Category Archives: Outdoors

Homeschool May-June 2016

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I often wonder how it is possible that our home life which is so dependent on the lull of a routine for its success is also nothing short of wondrous and breathless at the same time. May and June went by with school examinations for the older children and they prepared for them mostly independently as I spent much of my energy homeschooling Piglet and Roo, the latter right smack in the middle of her fantastic two’s. At two, everything is truly marvellous and must be fully explored even if it means scaling dangerous heights to get there.

In this Keeping-Up-With-Roo season, I tend to cling more than ever to our simple routine, following it mindfully, sometimes tenaciously, but also knowing it has to be held loosely in order to educate the whole child, “head, heart and hands” (think Waldorf). This, and also the awareness that childhood is indeed precious and fleeting has made for relatively peaceful mothering for the most part even though there will always be the usual heart-stopping toddler-initiated event or two, often more, that comes with the territory.

Every day we work through practical life – self-care habits and the mountain of chores it takes to run a household of seven – dog included, fish and caterpillar excepted. The older children have begun to grumble or drag their feet occasionally which tends to make my blood boil but I’m choosing to view these as teaching opportunities to remind ourselves that learning to persist through drudgery in order to serve others and keep on top of our own “mess” is part of educating the heart.

I say “remind ourselves” because, in truth, upon deeper reflection recently I have come face to face with my own internal grumbling about the constancy of clean-ups and have therefore come to a new resolve to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Character is caught, not taught. As Rudolf Steiner famously said, “You will not be good teachers if you focus only on what you do and not upon who you are.”

While there’s been an hour or so of academics for each child, more than double the amount of time spent reading-aloud and reading independently, and good progress in two languages, history, science and art, we’ve stalled miserably in music and math.

Thankfully though, besides simplicity I’m also learning more confidently to adapt to life’s changing seasons without feeling too badly about fudging some areas. With home-based work projects set to increase in the next few months and the unpredictable rains alternating between brief drizzles and torrential downpours, I decided it was timely for us to get a head start on garden work during sunny days. Our small green patch, on maintenance mode since Roo was hospitalised in April (a bit of a scare deserving another post), would benefit from a good deal of changes and provide in itself a myriad of practical outdoor activities central to learning, imagination and play. The previous season of crops was nearing its end and it was time to uproot, let the land rest awhile, and plant again.

I’ve been falling into bed exhausted each night but growing a few more inches in wonder at how spending time simply with children whether at home or in the world outside has blessed and enriched my own life beyond measure. Education truly begins with being present and attentive, reading the open book that is their lives and then stepping out into new paths with them, mutually enjoying the adventure and the fulfilment it brings.

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Studies on Egypt – making an Egyptian collar

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Kitchen work suited for toddlers – washing vegetables and peeling garlic

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Learning how to prepare a planting hole and add more colour to the garden

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Roo’s current favourite indoor activity – beading assorted colours with pipe cleaners

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Piglet enjoying the privilege of reading aloud a new book to me while I nurse Roo at nap time

Experiments with air - homemade wind vane and string pulley

Experiments with air – homemade wind vane and string pulley

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Patience

Looking for earthworms as we plant spring onions, parsley and Brazilian spinach in a new bed

Looking for earthworms as we plant spring onions, parsley and Brazilian spinach in a new bed

 

“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” ~ Charlotte Mason

Come walk with me

Come walk with me.

Let’s go where the grass is green and our hair keeps getting tousled by the breeze and we can smell the woodiness of the outdoors.

Mugs of tea unfinished the night before because of falling asleep, nursing someone else to sleep – they’re telling me it’s time to get the adrenalin moving.

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Little feet cuddled against my tummy at nights, how I love to see you run in the day.

That love note reminds me of a papa that plays outdoors often enough with his kids, on weekdays.

You are so blessed to have him present.

As for me I’ve been so busy working late nights the past couple of months it’s sometimes easier to watch you play more often than play along.

Today’s the day.

There are books everywhere.

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I love watching you read.

But it’s time to get out. You remember, the way we used to every morning.

I thought about walking with you last weekend when I repaired the terraced garden beds and amended the soil for a new planting season and you little people got busy with scissors of all sizes, trimming the unruly, prickly hedge and then dragging all the stuff down to the compost heap below.

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You’ve become adept at handling so many things including a phone camera!

Forget the garden now, come walk with me.

Walk, simply.

