24 August 2015

Crossroads



Hello! Oh we've had a time of it lately! It feels like an age since my last post. So much has happened in our little world that it's made us think and re-think who we are and where we're travelling on this little journey. If you're feeling like some happy reflections on unschooling life in our beautiful Tasmania, I'll make sure to post some updates on the excellent fun we've been having, later this week, but this is a big one for us and marking it here feels important.

We're at a crossroads. The whole winter has seen the re-development of the street we live on. It's been noisy and muddy and inconvenient. We watched layers gradually peeled back, deep holes dug, paths strengthened and eventually renewed. It's been a bit of a metaphor for recent weeks in our nest.

We've watched friends move on, or make plans to travel, and celebrated their exciting news. On the flip side, we've uncovered some hard truths about people around us. About what they think of us and what that might mean. We've discovered what comes with the territory when you put your hand up to start something. We've had some hard conversations, had walls put up and then quietly put up some of our own so we feel safer (I'm on my first ever proper holiday from Facebook!). Our happy spaces are suddenly difficult and a bit empty. We're all down a bunch of friends and feeling very sad, raw and misunderstood as we've watched it all float away. And we're not sure how this started or why, but we're sure it must be for some reason or other, which we might find out about one day. And now there's a sense of quiet as we attempt to pick ourselves up and carry on as before…

But things are different now. It can be so challenging creating and keeping community. It's one of the more challenging aspects of home education, needing community around you to make it all work. Finding a balance in loving trust, understanding and clear and direct communication, when it takes all types and when you live in a very small place. When it's good, it's very good. And when it's bad, it's horrid. Humans can be so awful to each other. And we get it. We're human too. Hopefully this all leads to greater understanding.

Thinking about what all this might mean for the future is all a bit unknown and hard. So we're focusing on the right now. The good friends we have. The things we like to do. The nest we've created and the garden we're making together. What we're looking forward to. Rebuilding our beloved co-op. We're slowing down, marking days (and making handprints) and being better, gentler friends to each other.

Around about the time home educated children turn 12, friends start dropping off and entering the school system. We expected it. Perhaps not the day after Big Owlet's birthday, but we did expect it and had been making plans for what we might do if… So we're suddenly at a crossroads.

We've been spending lots of time discussing our choices. Travel, moving away from our beloved Tasmania to be with loved ones, SCHOOL, or continuing along as we set out. The Owlets are up for big change. They want a fresh start. So school is on the table. Forms have been filled out (!!). We've all shed tears at the thought of it and breaking up our little gang of 4 most weekdays, for the sake of a new community. Thankfully, one sleepless night led me to this article and gave us some fresh perspective. So we're trying all the things. Moving towards new opportunities, while staying put for now. Hoping all is not yet lost. Wondering where this new road will take us and looking forward to a smoother ride ahead.

Hoping smooth roads are ahead for you too.

Lots of love,

~ Lauren. xx

7 August 2015

How to host an Arternoon


Once a week, we gather with friends and play with art. One of the lovelier additions to our weeks recently, we get together with families from our homeschool co-op and set about making space for creativity and colour. We call it Arternoon.

At the moment Artenoon is one parent (mostly me), facilitating a group of about 6-10 children and joining in when I can. I'm hoping some of the adults will relax and feel inspired to join in and get creative too, because it's so much fun. Our group are a bunch of creative kids, mostly unschooled, and , interestingly, mostly girls right now. We'd love to have some of the boys join in, but for now they seem happier to run and wrestle, and that's totally ok. Our Arternoons began when a couple of parents in our group asked if anyone knew any good, inexpensive, art classes around. Sometimes when you look at the people around you, you discover you already have the skills and experience between you to facilitate all manner of things. You just need to ask and think laterally and make it happen.



We're loving the space to create alongside each other. As a designer, I loved the inspiration and support that came from working in a studio with others. The owlets are loving creating alongside their friends and together we've created a space where everyone's work is valued and appreciated and artists feel supported.

Each session happens just after lunch and runs for a maximum of 2 hours, by which time we're all bursting to run and climb, or down another cup of tea. It seems to be exactly the right sort of time for this sort of work, but I'd imagine an after school or weekend group could work well too. A theme is chosen, with some creative prompts, a new medium to explore or a creative hero to get to know, and off we go!

So far we've run sessions about: Line and contour drawing, Matisse and Collage, Altered Books, and Goethe and finding your own colour palette. Next week, we'll be exploring Kandinsky and circles, and the list of ideas should last us for years! Thankfully, Pinterest is there with loads of inspiration should the well ever run dry.



