Friday, December 2, 2016

Annie's Grain-Free Kruidnoten: Jawel!

(AKA granenvrije, graanvrij, glutenvrij, strooigoed en pepernoten)

As you're probably aware, our daughter's diagnosis of Hashimoto's Disease has meant big changes in our family's diet. The biggest of those changes (and most disappointing to an 11 and now 12-year-old girl), is the removal of most grains and sugars from her diet. All sugars are out - even honey and maple syrup. We are making an infrequent exception for special occasions, however, and Sinterklaas is one of those. How can we expect our girl to go through Sinterklaas and not consume a single kruidnoot? So she and I created this recipe whereby she gets all the taste and crunch of kruidnoten, without the grains and sugar!

A note on sugar: We are using xylitol as the sweetener for these special treats, but the same rule does not apply to everyone. In fact xylitol can cause diarrhea and other problems if eaten too often or in large quantities. So if you have your own preferred sweetener, try it out! This recipe will also work with coconut sugar, and probably honey, although we haven't tried that yet. Let us know in the comments how you alter this and how it works for you!


Grain-Free Kruidnoten


Mix in a bowl:
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • about 6 to 7 tbsp coconut oil, melted and cooled to approximately skin-temperature. This is important. If you pour hot oil into the bowl it will cook the egg.
  • 1/2 cup xylitol or coconut sugar

Mix in a separate bowl, then add:
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp speculaaskruiden* (see below)
  • 1/4 tsp xanthan gum

Roll into tiny balls, squish just a little flat on a paper-lined baking sheet, and bake at 350F for 12 minutes.

After 12 minutes, take them out and put the whole paper liner on a rack to cool . They look great, but are not yet crunchy, as proper kruidnoten should be!

Once cooled, put them in a dehydrator on a low-temperature setting (we used 150F), and dehydrate for a few hours until they're nice and crunchy. After being left overnight, they'll be even crunchier!





Speculaaskruiden is a mixture of spices for making Dutch spice cookies. This is my own blend, specifically for kruidnoten. It makes more than you'll need for this recipe, but believe me - you will use it up quickly!

Use a scale for this, and measure the following into a bowl. Mix it well and store in an airtight jar.
*all ingredients should be finely ground
  • 50g cinnamon
  • 25g nutmeg
  • 5g cloves
  • 10g ginger
  • 5g black pepper
  • 3g anise seed (optional)


Gooi wat in mijn schoentje!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Community Building in a Forest Village



A Forest Village is something that happens often in Wild Art. After a certain amount of exploring, kids usually between about seven and ten years old get industrious. Some begin converting whatever materials they find around themselves into decor, clothing, 'food', weapons, or other commodities, and selling them in pop-up shops. Some spend minutes or hours building all manner of lodgings, theatres, town-halls, shops, and other useful structures. Some offer classes, sharing skills they've brought with them or just discovered, while others offer tours of the local mushrooms or 'fancy places'. When necessity dictates, they build bridges and ramps, doors, 'fire pits', and ladders, and often go into business procuring the supplies for these projects and selling them to each other for various combinations of stone, stick, and leaf currencies. Safes, stashes and banks happen. Even robbers happen. And often we end up having police, mayors, town criers and all sorts of other interesting positions. Today I was instructed to be the person who tells everybody else "when it's night time - and do it at least twice!!" But I forgot the second time, because by then I was a detective, wearing a mustache of a moss we call 'old man's beard'. I was on the trail of some robbers, but when their exploits made the rest of the villagers too angry, I called a town meeting and became a spectator as the group of young villagers sorted out what was actually a genuine conflict quite ably. The robbers became spies.


A Forest Village is a wonderful place to work out real-world problems, and to make real-world discoveries. With a lack of imposed structure, kids' imaginations are the source for everything. It's amazing to me what deep issues a group of primary kids can discover, confront, and solve with the innate compassion, dignity, and reason that has not yet been trained out of them. The forest is a dynamic yet safe vessel for these explorations, and eventually the skills developed here will become a strong foundation for those who will inherit our communities.




Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Angry Unschoolers

Have you ever met any of those unschoolers who, as soon as they get an opportunity, will launch into a diatribe about their kids' misfortunes at school, or the wrong-headed and morally repugnant beginnings of our current system? They don't just look for opportunities – they even create them. They have stories about pain and terror; a hurt and twisted look in their eyes as if they know you'll bite at any moment. And they have so. many. facts! They have read all the research and they know they are right! And they have solutions that sometimes sound more like black bloc tactics or tear-gas shooting than anything really useful or accessible at all. They're really just angry. Angry unschoolers.

Some of us avoid them because they give unschoolers a bad name. But many of us are them. I am.

We began unschooling because I could see that my eldest child would be as unserved by the school system as I was: He's creative, shy, extremely sensitive and his moral convictions are strong. Also like me, he abhors taking direction. He didn't learn to read until I stopped trying to encourage him, and then he just quickly taught himself. Moreover, he actually rejected books for many months in an effort to thwart my reading encouragement. I saw in him the same drive to be self-sufficient that I have, and didn't want to send him into the system that had failed me so badly.

And it did fail me. For all the wonderful things that happened for me in school, for the various teachers who worked tirelessly with me and on my behalf, and for those who even genuinely loved me, nobody was able to allow me to teach myself. Nobody was able to make me safe on the school ground, or even in the classroom while under supervision. Nobody was able to teach me that I had an intrinsic value unrelated to grades and competition. I never felt like I mattered, until grade eleven, when out of sheer angry rebellion I decided to write and paint and science however I wanted. I did it with abandon… and was rewarded for it in grades and scholarships. I graduated indignant and angry and without respect for the institution that had raised me. And when I became a parent I still carried that anger.

No way in hell was I going to enroll my beloved son in a school – the exact same school, no less – that had left me so broken. Nor would I let his passions be crushed by well-meaning people who thought they knew better than he did what he needed from life. I tried out an alternative homeschooling support program for a year, and then cut straight to free-range unschooling. Ironically, I was so angry about my own childhood that some of that anger haunted my parenting. I didn't want my son telling me what to do anymore than I wanted my teachers telling me what to do, and I attempted many times to coral or redirect his activities. I also fell victim to the common crime of competitive parenting, and pushed him to do things he didn't want to do out of fear that he may not measure up to his peers. Like reading. He pushed back harder, and every single time I pushed, I failed, and he was bombarded by my anger. I made him feel like he failed. And every time I backed off, he excelled – at his own passions.

