Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The pits!

It was Grootmoeder's birthday, so the Canadians also participated in the annual cherry pit spitting contest! Adrian won, with a distance of 9.4m! And everybody won!
Markus taking his turn. We think distance achieved correlates with height, so Mum suggests that tall people should have to dig holes to stand in while spitting!

Shorter people can also tie knots with stems.

The ocean was sparkly.

The heron pretended a massive dock hadn't been installed at his home.

The kids swam all evening.

And the sun set. Happy birthday, Grootmoeder!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Detaching

It all started so innocently. So sweetly. I asked my daughter what she felt about the lovely classroom program I'm hoping she'll join this coming year, and she showed me an image of a baby swaddled in a colourful patchwork quilt, nestled in a beautifully ornate little wooden chest, and attended by sparkling and joyful fairies - fairies!! The baby's blonde hair and round pink cheeks reminded me of my own sweet one when she was a baby, and even though she's ten, now, it warmed my heart to see her holding that image. I felt so full of love: that cosy, cooing kind of love that comes from holding my children's dear faces close to my own. "Oh that's adorable!" I exclaimed, and that's where the dream broke.

You see, the program I want her to join is built around attachment parenting ideals. It's the community she's grown up in, and she's participated in some of the activities at this place with her friends. Parents are deeply involved in the centre's operation, whether through duty days, parent jobs, organizing outings or activities, involvement with the council or just by participating with the children in whatever interests them. On the face of it, this is ideal to me. The photo my daughter showed me epitomized the cherishing, swaddling, adoring feeling I associate with the school. In my heart it's a community of loving parents, creating a nest of support and safety for our children to grow in, and from that support out into the beautiful world. I saw my own darling daughter's beautiful whisps of hair, her sweet baby lips, and the colourful blanket of love surrounding her. All in a gorgeous wooden chest, keeping her safe but still open with a view to the fairies and the outside world. And I opened my eyes and heart and mouth and exclaimed "Oh that's adorable!" And she scowled.

"No it's not!" She retorted, in the most shockingly discordant tone.

"What?!" My idealism hit the sullen brick wall of a ten-year-old's indignation.

"It's exactly the problem!" She said. "The parents are always around. Everything is the parents' idea! You always have the parents helping and you never just get to do anything that you want!"

"Well you have more say in your activities than you would at a regular school, where the teachers are still in charge," I said, confused.

"Right but they're not your parents."

(How did we come from 'Mama I always want to do everything with you and never anything away', to this??)

The girl herself, 10 years ago, when swaddling was appropriate.
There is a great difference between having ideals and idealism. Having ideals is where we act with a view toward some beautiful thing that we understand not to be absolutely certain or attainable. Idealism is the unrealistic pursuit of those things, without regard for change. Change is essential. Change is what makes life worth living - what makes everything possible at all. Idealism locks in ideals so they can't shift and grow.

That beautiful ornate chest and patchwork quilt were not keeping the baby safe any more; they were keeping her imprisoned. My baby has grown up. Well... she is growing up. Hopefully she, like all of us, will never stop growing up. And I needed to grow up, too. I needed to shift my understanding to keep pace with the changes in my daughter's heart.

The next time she and I went to participate in her homelearner's group, I happily followed along with the other parent. I don't usually involve myself in her activities, but at that place I felt so welcome. She seemed to be happy I was there. She was comfortable. Then I remembered the photo of the baby, and I asked her if she'd like me to go. "Yes!" She said, delightedly, and I did.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Earth Day Every Day: 2


A couple of sixteen-year-old sweethearts out for a late-evening walk around the lake. They had all the summer ahead of them, and no time to keep. They stopped for a long kiss on the boardwalk. Maybe it was a very long kiss, because somehow night fell, just then, and as they carried on along the trail, the forest closed around them and they were enveloped in darkness. He reached for her hand and she felt responsible – after all, this island was her home, and she should know the way back even with her eyes closed. Which they may as well have been, for all that she could see. She slowed the pace. She felt her boyfriend's arm on one side, the springy root trail beneath her, and to her left, a small log.

