Thursday, September 13, 2018

Some experiences unschooling

A few people have recently asked about how and why we are unschooling, and in the moment I usually mumble something incoherent about autonomy. I wanted to reflect a little more deeply here, though not comprehensively, as supporting our kids' education is inevitably complex. Noah would be in Grade 2 this year, and I've written about unschooling in the past (though I cringe at some of those posts). School can seem really innocuous to those who thrive in those settings (or seem to), so I'm grateful for a firstborn who is sensitive and challenged so many of my assumptions.

The experience of unschooling, to me, has been a move away from outcomes, towards the journey, and towards connecting with my kids. If you've ever read this blog, you know I plan and scheme and will suffer seemingly endlessly for a goal (I think this is partly a result of school). This can serve me well, at times, but it also means I struggle to be present for the ride.  It also means that my tendency is to think of the future for my kids-- and inevitably, because I'm that kind of person-- to constantly be measuring my kids' successes.

In fairly Calvinist (conservative Christian) settings as a child, during college and our early years of marriage, there were a lot of fairly awful ideas about children. Alongside these were also quite negative ideas of God-- and these were tightly wrapped up in a highly patriarchal social structure. What was terribly confusing is that God (and parents, leaders, and teachers) did not necessarily have to be kind or considerate-- they could do anything and say it was "for our own good." A consequence of being in this kind of setting is that one cannot trust one's own feelings. Don't even get me started on what it was like to be a girl and a woman in these settings! Not only could we not trust our own desires and motivations, we also could not trust God to be good, all the time. I am not sure if this influences how kids in schools are being taught around the world-- I am outside of that world right now-- but I want to move away from my tendency to see my children as vessels to be urgently filled (with skills, or knowledge, or even values), whether or not they want that skill. While self-reflection is powerful-- I want my kids to be the ones doing the reflecting on their desires and motivations, not me or another adult. In this sense, unschooling is less about learning and more about relating-- knowing that in healthy relationships it is easy to learn and grow.

There are a lot of people who believe God is always good who don't unschool, so I think my experiences are the result of a particular, non-universal, journey. Still, unschooling has brought a helpful consistency: In imagining a more relational, less capitalist, less power-based, less shame-filled/competitive society, a lot of ideas align, albeit messily (and inconsistently). We can enjoy our lives while remaining responsible and responsive to our contexts.

So as I grow with our kids, the value of unschooling is less about outcomes and more about finding ways to be consistently kind and support our kids, while being careful to attend to our own journey, responsibilities, and boundaries. It is a way to trust our children and try our best to connect with them, which is harder than it sounds. It does not mean leaving them to do their own thing, but finding opportunities for them to get to know themselves, and to shine. It means creatively finding ways to meet all the needs of all family members, and be explicit when we are struggling to do so because of financial, time, or energy constraints. What I want them to feel is an abundance of opportunity, and an abundance of love-- a complicated abundance, given friendships with those who have much less than we do-- but abundance nevertheless.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

August 2018: building my parents' house, no electricity, no drainage, no stove

Noah started a YouTube channel of his own...

My parent's house is built. This time around, the person managing the build was lovely, and we were able to implement all we learned from our last construction attempt (just you wait until we build a third house... no...wait...).

another red house!
As with all construction/renovation -- in our family at least-- things started to get really hard at one point around two months ago. We had no electricity, little water, no drainage (our greywater system was dug up to make way for my parents' house). We also had some unsettling break-ins, and our whole family got unusually sick. All the while Eug was taking a very active role building parts of the house, and I had to keep up with work and both of us still need to care for our kiddos (who, admittedly, have been playing a lot of minecraft).

Previously when I had heard about homesteader burnout, my response was a pretty smug, "you don't know how tough I am." I am sorry for that smugness. I think burnout is very normal because homesteading is often illogically difficult, and when you're in the thick of it you can't remember exactly why you're sitting cold, dark and sick in a modern city. Self-righteousness just feels stupid! At that point, we often end up at the McDonald's playground, though this time we didn't-- not because we're above it but just because somehow the brief satisfaction no longer feels worth it (if you want to get serious about being frugal, buy a nursery and track all non-essential spending to how much more you could pay your employees.. no wait, don't! Seriously, though, the nursery has changed my experience of money in a pretty visceral way.).

In these experiences, we are learning homesteading is less about self-sufficiency and more about learning about deep interconnectedness-- our dependence on the grid, on not having our stuff stolen, on the weather and our surrounding ecology/soil, on technology, on our fragile health. Even though we can sometimes produce some of our own food, we're inherently vulnerable, and understanding that vulnerability increases our empathy for those around us who are indeed cold, in the dark, and sick (and maybe even hungry) in our supposedly modern city. It's still possible to keep learning from our mistakes and to slowly work on resilience-- not to make ourselves invincible but to learn to be more peaceful, empathetic, and hopefully less exploitative.

Part of resilience seems to be making peace with hardship and imperfection, and being able to cope with our own smallness and lack of control and knowledge. For the first time, in the thick of it, we haven't just fantasized about moving somewhere where we imagine we wouldn't have problems: we're rooted here, at least for the next while. I am constantly learning new things I didn't know I didn't know. There's a spiritual dimension to this process, which for me takes the drudgery away and replaces it with a sense of wonder.

