Friday, July 30, 2010

Delicious Simplicity...

Ah the simple joys just keep on rolling...

This week we rode our bikes to a local playground to meet up with a homeschooling group that we'd never met with before.  We were delighted that there were lots of older kids in the group and Summer made a new friend which she was thrilled about.  The other groups we go to seem to have more older boys than girls.  She doesn't mind playing with the boys, but it is nice for her to have a girl for a friend too. 

On the way home, it started raining a little bit.  We only had about a mile to go so we kept on going.  I could have thought "oh no..we're all going to get might be slippery...will the kids be ok?".  But I didn't.  I saw my jeans getting darker as the big fat raindrops coloured them...and all I could feel was JOY!  I whooped and laughed at how delicious it felt to be in the fairly warm rain, riding our bikes, feeling free!  The kids picked up on that and started laughing with delight too.

We went home and got into some warm clothes.  For me, I got into my pyjamas.  AJ wanted to go to the library so we went.  Yep, I went to the library in my pj's.  Mind you, to the outside observer, they probably looked like yoga clothes, except that I usually wear a bra to yoga.  Again, I felt a sense of freedom, of really just not caring what anyone else thought.  And that freedom of self is absolutely delicious!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A visit to a friend...

This majestic view is what my friend and her family gets to look at every day.  The photo does not do it justice at all.  It was so easy to feel peaceful and grounded and grateful there.  A part of something truly magnificent, connected to Mother Earth and just a small, but important part of Every Living Thing.

This was a special playdate, a rare time with just Nicholas and I out together visiting new friends.  While us Mums drank tea, Nicholas and his friend climbed trees and dug in the dirt and played with the chickens who were freely wandering around the 7 acre property.  I was so pleased that we went and had a chance to deepen our connection to these gentle friends.

On the way home, we stopped at a roadside produce stand and stocked up on bananas, avocados, tomatoes, and one of the best pineapples I've ever eaten.  There are quite a few of these kind of roadside stands with honesty boxes in the area.  I really liked this one that was converted from an old jeep:

And the view through the window...

...which reminded me of life and death and the passing of time and how nature just keeps on going...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Valedictorian Speech

(The following was read as the valedictorian' s speech at
Coxsackie-Athens High School in recent weeks, creating quite a stir
among administrators, to great applause from students and many of their

There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his
teacher, and asked the Master: "If I work very hard and diligently, how
long will it take for me to find Zen?" The Master thought about this,
then replied, "Ten years . ." (The student then said, "But what if I
work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast - How long
then?" Replied the Master, "Well, twenty years." "But, if I really,
really work at it, how long then?" asked the student. "Thirty years,"
replied the Master. "But, I do not understand," said the disappointed
student. "At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will
take me longer. Why do you say that?" (Replied the Master, "When you
have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path."

This is the dilemma I've faced within the American education system. We
are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as
first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do
whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.

Some of you may be thinking, "Well, if you pass a test, or become
valedictorian, didn't you learn something? Well, yes, you learned
something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned
how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to
clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be.
Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is
to get out as soon as possible.

I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this
as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class.
However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than
my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told
and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud
that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in
the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive
a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I
contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer - not a
worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition - a slave
of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown
that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While
others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in
class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would
come to class without their homework done because they were reading
about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others
were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit,
even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this
position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave
educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I
have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests
because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every
subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning.

John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of
compulsory schooling, asserts, "We could encourage the best qualities of
youthfulness - curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for
surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and
tests, by introducing kids into truly competent adults, and by giving
each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every
now and then. But we don't do that." Between these cinderblock walls,
we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every
standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a
different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and
therefore viewed with contempt.
H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim
of public education is not to fill the young of the species with
knowledge and awaken their intelligence. ... Nothing could be further
from the truth. The aim ... is simply to reduce as many individuals as
possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized
citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the
United States. (Gatto)

To illustrate this idea, doesn't it perturb you to learn about the idea
of "critical thinking." Is there really such a thing as "uncritically
thinking?" To think is to process information in order to form an
opinion. But if we are not critical when processing this information,
are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as

This was happening to me, and if it wasn't for the rare occurrence of an
avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan, who allowed me to
open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, I
would have been doomed. I am now enlightened, but my mind still feels
disabled. I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this
ostensibly sane place really is.