If you'd like to have a go at starting an Arternoon of your own, here's what you need to know:


  • Choose a space. Your dining table might work. Invite some friends over for some creative fun! If you're a bit concerned about mess, or you have a larger group than will fit in your home, consider hiring a space. 
  • Gather some basic materials. We have a stack of A3 cartridge paper, which is really versatile. We also have a backup supply of paints and drawing materials as well as glue sticks, scissors, coloured paper and old magazines if people need them. 
  • Ask everyone to bring along their favourite materials or art tools. Or suggest simple materials they might need for each week as you progress. Things like acrylic or watercolour paints, oil pastels, favourite pencils and paint brushes are a good start. It's always so much more pleasurable to create art using good quality tools and encouraging children to use them with care and respecting their own tools, as well as each others, is a great way to set them up for good creative practice. 
  • Make a big list of ideas and choose a theme each week. You might take inspiration from a technique or particular medium, or you might choose a creative hero. Maybe an artist or philosopher, or a great story teller. Think about what you can learn from their art and go with it! 
  • Find someone to help you facilitate. Even if it's only every now and then. Volunteer work can be pretty exhausting, so having some help or support and an extra person to bounce ideas off really helps. If your group is really big, you might like to ask a couple of parents to volunteer as helpers. If your group doesn't require much facilitation (maybe you're working with older kids or adults), you might like to decide on a democratic way to present ideas and take turns researching creative prompts. 
  • Give everyone the space to interpret the activity in their own way. There's no right or wrong way to approach making art. Great things can come from exploring tangents!
  • Encourage and give feedback, rather than lashings of praise. Tell each artist what you like about their work. Point out the great bits - maybe you like their interpretation or the colours they've chosen? Give them some ideas if they're having a hard time with something. Encourage them to tell the story behind their work and to support each other. 
  • Join in. Grab some paper and paint and sit down with everyone and play! Have fun! Make mistakes! You might find some creative inspiration frees you up for making more art through the rest of your week. Create some art together and have an ace time! 


If you decide to host an Artenoon of your own, we'd love to hear about it! Let us know how it goes!

~ Lauren. xx







17 July 2015

Rhythm, Surprises and Tiny.


It takes extra special effort to keep active, see friends and be present in the real world in the depths of winter. It's so easy to be swept along by the cocooning, short and fire-filled days. The desire to draw inward and snuggle by the fire and read a book can see days roll into weeks. The need to see friends can in some ways be met through social media, while owlets can choose spend hours with their friends on Minecraft, on days where venturing out seems all too hard. It's like having little portals to view the outside world, from the comfort of our couch. Regular jobs drag us along in a rhythm of bare essentials before we retreat. Before long, 4.30pm rolls around and the sun sinks as we stoke the fire and proclaim the day done. By midwinter, it takes extra motivation to break out of that cosy rut. Something special to get us rolling along again. Our three motivations each day are rhythm, surprises, and Tiny.

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By 6am most mornings, Tiny is usually nudging me out of bed. "I'm hungry", she whispers, and we slip down the hallway to switch on the lights, feed the meowing cats and turn the heater on. Then we fold the clothes on the rack and chat about things while we decide what to have for breakfast. Tiny is like a tiger and when she's hungry or not engaged in an activity, she roars. Breakfast and lots of things to do are a priority. She's at that magical age where the world is opening up to her and she's full of awe and wonder. But on these winter days, it's so easy for me to get swept along with what needs doing, so the balance can shift and we forget to pause and play.

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Owlets love surprises, so we like to mix things up with last minute day trips and thoughtful things. This week, I made Tiny a seasonal table, in a space we created a couple of weeks ago during a furniture re-shuffle. It's been such a long time since I paused to create something to draw her attention and she adored it. The magic of soft candle light, gentle colours and delicate things to admire and play with. It was like pressing the reset button on our winter, while giving her my full attention for a moment. Sometimes that connection with one owlet is enough to have all of us working together more harmoniously again.

Tinysnowflakescones
facepaint clay

Tiny and I have been sparkly snowflake making, reading Snowflake Bentley, face painting, having scones for lunch, building with clay, playing sleeping queens and chess, watching the sun rise on the beach… The two bigger owlets have been inspired to join in too, so our days have had a revived hum to them. I've been more present, which has been fun and tiring and so wonderful, as we all restore a little bit of balance and unfurl a bit. Sorry shop, sorry blog, sorry house, sorry knitting, sorry garden! There's fun to be had!

How are you coping with winter? Is it super cold where you are right now? 
Do you have a way to reset and get your week back on track? 
Do you have a seasonal table set up? 
What works for you? 

~ Lauren xx

17 June 2015

For the love of bees...