Oh! Wait! The trail builders had recently put these logs here, and she was sure they were all on the uphill side of the trail! She must have led him to the wrong side of the log! Thankful for the night concealing her blush of embarrassment, she said, “Just step over this little log, here...” and she did – into mid-air. Well, the mid-air part was a fraction of a second long, before she crumpled down past roots and stones and salal, came to rest on the ground and clambered quickly to stand again – this time aware of his knee in front of her face, as he stood there on the path, confused.

“Um. Actually not that way.” He helped her back up, never laughing at her, and thankfully never noticing the scrapes on her legs that she felt swelling up as they walked, this time much more slowly, along the trail. She closed her eyes. Given the fresh opportunity to be lost in her own environment, she used her free hand to navigate, feeling about at the warm summer air, the leaves, branches, and trunks as they went by. She discovered that she recognized some of the trees. She discovered that she knew by the change in slope that they were closer to the road, and by the smell of water that they were nearing the gravel spit. She became attuned to her senses in a way to which she wasn't accustomed, and delighted in the sound of her boyfriend's feet on the ground, the feeling of the breeze passing between their arms, and the glimpses of light as they neared the open alder forest. She loved the smell of the forest floor.

That was me, twenty-three years ago. I remember this often, and now try to make a habit of falling – at least metaphorically – off the beaten path. After all, falling lacks purpose, so the places I find myself are so much more surprising.

Last week, walking on the south side of the island, I picked my way carefully between thigh-deep snarls of blackberries toward the parched and crumbling moss deserts of the dry hillside. Even the blackberries were drying up, their vines like desperate brittle arms, reaching out to grab my clothing. I was so focused on the area immediately around my ankles, that I came unexpectedly upon a stand of cattails – a little marsh tucked into the rocks. What? I looked around: Pines, Douglas Fir, yellowing grass, moss and bracken, some cedars approaching death as their roots sought water in the dusty ground; insects resting on the brown-stemmed flowers. And the little stand of cattail. Their roots found some hidden source of water in the fold of the bedrock.

I looked up and discovered I was so far off the trail as to have to follow my senses back through the blazing white sun. So I stood and listened. Crowned sparrows called from various perches and the wind whipped the foxgloves so that they flopped against each other now and then. The grass whispered and my feet crunched the dried plants on my way home. I felt the stinging heat of the sun. Each of these experiences was a gift, like falling off a trail on a dark night. It is a gift just to give ourselves opportunities to discover.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Grown-up Play

Recently my sister Bree delightedly shared that she'd been at the beach building forts with our brother in law. Most of us realize, I think, how essential play is for children's physical, cognitive and social development, but what about for adults? Do we assume that once we reach a certain shoe size we stop developing? I certainly haven't. I feel like I grow every time I have a conversation; every time I cook or paint; every time I have to sit waiting in a line up and have a moment to tread in my own thoughts, and quietly observe the things around me.

Play is a time for processing prior information and experience, and it's also a chance for putting that cognitive processing into action. It's a time to experiment! We adults need that as much as our children do.

My brother is one of the most playful people I know. There's nothing contrived about it for him. It's just is who he is: always exploring; always growing.
So how can we encourage play in our lives? I am not naturally a very playful person, and am also very self-critical, especially when what I'm doing doesn't seem productive, in the classical western sense. So I need to remind myself that playing is acceptable. I also need to make space in my life and mind for play to happen. These are some of the things that help me:

Allowing: This is the most challenging, for me. Despite many years of practising this with children, and even in groups of adults, I find it incredibly difficult to just allow the ship of my intentions or expectations to go adrift, on my own activities. But when I do manage to let go, the world welcomes me with enthusiasm. Many of the best adventures I've had were those that happened when I stopped the car at a random spot and went exploring. My lack of knowledge or expectation about the place I was in allowed me to see with fresh eyes, to wander to new discoveries, to run with abandon into the water or the mud or the wind, and to look back on the adventure with delight.