It took me many years to feel like I was parenting from a place of inspiration instead of fear and anger, and I'm still not where I'd like to be. I know that the struggle to overcome my childhood anger will take the rest of my life, and I am not writing this now from a place of righteous conclusion. I'm writing from a place of desperate searching. Because I see how harmful the anger is, and I want to overcome it.

The trouble is, it's hard to overcome something when it's still serving a purpose. Revolutions are often kickstarted by anger. An angry population finally gets pushed so far that it pushes back. And that's what's been happening with unschooling. Enough of us have been failed badly enough by the school system that we've rejected it in anger – and while out here in the wilderness blindly feeling our way around, thrashing out at our fears and constantly seeking new pathways around the ever-appearing obstacles – we are finding something beautiful.

It happens in those little moments when we're tromping through the woods and see the many years of our children's faces all in one brief smile and we're grateful to have those shared memories. It happens when we accidentally lose a day playing Minecraft with our kids and then discover we gained more than we lost. It happens when we see our kids confront the things we are deathly afraid of with bravery, wisdom, and integrity. It happens when we discover they are actually not even afraid. It happens when we realize that our anger led us to this place of great freedom and discovery, and now we can leave the anger behind.

Unschooling is such a fighting word. I tried to use 'life-learning' for a while but it didn't work out. People know what unschooling means, and I think that's because it's still too new of a movement to move beyond its angry roots. The majority of children are still stuck in the school system, not knowing there are other opportunities. So, as more and more people use fear or anger to hurtle themselves out onto this new way of raising kids, the anger is still serving us. But things are changing. Our own province is implementing a new curriculum that values broad ideas and personal development over specific fact-based learning. Other countries and districts are opening up in other ways, with mixed-age groupings, mixed-subjects and even no subjects, with online and cross-enrolled courses, outdoor learning, and with various forms of self-direction. I have seen various projects conceived by myself or other unschoolers and non-coercive educators be implemented in mainstream school programs. So unschooling philosophy and experience is already influencing mainstream education. It may not be that the recent growth in unschooling leads to a majority of kids being unschooled, but rather that it feeds everything we learn back into a better system.

Sometimes I feel like a lighthouse out here. The whole reason we're here is because there was something to fear - something to warn others about and to shine light on a safer option. There is still all kinds of danger crashing around us like angry waves, but we just stick it out. And as a bonus we get to be right out here in all the storms, right out here in all the sunrises and rainbows and just feeling and living and loving all of it.

I don't mind the loneliness that comes with being a maverick. I love being out here on the edge, watching my kids benefit from all the wonder and excitement of trailblazing. This feeling of joy is what allows me to leave the anger behind, so I'm just going to keep on feeling it. Anger certainly serves a purpose as an instigator of ingenuity, but it's time for those of us who have already made the leap to be fueled by joy and inspiration, instead.

Solidarity to those of you just stepping into this world. And to the rest of us: Party on!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Mothering, Employment and Worth

Photo by Kim Weedmark.
My friend gave me this photo a few days ago. She came along as a parent helper with her older son's Wild Art outing, and she brought her younger sons along, too. This is me dumping some of the creek out of one of her sons' boots, as he said "you need to dump it out, but not on my leg. You need to dump it over there."

When I saw this photo I felt so happy. That's something I can almost never say about a photo of myself, so when it happens it feels amazing. And I had to think for a while about why this moment was so wonderful to me, or this photo of me in my muddy rain gear dumping out a child's boots.

Then I realized: It's not just muddy rain gear. That is the muddy rain gear that I wear when I take people adventuring in the wet wilderness. That mud is my badge of joy. It's not just any water. That is some of the creek that filled up so much it ran out and filled the trails in the meadow. That is the creek these kids know as part of their home, and I have had the enormous privilege of sharing their experiences of getting to know it. It's not just any child - it's a boy I've been adventuring with many times, and I adore him. There are moments of his wonder-filled face etched in the crevices of my brain, so that when I walk through certain areas I will think of him, just like when I paint a certain way I will think of other people I've painted with, or when I climb a certain tree I will think of the people who first climbed that tree with me. Now when I dump out boots I will remember his deliberate instructions to not dump it on his leg - always.

I have had difficulty finding work for a few months, and on top of the financial woes that situation brings, I've been feeling worthless. It's easy to slip into worthlessness when mothering. Even though you know your presence is needed, it doesn't always feel that way. And when your kids are as old as mine are, and they don't even really need you to cook for them, they want rides but you know it's better for them to transport themselves, they don't particularly want your loving advice, and you don't want to alienate them with criticism, but you find yourself doing it anyway... then you might become lost. I was so lost. And as my employment dried up over the last year it felt like the world had conspired to remind me that I was unneeded. I couldn't even bring home an income, let alone be of value to somebody.

Luckily I did have a job lined up, and it began last week. It's only once (sometimes twice) per week, but it's my work. It's a job I've created out of my own passion and I love my work. I love going out in the woods and beaches and meadows and creeks and just launching myself full-force into impassioned exploration and discovery. I love coming back to a warm cup of tea and my richly inspiring studio and either creating what my heart feels, or sharing a wonderful material exploration with others. I love sharing these experiences with other people. I love my work! And now I realize: I love that I have work. I love that there is something I can do that brings the joy I experience into reach for other people. I love that even if it's just because somebody needed his boots dumped out, I made a difference.

There's nothing like a few months without plumbing or potable water to make you realize how much you treasure the clean water. There's nothing like returning to work after a time of employment drought to remind you that you deserve to exist in the world.

Thank you, world, for making a space for me and the work I love to do. Thank you, parents, for trusting me to take your kids gallivanting in the wild and in the art. Thank you, adventurers young and adult, for tromping into wildernesses with me. And thank you Kim, for taking the photo that unlocked all this gratitude.

I guess I needed the opportunity to work again to renew my spirit. But I also needed some extra time to process what had happened. Until I saw this photo I didn't even realize what had been missing in my life. I guess more time is always a good thing. My young friend gave me some advice on that, too:

"You need to bring the clock with more minutes. How many minutes does your clock have?"

"Sixty," I replied, uncertainly.

"Next time you should bring the one with a hundred."

.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Wild Food Spotlight 4: Burdock


This is the third in a series of foraging-related articles I'm writing for our local bulletin.
Re-posted from the Artisan Office Bulletin: http://artisanoffice.com/bulletin/
~  ~  ~ 

It's pretty soggy out these days. What remains of our wild and cultivated leafy greens is mostly melting away in a grey-brown sludge, battered by fallen branches and covered by the remains of other plants. But underneath the nearly-frosty ground, the roots are at their prime; ready for eating, canning, roasting, drying and steeping.

