Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Groundwork Laid...The Coming Fall

With our first summer coming to a close and the fall on our doorstep, we are starting to think about our structure for the fall.
We will be having open houses every Tuesday for the next two weeks in which interested families can stop in for a visit. We'll have refreshments and information and can talk about the structure and plans for the fall.
If you know of any families interested in truly alternative education and supportive community, please pass along our information. There is a "family" forming that is varied and beautiful and we are excited about what is and what will come.
Somw great news is that we have really fun new staff. Sparrow Pants, accordian player, artist, circus performer, acrobatic wonder, music teacher, and all around super mom and great teacher is here every Monday and Tuesday doing all sorts of stuff. Today as I write, the kids are playing musical chairs to the accordian out on the porch and have been learning rounds and folk songs with her the last couple of days.
Hanifa, the exuberant Kosovo matriarch who I have mentioned several time in this blog, will be here every Wednesday and Friday, loving the children, helping with the younger children, cooking and gardening.
Ongoing is:

Monday: Music and Partner Acrobatics with Sparrow
Crafts and Sewing
Herbalism with Michelle every other Monday afternoon
Tuesdays: Music with Sparrow
Cooking lessons with Cookie of Morning Glory Cafe
Outdoor Games
Wednesdays: Yoga with Asheville Yoga Instructor,Mado
Art and Painting with Denise
Guitar Lessons with Juan Holladay of the B-Sides
Belly Dancing with Logan of Body Lyrics and Baraka Mundi
Thursdays: TBA
Fridays: Yoga with Mado
Canoeing and Pond day

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

We Like Cold Beverages

So when I was a kid, I knew making a plastic pitcher of Kool-Aid like the back of my hand. A packet of red powder, a (larger than necessary) scoop of white sugar, fill with cold water, stir and stir, taste test frequently off the wooden spoon and presto! A big sugary vat of artificial flavor and color on the rocks!

During the summer months here at the House, we want to keep everyone duely hydrated during long days of outdoor play. We have a small table with fresh flowers and two large clear pitchers - one with water and one with daily made lemonade, lime-ade or cold herbal fruit tea. The kids have also mastered a handful of other natural summer beverages that are very satisfying and have been rewarding to make. Here are a few of our favorites:

HERBAL SUMMER TEAS: Today we have hot-brewed mint tea that one mother made with a touch of agave and then refridgerated.
We've experimented with different sun-teas. Tomorrow we will be trying fresh mint, blueberry honey tea. We'll put the mint and blueberries in a large jar, fill with water, cover and set it out in the sun for 4-5 hours. Stir in honey and serve.
Our favorite and easiest for the summer is Celestial Seasonings Cool Brew tropical fruit herbal tea. It has hibiscus, rooibos, honeybush, rosehips and other delicious things. You just put a few bags in cold water, add a few drops of stevia and keep in a pitcher outdoors for the day.

BANANA MILKSHAKES: Almost Daily! Rosetta bought a huge quantity of over-ripe bananas for .10 cents a pound. The kids peeled and froze them in bags. All we have to do is take a few out each day, put them in the blender, cover with milk and you have a very sweet and satisfying milkshake.

SPARKLING WATERMELON SODA: Inspired by a friend's recent birthday party. We scoop out watermelon chunks, put them in the blender, pour a few inches of cold seltzer water over it and blend on smoothie setting. When the watermelon is really ripe and sweet...oh goodness.

LEMONADE AND LIME-ADE: Depending on the day, the kids will squeeze fresh lemons or limes. In hurries, we just use bottled juice, add water and stevia to taste.

FLOWER ICE: Tomorrow we will be freezing edible flowers from our garden and strawberries into ice cube trays to make adornment for our blueberry mint tea.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rainy Monday

