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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, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

We just got back from doing downtown Jonesborough and trick-or-treating with Laura's crew. Lotsa fun! Most of the pics still need to be uploaded but here's what we have so far....

Jared and I as wicked vampires. Ooh it's fun to be evil. A bit medieval too.

Ciara's costume was by far the most difficult to pull off. She is a lovely Corpse Bride from the Tim Burton movie.

Fun makeup to do. Those lashes were fierce!

We found this cute little Link character in the woods and decided to bring him along.

A motley crew for sure. Grim, a zombie and an adorable witch join us for the fun.

Other Halloween activities this weekend incluced a party at Brandie's house.

And the traditional pumpkin carving. We didn't try to get fancy this year....just a happy Jack-O-Lantern to adorn the front deck.

Jalen discovers pumpkin guts.

We have another pumpkin waiting to be made into pie. Jalen insisted.:)
There were candy piles and trading to rival Wall Street tonight. After the vampires, ghouls and corpses take off their makeup it gets rather quiet around here. Ciara is singing "Our lips are sealed" by the Go-Go's right now. Jalen won't take off his Link costume (probably for another week) and Jared is hiding in his room while Bleu cleans up after us. There are some benefits to having a neat-freak around.;)

Happy Halloween everyone! Hope it was as filled with laughter, candy and cool costumes as ours.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Random late night stuff...

So it's 2:21am here in Eastern Tennessee and I'm wondering why I have no new email. Doesn't anyone else stay up half the night? Doesn't anyone else get energetic around midnight? Anyone? Hellooooooo.....

I've always been a night owl. My kids are too. Society doesn't seem to understand us. It's like you're a bad parent if your kids aren't in bed by a certain time and you must be a little bit "off" if you stay up until the wee hours of the morning.

Some of us are just programmed that way I guess. It isn't insomnia because I sleep hard once I lay down...
...unless some random thoughts start tripping around my brain. But that's unpredictable. It happens while falling asleep at times, early in the morning at other times (and believe me, I will NOT be awake early unless absolutely necessary or while camping).

Does anyone else have thoughts that force them to the computer at random times? Typing out your thoughts so they'll leave you the hell alone? I feel like that Amy Steinberg song; "I'm so sick of taking shit from my inner child, I wish she'd take a fucking nap or just stay quiet for a little while"
Yeah. Just for a while.
Let me organize my thoughts before a new one comes along, teasing and pestering the far corners of my brain. Pushing me to write, to create, to ponder.

We worked on Halloween costumes today. Jalen makes a perfectly adorable "Link" (from the video game series Zelda) and Ciara's "Corpse Bride"(Tim Burton movie) is slowly coming together. Jared's custom vampire fangs fit perfectly and I'm packing a box to mail to Trevor who has not decided when he's coming home yet. It's strange without him. I guess it's practice for when he moves out, but I'm not ready. Not yet. Maybe never.

I just wonder where all the other night owls are right now. 2:30am is a lonely time. Even with night owl kids around....they eventually give up and go to sleep like sane people. It's a quiet world outside. I'm missing Trevor and wondering how a person like me ever gets out of debt. Random thoughts. Typing in an effort to sort it all out. Feeling like crying because my oldest baby shouldn't be old enough to move away, or talk about marriage or anything of the sort because I don't feel old enough to be his mother. Everyone tries to warn you how fast childhood goes. You don't believe them until your child is an adult and then you scratch your head and wonder what happened.

Things like spilled food or broken mugs or cuss words or matted hair or dirty clothes or not brushing your teeth are insignificant really. It's the jokes and stories and playing in mud and making honey milk and eating nachos at 2am and Dracula movies and Link costumes and Obos and kittens climbing your leg and being ok with it all. No, not just being ok with it but reveling in it, enJOYing it, embracing this messy, inconvenient and miraculous thing called parenthood.

When your kid leans down to hug you someday, what do you want them to remember? A parent that dropped everything to go get a hissing cockroach and ended up with a rabbit instead? A parent that jumped into the tub with their clothes on? Or a parent that followed the rules and made them brush their teeth and worried about eating some Red40? Life is short. Childhood is even shorter. In some cases far shorter than anyone could have imagined.

Willie Wonka said "We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of the dream". The dream is to be a memory maker. That's what we parents are; memory makers. They should be damn good ones in the time we have. I think filling up your life with good memories is better than worrying about making your life a longer one. Fill up the years you have with the best stuff possible. Drink coffee like it's the most healing elixir on earth, and it will be. Make it good. That's what it's all about.

