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Learning in Freedom

Welcome to Learning in Freedom, a blog all about the learning adventures (and mishaps) of the Allen family. My four children are unschooled, following their interests and passions every day and living the lives of their choosing. The purpose of this blog is to share our every day lives (and my not-so-humble opinons) with anyone interested in stopping by. We hope this will give a glimpse of how natural learning unfolds from day to day......

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Museum outing

Jalen and Sierra received a one-year membership to a local children's museum for Christmas (thank you Grandpa Tom and Grandma Faye!!), so we decided to traipse over for the afternoon yesterday. The Hands-On museum in Johnson City had just added a small dinosaur exhibit with robotronic dinos. They were realistic enough to keep Jalen a bit edgy the entire time. He was fascinated, but backed up cautiously everytime they moved closer! I couldn't get a picture of him in front of the T-Rex, it was just too hard to trust those big 'ol teeth.

We spent three hours climbing, playing store, making music, acting, painting, sitting in an airplane, sliding downstairs, playing bank and freezing shadows. They weren't even ready to leave at 5pm, when the museum closed. They're going to really use that membership this next year!

As we drove to our next stop (recycling run) Jalen started dozing off. Poor guy was exhausted, but if we skipped the pet store (next on the list after recycling), he was going to be really upset, so we went anyway. The Petsmart was full of exciting things to talk about. They got to meet a chocolate lab in training, touch a pac-man frog and buy a Beta fish for the tank we got in St. Louis.

The young man that helped us was SO much fun. He's one of those people that is obviously doing something because it's his passion. Every question we asked got an enthusiastic, multi-layered response and an offer to see some new thing we didn't know about. That's how the pac-man frog came into the picture. Apparently the staff didn't realize it was in a tank, so it was a bit dehydrated and receiving special treatment. He proudly brought it out and scooped some feeder fish up to demonstrate how it was being hand fed. Really cool!

He told us about their family pet, an iguana that grew to 5.5 feet long and 12 years old! When he described the enclosure they made for it, his eyes were positively shining...he's definitely working at the right place! I wish more people had passion like that.

After we got home, the Beta was happily situated into his new environment. It was a really cool tank we got as a gift from the City Museum that has little spots for live plants. It's hosting a bamboo plant, some houseplant starts and our little Beta friend now. He's a lovely turquoise color and Sierra is in love with him. Still working on a name though, she likes "scaly" and I voted for "Rambo".... maybe plain-'ol "Phish" would work.

Trevor and Jared spent the day over at John's playing X-box live and Memoir 44, another new game for Christmas that is based on battles from WW2. They're enjoying every minute they have, before John has to go back to his Dads house in North Carolina.

Markus and I have been trying to get more finished in the basement so Trevor can move into his room. Sierra learned how to wire an outlet last night, she's the greatest construction helper ever! Some sheetrock is up and most of the wiring is done, so once we get a door on, he can start arranging things. He's really looking forward to his own space again.

Today was balmy blue skies and 61 degrees outside, so we played some "swisbee" (Jalen's term for frisby) for a while. Later, Jalen and Sierra managed to lose his new battery powered airplane somewhere in the brush and after giving up, I got inspired to do some work outside. Got an area cleared underneath a few trees for my future Zen garden. We're making plans for some fun interactive garden areas too. I'm feeling really spoiled with almost an acre to work with!! Feels so open after a small city lot.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Gingerbread house

2005 Gingerbread House

This is the gingerbread house we built together, Jalen, Sierra and I, a few days before Christmas. Three kids enjoyed ripping it apart, smashing and otherwise obliterating our little work of art!
We spent most of a day together, placing the figures just so, sprinkling it with powdered sugar (which Jalen licked off for several days) and attaching M&M's with frosting.

