Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wild Food: Needle Teas

I am sometimes (thankfully less often as time goes by) asked how I expect my kids to learn anything when I'm not teaching them. Or how I can expect them ever to succeed in life with "no skills", and how can I stomach the guilt that must come with unschooling... etc. I used to defend myself because, quite frankly, I was scared. Recently I've stopped answering those questions, partly because people who ask such ridiculous questions rarely seem willing to open their minds enough to hear the answer, anyway, but also because I'm not scared, anymore. I have started to notice all the ways my kids are learning in everything we do, and with what joy and inspiration they compel themselves to learn "school skills" without my even encouraging them.

So today's Wild Food post is a celebration of all that happy, free learning. As I looked through the photos I kept noticing various "skills" appearing naturally. My only intentions, this day, were to get some fresh air, taste some yummy teas, and spend a bit of time with the kids and Opa. See what comes of having a good time ...

Gross Motor, Strength, & Agility: In other words, we hiked around a bunch, and the boys especially took great delight in teetering, leaping and cascading on the steep hill and stumps.

Biology, Observation & Classification: We went out and found Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, Grand Fir, and Ponderosa Pine. The kids practised recognising various types of conifers, and spent quite a bit of concentrated time picking off all the needles, and depositing them into the buckets. Opa helped find a Grand Fir whose branches we could actually reach. Rhiannon was particularly excited about the long pine needles, and went to great lengths to reach and pick a whole heap of them, herself.

Magic: We found this caterpillar happily munching away at some frozen, frost-coated blackberry leaves! We have no idea what it is, but we were all a little enchanted to find it living so happily in the cold winter!

Fine Motor Skills, Herbalism, Health, Cooking, and more Identification: Once inside (and after a bit of a play time) we sorted out the various needles into piles and talked about how healthy each type is, all while cutting up the leaves and putting a couple of tablespoonfuls of each into four little teapots. Then of course each of the four little teapots had water added, and we sat around waiting for them to steep for a few minutes, sniffing and comparing the smells.

Cedar: anti-viral, and high in vitamin C.
Douglas Fir: antiseptic, antioxidant, vermifuge and antifungal.
Grand Fir: diuretic, expectorant.
Ponderosa Pine: anti-bacterial, and contains vitamin C.

Shamefully, I've lost my notes on these at the moment, and cannot describe more... suffice it to say that the medicinal qualities of these various needles (and others that we didn't harvest) are interesting and varied. It is usually better to pick the young needles, so we'll probably revisit this project in the spring, as more of a harvest-and-store, instead of just a taste-test. Also many tree barks, roots and cambiums are useful... also this will be explored, eventually! ... and let us not forget pine-needle baskets! :--)

Printing, Spelling, Division & Grouping: Eventually, we had to organize in such a way that we would each get to taste each type of tea, and remember what type it was, at the same time! Not so easy, splitting 4 types of tea between 5 people! We decided it would be easier if some of us shared cups, so we split into 3 groups, according to who had been sick recently and was most likely to pass germs on, and who might already have had the same illness...

We got 3 each of 4 types of cups, so that each type of tea could go into a particular cup. One of each type of cup was then labeled with the type of tea it would contain, and by that label we would know that all such cups contained the same type of tea. Phewf. Complicated? We nearly confused ourselves into forgetting which tea was which, but it all worked out in the end. Because of all the confusion I didn't even ask if any of the kids wanted to label the cups; I just did it quickly while we still knew what was what. But guess who was still busy copying out words onto extra labels, long after teatime was over... Rhiannon!

Tastebud Excercise: Time to taste! The teas were all interesting, but the biggest surprise was Douglas Fir: it smells like bland dust, or perhaps clay, but tastes wonderful! And the Ponderosa Pine was good too; even a bit citrus-y. What an adventure. We all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, and plan to harvest large quantities of new Pine and Douglas Fir needles, in the spring.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

gluten-free gingerbread circus!

As most people know, Tal is allergic to wheat and wheat-related grains (basically, he can eat rice, sorghum, corn, quinoa, and other starches such as tapioca and potato). So Christmas time is a time of marathon baking, now. We not only need to bake all the usual fare (but gluten-free), to be shared at the (yes, DAILY) festive dinners we'll be attending or hosting for the next couple of weeks, but we also need to have enough on hand so that at every gathering where cookies/cakes may be presented, we have a suitable (and exciting!) alternative or two. That's all on top of the breads, buiscuits, pies, cakes, etc. that we bake, regardless. It should be renamed: Standing in the Kitchen Month.

So for those interested, here is the latest: a Gingerbread Circus! It was Tali's idea, and thank goodness Rhiannon was also excited about it! It took us about 8 hours, spread out over two days... phewf. This thing better be delicious when we devour it! We also have about 50 individual cookies, iced and ready to be packaged up for various events.

The recipe is adapted to be gluten-free from my friend Miki's (and her Mum's) family recipe

Gingerbread Boys
1 ½ cups white rice flour
1 cup tapioca flour
½ cup corn flour
½ cup potato starch
2 tsp guar gum
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 cup butter
1 cup natural cane sugar
½ cup molasses
1 egg

Combine flours, guar gum, salt, baking powder, and spices in a bowl.

In a separate (large) bowl, cream the butter with the sugar and molasses until fluffy. Add egg and dry ingredients, and continue mixing until thoroughly combined. Shape into a 1-inch thick, flat puck, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate approximately 3 hours, until firm.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease cookie sheets.

Roll 1/4–inch thick, and cut to desired shapes. For curved walls, engine cylinders, etc., drape a rectangle of dough over a clean (label- and glue-removed) tin can. If the dough does not reach the bottom to stabilize the can, place small bits of dough around the bottom to stabilize. Some small shapes (cones, etc.) will hold their form during baking.

In this photo you see Tali's original design specifications (the drawing with the orange roof and circus performers dressed in blue), as well as our scrap-paper model (on the right, by Tal's hands), and all the pieces, carefully cut out on the tray and on the table.

Bake until lightly browned on the edges. The darker you let it get, the sturdier will be your gingerbread construction!

Frosting Paint:
for gluing and decorating gingerbread constructions

2.5 cups confectioner’s sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 egg-whites
1 or 2 drops of 100% essential oil of your choice: vanilla, orange, and peppermint are our favourites!

Beat all ingredients until just mixed, then continue beating until stiff (on high with a mixer). A knife drawn through should leave a clean path. This time we added a little butter to the icing, to make it softer... mmmm...

Separate into bowls and tint with natural food colourings. We typically use:
turmeric (yellow)
spirulina (green)
beet powder or juice (red/pink)
cocoa (brown, or black when mixed with spirulina)

This time we actually just blended carrots into one part, and beets into another, and found the textured colours we got quite beautiful! And they were tasty, too! Here's Tal's explanation of the colouring:

Add water ½ tsp at a time to thin frosting paint, as necessary. Keep covered and refrigerated when not in use.

We also used some melted dark chocolate to attach the walls, tightrope standard, and standing people to the base.

