Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Living, Laughing, Learning - The Homeschool Conference

I have only ever attended two homeschool conferences in the time we have been a home educating family, one in NZ in the year 2000 and my second just last week - both were Diana Waring conferences! I was inspired first time around and second time around she did not fail to disappoint! I am so grateful that speakers like Diana Waring are prepared to travel to the other side of the world; homeschool conferences are few and far between here, so discovering that she and her husband Bill were coming to a town not too far away, was exciting for me to say the least. (OK, it was a 4 hour drive but so worth it!)

I had already discovered Unit Studies, after ditching the formal curriculum and packing away the whiteboard, when I first heard Diana speak in the year 2000. It was simply a glorious affirmation for me, that I was heading in the right direction by seeking to actively engage learning. I wanted my children to actually enjoy their studies, to be motivated, curious, enthusiastic learners and to understand and apply knowledge in their daily lives and the Unit Study approach seemed to be a move in the right direction - I had learned facts at school in order to pass exams and once indeed I had passed (often with distinction) I promptly forgot what I had learned. Diana's approach to home education gave me permission to get on board and learn alongside my children. As I used topics that the children were interested in and started to put together a unit of learning incorporating fun, hands on activities, exciting read aloud books and creative projects (such as a Medieval banquet!) I realized that I was actually taking it all in too and at the completion of the unit I was retaining information and understanding stuff! But this was more than just Unit Studies which are just one approach, it was more about a lifestyle of learning. Learning does not just take place between the hours of 9am and 3pm. It happens from the moment we rise up, you do not need a 'school room' in your home, though many homeschool parents appreciate having an area where they can keep all the educational clutter in one place!
I was interested to read the other day in the newspaper, that the government is handing out grants to schools for installation of vegetable gardens and 'home style' kitchens - hey, guess what? We have both of those resources and they have been used extensively for purposes of education!

The kitchen is a wonderful place to actively engage learning and this was the title of the first workshop at the conference -

'Actively ENGAGE Learning (and actually ENJOY learning!)

Diana outlined the different approaches to education- the formulaic, 'one size fits all' approach which is what I was accustomed to at school - the teacher at the front of the classroom writing up facts on a blackboard that I had to write down or telling us which page to turn to in the textbook - very rarely did a teacher come alongside me and ask me if I actually understood what I was reading about or copying out in my exercise book. There were some wonderful teachers of course, who understood that dry, dull textbooks were not likely to motivate their students - I had a history teacher who found a curriculum that was based around units of study, it was still taught from a textbook but he would find ways of 'spicing up' the lesson - for example, he would show old black and white cowboy movies during the unit on the American West 1840-1895, (the boys loved this!) I have always remembered those dates for some reason! I actually do not remember many of the facts from the textbook but I have always remembered watching the movies and Mr Phillips explaining that how Hollywood portrayed life in the 'Wild West' was quite different to reality.

Diana then went on to give lots of practical advice on how to actually engage learning - such as chatting together, telling stories and letting them move - this was something I had grasped early on during our journey. It was incredibly hard for my six year old son who always seemed to be in perpetual motion to sit down, stay still and fill in a workbook page - It was fairly tedious stuff too, counting soccer balls on a page when he would rather be outside kicking a real ball! The revelation for me, was realizing I could allow my son to go outside and kick goals and ask him to calculate his success, directing questions at him such as 'You kicked 8 out of 10, how many did you miss?' Learning was taking place and he was being allowed to move his body!

Diana also made reference to the flexibility of home education. You do not have to rush a child who is not ready to read for example; she once again shared the story of her son Michael who did not become a fluent reader until the age of ten. I remembered reading this in her book 'Beyond Survival', I had actually met her son at the conference in 2000, he was a teenager then and so incredibly articulate but in no way condescending, I was thinking two things 'Wow, this boy did not learn to read until he was ten!' and 'If this is how home educated children turn out, I'm in for the long haul'.

I did choose to stay for the long haul and have seen my first son graduate at the age of 16 and move onto University study. You can read about his homeschool journey in my previous post 'The Homeschool Graduate'. Diana talked about what her children have gone on to study and the wonderful, unique differences in their learning styles and interests which they were able to nurture. As each year of home education passes by, I have taken this nurturing aspect more and more on board, using each child's emerging interests to facilitate learning. Some interests and hobbies last just for a season (the lizards and the stamp collecting are two that come to mind!) but some become passions. I cannot hold back my 12 year old daughter's unrelenting interest in the country of China. Recently, I found a library book open on her bed, the young person's edition of 'Mao's Last Dancer'. I 've never read it but it has just opened at the movies. I have just informed her as I write this post that the story has been made into a film and elicited an excited response 'Oh - can we go and see it?' She has also just given me a synopsis of the book and probably spoiled the movie for me- but never mind! This interest has led to Mandarin lessons for her and as her teacher is also an artist, she is also learning to write Chinese letters and paint - I now have some gorgeous artworks to frame for my walls and I have promised her that we will create a 'Chinese corner' and table scape somewhere in our home.

