Monday, November 12, 2012

Magic painting

  This is an activity that is great fun for kids and adults alike-we never lose our love for secret messages. It’s simple really-draw or write on plain, sturdy paper with a candle, pressing quite hard. Give it to the recipient, who paints over it with watercolours or dilute food colouring and voila! The secret is revealed. It’s a really nice wat to write lovely messages to the kids.








  I tried this with Frosty last week, who liked it for a little bit-but then spent the rest of his time emptying and refilling everyone else’s water. He’s going through a water stage right now.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Finding out your child doesn’t fit ‘normal’

  One area in which we’ve never had typical reactions has been the disability one. Reading a book of Deaf people’s stories has certainly driven home what i’ve always known-the husband and I are seriously weird in our blase attitudes to the differences in our Shorty. Like the husband said ‘All these people cry and grieve for their child. We just wanted to know what colours we could get hearing aids in!’

  But then there’s never been any doom and gloom. Upon counting fingers and toes at birth and satisfying myself that the gas hadn’t screwed my sight up any more than it is naturally, we shrugged it off. There’s video of us fanning out his hands, an hour or so after birth, exclaiming, ‘Aren’t they COOL!’ There’s never been much consideration of hacking bits of him off to make him fit in, just like a tummy tuck after having my twins was never considered for myself. Cosmetic surgery is cosmetic surgery in my head. It was a complete shock, the morning of his birth, to be told that if his extra bits had been discovered at the 20 week scan I would have been advised to terminate. I remember being completely pole-axed, clutching my perfectly healthy new baby to me, thinking that if events (and my views) were different, he wouldn’t be here at all, because of a ‘just in case’ view. Let’s get rid of him, just in case he’s not average! Kill off those differences!

  The strongest emotional reaction i’ve had was to the geneticist who delivered the diagnosis of his syndrome. As i’d already deduced with Dr Google it was most likely that one there was no surprise-except the surprise of him being such a bastard about it. Telling us our son would most likely be a vegetable for life, and not to have more children because they could be too, and wreck our life. Treating him like a liability. I should have gone with my urges and spat on him, I really should have. Especially now, considering our six year old bike riding, tree climbing, wrestling ‘vegetable’. And he got the syndrome wrong, too, by the latest assessment (three years ago, mostly because it really doesn’t matter what label they stick him with).

  But as I tell everyone I can (probably tiresomely, but can’t say I care), having a child with a syndrome is not a bad thing. Just a different thing. It can actually be a really positive thing, if you let it. Differences are so feared in our society. So many children are not even given the chance to live, with parents deciding they ‘couldn’t handle it’ and opting out. How many would make that same decision if exposed to real children and real parents who are handling their situation positively and joyfully? Rather than a bastard geneticist’s view? People take to Shorty instinctively, in a way they don’t to my other kids. They sense his happiness and contentedness, his perfect ability to live right now, his freely given affection and friendship. Qualities that adults practice and strive to obtain.

  Flawed? Or maybe even better off than the rest of us. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Home ed-as it is now

