Wednesday, 27 May 2015

A Review of Organic Boxes

Is there a mother alive who has not repeated the phrase “Eat your greens” on a semi regular basis?

There is a time of year for it, when the cold of autumn is creeping through the cracks and nobody can quite agree on whether the heating needs to be turned on.

Down here in the Southern Hemisphere, that time is now.

Last weekend, being a pottering sort of a weekend, I was determined to find a recipe that made those greens something that the children would fight over. 

I based the meal on the simple (but winning) combination of carbs and protein with a side order of buttery soft green flecks. 

Pasta with Braised Kale 

is based on this recipe but with some extra taste packed in:


  • 2 bunches kale, large centre ribs and stems removed and sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 8 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 500g pasta of your choice
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 4 anchovy fillets
  • Splash of Sherry
  • 1 small chilli finely chopped
  • 100g finely grated parmesan cheese


  1. Rinse kale. Drain and transfer to bowl with some water still clinging.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. 
  3. Add chopped onion and cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. 
  4. Add garlic, chilli and anchovies; cook until onion is golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. 
  5. Add kale and Sherry and toss until wilted, about 3 minutes. 
  6. Cover pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking until kale is very tender, stirring occasionally and adding small amounts of water if dry, about 20 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, cook pasta in medium pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. 
  8. Drain pasta, reserving a mug of cooking liquid. 
  9. Add cooked pasta to kale mixture in pot. 
  10. Add lemon juice, parmesan and a glug of the reserved cooking liquid and toss to combine.
  11. Stand back and watch in horrified awe as your children hoover up the entire thing at indecent speed.

You may be asking why I am posting a recipe for cooking greens when we have established that this is not a cooking blog.

What can I say, I have a fridge that looks like an overgrown hedge at the moment due in a large part to the generosity of Organic Boxes who sent me one of their Standard Mixed boxes to review.

It was a moot point, because we were actually long standing customers of theirs until our veg patch took off last year so they were already preaching to the choir, but like an old friend, or pulling your favourite jumper out for winter, it was a lovely feeling to open the front door and see the insulated box waiting for us to discover.

I say "us", I mean the children. 

Alfie and Esme fell into step like well drilled crack squad and carried our delivery into the kitchen with a rare display of team work before dropping it unceremoniously to the ground and ripping it open.

If I were thinking, I would book a delivery for Christmas because I'm not even joking when I tell you that at one point Alfie clutched the bunch of bananas to his chest and said

“We got bananas! I LOVE bananas! Oh! I'm so happy!!”

He didn't get that excited over his last Lego set, and that cost me twice as much, and tastes far worse on pancakes.

It was great to see that the quality of the produce was as good as I remembered: Everything looked vibrant and crisp, and there was more than enough fruit and veg to keep an average family going for the week. If, like us, you are mostly vegetarians or have children who wake up at 1 am to raid the fruit basket (were those pears tasty Alfie? I wouldn't know) I would suggest getting a larger box. 

Watching the over enthusiastic unpacking it felt awesome to know that the children have that connection with the origin and seasonality of their food; although that isn't a good news story in our house because the children have become addicted to the mighty feijoa

It will take a braver person than me to tell them that feijoa season is over for another year. 

I'm sort of hoping I can distract them with pears or comfort them with good old fashioned chocolate because damn you feijoa trees and your freakishly short fruiting season

And damn you kale for not being more like feijoas, have you never heard of the saying “less is more”?!?

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Chase's Battle for Bodily Integrity

I really wasn't sure what to write about this week because the thing that is occupying almost all of my mind and heart is something happening on the other side of the world, and to which I have no direct connection.

In Florida today, there is a 4 year old boy who is the subject of a legal battle over his body. More specifically, his right to refuse circumcision.

I won’t bore you with the back story except to say that neither young Chase, nor his mother Heather wants him to undergo the process. His father does.

A court in Florida has already found in favour of Chase’s father on the basis of contract law* after which Heather took the radical step of going into hiding.