Similar to other members of the Aster family such as Canada thistle, dandelion, artichoke and chicory, burdock root contains plenty of the dietary fibre, inulin. Among other benefits, inulin supports the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestines(1). As a diuretic, starchy root vegetable, and source of inulin, burdock is used by many populations both medicinally and as food.(2)

Identifying burdock: The easiest way to identify burdock is to find burs. If you walk near the edge of the trails or roadsides around here, you probably already know where to find them, unless you've already carried them all away on your sleeves and boot-laces. They're those brown prickly velcro-like seed-heads that cling to their old brown stems at about knee-height, this time of year. (Yes, Velcro was indeed invented when Swiss engineer George de Mestral was inspired by similarly clingy burdock burs!(3))



This large plant is conspicuous in summer, with its broad, slightly-fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves, and magenta thistle flowers or green (and later brown) burs all over its tall stems. However at this time of year it's beginning to look rather sorry. The year-old burdock plants (those that haven't yet flowered) will generally look like a handful of yellowing limp leaves, radiating out from the centre. That's where you'll find the root. In older plants that have already flowered, the root will be at the base of those long brown stalks of burs.

Note: Do not confuse burdock with foxglove (medicinal in small amounts but can cause heart-failure), which has a very different scent and diamond-shaped, but similarly large and fuzzy leaves. If you're new to burdock harvesting, take a guidebook and make sure you're harvesting from the correct plant.

Harvesting and cooking: The best roots for eating come from those plants that haven't yet flowered. The older roots are inferior, and better dug in spring. You can dig the roots up any time of year, but mid- to late-autumn is when they're best, after a summer of good growth, and before they freeze. 


Dig down very deep, pulling out the whole root, which can be very long. Give the roots a scrub, and then peel them. I find a potato peeler works quite well. Now you can chop them up or sliver them and cook them as you would parsnips or other such roots: add to soups, sauté, ferment (as in kimchi) or stir-fry with other vegetables. My husband wants me to point out that they can be rather bitter and maybe not best as the main component of a dish.


Fresh burdock roots don't keep very well, and lose some of their health benefits as they're stored in the fridge, so you may prefer to harvest them fresh rather than store them.

Tea or Coffee: One of the most delicious uses of burdock that I know of is as a tea or coffee substitute. You can cut your peeled burdock into very small pieces and dry it, then store it in a jar until needed for steeping. There are three basic ways of steeping burdock root for a hot drink:

Raw infusion: Simply steep the raw dried roots. This is very weak and 'leafy', and frankly not very enjoyable!

Roasted and steeped as tea: either over a stove or in an oven, slowly heat the dry burdock root pieces until they are brown (but not black!). Then steep as you would regular tea. The result is a rich and earthy-flavoured transparent brown infusion that tastes lovely on its own or with a bit of milk or sugar, if that is how you like your tea.

Ground and filtered as coffee: Take the roasted dried burdock and grind it in a coffee mill. Use it in a drip-filter or French press, and you'll have a heavier, heartier drink, with a slightly more bitter flavour than if it's just infused.

Happy autumn! May your days be filled with harvesting adventures, and your evenings with delicious wild foods and warm drinks.




Sunday, October 23, 2016

Letting Go of Comparative Schooling


Homelearning-related terms can seem like a quagmire, so I think I'll start with a glossary of terms used here:
  • Brick-and-Mortar School: This can refer to a public school, independent or private school, or even a DL school, as long as the school has a building where students attend, at least some of the time. It has more to do with the fact that it's in a dedicated building than anything else, but the term is also used to describe a traditional one-building school where students attend five days per week and complete a prescribed curriculum.
  • Distributed Learning (DL): This is a classification of schooling in our province that often involves home-based learning either directed or managed by parents and/or DL teachers. It also often includes part-time or alternative classroom studies. DL students are evaluated by teachers according to current provincial curriculum and have reports registered with the ministry just like students of traditional classroom programs.
  • Homeschooling: Registered Homeschoolers are registered through the province and do not receive any curriculum, guidance, or financial support from the province or from the registering school. Homeschooling is in fact a legal term, and while it is often used in the homelearning community to differentiate families who set up a school-at-home scenario vs. families who unschool, there are in fact many registered homeschooling families who do not use curriculum or 'teach' school at home, but follow some degree of unschooling philosophy. It is important to maintain the legal meaning of this word in order to ensure that this remains a legal option for those families who choose it.
  • School-at-Home: Parent-led curriculum-based schooling that happens in the home. The family may be registered homeschoolers, distributed learners, or students registered in a brick-and-mortar school who for whatever reasons are doing some of their work from home. The curriculum may be provided by a school, bought as a package by the family, or created by the parents with or without input from education professionals.
  • Unschooling: Learning on one's own terms, defining one's own goals and path without coercion from parents or teachers. Unschooling often happens outside of the school system, but is sometimes practised by families who enroll as distributed learners, or even families who enroll in more traditional schools. Unschooling often involves the whole family, and can include varying degrees of parental guidance or control, depending on each individual family. The term unschooling was originally coined by John Holt, and refers to the process of unlearning some of the constraints taught in traditional schools. Alternate terminology for unschooling includes self-directed learning and life-learning.
  • Homelearning: This is a handy catch-all term for people learning from home. Unschoolers, registered homeschoolers, distributed learners and those who school-at-home can all be considered homelearners, provided they do at least some of their schooling from home.
All those terms are useful in describing the ways we raise our children and interact with the school system, but they can also be divisive. They lead us to look at the ways we raise our children as comparative to other families', and this can also lead to insecurity.


Homelearning parents in general are often confronted with the question 'what makes you think you are better qualified to teach your children than the school system?' We unschoolers then sometimes explain that we chose this path precisely because we are not teaching our children, but instead allowing them to learn on their own terms, on their own schedule, in their own ways, etc. etc. ... and then people get worried for our children's welfare and future prospects. So, predictably, some of us try to win people over with delightful stories of unschooling successes and triumphs. We tell all the good stories, because we want to ease people's minds and because actually many of us really truly love this journey we're on, and love to talk about it!

That's when some people get their hackles up. They ask whether we think there's something wrong with their method of schooling. Or they ask why we think we're so much better than they are. They defensively tell us that their children need such-and-such or that they want their children to have better options than we're providing (cue more encouraging unschooling success stories). Or they shrink away and say that their children are not smart/diligent/motivated enough to teach themselves. Worst of all, they tell us they feel we're looking down on them for not unschooling their own kids.