It is seeing these interests blossom and flourish as we continue our home education journey that confirms for me that we did make the right decision all those years ago. It is really quite exciting to see everything unfold and it is what I do call 'Abundant Life Homeschooling'. To get a fuller picture of what this entails you really do need to read Diana Waring's books or attend a conference if you have the opportunity. I am one mum who was so glad she did!

Here is another of my tree climbers - he cannot help but ascend trees, especially if they seem conducive to climbing! I do not yet know what direction his educational journey will take- he loves animals, knights and castles, cowboys and adventure stories... he is still an emerging reader becoming more fluent as each week goes by but I keep finding our vintage Enid Blyton books lying open on his bed. What I do know is true are these words and one of my favourite quotes from Louisa May Alcott from the book 'Little Men'
- his teacher forgave his slowness in some other things, knowing very well that where the heart is the mind works best.'

'Like a present waiting to be unwrapped are the gifts our children possess.'

Quote by me and a little visual reminder that the most exciting time of the year is coming soon!

The afternoon workshop was 'Box Free Living' and this focused more on parenting. For me this addressed the need for balance as we raise our children. Parenting is the foundation and this involves loving, correcting, encouraging, sharing and giving vision. For homeschooling families it goes hand in hand with education, which is all about learning, laughing, working and creating together, serving one another and spending quality and quantity time together. This is something which I pray characterizes our family. I have a list on a wall which states 10 things which will characterize our home.

They are
1. Kind Words
2. Good Deeds
3. Peace and Serenity
4. Laughter and Joy
5. Learning Together
6. Enjoying God's Creation
7. Creative expression
8. Reading Great Books
9. Warm Hospitality
10. Good Healthy Food

I use this list to remind myself that this is the type of atmosphere as a wife, mother and teacher of my children, I want to create in my home. It is not always easy to achieve - especially no 3 'peace and serenity' when it is so often noisy but I find having these words to live by, preferable to a set of rigid rules plastered on the wall. Yes, we do have structure, boundaries and rules and consequences for breaking them but when the siblings are arguing and it is becoming much more than a healthy debate or unkind words are being spoken, I sometimes take a child aside and ask them to look at the list and ask them 'Is this what we want our home to be like, what have we agreed our home is to to be characterized by?

Boxes can be different things such as focusing on the externals, expecting perfectionism, legalism, judging others and self-righteousness but they can cause cracks to form in the foundation and destroy the building. They can also destroy the self-worth and dignity of our children, sowing seeds of rebellion rather than respect.
Diana then went on to describe what box free living entailed, to consider the words of Jesus who told the Pharisees that they had neglected the most important teachings of the Law, such as justice, mercy and honesty. God's way for us to Biblically parent was heart- centred and it involved unconditional love, it was heart orientated rather than performance orientated and it recognized the dignity, worth, and respect due to our children and to each other. Her last 3 points were these and it is something I will be writing down in my homeschool journal to remind myself of when I am tempted to over react when a child does not fulfill my expectations

Obedience instead of rules
Compassion instead of judgment
Humility instead of self- righteousness

Learning that flowers are not just for putting in vases! We were making elderflower cordial -
Recipe coming soon with more 'delicious moments' of kitchen life at eight acres of eden

I have returned home inspired once again to continue the journey, steadfastly, diligently, lovingly. I want to enjoy the journey - if we are not enjoying home education then I would have to ask myself why - Have I created a box, becoming too focused on 'outcomes' - those externals or statements we measure our children by and fret over when they don't quite reach the mark or are slower than others to accomplish. If I am not enjoying it and I know the reasons, why am I not taking steps to make changes? Learning to relax was a big issue for me; if she never conquers algebra or calculus will she be scarred for life? Would this really benefit her? I say 'her' because I never conquered either of these subjects, despite spending hours trying to figure them out. When my oldest son told me that algebra was easy, I thought he was having me on! It was just that with his interest in computer programming, tackling algebra was something he had taken on board to teach himself and it was a useful subject to him.

I would encourage you that if you too are on this journey, having chosen to take on the awesome and sometimes seemingly overwhelming responsibility of educating your children at home, to seek direction from the Lord, take your concerns and anxieties to Him. Pray ! Pray ! Pray! He has the answers. You will learn much and be inspired by other home educators, as I have by veterans of the movement such as Diana Waring but the greatest assurance and help will come from your relationship with the Lord who when I was having doubts and wondering whether to keep going, led me to this verse in the book of Isaiah.