And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the
uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either
acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or
insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that
clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that
need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful
achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational
force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from
the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires

We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we
were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this
planet is so special, so aren't we all deserving of something better, of
using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for
creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than
stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we
can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more,
and more still.

The saddest part is that the majority of students don't have the
opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put
through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent
labor force working in the interests of large corporations and
secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of
it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can't run away
to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather
than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure
that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers
meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers,
dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we
want to be - but only if we have an educational system that supports us
rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are
given a healthy foundation.

For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield
to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, do not be disheartened.
You still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical,
and create your own perspective. Demand a setting that will provide you
with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind
instead of directing it. Demand that you be interested in class. Demand
that the excuse, "You have to learn this for the test" is not good
enough for you. Education is an excellent tool, if used properly, but
focus more on learning rather than getting good grades.

For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do
not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change
the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a
teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept
the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how
to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our
potential is at stake.

For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not
forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come
after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition
stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of
knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have
the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power
for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept
anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth.
So, here I stand. I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. I
was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here
watching me. I couldn't have accomplished this without all of you. It
was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of
you who were my competition, yet my backbone. In that way, we are all

I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, those who
maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me, but I hope this
farewell is more of a "see you later" when we are all working together
to rear a pedagogic movement. But first, let's go get those pieces of
paper that tell us that we're smart enough to do so!

Erica Goldson
Athens, NY

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How are you?

What do you really mean when you ask someone "how are you?".  Are you asking about their physical health?  Mental health?  Busyness?  What? 

I often just resort to the answer "I'm are you?".  But then what do I mean by that?  "I'm good" body may be healthy, but my mind may be scattered, my connection to myself way out of balance, but still I say that "I am good". 

Have you ever answered the question with a totally un-normal, unexpected reply to "how are you?"?  Like "I am absolutely fantastic, thanks for asking..."  or "I am amazingly wonderful".  If you have, you'll notice that people often stop for a second and look at you, perhaps a little envious, perhaps trying to figure out if you're on something or just not quite 'right' in the head. 

Asking "how are you" seems like a quick, polite way to connect to someone, but then do we really have the time to hear if the answer turns out to be a long drawn out reply about how the person really is?  What they may be feeling physically or emotionally?   Some of our elderly neighbours love to do that, and I am happy to listen to them.  I enjoy the time that we connect to these interesting women.  My children get a little restless, but they get to see me being patient and kind to others and can choose whether they want to incorporate that into their lives.  If it turns out that whoever I ask is experiencing some kind of pain, be it physical or emotional, that they want to share, I aim to be present for them in sharing that, and I try to project calm, loving energy to them to help them deal with that.

Asking the check out operator at the local store "how are you?" has resulted in one word answers, so in an attempt to connect a little more with those I interact with, I try asking different questions like "what's the best thing about your day so far?".

So many of us are so very busy...what would it be like if we all just slowed down a little and thought about really connecting with everyone we meet, even if just for a moment?  Giving a gift of your time and your energy instead of a standard question that you may not even mean?

When I ask someone that I do know that question, I generally is your physical health / what have you been up to / what's new? These are all the "safe" topics we were taught to believe are the right way to start a conversation.

What I really want to know, is "what is making your heart sing today?"

I want to know where people's JOY is.  I want to connect IN joy.  I want to interact in a way that will encourage people to touch their own joy, even for a moment. 

I am still working on ways to do this more often, working through old conditionings that I no longer want.

The thing I have found that if I am not feeling connected to my own Joy, it is really hard to help others see theirs.

