How to survive a museum trip with kids!

Earlier this year, I went to Italy. Yep – a big overseas trip with three children! Not sure what I was thinking, but I really wanted to go and I try to be one of those ‘My kids are going to stop me’ kind of mums. So we saved and saved, got the time off work and booked the trip. Everyone was excited. It was our first big trip after the birth of my third child.

Everything started well.  We had a stop in Abu Dhabi which still feels like home to me. We caught up with friends and enjoyed going to some of our old haunts and checking out some new ones.  Abu Dhabi really is so easy and fun for kids. Parks and beaches galore!

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Saadiyat Beach with the Lourve Abu Dhabi under construction in the background

We first flew to Venice. Beautiful yes, but we were a little bit of a walk from the main sights, so lots of walking and not so much fun with a pram. Up and down bridges and steps!  The kids had fun though, but after about 5 days of not being able to really let them get loose in a park (a crowded plaza really is not the same), we moved on.  We were even brave enough to hire a car and so our Italian road trip began.

We travelled to:

  • Bellagio via Verona;
  • La Spezia (for Cinque Terre) via Genoa;
  • Florence via Pisa;
  • Orvieto via Siena; and
  • Rome

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How was travelling with three kids in Italy? A LOT of work. We managed to remain sane for most of the stops. We stayed in apartments and tried to incorporate children friendly activities and days throughout, but by the time we arrived in Rome everyone was tired.  We could only get them so excited about museums and after many tense experiences (the Vatican was the most intense and stressful experiences of the whole trip – so so many people) at various sites, we decided in Rome to try our hands at making the experience of going to museums more fun for them.

One of our tricks was a treasure hunt. Through this we hoped that the older two would actually even look at some of the art works. It worked a treat – but my kids take treasure hunts VERY seriously, so we really had to research to make sure that the things we put on their list, they were able to be find.

While they enjoyed the trip and the copious amounts of gelato and pizza they got to eat, the whole trip was so draining that I swore to never do a big trip with them again. Yes we’ll see how long that lasts.

Once we got back to Sydney life continued at a breakneck speed. But in all the insanity we did manage a trip to the Art Gallery of NSW to see the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibition.  I had been meaning to go for a long time and finally got the time to do it.  But with some of the pain of our Italy museum experiences fresh in my mind, I decided to re-visit my survival toolbox and out came the Frida Kahlo activity sheet!

No, the art gallery did not in fact have anything for kids, so I did some research the night before and put together an activity sheet. Did it work? Yes – for the older two it did.  While they were busy with their activity pack, I did get to wonder through the exhibition and I have to say I was a little underwhelmed.  The art works were great, but there really wasn’t too many of them. Much of the exhibition was a celebration of the artists, rather than the art. We photos and video footage being the centre of attention.  So from that regard, I was a little disappointed. Also the exhibition was VERY crowded. The way we experienced it was to be in a big conga line and just walk single file past the art works. There was no place to sit and linger, which made doing one of the activities I had (to sit in a quiet area and draw one of their favourite paintings) nearly impossible.

In the end I was glad to go because if I hadn’t I would have wondered about what could have been, but the most fun we had was going to the Sydney Botanical Gardens. My daughter had just attended a school excursion there so was full of excitement to show me her favourite parts.  The whole day was helped by the glorious show of weather Sydney had for us and with the promise of a gelato at the end of the day, the kids enjoyed the rest of the day.  So my tips for a cultural day out – bribery with gelato and an activity pack that includes a treasure hunt!  I’ve included my Frida Kahlo one. I hope you find it useful.

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Pokemon STOP!

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Source: sussexcountypost.com

My household along with a lot of other households with children is going through a Pokemon craze.  It started with the cards last year, then the cartoons. It’s so bad that even my 2 year old is obsessed. It’s all about Pokemon and Pikachu!  Showing my age now – but honestly what is this show about??

Recently though, a Pokemon App is taking the world by storm – Pokemon Go. Some people are saying how great it is to have children play this game because it encourages kids to get out – even if it is in an alternative reality of catching Pikachu. At least they’re not inside.