I don't know which was more fun, the decorating or the smashing!
They love our gingerbread houses and it's very healing for me to remember a sweet memory of childhood, while making it even better. My children are involved in every step of the process, as they wish, and take pleasure in making it their own creation. Jalen took great pride in the bits of candy he placed around the pond. :)

They ate some on Christmas day, then largely ignored the remains. I washed off the little figurines and placed them back in the basement for next year, when they will grace yet another house.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

winter dreaming

The kids have big plans for our almost-an-acre lot come spring. Jared wants two forts built, so we can have softair and paintball wars and each team has their own fort! Sounds like fun to me, but I might be more of a liability than an asset, they'll have to draw straws to see who gets stuck with me.
I have been drawing out wildlife habitats in my mind. We're going to do a pond area, with shallow parts for birds and butterflies to get water, and plans to add on each year until the pond area is fairly large. I'd love to get Koi back there.
Then there's the cob house I want to build, as a small art studio. That one might wait a while, since I really haven't built with cob yet and doubt there are any other cob builders around here. Maybe some experimenting with miniature sizes is in order.
A large, organic garden and composting bin are on the horizon for spring too. It will be interesting on such a sloped lot, I'd love to terrace it all. Then there's bee hives to start, I think two will be plenty to learn on.
I can hear Markus pounding and mucking about downstairs, the building projects are slowly coming along. It's mighty cold out for cutting wood right now, but it's happening anyway.
The kids are excited about Christmas, Jalen and Sierra can hardly stand waiting of course.

They were roller blading around the house last night, Jalen like a wobbly fawn on weak legs. They had music going and kept asking me to spin them around. Laminate flooring has it's uses!

Worked my first shift at MAC on Tuesday....part of me is really glad to be back, but retail is not my favorite way to use creative talent. I'd rather just paint faces than worry about the other details and mad holiday rush. MAC attracts some really unique and artistic people though, it's nice to be in that kind of atmosphere.

Speaking of artistic....my dear, sweet husband bought me a new Canon Rebel this week. He says we aren't doing Christmas presents for each other, then gives me a camera! "It's not a Christmas present, you needed a new camera, that's all"
The sweet twerp.:)
So I have a lot more creative freedom in photography now, my older camera had so many limits. I've really enjoyed playing with it this week, so have the kids! Jalen took a pretty good shot of Sierra and I in downtown Jonesborough the other night. Photography is such a great medium for all ages and abilities.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The clouds are crying

We did a lot of Christmas running today...Toys-R-Us, Michael's and Best Buy. It's been rainy all night and on the way home the kids were asking for a light to be turned on in the car. I explained that I was having a hard time seeing, with the dark (country roads have no street lights) and rain. Jalen says "the clouds crying with tears". Ok....so we question him about why the clouds are crying. "Because the thunder makes them cry, and they cry with tears coming far down." It was so cute.
There wasn't any thunder, but he explained that we couldn't see the thunder coming far down, but the clouds could hear it and it scared them. Ah, the mind of a four year old. Gotta love that imagination. When he said we couldn't see it, I think he meant the lightning? Not sure.

They all spent some of their Christmas money already. Trevor is happily playing on X-box Live and Sierra and Jalen are battling with pirate swords. Typical Jared, is patiently awaiting Christmas before deciding what to spend it on. He wants a computer more than anything else. While driving today (what is it about cars and conversation?) he informed me that if all he had was a computer, it was a doorway to everything in the world! Geez, he sounds like me.
He said "I can learn about anything with a computer, so I don't need a bunch of other stuff"
This led to a conversation about exactly what kind of things you couldn't learn to DO by having a computer....driving a car, karate, but then we realized you could probably do them in a virtual world if you had the right equipment.
Ok, maybe you can learn anything from a computer these days. But you can't DO everything with one goshdarnit. And it can't make a good cuppa darjeeling...yet.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Christmas is coming

We're expecting snow tonight, the kids are waiting in excitedly. Stocked up on groceries today in anticipation of being housebound tomorrow.

I glued some graham crackers into small houses for the kids to decorate. They've spent most of tonight carefully attaching candy canes, M & M's, red hots and swirly mints onto their wee houses. Jalen let me take a photo before smashing his to bits and eating most of it. Sierra is designing and redesigning, bringing it to me every so often for inspection. Jared quickly finished his and hid it on top of the fridge for safekeeping.

I love the smell of burnt sugar, it brings back lovely memories of the gingerbread houses Mom used to make. We poured the last bits onto parchment paper tonight, and made burnt sugar discs. Sierra walked around offering them to everyone.

