Saturday, August 30, 2014

Unschooling to School: How it All Began

We got the call at 11:53 AM, just as we were cleaning up from a Big Giant Open-Air Sleepover. "So Taliesin's funding has been approved." I had barely slept the night before. Between the party prep, three days of frantic form-filling, funding-searching, and assessment-doing for a last-ditch attempt to get Tali into our local independent school, finding out suddenly that our one remaining pet, Amber, has a growing tumour in her face and trying to work my mind - again - around the word 'palliative'... I took a moment to come to terms with the words: "Taliesin's funding has been approved."

Half an hour later, Tali and I were in the car in the ferry lineup, with supply lists for grade 7 and for the 3-day orientation camping trip. Technically we have the weekend to buy these supplies, but who wants to be driving around town on Labour Day Weekend?! So we tried to do it all on Friday evening. We were in shock - what can I say.

As I stood looking stunned in the chaotic, rummaged-through school supply section, I saw Tali excitedly slipping extra pens into the basket along with his many other "supplies". And a scientific calculator. He was in heaven. I was debating how badly he'd be looked upon for having coloured erasers instead of white; for having two 2-inch binders instead of one 3-inch binder. Then, as we literally ran between stores, flying in the doors and begging for fleece pants and hoodies (the list explicitly says no cotton for the camping trip), and getting more and more bewildered with every shop we entered (we normally buy clothing second-hand), I realized in a flash that I now know EXACTLY WHAT PRETTY WOMAN FELT LIKE!! Whatever her name was. Apparently my highschool days have well and truly re-entered my mind. How embarrassing.

Tali got used cleats AND new hiking boots AND new runners, yesterday. And 20 pencils and 10 pens and 3 packages of 8 binder-dividers, and... It was the unschooler's Pretty Woman moment for sure. We blew the bank, and we still have to find money for our portion of the actual tuition. Wow.

We're still in shock.

How on earth did this happen?? Three days earlier the head of the school looked me square in the eyes and asked "Are you sure? Because this IS a school." And I said yes.

I said yes.

My son, who has never attended school, begins grade 7 on Tuesday.
All of a sudden, from unschooling to an International Bacchelauriate World School.
The school where MY BROTHER teaches!!!
We have to buy a green v-neck sweater.

And I said yes.

I'll report back eventually.
This fell on our heads like a rain of meteors.
There is going to be one hell of a good unschooling-to-school story coming up. I can feel it.

My Big Giant Open-Air Sleepover

Rhiannon has lots of very treasured friends, and likes to have big outdoor parties, which, in our climate, necessitates having them about 6 weeks before her actual autumn birthday.

This year she decided to have an open-air sleepover party, including a "Hunt for the Cake"! So here is the evidence:

It all started with the Hunt for the Cake - a 2km-long treasure hunt taking the kids eventually into the darkening forest, which they found lit with (electric) candles, in a trail leading up to the cake... just waiting to be blown out.
It was an auto-immune-paleo chocolate-avocado ice-cream cake!
But with so many kids, and knowing that some would be less than delighted with the lack of starches, there were also gluten/soy/egg/dairy/corn-free chocolate cupcakes. :-)

Then there was Rhiannon's favourite movie, the Secret of Roan Inish, projected on a bed-sheet in the yard. Of course, the older kids ended up sitting around an oil-lamp in their PJ's until about 1AM, whispering, joking, laughing, and eventually galumphing around the lawn like seals. :-)

People were rather sleepy in the morning!!!! Including we two parents who enjoyed sleeping out under the stars, but hadn't done much of the actual sleeping, either.

After breakfast we had a marshmallow roast. With all the running around, and people coming and going, there never seemed to be many kids in a photo at once, but all together there were over 30 kids involved. My daughter is a socialite.

The Gingerbread Girl

Rhiannon decided to join the parade for our local festival this year. So she found out the parade's theme (Fairy Tales) and got some friends together to brainstorm. They looked through a book for fairy tales, chose a story, made costumes, contacted the parade organizers, and... ta da! The Gingerbread Girl and her hungry pursuers:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Princeton Traditional Music Festival

:-)           (-:
I grew up in the traditional music culture of BC's lower mainland, falling asleep on my mother's lap as she sang old ballads, Appalachian play party songs and Canadian and British work songs. Sounds of banjos, guitars, and old-time fiddling make me feel at peace. Every year my family looks forward to the Princeton Traditional Music Festival like it's Christmas. We count down the days.

