Wednesday, June 29, 2016

unschooling to school - the aftermath

So this afternoon my son came to me and said "Right now it's prynhawn. I think."

Pardon me?

He explained that that was Welsh for 'afternoon'.

I asked him where he learned it. Duolingo, apparently. I said it didn't sound like he was pronouncing it correctly (not that I know much about Welsh, mind you), and doesn't Duolingo have an audio component?

Well yes, he said, it does. But he couldn't hear it because he had the sound turned off.

What? Why?

"Because I was doing it in French class."

I laughed.

He said "I thought maybe you wouldn't be mad at me."

Mad? No. Delighted. My dear one struggled terribly with French during this last year at school. For all his teacher's valiant efforts and kind encouragement, the focus of the course she was teaching had switched to rote memorization of verb conjugation, and he just couldn't stand to learn that way.

Finally, we're back to unschooling, and he can learn whatever languages he wants, however he wants.


Thank you Prince Ea!

Friday, June 24, 2016

On Building in the Wilderness

I have seen various articles, recently, including this rather balanced and good one, asking the public to stop building stacks of rocks. I struggle with this issue all the time. Not always specifically with rock balancing (as we call it here), but with engagement with the wilderness. It's what I do, and I'm passionate about it. There are SO many long-lasting benefits to playing in the wilderness, both for adults and children... and for the wilderness. 
Most people now live in urban areas, are very disconnected from the wilderness, and also harbour a fear of it simply because they don't know it, and/or have been warned about it by their parents. So I take them out to gorgeous wilderness areas and let them play with it. Yes, they move rocks and build dams; they pick up sticks and play with them; build bridges and forts and storefronts where they craft beautiful 'wares' out of clay they scraped from the creeks, mud they scooped from the ground, grasses and leaves they plucked, and moss they pulled from the trees. And as they do this I help them to understand the importance of those things. I show them how the moss holds the water on the rocks to feed the trees; how it forms the bed for the many plants and animals that grow in the trees. I show them the body of the mushroom that lay hidden in the rotten log they crushed, and the importance of that mycelium to the welfare of the whole forest. I show them the many insects and gastropods, etc. that live on the bottom of the rocks in the creeks and the many animals and plants that thrive in and around the mud they are messing with. And they go home filthy, leaving the landscape changed, and also they are changed, themselves. They know the landscape. They aren't afraid to engage with it, and they have a deep appreciation of the many varied and integral parts of it.

When most of us look at a map of a proposed development or construction, we see a map. We can usually relate to it for how it fits or doesn't fit into our community plan or activities. But we don't often think about how many species of insects live on the bottom of the rocks in the creek that flows through the top left quadrant of that map. We don't usually know how our bums feel after sitting in the wet moss on the rotten log at the base of the biggest tree in the bottom left quadrant. We don't think about how much that area or the whole of our community will be impacted by the loss of that area. We don't have a deep sense of caring for the wilderness of that area, so we don't take that into consideration. And then it isn't just altered - it's gone.

This is happening everywhere. So many of us feel unperturbed when we hear that they're building pipelines out in the unpopulated areas of our wilderness, because that wilderness is not our home. The people giving directives to make changes to the wilderness are not often personally acquainted with that wilderness. Our homes are refuges from the wilderness, in towns and cities that are, themselves, refuges from the wilderness. But those concepts separate us from it, and we lose sight of our own welfare. Humans are wilderness. We have to learn to engage with it every single day because it is part of our global body - so that even the tiny changes we make matter to us. The changes will be part of us too, and if we engage with our wilderness wholly and personally, we can be thoughtful about how we engage.

So do I feel it's OK for us all to go littering the shores with piles of rocks, pulling the moss off the trees and artfully carving up the trunks of trees? No. And this is a challenge for me. But I feel that being challenged by the ways we engage with our wilderness is very important. I feel it's essential that we go out and play. And while we play we must question (or help those with us to question) every move we make and its impact on the body of the ecosystem we are a part of. 

