Thursday, October 16, 2014

Loss: The Art of Feeling

There has been some loss in my family, recently: pets, friends, and now the death of an uncle. As I write this, I know my mother is still in a state of deep shock, as her brother's death yesterday was unexpected. Her dog feels the change and walks carefully with her head and tail down, mostly keeping an eye on my mother. I know that feeling of shock: it's like walking through a thick haze - you certainly go about your life, but it seems that reaction times are slower; things rumble past and you can't quite turn around in time to catch them. When there's too much to take in, our minds pick and choose what matters. It's an enforced time of feeling and not feeling. Everything is heightened; we remember our dreams, we hear faint sounds that previously eluded us, the air temperature affects us more. I remember a time when this feeling frightened me, but now it's comforting. Loss - and even the shock of it - is part of life.

As an art teacher and mentor, I am often asked to teach people how to 'see'. There are so many exercises that purport to teach this, but none of them are as intense or as deeply changing as experiencing life changes, and the shock that often accompanies those experiences. Today I went out to look for the dog. I saw the yard in a way I don't usually: It was moving. In our little pocket of the land, the wind doesn't flow straight through; it gets caught up in little eddies, and swoops around in a seemingly haphazard way. Today I saw the flow. As the wind left the rose and cauliflower plants, I could see it catch up in the aspen, and then the oak, beyond. I felt the temperature change as a gently warmer current swept over the porch I was standing on and shifted the remaining wisteria leaves, beside me. I could feel the dew evaporating into the damp air. I called the dog and felt the enormity of my voice as it traveled through that air. I saw the many many greens and browns of the autumn yard, decomposing and growing at the same time.

Autumn is generally a time of letting go, and it's a time of pulling up close to loved ones in preparation for the winter, in expectation of the spring, and in celebration that after all, we have each other. We love.

To deeply love, in my opinion, is to love through everything. And everything sure comes up when we experience loss! Maybe the state of shock - the push to carry on despite the tingling of feeling and numbness all around - is what helps us accept each other during this time. I remember the day, year ago, that my aunt called to tell me my grandmother had driven backwards off the ferry and drowned. She said, "Grootmoeder has died." "That's not true!", I snapped. And she calmly said "It is," as waves of comprehension and confusion came over me. Her understanding, calm, and acceptance of my reaction as she was navigating the aftermath of the death of her own mother may be testament to her great wisdom, but may also have been borne of a state of shock. Shock helps us see the relative insignificance of things that may have once seemed to matter more. The waves of shock helped me to recover, too, and I said, "I'm so sorry. I will phone Pappa."

In the days that follow the death of a loved one, there is communicating that needs to be done among family. This communication pushes us together, in a shared state of mind, so that even when we don't want to turn our faces to the sun, we are often compelled to accept the embrace of our family and community. It is our great privilege when life allows us time to be with our emotions, to open ourselves to those heightened perceptions and to the encircling of community, and just feel.

For those interested, I found this helpful list of bereavement emotions:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Girl Stories

This is one of the things I've been doing creatively, this past year:

And now, finally, after all these months of editing and trial-run printing, my book is available to purchase! This book is definitely not intended for children. Some of it is pretty bleak, but not all of it. And there's a nod to unschooling, too. :-)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Rhiannon is Ten

Last day of being nine - we went for a walk around the lake. Rhiannon has known this lake all her life. I think it's a wonderful thing to grow up with a solid sense of place and a deep knowledge of and connection to that place. It seems like a good foundation for a lifetime of exploration.

Rhiannon's birth tree (where we buried her placenta after she was born) is a quince. Every year she harvests the fruit and makes a batch of her great grandmother's delicious quince jam.

Another tradition in our family is that children receive crowns on their tenth birthdays. I made Rhiannon's out of gold fill wire, peridot and pink opal (her birth stone).

Her request this year was for a chocolate cake bottom with a cheesecake on top. It took a bit of experimentation to make it work but it was certainly interesting! If I were to do it again I would add rosemary to the chocolate cake.

We had a bit of candle-blowing event: On her first attempt, she managed to blow out exactly 0 of her ten candles! Luckily Auntie Ginger caught the whole event on film, and she aced the second attempt with 10 for 10.

We played Carcassonne after dinner, and went to bed full of tasty foods and joy... but not for long! Luck and coincidence gifted Rhiannon with a full lunar eclipse on the night of her tenth birthday, so of course we set our alarm and all went outside at 3 AM to watch it. It was foggy, but the four of us cuddled up on cushions on the porch and watched the foggy moon drift into Earth's shadow, before the sky became completely overcast. Life is beautiful!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Can You Stomach This?

