Sunday, June 27, 2010

Two thousand Miles and Many Worlds Away...

I realize that it has been an awfully long time since our last post. The good news is, we have been too busy to use this blog! In the time that we last updated to now, we have moved out of the collective, gave away nearly all of our belongings (kept books and instruments) and hopped a train to Cascadia. So many changes ahead.

One the many great things about this bio-region is the bio-region itself. We live in a temperate rain forest, in the coastal slant of a mountain range called the Cascades. This lends itself to be a wet climate for most of the year, but when the summer hits, the world is vibrant with all the colors of the rain forest. Fair has really taken off into a new world. She reads whenever she is not physically seeking out plants and animals and because of her love of reading, she can identify hundreds of plants and birds, tell you the mating coats of ducks, the edible parts of native plants and what to avoid. Whitman has taken up reading, but would much prefer to sneak a game in on the computer at this point. It is a fun little game in and of itself, the game of hide and seek with mom and dad. He has become quite the cunning child.

We have made friends of other families with wild children, which is really great and met a lot of wonderful people. The kids and ourselves miss our tribe, but will be with them again one day I am sure. Alright, enough catch-up.

Having children around, whether they are yours or not, if they are in your community, you will notice a big lesson about life. Work destroys community. I have had to take on a more intensive work schedule the past 6 months, and that has taken me from the family a lot, with travel time on the bus, it pretty much kills my whole day each day that I work. Now Angela is working and I am home and she is experiencing the same thing. This is dreadful, to say the least. After my 6 month work sentence, I do not feel as connected to the kids, or to Angela, and I fear that this connection is going to be a hard one to reform. If we take into account all that we learn in those young ages, we should be angry at our parents for abandoning us for money, even though they did it with the best of intentions, they acted out of fear, and now I know that fear. I know it, because I learned it. If I had learned how to survive outside of the economy as a child, I would be able to pass this on, but since I did not learn that then, I am making it my immediate goal to do it now. I want my children to learn as much about living and as little about fear as possible, and I find that I am passing that fear lesson on, without even knowing it.

As these posts come back, and I look forward to them doing so, you will read a lot about becoming a nomadic family liberated from the clutches of work and basking in the embrace of pure joy. Take that, boss!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hook, Line and Sinker.

So much is to be learned from silence. To illustrate this, I am going to talk about our recent fishing expedition, and all that we took in and released that day. It was more than just a few fish, that I can assure you of.

Growing up in the Mid-West, I had many opportunities provided me by the land that I just did not take. I lived amongst the deciduous forest of Indiana, and could not tell you the names of any trees there. I walked the rows in corn fields and skipped stones on it's ponds, but never planted a seed or spent many nights with the frogs and snakes. I was a city boy, through and through, even when we rented a house in farm country surrounded by woods, I had video games. I am not complaining, it was a decent life, and privileged for sure, albeit disconnected. I did not learn my barbaric yulp from echoing it into the vast open fields and dense forests, I learned it talking in bars, and on the ball field. This is my learning now, not just Fair and Whitman's.

Last week we picked up some bamboo fishing poles and headed out for a day of doing what fishers have always done best....nothing really. We had our hearts set on heading to the wildlife conservatory, not too far from the house, but had to settle for a closer, more accessible setting, for a few reasons, but mostly due to time constraints. Time is an unforgiving thief.

We found a local spot that is rumored to maintain cleaner levels than the river, and we decided to give it a go. The unfortunate thing being that because this was an official, state cleaned park, we would be needing a fishing license. We hit the store, picked up some red wigglers and purchased a license, where we had to show ID and pay $12. Whitman, not one to accept anything as gospel, protested the giving of my ID and was more than a little curious why we had to plop out all that cash. I explained that the state collects this money to offset the cost of stocking public waters and cleaning the ones they allow to be destroyed for profit. This is what we call extortion. If we do not pay, they would then be telling us that due to our lack of payment, less water can be kept clean from the polluting hands of, well themselves. Whitman was not pleased and Fair and he both spoke about their wishes to one day rid the waters of poisons and rid the land of it's polluters. This is the passion we are all born with, and it is my belief that school and work steal this away from us. In fact, there is a good chance that some reading this will inevitably say "that is so cute" when reading about the kids observations, and then get to a point where they may even say "those kids are brainwashed" when reading about the kids outspoken nature. This is a sickness. To trivialize the ability of the children to understand is borne from your own guilt of being busted, and your indignance towards those who call you out. To assume that anyone with ideas and passions is brainwashed, especially based on their age, is ludicrous. Children have fiery passion, and a great understanding of compassion, of justice and of gentleness that adults have had beaten out, bought out, and sold out of them.

