Friday, October 23, 2020

our kids aren't going to save us


Ever since I was a very little girl I knew that the teens of today will save the world. Or make that the teens of yesterday. When I was around ten, I remember hearing someone say that it was up to the (then) teens to make the big changes the world needed. Wow! I thought! They're going to fix the ozone layer! And pollution! And get rid of nuclear weapons forever! And this new thing called global warming that we were just starting to hear whispers of. I looked forward to the beautiful world those just a few years older than I was were creating for me. 

A few years later, when I graduated, and couldn't yet even vote, that burden of saving the world had shifted to my shoulders. I was the generation that was going to make the big changes. Well, OK, I thought. I can do that. I don't know what the rest of the generations were doing -- I mean, what happened to those teens from when I was a kid? Didn't they fix things? Well anyway now things were different. And me, I was going to finally fix things. We were going to finally fix things!!

Fast forward another five years and find me teaching some teens in a rec centre art program. It wasn't that I wasn't "fixing" the world, but plans for great upheaval, protests and really doing something big were on the back-burner as the need for paying rent and paying off my student loans was forefront in my mind. I tried to keep climate change and social justice on the menu during all activities, but, you know, that's not what parents were looking for in these art classes, so I had to temper it. You can't rock the boat too much if you're a new teacher and trying to keep your job; trying to keep people opening their wallets to pay you for teaching their kids. I figured I'd change the world when I made enough money.

Another couple of years later, I was joyfully welcoming my own kids to the world. It was even more imperative to me to save the world from the increasingly terrifying prospect of climate change which, by calculations at the time, was likely to cause global catastrophe by the time my kids were old. Well... if we didn't stop it, which we planned to. The only thing was, we all still needed to make money, and to do that we had to keep our jobs, and keep up the status quo, and really support the industries we knew were destroying the earth's ability to regulate the climate because, well, those companies had bought out all the smaller companies and were now the only affordable ways for us purchase the many many things that seemed to be required for home-life and babies! After all, what good is protecting your kids' future, if you can't even give them a semi-normal, socially-conforming lifestyle to start out with? But you know what I told myself then? Those kids I taught. They were about graduating age by now. They were coming up to voting age, and not yet burdened with the need to pay rent and student loans and preschool fees. They would save us!

Climate change, as we know, eclipsed the miraculously-diminishing ozone hole, as well as nuclear weapons threats, in the list of potential perils. And by the time my kids were ten years old, we knew for certain that their lives would be cut short by the ever-growing, ever-menacing list of catastrophes caused by climate change. In fact, the hurricanes, forest-fires and floods had already begun, and we began to realize that even our own lives would likely end in a kind of apocalypse we 80's kids had never fully imagined. Around that time it began to be acceptable to use the word apocalypse in my blog posts. Nobody was shocked, anymore. We were apathetic. We couldn't not give our kids tons of gifts, because we wanted them to be happy! We couldn't not buy the plastic toys and fleece clothing that they needed to fit in with their friends. We couldn't step off of the rat-race treadmill because somehow we had to afford all these things, and we still weren't managing to take them on enough vacations for their social and emotional well-being. We knew we were doomed. So we sipped up our lattes and attended some climate rallies on lunch-breaks, and told ourselves that the teens of the current generation would save us.

My son voted, this week. He's eighteen. I just can't bring myself to tell him to save me. 

This is bullshit, and we all know it. Telling ourselves that each new generation will fix the mistakes of the twenty before it is a bright shiny carousel of lies we tell ourselves so we don't have to make the hard changes that are required to save ourselves from climate change. And those changes are HARD! We're all going to have to sacrifice the tarred dreams we pursued; we're all going to have to sacrifice our income, social status and the careers, homes, vacations; even relationships that are threatening our sustainable future. Because if we don't, our future is far more bleak than we can imagine. And I don't want that for my kids. I don't want that for me. 

We have to stop buying things we don't need. We have to reassess the meaning of the word "need", according to a non-commercialized, non-selfish scale. We have to stop supporting industries and corporations that are fiscally tied to financial gain. The pursuit of money isn't saving the world; it's destroying it. Growth isn't saving the world; it's destroying it. We have to stop seeking more, and start acknowledging how much joy there is in what we already have. We have children. We have love.

My son was interviewed by our local paper about his first voting experience, and he had this to say: "I think a lot of politicians are afraid to take the necessary drastic steps to counteract climate change because of the possible short term cost to our economy, but I say it's worth it to ensure that we have a safe, livable future for us and our families going on into the future."

In the upcoming election, we have an opportunity to stand up and vote for the candidate or party who is most likely to make the hard changes. People, get out and vote. Then let's look at our lives honestly and just make the changes we should have made decades ago. We are adults and it's time we started behaving like adults. It's time that we all stood up and made the change we want to see in the world, instead of expecting our kids to do it for us.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Why every kid should be raised as if they might be LGBTQ

 

Today is National Coming Out Day. I didn't even know that was a thing, until I saw it posted on Facebook this morning and went to Google it. As a parent I've tried to be so careful; so deliberately woke, but, like the term 'woke', I'm watered down. 

When my kids were little, I consciously referred to their future partners as a genderless "they", or "he or she". I wasn't very familiar with trans culture at the time, and my only gender-defying parenting feats were to encourage them to play with all manner of toys, and to dress themselves in every colour, and every style of clothing. If I knew then what I know now, I would have encouraged them to choose their own pronouns, too. Some brave souls are raising kids that way, now. And in 2016 the province of Alberta presented schools with guidelines for allowing students to choose and live by their own preferred pronouns. Amazingly (or not, when you consider the culture we live in), both of my kids subscribed to gender stereotypes from very early ages, and defined themselves as cis-straight. I defied - just in case - and kept telling them that was fine, but that I would love them and their partners no matter what genders or pronouns they may happen to use. I wanted to be sure that there was never a day when my kids questioned their sexuality or gender, and didn't feel safe talking about it. I didn't just wait for the conversations, I started them.

And when my trans cousin committed suicide just after Trump was elected, I started even more conversations. Can you imagine knowing that your cousin felt so unwelcome in society that he no longer wanted to live, and then perhaps discovering you might be similarly different from the norm? I don't know what my kids' place on the spectrum of gender and sexuality is, and they had only met our cousin once, but I needed them to know that they had a safe space; that their feelings would always be valid, even if they change, and even if they don't want to talk about them. The necessity of being an accepting parent became deeper and more desperate for me.We attended Pride like it was our special family party, having finally had a taste of the loss from which pride is cultivated; the ashes from which humanity is trying to rise.

