15 September 2014

Unschool Monday :: The creative flow...

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A couple of months ago, you may remember I was lucky to have been granted a scholarship spot in Pip's Inspiration Information ecourse. I had been in the midst of a bit of a creative slump and I was hoping to draw myself out of it just a teeny bit. Setting aside a little time to write and draw and think was a wonderful discipline. But, in reality, to fit it all in, I needed to involve the Owlets. Big Owlet is always up for some creative learning so she was more than happy to join in the more practical aspects. And the other two always want to follow her lead. So we launched into some simple, fun collage and talked about creative heroes. 

Using old magazines we had on hand and working with colour and shape, as quickly as we could… 

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Then I began remembering. I told them how I would sit up the back of life drawing classes and tear paper to represent the model. Trying desperately not to attract attention in a quiet room. We giggled about that. We talked about Matisse. And then Little Owlet remembered that Eric Carle works in collage, so we ended up watching the Mr Roger's Neighbourhood episode where he visits Eric Carle. And that's how unschooling flows… 

I love that. When you get swept along by a creative thought and before long you're in a totally different place to where you started. But you've learnt so much, just talking and observing together. And those learnings have sunk in, because you've created memories of more than one kind. 

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Next I was prompted to delve a little deeper into the work of a creative hero, so I chose Mirka Mora. Sensing her style and some themes she covers might appeal to the owlets, we dove in. We looked at her drawings and paintings and dolls. We talked about Mirka herself and her life and anecdotes and looked at old pictures of places we knew. 

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Remembering the windows Mirka painted at Heide, we set about making our own kitchen windows cheerful and bright for the final months of Winter. Big Owlet took to Mirka's style immediately, with her talent for faces. And so, with an interest shared, we were able to follow up with a visit when we were in Melbourne. 

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Three generations of art-loving women, following the creative flow to its source. And being inspired all over again. 

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As for me and my creative slump… well I suppose it wasn't really a slump, so much as a bit of burnout and needing some time and space to get stuck into things. Keeping my cup full. But remembering that through much of my creative process I have Owlet pals along for the ride (and that isn't such a bad thing), was helpful. I just need to keep that in mind, stop compartmentalising my time, and share the inspiration and see where it leads us all. There are great learning and creating days ahead, indeed. 

Do you create alongside your Owlets?
Has a creative idea led you to something you didn't expect? 
How do you manage time to create or do the things you love? 

14 September 2014

When life gives you neighbours…

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Every time our minds wander to getting away from it all and moving to some isolated patch of bush, we think about all the good things we have where we are.  Wonderful neighbours is certainly on our list. Even though we are that family in our street… The house with artwork and fingerprints splashed all over the front windows… With Owlets roaring (sometimes nude), around the garden during the daytime. And a weedy, unkempt garden it often is, by most standards. We're that family who are always home and loud and choose to do things a little bit differently. Some of our neighbours choose not to engage and keep heads down as they run from the car to the sanctuary of home.  But the neighbours who do say hello and make time make our street a beautiful and supportive extended family, of sorts. A community.

Over the back fence is a piano teacher who has helped Owlets learn when they've shown interest. Happy for us to fling a ladder over the back fence, she gladly catches them on the other side for a half-hour lesson. And wonderfully, she's not been offended when they decide to give it up, or begin again. Recently her house guests asked to feed our chooks weeds from the garden as they work, having seen us do the same on our side. And so we discovered another beautiful connection for our permaculture design.

Next door on one side, we have a neighbour who has a beautiful, wild garden and she's happy for our Owlets to explore it. There's an amazing dolls house inside, the Owlets tell me. And more than once, we've been given a cup of sugar, a pile of newspapers or a handful of lavender, when we've needed it.

On the other side are neighbours who the Owlets have adopted as surrogate grandparents. Tiny likes to ring the doorbell and say "hi", if she hasn't seen them in a while. They knew our house better than we did when we first moved in and they're always a wealth of information about our street. They assure me that on the night Tiny was born, they heard nothing - although how that can be, I have no idea!

