Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Wonderful Mister Brown

My children have never attended our local community school, but many of their friends do. Sometimes there are jealousy issues between them and their friends (or their friends' parents), but for the most part, there are seamless friendships that cross the boundaries of school-no-school, just like they cross those *other* boundaries between homeschoolers and unschoolers. Because kids are cleverer than adults, and they know that those boundaries aren't real.

So it is, that since having school-aged children with school-aged friends, we've usually had at least one friend regularly attending Mr. Brown's class, at our local community school. I have never met Mr. Brown, and honestly can't tell you a thing about him, his values or his manner -- except that he is wonderful. Every single child who has mentioned him to us speaks with a smile at least, if not adoration.

We're definitely not into the school system, but that has nothing to do with the kernel of truth I take from this situation: There is an amazing goodness that comes from a solid and constant connection with a kind, trusted person. And for so many local kids, Mr. Brown is that person. I know there are countless people in the world who fulfill this important role in their communities -- even other beloved teachers here on the island, including my own most excellent brother. But today I post this because it strikes me as truly wonderful that the gift these people share spreads so far into the wider community -- even to those who have never met them! That is some badge of honour!

And to illustrate that point, let me tell you that right at the moment I type this my daughter (who has also never met Mr. Brown) is somewhere on a trail, happily making her way to the school, where she will meet 4 friends who currently attend Mr. Brown's class, to join them in caroling for him. I hope Mr. Brown sees that this is just a little of the magic he spreads, making its way back to him!

Thank you, Mr. Brown, and to everyone else who works and cares with passion and compassion. Your efforts are sparkling everywhere.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Walking. Space. Time.

spider in the wind
Most of the places I go are quickly accessible on foot through the forests, around me. And it's much more enjoyable to follow deer trails to my destinations than it is to follow the roads or even the larger public trails.

But this afternoon I had reason to walk along the road. I would have taken my bike, for expediency, but one of the tires was low. So I walked.

It's probably been a few months since I walked this particular route, alone, during the day. I make a point of saying alone, because I rarely walk anywhere without my own or quite a few children, and that, in itself, is rather novel.

When walking alone, the space around me opens up, and without the distraction of conversation, kids' discoveries, and all the bodies around me, things I don't normally notice become apparent. In that space between myself and the world, the air contracts and expands; smells travel. In that space, memories return to me that are usually buried beneath the now of being with others. I notice the changed curvature of trees, that seemed straighter in my childhood. I notice the sounds of needles and leaves and nuts falling onto varied surfaces. I notice temperature changes and wind speed changes.

And in the expanded time that it takes me to walk along a route I usually drive or cycle, I can see so much more; think so much further. I watched the United Church from a distance, as I walked toward it, and was grateful for the extra time to look. I remembered when someone spilled a can of paint up there on the roof, I remembered ringing the bell when I was younger, I saw the light coming through the yellow curtains and remembered my friend's wedding there, and her mother's memorial service. By the time I arrived at this church, my heart felt full.

I'm grateful for the gift of time and space that happened to fall on my consciousness, this afternoon.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

are we weird?

No idea why.            It's a Tali-ism.

But then, how can I comment... buying boxes full of plastic body parts might be a mama-ism

Getting together for joyful afternoons of worksheet completion?? That can only be a Rhiannonism!!

Friday, November 1, 2013

How Halloween actually went...

we dyed Rhiannon's hair fuchsia on one side preparation for her individualized Melanie Martinez costume...

we went to our learning community's Halloween dance

carving pumpkins with some other homelearners

in our case, homegrown mystery squashes that were rather hard-shelled!

trick-or-treating at Opa and Nana's house, complete with little treat-filled ghosties hanging by the door

Tali's last-minute lightstickman costume

Monday, October 28, 2013

Why I Hate Halloween, and Why I love It

Halloween Pizza making! (Really this photo belongs under the 'love' section.)

