Soltane celebrated Halloween this past weekend! It was a great time to get a feel for what students and residents are interested in, since everyone picks their own costume! I also enjoyed seeing the creativity that went into the costumes! My house was in charge of the Halloween festivities. Mary, my householder, planned a costume lantern walk throughout the campus. We would all dress up in costumes and each have a lantern. Starting at the furthest house on campus; we would pick up each house we passed until we reached our final destination, the bonfire! Each house was requested to bring muffins for folks to snack on during the bonfire party.
There were some pretty interesting costumes at the bonfire! Our house dressed as a group; we were all robots! Another house on campus all dressed up as zombie gangsters, there were a few Harry Potter characters, and several witches with brooms!
I've been at Soltane just around 30 days and I'd like to share a few things I've learned during my time here.
- It's not work. It's life.
- Need something? Call another house and they'll be more than willing to share what they have.
- Birthdays are the most talked about thing on campus.
- Morning meeting can actually confuse you about the schedule more than you already were.
- Living with 10 people is completely different than living alone.
- But cooking for 10 isn't much harder than cooking for 1.
- Zappos.com still delivers just as fast.
- Saturday is cleaning day.
- When it rains, it pours. Literally.. I haven't seen a 'shower' yet, just buckets of rain!
- But when it's not pouring.. it's beyond beautiful here.
- I've laughed more than I've ever laughed before.
- Making a home-made pie crust isn't as much work as I thought it would have been.
- Michaelmas Day is a holiday.
- There are hills in Pennsylvania.
I'd now like to expand a bit more on Michaelmas. I came into Soltane not knowing a darn thing about Michaelmas.. and now that it has come and passed.. I feel like I may know a tad bit more. From what I absorbed from a talk given on Michaelmas.. it's the beginning of the Autumn season when the days become shorter and the weather becomes cooler. It's a time for us to 'prepare ourselves' for Winter, as depressing as that sounds. But, Winter is a bit of a downer since it's so cold and usually gloomy. Many people have a hard time during the colder seasons (like myself) and need a little preparation beforehand. Michaelmas is also about St. Michael defeating a dragon of some sort. This is where my information gets a little fuzzy. I guess I should do a little more reading.
At Soltane we had a festival that involved the 'Trials of Courage'. Each house set up a 'challenge' for the other houses to participate in. One of the houses had a haunted house, another had a blind taste test, and our house had a balance beam. This gave the students/residents a chance to test their courage and attempt to defeat their 'inner dragon'. The students/residents weren't required to participate, but if they wanted to test their courage.. they were welcome to! Many of the students/residents didn't enjoy being blindfolded but opted to close their eyes instead! I was lead through a blindfolded obstacle course by one of the post-grads, Ted. He held my hand all the way through and I only ran into one thing! After the challenge, Ted didn't inform me we were finished.. and I was unaware it was over.. because I was blindfolded. So we just kept walking around hand in hand. I kept asking 'I feel like we should be done now.. haven't we crossed the finish line?' and he would respond, 'NOPE!'. I'm fairly certain we went through the course 3 times before he told me we were done. It was actually a challenge trusting Ted! I could not see a single thing in front of me! Ted is also 'nonverbal', even though he does a lot of talking, so during our time on the course he was silent. I knew I wasn't going to fall or run into anything dangerous.. so I just let him lead the way! He held my hand tightly the whole time so I knew we would be A-OK!
The end of Michaelmas ended with an apple social and a few of our students joining in together to sing 'We will rock you' by Queen. Not sure what sparked the start of that song but it was awesome! Oh what a joy it is to be living at Soltane. Here's to many more happy months ahead of BHW and me! *Cheers!*
Each day at Soltane is different, for the students and the co-workers. I'll give you a run down of how an average day would go:
7:10am - WAKE UP! A co-worker should be up and ready for the day at 7:10. It is now their duty to wake up the students who need a little assistance getting out of bed (example: someone keeps hitting the snooze button). Our house does showers in the evening, so no one takes a shower in the morning. Each house is different though. Then the students are responsible for putting on their clothes for the day, washing their face, and brushing teeth.
