Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Life's big questions...

From the sublime to the serious...

What is the point of it all? For us adults, possibly mid-life crisis-ing, these mind tumbleweeds are not uncommon. Surely there has to be more to life than alarm clocks, work, paying bills, and cleaning dog fluff off the stairs. Thoughts about life's big issues - what difference will I make in the world, how should I live my life, what if I don't have any impact, what is the point of it all...these are the thoughts of serious, thoughtful adults...

..but what if a (your) 14 year old (or 8 year old) is thinking those thoughts, with little life experience to help with perspective?

If a pre-teen or teenager is wondering "Is this all there is?" they are no doubt feeling alone and isolated and wondering if they were the first person to ever feel like that. Chances are their mates are not sharing the same concern, and, being the bright spark they are, they are wise to the fact that sharing those concerns might not be accepted well. Maybe it's just easier to lose yourself in video games...

If your child or someone else's child comes to you with these thoughts (if you can get them to open up), you need to acknowledge they are real. They should not be dismissed. We need to be concerned. The child needs to know that others have felt this way and had these thoughts.

A hug, an arm around a shoulder, even a touch on the arm can say "hey - I get this too".

Discussion, reading, exploring potentialities helps. Bibliotherapy about what others have done, pursued, thought about.

Fresh air, sunlight, a walk, a bounce on the trampoline, a game with the dog - these things might help too. At least I hope so.

It's quite the business, this growing up gifted, isn't it? Kind of glad I can be here to be there for them when they need it most.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The minutiae

This is what confronts me, day in, day out. All the things that are BUGGING THE CRAP out of me.
The spot on the front door where the dog sticks his grubby nose in eager anticipation of you walking through said door:

The grimy marks on the large expanse of glass at our back door where the rain slams against (who knew rain was so dirty?) and where the dog jumps up when he gets left outside (who knew dogs could jump so high?). The solar blanket for the pool which is not up at the moment because it's winter, left outside after our flood wet everything in the garage/shed:

The dust and dog hair that collects in the corner of every single step that I see every time I walk up or down them:

The dust on the "mantle piece" which people run their hands in when they descend the stairs (with the dust and dog hair on them):

The crumbs and rust spots on my relatively new 4-slice toaster:

The grubby hand marks and the (not obvious in real-life but super-obvious in a photo) scratches near the handle of the fridge:

The dried up drips from razors and toothbrushes on the bathroom mirror:

The water that ponds at the base of the tap from "people" washing their hands, which then turns an interesting shade of brown for reasons I don't wish to contemplate too deeply (and let's just ignore the decayed state of the plastic on top of the "cold" sign, shall we?):

The source of much dog fluff under the chair legs is from the very matted, very dirty dog, who desperately needs a bath but can't until he has a big brush:

The fact that no-one else in the house is seemingly bugged by any of this and it is ignored by everyone else, waiting for me to clean/tidy/wipe/sweep/brush/wash it.
So, given I had ONE WHOLE DAY OFF this week, you would think I would have either:
a) put up a decent blog post or
b) tackled some of those jobs that would rectify things BUGGING THE CRAP out of me.
But no.
I instead put together my new $40 desk (which was only mildly damaged in the garage/shed flood). This makes me feel very organised and superior and professional. I have my own space now for my own crap and it doesn't have to live on the dining table anymore. Much more satisfying. 

But I still have a bunch of stuff around my house that BUGS THE CRAP out of me.
What minutiae of your daily existence bugs the crap out of you?
Are you the only one who knows how to clean up at your house?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Writing a Learning Plan - my new book!!!

Today is a very exciting day for me! I have written (yanno, in my spare time!) and now published a little "how to" guide for Aussie homeschoolers who need to write a Learning Plan as part of their registration process.


I've found through spending time on Facebook homeschooling pages and from answering calls from new homeschoolers that the one thing new homeschoolers freak out about is having to write a Learning Plan as part of their registration. This is where we turn the State/Federal mandated syllabus (or they call it Curriculum here) into a meaningful plan of what we are going to teach our kids when we homeschool them. But Syllabi are created by teachers for teachers! Us "normal" mums and dads can get lost in a sea of educational jargon and outcomes and content. 

