28 May 2016

Waste-free living and the anxious kid

Once upon a time, when I was very small, I had trouble sleeping at night. I worried about all sorts of irrational things, like falling THROUGH the bed. Not off, but through it - like a sieve. Then, as I got a little older, around about Little Owlet's age, I became more aware of the world around me and just how very small I was in it. I worried about everyone in my family dying and I worried about my pets… Things you'd expect a 10yo kid to be worried about. Then, one hot January night, I started worrying about the electric fan in my room as it gently whirred in the corner.

I'd cringe every time the cool breeze blew over me. Although it brought relief from the heat, there was a growing awareness of my responsibility in having this one fan blow cool air on me all night. In the next room, my sister slept while a similar fan whirred in the corner. And then I started to think about all the other kids in their bedrooms with fans blowing on them. I heard a neighbour's air conditioner humming and I thought of all the other air conditioners humming in my town. In my part of the world, which was experiencing a heat wave. I thought about the supermarkets with their refrigerators working overtime to keep the ice cream cool. Then I remembered that on the other side of the world it was the depths of winter. My friend had recently sent me a postcard from the snow. There would be heaters working overtime there.

As I lay there, the sound of the fan got louder and louder, ringing in my ears until I almost couldn't breathe. With my heart racing, I crept through the silent, dark house to see if anyone else was similarly alarmed, but Dad's loud snoring indicated this wasn't keeping him up. So I crept back to my bed. Tossed and turned for a bit,  then I snuck out from under the sheet, switched the fan off and crept back to bed. Relief. Able to rest for the fact that at least I wasn't part of the problem quite so much this time. But what still bothered me was that overwhelming feeling of being so small. Not that my family wouldn't listen or care, they would, of course. But I'm not sure they even knew. I couldn't really put into words the overwhelming sense of urgency and helplessness. That my silent act had very little impact. And that our world was slowly dying.

Fast forward 30 years and, if I let my mind wander on those long nights, I can find myself in a similar state. Things are worse now. More people, more air conditioners, more plastic, more pollution. Our government is doing very little about it. I have three owlets of my own now, who are aware of the problems. One is similar to me and is kept up at night thinking about all sorts of things when all is silent, often teary about her family dying and our planet. Our beautiful, doomed earth. I whisper to her that we are all connected, all of us stardust, and the positive energy that flows between us will help. She worries that it's not enough.

Now, when we lie awake at night, we use that time to make plans. Not to think about what we can't do, but what we can. Late night listening and thinking lead us to a family commitment to opt out of waste as much as we can. It lead to reducing our energy consumption and doing the very best we can to reduce our combined footprint. It has lead the owlets to all sorts of discussions with people we meet, about waste and "no straw, please", and "I'll take the cup home to re-use it, thanks", when they're handed plastic out and about. It's lead to our owlets becoming activists. It's lead to an understanding we all share, about consumption, and when enough is enough. About the impact each of us can make by taking responsibility for our part in it all. And it has lead to all of us sleeping just a little bit better at night. Even me.

Knowing at least three owlets from the next generation understand and care enough to take responsibility and to tell others... If that small, anxious kid with the fan had known. If she'd known she wasn't alone. That more were coming who would understand and want to change things... Maybe she'd have slept a little better too. Change is slow, but it's happening. I'm hoping more people step up to be part of it. That more children become aware of the problems and their urgency and what they can actively do about them. And that more of us hear them. Give them that space to know they can make a difference and speak up and do something. That they are doing something. Then rest, knowing that, just maybe, it's going to be okay.

Were you an anxious kid? 
Or maybe you have one? 
Was the environment ever something you worried about? 
What helped you sleep at night?

Our Zero Waste Families e-course starts this week. For all the overwhelmed kids out there wanting to participate in something they can actively do to make a difference. We're here with you. It's going to be okay. xx

~ Lauren.

12 May 2016

Zero Waste is impossible. But it's worth striving for, anyway.