I am writing this today because I have finally come to a place in my unschooling journey where these things are mostly a memory, and I just realized how relieved I am. Maybe my circle of friends has been stable for long enough that everybody is comfortable in our own choices; maybe my kids are old enough that people have stopped worrying. Whatever the reason, boy am I glad to leave that behind me!

Today I had a lovely chat with a friend of mine who can well be described as a diligent and loving parent of diverse distributed learners who use a combination of classroom, mentor, online, and home-based schooling to accomplish their many goals. They are now deeply engaged with researching and planning for university, and my friend is a master organizer. Her family life is in many ways opposite to ours. While ours is messy, scattered and rich with surprises and adventures, hers is well-managed, orderly, and equally rich with surprises and adventures. Interestingly, some of our kids encounter similar challenges with their activities, and also have similar triumphs. We even arrive at some of the same places! The two of us have the most wonderful discussions about life and life-learning, school and home and parenting and community - and none of it with any judgment whatsoever. This is what it feels like, I think, to have left the insecurities of early unschooling behind, to not feel inclined to defend our chosen path, and to not feel the burden of others' defensiveness on our shoulders.

Obviously unschooling families have a reason for our choice to unschool our children, and for specifically how we unschool. We probably also think this is the best we can do for our kids, or we wouldn't have chosen it. That does not, however, mean that we think it's the best option for everyone, or that other families' choices are inferior. The world is a beautiful and diverse place. We are evolving faster because of our diversity, including the diversity of our children's upbringing and education. Whatever experiences we give our children, whether in or outside of the school system, directed or undirected, goal-oriented or free-range, will make them the people they become, and nourish their own individual futures. We can't know what will be best for them - we can only do what our hearts tell us is right.


So whoever you are out there, let's stop comparing. Whether your children sit in the most stringent academic classroom, or get their education from the stream running between their toes, I honour and respect the choices you have made for your children, and I am grateful we share this world together. Our children will inherit the diversity we have created among us, as well as our appreciation and acceptance of it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

teen unschooling home day

My kids - how I love them.

Our current form of unschooling is an assortment of self-directed activities on the mainland with other teens, and four days at home on the island every week (although with ballet and singing lessons thrown into one of the island days).

Today is one of the days my kids don't attend any activities on the mainland. I'm in the office writing proposals, Markus is on his computer telecommuting, and the kids are out in the kitchen making dried apples and garlic cheese knots, listening to their music and laughing.

Having teens isn't always difficult. It's just a bit over-the-top with everything.

Today it's over-the-top peace and joy in my house.

Days like this make the difficult days vanish from my mind - just like looking into their glistening eyes made the trials of birthing them disappear. I never even felt the doctors stitching me up, but I can remember the feeling of my tiny ones' little bodies against my own skin, their tiny damp foreheads and cheeks against my lips, and the giant sobbing of joy overtaking me as I fell in love. My kids give me the opportunity to fall in love on a regular basis. What more can I want from life?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Love Trafficking

My son just defined this for me. Love trafficking is any of those seemingly loving actions that is actually just a form of currency, benefiting the person who's doing it (but only in the moment).

Here are some examples, not at all taken from our personal lives, but just to illustrate the point:
  • You're angry with your daughter, so you treat her friends with extreme kindness, while maintaining an angry attitude with her, privately.
  • You're loving the baby extra-expressively to make the older sibling feel jealous or unwanted, because she did something you disapproved of.
  • You're calling the cat to prove that she'll come to you instead of to your partner. Because she loves you more.
  • You drop by your sister's house to make her feel extra special... because you just fought with your partner.
  • You give your Dad extra affection because you're mad at your mother.
  • You use your love for someone as a punishment for someone else.
  • You behave in a loving way in an effort to gain favour or something else you want.
  • You love someone but take the love back as punishment.

Love trafficking is not uncommon. My kid noticed it happening in his world and came up with the name, and I think maybe we all need to take note. Maybe people who grow up dealing love as a currency haven't even noticed that that's what they're doing, and maybe they're not intending even to do it.

Love trafficking hurts. Especially when we realize our emotional response to the love we received was just us catching a spear on someone else's battlefield. It hurts when the love we were handed is rescinded with interest, and we realize we were just an investment. If you are the recipient of someone else's love-trafficking affection, you will one day be the indebted, too. If you are trafficking in love, yourself, you will always feel indebted. 

Love isn't a currency. Love is a boundless self-perpetuating energy source. I still love everyone I have ever loved, no matter what has occurred between us. Love is that undefinable billowing blindness that allows us to carry on living. It's the food our spirits need to survive, and, like food, when it's used as a currency it can lead to disorders.


Ask yourself when you are giving love, whether that love bears a cost; ask yourself when you are accepting love whether it comes with a price. Ask yourself when you're reaping the spoils of your love in resentment and jealousy and tears whether the cost is worth it.

I'd like to suggest that many of us use love as a currency, at least unintentionally.  I'd like to suggest we stop, now.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Gratitude

It has been an interesting year, full of changes and surprises. I am as always grateful for those who love me, and who love each other, and for those who allow me to love them. Sometimes we have to reach blindly with trembling arms and choked voices to accept others despite our preconceptions, shame and broken hearts; sometimes we have to close our eyes and let the compassion of others encircle us even when it terrifies us. Love isn't ever easy; isn't ever straightforward or predictable, but without it we are nothing. I am grateful for love.


Autumn Gifts

Such a beautiful time of harvest and gratitude. Our family has been rather more busy than usual, and we haven't taken very many photos, but I thought it was time to update with a few photos of the gifts that have come into our lives, this season. Happy Thanksgiving!



Beautiful chilly autumn rains and winds and sunshine, inspiring the mushrooms to pop out and decorate the forest.



Sunflowers in their final glory.
Annie's quinces heading for their final glory.
 
Firewood season!

My beautiful 12-year-old.
Our blooming turmeric!!

The single little (delicious) cantaloupe we managed to grow...

My happy children enjoying their new city life.

