Thursday, February 6, 2020

Throwing Spaghetti and Adding Fuel

When Ian and I met we were in college and working at a summer camp in Colorado. He had come from England and I had come from Massachusetts to work there that summer.  One of the first things I learned about Ian was that he is a writer.  After camp ended, he had planned a week-long writing retreat, on his own, in Washington D.C.  I remember not just being attracted to his fine looks that summer but being truly struck that he was truly committed to becoming a writer and was taking a whole week to sew into that dream. 

Fast forward 22 years,  We have three amazing children we got married somewhere along the way, we have traveled, bought and renovated houses, worked various jobs, learned so many things… but Ian still longs to be a writer.  Don’t get me wrong, he has tossed much kindling on that fire over the years; taking writing nights at Starbucks, taking evening classes on writing, telling bedtime stories to our kids every night for 5 years. Kindling is great!  It takes a small fire to the next level, it builds the fire but at some point you need to add some fuel logs or it will burn out.  Once you add fuel, and it catches, the fire is at a new level.  So what is the fuel we choose to add to Ian's writing career?  It's probably not what you would think...

We say to the kids, “lets start a podcast with the stories daddy tells.”  Of course, they think that is great, who does not want their own family podcast but wait; who knows how to do that?  We'll figure it out.  We start watching YouTube videos, fall in love with an intro song, then life hits we decide its actually time for us to move so buying a new house and moving then takes up the next 18 months of our lives.  The podcast takes a backseat.

The fire is not out and our resolve grows to make this happen.  Side note: I have this view of things that if some people can do that thing (whatever it is) then I must be able to learn to do that thing too.  I know other homeschooling moms that have a podcast if they can do it, I can do it.  I credit the “I can” attitude to my mother who is the biggest “I canner” that I know.  So, for better or worse we set off to make a podcast!

In October 2019 we launched a Kids Story Podcast Tales From The Moosiverse based on the story saga Ian has told each night to our family.  We had no idea what we were doing.  We did not know how to record, how to edit, what a podcast hosting service was or that it existed, we did not know how to fund it or how to publicize; we just did it.  

Like tossing spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks, we pulled off the first 13 episodes having to buy only three microphones (because we broke not one, but two).  Some people learn all about something before they take the first step, they truly research it and find out all the best ways to do everything.  I have found after 22 years together that we are not that kind of people.  We tend to find out just enough about something to get started and then figure it out as we go.  I am particularly a “just let me do it and I will figure it out” kind of person.  Now I can see where my 4-year-old daughter gets her zest😊.

I don’t know what you are like when you jump into the water and really have no idea what you are doing but I have this tendency to pretend like I do.  I am that person who is really drowning, or at least struggling out there in the lake but has a smile on my face when I am doing it like “all okay over here, how are you?”

We figure out a website, a podcast hosting site—that took a few tries.  We watch endless videos on how to use Audacity and find in the end we need to get the help of an audio engineer because it just does not sound right—oh that is because you cannot drop a microphone on the floor or it does not work anymore (who knew?) .  Oh and you should never leave the microphone set up in your living room on top of the book shelf in case your children decide to have a pillow fight and ooops there goes another one….

We are getting into a grove and develop a strategy where Ian writes, Angel reads what he wrote, Ian edits, then Angel reads the story out loud to our kids at bedtime (Ian listens so he can hear how it sounds when someone else says it).  The kids give feedback, Ian re-writes, Ian records, Ian edits, we all listen to the first cut, the kids make comments, Ian records again, we double check then send it to the audio engineer to make final edits and add the music etc..  Breath and Repeat.

 We set up a “recording studio” in our bedroom closet which Ian can only use when there is not a child who has decided to come into our bed and sleep; foiling the evening’s recording plans.  Ian is still working full time so recording time is limited, but week after week we somehow keep squeaking out an episode.  Then Ian gets the frog cold.  No not a cold transmitted from a warty frog he picked up in the brook but the cold that makes him sound like said frog.  That makes recording a little tricky especially when half the episode is done.  This is why people do things like plan and record the whole season before starting.  Well, per usual, we are not those people.  We muddle through with some froggy sounds but still mange to produce the episode. 

We are about ¾ of the way through season 1 when a friend asks what our goals are for the podcast.  Goals?  Honestly, we had not though of it.  I guess that people would not hate it and maybe someone would like it.  We take his advice and make up some goals.  Our 12-year-old yells out 2020 downloads by 2020.  Could we do that?  I have no idea, but it sounds good.  We wrapped up the first season on Christmas eve and then took a break.  We looked at the stats on New Years Day and we had exceeded our son’s goal by quite a lot.  Wow something stuck!

We decided we needed to throw some more spaghetti.  What other dreams are lying dormant?  What if we got them out of bed, tossed them in the shower and did their hair, what would happen?  Do the dreams of a 22-year-old still get to come to life in the context of having 3 kids, owning a house, being responsible people who do practical things?  Okay, let’s scratch that last part and see what happens.  Maybe rather than being responsible and practical we’ll see what happens when we listen to that voice inside and try to take a step. 

Do you have dreams that feel like they are asleep?
Do you wonder how to pursue your dreams in the midst of also being a parent?
Do you have stories of tossing spaghetti against the cabinet?

We'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Spring Poetry by Angel Jackson

Over the past few months I have found myself making up lots of little poems (or parts of poems really) in my head as I have watched nature.  As a kid I spent tons of time in nature and I loved it but I have to say it is as an adult that I have really learned to observe, watch and be enthralled by nature. The whole world that is going on all the time outside.  We can so easily miss it.  It's like a secret garden available to all, I love it.  Today is my birthday and I got an hour to head over to Starbucks (BY MYSELF), to get my free birthday drink and write in my journal.  While there I challenged myself to write down a couple poems that have been percolating.