Why Princeton? Why not Vancouver International? Or Mission? Our friends go there. But we don't. We drive half a day to Princeton because our souls need this food. We go to Princeton because it's real. We go because some people's voices break with the emotion in the ancient songs they sing, and other people interrupt their own singing to crack jokes about the words. We go there because almost every person watching each performance is also a performer; because on stage people often spend as much time talking about their music as making it, and the whole audience sits rapt, making mental notes... and then they spend more time singing in the streets and on Jon and Rika's porch than they do sleeping at night.

Jon and Rika. OK fine we also go because our adopted family happens to be the magnets for traditional music in Western Canada. Jon Bartlett and Rika Ruebsaat aren't trad magnets by default, but because they've spent decades researching, collecting, sharing and supporting traditional music in Canada and elsewhere. In fact over these decades they have left a trail of folk clubs and festivals in their wake, and an attendant passionate crew of musicians, folklorists and archivists.

This sweet video encapsulates a lot of what the festival (and Jon and Rika) are about. And then following will be a bunch of individual songs from this year's festival and others.

This year, to my heart's joy, I watched our dear Bevan make his traditional stage debut. Bevan (Jon and Rika's son) is like a cousin to my brother and me. He's now a writer and a wonderful DJ (read more here), and not generally living in the province. So to hear him come out (with accordion, too!) and sing the songs we all carry in our hearts literally brought me to tears. Enjoy a couple:

And then there's beautiful Morgan. She surprised us last year by picking up a euphonium and joining Orkestar ┼álivovica. She has a tattoo running down her spine that says Carpe Diem... she's a (very busy!) archeologist, and she plays euphonium in the Tulameen River. Her completely badass exterior is the wrapping for one of the most heartful, loving humans I know. Isn't that always the way??  :-)

There is so much to see, with 2 and often 3 performances going on at any given time, we have to choose carefully. I chose this one because my grandfather's family were cowboys and my mother sings these songs. But Princeton's not only about music! After his set of working cowboy songs, John Kidder (yes he's also a founding member of the BC Green Party!) performed this gem of cowboy poetry:

Here Jon and Rika sing the Road to Gundagai at the Antipodean workshop:

More from the Antipodean workshop - Jill King sings the Town of Kiandra:

This video illustrates for me the community aspect of Princeton. Lyn and Jim (AKA Lemon Gin) perform Stay on the Farm:

Chris Corrigan sings a song he wrote - the Orchardman's Lament:

Jon and Rika singing Haywire Crew (video by George Elliot):

Barry Hall singing Pretty Peggy-O at the banjo workshop in 2013:

You thought you were finished? No way. This is what night looks like during the Festival (video by 'deturner')... all night:

If you want to get lost in Princeton for a few hours, go look at the youtube PLAYLIST I've put together! Thankfully there are lots of people putting clips out there.

Oh yeah. And Princeton? It's free. Musicians don't come for money. We come to sing. We come to be with our community.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Better Than Rainbow Loom

Preface: I want to insert here that I have received some very sweet heartfelt Rainbow Loom gifts from children I care deeply about. I even wore and kept them until the plastic disintegrated. My opinion about the product does not in any way change my gratitude for those sweet gifts.

But... I have to say I am glad to see this report.
“The latest craze for loom bands has highlighted once again that an apparently harmless product may have long-term detrimental effects to health,” the Assay Office said.
“The latest loom bands craze in particular is throwing up some alarming results considering these products are so child appealing,” the spokesman said.

“Phthalates can migrate from plastic into the body if they come into contact with saliva or sweat. Phthalates are suspected carcinogens and are known to disturb the endocrine system in both humans and animals.”

The endocrine system releases hormones into the body. Studies have also linked the chemicals – found in thousands of plastic products – to problems with sexual development, reduced fertility levels and undescended testes.
“These products should be being withdrawn from the market, and both governments and retailers need to act now.”

Of course, this information is regarding only some brands of loom bands, how do we differentiate at the store? Anyway I'm seriously glad that people are considering health issues, because hopefully that will curb the trend. Although I can't stand the toxic smell of the bracelets, my own reasons for rejecting the bands in my home are different:

Plastic: WHY?! In a world increasingly aware of plastic pollution, where our oceans, sand, fresh water and air are now loaded with plastic particles of all sizes from large to microscopic, WHY are we creating a massive craze involving little tiny losable plastic bands by the billions?? I refuse to buy them, and yet my home is full of them. I am constantly picking them up off the floor, less because I'm offended by the mess than because our cat has already had (in her earlier years) two major surgeries to remove plastic bands and floss she had ingested. This isn't unique. Wild animals are frequently found dead, their stomachs loaded with plastic debris. Plastic is just not something we need to be littering the earth with anymore.

