Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Just in the pines on the heather. (And grass!)
My father's family has a cottage in Riel (Google satellite view). It's flanked on one side by heather fields, where ancient post-ringed grave-mounds rise up out of the mists in the mornings, and dune-grasses slowly invade the heather's territory, giving way only to the dwarfed pines that pop up here and there, and the ever-widening paths trodden by horses. The little house, "Hoefke 5", is flanked on the other side by a darkly colourful forest of beech, chestnut, oak, pine and rhododendrons, tended over generations by the family. This is where the family's treasures were buried, during the war, and the reason that some treasures still exist, among us, now. We like to
...eventually Hoefke 5 got a portable phone...
think about this, while exploring the often-dry pond, the fox-dens, and the little craters left by the bombs. Oh. And the neighbours. Many of them farmers, they visit the little Maria Shrine at the edge of the woods, peer towards the windows when they notice somebody's home at Hoefke 5, and generally don't converse much. During my childhood, the closest neighbours had a pig farm. Rows of inedible pig-corn lined the brick road to the heather. Their poultry woke us up in the mornings, and their sweet friendly faces welcomed us home when they noticed us arrive.

Oom Just, Grootmoeder, Sander and Jeroen at het huisje.

Cousins Just and Adrian, hanging out in het huisje.
Hoefke 5 is an old hunting cabin, with thin wooden walls and red/white/blue shutters on the windows. I love the job of going around to open the shutters, upon arriving at the house! There are low counters and a potato box under the kitchen floor. There is a big fireplace and a collection of games, and paintings of dead hunted animals, of course, too. There is a shower-room big enough to dance in, and a little WC with so much thick white paint on the walls that it nearly feels padded. There is a smell of old furniture and damp leaves; of pine trees and sand and soot. There is a warmth left by generations of our family, finding ourselves.

The van Lidth de Jeudes are an interesting family. And by this I mean the particular group of van Lidth de Jeude's who are descended from my Grootmoeder (the cottage in Riel comes, after all, from her uncle, Gerrit Kuijk). Maybe we're unusual in our humour and propensity for speaking frankly (not always a good mix), but we're also adventurous, and thoughtful. There's a strong interest in working with or traveling on the land, as well as an intellectual side. There has also been some attrition from the homeland of the Netherlands, but very little where Riel is concerned. In the van Lidth de Jeude family there is a deep authenticity; a rejection of class and stereotype. Well, in fact, there are certain uncles (and to some extent my own father) who like to strut about in their noble heritage, smoking pipes and serving cookies on ancient delft plates; wearing sweater-vests and drinking jenever elegantly. But these men all seem to suddenly shed their shirts (and sometimes everything else) when the opportunity to use chainsaws, burn brushpiles, and just generally get dirty in the woods presents itself. And it finally occurred to me that this may come from Riel.

Floris' teepee.
I was chatting with my cousin, a few days ago - the one whose life has meant that he, like I, only lived in the Netherlands at all for a couple of years, and now makes his home in Africa. But, as usual, Riel managed to work its way into our conversation. We cousins - all of us - have deep connections. We're all so close to our own siblings that we choose to get together whenever possible. And cousins like to keep connected, too -- even without words, somehow. I linked to one of those Dutch cousins on LinkedIn, and he replied "but we're always connected, of course". Exactly. For those of us on different continents the visits are rare, indeed, but the connection is still there. Some of this connection may come from our Grootmoeder's -- and now our many parents' -- efforts in keeping the family connected. But Timon and I think that some of it comes from Riel.
Heather: Maya, Emily, Just, Floris, (Allard & Marianne in the top right corner).

Riel is a place where we celebrate life: We play ridiculous games and rituals that feed into our lovely family sense of humour, and we lie down in the heather fields. We run through the sand and the brick roads and the forests. It's a place to drop the pretenses of European society. And Europe has a lot of pretenses. Maybe that's why my father escaped in his early twenties into the BC forests, coming eventually to this island on the pacific coast. I suspect he came here to get out of the pretentious European lifestyle, with its classes and customs and expectations. He came here to be real. And Riel is still in him. His humour is intact, and his relationships, and... he has a veritable rhododendron species garden.