...and their island life. How blessed we are.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Talking with Kids about Sexual Harassment and Objectification

A line in the sand. Photo by Taliesin.
It seems that people all over social media are talking about sexual harassment and objectification in the wake of Trump's pussy-grabbing comments. People ask whether objectification even matters, or whether it matters more for women than for men. Women and men are talking about whether there's a line to be crossed, where it is, and how grey it is. Is all objectification bad, and when does it become sexual harassment? Men are confessing to having made lewd comments in the past and valiantly declaring they'll stop now. Parents are talking about how and whether to discuss this with their children, how to raise liberated girls and thoughtful boys, and many of us are claiming that our children are either too young to think such things, or too mature; too thoughtful to say them. And we know they don't do it. So I decided to talk with my children about it.

The first thing I discovered is that we parents are deluded. Some of the kids who are touted on social media as the kids who would never say such things are, in fact, saying such things in the presence of my children. Apparently, according to my fourteen-year-old son, “most boys” talk like that, or play video games, watch videos and read things that objectify women. They just don't do it when adults are listening. The word pussy doesn't phase my son, although he suggested I don't include it in this article. He didn't even blink when I said it. My daughter just squirmed in her seat, but declined to respond. So enough of pretending my kids are innocent, and onto the issues. I can suck up my feigned parental innocence when I need to.

I called a family meeting and went straight to the point: Complimenting people. When does a compliment become objectification? Do you believe that there's a line to be crossed? And where?

My husband stepped in first: “To say that there is a line that you can be on the right or wrong side of is an over-simplification.”

And my daughter replied, “If you're talking about someone, it depends on what they think the line is. If they don't think it's offensive, why should you not be able to say it?”

Her father pressed his point: “So if it's a complete stranger walking past you downtown, how do you decide what you're saying?”

“Well that's not OK,” she said.

“How do you decide?” He pressed again.

Things always seem simpler to my twelve-year-old daughter, and she looked at him incredulously. “Don't say things about strangers. I don't say things about strangers. I don't need to. I don't know them.”

But her father has grown up in our culture, and could not be talked over so easily. “People constantly tell me I have a nice beard, especially if they have one of their own. I think it's nice when they say it.”

And my kids both sat thinking. I think we all know that's a classic argument. It's OK for me to pet a black person's hair because I wouldn't mind if someone petted mine. That's the all-lives-matter stance, and it's wrong. It's wrong because certain minorities live in a constant state of oppression because of our actions, and we need to be very mindful of that. That issue needs our attention right now more than the issues of all of our lives. For a man to feel justified in complimenting a woman on her hair (or her breasts, legs, or smile) because he enjoys it when people compliment his beard is a fallacy for the same reason. Women have lived for thousands of years in a state of oppression because of the objectification of our bodies, and men haven't. My husband thinks he's making this point for the sake of argument, to incite conversation. But it takes away from the important truth that compliments being made about women come with a cost to women – an expectation of something given back: love, sex, thanks, a smile, etc. If we aren't outrightly told what is expected of us in return, then we know simply because we've heard it before, from the moment of our birth. For thousands of years girls and women have been objectified. It's just the way the world works, so that by the time we enter school we understand that our value in the world does not depend on our contributions to that world, but upon our physical usefulness.

So no matter how lovingly compliments are given to us, we lose something in every compliment given.

Should men then never compliment women? My husband feels worried about complimenting women. He feels like he can't take any step in the right direction. My son is learning this from both of us, but he's also witnessing how much it hurts his mother to never receive a compliment. I think if we don't want to be objectified, we also have to give our men some avenue towards success. I asked my kids how they think we can make women feel good about who they are, without objectifying them.

For my daughter, this is as straightforward as the last question. “Girls that I know never compliment people. Sometimes they say 'nice haircut' or something if someone got a new haircut, but only to their friends that they know well. Not to someone who's just sitting there. There's always a reason. I don't think they'd ever compliment someone they don't know.”

My son says, “It seems like men who love women would respect women more, because they love them.” But when I ask him how to respect them; how to compliment them, he is dumbstruck, and eventually mutters, “you could talk about their personality, I guess.” But do people do that, I asked him. He doesn't know.

There is a lot we don't know. There is a lot we don't talk about. There is a lot that we shove to the back of our minds under pretenses that all-genders-matter and our-sons-would-never-do-that. There is a lot that we do that needs to be brought out in the limelight.

I don't think the rampant media coverage of Donald Trump's despicable behaviour has been a good thing, in the present, for our culture. He is bringing out the worst in us all. But it's also bringing it up for conversation, and that, after all, is the best way to move forward.

I have faith in us as a species to take the dirty shameful realities that are now being paraded out in the sunlight and do the work to heal them. I have faith in us as parents to not hide behind the pretenses we need to believe in, but to be the change our children need to see in the world, and to talk about it openly, all the time. Don't tell your children the way the world works; ask them how their world works. You may be surprised to hear what they know. You may be surprised to discover that your children are not innocent after all, and that is precisely why their voices matter so much in this conversation. Let's pull on our boots and wade into the mire of this murky problem with open ears, open minds and open hearts.

Friday, October 7, 2016

I love you, but I don't own you


Today on the bus I listened to a passenger talking to the driver about a female driver he finds very attractive. The passenger described her, saying that she should wear her hair down, because he'd like to see her with her hair down and wearing makeup. Because she's beautiful, so she should. I'm sure you can imagine what I was thinking. I was livid. Obviously. And so very tired of listening to women being appraised like used cars, and told what to do to increase their value. I imagined the bus driver felt the same way, listening to one of his colleagues degraded like that. He seemed like a nice guy, after all.

But no. He proceeded to give all kinds of information about his colleague: her name, her relationship status, the relationship and school status of her children, and which bus she was driving, today. The passenger got off grinning, and said he was on his way to find [her name].

Yes, I wrote to the bus company. But that's not enough. The bus driver is a nice guy. He was trying to be friendly to both his passenger and his colleague. The problem is that neither he nor the passenger sees the problem. Our cultural problem (which translates to a public safety problem, among many others) is firstly a lack of understanding that women are not property, and that is something that we as parents actually have a huge capacity to change.

It starts when our babies are born. It starts with the moment we realize that their lives depend on our decisions, so we start making decisions for them. We know better than they do. Necessarily, we teach them to follow our schedules and to grow to be like us. We reward them with affection when they please us. And then it begins to change. We begin to reward them for their accomplishments... and along the way we do this more for boys than for girls. We reward girls more for prettiness. Don't imagine it's not true. Look around. Even those of us who tried very very hard not to gender-stereotype our children, who bought our little boys dolls and pink tutus and took our girls out adventuring and playing with trucks -- we fell victim to our own gendered history and we told our girls they were pretty. We taught our boys they could be pretty too, especially if they wore a head full of butterfly clips and nail polish, and we thought we were being gender-neutral. We weren't. We were teaching them the conventions to which they would need to adhere when they left the security of our embrace. It's a different world outside the security of our embrace, and we are complicit in that.

