Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Zoning the areas of the house helps with decluttering

Over the last few years our house has been in an interesting state of upheavel.  As part of my Permaculture Applied Diploma I have been re-designing our house and trying to zone it so that things are in the right place, easy to find but most importantly easier to keep tidy.  This is not an effortless feat seeing as I am messy and I tend to have at least 5 craft projects on the go which seem to spread themselves around the house.  I am trying to find a dedicated craft area but at present we are still trying to finish the kitchen before we can work out what to do with the old dining room, before I can then work on the rest.
However, I have managed to majorly re-design my bedroom!!!  It isn't totally sorted but it is working really well.  Observation in this area indicated that having all the resources around the edge of a long, thin room was making the room thinner and minimising what could be achieved within the left-over space.  In the future the room could be split into two decent sized rooms but this isn't wanted or needed at present.  There was also a need for a space in the house in which to exercise.  Putting all these needs together I evaluated that using the furniture to make a border down the middle of the room (above) could create more usable space whilst splitting the room into two distinct zones: the dressing/clothes area (to the right) and the exercise/study area.

The study/exercise area needs work but it is a start and the implementation of these changes and the creation of a separate dressing area has resulted in a less messy space and has also led to de-cluttering of clothes and bedding.  It seems that zoning has a knock-on effect in that it makes it easier to sort, de-clutter and cyclically makes it easier to maintain. Result!!  This design is a great example of using the OBREDIM permaculture design process.  All this sorting and tidying in one area also had a ripple effect across the whole of the house.

Above there is a new shelf put into the living room for the kids new craze of loom-banding.

Another thing in the house which is in the process of being redeveloped and redesigned after major building work is the kitchen (read about the renovation here.)  This has been a long and drawn out process because resources meant that we could pay for the building changes but couldn't afford to pay for the decorating or new kitchen design.

This has meant that progress has been slow. However this has allowed time to see how the space is used by family and visitors to the house. 

Surveying and analysing in this way has been productive and enlightening and has meant that the design for the kitchen has been re-evaluated and re-designed at least 3 times over the last year.

The implementing of the new design is going to take a while and there is more evaluating that needs to take place but one thing I have been able to do is work out a new way to not waste food.  I have designed a simple cataloguing system for the fridge and freezer using magnetic tape.

It started (as can be seen above in the bottom half of the picture above ) by just using whiteboard markers. They are not easy to wipe off and made the system awkward.  Magnetic tape may also end up having cons as well but is working so far.  The freezer (above) is divided into drawers so people know where the various foods are.  This also means that energy use is lessened because the freezer doesn't need to be opened for as long whilst someone tries to find the right food.

The fridge has a space for the food actually in the fridge as well as a consider buying section.  The space for the magnets which signal the food stuffs which have been used but don't need re-stocking as yet, are at the bottom of the freezer door. Anyway progress is being made using various design techniques and I am very happy with results.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Don't justify...just be happy!!! My home-educating and breastfeeding experiences...

My son and daughter have been educating themselves for nearly 13 years and 9 years 7 months respectively and I am one of the very few home educators who hasn't really had to justify why I think home educating is more natural than school.  The same way I didn't ever really have to justify breastfeeding even though my children both breastfed for between 3 and 4 years.  

To be honest I am not sure what I would say now if I was questioned about breastfeeding and home educating.  I know it would be different to what I would have said 9 years ago or even 5 years ago.  What I do know is that I really sympathise with people who write posts because they are so fed up of having to justify why they home educate without offending anyone, that they just get fed up and tell you the real reasons why they home educate. 

So here are some of my thoughts

Children learn resilience from everyday life and learn it much more deeply when they are actively involved in resolving conflict or in dealing with whatever difficult situation faces them.  Bullying will NEVER fall into the category of building resilience unless it is resolved.  Seeing others get bullied will also not help children learn how to deal with conflict.

Maths - oh maths - don't get me started on maths.  I am a maths tutor, I love maths, I am a total geek but even I don't understand what the obsession is with maths.  All kids love to count.  It seems like it is built into their DNA: this desire to count steps, sort coins into like groups, collect stones and sort them into colours, or sizes or whatever.  Sorry to break it to you all but the maths your child learns at school seems pretty pointless to me unless they want to teach maths or go into a mathematical discipline at which point you are taught how to do it properly.