When my kids were little I was told that if I didn't help them identify as cis and straight, I was damaging their sense of self-worth, messing with their identity, and setting them up for bullying. Those comments terrified me, because what I'm trying to do is the opposite. But I carry on anyway, because you know what really damages kids' self-worth? Feeling like they're not acceptable to their own parents. All kids are potentially going to question their sexuality or gender. Everybody should question those things, just so we can know ourselves and live our best lives, with open eyes. If we want our potentially-LGBTQ kids to feel self-worth, we need to openly accept and advocate for LGBTQ people in our community, so they can see people they may or may not identify with, and feel safe around them. Even if our kids are consistently cis-gendered and straight, they need to know that it's normal not to be, as well. They need to have no fear about identity, love, or their belonging in community. So no, I'm not messing with their identity - I'm refraining from messing with their identity. Because it's theirs to determine. Not mine.

Bullying is scary. I'm telling you, as the girl who knelt, eating weiners off the floor, being kicked by my classmates, while my teacher stood at the font of the room looking through her papers. You know what I did when they stopped? I went outside and I told a younger kid that I'd magically turn her into a frog if she didn't give me the swing. She ran away crying, and I took that swing and my pride and rode it all the way through recess. I felt terrible about becoming a bully, myself, and it's what makes me so determined to raise children who feel secure enough to be neither victims nor perpetrators. Fear is what makes bullies. Fear is what makes victims. The only way to give our kids a ticket out of this dynamic is to make sure they know they're safe in who they are; that they can always come home to a pair of loving, accepting arms. No matter what.

Accepting our kids is not as much about being OK with whomever they become as it is about being OK with the whole world, so our kids know that they'll be acceptable, whomever they become. They have to be accepted to become themselves. The right to self-determination is as important as shelter, food, love and security. It isn't any of my business what my kids' gender or sexuality may be, but it's my business to provide a safe place for them to self-identify, and to be flexible enough in my own mind that whenever their identity changes, I'm ready to accept it. And there is no end-point; no final level of consciousness to achieve. There's just a constant, always-learning, growth.

Friday, October 2, 2020

finding hope when there is no good news anymore

Seeds in Spallumcheen Graveyard, September 2020

I'm struggling hugely to keep on finding positive things to say; positive ways to look at the collapse we're now experiencing and keep seeing a good way forward. They say this is a natural feeling of hopelessness, six months into the pandemic, but I know it's more than the pandemic. The giant, horrible, depressing pandemic is just one small thing that happened to the world this year. Climate change is so much worse. With the ongoing rampage of fires, floods, storms, extinctions, social unrest and ecological collapse, people are spouting F2020 memes all over the place, but we pretty much know next year will be worse. And F2021 just won't have the same ring to it.

I've tried looking away from the news, but my daughter danced into my room this morning, grinning because "Trump has coronavirus", and all my pessimistic mind could think was how that would just create sympathy among his growing number of supporters, and be followed by more hate. Everything he does or doesn't do either supports, provokes or emboldens more hatred. Why? Because Trump isn't the problem; people are. Every single one of us who is running around scared and looking for somebody to either blame or help us is the problem. Every single one of us who hasn't nurtured a feeling of empowered possibility is the problem. And I have nurtured that feeling of empowerment, and yet I'm still feeling so helpless, now. Everywhere I turn is a problem too big for me to solve.

I've spent so much of my life trying to convince myself and those I care for that trust and understanding will carry us through anything; love will save us. I still have love, but we're all afraid to hug the people we love, and we don't know if our homes will burn down or wash away next year, and we don't know if the pandemic will ever end.

Are you waiting for this to turn positive? Me too. What are we going to do, people? How am I going to make it OK that I bore two children into a world without hope? The usual means of supplying hope aren't working. We want to have Thanksgiving under the harvest moon, but it's obscured by smoke - the particles of our southern neighbours, their animals, farms and forests all burned and floating through our sky. We went to meet our new puppy and our son pointed out that the road-trip we took to get to her was ecologically irresponsible. And he was right. I'm still waiting for this to turn positive.

OK here goes: My little grain of hope. I had to get that off my chest in order to get to this; it's the compost from which I hope my little seed will grow. Generosity. Gift. And love, after all. 

I turned off my computer, walked away from the stream of bad news: politicians lying, stealing and grappling for power, parents panicking and people dying, forests and neighbourhoods burning; the infestation of moths beginning to lie dead all over the place. I felt the familiar grip of despair around my heart; I made a thermos of tea and went to give a tour to some local gardeners. I work for free, now, most of the time. Under the smoky sky, we talked about the future of their garden, and how they plan to expand it, but with respect and understanding of the wilderness it grew from. They paid me with a kabocha squash, fresh-cut from their land. Then I went with my son to film the next episode of our Outdoor Exploration video series with a local mushroomer. And under the smoky sky we talked about the mycelium spreading itself, below us; the rotting, spore-y mushrooms proliferating themselves all over. She gave me a bunch of lobster mushrooms, which we enjoyed for our dinner. Every week I consult with parents who are struggling during the many stresses of pandemic life. I hear their stories and share mine, and tell them I know they're doing the best they can, and I support them, and sometimes they offer their own services in exchange. My children give food and water to our chickens, and just this week they have begun returning from the coop with eggs. I put seeds in the ground and, despite all odds, they grow.

Can we hold each other through this horrible time, even knowing that it might not end? Can you wrap your arms around me again so I can feel the comfort of not being alone? Can we plant seeds of respect and understanding in each other's hearts; give when and what we can without knowing that anything will grow, but hoping? Can we do this, even in the face of all the horrors? I love you. Whoever you are, and although we haven't met, and no matter how our politics or moral standards may differ, and even if you don't love me back... I love you. Let our love be a well-tended soil, as we keep on planting seeds of hope, even in the face of all odds, and grow.

I took my kids to see the old church in the town I once lived in, but it was boarded up, so we just stood together and looked at it. Love is constant, even when the world around us changes. September 2020.

Monday, September 21, 2020

How my family finds deep meaning in Thanksgiving


I grew up on a little hobby farm. My parents raised chickens and meat rabbits, and made quite a good go of a vegetable garden on each of the properties they rented and owned over the years. My parents believed, as I do now, that the most ethical food is food they could grow themselves; that meat-eaters should not only know where our meat comes from, but that we should be an integral part of the process it comes from; that we shouldn't takes any lives (plant or animal) wantonly. So they toughened up and learned to farm. By the time we were teens, my brother and I had deep knowledge of local ecology due to our work (and mostly play) on our small piece of land, and deep understanding of mammal and bird husbandry and anatomy due to our involvement with rabbit and chicken farming. One year we even raised pigs to eat, but that was too heartbreaking, and now none of us likes to eat pork very much. We grew up thinking that rabbit was the usual Thanksgiving feast meat, and were eventually perplexed to realize that other people ate turkey.

As a Canadian, I wasn't taught the reasons behind the Thanksgiving turkey dinner in school, and didn't understand the inherent racism of the holiday (and inaccuracy of that famed Plymouth meal-sharing) until sometime in my twenties. In Canada we celebrate Thanksgiving very close to the autumn equinox, and there is no mention in our cultural tradition of Plymouth, pilgrims, or any other such thing. Our grocery stores and primary school curricula are filled with images of cornucopias, turkeys, scarecrows and farmers. Thanksgiving is generally the day we are thankful for our food and the people who provided it.