I have never been a poet but hey, we are always learning!

Spring Run
Old knees, cold knees.
Can I be so bold knees?
Please release that creak and groan.
I would like to run, not moan.

Snow in April
Warm days,
Light abounds.
Water splashes on the ground.

Winter reaches,
Gets a grasp.
Holds on tight, but it won't last.

Fits and starts,
Spring comes slow.
Winter does not want to go.

Gentle hands,
Release his grip.
Time for Winter's southern trip.

Spring slow,
Warm love.
She gets her strength from up above.

Pale colors,
Growing strong.
Her gentle love, her arms are long.

Shadows lengthen,
Days grow long.
She looks to hear Summer's song.

Tulips red,
Hydrangea blue.
Spring, a gift to me and you.

Joy so fresh,
Love advances.
I want to run, my steps are prances.

Pink flower,
Yellow blooms.
The lilac gift to moms who swoon.

Leaves out,
Solid green.
She hands her baton to Summer's queen.

Okay that's it for now just a little poetry for Spring.  We are full of hope for the new growing season and excited to learn what it has in store for us as a family.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Found! By Angel jackson

I have been meaning to follow up on the 'wild yeast' post for a while.  It has been fun making sourdough bread.  I made the starter by mixing water and AP flour and leaving it on the counter and adding equal parts of flour and water each day.  It took 6 days but the mix got bubbly and sour smelling--wild yeast found!

Here are some pictures of the endeavor and the website I used.

Here is the starter:

Here are a couple loaves of sourdough bread from this recipe.

The recipe I have used takes parts of 3 days to make the bread once you have a starter.  That sounds long but I have actually enjoyed it.  There are small parts you do every day and slowly the bread takes shape and mostly it sits there and does it on its own and I just add a couple things here and there.

Making this bread really puts me in touch with what the Israelite's faced in Exodus when they did not have time to make leavened bread.  It takes time, and if you are in a rush this bread will not work.  I kind of like finding those things that take more time this one has really been fun

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Finding Wild Yeast

by Angel Jackson

I have recently gotten back into baking bread for my family.  Years ago I made bread all the time but with some health issues of my own causing me to go gluten free 3.5 years ago I gave up bread making and the the bread machine sat in our basement untouched.  A few months ago I remembered that I like making bread whether I eat it or not and I care that my family has good bread so I cleared some space on the counter and brought the old beast up.  Since returning to the kitchen it has refused (out of pure spite from being forced into a dungeon for years) to make a good whole wheat loaf.  Without fail, if I bake a whole wheat loaf in the bread maker it does not rise or wont rise fully, here is today's loaf.

No it's not supposed to be a quick bread!

Fortunately my family is willing to eat dense bread probably since every so often I make it by hand and it rises fine.  I have experimented this year with the 5 minute-no knead bread which has worked beautifully in any combination of white or whole wheat and was a fun new way to make bread, but its not a sandwich loaf. The boys like it most when I forget about the second rise and the dough over-rises all over the counter and drips on the floor.

To try to treat the bread machine as a machine with scientific properties instead of a true beast I started to chip away at the different things that might be going wrong with the loaf.  The boys got involved at this point wanting to know what exactly is yeast and how does it work.  Fortunately YouTube had a nice video for this.  As they watched the video I found the most basic bread recipe I could using boring old white flour and newly purchased yeast from whole foods.  I actually have never purchased yeast there so I thought I would try a new kind.

Now I had changed two factors something I was told never to do in high school science classes but hey new flour and new yeast and ---wait for it, that's right a big puffy all baked in the bread machine white loaf.  Ah well it must have been the yeast.  No, not the yeast, as the loaf you see at the top was the very next loaf.  My 9 year old saw it and said "wait what happened I thought it was the yeast". At which point I decide to abandon all science call the machine a true beast and learn how to make sourdough bread.

Why sourdough, I don't know just something I have always wanted to do and why not at this point.

That is when I come across "wild yeast", this is new to me but as I have now read, and somewhat knew, yeast is everywhere (NOT JUST IN THE GROCERY STORE under the name Fleischmann) and lives on all flour.  This yeast, however, is different than store bought yeast.

Yeast bought in the store will "proof" in a matter of minutes if put in warm water with some sugar. It will stay good in its packets or jars with no attention from us (other than a recommendation to store it in the fridge and don't keep it "too" long).   It doesn't take a lot of work and works well and quick, but you have to go to a store to buy it.

Wild yeast is the opposite.  It's everywhere you don't need to go anywhere to buy it but you do need to find it.  Once you find a place you think will have some you need to spend 5 days feeding it and letting it proof, sometimes this process fails and you need to start again.  Once it has proofed you can then spend a lifetime or many lifetimes caring for it, keeping it alive and vital.  If wild yeast is given the right conditions and time it will come to life and--make sourdough bread:).

I do not come from a family where a live starter was fed and cared for generation after generation and passed down to me.  No, this one I am going to have to start on my own and why not now.

Trying to proof wild yeast (my sourdough starter)

Finding wild yeast is more to me than a bread starter though, as you have probably gathered.  For me, finding wild yeast is the moment with my family where we discover something that has been there all the time, something we did not even know existed but we give it the right time and conditions and we see it come to life.  It is truly my favorite times.  It's the natural places we discover only a few miles from our house that we never knew were there.  It is the mulberry or goldfinch posts I made last year. It is Ian's writing passion. It is my older son's drawing or my younger son's singing.  It is spending enough time together to see things come to life.  It is paying attention to what is actually going on.  I am looking forward to finding wild yeast in 2016!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Montgomery and Montgomery, Chapter One

This is the first story of the Montgomery and Montgomery series I mentioned in a previous post. Read more about how it connects with Family Learning Adventures here.