I know we all like to think we are “that parent” but really I wonder how many of us really would be brave enough to defy a court order and walk out of our lives and hide in a woman’s shelter to protect our children. 

That was two months ago, and determined to fight on, Heather had already filed a Federal suit when she was found and arrested on Friday. 

Her son, Chase, was handed over to his father.

Can you imagine being Heather over the weekend? Can you imagine the utter desperation of being ripped from the child you have literally given up everything to protect and see him handed over to the one person you fear the most?

I can’t.

And Chase, who we are told is fully aware of what is being discussed, to be handed over to the absent parent who he knows is fighting against his wishes.

I look at Alfie, who is only a squeak older than Chase and I see how strong and well formed his opinions are. I think about the years I have spent teaching him about the importance of bodily integrity and I try to imagine how I could look him in the face and betray his wishes. 

I can’t.

Heather’s suit is currently under consideration and there is no guarantee at this point that Judge Kenneth Marra will even accept that it holds merit. That’s such a glib statement isn’t it? Does this suit hold merit? Like we were talking about an argument over a fence line, or who had more right to take the TV in the divorce settlement, and for the life of me I can’t work out why we are making a distinction between this, and any other matter of bodily integrity.

Perhaps because the default victim of this unnecessary practice are a demographic who have no ability to speak out. Perhaps if we were used to the routine circumcision of adults we wouldn't be used to thinking we have dominion over the body of another person.

But I genuinely don’t see it: I don’t see how this differs from rape or assault. I don’t see how we can be living in 2015 and a country who touts itself as the leaders of the free world can be engaged in the wilful blindness of the harm that is being done in the name of profit. 

Circumcising your sons against their will does not protect them from disease, it doesn't make them cleaner, and it is not a way in which your child needs to look like their father. 

Dear America, other countries have walked your path, New Zealand included, and we have been brave enough to hold up our hands and say “we fucked up, this is not the best we can do for our sons”. 

Please have the courage to do the same.

* Heather had previously consented to the procedure

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Unschooling At Age 5

So after a week of being hideously sick, we are back to some level of normality, and that means Alfie's unschool is back in session.

I have to admit I was a little freaked out about the concept of unschooling. That’s not surprising when you consider I am a product of a long and very structured education system myself. 

I know from personal experience that self-led learning is effective; I use it myself on a daily basis, but as an entire education system? That’s a big leap. 

I suppose in some ways you could say that I needed to unschool myself about education as much as anything.

Which is why it has been amazing to be a part of Alfie’s journey into unschooling, and for us to be able to foster his questions and his curiosity.

The other day for instance he was sitting at the dining table and asked me what colour you would get it you mixed yellow and red.

So I mixed up some paint for him and he got to experimenting.

And because he isn't a very language hungry child, we just kept it loose and I wrote the colours down for him to copy if he wanted to.

Which it turns out was a really good way to get him to write. I'm not saying he takes after his father or anything but y'know, apples don't fall far from the tree and after ten years you start to learn what works: Imajustsayin'

What I love the most about our approach to learning is that I get to play as large a part in Alfie’s education as Keith does. When you unschool, every moment is potential teaching moment and every question can either be answered, or investigated together.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and find Heavy and light objects to throw off the balcony … we’re answering the question of what will drop faster.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Reflections on Baltimore

By now I'm sure social media has informed you of the riots in Baltimore. In particular, I'm sure you have seen the video of Toya Graham, the mother going postal on her son over his involvement. 

Most of the commentary I saw around that video was predictable – ranging from “mother of the year” to “shame on her” but there was one reply, written by a lady called Alicia Johnson, that stood out for its compassion and its eloquence.

Alicia has very generously allowed me to share her parenting journey and some thoughts: The response that first drew me to speak to her is in bold.