"So she told the cop that he had broken three rules: He pulled off my [clothes], slapped my [donkey], and shaved my [cat] when he got its hair in his mouth."

Can you stomach that, coming out of your child's mouth? That's the punchline of a joke that is going around in some kids' social circles right now. It's not much different from those I heard when I was 10. How does that inform our sons' social and emotional judgments? What does a little girl feel about herself when she hears that? How does that validate her as a human being? Does she laugh? It's funny, right?

My daughter watches the Voice. It's just a singing competition, right? And unlike in some other talent shows, the judges are not cruel to the contestants. And one of the judges is the Sexiest Man Alive!! Have you seen Maroon 5's new video, Animals? Yeah it's just that one where the blood-covered Sexiest Man Alive, Adam Levine, chases his wife around in a butchershop, trying to "prey on" her, "hunt [her] down and eat [her] alive" (link to article here because I would never link to the video). Yeah... Adam is one of the main coaches on the Voice. Let's talk about some of the others: How about the always-drinking Blake Shelton (cue endless jokes about his Special Lattes and inebriation), who characterizes himself as father and uncle to the little girls he tries to woo onto his team? Or Cee-lo Green, who was charged with rape after he slipped a woman ecstasy and had sex with her. After his court appearance he tweeted "if someone is passed out they're not even WITH you consciously, so WITH Implies consent." and "People who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!" Wait... but he's not on the Voice anymore, right? He's been replaced with another black guy (because you know it's always important to show gender and racial variety: 1 sleazy masochistic white pop star, 1 blond lady, 1 black guy, and 1 older drunk country guy). So the new black guy is Pharrell Williams. He's not sexist - oh no. On the contrary, in response to criticism of the song he wrote called Blurred Lines, which smarms "I'll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two", and displays men in suits being served by near-naked women, he says, “I want to support women, but that doesn’t mean I won’t make another song where girls’ behinds are everywhere.” 

Don't worry. The Voice always has a woman coach. She's not one of the two main coaches, because women just simply don't have dominant positions like that in most cases. Who is it this year? Gwen Stefani. She tours with 4 diminutive Japanese girls, and has made a perfume line of their caricatures. Lisa Wade, Phd. says on her blog post, "I think that Stefani’s use of Asian women as props (they may or may not be Japanese) fetishizes Asian women and reinforces white privilege. The Harajuku (sic) Girls serve as contrast to Stefani’s performance of ideal white femininity." We don't hear much debate about Gwen Stefani, because in comparison with other popular female role models she's actually top-of-the-line. That's just desperately sad.

"Our findings indicate that about 20 million out of 112 million women (18.0%) in the United States have ever been raped during their lifetime." (2007 National Study) But is this issue only about reported rape? These statistics alone don't include the multitude of relationships (both sexual and otherwise) that we as women seek out and involve ourselves in, where we willingly submit to social, emotional, intellectual, financial, sexual and physical abuse. We can blame men all we want, but that's not going to get us anywhere, and we know it as well as the woman who has just been slammed against her own bathroom floor knows that she willingly walked into that relationship. We are raising our children in an environment where gender inequality is normalized in our homes, in the media, and in our children's lives outside of our homes. Our boys - those same angels who curl into their mothers' arms and dream about finding true love and caring for baby kittens - are learning to laugh at jokes like the one I opened with. Our girls are learning too.

At first I just watched the Voice with my daughter, talked to her about all the issues I noticed, encouraged her to watch critically, and when I felt that the ideals and inequality of the show were still twisting her mind, I tried to limit the show... but now I have banned it. She'll watch other things - I know that. These sick and harmful ideals will work their way into her mind. But I'm going to take both of my children as far as I possibly can, without them, first. Inequality harms us all.

At the moment I have a daughter who still thinks her body is beautiful; who still thinks she's valuable as a human being, and I have a son who not only trusts his own value and judgments, but is also genuinely deeply offended when other boys joke about non-consensual sex. Over twenty years of marriage, my husband and I are learning to see the inequalities in our marriage and lead a lifestyle of equality. I feel valued and respected, and I hope so does he. But we're still growing. There is cause for hope. There is enormous cause for hope. Let's find that hope, as a species, together.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Unschooling to School: Collecting

This morning in my t-shirt I stood and shivered in the pink sunrise, the blue light of dawn still behind me, to the west. The porch was dry but the air was heavy. The languishing tomato vines hung limp with dew and decaying leaves. The first drops began to fall, and an hour later I was wrapped in two sweaters, cleaning house under a cacophony of slamming water on our metal roof. The autumn rain has come swooping back in, and I am relieved.

