May 28, 2011

Live greener - reducing waste and power use at home

As the world's environment is under more and more pressure it can feel overwhelming, making you feel powerless - how to help, how to make a difference, what to do when your children are worried about the state of the world?

So we started at home - the one place you do have control over. We chose reducing packaging and waste, reducing food miles, and reducing plastic and processing of foods. 

It is also more frugal and thrifty - save money, save the world, save your sanity.

Feel powerful
Oh, and we have 100% green electricity and a 1kw. solar feed-in system. As more than 50% of every family's greenhouse emissions come from electricity, by signing up to "100% GreenPower electricity" it means you can reduce your family's emissions by around 50% - significantly reducing your impact on climate change.

In fact, if you could only do one thing this month - make it changing your electricity supply to green sources through your power supplier. Our household power is mostly wind-generated power from South Australia - it works like a voucher system. Read more about it here in Australia.

Here is a list of things we do as a family:

  • recycle as much paper, plastic and food cans as possible through our domestic local council collection
  • recycle metals other than food cans directly at our local recycling centre: this has included pedal bins, broken lamps, brackets, hinges, wire, off-cuts of metal etc
  • reuse old broken appliances: we have 3 old dishwashers in active service as garden storage and chicken grain storage containers. They are water and vermin proof.
  • resist buying plastic containers wherever we can: I feel increasingly concerned about plastic leaching from food packaging so have slowly moved unrecyclable plastic containers out of the kitchen for storage of nails, screws, craft materials etc. 
  • re-use glass jars for leftovers and pantry storage of bulk foods as well as when freezing: I realised that all the organic food we buy and grow was then placed into plastic for storage! Crazy.
  • buy bulk where possible and do a big supermarket shop once a month
  • take our own bags, boxes, esky (cold box with ice blocks) and cool bags shopping: as soon as your bags are emptied in the kitchen put them STRAIGHT away back in the car : )
  • buying milk directly from the dairy and placing it from the vat into glass jars with metal lids: by far our biggest waste reducer. Along with the $ savings for the milk itself we save 8 x 2 litre plastic containers every week - although recyclable these plastic bottles are huge users of electricity to process to make the first time (that is, the burning of coal for power) and the subsequent re-melting for recycling of the plastic IF indeed they are all recycled. Think of the fuel costs for each litre from farm to milk depot and processor then out again in plastic bottles to the supermarket depot then out to the individual store. Urgh.
  • make our own butter and yoghurt and ice cream: also in glass or ceramic containers, no freight other than from the dairy cow on the farm then directly home in our car.
  • home baking when possible: sourdough bread, biscuits, crackers, cakes
  • home brewed ginger beer and also low alcohol beer: a great homeschool exercise in measurement maths, following recipes, temperature maths, the chemical changes in yeast and sugar to create carbon dioxide, label making craft, as well as the environmental benefits, and...patience as the kids' ginger beer takes 2-3 weeks to ferment ready to drink! (I think Mike really enjoyed guilt-free beer drinking while accumulating enough bottles for his brew!)
  • buy locally grown fruit, nuts, vegetables and meat at our local weekly farmers market 
  • grow our own fruit and vegetables where possible
  • keeping our own chickens for eggs
  • give food scraps to the chickens
  • compost other food scraps like coffee grounds, tea leaves, potato skins, citrus, onion skins, meat bones to reduce land-fill rubbish
  • buy bulk and cook it up: November is exploring cooking at the moment as her current interest is in doing family "chores" - oh yes, I never thought I'd be writing that sentence! - and this week it was processing 10 kilos of tomatoes into soup. We ended up with 9 litres which saved buying some 20 cans of soup. It cost $33 in ingredients - which along with our time meant half price soup that is at least twice as good.

The best part of this is it is fun and healthy. We exercise minds and bodies (lugging fruit and vegetables home from the markets is good for everyone!) and make good choices.

If you are starting out on this "greener life" path with your family, I suggest you take it one step at a time. We have been living most of this style of "green life" for at least 10 years, but keep adding little "top-ups". Our recent top-ups in the last 6 months have been raw milk from the dairy, and banishing plastic from food storage (as much as possible without having conniptions - anxiety over the occasional slip is NOT helpful here).

Let me know - how is living greener working for your family?

May 20, 2011

This moment...

{this moment} concept inspired by

May 17, 2011

Hanging with the monks

Meditation is the bridge to a place of inner calmness.  
It really is. I know that - I started my regular meditation adult practice some 20 years ago. I meditated as a child too - in the yoga classes that my mum took me to as young as 6 years old, and in times of pain and anxiety as a child (I was prone to anxious headaches). 

