Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Helium as microcosm for human civilization: WHEN WILL ENOUGH OF US CARE?

I bought helium balloons for Rhiannon's birthday, at $2+/ea, knowing full well that it wasn't a green option for a planet that is fast running out of helium, due in part to our wanton releasing of it into the atmosphere for party traditions. It actually has some important medical uses. But I didn't care. I knew it would make Rhiannon happy, so I bought it. $35 worth. I ignored my green conscience. One of the mothers at the party said "What? You can still get helium balloons?" I felt really embarrassed, but the kids were thrilled.

The kids lost 2 of the balloons at the party, and we all talked about where we've seen tree-stranded helium balloon pieces in the past, and found bits of them around the island and on the beaches. We know birds eat them, but... meh. The helium companies claim that they only cause a problem for wildlife if they eat them inflated, which they don't. I can tell you from our experience with our rubber-consuming cat that, no, they most certainly do cause problems for animals who eat just pieces of them. Her twisted, torn, and ruptured intestines were testament to that. And the $1800.00 in vet bills to save her life. Wildlife doesn't get medical coverage.

This is the point: I, who generally try to be thoughtful in my choices, still just ignored these issues to give my daughter the fun party she wished for. It is going to take some serious promotion from retailers to get earth's fun-hungry consumers to stop consuming helium for parties. Toy stores and party suppliers are going to have to promote some alternatives. But do they care? Do we? Will we run out of helium for emergency purposes before the wealthy suburban mothers like me start to give a shit?

I got this article, today: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19676639

What about the other things we're consuming? What about the devastating ruin that constitutes many of our social systems and culture, now? When will we care enough to stand and make the changes we know are necessary?

Although many people are supportive, and make similar choices to ours, some still laugh at me or twist their eyebrows for the small things I do, like eating whole grains, and GMO-free/medication-free, not vaccinating my kids, not giving or receiving gifts for Christmas and parties, unschooling my kids and spending lots of time in the wilderness. And yet I know, that for all these things seem crazy, they're puny. Any serious change is going to take a total cultural withdrawal from the consumerist lifestyle that is the backbone of most of our civilization. Are we ready? Do we care enough?

Back to small suburban changes... here are some ideas for helium balloon substitutes for decorating parties and sending home as favours*:
  • Slingers (Dutch for garlands) are fabulous: home-made flag-lines made by folding a diamond or other shape over a string or ribbon and painting colourfully. If you make them with wallpaper scraps or upholstery fabric they are very durable and can last for generations. Similarly, the expandable tissue-paper garlands commonly available from Chinese stores are less durable, but with some care can still last a generation or two. And with time and patience you can make these yourself, too!
  • Any gift of homemade sweets, decorations, bracelets, etc. that can be a gift from the birthday-child to his/her friends. 
*I edited this list - originally I had some other store-bought options for party-favours, until I realized that, if we're going to change our ways, we need to do a better job than that. Why give out consumable store-bought merchandise, or decorate with disposable paper products, when that is part of the problem. It's why we have a policy in our family of no gifts, but then we shouldn't be committing the crime in the other direction, ourselves. So I took them off the list. Only remaining are those things I feel are acceptable in a conscious world.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Epic Surprise Party

We pulled it off. It was so epic it was almost unbelievable. Here's what we did:

Firstly, some time ago Rhiannon confided in me that she really wanted a wizard party, but thought it was inappropriate, because she'd already had two, in her short lifetime. But still... it was what she wanted. And we left it at that.

Secondly, Rhiannon had been planning a "Welcome to Autumn Party" for over a month. She created the "Have Fun Palace" in a corner of the yard, complete with signs and various supplies for particular events at the party she planned. She made a treasure hunt and a box of "treasure" (candies), and a string of "prizes" selected from her less treasured possessions to give to her intended guests. And she made a guest list.

"Can I see that?" There were 14 children on the list. All of them were treasured friends. Not a single one had yet been invited, because a date had not been set. So of course I quickly contacted the parents to ensure that at least most of them could make a very short-notice surprise wizard party. They were to come dressed as wizards or witches, and were asked to bring a home-made card and a wizard-spell to cast on Rhiannon instead of a physical gift.

On Sunday morning I asked Rhiannon to set up her "Welcome to Autumn Party" so she could try it out with the family before inviting her friends. She did. And how many people did she set up for? Why, 12, of course! And why, I asked her, did she choose that number when there are only 4 in the family? She didn't know. Then Markus took Rhiannon out for an "impromptu" picnic...

Taliesin and Nana quickly made a party site out of a lovely area of the yard, set up some infrastructure, decorated, prepared balloons, etc. all while I hurriedly made a vibrantly blue wizard-hat cake. Yes really we managed this in 3 hours!