The fact that the powers-that-be keep changing the way maths is taught is very telling.  So is the fact that most of the time maths is taught as a separate subject taken out of context.  This makes it confusing and annoying to anyone who doesn't get maths.  Ken Robinson in his talk about Changing Education Paradigms sums it up well.  "Schools are still very much organised on factory lines...specialise into separate subjects.  We still educate children by batches.  Why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are."  Watch the full talk here and he goes into much more depth than I do.  But you do have to wonder how can we have taken such a great universal language that ALL children love and turned it into a subject where more than half of children who leave school hate maths?

How children learn
The same goes for socialising and is mentioned by Ken above.  We batch children by their date of manufacture.  Why do we do this?  Why not height, physical ability, mental ability, social ability?  Why not batch them by different things depending upon what you want them to learn?  It is already well known, and has been for years, that children learn best from people who know just a bit more than them so actually do we really need to batch children at all or could we just let them be with whomever they want to be with?  That would be more natural: letting children pick who they want to be with, like we do as adults.  You need to be around people to learn how to socialise and unless you are keeping your child in solitary confinement they are socialising whether you want them to or not, whether it be at school (where they are batched by date of manufacture) or not (where they socialise with anyone they come in contact with.)

Going to school is just one way of being
I have never come across the idea that children miss out on opportunities if they don't go to school.  But turn that on its head - what opportunities are children missing out on by going to school?  The chance to learn what they want, when they want to and when they are ready to enjoy it?  The chance to really absorb themselves in an activity without having to break or move to another subject?  As far as I am concerned our education system is out of date.  Teaching facts, especially out of context, is pretty pointless. We have facts at our fingertips every day because most of us have smartphones.  The internet holds all the facts and computers do calculations really well.

This factual, shallow learning does our children a huge injustice.  We need to be teaching our children creative thinking, conflict resolution, permaculture design, sustainability, survival skills, typing, physiology (how their bodies work), etc. NOT just facts.

We need our children to have the opportunity to find their "element" as Ken Robinson calls it and we need to be aware that we don't know what the future holds with regards to what skills we need.  I am pretty sure though that we can all agree that facts are not skills.  Edward De Bono says that schools only teach reactive thinking which is also not going to serve our children into the future.  We need design thinking, creative thinking not critical, analytical and reactive thinking and we need our children to know how to treat each other with respect.

When she was younger, my daughter was occasionally being told (by some of her "friends") that she is stupid because she doesn't know maths facts or stuff that is learnt at school.  Or that she wasn't liked any more because she has done something that has been classed as "bossy."  I tell my children about the difference between a person's actions and a person themselves.  One of the foundations of many communication systems like NVC or PET is the idea -> judge the action, not the person.  These are fundamental ideas that ALL children should know.  "You did something mean" NOT "You are mean."  Then there is also the idea of communicating your wants and needs from a friendship instead of name-calling and manipulation.  Again NVC has a great set of "rules" as to how to communicate your needs:

"<name of child> I experience you as bossy.  What I need from you is to understand that I want to be heard in this game situation and want to have my ideas listened to too"

or in my child language

"<name of child> in this game you are being bossy.  I need my game ideas to be heard too before we play"


"<name of child> you are bossy and I don't like you any more" -> in this scenario no-one gets their needs met, people get upset and someone has been unfairly labelled as bossy.

These are things that I model to my children as best I can as I am sure others do, but this is not something that I am aware of being taught at school as is evident by my daughter's interactions with some of her school-going peers.

Here's the Factual stuff.
WRT home educating, watch the Ken Robinson video here, do some of your own research but most of all don't judge home educators without knowing the facts.  

  • You don't need to go to school to learn to read - my kids taught themselves to read at 11.5 and 5.5 years old
  • You don't need to go to school to socialise - socialising is most easily learnt in a natural setting where life is lived.  
  • You don't actually need to learn geography, science, maths, English or any of the subjects that are taught at school - someone else decided that curriculum and they decided it a long time ago
  • School doesn't teach you anything that you cannot learn at home

Most of us just want to left alone to bring up our kids our way without having to justify it or make you feel better about the way you are bringing up your kids.  If you don't want to know the real reasons why we do it (school is out-dated, school is 40% a waste of time, school forces kids to learn stuff too early, exams have become so dumbed down that they are pointless, etc) then don't ask because one day you may come across the person who wrote the blog I mentioned at the top or who thinks those things in the brackets and you might get more than you bargained for.

