Monday, February 23, 2015

physiology of belonging

Flowers from loved ones. Community is an

essential part of healing. The freesias

came with a note that said "Remember -

when you can't ride the horse, get off and

walk it for a while. The horse thanks you too."
A few weeks ago, my father died.* I've been trying to get warm ever since. I know emotions are tied to body heat, but it's frustrating, anyway, to keep the house at nearly 20C and still to be cold from the inside out, always. I've been dreaming that I'm warm and cozy in a snow-cave. I drink tea and it doesn't warm me. I boldly go out in the sunshine and it feels cold on my face. I don't even sweat at ballet.

Then today, a tiny revelation: I was wrapped up in warm clothes, drinking tea and busying myself about the house to keep warm, keeping the fire stoked and constantly standing near it. Then unexpectedly my daughter mentioned to me that sometimes when people speak, she sees the words going by. What?! So do I!! I've always thought it was an anomaly - just one more lonely trait in my history of being different. I guess in the family aftermath of my father's death, a feeling of belonging somewhere was something I needed very much.

I was so excited by this revelation and the joyful feeling of belonging that I literally jumped with glee, and my daughter instantly back-pedalled: "Wait, no! It's not that exciting?!" Yes it is. "No! I probably only see them rarely! Or just once!" She was clearly alarmed at my enthusiasm, but she didn't understand how much that tiny thing meant to me. So I let it go. Then I took off my jacket. I'm too hot. My house is 20C and I just had a cup of tea, and - for the moment at least - I feel warm right through.

What physiological change was prompted by the feeling of belonging, of joy, of letting go of pain? I'm no scientist, and I haven't researched this, but the experience is a good reminder to me to appreciate and seek out these moments of joy, for whatever they are, and however seemingly unimportant, because my health and healing depends upon my doing so. It's also a reminder to me, as a parent, that my children's (and all of our) physical health depends upon our emotional health. It depends upon our sense of belonging and self-worth, as well as how we are valued at home and in the greater community. This reinforces my firm belief that healing and personal change cannot be provoked as well by external force or intervention as it can be supported by acceptance, love, and a nurtured sense of belonging.

*Further info is in the obituary, which I linked to. I don't have the emotional means to post about my father's death right now, but I promise that one day I will. It's a big family change; a big personal journey, and a very steep learning curve for me. It's going to take some time to be able to verbalize.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Love instead of hatred.

Media is depressing.

On national radio every day I hear fears about homegrown terrorism, Isis- and other radical religion-related atrocities; ongoing and always marginalization and ruination of aboriginal peoples and everything they have left on earth. On alternative news sources: murder by those in positions of authority, murder, torture and rape excused because the victims were voiceless or nameless. I hear about environmental and human devastation caused by the same corporations that also control the economy in the affected areas. Everywhere. Crimes against humanity. But it's news, we say - did we expect it to be positive?

For entertainment we get "reality", where "real" humans fight each other for viewers' support, or for hard-won praise from cruel and obnoxious judges who swear, belittle, ridicule, cut people off mid-performance, break dishes and spit out food. Or how about the mainstream drama that isn't entertaining without some form of visceral brutality, whether it be bloody gore, social or physical domination, emotionally fraught nastiness that at once demeans us as humans and makes us hate each other.

Yes. Hate. Each other.
In the smallest and the most brutal ways.

The latest hot-button hate issue in my feeds is vaccines. The pro-vaxxers vs. the anti-vaxxers. Never mind all those unvaccinating pro-vaxxers and vaccinated anti-vaxxers, and the large number of people just caught up in the hate game, posting vicious memes and catchy sarcastic "quotes", even though they know nothing about the issue. But when they've run out of juice they transfer the hating to whatever fashion trend is currently unpopular. Just pick a topic and start making threats and accusations. It's an easy game.

I'm mad. I'm mad at us all. I'm mad that we're letting hate grab us by the throats and throttle us. I'm so mad that I feel mad about this! So disappointed in myself.

I told myself that the next time somebody got angry with me, I would respond with love.
That was years ago. I keep on trying. I keep on failing.

I imagine myself like a cool wall of water, and let the hate hit me and flow away. But secretly on my side of that wall of water there is a little girl saying "stop it!" "that's not true!" "don't be mean to me!" and "help!" Until my words come bubbling up through the water and I have responded. Given time, and a keyboard, I can mediate my response to make it positive, but in person that doesn't happen. Either I start some accusations of my own, or I cry. Both just as harmful.

It's easy to be compassionate. I can see reasons to love anybody at all. It's reasons to love myself that are hard to come by, and when I'm feeling vulnerable, like when my family members are angry with me, that self-love crumbles, and I end up saying things I've heard in the media. I listen to a lot of music, so the lines usually come out of angry rock songs and bitter murder ballads. Yes, I'm admitting this. It's embarrassing.  

We all emulate what we experience.

So I wonder: if our media was all compassionate - and I don't mean hiding the facts or putting a glossy sheen on everything, but compassionately presented in a way that honoured and valued all people - how would our reactions begin to change? We're all going to get upset. We're all going to be hurt and get angry and feel terribly terribly weak and helpless. But if we surrounded ourselves with people and media that were accepting and loving... then perhaps we could find it in ourselves to feel strength instead of fear, create healing instead of injury; 

love instead of hatred.

Why community radio from the other side of the continent matters to us in BC

So I've been listening to WMMT out of Whitesburg Kentucky since my Aunt introduced me to it a few weeks ago. It's a community radio station, mostly playing Appalachian music and stories: real people, unedited... I listen because they play the music of my soul, and fill my heart with joy.

Click here to listen:

But not after 3PM. After 3PM, Mondays through Thursdays, they play news from the mountains (because 3PM our time is 6PM mountain time).

Mountain news may not be local to us here in BC, but it's more relevant than our own polished news, sometimes. It's been revelatory for me re: natural gas infrastructure. Every time I hear it they seem to be reporting on various tragedies to land and people caused by NG industry. The industry is never available for comment; the people are: Increased mortality, illnesses, birth defects, contaminated groundwater, drinking water, farmland. The news is ALWAYS devastating. The stories are heartbreaking, and prolific, encompassing many whole towns and cities, and they're interspersed with reports of natural gas industry expansion and job opportunities in various communities in NG or spill cleanup.

I think, as we in BC are having this industry shoved down our throats, but our local news doesn't report on these things, WMMT 3PM is a good thing for us to be listening to.

Friday, January 30, 2015

I'm Sorry I Let You Take the FSA

"They don't test us for French or science or art or humanities. They only test us for math and English. I think they want us all to grow up to be accountants, but they don't realize that if we all grew up to be accountants, nobody would be a farmer, and then all the accountants would die."

I mistakenly allowed my son to take the FSA this year. Yes: Mistakenly. I forgot to object.