And lucky for us of the next generation, Riel's acorns and chestnuts and beechnuts have planted themselves in our souls, too. We can't live but to look for the changing of the seasons, and to celebrate everything. We play the ridiculously silly games of Riel all over the world, now. When I once asked my 3-year-old cousin, Sander, when his birthday was, he said he didn't know, but he would know it was coming when the snowdrops bloomed. What more is there to life, really, than this?

Riel is a place for people to be authentic; to connect with the family and the land and life, without pretenses. We try so hard to make everything seem shiny... but sometimes in the bare authentic little gatherings of people just being themselves, we find real happiness.

Look deep into nature,
and then you will understand everything better.
~Albert Einstein

This is the legacy of Riel.

Friday, May 17, 2013


There's talk, as there often is, about mothers experimentally unplugging for a couple of hours. Many people seem to think I can't "unplug" because I already don't own a cellphone1. Technically I suppose I unplug every time I walk out of the house. But I can do better than that.

Unplugging matters. And cellphones, iPods and computers are not the only screens that need to be unplugged. At some point my father said to me "your kids don't even know what their mother looks like; all they see is the camera on your face". I glibly told him that I don't often hold it in front of my face, and that the blog is part of their memory-bank. They enjoy these photos! But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right. When I'm behind my camera, I'm wearing my design-hat; thinking about the aesthetics of the situation; the eventual look of my photo and potential uses for it (Should I put him in the top right corner so I can use this for a blog background? Should I zoom in on the details and use it for Nature Club purposes? Should I over-expose this so I can use it for a poster??) And I miss my kids' joyful experiences. I miss the energetic connection that happens when they look into my face to show me something. I miss our relationship.

There is so much information about the importance of unplugging2 and attachment3 in parenting babies and very young children, but, although the research is broad, we often write off the importance of attachment in the later years, including with our spouses. When I come out to the living room in the evening and find my husband sitting glued to a screen, I usually go back to my own screen. If he looks up, leans back, and speaks to me, I feel attachment. If he turns off the computer I come sit with him. That same feeling is, I am sure, what my 8- and 11-year-old children experience when I'm using a screen. They need me to care, and they need me to express that I care. They need me to respond with my own ideas, and they need me to consider their thoughts in the way that I hope they would respond to me. Because, as I seem to mention all the time, their greatest teacher is the behaviour of their parents. Screen-time is an addiction, and if I'm going to help them walk away from addictive substances and activities, I need to be strong enough to do so, myself.

There are many arguments for carrying technology; for being non-present with our families. But my work depends on these photos! My career depends on my being reachable, so I need to carry my cellphone! I have to answer this email, now, or I could lose this contract! Well what were we doing setting ourselves up to be on-call 24-hours-a-day in the first place? Or even 10 hours, if those happen to be the same hours we spend with our families? I had children so that I could be a mother; not just so I could say I had children, and carry on with some other non-family pursuits. So damn it, I'm going to have to make sure that my pursuits somehow feed into my mothering. When my husband easily got a job with a cover letter that opened with "my family is my priority" and went on to explain that he would leave work every day at 4 and would work a maximum of 3 days/week in the city, I knew there was hope for our family. There is hope for all of us. We just have to set our priorities.

As I'm writing this, my daughter calls out "Mama, when will you be done?" I've promised her that today we can do some sewing, together, and this is one of her special Mama-time-activities. And while I know that me-time is healthy -- that it's good for the kids to see me have my own pursuits -- I also have to make sure that when this screen-time is over, I dedicate myself to her. I will turn off the computer.

