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! 


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. 

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

10 May 2015

Forest Rambling

At least once a week, we like to go rambling. Sometimes it's just Huz and the Owlets while I'm working. Sometimes it's all of us. Sometimes it's hard and difficult, but it's always rewarding and educational and inspiring. Time away from our lives, where there is only earth, trees, sky and all the other amazing sights, sounds, smells and textures that make up a forest. Each of us sees something new. Each of us sees something different and in our own way.


Huz, of course, is most taken by the fungi and their many forms. He wants to photograph them and call them all by name and study their functions and appreciate their many colours and stages of life.

The Owlets enjoy the adventure and hunting for treasure - a new or beautiful fungi to photograph or a bird or animal. They love time spent together and learning new things.

Me, I'm all about texture, colour and pattern. Finding treasures to photograph and take home to use in a quiet moment. And spending time with my gang.


A typical ramble for us involves a hearty breakfast, up early and well rugged. We grab as many snacks as we can find and maybe fill a thermos. If we're lucky, the place we're going will have a fire or barbecue, so we go ready for that, stopping for supplies on the way if we need. We each grab a phone or camera and maybe some tools for viewing things up close or at a distance - magnifiers, telescopes… Then we pile into the car, drive to the end of the street and pick a direction.


Once we're at the forest, we walk slowly, often loudly, and point out what we see along the way. Sometimes this comes in the form of "Dad! I found a fungi!" or "There's a leech on my shoe!!!" (thankfully this isn't often). There will most likely be arguments about who goes in front. And Little Owlet will be reluctant at the start. She feels small entering the deep dark forest, But once we're in the forest, walking, talking, breathing… Then the forest comes alive.


In the middle of the dark forest, we'll find ourselves in a little patch and if we pause, it's like time stops and tiny little lights switch on all around us. We notice an intricate city of organisms, all interconnected and doing what nature does. We observe fungi and humus, poo and pseudostipes, lichen and moss. We see snails and beetles and all manner of tiny interactions.


Suddenly we feel neither small, nor big, but part of it all. Passive observers, collecting and recording. Learning alongside each other. Witnessing nature's beauty on that particular day. We know next time we visit, the forest will look very different. We wonder at the interactions that come into play, and we're rather grateful to have an ecologist with mycological leanings on hand.


We'll marvel and wonder at the stories the forest has to tell. About the people here before us. And we make sure to leave it beautiful for the people after us.


At some point we'll decide we've walked enough and turn around and head in search of warm drinks, snacks or dinner at home. Hot chips at the pub is our favourite, especially if the fire's burning. We'll look back through photos together, recounting where and what we saw. How the light was and whether we caught the shapes as we intended. We'll have a laugh over one of Tiny's hilarious up-the-nose selfies and wonder how it arrived on my camera. And we'll talk some more about the forest and what we found in it. Eager to return again.


If you happen to be in Hobart next weekend and you'd like to join us for a fungi ramble, you're most welcome. Huz is hosting his inaugural fungi ramble at Ferntree, along one of our favourite walks. You can see us rambling on it in more summery times in this video below. Huz will be sharing tips on how to photograph fungi, their ecology and more. We'll have a special little fungi spotting challenge for little fungi enthusiasts too. It's going to be heaps of fun! Book here if it sounds like something you'd like to do! 


~ Lauren xx

27 April 2015

10 life lessons learned through fungi

I reckon I can pinpoint the shift in my perception back to this day one year ago, when we took a walk through a patch of rainforest in the Florentine Valley, northwest of Hobart. I'd seen rainforest before, and as someone with botanical leanings. Sure, I saw rainforest to be lush and peaceful but a little dull and simplistic, botanically speaking. You see, I was the kind of guy whose juices tended to flow at the sight of species-rich, dry sandy heathland or grassland, with their grand display of wild flowers in Spring.

But on this particular April day in the rainforest, the forest floor was awash with colour, not from plants, but, you guessed it, fungi! All colours of the rainbow, alien forms and configurations. I had previously read a little about fungi and their role in ecosystems as decomposers of dead organic matter and taken the odd passing snap with my camera. But there was a lot more going in this forest than I had previously noticed, and it was sparking my brain and my heart. I was filled with questions about their ecology, but was also struck by their beauty and diversity. All manner of mushroom, jelly, bracket, earth ball, and cup fungi! I took a bunch of photos and starting reading about these curious organisms...

These Mycena viscidocruenta were spotted on that pivotal bush walk exactly one year ago.

Since that eye-opening bushwalk exactly one year ago, we have been on about sixty dedicated fungi walks. The owlets have accompanied me on all but a few of these, and as a result they have developed keen fungi-spotting goggles and even learned the names of many! It's pretty awesome. 