Every year in BC, students in grade four and seven are given the Foundation Skills Assessment. The BC Ministry of Education says that "The main purpose of the assessment is to help the province, school districts, schools and school planning councils evaluate how well students are achieving basic skills, and make plans to improve student achievement. FSA is designed and developed by British Columbia educators. The skills assessed are linked to the provincial curriculum and provincial performance standards." Seems reasonable, if you're a pencil-pushing administrator who wants to see that all the students conform. Not if you're trying to raise a whole and healthy child or community. And isn't that actually what we're trying to do?

Schools are judged by their students' performance on these tests. Teachers are also evaluated with these results in mind. Schools and teachers, who for the most part got into the job for the opportunity to nurture and inspire children to live to their own beautiful potential, live under the threat of not living up to these imposed standards. Some of them might even think the test is valuable, but even our BC Teacher's Federation advises parents to opt out, stating that "It takes valuable time and much needed resources away from the classroom learning and undermines the ability to provide meaningful learning experiences for all students. The FSA results are misused by a private organization to rank schools based on a very narrow measure. The FSA tests do not result in any additional funding or support for students."

The FSA is a part of the system that attempts to mold our children into good working citizens, but not to value them for their own intrinsic passions and gifts. It's a system that not only insults the intelligence of both teachers and children, but leads to generation upon generation of adults who, having grown up in this system, now feel inadequate when we don't conform, instead of proud to be the brilliant individuals we are. It leads us to shuffle our children off into the same system, terrified that our children might also not conform; might not succeed according to the yard-sticks we were held up against, ourselves. The system feeds on itself, but it's not serving any of us, or the evolution of our species, as a whole.

So, in forgetting to send in my letter of objection, I have furthered these issues. I'm sorry. For my son and for every generation to come whose teachers remain as throttled as ours are, today, I'm dreadfully sorry. I will not make this mistake, again.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Assimilation: Passing the Buck

This week in my community two young deer met their demise and were found gory by the side of the road. A community discussion ensued, as people debated what could have happened to them and who could or should be called to clean them up. Apparently this is normally a job for our municipal staff, as the roads are municipal land. But really? Really, can we not just clean up a couple of deer by ourselves? Yes of course it's a grisly job, and nobody wants to do it (and the longer they lay there waiting, the more grisly it becomes), but if those deer were near my house I would haul them into the woods, dig a hole and bury them. I've done this a few times over the years. If it weren't for the stench of them, I'd just leave them to feed the wildlife that depends on just such fortuitous but gruesome circumstances for food. Actually I like to think that if the deer died of something other than illness and I found it soon enough, I'd take it for food, myself! But this hasn't happened near my house.

CBC reports that in Canada, Stephen Harper is more popular among men, and Justin Trudeau is more popular among women. Oh! Justin! Be still my beating heart! My son came back from school, eagerly reporting that some of the students had met Justin Trudeau in the city and had their picture taken with him! (Swoon.) He thinks most kids at his school now "hope Justin wins". But does he know what Justin's policy direction is? Um. No. But it's probably good because he's nice. He would do nice things for us; better than Stephen Harper. Right? And my son says he would vote green anyway, but he doesn't think the Green Party leader (what is her name?) is doing very much.

As a lifetime Green supporter, I was seriously disturbed by this. Because he's right. Elizabeth May isn't towing the popularity line. She's not offering to do stuff for people; she's not out making headlines every day, vowing to support renewable energy or families. She knows she doesn't have that Hollywood flair that will get Harper and Trudeau their votes. CBC also reports about Stephen Harper's little-known electric guitar collection. Oooooh. Elizabeth May just wrote a book. She talked to people face-to-face in our little community. But she doesn't clean up our dead deer.

I'm busy trying to advertise for our local Nature Club's AGM, where hopefully we'll get people to renew their memberships, support the Federation of BC Naturalists, listen to a great speaker, and then go out inspired in their community to explore, engage with, and protect our wilderness. They have to be members to join us on outings, because their membership form and fee means that we're covered by insurance, in case they are injured. Everybody understands this. Everybody knows that it's not safe to run an organization without insurance; that even if they wouldn't personally sue us in case of an injury, their healthcare provider would. So we're all OK with the insurance situation. We know we need protection. Especially in the woods because, you know, it's a wilderness out there.

I've been assimilating these diverse thoughts: Why is it that we (the rhetorical 'we') are so unwilling to take responsibility for our own welfare; our own policy; our own dead deer? And this morning on the way home from dropping my son off for a field trip, with his bag full of gear carefully prescribed by the ski hill he's going to, and he telling me that he knows he doesn't need the extra pair of gloves or snow pants; rain pants are much better... it hit me: They're training him to seek instruction instead of figuring things out for himself. Of course, I do know why the ski hill sends out the gear-list: They're covering themselves in case of litigation, and furthermore, they want the kids to be comfortable. But if he gets wet and cold (he will), that will be a far better lesson to him.

This morning, as I drove home, got the mail, and decided not to put my seatbelt back on for the remaining two-minute drive home, I realized that our choice to unschool is and always has been more about the future than the present. Yes, I'm aware that an accident is just as likely to happen in that short bit of my journey as it was in the longer part, but I wanted to do something on my terms: Take a small risk and feel the consequences (here I am; no accident, thank goodness). Isn't that what all of us are trying to do from the moment we're born?

Drawing by Taliesin
Unschooling is our choice to allow that risk-taking to happen; to allow ourselves and our children to face our own consequences, and to learn to pick up our own dead deer, instead of passing the buck. (Ha ha ha - couldn't resist.) When we raise our children in what is usually a school or other rule-based environment where they rarely have an opportunity to truly need to look after themselves, their own environment, or their own future, we strip them of the knowledge, wisdom, or skill to do that, and they (like we) become dependent upon other people to look after them. They will look for the most relatable or personable leader instead of the one whose policy makes the most sense. They will look for the leader who promises the most goodies. They will want to live on cruise ships, in master-planned communities, and fantasy communities, where no part of their experience is truly self-determined. They will want to sit back and watch life go by like a reality TV show, where the content is managed, the big moments are sparkly and the sad moments are either sappy or hidden.

But PLO's! But grade-levels! But how will I know my child will survive adulthood?! I don't. But for some of us, it is more important to know that we give them the tools to survive it on their own terms, than that we give them a structure to keep safe. Artists have known this always. In school we even give our children such media to read, like A Wrinkle in Time, and 1984. But then we tell them to pick apart the books and describe them according to somebody else's plan, and the point - the truly terrifying message those books carry - is lost. And our children write book reports about the rise and fall of the plot line and the conclusion and the social ramifications of the books, and they are graded and sent off to the next lesson, and here we are: billions of people following the track, waiting to be handed the next lesson; the next processed food item, without very much compunction to get up and drive ourselves.

