PAM:Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia fromlivingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Kelli and Rhanna Lincoln! Hello to you both!
PAM: Hello, Hello! I actually met Kelli online through our mutual friend Anna Brown, who I’m sure longtime podcast listeners will recognize. I have really enjoyed getting to know her and her family a little bit through their online presence, and I thought it would be really fun to have her and her daughter on the podcast together so they could each share their own perspectives on unschooling, and I’ve gotta tell you guys, I was really thrilled when you said you were up for it.
To get us started can you introduce yourselves and maybe just share a little bit about you and your family
KELLI: So, I’m Kelli Lincoln and this is Rhanna.
RHANNA: I’m Rhanna.
KELLI: We have…So, my husband and I have been together for thirty-one years. And we have four kids, so Rhanna is our oldest. She’s 22. We have a son, Thane, who is 17. We have a son Emrys who is thirteen, and a daughter Gwenyth who is nine and a half. Don’t forget the half!
RHANNA: That’s important! I’m twenty-two and a half! I just had my half birthday.
KELLI: I was just gonna say…Oh yep, you are. It was just your half birthday. So, we have quite a range of ages, which has been fabulous for us personally. I’ve really felt like each of the kids got to have a lot of attention as babies, you know, instead of, I never had all toddlers at the same time or anything like that which I feel is better even though I also might be a little more tired now because I’ve been parenting little ones for so long, so I am starting to feel tired. I have to be honest! But I also have bigger helpers now too, so…
RHANNA: That can take some of the pressure off of you.
KELLI: So, we are native Californians, we’ve always lived here. Well, we haven’t always lived here, but we’ve lived all over California, we’ve moved quite a bit. While Rhanna and Thane were little, for probably eight or ten years, we lived way up in the mountains, far from anyone, population 81. Like, there’s nobody.
RHANNA: Tiny town.
KELLI: Not a town! When we first moved there, we would drive over an hour into Reno once every three weeks to go shopping. It was a totally different life. But they both reflect rather fondly on those years. We just sort of skipped over all those concerns about socialization that homeschoolers often have. There was nobody to socialize with, so it was never an issue!
RHANNA: Well we had, Thane and I had all of our elderly, because we lived around a bunch of retired folk, and so, all of our neighbors were in their seventies and eighties, so we just kind of grew up with a street full of grandparents who let us garden with them and we had tea parties and we wore fancy hats. So, we were surrounded, we spent a lot of time outdoors, but we were always surrounded by these older neighbors who just kind of took us in and adopted us. So that was fun.
KELLI: It was interesting the way it worked out, as unschoolers, the way it’s worked in our family at least. Our kids have always been equal parts of the family, they’ve never had less of a say in how, or what’s going on in the family, really, and it was interesting living in that environment, it was just more of that. They talked to everyone of different ages very easily, like a lot of homeschoolers and unschoolers do, but almost even more so…
RHANNA: They never treated us like we were any different which is funny to think back on, like put that in a different perspective, being older, and be like, here are these two little kids, we kept riding up to these old people, they loved spending time with us, but they never treated us like these little kids. They never asked, “Why aren’t you in school?”They just treated us like neighbors who were visiting them.
KELLI: So, we did that for eight or ten years, and then we tried moving up to the Seattle area, and we lasted two winters.
PAM: What, was it too much winter?
RHANNA: It was all winter!
KELLI: We actually liked it up there, but everyone, as Californians, everyone warned us- it’s rainy, it’s gray. But we are Coastal Californians so we are used to the fog, so we thought “big deal, we are used to it. But it wasn’t the rain or the fog. It was the darkness. It was the latitude we weren’t ready for that. I thought that marked difference was something that happened way up in Alaska or the arctic circle. I had no idea that people at that latitude, it was dark at 3:30 and we were like “Aah!”
PAM: Oh wow!
KELLI: So anyways, it was surprising and we didn’t like it very much.
KELLI: So, we jumped into an RV and toured the country for three years, and we did 38 states, and then we came back to central coast California, and we are pretty settled here now.
RHANNA: We were going to be here for about six months, and then me and Thane, my other brother, got really invested in being here, and we were like, “We don’t want to leave! We want to stay here!”
KELLI: So, it’s been about three years now and there’s not really any itchy feet yet. I think we are staying for a while.
PAM: Oh, that’s spectacular! Nice to find a place that fits so well, right?
KELLI: Well, when Abe and I, this is where we went to college, and when we were here thirty years ago, we would have loved to have stayed but it’s very expensive and difficult to find a way to stay. We had spent a couple of summers on the east coast and I was DONE with the humidity. I don’t know how people handle that.
RHANNA: Our life has been very controlled by the weather!
KELLI: The weather is the deciding factor of EVERYTHING. It’s not just small talk! It’s important small talk! I will make life decisions based on what the weather will be. But to bring that back to unschooling, we’ve always had the freedom to do that. If I’m uncomfortable, or I’m feeling like “Why are we suffering through this?” We’ve always had the freedom to just up and go if we want to. So yeah, that’s worked out pretty well.
PAM: Well yeah, so somewhere in there, with your physical journey to all these places, you discovered unschooling and made that choice for your family as well.
So, I was hoping you could share a little bit about what your family’s move to unschooling looked like?
KELLI: So, I was very lucky, in that, and a lot of it comes down to luck, right? Meeting the right person at the right time, or the right teacher, ironically…
RHANNA: You still need teachers!
KELLI: And so, before I was even pregnant or anything, I became a doula and I was really drawn to the whole birth community and everything involved, long before she even came around, and so I happened to be kind of in the right group of people for more of a natural approach to life in general. And so, all four of my kids were born at home and the homebirth experience was a really important one. It’s an important part of this whole journey because, to me, unschooling is just an extension of just keeping things in my house, keeping my life in my house.
I chose to have children, and that makes them my responsibility. Not only my responsibility, but it’s my privilege to have them with me, and that’s not something that I would want to give to a stranger. To spend my days with my kids is my privilege and my dream. So, I want to be the one! Most people are upset if they miss their baby’s first steps or something, but I don’t want to also miss the first time that they read a whole paragraph or figure out how to finally make their own batch of cookies or whatever it is. I want to witness that and be a part of it.