We've been picking the tomatoes just as they begin to turn yellow and ripening them in the house. The quinces on my daughter's tree are turning a rich glorious yellow, and the potatoes, quinoa and oats are all inside, in various stages of progression toward the pantry. The heavy rain is beating the aphids off the kale and pulling the leaves off the trees. This is how autumn often comes on the west coast: leaves fall heavy to the ground and rot before making any fluffy picturesque leaf-piles. Sometimes I can't tell the difference between the leaf-litter and the mud. Sometimes there is no difference. Things like gardens begin rotting right under our noses in the summer, and in the autumn rain they get hammered to the ground. Now we're entering the six month long period of rubber-boot-wearing. I love this season. I am glad for the opportunity to take stock.

This is a time for collecting: seeds, fruits, tubers; collecting my body into warmer clothing; collecting my family. Every day when my son comes home from school I pull him into my arms. Maybe I curl up in a blanket with him and hear about his new friends, maybe I collect up his lanky body to sit beside me on the couch and show me what he's doing, and maybe he bitterly stomps into his room and shuts the door behind him, so I sit down among the clothing, electronic parts and lego pieces and I listen. I worry about the big changes in his life - starting school for the first time in 7th grade is kind of like jumping off a cliff into a black frothy ocean current. I am sad to see the summer go. He puts his arm around me and says it's O.K. It's just raining. I know he's right. It's harvest time. And in every harvest are infinite beautiful new beginnings.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pie for Parkinson's

Here's my Pie for Parkinson's challenge video.

I'm supposed to tag people to carry on the challenge and donate to Parkinson's.

I hereby tag everybody who feels so inclined to think about the people you love; think about the challenges those people face, and think about how we can all be accepting, supportive and kind, in everything we do.

We all have challenges, and our strength and resilience comes from love and community. I am blessed to live among many such accepting, kind, supportive people.

Pie for Parkinsons from Emily van Lidth de Jeude on Vimeo.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Unschooling to School: Measuring Up

First ever math homework!
Recently my son did an assessment test before his first school experience. He entered grade seven having spent no more than about 20 hours each year completing math questions and writing assignments, so they needed to see how he would fit into the group. Apparently his computation and spelling barely attain "grade level", while his math and reading comprehension are above. To discover that our son is miraculously working at grade level, despite having never completed a "grade" or test in his life was certainly reassuring. For parents traveling a largely uncharted path with our kids' education, that felt like a huge pat on the back. But I am wary of being caught in the trap of "measuring up". The whole reason we're doing this is to instil in our children a desire to live fulfilled, rich lives, independent from societal and social expectations.

Most miraculous, to me at least, was the fact that he enjoyed the test. "It was interesting!" He exclaimed upon coming out of the room. "I liked that I got to write about what I like to do. The teacher was very nice, also." And it occurred to me that these are the things that deeply matter in life: that we are engaged in what we do, and that we are held with respect and compassion by others.

I admit that I have a lot of trepidation about this schooling adventure. I had a terrible time at school. I was the last person chosen for teams in gym class (people actually fought over who had to have me on their team), I achieved mostly minimal grades, and was bored all the time. I felt invisible, and worse, it seemed that when people did see me they wanted to hurt me. I never measured up. Now I've put so much faith in holding my children close, in allowing them to venture out into the world without the measuring sticks of school applied to them, with the hope of keeping their spirits in tact. I'm so scared this year of school will break my boy's spirit; maybe my own. But life is not for the faint of heart, right? So off we go. I will do everything in my ability to keep his fire stoked and his dreams his own; to remind him that every day is his to determine, and I will judge him always only by how much I love him.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Amber Sunshine

Don't worry little kitten - it's a herbivore. I hope.
In 1998 Markus and I stopped to camp in a little campsite next to the Rosebud River, in Rosedale, Alberta. When we pulled into our little spot by the riverbank, 3 tiny kittens were scratching and scrabbling around in the dust. They were clearly starved, so we took out a can of tuna, and as I opened it a little black and white one climbed from my foot to my shoulder to get the fish. The three finished it in less than 30 seconds, as I remember. Then we left to visit the Drumheller museum, and when we returned, an RV had pulled up beside us and the kittens were occupied by the RV owners' two children. We went to bed in our little tent, and fell asleep to the sound of the wind picking up.