It's rather glum in our garden right now. Everything's quiet. It's a little grey and damp. The cabbages, kale and cauliflower are bursting with colour and life and the kookaburras drop in and visit from time to time, but there's a stillness. We're missing the flowers and possibly, most of all, we're missing the bees.

Things are looking up though! We have a corner of our garden picked and a gorgeous new wooden hive on it's way to us within a matter of weeks. In the spring we'll be hoping to welcome a colony of new friends to our garden and the regular visitors will be here too. There will be life and sunshine and the garden will be humming again.

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But right now, while we wait, we're revisiting an old favourite project and making some bees of our own, to remind us of the good things to come. They're quite simple to make. We used some hakea cones we found walking along a local track. For wings we found some old packaging foam that had a light, gossamer appearance, but paper, tule, felt or anything lightweight and rigid would do. Then we found some yarn and wrapped it around the cone, tying the wings in place and creating a stripy bee body. Instant bee to decorate the windows or play bee games while we dream of warmer days again.

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We're also cheering the place up by making beeswax candles, lip balm, furniture polish and using beeswax wraps and feeling grateful for the warm honey aroma filling our home. Thankful for our buzzy friends and looking forward to their return.

"One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter." - Henry David Thoreau

~ Owletmama. xx


3 June 2015

Spiral Garden Review :: Crayons

This post is part of a regular series where we review  and feature our favourite things in Spiral Garden. We try and road test as many of our products as possible so we can make sure our range is full of only the best sustainable things! Part of this post first appeared on the Spiral Garden blog and has been updated for this space.



Since beginning our work at Spiral Garden, we have undertaken a great deal of research into the products we stock, wanting to bring our customers the best quality range of ethical and environmentally friendly products we can find. We've sought out the products we'd love to use most in our own home. We've asked why our popular products are so popular and what our customers love about them best. We've also looked into their manufacturing, shipping process and ingredients lists, where possible.

It's not always an easy task to find the nitty gritty on certain products. And many we take for granted as being "safe", "non-toxic" and "harmless", when a little further research suggests perhaps they are not 100% so... It's quite an eye-opening process and as such, certain products may not be re-stocked as we find they do not meet our expectations. Or, we'll continue to stock them but let you know their credentials as much as we can. With all that in mind, to begin with, our attention turned to art supplies in Spiral Garden and today, I'm going to tell you all about our range of crayons and the process we've undertaken to understand them and create the range we have.


Stockmar Crayons

The first product we bought from Spiral Garden, as customers many years ago, was a tin of Stockmar Beeswax Crayons. They are so beautifully packaged in their sturdy little tin. Their bright rainbow colours in block or stick form... They smell like honey! And they last a series of toddlers, as our set can attest. These are artist quality crayons, meaning the colours are bright and bold. They glide onto the paper and their colour stays fast. Unfortunately it stays fast to the walls too, another fact our series of toddlers have demonstrated...
The shape of the Stockmar Block Crayons is fantastic for small hands to hold and begin drawing and experimenting with colour. Our children held them and enjoyed making their first marks on paper at only nine months! If you want a great to use, artist quality beeswax crayon that will last forever, these fit that bill. Something our research has turned up is that, while Stockmar crayons do contain pure beeswax, they also contain a minimum of 10% paraffin (we've heard it may be even higher than this), among other chemicals which are used to help the colours stay fast and the crayons non-sticky and solid for years. Their pigments are often reported as "food safe" and "natural" when in actual fact they are pigments safe for use in food packaging, not food itself and some pigments are organic, while others are inorganic.

Paraffin in crayons, whilst being non-toxic and safe for human use, is made from petroleum, which in itself is toxic and not something I'm super comfortable with my toddlers ingesting and is one reason we've avoided buying commercial brands of parrafin crayons.

But its only a little alarming, when I consider many of the other things our toddlers have ingested... Overall, we love these crayons. Stockmar is an ethical company as far as we can tell and while not all product information is displayed transparently, basic information is generally accessible. They are made in Germany and shipped to a distributor in Australia who ships them to our supplier in Melbourne, who ships them to us... there's a fair bit of handling involved.


Homemade Crayons

After assessing all this information about Stockmar Crayons, we needed to understand the crayon making process. We procured a block of local beeswax and made our own and learnt that we are not so great at making attractive crayons ourselves! They were patchy and a bit lumpy and we'd need LOTS of experimenting to refine them, but they worked, so that's the main thing! But, we did understand more about the process, the chemicals and how they work to get the colour onto the paper.

