Unschoolers Grow at the Campground: Coffee (Uh, Lemonade?) and Conversation

When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own So settle into a comfy seat, and I’ll pour for you – today, I’m offering virtual lemonade in a glass pitcher glistening with condensation – can you hear the ice cubes clinking?

I meant to post a Coffee and Conversation – but I ran out of day before I ran out of things to do. That happens, sometimes, especially when I’m as scattered as I was through the majority of last week, once the exhaustion that resulted from the four wonderful days of Unschoolers Rock the Campground lifted.

Now, though, I’ve gotten some rest, some perspective, and some renewed focus, so it’s time to share what I meant to share last week.

We’ve been attending Unschoolers Rock for several years now, and, the year before we first traveled to Plymouth, the kids and I journeyed from our upstate New York home to the little corner of Pennsylvania known as York, where we camped with other unschoolers in a farm meadow.

So hard to believe that that’s my now-giant boy in the denim jacket!

Exploring a horse skeleton; that’s Annalise all the way on the right, in the pink. She is a lifelong lover of bones.

Annalise and Bethany in their Horse Tree.

Boys (Jeremiah,, Gabriel, and Josh) gaming – and a lot more toys than we camp with today!

There’s something about seeing my children in other settings – especially when the setting is the same, or nearly so, year after year. Watching them in another environment, and away from home, points up the growth and changes that have occurred since our last visit, and reveals skills and abilities I might not notice, in our everyday environment.

Exploring the Mayflower II, in 2010.

Living a life anchored in love and learning, and accompanied by a plush humpback whale….Plymouth, MA, 2010.

Siblings after a day of lake swimming!

Warrior on the Campground!

Gabrielle, Annalise and Alana enjoy their swim – and their friendship.

So here, in images, is a record of growth and change – the just-five and almost eight year olds who are now, after years of annual camping trips, now eleven and nearly fourteen (that’s still a little surreal to me, so excuse me while I gasp a little…

I’m glad I enjoy taking pictures, so that I have this visual record – of their growing up, of our changing reality, of what peaceful, non-coercive parenting can create…


Annalise was in love with this dolphin!


Hot tub construction in progress, 2011!

Independence in the water….

Making a splash!

Miah and friends…this was the summer he really became a strong swimmer.

In a culture where so very many children lead lives as scheduled as their parents – with school, homework, chores, and a plethora of enrichment activities – from athletics to camps to lessons in all manner of things, sometimes not even things chosen by the child themselves, but by parents or educators who believe these activities are more beneficial- I find it refreshing to look back at these images of the children in my life, who choose how to spend their time.

Dead-eye Burton,with his best friend, Harry. Photo by Adam Smith.

Bicycling Boy – the year he became campground-independent! Photo by Adam Smith.

It shows up clearly, in these sequential images, captured in random camping

moments throughout the years…

And, during the times when things get angsty, I hang onto these images, and the memory of the things that were our ‘hot spots’ in each of those seasons, and how most of them have faded into the past, reassuring me that today’s frictions likely will, too.

2014 – the first year she could swim alone to the floating dock – and then – chill!

His face was changing….and has kept right on doing that….

With his best friend Harry.

Enjoying the freedom and bliss of deeper waters!

She seemed suddenly very grown and capable….looking back, she’s much more grown today.

In the last weeks before he became a teen, there’s a clown in this big boy – and the type of soul who’ll let younger friends decorate him!

Yes, teens and preteens are still dealing with the messy process of growing up, even when they aren’t overburdened, and it would be a gross and unfair lie to say that every moment of every day was a thing of joy and wonder. But, as these images show, there’s a lot more good than not-good in our lives, and the growing is happening – naturally, and with beauty.

Gabrielle, Annalise, and Gabriella, this July….#swaggirls smiling, and growing up before our eyes….

Does your family have any treasured, yearly events by which you marked your own or your childrens’ growing up? Feel like sharing? Let me get you a fresh cool glass of lemonade, and you can tell us all about it!

Yes, that’s me in the middle – and that big blonde guy on the end? That’s my now bigger-than-me, looking more like a man every day son, weeks before he turns 14.

Something Needs to Change: Parenting With Intention for Mindful Monday, Part One

Hi there, and welcome to Mindful Monday! You can learn more about this weekly exploration of personal mindfulness, and access more mindful posts, at Silver Threading.

Some of the wisest pieces of parenting advice my Accomplice and I received, when we were expecting our first child fourteen years ago, came from our midwife, Stacey Haugland.

No matter how well you think you know who your baby will be, you can’t,” she told us. And this gem, as my pregnancy went day after day past my due date, in a sweltering, high-altitude Montana summer, “This is the easy part. Once that baby comes out of there, that’s when the real work gets started.”

