22 November 2017

Our Zero Waste Activity Advent Calendar



Hello little blog! We've missed you! We've been busy writing a book all year and there's so much to catch up on. Today though, the serious business is this. Advent. Tiny Owlet informed me with a most solemn face this morning that "there's only 8 sleeps until advent". There are actually 9, but it spurred me into action and getting organised, even though I'm not feeling entirely ready or happy about the fact that it's late November.

If you've followed along with this blog for some years, you'll know that our Christmas tradition each year involves an advent calendar of activities, rather than gifts or trinkets. We begin on December 1st, as we welcome summer and start preparing for the end of the year and time spent together and with family. Activities can be a practical way to get things done in the lead-up to Christmas, or they can be moments to catch our breath and enjoy time together. They also keep excited small people busy, with small things to look forward to each day. And, as this time of year is usually our busiest, these moments, where we take time to connect and have fun together, are so important.

Some years we have given our advent calendar a theme, like the years where we followed Steiner-inspired cues and looked to minerals, plants, animals and people in each of the weeks. Some years we have reflected on the permaculture ethics of 'earth care', 'people care', and 'fair share', which has worked beautifully.

This year, while our heads are still fresh with all things waste-free, we figured we'd share with you a list of waste-free advent activities. We place our activity suggestions on small scraps of paper, inside origami folded paper cups we string up over the fireplace. After we've finished with them, we pop them away for reuse next year, or we use them for saving seeds from our garden, which they're perfect for! There are things to do at home, or out and about. Things to remind you of the waste around you, and things that just happen to be waste-free festive traditions you might like to adopt. We've included a few bonus activities so you can swap some around depending on what your days look like, how christmassy you are, or for if you'd just like to have something fun and waste-free to do all month long.

Waste-free advent activities:
  1. go for a beach picnic - hello summer!
  2. make a wreath with natural or upcycled materials - leaves, sticks old newspaper, fabric scraps.
  3. have a dance party in the lounge room
  4. ferment - make some christmas champagne, ginger beer or kimchi
  5. borrow a christmas book from the library
  6. compost - start a compost heap, seaweed or compost tea, or add compost to your garden
  7. go out for ice cream sundaes
  8. make an up-cycled or handmade gift
  9. have a beach or neighbourhood litter cleanup
  10. make decorations from natural or upcycled materials 
  11. find a christmas tree - we usually pick a weed tree growing by the roadside
  12. decorate the christmas tree
  13. donate a gift to those less fortunate than you 
  14. plant - a tree, native flowers for the bees, or some food plants to feed your family
  15. watch a christmas movie together
  16. mend a favourite toy, or piece of clothing
  17. read books under a shady tree - aren't trees wonderful?
  18. make christmas crackers - upcycle those old toilet rolls!
  19. go fruit picking or foraging - bring your own baskets or containers!
  20. bake something using local and seasonally available ingredients
  21. make marshmallows from scratch 
  22. celebrate summer solstice - have a backyard campfire and toast those marshmallows!
  23. make some gift wrap from fabric, ribbons, re-used paper, or drawstring bags
  24. make a food gift and give it to your neighbours - maybe rocky road with the leftover marshmallows!

Bonus activities:
  • have a picnic dinner
  • donate - toys or unwanted clothing or household goods
  • make beeswax candles for the dinner table 
  • make a gingerbread house
  • pamper yourselves with homemade masks, lotions, foot soaks and pedicures

Let us know if you decide to join in too and have a waste-free activity advent calendar this year. Yay for having fun, finding balance and doing all the things! 

~ Lauren. xx


19 February 2017

Pigface Jam


A couple of years ago, on the way home from the beach, I tripped over a runner of pigface stretching across the track back to the car. I picked it up and saw some tiny roots poking out, so I carried it home with me and popped it out in the backyard, beside the herb garden. I didn't expect it to grow, but grow it did, and it completely covered a large grassy patch quite quickly. It grew in heavy clay soil, in the shade and continues to cover as much of the garden as we let it. We use it for bee stings and burns, in the same way you'd use aloe vera, so it's spot near the back door is quite practical.