And I'm looking for feedback! Especially if you're a parent of a 4-10 year-old, or or if you spend time with kids that age. Over the last 15 months I've been telling my kids a series of stories about Montgomery the Moose and Montgomery the Mouse, two characters who get up to many surreal adventures including a whole cast of characters. I've started to type up a few of the hundreds I've told, and would love you to try the first one out on your kids, and give me genuine feedback if you do. Did they like it? If so, what did they like? If not, why do you think that was? Did you enjoy reading it to them? Did they read it themselves? Would this be better with illustrations? As a picture book or just occasional illustrations? Could you imagine reading a whole series of these stories with your kids? Feel free to post your thoughts below, or email them to And if you do read this to your kids, THANK YOU!


Chapter One

Deep in the woods in Maine, Montgomery the Moose was looking for his favorite food - chocolate.

He often found some small pieces - or even giant candy bars - when humans stayed in the woods in strange fabric houses. They must not like the houses very much, he thought, because they always took them away after a day or two. Sometimes when the humans were away from their houses, he would try to go into one to see what they were like inside, but it never really worked; he tried going through the doors that people went through, but he couldn't seem to open them. He pushed, but the whole house would move. So he pushed again, and it moved some more. So he pushed again, and this time the whole house collapsed. Then it was quite a fun thing to walk on - very soft and made fun popping noises.

But today he couldn't find any small fabric houses, so he just sniffed around where he'd seen houses before. He sniffed the ground and found some nuts and raisins, so he thought he might find some chocolate chips nearby. So he sniffed some more and found some.

He opened his mouth to gobble them up.


What was that? 

"Don't eat me! Please!"

Montgomery panicked. The chocolate chips were talking! He got so scared he jumped up in the air. But since moose don't jump very often, they don't know how to land, so he collapsed in a heap on a nearby bush and smushed it down into a flat cushion.

"I didn't mean to scare you. Sorry," the voice said.

From his new position on the bush cushion, Montgomery focused his eyes and looked over to where the voice was coming from. He saw some chocolate chips, but he also saw something else; a small, white mouse.

"It's just - you were about to eat me," the mouse said. "And I don't really want to be eaten."

"No, neither do I," said Montgomery. "And I wouldn't really want to eat you either -"


"- I was just trying to eat those yummy chocolate chips that people leave for me."

"Ooh, me too!" the mouse said. "Aren't they good? I knew I'd find some here because I smelled some nuts and raisins, and they usually go together."

Montgomery nodded. He could tell he'd found someone like him.

"Would you like me to take you somewhere where there's always chocolate?" offered the mouse.

"Yes, please!" Montgomery replied. "Is it around here?"

"Pretty close. Well, close for you, I suppose - you have much longer legs than me. Maybe, if you wouldn't mind, I could ride on your back to get there?" he asked.

"Yes, of course," said Montgomery, happy to make a new friend.

The small creature climbed up Montgomery's fur and onto his back, eventually settling on his head. He felt comfortable and warm in his fur, and Montgomery was happy to have him there. As the creature told him which direction to go to find chocolate, Montgomery felt glad he had met his new friend, and wanted to learn more about him.

"I've never see a creature like you before; what kind of creature are you?"

"I'm a mouse," replied the mouse. "What kind of creature are you?"

"No, I'm a moose," Montgomery replied. "You're not a moose; you're way too small!"

"No, I'm a mouse," the mouse replied. "You're not a mouse; you're way too big!"

"Wait - what did you say?" they both asked at the same time.

"Moose!" "Mouse!" they spoke over each other again.

"Ohhhhhhh..." they both said.

"Well, my name is Montgomery," said the mouse. "What's yours?"

"Wait, how did you know my name?" Montgomery asked.

"What?" asked the mouse. "I said my name is Montgomery. What's yours?"

"Your name is Montgomery the Mouse?" Montgomery asked, almost unable to believe it.

"Yes," Montgomery the Mouse answered, losing patience. "Now that we've got that figured out, what's your name?"

"My name's Montgomery too," Montgomery the Moose replied.

Montgomery the Mouse didn't say anything for a few seconds.

"What?" he asked finally.

"My name is Montgomery the Moose."

"Hahahahaha," Montgomery the Mouse laughed. "I don't believe it! That's crazy!"

"Hahahahaha," Montgomery the Moose laughed. "That is crazy..."

As they continued walking, with Montgomery the Mouse pointing the way, they kept laughing at the coincidence; anytime there was silence, one of them would giggle a little, and then before they could stop it they'd both be laughing so much that a few times Montgomery the Mouse fell off Montgomery the Moose's head and tumbled all the way to the ground. After making sure he was OK, they'd both start laughing again, and by the time they got where they were going it was starting to get dark.

"OK, here we are, Montgomery the Moose," said Montgomery the Mouse, emphasizing his name and pointing at a series of wood cabins facing a lake.

"Thank you, Montgomery the Mouse," said Montgomery the Moose, returning the favor. "But I don't understand, where's the chocolate?"

"It's inside these," Montgomery the Mouse replied. And now that it's getting dark, that's the best time to look. We find a place without lights on, and then go inside."

"But how do we get in?"

"Simple - there are always holes somewhere," Montgomery the Mouse said. Look, I'll show you," he said, sensing the doubt in Montgomery the Moose's voice.

He led them both around the side of a cabin without lights on, and climbed down from Montgomery's back, running straight up to the side of the building, and in through a small hole. He came back ten seconds later, saying "Yep, this is a good one. There's lots of chocolate in here."

"But I don't think I'll fit through that hole," Montgomery the Moose said.

"Well, you might be right. What I do when it's a tight squeeze is to just run fast at the hole, and before I know it, I'm through the hole and on the other side," his new friend said. "I'll go back in and get us some chocolate." He ran back through the hole.

