One of My Favorite Unschooling Europe Photos

20 08 2009

europe trip mer kikki

Seeds of Unschooling Europe Planted In Culture Curiosity

5 08 2009

en route

Favorite Daughter and her fond companion Kiki are home again. I have had my hugs and gotten some presents, though surely not heard all the stories yet. As they adjust to Florida time again and catch up on their sleep, I’m sitting here trying to adjust to Facebook and I just realized there is a category called “notes” where one can post blog-type essays. Favorite Daughter apparently has been doing this more than blogging at her own Cocking a Snook Too! in the past several months.

So in her Facebook “notes” I found the perfect precursor to the Unschooling Europe tour. This is EDUCATION, and while it can serve them well in school settings too, that’s only because some school settings really do still appreciate and reward real education. 🙂

Assuming that most thinking parents will not be FB friends of Favorite Daughter’s thus wouldn’t be able to read this there, I’m adding it as a permanent page here under “First Thinks First” — as unschooling culture commentary and the true beginning of the wonderful adventure they haven’t had a chance to tell me all about yet . . .


Unschooling Europe, Unschooling Culture

5 08 2009

The whole story of their adventure, how it started and why they went together, on their own, at ages 18 and 19 with no adult or group planning and supervision, can be read in their own contemporaneous words by clicking here and going back to the earliest post first, then reading forward chronologically.

But I think now it really started long before that, with the young women they were becoming, how they were thinking and feeling and engaging ideas and culture (and each other) on intellectually meaningful plains, refusing to settle for cultural crap and idiot answers to Life’s big questions. They unschooled Europe because they unschooled themselves first. Something like that.

So here, again in their own words, is how Favorite Daughter and her friend Kiki came to Unschool Europe. (Hint: there’s no curriculum or instruction for this, and no standardized test to measure it!)


“French Cultural Project”
Sunday, November 16, 2008

I had to have a cultural experience for my French class, so I decided to have a fictional conversation with Kiki (based, of course, upon things we've said before). I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out, because it's very narrative, and stands on its own as an essay, so I wanted to share.

Kiki was a little surprised when I called her for a lunch date, because our next scheduled “girls’ afternoon out,” is next Friday, when she’s dragging me to give blood again. Kiki loves giving blood with a fervor that can only be felt by a pre-med bio-chemistry major with a latent sense of civic responsibility.

“Keeks,” I said, “I want to see you. We need to catch up, and it’s a complete coincidence that my French cultural experience paper is due on Monday.”

“I’m your cultural experience?” she sounded both flattered and delighted, which was my intention. “You are constantly my cultural experience,” I said. We met at Chili’s, our traditional haunt, and, at my request, proceeded to discuss French and American culture, with an emphasis on what overlaps and what doesn’t.

Among all my friends, Kiki is the most qualified to have a metaphysical discussion about culture, especially if that culture is Francophone. She is an ex-patriot while still actively American, a European trapped in North American skin. Her family hails from Belgium, and even though her bilingual mother and grandmother live here, she still has a handful of uncles, aunts, and cousins living in Fayt-le-Franc.

“They had to drag me out of there kicking and screaming the last time I visited,” she tells me.

Kiki was born in Chattahoochee, excelled in the American school system, and to all outward appearances seems like a perfectly ordinary American girl. Talk to her for a few minutes, though, and you start to forget she’s lived here for almost twenty years. She’s fluent in French, and she once mocked me for spelling the word realized with a “z” (“and you’re an English major!”), which led to a mutual discovery that she spells words as though she were British. She lives and dies with the results of the World Cup and Le Tour de France – perhaps her one true strain of American-ness comes out in her adoration of Lance Armstrong.

“Oh, I know a golden cultural moment,” she tells me now, “Do you remember that time you got confused about the difference between football and soccer?”

“Yes,” I sighed, “but I don’t understand why the story is known as the time I got confused. This is my country, you know.”

Whoever got confused, she’s right about the story. I think it almost perfectly crystallizes our cultural differences.

“Hey, Mer,” she prodded me in the lobby of a fancy hotel, “check out those hot football players.” I immediately looked at the TV in the bar, broadcasting the Miami game, marveling at her eyesight. “No, no, no, no,” she scolded, rolling her eyes and pointing at the team of uniformed soccer players standing a few feet away.

