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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......

Monday, August 28, 2006

Ami McKay interview part II

I totally agree with you about the importance of play,
for both ourselves and our children. It seems to be
undervalued in our society all to often!

Something I've noticed about highly creative people,
is they all seem to have some kind of support network.
What kind of support network do you have? What nourishes
your muse beyond the walls of your workspace?

My number one muse is my husband, Ian. He's always
been supportive of my writing, (in fact, it's his
fault I set out to start a career as a writer in
the first place!) He loves literature and is
beautifully creative as well, so his feedback means
a lot to me. Not only does he make sure there's plenty
of room in our homelife for my writing, but he's my
first reader and a fantastic cook!

I also have a phenomenal group of women in my life.
Locally, there's a group of mothers who I hike, gab,
and drink tea with - they are all very creative -
artists in their work and in their lives. It's been
a great source of inspiration to see other moms
making art and following their dreams! And, back in
the States I have my touchstones; my mom, my dad, my
siblings, my best friends from university. We talk on
the phone or see each other when we can and it always
feels like 'home.' Ultimately, it's a fairly small
network, but these are the people who give me wings.
I hope I do the same for them.

I can just about bet that you do!:)

There is a quote by Anais Nin: "When I don't write,
I feel my world shrinking. I feel I am in prison. I
feel I lose my fire and color. Writing is a necessity,
as the sea needs to heave, and I call it breathing"

Is that true for you also? How would you describe what
writing means to your life?

I'm definitely not the same person (not a whole person) if
I'm not writing on a regular basis. (My husband was the first
to point this out to me!) I get terribly unfocussed and, much
like Anais Nin is saying, I find it difficult to 'breathe.'
Writing is an essential part of my life - no matter what happens
with the publishing side of it, I'll always write. I may have
mentioned it before, but I can't think of any better way to
put it, I make sense of things (life, the world, past, present
and future) through writing. When my pen touches the paper,
it's like a key in a lock - a lock that's had a hold on my
understanding. (Of course, some days I feel more like a thief
with a thin, little pick, wiggling away at the lock.but that's
exciting too.)

A novel seems a daunting task to most of us. What are some of
the baby steps that built up to a full-scale novel? How do you
take that first step?

I'd love to take a poll, asking novelists if their first novel
had started out as such. To be honest, I didn't know what I
was making when I first started working on what would eventually
become The Birth House. If someone had said, "I think you're
writing a novel." I probably would have had a really good laugh.

At first, I was just collecting stories. I recorded women in my
community talking about birth and what they could remember of
the midwife who had lived in my house. I recorded the midwife
who assisted at my son's birth, having her recall her memories
of the day he was born. I put these things together with music
and narrative I'd written and created a radio documentary for
CBC radio.

The stories stayed with me and wouldn't leave me alone. I moved
on and wrote a couple more radio documentaries, but I couldn't
stop thinking of the midwife and the things I hadn't been able
to uncover about her life. What had brought her to this role
in the community? What choices did a young woman have during
the WWI period? What did her life mean to me today?

I got up from bed one night and wrote the prologue to The
Birth House. (I didn't know that's what it was when I wrote
it.) I played with putting a lot of things around it and
wrote quite a bit of narrative before I realized I what I
was doing. (And then I thought, heaven help me, I'm writing
a novel!)

I love that you didn't realize you were writing a novel
to begin with. It give me hope!:)

You've been an accomplished writer for a while and now a
successful novelist. The Birth House has been on several
best seller lists in Canada, just released in the U.S. on
August 22nd and is currently being printed in several other
countries. What things have surprised you about success?
What are the best and the most difficult parts about it?

It's all feels new to me and I hope that it always will.
I've tried very hard not to have expectations about what
should or shouldn't happen with my writing. (Heck, I try
to have that in every aspect of my life, but I'm still
working that out!) Probably the most difficult part of my
journey to publication was in letting the story go. I spent
hours and hours working on it alone, then with editors, but
then there came a point where there was nothing more I could
do, it was done. After that, it belongs to the readers.

The thing that has meant the most to me with the publication
of the book in Canada, and now in the US, the UK and other
parts of the world, is that readers are connecting with the
story and they are sharing it with others. It's been chosen
by many book clubs (and other groups), and it's been sparking
thought and conversations along the way! A Canadian reader
just sent a copy to a friend in Australia. A father from Nova
Scotia took a copy over to Egypt as a present for his daughter
after she had her first baby. Grandmothers are asking me to
include their daughters and granddaughters names in my
dedications so they can pass the book down. It's beautiful
and humbling all at once.

Those are some beautiful connections. The book holds
powerful messages though, so I can see why it's spawning
those kind of sweet and rich connections to your readers!

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and insights with
us here. It's been a lot of fun reading your views and
learning more about The Birth House (which I am enjoying
immensely by the way....half way through now).

