Thursday, April 29, 2010

A $5 pirate

Our oldest boy was invited to a birthday party the other week.... and was asked to come as a movie star or famous singer...

Here is what we pulled together - a $5 Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) outfit... thanks to the Op Shops in Lithgow where we went hunting for extras while waiting to pick up the kids grandfather.

What has your best cheap / recycled dress up costume been?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Getting the kids outdoors with bushwalking...

We have bushwalking genes in all lines of our family with three out of our four Grandparents (parents) still being active bushwalkers as they go into their retirement.  As a family we love to head out to the bush and do a walk or two.  Now that the kids are getting older our walks are getting longer and more rewarding .... our oldest is now asking about overnight hiking... and on our last holiday to Gunderbooka National Park our littlest (just turned 4 years old) climbed her first mountain independentally.... she was so proud and should have been... here it is...

The track up to Mt Gunderbooka

Just look at the view we got from near the top... our littlest starting the walk down with Grandma

We find bushwalking a great opportunity for the kids (and ourselves) to get out and be closer to nature... we stop and look at all sorts of things when we are walking... observing patterns in nature, spotting different plants - crushing their leaves for smell and texture, looking at their flowers, comparing their leaf shapes, etc. 

...running through Mulga shrublands...

...snack time before the return walk back to camp...

Many walking tracks have information on Aboriginal culture and we often explore the traditional uses of plants and read the dreamtime stories about the places we are visiting.

..the boys heading into to see the Aboriginal artwork sites at Mount Grenfell near Cobar......

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Our last box of tissues...

I had been buying recycled tissues from the supermarket to deal with the kids runny noses... but had made a descision a while ago that the current box of tissues was the last one for our household.

A month or two ago I found a pair of cot sheets that had been used but not much... just enough to make it feel washed and soft but not worn out.  The other day I got to these cot sheets and a muslin wrap I was no longer using and cut them into squares to make kids hankies.

So with the help from my oldest boy (his first sewing machine lesson) we hemmed the cut out hankies simply with a nice wide zig-zag stitch. 

We now have a nice bunch on hankies for use by all the family (hopefully Dad won't have to share his hankies with everyone anymore now).

The hankies were put into the drawer in the dresser in the kitchen .... freely available for the kids to use. 

So here's to our tissues free house.

Next on my list for reducung our use of paper products around the house is the making of more napkins and maybe some small cloths that I can use for oiling or greasing pans or tins in the kitchen.

For our outdoor activities over the last few days... Grandma has taken the kids down to the start of outdoor soccer training, we have been out in the garden, our eldest has been training for his 2km cross country run and we all went down to watch the boys march in the Anzac Day parade today.

The boys getting ready to join their school mates in the Anzac Parade this morning.

Friday, April 23, 2010

What is your Big Swap going to be?

This year, Aussies are being urged to make The Big Swap. Showing that swapping our usual products to Fair Trade and Fairtrade Certified ones is simple, but it can help make a big difference for developing country farmers by giving them access to fair prices, money to invest in everyday things for their communities such as education and healthcare and also helping them to develop more sustainable farming practices.

So this Fairtrade Fortnight , whether it’s your daily caffeine fix, afternoon cuppa or chocolate treat – make the swap to Fairtrade and you can help create a better and brighter future for farmers and their families across the globe. 

In the words of the Australian Fairtrade website "Let’s get as many people as we can to swap as much as we can. Get active, challenge your friends and swap your usual stuff – your coffee, tea, bananas, chocolate – even your cotton tee shirt – to Fairtrade stuff."

Here is a link to give you some pointers as to what you can swap.

We will be making the Big Swap to Fairtrade chocolate - this should be easier now that Cadbury's Dairy Milk Chocolate is now Fairtrade.  I will be trying to find a Fairtrade coffee for Dad - might be trialling some from our local shops, or coffee roasting cafe or maybe from an online shop of two - I will let you know what we find.  And for the kids over winter we will try source a Fairtrade Hot Chocolate.

What are you going to swap?

You may also be interested in registering your own Oxfam Fairtrade Coffee Break.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More outdoor times...

Like Tricia from Little Eco Footprints I find it hard to get outdoors for the Great Outdoors Challenge after work (or school) now that daylight savings has ended - but we will continue to make it work.

We made the most of a student free day on Monday and took the scooters down to the park (thanks for the idea Tricia) .... the autumn colours were great...

.. then we had a play at the playground before we headed off to do the weekly shop....

The boys went back to school today and had swimming lessons straight after school... but we managed to squeeze in some outdoor time in the yard before it got too dark..

..firstly checking the chooks and collecting the eggs...

then out to the front to plant some more trees in our "bushland patch"...

..and lastly feeding the dogs...

Outdoor time over the next few days will be hard for me- I have out of town work meetings and teaching, but I hope that the kids will be able to out with their Grandma who will be helping out.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What can be learnt from the Iceland Volcano?

One of the key ideas in permaculture is to make sure that you do not rely on only a single source for your power, water and goods - a way of being prepared for changes in the availablity of all these resources.   This principle links in closely with the ideas of Transistion Towns and how we might survive peak oil.  The video below is a great introduction to the transition town movement.

Time and time again we see nature setting challenges for us as a world, nation or local community to overcome.  Currently the ash cloud from the volcano in Iceland has grounded the vast majority of airplane travel in an out of Europe and the UK.  On a more local level there are floods associated with the melting of glaciers by the volcano and lots of falling ash.  We have over the last decade or so seen the effects on communities of hurricanes, cyclones, bushfires and tsunamis.