“Ok, two can play at that game, soccer girl,” I challenge as the waitress refills our drinks and gives me a funny look.
“What about that time you asked me who John Adams was?”

“I still don’t know why that bothered you so much.”

I hadn’t known why it bothered me so much, either, at first. It was a simple question, asked in one of Kiki’s most un-American moments: “Mom and I have been having a debate, and perhaps you can settle it,” she’d said, and, expecting something literary, my area of expertise, I asked her what was on her mind.

“Who was John Adams?” came the question, almost stopping my heart. “Mom keeps saying he was the first postmaster general of the U.S., but I’m pretty sure that’s wrong.”

A yawning abyss opened before me, and time seemed to slow. Who was John Adams? He was my all-time favorite founding father, for starters. He was a lawyer, a farmer, a revolutionary, a brave and honest man, a patriot. He was loud, he was principled, he was disliked, he was a framer of the constitution. I finally settled on the answer that I would have given had I been on a game show: “He was the second president of the United States.”

This did not seem nearly adequate. I wanted to grab Kiki, to keep her there indefinitely, until I could properly articulate everything this dead man, this name, meant to me. But part of me knew that I would never do it in a lifetime. There was no way to communicate all the paradigms and knowledge of a people, of my people, in mere words. It is something that must be lived.

I know that Kiki feels the same frustration with me sometimes, usually for language reasons. I often ask her to tell me the story of her grand-mère, a woman made of steel who fled Belgium during WWII and somehow wound up walking barefoot through a Middle Eastern desert. It is our quiet ambition to someday write a bestseller based upon her bizarre experiences, and the title would be a phrase that Kiki cannot quite translate.

“In English, the closest I can get it is something like, ‘Muslims work in mysterious ways,’” she told me, “But, man, that isn’t quite right. It’s so much better in the French. So much more beautiful.” She looks at me, and I shrug, free and unburdened with the complexity that plagues the bilingual.

This is why Kiki and I work so well together: we make one another proud of our heritages. Not because each of us feels that hers is superior in comparison, but because in teaching someone about your culture, you experience it in a truer, fresher way than you could have by yourself.

“I remember the moment we really became friends,” I tell her now.

“Well, that’s one of us. Enlighten me.”

We were in a hotel room, on a trip with a larger group, thrown together as roommates by random assignment. Kiki, trying to be nice, pulled out a CD to play as we got ready to go out, and I got my first taste of Edith Piaf. Hers was a strangely enchanting music, not technically proficient or classically beautiful, but nonetheless compelling and rich.

“I like this,” I remember saying, “What is it?” Here, Kiki had a John Adams moment as she tripped all over herself to explain a beloved national icon. “My grandmother says that her voice is the sound of Paris,” was the phrase that stuck with me.

The next day, it was time to put on music again, and Kiki politely deferred to me.

“Kiki,” I said, “Put Edith on again.”

In that moment, our eyes met, cultures overlapped, and a friendship was formed, one that I feel truly privileged to be a part of.

Our Unschooling Europe Girls and Anne Frank in AMSTERDAM

16 07 2009

en route

“Seeing the Amsterdam Sights”
Posted by Favorite Daughter (penguindust) under Amsterdam

As shocking as it may be to some, Amsterdam, it turns out, has lots of legitimate, non-sexy history worth exploring.

This morning we went to the Anne Frank House first thing to beat the lines (you would not BELIEVE the lines). We were there about fifteen minutes before it opened, and were among the first people to go in, and there were still ten to fifteen people ahead of us.

The House/annex/museum is a very well-done and sobering reminder. They’ve worked really hard to turn it into not just an Anne Frank or Holocaust memorial, but a sort of advocacy center for democracy and human rights. They’ve integrated the artifacts (including the actual original diary on the way out, presently on loan from somewhere) with mulitmedia, like heartbreaking interviews with Otto Frank before his death.

Then we went on a free three-hour walking tour with a tour group we’ve taken to calling “the redshirts”(not in the Star trek sense). We first encountered them in Edinburgh, and Lindsay informed us, a little sadly, a little wistfully, that this particular group hosts free tours all over Europe, and most people like the consistency of the same tours in every city they go to.