But please whatever you do, do your research.  Be happy that what you are doing with your children is the best thing for them and the right thing for you as a family.  And if you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else or trying to get them to justify their decisions about their kids to make you feel better, then you might be doing something wrong and should maybe consider re-evaluating your decisions.

None of this is meant to offend anyone although if that is your bag go forth and be offended (although also feel free to read my blog post about not being offended instead!!)  

WRT breastfeeding, breastfeeding is natural and anything else is a substitute with varying degrees of health benefits from expressing, wet-nursing, using other's breast milk via a bottle, organic formula downwards.  Breast milk is the only thing your baby is meant to have nutritionally speaking.  Less than 1% of people cannot breastfeed for medical reasons.  The rest either didn't want to or didn't know what to do because they were given bad advice by professionals, didn't research it properly, we're not given decent support from friends or family or didn't know where to access decent support.  The best way to be successful at anything is research, support and practice.  Breastfeeding is just the same.  

Again I was lucky.  Breastfeeding hurt like hell but then it got better as it usually does at around 6 weeks. But don't be fooled.  You are a mammal.  Mammals have mammary glands for feeding their babies.  If you want to know more facts go here and if you want decent advice about breastfeeding go to La Leche League(LLL), Association of Breastfeeding mothers(ABM) or NCT.

My reasons
If you are actually interested in why I full-term breastfed or why I home-educate here are just some of my reasons:

I breastfed my kids because:

  • I am lazy
  • It was easy
  • It gave them comfort
  • It was designed for them
  • It helped me lose weight
  • It stopped me getting my periods back so soon
  • It was free
  • It is why I have breasts
  • It means I am less likely to get breast cancer
  • It has numerous health benefits for my children
  • It would make my children more intelligent
  • I don't like feeding my kids from a plastic bottle
  • It was a great way to get them to sleep
  • It can be done anywhere

I home educate my children because:

  • I wanted their natural curiosity for the world to continue uninterrupted.  They learnt to walk, talk, feed themselves and go to the toilet by themselves so I believed they could teach themselves other stuff too.
  • I wanted them to learn at their own pace where I believe deeper and more profound learning occurs.
  • I think the National Curriculum is a waste of time.  The focus on English (which we all speak); Maths (most of which we don't need to learn) as opposed to mental arithmetic (which I think is quite useful) and Science as opposed to physiology, proactive thinking skills and sustainability (or any other skills) makes no sense to me. 
  • I think exams are pointless especially now when you can only really be judged exam-grade wise against the people who did their exams in the same year as you.  The marks, boundaries and subjects just keep changing too much to give a decent comparison so making them useless to employers and academic institutes alike.  
  • I wanted them to mix (socialise) with people of all ages for the most part of their day because I feel it gives a more realistic feel of the real world.
  • I didn't want them forced to learn things they are not interested in or are not ready to learn such as reading.  I felt that I was forced to read at school when I wasn't ready and it made me dyslexic.  
  • They only have one childhood and I would like them to have fun
  • If they want to go to school it will be their choice

Friday, 8 August 2014

Connecting via the weather

I had a strange but lovely time this morning.  Needing to go across town to collect a mended tent pole before going for a massage, I decided that I would also visit the tip to justify using the car.  Lovely hubbie loaded the car with wood and metal that is not needed any more and off I went.

Just after I turned up at the tip the heavens opened.  The guy next to me jumped into his van and I asked if I could join him so that I could keep an eye on the weather.  He said yes and offered me tissue to dry my hair as I was already dripping.  We talked for a bit about both of us being on a deadline - he had windows to fit (LOL) and I needed to retrieve my tent pole and get to my pre-booked sports massage.  The rain was not easing so we both went to it and continued our sorting and tipping.  I got smiles from at least 2 people who were safely sitting in their cars.  I felt connected to those strangers just for a fleeting moment  - a shared grin over the madness of the British weather with them maybe thinking "I'm glad I'm not out there" or "you're mad to be getting drenched" or whatever else...

