27 August 2016

Less is more :: Downsizing for light, space and room for dancing


Spring is coming, so we've been welcoming the light and giving ourselves a little extra space. A smoky, dark winter left us feeling crowded in and thinking that we'd like to move to a bigger house again. But the thought of a much larger space, and all that entails, doesn't seem quite right for us. We're happy with a modest home and our garden is more than enough for us to tend. Our needs are simple. But still, there was this issue of space.

Much of our furniture was inherited when my parents downsized their home and generously passed half of their furniture on to us. I've grown up with it. We've always lived with it, and it's served us well, but it's never quite fit in all the houses we've lived in. We all have loads of interests and hobbies, so we need room for those. Also, we're running a shop and a school here. Our nest is well lived in! Every six months, we'll experiment with moving the furniture all around, trying to find the perfect spots as everyone grows and changes. Our spaces need to be flexible. Six months ago, it cycled around until everything was in the spot it started at! The owlets are growing so much bigger and our need for space was becoming very real, until a week ago.

My Mama Nurture Project has led me to fixing and unravelling my body and, through thinking about movement, and with a nudge from my osteopath, I found my way to the work of Katy Bowman. I'd been aware of her work before and thought her furniture free lifestyle to be intriguing. We needed flexibility in more ways than one. So naturally I suggested we try it. Accidental minimalism. A little more living like things don't exist, which is our favourite thing to do when we're questioning and challenging ourselves. The answer is usually less. Live with less. Expect less and find more. So we did.



Last weekend, we moved our rather large couches out of our lounge room. They're as old as Big Owlet and a little worse for wear, although still reasonably comfy. But they define the space and take up so much of it that they block out the light and restrict our movement. Similarly, the enormous dining table my Grandfather built, for my childhood home, took up a whole room and ensured that we'd use it to sit at most days while we worked, ate and learned together. But we couldn't use the space for anything else. It's a beautiful thing to gather around a table together. But tables can come in many shapes and sizes and, without an enormous dining room or farmhouse kitchen to fit it, the table wasn't working. Instead, it's much better placed as a studio worktable for me and Huz and our various projects that have never seemed to have a home.



So now we have these connected, multipurpose, open spaces. We have floorspace galore for yoga, music making, dancing, play and lounging around. We have a pile of comfy cushions to sprawl all around, a low table to move around and gather, eat and work at, and seating and spaces at all different heights so we can all change positions freely. We move our bodies more already as we squat and bend and stretch, and my back is much happier for it. Most of all, we have rooms filled with sunshine, warmth, light and dancing. Less is most definitely more.

~ Lauren. xx

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16 August 2016

Tackling waste in a refugee crisis



With all the talk of asylum seekers and refugees in the news recently, we got to talking about waste (a common topic around our house!) and how that relates to refugees. I asked Big Owlet "How do you think refugees manage their waste?" She said "It depends where they are staying - most often I don't know if they'd have enough money to even produce waste. I'd want to give them food from the bulk food place, instead of lots of plastic wrapped food." I followed with "What would they do with any waste they produce?" and she replied "They'd need portable water bottles (but they're expensive, right?), hmm maybe make something that could hold water, without being disposable, but the water might be polluted so they couldn't refill it... hmm, maybe they could use special bottles that filter water? I'd go to a refugee place and hand out special bottles for filtering water and bulk food." This left us with lots of questions about the waste that might be associated with refugees and so we sought to learn more.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, by the end of 2014 there were approximately 60 million people worldwide who had been forcibly displaced from their homeland (the highest level since WWII). The waste generated by this displacement is phenomenal. For example, it is estimated that 340 tonnes of waste is generated daily by Syrian refugees fleeing into Jordan (read more here). These are people who need to eat, be clothed, go to the loo, be housed, and be supported to rebuild their lives in a strange new land. There are many ways that aid money can be used to assist refugees with meeting their basic needs, and some are inevitably going to be more wasteful and environmentally harmful than others. Also, asylum seekers in transit may have few options available to them for discarding or managing any waste they accumulate, such as plastic water bottles, nappies, food packaging and broken or heavy items (e.g. see here).  

As at June 30th, 2016, there were 3,496 people living in detention under Australian authority. These folks are spread between Manus Island, Nauru, Christmas Island, and a few detention centres within mainland Australia. All these locations are effectively ‘food deserts’ – where provisions need to be shipped or flown in from far away. We know very little of the waste generated or managed in Australian detention centres (that information is generally not publicised), however concerns have been raised about groundwater contamination through effluent disposal and waste management on the detention centre on Nauru (as reported here). Poor waste management within refugee camps can create terrible hygiene issues, leading to spread of sickness and disease.