Next door, they are around most days, like us, and pottering in the garden, like us. Their garden is neat, well tended and abundant, with more than enough food for their meals and plenty to share. Often I've seen our neighbour popping in to houses in our street with apples or lemons for who ever is home. Sometimes it's us. Once it was a posie of violets to say she thought I was a great Mum. She had four kids of her own, you see... And there are plenty of times the Owlets have been handed a bowl of raspberries over the fence to gobble up gleefully on the way inside to tell me about it, red stained chin and all…

"Neighbourhood" by Phoebe Wahl. Available in our shop!
We have rather low fences in our neighbourhood, so we've had to become comfortable with company outdoors. Often a head will appear at the fence and we'll get to talking about how the broccoli's growing or why the lemon tree might not be thriving in that spot. Over the years, the next-door neighbours have witnessed our experiments with soil improvement and no-dig gardening and they've shown keen interest. Tut-tutting the weeds at this particularly lush time of year - I suspect they're being polite as we endeavour to get on with the business of growing food, despite the weeds. They're interested to witness the latest transformation as our permaculture design takes shape. And I think we're winning some clout as we seem to have luck with cauliflower.

We've been the glad recipients of a tiny rhubarb plant from next door, which is now huge and adorning our food forest. One of the enormous tomatoes passed over the fence was saved for the seed we have growing in seed trays in the lounge room… And we're more than glad to help out with the lemon glut when we collect the mail while they're away on holidays.

These neighbours embody the permaculture ethics of people care and fair share so well. I suspect that they see success the way I do; that true success is not just being able to feed your own family, but those around you too. And spreading a little joy along the way… I've been giving a little thought to how we can work to make this friendship a little more reciprocal. To be better neighbours and have enough to share (more than the odd cup of milk or stick of butter - although these are helpful too!). Enough useful stuff anyhow, and choosing a few things that are not in our neighbour's garden has been in the back of our minds while putting together our permaculture plan. To begin with, I think it might be a few eggs. They don't have chooks. And when some of the fruit trees grow up a bit, maybe some quinces or pears or cherries. I may just save some seed from the cauliflower and maybe our neighbour will finally have luck with that too, as we have. Hopefully there'll be enough to share with other neighbours too. Even the ones who don't have time for a chat.

This is how community building starts. Its how Owlets find mentors and friends of all ages. Its how we find support and our garden grows stronger. And it's how, when you think there's nothing much in the cupboard, you suddenly have the fixings for Lemon & Rhubarb cake…

Lemon & Rhubarb Cake

5 rhubarb stalks cut into 2cm pieces
1/3 cup rapadura/coconut sugar/raw sugar/maple syrup/alternative
125g soft brown butter
1 cup (or thereabouts) of sugar. I've used rapadura/organic raw sugar/ honey/rice malt syrup with luck.
zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 eggs
1 cup plain flour
1/3 cup SR flour
100ml yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 180ÂșC
Grease and line a 20-22cm springform cake pan

Toss the rhubarb with rapadura and set aside
Cream the butter & larger quantity of sugar/sugar alternative.
Add lemon zest and then the eggs, one at a time.
Stir through the lemon juice.
Fold the flours in gently, a little at a time, alternating with the yoghurt.
Fold in the rhubarb.

Spoon into the cake tin and bake for about 40 minutes, until browned on top.
Test the cake with a skewer. If the skewer comes out with some cake batter on it, cook for another 5 minutes and repeat.
Cool for 15 minutes before removing the tin.
Dust with icing sugar if you like - we don't think it needs it!

Adapted from Allan Campion and Michele Cranston's Rhubarb Lemon Cake in Every Day Cooking. 
Published by Hardie Grant Books in 2006.







3 September 2014

The pretty way...