What I already do: 
  • I try to keep my screen-time to mornings, while the kids are busy with their own activities, and evenings, after they've gone to bed. Sometimes I need a whole day to get my work done (graphic design, volunteer activities, art management, etc.), but I tell my kids that I'm going to be quite a while on the computer, and generally, because they are older, now, this is not a problem. They do understand the concept of parents having work obligations!
  • When I'm finished my morning email/computer/screen-time, and am not waiting for specific email-communications that effect the day's activities, I turn off the computer.
  • Even when the computer is on during the day, I try to remember to turn off the speakers, so that I don't hear emails come in, and don't feel the urge to go check them.
  • I take my camera on selected adventures, only - about 10% of them, I think, and this allows me much more time and opportunity to actually connect with my children.
  • When I'm with my kids, I'm with them. I am not reading my own book, beside them, or talking on the phone, etc. 
  • When I'm doing my work, I let them know I need to be left alone, so that I can get the thing done more efficiently. 

What I could improve on:
  • I still answer the phone whenever it rings, and make time for whomever calls, for whatever reason. I have let food burn, because I didn't have the guts to tell somebody I couldn't talk. I have spent an hour on the phone talking to some unexpected (and probably well-loved) caller, when my kids had been expecting my attention. Obviously this has to change. 
  • I often stretch-out my screen time, when it seems to be taking longer than expected, or something exciting comes my way. Not good. And especially not good for setting a good time-management example!
  • I turn to Google for many things that we have very excellent paper-resources for, at home -- like species identification, music, health research, etc. I'd like to show my kids more variety in resource access. We have these excellent resources at home -- a library full of them -- as well as a local and a downtown library... and I need to make use of those.

1My own article on electromagnetic radiation and why we don't have cellphones, cordless phones, or other such devices:

2Cellphone use during Pregnancy can seriously damage your baby:

3Effects of mothers' screen-time on children's psychological health:'s article on Attachment Parenting and Bonding:

And finally, a hokey-sounding but really wonderful informational video about reasons for and methods of creating secure infant attachment (22 min):

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mothers' Day!

I'm re-posting this from my earlier post at the MAMA Project website:


In my work creating and touring the MAMA Project, I’ve had the opportunity to interview, paint, and speak with hundreds of mothers about the significance of our role, and the importance of our awareness of that significance. I have spoken with mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers of many varied descriptions. I have recorded countless hours of their memories, fears, and dreams; have held them while they cried and have laughed with them until our jaws ached. I’ve had my own mothering validated in the knowledge that the wisdom and regrets we share as mothers are somehow beyond words, but also in the absolute certainty that our knowledge must be shared.

So in reaching for that sharing space; in attempting to support each other and - even more difficult - to be supported, ourselves, we talk about EVERYTHING. Yes of course I mean EVERYTHING: pee, poop, menstrual woes and accidents, the intricate details of rash pustules, infestations, and abnormalities on our children’s (and husbands’!) bodies, the things we think are hilarious and the things that bring us unfathomable horror. We share these things because it’s in the sharing of these things that we learn to mother. And because these conversations are like study groups for working through the memories from our own first mothering courses: our being mothered, ourselves. And grand-mothered. And somewhere in the sharing we usually are reminded that we are the grandmothers, ourselves; that our children’s, our grandchildren’s, our great-grandchildren’s futures are being written in the things we carry down from our own ancestry.

We joke about how so-and-so’s son swears just like his Mama, and how our neighbour’s 3-year-old has the same nervous hand-gestures her aunt does. But these things are no joke. They can teach our kids all they want in school; at Brownies and Scouts; in University, even, but the lessons our kids learned when they were 18 months old and spitting food in our faces - those are the lessons that will determine the outcomes of all the others. Did we smile with compassion at those orange blobs flying towards us and tenderly wipe them off our faces and back into baby’s mouth? Did we shout? Did we roll our eyes in disgust? Did we hit our child or congratulate her? The answer probably depends greatly on what we experienced, ourselves, when we were 18 months old and spitting food at our mothers’ faces. And it determines how our children will respond to their own children, too. And when our children go out in the world to learn from others, how will they then make use of those learning experiences? Well that, of course, depends on how they‘ve watched us learn, in our lives. These are the mechanics of inheritance and legacy. The way we argue with our husbands in front of the children, or hide away (they children will know, regardless), whether we resolve things or sweep them under the carpet, and the way we help the kids figure out their issues? Yeah. Those are the mechanics of peace for the next generations.