What did the kids do in this??Obviously, this required a lot of adult help. The kids planned it all, with some architectural-stability advice from me. Taliesin helped make the dough while Rhiannon was at preschool. Then we worked out the pieces together; I cut the papers, they cut the gingerbread. Day 2: We all mixed the icing. Then we tried propping it up, together, but it was just too fickle for the 3 sets of hands together, so then the kids painted individual cookies while I (with plenty of guidance and a few holding-up assists) stuck all the main pieces to the board with melted chocolate. We popped it in the freezer multiple times with various (cups & bowls) supports to hold it while the chocolate hardened. When it was all pretty stable, they finished the circus implements (Tali made a hamster-wheel and trapeze, which are inside the tent), and iced and decorated the whole thing. The white-chocolate path was my addition. :--)

5-year-old rationale:

Taliesin eats his carrots heartily, because, despite our efforts to explain to him that our families are all genetically predisposed to needing glasses, he believes that "carrots are good for eyes", and maybe they will keep him out of glasses. And we can't really argue with the first point, and, after all, we're glad he enjoys them!

At dinner this evening, Tal exclaimed out of the blue: "There's a bunny in the world who doesn't like carrots!"
Mama: "Really?"
Tal, smiling: "But he's in a book."
Mama: "Well I'm sure there must be SOME real bunny who doesn't like carrots..."
Tal: "Where!?"
Mama: "Maybe in a country where rabbits live but carrots don't grow."
Tal: "What country is that?"
Mama: "Um. Maybe someplace in Africa. I don't know, but I'm pretty sure there are rabbits in some of the grasslands, but maybe no carrots. Other root vegetables, maybe. I don't know."
Tal: "Oh, yeah. Right."

...later, while Pappa was brushing his teeth, Mama overheard:

Tal: "Pappa? I think all the people in Africa are blind."
Pappa: "Huh?"
Tal: "They're blind because they don't have any carrots to eat!"
Pappa: "Well, uh... I see. That's interesting, but maybe not really true..."


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Consumerism Movie

New link added in the Learning Links section (lower left):

The Story of Stuff

Just watched it with the kids. The "what you can do" part at the end is a bit low-key, but it's a start, anyway.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sinterklaas Komt!

Here, we are busy preparing for Sinterklaas' birthday party. Normally the festivities would happen tonight, but we've asked him to come a couple of days late this year, so that Uncle and Ginger can join in the festivities.

Meanwhile, Rhiannon will have her sharing day at preschool, tomorrow... so today we made taai taai, to serve to her friends!

(You can click the images to enlarge them.)

Taai taai turns out to be an incredibly simple recipe: honey, flour (we substitute a blend of gluten-free flours), baking powder and spices (mostly ground anise). Unfortunately, making it into the lovely, stamped shape shown here (image ripped off of is impossible for us. We searched everywhere to find instructions for using the wooden form we have, and experimented with both butter and flour, but in the end just made cookie-cutter shapes, since all our attempts failed. Of course, the wooden form we have is really meant for a completely different kind of cookie: speculaas. But I thought it would work!! Oh well. The taai taai are delicious, and the Pieten seem to have made some gluten-free pepernoten for us, as well, this year... Add to that the chocolate letter that we just KNOW Sinterklaas will be delivering any time now.... and we're all set to party for de goede Sint. :--)

The children have, of course, been setting their shoes out for many days already, and have even had some correspondence with Sint en Piet. In fact, we were thrilled to discover that after Piet retrieved Rhiannon's drawing from her shoe and took it to the Netherlands, Sinterklaas liked it so much he posted it on his website!!! Now THAT is something we never expected!! But certainly proof that Sinterklaas did, in fact, get the drawing.

Here you can see them singing their songs by the woodstove. Tal's horse, Sneaky, and Rhiannon's baby, Ganja, are of course, singing, too.

Prettige Sinterklaas, iedereen!

Earth Walk: coming part-circle!

Well, the earth walk concept is beginning to achieve its goals. The idea is that we walk 2 or 3 times every week through the same general area, and see how the seasons affect the landscape, the animals, and plants, there. There's always something wonderful to learn, every step of the way, but we've now witnessed some pretty drastic changes in the same spot, and within the children's attainable memories.

Last autumn you may remember we spent a few earth walks in the meadow and associated marshes and alder forests. We looked for ferns to harvest, there, explored the riverbanks, etc. Well this last weekend we unfortunately did not make it down during our massive snowstorm, but stayed home tabogganing, etc. in the approximately 14" of snow we got. (Yes that's right: in 2 days it built up to 14 inches - that's 36cm!!) Then on Monday we walked Tali back from school (at the forest classroom), and saw the flooded meadows. In the area we had hiked through looking for ferns, ferns still grew, waving gracefully under the water. As Tali stood looking at the alder forest, which, temporarily, grows out of the river, he said, "this is a rainforest. Will those rainforest whales come, now?" (Background info: The Vancouver Aquarium has a few arapaima, tropical rainforest fish that breathe air and swim around the trees to eat the fallen fruit when the Amazon river floods every year.)

On Tuesday we did earth walk, (and thus picked Rhiannon up from school), and I finally brought my camera. You can see that 14" of snow was completely gone in only 2 days of heavy rain and 12-degree breezes. The river had gone down a bit, but was still more of a lake than a river. Here you see the alder forest next to the bridge, as it looked last September 18th, and the bridge as it looked on our earth walk, yesterday.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

dig this crazy month!

Collection of photos -- there will be no extensive explanations, because although the main jobs for the month are done, we now have to catch up on a month's worth of stuff we let slip...

Halloween pumpkins! This day Mama and Rhiannon were really sick, and Pappa was on his first day post-layoff... not such a lovely Samhain as we had hoped, but we did manage to create these lovely pumpkins and a delicious pizza, together.

November Weather...
Wild Food: sea lettuce harvested and eaten during a power outage!
Magic class continues, with a couple of boys very intent on om's!
French Class: Tali takes French with our friend Mara, at school. See him singing his song...

And now see Rhiannon's remix of the same song!

Hopefully I'll get back to documenting our learning pursuits a bit better, this month.

PS: Oh yes... and if you want to visit the website that consumed our every moment, this month, go to . We're very happy with the way it turned out! For those who don't know us, it's my father's website. But yes, we're willing to customize the program for anyone else who wants an e-commerce website. I do the site & graphic design, Markus does the programming. We quite enjoyed working together, despite the long hours. :--)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

non-coercive learning

Tali's teacher recently sent these comments out to Learning Centre parents. I like them so much that I asked him if I could post them here. So his words follow, for your enjoyment and inspiration.

A Reflection on Some of the Values of our [Homelearners'] Program
by Alan Saugstad
A while back we had a group of teachers and parents visit from the sunshine coast. When they came into Collins Hall, the kids were all working in their math groups. They noticed how intent all the kid's faces were, how focused. One of them said they'd never seen kids so into Math before. It surprised me a little, as those groups are just part of everyday for me now, but when I paused to reflect, I knew why they worked so well. They were all doing Math because they wanted to. They had made a conscious decision to be there and to do it. No one was making them do it. No one was rewarding them for doing it. They were not being graded. In the everyday experience of doing Math, it was a subtle difference, but it made a profound effect on their attitudes.

It kind of shocked me when I realized this. Never in all my 10 years of teaching before coming to Bowen did I experience this in a school. I remember an experience I had as a vice-principal in Vancouver. I was teaching a group of 11 year olds how to design their own web pages. These kids were very computer literate but had never done this kind of thing before, so they LOVED it. They worked hard, they shared ideas, they experimented. I was enjoying to teach them because of this enthusiasm. I decided to try something. I told them that I wanted to make it even more enjoyable for them by eliminating the grading process. "Let's just enjoy doing this and keep doing it until we are done". Every last one of them told me that they wouldn't continue if they weren't getting graded. "What would be the point?", they said. I couldn't believe it.