People bring cloth bags to craft stores to buy... plastic elastic bands! We can be smarter than this. We can be better than Rainbow Loom!

So here's the good news: 
Why not create bracelets from hemp twine and wood or glass beads? Not only can it be just as colourful, but it's much more comfortable to wear, lasts longer, and has little environmental or health impact.

Or embroidery floss/hemp friendship bracelets:

If you like following instructions, here's another beautiful one:

...and once you've learned a few general guidelines from tutorials (or from friends!!), get inventive! As a teen I used to make 2-inch-wide friendship 'cuffs' with all kinds of cool patterns and sometimes embellishments. Making bracelets is wonderful fun, as well as a sweet social activity for all genders. I very much encourage this kind of behaviour. ;-)


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sharing our Kids on the Internet

There's my kid. Being dangerous.
I find this really interesting. CBC just published an article called Parents opt to keep babies off Facebook.
"Reasons for the baby blackout vary. Some parents have privacy and safety concerns. Others worry about what companies might do with their child's image and personal data. Some simply do it out of respect for their kids' autonomy before they are old enough to make decisions for themselves."

I come from a small community (800 people when I was very young; about 4000, now) where pretty much nobody is unknown - even those who attempt to be... So Facebook, and the Internet in general, has always felt to me like another aspect of my community. My kids are out there in the real world; they are seen in the streets, forests, and in the local newspaper, so why not online? I draw the line at naked baby photos, etc. because I know those can be misused, and I don't want my kids feeling shy about them, later on. I'm careful not to put any contact info for my kids online, and I hope they are too... but the proliferation of online groups that they join is definitely worrying to me, as is, sometimes, my family's general vulnerability as terrorists (or "multi-faceted extremists") under Canadian law that classifies people who sign petitions or attend environmental protests/rallies as such. This does concern me - obviously. By allowing my kids to express their views, I have potentially doomed them to the wrong side of the law (and the wrong side of an increasingly oppressive government).

My main struggle at the moment is this: My children are 9 and 12. Although it seems generally reasonable (though difficult) to keep babies' faces and names off the Internet, what do we do when they become old enough to use the Internet themselves, to set up personal profiles, etc. without us, and to access the Internet in a multitude of ways that are both beyond our knowledge and beyond our control? The massive scope of Internet activity in our lives and culture means that many children are fully connected before they are even comfortable walking alone in the dark. But I can't believe that trying to control their activities at this age is useful. I also can't believe they should be kept protected from the technology that now defines our lives. I try very hard to help them navigate the ethics and consequences of their choices. But how do I ensure their safety, especially in the long-run?

I am choosing to look at this the way I see most activities. I buy helmets. I advise them of safety measures. I remind them to be careful when they leave the house. I try to demonstrate safe behaviour. I kiss them goodbye. And then I just try to quiet the anxiety at the back of my mind until they walk smilingly in the door, later.

So... no I'm not taking down my blog at the moment. But this is a serious consideration, and I think this trend of keeping babies off social media is probably a very good thing. I'm going to have (yet another) conversation with my kids about it. And then maybe I'll suggest we go for a walk in the dark.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Everything is Awesome!

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And is anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.
~WB Yeats, excerpted from The Stolen Child                

I think most of us shelter our children from knowledge of terrible things, and I believe it's important to allow them to grow without the psychological stress that is sparked by the day-to-day news. I used to keep the radio off in the car when mine were younger - now that they're 9 and 12 I just turn off gruesome details, as much for myself as for them. But they are keenly aware of the many pending global disasters, as are most of their friends. Every day we hear of more studies: Mass Global Extinction. Social Collapse. Barren Oceans. World War. Radiation. Food Shortages. Climate Change. My kids know that their lives will be directly effected be these terrors, and it makes them sad. I try to talk about these things with them in a positive light: maybe we can be a part of humanity overcoming these changes! But my words are a thin veil over my obvious lack of certainty.