This year, the pig face patch grew dozens of beautiful bright magenta flowers, which the bees adored. These turned into amazing looking red fruit… and so we made jam.

We referred to this recipe, but made a few minor changes, so here's our version…






1. Collect and peel 2 cups of pig face fruit pulp. The red fleshy skin peels away from the inside ball of pulp quite easily.
2. Place it in a saucepan with 1 cup of sugar and 3 cups of water.
3. Cut a lemon in half, squeeze it a bit and throw it in, peel and all.
4. Bring to a boil while sterilising a jar or two.
5.  Simmer and test the jam until it has thickened to a suitable jammy consistency - ours became really stretchy which is quite unlike any jam I've ever seen before!
6. Strain the jam if you like (we didn't).
7. Pour or ladle it into jars.

The jam is an interesting dark colour, but the flavour is amazing! Pigface fruit taste sweet and salty, with hints of strawberry and guava. The jam is all of that but sweeter… Delicious on sourdough with a little butter.



The entire plant is useful and edible. Leaves can be used in salads and wherever you might enjoy juicy and salty hints of flavour. Our chooks seem to enjoy a nibble, too! If you happen to trip over a little pig face on your way home from the beach, I'd highly recommend plonking it in your garden somewhere and enjoying this readily available bush food. Or perhaps, while you're at the beach, indulge in a little foraging? It's well worth the effort.

~ Lauren. xx

13 February 2017

Beyond Unschooling


If you've been a reader of this blog for some time, you'll know that our main approach to owlet learning and living has been through unschooling. We've always followed their lead, since they were very small. Aside from that little moment of Steiner kindergarten for Big Owlet, we've just lived life and helped the owlets learn what they needed, when the needed. It's been beautiful and amazing, and a huge learning curve for us in observing and letting go and trusting that they will learn when and what they need. We wouldn't have it any other way.

As we stepped into last year, however, the owlets asked for more. They felt they wanted a plan mapped out for them. They wanted to learn more, explore more. And they wanted to work. Big Owlet was particularly keen to see where she was at and if she was on par with the peers that she knew at that Steiner kindy so many moons ago. But she was also adamant that she didn't want to go to school. She loves the freedom we have at home. Loves the ease and convenience of being where everything she loves and needs is, all day. All the owlets do - who doesn't?

So we set about finding structure and work, but balancing it with freedom. And we arrived at Oak Meadow. We've been using the Oak Meadow curriculum for Big Owlet for almost a year now. Little Owlet has also darted around the grades, then taken some time to focus on gardening, and she's now back on board and into her third week of a new year. Tiny began puddling around with her own "special books" (Oakmeadow Kindergarten) half-way through last year and is now into week three of Grade One.  I spent the first three weeks of this year planning and finding extra resources and mapping out our year. We're all in and we have a daily rhythm and we're working hard on all the things every day. Who even are we? Essentially we're still following the owlets' lead... Unschooling with book guides? Haha! It feels like the same life, but with different hashtags.


So how did the owlets measure up? Well, there were a few new concepts that curriculum based learning introduced. We found that the writing component of the program was challenging - there's so much writing! So we've been working through slowly, picking and choosing. We began at a level that covered much of the history learning Big Owlet was after and she's now at exactly the same place as those Steiner kindy peers. Little Owlet needed a little extra time with hands on work before she felt like settling down to bookwork. Her spelling needed some help, so using a formal program has done wonders for her confidence. Both bigger owlets can read very well, despite very little input from us. It really has just happened with time, patience, lots of reading aloud on our part, and effort on their part. Maths… well there are quite a few concepts which the owlets hadn't encountered yet. But they learn new maths concepts extremely quickly, so with Khan academy and extra time chatting it through with Huz, we've got them covered. Science - well, the Owlets find all those unschooling years and the way we live, observing and exploring, mean they have a great grasp on nature and science.