Eventually we woke again, deep in the night, to a raging pelting rain and thunder storm. We could hear the river raging beside us, and felt briefly awed by experiencing what was clearly a flash flood in Alberta's badlands. Then we heard mewing. Tiny, faint, and frail sounding, and then louder as she pushed her face against the zipper-closing of the tent, the little yellow tabby kitten had come for refuge.

Amber and Markus adored each other.
I got up and let her in. She was like a small wet rag. I towelled her off with my shirt and went back to sleep. When we woke the next morning she was a puff of white and yellow fluff, sprawled on her back between our heads. She has always had the softest fur I've ever felt. I will miss that about her.

Her brothers were gone from the campground, and so was the RV. We hope they went home with those kids. We tried to look for her home, but nobody had heard of kittens being born, and when we turned down one of the driveways she screamed, just before large aggressive dogs came running out at our car. We decided to keep her, and drove her back home to Vancouver with us.

I wanted to name her Alberta Rose; Markus chose Amber Sunshine, instead. Both were fitting.

Amber was so frightened when she saw our older cat, Moonshadow, that she peed on the bed where she was sitting. Moonshadow took great care and patience to move just a few inches closer to Amber every day, until finally Amber welcomed her and began sleeping under Moony's arm. They began sharing a small basket.

Amber was temperamental - she had an eating disorder that cost us thousands of dollars in the first couple of years, and became a ferocious hunter when we moved to Bowen. It cured her eating disorder, but was not always a pleasant habit. She was also fiercely territorial, and expressed frequently her disapproval when things weren't going her way.

Amber meeting our new puppy, Juniper. 2000.

She hated snow and rain, and reminded us so every time the weather changed by peeing on Markus and my clothing (even crawling into our drawers when possible). She peed on the baby laundry after Tali was born. We understood her frustration, but luckily she grew to love him, and she became a loving, tolerant (and very fat) kids' cat.

Baby Tali had no fear about pulling and mouthing her ears, because despite her ferocity, she never hurt him.

After Moonshadow died, a few years ago, Amber gloriously ruled our house, dominating dogs and even us when she felt like it. In recent years she guarded over the children in their beds, and developed a nice routine for spending quality time with each of us, every day.

In her senior years she cared less about making friends with newcomers!

She made a fuss every time we came home from the city, walking around the yard yelling at us in the most unpleasant tone she could muster, until we'd sufficiently snuggled her dismay away. I will miss that about her, too.

Amber died, today. We found out last week that she had a tumour in her face, and it grew very fast. This afternoon we had to let her go. She fell asleep in my arms, before being euthanized by candlelight with gentleness and care by our Bowen vet. We were very grateful for him, today. And very sad to lose our dear friend of 16 years.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Unschooling to School: First Day

It may seem rather odd that we, who have been so gleefully unschooling for all these years, have sent our son to school. And an independent IB World School of all places, too. But actually it's just a part of the whole. Unschooling is about following our own and our children's interests and dreams, and this seemed to be the next step in his. So we support him in that.

This morning I wanted to make him a special breakfast - a kind of ceremonial first rite, the idea for which I got from a friend who sent her daughter off to this school for the first time last year. But he refused! He wanted to make his own breakfast. He wanted to make himself instant biryani and continue with the book which I suspect he was up most of the night reading! So, wanting as usual to respect his journey, I just photographed the meal.

He spent his first day at school today. He was overwhelmed and happy when he got back. This is going to be a slow transition for various reasons, not the least of which for his sleep patterns, but he was ready for the change, and we clearly made the right decision in sending him.

This afternoon my 12 year old son walked in the door, and for the first time in his life I said, "Hi lovely! How was your day at school?" And then I jittered up and down like a silly person, so thrilled to have uttered those words.

He looked at me and smiled, maturely. "It was good!"


So here in British Columbia, nobody in the public school system is in school, because our provincial Liberal party has precipitated a strike. I think it's pretty fair to say that the vast majority of parents here support our teachers, who are asking for nothing more than the means to do their jobs well. Even our beloved children's entertainer Raffi has spoken up on the issue.

We homeschoolers and unschoolers also have teachers. 
Some of us have children in the public school system or at private schools. Some of us whose children don't attend any school are supported by wonderful teachers through Distributed Learning and other programs. Some of us are also teachers, ourselves, either as union members or not. Most of us have in some way benefited from a wonderful teacher, and I am quite certain that support for teachers is nearly universal. Whether our children attend school or not, we are all members of the same community. We support the teachers who, in living with us and in supporting us and our children, are essential to our community's wellbeing. It's critical that they are given the means with which to do the jobs they have chosen with all the passion and skill they do.