In hard times, there's anger and indignation and a sense of helplessness-- perhaps it is this age of Trump (though perhaps there is also the Eritrean-Ethiopian peace to look to in amazement and hope). I am not sure where it comes from or where it will go, but there is injustice and inconsistencies in our own lives that could take a lifetime to work out, so perhaps it is not right to direct anger towards an other (Here I don't mean to advocate apathy). Again, there is something to be said for empathy in absurd situations, for the bigness and goodness of God, and tapping into that rather than into the despair enacted around us.

Hana has been cutting her hair and, unrelatedly, bringing a lot of grass to Bubbles...

Minecraft and orange juice...
Potato planting. Our vegetable garden has been a bit of mess with grass taking over, but we've planted a lot of potatoes  and garlic because that was what I could wrap my head around, and with a few hours work I'm cautiously optimistic about the growing season ahead.

With building we haven't had time to think too much about farming -- either starting seeds or caring for fruit trees. Thankfully it is winter, so watering is taken care of by the rain. Perhaps because of the winter, we still had a fair amount to eat from the garden, and there's quite a bit of self-seeded vegetables emerging. I can see that a little bit of consistent work (primarily involving improving the soil) over several years is cumulative-- we may well get as much food this summer as last summer, despite my lack of attentiveness. Having kids is also helpful- I plant with them, with more attention to the process and less to whether we'll grow anything. I figure a pack of seeds is a pretty affordable homeschool lesson, right? And over time, we have a garden.

On optimism: I remember two early goals on my farm googledocs spreadsheet: to have around 20 granadilla vines throughout the farm, and to have around 10 tamarillo trees. I struggled to start tamarillos from seed, and granadillas kept being destroyed by ducks or weevils. At the time it seemed impossible and things kept failing. Two years later, this goal is no problem-- 16 granadilla vines are already well established and some more are newly planted on my parent's fence, with plenty (60 or so) ready to be sold or planted depending on space and irrigation. We were able to get just one tamarillo to a good size, and it fruited this past fall. I planted some tamarillo seeds from this one fruit haphazardly (aah, to have an abundance of seeds instead of the pitiful 10 included in those seed packs) and now I have maybe 100 tamarillo seedlings (though they still need to survive planting into the ground.) Anyway, gradual incremental learning and soil/infrastructure development is meaningful, and the historical view is always helpful when we're facing challenging times.

Also helpful: going to visit penguins at low tide, before any tourists arrive.

(running alongside, not towards-- we respect the penguins' space! )

While Eugene and I have generally been a little tired and worn out with the many demands of the last couple of months, we press on! I'm guessing that many more happy, exciting and hopeful updates on our farm will follow- and many more photos!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Our goose died

Our male goose passed away a few days ago. He's been ill for a long time, ever since he had a stroke in December. Our female goose keeps calling for him. There's something very poignant about the sadness of a goose losing it's mate. We'd been nursing the male goose for 6 months... Carrying him in and out of the kiddie pool, feeding him by hand at times. I feel sad because winter suddenly set in and I didn't think to bring the goose into our house until it was too late, and maybe he could have had longer.

Then I wonder how it happened that I am bringing a full grown goose into the house to lie down in front of the fire. Caring for this goose even after we knew that he and his mate would probably never give us eggs or meat-- it brought me back to the economics of farming. The economics of our farm often don't add up. As pressed for time as we are in this season of our lives, to spend time on a dying goose verges on absurdity. As you may guess if you've read a few posts, I go between painstakingly calculating our costs (time and money, time is money??) and outputs to convince you that farming is a great idea, and giving up on the economic value. (and of course, you might just say the geese have ended up as pets, which I suppose is also true) I focus on the frugality of farming because I don't think it is enough for people who love farming to farm... maybe it is, or maybe more people will grow to love farming as the world shifts and shifts again?

I grew up in evangelical settings where we had to not only be sure and right and have all the answers, but we also had to convince everyone else we had what they were missing. So bear with me when I do that, it's a habit that is hard to break. Part of our urban farming efforts began as entirely evangelical (YOU MUST ALL FARM) but farming has a way of messing with one's sense of certainty and control. There is a world of wonder and contradiction on our farm, where you don't get away from money (for example, our animal feed costs more than eggs would, though we can sometimes sell ducks or chicks, our financial benefits are very haphazard and fuzzy) and yet-- perhaps only if you have the financial margin to do so-- we do find ourselves emerging from that hard logic of economics. We edge away from supply and demand thinking, in the sense that money gradually gets less important. Of course, we've had to do a lot of work, and a lot of careful saving, in the context of a cutthroat capitalist economy to get where we are-- i.e. no mortgage and student loan debt etc. Habits are very hard to break. But I hope one day money will factor much less in my life than it does now, and there's some tentative evidence that this is possible-- not because we're so rich money doesn't matter, but because we're not measuring everything in those terms, or buying much from the monied economy. We're not going to live without money, and we're owners of stuff, but our relationship with money has shifted a lot already, and I think it'll shift a lot more.

As we produce more, money becomes a tool for fewer things, and we get more resourceful. But it's more than that; it is gradually less important to measure value in terms of money, or to measure at all. Even though I am stuck in my head so much, as part of working within a university structure, I am stuck in my head much less than I used to be, because there are so many chores to be done and little kids to be cared for. I like it.