'All your sons (and for me it meant daughters too)
will be taught by the Lord and great will be your children 's peace.'

Isaiah 54v13.

The final words on the opening page of my homeschool journal I penned in 2004, still urge me on and I hope they encourage you too!

- with God's help, I will raise up and educate my children, my most precious gift from the Lord, to be all that He intended, which is far greater than I can ever imagine!

With Love and Joy,

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Living, Laughing, Learning!

Living, Laughing and Learning was the title of the recent Diana Waring Homeschool Conference that my family attended - more on that later but it is also what we have been doing a lot of recently.
We have been living - really living just not existing or surviving but enjoying life together as a family - it has left me with little time to post on the blog but this springtime has been for me all about rediscovering the joys of an abundant family life.

Living in a small budget cabin at the camping ground which was close to the venue for the homeschool conference. Budget to me usually implies, dark, damp, rundown but these cabins were light, airy and immaculate and at only $75 a night for eight of us, very affordable.
We enjoyed barbecues and picnic lunches and some of the braver souls in the family went for a dip in the pool - it was hot but the water was cold - I just dipped in my toes!

Laughing - we spent lots of time laughing and had so much fun especially on the second day of our mini- vacation. We visited a farm park way out in the bush - about 30 kms out of the town. This is somewhat different to the average Australian theme park. It has slides and a roller coaster but everything is made from metal pipe! Totally ingenious, designed and built by one creative man many years ago and my children just had a ball! Most playgrounds these days are only designed for the littlies - councils have removed all the really fun equipment - the too high slides, the too fast roundabouts and older children such as my teenagers end up being supervisors on the sideline for their younger siblings - but not at this park!

The super-high slippery dip is for over tens - my husband is over ten!

Father and son could not stay off the ground!

The end of the ride on the roller coaster - no seat belts required, just hold on tight!

Want to ride again? You haul the carriage back yourself!

All the family went on the roller coaster except for me - I thought it might bring on labour!

There were no queues for the rides at this park, for most of the day we had the park to ourselves. It was also friendly on the family budget. Just $5 admission per person. Under 3s are free. It also has an aqua slide which you pay extra for. This is only open during the summer months, much to the disappointment of my children - they just love whizzing down water slides!

The children (and husband!) compensated for missing out on the water slide by spending extra time in the playground and trying out everything which spun, twisted, lifted, rocked or turned. The twins had a wonderful time- now this device takes me back to my childhood, we used to call it the 'witch's hat'. I have not seen one of these type of roundabout/swings in years! I even had a spin too!

After wearing themselves out in the playground it was time for a more leisurely stroll around the gardens and animal enclosure. There were a variety of farm animals, Australian mammals, marsupials and birds to 'greet and meet'.

This friendly pig appreciated a scratch

Another Aussie animal - the dingo

I managed to persuade one daughter to stop for a rest and a picture so I could admire the lovely wrought iron garden furniture. The rest were still being amused by animals and some had sneaked back into the playground! We have chickens and cockatiels at home but we do not have a giant jumping pillow!

A storm was brewing, so we managed to persuade the children that we ought to have our lunch before the rain arrived which it did. We made our retreat with some reluctance and returned to the cabin to recover! Never was so much energy expended in just one day! If you are visiting the New England Tablelands of NSW and would like to visit this park you can find more details at their website

Learning I have just learned that blogger can cause me so much frustration. I would love to share with you what I learned at the Diana Waring conference, in fact I just did but Blogger was not cooperating and refused to save my work, so I'll take a break, publish what it has saved thus far before I lose any more work and return tomorrow!

As postscript can I ask you to pray for my younger children who are struggling with the effects of the dust storms that blew into our state from inland NSW? We have all found ourselves 'clogging up' with hay fever like symptoms and my 9 year old son and 12 year old daughter are coughing, eyes streaming and feeling quite unwell after more gusty winds once again sent dust our way and turned our blue sky grey for the second time this week.
Many thanks!