But There's No School this Week! 

Politics aside, what to do with the extra home-time seems to be the question of the moment. People are out there scrambling for curriculum packages to occupy and educate their children during the strike. Of course I've been contacted by some readers (and by my sister) for a post on this. I suspect my answer is predictable:

Most people unschool all summer. By that I mean that when school is out for the summer, kids are given opportunity to follow their passions and inspirations, to join their family on work and play adventures, and to participate in activities like camps, workshops and other adventures that they don't have so much time for during the school year. That's basically the definition of unschooling. If daycare isn't an issue (and I'm aware that for many it is), then why not keep unschooling? 

We had an interesting and unexpected reassurance this week when our 12-year-old son did his first ever test, and appeared to be far ahead of grade level in the things he does a lot of, and just barely meeting grade level in the things he never does at all. And best of all: he came out of the assessment test happy and excited to have had the experience! If that's the result of 7 years of full-on radical unschooling, then all my fears have been officially put to rest. We're thrilled for him to have the "school experience" he's beginning this year, but pleased that our daughter is still unschooling, and that they've both had the opportunity to follow their own hearts for so long. I feel like this strike, despite all the reasons it shouldn't have to happen, despite all the truly good things that teachers do for our children even with their very meagre resources, is an opportunity for more kids to follow their hearts for just a little longer, and take advantage of the beautiful blossoming that can encourage.

Go into the Wilderness!!!
I can't stress enough how important I think this is. It will always be number one on my to-do list. It's raining, today. So get out in the rain! And if you parents can go along for the adventure, do it!! My kids' lives have been defined by the time they spend exploring, walking through, and playing in the woods and riparian areas around our island. We go out into the wilderness with an expectation of stopping to look at whatever piques our interest, and the most interesting, meaningful conversations we've had have happened out there. Expect to get dirty. Expect to stay longer than you intended. Expect to sit down in a creek and play with the flow of water. You might know in the back of your mind that this is physics play, but don't push the "teaching moment". Just enjoy the play. When your kids watch you discovering as much as they do, they learn instinctively that exploration and discovery is good, and this will set them up for a lifetime of learning. 
If you can do this for every single day of the strike, you don't need the rest of this list. :-)

Open-Ended Creativity
Of course, you can do this outside as well as inside, but if you're all too wet and tired, have come in for your lunch and hot drinks, and crave some quiet or dry indoor time, then get creative at the table! Or the floor. Wherever it is, clear the biggest area you can, and pull out whatever can be used creatively: Blocks and other construction/sorting toys; paints, glue and whatever scraps and materials can be glued or painted; fabric, yarn and sewing supplies; papers and envelopes for sending letters (don't coerce them to write - if all they want to do is wrap up a lovely little glued piece of yarn and put it in an envelope, then that is a wonderful step ahead on their journey to communication - enjoy it!). Maybe you will find yourselves sprawled out in the creativity space telling stories. That, too, is a wonderful opportunity to learn. "Teachable moments" will abound - let them. And see where they take you and your children, without needing to direct them.

Get Dramatic
A few weeks ago my daughter and her friends spontaneously became human CD-players. They made themselves paper "CD drives" and a collection of paper "CD's", and sat covered in blankets which also hid a collection of instruments, underneath. The CD's were inserted into the drives, and the blanket-CD-players bopped around with every style of music you can imagine. You never know what materials will be useful for this play, but dress-ups, blankets, craft supplies and basic instruments are good things to have around. It's also a good idea for parents to be available as an audience, when needed. The important thing is give the kids space for their play. This kind of play is essential to their development of social literacy, and we can cause a lot of confusion by being too involved. Even as a teacher, I only step in when difficult situations arise, or when my participation is requested. And then I mostly act as mediator, helping them to find their own resolutions and ideas.

Lose the Schedule
If you just looked at this list of three suggested activities and mentally sorted them into time-blocks for a day at home, know that you're not alone. Our culture is carefully moderated by schedules and rules, and we depend on those things to keep us in line! But unschooling is about letting go of those restrictions and following our hearts into new and exciting territory. If your children have disappeared in the woods and it's lunch-time, and you've set up an awesome craft-space for their expected return... go check in on them. Maybe they would rather have a picnic in the rain and continue their play than come in. Maybe your awesome craft-space will be totally unused, and you'll have to use it yourself! And that has to be OK, sometimes. Having a lack of schedule won't ruin the kids for school - they'll fall back into line when it becomes socially prudent to do so. But meanwhile that morning adventure that carried on for 3 days will be something wonderful to hold onto, and you never know how it may have influenced the rest of their lives. You might even have to bring them dinner and a tent.