We spent last night with Brandie's family (some really cool unschoolers we've met since moving here) at the Jonesborough Christmas parade. It was really cold, but all the shops were open so we stayed warm enough to survive the parade. Came back to the house after cramming ourselves into the van and had some hot chai and conversation before they headed home to Bristol. Trevor and David stayed at the house for video and computer gaming, a parade at thirty-two degrees didn't tempt them as much as Halo 2 apparently.

Earlier in the day I took Sierra and Jalen to the visitors center to see Santa and participate in some fun activities. The highlight was a carriage ride ...a big, beautiful Percheron draft horse hauled us around the library parking lot. We met another Jared at the christmas card table, who was very excited to hear that my boys like Halo2, Magic the Gathering and D&D...so we traded phone numbers and plan to visit soon.

Started building Trevor's new room in the garage, but the weather got a bit cold and we halted construction for now. He can hardly wait for it to get finished and has been a great help with supply runs and building....we're both learning a lot from foreman Markus.:)

Our Christmas decorations are up, the house looks warm and inviting (even without art on the walls) I have a huge poinsetta on the table and lovely miniature gingerbread houses in the kitchen (or wherever they last got parked)...

...we've got the fixin's for chai and hot chocolate, so bring on the snow!


Friday, December 02, 2005

Family history

I've been working on a family recipe book for several years now. Or working on it, then letting it sit for many months at a time really. But I decided it's going to get done this month and moving ahead full throttle now. It's been interesting.
I started this when Mom was still alive, we talked about it several times. The last time I had a lucid conversation with her, she was vacationing in Kona, right before flying back to Fairbanks and being admitted to the hospital.
We talked about plans for the kids and I to visit that summer and all the recipes she'd been earmarking for me to include in the book. I had questions to ask her and stories I needed her to tell me...I never got that opportunity.

I sit in the garage at my art table, going over and over the family pictures, recipes that swirl up forgotten memories and Mom's writing. The writing gets to me the most. I have bits from her school days, teen years and even college....so much of it leaves me with more questions. I see so much of myself there, so many of the same emotions and attitudes. There was a time I never wanted to admit it. But it's true. I wish I'd known more of her vulnerabilities, more of her angst and heartbreak when I was a teen. She kept so much of that from me, believing children needed to see their parents in a better light. But all it did is convince me she could never understand.
Her writing reveals that she did, all too well.

I found some of the recipes she marked for me, bits of paper sticking out of old recipe books, with short notes reminding her which ones she wanted me to have.
I read her scrawling handwriting, I cut and paste the recipes and photos, these bits of my life that tell such a small part of the story and try to sort out my jumbled emotions. I talk to her, I ask her for more answers and some comfort.

There was a picture of Mom and I at Grandma's house, when Trevor was a wee little man. It must have been 1991. I'm sitting off to her side, we're both looking towards some unseen person, involved in a conversation. I look at the me that is there, right next to Mom and think "Did you even realize how close she was to you? Did you think about what it would be like if you couldn't reach over and touch her? Did you really seize that moment, when she was still there?"

I want to be THAT Ren for just a moment. I want to reach over and hug her one more time, ask her the questions that haunt me, let her know much I cherish her presence, and how I see clearly now, that we are more alike than we were ever different. My heart aches to BE in that picture sitting next to her once more.
And I start to cry again.
I've done that a lot today.
My aunt wrote me an email today, telling me that she's been missing my Mom so much lately, probably due to the holidays. I don't know if it's the holidays or not, I thought my meanderings into the past had done it. Or perhaps there's a deeper family connection here, heartstrings responding to tribal distress.
I have no answers. I don't know how to do anything but question. I know I want to tell my stories even more now, to leave a clearer picture of my life and passions for my children and my children's children. I want to gather up every precious moment, every story and scrap of life and somehow preserve it for those yet to come. It can't be done. In the end, they will only have slices of my story, questions of their own that can't be answered and ponderings meant for another generation.
Most of my stories will die with me, just as my Mother's did. The stories still matter, the stories still live, they always do.

I will gather up the bits of memories surrounding food, family and celebrations. I will share these with those I love dearly and we will have a piece of our story together, a piece of our past when we walked closely. Within those pages are more stories than can be told, more memories than any of us can say, and many more waiting to unfold. I'm grateful for the journey so far, and the incredible people I've shared it with.