The beauty of the Oak Meadow program is that from Grade 4 onward, it is written to the student, so the owlets can work somewhat autonomously. The program is rather extensive, so they pick and choose the projects that really appeal to them and we supplement with extra outings, books, films and performances. And some days we put it all aside because it's a perfect beach day and there's so much learning and living to be done there.



I'm so glad for our unschooling years. They mean we learn creatively and resourcefully. They mean that I don't stress over skipped days or push things that the Owlets don't find interesting or essential. They mean that I know we'll get to where we need to be eventually, trusting the process of living and learning, together in partnership. Whichever approach you take, and whatever you decide to call it, that's really what it should all be about, after all. That's where the real learning is.



How's your year going?
I'll be sharing a little more of our learning adventures, past and present, in weeks to come. 
Have a gorgeous week.

Much love, 

~ Lauren. xx



12 February 2017

Taking Stock :: Summer



















It's been months since our last post! We've been busy as ever, doing all the things. There's much to write about. But for now, I'm ripping the bandaid off and posting a simple stocktake of where we're at now...

Making: Pigface Jam. I'm hoping it's a thing. We have lots of pigface.
Cooking: Chocolate Zucchini Cake. It's zucchini season and this cake feeds hungry owlets well!  
Drinking: Home made lemon and mint cordial. So good!
Reading: The Women in Black and Dark Emu. I read snippets when I can. Very slowly!
Wanting: So many more hours in the day and limitless energy. Yep.
Looking: Out the window to see when it's good beach weather. 
Preserving: Tomatoes! 
Considering: Sauce or canning whole toms for winter? I think whole. 
Harvesting: Tomatoes, mulberries, cucumbers, strawberries, rhubarb, apples, beans… Blueberries!
Wishing: Straws and napkins at cafes were an opt-in situation.
Enjoying: Hanging out at the beach on sunny afternoons. 
Waiting: For the rest of the tomatoes to ripen. And the corn to grow! I'm not sure it will. 
Liking: Starting our days with yoga most days. 
Wondering: Where the ducks have hidden the eggs.
Loving: Watching all the best 90's movies with Big Owlet. 
Pondering: Moving to a cheaper house, far away, with more land for growing more things. 
Foraging: Elderberries. Apparently I'm not the only one. If you see any, let me know!
Listening: To the rain pouring outside. Gotta love Tasmanian summer. 
Deciding: We're super happy living right where we are. Urban permaculture is where it's at. Remind me again in July. 
Buying: Milk in bottles again at the farmers market! Woohoo! And fetta and halloumi. Sundays are the best!
Watching: The West Wing and pretending its real life. Also Gossip Girl because it's the opposite of our life. Escapism can be fun!
Hoping: We can afford a holiday this year. 

Marvelling: At how much food three owlets can eat.
Cringing: At the news. See Watching. 
Needing: Firewood. 
Learning: As much as I can about herbs. This seems to be a sporadic, lifelong project for me. 
Questioning: How I'm going to nourish our soil better this year. 
Smelling: Basil. One of the greatest summer smells, I reckon.
Wearing: A new pair of Softstar shoes. My last pair lasted for 4 years! These were a little Christmas splurge for me. Barefoot shoes make all the difference for me. 
Noticing: The light is definitely changing. It's a little more golden now. I see you there, Autumn.
Thinking: That I'm glad we've taken our time to ease into this year a little gently and thoughtfully.
Knowing: The rest of the year will probably be full on. 
Admiring: Fellow homeschoolers who plan amazing, incredible and super beautiful years for their owlets. 
Sewing: Cloth pads. Practical, necessary and waste free!
Getting: Some immune system building remedies ready. All the garlic. 
Bookmarking: Fire Cider recipes. Tweaking and picking what works for us where we are. 
Closing: My laptop any minute now. 
Feeling: Excited about visiting my sister next month and giving my nephews a squoosh.
Celebrating: The long weekend in Hobart. Gotta love extra time with Huz. 
Embracing: Big, scary, exciting challenges in the works. They're the best kind.