My son, like many boys his age wants to play this, but I have to say a clear ‘sorry’ to my son. I am not one of those mums that will allow their young child to play this game. I’m afraid my dear son, I am never going to be a ‘cool’ mum. You my son will likely miss out on being ‘cool’ like your friends for years to come, because after Pokemon Go, there will be many more silly fads which will come and add nothing to your development intellectually, emotionally or physically. You’ll likely ‘hate’ me and ridicule me to your friends and roll your eyes at me (he’s already started doing this!), but I’m willing to wear that.

My husband says that I have to ‘ease up’ and that I can’t keep him away from these sorts of games and devices forever. To that, I say maybe not, but he’s 8 years old and I would rather have him read, draw, ride a bike, than walk around staring at a phone trying to catch Pikachu.

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Source: http://www.imore.com

While this App may help to get kids out, I find it sad to see young kids out, mobiles in hand staring at their screens.  While there are many brains working right now on how to harness Pokemon Go for the greater good of protecting nature, I think having a love of nature yourself is the best way to create these values in your children.  Get out yourself and get into nature. Talk about it and feel connected to it.  Even if you don’t live near bushland or a beach – find a pocket of trees, grass, a communal area, plaza – whatever it is, get out there and have fun with it yourself, despite the limited time you might have.

The connection to nature is disappearing. With more people living in cities and cities becoming denser and nature being taken out of cities – it is harder to get to nature and hard to feel connected to it. With the earth facing the next mass extinction episode, we need to get back to nature.  Nature provides everything to us – water, air, materials. Even the ones that fuel our lights, the materials that go into our devices, the materials that we wear and build with – it originates from the earth.

I am often saying to my husband to get out into the garden and potter around, because if he does, my son eventually leaves his room and follows.  It is their personal preference to be inside with toys, but getting both boys in my life outside is my mission and I hope not to rely on Pikachu to do that!

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I’d love to hear your thoughts. Am I being too tough?

My own verge garden

Last year, I wrote a blog piece about verge gardens and whether it’s safe to have food growing so close to a road.  My piece showed that if you take certain precautions, that it should be okay.

So after my research, I decided to strike out and make my own verge garden.  I have a corner block and thankfully the long side is on a quiet street.  Last year, I decided to move a few things around my backyard. Rather than get rid of my timber planter boxes, I decided to move them onto my nature strip.

I excitedly and busily moved all the soil with the help of some kiddies. I added some compost and planned to extend my vegetable garden.

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I then had an idea to get the neighbours involved also. To start a ‘gardening club’ of sorts with my neighbours. There are many families with children around me, so I thought it would be a great chance to get to know neighbours and for my children to meet some children that live close to us.

So I planned two weekends of neighbourhood activity.  One week to plant the seeds and the following week to paint the planter boxes.  I put together a flyer and went door knocking.

The response: a bit underwhelming!

In the meantime my children were very excited about the ‘Gardening Club’ we were starting in our neighbourhood. On the agreed day, at the agreed time we all started to plant our new garden. Unfortunately with the exception of one of my immediate neighbours, no other neighbours came to help us plant our new vegetables. My children were a little disappointed, but we got together and planted some lovely things: carrots, flowers, chillies, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, lemongrass, parsley, sage and so on.

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In the immediate time after the planting, I did get a few ‘looks’ from passers by. A verge garden is not a common sight in my part of Sydney, but I think most have gotten used to it. I’ve even managed to share some of the produce with a few neighbours, which they’ve loved.

So, some tips for a verge garden:

  • Dial before you dig  http://www.1100.com.au/: you should call this free service to make sure there are no utilities or any issues where you decide to make your garden;
  • Have raised beds;
  • Talk to neigbbours before planting and see whether they’d like to be part of the planning.  Even though I provided all free plants, seeds and compost, my neighbours weren’t engaged, but your might be;
  • Plant some flowers too to make it pretty and attractive and attract pollinators like bees; and
  • Enjoy.

The tipping point?

 

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Any day now, the earth will pass a new milestone.  Far away from where most of you live, but not so far from me, in a remote location of Tasmania, Australia, there is a place called Grim Point.  For decades now, scientists at Grim Point have been collecting air quality data, which includes concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air.

