It must be Harvest time. 
Pickles, relish, pasta sauce and pesto to freeze, apple pie, bottled fruit and herbs drying on the rack.
Produce from our garden, and fruit from friends, our neighbours and the Plenty to Share stall across the road from the local store. 
It's easy to give thanks right now - the table is abundant, the cupboards full and the warm weather is still holding. 

And yet, even in the fullness of the Harvest, there seems to be the onset of decay - the first leaves turning, the bean vines drying, the flowers spent on the compost piles.
The ever-present paradox of this sweet life.
Right now, I'm feeling full of all this goodness and am hoping this gratefulness can hold me through the darkest times of the winter to come because she sure is coming.

structure in a child-led learning environment.

After a Summer with a full house (and lawn) of visitors, Gunter at home and a few trips away in the last month, the girls and I are craving for a bit of peace with our weekly rhythm and looking forward to sinking into the steadiness of the framework of our home days.

People often assume that because we cultivate a child-led path of learning that our days are unstructured.

'Structure' can be a bit of a loaded word, especially for those of us who identify themselves as being on the unschooling spectrum. People pull away from using it, assuming that it implies rigidity and is imposed from the top down. But structure in and of itself is not the baddy in the room. . For us who have chosen such a path of freedom, we may be afraid that a schedule may morph into mimicing or imposing on our days that which we have freed ourselves from: the stifling routine of school.
We forget that a structure can be designed, custom-made for us and in this way, serve our needs and desires.
Talk to your children, trust their lead and in doing so prevent rigidity. Watch and listen and then befriend some rhythm to your days if you or your children are craving some.

In a child-led learning environment the issue is not the existence of a structure but rather who designs it. 

Our framework is one we have co-created and flexes easily with the natural ebbs and flows of our full life. As well as it serving our individual needs (and not the other way around) it also serves the needs of the family as a whole: it supports our happiness and contentment and it supports us in our various learning pursuits.
It also punctuates our days with times to come together and times to move out by ourselves: times to rest and times to be busy.

Breath in.
Breath out.

We have always had a rhythm to ours days but over the last couple of years we have moved away from days brimming full of imaginary play, spontaneous art expression and stories, and moved deeper into intentional time to work on other self-chosen "projects." I have written a little about this here. 
This shift has paralleled their transition from young childhood into middle childhood.

For now, Ruby has decided that she wants a firmer schedule for herself. She has been asking for me for a while to wake her at 7am. I have been slow on the buy in as I treasure the early mornings for myself and for my quiet coffee with Gunter before he leaves for work.  
Then she has set herself 9am to get started on some more "formalised" learning that she wants to make progress on so that she then still has enough time in the day for lots of free play, her many other interests, friends and outings.
Progress on some more formalised learning? 
When exactly did Ruby become so goal-orientated?

My role in our partnership will be the same as it always has been: to support her ideas, remind her of what she had wanted to do, offer new directions, find resources, observe and help trouble-shoot. My role also includes being clear about what my needs are and making time to get those needs met. 
You can read about how I help co-create pathways here and here.

And so we will begin tomorrow: we look forward to it.
Our rhythm will keep evolving, a schedule may come and go. Sky will continue much  as she has done, Ruby has a chance to try out some of her new ideas and I will find time to write during the day.

It seems that the dreamy early years are over :) 

an ordinary weekend

A weekend in the garden with a bit of beach, community music and friendship tossed in for balance.
Working in the garden is like spending time in my place of worship. My hands dig in and I notice the beauty of the world evolving at my fingertips; budding, blooming and in decay.
Always returning: nothing wasted, everything purposeful. 

As with all years the harvest is a bit of a mixed bag but mostly I'm ok with that. 

My practice is 1 hour a day in the garden, usually early morning: that's what I can give it for now, 1 hour a day.
With spurts of more and lulls of less through the seasons. 
The girls also help a bit with growing the food they eat.
With that, from the garden we are eating potatoes, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, cabbage, mesculin, herbs, carrots, zucchini, lettuce and basil right now. We've had our first homegrown apples since we moved here and have a few strawberries still holding out. 
This year's garlic harvest will get us through the year well. Tick. Garlic is essential don't you think?
Once again our beetroot is ridiculously meager, the peppers were a downright failure, our potato harvest is average and my new tomato staking plan never really got off the ground which has left many of my tomatoes plants languishing on the ground.
Oh and did I mention the kale. Loads of kale. Always the humble kale. A staple here all year round. 