We've been living waste free for over eight months now and although it's brought challenges, we're really happy with it as our way of life. The natural changes that have come to our life by focussing on this one permaculture principle, "Produce No Waste", are astounding. Aiming for zero waste is a shift towards a simpler, more minimal life. It's a shift towards working with the seasons and deepening our understanding of food and how it grows.  It's a shift towards building connections with the community, through engaging in conversations and being resourceful through bartering, sharing and swapping. It's a shift towards actually making a difference to the planet we inhabit and creating a new normal for our children. 

The term "zero" is, of course, a misnomer. Through the manufacture and production of most things in our waste-free home, there is inevitably waste. We visit the bulk food shop where products have been transported in large plastic bags which go on to be repurposed or recycled. There's less packaging and only purchasing exactly what we need. But there's still waste. When household items break beyond repair and have outlived their usefulness, if they're not compostable they are recycled, or worse. There's still waste. There's inevitably some degree of waste in the connection between us and our food and the things we need. But does that mean we shouldn't strive for zero? 

With zero as the goal, there's a quantifiable amount of waste we can keep in mind when shopping or disposing of things. Zero can be quite unforgiving, but it makes sure the most important of R's, Refuse and Reduce, are at the forefront. It avoids complacency. It makes us think about each and every item we bring into our home and question how essential or truly wanted it is. Is it worth the waste? 

Zero-waste living is a mindfulness practice. One of Huz's favourite analogies is that buddhists practice meditation even though they may never reach enlightenment. Another is that we might never be Beyonce, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't sing or dance. There's value in the process. Zero keeps us honest and accountable and even though we probably can't meet that absolute target of zero, it's a wonderful optimistic goal to strive for. And what the world surely needs now is some optimism. 

What are you feeling optimistic about right now? 

Have you ever aimed for something you knew you'd never absolutely reach, but went for it anyway?

Have you seen our latest e-course offering? Zero Waste Families begins on June 1st and we're taking enrolments now. It's filling fast! 

~ Lauren. xx

26 February 2016

A new rhythm: Finding the beat x 3

Over the years, I've talked about rhythm so much, I know. Even in unschooling days, I think there's rhythm. We wake with the sun, eat when we feel hungry, sleep when we're tired… mostly. There are also rhythms to the seasons and by looking back at posts I've made over the years, I can see very clearly how rhythms affect our family and our days.

This year saw us implement a totally different approach to our home education. We're trying something a bit new. A side-step from our unschooling life to something a little bit different. Although, depending on your definition of the term, and are if labels are important to you, unschooling would possibly still define our days in some way. If we're going by school years, we have owlets in Grade 7, Grade 4 and Prep. All school age! One high school age! And, despite knocks and blows of the recent six months,  adamantly and passionately still choosing to be at home. So now to find a way to meet everyone's needs…

At Big Owlet's request, we've experimented and researched a curriculum for her. She adores a steady rhythm and to feel like she's accomplishing things, which is pretty important to her and where she's at. She's ready to knuckle down and work, and also find out where she measures up against her peers, which I hear is a 12yo thing. It's like a little light switched on one day and the desire was there. She wants to be kept busy and loves some external input for prompts to explore. So we're going with that and a curriculum we have. Back to our Waldorf/Steiner-inspired days, which has always been a fallback for her, we're using the Oak Meadow curriculum as a guide, which is written in such a way that she can take responsibility for her work. It's equal parts scary and wonderful. It's challenging and weird and super fun and should give her the mix of structure and freedom she works with best.

Little Owlet? Well… she just wants to work with her hands. But she wants a little bit of the structure that her older sister has. So we started out experimenting with various curriculums for her too, but none seemed a perfect fit for right now. So we're carving a seasonal year for her, using Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" series as a starting point. She adores the first book of the series and she's keen to read more and take practical cues as we read on. She loves preserving and baking and all things old-fashioned, so it's a perfect fit. At her request, we'll be sure to compare and contrast to Australian history as we read, and fit a little form drawing and research about animals and the Dreamtime too.