Taking time: While it's absolutely possible to play on the go, to take small opportunities for delight, discovery, and exploration throughout a busy "work" day, I really treasure the experiences I've had that were unbounded by time. A whole day or a weekend is fabulous. But even just an afternoon is wonderful, too. The best way to find time on a budget, for me, is to pack up a simple dinner in the afternoon, and just go. So I'm only carrying one meal, and there are absolutely no obligations hanging over my head until the next day. I can go home and sleep whenever I want, so my time exploring is limited only by my own energy level. A group of friends and I used to go out to the pub after our adult ballet class and have a tequila. We called ourselves the tequilerinas. More often recently I seem to find myself at the beach with the family, usually some friends, and truly meagre dinner and fire supplies - and endless time. Sometimes I swim, talk, draw or sculpt in the sand or pebbles. Sometimes I find myself lying still on the darkening beach, taking time to absorb and contemplate the sounds and smells and feelings that surround me. And I don't deal with the wet towels until the next morning.

Redefining: The language we use really does make a difference to our ability to incorporate play in our lives. If we call something "work", we are less likely to relax into it; maybe less likely to enjoy it. Then again, if we call something "play", we may be less likely to value it. So for me there is a necessary balance of finding play in work - in allowing work to be fun, and in valuing play, everywhere I can find it. My friend Dave Pollard suggests calling intentional adult gatherings "Playshops" instead of "Workshops". I like it! I think I may try that terminology out this summer! After all, even when the gathering is intended to solve real world problems or develop very structured plans, the act of playing together helps us explore and find creative solutions, as well as helping us to relate to each other and the topic at hand.

Being intentional: Especially when redefining is difficult, I find that taking dedicated time for intentional play helps. It sounds like an oxymoron, to use a schedule or structure in order to go astray from patterns and expectations... but hey, sometimes I need that just to break out in the first place! Other people are the easiest way to lead myself away from my expectations: If I can get a friend to meet me at the beach I'm much more likely to stay! Taking a workshop (Playshop!) where play has an integral role (or is the entire purpose!) also is wonderful. Even taking time for individual exploration can be intentional. I used to take a few hours once a week to go out and photograph the vegetation throughout the seasons. This was different than the time I took for creative pursuits like writing and painting, because unguided exploration of the wilderness was essential to discovering new subjects to photograph. I probably spent about 5 minutes photographing for every hour exploring. And I climbed trees.

Now goodbye. I'm going out to play.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Unschooling to School: End of Year Exhaustion

Tali relaxes by building things like this ion thruster.
Please can we be done, now?!

I feel like I'm counting down the days, although quite honestly I'm too tired to bother. The end isn't close enough for that, yet.

A few weeks ago I was worried about the summer. What will he do? How will I entertain him? Now he's used to constant social interaction and activity, and that's not easy to keep up in the summer! Then suddenly I felt the nice cushy carpet of supportive energy just whisk out from underneath us, and now we're just done. Fini. Kapot. Kaput.

I see it in the way his eyes glaze over at the thought of walking to school; in the way he just... can't... force... himself out of bed in the mornings. He has no gumption to ride his bike; no desire to get together with friends. He now spends every possible moment immersed in video games, books, creative projects like the one depicted to the left, or in the ocean. It doesn't seem to matter to him that this week is exam week. His attention checked out a few weeks ago. And me? Well if I ever might have cared about exams or school outings or traditions, I couldn't care less, now. Packing lunches lost it's charm a looooong time ago. I'm pretty impressed that my boy was able to hold up for so long, and I know he'll be reinspired after a summer of creative freedom, but I am beginning to feel like this school schedule is just way too much. Too overwhelming. Too much expectation; too much monopolizing of our time and energy, and not enough space for self.