Crafts for MLA's
Finally, with enormous thanks to my friend Tom, whose genius idea this was... Crafts for MLA's! 
You can find your MLA's address here (search and then click the name for the address), or you can find our esteemed Premier's address, here. Let's let our children sent the government little gifts of their own gorgeous voices. Christy Clark is a mother, too.

This strike doesn't have to be a negative thing. It's an opportunity to give our children a voice. It's an opportunity to let the people we elected know that we believe in giving our teachers the resources and circumstances they need to do the wonderful job they want to do. Let your kids send whatever they want. Not only does this open up wonderful opportunities for discussion about politics, school, and human rights, but it will give our provincial Liberals a beautiful reminder of the kaleidoscope of valuable young persons who benefit from and depend upon the public school system in our province. Our teachers see these expressions of our children's hearts and minds, and are passionate about helping them to grow and learn from a place of joyful discovery and inspiration.

Working with our Hearts and Minds

Whether our children attend school or not, and whether or not we engage with the public school system, we are all valuable members of the same greater community, and deserve to be supported in working with our hearts and minds. Let's make a point of doing that during this strike and always, and supporting our teachers to do the same.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Unschooling to School: How it All Began

We got the call at 11:53 AM, just as we were cleaning up from a Big Giant Open-Air Sleepover. "So Taliesin's funding has been approved." I had barely slept the night before. Between the party prep, three days of frantic form-filling, funding-searching, and assessment-doing for a last-ditch attempt to get Tali into our local independent school, finding out suddenly that our one remaining pet, Amber, has a growing tumour in her face and trying to work my mind - again - around the word 'palliative'... I took a moment to come to terms with the words: "Taliesin's funding has been approved."

Half an hour later, Tali and I were in the car in the ferry lineup, with supply lists for grade 7 and for the 3-day orientation camping trip. Technically we have the weekend to buy these supplies, but who wants to be driving around town on Labour Day Weekend?! So we tried to do it all on Friday evening. We were in shock - what can I say.

As I stood looking stunned in the chaotic, rummaged-through school supply section, I saw Tali excitedly slipping extra pens into the basket along with his many other "supplies". And a scientific calculator. He was in heaven. I was debating how badly he'd be looked upon for having coloured erasers instead of white; for having two 2-inch binders instead of one 3-inch binder. Then, as we literally ran between stores, flying in the doors and begging for fleece pants and hoodies (the list explicitly says no cotton for the camping trip), and getting more and more bewildered with every shop we entered (we normally buy clothing second-hand), I realized in a flash that I now know EXACTLY WHAT PRETTY WOMAN FELT LIKE!! Whatever her name was. Apparently my highschool days have well and truly re-entered my mind. How embarrassing.

Tali got used cleats AND new hiking boots AND new runners, yesterday. And 20 pencils and 10 pens and 3 packages of 8 binder-dividers, and... It was the unschooler's Pretty Woman moment for sure. We blew the bank, and we still have to find money for our portion of the actual tuition. Wow.

We're still in shock.

How on earth did this happen?? Three days earlier the head of the school looked me square in the eyes and asked "Are you sure? Because this IS a school." And I said yes.

I said yes.

My son, who has never attended school, begins grade 7 on Tuesday.
All of a sudden, from unschooling to an International Bacchelauriate World School.
The school where MY BROTHER teaches!!!
We have to buy a green v-neck sweater.

And I said yes.

I'll report back eventually.
This fell on our heads like a rain of meteors.
There is going to be one hell of a good unschooling-to-school story coming up. I can feel it.

My Big Giant Open-Air Sleepover

Rhiannon has lots of very treasured friends, and likes to have big outdoor parties, which, in our climate, necessitates having them about 6 weeks before her actual autumn birthday.

This year she decided to have an open-air sleepover party, including a "Hunt for the Cake"! So here is the evidence:

It all started with the Hunt for the Cake - a 2km-long treasure hunt taking the kids eventually into the darkening forest, which they found lit with (electric) candles, in a trail leading up to the cake... just waiting to be blown out.
It was an auto-immune-paleo chocolate-avocado ice-cream cake!
But with so many kids, and knowing that some would be less than delighted with the lack of starches, there were also gluten/soy/egg/dairy/corn-free chocolate cupcakes. :-)

Then there was Rhiannon's favourite movie, the Secret of Roan Inish, projected on a bed-sheet in the yard. Of course, the older kids ended up sitting around an oil-lamp in their PJ's until about 1AM, whispering, joking, laughing, and eventually galumphing around the lawn like seals. :-)

People were rather sleepy in the morning!!!! Including we two parents who enjoyed sleeping out under the stars, but hadn't done much of the actual sleeping, either.

