changes, I am awakening to the awareness that the whole world outside me is pulsating with relationships waiting to be consummated...driving the parkway at night with the windows down is my new friend, the French Broad River rolling beside me in the dark. The way the grass clumps in the pond convulse when the otter is eating a fish hidden in their stalks, the pile of bones I may or may not find later and the paths he leaves in the weedy green rushes going about his business. The slow tubular bodies of the bottom feeders sunning in the shallows, their black tails flicking them back into the dense overgrowth. Bright faces of children climbing trees, (and, truthfully, the log walls),(and anything else sturdy enough to support size 2 feet), hand-made drawings and boisterous voices. The invitation to discover alongside the children, sewing wonder back onto the worn thin parts of my soul. Stalking the present, tracing it's edges, like Emily Dickinson observing, "My business is circumference."
My kitchen utensils, (donated to the school's kitchen), are now strewn about the garden, muddy, and a row of exquisitely decorated mudpies line the walkway to the door.
The children have discovered an island where buttercups grow on the other side of the hidden stream and intimately know the patches where the forget-me-nots and wild strawberries thrive en masse.
There were lots of good people here for dinner tonight, children in bathing suits running up and down the hill, in and out of the water, food passed around, thoughts shared and built on, puppies coddled and put to bed, and friendships strengthened.
That is Hemphill House.
A science, a network, of relationships. And the invitation is open.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

For those interested...

We will be hosting our first informational open house / fundraiser dinner at 5pm Saturday, May 29th. Informational presentation, conversation, and tours from 5 to 7pm. Dinner at 7pm. Sliding scale donations for dinner 9-900$ for adults, 6-600$ for kids :)
Lasagna (vegan, vegetarian, local meat, and gluten free options available but you must RSVP!) dinner with local salad and Farm and Sparrow bread. Please RSVP number of people and dietary choices---- email
We're constantly talking about this thang -asking friends: what would a space look like that would fill the gaps in our busy, often urban lives - a place where the pace is a bit slower, where children are playing, blueberries and fresh vegetables are growing, where there is always a cup of tea or coffee and a few friends sitting around? We are excited about what this could be. We're creating a place that will best represent Asheville and our community's needs while at the same time will be reproducible elsewhere. We would love your dialogue and input as we shape and dream about what this space could mean and be.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Petra's List

My body aches. I am losing track of the vines I've pulled, the shrubs I've attacked, the flowers I've planted. By now the dirt is so embedded in my skin creases and fingernails that I have given up on trying to look ready for a night on the town. I said I have given up. It's more of a giving in, and not very reluctantly, to country life again. Accepting a less manicured body for a more manicured flower garden, relinquishing social chatter in favor of quiet observation. It didn't take much convincing - the slower and less pressured invitation to living, quiet walks with a glass of wine, early evening mist wrapping the fields and mountains, the air sweet and fragrant with honeysuckles and wildflowers. I fit with this.
Today Petra showed up at the house with a hand-written paper. She has been in public school Kindergarten this year and has enjoyed the orderliness of the classroom, structured learning and time with friends. Rosetta is letting her make up her own mind whether she would like to stay in school or join in at the commons. Petra has demonstrated the careful and thoughtful consideration with her decision that is not often associated with the "rashness" of childhood. The kind of intentionality that I deeply admire in her and reminds me why I enjoy the presence of children so much.
The paper she brought today was a carefully considered treatise of sort - a list of things which would comprise her ideal learning environment retaining the enjoyable aspects of her school classroom while examining the gaps which public school doesn't fill.
I am excited that the kind of learning space which empowers and liberates children to take a direct part of their own education and have control over what and how they learn happens so naturally and easily as long as children are given the space and encouragement to do their thing and be themselves.
Petra and I sat down on the outdoor couch and read over her list. And I do not see any reason why any of her desires would be unattainable.
This is what she wrote:
Petra numbecs (numbers)
Learning homwrc at scol
Dance aid (lemonade)
musick shekers (shakers)
firDSpinsinMg (firespinning, a special request of Rosetta)
centers prawiNg (drawing)
sweep mop
tousi (toys) JewleYy

The list will continue to grow and reflect the unshackled insight and clarity of the children who create the new space - who know what they want and are unimpeded in making it happen.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The pond and
The children clearing out the outdoor stone fire pit. Mmmm...summer soiree's.

Hemphill House

Thursday, May 20, 2010

In the beginning...

...there were two mothers, 9 children, 2 miniature ponies, a bunch of birds, some fish, a couple kittens, a passion for life, beauty, education, good food and good friends and a hunch that we could fit all of these things into a big log house with a pond and some gardens and call it...and call it....
Hmm. What to name it?
For now, we'll call it The Big House Commons at Hemphill. And our children will run free and muck in streams and make mud pies and sunshine tea and read books and care for chickens and grow food and that will be called Free Range Childhood - a new forward thinking (but old-fashioned in the truest sense) way of raising and educating our children communally.
Welcome to the beginning.