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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, May 31, 2006

NE Unschooling conference

Got back Monday afternoon from the Peabody conference, tired and full of great memories. Highlights from the weekend include folk dancing in a big circle with many unschoolers, some old faces and new, laughing so hard we were falling down. I have this image of Manoj in the center as we all danced, making goofy faces and entertaining us all with his antics! Haven't decided whether Jon, Ken, Ben or Manoj was funnier yet...what a bunch of crazy and fun guys.
It was amusing to have Ben, Ken and Ren all at the same table one night...I heard Jen was somewhere close by. Talk about rhyming!

Got to meet and hang out with Michael and Maureen Carey (also in the People magazine article) who were absolutely charming! They were great folk dancers too.

The talent show was awesome as usual. Marji's sweet voice soothing us and the Briggs family jamming down with some blues. There were karate kids and violinists, pianists and poets. One thing for sure, unschoolers are a diverse and talented lot!

My cousin Jill took me sightseeing and then hung out at the conference. Her 8y.o. was asking to be unschooled by the end of the conference...I may be in trouble!!:) Robbie stayed overnight with me on Saturday so I wasn't kidless the entire weekend after all. He provided some interesting fodder for conversation. Hilarious!

Other parts that stay with me are Rue's swirly and colorful skirts, Erika's pithy humor, Cathy's sweet nature and resilience in the face of obnoxious, loud, drinking unschoolers that stayed up WAY too late and Ben flaunting my makeup job around the hotel. Dagny convinced me to bring my makeup kit and I spent Sunday evening doing many, many makeovers, from quasi-drag to butterfly and leopard faces on wee girls, funky teens and natural mama's to Elissa's smoky, dramatic look.

One of the best parts about the conference...seeing Elissa and Marji walk up the hallway when I didn't even know they were coming!! Two of my favorite unschoolers that I haven't seen in a long time..very cool. I met the Camden's who are considering a move to the area. They're kids were so sweet and interesting, we would dearly love to get them right here in Jonesborough. My ATC funshop was really great, several new ATC'ers joined us and Maddie and Quinn brought some gorgeous cards to share. Some of the kids made cards right on the spot that were fabulous!

So many new faces and great friends, too much for words. It was a swirly, interesting, fun and exhausting weekend....just as an unschooling conference should be. Manisha and Manoj have some pictures to share over at their Flickr account if you want to check it out.

Thanks to Beth, Kathryn and Julian for creating such a wonderful venue for us all to connect.
See you all in Albuquerque in three months!!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Back 2 MAC!!

Yipppeeee!! I was offered a position at MAC today, after interviewing last week. I am SO ready to be back over at the company I love, somewhere I can grow as an artist. The best part is I'll be part-time again. I NEED to spend more time with my kiddos.

Getting ready for the trip to Boston/Peabody. I'm feeling apprehensive about not having the kids with me, but looking forward to a weekend with friends and a soapbox on which to stand.:)

Heidi and Martin left tonight. I felt a hollow pit in my stomache on the drive in to work, knowing they'd be gone when I got home. I really wish they were going to live a bit closer....Alaska is a pain-in-my-butt to visit, as much as I love it.

Soo.....packing up speeches and clothes and makeup and trying to get the kids and Markus ready for my absence.

Friday, May 19, 2006

My Birthday

Today I turned 37 years old. Today I began my 38th year of life and it just keeps getting better.:)

In spite of working today, it was a wonderful Birthday. Heidi, Mary and Helen met me at work for a Birthday lunch. I took an extra long lunch, we laughed and sniffed our way through some bath stores after eating at Ruby Tuesday's and then it was back to work. My manager brought me a huge basket filled with my favorite Pepperidge Farm cookies and crackers. Later, one of my co-workers took me over to the MAC counter and there was a Baskin Robbins ice cream cake they'd quietly brought in, lighted candle and all!! I felt so honored that anyone at work even noticed.:)

When I pulled into the driveway tonight, it was pretty dark in the house. I wondered if something was up. Upon opening the door, a shouting, screaming crew sang (if you can call it singing) Happy Birthday and threw confetti on me as all the kids ran down the stairs and hugged me. It was quite a greeting!! There was a beautiful strawberry trifle on the kitchen counter, with more lighted candles to blow out. I'm not sure I've ever had two birthday cakes in one day...how cool. The strawberries were from the little produce stand Heidi and I visited earlier today.