And whilst I can't speak for the wisdom gained by the owlets during these walks, I can list with confidence some of my own insights. Lessons learned, if you will. Here goes:

1. Perception of the natural world is limited by ones attitudes to it and time spent in it.

On my walks sometimes strangers would see me crouched awkwardly with my camera and ask me what I was looking at. When I explained or showed people the fungi, often the response would be along the lines of "Oh I walk along here all the time, I've never noticed them!" I think there are many things I see, but treat as background noise to perception. It takes focus to see past that which we see easily. This can translate into our modern society, for example, it's is quite easy to ignore the under-privileged, the down-trodden and the minorities, unless we intentionally open our hearts and focus attention. Empathy can really open the minds-eye.

2. There really are worlds within world's but most humans will see only one. 

These jelly fungi are reminiscent of a galaxy of stars - tiny worlds on a log.

When looking closely at a fungus, you will often see small animals scuttling around its surface. Some tiny insects called springtails spend their whole life cycle within the gills on the underside of a mushroom! Planet earth may be the "world" as humans know it, but for many species their world is much smaller.

Also, some fungi cluster in ways that are reminiscent of galaxies or complex networks. You will often see the  intricate dendritic pattern of mycelial threads at the base of a fungus, reaching down into the soil. 

3. In intact nature, all living creatures are connected, but most connections are invisible.

Here you can see mycelial threads that connect this mushroom with the earth - what other connections do you see?

The pretty little mushrooms and other fungi that we see are not the whole organism, rather they might be considered as the fruit, whilst much of the species grows beneath the surface (of the wood or soil substrate). Those underground parts (called mycelium) often form associations with the roots of plants and these can extend throughout a forest. I think there is a lot still to learn about this phenomenon and the invisible ways that a forest communicates with itself and its environment.

Translating this to humans, whilst we can be physically connected, we are more often connected with others in invisible ways such as through our hearts or our shared thoughts and visions. Whilst I am not religious, I do feel my spiritual connection with nature is broadening over time. I feel like more of the connections in my life become visible or perceivable through observation of fungi. I feel less like my garden at home is completely disconnected from my favourite areas of native forest far away, and that these areas are connected through earth and water and fungal mycelium! Such thoughts only strengthen my affinity with natural areas. 

4. Science and art can be strong partners.

Zoom in close enough to a fungus and the colours and textures invoke an art piece as much as a scientific depiction!

Advances in digital photography and social media have provided great opportunities for fungi study. Mobile phone photography makes it easy to physically get the camera lens to point at harder-to-reach features of fungi. Increasingly I see fungi through both a scientific lens (what is its name, how does it work etc.) and an artistic one (look at the shape, the little bonsai-style setting, the patterns and texture!). I try to create images that provide enough information to identify the species, but I want them to be visually pleasing or interesting. This art part makes communicating the science part more effective, and thus I see the two disciplines as strong allies!

5. There is a stigma attached to fungi and related processes of death and decay and these inhibit human empathy towards nature.

Decaying fruiting body of Mycena cystidiosa, standing tall to the end.

In online discussions I've read many comments by others about how "gross" fungi and slime moulds are. I wonder if such disgust stems from a deeply-set avoidance instinct developed as a personal safety mechanism? I have a fear of big hairy spiders and I've seen other people carry massive tarantulas on their hands - this repulses me, but I'm sure my feelings stem from ignorance about those spiders as much as anything. Slimy or decaying fungi are not to be feared! Just wash your hands afterwards and all will be well!

6. Beauty can come from darkness.

Porpolomopsis lewelliniae, emerged from the darkness.

Many fungi grow in darkness; hundreds of microscopic fungi may reside in the woods of a single fallen log. Many larger mushrooms fruit on the dark underside of logs and branches, in deep dark leaf litter and in hollow logs. Despite the darkness of these places, many fungi thrive.

7. Even the very small can hold their head high.

Even amongst forest giants, this delicate mushroom holds its own.

In Tasmania we have trees that are nearly 100 metres tall making them the tall flowering plants in the world. Around the base of these trees, if you look closely, you're likely to find tiny mushrooms, maybe just a few centimetres tall. But here the height difference doesn't matter - every being holds their own space. Every individual is distinct but integrating as an effective community. 

8. We all have opportunity to reinvent ourselves by the choices we make each day.

Be your own earth star! 

When you see a mushroom and it has sagged into a decaying, goopy mess, the organism is still very much alive below ground. It might pop back up fresh nearby soon after, or it might wait until condition are suitable in future years. Translate this to humans and we can wake up each day a sagging goopy mess, bearing the burdens of yesterday, or we can wake up fresh and be whoever we choose to be!

9. Nature is much more than skin deep.

A family of springtails doing their thang on the jelly fungus, Tremella fuciformis.