7:30am - Gather up everything for breakfast. The students are responsible for setting the table and pouring water into each glass. A normal breakfast in Emerson house is granola and yogurt with fruit. The granola and yogurt is made in-house at Emerson! It's so awesome to have something so healthy right at our fingertips! Since there are 10 of us here, the most in any house on campus, we try to save money when possible. That's why we make our own granola and yogurt, we go through it like water!
7:45am - Morning circle time. Morning circle is when the entire house gathers around the couches and we read a verse/devotion/inspiring poem and have a moment of quiet before our busy days begin. There is a candle lit before morning circle and is extinguished after our moment of quiet. Once the smoke rises to the ceiling.. the student who put out the candle invites us to breakfast by saying 'Shall we go and eat?'
8:00am - Breakfast time! At Emerson, we eat every meal at the table together. After breakfast, each student is responsible for collecting one thing to clean and put away. Someone takes cups, someone takes place mats, someone takes bowls, etc. This means the clean up time is pretty quick and is also gets everyone involved and feeling accomplished!
8:45am - Off for a walk/bike ride. We try to get out the door by 8:45 or earlier to get some fresh air before classes/workshops. This doesn't always happen, but it's a goal we strive for!
9:00am - Classes and workshops begin! The undergrads go to their courses (handwriting, gardening, history, movement, etc) while the post-grads spend their mornings in workshops (land crew, kitchen, or community service. Some of our students could also be at work off campus or at therapy. The therapy that takes place off campus is usually at the horse farm, either riding or grooming the horses. During workshop.. I'm just another student! I work side by side with the students all morning! We talk and get to know each other while we're working.
12:15pm - Home for lunch! Lunch is usually soup and salad or leftovers from dinner! This is also the only independent meal that we have at Emerson. Independent meal means each student is responsible for dishing up their own food and cleaning their own dishes after they are finished. Even though it's independent, we still all eat together at the table.
1:00pm - After lunch has been cleaned up, it is time for each student to quietly go to their rooms and spend the next couple hours. Some students (most in our house) take a nap! Other students listen to music or read, we also have one student in our house who Skypes with him mom everyday! Since the students are in their rooms, it gives the co-workers a chance to rest too, I usually nap for a bit and then do yoga.
3:00pm - Off to afternoon classes! The classes in the afternoon are usually more upbeat courses like movement or hiking. One day a week, I stay home from 3-5 and prepare dinner for the house. If I'm not doing that, I'm in classes with everyone else! Some days I'm in hiking and others I'm busy in ecology!
5:00pm - The students return from their classes and get a little relaxation time before dinner.
5:30pm - The table is set by students and evening circle takes place. At evening circle we enjoy a couple minutes of quite and then blow the candle out again.
6:00pm - Dinner is served! Before dinner we say a short blessing. It goes a little something like this: 'Earth who gives to us this food, Sun who makes it ripe and good, dear Earth dear Sun by you we live, our love and thanks to you we give. May the meal be blessed!' Then, the person who cooked dinner dishes everyone up and we dig in!
7:00pm - After dinner is cleaned up, we usually all go for a walk or bike ride! Most students in our house enjoy walking or riding alone. But some of our students need a little assistance to make sure they don't ride out to the public road.
8:30pm - Time for bed, sleepyheads! It's time for students to prepare themselves for their night of sleep! Showers are taken and teeth are brushed! I do not help with any personal care, but some of our students need help in the showers. During this time I make sure the kitchen is clean and everything is in it's place for tomorrow. 'Putting the house to bed' is an important step in our house. One of our students is responsible for shutting each curtain and turning out all the lights.
9:00pm - Lights out! Goodnight until tomorrow! I usually stay up until 10 reading or hanging out. I'm on night duty 1 time a week, that just means I am the last co-worker to go to bed. It's not that bad.. we all normally go to bed pretty early.. it's a tiring day!
Even though our day is full of breaks and relaxation times, I still struggle waking up in the morning! The work I do here is not physically tiring, but it does take a toll on the brain. I think it'll just take a little more time before I get used to the rhythm at Soltane!
Our day off started with much confusion, as usual. We didn't know what we wanted to do. It was such a beautiful day so I suggested we go to the zoo in Philly. The cost was slightly higher than we wanted.. so we found another zoo.. in Delaware! It may seem far away but it's actually quite close, about 40 minutes away, and the horrible Philly traffic isn't involved (bonus!). We hopped in the car with one destination in mind and ended up having a day full of adventure in Wilmington.