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When I was small, my Dad would often ask us kids in the back seat of the car, which way we wanted to go. "The pretty way!!" we'd shout out with enthusiasm. He always knew the windy, beautiful, wandering ways to get to most places in our city. And if he didn't know, he'd find his way… All the roads join up somewhere…

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This has pretty much been how I've rolled ever since. Just slowing down, following the road ahead, keeping an open mind and seeing what life has to offer. When I've attempted to get from A-B in the most direct way, I've often felt like I took a wrong turn somewhere. I suppose it's a bit like taking the road less travelled. It's why I live in Tasmania. It's why our owlets are unschooled… Sometimes it's a little like hurtling along downhill without brakes. But usually it's slow and colourful and infinitely more interesting and satisfying.

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It's the kind of thinking behind this app, which totally appeals to me. Shouldn't we all be trying to find the most beautiful way?

Hope you're having a beautiful week!

So much love. xo

2 September 2014

Hello Spring!

We're SO ready for Spring… Aren't you? Astonished that we've survived another Tasmanian winter with spirits relatively intact (even if immune systems aren't right now), we're ready for everything that's to come. Excited, in fact! You see, this winter Huz forfeited every second weekend with us in order to achieve his Permaculture Design Certificate. Some of those weeks were the longest I can remember. Being homeschooling parent in charge, without a break for two weeks straight, means that I'm claiming a teeny bit of his achievement for myself too… And letting out a huge sigh of relief we can get back to some relatively normal family time in our nest.

But what it mostly means is that we're now a two-permaculture-designer family! Both of us now see the world through permaculture goggles, and what a positive, beautiful world it is! It also means we're cooking up some delicious plans, both for our garden, our business and our future. Neither of us is really sure what might happen. It might just be a bumper raspberry harvest, but we're slipping on our adventure gumboots and finding out.


We're beginning slowly with our most important task, to bring the owlets up to speed. They've been learning by osmosis until now, but they're keen to know more… And I really can't think of more important life skills to pass on.

Are you glad Spring is here?
Any delicious plans on your horizon?
How does your garden grow?

xx


30 August 2014

Starting a home school co-op :: finding your tribe

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When we first moved to Tasmania, part of the allure was the prospect of finding our tribe. People who would approach life similarly to us and be there to support us, and us them. When we began home educating, we knew more than ever that we needed to find that tribe. But here's the thing, although we had wonderful friends all over the place, a tribe they were not. Yet. 

And so we learnt, slowly, that in order to find a community, you need to build it. 

So set about building it we did. The path hasn't always been smooth, but it has been enriching and fulfilling and I'm happy to report that we now have that tribe and love them with all our hearts…

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Three years ago, I wandered past the local playground and noticed some work had been finished on a little cottage within the playground perimeter. A little research revealed the cottage was available for hire and so with a seed of an idea, I took to Facebook to ask some friends… "Would you come along to a homeschooling group?" A bunch of positive replies later and the Hobart Natural Learner's Co-op was born. I chose the word co-op, as the intention was that it was run co-operatively between families and although it has swayed from that intention from time to time, the intention is there and what we have created now is a nurturing, loving extended family for our children. And a network of caring, supportive and interested friends to spend each week with. 

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What does an unschooling/homeschooling co-op look like? 

Each will be different, but here's what ours looks like: We meet at our cottage on the same day each week. Usually I'll open up, seeing I'm the local with the key. Friends will wander in and we'll slowly unpack art materials to give children free access, tea and coffee supplies and books from our recyclibrary. Then we'll wander outside and I'll push Tiny on the swing for a good half hour (I have playground RSI - seriously). 

If its a sunny day, we'll spread out some picnic rugs and have a chat in the sun as friends arrive through the morning. If we've organised an activity, we'll set that up and begin when most families are there. For the most part, the children are just happy to play. Our space is fantastic for a range of ages, as it has a fenced playground looking out to an open field. The older children tend to spend most of their time out there, enjoying space to run and a little freedom from the adults and smaller children. If they're more keen on play than an activity, we don't push it. But usually at least a few children will get involved and the adults have fun and learn lots too! Some weeks we run workshops facilitated by teachers brought in to pass on a specific skill, which shakes up our program a bit and keeps things interesting.

