Glasgow: The Hawk has Landed

Haida Hawk Artist: Todd Jason Baker

After a LOOOOONNNG 24 hours in transit, I am now at my hostel in Glasgow.  What an adventure it has been already!  My morning started out bright and early in Calgary when I woke up at 3 am so that Carell’s husband, Dave, could drive me to the airport.  Calgary doesn’t get much darkness this time of year so I felt like I just went to bed when I woke up but I rallied- excited and a bit nervous for my trip.  I spanned 4 countries and the Atlantic Ocean in my travel time and I found myself watching a little boy about 4 years old with wonder in his eyes as he exclaimed to his mom, “Look Momma!  We are flying above the clouds!”  I marveled at the technology humans created to make this possible and wondered if our ancestors ever imagined that it might be possible to make such a voyage in such a short time.  Carell’s prediction came true: as soon as I got to the airport in Calgary, a chatty Texan couple engaged me in conversation.  Despite it being 4:30 am and all of us looking like we’d just been spat out of a meat grinder, it was a great conversation.  They were a retired couple that have traveled all over the world in their motor home.  When it broke down in Alaska, they sold it and I met them when they were going back home.   It turns out that their grandkids were all home learning and it was interesting that the man guessed that I was a teacher before I even said so.  He gave me a knowing smile when I inquired how he knew that but didn’t reveal his secret.  I had forgotten how much I loved this part of travel where I get to speak to people who come from different places and in some ways have such different experiences from me.  The George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Huston is a wild convergence of cultures!  I felt like I was in the heart of the southern US (which I was) with all these other nationalities thrown in- Chinese, Indian, Mexican, you name it!  I noticed a HUGE difference in the food available there compared to airports like Calgary, London, and Glasgow.  There was a LOT of fast food. .  I flew with Continental and I think they must be an American airline because the food reflected the “fast” culture.  There was one food place called “Healthy Food” and I walked up skeptically.  Although a lot of the things were coated in cheese still, there were Mediterranean options that I chose from.  It is fair to say that Heathrow Airport is a mystery to me.  Thank goodness for all the people telling me where to go and loading me onto this bus and printing new boarding passes when my gates had changed, etc.  It is like its own city and I was traveling without a map!  And it was all good.  When I reached Glasgow, I was delighted to hear the accents, see the Gothic and Victorian buildings again, and feel the richness of the history here. I am pleased to report that I still understand Glaswegian despite not living here for a while!  My taxi driver was lovely and was pleased that I asked him a question he’d never been asked before in 30 years’ of driving: “What is your favourite place in Scotland?”  Turns out he is from Paisley nearby Glasgow so guess where he suggested I go.  *wink*  I am staying, curiously, at the same hostel I first stayed at in Glasgow when I came here to live as an exchange student a decade ago.  It is a lovely old Victorian building just off of Kelvingrove Park.  I put my back in a locker and went to the park while I waited for 2 pm (registration time) at the hostel.  In retrospect, this was a good idea because as I leaned up against a massive old walnut tree, I felt myself become more rejuvenated and the travel fatigue left me.  When I got back to the hostel, I crashed on my bed for 4 hours.  Sleep never felt so good.  When I woke up, I was ready to go and ravenously hungry.  I wandered down to Woodland Road and could not believe how many café’s were now to be found in the city.  And good coffee!!!  What a huge change from a decade ago when an 8 oz cup of Starbucks coffee was 5 pounds per.  I had the best moussaka I have ever had in my life at a Mediterranean restaurant run by people that looked Turkish.  And after that, I wandered back to my hostel on the cobblestone roads remembering to look right THEN left.  It’s been a long day and I am off to bed.  It is 9 pm local time.  Catch you tomorrow.  Got my walkin’ shoes on!

I apologize in advance that my pictures will be either of        landscape, other folks, or arm’s length from my face.  I may ask folks to take pictures of my in action sometimes; I’ll have to get creative since I am traveling solo….

Calgary: Land of Extremes

I am coming to the end of my time here in Calgary and have enjoyed every last minute of it.  The land and the people welcomed me in and I had lots of magical experiences here.  The first time I came to Calgary in December, a snow storm started just hours after I landed and all of the sudden, everything was white with the swirling stuff.  I was entranced as we were driving the Deerfoot (one of what seems like a tangle of a gazillion highways that run around and through the city).  This time, I have come in the heat of the summer and everything is green and lush after the most rainfall they’ve had in a long time for this time of the year.  And I am happy to report that Terra and I FINALLY saw deer on the Deerfoot yesterday when when we were driving out to Water Valley so it is not a misnomer! The land is vast and while driving with Terra, I was so moved by the landscape and all the possibilities that I started crying.  We saw horses, moose, black hawks, magpies, coyotes, and we even stopped to move a fox off the road that had been hit and said prayers over his body wishing him well where ever he was going next.

