Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Carpet of Forget-Me-Nots

"There is a certain rhythm to rearing children and growing a garden.  They both require patience.  And watching.  And love." -- Molly Chappelett

This beautiful quotation speaks to my heart, especially in the spring as my garden wakes from its slumber.  I garden as I mothered -- sowing the seeds and gently tending, with no strict requirements --allowing both my children and my plants to become what they were destined to be.  

I have never been drawn to neat little beds of flowers.  I love a profusion of flowers.  My lily-of-the-valley migrate to the stone walk nearby; my thyme and oregano cascade over the little stone wall in my front yard.  My garden evolves -- as the canopy of leaves on my maple tree has shaded more and more of one garden, the showier flowers have given way to quieter plants with tinier flowers.  The birds and the winds carry new surprises to the gardens.  Where phlox once thrived in one garden, it is being replaced with black raspberry bushes which I never planted.

There are disappointments in the garden, as well.  Of the twelve climbing rose bushes I planted with loving care six years ago along the fence, only three or four remain -- and they look none too healthy at this point.  How sad for me -- a lover of roses!  This year I will try some other less fussy plants by the fence.  Along the driveway, in a patch of direct sunlight, a mix of phlox, coneflowers and a lovely yellow flower thrive.  Three years ago I bought one of the yellow flowers at a Garden Club sale -- the little old man who sold it to me didn't know its name, but said it grew very tall -- he was right.  Not only did it grow tall, it has also reseeded itself abundantly to provide a lush contrast to the pinks and purples growing alongside it.

How imperfect my garden is -- always changing, always growing outside its boundaries, fighting for space with a weed that haunts our neighborhood and makes my weeding chores difficult.  How much patience is required as I wait each year to see if the wisteria will finally bloom.  How frustrating when the deer eat the tulips as their leaves come out of the ground and the woodchuck devours the phlox out back before it has had time to blossom.

But, how beautiful it is was this morning to walk out into the yard and find a carpet of blue and white forget-me-nots.  Of course, this means the lawn will not be mowed anytime soon -- who can possibly mow down a carpet of flowers.  And so, my untidy, lush gardens thrive -- trees, berries, herbs and flowers -- raised with patience and watching and, most of all, love.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Grandma's Potato Salad

My family gathers today at my son and daughter-in-law's home for an early Easter celebration.  Yesterday afternoon I made cupcakes with pastel icing and prepared my first potato salad of the season.  As I peeled and cooked the potatoes, diced the onions, snipped newly born chives from the garden, sprinkled in salt, pepper, celery salt and dill, then stirred everything together with Hellman's mayonnaise, my grandmother was in my thoughts.  My potato salad recipe was passed down from her, along with a lovely little covered dish which ALWAYS was used to serve her salad. 

No summer picnic was complete without Grandma's potato salad.  As she grew too old to cook, my mother took over the salad-making, and the tradition continued with my sister, my cousin, and myself.  I was the lucky one who claimed ownership of the pretty covered dish, which now bears a crack in its lid from an unfortunate kitchen accident.

Through the years I have made "adjustments" to the recipe.  I added fresh chives and lovage when I started my herb garden years ago, and dill when I sampled a good friend's potato salad which included chopped pickles (so much of my cooking has been influenced by friends).  I have deleted the chopped boiled eggs which were so much a part of Grandma's salad, because my daughter and one daughter-in-law do not like eggs. 

And so, today as we gather, once again Grandma's potato salad will be part of our celebration, and she will be with us in spirit.  One day I will pass along the special little dish (which is much too small for the larger salad I now make for our growing family), and the recipe will continue on in the now tiny hands of my grandchildren. 

I wish you all a Blessed Easter in the company of loved ones and traditions new and old --

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

High Tech or Well Rounded??

I walked down the aisle of the high school auditorium and settled into my seat to watch the school production of "Anything Goes."  As I waited for the lights to dim, the thought crossed my mind that this auditorium has changed very little since I was in elementary school over fifty years ago, attending "Children's Theater" productions two or three times a year.  The seats were scratchier then, to a fidgety little girl who enjoyed being away from my classroom much more than I enjoyed the play I was watching.  In high school I remember sitting through numerous assemblies and award programs, and as a mother I once again attended "moving-up" ceremonies and various other functions in this same room.  Being assailed by memories frequently is the curse/blessing of a "townie", who has lived her entire life in the same small town.

Throughout the evening, as I watched the talented young people perform, my mind wandered back to my educational experiences in this school district. Over the past several years, as politicians have tried to "improve" the educational system in this country, I have found myself increasingly at odds with their goals and methods.  It seems in their efforts to educate our children to compete in our high-tech world, they have lost sight of the value of a well-rounded education. While I agree that we must arm our young people with the technical skills necessary in this global economy, I worry that the strong emphasis on science and math, coupled with mandatory standardized testing at all levels is a detriment to our society.  

As declining federal and state aid and property tax budget constraints necessitate cuts across the board, it seems to me that funds for education are being targeted at an alarming rate, and we have forgotten that well-educated children are our greatest resource.  In this complicated world, we should be raising our children to think for themselves and giving them the skills to thoughtfully analyze the barrage of information coming to them constantly from the internet, TV, and social media.  Instead, it seems we are teaching them primarily the information pertinent to the tests they will be required to take.

Additionally, teacher accountability has become based more and more on the scores students receive on these standardized tests.  I feel this is unfair to the teachers, as well as to the students.  As I look back on my school years, the teachers from whom I learned the most were those who didn't always follow the lesson plan for the day.  They were the teachers who talked to us -- who listened and discussed ideas.  They made us think and defend our theories.  They gave us the gift of their time and knowledge.  Today, those same teachers might be hesitant to get "off track", because they must spend precious time teaching facts that will be on the required tests.  

Also, if teachers are evaluated based on student test scores, how is this fair across the board.  A student in a low-income school district where there is little parental support is unlikely to test as well as a student from a wealthy district where education is a priority.  Will the teacher in the low-income district be judged less effective?

I was a bright student who graduated with honors, but my strengths were definitely not in math and science.  I had maintained wonderful grades in math until I took algebra. My teacher was experienced and extremely competent, but even with the extra time she spent with me, I just could not "do" algebra.  For the first time in my life, I got a "C".  I was devastated.  Through the years I have learned that I totally lack technical abilities.  This was not my algebra teacher's fault, but if she was evaluated on my test scores, she would have been judged less effective. 

I realize that we are competing in a global economy which has become increasingly more technical and specialized.  Of course we need young people who are highly trained in math and science in order to maintain an edge in this economy.  However, I fear in our efforts to survive in our high tech world we are losing sight of our humanity.  In our nation there has been a place at the table for people with varying gifts and strengths.  Our educational system has produced great artists, musicians, athletes, and writers who have contributed to this humanity.  

I do not want to see our nation become filled with one-dimensional people who have been taught to perform their jobs with perfection and precision, yet lack the ability or choice to pursue their own bliss, or to think for themselves.  I want our teachers to be able to nurture the love of learning for its own sake, and to have the freedom and time to go into greater depth on a subject that sparks the interest of their individual students, rather than fearfully adhering to the limitations necessary to produce the highest test scores possible.

Most children can tell whether or not their teacher is a good teacher.  Most adults can look back and remember which teachers inspired them to learn and grow.  We don't need standardized test scores to govern our educational system.  We need competent, caring teachers who do not feel they are "under the gun" as they perform this most important job -- the job of educating our most precious resource.