As Montgomery the Moose waited, he thought about what his friend said. "Hmm, that hole does look like it would be a tight squeeze," he thought to himself. "And I can run pretty fast..."

He backed up, and squinted his eyes as he focused on the small hole at the bottom of the cabin's wall. Then he closed his eyes and ran right towards it, tipping his head down to make sure his big antlers didn't stop him from squeezing through the hole.


Montgomery the Mouse stood motionless in shock as he looked at the rubble in front of him. The chocolate he'd been holding in his paw dropped, and more fell out of his mouth.

Montgomery the Moose opened his eyes and was thrilled to discover he'd made it through the hole and was standing right in the cabin's kitchen.

"Wow, you were right!" he said to his new friend. "That was easier than I thought!"

Montgomery the Mouse didn't know what to say, and stood still in shock.

"Ooooh, chocolate," Montgomery the Moose said and started munching off the floor. After a minute of eating, he looked around while his friend still couldn't move. "Wow, they left this kitchen a mess, didn't they? And look at that hole! How did I think I wouldn't make it through that? It's much bigger than it looked on the outside!"

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Why "learning" adventure?

By Angel Jackson

A few days ago I was grumpy: the boys had made a huge mess of the house for the 945th time that day and we just did not seem to be getting anywhere.  I felt powerless to change the direction of the day and said more than once "you guys really need to learn to clean up".  As afternoon rolled around I had an idea.  I wanted to make a baby wrap for my 7 month old daughter and found some really nice material friends had given us years ago and tried to make it out of that.  It was not long enough so I cut it down the middle asking my 4 year old the hold it as I cut.  I sewed the ends together and, voila a baby wrap.  I watched a video of how to put her onto my back with it and FAILURE, it was still not long enough--it wasn't going to work.

I had wanted to learn to make something and was energized by actually working on it instead of thinking about it.  Instead of stopping there I looked up how to make a pouch sling.  I knew that would take less material and figured with a little help from the internet I could probably make one.  I found a site, followed the directions and about an hour later presto, I had made a sling and the baby even fits in it.  The best part is the grumpy mommy day turned around completely and mommy and children had a great rest of the day.

Why did using some material to make a sling turn my day around?

At first I thought it was because I produced a real thing from my own hands.  I think this is true. Making something with our hands that is a real thing is a big deal and for sure could turn a day around.  Actually, I am a super big proponent of handwork.  I could write a whole post about how important and life giving I think making things with your hands is.  I could show you pictures of knitting, baskets, and food I have made with my hands this year, and tell you how proud, excited and accomplished I feel about them.

But that is not all of what I think was going on with the sling.  I think that it was something even broader.  I learned how to do something I had not done before.  I got out of observing my grumpy day and feeling powerless to change it and instead of making my kids be different to solve the problem I took my focus off them and instead, learned how to do something myself.  As I started learning the boys were immediately engaged and wanted to help.  My 4 year old held the fabric while I cut and pushed the pedal on the sewing machine while I sewed.  My 8 year old helped as I first tried to launch the baby onto my back and looked impressed at the finished sling after he returned from a friend's house.  The baby actually played happily on the floor while I sewed after having a previously super fussy day (not sure whether to attribute that to my learning or not).  Our day turned around. I learned and they learned too.  The atmosphere of our home changed from one of parent and children at odds with each other to one of learning, joy, creativity, freedom and space for each other.

This, is why we call it Family LEARNING Adventure.  We think something magical happens in a family when they learn together.  We think as a culture learning has been given over to the schools, and workplaces and we want to bring that joy back into families.  Whether you work or stay home, send your kids to school or homeschool, there is always time with your family.  We invite you to take a family learning adventure this week.

Learn something together where you lead by learning then tell us about it, we want to hear how it goes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"Yes, and..." - Using Improv in Your Family

By Ian Jackson

Last weekend while taking my 8-year-old to one of his closest friend's for a playdate, I chatted with his friends' parents (who I'm glad to say are good friends of ours too) for a while. One of the things we talked about was improvisational comedy classes, which boil down to one simple phrase - "Yes, and...". The idea being that in improv comedy, each person taking part accepts the situation that has been created by the people before - adding to it, rather than negating it. (One reason improv companies are often used for corporate trainings is that the "Yes, and..." phrase is a great tool for brainstorming meetings.)

Then this morning on my way into work, "Yes, and..." came up again. I was listening to part of an episode of This American Life, the NPR magazine show. The story I heard, from the recent episode "Magic Words", was about two actors, Karen Stobbe and her husband Mondy. Karen's mother lives with them and has dementia. Much of the traditional therapy for dementia has focused on redirecting a person's thoughts to facts, and the truth about what's real around them, which often leads to upset and fights between the carer and the loved one. But Karen and Mondy tried using improv skills - when the mother stated she saw monkeys outside the window, Mondy replied "it's pretty early in the season for monkeys; I didn't even know they were here in North Carolina", and tried to concoct a plan with his mother-in-law to catch a monkey to bring it inside, because that would be quite an achievement. They talk about this as "getting in her world." In the show you could hear how much joy these kinds of conversations brought to his mother-in-law. You can listen to the story above, or directly on their website here.

"How to catch a monkey", from

So what does this have to do with a family learning adventure? Well, I'm keen to try it out more and see. My younger son loves it when I spend time sitting on the floor with him and playing with his wooden train set. And my older son craves time with me where all we do is build Lego creations together. But more than that, I know that when my sons start on some incredible flight of imagination and I start to list reasons why it's not possible, they quickly lose interest and feel shut down. But I've had fleeting moments (not as many as I'd like) where I've chosen to "get into their world" and imagine along with them. A kind of "Yes, and..." Then it's like a staring contest to see who will break first - if I leave to go do a 'grown-up' thing like make a meal, they usually stop too and that's that. But if I stay in the improv world with them, it all ends at some point anyway, and we usually all have a fun memory to look back on and talk about with others.