I was honored with sweet gifts the kids picked out....a small stuffed skunk and butterfly bookmark from Jalen and the Egyptology book from Sierra. The rest of the crew gave me a wonderful wine/truffle gift basket including a book titled "2001 things to do before you die".
Callista made me a ladybug crown from pipe cleaners (I have a most amazing collection now) and another lovely creation that is yet unnamed. Sierra's card had a drawing of me on a horse with balloons that say "I love you" several times. Callista's crawing was a wee rattie girl and a unicorn, two of my favorite creatures.
The boys are still working on something and Markus wants to celebrate with me on Sunday when I'm not working. Hey, we can milk this whole Birthday thing for at least a week, can't we?:)

I went outside to just stare at the stars and feel the cool breezes later and was greeted by twinkling lights all through the grass and trees. The fireflies put on quite a show for my special day!! The kids joined me as we all stood in awe. I asked Heidi "How do people ever lose their sense of wonder? This world is so full of amazing things."
"I don't know" she answered, "It's so magical"
The kids collected fireflies in jars. Callista accidentally squished one in the lid and it absolutely broke her heart. I hugged her as tears streamed down her face and sympathized. "I don't like hurting things" she wailed. So sweet.

I hiked down to the trampoline and started jumping. It was one of those rare and PERFECT moments. Children traipsing over my yard chasing fireflies, laughing and chatting happily. I was alone in the dark, surrounded by beauty. The stars shined gently through a few drifting clouds and I decided it was about the best birthday ever. I had a crew of bubbly, noisy kids join me shortly thereafter. A few streaks of lightening moved closer and we decided that indoors sounded much more safe.

It's now raining, everyone is in clusters doing something they enjoy. A small group out in the motorhome with Heidi, Martin and Markus in the basement watching sports and a few gamers in Jared's room. It's peaceful and stormy...a perfect end to the day. I am absolutely grateful for this life of mine and the people I share it with.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I received birthday money this week from family (thank you Allens, Bidwells and Porters!!!) and right away knew what I wanted; a trampoline!!!! I went and found a good price at K-mart during my lunch break and brought it home after work.

I wanted to get it assembled without the kids knowing, but Jalen was nattering at me about buying some video games, not accepting my answer of "I don't have money right now!" I was getting frustrated and Markus looks at me and says "I think he's forcing your hand Ren". In other words, go get the damn trampoline out and distract him!!

So we hauled it out, the kids were beside themselves. Trevor even emerged from his cave to help us put it together. They had a blast jumping until it was dark (and cold), we'll finish the enclosure tomorrow. They said it was the best Birthday present ever.:)

Heidi and Martin are supposed to be back here in the evening, just until Monday before they head North to Alaska. The boys are really excited about the ghost hunting class they're taking with their cousins, auntie and uncle. Not your mainstream class, why does that not surprise me?

WLUP radio interview

The article spawned a phone call last night from WLUP in Chicago (97.5fm). They interviewed me this morning on the "Johnnie B" show. I was told it sounded alright. It's been recorded by a kind unschooler in Chicago and hopefully it will be archived somewhere that is easily accessible for future reference.

Good thing you can't see a shaky hand over the radio waves!:)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Anonymous posters

Why is it that people hiding behind a mask of "Anonymous" feel free to say the most idiotic or rude things? If you've got something to say, SAY IT for crying out loud. At least when I vent and spew you know exactly who's behind the words.

If you don't feel comfortable with your opinions and ideas, then I guess hiding it with "anonymous" feels safe. Enjoy. I on the other hand am perfectly comfortable with sharing my flaws, beauty and ideas with anyone that chooses to read them.

Just know that if you choose to say stupid things and use the title "anonymous", your comments won't reach my blog. I have this little filter called MODERATION.

Thanks for stopping by.:)

Stuff I forgot to blog about...

Last week, I forgot to post about our very first Fireflies of the season!! Jalen and I were sitting on the back deck in the dark, listening to the wind tousling the treetops and suddenly a little blink of light flashed out in the yard. I jumped up and said "Look Jalen, a Firefly!"

We yelled for the other kids to come see and by the time they arrived, there were two. Two little on-and-off lights blinked through the yard for a time and then disappeared. We haven't seen any since then....

A couple nights ago I saw an earwig on the floor and kicked it under the stove rather than deal with it at that moment. Jalen and I were standing near the stove (making macaroni I believe) when it crawled back out, right near his foot. He jumped back and said "A TWIZZLER!!".
Earwigs are "Twizzlers" now I guess. Funny phrases and words are his specialty.