And I also, my husband and I really wanted to foster a close family, and for us that meant being close and being together and spending our time together because we feel that that’s how relationships, any sort of relationships develops, with time and attention. And so, for us, it was important that we stay together as a family, and that our children would know each other. So, right, so, unschooling for me and for both of us was just an extension of…
RHANNA: Comfort and attachment parenting and all that…
KELLI: It just made sense, because it didn’t make sense to have this autonomous vision and then suddenly because someone turns four and a half or five years old and just cast them off. It didn’t make any sense to us! I remember being pregnant with her and having arguments with people saying, “Wait, what? You’re going to do what?” And so, I think that I try to remember when I heard that…like I know that in the beginning…So, 22 years ago there was a lot less out there. There were no Pam Laricchias out there putting that kind of information out into the world. So, I know that at first, I just thought that homeschooling would look like school at home. I wouldn’t have had any other way to visualize that I think. But by the time she was four or five years old, that just seemed dumb.
RHANNA: Yeah, because I remember, I remember us doing workbooks and sitting down and doing that more, and I don’t really know what changed, but it just kind of became tedious for both of us where it was just like, “Why are we doing this?
KELLI: “This isn’t fun”.
RHANNA: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we have a lot of fun together. I kind of remember sitting down and doing the workbook, and I remember thinking, “This seems really tedious. Why are we doing this when we could be doing any number of things?”
KELLI: So, I’m trying to think. Obviously, this is way before Facebook, but I remember there were some AOL groups, and I remember coming across some of Sandra Dodd’s writings, and I read about “just relax and let it happen”—it made sense to me. Of course, I read all of John Holt’s books, and people don’t mention this one as much, but his Escape From Childhood book just completely blew me away.
PAM: Love that.
KELLI: Like blew me away! Because it seemed so obviously rational, and I read that when she was pretty young. So, just having a normal flow of the day. We never felt like we needed to interrupt that, because I could see that she was progressing as a human being every day. So, the whole thing was very easy.
KELLI: I know some people have a better story of like, ‘Then this thing happened and then we changed everything!’ but ours wasn’t really that way. The whole thing was really organic and by the time our second was oany age to think about school, we were already pretty much into it, into a flow, it’s just a flow.
PAM: I love to hear stories of when people have figured it out that early.
KELLI: I know. I feel really grateful. I actually feel like there’s one woman, and I don’t even know her name, but I just think of her as an angel that I met at a preschool of all places, because before Rhanna was born I actually worked in a preschool for about a year, and so there were all these two year olds, and there was this mom who would come at naptime to nurse her baby down for a nap. Her daughter came to the preschool, but she always came in the afternoon to nurse her to sleep, and so we would lay there, and she would be laying down nursing her baby and I would be on the other side, and she was telling me about William Sears and attachment parenting, and so I was exposed to all of those things, ideas, before Rhanna even came along. I wish I knew who that woman was because she changed my life. It makes me all teary to even think, how lucky I am to have met her.
PAM: I know, because my kids were older when we found that, but oh, they were just like this breath of fresh air, it was like, “This is what I’ve been looking for!” that’s so cool. The excitement of finding that. That’s so cool. So Rhanna, your days flowed. You remember workbooks a little bit. You were hanging out with the grandparents and stuff. Was there a time when you started to realize that school was a thing?
I was just wondering if there was a time that you were curious about school, and, because so often there are all of these conventional messages about well you know, “You need to go to school to learn”. Was there a time when you were younger when you were worried about that, or did you chat to your mom about that? Or how’d that go for you?
RHANNA: I don’t ever actually remember having a time when I felt that I was missing out on the school world, because our days just kind of flowed and felt really natural, and I think especially with us living in the mountains, I was just a kid. We were really, I guess isolated in a way…
KELLI: You just can’t argue that one… You just can’t.
RHANNA: So, what this was between the ages of seven and…
KELLI: I think we left the mountains when you were like 13.
RHANNA: There wasn’t really any outside influences coming and telling me that I was missing anything. You know, I think sometimes in the winter the neighborhood grandchildren would come back, that was the only time. They would come up to visit their grandparents, and so I would play with them, but all I remember, and I really only remember two who came up, and they were so mean and so bratty, and they were 13 and learning to cuss and doing all this stupid stuff, and I remember they were older than me but I remember feeling like I was more mature than them.
They were doing all this stupid stuff, so I never really felt that I was missing out. Honestly the only time that I had started to really realize that I was doing something differently was in the past three years and we moved here and I started working pretty much full-time in a college town, and so all of my friends go to college, and or to community college, and that’s the first time that I really started noticing that there was a difference. But by that time I had already decided I didn’t want to go to college, and I remember thinking it was going to be an issue, like “You don’t go to college, you don’t go to school, you’re on a different level.” But nobody cares.
KELLI: Nobody cares. Nobody ever has cared!
RHANNA: Nobody cares! They are just like “Oh, you don’t go to school? So, do you wanna go hang out, or…?”
KELLI: She’s been a little…I was to be honest, I was a little worried that she’d have trouble making friends here. All the groups, even the college groups of people have been so welcoming to her, they are like, “We don’t care if you’re not in school. “
RHANNA: They honestly, they forget that I don’t go to college. They adopted me so quickly and just pulled me into their little group, and they’re like, “You should try writing for the college newspaper”, and I’m like “I can’t, I’m not in college.” and they are like, “Oh that’s right! You don’t go to school!”
And I remember coming and thinking, ‘This is going to be…’ that was the first time it was really an issue, because at least for all of my teen years, I had a group of friends who were all homeschooled, and so that was just our normal, and then I got out into the real world I guess…
PAM: That’s what they say!
RHANNA: “The real world”, and nobody cares as long as you’re a good person in that moment, and it doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter anymore. Whereas homeschooling was a label that I identified with and used when I was younger, now I don’t even identify. We are all just people.
KELLI: And so many things are different now. Like my nine-year-old doesn’t have the same reaction from people. But now, half the people walking around are homeschooled.
RHANNA: When we were little, we would be “we’re homeschooled!” and they’d be like “What’s four plus four?”