As a counsellor and psychotherapist I taught my adult clients the meditation techniques I had been using so effectively in my own life  - sources gleaned from Buddhist teachings, Hindu yoga practice, Christian ministers, indigenous dreaming and visualisations.

How to teach meditation to children?
Naturally as a parent I wanted to pass this on to my lovely daughters. But it was hard to find the time....

Sure, I had taught them how to calm themselves with their breath, wriggle their toes when needing distraction from pain, focussing on a positive image to let go of the negative, even how to go off to sleep when too tired to fall asleep! But I hadn't ever taught them to sit still and be mindful in relaxation. I was daunted, unsure how to begin...

Meditation through chanting
Hoorah! The meditation cavalry arrived! The Gyuto Monks of Tibet are right here in our family's neighbourhood, on their "Infinite Present" tour as organised through Gyuto House Australia. For 16 days they are chanting, meditating, talking, holding ceremony - and most exciting for us - holding "Culture for Kids" (essentially spiritual craft). 

Our girls are busy and wriggly. They do not like to sit still unless enthralled - your kids are probably the same. But sit them in front of a group of monks chanting, droning, Tibetan throat singing? No problem. 

Once November (7) had had a good, long look at the monks in their beautiful maroon and saffron robes, walls hung with tapestries, and a model stupa carved from yak's butter (amongst many other things), she closed her eyes and let the sound wash over her. For 30 one spot. Without a word. Wonderful.

As for our 5 year old July, she had a lot of whispered questions on day 1, but lying down on cushions in front of the monks on day 2 she silently lay entranced and really l-i-s-t-e-n-e-d.

Playing with monks = eclectic homeschool MFP style
Here is our homeschool routine while they are here: maths, meditation, morning tea, craft with monks,  home again, and back into the usual routine for the remainder of the day. Yes - every school day for the next 2 weeks!

We are supplementing with geography lessons on Tibet, and India (as the monks are in exile from Tibet), as well as reading narratives set in Tibet. We are learning about their lives back in India here. The monks discussions of kindness, compassion, and mindfulness tie in very nicely with Mike's teaching work with the girls using David A. White' s excellent book "Philosophy for Kids" - look inside here

There are naturally a lot of questions about the monks - what about their culture, are they married?, do they drink coffee, all of the usual run of questions curious kids ask when you expose them to a new idea, a new way of seeing. All great discussion prompts, I know, but for me the best thing about spending time with these very special people is how wonderful I feel just being there. 

Calm, and wonderfully happy. Can't embed a clip of that - just gotta feel it.

May 10, 2011

Plain speaking...

We love words around here.

Time Travel
My earliest memories involve books and reading. I still have my first ambitious attempt at writing a book titled "All about Australian Animals" which petered out after emus...not so extensive really.

I also remember at age 7 or so reading "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" while sitting in a patch of hot sun yet feeling cold, with goosebumpy skin as I was mentally and vicariously cold from the written descriptions of the icy forests of Narnia.

When I look back over my life at the lofty old age of 47 I can travel in reverse through my life via my significant books - a time travel library - and remember what else was going on when I read those stories.

Who are you?
Words bring ideas alive, they are our thoughts made manifest.

Each of us have our own "voice" - the individual particular meld and combination of words we use in speech, written down, or indeed internally (trust the therapist - it's true!).

Like matching the vocal pitch of your favourite singer (that allows you to sing in tune with them and feel sooooo in the song), finding the written pitch of a writer who matches your internal "word pitch" connects you in the most intimate way to the world their work inhabits.

At this time, the Australian writer Peter Temple is my pitch perfect author. Who is yours?

Words at home
Naturally, our girls are also word and book crazy. November spoke words clearly at 7 months, and invented her own words that she used consistently from 12 months of age. July waited til 9 months of age to speak other peoples' words but typically of a second child jumped into complex phrases almost immediately.

We have always ignored the recommended ages of books for children and chosen contrary to the mainstream as we have tried to match the book to the child on that particular day or moment.

This is why Roald Dahl has been a staple of our reading the horror of some other parents amazed we would read to our girls books about giants that eat children, parents that are abusive to their children, or twits with guns. That is a whole other post : )

We have not followed a Steiner/Waldorf model that discourages reading until aged 7...both daughters were early readers and writers.

For our family, it was a mark of "growing up" just the right amount when you could select and read your own books from the weekly library visit. Empowering.

Words ain't just words you know...
Words are complex aren't they...and as a former designer and typography teacher I am always swayed by the arrangement of line and shape, serif, or absence of serif, positive and negative space. I like my language rich with nuance both visual and emotional.