My kids harvesting peas that will make pea soups all winter!

My parents have always been mavericks, choosing, creating and inventing life on their own terms. So early in their relationship, they developed our family's own Thanksgiving tradition: We eat foods we grew, ourselves. We celebrate our garden, the food that feeds us, our love for one another and the land we live on, and our own hard work in growing and harvesting food. In the eighties we grew rabbits and chickens, potatoes, carrots and kale, usually a couple of Atlantic Giant pumpkins, and some other squashes, and zucchini, apples, figs, cabbage, lettuce, onions, beans... The list was long then, and now that my brother and I have grown up to have our own gardens, and we've all learned a little more about the land and our own abilities, the list is even longer. (I mean, who knew what quinoa was in 1982, never mind that we could grow it in our own back yards!) So at Thanksgiving we contribute just those things we're really excited about, as well as some loved staples like recently-dug potatoes, Dutch apple varieties, and some sweet, delicious squash.

This year is the first year in many that we've had homegrown chickens to eat, and we've had Big Monster on the menu ever since we realized he was bizarrely huge, even for a rooster, and way too mean to keep with our flock. But he's only one small part of the fabulousness we look forward to this year. Look what we're planning:

  • My son braiding this year's garlic.
    pea and sorrel soup
  • lentil crackers with chicken pate
  • oven-roasted chicken with herbs and garlic
  • oven-roasted potatoes
  • stuffed scallopini squash
  • tomato salad
  • fennel with herbs
  • apple-raspberry dessert
  • plum-quince crumble
  • pumpkin pie

Yes - three desserts. Between three households we couldn't not all showcase our star fruits! And every single thing on that menu is grown on the soil we live and work with every day. It's a part of our ecosystem. We're a part of our ecosystem! We celebrate living life as a part of a bigger whole.

Happy Thanksgiving to us and to you, and to the whole community of plants, animals, mushrooms and microorganisms that we exist together with!

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Chicken Introductions Then and Now!

It's time to update you on our chicken flock. 

We bought thirty chicks last spring, and sadly, five of them had to be put down due to various ailments. One beloved rooster, Little Mister AKA Gonzo went to live with a whole flock of lovely chocolate Orpington hens where he discovered his masculinity and now basks in glory. All the other roosters we couldn't keep have made their way to various forms of packaging in our pantry and freezer (dried, canned, and frozen). And the remaining fourteen birds are living happily in the main coop, now. 

So I thought I'd introduce those who have made their way so far into our hearts as to have received names. I'll provide baby photos as well, when possible.

Lester Clark. He's that guy. That Australorp rooster guy. The guy who always hops on the chair when the lady stands up just to show his dominance. He crows with a big proud musical voice long before the sun wakes everybody else. He's a good guy, and he's generous with food, usually allowing the hens to eat before he does, and protecting them, always. Beware if you do anything that looks threatening, because he'll stomp his feet at you! And beware if you threaten his masculinity by petting him as if he was a hen or (heaven forbid) picking him up... he'll sit patiently in your arms but as soon as you put him down he'll have to regain that masculinity by quickly mating with whichever hens are nearby.

Meet the Splash. Like every good superhero, he stands tall, protects the weaker among his flock (really just the smallest ladies, since the bigger ones are a little frightening), stands up against tyranny (as long as it's not too too scary), and has an alter ego where he hides between my ankles to get treats and snuggles into my lap for a little nap when he's tired of being a superhero. His voice is rather hoarse but after Lester starts crowing, he does his best to join in with his very rusty, uncertain little crow. He's a Splash Ameraucana and generally hangs out with the smaller hens, where he bravely defends them from unwanted advances of that way-too-big guy. Then he runs away.

Bonus photo: The Splash is not only a superhero -- he's also a parchment scroll mail delivery guy. Like Hedwig, only cooler. And gawkier.


Kalamata is an olive-egger. Or at least we think so, since we didn't order any chicks with feathery feet, and yet seemed to get four of them. The other three had some kind of health problems and we lost them. But Kalamata lives on in her delightfully reserved but curious way. She likes to hop on my lap for a snuggle that lasts about ten seconds, or preferably she likes to nestle on the back of the chair I sit in (you can see her up behind Lester in the photo above). She's always very interested in what's going on, but generally sits back and observes from afar.

Those two lovelies facing each other at the roost are Audrey (left) and Big Bird (right). That's Audrey's baby photo, too. They're crested legbars and will lay blue eggs for us one day. Audrey is very very timid, but likes to stand around my feet and get attention. Big Bird is Rhiannon's special friend and likes to wait in the coop each morning so that she'll be lifted onto Rhiannon's shoulder and can be carried around for the morning chores.

That's Blue. We don't know yet if they're a pullet or a cockerel because they're a Jersey Giant, and growing more slowly than the rest. Blue is a little aloof, as you can see even in their baby photo. They go around minding their own business, munching some tasty grubs, checking out the passing cats and dog, and just generally being independent. I really hope they're a hen because they're so beautiful and I'd like more eggs, but we'll have to wait and see.

Fluffy Face! Isn't she just adorable? She's our funny little white Ameraucana hen, and is even more independent than Blue. She really doesn't like to hang out with anybody and just waits until they're gone to come for treats or even doesn't come at all because actually she probably knows where something tastier is. If you asked her something she would answer 'hmph' if she could, but she can't because the only sound she can make is that of a squeaky barn door...

Meet Francey. She's very stalwart. We're not sure what breed she is since we didn't order any barred chicks, but possibly an Orpington or Orpington cross. She doesn't care what she is because she's just so self-assured. She often just stands and stares right at me, thinking her chicken thoughts and not posturing at all.

Lastly, the Grey Lady. She has a sister named Peeves, who is plain too peevish to photograph. The Grey Lady isn't quite as mean as her sister. Just does her best to get what she wants, usually by slipping in quietly and simply snatching whatever morsel from somebody else and then running away quickly with it, often loudly. They're not very nice ladies, but they do well for themselves, and nobody bothers them (who would dare). Like every good poltergeist, they're just there. Nothing you can do about it but learn to cope.



Friday, August 28, 2020

The Medicine Forest my Parents Gave Me: how exploring and knowing our place in the ecosystem builds resilience


Once I lost my son in the forest. We were heading home through ferns taller than his three-year-old self, he carrying a harvest of licorice ferns and I carrying his baby sister and some oyster mushrooms. He followed along behind me, and when I turned around, he was gone. I called repeatedly. I retraced my steps. I gripped by baby girl to my chest and started running, panicking, and-- there he was, nestled into a sword fern, chewing on a piece of licorice fern root. He looked up blandly at my stricken face and said "I'm just havin' some licorice root." His trance-like state may have been induced by the well-known calming medicine of licorice fern, or it may have been just his joyful state of mind after a couple of hours spent wandering the forest with his mother and sister.  