Later in the afternoon, a small group will usually wander over to our community garden plot to investigate how it's growing, weed, mulch or water and harvest.  Some weeks we wander down to the beach or the skate park through the gully, making sure to return in time to share the packing up and a last cuppa for the day. Each week is diverse and as gentle as it can be on members, who are glad for the company and friendship. Generally we arrive home exhausted, but with hearts full, looking forward to next week. 

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Running the administration and tricky bits...

Another founding member is the group treasurer and she takes care of the money tin and sign in sheet. I organise insurance through the Home Education Network. We've changed our format over the years but currently we offer seasonal memberships. Each family signs on for a season and pays up-front, with the intention to come to as many weeks as possible. The benefit of this is reduced paperwork for our treasurer, and commitment from members… 

We keep a Facebook group for communication between families and brainstorming ideas. All ideas are welcome and encouraged and if families have a skill or something to share with the group, we'll fit that in. We're providing a support network of mentors and other reliable adults around for our children, which is so wonderful.

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Words of advice for setting up your own co-op...

1) Buddy up - I read this wonderfully helpful blog post a while ago, when we almost threw in the towel, which suggested you just need to find at least one other family who are willing to commit to showing up every week. And so our trusty treasurer /long-time dear friend and I set about showing up, no matter what. If you build it, they will come, hey? 

2) Be consistent - We've tried fortnightly meet ups and twice-weekly… But the right balance for the whole group seems to be one day each week. Consistency is the key to maintaining friendships. It keeps that day free in everyone's heads and creates a beautiful rhythm for the children - Yay! Co-op day! Or… how many sleeps until co-op? 

3) Pick a format - It might work better for you to leave it an open invitation - this is especially helpful when you are wanting to locate other like-minded families. You may prefer a big gathering. For our group, a week-to-week format meant flexibility and welcoming lots of people to our community, but it also meant we didn't know who to expect each week. On weeks where there was a really awesome activity, suddenly we'd have huge numbers of people. Which can be wonderfully abundant and so lovely. But it can also mean that lots of the organising and clean-up can fall on the shoulders of a couple of people. And then it feels weird on the weeks where there are only a few of you again… We've fairly recently chosen a seasonal subscription format with just one big abundant, casual visit, open day each season. This is with the intention of knowing who to expect each week and everyone contributing equally. It's smaller, but closer knit and is helping to draw skills and interests out of the quieter members as they grow more comfortable with our group - mission accomplished! A co-op!

4) Be open and stick to the plan - Try and keep the lines of communication open for everyone to have a voice. At the same time, act in the best interests of the group and work to maintain your combined vision. Sometimes this may mean re-thinking how you do things. Sometimes this will ruffle feathers. That's ok. Stick with it.

5) Your co-op isn't for everyone - You may be left scratching your head about why a good friend feels your group isn't for them. You may have expressed a desire to take everyone's ideas on board and make your group work for everyone who's willing to contribute. And they still might not feel comfy. And that's totally ok! You may find some members identify a common bond and set up their own group that suits them better - how wonderful!! And possibly heartbreaking. And wonderful!! You possibly have an extended group of friends out there and a broader, more enriching and diverse range of activities available to you. Awesome! Communities will shift and grow and shrink and move all around. Your job is to stay zen with it, catch up with the people who matter at other times, and just build that little tribe slowly and steadily. 

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It's putting yourself on the line a bit, but so rewarding when you find a friendly bunch to just share the time with. It becomes a highlight of your weeks. A social outlet and support for the more difficult days. And a place to celebrate the best days together. 

Happy tribe building. xx




9 July 2014

Taking stock...