Language in home education - back to the future
This deep involvement in language written and read aloud is why we follow (loosely) a classical homeschooling curriculum. An eclectic classical mix of just about everything.

While parents are reading wonderful books to their entranced children powerful things happen. Synergy occurs, memories are laid down and big picture thinkers develop. Where is the meaning of life without chronology? Who are you without your past and present and future?

When developing our curriculum and homeschool plan, we put together a loose timeline of book topics to read, starting with the Big Bang and evolution on Earth, and went from there.

One of the highlights was reading the Mesopotamian "Gilgamesh" - the first great epic poem  of world literature from the area that is present day Iraq. This first recorded story was written in cuneiform at the crucial point in human development where "prehistory" (life without written words) met history (the recording of human thoughts in writing).

Gilgamesh is an epic tale written some 3,500 years ago. It contains the first written reference to the "great flood", which later became Noah's tale of the ark.

Part of our homeschool exploration of early writing included scratching cuneiform characters into clay tablets and reading wonderful summaries such as I love Typography's "The Origins of abc" which is where this image comes from:

Who is reading who
Our before bed read-aloud is currently "The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster - an absurdly entertaining book about a bored boy who ventures into a world of words and numbers via "the Doldrums". Fancies were very tickled here when the main character Milo finds a lane-way in the word market of Dictionopolis where you could buy your own letters and "do it yourself":

 as compared to the complete word section
"Step right up - ah, what can I do for you, little boy? How about  a nice bag of pronouns?"

Ties in nicely with our work on "Grammar Island" from Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts curriculum.

Words as moving pictures
Came across this wonderful poem by Taylor Mali set in magnificent style by Ronnie Bruce...

If you think I am haughty about language, listen here to the first part of the irrepressible Stephen Fry's "podgram" on his dislike of pedantry for pedantry's sake. Lovely language in here too...find the full podcast on the iTunes store under Stephen Fry.


How do you use language in your family?

May 7, 2011

Making oatmeal porridge with Dad

A post just in time for Mother's Day :)

If you think porridge resembles tasteless sludge, is a paste you mix and heat in the microwave, or should be eaten with salt, this is for you! It is a great wheat-free, corn-free breakfast that you can vary with toppings to suit every taste in your family. It takes time to cook - and that is a good thing as it is a breakfast that almost makes itself while all the other morning things can get done. Just keep checking the pan to make sure it isn't sticking. We use a simmer mat and the gas on the lowest setting for the last cooking stage.

We have grown our own oats twice, but only for chicken food and living mulch (also known as green manure). It is so cheap to buy at the supermarket or health food store it isn't worth growing as a home crop but was still so beautiful to see it with its heavy dipping heads on slender stalks...

Last year aged 5 our daughter July put together her own procedure for cooking this - her favourite food at the time...

Making porridge with Dad
You will need:
• 2 and a half cups of rolled oats (not the instant kind, but actual wholegrain rolled oats - cheap, unprocessed and costing around $1 a kilo)
• 750 ml of milk 
• 750 ml of water
• saucepan 
• wooden spoon 
• bowls and spoons

For putting on top: 
• slivered almonds • brown sugar • milk • fresh apple • dried fruit like apricots, pears or dates

Step 1.
Put all of the rolled oats in the saucepan.

Step 2.
Tip the milk and water into the saucepan.

Step 3.
Get your Dad to turn the stove on. Then you get to stir the porridge. Keep stirring until it bubbles. Turn down to a simmer (that is when it bubbles and plops slowly in the pan) and cook for 20 minutes.

Remember to stir it. Check it to make sure there aren't any chewy bits...if so cook for a bit longer.

Step 4.
Get your yummy toppings ready.

Step 5.
Get Dad to pour the porridge in to the bowls with a ladel. Add your toppings.

Step 6.
Add cold milk.

Step 7.
Enjoy your breakfast!

May 5, 2011

Fibonacci, Definite articles and ROYGBIV mashups

What a morning!

Here follows a loose recall of our typical homeschool day...well, a typical very good day when things flow smoothly and inspiration bubbles up from adult and child alike:

While I was busy getting some wheat-free friands in the oven for breakfast, Mike put on the wonderful Nature by Numbers video which introduces the mathematical Fibonacci sequence through images of nature.