A friend recently posted on Facebook about how fun her husband is, and when pushed for stories, lots of people chimed in with their own stories about him, but one posted by my friend seemed like a kind of "Yes, and...":
So, once when the kids were behaving in such a way that could have injured either or both of them, [her husband] picked up his guitar and made up a song that goes like this: "The last thing I want to do is go to the hospital right now"...and the bridge is "my co-pay is $200 dollars" and he got the boys involved in that- the older one drumming, and the younger one back-up singing.
So does "Yes, and..." always involve joining in with what the kids are doing, even if it's dangerous? No, I don't think so. But it does involve getting in their world instead of shutting it down. And that's something that seems worth doing. Over time, I'd love to correct my kids less, and try to engage more in the "Yes, and...."

Is this something you've tried with your family members (either younger or older than you)? I'd love to know your experiences and get your take on this. And if you have things to add, that's easy - just start with "Yes, and..."

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Discovering the Beauty Around Me - How Having Children Changes What We See

By Angel Jackson

If you asked me what those flying things are outside, I'd have said birds for my whole life up until the last 18 months.  A bird is a bird, Some birds are big some are small some are different colors and I know they have names but to me they were all birds.  18 months ago my boys wanted to learn more about specific birds and we started getting books out of the library, paying more attention on nature walks and asking more questions of birders.

As a child I spent lots of time in the woods and summers at girls scout camp in the woods, you'd think in all that time in nature I would notice these beautifully colored birds.  You'd think I would have seen the red of a cardinal, the bright blue and very loud call of a blue jay and the glowing yellow of the small quick goldfinch.  All my childhood and young adulthood I am sure I must of seen these birds, I can now see they are everywhere, but somehow I missed them.

Now I look out my window and daily see a beautiful male and female goldfinch eating the seeds from our sunflowers. They are beautiful! I have had the chance to share these sightings with both family and friends from the brown couch in our living room making it even more beautiful and amazing- a shared experience.  The goldfinch perches on the top of the sunflower ducking its head down and pecking out a seed, eating it, and repeats.  It will sit there at work on its food for many minutes allowing us to watch and enjoy.  On a recent walk with my in-laws we saw one on a thistle doing the same thing, that is the picture you see below.

A few weeks ago the boys and I went for a walk down a bike path near our house.  It was a rainy day and I knew we needed to get out of the house for some exercise.  We donned our raincoats and headed out.  I was distracted and thinking about other things and ignoring the natural world around me until I spotted a bright red cardinal.  At the sight of this bright red beauty I was immediately drawn into his world.  I noticed there were other cardinals around, two females with much duller colored coats on two different trees.  The male was calling to them, chasing them and flying away again.  It was a whole soap opera in the bird world.  It had nothing to do with us they had their own world going on and I could have walked by and missed it all.  They went on and on and eventually the boys pulled me away into something else but the whole interaction struck me--there is so much more going on that I so often miss.

In both of the last two houses we have lived in we have had blue jays that like to perch on the roof of our neighbors house and call (VERY LOUD) for a girl blue jay.  I can't imagine being that girl blue jay and responding to that.  At one point our oldest son decided to name one of the blue jays Ellis after a favorite singer/songwriter of ours Ellis Paul.  Some how, once the bird was named Ellis he became a friend and instead of being annoyed at the sound we would talk to him out the window- his Ellis, it's okay Ellis I am sure she will come soon, there is Ellis again!  He became fun and beautiful in his own right.

If not for my boys and their interest in birds I don't think I ever would have made homemade bird feeders out of milk cartons, filled them and watched birds for hours in our yard.  I don't think I would have noticed the bright red of the cardinal, known the soap opera of their mating rituals or befriended Ellis. I am sure I would not have sat with friends and watched the goldfinch at work.  They would have just been birds but now there is beauty, color, love, excitement and song.

  • Has having children helped you to notice things in the world?
  • What do you enjoy more now that you have children?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Letting Your Kids Help You Get Over Yourself

By Ian Jackson
 A moose and a mouse from a holiday card from - don't worry, you'll see why it's there eventually...

As a child growing up in the UK, I read a lot of comic books. A LOT. Pretty much all Marvel Comics - super hero stuff - X-Men, Avengers, Spider-Man... And more obscure series. A California-based b-team headed by Hawkeye, called the West Coast Avengers? Check. A group of teenage X-Men trainees called The New Mutants? Check! A series about a construction company that cleans up and repairs New York after super hero battles, called Damage Control? Double check!

The most appealing part of Marvel Comics to me was that all the characters existed in the same world - or worlds. Characters from one series could show up in - and even join - another series. And things that happened in one story had ramifications on other stories. Like Captain America's speech to Peter Parker/Spider-Man which leads to Spidey switching sides in the Civil War storyline shown below (this storyline is currently being turned into a movie in Marvel's own shared movie universe...).
Full disclosure - this one was not from my childhood, and is mainly here just because I like it
Even in primary school at the age of 9 or 10, I created my own comic books to sell at school. True to my interests, the comic was full of ridiculously obscure characters and titled Secret Wars III, as a sequel to two major crossover events that none of my friends knew anything about. I sold 10 or 15 (xeroxed) copies of each issue and sold them for something like 20p an issue. I thought I would end up drawing or writing comic books as a grown-up, but my interests moved on as I grew up and Marvel went through their own terrible '90s phase. (When talking with a UK editor as a teen about my writing ambitions, he said "you're a little young for that," which undoubtedly had some impact too...)

I've done some creative writing on and off since then, but in phases. At one point, in an effort to support me writing, Angel sent me off to Starbucks one evening a week to write while she took care of all the housework. Over the course of a few weeks, I wrote a series of children's stories from the perspective of our cat, Joy. Life started to get in the way of these regular writing times, but I really loved having that time, and we still occasionally read those stories now, years after Joy herself passed away.