The BrandyWine Zoo was pretty empty on a Tuesday afternoon, and we didn't mind one bit! Living in a house with 10 people, 5 of which have special needs, there isn't much silence. So silence is cherished and welcomed on our day off each week. The admission was reasonable ($7) and accurately priced. The size of the zoo was slightly disappointing, but we had a stellar time nonetheless! We saw a sleepy tiger, monkeys that looked like they were straight out of the Lion King, goats that loved to be touched, and a lonely otter that swam in green water. We brought a few snacks and enjoyed them in the picnic area near the Christina River.
After our time at the zoo, we realized that we still had an entire day to make memories! Thankfully Brian has an iPhone, so we looked up things to do nearby the zoo. We found a couple art museums that were closed on Tuesdays.. not helpful. We found the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts. The DCCA was open and had free admission! It was only a few minutes from the zoo and was also empty as can be! We weren't able to take pictures but the art there was super interesting and fun to look at with BHW. Many of the pieces were available for purchase, they were also bigger than cars, so I was curious where someone would have room to place such a large piece of art.
All the walking during the afternoon got our stomachs ready for a nice late lunch. As we were driving earlier, we passed through Little Italy. I was seriously craving some Chinese Take-out, but I figured while we were there, we might as well grab some Italian. Again, Brian's iPhone took us to a family run restaurant, Madeline's. As soon as we walked in, we knew lunch was going to be more than we wanted to pay. We were once again the only people in the place so it wasn't like we could just walk back out. The rolls were the size of my head, and the entrees were even bigger. I ordered the Parmesan Chicken, while BHW had Futtucini Alfredo. I have to admit, the food was just so-so. We did enjoy the salad bar though! After lunch, it was off to the river to do some walking!
I was surprised at how wonderful the river walk was! The temperature was just perfect for a stroll. There were tons of people walking and biking up and down the river. We even saw a couple rowing teams getting in the last of their practices. I found it humorous because their coach was in a motor boat next to them while they rowed and rowed, I bet they envied him! He was yelling at them through a megaphone too! It was pretty funny. At the end of our walk was a wonderland for animals! It was a wildlife refuge and it was spectacular! The landscaping was literally breathtaking. The paths and waterfalls seemed so natural and flowed with the riverfront landscape with ease. As the sun was setting, we decided it was time to head back to Soltane to catch some shut eye.
The first week of school started just as quickly as it ended! After the students moved in on Saturday, we had a couple days to relax and hang out before school started on Tuesday (Monday was Labor day, no classes/workshops).
Sunday we all hung around the house and finished unpacking with the students/post-grads. The post-grads live upstairs with Mary and Brian. They do not attend classes, but go to work off campus and also work on campus at places like Iduna's Kitchen, Land Crew, and the Textile Enterprises. The students live downstairs with Michelle, Jimmy, and me. They attend classes every day like gardening, money management, leisure planning, and reading.
Monday, some of us went for a little hike even though the weather was pretty dreary. Since it was a holiday, we wanted to do something fun! The hike ended up being pretty challenging for the students because the rocks were all wet and slippery. We toughed it out and ended up having a great time! Brian and I had the evening off, which starts at 5pm, so we didn't eat dinner with the group. We headed out to Friday's to grab some ribs! Each householder really pushes their co-workers to stay away from the house on their time off. I didn't really understand why, but they just kept saying 'trust us, you'll appreciate the time off'. So, after being shooed away from the house.. we wandered around town and ended up browsing Target and the local grocery store for the evening... woo-hoo...