The downpour was so heavy and so quick that it flooded streets and shops in Acomb -> see here

Anyway by the time I got back in my car my underwear was wet from the rain constantly running down my back.  I reckon I could have wrung my trousers out and filled a small glass quite easily.  I zoomed off though, retrieved my mended tent pole (got some funny looks in that store as I squelched my way to the checkout) and drove to my massage appointment.  Along the way through York though I saw so many people not so much enjoying the rain but embracing the fact that they could do nothing about the suddenness of it.  So many people like me had gone out with just a t-shirt on or with no waterproofs or had just got caught out whilst out and about, there was an air of joyful abandon that was refreshing and fun to see.  I noticed at least 3 separate cyclists who were grinning as they splashed through the puddles even though none of them had waterproofs on.  I saw a family just walking along all drenched and smiling.  I saw a lad jump across a massive puddle at the side of the road and smile as he made it safely to dry land and all those people made me smile.

I love connecting with people in those ways that are never planned and I love seeing the joy that the unexpected brings.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Seasons - poem

The earth is sleeping.  
Feel the cold breath on your face.  
This is winter.  

The earth is waking.  
Yawning, stretching.  
See the snowdrops, buds and crocuses.  
This is spring.  

The earth is dancing.  
Singing and drumming. 
See the colours bursting on the trees
Hear the birds and see the bees.  
Feel the warmth beneath your feet: grass or sand, soul or pavement.  
This is summer.  

The earth is humming.  
Hear the crunch of the fallen leaves under your boots.  
See the stars and light the fires.  
This is autumn.  

Friday, 9 May 2014

Amusing York City Council fail

On Good Friday York City Council refuse collection people failed to empty our bin. My husband phoned them that day to complain but it was Good Friday so no-one was there and there was no way to leave a message. Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday followed with no opportunity to complain so on Tuesday I sent the Council this message:

Sent: 2014-04-22 15:37:23.383 
To: ycc@york.gov.uk 
Subject: Last Friday 
When the bin collection was done last Friday our bin wasn't emptied for some reason. How do I get this rectified? 
Cheers Viv 

This is the response I received today - 17 days later - 11 working days because there was another bank holiday Monday in there.

Dear Viv 
Thank you for your e-mail and I apologise for the delay in replying. If your bin was not collected it does need to be reported within 24 hours either via e-mail or by telephone 01904 551551 and if it is a missed collection by the crew we can ask them to return for the bin. 
Kind Regards 
York Customer Centre 

As you can tell I was not amused. My husband did phone on the day and I emailed on the first working day after the failed collection. If I had sent an email on the Friday no-one would have read it and as it was it took them 11 working days to respond to point out my failure. Anyway here is my response. Childish I know but seriously York City Council...

My husband tried to report it on the day but you were closed because it was bank holiday Friday. Oh and you were closed Saturday, Sunday, oh and Monday. During that time there was no facility to leave a message!!! So nice to know it takes you this long to respond and that you are no help whatsoever. If you look at the date I sent you the message it was the first day you were open after you not dealing with my bin!!!!!!!! Total fail. Maybe you can make it up to me by replacing my recycling bin which has been nicked, without charge. Probably not though.

As of today - Monday 19th May - I have had no response.  That is 5/6 working days since I sent the above email on the 9th.

Despite the below twitter reply from York Council (May 19th) I am still awaiting a respsonse - date 11th July 2014

CityofYork - Hi @vckidd we have passed the details of your query on to the team and have asked that someone contacts you as soon as possible. Thanks.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

My "Help-Yourself" Garden

Ryan has been helping me with gardening again and today we organically came across a cunning plan for utilising the space at the front of my house.  You see, where Ryan is standing in this photo, there used to be a planter.  It wasn't getting enough rain and I (being a serious non-green-fingered person) failed to water it.  So Ryan and I hatched a plan that we would move the planter to somewhere more conducive to getting rained upon.  Sounds simple but there was a lot of stuff that needed to be done along the way.