As for Tiny? I'd say she's our radical unschooler. Totally moving to the beat of her own drum in every way, her own body clock determines what she does and when and she's super decisive in everything she does. She's learning in her own time and she's totally got this. She climbs up to the table to join in, or she wanders off on her own to play. Connection is all she needs right now. And patience. And to feel useful. So we keep her busy, get outside, cook, move, read and play and she's happy in her days. She writes letters, draws pictures, loves "Mafsh" (maths), and will only do anything if it was her idea first. Classic Tiny.

Things are settling a little now and I'm excited to see where we end up. Where this new rhythm and these new choices lead us. Perhaps just continuing on and finding the best fit for each of our owlets as we go. There's drama, cello, choir, girl guides and gymnastics in each week's mix too, so busy they are. And so grateful we are for our little shop, which miraculously (although not without effort) provides opportunity for owlets and helps meet their needs, with just the right amount of freedom. Now to add an extra 24hrs per day and all the rest will fit in too! But that's another post entirely….

How's your year going so far?
Is it as you expected?
How do you go about meeting everyone's needs?
Are there enough hours in your day? 

~ Lauren. xx

31 December 2015

2015 Gratitude

How do you farewell a year that has challenged you more than most? I've noticed this year has been a tough one, teaching many life lessons, for those around me and further afield. And while I'm not sure whether it's because of the stars or the number of people on our tiny planet, I'd say some learning, although challenging, can be good. I won't miss 2015. But I'm sort of glad for what it has taught.

Tonight I'll be standing around the campfire in my garden with those dearest to me and raising a glass of rhubarb champagne to toast the old year and welcome new energy for the new. Oh how we need it! Things to be grateful for in 2015:

1. A comfy nest, cranking garden and health permaculture system that keeps growing before our eyes.
2. The experience of living a zero waste life and the lessons that has brought us all. Awakening the activists in our owlets and a simpler lifestyle we feel happier with.
3. The experience of sharing our Seedlings e-course with loads of families and watching them get it, love it and inspire others around them  - including us!
4. The challenge of being doubted, losing friends and letting go of a community we loved. Oh it's been a ride! We're grateful that we were tested to step outside our bubble, seek other solutions and try new things. Our community has widened and our owlets feel more supported to chase their passions.
5. Music. Being pushed to find a creative way for the owlets to learn and enjoy making music. The confidence and enjoyment it has brought them and a shared passion for all of us.
6. Friendships that have been strengthened through time shared, heartfelt chats, tears and hugs.
7. Our little business that keeps ticking away and growing in a direction we're passionate about. That fits into our lives somehow, rather miraculously, and puts a little bit of food on our table.
8. Our little family. The honesty, love and enjoyable time we've shared this year. Healthy, happy and resilient owlets and the love and life we all share together.
9. My best pal. The love and support he's shown me this year and the fun we have making and working on things together.

In 2016… well my energy has been travelling outward for a while in a massive exhale, and I hit extreme burnout this year. I'm looking forward to a year of observing, catching my breath and inhaling all that is good and creative in the world. It's going to be soooo good.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful new year with all things good in your future.

How's your year been? 
Do you have much to be grateful for?
Any plans for your new year?

Love and hugs,

~ Lauren. xx

24 November 2015

Our Permaculture Advent Calendar

One of our favourite family traditions is our activity advent calendar. For us, December is a time to celebrate, reflect and find moments in amongst the busy to be together and have fun. It's also a time to think about people around us and prepare our garden and home for long summer days. This year, we're shifting our focus to the permaculture ethics; earth care, people care and fair share - they're a perfect fit for the season. We thought we'd post our list here, just incase you feel like joining in too, or borrowing some inspiration. It's going to be a super fun few weeks!

Earth Care

1. Plant some seeds or plant a tree - A little gratitude for the earth and it's bounty.
2. Have a picnic dinner under a tree - Yay! Nature!
3. Compost! - move the compost heap, start a new one and nourish the soil around our plants for the new year.
4. Go rock pooling - A little animal observation and finding out what lives in our river.
5. Stargazing in the backyard - reminding us to pause and observe this wonderful universe we're part 
6. Plant a herb and weed foraging garden for the chooks, full of all the things they'll love.
7. Make some wildlife habitat - an insect hotel, frog pond or butterfly garden
8. Make a wreath using plants or recycled materials. - in the past we've used fabric scraps, coloured recycled paper or newspaper.