Here's to a #1 spot on the best seller lists in the
U.S.!! Wishing you all the best Ami.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ami McKay interview, part I

The Birth House, written by Ami McKay was released in the U.S. on August 22nd of this year. I have been anxiously awaiting
it's arrival to our part of the world, since it's release in Canada.
Ami is not only a successful novelist, but an unschooling mama. I am
honored to be part of her "wise women blog tour" and hope you enjoy reading her insights as much as I did!

Give us a bit of the "story behind the story"--how The Birth
House came to you and what inspired a focus on midwivery in Nova

Writing The Birth House came after several life-changing moments
in my life. I had been a single-mom living in Chicago, teaching
high-school music. Then,one morning when I was driving to work,
a car came out from a side street and plowed right into my car.
I was laid up for quite a while after the accident. While I was
at home healing, I wound up falling in love with an old friend.
He was also at a turning point in his life, so together
we decided it was time for some radical changes. A few months
later, we packed everything into a moving van and moved
into an old farm house on the Bay of Fundy in Scots Bay,
Nova Scotia. Little did I know that the house would lead me
to writing a novel!

It wasn't long after the move that I became pregnant with my
second child. As soon as I started to show, my neighbour as
well as other women in the area began telling me stories...
I soon discovered that our beat-up old farmhouse had belonged
to a community midwife in the early 1900's. The little village
(that still only has about 250 year-round residents) is fairly
isolated, and midwife assisted births were the norm back then.
I was so fascinated with their stories of the midwife and their
beautiful traditions surrounding childbirth, that I began to
research the history of midwifery in North America. (And even
wound up having a midwife assisted home birth.) After all that,
I couldn't help but put pen to paper.

The history of your home is amazing, what an astounding gift!
I'm remember the first time I read one of your articles at
soulfulliving.com and felt a connection to your spirit through
the written word. Obviously, that's partially a personal thing,
but beyond that, how do you connect deeply with your readers and
craft words that really resonate with people and help them connect
with your writing?

Wow, that's a great question...and something that I think about a
lot. To me, making connections is what it's all about. One of my
favourite quotes about writing (I even have it up on my personal
web site) was said by Raymond Carver - "Writing is just a process
of connections."

When I set out to write The Birth House, I wanted to write a book
that I would want to read. I would run to my writing desk
thinking,"What's going to happen next? What will I uncover today?"
I was trying to make sense of things in the past and the present,
and hoping to weave together women's traditions and history in a
way that helped me understand where we are today. I was making
personal connections within the context of story...as a writer,
this is how I make sense of my world.

On a larger level, I think storytelling has served this same
function in the lives of humans, well, forever. Storytellers
pass along traditions, information, and wisdom, in the context
of a tale...a tale that can be humorous, sad, frightening,
enlightening, etc. I can only hope that my stories - whether
in the form of a novel, a short story, a documentary, etc -
will have that same resonance with those who come to them.
On my end of things, I try my best to write in a way that is
honest and true to the story, and let the 'connections' speak
for themselves. If I've done it right, others will feel
something (for better or for worse, but hopefully never
indifferent) when they read my work.

You've really hit on something deeply important--something
I talk about often--and that is the need for parents to be
an example to their children of a passionate, interest-led
life, while involving their children in the process.
Many parents reading this might be feeling the urge to begin
expressing themselves creatively in some manner. Any tips
on where to start? How to get back in touch with that side
of your spirit in some form? Anything specifically for the
writer within?

One of the really beautiful things that happened when we
started unschooling as a family was that I witnessed my
son re-learning how to 'play' throughout his entire day.
He went through a transition period (like most children who
are used to being in school all day) where he sat around like
lump, wondering 'what will I do today?' But it didn't take long
for him to realize that his time was his own...if he wanted to
read a book all day and well into the night, he could! If he
wanted to stare at an anthill for hours, he could! If he wanted
to pretend he was a tiger for three days straight, I
said, 'go get 'em, tiger.'

Curiosity and play go hand in hand, and I think sometimes
as adults we forget that. (We feel play is frivolous, time
wasted.) For me, my best ideas come after I engage in creative
activities. Anything from playing with patchwork pieces of cloth,
to looking for sea glass on the beach, to dancing with abandon
to my favourite music can help me break through to new ideas -
in my writing and in my life. Play kicks everything up a knotch
and keeps my ideas and my perspective from being flat. (I'm just
learning about ATC's and I'd say they are truly a beautiful
example of creative play!)

