Charcoal Spoons

cedar spoonsGetting outside during the winter for extended periods of time with the kids can sometimes be challenging- even in what I consider to be a fairly moderate climate comparatively to the rest of our country.  Rainy days can seem dreary, and clear days can feel surprising frozen on our noses and toes, unless movement is constant.  In this past clear, cold spell of weather, myself and a few families were invited to spend an afternoon at a farm, lighting a fire together and cooking some food, as well as explore the surrounding forest and learning to make charcoal burned cedar spoons with a wonderful member of the community, Emily.  Thanks so much to Roz and her family, who are in our community of homeschoolers, for organizing this day for everyone!

farm explorationsFirst we went through the steps of lighting a fire without the use of paper.  Emily brought some pieces of dry cedar, and the kids took turns using their knives to make a pile of cedar shavings that would be the fire starter.  Then they split kindling from the cedar, and set that close by with other larger pieces of fire wood that were collected nearby.  Our warm fire got going rather quickly, and we set a variety of foil wrapped veggies into the fire to get them cooking while the kids went with Emily to learn some compass skills in the forest.

When they returned, the coals were good and hot and we opened the foil veggies.  Roz brought a batch of bannock dough, which we wrapped around sticks and roasted in the fire.  We discovered a large apple tree still loaded with apples, which turned out to be all rather frozen, but which baked up beautifully when one of the kids wrapped some bannock dough around the chopped frozen apples and put it in the fire inside some foil.  It was the best campfire apple pie we had ever had!

As we finished eating, Emily demonstrated how to make a cedar spoon by using pieces of charcoal to burn out the scoop.  It needed lots of careful handling to maneuver a coal out of the fire and onto the flat end of a piece of cedar quickly enough so that once it was clamped in place with another piece of wood, the coal would still have a red ember when it was gently blown upon.  Sometimes the coal would go out, and another one had to be picked out of the fire, or sometimes a rest for the blower was needed, and so another coal was exchanged.  As the hole in the spoon got deeper, a smaller coal could be used to burn into the bottom of the scoop without adding anymore width.

Once we got home, there was lots of whittling, carving and sanding to do to shape the rest of the spoon.

frost crystals

It was soon evident that this was a very meditative and patient sort of process, with lots of deep breathing and focused attention on the glowing embers.  Being in close proximity to the hot fire kept everyone warm, even as the crisp air refreshed our beings with so much oxygen.  A few hours later, as I packed up our things and we put the fire out, I wandered back across the fields in a happy state of feeling connected to the land around me, to the group of kids and adults with me, and to myself in this place and time of life.  Throughout so many ongoing fluctuations and shifts, this was a perfect afternoon to be reminded of such constant, simple, and important states of being that carry me along.

 

Life Learning Continues On the School Bus

Welcome BayThis fall marks the 8th “school” year of home learning for us, and, as every year unfolds and the kids get older, we are given new opportunities of inspiration to consider.  The mornings of mist and fog settle around the golds and browns of shifting leaves, easing us into the soft and still warm breaking through of the sun.  The changes sometimes seem sudden, like the darkening of the evenings, but also natural and embracing.  It feels this way with my oldest daughter’s decision made within 6 days to attend the local elementary school for her 7th grade year.

One week we were snorkeling together on a thursday afternoon, and the next tuesday she was on the school bus heading to her first day of being in the class room.  There were many conversations, both practical and heartfelt, that led her on this journey.

welcome bay snorkelMany of her close friends had chosen this year to switch from our home schooling group into the school, each for their own reasons, and she was feeling a strong need as a twelve year old to connect with similar aged friends within her learning environment.  A natural shift from learning mainly through play seemed to be taking place in the last year, but with an unknowing of how to continue to create interesting, integrated, experiential and fun learning projects on her own motivation.   This led her to be inspired to expand her experience of learning-  we discussed how every experience has something to offer, in this case, study skills, self discipline, being an individual learner within a directed group, group projects and discussions, and diverse social situations.  Moving out of a comfort zone and seeing what there is and how to respond.  She equated her educational journey to a spiral- with each experience leading the spiral upwards.  In life learning, everything is education, no matter what the structure is- and it will all be a part of what shapes and directs her journey.  In the future, she may chose from a variety of learning situations, and she was quite excited to begin getting familiar with a few of those options.  She told me one night that she felt she really believed in herself, in her own strength and abilities to overcome anything that felt challenging.  on the waterIf she doesn’t like it, she understands that she can switch back to being at home, with her own schedule, and with a deeper understanding of her own motivations and preferred environment.  Here on the Gulf Islands, we have a 4 day school week, and an incredibly supportive principal.  Surrounded by good friends and a familiar place, she enjoys her teacher and the absence of desks in the class room- all factors that have made the transition for her a positive one so far.  She has already taken part in an overnight camping trip to Saturna Island’s SEEC program with her class, (which we have done many times with our home school group in the past), a combination of outdoor activities and peer group learning that is perfectly within her educational desires at this time.  There have been some doubts along the way, related mostly to early mornings and being inside a lot- both being practices of discipline and commitment.  She has also noticed a disconnected sense towards our land- a place we have slowly developed in the past 6 years and on which she has spent most of that time outside and keenly aware of the nature around her.