I sometimes balance rocks. I find it personally rewarding, and also a wonderful activity to help others to engage with a bit of landscape they may have previously walked over, unseeing. As I pick up the rocks I check for animals, algae and eggs living on and under them, and when I'm finished I carefully put them back again. I do this in order to leave things closer to the way I found them, but I also do it because balanced rocks can fall on small animals. I am not sure I'm doing the right thing, but I think the conversation around how we engage with our ecosystem is definitely the right thing.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Wild Food Spotlight 2 – Rubus!

This is the second in a series of foraging-related articles I'm writing for our local bulletin.
Re-posted from the Artisan Office Bulletin:

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How many times have blackberries scraped big bloody tears from your leg as you simply attempted to access the beach? Or the salmonberries taken over your garden and you spent day after day cutting them down and then digging out their stubborn, tough roots, only to find them growing back again a couple of months later? How many times have you planted delightful raspberry canes and found them soon interspersed with those godforsaken-spiny-blackberries-whose-fruit-is-inferior-and-nobody-seems-to-know-the-name-of?! Ha ha! Me too. But I love these Rubus anyway.

The Rubus genus is well-represented both in our gardens and in our island wilderness. We commonly grow raspberry, boysenberry, and wineberry in our gardens, but in the wild here we also find an abundance of red and yellow salmonberries, black raspberries, thimbleberries, and various blackberries: Trailing, Himalayan, and Evergreen (that horridly vicious spiky-looking one).

All of these are known for their heavenly berries, especially when ripened and warmed by the sun and picked during a hike through the woods. But did you know that you can use other parts of the plants as well? The leaves of red raspberries are well known for their use in teas as a uterine tonic, and black raspberry and young blackberry leaves can be picked, dried, and used the same way. Wear gloves, though – their thorns grow under the leaves as well.

And then there are the shoots. Every spring for hundreds if not thousands of years, the fresh shoots of salmonberry, blackberry, and thimbleberry have been harvested young and tender, often eaten fresh, steamed, pickled, or stir-fried. It’s June, and we’re a bit past this stage of their growth by now, but if you do find any soft flexible cane shoots extending up off the older canes or out of the ground nearby, you can pull your hand along them until they snap off like asparagus. When you’re ready to eat them, peel off the skin and prepare them any way you enjoy asparagus. It’s certainly very different, but totally delicious. And each species (even each colour of salmonberry bush) has a different flavour!

Finally berries.

Salmonberries – first of the wild rubus to ripen, they grow unstoppably all over the place, here – especially in wet meadows and roadsides. Those with exclusively green shoots grow yellow/orange berries, and those with red shoots grow red berries which darken to nearly black as they ripen. Salmonberries taste a little brighter, and with less of a rich flavour than other Rubus berries, although the red ones are sweeter than the yellow. Salmonberries seem to develop the most juicy flavour when they’ve plumped up in wet weather and sunshine, but then they’re so watery that they don’t work well in pies. They’re also a little too seedy for baking, since they lose so much water in the process that you’re left with mostly seeds. Also watch out if you’re picking after a few days of rain showers; they tend to lose their flavour, or even get mouldy inside.

Blackberries – sweet, rich, earthy, and a little bit terrifying, if you’ve ever been caught among them. And also the best for baking, which is why you may have been caught there in the first place, heading towards the middle of the brutal thicket, trying to fill a five-gallon bucket for pies. They seem to retain a lot of their juice and flavour when baked or frozen. For fresh eating, I prefer the trailing blackberries, which are smaller and less abundant than the huge invasive species, but which taste sweeter and more precious. Like little diamonds compared to big quartz crystals. One thing to watch out for, these days, is the increasing population of D. suzukii larvae (that’s Drosophila, not David, though you might be forgiven for any confusion…). You may not notice the tiny fruit fly larvae as you pick the berries and shove handfuls into your mouth, but if you freeze them on a tray you might discover many little frozen white larvae protruding from between the drupelets of the fruits. It’s OK. Insect-eating is growing in popularity. Just eat them anyway! They’re the last of the Rubus to ripen in our area, and you’ll want to store them all up for winter.