  I wrote this post a few months back, and it got way out of hand very quickly, to the point where I just had far too much to add to it, and gave up. So i’m just going to publish it as it is. So think of it as ‘home ed-as it was four months ago’!
  How do I sum up the natural education of five children in one blog post? Just cataloguing one day would be a mammoth read. We still unschool, and most likely always will-it’s so perfectly suited to our life (and my hatred of and inability to keep to schedules and regimentation), and the sheer amount they learn about a huge range of subjects is mind-boggling. I have finally gotten rid of all school-mind, relaxed and accepted that yes, unschooling really DOES work for young children. Meanwhile, the kids happily got on with it, as they always have. After our travelling we’re sticking close to home and enjoying our comforts while we can.
  Our most useful thing lately has been this whiteboard, picked up from a closing-down sale. The many things that are read, commented on, then lost in the million other same things can now be recorded in the lounge room and re-read until they’re stuck in those little heads. They choose what they’d like to put up there, like the poem, Auslan and Word Spy stuff below, and we change it every week or two. Yes, they enjoy rote learning when they decide what to learn.
   Before it’s taken off the whiteboard I copy it into the Family Fact Book-so anything they know was on the board, but just can’t remember, can be looked up.
  Narnia has also been the obsession for the last three months or so. First the audiobooks, then the BBC miniseries, all accompanied by Narnia guidebooks (and of course, a set of the actual books). There have been discussions and investigations on religion, cinematography and special effects, and the contrast between movies and books and why they have to differ. There has been endless roleplay-my kids will never miss a chance to live in pretend-land. Frosty with his very enthusiastic stick-swords does try my patience though, especially when he’s Peter and his unsuspecting brother is the wolf.
  History is another big theme, which is extremely interesting to me as I know virtually nothing about it. It just wasn’t covered at school. It started with a lift-the-flaps Roman town book and has snowballed from there into ancient Egypt and the Vikings, with the girls planning their future travels to ancient ruins all over the world, and Oods learning some Latin. Everyday life is the interest here-not so much the rise and fall of empires as how they built their houses, what they ate and what they believed in.
  Language in all it’s forms is another obsession-but not so much the Auslan, which i’ve been rather slack with. The Word Spy books have sparked much language play and interest, contributing to the interest in Latin and therefore Rome (it’s all connected somehow!) Secret languages and codes abound, and little symbolised signs and notes are appearing everywhere. I’ve no idea what they’re doing, and they like it that way. Because it wouldn’t be a secret language if I knew it.
  Lols and Sparkles are now fluent readers. They seemed to do this secretly, they didn’t want all the instruction that Oods did. Just the basics, then they were happy to decode the rest themselves. I’m still not exactly sure how well they’re reading, but they seem to be able to read books around the calibre of Aussie Nibbles just fine. Oods is reading Harry Potter at warp speed, she’s definitely following in my reading footsteps-she hasn’t hit my speed yet, but at the rate she’s going she may actually overtake me one day.
  Craft for the girls has progressed to making real stuff, with much less mess-I knew it would all finally be worth it one day! I still have two little confetti making boofheads who make an insane amount of mess, but at least I know that light at the end of the tunnel is not a train. The girls took it upon themselves to learn to knit and can all do so, and the clones have just learnt how to form stitches in crochet. Oods, meanwhile, crocheted me a pair of slippers completely from her head that fit me perfectly-meanwhile, the one I made her is too big. Yes, I have been outperformed by an eight year old, and yes, I am proud (and only a tiny bit miffed, promise). I really, really need another sewing machine, because I often have to wait to use mine. Bags, skirts, shoes, doll clothes, gauntlets-you name it, they’ll hack up some fabric and have a bash at making it completely from their heads-and it usually works. 
   They take it in turns to cook independently, with most recipes coming from their heads. There’s been some interesting food made, but they seem to have the basics of cooking nailed down now, and can turn out cakes, biscuits and breads of acceptable quality. I really like this one, because them cooking saves me some cooking. And what is a more important skill than cooking? Except maybe gardening, which has been mostly abandoned to the husband now the cold weather has hit, although Lols (his mini-him) still gets out there with him.
  The boys are about equal ability at the moment, and I think Frosty may have overtaken Shorty in the academic stakes in the last month or so. I treat them both as three, and forget that Shorty is actually six and ‘should’ be reading. Ha! Good luck with that! They do lots of drawing, tracing and colouring, as well as many hours of wrestling and whacking stuff with sticks. Whoever said boys and girls are the same had never actually exposed themselves to children.
  Finally, the natural world remains a constant interest, with more Attenborough documentaries, some snake handling and a wildlife show complete with wombat fondling recently. Jackie French’s kangaroo and wombat books are on the library shelf right now.
The kids still don’t use the computer, we still don’t have a television, so we’re still Amish sympathisers-but looking at all the above, who has time for that junk? I stand firm on my low-tech stance, figuring there’s far more worthy and interesting (and real) things to do, and they’ll pick it up easily and quickly when it’s time-just like we did. And yes, I apply the same rules to myself too! Internet once a week works just fine for me-I prioritise the most useful parts and ignore the rest.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Fevered crafty post

  I have blogged nothing i’ve made since I got to the last house, in a different state, last February! And it feels like i’ll i’ve done is makemakemake. So here’s what was clean for this photo session, and I may get to the rest another day.

P7112011Hoodie for Lols-to Imke in Sewing Clothes Kids Love, with pixie hood. Most complimented item, hands-down.


P7112015 Hoodie for Sparkles-also to Imke

P7111996 Not bad for my first t-shirt-with Imke, again, but needs to be narrowed substantially.

P7111998 Twirly skirt for Oods-my pattern. I’ll get around to finishing the 20 i’ve half-made to sell one day

P7112000 Sparkles

P7112001 Lols-love her taste in fabrics

P7112003 Pants for Frosty, green of course, to some vintage pattern. Yes, they’re well worn!