~ Lauren. xx

7 October 2016

The legacy of our pre-zero waste life


We all accumulate "stuff". Some of us more than others. Anyone with a hobby, actually, anyone trying to meet basic needs, will at various times buy, make, inherit, borrow, create, and/or otherwise "get" things. Some of our stuff lasts a lifetime or longer, like great-grandma's ceramic hand mirror, or that wooden heirloom shoehorn, handed down for generations. But the trend towards things not being built to last, the trend towards planned obsolescence - means that things break, lose their function and become waste.

For anyone switching to a low-waste or zero waste lifestyle, there can be the warm and fuzzy feeling of knowing that you haven't created any new waste in the last week or month or more. But what about all that other stuff that fills your home; belongings from the glory days when ignorance was bliss, when we bought and wasted with reckless abandon and still have a legacy of "stuff" to show for it. What about when our nylon clothes fall apart, when the washing machine breaks, when those "sturdy" plastic storage tubs snap, when the dog chews the elastane out of your slippers, when you find that drawer of old mix tapes that no-one would ever want to hear again? How do we live a zero waste life when we still live in a house containing items from our past that will at some point lose all function and become waste?

Ahh, sweet regret. Why did we say yes to the crappy plastic toys that accompany those McDonalds happy meals for the kids? Why did we buy that plastic weed mat, that seems to attract weeds more than suppress them, only to create a hulking mass of plastic and unwanted plants? Why did we choose the cheaper plastic-handled frypan rather than the long-lasting cast iron one? Such is the benefit of hindsight. We can all lose our minds dwelling on past purchases, on our past adventures in wasteful frivolity. Or, we can be practical and do our best to deal with the mess we've made.

Our family of five have been trying to live without (new) waste for a year now. So far we haven't created enough to fill half a rubbish bin. Leading up to that one year milestone of sorts, we reflected on what waste we still had around the house from the pre-zero waste days. And it actually amounted to quite a lot! We've been in this house for nearly 10 very busy years and raised three children and a menagerie of animals and tried to be resourceful and generally survive through life, all the while accumulating 'stuff' to help us grow and learn and live.

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” ~ Maya Angelou




We already had a pile of 'junk' down the side of the house, long intended for a skip bin, and a bit of spring cleaning identified other odds and ends of waste around our home. As a sort of final transition of sorts, we agreed to collate our legacy waste and dispose of it as best we could - we sold some items, donated others and have retained some 'waste' items for later re-purposing (e.g. we've kept our old toilet to use as a garden plant pot, and a super-rickety cane chair to grow plants over).

We ended up filling a small skip bin (2 cubic metres to hold 10 years of legacy waste is probably not too bad!). What did we put in it? Well some of the culprits included: old degraded weed mat, perishing and torn sheets of plastic that had covered mattresses when bought, torn kiddies inflatable wading pool, cheap laminated CD stacking shelves that we'd intended to donate but had been left in the rain and rotted, a child's car booster seat (used by all our kids, but well past its safe use condition), the rusted and twisted metal parts of a cheap plastic green house that had exploded in our back yard in a strong gust of wind, some rusted parts of an old gas barbecue (we kept the main bbq unit for a potting bench!)… mostly degraded plastics that held their desired form for only a short time, when you consider that tiny little toxic particles of that plastic will be existence on our earth for centuries.

There were lessons learned as we (reluctantly) transferred our legacy waste to the skip bin - we acknowledged the relatively short life span of many items that we think should last a long time, and we realised lack of waste-free options for some items (e.g. the kids car seat), and the wastefulness of buying the 'cheaper' option (I'm looking at you, broken cheap plastic/metal green house). We talked and ruminated over it and felt some sadness and regret over the waste that we made before, but felt reaffirmed in our criteria for any new things that come into our home...