Today at the library I heard two men talking about the many times they've been harassed by 'gay men' who pursed their lips at them, who looked at them too much, and who talked to them too kindly as if they thought they would be "interested". They knew these men were gay because they had done these things. They talked about how they wanted to kill these men; how maybe next time they would break their necks. This is the world our tutu-clad boys walk out into, and I promise you they will not be safe there, with butterfly clips in their hair. It's not that we're endangering them with the false idea that their gender doesn't matter; it's that our sons will be those men who are so afraid of other-ness that they want to destroy it. 
By the time our boys are four or five they know that it's dangerous to be "pretty" in public. By the time our girls are the same age, they know that their social status and even safety depends on being pretty in public. Have you ever passed out an assortment of coloured objects to a group of kids? How many girls will fight tooth-and-nail to get the pink ones? How many boys will fight equally hard not to? My daughter tells me that she and her friends only used to like pink because everybody else did. Every other girl, that is. At four years old, my son's favourite colour was pink. But that was a secret. At four years old they were already trained to conform or be left behind, to please or be rejected; to fit into the gender roles we taught them, or to perish.

Perish. Does that sound extreme? It's not. A baby knows that its life depends on its parent. A baby screams for food and affection, and eventually learns more positive methods of getting these essential needs: cooing, pleasing, pleading, and eventually asking. So as parents we reward them. In this simple exchange we have taught them that their lives depend on pleasing us.

As new parents we were aware of this, so we tried hard to allow them to be their own people. But as time went on we told them that if they cleaned their rooms they could have dessert. We told them that if they asked sweetly they could have a ride to school. We told them that if they said they loved us they could have a cuddle. We praised them for doing as they were told. Silently, we told them that their value depended on how well they pleased us. We owned them. 

And as mothers we taught them how to be in relationships. In the evenings when their Daddies came home we rewarded their hard days' work with dinner, and their Daddies rewarded us with affection. They told us we were beautiful and in an effort to honour us they told us we should take time to go get our hair done. Make ourselves pretty. And our daughters heard them, and asked to get their hair done too. And our sons heard them and checked out the girls at school, wondering if they'd had their hair done, or what that even meant.

And our children went to school and to friends' houses, and to parties and coffee shops and their first jobs and their second jobs, and they fell in love and told each other they were pretty. And they had babies, and they loved their babies so much that they kissed them when they cooed and they bought them ice creams when they followed the rules, and they dressed them in pretty clothes and taught them how to please their superiors. 

And I still long for someone to tell me I'm pretty.

Today is my daughter's birthday. She's twelve years old and right now she wants to be a pop star. She really loves pink and frills and powerful female vocalists and building stuff in the wood shop at school and sitting in trees writing stories and plays and essays. But this morning I thanked her for being so wonderful. As if she's doing it for me. I told her she's beautiful. As if my assessment of her should matter; as if somehow on the market for pre-teen girls I've just upgraded her value.

Shit.

I don't want her to be the bus driver whose life and safety is determined by well-meaning men, but I told her she should wash her hair so people don't see it greasy at school. I don't want her to be the pop singer whose lyrics are secondary to the way she moves her bum, but I put her in ballet to help her acquire poise for her desired singing career. I don't want her to be the mother who longs for someone to tell her she's pretty just so she can go to bed at night feeling that she was worth something. But I do that every day.
I've tried so hard these past twelve years to raise my daughter with the knowledge that my opinions are less important than her own; that her value depends only on herself. But in a million small ways I have owned her and judged her and made her dependent on those things.

The kind of massive cultural change we need doesn't happen overnight, or even over a generation, but with each action I take and each thought that transits my mind I have an opportunity to push a little further in the direction of equality and freedom. The prize right now is not the end-goal. I don't know if there's ever an end-goal. But the prize is to be mindful of the work we're doing now, in this generation. Today. It is to look into our children's faces right now and say, "I love you, but I don't own you".
My darling daughter, you are beautiful to me, but it doesn't matter what I think. You are cherished by me, but there is nothing you can do to change that. I appreciate when you help me, but your usefulness as a person does not depend on that. I feel wonderful when you hug me, but only when you want to hug me. I feel happy when you are happy, but I appreciate the times we've been sad together, too. I don't like all of the songs you like, but I like that you have your own opinions. I like the way you've cut your hair, but what I like most is that it was your idea, and that you did it because you wanted to. I love you, but I don't own you.

Friday, September 23, 2016

There are no Theoretical Children

Photo by my son, as published on his photography blog.
Recently I attended a wonderful training session with Arthur Brock and Eric "Bear" Ludwig, founders of New York's Agile Learning Centers. During this session, Arthur explained that "there is no such thing as theoretical children".

You know those 'theoretical children' parents and teachers sometimes ask about in terms of  'what if a child is afraid to ...'? Those kids don't exist. Either they are in fact real children, in which case they're not theoretical, and need to be discussed in terms of their actual individual situations, their relationships and history and needs... or they're irrelevant, because they don't exist. As a teacher, parent, director of a program, etc. you can't worry for (or even worse, design a program for) children who don't exist, because their individual nature and needs are totally unknown quantities, and you can't prepare for something undefined.

I thought this was a wonderful direction of thought.

We in the education world design programs with theoretical children in mind. We consider the children we know and have known who might benefit from our plans, and we expect to modify them as we get to know the real children who participate. As parents we also consider theoretical children. We read articles, gather parenting advice, follow programs and regimens we hope will help us parent well. We adjust when we see things going awry, and we seek new advice.

But it's easy to lose sight of the needs of our real children. You know how if you've grown up being warned that dogs bite, you may not recognize a gentle dog when you see one? Well maybe when I believed that all children need a hug when they get home, I didn't recognize that my son really needs some space first. For example.

And about my son. Let's say there's this theoretical child. He's made friends with some people in the grade above him, and really wants to participate with those kids in the activity they're doing. But we assume, as educators or parents with all the theoretical children in mind, that the group as a whole will likely be served best if we put him in the group with kids his own age. This is because, first of all, he needs to learn the things they're learning before progressing onto the subject matter the older kids are learning, and secondly, he'll make friends there anyway. Right? Except he's not a theoretical child. He's my son. We've tried that experiment, based on the values ascribed to the theoretical child, and it bombed.