And when we’re aware of this - just how deeply important our every action is to our children’s future, and to the culture they will inherit and build upon - then it becomes essential that we assess and reassess our every decision and action. And we do that by sharing.


you told me you lost her before you were old enough to know the meaning of mother

you told me you lost her before she was old
enough to be born

you said she abandoned you
said you abandoned her
hated her
you told me your love knew no boundaries but she couldn’t hear

you broke her trust and you
still cling to her

you wanted him to grow up strong and brave
you wanted to protect him but now you’re eighty six
and you still cook his meals
drive him to work
you wanted him to know he was wanted
you wanted to be wanted, yourself
you wanted him to let go
and you wanted never to let him go

you wanted her to grow up strong
you wanted to help her
raise her babies, but
she doesn’t know herself
a mother
she carries you
in her pocket
like a pill
you wanted her to know she was wanted
you wanted to be wanted, yourself
you wanted her to let go
and you wanted never to let her go

to mothers
I’ve listened to
cried to

to you who have given up
given up hope
your children, even
and given up your dreams
your fears
for all you have given up was not in vain

to mothers who have lost something
your children, even
for all you have lost was not unfound

to you
for giving
you have
and are
and know

to you
to us
to knowing
our work is rewarded in knowing
that we have the blessed occupation

There is nothing particularly special about me. I am like billions of other people in the world: I am a mother.

And yet,

I am a mother.

I hold the lives of my children in my hands, on my breath I validate their dreams, and my intentions and mistakes determine their futures and their children’s futures. Retail, investment and service industries market to me; my interest is a hot commodity. And yet I have very few real resources, because those industries don’t benefit from my triumphs; they benefit from my needs.

You know who benefits from my triumphs? My children. Your children. Our children’s children. Every single generation to come benefits from every single time I get it right. And that makes it imperative that I take my job seriously and get it right.

We need to take responsibility for our children! As our children soak up every word we say; every hand-gesture, every movement of eyes and facial expression, are we living the life we want them to emulate? How many of us just sit back and allow our kids to play games (online and otherwise) without engaging them in conversation about what they are playing, and the ramifications of it? When my children asked me what rape was, I told them. We talk about wars, and politics, and sex and drugs and mental illness. We pause movies and games when things need to be explained, and my kids soak up the explanations (and questions) sometimes with more enthusiasm than the media itself. I can't stop them from participating in what is now popular culture, and if I did, they'd only want it more. But I can lead by example, and so can you. We all can. We have to. It's our responsibility. We didn't bear our children out of necessity; we chose this path because we love children. And children grow to be adults, to inherit our world, and to have more children, themselves. So it's our responsibility to raise them with integrity and awareness, that they go into the world full of questions and willing to look around, but also with a conviction to find their own truths and their own right paths.

There is no time to waste. And the smallest things make a difference; the random comments from my children remind me of this. My daughter once said, "I can't wait until I grow up so I can have pimples and wear cover-up, too!" My son said "I hope my wife doesn't think I want her to shave herself. That wouldn't be nice of me." Once my daughter reprimanded her father for some grammatical mistake and then turned to me with pride in her eyes. Oh no - did I teach her that? Of course I did! And it will take a lifetime to undo. Not everything we pass on is what we hope for. It matters very much not only that we lead by example, but also that we teach our children - from birth - that their own opinions and questions matter; that any question is valid, but that we also don‘t have all the answers. It's important that we reach for the best possible version of ourselves, because that will be the standard our children measure themselves against, and it will effect every single generation to come.

