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intergenerationalism (soapbox)

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Brasov, Romania
Please note this post is written by the Crazy-Mama of the family.
The Sensible-Father does not necessarily share all the sentiments!

Here’s a little girl and her great-grandmother. Mother and grandmother were there too, but we didn’t get a picture of them all together.

We did, however, get some funny stories about the oldest living generation……let’s call the main character Great-Grandpa. He came to visit from his little farmhouse in a nearby village. There were crumbs on the table, which he swept up into his hand and promptly deposited on the floor. He had forgotten he was now in town and there would be no chickens running into the kitchen to demolish them!
On another occasion, Great-Grandpa came to the grandparents’ place, where, as a special treat, they ran him a bath. As per his life-old custom, he filled a cup with water and splashed it over himself!

These smile-inducing stories punctuated a discussion about how we care for the aged. A kiwi example was cited (not by us) – individual homes in a little community with sports facilities, garden etc. But even there, as nice as it was (and much nicer than the more usual apartment block complexes), something was missing – people under the age of sixty! We couldn’t follow the conversation fully, but we did pick up and agree that old folks’ homes on the whole are not quite right. A community loses wisdom and experience when the aged are “kept” away from society in general. Children miss out, young people miss out, middle-agers miss out and the elderly themselves miss out too.

Something we have noticed over and over on this trip is old folks contributing meaningfully to their families and to their communities. There have been countless examples – right from the very first place we stayed in (Singapore, where the 80+ year old Grandmother went out each day with her barrow to collect cardboard for recycling)….to the ladies at the market here in Brasov, bringing their home-grown produce or homemade cheese or hand-carved wooden spoons in to town from the villages to sell. All throughout Asia and eastern Europe we have seen old ladies and old men still working. This is such a contrast to New Zealand where (excuse the generalising) there is an expectation that at age 65 you will stop working and embrace leisure.

Even if this were a desirable model, it would not work, not with the demographics we have these days. It will soon be impossible for the ever-enlarging “oldies” group to be supported by an ever-diminishing younger workforce. (Rob does not disagree with this bit).

And as hinted at already, I do not think putting my feet up permanently in twenty years’ time (not even to knit all day – wink) is going to cut it for me. Just this week I have realised that there is no urgency to bring to fruition my visions within the next ten years. Assuming I might live to be eighty or ninety or so, I still have more than half my life left! While I would like to move to a farm as soon as we return and start the process of city-girl-turns-country, I can see that staying in the suburbs for another decade does not relegate me to a whole lifetime there. Starting a farm at fifty might seem crazy, but since when have we walked the sensible route? At least it would give time for some theoretical learning to occur while we wait – maybe we’d make fewer mistakes than if we jumped in the deep end right now! And even starting at fifty, gives perhaps thirty years of regular (although undoubtedly slow) work. In that time we could improve whatever ground we have, get the vege garden not just established, but in a seasonal rhythm, we could grow trees (even walnuts would be producing fruit before we died and we could have harvested a pine forest), raise piggies for curing our own bacon, raise chookies to have eggs to eat with the bacon, and even learn to spin wool from our own sheep’s backs in our spare time.
For the next few years while Rob makes his contribution at his chosen place of employment, when I’m not edumacating our children or weeding our garden or preserving our harvest or baking our bread or brewing our vinegar or petitioning the council to allow the keeping of chickens on our section (as could be done in the rest of the world without stringent regulatory red-tape) or knitting our socks and sewing our quilts or doing Pilates or practising hospitality or reading the classics or or or….I’ll be dreaming. Rob asked what I’d like to be doing in twenty years’ time and I answered without stopping to think, “To be a hippy.” There just might be time for that yet! When you reach retirement age and do not equate that milestone with reaching a use-by date, you can dream big. You can even dream for your great-grandchildren.

PS The two litres of honey brought home from the Grandpa’s house at the weekend, made by his own bees in his own backyard, just might have gone a long way to convincing SensibleMan that hippy is not so bad!

PPS If you’d like to see some of our intergenerational stories, please CLICK HERE.

as a parent….

