Wednesday, November 28, 2018

On How Thanksgiving Strangely Feels More Real Overseas

My memories of Thanksgiving growing up, though distant, remain fond, bountiful and luscious. Throughout the 90s, down in Chile, my missionary parents did what they could to find a Turkey and some salsa de arĂ¡ndano, long before the age of Walmart-Internacional: where most everything can be found most anywhere in the world most of the time. There were rules to our ceremonial binge:
  1. At the Emmons table: Thou shall not commence digging in to the feast until Bob's leg and your cute face have coupled up for the classic Thanksgiving picture.
  2. And more importantly: Thou must singeth at the top of thy lungs the anthemic grace song of: BE PRESENT AT OUR TABLE LORD. I must admit, that as the vocal abilities of my siblings grew, there were times it seemed the dinner blessing would never end. Oh the 86-bar finale of a 4-part harmony Aaaaaaa-meeeeeeeen! 

Later in my 20s, back in the USA, thick in my social activisms, over-intellectual-faux stimulations and cultural anthropolotizations of all things, I mostly gagged at the idea of Thanksgiving. My red bubbling blood stirred a bitter existential inquiry that was absolutely aloof to the regenerative possibilities I'd discover a decade later, "What is there to celebrate?", I sulked. "A needle of a dinner in the haystack of the slaughter that would follow?" Shame, shame on all of you ignorant gluttons! 

Around my 30s, in Costa Rica, regenerative feathers started tickling me into an awareness of what Turkey Day could be, if only I could learn to let the bitter bean of my 20s percolate into a nice morning brew of cafecito con conciencia cultural. Originateve co-founder, Ron Green and his beautiful family, among the many things they have continued to bring to me and my family over the years, allowed me the first glimpses of what it would look like to take pride in my North American roots in spite of our bloody imperialistic history. They are what I call: Thanksgiving pros. As I watched them own the back corridor of studio 1, multi-tasking recipes passed down from both the Green and Curnow branches, I recalled a French Onion soup my mother had once made in beautiful ceramic pottery in the northern Atacama desert in Chile. Transformation happens with small shifts in our intention. Accountability was manifest even in those early days. I knew it would be shameful to not bring something of my people to that table. Time to grow up. And so glad I did. To this day those present still request my mother-inspired soup.  

As the planning for the big Pavo day in Costa Rica drew near, I remember the list we started to make of those we would invite. The question was a straight shooting one: Who has made your life, far away from your home, feel like home? This powerful consideration rooted in the historicity of the holiday was a game changer. Ever since, I have looked forward to the season of Thanksgiving as a time to let those who have welcomed my family and I into their country, families and homes, how very grateful we are. 

This year was no different. Shishi, China has been incredible to us. The vibrant community growing out of the Master Tree Kindergarten project is most definitely one we feel very blessed to have struck paths with. Towards the end of the Summer of 2016, my family had to make the very difficult decision of leaving the northern province of Shandong due to high levels of pollution. Like the English settlers, just under 400 years ago, we were in love with the new land we had come to from so far away. However, the smoggy winters were taking a toll on our children and we needed an extra hand to make our dream of growing our family and dreams in China possible. That is where we set sail, South, to find a Plymouth rock of our own.

This past Thanksgiving night, my wife had her Tarot cards read by Originateve University mentee: Javier Rhenus Lastres. For the present, she was shown the 10 of cups: 

"The Ten of this suit traditionally signifies family and community, often showing a celebratory scene including many generations, crowned by a rainbow signifying the end of hard times.

See this vision -- love and support extending in all directions -- a huge emotional safety net for everyone." ( 
This powerful reading reflects the profound gratitude I have this season towards our Master Tree community that has gracefully welcomed our family to play out Originateve's vision for a regenerative approach to education. 
This energy seemed to radiate throughout our team, as well, as we gathered for a potluck-style Thanksgiving dinner. Though, as it always goes, everyone was a bit estranged to what we were celebrating and why, as the night moved on, each toast shed light on the reason for the season: THANK YOU MASTER TREE for making Shishi, China feel like home!
Take a good luck and drool your faces off with the odd but delicious Thanksgiving dishes we feasted upon while a strange sense of what that first Thanksgiving must have felt like partaking of strange but delicious foods in a foreign land that would becomes a home away from home to those of us proud to be Amerikanos.   