With love and joy and watery eyes!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Beauty of the Forest at Eden

When we first came out to visit the property we have christened our eight acres of eden, we were smitten from the very first moment. One of the first thoughts that entered my mind as I cast my eyes toward the sky to gaze upon the towering gums was ' Imagine homeschooling the children here'! My excitement was building as I pictured the nature study we could undertake, the stories it would inspire, the imaginative play that would take place. The lady selling the property just happened to be a school teacher and when I told her that we homeschooled she remarked 'Oh this would be the perfect place to homeschool'. She was right and seven years on, each day, as I look out upon the forest or see a honeyeater flitting through the shrubbery, I never cease to be amazed and delighted at the wonders of God's creation.
It has been a wonderful setting to live and learn in.... the trees, the animal, bird and insect life have all been studied, the trees have been climbed, forts and shelters constructed in the woodland, koalas observed and sometimes rescued, carpet snakes relocated further into the forest, fruit trees and food gardens planted and harvested, chickens established in a sheltered setting under the trees, the home renovated, extended and beautified but there is little need for landscape paintings on the walls when you are living in a setting such as this and view the artistry of God every day from your dining room window!

I would love to take you on a tour of our forest and show you some of its delights... are you ready, let's go for a walk.......

This is the centre island on the driveway at the front of the property which forms a 'turning circle' for vehicles which both we and our visitors appreciate. It is planted with a variety of palms and cycads. A 'bandy, bandy' - a black and white striped snake lives in here. I'm always a little reluctant to weed in here during the hot summer months!

This is the front boundary circled by majestic eucalyptus trees with glimpses over the valley toward the river - when the river is in flood we are afforded a view. We cleared out many of the weeds on the front bank and have planted a small hedge of citrus on one side of the path. A hedge of coffee plants which are still establishing, borders the opposite side.

This is the view from the front of the house looking towards the neighbouring paddocks. Sometimes there are cows grazing in this field, other times, thoroughbred horses. The neighbour who lives opposite, owns this field but a strip of it is actually ours! - we found this out when we had the land surveyed and discovered that the boundary fence was not in the correct position. One day we would like to own this field and maybe establish a vineyard. It is just a dream at the moment. Beyond the trees in the distance is the dairy farm where my older children work. They take this route through the paddock on their way to work each morning. The neighbour does not mind and they always remember to close gates!

The colour which predominates at Eden is green but some of our trees are underplanted with shrubs with colourful flowers. The occasional glimpse of pink, red or purple in the foreground reminds me that God is the master designer. He used such restful colours for the mass expanses and backdrops... blue for the sky, green for the fields and forests. I always try to remember this when I am thinking about redecorating a room.

The front entrance is graced with two magnificent conifers. A Kashmiri Cypress on the left with its cascading green fronds and on the right a Himalayan Cedar. These trees have certainly grown in stature over the past few years and they provide welcome shade for the living and dining rooms at the front of the house. The green catbird likes to hop along the branches and the resident honeyeater darts under the beams to help himself to some tasty insects! During the Christmas season I trim some of the branches and use the greenery to decorate my home. I love to decorate in a natural style and I am blessed to have an abundance of fresh green cedar and cypress to create displays and use in arrangements. I'm looking forward to showing you how I decorate my home at Christmas time! I'm hoping to one day have a matching white arbour between these two trees leading the way to the front entrance of the house

We have just come around to the side of the house and the main feature of the planting which softens the brick patio outside the French doors and picture windows is this magnificent native grass tree. This was planted by the previous owner and specimens of this size cost a small fortune! Its spear-like seed head attracts the birds. We are landscaping at the moment and will be extending our patio and replacing the uneven brick pavers. We removed some of the adjacent exotic shrubbery which was encroaching on the grass tree and made it a stand alone feature which is what it surely deserves!

We have come around to the back of the house and you are looking at my kitchen and office windows. We still have lots of work to complete on this side of the house - more block walls to render and we hope to replace the dated brown aluminium windows with picture windows. Just outside the kitchen and office windows are flower beds edged with rocks. Flowering camellias and azaleas soften the edges and create a lovely outlook. Just tucked away to the left is a small water tank on a stand which is camouflaged by a native guava and a glossy leaved magnolia.... the variety which has pinkish flowers which smell of bubble gum! This area of planting also screens the washing line. I'm planning to devote a whole post to my washing line which is quite a unique garden feature!

Most of the camellias have finished flowering, this single, sumptuous specimen remains... they certainly brighten up a gloomy winter's day and uplift my mood too! When they are flowering in profusion I love to pick the blooms and bring them inside to place in a bowl surrounding floating candles - such a simple arrangement to grace the table and bring the beauty of the garden into the home.

If you were to visit me today and walk down the narrow path to enter the back garden, an intoxicating perfume would pervade your senses. It is the blossom on the Tahitian lime tree and the scent is just heavenly. This is one of three established fruit trees bordering our only area of flat ground. We also have a bush lemon and a mandarin. I hope one day to re establish the small area of lawn which has been worn down by children playing and liberated chickens pecking! The trampoline will need to be relocated too! This area is bordered by a rock wall lovingly hand built by my husband. Against a backdrop of a purple flowering tibouchinas , I planted a hedge of lavender which spills over the wall but many succumbed to the very wet winter. I will take cuttings from the surviving bushes and replant. Behind the lavender was a rhubarb patch which was flourishing until the chickens escaped and ravaged it!