It is times like this that we often consider how we would cope if a similar event occured in our local area. 
  • How would you cope with no power for a week or two?
  • Can you heat or cool your house without grid power or gas?
  • What if fresh food supplies to your area stopped?
  • What alternate drinking water supplies do you have?
  • What alternatives do you have for cooking or keeping perishable foods?
  • One we do not think about much is - how would we cope if our local sewrage processing failed?
I know that I have limited food in a vegie garden, chooks in the back yard, we have a rainwater tank, a sun oven and an outside BBQ (with an empty gas bottle at the moment).  We have solar panels on our roof but these feed into the grid and I believe if there is no power into our house if the grid is down.  Other than that we have a supply of beeswax and candles - but I am not sure how long would these last?

Through my permaculture course we are exploring alternative ways to decrease our reliance external supplies such as power, water, sewerage and supermarket food.

What have you done to prepare for such events? Do you have a disaster mangement plan?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Budding entomologists

Our boys are both aspiring to be entomologists at the moment.... they capture (and tortue) insects and the like all the time.  I like to foster this love of diversity and sense of exploration but would like encourage more of a capture and release philosophy. 

On our recent trip to Gundabooka National Park near Bourke we focussed on documenting through photos the diversity in insects and spiders we found. 

..our littlest with a great big praying mantis on her hat (and a fly on her chin!)...

Photographing a range of insects and spiders while out camping and bushwalking has provided the kids with their own little ecological / environmental study - learning things like what time of day different critters come out, watching what different things eat and what kinds of habitat you find them in.  I think this understanding of nature is an important facet of their development and helps them to truly have an appreciation and understanding of the living world around them - a skill that I am often trying to initiate in the adult learners I encounter through my teaching in conservation and land management.

What activities do you do with your children to help them gain a better understanding of the natural world around them? 

Others who have joined in the Get Outdoors Challenge have been doing a range of activities that bring children closer to nature as well - see some of the ideas and things others have been doing.

Here are some of the more photogenic things we found.... many of which we are still trying to name or find out more about....

.... a leafy looking grasshopper.... the boys found these in a range of colours...

... Golden Orb-weaving Spider... we had to avoid these webs everywhere... the kids often experimented with how strong the lines of web were.... we also saw many locusts trapped in the webs of these spiders.  In many webs we could see the large female spider and also the much smaller male spider.

... the mound of the Mulga Ants (Polyrhachis macropa).. these ants are nocturnal so we saw very little activity during the day... but the kids went back with torches to see them active at night......

... the small Jewel Spiders were seen often by the kids...

... more grasshoppers .... good camouflage for hiding on sticks and branches....

.. this was a pretty amazing hairy caterpillar....

.. this one wanted to come home with us.... we found him packing up the tent..

.. this locust was laying her eggs into the dirt - see the disturbed dirt under her body..

.. the Giant Burrowing Cockroach.... the legs of this cockroach are specially designed for digging in sandy soils - it can apparently dig down 20 - 100cm... they apparently make good pets but we left this one in the bush....

... another cool cricket found on our tent....

..our camp light was a great insect attractor... including this lacewing...

and finally .. a caterpillar we found on a mistletoe.....

To find out more about other things we saw on our trip follow the links on this page.

We went west for the last week of the school holidays

I have been quiet over the last week as we packed up the camping gear and headed out west for the last week of the school holidays.... so we had no phone or internet for nearly a week.... it was a great unwind and a chance to reconnect with the envirnoment for us all. 

It also provided plenty of outdoor time for our month of April Get Outdoors Challenge.

Gundabooka National Park

We saw so much that I have decided to gradually upload some of our highlights in various posts - which I will link to below once we have completed the blog entries.
  1. Insects and spiders
  2. Bushwalking
  3. Lizards, frogs and birds
  4. Flowers
  5. Scats and tracks
  6. Cultural heritage
But today I will start with some of our general exploring out the back of Bourke

 We decided that it would be a good time to head out west for several reasons,
  • the Darling River was in flood,
  • there has been lots of rain in north western NSW so the country should look good, and
  • it was going to be warm (close to 30oC - compared to the almost 20oC we are getting in Orange at the moment)
Here are some photos of the kids exploring a range of outdoor things in and around Bourke.

on the reconstructed wharf at Bourke... the Darling River was in flood.... there is another level to the wharf under water..

walking over the Old North Bourke bridge...

the Darling River flooding out onto the river plains as seen from the old North Bourke bridge......

exploring the natural environment with Grandma...

and the boys enjoying some dirty outdoor time...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Sunday morning ritual

Our eldset boy wakes early on Sunday mornings to go out with the dogs and Dad, along with Dad's mate and his dog.  Here he is getting ready to head out.

This is todays entry for The Get Outdoors Challenge - to see what other have been doing check out these links to those participating..

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Lots of outdoor holiday action

We joined the Get Outdoors Challenge for April - the challenge being to get the kids doing outdoor things daily.  We had lovely weather here today so the kids spent most of the day outdoors today with lots of action....

We had backyard soccer....

bouncing on the trampoline...

remodelling  the cubby house..(really Dad making it a safer construction).....

and some backyard weather observations...

Friday, April 9, 2010

The fruit bats have arrived..

While undertaking our Great Outdoors Challenge we ventured down to Cook Park for a picnic lunch.  Here we met Orange's newest residents... the fruit bats or Grey Headed Flying Foxes. 

With the flying foxes comes a range of fears and complaints - and there has been real damage done to the new apple crops in and around Orange.  The Grey Headed Flying Fox is however a threatened species nationally and in New South Wales - so there has been lots of discussions as to how to manage the situation.

If you look closely, you will see the flying foxes roosting in the tops of the old trees at back of this photo.

The kids enjoyed playing in the gardens.... a bit a ten pin bowling.....

planting a garden....

and just enjoying the open space of the park..