This was a pivotal moment in my career. My eyes began to see things differently. Everywhere I looked, it was all about punishment and reward. Every part of their day was controlled. If anyone acted out or rebelled, it was time for punishment, clear and simple. And almost all
"positive motivation" was based on reward; grades, stickers, prizes, etc. Comparing kids to each other also served this purpose well. Intimidation and coercion were everywhere; never called that of course, rather they were called "motivating techniques" or "behavioural management".

Reward and punishment is clearly both addictive and seemingly effective. You want to motivate a kid to clean their room? Tell them you'll give them $5. If you give them a pokemon card every time they complete a math worksheet, they'll be math wizzes in no time! But what is the cosequence of this? The problem is that they end up like those kids I taught in Vancouver. They become hopelessly addicted to it and won't work without it. They lose touch with deeper, truer reasons for engaging in learning. They don't know what they want or like, they're just used to playing the game, without thinking too much. Most kids grow up with absolutely no idea what kind of career they want to go into. They've never been asked or had time to explore what they are passionate about. They've been trained their whole lives to follow, not to lead.

Reward and punishment is also deeply disrespectful to those it is imposed on. Imagine saying to your partner that you will give them a box of chocolates if they massage your back. What this says, of course, is that you don't expect them to want to rub your back, so you'll pay them for it. It's prostitution, really. And imagine how they would feel if you said that to them. They would feel cheap and disrespected. Yet we do this to our kids and their learning. By offering rewards, we tell them that WE don't believe the value of the learning is self-evident, and that they need to be tricked into doing it. Sort of Pavlovian.

I think there is still a place for assessment and evaluation in our program. It can be very valuable for a child to know where they stand. Most kids like to know that they have progressed from point A to B in their skills, and I don't see a problem in recognizing and celebrating that. Good teaching is a lot like good coaching; you expect your coach to watch you carefully and correct you if need be. That's how we get better. But the act of giving letter grades, especially publicly, is mainly an exercise in comparing kids to each other and it serves mainly to punish or reward behaviour.

It's probably impossible to attain true internal motivation to learn or do at all times. I know that many of the kids go along with activities at the centre because their parents and teachers want them to, which is most likely a mix of wanting it themselves and having some faith that their parents are right that it is good for them (even if they can't see it themselves). I know that for a lot of them, their motivation is based on being with their friends. Even though these reasons for learning are not completely intrinsic, at least they are much, much better than outright manipulation. I also think that there are a few instances when experiences are so devoid of pleasure or value that a little reward is just fine, like going to the dentist!!

I know most of us agree on this, and we have naturally avoided reward and punishment. I can see it in our kids. In the few situations when I have seen them be exposed to it, they feel crestfallen. They see the unfairness of it, they worry about those who don't get the prize or
are left out. They have not been numbed by living a life of constant R & P. Our kids have a beautiful sensitivity which I want to preserve.

By avoiding reward and punishment as much as possible, it is clear to me that our program maintains an integrity and deep respect for both learner and subject that will make a huge difference in the lives of our children. And like those visitors from the sunshine coast noticed,
you can see it in their faces and their attitudes on a daily basis.

Friday, November 9, 2007


We're all fighting a pretty awful combination of viruses and infections, here (nearly 2 weeks of it, now!), as well as being intensely busy with various sudden and urgent projects and looking for work (Markus was unexpectedly laid off on the 30th). Sooo... posting is not a priority. Hopefully in a few days I'll update, further. There's lots going on, just no time to photograph or describe.
Check into our dragonfly site for a couple of brief updates, though.

Monday, October 29, 2007


To Shoot or Not to Shoot?
I've also been criticized for having my camera out all the time. I have been taking it with me to document many of our activities, partly for this blog, and partly for a couple of books I was working on. But this criticism: "your children will only know their mother with a camera in front of her face" is quite frightening to me, so I've stopped taking the camera most places, and when I do, don't use it very much. This is the reason you see less photos, now. One of the book projects is therefore also not happening, anymore. Heh... how to balance work and parenting. Maybe better not to try.

After all, unschooling for me is about participatory schooling, and I've probably limited my participation by having a camera pop out at important moments, instead of just being there.

Other People's Children
Finally, just to quell the concern of some that I post other people's children on the net, these are my criteria:
I ask the people if I can post their own or their children's names and/or images on the website, and only post as much information as they've expressly allowed. For this reason, some kids are referred to as "friend" or other such terms, while others, like Kai and Hunter are fully visible, here. I will never post unauthorized names/photos, here.

I do think I'm being very sensitive, as I've been told that as a photographer I own the images I make and can do what I like with them. Still, I've done a few portraits for people who didn't want me ever to display their images, publicly, and I respect that.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Magic Class Begins!

Well it isn't a new moon, but it is just off the Samhain full moon, arrived bright and icy in the first real frost of the year. Winter is here, and with it the inspiration of the week of Samhain and Halloween celebrations.

My friend, Suki, and I have decided to do a regular (barring work, etc. getting in the way) magic class for our mystically inclined sons, and our daughters who just plain like to dance in circles. This week I did some simple things with the kids. First we went and walked the stone circle in the yard, and sang and danced a couple of circle-songs. We talked about the four directions a bit, and the earth and sun and moon.

Then we had a walk to the outhouse and through the yard. The kids did some serious climbing and playing, and we explored the winter pond, etc. Here you see Taliesin and Kai climbing through some stumps near the outhouse. (Rhiannon peeking in from where she and Hunter were, behind the stump.)

After a good energy-burning play outside, we went in and had an energy-working session. We took deep breaths, grounded ourselves, and I had the kids rub their hands together to feel the heat and auric energy, between them. Kai and Tal had no problem feeling it; the girls were a little perplexed. Then, because Tal and Kai were so inspired by it, they stood apart and practiced walking into each other's auras, feeling and telling when they entered.

Kai had no problem with this. I can see auras, when I pay attention, and I saw him correctly identify two levels of Tal's aura, a couple of times in a row.

Tali did not find it quite so easy. He walked to the edge of Kai's aura, twice, and both times stopped at the edge, and looked at me. Then he closed his eyes and stepped in, and said "I don't feel it". So it seemed obvious to me that he was perceiving something, but that he couldn't either acknowledge it, or recognize it, or perhaps couldn't express it. Once inside Kai's aura, he walked right up to bump into him, still not noticing anything.

It was interesting to see the differences in the way the two boys experienced this. So after this (approx.) 15-minute energy-exercise, we continued with some happy play time. These four kids have known each other all of their lives, and have a sort of easy relationship. It certainly is wonderful to watch them grow, together.

Problems Solved, and Some Educational Ranting

This is what remains of the thread previously discussing our concerns and solutions for the children's learning programs. Just to update those of you who knew there were problems: the problems are solved. Taliesin's schedule has changed, but we're now happy with the program he attends, which I am not going to name here, anymore.

Art Teacher's Rant
First of all, Taliesin has a wonderful art class, which I am not criticizing at all with this post. He enjoys it thoroughly, and although they have been doing a unit of very "advanced" art concepts, they are now moving on to some more free curriculum, both of which Taliesin loves.