The other thing that has helped me in my journey as a writer
is practice. I began playing piano when I was five and wound
up in music school after high school. While I find rigorous,
enforced training can be stifling, I do think that the idea of
'practice' as a form of meditative commitment, can be a wonderful
thing. What I mean by this is that you have to allow yourself room
to practice your art (writing, music, preparing beautiful meals,
dancing, painting, woodworking, photography, etc.) on a regular
basis. Even if you have other work or life commitments and feel
that your art is a hobby, it's important to feed your creative soul...
consistently and passionately. If you make space for practice
(instead of shoving it into your life in a haphazzard way) your art
will grow and you will grow with your art. Even if it's just an hour
a week!

When I first started making time for my writing, I would sit at my
desk and very little, if anything would happen. (Much like my son's
transition I mentioned earlier) But after awhile, I knew that the
time was mine and that it would be there, and that I was free to
do whatever I wanted with it. I chose to play.

Check back in for Part II of our interview and more of Ami's unique
brand of wisdom on Monday the 28th. Pour a cuppa tea and stay a while,
you're in good company!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

More on blogging and The Birth House

You'll notice there's a new link on the left sidebar. It's to Bloggapedia, where you can find blogs on just about ANY topic. You can search "unschooling" and find some blogs (personally, I think more need to be added) including this one. You can also rate blogs if you wish. I just learned about them today, when they informed me this blog had been added to their directory.

I've talked about the Birth House and it's debut here in the U.S. Well, it's officially available now, so pick up your copy soon!! I'm still in the early stages of the book, but I can tell you that the main character, Dora Rare, seems as real as anyone I know. Ami McKay is an enchantress, weaving her spell with a character that will stay with you long after the last words touch your eyes. I long to sit with Ms. Babineau (another beautiful, strong character) and eat her beignet's while sipping herbal tea. The history and culture of Nova Scotia in early 20th century life is wending it's way through my mind today.

Coming up on the 27th, I will be posting an in-depth interview with the author (and unschooling Mama) Ami McKay. Learn about the history behind her inspiration for The Birth House and how an unschooling parent finds time to nourish her muse. You won't want to miss it!!

Monday, August 21, 2006

The art of blogging

What makes for a really great blog? Not an ok one...but great? For me, it's photos and a style of writing that is heavy on honesty, with a dose of philisophical ponderings and a dash of rawness. I feel like digging deeper (probably should invest in a digital camera at some point too).

Granted, day to day happenings aren't always the most interesting fare, but it probably tells you more about a person than the grand adventures they undertake....though grand adventures have a way of pointing to the bigger dreams and flights of a soul.

I was reading at a really great blog this morning, about parenthood and how it's possible to do so much yet feel like nothing is getting accomplished. I can recognize that as a Western way of thinking, yet it's tentacles reach into my mind regardless. I am a Westerner, as much as I like to embrace certain Eastern philosophies. Getting things accomplished feels good. Tangible things. Things I can sell or speak about or publish or add to my portfolio.

I know that the time I spend with my children is an "accomplishment", an esoteric building block that results in bonding and growth and learning and all the things we hope for as parents. But I can't quantify or label it. Maybe that's why I'm driven to write about it; in order to feel some sense of "accomplishment", as if the moments in and of themselves aren't enough.

~Make another cup of tea. Print out notes for a talk in Albuquerque. Throw some laundry down the stairs as Spongebob's voice follows me down the hall. "Mom, how do you spell SONG?" from the child tweaking her myspace account. "S-O-N-G" I yell from the kitchen. Stack up paper that is strewn across the floor from child that built his own "computer". Close the latch on my makeup kit before a bunch of shit falls out, as it's currently his "printer". Wipe down the table for at least the tenth time today. Milk and cereal this time. Clean Sierra's room. Notice the rat's are smelling rather pungent. Gaming child in backroom asks if we can drive the 17 miles to Rock Creek again. Myspace child asks if we can go to the mall, she NEEDS a dress TODAY. Haul some stuff down to the basement and remember that my art area is all but disappearing under the mess. sigh. Decide to blog about daily crap. Gaming child sets a rat on my shoulder and reminds me that my blogging time is about to end for the moment. Rat climbs onto keyboard, causing a need for editing. Large, teen child wakes up and takes a shower. Hasn't found the eggs and potatoes we saved for him this morning. Remember that I promised to take him for a shave so his mohawk looks right, oh and dye it black again. Look at the notes sprawled across my bed and remember I need to work on speech again. Small man brings eyeshadow in and asks if I want a makeover. Of course. Stop blogging for eyeshadow application.~

It all gets done somehow. Not really sure when or where somedays. My ADD tendencies cause a bizarre skipping around pattern that always lands me back to the activities I need to finish, but never in any order. I think that's why things NEED to be left out. I'll forget what I'm doing if I put anything away.