One thing that I think really draws me into spending time in nature, is that it is not superficial. I think understanding of the more subtle or complex aspects of nature (e.g. All the small creatures and their interactions) increases with time spent immersed in it. The cool thing about fungi is that you're going to see different species and stages of fungi growth with each visit to an area. 

10. Learning is never complete.

The great thing about fungi books is that they are almost always pretty to look at! 

When I started learning names for fungi, I had aspirations to learn ALL the names! To learn ALL the things! But the reality is that our time to learn new things or follow any pursuit, is limited. So, I've come to realise that simple idea that "you can only do what you can do"! For example, I have dozens of books-to-read on my shelves, probably enough to last the next few decades - so many classic and amazing books I'll probably never get to read given a busy life - this is kinda sad, but it just encourages me to prioritise! Likewise with fungi, or any other activity really, I think it is important to focus on doing more of the stuff you really love. Learn for the sake of learning and share your knowledge with others and happiness will inevitably follow!

As you can see, these hitherto unseen organisms have had a profound effect on me - and it's only the been one year!

Have you had an equivalent hobby influence your world view? 

You can see more of my fungi photos on instagram @owletpapa. You can find a link in the sidebar. 

~ Oberon. 

24 April 2015

Permaculture :: Growing + Learning

We've been talking permaculture in these parts for a while now. Our owlets are well versed, having been guinea pigs for our Seedlings e-course, and living with two passionate permie parents, they've totally picked up the lingo. It's hilarious, and pretty amazing to watch how they absorb it so intuitively when we begin talking. And it's an awesome moment when you realise they're getting it, growing with it. Everything's going to be ok with earth stewards like them in the ranks. 

Two years ago, this week exactly, I completed a Permaculture Design Certificate here in Hobart. For me, it was pretty life changing. Like a positive way of re-framing what we already do; connecting the dots so that we can create the kind of community and world we hope to live in. It was a huge, awesome period of growth for me. I discovered it was all about gardening and community and nature and mindfulness and so very much more. Intrigued by my learning experience, Owletpapa undertook his PDC last year, and right now, as I type, he's completing his Permaculture Teacher Training with Rosemary Morrow and a bunch of other incredible passionate permie peeps. It's a perfect fit for him and his ecological brain and somewhat outgoing nature. We're sitting up late into the night talking, debriefing and planning and wondering where this all might go… How we can implement permaculture thinking more fully into our lives. And casting our eyes over our permaculture design (or designs rather, as we've got one each!), and seeing how we're going with implementing that. 

On the practical side of things, our permaculture design is probably one third of the way implemented. We're slow and lazy gardeners, but motivated by bursts of work between bush walks and work days. We have a chook orchard and a small food forest that are going gangbusters. The veggie spiral is bubbling away as we experiment with crop rotation, succession, guild planting and a whole lot of soil improvement. We've slowed the flow of water and nutrients from our garden, created topsoil where there was none, and learnt so much. But we have a heap more lawn to convert into productive space. There's that back corner that's just made for a studio of some sort if we can forego the Hill's Hoist. The front verandah could do with some sort of pergola to grow grapes up and we need to move the side gate. Bees will be arriving in Spring and I'm hoping ducks won't be too far off. The house is another matter entirely, with lots of improvements to be made and water harvesting to be improved. The front garden is yet to be touched, although it's an established mostly-indigenous garden now. Although not as fast as we'd like, it's getting there. 

One of my favourite permaculture principles is Use Small and Slow Solutions. Our current group of Seedlings are looking at it now and hopefully finding some comfort in it too in their busy family-filled days. It's the one that reminds you to just work on things one bite at a time. Things will get done eventually and by slowing down, playing, working, observing, you can appreciate the process so much more. Only realising further down the track what you've achieved. Much like parenting owlets. You just need to trust the process. 

Spots are filling up now for our third season of Spiral Garden Seedlings. In the interests of slowing things down, we're changing the format this Winter. We'll be working through just one principle each week so our families can really get stuck into it deeply, or just pick one thing to do on the weekends. Family time. So far, just one shy of 60 families have joined us for the course. We're super thrilled that some of them want to come back and do it all over again this time. In amongst our Seedlings families have been green thumbs, gardening novices, permaculture designers and teachers, homeschoolers, unschoolers, educators and we're estimating about 300 children - fabulous earth stewards. We're so grateful for the opportunity to share our work and our passion with each of them, seeing families connect and work together. Yep. It's going to be ok. 

~ Owletmama. xx


20 April 2015

The Importance of Home Days

We're pretty busy people. Busy by choice and busy because we're chasing up all the things we're so passionate about. Mostly we're busy because we're hunting for fungi this time of year and wandering though the bush any chance we can get. I suppose that makes us not so much busy as at play. But we take our play seriously.