Yesterday we tried again. My son is now attending a new program, with all new kids. And guess what? He's made friends with some kids who are older than he is! And guess what? Once again he wanted to join them in their science and social studies program, instead of the one for the kids his own age. But here's the big news: they let him do it! 

Cut to yesterday afternoon: I was waiting to pick up my daughter when I saw my beaming son, confidence shooting out his head like steam from a steam engine, come striding down an East Vancouver street alone for the first time ever in his life. He was smiling with that kind of vague powerful smile that says 'I am happy to be me in the world, today'. He discovered me waiting there in the car, hopped in energetically, and proceeded to tell me about his day. He said he spent all morning talking about science with a bunch of people who also wanted to talk about science. He spent all of a delightfully long lunch time chatting and playing drawing games with his new friends. He spent all afternoon doing a native studies program that he says was "really interesting". He doesn't even know what grades those kids are in. He's just with them, being himself. And that was what he needed to find his confidence again.

This week my real child was given a voice. He had his own real needs acknowledged and met. His needs trumped the needs of theoretical children, and everybody won. After all, there are no theoretical children.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Mama Guilt

I had a bath today. Due to our renovations we haven't had a tub in the house for about four months, so I filled the tub out in the garden. I filled it with a hose, climbed in and lay there in the steam looking out at the branches of our arbutus tree, the nearly-full moon peeking through the hemlocks, and the first few stars as they quietly became visible in the deepening blue.

My first thought was how totally blessed I am... but before I could enjoy it too much, my friend Mama Guilt came tapping me on the shoulder: "What are you doing out here?" "What about the laundry? You haven't hung it up yet." "You should have offered the kids a bath first."

She's good at these things. She's practiced. "You could have just washed your hair in the kitchen sink again."

I tried to drown her out by sinking down under the water, but came up frustrated, as she chirped, "You waited two months for a bath; why did you have to do this on a school night?"

I washed, dried, drained the tub onto the lawn and walked to the house feeling so blissfully clean. I came back inside to the smell of the casserole I'd put in earlier all baked and ready for dinner. Ahhhh... "It's nine pm. What were you thinking making dinner so late?"

Oh just shut up already.
I'm sick of you, Mama Guilt.

I hear her wagging her finger behind my ear. "You haven't made your lunch yet. You can't afford to buy a sandwich tomorrow." But anyway I'm clean. Hopefully that drives her off a little further for tomorrow. And I'm making my lunch, now.

Kids, Unsupervised

Once upon a time, when both of my kids were under ten years old, they went exploring around our local municipal hall while their father attended a meeting there. They explored all the way over to one of the local shops, where the shopkeeper asked them where their parents were. They told her their Pappa was in the chapel (not accurate - they knew where he was, but had used the wrong name for the building), and she asked them to wait while she called the police. She only meant to protect them - I know that. But they were terrified! They recounted a harrowing tale of running away from her, being chased by her and trying desperately to hide as they made their way back to the municipal hall. Once there, the police arrived and spoke to their father about (as my son tells it) "not letting his children run wild". The point was, they were never in danger. Terrified - yes. But only because of being "helped" by someone who genuinely was worried about them.

What good is it doing us to harbour such deep fears for our children? And more importantly, what harm is it doing them?

I work with many kids who come laden with fears about the woods. It can take a few brief wilderness adventures to develop the skills and knowledge they need to overcome those fears. Gross motor skills like clambering over logs, climbing up and down trees and bluffs safely, and hiking long distances help them to feel confident about the terrain. Cognitive skills like assessing the safety of their environment and activities can take a little more time, but allow them to feel confident in their own well-being. Observational skills like noticing changes in the weather, hearing wind or animals, noticing the stability of limbs or rocks they climb on... these things give them confidence too. And they need this confidence not just to feel safe, but to be safe. If you don't hear the bear coming, are afraid to navigate the terrain around you, have no understanding of common bear-encounter protocol, is it any wonder that you might be afraid of the bear? And if you are afraid of the bear, the bear will be afraid of you... and we know how well that scenario goes.

The city is different, but also similar. Recently I took three pre-teens to a movie in town. I thought: surely they've been here often enough that they are gaining some confidence and can do it alone. One bus, one corner to walk around, six blocks and into the theatre. Same route back home again. But I went with them anyway. I noticed that they kept an eye on me. They didn't watch where the bus was taking them, nor when they should get off - they just followed me. All the way into the theatre. So on the way home I asked them to lead the way back to the bus: six blocks, cross the road, get back on a bus. They were bewildered! It took them about five minutes to figure out which direction to go back (eventually with the help of a city map that I pointed them towards). They became confused multiple times on the way back to the bus, had difficulty figuring out where to take the bus, and it took us over half an hour to walk those six blocks. I don't want to deride them. It was their first time, and I thought they all dealt with the situation I handed them quite gracefully. But this experience taught me that my kids need more independence.

No problem! I thought. They're unschooling in the city now! While my kids used to be the ones confident in the wilderness, now they're going to get confident in the city! And off we went. I am still accompanying them to various locations for this first week, to help them gain the confidence they need to navigate without me. After all, they are attending in various locations near some questionable drug and prostitution hotspots. Not that I have a problem with my kids being there - it's just part of our city that they need to learn to be safe in. They need skills like staying in populated areas, walking together, assessing strangers who might approach them to determine risk level, and how to maintain a strong sense of morale and dignity in a place where so many have been robbed of it.

So yesterday I received an email in red letters from my fourteen-year-old son that pleaded, "pick up time is 2:45!!!!!!!! Not 3!!!! Otherwise i'll be abandined on the street with no place to go." It was a mixture of humourous hyperbole and some genuine concern.

I'm not terribly worried about my son standing alone on a city sidewalk - but he is. And that is the problem. At the root of all our fears is the unlikely idea that they may be abducted or harmed by another person (or in the woods, an animal). Think about this for a moment. A person trying to recruit or abduct a child for nefarious purposes is going to look for a vulnerable child. I don't want my child to be that vulnerable child. That doesn't mean I need to hover over him and shadow him everywhere he goes until he's too dependent on me to look after himself. That means I need to let go of him and let him become independent.

And in the much more likely event that my children will be harmed by their own error, either of physical skill (as in falling off a cliff or crashing their bike) or of judgement (as in drugs, traffic accidents, or food poisoning) I would like them to have the opportunity to develop the skills they need. I saw many ambulances in town yesterday. Most were for presumed drug-related tragedies. One was for a traffic accident, and another I believe was domestic. These are the things I need to protect my children from. And for this they need to go out in the world without me and develop some wisdom.