Black Raspberries – these are far less common here, but if you find them they’re absolutely delectable. So try to! The plants look a little like raspberries, more fragile than Himalayan blackberries, and with smaller leaves and stems than salmonberries. The berries themselves are much darker in colour than cultivated raspberries, but have the same dull waxy coating, so can reflect almost purple in some light. The taste is fantastic, and you’ll likely not find enough to satisfy, so just eat them all fresh and quickly, before they’re gone.

Thimbleberries – ripe around this time of year, tall and green and leggy; home to gall wasps and bane of my garden, and I know people complain about their lack of juice and consequent seediness. They don’t even ripen all at once, forcing us to graze very very slowly… just a few every day. But to me they are worth it all for the flavour. They’re almost shockingly sweet, with both the earthiness of blackberries and the tartness of raspberries. I allow them to grow behind my bean trellis, poking their multi-coloured berries through at the sunshine. By the time the beans grow there, I have eaten them all anyway.

Happy summer, neighbours! I hope you enjoy the bounty of Rubus, this year.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

10 Things I am Learning the Hard Way: A Letter to my Teenaged Children

My dear teenaged children,

Sometimes I parent from a place of fear. I snap at you or threaten you with the most dire potential outcomes of your risk-taking endeavors. I'm terrified that you'll face the same hardships I did at your age - or worse. I'm terrified of losing you; of seeing your beautiful faces harden and grow distant. Sometimes, in struggling against my fears, I am not the parent I wish I was, and I know that my apologies don't cut it. Maybe they make it worse. In my heart I know the best I can do is to lead by example, because my advice is the last thing you want. But the remnant of my teenaged self needs me to pass on the things I'm learning the hard way, just so they don't go un-said. Just so I don't feel so helpless at watching you grow up and learn your own life's lessons the hard way.

I am still learning mine. I guess I'll never stop, and ten years down the road I may look back at these and laugh at my ignorance. But here they are, anyway - a snapshot of the things I have learned or am trying to learn at forty years old. May you live well, and may these things come to you more easily than they did to me.

Always adventure. Adventure is what life is made of. Without straying from the path, we'll never make discoveries; never feed our minds and souls and bodies and civilization. I forget all the time that I love adventuring - and then I find myself running wildly into the waves with all my clothes on, and realize I feel free again. Remember all those times we were ridiculous together? I love being ridiculous. And little adventures are important, too. Adventure can be as simple as grabbing a new fruit from a grocery store or laughing hysterically with a dear friend when it's way too late at night. These little adventures keep me going from day to day, but then I still need to feel abandon, which is why I call out our most adventurous friends and family for late-night silliness or school-skipping skating extravaganzas. Always have some of those friends - the friends who will say 'yes!' - and try to be one of those friends, too.

Trust - but not blindly. You want to be one of those people who says 'yes!', but you want to know where your limits are, too, so you don't become the person who leads everyone else into danger. This goes for trusting yourself as well as others. I have both a very easy time believing people, and a very hard time trusting them. This may come from that nasty feeling of having my trust broken so very many times. It sucks to feel like you've been had! But you have to get back up and keep trusting anyway. Because as soon as you don't trust, you can't trust anything. And then the world becomes a very scary place.

Forgive. You will be had. You will be hurt more than you can imagine. And whether you can find fault in yourself, someone else, or circumstances, you have to let it go. Blame is a sickening torture that will hurt you more than it will help. I have spent years of my life blaming people for the things they've done to me, and feeling hurt again and again and again. Some people naturally carry on as if nothing had happened. I'm not good at just shrugging things off and walking away, so I have trained myself to look at everyone from a compassionate perspective. Whether I understand it or not, there is always a deep-seeded reason for whatever has happened. It's not my fault and it's not theirs. It just is. The pain might still be there, but the blame doesn't have to be. And when you find yourself truly at fault - even for blaming others? Forgive yourself too.