It is not OK for us to condemn violent video games but to watch violent movies, ourselves, or to wish death on politicians, talk trash and laugh about the emotional trauma of celebrities. It's not OK for us to practice attachment parenting but escape our children for a night at the bar. When they find us in the morning and discover that sour old booze smell on our breath they will learn that that is the smell of being with friends, and all the threats in the world won't take that lesson away from them when they're 14 and their friends are offering them cheap vodka under a bridge. It's not OK for us to tell them to be nice to each other, but to put our own community members down, to gossip, and to blame. Our children will learn more from our acknowledgement of our mistakes, and the lessons they’ve watched us learn than they will from the threats and consequences we’ve doled out to them.

We are mothers, and our demonstrated values and behaviour are the greatest teachers our children will ever have. We are mothers! We must take the importance of this incredible occupation very seriously, because there is nobody who can make a bigger change than we can, in choosing how we raise each new generation.


time for wishing

babies (these have come to our pond for refuge with their two remaining goslings, this year)

the quince gods have blessed Rhiannon's tree with bountiful fortune

insects have returned

and flowers

and islanders who spend their winters in Mexico but return home to hang out in their shacks in the warm season

and our 'special' local fauna, of course

ground pine

herb robert by the docks

happy barefoot children by the docks



wild strawberries

appropriate sunny day attire

appropriate sunny day hang-out spot

maybe inappropriate but definitely wonderful hang-out spot

sunny days are still intermittent

and the ocean brings us all sorts of bounty

Friday, May 10, 2013


This post is inspired by recent conversations with various people, but especially this beautiful comment from Chris Corrigan. I've posted an article on play, before - one written by my wonderful child-development-expert mother - but this post is written more from my perspective as an unschooling adult and parent.

To preface, here's one of the educationally playful things my family does, lately. We watch Kid Snippets! And I find this one quite suitable, today:

Work sucks. Play is fun. 
We all know this. So why work?

"Waiting in line at the supermarket feels wasteful unless you play with the other people in line."
- Sydney Gurewitz Clemens
...from the article Time in Community Playthings' booklet The Wisdom of Play.1

We know we have to perform certain tasks, acquire certain skills, etc. that we don't feel inspired about. So how do we strike a balance that doesn't involve a whole lot of drudgery? Taking "play times" in between "work times" is, in my opinion, like feeding an addiction2. We begin rewarding ourselves with play times, and the play times become a sort of binge of happiness, before we return to the work. If we play too long, we feel ashamed, and probably more miserable about the work. Then we need more play times. We need comfort foods and relaxation therapies. We call ourselves by the name of the "work" we do (nurse, doctor, programmer, teacher, etc.) and after work seek to soothe ourselves from the drudgery that defines our lives. But why?

I would like to define my life by what I love. To redefine both "work" and "play" so that they are the same thing! I would like to love my work so much that it feels like play, and to watch my children learn and grow by playing.

To a certain extent this requires making careful choices about the activities I do, but some activities are unavoidable, and some unpleasant activities come packaged with the things I love to do. In these cases I need re-envision my activities and myself. If I have to clean this bathroom, I am going to enjoy it! I'm going to use a cleaner that makes me happy; and delight in the clean space when I'm finished. I'm going to experiment with new cleaning methods and different systems -- because experimenting is fun. I'm a housewife; I don't particularly love cooking 3-4 meals/day, but in experimenting with inventing dishes and recipes I manage to find enough "play" to make the act of cooking rewarding.

Lifestyle Choices
Play: Working out communication & relationships.
There's a lot of talk these days about helping kids and parents to handle stress - because our lives have become overloaded with it, and many of us are imploding from the pressure. But why should we learn to handle it; why not just reject the lifestyle that causes it; reject it entirely? It's in moments of stress that adrenaline takes over and we act without thinking. I've seen my children become unable to answer the simplest questions because of fear or confusion. It is through play that we find happiness - endorphins. It is through play that we discover and find understanding, even of situations that might otherwise have been stressful.

