Monday, 11 April 2016

NEW WAYS OF LEARNING



About a month ago the seven-year-old learnt to knit. It is an activity that is encouraged at his new school, and something the children learn before writing or their times tables. Even before I had the chance to read about the reasoning for this teaching method, I found myself buying yarn and a set of bamboo needles. Initially it was because I wanted to help him and couldn't quite remember how to knit as I hadn't done it since I was his age. Then as he became more adept, I became transfixed watching his new-found dexterity with the needles. It seemed like a fun activity to do together.

After teaching myself from a few online tutorials, I soon became addicted too. Moving through the stitches and rows can create a meditative state. It is a repetitive action that is incredibly calming. And while many experienced knitters can talk and not even look at their stitches while they work, focusing on the task at hand creates the single-minded calmness that I have only experienced before from yoga, swimming laps and meditating.

The school's literature states that the amount of attentiveness required to knit helps to train young children's concentration spans which will help with their problem-solving skills in later years. It is also an activity that focuses on fine motor skills, which can assist in learning to read and write, especially the repetition of moving from left to right.

Counting the number of stitches and rows and devising patterns with various colours for the piece that they are working on can help children to develop mathematical skills in a stimulating yet enjoyable way. 

Then there are the conversations that we have had as a result of this new activity. Why wool is better than acrylic. The pluses and minuses of using different types of ply and materials - from twine to cotton. And the cost of wool - as he was going through so much so quickly - and why some products from countries such as China are cheaper - but explaining how the companies who produce such goods get those costs down.






While he learnt French knitting at his previous school, and got a loom weaving kit the previous year, which he went through spurts of using, the act of having knitting as an ongoing class activity has spurred his interest in all sorts of knitting, knotting and weaving again. He sometimes intersperses his knitted pieces with French or finger knitting. This way he has created bunting, which now hangs from his sister's bed, and a bag that he uses to carry his school hat inside. Also, in the past month he has created various bracelets for his sisters and a stock whip, which he enjoyed learning to crack.


His current focus is on using a bale of sisal twine, which has lead to many interesting twists and turns in our talks. We have spoken about how you might create string bags, coasters and light shades using this material. The work of Indigenous artist Regina Wilson also came up. She has created home furnishings for Australian furniture and design company Koskela in the past. He was impressed with her dilly bag design and some of her other weavings.

"We cannot underestimate the self-esteem and joy that arise in the child as the result of having made something practical and beautiful - something which has arisen as the result of a skill that has been learned. In an age when children are too often passive consumers, who, as Oscar Wilde once said, 'know the price of everything and the value of nothing', learning to knit can be a powerful way of bringing meaning into a child's life." - Eugene Schwartz, "Knitting and Intellectual Development" in Waldorf Education: A Family Guide (ed Pamela Johnson Fenner and Karen L Rivers), Michaelmas Press, 1995.

And if you're interested in a few other facts about knitting, here are a list of six unexpected benefits.

images the indigo crew

Monday, 4 April 2016

TREE CHANGE JOURNEY | MARCH



The month of March was marked by the arrival of visitors - both welcome and unexpected. The former were friends - almost local, although they live closer to the coast - as well as some international visitors, who have been travelling around the world with their family of six. Both families had four children apiece and made for a fun albeit slightly rambunctious day. These are the visits we remember though - when the house is full, there's food and special treats aplenty, conversations are somewhat snatched but cut to the essence of what's important in life, and a walk down to the creek becomes an adventure. We see our home with fresh eyes.

Unexpected visitors also provided us with a new perspective on where we live. After the flooding rain of January we experienced two months of virtually no rain. The extended summer kept temperatures warm and the humidity high. And snakes came out searching for water. We have seen at least three different varieties in the past month - a diamond python, a tree snake and potentially a yellow-faced whip snake - although we're still learning to identify our slippery friends. One of them was found in our living room and had to be captured on a makeshift hook attached to the end of a broom handle. 