A smart woman, Stacey.

Motherhood, the first days. Photo by James B. Burton.

I didn’t get nearly as many things right as I’d thought I would, back during his first years. I got swept away by mainstream parenting advice, the patterns and attitudes of my family of origin, my own ingrained or stubbornly held beliefs of what it meant to be a Good Mother.

And I patted myself on the back that my kids weren’t brats (Annalise joined our family when Jeremiah was not quite three years old), that I was firmly in control, that I knew how to Raise Good People.

We had Rules, and Logical Consequences, and a Naughty Step

And a LOT of conflict. I was the Enforcer. I watched for infractions, and I, in my own past words, would “come down on them like a ton of bricks” when either child ‘dared’ to commit them.

From the outside, we looked like a happy, loving family, and we were. People commented on how well-behaved the children were, and we laughed a lot –

But I also yelled. A lot. Hit, a lot more than I wanted to. Humiliated, demanded, punished – and congratulated myself that I wasn’t as severe as my own parents were, in raising me.

Parenthood comes with many moving parts….Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton.

One day, my husband came home, and found both children sitting on the Naughty Step, sobbing, while I screamed and raged at them.

He took one look, and called me a monster.

I was furious- my rage was easily shifted, in those days, and explosive. I turned on him.

But he was right.

The children I was lambasting for making messes and not cleaning them up were 3 and 6 years old, at most.

I wasn’t only being cruel – I was demanding the impossible – a level of attentiveness that neither of these very new humans was remotely able to meet. I was terrorizing them for their perfectly natural inability to comply.

Life in those days was filled with a seething resentment, a feeling of being trapped, of doling out punishments and demanding restitution – even when, more often than not, by the time we got to the end of the punishment, I couldn’t even remember what the punishment was for.

It wasn’t what we signed up for, when we decided to have a family.

I came to know, slowly but certainly, that something had to change.

I had to change.

I had no idea, how, at first- until I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to bring the kids on an outing with a local radical unschooling group. It was strongly suggested that new parents unfamiliar with this way of living read at Joyce Fetterol’s wonderful website, Joyfully Rejoycing, which was a comprehensive introduction to a very different way of parenting.

I remember reading the educational posts, and nodding along. Trust that children will learn, even without lessons, homework, tests, or other forms of educational coercion. We’d never sent the kids to school, and our homeschooling had already been evolving into a far more relaxed form than the lessons at the kitchen table we began with.

I knew kids could learn rampantly, if simply provided with lots of interesting things and experiences, and time and freedom to explore, because we lived it every day.

I was feeling pretty confident and sure of myself….

But then I read the ‘life’ side of Joyce’s page, and my chest got tight and my stomach a little sick. Don’t require chores, set bedtimes, limit foods and technology? Really?! Were these people CRAZY?!?!

Don’t PUNISH???!???!!?!?!

These people HAD to be crazy. Their houses must be an endless free-for-all, with exhausted parents forever cleaning up after and sacrificing themselves for ungrateful, lawless, hedonistic offspring…

No way we were ever going to go THAT far. Because that would be total anarchy, and we were NOT going to raise brats.

Dangerous Delinquents – or Just New People? Photo by Sha Jeniah Burton.

We went on the nature walk, and, during the course of spending the day with some happy families, I met four year old Lily. I’ll have a warm place in my heart for her, because she changed our lives – just in the confident way she spoke to me about her life, her family, and herself.

Lily met my eyes when she chatted with me. She didn’t pause to see if I approved of her or what she was saying. She had things to say, and she said them.

I wasn’t a “mom”, and she wasn’t a “kid”. We were two people interacting.

It was then that I knew that’s what I wanted for my own family, my own children.

But, in order to get it, I was going to have to do something that made me intensely uncomfortable; something that I had no idea how to do.

I was going to have to change.

I was going to have to shift my perspective.

I was going to have to grow…

Next Week, Part Two: Learning How to Change

Potent message, and my ideal….Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton.

Yellowstone and the Shape of Our Lives: #atozchallenge, Day 29

Has your life, or that of your family, been shaped by specific places?

As we near the end of the alphabet, I look back and see a long list of places and events that have sculpted not only my life, but also that of my family – even before our children were born, the lives my Accomplice and I lived as a couple built the foundation and structure of the life we live as a family…

In a very real sense, traveling has given us that family.