Saturday, September 29, 2018

Reconnecting Urban Chinese Children to the Natural World

Lego-mania in China
Just last week, one of our new kindergarten moms asked for some help with her child. He's always throwing things around the house, she said. In times like these I have found it is always best to pry further with a question--you never know what you can learn about the families we are blessed to work with. When was the last time you played catch outside?, I asked. Her reply was a strange mix of innocent charm and severe disconnect from what children truly need. She said, they rarely spent time outside together and never playing catch. This was no surprise. Originateve has been in China for over 4 years now, spearheading regenerative practice in preschool education. Outdoor playtime for urban Chinese families is about as rare as authentic Chinese food in the Appalachian backwoods of eastern Tennessee. Be not mistaken though, Chinese parents care tremendously for the well-being of their kids. But misinformation often leads to over and unbalanced stimulation. A short visit to any Chinese mall on any given Saturday morning, will reveal the epidemic. Every other store is an after school program of sorts shouldering for the position to be the next short-lived top-selling educational gimmick.

Ryan's ball pool
Before I could get a reply back to the mom I was chatting with, she sent me a picture of the ball pool they have for for their clearly kinesthetically blessed child at home. The trend in China real estate is to move out of the country village homes with ample space for the children to play and into small living spacers in tall apartment building complexes. This ball pool may have once been a fun infant nook to roll around in, but as I fondly suggested it was hight time to do away with the toys of infancy and find a local park where he could strengthen his pitching arm while fine-tuning his eye-hand coordination playing catch with mom or pops.

This is by no means a malady relinquished to the People's Republic alone. We live in a day and age, where more and more so, we are locked indoors, our feet seldom touch the earth, our skin is rarely warmed by the sun and our eyes seldom look up into a glowing starry night. Reconnecting children to the natural world is at the heart of Originateve's holistic and regenerative curriculum at Master Tree Kindergarten in Shishi, China.
MT Rooftop Garden

At the end of last summer, we kickstarted our rooftop garden during our celebration of the full moon of Litha. 5 beautiful garden beds are now growing more than 20 different species of vegetables. All of which are carefully tended by the joint efforts of children and staff. Last week alone we introduced 1000 worms into 2 of our composting beds to accelerate our process of soil regeneration. These small squiggly workers are happily eating up the greens from our kindergarten kitchen waste while producing the rich soil that is steadily replacing the nutrient depleted landfill currently in our rooftop garden beds.

Down on the first floor of the school, next to our first MT garden that continues to thrive, we have added 5 new hens to our brood. Children are now excitingly feeding them each morning. The luckiest among them have found our very first MT laid eggs! A gradually growing awareness of the livelihood, care and cycles of chicken-raising is taking place in our children. 

Rabbit hutch is ready
Not far from our children-built chicken coop is our rabbit hutch that continues to draw out the curiosity and fondness of our little ones. Last week, 2 new bunnies joined our colony. Within their little gated home, on a daily basis, our kids are able to learn by observing their cave digging habits. During their morning feeding time, children develop a gentleness to enchant them into accepting a stock of grass from their hands to nibble on. 

This fall semester, we also started our weekly visits to the Faery Garden located in the B-section of the apartment complex across the street from our school. These little class trips by foot allow our children to become aware of the safety precautions necessary when walking as a group without mom and dad around. this segment of our weekly activities seeks to bring children closer into relationship with a beautiful natural garden not too far from our school. Here, children are encouraged to explore and discover more about themselves and the world we live in. It is not uncommon to see children building small homes from sticks, bringing various leaves and flowers for us teachers to praise their discovery and of course, the bravest in the bunch even engage some fun tinkering with an insect or two.

One of our core values at Master Tree Kindergarten is for all of our children to grow up not only with an awareness of the magic and beauty of our planet Earth but also of the dire responsibility we have to be her caretakers. We strongly believe that this is achieved by allowing our children to engage the natural world on a routine basis, rather than on rare occasions. Howard Gardner, father of the multiple intelligence theory, strongly agrees with our vision,“children [need] to understand the world, but not just because the world is fascinating and the human mind is curious...[rather] so that they will be positioned to make it a better place”. Master Tree kindergarten and Originateve China are committed to fostering the naturalist intelligence of all our children. The kids take to it all with ease. The greatest challenge will forever be the parents. Are they ready to remember the outside play of their childhoods growing up in the village?

“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children's memories, the adventures we've had together in nature will always exist.”
― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Building homes for Faeries