Tuesday was the first day of classes. Everyone was very excited and anxious for the school year to begin! Luckily but also sadly, I didn't get to witness the chaos of the morning because it was Brian and my day off! Our original plan was to visit Pheonixville, home of Breads and Spreads. Breads and Spreads is a coffee shop that is run and staffed by people who work and live at Soltane. Unfortunately.. everything in Pheonixville is closed on Tuesdays or doesn't open until noon. We assumed we would spend the morning browsing around the shops and such but that didn't happen. At noon, we decided that it would be a good idea to drive into Philly and spend the afternoon there. Great idea.. right? So we though, until we remembered how horrid Philly traffic is. Literally every hour of the day, Philly traffic is gridlocked. We eventually reached our destination, Chesnut Hill. Chesnut Hill is a little village filled with quirky shops and good eats. We didn't have a ton of time to spend there because we promised one of our post-grads, Sonia, that we would be home for her birthday dinner. The weather was rainy and gloomy, but we enjoyed our time walking up and down Main St. We also ate at this teeny tiny, but FABULOUS, pizza place called Fiesta Pizza III. It was the cheapest place to eat in this expensive town, and with our nonexistent paychecks.. it was our only option. We read that they had an awesome philly cheesesteak pizza, so we opted for that one.. and we ate the entire pizza between the two of us, EMBARRASSING. This whole 'eating organic/vegan' thing has produced some strange meals that I haven't been super fond of yet.
After a few short hours in the city we had to come back home for Sonia's birthday dinner. We had burritos and chips n' salsa! For each students birthday, they get to choose what they want to eat for dinner. Sonia's parents also bought her a trike for her birthday! Another student on campus created a scavenger hunt that lead her to her present, it was a fun way to end the evening, watching Sonia ride her very own trike through campus!
Wednesday was my first day on campus while school was in session! It was my day of the week to work on the Land Crew. Land Crew consists of one leader, Mason, 2 co-workers, and 4 or 5 post grads. Depending on the season, we do different things. Since it's the fall we are harvesting apples from the orchard and sorting them so we can take them to be made into apple cider, apple butter, and other things! It's an easy way to stay active and also get to know the students since the work is not really a mental struggle. We just pick apples and talk! :) In the afternoon each day, from 12-3, we have rest time in our houses. We all come home and eat lunch together and then go into our rooms and nap or read or do whatever until 3pm. After rest time is the afternoon classes which range from hiking to swimming. The mornings are mainly for more academic classes and the afternoons are for classes that involve movement, personal therapy sessions are also in the afternoons.
Thursday is my cooking day! I spend the morning in Iduna's Kitchen and the afternoon at my house preparing dinner for my house. In the kitchen we tasted some pickles that had been prepared by the summer program. They were super yummy! Knowing that all the ingredients were gathered from Soltane's property was also a super interesting fact! Our class also talked about starting a garden for some cabbage, carrots, and potatoes. Hopefully we can make that happen! I had 2 students with me in the afternoon, helping me cook. I decided to make sweet potato quinoa burgers. Of course, they didn't turn out. I'm pretty sure I didn't follow the directions correctly. Next time, I'll pay more attention. I did want to inform everyone that cooking for 10 people is quite stressful.. and having 2 students helping out adds a bit more stress to the mix. They are quite capable of helping in the kitchen but you always have to keep an eye on what they're doing.. just in case! For instance.. Sonia and her friend Courtney were baking cookies and used salt instead of sugar. The jar wasn't labeled, so anyone could have made that mistake. But.. the cookies were not good at all. Although.. they tried to tell us they tasted terrific.
Anywho.. even though my dinner didn't look as good as it was supposed to, and the burgers were all crumbly.. they still tasted alright and everyone ate it.. and there were no leftovers! So, I guess it was a mild success. Next time I won't do such a fancy recipe. :)
Friday I had a full schedule! I had Ecology in the morning, which involved picking more apples. Half of the group spent their time in the berry bushes collecting raspberries and half of the group harvested apples. We will start to go to the mill on Thursdays to take the apples to be pressed into cider so we're trying to harvest as many as possible before next Thursday. My Friday afternoon is normally a Eurythmy class and hiking class right after that, but today the entire campus had a meeting. The meeting was about something called 'Open University'. This is where students or co-workers get the chance to teach a class or attend a class that interests them. There were many ideas thrown out by the community such as; swimming, make-up class, fitness, listening to music, field trips, drama, and bowling. I offered to instruct a yoga class, hopefully I make the cut and it gets put into the schedule! People seemed interested in it during the meeting, we'll see!