The people of Calgary are like the weather.  They seem to have two modes: totally relax and work hard.  Not much in between.  Ha!  The land and weather are extreme here in Calgary with chinooks, stormclouds and winds coming out of nowhere and ending as soon as they began.  The people are exciting and surprising.  I never can quite predict what they will do or say and it is fair to declare that I stick out rather remarkedly coming from Vancouver- the land of oceans, mountains and flow.

People seem to tell that I am not quite from here.  My friend (Stewart) and I went to the Water Valley Celtic Festival on Saturday to listen to music.  I learned quite quickly that the people here are quite conservative when it comes to physical and vocal expression.  Dancing, singing along, and hooting and hollering during performances were met with icy stares and closed body postures.  The performers seemed delighted at the addition of joyful energy so I persisted.  I knew from my years of singing with the Universal Gospel Choir that expression is a natural part of being human.  We have just been conditioned out of doing it for social reasons.  Often, all that is needed is an invitation to move and sing and participate and people are in there like swimwear.  I am happy to report that many of these frozen folks melted enough to allow their feet to tap and their hands to clap to the Celtic dancers, singers, and drummers’ joyful performances.

When we returned to Calgary, we were dehydrated and in need of a nap but it was well worth it.  We saw everyone from families, old ladies in wheelchairs, African people, Chinese people, bikers, men in kilts, and cowboys at this festival.  Calgary is a place where subcultures, mainstream culture, and multi-culture seem to converge  in unpredictable ways.  I like the straightforwardness of the people and how hospitable and helpful they are.  A part of me will be sad to leave tomorrow morning.  But in a funny way, I feel that Calgary has prepared me for my adventures in Scotland. I am so grateful to my friends, the land, and to my time here.  I’ll definitely be back!

Jen’s Synchronicity Magazine Article

This is my very first published article!

For more on Synchronicity Magazine go to:

Living from the Inside, Out

“When we adults think of children, there is a simple truth which we ignore: childhood is not preparation for life; childhood is life. A child isn’t getting ready to live; a child is living.  How much heartache we would save ourselves if we would recognize the child as a partner with adults in the process of living, rather than always viewing him as an apprentice. How much we would teach each other… adults with the experience and children with the freshness.  How full both our lives could be. A little child may not lead us, but at least we ought to discuss the trip with him, for after all, life is his journey too.”

-Professor T. Ripaldi

My vision as a teacher has changed quite a lot since I started in BC public schools a decade ago.  Originally, my education philosophy centered around a concern for children’s self-esteem and a questioning of the efficacy of our current education system in that regard.  I worked for some years to try to make a difference from inside the current system before I decided to leave and work with home learning families.  My philosophy  has morphed throughout the years into a different focus: collaborating with kids (with the support of their families) in order to help them design their learning around goals that are meaningful and important to them. It has been my privilege over the past 5.5 years to work with children and families who are home learning as a Learning Consultant (LC).  As an LC, I work alongside children to create their learning goals for the year, I help them find resources and mentors so that they can accomplish their goals, I validate their way of learning and I help them to “see” their learning and assess it in a new way.  We are each born with unique gifts.  I believe our work in this lifetime is to use those gifts in creative ways to add to the beauty of the world and to find workable and sustainable solutions to the world’s challenges.

“My learning consultant gives me feedback on [my learning] and different ideas/perspectives with her different interests.  She understands my humor and doesn’t just groan at it.”

-Justin Age 10

In my observation, North American mainstream culture tends to dull the innate desire to learn that we are each born with.  As a public school teacher, I became disillusioned watching that bright spark, so naturally present in most five year olds, slowly wane as time stretched on.  Years of being told what to do, when to do it, and even how to do it take its toll on the creativity necessary for responsive and responsible living in human beings.