We complain that we are being taken advantage of by the one percent, by corporate interests; by our bosses and insurance agencies and the rats who eat our chicken feed. (Somebody must be responsible for having introduced rats to this island, after all...) We fear that we are unable to adequately raise our own children, to defend our freedom, to grow our own food, or to properly dispose of some dead deer. And we pass the buck, preferring to watch crazy people on TV take risks we only dream of. It's time to realize not only our potential but our great beauty and wisdom. Each and every one of us has the capacity to be a sparkling leader in some way; to reach into our dreams and follow our passions. Each of us has the responsibility to pick ourselves up after a stumble or even a really terrible fall, and to clean up our own backyards. We don't have to look for greatness in leadership. We can be great.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

In the Dark in the Cold

Tonight we all sat out on the porch until our fingers froze, trying to look at comet Lovejoy through binoculars, a bird-scope and Tali's telescope. Well, we did look at the comet, but it was basically a ball of fuzz with a slightly bluish bright spot where the actual comet could be seen through its tail. I felt like I should document, but it was, after all, pitch-black, being a prime comet-viewing situation (dark moon on an island), but I have neither devices nor skill to take photos through a telescope, and anyway this is more recognisable. Here is our good friend, Oh! Ryan! as he was ambling up the field of view, this evening.

Click to enlarge.

My Girl Can Cook!

Rhiannon has always been fond of creating beauty: Beautiful spaces, beautiful stories, poems, and music, and - lucky for us - beautiful food.
Thanks to Julie, from Mennonite Girls Can Cook, for the basis of this wonderful recipe. We basically substituted yogurt for the milk, and flax seeds and water for the egg, which Rhiannon blended up thoroughly with the liquid ingredients and let sit while we mixed the flours, etc. It worked very well: voila egg- AND gluten/soy-free perogies!

The recipe-finding and adapting was my job, but, other than a bit of help with perogy-folding (because it's way more fun to do it over a good conversation!), this was Rhiannon's inspiration and effort. She made the dough, created a filling of potatoes, green onions and cheddar cheese, rolled, cut and folded about half of them, and also cooked them for us, for dinner! Delicious! I love that my girl can cook!



The flax gave the perogies a warm, pinkish whole-grain look. Beautiful!

Lughnasa ate with us as usual. But kitten food; not perogies.

Monday, January 19, 2015

What do unschoolers do all day?

...AKA Our Unschooling Schedule!

My kids in their most recent fort... with the grandparents' dog!
I thought it time to post again about our unschooling schedule, since the kids are so much older now, and obviously that means many changes.

The 12-year old:
Of course, if you follow this blog then you know that our son has entered school this year - it's an interesting experiment, and means that his and my life are now governed by an actual daily schedule, imposed by someone else. Basically, we get up every day at 7, I make his lunch while he gets breakfast, dressed, hair brushed, etc. and packs his bag, and then he walks to school at 8. Homework included (and Ultimate two days a week in the autumn and spring), he only has about 1.5 to 2 days free every week, and he spends most of those drawing, or playing outside. The colossal amount of reading he used to do during the years he didn't attend school has all but vanished; he reads for a few minutes every night, now -- except when he's drawing. From the outside, it appears that there's just so much to process from school each day that he gets it out with pens and paper, and doesn't have much energy left for soaking in his beloved books.

The 10-year-old:
Here's where things are still pretty flexible! She has quite a few chosen commitments each week, including assisting at a local daycare/preschool, a weekly mother's helper job, contemporary dance class, a children's choir, our weekly (F)unschool outing, and the various visits with friends that she arranges for herself. Then there's the walking and cycling to get to each of those places, and sometimes picking up friends from school (on foot) on the way. And being a member of the family, she also helps out with gardening, compost, house-tidying, laundry, and firewood-gathering. That leaves her with about 3 half-days and 1 or 2 whole days free each week, which she gleefully fills with whichever of her favourite activities she's currently most passionate about or dedicated to:
  • building forts and other special spaces outside
  • creating magazines, books, games, and other paper-based projects
  • running with Auntie and grandparents' dog in their 2-person-1-dog running club
  • "training" the cat
  • writing her short novel
  • visiting the local library
  • reading in and reorganizing her own library
  • baking, cooking, and creating new recipes
  • posting to her blogs (one personal and one about gift economies)
  • painting, drawing, and various crafts
  • teaching herself to play guitar and piano
  • teaching herself Dutch, using books and Duolingo online
  • completing workbook pages (her brother never did this, but she loves them!)
  • creating workbooks for friends, family, and dolls
  • planning, planting, and tending her own garden
Obviously, there's much more on that list than one could possibly do in a week (and I'm sure I've forgotten a few things), which is why some things are left behind for weeks at a time, and then picked up again, later. The beauty of unschooling is the flexibility and opportunity to follow desires. This is how we're working that out at our house, these days!

Friday, January 16, 2015


The ferry that usually services our island is in for a refit, for accommodation of more vehicles, lounge-to-ramp offloading, and other such amenities. Meanwhile, we have been gifted with the opportunity to use our usual replacement-vessel, the Bowen Queen.

I don't go into the city often, but yesterday I had an opportunity to take the kids for a town-adventure, and after we drove onto the ferry, my kids went running upstairs to remind themselves of the many delights they look forward to every time we get this ship: three passenger lounges, four outside decks for exploring in the wind and rain - and the view. The view is the reason I stayed on the car deck.

This boat has been our replacement vessel every year or two throughout most of my life. When I was a child, and our regular boat was smaller, I was always so disappointed that the sides of this replacement were taller at the front and back, and blocked the view. Now, by comparison to the behemoth ship we usually have, I'm just so thrilled to have the mostly lower sides of the Bowen Queen. I'm happy to actually feel the sway of the boat on the water, to see the salt spray over the sides, the engine-room doors left open by the crew and the feeling that, because the boat is smaller, the crew pay more attention to fitting cars snugly and carefully. I love this boat.

I turn off the radio, sick of hearing about what makes us different from Islamists; what makes the French different from Canadians; why our racism is better than their racism or why religion is the salvation or destruction of us all. From the vehicle deck I can look straight out across the sound, reach my arms into the wind, and step sideways with the pull of the rocking boat.

It's been foggy, lately. Gulls, seals, and small boats dip and disappear in the infinite grey between water and wind. This is a time when defining lines are blurry, and maybe there are no real boundaries at all.

On our late afternoon return, the fog has lifted to catch the setting sun in the distance; the wake of a burdenless tugboat separates fast, sending waves out in either direction to hook up and lap at the receding clouds. A guy in his rowboat, still a long way from his destination, seems to sit still on the moving drink that fills the pockets of our earth. We're all going home.

Unschooling to School: Packing Lunches

Well, here were are, four months into being a schooling family, and I am still working out the concept of packed lunches. Of course I did make packed lunches before, on the odd occasion, but they were often for a whole family, and the whole idea was a novelty. It happened a maximum of twice a week, and more often it only happened about once a month.

Now... I pack a lunch five days a week. For a son who is not only allergic to gluten, soy, eggs, beans, and various other grains, but who is also PICKY. And who is as skinny as a rake, and not particularly interested in eating.