People Care 

9. Paint everyone's toenails - our favourite way to say "Yay! Summer!"
10. Send a Christmas card - send some love to your favourite people, far away.
11. Collect a Christmas tree - we usually forage a weedy roadside pine tree that we can mulch for the garden later.
12. Have a dance party in the lounge room - some crazy fun and lots of giggles. People care!
13. Go fruit picking - foraging or visit a fruit farm. 
4. Do some morning yoga - a sun salutation to start the day
15.  Make a gift for someone you love - handmade secret squirrel stuff!
16. Make some jam - preferably using our foraged fruit. These will make great gifts. Here's one we made earlier.

Fair Share

17. Donate a gift to the ABC Giving Tree - fair share for children less fortunate than our owlets.
18. Donate some food, money or time to a local animal shelter. - fair share for animals.
19. Give some handmade gifts to the neighbours - a chance to share our surplus, say thanks, hello and Merry Christmas!
20. Make a cake or a gingerbread house together - take turns and create something yum!
21. Celebrate Summer Solstice - a little gift and maybe a beach picnic?
22. Decorate the Christmas tree - with all our handmade ornaments.
23. Go looking at Christmas lights - community spirit and sparkly statements of christmas cheer. Good times!
24. Enjoy a Christmas movie together - a chance to relax, spend time together and share some laughs. And gingerbread!

Let us know if you join in too. We'd love to see what you get up to!

~ Lauren & Oberon. xx

30 October 2015

How to shape & care for a bolga basket

Possibly our most favourite things for going out and about are our bolga baskets. My mama basket travels everywhere with me. Part handbag, knitting basket, picnic basket, shopping basket, it's always on my arm when we leave the house. The owlets like theirs for carrying lunches, toys or art materials, or for collecting eggs or beach treasures. At home, they make pretty useful toy storage - we love that.

Bolga baskets are one of our favourite products in Spiral Garden too. Fair trade, handmade and compostable, they tick so many boxes for us. They're woven by hand from the elephant grass that grows in the flood plains of the White Volta, near Bolgatanga, in Northern Ghana. When they arrive though, they're a bit squashed from their journey. A bit flat and wonky, and this is how our customers receive them too… But one of our other favourite things about these gorgeous, round baskets, is that the new owner gets a chance to participate in moulding them just the way they like. It's quite a gentle, tactile process that we love… Here's how to do it:

Fill the sink (or bath for a big basket) with cold water. Hold your basket underwater for about one minute, leather handle and all.

Remove from water and start moulding it to the shape you like. You might like a rounded bottom, or something flatter. You might like your basket to be squat or elongated. It's totally up to you! A symmetrical basket will keep weight evenly distributed though so aim for that. This is a fun process for kids too.

Once you're happy, sit your basket in the sunshine. If it's a windy day, pop a rock inside so it doesn't blow away! Your basket should be dry and ready to use in about 30 minutes!

If you've had your basket in use for a while, it may start to look a little lived in (not unlike the baskets in the top picture. You can complete the process above to keep your basket in good shape anytime in the future. The leather handle will most likely stay well polished with regular use, but it can be cleaned and kept in good condition with some boot polish or leather conditioner - a good natural version we've heard of is lemon essential oil rubbed on with a soft cloth. Try not to carry super heavy loads in your basket because it can weaken it over time, but look after it and it'll be looking beautiful for years to come!

You can find Mama baskets and Small bolga baskets at Spiral Garden, here.

 ~ Lauren. xx

25 October 2015

Sustainably Challenged :: Waste Free

Last week we posted about the Sustainability Challenge we're taking part in. After a week full of reflection and research, this past (almost) two weeks, we've gone head on towards living a somewhat different life. The biggest challenge we set ourselves was to live waste free and although it has made us think LOTS, it hasn't been as difficult as we expected. And there have been some pretty awesome discoveries along the way.