But I must say this: It irks me terribly to have learned that the reason they have such "advanced" subject matter in Taliesin's art class is because parents requested it, originally. I have had those parents come to my classes, too. I have had parents tell me their children can draw like Robert Bateman, and they'd like me to hone those skills; I've had parents tell me my classes are "too free", "not advanced enough", and other such nonsense. I have, for the most part, grown strong enough to say "no", to politely explain my educational philosophy, and to explain why I will never, in my lifetime, teach a child to "draw like Robert Bateman". Those were, I must add, sometimes the same parents who never showed appreciation for their children's work, who even had their children tear up or throw the work in the garbage, because it wasn't "good enough".

I realize that not everyone shares my beliefs, but it is my firm belief that all people, but especially children, gain most in art education from inspiring projects given with freedom and encouragement, as well as a huge dose of experimentation. It’s not so much my job as a teacher to cause my students to learn established concepts as it is to inspire them. That is, to cause them to want to do -- to participate, to experiment, to express themselves and to research their own deep notions and experiences – they may not ever learn to understand or imitate other art movements or styles, but they will surely develop their own, and in doing so, may be inspired to look back at others’, as well.

It’s hard not to rant on this, because I care so deeply about what I do, and I know very well how rewarding it is to see my children excel at something, and to want to encourage them to learn to write, draw, calculate, sing, etc. like adults do. But learning to copy, or bypassing a natural progression of self-discovered learning in favour of teaching "higher levels" is not something I will teach, nor is it something I want taught to my children -- I can’t believe it’s right.

And I've had enough highly pleased and enthusiastic parents come and thank me, that I'm quite sure I'm not alone in this.

Different strokes, as they say... but I'm firmly in mine.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Should We Really be Going into Town??

Today we rushed to the 8:30 ferry, so we'd have time for a little grocery shopping between swimming and circus, made it on just before the overload, and headed to the pool for a swim.

Let's Go for a Swim - or Not!
As we walked in the door to the pool, the drizzle became a heavy downpour, and my first reaction was relief. Fees paid, clothes off and folded into a locker, swimsuits on, locker locked, everybody for a pre-swimming toilet-trip, towels stashed by the wall, and I reached for the shower-button.

As I touched the button the fire alarm sounded. I was so confused at the apparent connection that I stood and stared for a moment, then went out to see if anybody was reacting, in the pool. (My clever brain though oh, maybe it's only in the showers...) What I saw was the entire population of the large pool spilling out onto the decks, in one human flood.


Quickly, I grabbed the towels and stunned children, and headed back for the change-room. A kind woman told us that we needn't get dressed, but that we should all go out to the tent outside -- the tent outside?! I thought. It's about 10x10 feet and there are about 50-80 wet people headed out there!! -- and we would be provided with towels until the building was cleared for re-entry. Well, to Hell with that, I thought, again. No way my children are going out on the filthy city sidewalk in the pelting October rain with no boots! And I opened the locker.

Another staff member came through mentioning that it probably had something to do with the construction next door, but that yes, we'd all need to get out as fast as possible. By this time the change-room was crawling with wet, bodies, all hesitant to leave the building without their clothing. "Don't get changed, please", the staff member called.

Since I had opened the locker, I obviously couldn't leave everything behind, so I slipped the kids' sweaters on, my own pants and shoes, and out we went, semi-clothed, into the rain.

After about ten minutes of standing around with the other unfortunate souls, I gave the kids a choice of waiting while the fire department continued to search the rec centre, and then return for what would likely be a very short swim, before going out to do a very rushed grocery trip, and then circus, or... just go do the shopping, now. Their unanimous cry, through the alarm sounding and the rain hitting the roof of the tent like hail was: "Go now!!!"

So, irked that I'd spent ten dollars and about twenty minutes dressing children, only to end up swimless and shivering through the rain back to the car, we left. Yes, I'm sure the pool would have refunded my money, but it wasn't worth the long wait.

Let's Buy White Tights - or Not!
Winners has neither white tights for mothers nor daughters, it turns out; only for tweenagers, of which we have none in our house. We will continue to wear black for ballet. However, Rhiannon decided that we had definitely come for the toys, not the tights, and called a long and passionate tirade, very loudly, through most of the store: "I want to go to da toy section! When aye we goin' to da toy section?! I need a toy! It's not nice when gwownups don't buy toys foy little childwen! Gwownups do have to buy toys foy childwen evewy day because dat's how to be a good kind of Mama! Pleeeeease now can we go to da toy section?! Yes! We haaaaaaave toooooo! You have to be a good gwownup!...."

We didn't buy any toys, either.

Let's Buy Pumpkins - or Not!
Out of Winners, off to the grocery store. You would think this was a failsafe prospect, but no: every pumpkin the kids chose failed the poke-test -- they were all severely rotten. We did manage to find two apparently fresher pumpkins, but that was after the kids lost their enthusiasm.

Circus School - or (phew)!
Tali seemed to have a relapse of whatever unidentified trouble plagued him at ballet, earlier this season. He clung to me, buried his face in my back on the edge of tears, and could not even bear to look at his teacher, when I sat in the circle listening to the instructions for the start-of-class stretches. He refused to participate. Even when I tried to participate, myself, it only made him panic, as he couldn't cling so tightly when I was moving. And I was so upset that this was all happening all over again, and that, despite my pleas, he could not even begin to tell me what was worrying him, or how I could help him, I became angry again. I tried so hard to speak lovingly through my anger, but eventually threatened to stand up and walk out. He was so paralyzed with fear that even that didn't break through his wide-eyed, granite face. And of course my complete failing made me even more angry. Then a wave of calm came over me, and I said, "I think they're balancing feathers. Can we go do that, together?" And Tali, with a trembling lip, said "yes".

I am not sure exactly how that happened, but I think that after so many things had gone wrong in the morning, Tali was just too overwhelmed to pull it together for circus. Perhaps the overwhelming factor was also what went wrong with ballet.

So as it turned out, circus class was by far the most successful class of the day. Tal did try out the tight-wire, and the trampolines, trapeze, and juggling/balancing feathers, and then he spent about 40 minutes hanging in the aerial silk. He really did need some alone-time, and I think the teachers realized that.

Happy Ending with Considerations for the Future:
We returned to the island to visit our dear friend Terran for his birthday, and Tali got a great play in with Jayden. Home for a good dinner and a much-needed sleep.

But I just can't help wondering if all the roadblocks we hit today (yes, there even was a speed-trap we braked through on the way to the ferry, returning) were an indication that maybe we should try keeping the activities on-island, next term. I feel that swimming is very important, and Tal certainly loves his circus class, but, well... I just wonder.

I have never enjoyed going to town, myself. So much stress, so much money spent and time wasted, all for activities and shopping that, if they are really needed at all, are probably available closer to home or not needed so often. I would very much like, also, to dispose of our giant, ugly-green, gas-drinking Subaru, and replace it with an electric car. Markus and I figure that in a couple of years the quality, practicality, and value-for-cost of electric vehicles will increase, and then it might be feasible. Then I will make fewer, shorter (slower) trips to town, and feel better about driving, on-island. However, there's also the factor of the concurrent decreasing value of our Subaru. More things to wonder about...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wild Food Day: No Food Found, but Farmed!