So I'm honest. We talk about pretty much everything that comes up, from rape to murder to suicide, mental illness, the end of the world, sexual exploitation, aliens and corporate greed. Sometimes they call me out on my purchasing and transportation choices, and I'm glad to have someone to discuss them with. If we weren't having these discussions, they'd still see me making choices; they'd still be influenced by media and their social circle, but they wouldn't have as many opportunities to consciously consider and discuss those things with adults. I truly believe that this would leave them much more vulnerable, in the long run, to corporate and political media campaigns, and I don't like that option.
Apocalypse in Pieces. Acrylic, oil and sharpie on reclaimed B.C. Binning panels.
But what about the fear? The sadness? Depression and hopelessness? Yes! I'm terrified! I'm more frightened of what knowledge of our situation does to my children than I am worried for our future. But I also consciously choose to be happy. I imagine that when things get dire enough, humanity will prevail, and we'll be so much wiser for it. I await this day with joy. There is always misery everywhere if you want to see it, but to look at things from a miserable perspective is not particularly useful. I personally would prefer to study what needs to change, and tackle the awesome challenge of making those changes. What does that mean? Everything is awesome!!

We went to see the Lego Movie in the park the other day with a large number of other families from our community. It was a little bit predictable, and I can't deny having many less-than-awesome thoughts about Lego and corporate control of our children's minds, but... Everything was awesome! I spent more time playing with my beloved friend's 1-year-old than I did watching the movie. Bats were eating mosquitoes; children were wandering comfortably between the snuggled families, sharing bags of popcorn. The full moon was pressing up the clouds from behind the trees in the east. Stars were appearing - and yes, of course I wished on one! Right there in the middle of the crowd of people I love and people I don't know at all. Love was everywhere. And sweet William looked at the moths in the projector beam and wistfully exclaimed "Look! Fireflies!" And everything was awesome.

I can't hide life's miseries from my children, but I can't handle being miserable all the time, either, so I am trying my best to pass on an ability to enjoy everything we have.

On the way home in the car, we were talking about the End of the World. And we agreed that if we knew today was our last day, we would make it wonderful. Well - we ARE going to die. It could be in one year, ten years, 50 years or 100 years. Death is certain. And we're going to do everything we can to make whatever time we have wonderful.

...and on a side note, as I'm finishing this post, we're having a truly awesome thunder storm. There's a lot of shouting going on as we and the kids (who are in their beds on opposite sides of the house) estimate the distance of each strike over the sound of pelting rain on the tarp over our house. This is awesome. :-)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What We Don't See

My family lives on a little rock in the ocean. It's a small island in a small sound that faces almost unimaginable threats. From fishing to aquaculture to logging, from oil and gas and other industrial development to waste incineration plans, we face devastation at every level of the air, land, rivers and sea. And if that wasn't enough, we residents are polluting and destroying habitat with our daily lives at an ever-increasing rate. Our attempts to live sustainably fly out the window when we hear about great events in town and hop on our behemoth ferry to attend. Or when we choose jobs that mean commuting by ferry, vehicle, and sometimes plane. For those of us who grew up here it's easy to feel a warm sense of home in the smell of tar-coated dock pillars and diesel fuel. For others it seems a small sacrifice to damage a bit of shore for a dock or a breakwater. But we forget that we are part of an ecosystem.

Sieving the collected gravel to separate out the size we're looking to sample.
Yesterday our family participated in a workshop on surveying forage fish spawning on our island. Forage fish matter because they, in their various life-stages, are a key element in the local ecology. Well... of course we're all key elements. Perhaps forage fish matter right now to us because we have been blinding ourselves to them. So have you ever scraped off the top layer of sand and gravel from a large area for sandcastle or beach-fort building? I have. And probably a million forage fish embryos along with it.

This is what we learned. Forage fish spawn at high tide just below the highest tide line -- in 6 to 10 inches of water, at the top of their reach on the beach, during the brief slack-tide. The embryos attach themselves to small pebbles in the top couple inches of beach substrate.

More sieving.
The young then drift out to the water column, where they become food for many species, throughout their lives. If they don't survive this beach time (and currently it seems that less than 1% do, although previously the rate was closer to 10 or 15%), that food source is gone. Too many years of this and we could be in an unstoppable downward spiral of species loss that includes ourselves. Oh wait! But probably we already are!

So my family has signed up for this forage fish survey. We'll be taking samples as we learned at the workshop and sending them in for analysis, and hopefully the very intelligent and courageous woman who is heading this important project can continue her advocacy on behalf of forage fish spawning areas.