Wide steps edged with old timber railway sleepers lead you further up the hill towards the rear of the property. This is where my husband's large workshop is located, we chose a dark green steel shed which blends into the background of forest. If you walk across the path from the workshop you are greeted by this vista of our stunning green valley through the trees which continue right up the hill, the bush becomes denser the further you walk. The eucalyptus trees on this side of the property are where we often spot koalas sleeping in the forks of branches.

You are welcome to take a walk up the back track which leads you to the top of the property where you will meet a trail. Follow this for a short distance past some more private properties and you will soon arrive in the National Park. We have cycled this trail but you reach a point where you have to haul your bike up steep inclines. There are many ruts, hollows and overhanging branches to watch out for, it really is more suited to mountain biking than a leisurely family bike ride!

I have come back down the hill to show you the other side of the property. This aspect is towards the paddocks rather than the forest. The little tin shed you are looking down upon is the chicken's residence. They have a lovely sheltered run where we are establishing a small orchard. There are apple trees, plums, tropical pears, a peacharine, paw paws, a kiwi fruit vine and mangoes. The trees which are really flourishing are the native Davidson plums, we have both New South Wales and Queensland varieties. I'm looking forward to making preserves with its tangy, purple fruit This whole area was once a dense, tangled mass of lantana. A previous owner had cleared out trees creating clearings, the light that this allowed in, enabled the lantana to take over. We hope to plant more rainforest species and 'bush tucker' plants on this side of the property. Beyond the chickens' enclosure and orchard, the bush thickens and there are pockets of rainforest. I would love to take you further in but be prepared to come across prickly 'lawyer vines'. The rustling you hear might be a goanna who will race up the nearest tree and tread carefully, it is breeding season for snakes. We have both red bellied black snakes and the more formidable eastern brown snake - a very dangerous snake indeed. You are welcome to hug some of the trees that encircle the dam at the bottom of the property but you will need very long arms!

As the weather has warmed up with the early arrival of spring and summer-like temperatures, I am returning to the house for a cool drink. I have only mentioned a few of the creatures we share this beautiful forest with. I have recently commenced a unit study with my younger children. I want to develop their creative writing skills by using their spontaneous observations of the nature that surrounds us. They spend a lot of time outdoors in our 'natural classroom' and they are very familiar with the birds, insects and animals that also call Eden home. Some of these powers of identification I am grateful for - they know their snakes and how to respond appropriately should they meet one on a path. Thankfully most of our encounters with the wildlife are ones that evoke delight rather than fear.

We have started our unit by spending time studying the setting and as I've told the children on numerous occasions, every good story has a setting which needs to be described. As I gathered together our resources together I realized it was turning into much more than a creative writing unit. It is nature study, science, ecology, literature and language all combining... why study subjects in isolation? This is why I love the unit study approach so much! I will share what do as our unit progresses in a future post and open up our family nature journal once again to hopefully inspire you to look for the beauty in your own backyard, whether you live in the town or the country there is always a lesson from nature to enrich your world of living and learning!

Until next time,
With love and joy,

Thursday, September 10, 2009

'My Father's Hands' is a Winner!

In June of this year my children put together a very special collage card and poem to honour their dad on his birthday. It was called 'My Father's Hands' - a collection of all their thoughts on how their dad uses his hands to bless them and help his family. The younger children thought of some rather quirky ways in which dad used his hands... 'he picks up snakes in the chook house'... that blesses me too, as there is no way you would find me attempting this!

You can read the full version of 'My Father's Hands' in my previous post of the same name. This is the inside of the card depicting the card with its handwritten verses.

I was in my local library and picked up an entry form for the National 'Thanks Dad' photography competition. This is a annual project run by a community organization that is all about encouraging men to spend more positive time with their children and it celebrates the vital, important role that fathers, grandfathers, step dads, brothers and uncles play in the lives of their children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces and siblings.

Each year they encourage people to send in photos of the men in their lives together with their children. The photos are not judged on technical quality but rather how they capture a moment... a father rejoicing as he holds his newborn baby, a shared smile or joke between a father and son, a proud father with his daughter on her wedding day, a grandfather and grandson enjoying a day of fishing together at the beach. There were quite a number of categories including a photo plus story by primary and secondary students. I was impressed with the aims of this project and thought that the children 's poem which had been their way of saying 'Thanks Dad' would be perfect to enter together with a photo depicting dad using his hands to bless a child. We were all thrilled when we found out just in time for Father's Day last Sunday, that 'My Father's Hands' had been awarded first prize in the primary student category!