Forget laundry piles because we’re tired and because the soft purple blossoms you picked for me alongside the French beans make me remember our long walks around the neighbourhood with Roo still in my belly and then in her infant stroller and we never tired of spotting cats and dogs and a hundred different flowers.

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I’m glad we went for that walk today.

We went on the fly because the weather at 10.30am was still cool instead of the usual tropical burn and we had enough of school at the table.

How delighted you were with the first treasure you spotted on the grass!

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A jackfruit? I wasn’t sure. It was awesome heavy but you took turns carrying it between you.

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And then you – not me! – you had the first glimpse of the bird.

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What kind of bird? I didn’t know.

I laughed because I know so little, because there is so much more of God and His amazing creation to know that can be known!

We breathed in awe and whispered together for a long time and tried not to fall over into the lake watching that gorgeous bird catch and swallow one tiny fish after another.

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You decided it was time for a snack of bananas.

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You ran tiptoed and chased birds.

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You couldn’t believe how small some green leaves were, they could fit onto your finger and oh, how fresh they smelled!

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You thought these were beautiful, these “berries!” and I had to tell you it wasn’t possible to eat them right then and other times too.

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We had our fill of fresh air and of holding hands on a casual stroll, then running like crazy and being amazed at just everything.

It was humid and sticky but it wasn’t bad.

It was time for the school pick up and time for washing down Roo’s muddy legs before we got into the car and I had to tell myself that although I didn’t like it, it really wasn’t so bad either.

On the way back we belted out “The Greatest Treasure” along with Colin Buchanan blasting on the car player and somehow it just seemed right that on this day you could say it clearer than ever before – “Peace with God”.

I felt God’s amazing presence and His Fatherly love envelope us today. Did you?

I know I will miss days like this when you finally go to school and stay in a classroom for hours.

But then there will be evening walks.

A different kind of sun and where the birds fly to and things we’ll talk about.

Oh, the things we’ll talk about.

10 themes from our Edible Garden, Season #2

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Our new edible garden exudes the glory of life and the hot excitement of new possibilities.

This is not mere sentimentalism. 

Let me be clear. I am planting this garden not as a hobby or just so we can enjoy organic vegetables.

I am planting it primarily for 2 reasons – so we can feed ourselves and have a meaningful place for the children to explore and play.

As Roo turned 14 months it just didn’t seem right to allow the green space behind our house to be overgrown by lalang when it could be used to feed our family of six, all of whom (one child excepted) have a voracious appetite.

Also, our edible garden is not merely a place for play. I hope that as the children explore and as they watch me, they will inherit a love of biological diversity and develop an interest in agroecology and grow in their love for environmental care.

Great expectations?

Before I started the garden, I had almost zero knowledge about growing anything. I didn’t know what kind of soil was necessary or even how to plant a seed.

Since putting my hand to the plough (pun intended) I have become more aware of growing things and plant life around me. I am growing in knowledge of so many new things that I never did before such as soil fertility and food and nutritional security. By allowing our kids to help me in the garden, I hope they will grow along with me in these areas and build an inheritance to share with future generations.

Let me share another 10 themes in the second phase of planting our edible garden. Season #2 can only be described as a flurry of activity, with lots of back-breaking, rewarding work.

 

1. Every vegetable that we harvest is a reason to thank God who makes all things possible.

Our bumper crop of okra continued this season. 

Every other day I harvested at least 8 lady fingers and we saw no end to garlic okra stir fries, okra fried with ground cumin, mustard seeds and curry leaves, and the occasional fish curry.

31 July 2015

31 July 2015

I did begin to wonder when we might stop eating okra, but a brief recollection of escalating prices everywhere made me ever so thankful we could simply step out into our garden and pluck pesticide-free vegetables to cook for lunch and dinner!

Life with 4 kids (2 of whom still homeschooling) did also mean that I couldn’t keep up quickly enough with the green bounty, but we harvested both young and old spinach nevertheless and made pots of delicious soup with them.

10 August 2015

10 August 2015

Delightfully, I also discovered a bitter gourd plant growing wild on the slope where I had chucked some compost. Across Season #2 and #3, it provided us with so much bitter gourd that I lost track and didn’t feel too badly when we failed to rescue some from pests.

 

2. Garden play ranges from mildly benign to downright delightful … and sometimes hair-raising.

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13 August 2015

I can’t help but wonder what goes on in their minds as they wander about. There’s obviously a lot of observation and reflection happening.

Look at the passion fruit wall trellis with copious vines but no fruit! 