But last year, as my 8 and 4 year old sons got bored of reading books at bedtime and I started telling bedtime stories every night, I thought it would be fun to build in some of the things I enjoyed about Marvel Comics. Not the super heroes, but the shared universe.

So after a series of stories about two brothers called Jerry and Tommy (each a foot tall, and living in a hole in the ground that we regularly pass on walks), and another series about a moose and a mouse who become best friends when they learn they're both called Montgomery and both love chocolate, I started alternating - one night would be Jerry and Tommy, the next night would be Montgomery and Montgomery. And then a story about Roger Racoon. And suddenly, all the characters were in the same place at the same time, and the boys' minds were blown.

But this post isn't really about any of that. It's about the fact that the boys would ask for a new story EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. And each story had to be funny and full of accidental destruction (Montgomery the Moose is particularly clumsy, without any sense of how his size and weight - or his antlers - affect his surroundings). And each story was around 10-15 minutes long. That's a lot of story...

I began to resent the characters I'd created and my sons' intense enjoyment of them. There were nights when I just refused to tell a story and said it was too late at night. I sometimes wouldn't tell a story because their behavior had been poor that night. This was particularly cruel - my 8 year-old in particular let me know he hated that, and that the stories were what he looked forward to most in the evening.

And that's when I realized that the boys' enjoyment of the stories was just like Angel giving me a weekly Starbucks time. It forced me to write. Out loud, maybe, with none of the stories written down (yet), but it forced me to create something new every night.

So I got over myself, took their enjoyment as encouragement, and decided to just go for it. Whether I have an idea for a story or not when they get into bed, I start talking and by the time we've remembered where all the characters are, something pops into my head.

And since then, I've probably told 300 or so stories about Montgomery and Montgomery, Jerry and Tommy and many others - in solo or group stories. They've had adventures based on our own daily experiences, traveled around the world and to magical worlds, as well as into space as far as Pluto (where New Horizons send pictures of them back to Earth, prompting the media to proclaim that aliens look like moose). They've met characters from books we've read, switched bodies with each other, gained super powers... They've met trolls, gnomes, an Unpredictable Horse, and an alien called Bobby who grew up in a baobab tree in Kenya... They've flown around the world in a very chatty solar-powered spaceship (who gets so excited to talk to his passengers that he often runs out of power and crashes)...

Sometimes the stories are just silly. Sometimes they include some kind of commentary on something (which I usually only realize afterwards). Sometimes they are self-contained. Sometimes they're part of a series of 7-10 episodes. Sometimes they're mysteries, sometimes they're adventures, sometimes they're flashbacks. But they're all part of the same universe, and they somehow all fit together.

At the time I'm writing this post, some of the characters just returned from the moon, where they tried to play with Neil Armstrong's golf club, only to lose it and have it fall through Earth's atmosphere, where it landed right next to their friends in the next story. Now many of them are in Japan, where they have ridden on a bullet train, visited an old temple, and thought they were going to meet a giant scary dragon only to find out he's small, purple and friendly (based on Disney's friendly dragon Figment and Marvel's own Lockheed). And at this point I have no idea what tonight's story will be about.

Figment - who now has his own comic book, published by... Marvel!
And the best part is that, just like Marvel Comics, there are different writers. Every now and then my 8 year-old wants to tell the story, and his stories are just as funny and enjoyable as mine. My 4 year-old sometimes wants to tell the story, and with the crazy world we've created together, even stories from his own vivid imagination can be part of it.

Someday we'll get around to writing some of these stories down (the nice thing is that the boys remember every story - even from months ago - while they mostly disappear from my mind the next day). These daily stories have become a part of our family life, all while allowing me a regular outlet for unbridled creativity. And only because my boys forced me to get over myself and just do it.

But I'd love to hear from you about the topic of getting over yourself too:

  • Have you ever resisted something despite your children asking repeatedly?
  • Have you just gone with their prompting?
  • What has happened when you've just gone with it? Have you learned anything about them or about yourself?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Contributions of Children: finding life beyond the mess

By Angel Jackson

A week ago we attended a going away party for two friends moving to another city. There were a few kids at the party including our three and a bunch of adults. It was a rather nice outdoor party on a Friday evening in the city. Within 60 seconds of arriving at the party our older son managed to find the food table, attempt to serve himself some fruit, and tip 1/2 the contents of the fruit salad onto the ground--welcome to the party Jackson Family!

This is were we usually stop with the contributions of children, they make a mess at otherwise nice affairs. They are loud, they run in spaces much too small to be ran in, they yell, scream and cry much more than is socially acceptable and did I say they MAKE A MESS!

They do make a mess and much of my life is spent cleaning up this mess but luckily on that night we were able to get past that moment of fruit salad on the ground at this party and be present to some really neat contributions.

The party took place on the front lawn of our friend's condo building. Along the stone front steps up to the building were two stone slopes, one on each side of the front steps, maybe you can see them in the low-quality picture below.

These slopes were immediately interesting to all the children. First they were walking up them, lying on them and sliding down them. My friend came over and said "I love having kids here, no one has ever done this before." Now of course walking up some stone slopes is no ingenious move, but it does show how kids really do see things differently than adults. To me they were just stone slopes that held railings to go up the steps, I didn't think twice about them. To the kids they were much more.

After they had explored the steps with their own bodies they started building vehicles to race down the steps. Our friends had set up a "free stuff" table with things they did not want to move with, the kids saw these things as materials for building. Various stuffed animals raced down these slopes with drink stirrers as skis, cardboard boxes as sleds and even a perfume bottle as a "motor". No one told the kids to make up things to do with the free stuff, no one told them to race things down the slopes, in fact if we adults had been paying a little more attention we probably would have put a stop to it and said something like, that is not what the free table stuff is for, or don't play on those slopes you'll get hurt. Lucky for the kids the adults were engaged in conversation and just glad the kids were no longer knocking over the fruit salad and only paying occasional attention to what they were doing.