Yesterday was our first rainy day here at the House. Which goes to show how much we needed the rain. Which also means for the first four weeks of the program, the children have been outside almost every moment of every day. That is a brilliant kind of success.
Not having a big rainy day plan, we make-shifted a few activities while the kids, free from the obligatory parental, "Don't get your clothes wet," spent most of their day "washing their hair" under the roof run-off, playing and dancing in the downpour, ("Dancing in the rain is my favorite thing!" - Wren), and playing in the large puddles forming in the driveway, (supervised, of course).
Instead of just lighting incense at the beginning of the day, when we open up the space and wake up and bless the house, we kept it burning all day. We lit candles in the kitchen, kept the coffeee pot on, baked sweet cornbread and biscuits and talked and dreamed about where we're going. We need to keep doing that regularly.
The kids and I played memory and logic games sitting in a big circle and walking around the living room with papers stuck to our foreheads. We read books, built with blocks, worked on geometry puzzles.
We set up the art table to make miniature books, but no-one was really into it. There were a few new children here and everyone was mostly excited to play in the rain and with newly made friends.
A big group of kids found a monster puddle in the driveway. Literally. They came running on the porch at one point to announce that there was, in fact, a monster in the puddle. Petra, who had been brave enough to wade into the middle, had seen two eyes and felt something grab her leg.
It didn't seem to keep them away too long. They systematically threw boots, rocks, paper and anything else they could find into the puddle to find out what floats and what sinks.
We spent the last minutes of the day tidying up and doling out the dry and clean clothes between the children - like the fish and loaves, there seemed to be more than enough go around with a few to spare. (It helps that our apartment is upstairs).

Sometimes I feel a bit inadequate that I don't have anything to send home with the kids at the end of the day. No special craft project or stack of papers.
I was telling a friend about it this evening, wondering if I had done enough. Did I have enough activities? Should I have planned something more concrete?

She said, the day you just described sounds like a dream day from my childhood. If you had been my teacher, I would have LOVED you.

She also reminded me that being here with the children each day, being present, intuiting the flow of the day and responding accordingly- improv in its' best sense- is a huge creative endeavor. It is a very specific and special kind of work - holding positive and imaginative space open for 12-18 children each day.

We do plan a lot of projects for the kids. There are always ongoing ideas and creative ventures happening. Last week, our bathroom was filled up and covered in vines, soaking in the bathtub. This week, just a perfect circlular "sun" spiral of last week's progress on the basket we are weaving from those vines.

Education, like friendship, like community, like any kind of meaningful and lasting growth, should also be a slow process. And it needs both sunshine and rain, busy days and quiet days.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Gratitude and Abundance, a community house's prayer

And this is just one week's worth! :

Thank you, David, for showing up unexpectedly with 8 dozen eggs from your farm. We made gorgeous omelettes and ate our fill. We sent boxes of eggs home with friends and family.

Thank you Michelle for bringing vegetables from your garden, unasked for. We made an amazing huge pot of soup. There was so much leftover we packed it in recycled yogurt containers and sent some home for dinner with almost every family.

Thank you Hanifa for more vegetables from your garden the next day! I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and wasn't sure if we'd have enough food that day.
We talked in the kitchen chopping vegetables while Warren took the children for a walk in the woods. We ate the "fruit of paradise" ; you said keeping busy was the best way to stay alive and I believe women who have lived in refugee camps with 6 children in tow.
We threw everything in the pot, reminding me of Stone Soup, put it over rice and lunch was perfect. We had lots left to feed visitors who stayed and ate with us on the porch. They went back for seconds, thirds. There is still some left to give to the children who will come tomorrow with special dietary needs.

Thank you also for the bag of new toys; the children dived into them with relish and got started right away using the kitchen stuff for fresh mud pies and flower soups.
Thanks you for your big Kosovo heart. The children always ask when you will come and greet you each day with special respect. Noah, my perceptive and discerning preteen who does not dole out compliments lightly, said that you were the kindest person he knew.

Thank you Jodi, dear friend and Short Street Cakes lady, for showing up this week and jumping right in. For swooning with the palpable magic of the space, for making plantain polstices and cleaning up the dishes and affirming all the good that's happening here. Can't wait for you to come bake cakes the old way.

And Emma, worker-owner of Firestorm Cafe and community activist, for believing in community ownership and coming to help when I had no-one else to fill in. For staying long hours on the porch talking and dreaming about how you could bring your jewlery making tools and skills and offering to help if ever I need it. And reminding me of that several times. You said community education is worth volunteering time and energy and resources to even though you, yourself, don't have children. You believe in it.

Thank you Warren for taking walks with the kids, for getting out the microscope after the walk and being present while everyone came to take looks at beetle's wings and frog's blood and tree skin cells.