Then a flurry of magic folk (yes of course that's a technical term) were dropped off by their parents, and we hid ourselves in the bushes, trying various distractions to pass the time, and quiet the baby who seemed to have plenty to say...

Until Rhiannon arrived.

"What's Mama doing over there?" She says she was worried they shouldn't look, in case I was planning her party, but she never suspected there was anybody there. She came down to check it out and found a sign painted by her brother: "RHIANNON'S FANTASTIC WIZARDING CEREMONY". We waited for her to say "Huh?!", as we knew she would, and then...

Shock, excitement and a bit of disbelief...

Surrounded by wizards and witches. That blue thing in front of her is her wizard costume laid out for her to put on.

The kids each gave her magic spells as gifts, along with their home-made cards. Some of the spells were about friendship, some wishes for health and happiness, and some consisted purely of incomprehensible wizard-speak!!

But who is that strange wizard coming down the driveway? It's Weederman of the West!! He had been to a previous wizard party, two years ago, so some of the kids knew him, but some were mystified and a a little nervous...

Weederman of the West brought a special potion to demonstrate to the kids... it consisted of a tube of magical Mentos and a bottle of...

...OK Di.     Yes you read that right. That bottle says "OK Di". "But", the kids wanted to know, "you drink that stuff???" "No no of course not", Weederman replied. "Would you drink something that was labeled OK Die?" And besides, when he did his experiment it proved to be rather explosive. (I'll insert a video here when I get it uploaded.) But, after shooting most of the OK Di off in the experiment, Weederman took a (fake) swig...

...and died.  After some initial concern and magic revival spells, the younger wizards and witches took the oppotunity to jump all over him. Because really -- that is what uncles are for. Oh - did I say that? I mean that is what wizards are for.

Then the kids tried some potions of their own. We provided flasks and other receptacles, a book of potions (Thank you, Tanya!) and all the necessary ingredients to make them. They tried out a couple of the recipes, and then had a free-for-all with the ingredients, making all sorts of oozing and bubbling concoctions.

Cooperative games time!!! After potions we played musical mats. This is like musical chairs, except that in any type of musical chairs at our house, those who don't find a chair (or mat) must sit on the other participants! At the end they all pile on top of the musician (who awaits his fate with happy anticipation!)

Amoeba tag! Large amoebic multi-bodied life-forms chase each other around until they all merge!

Then I suggested we all go over to Rhiannon's treasure hunt, since she had it conveniently set up for... exactly the group of friends who happened to be there! Funny how that worked out, isn't it?!! She gleefully led them all over the property doing the treasure hunt she'd set up in the morning, and the final clue was...

This is the welcome sign at the Have Fun Palace.

Here they are ordering from the menu of invisible foods she created. I didn't quite understand this game, but that is the beauty of a (moderately) free-range childhood; the games are not scripted, parents seldom understand them, but the creativity is unbridled. And there is something really magical about friends. They understand and share the most eccentric activities, all growing and blossoming in the same universe, where parental input is entirely unnecessary.

And of course she even had a container of candies to share. It bothers me how desperate all the little hands look. But this is one of those times I really have to step back and remember my comments about the photo, above. It's none of my business, really.

And anyway... who am I to talk? While they were doing that, I was making appear a collection of helium balloons (see next post), a jug of Ribena, and...

...a frighteningly turquoise wizard-hat cake.

She competed with the wind to blow out her candle, and we sent the kids home with a potentially catastrophic amount of cake and icing in their tummies... at dinner time. Sorry about that, parents, but thank you for the gift of your children's joyful presence at a party that my own daughter will not soon forget!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Spontaneous Bird Dissection

As it happened, Opa showed up late one evening with a Steller's Jay that he had found caught in the rat-trap. Very unfortunate and sad, of course, but we decided not to let it go to waste. The kids each wanted a dried wing, so we cut them off to dry, and proceeded further to dissect the bird.

Tal pulling back connective tissue and membranes to find the brilliant pink lungs behind the heart.
No, we didn't take health-precautions; we didn't wear aprons or masks or even gloves. We did, at least, wash thoroughly afterwards, and sterilize the cutting board and tools we had used. Hopefully we're all fine. I'm not posting this as an example to other unschoolers, because I'm not sure at all that this was handled properly, but we all learned something, the kids found it fascinating (though Rhiannon found it very upsetting, she was glad she'd participated by the next morning), and I thought it was worth sharing. Here are the photos:

Tal cut open the gizzard to see what the jay had been eating and discovered it had been a regular in the chicken coop. Hence why it got caught in the rat-trap that was intended for the coop-invading rats, I suppose!

Tal for once was very pleased to record his finds on paper. He was especially pleased with this, because just earlier he'd been talking about the different parts of the brain, and was immediately able to find the 2 lobes of the cerebrum and the cerebellum of this bird. Click this photo to enlarge it if you want to see his diagram.