Winnowing the sieved sand to bring embryos to the top for removal.
But is it enough? Forage fish are an important piece of the puzzle, and yes: every dock that isn't built, every shoreline that isn't obstructed and every forest that continues to lean out and drop its nutrients and shade to protect these embryos is valuable. But humanity is suffering from myopia. We look at our little piece of the puzzle, and we continue to destroy those pieces directly behind our gaze. The water is the life-blood of our planet, and just because we don't often look beneath it, or peer with a microscope between the grains of sand we walk along, doesn't mean those places are less important than, for example, elephants or orangutans. The microscopic world and the macroscopic world are equally essential to our survival and vulnerable to our destructive practices.

Scooping the top layer (hopefully with embryos), into the sample jar for study.
It's time for us to become aware that with every step we take we cause permanent change to our ecosystem. Every single move we make and thought we have makes a difference. What we don't see matters perhaps even more than what we do see, because our ignorance leaves it - and us - vulnerable. When we know that, we might begin to turn around our species' folly and find our way back to survival.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Making walls and curtains.
I've been doing this trendy 7 Days of Gratitude challenge on Facebook. It's hardly a challenge to come up with 3 things every day. It's more of a challenge to limit myself! I am so keenly aware of how fortunate I am in my life and in the place and time I live. But today I am only listing one thing: Markus.

I am grateful for my partner, Markus.

I say 'partner' because although he is also my husband, the father of our children, my friend and my support, I have recently come to understand a bit more of what partnership is. It was always there, of course, since the moment I met him and felt a lifelong sense of searching come to an end. But I haven't always trusted it as I am learning to do, now. Our partnership feels to me like an invisible but very strong network of cables linking our pasts, presents and futures; our joys, sorrows and frustrations; our closeness and distance. It's the foundation -- the connection that doesn't go away regardless of the details. It's the kind of thing we talked about when we got married, but are only slowly learning to understand. It's the certainty that we will be together always and that even when this life (and each other) seem totally intolerable, he is still my safety net and I am his. We are each other's home.

So today, on Markus' 45th birthday, as we continue growing blindly together, I am grateful for his existence in the world and my life, and for our partnership.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


That is what we shout to the world, after dancing together at the Rickshaw Masquerade. This was the 9th annual. It's an event that certainly comes with some preparation and sometimes I wonder if I'll be up for it... but it's so amazing and leaves us all with such a broad feeling of wellbeing, community and joy that we just can't help but keep on doing it.

This is our annual Lughnasadh party. It's by invitation only, but usually the group is between 50 and 90 people. We dress up in our masquerade finery, expressing our personalities or our creativity or our silliness, and we come together to share our homegrown and local food, to appreciate each other's company, and to dance and sing in another year of abundance in nourishment for our bodies and spirits.

I didn't take many photos this year, but my Dad and dear friend Linda did -- thank you both!

We are so grateful for our lives' gifts of love and joy!

spiral dance

let the sun keep burning

and the earth keep turning

holding hands

we will dance into the moonlight

let the green earth feed us

and cool water relieve us

singing free, joyfully

into the moonlight


lavender festival cakes

dress-up badminton  :-)

Bartender extraordinaire! "Come have a driiiiiink!!!" ... "You have to have a cup. And you have to write your own name on it. Would you like water or beer or my special water kefir?"

Adrian served up celery-mint slushies this year.

Some things are just inexplicable.

Good night beautiful world!

Summer Photos

The puppy is getting rather large... but she still likes piggy backs!

The view from the kids' evolving tree house.

Mmmm... lilies.

50mm of rain in 12 hours, and we chose this day to go for a forest adventure. :-))

Thank goodness for intrepid friends!

We discovered we seem to have had a fashion-matching day...

Hello beautiful boy!


Tali's room. It's been getting progressively more full of plants recently, although still with a large proliferation of his scientific projects. So I asked him: do you think maybe you'll get into astro-botany? No. He said. I'll still be an astrophysicist, but I'll just have a lot of plants. :-)

Down to the beach...

Oat harvesting time!

Armfuls of oats.

A giant heap of oats.

And oats curing in our box-filled house!

Aiden is now 5! This was actually a few days before his birthday, at Grandpa's 65th birthday, but Aiden is an excellent photo-bomber.

Trampoline time with cousin Jack at Grandpa's birthday party.

Happy birthday Grandpa! Here he is with his 5 grandchildren.

Isn't life beautiful?

Tali thinks so. And we all appreciate the ferry men who recognize his peaceful place and let him stay... :-)

The sky was too saturated for my camera to handle!

This is kind of how I feel about evening beach trips. Squinty-eyed and cozy.
Auntie Lidia is a pretty awesome artist.

And she has the answer to everything.