As a parent things like this happen all the time my kids find creative ways to play with things or do things but I am sad to say I so often shut them down as many of these ideas lead to that "M" word MESS. I so often try to stop the mess that I wonder if I miss the ingenuity and the contribution they can make to my life.

I wonder how this plays into a family learning adventure? How do we make space for mess so we can see the new ideas, so everyone can learn and everyone can contribute and everyone can play.

I wonder what would happen if we let kids play in research labs. Well... part of it I don't wonder, I know for sure... there would be a lot of broken test tubes, Bunsen burners ablaze and chemicals on the floor and probably in their eyes, hair and up their nose. I wonder, though, if Children are really allowed to contribute, if they could help lead us to answers we can't seem to solve. They have ways of looking at things we would just walk by, not notice and discount. They have ways of seeing things we don't even think are there and they ask questions we would never consider. It's messy and complicated but I wonder if we make more space for the contributions of children will that lead us on a family learning adventure.

  • What does life look like if we hang in there beyond the mess?
  • Have you ever hung in there beyond the mess and seen something cool with your children? Tell us your story.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Breaking My Own Rules... and Discovering Mulberries!

By Angel Jackson

This week when we were walking to our weekly language club the boys and I spotted this on the sidewalk:

I've seen it many times: the dark purple berries that look like blackberries staining the sidewalk and getting all over our shoes. My oldest said "hey, they look like blackberries." This sent me into my normal rant about berries that I don't know what they are, it goes something like this: "yes, they look like blackberries, but I know they're not because blackberries grow on canes not on trees - these are something else and they are probably poisonous; we can't eat them."

This is my go-to speech for any berry that I don't know what it is. This means anything other than wild blueberries and raspberries - I know what those are. I adopted the speech about 7 years ago when my oldest was a toddler and I wanted to make it clear what we could, and could not, eat so I classified everything I did not know what it was as "bird berries"- safe for birds but will make us sick. It was a decent rule at the time and kept things out of my toddlers' mouths.

We kept walking and went to our language club meeting. When the weather is nice, we make a real day of walking to language club, then playing at the park across the street for hours, then walking across the park to the other side to Whole Foods where we get a treat and do some shopping. Then we hike home the "long way" which means over the hill that crosses the tracks, down a street and across another park where, if we have the energy, we play again. This Tuesday was no exception. After our class we went over to the park to play with friends. While the kids were playing I got the sense that there might be more to the blackberry look-a-likes on the street and maybe my mom friends knew something about this I did not.

"What are those berries all over the street there that look like blackberries?" I asked.
"Mulberries," they both replied.
"Are they edible?" I asked.
"Yes, they are amazing, so sweet and so soft they never make it to market before spoiling so the only way to get them is to pick them from the tree".

All of a sudden my world started to open up. I started to think about all the different places in the neighborhood I had seen the purple stained sidewalks. My mom friends were both much more adept at urban foraging and knowledge of wild edibles than I. As we talked one told a story of picking mulberries and another of sour cherries they just discovered and had picked the day before and were making into a pie that day. I also remembered stories of juneberries and crab apples another friend had told me earlier. I had also witnessed 2 different people eating something from trees over the past month. I guess these earlier experiences had primed me to be ready to ask for more information in this case. To be willing to press past my protection rule to peek and see if there might be something more.

Although my "rule" may have served a purpose of keeping my toddler boys from eating things that might make them sick, it also kept us from discovering some really sweet treats just hanging in our neighborhood. Once we got over to Whole Foods and were enjoying our store bought treats I told the boys that I had learned that those berries are mulberries and we can eat them. The boys were of course excited about this. We left it there and continued our "long walk day".

After we crossed the bridge and were walking toward our second park of the day we saw it, right there on a street we'd walked down so many times, the purple stained sidewalk and a mulberry tree. It took less than 60 seconds for my oldest to climb the tree while I washed out a cup to use as a collection vessel.

My younger son cheered us on from the stroller and sampled the first of the harvest while big brother reached out on limbs and I pulled some down to reach any ripe mulberry we could find.

My favorite moment was when a woman walked by. For a moment I thought she would tell us off for picking from that tree but instead she reached up plucked off nice ripe mulberry and in broken English asked if it was good to eat. I smiled and said, "yes - very good." She popped it in her mouth, gave a big grin and walked on.

A rule broken, new learnings, a hidden treasure discovered, a meal shared with a stranger and smiles all around.

The boys insisted we save some for Daddy when he got home so we could all share in the new sweet treat. A Family Learning Adventure!

  • Have you ever found yourself breaking one of your own rules?
  • Have you ever discovered a new thing on a path you have walked many times?
  • How did it go?

We'd love to hear your stories!

Monday, June 29, 2015

How a Kids' Soccer Camp Doubles as a Family Learning Adventure

By Ian Jackson

Last week the sports fields two blocks away from our house were home to the eighth annual Soccer Nights program. Soccer Nights is a volunteer-led evening soccer program by Vineyard Community Offerings for kids in Cambridge and elsewhere, but it's so much more than a soccer program. When I was thinking about how to describe Soccer Nights, I found this description on their website:

Soccer Nights exists to catalyze a unified and engaged community through the game of soccer. Why soccer?, you might ask. Couldn't you put on a community event centered around, say, kick ball, or perhaps food? The answer is yes, we are certain we could (and often do). But there is something unique about soccer that speaks a sort of universal language across cultures that we think is pretty remarkable, and for this reason we’ve strived to be an excellent place for kids to play soccer.  Soccer is the most played sport in the world, with more than 265 million people playing worldwide (FIFA publication, 2006).