So I wrote a book to help them. Just like that! A book to walk new homeschoolers step-by-step through the minefield of jargon and feel confident that they can create a Learning Plan for their children that is meaningful and helpful. Good idea, huh?

It is published by our local, but super-enthusiastic and supportive people at Harbour Publishing. It's an e-book at this stage and very reasonably priced for all the wonderful information and help found in it ;-)

Click here to go check it out (and if you think it will help, please don't feel backward in purchasing it!).

Monday, July 15, 2013

What I missed about running

Finally got my butt off the couch and out there this morning. Just my usual run down at the beach. Me and the dog. Did a little warm-up walk and then jogged (with the odd walk-break in between) for 30 minutes. 3.91km according to my little iPod nano as my Garmin wasn't charged and I now have a humongous "phablet" for a phone which is ridiculously large to run with. Not terribly accurate, but I'm not a terribly elite athlete or anything.

Anyways, I was out there and thought to myself "gee, I really miss this!". Not the huffy-puffy of it all and the tight calves and the niggly sore hip (which is sore without running, so not sure how putting it under duress will pan out), but the joy of running.

In particular I missed:

  • Being out in the fresh morning air, looking at the pretty beach scenery. How lucky am I to live next to the ocean?
  • Listening to my music! I really missed just listening to uplifting, boppy music that sadly has most of it's origins in the 80s (although I can boast the Veronicas and Pink on this morning's playlist as well).
  • Taking my dog for a walk. My slow running pace is his perfect trotting pace. But I wish he didn't feel the need to claim the park grass as his own and pee every 20 metres (note to self - I am the pack leader, he does what I tell him!).
  • The sweaty, tired feeling of a good workout. I'm hoping I'll sleep like a baby tonight. 
  • The smug, self-satisfied feeling that I went for my run this morning.
Do you run?
What do you love most about it?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Ingi Cooks! Wagyu braised beef (minus the "wagyu")

Sometimes, you just need a warm, hearty meal in winter. One that fills the house with delicious aroma and fills your belly, good and full.

I found this recipe in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend Magazine - I enjoy the recipes in there - they work well and make a change from spaghetti bolognese! It has asian flavours with cosy homecooked stew overtones.

60ml vegetable oil
1 large brown onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
small knob of ginger, finely grated (or use the pre-grated stuff from a jar)
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, cut into 1cm-thick pieces
1kg wagyu oyster blade steak, cut into 2cm pieces (like they sell Wagyu beef here! I just used regular oyster blade)
1/3 cup plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper (I used my Schezuan salt and pepper mix!)
4 tbsp Shaoxing wine (use sherry if you can't find it)
2 cups fresh chicken stock (or the pre-made stuff, like me!)
2 tbsp Chinese dark mushroom soy sauce (seriously? dark mushroom? I just used dark soy)
2 tbsp Chinese light soy sauce
2 tsp rock sugar (OMG - I'm not going out to buy a whole bunch of new sugar and just use 2 teaspoons of it! I just used raw sugar)
1 whole star anise
1 whole cinnamon stick
freshly ground black pepper

Let's cook this sucker, shall we?

First up, heat oil in a heavy-based saucepan (is there any other kind?) and add onion, garlic, ginger and salt and cook over a low-medium heat for about 8 minutes until the onion is soft. Mmmm! Smells divine! Remove onion mixture from pan and set aside. Heat 20ml of oil and cook shiitakes on high heat until golden. Set aside and slap Hubby's hands as he tries to steal them.

Place beef in seasoned flour and toss to coat.

Heat remaining 20ml of oil on high heat and cook beef in batches. Set aside. Your saucepan will look a wreck - like this! 

But this is a good thing, because you are going to "deglaze" the pan with the shaoxing wine, which is a fancy way of saying you'll get all those crispy bits off the bottom of the saucepan and into the wine, creating a lovely, winey, beefy liquid.

Now add the chicken stock, the soy sauces, sugar, star anise and cinnamon. Bring to a simmer.