P7112005 Shorty’s version

P7112006 Chenille pants for Shorty too-they make him look like a teddy bear

P7112007 Pants for Lols, to a Burda pattern

P7112009 Sparkles’ version

P7112010   The Fred Bare rip-off kaftan in a fabric I couldn’t resist


Library bags for my independent reading girls-Sparkles


And Lols

A little bit of frivolity from me-crochet hook wallet from Sew Darn Cute (much better than the rubber band method)



And vinyl/felt needle book (much better than the loose in drawer method).



And the only pic of anything crochet i’ve done (mostly beanies for all the kids and a handful of dishcloths, plus gauntlets for me).


Ponytail beanie for Sparkles.

  Now i’m back to full-time study, i’ve managed to knit half a dishcloth and mend a sleeping bag in the last six weeks after moving interstate. As well as build fences, chicken and sheep wrangle and dig an extraordinary amount, but that’s all for another post (or not, knowing me).

Friday, June 29, 2012

Feeling nostalgic

   I used to get all depressed that we hadn’t ‘settled down’, and then frantically try to do stuff that meant we could ASAP. As you may guess none of this worked, as we’re still traipsing around, with another two states to be lived in this year alone. I’ve sort of accepted this, but when I look through old photos I really get the settling down bug! We owned our acreage for about 2.5 years. For the last year we didn’t live there, and for the last six months we didn’t even GO there. But when the husband dropped in, this is what was there after all that neglect. Imagine what we could do with somewhere we lived and tended to the whole time? Now we don’t have a newborn, and all of our kids are a couple of years older?




Our first pineapple


Always bananas around the mulch pit


And paw-paw!


Coffee beans…….

  This doesn’t include the hundreds of passionfruit, the self-seeded tomatoes-or the damn avocadoes.

  I’m at the stage again of just wanting to get started, to stop living in limbo, but we’ll get there……….eventually. And I like to think that when we do, it’ll be especially sweet.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Struggling with educational snobbery