Where possible, buy to last, buy compostable, and remember to look after your 'stuff'. 

That includes looking after stuff in that time between when you've finished with it and when you've found a new use or home for it - leaving stuff out in the elements to weather and rot is no good to anyone (except maybe the guys on American Pickers!). One big positive for us is that our owlets are now part of the decision making process and are well aware of the consequences of our past mistakes. Hopefully this means that their legacy will be minimal and conscious choices will be their normal.

Transitioning legacy waste is an important part of switching to a waste-free lifestyle. It is not necessarily something to feel guilty about, but should strengthen your resolve to 'do better' and shop smarter, and live with less waste. We now move into our second year of waste-free living, producing very close to zero new waste and with much less legacy waste. Over time, we anticipate that the legacy waste will drop too, as we switch away from most plastics, and clothes with nylon/acrylic parts, and stuff we realise we just don't need to live happy, abundant lives.

~ Oberon & Lauren.
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26 September 2016

Zero Waste Celebrations :: 11 tips for a waste free Christmas and birthdays




Times of celebration can inspire us to forget our waste-free ways and give in to the urge to splurge. We want to show our loved ones how much we love them and many of our traditional ways of doing that - the ways we've grown up with, can make us feel like it's ok to let ourselves off the hook just this one time. In Australia, it is estimated that waste volumes increase by 30% at Christmas time. We also use 100% more glass (party drink time) and 53% of Australians admit to throwing out one unopened gift each year. Food waste contributes hugely to the waste pile too. But it's actually not that hard to celebrate without waste, and do it well. It might mean creating some new traditions, slowing and simplifying a little. From our experience, that makes it seem all the more special. 

Here are some things we've found helped reduce our waste output at Christmas and birthdays:

1. Start the conversation. Talk to your friends and family. Let them know what you're attempting to do and why. Suggest low-waste alternatives they might like to consider for gift-giving and meal planning. Be gentle and listen to their concerns or reflections. Lead by example, choosing low-waste alternatives yourself. Be respectful, patient and gracious around the waste brought into your home by loved ones and focus on taking responsibility for yourself.



2. Choose experiences over 'things'. Gifts that get you out and about experiencing new things can be just as special and enriching as the ones that can be played with or sit on a shelf at home. Even better if the gift-giver can experience it with you. A camping trip, special dinner at a restaurant, classes in a new skill… We've been lucky to receive tickets to TSO's family classics season for the last two Christmases and it's a wonderful treat we've all enjoyed.

3. Choose great quality, useful gifts. Something practical that can be used over and over again, making the recipient's life easier or more joyful, is great. They'll enjoy thinking of you when they use it, play with it or wear it, for years to come.

4. Choose second-hand. Spend the time to seek out that super special vintage gift that you know your recipient will love. Or have something you've loved fixed up and hand it down. Our owlets have all loved receiving treasures from us and the stories that come with them.

5. Choose compostable. Give some thought to what will happen to the gift once it's time of usefulness has been served. Avoid battery operated gifts if you can. Something that can go back to the earth is ideal. Give some thought to packaging too and whether it can be re-used, composted or recycled.

6. Make it by hand. Something you've grown, cooked, knitted or sewn with your own hands is wonderful. The love and thought you've put in to create the gift from scratch really shows. Even better if its something the recipient particularly likes or needs.



7. Get into Furoshiki! These traditional Japanese wrapping cloths can be so beautiful and a wonderful way to wrap gifts without waste. We've found its also quieter and quicker - which is great for late-night, last-minute wrapping sessions. Buy traditional furoshiki or make your own using second hand vintage fabrics, organic cotton, old pillowcases, drawstring bags or trims that reflect the recipient's style and favourite colours. Afterwards, collect the fabrics and keep them in your stash to use next time!



8. Eat seasonally. The best Christmas celebrations we've had are the ones where we've taken advantage of the abundance of berries, garden veggies and seafood available to us locally. Have a look at what's available around you, or if there's something you really yearn for out of season, do some forward planning to source and preserve it for the day. Looking forward to your favourite foods makes celebrating with them even more special.