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Making : Time for creativity. Yay!
Cooking : Lots of foods that owlets love to help cook and eat. They're always so hungry!
Drinking : Water. Lots of it. Consciously. Everyday. I'm shocked too.
Reading: Favourite magazines the latest Taproot and Earth Garden are top of the pile.
Wanting: To get my ferments going again. I've missed them! 
Looking: forward to eating some oyster and shiitake mushrooms growing in my kitchen right now.

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Playing: Farms with Tiny. I've been luring her to play with surprise playscapes. It's fun.
Deciding: What we'll do for Little Owlet's birthday. 
Wishing: The hours when the Owlets are in bed would go a tiny bit slower. 
Enjoying: Pip's Inspiration Information course. It's quite lovely and lots of fun.
Waiting: For my phone contract to run out. Tiny took a bath with mine and now the camera and punctuation don't work. I miss quick photos and exclamation marks. 
Liking: Slowing down and being present with the owlets. Creating alongside them. Thanks winter.

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Loving: Sunny Winter days. We pile outside with blankets and soak it up. 
Wondering: What I'll be when I grow up. What's next? 
Pondering: Whether to do that Horticulture certificate or not
Looking: For a new climbing tree and into ways to increase access to natural public play spaces for all. Everyone needs to play more, I think.
Considering: some juicy plans with Huz as he completes his Permaculture Design Certificate. It's going to be exciting.
Marvelling: At our garden as it grows. Ever so slowly, it is taking shape all on its own. 
Hoping: The couch grass doesn't come back as strongly this spring. 


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Opening: The curtains to the most amazing sunrises each day. 
Needing: Some quiet space every day. I'm a better parent and more creative with it. 
Smelling: Winter. The smell of wet earth on our walks. And soup in the slow cooker
Wearing: Holes in all my socks. I haven't bought socks since I stopped designing them.  
Following: My body's cues and trying to go to sleep earlier. Last night I failed dismally. 

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Noticing: Tiny seems to have grown so much bigger lately. 
Knowing: She won't be small for much longer. 
Thinking: Our owlet baby days are over.
Feeling: Sad and sentimental about that. 
Sorting: Through the small clothes each of our three owlets have worn, as Tiny grows out of them.

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Helping:  Little Owlet learn to sew her own clothes. On the machine my grandmother owned and my mother sewed her wedding dress on. Four generations. Little Owlet is so impressed with that. Bless her little vintage-loving heart. 

Buying: New clothes for Big Owlet. Everything's too small all of a sudden.
Admiring: Big Owlet's courage in performing her final drama performance for the term. 

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Getting: Photo bombed by Tiny while I work. 
Bookmarking: TED Talks and similar to watch late at night when I have a quiet moment, so I can mull them over in my sleep. This one is my favourite right now.
Watching: Mad Men. We're catching up. Can't stop. We've come so far, but there's so much further to go. And I'm not just referring to the fact we're mid-season three. 
Disliking: The culture of litigation and rule making we live in. We are losing our freedom everyday. 

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Giggling: At the funny little things the owlets say. I hope they never grow out of saying them. We try and keep them alive by adopting them into our vocabulary.
Feeling: Grateful for the strong and supportive relationships our owlets have with each other. They're great friends. Mostly.
Snacking: On medjool dates. My favourite sweet treat. They make a great smoothie too.
Coveting: The skills of these women. I think I'd like to build something one day too. 
Wishing: The weekends were longer. 
Hearing: Owlets playing piano. Chooks laying eggs again. Chainsaws in the distance. The echo of the river on peaceful evenings. Possums growling at me as I dash out the back door to get herbs for dinner. Huz coming home at the end of a long day… That's my favourite of all.

8 July 2014

Our tree...