When we began home schooling, it was my belief that the first few years, the youngest ones, the most impressionable ones, were the most important for a grounding of and a knowing of the self.  My experience of school as a primary aged student, which followed into the rest of my adult life, was the disappearance of myself in a crowd, and the conflict of wanting to be seen and acknowledged, and yet, never to be the focus of attention.  I realize that that may not have been the experience of my kids if they were in school, and I was willing, of course, to support either of my kids if they at any time, chose to take a different path, but neither of them had until now.   Taeven now has a strong, inward sense of herself, with a solid foundation of values and unique qualities to share with her classmates.

cedar in arbutusMy younger son, who is 9, has no interest in attending school at this point.  He is fueled by riding his bike around and building things all day- and being entirely in control of his own time and activities.  (With a little math and reading direction from me.)  He has a great group of similar aged friends in our Spring Leaves Family Learning group, and very much enjoys the time we spend together doing a variety of seasonal, especially outdoor, activities.  He misses his sister, and she has expressed a mutual feeling, so we try to spend off school hours together as a family- at home, in the community, or on short trips to the wild west coast to surf together.  I am grateful that we have been able to create a supportive educational journey for our kids, one in which they are able to nurture their inner sense of self as well as their infusion into the one world around us.  We are empowered by our own choices, and thus create the life we dream of.

 

 

Weaving for Autumn

peach scarf buttonsA few more weaving projects have left my loom over the past few months and are ready to be worn in the cooler weather of autumn.  Scarves, of course, are easy to weave and require nothing more than to drape them over oneself.

I made one piece of wide weaving into a tunic as a birthday gift for a friend of mine.  After cutting the weaving in half, I sewed the two pieces together up the back.  I found 6 hand made clay buttons and sewed two on each side and two in the front, with loops through which they close.  The warp threads are silk/nylon, and the various weft yarns are angora, merino, wool, and recycled sari silk.  Happy Birthday Nia!

Other scarves that have begun to pile up vary in width, length, heaviness, fibre content, colour and pattern.  I get drawn to follow a simple design, attempting to create a certain pattern, and then I am inspired to follow nothing at all but my spontaneous reach for colour and texture.  Scarves are great for not having to be committed to an idea for very long, especially with my collection of very random fibres.

 

Discovery Orchard Progress

Discovery orchardLast March, we planted a 40 tree cordon orchard on our property, which I wrote about in Discovery Orchard.  There were things left unfinished after the initial planting of the young trees as we moved into a busy spring and summer.  We have finally completed the support system and protective roof structure in time for winter, as well as learning a few things about the pruning of these fruit trees.  Unfortunately, a persistent deer got into the orchard one night and stripped all the leaves off every tree, which altered the pruning techniques we learned to some degree.  All the trees came back just fine from this ravage, however, leafing out once again and putting on some new growth along the top leader.

post saddlesColin split all the posts we needed from his salvaged cedar collection, a side benefit of his business, Thujawoodart.  They are mounted on saddles that were concreted in place when the rows were dug, a total of four posts in each of the four rows.  We used airline cable (1/4 inch stranded stainless cable) tensioned at one end with turnbuckles, three to a row placed at 2, 4, and 6 foot heights.

At each tree, I attached a long piece of bamboo with zip ties to the cables, at a 45 degree angle mirroring the angle that we planted the trees.  Then the main stem of each tree was gently tied to the bamboo with stretchable plastic ties.  We pulled off all the flowers (after they were finished- I had a hard time pulling them off when they were still so beautiful!) to encourage the trees to put more energy into establishing their root systems.  The trees sent out side branches during the summer, and when it came time to prune them in August, Colin met with Bob Duncan at Fruit Trees and More to watch how he prunes his cordon fruit trees.  That’s when the deer got in, but we did what we could anyways, which was cutting back each side branch after the third cluster of leaves.  The leader was tied along the bamboo as it grew.

We also added a watering system to help establish the trees in their first few years.  We have a rain barrel sitting on a platform 6 feet high, using gravity to send water as needed to each row using drip tape.  The rain barrel is outfitted with a float at the top, which triggers automatic refilling as needed from our spring.  It has been hard to keep the rows free of weeds- it seems that the well watered soil is hard to resist for many of the field plants that were growing there before.  I have decided to let the clover take over, which seems to do a good job of keeping out the buttercup, thistles, blackberries, and dandelions  My thought is to perhaps cut it down or mulch over it again in late fall and allow it to decompose over the winter.