I just can't wait to relax with my kids and find our groove again. We're starting, already. Staying up late is happening, whether it suits the school program or not, and I am enjoying those late-night reading sessions, the junk-food beach meals, the lazy do-what-you want days. I miss full-time unschooling. I miss it a lot!! And I am going to appreciate this summer more than any before, just because this time I know how valuable it is.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Growing Room

1990: During the second expansion: no wall between my room and the living room!
Our little home was once a trailer. I remember cleaning out garbage bags full of beer cans and bottles from it before we brought it to the island to live on. I believe I was about 5. I chose the nice sunny room at the front. It was tiny, but it was bright. It had a lovely white and gold linoleum floor, a sliding metal window, and was very close to the oil furnace that I don't believe we ever used. My parents installed a woodstove behind my wall, and my Pappa enlarged my room by replacing the long closet with a very small one.

During my late teens I painted my walls...
I remember many nights staring up at the pressboard ceiling above my bed, imagining swooshes of grass and wind and being both comforted and annoyed by the repetition of the pattern.

As the years passed, my Pappa enlarged my room twice more, expanding into the living room, until my room was more than twice its original size. I got another window, and even, eventually, a carpet. I grew up in that room, until I was 17 and we moved away - my family to the interior and I to my supposed adult life.

I left behind the room I was so attached to, the room that had my fears and comforts, joys and sorrows, memories and forgotten experiences embedded in its walls.

But seven years later I came back with my husband, of course. And there was no better room for a baby room than my own dear room. So we peeled off the Winnie-the-Pooh paper installed by previous tenants, and created a space worthy of our most precious treasures: our children.

The walls were cream coloured and blue with a chair-rail, and eventually I painted trees for the children, too. 


The room held their dreams and hopes and fears from cradle to crib to bunk bed, and it also held their father and me on those many sleepless nights as we grew into parenthood.





Thirteen years of growing up!

 To document the treasured history of the room, I painted it:

An old, wise, fairy-inhabited maple tree for my thoughtful son, and a fresh young cherry tree, just brimming with magical activity for my brave and adventurous daughter.


With great thanks to Rien Portvliet, whose paintings I replicated, I commemorated my childhood with my brother, my parents becoming grandparents, and the working and growth of the land. And of course I commemorated the enormous growth we were making at that time, becoming parents.
 

It's been a long time. My hair is beginning to turn grey and my chin to sag. My children are reaching for the threshold of adulthood. There are two generations of childhood in this room, not to mention the history of the families who lived here before we did, and between, while we were living away. We'll never know all that these walls hold. We won't even know each other's memories, although we do share them. And now the room is gone.
This week we are pulling it all apart. Both children now have rooms at the back of the house, and this lovely south-facing room will become our kitchen. It's going to be a wonderful kitchen, but we all felt we needed an opportunity to say goodbye to the room. So we cleared all the toys and furniture, and had a nachos picnic on the floor, while talking about our memories. The kids shared memories of games they played in the bunk bed, the various things they've drawn and written on the walls, the dreams and nightmares they've had in the nights, here. I shared memories of my childhood and teens; I showed them how very small the room was when I first moved into it, and the marks from where their Opa made it bigger for me. We talked about the times we slept in the room all together when the kids were frightened, and remembered all the evenings standing in a family hug, singing their favourite songs.  Last night we played train tracks until late in the night, when we climbed up into the top bunk to read the stories we treasured when they were very young.



Finally we took the planets down, and today even the bed is gone. The walls are coming down, and the room is no more.

But we all have history in this room. We all have memories to guide our journeys, and to treasure for their significance. There will be other memories, and hopefully a few more lifetimes of nourishing foods made in the new kitchen.

Goodbye, old room. Thank you for keeping us all.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Happy May!

Yes! It's that time of year again!

This year we had a two-tiered May Pole.

It was a little complicated, but that just made it even more fun!

And guess who got the marked May Cake!!

Adrian, the new May King!

And following our tradition, he had to jump the fire to bring us a good growing year!