Busy Bee Beeswax Crayons

Next we found the most natural crayon we could. Busy Bee Beeswax Crayons are made with Beeswax, natural pigments and clays. That's it. They are sticky to touch, so the wrapper is handy. We're thinking they may break a little more easily than Stockmar crayons, although this hasn't happened yet. Their colours are very natural looking. So natural that they lend themselves very well to drawing nature and in particular, the Australian landscape. The colours remind us of Tasmania.

These crayons are not what I would describe as artist quality. They are more transparent and they don't have the same glide as Stockmar crayons which we understand from our crayon-making experiments... But they are still beautiful to use and in the hands of an artist, any tool can create a thing of beauty.  They smell like honey! And they come direct from the hive, being made in the US by a family company with natural parenting values akin to our own.

Brilliant Bee Crayons

These crayons are triangular, which is a great ergonomic design for owlets who are learning to write. They also come in a selection of 24 colours - the latest we stock. This is handy for owlets who want access to more realistic colours for whatever they are drawing, and more choice in general. They contain beeswax, and are non-toxic, although we're sure they contain some paraffin and non-organic pigments if that is something that bothers you. Their packaging, although reusable, contains plastic, which is something we avoid if possible. In this case, it ors help to secure and hold the crayon selection well and is sturdy enough to last, so we're happy to accept it. These are a bright, vivid crayon and very easy to hold and use. Perfect if you need access to a big range of colours.

Crayon Rocks


Looking at our crayon range so far and Spiral Garden's historically most popular products, we decided to reintroduce a vegan option. And we are thrilled with Crayon Rocks. They are bright, great quality, fun to use... They look like jelly beans! They come in a gorgeous red velvet or muslin pouch which adds a little magic and is super transportable - perfect when we go outside to draw and can throw them in a bag or basket. Crayon Rocks are made from soy wax, and a mix of other waxes including carnauba wax, mineral pigments and limestone. They are kosher too.

Crayon Rocks are made ethically, by a small company in the US. They work fantastically for little growing hands and have been recommended by occupational therapists for helping to develop children's tripod grip, ready for pencils and pens as their skills develop. They are best used with supervision and are not recommended for children under 3yrs because they are a choking hazard, although our toddler has been ok with them as she's moved past popping things in her mouth. We just love that they are so special and fun, and offer something different for our art supply cupboard.

Filana Organic Beeswax Crayons


Late last year, we believe we found the crayon we've been looking for all these years. Realising how beautiful Stockmar Crayons are to use, but wanting a more natural alternative, a family in the US set about making some organic beeswax crayons. Filana Organic Beeswax Crayons are beeswax and soy based. Filana's makers based them on Goethe's colour wheel and created colours used in many Waldorf Steiner schools for crayon drawing. Like Stockmar, these come in a block or stick form. They are robust and the colours are vivid. But what's amazing about these crayons is that they've taken the best bits about all our favourite crayons and created something we find even better! We were actually pretty surprised the first time we used them. The colour and pigment of Stockmar's crayons combines with the smooth, glide-ability of Crayon Rocks. And they're organic and made by hand by a family company! They also ship directly to us, keeping handling down and costs low. And their packaging is compostable - a super important factor for us. We really can't find flaw with them and of all the crayons in our crayon bowl, these are the ones that get the most use nowadays. An instant classic and a lot of fun to work with. You can see them in action in a video review of them, by Sarah Baldwin, over here. 


We leave crayons in a space where the Owlets can easily reach them. Near sketch books or paper,  they use them readily as they play and make art learn about colour. They pick and choose the right crayon for the job, as do we - crayons are fun to work with! Whether used on their sides, or as finer points for linework, we all enjoy using them to put colour on a page, quickly and expressively. 

How do you use crayons in your nest? 
Do you have a favourite? 
You can find our complete range of crayons and drawing materials here. 

This week, you could win TWO sets of our Filana crayons - one block and one stick 12pk. Just sign up to our Spiral Garden newsletter to be in the running! Go here to sign up! 

~ Owletmama. xx

19 May 2015

Wild Tiny



We had a rough day with Tiny Owlet yesterday. She can be so strong and uncompromising at times and yesterday she pushed all of us to our limits. She can be physically demanding, intimidating, and her four year old self struggles with respecting boundaries, or prefers not to. Tiny Owlet is fierce and wild. She tells us tigers are her spirit animal and we believe her. Her exuberance, humour and joy are balanced in equal parts by sudden anger and aggression, testing us more than any owlet has before. Combined with dynamics with other owlets, there is often fighting and frustration. It's tough being smallest. There have been parenting moments we're not proud of and others where we've been thankful we could smooth things over. Those evenings where we're relieved everyone is tucked in bed asleep and there is finally peace.