What kind of parent would you say you were? 
I view myself as my children's guide, their mentor, their interpreter. This role is assigned to me not by right or accomplishment, but simply because I have been here a little longer and have experienced a bit more. My children don't yet have the words or understanding to express all their thoughts and feelings, or to decipher the meanings of events as they unfold. However, they often provide me with insights that I may not have come across on my own, because they all experience this world slightly differently. 
Was that how you were brought up? 
No, not at all. I was raised in an authoritarian household, where corporal punishment and arbitrary limits were the norm. I was often punished for asking "why?" and for my unwillingness to accept "because I'm the mom" as an answer. 
My decision to become a different sort of parent has been a journey that has lasted more than a decade. It had been an ongoing discussion between my husband and I since we started dating, but when our first child was born 11 years ago, we still believed that children needed to do as they were told and have certain limits in place. We didn't really know any different way to handle things, so we resorted to spanking, time outs, and other methods that we grew up with. 
As the years passed, and our second child was born, it became more and more apparent that methods were at odds with our philosophy but it wasn't until we unenrolled them from public school that things began to change more rapidly. We started researching homeschool methods and came across the concept of radical unschooling, and we began to incorporate more and more of these ideals into our lives. We knew right away that this is the way we wanted to raise our family. 
Knowing and doing are two very different things, though. It is extremely difficult to implement this drastic of a change but we see how much better this way of living is by watching our babies as they grow. We are all so much happier and more peaceful, although I know that this journey will probably last a lifetime. Every day, every hour, every minute, we have to make the conscious choice of peace. I hope that one day, that choice will be more natural to me. As for now, I fail often. But I choose to try again and again, because I believe it to be worth the struggle.
How do you react when you see examples of parenting that involves corporal punishment? 
I feel sadness for the child who is experiencing pain, fear, frustration, and confusion. I feel sadness for the parent who is experiencing frustration, exasperation, and stress. And I feel sadness because I know that I was that parent and those were my children just a few short years ago. 
Have you seen a specific example recently that has given you pause? 
There is a video going around the Internet of a woman physically attacking her son who was involved in the clash between police and rioters in Baltimore. Most people are hailing her as "mother of the year" for her actions.
My first reaction was "violence begets violence": This boy was feeling frustration and fear and anger and felt the best way to express these emotions was to become violent toward those he perceived as the source of his feelings. 
It's the very thing his mother does to him in the video: She feels frustration, fear and anger and expresses those emotions by enacting violence. However, it's apparent to me that her actions are not only harmful to her relationship with her son; they are completely ineffective in communicating her feelings. I'm sure that she was doing what she felt was the best thing to do. I do not seek to condemn her for her actions, but I do believe that we can learn from them.
If I was in her position, I would be crying, begging, pleading with my child to come away with me. I would let them know that I understand why they feel the need to be there. I would offer to help them voice their protest in a safer, more effective way. If they still would not come away with me, I would stand in front of them and say "I understand that I can't make you leave, but I cannot leave you, my child, in a place where you may be harmed. So I will stand here and protect you, with my own body if I must. Because I love you more than life itself. And while I disagree with your actions, I cannot leave you here to potentially die. I will stay here and spend what may be your last moments on Earth with you." 
I understand that most people view that as an unrealistic scenario, but if we are talking about the most ideal, effective response, I believe that would be it. First, we must make a connection to feelings of others, and then we must express why we want them to do things differently. Violence disconnects us from one another. Once we are disconnected, open communication and understanding are lost. 
What is your most important goal as a parent? 
I believe the goal of being a parent should be to prepare my children to take care of themselves and others; to give them the best possible foundation for living, including the resources and desire to continuously learn and grow as individuals.

I will teach them that they always have a choice: They are the only ones in control of their lives and with that power comes great responsibility, to themselves and to all their fellow beings. It's my hope that they will come to me for guidance when they aren't sure what choice to make. I believe that's my ultimate job as their mother.

I accept The Renegade Mother’s point that I don’t know shit about Baltimore, and about the people who live there. 

But let’s remove this from a time and a place and look at it simply as a conversation about a parent and a child: I applaud the mama in that video for loving her son and I acknowledge her fear and her anger in trying to remove her son from danger, but like Alicia, I can’t help but think there is a better way than smacking seven shades out of someone.
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