Why I hate Halloween:
When you come up to me with fake blood streaming down your sweet 6-year-old face, I can't look at you. My stomach churns and I want to vomit and cry at the same time. That bloody fake hand on your doorknob? Same thing. My kids report having to avoid some of their friends' houses at Halloween. I avoid going to shops, because the displays of torn-off, bloody body parts and murder scenes haunt me for years. I am close to tears just typing this. And I'm 37 years old.

Do you forget that there are people living among us who have seen their loved ones dismembered, maimed, decapitated, etc. Can you imagine what these gruesome displays do to them? They're devastating to me, and I haven't even had such gruesome experiences. The fact that every Halloween I feel afraid to raise my eyes from the sidewalk; that I constantly have to console my children, and explain to them that no, I don't understand why people think this is funny -- is terribly unfortunate. And I know I'm not the only one who has this experience of Halloween. We live in a very small world that is fraught with war and violence and despair, and to many of us, this is not funny. The fact that it's so prevalent, here, makes me think that we really are WAY out of touch with reality.

Our community, watching fireworks.
Why I love Halloween:
In our house, Halloween is a holiday so special it rivals Christmas. It's about family, and harvest, and fun, and also remembering those family members who have died. It's also romantic, in that dark-night way that midwinter and Christmas are.

We start with carving squashes, in the morning (usually from our garden, if we have grown and saved any). Then I roast the seeds, while the kids keep carving, and I cook the meat into some tasty dish. We make pizza, usually including some lovely foods from our garden, too! We decorate with candles and lovely fabrics, and then everybody gets dressed up (usually this results in pulling out all the costumes and having a big dress-up party!). The kids trick-or-treat around the neighbourhood, collecting usually home-made treats from a small handful of neighbours. It's more about showing their exciting costumes, and walking around in the night with friends, than it is about candy. In fact they don't even get much candy, since their allergies make candy a difficult prospect.

After trick-or-treating, we all walk down to the cove, where our volunteer firemen put on a fireworks display, and (most importantly) we get to visit with and admire the costumes of so many friends! Firemen are usually handing out hot drinks from the back of the fire truck, too. (When I was a child this was so enchanting, to me, since I thought they were piping these drinks directly from the fire-hoses!)

After the community celebration, we return home again, where we come together as a family, to hold hands in the garden and remember people and pets we have loved. It's a very special night, and we all go to bed with that richly full feeling that comes from a close and loving family.

Happy Halloween, everyone. May your dreams be full of joy.

Making Choices

Unschoolers are often travellers.  Adventurers, actually. And we have been, too, when we made a road-trip to California. We spent a month on the road, and spent about $800 on gas. And that -- the gas -- is the point of this post.

It's obvious that adventure is a wonderful learning opportunity, and also that travel brings us closer to our loved ones, around the world. So sometimes it seems like a small sacrifice to support the oil/gas industry and further pollute and destroy the very earth we are trying to get to know! Um. Wait a minute. Maybe it's not such a small sacrifice.

We were thinking about stripping our savings accounts and credit card (and ability to fix more of our house) for an incredibly cheap trip (well... relatively speaking) to Hawaii, to see our boat-schooling friends. The kids were SO excited. I have never really wanted to go to Hawaii, but to see it with friends -- and from the ocean-perspective on their oh-so-green sailboat? I was totally thrilled. It was just a jumbojet trip away!

Then I had a conversation with a friend, which was actually about cars. His perspective was that I should be driving a hybrid instead of an ancient gas-hogging Pathfinder. While I still don't agree, entirely (see note further on in this post)... the truth I can't escape is that I shouldn't really be driving at all. And to take an airplane? No matter how much my kids want to "be like all their friends" and go on a big airplane trip... I can't stomach making that kind of impact.

So we decided not to!