The stereotypical image of the isolated, unsocialised homeschooler is not a reality we've ever witnessed.  Where we live, there's so much on offer in the home educating community, and in the natural world around us, we actually have to put our collective foot down to grab some space amongst it all.

The balance of our adventuring days, and classes and outings and co-op days, is our home days. These are the days where we go very slow. Our in-breath. This is our daydreaming space. This is the space where we get stuff done and each explore what it is we each love to do. These are pyjama days, where the questions flow before breakfast ends. These are the days when the owlets delve into their preferred mediums for relaxation, learning and play.

Usually you'll find Big Owlet making art.

Little Owlet will, at some point, be working with her favourite wooden spoon.

And Tiny Owlet will be stacking blocks, or putting them all in a line up the hallway.

I'll be floating around all of them,  helping keep them in orbit, if they need me. I'll be reading with one or all of them. Or working alongside them on my own projects. Sometimes I'll be cooking vast quantities of food to keep them fed and our evenings easier. Lately I've been looking at the piles of surplus stuff in our lives. Things that have seemed to accumulate mysteriously. Home days are a beautiful opportunity to assess those. They're a wonderful opportunity to get out in the garden too, and observe, explore, work and play. There will be screens watched and played on, arguments resolved, friends chatted with, pets played with, chooks cuddled, berries foraged, spills wiped up, washing done… and by the end of the day, the house will probably be trashed before Owletpapa arrives home. A family effort will set it (almost) right before dinner and we'll catch our breath before setting about doing it all again. These are the days that slip by quietly, full of beauty and challenge; everything and nothing much at all.

Home days are a moment to pause and gather ourselves up for the next adventure. But they're also an opportunity to just be ourselves, in our own little nest, without the distractions of commuting and routine driven by external forces. They're an opportunity to grow and learn as individuals and also to work together, in a collective effort, to do what needs doing. And there is so much that needs learning and growing and doing! To us, home education and even permaculture are about anything but being at home all the time. But gosh we'd be lost without our home days!

Do you manage home days often?
Maybe you're travelling and call them something else?
Or maybe you don't spend much time home at all and you like it that way! 
Are home days important to you? 

~ Owletmama. xx

10 April 2015

The Garden Share Collective :: April

We're in a bit of a transition period in the garden right now. Starting to get on top of the most pressing jobs that were neglected in the very busy Spring-Summer we had, and planning and tucking the garden in for Winter. We're finally getting around to reassessing our permaculture plans (we have one each - ha!) and creating an ultimate plan which we've been implementing slowly anyhow, nutting it out as we go. I thought it might be a good idea to join in with The Garden Share Collective this month... just to check in with where things are at.


It's brassica time in our veggie spiral. The broccoli, kale and cabbage are growing well and I'm about to plant another successional so we'll have plenty for the winter. We've dotted the brassica bed with radish and beetroot and the odd nasturtium. We're planting garlic in the food forest and one corner of the spiral once the sunflowers have finished. The sunflowers! For years we've battled with soil that wouldn't support them, but here they are at last - a definite sign that we're doing things right. We're building up beds, redefining our spiral and spending time observing. So much has changed in our garden and it continues to evolve. I could go on for days, but we might save some more observations for another day.


It's starting to slow now, but this is such a lush and abundant time all the same. We're harvesting loads of apples and rhubarb, still the odd raspberry, strawberry and mulberry and all the myrtus berries were gobbled earlier in the week. Pumpkins and spaghetti squash and corn which grew, despite their late start and neglect. We're picking loads of herbs and a few eggs, despite half our flock moulting right now. Tragically, the possums gobbled every last walnut. Next year we'll be more prepared! 


We have paths to mulch, re-mulch and maintain, a comfrey plant to divide and plant out, more garlic to plant and green manure to get started. We're planning some special herb and food towers for our chook orchard to make our happy girls even happier, and thinking it's time for a hot compost heap. We're picking the best spot for our bees who will be arriving in the Spring! We're creating a space in a warm, sunny spot indoors for some winter growing. I'm plotting and planning which herbs and bush foods to add to our collection, thinking about hazelnuts and olives, and some more berries… We pretty much just need more plants right now. And pallets. We have big plans for wooden pallets. 

How does your garden grow? What are you planting, harvesting and planting? 

~ Owletmama. xx

"The Garden Share Collective is a group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills. Creating a monthly community to navigate through any garden troubles and to rival in the success of a good harvest we will nurture any beginner gardener to flourish. Each month we set ourselves a few tasks to complete by the next month, this gives us a little push to getting closer to picking and harvesting. The long-term goal of the Garden Share Collective is to get more and more people gardening and growing clean food organically and sustainably."