Sep 30, 2008

The Unschooling Handbook

While at the library last week I picked up a copy of "The Unschooling Handbook - how to use the whole world as your child's classroom" by Mary Griffiths.

If I wasn't already largely convinced of the practical common-sense nature of 'unschooling', this book would have done the trick. It answers all the common questions a parent might ask when thinking about this approach to their kids' education - including "what about maths?" (and science and reading and writing) and "how do you know if they're learning anything?"

I particularly liked the personal reflections from over a dozen homeschooling parents and kids that she has included. I found myself nodding while reading most of them (not all - if would be a strange world indeed if we agreed with everything everyone says :) ).

All in all, recommended if you even just want to know what on earth 'unschooling' means when it comes to the nitty gritty of what people do all day. Readable, chatty, informative and not remotely intimidating (doesn't use any "eduspeak" that I noticed). Read more...

Sep 27, 2008

Usborne Young Puzzle Books

We borrowed the Puzzle Balloon Race from the library yesterday. This is the first time I've seen this series of books and they are right on target for where Miss4 is at. It's great to find something that she can read, and the puzzles are interesting but not too hard for her, but there are some that she can't do, so it stretches her too.

Not sure how long the interest will last once she's done all the figuring out there is to be done - so perhaps better as a library loan than a purchase, but I am very happy that we found them in the library. One thing she has never been great at is actually looking and finding stuff - not a strong visual learner at all - so it's great to have a combination of puzzles. Some are looking at the pictures and find certain things, but some are remembering what was read out earlier in the story, some maths puzzles (if each blast of hot air raises you 50feet, and you need to be 400ft higher than you are now, how many blasts of hot air do you need - we were flabbergasted when Miss4 replied correctly), some maze puzzles etc.

All in all, highly recommended for kids who can read, and like to do puzzly things but just aren't up to the Where's Wally or Animalia type books yet. Read more...

Sep 26, 2008

planting potatoes!

I'm using a mish-mash of techniques - a little bit John Jeavons' How to Grow More... and a little bit no-dig gardening technique.

I'm using Jeavons' recommendations for spacing (9inches offset - not in rows), but I'm not digging them into the ground - I pulled the mulch layer back off the earth, scratched a little hole in the surface of the earth, sat the potato in and covered it back up with mulch again.

Then I layered 2 wheelbarrow loads of lovely aged compost onto the top of it to keep them nice and dark and bob's your uncle.

Hopefully they will like this treatment and we'll have new potatoes in early to mid January - they're 'karaka' potatoes and are 2nd earlies - so 80 to 90 days to maturity. Allegedly. I've never grown tatties before so I'm hoping they'll be fine.

Dad has grown them every year for ever and he reckons they'll be great, so I'll trust in experience, the elements and Providence. Read more...

Sep 21, 2008

Affluenza - by Oliver James

I'm currently reading this book, by Oliver James. I am enjoying it immensely.

From the blurb...
There is currently an epidemic of “affluenza” throughout the world — an obsessive, envious keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality that has resulted in huge increases in depression and anxiety among millions. Over a nine-month period, author and psychologist Oliver James travelled around the world to try and find out why.
Basically the premise is that 'Selfish Capitalist' societies (of which America is the prime example - certainly in the way it portrays itself via the media etc), lead to a massive shift in the population's behaviour and values. The more 'selfish capitalist' the nation, the more likely its people are to neglect their needs in order to chase after their wants - without even being aware that that is what they are doing. James contends that this societal shift is what leads to those countries' very high rates of 'mental distress' (a term he prefers to mental illness - since it he believes it to be in many cases a normal response to an abnormal society/situation).

The needs he identifies are as follows,
We need to feel secure, emotionally and materially. We need to feel part of a community, to give and receive from family, neighbours and friends. We need to feel competent, autonomous and authentic, masters of our destinies to some degree.
And we trade those in so we can work for longer to get more money to buy more stuff, or work harder to get more qualified so other people will congratulate us or so we can finally be good enough for our parents/ourselves, or work harder so we can buy thinness or blondeness or other means of being sexually attractive (and therefore 'valuable'), or so we can get a bigger house, or a conservatory or a second house or a shinier car or whatever else we 'need' to have.

Sometimes we even kid ourselves that we can somehow achieve emotional and material security, or those other needs, by buying more stuff (true to a point - but untrue beyond basic subsistence levels), or being prettier (pretty according to whom? and of course there will always be someone prettier), or even that by working 8am to 8pm six days a week for someone else that we are somehow masters of our destinies and achieving autonomy.