Thank you Mado, for weaving magic with the yoga you do with the children. It is one of my favorite parts of the week. It was amazing to see almost every kid filling up the yoga room, totally present. You bring so much awareness and creativity to everything you do. I feel blessed when you show up each week.

Thank you, Juan, busy as you are, for coming to play guitar with the kids and loving it. It's a whole level of coolness to have a Asheville super star here every week, loving to be with the kids. The day always gets better when you walk in with your grace and peace, even though you're busy, and really show up for the kids- spending more time than planned every week because you're so into it. As a result they're so into it.

Thank you Denise, for volunteering your time and centeredness and long years of experience to guide the children through art every Wednesday. There were so many kids out with you on the porch and a Zen calm filling the whole thing. The way you make yourself accessible but not obtrusive and stay for long hours so the children can flow in and out of it naturally is really beautiful and works so well with the atmosphere we are trying to create. It makes our Wednesdays so enjoyable.

Thank you Logan for coming even though you and Malachi had had an exhausting week, because you knew the girls were looking forward to belly-dancing again. Another Asheville super-star bringing professional teaching to the kids with a huge amount of love and positivity. You and all those girls dressed up and giggling, jangling hips and waving fans, is about as cute as it gets. No-one can resist peeking in. It means so much that people are not only giving lip service to the project but are personally comitted to making this happen each week. That alone overwhelms me with humility and gratitude, that I get to be right here in the middle of it.

Thank you every off-the-charts incredible child showing up with your goodness. To watch you do your stuff - caring for each other, all ages, and working through problems and spending hours making art and making games and making food and making fun every day makes me feel as if I'm in a beautiful dream every single day. Today Lucius told his mom, "I was a real artist! I spent the whole day at this art table!" And the art table showed every sign of intensive use. It was gorgeous.

Thank you for the mystery and the unseen hands that hold it all together. It is goodness in the making.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

From Jodi of Short Street Cakes, Asheville: an amazing woman in her own right and dear friend

"Jasper and I just spent the morning at Hemphill House Commons, the freerange childhood homestead/freeschool started by my friends Mary Ellen Phillips and Rosetta Star of Rosettas Kitchen. This experience is inspiring me on many levels.
In just a few hours, in a totally spontaneous way, we and the kids 1)made a plantain poultice for one of the kid's bee sting, 2) saw seahorses, spiderwebs, and a rabbit skeleton, 3) cared for plants and miniature ponies, 4) learned about knife safety cutting up beets for lunch 4) cleaned the kitchen communally 5) had some great conversations and 6) learned how to play fuzball, among many other things.
I am inspired by my friends, who are creating family and community structures that are flexible, organic, functional, and specific to place. I'm inspired by the way that this project (and many others in town) can be seen as a continuation of the groundwork towards true sustainable community that has evolved in the ten years that I've lived in Asheville- I'm thinking ACRC, Asheville Freeschool, and many others. I'm continually inspired by the people that continue to take risks, take leaps, and follow their hearts.
It was like summer camp, but it was more like life."

Monday, July 5, 2010

New Educational Paradigms

Warren is at the table eating cherries with Mira, who is humming and carefully placing her cherry pits in the small striped bowl designated just for that.
Mia is holding the cockatiel reclining on the sofa, intently observing it's avian habits.
There are boys on the porch gathered around the new foosball table. There are kids on the trampoline.
It is cool today and quiet. A change from the hot, busy and bustling days earlier in the week. I am using this time to do some research, writing and catching up.
Three educational models prominently on my mind are Reggio schools of urban post-war Italy, Krishnamurti schools of southern India and The Appalachian Settlement School Movement of rural eastern Kentucky at the turn of the century.
I am drawn to these models because they realised and acted upon the socio-economic, cultural, spiritual and historical uniqueness of their specific communities, children and families. They recognized the limits, destructiveness and ineptitude of solely academic learning based on homogenizing individuals to serve obsolete purposes and institutional needs. They shaped new and creative social institutions to best serve and meet the needs of their communities and a changing world.
Specific to all as well is the spiritual recognition of the need for space to facilitate both an inward focus, paying attention to our internal hemisphere and emotional responses, in addition an outward focus, paying attention to our human impact on natural ecosytems around us.
In looking for good models to draw from, I am especially inspired by The Center for Learning, outside Bangalore, India. Friends of mine spent time working in their extended community and turned me on to their website. I have been inspired by the work they have done in creating a model reflecting the values we also hold closely to. From their website:

CFL is a community of students and adults interested in learning about ourselves and our relationship with the world. This learning involves not only academics and other life skills, but also a deeper exploration about our emotions and thought processes and the way we respond to the challenges of life.