If you are not too busy, please leave a comment or send me an email rawmum at yahoo dot com...and tell me the best thing about your day today and / or what is making your heart sing...

Thank you...

In Joy...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The curve ball..

The hardest thing about leaving the USA and moving to Australia, was leaving our dog and cat behind.  We could have brought them, but it would have been a lot of money including the airfare, special handling en route, 5 months of vet tests in the US before 30 days in quarantine in Oz, not to mention the stress on the animals.  Since we've been here, we've had a lot of uncertainty about where we were going to live, if we were going to stay, should we move to a larger house, should we get back on the road, etc.  Throughout it all, the kids (AJ especially) have often asked if we could get a dog - or a cat or a rat or a snake etc, but mostly a dog. 

We really miss a lot of aspects about living on the road.  For me, it was the simplicity of the life, the adventure and living in nature and just being outdoors and active a whole lot more.  With the cooler weather here (well, it is the middle of winter, but we are in the subtropics...days are mid 60's - mid 70's, nights are mid 40's - mid 50's), it's still a bit chilly for us.  We have been talking about getting on the road next February when our lease expires.  It was something we were all very excited about.  Our aim was to slowly head north for the winter and take some time to see if we might find another area we would prefer to live. 

Four days ago, we planned to walk up to the beach but got delayed a couple of times before we could leave.  We walked up the next block and suddenly a little puppy walked onto our path.  We stopped and patted her and then watched as she walked onto the road.  Oh no!  We had to find her home and return her, but she did not have a tag on.  We knocked on a bunch of doors nearby but nobody knew her.  I kept hearing a voice saying "there are no coincidences".  We brought her back to our house for a drink of water and to make a temporary leash.  Then we took her to the local vet to see if she had a microchip.  She did not, but the vet took her in case the owner called anyway.  The puppy was such a sweetheart.  Obviously young, but not hyper.  She was very relaxed in our arms when we had carried her and she just seemed to fit in with the family.  The kids were sad to give her in to the vet, even though we had only had her for about an hour.

We continued to talk about going camping and all of the things we would be doing when we were back on the road.  But we also talked about how sweet the little dog was and how she had fit in with us so easily and what it would be like to have a dog....but could we get back on the road?  Could we do both?  We would be limited in our choices of where we could camp...would it work?  Would it be possible to balance our need for freedom and adventure with the responsibility of owning a dog?   No, we decided, it would be too restricting.  Ok, so 'there are no coincidences'...what did that mean?...was the dog there at the same time we were as a gift for us, or to challenge us to explore what was the most important things to us?  There was a definite feeling of synchronicity.  Would we be denying our family a whole lot of joy and fun and the once-in-a-lifetime experience of the children sharing their childhood with a much loved companion animal?   How often does the right kind of dog just walk across your path?

You can see the curve ball coming can't you?....

So the day after, the owner of the dog called us to thank us for finding her.  And then she said that she is actually trying to place the dog, as she took the dog for a patient of hers who has gone into the hospital for an extended period and cannot care for her.  Were we interested?!   Oh dear.  Cary initially said thanks, but no.  We all felt really sad about that though.    It's a big commitment to take on an animal, especially a puppy.  We didn't want to ever be in the position to have to give an animal up again.   Our heads kept going back and forward over the debate so our hearts stepped up to make the call.   And as soon as Cary called them back to say "yes!", it was though something clicked into place that made our family feel more complete.   I don't know what the future will bring us from here, but I do know that sometimes, you just have to take a leap of faith and see how well you fly. 

Having our little girl - a 16 week old Jack Russell weighing 6lbs / 2.5kg, named Gypsy - will bring a new adventure into our lives and enhance the childhood of three very happy children.  She is already encouraging us to get outside more and just be more playful and active.  Things I thought I needed to get back on the road to experience.  Hmm...where will this lead us?  I don't know, but I have a feeling, it will be all good!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Personal Training myself..