What zero waste means to us

There are a few definitions out there of what zero waste means. For us, it means bringing nothing into our home that we can't consume, compost or repurpose. It means not contributing to landfill, or to giant floating islands of plastic. It means little to no recycling and refusing biodegradable plastics too.

Recycling can mean a portion of our waste is moved to local depots where it is sorted, often added back to landfill, or moved on and sold to companies who purchase and re-purpose it as a raw product. For plastics, this means a downgrade. So a milk bottle doesn't become a new milk bottle, it becomes something else and eventually ends up in our system as a single-use plastic item. That's a whole lot of plastic for the earth to digest. Biodegradable means the plastic breaks up into tiny particles, still floating around, polluting our water and soils.

So for us, this challenge means not being complacent about where our waste and recycling goes. It means thinking. Lots of thinking. And refusing what we can't put to good use. We want to take responsibility for everything we bring into our home.

But rather than focusing on the zero in the whole equation, the refusal, we're choosing to focus on what we can use, and how. Instead of asking is it landfill, or is it waste, we're asking "Is it compostable?" Earth is losing soil at a rapid rate, so anything we can do to help build it up is hugely valuable. Making choices that help us build up the soil in this little patch of land we're care-taking is important. And we've only scratched the surface.

Living without waste.

There are loads of simple choices everyone knows about, that we're making everyday. We're trying a little harder to remember them. Here's what we're doing:

Always carrying water bottles,
Remembering the shopping bags, stashing extras in our bags, pockets and car, just in case.
Shopping at bulk foods stores and taking our jars along.
Using lightweight cloth bags for produce.
Avoiding produce with stickers
Taking containers along to a butcher/fishmonger to place meat, poultry or fish in.

If we're caught short, paper bags are acceptable for us - we can compost them or use them for heat.
When eating out, taking our own chopsticks along and finding take away food available in paper or compostable packaging and bringing it home to compost.
Making our own toothpaste and cleaning products.
Using compostable, wooden toothbrushes and cleaning brushes.
Using cloth everything. From hankies, to family cloth (although guests have an ethical, recycled flushable toilet paper option!).
Knitting our own kitchen cloths. This one is made from an old t-shirt.
Composting everything we sweep up or vacuum. Compost heaps don't mind dust.
Remembering to compost the dog and cat poo in the special pet waste worm farm, rather than throw it out in a plastic bag into landfill - yuck!

Making our own pet food.
Making our own tea.
Getting our ferments happening again.
Getting our yoghurt and cheese making act together.
Using and making home made seaweed tea for the garden.
Learning more about the plants we grow and expanding our medicinal herb garden.
Re-evaluating the processes in our business.
Gardening more.
Sleeping better.

Things we've found challenging

Produce without stickers is hard to find! This is why growing our own is important.

Dairy is almost always packaged in plastic, foil, or coated cardboard. We're having to compromise by bringing home only what we can repurpose. We're allowing ourselves a maximum of 3L of fresh milk each week and repurposing the packaging to make things we can use in our garden, like seedling containers and plant tags. We have powdered organic milk as back-up too. Our dairy consumption has dropped dramatically, which is a good thing environmentally too as it takes about 1000L of water to make 1L of milk. When our beloved Elgaar dairy is back up and running in a few months, we'll be happily drinking ethically produced milk and using reusable glass instead.

Shop assistants may try to help, but not quite understand what we're doing here. Like the butcher who was happy to sell us a plastic-free chicken - once he'd removed it from the bag. Or the cheese seller who we suspect may have just removed the glad wrap, rather than cutting a fresh slice of parmesan for us. You need to be on the ball when shopping.

In Tasmania, we don't really have a one-stop shop where we can buy everything under one roof. We're travelling to the whole foods shop, the butcher, the farmer's market… We're using the car a little more and being conscious of fitting more into each car trip. We need to look into whether bike or bus travel are viable options for our whole family. At the moment, for a family of five, the car is coming out on top as the best use of energy, money and time.