  I am an education snob. This is mostly due to everyone having had high expectations of me as a child geek, effortlessly topping my classes and doing every extension available. This carried on into the accelerated class (with extra-accelerated maths) at high school. While working, partying and drinking copious amounts I managed to keep up the A+ grades with quickly-scrawled essays. I always had the expectation (and the expectation of me) that I would go on to a spectacularly impressive degree at an impressive university, and I did, beginning Behavioural Neuroscience at Monash at barely 17.
  Then, things started to go off the rails. While lots of my classes were interesting, I was failing to see how they would lead to a career that I actually wanted to do. And I realised that many people had been studying while I was doing the working/partying/drinking thing, and had a much more solid background than me. All of a sudden I actually had to work at learning, without having the appropriate motivation for doing so. I agonised for a short while, spending many hours playing Command and Conquer (at the husband’s house) or The Sims (at my house), instead of going to lectures (but I still passed first year-barely).
  So I deferred. And got a job as a cleaner (can you hear the screams of horror from where you are?) And I really, really enjoyed it. It was at a hospital so I spent all day talking to lovely senior citizens while scrubbing their rooms, and I earnt excellent money for an 18 year old. I was soon doing three different jobs there, also doing kitchen work and talking myself into a job as a data clerk at Breastscreen. I was able to buy a car, get my licence, and rent a brand-new little unit with the husband (then boyfriend), where we played endless Xbox while getting shitfaced. Then I managed to drag him to Queensland for a holiday, he realised it was far preferable to Melbourne, and we began our nomadic life. And decided babies were better had sooner, rather than later, and money was most easily got by renovating crappy old houses.
  The education thing has always niggled at me, though. I have always wanted a qualification of some sorts, and started a Bachelor of Nursing externally when I had Oods, which lasted two weeks (laugh at me, thinking with a newborn i’d have so much time on my hands). Then I began a Bachelor of Health Promotion (spot the health/medical theme here?) when pregnant with Shorty. This time I completed a semester with HDs-but then PND hit and I couldn’t continue into the next one. I then began it again when pregnant with Frosty but my heart wasn’t in it-and I don’t think i’ll go back to it. I chucked the books for a few years, deciding to teach myself dressmaking/pattern drafting in more depth instead, thinking something suited to me would come up eventually.
  Then some friends we met travelling kept talking about their friend the herbalist. Herbalist? People still do that? Like, as a job? And I have since found that they certainly do, and so could I. Me, who attempts to grow every herb I can get seeds from, who doses up the kids (and the pets) with all sorts of weird stuff rather than medicine, and who has a whole shelf of herbal books already. And I can also extend it to a qualification in nutritional medicine-considering how much time I spend cooking, and my obsession with wholefoods and fermenting, plus the fact that Shorty’s medicinal garlic chomping has actually been recorded in his audiology file, well, i’m sort of seeing that I just may be suited for this. I began to think of teaching rather than practicing, running short and day courses, and enabling people to treat and prevent their own minor ailments.
  Which is where the educational snobbery enters. I never really considered anything but a degree-while i’d had a cursory look over TAFE handbooks, a degree was the only way to go. I’ve always considered that you go to TAFE for trades, not for academics. What use is a diploma for an intellectual course? It’s not like a proper qualification, is it? Well, I can’t do the only Bachelor of Herbal Medicine offered, on-campus at a college. Not with five children, and not in Brisbane (city, argh!). So it has to the the external………..are you ready…………Advanced Diploma. From an independent college, no name-dropping kudos there. I’m having trouble getting my head around the fact that it’s not a degree. From a university. This is compounded by the fact that you cannot register with industry bodies after doing the external course, as it’s not considered good enough. (You can register, however, after the course and six months working in the field). And it costs $21,600 in VET_FEE-HELP fees (with the 20% surcharge), crikey! For two years off-campus it seems a bit steep, especially as it’s so much more than the HECS fees were for my on campus Neuroscience degree, complete with gel electrophoresis experiments and real cadavers. I’ve been dithering about enrolling this whole year, and have reached the point where i’ve collected my various academic transcripts for RPL ( I should get 6-7 subjects out of 28 written off, reducing costs considerably), and am trying to wheedle the husband into letting me pay upfront with the coming guv’mint bribes, thereby receiving a 30% discount. If that all works, the cost for the qualification drops to around $9000. And I can use it as credit for a Health Sciences degree in the future, if I decide to, effectively halving the subjects for that.
  Also, all of these colleges are…….well, somewhat woo. While I am convinced of herbalism’s medicinal qualities, some of the electives i’m offered sit on shakier foundations of evidence. Like homeopathy. (But it’s OK-I can do nutrition and other more stable electives.) I have the feeling i’ll be leaving my comfortable scientific realm of epidemiology and double-blind studies into a world of anecdote and n=1 studies. I don’t think i’ll fit in well. Call me blinded by too much education, as woo-fanatics do to anyone who chooses to put more stock in scientific evidence over anecdotes (with all of their biases), but I prefer the cool-eyed, well-thought out rigor of science to a collection of emotion-charged anecdotes being called ‘proof’ against all other evidence (see the ‘vaccines cause autism’ brigade for a perfect example). Maybe I could call myself the scientific herbalist?
  So I have a week or so in which to decide whether I really want to do it and whether it’s worth it. And whether i’m ready, right now, to jump back into the world of structured study.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


  Rarely does a book get its very own post, and usually because i’m ranting against it. This book, however, is utterly hilarious, and very apt. As a couple who have families who fit a lot of the stereotypes in this book, the husband and I found ourselves laughing uncontrollably at it quite a few times.

  My favourite?

  Although the bogan is largely aware of the concept of speed limits, it doesn’t appreciate being limited in anything it does. So even while driving a stock 1992 Hyundai Excel with flat front tyres and frangipani stickers on the rear window, the bogan imagines itself to be a maxtreme stunt driver. It will perform what it believes to be precise manoeuvring in and out of traffic, in order to progress approximately 5 metres ahead of where it would be otherwise be were it not so inclined to endanger the lives of everyone around it in this recklessly selfish and idiotic way.

  It got me laughing so hard I couldn’t read it out to the husband for at least five minutes. I’m easily entertained.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Travels, part 2-the Fleurieu and back again, via the Red Centre

September-November now!  After spending a few weeks north of Adelaide, where we got hailed on and frosted up, we had a hissy fit and true to our style decided to go somewhere warmer. Like Alice Springs. I bought myself a digital SLR in Port Augusta as a birthday present, but didn’t realise i’d need a different card, so was unable to use it until we got to Alice Springs (you’ve only missed Coober Pedy, which didn’t grab me at all). As it worked out, I finally got to use it on my birthday, heading out to the West MacDonnell ranges. And what a landscape to practice on. Alice Springs was so much more beautiful than I expected, in a rugged, sun-bleached, ancient sort of way. I can see how people travel to the outback and end up living there, it’s spectacular in a whole different, much more peaceful way than the coast.