Two things came in the mail today, that weren't bill or responsibility related. One is a beautiful book that made me tear up in the first pages. The writer is one of those people that reaches to the very core of your being. Her story is of universal appeal to women and issues surrounding birth. I'll be sharing more in upcoming blogs...so stay tuned!! The other mail surprise was the altered tin I traded for, in a recent Imagination Tribe trade. It feels like Christmas all year when you're an artist that trades work with other creative souls. I do love my life so very much.

And what I want to remember from this day? Many things, but especially the intense look of concentration Jalen has when he's applying makeup to my face. The way he pooches out his lips to show me what I need to do when lipgloss goes on. The way he brushes blush all over my face and then says "it looks like you're burnt".
I feel more beautiful already.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Deep thought

Sierra looks like she's deep in thought here, but I think she was just taking a break from our game of Kick-the-can on 4th of July at Mary's house. Our friend Diana took this picture.

Jared helped me finish my D&D character yesterday...I'm officially a nerd (as if I wasn't before). He can hardly wait for our next get together!

My friend Mary (the other Mary that lives in OR, which I'll be speaking with at the upcoming conference in Albuquerque) just got back from Europe and posted some hilarious photos of signs. Her blog is Zenmomma's Garden.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Not Back to School Party

We had a great time hanging out at Rock Creek again today! This time with three other unschooling families, celebrating our freedom with sand, water, marshmallows and happy kids.:) After 5 hours of play and swimming, Jalen was STILL not ready to leave. I ended up getting wet to retrieve my wee man....after staying mostly dry all day.

Took the boys over to John's for a bit of gaming while Sierra and I went downtown for Music on the Square. Had more fun browsing the shops tonight than listening to music.

I meant to blog about something that happened last week too;
Jalen and I were picking up some groceries at the discount store. He had gotten tired of wearing shoes (as usual) and took them off. As were were crammed into the tiny aisle with an elderly customer, he started getting a bit loud. I got down on his level and talked to him for a minute, then offered to carry him. He was tired, and just melted into my arms. I rubbed his back and talked to him about the food we were buying.

The elderly customer passed us, then came back a minute later and said "It's so nice to see how you interact with your child, so many parents are just awful to their children"
I was pretty surprised. Mostly I get dirty looks when out with my Jalen man, as he really isn't particularly concerned about societal conventions yet and has some pretty extreme difficulties at times. I told her how nice it was to hear that and how important gentle parenting is to us. She agreed and we chatted for a bit longer before parting ways.

That doesn't happen often. I once got into a serious fight with my sil, who was upset that I hugged Sierra when she was having a melt-down, rather than spank her. According to her, I was "training" Sierra to act that way.

Huh?? Treating someone awful when they're already feeling awful is supposed to HELP them? Boy, I wonder what that would look like if Markus smacked me for having a melt-down? Jail-time most likely. But it's ok to hit a kid that's having a rough time? I still scratch my head when I think back to that night. Baffling to me.

I wish she could meet Sierra now. I haven't spoken to my sil in all these years (her choice) but I'd love for her to know these amazing people that I call my children. Sierra is a sweet, kind and very well-balanced individual that gets along with most everyone. None of the dire predictions came true. 'Course, none of the dire predictions I've been given about homeschooling, vegetarianism or non-vaccination have come true either.

Oh, and my child that likes an occasional coffee is 6'3"...so much for that whole "stunting" myth.:) Off to poke a few more holes in peoples beliefs.....

Thursday, August 17, 2006


I'm learning how to play...or how to make a character at least. Good gawd! No wonder my kids are so smart. Creating a D&D character IS rocket science practically. I'm beginning to wonder about my intelligence level. Oh wait, it's 17. Actually, Astrid's intelligence level is 17....and that's pretty good for a level 1 character. About twice the intelligence of the average human. She's got me beat.

Jared came in tonight and gave me big hug. "Thanks for playing with us Mom, it's so cool that you're learning"
I hadn't realized how much it meant to them. Sierra was also really, really excited that I started playing.
"It's really cool to have a parent that actually does this stuff with us" Jared added.

I feel badly that I didn't learn it before!! It's definitely going to be an interesting journey. I'm not as well equipped for this kind of strategy play as my children are.:)

Watched a HILARIOUS video tonight. It's Ricky Gervais reading and explaining the book of Genesis. WARNING: If you're a bible literalist or Christian that will be offended by bible humor, don't watch it. Ok, you've been warned properly...now go watch it!! Swiped it from another unschooling blogger.:)

Sierra and Jared are really excited about MySpace now. I helped them both create accounts and they've been having fun hooking up with friends (mostly unschoolers from the conference and family) and messing with the music and layout.

It's amusing to me that my children (including the teens) are so happy to have me share their interests and network on MySpace. It's cool to have this kind of relationship with them when that was certainly not my teen experience. Unschooling rocks!!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Phuquing phunny

I'm not a spelling Nazi, truly I'm not. I don't use spellcheck very often. I rely on my friends to edit my writing. I really don't worship the Gods of spelling. If someone misspells words I don't judge their intelligence based on that.