Each Friday night our house shows a movie and the house next door to us (Rockrose) shows one too! They usually show action movies and our house mainly shows family friendly flicks. Students from the community, if they want, can choose to go to either house and hang out and catch a good movie! Our house showed the original Alice in Wonderland. All the co-workers were gone except Brian and me so it was a little stressful.. especially when the DVD started skipping and the students started to get super upset about it. But, it all worked out in the end and everyone was happy. We even brought snacks!
Saturday is a campus-wide house cleaning day! Each house takes the morning to get their house tidy for the following week. Laundry is done, floors are mopped, bookshelves are dusted, etc. I was in charge of organizing the pantry, yes! I seriously love organizing, I was completely content being in there alone for 3 hours just giving things a proper place. By the time I finished the pantry, it was lunch and rest time. For lunch I ate yogurt topped with homemade granola, banana, and a few chocolate chips. It was fabulous and also really healthy as well as filling! It rained all day today. We got pretty bored and decided to watch a movie as a house, Alyssa picked Hook. It's her all time favorite movie. She was chanting for Peter Pan throughout the whole time and booing Hook and Roofio. It was hilarious.
Sunday was Ted's birthday! Happy Happy Birthday Teddio! Pizza and salad for dinner, yum! Ted turned 26 and he seemed to have a super awesome birthday! We woke up late (9am) and went for a morning walk to gather some raspberries to put in our fruit salad for brunch. BHW cooked killer unfinished pancakes for the house and one of our students made some tasty sausage. We also had 2 students from other houses join our brunch. Each day for dinner or Sunday for brunch, students get 'meal invites' to other houses. This encourages interactions between other houses/students besides during the school day. After brunch we had some rest time and then got ready to go putt-putting! It was so fun watching the students off campus, having a blast! Ted won putt putt, obviously and had an awesome celebration after we told him he won. Lots of hooting and hollering. :) First full week of classes next week, hopefully it goes as smoothly as this week!
** Quotes **
(BHW announcing who won at putt putting)
BHW: And in 4th place (out of 4 people) ... is ... ALYSSA
Alyssa: *jumping, screaming, clapping* 'WOOHOO! I WON! I WON! ALYSSA WON! I WONNNN!'
We just didn't have the heart to tell her otherwise.. and anyways.. everyone wins at Soltane! :)
Wow, day 1 complete, and what a day it was! All the co-workers woke up early and frantically cleaned the house before the students arrived. 5 people cleaning a humongous house in one hour was quite a challenge, but we completed it just in time! And then the fun began..
We have not been told any of the diagnosis of the students and I don't think we will ever be told either. Soltane doesn't want to label the students/residents with their disabilities, I think that's a really awesome thing. So, here's a bit about each student that lives in my house.
Ted was the first student arrive. Ted loves, LOVES, to listen to music. He sat in his room for quite a few hours just listening to his CD's. His birthday is coming up this week, and his parents brought this huge balloon that sings a song if you hit it, it's pretty cool.
<- Ted peeling potatoes!
Sonia was the next student to arrive, she's a post-grad. That means that she graduated from the 5-year living for life program and now works off campus a few times a week. Sonia's birthday is coming up, we have lots of birthdays this week!
Lenny got dropped off by his mom after Sonia arrived. I had previously met Lenny on Friday, he came and moved in his things early. He's a really sweet guy is always smiling. Lenny has a knack for the date. He has many calenders and clocks in his room so he always knows that time, day, month, and year it is. It's his responsibility to change the date on the kitchen calender for everyone to see. He was really excited to be back at college, he kept saying 'buh-bye momma, buh-bye!'
Alyssa arrived with her dad before the parent meeting. Alyssa is a few weeks younger than I am. The thing Alyssa loves most, besides the color pink, is her birthday. It's in April but she basically celebrates it year-round. She's already planning her next birthday. She found out that Brian and I are engaged and ever so politely informed me that she was to be a bridesmaid and hold flowers. Ok, Alyssa, whatever you say!
Alyssa peeling potatoes for dinner! -->
Jeff was the last student in our house to arrive! He is a post-grad along with Sonia and Ted. Jeff likes to hang out with the guys! He also enjoys mowing the lawn and painting. I haven't seen it yet, but I hear Jeff is an awesome skier! He is a member of the Special Olympics Ski Team!