We also came across an injured bird that had flown into our living room window. The children delighted in creating a temporary home - made out of a cardboard box, lined with wool and filled with berries - where it could recuperate. The four-year-old was initially devastated though when it was well enough to fly again. Although she's since told me several times that she's happy that it flew away. We spoke about the bird wanting to return to its family and friends.



The tree house has continued to be an ongoing weekend project with the children. The platform was completed last month and since then we had added a safety rail and fence. Our visitors helped us to collect sticks and they were cut to size and attached with twine. We've also added a more permanent ramp and the children enjoy spending time on the deck, playing and eating meals.


Work on the house itself has been on hold for the most part while the treehouse was being built. However, in the past month the magenta fireplace surround was painted white and a hanging rail was added to the girl's room, as well as a cupboard converted into a temporary wardrobe of sorts. Over the Easter weekend a wall was built in the place of a hanging curtain behind the bed in the master bedroom. Modest changes that make a difference to our day-to-day living.


We are fast learning that there is always maintenance to be done on a property. No sooner had we moved in than we were issued with a notice to clear under the electrical power lines. As a lot of the bamboo had grown out of control, removing tracks of it was the first stage. We then employed the school gardener to trim some trees too. This turned out to be a good exercise as afterwards he was he able to walk around the property and identify various trees and plants, giving us a quick lesson in what is native and what should be scaled back.


One benefit of chopping down trees is that we now have a small supply of firewood for the upcoming winter. While it is still warm during the daytime, the evenings can get cool and so we decided to test out the fireplace. We have never seen the children bathe and dress for bed so quickly.


The end of the month posed some challenges. Our water supply is derived from rainwater tanks - three of them at various points along our hill. Pumps feed the water up to the house and when one of them died a couple of weeks ago we tried to get it serviced, were given a different pump that didn't work, and had to cart water up the hill in containers. Then the hot water system itself failed and, finally, we ran out of water completely. It was a sharp lesson in the importance of water, and how much we are beholden to nature and its inconstant ways.


But every morning we are treated to watching the mist lift off the surrounding mountains and the view from almost every room provides with the most wonderful, calming vista. And we can open our front door and the children can run, play and explore. That is why we moved here, and embarked on this journey. To find freedom in the everyday.

images the indigo crew

Thursday, 24 March 2016

HOT CROSS BUNS





We have made these hot cross buns a few times over the years but I realised today that I hadn't posted the recipe here. 

So if you're feeling inspired to make your own hot cross buns, I'd recommend this Donna Hay recipe. And given that I was walking past a grocery store the other day and it had a photo of hot cross buns with the label "palm oil free" I was even more determined not to buy mass-produced buns. It's only now they are claiming they don't contain palm oil - but what else is inside? And what will they be proclaiming next year?

Hot cross buns - amongst a host of other foods - have become a huge money-generating exercise for business, especially supermarkets. These Easter foods have been on sale since just after Christmas and the other day there were mounds of them on display. I have always enjoyed hot cross buns, and never read the ingredients too closely, but when I saw the sign it made me angry. As consumers, we have to check every label. We have to be conscious of what foods we buy. We have to be food warriors against the chase for profits, which results in cheap ingredients that degrade our health and environment.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this wholefood version.

INGREDIENTS
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
4 1/4 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons mixed spice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
50g butter, melted
1 egg
1 1/2 cups sultanas
1/2 cup plain flour, extra
1/3 cup water

Glaze - I didn't use this - but if you want to add, here are the details: Place 1/2 sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove any sugar crystals on the side with a pastry brush dipped in water. Add 2 teaspoons powdered gelatine sprinkled over 1 tablespoon water and cook for 1 minute. Set aside to cool. Brush over buns. Refrigerate to set.