This is the planter making its way to it's new home.  And along the way we had to saw wood, move logs, get ds to stand on the contents of the green bin so we could fit more stuff into it, photograph frogs (see below), watch hot air balloons go overhead (see photos below), sweep the path, relocate one of the clumps of comfrey from the planter to the back garden, move more logs, move other logs to the back garden and clean the car (which had nothing to do with the cunning plan).  And whilst all this was being done their were vague ideas being discussed of making the planter a herb planter and transplating some of the plants from the raised bed next to the front wall so that that too contained only edible plants.

And from these discussions came an idea of sharing this produce with my neighbours and friends.  And so the help-yourself front garden was born.
The great thing was that during the day whilst tidying the front garden (I wish I had taken a proper before photo so you could ahev seen how untidy it was) we came across black plastic sheeting from when we had the woodburning stove installed.  This will be perfect for creating a pallet-based vertical garden system.

I also got around to cutting up our Christmas tree and that kindly donated by a neighbour for us to burn.  That donated Christmas tree generated another idea for the "help-yourself" garden in that as well as being able to help-yourself to some of the yummy edibles, maybe it could also be a "help-yourself" in donating unwanted trees, wood, and maybe even spare plants to others.
Anyway here is the planter in its new home next to the raised bed. Both beds are going to be planted with wholly edible foods over the next few months and hopefully a fuller system of raised plant pots with various yummies will sit in front of both beds.

There is space under the planter for unwanted wood and people will be invited to drop of wood if they want.

Dd is already designing some signs explaining the concept and there are also ideas for putting out information leaflets for what is being grown as well as recipe ideas.  All this from needing to move the planter to somewhere were it would get more water because I am too forgetful to water it.

Exciting though.


Sunday, 20 April 2014

Women's Magazine

I recently went to Wales for a course so had a 1-change train trip.  I get quite excited when I get to go on the train and have limited distractions I can take with me and it is my one opportunity to peruse the magazine isle at the train station newsagents (normally WHSmith.)  Not being a regular train traveller I seem to have a memory problem in that I always forget the short-lived excitement of getting a puzzle book or a magazine because they don't have either the ones that I want.  I am a kakuro fan and most of the japanese puzzle books at suduko and I am a craft fan and there are NO craft magazines that you can purchase at station newsagents.  This trip I decided that I would actually count what magazines I could get as a 'typical' woman, if there is a such a thing!!

Beauty magazines – you know, the ones designed to help you make yourself as attractive as every other woman mostly showing you famous woman who have experts and the time to make themselves that beautiful → at least 10.  I was reminded of someone telling me how much time it takes for an average star to get ready for any red carpet event.  It's a long time and I mean a LONG time.  Let's be honest most of us don't have that amount of time so these magazines are just designed to much us feel crap about ourselves or at the very least inferior.

Exercise and weigh loss magazines – you know, the ones designed to help you make yourself as fit and healthy as every other woman.  Slightly better than the beauty magazines because they often feature 'real' women, they are still sending a message that you could or should be thinner, healthier, eating something different to what you are (often with an out-dated diet that is one size fits all because we are all the same or at least we should all try to be.)  The message is if you only tried a bit harder or had more willpower you too could be perfect or at least a helluva lot better than you are now.  There were at least 8 of these magazines so I least I could choose which diet or exercise regime I could beat myself up with!!

And then I have saved the worse to last.  There were at least 20 gossip magazines which I could choose from telling me who was wearing what dress, who was splitting up from whom, who was pregnant with who's baby and other such information.  These magazines are full of beautiful women, who again have the staff, time, money to spend on looking fab, or of women who were beautiful but let themselves slip; or who are beautiful but made the mistake of wearing the “wrong” clothes or could be more beautiful if only they would put on some more make-up.  There is a crossover with these magazines and the beauty ones but this category are much more underhand about what is or isn't beautiful.