From conversations with other parents, I know I'm not alone in this. We go through the good times, like when I discovered that he simply loved plain canned wild salmon, and would happily eat a can of it with some veggies and crackers for lunch twice a week. Then the not-so-good times when he decided he was tired of the canned salmon (even in various enticing incarnations), or any fish for that matter, or bread of any kind, or pasta, popcorn, cookies, anything with coconut, nuts, spicy food, or fruit. There were a few weeks back there where my lovely dear son was only willing to consume pre-cooked, thermosed instant Biryani, changed up only with an occasional Paneer Tikka Masala, by the same company. But only if I added peas. Oh and sausages. He is always willing to eat sausages.

There is a kitchen at school, so I asked him if he'd like to cook it for himself (you know - independent-like...). He delightedly said 'yes', did it once, but then the next time I sent him with a microwavable meal including cheesy pasta and sausages, he was busy at lunch and didn't eat anything until he got home... and ate it cold.

Then I decided if he packed his lunches himself, maybe he would eat them. I took him shopping and bought him all kinds of foods he wanted. His lunches were about one third the size of the lunches I'd been packing! We're talking 12 rice crackers, 1/4 cup of hummus, and a chocolate Larabar. For 6 hours of school plus Ultimate practice. I tried adding foods, but he resisted, and it wasn't until he became tired of making his own lunches (only a few days later) that I was able to start packing again.

So, variety seems to be the spice of lunch, no matter how much he tells me he wants the same thing every day. If I let him have it, he'll get sick of it, and then I'll be stuck with the remaining portions until a month or two later when he's willing eat it again (after 2 months, he's still off the canned salmon...).

At this point, our standbys are the following:

Main meals:
cheese and lettuce sandwiches (he still loves lettuce to a maximum of 2ce/week)
meat, mustard and lettuce sandwiches
veggie quesedillas
prepared Gits Indian meals
cut veggies, crackers, and hummus (but it's still hit and miss, although he requests it)
rice, lentil or corn pasta with salt, nutritional yeast and cheese or herbs
leftover dinner, if he loved it
sausages added to anything.

McClean's nitrite-free pepperoni
a plain carrot!
a banana
home-made muffins with applesauce to dip them in
rice or nut crackers with guacamole
spicy Indian snacks (processed; not so healthy)
nuts with candied ginger (without the candied ginger he won't eat the nuts)

So... that's my son. I imagine school lunches are entirely individual, but this sure has been a long and bumpy journey for us! My daughter, who is still unschooling, nearly never has to have a packed lunch, but when she does she delights in planning and packing it for herself, and usually packs and eats a large healthy meal. As I write this she is eagerly finishing her morning-long project of making lentil-burgers for our family lunch. Yum. Maybe there will be some leftovers for when her brother gets home from school.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Why We Don't Vaccinate

At the risk of losing readership, I'm going to broach a topic I've avoided here, before. And I have asked my son's permission to post this. Please consider him as you share or comment about this. Here goes:

We don't vaccinate. There. I said it. And we're also - GASP! - gluten intolerant.

Over the past few months my feeds have seen a marked increase in intolerance of gluten-free dietary restrictions, vapid rants by servers and restaurateurs, supposed "proof" that non-celiac gluten intolerance is all in our heads, and the ever-interesting "my kids eat gluten and so can yours" ditties.

Don't even get me started on the vaccines. The rants about non-vaxxers are worse: We're putting vaccinated children and the whole global population at risk, we're harming our children, we're selfishly benefiting from the herd-immunity hard-won by generations of parents who had more sense than we do...

Halt. Let me tell you something about us. Because I am not going to offer you a story supporting one side or another on these issues; I am going to tell you the story of my son: How we became non-vaxxers and what it's like.

My son was born in 2002, by emergency c-section, into the hands of my capable midwife and obstetrician. Despite his rocky start (he was strangling in his umbilical cord), he nursed up a storm, and by 9 months was at 99th percentile for height, and off the charts for weight. He hit all his milestones nearly to the day (my Mum was an infant development consultant, so we watched these with great interest). By 9 months he was super engaged with life and loved all sorts of different foods, excluding, of course, those not recommended for introduction at that early age. At the time there was still much talk about Wakefield's study, so we took the precaution of spreading out and delaying his vaccines. He had his first MMR vaccine at 9 months, along with his third Pentacel.

You keep hearing that age: 9 months. That's because it's when everything changed for us, although we didn't realize it, at first. His reaction to the vaccines was pretty typical: he developed a fever, and seemed to have some kind of flu, which we wrote off as coincidence. He seemed to develop an intermittent diarrhea, which we chalked up to flu-season (it was December/January). Then over the next 3 months he appeared longer and thinner, and was tired and cranky all the time, and I thought he was having an extended growth spurt. At his first-year checkup, when we intended for him to receive his second MMR vaccine, the doctor informed us that although he had grown a little in length, it was not nearly enough, and he had in fact lost a full pound in weight. In just a few months, he fell from an off-the-charts weight to 9th percentile. And we had no idea what was wrong. He was still nursing, he ate plenty, but he seemed to be shrinking before our eyes. That was when our doctor suggested we hold off with the vaccines until his health was recovered.

Over the next couple of years we fed him as much whole grain, meat, fat, fruit and vegetables as he would eat. He had a voracious appetite. He was active, happy, and outwardly apparently healthy - except for the pervasive diarrhea. By the time he was 4, he was into what would become a 9-month-long bout of often-bloody diarrhea. He lost more weight. His cheeks were still chubby, but under his shirt, his ribs showed all the way around to his back, and one of our friends said he looked like he'd been in a concentration camp. He endured many medical tests, and all sorts of food-changes, as we attempted to figure out the cause of his problems. He reminds me, as I write this, that we even kept a bottle of special, pure, store-bought water, just for him. Finally, when he was 4 and a half years old, our doctor asked if we had tried taking him off of gluten.

Gluten? What's that?
Wheat? Oh that would be a pain, but just to be sure, we cut it out. Three days later, for the first time in nearly a year, his diarrhea stopped.

That is when I began reading labels. Gluten was in almost everything. I purged every product that had anything even slightly related to gluten from our home. It took a couple of years to figure out the details of his allergies, and we now know them to be gluten, wheat and wheat-relatives, buckwheat, amaranth, millet, beans (including soy), and eggs. As long as there aren't any accidents, he's fine. Small, but healthy.

But there are accidents. Like the time a well-meaning friend let him help make wheat-flour pie-crust, and he endured three days of profuse nose-bleeding from the flour, or the time I took him out for lunch at a restaurant that was reputed to cater to dietary needs, but then discovered black beans throughout his "deconstructed taco". They shrugged and exchanged his dish for mine, which they assured us had no grains other than corn, no beans, and no eggs... and he went home with a miserable few days of intestinal reactions. In the beginning there were also some disbelieving friends and family who secretly slipped him gluten to prove to us that it's no big deal. But it is. And they didn't have to sit with a crying child at night as his guts wrenched with agony and his body kicked into its inflammatory ultra-immune-response mode to get rid of those "few sprinkles of flour". He tested negative for celiac disease, which at first seemed good, but we have now learned that "non-celiac" is (to some people) alternative language for "a-little-wheat-is-OK", and when we're out we just say he's celiac. This means people generally tell us they have nothing for him.