My kids and I spent part of most days of their childhood out in the forest, exploring. That's what I did as a mother because it's what I knew to do from my own childhood, spent here in this same little west coast paradise. When my head hurts, I go outside. Maybe I chew an alder leaf like the wild aspirin that it is; maybe I just lift my face to the fresh air, sun or rain. When my heart hurts, I lie in the moss and let it soak up my tears. Licorice fern soothes me; so does the feeling of bark, or the creek water between my toes. When I'm hungry, I eat beans off the vine on my porch, or berries and other treats from the woods; when I'm hungry for adventure I go exploring in my medicine forest. I made up that word. Medicine Forest. It's like a permaculture food forest, but with emphasis on its healing power. My parents didn't purposely give me a medicine forest, but they did give it to me, and I'm passing it on to my children. Let me explain.

That's me with our chickens in the early 1980's, rabbit hutches on the right, and winter-covered veggie garden, behind.

I grew up in a pretty typical single family house - a modified double-wide mobile home, actually - on a five-acre piece of land that my parents purchased in 1980. This land was forest when they bought it. We used to come up here and have a picnic on the slope they hoped would one day be their building site. They let my brother and me free-range all over this place, climbing trees, damming creeks, digging great big holes and picking and using whatever plants we felt like, as they slowly cleared the land and built up what is now a developed property. We raised chickens, meat rabbits, and pigs (but only once because the experience was too heartbreaking for all of us to repeat). My parents grew food crops and allowed us to plant our own experimental gardens, while also insisting that we should help with the family food operations. My brother and I were never forced to kill or butcher animals, but because our parents nurtured our curiosity, we both knew how to clean a rabbit or chicken by the time we were twelve, and by the time we were fifteen we could cook a good family meal from the foods we'd grown or wildcrafted. We didn't even know the word wildcraft, though. We were just "picking nettles", or "finding a mushroom."

My son helping my mother pick nettles in the early 2000's.

Living in and with the forest our parents were busy turning into a home was just "life". We could pick indigenous trailing blackberries from the hillside, invasive Himalayan blackberries from the place Pappa was trying to get them out of the creek, or cultivated boysenberries from Mum's garden. Same difference. They all make good pie, if you don't eat them all before getting them home. And whether they make it home or not, your belly is full with the food, your heart is full of the joy, and your mind is full of knowing every detail of your home. That's a medicine forest. It's a place where everything is living and growing together -- humans included. It's a place you've grown so connected to that just living there heals you from the inside out.

My daughter reading in a tree she knows every inch of.

Somehow through my own teaching and parenting over the years I have come to recognize that, just like the best learning happens when we're inspired by connections to our own experience, the best living happens when we're connected to everything around us. Think of it this way: you care much more about your own backyard than someone else's. You have a lot more interest in your own little potted plant than in the weed at the edge of the pavement, or some tree in a forest far away. So somebody teaching you about a baobab tree might have a bit of a tough job keeping your interest. But what if that tree was yours? My friend went to Africa and really got to know baobab trees - and they became hers. When we connect personally with things, they matter, and mattering strengthens our neural pathways. That's great for learning, but how does this have to do with my medicine forest? Well, this place matters to me. It matters so much that I've spent about thirty years of my life exploring here, both as a child and now with my own nearly-grown children. I know exactly which part of which slope of which creek has the best clay for sculpting, and which part will still have a pool of water and some desperately-hungry trout in August. I know where the elusive white slugs live. I know how berries' flavours change with the weather and with the time of day. This deep understanding of my little wilderness is my connection, and it's why this place is my medicine.

On top of being important to my own health, my experience of exploring this place has made me resourceful and resilient. We all learn more from observing the people around us than from being taught conventionally, and I learned from watching my parents develop this land; their need to be resourceful when we had no electricity, no toilet, or no income. I learned from watching them not just survive here, but keep working even in the face of failure to find joy and wellness in whatever this land and life had to offer. The moss is not my weeping pillow because I'm an idyllic child from a book about fairies; it's my pillow because sometimes I was just plain too sad, as a child, and the moss was what I found to comfort me. My kids don't harvest nettles for brownie points or allowance; they don gloves and harvest them just because that's what we do for Easter. They get stung and they complain at me, but they also delight in testing their brawn by picking them bare-fingered or by eating them raw. They're building resilience, just like I once did. We're in this ecosystem for better and worse and every day that falls in between. Like the plants, we'll thrive or die as part of this, so we're doing our best to thrive.

My kids at fifteen and eighteen processing wild burdock root for tea.

The business of gardening and developing the physical ecosystem is nowhere near as idyllic as I imagine it sounds. There are brutal realities in nature that hurt like hell. Our crops fail, our chickens get sick and I have to put them down; sometimes we fight and resent each other's impact in the ecosystem. Sometimes money is short, time runs out, and family or world tragedy makes us doubt we can succeed. But experiencing these things, feeling them and accepting them is part of the whole picture. My medicine forest is the ecological basket that holds our family, and the love and knowledge we cultivate here, among the weeds and the crops and the chickens, the weather and the water and our own bodies living. When I leave this place, my medicine forest is carried in the knowledge of my body and mind, to nourish and grow with other ecosystems. It's a conscious choice I make to see my surroundings and live in health with them, as a part of them. 

In a monoculture garden, one invasion of a particularly voracious insect can wipe out a whole crop, with nothing remaining to re-seed. The earth itself becomes a barren place, unable to nurture new-fallen seeds without significant help from humans. In a food forest, insects may devour a plant here or there, but the diversity of the community will discourage any one plant or insect from taking over, and thus ensure that enough remains to keep the community thriving. The dead plants along with the dead insects and the droppings of all those who foraged in the forest will feed the earth, ensuring that all the fallen seeds have at least a chance to grow. In fact, the richness of the soil even means the earth will hold more water, making everything thrive more easily.

My parents have asked me how I came to know all these things, and I said "from you", because it was their willingness to let me explore that gave me the gift of knowing my ecosystem. It was their willingness to let me grow my own experimental gardens, and now to rent us a piece of their land and still let me grow my own experimental gardens that gave me the gift of my medicine forest. Sometimes they don't like the look of my unkempt yard, my son's experimental tree fort project, or the weed piles I leave laying around. But they let me and their grandchildren keep living and exploring here, because they're watching the growth of our medicine forest. And sometimes - just once in a long while - we discover things we can teach them, too. Explorative parenting is like that. It's looking at the whole family as a forest instead of one plant seeding another. Our family is like a forest of possibility, where everybody lives in community, exploring and discovering and balancing and sharing, as we all put our roots further and further down, and our branches further and further to the sky.





Sunday, August 23, 2020

Celebrating my daughter quitting school!