KELLI: Well yeah, I’d have to say that we’d get that, that’s classic right, when they ask if your kids can do math but I have to say that most of my memories of people asking her questions like grocery store clerks, “Well, why aren’t you in school?” When you say, “Well, I’m homeschooled’ then they would just say, “Wow, you’re so lucky”, and then they would look at me and say, “I wish I could have done that.” So, I think the messages that she was picking up, was that she wasn’t missing out, and she was absorbing that too, right?
RHANNA: And most of the, honestly, from TV or books and whatever is always people saying “I hate school. I hate doing homework.” It’s never any…I don’t remember hearing any positive messages, or any feelings of ‘Oh man, I’m missing out!’ I just remember hearing all those- and this even applies today when all of my college friends tell me about their classes at seven in the morning and all the homework that they have to do and how stressed out they are, and it just makes me go, “Glad I missed out!”
KELLI: And we would point out that even in Magic School Bus, those kids are in school, but all of their learning happens someplace else, right? Every single episode is them going out into the world, or into the world somehow, but going out and having experiences, and we would talk about that quite a bit, like, you noticed that right? And they kids would be like, “Yeah I get that.” So yeah, that was kind of a tangent, but yeah.
PAM: Well no, that’s great! And we love the Magic School Bus! Right?
RHANNA: It’s such a good show.
PAM: Actually, mine were nine and seven, when I discovered homeschooling and that they didn’t really have to go to school, that was how long it was until I discovered that! And then they came home and dove in. But anyway, that environment, same thing with that environment. It wasn’t as popular or as known here when my kids were young, so yeah, they got the questions, and the first question would be, “Is that legal?” basically. But then once you said yes it was like, ‘Oh, that’s so cool!” You know, so, and then you’re there! And they are like…
KELLI: A lot of times, “Tell me more! Tell me more!”
PAM: Those were always fun conversations right when people were curious about it.
KELLI: For sure!
PAM: OK, another thing I wanted to dive into, because you have four kids, you have three siblings Rhanna, and sometimes it can take some time to figure out how to weave everyone’s needs into one day. And that’s something that I think, as people come to unschooling and they start to get away from, “Do what I tell you”, from the rules, and they start to try to work together to try to figure out what everybody’s needs are and what they are going to do for the day or the week or when someone expresses an interest in something new, how are we going to weave that into our family so that we can help them do those things.
So, I just thought, hoped, you guys could share kind of how that process (weaving meeting everyone’s needs into the day) generally looked like for you. You wanna start, Kelli?
KELLI: Like everything else that I’ve described, it’s very organic. We definitely work kind of as a unit, as a tribe, as a big amoeba of people, I don’t know how to describe but it’s not too much of an issue for us. My husband’s job is pretty flexible. Obviously, I’ve described our moves. It’s one of great privilege and I get that and I acknowledge that. So, he’s been able to telecommute for YEARS, and so that gave us a lot of freedom, and so if I need an extra hand to take someone to a class or something like that, it’s always been something easy to do. So, that’s something that I realize is not open to everyone. But for us it’s worked really well. So, the kids, what happens a lot of times will be one of them will have the desire to learn something new, and then everyone wants to learn it too, and so I have three of them playing guitar now.
RHANNA: I started that one, and now the younger two have surpassed me, by quite a bit…
KELLI: That’s only because…
RHANNA: I started adulting.
KELLI: And so for that, the teacher’s day is open, because the rest of the students he has are busy those six hours, we have a lot more freedom to come and go with people, so organizing daytime lessons and stuff like that has been pretty easy, or it has been for us.
KELLI: So yeah, it hasn’t really been an issue. It hasn’t been too much of an issue of conflicts or everyone being able to do what they want.
RHANNA: I think it works out well too, maybe it’s the age difference, the gaps between us. I was able to get the attention and focus I needed, or at least get into a routine, and then by the time Thane was old enough to need that, he was able to meld his needs into what I already had going, and so we all had time to get through our routines and our needs. By the time the next youngest needed to figure that out, that was already really settled and solid and had a really good foundation so it’s easy to just build on that.
It also helped, I think, that we like each other and we talk all day long, and so my interests meld with Thane’s interests, meld with Gwennie’s interests, meld with mom’s interests, and so we are all interested in the same sorts of things, so we all just like…
KELLI: We make an effort to be interested in what the other people are interested in, too. Someone might bring something new, pokemon or something, into the house, and really want to pursue that as an activity or an interest or whatever, and then we all make an effort toward them. I see a lot of parents who are really disconnected from what their kids are doing, you know, saying, “I don’t understand” or whatever. I feel, and I don’t know if this what has made our unschooling family successful, but I feel like it’s my job to be interested in what my kids are interested in. It’s not their job to be interested in what I’m interested in.
RHANNA: Because you can go out and know what you want to know on your own anyway.
KELLI: But I feel like it’s my job to do that. So, ask me anything. I know all the Pokemon!
PAM: Hey man, I could sing that song when my kids were younger!
KELLI: Would I do that on my own? No, I wouldn’t spend my time doing that, but it has given me such a greater understanding of, and such a great example of…she missed that one. She’s the only one that… That example doesn’t work for her.
RHANNA: I don’t know any of them! I don’t know any Pokemon!
KELLI: She doesn’t know any of them! She did pick a favorite. But it has given me a deeper connection with the other three for sure, because we can have long conversations about that universe and come up with philosophies and ideas that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do, and that’s just one example. I mean, we fangirl over all kinds of things together, I mean, books and TV shows and anime or whatever it is…
RHANNA: Twenty One Pilots, don’t even get us started! And so…
PAM: My son introduced them to me!
KELLI: Theyare so great! Oh my god, I love those guys!
RHANNA: We have spent so many hours the past few months, mom and I and then Thane, just ripping them apart and then putting it back together, and looking up theories online and then watching the music videos…Like HOURS.
KELLI: But see now, we are unschoolers, a homeschooler would be able to fit that into so many categories, those long conversations where we are looking at lyrics like poetry and talking about symbolism and all of these things. I don’t think it’s necessarily important to categorize everything like that, but I can’t even enumerate the number of educational boxes that were ticked through those kind of passionate conversations that we’ve had, and if I hadn’t made an effort to be interested in what they were interested in, that never would have happened. That’s the key right there.