He's small. At 8, he had a bone scan that determined he was on track, size-wise, for a 5-year-old. Not too bad, they said. It could be worse. The various doctors we've seen don't know what's wrong. They don't know how to help him, and they don't know what caused his growth to curb off the way it did. They can't say for sure that the issues began with his vaccines, but considering the time-correspondence and the immune-related issues, they can't rule it out, either. They are very understanding of our decision not to vaccinate our daughter, who came along just after all of this came to light, and is now a very tall, healthy, unvaccinated 10-year old.

Other people are not so understanding. You know those articles being passed around on social media - the articles that demonize non-vaxxers for compromising the safety of everyone due to sheer ignorance? Those affect us a lot. They increase the likelihood that we will be shunned in social groups, that parents will literally turn away and cover their children as we go by, and that my children won't be allowed to participate in group activities if their unvaccinated status is discovered. We will be outcasts. THIS is why it took me so long to write this article. The word "unvaccinated" does not even register with a spell-check on this computer.

And it's not just in our community, either. My daughter once got a very deep splinter, and after I took it out, I brought her to a walk-in clinic to ask about tetanus. Since she wasn't vaccinated, I worried, and wondered what signs of tetanus I should look for, or whether it would be possible to give her just a tetanus vaccine, instead of the cocktail she would have received as a baby. The doctor yelled at me and my young daughter. He told me (wrongly) that there are no visible signs of tetanus, and furthermore that I was reckless, abusive, and irresponsible. He stomped out and slammed the door, leaving the two of us sitting stunned in the little exam room. My daughter laughs at the memory of "the doctor who slammed the door", but I feel haunted by the threat that we can be refused medical care because of ignorance.

We are not ignorant. Our journey probably means we know more about vaccines, adjuvants, and immunity than most people do. And our children are not a danger to vaccinated children. In fact, our children, who don't have the benefit of vaccines, are more at risk than vaccinated children. We are grateful for vaccines, and for the high percentage of our population who is willing to risk their children's future health (as we once did with our son), in an effort to curb harmful diseases for all of us. We benefit from the risk vaxxers are taking, every day. We are not ignorant.

It is ignorant to ignore that reality. It is ignorant to protect vaccinated children from unvaccinated children, and to spread pro-vax rants all over the internet. In doing so, people ignore the welfare of the part of the population who were harmed in the process of protecting the rest. There are at least a few vaccine-injured children in every community, as well as some, like our daughter, whose parents made an informed choice not to vaccinate, for very well-considered reasons.

It's easy to write off vaccine-injured children as unfortunate collateral damage in our culture's battle against disease, but as long as we don't have to look upon these children's faces, we might not work hard enough to prevent such injuries.

This is the face of my vaccine-injured child. This is his laughter, as the sun shone off the ocean and into our car, one recent winter day. We are grateful every day for the herd-immunity that keeps him and our daughter safe.

Most people don't realize our son has health issues. They see him out walking with his sister and some assume he's a healthy 9/10 year old, tagging along with his older sister. Except he's nearly 13, and is there to keep her safe, because she's only 10. He learned to read complicated words very early, so that he could check food labels, because too many friends' parents and ice-cream servers didn't understand the language on packages. He knows what maltodextrin is, and lecithin. He knows what happens when an adjuvant provokes a strong immune reaction. He remembers the taste of eggs, and longs for them even more than cake, but finds ways to satisfy his longing when everybody is eating eggs and he can't: He loves bacon. He loves climbing trees and riding out to hang with friends. He loves babysitting, photography and animation, and none of these as much as he loves theoretical physics. He's a kid in our community who is walking evidence that non-vaxxers are not freaks, not reckless, and not to be feared. We will never know for sure whether his vaccines made his body the way it is, but we are glad that he makes the best of what life gives him, and I hope we all can do the same, with all of our different lives and the choices we make.

Glutenvrije Oliebollen!

I did it! Eindelijk heerlijke oliebollen gemaakt zonder gluten, boekwijt, soja, of eieren!

New Year's Eve has come and gone, and with it our requisite big batch of the traditional Dutch "oliebollen", which literally translates to "oil balls". Yum! Maybe they'd be better described as small, round, apple-citrus-currant fritters, made with a yeast dough and dusted with icing. If you've been gluten free for a while, and especially if you're also allergic to soy, eggs, and buckwheat, as my son is, you know that to mimic the light, elastic texture of yeast-risen wheat bread is difficult. Hence my elation at finally making this work. Since we only eat these once a year, I haven't had much opportunity for experimentation - it's been about 10 years of mediocre experimental oliebollen, so... you can understand our excitement about this. Enjoy!

This recipe makes about 30 or 40 oliebollen (enough for a big party!).

Prepare and set aside:
  • 1 cup dried currants
  • zest of one lemon
  • zest of one orange
  • 1 large or 2 small apples, cut into small cubes

Heat in a small pan, until it's very warm but not too hot to dip a finger in:
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 cups milk

Add, and allow to proof while mixing dry ingredients:
  • cut/zested fruit, from above
  • 1½ tbsp yeast

Mix in separate bowl:
  • 2 tbsp xanthan gum
  • 1.25 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 cup sweet or 'glutinous' rice flour
  • ½ cup potato starch
  • ½ cup corn starch
  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1 tbsp egg replacer (I use Ener-G brand)
  • ¼ cup homemade vanilla sugar (see instructions, below) OR plain sugar; seeds of 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp fresh nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt

Mix proofed yeast mixture into dry mixture and allow to rise for about 10 minutes, as you heat the deep fryer to about 175 or 180 degrees C:
  • vegetable/sunflower oil (2 liters or whatever your deep-fryer or pot requires)

Using two soup spoons, scoop and form balls of batter; drop these into the hot oil. They will float up. Flip the oliebollen to be sure that they brown evenly on both sides, and when they're uniformly brown, lift them onto a large paper- or cloth-lined plate or bowl to cool. When they're all finished, dust with:
  • Powdered sugar

Home-made Vanilla Sugar
Make this ahead, and keep on hand for other recipes - it takes a few weeks to develop good flavour.

Get a glass jar with a lid that holds at least 4 cups. Clean and dry thoroughly.
Slice 1 or 2 vanilla beans lengthwise, place in jar, and fill with unbleached white sugar. Close tightly.
As you use sugar, replenish the jar, stir or shake, and you will always have some vanilla sugar available.
If you use 2 vanilla beans, the sugar will be flavoured sooner, but if you've got a few weeks to wait, one vanilla bean will be enough. After a few months or so you may notice the sugar is slow to take on flavour, and the beans are very dry - you can then slice and add another bean. I often take the dessicated beans out and grind them in my spice-mill to add to baking or to tea blends. They have less flavour than they once did, but it's still enough to benefit when adding the whole bean!

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Fun is in the Finding

That's a line from one of my very favourite children's books, The Finding Princess, by Sue-Ann Alderson. The princess makes increasingly impossible demands of her parents and grandparents until, in a fit of frustration, she tromps off into the wilderness to find for herself what she needs. She finds joy. She finds a life full of adventure and discovery, and certainly more intrinsic value than the life she had in the castle. It's a simplistic children's book with a very important life-learning message.