I miss my son. I smile at the smaller one looking like Link in the hammock chair right now. I sigh at my sweet Ciara snuggled in bed,having given up on her Mum coming to sleep anytime soon. We have costumes to complete tomorrow, we have a box to mail and bills to pay. Before then I need to sleep. Soon. Truly I will. I'm just glad I don't have to hide a book with a dim light and spend the first half of a school day struggling to stay awake. School was hell for me that way. Nobody drags me out of bed or dumps water on me to wake me anymore. When morning must intrude on my sleep, a coffee will do the trick. A warm, comforting cuppa. My choice. My way. Nobody else to dictate my sleep schedule.

I'm a night owl. Happily so. Anyone up for some chit chat? I'm here.:)

Asheville weekend

Here's the crew at Moira's dorm room...all decorated for Halloween.

The weekend before Brandon flew back to Pensacola, we drove down to Cullowhee to pick Moira up from college and stole her away with our crazy crew to Asheville for some fun. I had John with us too, so it was me and seven kids (if you can count the older one's as "kids"). My van was at maximum capacity. I think that's a first! We met up with Alice, Rachel and Jake for a day of downtowning and a day of Biltmore.

Asheville has a unique blend of the old and the new. This group of folk musicians were a lovely reminder of the Appalachian heritage. They probably grew up in these hills, playing music with their families. I'd like to think so anyway.

Dancing with the statues.....

...and a pitstop at Izzy's coffeehouse. Jalen and Jake share their newest hobby, collecting business cards from the Woolworth Walk! He proudly displays his day's booty here.

Brandon got his first fancy coffee drink, a Mocha. It was a great first with this foamy heart. He proclaimed it "delicious".

No trip to Asheville is complete without a stop at Mast General store where I stock up on Fels Naptha soap, Burt's Bees shampoo and the kids grab buckets of candy.

One of the best deals around, is a year pass to Biltmore because all the kids get in free with my membership!

Forever friends.

Biltmore has an interesting history and stunning architecture.

We dreamed of taking tea or breakfast with this view every day.

Hanging out in Pritchard park where Jalen chases pigeons, people have intense discussions and all sorts of interesting observations happen.

Another weekend spent with good friends, laughter, talk, food and exploration. Unschoolers rock!

Rock Creek with La

We met some friends up at Rock Creek last week, our favorite mucking about place. Unfortunately, the drought took away our swimming hole because the creek it feeds from is all but gone. The kids had a great time in spite of our disappointment, but it was shocking to see how badly this weather has affected our mountain streams.

Usually the kids all dare each other to swim out to this ledge. The water is cold even in the heat of summer, so it's a big challenge to see who will make it first.

The creek bed is a mere trickle of water now.

We were entertained by this odd assortment of actors. :) We told stories and befriended a wandering feline in the amphitheatre. Brandon showed us his handsprings. I swear that kid is made of springs and rubber, like Tigger.

Building Obos was the favorite activity by far. Silas sculpts with rocks above. I'm throwing in the pic below just for kicks. The child in the foreground with the long dreads is Silas before his haircut! I loved his dreads but apparently his head feels lighter now.:)

Jalen was uber concentrated while building his creation. He stacked and stacked....

...with an occasional rock thrown on by a passing friend....

...and then it was done. He sits back with a satisfied look on his face, proud of his work.

It's a good thing I snapped a few shots when I did because a few moments later his sculpture collapsed, Jalen was pissed and he wanted to go home.

Sadie's happy feet balance on a rock.

A sprawl of artists, picking out materials for their stacks. Laura's funky, joyful energy inspires me greatly! Another great day at Rock Creek, this time without the water play. Let it rain, let it rain, let it pour.

George's birthday and sushi

Moira (aka; George) had a birthday while Brandon was visiting so we made her favorite foods, edamame and sushi. Neither M or B had ever made sushi so it was lots of fun showing them how. I remember our first time rolling sushi at the Lovejoy's house. All that bubbly, happy unschooling energy was present at that event also. Good memories around sushi.:)

The above picture of Brandon is a shot of his very first sushi roll. It turned out great!

We also made her Kelly's famous pound cake. I swear that's the best cake EVER! So we made a big heart shape pound cake in honor of Moira's birthday and she loved it as much as we do. It got finished off at breakfast the next morning.