PAM: Oh, I love that. I really, really do think so. Sometimes people will poo poo it, like, “that’s just children’s interests”. Like you said right there at the beginning, it’s about the connection. We are the parents, we are choosing to build this connection and relationship with our children, and by choosing this lifestyle, we are also choosing to want to support them in what they are learning, and how can you support them and help them along if you don’t understand it enough to participate in a conversation. And then, our world just expands like crazy doesn’t it, because all the sudden once you see why they are interested in it, it’s so interesting!
KELLI: It is! It really is! And I think you’re right that a lot of adults just immediately assume that just because it’s an interest from a young person, it’s not worthy of that much respect, but wow, they are super missing out. They are missing out on so much good storytelling , so much.
PAM: Yeah, connecting with my kids was one of those things that really opened my eyes. I got rid of that judgement of learning. You know, that learning some things is better than learning other things. Because, you’re right, through that lens, that Twenty One Pilots lens, you hit so many things, you know, it’s a passion. When somebody has a passion, are they going to miss out on the whole entire world? No, when you focus on embracing that passion, it takes you all over the place, doesn’t it? It takes you from reading and writing to history and geography! There’s just so many aspects to any one little thing that you can see the whole world just through that one lens.
KELLI: It’s so true, and I forgot who the quotation is by, but, and I won’t even try, but you know how people say that childhood is just waiting to be an adult basically, where we look at it as a waiting period or a training period, as if children are not already people and they are just waiting and biding their time until they get to be a whole person, and I have never agreed with that.
I grew up with “Kids Are People Too” in the seventies. Kids are people too, and they are people right now! And their interests are just as valid and can be just as interesting. I think that our experience…our third child, my son Emerys has epilepsy and cerebral palsy, and we spent eight years in stress mode just trying to keep him alive. He would have very serious seizures, and in fact, when he was a baby, the doctor said he probably wouldn’t live past the age of seven, and he’s 13 now! And so, our priority system is different than families who’ve never had this kind of trauma. When I look at my kids, I have a different view. I see them, I think “you know, this could be their last day”. And do they want to have been sitting in a chair learning about whatever stupid thing of the day? No! They deserve to have been having…there’s no good example…
RHANNA: Dang it!
KELLI: Every day deserves to be lived doing what you want to do, following your passions, following your joy, because you don’t know how long you have here, and just wasting those first seventeen years is such a waste in my opinion, and while what we’ve experienced has been stressful and traumatic and it’s left its mark for sure …
RHANNA:Nine out of ten people would not recommend…
KELLI: But there have been good parts of it and I feel like having that different set of priorities and what is truly important, it is so much more important that I spend an hour and a half discussing a Twenty One Pilots than it would of been for them to sit in a classroom of strangers that they are never going to see again talking about the pythagorean theorem or whatever stupid thing of the day it is, because we spend our time building connections that will last a lifetime and I feel like there couldn’t possibly be anything more important than that!
PAM: I love that! I love that! And Rhanna, exactly. But it’s so true, right? Not only the connection and the relationship, but what they’re interested in in that moment, right Rhanna. I mean, that’s where you learn the most. That’s where your mind is, that’s where your head wants to be.
RHANNA: Yeah yeah yeah, I totally agree.
PAM: That’s great!
KELLI: Sometimes I don’t censor very well.
PAM: But that point too, about your ages, the difference in ages. You mentioned how your needs were different, right Rhanna? When you were younger and you needed a lot more help and attention just navigating your day, you pretty much had one on one time with that, and you were more self-sufficient by the time Thane came along. And then yeah, that’s another consideration too.
RHANNA: I think that my point was, at least for me because I had the biggest gap with all of them, I’m the oldest, and so I was able to not only be self-sufficient in the things that I wanted to do or how to ask for it, but I was able to start helping them do what they wanted to do, And so if Thayne wanted to read a book and didn’t know how, I would sit there and read to him for hours. But it’s even more so with Gwennie, the youngest. I mean, we joke that I’m her second mom, where she and I, I mean, when she was a baby in the sling, I would wear her around.
KELLI: She was 12 when Gwennie was born.
RHANNA: She’s my bebe! In fact, when I was in
public, people would be like “Is that your daughter?” I’ll just be like “yeah”.
Or well, for people who don’t know, I mean people know she’s my sister, or
actually think she’s my sister, because I’ll talk about her all the time. I’ve
been able to help be a part of their learning and their growth. So Gwennie and
I have really great connection and we talk about all sorts of things and we
have little girls days where we do our own thing, I mean usually, when she was
little, it was just baking in the kitchen and listening to Disney music.
We have that with all of them, and they all have different relationships with each other too. And so, we all have our own individual relationships with each other and in groups.
PAM: And that’s the whole point. When everybody’s doing what they are interested in and nobody’s trying to direct each other. There’s so much more flow, right? Back to that flow.
KELLI: Exactly. Right.
Now, let’s get back to those RV adventures. You mentioned that you spent about three years out in the RV. So, how did that come about? And I was hoping you might have a story or two to share with us about that.
KELLI: Great times. So many stories. So, when we first decided…in the early years, we talked about homeschooling and even, like I said, even before we were really in it. And we had talked about some grand ideas about really worldschooling and really showing the kids the world, and then Emrys was born and our lives were really turned upside down for a long time. And when we had finally gotten him stable and he hadn’t had a seizure in over a year, finally found a medication, we finally started breathing again. Was that in like 2013 maybe? And, so we kind of looked up and said “Oh yeah!” So, all those plans came back to mind, and now Rhanna was getting older and I, we never talked about her moving out, we always talked about living as an extended family and her never leaving, but there’s a reality that there’s…I’m not sure that that’s how it’s going to be, right? And so, she’s sixteen and I’m, thinking “What if we don’t have very much time left, and, you know, she’s still here, but at the time…
RHANNA: Someone will be talking about moving out and I’m like, “I’ll be here when you get back!”
KELLI: So, our plan was never for Rhanna and, of course, you can’t plan for life at all, but we definitely didn’t envision their childhood looking as serious as it ended up being. And because my husband was telecommuting at the time, we thought, ‘let’s get out and do some real living for now finally, and try to make up for lost time.’ And so, yeah, so we jumped in the RV and, it was really not that easy but let’s just say…
RHANNA: We just jumped! You pick one up off the side of the road and it’s like…
KELLI: It just happened! And yeah so, some really interesting things that came of that. One of the really interesting things I did on my side time is genealogy, so a lot of our trips was family history focused…
PAM: Oh wow!