 

My smart, motivated, academically capable daughter just quit school -- and we're celebrating! Yep. Last year I wrote about our son, who, after a lifetime of eclectic and meandering unschooling, decided to graduate and pulled a high school grad with honours out of a hat in just two months at the end of his grade eleven year. You can do that. He did. Now I'm writing to tell you that our fifteen-year-old daughter Rhiannon, who has been mastering the distributed learning system towards what we thought was going to be a much more straightforward high school grad, has quit. She's decided to register as a homeschooler, not attempt high school graduation, and work on her own pursuits, instead. And I think it's the best decision of her academic career so far.

For those not familiar with the basic options available to kids in our province (British Columbia), let me briefly explain. We have five legal options: 

  • Public School: (mainstream "brick and mortar" school run by a school district)
    • terminology: child is "enrolled"
    • attend in-person, generally 5 days/week
    • complete provincial curriculum
    • graduation diploma is expected outcome
    • publicly-funded
  • Independent School: (private school - non-district-affiliated)
    • terminology: child is "enrolled" 
    • attend in-person (usually), generally 5 days/week
    • complete provincial curriculum, sometimes with a little more flexibility
    • graduation diploma is expected outcome
    • partially publicly-funded
  • Public DL: (public distributed learning school run by a school district) 
    • terminology: child is "enrolled"
    • attend in-person 2.5 days/week, OR partially or completely online
    • some PDL schools facilitate home-learning for enrolled students through year-plans and regular reporting by parents or advisor teachers
    • unschooling, diverse curricula or an outside curriculum also sometimes supported
    • complete provincial curriculum, possibly completed independently
    • graduation usually expected outcome
    • publicly funded
  • Independent DL: (independent distributed learning school, not district-affiliated) 
    • terminology: child is "enrolled"
    • attend in-person 2.5 days/week OR partially or completely online
    • some IDL schools facilitate home-learning for enrolled students through year-plans and regular reporting by parents or advisor teachers
    • unschooling, diverse curricula or an outside curriculum also sometimes supported
    • complete provincial curriculum, possibly completed independently
    • graduation usually expected outcome 
    • partially publicly-funded
  • Registered homeschooling: 
    • terminology: child is "registered" as a "homeschooler" under section 12 or 13 of the provincial education act
    • no official teacher oversight or support, although some families hire teachers, tutors, or mentors, and children may attend supervised programs outside of the public system
    • this is the most freedom available in our province, legally, and allows families to live, grow and educate in near-complete freedom
    • no curriculum is provided, but many families purchase or create their own curricula
    • no graduation diploma
    • registered homeschoolers in grades 10, 11 or 12 may enroll in distributed learning courses
  • Unschooling: Unschooling is not a registration/enrollment option. It's a lifestyle and learning-style choice, which can be accomplished in any setting to larger or smaller degrees. Generally, unschooling means following one's interests in life and learning from all experiences. For parents of unschoolers, it means also following personal interests, while supporting and nurturing children who are busy following their own. Registering as a homeschooler gives BC residents the freedom to be unencumbered by regulations and expectations, therefore allowing more time for exploration of personal interests, and it's therefore the easiest way to follow an unschooling pedagogy.

Now back to our family...

Rhiannon hand-binding the children's book she wrote in 2018.
Rhiannon is an academic queen - especially when she can blend school with her passions of teaching young children, musical theatre, and middle grade fiction. She loves to work in a structure, she loves to create neatly-packaged projects and turn them in. She loves to evaluate her progress and climb the ladder of education, just like she's slowly climbing the becoming-an-author ladder. In fact, she loves all these things so much that school held her back. 

When she had free time in her earlier years, she edited and published two magazines for children, wrote a few short books, played endlessly with her dolls and pets and imagined worlds, taught herself to play guitar, created a few complex board games, researched, wrote reports on, and attended online university courses on subjects she was interested in (usually relating to early childhood education), and developed her singing and acting skills. Then through her teens, as she attended public and distributed learning schools to be with her peers, she ran out of time for most of those things. She's been keeping up as well as she can, managing to write a few stories and papers over the years, attending various theatre programs, and usually writing a book or taking an online course in her free time from school. She's developed a children's and YA book review website, written a middle grade novel, and is currently working on a second novel. But her time is always broken by the demands of school, and often those demands have felt like aimless make-work projects just to get through specific hoops to somebody else's goal. Somebody else's goal is graduation. Hers is "to have a nice life", and highschool graduation doesn't seem to be necessary for that.

She does find it important to attend the Reggio Emilia early childhood education program at Capilano University. Not some other school. Not some other pedagogy, because she's known since she researched these things in her own childhood that Reggio is the philosophy best suited to her beliefs. She's been researching careers and schools and entrance requirements for years, and now at fifteen she's in conversation with staff at the university she wants to attend about how to prepare a homeschooler's application. She figures she's got a couple of years to accomplish her pre-university goals, and she'd like to be unencumbered by school, in the meantime. 

This morning she told me, "I feel like everybody thinks that graduating from high school is the big teenage achievement, but if I don’t go to school then I can have other achievements that are even better, like getting a book published."

Knowing that she has managed to write a book and send it to publishers during her otherwise busy grade ten year, I asked her what she expects will be so different about homeschooling.

She leaned against my feet where I sat, and mused, "It used to be stressful because I had so much work to do and it’s now it's stressful because I don’t know how it will all work. It used to be a relief to know what I had to do, and now it’s a relief to know that I can do what I want. Now I can focus on writing books, managing my youTube channel and website, making music, and getting a job, which I find much more exciting than school."

And that, I think, is the key. It's why we've been unschooling all along: Because life should be exciting! Why would we drag through school just to get a diploma, only to get into university, if we can live an exciting life, and then still go to university... arriving full of passion and experience? Or, as my son seems to be leaning towards, potentially unschooling ourselves right through university and into the rest of our lives, dispensing entirely of the education system, and building our lives, piecemeal, according to our passions and opportunities?

This isn't so crazy as it sounds. Most of us are trying to follow our passions and opportunities, often at the same time or combined with our trek through the prescribed journey of life and education. With increasing instability in our economy, climate, and social structure, the gig economy is increasingly accepted as normal, and people of all ages are necessarily becoming more flexible. We're learning that not every year will be the same in our gardens; not every job will be long-term; not every passion needs to remain our focal point. Personally, I've begun blending and re-mixing my diverse careers of parent, explorative learning facilitator and artist, and finding that a whole plethora of new potential titles come out of the mix. Through this pandemic I find myself to be a learning consultant, an artist, a farmer and a YouTuber! Last year that would have sounded ridiculous. My daughter's choice to buck the norm and head to university without a high school graduation looks to me like a very good strategic plan for her, but also a great way to keep herself open and flexible in this constantly-changing world we inhabit.

We were recently celebrating the fact that our son graduated with honours... feeling weird but proud to wear this badge sported by so many conventional parents. And now I wonder if my daughter will feel let down by not having her family celebrate a graduation. Can we celebrate something else, instead? Hell, yes! I'm celebrating her embarking on the path she desires! I'm celebrating the very thoughtful human who is looking critically and creatively at a life in very undesirable pandemic-induced constraints, pulling enormous courage out of a hat and turning her dreams into reality, on her own terms. I encourage all of us to look at our children's accomplishments the same way -- to celebrate their personal choices instead of just the moments they stepped through expected hoops. I can't wait to read my daughter's next book.