Mother's Day

It was a wonderfully, quiet, hang-out together kind of day. My spirit needed this!
Sierra and I spent time playing outside kicking a ball around and chasing each other. Markus joined us for a bit and we wandered the property, checking on living things. Many trees and plants that were mysteries in the winter, have revealed themselved with spring growth. We have some really beautiful trees that came with the house. One of the trees I de-vined is a Tulip Poplar which has the most interesting flowers on it right now.

I spent more time online than usual, that was a nice break too. Our big adventure for the day was a trip into Barnes and Noble. We noticed there is a great outdoor patio behind the Starbucks as we at dessert together. There was a very steep hill and creek, which drew the kids like magnets! Markus hung out with them as they explored, and I got some free time to peruse the magazine racks.

After they exhausted themselves on the hill, we visited the kids area and sat chatting on the floor about a variety of topics. They are such fun people to be around. I'd like them even if they weren't my children!!:) They found one of the Audubon guides on Insects and Spiders. We probably spent at least 1/2 hour looking at pics and reading the descriptions. They LOVED it, so it came home with us. We also picked up Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. I figured we really needed to read it since Cameron Lovejoy informed us he's going to marry Stargirl. Sierra's middle name is Star so it's been on our list for a while. ...oh, and Stargirl has a pet rat.

Sierra picked up a little kit that shows you how to make animals from pipe cleaners and Jalen brought home a small bunny puppet. Now he has an entire bunny family to carry everywhere with him. I received many pipe cleaner creations tonight. Jalen brought me a white paper bag twisted up at the top, with his letters written on the front.
"It's a present for you Mom"
"For ME?"
"I writed your name on it"
SO SWEET. It contained one of his pipe cleaner creations, one of the many wonderful gifts from yesterday.

I have a small assortment of them on my computer right now. A few remind me of Imaginary Friends (from a television show). I love these sweet reminders of my children's big hearts and creative minds.

When we were getting dessert, Jared didn't want to order anything because "It's Mother's Day and you're buying US stuff." I explained that it made me happy to see them enjoy something, so his gift to me at that moment would just be accepting the dessert.:) He smiled and said "OK"

They all shared their desserts with each other, with Markus and then we took some home for Trevor who was too busy to leave his computer. They're such generous and kind individuals...it's a joy to behold. Sierra also made me a handmade card and kept saying "this was such a nice day Mom".

Yes it was. I am rich and blessed everyday............

Sunday, May 14, 2006

PEOPLE Magazine

Finally.....three hours of having our pics taken, many, many questions via phone and the article is OUT!!:)

Our family was featured in the latest People Magazine for an Unschooling article. You can find us in the May 22nd edition on page 141. I was not thrilled with the choice of photo only because the kids look unhappy. It was really bright out and they were having a hard time with the intense light. He took SO many photos of us playing and walking and having a grass fight, but the one they chose is sorta boring. Oh well...the article was fairly well-balanced, even the quote by someone leery of unschooling was something I agreed with.

Now I can talk about our "secret" from a former blog. The photographer asked me not to blog about it until the article broke, hence the "secret". He shot some photos of kids drawing on the driveway in sidewalk chalk that are probably really cute. The boys were so not thrilled about the whole process and at one point Michael (the photographer) says "C'mon guys, you're going to be in PEOPLE MAGAZINE!"
They just looked at him like he just fell off another planet. I laughed and said "they aren't impressed by fame"

And they aren't.
It's pretty cool actually, they really would have been much more interested in Michael if he'd been a gamer and could talk shop with them. Sierra was into the camera equipment and wanted to know about getting something similar. I told her you should probably be making money with a camera if you have his set up or it's a bit of overkill!

Overall, it was a positive experience. Interestingly enough, the writer (Wendy Grossman) is originally from the Tri-cities area and we could talk about Jonesborough (which they spelled wrong in the article) and all the little shops she remembered here.

Get a copy and let me know what ya think!!:)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Markus is 42!

Today Markus turned 42. We celebrated by leaving him alone to attend park day...I'm sure he enjoyed the peace and quiet.:) Diana brought some luscious cupcakes that we all pigged out on.

After getting our oil changed on the van and poking around Jonesborough, we came home to find out what he wanted to do. He was sitting out in the front garden and we noticed the lemon balm had gotten rather sprawling. I made some birthday lemon balm tea for everyone, YUM.