Watching children learn and grow is intensely fascinating to me.  No one directly teaches them to speak, to walk, or to crawl.  These three things, according to neuroscience, are some of the most neurologically complex skills we humans ever learn in our lifetimes and kids learn these with virtually no instruction!  Children’s first few years are a big adventure of discovery and learning about what they can do in and with their incredible body-mind.  The state of wonder that is available to them because they live in the present moment is beautiful to witness as an observer.  It reminds me what is “off” about the way we adults do life- hurrying along while living in the past or the future but rarely in the moment as it is unfolding in all its magic.

“You don’t depend on life.  Life depends on you.”

-Emma Age 7

Kids know how to play with life.  When a sense of play and experimentation is encouraged by the adults around them, most kids seem to know how to use their creativity to make their goals a reality and don’t tend to give up on their dreams as easily as many adults do.  They haven’t yet learned to say NO to life and to rule out possibilities.  My personal philosophy is now centered around a belief that we are each actually naturally equipped to learn everything we desire to.  After all, we wouldn’t have survived as a species without this natural ability to learn and adapt.  Although some of us may experience challenges in some areas, there is often a way to work through a steep learning curve and this sometimes requires specific support and especially creativity.  I am reminded of a story of a woman who lost her legs from the knees down.  She trained herself to run on prosthetics that were especially designed for her.  She is now one of the fastest runners in her event.  Or the 86 year old man who was inspired by his daughter, a ballerina, to take up ballet and performed in his first ballet two years later.

Part of my dream for the planet is that Earth’s children continue to evolve to that place where there is no distinction between what their hearts dream and what they are able to create in everyday life.  Funny enough, when I am guiding families through this process of living from a  self-empowered place, it is the parents I spend the most time working with.  Most parents and adults I meet have been through the regular school system and, although they know school isn’t working for their child, are afraid to move towards the unknown, even though there’s a possibility of greater happiness for their children and themselves.  In guiding families to bridge the gap between what they say they believe and what they actually do in their lives, I empathize with the struggle to transform- especially knowing that whether they choose a “known” path or an unknown one, there are no guarantees in life.

My heart wells up at the beauty that comes forth in unlikely circumstances and places.  Mostly, I am in awe of the courage parents have in order to venture into unfamiliar territory with their children.  I am struck by the immense love the vast majority of parents have for their children and the power of that force to exact change on deep levels of being.  Every day, I see parents changing unhealthy ancestral patterns handed down to them; they are actively seeking out new ways to relate to their children and to guide them through childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.  As one of my young learners (Robin, age 12) pointed out a while back, children are not treated by most adults with much respect: ” I wish people would tell kids more stuff and listen to them more.  I feel like I’m not really a person because I’m not always treated like one so I’ve decided to be really smart and know lots of stuff so that adults who would normally treat me differently will change their view of kids.”

And so, as Robin put so beautifully, my journey with children this past decade has been one of moving away from a hierarchical way of interacting with them which presumes that I know best what they need towards a model of walking alongside kids on their journey.  I find out what they are interested in.  I encourage them to follow their passions and help them to source out ways to learn more about them so they can accomplish their own goals instead of predetermined ones that come from forces outside them.

“Teaching without wanting to learn doesn’t work, doesn’t stick. But wanting to learn and finding a teacher is like magic. All the knowledge goes into your brain and makes it all fizzy and nice.”

-Xavier Age 8

I believe that this conditioned pattern of forcing others to conform is coming to an end in our world.  I have seen many miraculous things in my years working with families.  I’ve come to believe that it is not a culture of domination in raising children that will create a peaceful world.  It is when we learn to see children as complete beings unto themselves who are capable (at each stage of their development) of choosing the direction of their learning and growth that will make the most impact on future generations.  When I ask parents what they dream for their kids, they want them to be happy.  I don’t know anything that brings more fulfillment in life than to be able to live in a way that makes one’s heart sing.  That looks different for each of us. It is true that adults have more life experience than kids do and we often can anticipate things due to our experience that they are not yet able to.  Allowing our children to go on that journey of discovery with our full support and sensitive guidance is the best way I know of to ensure a future where the Earth and all her children are well cared for.   Children are much less likely to grow up to hurt themselves, others, and the planet when they know they have choices and that they are responsible for their own actions and indeed, the direction of their  lives.

Jennifer Engracio BEd.

Jennifer Engracio is a BC-Certified teacher who has worked in public and alternative education for a decade.  She now works with children and families through SelfDesign Learning Community (  She is a passionate learner herself with a wide range of interests she is pursuing in her life daily.