Today while Rhiannon was at preschool, Taliesin and Mama headed up into the woods just west of the preschool to find mushrooms. It was a perfect day: the sun came up and illuminated the forest, and the leaves dried out and afforded dry seating areas for our frequent book-reading intervals and groping around on the ground in search of mushrooms. We were both inspired and energetic, and the experience was simply lovely. I was certain I would be able identify chanterelles, oysters, and morels, as well as a couple others I've heard of but never eaten, before. But alas, none of those were to be found. We found hundreds of oyster mushrooms in September, but since I don't like them we didn't harvest them (is that contrary to our mission?).

Still, there were mushrooms aplenty! And many we identified, stopping frequently to nestle in with our little book and camera and get into great detail, discovering together. But we found no edible mushrooms we could identify with enough certainty to eat! The closest we came was the little Clavulina cristata (white coral fungus), which our book does mention is edible, but often infected by a dangerous parasite, and therefore not recommended. Too bad! We found one minuscule puffball, which we thought we identified as very edible, so Mama tried a very nearly undetectable sliver. There were no ill effects, but we thought we wouldn't risk eating any more of it.

Among the mushrooms were these beauties (photo). From top left, clockwise, as well as we could identify them: Hygrocybe minutula, Inocybe griseolinacina, something small, purplish and unknown that we never did manage to identify, and Clavulina cristata.

And so we walked down the mountain again, rustled and tumbled through swordferns, and brought a couple of mushrooms back to illustrate in journals and to show to Rhiannon. It was especially wonderful to see Tali's keen interest in looking up the species' of mushrooms. He spent quite a long time kneeling in the damp soil and leaves beside me, looking closely at found fungi, leafing through the book to find matching pictures, and then examining carefully to see if the mushrooms we found shared the characteristics described in the book. What a wonder to be able to share these beautiful moments with my son!

Mushroom ID resources and thanks:
  • Mushrooms of Western Canada, by Helene M.E. Schalkwijk-Barendsen.
  • An Illustrated Guide to Mushrooms and Other Fungi of North America, by Geoffrey Kibbey.
  • Everhard van Lidth de Jeude.
  • Hans Roemer.
  • Adolf and Oluna Ceska.

Farmed Food
Since our mushroom excursion turned up nothing edible, it was a good thing we planned to pick the apples, today, too. This second Belle de Boskoop tree still needed to be picked, and we enjoyed the sunshine and the fresh air, in doing it. The children had, as they have nearly every day for the past few weeks, fresh apples for snack. Tomorrow morning on the ferry we'll eat our (also usual) quick breakfast: apple muesli! Delicious!
The oh-so-complicated recipe: Yogurt, grated apples, and multigrain flake cereal; eaten very fresh. We use Mesa Sunrise cereal, because it's gluten-free and still reasonably nutritious.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Today we went visiting with our friends Leah and Jayden. We've not taken the time to just relax together in months, and it was really heavenly, drinking tea, having time to really thoroughly enjoy some good food and good company.
We thought we might go seaweed-collecting for Wild Food, after, but ended up staying home, planting bulbs, etc. Nice to connect again with the homes and people of our hearts.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Visiting Grandparents, and Pink-Eye

Well because of a visit from our foe, Pink-Eye (recent offspring of the Pink Panther and GoldenEye), followed by, in Rhiannon's case, onset of sudden and severe cellulitis (photo), both children missed the entire week of school, and we are dealing with a very unfortunate round of antibiotics. Blech.

However, the absence was a little serendipitous, since they spent the entire time with visiting Gro╬▓pappa and Nana, from Victoria. We had a wonderful time, and even managed to take them to our monthly highlight: the Kitchen Junket! Even the children were full of calm energy and peaceful delight, last night, as we sung the night away with dear friends and family. When finally the kids got tired and asked to go home it was (to our total shock) 1 AM! Normally we last until 10; 11 at the latest... but 1 in the morning! And as we drove home, the kids were still awake enough to have a very thorough conversation about the fact that, although we call it morning, it's still dark, and we're still going to bed... When we got home they both happily suggested we might have a little play-time. We thought not! However, it was proof to us that there was certainly some beautiful energy flowing, last night! And what a wonder to be able to share it with Markus' parents, too!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Wild Food: Killing our Own Meat

I was raised on rabbits, and, although I never had to kill them, I saw my father do it. And all of us helped slaughter them. It wasn't always easy, and, because I often named our future meals, despite my parents' warnings, often brought many tears. But rabbits are delicious, and were certainly the most ethical meat I have ever consumed. The experience also gave me a life-long appreciation for the value of meat, and interest in biology. I want that for my children.

Of course, the truth is that it's hard to kill! So we're starting small. We got our ducks this summer, with the full declared intention of consuming their eggs and potential offspring.

And today we harvested slugs. Yes -- slugs. Banana slugs. We, the intrepid harvesters of all foods wild and edible, tromped out in the dark, heavy forest looking for slugs. And found one. One green one, and one black one, which we declined to eat, because our friend Sheila says they taste like rubber tires, and even just licking them raw can make your tongue numb. (Not appetizing, we thought.)

We were terribly disappointed in the lack of slugs, turned over many an old rotten log and stone in our search, and ended up bringing home a large collection of various grubs, worms, millipedes, and one beetle and very large centipede as a result. Luckily it started raining on the way home, and we did manage to harvest 4 slugs on the return walk: one for each of us!

Here are the kids, discussing our plans at a particularly devoid-of-slugs-moment in the woods (notice Rhiannon's horrible eye infection in this video! Poor Annie!):

Finally, we did get home with the slugs, and the following photos will tell the story:
The Recipe: Deep-Fried Slugs and Green Tomatoes
Look at the slugs before you kill them. Say "poor slugs", and "I'm sorry, but I hope you taste yummy." Then pick off any large pieces of dirt.

Drop slugs into a bowl with ½ vinegar, ½ hot water. Soak for 10 minutes or so to kill them and remove slime.

Rinse, then boil for about 3 minutes; change water.

Rinse, and boil again, until they stop producing slime. Stir well to separate slime from slugs, then rinse thoroughly. Slit along ventral side of each slug, being careful not to slice the organs, inside, and pull out the digestive gland (in posterior of slug), and any other organs that come out easily.

Turn slug inside out, cut a small slice into the inside of the mantle and slip out the shell. (I am sure we could eat this, but in the interest of education we took them out to examine.)
Show your amazing gutted slug to Pappa:

Rinse slugs again, cut into bite-sized pieces, and bread. We used eggs, and cornflour with a bit of salt, cumin, savoury, and garlic mixed in. We breaded halved green cherry tomatoes in the same way.
Deep-fry, until nice and brown!


They were like a cross between chicken and calamari. A bit like escargot, although I've never experienced deep-fried escargot, so I can't say, exactly! Certainly they were delicious, and the combination with green tomatoes was lovely!
Tim Pearce, Asst Curator and Head, section of Mollusks, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, provided crucial information to our pre-hunting research, via his comments on the Shell-Collecting Tribe: Tim advises removing the digestive gland before eating, cooking the slugs to kill any potential parasites, and soaking them in 1/2 vinegar, 1/2 water, to kill and remove slime. He also suggests changing the water repeatedly during boiling, to get rid of slime.

The Urban Pantheist also provides interesting information on banana slugs. The Latin name for our prey is Ariolimax columbianus.