After breakfast we had a marshmallow roast. With all the running around, and people coming and going, there never seemed to be many kids in a photo at once, but all together there were over 30 kids involved. My daughter is a socialite.

The Gingerbread Girl

Rhiannon decided to join the parade for our local festival this year. So she found out the parade's theme (Fairy Tales) and got some friends together to brainstorm. They looked through a book for fairy tales, chose a story, made costumes, contacted the parade organizers, and... ta da! The Gingerbread Girl and her hungry pursuers:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Princeton Traditional Music Festival

:-)           (-:
I grew up in the traditional music culture of BC's lower mainland, falling asleep on my mother's lap as she sang old ballads, Appalachian play party songs and Canadian and British work songs. Sounds of banjos, guitars, and old-time fiddling make me feel at peace. Every year my family looks forward to the Princeton Traditional Music Festival like it's Christmas. We count down the days.

Why Princeton? Why not Vancouver International? Or Mission? Our friends go there. But we don't. We drive half a day to Princeton because our souls need this food. We go to Princeton because it's real. We go because some people's voices break with the emotion in the ancient songs they sing, and other people interrupt their own singing to crack jokes about the words. We go there because almost every person watching each performance is also a performer; because on stage people often spend as much time talking about their music as making it, and the whole audience sits rapt, making mental notes... and then they spend more time singing in the streets and on Jon and Rika's porch than they do sleeping at night.

Jon and Rika. OK fine we also go because our adopted family happens to be the magnets for traditional music in Western Canada. Jon Bartlett and Rika Ruebsaat aren't trad magnets by default, but because they've spent decades researching, collecting, sharing and supporting traditional music in Canada and elsewhere. In fact over these decades they have left a trail of folk clubs and festivals in their wake, and an attendant passionate crew of musicians, folklorists and archivists.

This sweet video encapsulates a lot of what the festival (and Jon and Rika) are about. And then following will be a bunch of individual songs from this year's festival and others.

This year, to my heart's joy, I watched our dear Bevan make his traditional stage debut. Bevan (Jon and Rika's son) is like a cousin to my brother and me. He's now a writer and a wonderful DJ (read more here), and not generally living in the province. So to hear him come out (with accordion, too!) and sing the songs we all carry in our hearts literally brought me to tears. Enjoy a couple:

And then there's beautiful Morgan. She surprised us last year by picking up a euphonium and joining Orkestar ┼álivovica. She has a tattoo running down her spine that says Carpe Diem... she's a (very busy!) archeologist, and she plays euphonium in the Tulameen River. Her completely badass exterior is the wrapping for one of the most heartful, loving humans I know. Isn't that always the way??  :-)

There is so much to see, with 2 and often 3 performances going on at any given time, we have to choose carefully. I chose this one because my grandfather's family were cowboys and my mother sings these songs. But Princeton's not only about music! After his set of working cowboy songs, John Kidder (yes he's also a founding member of the BC Green Party!) performed this gem of cowboy poetry:

Here Jon and Rika sing the Road to Gundagai at the Antipodean workshop:

More from the Antipodean workshop - Jill King sings the Town of Kiandra:

This video illustrates for me the community aspect of Princeton. Lyn and Jim (AKA Lemon Gin) perform Stay on the Farm:

Chris Corrigan sings a song he wrote - the Orchardman's Lament:

Jon and Rika singing Haywire Crew (video by George Elliot):

Barry Hall singing Pretty Peggy-O at the banjo workshop in 2013:

You thought you were finished? No way. This is what night looks like during the Festival (video by 'deturner')... all night:

If you want to get lost in Princeton for a few hours, go look at the youtube PLAYLIST I've put together! Thankfully there are lots of people putting clips out there.

Oh yeah. And Princeton? It's free. Musicians don't come for money. We come to sing. We come to be with our community.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Better Than Rainbow Loom

Preface: I want to insert here that I have received some very sweet heartfelt Rainbow Loom gifts from children I care deeply about. I even wore and kept them until the plastic disintegrated. My opinion about the product does not in any way effect my gratitude for those sweet gifts.