All the photos entered in the 2009 competition will be touring Australia this year in an 'Thanks Dad' exhibition which is held at libraries and other community venues in towns and cities all over the country. We believe it will be coming to our nearest city so it will be exciting for the children to go and see their winning entry and the other two photos that we entered that have featured on my blog before, such as this favourite shot from 1997 of my husband delighting in his baby daughter. It is entitled 'Her Father's Joy'.

You can also view the winning entries at the website
The wining entries for 2009 are featured on the home page and there are galleries where you can view photographs in different categories. The stories have their own section. There are some wonderful photos to view and you may get some ideas for pictures for your own family album. If you are in Australia watch out for the exhibition. It starts in Lismore and travels south down the east coast. It even travels to WA. The website will have details of when and where it is going to be held.

All of my children now have the competition bug and I know they will be wanting to enter every competition they see. It all started when my oldest son was 8 and entered a 'World Lego' competition he saw in his Lego Club magazine. You had to submit a drawing of your favourite scene from a movie and he did a rather good drawing of 'Stuart Little' in the washing machine. But when I read that there was only one prize for New Zealand and one for Australia, I told him 'Not to get his hopes up'... famous last words! We both jumped up and down and shrieked with excitement when the letter from Lego arrived informing him that he had won the NZ section. He was even more excited when his prize arrived a week later, a Steven Spielberg movie maker Lego set complete with camera which we still use if we go on Skype! Every time I see it sitting on the desk it reminds me never to say to my children 'Don't get your hopes up' Now I say 'Let's wait and see if you win a prize!'

So can I encourage you to allow your children to enter competitions... the colouring competition at the library, the children's sections in the A&P Shows and country fairs. It is good for them to experience success and of course there will be disappointments but sooner or later, you never know - anything can happen. I never dreamed that my daughter's simple but lovely story about a butterfly she wrote for our unit study and entered in a National Competition would be published in a book.

This daughter really caught the bug and she has entered lots of competitions since ... she enters for prizes she would like and so far the prizes she has won include a scrap booking set, a complete set of commemorative stamps for every Australian Rugby League team and the Sydney Swans AFL team (a writing comp in the Daily Telegraph)... she is not one bit interested in Rugby League but this was during her stamp collecting craze days! She likes to enter every competition she sees on the Weetbix pack and scored herself a sports store voucher just before she went on holiday to New Zealand, she was able to buy herself new t shirts and hoodies. I have been asking her to win me a holiday to the UK so I can go and visit my family but alas no success.... yet!

This year she also entered lots of her photographs in the National 'Smile' photography competition put on by the Centro shopping centres. She missed out this year but two years ago this cheeky shot of her little sister was a local finalist (there were 7000 local entries... people like taking photos!)

By the way this picture was not set up, this twin decided to try on dad's ear muffs for size and her big sister just happened to have the camera - how unusual! I'm the one who has to go racing into the house to find the camera and by the time I find it, it is too late and the moment in time is lost as the child in question then refuses to pose again for another picture! Does this happen to anyone else? And do you know how hard it is to take photos of twins, to get them both to smile at the same time? This was my experience a couple of years ago of trying to take some shots of the girls in their new dresses sent over by their nana. The hairbands were so cute, the finishing touch but much more fun to chew! Now they are older they ask for pretty hairbands and ribbons to be put in their hair!

Perhaps a toy or musical instrument will persuade them to stay sitting on the bench but it far more exciting to watch them drop to the ground to join the hairband!

Now they are both wanting to climb down off the bench! But guess what, I absolutely love this shot... a smile is not always needed for every picture!

When you do capture a smile it is for sure a special moment but it so much easier to take a picture of just one child!

I hope you have enjoyed sharing in our special moments and achievements.
Until next time,
With love and joy,

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Healthier Bread

Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in abundance.

Isaiah 55 : 2

Long gone are the days when I used to pile up my trolley at the supermarket with plastic packages of soft, white, sliced 'plastic' i.e bread. I hesitate to call it bread these days and I'm so pleased I discovered what real bread tasted like, bread that was not devoid of nutrients or fortified by manufacturers who had stripped away the goodness and needed to add something back in that would appeal to consumers who were starting to become more health conscious.

