Friday, June 28, 2013

The School Around the Corner

Katie is starting kindergarten in the fall, and she'll be attending the school two blocks from our home.  You'd think that wouldn't be a big deal.  We live in a swanky school district in one of the wealthiest counties in the country.  Median income is very high.  We're not in a food desert, but food oasis.  Folks are very well educated.  Crime is low.  And we have great snow removal**!

But this particular school has a bit of a bad reputation, and many of my neighbors choose not to send their kids there.  There are lots of children who qualify for reduced or free lunch, and many are English language learners.  The school is Title 1.  The police are there all the time.  Public beatings? Par for the course.  There are drugs put in the food to subdue the riotous population.  Test scores are frighteningly terrible.  It feeds into an even scarier middle school (our area was gerrymandered into its zone despite the fact we live much closer to a wealthier school).

Okay, I *might* be exaggerating about a few of those items, but I did hear rumors about the police and drugs.  What's funny, though, is that except for one person whose child really did have a hard time, none of the statements were made by people whose kids attend the school, have attended the school, or will ever attend the school.  It was mostly "friend of a friend" type stuff, like the kid named Shithead (shuh-theed) everyone seems to know but no one has ever met.

Rumors in hand, I contacted the PTA co-presidents to hear another side of the story.  Both ladies told me how great their experiences have been and welcomed me into the circle of involved parents at the school.  I left that encounter resolved to at least give the school a shot, especially since all I saw at the Kindergarten Round-up were parents who were thirsty to dig right in and participate actively in their kids' educations.  I mean, I could hear them revving up their helicopter engines and mentally preparing their mile-long lists of sports and activities for their kids (competitive meatball rolling? Check!).  If those aren't signs of a great school, I don't know what is.

Everyone has their own sore points on schooling.  Some prefer homogeneity (white, rich, whatever, although many would never admit to that), others want strict academics even for the youngest children, high test scores, award winning sports teams, longer school days, exclusivity, legacy, yoga programs, organic food, language immersion, religious instruction, high hipster quotient, yaddah yaddah yaddah.  I only have three main desires: safety, proximity, and mandated recess and free play.  Yeah, I said proximity and did not mention achievement.  Walking to school has been a fantasy of mine for years, and I love that we're so close, in part to avoid the dreaded carpool line.    That might even be the primary reason we're choosing Roesland over the "better" schools further south.  If that sounds silly, well, there's a blogger who recently said she limited her family size to two kids in part because it's easier to seat a party of four in a restaurant.  Odd reasoning to me, but it works for her, and I don't really think she was joking. Anyway, another thing that I keep thinking about is that our part of the county is hemorrhaging young families--we're at risk of losing our public library branch, city revenue is down due to a large business moving down the street to a different town.  We moved here to stay, not to move out after a few years, and I'd like to put some faith in what my city has to offer, including its school.

I've thought about my own schooling experience, which was a mix of private and public schools.  The school I attended for 5th and 6th grade was in Memphis, TN, in a system that has now collapsed (to the horror of the county schools that were forced to merge with it).  Urban, kind of poor, ultra diverse, this school was a gem, supported by a very active PTA and some really awesome teachers (including Barbara Knight, who put on the greatest musicals ever.  I only remember one "formal" lesson taught by her, and that was when the principal was watching. Otherwise, it was loads of fun.  That was the year we also had this crazy substitute teacher who talked a lot about the show All My Children.  I have vague memories of this woman also talking about menstruation, and we were all appropriately grossed out and fascinated at the same time).  There was a bit of a culture shock, when I showed up on my first day wearing a freshly pressed sailor dress with my hair in braided pigtails--many of my classmates were amazed I didn't own a pair of jeans. The teachers called us by our last names, and the cafeteria food was very different from what I was used to. Despite losing a classmate (5th grade) and a teacher (6th),  I count that school as my personal favorite, although the "optional" (similar to "magnet") high school I went to was a close second, both a better match than the private all-girls middle school I attended for the next two years.  While our neighborhood school is distinctly suburban, I have a feeling it will be quite similar to the ones I attended (and I really hope there are some fun teachers and even crazy subs).  At least, I hope it will be.

Of course, with the introduction of high stakes testing, school environments are very different from when I was a child.  Maybe it'll be a bore for Katie or a social nightmare.  Perhaps there will be too much homework assigned or an emphasis on tasks that are a waste of time.  I won't know these things until we're there, though.  A school is more than its PTA President or its test scores (which are quite good, by the way), and we'll be learning if the culture is a fit.  If it's not, there are plenty of other public schools around (although they are a little homogeneous for my taste), and we could try out a private school since we would probably qualify for financial aid. And there's always homeschooling--eeek! Don't give me the usual arguments against it. Some of the weirdest people I know are products of public or private schools, including yours truly.  We have a huge secular homeschooling population 'round here, so there's plenty of socialization.

Whatever happens, we're blessed to live in an area where we're choosing between good and (possibly) better, not scary and struggling.  All the schools are accredited, and the facilities are beautifully well-maintained.  Even though we have a very tight budget, my family benefits from a lot of privilege and flexibility since I'm at home with the kids.  My children will enter school with great vocabularies and full bellies.  And their momma is a certified pain in the ass.  They will be just fine. Better than fine, in fact.

**I didn't appreciate that until I moved to Kansas City, where it does actually snow rather than like in the South, where we had pretend snow, accumulating a centimeter and throwing the entire space-time continuum into a singularity vortex composed of empty bread shelves and hundreds of wrecked 4WD SUVs.