---

More information for people looking into homeschooling legalities in British Columbia: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/education-training/k-12/support/classroom-alternatives/homeschooling

The photo at the top is my daughter Rhiannon's promotional portrait taken by her brother, Taliesin.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Unschooling Screen Time!

Probably the biggest source of stress in our unschooling home as been screen-time. I just can't stand seeing my kids sit in front of their screens all the time! I literally ran an outdoor exploration program since they were babies, and brought them outside to play and gallivant in the woods every single day until they were too old to be easily led outside. And slowly, as they grew into teens and now older teens, computers have seeped into every aspect of their lives. As our culture moved more online, even I became a constant screen-user, and with this pandemic, well... screens have won. 

My inner voice screams at me, "bad parent! You're ruining your children! Where's the outdoor time?!"  And at way-too-frequent intervals over the years, my inner voice invaded my throat and I bullied and badgered my kids, tried to bargain with them, tried to limit their screen-time, even took away computers and other devices, once resulting in a physical conflict with my son as I tried to walk out of his room with his laptop and he righteously tried to stop me. None of these actions align with my own moral, parenting, or unschooling values. My kids are supposed to be self-directing! They're supposed to be free-range! They're supposed to be unencumbered by my parental fears and judgments! Definitely free from me stealing their stuff. And yet my deep shame over screen-time has caused me to break all those values so many times.

It's a struggle, for sure, and I know it's the same in so many homes around the world. But I'm writing this to share the one thing I think really helped us in this situation. Did you notice I said I was "stealing" my son's laptop? That's because it's his. He owns it. And that's the big deal, here.

My kids at 11 and 14 with their first personal laptop.
 
I remember a Mad Magazine comic from my childhood in which Webster (I think?) gets sent to his room, and is delighted to go up there and be with his big TV and whatever other electronics he had. I remember thinking what a good child I was to own none of those things - not even as a family, at that point in my 10-year-old life. And I think that pride set the stage for my rampant shame over screen-time.

Then I had my kids in the early 2000's. In their first few years we had one family desktop computer which my husband used for telecommuting two days a week and the kids and I shared for online adventures like videos, games, Google earth expeditions (WOOOOOT!!) and word or image processing on other days. It was pretty ideal. I felt like we were graciously treading the waters of screen-time.

Then we went to an unschooling conference where we discovered entire families of people gleefully wrapped up in creating a Minecraft version of the hotel where the conference was taking place. COOL!! I discovered that it's really OK to enjoy video-gaming with our kids, and in fact it can be a creative family experience. Enter Minecraft in my life. And with so many more amazing resources becoming available around 2010, enter so many more amazing times spent on screens. I didn't feel really bad about getting a family laptop. It meant the kids and I could use a computer even when their father was working from home on the main computer! 

I saw our slow slide into more screen-time, and the conflicts became more frequent. Also, conflicts between the two kids became more frequent as their screen-time needs and values diverged.

Around that time, my kids became old enough to earn their own money, and we have always maintained that while they don't earn money for chores at home (because we don't earn money for this either; it's just a part of living in a home), any money they earn for themselves is theirs to spend as they'd like. This is basically our unschooling way of teaching them to manage their money. And they managed it differently from each other, one saving and saving, while doling out tiny bits for necessary items like gifts and dates with friends, and the other saving exclusively until making larger passionate buys. And guess what! The first big purchase each of them made at around twelve and fifteen years of age was a refurbished laptop. Now at fifteen and eighteen they're migrating to more powerful desktops as their studies and interests have pushed them into daily computer use. My daughter has recently been given a free desktop and financed her own accessories, and my son built himself a powerful machine for his rendering and digital music composition. 

My son's new fancy set-up, complete with a rolling stand that he built to hold it.

Why is this so great? Learning. Self-discovery. Money-management. And personal health choices. The best part of all of this is that they always financed their computer owning on their own. This gave them the independence to provide for themselves in a limited but very important way. It made them feel powerful. It means I can't freak out about screen-time, because they truly own their computers, and they worked a long long time to get to this point -- on their own terms. 

Of course, I still freak out about screen-time once in a while, to my great shame, including that time I tried to steal my son's laptop from his desk, but I'm getting better over time, and so are they. The fact that they own their own devices helps remind me that their lives are not mine to control. The basic tenets of the unschooling life we aspire to mean that I will do better by loving them and leading by example than by trying to control them. Just seeing their fancy self-designed set-ups on their desks reminds me of that. Life and living in community is always a complex challenge, and my own growth as an intentionally laid-back parent is always slowly improving as well.

Most wonderfully and surprisingly, having complete ownership of their own devices seems to mean that my kids are also pretty responsible with screen-time. The pandemic has meant a lot more computer time, and I've noticed both of them intentionally scheduling outdoor, off-screen, or exercise time into their lives. I won't say I'm always calm and accepting, nor that there aren't days they rarely see the light of the sky outside, but despite all my fears over the years, I think we've done all right in navigating this one. 

I'd like to thank the massive support network of unschooling families all over the place who have kept reminding us that it will be OK. It truly is. May we all keep swimming up like good little Minecraft players before all our bubbles pop, and then run around on the land exploring and being creative!

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Ethical Food: killing our own meat

The set-up for this day was a big home-made killing-table, complete with a restraining-cone and sink on one end, a bunch of buckets and bowls for the parts, the hose, some newly-sharpened knives, and a borrowed camp-stove on which to scald our birds before plucking. Our first chicken-butchering day: It was a day we were afraid of, but we were committed.

Our son cleaning up after butchering his first bird.

Thirteen years ago I wrote a blog post called Wild Food: Killing Our Own Meat, which went on to become by far the most popular thing I've ever written, mostly because people are shocked and awed by the idea that we killed and ate slugs with our children. At the time we had a pair of ducks, were eating duck eggs, and thought we might end up getting ducklings which we'd raise for meat as well. But a mink killed our ducks, putting an end to all those plans. It's been a long road of parenting and growing since then, but this year we finally got back on the trail toward raising our own ethical meat.