When I was a kid, my parents had the whole Encyclopedia Britannica as well as at least a decade's-worth of National Geographic magazines upon our bookshelf, which I referred to for many of my perplexing questions. I have great memories of researching ear-shapes by examining the ears in various portraits I found in those many books. I don't expect that the person who chose the portraits had any idea how useful they would be to my grade eight ear research, but I have never forgotten that particular exploration. Sometime during high school it was impressed upon me by a teacher that the reason for the work we were doing was to transfer the information from those books and others into my mind, so that I wouldn't have to look it up anymore. What?! And that was the end? No way. The books - I knew for certain - existed to preclude the need for memorization! Now we have the Internet, and it's more evident than ever how pointless it would be to begin memorizing. The task, clearly, is to learn to explore, to learn to navigate, and to learn to process information critically, with an astute awareness that there is no one correct outcome. The joy and the value is in the journey.

If I present my kids with a desired outcome, they generally balk, unless they perceive the outcome to be of immediate use. If I present my kids with a question, they usually get intrigued. If I present them with a question that is designed to lead them to a particular outcome, they usually follow along for a bit, until we all get side-tracked and end up somewhere else entirely. Interestingly, though, when I work with a group of mixed schoolers and unschoolers, I see some very obvious distinctions: The kids who have no intentional unschooling experiences (usually those who have always attended full-time school programs) look for the hidden lesson or goal in everything I present. Instead of exploring the question, they wait to find out the answer. Many also grow uncomfortable when it becomes clear that there is no predetermined answer or outcome. After a day or two with the group, they learn to navigate, usually by trying out some hitherto 'unacceptable' behaviours, until they realize that they truly are in control of their own experiences, and adjust to the group. It's an amazing transformation to see, and I consider it one of the greatest personal gains from teaching: watching kids discover their own innate value. One of the most difficult things for me, as an unschooling parent and teacher, is to always answer questions in a way that inspires investigation instead of in a way that points to an answer. Needless to say, I read The Finding Princess often.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Watching the Choir

The moon isn't out, the Christmas tree hasn't been put up yet in this hall, but decorations are hung around the walls of the church and risers stand empty at one end. The rest of the hall is filled with those uncomfortable hard plastic chairs that our whole community is accustomed to sitting in and stacking. Today coats are draped over numerous chairs for the many people who will arrive at the last minute; cups of tea nestle close by the steel legs, and a few children hop around the room. It's just before the annual community choir Christmas concert, and the hall bustles with - well - bustle.

Finally Graeme, our humble joke-cracking MC, gently intones from the front of the hall that the choir is ready, and a portion of the room quiets. The choir of nearly forty parades in, dressed in black, with wonky-looking piano-printed sashes swinging this way and that about their necks. Some of them look nervous, and many smile and wave at family as they make their way through the clapping audience to the risers at the front. More bustling, especially on stage. Announcements are made, and the choir begins to sing.

After a few songs it occurs to me that I'm not listening. I'm watching. Oh my mother would be so disappointed!! I try to tune into the various layers of sound, but in doing so I see the faces of the various choir sections; the individuals. I only know about two thirds of them, and of those only two I know well. Mostly I watch my mother. I see her flip too many pages in her choir book and giggle with a slight alarm in her eyes as she flips back again, never losing her place in the song, apparently. I see her brow furrow with the intensity of some parts, and see her grow taller with others. Sometimes I see her stage smile, and often I see the joyful smile that means she loves this moment of singing. I see how sometimes she looks so young and in herself, that she appears to be the way I imagine she looked as a girl. The singing does that to her. I see her look for me in the audience and I hope she knows I have always loved to see her sing. She stands beside the mother of a friend of mine, and I realize these things are maybe going through my friend's mind, where he sits on the other side of the hall. I think about my friend's mother, for the wonderful gift she has given to come to Canada to live near her children, and fill their community with song on this night. My mother also stands beside a woman I don't know, and I realize that every person in this choir has a lifetime of memories, emotions, trials and triumphs; that each of them has a different experience of this moment, and that all of these experiences are coming together in this moment of community. Each of them has people in the audience or out in the world who are filled with joy at the sight and sound of them.

The joy isn't because of the specific songs chosen, although in each of the three choir concerts I've seen this week I heard songs that brought me to tears. It is about the pleasure we gain from watching people share their moment of communion with us.

This is the first year my daughter has performed with a choir. As she sang, I watched her emotions flutter up and down, her mouth held stiff sometimes to control a smile, and her eyes searching, sometimes, to make sure we were still there. Afterwards she told me I'm a slow smiler, and she related the stories of the audience she watched as she sang.

I'm not a church-going person, but my daughter's second choir concert was held in a Catholic church, this week. There was a sign at the front that said, 'If you would like to receive communion, please place a host in the...' - and because of the bustle of families arranging themselves I couldn't read the end. And I thought, in sitting all squished together, in sharing this song, in sharing an opportunity to watch and hear our loved ones on both sides of the group, in sharing this moment with my community, I have had communion. And I am grateful.

This is my daughter's first ever choir performance:

Saturday, November 29, 2014

What Unschoolers think of Learning

A friend currently writing his phd recently asked me to interview the kids on their ideas about learning. So I did! Here is the result:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Parent Date

There's something that happens to a relationship when babies come along. Suddenly all that care and attention that once the parents showered on each other goes to the children - and truly, it's such a beautiful thing to watch a partner fall in love with that same beautiful being you're falling in love with yourself, that the parental relationship just seems to be blossoming, too.

That is, until one day you find yourself alone with your partner, and you discover you have nothing to say. It isn't that too-tired-to-utter-a-word kind of speechlessness that so many of us parents suffer from on a nightly basis. It isn't even the lovely wordless communication that happens between laundry-folding and dropping into bed, where the brush of my husband's hand on my arm reminds me that I am loved, and the mere pressure of his fingers is all I need to feel the thousand thoughts I know he has. Yes, we have been together for almost twenty years, now, and our relationship has certainly developed in many ways. But it has developed an emptiness, too. The speechlessness we are confronted with now is borne of loss.

Somewhere during the past fifteen years of money-earning, home-making and child-rearing, we forgot how to just be, together. I mean be, in the way we once did, silently, upon a log at the beach watching people go by, feeling the temperature of the wind shift and leaning in to each other. I mean be, in the way he used to catch my flood of words and I didn't demand an answer. I mean be, in the way that I used to have the patience to wait for his words. I mean be, in the way that time wasn't an issue, but just something trailing out the open air behind us. I mean be, like we could fly.

We got caught in the rat race and lost our wings.

