Jul 27, 2008

frozen embryos given a chance

I spotted this today, and thought it classified as good-news news (as opposed to ordinary 'news' which is almost never 'good').

Couple receive embryos frozen for more than 15yrs

By DEIDRE MUSSEN - Sunday Star Times | Sunday, 27 July 2008

Six embryos frozen for more than 15 years finally have a chance at life after an Auckland family donated them to an infertile couple desperately wanting a baby.

It is believed to be one of the longest periods of time that embryos have been frozen in New Zealand and later transplanted to try to create a baby.

The unique case challenges new fertility laws, which ban keeping embryos left over from in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment for more than a decade without an exemption.

The donor couple, who wanted to remain anonymous, adopted a son 16 years ago and had an IVF son in 1993. They decided they did not want more children but kept their 12 left-over embryos frozen at an Auckland fertility clinic. "When they asked what do you want to do with them, we realised these aren't just eggs, they're embryos. It means destroying them and after all we've gone through, you can't," the donor husband said... [click link in title to read full article]

Lovely to read of these frozen babies being given a chance, rather than just being 'thrown away'. Read more...

Jul 26, 2008

nurturing our gifted children

I went to a seminar/workshop this afternoon hosted by the Otago Association for the Gifted and Talented, and by the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre, titled Nurturing our Gifted Children.

Was most excellent. In addition to the keynote address by Dr Tracy Riley, there were a choice of 6 seminars, running in 3 time slots (so you could only choose 3), on various topics. I think the main benefits of attending were

1. Good information about how kids are identified as gifted and talented, and that chiefly in NZ that is through personal observation, rather than by 'a test'. Also that the research (which was actually cited and referred to, not just 'anonymous research has shown') shows that parents are more able than teachers to identify gifted and talented children, and that the 'oh, everyone thinks their child is gifted' is a myth. (but teachers with a good awareness of giftedness and how to identify it are great - just not every teacher knows what to look for or even what 'giftedness' is)

2. A sense of 'rightness' about having identified Miss4 as having exceptional abilities.

3. Membership of the Otago Association for Gifted and Talented, which holds bi-monthly meetings with guest speakers and workshops etc, and has a library, with a group subscription to Tall Poppies - the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children magazine.

4. A further sense of 'rightness' about deciding to home educate.
One of the speakers - Steve Cutler from the Marine Studies Centre - had just returned from a conference in Singapore on GT education, and was emphasising how important it was for these kids to be exposed to a variety of information in a variety of ways. Their brain function is physically different to 'average', with a greater connectivity between hemispheres, higher 'analogizing' abilities (make creative analogies, draw unusual conclusions), they are faster, and often more intuitive in their thinking than average etc etc. So to maximize their talents (and keep them interested) the educator needs to present 'inter and intra-curricular cross-overs', allow extended time on subjects so the students can explore in depth if they want to, allow the students to set their own problems and research their own ideas, provide access to 'experts' who can actually answer their questions (and also may share their enthusiasm), encourage 'out of the box' answers etc etc etc. All of which is actually easier to do in a home education environment.

One of the key things that parents are seeking for their kids is acknowledgement from the school of their child's unique abilities, and ideally, a personally tailored program to nurture those abilities while supporting the child as a whole person.

I think we can manage that :)

One area that I will need to stretch myself on is that 'access to experts' thing. Being an introvert has its pitfalls, and this is one of them! However, having identified it as a weakness, I can consciously address it. Whatever the kids show an interest in, I will try to ask myself if there's any sort of 'expert' that we can invite for dinner or go to see, or keep my eye out for extension programs the kids can trot along to if they would like to go.

In all, a thought-provoking and stimulating afternoon.

Jul 23, 2008

New Timetable

We've been experimenting with a new timetable at our house. The alarm clock now goes off at 6.05am so we can listen to Derek Prince before starting the day. This is good because we both felt the need for more consistent scriptural input and teaching on a day to day basis.

The flow-on effect of this is, of course, earlier nights!

And thus, less time on the computer in the evenings. So our posts may become a little more sparse. Read more...

Jul 18, 2008

home school economics

Miss4 (Randomly, while helping me load the dishwasher):
"What you've got to do is, get some newspaper and scrunch it all up really tight and small, and then, you get some gold or some other metal, but gold is best, and cover up all the newspaper so you can't see any. And scrunch it really really really tight and... there! That's how the government makes money"
So now you know.

Jul 17, 2008

David Holmgren - Future Scenarios

David Holmgren and Bill Mollison coined the phrase "permaculture" back in the '70s. Basically saying that if we can re-shape the way we farm, garden, settle, co-habit, exchange goods etc by mimicking as closely as possibly a natural ecosystem then it will be sustainable (aka 'self-sufficient').