KELLI: Which was really interesting. But we went to towns that almost don’t even exist anymore so that we could go to city halls and research what my family or our families were doing in the 1830s or whatever.
RHANNA: Take pictures of their house, go visit their graves…
KELLI: Remember that day when we went to all of those…
RHANNA: In New Hampshire?
KELLI: No, no, that one day. In Indiana all of those cemeteries that one day. It was Halloween, remember. So, we are out looking at cemeteries, down by the Ohio river, and…
RHANNA: Oh, that day! I was still thinking of another day!
KELLI: We have a lot of…
RHANNA: By the river! By the stinky river.
KELLI: So, a lot of these places are not even like cemetery cemeteries, they are really like family-plot cemeteries that are actually in someone else’s yard at this point. That day was amazing, because we got five of them in!
RHANNA: It took all day too, following back roads and printed out maps…
KELLI: And those are things, that by kind of letting, and I mean, I had done 10 or 15 years of research to lead up to that, so that then we were able to go see a lot of these things, but that gave a structure to the overall trip that might not have been there otherwise that made it super interesting. You can tell them about our favorite place.
RHANNA: Which one is our favorite place? Oh, that favorite place! So, our favorite place is Charleston, South Carolina. Which, we don’t have any family down there, unfortunately. Someone could have died and left me a mansion down there. That would be really cool. But no, we loved Charleston. We didn’t even know about it!
KELLI: We weren’t planning on going there. I had heard so many great things about Asheville. That, it was supposed to be like California East or whatever, really liberal, but when we got there it was November, it was 14 degrees, which makes it so that…the cold weather makes RV living really hard, because, more than that, it’s the condensation, but the walls are always wet, and then you’ve got mold, and then you’re screwed forever. So, you really have to keep the RV out of the cold so that that doesn’t happen, because I mean, we were having to shammy the walls every day, it was just ridiculous.
RHANNA: Several times a day
KELLI: So anyways, we were headed somewhere else, it hadn’t even been on our list…
RHANNA: We kind of just ended up there because it was warmer. We had been spending about a week on average in a place. We ended up spending about three months total in Charleston.
KELLI: We stayed for a month and then we left and came back!
RHANNA: And it was really interesting, because we stayed on the outskirts of town, and I don’t even remember, you and dad must have gone first, because they have walking tours down there, and so I think maybe you donate at the end or whatever, and it was so eye opening, because we went on these tours into downtown Charleston, and not only is it just gorgeous and the mansions are beautiful and stuff.
The whole environment is just so interesting! It’s just such a cool combination. It’s a really beautiful, like interwoven combination of the old and the new, where you’ve got downtown, south of Broad, where all of these old houses that were built in the 1700s, I mean, all these old houses, and then you go north of Broad, and it’s modern, and you have apartments, but they meld really well. I think it was one day we were walking, and you can just imagine somebody walking around in hoop skirts. There’s this big tree and then the moss and the mansions and the lavish gardens, and then there was like this ferrari
KELLI: It was a prius.
RHANNA: This prius drives down the street, bumping music, like this old elegant town and and the new shiny sleek car blaring music. It made perfect sense.
RHANNA: So, we ended up throwing ourselves into the Charleston life. We read so many books. We did so many tours, so many museums. And then we just spent hours just walking.
KELLI: just walking…
RHANNA: It is one of our favorite things to think about if we get stressed and need to think of something happy, was walking around the cemeteries in Charleston on a Sunday, because everyone was in church in their finest…
KELLI: They dress up—it’s amazing!
RHANNA: Oh, and it’s all these rich, old amazing families that have been here for forever. And so, on the tour they are like “Oh, there’s so and so, her family has been here for 300 years.” And “there’s so and so and her daughter! She’s getting married next week!” There is this strange community it’s unlike anything else that we’d ever experienced, and so that was…
KELLI: And so, we follow all of the Instagram Charleston pages and fan girl over…
RHANNA: And there’s all these things like, “this was brought over during the reign of Queen Elizabeth”…
KELLI: Well, we, she and I, we’ve always been really into history. The others couldn’t care as much, but we, that’s one thing that she and I care about. We read historical novels together and love that kind of stuff, and it was great seeing a lot of the united states, but we don’t have super old things here.
RHANNA: And our history books are filled with old, and I hadn’t ever really cared about…
KELLI: or archaeological, like super, super old…
RHANNA: And before this trip, I had never really cared about American history. Like that was something that…It didn’t interest me at all. I didn’t really know anything about American history, and taking this trip made it so much more fascinating, and now, American history is something that I really am passionate about at this point. Because it’s like, oh, I’ve been to that place. I’ve seen that train. I saw that first thing that was built! And that made it real personal and all the cemeteries and stuff.
KELLI: We could tell a zillion stories.
PAM: No, that sounds great. I love that history piece, like how it was the act of driving around, because you were bringing around the family piece and it just wove its way in there…
KELLI: It made it. It’s really the perfect unschooling example of spending your time doing relevant things, so we didn’t make her study ahead of time because who cares, except when we went to the actual places, then suddenly she actually cared and it became real and sometimes we have real faces. I mean, we have Mayflower relatives, so when we were at Cape Cod, we were able to see Constance Hopkin’s hat. I mean, I was like “That’s your twelfth great grandmother’s hat. She wore that hat!” And that’s completely different than going to a museum.
RHANNA: Gosh, Plymouth Plantation was so fun….
KELLI: And so, the years of homework that I did on that was really worth it, because I was able to see their eyes widen more than they may have otherwise…
PAM: Well, that’s awesome.
Well speaking of these kind of learning journeys and stories, I was hoping you guys might be able to share a couple of stories of how learning has unfolded for you in your lives. We are going back to that word flow, right, because it flows right through our days and I always find it so fascinating. You got a story you might like to share about that?
RHANNA: How it like, what, evolved?