Check the seasoning (a good excuse to sip a bit of sauce). Return the beef, shiitakes, and onion mixture back to the saucepan. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beef is tender and the liquid has thickened. This took about an hour. Time for a glass of wine, or two...

Luckily after all that wine, all you have to do is remove the star anise and cinnamon and serve with steamed jasmine rice:

I suppose you could add veges of some description, but sometimes I just like to have my protein and carbs and leave well enough alone!

What are you having for dinner tonight?
What's your favourite "stew" (such an under-inspiring term)?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Am I good enough?

I expect that there are some people out there who sail through life just knowing and feeling supremely confident that they should be headed on some upward trajectory. That yes, they totally deserve that pay rise, or yes, they are totally capable of coping with whatever life throws at them.

I'm not really one of those people. Despite my outward appearance of being bubbly, outgoing, extrovert, confident, I'm not those things. Well, maybe a bit bubbly.

In so many areas of my life, I doubt myself. I wonder "am I really good enough?".

I think a lot of homeschooling parents often wonder "am I doing enough?" and "am I doing a good enough job?" People ask me how it's going, and I bubble "oh great, it's really working for us!" and on the whole it is. But I continually second-guess myself if I'm doing "enough" or if I could be doing it better.

I love my little blog. I have core readers and commenters who I adore (even though I haven't met most of you), so I know it resonates with at least some people out there. Is it good enough to go on blog hops and be linked to by other people? Is the content good enough for others to read? Does anyone really care about my kids and my family and my existential woes?

I'm a pretty competent employee. I know lots of stuff (teaching stuff, environmental stuff, business stuff). I can do lots of things (teaching, guiding, computer-ey things). But am I good enough to step up - to take on the bigger, better roles? Do I even want to? Is it too self-centred to even consider at the moment?

I'm a reasonably good writer. I have experience that I could share with other people, that could make their lives easier. Would people actually pay $$$ for my words and ideas?

Maybe I should lose some weight, dye my hair, eat less junk so I get less pimples (what is with that BTW? I'm 44 years old, for goodness sake!).

OK, I don't even pretend to be a competent housewife. I get us by. We (mostly) have clean, folded, ironed clothes to wear. We (nearly always) have something to eat. My house is (almost never) clean enough if someone "pops in" (please don't).

Sometimes I think it's just me who feels this way - insecure, unconfident (is that even a word?), unsure. Sometimes it feels like everyone else is happy in themselves and it's just me being a worry-wart. But I'm sure it's not...

Do you think you are "good enough"?
Do you suffer moments (days, months) of self-doubt?
Is all this just a pile of doo-doo and I should just suck it up buttercup and get on with cleaning my house?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A juggling act

Today's post is part of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop. This month's topic is homeschooling with/without a partner.

This is very relevant for us at the moment. Since quitting full-time teaching to homeschool Video Boy and Wombat Girl, I have generally taken responsibility for most of the homeschooling. That means the successes are due to me, but the uh-oh moments are mine too! But since quitting teaching, our income has decreased dramatically - we rely on our retail to business to bring in the bacon, pay the mortgage, put food on the table, yanno - all that fun stuff.

Except retail hasn't been going so well here in Australia. A sluggish economy and increase ease and availability of online products have hit hard. So I've been "supplementing" the family income because I have LOTS OF SKILLS. And bits of paper to prove it. I regularly head out of the family home to work in the local library and visitor information centre. I sometimes don my "Ranger Ingi" uniform and get paid to go bushwalking, or less satisfactorily, working in schools. Last year, I temporarily moved to Sydney to mark exam papers. All in the name of saving us from eating 2 minute noodles every night (oh, alright and to go on cruises to China).

It's a bit of a juggling act! I leave work for the kids to do while I am away - work I think they can manage without my guidance. Hubby tries to organise the shop so he can be at home to supervise/guide where possible. But it feels...not ideal. But it is what it is and we all make the best of it.

So very zen - so very NOT me!

Turns out we really are heading in a not positive direction finance-wise, and so lately, I've been on the scout out for more work. We are making changes in the shop, but ultimately, we think a change might be in order.