I was brought up on the soft, white stuff as a child and bread making was never taught in my home economics class. My mother relied on processed, convenience foods which lined the shelves of the local 'Tesco' supermarket. Everything came out of packets and tins and even the fruit in the basket on the laminate sideboard was plastic! As a young wife and mother I started to pass on the legacy of white 'plastic bread' to my family. I was ignorant, I never thought to read the list of ingredients and I always bought the cheapest, sliced bread thinking I was making a wise 'thrifty' decision! I had never read or understood the wisdom of Isaiah 55 verse 2 and it had never occurred to me that the Bible was more than just a spiritual book and offered so much practical advice on matters relating to physical health and well being. Some of the healthiest foods that God provided for us are mentioned in the Bible... herbs, fruit, olive oil, milk and honey to name but a few and of course bread!

I probably had consumed homemade bread at some stage (not my own!) but I did not taste bread that had real texture and flavour until I sampled authentic sourdough from the bakery in the region where I now live. By this time our family was well and truly on its journey into health. I was now aware of the artificial ingredients added to bread, we had the made the switch to wholemeal and wholegrain loaves and I was committed to buying preservative free bread. I was also using my bread making machine but having discovered sourdough and knowing that it was one of the healthiest breads around I wanted to be able to make it for myself. God provided for our daily bread and 'grandma' came into my life thanks to a lady in the community who provided me with a heritage sourdough starter and a bread making class at her home. You can read more about my early days of sourdough baking in a previous post 'Baking bread with Heritage Sourdough'.

I can report that my elderly grandmother is still alive, full of health and vitality and living in my fridge! I bring her out almost every day to feed her with flour and water and I clean her home (i.e the jar) about once a month. The old lady on the jar is a real grandmother from generations past - an ancestor of my husband, I could not resist using the picture to make a label for my starter jar! It is a visual reminder that 'grandma' is old and needs to be looked after.

I rediscovered the joy of making bread by hand and kneading the dough is one of my favourite parts of the process. Why would I choose to give up kneading the dough? I'm not sure but I am always open to suggestions and when I saw the article on sourdough in the latest issue of 'Above Rubies' to land on Australian shores I was more than prepared to give Serene's 'no knead' sourdough a go. I followed her instructions to the letter and I even watched her 'You Tube' demonstration but I have to say my experiment with a really wet dough pounded with a rolling pin in a pot failed miserably! It led me to think 'If I was dough what would I prefer? To be pummelled with heavy rolling pin or lovingly caressed with bare hands?'! The finished result reminded me of a house brick and it took ages to bake in the oven and after more than an hour was still doughy in the centre. The family wanted to know 'when the bread was going to be ready?' and the next question was 'What happened to your bread?' I had missed the kneading which only takes me ten minutes and the next day I returned to making my sourdough the way I had been taught in my first bread making class. Back on the table that evening was the familiar Vienna loaf, slashed across the top with a dusting of flour, its interior crumb is dense, moist and chewy but definitely not stodgy and of course it has that tangy flavour one associates with sourdough!

By all means, give the 'no knead' wet dough method a try and by the way Serene offers some excellent information about the health benefits of sourdough but I am returning to the method which works for me. I enjoy my daily bread (or sometimes it is every other day) - it means grandma gets regular feeding and I have my regular workout... kneading is great therapy! My twin girls love to help knead too!

If you are a novice sourdough baker or a more experienced bread maker who likes to experiment there is a book I purchased earlier this year which I would love to recommend to you. It is called 'Wild Sourdough' the natural way to bake by Yoke Mardewi. She is an Australian sourdough bread making teacher and a home-baker. Her book is written for home- bakers and not aimed at professionals using commercial ovens. This book is a comprehensive manual that tells you everything you need to know about sourdough...the health benefits, getting started, the variety of flours you can use, different methods and recipes, oh the recipes! It is packed with so many recipes and unusual variations for sourdough. I would never have thought of using 'beetroot and feta' in a sourdough! There is even a recipe for a 'bitter chocolate, cranberry and pistachio spelt' loaf. I have picked up some very useful tips from Yoke - I do not need to add honey and oil and allowing my dough to rest or 'autolyse' for 15-20 minutes ' creates a dough that has better volume and is even tastier! I will not share any more advice from Yoke as I would love for you to buy her book. If you want to improve your sourdough breads and become more adventurous with your recipes this is the book for you!

Just one of the recipes you will find in 'Wild Sourdough'..I will be trying this one soon! I love sweet potato or kumara as I still call it!

I have yet to try some of the more unusual sourdough recipes in 'Wild Sourdough' but I am starting to experiment. I have been adding herbs and cheese to create savoury loaves and pizza bases and the apricot, almond and macadamia fruity sourdough I made the other day was sensational. It kept so well and could be sliced as thick or thin as one desired. It was delicious toasted and lovely to have with apricot preserves.

Flour, water, salt and starter are all you need to make one of the best breads!