We had a nice Beltane fire, lots of hot dogs and marshmallows, and various delicious foods, as well.

The summer is definitely coming in - here are some blossoming wild gooseberries...

...new leaves of the ginkgo...

...a flutter-by...

...and one of our local frogs.

We are hoping them to avoid Lughnasa, who has become a bit of a brute around the yard.

And that is how the wheel of life pans out. It's been a bit of a rough year, after the loss of a grandpa and my brother's separation from his wife. But the ribbons of life are forever interwoven.

So let the new year begin!!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day Every Day: 1

Earth Day Every Day is a bi-monthly series of essays I write for the Bowen Bulletin, re-published here for fun!

~
My son wants our family to stop using electricity for Earth Day – all day.

I want to tell him that's too difficult; I have computer work to do; so does his father. What if it's cold and we light the wood stove? That's surely worse than electricity consumption? And he'll be at school most of the day – he can't expect them to just throw the main breaker. But in his expression I don't see enthusiasm, I see concern. Maybe fear, even. He isn't suggesting this because it makes him happy; he's suggesting this because his entire generation has grown up afraid. It's an act of desperation.

Earth Day is forty-five years old, this year. It's only been global for twenty-five. When I was young, we thought it was about recycling, and maybe about saving trees. Those were doable. Those changes were within our means. We felt empowered by special plastic bins marked 'paper' and 'cans'. It's not like that anymore. Various surveys over the past few years have indicated that climate change is one of the biggest fears of our youth. They don't feel empowered; they feel helpless. Our children watch hurricane after drought after tsunami after blizzard, tearing people's lives apart; turning our beautiful world to a wasteland. They're not fooled by our blinders. They watch unfathomably large companies exploit the land, waste and pollute the water, and leave their futures barren. They watch desperate people campaigning and protesting to stop it all, and they watch those people vilified; arrested; beaten. We offer our kids treats to soothe the pain; toys and vacations to distract them. But they can't stick their heads in the sand as we do, while we truck our refuse away to be recycled, and feel good about driving a little less than would be convenient. We turn off the news when the climate disasters come on, and they chastise us for being so weak. Our children are not weak. They see our hypocrisy. They want us to shut off the power for the whole day.

What if Earth Day wasn't about cutting back? What if, instead of self-denial and negative emotion, we instead made Earth Day about abundance? I'd much rather celebrate and promote an abundance of Earth than squeeze myself into a little corner of abstinence and fear. Because you know, even if I did that, it wouldn't exactly be easy to convince other people to join me. I want to do something that makes me feel good and moreover, that makes my children feel good.

Let's be extravagant about that. I'd like for my whole life to be about celebration. I do some such things, already; I help survey for forage fish eggs as part of Ramona de Graaf's conservation work, all over our coast. It's a relatively small act that nevertheless connects me with the beach in a very purposeful way, every few weeks.

Connection is a big deal, I think. How can we protect the local ecosystem if we don't understand it? We might introduce invasive species in an attempt to help out, and create ecological havoc, as has happened frequently and on quite massive scale, worldwide. But if we really connect with the ecosystem – from the animals and insects to the plants and moss and fungi, to the bacteria, soil, weather and seasons, to our own biological and emotional place in this system – imagine what we could understand, then.

I never realized, before learning to sample for forage fish with Ramona, how populated the seemingly barren gravel is, just below the high tide line. In years of leading outdoor exploration programs, I used to head only for the logs, plant-life, and rock crevices, where I knew I could find life. I never thought about my footsteps on the beach, until I started sampling bits of it for forage fish eggs.

Imagine if every day was an opportunity to experience our own ecosystems.

It is.

This year for Earth Day I'm not going to cut the power and give my husband a forced vacation day. I'm going to make a renewed effort to connect with my ecosystem – not just for the programs I lead, either. I'm going to do it for me. Every day.