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Brasov, Romania

In my role as parent (or perhaps tour guide), I’ve posed a few questions to the children over the past couple of days. Questions like “What did you think of the trip?” and “What have you learnt this past year?” and “How will this experience affect your future life, both the immediate future and perhaps longterm – if you can imagine beyond your childhood, that is?” and “What’s the worst thing that happened?” and “What was your favourite thing/place/food/experience” and “Why?”
We know that when we get back, we will need to slot into “normal daily life” (whatever that is), and that most people we come across will have no interest in our goings-on (not you, who is reading, of course – we feel your lurve!), but *some* people will pose a question or two. A number of times the children have already been faced with the impossible, “What’s your favourite so far?” or even more vaguely, “What do you think of the trip?” (Actually, it’s fascinating how people are more interested in what the kids think than the adults!! And I LIKE that they are treated as *people* and not some of our baggage). Context usually limits the answer to a twenty second one, but where do you start in under a minute? How can you compare riding an elephant with a roller coaster? Slurping a bowl of spicy noodle soup with biting into a thick custardy cream cake or chomping on the most flavour-filled crispy apple you have ever tasted, that you just picked off the tree? Come to think of it, how do you compare a slice of watermelon with a slice of buffalo mozzarella, a pot of Mongolian sheep’s tail with a bag of freshly fried crickets? How do you choose between scaling a mountain in Thailand and clambering over four thousand year old ruins? How do you choose between floating down the Mekong river for a couple of days and the fastest scariest zippy-dippy tuktuk ride across town? Oh, and what about the time we crammed fourteen people into one tuktuk?
How do you choose between experiences and relationships? Seeing the marvel of Angkor Wat was absolutely amazing, but so was seeing the look on the face of a child who had just received their first ever book. Climbing castles inspired, but so did visiting an orphanage. Cycling anywhere (whether in China or Holland or Greece or…) was always a favourite…and so was realising that Grandpa would be rejoining us earlier than planned.
Discovering a new beetle or bones at an archaeological site or a new word or a spectacular sunset was always exciting….as was discovering your journal entries becoming more interestingly written and longer and longer and longer.

So I’ve been grooming the children…. “Listen up kids, it’s better to answer, “Oooh that’s a tricky question; I’ll try to answer it” than to stare dumbly saying, “Ummmm I dunno.”” 
How to teach them to discern whether someone is asking out of politeness or because they are genuinely interested, though, is tricky – you see, we work on a philosophy of “take people at their word” – we don’t go looking for hidden agendas or unspoken intentions. And so that means the lady who told our young lad she really was interested in rugby, got much more than she bargained for. All she could stammer as I pulled him on to the next pillar at Philippi was, “My, he is articulate, isn’t he? It’s homeschooling that does that.” Which was a really funny comment for her to make when she’d just expressed real concern to me that homeschooled children can’t interact socially <wink> He was certainly *interacting*, even if inappropriately by adult standards!! But he was six and she had asked him a question….so he had answered. Hopefully we’ll have got Body Language 101 and Clues About Whether Someone Is Listening Interestedly Or Merely Politely down pat by the time we get back (eg they look engaged versus distant, they ask more questions versus grunting, they share their own experiences – must remind the kids to pick up on those stories and take on the role of Good Listener, asking further questions of the speaker…)

If you haven’t read enough yet today, there’s a bit more on the now-updated Parenting Page, and quite a few pictures too.

We’re going on a bear hunt…

Saturday, November 21st, 2009
Brasov, Romania “Imitation is the highest form of praise.” Is that sufficient comment to release us from copyright laws regarding one of our favourite books? Hope so….here goes….

We’re going on a bear hunt We’re going ... [Continue reading this entry]

simply welcoming

Monday, April 27th, 2009
by Rach Tallinn, Estonia

We’re in a community house. Breakfast is shared with a red-hat-wearing dreadlock-bearded Santa Claus’s helper. This Finnish man actually went to school with Santa Claus. We certainly didn’t have any inkling we’d ... [Continue reading this entry]

coconut afternoon

Friday, December 12th, 2008
By Rach Luang Prabang, Laos

Papa and Mama (the grandparents of the family, parents to our guesthouse owner) in the next guesthouse have a large garden up the Mekong. On Sunday one of the ... [Continue reading this entry]


Monday, December 1st, 2008
By Rachael Luang Prabang, Laos


* jingle jingle * jingle jingle * The silver coins decorating skirts, shirts and head-dresses clink together with every step, announcing the arrival of striking black-and-bright-rainbow-pattern-attired Hmong people. Wherever they walk, ... [Continue reading this entry]

real life learning

Friday, November 28th, 2008
by an adult who keeps on learning Luang Prabang, Laos That's what we're into as an educational philosophy and methodology....and where we are staying right now is a perfect environment.


We have the top floor of ... [Continue reading this entry]

Tourist Life in Laos?!

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008
Rob writes Luang Prabang, Laos

that's our balcony on the right up there The New York Times touts Luang Prabang as the ONE "must see" destination - period. What makes a destination suddenly become 'chic' ... [Continue reading this entry]

trekking: an adult’s perspective

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008
taken from Rachael's journal with Rob commenting in italics

trek 1st night

It was surreal to be standing there slightly above most of the Karen village looking down at the smoke curling ... [Continue reading this entry]

Bangkok Birthday

Thursday, November 6th, 2008
by Rachael

Even before we left, there were two days I was dreading; the day we come home and the day Grandpa leaves us in Bangkok. Thankfully, one is still a long ways ... [Continue reading this entry]