I don't have pictures of everyone yet, but I will soon so you'll be able to put a face with a name! So, this is my crew for the year! It's going to be a ton of fun! Today we went to the movies and saw Madagascar 3! Afro Circus! I'll update after we have all of our birthday parties this week! :) Classes start Tuesday, wish us all luck!
** A few quotes **
(At the pool)
CB: Hey Ted.. wanna go on a date with me?
CB: Ted, I'm flirting with you.
(At the parent meeting on Saturday morning)
Benji: (stands) Hi, my name is Benji and I'm really nervous. I also think it's weird that we're starting on a Saturday. (sits)
Thanks for checking in! Love and miss you all!
The 'boring' stuff:
It's not a camp. It's not a college. It's not a group home. Soltane is an intentional community for young adults with developmental disabilities. We live together, cook together, play together, work together, fail together, learn together, succeed together, and grow together. I didn't have words to explain Soltane before I left home, and I'm not sure I have the words to explain it now. But, I'll give it my best shot.
Soltane was founded on the idea of the spiritual understanding of the human being, the Earth, and the Universe. (sounds pretty hippietastic, eh?) From Soltane's website: Our foundation in anthroposophy manifests itself in the recognition that each human being is made up of a body, soul, and spirit, and we believe each of these aspects has the capacity to grow, develop and learn. We recognize that each person is on an inner journey, and we can actively support each other by the ways we live, learn, and work together.
I'll just put out the nitty gritty so you don't have to wonder about it and feel to ashamed to ask me. Yes, students and residents help cook dinner. No, that doesn't mean they get to mix the salad.. or set out the plates, they get to use knives and the oven. What? What if the student cut themselves? What if they burn the house down? Today I learned.. assume competence. At Soltane, we assume that the student has the knowledge of daily living. At home, some parents are very protective of their children, and rightfully so, they don't want their precious ones to get hurt or upset. But, how will someone learn if you never give them the chance to learn? One can't know how to brush their teeth if you do it for them each and every day. They need to hold the toothbrush, to feel the power and happiness of being able to take care of themselves. Some students need help in the shower, but that doesn't mean the next time they take a shower we just do everything for them, we teach, a thousand times over if need be, until they learn.
The 'fun' stuff:
So, what do I do here? Like I said earlier, I live in a huge house with 10 people. 5 co-workers and 5 students/residents. The students aren't here yet so I can't tell you much about them.. but the stories I've heard are awesome and I can't wait to meet them this Saturday! I am not assigned a student, I'll just be around, just another one of the students basically! I have been placed in the Orchard, where I'll work 3 days a week. The Orchard is one of Soltane's most amazing features. There are 200 apple trees, pear trees, berry bushes, and veggie gardens covering the 52 acre campus. I'll be working with students/residents giving them meaningful work. We turn organic apples into cider or apple butter. We process the berries and make them into jams and spreads. We harvest tomatoes and make spaghetti sauce. Then, the things that we produce are sold in the campus store. These things are used to cook with in the houses which then feed all the hungry people living inside! What an amazing feeling for these students/residents to say that they literally created the sauce, jam, jelly, or cider from a seed! A tiny little seed!
I also will be an assistant in 3 classes in the afternoons throughout the week. On Mondays I will be taking the students to the local YMCA to swim. On Fridays I am in a hiking class. Not sure what all that entails, but it should be exciting. The other class I'm in is Eurythmy. Eurythmy is a therapeutic movement activity. I also do not know what this entails but everyone says it's pretty fun. :)
The people in this community are awesome. Everyone is super friendly here and really laid back. We have eaten lots of funky things, all organic, but I have a secret stash of Oreos and candies, so no worries. I found out I really, really, really do not like anything with goat's milk in it, at all. My room is really nice, and I have my own bathroom! There isn't an emphasis on technology at Soltane. It's more about community and being together. We do not have a microwave. We have a T.V. but it's only for after hours and only plays DVD's. There are radios but they're only for special occasions. I do not pay for anything here, and I've been provided with everything. It's such a blessing because I won't have to worry about bills, groceries, rent
The students get here on Saturday and I am a huge jumble of emotions. My year here is just about to begin and I hope that it's the most fantastic year ever!