Centre For Learning...is an attempt to explore the nature of learning and its relationship to the challenges we face today. We feel that living creatively and meaningfully demands from each of us a serious inner enquiry free from dogma and ideology. Without this, there looms the danger of losing ourselves in a world that values achievement and success above all else, unmindful of the damage to nature and community. Education has been reduced to preparing the young to compete in such a world...

As educators, we wish to meet the challenge of creating an environment where children and adults can inquire together in freedom, security and affection. Perhaps this can awaken a creativity in the individual, which will contribute greatly toward a spirit of responsibility and regeneration in society. The curriculum also aims to help students discover their interests and nurture rigorous skills in academic and non-academic areas.

To Live

Really to live requires a great deal of love, a great feeling for silence, a great simplicity with an abundance of experience; it requires a mind that is capable of thinking very clearly, that is not bound by prejudice or superstition, by hope or fear. All this is life, and if you are not being educated to live, then education has no meaning. You may learn to be very tidy, have good manners, and you may pass all your examinations; but, to give primary importance to these superficial things when the whole structure of society is crumbling, is like cleaning and polishing your fingernails while the house is burning down.

J Krishnamurti

Friday, July 2, 2010

Closing Monday

Free Range Childhood will be closed on Monday, July 5th for a family holiday, mid-summer's break. We'll see you on Tuesday.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


We all concur that we love visitors! So many people are curious about the project. And there is usually some fun or interesting thing going on. We welcome you to stop by for a little or alot - just be aware of the life being lived around the house and that we may be fairly busy. Often visitors will pitch in for a bit and become a part of the "life" of the day. It's also usually a welcome break to take a few minutes to give tours,(the children are very adept at this by now as well), sit and talk over tea and answer questions in person.
Hemphill House is quickly becoming what it was intended to be: a community, a "fellowship", a place where children and parents can be valued and supported and enjoy good company.
It's the most fun when we have the most neat people around. Feel free to stop by and check it out if you're curious.
The address is on the info of our blog and directions are simple to mapquest.

So Much

Tired. But the very best kind.

Yesterday: yoga, painting, group and private guitar lessons, zombie tag, burritos, a yellow jacket nest, homemade bubble making, two kittens, a puppy, the "options" game, a fairy palace out of sticks, two new kids, and ended the day with a great big mess and lots of girls dressed in jangles and Indian dress sets bellydancing with Logan well past closing hours: choreographing and performing with a total and utter lack of self-apprehension. It was beautiful. We all yelled and clapped and laughed. It was a party, a parade, and it was all homemade!

Today: dulcimer fever gettin' down in the great room to Bile Dem Cabbage Down, welcome friends and new faces stopping by every day here to get more information and a feel for our "thang" - curious about the newness and the differentness. Folk- dancing on the porch, artisan bread baking, more "scenarios" games - the big kids huddled on the trampoline for hours discussing what would you do in nuclear fall-out? Frog hunts and subsequent frog-terrarium-making. Beatles on loud and on repeat, (the 11 and 12 year old boys are DJ'ing - they keep hacking into the i-tunes), dress-up and tag and more kitten time. A baby chicken was born to Rosetta's hen, wet and dewy, but has not yet arrived at the House - we need chicken tractors!

Did I mention a mess? It is Annie Dillard who coined "this beautiful mess" and I concur.

The highlight of my day was a little tinkly sound behind me while playing dulcimer. I kept turning around to see Lucius, our bright and brilliant self-occupier, working hard on his marble tower - having opted out of dulcimers. I couldn't figure out where the tinkling sound was coming from. Finally, hearing it very loudly, I looked down and saw that he had placed the little brass Glockenspiel (a beautiful sounding pentatonic zylophone) under his marble tower so that as the marbles came down, they made music. That's why I'm here.

More thoughts this weekend. Keep posted.