I think that pretty much sums it up. Basically, it's about soccer but it's also not about soccer. It's about community. And since that community just so happens to be our neighborhood, it's pretty awesome. Throughout the year we all look forward to the week, and plan our summer around it.

It also takes a lot of volunteers to pull off. Over 100, in fact. Many of them attend the Greater Boston Vineyard, where we've been going to church since before our kids were born. But many of them don't. Many are simply members of the local community who enjoy it as much as we do.

And what do we all enjoy about it?

Well, for our 8 year old, you might think it's most obvious - he gets to play soccer every night - except that it's not that obvious. He doesn't tend to enjoy other sports programs very much - he certainly doesn't look forward to them the way he does with this. Of course, most other programs don't put such a focus on getting to know your teammates, or watching skits by grown-ups in silly costumes, or - this year's theme - being a hero. But's that's not why he loves it so much.

A big reason he loves it? And a big reason we all love it? Sure, it's partly because this is a huge initiative put on by our church and its community offerings wing, but I think the main reason is even simpler: It's because the whole family is involved.

While the formal program starts at 1st grade, there's an area for 3-5 year-olds with informal soccer fun, face-painting, hula hoops and more. Before our older son was old enough to participate in the formal program, we would go every year just to hang out there and get to see the whole thing in action. And now, we hang out there with our 4-year-old, and our 4-month-old.

But we also take part in other ways. In the past, as well as helping with activities in the 3-5's area, we've also volunteered on the logistics team , which helps put the whole thing together (this year with my younger son's help), and helped get parents from the community involved in the parents-and-coaches games, which builds the community to be more than just a group of parents watching their kids from the bleachers. And while we weren't as involved this year as we are sometimes, we, as a whole family, had a wonderful time.

But it's only because that's how the Soccer Nights program is set up that we can all be involved in whatever degree we want to be. I wish more programs were designed to get whole families involved.

When that's on offer, and everybody joins in, that is what I look at as a Family Learning Adventure.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Learning Edge

By Angel Jackson

Why Family "Learning" Adventure and not just Family Adventure?  We love the idea of taking adventures as a family and find when something becomes an adventure it goes so much better for all involved.  Adventures have risk and story, twists and turns, they take you somewhere and they are fun to be on.  All that said, we stuck this word "learning" in there, why?

We'll maybe we are just learning nerds-that is very probably the case! We love learning new things in our house.  I was just looking at the kitchen island and on it stood these 3 books:

Our oldest is learning about things he can make fly across the yard, our younger son wants to know more about Koalas and why they don't get sick from eating Eucalyptus leaves even know they are poisonous and Mommy wants to know how to use the herbs we grow in our garden to sooth the sore throats, bee stings and mosquito bites in our home.  Daddy does not have a book here but just before I got on the computer to write Daddy was looking up information on the history of the Widener Library at Harvard University (fascinating, involves the Titanic).  We love learning, but how does that flow with adventure and why have we connected them on this blog?

A few weeks ago we were on our way to the language club we are part of.  It is a multilingual immersion style family language club.  It should fit right in as a Family Learning Adventure as is it not a club just for kids but for whole families to learn and practice multiple languages together.  That said "everybody's in, everybody plays, everybody learns" was not how we felt.  It was time to go and the boys were both complaining and even our baby was fussy as I was trying to get all of us out the door and over to club--not fun not adventure.  I was thinking later about why the kids were not enjoying it.  Of course since they were not enjoying it, I too was not enjoying it.  I love the club, I love the people and I love the philosophy of learning, it's fun, it's interactive--what's the problem?

In conversation with Ian a few days later I was telling him how we had started trying to listen to a Spanish track on one of the CDs daily and were working on 10 new words.  I figured we just needed a little more work on some words so we'd all feel more comfortable in the club speaking.  While Ian and I were talking something hit me.  Our older son had, over the years briefly asked if we could focus on German a couple times.  I do not speak, German, I know nothing about German.  Each time he asked about German I answered something like "we could do that" but then brought it around to focusing on French or Spanish (two languages I have had several years of instruction and practice in).  Back to present day, here we were trying to work on Spanish, again, and drudging through it.

I realized in that moment that I was asking the boys to be on a "Learning Edge" to try something they had never done before, risk looking silly if they said the words wrong or did not know a word, and to walk into something they did not know---BUT I WAS NOT WILLING TO DO THE SAME THING!

I was trying to get it back to French or Spanish because I know those ones (at least a little), I was not willing to get into the boat and sail out into the unknown with them I wanted to stay on the safe shore where I knew what I knew and was less likely to look silly.  I was asking them to sail out alone.

I talked to the boys the next day and explained what I had realized and apologized for not being willing to try something new with them.

The next club I stepped out and shared something small using words from one of the German CD's that I could remember. It was exhilarating realizing I could speak a few words.  I could tell my older son was impressed.  He was not impressed at what I said, I could tell he was impressed because I stepped out into something he knew was a learning edge for me.  The facilitator of the club knew it too and she said something like "we should have a tries the most new things award each week". Since then my older son has been counting and doing Math in German, he has been excited to listen to the CDs and participated more in the last club (asking for extra turns to speak) than he ever has. I am realizing how much I actually understand on the German tracks and our younger son is enjoying listening too.  Sure, you could say it was because my older son got to do the language he wanted that he is now willing to try and risk.  Yes, I am sure there is something in that, but I am also sure there was something else at play there.

Something shifts when we step out into the unknown, when we are on a new learning edge.  Something shifts not just for us but for all those around us as well.  As adults we avoid this like the plague.  Kids are always learning new things and willing to look silly doing it. I think something special happens when we join them in this place--looking silly, stepping out--Family Learning Adventures!

What do you think?  Have you experienced this in any way?