So what will we do if I manage to snag a nicely-paid full-time job somewhere? We talked about putting the kids back in school, but really, that's not an attractive proposition. It would have to be an amazing school to do what we are able to do at home and not turn my kids into emotional wrecks. So, Hubby would have to step up to the plate and take on the majority of the homeschooling.

The kids aren't totally convinced of this prospect - his approach so far has been to write lists and tick off items when the kids have done them. But he is sure that if he wasn't trying to run a business at the same time that he would get right into the homeschooling thing and even be enthusiastic about it! It might not be the way I would do things, but it would be better than sending them back to school.

I'm not entirely happy about our financial situation impeding on the very nice life we've set up here. But between the two of us, we'll work it out - we have to! Oh - there's apparently a great book about working and homeschooling and trying to balance it all by the great people at GHF - not surprisingly called How to Work and Homeschool: Practical Advice, Tips and Strategies from Parents - I think I need to go buy it now (always an excuse to buy new books)!

Go check out the other posts on this relevant topic at:

Do you attempt to work AND homeschool?
Does your partner (if you have one) help out in homeschooling?
Are times getting tough financially for you?

Monday, July 08, 2013

We'll be friends forever, won't we?

My girl handed me Whitey the other day to fix. You see, Whitey is very old. 'She' is at least 43 years old - I got 'her' when I was one month old. Even though 'she' was pink, to me, it was always a boy bear. I called him Teddy. So original. I don't have any photos of Teddy when he was very young, but here is one of him trying hard to keep me company when I was a teenager:

Poor Teddy...
Anyway, I kept him all these years, until Wombat Girl came along, and took him under her wing:

My goodness she loved/s that bear. He was rarely from her side when she was little (that, and her dummy). The dummy went by the wayside when she was about three. Teddy? He's still around. Except Wombat Girl thinks he is a "she". And renamed her Whitey (even though she's pink-ish). I don't care because Whitey is loved. Much loved. Loved to distraction.

My Mum had to give him new legs a few years back because his were worn out. And she made a little top for him because he was running out of fur on his body. He is starting to look a little worse for wear now though:


I have stitched and mended and re-done the nose. I suggested to Wombat Girl, now that his eye is falling out and I'm not sure how to fix it that perhaps Whitey needs to be put somewhere special so he doesn't fall apart completely. The look of horror on her face! So I will try to keep him/her together as best I can, so Wombat Girl can go on loving him forever.

If you live to be a hundred, I want to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you"
A.A. Milne -  Winnie the Pooh

What about you? Do you have a much-loved bear (or doll, or blankie?)
How are your sewing skills - how do I fix that eye?

Friday, July 05, 2013

Really Big!

"Space," it says, "is big. REALLY big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space. Listen..." and so on. 
Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

In maths recently, we (um, the kids) were learning about scientific notation - how we write really, really, big or small numbers. I was trying to explain what really big or really small meant, and I thought of this quote. I mean, the thing with really big or really small stuff is that it is out of the realm of our everyday experience. We can comprehend driving down the street (a couple of hundred metres), maybe even interstate (just over 4,000km). We can comprehend a pin head (2mm) or even a speck of dust (1/10mm). But we can't comprehend really big interstellar distances or really small sub-atomic particles - it's just too hard for our puny little brains of little experience.

So I did what every good homeschooling mum does, I turned to Google and YouTube. What a treasure trove I found! We started with the Powers of Ten - a film made in 1968 by Ray Eames and her husband Charles (of chair fame) and re-released in 1977, which in turn was based on Kees Boeke's book Cosmic View. The film (and book) show the relative magnitude of scale by zooming out or in ten times every ten seconds.

And then discovered they'd updated it in high-definition:

There are also some really cool interactives on the web to try and get your head around this concept. The first I knew about when I was teaching science at school - Nikon's Universcale. Go have a play, I'll still be here waiting for you!

...welcome back! While you've got your scroll on, you have to check out Scale of the Universe (2).

This stuff just spins me out. I still can't get my head around it. Maybe we're not meant to have a mental image, just accept the amazing world for what it is.