There's another side to Tiny. It reveals itself a little less right now she is very clearly four, but we're looking forward to seeing it more as she grows. It's the soft, gentle side she shows beetles and small animals - almost anything smaller than her. There's a tenderness when she realises her strength is unchallenged. We're hoping that as she grows in size, her tender side will shine through a little more clearly. That beautiful gentleness that we see as she's drifting off to sleep. As the tiger becomes a small kitten again.

In the middle of the night last night, Little Owlet woke Big Owlet, and then me, every ten minutes for a number of hours, swapping between the two of us. Company as she visited the toilet, a nightmare, wondering what time it was, how many hours until morning… these are the things that race through Little Owlet's mind in the middle of the night. Tiny had climbed down from the top bunk earlier in the night, to nab the spot in the bed next to me, so Little Owlet felt alone and frightened. Big Owlet, who likes her space right now, had run out of patience. There was exhaustion, exasperation and confusion in those wee hours of the morning and no-one quite knew what to do. 

Eventually, Tiny got up to see what all the fuss was about. She saw a sister feeling fragile and small and saw in that moment her own strength and assuredness. Tiny took my hand and looked up at me with the same, gentle, understanding eyes in the photograph above, and said "I can do this, Mama. You sleep." So I did. Tiny climbed into bed with Little Owlet and soothed her back to sleep, waiting until she was peaceful again. Then she slipped out and snuggled silently into her usual spot, beside me. When we woke two hours later, we were glad for the rest and so glad that Tiny had saved the day (or night, rather). We were grateful she felt she could step up and help and that the balance in those wee hours, where everyone is their true, honest selves, shifted to allow her that space. We saw the Tiny we look forward to spending more time with in years to come. The Tiny we've always known was there.  Fiercely loving Tiny. 

Are there many sides to your owlets? 
Are you nurturing a fierce owlet right now?
What's your spirit animal? 

~ Lauren. xx 


15 May 2015

Apple Jelly



In amongst all our rambling, wandering adventures of late, we've kept an eye out for roadside treasures. Tasmania is full of gorgeous little farm gate stalls, but for the adventurous, there are also plentiful finds, growing wild along the roadside. A drive through the Huon Valley turns up baskets full of apples, haws, edible weeds and the occasional late berry, if you're lucky to find a spray-free patch. All that food, ready for the eating if we keep our eyes open, slow down and stop the car from time to time. 

A lazy walk home from co-op one day left me with a bowl full of rosehips. The following day we took a huge drive down to the far south and pulled over from some apples from an ancient wild tree. The owlets offered to taste test the huge apples and, upon finding them rather tart, we decided to make some jelly. We're loving the delicate flavour of this batch and I think next year I'll aim for more rosehips to really boost that flavour. Jam and jelly aficionado, Little Owlet, tells me her favourite is the Quince and Orange Jelly we made last weekend, but she'll happily eat either with a spoon - and does! 

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Apple and Rosehip Jelly

1kg apples, or thereabouts
2 cups of rosehips 
Sugar - we used organic raw sugar, but rapadura, juice or honey or a mix of sweeteners would be fine. 
Water

Chop the apples up roughly , core, stems and all. Pop them in a large pot with the rosehips and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then simmer until the fruit is soft. Place a colander over bowl and place some muslin or old stocking over the colander. Strain the fruit - leave it overnight if necessary. Try not to squeeze the fruit as the jelly will be clearer if it drains naturally. 

Measure the amount of juice and add half the amount of sugar along with it to a pot. For example, for 4 cups of juice, add 2 cups of sugar. Most recipes will suggest you need to have an equal amount of sugar, but we find it just too sweet - this will also depend on what sweetener you choose. There is enough pectin in the fruit to set the jelly anyway. Simmer the juice and sugar until it becomes jelly. Scoop off any foam that forms on the surface. Place some clean jars in a pot of water on the stove and boil for a little while. 

Place a saucer in the freezer. Test the consistency of the jelly every now and then by dropping some onto the saucer. When the liquid thickens and holds it's shape a little when you run a finger through it, it is ready. Have your jars ready and ladle or pour the jelly into the jars and pop the lids on to seal. 


We enjoy eating our jelly on toast, in cakes and tarts, with cheese, or (if you're like Little Owlet), with a spoon. It tastes and looks so jewel-like and decadent, but it only cost us about 50c per jar, just for the sugar! It pays to keep those eyes open and go slow...

What's your favourite way to use fruit at this time of year?
Off on any foraging adventures of late? 
Have a gorgeous weekend! 

~ Lauren. xx