On days I’m busy working in the garden and the older kids are busy with homework, our younger two are sometimes garden playmates and get up to all kinds of things.

Like sand play.

13 August 2015

13 August 2015

Oh, but what’s that in my baby’s hair?

25 August 2015

25 August 2015

What’s that musical triangle doing there? 

2 September 2015

2 September 2015

Thank you Piglet, for homemade pot pourri “Just for Mama”. (I did point out certain plants, to make sure they wouldn’t get slashed!) These painstaking cuttings were dried in the sun and stored fondly in a mason jar in our kitchen as a keepsake.

2 September 2015

2 September 2015

 

3. An edible garden is a lovely place to relax and unwind.

One afternoon after morning school I decided to go outside for a breather. We set out our DIY garden table and the kids had fun with sand play while I sat and sipped hot tea. It was so nice, we did that almost every day for a couple of weeks.

On one of those days I lingered outside for longer and enjoyed the scene instead of rushing on to the usual dinner prep. 

And discovered this. 

13 August 2015

13 August 2015

Lamb had captured it in the Family Bug Jar and left it on the table next to my mug. I gazed at it for a long time and thought of all the leaves it had been feasting on, but it was a wonderful and beautiful creature nonetheless!

Somehow, appreciating nature energises me to deal with anything thereafter – poop on the floor, crying children, nap busters, you name it.

 

4. Discovering vegetables that grow wild out of nowhere makes me think of our loving Creator God who can make all things new.

In August I discovered these veggie plants growing wild near the top of the slope beyond the flat garden adjacent to the patio.

19 August 2015. (L-R) Pumpkin, round brinjal, bitter gourd

19 August 2015. (L-R) Pumpkin, round brinjal, bitter gourd

Before these had sprung up, nothing seemed capable of growing on the slope except some grass. There were mostly weeds. Banana trees had failed.

The plants had probably sprung up from seeds in the compost that had fallen there but I do believe it was God who made them grow considering the infertile condition of the land. 

 

5. Remarkable things can happen if we’re determined enough to change.

After finding our wild veggies, our edible garden development took a completely new turn.

The discovery made me realise, finally, that I could and should do something to the long slope to make it suitable for planting. My parents had mentioned this way back but with pregnancy and more babies and homeschooling and no domestic help, the idea had rolled off like water on a duck’s back. I had other things to keep up with.

Now, Roo was only 20 months old but I knew that if I waited any longer nothing would happen. I was taking a break from freelance jobs after 3 months of ill health to recover and focus on the demands of family and community projects so this was the perfect time to invest a few weeks on developing the slope, before I got tied up with future work projects again.

I also knew, after listening to advice from my mother and doing some research, that in order to grow anything successfully on a gradient I had to terrace the slope and make raised beds to prevent soil nutrients from being washed downwards.

It seemed like a whole lot of work I didn’t feel prepared for, but I decided to take the plunge and go straight for it.

 

6. A passionate vision to be able feed one’s family within a narrow budget can make a Mama do, well … crazy things.

The idea that this green space could make us self-sufficient to a certain extent got me. It really got me. Cutting down our grocery bill was an attractive possibility that I intended to turn into reality.

So one hot Wednesday afternoon while Roo napped, I left the three older kids to their own work and indoor play, grabbed an old cangkul (hoe) and hammer, and built my first wooden terraced garden bed.

2 September 2015

2 September 2015. Wooden terraced garden bed #1

As mentioned in this earlier post, my parents had lots of unused hard wood to spare. A few days before, Sweet Man had helped me cut as many pieces as I needed according to the length I’d measured, and they were just right. 

It took a lot of huffing and puffing, lugging heavy pieces of wood down the slope and raising them into place. I had to get the positioning right and it wasn’t so simple driving the 3-ft length rebar into the ground. Using a hefty hammer made the job a lot easier but the bars kept going in at the wrong angle!

I started building a second bed the same day. 

2 September 2015

2 September 2015. Wooden terraced garden bed #2

The slope is rather steep as you can see from this side view. And see how quickly the pumpkin vines grew, sprawling over the edge of Bed #1.

Sweet Man had plans to build some steps leading to the bottom but he had his plate full right then so it was a lot of climbing, careful treading and some inadvertent sliding downhill!