Remember that you are loved and appreciated. It's easy to say that I will always love you. And you've heard it so often it probably sounds like background noise. I also know I didn't believe it when my mother told me the same thing. I thought, "yeah - but if you knew how bad I really am, you wouldn't love me anymore...". That was before I had children. Your Nana was right. She also told me that she never understood how much her mother loved her until the day she had me - and the enormity of the love surprised her. I don't know how to make you understand this. I wish I had understood it earlier myself, but it took my having my own children to even begin to grasp how big love really is. So I'll be patient. It's OK if you don't know how much I love you. I want you to go out and be independent, and I will give you a shove sometimes to get you going, but even if you don't feel it in your heart, please remember that in your parents you have a small army at your back, and ready to welcome you home to our embrace in a heartbeat - no matter what.

And you are still your own best friend. I accept that I will never know you as well as you know yourself. And you will - as I continue to do - seek all your life long to find people who truly see you and love you and put up with your beautiful uniquenesses. But none of them will ever know the exact moment that you need a hug. You have to go out and get that yourself. I will continue to try very hard to be there when you need me, but in the same way that a baby learns to self-comfort, you will learn to calm your own fears in the night, to pep-talk yourself before a performance or interview or date, and to look in the mirror and say 'it's going to be all right'. We'll still be the army at your back, but it's you out there on the front lines of your life.

Be you. And don't ever look back. Don't waste energy on relationships with people who make you feel worthless. You really will be OK without them. You come from a long line of people who keep struggling to be the person other people want us to be. Stop. OK? Just stop. It hasn't gotten me anywhere good. And you've seen the fallout in me, because this is something I still struggle with. I hate to say 'do what I say, not what I do' - I know that's not helpful, and you'll follow my actions more than my words, whether you want to or not. But I'm still working on this one. I've let go of friends and family because I couldn't be the person they wanted me to be, and it is still very painful. I can only hope that in seeing me struggle to make these changes, the journey is a little easier for you. You are both stunningly amazing just the way you are, and the way you will become. Please be that person. I am discovering people in my life who truly love me the way I am - and I know you will too.

Go outside. When all of the above are just way too heavy, get the hell out of there!! You don't have to struggle all the time! Remember those times I took you by the hand and just dragged you out into the woods? There are times when that is the only solution, and I don't regret it one bit, even though sometimes you screamed at me when I did it. Go take your own best-friend-self by the hand and take you outside. Sit under a tree, climb a tree, jump in the mud or the sand or the soggy old leaves or the ocean and just listen to the sound of the world. Feel the moss and the bark and the leaves and stones. Taste the air with all of your senses and just be there. Sometimes I take my camera with me, just so I feel like I'm being productive. Ha. Sometimes you have to trick yourself into being outside, but it's worth it. Just go.

Be patient. You never know what you are missing, while running by. I'm still terrible at this, so I set up systems to slow myself down. Sometimes I take other people with me outside, so that I have to wait for them, and in the process discover new things, and peace. I'm terribly impatient with other people. As you know, it takes your Pappa days, weeks, or years to answer questions or make decisions, and I've lost a lot of good times by constantly looking forward to what was ahead; egging and nagging him on instead of just loving where we were in the moment. You have both taught me a lot about patience, just by being my beloved children, and unfortunately, I think I am passing some impatience on to you. Hopefully I will learn patience better before you're grown.

Create. I don't care how you get creative, but do it. Whether you sing, dance, cook, fold carpets into origami or pancakes into drinking cups, expand your mind by playing with it. Creativity has saved my life more often than I really want to tell you.

Love. Thank goodness you are both proficient at this skill. Please ensure you don't lose it. Love can be frightening, and challenging, and just plain painful. Love can tear you to shreds. But if it couldn't, it wouldn't be worth it. Don't ever become afraid to love - everybody and everything. Even the people you would like to blame. Because love really is the answer to everything. Love will lead us through all of the other things I've just talked about. Love will hold us together when we're falling apart. It's life. It's God or religion or salvation, or whatever you want to call it. It's the one-dimensional strings that hold us all together, bound to each other and every other tangible and intangible thing in the universe. You, my beautiful children - in all the good times and the bad times we've known - you taught me that. Thank you.

Love, Mama.