Well the latest record related to our atmosphere that we are breaking, is that for the first time in recorded history the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air has reached 400 parts per million (PPM).  Why is this so significant?  Mostly, because it is so remote, it is said that Grim Point has the world’s cleanest air. Hence this new milestone is being seen as a point of no return for humanity.

For non-scientists, parts per million is a measure of the concentration (mass) of a chemical in water or in this case, the air. So for example the 400 ppm means for every 1 million gas molecules in our atmosphere, about 400 are carbon dioxide molecules.

It’s important to note that as well as the carbon emissions continuing to go up, every day there are stories about the earth heating up.  This month another record has been broken – the warmest April on record. That’s seven months straight of record warm global temperatures.  2015 was the warmest year in recorded history also.  Some people might think – yippee, endless summers and hey, I like summers like the next person, but when I hear that the the coral in the Great Barrier reef is bleaching and that Greenland ice sheet has started to melt early this year (http://www.smh.com.au/environment/greenland-ice-sheet-melting-has-started-early-20160429-gohx1z.html) I start to think hold on, all of this is very troubling and is pointing to an uncertain future if we don’t start seriously looking at carbon emissions.

What is a safe level? Before the burning of coal, the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air was measured at 275 ppm.  The organisation 350.org however states that 350 ppm is a safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  This would equate to 1 degree global temperature increase.

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These new milestones were discussed on the radio the other day and lo and behold, there was a climate change sceptic on the radio and while I agree that we need to have a balanced view, I couldn’t get over the arguments put forward about whether there is any proof that carbon dioxide emissions are changing the earth’s climate.  Despite the many many scientists that acknowledge that carbon emission are altering the earth’s atmosphere resulting from the burning of fossil fuels, there are some that refuse to believe the facts.  It also annoys me that we still have to going to the lowest base as far as discussions are concerned.  Rather than getting on with it, we have to keep arguing the facts and justifying any action at all!

I recently watched a documentary called Ice and the Sky / La Glace et le ciel (2015). This documentary follows Claude Lorius and his many expeditions to the south pole to study glaciers.  During his studies he put forward a theory that the glaciers were able to tell us about the earth’s climate because they had layers similar to tree rings.  He was also able to see that the air bubbles caught in the ice sheets were the fossil remains of the earth’s atmosphere, so he began studying them.

Claude Lorius

The story is a great one – through his studies and ever bigger machines he was able to dig deeper and deeper into glaciers and what he was able to see was the correlation between carbon dioxide emissions and the length of warm and cold periods.  He was able to go back 800,000 years and his conclusion was the proof that carbon dioxide emissions were related to global temperatures.  I don’t want to give away more than that, but really recommend the documentary.  If you want to know more about the science behind how this important discovery was made, then please watch it.

You could even sneak it in as viewing to any climate change sceptics that you know.

Apart from getting into the nitty gritty of the science of climate change, we can all do our bit to help get carbon emissions down to 350 ppm. The mantra of ‘Think global, act local’ really can make a difference.  If we do our part, collectively we can make a difference.

Do what you can around your home:

  • Turn off lights and appliances when not in use;
  • If you can, install solar panels and make your own energy!
  • Buy accredited Green Power (sourced from renewable sources);
  • Start walking, cycling or catching public transport instead of driving;
  • Reduce, reuse or recycle your waste;
  • Get composting or worm farming!
  • Grow your own food;
  • Support your local community and buy local;
  • Discover the wonders of your local op shop (second hand store);
  • Plants trees;
  • Check out your local Council for any local action groups.

 

Spread the word:

  • Keep up to date with what organisations like 350.org (http://350.org/) Greenpeace (http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/en/) World Wildlife Fund (http://www.wwf.org.au/) or Australian Youth Climate Coalition (http://www.aycc.org.au/) and spread the word. Talk to colleagues, your family or neighbours.
  • Contact your local Council to see what they’re doing to address climate change. Are they making considerations of climate change risks in how they plan developments and how they design and construct stormwater systems for example?
  • For those in Australia, contact your state or local MP to see what their policies are in relation to climate change. There’s an election on right now and scant discussion about this very important topic.

 

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Waste Free Birthday party?