2 September 2015. Wooden terraced garden beds #1 and #2

2 September 2015. Wooden terraced garden beds #1 and #2

Trying to dig into the hard ground to terrace the slope was another story. Lessons learned – make sure there’s a bottle of drinking water nearby and straighten up often to avoid backache! But really, there was no avoiding backache especially with this kind of work.

The sweat flowed and the muscles ached and the reality of the Bible verse, “Break up your fallow ground” (Hosea 10:12; Jeremiah 4:3), came constantly to mind.

It isn’t easy to break up all our wrong habits and clear our heart of weeds in order for our hearts to grow and bear abundant fruit. If we want to truly live, and live meaningfully, we need to take the time – and energy – to dig deep and work at the less tangible things of Life, the secret inner matters of the heart.

All too soon, Roo awoke from her nap and my mother helped me get her. Together, we all sowed a new spinach bed at the top of the garden. It was a nice and easy way to end a hard afternoon’s work.

On Friday that same week (4 September), I completed the second bed and 3 days later was amply rewarded by our first round brinjal. What a brilliant colour!

7 September 2015

7 September 2015

 

7. Taking the easy way out and ignoring issues that can hinder plant growth isn’t a great idea.

The same day I completed the second bed, I loosened the soil in it. I saw a lot of clay and numerous rocks and old rusty nails that the house builder had dumped onto the slope instead of disposing of them in a proper manner. Ugh!

I had hoped to complete the job quickly but when unexpected things like this arise, you can either deal with them immediately to ensure a good return of investment or take short cuts and pay the price later.

The older two kids wore gloves and helped me collect as many nails as we could find. We also collected small rocks of all shapes and sizes and put them at the side of the fence for Sweet Man to use in building the garden steps later. Waste not!

The kids wanted to play a game with the old nails but I put my foot down. Rusty nails aren’t suitable playthings!

 

8. Making occasional trips to a good supplier of gardening material and buying in bulk is the best use of time and energy.

I had to amend the soil with suitable nutrients and matter before planting so the next day I went to Sungai Buloh with my mother to buy sacks of chicken dung, cocopeat and rice hulls while Sweet Man babysat the kids.

These items are so much cheaper compared to buying in limited amounts and I was glad I had prepared some storage space for them when we reorganised the garden patio a few months earlier.

You may have wondered why Sweet Man wasn’t putting any “work” into all the aforementioned, but actually I hadn’t wanted him to get too involved. I had gotten tired of being the “Finger Gardener” for all the years I was either pregnant or having a wee nursing babe latched on, meaning he was doing almost all of the garden work and I had only to point a finger and say what I hoped would get done!

 

9. Building a trellis is a lot of fun!

9 September. It was the day my mother had come over to help and give the kids Chinese lessons, so I didn’t have to worry about Roo waking up from her afternoon nap and having to attend to her personally.

I transplanted pandan, lemon and lemon grass plants on the edge of the slope. 

9 September 2015. (T-B) Pandan, lemon, lemongrass

9 September 2015. (T-B) Pandan, lemon, lemongrass

I then started constructing a bamboo trellis in the second bed intending to plant french beans. With his homework all done, Lamb was determined to help and it was a fantastic opportunity for some really special mama-son bonding.

My 7 year old farmer in the making!

9 September 2015

9 September 2015

We drove the bamboo pieces in about 1.5-ft deep using a hammer.

And were rewarded that very day with a delicious bitter gourd!

9 September 2015

9 September 2015

That same evening, I also made my first batch of bokashi bran to prepare to start bokashi composting, which I’ll share about in a future post.

9 September 2015

9 September 2015

 

10. Things do get easier when you get the hang of things.

A week after the second bed was completed, I started making a third bed intending to plant sweet potatoes and more okra. 

I had a good rhythm going by now and terracing the slope didn’t seem as difficult as when I’d first started.

Our third bed!

10 September 2015. Wooden terraced garden beds #1, #2 and #3

10 September 2015. Wooden terraced garden beds #1, #2 and #3

I stood at the bottom of the slope and looked up at all the work that had been done and reflected on all of God’s blessings that we had experienced in this short season that enabled this to happen.

And I thought to myself, “This is just the beginning.” 

It was the beginning of even better things to come. 

 

 

Upcoming post: Edible Garden, Season #3 (Sept–Dec 2015) – soil amendment, transplanting seedlings, making natural pesticide, homemade fertiliser (fish amino acid and bokashi tea), cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, a fourth bed and more trellises.

For more updates on our garden-to-table project, homeschooling, natural living, motherhood, faith, and more, follow along via Facebook.