Up the tree at Co-op today #tree #unschooling
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I've never climbed this high before! #climb #tree #climber
Bubbles at co-op
A little show before home time at co-op today #coop #hobartnaturallearners #homeschooling #unschooling #playmatters
Good mates hanging out #playmatters #hobartnaturallearners #coop
Another magical day at our co-op... pushing Tiny on the swing 'til my arms hurt! #happydays #strongarms  #coop #hobartnaturallearners

We've been meeting with friends at our co-op for almost three years now. In that time, much of the play  has been witnessed, supported and shaded by the branches of one very large and beautiful willow tree. Big Owlet and I had known the tree since her playgroup days in the big hall, when she was Tiny's age. She'd stand underneath and marvel at the shadows and light filtering through the leaves.

Since we began holding our Hobart Natural Learners Co-op meets in the playground, friendships have been forged, fought over and strengthened under that tree. The children learnt to co-operate and problem solve tying a rope swing on its branches. They climbed the larger branches gleefully, facing fears and observing nature around them. We've woven willow crowns and fashioned brooms and horse reigns from it's smalls branches. We've escaped the scorching Tasmanian summer sun and sheltered from light rain under that majestic tree.

Since she was a baby, Tiny has sat in the swing underneath, asking me to push her "higher and higher!" until her bare toes touched the leaves above… We've loved that tree. A beautiful regular fixture in our weeks.

So you can imagine our shock last week when…

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This happened.

The owlets immediately flew into hysterics and tears, greatly distressed at the loss of their tree. I must admit, I did too… We called Huz and asked him to contact the council to find out what was going on. He was put through to the head maintenance worker (let's call him gardening guy), who explained the situation to him and then marched over to us to explain further.

We were spoken to quite defensively and told "Shade sails are better than trees in children's playgrounds", and "Kids can climb trees in their own backyards". "What if you don't have a climbing tree in your backyard?" I asked. "Not my problem", said gardening guy. He also mentioned (I suspect it slipped out), that it was most likely a "financial matter" as "pruning the tree regularly to cut the branches is more expensive than pollarding." Uh huh. And therein lies the truth.

When we questioned the severity of the pruning, we were asked "Oh you're an arborist are you?" Not the most sensitive approach towards a group of people who were very clearly shaken and grieving. We were also told it'll grow back again, in a few years. Yeah.

It seemed to us that there was more to the story than a small amount of rot at the top of a couple of branches, despite the pictures we were shown of the tree before. Research tells us that pollarding perhaps isn't the best course of action for an old willow tree like this. It will shoot from the top, providing a light canopy in a few years time.

But the tree will never be climbable again, removing a potential liability risk for council, certainly. The look of recognition on the children's faces as they counted 35 rings on what was once their favourite climbing branch... They knew they'd never climb it again… "I'll bring my children here and they can climb it", said Big Owlet. I didn't have the heart to tell her that'll never happen.

The tree will be more susceptible to decay and disease now. Pollarding it will grow a smaller, light, maintainable canopy at the top, which will weep down if the council let it, but they'll not let any lower branches remain, as confirmed by gardening guy. And tiny toes will never reach for those leaves from the swing ever again.

The beautiful children who play in the playground every week, our gang, have felt a great sense of loss.  The playground is so stark now. It's beauty is lost forever. They picked flowers and branches (to stick into the tree in hopes they'd re-sprout) and drew pictures and left them for the tree before we headed off down the road for a fungi walk. When we returned an hour later, all of the gifts had been removed. We suspect  gardening guy was responsible for this too. Way to add to the grief of a bunch of small children, gardening guy…

The next morning, Little Owlet told me she woke up happy, and then she remembered. Our tree. Oh.

So we're feeling a spot of guerrilla gardening might be in order. Or yarn bombing. Or something that will honour our beautiful tree (and perhaps tick gardening guy off just a little). And make us feel a little less wobbly about being there now. And I'm considering exploring the realm of landscape design again, to provide access to natural play spaces for all. Watch this space…

Have you ever lost a tree you loved? 
What is the worth of a tree that provides shade and play for generations of people living in a neighbourhood, do you think? Should it outweigh maintenance budgets?
Do you think children should be able to climb trees in public places? 

Much love. xx











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