Onto the eternal patience, and quiet joy. Fair and Whitman both seemed to settle in to the setting pretty well. Plopping down their butts onto the lakeside mud and digging right into the worms, they really took on the fishing experience full force. After a few moments showing how to safely handle a hook and what knot works well to hold it on, we were stabbing worms and throwing lines in. We could feel the calmness naturally settle in after the initial excitement of being there lulled. Jason and I explained that silence is key when fishing, and patience is not only a virtue but a pre-req of the day. Fair began to understand that sound travels in waves and can resonate through the water at a much different level than it does through air, so remaining quiet and speaking in low tones was necessary to not stir the fish. She embraced it, opening her eyes farther and extending her neck more, as if to allow her body to scream with joy and not her voice. She was 100 percent in the moment. I am not sure I have been that aware in years.
Then it happened.

We pulled in our first first. A bass, coming in at an astounding 8 ounces!

The kids were amazed, and nervous. They wanted to touch the fish but learned that when catch-and-release fishing, it is best to handle the fish as little as possible. So we gloved up and removed the hook and sent the fish on it's way. All said, we pulled in 4 fish, two with Whit, one for Jason and one for me. Fair didn't grab any that day, but this is the part that I love, she as in no way less excited about it. There was no competition, at all. It was pure joy.

and Jason pulled in the catch of the day!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

FRESH the movie Screening at The Franklin House! Soon!

We will be showing the film FRESH at the Franklin House on October 3rd. All are welcome to join us in the back yard for an outdoor showing of this super informative and inspirational film about farmers who strive to give back more to the earth than they take from it. Monsanto haters and earth lovers alike will love this film!

There is a potluck starting around 7:30, depending on when the Webster University Get The Folk UP! Fest is over. Please try to push yourself to bring a small dish made of locally grown foods, or perhaps just grab a couple of veggies from your garden or some fruit from a neighbors fruit tree and potluck the ingredients for a great salad or stir-fry!

FRESH the movie | Screenings

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Paper and Seeds

Friday was the first day of Momma helping the kids with their unschooling adventure. Surprisingly, it was a bit difficult not to sink into a "teacher role." The humorous part is that our "art" time was more of a difficult situation than when we learned about seed growth and the water cycle. I have been an art education student for the last three years and my education classes seem to be more harmful than helpful in this arena.

As an educator lesson plans, lesson preparation, curriculum, evaluations and a slew of other such teacherly things have been drilled into you from day one. Now, I have to shove all of that aside and let my own children teach me about how to help teach them. So today was refreshing, frustrating and showed me that unschooling isn't just for the kids, but for Michael and I as well.

We started off with an art project and the kids decided to make collages. Whitman picked a dragonfly and Fair a peacock. After they made an initial drawing, we worked together on stenciling, cutting, and gluing their creations. This is where the crankiness began, but I think having projects around Whitman's nap time is not going to happen in the future... So despite a little protest, both kids finished and ta-dah!!!!

The next part of our day was spent reading this lovely book, Linnea's Windowsill Garden, by Chiristina Bjork and Lena Anderson. We learned about the essentials to plant growth and focused on the seedling section. One of the examples in the book consists of sprouting an avocado pit and luckily I had saved one from some mexican food the other day. So we started our first windowsill plant and decided on what other interesting things we had around the kitchen to watch grow. So in the next week we will be having a sprouting race between various lentils and beans.

I'm excited about unschooling the kids, but wish that I could participate more often. One up side of being in school is that I have access to the pretty nice children's book library on campus... we are currently in debt to our public library (pretty much the only debt we feel sorry about) don't leave library CD box sets near a paint sprayer! not good.

I'm going to start a weekly sewing/embroidery lesson and focus on skillsharing that aspect of my life with the kids.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Schools are Prisons and other hopeful glimmerings from John Taylor Gatto.

This is my radio show, Bottom Up Radio Network. This episode in particular is a conversation with John Taylor Gatto, a great and wise voice for the eradication of schools.