You will note in the corner of all these, index notation being used to help describe the really big and really small numbers:

And so when you are dealing with big or small numbers, rather than write 300,000,000 m/s (the speed of light), you can use Scientific Notation to stop you from getting lost in a sea of zeros. Khan Academy has a good video explaining this:

And when started our Coursera Introductory Physics course (but we never finished, because someone - that would be me! - was away from home too much to keep up), this knowledge of scientific notation really came in handy.

I love being able to explore maths (and science) in this way with my kids. It makes it interesting - we can follow the interweb, make it relevant and just really, truly be blown away by how awesome the world is.

So I leave you with one of my favourite scientists, Professor Brian (yum yum) Cox. Well - it's a spoof on the Wonders of the Universe - but it made me chuckle (warning - swear word alert!) (try to imagine a trillion trillion trillion billion gazillion times five billion hours)...

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

A Fantasia-cal night!

Is it just me, or other people out there who feel as if their "to do" list is so high it's going to crash down on them? Please tell me I'm not alone!

But this post is one of the things on the list, so I will whip it out quickly!

This weekend, after a week of too much rain and too much work, I took the kids (in the rain) up to Sydney. We had booked to see Fantasia, performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House. The orchestra played select pieces from Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 as the parts of the movie were shown on the big screen. My brother came too!

Now, if you are not familiar with Disney's 1940 film Fantasia, first of all, shame on you, and second of all - it was originally framed as a vehicle for Mickey Mouse. Walt wanted to create a mini-film and thought that a retelling of Goethe's 1797 poem The Sorcerer's Apprentice, set to a symphonic score by Paul Dukas. If you have been hiding in a cave somewhere, and have never seen this, take the time to stop now and enjoy:

Walt Disney met with conductor Leopold Stowkowski, and they decided to expand the concept by including several classical pieces with Disney animation. Interestingly, it was the first film ever in stereo! As much as my brother and I love it, however, it was not a success at the time of release and did not make a profit, putting an end to Disney's dream of releasing a new one with some old, some new pieces every couple of years.

Some music, such as Sorcerer's Apprentice, tells a story. Some music, such as Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral), can allude to a story:

or Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet score:

or Ponchelli's Dance of the Hours:

As with lots of films, ideas were developed and changed and removed. They actually created an entire sequence based on Debussy's Claire de Lune, but it was scrapped to make the movie run shorter. It was later included in Fantasia 2000 as a Bonus Feature:

But in 2000, Roy Disney produced another Fantasia movie, creatively called Fantasia 2000. Again, not a success at the box office, and something we are not as familiar with, but we LOVED the sequences.

Abstract ideas of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5:

In Fantasia, one of the hardest pieces for kids to "get" was an interpretation of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. It is difficult music to listen to. Disney set it to a visual interpretation of the history of the earth. In Fantasia 2000, they tackled Stravinsky's The Firebird, which is easier listening and I think, easier viewing, especially for younger kids:

The Pines of Rome (Respighi) is another symphonic poem that is challenging to listen to, but the Disney artists certainly got their "weird" on when they decided on space whales, which I guess you could interpret in many ways - we certainly had a some great discussions about it afterward. And a note here - the video WILL NOT BE THE SAME (and yes, I am shouting!) as hearing that crescendo of music live. Gave us goosebumps!!!

Right out of the comic vault comes our last two pieces: a biblical interpretation of Elgar's stunning Pomp and Circumstance (which appears to have no trace on YouTube probably due to diligent Disney copyrighters) and the grand finale of Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals (which you should make sure your children listen to in full, just sayin'):

It was a magical evening. It was a great experience for the kids, who loved it (I saw toes tapping and fingers snapping):

We got to see a live orchestra performing as well as listen to them:

And we got to spend time with my brother and enjoy one of Sydney's best assets, the Opera House:

How lucky are we that we get to count this as "school"????!!!!

52 Ancestors - Unusual Name

In this week's post, we have been asked to look behind an "unusual name" and I've chosen my great-aunt's husband, Fred...