Years ago, when I had free time, I walked out every morning and photographed my surroundings. I harvested wild foods not just once in a while, but weekly. Somehow, in the meantime, I've allowed myself to get lost in a less connected life, mostly in an effort to keep up with the societal demands of my kids' lives. And I've failed my kids, in doing so. Now they come to me pleading to just not use electricity for a day. I need to listen to those needs. This year for Earth Day, I'm hitting the main breaker on the busy life. I'm going to make time to go out every single day and connect. I'll share some discoveries about our island ecosystem every couple of months. Watch for them! And while I'm out, I won't be using my car, I won't be using electricity, and I will be actively participating in my own ecosystem. Happy Earth Day!



Monday, April 20, 2015

10 Ways to Encourage Explorative Learning

It's raining as I come home. I walk in the door to encounter muddy boots and wet raincoats, bits of leaf-litter strewn about the tiles. The house looks like a tornado passed through. There are drifts of paper-clippings littering the livingroom floor, somebody's messy chemical concoction on the table, a heap of magazines barely covered by a giant blanket-fort between the couches, upon the walls of which my children and various guests are playing shadow games. I want to snap at them to clean up the mess, and I confess it's really only the presence of their friends that helps me twitter, instead, in a sing-songy voice, "Hi lovelies! Would you like a snack?" I know intrinsically that this is evidence of a few hours very-well spent, but sometimes it's just hard. Sometimes I secretly wish they went to school. I have to remind myself, during moments like these, that this is the paradise we aimed for, and I need to appreciate it!

Some days aren't as idyllic as this one. Some days my impatience and frustration gets the better of me, and some days I forget my commitment to explorative learning. Sometimes I'm afraid, and sometimes I resort to workbooks, coercion, and distraction. I have to remind myself of the good days, and of the fact that eventually the house does (sort of) return to normal, and we do (sort of) have some order in our lives. That's when we seek out the chaos again. Alix Spiegel tells us that Old Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills, but sometimes I need to make a list to remind myself that what I'm aiming for is good and possible. Here's that list.

10 Ways to Encourage Explorative Learning
(complete with lots of excellent links you really should check out!)

Explore. OK, so it seems ridiculous to say this, but as adults we often forget to explore. So it's good to be purposeful about it. We are some of our children's greatest role models, so if they don't see us exploring, why would they explore, themselves? When my son was very young, he told me that he would grow up to work on a computer. "Why?" I asked him. "Do you like computers?" At that point, he rarely was in contact with a computer. "Because I will be a Pappa, and work on the computer like Pappa does!" He didn't see any other direction for himself, and it's hard to stray from our own expectations. This was a good reminder to us of the necessity not just to explore, ourselves, but to be seen exploring. And of course, we benefit, too, since being curious not only improves our social lives and neural function, but also makes us happy.

Get creative. Dance, sing, paint, build forts, play drums on hollow logs, and tell stories. The key here is not to learn a craft, but to explore avenues of self-expression. These activities not only help us achieve psychological and physical health, but also help us reflect and develop deeper understanding of all other activities. Creativity serves to connect and integrate our cognitive, emotional, and physical selves, so that whatever we learn through exploration can be assimilated wholly. It's important, too, not to just give our children opportunities for creativity, but to be creative, ourselves. My husband makes time to play his accordion every day, and sometimes the kids join him. None of them have had lessons; they're just exploring, and in their own unique ways, they're all growing remarkably in the process.

Be approachable. Whether your kids want to know about sex, drugs, divorce, or the details of your bodily functions, try to find it within you to share. Obviously we all have our boundaries, but exploration includes a lot of mental processing of the taboo topics that come up in life, and if there's nobody trustworthy to ask about these things, where will our kids turn? I try very hard to be open with my kids, even to their embarrassment, I confess. But in return, they seem to trust me enough to ask the big questions.