David Holmgren has recently released this website/thought exercise looking at what the possible outcomes might be for human populations in the event that Peak Oil and Climate Change both occur in the same time frame. He has simplified this huge task by taking the two ends of each scenario and combining them, coming up with four distinct outcomes.
  • Brown Tech: (slow oil decline, fast climate change)

  • Green Tech: (slow oil decline, slow climate change)

  • Earth Steward: (fast oil decline, slow climate change)

  • Lifeboats: (fast oil decline , fast climate change)

It made for thought-provoking reading. As he says, it is a valuable thought-exercise, not a display of prophecy. But it is always good to think through different outcomes and options, and to be thinking about how we as individuals can plan and prepare on a regional, community and individual level.

The conclusion I personally came to was to keep on with what we have been doing - local food production is key to local survival, and the less reliant we are on others to feed, clothe and house us, the more resilient our communities will be in the event that the others fail us for whatever reason.

Was also a good reminder to be actively building community in our neighbourhoods. This is just the right way to live, regardless of climate change etc, but it is so easy to be isolated and insular. But from a purely selfish/paranoid perspective, the neighbour you know well enough to ask to clear your mail while you're away, and whose rabbit you feed while they're away, is a neighbour less likely to aggressively raid your veggie garden and eat your chickens if times get hard.

It's also just good sense to look at various options for the future, even the ones you think are unlikely. I personally don't want to be one of the people going "Oh no! I never saw this coming! What on earth do we do now???!!" Much prefer to be saying "Oh no! I never really thought it would happen! Oh well, let's get out the solar oven, and ask so and so about how they purify their tank water for drinking..."

Now, for the nay-sayers among us, I am not wanting to debate the truth or fiction of climate change or peak oil. Perhaps another day, but not today :) For your own enlightenment, there's a fantastic series of You Tube video seminars exploring what our response to climate change ought to be, regardless of our beliefs. And just google peak oil yourself. It just makes sense to me that a finite resource will, at some point, become too expensive to bother extracting for every day usage - FYI 'Peak Oil' doesn't mean that oil deposits run out, just that they have passed their peak performance - there are years in the old fellas yet, but from now on every hundred thousand barrels will be harder and more expensive to extract than the previous hundred thousand.

hat tip to Rhonda Jean

Jul 15, 2008

Kick A Germ Joy Juice

"Elephant Garlic de Placitas" by Linda Heath

I found a "Kick A Germ Joy Juice" recipe in a Permaculture recipe book yesterday, 'You can have your permaculture and eat it too', by Robin Clayfield, which I'm borrowing from the library.

Since we have all had a terrible phlegmy cough and the kids have just wanted to sit around and sleep on the couch for stretches of the last few days, I thought we'd give it a try. I didn't inflict it on Miss1, but Miss4 sipped at it in widely spaced sips before finally and conveniently spilling it on the couch... She did better on the batch I made today - without the cayenne pepper, and with more honey :)

Before sharing the recipe with the world, I googled to see what came up and there are about a billion different recipes with this name (okay, maybe a dozen), all variations on the same theme. So here you have a version of Kick A Germ Joy Juice. I must say it tastes mighty fine - I personally much prefer it with the cayenne pepper, but I quite like a bit of a burn, if it's the right sort of burn (and this surely was).

juice of one lemon (or lime or orange)
clove of garlic, finely chopped (or equivalent amount if using fabulous elephant garlic, as we were!)
1cm grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
mix together in a small jug and pour hot boiled water over the lot, dissolving
1 teaspoon honey
into it. Cover and leave to sit for 10-15 minutes before drinking.

I made about 1 1/2 cups with the above recipe and strained it through a tea-strainer (small sieve) as I poured it into the cups.

Very warming, and it makes you feel like you're doing something about the germs, which I'm sure is at least half the battle :)

A visitor yesterday happened to remark about the strong garlicky smell in the house, so perhaps use with discretion if the odour is repellent to you. I guess you could leave the garlic out, but I think it likely that the garlic is the most germ-kicking bit in the recipe, so probably not recommended if you actually want to fight off a threatening cold or flu.

Sláinte!

Jul 13, 2008

ta daa!

Play fort complete!

What you see here is Dad getting the cement ready to fill in around the posts, while Miss4 gets her first sit inside. It now also has a ladder attached down the front where Merl is standing. Brilliant. I'm thinking that underneath is a prime place to move the sandpit to, come summertime.