A Note on Conservation:
The E-Fauna BC website lists Pacific Banana slugs as yellow-listed, which is very well indeed for our harvesting of them, but I do wonder if they might be threatened by other species, here. When I was young I remember lots of large banana slugs, and what we called "Army Slugs" (black-spotted banana slugs), and a similarly large amount of black Arion slugs. Now it seems the banana slugs are fewer, while we have an enormous increase in the number of red Arion slugs in the garden (in fact, I don't remember ever seeing them, as a child). This is just passing observation, but unfortunate if it's true that the introduced Arion slugs are pushing out our native mollusks. For this reason we won't be harvesting large quantities of banana slugs, and I intend to research whether or not Arion Rufus might cause tongue-numbness, as does the black Arion variety. If it turns out to be highly edible, we will certainly harvest them, instead!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Rhiannon's Birthday Week, and Preschool Promotion

This week, as I reported on our family blog, was pretty much enveloped by Rhiannon's third birthday.

We celebrated all last weekend, on Monday with our dear friends Leah and Jayden, and again today, a week later, with her little 2- and 3-year old friends. And what I didn't mention in my post on the Dragonfly blog was the little preschool celebration. It was wonderful. The preschool organizes to have the children's "special helper days" near their birthdays, so they can bring a special treat and be celebrated at school. The event gave Rhiannon and I a chance to make cake (actually apple-cake-muffins) for her friends, together, to think about what others would like and to prepare a snack for all of her friends. When we arrived at the school two of her friends had made a birthday crown for her, which she wore with pride. The most special thing about that crown is that her two friends made it. She brought her beloved "baby" to school in a homemade sling, for sharing, all carefully hidden in a sharing-bag, bunting style. And from this bag baby frequently peeked out and said, in a wee little Rhiannon-voice: "Hello! I'm baby!" to passing friends, most of whom smiled appreciatively and answered baby.

At snack time everyone including visiting-big-brother-Taliesin sat down and sang happy birthday to Rhiannon, then indulged in some of the gluten-free apple muffins with cream-cheese and veggie-sticks.

It was a perfect day. And it was a pretty normal preschool day, actually, which brings me to my point: It is my firm belief that the way a good preschool like this one is run should be precisely the way a good elementary school is run: a small class that is managed like a family: all of its members are celebrated and encouraged to be thoughtful of all of the others at all times, and the learning space is a place of being together. Projects are not about learning particular skills so much as they are about learning to express oneself, to be compassionate, and to enjoy the experience of other people, and of learning.

Why does it seem to me that once our children leave preschool, the focus shifts instantly from interpersonal and personal learning to academic learning?

I hope I'm just very misguided in these thoughts. But it seems to me that if we spent our time and resources helping our children to find joy and inspiration in the world (and people) around them, and to feel and know their own value in that world, then the academic learning would come naturally -- without sitting in desks practicing letters.

And in my experience it does come naturally. Taliesin's teachers are constantly amazed at his letter-proficiency. Every day one or more of them comment to me about how delighted they were to see "how advanced" he is. But it's just who he is. I haven't spent a moment pushing him into academic learning. If I can take any credit at all for the ease with which he writes and prints, etc, it is only that I've allowed him to follow his inspirations (within certain safety- and practicality-limits), and most often jump on the bandwagon and go along with him, furiously researching or helping with the adventures he's started -- just like my mother does with her preschool class. Taliesin has learned to write because I took the time to help him at the odd moments he said "Mama, I need to write 'this is a John Deere backhoe'", for example. And when he doesn't feel like it I don't push him. Tal also has a very easy time with fine-motor activity. Not so with gross-motor, and social skills. Those things worry me, sometimes, and I have to admit that I have not only thought long and hard about how to help him with those, but have also spent a good deal of time trying to steer him into activities that I thought might help him grow stronger and more socially comfortable. And for all that -- for all my concern -- he's suddenly beginning to emerge in both of those areas, too. His experience with circus school is bringing out both. And to some extent it's apparent that he's just more ready now than he was before!

Hm. More fodder for my unschooling imagination.

Circus School, and Academic School...

Tali really came into his own this week, in many ways. At circus school he managed more than ever before and, though he didn't want me to leave the room, he did let me sit off to the side, most of the time. And at school, well... you'll have to read on for the full details...

This photo, for the record, is our ferry trip in. We've begun a habit of doing some drawing or workbooks (Tal is inspired by his math workbook these days, and Rhiannon by her journal and/or printing workbook) when the mood strikes us, or when on the ferry with nobody to talk to and nothing better to do.

Trapeze, Feathers, and Silks
He's getting quite good at this. This was his third trapeze experience, and the first time he stood up on it. He got the hang of standing up pumping quite quickly!

He's wearing a harness, and spotted by the teacher (holding the harness' rope, in case he falls), but while on the trapeze he's actually holding his own, standing up, balancing, sitting, etc, all on a swinging trapeze, with his own strength and balance.

And today's juggling excercise was: Balancing Peacock Feathers! Taliesin totally enjoyed himself with this, and carried on for quite a long time -- nearly so long that he missed the one chance to do his favourite activity:

Climbing, balancing, and "doing tricks" in silks is actually MUCH more difficult than it looks. Imagine sitting in a stretchy piece of nylon, many many feet in the air, held up only by your own strength and balance... and flipping around elegantly. Even just to stand in the "box pose" (demonstrated here by our circus performer) requires great leg-strength to push the cloth out against your own body weighing it down... all without tipping out. Then try to get your body straight and horizontal in there, like a plank... again without falling. Tal did that too, with help from his instructor. Phewf - Mama was impressed. This is not something I think I would personally excel at, but clearly, Taliesin is in (blue) heaven.

What to do, what to do... Dance!! I just simply couldn't afford to put them both in circus school, and it was Tal's passion, not Rhiannon's, so Rhiannon is finding herself having to hang around for 1.5 hours every week while Taliesin learns circus skills. We've drawn pictures, played with some of the unused circus equipment, and I find it quite boring to be penned up in the gym with nothing to do, and having to entertain Rhiannon... but not Rhiannon! When you have some free time, dance! And dance she does -- with abandon. :--)

No Comment on School...
I can't tell you much about what happened at Tal's school, this week; I wasn't there!
He decided he'd be fine on his own, and... off we went!

There he goes.

Huh. That is a long way away, suddenly.

All that hoping that he would be able to do it on his own, and now here I am, wishing I could have been there to see what he did, that day. I missed him.

I checked in on him at lunch time, and he let me go again... I picked him up after school. And the next day went the same way. It actually took great resolve from me not to say, "how about I stay for the afternoon?" The words "I'll go home and pick you up after class" were rather awkward, and going out the door felt empty in my gut.

And Some Comments on School...
Although Tali's happy at school, and we seem to be making great progress with his growing independence, I do wonder if this is the situation we want. He isn't playing with anyone, and seems to spend most of the time learning to read, write, and work with numbers. He's learning fast, and feels great about his academic achievements, but that isn't really what I was hoping he'd get out of the school. They spend very little time, it seems to me, actually playing group cooperative games. Hmmm... At the moment I don't know where else to get that experience; it isn't really happening at circus school either, and didn't happen at ballet. I don't want to have to organize all of these things myself, but I'm starting to think I might have to.

These are just thoughts, for now. We'll see what transpires. I haven't pointedly talked to the teachers about this, either, though I have mentioned my thoughts on it. I think a serious meeting will be next. Then I can use that opportunity to bring up my concerns over the supposed "standardized testing" I've heard about.

dragonfly looking for a place to lay her eggs

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Letting Go -- Lessons for the Whole Family

Well as is appropriate for the week of the darkening moon, this week has been all about letting go. During these days of my own menses we have practised the art of opening our hearts and hands and letting everything that needs to leave, leave. It's been very very difficult for me, emotionally, but there is great change afoot, and we are all growing fast, this week, both emotionally and spiritually.