Friday, June 21, 2013

You Rebel, You

I don't follow rules in the garden.  I ignore recommendations for spacing, I don't use sprays (organic or not), I water when I feel like it.

Most of the time it works, like my lovely dead tree planters.

My willingness to welcome garden volunteers has brought a few nice surprises.

Volunteer from the compost. Maybe a pumpkin?  Not sure, but I'm keeping it.
Appreciation for quirky rather than conventional garden tools.

Leaning tower of tomatoes.  These were 33 cent seedlings I bought late in May, so they're a little behind. Do you like our makeshift support system?
Planting outside the normal growing seasons...

The giant sunflower is the result of two seeds Katie planted in January.  They popped up and survived a ton of snow and freezing temps, although their growth was stunted until a few weeks ago.  The corn and other sunflowers have to catch up.

But sometimes I take risks that maybe aren't the smartest.  

Yes, I planted tomatoes in the same place as last year.  Why?  Because the spot I had chosen for 2013 is very close to the house, and we're crossing our fingers for some work to be done there.  I'd rather sacrifice the sunflowers than tomatoes.

What are the risks?  Disease and pests might have settled in last season.  We've already dealt with blight from all the wet conditions in late spring, so it turns out the "danger" was real.  However, I've just harvested a few small tomatoes, so maybe we'll be all right.  I made sure to plant both hybrid and heirloom varieties in hopes of tricking the bad bugs of summer.

Our first tomato along with tiny carrots.

I think the yard keeps getting better and better...and more eclectic despite my urge to buck the rules.  Will I have a crop to rival the success of 2012?  Who cares?!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sour Cherry Cobbler: Ask, and You Shall Receive

I have a neighbor with lovely fruit trees, and this year, her cherry tree has a bumper crop.  I walk by each day on the way to the school (they've been serving a hot lunch for the kids there), hoping to build up the courage to knock on the gal's door and ask if I can pick some.

Today, I got my wish.  I walked by and noticed a woman walking her dog--I asked if she lived in the house, and she said her daughter does.  I complimented the beautiful tree, and guess what?  She said we could pick as many as we'd like, especially since her daughter doesn't really bake.  I didn't even have to ask.

So rather than sweating and wilting in the heat, I sent Ryan over to pick some fruit.  I mean, it's really because he's the one who loves sour cherries, not because I'm lazy or anything.

This photo does not do the cherries justice. They were blood red.
He requested cobbler.  Since I had asked the universe for cherries and I got 'em without much effort at all, it seemed fair that I would make this guy a delicious dessert.  Of course, when I say "I", I actually mean, he pitted the cherries and helped me put this together.

The following recipe is still quite tart--Ryan and I loved it that way because the cherry taste was intoxicating, even if our lips puckered a bit.  And it's also kind of runny, but that could be our fault from not drying the cherries enough after washing them.  Texture aside, this dish was delicious.  The cherriest cherry dessert I've ever eaten.  In fact, if you had asked me yesterday if I liked sour cherries, I would've said no.  But

Whipped cream takes this dessert to another plane of yumminess.
Cherry Cobbler
6 cups pitted tart cherries
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
4 tsp corn starch

1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 T butter
1 egg beaten
3 T milk

Cook the cherries and next three ingredients in a sauce pan until bubbly and thickened a bit.  While that's cooking, mix up the first four ingredients of the topping.  Add in the butter and mix together with your hands (or cut it in).  In a separate bowl, mix the milk and egg together.  Add that to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Pour the cherries into an 8x8 pan or a round pan close to that size.  Spoon the topping onto the cherries. Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes.

Cool and serve. Try to hold back from going straight to the neighbor's yard again to pick more cherries.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Coolest Dad on Earth

Happy Father's Day to the few dudes who stop by here.  Ryan's off enjoying a motorcycle safety course today, and the kids and I are waiting on the grass to dry off a bit.

Did you hear Ryan's good news?  He'll be starting a new job, I mean, *career* next week.  After eight years in technical writing, he's making a move into IT.  And he was recently accepted in the Master of Science in IT at University of Kansas, starting in the fall.  He's thrilled, I'm thrilled, the kids are unimpressed.  Only downside is that explaining his job will be a tad more complex now. Rather than being able to point to an owner's manual as an example of his work, he'll have to make weird Matrix references and throw in a few opaque acronyms that will confound more than explain.  Personally, I have no idea what he'll be doing now, although I've heard the word "Linux" thrown in.  That'll have to do for now.  (As a side note, I've been reading the Hyperion series, and perhaps I'll just tell everyone Ryan's part of the TechnoCore. Or maybe he's a Cybrid? Shoo, at least he's not the Shrike.)

Anywho...We are proud of you, Ryan!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Springiest Summer

It's been lovely here in Kansas City.  When it's not been raining, that is.  We had to pump a couple of inches of water out of the basement a couple of weeks ago.  Thankfully, my psychic powers told me it was going to happen, and nothing got damaged.

Other things happenin' around the Kiefer Cottage:

Picking strawberries near Lawrence, KS.  We lasted a little more than half an hour before the sad faces started cropping up.

Enjoying summer salads and grilled meats out in the yard.

Buying a motorcycle for Ryan's long commute.  The Rabbit went to a new home. Now Ryan may not complain about anything for the next four years.  Food too salty? Don't forget the motorcycle.  Too many chores?  You've got a motorcycle.  Sad you have to shower each day? Motorcycle!

Finding a couple funky chairs at the local furniture market for a great price.

Testing paint colors on the kitchen cabinets.  Loving the Provence color!

What've you been up to?

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