Elsewhere, disposal of waste accumulated within refugee camps can vary. At its worst it is left where it was discarded, burned (polluting the atmosphere and local inhabitants), or trucked away to be dumped illegally in local rivers. The World Health Organisation offers a guide to managing solid waste in emergencies (e.g. in refugee camps) which includes disposal into family 'waste pits' (i.e. a hole in the ground with a lasagne like bed of waste and soil/ash) (see the guide here), however, there do not appear to be any solutions offered for high density refugee camps, such as the Shatila Refugee Camp in Beirut, Lebanon (carrying more than 20,000 people). Aid agencies do what they can to help meet the basic needs of asylum seekers in temporary camps, but a consequence of that can be huge amounts of waste from the disposable items (plastic bottles, plastic packaging etc.) provided.

Having the capacity to sort, recycle and appropriately dispose of waste within camps will help to alleviate some of the health risks. In some instances, recyclable items can be sold to industry and funds raised can be directed back to support local communities. Where incineration is the norm (e.g. Greece, Jordan, Kenya) switching to energy-generating combuster incinerators may be a small step forward (as described here), although it is unclear how such technology incinerates plastics without releasing chemical pollutants. There are also numerous options for low cost, environmentally-friendly toilet systems that could be applied, depending on local resources (e.g. see this discussion).

On the Australian-run detention centre on Christmas Island, there are no recycling options available (i.e. all collected waste is sent to land fill - see here). Such a lack of services is similarly apparent in many remote Aboriginal communities, where greater support is also needed to minimise and better manage waste (learn more here). At the detention centre on Nauru, there are reports of poor handling of provisions of food and bottled water to detainees, leading to excessive waste production. To avoid these sorts of waste (and human health) problems, I think it would be more beneficial to support greater integration of asylum seekers into local communities, where fresh food can be accessed (or even grown, such as in community gardens), where they can be supported to be more self-reliant, with access to more permanent services (e.g. running water from taps rather than bottled water). In Melbourne, organisations such as the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre help to assist with such resources (see their Foodbank info here).

There are aspects to waste management in refugee camps/detention centres, that I would like to see discussed much more - I'd love to know of the feasibility of composting of organic waste, using compostable natural fibres over synthetics (e.g. in tents, clothing and other gear provided by aid organisations), alternative modes of water provision besides single-use plastic bottles, and extended responsibility by aid organisations and contractors for the waste-generating products they provide to refugees. This is particularly relevant in areas where people are provided with food and resources in 'temporary' camps, but where there is a high likelihood that refugees will stay in those camps for long periods (years to decades). It should not be up to refugees to solve these problems, and we as a species have the know-how to minimise the waste that refugees generate and discard, for their own health and for the environment.

Wherever systems are broken, there will inevitably be waste. As individuals, we may not feel that we can do much to fix a broken system (e.g. war, rampant consumerism, and human-accelerated climate change, are all consequences of broken systems). Indeed, we can only do the best that we can do, given our own station in life. In my position as a privileged, white, male in Australia, I feel a responsibility to do what I can to enact positive change. We can also try to understand broken systems and look for solutions and options for repair. A lot of the repair will need to be grounded in a position of peace, and empathy for others. We have all kinds of tools at our disposal to communicate our feelings about the world’s injustices; it’s social and environmental problems, and offer our solutions to governments and to other decision makers. So let's do that!

I talked with Big Owlet about some of these learnings and asked her what she’d like to do with respect to asylum seekers and their struggles. She said she’d like to start by making or donating food and clothing (e.g. woollen knits or sewn clothes from second hand fabrics) for refugees in Tasmania. We are also going to (re)watch the SBS series Go Back to Where You Came From to learn more about the stories of asylum seekers. 

Here are some other things you can do to help:

  • Learn more about the plight of those people seeking asylum, their needs, and the challenges they face so that you can speak up about those issues. We are presently doing this with the owlets, and working out what other helpful actions we can take.
  • Start a group similar to Bellies Beyond Borders (based in Europe), which is a creative foodwaste kitchen-on-wheels to welcome refugees (see here). 
  • Join a refugee support or action group, to help communicate messages of support for refugees, and identify way to assist people in need.
  • Donate to an aid organisation that has a good reputation for directing helpful resources to the people that need it most. It's worth reading up on an organisation before sending wads of money to it.
  • Devise novel ways to reduce waste and communicate those solutions to the aid organisations you support.
  • Other helpful options are suggested here.

~ Oberon.

15 August 2016

Living like things don't exist



We've developed a bit of a habit in our family, of living like certain things don't exist. It began with choosing to have our second baby at home. Later, we decided to home educate our owlets and, through our school-free adventures, we gradually forgot school was such a big part life for so many. Living without it quickly became so normal for us, we were surprised every time the school holidays happened and there were children everywhere again!