9. Make your own drinks. Have a go at home brewing or make seasonal cordials and fruit champagnes.  Kombucha, ginger beer and lemonade are wonderful options too. Alternatively, some micro-breweries will happily refill your bottles, meaning you can save lots of glass waste.

10. Ditch disposables. Serve your food on real plates and drinks in real glasses. Use the good china and silverware. Use real cutlery and cloth napkins, and a real tablecloth. Ditch straws, or find reusable ones. Budget options might include plates collected at op-shops and jars to drink out of, napkins stitched out of vintage bedsheets. If you party regularly, you might like to set aside a box of your collected party-ware for those special occasions. Celebrate the times you come together with the people you love and take the time to wash up and laugh together after the celebrating's done!







11. Choose natural, compostable decorations. Flowers and foliage collected from the garden makes beautiful seasonal decorations with minimal effort. Compost them when you're done. Make ornaments and decorations by hand from compostable materials. Christmas crackers from old toilet paper rolls and recycled paper you've decorated yourself. Hand crafted party hats. Choose a tree that will last for generations, grow one in a pot, or go for a drive and harvest a weed tree. Pine trees often escape from plantations and grow on land nearby. Check regulations and harvest weeds on public land if it's safe to do so. Compost the tree when you're done, or try your hand at hugelkultur!

By planning ahead just a little bit, and looking at what's available to you when you celebrate, you can avoid creating a heap of waste. You may find you slow down a bit and enjoy the simpler things and time with your loved ones. You'll be treading a little lighter on the earth too, which is cause for celebration in itself. 

What are your tips for creating less waste while celebrating?
Are you making any special gifts by hand? 
What's your favourite party food? 

Cheers!

~ Lauren. xx


23 September 2016

Mama Nurture: Run away sometime...


Winters are long here. Days are short and cold. Tempers shorten too, and it's hard to stay cheery every day. We hibernate and see our friends less often, opting for time by the fire as opposed to the beach or playground. Huz barely sees daylight and we sleep longer, forgetting the longer days of summer and the extra gardening time... Then, of course, there's the busy spring-summer season in our shop and our garden, where we're working and learning and volunteering and gardening and it all gets a bit much. We get so caught up with the busy that we can forget to breathe.


There's a breaking point for this mama. I try and pay extra special attention to all of our energy levels, but especially my own. Sometimes we all need a break, but me especially... I'm nearing days when running away on my own, or with Huz, might become a reality (eek!). But my absolute favourite thing is when we all run away together. Sometimes we plan ahead and go on a weekend adventure, but occasionally we take advantage of Huz's flexible and family-friendly workplace and steal away for the day mid-week. Often our adventures are very last minute and happen on a whim. That seems to add to the excitement. I'll wake up and suggest we run and no-one takes much convincing.


Usually, running away means a day-long adventure somewhere. The kind where you pack a thermos and sandwiches and visit a favourite spot. There might be some exploring, bushwalking, taking in the scenery. Maybe some foraging. Definitely chatting and laughing and blowing away the cobwebs.


Probably the day finishes with fish and chips, sandy toes, windblown hair, and a promise to return soon, as we drive home while the sun sets. We arrive home to a darkened house, hungry pets to be fed, showers to be had and hopping into bed rather than lighting the fire. We all sleep soundly, deeply, refreshed and ready to begin a new day, and deal with normal life tomorrow. It's usually just what we need to set things right in our little world again.

As part of my Mama Nurture Project, I'm resolving to run away more often. Just as soon as I shake off this spring cold. I'm going to eat some bowl food with a little of that seaweed we gathered on the last adventure, and hopefully that'll help knock it on the head. At the very least, it'll remind me to run away sometime and collect some more.


How are you travelling right now?
Do you have the urge to run away?
Any weekend adventures planned?

Love and gentle nurturing hugs,

~ Lauren. xx