So it may be obvious why my husband and I have chosen to unschool our family, but it's also obvious to me that the cycle of play-and-shame-and-work is nevertheless being passed on to our children. We're accustomed to thinking of activities in terms of learning value, and this learning value usually has a high (subconscious) correlation with drudgery. I once heard one parent describing the difference between our local Reggio Emilia preschool and the local Montessori preschool to another parent: "Well... at the other preschool they just let the kids play all day; at the Montessori they actually teach them to read and do math."3 Keep in mind that the "other" preschool being described here was the preschool my mother (who wrote the article I referred to at the beginning of this post) taught at. Obviously, there was a great deal of misunderstanding in this comment, but unfortunately I think it relates a commonly-held misconception both about the methods and values of the different educational philosophies concerned, as well as about the value of play. And it doesn't come from sheer ignorance on the part of those who don't understand; it comes from many generations of a culture that values rote repetition and mimicry over inspired explorative learning. And yet, if we were to make a list of our culture's heroes - our "great thinkers", it would read like a list of the who's who of unschooling:
On the contrary, look into the biography of nearly every great thinker and innovator and you'll find a lack of formal schooling or a hatred of same. If you're an American, start with our own.  Mark Twain, one of our greatest wits and writers quit school after 6th grade.  Thomas Edison was expelled from school after a few weeks of second grade and was home schooled—he became the greatest inventor in American history.  Ben Franklin: one year of grammar school, one year of tutoring, no formal education after age 10.  George Washington attended school irregularly.  In England, Michael Faraday practically created modern electromagnetics.  He performed all the seminal experiments that Edison later repeated.  He never attended any school.  I could go on and on.  Einstein stated that schooling almost destroyed his interest in knowledge...    
                                                --Henry Lindner

Playing with blocks imaginatively doesn't seem to hold as much value as following a prescribed pattern with the blocks, and achieving satisfying results. A child's enthusiasm for simply looking at books doesn't seem to hold as much value as that child's ability to quickly and fluently read the words in the books. And yet, it is the playing and the imagination that lead us down the paths to discovery, and we often are more enthusiastic about what we discover ourselves than what we are taught by others. It's enthusiasm that leads us down the paths to our passions, and it is our passions that define our futures.

I'll leave the last words to Chris (from the comment I mentioned at the beginning):
"There is no such thing as practice...
"There is only playing."

Community Playthings' Excellent Articles on Play:
2 Shame and its relationship with addiction relapses:
3 Why play is important in preschools:

Tali's telescope!

Due to the generosity of some local residents, our astrophysicist-hopeful now has his own telescope.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Unschooling Ourselves: Enjoying the Journey

It all begins with and returns to the family.
It's no news that maternal blood and tissue carries the DNA of the mother's child for up to decades after the child's birth. Pregnancy is just the beginning of the long relationship we have with our children; a relationship that is give-and-take-and-give. We grow so much from our gained understanding of love and humanity, when we have children, and as we parent them. All of us are on a journey of growth, trying to find better ways of parenting our children and our spouses and ourselves.

When we love, we teach our children to love.
When we trust, we teach our children to trust.
When we love ourselves, we teach our children to love themselves. 
When we unschool ourselves, we unschool our children.

So why unschool ourselves?
Because many of us were raised in a school system, where we learned to follow the pack, to attempt at all costs to fit in, to make the grade, and to measure up to what was expected of us by others, without questioning, in our early years, what we expected of ourselves. Now, as parents, we are the people being looked to for help, but we've become very good at passing the buck. Or we've become very timid at taking responsibility. It's much too easy to go ask somebody else, or, increasingly, look for answers on the Internet, without reminding ourselves that every single opinion we are given is just that: an opinion. It may be an extremely educated opinion, but in this globalized society, it is one of many different educated opinions, and we're often unequipped to navigate these varying opinions, without also educating ourselves about the issue (and the people) involved. So this navigation is our empowerment; it's part of unschooling ourselves.

I'm not saying we shouldn't trust. Of course a certain amount of trust is necessary to live in peace. But putting too much trust in the opinions of one person or entity just leads to blindness. Unschooling is about learning to navigate a massive web of information and truths - life - many conflicting truths - and learning to follow gut instinct on this journey. Unschooling is about the journey. It's about all the beauty that unfolds from the pathways we find ourselves on; not the places they lead us to. It's about the surprises. After all, each new place is just the beginning of another adventure.