Mary Anne's Memorial
Instead of circus school on Wednesday, we all attended the memorial service of Ginger's mother. Ginger is my brother's partner, and the children's aunt. Ginger's mother, Mary Anne, was unexpectedly diagnosed with liver cancer in the summer, and deteriorated much faster than even the doctors predicted. She was young, and her daughters much younger; I can't imagine having to let go of my own mother in that time of my life. But Ginger has had to, and although we've been utterly useless to her grieving, and the necessary sorting out of her mother's affairs, we attended the memorial to at least offer emotional support to Ginger and Adrian. We spent a very moving afternoon on Burnaby Lake, with many beautiful, sorrowful, and also happy moments. It was a long wait for the children, but they fared well, and were rewarded by apple-pears from Mary Anne's tree, afterward. It was a big thing for them to witness and begin to understand the mourning process of direct family. It was big for me to see my brother caring so deeply for his beloved.

Goodbye, Mama!
Rhiannon has never needed me at preschool (why would she, when her own Nana is there all the time?!). But last Thursday Taliesin began to come into his own, at school.

He spent the entire morning doing the grade ones' work with them: printing words and numbers, reading, etc. And he proved himself to be quite up to the task. In fact, he was proud enough to pop, if I may say so! At lunch he ate well, and then after lunch the group was read to, and asked to draw and write a bit in their journals about the book. Taliesin very much enjoyed the drawing, but just ran out of steam, half way into the second word of his journal entry. And why not? He'd already printed, sounded out, and spelled at least fifteen or twenty words that morning. So I suggested to the teacher (who doesn't teach there in the morning and didn't know how much he'd already done) that perhaps he was getting a bit burnt out, and we decided to stop. Then I asked if I could leave him to go get Rhiannon from daycare.


So I left. Just like that. And when I came back, Taliesin was engrossed in a French lesson, and didn't notice me at all. So I stayed out for a while. Eventually I went in and stayed with him for a few minutes, then asked if it would be all right for me to leave, until the end of class.

"Yep! That's OK!" He said, cheerily.

For half an hour I stood around outside, watching the deer eat fallen apples and wondering whether my being there is as much for him as it is for me.

Taliesin also permitted me to leave for most of his Friday class, on the promise that Auntie Bree would be returning with me to see his school. We've made plans for him to try going alone, this Thursday, and we'll see how it goes. As of this evening, he still thinks it fine!

Goodbye, Nagging Emily
I've been completely embroiled in a struggle with my own emotions, this past couple of months. As most readers are probably unaware, my father has Parkinson's disease. It seems he now also has a (probable) pinched nerve in his spine, which is causing him to lose his equilibrium. And fall down. Many times. And the MRI which will presumably lead to corrective surgery was not even scheduled until November, although as of today he managed to get it pushed into late October.

It's not enough that he's trying to continue running his toy store in this condition, and that my sister is running herself thin trying to help him. But it also happens to be teacher-conference season, as well as the beginning of... Christmas shopping season! I don't think I need to explain what that means for the owner, buyer, manager, driver, display person and toilet cleaner of a small but healthy toy store.

So I, in my uselessness, have been trying to convince him not to do so much: NOT to do all the deliveries and border-pick-up-trips himself, NOT to drive to the Kootnays through the night to set up a display for a teachers conference in the beginning of October freezing; NOT to take my sister with him to ANY displays, when neither of them is well enough at the moment to actually set up the displays... but he didn't manage to run the toy store for 30 years by taking my advice. He did it on shear determination and a huge amount of faith, and after all, who am I to whine at him about his choices?

I'm scared. I'm terrified that the last time I see him will be quickly for lunch before he leaves for the Kootnays, or worse yet, that he and my sister will suffer injuries worse than death out there on the midnight highways, or just simply wear themselves down to mere smears of human beings, all for the store's wellbeing.

But I can't function, in this paranoid state. So I've had to do the only thing I know how to do: I've resigned myself to not thinking about it; not talking to him about it; not sitting at home crying about it when there is nothing I can do to help. And of course all of this is impossible, but I'm doing my best. And it's a learning process all the way: How to Butt Out, as my father himself puts it. And that's certainly something I need to learn more about.

What Schedule???
Remember that post: "Why We Have a Schedule"? Well, we don't, anymore. (Oh yes, I told you there were lots of lessons learned this week -- this is one of them.)

This week began with Taliesin telling me he wanted to just stay home and have people do things for him. Stupidly, I rejected his idea, because we had too much to do. And then I let the schedule slide... and slide... and slide. Mama missed 2 ballet classes; the kids missed the town adventure that would usually replace swimming during the waning moon, and we missed circus... we missed the Earth Walk, even, while we spent the day at the ferry terminal, protesting and selling clown-noses. We still kept our school, etc. commitments, but we let the week take us where it would, and quite frankly didn't get nearly enough hiking done, but otherwise managed even more than usual.

So who needs a schedule?! We'll keep the one we have, but it's getting very very flexible. And that's OK! Good, even! I'm learning to trust our direction in learning. We're learning everywhere, all the time, and it feels exhilarating!

Letting Go of my Baby
So after all of this... Rhiannon turned 3.
Phew -- I remember those little forms I used to fill in at Family Place: I'd circle the -3 for Rhiannon and the 3+, for Tali. We stopped attending family place nearly two years ago, now, but I can't help thinking that I am now a mother of only greater-than-three children. No more babies!!

We took Annie to the Space Centre for her birthday, as per her request, of course. And I was happy to see that her favourite part was the "spinning dots" -- there is still a little bit of infant in my little girl!

And then we came home to curl into our beds, me happy for the joy of my daughter's birthday, and sad for the irony of having breasts that still make milk -- for naught.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Campaigning for The Nose Side

This is what we did all day: while Rhiannon was at preschool Mama made posters and Taliesin made a journal entry about our nose campaign. After picking her up, we went around the cove hanging up posters, had lunch and a rest, and then went off for four hours of campaigning, selling noses, etc, on the mainland. The ferry employees smiled back at us, and nobody once asked us to leave. There was none of the animosity I feared from the ferry employees, and I was grateful. I think both sides of this issue know that something has to change, and we're finding a positive, good-natured way of pushing that change. We had a busy but rewarding time, and Auntie Bree, Roberto, Hannah and Hermila even made it down to campaign with us. Great day!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Monday Projects

Wild Food: Yarrow
We picked some yarrow flowers and leaves by the roadside, today. Not, of course, the healthiest location for procuring them, but at the moment it's the only patch we know about. Yarrow can be eaten (we ate the fluffy leaves heaped luxuriously on our roast beef, this evening), or made into tea. It's used in treatment of colds, cramps, fevers, inflammation, and for menstrual regulation, among other things. Since our family is experiencing most of the above at the moment, we thought it would be a good herb to harvest, today!

The children weren't as excited about it as they have been about past wild foods, but I think that may have had to do with the many different activities we had, today. Or perhaps it's because this is the first plant we've harvested that they weren't at all familiar with before going to get it, today. Maybe that means I'll have to prepare them for our next wild foods in the days before we go.