Well, we understand now. Claire, our tourguide, was an Irish dynamo, literally bouncing up and down for much of our time together. Unlike Lindsay – whom we still love – Claire was by no means wet behind the ears. She knew exactly what she was talking about, and you could tell Read the rest of this entry »

Unschooling Sports and Humanity: Le Tour De France for Our American Girls

26 07 2009

THIS is education, unschooled education. Anywhere, any time. Awesome. Real. Life. You should know, to fully appreciate this, what a Tour de France and huge Lance Armstrong fan this young woman is, and also that she is a star science student aspiring to a medical career. For her, the whole trip she’s been planning for a year, was built around being in Paris today on the Champs-Elysées, to see the finish of this year’s tour and to see Lance Armstrong in person.

Don’t you want to be there for Bastille Day July 14, I suggested when they finally deigned to show me a draft of their itinerary. She was polite and deferential but clearly thought I hadn’t a clue about what was really important in this world. 😉

en route

“Enfin, Le Tour de France”
Posted by kiki under France, Paris

Sometimes things don’t exactly happen how you expect them to. This is what I have been telling myself every time I started to think about the Tour de France. I had no idea what to expect when we exited the Métro this morning on Place de la Concorde. I hadn’t the slightest clue where we were allowed to be, much less where the best spot would be. And, on top of it all, I had attracted an entourage at our hostel in the previous two days, making my excursion group not two but five.

After walking around and literally having to go the long way because the best spots on the Champs were reserved for the VIPs in the grandstands, we finally found what we thought would be a good place, especially considering that there were already people staking out their spot and it was only 7 AM.
Mer and kiki tour de france paris 2009

We collapsed cardboard boxes we found discarded behind a Tour de France memorabilia booth and we waited.

I looked up and down the Champs-Elysées, Read the rest of this entry »

Lots of Europe Photos Finally Up

19 07 2009

en route

Click on the links:

Pictures are slowly making their way to you, and all the Brussels pictures are currently accessible.

For Brussels (Bruxelles) Click Here.

Favorite Daughter Posing as Part of TinTin's "Secret of the Unicorn"

Favorite Daughter in TinTin's "Secret of the Unicorn"

Pictures from:

Mons/Boat Elevators

Kiki’s Family/Fayt-le-Franc




Roger Federer in Sand at Swiss Olympic Museum

Roger Federer in Sand at Swiss Olympic Museum


I Need Advice About Kids Handling Cash While in Europe

11 02 2009

Anybody? We’re having a teachable moment and need to make arrangements very soon for two young female backpackers with a Eurail pass visiting several different countries, without credit cards or bank accounts of their own.

When I went back in the 80s, it was all travelers checks plus my credit card, but I was an adult. Before the Euro (does that make it better or worse now?) and there were no online service models then, are there now? They won’t be taking laptops but can access internet cafes in some places, if that matters. So does anyone know from experience, or at least know of a forum or something where we can get some recommendations, about what works and what doesn’t, pros and cons of different methods, etc?

Unschooling Europe tag

FavD’s Musical Opens Tomorrow Night

7 10 2010

It’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Meredith Ross is Olive Ostrovsky!

(credit to official TALC photographer Ray Colletti)

Everything she needed to know, she learned in musical theatre . . . her last show was connected more to her unschooling Europe adventures, I thought. But this one is about unschooling life itself, how valuable that can be even for thoroughly schooled kids. In the end, isn’t it always the unschooled and ideally musical power of story learning, about who you are and how to live, that really matters?

P.S. Aaaahhhhh! Young Son just walked through the kitchen where I was posting and said, cool, her number is 42! Huh? — and then I shrieked. Of course! We’ve all read Douglas Adams. Talk about Power of Story!

I bet they got to pick their own numbers, Young Son says. No, I don’t think so — you just noticed something I didn’t, and I doubt they did either, not even your sister in the middle of all that goes into producing a musical. Let’s go see, he said. And so we shall. I’ll let you know. 😉

Favorite Daughter’s Upcoming Musical

11 02 2010

She just got another new wig to play a saucy Italian mistress and sing/speak in matching accent.

Because this red (on the right) simply wouldn’t do! 😉

Rehearsal photo by Ray Colletti

I’m thinking this will be particularly poignant for her after unschooling Europe including Italy last summer.