KELLI: No, she wants to just know. So, for us, I’ll start, and then…. If you want to focus upon our learning time, our learning times…Yes, I know that’s a real concern to a lot of people who are new to these ideas.
You see the most learning happen in our family late at night, often when the lights are out already, that is when we have slumber parties, or in the car, where we’ll just talk and talk and talk and then get where we are going and then still sit out front so we can finish our conversations. I’m sure you know exactly!
So, I think the timing, I think the most important learning has happened in ways that maybe don’t look like learning to conventionally schooled people, and they might not understand that, no, there were huge epiphanies that happened in that conversation, and yeah it was dark and 11:30 at night, but those are the conversations that really stay with you.
RHANNA: Yeah, I think the best learning has happened really organically, never when we were like, ‘We are going to sit down and focus on this.’
PAM: It’s not something you can plan, is it?
RHANNA: No, you can’t really pin it down…
KELLI: Although some of it is chalices, like, for example, and we do read a lot of novels and things like that. Remember, Gwennie’s first book that she ever heard read aloud was Ishmael, Daniel Quinn was her first, because I was reading that to Rhanna at the time, and when we read that book…Have you read that book?
PAM: Yeah, yeah!
KELLI: Good. All of Daniel Quinn, he kind of summed up a lot of his philosophies in a book called, “If they give you lined paper, write sideways!” And that’s kind of our motto, our whole family’s motto. If people are all going in one direction, I’m always going to go in a different direction and just investigate that direction and just make sure there’s not some validity to it. I’m just not a lemming. And that is why our family looks so different than everyone else’s. We just utilize our space and this life differently, and it’s been so much more interesting
RHANNA: But it’s hard for me to describe it though because it’s just the way that it is.
KELLI: Because you’ve never known anything different.
RHANNA: And I’ve never known anything different, and so that’s why it’s hard for me to answer a question like that, because it’s like, how do I describe what’s just normal? And I definitely have had, we call them bubble moments, when I go out into the world, “Wait, you guys don’t…?” OK, not everyone does that! And then that’s my realization, that not everyone is up until eleven talking to their mom about whatever, I can’t even come up with an example, because that’s just normal for me, so that’s hard to define it or describe it because it is just normal.
PAM: I love that. I love that Rhanna. You’re just living. So even to label things as learning, because I’m learning, because everything I do, I’m making a choice, I’m doing it, they don’t need a label.
RHANNA: Those other kinds of learning moments I feel like I have brought with me into my life outside of our home, where as I have some of these crazy deep, sometimes emotional epiphany moments/conversations with my coworkers, where we, I work at a juice bar, and we have these intense conversations yelling over blenders, and then you have to stop for a second and you have to help someone, and then you go back and you’re like, “So then I felt really vulnerable and I didn’t understand it!” But that’s what makes it seem like it’s not a different thing, because I wasn’t…there was never a transition between how I’ve always learned the process of adult things, I just took it with me and it just worked. I mean, I’ve been really lucky in that the people that I’ve found in my new community here are really chill, they are wonderful people, but there was never a, “What are you doing? That’s not how we normally do it.” It’s just, now we are adults just having a conversation. It’s just always been the same.
KELLI: Well I have noticed, ever since Rhanna and Thane have gone out into the community and are fully functioning adults now, they will just come back and be like, “Oh, that’s just us, huh. Oh, I just didn’t know”, but then they are like, they go and check it and…
RHANNA: What about that thing with the parchment paper?
KELLI: Oh, right like, she just assumes that everyone bakes with parchment paper all the time, but most people don’t even know what it is.
RHANNA: I went to stay at my boyfriend’s house and I’m like, “Where is your parchment paper.? I need to bake this.” and he was like, “We don’t have any” and I was like “You what? You don’t have parchment paper?!” And then I came home and was like, “They didn’t even have parchment paper!” andshe’s like “Yeah, nobody does.”
You know, that is a really great lead-in to our next question isn’t it! Because I would love to hear the story behind Miss Teaberry’s Baked Goods. You guys just hit your first anniversary, didn’t ya!?
KELLI: First legitimate one. Yeah, first legitimate one.
PAM: Yeah, so let us know the story behind that. How did that evolve?
KELLI: So, Rhanna and I both have celiac and autoimmune issues, and so our diet has looked different, of all the things, our diet also looks much different from most people’s.
RHANNA: Nothing is normal!
KELLI: We don’t do anything normally. But I grew up baking a lot, and so she grew up as a baby, baking a lot.
RHANNA: Because you were holding me in the sling, and the spanakopita picture…
KELLI: Maybe we’ll send that one to you and you can post…Perfect! So, we’ve been learning how to bake differently, gluten free, but gluten free-dairy free, and then for the last five years, grain free…
RHANNA: Egg free…
KELLI: For a long time. This has been a process for us as we deal with our own health issues. Rhanna grew up watching food TV, like, that was pretty much the only, besides Little Bear, and maybe Blues Clues…
RHANNA: And Magic School Bus…
KELLI: And Magic School Bus, that was pretty much the only TV we had on. She’s paying for it now because she didn’t know anything about Spongebob or, because I was like, “You’re not watching that!”
RHANNA: No Kim Possible, so I look at them really blankly like “Spongebob?” “I grew up watching food network”, and they are like…They don’t judge me for not going to college. They judge me for not knowing Spongebob.
KELLI: Yeah totally. So, watch out! Pop culture is important to know!
So, she’s wanted to be a professional baker since she was about 11, she’s talked about doing this. And to be honest, I have wanted to have my own bakery, tea house thing since I was a teenager too, and so it’s been a melding of the minds, and now we have started Miss Teaberry’s Baked Goods, it all gluten free, mostly vegan foods. Miss Teaberry’s came from, there’s a children’s series called Mr. Putter and Tabby? Do you know those? Cynthia Rylant? Oh, they are so good. It’s this whole series about this old man and his cat and his old neighbor lady and her dog, and what I love about it is you never see these positive portrayals of older people just being normal people. It’s very pleasant. It’s really heartwarming. So, Mrs. Teaberry, the neighbor, she always baking for Mr. Putter, and Rhanna was like “I bet she was like me when she was young”, so that’s why it’s Miss. Teaberry…
RHANNA: I wanted to grow up to be Mrs. Teaberry.