We applied the same thinking when we decided to try living waste-free. Initially for a short time, we removed the option of single-use products in our world. And so they ceased to exist for us. Plastic bags, bottled drinks, straws and disposable cups just disappeared from our line of vision, unless we had to refuse them. Suddenly, supermarkets weren't part of our weekly shopping trip and our view of what was necessary in our daily lives changed. 

After a short while, the plastic and waste around us everywhere became overwhelming. We were horrified at the amounts of plastic we saw in the street, at the shops, out and about. It's everywhere! We couldn't help but see it, and we wondered if the game of pretending that we played, of living like things don't exist, was a game everyone else played too, but in reverse. Instead of seeing waste, they saw products they couldn't do without. People could see the value in products that were useful to them in the short-term, but not their legacy. We had once been blind to the amount of waste we generated. Our bin was once full every week and it wasn't a problem for us. The rubbish truck would take it away and it wouldn't exist in our world anymore. Only it did, and it does. It will for many generations to come.

For us, it was surprising just how quickly we adapted to a world where single-use plastics and products don't exist. We started to always remember our water bottles, remember shopping bags, coffee cups and straws if we thought we'd need them. Even the owlets were totally on board with it... And so zero waste life became very achievable. There are still a couple of things we'd like to remove from our realm of options - they're a work in progress. Some are used based on their ability to compost in our garden, or fill our bellies in a way that works for us right now. For now, we are comfortable with them, but I'm interested to see how we go down the track.


Feel like playing along with us? We have a Facebook group called Zero Waste Tasmania where we run these weekly challenges for people to pretend single-use things don't exist for a week each. 

It can be fun to test the boundaries of what you're comfortable sometimes and seeing things from a different perspective, don't you think? 

~ Lauren. xx




20 July 2016

The Mama Nurture Project



Over these past (almost) 13 years of mothering, I've discovered something about myself. This will come as no surprise to anyone around me, or possibly anyone who has read this blog for a while… I completely SUCK at self care.  I leave medical and dental appointments for some time in the future when I'm less consumed with everyone else's needs. I've been known to give away the food on my plate, even if I've not eaten. And everyone else always gets the biggest and best piece of cake before me. I leave creative projects (the ones that make my heart sing) for another day. Making time for friendship is too hard most of the time. And I plan and worry and work around the clock for the ones I love best. 

I'm not sure why I put everyone else's wellbeing and happiness first. It's not for lack of great examples in my life, or moral support from people around me. I'm genuinely that busy that many things can fall by the wayside. It's as if I'm attempting to live at least four lives simultaneously. There's the home educating mum, the business owner, the homesteader, and the creative life I've always imagined for myself. Things just fit in when they do... or they don't. But in all this busy and being and doing, I've often forgotten to look after myself. 

There's an overwhelming feeling that I've forgotten to put the air mask on myself first. 

I'm fairly sure I'm not alone in this. I've spoken to friends who've definitely indicated they act similarly (you know who you are). In our patriarchal society, we are trained to. Biologically, I completely understand why mothers might do this. But oh… that instinct really doesn't take into account all the other things that living in modern, western society requires. Or the lack of a village to provide opportunities to recuperate and feel supported. Especially while our children are very young.

Lately, for me, things have shifted. Lovely Huz gave me a massage voucher for Christmas -  a giant nudge to just go and fill my cup already. When I finally got around to going, it was pretty much life-changing. So nurturing and beautiful, the therapist sighed as she felt the exhaustion ooze from my forgotten body. At one point, she knelt down beside me and whispered "It's your turn now", and a tear rolled down my cheek. Yes, it's most definitely my turn. 

Slowly, I've been making appointments and formulating a plan to get a little maintenance and nurturing done. A month ago, I hurt my back quite badly. For a few days there, I was crawling around the house and could barely move. I hit rock bottom. I couldn't walk or dress myself. I'd begun seeing an osteopath and we both realised there's a fair bit of unravelling for me to do and it's not always going to be straight ahead. This is going to be a process. Already, it's involved addressing my limitations, setting some boundaries and finding more support in the unlikeliest of places. I'm excited for the process and hoping to share a little of it here as a way to keep myself accountable. I'm hoping the owlets will witness it and learn too. 

Most of all, I hope to find a way to fill my cup so I can have enough left over to support those around me who need it too. Including this beautiful part of the world we live in and our mama earth. The most giving, nurturing and often-forgotten mama of all… 

Could you do with some self-nurture in your days?

Do you need a little nudge? Care to join me?

Keep us posted if you do.

Wishing you love and big, nurturing hugs as you go about your day.

~Lauren. xx 

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