But... I have to say I am glad to see this report.
“The latest craze for loom bands has highlighted once again that an apparently harmless product may have long-term detrimental effects to health,” the Assay Office said.
“The latest loom bands craze in particular is throwing up some alarming results considering these products are so child appealing,” the spokesman said.

“Phthalates can migrate from plastic into the body if they come into contact with saliva or sweat. Phthalates are suspected carcinogens and are known to disturb the endocrine system in both humans and animals.”

The endocrine system releases hormones into the body. Studies have also linked the chemicals – found in thousands of plastic products – to problems with sexual development, reduced fertility levels and undescended testes.
“These products should be being withdrawn from the market, and both governments and retailers need to act now.”

Of course, this information is regarding only some brands of loom bands, how do we differentiate at the store? Anyway I'm seriously glad that people are considering health issues, because hopefully that will curb the trend. Although I can't stand the toxic smell of the bracelets, my own reasons for rejecting the bands in my home are different:

Plastic: WHY?! In a world increasingly aware of plastic pollution, where our oceans, sand, fresh water and air are now loaded with plastic particles of all sizes from large to microscopic, WHY are we creating a massive craze involving little tiny losable plastic bands by the billions?? I refuse to buy them, and yet my home is full of them. I am constantly picking them up off the floor, less because I'm offended by the mess than because our cat has already had (in her earlier years) two major surgeries to remove plastic bands and floss she had ingested. This isn't unique. Wild animals are frequently found dead, their stomachs loaded with plastic debris. Plastic is just not something we need to be littering the earth with anymore.

People bring cloth bags to craft stores to buy... plastic elastic bands! We can be smarter than this. We can be better than Rainbow Loom!

So here's the good news: 
Why not create bracelets from hemp twine and wood or glass beads? Not only can it be just as colourful, but it's much more comfortable to wear, lasts longer, and has little environmental or health impact.

Or embroidery floss/hemp friendship bracelets:

If you like following instructions, here's another beautiful one:

...and once you've learned a few general guidelines from tutorials (or from friends!!), get inventive! As a teen I used to make 2-inch-wide friendship 'cuffs' with all kinds of cool patterns and sometimes embellishments. Making bracelets is wonderful fun, as well as a sweet social activity for all genders. I very much encourage this kind of behaviour. ;-)


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sharing our Kids on the Internet

There's my kid. Being dangerous.
I find this really interesting. CBC just published an article called Parents opt to keep babies off Facebook.
"Reasons for the baby blackout vary. Some parents have privacy and safety concerns. Others worry about what companies might do with their child's image and personal data. Some simply do it out of respect for their kids' autonomy before they are old enough to make decisions for themselves."

I come from a small community (800 people when I was very young; about 4000, now) where pretty much nobody is unknown - even those who attempt to be... So Facebook, and the Internet in general, has always felt to me like another aspect of my community. My kids are out there in the real world; they are seen in the streets, forests, and in the local newspaper, so why not online? I draw the line at naked baby photos, etc. because I know those can be misused, and I don't want my kids feeling shy about them, later on. I'm careful not to put any contact info for my kids online, and I hope they are too... but the proliferation of online groups that they join is definitely worrying to me, as is, sometimes, my family's general vulnerability as terrorists (or "multi-faceted extremists") under Canadian law that classifies people who sign petitions or attend environmental protests/rallies as such. This does concern me - obviously. By allowing my kids to express their views, I have potentially doomed them to the wrong side of the law (and the wrong side of an increasingly oppressive government).

My main struggle at the moment is this: My children are 9 and 12. Although it seems generally reasonable (though difficult) to keep babies' faces and names off the Internet, what do we do when they become old enough to use the Internet themselves, to set up personal profiles, etc. without us, and to access the Internet in a multitude of ways that are both beyond our knowledge and beyond our control? The massive scope of Internet activity in our lives and culture means that many children are fully connected before they are even comfortable walking alone in the dark. But I can't believe that trying to control their activities at this age is useful. I also can't believe they should be kept protected from the technology that now defines our lives. I try very hard to help them navigate the ethics and consequences of their choices. But how do I ensure their safety, especially in the long-run?

I am choosing to look at this the way I see most activities. I buy helmets. I advise them of safety measures. I remind them to be careful when they leave the house. I try to demonstrate safe behaviour. I kiss them goodbye. And then I just try to quiet the anxiety at the back of my mind until they walk smilingly in the door, later.

So... no I'm not taking down my blog at the moment. But this is a serious consideration, and I think this trend of keeping babies off social media is probably a very good thing. I'm going to have (yet another) conversation with my kids about it. And then maybe I'll suggest we go for a walk in the dark.