From the Tallahassee Democrat’s regional Chronicle:

After a 2008-2009 season that included a trip to Tacoma, Wash., for the national community theater festival following first-place wins at state and regional levels, Theatre A La Carte is spending the 2009-2010 season celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Although Theatre A La Carte is an all-volunteer organization that has never owned a building and primarily depends on ticket sales and private donations to cover production costs, the group has been successfully producing top-quality musical theatre Read the rest of this entry »

Last Day in London With Darwin, Newton, Churchill — and Obama?

3 08 2009

“Last Day in London and Subsequently the Trip”
Posted by kiki under England, London

Went to Madame Tussaud’s today…see accompanying photos.

Mer and President Obama Enjoy Madame Tussaud's Together

Favorite Daughter and President Obama Enjoy Madame Tussaud's Together

Also went to the Evensong service at Westminster Abbey. The Abbey itself is absolutely gorgeous and just teeming with the graves of incredibly famous people. On the way in, we walked over the grave of no less than the likes of Charlie Darwin and on the way out the brilliant Isaac Newton and the portly Winston Churchill.

The service itself was breath-taking as well as a bit Phantom of the Opera-esque with the massive organ playing songs filled with entirely too many minor chords.

That was pretty much it because of the massive queue for Madame Tussaud’s in which we encountered this insufferable shrew with her adorable eight-year-old daughter. The woman had been waiting in front of us for about thirty minutes when Read the rest of this entry »

Penultimate Day in LONDON Full of Tours

2 08 2009

en route

“Tours, Tours, Tours”
Posted by Favorite Daughter (penguindust)

Sorry for the late update, folks, but we have been on tours literally all day.

Forgot to mention yesterday that we saw the Tower of London before the show! It was very exciting, because the whole Bloody Tower portion is dedicated to a discussion of who murdered or “disappeared” the two young princes. They presented some evidence, at which point we, the public of hundreds of years later, could vote on the matter!

As my brother was performing his (I’m sure) tip-top Richard III yesterday, we thought the conclusion was obvious: My brother did it. We explained this emphatically to people in line, and, judging by the vote counter, he was winning by a landslide.

After our two tours today, we may well be qualified to write Master’s Theses on the Tower of London, as both our tours – the NewEurope Old London City Tour and the New Europe Grim Reaper Tour – covered the Tower in some detail. We strolled along the Thames and got to see the reproduction Globe Theatre from a distance, strolled down Fleet Street, and traced the path of Jack the Ripper. We even saw the actual Ten Bells Pub where he stalked his victims, which is still a fully operational pub, complete with crusty English gentlemen smoking and drinking ale and doing whatever else it is they do in pubs.

Tomorrow we’re going to Westminster Abbey – for free! It costs about £15 to get in normally, UNLESS you sneakily attend their Evensong service, which they begrudgingly still hold open to the public. Ironically, Charlie Darwin is buried there. Hopefully we’ll get to sneak a peek.


London Matinee Report from FavD

1 08 2009

“Billy Elliot: Oh. My. God.”
Posted by penguindust under England, London

en route

So Billy Elliot is amazing.

It’s kind of hard to articulate how amazing, but I’ll try.

If any of you saw the performance at the Tonys –- the one with the tap dancing and the police shields –- know that the whole show is that intense and that good, and heartwarming and funny to boot.

How talented are the 12-year-old boys playing Billy Elliot, you ask? Let me say, in ten years of dancing and seeing shows, I have never heard taps, in my entire life, as clean as the taps I heard today. Anyone remember that amazing kid who tap danced in The Boy From Oz? Yeah, the kid we saw today was about fifteen times better than that. At everything.

The show is a heartbreaking and heartwarming tale set in parallel: a young boy in a tough coal mining town wants to dance ballet, and his dream matures as the town dies. It’s the story of a kid, it’s the story of a community, and it is filled with some of the most spectacular choreography, design, talent, and storytelling you will ever see.

The whole message is ‘be yourself.’ One of the slogans of the show is, ‘if you want to dance, dance.’

The musical is incredibly organic and natural as it chronicles Billy, his family, and his town coming to terms with Read the rest of this entry »