Happy Birthday again Moira!! We love you.

LeaAnn posted this great video at her blog. Thought I'd share it here:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I am....

Arun over at the Parenting Pit posted this recently and I thought it would be fun to play. If you post this at your blog, will you please come back and add a link in the comments section. I'd love to read more about you.:)

You can play by finishing the following sentences about yourself:
  • “I am…”
  • “Right now I am in…”
  • “Most people do not know that I…”
  • “I am passionate about…”
  • “Decades from now, when my children think of me, I hope that they remember…”
  • “My soul feels warm and I have a big smile when I remember…”
  • “If I could go back in time and give one piece of advice to myself when I was 18 years old it would be to…”
  • “I think that the most important thing about life is…”

here goes:

  • I am Ren. Obstinate, unrefined, passionate, bold, kind, creative and in lover of life. Mother of four, wife to one, sister to five and friend to many. I am motherful and motherless.

  • Right now I am in my basement, in my head and always in a state of muddlement as I try to sort out the thoughts that fight for attention in my brain.

  • Most people do not know that I feel alone sometimes. Surrounded by people, surrounded by love, surrounded by ideas and events...yet I can feel very alone and even lonely at times.

  • I am passionate about too many things. Not enough things. Things that matter. Building your own shelter, growing your own food, being capable enough to figure out whatever it is you need in life, being ok with feeling lonely, travel, herbs, tea, wine, gardening, growing, respecting children, learning, autodidactism, writing, art, hiking, breathing mountain air, being responsible with resources (no it is NOT fecking responsible to build a 5,000 sf house for two people. No, no, no way in HELL!!).

  • Decades from now, when my children think of me, I hope that they remember the laughter, the connections, the times I jumped into their bathtub with my clothes on because they asked, the times I brought home another animal for them because they wanted it, even though I knew their Dad would be upset, the times we grew things and learned together, the times they were alongside me building and gaming and watching and being in awe at life. The times we had tea parties at midnight or nachos at 2am...just because. The way their I passionately respected their right to choose their own life, forge their own path.

  • My soul feels warm and I have a big smile when I remember the day each of my children were born. The first time I held them and talked them outside the womb. The way I cried at the beauty of them and those beautiful eyes that were trying to take in this new world. I was holding a piece of divinity. Still am.

  • If I could go back in time and give one piece of advice to myself when I was 18 years old it would be to walk away from the brainwashing I got in the church we were raised in. I would let me know how much better life would be without the chains of religion, without the mental bondage of "heaven" and "hell", without all the concern about what others thought of me. I would tell me to RUN like crazy and never look back.

  • I think that the most important thing about life is the connections. Connections with the earth and with each other. Connections with ourselves. It's all that matters in the end.


I've been waiting to post pics of Brandon's visit for two reasons. One is that I still use a film camera and three rolls are waiting to hit the camera store. The other reason is that the few pics we have are on Ciara's digital camera but if I post them, my blog won't be in chronological order. Gasp!

I finally realized that my thinking was a bit rigid in that respect. Waiting to post until they can all be in chronological order? Who freaking cares?? Schoolish thinking rears it's head in the strangest of ways. So I'm going to post a couple pics, NOT in order and I'll add to it when we get more to add.

First of all, my friend Laura posted a bunch of fun pics (including a horrible one of me) over at her flickr account of our day at Rock Creek. The water hole was drained so the kids built Obos in it instead. The creek is so dry there isn't enough water for the water hole! It's scary how the creek is down to a mere trickle. The kids had a good time hanging out anyway.

After our Asheville trip, we dropped Trevor and Moira off at her parent's house in Waynesville. Feeding the neighbor's horse a few apples and lots of sad goodbye hugs were the main agenda.

The final day before flying home, Brandon gets his first mohawk (sorry LeaAnn!!)

Conservative no longer.:)

We're missing Trevor and all our company is gone. The house seems uncomfortably quiet. I should really learn to enjoy it but that happy swirl of energy and laughter is somehow more normal.

OH, and I finally posted at "Tea With Ren". Now to post more often than every six months. sigh.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


They started out oh-so-tiny on July 13th.

My how they've grown...
such good little curtain climbers. We still need to find a home for at least one kitten. If you'd like a well-socialized critter that purrs, drop me a line. I'd love to keep them all but four cats is a bit much at this point in life.