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Children’s birthday parties can create so much waste. The party itself is usually a very intense 2 hours of pure mania. So usually being super eco-minded is tricky. Also, my life is very busy and party planning ends up happening fairly last minute.

This year though I’m going to try and have a low-waste party for my daughter. Can I do it?

Well we’ll find out tomorrow. I will share my experiences with you – my failures and successes.

 

New Year Resolution – Give your Coffee Pods the Flick

source: http://theconversation.com/what-our-love-affair-with-coffee-pods-reveals-about-our-values-30068 

I was never much of a coffee drinker until fairly recently. I never liked the taste – not really through university and not really in my earlier days of working. At the moment however I enjoy a cup of coffee a day. It’s more the habit of it that I enjoy. I like taking the time out to prepare and drink it.

My husband on the other hand is a coffee drinker from way back.  Every day without fail he’ll have a cup at about the same time.  Over the years the standard of coffee drunk has increased. From the instant coffee to buying his own beans, grounding it and using various methods to extract the coffee.

When we moved to the UAE, he bought a cappuccino maker. We felt very fancy. Then it broke and after some reading I bought him a better one for Father’s Day one year. He broke it! then I arranged to get it fixed – then he broke it again and again! In the end we had to get rid of the cappuccino maker.

When we moved back, we managed to acquire my sister’s cappuccino maker – which my husband promptly proceeded to break. So after that I had to put my food down and say no more cappuccino makers. This happened to be about the time that the coffee pod machines became super cheap and stores like Aldi started to sell the pods very cheaply too. Despite my reservations my husband bought one and thankfully in a way he’s managed to not kill the machine. Except that every time we made a cup of coffee it was filled with guilt. Guilt about all the pods we were throwing in the bin. The plastic that was never going to degrade and the mountains of coffee pods that must surely be filling up landfills.

Some facts about coffee pods:

  • Australians are consuming about three million pods a day.
  • More than 1.5 million households in Australia own a pod machine, a number forecast to double by 2018 with reports the capsule coffee market is on track to overtake the grocery bean market.

Apparently, the inventor of the coffee capsules, K-Cup, who sold enough capsules in 2013 to circle the earth nearly 11 times, wishes that he never created them in the first place and is said not to use them himself “No matter what they say about recycling, those things (K-Cups) will never be recyclable,” John Sylvan told The Atlantic. “The plastic is a specialised plastic made of four different layers…I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.” (http://www.ecocaffe.com.au/news/3-million-pods-a-day/ )

Lately we’ve justified the use of our machine because there is a recycling point in Lane Cove. While this is better than disposal, the multiple layers of plastic and aluminium used means that it is in fact very difficult to recycle coffee pods and in many cases unless the aluminium pods are collected by TetraCycle who have specialist way of collecting and recycling the pods, they are not recycled at all. Certainly the plastic pods are not recyclable, therefore end up in landfill.

Then there is the compostable or biodegradable coffee pods. These are a lot more expensive than the average coffee pods and again there is no simple way of throwing them in your compost bin and hoping for the best. You need a special commercial composter to compost them. If they’re thrown in the bin in the hope of biodegrading in landfill they end up emitting methane – a very powerful greenhouse gas.

In short, the whole thing stinks and with 3 million pods being used every day, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see that this is big problem.

About six months ago though I decided that enough was enough. Being an eco-mum, I wasn’t just concerned about what to do with the pods afterwards. My concern was about the use of resources to manufacture the silly pods in the first place. So I decided to go back to the way coffee is made in other countries like the Middle East and Italy – using the Moka Pot. This is a stove top coffee maker where water boils in a lower chamber and the steam creating pressure that then passes the vapour through the coffee to an upper chamber. It’s kind of like magic really!

I bought myself one of these pots along with organic fair trade coffee. The results have been good. Taste wise I like it and I especially like the process and the aroma that drifts through the house.  Time wise- it does take longer, but from a waste and materials use point of view it really is the way to go.  Especially as I compost all my coffee grinds and apply that on my vegetable patch.

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My husband on the other hand remains unconvinced. He swears that he likes the taste of the coffee pod machine more and while he’s usually very supportive of my eco-ventures. This is one where he is standing his ground – excuse the pun! I on the other hand will continue to put forward the case that our house needs to be a pod free house.  I urge the millions in Australia and beyond to follow suit.