After a few weekends away Summering it up with friends, it was just the right medicine to be at home in the garden clearing, maintaining and harvesting.

the wee birthday girl

Charlotte had her 2nd birthday today and we celebrated with cake and plenty of time for her to play with friends.
Ruby has been preparing for it over the last few days and although I wasn't really in the mood and I could have chosen to do a hundred other things I let go and celebrated Charlotte's birthday too.  
There may not be many more.

Ruby tells me she notices that her friends play less than they used to: they seem to play less and want to talk more she says. 
She's halfway through nine so I guess it's to be expected. 
Nevertheless there is sadness for Ruby in growing up and the prospect of losing this safe, innocent imaginary world which has been her constant companion throughout her childhood.

We reassure her that she will never lose this world, just as we never lose our childhood. 
We tell her that her imaginary play will enrich her entire adulthood.
We tell her that her relationship with Charlotte will always comfort her, where ever it is she goes in her life. 
We tell her this and yet we also know that as she spirals out and grows, slowly other interests will push her imaginary world to the periphery.

We know all of this and so continue to take seriously the role that Charlotte has in our life.
We know this and happily continue to place play at the centre of our lives.

Happy Birthday sweet Charlotte.

camp & camping

We are back home from a long weekend at the Inaugural South Island Life Learners Camp, the seed of which was gingerly planted back at the Open Space hui last July.
Whaa! We made it happen and it was good.

It was a weekend full of evening skipping, early morning yoga, giggley slide sessions, rhythmic candle dipping, papercraft marathons and unexpected magic at the Blackboard concert;  happy children and many happy parents relaxing into the encouragement and support of others.

The weekend was a co-creation of all who came to camp which means no-one had to shoulder the responsibility of the "success" of the event. Instead as the seed sowers, we might set the intention, set up a space and time and do a little prep. After that all that is left is "holding" the energy. Now I know that "holding the energy" might sound a little on the edge of Fairyland for some of you, but really it's  just gentle facilitation; checking-in with others on how things are, supporting people to step up (or step back), gently moving things forward and generally helping cultivate a culture of love, tolerance and curiosity.
Co-creation reminds us that nothing is really about "me" but that it's all about "us" and really, what better news is there?

With no rush to be home, the girls and I anchored the trip at either end with an overnight stay at a riverside DOC camping ground, collectively breathing in the natural rhythm of outside living, the gentle quiet of the stream and the golden hills of late Summer.

More and more this Summer I have left the camera behind, leaving this space with fewer photos.  Although a camera can be a tool which brings people closer to their environment and the moment in which they find themselves, recently I have found it more and more a distraction for me and the girls . I became uneasy with the growing tension between being present with what is, and my desire to reach for the camera and try to capture (hold) the moment. And so more and more I have just chosen to leave it behind. I know, not great for a blog but a reflection of some of the things we are working with over here in real time;) 

home, finally.

Who would have thought that this humble little bach that we call home could ever hold such contentment and joy for me as it does now.
Certainly not me.
The weekend we moved in here, all I remember is crying.

The state of the building and the size of the place meant that the Real Estate Agent assumed we would demolish this little bach and build something new.
What he didn't realise was that we were beaten down from  2 years of spending a large portion of our income and too much emotional energy on a section we had bought in the area; a section that we originally thought would save us money rather than cost us more than we could ever have imagined.
When we had bought the section we were optimistic; we were on a single income, we were good at living on the smell of an oily rag and we were comfortable with building a very simple abode. Naievely we couldn't imagine that a floor, four walls and a roof would cost that much.
The section we had bought was steep, we knew that might be tricky but that too we thought we would find ways of managing.
Again, we were optimistic and had no reason not to be - things had always worked out for us in the past.
Ahem! And that's when the story changed direction :)

Quickly our naieve optimism bowed to the demands of reality; the reality of a single income carrying weekly mortgage and hefty rental payments.
This is where the story's appeal declines rapidly:)
To cut a long (3 years) and tedious story short,  we eventually discovered that we couldn't even pitch a tent on site to live in without building a retaining wall and by then we had no money or energy.
We put it on the market.