We took him out for some ice cream and to pick up movies. It was a simple day, just what he wanted. The lemon balm tea and my fresh-picked brocolli were highlights for me. LOVE having fresh food to eat from our own garden. There isn't much growing yet, but we use all of it.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Amy Steinberg ROCKS!!!

And sings and laughs and loves and is totally AMAZING. I'm in love with her.:)
Her lust for life simply oozes out of her pores.

When we got to Acoustic Coffeehouse tonight, we asked two people if we could share their table with them. They were very accomodating and later we figured out that the guy was Amy's boyfriend and the gal was the NPR person that played Amy's music and interviewed her the day I fell in love with her music. Very cool. "I am exactly where I need to be" indeed.

Sierra had debated whether she wanted to go, afterall, she could go listen to her new favorite song "Exactly" on MySpace anytime she chose right? Well, she came along and was as enchanted with Amy as I was. The adults we met were SO totally respectful to Sierra, asking her about the picture she drew and telling her what a great artist she is. Sierra was beaming.

I was rolling the whole thing around in my head as we drove home, wondering what it must be like to be a kid growing up in this kind of environment. It's very healing to give my children the kind of childhood I wish I'd had. Only it's beyond what I wish I had...it's more about the way I wish I'd been trusted and affirmed for who I AM and giving my children what THEY choose.

Thank you Amy Steinberg for a memorable evening, for being who you are and not being afraid to let it SHINE!! You are a gem and we won't forget you.

Oh, and Acoustic Coffeehouse has some badass nachos AND we met an unschooler that's in college now who was there with her folks. That's never happened before!! The NPR gal asked about my website name and as I'm explaining unschooling to her this older couple pipe up and say "that's what WE did!" I asked "you didn't school her or use curriculum, just let her follow her interests?" Their daughter was laughing and nodding her head.
She's a junior in college now.

Some lyrics from "Exactly" (if Amy comes to your town, please don't miss her performance....she's witty, sassy, funny-as-hell and irreverant. Plus she's a damn good singer.):

~~I am exactly where I need to be
I need to be exactly where I am
I am a blessing manifest
I can undress the moment naked
time unwinds beneath my mind and
from within I find the kind of beauty
only I can find

I am exactly where I need to be
I need to be exactly where I am
I am surrendering so willingly
to be the perfect me inside
this now and truly how
else could it be
destiny she blesses me
destiny she blesses me........~~~~

Lots of thoughts about birth, death and re-birth lately. Partially inspired by a project that is causing me to examine ideas about death, look up death quotes etc... Good stuff. The next tattoo I have planned, includes the Celtic Triscele which symbolizes "three's". One of the "three's" it symbolizes is the idea of birth, death and re-birth.

Some of this swirled up because of the painting "metamorphis" that is sitting in my room. It was the focus of a recent article printed in "Live Free, Learn Free" titled Unschooling with the Muse.
I've had a dilemna about what to do with this painting. I thought it was resolved with new colors. ...but that was just a step in her journey. I've realized today, that Metamorphis came into my life at a time when *I* was being "birthed" in a sense. I was pregnant with my last baby, walking into authenticity and my true self. There was a very real death to the past, to old thought, to ideas that were not serving me well and keeping me from the authentic life.

It's her turn to die now...Metamorphis is going to be cut into many pieces. In her re-birth she will become ATC's, Altered books and other items to be shared with the world. She served her purpose and now it's time to enter the painting/canvas afterlife.:)

Something about this feels very right, but part of me is mourning the loss of the painting that never found it's place completely. She came along to help me through some healing. This painting symbolized so much for me, but it's time to let go. As I think about the death and re-birth of this painting, I can't help but think about the seeds that are planted when we die. The gifts we leave behind can be spread far and wide, in a variety of incarnations.
There's a bittersweet peace about all that, a feeling of loss and wholeness all at once.
The cycles continues....
there are other paintings waiting to be born. I have a feeling that saying goodbye to Metamorphis is going to help the others become reality.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


I'm so inspired by several people right now, some I've met, some I wish I could meet....Amy Steinberg I get to see perform tomorrow night. :)
I just started listening to a radio interview with Ami McKay (if you remember, she wrote "The Birth House") and couldn't even finish because some of the things she talked about were so connected to a project I'm working on. It felt like a message from the universe! I'm always in awe when that happens.

We received our ABC books today, an absolute joy to handle and look at! I'm SO inspired by my little corner of the universe called The Imagination Tribe....so thankful for all the creative women that are willing to bare their souls and share their visions with others. The ATC trade was also amazing. I am constantly renewed by surrounding myself with brave and beautiful people.