Family History
We took our collection of photos, letters, etchings, etc. to the Learning Centre to show to the older class, there. Both the kids and adults were very interested and appreciative. It brought out a couple of stories of the kids' own special family keepsakes, etc. It was nice to see a group show such genuine interest.

Post Office Math, and Missing People
Well yesterday the children's 2 best friends' mother decided to take them away for a week. It's a much needed "vacation" for them to spend the week (and their mother's 40th birthday!) in Studio City with their father, who will be shooting a film, there. Well... this news is never happy for Taliesin and Rhiannon. After I told them the news, (thinking: it's only a week!), Taliesin got right to work with paper, pens, scissors, and tape. An hour or so later he produced a beautiful cut-paper card with a tree on one side and a heart on the other.

"Mama, I need you to help me write 'Love (friend's name left out for privacy reasons), I don't like it that you had to go so soon, but I know you will come back. Love love.'" We discussed the uses of "dear", and "love from", etc. and Taliesin revised his intro and signature a little, but after another 1/2 hour or so the card was written.

Rhiannon had coincidentally just finished making her birthday invitations, and wanted to send one to her departing friend. So today we put the letter and card into envelopes and sent them off to California. I rather hope they make it there before the friends return in a week. :--)

Nevertheless, it was a wonderful lesson in printing, letter-writing, communication, geography, math (Taliesin counted the money 2ce for buying his stamp), and reaching tall mailboxes. A bit exhausting, so after that we retired for some good old social unrest:

Getting Nosed: Social Unrest, Island Style
Last week, our dear friend (and clown), Paul, was treated to some of BC Ferries' lunacy, as reported here, on our local forum. To summarize, he was not allowed passage, on the premise that it would take too long to scan his credit card, although more passengers were allowed through, behind him. He went on to the ferry anyway, bought a ticket at the snack bar, and brought it downstairs to show the first mate. The first mate asked him to stand and wait for a police officer, who was on his way. He waited. The police officer arrived, asked Paul to leave, and
when Paul refused to leave, kicked his feet out from under him, pushed him to the ground (where he was scratched and bruised, but because of his clown training not seriously injured), handcuffed him, and dragged him away by the scruff of his neck to the back of a police cruiser. Paul waited there, handcuffed, for one hour and 10 minutes, before being released, and charged with "assault by trespassing". Paul was told that he would not be allowed to return home until the last sailing of the night, but luckily was rescued and brought home by a fellow islander.

That's the story. It's documented in part on a cellphone video recording, and has multiple witnesses, including those passengers who were behind Paul in the line at the ticket booth. But the story is much bigger than this. BC Ferries customer service level is such that this story, though shocking, is not really surprising. Of course there are some wonderful employees with BCF. Really wonderful. People who bring their children to Bowen for our local festivals because they have become a part of our community. But the policies and behaviours that govern the ticketing system as well as the security, etc. in the ferry terminals are ridiculous. This sort of thing doesn't only happen on our island on a regular basis, but also on most other small runs. This, while the cost of riding a small run like ours far outweighs the cost of riding the larger ferries (time, distance, etc. considered). And the larger ferries get ever bigger, faster and better, more and more amenities, and more and more service -- on our dime.

Now don't get me wrong, since I'm ranting here I want to be clear: I do not want a bigger, better, faster ferry. I cringe and the patronizing ad-scheme at BC Ferries right now ("Super Awesome New Super C Ferry is coming!"). But it sure would be nice to have even a small amount of respect and customer service. If I could take my money anywhere else, I would, but BC Ferries' successfully blocked Translink's proposed commuter seabus from Bowen to Vancouver, fearing competition, before the trial runs even happened. They have us by the throats and they like to poke us. At least that's how it feels, some days.

So now you know the history; the action is as follows:
A red-nose campaign had been begun, where islanders can support Paul by buying a red foam nose for a toonie and wearing it while boarding the ferry. I am working on a poster-campaign to support this, and tomorrow the children and I will take a bunch of noses to town to sell to commuters as they board the ferries, coming home. All money raised in this will be deposited to the Paul Hooson Legal Defense Fund, set up at our local credit union.

We hope that, when Paul's court date comes up in November, islanders can appear en masse in red noses to support him. And it's not just about Paul. It's about our own dignity with the corporation that holds us by the throats. We can't take it through the nose from them anymore, and it's time to stick up for ourselves. The children will be joining me because this is a good learning experience, but mostly because they love Paul, and don't like that somebody pushed him down on the ferry. In a way, it's that simple.

Get nosed.

Rampaging Weekend

Tali went to school with his Opa on Thursday, which was apparently wonderful. He very much enjoyed himself, and got to share one of his favourite activities with his grandfather. I can't very much report on what happened there, but am happy to be sharing this schooling with my parents.

There was no school on Friday, because the rest of the kids were off at camp doing team-building excercises, etc. It was just too expensive for us, and I knew we'd spend the whole time on the sidelines anyway, because Tali simply does not participate in group activities like that, especially at a camp, where he'd feel out of place and uncertain about many of the new children.

Every year the Learning Centre families (and distance education families, etc) go to a local camp for the night, near the beginning of the year. We attended one of the two days, this year (not overnight), and found it quite enjoyable, although not worth the 96$ it cost us to attend. I think we're not really camp people.

The itinerary consisted of an assortment of stations (archery, clay-building, kayaking, bottle-rocket-making, etc, mixed up with a game of spy-catcher, breakfast, lunch, and even a camp-singalong during lunch. Most parents didn't even bother to sing along. I did my best, dancing around and being silly, while my own husband and children refused. It's really just not our thing, and they knew I wasn't sincere. Oh well.

The individual stations were fun, and it was nice to do things as a group with the other families, but all in all I'm certainly glad we didn't pay more to stay overnight in our cold wet tent. Although we wouldn't have had to pay as much as others, since we would have had to bring our own gluten-free dinner.

Of course we'll go again next year. It's a part of the whole experience, and to be fair, our kids had their first ever kayaking and bottle-rocket-making experiences, and that was wonderful!

Mama's Menstruating Week
Well, this is too much information for most people, I know, but we're trying to live our lives naturally, here, so I'm going to be up front about it!

I decided a month ago already that our weekly swimming trip will not happen on the weeks I'm menstruating, because I simply don't want to do it, then. Instead we'll probably go on another adventure in town, like a gallery, Chinatown, little India, etc. before circus school.

So today I woke up to the rain feeling miserable, crampy, tired, and plain annoyed that I had two-point-five hours in which to prepare for the presentation I'm giving to the older Learning Centre kids this afternoon (on family histories), and also go pick wild food with the kids. Mondays were supposed to be all about wild food and enjoying the cycle of life, together! We had breakfast, and then Tali said to me, "Mama, I just want to stay around the house and be quiet and have people do stuff for me, today." Well, um... yes I'd like that too, but there isn't anybody following me around doing stuff for me, so... well... OK. Let's just stay home this morning. Wild Food Day will have to wait until after the Learning Centre... or maybe even tomorrow. It will still happen, but we can't get stressed about all the projects we've given ourselves, or the benefit won't outweigh the cost anymore.

I'm not saying we just let things slide once a month when Mama feels miserable, but after 3 weeks of the hectic schedule, it's OK to give ourselves a bit of a break, too. The kids are learning about self-care, healing, and rest, today. And that's certainly important, too.