So what the Real Estate Agent didn't realise when he assumed we were a lovely middle-class family with plans for a build, was that there was no money for anything other than the necessities. 
What he didn't realise was that this little rundown bach was all our family could manage (at a stretch) and we needed it badly so as to gather together again, regain our strength and restore some harmony. We were in dire need of nurturing something that would grow and we hoped it would nurture us in return.

The weather was shocking the Summer we moved; so cold that during that first weekend we lit the fire. The house was cold, the walls and carpet were grey and I cried. 
I cried in fear for my severly stretched relationship with my dear partner Gunter.
I cried for the close friends I had left and the lose of the close community we had been immersed in.
I cried with worry for my children who had to bare the brunt of such a testing time.
I cried in fear of having to give up on our vision for giving our girls a childhood free of school so as I could help pay the bills.
I cried because at 40 I had just bought a bach, nowhere near as sound as the first house I had scrimped around and wiggled my way into at 24 years of age.
A Pity Party was the order of the day.

It has been one of those seasons of life when you wonder how on earth you ended up in this place without a soul to blame and seemingly without solution.
It's certainly been a long road to fully accept that life plays out differently than what we might have planned.
And yet there you are.
It seems that being fully present in whatever place you find yourself is really the only solution there is. 
It certainly is the only place where my life is taking place and that is where I want to be even with the grief and discomfort.
Very little has changed in reality - the section is still on the market, we still have little for extras - and yet everything has changed because finally the story in my head has changed.

This bach has been the bearer of so many unexpected gifts, the biggest being that it's size and simplicity reminds us to live humbly.
Cultivating humility undercuts this culture which screams "me, me, me" endlessly and ultimately frees us from keeping up with the race.
Living with little reminds us to be grateful for the many things that really matter in our lives - our family, our friendships, our freedom, our health.
And slowly we rebuild our internal compass, we let go of comparisons and expectations (my on and others), and we continue to wake up to our very own lives before us and the beauty they behold.

digging into the life right at my feet.

I finally find myself back in front of the screen.
The rest of the family, as well as a couple of taggers-on (is that even a word :), have just leapt into the car heading to the wharf 5 minutes down the road, boogie boards in the back.  
I have missed writing here but truly life has been just been full with Summertime goodness this last 6 weeks.

Summer has turned out to be just the good medicine that we were all seeking.
After the desolation of my mother's death, then the flurry that is December with gift-making and Christmas with my step-father, we pushed against our habit of seeking new lands and instead wanted to sink into our own backyard and the beaches just beyond. I wanted to dig in to my own life, wake up to the wonder of each day and experience what "the lazy days of Summer" might feel like if I could just let each day unfold in front of me. 
Waking up to my own life is what I am on about this Summer and for inspiration listen to this podcast with Jon Kabat-Zinn. This is a radio show that I regularly tune in to, often while cooking; it stretches my thinking in new ways and inspires insight. Thanks Renee at FIMBY where I originally found the link.

And so for six weeks now, we have stayed put and have welcomed a steady stream of friends and family into our home.  With such superb weather and mostly outside living, our little bach has managed to hold all this fullness with grace. Tenting on the lawn, swingball down the driveway, grooming and exercising the horses, carving in the carport, trapezing and trampolining and a whole lot of fellowship.
Fellowship (an old word that I am newly playing with) is something I seek where ever I go. It's fundamental to how we want to live as a family and how we want to grow our children;  to grow in community, rich in loving friendship and possibility.
And here it was, right at our doorstep, all Summer long.
The cornerstone of each day though has been our trips to the water; mostly to the wharf, sometimes to a  beach. Sometimes a 5 minute dip and other times most of the day, with rock pools, kayaking, high jumping and general sand and water fun.
These daily swims is what I think I will remember most about this Summer.

So here I am back on the blog, somewhere that I do want to be, encouraging families to design the life they dream of living and figuring out how to do it, supporting them to slow down and honor their time with their children and shining some light on growing self-directed learners so that others may grow in confident and claim learning back into the heart of their family and our communities.
This is my passion and the work I attempt to live and I do love to share it, in fellowship.