But good GAWD! This kind of thing is why people believe the intelligence level of the South is in general, lower. Whether it's true or not isn't the issue, a sign like this just confirms every stereotype floating around in some people's books. sigh.

Note to neighbor: If you want to take the effort to create a sign asking for something from drive-by strangers, please, please, PLEASE know how to spell dirt. You make for a fecking hilarious blog, but you'll get more laughs than dirt.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Videos and teleportation devices

I worked a long day today (lotsa makeup on faces out there) and when I came home Jared had a video of characters from Kingdom Hearts2 doing a techno version of "the hamster dance" on my computer. Whoever mixed it did a great job, it looks like they're really singing the song. Funny stuff!

Something that seems to come up occasionally on the email lists, is brainstorming about fun things to do when you feel "stuck". I found this site called "101 Things To Do This Summer" and found great ideas and links. LOVE the fact that unschoolers don't need to wait for summer though!

Jalen wanted to know how kangaroos kick...so we went to google video naturally! Found this hilarious video of a kangaroo attacking a guy dressed up in an animal suit. Jalen watched it for a while and then said "that is CRAZY" and walked off.

I forgot to blog about Sierra's invention the other night. I came home from work and had an email from LeaAnn in Pensacola which ended with "-sitting here looking at Tori's teleportation device and waiting on Sierra to appear. "
I asked Sierra if she had a teleporation device. She got this funny look on her face and nodded yes, then said "But it didn't WORK!!!!"

She had a very elaborate set of papers, one with numbers, one with a "remote" for dialing in locations and addresses, another one with some kind of dial. It was all very detailed. "We thought it would work like a computer and we could travel that way" she explains.

I love, love, love Tennessee. But I moved my children away from family basically. Sierra and Tori are on the phone night and day, often while Instant Messaging each other at the same time. They are talking right now as a matter of fact. If LeaAnn doesn't move them all up here soon, I may have to provide therapy for the kids.

Thank goodness the boys would rather communicate with Brandon via computer, or I'd need another phone line!!

I just stopped by another blogger's site and found this truly awesome quote:

“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming to the universe: Wow — what a ride!”

Monday, August 14, 2006

A moth and a hike

The kids were excited by this beautiful moth that stopped for a rest on our door one afternoon. It stayed there long enough for a couple of shots.

The photo of Sierra, Jalen and I is from a short hike around Willow Springs park, a fabulous place Markus discovered on a bike ride. It's a huge park and only 4.5 miles from our house.

This afternoon I took Jalen into town just to hang out together. He wanted to visit Toys-R-Us to spend the money earned by helping babysit Sammie. It was a great afternoon and he decided that he'd like some "dipping soup" and bread from Panera's on the way home. As we were driving back towards Jonesborough, he asked "Mom, what does the Japanese flag look like?"
"Um....let me think about that."
"Oh nevermind. I know what it looks like, it's a red circle" he says.

I remembered the red circle on white at that point and agreed with him.
"And our flag is blue and white and red with stripes" he adds.

Ok, I can see how he'd know the American flag, but where on earth did he learn what the Japanese flag looks like? I still don't know, because he claims it was some book in my room but that it's gone now. He tells me the darndest things sometimes. What is funny, is we could be all worried that he doesn't know his alphabet yet, or his numbers or any other stupid thing that he'll learn just fine because he's a growing human, and miss out on all the rich connections that are important to HIM.

I was organizing photos last night and he was sitting on the bed with me. I went to move a pack, and he got upset with me; "stop Mom, my eyes were following the letters". He was tracing out the patterns on the photo pack with his eyes. I paused and handed it back. Silently his eyes walk over each letter, then he goes "ok" and we can move on.

Honoring his own way of perceiving the world, of absorbing information is exactly what unschooling is all about. If my own ideas of what-is-important-to-learn get in the way, who knows what the long-term damage could be? Knowing the Japanese flag matters more to him than other things for today, tommorrow it may be something different.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Hearts "beeping"

This picture is one that Markus took while Heidi and Martin were visiting earlier this year, the view is across the street from our house. The rainbow is symbolic of hope, and this last week has seemed to pivot on that very theme.

About heart's "beeping"....that's what Jalen calls it anyway. He asks if his heart is "beeping" right now and what it looks like. He said "is my heart beeping fast like this?" (picture spastic motion here). I said "your heart beat is regular honey".
"What does regular look like?" he asks.
Hmmmmm.....good question. :)

It led to an exhaustive internet search as my extremely determined five year old wants to see a REAL heart beating right NOW, thank you. The graphic simluator was not going to cut it. I was going to find a real heart or have one pissed off kid tonight. We finally found a medical video of an open heart surgery. It was for a valve replacement...a bio valve no less. Yay.