Being unsupervised may unsettle kids, but it also gives them the opportunity and the need to develop some skills and look after themselves. And further, that unsettled feeling might kick-start their own determination to take stock of their situation and responsibility for their own safety.

I will always be here waiting with my arms open wide when they need my love or advice - or even just a non-judgmental ride home from an unfamiliar street or a bad trip. My dear friend said that having children is like having your heart walking around in the world separate from you. So as parents we can't just hold on and stifle those hearts until they wither; we have to be willing to pick up the pieces again and again and again.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Unschooling in the City!

It's no secret that our family has returned to our unschooling journey. But no longer will we restrict our activities to the fields and forests of our lovely island home... you know, the place were the maximum speed limit is 40Km/h, the most threatening thing in the woods is a wasp or a skunk, and homeless people mostly have a roof over their heads. It's not that we don't know anything at all about the rest of the world, but we're pretty sheltered in our everyday lives. And endlessly privileged. We used to go into the city for family adventures. But now we've cut the ropes.

This morning I walked my two to a street corner we've never seen before and left them standing with a group of kids they don't know to wait for an escort they've only met twice... to take them on a field trip. They have backpacks with lunches they cooked and packed themselves (I haven't even seen them; don't know if it's even enough food) and some swimming gear. They have their father's work number written on papers in their bags, but they don't have phones. They have change, should they find any of the increasingly few pay phones. I'll go back to that corner to get them later this afternoon. I left them the only advice I have: please don't drown in the pool, and keep their eyes on each other, wherever they go.

But tomorrow? Tomorrow they're going to separate places! I guess you might say I feel a little nervous about this. (Gulp!) But, as frankly is always the case with parenting, I just have to turn my head away and walk away from them with grace and determination, telling myself it's going to be all right. My kids have to grow up, and they're not going to do it with me clinging to their hands.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

how to foster respect for nature while encouraging kids to play


Two six-year-olds are playing in a creek, and barks at the other, alarmed: "What are you doing?!"

The other barely looks up from her task, yanking and hauling at a fern frond. "I'm just getting this fern to put in my dam."

"Stop hurting nature!"

"I'm not hurting nature! It's just a fern! I need it for my dam!"

The first is distraught, and looks at me plaintively. "She's hurting nature! Tell her to stop!"

And I didn't.

It's a common issue among nature-based educators, parents and even among kids playing outside: How to foster respect for our surroundings while still having fun with the materials and resources at hand. Engagement is essential to developing a strong bond and learning from whatever we're using, and we need freedom to play in order to fully engage. So how do we look after the space, the other parts of our ecosystem, and the resources we have? The following is a list of some of my own practices; hopefully they're useful as a jumping-off point for others.

Stop using the word 'nature' - or define it. The way we currently use this word separates us from the rest of what is truly our own ecosystem, setting up an artificial boundary between 'people' and 'nature', which, far from creating a respect for 'nature', allows us to easily disengage from it when it suits us. Imagine taking out twenty weeds to put in a garden bed. Now imagine taking out a tree for the same. Now a rat's nest. Now your kitchen sink. Now your mother. All of those imaginary sacrifices are not equal - why? Because of their perceived value. When 'nature' is not part of us - part of our family - then we can ignore its value. But somewhere deep inside most of us do understand that we are a part of nature. At its root, the word 'nature' just means everything in the universe we know; the ecosystem we came from. Without it there are no silicon computer chips, no electricity, no asphalt roads, no buildings, no food; no people at all. 'Nature' is us. So being invested in its welfare requires dispensing of the artificial separation encouraged by the current connotation of the word 'nature'. My preference is to make the point by referring to our surroundings as 'our ecosystem', and sometimes talking or asking about our specific roles in our ecosystem. This provides a lot of opportunity for discussion about how the ecosystem works, what we observe, etc., but I think it would be equally effective to discuss the meaning of nature, and to talk about the nature of people, and the way we interact with the other parts of nature.

Father and son playing at the lake.
Play! An understanding of the way things work helps us to feel true respect for them. And understanding comes from explorative learning! So play. Not just the kids you work with, but you. Get deeply personally engaged. Other kids and adults will see and follow suit. And play innocently. Don't be afraid to talk about the things you see that you don't understand. Look them up together, observe them together, and theorize about them together. If the kids aren't interested, let them do other things and observe and theorize by yourself. Even if you don't share your discoveries, the people you are with will feel your engagement and be inspired. They may not discover or explore the same things you do, and that doesn't matter at all. What they explore matters to them, and that is the best possible scenario. When something matters to them, they will care.

Notice the damage you do. I tend to gently point out damage being done on the spot, or cumulative damage from many days of exploring the same area. "Oh look we've kind of removed most of the moss from this log," or "I can see where we've been walking every week; it's beginning to look like a deer trail." "Did you notice all the beetles running for safety when we pulled apart that rotten log? Look at the mycelium we've exposed. I wonder how we've changed their lives in pulling it apart." The idea is not to be critical, but to make observations and help others to make observations. People always make change - everywhere we go. Just our existence changes the world. For the same reason I feel that being involved in food production is far better than buying food on a Styrofoam tray, I feel that being involved in the many ways we impact our ecosystem is far better than pretending it doesn't happen. Yes, sometimes I stop people from ripping all the moss off a tree, or from destroying a whole log full of insects. But for the most part I just point out what's happening. We truly are a part of our ecosystem and we, like trees, bacteria, deer and mosquitoes, cannot live without also destroying. That's more than OK - that's life. So we have to do it consciously.

Don't be heavy-handed. You don't want to provoke fear. Far from being a healthy component of respect, fear leads to a lack of respect. The more people are afraid of their impact (or afraid of a teacher or parent's reaction to their impact), the more they will separate themselves from the rest of their ecosystem, and the less they will engage with it and care for it. As mentioned earlier, I try to encourage thoughtful conversation, but not to criticize. Who am I to criticize, anyway? I eat food, I use products; I walk on this earth. I have an impact, too. It's important to leave each other feeling thoughtful and empowered. The more we live in our own strength, the more we learn to use it with care.

Relax. This list is short for a reason. There's nothing more important than being comfortable in your environment, than playing without intention; than exploring with abandon. Too many rules gets in the way of all that. So just go out and play. Forget about this list, and forget about all the worries you may have had. If you damage something, so be it. Let that be a lesson for next time, and a place to leave a bit of your heart behind in the wilderness and help it heal. It will heal, and so will you. Because we're all a part of the same thing anyway.