This year for my birthday, my dear one gave me a night on the town. He booked tickets to a play, and a night at a B&B, and he told me we would spend as long as I wanted just hanging around my favourite neighbourhood eating whatever food I wanted and exploring the shops I don't usually visit. As we got ready to go, he held up my coat for me. Chivalry is lovely, but this gesture means more to us. When I met him nineteen years ago, he held up my coat for me to put on, and I said "how gentlemanly!" And he said "My mother said I should always help a girl into her coat." I'm not a girl anymore, and this gesture is a rarity, now, in our hectic lives as the parents of pre-teens. This gesture meant we were taking time for us.

I said, "I'm starving but it's only four",
and my dear one grew an I'm-so-proud-of-myself smile,
reached into his bag and pulled out snacks.
When I told people we were going out, there were many references to sex; winks and nudges. But really, our own bedroom has a door. I don't need a night at a B&B to make love with my husband. What we went for - and found - was so much more needed than that. A sweet friend who said hello on our way into town commented on the steamy windows of our car. Well those windows got steamy from our talking. Yes. We talked. We talked about the children, and the house, and arsenic in rice. We talked about parenting choices, murals, fabrics and architecture. We talked about herbs and eye-glass cleaning technologies and memory loss, and the many animals we've shared our home with in the two decades we been together. We didn't talk about our relationship. We lived our relationship.

After a delicious tea service, and wandering in and out of shops all afternoon, we checked into our B&B and lay silent on the bed, together, exhausted. I felt the tickly tangle of his beard on my face and took my glasses off to nuzzle in and enjoy it. I might have fallen asleep - we had nothing to do, but be.

I can't say we were very wise in leaving our relationship for so many years untended, but we have committed to find our wings again.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Dinner with Lughnasa

In recent kitten news...

Lughnasa has been eating dinner with us. When she sees the kids setting the table at about 7PM, she comes and meows until we pull up a chair for her. Last week we started giving her her wet food to eat with us at dinner time, and she seems to enjoy the routine.

So apparently she also has an internal alarm clock, because today at 7PM on the dot, she got up on her chair and shouted for my attention. Here she is enjoying the meal with us:

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Autumn food

Risotto: simple with butter, rice, leeks, onion, sea salt and our fresh-picked chanterelles.
Risotto too hot to eat.
And for dessert? Grapes my father planted in the Shuswap, and went to harvest this week. Maybe the most delicious grapes ever in existence.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Unschooling to School: Reporting and Evaluation

Do you remember your childhood report cards? I do. The manila envelope with the special school-paper-smell, and inside a folded piece of yellow card stock with rows and columns: P for proficient. N for needs improvement. Later the report cards were computer-printed and green or orange striped, and came with letter grades. And all of them - always, through 13 years of school - declared somewhere that I was capable of better work. I remember the sickly feeling of knowing - just knowing - that others' report cards surely didn't say that; that my teachers clearly didn't know me because I really wasn't capable of better work. As I grew older I learned to calculate as each term progressed what percentage I was achieving, and to gauge how hard I studied by the number of percent I needed to gain for a particular letter grade. I was never afraid of showing my report cards to my parents, because they, inexplicably to me at the time, were never angry about my grades.

So here's the thing. We have been homeschooling our kids for seven years. Unschooling, actually, with no curriculum or academic expectations of our children. We expect them to follow their hearts and dreams and to make choices thoughtfully. That's it. We chose the unschooling path mostly because we believe that grading, testing, and directed learning in general lead to coercion and competition. These in turn often lead to self-criticism, dispassionate obedience, a lack of ingenuity and a lack of love for learning in general. We wanted our kids to stay the hell away from those things. And for the most part, they have. They still walk out in the world and see endless opportunity. They still feel they can grow up to be anything they want to be, and they still feel the joy of discovery, constantly. They have retained a deep sense of self, without fear or limitations.

But this year our son started school - a small local IB World School, which is the closest we can get to perfect, as far as school goes in our community. But it's still school, with pretty much all that entails, and I am obviously worried about our son losing that treasured sense of opportunity and wonder we've been nurturing all these years. After only a month, he already comes home uninspired, most days. But he has committed to the year, puts in an effort to make the best of it, and we're all doing our best to keep him positive about it. We make sure he still finds a bit of time for the things he has always held to be important: reading, playing with his sister, and scientific exploration. And it seems, so far, that his essential nature is intact. This is how he recently answered some of the questions on his school's "Personal Educational Goals" form:
By the end of this year, I hope to have answered the following question:
"Should I really go to school, or be unschooled?"

Most interesting thing I've ever learned:
The fact that I exist.

At this point my plan for after IPS includes:
To learn cool stuff, and have fun.

As his mother, I was overjoyed when I read that. Those words are confirmation to me that we have chosen the right path.

That confirmation is so meaningful to me because for unschoolers there really isn't much feedback about our kids' welfare, and we have to trust our guts for pretty much every decision we make. Reassurance, in this world of people apt to criticize unschoolers, is rather hard to come by. I would love to get some feedback on how others perceive my children, but of course reports have been non-existent for us, other than those I am obliged to send in to our school district, ostensibly evaluating my own kids' activities and accomplishments. Those reports feel more like jumping through hoops than anything else, and have little or no meaning to us. We send them off. We don't receive them. There isn't really any non-familial professional who even knows our children well enough to make that kind of evaluation.

The last time we received a report for our son was when he was in preschool. It was wonderful. The report discussed his social/emotional development and the challenges he was overcoming as he branched out in his world. The report (and the parent-teacher meeting) helped us find ways to support him on his self-directed journey. It had nothing to do with literacy, numeracy, or test scores. Since then we've been blissfully rolling along without ever testing, but also without feedback about our kids.

Today that changed. My son received his first ever school report. I have been anticipating this for weeks, ever since I noticed "mid-term report" noted on the school calendar! I've been anticipating it so much, in fact, that I started writing this last week, in anticipation. I wanted to know what the world thinks of my child!!! And here is what they think:

It's only a "quick check", as they call it, to briefly rate the child on a scale of "exemplary" through "good" to "very limited" in his achievement and classroom engagement for each of his nine classes. Apparently he ranks lowest in French, which he has neglected entirely until now, moderate in math, english, physical education and practical reasoning, and high in science, humanities, art, and design tech. 

*Further information will come at parent meetings and at the first term report, next month.

And now that I'm nicely reassured that I do know my son after all, I realize that I just don't care. This isn't nearly as important as I expected it to be! I thought I would be excited to see him get high ranking in some subjects - or any at all, since he's never studied before. But this report is to some degree comparative to others of his age and social environment; to culturally-held expectations of 12-year-old achievement in Canada, and I realize that it doesn't matter a bit to me how he measures up. It matters that the people he spends time with notice his welfare and interests (in other ways I know they have, they're just not discussed in this particular report). It matters that they engage him in the thinking that goes into this report. But that's about it. Most of all, I'm thrilled to pieces that my son is still true to his comically existential self, and is just happy to watch his journey unfold. I couldn't have asked for anything more wonderful.

I asked him how he feels about having only a "developing" achievement in French. He looked at me as if he hadn't really thought about it. And he pointed out that the teacher had given him an "almost always" engagement rating for that class. Then he proceeded to rattle off some French phrases at me. It was the perfect answer.