I've been told before that no meat is ethical, but for my partner and I, the question of food seems so much more complex, so I'll explain a little, here. Please know that this is my and my partner's personal perspective, and we understand that the world is vast and varied. You are entitled to your own opinion, and we respect the choices of those who travel other paths. We hate the industrial farming industry - both the vegetable-based production and the animal-based production. Nearly all of it is deeply unethical, causing irreparable harm not only directly to animals who are involved, but to the environment, through mono-culture, exploitation of land and resources, and through physical and chemical destruction of the land. The world is a vast ecosystem of ecosystems, each with many interdependent communities within it, and each community made of many interdependent species of plants, animals, insects, microorganisms and fungi. Every single part - no matter how small - is vital to the health of the whole. Many people have been alarmed to discover that palm oil, which is frequently used in vegan products, usually involves the destruction of endangered orangutan habitat, and even outright killing of orangutans and other species. Enter "sustainable palm oil". And more products using coconut oil... but wait. Coconut oil has recently been linked to even greater destruction than palm oil! And that's just the oil and processed-foods dilemma. Most of the meals my family eats are vegan, as well as gluten- and soy-free, due to our auto-immune issues. So we eat a lot of almonds, (almond flour, almond milk, etc.). Almonds aren't vegan either, due to the massive impact that large-scale almond-farming has on the bees who are transported across the continent to fertilize the almond-groves of the west coast. Further, the impact that the large-scale mono-culture of almonds has on water-systems, forests, and the ecosystems that would otherwise have thrived there is colossal. What is an ethical eater to do?!

For us, the answer is growing our own food. In our climate, and on the 1/4 acre of land we can use, we are slowly figuring out the most efficient ways to produce food for our family. We know we can't meet all our needs, but we're having some success with peas (dried for winter soups), cauliflower, potatoes (about 1/3 of the number we eat each year), kale, (a few) tomatoes, and now chickens.

Remember those adorable chicks we welcomed just four months ago? This week we slaughtered the first four of our chickens. It was the first time I had killed any animal for meat (though I've had experience with many compassionate killings of injured and sick animals, in the past), and the first time my partner and son had butchered an animal at all. Our daughter bravely caught and handed over the roosters we killed that day, but chose to stay away from the place we butchered them, because we gave both kids the choice to join or not, since nobody should ever be coerced to commit such a traumatizing act as killing, plucking, or gutting an animal.

Bringing each bird to the back driveway (so they'd be far away from the rest of the flock who we didn't want to traumatize) was very, very sad, and a difficult thing to overcome, for our psyches. Me cutting those birds' throats was excruciating. We wholeheartedly believe that we, as animals, eat most ethically when we accept that in order for us to live, something must die, but we would like to make that process the least harmful possible for the ecosystem of our world. Part of that is accepting that eating meat is painful, so that we don't do it wantonly. 

It's important to us that if we're going to eat meat, the animals have happy, healthy lives, and we think we've achieved that in our chickens. Then, we try to maximize the nutrition from each life we've taken. After processing these four birds, I was actually quite pleased to discover that we'll get the protein component of four family meals out of each of them. Here's the breakdown of how we're using these birds:

Directly from what we processed on slaughtering day:
  • 1 cup of livers into the freezer (1x liver pate = 1 fancy family meal, later)
  • 2 jars of feet, neck and gizzard broth made and canned (2x family soup meals, later)
  • 1 family meal of gizzard and neck-meat poutine (with chicken gravy)

Then we put the four birds into the fridge to loosen up (from rigor mortis), and two days later I prepared them: I roasted two of the four, then picked, boiled and dehydrated the meat, made bone broth of the bones, and froze the roasted skin. I froze the two remaining birds whole, which will be feasts, later on, each providing an additional meal of bone broth soup. We ate four roasted wings for our dinner that night, which was delicious, and the perfect amount of meat for our family of four. Meal tally from second day of processing:

  • 2 family feasts of a whole roast bird
  • 5 bone broth soups with bits of meat
  • 2 chickens roasted and dehydrated (4 meals, later)
  • bag of 5 portions of chicken skin (to add to stir-fries and other meals)
  • 1 family meal of wings, on the day I roasted them

My partner's birthday dinner:
Homegrown beans & broccoli with chicken poutine
from the first animal he ever butchered, himself.

Total: 16 meals plus chicken skin.

I can't say I'm enormously proud that we enjoyed eating the meat of the birds we had held in our arms, but I was relieved. I wasn't sure we could do it, and we managed. We fed ourselves.

And I learned something huge about myself in this process. I've always been repulsed and horrified by gore and violence in movies, which seemed incongruous with the fact that I spent my childhood helping with trimming and gutting rabbits, chickens and pigs on my family's hobby farm. Why do those movies upset me so much? In killing my own home-raised chickens, I discovered why: It's compassion. In movies, killing is done for show. Blood theatre. It's needlessly violent, needlessly cruel, and increasingly, it's gratuitous. On an ethical farm, killing is done carefully, and at great cost to the killer. The reason my parents raised meat birds and meat rabbits was also out of a desire for ethical meat, and ethical farming - whether for vegetables or meat - requires a close connection with our food; a deep emotional journey into the lives and greater ecosystem of all the plants, fruit and animals we intend to consume. It requires sorrow, and compassion, and an overcoming of that sorrow when we accept that we need to kill to eat. We choose death in order to survive, and we never do so wantonly, or for some kind of theatre.

Every single bite of chicken that we eat this year will taste of sorrow, compassion, and deep, deep gratitude.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

the apocalypse is trickling in, and unschooling accidentally prepared us for it

dragonfly coming out of its larval skin - photo by Taliesin van Lidth de Jeude Roemer

I went in this morning to look at my eighteen-year-old son while he slept. He looked so peaceful. I wanted to wrap him up in my arms and cherish that peaceful face, now so much longer and with stubble around the chin, as I used to when it was round and soft and chubby, and the whole world seemed so much safer. It's not safe anymore. His whole future is in question, as is my daughter's, and how will we get from here to there? From pandemics to fascism to economic and social collapse to apocalyptic storms and other disasters wrought by climate change, holy this is a crazy time we're living in. Back in the 90's people were talking about this. 2020 was a year that I heard spoken of as a turning point. Would society as we know it even make it to 2020, we asked? Would it be worth having children if in fact things would be as dire as predicted?

Well we did have children. And climate change is pretty much as predicted. Turns out (also as predicted) that the rise in climate change disasters really did trigger global anxiety and a tightening of the screws of power. We're watching in real time as fascism rises, power is abused by corporations and government, the gulf between rich and poor widens, and communities are just beginning to be wiped out by floods, fires, storms, and now rioting. Social collapse is increasingly looking likely. Three years ago, Rachel Nuwer wrote on BBC Future that "Putting aside species-ending events like an asteroid strike, nuclear winter or deadly pandemic, history tells us that it’s usually a plethora of factors that contribute to collapse. What are they, and which, if any, have already begun to surface? It should come as no surprise that humanity is currently on an unsustainable and uncertain path – but just how close are we to reaching the point of no return?" Well guess what--pandemics are here too. This doesn't bode well for our children's future, or even our own. Our family is now home in isolation for the foreseeable future, and learning to grow what crops we can, hoping to develop survival skills. Pretty extreme, right? But for an increasing number of us, this is the new reality. And unexpectedly, unschooling prepared us for this.