Have I convinced you yet to try sourdough? If you bake bread with conventional baker's yeast have you ever considered attempting sourdough? If you can find someone who already has a starter who would be willing to give you a culture you are well on the way to discovering the healthiest, most delicious of breads or you could be brave and try to make your own starter. I have given away jars of my starter before but the friends I gave a portion of 'grandma' to, did the unthinkable - they let her die, mainly through neglect! I am paranoid about killing 'grandma' she has antique status and to think she has been passed on down generations of one family and been multiplied and given away to people like me! I feel like I am a custodian of the sourdough starter! So when I read that someone had killed her starter by feeding it with freshly milled flour I was mortified. I contacted Yoke by email and she reassured me that it was fine to feed my starter with the flour I milled at home. 'Grandma' has responded favourably to the freshly milled flour but I do let it cool down before I add it to the jar.

Yoke has an informative website and if you are fortunate enough to live in Perth you can attend one of her classes! I'd love to meet her in person. I have not attempted to make sourdough croissants or flat breads before and I'm sure a hands on class would really help. I've tried making ciabatta following Yoke's directions in the book - with a reasonable result but my family still prefer the wholewheat Vienna which is our daily bread.

Educate yourself and your children about bread! Bread is a wonderful topic for a homeschool project. It covers so many subjects:-

You can study the history of bread making.

Do a Bible Study on bread (so many verses!)

Learn about bread making around the world.

Discover the chemistry of bread... watch yeast inflate a balloon and observe its action as you actually bake a loaf and watch it rise! Learn about gluten.

Use this study to learn more about the commercial process of bread making and research the ingredients used.

Even politics can come into the study - have you ever asked why was bread making taken out of the home?

So dare I ask - what is your daily bread? It may not be a sourdough but is it a good bread made with wholesome ingredients? What your bread is packaged in can be indicative of what it contains but check the list of ingredients, the longer the list the more likely it is to be detrimental to your health. Does it contain preservatives? 282 or calcium propionate is the one to watch out for and is still widely used in many commercial breads, particularly Turkish breads and can cause adverse effects such as lethargy, gastro-intestinal disturbances and depression. Migraine sufferers are advised to avoid this additive. Several of the commercial franchises have stopped using 282 in their baked goods but it is commonly listed on many supermarket breads. Even bread baked daily on the premises of a bakery can be stacked with artificial ingredients. Occasionally, I am pleasantly surprised to find a bread at the supermarket made with whole ingredients, for example, Woolworths make a butter croissant which has no added extras, they are packaged on foil trays and even I occasionally break my 'no white flour rule' for these as you can tell they are made from butter but watch out they also make 'mini croissants' packaged on round plastic trays which do have added extras - emulsifiers and so forth.
My local supermarket stocks a wide variety of breads, the usual plastic, packaged brands but also organic breads and a range of organic, authentic sourdoughs including the locally made one which was my first experience of 'real bread' made only with flour, starter culture, filtered water and sea salt. They do cost more but because they are so filling and satisfying you only need a slice or two whereas ordinary sliced bread.... well it takes more than one loaf of commercial sliced bread to feed my family at a meal!

A jar of starter culture is all you need to get started!

I did realize though that the desire for healthy sourdough to become our family's daily bread rather than just a weekend treat could prove to be costly if I had to purchase it on a regular basis and this is what led me to begin making my own sourdough bread at home. Making bread has become part of the rhythm of my life, it is a routine which nourishes my soul because I know I am creating something which nourishes my family. I always feel an immense sense of satisfaction when my loaf comes out of the oven!

I love sourdough bread and I make it with love for the ones I love! I could not agree more with Yoke's sentiments in her opening chapter of 'Wild Sourdough'.

'We can buy so much 'soul-less food' these days, but there is something soulful about handmade bread. When we make something with our hands at home for those we love, I believe our good feelings and good intentions get transferred into the nourishing food or bread we make- making it taste infinitely better.'

I hope I have inspired someone somewhere through these last few posts to search for healthier alternatives, especially when it comes to staple foods such as bread, something which most families consume every day. For the sake of our health and the health of our families it is an issue that deserves our attention. Just start somewhere... begin by reading the label, switching to preservative free bread, persuading the husband to try wholegrain bread for his sandwiches and encouraging the school or community organization to also offer wholemeal bread at the next sausage sizzle fundraiser! Try something different, a preservative free lavash or pita bread at your next family barbecue! I dare you to taste an authentic sourdough from an artisan baker! You may even be tempted to start making your own bread at home and discover the delights of handmade loaves that truly nourish.

Until next time, enjoy your baking!

With love and joy,


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