Schools are Prisons and other hopeful glimmerings from John Taylor Gatto.

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Unschool versus Homeschool.

You may have noticed a slight change on our blog. Probably not, being that this blog is new, very new. But some of you who are keen-eyed will have picked up on the change in the header from "On family's home school experience." to One family's Unschool experience. Well, what the hell does that mean? Is there really a difference? Yes. Yes there is.

This week we sought out a network of families who were using what is now called "alternative" methods of education, outside of the standard school system. We found what we were looking for in the St. Louis Home School Network, a secular network of home schooling families, cooperatively leading and taking classes, and sharing in public outings and whatnot. On Thursday we went to our first group meeting for a class to be taken to the Cahokia Mounds. I have never been to the mounds and have been told by many friends and comrades to go to this place and really take it in for what it is, a museum preserving what very little remains of land of the indigenous people's since we massacred them not so long ago. I will write more about Cahokia after our trip there, but for now I want to focus on what I learned from the experience of this particular class.

This is not an indictment of the class, or the class structure, merely an understanding of our experience. The class was to meet up at a public park, under a pavilion, where we would learn about archeology, Mississippian life, and museum etiquette (as per request of the Cahokia Mounds museum). We arrived and met the medium sized group of kids and parents, ages ranging from 3 (whitman) to around 9 or 10 if I had to guess. I immediately found kinship in one parent who was there for the class as well, a young man named Will who was wearing a shirt that proclaimed "tree hugging dirt worshipper". Perfect right?

The kids were asked to gather around in a circular fashion and sit on the concrete. This should have been my first indicator that perhaps this was not our setting today, but my conditioning of acceptance of false structure kept that thought of nature just that, a thought, and one that is distant from the reality that nature is not a thought, rather, it is being. At any rate, the children sat in groups around a circle, with a bag of junk to sift through as archaeologists would. Fun. Immediately, Whitman dumped the bag on the ground and began going through the junk with glee. Kids love stuff. They love getting into things and picking them apart, pulling out interestingly shaped items and imagining their purpose before discarding it to find another. Adults do this too, but we call it commerce, yuck. Kids don't yet know that feeling of pressure to buy something, so they just play, and play, and play as if they are actually free. Free to roam around rooms and gather ideas and take in experience. Adults tend to stay in the lanes between the racks of clothes careful not to brush against another shopping adult, contact is not permitted when the animals are feasting, this viewed in the animal kingdom as a threat and met with great resistance.

After a bit of sifting the kids were explained to what an archaeologist does and given the chance to now categorize all of this wonderful imagination into classes of: male junk, female junk, group junk, solo junk, room junk, garage junk. The kids were then to identify the junk and relate it to who they think the junk belonged to. This is a pretty cool game, I must say, but I started sensing something from Fair and Whitman that was unusual for me. they were bored. Why was that so strange? Well, I will tell you. To me this class seemed to be pretty decent. Engaging, outside, albeit on concrete, and in a radical-ish group of home school families. What could be cooler? Well, I will tell you again. Dirt. Dirt would be cooler. Grass under our feet and twigs in our hair. That would be cooler. Identifying a plastic water bottle in the river as an assault upon our landbase rather than wondering whose lips once grazed the opening. Running in the trees and pretending they are great hands reaching down to grab us until we out maneuver them and slide into freedom at the very last second. That would be cooler. That is what the kids were thinking I am sure, and not only that, but within 30 yards of the class was a playground and fountain, where others were joyously romping and scraping their knees. That, I am sure is where they wanted to be. I, of course, had assumed that I was doing the right thing. I had assumed that anything outside of the standard of school was better. Duh, I am a reactionary. I am a product of a culture that has taught me not to be proactive but reactive, and I am following suit, even when I think I might not be. The class was comprised of very cool kids, and very nice parents, but it was still being structured in classroom style. Kids scattered about are now students to the teacher who is sitting and speaking in a lighter toned voice and sending out the "right" answers every now and then to keep the class on track.

After the class got out, and amazing thing happened. We went to playground area to play, and Fair and Whitman were pushy with one another, cranky with me and not at all into social life at the moment. These are the same two kids who, only the day before had hiked for six straight hours without a single complaint or fight or whine, and now, after only an hour on the concrete, are ready to call it quits for the day. Wow. This is truly an eye opener. I know now that this is going to be hit and miss for a while, and classic class settings are a big miss. I then think about how Fair must have felt about mid-day at school, after four hours of being indoors, and knowing she had four more hours of it ahead. How much did her mind wonder? How far would her teacher let that go? Not far enough, I am damn sure of that. I then recall breakfast before taking Fair each day, and how her being subtly cried out.