I love the F sequence - I read about it in a wonderful maths book when November was still at preschool bugging us (in a nice way) with lots of number questions. It was the first maths book I had opened since I was 15. I was identified as gifted in Primary and given lots of differentiation (70s style which meant my own workbox work) especially in maths, doing Algebra in Year 6 with the wonderful Mr Spring. High school maths was another story - a total disaster which saw me apply to drop maths for the last 2 years of high school - the first student in the history of the school to do so. Shame...but wow am I loving maths now as a homeschool mama!)

The Fibonacci sequence is a mathematical pattern attributed to a mathematician called Leonardo of Pisa, aka Fibonacci. His book in 1202 introduced the sequence to European circles as it appears even earlier in Indian maths.

It is a sequence that is seen extensively in nature - from bee family trees (!), leave whorls, numbers of petals on flowers, fertility in rabbits.
Here is the succinct way Wikipedia expresses it...

In mathematics, the Fibonacci numbers are the numbers in the following integer sequence:
0,\;1,\;1,\;2,\;3,\;5,\;8,\;13,\;21,\;34,\;55,\;89,\;144,\; \ldots\; (sequence A000045 in OEIS).
By definition, the first two Fibonacci numbers are 0 and 1, and each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two.
In mathematical terms, the sequence Fn of Fibonacci numbers is defined by the recurrence relation
F_n = F_{n-1} + F_{n-2},\!\,
with seed values
    After the video Mike read from the Fibonacci chapter in "The Adventures of Penrose the mathematical cat" by Theoni Pappas, finishing up with an activity from the book
    Well - the bug had bitten! Among cries for "more Fibonacci!" the girls sat down and wrote the sequence themselves - July with the aid of a 100s chart. It is a lovely accessible pattern for kids.
    After the friands, we delved into "Grammar Island" from Michael Clay Thompson (MCT) and worked on adjectives as words that adjust and modify the noun...including definite and indefinite articles which was totally new to me! 
    Grammar was a "dirty word" in Australian schools in the 1970s.
    The girls are really getting into MCT. Each time I pick it up I feel a tiny twinge of fear that they won't like doing grammar...the "dirty word" feeling is obviously still ingrained in me. Yet each time they cry "more, more" and once again I have that most wonderful experience as a home educator of saying "no more for today". 
    I am learning that leaving your child wanting more is far preferable to going too far until everyone is almost drunk with tiredness. If only I could learn this lesson in my own projects...hmmm
    After morning tea, running around, and some piano, we came back to representing Fibonacci as a visual sequence. With visual spatial learners I try to include some visual revision almost immediately of the key concept. Here is the Fibonacci sequence drawn on graph paper. Each number is represented by a square of its size. To make things more interesting, we used ROYGBIV for the order of the colouring pencils.
    We love "They Might Be Giants" (TMBG) in the Mansted family! While you may know them as producing music for kids, Mike has followed them for years (since 1982) before their kid friendly transition. Think nerds with guitars...and wonderful lyrics. 
    Anyway, on TMBG's kids Science album is a song called "Roy G Biv" which gives the REAL sequence of colours in the light spectrum (unlike the awful rainbow song "Red and Yellow and Pink and Green, Purple and Orange and Blue...")

    I really love this song as it has ended the frustrating discussion of how to draw a rainbow which has been going on here for... well, feels like forever. At last the girls believe me! Yes, this is a bee in my bonnet because you need to understand the spectrum of light to mix colour accurately in artwork.

    I drew a little series of colour boxes to help remind them the order of colours and so we ended up with a double pattern - Fibonacci with rainbows?

    So here ends the description of our mashup at the Mansted Family Project.

    Fibonacci meets Roy G Biv and Michael Clay Thompson oh, and then collecting tadpoles, November reading a version of Jane Eyre while July reads an Aussie Nibbles. Time for lunch and off to the Suzuki Piano lesson with the wonderful Diti.
    Friand recipe to follow...

    Friand is apparently a French word for a small burnt butter cake...but you don't need to burn the butter, or indeed use butter at all as olive oil is great in these too.

    150 butter (melted) or 110 grams of olive oil
    1 and 1/4 cups almond meal
    1 cup icing sugar
    1 cup of coconut (mix of shredded and dessicated gives best texture)
    1/2 cup gluten free flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    6 egg whites (150 mls)

    frozen or fresh berries to top (or slivered almonds)

    Turn on your oven to preheat - 180 degrees celsius or 350 degrees fahrenheit. Line 12 1/2 cup muffin tin with patty papers (or grease with melted butter in addition to that above).
    Mix the ingredients lightly together - except the berries - and spoon into the patty papers. Top with the berries. Place in oven for 22 minutes until lightly golden on top - they should be soft in the centre so don't overcook. Makes 12.
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