  Ellery Big Hole was gorgeous, and we stopped and ate cake. Note how tiny the kids are in the lower right? It was discarded as a possible camping area because there was no shade, and it was very hot. We had to go out and buy summer clothes when we got to Alice because we had nothing suitable-my morning there in jeans was almost intolerable.


  We carried on to Ormiston Gorge which was even more beautiful, dumped the camping gear to set up later, and went swimming for the rest of the day. Happy 28th birthday to me!


That evening we had the whole gorge to ourselves and stayed there until dusk. Then we went back, the kids went to bed and the husband and I sat up spotlighting dingoes prowling around. Absolutely perfect. A dingo stole the full wetbag on our last night, and I found it 50m off the track in the morning. We then got to say ‘A dingo stole my wetbag!’ in bad Australian accents.


  After a few days, however, the heat was getting to us in a big way, and we ran out of sunscreen, which was an absolute necessity when you could get burnt in under 10 minutes. So back to Alice, the caravan park, and the pool! Where we spent most of the rest of our time.

  The view from Anzac Hill


At sunset.


Dirty desert feet-honestly, the dust got smeared on everything, especially being hot and sweaty. It was impossible to keep clean. We were scrubbing all feet before bed to try to preserve our bedding somewhat.


While the husband kept spotting jobs advertised and trying to convince me to stay there, I was more realistic. The cost of living is astronomical-and to tell the truth, I felt uneasy being somewhere that is so unsustainable. All the food is trucked in, the water is pumped from the Great Artesian Bore-it all felt a bit like a house of cards to me. While were were keen to go to Darwin everyone heading south discouraged us-it was late October and the build up to the wet, and having lived in Cairns for four years we knew what that was like. Bearable in a well ventilated house with fans, but in a plastic tent it wouldn’t be so fun. So we decided to go south-west and check out the big rocks. Originally we planned to go west again through the MacDonnells via the Menindee loop through Aboriginal land and onto Kings Canyon, but apparently the road was terrible-30km/h, flat tyres sort of terrible. As we weren’t particularly equipped for serious 4WD conditions we wussed out and took the main roads to Yulara. It’s about 450km from Alice, and 250km off the Sturt Hwy-much further than I would have guessed before going!

Uluru (well, duh). My advice? Skip the sunset viewing, it’s crowded and not very impressive. Instead, spend dusk at Mutijulu waterhole, and watch the animals appearing to drink. Much better.








Kata Tjuta, which is about 50kms away.


  PA230399   PA230389

I was surprise by how much there was to see around Uluru, the general media view is of a big featureless rock. But there’s lots of trees, waterholes, caves, sacred sites and historical sites around the base. There’s also an awesome mudbrick visitor centre which cannot be photographed. I was not happy, as I wanted a house like it so needed photos as a reference. It was insanely touristy of course (and we were there at the quiet time) and Yulara, being basically a resort for tourists, was sterile and unremarkable. But there was a free air-conditioned bus that we did many laps on around the complex. We did a bushfood session which was wonderful-the indigenous woman who ran it was lovely, she ran to no-one’s schedule and showed all the kids one by one how to use quandongs for sunscreen and make a honey drink from grevilleas.

We had lots of Steve Parrish moments up there-I do like reptiles so the desert was fun. Seeing a big goanna near the kitchen and alerting the Japanese tourists was hilarious-they were scared but intrigued, with lots of squealing. Not so fun was finding a centipede in the tent under my pillow, and hacking it up with a spoon.






This snake was the funniest. We were walking back from the Mutijulu waterhole at Uluru at dusk, and spotted this snake crossing the path. We yelled ‘SNAKE!’ and all started running towards it to get a better look. It was hell-bent on reaching cover away from the seven giants thundering towards it, and we didn’t get any closer than about 20m away before it was gone for good. The international tourists behind us were horrified though. We must have confirmed all of their stereotypes about Australians all being lunatics like Steve Irwin, leaping on poisonous reptiles. They stayed very close behind us while the kids checked out the tracks, and didn’t leave us until the carpark was in view. PA240601

Then began the looong trek south again, with the vague view of settling down somewhere there, overtaking cattle-filled road trains….


…..past the opal diggings at Coober Pedy….


….and the last desert sunset for a while.