He asserts that the long term effect of having those needs unmet, and of working harder and harder at misguided efforts to meet them, coupled with the pernicious continual mantra of advertising (what you have/are/do is not good enough - you need more), is mental distress - depression, anxiety, psychosis etc.

An interview with him, from about the time the book was published is here, and an extract from the book is here.

He also discusses the "vaccines" to the "virus" of affluenza that he observed in various places around the world. Some really thought-provoking observations.

The section of the book dealing with academic performance and 'virus values' rang very true for me - It's entitled "Educate your kids (don't brainwash them). It reminded me of an article I read a month or so ago, by Alfie Kohn, "How not to get into college".

Having suffered burnout myself after being a high achiever at school and in first year, I can attest to the pointlessness of sacrificing your health for better grades. I put enormous pressure on myself to succeed and had had no practice at 'failure'. Um, not getting into a highly competitive entry course, but still having an A- average counted as 'failure' for me - I really did not know how to handle this. I got a lot more practice in 2nd year (my first 'E'!).

I can actually remember very little of my second year at varsity. I recall looking through my 2nd year notes a year later while studying for my 3rd year exams and being astonished - I had absolutely no recollection of having written them, or even covering that material in lectures - I checked the name on the book and even got out other notes to compare the handwriting. They were mine. I think my body was attending the lectures (it certainly took good notes), but my mind was shut down.

Burnout, depression and the occassionally paranoid anxiety attack (anyone else crawled under their desk and just not wanted to get out ever?). All because my whole self-image was utterly pinned to getting into medical school - to being one of 'the top students' - to getting very high grades. Which are all comparative things - none of those had anything to do with my actual worth - it was my 'worth' compared to other people's. Not a recipe for good mental health. At some point I needed to let go of how other people viewed me, and stop measuring myself by the feedback I received from them, and build up my sense of self from the inside out. That was an extremely hard process - one I'm not sure I've finished yet.

That's one of the things Oliver James gives as a 'vaccine' to the afluenza 'virus' - being 'intrinsically motivated' is vitally important. Even people with 'virus goals' (e.g. top promotion) are generally protected from mental distress if their motivations are intrinsic rather than external (e.g really enjoying your job for its own sake).

I'm about 2/3rds of the way through the book and I recommend it so far. Even if you disagree with him it provides some interesting food for thought. Read more...

Sep 20, 2008

boogie woogie piggie #2

Found a yahoo video using Doris Day's "Boogie Woogie Piggie" as the sound-track. I'm not sure what the video is all about - seems to be random still photos of random people - but if you want to hear the original Boogie Woogie Piggie, here it is. Seems it isn't just my Dad's song after all!

If I try and embed the video it is too big to fit nicely, so follow the link below... Read more...

Sep 18, 2008

strawberries and apples

Apple Oratia Beauty

I love spring. Have I mentioned that before? Here is the third of our three new apple trees, planted yesterday just before a Southerly (cold) front came through a kindly watered everything for us. If you squint a bit you may be able to see little strawberry plants nestling in the mulch around it. I figured that was as good a place as any for them. Each of the new trees has now got some strawberry plants for company. Oratia Beauty is a New Zealand Gravenstein variant. Sounds yummy.

And here is our rhubarb, gooseberry and garlic patch. The plant in the very foreground is a flowering annual of some description (I'm leaving it there to see what it turns into), but you can see the rhubarb is doing very well just behind it. The gooseberry bushes have both started to sprout little green leaves, evidently both surviving the transplant from our friend's garden - excellent. Right at the far end is the garlic, but you'd have to use your imagination to see that very well. Only the garlic I bought at the local farmers market has sprouted - meaning that the other stuff we bought was imported and irradiated. Something to remember for next time! Read more...

Sep 16, 2008

peasgood nonsuch

Apple peasgood nonsuch

The stick in the ground next to the glowing beauty is an apple tree seedling. I liked the name Peasgood Nonsuch as soon as I first saw it in a catalogue last year. Since then 2 different people have been very enthusiastic about Peasgood apples that they've grown and eaten. So when I saw them in the local nursery it was a done deal. This one is on an M9 dwarfing root-stock so hopefully won't get too big (but also hopefully won't stay too small either - I'm hoping it won't fall victim to too-vigorous horseplay by les enfants).

I also planted the thornless blackberry today. I'm pretty excited about blackberrying without getting scratched!