Play. Have some supplies for open-ended exploration, but be willing not to use them, too. Sometimes even the greatest microscope can take away from the experience of just watching the insects live in their natural environment, and perhaps expanding on that experience with place-based creativity and play. And yes, of course older kids can play! There seems to be a misconception that play is essential for young children, but as we grow older we need it less and less. Play is slowly replaced by didactic instruction, goal-based curriculum requirements, and eventually a conformist adult life from which many of us struggle to free ourselves with workshops and activities that seek to help us rediscover our ability to play. Our children's lives don't have to be arranged according to curriculum; there are alternatives, and alternative ways to look at it all. Some schools are dispensing with subject-areas altogether.

Be willing to go the extra mile; be extravagant. Be your own, weird self. While things like healthy meals and good sleep are indeed essential, so is a bit of crazy wild freedom. Sometimes my son reads until after midnight on school nights, and I've found that it's better to let him be than to nag him. Sometimes we suddenly pack up and go for an adventure. Sometimes it's just a good idea to do something unusual. Sometimes we make mistakes and have accidents. Sometimes we get hurt, but limits are there to be tested; rules to be broken. That's how we learn to know ourselves and to self-regulate. In a world where children's freedom has declined, we need to provide every opportunity for our children to regain that freedom, along with our trust, and their own natural abilities to explore, learn, and self-direct.

Oops! This fall left Uncle Adrian muddy for the next few hours!
Get out in the wilderness. The recent popularity of Nature Schools is no fluke -- as our entanglement with technology increases we're becoming more and more aware of our psychological and cognitive need to explore the wilderness, as Richard Louv elaborates on, frequently. The wilderness does present some of the most basic threats and fears we face as humans. It is the place of woodcutters and witches, and more realistically, predators and precipices and ...epically deep mud. But these are just the most extreme of the many small challenges the wilderness presents to us, and each one of them is an opportunity for growth and discovery. Further, as we explore and learn to understand our wilderness, we develop an understanding of the interconnectedness of the ecosystem we're a part of, of our own bodies, and of our own intellect. We develop instinct, skills, confidence, and roots.


Develop roots. Carol Black says that "Every ecosystem in the world at one time had a people who knew it with the knowledge that only comes with thousands of years of living in place." And that knowledge takes time. It takes boredom. It takes getting out in the same old bit of forest that you got out in last week and the week before, and taking time just to climb a new tree; look at a new branch; hear a new character in the voice of the wind. This is how we develop deep connection and understanding. Obviously, frequent moving during childhood can not only cause significant health problems, but would also disrupt the process of developing a deep connection with a particular place.

Make time. A study out of the Universities of Boulder and Denver, Colorado has concluded that less-structured time in children's daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning. I know many people who speak delightedly of their annual summer cottage adventures; the little fish that swam off the dock just outside the camp they attended every year. Summer seems to be the time we allow our children to explore, and for many it is the time of greatest connection; greatest memory-building. As kids, we were given time to explore, during the summer, and often taken to wilderness locations to do so, unlimited, and unguided. This was the time of building forts and escaping wild animals. This was the time of falling in love, deepening friendships, and writing in journals. During most of the rest of the year, school and extra-curriculars are so taxing on our free time, that summer becomes a beacon of hope for explorative learning. How can we expand on that, then? Wouldn't it be wonderful to explore all year? For my family, this means unschooling, and also limiting the activities we enroll the kids in, to ensure that at least a couple of days every week are free for completely free-range exploration time. It also means letting go of our own parental fears of missing out.

Give freedom. Let go of fear, and fear-based control! It's so important. Not much can be accomplished as long as we're harnessed by the fear of not-measuring-up, or of ((gulp!)) failing as parents. Most of us have ingrained in us a litany of must-haves and musn't-do's, not to mention the ever-present threat of losing our children to any number of academic, social or physical disasters. But if life wasn't full of danger, we'd have little need to learn. I would rather my children climb trees and fall a few times, than that they never learned to climb or to fall safely. We all fall. Let's do it well!