We didn't even want to call it unschooling, in the beginning. I valiantly tried to use the terms "life-learning" or "self-directed education", because they seemed so much less confrontational. But as the wave of unschoolers grew across the world, my pacified terms increasingly met with blank stares, and we relented. We unschooled our kids because it seemed like a natural extension of attachment-parenting and the non-coercive learning environment my mother created in her preschool program. We unschooled because it made our kids happy. We continued unschooling because, as time went on, we saw that they were thriving, and that their developing interests, skills, and personal values were increasingly supported by our way of life. Now, in this time of global pandemic and societal upheaval, we are aware that the basic benefits of unschooling are what are keeping our whole family sane and together.

First, we're comfortable being maverick. This seems not like something we'd strive for, and it definitely wasn't. It just came of always being the family with the weird lifestyle. But here we are, accustomed to gently explaining our choices to people and carrying on despite the criticism. This is a very useful skill when our autoimmune-afflicted family is choosing to wear masks during a pandemic when so many others seem to find this practice ridiculous or even offensive. It's a useful skill when isolating ourselves even as the rest of our community returns to normal. Feeling comfortable with being maverick is a useful skill when staying home as a family raising chickens and vegetables and doing "farm things" that many of our kids' city friends find bizarre. My daughter and her friends like to joke that she sleeps in a pile of hay. She updated her zoom background accordingly with a hay pile, and rode the wave of her maverick.

Speaking of being home as a family and farming together (truly we can hardly call it a farm; it's 1/4 acre, but we're doing our best!), we're happy as a family. That is pretty amazing, and like any relationship, it's always a struggle and a rollicking adventure to keep the harmony alive. Especially during this pandemic when we're now having to look at all four of each other's faces most of every hour, every day. But unschooling prepared us for this. Once when my daughter was about six or seven, and we were out on adventure with a wilderness program I led, she came to me with a confused look on her face. She explained that a woman had stopped her on the trail and asked if she's sick of having to be with her mother all the time instead of going to school. She didn't understand why she would be! That is the gift of unschooling, or of any situation that leads to more family togetherness: we have to work out the kinks and create a harmonious living situation. It's not that there aren't times we're frustrated, hurt, or angry; where our various needs or values clash. Of course there are! And plenty of them. However, like in any democratic society, we have to work those issues out with as much respect and listening as possible, if we want to maintain the harmony. Yes of course there have been many times when as parents we put our feet down, because sometimes kids just really don't understand the risks of their actions. But we explain our demands, and we try very hard (not always successfully) to give our kids freedom within the structure of a family all living together. In this way we have all managed to find happiness in each other's company.

Like all democracy, sorting out ongoing life and relationships is always a struggle, and we keep persevering. Jeff Goodell says in Rolling Stone that "the other big takeaway from [the 2018 IPCC] report is that it’s time to get serious about adapting to a rapidly changing world. If we don’t, a good percentage of civilization as we know it today won’t survive." Unschooling has helped us in this by providing endless opportunities for adaptation. A kid with lots of free time and options necessarily learns to manage those options herself, to solve problems herself, to research and find solutions when nobody is presenting any. She learns to compromise and to stay strong when needed; she learns the difference between wants and needs. These are things we all learn as adults, but unschooling, in removing kids from the pre-ordained structure of school, gives them an opportunity to learn these things sooner. They gain confidence in making life-choices for themselves, confidence in standing up for their needs and values, and confidence in their ability to adapt to new situations.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, unschooling has taught us resilience. I suppose resilience is a confluence of all the things I've talked about already. It's being a person who is able to stand strong when faced with a challenge, adapt to the moment, and persevere. It's about having a positive outlook even when circumstances are dire, and using that outlook to chart a path to a happy outcome. My Dad had Parkinson's for most of my adult life, and when people asked him how he was doing, he sometimes responded "better than I look". And he managed to have a fulfilling and active life for more than a decade beyond what the doctors predicted. In the last few years of his life, when his disease made him severely disabled, he said his cup was not half full, but "overflowing". Life is always, always going to give us challenges, and some of them are going to seem insurmountable. Some of them actually will be insurmountable, and eventually we'll lose loved ones, and die. But we can go down feeling bad, or we can go down with our hearts full, knowing we lived the best life we could. That is what I hope for my weird little unschooling family.

Last night our family put the chickens to bed, made some popcorn, and went out to the beach to look at comet Neowise. We brought our telescope and my son brought all the cameras to capture the gorgeousness of our night sky. After much standing around looking at eyepieces and setting up lenses and tripods, the sky darkened enough that we saw Neowise above the northwestern horizon. My daughter in her hedgehog onesie that feels like a mop leaned into me as we stood in the warm breeze. Eventually her brother's and father's arms wrapped around us both as we watched bats flit by against the starry sky. Soon we all found ourselves lying on the pebbly beach, comfortable being in each other's company, gazing at the amazingly vast collection of stars, meteors, clouds, satellites and black-blue space. Maybe the apocalypse is trickling in. We're as ready as we'll ever be, because our cup is overflowing.

comet Neowise - photo by Taliesin van Lidth de Jeude Roemer


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Tortillas from scratch by Rhiannon

In addition to being in isolation at home with whatever foods I deemed essential, we have decided that having the world of imported and processed foods at our fingertips was no longer sustainable, neither for our finances nor for an ethical, ecologically sustainable future. We're aiming for the following (in this order):
  1. Grow everything we can (veggies, potatoes, apples, corn, chicken meat and eggs)
  2. Source other basics from our own province (pulses, oats, corn, hay, chicken feed)
  3. Buy rice in bulk (not yet ethical)
  4. Other treats rarely (local ethical meat, cheese, imported fruits, and ethical chocolate)
Consequently, we now have a lot of dried chickpeas, rice, lentils, oats and corn, which is what we make most of our meals out of, in addition to lots of veggies from the garden, as they become ready to eat. To keep from eating rice, curries, hummus and soup every day, we're having to learn and improvise a LOT! We've discovered that we can run any and all grains and pulses through our grain mill or roller and create all kinds of gluten-free breads.

But Rhiannon wanted tortillas!! So... she made them! From scratch, using info gathered from around the Internet. What a satisfying thing to do!! I was so proud to see her determination and ingenuity. Maybe her Abuelita would be proud, too. :-)


How To Make Corn Tortillas from Scratch
On the first day, she brought about 5 cups of dried corn to a boil with some ash from our wood stove, and once the peels were coming off the kernels, she left the pot of ashy corn and water to sit for twenty-four hours.

Today she hand-scoured and rinsed the corn until the water was clear-ish, and strained it. Then she ran the corn through our meat-grinder twice, until (with a bit of water added) it became a nice masa dough.

Makin' masa, and jumpin' on the masa!
She divided it into sixteen balls, flattened each between two cutting boards (by jumping on them!!) and then cooked them up on our skillets.

Squished masa, and Tali helping to cook the tortillas.

To complete her awesome project, she made us all this wonderful dinner, including store-bought avocados and cheese, plus chives, parsley, lettuce and garlic scapes from our garden. What a proud Mama am I. And pleased to just arrive at the table to this masterpiece.