Big Adventures: YES
When I was 17, within a single week's time I graduated from highschool, traumatically broke up with my first serious boyfriend, and moved with my family out of my lifelong home and community and into a big farmhouse in a completely new-to-me part of our province. To say I was in shock would be putting it mildly, and I remember feeling unbelievably alone and terrified. So I asked my parents to send me to Holland. And I happened to ask them in front of my pseudo-uncle, Jon. Jon triumphantly exclaimed "Yes!" And I knew my parents' doubts and fears would be moot.

I went to Holland. I hung around with my beloved family, there, argued with my grandmother about how often was reasonable to wash my hair, got lost in Amsterdam with my cousin, and learned to ride on the back of a bike. I also took my portfolio to the Royal Academy of art, got accepted on the spot into second year, learned to get around a foreign city alone, watched my cousin perform the lead in an opera, and fell in love, to boot. These things were so distracting that I didn't realize until later that it was during this time I cemented my truly wonderful relationship with my grandmother. And none of these things were what I expected. I never saw any tulips. I didn't learn to speak Dutch (despite my young cousins' desperate attempts). But my life changed.

The next year I returned to Holland again (for that second year art academy entrance). I thought I would return three years later with an art degree and a fiance. Instead I returned two years later -- kicked out of art school, feeling like a failure, broken-hearted beyond belief... and with a rather unexpected fiance -- who is now my husband. Nothing was as I had planned. My parents were disappointed, to say the least. And that particular adventure was an unbelievable success!

Telling children facts or giving advice is like showing them a picture of a destination, with a nice little description beside it. That advice is not going to be what they remember, and it may not even be valuable to them. They have to make their own journeys, and while they're young, we have the privilege of tagging along for the ride.

So we learn to navigate. We learn to enjoy the journey. And we learn that we cannot teach our children by giving them advice. We can only take them on big adventures.

Oh... and didn't I say...
Our best predictions have nothing to do with the journey.
It all begins with and returns to the family.
Well here I am. My family has moved back to the property we left when I was 17. First I came with my husband and had children here. Then my parents returned, and my brother with his wife. Nothing is quite the way we expected it to be. But here we all are, three generations of humans living out our various divergent and convergent journeys, and glad to have each other to share them with.

Monday, May 6, 2013

May Cakes Recipe!

Rhiannon mixing petals and flours.
One of our many varied May Day traditions is to bake with dandelion petals. This year we made dandelion buns and dandelion pancakes. Both of them were experimental, so I have no recipes for them. I do, however, have this recipe for Dandelion May Cakes, which is usually our maypole-dancing treat.
Dandelion May Cakes (gluten/dairy/nut/corn-free)
Emily van Lidth de Jeude
Harvest a basket of fully-opened large dandelion blossoms. Before they begin to close up (as soon as they are picked), carefully pull the petals from the blossoms, making sure to remove the bottom of the petals, where the flavour is. Discard the greens and continue collecting the petals until you have enough for your needs.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Put butter or baking paper a baking sheet, and set aside.

Combine in a bowl:

  • 1 cup sweet white sorghum flour
  • ½ cup tapioca flour
  • 1 cup (slightly packed) dandelion petals
  • 1 ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 4tbsp unrefined sugar
This work this mixture with your hands until petals are fully coated in the flours, and no more large clumps remain.
Cut into the flour mixture until it resembles course meal:
  • 4tbsp non-dairy butter or cream from the top of separated coconut milk
Mix up in measuring cup or small bowl:
  • ½ cup rice milk or the watery part of the coconut milk
  • 1 large egg
... and then pour over the flour mixture, mixing until dough forms large curds

Mix in:

  • 1/3 cup currants
On baking sheet pat dough to a circle, 3/4” thick. Cut into 8 wedges, to represent the 8 solar festivals (and by extensions, the seasons, and the turning of the year). Brush top with
  • 1 egg-white
Bake until just barely browned, and done, inside.