Nearly every morning, Fair would confront us about something, be it her shoe choice, her food choice for breakfast, or whether or not to wear her jacket. There was always something. Of course, one would say, it was 7:00 AM, who isn't cranky? But I am pretty certain now that it was more than that. I am certain it was her slight resistance to going to school. Though she loved the idea of being in school and loved the idea of learning, it is one of those topics that can get her excited at any time, and adored her friends there, her body was pleading with her not to go, and in turn, her mood would show that to us in the form of resistance. Our bodies speak to us at all times, and we have been taught how to ignore this very well. how the hell else would we stand for sidewalks of concrete and buildings of steel, and roadways and parking garages? If we listened to, not even the earth screaming, but our own bodies broadcasting the messages of pain and suffering that we remedy with booze and pills and television and Dr. Scholl's, we would not at all stand for the injustice of another moment in a false setting.

this is where Unschooling comes in. Homeschooling is a step for us into the most natural idea I have encountered, Unschooling. The complete eradication of neo-traditional class setting and curriculum. Learning by living and living by choice. No more school, not even under the guise of home, rather lessons of life. Some of those lessons are going to be fun, some are going to be rough. Today the kids learned a rough lesson when our financial aid for Angela's college was cut in half, forcing us into a real bind financially. The kids were there to take part in the discussion of what we are to do now. We had planned on paying our rent in advance a few months to pad us into the winter and fix our car, now we can afford to do neither. We would have to put off both and work harder outside of the house, forcing us to work harder in the home and the vicious cycle begins. We were struggling with it. There is no answer, only possibilities and this is the lesson that hardest to understand. We need answers, we need life's problems to resolve in under 30 minutes with two commercial breaks. But we all know that this is a sham. That it does not work that way. Some of us know too, though, that problems are temporary and lead to adaptation and wither into the background as sure as the leaves will redden and fall.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Art of Taking a Walk.

Quick, name five indigenous plants on your block. Now tell me of the five, three you could eat. Seems like a ridiculous question. There is crabgrass, weeds, and grocery stores. Why would we NEED to know about edible plants? See that. Taking knowledge, and creating of it, the sense of burden. Why would we need to know our landbase? Why should I have to learn to speak Spanish? Really though, is this the idea we have grasped onto? Do we live in the land of the "free from having to do anything ever"? Bah! Nay, I say, nay nay nay.

I have lived in this country for all of my life, (30 years for those who have to gauge superficial things such as age), and in that tenure, I have occupied four regions of our continent. The midwest(agriculture, plains), the southwest (desert, mountains), the west coast (beaches, oceans, freeways), and the pacific northwest (temperate rain forest) and I could not, until today, step out of the house, and off of the concrete, and name any of the plants of the region, not tell you if they were native or invasive. that is, until I went to the woods to live deliberately with a 3 and 5 year old.

Okay, a little romanticized, I did not go to Walden Pond, I went for a hike. A six hour hike, all along the banks of the Missouri River, purportedly the exact spot that Lewis and Clark set off west from. Yay, history class taught me imperialism, and I remembered it! I have been to the river for many occasions. Festivals, fairs, carnivals, drum circles, poetry readings, even painted the set for and acted in Shakespeare In The Park beside this river, but never really walked there for the sake of walking. Today, we walked. (and walked and walked and walked)

We had prepared ourselves with sketchbooks, a field guide, water bottle and a few various amenities (first aid kit, dried fruit, gloves, and cutting tool) and a sense of adventure. We got to the edge of the Katy trail and I posed the question to the kids. Do we stay on this trail, or go into those woods with no real trail? WOODS! Alright, it begins. Myself having lived in the city for most of my life, I was on wild beast alert the first half an hour. Is that a snake? Is that poison ivy? Is that bear shit? (they do apparently do that in the woods, riddle solved) But soon I actually settled in, albeit still a tourist, but a comfortable tourist, and it may be that I had the encouragement of and the need to not disappoint these two young ramblers. We started looking for interesting plants to identify with our new field manual.