He watched that damn video entranced. He kept smiling and asking questions as I prepared to cover my eyes. It was alright though. I couldn't see the chest exposed, it was a close up, so I managed. He never batted an eye. They sucked out blood, they pushed, pulled, prodded, they hook up the valves to the bypass machine. Jalen stares.
The heart stops beating as the bypass machine takes over, they explain how to cut away the thickened valve (which is supposed to be as thin as tissue paper inside).
Yep, great viewing for the young child.

He was SO excited about finally finding a live heart to view, that he jumped up a couple of times to try and get Sierra to "come see this REALLY cool video Sierra, it's a real heart", but she passed this round. After a bit, he moved on to my anatomy book, with the diagrams on hearts open of course.

He and Sierra are now watching Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. It seems so tame by contrast.

We took our temporary pet home today, Sammie seemed happy to see Mary and John. Speaking of John, he can't get out of bed as he managed to damage his pelvis (fracture) in addition to his broken (and now pinned) wrist. He will be on bedrest for 8 weeks, then therapy. ugh. The boys were just happy to see him alert and joking around, I think they figured he'd be all loopy on painkillers.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Name origins

Sierra was asking what her name meant tonight, so I explained about the Sierra Nevada mountains and how she was named after them. I thought "Sierra" had more to do with the word "mountain", but I was incorrect. It refers to "saw" which is used to describe the mountain (saw-tooth mountains) range in California.

Jalen wanted to know about his name of course (Jalen means "calm" and Kai means "ocean"...where oh where did we go wrong with that??), then Jared (one who rules) and Trevor (prudent).

I got curious about Ren. I never thought about the meaning much, after all, I started life as Karen Bidwell and have been called Ren by some people since 1984. It started as a nickname and eventually felt like the only right name. I don't even like being called Karen anymore...it doesn't fit. Sometimes a name is chosen for you and sometimes you choose your name. I did the latter.

So I looked up Ren, which isn't easy. It's got roots in both Egyptian and Japanese culture, but not as a name. In the Ancient Egyptian culture it actually meant "name" and was one of the parts of the soul to them.
The Japanese definition was more interesting to me. It means "to link" and "gather together".

I've long felt that one of my greatest strengths in life was bringing people together. Whether for events, groups or social gatherings, I love to bring people together. So it was kinda cool that it had a similar definition in Japanese culture. The article I linked was all about it's use in writing....a bit technical, but interesting nonetheless.

In the words of Johnny Depp:
“They stick you with those names, those labels -- ‘rebel’ or whatever; whatever they like to use. Because they need a label; they need a name. They need something to put the price tag on the back of.”"

I'll take the label Ren...it seems to suit me alright. To hell with the other labels.:)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

We have a dog

For a little while anyway!! We're babysitting Sammie (John's little dog) while John is recuperating after surgery. He fell off a tire swing two days ago and the wrist break was bad enough to require surgery and pins. All this going on while his mother is battling in court over custody. Tough week.

But we've got little Sammie, who is thrilled to have the constant attention of not one, but TWO children! Jalen and Sierra are with him right now, watching television. I'm not sure if PeeWee's Playhouse is considered safe viewing for dogs or not. Ah well, we may ruin him.

I'm finding it more difficult than I thought to find local milk and eggs. I get my knickers in a twist when I think about the fact that I used to buy raw milk in the STORE for crying out loud, and now it's illegal everywhere. Like the government has our best interest in mind? What a bunch of BULLSHIT!

If I want to buy, sell or otherwise use raw milk, it's none of their goddamn business. I get SO pissed of thinking about all the poisons they willingly label "FDA approved" but we can't buy RAW MILK??? Yeah, I really trust my government to know what's best for me. ARGH!!!

Everman's had just started carrying raw milk in Pensacola, about the time we moved. It was labeled "for animal consumption ONLY". Sure. I'm an animal. It tasted great, but it would have tasted better before it was put into that damn plastic jug. sigh....

I really need my 10 acres.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Fab quote

This was at one of the lists this morning, had to put it here before I forgot:

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back,
always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation)
there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless
ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits
oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help
one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events
issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of
unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man
could have dreamed would have come his way."

The author is
William Hutchinson Murray.
(thanks to Pam S for posting it)

I certainly have found this to be true in my own life. The doors that open, the connections made when we commit to our own rhythm and dreams is amazing. I was reading my journals from a few years back, when I was standing on the edge of many of my passions and dreams...wondering what it would be like to simply dive in. I'm in the midst of diving and it feels pretty damn good. Chaotic at times, but good.:)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Coupla things

We pondered human evolution this week, then stumbled across a really cool story about a family with hypertrichosis (abnormal amounts of hair growth). Researchers believe they possess a rare gene, leftover from our earlier ancestors. They really look bizarre, but what a story! A modern day connection to homo erectis.