We're not going to Hawaii!
And we feel great about it! Even the kids are finding ways to look around their disappointments at the positive things this choice brings us: We can Skype with our friends when they get to Hawaii (by sail, where they will live a very low-impact life on their boat), and then when they eventually get back home again to BC, we can sail with them, here. No, we won't get to see volcanoes oozing lava, here, but we do live in one of the richest marine areas of the world (though increasingly less rich, because of the environmental devastation we're wreaking). And definitely, exploring our own home has always been at the top of our list, anyway.

Next up: how to stop driving this car...
It's just plain difficult to live the way do (consumerist lifestyle) and not have a vehicle! We use it a couple of times per week for trips to get supplies at the building centre (because we're fixing our house, right now), to take the recycling to the recycling depot, and about once every 2/3 weeks to get groceries, in town (and do the other errands that pile up in those weeks). We've cut back our activities that are too far for the kids to walk to, but we still pick them up when it's dark out, and sometimes just when they're too tired or too busy to walk (it's a 3K walk to or from most places they go; 5K in some cases).

Doesn't that sound like a big pile of excuses? It does to me! I just can't figure my way around them! I'm absolutely open to advice on this topic. Comment away.

Why we don't drive a Prius:
Because we can't afford one. And that isn't going to change. The feel-good Urban Green is mostly only available to people with a bunch of pocket change, and actually driven by a consumerist sales-pitch that is more about profit than about saving our species. (Not that there aren't many other ways to be green, though.) But also because hybrids have been shown to have so much impact with their manufacturing, and the use of electricity being also not-that-green, their gas-savings pale, by comparison. (Link, here.) Once you factor in the manufacturing, gas use, electricity production (hydro and coal, in our area), and disposal of the two vehicles, it might be ever-so-slightly more efficient, over the very long-term (assuming we stop using coal-plants for our electricity, in the evenings), to drive a hybrid. But there is a serious emphasis on the word might. And as far as vehicles go, one can choose a very efficient small car, an ancient gas-hog like ours, or an extreme gas-hog, like modern SUV's.

Basically... the short story is that no matter what we drive, we shouldn't be driving. The oil and gas industry needs to be shut down, and we need to find a way to make that happen.

Great option I'd like to look into further: vegetable-oil diesel. Can even be home-made. For us, it's a bit difficult to afford to replace our vehicle at all, right now, but this is probably the next vehicle we'll have, if we do, indeed, have another vehicle.

Are we doing enough?    NO!
No way! I truly believe that the only thing that is going to save our species is for us to stop consuming so much! To stop buying stuff -- entirely. The government is tied up by its corporate backers, so they're powerless to help us. And those corporate backers are backed by us! We give them our money! We are slaves to our desire to buy stuff from them, and they are slaves to their desire to sell. We are the the only ones who can help us! When we stop buying the stuff, the corporations will fall. And yes, we'll lose our jobs. Most of us will lose our jobs. And everybody will experience a horrible shitty consumer withdrawal, where we don't even know how to provide food and shelter for ourselves. And people will die. Maybe I and my children will die. But guess what? We might die, anyway, from the storms, flooding, droughts, food-shortages, and inevitable wars that are sparked by the consumer-created climate-change. The difference with the first option is that I believe people, in general, are resilient, resourceful, and innately compassionate. And at least some will survive. And out of this will grow a new economy that perhaps will work a little better for us.

What are the answers?
I've started asking myself, with every purchase: Do I need this? And I'm a bit brutal about the answers. I know this is a start. But it's still not enough. I need a bigger answer.
I don't know. I don't know how, at this point, to even get rid of my car. And quite frankly I feel pretty miserable about that. I want so badly to get off the grid, but manufacturing of solar panels makes owning them not green at all. I'm hoping some bright piece of advice or inspiration comes to me, soon.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Happy Harvest!

We'll have our bigger family Thanksgiving, tomorrow, but today we were harvesting so many lovely things from the garden that we had a little impromptu thanksgiving dinner with just the four of us!