In my life BC (before children), I worked as a Personal fitness trainer and Aerobics instructor (and a part time gig as a Reiki practitioner as well which kind of balanced my energy - the physical / mental of the fitness work with the Spiritual of the Reiki work).  Anyway...back then, I could not quite figure out why it was so hard to motivate some of my clients.  Well guess what?  I have become my clients!  Middle aged, extra pounds, and very little motivation.  I have recognised this in me for several months now and well, haven't been very motivated to do anything about it.  Until body just does not seem as efficient as it used to be and I know I need to move more to fix that.

So I accessed my former self and asked her to come up with a fitness plan that would suit my needs for simplicity, time-efficiency and fun while improving my fitness.  What she came back with is something I think will actually work!

60 minutes of something aerobic per day.  Preferably something like a 30+ minute bike ride or hike with the family in the morning and a 30+ minute walk to the beach and along the soft sand (for an extra workout), by myself so I can listen to a podcast or some groovy music.  Yes, that's do-able.  I need to also work on my strength now that I no longer lift little children throughout the day.  On days that I don't do the Green Challenge, I will aim to work up to doing 50 each of squats, push ups and crunches.  This week though, I am telling myself I only need to do one set of 10 reps of each (slowly).  If I miss a day then I need to do an extra set the next day.  Oh yeah, I'm a tough coach! (I'm not even going to think of how pathetic this programe is compared to what I used to do!)  I never have to do more than 50 of each, but when that is too easy, then I need to do them very very slowly and / or with extra weight.  Those three exercises cover all of the main muscle groups. Doing the Green Challenge seems to find any others I may have missed!   I'm grateful that my PT self came up with the three exercises plan - simple and brilliant!

One good thing about being older while working with this programme is that I don't feel fanatical about it.  I fit the exercise in around everything else.  And I am gentle with myself too.  I accept that I am getting older and my metabolism has changed and I know that in order to age more easily, I need to do this.  I believe that flexibility is also important so I will work in some stretching and yoga wherever possible.  Looking forward to a fitter future and longer paddles in my kayak!

Friday, July 02, 2010


As we put another $70 worth of petrol in the car, I knew we had been getting lazy...taking the car to the store, the post office or the park instead of riding bikes. I knew I had to change things, at least for myself. I had to get back to being more aware of the choices I make. Not just for the environment, but also for my own health and fitness.

Last week Cary and AJ went to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary that is one suburb away from us. They went on the Green Challenge which is a treetops ropes course. They loved it so much that Cary insisted we get a years membership for the whole family. Yesterday we signed up and I got to have a go. Oh. My. Golly. That was soooooo much fun! I just loved loved loved it! I felt so free! We get an extra discount for being locals so the cost for the entire family for the year was cheaper than a gym membership for just one of us. Plus, we are outside working out, having fun, communing with nature and listening to the birds and animals which I'll take any day over a noisy, smelly gym! We do plan riding our bikes there once we get Cary another bike. Apart from the ropes courses, there are many Australian birds and animals to view and interact with and a fantastic playground for the smaller kids.

Nicholas on the flying fox in the playground:

Summer going for a stroll through the trees :

Me, dancing in the treetops (Cary said I looked happier in the trees than I did on the ground. I really felt so relaxed up there.)

AJ & I hanging around:

We got to tarzan-swing onto a net that we then had to climb up. There were so many different, very cool challenges! Poles to walk over, swinging planks, tubes to crawl through, nets, ladders, zip lines etc. I did all of the courses except for the extreme 'black' course. I'll leave that one until my strength improves.

AJ zipping along...

This one was a bit tough, each step was a swing:

Summer had been unsure about doing the course, but she took her time, and would tell herself "I am strong" whenever she felt unsure. She did the beginners course, and I was very proud of her, and more importantly, she was proud of herself! She is looking forward to doing it again.
Our family is so thrilled to have this membership and to support the Wildlife Sanctuary who do a lot to encourage environmental awareness. I am looking forward to getting fitter and stronger in such a playful way! This really honours my needs for freedom and adventure and family fun!