Accept. And learn to appreciate. Our kids are not going to embody the perfection we might have hoped they would. We won't create little geniuses by showing them Baby Einstein or even by following suggestions like those in this article; we won't have stress-free relationships with our teens no matter how hard we try, and we can't even protect them enough to save their lives, when it really comes down to it. Of course we should try - because we want them to know that we will always be there for them. That's the kind of security they need in order to flexibly explore their environments. But then, when they back off of the interests we thought we were nurturing; when they go to school and come back with seemingly new personalities attached... we have to accept them. After all, that is part of the security they need, too. Every day when my teenage son comes home from school I snuggle him. I find a time during the afternoon or evening to cuddle up close and listen to his stories. Sometimes he creates those times, himself. And he tells me things I didn't want to know. Sometimes I think he's testing me, so I'm careful to pass the acceptance test. Sometimes I think he just genuinely needs a sounding board, and I'm exceedingly grateful to still be that person, after all these years. That gratitude gives me the security I need to accept his developing personality, and for him to accept mine.

Stephen Harper's Birthday

This coming April 30th will be Beltane (Yes! Party time!) And incredibly, we have just discovered that it will also be Stephen Harper's birthday... huh.

Rhiannon just asked "How old is Stephen Harper?"

"I don't know", I said. "Maybe fifty-something?"

"Great!!" She exclaimed, with abundant joy. "Then we'll have a new Prime Minister within my lifetime!!!"

"What?"

"Because he'll retire!"

I was kind of a flabbergasted. Does she seriously understand so little about politics? "But Annie! We have elections! Hopefully he'll be replaced by somebody better this year, already!"

"But everyone always elects him. But if he gets too old he'll have to retire."

"We don't always elect him! I sure don't! Hopefully we'll have someone different, this time."

"But he's always been the Prime Minister."

"No, we've had lots..." And then I realized: Stephen Harper has been our Prime Minister since Rhiannon was 2. Poor Rhiannon, she's lived most of her life in a climate of political bullying and idiocy. She doesn't even know it can be different. Please let's make it different, this time! I am hoping for a Green-NDP coalition. Wouldn't that be something?

Happy Birthday, Mr. Harper. I hope it's so miraculously fabulous that you feel inclined to retire.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Eggs!

It started with blowing and painting eggs. And enough of the fancy dye jobs - this year the kids went for straight up acrylics!

Lucky me, this year Rhiannon made an egg hunt for the adults, too! She melted down chocolate chips with orange and peppermint essential oils, and molded the concoction into my steel measuring spoons to cool. Then she wrapped the little half-eggs each in a layer of tinfoil and an outer layer of paper that she had coloured with wax crayons (so the colours wouldn't run while they were hidden in the dewey garden). They are delicious!!

The usual foiled eggs appeared in the yard, too, of course.

...and a couple of not-so-usual cardboard eggs.

Then we had our friend Cheryl's completely delicious homegrown green and brown eggs for breakfast. Soft-boiled, of course, to get the most opportunity to appreciate the eggs' lovely flavour. We only eat eggs a couple of times a year, so this is always a great treat.

Since Tali is allergic to eggs, I made him his own filled bacon eggs for breakfast. (Yes: Egg-free eggs!)
Tali approved.


To make the filled bacon eggs, I chopped and boiled potatoes, then fried those pieces with some sausage, and mixed that with some freshly-chopped apple pieces (about equal parts of each). Then I packed the mixture into egg-shapes by hand, and set them aside. I wove 6 very narrow slices of raw bacon into a small mat, lay the potato-sausage-apple shape on top of it, and continued weaving the bacon around until the whole thing was wrapped. I used butcher's string to wrap and tie up each egg, and baked them on a rack in a pan at 450F. I had to turn them a couple of times in the process, to make sure they browned evenly. Then of course I cut off the string, put lovely ribbons on them, and set them on my mother's lovely silver napkin rings to serve. :-)
Flowers are a little like eggs, right? Well I think so. And anyway they were beautiful at the table.