We were living at the Rocky Mountain Campground in Montana, just outside the famed North Gate of Yellowstone National Park, in 2000, a little over three years into married life, when we knew we were ready to seriously consider expanding our family beyond the array of furry companions we harbored (at the time, three cats and one large shaggy dog). We were both working in Mammoth Hot Springs, where my Accomplice oversaw training and operations of the nine Employee Dining Rooms throughout the park, and where I was a waitress at the restaurant, often with trainees of my own.


Roosevelt Arch , Gardiner, Montana. Photo by Jim Peaco, courtesy of YellowstoneNPS, via Flickr. Creative Commons license.

All of my early appointments to deal with prenatal health and preparation were at the medical facilities there.

It was while visiting my family in New York, two days before we returned to Yellowstone, that we learned that we were going to have a baby.

Part of our agreement for working the winter season was that my Accomplice would return to his position to work the summer season, as well – and our baby was due August 13 – which meant that we’d become parents in close proximity to Yellowstone.

It was nearly an 80 mile (126 kilometer) to our midwife’s, through Craig’s Pass. In June, our appointment was canceled because there was a blizzard, and the pass was, well, impassable.


Uh, yeah. No midwife today. Craig’s Pass and the Continental Divide, snowbound. Photo by Jim Peaco, courtesy YellowstoneNPS, via Flickr. Creative Commons license.

It was a hot, dry summer, and we lived at 6000 feet above sea level. I was so uncomfortable, and, because we hoped for a homebirth, nervous that the baby wouldn’t wait till 36 weeks to be born – the legal point for midwife attended homebirth in Montana. There was no cause for the worry – my due date came and went, as I sweated and lugged my increasingly massive belly around with me, everywhere I went. I jokingly told my Accomplice that the weather would break the day we had the baby.

Throughout the pregnancy, we took pictures of my growing middle by Kepler Cascades.

Pregnant by Kepler Cascades, summer 2001.

Finally, we tried to naturally induce the baby – this was done at a cabin that welcomed homebirths, where there was live music, someone building a straw bale house, and a wildfire just a couple of mountains away. Our baby – stubborn, even before birth. Our child wouldn’t be coaxed out until good and ready, thanks all the same!

Finally, on September 2, Jeremiah finally made his appearance – by C-section, at a hospital. The best laid plans…

We brought him home on the 5th. He crossed his first state line that day, too, on his first day in a car, when we took him five miles up the mountain into Wyoming to meet the folks at his Daddy’s office, who had been eagerly awaiting his long-delayed arrival. It was so hot that day, we had him in just a diaper, once we got home. By the next morning, he was in fleece from head to toe- I had been right about the weather changing!

He toured Yellowstone’s Grand Loop at the ripe age of two weeks, because we had friends throughout the park to introduce him to, and because we knew that would be our last season. He nursed in the restaurants at Mammoth Hot Springs, the posh Lake Yellowstone Hotel, and our former home, the Old Faithful Inn.


Detail of the Theodore Roosevelt quote, Rooosevelt Arch, North Entrance, Gardiner, Montana. Photo by Jim Peaco, courtesy of YellowstoneNPS via Flickr.


We arrived at Yellowstone as newlyweds – and left as new parents. There will always be a special warmth in my heart for the place that saw us through that transition, and, even though our Montana boy, now 13.5 and taller than me, with an emerging man’s voice, hasn’t been there since he was five weeks old, he will always, in my mind, be tied to the place that was his first home. And someday, hopefully within the next couple of years, we will offer him the chance to reunite with the place of his birth.

This post is part of the #atozchallenge. For more Y yarns, click the banner.

Yellowstone embraced us during our transition to parenthood. Is there a place that did the same for you? Are you still there? If not, have you been back? Would you like to?



#LoIsInDaBl Day 18: Siblings At My House

Put a Little Love in Yours!

Put a Little Love in Yours!


Today, Bees  prompt is Siblings. I am a sibling, and the mother of siblings. I could, and have, said a great deal on this subject. So, for today, I’m going to stick mostly with images of two happy children who live with me. They live a life far more peaceful and connected than my siblings and I share, even as adults. They’re friends, in a way that’s not often depicted in entertainment media, especially between male and female siblings. Without further ado, I present, with love, a bit of our family life, throughout the early lives of its younger members. 

Itty Bitty Sibs in Matching Duds!

Silliness by the tree!

Cozy Coupe Collision!

Toddler Tenderness!

Peekaboo Pair!

Choreography and Connection – oh, and in inflatable yellow dolphin named Echo.

Summertime Sibs.


Skull Sibs!

Siblings and their brother’s memorial tree….

Huggin’ it out!

Metro Kids on the way to Washington, D.C.!

Sweaty and Sleepy at the Smithsonian’s  Sculpture Garden.