In other news around the house, I've got some photos of what's been happening in the garden lately. First up is the gooseberry bushes and rhubarb that I planted. Here they are in their not-quite-final resting places. The gooseberry starts are just small dead-looking twigs, and the rhubarb is dormant, so believe me, a closer shot wouldn't have shown you any more :) Although you might have been able to see my classy re-used envelope plant labels. The bush you see at the far left is a dahlia, then just in from there is my wee garlic patch, then two gooseberries, then the rhubarb crown near the righthand-end. I edged the garden with branches from our trees which lately received a much-needed cutting back. The mulch is mostly leaf-litter, with some lime and blood-and-bone sprinkled on and forked in. Our dear friend who gave us the goozies says I have planted them too close together, but upon looking it up in a gardening book to see just how far apart they should be planted, I see that they are often planted close for the first year then transplanted to their final spots once they're more bush-like. So that's good - one job that can wait until next year!

Here is our wee Meyer Lemon tree, gifted to us from my Dad. He'd been unable to get it to fruit down at his place, but we have a much milder micro-climate here so we'll give it a go. I am very pleased, as I was going to go buy one and just happened to mention it to Dad in passing. He then promptly offered us his, and also my Nana's, which was also at his place in a pot. It's now at our place too, re-potted, and in a sunny spot. We shall see if we have more luck than Dad. I've promised him some lemons if they do prove fruitful up here on the hill.

I also have begun using very un-organic poison on an ivy that is growing up one of our fences. I've drilled holes into the trunk and poured un-diluted poison into the holes, so it's a very very targeted use of poison. Ivy must die. Can't stand the stuff and can't understand why anyone would plant it in this climate - it just runs rampant. And besides, I need the fence-space for the fruit trees I plan to espalier along there... I'm thinking an apple, a plum and perhaps an apricot or a peach if I can get heirloom varieties that will suit.

I haven't looked into it but I'm guessing it is too late to order them for this year, but that gives me a year to prepare their spots with legume crops, good mulch and other goodies.

Or perhaps I'll just nip down to the garden centre and buy the first ones I see. You never can tell :) Read more...

Jul 12, 2008

tool time, people

Our Play Fort arrived yesterday! So we spent several hours today getting started on putting it together. My Dad came and helped out for a couple of hours this morning, digging holes, getting the posts in and the floor level. Then friends arrived for lunch and we had a break from fort-building to make sushi!

After our friends departed we spent about another hour and a half putting the top walls in before darkness and dinner.

If the weather holds we'll finish off tomorrow by bracing the legs, attaching the climbing wall and ladder, and cementing the posts into the ground.

I'm so excited! I would have loved to have a tree house as a kid, so I'm pleased to have one now that I'm a grown-up. Even if the kids spend no time in it (which I think unlikely, given how many times we had to lift them down off the step-ladder today), but even if they don't, I think it will be a great place to lie down with a cold drink and a book come summer time!

Almost as good as a hammock - or perhaps even better - there's nowhere to rest your drink to turn the page in a hammock.

So I'm hoping that the promised Southerly Change will hold off for another day. It was supposed to come yesterday afternoon, and then this afternoon, but as you can see from the pictures, there has been not a sign of bitterly cold Antarctic winds, sleet or even rain.

Long may it continue!

Jul 11, 2008

washing on the line

Woollies washing is so very satisfying. Especially with a fancy-pants washing machine with a "woolens" cycle!

Watching my Mum hand-wash our lovingly hand-knitted woolen jerseys in the kitchen sink, gently wringing them out in a towel and laying them flat to dry on an airing rack is one of the joyful peaceful memories of my childhood. She used to derive such a lot of satisfaction from it, that the happy-vibes were contagious.

However, I know from experience that if I plan to hand-wash my woollies then they just never get washed. They pile up in that "oh, I'll get around to it when I have time" corner of the wash-house. So I'm grateful for a machine that can be gentle with my lovingly-made handknits, and I'm grateful for the new blends of wool with a touch of synthetic that don't felt and shrink in the machine.

And also grateful for this tip about hanging them on the line with pantyhose! This is something that my Mum didn't teach me, and I learned out of a book. It's great. They get to blow around in the wind and fresh air, they dry much faster than when laid flat on a towel, and they don't stretch. The three jerseys of Miss1 you see there are threaded end-on-end through 1 pair of pantyhose, the pantyhose being the bit that is pegged to the line.

I never wear pantyhose, so I'm also grateful for these cast-offs of my mother's. I figured that no-one else was going to wear second-hand pantyhose, so I put them to good use.

And I thought they looked so pretty in the sunshine that I just had to take a picture. Read more...

Jul 8, 2008

where is all the food?

I went to the supermarket today. This is kinda unusual for me, because Merl has "Daddy-daughter time" on Saturday mornings with Miss4 and they go to the various veggie markets and the supermarket for the food shopping then.

This past Saturday the weather was utterly filthy and we decided to have a day inside looking out the window at sleet and snow.