PAM: That’s awesome!
KELLI: And so, there’s this validating reference to a child’s book, like to me, I love that the thing that we are creating has a foundation in a small children’s early reader. Like, I love it, I just think that there is validity in anything. Anyways, it’s going really well and our…Do you want to talk about why it’s important, why we do it?
RHANNA: So, we wanted to start this because, we have so many food issues, and this has become more of an issue for me as I have gone out with my friends, and I can’t ever go out and eat with my friends. I can’t go to a restaurant and eat food and feel like I’m safe. Like, there is a handful of them, but even then, it’s like this, I can get this one thing, and it’s such a big deal, it’s almost not worth it.
Or just going out, I always just bring my own food, and so somebody is always uncomfortable, because “I don’t want to share your food because it’s your food and you can’t get anything else later.” It separates us, and I’ve always believed that food is what brings people together. You break bread together with people. It’s a very social thing. When you eat with someone, you trust them, and then you grow closer, and you bond over food, and so not being able to bond over food is a big gap that is a really hard thing to work past.
So, our goal with Miss Teaberry’s is to have our own location, and our own bakery, that has all these different options, so if you’re gluten free, and your friend is dairy free or whatever, two or more people can come in, and you can all come in and get something that is safe for you, you can all bond over food, and no one has to worry that they are going to be sick until next week or that they are going to have a headache in five minutes because of cross contamination. But you can just relax and you can eat food with your friends and it’s not a big deal that, it’s not a big deal that, well this is gluten free, well, this has nuts and this isn’t….It’s not a big deal. It’s not a stressful thing. You just sit down and eat and it’s just normal food.
KELLI: Except it’s not normal food. It’s delicious and it’s beautiful.
PAM: Oh, it’s so beautiful! Did you guys hear me mention that I was stalking you guys before the call! Wow, your food is beautiful!
KELLI: We try to make it beautiful, we actually put flowers on most of our food, because for a lot of people who have different allergies and intolerances, they are always…it’s like the bottom of the barrel. The food is kind of gross, it’s dry or it doesn’t have flavor and you don’t have a lot of options, and so, people should just be able to feel like human beings when they go out in public!
RHANNA: One of the big things too is that we focus on little kids and birthdays because if you go to a party and you don’t have anything for your birthday.
KELLI: Or for someone else, you go to a party, and you’re like “Thanks, but I can’t eat that.” Well, that’s one thing for an adult to say that, but for a child to constantly say that they can’t partake is really pretty sad. So, sometimes we’ll have people that will just buy half a dozen cupcakes that they send with their child to someone else’s party so that they all have something they can have.
RHANNA: The latest thing they did was the parents all got together and they got, they were all going to decorate them, so we just sent them plain ones, and they all looked the same, so the kids didn’t feel like, “Well, this is mine and that is yours.” The parents just knew they were getting the safe option. So, it’s for mental health as well as for physical health!
KELLI: Yeah, because we do feel like there’s psychological and an emotional component to eating obviously that needs to be addressed. So, to us, it’s not…we’re not making health food! It’s sugary and you shouldn’t eat it every day . We are not telling anyone that they should eat our food every day, there are people who do, but we would never say that it’s physical health food, but it does…
RHANNA: It feels your soul
KELLI: Yeah, it feeds your soul so that everyone should be able to have a special occasion where you get a treat that is pretty and…
RHANNA: So, when you are already dealing with celiac or you are in a lot of pain, you are dealing with a lot of crappy things or just being tired or just the emotional side of just feeling like your body doesn’t work, so you deserve to eat a donut once a week when you have a really bad day. That doesn’t make it worse!
KELLI: Sometimes we hear from people who say, “This is the first donut I’ve had in ten years.” And they are almost in tears because it’s an experience, and then we just lose it…
RHANNA: We hear stories about little kids who are like, they’ve been sick since they were born, they’ve never had it, and this is the very first donut that they’ve had ten years…
KELLI: I can die happy now. I just want to make people be happy.
PAM: You’re opening up choices, right?
KELLI: The news is so full of crappy happenings, that it’s so hard to even take it in at this point. And it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed in that, “What can I do? There is nothing I can do.” And Rhanna and I have just tried to, just decided to focus on trying to, how can we make our world a better place? And if all that means is allowing someone to be happy eating a donut for their first time, then we have done something to bring some joy into the world, then we’ve done something.
That really sums up our whole unschooling journey as a family, is I’m just trying to look over our little corner, and I’m trying to make these six people that I actually have any influence over into the most joyful, most loving people I can, and hopefully that will radiate out. That’s all I can hope for.
PAM: Oh, that’s beautiful, that’s beautiful. I love the focus on joy. I was actually having a really beautiful conversation with my eldest yesterday. We were talking about the difference between happiness and joy. Not to diss on happiness or anything like that, but the surface level versus, when we focus on joy, tough things can still happen in our lives. Right?
KELLI: Right. And they will.
PAM: And they will happen. Absolutely, absolutely. But when we are looking at that greater joy and fulfillment that we are walking toward in our days, you know, it helps so much, doesn’t it? It’s a mindset that you bring to your everyday that helps you make that next choice that will bring joy.
KELLI: It really is. I agree. You have decided on it.
RHANNA: You have to decide to be happy, and that’s something that, if I find myself feeling overwhelmed or something, because now I bake all the time. We’re real busy, and I find if I get overwhelmed or stressed out or I’ll be really exhausted, and I “have to”, “I have to bake this. “I have to get it done”, and then I feel so much weight. But then I switch it and say “You get to bake for a living. This is really cool.” You gotta focus on that. It becomes an enjoyable thing to do, but it takes a lot of mental energy to maintain that, like “remember, this is a good thing!”
KELLI: And not get bogged down
RHANNA: You have to do that with everything in life because it’s easy to go “Well, the world sucks:” Maintaining that, I use the example of the baking, but it applies to the rest of your life. Being aware of what you are doing and putting your vibes out into the world.
KELLI: This has been the most fulfilling part of the journey so far for me is watching my two oldest ones enter the world. So, when people are new to the unschooling ideas, there’s a lot of “but what if’s, but what if, but the what if’s that all the naysayers bring up, none of them have been true for us, nothing. I never made my kids get up at the crack of dawn. My kids have always slept in as long as they needed to sleep, and RHANNA is a baker, so she gets up at…
RHANNA: At five in the morning.