Shopping in small whole foods shops with multiple children is challenging! We tend to all pile up on each other and cause traffic jams by the quinoa. We're thinking of frequenting a smaller shop with a garden where we can park the owlets for a moment while we shop. We're getting better each time we do it.

Carrying all the jars is pretty heavy and requires preparation. But once you've done it a few times, it gets easier.

Medicines, vitamins, bandaids, hardware, gardening products, postage products… even sustainable products like compostable tableware… are all wrapped in plastic. Even the food that we've bought at the whole foods shop has most likely been wrapped in plastic at some point. Our lives are so tangled up in it. So, we work harder to consume a diet that doesn't require supplementing or medicating. We take our own tableware along. We make our own and we find the very best alternatives we can, when we can. If we can't we're going to ask businesses to think about their practices and re-examine just as we are doing. Plastics and packaging create convenience that keeps a whole lot of industries in business, so  we can keep them accountable by asking them to change their practices, choosing alternatives or creating our own.

What are the benefits?

Traveling and frequenting different shops means we're engaging with our community a bit more. We're having conversations with real people and finding out more about where our food comes from. Which is a definite win.

We're more mindful of what comes into our home. There's no waste to deal with. We're saving time and life's getting simpler. Its feeding into other areas of our lives where we're thinking more minimally.

When we unpack the shopping, it's already in the jars we intend to keep it in for freshness, so we just pop it straight in the cupboard, fridge or on the bench. It saves time! Plus jars are kind of lovely food storage.

Food tends to be healthier. Even though we cooked mostly from scratch before and our diets haven't changed hugely, I'd say the way we value our food has changed and we're definitely focussed on the good stuff.

Shopping is more enjoyable. It's quicker. There are fewer choices and fewer decisions to make. There is no advertising or excess packaging to deal with. Once you've got it sussed, it saves you lots of time and it's generally more pleasant.

We thought shopping this way would be more expensive. We're still trying to tally all the exact sums on that, but so far it's not! We have managed to stick to budget and feed ourselves well. We've found there's actually savings to be made on certain items we've always bought. And we're not paying for packaging which makes up part of the cost of most pre-packaged foods. Awesome.

Our soils are improving! By focussing on what we can compost, we're staying mindful of things that feed and nourish the soils that nourish the plants that nourish us. Which may lead us to the final frontier of waste one day… humanure. Possibly the only way we can really, truly live waste free. Baby steps though, right? ;)

Where to from here? 

Well, before we began this challenge, we put all the items that came in non-refillable containers into lockdown. We were fortunate that it began at the end of a pay cycle, so the fridge and cupboards were absolutely empty, so much of our waste had already left the building. Things like shampoo bottles and tea bag packets remained unfinished. Things we could replace with a more ethical, compostable version. Now we've replaced them, and know it's easy enough to live without them, we'll phase them out completely.

So we'll be filling our rubbish and recycling bins one more time. We may even hire a small skip for some bits and pieces we really can't repurpose, sell or give away. Decisions we made earlier that we wouldn't make again now. And we'll be letting them go, learning and moving on. Now we know our version of zero-waste is totally achievable, and actually not as huge a leap as we first thought, we'll be continuing along this path from now on.

We'll be making changes to Spiral Garden, which remove the need for our customers to worry about this stuff, as much as we can. We'll be thinking about how Christmas and birthdays might look for our family over the next few months. We'll be composting and gardening and thinking about some of the other things we might change too, staying positive that every tiny change we make is a step in the right direction for our planet. It's all a bit of an adventure!

Here are some extra links you may like to look at: 
Zero Waste Home
Trash is for Tossers
The Story of Stuff
Put Down the Plastic

Have you ever given much thought to waste, or a zero-waste lifestyle? If you have any questions, we'd be happy to answer them. Have a gorgeous week, whatever adventures you're on! 

UPDATE! We've learnt so much more in our zero waste adventures since this post was written and we've decided to share lots of that information in a supportive and fun space in our new e-course at zerowastefamilies.com! Join us for four weeks as we help you move towards zero waste living. 

~Lauren. xx