Growing up happily together.

An (invisible) brother’s helping hands!

Find more Love Is In Da Blog posts here!

JusJoJan Day 15: Threeteen, Fiveteen, and the Twenty-Seven Piece Puzzle

Jottin’ my way through January!

Hi there! Can you believe we’re nearly at the halfway point of January?

I’ll admit, when I decided to do this jotting thing, after an intense two months of marathon novel drafting, I really didn’t know how many words I’d be able to come up with, or what I’d write about – or who would even find it interesting, for that matter! Linda’s ten-day prompts have been extremely helpful, because a few minutes of brainstorming gives me a list of topics that my subconscious (which is very active!) can play with while I go about the business of living and doing the other stuff that entails…

Okay, so today’s post is supposed to delve that mysterious threeteen and fiveteen – but, once again, I appear to have subtracted all the coffee from my cup, so, if you;ll excuse me for just a few minutes, I’ll go take care of a simple addition process, and tend my fire, because it’s c-c-cold in this part of the world today!

I’m back – didja miss me?! There’s a cozy fire snapping in the wood-stove, and a fresh hot cuppa beside me – so no reason not to dig into today’s subject, right?

When my son was about 3, and learning to count, he objected strenuously to the words ‘thirteen’ and ‘fifteen’. He insisted that they ought to be ‘threeteen’ and ‘fiveteen’, instead – and he had a point. Eleven and twelve never bothered him – my guess is that they were too far from their ones-plus-tens state -but he was so adverse to thirteen and fifteen that, when he counted, he just skipped straight over those two numbers, so that his version ran, “eleven twelve fourteen sixteen… “and so on.

At the same time, he was very interested in jigsaw puzzles, and spent considerable time working them.

Egg-samining a different type of puzzle, but at about the right age.

One day, after solving a puzzle and pulling it apart again, he combined his puzzle love with his new counting skill, and decided to count all the pieces in his puzzle.

His total was 27 pieces. He then asked me to count them; my answer was 25.

He counted again, and so did I, with the same results.

The third time he counted, I realized what had gone wrong.

I showed him the puzzle box, which said there were 25 pieces in his puzzle. Then we counted together – and, when we got to ‘threeteen’ and ‘fiveteen’, he refused them, and so we skipped them, and got 27.

So we counted again, and I said, “Let’s do it my way, this time,” and we counted all the numbers. Yup. 25 pieces, exactly.

Maybe it’s in moments like this that mathematical concepts get absorbed. It certainly clicked for him, in that instant. He could see, for the first time, that it mattered whether he counted all the numbers, if he wanted to know how many of something he had. And, maybe more importantly, he could see WHY.

He had skipped two numbers, and his total was off by two numbers!

From that point onward, he always counted his ‘threeteens’ and ‘fiveteens’ – yes, those names lingered for several more months, until he reconciled himself to the illogic of their proper ones.

Today, that little boy is a strapping ‘threeteen’ year old – as big as me, and with a deeper, almost-man’s voice. Long gone are the days of refusing to count numbers, or doing 25 piece puzzles on the kitchen table.

Yesterday, we were exploring the quadratic formula together. But all the mathematical concepts he’s learned since that day of the 27-piece puzzle have hinged on that moment of first truly understanding that numbers are tools, and how to use them.

Do you remember when numbers began to make sense to you? To your children? Do you have a story to share? We’d love to hear it!

Don’t skip on by the other mathin’ Jotters!

Same boy, almost ten years later, at ‘threeteen’.

#SparkleFriday, With the Kids at a Toy Store

Are you tired of the Black Friday hype? Have you sparkled lately?

I’m not sure about where you live, but here in upstate New York, the “Black Friday” push started over a week before Thanksgiving…way too early for us, even with a generous dose of snow to beautify Wednesday, and give a Christmasy feel to things. I’m not a fan of the rush to buy, buy, buy, and I tend to balk when marketers try to get me to do it on their schedule. Coercion isn’t big in my world…

But a few weeks ago, my friend August McLaughlin came up with a wonderful idea that sparked my holiday cheer – #SparkleFriday. What’s that, you say?

Glad you asked! It’s a simple idea, really. Here’s what August has to say about it:

Many of our friends and most of our relatives live thousands of miles away. *cue Beatles music* So in lieu of a conventional housewarming party, we’re asking our family and friends—including you!—to join us virtually in an act-of-kindness celebration. We’ve chosen Black Friday, a day on which it’s easy to get caught up in or disgruntled by commercialism, figuring we could all use some added cheer.

Here’s how you can participate:

Between now and 11/28, conduct an act of kindness.