Some squashes! Those in front and back are mystery hybrids. :-)
Putting the quinoa up to dry and cure. (Photo by Rhiannon)  We hang the quinoa (and herbs and other things that need drying) in pillow cases from hangers on our laundry rods in the living room. It works well, and makes the house smell lovely! Today I harvest the lemon verbena, which is nicely smelling up the house right now!!

Caution. Weird family in the house.

Picked from the garden, today: Corn, fingerling and small russet potatoes with parsley, baby carrots, kale, garlic, mystery volunteer hybrid squash with chutney (green and red tomatoes, apple, onions, and green fennel seeds).                                                                           Not from the garden: butter, olive oil, salt, apple cider vinegar and a little sugar.      YUM!!       

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Recent Wild Art Adventures

We've been mixing up various games with wilderness adventuring and art adventuring (indoor and outdoor), as usual. The kids seem to have developed nice relationships, and our Wild Art Tuesdays are delightful!

To the right, the kids were trying on a big felt mask. This group has decided they'd like to make felt masks... As soon as I've rounded up all the supplies we will begin!

Tali (my son) was feeling miserable and tired, and did not to come to Wild Art last week. So the rest of the group created protest signs and marched straight up to, around, and eventually into the house to get him out to join us. He was pleased!

...taking advantage of a sudden heavy rainshower to run out and get soaking wet...

Book corner!

These days the mushrooms are going crazy! Today the older group spent the entire four hours exploring the forest, finding amazing mushrooms, and creating various concoctions, a game of mushroom harvesters, wholesalers and retailers (the things they come up with often surprise me!), and enjoying the enchanted feel of the autumn-slanted sun through the trees.

Making an inedible stew in a bucket! This came with some beautiful inedible side-dishes served on leaves.

...working on the stew inside the forest fort...

Various customers shopping at Tali's mushroom emporium.

This is where the game got very serious. In the background you can see the kids shopping at wholesalers', harvesting, and selling to each other, as well. Currency was "dollars" made of cedar leaves, fern leaves, and moss clumps, some of which were far more valuable than others (as in: "This costs either one clump of moss and a cedar leaf, or 20 fern leaves, or... way too many cedar leaves by themselves").

slugs and pet supplies in the pet shop

Ah! To do business in the great outdoors!

Beautiful mushrooms in the "50-cents-to-a-dollar" pile.

Some rather more expensive mushrooms.

The "so-expensive-you-can't-afford-them" pile.

Wow. Cool mushroom.

Harvesting a sample from each species clump.

Seriously... the beauty out there in the woods is a bit ridiculous. Sometimes I wonder how we were blessed with this life and the wonderful world we have.

Oh my goodness! Giant boletes!!

Earthstar! Cool! I was shown this on the "mushroom tour", which I paid 10 cedar leaves to participate in!

Paxillus atrotomentosus. Remind me of fat chanterelles, but different, with furry brown stems.

Ooooh. Blobs. AKA Hoof fungus.

We didn't have time to look many of these up... no idea what this one is.

Tiny red, orange and yellow hygrocybe were everywhere!
Stump-and-stick art.

The enchanted glade. We spent a long time here, soaking up the beauty!

Monday, October 7, 2013


Beautiful table-decorations from Tali.
Rhiannon loves to play. So play we did, for her birthday this weekend! After a great adventure of swimming and rock-climbing with Uncle Adrian and Ginger, we had pizza and cake at home, and stayed up late playing Scotland Yard, afterwards (and of course she was Mr. X!) Then pancakes for her birthday breakfast, the next morning, and a big visit with her cousins! What a wonderful birthday!

My beautiful daughter, though 9 years old, manages to keep a beautiful sense of innocence, delight and playfulness about her that I cherish every day!

A new dress from Nana Heidi!

Scotland Yard

Her request: chocolate cake layers with orange marmalade in between! Yum!

Years gone by overnight.