Our May Cakes Tradition:
Using a burnt stick from the Beltane fire, the children also scratch a charcoal X (rune: gyfu) into the bottom of one of the cakes, and the person who draws this lucky cake becomes the May King/Queen for the following year, is crowned with flowers. When the newly-crowned king/queen jumps over the fire, s/he symbolizes the turning of the year, and bountiful crops.

This year things were a little different; Tal was away, and I wasn't inspired to make May Day happen. So, being the resourceful person that she is, Rhiannon created May Day when he was home again! We had wild salad as usual, at a campfire dinner, followed by a very dark little maypole dance on a 1x2 with plastic wrapping ribbons tied onto it! Fabulous! Even without the traditional cakes, the colourful ribbons, etc. the real celebration is in love shared, and of course there was plenty of that!!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

May 5th: Freeing Ourselves

Today -- May 5th -- is also known as Cinco de Mayo, in North America, and Bevrijdingsdag in the Netherlands. Both are celebrations of freedom from tyranny; from oppression; from war. So I find myself thinking about these things, and the ways we perpetuate states of oppression, war and violence in ourselves and our families, and the ways we can free ourselves.

Anger/Love, Fear/Trust

How do we get trapped in violent or angry situations? Why are we angry? What are we afraid of? Questions like these - questions of love and trust and fear - we carry through our lives, and I think that as we find our personal answers to these, we find freedom.

A dear old friend (Bob Bates, for those who know him) asked me a few years ago why I was once such an angry child. I was shocked that he'd noticed! I blandly said I guess maybe I was born that way, but I've been thinking about that question, ever since. I've been fighting my instinct to yell at the people I'm afraid of; to hurt back when I feel hurt, and to shame when I feel ashamed. These are common instincts, but also things I do not wish to pass on to my children. So I hope that, as my children see me take this journey, they manage to escape some of the emotional traps I am trying to free myself from.

These are some of the things I've learned:
  • I can't escape pain. Pain is a natural part of life, and a reminder of my humanity. Pain is OK. I can acknowledge the pain I experience and move on.
  • Because fear causes anger, resentment, and violence, I have to let go of my fears, especially my fear of pain. 
  • Violence (including physical, emotional, sexual, verbal, etc.) ALWAYS comes from a place of vulnerability and fear. Always. That is, when it's perpetrated by me, or when I'm the recipient of it. If I'm the recipient, I ask myself how I am causing a feeling of vulnerability in the other person. Instead of returning fire, I ask myself how I can empower the other person, while not disempowering myself.
  • Having power is not a bad thing. When I am most empowered I feel full of love and generosity.
  • If I want to stop the cycle of violence, I have to stop it in myself. When violence meets true compassion and concern, it is invalidated and usually stops. Example: protesters who, in the face of police brutality, hand out flowers or shout "I love you". I've done this in a protest. It works because it reminds the police that they are human and deserving of love. So then they're empowered to give love. Of course it's not always this simple. Sometimes the angry person is not ready to let go of the anger... then I can walk away and remember that although I can free myself from anger/fear, I cannot free others. It's a personal choice. I can only stop it in myself.
  • Love comes from a place of strength. Violence/anger comes from a place of vulnerability. If I feel my vulnerability and accept it before turning it into anger, I can remember my strengths and more easily redirect my feelings to love.
  • It's incredibly hard to look through the face of violence (somebody yelling/hitting/putting me down, etc.) and truly feel compassion and love for the other person! But it's also the only way to stop the cycle.
Parenting is how we open the book of potential
and delight in its surprises!

I'm pretty slow about finding my answers. I'm not a raging success by any means. But I learn a lot from my children, especially about peace and freedom. And these, after all, are what I've always been searching for. Watching my children grow is like multiplying my own opportunities for growth and learning. All the challenges I face in parenting them; in trying to answer their questions or fulfill our family's dreams help me to grow. I experiment with new ideas and push myself beyond my personal limits because of my children. When their own plights bring me to tears of frustration or sorrow; when their own anger pushes me towards the cliff of my own fears -- I am learning.