Well strangely enough I did not want to waste £s on any of these.  I wanted to have a look at the craft magazines: the knitting, crochet, quilting, sewing, creative-type glossies.  Unfortunately there weren't any of those so instead I saved my money and wrote this and when I have finished this I will continue reading Charles Eisenstien's book “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible” and sigh at the irony of how Charles mentions that the “all of our external institutions reflect our basic perceptions of the world, our invisible ideologies and belief systems.”  Basically, there are no craft magazines at train station newsagents because no-one wants to buy them.  People want to buy the other magazines to look outside of themselves to discover who they are.  The problem is it isn't making us any happier as is evident by a $4 billion dieting industry and this vicious cycle of beauty, gossip and health magazines.

Monday, 7 April 2014

More poems

I am trying to get all my poems from Facebook and get them here on my blog instead.  Look here for other poems, but here are some more.

Human Experience is not a test
Can you assess my state of happiness?
Can you score it out of five?
Can you really pass or fail a test
That tells if you're truly alive?
Is joy a quantifiable trait?
Can you plot it on a graph?
Do you score a special funny point
Every time you laugh?
Is empathy a transferable skill?
Can others give feedback?
Telling you if there are traits
In which they think you lack?
I don't think you can pass an exam
In love or contemplation
I don't think you can get an NVQ
In passion or in meditation
Hope cannot be learnt from a book
Grace cannot be easily taught
Peace cannot be summed up in lesson
Just because you think it ought
You cannot have a kindness target
That everyone must reach
The attainment of gentleness
Is not something you can teach
The fruits of spirit and soul
Need space and time to grow
They cannot be cultivated in league tables
Or seen in "tell and show"
Spirit cannot be marked and scored
Even if you wanted to
Because human experience is not an exam
ONLY YOU can A* you

"My Wings" poem
19 March 2010

My wings enfold me and I sigh
A tear drops slowly and I cry
I look straight down and all I see
Is my sea of tears and they're drowning me
My wings are heavy, a tear-soaked burden
I don't want to feel this, of that I'm certain
Wings are meant to be freeing and light
They should be magical, an instrument of flight
But my bad mood has taken hold
And my wings are completely soaked and cold
All my self doubts come crashing in
And all my worries they begin
To suffocate and trap my feelings
Stifle me and stop me breathing
I have to stop, adjust my perspective
To halt the turmoil and over-reactive
Dark side mumblings that float around me
Clouding focus and deadening me
So I look back up and see my wings
These beautiful, feathery, golden things
They can be magic, light and free
If only I can stop and truly see
That my gifts are numerous like the feathers
They can cause problems and feel like tethers
Or I can count them as a blessing
Try to use them and keep learning
Practice outside my comfort zone
My gifts and qualities to hone
Like a fledgling bird's first flight
Keep on trying with all my might
So I am grounded with my wings
With the freedom flying brings
A lofty escape from oughts and shoulds
An ethereal release to maybes and coulds
My wings spread out and I am free
The wind blows around and it lifts me
Perspective changes as I climb higher
Things seem smaller and not so dire
I feel grounded in the air
A contradiction but I don't care
My arms are open, a wide embrace
And I soar higher in my space
I circle and let out a joyous scream
Envisage my life as my perfect dream
Where my gifts and soul fly together
Not as burdens or a tether
When I feel low or feel like crying
My wings can stretch and keep me flying
And if I need a hug or to cry
I can do that as I fly

 I am my Masterpiece (moving forwards in giant small steps)
I don't know where that title came from but I am sticking with it!!!
31 January 2010

I sit quietly with myself
My spirit is here
I see through the sadness
And my purpose is clear
I will continue to ponder
Work out my issues
Battle to my core
I may need some tissues!
There will be sadness and sobbing
Doubts and reflection
But also joy and dancing
Time to be and meditation
Searching and enthusing
I am here to be me
Consciously work towards
The best me I can be
I may need a short break
When my sadness need space
But will always resume searching
At my own pace
I won't beat myself up
For these lapses of contentment
It's all a learning experience
Not needless entrapment
So here I sit quietly
Changing and growing
Small steps, giant leaps
New behaviours a-sowing
Acceptance, forgiveness
Justified grumpiness
Wholesome, loving
Intuitive faithfulness
Unique, special
I am one of a kind
Emotional, spiritual
Not just a mind
My poems are my language
My body, my shrine
My writing, my rhythm
That beats out in time
So pick up your sticks
Come drum with me
Let's dance and be merry
And be the best we can be