And we had a surprise gift of strawberry plants. One of Merl's workmates has more plant babies than he has room for, so we very gratefully relieved him of about 20 strawberry plants. They are on my list of things to get planted tomorrow, along with the comfrey and the final apple tree...



Sep 15, 2008

how d'ye like them apples?

After humming and haaaing about whether it was too late to plant fruit trees (spring having definitely sprung in this part of the woods), and whether it was too boggy in our garden to plant them, I went on a "let's just see what's at the garden centre" expedition with a friend this morning.

I dithered and waffled and eventually decided it was too hard, gave up and we went for a coffee. Lovely coffee, lovely cafe - lots of room, and a toy box! excellent.

Got home, fed Miss1 her lunch, ate mine, and was just thinking about getting Miss4 from kindy when I thought "No, blow it, I am going to buy some trees today!"

I hopped online, looked up a couple of the cultivars that had caught my eye this morning, made a mental list of 3 and off we went! Collecting Miss4 on the way, of course :)

I headed straight for the apples, and loaded the cart with a Peasgood Nonsuch, and a Mother, but paused when I saw how tall the Oratia Beauty was. Could I fit it in the car??? (apples described here)

Yeeah, she'll be right! Give it a go... So onto the trolley it went too.

Of course, since I was in buying mode I then couldn't walk past a thornless blackberry, or a couple of comfrey seedlings, or a packet of runner beans, which is why I usually try and avoid the garden centre - but it will all come in handy and all be good for the garden and our food supply, right?

Managed to get them in the car by lying the tall ones from the passenger side floor, up over the tilted seat-back and along over the kids' heads. No worries!

Headed home, put Miss1 to sleep and then Miss4 and I were straight back outside into our lovely spring afternoon.

Here is Mother in her transplanted splendour.

Apple Mother

She'll need staking, but I was too pooped to bang a stake in. The root-ball is quite small, though, so Merl can do that in the next few days without fear of damaging anything. yay. Read more...

Sep 14, 2008

So when are we going to "start teaching"?

I got asked this the other day - when we were going to start teaching Miss4. Are we going to have a 'start date' on her fifth birthday, or start before then, or what?

I paused for a bit, wondering how to explain (nicely) that we had been 'teaching' her stuff since she was born, and wasn't sure what we'd actually be 'starting' that we hadn't already started. We'll be stopping kindy, because she can't go when she turns five. And we'll be starting Brownies, and heading along to our local weekly home-educators social catch-up more regularly (like, more than the once we've managed so far), and probably the swimming session with the same group, and maybe ice-skating lessons? But the actual "school stuff"?

So I hummed and haaaed a bit, and said, well, we'll probably be quite relaxed about it. Not do anything too differently from what we have been doing - she's already reading pretty well without us ever having sat her down and 'taught her to read' - about the reading age of a 9 year old (She likes to spend a lot of time sitting on the couch reading Asterix at the moment - I'm fairly sure she doesn't get the puns, but she asks a lot of thoughtful questions so is clearly comprehending the bulk of what she's reading. And heaven help you if you're reading out the chapter book and switch a word around, because she's reading over your shoulder...). So that's basic literacy kinda nailed. And we play a few 'maths' games - dominoes and dice games and card games, and she can do basic addition and subtraction. (We'll get onto advanced calculus when she feels the need for it). And the rest of education is all about life and the real world, meeting different people, doing stuff with others (of different ages and life experiences), getting a lot of exposure to ideas and having the time to think thoughts about the new ideas...

I guess I'm an 'unschooler'. Goodness.

And then my friend shared how well home-schooling had worked for a relative of hers, so we had quite a good wee discussion really Read more...

Sep 6, 2008

frugal ice blocks

And I mean super frugal :)

Somehow or other my kids have developed a taste for plain water ice blocks. Yep, just frozen water. They actually prefer them to sugary flavoured ones. Which is awesome on so many levels.

My sister in law bought us an ice cube try similar to these last summer.

It had sat there utterly unused until Miss 4's tonsillectomy. She really wanted cold drinks, and ordinary ice-cubes won't fit into a sipper bottle. But these do!

And then Miss1 wanted in on the act. She is currently teething (in a continual, no end in sight, sort of way). Chewing on these ice sticks was her idea of a super-duper treat. Which made Miss4 think she was missing out on a super-duper treat...