On Sunday, Jalen, Sierra and I decided to join up with the local SCA group for fighter practice. It was pretty hot and muggy and as we were waiting for the van to cool off, Jalen says "I am cookin' up like a chicken in a pie!"
He's a true Southerner...they have the most colorful phrases and euphemisms, I swear.
One of my Southern aquaintances was talking about a quirky gal and said "That Christa, she's nuttier than squirrel shit!" Yeah, they've got some good ones down here.

My kids come up with some great questions too...I think I can credit them with a huge chunk of what I've learned in recent years, just from their questioning. I was making a sandwich after I got home from work tonight. Jared comes out and says "I have a question about Siamese Twins. If one of them gets sick, does the other one's body help it?" Wow. For one, I'd never even thought to ask that, for two, I don't even know where to find that info. Google is great, but DANG!
My guess is that it depends on how many organs they share. We'll see.......

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Spirit Dolls

Here's a couple photos of a few spirit dolls. The smaller ones are "pocket dolls" and fit in the palm of your hand. I'm working on some glow-in-the-dark versions for children.

The white dolls in the above picture, were made in honor of my mother (she died in February of '02). The white material they're wrapped in is from a remnant of the material her wedding dress was made from. I attached a broach and pendant that belonged to her, onto my doll. The other two will be mailed to my sisters shortly and they can attach keepsakes of their choosing.:)

I also posted a picture of the wall mural in my bedroom, under the "First Mural" post from June. If you look closely, you can see Jalen sound asleep, in the lower right hand corner. So sweet.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

First Friday

Sierra and I drove in for "First Friday" in downtown Johnson City last night. When we got up to Nelsons Art Gallery, there was a loooong paper running down the middle of the street. Kids were pouring paint onto their hands and feet and running up and down the paper, slipping in it and painting themselves. It was great! Lost Mountain String band was playing (friend Jessica's dh is the guitarist) and the whole scene was a joyful, hubbub of activity.:)

Aleah was an interesting black/brown color from head to toe practically. Her curly head was fairly clean, so we knew it was her! Perry (another unschooler in the area) showed up close to dark and we ended up dancing in the streets to the folk music. Sierra got us going and I have to say, it was the most fun I've had dancing in a very long time! One of my favorite moments from last night was watching Aleah try to "paint" a bald head with pink chalk. She was convinced the chalk would color her own hair too. I think I'd better bring some hair mascara next time.

We finished up at our favorite hang-out, Acoustic coffeehouse. Ran into some pirates that were dressed up in honor of Captain Jack Sparrow. They promised to email me the picture we had taken with all of them, so hopefully I'll have it here soon. The guy in the trio (the other two pirates were women) was from Kenya. It was so interesting talking with him and hearing what he loves about this area and how he adapted to the weather etc... LOVELY accent.

It was pretty crowded last night. Sierra and I left messages on the bathroom wall finally, they've been out of chalk the last few times. Their bathroom walls are chalkboard, so people leave temporary graffiti in there...makes for some great reading.

I forgot to write about earlier this week, when we visited Jessica's crew. She has the COOLEST house for kids. It's an A-frame style out in the woods, with a REAL nature trail, tire swing and best of all; FROGS! Tyler and Aleah are really great at finding and catching frogs. Sierra and Jalen were fascinated. I brought my makeup kit at their request and figured I'd be doing fairy princess or butterflies or something. NOPE, they wanted FROGS on their faces.:)

I'm pretty lame at frogs we figured out. Might need to practice that one for next time....they were thrilled nonetheless.

Friday, August 04, 2006


We rented "March of the Penguins" last night...finally. Jared was the only one interested in watching it (and he was initially reluctant) but it ended up being a REALLY interesting movie. He was pretty amazed, as were Markus and I, by the behavior of these birds.

After the movie, we started discussing the questions that were unanswered; mainly, what IS the survival rate for a baby Emperor Penguin? Google was the next stop of course and we found out that it's pretty tough for the little ones to even make it to adulthood. Survival rates vary from 6-14%. Not so good.

After perusing some cool information on penguins, we got off onto paleoarcheology and the earliest human ancestors, evolution of species, (watched a video on the discovery of Lucy), paleontology and the whole Jack Horner/egg mountoun/maiasaura story, history of East India Trading Company and some of their brutal tactics and ended up watching diet Coke and Mentos explosions. It's neat to hear Jared's questions. He wants MORE information...until you've swirled through several topics and discussed various possibilities for hours. He's going to be 13 on the 29th of this month, not a bit of his joy for learning has dimmed.

A magazine we've had a lot of fun with lately, is "Mental Floss". It's dubbed itself as "the magazine for knowledge junkies". That we are.