1. Place yeast, 2 teaspoons of sugar and all of milk in a bowl and set aside for 5 minutes. The mixture will start to foam, indicating the yeast is active.
2. Add the flour, mixed spice, cinnamon, butter, egg, sultanas and remaining sugar to the yeast mixture and mix using a butter knife until a sticky dough forms. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 8 minutes or until it feels elastic. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and allow to stand in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size. Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll into balls.
3. Grease a 23cm (9 in) square cake tin and line with non-stick baking paper. Place the dough balls in the tin, cover with a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm place for 30 minutes or until they rise. Preheat the oven to 200-degrees-C (400-F). Combine the extra flour and water, place a piping bag or a plastic bag with one corner snipped off, and pipe crosses on the buns. 
4. Bake for 35 minutes or until well browned and springy to touch. Brush with the warm glaze while the buns are hot. Serve warm with butter. Makes 12.

images the indigo crew

Monday, 21 March 2016

CREATIVE WARDROBE SOLUTION




No sooner had we installed floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and office cupboards in our dining room and custom cabinetry in two bedrooms then we decided last year to move house. Sure enough, the new house doesn't have anywhere near the amount of storage as our previous home. It always makes me wonder how people live for so long without somewhere to keep their clothes and belongings stored and filed neatly away.  

We are back to the beginning again - or at least so it seems on some days. 

When we first moved into our home at the end of last year, we placed the children's clothes in chest-of-drawers. But they are not big enough, and it leads to items getting creased and crushed. Also, I've noticed that the girls can't "see" what they have, especially when it comes to their dresses.

As we plan to remodel their room at some point - but have to yet to determine the layout - buying furniture or even diving in and creating a temporary "built" storage solution seems counter-productive.

Then during the treehouse building project, when I saw bundles of beautiful branches outside, it gave me the idea of create a hanging rail for the girls' room. All it required was a couple of hooks, rope and a branch - all of which we already had at home. Perhaps, more importantly, it could be created in under an hour - quicker than going to the shops!

YOU WILL NEED
1 x saw (to cut branch to desired length)
1 x tape measure
2 x hooks
1 x drill
2 x equal lengths of sisal rope
1 x branch

HOW-TO
1. Drill two hooks into the ceiling, ensuring they are 20cm shorter than your length of branch. You need 10cm of overhang at each end.
2. Create loops on two lengths of rope - one at each end. We used a splice knot to secure them in place. Make sure the rope hangs at the right height for little eyes and hands.
3. Insert the loops on the ceiling hooks and the other ends on the branch.

Tips
* Choose a branch that is as straight as possible. If it has too much of an angle the clothes will slide down.
* Choose a height that your children can reach, which helps encourage them to get dressed.
* If you need to shorten the rope and you've already created your knots, you can always create a basic knot along the length.
* You can store other items underneath, such as suitcases, which is where we keep dress-up items, such as masks and other costumes.
* Colour code clothes to make it easier to view what's on offer.
* The girls share this hanging rail and the youngest has the left-hand side while the oldest has the right-hand side. 
* There's no reason why you can't create one of these for yourself or another adult's clothing collection.
* Use the same style of coat hanger for your clothes to minimise the visual clutter of the hanging rail. Colour coding helps with this too.

Top Printebebe
Shorts Aubrie
Suitcases Mamapapa

images the indigo crew

Friday, 18 March 2016

JAM COOKIES



A few weeks ago I was making these cookies regularly - a couple of times a week, at least. Well, usually with a little helper or two alongside me. They are great to have on hand for afternoon tea, after school snacks or lunch boxes. The jam provides some sweetness, but otherwise they have a slight salty taste. The almonds gives them a lovely grainy texture too. They are an adaption of Gwyneth Paltrow's "Lalo's Famous Cookies" recipe from the Notes From My Kitchen Table cookbook.

INGREDIENTS
450g plain organic flour
450g almond meal
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
250ml olive oil
250ml maple syrup
Jam, I used homemade raspberry

1. Preheat the oven to 180-degrees-C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
2. Combine all the ingredients, except the jam, in a large bowl, using a wooden spoon. Form tablespoonfuls of mixture into balls and space evenly on the baking paper. Use your index finger to make an indent in each cookie. Fill each indent with jam.
3. Bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool before eating.

image the indigo crew