KELLI: So, in the summer she is making deliveries at six am every day, and when she trained as a pastry chef she was…you were up at 4:30 everyday, and she could do it, it was just another thing to do…
RHANNA: I don’t like it, but …
KELLI: She didn’t have to suffer for thirteen years of her childhood to learn how to wake up early.
KELLI: The idea that you have to prepare your kids for a horrible world by treating them horribly. I feel just the opposite. By building them up and giving them as much joy and positivity as we could, because our house was not always full of joy! We have a lot of stress and trauma in our house for years at a time. But I didn’t have to manufacture that! That happened! And like you and I just said, life is going to keep happening to you, so in my opinion, if your foundation is strong and you have a family that is always going to be there as a safety net or just as a support when life does suck, cause there are times that it is going to in every person’s life, then they are going to be fully equipped to deal with whatever life throws at them, because they are strong and stable and they have a really-
RHANNA:– good foundation…
KELLI: So, we didn’t practice making their lives miserable.
KELLI: And then it’s like Rhanna says though, it’s not like she’s not going to have a hard day every once in a while, but she has the ability to self-regulate, and she might spend a day being grumpy or something, but then by the next morning she’s like, “Heh, I guess I don’t even have to do that. I’m actually quite happy in my choices” because they are actually her choices, and no one has made those decision for her.
PAM: Yeah, exactly, when you feel like you’re in control of your life, it’s different. You don’t feel like life’s happening to you and you have no choice in the matter. Yeah, crappy things can happen in your life and around you and everything, but you get to the point where you remember that you are in control of yourself and you have choices and you can make the next choice.
Like you were talking about before, Rhanna, you don’t have to be like “I have to get this done and this and…” I can choose to switch it up and see the bigger picture. And remember that this is a choice and that I get to get this done, even though you’re really exhausted after hours of…
RHANNA: I was so tired! But it is nice to always know I have the choice. Which I think is one of the things that’s hard to see or even imagine that other people were raised not having a choice, because I always had a choice. I’ve always gotten to choose what time I got to sleep or what I want to eat or even the most basic things. So, as you ramp up to bigger and bigger and bigger choices, I trust myself and know what I can do or what I’m, comfortable with to make that choice, and so I’m when it comes down to it as well little choices.
KELLI: I think we’ve just seen that, but, we won’t use names, but today, a big topic of conversation is consent for all types of things, but you know, compulsory education, and all of the compulsory things that go along with that, bedtimes and hygiene, or all the things that you have to then force your children to do, really cuts down on the amount of consent children have about things like when they pee or when they have a meal, and what I am seeing now is the ripple effect out from there, and I’ve always told my kids that you shouldn’t do something that doesn’t make you happy. So, if we sign them up for a class that they really just had to do to learn whatever, and then if they don’t really like it, it’s not like I’m going to make them keep doing that. And Rhanna has been working at a job for the last several years that she just loved, and she loved working there and she loved all the people.
RHANNA: It was my home away from home, I loved working there. It was kind of like I jumped from this nest to that nest. I got to practice spreading my wings…
KELLI: But then there’s been a change in ownership…
RHANNA: A lot of people left…
KELLI: And that place has become not a good place to work, and she’s comfortable making the decision to leave that job, because mostly she’s a baker, but she does work some hours outside of the house for spending money…
RHANNA: And I started working there before we moved here before we started the baking thing
KELLI: So, she put every penny in savings so she can open a bakery someday.
RHANNA: I don’t spend a lot of money.
KELLI: She has more money in savings than any other 22 year old I know, but she always acts like she has none and it’s hilarious, because to her it’s already spent on a structure.
RHANNA: It’s not mine, it’s Teaberry’s. It doesn’t belong to me.
KELLI: In any case, she felt comfortable leaving one job for another that will be better emotionally, and…
RHANNA: physically and emotionally
KELLI: It pays a lot less, and as she was pointing out last night, this is the second job that’s she’s felt comfortable leaving for one that pays less but is better for her. And I’m not sure, you know, I’m supposed to want her to be successful, but to me success doesn’t equal money, and I’m so proud of her for being able to take care of her spirit and to not be worn down by the world and to be able to make those choices and to be able to come back to that issue of self-esteem and self-confidence and self-agency to do what’s right for yourself, which I think a lot of people don’t know how to do because they haven’t had any practice doing that.
RHANNA: And other things that goes kind of along the same lines of,, “Oh you’re homeschooled- you’re so lucky!” is all of the people’s reactions when I told them I was leaving, everyone was like “Good for you.” No one was ever like, “You’re leaving, what is wrong with you!?? That’s the better job!” I got so many congratulations! Or even just last summer…
KELLI: People do truly want what’s best for you.
RHANNA: Yeah, but it’s something that they don’t necessarily think about putting themselves first, prioritizing themselves. So when they see someone else doing it, they are like, “That’s a good thing. You should do that.” That’s been the reaction that I mean when I say they drop those congratulations.
KELLI: Yeah, interesting.
PAM: Yeah, that’s fascinating to see, that they can see it on someone else, but they can’t see it for themselves, because like you said, it’s not something that they have ever had experience with.
RHANNA:Because they haven’t ever had the option to have a choice.
KELLI: I think people don’t realize how many choices they actually have.
PAM: Yeah, I think that’s it. Well you guys, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I was so much fun. Thank you!
KELLI: It was fun. It was nice to meet you face to face like that finally!
PAM: I really appreciate you both taking the time too. I was so nice to start hearing some of those stories behind some of the stories behind the pictures I’ve seen. Now before we go, can you let people know where a good place is for people to connect with you online?
KELLI: So, you can find Miss Teaberry’s at missteaberrys.com.
PAM: I will definitely recommend people go check out Facebook and Instagram and drool over the pictures. You guys, that is definitely beautiful work.
RHANNA: Thank you!
KELLI: Thank you so much. We are really proud of it!
PAM: Thank you for taking the time. It was nice to get to know you face to face. I hope that we get to talk again soon.
RHANNA: Me too. Bye!