The up-shot being that we ran out of bread. I did bake, but I forgot the bread was in the oven and it got more than a bit over-cooked. Now, we don't mind crunchy crusts, but it'd be nice if we could actually cut the bread. So. The supermarket.

Usually when I go in, I have a specific purchase in mind, find my way more or less directly to the aisle, select the best value for money and, having (usually) refused a plastic bag, make my exit.

Today, Miss4 and I pushed Miss1 in the trolley up and down all the aisles, as we had a small selection of things on the mental list. I was struck the vast quantity of "not-food" that was for sale. Aisle after aisle of food-substitutes. Jars of brightly coloured corn-starch goop (also known as 'simmer sauces', 'pasta sauces', 'stir-fry sauces', to add to your frozen packets of pre-chopped veges and pre-chopped meat, to serve up on your boil-in-a-bag white rice. A vast array of muesli bars/snack bars/fruit-squeezy things, each claiming to be more healthy and a more complete breakfast/snack/meal-substitute than the last. Chippies, of course. Not-Chippies (apple chips, puffed grain chips, reconstituted potato chips). Biscuits. Not-Biscuits (aka crackers). Chocolate. Boiled sweets. instant soups. instant noodles. instant gravy.

Of course, none of this is actually new to me, but I was struck by the strangeness of it today.

If the average trolley leaving the supermarket reflects the average shelf-stocking of the supermarket, then what on earth are we eating??

Why are so many 'foods' being touted as low in calories? (okay, I know the answer to that one). But really, if a food has no calories, it is not actually food.

I don't know what it is, but it isn't food.

And all these not-foods are really expensive, compared to, say a bag of potatoes and some salad greens.

As an aside, I am not averse to using the odd packet of instant gravy, and in fact bought 4 tins of condensed tomato soup today, because they are so handy for making a quick meal, or flavouring a pasta sauce, or making butter chicken (Mmmmmm, butter chicken). I've just been thinking a lot lately about what food is, what we eat food for, and planning my garden around providing some of the essentials - carbs (potatoes), proteins (peas and beans), vitamins and minerals (coloured veggies and fruits), and of course flavour (herbs and fruits).

Modified corn starch doesn't appear anywhere on my list of essential food groups, but is present in large quantities in almost every pre-prepared food around. gross.

aside #2 petrol went up to $2.19 per litre today for unleaded 91octane. A litre is about the same volume as a quart, for the north americans among us. ouch. Read more...

Jul 6, 2008

education for the future

Sir Ken Robinson gives a talk on the challenge of educating kids for the future. Entitled "do schools kill creativity?"


Jul 4, 2008

rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb

It even feels funny when you type it over and over.

A dear friend of ours gave us half a rhubarb crown and some starts from her gooseberry bushes yesterday. Yay. I like rhubarb and gooseberries.

So they are nestled into their beds, well mulched with leaf-litter scavenged from the road-gutter outside our house (it blocks with fallen leaves quite frequently, which then turn into lovely black compost quite quickly).

I'm feeling like quite the gardener.

We've got a full-on weekend coming up. Two of my brothers had a birthday this week (on the same day, but 21 years apart), so we've got a get-together at Dad's tomorrow night, and we're looking after a friend's wee boy for a couple of hours tomorrow, and a sister of mine is coming to town on Sunday with her partner, so we'll try and catch up with them too, as well as church of course.

And I've got a bag of carrots to blanche and freeze, and a big bag of pears to sort through and maybe stew up. And a bag of apples too. (Merl got some bulk organic fruit through his work somehow).

But what I really want to do right now is curl up on the couch with a hot chocolate and do some knitting. So I think I'll leave the cooking and cleaning for another day... Read more...

Jul 1, 2008

Marigold tea

I was reading a wee Herbal the other day. Which has gone missing now that I think about it, last seen being 'read' by Miss1. Hmmm, that will bear some investigation. Anyhow, was reading this Herbal and learned all about the wonders of Calendula officinalis (pot marigold), some of which was new to me. I had known that it was good for soothing skin complaints, but apparently Calendula has been used as the cure-all for pretty much everything. Wouldn't surprise me if there had been someone, somewhere crediting it with healing them from the Plague.

Still, making marigold tea felt like a lovely sunshiny thing to do, and the sun was surely shining. So I put on my purple woolly hat, and dashed out into the cold to harvest some. Fortunately Calendula grows like a weed and there were 2 plants in flower. Back inside in the sunshine and out of the wind, I roughly cut the flowers up with a veggie knife and steeped them in my coffee plunger. It looked so pretty I just had to share it.

I'm sure that for any medicinal effects I'd need more petals than that, but the sight of it in the sunshine was tonic in itself. The tea itself was very nice with a bit of honey. And if nothing else, the honey was soothing to my sore throat. Read more...
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