On 11/28, share a description and/or a photo on Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter using the hashtag #SparkleFriday. (Writers, feel free to post yours on your blog!)

Check out others’ posts by searching for the hashtag on the 28th—sharing, liking/favoriting and commenting on your favorites.

Pop back to my blog the following week where I’ll share highlights and give away prizes for the most creative, impactful and entertaining acts!

See? Simple, sparkly, and powerful!

We decided to make an event of a donation to Toys for Tots, with Jeremiah and Annalise each choosing a nice gift that would add a little sparkle to another child’s Christmas of Hanukkah.

Below, in images and captions, is our happy foray into a seldom-explored realm for our family- a big toy store on Black Friday. I was not only thrilled to see the consideration the kids put into the gifts, but the happy way they interacted with others along the way. It’s also interesting to me to see the way their approach to toy stores has changed, since they were little…and that led to the realization that, in what might seem like the blink of an eye, to me, toy stores aren’t going to hold nearly the same allure for either of them.

But today, these growing-up kids gave me a #SparkleFriday, and now we all want to share it with you!

A bit of exploration and debate…


Jeremiah chooses a physics-oriented gift…


Annalise chooses some scary fashion!


Anonymous Donor?


#SparkleFriday is for sharing, and scaring!


A little #SparkleFriday in our cart….


A Helpful #SparkleFriday Spirit.


A double shot of generosity…


Giving with her whole self!


#SparkleFriday grin!

I hope you enjoyed watching this as much as we did living it!

If you missed #SparkleFriday, why not commit an act of kindness today, tomorrow- or anytime? You’ll add a little more of this to the world!

A JOYful August!

Coffee and Conversation: Jo’s Monday Walk to the NY State Museum!

Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while! It’s time for Coffee and Conversation!

When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own..

Yes, I’m getting to this a little late in the day. It’s been a little odd today – normally, my Accomplice in Mischief, who is a chef, has Monday off.  But today he worked a local food festival, and, for the first time, our 13 year old son went as his assistant.  I’m also experiencing the distraction of having written over 10,000 words of my NaNoWriMo novel in a single day – a personal best for me!  

So, I’m a little out of sync…but I’m hear, making this post while watching Castle and contemplating the next scenes of my novel. But I am here, and I’m inviting you to come along with the children and I as we visit the New York State Museum, in Albany. Originally, I was going to share the entire visit – but, well, this is our favorite museum, and we make the most of every visit. Today, we’re just going to walk from the parking lot next door, around the corner, in the door, and as far as the rest rooms…I promise, future walks will carry us into the museum proper, to explore…as a matter of fact, I’ve got many photos, from many trips, so we can go back again, and again, and…

Oh, look.  There’s a parking space.  Let’s pull in here, gather up our stuff, and get ready to see how much fun we can have with two unschooling kids and their mom, just walking in to the museum…

It was a lovely October day, and a pleasant, familiar walk…



Sometimes, you’ve just got to cozy up with a shale wall….and give it a nice snuggly hug.



The thirteen year old in my life makes me work for photos…


Okay, we’ve seen some wall-hugging and camera-dodging, and now we’re ready to continue on, through the parking area and around the corner. While the kids lead the way, I’ll snap a few pictures of the trees, with the first hints of fall color touching their leaves, the museum against a gorgeous early fall sky, and the skyline beyond the Empire State Plaza.








And now we round the corner, and the museum is just ahead. But…



That’s apparently the perfect time to hug your brother – whether he especially wants you to, or not…




Of course, when your sister is your friend, you sometimes go along with these spontaneous public displays of affection.




And then, with walls and siblings and Mom (not pictured) feeling happily hugged, we arrive at the entrance – yup, a bona-fide revolving door which beckons us in…well, eventually. I mean, this IS a revolving door, and what would be the fun of not taking an extra spin or two….?




And now we’re inside, thinking about what to see first….take a look around the lobby, and feel free to offer your suggestions…we’ll be right back, after a quick visit to the rest room, which, after its recent remodeling, looks a little like a modern train car, to me…




So, a little birdie told me that that’s it for today….

But we’ve got a little bit of unfinished business, so let me refresh your beverage…


We’ve got a few choices for the next museum installment, and I’d love your opinion!

  1. Adirondack Wildlife
  2. Ancient Peoples
  3. Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
  4. Epic Checkers
  5. Building Stuff
  6. Canned Food Scultpture
  7. Carousel
  8. Minerals and Gems
  9. Discovery Center  Just drop a number into that nifty little comment box down there!


How about you? Do you have a favorite museum or gallery? Want to chat about it? I’ll get another round; let’s talk!