I pulled out a scrap of paper this week. It has the name of an artist in the Portland area that I met at her booth at Saturday's Market while visiting the NW last summer. Her whimsical and colorful art pulled me like a magnet. Laini Taylor is another inspirational spirit.

An unschooler I met last year at the conference has a musically talented husband, that recently won the John Lennon songwriter award. Please go listen to his music. It's soothing, upbeat and fantastic: Yener Korkut is following his passions and sharing his talent with the world.

I'm inspired by my children, my community, my universe daily. There's just something about people that are following their passions, trusting destiny and letting life flow through them in a very real way. I'm grateful for every one of them, and those that are healing to find their way back to self.:)

Day off

It rained most of today, but cleared up this evening just in time for a walk around downtown Johnson City with some new friends (a co-worker and her husband) for "First Friday". Nelson Fine Art had an eclectic assortment of art, including work by students. I reserved a magical earthenware tree , with a Tim Burton look about it. I was just waiting for a wee gnome to peek out of the hole in the center.
We browsed around, then stopped in at "Picasso's" for some Jazz, dessert and wine. Ran into some other co-workers there. Starting to feel like part of the community again.:)

Earlier, while I was running around with the kids to pick up some video games and such, I had NPR on. There was a stunningly original song playing, I turned it up. The second song by this artist was even better and afterwards there was a short interview with her. Amy Steinberg was her name, and she's playing in Johnson City Sunday night. I couldn't believe the timing. Her music is unique, bold, positive and gutsy. I can't wait!

One of her songs reflected a truth I repeat to people quite often about the fact that we are all born and we all die. Life is a story. We know how it begins; we are born. We know how it ends; it's a tragedy, you DIE. But the in between part is all up to us and we can choose to make it really great or just coast along half-asleep. If you go to her "MySpace" profile you can listen to "Run don't walk". "Exactly" was the song that I fell in love with on the radio.

In the interview, she talks about all that frenetic energy of performing and being on the road. She creates a lot of visual art as an outlet for that energy. I really felt I could relate to the part about needing art to release frenetic energy!! Art and writing keep me sane some days. That and coffee or melatonin (depending on the need). Ah, but sanity is highly overrated.;)

We got Jalen some new shoes after the video game stop. He's running everywhere now and telling us how fast they make him. I remember a time when I truly believed that. Ok, I guess I still do...because everytime I get new running shoes I FEEL faster. I just know it's the shoes...right?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

New Babies

I brought home a little surprise for the kids last night...actually, two surprises: Rattie girls! One black and one white dumbo rat baby are the new kids around here. We're trying to agree on names. Sierra and I like Violet or Tansy. Markus suggested BARF (Beautiful, Agile, Rat Friend), Cocoa Puff or Bergamot. I also thought Princess Mononoke would be cute, we could call her Mono for short. I guess we'll have to negotiate some more.

Sierra's Beta is yet-to-be-named, so we're not very quick to name our pets.
They're SO loving (as ratties usually are) and seem to especially love Markus. What is it about pets and the dude that doesn't really want them? They all LOVE him. He actually likes holding these girls and claims their small size is endearing. They won't stay small for long honey....

Sent out the Imagination Tribe's latest ATC trade today, there were some really interesting cards in this batch. Sierra had initially decided not to participate but changed her mind when all these beautiful cards started showing up! Trevor even got in on the fun this time, making a grand total of 6 cards. He put some "net lingo" on a few of them, they were hilarious.

Jalen was having a rough night when I got home from work. He sounded tired, but insisted on going to the store for a notepad and pen (nothing around here was quite right). We managed a peaceful trip, but he was really losing it after we got back. I held him for a while and explained that I was tired of being shrieked at and that he needed to just talk if something was wrong and I would help.
He screamed "I'm NOT shreiking at you!!" Ouch...ears are hurting.
He wandered off and I started to clean up a bit, planning to go lay down with him.
Markus comes in a moment later and takes me by the hand back to the bedroom. "look" he says smiling...Jalen is curled up contentedly sleeping. "I guess he knew what he needed"
"yeah" I answer, "funny how kids that don't have bedtimes will do that!"

Last night, I was having a rough night and Sierra cuddled up with Jalen and started reading him a story. So sweet. I just sat and stared at them, thankful for yet another moment when I can be in awe of this parenting journey. They are amazing.