This is the first plant we found. We snipped a small branch off and scurried over to do our scientific research. Sitting in a circle, we pulled out our sketch books and field manual and starting sketching, talking and flipping pages. First we had to identify the leaf pattern. Alternate or Opposite? Alternate. Then the leaf structure: simple or compound? Simple. Then decide if the leaves were smooth margin, toothed margin, or wavy margin? Smooth, lance shaped (lance like a sword says Fair). Okay, we got it, now to the book. Flip, flip.....flip.....flip. Nothing. You would think this was disappointing, I mean, this 80 page book should have all the answers, right? Wrong. It was exciting. we now had a challenge ahead. we decided to take a field sample and check in with Ranger Dale, the park ranger we met on the way down.

We moved on, as all good travelers do, and searched around for the next two hours for something really cool. We found butterflies, birds, hemlock, a keel boat and barge. We even stumbled onto the wetlands. This was really cool. I had no idea that most of the foliage in the wetlands is perfectly edible and even a staple of native diets. That is, before McWhite culture.

This is where we made two new discoveries. The first was the Arrowhead. Why, because it is shaped like an arrow. It is an awesome little pant, and edible. The second was what I call the Natural Stamp. I am sure there is another name for it, but I call it that because it happened naturally, actually accidentally, but there are no accidents. We were taking rubbings of the leaves of arrowheads, when we realized that the chloroform was staining the page in the exact pattern of the leaf and it's veins. We stopped doing lead rubbings and began simply rolling our pencil over the leaves, and voila, a full color representation of the leaf. Good times. Try it.

We then found a trail in the woods that had a sign that stated that this trail was made in one summer by one kid, aged 13, as a boy scout project. The kids were thrilled to know that one kid could do something so grand. He had found-wood benches, signs that described the plant life, ample room for even a wheelchair. Too cool. About eight plants later and still not one was found in our field guide. We were determined. We spotted a picnic area where others were and decided to give ourselves a rest, it had been about 4 hours at this point, and eat some yummy trail mix we made from dried bananas, sunflower seeds and dried ginger. We sit down beside a tall, pretty brush with red bell shaped flowers. We inspected the leaves and decided to check the book. there is was:
the Trumpet Creeper. We were ecstatic. Finally, the 10 bucks paid off. We had identified our first plant using a field guide and our own deductive reasoning. Greatness. We also got to talk a lot. Not the kind of talk that we usually have, about books, and movies, and fart jokes, but really talk, and not just with each other. We listened to the river, the sounds that it makes, the groans of it's great and speedy underbelly shifting the trees and breaking the rocks into sand slowly. We listened to the birds songs, and the rabbit's nervous feet. We listened, and we talked back. We talked a lot about the river. I fielded many questions form Fair and Whitman about the river, that I had no good answer for. "Why can't we swim in there?" Well, undertow is strong. "But can't we just stand in the shallow part?" Well, no, because it is very polluted. "Can we fish here?" We could but we should not eat the fish from here. "Because of the pollution?" Yes. "Why do people pollute the river, that is bad." Well kids, they do it for profit. For a quick release of the outcrop of their industrial jobs. For the shipping of waste from one side of the river to the other. For the cheap dumping of toxic chemicals created by ATnT and Amerin UE. The river catches every bit of chemical drainage from every farm along it's path that opts to use Monsanto's deadly poisons to yield a higher, more efficient, less nutritious crop. they do it, kids, for money.

"Well, we just have to stop them. We have to stop money."

Yes, we do. How can one argue that. This is not one of the "darndest things" kids say. this is the pure truth. This is unfiltered and unfettered by the ways of nicety. This three year old knows better than any of us, and we ignore him. We will pay for our crimes.

See, the river, this river, for hundreds, even thousands or millions of years, fed and nourished this land. Animals of all types use it as a daily source of food, travel, recreation, cleansing, calm and replenishment. Not anymore. Not us. we live two blocks from a river we can never use safely in our lifetime for the life giving qualities it once held. It has been raped, truly raped by culture and all for profit and for self hatred does this continue. This is the worst thievery since religions stole God and placed a copyright on her name. They have stolen our ability to care for ourselves, to learn for ourselves and to love for ourselves. We are Prometheus. We are taking it back, taking it all back.

We made our way home, slowly, but not because we were tired, because we were starting to understand the art of taking a walk.