The school is a school. The report is a great bit of feedback for me to engage with his experience there, but is nowhere near the frightening and exciting document I remember my own school report cards to have been. The report only has to be comparative if you let it be. I'm glad he's having this experience, and I'm glad that we've come through our first report card completely unscathed.

I understand, now, why my parents were never angry about low grades. They understood what I have only now discovered: Grades and academic achievement are not a measure of greatness; only of a little bit of activity a child has participated in during a very short time in his life. They are a means for the child to gauge his work and make decisions about what he'd like to do next - if he wants to. And eventually they will be a tool for him to reach certain goals. But none of that is my business. It's only my business to support him on the journey he chooses.

Six Hours in the West Coast Wild

So here's how it works: You pack up some tasty foods and a bunch of water; maybe an extra sweater or a hat, and you put on all your toughest rain gear.

And you go:
From the canopy to the forest floor there is SO much to discover.

Like testing the depth of the mud on the edges of a rainforest sphagnum fen. The moss in the mud at the bottom of this fen releases methane bubbles when poked, and the water draining out the other side smells decidedly of sulfur. These kinds of things you notice when you have endless time to explore. Moss farts.

If you journey further downstream, you might find evidence of a century past, when people logged this place. They left grooves in the hillside, springboard notches in the many many giant stumps (far bigger than the base of any trees here now), and even a corduroy road like this one, used for hauling those ancient giants down to the ocean to be floated away.

After all this adventure, poking around the bog and fen, playing horse and teeter-totter on the fallen trees, and exploring the creeks and vegetation, you might find yourself hungry for lunch. Where better to go than straight up the steepest, greenest bluff, rising a hundred feet right to the top of the shorter trees and out into the brilliant sunshine? It's only a five minute climb, but you will be sweaty and hungry when you get to the top.

At the top of that big bluff, sitting in the yarrow, reindeer lichen and the salty ocean wind, looking down at the forest canopy and glimpses of the creek you just came from, you could talk about the deep and not-so-deep meanings of life. Because, after all, today you are really living.

And anyway life is beautiful.
It's amazing to look at.

Amazing to touch.

And amazing in its variety and cycles.

It's just amazing to be a part of it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Nature of Belonging

Yesterday my son's school hosted a public talk with renowned ethnographer, Wade Davis. He seems to have been just about everywhere, met so many remote peoples and lived so many amazing experiences and his stories tumble like little avalanches, one setting off another. He told the rapt group of kids that he once lit himself on fire and shook the hand of a voodoo priest. He made the priest laugh. Middle-school mouths were agape as he talked about an Innu man who made himself a shit-knife, butchered a dog to make a sled, and rode away into the night, and the time he brought back through customs a suitcase made of African pop cans and containing all the strange ingredients to make a powder that would turn people into zombies. He talked about Polynesian sailors who know when land is beyond the horizon by the way the waves hit their boat - and they know which islands are making those variations, too. His favourite food? Well he's had lemon-flavoured sauce that was actually ant sauce, but he had a French girlfriend once who was a really good cook... He spoke about the diversity of humanity; the great tapestry of unique answers to the question who are we?, and a deep connection to place.

He touched a few times on the assumption that our western technology makes us more advanced than others; that we consider it a thing to strive for, but that perhaps it just happens to be the world we're immersed in, and ours is simply different than the technology of others. This led me to think more deeply about why I feel so good about taking people out in the wilderness, here. It's because it's my culture. The trees and the moss and the weather and the way the water flows are the bowl that holds my life, and the sharing of that connection is our culture. I feel a deep sense of belonging here, and I enjoy feeling my community in our unique place; remarking on the tiniest discoveries and the changes that happen through the seasons, the living and dying and rotting and growing of this place that we are a part of.

Interestingly, it seems that our culture equates a connection to the land with lower class, lower sophistication, or "quaintness". We hold humanity to some different yard stick than the rest of earth's animals, imagining that intelligence includes a separation from the land and our earthly nature. We revere people who practice modern medicine more than we do biologists, despite the obvious fact that both professions are inextricably linked. Those of our society who actually work with the land are usually among the lowest-paid. We put a lot of value in education that steers us toward urban life. In urban landscapes, rivers are diverted, buried, and forgotten. Forests are razed. It matters more whether we remove our body hair and apply lipstick than it does that we feel the frost coming. The dance of the sunlight filtering through the natural canopy is lost to us. Even the wind and weather patterns have been changed by our "progress", and for many of us are no more than a nuisance, now.

There is such a thing as Nature Deficit Disorder.

We're having a municipal election in my community, and my main concern in thinking about who to vote for is who understands the land we live on. Luckily, there are a few candidates who I regularly run into in the woods, here. There are people among us who hear the differences in rainfall, feel slight temperature changes, and know by the smell of the woods when the mushrooms are coming. There are children who can climb 100-foot trees without fear because they know the ways different species of branches grow, flex, and snap well enough to navigate them. There are children and adults out every day, going off-trail and into the woods, and being a part of our home.

We do have a land-connection, still. We are finding ourselves again. Having invented cars doesn't mean we have to use them. We are finding our walking feet again. We are finding our connections to the place we live on, live in, live under and live because of. In an age of germicides, pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics, we are discovering that were it not for the microbes that make up our bodies we would not live at all. With discoveries like the epigenome and entanglement, we are realizing that what we do truly does define us, and truly does effect every other particle in the universe. We matter. We are finally beginning to understand the significance of what Carl Sagan so famously wrote:
All of the rocky and metallic material we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star-stuff. 
~Carl Sagan, The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective, 1973.

The post-oil age is going to be an age of redefining our culture, rewiring our minds, and reawakening our hearts to the essence of our own home and being (because they are the same thing), and to the enormous potential and responsibility that comes of living with instead of upon.

Following is a talk given by Wade Davis in 2007. It's quite similar to the one I saw yesterday. Enjoy! (If for some reason this YouTube video does not appear, you can also see it here:

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Well we couldn't last long as a home with no cats. Lughnasa joined our family this week. The shelter estimates she was born about 10 weeks ago, which means she was born around the festival of Lughnasa, which we celebrate as a time of gratitude for early harvest and community. Right now we are also grateful for this kitten in our lives.

She was very frightened when we went to meet her at the animal shelter, but she liked to stand around on our shoulders, and when we went to put her back in the cage, she hunkered down and didn't want to go. So we took her home. Amazingly, we discovered today that Lughnasa has precisely the same markings as our beloved cat Moonshadow used to have (a little swoosh of white hairs on her chest, and a few white hairs under each arm). She also makes the same funny face (above). But she is her own cat. Her favourite places to be are in my sweater, just below my neck, or curled on the soft plush blanket on our bed, kneading and mouthing as if it's her mother. She was clearly taken away from her mother far too young, and has also already been spayed, tattooed, and transferred from the Shuswap to Vancouver. What a traumatic beginning for such a tiny and gentle baby. We hope we can give her a lifetime of security and love. She has already brought us so much.