Oh, and the fact that my dear third child brought home a rabbit last week...
then there's those guppies and that rattie girl....
and the beehives that are supposed to get started this spring.

We're at maximum pet density (as my friend Betsy would say) so help distribute the cute things more evenly in the world will ya? I just know one of you in blogland could use a cute, well-loved cat.

I really should be posting about all the fun stuff since Brandon got here from Pensacola two weeks ago. Being on a film camera has it's drawbacks. He goes home this morning and I'll finally catch up on blogging after he's back in P'cola. sigh.

We've had so much fun with him here (don't worry LeaAnn, I'm not sending him home with a cat but there might be another small surprise when he gets back), my kids are going to be so sad when we leave him at the airport.

Sending "move-to-Tennessee" vibes with him of course. :) We'll miss you Brandon!!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ah geez...

A tornado hit Pensacola today, some of the damage right near our old house. Looks like the mall I used to work at was hit, but we don't know how bad. Called LeaAnn after we figured out what happened. All is well at their house. Brandon (who has been visiting since last week) is relieved of course. Gawd, it makes me remember all the stress of hurricane season. I'm so over it, though disasters can happen anywhere. I wish they could send some of that abundance of water this way.

Wishing all our friends in P'cola well. Hope you're safe and your possessions unharmed. Wish things weren't so volatile down there weather-wise....

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fall gathering

At the end of September, we packed up to head for one of our favorite gatherings....the bi-yearly FLT campout! FLT is a gathering of homeschooling families that meets at various camps in NC in both the spring and the fall. This year they've added a winter gathering planned for January in the mountains (hurray for heated cabins!).

This time, there were the usual cuddle puddles.........

....Always, always, lotsa love, hugs and kisses.

I love seeing how each of the kids expresses themselves in clothing. I broke out the makeup kit one afternoon and we had fairies and butterflies and crossdressers and even some glamorous Mums.:)

Seth ended up with green hair and Oliver with a colorful beard. I had nothing to do with that part. Honest. Step away from the hair dye Felix!

The lake was right in front of our cabin, complete with a rope bridge...technically off limits, but curious kids had to see for themselves if it was really broken.

Novice canoers are really fun to watch from the aforementioned bridge, as they try to avoid a collision.

Jalen checks out something...perhaps the novice canoers are entertaining him? "Hey, check out that canoe wreck Mum."

Girlfriends enjoying some time on the water.

I spent one morning sitting on the floating dock and meditating. I really had my Walden Pond...how glorious it was.

One of the best activities came in the form of an impromptu talent show and play, directed by a wee child of six years. I came upon her a few hours earlier, setting up chairs and preparing the stage with Jalen and another helper. They must have had about 40 chairs set up at that point, all in lines before they even asked for help. It was so dang cute!

The play had something to do with Egypt and zombie/mummy things. That's really all I know for certain. They then opened the floor to anyone that wanted to perform. The below pic is of Jen telling the one joke she knows. I suck at remembering jokes or I'd repeat it for your reading pleasure.... sorry folks.

My favorite memory is our night on the dock with the glowsticks. Pure magic! I had purchased many, many glowsticks of various sizes and colors to share at camp. We hauled them out one night and I immediately felt like the Pied Piper of Hamlin. I had children following me, clamoring for glowsticks. Ah...this is what REAL power feels like. Hmmmmmm.;)

We adorned ourselves with bracelets, necklaces and sticks, walking in a line towards the dock. It looked like an ethereal parade through the woods. Even eerier, was walking through the dark night and coming upon a colorfully lit dock in the middle of the lake. We sat down there for hours. Some of the kids cut the glowsticks open and sprayed the phosphorent material everywhere! Talk about bizarre. We looked like we had some sci-fi version of chicken pox.

This is Olivers hand on glowstick. Veeeeerrrrrry strange. Especially when he left a print on the back of someone's shirt. I'm fairly certain when the package says "non-toxic" the manufacturer did not mean "safe to fully explore in any manner necessary". We should all glow spontaneously after that kind of exposure!

Ciara getting funky with glow....

There's always a good campire going every night. The Dad's gently try to keep things from going to total chaos. Jalen and co. love to throw random things on the fire. There was marshmallow roasting, storytelling, singing, dancing and even a poetry slam by the fire on various nights.

We always come to FLT excited to see everyone. We leave satiated with more great memories, stories and learning experiences to carry with us until next time.....

....happy trails.