Our next challenge was constructing the roof over the rows, something which Bob suggested.  He has been growing fruit trees for more than 30 years, and has come to realize that our naturally damp climate makes in difficult to avoid canker and scab and a variety of other diseases after a period of time.  He was in the process of covering all his apple trees when we purchased our trees from him last spring.  It is not common to put a shelter over apple trees, but Bob considered it to be a major organic solution and something that is easier to install right from the beginning.  Covering the trees meant that we could also add some water sensitive varieties like apricots, nectarines, and peaches to our orchard.  sunflowersColin tracked down long metal pipes that are used for drilling wells, and with the skills of a local welder, he constructed a frame that mounts to the top of the posts, one frame covering two rows, with a minimal overhang.  We stretched greenhouse plastic as best we could across each frame, using pvc piping cut into quarters to clamp the plastic to the metal frame and using  self tapping metal screws to hold it all in place.  We aren’t sure if the plastic will develop any sags with heavy water collection, although Colin did make sure that each roof had a slope for run off.

So long as the deer stay out, we should be looking to begin harvesting next year, and with practiced pruning and training our trees should be in full production in 4-5 years.  To read more about the planting and varieties of the trees, please read my previous posting Discovery Orchard.

Summer Life Learning

tree frogs

Taeven’s tree frog photo won first prize at the Fall Fair

I often get asked if we continue to “home school” in the summer.  I understand why I get asked; since  “school” suggests a scheduled time frame while “home” implies a year round location.  In my attempts to explain our tendencies towards seasonal life learning, I reflect on how summer is often even more intensely full of focused learning and play.  This summer my kids have done a week of sailing camp, a week of family music camp, soccer camp, and 4 days of kayaking around Pender Island.  A number of distant family members and friends came to visit, we had music festivals to attend as well as to host, and in between, endless bicycling around with neighborhood friends.

watching the sunset at the weekly beach potluck

watching the sunset at the weekly beach potluck

Our pond often became the local swimming spot for children and parents at the end of a hot summer day, and we continued with going to our community beach potluck every sunday.  We also constructed projects and crafted entries for our local Fall Fair, and these days, we are busy harvesting and processing apples, pears, and plums as well as keep up with other gardening activities.  Our time spent actively moving, socializing, learning with different teachers, and challenging our (I should say “my”) organizing abilities in a summer mode of spontaneity and relaxation.

I could of course, put up a million great photos of all I have just described, but really, what I am wanting to capture is the essence of creativity in a season of outside living and free time.  Our unscheduled time in between activities was, of course, intensely chill- with a late afternoon position of myself, the kids, and a few other neighborhood friends sitting by the side of the pond, soaking up the stillness of a slowly fading heat, watching dragonflies, hearing crickets, and generally being present for this wonderful life we have.

Together with a great friend that moved to the neighboring island a few years ago, Taeven and Cedar spent hours one day creating these pond side idyllic living spaces from what they found all around them, imagining a whole other world in which to be.  There is a lot of detail in each photo, which the kids took, so enlarging them might be more inspiring.

Tree Frogs, Lillies, and Dragonflies Emerging

These are a few photos of the life around the pond.  Lots of pacific tree frogs are now making their way further from the water and into the surrounding flowers and grass.  If I was a tiny frog, I would definitely choose to nestle inside the petals of a water lily on a hot day…

lily reflection lily frog OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA tree frog in lily

We also have lots of dragonflies.  In the late spring, the water larvae of the dragonflies climbs up out of the pond on stalks of vegetation, where the skin on its back splits open and the adult dragonfly emerges, expands and dries. The empty larval skin (exuvia) remains as a reminder of the larva’s aquatic life.  We were lucky to have witnessed one such dragonfly as it stretched out it’s new wings, making it’s transformation from water to air.

dragonfly emerging dragonfly emerging 2 dragonfly emerging 3 dragonfly emerging4

Weaving for Art In The Orchard

saori spring wrap

A saori spring wrap

This past weekend, I was very pleased to be involved in the annual Art In The Orchard here on Pender, an island where artists and orchards abound.  Twenty some artists working in diverse mediums displayed their work throughout one of North Penders oldest orchard and heritage farm house, Corbett House B&B, dating back to 1902.  Paintings, print making, pottery, sculpture, wood working, jewelry, photography, stained glass, and fibre arts were all beautifully tucked under apple trees and framed with zig zag fencing while goats and sheep grazed on the other side.

Last year I had only a small collection of woven fabric that I hung up on the clothesline.  At that time, my journey into the art of saori weaving had just begun, and my available time was limited as we had many building projects on the go at our property.  This year, I found that the pile of weaving has indeed stacked up, and shows a pathway of explored techniques as I tried out new tings and made observations about texture and fibre qualities.  I was honoured to hang up my creations among so many other amazing Pender artists.

 

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