So now, almost every day, I wrap one end of the ice sticks in a little cloth and both girls happily slurp and chew their way through a stick of frozen water. I get little updates from Miss4; "Look what I did to it now!" "See how pointy it is?" "Hah! You didn't know I just bit it off, did you?". Miss1 will finish it up then tap me on the leg (tap tap tap) and direct me (using a no-nonsense finger point) back to the freezer to get her another one.

On the other hand, the home-made frozen-yoghurt and peach ice-blocks that I made specially have been taste-tested and rejected. C'est la vie. I'll get to eat them myself. Read more...

Sep 4, 2008

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy - Andrews Sisters

Each morning the girls climb into our bed for a half-hour or so lie-in before we start the day. This morning I did the 'this little piggie' rhyme with Miss1's toes, using my Dad's variant - the boogie woogie piggie

This little piggie went to market
This little piggie stayed at home
This little piggie had roast beef
And this little piggie had none
But this little piggie was the boogie woogie piggie and he boogie woogied all the way home.

And while he boogie woogies home, you boggie woogie your tickle finger all over the place. Really gets the giggles going :)

Then Miss4 asked, "What's a boogie woogie piggie?"

So I explained a bit about boogie woogie music. But because you can't really explain music with words, after the breakfasting and getting dressed bit of the day was over, we You Tubed. Beginning with the Andrews Sisters' Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B (below) we journeyed through Boogie Woogie and Jive music for about an hour. Lots of fun.

She especially liked the Nicholas Brothers' dancing - their Chattanooga Choo Choo, with the Glenn Miller Orchestra got several watchings.

So we had music and dance appreciation, along with a touch of history ("Why are they dressed like soldiers?") Read more...

Sep 3, 2008

Great grandmother's tomato relish

My Nana's mother had a recipe book. Handwritten in a notebook are all the recipes - and some sewing and knitting patterns - that she used.

I never knew my Nana's mum. She died when my Nana was just 12 years old. Since then my Nana and my own mother have passed away and so this notebook treasure has come into my possession. When I was about 12 I wanted to type it out to preserve the recipes but my good intentions reached as far as a few pages, long since lost. The notebook is markedly worse for wear now, nearly 20 years later, and the mice have had a field day with the corners (My Nana had forgotten it was in the bottom of one of her kitchen cupboards and was horrified to discover this evidence of rodents in her domain). Sadly some of the recipes have vital bits missing thanks to the mice.

I have rekindled my good intentions, so as I type them up into a document, I shall post some here as well, to share the discoveries.

All measurements will be Imperial, not US (see here for conversion).

I will type them as she wrote them. If you're going to try them out (and I hope some people do!) please do remember that she was cooking on a coal range, and wrote these recipes down for her own usage, so her instructions may be confusing or incomplete where she just knew what to do next.

Tomato Relish

15 large tomatoes
4 large onions
1 lb sugar
1 quart vinegar
5 chillies
Cut up in small rounds. Boil together 1 1/4 hours - Add 1 dessertspoon of Curry powder, 1 dessertspoon mustard and 1/2 cup of flour - mix with a little cold vinegar and boil a few minutes.

From what I can guess, based on 'traditional' New Zealand cookery, 'mustard' will mean dry mustard powder, as opposed to mustard that's ready to use from a jar or bottle. Read more...

Sep 1, 2008

We have our little girl back!

Miss4 is bright as a button and full of energy. I have not seen her looking this well for a very long time. Removing her tonsils and adenoids appears to have improved her overall health immensely. My guess is that she's sleeping better because she can breathe more freely, and being properly rested is flowing on to being generally very well.

I haven't seen her this... I guess 'vital' is the best word... for probably 18 months. When she was two she had this high energy enthusiasm and glowing good health, but she has been just 'run down' for so long I had forgotten. Yay.

The grommets have done a good job too. She wasn't completely deaf but she was missing the ends of words sometimes so it will be good for her to hear properly.

We are very very pleased we did it.

In other news, Grandma (Merl's Mum) arrived for a surprise visit this weekend! It really shouldn't have been a surprise but I completely neglected to write it down in the calendar when it was arranged and it had slipped my mind. Still, no harm done. She texted me as she got into the airport shuttle so I was still able to have morning tea with Dad and make it home to clear her bed off before the shuttle arrived - we're always among the last suburbs they deliver to since we're not really on the way to anywhere else. A good weekend was had by all. Miss1 didn't have any period of shyness with her Grandma this time and launched straight into her charm offensive, and Miss4 was, naturally, over the moon. Lots of good family time. Read more...
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