With the new year just recently started, I ask everyone to make a pledge for the planet and enjoy a guilt free cup of coffee and if you make the pledge try and convince someone else to do it too!

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For more information on why coffee pods are harmful, please go to:

http://theconversation.com/what-our-love-affair-with-coffee-pods-reveals-about-our-values-30068

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/apr/10/rise-coffee-pod-machines-nespresso

Eating yourself a rainbow

http://happyhooligans.ca/homemade-watercolour-paints/
http://happyhooligans.ca/homemade-watercolour-paints/

My daughter is really into rainbows – like really into them. She draws rainbows everywhere. With chalk on walls. With paint on canvases. With pencils on paper.

I always try to feed my children healthy snacks and what better time to do that then the start of summer. Well to be honest, the last month has felt like summer. Spring has totally been skipped in Sydney which is very alarming to me. But back to the rainbows. On Saturday, I decided to make a rainbow fruit platter.

Apart from being pretty and very appealing to a rainbow obsessed little girl, there is in fact a lot of science behind this theory. Fruit and vegetables come in different colours and these colours are caused by phytochemicals.   Each different colour has a set of antioxidants which helps your body in different ways:

Red

Examples: Tomato, Red capsicum, Radishes, Strawberries, Rhubarb, Cherries, Red grapes, Raspberries, Watermelon and Red apples.

Benefits: red fruit and vegetables have lycopene. This is a powerful antioxidant which reduces the risk of some cancers and protects the heart.

Blue/ Purple

Examples: Beetroot, Red cabbage, Eggplant, Blackberries, Blueberries, Purple grapes and plums

Benefits: Blue and purple foods get their colour from anthocyanin.  The darker the colour towards blue, the higher the level of phytochemical. Blueberries for example are considered a ‘superfood’ and have the highest antioxidant activity of any food. The blue and purple foods are considered to help keep your blood pressure in check.
Green
Examples: Spinach, Asparagus, Avocados, Broccoli, Peas, Green apples, Green grapes, Limes, Kiwifruit, Green beans, Lettuce,Cabbage,Celery, Cucumber and Green capsicum
Benefits: Green foods include a whole range of goodies, like chlorophyll, cartenoids, indoles and saponins. They have cancer fighting properties also.
Orange/ Yellow
Examples: Carrots, Rockmelon, Lemons, Sweet potato, Pumpkin, Pineapples, Mangoes, Corn, Oranges, Squash, Peaches, Nectarines, Apricots and Grapefruit
Benefits: These coloured fruit and vegetables have cartenoids, especially betacartenoids.  They have anti-inflammatory qualities and are great for your eyes and skin and helps your muscles after exercise.
White/ colourless/ brown
Examples: Cauliflower, Brown pears, Mushrooms, White peaches, Garlic, Bananas, Potatoes, Dates, Onions, Ginger, Parsnips and Turnip
Benefits: These foods contain a phytochemical called alicin (found in garlic) which have anti-viral and antibacterial properties. These foods also support healthy bones and reduces the risk of osteoporosis and reduces blood cholesterol levels.

Many schools these days have ‘crunch and sip’ where children take in fresh fruit or vegetables to have during class time with water.  This, along with lunches and recesses provide great opportunities to include a ‘rainbow’ in lunchboxes for children.  There is a great website which makes this fun with lots of ideas for parents and teachers.

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My interview on Green Living radio program

One of the wonderful things about writing this blog is all the fabulous people that cross my path. One such person is Sole’ Haren who is based in New York. Sole’ works with the ‘Build a Better Planet Network’ (https://www.facebook.com/BuildABetterPlanet). The ‘Build a Better Planet Network’ is a not-for-profit organisation advocating for sustainability. She is also a presenter on ‘The Green Living’ radio program which promotes health, wellness and environmental sustainability.

Last month, I had the pleasure of speaking with Sole’ and here is a link to that radio interview – now you get to hear my voice!

https://archive.org/details/April15GreenLiving 

I come in at about the 15th minute, but if you can you should listen to the whole program! I hope you enjoy the interview!

Eco-mummy