Looked up information this afternoon on the making of the film. It's fascinating. You can read an interview with the director, Luc Jacquet here: Making of March of the Penguins.
The film crew actually spent 13 months living in Antartica! Here's a quote from Luc describing the lanscape there. Markus and I had commented during the film, that it seems so foreign, like another planet. We plan to charter a freighter there when we become independently wealthy:

"It's indescribable. It's almost not like Earth. It's such a challenge to transmit via film the sensations you feel over there. The scale is just mindboggling. You have icebergs that are 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) wide. It's a strange and eerie environment, hence my use of an impressionistic voice to try to transmit the beauty. There's no human reference point for it. There are only two color schemes. You don't smell anything. It's very complicated to try to convey this. All I have to work with is my passion."

Seems passion is a pretty amazing tool to work with!!! Hmmmmmm......:)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Unschooling Blog Carnival

The Unschooling Blog Carnival for August is now available! Thanks for all your hard work Joanne....it's always interesting to read the variety of responses.

Fun stuff

Some folks have asked about photos of the Spirit Dolls and other items. Unfortunately, I don't have a digital camera at this time. Markus does, but he's gone when I think about it!! I promise to ask him to take some pics tonight. I'll get my photos up eventually, but they have to be developed and put on disc first, it's a pain.:)
I'll get into the 21st century someday (probably about the time it's ending).

I want to share some chocolates with all my beautiful blogger friends. It's a special kind of virtual chocolate, that give you a dose of encouragement. This particular box of chocolates originate at an amazing website called Soul Food Cafe.

Another of my most-favorite-places-in-the-whole-wide-internet is Artella Magazine. It's the most amazing magazine I have ever seen; a decadent array of visual stimulation, ideas, words and much more for the creative soul. It's worth every dime. Their site has a bunch of fun ideas and stuff to play around with, so stop by. They have very generously supported the Live and Learn conference with a subscription and magazine donation for the Passion Basket I'll be making (which in turn supports the scholarship fund).

I've also had questions about making spirit dolls. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find the link that inspired my first doll. I've searched fruitlessly, but it's disappeared into the ether for the moment. I promise to post it when it surfaces again. Basically, I take a chopstick or other wood stick, wrap it in batting, then wrap over that with material I like. We embellish them with charms, beads, funky yarn and whatever strikes our fancy. I make their faces with polymer clay (we like Premo the best) and they magically take on a personality of their own.:)

I like to theme them...we've got "guardian of the forest", "moon goddess", "spirit of color" and "spirit of flight" to name a few. We also made some that fit in the palm of your hand and dubbed them "pocket spirit dolls", Sierra is working on some that could be worn as a pendant. My favorite so far are the ones I wrapped in leather (and no, I don't want to hear about how that conflicts with being a vegetarian) and have these wise little faces. Very tribal looking, I adore them!

If you google "make spirit doll", you'll get a ton of hits with a variety of ideas. We're going to delve into other styles shortly. Happy travels!

Groundhog problems

In a former blog post, I wrote:
"Hopefully, whatever is tearing up my large garden bed will find somewhere else to dig, I'm tired of finding holes each day."

I have discovered the foul beast, or actually Markus has, our furry friend the groundhog has all but destroyed everything I've tried to grow!! Every day that I go out to the garden, more plants are torn up. Yesterday, the green pepper plants were stripped of all their leaves.

I'm beginning to think that groundhog stew should be on our menu. Damn him!! So it looks like I need to learn how to keep the things living in our wildlife habitat from destroying the man-made garden. So far, he has left the tomato plants alone and I've got some really nice green tomatoes on there. Crossing my fingers on that one!

Markus found him digging in the herb bed on more than one occasion. He's the only one up early enough to catch the perpetrator. sigh. I'm going to experiment with cayenne pepper, but I imagine a really great fence is in order...one that goes underground too!

A quick trip into the Dollar Tree tonight proved quite fruitful. I found these small 4x6 frames I could craft onto ribbon and display some of my favorite ATC's. It looks so great on the wall that we're going back for more! It's nice to have them on display, these wee bits of art that bring so much joy.

Sierra and I have been busy with spirit dolls. She plans to keep all of hers, while mine are going up for sale shortly. She keeps making them, thinking she might sell one, but after it's finished she loves it too much to part with it! She'll have plenty of feminine goddess/spirit dolls to keep her company when I'm in Albuquerque.:) They're very sweet.

Jalen had an amazing day today. It's the first day I can remember in a very long time that he hasn't had a single meltdown. He very calmly asked me why I hadn't helped him with something earlier, rather than having the usual screaming melt down. I think he's breaking through some kind of developmental stage....one can hope.
Keeping the Rescue Remedy close by just in case.